topics: loukoumi (food), Independence Day, Ioannina, HISTORY, Ottoman Empire, transportation, bicycle race, daily life, Perama Cave; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: March 23-25, 1998

Food of the Day: loukoumi

Loukoumi, sometimes known as Turkish delight, is a jelly-like substance covered in powdered sugar. While it seems to defy description, take our word for it, it is quite a tasty treat.

Person of the Day: Gregoris and Miranda Iatrou

Gregoris click to view a photograph and Miranda Iatrou were like guardian angels during BikeAbout's stay in Ioannina. Their pre-arrival organizational work, as well as their upon-arrival help, made it easy to use the time in Ioannina much more efficiently.

Gregoris, jack of all trades - parasailer, hangglider, and flight instructor for both, as well as manager and of an office supply/copy repair/plenty of other things store - was always a boon to any slightly weather-beaten spirits, and a good friend on all occasions. As an excellent companion during the Independence Day festivities, on a trip to some neighboring caves, and anywhere he thought that native Greek assistance could be helpful, Gregoris taught a great deal and seem to enjoy sharing. Miranda, whose fluent English meant that her job as an English teacher came as no surprise, was always an equally welcome face as the BikeAbouters beat a path to and from the Hotel Xenia and different destinations in Ioannina.

In particular, thanks go out to Miranda for her translating skills during the meeting with Mr. Michalis Pandoulas, Ioannina's Deputy Prefect, and the whole team send a huge efharisto to Gregoris for his friendship, his conversation and good will, his willingness to drive people around on many occasions and volunteer his office and phone lines for the weekly Wednesday chat 'n' debate, and for the magnificent and utterly handsome (not to mention tasty) "Welcome to Ioannina" surprise cake. click to view a photographclick to view a photograph Oh yes, who could forget the introduction to loukoumi too?

Place of the Day: Ioannina

The place of the day is downtown Ioannina, the site of the March 25th Independence Day celebration. March 25th is celebrated throughout Greece with parades full of marching bands, school children, youth groups, veterans and lots and lots of soldiers. The Deputy Prefect of Ioannina, Mr. Michalis Pandoulas, was kind enough to let us escape the outside cold and wind, and, instead, perch on the windowsills of his office in the municipality building, which provided the perfect view of the parade. The "day of independence" that is celebrated is in commemoration of the creation of the Greek state and freedom of its people after 500 years of occupation by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The celebration the BikeAbouters attended was the 177th anniversary of the 1821 event.

Greek independence from Ottoman rule was preceded by many years of preparation as growing dissent among the population was used to raise funds for weapons. After several unsuccessful revolts (including those led by the Russian count Aleksey Grigoryevich Orlov, and Alexander Ypslanti, a former aide-de-camp of the Russian czar Alexander I), a general uprising on March 25, 1821, initiated by Germanos, the archbishop of Patra, grew to become known as the War of Independence that lasted for 8 years.

During the first period of the war (1821-24), the Greeks fought unaided; the European powers were leery of interfering, reluctant to create a "power vacuum" in southeast Europe when Turkey was still the dominant power in the area. Still, despite the bad odds, the Greeks had some success against the troops of the Ottoman Empire, with assistance from Europe only in the form of money and some volunteers (including Lord Byron, Shelley, Goethe, Victor Hugo, and Alfred de Musset). Early gains were indeed realized throughout the Peloponnese as the Greeks fought their way east. Greek independence was officially proclaimed at Epidauros on January 13, 1822 and Nafplio was declared the first capital. By 1824, however, the sultan of Turkey, Mahmud II, made a deal with the viceroy of Egypt, Muhammed Ali. The latter would provide assistance in putting down the Greek revolution in exchange for control of Crete. The viceroy's troops pushed their way up the Peloponnese and, by 1826, controlled the entire southern peninsula.

During this period the Greek War for Independence was greatly hampered by an internal power struggle amongst the Greek factions. This infighting twice resulted in civil war (during which the Egyptian troops made their greatest advances). In 1827, the adoption of a republican constitution and the election of a Russian-Greek statesman, Count Ioannis Antonios Kapodistrias, as the first president of the Greek republic, initially helped to quell some of the dissension amongst the leaders. However, almost immediately, party quarrels started anew. At this point the Western powers finally intervened and a combined Russian, French and British fleet destroyed the Egyptian-Turkish fleet in the Bay of Navarino.

