I have always loved Greece; what’s not to love about the fresh, whitewashed walls tumbling down steep, flowered steps from the mountain tops and into the crystal clear, blue sea?
I rode off the ferry from Cesme around sunset and rode 10 km south of the main city and port, Chios, to where I had booked a cheap room at a lovely quiet beach called Agias Foteinis. There wasn’t much there (including tourists), which was perfect for me, and I loved the small, friendly feel of the place. I had 2 days before I needed to catch the 2nd ferry to Piraeus (Athens), so I took the time to relax and explore the island.
I ate in the same beach front Tavernas near my hotel for 2 nights, and the owner kept giving me free liqueur and small doughnuts covered in honey and sprinkled with caster sugar and cinnamon (loukoumades). He was big, warm, friendly and funny, and the secluded beach setting was idyllic. I’ve been to some wonderful places, but it really is hard to best Greece, particularly being the ocean-loving person I am.
On my birthday (23 Sep) I also celebrated 2 years on the road (this trip). My, how time flies! Quite scary really….
I spent the day riding around the island exploring. Mavra Volia beach was especially dramatic in the stormy seas with her black, volcanic pebbles.
There was a strong wind from the south, so the usually calm beaches were rough until I got to the north facing beaches on the mid-west coast. Here it was a different story, and at last I found the crystal clear, blue waters for which Greece is famous. One bay in particular was stunning: it had a little island in the middle, so I stayed there all afternoon swimming and relaxing. I called it Bowen Birthday Bay.
The ferry to Piraeus left at 23:30 as scheduled and the wind died down to make it a smooth 7 hour crossing. I bought an economy ticket (no cabin) but the reclining chairs were so comfortable, I slept quite well. It was, however, freezing due to them having the aircon on full blast, and in the end I had to get my sleeping bag out.
We arrived in Piraeus (the port of Athens) at 7am, which meant I had 2 hours to kill before the Triumph dealer opened up, so I rode around the coast and found a nice, quiet beach to relax. The sea was very calm and there were lots of early morning swimmers getting their exercise. I thought it must be nice to live near there and start your daily routine like that.
My very good friend from university, Evangelos, lived in Athens, and we had planned to meet up when he finished work. He lived on the 2nd floor of our block at Southampton University where we usually saw him hanging out of our fridge eating all our food and drinking our beer. He did work hard though studying law, and I did everything other than study hard for a BSc Geography degree (can you believe I only had 6 hours of lectures a week?!) His hard work paid off though and he has gone on to do very well, and is now a partner in a major international law firm.
Triumph Intermoto Piraeus
Just after 9am I rolled up at the Triumph dealership in Piraeus (Intermoto) to the warmest welcome I could have ever expected. I’d contacted them a couple of week’s previously explaining the Tiger’s starting problem, and they’d told me the starter motor had a well-known problem when it got too hot. Other Greek riders had had a lot of problems with it in the summer heat, and Triumph would replace it under warranty. Great news!
A short while after I arrived, Elias Chatzigeorgio, founder and ace photographer of Tracer Adventure Club, arrived to take some snaps for his magazine. He also invited me along on an adventure ride he was organising for 4-5 October – great!
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, The Chairman of Eliofil S.A (the Triumph Motorcycles Distributor for Greece), Mr Nassos Eliopoulos, made a special trip down to see me and took me out for a wonderful lunch. Then he announced they would conduct all work on my Tiger free of charge, and only charge me cost price for any parts required. Wow! It was really great to be welcomed and supported like that, and I can’t thank Nassos and his team enough. It made me very pleased I’d chosen Triumph. It’s almost like being part of one big family, and I have received a warm welcome at all dealerships I’ve been to, but particularly here.
The Triumph Intermoto Piraeus Service Centre was run by a lovely couple, Kostas and his wife Evilyn, and together with ace mechanic Vangelis, I left the Tiger in safe hands.
Europe and The Future
Having reached Europe there was no doubt I felt the end of my World Tour approaching, but I was determined to eek it out for as long as possible, as reaching the UK meant decisions had to be made regarding dirty words like J.O.Bs. I reckoned I could last until winter hit, and really enjoy touring Europe. I was lucky as many of the people I’d met on my 2 years travelling had been from Europe, so I had an exciting list of people and countries to visit.
I also thought a lot about how my trip had started all those 2 years ago, and how I could and should have spent more time looking for sponsors to save financing it all myself; one if the down-sides of my laissez-faire approach to planning. I had, however, managed to raise over £8,300 for Wateraid UK Charity, which I was very pleased with, and hoped to reach my target of £10,000 by the time I arrived home.
So with the Tiger under repair, I left to do a spot of sightseeing around the centre of Athens. I planned to take the metro in from Piraeus, but Kostas insisted on dropping me off on his funky, very nippy moped.
As luck would have it, I was just in time to see the changing of the guards outside the Greek Parliament. It was interesting watching their slow motion marching (almost like a cockerel mating steps), designed to protect their blood circulation after 60 min of immobility.
I then wondered down to the National Gardens next door, and onto the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Acropolis & Parthenon.
