Sitting here in a café sipping coffee on a rainy afternoon in the mountains is very reminiscent of summer 2010. Over the last couple of hours my mind has been cast back three years on many occasions due to the wet weather since I arrived in town…
Today it was a near 100km cycle from the coast near Kanali to the city in the mountains that is Ioannina (which is a nightmare to spell and you may have spotted several of my versions of the name across social platforms…). The air on the coast must have been relatively cool as when I woke for the final time I wasn’t covered in sweat. I was sufficiently refreshed to jump (almost) out of the tent, have a shower etc…, pack away the tent and load up the bike by just after 7:30am. As I was leaving so early I decided to delay grabbing some breakfast until the first town that I passed through – Louros – although did have a coffee to get me going in a workmen’s café quite close to the campsite.
I had expected a long gradual climb into the mountains but nothing too strenuous. For the first half of the morning that’s exactly what I got as the road – quite busy at times – carved a way through the valley bottom following the path of the river. The scenery reminded me a lot of the lower French Alps; very green, very craggy, quite isolated. When I looked at my map I couldn’t quite tell how the road passed from one valley to the next – the scale is insufficient – but I wasn’t really expecting the long stiff climb that I was given. Relentless! Not so many mountain switch back roads as I had experienced back in the Peloponnese just long, relatively steep roads which the cars, coaches & lorries were making mincemeat of but which were putting my legs to work. Yesterday I had experienced pain in my right knee, today it was the turn of my lower back. Both grumbles disappeared quickly by simply getting off the bike for a few minutes but hopefully neither is a sign of chronic issues to come. I would cross my fingers if I wasn’t so worried about developing a third issue with them as well.
The views back down the valley were worth the effort however. I’ve posted a short video of one of the best panoramas to YouTube (the link is over there on the right) which demonstrates just how wonderful it was. Sadly it also shows vividly the depressing fact that the Greeks seem to have a massive issue with refuse disposal. Ever since leaving Sounio around ten days ago most of my cycling has been through two bands of litter strewn on either side of the carriageway. Before you howl with protest about other countries being exactly the same (many are), I can’t say that I can think of another European country I’ve visited where the issue is so widespread. And the reason why it’s so sad here is that otherwise Greece is a stunningly beautiful place. It just needs to be respected a little bit more by the locals and tourists (most of whom have been Greeks themselves in the areas that I have been cycling through).
Goodness, this is all getting a bit serious… I finally breached the mountains about twenty kilometres from my destination. I was rewarded initially with a pedal-free descent for about ten minutes but the road soon levelled off to give me the remainder of the cycle on the flat. I was expecting Ioannina to be an isolated lakeside paradise in the mountains. I had underestimated its importance big time. It announced itself first with a brand new IKEA store some way out-of-town. Then followed about half a kilometre of mainly newly-built car franchises. Few of the buildings were empty. Crisis? What crisis? I was beginning to wonder whether Ioannina was a place immune from the economic issues afflicting the rest of the country. Next up was a brand new – it looked as though it had been finished only a few days ago – six lane highway leading into the centre of the town. Although not quite as new as the car places, businesses seemed to be booming along this strip of commercialisation. I began to wonder if the town is profiting due to its position as a gateway to the Balkans. Perhaps someone can let me know if that’s the case. Whatever its economic situation, it’s a place that is loud and proud of itself in a way that other Greek towns I’ve passed through haven’t been. There was a large blue sign on the edge of the town proclaiming a welcome to ‘the town of silver art creators’. I’m not actually sure what that refers to (or indeed means). Again, if anyone knows, please do let me know. As I go for a wander around this evening I’ll be on the lookout for reasons why.
In the heart of the town the road drew me towards the castle on the edge of the lake. I avoided going inside – but I am here now – preferring instead to sort out my camping arrangements. My decision to do so was well-timed as no sooner had I erected the tent and stowed away my things inside the rain came. The reception hadn’t been open when I arrived but after a quick discussion with a Dutch couple in a camper van (who had arrived from Albania – interesting chat there), I figured that the site had been just as quiet in previous days and the risk of it being packed out tonight was non-existent. So I had gone ahead and pitched anyway. When I did go to reception, the guy sitting there was one of those people working in a customer services role who hasn’t actually figured out how their industry works for themselves. Look; I pay you. You give me my service and in order that I say nice things about you and your campsite (or whatever it is you are selling), you smile and try to be pleasant even if actually you hate your job, think I’m a real tosser and would rather I hadn’t turned up in the first place. I have the last laugh however as I know I’m writing this and quite a few people will read it. If you redeem yourself before I leave at 8am tomorrow I’ll be us to mention it on here or Twitter etc… Highly unlikely though. Incidentally does your wife (or sister etc…) work at the supermarket where I bought a bar of soap earlier?
I’ve cycled into town to have a look around and am sitting like J.K. Rowling in a café typing out my thoughts. The woman who has served me is a delight; charming and she is smiling. Point to man at campsite: she probably thinks I’m a right tosser as well (I’ve been sitting he for about an hour and have only ordered one 2€ coffee so I’m not generating massive profit for her) but she’s holding out that I might buy another one and say nice things about her. Which I just did. My point is proven I think. Her café is called Tomouselimi and I’ll even give it a little advert by posting a picture of it at the end of the post. Free of charge! (Calm down Andrew…). Incidentally, to make the J.K.Rowling analogy perfect, go out and buy my book when it’s published next year, tell your friends to buy it and tell them to tell their friends etc… so I too can spend my life sitting on a pile of cash and not worry about writing a second-rate follow-up novel to my ‘…on a bike called Reggie’ series.
So, it’s time to go for a wander around the town centre, have a beer and eat something. Then start to think about my route into… (insert crack of lightning…) Albania.
P.S. I did buy a second coffee…