Sensing defeat (and defying all odds), the sultan, Mahmud II, declared the battle a holy war. Russia responded by sending troops into the Balkans igniting yet another in a series of Russo-Turkish wars. Finally in 1829, when Russian troops were within sight of Constaninople, the sultan accepted the terms of the Treaty of Adrianpole (which included Greek independence), thus marking the end of the Greek struggle.

Even though it is not quite central to all the struggles leading up to independence, Ioannina did play its part. One of its most famous inhabitants, the tyrannical Ali Pasha, spent most of his life trying to break away from the Ottomans. Courting, at different times, the Ottomans, French and the British, by the beginning of the 19th century he had succeeded in setting up a semi-independent pashlik (a small area under the control of a pasha) in what is now southern Albania and Epiros in Greece. Of Albanian origin, he is the subject of a great many stories, few of which are nice. His reputation for murder, warfare and misogyny is widespread. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that Ali Pasha's private rebellion of 1820 was the opening the rest of the Greeks were looking for and paved the way for the War of Independence.

Tech Fact of the Day:

The nation of Greece comprises the mainland and around 1400 islands; travel between the different islands and the islands and the mainland is usually by ferries. For some islands, the weekly or biweekly ferry is like a lifeline to the outside world, and its arrival is cause for the entire population to gather at the port.

Ferries come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the "super ferries" that work the major routes to smaller, older ferries that travel the less beaten paths. click to view a photograph Some ferries merely travel a short distance, like the ferry that the BikeAbouters have been using to get to the mainland of Greece from the Peloponnese. However, most ferries serve both passengers and vehicles with special areas below decks for cars, trucks, semi-trailers, and even buses. click to view a photograph All major ferries along major and long-distance routes have cabins that you can sleep in (for an additional cost), restaurants, cafés, bars, and some even have discos, movie theaters and swimming pools (for more on this, see the rider notes).

Group Dispatch, March 23-25
picture of Anthony

Today's dispatch drama opens on Monday (keep track now, this dispatch covers three days!) with Anthony and Padraic waking early so that they could head downtown to witness the start of the Patra three-day stage bicycle race. A stage race is actually several races held over several days with an individual winner for each race and then an overall winner for all the races. For this three-day competition, the first day of racing was a 120 km road race with 1630 meters of climbing; the second day was a 30 km time trial; followed, on the third day, by another 100 km road race (this one with 2025 meters of climbing!).

Arriving at the city's central square just as the various teams and individuals were readying themselves for the start, Anthony and Padraic wandered about looking for their friend Bill (a member of the National Cycling team they had met in Athens at the Olympic stadium) and checking out everyone's bikes. The bikers gathered for team photos click to view a photograph while the race directors briefed the police escort on the route that would be taken. click to view a photograph

There is a great feeling of camaraderie at bicycle races and this one was no exception as members of opposing teams helped each other out click to view a photograph and everyone pitched in to insure that all the riders and their bikes were ready for the start. click to view a photograph There was also plenty of nervous laughter as everyone's jerseys blended into a wild mix of colors and everyone assembled for the start, trying to soak up a little of the morning sun before the race headed uphill into the snow. click to view a photograph Once everyone was lined up and ready click to view a photograph there was a quick whistle blast and the riders were off, almost immediately disappearing from view.

Anthony and Padraic then happened to stumble upon a bakery (OK, OK they spent 30 minutes walking around looking for the perfect bakery) with freshly baked donuts (mmmmm... donuts), and a tiny local café where they drank their morning coffee. They then headed for another café (this one with electrical plugs), where they met up with Corinne and Ethan who had ventured out to the Patra offices of Forthnet to send and receive email. Corinne and Ethan had stayed much longer than they expected at the Forthnet offices, mostly because of the warm welcome they received from the staff of one that mans the office. Mr. Ioannis Paraskevopoulos, and later his wife click to view a photograph, helped them feel at home and accomplish much more than they had thought they would be able to do. BikeAbout thanks them both for their help.

