Greece

Greece

Chios

 

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.

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My beautiful, quiet beach at Agias Foteinis, Chios, Greece

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.

Birthday

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.

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Mavra Volia beach with her black, volcanic pebbles

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Mavra Volia beach – dramatic coastline in the stormy seas

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Mavra Volia beach – voted one of the nicest on Chios

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Strong southern winds had caused a bit of flooding

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I carried on searching for calmer seas

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.

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Bowen Birthday Bay

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This was more like it!

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Time for a swim!

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Lots of these dotted around the wonderful coastal roads

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Beautiful old houses of Old Chios

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A view from Chios Castle walls

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.

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Chios Port – waiting for the night ferry to Athens (Piraeus)

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Safely onboard

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Farewell Chios!

Athens

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.

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Early morning swimmers, Piraeus Beach

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!

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The Triumph Intermoto Piraeus Team – Kostas, Evilyn and Vangelis (right to left)

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!

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One of Elias’ photos at Tracer Adventure Club https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tracer-adventure-club/324565054311903

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.

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Vangelis getting to work on The Tiger

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.

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Changing of the guards outside the Greek Parliament

I then wondered down to the National Gardens next door, and onto the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Acropolis & Parthenon.

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The National Gardens

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National Gardens

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Temple of Olympian Zeus

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The Arch of Hadrian

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The Acropolis’ Parthenon – under repair

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Slowly being restored

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Parthenon

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Amazing views from the top of the Acropolis

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Athens

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The Parthenon’s entrance

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Old amphitheater restored into a modern arena

That evening I met up with my mate Evangelos and enjoyed a good catch-up, as always, after far too long apart.

UK Visit

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.

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Me and my Bro’s in the (usual) Welsh rain, Snowdonia

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When amazingly, the sun came out!

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At the top – Mt Snowdon 1,085 metres (3,560 ft)

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As the route up was so easy (Miners Trail), we decided to make things interesting on the way down and go for the Crib Goch Route which followed this knife-edge arête

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Only when we got to the bottom did we find out this route is only for “expert climbers”, so I guess we are!

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Don’t look down Eddie!

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Incredible views though

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Easy! Here’s Paul, the Groom to be

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The route down

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Eddie the Mountain Goat

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In the pub for a well deserved beer (this is Paul’s normal attire, by the way)

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And a quick flight back to Greece!

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.

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My damaged rim with the weld starting to split. Time for a new wheel!

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.

Poros

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Lovely Poros

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Poros – only an hour away from Piraeus on a fast ferry

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The view from my cheap guest-house

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Kanali Beach

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Kanali Beach

Kiev, Ukraine

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.

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Kiev, Ukraine

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Luba and Natasha (sideways)

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Lovely view of the Dnieper River

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And at night

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The wonderful hospitality of Ukrainians – one of the best meals I’ve ever had – all cooked by Natasha (all washed down with copious amounts of vodka, of course) 🙂

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.

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New valves being prepped for The Tiger!

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Piston damage

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SO… back on another tour of Athens, down by the harbour

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Plenty of time for sunsets

 

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The Temple of Hephaestus, Athens

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The Temple of Hephaestus – one of the best preserved examples

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And again

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Caesar’s Golden Leaf Crown – National Archaeological Museum, Athens

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Did all ancient Greeks have small winkles? – National Archaeological Museum, Athens

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The battle between man and the Centaurs – Athens War Museum

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I thought about borrowing the pistons from this old Benelli

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The Panathenaic Stadium which hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896

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My selfless, expert tour-guide for a couple of days – Katerina

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The lovely Chiliadou beach on Evia

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North coast Evia

Starting Problem

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).

Hmm.

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!

The Peloponnese

 

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.

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I don’t see many of these (sunrises), but I’m grateful when I do. On my way to collect Jessie from the airport

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The new load for the Tiger

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And I finally got around to adding a few more flag stickers

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Here we are in Nea Makri

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Catching the last of the sun

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It wouldn’t be Greece without harbours like this

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Catch of the day!

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Beautiful blue Autumn skies

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Crystal clear waters

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The advantage to travelling out of season – you can always get a seat!

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From Nea Makri we crossed through Athens to see the fantastic view from the top of the Mount Lycabettus (277m/ 908 ft) – the highest point in Athens

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Mount Lycabettus summit

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And here’s more of the view…

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The weather couldn’t have been any better

 

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Crossing the Corinth Canal – 6.4 km long and only 21.4 metres (70 ft) wide, separating The Peloponnesse from the Greek Mainland

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Beautiful weather!

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Straight over to the west coast and Navarino Bay for some beach camping

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It was great to get back to nature and beach camping!

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The stars are always better over the ocean

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🙂

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Morning swim – it’s a hard life indeed!

