25 May 2013
First (real) Swim of this Year
Today was the first real swim in the sea I took this year. I was dipping in a couple of times before, first time on Greek eastern (May 5). But those were more of the form: "get in to prove that you could, get out of the icy water as fast as you can".
Today at Aliko beach things were much better. At first the sea seemed to be as cold as the other times. There were also some big waves. But soon I discovered that the water was indeed fine. Cold, but good enough to swim around in. I surprised myself by staying in for some time and even diving a bit. There's also enough sun to warm up on the beach afterwards now.
03 May 2013
Bicycle on Ferry Boat to Naxos
It's as easy as that
When you want to go cycling on Naxos, there are basically 2 options: Either you bring your own bike, or you rent a bike. I have no experience with flying to Naxos (neither with or without bike), but I just got my bicycle to Naxos by boat. Going with the Blue Star Ferries boats, we asked what it would cost to bring the bicycle and were informed that bicycles are considered "luggage" and as such you don't pay extra for them. In fact it was as easy as that.
I just showed up with my bicycle at the entrance of the ship. I showed my ticket and after stating my destination to the "loaders" got directed to the car parking deck. I lashed my bike to some pipes (using bungee cords I brought) and locked it to another bike. My U-Lock (needed for survival in Athens) didn't fit on the pipes, so lucky me, the other bike owner went to Naxos too and offered to tie our bikes together. For the next time I'll get a cheap and long cable lock.
If you don't want to bring your own bike there is the 2nd option: You can rent one. The first choice here is Giannis from naxosbikes.com. I went and had a look at his offerings. He has Hybrid bikes for easier rides, Mountain Bikes and Road bikes (Ideal OnRoad). The bikes look to be in great shape. I bought some bits and pieces I was missing, and had a nice chat. Giannis gave me some good tips where to ride and also invited me for a group ride (on a date where I unfortunately can't make it). He also has a repair shop, so even if you bring your own bicycle it's good to know him. Other motorcycle rentals sometimes have a few "mountains" for hire, but personally I'd go to the specialist.
01 May 2013
Vernissage in Patras
Am 19.4. sind wir mit dem Zug und Bus nach Patras gefahren, weil am Abend die Vernissage der Ausstellung "GR€€CE No Probl?m" stattfand. In der Ausstellung geht es im weiteren um den Zustand Griechenlands in der Krise.
Diese Ausstellung hatte schon vom 1. bis 17. März in Athen stattgefunden. vom 19. bis zum 26. April war sie dann in Patras. Ich war in dieser Gruppenausstellung mit einem Werk vertreten. Der Titel ist "1.3km" und es besteht aus 7 Photos von Läden, die auf 1.3 Kilometern einer zufällig ausgewählten Einkaufsstrasse im Grossraum Athens entstanden sind.
1.3km ist im Bild das hochformatige Teil, dass die zwei Leute anschauen. Grösser zu sehen ist es auf meinem imagelog. Die Photos sind nicht wirklich "schön", aber das war auch nicht bezweckt. Es ist mehr eine Mischung aus Reportage und Schnappschüssen.
29 April 2013
Athens - Patra by Train (and some Bus)
The main train line is interrupted
To go from Athens to Patras, there used to be a great little train line. It was a bit old and slow, but it worked just fine. Then they started to dismantle it and building a new one. The old one is gone from Kiato to Patra, but the new one isn't finished yet (and due to the crisis, building it continues at a snails pace).
But it's still possible to go part of the way by train and have a continuation bus service by the train company. Advantages:
- No need to go to the horrible KTEL bus terminal where the Patra busses leaves (it's horrible when you're there and it's complicated to get from there to the city center, and horrible especially at night). The central train station is connected to the Metro system.
- You can enjoy a fast train ride till Kiato.
- I found the bus for the continuation service to be more modern than most KTEL busses.
What we did is to go to the central train station (Stathmos Larissis, Larrisa Station) and buy our tickets and get our reservation there. The timetables can be found at the Trainose page for the Proastiakos . Scroll down to the bottom and open the last PDF link. Yes, the PDF is in Greek, but I guess it should be possible to figure it out. At the time of writing, I see 6 connections per day.
