So much has been written about this island. It appears as the number one island to visit of the Greek islands in the South Aegean Sea. But with that comes a fee. Increased costs for everything and people in the annoying form of tourists off a cruise ship. The worst ones.
Santorini is the largest island of a small, circular archipelago, which bears the same name and is the remnant of a volcanic caldera. The island was the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: the Minoan eruption (sometimes called the Thera eruption), which occurred about 3,600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization. The eruption left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits hundreds of metres deep. It may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km (68 mi) to the south, through a gigantic tsunami. Another popular theory holds that the Thera eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis. (wikipedia)
As the ferry pulls into crescent bay you can see why it is so popular. It’s just beautiful! The ferry docks at the base of a sheer cliff, which makes up the inside of the caldera. Riding off the ferry we wait for a couple large trucks to clear the tight serpentine road leading to the top of the cliff. The AirBnB we booked is on the east side of the island with contrasting beaches to the cliffs. This is the original side of the island before the eruption formed the caldera to the west.
We pulled into a small beach village of Kamari and up a side road to our place for the next few nights, the Villa Dioni. The restaurant attached to the villa is Alexanders, named for Alexander the Great, a Macedonian. We are greeted by the owner of Alexanders as we dismount, trying to figure out where to park the bike. He tells us in perfect English that it will be fine right in front of his restaurant. The owner of the villa, his daughter, is out at the moment and to please come in and be his guests for a cup of Greek coffee. We had a wonderful visit with him while waiting for his daughter to return. He invited us to return in the evening to his restaurant to eat, drink and enjoy the Greek music of which he would be part of. Of course we will return in the evening.
The next morning we took off to explore the island. We rode along the top of the caldera along towns with white washed building clinging precariously to the side of the cliff. On the northern most tip of the island is the town of Oia. This is what Santorini is known for. The side of the mountain from the top and spilling down towards the water are whitewashed and blue building. It is an amazing sight with the deep blue of the water in stark contrast to the white. Cruise ships and three and four-masted sailing vessels drift in the water below. Across the water is the other side of the caldera and the rest of the now inactive volcano. There are no roads in this town other than at the top. The inclines are steep and when too steep, stairs. All the way to the bottom. Overweight tourists grumble as they all have to walk to their overpriced accommodations somewhere is the maze of white buildings. Porters carry enormous suitcases stuffed with way too many pairs of shoes and coordinated finery. The problems of the rich.
We sit and look at the beauty and the watch the tourists complain. On the way back to the beach we pass a brewery, the Santorini Brewing Company. We chat with other Americans there that can’t believe we would actually ride a motorcycle over here. The owners and brewers are also American and the beer is actually very good. On tap are Red Donkey, Crazy Donkey, and Yellow Donkey. We thought this would be a good name for our poor, overburdened V-Strom, so it is duly christened at this point.
Deciding we have seen enough we head back to the hotel and spend another fantastic night at Alexanders eating amazing food and listening to our host and his small band play traditional Greek music. What a night.
The next day we catch the ferry back to Athens for a few day of more exploration before heading to Turkey.
We arrived at the Githio ferry port with plenty of time to spare. Our first stop would be the Greek Isle of Kithira. Parking in the front of the ferry office we easily purchased the first leg of our Isles tour. The ferry would arrive later in the day so we made ourselves comfortable in the large tented area in the middle of the vehicle circle at the wharf. I ordered a beer and we had great FREE WiFi access and plugins for the afternoon.
The ferry trip would only be a couple hours which would put us into port just as the sun was setting. We were at the front of the queue but loaded after the large semis had all backed into the hold. Melanie walked on board as I parked next to a railing as directed by the men loading the ferry. I watched as they expertly lashed my bike to the rail and hoped that’s with it would remain for the journey.
The ferry was much nicer than I had expected with seating in the galley area and nice airplane type recliners upstairs, for a small charge, of course.
We pulled into the ferry port after dark, as expected. I was the first one to disembark, which would have been great, except we had to pack some things from the ferry ride and pick up Melanie. By the time we were ready several big trucks were ahead of us and making their way slowly up the mountain from the docks. We took off and easily passed several to get into the front. That’s when things got hairy. It was very dark and even with my Denali lights shining brightly, I was proceeding carefully. Once at the top the trucks, anxious to get to their destination and knowing the roads started to bear down on me. There was no place to pull off so I kept speeding up when possible to distance myself from them. Coming into the first town the nearest truck was getting close and my GPS showed a turn I felt was not right but without time to think about it, I turned. Yep, right onto a narrow, cobbled alley that twisted and turned, in total darkness, up and up. There wasn’t a place to stop so we kept going until it opened up enough for me to park sideways on the hill, get Melanie off, and try to turn around. Melanie wanted to walk back down but it would have been too far in the inky darkness, so she carefully climbed back on and, somehow, we made it to the bottom again.
