Sun, green fields and villages, I was out of the cold, quiet and snowy Macedonian mountains and into Greece, just a few kilometers away from Thessaloniki, where new friends and a break were waiting for me. Just the number of dogs barking and chasing me didn’t change, but they luckly never got too close to be considered dangerous.
After the pleasant days off the bike in Thessaloniki, I planned a long detour in Chalkidiki, but the lack of an appropriate map, mixed wih the desire to meet some friends in Istanbul, pushed me towards Turkey and for this reason, shortly before Nea Moudania, I turned left, unconscious of the 3 hours of climbing under the sun that were awaiting me. However I made it to the other side of the peninsula before sunset, pitched my tent on the beach on a full moon night, ready to face the long days of serious riding that separated me from Istanbul. This new plan neglected some tiny details such as the weather; close to Xanthi wind hit, as strong as ever, obliging me to stop and take a room for the night. Next days were mainly spent on the bike, trying to get to Istanbul (or Constantinopoli, as people in Greece still like to call it) as fast as possible, waking up very early in the morning, doing short breaks and riding until shortly before darkness.
Churches slowly turned into mosques and, during my last morning in Greece, after a windy and cold night, while packing my half-frozen tent , I was surrounded by the sound of the call to prayer coming from nearby villages, the border was not far.
The ride from the border until Istanbul, along a two-lane road full of continuous ups and downs, was a quite uneventful one, if not for meeting Ian the evening of New Year’s Eve. He is a South African retired man who sold everything three years ago and started travelling by bike around Australia, Africa, Europe and, now, Asia. Darkness was already approaching when I met him, he already found a good camping spot close to a flattened army barracks and so I happily joined him for the night. NYE was celebrated with some beers, while swapping stories about our past and future travels, but at 9 pm I was, as usual, already sleeping in my tent: the following day would have been a long and tiring one.
70 kilometers from Istanbul and a full day in front of me, I started to stop more often, and I immediately experienced again the joy that random encounters give. In Silivri I accidentally met a woman who spoke Italian, she turned out to have a pastry shop nearby, where I was treaten to coffee and pastries, while listening about her son, who lives in Italy, and her frequent trips to meet him. Few kilometers later I saw someone with a backpack and a trolley walking on the side of the road, enough to stimulate my curiosity and demand a further stop. She was an English girl, Raz, who had almost finished her trip: an year long walk from England to Istanbul. After having walked some time with her I started riding again and we agreed to meet in Istanbul the following days (she still needed two days to reach the city).
When the road turned into a 4-lane busy motorway I realised I was not far from the city center, but luckly the last 20 kilometers were more enjoyable than the previous ones, along a quiter road close to the sea that brought me straight to the Blue Mosque.