In Patras we got the tickets and reservation to go back to Athens right at the train station. The reservation cost nothing, the ticket was 17 Euro.
11 April 2013
It's like a got a new bicycle
I might be slacking on this weblog, but I still ride my bicycle. In fact, I went and adapted it. I found a friendly bike repair shop that had a "north road" style handlebar in stock (the actual name of the product was "tourist", as these are sometimes also called "tourist style handle bars").
It's like having a different bicycle. Totally different ride. Obviously I'm sitting more upright, but changes don't just stop there. It seems to me that I can push harder when riding uphill, it's easier to get up on the pedals. But then it seems to be harder to get the bike rolling from a standstill (e.g. on a red traffic light).
It's much easier to ride in traffic, I have a much better overview of the traffic situation around me (even though my mirror didn't fit and I'll have to find a different style mirror to mount there). I seem to have an easier time to steer around potholes (we have lots of those here in Athens) and "moving obstacles" (pedestrians crossing the road in mid-traffic). When I do hit a pothole, there is a harder hit on the rear wheel, the more "forward" position of the straight handlebar allowed me easier to "get light" over a bump.
I've kept the old, straight handlebar, since I'm not yet 100% sure I'll keep this one on. Aesthetically for one thing, it doesn't really match, neither from the type of bike, nor from the color - it's shiny aluminium, nothing else on the bike is. Not that I care much when I sit on the bike, at that point I don't see it myself. What's more I want to get more used to the riding position before doing a final decision on which one to keep.
26 March 2013
Freeday, not Critical Mass
Yepp, I'm still here
In other news, Kosta informs me that in fact the Friday evening ride in Athens is the "FreeDay", while the Critical Mass is on the first Monday of each month and lives on criticalmass.gr.
I've been slacking pretty hard on putting something on the weblog here, but I haven't been slacking in riding my bicycle. Been to the FreeDay 3 or 4 times now, went on a niiiiiice ride with a local bike group to Lagonisi on a sunny sunday morning. Also coming and going to the office about 3 times a a week.
I'm enjoying it. It took me a while to get over the traffic. It used to make me a bit aggressive, but at one point I decided that I'm having a good time, so I might as well ignore anything that annoys me, and enjoy the ride instead. Now when the light turns red just as I was passing through, I consider it as a chance for catching my breath. I'm going for speed only when the streets are empty. I'm logging speed and kilometers (got 470km so far this month), but not going to fuss about it.
23 February 2013
Freeday Ride to Keratsini
Now that I have a bicycle, obviously it's time to finally take part in the Critical Mass ride here in Athens (where it's called "Freeday" and is held every Friday night, with the exception of August). People assemble outside the Thisio subway station at 21:30, where the route is going is announced on the evening before (on f*book, which I totally disagree with, and on the podilates.gr site). I was there the first time, didn't know anybody and had a great time. The ride was taking us to Keratsini, an industrial area near Piraeus.
It had rained a lot on this Friday, but the weather report had claimed that after noon the rain should stop. Ha! When I rode to the center, the rain started again, just as I had decided not to take the metro. It wasn't the full on assault as in the morning, but it made the evening's ride look suspect to me. Thing is, I don't have proper rain gear since, wtf, I live in a place where we are supposed to get more than 300 days of sunshine a year! So I was at home and expecting not to go, when the sky cleared totally around 8 in the evening. Off I was, at 9:30 in Thisio and... waiting. We left a while later and I had almost gotten cold, but it was well worth it.
We went on Piraeus Street to Omonia, rounded the square once and then drove off back in direction to Pireaus. Being in a group of about a 100 bicycles (my totally uneducated guess), going around Omonia, up Agiou Konstantinou and in the Process blocking all traffic there, it was wonderful. The streets got quiet around us. Lots of bicycle bells to be heard. I was riding about in the center of the mass, occasionally looking back just to enjoy the view of the riders. I guess this is where the name "Critical Mass" comes from. When I'm alone in traffic, it's always me stepping back. Car drivers tend to look out for me, but much more I have to look out for myself. But put 100 riders or more on the road, and the thing turns. Not only does it give us an open road for the night, but it puts up a signal too: there are cyclists even in this city.
