Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Goodbye Kefalonia - May 25

After two weeks in the Greek islands, it was time for Murray and me to leave Kefalonia. But first we had a day to explore a part of the island we hadn't seen. This time, we drove David's car instead of riding our bikes.

Kefalonia has a western section of the island that is divided from most of the eastern part of the island by a bay. This part of the island was similar but different. Similar in that it was hilly and had the folliage as other parts of the island. Different in the sandy beaches. Most of the beaches that we encountered on Kefalonia were made up of pebbles. This isn't necessarily a bad thing since it keeps some of the tourists away who prefer days of loungers and suntan oil. We decided to go to a beach, and one of the first signs we saw was for Xi beach. Our plan was to jog along the beach.

The beach was very nice and made up of red sand. It almost looked like it was brought in, so different was the color than the rest of the dirt we saw, which looked to be more the color of cement. But then we noticed other red sandy soil.

The day was once again hot - we guessed about 100 again as we ran in midday. We once tried leaving the beach and running along a road, but we turned back when we felt how sweltering the heat became away from the water. After jogging for about an hour, we headed back to the villa for a final lunch with Murray's parents.

That evening, we said goodbye to Murray's parents and Kefalonia. We were leaving behind the quaint island with its beautiful landscapes and nice people. I had even become accustomed to the roosters outdueling each other all morning, the dogs barking at night, the sheep and goats darting out in the road. Life had a nice rhythm on this quiet island. And of course, Murry's family had made the trip enjoyable. I had arrived as a complete stranger and left a friend. I still have my strange American way of saying words such as tomato, oregano and fillet. And I don't "fancy" hot tea after I've been outside in a 100 degree day. But still, they accepted me - liked me, even!
Next stop...Athens.

Last Ride in Greece - May 24

For our final ride, we decided to go to Fiskardo, a village at the northern part of the island.

Fiscardo is known as the only village in Kefalonia to have retained some original buildings during the 1953 earthquake. The area is also known for attracting yachts and is one of the most expensive places on the island.

We traveled on our familiar route. This time, Murray had left behind his bike bag, and his speed definitely increased. But we were really riding strong - after more than a week of climbing and a day of rest, our legs were strong but fresh. Even the big hill right before Fiskardo didn't prove an obstacle.

In Fiskardo, we sat at a cafe, and the reputation was right. Prices were definitely more expensive here. My Coke Light was 3 euros - more than $4. I guess we were paying for the setting. We decided to skip lunch here and find somewhere more reasonable on our way back.

And it was a beautiful place. There were some older buildings which gave the village a bit more character than others we have seen. Cafes lined the waterfront and boats from all over the world docked in the port. We saw flags from the U.S., Canada, New Zealand - to name a few.

After our break, we headed back up the the hill - this time taking a different route and a quieter road that Murray's parents recommended. The climb up ws still hard, but the quiet desolation and non-touristy villages helped us enjoy the effort. We stopped at a village for lunch. There were no patrons at the restaurant. We went inside, and asked for a menu. No menu, the owner told us. She would tell us what she could make that day.

I ordered a Greek Salad and fries. Murray ordered an cheese omelet and fries. We had to laugh when his fries came IN his omelet. (And the eggs were from her chicken. Murray was concerned that if we ordered a chicken, she might have killed one of her chickens to please us.) We split a half carafe of wine and sat at the outdoor table eating our lunch. Not many people made it off the main track into this small town. Even though May isn't the busiest tourist month, this place was a tourist-free zone.

We took our time at the restaurant, and chatted with the owner. Her name was Vicky - a strange name for a Greek. She explained that her real name was EV - said E.V. For some reason, people started calling her Vicky from the time she was young. Huh? We wanted to know more, but her English wasn't the best.

Her husband was also a road cyclist, but Vicky didn't want to bike up the hills. I couldn't blame her. Before we left, she filled our water bottles with water AND ice - such a nice treat. Then she surprised us with a surprise dessert - honey and sesame cookies. For all the food and wine, the bill was just 15 euros.

That night, we had the final family dinner at the Dolphin. It wasn't as exciting since the music didn't play. But Nia managed to dance a little and the people in the restaurant clapped as she moved.

