Chapter 3: The Riders of the Zodiac.

Another 15 kilometers in a "curved flat" road under a heavy fog and we had crossed the last border of this European journey, almost like a Greek diaspora in reverse! I was finally in Hellas (Greece), or Ελλάς in Greek. The beginning of my journey on my fourteenth country was along a flat expanse of land, the Macedonian cold gradually falling behind and the Greek pleasant temperature started to show its face, believe me or not, we started out in Bitola with my GPS marking 6 degrees - but the feeling sensation was much lower! - and about 15 km after crossing the border with Greece, the thermometers already marked 14 degrees celsius, a temperature that varied throughout the day, reaching 23 and falling back to 13 degrees celsius at the end of the day. And the cold and the fog gave way to the wind! And we kept our way towards Thessaloniki!

We followed the train tracks to the station area, along the way, we could already see signs for hotels, inns, and hostels, we turned left and stopped to inquire about prices. Without much patience and already imagining that the prices wouldn't have changed much, we stayed at the first one we went into.  I then decided to consult the oracle and locked myself up with diarrhea in the nearest bathroom, minutes later, the gods, in their divine wisdom, told me that if we wanted to enjoy the sun that was still warming up Greece, we would have to cycle from the North down to the South of the country, and then go even further South, to a Mediterranean island, the Aegean or Pelagos island, the island of the Minoan civilization, and that was where we would enjoy the lingering heat of our main star and where temperatures still remained at warm levels! So the next task was to leave our things at the hostel and go straight to the station and secure the cheapest tickets possible for the next day.

A Thessaloniki technical-hangover-tourist day! I woke up with a splitting migraine and aching all over, damn alcohol blend! Bruno woke up feeling a bit better and prepared a humongous omelet with everything I had in my pannier - in the best Beggar Style way possible! - for breakfast.

Then we went out to explore the city and stopped by The Rotunda of Galerius, which is also known, for its consecration and use, as the Agios Georgios Greek Orthodox Church, the famous Saint George - yeah, that's the one! - a Roman soldier of Greek origin who became a saint. But besides being an Orthodox church, the place also used to be a Christian church and is the oldest of the Thessaloniki churches, it's even said that it's the oldest Christian church in the world, the most important surviving example of a church from the early Christian period of the Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire. And since we were just fooling around, and the ticket to see inside the church was cheap, we left the bikes with the various cats that were hanging out there and went for a quick tour. 

At around noon, we checked out of the hostel and went to get our bikes ready, Bruno's bicycle tire was flat once again - oh, fuck me! - he fixed it and we went for a quiet round around the city. The weather outside was kind of weird, it looked like it was going to rain, but it didn't rain, and it kept this way all day long, plus the wind was blowing strong, from the side, it almost fell like it was punching us. While I was pedaling along the shore, there was a gust of strong wind and plenty of sea water, which hit the wall and exploded upwards, I took a semi-bath of salt water, yeah, it wasn't just me who was hungover, the Aegean sea was too!

And tired of lazing around, it was time to head to the train station, we were also unconcerned about it and in no hurry, because at the time the train was leaving we thought there wouldn't be anyone at the station, just us and a few zombies... But we were wrong! The place was packed! The train station was as hot as Dante's Inferno, and to make matters worse, it had been taken over by chaos, which means, humans! The train took a long time to arrive, then while we were waiting on the platform, a bunch of guys who I think were supporters of some football team, were making a big mess at the station, tossing glass bottles onto the tracks and lighting flares, like the ones you see in stadiums, and all of that speaking in Greek!

Bruno and I had no idea what was happening, we just wanted to get on the train and turn off! An hour later, the train got in there, I asked the conductor where we could put our bikes and she led us to the very last wagon, which was just for luggage. The train, which was quite old, still had to wait for another train (wagon) to arrive. A new passenger wagon arrived minutes later, ours, the number 6, then they attached it to the rest of the train and the whistle was blowed so that we could get in, everyone broke into a run, it looked like an animal parade! Tired, I was feeling tired!

... we decided to go straight to the Piraeus region, which is like a district of Athens, more specifically to the port of Piraeus, which was about 17 km away from where we were, and there we would buy tickets for the ferry that would take us to Crete, and so we would leave everything ready to take a tour and go deeper into the city of Athens after our return from the Minoan island! After one hour or so, we stopped once more to contemplate the view, near a nautical museum in another little square, and while we were sitting there, just hanging out, I suddenly heard someone speaking in Portuguese. I looked to the side and there were two guys drinking beer from the bottle, speaking in Portuguese, and we went over to talk to them and chat a little with our fellow countrymen. Both of them worked on a cruise ship that was docked in the port of Piraeus, they told us that whenever the ship docked somewhere, they would take their bicycles and go for a spin around, and that was just what they were doing. We continued chatting, nice fellas, they also traveled a lot, I told them about the adventure I was on and they were amazed and said they had been planning to do the same thing, and that finding me there, in that way, was a sign to hit the road! Good! But in the midst of all that talking, I looked up at the sky and noticed a huge dark cloud hovering in the air, definitely not a good sign.

