- IMAGE GALLERIES
- CYCLORAMA SHOP
- Cyclorama Week
- Guide to Types of Bike
- Beginner's Guide
- Practical Information Articles
- Women's Cycling
- Cycling Technology
- Cycling History
- Issues and Inspiration
- Cycling Worldwide
- Cycle Sport
- Cycling Books. Reviews and Other Lit Crit.
- Bike Culture on the web
- Press department
Greece: Discovering Arcadia
CLIVE VAN LINT and LIZ LAWSON saw Greece in all its glory as they rode through Arcadia, from Olympia to Megalopoli.
Cliché: Greece is a land of contrasts. Athens drove this home, as we rode through the city in the early morning. It dawned on us at one stage just how; important it was to get past the Parthenon, or whatever the ruin is that hides behind the Fujitsu and Bosch advertising hoardings, before the morning traffic had a chance to include us in its overnight cull of domestic cats. At the other extreme was our tour from Olympia to Megalopoli.
The E74 Olympia-Kalliani-Langadia is a tortuous route with the mountains running North-South and the road running West-East. But this is Arcadia and well worth the effort. Ghost towns clinging to mist-shrouded hillsides, shepherds, moustachioed men in mountain boots, the river Alfas and much more.
Road no.76 is slightly easier through Karkalou, Dhimitsana and Stemnitsa. Then it's downhill all the way to Megalopolis. You will need a good head for heights or to ride on the wrong (but safer) side of the road as you whiz along looking down on mountain peaks.
Olympia is no more than a main street servicing the tourists visiting the archaeological site. Zeus' temple is a struggle for the imagination. Megaton columns fallen like sliced cucumbers from a massive plinth, and not a yard of ferro-concrete in sight. Then the sky tears itself apart and visitors run for the museum - Zeus is not pleased with the day's takings.
Camping is a delight. The evening birdsong changes from the explosive scolding of the Cetti's warbler to the crepuscular machine-gunning of the nightingales. After dark, fireflies drift aimlessly a foot above the ground.
Intrigued by their equipment, we watch a couple of Dutch cycletourists put their evening pitch together. Each of them arrived with seven parcels of luggage - two front, two aft, two on the handlebars and one on top of the carrier. We carry three. His tent, three times the weight of our Saunders, was erected with the aid of a full-sized mallet. For an afternoon walk, his wife filled a thermos flask -with a funnel. When questioned on this, he explained that the trip was an experiment and it was the lightest he'd ever been. Especially now his radio was smaller.
The Arcadian landscape from Olympia along Route 74 is classic. Low tree-clad hills enclose the River Alfios, and stands of cypress darken the greens. Grapevines have gone feral on the roadside and fallen oranges lie like vivid puddles on the ground. Lemon blossom scents the air -jasmine, mimosa and roses surprise on hot comers, sage and thyme providing the base notes in this perfumed symphony.
It's a dream ride for cyclists. The sounds and the scents are theirs to enjoy. Hot little villages perched on the edge of nowhere offer small prickly pleasures. Smart old men playing backgammon, caps set at a rakish tilt, and drab women doing the washing amongst the chickens. The men wear the good clothes and the women get the washing.
We buy four potatoes from the roadside and drink something lethal scooped from a plastic barrel. The next drink is on the house and the next one after that from a stranger. Time to put the tent up and bake those spuds in a waterless clearing surrounded by maquis.
Next day the sun drills down on us, the road goes upwards and there's no water. At lunchtime we eat garlic chicken with roast potatoes in a family restaurant overlooking the rest of the world. The landlady wears the moustache here. She has a voice that rips through the domestic chatter like a chainsaw. Her husband ducks nervously as the verbal chippings fly. The road continues up all day and Langadia beckons seductively. It arrives just as exhaustion sets in. Seedy, empty and dramatic, with acres of unoccupied stacking chairs looking down on the scenic abyss. A thousand feet above, a fragile bridge arches into space. Desperate waiters touting for business close in. We push by without stopping. The pass comes an hour later, after that bridge, and the road disappears for four kilometres. It rains.
The next campsite is shut. We drink a beer in a bar that doubles as a bus stop and watch the family prepare some foliage which we take to be dandelion leaves. The tent is pitched at the source of a river and the beginning of a ravine. We make a fire fit to boil water for endless coffee. By morning rain is pelting down, and the very air is saturated.
With the new river pumping itself into surging life, the ravine lives up to its promise. Dhimitsana is dim in the clouds and mist. Its inhabitants have a lot to be miserable about, and they don't try to hide it. We journey eight kilometres around the mountain into Stemnitsa.
Should anyone say, "If you've seen one charming mountain village with a Frankish castle, a couple of monasteries, half a dozen Byzantine churches and a few lonely doric columns, you've seen 'em all." Reply, "Ever been to Stemnitsa?" That'll keep 'em quiet. For a start it's spelt Ipsouda on the map. Secondly, sausages spiced with orange peel can be bought there. And finally, its solitary hotel says "No", for very mysterious reasons not connected with money.
It rains, goes black and for a moment seems very ominous indeed. A German lady rents us a room for the night. Her medieval Greek mountain-side home is decorated in the suburban post-war teutonic style, and otherwise inhabited by her eccentric hunting dog Alf. In the local taverna a group of men I've just been very rude about send us over a carafe of wine, and we eat those famous sausages. Warned not to, we leave just the same, in the mist.
The view, when it clears, is breathtaking, but my legs are also taken by fatigue. The descent is managed by cycling on the wrong side of the road, risking the real danger of falling rocks, instead of the imagined one of committing unaccountable suicide by hurling myself into space.
Originally, Megalopoli was the Milton Keynes of Sparta, built from scratch to provide the newest, biggest and best in urban living. Unfortunately, its inhabitants fled back to the hills, taking much of it with them. One of the bits left behind is Greece's biggest theatre, built to accommodate an audience of 20,000. All we saw was a few rows of seats and some school kids enacting a play that required a couple of black capes as props. Oh yes, and the power station visible from dozens of miles away - that's also truly mega.
Denmark: This land of fairy tales