Saturday, August 31, 2019

Uttara’s cycling diaries - Cycling through the Pelopponese - Day’s 8 and 9 - Epidaurus to Nafplio (and Day 9 - Nafplio)

(I have anonymized and edited out parts).

Today was the final day of our bike ride. My legs and body are tired, but I woke up with a positive attitude and a good amount of energy for the final day. We woke up, ate breakfast (I have been having a small bowl of the most delicious, creamy greek yogurt with honey drizzled on top and coffee most mornings, with maybe a piece of bread on the side). Our hotel in Nafplio has been amazing - comfortable two room suite with a beautiful little balcony with views of the port and mountains in the background as well as the high Palamidi fortress just behind us. The hotel staff have been great and we have been treated to an elaborate breakfast of yoghurt, cake, wraps, spinach pastries, bread, jams and eggs. As usual, I have not been hungry in the morning, so I have packed a pastry with me on the journey.

We were told to meet our driver at 9 am at the Nafplio bus stop today. The plan was for him to take us to Epidaurus, from where we would bike the 42km back to our hotel. The bus stop being a two minute walk from the hotel, we had our breakfast and made our way.

Epidaurus was about a 30-45 min drive away (maybe slightly more) and is an ancient place of worship and definitely a historical highlight for me. The most impressive part of the whole site was the 2300 year old amphitheatre (dating back to the 4th Century BC) which is incredibly well preserved - holding up to 14,000 viewers. We walked to the top row of the amphitheatre and the views were incredible. We could also see everything perfectly from any seat in the circle below. What was most astonishing were the excellent acoustics - you could hear conversations being had on the ground from the top row - the sound carried so well. Now I can understand how people enjoyed plays and spectacles without audio! The other really cool part of Epidaurus was the Stadium, which dates back to the 5th Century BC. We saw running posts and a track, where original races took place! Really cool. There were also shrines, baths, and a museums preserving the ancient artefacts. All really great.

One thing i have learned being in Greece, is that to truly understand timelines and populations, you need to not only know Greek history but also Greek Mythology. When we visit different sites, we are inundated with places of worship and names different communities living in the same sites at different times. Apparently, understanding the Bible is helpful to understand timelines.

Once our self guided tour was over, we picked up our locked bikes and set off for Nafplio, with a stop at a beach in the first 20km. The profile looked quite easy, but there were a lot of hills. Today I was feeling energised and had no problem with any of the cycling. I think my endurance finally kicked in and I felt like I was in good shape for all the climbs, keeping a good pace. We climbed to a highpoint, through the hills on the side of the road and turned off to go down the mountain. Going down was a bit scary, mostly due to the many many many potholes along the way, but I kept it very slow and steady and managed to keep it safe and reasonably comfortable. When we arrived at the beach - I immediately stripped off my cycling clothes to be in my swimsuit which I had worn underneath and jumped into the lovely water to cool down. It was perfect. After wading in the sparkling water, I took a rest in the shade with some water, diet coke and ate one of the spinach pastries from breakfast that we had packed along the way

After about 45 mins of lounging, we decided that it was time to head back to town. This last bit was the most trying, not because it was challenging, but because one of us ran out of gas. I stayed behind with them but
it was simply not possible . Finally we all supported each other by taking turns riding their bike so they could walk and catch their breath. It was confusing and hard but we made our destination in one piece.

We arrived at 4:30pm - and I showered and immediately headed to the beach. I hadn't seen the Nafplio beach yet (it was on the other side of the port) - but after scaling a short hill at the back of our hotel, we arrived and spent the next few hours swimming and lounging. To the left of our beach there was an abandoned building on a cliff face with graffiti and the best views. We joked that this should be our self sustaining commune in the future - where we live a simple life and invite fellow Londoners for a sejour.

After some beach time (the water was lovely too - but i kept screaming every 5 mins because i kept getting poked and bitten by tiny fish - a highly uncomfortable feeling) - we headed back to the hotel, showered and decided to enjoy our final sunset with a cocktail and have dinner in town. I drank a Strawberry Daiquiri watching the sunset and got a mild brain freeze. We then walked to a restaurant for a delicious Italian meal and basically stuffed our faces to a point where nobody could move or have coherent conversation. It was really fun. We waddled back to our apartment and called it a night

Day 9 - Final day in Nafplio

Today was the final day. Yesterday over dinner, we plans to walk the 1000 steps to the Palamidi fortress behind our hotel in the morning. It was the final push of cardio for the holiday. I woke up at around 7:45, had a coffee and waited for the others. One of the group of 4 joined me, so we did the walk up to see the views. We put my phone on speaker, listened to some tunes and did the walk up and down. The views were great. We saw the entire town, the other castle grounds (there are 3 castles in town) and great views of the sea. We were also back at the hotel at a smooth 9am.

