June 8 – 9, 2013
We jumped up at first light to pack up our sleeping pads and get out of the smoke. The ferry arrived early and we were happy to be off the boat. We rode pretty quickly through the narrow streets of Piraeus, the port area near Athens, stopping to buy some goat cheese at a market and some pastries at a bakery. After devouring spinach and cheese pies, followed by a cinnamon flavored baklava roll, we headed towards the center of town. We did make a quick pit stop at a hardware store to find a nut for part of Jenny’s saddle which had rattled off. The owner gave us the nut and a spare free of charge. We were loving it here so far!
We made it to the hostel that we had in mind and checked into a room for 35 Euros. I asked for a room with a balcony and they moved us over for no additional fee. The room had a shared bathroom, but it also had a spectacular view of the south side of the Acropolis including some of the Parthenon. We lounged in the room, taking in the view, coming up with a plan for the next day. We had been on the move, not under our own power for a while so we needed to reset, and figure out what the heck we were going to do for the next few months!
The next day we spent a good chunk of the morning up at the Acropolis, which was very busy, but the ruins were really impressive, so we barely noticed the swarms of tour groups. The overall site is called the Acropolis, which is a dramatic site set on a tall plateau with clear views of the whole city. There are several important buildings and other structures such as a large amphitheater that made up the compound, so we spent a while wandering. There were a fair amount of interpretive signs, so we were able to get the basic idea of what we were looking at. The Parthenon, which is the central rectangular pillared building, is an imposing structure up close. There was a bunch of scaffolding up which unfortunately obscured one end. They were apparently in some stage of either disassembling or reassembling the columns, in order to stabilize the structure. We wandered back down the north side of the Acropolis, which was almost completely deserted, and rested for a while in the shade of the cave of Zeus.
Other than the ruin sites, Athens didn’t really charm us. It is not a very attractive city. From the plateau of the Acropolis, we could see a dense sea of modern buildings in every direction, riding up the sides of the steep hills ringing the town spilling continuously all the way down to the sea. Down in the streets, it was a dingy place with knocked out windows on abandoned storefronts covered in graffiti. I saw the first people of the entire trip taking hard drugs as I walked down a street near the tourist center.
There was a central market area selling produce, meats fish and other things, which was worth a walk through, but without a place to cook, we didn’t buy anything. The rest of the retail in the area was mostly tourist shops, newsstands and everything for 1 Euro type shops hawking chincy stuff like flyswatters and plastic toys.
We were in the “flea market” area so we wandered around there some. A few people were selling some genuinely interesting things like records, religious icons, sewing machines, antique surgical instruments, etc. On the main drag there were more desperate people selling old worn out clothes, broken sun glasses, battered film cameras and computer keyboards. There was a surprising amount of pornography available, with people leafing through their options out on the street. Even though we were properly in the tourist area of Athens, it felt dirty, desperate, a little dangerous and more than anything, dull. There was a lot of colorful graffiti and art around but the shops and restaurants were mostly swank touristy things that were really expensive and generic. The whole place felt really built up for tourism, but there wasn’t much actually going on and that resulted in an empty feeling.
We spent a lot of our time sitting on our balcony munching on olives and drinking cold beer. We found out the hard way that much of Greece shuts down on Sunday. We walked for about 5 miles in a big spiral trying to find somewhere to even buy a loaf of bread, with no luck. We ended up getting the most delicious falafel and kebab sandwiches at a small food shop in a Muslim neighborhood. While we were eating a whole bunch of Athens police were searching a car parked outside the restaurant, then came in and searched everyone for drugs, but they left us alone. The owner was clearly embarrassed, but at this point it takes a little more than that to faze us. We ordered more wraps to go and headed back to our oasis.
We pored over Google maps and a few other cycling blogs before settling on a plan to ride basically due west towards Patras. The route followed the north coast of the Peloponnese and appeared to be one of the most popular cycling routes out of Athens. There was a national highway and a smaller secondary road, the latter is usually a great option for cyclists, since the secondary roads are usually only used by local traffic. With a plan in mind we were excited to get out of the city and see the country.