(A detailed map, with indications of where the images were taken, is hosted at Google Maps
It doesn't matter if it is freezing outside as long as it is warm inside. And we, the Captain and I, we are in addition
radiating love towards each other. Nevertheless it helps that heating does seem to be without limits here in
Greece. Even in Norway, where electricity is abundant no one would heat as they do here. But it is, admittedly, nice.
And who doesn't like nice things?
It is Tuesday 16. March. It is the 5th day of our vacation. We are in Kastoria in north Greece.
Three years ago we went to Sicilia in February / March. Temperature-vise it was not a very good idea.
The food was excellent, the coffee outstanding, the lack of "fallow tourist" helpful, and the scenery in general nice.
But it was cold.
Last year we went to Spain in the end of March. The food was not excellent, the coffee was not
excellent, but the scenery was very nice indeed. It was cold.
It has obviously been colder outside than inside tonight.
Again breakfast makes me happy. I make a note of happy I am. Just looking at the picture as I write
makes me feel good. The best breakfast there is. Simple as that.
Our host Dimitri has many suggestions for where we should ride today. But the Captain has studied the weather maps.
They show that east and south of the country sports a healthy 20C. And that is just what She wants now.
As we'll start the day with a run on the Autostrada we ask Dimitri how it can be that there is
no toll on them. We tell him about the 1 euro / 10 kilometer we live with in Italy. He says that paying a toll just
to drive on a road is an outrageous idea. How can people go where they want if there is a toll to
pay just to drive away, he asks.
I ask if yesterdays strike went well, which he confirms. I want to ask how much he took in on it, but refrains.
I also would have liked to point out that the Value Added Tax which he took, wasn't a tax levied on him but
on his customers. Or, in other words, he, and his fellow businessmen over the whole country, levied a tax
on their customers on the behalf of the government, and then kept it.
I leave it at that.
The plan is to ride east from here. We are on the dark-blue trajectory at the top of the map. Click on the
map to be taken to the "plan".
The "plan" is to continue all the way to Turkey. I don't know why I want to see Turkey. The Captain doesn't
like such "been there, done that"-things. But as the First Officer I have lodged a single request: Visit (the
border of) Turkey. She has accepted. Obviously - in accepting my request she in turn got to
place markers all over the map. Such is life at the bottom of the food chain.
We load everything onto the bike, say our farewell. Just as I am to turn into the street I notice that
the left indicator doesn't come on. I try it a few times, and suddenly it works. Not good. It has bothered me
before, that switch to the left indicator. I try it a few times - it comes on about half the time.
So, I need to pay attention to that (as well). You can live without your right indicator, but riding without the
left one is dangerous. I'll have to find some WD-40 I guess. Again.
Racing down the highway towards the coast the temperature starts rising. After an hour we're
almost at 20C. Life is good again.
It is in the middle of the week, middle of the day, it is not a national holiday (as far as
we know), it isn't summer, how come the highway is virtually empty? We are on what must be the main
highway between the big cities of Athens and Thessaloniki in the south and the north-west of the country.
Why are there no trucks?
When you ride on an Italian Autostrada in mid week, the right lane is packed with trucks in all sizes.
If you ride on an German Autobahn in mid week, the right lane is packed with trucks in all sizes.
But here - nothing.
It takes some time to realize, but when we notice, it is scary.
Trucks might be annoying but they are proof of economic activity. They carry merchandise, half-products to
factories, delicious food destined for foreign markets, tools for production, repairmen, new machines, and what not.
When we have noticed that there are no trucks, we realize that we haven't seen trucks at all here.
Which leads us to realize that we haven't seen any industry at all. In Italy there are factories, workshops, signs
pointing to S.R.Ls (meaning "Ltd", real companies") everywhere. Here, at least so far: Nothing.
We then realize something very uncomfortable. Now that we live in Italy we obviously have many
things at home marked Made in Italy. But when even when we lived in Norway we (could have) had a
Ducati or a Moto Guzziin the garage, next to the Ferrari. We would drink coffee fro Illy made on a machine
made by Pavoni or Rancilio, we would eat Parma ham, sprinkle (a lot of) Parmesan on the Penne Rigatone
made by Barilla. With the pasta a Chianti, with the ham maybe a Barolo or a Brunello. We would look at all
our possessions while wearing an Armani suite, Gucci glasses, a Prada bag. and so on, and so on.
Made in Greece?
Either Greece is a stealth producer (producing things we don't see), or, more likely, they have a
problem. If a crisis looms ahead, what do you do if you have industry you can stimulate?
Where do people work in this country? Do they all work with tourism on the islands?
The intercom goes silent as we contemplate what we (might!) have observed.
Economic realities can not, however, keep a lid on out lust for lunch. As we pull off the highway we
see a Lidl (German chain of stores). No one on the parking lot.
The First Officer takes a well deserved nap while the Captain goes shopping for lunch. The First officer is
very grateful he can sleep anywhere. I have inherited this ability from my father. Thank you!
