Week 7 – Switzerland, France

                                                                        Inner Dialogue : Writing a Blog Post

11 days – I had: proper rest and family love in Zurich, a perfect host in Basel,  a terrifying night of camping in Villersexel, a last-moment and luxurious camping in Langres, a train in Troyes, my friends in Paris, before-the-flight stress in Charles de Gaulle Airport, 20 minutes in Iceland, 2 hours under captivity in Boston Logan Airport, heavy rain and finally peaceful, warm, feeling-like-home environment in Boston.

WEEK 7

Let the video tell the story.

So yes, from a point and then I knew that the 230 km was unrealistic. I started not feeling really comfortable with the (dark + fog + 1 lane = dangerous) equation, so a beautiful and full of leaves spot by the road seemed the ideal place to camp. When I was setting up my tent I started listening to owls and I saw one little squirrel. I enjoyed it at that moment but also I was really attentive to any other creature because I didn’t want any surprises and it was dark already. The thing is…. I woke up in the middle of the night out of very loud animal cries… I know it wasn’t something small, it wasn’t familiar and it wasn’t very close. It was somewhere around… I have never been more frightened in my life and I don’t ever want to find myself in a similar occurrence… (Now I was typing these words I got really curious to find out what animal was that. The sound was very similar to this  one………..) I was thinking what should I do.. Should I leave?  (It was very difficult to pack everything fast in cold and dark, so I just stayed there). I started praying and soon enough I slept again… I saw in my dream my godfather… reassuring me that everything is ok and I shouldn’t be worried… I woke up again and again but I was feeling like this issue is arranged. Thanks none 🙂

At my first day in France a very touching incident took place. I was standing by the road, looking at my gps where should I go. At some point a car came by me with a French couple that insisted on helping me find my way. They indeed took me from a “secret” road that saved me 4 km, but this was nothing. They stepped aside right before we separate so we meet each other properly. After telling them about my trip the French lady went into the car, came out, and gave me 40 euros and a chocolate bar!!! While I refused to accept them, she just forced her hand into my pocket! Merci beaucoup Gerard and Sndrine!

And now the 11th of December. A very special day that I woke up very cheerful…! (yes, this is how the time passes when you are alone for so many hours)

I finally got to Troyes and took the Train to Paris. I paid 27 euros for 1 and a half hour trip without a special for the bike… But hey, I am having a folding bike (see below)!

To sum up, in 4 days I had 462 km in 26 hours. Everyday it was getting a lot more difficult and the last day, even from the very first miles, I had sore legs totally unwilling to turn the pedal.. All of this, thought, had soon been forgotten, as I rode out of the train station, down to Paris neighborhood called Marais. From the very beginning Paris seemed to be very vibrant, alive. I fell in love in 10 minutes and the smile couldn’t leave from my face. It stuck there even more when I met my lovely friends George and Dafne (who came from Greece), and Rania, Georgina, Nefeli, and Mr. Konstantinos Anagnostou (who came from London). We had 3 wonderful days together!!!!

I could write a book in regard to our time in Paris, but since “a picture is worth a thousand words”, I ‘ll opt for creating a gallery that’s way less time-consuming 😉

And now, two words in regard to my last day in Europe and the first day in the USA.
“I always wanted more hours in a day so I don’t need to choose between sleeping and other cool stuff. Well, yesterday (17/12/2015 was the l o n g e s t day of my life! Literally, I traveled in time and space! Left at 16:00 from Keflavik airport (in Iceland), and reached Boston at 17:00, after a 6 hours flight! Woke up at 07:00 in Paris and slept at 08:00 (in Paris time) in Boston! Well, a 25hour adventure! Send cards by post / take the huge box with the bike at the airport / fly to Iceland / fly to Boston / leave the airport 5 hours after landing (kept in the U.S. customs and border protection + re-assemble the bike / ride from the airport to Boston in rain and no maps and highways (took a train to avoid them)/ Woohoo!

Packing up the bike!

 

Yes… I didn’t tell you that my camera stopped working… 😦 You can turn it on and all the indications are on the led screen and everything seems to be OK apart from the fact that it just shows black on the screen, and it takes only plain black photos… Error E32… :/ So, here is the last pictures from my amazing camera. Accompanied by pictures shot by Dafne and George, with their own cameras.

Week 6 – Italy, Switzerland

No flow this week – just random thoughts – small bits and pieces.
Feelings | Facts | Images | Videos | People | Moments

40 days far from home. But now I am really into it – I don’t look back anymore.. Maybe I should start saying
410 days left to go back home. But, still, this is not sure..

6 weeks was enough time to give me an idea of what this 15 months may look like. I like it a lot – all this (almost everyday) change of habitat is intriguing and full of stimuli. But this trip is not vacations. There is next to no free time. One side of it is what you see: riding for so much time, camping, meeting people. Another side is what’s in my mind: so many possibilities while moving. So much inactive potential. Visiting places, meeting people, keeping it online, say some things about the churches, say some things about the rides, find a way to get into schools, record your feelings, send this email – send that email, make a song while riding, take pictures of Greek words and make a truly greeklish story, experiment with your camera, write an article in Greek………

I had mixed feelings this week. Everyday I wake up and I am very happy. I AM DOING IT – pause – LOOK AROUND – yes! But there are also some must-do’s in my head. I must be there by tomorrow, I must update my map online, I must send this damn email. And all these new things that I could do… There are a few times I feel overwhelmed – I feel all this is way too big to handle. I feel a pressure at my chest.

