CYCLING PAGES OF GABOR GYÖRGYI
Training Camp in the Greek spring (2002. march) - Athens, Loutraki, Peloponessos, Nafplion, Argos, Mykenes, Korinthos
Training Camp in the Greek spring (2002. march)
As the winner of an article-writing competition in the Hungarian Bringa magazine, I could spend 11 days together with the Hungarian MTB squad in a training camp 80 kms from Athens, between 12 and 26 march 2002. We were in the friendly Hotel Bakos, in Loutraki, situated 3kms from the Korinthos channel and the Peloponnesus peninsula and at the foot of a 1300m high mountain. Although on ascents I prefer cycling looking around, taking pictures and making videofilms than cycling in a hurried style. So I was the odd one out from 24-26 head team. My goal was not to spend a good 11 days training, but to make nice cycle tours, enjoy the nature of Greece and to discover the north-east Peloponnesos.
The journey by bus took 28-31 hours. At the Serbian / Bulgarian border we had to wait for one one and a half hours. In the south part of Yugoslavia and in Bulgaria there was not too much highway, and there were many pot-holes in the road, we could only travel slowly and we couldnt sleep too much. The bicycles were brought by a small-bus .
In Loutraki we were accomodated in rooms of 2-3 beds in the Hotel Bakos, with B category. From the hotel we cauld walk to the beach on to the main-street or other shopping opportunities were in 2 minutes reach. In the main part of Greece, drinking from the tap is not recommended because of problems or the age of the water system, but Loutraki is famous for its mineral water, so we could fill our flasks full of water from the tap. Through out our tours we could buy mineral water at booths at every busy road.
The 2 weeks of our holiday was characterised by the friendly 16-22 degrees temperature and without one day exception dry weather. This meant in a climate which is rich in vapour, that mainly at our morning start in 10 degrees centigrade (at ½ 9 9 am.) we could put on short cycling trousers and on our upper part we should put on maximum 2 jerseys, one with short sleeves and the other with long sleeves. Through the day on calm, sunny ascents we bathed in our sweat. Other speciality of the weather was the lack of calm weather; it was nearly almost windy. On two days we had to face strong, stormy winds. Its true that along the beach the wind is stronger, but on a tour of mine it occurred that on a 1500m high pass the wind almost blew me away. It was hard to make a short film, because the wind pushed so strong my arm and hand. I was happy with my wind stopper jersey.
The quality of the roads is almost as in Hungary (I think not about the roads in Budapest), so not so bad, but at crossing the rails I usually got from my bike and went through the crossing by foot, because the gap next to the rails wasnt filled so through cycling on it its bumpy.
The traffic wasnt a problem anywhere, but in towns its worth looking out to the free driving style of Greece (southern born) people. In the mountains it occurred that I hadnt seen an auto for half an hour. Because Im used to the Hungarian traffic, at first thesound of horns was strange for me, but after a while I realised (found out, discovered) that I cycle regularly. After some occasions we realised that the cars welcome the cyclists with a horn . On small trafficked roads, on the traffic-tables the names of the villages, towns are shown only in Greek, using Greek letters. On middle trafficked roads you dont meet with this problem, because on the tables we can read the names, using Latin letters. The inhabitants if they understood me helped us with pleasure.
Theoretically the shops are open from 8 am to 2 pm and from 17 pm to 20 pm, but in some places I found shops open through the afternoon. Maybe they didnt close in the afternoon because of the early spring. In the shops we could find everything, like in Hungary; the orange because it is continuously becoming ripe is definitely cheap.
Nearly every monument-museum in spring are open until 3 pm, still the Acropolis of Athens. The entrance-ticket at the main museums is 4.4 EUR, elsewhere 1-2 EUR. About taking photos, I experienced that between 3.30pm and 5-6 pm the sun shines brightly, the sunshine gives more contrast; in this period can be made more beautiful pictures.
Tours with a start in Loutraki :
Loutraki is situated at the foot of a 1300m high mountain, at the Gulf of Korintos, and 78 km from Athens. The nice town is about 80-100 km away from the 1500-2400m high mountains, so it is an ideal starting point for both mountain-trainings and for plane, but windy tours. As my experiences show, the more important sightseeing can be obtained through a 150-170 km long cycle tour.
ˇ The first part of the tour, visiting the Epidauros-theatre, Nafplion and Argos, was hilly but from Argos back to Loutraki it was not too serious.
15 km after the start we had to cycle up on a 10 km long ascent, on which the panorama to the Gulf of Saran made us forget the (medium) difficulty of the ascent. The 1-2 km long 10% steep descent was immediately changed by a 10% steep ascent. After it we turned towards the inside of the peninsula, and to the Theatre of Epidauros. On the not waited ascent we had to climb between bare mountains for 4-5 km. The parking place beside the theatre was busier then we thought, but its the largest ancient theatre in Greece. Its acoustics is the other thing it has to be say about. With the entrance ticket we could get into the museum inside the area.
We arrived at Nafplion the former capital of Greece - on a pleasant 25 km long descent. The town is said to be one of the most beautiful towns in Greece; it should be true. Up to the castle built into a rocky mountain we can cycle on a ascent which is somewhere around 15% steep. From the castle from between flowers there is a scenic view to the gulf and the small island in it, which also has a friendly castle. In the background it could be seen the castle of Argos at the opposite side of the gulf; behind it there are snowy mountains in spring. On a 12 km long road we cycle to Argos sometimes between orange-plants. From the town there is a road with varied steep ascents to the 289m high mountaintop. Because the entrance is free and there is no control there, we can walk inside the castle everywhere. Its worth looking out for the bikes, because there are no people to watch them. From Agros cycling towards Loutraki there is an almost flat road to Mukene, where we have to turn right to the famous museum. The treasure of Mukene can be found in the museums of Athens. From the ruins and walls of the castle we got a pretty view back towards the sea.
