I’m not sure why I ever thought that I’d be able to cycle all the way from Corinth to Olympia in one day and then have time to have a look around the ruins here before setting off the following day for Patras. It was never going to happen and clearly never did. Indeed, when I’m done here in Olympia I will have taken three days to do what I initially intended doing in just one. I do hope that this is not a sign of things to come in my inability to estimate distances and time needed off the saddle to be a plain old tourist.
My Michelin map, scale 1:300,000 doesn’t have sufficient detail to say with any certainty whether the route you are about to follow is predominantly up or down. In some ways this is good; would I ever have got out of the tent in Corinth on Wednesday morning if I had known what was ahead of me? Well, yes I would as I had little choice but to do so but I may have thought carefully about an alternative route, perhaps skirting along the north-eastern coast of the Peloponnese. But if I had, what a wonderful ride I would have missed! The same lack of detail on the map left me scratching my head this morning as to whether the route would be predominately up or down. That said, logic dictated that if I were travelling further towards the west, my route should involve much more descent than ascent as I would once again be approaching sea level. This turned out to be the case and you can see the two route profiles in the previous post on this page. The ascent and descent statistics almost exactly reversed for today’s ride compared to yesterday’s and I was mightily relieved that this was the case. After an initial climb out of Levidi, the route was almost continuously downhill.
The scenery was just as stunning as it had been on the way up the mountains but I suppose that today I could appreciate it more without having to get off the bike every so often to view it. Why this part of the world is not more on the beaten track of tourists and indeed cyclists is a mystery to me. It is perfect cycling country. The road I was following – the same road all the way from Levidi to Olympia so no messing around trying to pick a route as I had been forced to do yesterday – was wide, well-surfaced and most importantly, empty of traffic for most of the time. As I stood outside the hotel in Levidi this morning being blasted by the thunder of articulated lorry after articulated lorry I did wonder what I was in for but they must have been on an alternative road. I’m not sure which one as the road I was taking was the main road west out of town. Every so often I would see a sign telling me in Greek and in English that the road construction had been financed by funding from the European Union and I couldn’t help but think that their money could have been invested more intelligently elsewhere but then from the perspective of a cyclist, it was wonderful that they had decided to carve a wide, high-quality road through the middle of the Peloponnese. Perhaps in future the Eurocrats should consider doing just that; high quality cycle routes spanning the continent… something like the Eurovelo routes?
I paused at several points; at Langadia, a beautiful town clinging to the side of the mountain where cafés and restaurants lay in wait for any passing tourist (just a pity that there weren’t that many of them – I felt a little guilty for only buying a cappuccino from a café and a small packet of Pringles from the kiosque by the road), outside a hydraulic power installation of some kind to panic slightly as my iPhone started screaming that it was overheating and started to function only in Greek, and then in a small village only 20km from my destination where I sat out the intense heat of the early afternoon in one of three cafés next door to each other. All three proprietors (all in their mid-twenties) sat in the same café as me sharing jokes (many probably at my expense) while waiting for those customers who never seemed to arrive. I bought three Fantas and felt a bit embarrassed to pay only 3€ for the privilege. An older chap who was sitting with them tried to strike up conversation with me but like most of the other people I have met en route in the Peloponnese he assumed that I was German and started talking to me in German. My shrug of the shoulders and a short explanation that I am English seems to instantaneously douse any hope of conversation. I thought that the Germans weren’t very popular in these parts…
As the route was mainly downhill on a good road surface, at times I was able to pick up some speed and occasionally touched 50km/hr. I’m not happy at such speeds and quickly apply the brakes. Now, I don’t want to come across as a cyclist who complains about descents as well as ascents but they do have a, err… downside. Firstly, the constant applying of the breaks can be tough on the hands. I try to take an ABS kind of approach whereby I apply my brakes repeatedly off and on; it somehow seems safer to do so but I have no reason to know why that should be the case. High speed descent doesn’t mix well with wind and today was a day when wind became a factor in the cycling. Is this a sign of things to come? I suspect that it is… I am, after all cycling against the prevailing direction of the wind and will be spending many, many days cursing my decision to cycle east to west rather than west to east. It can be scary cycling at 30, 40 or plus kilometres an hour if you know that one blast of wind in the wrong direction could send you flying off the bike and onto the ground. It was a thought sufficient to have me applying the brakes when many a risk taker would have gladly continued to build up speed. I’m no risk taker. Although few if any of them have been erected to the memory if cyclists, the roads in Greece are dotted with small model churches marking the point where someone has lost their life. They also add to the willingness to keep those brakes being applied…
By the time I arrived in Olympia I had taken the decision to take a day off to explore the ancient site so was not under any time pressure to immediately erect the tent and head off to the ruins. Instead I spent an amiable half an hour with the owner of Camping Diana, Thucidides. What a gentleman! I need to spend more time chatting with him over the next day or so; he just took me to one side and told me that he was 90 years old. I’ll try and take his picture at some point and post it on here. You won’t believe him either!