In exactly 6 months’ time I will be in Athens, or somewhere near Athens. My bike will have been reassembled after its flight from London, my panniers packed with equipment, clothes & supplies & my mind no doubt full of excitement and anxiety as to what the subsequent two months will hold. It will be the first day of my cycle along the Mediterranean coast from the south-east corner of mainland Europe in Greece to the south-west corner of the continent in Portugal. My route will follow the largely un-mapped Eurovelo 8 from Athens to Cadiz with a little bit extra added at each end. It all sounds so simple…
I’m not looking for a detailed route to follow. I know roughly where I want to start and more or less where I want to finish. Filling in the bit between the two shouldn’t be too much of an issue especially as the route follows the Mediterranean coastline; if I haven’t seen the sea to my left for quite some time I may be cycling too far north and if I’m getting wet I’ve veered off too far south. Chatting to my cousin last week – he used to live in Athens – I discovered that the airport to the Greek capital is to the south-east of the city. This would make it easy to head immediately upon arrival in Greece to the very south-east corner of the mainland to start the cycle. I might even do this little journey by train (I assume such a journey is possible although having just done a quick search on the Internet, that may be a bit presumptuous…) and then spend the first day of cycling from Lavrio to Athens, a journey around the coast of about 70km.
Once I have left Athens, although the official Eurovelo 8 sticks to the mainland, I am tempted to head for the Corinthian Canal and the Peloponnese in the direction of Mount Olympus from where I can head once again north towards the mainland via a bridge a Patra. I will continue towards Albania – the place of great mystery as it is the country on the trip that is the least developed when it comes to tourism. This is no bad thing of course but I am still keen to make contact with interested parties in the country so if you are reading this and happen to live somewhere near my route (the coastline of Albania), please get in touch.
Next stop is Montenegro and only this week I was contacted by someone who works for the national tourist board. She is sending me quite a lot of information about cycling through the country and did mention having potential contacts in Albania which may address the concerns in the previous paragraph. It’s then onwards to the much-vaunted Croatian coastline starting from Dubrovnik. There is a narrow passage to the sea that will see me pass through Bosnia for a matter of only a couple of hours (if that – it is only 5km wide at its narrowest point) but the town of Mostar is just inland at this point and may make for a rewarding deviation as I cycle north. Mostar is the town that is famed for its beautiful bridge that was destroyed during the conflicts of the 1990s only to be rebuilt. Back in Croatia I have a contact at the British Embassy in Zagreb, the capital and although I have no plans to head inland, he does have contacts in places along the coastline. It sounds as though the diplomatic cycling community in that particular Balkan state is flourishing.
My passage through Slovenia may be as brief as the one through Bosnia although it would seem a pity if that is the case as I am sure there are great things to discover in the small country that neighbours Italy. I need to do some digging! And then I cross the relatively familiar territory of northern Italy. By far the greatest number of suggestions as to what to do en route have been for this portion of the trip – see the red markers on the map here (the blue ones show the official route and the yellow ones are potential en route contacts – the complete online map can be viewed via this link should you wish to do so) – which is no real surprise as it is a favourite destination for cyclists and non-cyclists alike. The crossing of my Eurovelo 8 trip and my Eurovelo 5 trip back in 2010 will be at some point just south of Milan, Piacenza? Pavia?
I would like my passage into France to be via the foothills of the Alps rather than with the traffic on the coastal road. Nice will definitely be a place to pause and rest for a couple of nights as it is a city I know well (I spent six weeks living in the town centre as a trainee teacher back in the year 2000) and I can see myself idling away some lazy hours in a cafe by the fish market or in the lanes of the old town. The rest of France is a mixture of the new and the old and I will be making an effort to maximise the former and minimise the latter. This may require me to head a little further inland than I have been used to up to that point of the trip.
Just as I will hopefully have done from Italy to France, from France to Spain I will venture into the mountains just a little before heading back to the coast to meet a contact in a place called L’Estartit where I have been promised some sailing experience! The rest of the Iberian coast will be a lot less familiar than that of France so it will be a case of bouncing backwards and forwards from the coastal towns and those inland according to where the most interesting places to visit are and where the best cycling takes me. I’d like to think that by this part of the trip, my mind will be off the clock so if I need to slow down, so be it.
The official finishing point of the Eurovelo 8 is Cadiz but in order to accomplish the ‘corner to corner’ cycle of the European continent, I shall head the windswept cape in the very corner of Portugal. Cape Saint Vincent has “huge sea cliffs and, of course, [is] the edge of Europe. Symbolic place to finish your trip, gazing across to America, as the Portuguese navigators did.” So says Richard Moore. As for the journey home, I’ll worry more about that when I get somewhere near Cadiz.
Other things of concern in the next six months in the lead up to the 1st July will be the same preoccupations that I had prior to setting off for the south of Italy. The equipment and endless procrastination over this tent or that (I do need a new one as I refuse to spent the best part of two months living in the cocoon that was the previous one used in 2010), the modifications to the bike, the guide books & maps but I will keep in mind the fact that what made the previous journey so enjoyable and quite frankly so worthy of a book was that it wasn’t planned in great detail. I will be expecting the unexpected, the minor disasters, the impromptu conversations, the changes of plan, the moments of anxiety (perhaps horror). Just hopefully not all on the same day.
Only 181 days to go…