Total miles: 49

A Day of Rest - May 23

No biking and no running for us today. Instead, we lazed around the villa, writing, swimming and staying cool. By early afternoon, I was going stir crazy. I was so used to being on the go that I had to do something. Murray borrowed his dad's car, and we drove to our favorite afternoon stop at Captain Carelli's. Same waitress who by this time remembered what we liked to drink. This time we ordered fries instead of munching on the free basket of chips.

That evening, Murray's mother, Maureen, prepared a meal of a Kefalonia specility - spinach pie, with roasted potatoes, vegetables and yoghurt with honey for dessert. I ate a large quantity of food, trying to ease the hunger from all the previous days of activity.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cycling in Zante - May 22

What a difference a day can make. While the night before, I was stressed trying to find a place to stay, I awoke in Zante relaxed and eager to enjoy a hearty breakfast before our cycle.

Breakfast at the Astoria Hotel was served buffet style with tables adjoining the beach. I ate my typical cereal - Almond Fitness Flakes. I also grabbed a chocolate chip muffin and fruit served with yoghurt. One thing to mention, the yoghurt (yes, with an h here) is thick and rich with a texture more like sour cream than U.S. yogurt. Murray and I relaxed, enjoying coffee (me) and tea (him) before we headed down the beach for a stroll.

The beach at Alykes had golden sand, chairs and umbrellas. It was a peaceful place attracting mostly retired couples. We walked a ways in barefeet and when the sand felt too warm, we put our feet into the sea.

By the time we were back in our room, it was nearing 11. We weren't sure where to go, but the hotel clerk's husband, originally from Canada, suggested we head south to the beacch area. That seemed like a better idea than tackling more steep mountain roads.

We made good time traveling on the road that ran along the sea. The only downfall, there was a lot of traffic, especially through Zakinthos town. It felt like we were in rush hour. Well, not quite, but this was definitely a shock to our relaxed cycling mode.

After Zakinthos, we continued south, climbing some hills to our destination of Gerakas. This is the southern most tip of the island and known for their loggerhead turtles. The beach where the turtles lay their eggs is a protected area. During the day, beach-goers can visit. At night, the beach is closed to tourists and the turtles return to nest. The beach was very hot, and we were roasting so we didn't stay long. We jumped back on our bikes to find some lunch and return to the port.

Finding a lunch stop was not an easy task. Every place we stopped was either very busy with screaming children or closed. Then we arrived at a small village where I spotted a coffee shop. We had a delicious lunch. A tuna baguette for Murray and a huge pizza for me. The prices were so cheap. Less than 15 euros for food and drink.

After lunch, it was back up the hills to the port. Now, our legs had certainly become used to climbing. But the 100 degree temperature, toting bike packs combined with the hills was starting to make us tired. We rode slower - having plenty of time to reach our destination - and stopped frequently for cool beverages. We made it to the port an hour before the ferry left. I sat down at the cafe sipping not-so-cool white wine which I put ice cubes in. Murray did a swan dive into the sea and then came back for some beer.

The evening ferry ride lasted two hours. I slept part of the way - and thank God, Murray's brother-in-law, David, was there to pick us up. Murray gave him a warm embrace, he was so grateful to see him. Yipee! We wouldn't have to ride any more hills back to the villa.

Total miles: 54

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Last Hill - May 21

We planned an overnight adventure on Zante, an island south of Kefalonia. Murry and I decided to ride our favorite scenic route around Kefalonia's north and west coast to meet the ferry. Along the way, we would change our airplane tickets to leave the island Monday night instead of Monday morning.

Each of us had bags to cart some belongings. Murray's large bag fit on his aerobars. He carried sunscreen, energy bars, a map, shoes, inner tubes, bike lock, shorts, cell phone, passports, and some personal items. My bag fit on the back of my bike and was smaller. I carried a change of clothes for me, bike jacket, the rest of Murray's clothes and my personal items. This was indeed roughing it for me. One skimpy bottle of shampoo, a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and deodorant. No makeup, no hair products.

We made good time on our ride to the airport, although we missed the turn for the airport since the road wasn't marked. We rode up and down hills until we found out destination. After changing our tickets, we found a cafe along the beach for lunch. We had not been along the southern coast, so it was fun to see how this differed from the rest of Kefolnia. We discovered orange and lemon orchards and a grassy landscape.