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And then I answer to myself:

Man, you are a tiny small dot in this universe’s time and space. You are a next-to-nothing something that will die tomorrow ( I am ONE out of the 7 billion humans living currently on the planet out of the 100 billion humans ever lived on the planet. A planet aged 4.5 billion years in a 14 billion years aged universe). In this timeline I will die… tomorrow! I don’t have time to waste in being anxious, I have limited time to enjoy all this gift-present of now. I certainly don’t have time not to Live my trip, I don’t have time not to feel what you&you&you feel. So, relax man, and see the greater picture. This trip is not what it could be – this trip is not what it should be. This trip is this trip – embrace it as it is – “live it | love it” as you say.  And this is how I relax and I am looking for alternatives in every problem. Relax – ask yourself what is the most important – ask yourself why are you doing this – find alternatives – CREATE alternatives.

However. All this theoretical positivish blabla above needs some serious realistic proposition in order to get me out of the feeling of a-bit-distanced-current-reality. (Paradoxically, this feeling coexists with a truly fulfilling feeling of living-in-the-moment. It’s possible, believe me.) Now, I need to put in order my everyday life. I need to set priorities. I need to get better organised. In order to be more safe, in order to save money, in order not to waste energy. I spent 4 hours at a cold Milanese night this week looking for a hostel. F O U R hours! I spent 3 hours in Venice, for the same reason, carrying the bike on my back. But there are so many things to do today that I forget about the essentials: Be sure about my route, for example. 20 rides so far and not even one of them was proper – “I’ ll go from A to B, this way”. I always improvise because my gps has been failing me repeatedly and even google maps make mistakes… So far, what I do is heading into the center of a city and asking for a hostel around. Just asking.

WEEK 5

Riding to Verona – A getting-wiser moment

I slept in Venice on Sunday the 30th. I had this strong feeling that I described above: there-are-so-many-things-to-do-and-I-will-f*cking-do-everything-now – I’ll reach “NOW”, now! So, I had been doing stuff online all-night long, just slept for an hour and  woke up to go to the Orthodox Cathedral of San Giorgio dei Greci in Venice.

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The church was really beautiful. I enjoyed the service a lot. We were only six, but it was so vibrant.

After enjoying an Italian coffee (quick espresso) with the congregation, I packed my stuff and I was ready to leave from Venice. I put the bags on my shoulders and worked my way out of the old -island-town. (I was carrying my bike again).

On my way out of the complex of Venetian Isles I had to cross a 3 km bridge. When I was going to Venice I missed the entrance to the bike lane (which was next to, but clearly divided from, the road) and I was riding at the road, where I got a reprimand from the local police at the end of the bridge. Now, when I was leaving from Venice, and because it was common in some roads to keep both directions of the bike lanes in one side of the road, I went directly to the bike lane that I had missed when going to Venice (which was next to the, opposite for me, direction of the cars). (I just went there – it was an arbitrary, on the spot, spontaneous decision). I rode across the bridge, and at the end of it, I realised that there was no way to cross the road and go to the direction that was getting out of Venice. (See picture below). Oh! I should go back and follow the normal road that was heading out of Venice…..

I shut down all parallel brain activities for 10 seconds and focused. At that time, all the pieces of a logical puzzle came together into my mind to form a more rational-realistic picture of my reality. It was 15:00 o clock – I had 130 km in front of me – I had slept for only one hour – I remembered a message I received the previous night by Katia (mother of a good friend) that moved me, and she was advising me not to ride at night. And then it kind of took flesh and blood this phrase that ranks first on my receiving-wishes-phrasebook: “να προσέχεις” (take care of your self). Na proseheis, na proseheis, na proseheis.. [So far, when I was reading all these wishes I was saying to my self: ok, ok I will take care, I do take care, what does it mean to “take care” in such a dynamic and uncertain environment – It seemed to me such a general and all-encompassing-so-nothing-revealing phrase that I was mocking it.]

However, at that point I said “man, here it is: “take care” is not to ride for 7 hours in the dark, for 130 km, having slept only for one hour, without being sure of your route. This is what taking care of yourself means! It is so simple – open your eyes!” (This kept less than 10 seconds) I turned around, heading back to Venice again – I said “f*ck it, I’ ll take the train” and went back to Venice’s Train Station. Met Jack, another cyclist traveler and had a long talk before I went to the train station and buy a ticket to Milan (20€ for me and 3€ for the bike, 267 km and 2 ride-days less).

This was a getting-wiser moment for me, although I guess a wise person wouldn’t proclaim his wisdom growing. However, I am not wise – I just fought with my ego these 10 seconds of realism at that end of the bridge.

I went to Milan. I was looking for a hostel for 4 hours. I was feeling cold. I went to more than 10 hostels. Some were very expensive (20 euros or more, some were full, some were not there, and one while telling me that there is a free bed, didn’t let me into the hostel!!) I found a guest house for 15euros/night where I had a 14 hour long proper sleep.

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I didn’t really see Milan. What I saw in both Venice and Milan, though, was the 2 sides of the capitalistic coin. On the one side you could see all the Italian high class style on the way people were dressed (extravagant clothes, fancy hats etc.), in the way the streets and the shops looked like and of course on the high prices. On the other side of the coin, I saw many many non-Italians, immigrants. And I saw some really sad faces of people from Bangladesh on the streets that were selling (trying to, actually) the typical cheap tourist-like or seasoned stuff. A note here: The hostel in Venice was run by a 3 below 25 yo persons from Bangladesh, Turkey and China. The Hostel in Milan, from 3 below 25 persons from Philippines, Ecuador and China.

Enjoy the jaw-dropping beauty of Venice!

And now, get ready for the  longest and most tiring riding day so far… 170 km and 2.464 m total elevation gain – getting into the Alps by bike? – 5.000 kcal needed! Enjoy!

I forgot all of my physical exhaustion right away when I found my camping spot, some hundred meters after Airolo. So magical was that place that my psychology went from the sense-of-achievement paradise to the seventh heaven of camping-by-a-small-river-and-under-the-stars-all-alone.. Oh, definitely worth the effort!

