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Old 08-28-2013, 10:23 AM   #46
Dekatria OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blader54 View Post
Looking good! Nice advice about the roads in Greece and especially the situation with the road signs. Cool that you are NOT using GPS -- I think stopping to talk with people for directions can lead to a deeper experience of the journey, but that's just my opinion. Looking forward to the next chapter.
Precisely!

Also, if you just rely on a satnav and it breaks down, you're pretty much screwed. A paper map will never break, and you'll always have an idea of where you are I just like my stuff as reliable as possible.

I also feel it's part of the fun, navigating with a map and compass. Makes it kind of treasure-huntery, which is precisely in tune with the adventurous nature of trips like these.
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Old 08-30-2013, 10:16 AM   #47
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Day 13 & 14: Tenaron & Astros

Quote:
Forgive me if today's report is a little long - I've got alot to show you. Because today, it was time to reach the final destination. Cape Tenaron!

Fotis had told me that, when heading South out of Kalamata towards the cape, I had to look for a junction at a hotel where I had the choice to go straight (along the coast), or left (going up the hill). I had to go left, up the hill, and it would lead me to a tremendous road.



So after thanking Fotis and saying goodbye...



...I filled up, and went to look for that junction!



Now, ofcourse I didn't know how the hotel look like or anything, but I was told I'd know it when I saw it.

So at the first junction with a hotel and a road leading up the hill and one staying near the coast...



...I went up. And it was quite a good road - lots of hairpins though.

And... well... I could téll you what happened next, but I think it's more fun if you see for yourself.



I started to realize this was not the road Fotis meant when I approached the sign saying the road ahead was a dead end. But by then, I figured I'd just plow on and see what was at the end... I'd come this far anyway.

But eventually there I was, on the top of a huge hill, at the end of unnerving gravel inclines that led to nowhere. And I had to go all the way back down again. Oh joy!

At one point I need to make a U-turn, requiring me to walk the bike backwards a little. But to do that with a 600 pound Beast on an incline borders on the impossible. Eventually though, my view was this:



Engine running, clutch engaged, and hassling around to get it pointed left where I wanted to go, knowing that if I let go of the clutch, the Beast and I would be bye-bye.

I can think of less nervous moments in my life.

I made it down in one piece though, and rode on to find the right junction. Soon enough, I found one that fit Fotis's description ánd had roadsigns telling me there'd be cities at the other end. Comforting, yes.



In the distance, I could see what Fotis meant with this road being worth the ride.



Quite the sight already.



The road was draped at the side of a mountain, with rocks on one end and a valley at the other.



Sadly though, the valley was largely obscured by trees beside the road.



Soon enough, I was greeted by the coast again! But the awesome roads didn't end here, for sure.

Let me show you what I'm on about.



This went on for miles. With the hill-climb adventure earlier, and now this, it was turning out to be one awesome day.



And the roads made for some good riding too. The tarmac wasn't the slippery kind, at all.



So let's have a hurray for twisties!



HURRAY!



As it turned out, I was not the only rider here. Respect, guys.



By this time I still hadn't had any real trouble navigating. Once in a while I just took the map out to check whether my location was the right one, and rode on.



(note the amazed onlooker in this pic)



There are worse places for a toilet break.



And the pretty pictures just kept on coming.



This was also something that kept on coming - looking up a hill, knowing you're going to ride the spaghetti road you see draped on the hillside before you.



But the Greek don't care, they build their houses there as well if they have to.



Thankfully, most towns have their own petrol station too.



I could feel I was slowly getting closer to the end of the continent. Towns became smaller, roads became more... well... remote.



But the Diros caves were on the list first. So, a small detour, and down the hill I went.



God, tourists... bleagh.



I chose not to leave the Beast alone with all them other foreign people. That's my paranoid streak for ya - I just don't like leaving it anywhere on a trip.



So I turned around, made like a shepherd and got the flock out of there.



Going further South, I knew it wouldn't take long...



...before civilization would end too.



It's quite strange how such a thing feels. Myself, I feel as free as I could possibly be.



The houses here in Mani (the Southern tip of Greece) are all built as if they were castles.



Fotis told me that Mani citizens pride themselves on being the sole area in Greece that wasn't conquered by the Ottomans about 200 years ago.



And riding into Mani, I could see why. There's hills and cliffs everywhere.



To me, this meant alot more hairpins...



...and steep inclines.



But the views? Well, see for yourself.



The only thing to see in the middle of nowhere is its staggeringly beautiful scenery.

And that alone makes it worth it.



Yes, almost there now.



The very last town of Kokkinogia still obscured me from...



...the end of the road. Literally, the tarmac just stopped into this 'parking lot', which was basically a clearing on the rocks.



This guy (whose clothing indicates the local temperature) had driven with his camper all the way from France. He helped me realign the Beast on the rocky surface, after which he told me he'd traveled alot on a Transalp as well. Bonjour, et merci!



After shooting a few images, it was time to head on back.

Back down the exact same road I'd just ridden, for miles.



Another thing I saw alot more in Mani than anywhere else in Greece - houses sporting the Greek flag. Fotis told me that because of the aforementioned history, Maniots tend to see themselves as truer Greeks than the rest of the country.



They do have themselves a pretty nice area to live in, I'd say. Time to follow the East coast!



And with one more look back South, from whence I came...



I arrived at a camp site near Gytheio, at 3pm. Fotis had told me that to go from Kalamata to both Tenaron and Monemvasia on the same day would be ambitious, and the roads from Tenaron had shown why. The twisties had made for nice riding, but really slow progress.

I was still dubious about going to Monemvasia though - it would mean a choice between going there, or Mystras (near Sparti). The camp site was nice though - both left and right I was sided by German families, and both of them had experienced riders.

And both of the riders had ridden Transalps. "Ahh, Transalp! Geht nicht kaputt. Nie." was one of the comments I got. I would learn later down the trip exactly what this entailed.



The next day, I chose to keep the distance respectable, as the ride to and from Tenaron had drained me more or less.
I chose to go from Gytheio to Sparti, Mystras, and then via Leonidio to Astros. And I surely wasn't disappointed... but more on that later.



Time to fill up, and head on outta here!



Gytheio proved a very nice place, especially with the sun rising.



And after a few miles...



Sparti was already upon me!



Time to silence my munchies...



..and then head to Mystras. You can see the castle right in front.

You know, on that mountain.



The view was spectacular. And this was just the main gate - the fortress was even higher up.



Fotis's map of the Peloponnesos was proving its worth today. Even the smallest towns were on it, making navigation a tad easier as some of the time, the signs just tell you the nearest towns instead of the closest cities.



So after a lot of twisties and turnies...



...I saw the hills I was to cross in about 15 mins. The Parnon mountains.



And just to be clear on this - I was going OVER these hills. Not through them.

Oh boy.



You see that sort of whitish streak running across that mountain in the distance?

That's a road.



This road, to be precise.



Wait, let me show you where we just were.



All the way to the right. See?



But I wasn't done climbing just yet. This set of mountains is nearly 2000m high, and my ears popped three times because of the air pressure until I got to the top.



But the Greek don't mind, they just build a town on this hill. And I can't blame them.



Hello mate.



Because... well look at this scenery!



Another thing, most Greek people don't ride with a helmet. A motorbike is more like an accessory, or so I was told.



And if you go up, there comes a time you must go down again. That road you see on the mountain to the left - that was exactly where I was heading. Yay!

And these weren't the normal kind of hairpins either. No guard rails, just a sheer drop where the road ended. Even my camera didn't want to see what came next - the battery died (of fear, probably) just when I started the descend.



Mind you, what awaited me at the other end was just as spectacular.



I must've made a wrong turn, because I ended up in Utah for some reason.

After some searching, I found myself a camp site near the town of Astros, and settled down, spending the rest of the day swimming in the Argolic Gulf.



Tomorrow, Athens!
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Old 08-30-2013, 05:43 PM   #48
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Day 15 & 16: Athens & Lamia
Quote:
Now, there's one thing that amazed me walking around on the Astros camp site. And it wasn't the heat, it wasn't the walk-on beach, it wasn't that some occupied caravans looked like they hadn't moved for decades... it was the extra stuff that people took with them to go camping.