Around 6 PM, already after dark, we sat under the entrance of a building that seemed abandoned to wait until around 8 PM to head to the ferry. In the meantime, I pulled my stove out of the pannier and I set everything up, put water in the pot, lit the fire, boiled the water and made coffee for us while we waited. The Riders of the Zodiac - Beggar Style! - making coffee in the best Diogenes of Sinope way of living!

And finally, after lazing around the entire day, it was time to head to the blessed ferry! We gathered our things and walked over there, we pushed our bicycles inside, and along with us - in a parallel line - went huge trucks and cars, through the boat of that giant ferry. I had already gone through this when I went from Rosslare, Ireland, to France, at the start of this journey,  but for Bruno it was the first time. We secured our bikes in a corner inside the ship, this time I didn't make the same beginner's mistake and grabbed everything I would need and took it upstairs with me, a sleeping bag, food, water, and we went up to the plebeian area. And stayed there, whiling away the time until the ferry set out and turn our "beggar mode" on again and ran around in search of a place to sleep on the floor.

.... Afterwards, we got in the car and continued on to Balos, or close enough to it. At one point, the road became a dirt path and there's a parking lot a few kilometers before the beach, we left the car there and followed on foot along a trail.

But as if in a blink of Zeus's eye, those cursed clouds dissipated and at Perseus's insistence we went on to our next stop, Falasarna! The was some 20 km away from Balos, and then we finally got our much desired reward, a real swim in the sea, after such a long time! It was actually a bath because my last bath had been two days ago! The beach was completely empty, we stayed there for about three hours, looking like children frolicking in the water, and that already made me feel like coming to Crete had been worth it every second! 

The initial plan for the day was to head to Elafonisi, but as soon as we woke up and saw the rough weather outside, we decided not to continue on that path, the beach was a little out of hand, and the chances of wasting time there and of the weather getting worse were high, so we hit the road and headed up the mountain, towards Omalos and then to the Samaria Gorge.  When we got there, we found the entrance gate closed, due to the fact that tourist season was over, the place is only open for walks along during the Spring and Summer, what a shame... With that hit-and-miss weather, and with the gorge closed, all we could do was have lunch, and we did so right there! We went into a garage at the park's convenience store, which, of course, was also closed, there I got out my cooking kit and we cooked macaroni with sardines, which in the end looked more like a soup, but it was tasty and warm... Well, more or less. With our bellies full, we gathered our stuff and set off towards our next destination, crossing the island from South to North towards Chania, turned right and proceeded towards Rethimno, or "Arrhythmia", as Bruno and I started calling it!

Then finally, we arrived at the hippie beach of Mátala, as the boy from the hostel indicated. I think the guy took one look at our somewhat bearded look, our dirty and torn clothes, and right away got the idea to recommend the hippie beach to us, I'm pretty sure of it! And what do you know, the bastard got it right! The beach itself was once again nothing much, but the water, and the main thing there, the caves, were sensational! We looked like little kids jumping in the water and frolicking like there was no tomorrow, again!

And the next stop was none less than the town, or village, or city, or civilization, considered the oldest, economically, politically, culturally and socially speaking, in Europe, that of Knossos and the Minoans! The name "Minoans" was first coined by an English researcher in the 19th century, due to the mythical reputation and rule of the demigod King Minos, over 3500 years ago, my fellow dudes! And it was right there, where I was standing at that moment, in Knossos, that everything happened! Or at least, was there where the myth took place...

And with that song playing every thirty minutes, in every possible radio station, we headed from Heraklion back to Chania to take the ferry back to Athens at 9 PM that day. But before we set foot on Chania again, we turned right towards what would become the great natural surprise of our journey around the island, continuing on to Seitan Limania, or "Satan's Harbor", or "Satan's Throat", exactly as you read it, but it's not some eldritch location, actually, it was a damn good thing that we decided to go there! In fact, I had no idea the place even existed, it was our good friend Vinicius who tipped us off, remember him? The Brazilian guy we met on our first day on the island, at the supermarket? And gosh, what a place! I finally got to see the Greek blue paradise sea everyone talks about and I hadn't seen yet!

The day went on like that, me, Bruno and the mountain goats in Crete's hidden paradise, the island of Zeus and Europa, of Minos and Theseus, of Daedalus and Icarus and of the Riders of the Zodiac! A fond farewell, "Satan's Beach" will definitely remain in my memory forever! The clouds seemed to be moving fast, and with it came the shadows, which gradually covered the place and brought a certain chill in the air, that way we climbed back up the mountain, got in the car and headed towards Chania.

It was time to drop the car in its proper place, and recover our bikes; Nhanderecó had been left behind inside a small shed on some empty lot, the poor thing. The gentleman at the store where we rented the car also didn't understand the reason for the fine and decided not to charge us the 20€, alright! 'Thank you, Mr. Minoan'! I mounted the panniers back on Nhanderecó and we went over to the ferry that already moored in the port, to go back to Athens.

Wanna know what is like to cycle and venture across Europe? Find out all the details of this adventure with the book "Into the Corners of Europa", now on sale in major bookstores and digital platforms!

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