Now I was about to write in regard to the next day, Thursday the 3rd, when I rode to Zurich… But, I forgot to mention, that that day begun, actually, one day earlier. Upon my arrival in Airolo (which is an Italian-speaking village) I met 2 guys on the street that started talking to me in Italian and I was responding in Spanish. They pointed a bar to me saying that the owner speaks Spanish. So, I just went there to change clothes and charge (I didn’t have time for the second as they closde at 20:00). The good thing was, that after some time talking with the owner, he let me know that I cannot go to Zurich by bike straight from Airolo as some roads later on the mountain were closed due to Winter weather!!! He told me that the only way was to take the train to the next village (at the other side of the mountain) and get from there to Zurich.. So, on Thursday the 3rd of December, I took the train to Goschenen (paying 6 Swiss franks for me and 6 for the bike, approx 11 euros) and rode 116 km, without batteries charged, to Zurich.. (How naive I was – I thought it would be an extremely easy ride, because I had climbed so much the previous day…. NOT)

Ah, on my way to Zurich I was stopped by the Police for being extremely cool and beautiful with my undercover e-bike… Well, not exactly like this, I was stopped by the police because I rode for 10 seconds on the left side of the road! One of the two cops took my passport and was trying for 5 minutes (making phonecalls) to write me a fine, while the other cop was kind of mocking me.. No fine, finally 😀

Now, I would really like to thank Eleanna and Panagiotis (my bro) for hosting me here in Zurich and taking care of me so much (feeling like a king :D)
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Enjoy the rest of the pictures! Next week Paris, France to celebrate my Birthday with super lovely friends!! Yihaaaaaa!! Have an AWESOME week you people!

Week 5 – Slovenia, Italy

In Italy!
1 month + 2 days in total.
3rd country in this week. 4 weeks far from home.
18 rides – 106 hours cycling – 2.131 km! Woohoo! 😀

Now lying on my bed at a Venezian hostel (20 €/night w/breakfast, this city is soooo expensive!) – ready to write down what’s been happening these last days. I had some time this week to explore my feelings a little bit, as after leaving Zagreb, I can say, I spent most of my time alone. There were people around me, but I didn’t have these longer conversations I had the previous weeks.

Now, add to that the fact that spending so much time on two wheels provides you with plenty of time to think, and mile by mile pass through the entire emotional spectrum. There were times of swearing and cursing half of the universe and there were times of love and compassion for the whole humanity.

So, there’s a question that keeps coming into my mind as I move forward and get to meet more people – “Why I wasn’t saving money and travelling for so many years? Just backpacking – exploring the world – check what’s around. This experience is so much broadening your horizons as to who you are – what is your place in this world. (Funny here, the day before yesterday I was trying to find a hostel in Venice, carrying my bike along the way. After like 20 minutes of riding and walking slowly into the narrow alleys of the old town, a waiter from a bar started yelling at me for bringing the bike into the island-city. So he told me something and I responded in Spanish that I didn’t know (that bikes were forbidden) and he got so mad at me and started shouting “no lo se puede – no lo se puede – bicicletta – Venezia – no lo se puede [=impossible not to know]. It was so normal for him to know that, because Venice is the center of his world – I had no idea whatsoever)

So, last Sunday I was writing from Zagreb, Croatia, and now, 7 days later I am in Venice, Italy. 3rd country in a week… Thinking how compact my days are, how full. I am a bit worried for the intense moments that go by and I cannot reflect upon them as.. oops, yet another is coming.. I haven’t yet found a way to put down my thoughts and feelings. Started recording but it’s not always so easy (now, for example, two Japanese are sleeping in the room), writing takes a lot of time and I can’t have my tablet at hand always. Now in the blog, I can’t write everything as you understand – there are some things very personal 😉 But I am happy for my electronic footprints.. I look back and I smile.

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Route – Overnight of the 4th Week

On Sunday the 22nd of November I woke up in Zagreb – much later than desired. After being a bit lost in the city I arrived at the very beautiful Christian Orthodox church of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Zagreb. I got there at the very end of the Service and I was really disappointed. You see, the whole blog-post preparation takes a lot of time and I barely slept on the previous Saturday night. [I am concerned about the blog and the social media – I was never into these, really. Still I am not sure I know exactly what hashtag is for or how to upload something on every platform simultaneously.. It takes a lot of time and I don’t know  -I mean, I kind of feel- but I don’t know who is actually reading all of these or if it worths it.]

On Sunday night I had a very nice chat in the hostel with Rana from Germany Berlin 😉 and Will-sir-Willliam ;), from the USA. It had to do with.. well, is difficult to sum it up – parts of it: “Is travelling as getting-out-of-your-comfort-zone the right answer to all people on the question how do I make the most out of my life?” or, the fact that we are all  “products of our society” and at the same time free to chose are own path. Nothing very special, but  I really enjoyed it. [Will kind of represented the American Dream, while Rana the German realism – hehe]. However, I am mentioning it here because  it once more made clear to me that Hostels are like apiaries (μελίσσια) – full of bees!

On Monday morning  I left to Ljubljana, Slovenia. 130km – I was expecting some snow and some cold and I was prepared for them… What I was not prepared for was that one very “clever” roommate of mine that had unplugged the cable that powered the plug I had at my bed. So I woke up and saw my two batteries with their light still red – there were not charged at all. Urgh :/  I bought a looot of cookies and made it to Slovenia! Ljubljana was just adorable!!!

And now… the good stuff!!

On November the 26th, Thursday, I left Ljubljana to cross the Sloveno-Italian borders and reach Udine, where I would spend one night… It was 130km, with one mountain (similar to the Greek mount Ymittos) – It wouldn’t be that hard, I supposed… There was a surprise, though…

As I was cycling I was pondering what to do. I was very concerned, so after the first small climbing I was like “ok, no no – 130 km is a lot – you ‘ll stop here, at the first wi-fi cafe – before getting into the mountain – and if you don’t find a solution, you won’t leave”. But, I couldn’t see any proper cafe so I ended up, without actually realising it, climbing up the hill.. After some time, the view was so good I enjoyed it!

