Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Category — Greece

Day 76 (Turkey): Ankara (DPD - delayed parcel delivery or we tell you we’ll call, but we won’t)

I am very tired, I have a big bad headache - and I don’t want to deal with DPD any longer. What happened today was the last straw to break the camel’s back. I just want to convey what happened. And since for different purposes I have put together this little protocol I just translated it and will not add much of a commentary.

time zone: Ankara (skype is pretty good about giving me the times of my calls)

10:09 am: I call to check the status, get a new tracking number, package is supposed to be en route to Ankara, is to arrive at the airport here at noon, delivery today is virtually guaranteed, or so Mr. T says; I am happy (and do remember his 98% comment on Friday)

12:54 am: I call again and ask what the status is (simply: “where is the package”; background: my status request has determined that the package is in Paris, has landed there just a couple of minutes ago); I inquire the whereabouts of the package; “no, it is not in Paris, my colleagues have told me that it is on its way to Ankara”; despite repeated questions as to the Paris hints on the website I am told that the website output may be “misleading”, though it’s not “wrong”; my package is proactively traced - though I can’t tell how the customer - meaning myself - benefits from this

3:58 pm: I inquire again and am told that it is on its way, will be delivered today; I am reassured that the package is in Ankara despite contrary information that seems to be mounting on the website (more and more indications pointing to Paris); I hint at the flight numbers again, which tell me that there are two Air France flights, one going to Paris and the other going to Istanbul later at night, meaning the package will not make it today; this information is dismissed (all you have to do is search the flight numbers online and some sites tell you all about the flights); I am asking for written confirmation via email that the package is not in Paris, but in Ankara - never get it

4:19 pm: I get an email from Mr. T. that the package has cleared Turkish customs (it is actually the customs in Paris according to my reading, which I convey to him); I call the Turkish partner company and they confirm that the package is in Paris (sure, they are looking at the same database as I do)

4:21 pm: I call Mr. T and he promises to call back within an hour; he says he sends emails with the highest priority to the depots in Frankfurt, Paris and Ankara in order to determine the location of the package

5:29 pm: because I don’t get a return call, I call Mr. T. again; I am told that he has left for the day; I ask for his supervisor who is in a meeting; Mr. E. wants to take up the case and promises to call back within 30 minutes

6:02 pm: I try to call Mr. E several times; he has left for the day as well; I talk to their supervisor Mr. B. and lodge a complaint about the whole affair with him - what really made me angry was the calls that never came; Mr. B promises to return my call

6:45 pm: Mr. B. calls me (wow) and confirms that Paris is the correct location; promises quick delivery though says that realistically tomorrow would be a miracle; maybe Wednesday; rerouting is possible, but he won’t make any promises (smart I guess - and at least honest)

What really disappoints me is that I have let Haluk and Guler down, they are off on their vacation a day late. I am also starting to get into some hot water time wise and am thinking about canceling my trip through the Caucasus. I could do it - but it would be a bit of a race through there and I could save a lot of miles. Not sure what I will do and will have to mull this over (I have nothing else to do right now - thanks DPD). Any feedback on this is more than welcome!!!

PS: the first part of the heading is from P (I will stick to not naming names)

June 9, 2008   1 Comment

Day 44 (Greece/Turkey): somewhere east of Alexandroupolis - Yenice

today’s distance: 112km
total distance: 3609km
riding time: 7h
altitude: more than 1000m

This is a long one, but I think it’s worth reading.

crummy … ghastly part I … ghastly part II … put off … strange things happening on highways in Turkey (or me just not catching on) … Turkish hospitality is back in full swing.

What a day. I felt like … well, on of those days. Crummy. Didn’t feel like eating. Didn’t feel like biking. The weather was overcast in one shade of grey. It was cold. I felt miserable. For the first time I thought “what the hell am I doing here? Why am I on this stretch of silly road, biking into a strong wind?”

I forced myself to eat and felt slightly better. Eventually I hit the Autobahn to Turkey. It was the wrong road for sure, but I thought what the hey, let them throw me off. I don’t care. Not that there was any way to throw me off. The whole road completely fenced in. It was new, smooth asphalt. And ghastly. Here is why (thanks to Björn for throwıng this on as it is blocked in some places):


There wasn’t a car on the road it seemed. For the entire time I was on these six km or so, which took me roughly 20 minutes, I was overtaken by six trucks and seven cars. That was it. No traffic it seems between the two countries. The Greek side was a no-brainer. But we are really serious about keeping nasties out it seems.