It is now after breakfast and I am sitting in the balcony finishing this journal entry. The sun is shining but there is a wonderful warm breeze and the views are totally special. I am going to spend the rest of the time reading (I succeeded in my journaling mission but failed in my reading mission), having a cheap and cheerful sports massage and just enjoying the final moments in this lovely country.

Until the next cycling adventure!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Uttara's Travel Diaries - Cycling through the Pelopponese Region in Greece - Day 7 - Round Trip (Nafplion to Mycenae)

Day 7 - Round Trip (Nafplion to Mycenae)

We were approaching our 5th and second last day of the trip and I woke up a bit anxious to start the ride. Yesterday, xxx approached me and said she was looking to leave the trip early. It had nothing to do with us, but she has been going through xxx and I think the stress of keeping up with us was not making this experience enjoyable for her. I don't want to go into any detail out of respect for her privacy, but we chatted for a long time and I insisted that she stay and that we spend the day together and do the ride at our own, slow pace. I also told her how proud of herself she should be for taking this physical challenge on after not working out for almost a year. In the end, she agreed to try cycling for one more day and see how she feels after. So it was just the two of us on this ride and it turned out to be a great idea. She just needed some attention, the feeling that she is not constantly racing to catch up, and a slower pace, where we could chat and enjoy the environment we were in. To be honest, I did too.

Our ride today was just over 51km where we cycled through the countryside to the fortress Mycenae. We left quite late as xxx's bike got a flat tire even before leaving our hotel. She was in good spirits and walked her bike to the bike shop (15 mins away) and got it fixed prior to starting the ride. We didn't know what to expect, but I was slightly scared about the heat and the profile - gradual uphill all the way to Mycenae with some aggressive hills at the top. However, a change of pace made all the difference. We took it slow and gradual and fuelled up with lots of water and sugary drinks to keep the energy levels up. At the 12 km mark, we were both thirsty, drinking our water at a record pace so we took a small detour to a shop and fuelled up. And by fuelled up I mean, I downed a pepsi and a bottle of water and ate a mini ice cream right outside the shop -- and then went on to purchase two more bottles of water and a 1.5L bottle of cold lemonade. In rides like this, glucose is a requirement to keep the energy going.

Otherwise we were doing absolutely fine. We cycled through 'false flats' for the first 15km (a term used in cycling to describe a road that looks flat but in fact is a steady incline from the start) and didn't even notice, as we were chatting the whole way. I wanted to keep xxx engaged, so I asked her a lot of questions. We received a text from xxx and xxx telling us how hard the ride was for them (as they had already made the peak by that point) and if we wanted to reconsider going the whole way, but we didn't feel it was that bad after all. Personally, I found it a lot more manageable despite the heat. And even with the extra time it took us, it was really worth it. We had a great day together.

For this ride, we left the seaside and cycled inland through the countryside, which was surrounded by groves of oranges, lemons and limes. It was pretty much the same landscape through rolling hills and groves. There were really no shops or places to sit the whole way, and most of the route was under the hot sun. We were met with some aggressive dogs barking from behind the fences (I really have never seen such aggressive dogs anywhere - they must be trained just to protect their owners from trespassers – otherwise, there is no reason for such hostility!).

Then we hit the hills that xxx and xxx were talking about. Fortunately, they were not bad at all, especially with a few stops for drinks along the way. We made it to the final hill - Mycenae. The climb and essential incline for the entire journey was worth it - it was absolutely stunning and I really couldn't fathom how old it was. It is one of the most important archaeological sites from the bronze age in Greece. The fortress of Mycenae was built some 3300-3500 years ago, and it is one of the most important cities of antiquity (once a centre of Greek civilisation). It basically sits up on a mountain and you can see views all the way to the Sea from this fort. I marvelled at the world famous Lion Gate which is over 3000 years old. There were so many things to see in the fort itself - cereal storage, a citadel, a grave site (as old as the Pharaohs) and relics showing the mechanics of how water was collected and stored. Walking uphill (and a lot of uphill at that) and seeing all the sites really opened up more questions than provided answers. How the hell were they able to build something like this 3000 years ago? How did they have the knowledge to create an underground cistern for water collection? (apparently, the water source was an aqueduct about 360m from the citadel)

We also visited the Treasury of Atreus, which is a tomb constructed in the bronze age around 1250 BC. It is huge - the stones on the doorway apparently weigh 120 tonnes. We were able to walk inside the cool interior, which is 13.5m in height and 14.5m in diameter. Apparently it was the tallest and widest dome in the world for over a thousand years until the Pantheon in Rome (or so they say).

