A lovely coastal bike ride

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My bike has been languishing in my garage since we moved here almost a year and a half ago, so when my friend Joanna mentioned that she liked to bike along the coastal road in Sounio, I jumped at the chance.

First, though, I had to tune up my bike. Pump some air in the tires, makes sure the brakes worked…as I stood there staring at it, I kept thinking something was off. Until I tried to get on it and realized the pedals were missing!! Thankfully, I noticed the movers had taped this big wad on the back of the bike. I initially thought that was just extra padding, but after unwrapping it I found my pedals inside. Whew!

After getting our kids to school and with the babysitter, we met in the parking lot of the Varkiza Resort in Gylfada, about 40 minutes southwest of my house. We had to ride along the shoulder — not ideal, but it’s pretty much the only way to bike around here. Up a hill (the first of many) and around a corner we came upon a vast expanse of sea cliff and sea. Breathtaking. I’ve driven this road before, but you can enjoy the views better on a bike.

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The water here is this amazing shade of aquamarine, simply astounding. Sheer cliffs had stairways and ramps cut into them to aid beachgoers in getting to the water. Joanna and I wished we’d brought our swimsuits. We briefly entertained just swimming in our underwear, but thought better of it. The weather seemed hot in the sun as we pedaled up hill, but it was still only in the mid-70s.

Up the hills, down the hills, we undulated along, pausing to take some photos along the way.

Joanna kept well ahead of me; with my heavy bike frame, plodding fat tires, and — let’s face it — less that stellar physique, I was no match for her streamlined racing bike. I was having serious bike envy. She even had special bike shorts with padding in the crotch. Adding those to my shopping list Right Now.

Along the way we passed a one-legged cyclist. I did an honest-to-God double take. What an inspiration! During one section of downhill coasting, a line of flowering trees wafted their intoxicating fragrance mere feet from my face as I carefully hugged the shoulder. And every kilometer or so, we’d pass a beautiful little shrine. They are all over the place in this country. Read about their meaning and origins here.

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After going about 10 miles, we turned back and stopped at a seaside restaurant we’d seen along the way. Just a few meters from the water, we had a lovely view from our table as we noshed on Greek salad with bread and taziki.

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The way back was a little hotter with more traffic. Joanna says she likes to come here early on Saturday mornings — there are hardly any cars, only lots of cyclists. Last time she came, she made it all the way to the Temple of Poseidon, 50 miles round trip. Yowza! Twenty miles was about my limit today. I can’t fathom going 50…though perhaps if I had a lighter road bike, I could manage it. Maybe I can rent or borrow one and give it a try. Sometime soon, I hope…I didn’t realize how much I missed biking until I got back out there. Such a lovely day! Can’t wait to go back!

Mastering two wheels in Athens

We bought my son Liam a bike for his 8th birthday recently, and it’s been a challenge finding a good place for him to learn to ride it. The rooftop is nice and flat, and safe from the crazy traffic, but it’s not big enough to get enough momentum for balance. Plus it’s pretty boring. We tried taking it to the park down the street, but he had to walk it most of the way, and getting it up and down the square curbs tested his endurance…and my patience. A friend recommended a park where she learned to ride a bike when she was a kid here in Athens. There’s a great little track set up like a road, and it has a tunnel. But it tends to get crowded, and the path leading from the parking lot is made of un-biker-friendly cobblestones. Other parks I’ve visited have way too many hills for a beginning rider, and the paths are full of gravel and cracks. (And stray dogs. Liam still hasn’t recovered from his altercation last summer.) I was really beginning to miss our old Kansas neighborhood with gleaming white sidewalks and nearby High Park with it’s black-top paved trails.

Then another friend suggested this place.

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Of course! In 2004, Athens hosted the summer Olympics, and they built this enormous complex. It really is a sight to behold. I go here every week for my Greek pilates class. And it’s a perfect place to learn to ride a bike. There’s a proper parking lot with ramps leading up to the stadiums. There’s plenty of space to explore. It’s only a 10-minute drive from our house. And Liam was particularly enamored of this feature…

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The Green Line train has a stop here. He’d been riding around in circles, then holler, “Look, I see the train!”

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This was only his third outing on the new bike, and while he’d pretty much mastered the balance bike, we had to go back to training wheels so he could get the hang of pedaling. This was the first time he really got up some speed. I may have to bring my bike next time so I can keep up! We took the training wheels off for a bit and I helped him balance in the grass. Along with his bike he received knee and elbow pads, which I think helped him feel a TINY bit less scared of falling. He’s a very cautious fellow. If wrapping him in Charmin were an option, I’m sure he’d go for it.

He did well, and if the weather holds out, we plan to make as many return trips on the weekends as we can. I suspect as we head into summer, the lack of shade will present a problem. I remember the first time I came here, I thought I was gonna die from the heat. And as I learned in Malta, my son does not handle heat well. But for now, this will do nicely.