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After a stressful morning I needed to rest a bit – Gialova Lagoon

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The simply stunning Voidokilia Beach – a perfect crescent

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The southern side of Voidokilia Bay

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Our own private beach – Glossa Beach

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Heading north up the Peloponnese coast we came across the Eiffel Tower, as you do

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Even simple meals are delicious in Greece – Souvlaki and Greek Salad

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Funny, you always end up with lots of friends when you have food!

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We camped on a beach near Zacharo, but got hit by a storm during the night! However, we survived, unflooded (just)…

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The stormy seas just missed us, but made for a beautiful morning

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Nothing like a brisk morning swim to wake you up!

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It was so hot, we evaporated…

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Looks like rain – time to move on!

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Hopping on the ferry to Kefalonia

Kefalonia

 

From The Peloponnese we jumped on the 1.5 hour ferry ride to gorgeous Kefalonia, where ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ was set and filmed.

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Kefalonia! (Poros, the port)

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Every corner had another beautiful view

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The south coast has amazing views from the mountains

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It’s important to keep yourself fit when biking (and Jessie always wanted to be taller). This was at Kefalonia Airport where once again a cheap flight was taken back to the UK for a quick weekend – my Brother Paul’s wedding… It’s all go around here!

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Agostoli Lighthouse

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Argostoli

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Riding up the west coast

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Kefalonia

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The north west coast

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This must be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! Myrtos Beach

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Yes, it’s real!

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Breathtaking – Myrtos Beach

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Myrtos Beach

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Myrtos Beach

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Myrtos Beach

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Melissani Cave – Inside the collapsed dome with crystal clear lake

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A boat was waiting at the bottom to take us into the cave – Melissani Lake

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Here we go!

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Inside Melissani Cave

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All too soon Jessie had to go, so off we went back to Athens airport. On the way we passed the The Rio–Antirrio bridge, one of the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges and the longest of the fully suspended type.

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The bridge links the Peloponnese to mainland Greece to the north.

Categories: Greece | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

North Greece

Metéora

 

With a name that means ‘In the heavens above’, one would expect such a place as Metéora to be pretty nice.

It is an area covered in towering sandstone pinnacles formed 60 million years ago, just after the demise of the dinosaurs, shaped by weathering and earthquakes.  So dramatic are the structures, it could be called the Greek Cappadocia, although lesser known.  Well actually, just because I hadn’t heard of it didn’t mean everybody else hadn’t.  In fact I hadn’t heard of Cappadocia either, so what do I know?

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Metéora – spectacular sandstone pinnacles formed 60 million years ago, shaped by weathering and earthquakes

On six of these awesome monoliths stand six Byzantine monasteries, each perched on the top like prehistoric bird nests.

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One of the Byzantine monasteries perched on the top like prehistoric bird nests

I’d arrived in Kalambaka, a small tourist village at the foot of the mighty mountains, in the dark, so I had no clue as to the spectacular scenery that awaited me in the morning.  This is because, as usual, I’d made a late start (midday) from my hotel in Vouliagmeni, a southern beach suburb of Athens.

As I headed north I took the back streets and avoided the toll roads for two reasons:

  1. To save money (tolls in Greece soon add up to be quite expensive)
  2. To ride more scenic roads instead of the usually not-so-scenic motorways

The major drawbacks of this are:

  1. It’s much slower if you want to get somewhere
  2. It’s much slower if you want to get somewhere

When I started out it was sunny (as it was forecast), but the roads weren’t that exciting – they just followed alongside the toll road; this is where drawback 1 came into play.

Soon after that it began pelting down with rain & got colder, which is where drawback 2 came into play.  I wasn’t expecting this dramatic weather change, so I had to stop and wrap up.

Eventually the roads became more scenic, and twisted up and down Greece’s central mountainous terrain, weaving through towns and villages.  It would have been much nicer if the sun was out, of course, and I almost gave up and jumped on the toll road at one cold, wet point.

Top Tip:  Never stop for a photo in a remote Greek lay-by (like I did), particularly in the dark (which I fortunately did not do); certain people use them as toilets without having the courtesy to bury their waste, and they therefore resemble open sewers.

One nice thing about Greek drivers is that they are well used to motorcyclists and are very courteous on the roads.  For example, they always move to the side of the road to let you over-take with ease, even when there’s oncoming traffic.

Kalambaka

In the end I rolled into a dark Kalambaka at 6pm and found a restaurant with wifi so I could:

  1. Warm up
  2. Eat
  3. Search the web for somewhere cheap to sleep

I had planned to camp rough somewhere, but I hate camping in the rain (who doesn’t?).

Luckily there were loads of cheap hotels for around 20 Euros due to it being off season and there being a large number of hotels trying to get your business.  I chose one with the best reviews, as usual, and checked into a hot shower and an early night.

