Camping near Mount Olympus
Camping on a beach overlooked by Mount Olympus, this little fella kept us up most of the night barking and running around our tent. Too lazy (and scared) to get out of the tent, we imagined huge, salivating, vicious beasts ready to tear us to shreds. Emerging from the tent at sunrise we were greeted by two very friendly dogs who just wanted a bit of attention and a bite of our breakfast.
Having ridden for around ten hours we choose to end our first day in Greece by cycling on the main arterial road into Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, in the dark. The mood was further enhanced by a dose of spitting rain and plenty of aggressive dogs, that for some reason all wanted to kill us. When we finally arrived in the city we promptly got lost and spent several hours trying to find Stelios, our warmshowers.org host (for what we thought would be a night or two). We eventually met up with Stelios and, as is the nature of an adventure, a tense introduction to a city morphed into an epic week and a half of new friendship, delicious food and amazing music. Thanks Antigone and Stelios! See you at Crete.
Pete’s right, Antigone and Stelios had welcomed us into not just their home but also their lifestyle, we hung out at their favourite coffee places, played music together and even celebrated Antigone’s birthday with her twin brother and all their friends too. After being on the road for some time, it was great to relax with them and experience the city as locals do. Plus, we quickly came to realise that Stelios is akin to our good ol’ pal Dave and wherever we went he was greeted with warm smiles and we aptly nicknamed him ‘The Mayor of Thessaloniki’ (only to later discover his popularity has a much wider spread in Greece). So it was a difficult decision to finally leave our new home and cycle south, this time on smaller, safer roads, but alas, still those damned dogs… So with the trip in motion again, we knuckled down to more hours in the saddle, more ***free camping ridiculously long winding mountain roads and hiked our way to the Scala Peak on Mount Olympus. Which I have to say was an awesome sight to behold once at the top – and I mean awesome in it’s proper use of the word too. Breath taking vistas, wild chamois running amok in the snow drifts and we shared the climb with the wonderful Miko, who we met in the refuge the day before. A fellow endorser of consuming food and booze after a good hike, the three of us warmed our bones by the fireside and let the conversation flow until lights out. We followed this similar ritual with Miko once back at lower altitude too and he also shared in our mini adventure when Stelios, Antigone and Carlos whisked us all away to a mountain chapel for a night of music and merry making (check out the sounds man). Miko if you are reading this – we both think you are a legend, and I’m pretty sure we will all meet up again somewhere down the line -plus i have your poncho sac!
Mount Olympus. View from Scala Peak See 360° image here
We were warned by our new friends in Thessaloniki that the roads in Greece are less than ideal for the safety conscious cyclist, largely due to dangerous driving. I think we must have cut our cycling-on-roads-with-dangerous-driver-teeth in some of the other Balkan countries because apart from a few of the daily near misses, our route through Greece hasn’t been any more dodgy than any other country where the lorry drivers enjoy the sport of blind corner racing and for the most part the scenery has been spectacular.
We were expecting the dogs. Having read countless cycle blogs and accounts of other people’s adventures before we set out, we knew they would come one day and in Greece they seem to have arrived with an evil vengeance. Not wanting to be cruel to any beast, we hadn’t even considered carrying a defense weapon… bar a stick that I’d invested a good couple of hours and a bleeding thumb whittling. Miko, with a wealth of previous cycle touring experience himself, offered us some interesting touring tips. Tip one is the vodka bath, which I’ll save for a more detailed review once we’ve put it to the test. Tip two is the ammonia-infused water filled water pistol. Several blogs offer a range of advice on how to deal with the dogs; stopping and standing up to them, dog dazers, pepper spray, sticks, stones etc… I hadn’t yet made them leap of purchasing and using ammonia, but we had decided to invest in a water pistol, which I dutifully carried under the map case on my handlebar bag. Turns out that ammonia is a pretty vital element in the whole weapon. As we were cycling through some impressive mountainous scenery, weaving in and out of olive groves and sheep farms we encountered several dogs, both wild and employed, for want of a better term. We heard a loud bark, sounding like the animal equivalent of a chainsaw exploding, and spied the beast rapidly gaining on us. Quickly scanning the fence separating us from the dog, for a split micro-second we reassured ourselves it was contained. Reassurance was shattered as the *bear-dog exploded through the hedge and confronted us. Luckily your hero pulled out his brightly coloured plastic water pistol and started squirting thin jets of water at bear-dog’s face. As I pulled the trigger the jets of water seemed to get weaker and the water pistol also felt like it was getting smaller and more pathetic, becoming more like the toy it was. Upon realisation of the ineffectiveness of my chosen weapon I panicked and threw the gun at the dog and pedaled like hell.** Meanwhile, still with my words of reassurance “I’ll always be there to protect you from the dogs” firmly in her head, I looked up to see Mary surrounded by five of the bastards! To summarise this little episode we’ve been searching for pepper spray and dog dazers since we arrived in Athens.
See more photos here.
*The term bear-dog has been stolen from our friend Anna who recently cycled from Serbia to Istanbul.
**Throwing stuff at dogs is not something I condone or advise. This was carried out in an emergency situation under extreme stress.
***Can no longer call this ‘wild camping’ as we wave and chat to people who see us setting up for the night.