topics: Nafplio, Venetian Fortresses, biking in snow, Arcadia region, Tripoli, Pan the god of good times, peaceful mountains; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: March 18-19, 1998

Food of the Day: chicken breast and mozzarella bake

We don't know what it's called in Greek, but one morning at a walk-up bakery in Tripoli, a real treat was found. A soft-baked roll stuffed with mozzarella cheese had a big surprise inside. At her roadside refueling stop on the way to Langadia, Corinne discovered mid-munch that the tender and moist white meat of a baked chicken breast was part of the still-warm snack. It was a delight... second only to the gorgeous landscape itself!

Person of the Day: Pan!

The next addition to our pantheon of mythological figures is Pan, best known for playing the flute and tending flocks of sheep in this very area of the Peloponnese in Greece.

Pan was a "minor" god, among the "satyrs" who represented nature in different ways. He can be pictured looking much like a centaur (half man, half horse), but is usually described as having the lower body of a goat, with the arms, torso, and head of a man. Even then, he has horns atop his head, pointy, hairy ears, and, of course, a goatee. However, on one sculpture we saw - a fountain in Patra click to view a photograph - Pan is depicted with a fully human body. He is still playing the flute. As always.

In addition to his love for music and the sheep, Pan relished dancing around in the fields with the Wilderness Nymphs and the Muses - more minor gods and goddesses who were also fond of various gayeties, for which they were named. Euterpe was the Muse of lyric poetry, while Terpsichore entertained with dancing, and Urania kept everyone informed with her knowledge of astronomy and astrology. Sounds like a fun crowd, doesn't it?

Biking through the Peloponnese, Corinne couldn't imagine a better place for festivities and frolicking, with lots of rolling hills and forests to play in, and space to roam and run under the open sky. The lighthearted feeling the area inspires may be why "Panos" is still a popular name for Greek boys!

Place of the Day: Palamidi Fortress

From the street we could see the climbing zigzag staircase up to the looming fortress. click to view a photograph It was a daunting image. Nevertheless, Ethan and Corinne began the ascent of 999 (!) marble steps, frequently pausing to take in a view click to view a photograph and catch a quick breather. It was not as difficult as we had imagined it would be.

When we reached the top, the view and fresh air were definitely worth the climb. At 216 meters (708 ft) above sea level and the city click to view a photograph, we noted the huge walls that encompass the citadel compound click to view a photograph and realized that there are actually two more fortresses! click to view a photographclick to view a photograph

For a pleasant spell, we meandered around behind the crowds click to view a photograph and caught as many views of the Sea as possible. click to view a photograph Looking out at the complex click to view a photograph of three Venetian fortresses all built between 1711 and 1714, we could not help but think about the history and how it was that the Turks could have captured this only a year after it was completed. It was even more harrowing to think of the 15-month siege led by the great Greek revolutionary and military leader, Theodoros Kolokotronis, who, with his Greek army fighting for independence, steadfastly held out until the Turkish surrendered the fortress and the town. Sadder still was the realization that, once he had accomplished this, he was imprisoned for disagreeing with the new government he helped build!

With a last wistful glance, Corinne tried to imagine life on a hilltop like this. click to view a photograph

As we started down the steps again click to view a photograph, the Akronauplia, or acropolis, was shining against a picturesque sky on the opposite hill. click to view a photograph we wanted to linger, but a light flurry of snow had begun. We were worried about what this might mean for the road ahead and for the steps on the way down. The latter sure were slippery!

Tech Fact of the Day: windburn versus sunburn

During these few days of colder weather and on any speedy downhill, it's important to point out (and to remember ourselves) the concept of windburn. While we are all too familiar with sunburn, which comes from over-exposure to those naughty UVs (ultra-violet rays from the sun), when biking in the cold and wind we risk as much cosmetic damage to our skin in the form of windburn.

When you're not careful, too much cold and wind can make your face very dry and chapped, literally stripping off the outer layer of your skin and making your face feel like you scrubbed it with sandpaper. So before and after exposure to high winds and bitter cold, it's smart to keep your face moist and protected.

Group Dispatch, March18-19
picture of Corinne

We woke up incredibly late in Nafplio on Wednesday morning. We were all in the same room, but somehow every one of us overslept! Yesterday's 105 km (65 mi) into town must have taken more out of us than we realized, especially after the two previous weeks in and between Istanbul and Athens, when we were on our bikes considerably less. Once we were all conscious though, we set about the day.

Nafplio can be traced as a major port as far back as the Bronze Age, and was even once the first capital city of independent Greece. Now it's mostly a pretty resort town with lots of churches and beaches all perched on the northeast side of the Argolikos Bay.

