After spending a lovely week driving, hiking, and walking on the Greek Islands of Crete and Santorini, Eric and I were excited to hop back on bicycles and continue our tradition of integrating cycling into every vacation. We found a local bicycle shop, Athens By Bike, who rented us bikes and panniers and even suggested an itinerary for a 4-day cycle tour of the Peloponnese.
Day 1 – Athens to Loutraki (5 km of cycling plus metro, train and lots of waiting)
We rode the metro to Acropolis and took a short 10 minute walk to Athen By Bike, the local bike store where we’d reserved two rental bikes for our 4 day tour. Two workers, Dimitrias and Costas, met us at the shop at the appointed time. They were enthusiastic about cycling in Greece and eager to share their knowledge and ideas with us. They made sure our Orient bikes (more hybrid than touring) were equipped with panniers, a tool pouch, and some low intensity lights to be seen but not to actually see with.
After reviewing the bike basics, Dimitrias walked to the computer and prepared a route for us using and Costas made a route for us using Ride With GPS. He also made suggestions of towns to stay in, places to eat delicious ice creams, and tourist sites to visit.
We loaded a few items of clothing, toiletries and a bathing suit into the Tour de France panniers (That’s really what they are called) and left the rest of our luggage at the bike shop. Dimitrias handed us a paper map with directions to the Thissio metro station by way of cycling around the Acropolis.
Per Dimitrias’ instructions, we rode the metro to Nerantziotissa where we were supposed to transfer to the suburban train and ride to Corinth. (Korinthos). Unfortunately, the suburban trains were on strike and said to open after 4:00 pm (4 hours laters) so we killed time by cycling to a park, taking a nap on a park bench, buying an ice cream at the Mall of Athens and waiting another hour and a half because the 4:07 pm train arrived so full of passengers that we could not squeeze on.
Boarding the second train to Corinth ended up being better than expected. A fellow, local Greek cyclist boarded the train with us and directed us where to put our bicycles. He also helped pave a way through the crowds of commuters.
As we settled in to the 1 hour train ride, I became acquainted with the 96 year old man sitting next to me. We struck up a conversation and I learned his wife had passed away 3 days before, he was traveling with his live-in caregiver from Georgia (the country, not the state), he supported the BREXIT because he loves the proud British people and he thinks they did the right thing. He apologized that he could not host us at his home near Corinth, he’s disgusted with Greece – (“it used to be proud even though it was poor”) and the leadership is corrupt. He said we “must” visit the live theater at Epidavros (which I would have loved but, according to the lady on my right, the theater only runs on the weekend.)
Before we knew it, the discomfort and inconvenience of the train strike was over, we arrived in Corinths, rolled our bikes off the train, and cycled the easy 5 kilometers along the beautiful bay towards our night’s destination of Loutriaki. We found acceptable lodging at Hotel Bakos where we discovered Eric’s wallet has been stolen somewhere between the bicycle shop and Loutraki (let’s blame it on the rail strike and the ridiculously crowded trains) and then spent the next 2 hours canceling credit cards and making sure we had enough cash to finish our trip. Pizza, a bottle of wine at a restaurant on the beach put us in better moods and helped us sleep for the night.
Day 2 – Loutraki to Nafplio (48.5 miles, 2506 ft climb)
Our plans for an early (before the heat of the day) start were thwarted when we both overslept. The heat and stress of the day before really knocked us out. I have to admit, I was contemplating bagging the entire ride and cutting our trip shop because the first day of riding got off to such a bad start. Thank goodness, Eric woke refreshed and ready to ride.
As always for me on a bicycle, as soon as my legs start pedaling and I feel the breeze on my face, all cares blow away. Yesterday’s train strike and wallet theft no longer matter. The beauty of the Mediterranean and the fact that we were in Greece together on bicycles made everything else seem unimportant.
Even so, after a few kilometers on our rental bikes it quickly became apparent that the bikes are geared for leisurely riding. From the git-go we knew riding was going to be slow, hard, and hot…not SE Asia, humid and hot..but Greece, hot, dry …windy…exposed hot…
And, my beaming smile was gradually fading as the first 20 kilometers leaving Corinth towards Mycene (Mykine) were filled with large industrial truck traffic Although there is a shoulder on the road, it is often overgrown with olive tree branches, oleanders, and thorny weeds. Luckily, after we passed a large rock quarry (Eric jokingly suggested the quarry had been in use since the building of the Parthenon) , the truck traffic subsided and the scenery improved: large olive orchards and orange groves were interspersed with vegetable gardens and peach trees as we climbed in elevation.
About 10 kilometers before the ancient ruins of Mycene we found a wonderful bakery where drank (the spoons were too small and dainty to satisfy our hunger) two cups of traditional, warm rice pudding with cinnamon. Hard to believe that hot pudding on a hot day could taste so yummy. We also bought a large piece of spinach pie and what looked like a sesame covered bagel (or a simit in Turkey) filled with ricotta cheese for a picnic later.
Visiting the ruins at Mycene is a short but very steep detour of about 2 kilometers off the main road. Luckily there is an air-conditioned museum at the site and a refreshment stand with homemade orange juice for rehydration.
The final 20 kilometers to Nafplio is generally downhill towards the sea. It’s also very exposed and hot making so what we made up for in easy riding we taken away with the heat.
Nafplio is a really cute town with a fantastic fort at the top of the hill, a lovely walk along the seashore, a great little beach, and wonderful shops lining the cobblestone pedestrian paths in the center of town.
Our hotel, the Athena Hotel was lovely and centrally located. If you have the time, spending an extra day here would be fun.
Part 2 – Nafplio to Poros to be continued…