Day20: Florina to Pela (40km short of Thessaloniki)

Total to date:  3964km:  Today:  121km (a record for this trip); 700m of climbing (but quite a lot of descending too)

Today was – like Gaul – divided into 3 parts.  But first a photo to show how stunning the morning light can be.

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Part 1 saw us leave Florina (on the wrong road), return to the town and then leave on the right road. After messing about a bit we discovered that the major road we wanted to take to the East appeared to be closed to all traffic at the junction we hit it! No obvious reason for this – just barriers preventing traffic getting onto a perfectly good road – but solid barriers and it clearly had been closed for some time. So we ducked and dived and tried to join the same road a few miles further East – and found it still closed. But here the barrier had a gap in it, big enough for a bicycle and trailer.

At this point the differences in our personalities came to the fore. I was all for going through the gap and using the perfectly good but empty road. Bernie was cautious (perhaps even worried) because (a) it must have been closed for a reason such as there was a great big hole in the tarmac we might fall through without realising it, (b) we might get arrested for using a closed road (even if there was no good reason for it to be closed) or (c) we might be shot at for disobeying the law. After a short debate we decided to try the closed road – and so cycled down an empty dual carriageway – then a single carriageway – side by side for 15km without falling through the tarmac, getting arrested or being shot at.

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We did see a man with a gun (at which point Bernie slowed so he would shoot me first which was only fair as it was my idea to use the road) but he just gave us a thumbs up and we carried on. At the end, the road was still closed for no obvious reason but we slipped back onto the normal roads. Can you imagine closing the A1 for months on end whilst there is an administrative wrangle about whether it could be re-opened! Maybe this tells us something about Greek government efficiency. However for us, “prohibited-road-gate” came to nothing other than a very pleasant amble along a deserted road.

Back on the roads we shared with other vehicles, we began to climb, and climb and then climb some more. The pastureland gave way to small mountain villages as we neared the top. At one point we saw an old sign pointing towards Macedonia – but saying that this was the way to Yugoslavia. What with that and the chain of petrol stations called “Kastrati”, we had plenty to keep us amused.

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The climb topped out at about 960m and we stopped for coffee at a very swanky roadside bar where we were the only customers. Continuous MTV and a designed interior that looked more at home in Soho than a mountain village had not attracted anyone else at 10am, but it may be humming in the evening for all we know. Good (if luke warm) coffee. That was the end of part 1.

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Part 2 began with a glorious descent for about 10km, and a grinding climb almost back up to the same level we had reached for coffee. This was a remote area and there were signs warning us of wolves. However our problem was not wolves but dogs protecting sheep. A shepherd had a large herd of sheep and about 10 dogs to protect them from any attacks. Now you may feel that touring cyclists are not prone to attacking sheep but that was not how the dogs saw it. They charged as a pack towards us and barked and growled, showing impressive sets of teeth that had clearly not been fed on sufficient of that well known delicacy – cyclist’s leg. We stopped – the dogs backed off – and the shepherd shouted at them (to no effect) and encouraged us to continue (to limited effect). We continued for a few metres, the dogs barked and bared their teeth again and so we stopped, and they backed off. This pantomime continued for several hundred metres as we inched our way forward – pump in hand to strike any dog that came too close but aware that the odds were in their favour as we were going uphill and so could not out pace them. Eventually we got by – legs intact – and without having disturbed a single sheep. The shepherd clearly thought we were complete wusses for reacting to his dogs growling, barking and threatening to tear us limb from limb – but then again the wusses carried on cycling!

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The descent continued after “dog-gate” but the road budget had clearly been cut so riding was “interesting” as we avoided massive areas where the surface was missing. However eventually we got down into fruit growing country on the shores of lake Veghortis (beautiful but remote). Then a vicious – and I mean vicious – 75m climb out of Amisa and down to the main road towards Edhesa. By now it was noon and we had done nearly 50 miles on some baked cardboard for breakfast (masquerading as bran flakes) and half a chocolate bar. My legs felt a bit empty and the maxim “shut up legs” may work for professional cyclists but does little for me.

Eventually we got to the town of Edhesa which was described in the guidebook as being on an escarpment. Luckily we came into town from above it, and sought out the fabled waterfalls which are the main reason visitors come to the town. They were spectacular – in August – as water tumbled over the escarpment in multiple falls. Goodness knows what they would be like in late spring with the melting snow. That was the end of Part 2.

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After a hearty lunch – the Greeks do an excellent salad to accompany meat and rice – we started Part 3 by descending to the plain below the escarpment. At this point the wind got up and it was against us – and stayed against us for the next 40km. So even though it was flat or marginally downhill, this was hard work. Add to that we had hit the hottest part of the day and lost the cool of the mountains and it started to feel a tad tough.

The plain was fairly plain – agricultural and fruit country. We dived off the main roads for a bit but the last 10km were bad on the main road as we played chicken with the articulated lorries. Eventually we got to the motel we had booked thanks to the wonders of http://www.booking.com (which seems to have a near monopoly here). Total distance was 122km and it felt like it. We had planned to rest up and then visit the ruins at Pala, just down the road. But that would have been one set of ruins visiting another so we put that off til tomorrow morning.

The only other thing of note is that I cycled out to get some food, hit a grating and went right over the front of the bike onto my head. No sense, no feeling but good that I was wearing a helmet. It spooked the hotel receptionist who saw it – and was too kind to say “call yourself a cyclist – you can’t even get out of the hotel garage without falling off!” No harm done to the bike and grazes will heal, but a salutary tale.

So a day when we covered a record distance for this trip, lots of unexpected things happened and we ended up too knackered to see the sights we covered so many miles to see (at least today). That’s cycle touring!

2 thoughts on “Day20: Florina to Pela (40km short of Thessaloniki)

  1. Well done what a day!! Hope you will be in one piece for the next bit. Did you come over the Pindus mountains?? love Mum

  2. Sounds like an amazing day. The sheepdogs must be mates with the ones we met in the alps a few years ago. In that case the sign said they would ‘come over and check you out’. Maybe they should re-read the sign!
    Not sure how you are managing this day after day. I’ve just been out and done 28km, with 300m climbing – with no traffic, in only 24 degrees heat and not lugging the kitchen sink in a trailer. Result : knackered and cold-beer o’clock!
    Well done – reaching Istanbul would be an amazing feat.

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