Strike!

30 11 2010

If you’ve been aware of the political situation in Europe for the last months, you would know that several countries have some fairly major economic problems. Greece is one of these. The government has been proposing some changes that would, ostensibly, make things better (exactly which things would be better might be open to debate). The port workers have decided that they don’t agree, and have effectively blocked the ports. Since Monday. The Greek Isles are primarily served by ferries. One of the strange things is the strike has been almost completely missed by the international news. I guess the Greek problems are old news now, and we’ve moved on.

The upshot of this is the supermarket has run out of fresh milk. And the veges are beginning to look limp (actually they’ve just about run out now). But that isn’t so bad, because we’ve developed a relationship with the guy who work in the fruit counter of the supermarket and he points us to the freshest available. But there may be a looming catastrophe – yesterday we bought the last of the yoghurt.

The sunsets don’t seem to notice the lack of ferries. (This one’s for you, Kev):

IMG_6846And of course we’re stuck here. Yep, unless you’re willing to stump up the airfare to get off the island (which, at the moment, I’m not) you can’t get to Athens, or into Turkey, or Italy. Or pretty much anywhere – only a few of the small local ferries are operating.

This has inconvenienced some travellers we’ve met (most noticeably Jim and Terhi, who came here for a few weeks and now have almost been here a month), but I don’t really want to go anywhere just yet.

Stuck on a Greek island. One must bear ones trials as best one can.

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Greek yoghurt

25 11 2010

I may have fallen in love. I don’t know how else I can explain where 1kg of (full fat) yoghurt goes every day.

For almost 2 weeks Jurg, Rahel, Marc, Christine and I ate breakfast (and all meals) together – and we got through 1kg of yoghurt. Marc and Christine, in an effort to postpone the inevitable coronary, have fled to Turkey and should soon be drinking chi in Istanbul. Jurg, Rahel and I are still eating breakfast together, but for some reason we still need to buy 1kg of yoghurt daily. I have to admit that we are no longer also polishing off a jar of Nutella and a jar of jam each morning.

The yoghurt is great. The funny thing is: I don’t like Greek Yoghurt. At least I didn’t until I got to Greece. The stuff they put in plastic pots elsewhere in the world somehow is completely different to what you find here. And there is no yoghurt with fruit in it in Greece. You just can’t find it – it’s BYO fruit here. But they do have a range of ‘flavours’, from 10%, 8%, 6%, 2% and the to-be-avoided 0%. Actually, the 2% tastes pretty good, but the 10% is our favourite – for now.

My first Greek yoghurt experience was in a small village in the North of Greece, in the vicinity of Ioannina. I was famished (as is appropriate in the mountains) and stopped for lunch. There wasn’t much choice (as is appropriate in a village store in the mountains) so I picked some yoghurt and some other basics. I sat down outside, tore off the lid, and cracked through the crust on the top. It smelt bad, but didn’t look rotten. I took a mouthful, and it tasted kind of strange. Not exactly good, but I could keep it down. The packaging was in Greek, so I had no idea what I’d eaten, but I’m pretty sure now it was goat or sheep yoghurt. I was put off and didn’t have any more until I got to Santorini. I was persuaded to try some more, and well, now it’s a bit of an obsession.

yoghurt bread

My tip:
Buy lots of it. Mix with one of: honey, jam, nutella, chocolate drink powder, or nothing. Eat with fresh bread. It’s also great with muesli. And Fruit salad. And Jurg whipped up a Waldorf salad which was great. And then potatoes with lots of garlic, parsley and yoghurt. We ate all of that and then complained for hours about being too full.

At some point we’ll have to start to worry where all the fat is going. But I’m not going to yet.

We’ve also found a type of feta (without salt) that I kind of like. I probably wont be eating chunks of it anytime soon, but now I can have a full Greek Salad with everyone else.

Since I’m not moving too far at the moment (wheel still in the post to Germany), you may have noticed that food has become the focal point for the day (after the library has closed). I’ll leave with a photo of a salad dinner we had last night – this is the lightest we’ve eaten in weeks. Seriously.

salad dinner sunset





Santorini

18 11 2010

I’ve been putting off updating the blog. Partly because there is plenty to write about and I don’t know where to start, but mostly because I have been flat out relaxing. And eating breakfast – a meal that doesn’t seem capable of ending before midday. This is followed by plenty of relaxing and maybe a little light reading. The day is generally rounded out by walking to get food for, then cooking, dinner. Oh, and maybe an ice cream and/or sunset in there as well. It seems it’s Sunday every day in Santorini.

