On your bike!

Greek tourists Dimitris, Ada and daughter Aphrodite are travelling around Australia with two pushbikes and an open mind

In times when the only topic that people around the world associate with Greece is crisis, the story of Dimitri and Ada brings a myriad of questions to your mind.
The Greek couple arrived in Australia in October last year, carrying their two pushbikes, some tents, three sleeping bags and their five-year-old daughter Aphrodite.
Born in Athens, the couple – Ada, candlemaker, and Dimitris, operator turned travel photographer – moved to Nafplio six years ago. They live in the countryside, and in a nowaday Greece of crisis and financial and social struggles, they choose a more sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyle.
They cycle and keep the car usage low, they save energy and are building a house that won’t have electrical power; they collect rainwater. And they manage to travel. Sounds too alternative for a crisis hit country, but it’s true.
When I meet them, the inseparable trio has just pedalled 110 km in a day, from Geelong to Melbourne, crossing the limit of 60 km per day they had set so their daughter Aphrodite could keep up with pace.
“It’s all straight, no uphill or downhill at all,” is how the five year old describes the landscape from Geelong to Melbourne.
For bubbly Aphrodite, nothing seems to be tough. Placed in a seat on the back of her father’s bike, with her new purple helmet, she has her own cycle on long pedalling days. She sings, then eats a nut bar; has a nap leaning on her dad’s back. Her only demand is for the ‘portable house’ short stopovers to be where the swings are.
“I walk with my hands,” says Aphrodite, referred to her game of imitating the steps with her hands in the air, that she does when on a long cycling day.
Reasons behind the pushbike journey around Australia for this unusual Greek family were many, says Ada. First of all, it was the people who live in Australia that they love. After three trips to Australia, it has always been their wish to cycle the continent. But to do it with a five-year-old child seemed like an unachievable dream.
During two months on the road and over 1600 km cycled – the statistics of their journey when I meet them – many have stopped the trio, have taken photos with them, and shared the amazement at their decision to see and travel Australia on pushbikes, and with a five-year-old in the seat.
The amazement grows when they hear that the couple, apart from bike rides in the countryside and taking Aphrodite to kindergarten, could hardly be credited as professional or amateur cyclists.
That didn’t stop the cycling trio from pedalling from Adelaide, McLaren Vale, the Grampians and Great Ocean Road to Geelong and Melbourne, and New South Wales destinations, before they return to Greece at the end of January.
“Within two weeks we grew so much stronger, and the joy that we take just from living the landscape, wind pounding, and the rain is irreplaceable,” Ada says.
One of the rare things the couple will keep away from Aphrodite for now is going to the remote areas of central Australia they fell in love with on their previous trips. Like Uluru.
“It’s the heart of Australia, Uluru,” Dimitris says.
“But it’s difficult to take a child there, on the pushbike – to go out for miles, not seeing anything. One such trip you can describe as a trip to your inner self, to the centre. But for Aphrodite, that feeling at her age is something absolutely useless, isn’t it?” he says with a laugh.
Aphrodite agrees. She likes to have people around her, to make new friends. Once, while on a walk in the Australian bush, she wouldn’t stop questioning her parents curiously: “Where are the people? What are we doing here now? Why are we alone?”
Tourists from Greece of crisis
“Everyone can travel. It’s all about the priorities that each of us set. The one who is afraid does nothing,” Dimitris explains.
And in today’s Greece, crisis is mostly about fear.
“We dared. We closed our shop and said ‘we’ll be back’. When we shared the news with our friends, never before has their reaction been like that. Usually they would be amazed; wish us a nice trip. For the first time, they were numb, they all feared our decision, said that finances won’t endure,” Dimitris and Ada tell.
“In the Greece of today, people believe – keep what you have, because you may not be able to survive tomorrow. The crisis is not anymore the financial one as much as it is crisis of values, of people; it’s the psychological factor that people are facing. If we could actually remove the piece of the puzzle of what crisis actually is, we would have to look at the psychological factor.
“We are all going through difficult times; we’ve lost what we had. But at least you continue to fight, to live, to hope…”
One of the reasons the family embarked on the journey that their friends and family received with mixed emotions and fear, was their attempt towards an alternative and more sustainable lifestyle. With less energy, less waste of money, less car usage.
“There were some people who, during our journey, told us ‘You are doing it as it’s a cheap way to travel’. But it is all about the human eye. Yes, it’s cheaper, but first of all – for us – it’s about lifestyle,” Ada says.
Travelling on pushbikes gave the trio an opportunity to see Australia in a completely different light. To embrace its inside – the bowels of the big machine and how it works.
“We saw the cow, we met the one who grazes it and the one who transports milk, we saw the villages, from Adelaide to Warrnambol, and the whole of Victoria. We stayed in their backyards, in the villages with 30 residents, in provinces.”
The most important thing they have learned on their trip is that wherever you go, you carry yourself, but you also learn more about your inner self. And you realise that people are the same everywhere.
“You realise how unnecessary and how vain the borders, the symbols are … the difference is beautiful, unique cultures, diverse people…
“And based on borders – one line that was not there before and it is today – we define the one from the inside or the other from the outside. It is an imaginary line that we defined … just yesterday. Tomorrow it may go further in or out, and you find yourself on the other side of what you thought you were,” Dimitris tells.
And for that ‘difference’, the couple agrees, there is still no acceptance in Greece. Even more so now, as Greece retires into its shell, with nationalism and pseudo-patriotic feeling, as Dimitris calls it, on the rise.
“Racism has grown enormously in Greece. Where we live there are a lot of orange orchards. The students turned bosses due to the immigrants, the influx of cheap labour. And now this is the region of the most brutal nationalism. It’s like spitting on yourself. I feel like all the things that the easy life and money, bouzouki and flowers covered, all that subculture has now come to the surface.”