Gotta Be Crazy: To Cycle in Athens: Piraeus descending into Chaos and is Everyone Mean. - Lookin For John Fairweather - CycleBlaze

March 12, 2014

Gotta Be Crazy: To Cycle in Athens: Piraeus descending into Chaos and is Everyone Mean.

I roll out my mat to sleep on the floor between the chairs and table. Then have a terrible sleepless night shivering with cold even though I'm wearing two warm tops. Seems the heating is turned off by the ship's crew during the night to discourage economy ticket holders sleeping in the lounge area; encouraging them to spend more money upgrading their ticket to a cabin. Then dropping into a slumber only to be awakened by an announce "Ladies and Gentlemen! Shortly we will be arriving in Piraeus......." It is ten to six and still dark out as I glance through the window on the nearing port's lights.

I wave goodbye to my fellow Korean passengers, Lee and Ran. They have a budget hotel booked online and board a bus. Then hang around outside the shut terminal building until six-thirty when the cars and trucks from the ship have dispersed and is daylight enough to ride without lights. I assume I've only to ride a few kilometres from the port to the centre of Athens. But it isn't going to be that easy. I turn up from the waterfront upon an uphill street and am shortly in what looks like city-centre with lots of banks, squares, cafes and shops. But a small centre and really nothing looking like the centre of a big metropolis like Athens.

I ride around for a bit and stop and ask a man the way to Athens centre. He points me along a wide street which goes on and on out upon heavy traffic urban highway. Thinking I'm heading away from the centre, I ask a taxi-driver who points me straight on. Then ask a newspaper kiosk holder who doesn't speak any English except he understands when I say Athens. He too point me on the way I'm going.

I continue on this bumpy city road, being careful to see holes in the surface in time and watching the traffic. It especially pisses me off when trucks are parked on the inside and nearly always when I reach it and move out to go around the truck, another truck bears down on me from behind forcing me to stop at the rear of the parked truck. And, further on when I'm passing a Land Rover Discovery, undecided whether to remain parked on the inside, or move out; so it is siting slant-wise to the curb and there's not more than a truck's-width between it and a metal central reservation barrier. The coast is clear and I'm passing just around the front wing, the furthest part of the vehicle sticking out, when a car as if coming from nowhere flashes through the narrow gap almost rubbing my front-left pannier. Making me think, I can never understand how a human-being can driver flat out towards another human-being just missing them by inches. Though it happens quite often when cycling on busy highways where the idiot doesn't want to slow-down, losing a second, thinking they're invincible....

I'm glad to see trolley buses and metro-stations; newsagent kiosks and commuters marching to offices; banks and shops and other signs of a city-centre. This time I'm in Athens, undoubtedly as I see the Acropolis on a hilltop.

The tourist office hasn't opened yet as its still only eight thirty. Instead I sit at a cafe's outside table and do-it-myself, finding a cheap place to stay. I see many, starting at seven euros. The Hotel Acropolis, seven euros for a single room; good reviews. Seems too good to be true. The google map attached to these online listings are too small and cannot be moved about around the city to work out the way. A paper city-map would be optimal.

I'm back at the tourist office just as the man has turned up to open up. In addition to a city-map I ask for and receive a list of hostels. He points out that Athens Backpackers is the nearest, just around the corner. Ah. I saw them on the webpage at sixteen euros for a bed in a dorm. I don't mind a dorm but not at that price. But decide on checking them out anyway. I get to the address, a building at an end of a street and see a note on the door "Due to emergency boiler maintenance the entrance is at Vernon 3 beside The Athens Sports Bar." I take this to mean round the corner on the building's other side. But its confusing me when I turn the corner, as the street isn't Vernon, nor do I see Athens Sports Bar. I didn't want to stay anyway.

I have a good look at the map and set off working my way to the good to be believed Hotel Acropolis, riding much of the way safely upon the sidewalk. On the way I pass a bikeshop, useful to see, then two blocks after turn into Arhanan street in front of the hotel. There may just be a room at seven euros. I lock the bike up and enter. The receptionist, a bald sixty-something man tells me a room starts at twenty-five euros and has an amused look in his eye when I mention seven euros seen on the web. Its back to the drawing board.

