Since my last bike ride around the coast of Sounio, I’ve really tried to get out there on my bike at least once a week. Riding through Athens is a bit daunting. A year ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of it. My hairdresser called Athenian bike riders “crazy people.” But through trial and error I’ve managed to work out a system.
Last week I took Violet for another spin through Filothei. I left around 11 AM when traffic starts to lighten up. We took our little “secret passage” and after some huffing and puffing up some hills (and walking the bike up an impossible one), we made it to my friend Sue’s house for a play date. At around 2:30 I loaded Violet back in the seat for the return trip. Some Greek movers who were there to load up boxes for Sue’s neighbor helped me out…mostly by saying that this was not such a great idea. Point taken. Traffic definitely picks up again around 2, so much so that I mostly walked Violet on the sidewalk on the busier areas around our “secret passage.” I’m thinking next time we’ll either skip the play date and just ride around for an hour before 2, or I’ll take her out on weekend mornings instead.
Weekends are definitely the best time to bike, but not always the most convenient when you have family outings planned. Plus, mornings are starting to get a bit chilly. For the weekdays when I have a sitter and want to go solo, I always take a partner or two along with me. Rose, who accompanied me and Joanna on our last big bike ride, has been a wonderful bike buddy. She and her husband have been exploring all the nooks and crannies around her neighborhood, which is just a short distance from mine. Last week I biked to her house (through another “secret passage”), and she showed me some areas with bike paths running in middle of the streets. It reminded me a lot of when I used to bike through Brooklyn — there was a Hasidic Jewish part of town that had this fantastic, shady path in the middle of a busy avenue. But the traffic in Brooklyn was a bit less chaotic than in Athens, and even though we were in the more leafy suburbs, crossing the street was quite nerve-wracking. Even in DC cars would give me a wide berth, but here they pass by you with inches to spare.
This week we elected to drive up to a hiking/biking path on Mount Parnitha, about a 30 minute drive north of Athens. I’d been here before on a picnic with Violet and friends last spring, but I never thought to bring my bike. This time we brought another friend along, Nikki, and the three of us had a lovely time riding through the picturesque mountains. Rose said it reminded her a lot of Colorado. With the pine and floral smells in the air and no traffic in sight, you could almost forget you were so near Athens.
Along the way we saw the ruins of the Tatoi Palace, a 19th century summer palace of the Royal Greek family. Many of the surrounding buildings were also boarded up and fenced in. Amid the overgrown trees and caved in roofs, you could picture its grandeur.
Around the back of one set of buildings we found an old car, perhaps one of the cars designated as a cultural monument and left to rot in a garage. And near the security building we saw this crazy fallen tree that looked like it had sheared another one on its way down.
Oh, and I met a cow.
The uphill trek just about did me in, but once it leveled off, I could actually enjoy the ride. The way down was a bit thrilling…and bumpy. After loading the bikes back in the car, we stopped at a nearby taverna for lunch and coffee. That’s a thing I’m doing now…drinking coffee. With about four sugars and half a cup of milk. I figured if I’m not going to put any real effort into learning the language, the least I can do is partake in the coffee culture. All they had on the menu was Nescafe and Espresso. (Sidenote: What is the deal with Greeks and Nescafe? They seem to revere the stuff, and as near as I can tell, it’s just instant coffee. Gross.) Espresso comes in an itty-bitty-tiny little cup. It wouldn’t fit four sugars. Believe me, I tried. But it packs quite a punch. We also enjoyed Greek salad with toasted bread and a plate of fried zucchini balls. Oh, and something translated as “walnut pie,” although it was more like a walnut and honey cake. All fantastic.
The girls and I have decided to make this a regular weekly thing, trying a different paved mountain trail or area of town each time, until it gets too cold to bike…around late November, give or take. If anyone else would care to join us, just let me know.