May 15, 2014 – Ioannine, Greece
Today was all about the adventure of riding on Albanian roads. For short periods of time this morning both of us were having just a little more adventure than we wanted.
We left Hotel Vivas in Durres this morning and headed south. For the first couple of hours it was just the usual adventures on busy Albanian thoroughfares. We stopped for gas and the attendant explained they didn’t take credit cards, only cash. I said OK. He asked, “Euros or Albanian?” I said Albanian. He didn’t believe me until I pulled out my wad of 1,000 Lek notes. ( 1 US dollar = 102 Lek ) Filled and away.
Twice today we stopped for a break at a gas station just to have coffee. Both places made us excellent macchiatos. Really good. One Euro for two. The first lady that served us had a million dollar smile, and wasn’t bashful about sharing.
Our riding got real adventurous at Fier. The map I bought at the border a couple days ago shows a big solid red road going SSE from Fier through Bellish, Tepelene, through Gjirokaster and on to the border at Kakavije. Oh, there is a road there, but it is vile! The GPS route was exactly the road we were on and it was the only real road shown on my map. The low point was the loose rock and water section that went around a big slide that covered the original road. I’m sure Debb was considering her options again. About 10 minutes later we came around a corner and there is a big smooth 4 lane highway and signs pointing the way we wanted to go. We went from averaging 15 mph to 60.
That new road is basically the same as the southern third of the red road on the paper map. The further south we got the better the road was. There were beautiful sections and then there were the original stretches through town. The last 30 miles to Greece was 125k’s and smooth sailing.
Speaking of Greece: No one in Albania does, apparently. All along that last fast section there were signs for Kakavije. Lots of signs, and the nearer we got the more signs there were. The last two miles must have had 20 signs for Kakavije. Greece was never listed. It’s as if the known world ends at the border.
At the border the Albanian officer scrutinized our paperwork carefully. I assume the outbound passport check is to see of there have been any issues at hotels or other places while you have been visiting. You give your passport to the clerk when you check-in and I suppose if you skip out on the bill, your name and passport number get sent to border control. Can’t imagine what a hassle that would be. Anyway, our papers were in order leaving Albania, they were in order entering Greece and we checked off another Balkan country.
Just inside the border we stopped for lunch at the cafe set between the incoming and outgoing lanes of traffic. Convenient! We each had a ham and cheese filled pastry that was much like a croissant, but round instead of triangular. Very tasty. Two of those and two drinks was 4 Euros. We chatted with a couple of Germans heading south during lunch. One was on a R1200R, the other a 1200S. Friendly guys, all smiles as we wished each other good travels.
So here we are in Ioannine for the evening. I have a back brake issue to get fixed so we will make our way toward a dealer, or Athens and some service. Tough duty, I know, having to go to Athens. The route looks good, taking us by the big canal the ships use to get to Athens and over a high bridge or two. There is way more sunshine and blue sky here than we have seen the last few days.
One thing here in Ioannine: We stopped for gas and the young lady attendant stopped suddenly when she realized Debb was a woman. She told us her Mom won’t even ride a bicycle. Then Debb told her how old she was. She immediately pulled out her cell and called her Mom and was chattering away as we left. Old people rule!
Life is good.
May 16, 2014 – Patras, Greece
Today was full of adventure. Some of them we will remember our whole lives, some were acts of extraordinary kindness, some were just a pain.
This morning I hooked up my GPS to my laptop and set about downloading a set of maps that included Greece. Looking at a blank screen doesn’t really add to the experience. The blank screen was a sign of things to come. The USB interface on my old 2820 StreetPilot GPS is a very modest USB 2.0, and I think it performs near the bottom of the spec. Loading even a small map set takes a long time.
In the middle of that process Debb and I were going to go down to breakfast. Then we remembered that when you take the key out of the slot all the power turns off. (Don’t you wish you had a connection like that for teenagers?) We decided asking forgiveness was the best option, so we ‘forgot’ to take our key to breakfast. The clerk came back up with us after breakfast and the loading had finished. I clicked the close boxes on my laptop, turned off the GPS and we loaded the bike. And when I installed the GPS and turned it on – nothing. Dead, dead, dead. I immediately thought fuse, but all fuses are good. “It’s dead, Jim.” Later this morning at a big gas station I powered the GPS from my ac adapter and there was nothing. Not a flicker. Really dead. Anyone know if there is some kind of fusible link inside I might look at? Anyway, I’m still looking at a blank screen. First thing tomorrow morning I am buying some paper maps.
There is a huge bridge here across the Gulf of Patras. www.gefyra.gr has lots of info, as does Google Maps with lots of images. Stunning piece of BIG engineering. But we didn’t pay 2 Euros each to drive across it. We paid one Euro each for bike and rider and took a ferry across. Way more fun and the water-level view of the bridge and surroundings is unsurpassed. Highly recommended.
We are in Patras because it was the nearest BMW dealership. My rear brake pads were toast. I hardly ever use them, but so it goes. We arrived at the dealership about 12:30. The Service Manager completed his phone call, asked me what the problem was, kneeled down to look at the caliper and said, “No problem.” Two minutes later a tech is rolling my bike inside and 45 minutes later we were on our way. And very reasonably priced, I might add. I could not have dreamt of better service. The Service Manager told me there was some differences between US spec and Euro spec pads for that bike. I think they resolved those differences with judicious use of a grinding wheel. 🙂 I have brakes.