Then I got to the border and this may be me speaking as a naive European or just someone who has grown used to not having borders around much. But what I saw was making me shake my head. There were soldiers on the bridge separating Greece and Turkey. I thought about taking a picture, but then it became pretty clear that it would not be a good idea. I passed three sets of guard houses with Greek soldiers. A river. The border. I meant to take a picture there, but the Turkish soldier in a similarly silly-looking guard house as the Greek one made a gesture to move on. The Greek behind me did the same. Hm … I sense an international incident. Just kidding. Didn’t want to be caught in the literal middle of things. I got the “Welcome to Turkey” from a young soldier, smile on his face. He was standing in a silly-looking guard house. I snapped this one, not sure that they liked it.

The Turkish side was simple as well. Got my stamp, moved on. Got to the first town, nothing of interest moved on. Got to the first sort of city and felt hungry. No Turkish currency, no one to change Euros and no ATM. What the … Everyone told me to go into town. Didn’t want to. Big store. They will take my credit card. They didn’t even let me park my bike in front of the store. Not in anyone’s way, but a simple precautionary measure. The security guard told me to put it to the side of the store where no one woiuld be there to see anything. I refused. He told me to put it away. I left. Find another store. Didn’t want to bother. Tried to change money at a gas station, which announced it would change Euros. They didn’t like the bill I had, a 50. He just shrugged and turned away. I asked what was wrong, my face a big question mark. He just waved me off. What happened to Turkish hospitality? Alright, final store. They took my credit card. I had food. I also saw and ATM right there. I was game.I moved on over more hills. Rolling hills, never a flat stretch. Wind from the front. Always. Tiring. The combination of hills and wind literally ate me up.

Before reaching Malkara, I encountered a strange scene. Or maybe I was slow. A woman stands at the side of the road. Nothing strange here, people hitch a ride of flag down cars all the time. A car to the right, maybe a relative waiting to make sure she gets away safely. I pedal past and she says something, I shrug my shoulders, smile, make a gesture that I can’t take her along and move on. About 300m up the hill I take this picture.

Then this one.

She had moved up the hill towards me. I thought she was heading into the town. A bit far to walk, but hey. She reaches me and starts saying all sorts of things which I don’t understand. I tell her thatI don’t understand and that I don’t speak Turkish. She still babbles. I am packing my camera away. Then she makes a universal gesture … and the shoe finally drops. I shake my head. She seems unhappy. Had thought my stopping was for the business side of things. She curses me and walks away. A truck stops, she gets in. I move on up the hill. I can still see the truck about a mile ahead of me and she gets out again. That was quick. She flags another car down, which eventually moves out of sight. Call me naive, but this was unexpected at the time and place it happened. Sure, these things happen anywhere … but it took me completely by surprise when and where it occured.I reach Malkara and am pumped out. I need a break. Ask for an internet cafe, thinking that I should upload the pictures and then bike on for a bit longer. A courier driver,who lived in Germany for a month (no German though, but he proudly shows me his German cell phone number) signals me to follow him. Up the hill again. It was slow going, but he sets me up with internet and water and bids his goodbye after a while. The internet cafe is full of kids, 8 year olds playing Counterstrike. What a scenario.

More wind and more hills and then I see a village. Figure I would buy my things there. I find the market, want to move up the step. The owner comes out, I say my hello and want to move into the store. He shuts it right into my face. Ouch. I think misunderstanding. Nope. He turns the key, looks at me and walks away. I stand there in disbelief. Other men start staring at me. I get slightly angry, thinking whether I had done something wrong. Dressed conservatively. Not that it mattered here. I make clear that I want to buy something and the others yell after the owner. He turns around and struts off. I leave, feeling a mixture of disbelief, anger and disappointment. Did I offend in any way? Cultural difference? Was I held to be from the US (note to my US readers: it sadly is the case that people from the US are not well-regarded in some parts of th world and to make things easier I identify myself as German right away; the anymosity is geared towards the government though and not individuals, but they bear the brunt).

I bike on. Pretty worn out by now. Pretty disappointed and slightly angry. Over a hill and I see a tiny town at the bottom of the hill and before heading up for the next one. I decide that this is it. I am done, tired and beaten.