Our place we had found to stay was on the south side of the island, near Kapsali. From our balcony we had a great view of the harbor and the Kithira castle to the side of us. It was late in the season and not a big tourist island so most things on the island were closed. The next morning was a beautiful day so we went exploring the island. The views were amazing and we felt we had the island to ourselves. In the afternoon we took a hike along the cliffs overlooking the harbor to the abandoned buildings just under the castle.
In the evening the weather moved in promising rain the following day. Waking up in the morning was just that, rain. We packed up between showers and headed to the port and to grab a bite to eat. Everything was closed, including the ferry building to buy our tickets. We finally rode back up the mountain to find a Gyro to eat in the small village and get warm with a cup of coffee. The only ferry to Crete left in the late afternoon and was a 10 hour ride, getting us in at around 02:00hrs. We had found a inexpensive beachfront room for a couple nights and the host agreed to let us in sometime in the wee morning hours.
Arriving at the port we loaded up and headed out of town toward the west coast. The road to our place twisted down the mountain turning into dirt. We knew we were close but the directions were, umm, bad. We parked the bike and started wandering around with the torch looking for anyone that might be up. Finally, a sleepy looking guys came wandering up the road. We figured it was our guy and, being in the wrong place, he showed us where to park and our room.
We woke up in the morning to a beautiful, cloudless sunrise and wandered down to the outdoor restaurant on the beach for breakfast. Today was a day of relaxing on the beach and drinking inexpensive Greek beer. By the time we wanted supper the off-season caught us, everything was closed. Luckily, we always have our emergency rations.
While looking at maps that night I found two great looking roads on the south side of the island. You know the kind. You look at the maps and there is a very curvy road with switchbacks and elevation changes right down to the coast and one way in, back up the mountain. The way south toward the coast went through the Imbros Gorge which is an 11km long canyon. Once you reach the coast you pass through Sweet Water Beach before starting the switchbacks back up the mountain with the most incredible views of the sun glistening off the Mediterranean. After reaching the top there is an old wooden bridge crossing anther gorge to an old church, the Church of the Archangel Michael.
Soon after we found a great place for lunch. I wanted a little cafe with a great view of the Mediterranean. After passing several places that just didn’t do it for me the sun was starting to dip toward the sea. Starting to lose hope we rounded a corner and, perched precariously on the side of the mountain, was this great little cafe. The food was even delicious.
I had spotted a camping spot on a river just off the Mediterranean, the Camping Agia Galini. After arriving we set up camp and headed for the pool for a quick dip to cool off. Walking across the bridge we headed into town which had several little shops and restaurants where you could kick off your flip-flop and dig your toes in the sand as you ate dinner on the sea. There was to be a live classic rock band that night at one of the places, so we decided to come back for dessert and drinks. While eating dinner we started talking to a couple from the US that live in Greece now. They told us we didn’t act like the typical Americans. After dessert the waiter brought us a carafe of Raki and two shot glasses, a Greek way of saying Thank-you. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable evening.
The next morning, we headed north toward the capital and ferry port of Heraklion. We hoped to get to the Minoan Palace of Knossos before catching the ferry to Santorini. As we pulled into the parking lot, I smelled hot antifreeze, never a good thing. After pulling the front of the bike apart I discovered that the radiator was cracked by the top mount. The first motorcycle repair shop we found was closed, as was the second Suzuki shop. Standing out front a man walked up to see if we needed help. He couldn’t help but a couple minutes later he brought us some fruit to eat from his apartment. As I was looking for a cafe for WiFi, Melanie flagged down the next Suzuki rider that rode by. The young man had a friend that worked on motorcycles and said to follow him. Down the road to traffic, then up the sidewalk, through a pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks, down a one-way road, the wrong way, and we were there. The owner of the shop immediately offered me coffee, looked at the bike and said he could fix it.
We found an AirBnB within a mile of the shop owned by John from Boston. He was a funny, easy going guy that offered us anything we needed for our stay. I dropped our gear and Melanie off and took the bike back to the shop for them to get working on it. He said to check with him the next day, so I started walking back to the condo, stopping at the market for some supplies for our stay.
