The ferry from Italy to Igomenitsa (Greece) docked at 22:30. Having done an honorary lap of the floodlit ferry port it seemed sensible to grab a nearby hotel than trying to navigate anything else in nocturnal Greece. It was a blow out at €40, but you win some and you lose more. The Eurovision song contest was on TV, some Spanish lady was getting rained on while singing the same line for 3 minutes.
Rising around nine and stepping out onto the balcony the view that eluded me last night opened up in front. Thick green mountains rolled away from the shoreline and into the distance. The further away they were the heavier the veil of mists occluding them from the valley floors until the furthest became the faintest ghosts on the horizon. No one had told me Greece was going to be this rugged and I liked it.
Saddling up, I hadn’t got a map or a plan in mind. The morning was absorbed by booking and printing the online Turkish e-visa and skipping breakfast. I was still in two minds about taking a northern route to Turkey and heading back through the islands on my return leg or vice versa. But leaving choices like this to snap decisions on the road had never failed me yet (oh, really?) so I rode to Ioanna through a hundred motorway mountain tunnels to eat up my morning. Police had cordoned off most of the city roads because, I assumed, they wanted to. With the centre out of reach (get off and walk lazy-boots!) there wasn’t really anything to do aside from catching late breakfast toasties and looking at the lake, which was full of duck pond scum.
Option one, straight to Istanbul was looking sensible as I wouldn’t have to ship my bike back to Greek islands if there was a problem taking the bike into Turkey. So I took option two and started riding South.
Tarmac was good and smooth and as Greek speed limits were never-learned, progress was fast. I was at Arta before I knew it, site of a historic bridge you’re meant to photograph. Legends tell the master builder buried his wife inside it for ‘good fortune’. I suspect it was because she kept buying shoes.
I’d noticed a finger of land sticking out into the broad spanning lake about 10km south of Arta on my poorly conceived satnav app and took a gamble that it might be interesting. The buildings eased off and tall grasses eased in, until all you could see was the white lines laid out in front. Rounding two left corners everything dropped away apart from the causeway, a thin two laned stretch to the peninsula home to a few shoddy looking buildings with gazebos out front. I raced a boat to the island, rounding stray cats and discarded plastic buckets as they lurked after corners. I won, but only because I don’t think the boat knew it was in a race..B.B.B.BOATING!!
The small island village was charming in a broken down way. That said it did have an impressive number of coffee shops and restaurants for the 5 or so actual houses I saw…Before I knew the village had started I was out of the other side, looking down the barrel of a progressively degrading dirt road that wasn’t on the map. But what was on the map was a sliver land much smaller than the causeway I’d arrived on which maybe, maybe led back to shore. It didn’t, choosing to pitter away into more long grass and banked up gravel instead, but it was good fun to get off the beaten track and do some exploring for a change. And I hear the best way to treat new road tyres is a good thrash up gravel, mud and rock trails – who am I to argue?
So with the only way out the exact way I’d come, I rode all the way back to Arta, round the east coast of the lake and further south, only stopping for a lakeside kebab and petrol. The road swerved closer to the coast for some cool sea views and eventually the huge Rio-Antirio bridge that I would have to cross to get to Patras.
It was knocking on early evening. I needed a bank and somewhere to stay cheaper than last night. Patras is like anywhere else in Spain or Italy – made incalculably more complicated for tourists through the use of nonsense one way systems. Stopping for a shouting match with an old Greek (I assumed was swearing with me so started swearing back) didn’t help find a bank, even through I got my card out, tapped four beeps into the air with my finger and withdrew invisible money. Useless, miserable old shit. By the time I found a bank I’d drank the dregs of enthusiasm I had for Patra, deciding instead to nut up and ride further south in search of a place to sleep.
It got rural and beautiful pretty quickly. Thankfully petrol was abundant and coffee shops were friendly. “Not a million miles away is a highly rated campsite“, said the coffee shop WiFi. “Why don’t you put it in your GPS and go find it?” So I did. Through more lovely rural villages and into the fading purple light. People glided serenely along the roads with a verdant backdrop, on seemingly unimportant missions to do whatevers. Another village had closed off its main high street and I’m pretty sure I could smell a tombola. Forcing me to nav around the street party. Roadkill snakes became more and more abundant.
I pulled into the beachside campsite at dusk. Before pitching my tent I grabbed a cold beer, unleashed my noxious feet from their leather/plastic coffins and went to feel the sandy beach between my toes. Greece was proving to be better than expected.