But then again I knew there were worse coming.. I ate a bit, I got mentally prepared and…

[So, luckily, at some point, when actually I needed it the most, add-e started working. And it happened in a very, I would admit, peculiar way. After 40 km that was ON but not functional, and at a point I had started to feel a bit desperate (saying to myself: “if this hill is that steep for more, I ‘ll need to step down, and start walking carrying the bike”), I shouted, rather arbitrarily, (έλα ρε add-e) “come on add-e”, and before I finish the “add-e” part, it “came back to life!!!]

After the beautiful sleep I left to Venice… 130 km without batteries, since I couldn’t charge last night… However, I had already checked and there was not a lot of climbing, so I was like “ok, eat well, drink a lot, concentrate, you can do it”! I also treated myself well…

And made it to Venice! How beautiful – how magical is this place?!
I spent a looot of time to find where to sleep and I was carrying my bike in stairs and bridges – really tiring a day! But Venice narrow alleys and small plazas paid me off!

Weeks 3, 4- Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia

More days + more places + more people + more incidences = stronger feelings! If the trip goes on like this, I am seriously considering not to go back home! ( just kidding, dad 😉 ). I would have left yesterday for Ljubljana (Slovenia), but I said “no, no more input – sit down, concentrate and write”. Recall, describe, create images – embed photos, edit videos, upload.

So here I am, 25 days far from home – this trip so far is magical – it’ s just so good. No, I don’t have much time to explore my surroundings and go to museums, read books, and get lost in the city BUT the people I meet and hang out, and the hours riding close to nature are very rewarding. It’s wonderful to meet all these beautiful locals that want to help you or just meet you. What I also enjoy is that this trip is revealing to me the best version of myself. Along with the happiest and most smiley Angelos of me, comes the most kind and the most calm, the least anxious and the most feeling-good-with-my-body. And this, I see, is kind of happening in others too – in people I meet along the way. When I am telling them I am travelling around with my bike – yes what you see here, I began from Greece, and here I am – they wanna help you, meet you, ask you, be good at you. The epitome, though, of my better version described above  is not this better state of me in itself – it is the realisation that “yes, reality can be so good – happiness can be that much – there is a better Angelos hidden inside me”.  I am keeping that part for my future: Do not compromise with mediocrity. 

I am getting better day by day. Stronger both physically and mentally. As far as the first part is concerned, I am a lot more confident. After the first 60 km riding, I feel that my body is getting in a mode “ah, it’s one of these days – ok, let’s do it”. Two days ago I had 199 km (no mountains included) relatively easy. I was tired on my arrival in Zagreb, but considering that the night before I leave I had a looot of beers, woke up with hang over, had 2.5/3 batteries charged and ate nothing during the 11 hour long ride – well, I am myself surprised..!

(Now, if you are asking why I ate nothing during such a long ride… This is because my Bosnioherzegovinian money was over and I didn’t want to exchange more, as I had exceeded the limit I ‘ve set to myself for the days I spent in Bosnia-Herzegovina twice. What I did is the following: I had 10 little sugar sacks I had taken from a coffee shop. I poured them into my water and I was drinking every once in a while – not the best, of course, but worked out)

Now, what do I mean by getting mentally stronger: I am getting more and more acquainted with the nomad’s “modus vivendi”. I finally found what is the best place for every little thing into my bags, what I need to have quick access to when I ride, what I will need first when I reach a destination, what is in need of charge and at what battery level all my devices are, how much food I need and how I am gonna save more money, what is in need of laundry, how to allocate time in my day etc… Little, important, every-day stuff.

Week 3
Route – Overnight of the 3rd week

On Friday the 13 of November I left Kotor, Montenegro in order to enter Bosnia and Herszegovina. I was again late in leaving the house, but right after my exit through the door, I was amased by what I saw… I said “Woohoo, that’s a nice day to ride”!!

That day was exhausting. There was a lot of climbing and I was also experimenting a bit with my batteries. In this journey I had my first dog-chasing experience somewhere in a mountain, and guess what – it wasn’t me chasing dogs..
* ( I am shouting in the video – it is for dogs to get scared. Unsuccessful. )
** ( I am also swearing – sorry about that 🙂 )

After a loooong time I finally reached the village of Гацко (Gacko – Gátsko). It was in the middle of my route to my final destination, Sarajevo, so I just spent one night there. But what a night. Right on my arrival, I asked 3 young men on the street if there is any hotel around, and just a second later I paraphrased: hotel – hostel – sleep – bed, accompanying with the appropriate body language.. They got the message and their answer was “ne, ne, ne” – I was really happy, as I was afraid that there would be no place to sleep (and sleeping didn’t matter as I can sleep wherever I want with my amasing camping equipment. Charging was the issue). But wait a second, just remembered that while “ne” in Greek is “yes” in Serbian is “no” – Urgh :/ I went to a bakery (pekara) and asked again. Of course nobody understood English, but one lady told me about a pansion, that I had to search and God knows if I could ever find it. On my way out of the Pekara, 2 boys (14 years old) approached me cheerfully saying “biciklo, biciklo” (bitsiklo) – we body-language-talked for a bit and I left. After 2 minutes (I guess after their visit in the pekara) they came back running and calling me to follow them. For some time we were looking for the pansion, negotiating the price, finding another pansion (10 euros for a 3 bed-room, all for me), helping me with the bicycle, carrying my stuff in the room etc.. So, after all these, I asked them if they wanna join me to eat something together and let me pay in return for their welcoming. They din’t accept me paying but we went together to the pekara hot-spot of Gacko.