I headed back the next day and he had worked well into the night and had taken the radiator to another shop to have it welded at the break. The weld looked great in the morning as he proudly showed me the fixed radiator while ordering a couple coffees for us, to be delivered from the cafe down the street. He was almost when I offered to pay. Neither of us could speak to others language but a good bond over motorbikes was there. He started working to put it all back together and charged me US$62 for the completed work.
We hopped on the bike and rode downtown and purchased our tickets for the ferry for the following morning. With that out of the way we spent the day goofing around in the old town and touring the castle on the water. The castle, the Rocca a Mare Fortress, was built in the 16th century by the Venetians.
The next day morning we down to the docks we rode to wait for the ferry to Santorini. While we were waiting we sat down to watch the activity on the docks with a cup of coffee.
We crossed back into Albania and the great road, went to shit. It became tight and narrow, blind curves, major sized potholes (southern Honduras), then dirt and gravel. As we just ride slowly along with the absence of traffic on the only road from this point north, I thought I had taken a wrong turn somewhere.
Coming around a corner and we happened upon a camp and great restaurant. We sat at a table and are hungry, as usual. They have a fish farm right there. I order the trout, as do a couple Germans sitting at a table next to us. Our waiter places our order, a man comes out of the kitchen and dips his net into the water retrieving three wonderfully looking trout. Mine was delicious, as were the others since bones were the only leftovers.
Again, we got lost trying to find the small border rounding Lake Ohrid into Macedonia. Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest and cleanest lakes in the world. The next day we took a boat ride on the lake (which lasted longer than advertised). It was a beautiful day to visit some of the sites around the lake. But the reason for going here was to visit some friends that were arriving to Ohrid also. The famous riding duo, the RTW riding pair, all the way from Australia (again), Ken and Carol-Ann Duval. ;).
We got back to the hotel to find them and their familiar looking BMW 800GS waiting for us. Chatting it up our group headed down to the marina in search of beer, food and, more beer. A stage was set up just off the marina and we stopped and watched the Macedonian dance troupe for a few minutes before continuing our quest for beer and food. Both were found at a nearby restaurant with seating outside on the sidewalk watching families do what they should be doing, enjoying each others company. It was good as always to catch up with them.
After a good meal, wonderful conversation and probably too many beers we headed back to the hotel. In the morning we were packed and off to Greece again. After a couple hours we pulled into a fuel station to fill up our gas tank and have a coffee. While we were drinking our coffee a couple bikes showed up. Then a couple more. Soon the parking lot held several bikes of a Macedonia Motorcycle Club, POTFAT MC. We were at a small table inside and they were all seated outside at a couple tables. The club leader came in and approached us and wanted to know if we would like to come outside and share their tables. Of course we would. We spent an fun and interesting hour with the group, which included a female pillion. They were all meeting for their Sunday ride somewhere to get something to eat. The club leader wanted me to have a club patch, which I accepted, and will have sewn onto my leather biker jacket back in the US. Getting ready to leave, we all had to get pictures in the parking lot in front of the bikes.
With great roads south (a different route) the day ended at a campground with views looking up to the towering monasteries of Meteora. But that will be in the next blog.
Leaving Horizon’s Unlimited we decided to ride around Tuscany and then head to Greece. We had already had enough of the big cities and thought we can do Rome and the Amalfi coast another time. Some friends that we would see in a couple days were there and hating all the tourists.
The riding toward San Marino was fantastic as the roads leaving HU were perfect motorbike roads. Perfect tarmac with endless curves and elevation changes always led to a pass. As it was Sunday, at the pass there was always a large group of motorcycles with riders in full gear. Parked at the top of the pass at a small cafe, they grouped around the bikes, sipping Espressos and Cappuccinos. and watching as other bikes zoomed around the corners at the top. It’s so great being a motorcycle rider.
We stopped in San Marino briefly, camped, and got out the next morning. Nothing excited me, even the campground and the rude people there. BYE.
The next day we rode toward the coast where we would be catching up with Australian friends. We stopped at a place we had seen on their FB page called La Casdade Saturnia in southern Tuscany. This is a series of thermal pools cascading down the hills into other pools. It was a fun thing to see and do but the popularity led to way too many tourists all with the same idea. Saturnia is a spa town in Tuscany in north-central Italy that has been inhabited since ancient times. Near the village, 800 L/s of sulphurous water at 37 °C gushes over a waterfall and down into a cascade of natural pools formed by the deposition of calcareous rock from evaporation of the water. It was a cool place but the popularity of this FREE attraction made it overcrowded with tourists.