Up until this point, I'd seen people with airconditioning units, a stove (with microwave), garden lighting sets (including gnome)... but this one took the cake. A standing house refridgerator.



Now, I agree that it's nice to have some level of comfort whilst being away from home... but comfort is not the point of camping. Freedom is the point of camping... and to me, it seems a bit cumbersome to keep lugging a huge fridge around.

But maybe that's just the battle-hardened gas-guzzling motorcycle nomad in me, oblivious to why people stay on the same camping for weeks on end... I don't know.



Anyways, ONWAAAARDS!



The Argolic Gulf made for a nice goodmorning, on yet another sunny day.



I kept finding more S#%P signs, too.



But soon enough...



...I was on the highway to Athens.



What struck me here (besides the awesome view and countless insects, ofcourse) was the apparent lack of regular service stations on a toll road. I mean, you pay extra to drive the road, so why can't you have a rest every now and then?



In the mean time, it seems there's a city in the distance...

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-DVUSQoaMGC...0/TL005149.JPG

...the city that is home to alót of Greek people. To give you an idea: there's about 11 million Greeks, and just under 4 million reside in Athens.



Mercifully, just outside the city, I could fill up the Beast and empty myself.

I'd agreed to meet with Socrates, whom I got into contact with through V-Strom Hellas. He'd described to me what exit to take on the highway, but ofcourse, I just followed the signs saying 'Athens'...



...which made me end up right in the middle of the multi-million metropolis.

Now even without a satnav it's still pretty easy to find your way out of such a situation. What alot of people do is retrace steps, but I'm not in favor of that - streets look different going the other way, so you might miss a turn you took earlier.

My preferred method is following my compass into the direction of a ring road or coast.

In this case, it was time to head North, to the highway around Athens.



Et voila! I could see my exit in the distance, but it was already too late. Time to pay toll...



...for 500 metres of highway!



Here we are, nearly done for the day.



And soon enough, I was at my destination...



...where I would learn that The Beast is a true pussy magnet. Well, what can I say.

Socrates was kind enough to be my guide for the day. Time to be an annoying tourist, and time to find a GR sticker as well!



This should be the place, we reckoned. According to Socrates, if we couldn't find a sticker here, we couldn't find one anywhere.



I would learn later that 'Grigoros' means fast/quick in Greek. What's in a name, right?

Ofcourse, eventually I found a sticker for my panniers, after which we continued towards the Akropolis.



This is typical of Athens - a modern square with a subway entrance, and an ancient building right in the middle of it.



Mind you, there were some other ancient buildings I was a bit more curious about...



Climbing the Akropolis (which is lined with various other ancient sites), you got a feel for things to come.



The heat was immense, but by this time I more or less stopped caring...



...because the Parthenon was upon me. Walking around for a few minutes, I was overcome by the moment itself. I was standing on top of the friggin' Akropolis in the heart of Athens. It's crazy how things can go.



And what a view it was, looking back from where I'd come.

Mind you, I was really missing my Camelbak by this point. I'd left it with the rest of the gear, but without riding wind to cool me, I needed it now more than ever.



Socrates thought it'd be a good idea to get a drink, so he took me to his favorite café/restaurant, which overlooked the city in true spectacular style.

Afterwards, I waited at his place to be picked up by Pavlos from Transalp Hellas, where I'd spend the night. Time to have a shower, something to eat and come to the conclusion that on trips like these, polyester underwear is the work of the devil.



Oh, and speaking of devils: the Beast even got its own room!



Probably the most expensive sticker on my panniers, in terms of what I had to do to go and get it. But well worth it!

Thanks to Socrates and Pavlos and his wife Rachel, the day had been yet another testament to the greatness of the Greek people. Pavlos was even kind enough to give me some spare coolant, and mail the cards I'd bought in the city centre earlier. Wow.



The next day, first item on the agenda (besides getting dressed, have breakfast, and thanking my hosts for the warm welcome ofcourse) was to brim the tank, and check tire pressure.

And this was where I met probably the two most amicable pump attendants on the trip.



"Where you from? Holland? How long you been on the road?"



Apparently, his female colleague was to embark on a motorcycle adventure as well, with her husband. Sticker time!

They'd misunderstood me at first, thinking I was under way for 40,000 km. No, it's just 4,000 - no big deal.



Amazingly though, the tires didn't need any more air. Ever since Florence, they'd mysteriously been fine.



But enough of that. Time to find the highway...



...and go to our next stop: Lamia!



I felt it was OK to indulge myself on tollroads for a minute. Make it a bit easy-going, and relax a little after the Peloponnesian hairpin-mania.



That I then have to stand in the blazing sun waiting to pay up, wasn't that big of a deal. My coolvest kept me from boiling over.



And I guess the straight, pee-brained highway for a day also gave me some time to reflect on the days behind me.



You know, get all introspective and such.



It's quite amazing as well what a bit of light-heartenedness did to the bored toll attendees.

I suppose everyone is defenseless against an idiot of a foreign motorcyclist coming to the booth saying 'KALIMERAAAAA' with a face akin to that of a 1 year old parking its breakfast in a diaper.



Either that or it was just my macho-charm doing the work.



Eventually though, after crossing some mountains in a way the Persians never thought of...



...the mountains of Leonidas and his peers beckoned.



You know, where that movie 300 was shot.



Oh sorry there, I promised I wouldn't make any lame 300 jokes.

Thermopyles is quite close to Lamia, and pulling into the next petrol station, I got the surprise of my life.

You see, back in the Netherlands, it's nigh impossible to get 4-stroke motorcycle oil at a pump. But in this country where nearly everyone's riding around on Cubs and other two wheeled awesomeness...



...even the liquid gold was easily obtainable! I'd learned back in Igoumenitsa that because of the hotter climate, my regular, 10W40-choice of oil was burning away faster than normal. Angelos had given me some 15W50 along, but I thought it'd be nice to have a full litre on board for the days in the Balkans.



Time to find me a camp site...



...find out I'd been bitten by Scaramanga mosquitos, giving my left arm a third nipple...



...and relax. Before I could though, the Beast beat me to it - I found some nice grassy ground and the bike seemed to be OK on its sidestand, but after I turned around the nearly fully loaded bike slowly laid itself down, with the sidestand sinking all the way into the grass.

No-one was near me, so I had to get the bike on its wheels by myself... which reminded me again why I don't ride a 1200cc. No problem.

I couldn't really grasp yet that tomorrow, the final days in Greece would already begin. The border with Albania seemed so far away, yet I would be there pretty soon.

Tomorrow, time for Mount Olympos!
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Old 09-01-2013, 07:30 AM   #50
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Day 17 & 18: Veria & Ioannina
Quote:
The camp site in Lamia was pretty much of the same character of the one I encountered in Iseo. You know, the kind where you're right beside the water but can't enter it, and the kind where only OAPs and ignorant first-timers camp.

The proprietor was a man well in his 70s, who cruised around the site in a scootmobile whilst doing the necessary upkeep to the various facilities.



Mind you, the toilet block next to my tent had probably been skipped for a while. There were leaves, cobwebs... and the water coming out of the tap was orange.

Oh well, needs must.



And after solving the problem of rising early...



...and paying the Deka Evro for spending the night...



...I was on my way.



The day before I'd gone to the camp site thinking it was the only one in the nearby area. But ofcourse, after 200 metres I passed another one, with all modern facilities and filled with foreign campers.



Murphy was still riding along, so it seemed.



This wouldn't be a day full of toll roads again, though. I planned to go to Larissa...



...and then turn onto secondary roads, towards the Olympos National Park.



So after consulting the map the confirm I was heading the right way...



...I was already steaming towards the hills.



I hadn't expected to be riding the hills again so soon... but I wasn't complaining, or anything.



Just look at the roadbuilding here. Like someone cut away the hillside to make way for the road.



And they made for some nice riding too! Good tarmac, nice flowing bends... this was a welcome change from the normal scheme of things.