If you heard about the terrible weather and are feeling sorry for me riding every day in rain and cold, then you can stop now. I have. I’m staying with Jurg, Rahel, Marc and Christine (all Swiss) in what is now Jurg and Rahel’s winter retreat. I’ve made it mine as well for the next… while (or until I can understand the nasty things they are saying about me in Swiss-German). In fact I’ve entrenched myself to the point that I’ve sent my rear wheel to Rohloff to have them fix the oil leak – so for a while I don’t have a bike I can ride.

Strangely the Greek isles seem to be a meeting point for cyclists who are procrastinating about entering Asia. We are a group of 5, and we have met “The Kiwis” (2), “The Americans” (another 2 – who we had to wave goodbye to the other day, the morning after having 9 of us in their honeymoon apartment for a party), Jim and Terhi (from UK/Finland), and a French Guy (Cedrik). This seems like a strange place for such a concentration of cyclists. But then again, the view this morning is this one:

IMG_6283

*Sigh* Yeah… I guess it could be worse.





Greek Mountains

29 10 2010

Hey! No-one told me there are mountain in Greece. Actually, no-one told me anything about Greece, so I’ve been exploring as I go. Only the alphabet is vaguely familiar from the science and math training at school. Pi, Theta, Alpha, Gamma, etc. I can’t speak Greek, but I can read some of it. Which is about as useful as being able to read French. Or Albanian. But it’s fine trying to decode the street signs (but ultimately futile, as invariably there’s an English sign 20m down the road). Occasionally the scientific method of route selection needs to be employed.

IMG_5903

Wonder what that one means?

IMG_6024

Zues' temple. One of the columns has been righted.

The southern part seems to have more big piles of rocks (a.k.a. ruins of ancient buildings). I saw one of these on the map a few days ago that I couldn’t go past. So, a hundred or so kilometers out of the way (what is the way after all?) – in pouring rain I might add, and I saw the Ancient sanctuary of Olympia. That is, the ruins of Olympia. Apparently there was an earthquake, and all the buildings fell down. Pity they hadn’t put any of them back up – it’s only been 1.5 thousand years. And I saw one of the wonders of the ancient world. Well I saw the huge slab of rock and huge columns (that were tossed rather recklessly about the place) that at some point in the past had been a temple to Zues. Apparently there was a massive statue to Zues in here, which was the wonder. Kind of impressive, lucky I’ve a decent imagination.

IMG_6022No imagination was required to visualise the running track at Olympia. I couldn’t resist. 1min24sec for an up and back, and at least twice that long to get my breath back. To the bemusement of a few other tourists.

And today I’ve done battle (under the first blue sky in many days) with the mountains of Peloponnese (Πελοποννησος). They’re not massive, but they have slowed me down enough that I’ll miss the marathon in Athens tomorrow. Maybe that’s  a stroke of luck for the competitors, but it might have been nice to see. This one is to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the battle of Marathon. Yes, that is the right number of zeros.

That pile of rocks has been there for 3,000 years, these bones were buried 5,000 years ago, that terrace has been used to grow olives for 2,000 years (some of the olive trees look like they could be that old), and a foot race is being held to celebrate something that happened 2,500 years ago. The Melbourne Cup’s 150th running is this week.  Yeah, time is on a different scale over here.





More Greece

27 10 2010

The map is updated. I’m still in Greece, and it appears to still be raining.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been raining 24 hours a day, but it has been unseasonably wet (so I’m told). I’ve only had a couple of days that have delivered me a complete soaking. Like today. It started raining during the night, and continued all day. All day. 6 hours in the saddle when it is raining isn’t all that much fun. Like a few days before, I questioned what I was doing, why I am here, and very nearly threw in the towel. But the forecast is for another day of misery, followed by a sunny spell. So hopefully tomorrow (or soon after) things will be back to normal, and I can stop spending all my money in these hotels.

Today I’m going to be touristy, and check out the ancient ruins of Olympia. Take a look at where Zeus beat Cronos at wrestling. More than likely in the rain.





Greece!