I get there and kids playing soccer see me and the group runs towards me. I say relax and they repeat it for like five minutes. We find hte market. It is closed, but open a minute later. I do my purchases, but even before a woman approaches me in German. She translates, tells people where I am from and where I am going. She says her husband will be here soon, he had worked in Berlin for 35 years. There is a good spot to camp or at least we would find one.

Then Özcilek comes in and we hit it off right away. We chat, have chai, the bike all the while in front of the little market with the women watching it. Chai is a strictly male affair. I end up being the talk of the village. It is a small place, but Emine and Özcilek have a big, big heart. As we had back to the bike, Özcilek offers his place to stay, says it’s cold outside (it was) and I could spend the night at their place. Good idea I thought and a welcome opportunity to clean up after a long and hard day. Turns out that Özcilek had left Turkey, wanting to stay Germany for only a few years, but has been there for 35 now. He works in Berlin and is only here for a few weeks during the year, but close to retirement. His two sons live in Berlin and he wants to stay there for a few years. I hit the shower and Emine cooks some delicious food. Over more conversation (confirming my experience with the woman on the road - it had been news to Özcilek as well when he arrived for a holiday a couple of years before) involving sports, politics and life in more general terms, we sit there until midnight. I drop into bed, exhausted but extremely grateful.

May 7, 2008   1 Comment

Day 43 (Greece): Koutso - east of Alexandroupolis

today’s distance: 127km
total distance: 3496km
riding time: 7h

I woke up early … no wonder given the place I was sleeping in. Christos’ mother must have seen me moving around (the former workshop had windows all around, which was great for people watching the night before, but gave you the aquarium feeling somewhat) and soon she came out with some hard boiled eggs, a huge slab of cake (essentially a huge amount of yeast dough) and another Coke for the way. When the door was open the night before (more like a one-second affair) I had seen a couple of icons and religious paintings inside, figuring that the family was rather religious. She also gave me a small neclace made of a wooden cross. My own stance on religion notwithstanding, I was moved by the gesture and will keep it as my now second good luck charm.

I set out not really feeling that anything would be adequate, so all I could say was a big thank you. I bumbled around in the next village a bit, looking for some hot springs, but finding more storks and some other motives instead.


I rounded a lake, with the ocean to my right and the lake to my left. Birdwatching was great, the numbers were simply amazing. I eventually turned off the main road and got on smaller side roads, making life much more pleasant. Met someone from Mannheim in a shop that I asked directions in. Fun stuff. The guy lived in Greece, but his kurspfalz dialect was clearly discernible when he spoke Greek. Over little hills and dirt roads and little trails I got to the ocean and continued over more rolling hills to a good spot to have lunch. A church yard overlooking the ocean. Moving on I was forced away from the water only to return to it later again. I had thought I could visit an island off the coast (Samothrakis) by ferry, but I found out thanks to a nice storeowner that the next ferry would go late the next day only. Given that I was to meet up with Hussein’s family in Istanbul over the weekend I didn’t think it would be good to spend another day in Alexandropoulis so I thought I would take the rest of the day slow. It wasn’t to be. I ploughed on and have come to halt not far from a gas station the owner of which speaks German and said that I should pitch my tent on his grounds, he’d be happy to have me.

One note: today I have been warned twice of heading to Turkey. Once by the owner of a hotel (nice guy apart from the comments) who talked about rape and all sorts of things and that I should be careful of people there. “They are simply not European …” I wasn’t going to go into a big discussion with someone whose minds was so made up, but that same sentiment came across in more and more conversations and seems to be more prevalent the closer I get to the border. The two ethnic groups are living close together here and from what I heard rather well side-by-side. That’s why the comments surprised me even more. Needless to say, I think they are bunk and that bad people may be everywhere … so much for politics on this day.

May 6, 2008   1 Comment

Day 42 (Greece): spot near a tower on the coast - Koutso

today’s distance: 112km
total distance: 3369km
riding time: 5-6h

The night had been rainy, but in the morning things had cleared up. I was slow to get up though, maybe because of the long ride yesterday.

I slowly moved to Kavala, after treating myself to wonderfully rich and moist cakes in a bakery along the way. Then the unmistakable Bavarian accent in a Greek’s English came through as I was held up by a construction worker. We quickly changed from English to German, he asked me where I was coming from, where I was heading and the like, then waved me through.