WOW!

In the morning I was greeted with glorious sunshine, and a big surprise when I looked out of my bedroom window to see a towering sandstone rock face right in front of me.

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View from up my street in Kalambaka

I hopped on the Tiger to explore and enjoyed riding around the mystical, heavenly place all morning, admiring the views.

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I rode around all morning admiring the views

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Metéora – means “In the heavens above”

Then I made my way up to a few of the rock-top monasteries.

The largest monastery is the Great Meteoron (or Megalon) Monastery, so I thought I’d at least better visit that one.  The ride up alone was worth the effort.

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The winding road up to Megalon Monastery

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The view half-way up

The Megalon was built around 1340 after St. Athanasios Meteorites ascended the highest pinnacle in the area.  It was quite a climb, but luckily for St. Athanasios he was ‘carried up by an eagle’, and after admiring the view at the top, he named it Megalo Meteoro (or ‘Great Place’).

After my Greek diet of Souvlaki and Mythos Beer, I was too heavy to be carried up by an eagle, and so had to walk up a long flight of stairs, but the view was definitely worth it.

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The Great Meteoron Monastery built in 1340 after St. Athanasios Meteorites ascended the highest pinnacle ‘carried up by an eagle’

On the way up there were also great views of the c, the next-door neighbour.

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Monastery of Varlaam, seen from the climb up to Megalon

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Breathtaking view from the top of the Megalon

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Some old Byzantine frescoes inside Megalon

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Monastery quota attained

Igoumenitsa

After I’d attained my quota of pillar stacked monasteries, I headed off one again on my trusty Tiger.  I fancied heading up the Albanian coast (as I’d heard it was nice), and so made my way to the Greek west coast at Igoumenitsa.

As the weather was closing in, I decided to jump on the Egnatia Highway (toll road) which went all the way to the west coast; it was still very scenic (passing snow-capped peaks along the way) but much quicker of course, and only cost a couple of Euros.

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No wonder it’s cold! Snow on the mountains along the Egnatia Highway (North Greece)

Beach Camping

Having missed out on camping in Metéora, I was determined to camp near Igoumenitsa, and when I saw good weather forecast, I headed for the beach.

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Arriving at Igoumenitsa at sunset

Just north of Igoumenitsa, which is a lovely port town full of lively bars and restaurants, I found beautifully secluded Ormos Valtou National Park, from where you could see the Greek island of Corfu a few miles offshore.

Unfortunately, there was no ‘rough’ camping allowed in the National Park, but there was an organized campsite (barely still open) that let me throw up my tent next to the beach for a couple of Euros.

The spot was perfect, and just what I needed after the rainy weather inland.

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How’s this for a perfect camping spot? – Ormos Valtou National Park

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Lovely Jubley!

Ouzo and Greek Dancing

Next door to my tent was a traveling circus called ‘Zirkus Lollypop’, run out the back of a transit van by Swiss Gentleman Hansa and performer Innes.  Hansa had been here several times before, and kindly invited me out with them into nearby Igoumenitsa for a spot of Saturday Night Entertainment.

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Turns out I was camped next to Travelling Circus ‘Zirkus Lollypop’ – and a great night of Greek dancing and lots of Ouzo was had by all 🙂

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The camp-spot

And it was a great night out indeed, where I learnt I was (in fact) a great Greek dancer (well, that’s what this Greek guy said), and particularly apt at the knee-diving foot slapping (until my knee gave way).

In the morning I also remembered why I didn’t drink Ouzo anymore.

Anyway, the Zirkus Lollypop gang do a great job helping to rehabilitate kids (among other things), so take a look if you’d like to know more, or run away with them (as I was tempted):

http://www.lollypop-galaxys.ch/zirkus-lollypop.html

Also on the campsite were a couple of poorly stray dogs.  One was so skinny I was sure it didn’t have long left.  I gave them half of my dinner and a couple of tins of tuna I had.  Poor things.

Glorious Sunshine!

The next day was glorious (except for my hangover) and the sun shone as though it were a summer’s day – not bad for November.  I didn’t waste the opportunity to explore the National Park and relax on its gorgeous beaches.

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Ormos Valtou National Park – nothing but silence…

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A shell (I think)

It was so peaceful I could literally hear nothing except for the soft lapping of the sea upon the shore.

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Ormos Valtou National Park

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Glorious day!

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It doesn’t get much calmer than this

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Exploring Ormos Valtou National Park

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I took the opportunity to top-up my tan

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Deserted…

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Ormos Valtou National Park

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Ormos Valtou National Park

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Ormos Valtou National Park

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Igoumenitsa across the bay

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Well, time to make a start towards Albania I suppose!

I just hoped the great weather would continue as I rode north into Albania.

Categories: Greece | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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