Home now - the race is on to write everything down before I forget everything or run out of motivation!
The Marathon Commences
Greece is an interesting place – it runs according to its own sort of logic, the like of which is far beyond my feeble Anglo-Saxon understanding. For instance, one does not simply get a ferry from the Greek mainland to the Turkish mainland or vice versa… but it’s fine as long as you go via a Greek island. I imagine this might be the consequence of strained Turko-Greek relations, but at the same time I would think that if one country were to attack the other, it probably wouldn’t be via car ferry? Barely room for motorbikes, let alone tanks. It’s a different pace and a different lifestyle to any other country I’ve ever been to, and unfortunately it’s probably this lifestyle that hasn’t proven too sustainable economically. The government has no money to pay the bills, so it tries to spend less money, so the workers get paid less, so they pay less tax, so the government has even less money. Most Greeks I talked to (and they’re an incredibly friendly people) seemed so politically aware – much more than most other places – but also brutally fatalistic. Whereas the Portugese or the Spanish will complain that their country’s in trouble and it’s the government’s fault, the sentence usually ends with some suggestion of what needs to be done. In Greece the sentence goes more like “these are our problems… and we’re totally buggered”. I assume this is why even as the country collapses around them, Greek shopkeepers will suddenly stop understanding English if you want to pay with a credit card (as use of a credit card forces them to keep it on the books), then suddenly understand you again when you threaten to walk away. I suppose part of the issue is that solving the economic problems might mean giving up some of the relaxed nature and appreciation for living over working that makes Greece so special – to become more like the super-serious Northern European countries that now keep it afloat.
It’s not a bad way to live for now though
If you’ve got a ferry to catch in Greece, for instance, it’s a bad idea getting a coffee. Between ordering, getting what you want, paying etc you’ll be there for an age, but you’ll enjoy every minute of sitting there soaking up the ambience anyway. No one in Greece seems to be in a hurry, ever… except maybe when they’re on the road. Like a lot of the mediterranean cultures, there’s just so much more of an appreciation for enjoying the little things – a cup of coffee and a game of backgammon, a swim in the Aegean. Definitely a far cry from Northern or Eastern Europe.
If I had to pick any other vehicle to tour around on, I think I’d pick a yacht
Given the aforementioned rule about going from Turkey to Greece, my first stop in the country was the island of Lesvos, famous as the birthplace of Sapphos, who invented lesbians. Or something. To be honest I didn’t really know too much about the history – I was only there because it was a convenient place to change ferries, but it turned out to be gorgeous. I don’t often hear of Greek Islands being talked about as great motorcycling destinations alongside Romania or Turkey, but the island turned out to be covered with hundreds of kilometres of tight, twisting roads with beautiful views. Perplexingly the whole island seems to have a 50km/h limit, prompting the locals to drive at whatever speed they want, seeing how there’s no way they’re wasting hours going that slow.
I was hoping to explore some of the dirt roads but my increasingly smooth rear tyre combined with these big ole’ rocks resulted in bricks being shat whenever I went uphill… makes for a nice photo though.
The day certainly wasn’t without its inconveniences though – the first order of business was utilising the free time and sunlight to replace my blown headlight bulb. On a car I believe this takes a few minutes – I wasn’t quite expecting to have to remove pretty much everything further forward than the seat to get it out, then put it all back afterwards… by the time I was done it was 3pm – fortunately still enough time left for a nice ride through the sweaty Greek sunshine. As the sun set I thought it’d be nice to go for a swim at the beach… my efforts at playing Ewan and Charlie and riding on the super-fine dirt that European countries tend to pretend is sand resulted in me digging my stupid rear road tyre into a hole so deep that the bike could stay up without the aid of a stand. Having realised this, I stared out to sea for a second (“ffffffuuuuuuuuuuu!”), then after I’d had my moment, a look in the rear view mirrors revealed two Greek guys walking up with a plank of wood to help unbog me. It’s one of those funny things that I’ve noticed while travelling (as I write this on the plane home) – if you find yourself in deep enough trouble that you can’t get out on your own, there always seems to be someone close at hand. Warms the heart, frankly.
Making the most of the weather with some topless sunbathing
That night, I rolled onto the ferry (a much bigger one this time) and spent a comfortable night sleeping through the journey to Athens. Fortunately this time the bike didn’t have to go unrestrained – instead the ferry company supplied a single, not particularly thick rope with one end tied to a railing and one end tied to your handlebars. Perfect. I did note that Greece has one of the highest proportions of motorcycles to cars I’ve seen, as well as the lowest proportions of people wearing safety gear – a great deal of people don’t even bother wearing helmets. I’ve never seen so many sorta-kinda-dual-sports bikes in my life either. Every second vehicle is a Transalp or a V-Strom or even a Versys like mine – even saw the police using them.
What I really like about the landscape of Greece is that it’s so easy to imagine the same mountains and plains playing host to ancient civilisations – or even mythological creatures
Athens is a place where you’ve really got to pick your accomodation carefully – being located away from the centre doesn’t mean you’ll be slightly inconvienced, it might mean you’re completely isolated given that public transport is subject to frequent strikes. It’s a city with a million things to see, but unfortunately most of the sights only really need a quick look. The Temple of Zeus is little more than a collection of giant columns, the Acropolis only allows you to walk past its buildings without ever getting too close. It was great to see but I was a bit underwhelmed – I think I was expecting something more like Rome – you can walk all around the Collisseum, for instance. To be honest you don’t need more than a few days to have a decent look around, which was lucky because that’s all the time that I had.
Athens – no building is allowed to be tall enough to block the view of the Acropolis (extreme right)
I wanted to be in Northern Italy by the 28th of September – a little more than a week away at this point. It was time to head north, rapidly. So I fought my way out of the crazy Athens traffic, intending to camp just south of the Albanian border on the Adriatic. Unfortunately at this point I suffered for my schedule – which would become a theme until I got to Italy. A stop at Ancient Corinth yielded some lovely photos but I didn’t have time to go inside anything. Some complacency on my part regarding fuel (turns out when every bit of the dashboard starts flashing and spelling out “FUEL!!!”… you should go get some fuel) meant that I came perilously close to running out – the engine was just starting to splutter and die when I coasted into a big petrol station, where I filled my 20L tank (including the air bubble at the top) with 19.734 litres. Eek.
All this will be yours!
As darkness approached I arrived at my campsite and set up my tent, finding I had just enough time to go for a swim before the sun set completely. As nice as it had been to be in a developed country and pay in euros, I wasn’t done with transitional economies yet – it was time for the scary and numerous border crossings of the Balkans, which I knew very little about – especially Albania, the next country on my list. To make matters worse, the border crossing that I intended to use looked like it might be so small that it wouldn’t be able to provide me with third party insurance, and an attempt to try to plan my route for the next day showed George the GPS seemed to be only aware of one road in the entirety of the country – and it wasn’t one that I even wanted to take. Gulp.
That could wait until tomorrow though – it was time to enjoy the bluer-than-blue waters of the Adriatic, and use the time I had left to enjoy a country that had become one of my favourites of the whole trip.
How’s the serenity?