Heading to Greece we couldn't decide which Ferry Line and agonised over whether to get a cabin or not, in the end economy won out. Skill checked out all the brochures, and all the ferry lines seemed much of a muchness, so we decided to just get a deck passage, 95 Euro as opposed to 300 Euro. We took the ferry that departed first.
Well yes Venturous Ferry Lines had a very professional brochure and it looked like they did have nice ferries but not the one we were on. Think Greek Rust Bucket. We loaded first, no instructions on where to park and no such thing as a tie downs for the bike. We improvised and used what we had to secure the bike and then lugged our two panniers up 4 flights of steps (me with my bunged up knee which is now better) and across the open deck past 4 smelly semi-trailers with pigs in them.
There were no signs anywhere and when we were crossing the deck I was thinking, OH GOD maybe they literally meant deck passengers, out here with the pigs! We kept walking and eventually found the lounge area and the little man showed us where we had to go. It was OK with lots of chairs but all with fixed armrests so sleeping on them was possible but not comfortable. We secured our position and changed out of our riding gear had a beer and settled in for a long night.
In the end there were only 8 other deck passengers so we could all try to sleep on the seats around the arm rests. The only good thing I can say about the ferry trip (besides it NOT sinking) was that because we were on the truckies ferry the meals were huge and reasonably inexpensive.
We were woken by the steward at 3.00am but didnít arrive at Igoumenitsa until 4.30am (5.30am Greek time), by the time we unloaded it was 6.00am and still very dark. Some days everything goes right and somedays it doesn't. Fortunately after a night of very little sleap it was going to be the former. We rode off the ferry looking for border control, none obvious so we kept going. Right outside the ferry terminal was the road clearly signed to Parga, the town we wanted and then only 10 kms further on was a service station open for business at this early hour.
Refueled we rode the half hour to Parga, a delightful coastal village just like the postcards.
The camping area was open but it was still so early no one was around, so we put on our togs (Queenslander for bathers) and went for a swim in the most glorious crystal clear water. When we got back we found Mr Dimou who told us to find a camp place and come and see him later. By this time it is only 8.00am. Unbelievably there is a huge storm brewing so we start to put up camp and the bikers who are leaving give us their ground sheet. (A God send, we wish we had had this from the beginning)
Camp up, beds out and sleep time. We sleep through the storm (lots of noise but no rain) and awake at midday where we go to the Camping Ground Restaurant for lunch. Wow, absolutely sumptuous food. Another swim and a lazy afternoon before watching the sunset over a glorious coastline. Some days are good, but this was a perfect day, I love Greece.
Parga's Camping Valtos is perfect, we have a lovely shaded area (still in the dirt but now we have a huge ground sheet), and they provide an assotment of old tables and chairs for those campers that donít have them - like motorcyclists. We wish all campsites were this thoughtful. Also everyone seems to have pinched the loungers and drinks tables from the beach restaurants so we use them as well. Some campers leave behind anything they donít want so I even have a lilo for floating about on courtesy of a young American backpacker.
The Camping Restaurant is absolutely yummy and open from 8am until midnight as is the mini market. The beach is two minutes walk away, the town is 15 minutes walk where there are about 100 restaurants and bars, nightclubs, shops, etc. We decide we will spend 4 or 5 days here just to regroup and get our (previous) blog finished.
In the Campground we meet two German overland travellers called Heinz and Hildie. They had ridden from Germany to India last year. This year they were just on holiday in Greece heading back to Germany via Albania. We talk about their experiences trying to pick up information for our own trip.
We were also camped next to a German couple who have been coming to Greece for the past 25 years so they gave us lots of great information about Greece but told us this was their favourite campsite - the beach, the facilities and the convenience. Hmmm it is not so good to come to the best first.
Our life at Parga was idyllic, swimming, walking into the village, eating and generally relaxing.
On one of our visits to the town we check out the thong (footwear) index as we are sick of wearing our tevas to the beach. No double pluggers models over here but we secure two pairs of thongs for under 9 Euro. Skills have little Greek flags on them and mine are sparkly. We are pretty excited with our new purchase but are not sure where we are going to carry them on our already overloaded bike.
It was very hard to drag ourselves away from our life in Parga but we did manage it eventually.
We had a short days ride to Lefkada island where we promptly took a wrong turn and rode on very rough and nearly non existent mountain road to Ag Nikitas. We camped for the night in an unusual campground that looked brand new but nothing was open. The beaches in this area were stunning and the water an unusual turquoise blue colour.
The next day was a reasonable days ride through some of the most picturesque coastal roads along with some pretty awful ones as well. Here are some of the good bits.