First thing I checked: the prices were not in Euro – oh my God – so many delicious bakery products that I couldn’t buy!! Not accepting cards (of course), no banks in Gacko, no ATMs,  nothing. The kind lady there, after I bodylanguage explained how tired I am and how hungry blabla she accepted euros and I bought for less than 2,5 euros: 1 big slice of pizza, 1 big peynirli , 1 medium donut and 1 medium chocolate crepe… I was that hungry. In the pekara hot-spot I met many young friends of these 2 kind boys and we spent the next 2 hours together. Fortunately, one of these kids spoke some English. We played chess in the local club and we had a lot of fun walking around and taking pictures. They taught me one new word in Serbian: пријатељ (prijatelj – priatel – friend).

3 colours in the flag of Republica Srpska!

Next day, Saturday the 14th, I left to Sarajevo. I wanted to be there by nighttime cause next day was Sunday and I’d like to go to church at Sarajevo Cathedral. Well… that was the most mountainous day so far….. 3214 meters elevation gain! Or, better, 3214 meters elevation pain! And because my batteries couldn’t last for all these 140 km I was very very tight in their use. I couldn’t actually believe what I was doing (Friday and Saturday combined, I climbed for 5727 meters – that’s like climbing the highest Greek moutain, Olympus, twice!). And there’s more, I finally reached Sarajevo with just 2/3 batteries used). Why I didn’t use the 3rd battery? Cause I wasn’t sure of the elevation profile of my route? And why I was unsure? ….Because the GPS decided to take me from an unpaved road (from a trail actually) in the Sutjeska Nationalni Park, that I simply couldn’t ride… So, I had to make a circle and I was afraid that if I find a mountain too steep I won’t be able to climb it. Check out how Sutjeska Nationalni Park looks like (amazing) and how I spent two hours there (not amazing – but OK)……
*(I would suggest Full HD and Full Screen ;-))

I reached Sarajevo – went straight for a beer => wi-fi access => found hostel (5 euros per night for sleeping on the floor – sound good to me). After the very tiring 2 past days I got some rest there, I went to church on Sunday (started at 10, and I was there at 8 :/), had a small tour around the city and spent some time on-line.. In Sarajevo hostel I met a truly nice guy – his name is Lee and I hope I ‘ll tell you some more things about him at some point. We had very nice and thought provoking chats but what stroked me the most (apart from his travelling lifestyle per se) was his view on the future and on Artificial Intelligence. He believed that, in some years from now, after we find out how memory mechanisms function and how neurons actually do their work we will be able to store our memories and…. kind of upload our consciousness online!!! This sounded so awkward, but after some time with Lee and his technological insights I started to see that this is not that impossible…

I left Sarajevo on Tuesday the 17th and wanted to reach Zagreb. Because this was approximately 400 km I had to find a place to sleep and charge somewhere in the middle. Checked the map and I saw Banja Luka, Googled it and thought it would be a great middle point. My time in Banja Luka was just… awesome, and my way to Banja Luka was just… crazy. Before I left Sarajevo I had checked the elevation profile of my route. It was 180 km with a mountain in the middle. The good part was that from the 102nd to the 180th km it was all a downward slope…! So I was like, ok, I can spend my 3 batteries on the first 100 kms, going really easy, and then just let it go.. However, I didn’t opt for this as I had learned my lesson from my first night in Montenegro (mountain & no battery & night) and I was tight again – thank God! So, on the 100th km, right before the end of the mountain, the road got unpaved, and I was like “ok, it’s gonna be for a little bit, no worries”. But after some meters, I saw that..

I was like hmm….okay… now what?
I found some carpenters/ guards there and I said “Banja Luka, this way??”, showing my way into the forest…. “Ne ne…neeee” they were saying, making movements about the bad condition of the road later, about getting darker, and one of them actually scared me so much as he was doing like a bear: face and sounds…. You know, forest, night, bears, you don’t want that… So, I checked the gps and what they were suggesting was…. doing a 180 km circle in order to reach Banja Luka, going my way back and taking another route…! Right upon my realisation that “Houston, we’ve got a problem”, another 50yo guy arrived with his car..  he listened to the conversation and told me in flawless body-language that he will take me to 3uffwafiyaw – I didn’t understand. He went fishing, I packed my stuff, had a talk with the guards and waited for his coming. Some time later we put bike and stuff in the car and left to… no idea! Somewhere close to Banja Luka I guessed. We spent 1 and a half hour in the car (!) – he was speaking in Serbian, I was speaking in Greek… We had great time.. He was muslim and he was telling me how sorry he was about Paris, and how we all have to live together. (as this is the case in Bosnia – Herzegovina), he was teaching me how Serbian language is pronounced after my reading of all the labels in the street. He also said many more things that I couldn’t understand, but he nonetheless was kept talking. We reached the restaurant he was fishing for, somewhere in the mountains, 65 km from Banja Luka, he bought a coffee for me and I left… I had 3.5 hours in the mountains, with no cars at all. The moon the stars and myself – enjoyed.

Upon my arrival in Banja Luka, I was really amased by the црква (crkva – tsrkva – church) of Christ the Saviour at the central plaza. Had no time though to take a closer look as I had to find a hostel. I had the address of a place, but no hostel was there.. I was really tired and looking around the center (centar – tsentar) but couldn’t find, so I asked someone on the street… And that was it! I asked Alexander… We walked together to the hostel, meet his two friends, Yovan and Ponytail (I couldn’t learn his name!), we started talking outside the hostel – they offered pivo (beer), I offered my almond liquor that my Aunt Roula had given it to me… After rejecting the hostel (they asked for 15 euros) we left to drink a beer together! Alexander hosted me at his place, where Yovan also was staying for the time… We had such a good time. They had consumed a good amount of alcohol by the time I met them and Alexander was street-dancing and shouting  “orthodox brothers – orthodox brothers” (they were Orthodox Christians too). Paok- partizan – olympiakos came into our conversation and.. It was so fun – I cannot explain. We reached home (Alexander’s mother was not so happy to see me – he was saying about terrorist, refugee, I didn’t really understand, but I am grateful that she finally let me in..)

