- Land of
-- Story by Erin--
We entered Greece on the northern
border with Bulgaria on October 8th. It was at the end of a long days ride
from Sophia that we arrived in Greeces second largest city, Thessaloniki. When we
pulled into town in the late afternoon we headed directly for the BMW motorcycle dealer to
get my voltage regulator problem checked out. When we got there we were told that the
mechanic couldnt check it out until the next day and then if they confirmed it was a
faulty regulator it would take several days for it to be delivered. We said "Thanks,
but we think we can make it to Athens." The dealer agreed that we would probably not
have any problems if we didnt run the lights on the F650 and off we went. We had
already called ahead to the Athens dealer and they we expecting us to arrive in two days.
We decided to take the shortest route to Athens which just about hugs the coastline of the
Aegean Sea. It took us 2 days to drive to Athens because we decided to stop in a
small coastal town called Kamena Vourla and take a little rest. We found a cute
little hotel across the street from the beach and along the main street, which is lined
with restaurants and sweetshops (lots of them!)
On Sunday, October 10th we arrived in Athens and
tried to find a reasonably priced hotel with parking---not an easy task without a prior
reservation in this major, touristy city. Chris managed to scope out a decent one in
the Omonia side of town. That first night we ventured out of the hotel at about 9:00 p.m.
to get some dinner. We walked all the way to the Plaka, which is the big marketplace
area just below the Acropolis. Here we found restaurant upon food stall with an array of
tempting Greek choices. The place was packed with tourists and locals alike. Greeks like
to eat dinner late! The next day we went to meet a new friend, Nicholas.
We contacted Nicholas by email. His name was on the IBMWR list and he wrote back to us right away with great
advice on scenic rides to take both north and south of Athens. We met him on Monday at his
office and he immediately set about calling the dealer and confirming details for us! He
even accompanied us to the dealership and helped to translate our problem to the
mechanics. After much discussion and testing by the mechanics, the senior mechanic (Nikos
-- a native of Chicago) pronounced the problem as a faulty voltage regulator! The helpful
mechanic/pension owner in Sophia was right on the mark. The only problem was that we had
to leave my bike there overnight because the dealer couldnt get authorization to
replace the part under warranty---ugh. That meant we now had the afternoon free to go
sightseeing so, we rode off to check out the Acropolis.
The Acropolis is a remarkable site because you cant
help but notice it on top of a hill in the middle of Athens city. It must have been an
amazing site in its heyday with huge temples dedicated to the Greek gods. I was in Athens
over 10 years ago and it still looks the same. The one exception is that now you
cant climb all over the fallen columns and bits of broken walls that lay about. It
is all roped off now and you can barely lean over the ropes to touch them. According to
our friend Nicholas, acid rain is the biggest enemy in trying to preserve whats left
of these ruins. That which has withstood over 2000 years of natural environmental assault
is now in immediate danger of disintegration due to pollution by modern man.
The next day we picked up the F650, again with the help of
Nicholas. We were eager to set out to see some of the other sites of Greece before our
time was running short (and frankly, we were still tired of big cities!) Nicholas worked
out a great route for us through the Pelopennese where we would
spend 4 wonderful days of sightseeing and beach sitting. After leaving Athens our first
point of interest destination was Corinth (or Korinthos in Greek.) Besides having
wonderful ruins in the Old City of Corinth it is also the point at which the Corinth Canal
was made. The Pelopennse was actually a peninsula of mainland Greece before they cut a
canal through its narrowest point to allow ships and boats to across it.
After Corinth we drove just 30 or so kilometers down the
road to a town called Epidavros to see one of the best preserved outdoor amphitheaters in the world. It was well worth the stop to see this
mathematical achievement. The acoustics are near perfect and a coin dropped in the center
of the stage can be heard crystal clear in the top row of seats. Many of the seats are
still in great shape with their backs and arm rests still in place.
From here we drove further along the eastern coast and on
some awesome twisty roads that run right along the cliffs and mountains than pour into the
sea. The views were just spectacular! We started to look for campgrounds so that we could
plant roots for a few days. We almost missed it but we found the best campground of our
whole trip so far. It was run by an older Greek man who loved the company of the foreign
campers and made his own wine. His name was Anthony and every night he gathered us up
(along with a German couple and their little girl and a Swiss family and their kids) to
drink some of his wine, chat for a while and watch cable TV on the porch of the taverna.
We parked our tent right at the edge of the beach so that we could sit (or lay) in our
tent and see the open sea by day and stars by night.
