From the centre of the Ancient Greek world to the Turkish border
27th September – 16th October
The last weeks in Greece led me to Delphi, Meteora and Vergina in the central mainland of Greece. These sights were all worth the hills and detours required to reach them, particularly the rather unexpectedly magnificent Meteora. I then reached Thessaloniki. What followed was a fascinating cycle through northeast Greece from Thessaloniki to the Turkish border. Travelling slowly across northeast Greece is to witness the gradual changes in religion, culture and cuisine that interchange and meld as you head further east. The finale to the story is that I ended up about 20km from the Turkish border, head down against a fierce headwind, before suddenly remembering that I had forgotten to apply for a Turkish e-visa that you are supposedly meant to apply for 48 hours before crossing the border. Luckily I have learnt on this journey that there is a level of flexibility in everything, so I turned up to the border anyway and sure enough was able to pay £20 and received the visa and entry stamp.
Delphi and Meteora
Delphi is the archeological sight that was considered the centre of the Ancient Greek world.
The campsite next to Delphi is a bit spectacular. I had an obligatory swim despite everyone thinking swimming in September temperatures was not appropriate.
I camped on a hill just before the 100km flat road to Meteora. I managed to wake up just minutes before sunrise, then was suddenly hit by a ray of sun. I am not suggesting that every moment of travelling life feels like sunshine hitting your face in the early morning, but it is good to appreciate the few seconds when it does happen.
Whilst looking over part of the 100km flat cycle to Meteora I noticed the evidence of autumn in the foreground… winter is coming!
Just before I reached Meteora I met a guy who organises bike tours around Italy and Greece. His group of American and Australian cyclists were already 60km away on their racing bikes, but the support van with all the food had broken down. Good luck for me as whilst in conversation he gave me a pile of energy bars. I thought, great! this will last me for weeks. Less than 48 hours later I had eaten them all. (I did share one of them.)
This is one of the Meteora monasteries on top of the infamous sandstone pillars. The monk in the 14th Century who first started building the monasteries arrived by flying up on the back of an eagle. I had a look around, but no eagles were in sight to save me from cycling the 400m of elevation up to the highest monastery.
Another one of the six Meteora monasteries.
Me at the highest point overlooking the monasteries. There were also the odd few people scaling the rocks around me. I discovered when I arrived at Meteora that this area is also famous for climbing. My campsite was full of keen climbers making plans to scale and descend various levels of slope.
Some daring climbers as viewed from the restaurant in my campsite Thessaloniki and Northeast Greece
Thessaloniki is a fascinating city, even when the weather is as grey as this!
In Thessaloniki I was treated to bucketing rain in a city with very limited drainage systems. I tried cycling up a hill and found myself cycling upstream against a 10cm-deep torrent of water. I thought walking would be a better option, but it was equally challenging trying to walk up any steps in the city, as you can see from the picture!
A wonky church in Thessaloniki, as shown to us on an excellent Free Walking tour of the city
I left Thessaloniki (and the rain) behind to cycle along the coast to Turkey. Apparently October is cotton wool season so the landscape and local activities were dominated by the harvest
Harvesting the cotton wool from the endless cotton fields in northeast Greece
Transporting the cotton leaves a rather pleasing decoration along the sides of the road
The other seasonal joy that filled the fields were the pomegranates, delicious but time consuming to eat!
The House of Shadow in Xanthi
In Xanthi, a city that demonstrates the gradual religious and architectural change between Greece and Turkey, I was recommended to visit the House of Shadow. I didn’t know what it was, but it turned out to be an excellent recommendation. A very creative use of metal and plastic to create shadows, or sometimes two different shadows, on the wall, all asking questions about oneself and the world around us. The question next to this was: “What is wilder? Man or the wild nature?”
After being gradually exposed to Ottoman-style architecture, baclava and increased numbers of Muslim people and mosques in northeast Greece, I was all ready to cross the border into Turkey. Istanbul, here I come!