Two cappuccinos for that buzzing feel were sorely needed.
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I place Hostel Zeus as the target on my next working out a route across town. This town street pattern isn't exactly a simple square grid. Streets run at angles to each other. From a number of central-squares, all the major streets run cartwheel-spoke-like out from them, making it easy to lost one's bearings in the lesser streets in between. And the traffic is getting a bit much. There are no cyclists and its easy to see why with the idiotic self-centred stop for no-one mentality of drivers. I find my way after many stops at street corners to check with the map what street I'm on, to see which street I need to turn onto to get to the address on Sofozeus street. I continue through narrow sidestreets. Getting pissed off on occastions with cars appearing around a corner into these streets and driving flat-out down them forcing me to the side. Eventually I turn the corner into Sofozeus, a street of the Middle Eastern community with Iraq on a shop sign and lots of food stalls and cloths shops on the way to number 28 with a Zeus Hostel sign, but a notice on the door "We have moved..." Oh no! The new address is given as Armou. A long street crossing half the map.

This time I start by cycling three blocks in the wrong direction. Then returning the right way get lost in small backstreets. By the time I brake outside Armou 104, the hostel's new address, I'm annoyed that I've spend so long, wasting the morning looking for places that turn out not to be there; its now eleven. And what is this. 104 is an antique shop. I look to the side and around the corner and see no other doors The woman in the shop is less than helpful, as I lock the bike to the railings and enter. I ask politely about the hostel. She pushes me off with "I no boss.." Then comes out and demands I move the bike from the railings as it may be in the way off deliveries; if only she will give me a change; isn't that what I'm doing. I can't do magic. Then she asks "where are you from?" I'm seething with anger now, but keep it covered and answer her question, to which she replies "You should return to your country."

In rage I ride back down the street. A taxi forces me off the road while moving across to the left to filter left into a pedestrian street, driving me back to the right by accelerating hard. Then when the taxi had passed I crossover and go to turn into said street, where there are more taxis parked on its corner leaving just a narrow gap to get through. There I meet a motorcyclist coming out. I give way which is usual polite road behaviour. But he seems to take offence, steering straight at me, braking and shouting something to which I loss the temper, shouting f--king asshole and give him a finger salute as he guns the bike away.

I'm now in the pedestrian area leading towards the Acropolis and still worked up. The next hostel I'm looking for is on Victor Hugo street, but it isn't listed on the map. Aw shit! An American man approaches and asks what I'm looking for. Taking quite a while looking up Victor Hugo on his map, but can't find the street either. I thank him for his time. Then ask a crew of a fire-truck. One of which speaks good English and knows where the street I'm looking for is, pointing it out on my map.

Having ridden back and forth all morning, I know the city pretty well now, but then one off the main routes has been closed for a marching demonstration and the traffic is backed up. The only thing getting through the jam are scooters, motorbikes and me. And just to demostation the total lack of manners of taxi-driver here, I see a gap to get through, but a taxi closes it and I'm left in an awkward place in the middle of the street.

The hostel when I get there is eight euros a night. Has good WiFi, friendly staff and a whole room to myself.

This afternoon I broke the budget, eating in the tourist area. The food is nothing special, kofte on pide-bread with onion salad and a porsion of chips washed down with a 500 ml Amstel beer for a total cost of thirteen euros.

One thing which is cheap though, is the coffee; really good coffee for one euro thirty. If only the gypies kids would go and leave me alone instead of playing their horrible sounding accordians at my table for money.

Friday 14th Mar update; which, will be brief as it's a cycle-tour journal. The news is the city of Athens has been worth the visit, even like me you don't go for sightseeing. There are streets of cafes: the "Greek Taverna" and a good place to spend a few days off the bike. In a bookshop I found a 1 cm = 6.5 kms map of Greece. And, in the Flea Market off the square in the old town, found there are lots of bike shops; at one, I found pads for my bike's cantilever brakes, so I'm happy with that. At another, I asked about replacing the bottom-bracket, but they couldn't do it until Monday. That's too long to wait, though it isn't too bad yet and should, hopefully, last for a while longer. In anycase there'll be plenty of bike shops ahead when it does eventually become unridable. And I almost forgot, I picked up alcohol for my camping stove in the supermarket.

Tomorrow back on the road and having checked the map, the best way is to follow the highway back toward Piraeus, then strike off west.

I did see some ruins. Yawn.
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Greek uses a mix of roman and a kind of cyric letters.
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Homemade rack.
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Today's ride: 21 km (13 miles)
Total: 11,974 km (7,436 miles)

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