Day 24:  Camping Natura (south of Xanthi) to Alexandropolis

Total to date:  4375km:  Day total 114km; 900+m of climbing

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Another day in the saddle and a few more inches on the map towards Istanbul. We cross into Turkey tomorrow and have 2 1/2 days cycling left to get to our destination. This part of the ride is almost entirely absent from the Guide Book and so we both (foolishly) assumed there would be little to see.


Martin Bell (of whom I am not a great fan for a variety of reasons due to an excess of knowledge about him) said words to the effect that the public assumes that reporters go to where the news is but they are wrong, news is where the reporters are. It’s possibly the same with travel writers. We assume that they go to where there are things to see, but the truth may be that they report on things to see where they happen to go. They report on the restaurants they happen to visit or the museums that look at. But there are large regions they miss out – and there are often equally fascinating things to see where the travel writers do not go. Hence lesson from today – don’t assume an absence of guidebook entries means an absence of things to see and experience.

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Our first stop was on the thin sliver of land between the Bay of Vistonias and Lake Vistonias. This is a magical part of the world which teems with bird life. It is so important that there is a special Council of Europe Report on the birdlife (prepared by someone from the RSPB as it happens). There is exchange of salty water between the sea and the mainly freshwater lake, extensive reed beds and more wading birds than I have ever seen. It was beautiful in the calm of the morning at about 8.30am.
As we navigated our way between the waters, a church appeared on an island about 100yards off the road with a narrow walkway to reach it. At the last minute I decided to explore and, if I had not, we would have missed the fascinating Monastery and Church of Saint Nicholas. It was so peaceful, stuck out in the middle of the water and with another church on a connected island as well. We chatted to the monks, looked at the icons and marvelled at the continuing faith which keeps such places alive.

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The next stage was working our way East across undulating farmland with occasional glimpses of the sea. More fertile land although we could not identify the main crop. Sometimes it is better not to know.

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We stopped for coffee at the tiny village of Imeros, awarding our custom to one of the 2 cafe bars in this place. Both had men of all ages taking coffee and putting the world to rights. Under employment appears a serious problem here, but the coffee was excellent! It also had good internet connection (virtually every cafe and restaurant we have stopped out no matter how small or how remote has had wifi) so finally felt confident enough to book our flights back from Istanbul on 29th August.
After this break we headed down to the coast and followed the coast road past a series of tiny resort villages. At one point Bernie said “This may even be too quiet for me”, which shows how remote and underdeveloped this area really is. It was getting hot and the wind was, of course, against us.

We had a choice at about 65km – some interesting ruins or lunch. We decided to do lunch first and so turned towards the village of Maronia. However this road put the problem in some perspective – as it was a 200m climb to the village from the coast. Were we going to retrace our steps after lunch to see some unexcavated ruins, and then re-climb the same steep hill? Silly question – of course not!
Lunch was OK – in fact better than OK – under the shade of a plane tree as we fortified ourselves for the afternoon. We knew it was between 40 and 50km to the city of Alexandroupoli, but had no idea of the terrain. As it turned out it was a series of climbs and descents in the heat of the afternoon, following the Via Egnatia (one of the great Roman roads which connected Istria and Istanbul). This was energy sapping and we were delighted to reach the final run in to the city.

The Municipal Campsite here is excellent with spacious pitches, hot showers and cheap beer in the restaurant (which has good wifi as well as annoying music).

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So tomorrow we leave Greece with mixed feelings. This is a country with deep seated problems, an aspiration to remain part of the EU but feels like it has not really tackled the problems that led to overspending in the first place and feels a bit under siege. Perhaps there are still too many politicians who are telling the Greek people that it is not their fault that they pay out more in government services (and debt interest) than they raise in taxes. However we still have the feeling that this remains an “informal” economy which is gradually – possibility very gradually – being transformed into a formal economy. The contrast with Albania is interesting and – from our brief sojourn – it may be better to invest in Albania than Greece

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