Reaching the outskirts of Athens, the point where traffic slows to a crawl, happens many kilometers from the center, wherever that is. Athens sprawls out in every direction, completely swallowing small towns, and the center covers a large and indefinable area north of the Acropolis. As we cycled into heavy traffic and perimeter districts our pace slowed dramatically. Moments ago we were racing down a beautiful mountainside lined with conifer trees and smart villas. Now we had come to a halt as the single entry road of the decent gave way to a maze of side streets, dead ends and turnings left wanting of sign posting.
I love navigating, I enjoy using my maps and compass and take great pleasure in finding new features that confirm and reassure me of my location. As I ride I’m constantly amused by the faithfulness of the map to the terrain and the way in which extra insight into your location can so easily be extracted from the finer details of good cartography. But, as anyone that tries to use a touring map (say, 1:300,000 ratio) in a city will tell you, they become, more or less, useless as the resolution struggles to represent the complex networks or roads that exist in such close proximity.
So with the map rendered inadequate, a maze of small roads ahead and still many kilometres from the indefinable city center I decided to take a peak at the motorway. That was the only road that I knew would lead straight to the heart of Athens and after a cursory glace I decided it was safe enough for us to use.
The next half hour was spent at an exhilarating average speed of 26mph (42kph). The motorway leads gently down hill and with a slight tail wind no more than a moderate effort required to place all the urban sprawl of outer Athens firmly behind us.