Greece

Monks on the rocks

It’s pleasing to report that there has been more to Greece than just exquisite beaches, comforting food and a woeful economy. Central Greece provided some easy-going rolling hills through a relatively peaceful and picturesque part of the country, which delivered us ultimately to the implausible Meteora.

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Metora is a collection of towering sandstone pillars that would have fallen comfortably in the category of ‘impressive place’, had they never been touched by human hands. The fact that a bunch of industrious, and remarkably ambitious, 14th century Greek Orthodox Monks decided to build a series of monasteries atop these things, has resulted in something quite spectacular. Nowadays the sandstone also provides some of Eastern Europe’s finest rock climbing, which leaves those of us claiming to be neither monk nor climber, observing one activity of sheer exertion and elation, ascending towards something completely different. Who’s to say who’s got it right?

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Downtime to think about the Monks.

Our time in Athens has been split fairly evenly between recovery, preparation (for our next leg) and indulging in some of what the city has to offer. The stories of Zeus, Athena, Pericles and the Olympics have provided us with another millennium of history we previously knew very little about, with the surprise highlight for both of us being a shuffle around the new Acropolis museum, and the surprise lowlight for one of us being reminded (quite frequently) of the Elgin Marbles story. Our only real gripe of this city though, might be that the whole experience just doesn’t seem quite ancient enough. And when the ancient Greek civilisation isn’t quenching your historical thirst, there is really only one place left to go….

The original Olympic stadium, and home to the very first sub-3 marathon (1896).

Oh look, a tree.

The Greek home front.

End of our penultimate day in Europe.

The Greek slowdown

On one hand, cycling through Greece is very much like taking a cycle ride through an oil painting; you’re never too far away from a hillside olive plantation, a beautiful sandy cove or a picturesque terracotta-topped village. Indeed, this is an undeniably pretty country. On the other hand, it does seem a little rough around the edges at the moment.

Greece’s financial planners from the last decade have not exactly showered themselves in glory, and their politicians not stayed entirely free of ineptness or corruption charges. As a result, Greece took a particularly hard fall during the world economic meltdown, and the subsequent austerity measures have certainly not gone unnoticed for the carefree visitor to the country. Abundant empty shop fronts, partially completed buildings and abandoned industry make some areas feel rather like a hurricane passed through a few years ago and no one has bothered to return yet. Undoubtedly, a few jobs could be created to perhaps mend a fence (or two), cut the grass, or clean graffiti from all the road signs (though ironically, a sign which had escaped such vandalism was one that read: ‘semi-finished house for sale’). It would seem not so much that the purse strings have been tightened in this part of the world, rather that the purse strings have been rendered utterly useless by the enormous hole at the bottom of the purse.

Greece has a lot of…..

….Greece has a little of.

Our pace of riding has certainly tapered since crossing the border from Turkey, though we are thankfully still occasionally turning pedal, which is almost a prerequisite for a national cuisine where you either go full-fat or you go home. However, we’re hoping for a return to the old routine as we head towards Athens, a city which boasts even more history than the Bible – although encouragingly for the Athenians, theirs is a history based on actual events.

Thessaloniki: a culinary win