After we packed up, Anthony left for a somewhat futile attempt to download email, Padraic went to make phone calls, and Corinne and Ethan (after a few more phone calls) hit the Palamidi Fortress - the Place of the Day - which we could see from Nafplio's Philellinon Square. click to view a photograph It's nearly 1000 stairs to get up there! click to view a photograph From the same square, we could also see the Bourtzi Venetian castle, a tiny fortress island stranded in the city's harbor. click to view a photograph

When we reconvened, much of the morning had been lost, it had begun raining lightly, and we didn't know for certain what the 60 km (37 mi) to Tripoli held in store. We were told that the most direct road is flat for the first 15 km (9 mi), and then goes into the hills and straight over the mountain. We were also told that with the chilly temperatures, if it's raining down here, it's surely snowing up there. One woman on the street even begged Corinne to take the (much) longer route instead, which is flatter and is on a main highway, which she said would be "safer" traffic-wise..... and without the snow. But we stuck to our guns.

After leaving town and rounding the harbor on the road directly toward the mountain, we started the uphills. Not just any old uphills, but switchbacks for 12 km (7½ mi). And on the way up, it only got colder. The ride was an exercise in temperature control as we took off and put on clothes both with the changes in temperature and in relation to our own exertion. Thankfully, the road itself was actually a fair grade, in good condition, and with negligible traffic.

Even the drizzle subsided for a while, though the clouds always hung low overhead, above with the boys, and the mountains provided gorgeous views of the distant harbor far below us and Mount Varson above and beyond on the road ahead. Near the top of the mountain, just as we said a last goodbye to the coastal water and headed further into the Peloponnese, the snow flurries started. The cold was already biting despite the hard work and sweat, and it only got worse at higher altitudes. As Corinne rounded the last hill of the mountaintop, the snow was heavy, driving, and wet, with crazy wind making the cold significantly rougher.

The gentleman had started the descent quite a bit earlier than she had, but were also lambasted with an onslaught of snow and cold. The speedy downhills (despite the grueling headwind) froze our sweat-soaked clothing, especially our gloves and hands. Fingers and toes had started complaining well before, but the wet road and snow made the ache that much more significant. Unfortunately, Corinne ignored their pleas for too long. When she stopped to dig her gloves out of a snow-covered pannier, her numb fingers could hardly manage the zippers! At least she has long-fingered gloves, though, unlike Anthony...

The downhill toward Tripoli seemed never-ending, and the signs indicating it's remaining distance all but disappeared.

Soon enough there were almost no more cars on the road - perhaps it had been closed - and Corinne couldn't see the road for all the snow flying in her freezing face. She was very aware that her face was not prepared for the windburn she was currently suffering - windburn being the Tech Fact of the Day - and that, while it's dangerous to bike in the middle of the road, she couldn't see the road's edge. So there wasn't much choice, and somehow swerving out of the way of one of the few cars that appeared on the road every 15 minutes or longer seemed a better prospect than veering off the road and smacking into the mountainside.

With the wet road conditions, it's harder to brake, and our fingers were already responding less quickly. Thus, zooming down the mountain in such a blizzard was all the more spooky. Plus, loaded down with bags and gloves and jackets and faces full of snow, it was much easier just to watch the road and glance up occasionally for another glimpse of a few meters of road. That is, before being blinded once more by wind, snow, wet, and cold. Our sweat-soaked clothes on the inside, and melted snow on the outside, made our entire bodies wet and very, very cold. By now Corinne's toes had especially had it - the entire bottom of her foot felt like a rock-solid ice block, reminiscent of a few wicked nights of biking in deep snow back in Chicago. We weren't sure how much further Tripoli was, exactly - maybe as many as 25 km (16 mi) - much less did we how much more would be up or downhill. But it could only be getting closer, right?

Then a pickup truck slowed and the driver gave Corinne the "right on" signal with a smile. Corinne waved him down to ask him about Tripoli. The man in the car spoke great English, and estimated Tripoli to be at least another 30 km (19 mi) (!). The look on Corinne's face was enough for him to offer her a ride to Tripoli, as he was on his way through to Kalamata, another 90 km (56 mi) past Tripoli.

The man in the truck's name was Vasellis (but said to call him "Bill"). He said he is always thrilled to see people out biking and walking as a mode of transportation. He even wants to walk across India after he retires in three or four months! Bill found it strange that Corinne would be biking in such weather, but thought the BikeAbout project sounded fabulous nonetheless.

Sooner than expected, Ethan was spotted along the road, and Bill offered to take him and his luggage, too. Ethan had been ill recently, and so swapped water bottles with Corinne (empty versus full) and took them up on half the help. He decided to bike, sans luggage, what turned out to be only 8 km (5 mi) to town. The short distance was both shocking and a big relief to all of us.

Given her early arrival in town, Bill helped Corinne investigate the hotel options in Tripoli. (Padraic and Anthony had stopped to warm their "had-it" hands at a gas station.) Tripoli was the place where, in 1821 at the start of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Turks, Kolokotronis (remember him from the Palamidi Fortress of Nafplio? - see the Place of the Day) and his troops captured the town from the Turkish authority and killed all 10,000 Turkish people who lived there. This war was part of the widespread Greek effort to drive out the Turks and unite the areas of Greece where Greek people lived, whether on the islands, the Peloponnese, or the mainland. After 3 years, the town was recaptured by Turks and burned to the ground. Following this the Turkish troops completely left, perhaps feeling they had avenged themselves.