Now, I didn’t tell you that Yovan had forgotten his bag in the bar we had the beer at, and the bag was lost!!! He had in the bag something like 300 euros in Bosnioherzegovinian money (for the university) and all of his documents and other important stuff, so next day he was very upset. We spent all morning with Yovan and his friend Slobodan to find the crni ranac (tsrne ranats – black bag) – we followed the exact route we had yesterday, went to the bar, went to the post office (lost and found there), to the central police, to the neighborhood police, to the schools nearby… And finally we found it!!! It was at the neighborhood police – more than half of the money inside and all the documents. Someone stole it, took the money (he found) and left it on the street. Now, the nearby school principal called the police, cause there was a crni ranac unattended, and the bag went to the police! Haha! We spent the next 12 hours drinking and celebrating. I met Branka, friend of Yovan, who was so good in history and was explaining to me about the area, about the post-yugoslavia situation, language, Christian-Muslim and ethnic relations… I enjoyed my time so much!! At night we went to a live rock concert at the university where we danced and had great time!!!! So happy I met them and so grateful for everything!!!!! 😀

Now, chilling at the wonderful Zagreb! 😀
Enjoy the pictures below and let me know in the comments what you like the most in the post! Kisses to all – tomorrow Ljubljana!

 

Week 2 – Albania, Montenegro

16 days far from home have passed and I have to admit there were some moments during this second week I had this feeling that takes less than a second, and can only be described here as a thought: “oh, I am having such a lovely time – I don’t want this to finish”. Yes, kind of the feeling you have when you first lick an amazing ice-cream. Well, ice-cream gets melt if you don’t enjoy it fast enough and, same way, days fly by and I can’t say I am enjoying my surroundings that much. I still haven’t managed to put in order my internet life or organise my next few days. For example, this S in A.W.E.S.O.M.E is not that right so far, as I have done no couchSurfing yet. You see, you can’t send a host request one day before you get to that place, and I kind of plan my “tomorrow”…well, today. HOWEVER, I am fused and propulsed by the love I get through this screen and through all the messages I receive and the support. I am grateful for that – I ride my bike and I smile or even burst into laughter as realising-what’s-happening fireworks boom into my head 😀

This second week had been full of surprises. Full of unexpected occurrences that actually turned out really well.

Map 2nd week
Route/ Sleep of the 2nd week

On Thursday the 5th I left Gjirokaster around 12:00 to head off to Ardenica (my middle-stop for the night, cause going straight to Tirane was such a long distance). I had been riding for 2 hours in dark, but before I go I had to finish my 1st blog post and say goodbye to all little friends in the school I had visited.

kidspaintings
Kids had made some beautiful drawings for me 🙂

The funny thing of that day was the following:
While being in Gjirokaster I had asked a good man to communicate with the Holy Orthodox Monastery of the Nativity of  Theotokos in Ardenica in order to be hosted there for one night. Indeed the phone-call took place in front of my eyes, or better, in front of my ears, as I listened to the Albanian conversation and stated that I would be at the Monastery at 6 o’clock in the afternoon… So far so good. I finally arrived at the monastery at 8 o’clock, after one hour searching for it in dark roads, fields, and angry (but leashed) dogs. Also, after climbing for some time (cause as you know, monasteries are in the top of mountains). When I finally made it to the door and knocked, the monk there seemed to have absolutely no idea about my coming (!!). For some seconds I thought I was in a wrong monastery, but hey how many monasteries can be around here?! Thank God the monk did know Greek and despite telling me that the monastery does not host, he welcomed me in. There are two monks in the monastery, Fr. S and Fr. A, and I am grateful to them. They cooked sth for me, and next morning they show me around. Funny enough, I happened to have many common friends in Greece with one of the monks as he had spent some time in a Greek monastery.

Next morning, Friday the 6th, I headed to Tirane. That journey was awkward. I had a pain in both knees that intense that I couldn’t stand up on the pedals… But, ok, arrived at Tirane, and went straight at the center of the city. I hadn’t found were to pass the night so I headed to a cafe with Wi-Fi and searched for a hostel. I went straight to the first google result (that happened to be 500 meters from where I was) and asked to stay. Apart from the amazing, aesthetically intriguing, and very clean environment of Tirane Backpackers Hostel, it was also very cheap. For 6 euros per night I had a place in the backyard to sleep, I hand-washed my clothes, I had free breakfast and wi-fi access (!!) The coolest, though, was the price-less part of it: I met some really interesting+beautiful people there. V. – The most cheerful Albanian lady that was so kind and helpful. N. – an Australian 21 yo lady who is travelling around Europe (and beyond) for the last 3 years (!) and D. – her British boyfriend who quitted his job and sold his car to travel with her for the past 4 months! Really enjoyed my time with them!

On Sunday the 8th it was my name-day. I celebrated at the Ressurection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral at Tirana. More on my experience there, on another post.

The center of Tirane is really beautiful. A proper european capital city center. Clean, green, with wide streets, well paved and wide pavements, bike lanes everywhere (although I saw not even one cyclist with a helmet!).  I can’t say the same for the house numbering, though. I was looking for number 13 on a big avenue – I must have crossed it 6 times and couldn’t find the shop I was looking for…

In general, throughout Albania, the main streets I was riding at were of really good quality. Albanian people were very friendly and drivers were pretty much respectful of the cyclists (the same doesn’t hold true for Montenegrin drivers). I found Albanian people that could speak Greek everywhere. At the middle of nowhere, at the hostel, at the kebab shop. And also many Albanians who love Greece and Greeks. Overall I had very nice time in Albania. What captured my attention: sooo many places to clean your car (Lavazh.) So many old Mercedes cars, and the most striking: Police Street Checks e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e!!