These are the kind of roads you enjoy most on such a trip. Around 80 km/h...



...and dancing through all them nice views.



Until Olympos was upon me. Time to ride the road to the gods!



Yeah, I think I can say this road was quite entertaining.



That much entertaining in fact, that eventually I turned around, and did it all over again.

Quite a nice way to spend an afternoon.



I mean, just look at that view!

Time to head further North.



Oh, wait. What's that in the distance?



Trucks. Normally, it's already a pain if you have to overtake one. Now, there were three of them.



Time to wait for a straight, and POWEEEEEEERRR!!!1



The twisties just kept on coming though, making for some thorough riding entertainment.

Still, I required a break - my balaclava had the nasty habit of pressing down on my forehead if I didn't put it on correctly, which would start hurting tremendously after a period of time.



But there was also something else which was recurring through this trip, and that is that whenever I'd taken a break and wanted to saddle up again, the truck/bus/car I just spend miles behind to overtake would pass me by again.

And I knew I had to do it all over again.



POWEEEEEERRR!!11



Not too long after (just before the last camera battery died as well), I stopped for fuel, and then it wasn't that long anymore until I'd be riding into Veria. I'd be spending the night at Dimitris's place. He was an avid rider himself as well, and even builds motorcycles from old ones. I had to wait two hours until he was free from work, but he phoned his friends at a local bar to take care of me.

And they welcomed me with open arms. I was told that they originally thought I was able to do these trips because I was rich (which fit in the pattern of people in Italy asking me whether I had sponsorship), but I explained to them that I had to sacrifice alot in order to get where I was. The only way to make something like this reality is to make it your first priority.

The thing is though that there's a 60% youth unemployment in Greece, so alot of the youngsters go abroad after graduation from university. The ones that stay just don't have the means to travel - the one thing you want to do around that age.

It really put my own situation in perspective.

After a trip to the amazing Royal Tomb of King Philip and a nice night out with Dimitris and his peers (during which it once again struck me how mindstaggeringly beautiful Greek women are... literally everywhere I looked!), it was time to hit the sack.

The next morning, I was greeted by this sight on the balcony.



Dimitris's mother had asked me the day before whether I had any laundry... and I suppose I did, after 2.5 weeks on the road.



Time to say goodbye in the traditional fashion...



...and get on going. Dimitris, in true Greek fashion, had been a tremendous host. Cheers, brother!



And after brimming the tank for the ride toward Ioannina (note amazed onlooker in the far right of picture)...



I was time to head onto the highway.

Now you have to imagine, the road stretching from Thessaloniki to Ioannina is pretty much brand new, and passes through alot of mountains. So the sights are awesome...



...as well as the tunnels linking them up.

At the nearest tollbooth, I laid eyes on my first Albanian car for the trip.



And ofcourse, it was an old Mercedes. Don't you just love clichés?

I know I do.



Today's plan was to go to Meteora first, and then ride to Ioannina.



Which explains this turn-off.

The road from Grevena to Meteora proved to be tremendous fun however.



The views were great, the turns were great...



... and I started to feel a little giddy because of this, which made alarms go off in my head.

You see, the last time I felt like this I was in Scotland, and I ended up in a ditch. You just enjoy yourself a little bit too much, going into corners leaning in at speed, not paying any real attention to what's at the end of it, that sort of thing.

So I gave myself a slap on the wrist, turned it down a notch, and rode on.



See? Even the roadsigns agreed with me.



And before long, I arrived in the town of Kalambaka, where Meteora is.



If you look closely to the cliff to the far right, you will see the monastery on top of it. It really is a staggering sight.



Time to head to our final stop in Greece: Ioannina

And the road leading there was just as spectacular. Wait, let me show you.



Arrival in Ioannina showed, besides an actual accessible body of water bordering the camp site, the extense of the damage to my tent. I'd started to camp without the outside tent, as in the heat it was fine this way and it didn't require me to put any tentpegs into the ground.



There was only one stick left that hadn't snapped, but by the looks of it it was soon to follow.



So using a tree, The Beast and some rope, and kept the thing together.



By this time I had been joined by not just a Dutch family as neighbours, but also by Konstantinos and Maria, an Athenian couple on an XT who were on their way to Croatia. What a coincidence - so was I! We agreed to ride on together tomorrow, as the border of Albania beckoned.

Me, I was a little apprehensive about Albania. It was the country I knew least about, and the things people told me left me doubtful of what was to come in the next two days. It was the start of the part outside my comfort zone.

The real, adventurous part of the trip would begin tomorrow... I knew that for sure.
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Old 09-01-2013, 09:05 AM   #51
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Location: The Netherlands, Europe
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Day 19 & 20: Vlorë & Ulcinj
Quote:
Well, this was it. I'd completed the first leg to Brindisi, the second leg through Greece, and now it was time for the third and final leg of the trip. Going back up, through the Balkans.

And the start of that leg first heralded the country of Albania, the one I was most apprehensive of. Prior to departure, I had people raising their doubts at my choice of route, but others (who had actually been there) said I would not regret it. The various Greek people I spoke to agreed - the country and people are fine... it was just the roads (and the people driving them) I was to be careful with.

Myself, I wasn't all too sure what to expect. I just hoped for the best, and also felt a little relieved I had Maria and Konstantinos with me as well.

After going to a local camping store to find some fresh sticks for my tent, we set off.



(but not before filling up, checking tire pressure, and seducing the women at the pump)



Riding behind Maria and Kostantinos, I marveled at how they'd managed to get all their gear on their Yamaha. Somehow, everything stayed where it was.



(even the sleeping bag screaming for its life, dangling right beside the rear wheel)



Greece herself in the meantime, gave us a nice parting present.



Evcharistw gia ten filoxenia, Ellada. It was a truly humbling experience being here.

It didn't take long until we'd come across the one thing I'd been dreading for the past few days:



The Albanian border.



Now the way it worked was pretty straightforward. As Albania is not a part of the EU and Greece is, you first have to exit Greece, and then enter Albania. So there are two borderposts, with a de-facto no-man's land in between.

The guys on the Greek side are OK. Nothing to worry about - the man who had to check the vehicle registration just waved me off, asking purely out of own personal interest what year my Transalp was from.

But the guys on the Albanian side... well, let's just say that those unwelcoming dictatorial roots are still lurking somewhere under the surface. Those guys can put the fear of god into you, merely by alternating between looking at you and their computer screen and saying the word 'dokument' after you've already given your passport.

I (correctly) assumed they wanted my vehicle registration, but still, those 4-5 minutes felt like 4-5 hours.



But eventually, we all made it through without getting life imprisonment.



And those first few miles were pretty awesome. Not because we knew we'd made it into Albania...



...but well, just look at the scenery! I was just overcome by the vastness of it all.

First stop would be the city of Sarandë, so we knew that eventually, we had to turn left on this road, and cross the mountain we saw on our left.



And soon enough, the climbing began.



As I said, just look at it. I really didn't expect to see this so soon after crossing the border.



The road slowly twisted itself upward...



....giving me a taste of what was still to come.



At the other side, things got even better. Amazingly, we also got our first taste of what Albanian roads can be like. You can ride along on nice tarmac, no problem at all, when all of a sudden the cars in front of you slow down tremendously.



Why? Well, there was about 30 feet of gravel to cross.

This proved nothing however to what would await us when we got to Sarandë.



At first, things are fine ofcourse. Going towards and into the city centre, there's pretty good tarmac. A bit slippery may be, but fine. I didn't really know what all the fuss was about.

But then we got to the suburbs...



...and things just sort of... stopped.



And I do mean: stopped. No tarmac, at all. I instantly became worried about my riding abilities on this surface, but I just remembered not to use the front brake, let the Beast do the work and hope for the best.



See? It's already over!



Ack, spoken to soon.



Way, waaaaay to soon.



Things just detiorated further and further, leading our little convoy onto amazingly steep inclines as well..



Up until this point we just figured we'd just follow the coast and move North from there, but after the past few gravel paths, we re-evaluated our strategy and tried to ask a local. Thankfully, most Albanians speak Greek.



