Athens Sight-Seaing

IMG_4602 2Every week through every season of the year, I set a goal of biking 75 miles. In the summer I usually go over a hundred miles, but in the winter I might miss a few days because of weather. The weekly mileage goal of 75 has proven to be just right for me. Over the last three weeks I have been traveling and a week ago I started my Strava 75 with 16 miles in Athens, Greece.

If you travel you know that jet lag can hit you when you least expect it and I wasn’t sure how this week would turn out. Super high July temps mean I have to get riding by 10AM at the latest or suffer the heat. My 75 was hard earned over the past several days. The great thing about booking a bicycle tour when you’re traveling is the memory of it. All week I’ve fired up that memory of biking the Athens coast in Kalithea on an actual bike path. A smile skims my face and I think, “Yeah, I did that and it was spectacular.”

Last summer when I was in Athens I found this company, WeBikeAthens,  and I took one of their tours, Historic Athens Views. I thoroughly loved it and wished I had time for more. I also had every intention of posting about it. You know how it is. You get back from vacation and swept into the fray. Which is why I’m glad I got to visit Athens again. This company is top notch: great ride leaders, good pace, super detailed tour and fun. Zeus himself would enjoy a little saddle time with these folks. You know how picky he can be. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Others agree with my assessment. I booked two rides this time; After Sunset Highlights and Athens Coastline Sight-Seaing  After Sunset deserves it’s own post. For this post, I want to share some Sight-Seaing.

I showed up a little early for my Monday morning ride. Athens was hot and humid and remember it’s hours before the tragic fire breaks out. It’s one of the hottest days of the summer. Thankfully they have a bucket of resources and a cat, Diego, managing the sign in.

No one else has booked this tour for Monday morning at 10AM, which means I have my very own private tour with Chrysoula. I’m overjoyed! She very nice and I feel like we’ve been friends forever even though we’ve just met.

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We get our bikes. WeBikeAthens has e-bikes. I’m a big fan of e-bikes. Some people are really weird about the e-bike movement. That’s a whole other blog post. For the purposes of this post let’s just say that e-bikes in Athens are the only way to go. When it’s 5000 degrees outside and you don’t feel like doing anything other than sitting in the sea an e-bike gives you a decent workout without epic amounts of sweat. Instead of slogging it out in a 12 miles an hour pace, you can easily hit 15 and there’s some joy in the breeze cooling you off as you go. The bikes are pedal assist so if you don’t go, the bikes don’t go. Plus there are some delightfully steep hills and some E-juice gives you the assist right when you need it.

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They have other bikes in their fleet of E bikes. The ones we rode are the Wisper Stealth. Chrysoula made sure the bike fit me the way I like. She lowered the seat and I rode up and down Apostolou Pavlou in front of the shop. There’s a park across the street and the Thiseio Metro stop close by.  It takes about 30 seconds to figure out how the bike functions. We packed up our water and set off.

Let’s time travel a tiny bit. Back when I was 15, my family and I lived in Athens for about six months. We lived in a city near Athens called Kallithea. This is important since this tour is going to take me on a bike path in the area of Kallithea.

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We take off and and within less than a mile we’re on a bike path. It’s an oasis in the midst of a city where cars are everywhere.

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I’m thrilled. With all the traffic of Athens I’m biking on an actual path I didn’t even know existed. The only way anyone would know about this hidden gem would be because they found it while riding a bike.

You’ll notice that I’m not wearing a helmet. They are not mandatory in Athens. WeBikeAthens gives you the option of wearing a helmet.

I’m expecting that this path is going to end but it doesn’t. I’m so happy I consider stopping to do a little dance, but I don’t. I keep on pedaling away.

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We do stop in front of this mural and Chrysoula wants to take my picture. She’s telling me about how she has some ideas or a ride that’s purely photography. Take people to spots that are great for photographs. I love this idea and she’s happy that I enjoy being in photographs. What you don’t see in the pic is the heat. The cicadas are loud enough to sound like a jet taking off and smart people are inside enjoying shade or air conditioning or cold water.