Reunited, the gang spent the day working on their dispatches and drinking frappés. They rounded out a highly productive day by eating another good dinner at the Majestic Restaurant, and then Corinne and Ethan went back to the hostel to work while Anthony and Padraic decided to see a movie (The Devil's Advocate). Incidentally, if Anthony was not in love with Ashley Judd before the movie (he was), he sure is now. Ashley, are you out there? You can e-mail him at

The next morning the entire gang packed up and headed down to the bus station. Once again, in an effort to gain a little time (something found in increasingly short supply), the decision had been made to bus to Ioannina from Patra. However, since Greek buses are not quite as large as the ones that BikeAbout became used to in Turkey, the gang decided to split into two groups to ensure that they would be able to fit all their belongings in the storage compartments without taking up TOO much space. One group would leave on the first morning bus (8 a.m.) and the second would leave on the noon bus. Seeing as Anthony and Padraic wanted to see the cycling time trials that were being held that morning they opted to stay behind.

After packing their friends onto the bus, Padraic and Anthony set off in search of the bike race. Unfortunately they had to settle for a visit to a local hardware store (whose owner impressed them with the Apple Powerbook he was using for inventory and to speed dial his phone) and a bike store (to buy a new pump for Corinne) as the time trials were being held somewhere out on the edge of town. They returned to the bus station in time to disassemble their bikes click to view a photograph and load them on their bus.

Just as it had happened with Ethan and Corinne, Anthony and Padraic's bus ride to Ioannina started out with a ferry ride to the mainland of Greece. The views back towards Patra and the northern mountains of the Peloponnese were breathtaking. click to view a photograph Looking at the coast of the mainland and of the Peloponnese click to view a photograph, Padraic and Anthony wished that they had the time to bike instead of bus. This desire to be biking only became greater as the bus ride progressed and the scenery became even more beautiful.

Arriving in Ioannina, Corinne and Ethan met the bus and helped Anthony and Padraic navigate their way through town. When they had arrived four hours earlier, Ethan and Corinne had been met by Gregoris Iatrou (one of the People of the Day) who had conducted them to the Xenia Hotel in which the municipality had very generously reserved rooms for them. There they also met Miranda (the other Person of the Day) who, with Gregoris, was enormously warm and helpful. Later that evening, as a group of four again, the gang reconvened with Gregoris and Miranda, and Michalis Pandoulas, the Deputy Prefect of Ioannina. click to view a photograph

Mr. Pandoulas was impressed with the BikeAbout project and promised to help arrange a visit to a school for the next school day, which would be Thursday. He also generously offered the use of his office in town hall as a warm place from which to watch the next day's Independence Day parade. He also hung around just long enough to sample the "Welcome to Ioannina" BikeAbout cake click to view a photograph that Gregory had had specially prepared. Unfortunately, duty eventually called him away; the Secretary of Agriculture was in town as the guest of honor for the parade.

One of the younger guests at the presentation, Toula, then invited the BikeAbouters to a local taverna where she was meeting some friends. There they drank a little local wine and listened to a type of music called "Rembetika." Rembetika music is originally from Turkey and was brought to Greece during the population exchange with Turkey in the early 20th century. After asking several times what the lyrics of the songs were, the BikeAbouters quickly came to the conclusion that all Rembetika songs deal with a man who falls in love, goes away on a sailing voyage, and then returns only to find that his true love has either disappeared, run off with someone else, or been eaten by a sea monster. (OK, we made that last one up but you get the idea). While the lyrics were a bit on the depressing side, the evening was still great fun. Everyone sings along with his or her favorite songs and before long the BikeAbouters were mournfully singing along with everyone else. (They didn't know what they were singing, or even try to use the real words, but they sang all the same.) At one point it was noticed that Padraic even had a tear in his eye; then again, he comes from Irish stock and has a special place in his heart for sad songs about love lost and sea monsters.

