We arrived at the foot of the site, tour buses doubled parked and queues of school children waiting to explore the museum. The sun was intensifying and a heatwave forecast. If we passed another hour or two wondering around the excavations, we would be leaving ourselves in a vulnerable position when we cycle away. Having gone out of our way to get there, we were now considering missing it altogether, merely to beat the heat. Luckily for us, a couple from Belgium insisted that it is not to be missed and we are so glad we listened to them!
History and museums have never really been my thing, but this place was different. According to Zeus, we were standing in the centre of the world and whether you believe it or not, that's quite a feeling, like crossing the equator and becoming an honoury member of King Neptune's Realm, I guess.
At the top of the archaeological site, beyond the temples and magnificent theatre, we found what we had really come to see; the stadium. Approximately 177 metres long, the athletics track has hosted both games and musical events, I know David would have loved a chance to sprint down the middle of it!
As night fell, the wind gathered force and as it slipped down the mountain it seemed to be dumping on our tent, no amount of guy tension could control the rage! Bracing ourselves inside, we were genuinely quite scared, I was half expecting to find ourselves at the bottom of the valley by morning. Lightening struck around us and we considered taking salvation in the chapel. I went to look inside, but to be honest, it was so pristine and knowing that it was a protected site, I just didn't feel comfortable traipsing in there. I half expected a visit from one of the monks to beckon us inside, but no such luck.
Seen as we had trailed off route, our onward journey was far from downhill. Again, sleep deprivation was making it slow and arduous, but the human body seems to have an insane ability to just keep going and by the end of the day we had covered another huge distance. Before I tell you about the next evening's camping debacle, I have to tell you a funny story from the afternoon. Still up in altitude, we were cycling through superb landscapes and came to an area surrounded by pine forest that looked like a national park. Although early in the afternoon, it was so beautiful here, we considered the possibility of camping and exploring the area by foot. We had just passed a taverna and decided to swing around and enquire inside. Sitting outside we then met Tammy and George.
If ever there was another soul as wonderfully mad as this lady, I would love to meet them! Tammy was South African and George from Crete and they had met just a year ago. Having recently been promoted to Ships Captain of his vessel, this couple had good reason to be celebrating. It was their final weekend together before George needed to be back onboard and so they were taking a road trip through the mountains and then staying with friends that evening in Corinth, just south of Athens. Tammy had invited us to join the party too, but we would never make Corinth by the evening, so again we had to decline the offer. Then the two of them came up with another idea.
Before we knew it, we had agreed to join them on their escapade through the mountains, shoving our bicycles in the back of their vehicle. Wheeling the bikes back out to the road, David and I looked around, curious as to which vehicle belonged to them. And then the boot flipped open to a ridiculously small Seat Altea. David and I looked at one another, surely they were not serious! But they were, deadly serious at that! Politely, we mentioned that there was no way it was going to work, but Tammy was adamant that in Greece 'anything was possible!'.
Not wanting to offend them, we let them give it a go. With more chance of squeezing two elephants onto the backseats, George eventually decided he would strap them to the roof instead. There was no roof racks and no means of protection underneath, let along any straps to hold the bikes on anyway. Tammy declared that it didn't matter if the car got damaged, the bank owned it anyway and George went about picking up our chewed up bungees that were only just sufficient enough to hold our rack packs on the back of our bikes. When we realised that he intended to hold our bikes with these bungees alone, we finally pulled a halt to their fun. We agree that wilfulness goes a long way but there really are occasions where one must admit defeat and this was one of them!!
So we racked up a few extra kilometres that afternoon and were now scouting for a camp.
You could tell we were nearing the Capital, deranged guard dogs tied to the end of long chains paced back and forth barking incessantly, protecting the big industrial sheds and farms. The small chapels were now locked and we were being warned by several locals not to camp outside of the villages. Ironically, locals always seem to be more nervous about the safety of their own area than we ever are, but still, we take note until we've had a chance to suss it out. As recommended, we went straight to the villages to try and find a camp within a park area. The first place seemed perfect, a small village with a few shops for amenities, bar, restaurant and a park near to the church.
It was Saturday evening and all the kids were back from their day at the beach and playing in the streets. We picked up some food and sat on the wall to enjoy our dinner. No sooner had we sat down and the first two boys came over on their bikes to speak with us. They were very sweet boys and fascinated by what we were doing . We asked their names and showed them our map and they proceeded to ask us a thousand questions. Another two boys soon joined them and the four of them stood there watching us and hysterically laughing. They had told us to begin with that they had to be somewhere to meet their friends, but now it seemed they had changed their minds! There was no way we were going to put our tent up yet, we would have had the four of them in there with us! It was when more kids came to find out what was happening that we decided this may not be the best place. We packed up and tried to out race the hoard of children chasing us on their mountain bikes out of the village. I tell you what, it was a bloody tough challenge, we had cycled 140km's or so and now being pursued by energetic teenagers!
Athens itself was a huge disappointment for us and it is probably one of the most vandalised cities we have ever seen. Every shop front, house and business has been decorated with graffiti and it seems a pointless effort to try and clean it up. As has been heavily publicised recently, there is an unemployment crisis, but the huge numbers of refugees also fleeing into this area seem to be making a bad situation worse and I can assume it is putting a huge strain on the welfare system. When we cycled into the city, tuk-tuks loaded with belongings darted from one place to another, hooting us as they came alongside and others were just on foot, carrying their babies and taking residence on the footpaths to beg for help. We didn't feel threatened at any point, these people are just desperate, but we did feel like we needed to keep a close eye on our belongings. Once in the city centre, there was not a great deal of improvement, though there is a very nice area called Pláka which is like a haven under the slopes of the Acropolis. The labyrinth of historical streets climb up the foot of the hillside with steep stairs and narrow alleyways where you can find restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops and as you climb higher, you will see quirky white-washed houses, more typical of the Greek islands.
Santorini is absolutely spectacular, the contrast between the still active volcano rising dramatically out of the sea and the romantic white and blue limestone villages nestled on top, really is incredibly striking. The sunsets too are something this islands has been selling itself on for years and now we know why. As the sun falls towards the horizon, the spectrum of reds reflect off the pristine white buildings and create an entirely different scene, totally beautiful. We explored the entire island over a couple of days and it was also great to see an old friend again, Nathan and his girlfriend Andrea. Nathan went out to Santorini nearly 10 years ago to help assist his uncle with his photography business. Since, Nathan has fully established himself as a photographer on the island and has earned himself an outstanding reputation for his stunning wedding photography. If anyone is interested in photography or visiting Santorini, please take a moment to check out Nathan's work;
Nathan Wyatt Photography