I've begun this post while ferrying from Zankynthos back to Killini. This is the first time I've experienced a boat this large getting tossed around this much by the sea. Feeling a bit queezy. It's amazing the difference a day can make. Yesterday, it was gorgeous, perfect for my birthday day-off, and today chilly and stormy.
Since I wrote last I've made my way to the western coast from Kalamata, camping in Navarino Bay. This is an upscale all-inclusive area, pricey restaurants and the first golf course I've seen. It's clearer than ever that I'm exploring this area a bit prior to the actual tourist season. I found a campsite that wasn't officially open, but the manager allowed me to stay anyway. And for a reduced price!
My neighbors at the campsite were a German couple riding across Europe by motorcycle, Sasha and Uli. They took very good care of me; food, alcohol, a possible place to stay in Tubingin, Germany, and some critical information about ferries. Turns out, getting from Greece to Croatia by boat direct is no longer possible. This means riding north through Albania and Montenegro, which I don't really have the time for, or ferrying from Greece to Italy and then to Croatia. After sorting through a lot of misinformation online and from locals the latter turned out to be the better option.
I rode north mainly sticking to the coast, noticing more and more the impact of the recession on Greece. I've talked with a number of Greeks and the general sentiment seems to be that things will get worse before they get better. One told me that there are half a million partially built or empty houses and buildings. This is in a country of nine million! And it shows. I've ridden past countless beautiful nearly complete mountain side condos and vacation homes with beach views that look as though the workmen just up and left one day and never returned. Now they're overgrown with wild flowers and in some cases covered in nationalistic or gang graffiti. It's sad to see things fall apart in this country of such deep and rich culture.
I strayed inland to see Olympia, the original, and arrived just in time to inadvertently cross a finish line for a local cycling event. The participants clapped for me and smiled, partly joking and in part with real respect. They know what it means to cycle through their country and with all the gear on my bike, I got some street cred!
Ancient Olympia, though not as impressive ruins as others in Greece, has a special charm due to it's ongoing significance in our modern world.
I especially enjoyed standing at the starting line of the stadium where athletes would sprint the 120m span in the nude!
I spent my last couple days in Greece, including my birthday, on the Ionian island of Zakynthos. Again I wandered in search of an open campsite and again, not finding one turned out to be fortuitous. I stopped to ask directions at a restaurant and the owner confirmed that none of the campsites had opened for the season. He offered one of the rooms above at a very reduced rate since they weren't really open either. I gladly accepted!
For my birthday day-off I wandered the island and treated myself to a special meal. It was only a sweet elderly woman humming to herself and I in this hidden family owned restaurant, Mesathes, so I chatted at length with the owner and his wife. Turns out that 30 years ago he sang the Greek restaurant/nightclub circuit in the Midwest and lived in Chicago and Detroit. Who knew there was such a thing?!
The Greek salad was amazing, the wine fantastic. The main course, beef in a red sauce, wasn't much to look at, but was damn tasty. When they learned it was my birthday they brought me a chilled, moist dessert with orange rind mixed in and cinnamon sprinkled on top, called halvaz. It served wonderfully as my birthday cake. This place and the family feel really made the day special.
End of another ferry ride and now for a quick stop in Bari, Italy!