Wednesday, May 27, 2009
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
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
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
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.
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.
Friday, May 22, 2009
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
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.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I started off the day noticing that my back bicycle tire had a huge gouge in it. Fortunately, Murray had a spare tire which he put on for me. It was extremely difficult to get on. As I started my ride up the mountain, I noticed that my back tire was becoming flat. Murray was ahead of me on the climb, and I pulled over on the side of the road, attempting to change my tube. The tire was so tight on that I couldn't get it off. Meanwhile, Murray had waited for me at a pull off further up the mountain. He had deemed it a good place to take photos. After 5 minutes of waiting for me, Murray came back down the road to see why I hadn't arrived. He saw me off my bike with my bike lying down. He thought the worst.
He was relieved it was only a flat, but not at all excited to remove the tight-fitting tire. Eventually, he was able to ply it off. Onward up the mountain, and then came flat number two - on the back wheel again. This time, Murray was nearby, and he changed the tube once again.
We continued our climb, and as we neared the top, we felt a spattering of rain. We had a choice - we could turn around or continue on toward Argostoli. A sign promoted wine tasting at the Robola Wine Cooperative. Onward we rode.
We left the our planned path to Argostoli to find the cooperative. It was down a winding road to a village called Fragata. The wine cooperative had two women clerks and two people wine tasting. No one rose to greet us or even acknowledge our presence as we entered. Undeterred, we walked toward the wine table and poured wine in some glasses. Some of the bottles were empty and full ones were on the table, but the clerks didn't even seem to notice.
We tried the three options available to us. The white was light and crisp but not too smooth. It was a little sweeter than a chardonnay. The red was nasty - acidic with a strange after taste, a bit skunky. The Brillante Rose was just right - refreshing, not too sweet, with a nice strawberry flavor.
As we tasted, a man arrived. We heard him speak Greek to another visitor who had arrived and then switch to English with a British accent. His name was Bill. He was retired and had moved to Kefalonia where he worked at the cooperative. When I asked about the grapes used in the various wines, Bill explained the Greek names. I had never heard of grapes called robola, tsaousi or vostilidi. Bill claimed that these varities of Grecian grapes were the source of commonly known varieties as chardonnay and merlot. Murray had his doubts as to the authenticity of Bill's story.
We left the cooperative, and no way were we going up the steep hill we descended into Fragkata. We picked a flatter, longer course through the valley. Wildflowers brightened the landscape, the clouds had disappeared revealing a clear, blue sky.
Halfway to our Argostoli, we saw a castle - up a hill, of course. Murray wanted to ride on; I wanted to see it. He said my American vote counted for two, so we rode to worth the steep climb. When we arrived, we found the entrance padlocked, and it was extrenely hot up there. Murray had also discovered his back tire was losing air.
"I'll pump it up. It'll be all right," he said.
We left the castle and continued on to Argostoli. Before we arrived, his tire deflated once again. This time he stopped to change the tube. This would be the fourth time he had changed a tire - my gouged tire, two flats and now his flat.
As we arrived in Argostoli, and Murray noticed that his back tire was once again losing air. He stopped to change the tire for the fifth time.
By this time it was early afternoon, and we were starving. We decided to bypass the busy traffic of the city and continue on the road that crossed the bay of Argostoli. We passed on a pedistrian bridge, once a road for autos. The area attracted both tourists and locals. We noticed some Greek fisherman with poles in hand and asked if we could take their photo.
Traveling a mile along the beautiful coastal highway, we spotted a restaurant. We stopped for lunch. We split a Greek salad, bread, fries and fried cheese. This was the first time we encountered someone at a restaurant who spoke very little English. When Murray asked for salt, and demonstrated pouring it onto the fries, she became excited - ketchup? No, Murray explained the word again. Mustard! she said, and left before we could correct her. Never mind, I found salt on another table. The woman returned with both ketchup and mustard.
After lunch, we continued up the coast. The ride was peaceful and quite scenic. The world was perfect. I rode ahead, crouched on my aerobars. I turned back to talk to Murray, and he had disappeared. I stopped and then headed back down the road, where I saw Murray.
"What happened," I asked as he neared me.
This was a problem. We were out of spare tubes. We had a patch kit, but there weren't any villages for a while. It would be impossible to patch a tire without a basin of water to find the leak.
We made it five miles, Murray stopping along the way to pump up the tire, when we saw some houses - but no restaurants or public places to stop. I saw some workmen on a roof and asked if we could have water and a bowl. They didn't speak much English, but he did understand water. One of the men came back with a hose. I tried to demonstrate a big bowl. He didn't get it. Murray found a discarded plastic cup, and the man filled the cup with water. Then he suggested we go back to Argostoli.
"Too far!" I protested. The man left.
Murray started to put one of the punctured tubes in the small cup. As he was moving the tube around, the man returned with a very large plastic blue bowl. This was perfect! Murray and I patched three tubes. Murray changed the tire for the sixth time.
We decided to bypass the beach since we had taken so much time on flats, and continued east riding beside the sea on the high cliffs above the northern coast of Kefalonia.