And a passerby told us to go back where we'd come from. Oh joy!



Yet more offroading!



Eventually, with my camera lens sandblasted by all the dust from Konstantinos, we made it back into the city centre of Sarande



Where the car of choice was, once again...



...a big blue bus.



We retraced our steps back to a junction just before the city, where there had not been a sign in the direction leading into Sarandë, but mysteriously, there did appear to be one in the other direction. So coming into Sarandë you don't know where you're going, but leaving Sarandë you do.

This was just a small taste of the random Albanian madness that still awaited us.



So it was time to gobble up the miles, absorb the scenery...



...and overtake everyone MHAAHAAHAAAAA!!11



We'd just been in Albania for a few hours or so, but the scenery just kept on improving itself.



Even the lifestock went out of picture for a better shot. How nice!



Once we'd come across the coast again, it was time for a break so Maria and Konstantinos could have a cigarette, and I could clean my camera.



That's better.



The heat was bearable when you were on the move, but during a break it was terrible. The views just made it all worthwhile though.



Both the views, and the roads.



Fast flowing bends going up and down or around the hills...



...snaking past the coastline. This truly wasn't something I'd been expecting, at all.

And the tarmac was still fine!



It was by this time that words from my garage mechanic started echoing in my head.

A week prior to departure, I'd brought the Beast away for its new tires. When I returned to collect the bike, the mechanic said they'd taken out a bit of the brake fluid in the front, because otherwise the brakes could boil (which, if you're wondering, renders them useless). Alright, no problem.

Now, a motorcycle normally has two brake fluid reservoirs. One for the front discs, and one for the back. As your brake pads wear, the level of brake fluid slowly drops, and on these reservoirs there is a little stripe, indicating when minimum capacity has been reached (which in turn, indicates when the pads need to be changed). If the level drops below, you run the risk of air getting into the brake system, also rendering your brakes useless.

Normally though, it should take a pretty long time for the brakefluid level to reach the minimum.



So when I looked on my front reservoir and saw this, you can imagine I was less than thrilled. I'd seen the bubble appear in Greece, and the past days it had apparently been slowly expanding itself. I immediately checked for brakepad wear and leakages when we stopped, but the pads weren't even halfway and everything was bone dry - ergo: the mechanics at home had apparently taken too much fluid out.

Now there I was, in the middle of Albania, nowhere near a big city, and I needed to have some DOT4 brakejuice - the one type of fluid I hadn't brought with me, and of which I knew it probably wouldn't be particularly easy to obtain in these parts.

But this was when my friend Murphy showed that he also had a good side to himself. We pulled into the first petrol station we saw, right in the middle of a godforsaken town where men in big Mercs stopped in opposite directions, handed something over through the driver's window until carrying on their merry way.

We were immediately met by a big Albanian woman, saying 'No petrol, no petrol!'. Konstantinos tried to make clear to her that we didn't need petrol, but something far more specific.



And wouldn't you know it, she actually had what I was looking for. No petrol, but brake fluid? Oh yes. I have never been more glad to pay 2 Euros.

After some roadside surgery in scorching heat (which is included in today's randomness vid), we went on our way. And progress proved tough, really. The roads kept on twisting through the country side, which wreaked havoc to our speed and in turn, to the distance we covered.

We'd started around 10 at Ioannina, but around 5pm, we hadn't reached Vlorë yet... and that town was not even 250 kms away. When we got there an hour later, we quickly gave up looking for a camp site and chose to look for a cheap hotel.

And we found one. Strictly speaking it hadn't even opened yet (it was scheduled to open its doors in 2014) but it was OK. They even let us park our bikes in the pristinely empty lobby! Two incredibly dirty bikes, on a white floor in which you could see your own reflection.

Welcome to Albania.



That evening we were told that most of the proprietors from big hotels put in a lot of money to attract customers, and just walking by those places looking for a spot to eat we knew what that entailed. Guys approaching you, trying to persuade you to come to their restaurant. But then you look inside, and you see that the place is nearly deserted... which didn't bode well from our point of view.

Because if you want to know where the quality is, you follow the locals. And so we did. We ended up at a small 'open-air' restaurant right on the beach, where they'd just put tables and chairs on the sand. A small kitchen served about 40 tables... and the place was packed.

This was also where we got our first lesson in Albanian currency.

You see, Albania uses the Leke. First, if you had 1000 Leke then you'd have a 1000 Leke. Eventually, the government decided to change things - a 1000 Leke became 100 Leke. They just took a zero off the end. No problem, so far.

But the thing is, the Albanians themselves still tend to refer to 100 Leke as 1000 Leke. So if someone writes you a receipt for 1700 Leke for the dinner you just had, it doesn't actually mean 1700 Leke, it probably means 170 Leke. And if a label on a packaging reads 170 Leke, the cashier will probably tell you to pay 1700 Leke.

Don't worry, it also had us confused. Further explanation is in the randomness vid!



The next day, we wanted to get into Montenegro.



And that's when I noticed that the key for my room (room #3) had another number on it as well.

Coincidences, the cornerstone of every nutritious breakfast.



Time to get on going!



By this time we'd more or less started to ride like Albanians.

Strangely enough, they ride pretty similar to Italians and Greeks.



Screw the rules, respect each other!



Today we were going towards Fier, then Durrës, and then Shkoder. So basically, just follow the signs!



Wait, what's that? Is that...



A highway!? Hallelujah!

This proved to be such a relief from all the hairpin madness from the day before. Finally we could make some proper progress.



I could really sense everywhere that Albania's a country that's still in its infancy. Alot of the things are surprisingly modern, like this road with the power lines and all...



...but it doesn't take long before you reach the bit of the road that's not finished yet, forcing you to go back to the smaller roads.



Oh well.



Back in the hotel I had hatched the greatest idea of the trip so far: putting my Camelbak in the fridge the night before. So I now had ice-cold water to drink!



Soon enough, Fier was upon us.



It was quite amazing how welcoming the Albanians were. People coming the other way would sound their horns or wave, and passerby would offer help if we'd stop somewhere.



Mind you, the roadsurface was getting slightly more evil by the minute. There were more potholes, tears and cracks, and at one point I even rode past a manhole without a cover on it!



Thankfully, the motorway wasn't too far away. Not that the cracks, potholes and huge bumps stopped or anything, but still... dual carriageway baby!



It also didn't stop the surprises falling into our lap. There's no such thing as a highway exit on the 100km/h roads. They just brake on the right lane, and turn off.

And I found out only when someone had done that about 100 metres in front of me. That wakes you up in the morning!

But anyways:



Horse and carriage: check.



Moped: check.



Traffic jam: check.

Let's pass it Albanian style! I crave me some gravel!



Omnomnomnom.



Take a close look at this picture. We were just crossing a roundabout here, and turning into an exit. If you look at the far end, you can see that alot of drivers were fed up with waiting, and just took the roundabout the wrong way. But ofcourse, with enough people doing that, you soon have two traffic jams...



...with a bonus one going the other way. I love this country.

Still, the madness was far from over.



Cyclist crossing the highway: check.



Random roadworks: check.



Allow me to interrupt myself, for Durrës is upon us!



Time to fill up, and try and figure out where to get an Albania sticker for my panniers.

This proved harder than it seemed. You see, I'd seen alot of Mercedeses cruising along with stickers from Great Britain or Germany, but no cars I'd seen up until now carried an Albania sticker.



We tried asking one of the pump attendants... and this was what happened:



Inside the café, Konstantinos managed to get some instructions, so we set off and tried our luck.



But we got distracted by this peculiar wedding car.



The road to Shkoder was probably the biggest eye-opener when it came to Albanian motoring. People overtake pretty much anywhere they can... so soon enough, we started doing the same!



But because this road goes from Tirana to Shkoder, it is also lined with policemen stopping people at random intervals.
I'd heard plenty of stories about the corruption, and that they'd try to scam tourists out of money if they got the chance.

For some reason though, I always managed to hide the Beast and me really well behind other cars whenever one these dudes could be seen in the distance. The car would get pulled over, I'd move past behind it, and bye-bye! Stealth-mode, oh yeah.