21 10 2010

I thought I might be able to deliver the odd update now that I’m travelling solo again. But then I hit Montenegro, Albania and more or less constant rain. So I’ve put my head down and blasted/creaked (the bike is making some horrible noises) into Greece, where it’s always warm and sunny. Well, maybe not, but I am back in civilisation, today in Kastoria. It is the last country in Europe.

This morning (after waking up in the grounds of a monastery) I was going to head toward Thessaloniki, but I’ve just now changed my mind, and I’ll head back toward the west coast, and Ioannina. The joy of having nowhere to be and no time limit to get there.





The Map

15 10 2010

It’s taken a while, but with a day of rain and some internet, the map of where I’ve been, Barcelona to Dubrovnik is now there. Take a look by clicking the link above.





Dubrovnik – Dubrovnik

14 10 2010

I woke this morning to the sound of the pitter-patter of rain on the tent, getting stronger alarmingly quickly. I noticed it was 4 something am, and promptly fell back asleep.

Again, at 6:30, just before the alarm went off, I was woken by a squall passing over the camp ground. I got up shortly after and stood around in the  now light rain watching and offering encouragement to Sarah and Kasia, my travel companions for the last few weeks, pack their things to leave. They had an 8 o’clock bus to catch. They managed to finish packing in light drizzle and took off. I hope they didn’t get too wet on the way to the bus.

It was only 7am, so I stayed in the tent for a little while, long enough for the hard rain to start again. I packed my things into my panniers in the tent, and braved the 1km ride to the bakery in the down pour. I came back, loaded the panniers on the bike, and hid in the rain-free reception area, loaf of bread, honey and computer at the ready.

Hours passed. The bread was consumed.

The rain eased. The rain came down harder.

It got steadily colder.

I watched this for some hours

After some time Wendy and Markus (NZ and Aus, also cyclists, also camping in the rain) came to join me huddling out of the rain. We sheltered, talked and hid from the rain. About 2pm we realised this was not getting us anywhere, so we started looking for somewhere dry to sleep. We packed up in a brief lull, and braved the rain. We’re now 2km from the camp ground, in an apartment. Dry, fed and still in Dubrovnik.

Winter, or at the very least Autumn, has arrived. And she’s brought rain.





Croatia

13 10 2010

Ok, ok I’m in Dubrovnik. Southern most big town in Croatia. I could write about it, or I could go see it.

Sorry, seeing it first wins. Croatia has been good so far. Trogir, Dubrovnik (Ok, I’ve seen some of it) and Plitvice/Krka stand out. So does trying to get around with a thousand accents and a distinct lack of vowels. Lucky some of the Croatians speak English.

Currently part way through seeing Dubrovnik. This is what I see:

Dubrovnik main street

Dubrovnik main street, the other way

No axes. Or hatchets. In fact few tree cutting implements of any kind.





Slovenia

26 09 2010

You would think, that since all I have to do all day is push the pedals for as long as I wish, I could manage the odd blog post. And you’d be right. But even the diary has suffered, I’m 19 days behind with that, and all I have to do is pick up a pen.

Part of the reason is Slovenia. It ha been the country with the biggest surprise for me so far. Rolling out of the rain and floods of Hungary, and crossing the border met with sunshine. I don’t know how it happened. Something tells me it was good luck. Ljubljana has just had a flood, the 1 in 100 year flood, but all I saw was sunshine, good roads and mountains. For a few days at least.

I spent a few nights in Ljubljana (now I can pronounce it, I like that name – not as cool as Puty though, when you learn how to pronounce that!). The sun shone, Albert (my host found via warmshowers.org) showed me pictures of the mountains… So now I’ve spent 3 days doing a loop in Slovenia that was distinctly the wrong direction for travelling to Australia. But it was great fun riding up the valleys, crossing another mountain pass and spending the night with some WA folk on top of said mountain pass. Being chased by a woman with an axe probably wasn’t the highlight – but I met some great people that let me sleep on the porch of a log cabin, and then inside a train station… Actually, everyone is super friendly here. Most can get buy in English, but it’s more fun trying to communicate with me speaking bad Spanish and them replying in Italian.

It’s great. And considering I wasn’t even planning on entering the country, it’s been a good one. Even the soaking rain I’ve had for the last two days hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm (completely). I think I can see a France/Italy/Austria/Slovenia tour coming up some time in the future.