Kavala was pleasant enough despite the first drops of rain for the day. I waited most of the rain out and then set out with a good tailwind until Xanthi on good roads.

Xanthi received me with more rain, but also with the first road biker in Greece who goes by the name of Yanis (or John as he introduced himself, and he was not the first to use that one). He called me a little crazy, but we had a good talk on the last kms to Xanthi.

In Xanthi I walked through the old quarter of town with its many remodeled houses. I came upon an art gallery and when taking a picture Yanis and Alexandros approached me and we got into a conversation about the town, the people living there (a good number of Turkish people, but also Pomak with their own unwritten language) and more.

When I left town, I was chased by what I can only describe as the dogs from hell. Using my waterbottle usually is a good way to get rid of dogs. For some reason, the dogs here in Greece go nuts … and much more so than in other places so far. They seem to have a cerain gusto for bikers If worse comes to worse, you squirt them with water and things are good. Not this time. I was in city traffic. Oncoming traffic on my left, dogs on my right, behind me and one running around to cut me off from the front. They were also unperturbed by my water bottle. It must have been quite a sight. If anyone can tell me why animals (dogs, goats, sheep and donkeys) go nuts when they see a biker, but are not even bothered by cars, trucks or tanks, I would certainly appreciate any suggestions. Up comes a red light, the dogs still chasing me. Stopping didn’t seem like an option, so I careened around the only car standing there and ran a red light - the dogs still on my heels. Then a bridge came up and this was the saving factor. Outdoing them on speed wasn’t an option in the city and for some reason they really were after me. No sausages in my bags … didn’t really understand why I was their target. Regardless of size or color.

I had hoped to find some place to pitch the tent outside of Xanthi, but that wasn’t to be. A t-storm had hit the area just before I got there, there was water standing in the fields and no good places to put the tent up. The places I tried out were a no-go. Muddy as you can have it. The storks that I started to see in good numbers sure liked it.

Eventually I turned into a town, saw three youths and asked whether there was a place for me since there were apparently no hotels and it was essentially dark. Eventually and aftera good while, Christos’ mother who had seen us talking suggested the former workshop of the family. 5 minutes later she brought out potatoes, cheese, bread, tsatsiki and something to drink … yum, yum.

And since some people have asked about my future job that I mentioned a bit back and since it is not really a secret, here we go. I will be starting a position as an associate professor at the University of Miami. The biking situation doesn’t seem to be the most friendly there, but seems managable regardless (thanks to Mike, a student at the law school for sending this).

May 5, 2008   2 Comments

Day 41 (Greece): Thessaloniki - spot near a tower on the coast

today’s distance: 145km
total distance: 3257km
riding time: 7h

Plato and Curtis were to set out early at 7am, but for some reason that didn’t pan out. This delayed my departure and so I left Thessaloniki at 9am only. Out of the city, part of which involved an uphill on an Autobahnesque type of road due to me misreading the signage or faulty signage. The other direction pointed towards a highway, so I wasn’t going to take it. Oh well, took the next exit and the riding for the next miles was simply great. Mostly aided by a tailwind, I covered the next miles along two lakes, hills all around. This by the way is what my hand looks like, big tan line I would say, from wearing long sleeves so far.

I met a Swiss biker with this dog in a box on front of the bike. He has been on the road for about two years and was heading to Thessaloniki.

Through a gorge I arrived at the ocean, eventually hitting a strong headwind. I meant to buy some stuff for the night, but the town that was to come up never did. I needed water and could do the rest with what was in my bags. Big dog in front of a hut. A grumpy Greek comes out seeing that his dog was running my way. I asked for some water, he seemed unwilling. He took off with my bottles, then asked me into his yard. Then I saw what had happened. The hut was next to a river and the house had been under water almost to where the roof is. No water for sure. Then he took his cooler out and gave me three bottles, indicating that he would be back in Kavala tomorrow. I thanked him and moved on, not really wanting to pedal much longer. I saw a German license plate VW bus off to the side of the road and a Turkish older man telling me that he needed help. I told him that I would see what I could do and saw a little food place on the right hand side. Turned out that they couldn’t help. Eventually the police comes by and I tell them about the situation. They move away. A few minutes later I go back to the guy and he said it’s all taken care of, the police had been there and he was being towed soon. Back to the trailer and downhill from there to a great campsite by the beach …

May 4, 2008   1 Comment