What became most apparent though, was how much the Albanians like overtaking.



And when in Rome, you ride as the Romans do!

It didn't take long for us to reach Shkoder because of this. We had some lunch, and spent an hour laughing about the madness we'd seen the past 24 hours (the majority of which is in today's randomness vid).

Just before the border, I found an Albania sticker at a small souvenir shop. It seemed closed, but just when I walked past the woman owning the shop came running towards me. Oh yes!

After another harrowing border crossing (where strangely Konstantinos had to pay 10 Euros for insurance despite showing his green card, and I didn't), it was already time for country number 8!



And the road welcoming us into Montenegro, well... just look at it.



I'm just gonna shut up for a second.



Because these few kilometres...



...don't need any artificial sweetening.



See my point?



We even didn't mind it dumbing down to a single track road eventually. Albania didn't have border crossings in Hoxha times, so it was no surprise that the road leading to the border was brand new.



To me, it felt nice to see the Adriatic again. It just felt different, being in Montenegro.



It had been a good day. Even Maria losing her gloves didn't change that.



We hoped that these views would be an indication of things to come.

(and they surely were, but more on that tomorrow)



We arrived in Ulcinj soon after, and after I used my stubble-bearded awesomeness to fix my tent, Mario and Konstantinos went to buy groceries for the following day. We'd agreed Konstantinos would pay for the food in Albania, and I would do so in Montenegro as the country carries the Euro.

This was probably what got me the nickname 'Dutch Bastard', as a full bag of groceries cost them only 8.50 Euros. And in the end, Konstantinos still didn't let me pay for it.

Greek hospitality, so it seemed, extends beyond its borders.
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Old 09-01-2013, 10:21 AM   #52
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Thanks for another great episode in your epic travels! A cynic (how appropriate of me, since you have just left the land where the cynics originated) would say that the reason so many cars in Albania have stickers from Britain or Germany is because that is where the cars were stolen before being shipped to Albania....at least that is what Clarkson, May, and Hammond claim on Top Gear.... Just trying to be funny here not to stereotype all Albanians as evil-doers. Apologies in advance to any Albanian inmates....there are a few bad apples in every country who break all the laws. The other threads here on riding in Albania speak very highly of the Albanian people for being warm, welcoming, and helpful.
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Old 09-01-2013, 03:26 PM   #53
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Most obliged, Blader! Most of the fun-poking that Kostantinos and I did was in good sport and very tongue-in-cheek - me personally, I adored the craziness of Albania. It was an experience on its own.
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Old 09-04-2013, 11:56 AM   #54
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Day 21 & 22: Zabljak & Blagaj
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Getting up in the South of Montenegro the heat was immediately upon our camp. Soon enough, it was 40 degrees, with a humidity of obscene dimensions. Long live the Mediterranean coast!



I drenched my coolvest, and we were once again on our way.



We had agreed the night before that Maria and Kostantinos would stay another night at the camp site in Ulcinj, but they'd ride along with me towards Kotor and subsequently Cetinje, after which they'd return to Ulcinj and I'd head on northbound.



Time to twist the wrist, and overtake the feeble!



This was also something particularly unnerving - Montenegrin tunnels. There's no lighting, alot of moisture, and you can't see anything because of that.



Nothing but light at the end, if you're lucky!



The hills were omnipresent. Yesterday we'd already been gobsmacked by the first Montenegrin views, but they just kept on coming.



The traffic was OK too... although in this pic, it looks worse than it is.



But ofcourse, soon enough I learned I'd spoken too soon.



Pffff.



Luckily, me and Konstantinos both thought the same thing. 'That's a mighty interesting sidewalk over there'.



Excuse me, coming through!

Just as we suspected, people in Montenegro also adhered to the credo of 'Screw the rules, respect each other'.



The immediate problem with the Montenegrin coastal roads also became apparent.



They are really nice, flowing roads in the mountain side...



...but as soon as you get to a city, that's when things get difficult. Konstantinos, with his soft luggage, was more maneuverable than I was, so sometimes he had to wait up for me.



The Montenegrin drivers didn't mind, though. The oncoming traffic even made room for us.



It was getting pretty tiresome in this heat though, but luckily...



(sorry, lost me train of thought again. Where was I? Oh, right)



...luckily my friend Murphy had brought his buddy Thor along again. We chose to pull in, and have some lunch whilst we awaited the rain



And we basically left off where we'd stopped in Shkoder. Time for an Albanian lunch! This time, Konstantinos finally gave in and let me pay.

It wasn't too long after this that we reached Kotor. I rode up front, but eventually I noticed Konstantinos and Maria were nowhere to be seen. I waited up, but after consulting a map the penny dropped. I'd already passed Kotor and was now miles north of it, going straight where we'd said to go right.

Not the way I'd wanted to say goodbye... but luckily, the road leading North toward Niksic made up for this.

Here, have a look.



As I climbed the temperatures kept dropping. I had started with 40 degrees in the sunshine this morning, but now, it was less than half that. It was nice to be out of the sweatbox for once, but in fully ventilated heat gear, things got rather chilly real soon.



But still, the views were spectacular.



I plowed on towards Zabljak, which is a winter skiresort in winter. Because of this, there are alot of people renting out rooms in their house... so I found one, for just 10 Euros. And it had everything I needed. Half an hour after I'd arrived, two Polish riders came to stay as well - one on an oldschool Triumph Tiger, and the other on a Transalp.

We spent the evening exchanging stories and trying the local cuisine - thankfully, just across from our hostel there was a small restaurant. The kitchen was tiny, the owner was also the waiter... but the place was packed, and the food was tremendous. If you ever get to Zabljak yourself one day, make sure to visit "Old Wolf" - you surely won't regret it.



The following day, I was to go up a bit further to see the Tara river gorge. Then, head back South and into Bosnia.



Just for future reference - the place you see just left beside the road (inside the bend), that's the restaurant I was talking about.



Zabljak is a town at an altitude of nearly 1500m, so if you want to go and visit a gorge...



...that means you'll eventually have to descend down a string of hairpins.



One thing I also didn't like about Montenegrin roads (beside the tunnels) was the way they'd have ridged tarmac on a few places. In a car, you hardly notice it... but the narrow tires of the Beast kept on following the ribs in the road. Ribbed, but certainly not for my pleasure!



At the Tara Gorge, I was lucky enough to score a Montenegro sticker. Long live souvenir shops!

Oh, and before I forget... here's a vid of the ride across the Tara Gorge bridge.



After, I turned around, and headed back to Zabljak.



So back on the hairpins, dear boy!



Oh come on, there's plenty of space to overtake. POWEEEEER!!1



And there I was, back on the high plains. The vastness came in handy, because I could now see far more easily where bends were going and if there was any traffic. The speed, the speeeeeeed!



And the views, the vieeeeeeeews!!!1



These roads made for some spectacular riding. I hadn't seen that many motorbike tourists the past few weeks, but here, in Northern Montenegro, they were everywhere.



And I could understand why. These roads were just a joy to ride. Lean in, throttle out!



This also fufilled me with a bit of sadness, really. I knew it wasn't long until my Montenegrin adventure was over. I was curious though about what awaited me in Bosnia - a piece of Earth that to most Dutch people signifies a war, rather than a country.



Just one quick fill-up, and let's go.



On my way to the Bosnian border, Montenegro etched itself into my memory once and for all. You can already sort of see what's up ahead in the above picture.



But I guess this clip will tell a better story (nevermind the skewed perspective, I forgot the turn the lens back after doing some onboard footage). Now, I've got a smartass comment on everything, but this road just took my breath away. For fun, also try and count how many tunnels there are. I had to cut some of the long ones out, but it gives you an idea.



The road came by a huge dam...



...and then continued in precisely the same, mental way.



I could almost start myself feel giddy again.



Oh look, the border! Yet again, I first had to exit one country, and then enter the other. Inbetween there was a river, crossed by a single track bridge (see the randomness vid for that). It gave the border crossing a sense of occasion.

