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What Matters

by Tara

We awoke excited about our plans for the day. Last night I'd discovered that just ten kilometers away was a town with a rack and pinion railway leading into the mountains. Our guidebook said it was spectacular and not to be missed, trundling up through a gorge at steep gradients. Even if you don't like trains, our book said, you will enjoy this ride. We love trains and were excited to give it a go.

Tyler's Bike

Packing up from our great concrete-slab-overlooking-something-beautiful free-camp (my favorite kind!) we munched on crackers for a simple breakfast.

Crackers Doing Dishes

We then guided our bikes carefully down the steep, muddy slope we had pushed up last night, and wound our way to a secondary road so we wouldn't be stuck on the freeway.

Greek Bridge

On the way to Diakopto where we would board the train we were delighted by the many Greek people we saw working in their gardens, many of whom smiled and said "Yassas" as we passed. Our route lead us through small neighborhoods and villages, and sometimes turned into a gravel path which we followed through olive groves and fields of orange and lemon trees.

Lemon & Barbed Wire Green Truck Rusted Paint Lemon Tree Unpaved Road in Greek Countryside

Our road ended in a rushing river. We (read: Tyler) briefly entertained the idea of fording it, but instead took a different route which lead us by the ocean.

Greek Waterfront

Upon finding a particularly quaint village, we stopped at a grocery store to resupply, picked up two loaves of bread fresh from the oven in the local bakery, and filled our water bottles at a little fountain.

Watter Bottles

After a truly wonderful, lazy Saturday morning, we arrived in Diakopto just minutes before a train was due into the station. Our slow pace went out the window and suddenly we were hurtled into instant decision making mode at the ticketing office.

The woman wouldn't allow us to take our bikes with us (we had wanted to take them up with us and then coast down the mountain). She would allow us to lock them up inside the shelter of the ticket office however. Though we weren't entirely comfortable leaving them all day, for some reason at the time, we didn't see any other options.

Since we were in a rush it failed to register that we were purchasing return tickets as well. This doubled the price. As the train pulled into the station and I hurriedly finished buying our tickets, Tyler furiously locked our bikes and grabbed a few things to throw in a backpack.


We boarded our train along with a car full of very loud Greek tourists. One them scolded Tyler when he accidentally brushed the seats with a slightly muddy shoe. The train was new, not old and clunky and full of character like I had hoped. Oh well. We settled in to watch the spectacular scenery.

Tourists Crowding Diakofto Kalavrita Rack & Pinion Railway

Perhaps we were both a little "off" having felt rushed into a very expensive snap decision. Maybe we were just nervous about leaving all of our belongings in a busy train station (even if our bikes were in sight of the ticketing agents). Maybe we are jaded, having cycled up many a beautiful mountain and through some gorgeous gorges. Whatever the case, we found it difficult to enjoy.

The tourists were loud and obnoxious and the roller coaster of steep climbs we were hoping for never came, making for an underwhelming ride. When we got off in the rain to a tiny hamlet featuring a cafe and lots of garbage strewn about, we again felt a little let down. We went inside, which was quite cozy, and I ordered a cup of tea. As I drank, we irritably decided what to do.

Old Train Painting Cafe Romanza

Had we really paid 35 euro for this? We could walk back to Diakopto, I read in our book, by following the train track all the way down. It would take two or three hours. Or we could walk to a monastery 45 minutes away. If the timeline could be trusted, we'd have just enough time to get there and back before our return train to Diakopto. We opted for the monastery.

Leaving the little restaurant we made a concerted effort to change our moods. Being outdoors with a steep hike ahead of us seemed to do the trick, for we were soon rosy cheeked and laughing as we breathed deeply, working up enough heat to stay warm.

Soon it began to rain, but not too hard, and we continued climbing past flocks of mountain goats and up wet, rocky paths. We took a short break on a boulder to eat the bread and jam Tyler had wisely stuffed into his backpack during our mad dash to get on the train.

Rainy Mountain View

When we saw the looming monastery high above us, looking like a barracks or hotel built in the 1970s, we opted not to go that far. We contented ourselves with visiting the cafe/restaurant/gift shop located a hundred meters below. The shop was filled with elderly Greek ladies on a bus tour. They were all purchasing overpriced souvenirs and various jars of locally made jams and jellies.

Wanting to make sure we didn't miss our train back, we headed back down the mountain under increasingly rainy skies. Our train arrived twenty minutes late, but we waited under the shelter of the small station until it was time to board. The return trip was much nicer—a quiet train car full of what seemed to be commuters.

On the ride back, we had a slightly different view of the mountain scenery. Lulled by the rain falling outside the window and the train track beneath us, we slept soundly almost the entire way.

Pulling into the station at Diakopto, we peered through the foggy window, relieved to see that our bikes were still waiting for us where we had left them. I didn't want to leave the warm, sleepy train car, though. It was a weird day. Quiet, and a little melancholic. Tyler asked me, "Do you want to look for a hotel?" Of course I said yes, but we both knew that it wasn't in the agenda for the day, especially after spending so much money to see a mountain.