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Follow the red brick road and you’ll see a path construction changes slightly here and there, but it’s a path that goes on for about 8 miles and it takes us to the sea. Later I went to Map My Ride and found additional routes. Although some of the routes date back to 2012 I can’t find any detailed information about how Kallithea became the place where someone thought, “Let’s build a multiuse path here.” It’s brilliant and I’m thankful for it.

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Chrysoula stops here and notice how the path and crosswalk line up. She’ll watch the traffic while I pass. Very sweet of her.  The traffic isn’t heavy but she’s protective and cautious and that’s what you want in a tour leader. IMG_4612

Just like home when you see cars in your lane.

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The red works well even if it is a bit faded.

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The staples at the top of the photo which prevents cars from making a U-turn. I feel safe on this path. I start thinking about getting a job in Athens. Just kidding, but when there’s a pretty awesome stretch of bike-pedestrian path, you start thinking about changing your life.

We’re pedaling and talking and I’m as carefree as a puppy and then we turn into a site that has me gobsmacked. First I see a bike share type of rack and I think that the gods of Olympus have intervened on my behalf.

Chrysoula tells me that these bikes are for the SNFCC.

Stop. Red light! SNFCC sounds familiar.

I saw it on a sign at the National Library of Greece which was closed and being relocated. I was there the day before and I saw this sign.

The wheels are turning both on my bike and in my mind. I haven’t put it all together until we come back. Chrysoula asks me if I want to stop at the SNFCC first or on the way back. I opted to keep on riding and check out this cultural campus at the end.

We ride and ride a then start I start spotting the masts of sailboats and we’re at the area with lots of beaches on the Saronic Gulf. This is the Palaio Faliro. IMG_4637 2

We rode around and talked about what we’d name a boat. Remember the name of the tour is Sight-Seaing in Athens. I love the play on words. They get extra points for the pun.

At this point I can’t imagine being any happier. We’ve been having the best time and then we go up a sidewalk ramp and turn a few places and down and up and straight ahead and then… this!

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If only you could smell the salt air and feel the fresh breeze. You could be a dolphin and arc up over the waves. It’s as exhilerating as a roller coaster but my feet are flat on the ground. We stop and soak it in.

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Waves lap on to the pavement and you can’t imagine a more perfect moment. The blue bliss goes on as far as the eye can see.

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The only thing that could make a moment more perfect would be a café freddo. You can fill in the blank with your chosen beverage, but coffee is the Greek way. Ouzo later. We stop at a restaurant on the beach of course.

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Chrysoula and I have a great chat about our respective countries and their issues. “Is life getting any better for the Greeks?” I ask. When I was her age I was already in my career. I was employed in the field of my study and I had been for almost five years. Chrysoula’s degree is in Art Therapy and like many of the Greeks her age she may not be able to pay the rent. She has to work very hard at more than a few jobs to pull it all together. She said that it’s a little better, but she can’t sit back and relax. She was working with refugees and still does but she wanted a happy job for the summer. She loves working at WeBikeAthens and she’s suited to meeting and interacting with people. I’m lucky our paths crossed.

After a nice rest we start to make our way back to the office. However, remember those letters? SNFCC? We make our way back and I learn about the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. When I’m not riding my bike and writing about it, I’m a teacher-librarian at a middle school. I wanted to see the National Library because that’s what I do. The day before I had given up all hope of seeing it because with limited wifi I couldn’t find where it was being moved to and when it would be open to the public. Once again, a bike ride solved my dilemma. The SNFCC is home to the National Library and the National Opera. Case closed. There’s more to know about the SNFCC than I can write about in this post. Follow the link and learn about its design and construction and if you’re ever in Athens, you must visit it. Also the bikes are for using on the campus. There’s a park and it’s a great area to bring the family and enjoy a day at the cultural center. There are bikes at both ends of the campus.

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As I was getting into the elevator I decided to video the experience. No picture can do it justice. You can’t help but think of it as a sort of modern Acropolis.