We kept on riding at a very slow and easy pace (my gps said we had an average speed of 11.7 km/h). I felt like I was coasting all of the time, with only an occasional push on the pedal. It actually felt as if I was coasting even on the few uphills. (Upon returning home, my legs were far from being tired, but my back told me that a bicycle with a more upright position would be nice for rides like these.) Around me a lot of people knew each other well and/or were there in small groups. Lots of talking and laughing. I didn't mind riding by myself, enjoying the quiet and easy ride, leaving the route and coping with traffic to the others. It was like a sightseeing tour on bicycle. In fact I knew a lot of places from old times down there, so often I played the "guess the place" game with myself.
We made a tour of the Piraeus harbor (saying hello to the big ferry boats that I will be hopefully soon be a passenger on again), then entered even more industrial areas till we stopped for a break in a small park in Keratsini, with a view on some industrial harbor installations, oil tanks, all that nice stuff. This is still Athens, so on the back of the park there were apartment buildings with people living there. After the break we rode back, on a different route. The end point is again Thissio, but I broke off a little bit earlier to take a directer route to my place. I had ridden 3 hours (not counting the break and the ride to get to Thisio). This really was an enjoyable experience, I would suggest it to anybody who wants to see more of Athens on bicycle, without having to slalom through traffic.
22 February 2013
Woke up this morning to pouring rain and a thunderstorm. As I stayed in bed for a while to listen to it, I noticed a constant rumbling. The rolling of the thunder didn't stop. It's been like that for hours now, which is quite impressive. Obviously the streets have turned into rivers around here and the neighbor's garden patch behind the house has turned into a flood area. Sometimes we see lightning close to the house, sometimes it's further off. Maybe the storm is "stuck" in the Ymittos mountains.
What's more, apparently there is Sahara dust in the air again, the sky looks yellowish. I tried to take a picture with the digicam, but the stupid automatic "balances" the yellow tint out and gives me a white sky.
14 February 2013
Sleeping in the Snow
A soft, white blanket
Last weekend I was out hiking with the folks from the Krystallis
Mountain club. The plan was to go to the peak of Mount Taygettus,
but that didn't happen. There was way too much snow, and since there was
a layer of iced over snow two weeks old underneath the fresh snow, the
risk of avalanches was too high. In fact, on the way up to the hut,
while safe inside the woods, we heard the rumble of what I presume must
have been an avalanche.
It snowed all the way up, small, hard flakes. Powder snow that was easy
to tread, and not yet so deep as to be tiresome. All in all a good time.
Arriving at the hut, we were welcomed by the people from the Spartan
mountain club. We had a nice evening there, with some simple food and
lots of laughter and stories. When I started to feel tired, I packed up
my things and... went outside into the snow to sleep.
I had brought my norwegian sleeping bag, a goretex biwi bag (which the
salesman told me would last two years or so and that was more than
20 years ago), and a borrowed hiking mattress. I stomped through the
fresh snow to a nearby tree and lay out my bed. I also had a nylon rain
poncho, which I tied to the tree, to fend off a bit of the snow that was
still falling thick. That didn't work out so well, since I had nowhere
to tie it to at the other end, so it would more annoy me from flapping
around in the occasional wind gusts. In the end I rolled it around the
bag with my shoes and give them a bit more protection. Dry feet in the
morning are a good thing too.
After unfolding the mattress, the biwi bag, stuffing in the sleeping
bag, taking off my shoes without stepping into the snow with socks only
and finally getting into bed and taking off my jacket, laying it under
my head as a cushion, I had turned from tired and sleepy to wide awake
again. So I was lying there, contemplating how I would sleep in the
cold. I would guess the temperature to have been about -3C. The first
result was that my feet who were quite frozen from the cold floor in the
hut started to warm up and feel cozy again. Good start.
