Day 32 – Monday 29th August – From Athens to Finikounta (610km)
The previous day I had programmed a route on the GPS taking into account the roads that my map marked as panoramic ones and information I found from a bike tour company. I wanted to get away from big cities again and enjoy small coast roads at my own pace. The end destination was Finikounta, a small beach village at the southwest tip of the peninsula and the only place where I had found accommodation within my dwindling budget. I finished marking all the waypoints, the GPS calculated the route and it told me that it would take… ten hours.
Well, I was leaving early, if the bike was not out of the car park by 7:00 I would have to pay for another full day, so I thought I would take it easy, stop often and I could always pick a more direct route if I got tired.
The guy in the car park did not speak any English, but when I moved the bike he pointed at the sticker from Albania in the panniers and gave me a thumbs up, so I understood he must have been from there.
The day was breaking as I rode through the streets, and traffic was not as bad as I feared (the guy from the B&B had told me that they witnessed an accident in the junction in front of the building every day). I was determined to avoid the motorway, and as I was riding around the gulf of Elefsina on the old 8 road, just past a rather depressing area full of oil tanks, the sun came out behind Athens.
From there on, the journey got much, much better. There was no one on the road, and what a good road it was. It wound its way along the coast, offering superb views first of the gulf of Elefsina and then of the much bigger Megara gulf, until the village of Isthmia, at the mouth of the Corinth canal.
I thought that the Peloponnese peninsula was attached to the rest of the country on this side, but it turned out it is not. There is a manmade canal that connects the Megara gulf with the gulf of Corinth to allow ships to pass through, but it is very narrow, just over 20m wide, which limits the kinds of boats that can actually use it, most cargo boats need to sail around the peninsula. The motorway crosses it via a bridge that is high enough for boats to pass under it, but the road I was on was much nearer its mouth, and therefore lower, so the bridge must allow for the passage of ships. Instead of some variation of a bascule or lift bridge, the Isthmia bridge is a sinking one – it disappears below the surface of the water and rises again once the ship has passed. The road surface is formed by steel beams to allow the water to flow out of it quickly, and this combination of steel, water and big gaps between beams makes it extremely slippery and dangerous on a motorbike. I crossed very carefully, but when I was only two meters from the other side the bike started to slip sideways for no apparent reason. Luckily, I was able to maintain control and climb onto the bank safely.
Here is a video (not mine) that shows how it works:
Past the village the road became narrower and the towns smaller and further apart. The hills rolling down onto the sea were rather high and its slopes steep, making for really beautiful scenery.
When I reached the outskirts of Nafplion I was once more reminded of the stark contrast between towns and the countryside in Greece. This was the only really ugly spot I had found all day, and I left it behind as fast as I could. After having lunch near Leonidio, I started heading inland for a while to save some time (at this pace the journey was going to take way more than ten hours) and chose to avoid Sparta altogether (no more towns!).
For the next couple of hours, the coast road gave way to a mountain road that took me through a canyon, over a 1000m near mount Parnon and down the other side of the mountain range. It was a marvellous stretch of road, and only the fear of running out of fuel spoilt the fun.
I had not filled up in Leonidio, thinking that I would find a petrol station at the next village, but they were all very small mountain villages without a trace of a petrol station. It was not until I had reached the foot of the other side of the mountain that I saw a sign pointing to one in a village only one kilometre in the opposite way I was going.
I took a small detour stopped at an old, tiny petrol station. A shady looking young guy who did not speak any English filled up my bike, and while he was at it a friend of his arrived and started walking around the bike. When he saw the Albania sticker he pointed at it and said ‘fuck Albania’, without a trace of a joke in his voice. He was well over two metres tall and did not look particularly intelligent but I was sure he could rip my head off my shoulders with one of his huge hands. I replied ‘yeah man, whatever’, paid and got the hell out of there. At least I had my tank full and I had seen a rare contraption – a Yamaha scooter with shaft drive.
Instead of going straight to Kalamata, I headed down to find the coast again in the village of Githio, and then rode the coast road up to Kalamata. This detour and the mountain road were probably the best bits of road in the whole day.
At Velika, west of Kalamata, I left the main road, still following the coast, for the last bit of road before Finikounta, and then I cut across the hills on a road that was little more than a paved track, crossed two hamlets and ended up right at Finikounta.
It was already dusk, so I did not have much time to visit the town. It was a tiny place by the beach, quiet and very nice, and the hotel was much better than what I was expecting at that price.