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Stuttgart to Istanbul, via Athens, by bicycle

By Costas Onishenko

My encounter with Reiner Herport in the village of Fylakio, Orestiada, just a few kilometers from Turkey and Bulgaria, was lucky, to say the least.

The 43-year-old German -- carrying only the most basic essentials in a set of panniers -- had already cycled 2,500 km from his hometown of Stuttgart on his way to his final destination, Istanbul.

“The mistaken impression Germans have of the situation in Greece, and the Balkans in general, is why none of my friends came along on this journey with me,” Herport said, explaining his solo status. “But I wasn’t daunted by setting off alone, and, as you see, I’m doing fine so far.”

His trip has no real purpose -- even though Herport enjoys cycling and has a strong environmental conscience -- other than to get to know the countries his journey would be taking him through and their people.

“The way conventional tourism is nowadays, you can spend several days in a country and not really get to know anything about it,” said Herport.

“You can travel by airplane and stay holed up in a hotel, stepping out only to go to a beach or a restaurant. But neither Greece nor any other countries are just that,” he explained.

“In a few days I will arrive in Athens, but until then I will have traveled through the real Greece, the one you see here, its natural landscape, its villages and small towns.”

At a first glance, Herport looks like a bit of a tree-hugger. He says he is just an “ordinary guy” who works as an engineer for a living.

“I am not a cycling fanatic, I don’t use the bicycle to get to work every day,” he told Kathimerini. “I just really enjoy traveling through nature. And I’m not an exception. This kind of tourism is fast becoming fashionable in my country and other parts of Europe. Within the next few years, you’ll see a lot more people from Germany, Austria and other countries coming to Greece on bicycles. It’s good for your health, but the experience is completely unique. When you struggle to get up a mountain or a hill and you reach the top, the feeling in indescribable. It fills you with confidence and gives you the strength to face many of life’s difficulties with more optimism. And of course the money you need for such a trip is also a lot less than you’d need traveling by plane and staying at fancy hotels.”

Herport’s bicycle is a simple affair without high-tech frills. All he was carrying with him was some basic equipment for repairs in case of a flat tyre or other mishaps, a sleeping bag, a few items of essential clothing and some cash.

“I don’t spend much money. Every so often, I stop for a coffee and a bite to eat,” he said, before offering me a grape from a bunch given to him by a woman from Orestiada that he met along the way.

“It just happens that people treat you. At first they try to figure out who you are and what you’re doing, and then they are usually pleased. They ask you about your trip and give you something to eat and drink. I haven’t had any problems so far and haven’t faced any serious danger,” Herport said.

ekathimerini.com , Sunday September 30, 2012 (14:20)  
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