Albanian Police

Words I’ ve learned: Falimenderit schume: thanks a lot, mirëmëngjesi: good morning, gëzuar: cheers, mëshirë Zot: Lord have mercy, Shitet: for Sale, Lavazh: Car wash, Kujdes: Caution, Kisha: church

I left Tirana Backpackers Hostel on Monday the 9th, 07:30, in order to ride a good 200 km (!) and reach Kotor, Montenegro by afternoon. I had seen there was some climbing at the end of my journey (after Podgorica), so I was tight in putting add-e (my electric kit) to work. I reached Skhodër (90 km from Tirane) only with one battery and I was feeling really good and energetic, despite having slept just 5 hours the previous night. There, I had a one-hour break, recharged (not-fully) my battery, had a coffee (espresso for 30 cents!) and left in order to cover 110 km and reach Kotor. Well… Not exactly like this…

After passing through Podgorica (green and beautiful, but I was like non-existent to drivers), just before some serious climbing I was feeling superb…

I had seen there was some climbing after Podgorica, but… that was sth else! MONTEnegro indeed… Steep and endless upward slopes while the sun… had gone to bed a long time ago! I was climbing in dark for 2 hours and started feeling really tired. My legs were ok (for some reason), however the rest of the body seemed unwilling to progress. I was checking at the GPS – I needed sth like 14 km to reach Kotor – zoomed-out the map – at the one side of the screen I could see my location and at the other side where Kotor is. I was climbing and climbing – using my last battery, but this mountain was so steep. My spot on the GPS was not moving at all. I was feeling like “ok – after this turn it ‘s gonna be flat – it has to be flat”, but I could see that the red lights of the cars passing by me were going upwards and turning again and again. I couldn’t ride at all if add-e was off and the time was 18:00. I said “ok, relax – it’s just 14km – with 7kph (that was my speed) you ‘ll be there in less than 2 hours”. I had my snickers – drunk some coffee – ate some raw sugar I had (in case of emergency) and continued riding just looking down at the white lane (since looking up was heart-breaking). At some point, while I had put all my energy into breathing right and concentrating and thinking that “I am not alone – it’s just one mountain”, I saw a restaurant right at the middle of nowhere. There was nothing for miles now, so I was surprised. I said “ok – if I can’t continue I ‘ll just come here”. But as you saw on the video before I was in lack of water, so instead of just passing by, I went in to fill my bottles.. That was it. At that point I realised how tired I was. I sat down and just asked for some food and water. Nobody understood English but body language was understood by everybody. 😀

Put dry clothes on and googled where Kotor is….. Not 14 km far from my location, but 49!!! Stupid gps! I realised it’s impossible to continue, so I just asked to charge my batteries and camp outside the restaurant. I couldn’t eat at all – so I just packed the food, set my tent and went straight to bed. Ah! I should mention here that the “manager” of the restaurant told me the next morning that if I had came 3 minutes later the restaurant would be close!!

Woke up on Tuesday the 10th and headed to Kotor through Budva in order to avoid the mountains (“manager” also suggested that – yes, all through body language – it’s amazing!). Now I am resting like a king, having the best sleep (next-to-hibernation) I could have in an amazing home at Prčanj, next to the old town of Kotor. I am deeply, truly grateful for that to my good friend Ana and her whole family who, despite not being at the house, they let me in – so happy.
Luckiest man in Europe, I think – hehe…

Can’t wait for my next week, as I am heading to Bosnia and Herzegovina 😀

Week 1 – Greece, Albania

Today is the 9th day far from home and I tried yesterday to bring in mind and describe all the interesting bits so far. I hadn’t found some time to properly write down my thoughts, or even put my photos in order, so what you get here is a bit messy. Firstly, I ‘d like to say I am not a proper traveler yet. This is partly because I am not properly documenting what I see nor what I feel. You see, I am in the process of familiarising with this different reality right now. These days there were a lot to do in terms of everyday practicalities, but also a lot to do on-line. Where to eat & sleep, learning the bike, learning my equipment etc. I should also mention that all this internet stuff, from the blog to the social media accounts to capturing – editing stuff and writing is all new to me. I need time to get acquainted with it and hopefully to get better. The first part of this week was intense in terms of cycling and really tiring, while the last 4 days I am more relaxed.

Apart from this blog post I want to write down some things on how I got up to this point (The history so far II, at the bottom you can find the part I), some detailed thanks to the persons supporting this effort, and also some things about the beautiful and very special place I am being hosted right now.

To begin with, I need to make clear that this whole project (I don’t like that word, it makes it too… I don’t know, engineered?) trip was mostly organised at the very last moment. I was dreaming-thinking-googling it for a looong time, but doing stuff – I mean producing some work – happened only after mid August – yes, well read, mid-August. This was also because of a huge change in my plans on late August I think (but more on this later).

My initial plan was to leave on the 1st of September, and then on the 1st of October, and then on the 15th and then on the 19th and then on the 22nd and then on the 26th. My friends were bored of hearing me “leaving” and my neighbors were mocking me. I finally left on the 27th. Yeah! But still there are some issues I have to take care. What was ahead of me was totally unknown and pretty unexpected to be honest. Let’s take it from the beginning.

Right outside my house, leaving!

I left my house on Tuesday, 15:30 – really late, considering I had said to myself “never ride at night”. Right at the first 200 meters I had my first unpleasant surprise – as I pedaled on the main avenue close to my house my electric kit “add-e” didn’t start working. Stopped – checked – everything seemed OK. Pedal again – no add-e. UUuuuurghhh – I had forgotten to charge 1 out of my 3 batteries (!), so I left for my first journey with 2 out of 3. For this, I had to be really careful as I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of range from add-e. I had tested it only once in Athens with my bike fully 20kg loaded and at that test ride I did brake one of the sensors (I hadn’t tied a bag properly, so a strap got into and around the spokes and teared the magnet of the sensor apart). So, practically, I didn’t know what to expect… But I was fine – I felt a bit Jesus-angelos-come-oooon… But I said to myself “you left man, now you left – just go” and I just continued…. 2 km after this another incident happen that was really close to broke my heart – but it didn’t.