After our late lunch, we traveled along more hilly roads to the port out of Passada to catch our 5:30 ferry. The trip would take almost two hours. We arrived in Zante at 7:15 without a room reserved for the night, with the idea to take the road along the eastern coast until we found a place to sleep. We had ridden 46 miles on our journey to the ferry, and the last thing I wanted to do was ride a long way to find someplace to stay.

Back on the bikes and up a big hill out of the port. More hills to tackle as we headed south. Mostly, these were rolling hills, which provided some challenge but were over before my legs felt too fatigued. Then we came to a much steeper hill. I was moving rather slowly at this point. It was hot, and I was tired and out of water. We passed a man and a child in a car parked along the hill. Murray rode by him first.

"How are you doing?" the man asked.

"Tired," replied Murray.

Next, my turn. I traveled about a half mile behind, and I didn't hear the man talk to Murray.

He asked the same question: "How are you doing?"

I provided the same answer as Murray: "Tired."

By this time I was getting crabby. This was my worst nightmare - riding at nightfall in the middle of no where without a place to stay.

As we reached the top of the hill, we could see a village in the distance. It appeared to be a straight shot from our location to there.

"I predict that was the last hill," said Murray.

"I don't think so," I said.

Just as the words left my mouth, we turned the corner and there before us was the mother of all hills. It was a monster - 10% grade as we started up. But we had no choice - it was forward or sleep outside. The hill went on and on. The steep part lasted about a mile and a half and still the climb continued.

We finally saw civilization as we reached Katastari. We saw some men at a bar and asked if they knew where we could find rooms.

"Go down the hill toward the beach," the one who spoke English told us.
Down a big hill toward Alykes. There was a hotel. We stopped and asked. No room. One of the men sent us to the Brazil bar where two rooms were reputed to be available for the night. We couldn't find the bar. Murray stopped at a hotel to get directions, and he asked about a room there. There was room - thankfully. We thought we'd compare this with the room at the Brazil bar.
As the sun set, I stood on the beach, waiting for Murray to come back with a report on the room. I saw Kefalonia in the distance as the sunset warmed the scene in Zante. It was a beautiful setting, displaying the island we left behind and hinting at what was to come on our day tomorrow.

"How was the room?" I asked Murray as he returned. The rooms at the Brazil bar weren't available. This was another room at an adjacent place.
"We're not staying there. It is under construction and stank of damp."

We stayed at the Astoria Hotel. It wasn't luxurious - but we couldn't complain. 40 euros per night including breakfast. Not too bad for a place on the beach with a view of the ocean.
Total miles: 55

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nia's Birthday - May 20

Today was Nia's fourth birthday. Nia is Murray's niece. The day started with a family breakfast where Nia opened presents and cards. Her favorite present was a castle building set. But her biggest surprise was the arrival of her dad, David, to the island.

Next up was a lunch party for Nia with another family who had two children. Murray and I decided to forego the kid's party and head out for lunch and time at Mirtos Beach.

We dined at a cafe surrounded by rose bushes and a strange plant that has red blooms, which looked like toilet brushes. We ordered Greek salads, fried zucchini (called courgette in England), fries and stuffed grape leaves. We had a friend join us for lunch, a beautiful stray cat. Homeless cats, such as our friend, seem to survive by begging at restaurants. Some are in rough shape, with mangey coats and seeping eyes. This one at least looked to be in good shape. The only thing suitable to feed the cat was feta cheese. We put some down for him, and he wolfed it down.

After lunch, we returned to Mirtos Beach - this time by car. We hadn't explored the cave last time we were at the beach, so we went inside. The water looked so tempting, I jumped in. It was refreshing to tred water in the sea.

After our time at the beach, we returned home to get ready for dinner out at the Dolphin to celebrate Nia's birthday. The highlight was the music playing once again. Nia loves dancing, and her mother, Kerry, Murray and I took turns as her partner. The restaurant surprised us by having a cake for her. The staff brought it out, and the musicians played happy birthday. Nia was so excited that she gave the musician a kiss on the cheek. She had the best birthday ever.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Day in Ithaka - May 19

Murray and I arose early to catch the 8:30 ferry from Kefalonia to Ithaka. From our villa, we could see the small island and the steep mountainous road. Now that our legs had recovered from a day of rest, we thought we'd challenge ourselves by tackling the Ithaka climbs.