Thw awful bits were the amount of rubbish in some places, housing and building waste and general refuse just dumped over the side of the roads down to the sea in places that should be as beautıful as the pics above. Huge mountainous of it, like a refuse tip into the sea! Unbelievable. We couldn't bring ourselves to take pics of this environmental vandalism. As we are wondering how the Greeks can do this in such scenic locations, a kilometre further on we would come across one of the little roadside shrines that seem to be everywhere. It is such a bizarre mix. We hated the rubbish but we did love the shrines in all their shapes and forms.
It gets to 3.00 pm (our now usual lunch time) and we are starving but cannot find anywhere to eat. In the end we opt for a very ordinary looking Kantina (that is the spelling they use) on the side of the road, not somewhere you would ordinarily choose to eat. Well not only was the location very scenic the food was excellent, one of the best shish and salad we'd eaten in Greece, so looks can be deceiving.
Refuelled with food we head towards our destination for the day, Delphi. Delphi is home of the Temple of Apollo, one of the most important oracles of antiquity. Delphi was also site of the Pythian games once held every four years in Apollo's honour. Athletes and poets would descend upon the city to compete for the victors laurel crown. Hmm I wonder if the poets competed against the athletes?
It is believed that Delphi really holds the origins of the "Olympic" Games and not Olympia.
We arrive at the camping ground which was great, perched on a terraced mountain top with views to the sea. It was here we met Sam and Kylie two young Aussies who had driven all through the Nordic countries to the far northern most point at Nordkapp to see the middnight sun and then through Eastern Europe to Greece. We spent a few hours together around the pool and over dinner.
But my favourite thing about this campground were the kitsch mushroom lighting.
Next day we had a great day wandering Delphi's ruins
However we had just as much fun wandering around the little town of Delphi. We had the best fish lunch, with extraordinary views to the coast.
We were in the same quandary about Athens as with Paris and Rome - to visit or not to visit. Sam and Kylie said it was hard work and really a pretty mediocre city as did most of the Greek people we met. "It is just a big city but with crazy drivers" we were constantly told. In the end we decide against Athens and head instead, to Meteora.
Our ride takes us through some beautiful mountain areas, some gross shanty towns, but mainly just uninteresting highways. But once you reach Meteora you are awestruck. Giant rock formations (volcanic plugs we think) seem to reach skywards from the flat Thessalain plain. Atop these formations are amazing monasteries. They are believed to have been founded by a monk named Barnabas in the mid 10th Century.
The camp ground is great (in the dirt again) but with a lovely pool and restaurant and who can beat the views.
We stay for two nights visiting the Grand Meteoro (The Monastery of the Grand Transfiguration) which was built in the late 14th century on the imposing stone column Plays Lithos. It is a beautiful place but I can't help but wonder about the irony of it all, the monks came here to get away from the world to be safe and live in solitude, yet today they have literally 100s of tour buses a week visiting them??????
We ride back down the mountain past the other monasteries including the Varlaam and Roussanou.
We leave Meteora and head to Thessoloniki, we need to get a big service done on the bike, Skill has a recommendation from the HU website and an address but we do not have a map of Thessoloniki so we just ride in the vain hope that maybe we will find it. The ride to Thessoloniki was much quicker than we thought with most of the new freeway being open, but because it is not yet completed there were no tolls. YAY!!!
We arrive in Thessoloniki to oppressive 45 degree temperatures and no bike shop to be found. We are getting closer and closer to the city centre when I suddenly see a Suzuki Motorbike shop with V Strom stickers on the door. I tell Skill to do a three lane maneuver and 2 illegal U Turns (Hey this is Greece, no one cares) to get there, which he does.
On arrival the mechanic does not speak English but the guy behind the counter does. Its not the shop we were looking for and Skill is not sure that the communication process is that great but we take our chances. I leave Skill at the bike shop which is in a pretty dodgy area and look for a hotel, Best Western 100 Euro, Grand Mecaro 145 Euro, another nameless hotel 130 Euro and finally the Hotel beside the Live Sex Show 55 Euro. Back to Skill in a lather of sweat and completely soaked we both decide the Best Western it is, expensive but at least they have air conditioning and secure parking for the bike. We head to the Hotel Vergina (we weren't game to ask how to pronounce it), unload the bike and walk up two flight of stairs struggling with the doors.
It is at this moment I realise that the Greeks are not into 4 star service, the two guys behind the desk continue smoking and watch me struggle with two panniers, helmet and backpack not even offering to help me into the lift which is an old fashioned doored one. I am about to rip some ones face off when Skill comes to the rescue from downstairs and helps me.
Air con on, shower, washing done and out to discover the delights of Thessoloniki in the still 40 degree heat. We head straight to the waterfront for a couple of beers and watch the traffic antics.