That evening I met up with my mate Evangelos and enjoyed a good catch-up, as always, after far too long apart.
As the Tiger would take a few days to fix, this left me free to fly home to sunny Norwich, UK for my older brother’s Stag Adventure Weekend climbing Mt Snowdon & white-water rafting in Wales. I’d originally thought I would be home with the bike by then, but all good plans are made for change!
I’d booked the flights a few days earlier, and it just so happened that the cheapest flight back was a Business Class seat on Serbian Airways (180 quid). On the few occasions I’ve been fortunate enough to fly business, I think it’s one of the only occasions I drink wine at 5am in the morning (now I’m not at university anymore). Somehow it just seems a waste if I don’t, being free and all. I don’t normally like being fussed around, but again, business class flights seem to be an exception, as I love it! So there’s me in my biker clothes that I’d been wearing for the past 2 days traveling (since the ferry to Athens) lording it up amongst smart ladies and gentlemen in business suits, supping Chardonnay in the early hours. And guess what: the flight attendants even TALK to you in business class, and treat you like a human being – amazing! The only downside is, it makes going back to ‘cattle class’ that much harder…
Needless to say, it was great to be back home again, and me and my 3 brothers had a great time on the long weekend. Here are a few snaps if you’ve never been to Wales before.
Major Surgery on the Tiger
When I returned to Greece it was apparent the Tiger needed much more work than I had anticipated. I had also been very lucky not to have lost my front wheel en-route, as my fall in Uzbekistan had slowly been opening up the weld at the seam.
Here again I felt lucky to be a Triumph owner, as the bulk of the work was approved by Triumph UK under warranty (that had just come to an end after 2 years). I felt somewhat proud (and almost famous) when Triumph UK were already aware of my arrival in Greece and quickly approved all the warranty work. I almost felt as though someone had been watching over me…. Did one of my Guardian Angels work for Triumph UK?
Here is a list of work I had done:
- New starter motor (under warranty)
- New clutch assembly (under warranty) – It had somehow become warped, which might have something to do with the number of clutches I’ve had (3)!
- New pistons (under warranty) – damaged likely by the poor fuel in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and possibly particles through the air fliter (Mongolia?)
- Cyclinder head & valve planing/repair
- New tyres – I went for Anakee 2’s all round as my Heidenaus were beaten up and I guessed most of my final European leg would be on road
- New rear suspension – Mine was occasionally bottoming out on large bumps, and turned out it was shot
- Lots of free parts to replace broken parts (metal chain guard, new screen, hand protectors, mirror)
- 70,000 km service – The last one was the 50,000km at Triumph (Britbike) Chiang Mai, Thailand, and since then the oil had been changed twice (Irkutsk and Almaty), as well as a new chain, sprockets, plugs, brake pads, air filter (K&N cleaned), coolant and radiator cap in Almaty, and a new clutch in Bishkek.
This was quite a list, and while I was waiting for parts I took the opportunity to do a bit of ‘bike-less’ travelling, including jumping on the ferry to beautiful Greek Island Poros.
Making the most of cheap European flights and further delay waiting for more parts for my Tiger, I then jumped on a cheap flight to Kiev, Ukraine to visit the friends I had met in Batumi, Luba and Natasha.
Back in Athens
Back in Athens the Tiger was still on the operating table (this was when they discovered the damage to the pistons), so I was grateful to my old friend Evangelos for putting me up in on his couch for a large part of the ‘waiting period’, and his mate Katerina for being my selfless, expert tour-guide for a couple of days.
Once the bike had finally been put back together, it was somewhat frustrating and mystifying that the same starting problem was still there (it wouldn’t restart when the engine was hot).
Kostas and Vangelis deliberated for quite some time on this mystery, and changed the relay and battery, still with no joy. They then replaced the positive cable from the battery to the starter motor with a thicker, good quality copper cable.
Bingo! The new cable worked a treat. However, a day later I discovered the problem was still there, albeit much less significant than before. When the motor was hot (after riding in hot weather), she still could not manage an immediate restart, but the problem resolved within just a few minutes rather than the 30-60 minutes I used to have to wait. I decided to live with it (as I was already back on tour in The Peloponnese) and monitor to see if it got any worse. My next step will be to replace the earth cable (as recommended by several helpful people).
New Bike, New Gear
With an almost new bike I couldn’t wait to set off again after almost a month without The Tiger. On my visit back to the UK I had also taken the opportunity to replace my ripped jacket and dry bags for new ones, so now even I looked new as well. I also took a lot of things home to reduce my load, as now I was in Europe I wouldn’t need to be so self-sufficient. It felt good!
A few days before I set off on tour again, I was lucky to have my original riding partner Miss Jessie fly back to tour The Peloponnese with me, so it was a good job I’d got rid of much of my luggage (so I could fit her bathroom sink on the back 😉 ). Having started the trip with me all those 2 years ago, and joining me for a bit in Thailand, it was good to get the old team back together for a couple of weeks.
From The Peloponnese we jumped on the 1.5 hour ferry ride to gorgeous Kefalonia, where ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ was set and filmed.