The ferry ride took only a half hours. On the way we saw some dark skinned children, we assumed to be gypsies. They wanted us to take photos of them, presumably for compensation. One boy stuck out his hand and said, "money." This was annoying - especially considering that they were accompanied by a man, their father, perhaps. One of the ferry crew spoke to them in Greek, telling them to leave us I alone, I guessed. They didn't bother us after that. This family brought a truck with them filled with plastic chairs, benches and terracotta pots. We had heard them - or someone peddling similar wares, shouting in Greek through a loud speaker as they drove down the road in their truck.

I imagined something like: "Chairs for sale. Come quickly. Good prices."
The strange part is that they would go by businesses and through neighborhoods. Why not just put out some leaflets or stop and ask the business owner if he is interested? I thought I could help with their marketing efforts if they wanted to hire me as a consultant. Perhaps I should say, "money" and put my hand out to them.

But I didn't have time for the "Chairmen." I had cycling to do.
We arrived at the port of Pisaetos. There wasn't much there except the ferry stop. Once we arrived, we had a steep climb up to the main road. It wasn't so bad on fresh legs. We rode on the northwestern coast. The terrain was similar to Kefalonia, with steep cliffs and shrubby landsccape dropping down to coves and pretty beaches.

Ithaka was much less populated than Kefalonia and so the roads were quieter. It seemed more tranquil on the long slow climb toward Stavros.

When we arrived at Stavros, it seemed like we stepped back in time. Gone was the resort feel and in its place a village square with people dressed in traditional garb. We saw three men sitting by a monestary, two villagers and a Greek Orthodox priest. They posed for photos and we took a look inside the monestary. It was small, ornate with three chandeliers, colorful religious paintings and carved wooden benches.

It took us no time to travel the 13 miles, which we figured was more than a third of our journey. So we took our time in Stavros, snapping photos of interesting looking people and snapped and relaxing at a cafe before heading down the road.

We stopped at the Musuem of Homer, which was rather pathetic. A few fragments of tools and some reassembled pottery. But it was free, although up a trecherous hill that was so steep I started doing wheelies. Near the museum we saw an damaged building, presumably from the 1953 earthquake. The old structure was quite picturesque, and we stopped to take more photos.

Leaving Stavros, we diverted from our circular loop toward Frikes. This presented a steep climb, but we were glad that we traveled this way to see the small fishing village. Onward along the north coast we rode. The course flattened out and then presented another steep climb to Kioni. This village was equally picturesque. We saw a woman looking out a second-floor window. She waved to us and told us that there were three beautiful beaches nearby, down a near-vertical road. We knew a big climb was to come, so we bypassed the beaches and backtracked to Stavros where we would rejoin our circular course.

Our road south cut across the inside part of northern Ithaka. Even less traffic traveled on this road. We traveled alone up the steep climb up the mountains. The mountains rise from the sea to more than 2600 feet. We climbed on the road seven or eight miles, near the summit. Every time I thought I had neared the top, the road would switch to another mountain, and the climb would begin again. This was an extremely challenging ride. I was relieved when I saw the road down.

The descent gave us new challenges. It was steep, winding and had spots of gravel and sand. Plus, it snaked along cliffs with a flimsy guard rail and steep drop beyond. Murray rode faster, and I took my time down. After a few miles, we rejoined the main road and followed it from the northern to the southern part of the twin hilled island. We followed the coastal road, cycling fast to Vathi. The village was nestled in a long turquoise inlet, lined with yachts. As the main island-hoppig port, it seemed more touristy than the other places we visited on the northern part of the island. I wasn't interested in exploring - too tired from the climb and starving. For lunch, we had our typical Greek salads, Murray ordered an omelet, and I ate a pastry stuffed with ham and cheese and a glass of wine.

After lunch, we returned to Pisoaetos to catch the ferry. We took our cycling shoes off and sat on a big rock letting our feet dangle into the sea.

Total miles: 40