Greek drivers are crazy but thankfully not as crazy as the Southern Italians. However as we sit by the waterfront road we witness about 10 near misses, lane swapping, horns blaring etc etc. And then as we are watching a very new Audi reverse park an old Alfa hits him on the side and rides his vehicle up almost onto the bonnet of the Audi. The argument that then ensues is hilarious, Skill and I are in stitches, in fact worth another beer.
Next we visit Thessoloniki's only real tourist attraction the White Tower which is not really white, is closed for renovations and not really very interesting anyway.
By this time it is 8.30 pm and it is still 37 degrees. We get a kebab and a few beers and head back to our air conditioned room.
The following day after breakfast (where I steal every condiment which is not nailed down ensuring I get my 95 Euros worth) Skill takes the bike to the bike shop and I struggle to get everything downstairs, once again they watch me with no offers of help, then to add insult to injury they want to charge me an extra 9 Euro for parking, it is at this point I become very assertive (#^%&), the parking fee is waived and our gear is put into storage.
Skill spends the day at the bike shop while I wander the streets. He is more than happy with the work that the mechanic does, he is very slow but meticulous and secures all the parts we need including brake pads, new chain and sprockets including the smaller non standard front sprocket we want, which he goes out to buy on his scooter. He also lets Skill clean our reusable air cleaner and spends a lot of time straightening the bash plate we managed to crunch in Italy. Some of the parts do not strictly need replacing just yet, but they may be difficult to get in Turkey and all but impossible after that heading east, so we elect to replace all this stuff now. This only leaves new tyres to be sourced in Turkey.
We leave Thessoloniks oppressive heat 490 Euro poorer but the bike is serviced and we are heading for the Greek coast again - yeah.
Down to the Sithonia Peninsula where we find the Camping area in our guide book but don't like the look of it so it is off to another one down the road which advertises bar, minimart etc. When we get there, there are lots of tents around but on closer inspection everything is closed up (for the season) so we unload the bike, I start to set up and Skill rides into Sarti to get beer and dinner supplies.
By this time it is 8 oíclock and we realise that NONE of the other tents in the whole campground are occupied so we help ourselves to their table and chairs and also their bamboo oil lanterns. The toilets and showers are pretty ordinary (toilets are all foot pad ones) but there is plenty of hot water, all I can say is thank goodness for our new thongs.
Next morning we wake early and head for a morning swim, being the only people around is amazing. We have never ever seen water so clear, not even on the Grear Barrier Reef. It is absolutely stunning with Mount Athos (where the monks live) as a backdrop. We have breakfast and then head back to the beach for the day. (After we borrow a beach umbrella from a deserted camp) I laughingly say to Skill, this is a Greek Inskip Point.
We have a greet day culminating with beers and nibbleys on the beach at sunset and a fantastic camp cooked dinner after Skill rides back into town and discovers the butchers, bakers and minimarket. The beer index is the best so far anywhere on our trip, less than 50 cents for 1/2 litre, and the food is cheap too. This would be a good place to stop for a week or more, but we have to keep moving.
Next morning we decide that a morning swim in the birthday suit is the best idea as we won't have to pack wet togs. Breakfast, pack up and we are on our way to..........well we don't really know, but a little further towards the Turkish border somewhere. It is a pretty short days ride through beautiful coastal scenery when we end up in Kavala in a very posh camp ground complete with bar/disco and restaurant beside the beach. The water is not in the same league as where we have been but nice none the less. Swim then an expensive beer at sunset. I say to Skill "lets lash out and have a G and T". He comes back and says "Enjoy, two G and Ts just cost me 13 Euro". Bloody Hell.
Well lets just say that after one drink I was well on my way, there must have been 5 nips of Gin in it, I kept having to go back to the bar and get more ice and tonic, reminded me of our days in Spain.
That evening we had a great meal at the restaurant and watched the full moon rise over the water.
Next day another short ride to Alexandropolis, where of course we camped in the dirt again. Once again all the facilities were closed, so we ride into to town to shop and just hang around. In the evening the wind really picks up and there is dirt blowing everywhere. We both decide we have just had enough of this camping on the bare dirt thing. Today we are really over it, so early to bed. Next day it is still blowing , in fact it is gale force, packing up is difficult and riding conditions are nearly impossible. Skill has difficulty keeping the bike upright and on the right side of the road and it just keeps getting worse the closer to Turkey we get.
As Alexandraopolis is only 30 kms from the border we arrive at the Turkish border early. And so we are about to embark on the next leg of our journey, there is something magical about heading East to Turkey and we are both pretty excited, the beginning of the overland part of our trip has really started.
But that is another story. We are now in limbo waiting for our Iranian visa which we will have word about on the 26th of September, things are uncertain, as two other independent Aussie travellers we met at the Embassy had been refused a Visa. We are hoping this will not be the case for us so fingers crossed.
Cheers and Beers,
Quote of the Week:
"Do not wait for your ship to come in - swim out to it"
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