"My tire is going down again," Murray said. He may not have let the glue set long enough, but we had two more tubes. He changed the tire for the seventh time.
We rode all the way back without trouble. We stopped at our favorite hangout - Captain Corelli's in Agia Efimia.
Despite one gouged tire, six flats and missing the beach, this was by far the most scenic and fun day of our journey so far.
Total miles: 50
We made it to the village unscathed - mostly. Murray toppled over as he stopped his bike atop the climb to wait for me. The road was uneven and he couldn't unclip.
Assos had a quaintness to it with narrow winding streets and white houses with different colored shutters. The village is inhabited by only 75 full-time residents and the tourist season - from May through September - brings an abundance of foreign travelers.
Assos also has a large castle - once used as a local prison and formed the backdrop for almost every sunset scene in the movie Captain Corelli's Mandolin. It was a long walk up to the top. With our cleated shoes, we bypassed the castle. The castle is also the spot where around 1,500 Italians were butchered by Germans in September 1943.
Our lunch stop was a restaurant by the waterfront of Assos. I ordered a chicken kabob. Murray stuck with his noontime omelet. Once again, we split a Greek salad. The food was so-so and the bill much more than our previous lunch at Poros.
After lunch, we met up with Murray's family. They were enjoying a day on the pebbly beach at Assos. We stopped to say hi and posed for a quick photo. Then the only way out was up. As I started to pedal, I became a bit unstable by starting on a climb and toppled over as I started. I managed to unclip, but the gears scraped into my right calf. Oh, what would a cycling vacation be without a fall? I'm glad that Murray and I got our crashes out of the way.
The climb up was equally steep, but not as long. Then it was a fantastic descent most of the way to the villa.
Murray cooked that night - pesto pasta, salad and bread. I cleaned up afterwards.
Total miles: 40
Monday, May 18, 2009
We climbed up a mountain road through beautiful meadows lined with cypress trees and wild flowers. The fragrance reminded me of honeysuckle. The beauty surrounding me kept my mind off my aching legs. This was a long, steep climb. At the top of our climb, we arrived at a small village called Digaleto. There we found remnants of crumbled buildings from the 1953 earthquate in Kefalonia. This quake destroyed virtually every structure on the island.
Down a long descent we arrived at the town of Poros. The town is located along the Ionian Sea on the southeastern portion of the island. Murray told me Poros was a working port. I found the place to have a run-down feel. The colorful, cement buildings reminded me more of a tenament rather than a resort. But we were hungry, and so we stopped for a late lunch.
We selected a restaurant called the Fotis Family. Murray ordered an omelett, I ordered a chicken gyros with fries and we split a Greek salad. The food was delicious - and so cheap. We were amazed that our bill for food and drink was less than 15 Euros. Quite a deal. There is an advantage to lunching at a nappy resort town.
For dinner, we returned to Sami's waterfront. We ate at a different restaurant. Another fish dinner for me. Tasty and fresh. After dinner, we listened to Greek musicians play and sing and watched little Nia, Murray's niece, dance with her "mum." It was a beautiful, relaxing evening.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Murray helped me assemble my bike, and we went on my first ride, his second. We rode along the coast to Agia Efimia, a charming fishing village with outdoor cafes. We didn't stop on the way out, continuing on to Mirtos Beach.
Mirtos was down a very steep road. This is a very hilly island. At the end of the descent we discovered a pristine white sand beach. The turquoise water was so clear that I could see rocks and minnows beneath the surface. We took off our shoes, and waded in the water - not too cold. Afterwards, we reclined on the warm sand and let the Mediterrean sun warm us. Our only complaint - no snack shop for refreshments. Odd, since there was a structure half-built which looked like a snack shop forgotten in the middle of construction.
The climb up from the beach was challenging. I haven't biked much this year, especially compared to the past two years. My legs protested the vertical ascent. Okay, it wasn't quite vertical, but it was the hardest climb I have ridden since last year's ascent up the mountains of France. Thank goodness it was only a mile or so up to the top.
On the way home, we stopped at Elimia to a bar/cafe called Captain Carelli's. We stopped for drinks - a lemonde and water for me, a small beer for Murray. We were amazed with the cheap price - only 4 euros.
That evening, Kerry made a vegetable barbecue, eggplant stuffed with mozzarella, Greek salad, bread and wine.
Total miles: 24
Friday, May 15, 2009
That evening, we had a birthday dinner and then cake to celebrate the 75th birthday of Murray's dad, David. His mom, Maureen, his sister Kerry and her two children, Nia and Cara were there for the festivities.
We ate dinner at a restaurant by the water. I had grilled black snapper cooked in cellophane with carrots, garlic, potato pieces and Greek olive oil. The combination was a flavor medely. My only complaint was the small fish bones.
After dinner, Murray, Kari, the kids and I walked back to the villa. Along the way, I captured some photos along the waterfront. One nice thing about being in Greece is that most all of the people speak English.
We returned to the villa to have chocolate cake. David wondered why there were six candles since it was his 75th birthday. No one had an answer. But we sang happy birthday and enjoyed the rich, decadent cake with a chocolate mousse layer.