When I come to power I want single track bridges entrenched by cliffs at all Dutch border crossings!



ONWAAAARDS!!!1



The first few miles in Bosnia proved to me what I'd been hoping all along.



That it was a staggeringly beautiful country.



The roads just kept on getting better and better, as well as the surroundings.

Little did I know though that I was yet to experience how close the difference can be between life and death on a trip like this.

Let me tell you about the term "SMIDSY". A SMIDSY is a type of accident where the motorcyclist is in full view, but simply overlooked by the driver of the car. Most of the time, this involves a car waiting in a side street, pulling out at the exact moment that the motorcyclist approaches the junction. SMIDSY therefore stands for 'Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You'.

So imagine this:

I was riding down a hill with about 70 kph, on a straight road for about 3 kilometres. A wall to my right, trees and houses to the left. In the distance, I could see a white car waiting to exit a side road to the right. It was standing still, so I figured he'd seen me already and waited until I had passed.

However, as I got closer, he started moving slowly onto the road... and before long, his entire car was blocking my way through. I couldn't go anywhere. I started braking, but I was convinced I was too close. This was the end. The trip was done, the bike was done, and I was done. I was going to have a monumental accident.

By this point two voices started running things in my head. The first one started to run amok shouting 'MURDER! FIRE! OMG WE'RE GONNA DIE', whilst the other quietly grabbed control of the Beast. 'Nevermind that other guy... I got this.'

Amazingly, with a front wheel fighting for grip, I eventually came to a standstill no more than 15-20 centimetres from the driver's door. Just take a moment to measure how small that is, taking into consideration a 600 pound motorbike, and coming to halt from 70 kph. Had I been on slippery Greek tarmac, then I would not have been writing this.

The guy driving the car slowly backed up, stuck his head out of the window and asked: 'Are you OK?'

I couldn't say anything. I physically couldn't say anything.



I continued on the last few miles to Bara river camp site, and upon arrival, I gave the Beast a little peck on the cheek. This had been far too close for comfort, for either of us.
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Old 09-04-2013, 01:26 PM   #55
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Day 23 & 24: Povljana & Postojna
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After the harrowing encounter yesterday I thought it to be best to take it easy. Just go to the town of Mostar in the morning, see the Old Bridge, and find myself a Bosnia sticker on my way towards Croatia.

The camp site was a nice find, so it turned out. It wasn't all too big, but it was right beside the river, and the sign at the main road said bikers had a 20% discount. Proprietor Tarik was a really nice guy as well - he rode a motorcycle himself as well.

Before long, the entire field was packed with as many nationalities as there were guests. I already had British and German neighbours upon arrival, then a Czech couple arrived, a Spanish couple, an Italian couple, a Slovenian family... it was becoming quite the little international enclave.



The next morning, I was - ofcourse - first to rise, and first to pack. "Ah, bikers are always the first to leave", according to Tarik. I suppose it's in our blood...



Time to head to the nearby city of Mostar.



Traffic was light this morning, which was to be expected. And also Bosnians don't really nitpick when it comes to road regulations, which was a nice continuance from the past few days.



That really cuts the Mostar!



I've got a lot more horrible puns, like that one. Here's the Old Bridge!



On my way back, I encountered this group of Italian bikers. Judging by their accumulated stickers, they'd seen quite the collection of countries already.



Ah yes, stickers! Time to go the the nearest petrol pump, and try my luck!

But after getting a round of applause from a passing by toddler...



I found something else. Dutch people will know it when they see it.



Time to run for the border!



But first, Bosnia made sure I didn't just remember it because of the attempted murder the day before.



And yes, I am convinced that one day...



....I'll be returning. I just saw the South-East of the country this time, and I reckon there's lots more where this came from.



It wouldn't be long though until I'd be near the border.

Now, I've got a riddle for you. At one point, I encountered a traffic jam, so I guessed I'd be close to the border.

With my timelapse, there's 30 seconds between each of the pics, and I was moving at about 30 kph. Can you guess how long the queue was?



Let's just count the number of pictures it takes for me to get to the border.

This is 1.



That's 2.



Three.



Four.



Five.



Six.



Seven.



Picture #8

(most traffic actually was at a standstill, resulting into people just getting out and having a walk)



Nine.



Ten.



Eleven.



And twelve!

By this point, I chose to enter the line as I figured that if I'd move to the very front of the line, people would lynch me.

Before long, I was joined by an Italian couple on a GS. At one point though, I came to see that my earlier decision to not go to the very front was a wise one - we were passed by a Romanian couple on a Harley who went to the very front of the line... and the border patrol proceeded with asking them to unpack EVERYTHING on their motorbike.

The Beast's stealth mode with Karmic countermeasures had yet again been triumphant.



But coming to this borderpost, I really couldn't understand what was the hold up. Sure, there were two checkpoints - one out of Bosnia, and one into Croatia - but when I approached the window the officers merely glanced at the front of my passport and waved me onward.

Hey, I'd been waiting in the boiling sun for 90 minutes, in full riding gear, walking about 600 pounds of motorcycle... so at least have the decency then to CHECK MY FRIGGING PASSPORT.



I gave my Italian compadres a project sticker, which was immediately applied to their bike. Apparently, they'd been trying to ride the world in 20 years. Not all on this same bike, but they were eating up the miles at a steady pace. Very nice!



Time to split.



(I told you I had plenty more of bad puns)



The roads were quite fun. I was originally expecting to be on the motorway, so this was kind of a letdown.



If you look in the distance though, you can see that the end of the highway is still under construction.



Before long though, I reached the bit that was already completed.



POWEEEEEEEERRRRRRR



At the next petrol pump, I got several surprises



No.1: at this particular company they hire girls to wash the windscreens of cars if people want to.

Too young for my taste though.



No. 2: my reputation had preceded me, resulting into people taking photographs.

(or maybe it was The Beast... I don't know what that thing is up to when I'm asleep)



No.3: Milk! I'm a downright unadulterated milk addict, but it seemed nigh impossible to get some decent stuff anywhere at all. The first time I'd encountered any was in Greece, and this was the second time. Time to indulge on calciuminated goodness!



Continuing my ride north, I marveled at the level of engineering in this tollroad.



Mountains, valleys...they were just moved to make way for a ribbon of asphalt.



I even started making lame innuendo jokes again!



Arrival in Zadar sadly also brought the return of something else...



Greek tarmac. The front wheel lost grip during braking a number of times.



There even was some more Montenegrin ridged asphalt. Ugh.



Thankfully, the road towards Pag made it all worth it. Still, I was getting tired, and the vast number of tourists on these roads blocking a nice clean run slowly sapped away at my patience.

It was time to find a place to spend the night, sooner rather than later.



I therefore chose to cut my route short, and spend the night in Povljana. Finding a hotel of some kind seem impossible for some reason though.

I was tired, annoyed and because of the many tourists here already getting fed up with Croatia... but the person I was greeted by at the reception of the camp site changed everything. Let me introduce you to Manuela.



She was really enthusiastic upon hearing about the trip and project, and moreover, quite the change from the usual kind of receptionist I encountered. And I made sure she knew it was a welcome one!

The next day, I planned to just gun it towards Slovenia. Nothing too complicated - just follow the coast, and go North from Rijeka.



The town of Pag was up first. Quite the nice bit of scenery.



And quite nice roads too. Not too crowded and all that.



Verrrry nice indeed!



Soon enough, we had to cross a small body of water... as is usual in Croatia.



And we did so by ferry.



Seems not too long ago we were on that other ferry.



The road at the other side pretty much painted a picture of things to come.

You're stuck behind a camper for miles on end.



Then, you overtake it...



...spend 2 glooorious minutes in freedom...



...after which you're stuck behind a caravan.



This went on for pretty much the entire coastline.



And it was a real shame too...



...as these roads had some real riding potential.



But no, I was always stuck behind someone driving under the speed limit.



Let me explain to you what I'm on about. Please note the look and make of the car in front.



And here we are, just coming to a halt at a roadworks. There's 25 pictures in between, and there was an 80 kph speed limit. God, it was torture. And this went on until the highway at Rijeka, basically. Such a waste of good driving roads...