- The ruins and the nice museum of Akrokorintos is not too far from Loutraki. Beside the doric / ionic column there is a panorama to the Gulf of Korintos.
From Vrahati the road ascends very lightly to ancient Nemea, where its worth seeing the ancient ruins and the museum too, but the town of Nemea 5 kms from here is a starting point towards the 1000-1500m high mountains. The panoramic scenery and not too difficult ascent starts in Andonia, from its 1000m high top there is a nice view to the surrounding area: eastwards we can see over the area of Nemea, while towards the west I could enjoy the pictures of the snowy mountains. It took not much time to arrive at Skotini in the flat valley, but the climb up to the 1500m high pass was sometimes difficult because of the stormy wind. The 6-7 km long climb was beautiful too: partly towards Skotini and Lirkio and partly towards Nemea. The height of the saddle wasnt shown anywhere there. I had to use my arm muscles to be able to make a film with a video camera.
- ˇ The tour on which I cycled up to the highest point in that week was a varied one. In the first 47 km I biked along until Xilokastro, where I got up to 1420 m high into more and more cold weather. As I got used to it I was pushing the pedals on the open climb to Trikalon; I could continuously look out to the mountains around me. In the height of Trikalon (1000m) on the flat stage I could gather some power for the rest of the climb. Although from the restaurant at 1420m high there was some km long road in between the highest mountains, because it was foggy and the wind was also too strong for me. I decided to turn back. It wasnt worth pedalling on. The guy from our room cycled there on the next day; he realized that the asphalted road went up only 2 km. Upper to that point the road is only for mountain-bikers.
- ˇ On a medium long tour the panoramic ascent (and descent) between Kiato and Nemea is worth cycling. The people who like steep ascents (like me) or serious speed down on a good road have to visit the road from Kiato through Souli up to a 1050 m pass. The ascent from Nemea through Kastraki to Souli goes through a varied land. For some 100m it goes up with a steepness of 12-14%, then its almost flat, then steep again, etc. Around the silenced road there were a lot of planted grapes, and some fir trees and beautiful panoramas and small villages too. The third road ascends from Nemea on a hilly road up to the height of 770m, from where we could see a fantastic panoramic view to the wide sea. It is the best between 4 and 6 pm. This picture is a great surprise at the end of a day. I think we could see about 60-80 km of the wide the sea.
- ˇ Through the time of the training camp the guys already visited 4-6-8 times the 700m high pass above Pissia, not far from Loutraki, I cycled up only on the day before the last, but it was one of the most beautiful.
From Loutraki it is a 18 km long sometimes windy climb to Pissia, which through there is a view to the gulf and the mountain of Peloponnesus, where I biked before a lot (Trikalon, Nemea, etc.). From the pass above the village we got a picture to the gulf of Alkionidon with small villages, islands and the serpentine road down to the beach. Halfway through the climb on a descent its worth rolling down to the end of the peninsula, to the Lake Voullaaagmeni and to the light tower. The lake could be cycled around, and from its west coast there is a great view of our home-mountain. Walking up to the top of the hill next to the light tower 2 km from the lake there will be the most fantastic panorama of that area. There is nearly 300 degree around the sea, somewhere with islands, somewhere the colour of the sea is blue, elsewhere green, we could see Korintos, and the mountains of Peloponnesus and mountains towards Delphi too.
- ˇ Because Loutraki was only 78 kms from Athens I wanted to visit it not only by bus, but by bike too. The road next to the highway was not too hilly, the exception under this was the 15 km before Megara. This part was built on the sides of the rocks, but right next to or above the sea. It was very romantic. While I havent gone through so many ascents than between the mountains, because of the wind this tour wasnt an easy 165 km. In Elefsina I chose the not too busy road through the industrial area it was shorter than the other which went into the main road after the factories. There was no other road so I cycled on the 2-3 lane roads. Maybe the policemen also knew this; I didnt have any problems with them. Turning away from the gulf which was busy because of the ships I went up 2-3 km, then on the other side of the hill I could roll down into the city of Olympia of 2004, Athens. Watching the tables I managed to find the Acropolis. On this day (18th of march, 2002) I could have a great experience, because it was the last day of the carnival time, so because of tradition a lot of people were walking up to the Acropolis or the mountain of Lykabeos to fly a kite. I enjoyed it very much.
On the next day I visited Athens by bus. For the return bus ticket I had to pay 10 EUR, in Athens the daily ticket cost 2,93 EUR. Walking up to the mountain of Lykabetosz I could enjoy the panorama of Athens, I also visited the marble Olympic hall. It was interesting to see the guards in nice clothes before the residence of the president. After looking around the temple of Zeus I walked up to the Acropolis and I visited the Agora. I finished my sight seeing tour at the special atmospheric Plaka, with its thin streets, and full of sellers with nice souvenirs.
The two week in Greece gave me a lot of unforgettable pleasures. It was nice, I enjoyed to travel in the spring and to enjoy the mild weather. To discover unknown areas, to glance into the ancient Greek culture through ruins and museums. On our 29 hour long homeward travel we remembered the nice moments, tours, but we had some homesickness. I heard with curiosity the talk between some bikers and the leader of the MTB squad, the arguments about the competitions, about the system how to chose the man who will represent Hungary in Athens, about training methods, etc. These were things I have read only in newspapers, it was an other thing to hear the guys who represent Hungary in world-competitions. Arriving home from this unforgettable training camp, the federal captain said at last: Next year with you, at the same place !