Where possible, Sandeep and I enjoy participating in organized sporting events. Sandeep ran a 12k in Kuala Lumpur and we both did a 5k in Goa. These events take us through locations we wouldn’t see on our own and give us a chance to get social with locals.
Last night we participated in Free Day, a weekly cycling event that takes place around Athens every Friday. The event started out with a few friends that thought cycling around the city would be a good way to end the week. Their friends joined and they created a Facebook page. Now the event can attract up to 5,000 riders on a busy weekend. We couldn’t find much information about the event in English. All we knew was that, at 9:30, the group gathers at a location disclosed the night before and cycles until about 3 the morning. It sounded like a great way to be social, get some exercise and explore. Somehow we had imagined a pub crawl-like event, except on bikes. We were off.
We rented a bike from Athens by Bike, and met several hundred other riders at our designated point in Thesseion. People seemed relaxed. The average age was around ours, most riders were in casual gear and the majority had mountain bikes. A few riders had stereos blasting Black Eyed Peas and U2. It was a fun vibe. The most entertainment came from watching the riders spewing animated Greek profanity at every motorist that dared to block our way. The first two hours took us through the streets of the city and then up a grueling (for me) gradual incline to the base of a mountain.
The crowd started thinning and we realized we were trailing the pack. Fellow riders told us the incline from then on was steep and would last about an hour. I could tell Sandeep was excited to do it, but also knew that if I put the little energy I had left into the climb I may not have the ability to make it back home (the kids were in the hands of a capable babysitter in case you’re wondering).
We decided to turn back and brave our way home without the other riders. You may have already read what we’ve said about Greek drivers. We were not to excited at the thought of being at their mercy on highway roads at in the middle of the night. The few lone people we asked for directions looked at us as if we were crazy. They’d say, “City center? Too far!” as they gestured hopelessly in some general direction. We didn’t look like stupid tourists to them. We looked like stupid people. It wasn’t until about 1 AM that we saw the Parthenon in the distance, literally a beacon of light mounted atop the Acropolis. We knew we were heading in the right direction, but still needed to find out way home. As Sandeep dismounted to ask for directions at a large square, he said, “By the way, remember Omonia? That one area of Athens I said we should avoid? The one with open drug dealing and prostitution? This is it.” Great. Just where I want to be at 1:30 on a Saturday morning.
At 2 AM, when we finally were finally back in our neighborhood we made our first intelligent made our first intelligent move of the night. We found a bar around the corner from our apartment and hydrated.
Perhaps we didn’t show our smartest side last night. We should have researched the intensity of the ride more, or at least kept a map with us in the event we needed to turn back. However, Free Day Athens is a great concept. If we lived here we would participate regularly, map in hand of course. It’s a great way to get social and pump up the adrenalin on a Friday night. Despite being out until 3AM, we didn’t wake up with hangovers. Just sore a**es.