While I was cooling my heels in service, Debb was chatting up someone in sales about a place for lunch. We got directions and a map, but as any outdoorsman knows, the map is not the land. We were lost in three blocks. But we turned down this really minor street and there are tables and chairs under a roof with 4 guys about our age sitting there with food and drink. Lunch!
It was an extraordinary experience. One of the four knew just enough English to help us order and so we chatted a bit, asking questions back and forth with him translating for the others. He bought us our beer. The owner was one of the four and they explained what was on the menu today. We shared another Greek salad to start and it was even better than yesterday’s. Debb had BBQ sardines, which were actually 3 whole fish, each about 10 inches long, and very tasty. I had a chicken leg with pasta, also good. The local cat enjoyed the chicken as well. The four got the biggest kick out of me feeding bits to the cat. Another customer also had the sardines and the cat got all the heads. The cat was having a good day.
The four were there discussing politics. There are local elections Sunday with signs for candidates posted all over. The one who spoke a bit of English pointed to the one on his left and said “Communist”, at which he yelled, “No! No!” Then he pointed to his right and said some other term I didn’t catch, and they all laughed at the joke. They were all drinking red wine and I’m sure they were on their second or third pitcher. Since they bought our beer I decided to share some of the homemade brandy from Montenegro. They were very excited to try some. They liked it and thought it was a higher proof than their local drink. Then they brought out their local brandy so we could compare. Not nearly as smooth as what I’m carrying, IMO. The owner poured himself a quite generous portion of my brandy and we were all joking and pantomiming that he would soon be taking a nap. More laughter. Just an amazing hour with complete strangers. An hour we won’t ever forget.
After some driving around we found a hotel. Tonight’s place and last night’s share the same “patina of a bygone era.” Venerable spots hanging on until July and August. Very reasonable in the off season. We walked a couple blocks along the water for coffee, then wine and appetizers at the next place, a bar of chocolate and a drink at the last. Watching the sun set over the Adriatic with a nice glass of local red wine is a fine way to end the day. Also highly recommended.
May 17, 2014 – Nea Epidauros, Greece
That is the spelling the young lady used at our hotel this evening. We are a couple of hours southwest of Athens on the coast in a little town.
We had an uneventful ride today from Patras to Korinthos to here. Even without the stupid gps.
It is Saturday and there are lots of bikes and riders out. Some of them setting a furious pace. Keep an eye on those mirrors!
We stopped in Korinthos for a light lunch in a beautiful plaza next to the water. We were very near the northern end of the Corinth Canal. I was hoping to see a big ship coming or going, but nothing. Later, we saw lots of ships parked near the southern end. There was a large oil terminal right there so maybe they were just there to load or unload.
The road south from the Autostrata is another that I’m sure would earn the Catfish and SSJoanne Seal of Approval. There were lots of bikes going both ways to keep them company and show them the proper lines.
Tomorrow we brave the traffic and Greece election day to visit friends for a BBQ. Life is good on the Aegean.
May 20, 2014 – Athens, Greece
Yesterday we played tourist here in Athens. We rode two-up to the nearest Metro Station, paid E1,40 for our tickets and hopped off near the Acropolis. I can’t imagine trying to negotiate Athens on my bike while watching the traffic and my GPS.
The Acropolis is a walking and climbing experience. We decided to pass on that but did go up on a big nearby outcropping and enjoyed wonderful views all over Athens. Our rock had a nice set of recent steel stairs so getting up and down was easy. We probably spent 30 minutes up there looking at our map and finding the landmarks. A large group of Koreans climbed the steps, took a group picture with the Acropolis in the background and then went back down. 5 minutes, maximum. I’m pretty sure each of them had both a still and video camera. They were on the run.
Our hotel is a very nice place set on the side of a hill quite removed from the local housing developments. The owner lives below the main level with the woods as company. He is our age. He used to ride. His son also works here part-time, and has a room full of motorcycles that he showed us. A Nightster Sportster, full carbon fiber Ducati, a very nice Honda 250 twin street bike, and his prize possession, a 1952 Maico. Then there are several rooms of parts and projects. The one he showed me is a 900 Monster that is completely apart.
He also owns a company that makes carbon fiber parts for cars and bikes, and custom machined hard bits. I got all the brochures and business cards. Definitely, one of us.
Our host, guide, and local Athens guru is Stelios. This morning he came by the hotel and we went for a 15 minute ride on a nice set of twisties to the other side of the hill to look at the sea toward the east. Coffee and talk overlooking the ocean in the sunshine. Doesn’t get much better.
I heard from Gena! She lives in Ioannine, which we came through the other day. We hope to connect with her tomorrow. Fingers crossed. We will say goodbye to Athens tommorrow morning and head back north. We had hoped to catch a boat from Patras to Venice but the only accommodations available was deck seating. Not for 36 hours, no.
