September 26, 2011 (Day 6)
Itinerary: CycleGreece Day 3, bike/ride from Nafplio to Tripoli, almost 20 miles, lunch in Tripoli, hike the Lousios Gorge
Trip odometer: 19.2 miles
Moving time: 1hrs 21 min
Max speed: 35.2mph
Max elevation: 3526 feet
Min elevation: 0 feet, sea level
Weather: comfortable 80 – 85 degrees
On our third day of cycling the plan is to split into two groups. There is a huge and steep climb up a mountain on the itinerary today, so the climbers will go ahead early in the morning, and the three of us slower riders will do a modified ride. By the way, the climbers in our group are in the 55+ age group and are so athletic that Mark and I can’t ever keep up. We hope to be like them someday. We had a fairly leisurely breakfast since we were leaving later and headed out on the bikes about 9am with the support van behind us.
We biked an easy and flat 16.5km to a gas station. The ride was along the coast and we had great views of the ocean and several thatched umbrellas spread along the beach. There was a small headwind making the ride a little more challenging, but it was an easy ride and in under an hour we were loading the bikes onto the support van at the gas station.
From here we rode in the van up many switchbacks to the top of the mountain. I have no idea how the other 3 in our group were able to get so far ahead on this climb, but they made it. Finally we drove past them and found a good spot to stop and get our bikes down.
The ride in to the town of Tripoli was easy now that we were already on top of the mountain, and with just a few hills, we cycled to town. The rides are incredibly scenic and certainly unlike anything we can find cycling in Houston. There isn’t much shoulder on the roads, but there isn’t much traffic either. We also found that the cars give us a little toot on the horn to let us know they are passing and then give us a wide berth to get around us. Since Greece does not have many cyclists, the cars consider us to be athletes and wave, toot their horns, and blink their lights to encourage us. We smile and wave back of course.
Tripoli was a large town with plenty of traffic and crazy drivers. In particular the plaza or roundabout that we stopped to have lunch in was full of insane drivers who either parked in the middle of the roundabout, or squeezed through holes almost too small for their cars. I don’t know how we made it to a good stopping point, but we managed it. Safety in numbers I guess! We loaded the bikes up on top of the van and ate lunch at a local place called the Baker’s Dozen. They had several sandwiches and a local crowd to eat with.
After Tripoli, we all loaded up into the van and drove to the cute little town of Stemnitsa. The town is situated on the side of the mountain overlooking the Lousios Gorge. Only one road through town is open to cars and the rest is just for walking. The Country Club Hotel (aka Trikolonio) was perfect. Our room had a small balcony with views of the town and the gorge and a place to hang our laundry out to dry. Across the street was a little shop full of homemade treats, honeys, and every jam, marmalade, and canned fruit you can think of.
After changing into hiking clothes we walked along the road in town and were charmed away by the adorable little shops and eateries. The van drove us down to the start of our afternoon hike into Lousios Gorge. We hiked probably about 5-6 miles in 2.5 hours. Our group is full of fast hikers; I barely had time to spot and take photos. The hike was amazing, though, as we first saw a monastery built into the side of a rock cliff. We would stop off here on the hike back. We crossed the Lousios River on a little pedestrian bridge looking down into the white water produced by rounded rocks.
Across the river and up the other side of the gorge we found the secret school from the days of the Revolution, so called because the Turks would not allow the Greeks to study their language and history openly, so they did it in secret. The school was built into the side of a cliff again and built of rock camouflaged with the cliff. We couldn’t even see it until we were underneath and were able to climb up. I can’t imagine how they studied here since the rooms were maybe 5 or 6 feet wide, doorways were 4.5 feet tall and there were steep steps to get anywhere.
Behind the school and down the path a ways more was yet another monastery with a beautiful garden out front and a heavily decorated praying room. From here we turned around and hiked back to make it to the monastery built into the side of a cliff by 5pm so that we would be in time to hear the monks ring the bells. The main bell was actually a large piece of wood, worn in the center and carved at the two ends to hang horizontally, flat side perpendicular to the ground on two pieces of rope, one on either side. The wooden “bell” was at least 5 feet long and 2 inches thick, located out on a patio overlooking the gorge. Several more normal looking bells hung beside the piece of wood. Unfortunately they moved the bell-ringing time to about 6pm and we missed hearing it. To enter the monastery we had to be properly dressed. Women were not allowed in with trousers and men not allowed with shorts. Outside hung several large garments of clothing so we all put on skirts over our clothes. The guys especially got a kick out of this.
Our hike ended where we started, at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist with a great overlook of the gorge and where we had hiked in from.
Back in Stemnitsa, we showered and changed to walk to dinner where we had another night full of delicious appetizers and entrees. I can’t figure out what kind of food the “Greek” restaurants back in Houston serve, because all the food here is very different and so much more delicious. We are happy to have our two guides, one of whom is Greek to order food for us and introduce us to all the Greek culture and even some of the language.
After a baklava dessert bought at the shop across from our hotel, we rolled home to bed to get ready for cycling again tomorrow. I am really loving our cycling vacation.