No, I think it was safe to say Croatia (safe the camp site receptionists) had not really been my cup of tea.



So here we are, the Slovenian B&B! The cam batteries needed some juice (that's why the first miles into Slovenia are missing), and so did I. The first few miles in Slovenia looked tremendously beautiful (almost akin of Austria) so I decided that tomorrow, instead of seeing Venice, I'd see more of Slovenia instead and head into Austria.

In the B&B I spoke to an Italian couple, who were amazed I'd come such a long way, and congratulated me on completing a life's dream.

Well, not quite. Almost there.
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Old 09-04-2013, 01:37 PM   #56
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Day 25 & 26: St Johann & Friedberg
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Originally, my plan was to see more of Slovenia today. Go to Ljubjana, the centre of Postojna maybe... but when I opened the outside door on my way to get something from my panniers I was greeted by this:



And it was still raining... quite badly, too.



I didn't really feel like spending time in city centres when it's pouring down, to be honest.



Still - I had been on the road for nearly 4 weeks, and this would be the first I'd ride in the rain.

Quite refreshing... in both figuratively, and literally speaking.



The Beast seemed quite happy too. Time to wash off all the dirt from those past 6000 kilometres!



At the first gas station, the hunt for a Slovenia sticker was on... and I struck gold immediately, how about that?



The rain, sadly, didn't let up.



It was good to see though that I was not the only iron-munching die-hard braving the torrential downpour.

This one even gave me the thumbs up. Two-wheeled nomads unite!



During my ride North, I came across a heck of a lot of caravans and campers. And I'm not making a joke when I tell you that half of them had Dutch plates.

Up until now I'd always wave enthusiastically whenever I saw another Dutch car, caravan or camper... but riding this highway the penny soon dropped why nobody waved back at me anymore.



Gah. Time for petrol.



Here's a super duper optical illusion, 3rd person style and everything.



Trickery, it's a beautiful thing. See, clear picture - it's not raining anymore!



Ah, spoken too soon.

Time to enter the tunnel into Austria.



But not before I'd spend half an hour trying to take my soaked gloves off.

My playful "Ahhh, the joys of riding a motorbike in the rain..." was yet again met by a smiling face.

So far, overwhelming success with toll attendees!



I chose not to keep the caravans behind me waiting for another half an hour, and threw ATGATT out of the window momentarily.



100-metres-momentarily.



Then, it was time to leave Slovenia...



...and enter Austria. The country I'd originally planned not to visit, but that's the fun of an impromptu traveling schedule.



And because Austria, like Switzerland and Slovenia, uses highway-vignets instead of toll...



...it was time to pull over, and get the windshield another sticker.



And the rain was still not letting up.



Eventually I chose to just take a break and get some tea inside of me, to warm up a little.



I then met a German couple on KTMs, who were on their way to Montenegro.

They'd never been there before, so...



...time to dig up my map of Montenegro, and show them which roads to ride!

Inside the petrol station, I bought myself a map, and saw that Austria stickers weren't that hard to come by. However, they only had the boring white-oval kind, and I really wanted one of the flag with possibly the eagle as well.

I chose to roll the dice, and didn't buy one yet.



Back outside, it seemed to have cleared up a little.



Wait, that wasn't a RAINDROP I just felt, now WAS IT?!



Nope. All clear!



The sun was even coming through, which was the icing on the cake.



Now I just needed to get my gloves dry. Crashbars, they have their uses...

I decided to bite the bullet, and buy a boring white-oval Austria sticker as back-up. Should I not find a better example, I at least had one I could use.



The sun then proceeded to fog up the Drift's lens. I guess that's happens when you make something interchangeable.



But no matter. After some time beside the road, I could see clearly now the rain had gone.



I could see all projectstickers in my way.

(and I swear I don't know how that one got there)



Soon enough, my exit was upon me...



..and after a little riding around, I arrived in the little town of St. Johann im Pongau. Not only did I have luck with the view...



...but the Beast did as well!



Time to be the annoying tourist...



...just like all the Dutch families who surrounded me. I wasn't really prepared yet to be talking Dutch on a regular basis... not this far away from home at least. And even if I did, most of them were quite rude and disinterested.



But after 12 countries and 7000 km, I thought this was appropriate. Even though it's a shameless plug.

The pub was really nice, too. I spent the entire evening talking with the lovely barmaid Nina, who, after I'd told her about the trip and project, enthusiastically proceeded to tell everyone that came in about the Dutchman at the bar.

Yeah, it was a nice evening.



And the next morning, the sun was out as well!



Glorious sun, where hath thou been?



Over here I wanted to check oil, but in towns like this, even the flat surfaces are at an incline.

Oh, come on...



Austria however, didn't want me to leave without leaving a good impression.



But whereas the scenery was stunning, I just don't like running into my countrymen this far away from home.

One or two is good fun, but going out to eat and only hearing your native language around you is simply too much.



I'm not pointing fingers, but the Drift even developed a cataract.



Because of that, I missed the German border.



"Oh wait, we're in Germany? CATARACTUS DISAPPEARUM!"



The guys at the hotel were kind enough to let the Beast stand on the private parking lot, right underneath my window. It felt good to know that some hosts were aware of a rider's needs... one of which is to sleep as close as possible to where the bike sleeps.

Nothing romantic (okay maybe a little <3 ), but the bike on a trip like this is everything you have... and it just takes one idiot to ruin your trip.
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Old 09-05-2013, 08:32 AM   #57
Dekatria OP
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GR2013 Final days: Back to Rotterdam

As I woke up in Friedberg, I knew that the last few days were basically one big liaison, going back home. I could've gone to Dachau, the Nürburgring or Hockenheim... but after 4 weeks of riding, being this close to the Netherlands was by far the most important thing to me.



I chose to take it easy these last few days, do the miles, and arrive home Sunday the 18th of August, exactly the day I'd originally estimated to be back. Time to complete the third, and final leg... and bring the Beast and me home safely.



Time to find the way to the Autobahn...



...and get on going.



Left and right there were lots more heading back home.



But the roadworks were endless. At least half of all the Autobahn in Southern Germany must be worked upon in some way - it was just insane. Roadworks, 2 miles of freedom, roadworks, freedom, ad inifinitum.



Greece in the mean time made sure I wasn't to forget about her. Seeing this freezer made me smile from ear to ear.



Mind you, this wall in a random petrol station had the same effect.

Welcome in Germany, I suppose.



After some more miles of hopping between roadworks and doing 130kph on some of the last unlimited stretches of Autobahn...



I spent the night at Viernheim, where the collection atop my panniers had been nullified somewhat by the still-missing Bosnia sticker.



Distressing it was, yes.



The next day amazingly brought some nice scenery into the mix...



...but sadly the recipe was spoiled by bucketloads of tasteless roadworks.



And campers.



I must say that it felt good seeing the first Dutch place names on the road signs. Some familiarity at this point was welcome.



And after asking directions to the closest accommodation...



I spent the last night in a hotel, in Heinsberg.



Tomorrow, the final day awaited.



I knew it wouldn't be a particularly interesting day...



I mean, even the weather was just letting up. Getting closer to the border, the first drops of rain started pestering me.



I put on some appropriate clothing. My rain coat to be precise, as I knew I was in for a fitting welcome!



Bye, Germany.



Hello, Netherlands.



How I have missed your lovely weather!



The weather eventually got so lovely, I put on some appropriate pants as well.



That pleased the weather gods, as the weather immediately cleared up.

Murphy was, apparently, still riding pillion.



And after checking whether my camera was still there...



...Rotterdam was not that far away anymore.



Back where I started, 30 days earlier...



...it was time to come full circle at the place the project started 33 months earlier.



At last...The Beast was home, and so was I.

8182 km, 13 countries and 30 days went by in a flash.

It was crazy though how quickly I 'recovered' from this trip though. Only 10 days after, I was already meeting with a few other people about planning the next trip, in 2014. Yes, I'm going to continue traveling by motorbike - this may be the end of this ride report, but as far's I'm concerned it certainly won't be the end of all my ride reports.