We ride on the high way going north. This is the one connecting the big cities (and thus the south) with
Bulgaria. We ride alone. A car here and there, maybe a single truck. But no traffic as anyone from
Northern Europa will define it. Been on the M1 or the M6 (in Great Britain)?
We stop at a brand new station. It looks as if we were on the Autobahn (in Germany). Everything
well maintained, A lot of space for parking, not-so-good coffee (or, according to the style used
here, ”coffee”). But no cars or trucks. The girl looks bored. Attractive, but bored.
A two lane (in both directions) high way passes by. But it is empty.
Who pays for this?
Even at 1,50 euro the Nescaffe isn’t nice. But the sun is shining frem a Greek-blue sky and I am here
With Capa Superiore. When all has been said and done, that is the most important.
Refuled (with, for us, inexpensive fuel) we turn back on the highway and continue north.
Before we reach Bulgaria we turn off, and head east. Aat a random point we turn off the main road
and enter a village. The sign says Chorygio. I have noe idea how it is prunounced, and that bothers
me. I am sorry. The road used to pass through the village, but now makes a lazy curve around it.
The main street is wide. Far too wide as no traffic passes through here any more.
There is a small park next to the school. The morning cold has been forgotten. This is
what Greece is about
: Eating lunch in a (small) park, listning to children who play, feeling the
warm sun As we eat we talk about how fortunate we are, having our grand child a mere 20 minutes
away from our home. We sit there, far away from her, and feel the happiness that comes with
Time for … “coffee”. We go to one of the two bars in the village. I don’t know if the two old
men inside sat passive and stared at each other before I came in, but now they sit silently and
stare at me. I ask for two coffee in the best of my abilities.
The “coffee” isn’t expensive, far from it, but it still doesn’t taste well. We haven’t decided on what
is the least of two evils: New and foreign Nescaffee that doesn’t taste well, or old-style and
local “coffee” that doesn’t taste well. We have, more or less, decided to go for the greek “coffee”.
We are in Greece, after all. Unless, of course, there is real coffee to be found. Illy, you know.
The Captain refuses to accept that it is 20C now, and not 2C as it was thins morning. She is
wearing everything. And she is very, very warm. And thus very impatient. We need to go, NOW!
We turn out on the main road again, and continue north towards Bulgaria. Following the border is today’s
theme it seems.
From time to time we turn off the main road just to ride through some random village.
Thus we’re able to tell you that Rodopoli sports a military base. Remember; NATO used to end
here. Well, NATO probably still ends here. But the Iron Curtain used be hang down a few
kilometers from here.
In Livadia there seems to be a stork on every telephone pole. Brings luck, I guess. Or, better: One
hopes they bring luck. The whole valley here along the border seems dry, deserted, poor. It seems
they need luck.
The ride along the border is excellent. The road sweeps through the landscape. The curves
are perfect, there are some potholes, but not too many. And, as usual, no traffic.
The scenery looks like Norway in August. If you’re local: Looks like riding along Nordnes from
Tromsø, looking towards Lyngsalpene.
Not local: This is a nice place.
The afternoon draws to a close, and we need somewhere to stay for the night. We turn into
another village; the sign says Lithotophos. A nice little village by the lake. We rind the streets
until we realize that we don’t know what a “Bed and Breakfast”-sign looks like in Greece.
We haven’t planned enough even to know how to fine somewhere to sleep. Stupid tourists.
We need a town big enough to make sure the hotels say HOTEL on the outside.
We ask Mr. Zumo. He tells us that the nearest town of some merit will be Drama. When we
arrive Mr, Zumo tells us there are two hotels. We ride by them, but they are both so boring
and lacking personality that we don’t even go inside. Instead we stop at a gas station where
a (motor)bike is parked outside. The guy working there understands the problem, and point to a
small hotel near the main piazza.
The Captain, who is also chief negotiator on board, goes in to check it out. She ask for a
non-smoking room. The receptionist says that if she doesn’t smoke, that is non of his business.
She can have any room she likes. It dosn’t matter to him that she don’t smoke.
The room is OK (not great, but OK).
And the bike?, I ask as I carry the luggage
Leave it on the side walk.
Is that legal?
The problem is this: It is nice to be able to do exactly as you please. But I am convinced that
this have effects. There is nothing without effects. What happens to a society where
even obvious things like parking on the side walk on the main street in town isn’t noticed?
Or at least, isn’t reacted upon.
Oh well. It is a nice and warm evening. Lots of people in the streets. There are as many
scooters and bikes in the streets as in Italy. Suddenly I notice that no one uses a helmet.
Isn’t there a helmet law here? Can it really be that even in Bangkok everyone is now
using a helmet, but not in Greece. An EU country without a helmet law? I am amazed.
We find a small bar with WiFi. I update the Greek thread on ADVrider, and reply to some emails
from Greeks we have not yet met. Capa Superiore enjoys a gin tonic while I have a Dry Martini (shaken, not stirred).