Again, I hadn’t properly closed my front bag and my camera (one of my most expensive piece of equipment) just hopped off and crashed at the road. The noise of it hitting the ground was… just heartbreaking. For some seconds I hadn’t realised what exactly fell, but soon enough I saw it with my own eyes. Actually, as I was waiting by the pavement for the cars to pass so I could get it, I saw one car coming over my camera with the front and then with the rear wheels – and my camera going here and there…. Result….

Hehe – What seemed strange even to myself is that it didn’t bother me that much. I had paid a good amount of money for the camera and 2 nights before that incident I had this, you know – like loving a new gadget/thing you buy – when you find it amazing. But, I was so happy that I left I said “ok, it’s just a camera – look at the overall picture, look from above”.

Now, apart from me leaving Athens, so did the sun. It was 18:00 or sth like this when it started getting dark. Off course I had my amazing Tikka RXP super bright head torch that I planned to use it if need be to ride at night. It should be in my front bag. But it wasn’t. I checked again and again but nothing. I thought it “jumped” out of the bag like the camera and I just didn’t realise it at that point. Frustrated I just kept riding in total darkness for some miles. (Asterisk: not total darkness, as it was a full moon night)..

In my whole happiness bubble there were angry spots of mindlessness – 2/3 batteries on my first journey, broken camera, missing head torch, forgotten multi tool (yes, I couldn’t find it before I leave) – bad start… In addition, it was such the pressure of the last days of preparation that I hadn’t managed to find a host in Korinthos – so I just found a hotel with wi-fi and warm shower and stepped in. Actually, it was much better – I stepped in, asked if a folding bike was allowed into the room, they said yes and I just stepped outside and did this.

Went in – got into the elevator with my bike and stuff and had a beautiful night. Wednesday morning I set off to Patras: 130km, 3/3 batteries. On the road I had some testing with photography and stuff. It was nice. I was amased at the range I could get with add-e in not-so-really-climbing situations. I reached Patras, stayed at aunt’s Roulas place, where I had an epic, full of protein meal.

Yeah! Thanks theia Roula! Feta, skordalia, tsipoura, aspradia, biritsa yeah!
Yeah! Thanks theia Roula! Feta, skordalia, tsipoura, aspradia, biritsa yeah!

I got some rest and next day, Thursday, we left with cousin Stamatis and good friend Manolis from Patras to reach Astakos in the western part of Greece. What a day was that! Before we cross the Rio-Antirio epic (longest cable-stayed “suspended” deck) bridge (in the world) I had an interview with a local TV Channel. First time in my life – very interesting as an experience. I said goodbye to all good friends and lovely relatives that came there to farewell me and sett off.

Now watch how things progress. While we were riding, some 4-5 km after the bridge, I kind of forced my cousin Stamatis to get some of the cake I had in my hand. Despite his initial unwillinIMAG4365gness he did moved his hand towards me and with this movement he accidentally hit his cellphone that was mounted on the handlebar. Cellphone fell and broke (but was still functional – hehe) and Manolis who was coming at great speed immediately stopped to reach the phone. This resulted in a hole on his tire due to high friction with the road surface – not only a flat inner tube but also a hole in the tire itself!!! We had another tube but the tire was pretty useless. We used duck-tape as you can see.

It was noon. After sth like 5 km we hear a baaam – Manoli’s tire was now destroyed and we couldn’t do anything! But, wait a second! This place looks familiar – the tire became totally useless just 50 meters far from the house of Vana, a relative of my friend DemieCollage 2015-11-05 10_18_50. Vana is a really open and cheerful person who I really appreciate despite the fact I hadn’t seen her for 3 years or so! We kind of stepped into the house and she was so kind to take the bike and Manolis to the closest city, Mesolongi, in order to find a bike shop and get a tire! We went to Mesolongi, but it was noon and the bike shop was closed. We called the man and he said he ‘ll come earlier than usual but not now. We went to eat sth, repaired the tires and off to Astakos where we camped at an amazing beach!

Screenshot (13)Next day it was Friday. Before we set off, while climbing to get to the street from the beach, Manolis managed somehow to warp his disc. Sth amazing happened that I had never seen in my life. While he was pedaling the chain was coming off the one disk to the other and then vice versa. So you had an always-changing-disks chain that was practically useless. He hammered the disk several times during the ride, in order to get it work properly – sth that he never achieved. Despite that, huts off to Manolis because he was following 2 e-bikes on steep mountains LIKE A MAN! So, MANolis from now on! Haha!

We reached Preveza that night, we camped next to a kind-of-beach, in-between some trees. It was really windy!

Hmmm… I now feel I am over-explanatory so far. But this whole 3-day adventure was really packed! I ‘ll let some pictures at the end to tell the rest of the story. Below you can see the sun rising as seen from my camp site in Igoumenitsa 🙂

Feelings? I feel so full – like really.. Full. I don’t know. I am peaceful – I guess it’s a feeling you don’t know it’s there (somewhere inside you) until you get to it. Or, until it gets to you. There are so many things to organise and be mindful about, but I am feeling truly relaxed and everything-is-on-their-way-to-awesomeness, no-worries-just-reflect-and-feel-and-listen-to-the-people-next-to-you. Right now I am being hosted at the Church Boarding School of the Holy Cross in Gjirokaster. I thank a lot for this the principal and close friend of mine Father Eleftherios Balakos and also Alexios Pappas who is an elementary teacher at the Greek-Albanian school “Breath of Love”. Alexios kindly invited me to the school, where I talked to the kids about the plans of my adventure and presented the bike – it was such a nice experience! Also, I would like to thank the principal of the Elementary school, Melpomeni Kouremenou, for trusting me and letting me into the school.

Alexios, myself and Fr. Eleftherios
Alexios, myself and Fr. Eleftherios – Thank you!