(Photos at the bottom of the post.)
September 30, 2011 (Day 10)
Itinerary: CycleGreece Day 7, cycle from Kalavryta to Xyloskalo, lunch in Xyloskalo, drive to Ancient Corinth, the Corinth Canal, Athens, check into Athens hotel, farewell dinner with amazing night view of the Acropolis
Trip odometer: 45.5 miles
Moving time: 3hrs 48 min
Max speed: 33.2mph
Max elevation: 3360 feet
Min elevation: 0 feet, sea level
Weather: cold morning below 60 degrees, warm on the coast at 85-90.
This morning came way too early as we woke at 6:30am for our last day of cycling from Kalavryta to Xyloskalo. Breakfast at the Hotel Kynaitha was a small buffet style breakfast with good food and fresh orange juice. Then at 7:30am, we were packed and ready for our last cycling.
Brrr, what a cold morning! I was not expecting such cold weather today, but I guess we are still in the mountains of Greece. Mark and I were happy for our bike sleeves and really could have used another layer for that first hour or so. The first part of our ride was downhill, but then we had a 7km climb. Ugh, climbing mountains on a bike is hard work. But we knew we could do it. We just aren’t used to all this climbing since we live in flat Houston. We both think we should spend a summer in Boulder one year and see how powerful we can get on climbs.
We stopped many times along the climb, both to breathe and to take pictures. However, I managed to corrupt the memory card I was using later on, so today’s pictures are gone. Oh well. Anyway, we made it to the top of our climb and rejoiced for that was the last climb of the trip. The ride downhill to sea level was thrilling, steep, and had lots of turns! If it wasn’t for all the turns, we might have zoomed down faster, but with all those sharp turns and switchbacks, we had to practically ride the brakes the entire way down for almost 45 minutes of downhill cycling. My hands were completely dead by the time we reached the ocean. I need to invest in some longer fingers. =)
Our group re-grouped at the intersection of our downhill road and the ocean road that we’d be cycling on for the rest of our trip, so it was easy to know where we were going at this point. We just followed each other along a gloriously flat coastal road. I was completely in my element as this flat ride was just like Houston cycling with just a little bit of headwind, and a couple small bunny hills here and there. Along the coast, we had more traffic than we had seen in the mountains which kept us in a single file line for the ride and we made a couple pit stops for photo ops.
By noon we made it to our final destination, the town of Xyloskalo. We loaded the bikes on our support van and had a delicious lunch at a taverna overlooking the ocean. While we are happy that we have some restful vacation days coming up, we are also sad to be done cycling. This was our first cycling vacation and it was a good one. From another couple on our tour, we learned more about self-guided cycling in other countries in Europe and hope to try them out someday. Climbing is certainly not our strong point, but perhaps on a self-guided trip, we can take more of our own pace. I will have to look up more places to cycle, perhaps starting with northern Italy.
After a delicious lunch (I don’t think we’ve had any food yet that hasn’t been absolutely delicious) we piled in the van and drove to Akrokorinthios, a fortress on a hill with 360 degree views promised to us. On the drive up we saw our first Greek clouds and thought about how strange they looked. At the fortress, the wind picked up quite a bit bringing in more clouds and our 360-degree view was a bit hazy. Unfortunately, we only had 45 minutes at the site since it closed at 3pm, so we kind of ran up to the top of the fortress and then ran back down without learning any of the history.
The next stop excited me most as we stopped at the Corinth Canal. I hadn’t heard anything about the Corinth Canal until I saw a postcard in Athens. Wow, what a canal this is! The walls are solid rock, tall and very narrow compared to the width. There was a large cruise ship on one side of the canal looking like it might come through, but we couldn’t stay to watch it come in. It appears that the large ships come through the canal pulled by little tugboats and just barely fitting between the rock walls. We were able to stand on a bridge overlooking the canal and the Athens multi-day marathon was coming by just as we arrived! We cheered on the runners and took photos of the canal. =) Far on the other side of the canal, we learned of a pedestrian and bike bridge that actually lowers into the water under the ships when they come through since it isn’t tall enough! I’ve never heard of a bridge like this and I would have liked to see it.
Finally, we jumped on the highway and drove to Athens, which was a fairly uneventful highway drive. In Athens we were amazed again by the big city traffic with cars, bikes, motorcycles, and pedestrians all managing to squeeze together in unimaginable ways to get where they need to go. Motorcycles ride on the lines separating the car lanes and everyone just jumps out into traffic as they need to. Cars will randomly stop and park in odd places including the middle of the road sometimes. I am so glad I did not need to drive in this traffic and we were all happy to reach the Herodion Hotel where we’d be staying the night.
The Herodion Hotel is supposed to be a 5-star top notch kind of place, but I didn’t find the rooms to be any more spectacular than any of the other hotels we’d been staying at…really. However, the location and the roof-top garden view are what sell the hotel. We were next to the Acropolis Museum and in viewing distance of the Acropolis when we opened up our windown onto our balcony. Tonight I will get some night photos from the roof.
Dinner was at 7:30 on a roof-top restaurant with even more amazing views of the Acropolis at night. I needed my full tripod and camera set up to do this place justice and as everyone sat down to order drinks, I peeled off to start taking photos. The roof was a little windy at first, but dinner was tasty and the view was so outstanding I almost couldn’t leave. They light up the monuments at night and Carmina Burana was playing at The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. I did wish I was at the performance, but was happy that we could hear the main pieces waft over to us on the wind.
Over dinner we reminisced about the last 7 days of cycling and said our farewells hoping to keep in touch. What a memorable vacation this is turning out to be and it’s not even over yet! Tomorrow we have a full day in Athens before heading on to Santorini and then later Crete. Happy Vacation!
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