Last but not least there's the trip compilation. I made it using the best bits from all the 70 gigs worth of footage I shot during the entire trip (incl the full disembarkment into Greece)... and as usual, it's all accompanied by an awesome soundtrack.

Remember that tomorrow, the auctions start on this Ebay page. There's also going to be an epilogue, since there's still plenty of stuff I haven't told you about...

Anyways, enjoy!

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Old 09-05-2013, 10:50 PM   #58
Blader54
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Hey Deks,
I'm very glad to see that you finished your ride and got to enjoy the satisfaction that comes with achieving one of your life goals! On the other hand, I'm sorry your ride has ended because I've enjoyed reading and watching your report so much! Ha! I suppose I will now just have to wait until next year for another report from you.

Now that you've been back a little while, have you thought of anything you would do differently on your next trip? Any gear or equipment you would replace with something better? Your thoughts on this may help others plan their trips.

Congrats again! Great ride great report. I liked the way you kept your sense of humor and shared it with us as well as the scenery, history, and all the encounters you had with people along the way. Thanks!
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Old 09-06-2013, 02:49 AM   #59
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Cheers Blader!

The only change I'm making next time around will be a beaded seat I think - a sheepskin might work well somewhere else, but if you're riding for hours per day, the sheepskin is just flattened into another unventilated layer on the seat, losing its usefulness. Because of this, saddlesore became an issue about halfway down the line.

The other additions I made for this trip worked tremendously well however. The heat suit, together with the coolvest and the Camelbak surely made life alot more bearable in 40 degrees Celsius. Also, the tooltube was a good addition too - it makes you just that bit more independent.

I'll be posting the epilogue in a bit
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Old 09-06-2013, 03:44 AM   #60
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GR2013 Epilogue: Looking back & ahead



Looking back, I still can't really fathom what I've done. I really can't. Looking at the trip compilation I see the disembarkment into Greece, and just can't grasp that on that moment I set foot in the country I'd always thought about seeing some day, ever since I'd been a kid. During that moment it felt surreal, and it still does. Like it was all some awesome dream that passed by in a flash.

However, it was by no means an easy feat, this trip. I tend to forget this, but the first couple of days nearly destroyed me. Later on, the immense heat was also a factor starting to interfere - being native to a moderate climate, I'm not used to being in so much heat, and doing so for such a prolonged amount of time was, despite the precautions I'd taken, incredibly tough.

Things I'll change for next time will probably include a beaded seat instead of a sheep skin. Because of the long riding hours, the sheep's fur was eventually flattened to a point where it was just another unventilated layer on the seat, losing its use completely. Because of this, saddlesore became a real issue around halfway down the line.

Anyways, time to sum up the niceties and the not-so-niceties!

The Good and the Bad

Bad things

-Greek tarmac
-Rain in Slovenia
-All the tourists in Croatia and Austria, and the subsequent bad traffic
-One zip of my coat breaking on the second day, rendering 1 pocket useless
-An air mattress terrifyingly slowly deflating itself
-My phone peeling itself
-Montenegrin ridged tarmac
-Bosnian cagers in white cars
-Getting used again to the way more unpredictable West-European traffic
-Camp sites next to a lake or sea, but without any access to them
-That Italians don't speak English 9 times out of 10.
-Swiss city plans
-Everything between Manfredonia and Brindisi
-Not finding a Bosnia sticker
-Saddlesore
-Paying toll
-Italian siestas. You get to a city centre to get supplies, and everything is closed
-That most petrol stations didn't sell milk
-The customer service in some B&Bs and hotels
-Running into a Dutch colony 1000 kms away from home


Magically conjuring up a Bosnia sticker!

Good things

+Greek women
+The weather. 30 days on the road, 2 of which I rode in the rain. I call that a good score.
+My summer suit. It was perfect.
+My coolvest. Worked like a dream, and it was well worth the investment
+My Camelbak. I could even drink whilst going 120 kph.
+My tooltube. Worthwhile addition.
+Croatian receptionists
+Austrian barmaids
+Greek women
+Albania with its amazing scenery, and its mentalness
+Zooming along in Roman traffic. Riding around like a scooter!
+How Bosnia surprised me
+Mani, Southern Greece. Beautiful remote pice of Earth
+Seeing the Colosseum for the first time at the end of a street
+The nights out in Veria, Kalamata and Igoumenitsa
+and the women durnig those same nights
+The Mediterranean road-credo of Screw the rules, respect each other.
+River camp Bara in Blagaj, Bosnia. Perfect little camp site, with an 8 degree river serving as both airconditioning as well as a fridge!
+Riding off the ferry. Surreal.
+My tires hardly wearing after all the abuse. Only the rear had lost 1mm upon arrival back
+Having lunch together with Konstantinos and Maria. Albania jokes all the way!
+Did I mention Greek women yet?

Now, it's down to the most positively surprising on this trip. In ascending order, they were:



Montenegro

It was the one country that showed why it's a good thing to go on a trip like this without having seen any pictures or videos. Its beauty just blew me away. The people were amazingly kind, and more importantly, it wasn't as hot as everywhere else.

It also harbored the one road in over 8000 km that managed to shut me up, and almost bring me to tears with its stunningness (see this video for a closer look).

To me, this little piece of Earth shall henceforth be known as 'the Scotland of the Balkans'.

Up next in the list is...



Greece and her hospitality
(which also includes the women)

I know it's a culture thing, but that doesn't stop me from saying how insanely humbling it all was for me. People surrendering their own beds, calling a café from work to take care of me, paying for my food even though we'd already left the country... I could go on forever.

It's no coincidence that the one sentence I managed to learn while in Greece is to thank people for their hospitality. Truly amazing. Angelos, Akis, Fotis, Socrates, Dimitris, Maria & Konstantinos and Pavlos & Rachel, my hat goes off to you.

Still though, the real surprise, the real star of this trip was



The Beast

Yes. My '99 Honda Transalp.

It took everything the Balkan threw at it, ate it up and asked for seconds. Not once did it fail to start, not once did it misfire or do anything at all out of character. It went through major potholes that nearly maxed the suspension, incredible inclines on gravel surfaces... and it didn't even flinch. Every time I thought it was totally out of its depth, it easily soldiered on without missing a beat.

It basically proved why I love it so much; it's tough and dependable as old boots and no matter what, it will always get me to where I want to be. Rain, shine, scorching heat or suffocating humidity.



Sure, it's not the quickest, it's not the most powerful. It won't win any awards for styling, it doesn't meet any modern standards. It's got horrible plastic panels that break if you handle them too roughly. It's got a luggage rack that bends if you only look at it. It's got no fuel gauge, and it likes the taste of oil. But it brought me more than 8000 km over Europe's worst roads, without any problems at all.

And then I think of the Austrian BMW I encountered in Southern Switzerland - two years old, and its battery couldn't hold a charge anymore. You could almost hear The Beast laughing in the background. No, if there was one thing on the Beast that let me down, it was the fruitcake riding it.

So what's next?

I'm writing this about 2.5 weeks after arriving back home, and as I said in the final part of the ride report: it's kind of strange how quickly I wanted to go back on the Beast again. I immediately knew I wanted to keep doing this.

It's like a virus, an addiction... I don't know. 10 days after coming back in Rotterdam, I was already discussing the plans for the 2014 trip with two other riders.

These plans are, upon writing this, not set in concrete yet, but as for now the plan is to circle the Baltic Sea coming Summer. The route will be shorter - a mere 6500km.

This time, I don't plan to do it solo though - my riding buddy Heiko is joining me. From The Netherlands we'll go into Germany, then Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark before riding back into Germany and back home again. 9 countries, in 3 weeks time. I guess I'll be running out of room for stickers sooner than expected.

When the auctions have passed and the project is at its actual end, I will make some adjustments to the site to provide room for future trips without making things confusing. Every page will remain though - I like to keep things as they are as much as possible, just because I'm a sentimental bastard. The Project's Facebook page will remain the main hub on FB for updates.

In any case, it's 10 months till the Summer of 2014. I suggest you watch this space!
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