On the first afternoon that we pitched our tent we promptly
went for a swim in the warm, clear water. It was such a wonderful feeling to dive into the
water after many days of driving in very warm weather. The next day we lounged around the
beach in the morning reading our books, sitting in the hammock and doing the laundry. In
the afternoon we went for a ride into the mountains, following a "green" road on
the map. As we drove the many switchbacks up the steep mountainside we saw beautiful pine
forests and small little villages. The signs gradually started to be written ONLY in the
Greek alphabet and we had to stop many times to ask for directions. When it looked like we
finally hit the end of the road (pavement I mean) Chris decided to get a little
adventurous. After all, we took the Enduro Park class in off-road riding, we should put
all that good training to use!
The last town we drove through had roads that got narrower
and narrower so that you feared you were actually driving on a pedestrian walkway. Thank
goodness for those curved mirrors that they put on tight corners to see vehicles coming
the other direction! The locals pointed us in the direction of the town we were looking
for and we followed the road until we saw the big tractor trailer in the middle of the
road. It literally spanned the width of the single lane road and there was a steep drop
off the side of the mountain on the right side. Okay I said, time to turn back. Oh no said
Chris, we can get by this!!!! So, with the friendly guidance of the local delivery guys
and a few helpful old men we managed to squeeze by the truck on the cliff side! I
didnt dare look down and I could only guide the bike with my left foot scraping the
(now) gravel road. Yikes, my adrenaline was flowing now! The road then promptly turned to
dirt and rock as we followed the hand written signs for the direction of our destination.
We drove this road in perfect Enduro Park form up and down the sides of the mountain,
across a deep mud puddle (yee haw!) and over lots of big rocks. We felt we were near our
destination but didnt know for sure since our GPS couldnt pick up the town we
were looking for (the town/village was too small). With the sun setting fast we decided we
had better call it a night and turn back. Sweat dripping down my face and back I was happy
to have tried at least to take on this nasty road. Before we turned around Chris marked
our point on the GPS just for good measure. The next day, as we drove the paved route (the
long way) to the town we had looked for the day before, we discovered that we had
only been 4 kilometers from the town! Oh well.
The day after our off-road adventure we decided to take in
an easy day of driving to check out the ruins of Mystra, which is near Sparta. Mystra is
the ancient site of Byzantine ruins of a castle/fortress and several monasteries. It took
us longer than we had expected to drive there so we only had time to climb up to the
castle and take in the beautiful views from the top.
The next day we packed up and drove north
again. The beautiful weather we had for a week before was now rainy and miserable. We
caught the ferry from Petra across to the mainland and rode further north for our
overnight in the small port town of Amphilochia. The next day was no better and we just
drove as far as we could which was about 90kms east of Thessonaliki in a little town by
the sea. We had wanted to stay in our motel there for 2 nights and take a break, but the
owner was closing for the season. Although the bad weather followed us until we left
Istanbul in Turkey, we still managed to take in some of the great mountain riding in
northern Greece that Nicholas had recommended. By October 20 we had made it to the last
city (Alexandroupolis) in Greece, before the Turkish border. All in all we had a
very nice trip through Greece, though far too short as usual. And, we didnt get to
Crete, which was a real disappointment. We had a standing invitation from several
motorcyclists there who owned a small hotel and offered to show us all that the beautiful
island had to offer. Hey Vivi, can we take a "rain check"???????
ENDNOTE ON GREECE
After we left Turkey we had to take a ferry to Rhodes (Greek
Island) to catch another ferry to Israel. We spent 2 and a half days on the island. It was
a strange experience in that the official tourist season ended the day we arrived and
literally every campsite, motel, and hotel outside of Rhodes Town was closed for the
season. It also seemed that every restaurant and store was closed as well. We really
needed to save some money, especially after paying for 2 very expensive ferry rides, so we
headed out of Rhodes Town to seek out a cheap campground or pension. After riding about 30
kilometers and finding everything closed, we almost gave up to head back into Rhodes Town.
But, as we drove through a small town call Faliraki we stopped at a bar that said they had
rooms to "let", and a miniature golf course to-boot. A big friendly Greek man
named George greeted us speaking English. He asked where we were from and lit up when he
heard we were from the States. At this point his tall, blond American wife walked out from
the bar and introduced herself and their two teenage sons. It turns out she was from
Baltimore, Maryland and had met George while he was living in the states. They too, had
officially closed for the season, but gave us a room anyway at a very good price.
Unfortunately, other than taking a brief ride to an old
village named Lindos just down the road, we didnt get to see much of the island.
Working out our tickets on a ferry to Israel took the better part of a day. We did spend a
little time walking through the market area of Rhodes Town while we waited to board the
ferry. If you are into seeing ancient ruins Rhodes Town has it all----from Byzantine
churches to the harbor fortress thats in unbelievable condition. Every where you
look there is a sign pointing in the direction this ruin or that.