The next morning (after destroying the breakfast buffet at the hotel), the BikeAbouters were led by Gregoris to the Deputy Prefect's office in the municipality building. Michalis Pandoulas, the Deputy Prefect welcomed them and introduced them to some of the local media before heading outside to take his place on the reviewing stands with all the other local politicians, military commanders, and the Greek Minister of Agriculture. From the warmth of Mr. Pandoulas' office, Gregoris, Ethan, Corinne and Padraic watched the parade. Not about to let gale-force wind conditions get between him and a parade, Anthony headed out to the sidewalk and a close-up view of the events.

The parade was similar to many of the parades that the BikeAbouters had seen before in the USA, complete with a marching band click to view a photograph, lots of flags click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, people dressed in traditional clothes click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, and school children marching along for all the town's people to admire. What was different was that there seemed to be representatives from every school class in town. Class click to view a photograph after class click to view a photograph after class click to view a photograph after class click to view a photograph after class click to view a photograph marched by (at least they were color-coded!). There were also a lot of military troops marching in the parade with lots of fearsome looking weapons. click to view a photograph There participation in the parade is certainly a reminder of the revolutionary struggle being celebrated by this day. (For more information about the Greek fight for independence, see today's Place of the Day.)

With the end of the parade, the BikeAbouters headed back to the hotel where Gregoris picked them up for a ride out to the cave at Perama, just outside of Ioannina. Though the original plan was to bike the short distance to the cave, the extreme drop in the already low temperature was more than enough motivation to climb into Gregoris' van. Ethan, Corinne and Padraic joined him on this underground adventure while Anthony remained at the hotel and tried to catch up on email.

The Perama Cave is chock full of stalactites and stalagmites, those wild calcite and rock formations for which caves are famous. (Remember, stalactites stick "tite" to the ceiling, while stalagmites only "mite" form.) One of the largest caves in Greece, the Perama Cave was discovered in 1940 by local residents seeking shelter from Nazi attacks in WWII, and is said to have been a hiding place for Jews. The Perama Cave was further explored by speleologists Ioannis and Anna Pertohilos, who found the bones and teeth of cave bears inside, and helped in assigning names to the different natural sculptures that are throughout the 1100 meter long cave.

With all this information, it was definitely high time to explore the place, especially since the sign said the cave was naturally heated! Led by a flashlight-holding tour guide, the BikeAbouters and Gregoris were brought us into what's been called "the most notable horizontal cave in the Balkans," now illuminated by orange and yellow lights and navigable by a cement path through the labyrinth of passages, rock chambers, and odd, rocky formations. Some of the later looked like huge or small rows of shark teeth hanging from the ceiling, while others resembled stacked columns jutting up from the floor. It was all pretty impressive, especially since stalactites and stalagmites take at least 80 years to "grow" only a centimeter! The quiet of the cave compared to the howling winds we had just come in from made each eerie drip-drop of moisture off the formations and onto the floor a magnified sound. Gregoris has been to the cave many times, but was still fascinated by the peculiarities of such a natural phenomenon. Padraic "Sunshine" Kennedy said he'd seen better in his day.

After the cave we went for a drive to the other side of the lake on which Ioannina is situated and them up the side of a nearby mountain to a small village with an incredible of the Ioannina. click to view a photograph It was also one of the windiest overlooks anyone had ever seen. click to view a photograph The wind carried tiny rocks that were painful, and the van even rocked on the cliff's edge. When Ethan and Padraic had had enough of trying to lean into the gusts, Gregoris headed back down the scenic road to Ioannina.

Later that afternoon, the BikeAbouters finally had a real live encounter with George Tselikas (son of Uncle Manos and the force who has been invaluable in arranging many elements of our stay in Ioannina). After hanging around for a while, George accompanied Ethan, Anthony and Padriac to Gregory's office (Corinne stayed behind to work) for one of our more wild chat 'n' debate session. click to view a photograph The BikeAbouters were very fortunate to have several live Greeks click to view a photograph on hand to help answer questions about Greece.

Later that evening, after having been feed their first loukoumi (see the Food of the Day, the boys headed for the most convenient restaurant to order some take-out chicken before returning to the hotel and collapsing into bed.

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