The Doctor’s Verdict

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog front recently simply because we haven’t been doing any cycling for the past three weeks. We are writing this post a couple of days after Christmas from a hotel room in the centre of Sparta.

Christmas tree in Sparta square

Sunrise over Sparta on Christmas morning

Here is how we got here:

We left Athens on a damp and dull Friday morning at the end of November. We packed up our stuff, returned the key to the landlord – all before the sun came up so we could get on our bikes and away before the traffic could get too busy. As expected, Athens was enormous! It took us about 15-20km before we were properly free of the busy, fast roads. Once we were out of the clutches of Athens, the road we had chosen to cycle on was the old national road – was totally deserted, thanks to the new motorway built alongside it (in some places only about five meters away).

The oil refinery is on the shores of this bay - this boat never made it.

This old national road was fantastic for us. It was a hilly, twisty coastal road that provided some nice views of the bay below. Our destination for this day was a little coastal town called Agioi Theodoroi. This place didn’t have too many obvious cheap places to stay, but after asking a local, who then spent an hour making phone calls and driving us around town, we managed to get a room. The price of the room started at €35, to which I tried to negotiate it to €25 then to €23. At some point though she either got fed up or felt sorry for us and reduced it to €20 without me having to ask for it. It was certainly one of the stranger negotiations I have been involved in!

Monika taking a rest on the shores of Agioi Theodoroi

The next day, we cycled off in the rain, crossed the impressive Corinth Canal, got lost, ended up on a motorway slip road, where we were then pulled over by the highway people who told us it wasn’t safe for us here. He then made us turn around and cycle the wrong way back along the slip road to where we came from – that sounds so much safer – doesn’t it?

Corinth Canal - pictures don't do it's scale justice!

The canal isn't hugely popular anymore as it's too narrow to be of huge commercial benefit.

You may wonder how we ended up on a motorway, but it was rather quite easy. In Greece, a green sign means motorway and blue is a national road. So we were cycling along for a national road for 10km, maybe more, then all of a sudden a fork appeared in the road – both signs were green and both were pointing (in different directions) to the same town that was on our route. The map didn’t help, so we chose the left green sign. Wrong one – it turned out. So we cycled back to the fork and took the right green sign and lo and behold about 500m down the road a blue sign appeared. Knowing how Greece is run, the motorway signing people probably ran out of blue signs that day and fired up a green sign instead.

After staying the night in Argos, we headed off toward Tripolis. Unfortunately for us, there is a big set of mountains plopped between Argos and Tripolis.

The neverending switchbacks toward Tripolis

We climbed and we climbed and we climbed. By 1pm we made it (to what we thought was the top), had lunch and watched the skies darken and listened to the not too far away thunder claps. It turned rather eerie up there. We donned our waterproofs and quickly realised we were not at the top of the mountain – still lots more left.

Windy, wet, cold and miserable

We were fortunate enough to have organised a couchsurfing host for the night in Tripolis, so it was nice after an exhausting day not to have to chase around town looking for accommodation. Maria and Alex were very welcoming hosts and their two children where just adorable. They had loads of interesting food on the table and we managed to get a couple of recipes off them for Greek specialities, which we will try ourselves when we stop the nomad lifestyle.

Our couchsurfing friends in Tripolis. From left to right: Helen (14 months), Alex, Maria, Helen (2 1/2 years) and us of course

The following day we had an arrangement to meet with Phil – our workaway host. As I mentioned before we planned to work at his house for a few weeks over the winter. We have been in Vasara with Phil and his family for three weeks now and are having a great time. More details on this will be included on our workaway experience at a later date.

Meet Meli - one of the family dogs

And here is Lola - mother of Meli

When we arrived in Vasara, I (Geoff) had been suffering from a pain in my right knee for a couple of months. The pain has been slowly getting worse and is now at a point where it’s too painful to cycle. So while we were at Phil’s house he arranged for me to visit a knee specialist in the town of Sparta. The doctor was able to diagnose the problem almost straightaway. The cartilage under my knee cap had been damaged due to repetitive strain or a condition called Chondromalacia Patella for those of you who understand Latin – or knees. The recovery time is between one and three months. One to three months is a long time to be sitting idle and waiting for my knee to fix itself. Even if my knee does heal, I will have to make some major adjustments otherwise the same problem will happen again a few weeks down the road. Between the bike and the load, I am trying to drag around 90% of my body weight, which appears to be putting too much stress on my body. So, we will be trying to reduce the amount of stuff that we are carrying around.

Back in my school days, I was in accident and emergency twice after injuring that knee, so I suspect it has been an underlying weakness since then. The doctor also mentioned that if its not completely healed before I start to cycle again the damage will become permanent.

At least I now know what the issue is and there are exercises that I can do to strengthen the leg muscles (which in turn take the stress off the tendons, ligaments and cartilage in my knee).

While we are hoping for the best, in terms of my recovery, we are now looking into what we do from now, if my knee does not heal properly. Going on and doing further irreparable damage is not an option and we know that we want to continue travelling, so the most likely option is the regular backpackers method of travelling. This is something that we will be thinking about over the next few weeks – while at the same time, I will be doing what I can to help my knee heal.

Anyways, enough of my knee for now.

The family that we are staying with are in a bit of an awkward situation themselves. Charlie is sixteen and is in England doing his A-Levels, so his mother is there most of the time, with him, to help him along, while his father, Phil, and his sister, Annabelle are here in Greece. The whole family are back together in Greece for only ten days over the Christmas period, so myself and Monika thought it would be best to stay in Sparta over the Christmas holidays and let them be together, alone, for the festive season before they have to be separated once again.

Mmm, I wonder what this smells like...

Who would have thought that ice cold frappes would have been required to cool down on Christmas day in Europe!?

Views of the snowy mountains surrounding Sparta

So that’s how we ended up in Sparta for Christmas. Our hotel looks out over the main square, which has been playing the same ten or fifteen Christmas songs on repeat for ten hours a day for the last four days. I may be slowly losing my marbles…

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