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42 miles - Wednesday, November 2
We set off by 8:30, knowing we have a busy day ahead. Congested roads lie between us and the busy seaport of Pireaus.
An hour later Andy and I are at the 100-year old Corinth Canal. In the distant haze a silvery elevated bridge carries most of the traffic. I slow as we approach the small one lane bridge reserved for local automobiles and pedestrians. It looks hazardous: we must ride narrow wood between steel rails. I try to negotiate the bridge, but I can feel my loaded bicycle slip sideways and I immediately dismount. Andy and I walk the rest of the way.
We are intrigued. Up the channel a huge ship's bow comes into view. It was then we spied signage indicating the bridge lowers underwater, cautioning travelers to slick travel conditions. An operator at the booth explains it's the only bridge like it in the world. It's too good to be true. We hang out for half an hour, watch the bridge descend, slapping the aqua waters before it's ripple image fades. It submerges 8 feet. A tugboat tows a medium-sized container ship past. I was thrilled to be privy to this man-made marvel.
It's a perfect sun-drenched Grecian day. We follow the waterfront National Road once again, pedaling by a stinky oil refining area. Sharp cliffs fall to the ocean. Sandy-colored mountains rise beyond the pollution.
We guess our way to a ferry that will bring us a short ways to the mainland – only tourist-oriented signs are in English. As we've discovered, even banks and post office lines aren't bilingual. We'll wait in one line only to find we need to stand in another to make a VISA transaction. I find the alphabet and language a daunting challenge.
In the bustling city docks of Salamina, white houses stair step up Perama's hillsides, our intended destination across the bay. From there we'll ride 10 k to Pireaus – sure to be crazy and noisy. Instead, we get lucky. A small ferry is docked. The blue paint on wooden stern is chipped from footsteps. The bald-headed captain, his last strands of hair a mere formality, hefts the front of my bike while I guide the back end, lowering our heavy bikes inside the cabin.
Andy and I climb to the deck for the 45 minute boat ride. Our tiny ferry putters by cruise liners docked for maintenance, rusty-hulled container ships, and tugs lugging barges. I smile. I think of my father and his love for anything marine-related. I picture his wide grin, his thinning hair whipped in the warm breeze, much like the ferry captain's.
I admire our captain's skills as he maneuvers into a long harbor, past Navy ships, a red and yellow Spiderline hydroplane boat, and good-sized white ferries to Greek islands, of which we would later embark.
On land again, my legs wobble for a few blocks, still compensating for a rocking boat. Pireaus is as expected for a busy seaport. My stomach tightens – signs, fishy smells, honking horns, and crowds walking, are all perils to two-wheeled travel. We expect Athens – only a few kilometers further – to be as hectic when we return in a month to fly to London in preparation for Asian travel.
We purchase tickets for an evening ferry to Chios, an island near the Turkish coast where another ferry will take us the last leg to Turkey. We get dinner food and roll the bikes on board two hours before departure. We are directed to put them at one end below deck. We lock them between two beastly smelling diesel trucks.
It was interesting to note the goods being ferried to the islands: house plants, rolled up carpets, vegetables, grain sacks, furniture, soda (Coke is king!), toilet paper, and an 8-foot stack of mailbags. Everything was packed tightly. Truck tops rested against black donut-shaped bumpers, cushioning vehicles should brakes let loose. Later, when we went to retrieve our bikes there was no way to see or reach the bike until half the trucks unloaded. They were safe and snug, locked against gray rails.
On board, above on the open deck, we lug backpacks and grocery sacks. It was our first opportunity to observe Turkish families, swaddled in colorful printed loose cotton clothing. They were already asleep on blankets upon the hard floor. We step quietly past them.
While we wait for the boat to move Andy and I perch on two orange life jacket containers and make our Greek salad. We watch a hazy sunset. We are excited. The day had held many surprises, not to mention the upcoming visit to another country. We'd pedaled 42 miles yet with the help of 3 ferries we'd go 300 miles by the time the ferry docks in Chios.
The boat rumbles beneath us and begins to move from port. Like the ship that brought us from Italy to Greece, this is another overnight ferry, this time traversing the Aegean Sea. We pull out bedding, position ourselves head to head atop life jacket boxes, and plan to get some sleep.