More of a problem was the snow that kept blowing into the opening of the
biwi bag over my face. As I had given up on the ponche "roof", I decided
to close the biwi's zip. That's always a bit claustrophobic, but I'd
done it before and it was ok. Turns out either something had changed in
all those years with the goretex, or else I hadn't had it closed for
so long. After a while I was getting short of breath. I kept waking up
breathing rapidly and having to open the zip. Each time I got in a good
portion of snow. In the end I opened a tiny "hole" in the zip, to the
side that was most away from the blowing snow. (Update: after further thinking
I now guess that the problem was that the pores of the goretex were closed
by frozen water, so the air wasn't getting through any more.)
I heard the hard snow "clicking" on the biwi bag all night. When it
stopped snowing for some time, the snow from my tree would start to fall
down. I liked that sound. Then the wind would pick up again, throwing
the nylon poncho around and blowing more snow over me.
The snow was also much softer to sleep on than the hard ground when it's
dry. The problem was that the snow got inbetween the biwi bag and the
mattress, and the mattress froze over. It started to got cold from below
me. My feet and the top side of me were perfectly warm. Even my head was
warm, despite the sleeping bag around the opening being all wet from
the snow that had blown in. The sleeping bag held up very well, none
of that humitidy reached me. That's one point for synthetic sleeping
bags (you carry that in extra weight compared to a down sleeping bag
though). The cold from below had me worried a bit, but then I knew that
the night wouldn't be that long. I guess the next time I'll try to put
the mattress inside the biwi bag.
Despite those troubles, I had a good rest. I woke up a lot, but I also
had long stretches of relaxed sleep. I did feel refreshed and not tired
at all in the morning. I had a good time with my little adventure.
Obviously in the morning I praised the comfort of being next to the hut.
I could just get out and drag the whole mess of sleeping bag, biwi, and
mattress to the hut, to let it thaw and dry out a bit in the entrance
room, while I had some breakfast myself. Not the same thing if you're on
a hike and have to do an emergency bivouac and having to pack up while
in the midst of fresh snow and more snow falling on you. I guess it's a
good idea to give this kind of thing a try at a place and time when you
can bang on the door of the hut and get inside if anything goes wrong.
So, the next day, instead of going to the peak, we went on a small
excursion on the E4 hiking path near the hut, well in the protective
forest. Plenty of snow, with the sun coming through the clouds again.
Took some pictures too, this was a cool weekend hike.
Picture by Rika Krithara
13 February 2013
Bike in Rain and Metro
Come rain or shine, another bicycle post, hope you won't get bored
This morning, after doing some work at home, I decided it would be a
good day to ride the bicycle to go to the office. Sure it looked dark
and cloudy outside, sure the weather report talked about rain, sure it
had already rained, but... it was only some sprinkling. The bike has
fenders, good brakes, lights, what could possibly go wrong? I started
well enough, at first driving very carefully, until I noticed that the
tires have a bit of profile and work really well in the rain. Then I
pressed on some more. When I was about the distance away that makes you
not wanting to turn around any more, the heavy rain started.
I went on. It started to pour more and more. I was starting to get
totally soaked, except where my upper body was covered by the nylon
windbreaker. I decided that I would put the bike into the Metro, to
avoid a part of the trip that would take me either on big roads with
cars (which will be more stuck than usual in the rain) or through small
streets with multiple steap uphills. Good plan, but even up to the
Metro, it was pouring on, and what's worse, large parts of the road
turned into rivers. My feet were soaked by the water splashing up when I
was crossing deeper ravines. It was slightly less agreeable than my
previous bike rides.
Now in Athens it used to be that bikes weren't allowed in the Metro
lines 2 and 3 (and there were some restrictions on line 1 too). Now you
can take your bike into the Metro and put it into the first or last
coach, in the outermost door. Up to two bikes per coach. No other bikes
were riding with me today. A few days ago I had seen a guy with the
bicycle in the Metro, taking it slowly, and I had thought: Since you
gain on a big part of your trip using the Metro, this guy does it right.
So I followed his example and took it easy to get in and out of the
station and train. Relax.
When I came out of the station I had hoped that the rain would have let
up a bit, but no such luck. I thought about waiting a bit, but then
decided that I couldn't get any more soaked, so might as well go for it.
When I arrived at the office, I changed into dry (and clean clothes) and
warmed myself up. It wasn't the most clever idea to drive off into the
rain, but having a change of clothes and a warm place at the end helps
to amend things.