The ride to Preveza is unfortunately quite trafficked, but there's a North American-sized wide shoulder for the majority of the way. There seems to be a lot of construction sites, which I guess is better than a bunch of unemployed men sitting on the side of the road, drinking coffee, because they don't know what else to do with their day. When I arrive in Preveza, I'm starved - it's a good thing I didn't decide to write this post just then. I find a park and make sandwiches until I feel thankful for where I am again. And then I go to a cafe for a drink (wifi) and look for the cheapest option for the night. Apparently that's a 35€ room in a hotel. I've learned that in these situations, you have to forget the price and just embrace the fact that you're forced to go to a fancy hotel. I enjoyed pretending I was a queen for the night, watching TV and sprawling out on a king size bed and then being served breakfast in the dining room the next morning.
I rode on towards Agrinio then. There's an underwater tunnel across the Ambracian Gulf that shortens the ride quite a bit. You're not aloud to cycle through, but I'd read a cycle blog that said they were given a ride across - it's part of the service. As I approached the tunnel, there wasn't a toll anywhere in sight - it was on the other side. I wondered where I would see the car that does this service and started riding into the tunnel when the lane is closed and a voice over the loudspeaker says "Bicycles are not aloud in the tunnel. Please go back." Look at me, making a scene! I scurried back out and stood around wondering, 'now what?!' I decided to try hitchhiking. The first car I held my thumb up to pulled over and the man told me there was a car coming - wait 2 minutes. Sure enough, moments later an orange truck pulls over and the tunnel employee is apologizing for having to say it like that but that he had to get me to turn around. He's incredibly friendly and helps me load up my bike and bags and gives me a ride across the other side. I go to pay the toll fee but he shrugs it away saying I don't have to pay. They only do this for tourists because they only pass once, but locals go back and forth all the time.
And then I'm riding through rolling hills along the gulf. The dogs here are much more like what I had been expecting in Albania. I'm observing the grazing sheep who glance up at me before turning their focus back to chewing, when two large shepherds come bounding in my direction barking and baring their teeth. I jump off my bike, alarmed at this sudden confrontation and start yelling back at them, walking by slowly.
Once back on my bike I'm curving around an uphill bend when a guy on a moped comes up from behind. He's holding his foot up to the back of my bags and I'm sorta swerving around as I'm trying to see what in the world he's doing. Then he gives up and holds out his arm to me - he wants to help me up the hill! I laugh and decline his thoughtful request. He shrugs and zooms off.
When I arrive in Agrinio, I find a coffee shop where cookies and cake are served bottomless - this should definitely be adopted by every coffee shop ever! "Unfortunately," the couchsurfing host here hasn't replied and I'm left with an even fancier hotel as my option for the night. I spend the same amount for 3 night of accommodation in Greece as I did for my entire 2 week stay in Albania. That evening, I'm walking around the streets made cosy by Christmas lights and sit down for dinner but the waitress doesn't speak English.
A guy at the table next to me becomes translator and tells me what's on the menu. And soon, I've joined them at their table. Afterwards, we go for drinks at his favourite bar and they teach me the basics in Greek: first off, swears (obviously) and then Vanessa puts "Se agapo = I love you, Kalimera = Good morning, Ti kanis = How are you?" in there, just in case. They give me an extensive list of things to see, do and eat in Athens and advise me to get there as soon as possible so that I can fit it all in.
The next morning we meet for Capuccino Freddos - a shot of espresso on ice topped with milk that is so frothy it's like whipped cream. New favourite!
I take my time riding to Patras. There is again a lot of construction and traffic but the views over the sea are still wonderful.
I stop for my 3rd coffee of the day - there doesn't seem to be any other option when I need wifi - and am pleased to be greeted with a couchsurfing acceptance notification. Yay! I'm full of energy (caffein) and cruise into Patras city centre to wait for Christos. We spend the evening wandering the streets and eating souvlaki before I have to pass out, while he goes out partying.
My pace seems to be slowing more and more as I approach Athens. Riding to Xylokastro is bliss. There's a new highway that takes all the traffic away from the old coastal road, leaving it free for me! I ride up to a guy heading home from work and we chat for a while. I'm telling him about my trip and find myself trying to inspire him to do something like it too. He says he's got too many commitments now. In that moment I vow to have a career and lifestyle that lets me continue exploring. I'm sure many young travellers tell themselves this.
I spend the evening sitting in a cozy cafe bar waiting for Jenny to get off work.
I'm one ride away from Athens. And even though I've been thinking about this every day as I ride, now suddenly, I realize that my simple lifestyle, where my biggest worry is where I'll head next or where I'll spend the night, is coming to a close.