First day in Greece

On my first full day in Greece, I was soaked through at 2am, struggled up a mountain, hit a puncture, got chased by angry dogs, rode for two hours in the dark, and was abandoned in the night in a tiny Greek village... and it was absolutely brilliant.  

After crossing the border, I slept my first night at a campsite on a little penisula across the bay from Igoumenitsa. Pitching the hammock, the forecast looked clear, and the night sky and city lights across the water were beautiful, so I went without the rain tarp and slept under the stars. But I was in for a surprise.

I was not the only resident of the tree

At 2:17am I felt the first few drops of rain. I jumped out of my cocoon and quickly saved my electronics, then threw the rain tarp over the top of the hammock - but in about 60 seconds the rain went from nothing to a downpour! 

As I worked with the tarp fastenings, I was soaked through, my mac powerless to save me. But I had done enough: a check inside my little shelter confirmed my devices were bone dry, and after some quick work with a towel, my bed was dry enough too. I slipped out of my sodden clothes, wriggled back into my sleeping bag and slept soundly again. 

Sunrise after an interesting night

Rain is beautiful when it's not happening to you at 2am

The morning brought enough sunshine to dry the damp hammock, clothes and kit. I made breakfast and brewed turkish coffee. It's new to me, traditional, and perfect for bikepacking: needs nothing but water, coffee, camping stove and pot. Less welcome was the stray black cat that got into my lunch for the day and dragged the contents across the lawn, but hey, he needs to eat too. 

Alongside rain and cats, I was delayed further by the fact that the campsite had essentually gone into hibernation mode for the off-season: sorely needed water points, electricity and wifi had all been turned off or scaled back for the winter.

A bit of the day's climb

Though later than planned, I hit the road and the first serious climb of Greece in beautiful weather. It was a long way up but not too bad compared to Albania. As I reached the pass at the top, I looked behind and saw the Mediterranean and the city receding at the end of a valley lined by rocky hills and olive trees. Jesus Christ, I'm in Greece. I rushed down the other side, making good time at last...

Puncture! I felt my back tyre and groaned. My third of the trip. There was nothing for it but to fix it then and there: no bike shops for miles, and 40km still to go to my accomodation - the only reasonably priced spot on my route to Arta, and offering only a non-refundable booking.  

It was already the late afternoon; at this rate I would end up riding for hours in the dark, and thanks to the campsite my lights were not fully charged. I work as quickly as I can: off come the bungees, backpack, shoes and panniers; out comes the wheel. After long minutes of careful searching, I finally find the culprit - a piece of thorn almost too small to see! 

There's a prize if you can see it

The culprit

The spare tube goes in and the tyre holds pressure. Fixed. But I'm starving, and by the time I've loaded up the bike again and eaten something, the sun has set. 

The roads are totally empty to begin with and to conserve battery, I get by as far as I can with minimal use of my lights, but it quickly becomes unsafe to do so as the road gets busier and tips into a fast descent. With lorries passing close, I start to worry that I may have to let the money go down the drain and spend another night in my hammock; to make matters worse, I encounter several dogs who appear suddenly, snarl and chase me down the street, often coming very close. I'm sure the odds are low, but you always wonder if you're going to feel jaws catch on your leg, and you have to hold your course: there certainly is a real risk from swerving in surprise.

Downhill in the night

Time for a new plan: I can't risk my batteries running out - I must stop to find charging points. Here, I am lucky. Just after starting to look, I come to a junction where there is a little café-bar. It's warm inside; old Greek men sit, drink coffee, smoke, and talk with the owner, who fortunately speaks a little english. I ask for a souvlaki halloumi, plug in my lights, and rest gratefully. On a big TV, there is a Greek gameshow featuring a beautiful presenter in high heels whose only job seems to be to touch large orange rectangles on a wall - although they do then change colour with a satisfying chime. The old men ask about my bike and my travels, and the owner translates as best he can. I ask for Greek tea, hoping to try a local variety; he duly brings me Green tea. 

By now it's late, and there are still 29km on the clock. For a moment I entertain the fantasy that my bed is just upstairs from the café; then I head out again into the dark to climb another hill. 

As I get closer, the going starts to get a little easier. Above me is a clear sky and stars - the same ones that old Greek philosophers used to look at. My fully charged front light penetrates far enough for me to ride fast as the road starts to run down a long, gentle downhill slope. The air is cold, but not so much thay my hands hurt, and it rushes over me as I pull the bike left and right through endless little bends, hands on the drop-bars, completely present in the moment. I arrive in Mesapotamos at 9pm, passing by a warmly lit orthodox church and the hubbub of locals in bars, and feel that I am truly having the adventure I had hoped for. 

But there is one last hurdle. I pull up, proudly hit stop on the tracker, and look up at the building where I have booked a room - to see the windows dark, and the gates shut!

I know check in does not end until 11:30; have I come to the right place? I check the map and look around. It's definitely this one. I look up the contact number and call. For whatever reason, it won't connect. I try again, and it goes through, but there's no answer. I send a text and wait in the dark. I am too tired to go any further; the only plan B is my hammock. 

Nothing. I look up again at the building. There is one door with a light on, but it's on the second storey, and clearly isn't any sort of reception. But there's nothing for it. I undo the bolt on the gate, head up and ring the bell.

It takes time, but eventually an old lady calls out apprehensively from behind the door. She speaks no english, and clearly wasn't expecting me. I speak as gently as I can, knowing they may just be residents of the same building and not know anything about the guest rooms, and that a stranger in the night could be frightening. 

After a moment her husband comes, and they open the door. I do my best to explain the situation, and they confirm I'm in the right place. The lady calls someone and speaks animatedly in Greek, and the old man brings out a set of keys and beckons me to follow him... I'm saved! 

The tiny room is warm and comfortable. We have no shared language, but the old couple gesture and bring me things, including ground coffee. We laugh when there's confusion, and I say 'Efcharistó' a lot. At one point, the man slowly and painstakingly writes down a 10 digit number, then points at my phone. Perhaps this is an up-to-date number for the owner? I type it in and point at the ring button to ask if I should call it. He nods encouragingly. I later figure out that I have dialled the WiFi password. 

At last, I'm handed a phone, and a voice apologises profusely! It's the owner. He explains that he did not see a notification from the booking website and did not at all mean to leave me out in the dark; the old couple are his grandparents! I laugh and tell him it's absolutely fine, that I have everything I need, and that his grandparents are lovely. They teach me to say goodnight in Greek, which I repeat back to them, smiling, try to memorise, and instantly forget. I need to sleep.

At last, I have won. There's a grill, and I make hot cheese sandwiches which taste like heaven and collapse into bed. Later on, the owner texts to say that if I wish, I can stay another night free of charge. It's clearly a thank you for not being angry. 

I wake, and spend my extra day very happily in the lovely village of Mesapotamos.

Sunrise outside my room

Don't talk to me before morning coffee

Oranges from the old couple's tree

I visited the Nekromanteion: an ancient temple site devoted to Persephone and Hades, later used as a Byzantine church and an Ottoman residence.

In the underground chamber of the Nekromanteion, which loosely means 'Temple of the Dead'. It's thought that thousands of years ago, people would come here to speak to relatives that had passed away, and ask for prophecies.

I wonder if they can hear me...

Overlooking the little village of Mesapotamos.


Riding 5,000km across Europe alone and unsupported will be a wonderful experience, but also at times very tough, and very lonely. I really believe in the causes I have chosen; if you'd like to support me by making a donation, it will help to spur me on my way! Visit my website at 


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