We seem to be the only one not smoking, and I try not to think about how awfully nice it would
have been with a cigarette now. Or a Dutch sigar.
Dutch cigars, as opposed to Cubans, for example, are not “dense”. You can easily draw in your much
sought-after smoke. In that sense Dutch cigars resembles cigarettes. But they are, as they should
be, much stronger. I thought that smking was banned indoors in the whole of EU. It is not that
some steal themselves to a cigarette. There are ashtrays on the tables. Even the saff smokes behind the bar.
It is awfully hot: In Italian style we haven’t taken off our jackets just to sit in a bar. We’re boiling.
A young man sitting next to me hears that we speak a foreign language, so he asks where we are
from, what we do in Drama, where we are going, and all that. We explain, and we talk for a while.
Then I ask about the crisis.
He says that rather that creating this crisis in Greece, Germany should pay back the gold they stole during WW-II.
I probably look as if I had fallen from the moon, so he explains patiently that this so-called
crisis has been designed with great care by Merkel in Germany. It is soon elections in Germany,
and we all know how they always create enemies abroad when there are domestic problems.
Merkel isn’t doing very well in the polls, and we have to pay the price. She has forced the
European Central Bank to deny us loans and thus this “crisis”. But, he says optimistically,
as soon as the German elections are over and done with this thing will pass. He adds
that, yes, this gold thing is an old story, from the war, but fact is that Germany never paid us back.
We try som careful questions about reality, but we are whisked away. Politely, absolutely, but
we are evidently completely in the dark about how things are related. Just you wait and see - everything
will be fine he says with a shrug as we take our leave.
Several days later we realize that this gold-story was used by a member of the government on
the national news that very same evening. The young man hadn’t invented it in a twisted effort
to de-rail some foreigners. He had heard it from a member of the government. Mind boggling!
Rather than taking both the cigarette and the (very) stiff drink I feel I deserve, we ask the bar
tender of somewhere to eat. “At this time” he asks. It is 20:30 and we don’t really know if
that is too late or too early. He gives us directions, and a few minutes later we are seated.
The menu is, not surprisingly, in Greek. We are in Drama, not on Krete. We tell the waiter
we have no clue, that we are in love but nevertheless hungry, and that we would appreciate if
he could make us even happier.
He does his best!
We start with the ubiqoutus Greek Salad. Is there a table in Greece withtout Greek Salad?
Elsewhere, as in outside Greece, it has a fraction of the oil they add to it here. I like oil.
Hey, I live in Tuscany! But 9 out of 10 Greek Salads here in Greece has too much oil added to it.
But from there we go upwards. Grilled slices of zucchine with a tomato saus, some type
of meat balls. Fried potatoes.
We are happy, indeed. It is a small and cozy place. Everyone else seems to be happy as well.
The wine is OK. It is warm inside!
We empty one of those half-liter copper jars of wine. They are used everywhere.
The waiter takes it to refill, but we say a half liter is enough for us. He insists – saying
that it is on the house. The wine is inexpensive, but the gest of filling it is nice, and we feel
even more welcome. This, and not the snow, was why we came to Greece. We love Greece.
A football match (as in soccer!) fills a 30 inch screen on the wall. Where we are seated we
can’t see the screen, so we study the audience instead. Everyone follows the game, and
we follow the followers. The only thing I can tell you about the game is that one team
has blue shirts, the other red. The smoke is thick.
, which probably isn’t called dolce
in Greek, is too sweet for us. It tastes sugar
dissolved in honey. Far too sweet. For obvious reasons, at least for anyone who has
read On Food and Cooking
, that there is no room in Greece for the type of dessert that we
Scandinavians favor. How, in the Mediterranean heat, could a culture of cream be sustained?
Again, the problem lies with us, not the Greek cusine.
We talk about Norvegian desserts. I recall being a boy, visiting my grandparents.
After lunch / dinner (which was served at about three in the afternoon), a boring hour had be
endured. Alt the gown ups would sleep and I was left to my own device. But then, at
about four thirty, they served coffe (well, by today’s standards; “coffee”) and cakes
with cream. Home-made stuff with strawberries.
As we pay our modest bill the (young) owner comes and ask about where we are from, what
we are doing in Drama, and all the questions you ask when you are surprised to find
a foreinger in your midst. We stand outside in the chilly Greek night and talk for a while.
As almost everybody we have met, he speaks excellent English. Italy, Spain, France: Do you
hear me – you need to remove dubbing from your television!
I ask if smoking is really allowed in places like this. He says that, technically speaking, it is not.
But people must decide for themselves if they want to smoke or not. Who is he to ask people
to refrain from smoking?
What to say?
Just before we jump together into bed, I prepare to charge my mobile phone. As I stick
the charger into the wall is says “plop” and dies. For no apparent reason. But the temptations
in the bed rules out any further investigation.
We rode 435 km today. An excellent day in Greece.
The map, with more details, are hosted at Google Maps.
Thank you for your attention!