Training camp: Italy

5 06 2010

Spent the best part of 2 weeks in Italy with Stefan and Sabine, and the bikes. Not just any part of Italy, Lago di Garda – a big lake surrounded by 1500-2000m high mountains. And lots of mountain bike tracks.

Two relaxing weeks sitting by the lake… Hardly! Had fun. Ate lots, did a stupid amount of riding. Still managed to put on weight.

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Interesting events:
Stefan broke his frame, then spent a week improvising and perfecting a clamp to fix it. Worked well in the end.
I broke Stefan’s rear wheel.  Easy to fix at the bike shop. Interesting 2000m decent on loose track with only front brakes.
Lufthansa lost my bag. Camping, no gear, not as much fun.
I was introduced to Klettersteig. European way to climb a mountain with fixed ropes. Curious.
Pizza. Pasta. Stefan’s cooking.
The mountains beguiled us into leaving the warm clothes in the tent with several days of good weather, then tried to give me hypothermia. Failed, just.
Mountains, Mountains, Mountains. Lake.
Did I mention the food?





Lyon

16 05 2010

I think that might be called a petit aventure.

I spent the night in Lyon, then had to find a way to get to the hotel we’re staying at for work. Now I could take a taxi… But there is a train line not so far away. So I thought I’d take that. Well, it’s Sunday – the next train is over 3 hours away (France!). But the ticket sales guy told me there might be a bus. Walk a bit. There is a bus. After the one that goes to Etats-Unis. I thought someone was having a joke, but no, there is an Etats-Unis near Lyon.

So take the bus. It only goes to Feyzin. Well, that’s not a million miles from where I want to be. Closer is better. Near the end of the line I get talking to the bus driver. Once we’ve established that 1. I can’t speak French 2. Where I want to go and 3. (most importantly) that I am Australian, and not English after all, he goes on to tell me how great Australia is. And how his brother has a friend who went there on one of those things – how do you say – bicycle? Of course that gave us something to talk about (and his English turned out to be pretty good). So suddenly I had instructions for the next bus trip and subsequent walk. And was let out at the traffic lights because it was closer. Nice guy. And he helped me fill a 3 hour journey (that takes ~ 20 minutes in the car).

And snails tonight. Still looking for frogs legs.





Driving again

21 04 2010

Well that was fast. My driving story just got another twist. After working solidly for a total of three hours, the reason I drove all the way back to France has ceased to be important. So I get to turn around and go back, again. My colleagues are surprised that I’m not angry, after driving two days in one direction to undo the mistake of driving two days in the original direction to be told to go and do it all again.

It’s ok, I’m calling tomorrow Good Friday, and Friday Labour Day. See you next week. I’ll be in the south of France, somewhere.





Lost

21 04 2010

A few weeks ago while packing the suitcase to go fly away on yet another job, I noticed that I was one shirt down. I probably wouldn’t notice this if I had a large number of shirts. When you live like this, one down is a significant percentage drop. How do you lose your shirt? I don’t gamble, at least not with items of clothing. And I don’t go to the sort of parties that you might return from without a shirt, and no memory of the event. Partly because that sort of thing is not for me, but mostly because I don’t get invited to those sort of parties.

Flummoxed, I pulled apart and searched my wardrobe. Twenty seconds later I did it again. Nope, definitely gone.

After two weeks of wonder, Mum had the answer. I had left it in Australia. One less thing to iron wash.





Driving weekend

20 04 2010

Ok, that was weird.

You may have heard about the volcano. The Iceland one. The one that is throwing dust into the atmosphere and giving the aviation industry a great chance to support Earth Hour, a few weeks later. And perhaps causing a few issues for those that travel as part of their living.

I was working in southern France. I had changed my flight back to the Friday, the day after all the flights were cancelled. Both my departure and Barcelona airports were open, but I had a flight via Paris. Paris was not. So my flight was cancelled. Ok, so I get stuck in France until Sunday night (next available direct flight). Could be worse.

My colleague was also stuck, but the possibility of getting back to the UK were practically nil. He was desperate to get home. Even though I wasn’t he convinced me that the best way was just to take the hire car we already had, and drive back. I could have taken a train, only the French train drivers are also on strike, and getting a train is bit like playing the lottery. Since I detest driving on highways, especially through country I haven’t seen, I only managed to go half of the way fast. It took me two days to get back to Barcelona. Slightly inconvenienced, but nothing disastrous.