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and were not too fussed about the ride home because it was basically downhill. We realised how much we had climbed just by experiencing how pleasant the ride home was - speedy, minimal effort, no gear changes and other than a few kms of stony gravel - where I was afraid I would get a flat tire - totally painless. We stocked up on water about 7km from Nafplion and rode the rest of the journey back with the final 3km stretch along the coast.

We arrived around 4:40 pm - exhausted but happy. xxx felt a sense of achievement and felt positive about the day tomorrow. After coming home and showering, I needed some alone time (down time) - the last 24 hours were emotionally exhausting for me too (as well as physically), so I went for a walk and ate a huge plate of pasta and salad in this nice little Italian restaurant close to our hotel. The waiters were so kind and the portions were huge.

I then walked to the harbour and sat and watched the sunset while (attempting to) read my book, and then waddled back to the hotel, meeting the other three in town at different points :)

I have mixed feelings about tomorrow being our last ride. The profile looks excellent and easy - but I am also exhausted and ready to just sit on the beach and relax for my final day.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Teaching moment

I was driving along in my eight year old Subaru Forester yesterday when I experienced what would you call a “teaching moment”. I was listening to a conversation with Gary Zukav, the author of “The Seat of the Soul”, on my blue tooth headset. His quiet voice said “every experience is meant to teach us something that helps elevate our consciousness”. Just as he finished the sentence, I swung my car into the office parking garage and slowly ascended the ramp. Then out of nowhere, this little Mazda flashed in front of me and the next thing I know there was a screeching of brakes and the unpleasant and disturbing sound of metal upon metal. I had been in a Zen state till then and I transformed into this angry, confused individual trying to hold it all together. The driver of the car I had hit was a young girl. She had jumped the stop sign and darted in front of me. I had cars behind me entering the garage so could not stop on time. Since it was clearly her fault, she began running up and down not knowing if she was coming or going. We exchanged insurance papers and took pictures, all the while enduring insults from irate drivers, whose cars we were blocking and forcing into a detour. I could clearly see that this dithering was born out of our sheer distrust of each other. We did not want the other to screw us over. Anyway, I gathered my beans and parked my car. I had to laugh. I felt ridiculous that something so inconsequential brought out such vile emotions from within me. I rushed to my meeting a little disturbed that my perfectly ordered morning was in disarray, my poor car had her face deformed with an ugly gash and hole, but kept calm, determined to stay with the discomfort. I stayed focussed on the agenda and when I emerged on the other side the morning’s events were dreamlike. Of course, the husband, who I had called earlier, and who I was convinced thought it was all my fault, I was distracted or that I was a complete idiot, broke me out of my reverie to ask if I had called the Insurance Company. Ah yes, there is such a thing, I remembered. So I got on the phone and called to speak to a very cheery “Heather” who patiently outlined how an adjuster would be in touch and where I could get my repairs done and pick up my rental car. It was all so streamlined, easy and painless. I told her I would write to her Manager expressing my appreciation for the quality of service she provided me. She was thrilled! After work, I went to the Collision Centre to report the incident. I found out that you only call the police to the scene at the time of the accident if someone has been hurt, there is damage to personal property or if someone is driving impaired. Sure I was drunk on Zukav and the Zen state I was in, but not illegally impaired, thank god! So I did not have the Police on the scene and went instead to report the matter at the Toronto Police’s Collision Centre. I did not know what to expect. However, I received Cadillac treatment. The process was hassle free. I had a Metro Officer show me where I had to enter the data and I was done in a jiffy. She complimented me on my speed, printed off the report with an estimate of the damage. A young man had taken pictures while I was inside and it all came up on the screen with my report. Very impressive! I complimented her on her efficiency and she beamed. I just stopped short of giving her a hug! As I came out, the young woman whose car I had struck entered the Collision Centre and I greeted her like a long lost friend and apologised for being rude earlier. She reassured me that I had not been and even managed a smile. All was well with the world. Ah well, don’t know if my consciousness was elevated but my mood certainly was – by the swimmingly perfect way everything unfolded and conspired to help me out! At least I would like to think so!