May 22, 2014 – Ioannina, Greece
Yup, same place as before. The locals spell it with an a.
We had an interesting ride from Athens. The first half was toll-road, but pretty along the coast, up and down the hills. The second half was “the plains”, and we could have been in the Yakima Lower Valley rather than halfway round the world. Lots of flat fields with mountains on all sides.
We stopped for gas and a break in Meteora, a town that lies beneath towering rock formations. On top there are monasteries.
Another Catfish and SSJoanne Seal of Approval was issued for road #6 between Meteora and the autostrata #2. Lots of twists and turns, lots of great mountain (and monastery) scenery, lots of bad pieces of pavement to insure your suspension is correct. You can skip the tunnels and stay on #6 all the way to Ioannina if you’re up for it.
As we neared the autostrata we could see its bridges towering way above us, out of one tunnel and into another. Finally, our twisty road climbed up to it, and our first toll station in a while.
Worth every Euro! The first half going toward Ioannina is 80% tunnel. Long twisting tunnels filled with red and green lights. Straight out of a Star Wars video game. But it was cold! Several of the tunnels were several kilometers long and I’m sure you could hang beef in there with no problems. Sometimes the opening between tunnels was only 100 meters and then back into the cold.
Finally, we dropped down out of the mountains and the temperatures climbed back to wonderful. This is a nice time of year to visit Greece.
We can’t say enough nice things about our Athens host Stelios. He is a great guy, a great ambassador for Greece, and a fabulous host. Thank you Stelios.
Travel. You may not have met your best friend yet!
After more than a bit of email back and forth we have a confirmed booking on a ferry from Igoumenitsa to Venice for tomorrow morning. We didn’t relish a return trip through Albania, and the alternatives didn’t seem so attractive. Venice is two hours from the Slovenian Alps so it really isn’t out of our way.
May 22, 2014 – Igoumenitsa, Greece
Here we are on the west coast waiting for our boat. It is scheduled to sail at 0700 tomorrow. We have to get up early. Not our routine, lately.
This morning we spent the day in Ioannina playing tourist. It truly is a delightful city and we can see why Gena likes it. The old-town area that we stayed in is closing many streets to vehicles and they are a delight of shops, cafes, and clubs.
We worked our way down to the water and took a boat out to an island. We wandered around a bit, but mostly just enjoyed a cappuccino fredo and did some serious people watching. Then the boat back to the mainland.
The food highlight was lunch. The usual Greek salad, but the eggplant salad and chicken in red sauce were excellent. The eggplant was cooked, then mixed with yogurt and herbs. Very nice. The red sauce on the chicken was to die for. Tomato sauce, oregano, rosemary, and olive oil. Debb says it was more like homemade tomato sauce. The chicken had a light white cheese melted on it and the sauce was heaven. Yumm.
After lunch we wandered a bit more, then rode all of 45 minutes to the coast and our room for the night.
There is a massive construction project here at the port. While we were eating dinner and speaking with our oh-so-cute waitress (I got photos), her Dad came over and he was telling us about the work. A few years ago he owned a restaurant that was 50 feet from the sea. Now you can’t see the sea, only the massive concrete buildings and roadways that are now in front of his restaurant. Winners and losers, I guess, but that has to be a heart-breaker.
Our boat sails at 0700 and we have to be at the ticket office after 0600 to get our gate assignment. Should be an adventure. In the few hours we have been here there have been at least 6 boats come and go. This is a busy place.
A short note on some exciting research going on in Athens and other large Greek cities. The measurement of time, especially the very shortest periods, has fascinated Greeks for ages. The consensus now is that the shortest amount of measurable time is from the moment the traffic light turns green until the driver of the fifth car back honks his horn. Now you know.
May 23, 2014 – Anek Lines ‘Forza’
Somewhere in the Ionian Sea between Albania and the boot of Italy.
We were up and packed and ready to go right up until the ticket taker told us he had tickets for two bikes but only one person. Gah! I zipped back to the ticket office, got my ticket and then realized I couldn’t go back out of the terminal building the way I had come in. I had to go through Customs again, run around the building to my bike and zip back to the boat where Debb was waiting as the last of the big rigs was loading. We boarded, tied down the bikes and Anek Lines decided it was time to set sail.
After we went through Customs this morning and came out on the other side of the fence was our first chance to see just how big this new port facility is. Three or four football fields from the water to the road, and a mile long, at least. No wonder the restaurant guy was sad. The ocean is a distant memory.
The boat sailed between the mainland and some islands for the first hour, but now we are in open ocean. Only one or two ships have passed us going south so we have the ocean to ourselves.
When we checked in the Steward upgraded us from a cabin with bunk beds to a cabin for four and so we have both lower bunks. And extra pillows!
The ‘car deck’ is massive. Nearly the entire length of the vessel and 6 lanes wide on the bottom. There is a long ramp up the upper ‘car deck’ and it is half full with about 30 rigs up there. These boats can carry a lot. I would say we are about 40% full. I believe this ship can carry well over 100 big rigs.
The ride is very smooth with only a touch of vibration to help with sore muscles and naps.
We are looking forward to arriving in Venice from the sea tomorrow morning.
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