Chrysoula stood guard at the bikes while I explored. It was very nice of her to do that because it was about 7000 degress outside and I was cooling off inside.

My first impressions of the place are hard to communicate since I spend most of the time mumbling WOW and staring in wonder at everything. It’s incredible. The library is beyond anything I’ve ever imagined. I mean I have imagined something like that but the reality added another floor and some fantastic furniture. I’m in love. I didn’t want to leave but I was afraid my lovely guide is melting. I headed back down and we took off. Word that day was that it was so hot the Acropolis closed at 2PM. Also the sky was getting very hazy and there was talk of a wildfire.

On the way back our path is blocked by a taxi. Chrysoula tells the driver to move. I love her! IMG_4718

The driver is rolling a cigarette but finally moves out of our path.

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We’re happy for any and all shade on the way back.

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Diego is there to greet us.

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I had such a great ride last Monday that all Monday rides from now on will pale by comparison. The memory of this ride is something I will play over and over when I get back into my commuting back and forth routine. It’s a memory I will nurture during the winter months when I’m trying to think warm thoughts in the hope that my nose won’t freeze or my gloved hands go numb.

Taking a city tour by bike is often a gamble. You may not get with a group or leader that you like. You may not like the bike or feel like the route isn’t for you. But you also don’t know if you don’t try. This is the third ride I’ve taken with WeBikeAthens and I’d take another and another if I could. The cost is 45€ or about $53. That’s a great value. I had the best time and if you enjoy biking then this is a great option for you. Everytime I travel, especially overseas, I look for bike rides. After all, 16 of my 75 miles last week were in Athens.

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The route on Strava.

I hope you’re having a great summer. Take water, apply sunscreen and get out there and ride.

Enjoy!
Bike Goddess

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Santorini State of Mind

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‎⁨Nisos Thira⁩, ⁨Megalochori⁩, ⁨Greece⁩.

Billy Joel didn’t write this song. I did. The lyrics are in my mind and I have thought about last summer in Greece with about the same frequecy as my bike commute, which is daily. I think about Santorini and it calms me like the humming of a singing bowl. I thought about it last fall as the leaves were changing colors and the air was growing brisk. I ruminated about it when the snow was falling in the winter and in the spring when it sounded like someone dumped a bucket of marbles on the roof as hail clattered and the skies thundered. Memories of my Santorini bike ride got me through.

The whole adventure was both last minute and planned. How is that possible? I would travel to Greece and if I could get a bike ride or two, that would be a bonus. Trip planned, but sometimes you need to be there to figure out the rest. I had no idea if I could pull off a bike ride on the island but I was going to try. I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel and I mentioned the idea to the host. He was not impressed. He was concerned it would be too dangerous. I remember saying, “Okay, sure, but… do you know anyone?” He said he would check. I had the impression that he was not going to check but wait for me to forget about it.

Lo’ and behold there was a travel magazine on the table in the lobby and I was thumbing through it and saw an ad for Santorini MTB Adventures. I wrote down the number and the email. I sent an email first, in which, I described my bike experience and how much I wanted to make this happen. Shortly after I clicked SEND my phone rang and it was a woman who wanted to confirm that there was a opening the next morning. Could I be ready at 9AM? There was jubilation and dancing and I was beaming the rest of the day as like a child on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t go to sleep.

I packed bike shorts and a top because that’s what I do for most trips. You have to get in gear when a bike opportunity rings the bell. The next morning I was waiting at the door at 8:30 for the 9AM pick up as anxious as if this was a first date. Soon I would rendezvous with a bike on a beach and I would see the island from the saddle of an electric mountain bike. Ride on.

Vassili and Katarina were our guides. It was me and a young couple.

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The adventure started at Perissa Beach. I don’t remember much about the beach at the beginning of the trip because all I wanted to do was hike my leg over this bike and get going.

Perissa Beach is in the backgroud. Gorgeous, but at the start of the ride and when I shot this pic, I didn’t even notice the beach. Bikes on the brain!