As we donned our raincoats and packed our bikes, I wanted nothing more than to crawl between some clean, dry sheets and continue the sleep I'd fallen into on the train. Instead, we rode off in the rain in search of a free-camp. It was a very calm ride, quietly weaving our way along the cloudy coastline.

Finally Tyler spotted the perfect location—down a steep muddy slope to a small stretch of rocky beach. Like yesterday, we worked as a team, wheeling one bike down at a time. Together we assembled the tent during a lull in the rain, quickly making camp before all would be drenched.

Once we were settled, I began preparing potatoes and onions for a hearty soup. While I chopped, Tyler mixed up some dumpling batter (he is the dumpling MASTER) and seasoned the pot with lots of cracked black pepper and a few grinds of chili flakes. After my potatoes and onions were cut, I threw in some boullion cubes, filled the pot with lots of water, and handed it over to Tyler. He set it on our stove, dolloped in the slightly sticky dumplings, and left it to cook.

Making Dinner

As we worked together, we talked about our moods. It had been a strange day. Not bad really, but we had definitely been in a funk. We eventually identified the cause, and invented some new rules to prevent future upsets. Though we've come to these same conclusions countless times, this is what we learned:

Expensive tourist attractions are almost never worth it. No matter how good they are supposed to be, no matter how amazing, they are almost never worth it. The only things really worth spending a lot of money on are a warm dry bed, a hot shower, and perhaps a nice meal out.

Whenever we have to make rushed, snap decisions, we need to step back and say no. There were other trains we could have taken had we missed the one we wound up on. If we had waited to think about it instead of feeling like we had to go NOW we would have realized that there were other options. We would have read that it was possible to walk back along the track—perhaps we would have gotten one-way tickets, significantly reducing cost and making for a fun hike. Or maybe we would have made the same decision we did, but it would have been intentional instead of accidental.

Getting all of this off of our chests brightened our spirits significantly and we settled in for a very rewarding, practically expense-free evening.

Now we're snuggled in our tent and what really matters is what we already have. We have each other. We have a tent that still valiantly keeps the rain out even after ten months on the road. Our sleeping bag is mostly dry, and we have dry clothes on to keep us warm.

We have food. We made it ourselves and the ingredients are so basic they are practically free. As Tyler brings the piping hot pot of soup into the tent and we open the lid. Wafts of savory steam hit our faces and we look at each other contentedly.

Potato, Onion, Dumpling Soup

I open a few packets of crackers and break them into our the pot, along with pieces torn from the loaf of bread we purchased this morning. With our titanium sporks we take spoonfuls and blow on them until they're edible. The soup turned out superbly. Seriously delicious is more like it. As in, how is it possible for anything with five ingredients to taste this good?

Tyler's dumplings are tender and delicious and filling, the perfect accompaniment to my thick broth. As we eat, we count our blessings and try our best to re-commit to memory that this is what really matters. For desert, Tyler slices open a lemon that we picked fresh from a tree today. Even without sugar it has a rich sweet-tart taste, but we sprinkle some sugar on anyway and then suck out the juice with gusto.

Fresh Lemon

Our lips and tongues zinging from the intense sourness, we laugh and agree that this dinner in our tiny tent, safe from the pouring rain is a million times better than any expensive tourist attraction. Here is what it sounds like in our home as I write this:

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Thanks for posting such a great recording. It feels like I am really there, inside your tent, listening to the rain and the waves. Lovely! And the photo of the lemon seems like it comes alive on my monitor screen. Keep up the great posts. You two are amazing.
love you
Posted by Lisa on February 7th, 2010 at 9:13 PM
Your two "new rules" are good ones for traveling just about anywhere. Continuing to follow and enjoy your trip.

Posted by Okir on February 8th, 2010 at 12:35 AM
This is a great post indeed. Thanks for sharing these smart conclusions. And T&T, I'm happy for you that your tent is still doing it's waterproof job ;-)

Posted by Eric on February 8th, 2010 at 4:43 PM
We visited this monastery and took the train ride, long before our cycling days. I remember enjoying it, but we must have been there on a quiet day. I remember very few tourists on the train and none in the monastery. It was actually quite interesting. Your dumplings look great! And I admire your quests to be better photographers. I wish we had done better at recording our trip. Next time!
Posted by Friedel on February 9th, 2010 at 9:18 AM
Mom - Thanks! We love you too!

Jean - Glad to hear it!

Eric - We are also VERY happy that our tent is still waterproof :)

Friedel - I'd be curious about your impressions of it post-cycle touring. I'm still not sure if we were in a funk, or if it really was that underwhelming, but I do think cycle touring gives a better mountain climbing experience. One thing is certain-- we would have enjoyed it a lot more if it had been cheaper!
Posted by Tara on February 9th, 2010 at 9:53 AM