With the group reassembled, we found a decently priced hotel where we could change into warm, dry clothes and hover over the heaters in our rooms a spell. Then it was off to the live chat 'n' debate at the Forthnet affiliate in Tripoli. At least this much went off without a hitch… as soon as our fingers regained all mobility. We were also finally able to send and download new email for the first time since Athens!

Unfortunately, in the new batch of email, we received a bit of not-so-great news. One of our sponsors/partners on whom we were counting for badly needed funds to get us through the end of the trip informed us that they would only be able to provide half of what they had initially thought would be possible. We know this could spell trouble in the future, we just don't know how much or when! Of course we're still making plans for Albania and the Balkan countries, though it's hard to imagine expensive European countries after that, and makes us all a little tense.

The extremely helpful people at the Forthnet office also informed us that Tripoli has less than a month of summer a year, and told us to expect more snow and cold across the northern mountain ranges of Peloponnese on our way to Olympia. That was somewhat heavy news, too. However, we that all of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean is experiencing unseasonably cold and wet weather. It's hard to know what to expect, especially since we had been expecting (and hoping for) an early spring!

After a late, late dinner, we crashed quickly, sink-washed laundry hanging from every radiator around and filling up the rooms with that comforting clean clothes smell. With extra blankets for everyone, we all retired with no worries of further cold in the night. Corinne was still hypnotized however, seeing cascading and driving snow even when she closed her eyes.

We knew that we would be ready to leave Tripoli the next morning, but with only hearsay confirmation of whether there were any hotels in the town we'd chosen as our next destination. We could only hope.

The city of Tripoli is on the edge of the Arcadia region of Greece, a mostly rural area, neatly surrounded by picturesque mountains. Its relative seclusion has helped to keep it safe from the other dramas going on in Greece as leaderships changed throughout the centuries. It continues to protect it from the heavy tourism that the Korinthiakos shore faces in the north. The road was a catalogue of beautiful landscapes and was surprisingly flat. The lush and bright countryside in the valley of the Menalo Mountain range was amazing biking, and the sunshine helped fend off the continuing cold.

Blankets of heavy snow capped the nearby mountains click to view a photograph and clung to the hillsides, sitting under the tree shadows. The majestic quality of the snowy aftermath in the sun somehow made the trials of the day before worthwhile. click to view a photograph More empty roads and a soothing, calm quiet brought us through area. There was even a tiny village known as Pan, named after the satyr god and in recognition of the beauty of the area in which he frolicked with nymphs and muses, playing his flute and shepherding his herds. Pan is our Person of the Day because his area was so inspiring and peaceful.

Such fair weather and the first entirely flat valley stretch rapidly put the previous day's grueling hardship behind us. The only problem we had - to give you an idea of how pleasant the day was - came with the bright sunshine of the early part of the day; at high noon, the sun reflected directly on the handlebars and especially on the stem. The sometimes-blinding light from such a bizarre underneath angle made Corinne feel like she was getting a sunburn up her nose. But the clouds moved in again after a few hours...

A gentle and often forgiving headwind brought us upwards through winding hills click to view a photograph and along some truly extraordinary scenic and fascinating overlooks. click to view a photograph Most of the villages we passed through were right on the main road click to view a photograph though some were nestled into the valley or on an opposite hill, so remote and serene. click to view a photograph

Langadia, our chosen destination, is a breathtaking tier of buildings tucked into the graceful long and descent from the mountains. click to view a photograph Not a very large town, its old buildings and easily placed cemetery click to view a photograph sat nicely in the remaining snow and sun on the mountains opposite the main road. Startled by this beauty, we were definitely satisfied that this was yet another righteous moment for the thrill of having climbed high enough to take in such views. click to view a photograph

With an unexpected early arrival - none of us realized what a short day it would actually be with the surprise valley at the start - Corinne again investigated the limited hotel options in town (there were all of two possibilities). Then she snuggled up to a wood heater at an empty all-in-one café and convenience store to wait for the guys. In the café, two women, one middle-aged and the other quite old, were watching American soap operas with Greek subtitles, while was Corinne reading the "Odyssey" translated from Greek!

It was an odd cross-cultural phenomenon, and the women watched Corinne slowly drink a welcome hot tea and warm her "too-warm-for-big-gloves" but "still-really-cold" fingers. Having hung her clothes off the table near the heater and changed her wet socks and shoes as she waited, Corinne probably seemed pretty strange to the women, who didn't speak any English. In fact, they were so enchanted by her predicament that they refused to let her pay for the tea when the guys arrived in town and she was ready to leave!

The only-option hotel was enjoyed by all with still yet more American TV and movies, hot showers, space heaters, and an amazing view of the mountains from the windows and terrace. The hotel eatery was also the only real option for food in this tiny town, but pleasant none the less. Eating dinner in the huge empty dining area with the entire family who runs the hotel all congregated near the wood fire heater, the children doing their homework and the grandparents watching the Greek news, was a momentary peek into their daily lives. That night the boys indulged in more English-language late-night movies (we know luxury when we find it), while Corinne, in true crash-a-matic mode, hit the hay early, wanting to be in good form for the visit to... Olympia!

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