The e-bikes c have 9 speeds and 4 modes: Eco, sport, tour and turbo. Disc brakes. I have an e-bike that has pedal assist. Same idea but there’s a little more boost in these models. They are a modern day mule and easy to use. Vassili was lead and I followed behind him. I could feel all the commuting miles pay off as we biked up and down and around. The couple followed behind me and Katarina brought up the back.

We puttered around the parking lot for about 10 minutes getting used to how the bikes handled and then we were off. Vassili would take pics here and there and we would also have moments when we stopped to snap a few pics but he strongly advised us to keep both hands on the handlebars and not take pics while we were riding. Okay, who told on me! But it’s true, the terrain is varied and rocky. I knew immediately I should behave myself. I only took pictures when we stopped.

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Santorini is full of those hills that don’t look like much, but suddenly your in the middle of a climb that was so gradual you can almost hear the ground giggling at your attempt to summit without downshifting.

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See how it is. Seems easy enough and then right at the top of the picture it gets steep enough to make you wish for an escalator.

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At each turn there’s a reward of something that you’d miss if you weren’t on a bike.

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Then the narrow alleyway opens up to something else that takes your breath away.

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Our first stop was for a bit of refreshment at a café.

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There were infinite nooks and crannies that demanded attention. We parked our bikes and went exploring.

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The next stop was Gavalas Winery.  We parked our bikes and settled in for a treat which included wine tasting.

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My favorite part was when the guide at the winery, another Vassili said,

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“Fermentation needs patience. While drinking needs company.” Also they wanted a wine that was “Red to your eye, Rosé in the mouth and white in the after taste.” I enjoyed all four wines we sampled.

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My only significant regret was that I didn’t buy some wine or have some shipped. If you like wine, you should check out this winery. I thought I could probably find it somewhere in the Northwest, but I was wrong. 

Vassili the bike guide brought us these amazing “energy” bars.

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Everything does taste better on vacation!

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Then we’re on our way again to see more sights.

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Bring on the oxygen because the views from this spot are spectacular. I was overcome with emotion at truly awesome sights.

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Super steep getting down to a church, but worth it. This is an excursion that welcomes all levels, but keep in mind, there’s sand and gravel and significant climbing in and out of areas like this. Bikes stayed up top and we walked down to the church.

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You can ring the bells!

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The Monastery of Agios Nikolaos in Santorini: The historical female Monastery of Agios Nikolaos is located between the villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli in Santorini. The monastery is dedicated to three saints, Agios Panteleimon, Zoodoxos Pighi (which means life giving source in Greek) and Agios Nikolaos.

 

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View from just outside the church doors.

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Selfie time. The ride was about 15 miles total.  I saw sights that I wouldn’t have seen any other way.

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This is the famous black beach. It  is actually a sharp pebbly one and I strongly recommend proper footwear. If you’re there in July it’s very hard to walk on with your bare feet. The sea was gorgeous. Plenty of comfortable seating available.

Perissa Beach is where we started. By the time you get back to the lounge chairs you are ready for a dip in the water and a cold beverage of your choice.

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This is the look of contentment.

Would I recommend Santorini MTB Adventures? Without hesitation I would recommend them! I loved every second of the bike ride. I was sad it came to an end. This would hold me over for a few days. I would be heading back to Athens after Santorini and yes, I found bikes there too. More in another post about biking in Athens.

Santorini is in the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. Way back in the16th century BC it was devastated by a volcanic eruption, forever shaping its rugged landscape. Jules Verne wrote about it in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1870. There’s some perspective for you. Since this trip many details of life have garnered my attention. Sometimes we get lost in the minutiae of the day.  But in the quiet or even busy moments between the storms I have been able to get myself back to a Santorini state of mind. A few hours that transformed me and my perspective on life. We all need places like that. I can get myself there with each and every pedal stroke on any day, rain or shine. I hope you have a place like that too.

Thanks for reading. Now, get up and get out there and ride your bike!

Bike Goddess

P.S. I am heading back to Santorini this summer. More MTB adventures await, I hope.

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I really do love Santorini! 

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