My colleague was not so lucky. In fact it became obvious that he was stuck in Lyon for another week. So he figured he may as well work for that week. But he needed someone to work the night shift. That’s where I come back in. Literally.

So after spending Sunday at ‘home’ (and really made maximum use of it by teaching myself how to pick a padlock, sleeping and eating), I hired a car Monday morning and headed back to Lyon. Good thing it isn’t very far. Well, in Australia it wouldn’t be very far. In Europe it is definitely two languages. On the highway it is 640km, and involves the following navigation: “Drive down the toll road. Turn left. Drive more. Arrive”. Of course I make it more interesting, and managed to get lost a few times (I swear they need to update this map…). I’m beginning to learn that the highways make things much, much faster in Europe. They shorten the drive by half, and the distance seems to be less also. But the tolls are certainly expensive, and there is so much to see on the back roads.

So since Friday I’ve driven for 35 hours, covered more than 1,600km and gone exactly no-where. But I did get to take some photos.





Back home

17 04 2010

Just got in. The volcano, which everyone on the planet must have heard about by now, effected me also. Lucky I had a rental car though, drove across a bit of France and Spain. Now sleep… Longest distance I’ve driven in… years? Maybe 4 years?





New High Score

10 04 2010

Went for a run. Found a hill. Went for a ‘high score’. Got my heart rate to 194bpm. Failed to have a heart attack, looks like it still works.

Can't breath...

Normal formula for calculating HRmax is (220 – your age). By that formula I am 26. Excellent. Yes, I know that the standard deviation for these calcs is large, but let me pretend that I am 26 for a while.

On a side note, my residence card has my date of birth incorrect. By that card I am 25. So I have government issued proof…





Brugge

28 03 2010

The labour laws here in Belgium enforce a maximum working hour week for everyone, scumbag contractors included. So I had to take Sunday off. My arms were almost twisted off before I agreed.

Considering the time I’ve spent in Antwerp in the last six months, somehow it’s the first day I’ve had to look around. So I jumped on a train to Brugge. A ridiculously pretty place (despite Winter launching another attempt at a take over). Lots of old buildings. Clearly maintained for tourists now, but a city that has a thousand years of history and is still in good condition will be a draw for tourists. And that’s what I was today.  Plenty to keep me entertained for a day. Some photos if you are interested.





S&S

28 03 2010

Stefan and Sabine are coming to visit. Easter will be good after all!

My toenail has died, post marathon. I’ve never managed to completely kill a toenail. Ha. Finally, another badge 🙂 I’m sure you don’t need another photo.

A trip is planned to Italy in May. Stefan and Sabine mentioned they will be there. These guys just don’t learn that inviting me is a sure way to have a third wheel (or a whole bike) along. Shhh, don’t tell them.





Pyrenees. Skiing

22 03 2010

I found myself with a few days and not a whole lot to do, back home. I was meant to be working in Belgium, but something happened and I ended up in Barcelona. Someone reminded me there was still snow in the Pyreness. No need to say much more.

I remembered the fun I had last year on the snow board, and so decided to use the planks this time. Boarding is fun, but at my level I end up on my arse with a sore head too much of the time. Not so on the skis. I can spend all day and only have the odd embarrassing ’emergency’ stop.

Where is everyone?

Snow and sun + mountains

Ok, so there were  a few people, but for two days I might have spend a total of ten minutes waiting for the lift. Not quite what I was expecting from skiing in Europe. Trick is to go during the week, toward the end of the season. I was still around on Saturday, and it got significantly more busy.

Getting braver

Spring is definitely coming. The sun was out – despite sunscreen, I may have got a bit burnt 🙂

The snow was melting at a frightening pace, but I was lucky enough to have plenty for me. But in the afternoon it was a mix between water and snow skiing. Maybe that’s why no-one else was there…

The hordes descended, or rather ascended, from Barcelona on Saturday. I’m pretty happy falling down the mountain when it’s empty, but with too much traffic I’d rather go up, so I took some snow shoes and walked around for a day. I  I found a bunch of people over to one side, hurtling down a track or the half pipe on their boards. Last round of the snow boarding world championships. Couple of Aussies. Surprising how much air they get on the track and pipe.

He's just practicing