Back to Athens

Last days in Greece. South coast, sit on the beach for two hours and read wade midthigh, image centuries of ships and bustle in this cove with its caves and shelter. I ride up the small ascent and stop at incredible Phaestos—seat of Minoan civilization—to picture from fragments the disappeared glory of its hilltop vantage, pedal on sometimes on dirt farm tracks, sometimes on clear quiet roads. A final circuitous up over crossing arc back west to Heraklion, vineyards and oranges,  one room peaked shingled roofs tiny crucifixes 14th century churches. Sedate, these ridges, but more people give it an overall awake feel. Wave at men using meter and half wands with a spinning plastic porcupine up top to knock the olives off the branches.

I meet for the first time other cycle tourists, twentysomethings from France, grinning and sweating, a trip from their home to Turkey by way of Crete and Rhodes. Last night they had slept in an abandoned house, I in a grove. We laugh chat trade information the way it always goes, compare bicycles, they smiling and nodding at the folding bike, me smiling and nodding at their eurotrekking format rigs that remind me of a thick catalog of all manner of cycling gear that I once saw in Switzerland with alien brands.

In Heraklion I’ll spend an afternoon in the museum before rolling onto the ferry along with families laden with luggage, boxes, duffels. The rolling oscillates nausea to sleep and back, watch the sunrise from the chilly deck on the approach.

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Arrive on the mainland early and marvel at the empty streets. Eyeballing the map back to central Athens, pick out a suspiciously straight and unbroken line to discover that it’s an empty concrete wash with pedestrian bridges across it every few neighborhoods. In the damp and slumber, seeing the city from the inside out. By now, the third time this trip returning, the architecture and street maze are no longer mysterious, so instead I look at the way companions lean toward one another at cafés, the way scooters thread through morning delivery trucks, the satchels in bonneted women’s hands.

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Arrive back to the foot of the Acropolis, now on an ancient road spoken of by Aristophanes, dirt and rock and chipped stonework in its totality a testament to movement and thought and our uneasy negotiation with time.

Once I retrieve the suitcase it’s a few minutes to pack up the bike, roll it onto the metro to the airport. Cycle touring in Greece during this, the low season for tourism, with chill and emptiness and grey green in the countryside, ordinary patterns of town and city motion. Somehow what is left is the glorious geometry and telos of the place. Looking down from the window seat into the hills and avenues.