After a quick dip and a change behind the bike, it’s Italy, we headed to the coast to meet up with Paul Knibbs and Maryna Matthew, a couple on a RTW trip from Australia. They have been on the road for about 18 months. We arrived at Australia/USA Glamp and had a fantastic evening. We cooked up a fitting meal together, drank too much beer and wine (hangover), and told brilliant lies about friends and time on the road. All too quickly, as it is on the road, our time together was up. We will meet again somewhere in the world. Ride safe, our friends.
After leaving in the morning we headed to the ferry port in Bari, two days away. We chose to ride through back roads along the edge of a couple National Forests on the east side of the country, across from Rome. The riding was fantastic and we were surprised by several places that we came across.
Riding through the national parks there was very little traffic and great roads. As we rounded a corner there was this beautiful lake, Lago del Salto. Above the lake and terraced into the mountain was the village of Borgo San Pietro. It was breathtaking! We stopped at a local cafe overlooking the lake and, of course, ordered a cappuccino. Such is the way of wandering on a motorcycle, great surprises when least expected.
That night we came across a McDonalds and stopped in. It was raining and we needed a place to get internet. After ordering a beer off the menu (yep!) with my cheeseburger we found a place to stay at the base of a ski resort. We got an second floor suite with wood beamed ceilings. There was an inner courtyard so I was able to pull our bike in and lock it at the base of our stairs, covered and secure.
Catching the ferry from Bari, Italy to Igoumenitsa
The next day we hightailed it to Bari, Italy to catch the ferry to Igoumenitsa, Greece. We found out we had some more friends from OZ that we could catch up with in Macedonia.
First we had to go to Albania again. We missed a sight the last time through that we were very near now. A friend of ours, Carla King, had told us not to miss it this time. This is the triangle fortress of Butrint. This area has been inhabited for over 50,000 years up to the 19th century. Riding to the complex you first see the triangular fortress standing guard over the narrow water passage. Not very impressive, one is almost tempted to turn around and go back, but an interesting wooden platform ferry ride, drawn by cables, beckons.
Once across, the entrance to Butrint is hidden, just across the river. From 800 BC until the Romans it was influenced by Greek culture. For almost 2000 years it has been controlled by several distinct cultures, all adding to the different styles of construction. The most interesting ancient Greek monument is the theatre which is well preserved.
After exploring we decided to head just a bit further into Albania and find a nice place on the beach to relax. We were exhausted after the overnight ferry ride with not much sleep. We found a great place overlooking the crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea and Monastery Beach. Not exceeding our budget we had access to the beach, a nice restaurant on the cliff and great hosts. The young host had many questions about travel, motorcycles and the world. After talking for an hour the original glint in his eye was fully engulfed in flames. The stories we pass and the lives we influence. The journey is not always about you as a traveler, but of the people you meet.
The next morning we headed to Macedonia. But first we would detour back into Greece. We wanted to see the Vikos Gorge.
“The Vikos Gorge is a gorge in the Pindis Mountains of northern Greece. It lies on the southern slopes of Mount Tymfi , with a length of about 20 km, depth ranging from 120 to 490 m, and a width ranging from 400 m to only a few meters at its narrowest part.
Vikos is listed as the deepest gorge in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.” Wikipedia
It was an incredible sight. We rode down to the bottom of the gorge where people were white water rafting. Back at the top of the gorge, we sat at an old structure/coffee shop and enjoyed the views. An old man saw our bike from the USA and kept yelling out the different cities he had visited during his long life. “New York” he would yell from across the street, “New Orleans”, “Philadelphia”, and on and on. A father and his two children from Israel were seated next to us and the kids were very curious about our travels and what were in the dry bags on the motorcycle. Dad spoke great English and the kids were just learning in school, so they practiced with questions. In the end, both wanted to sit on the bike and get a picture taken.
A quick flight from Iceland to Frankfurt and we were at Stefan’s to pick up our bike.
What do you say, Stefan? NO CLUTCH!!!!
No worries. A leak in the slave cylinder resulted in the fluid draining out and no pressure. A quick replacement and brake line flush, followed by an oil change, and we were ready to go.
A few other riders were also getting their own bikes ready to ride. That night we all went out to eat and to drink a few beers while telling traveler stories.
A couple German riders, Frank and Klaus, that we had met on the road were home and came over to say hi. We have met them on two and three continents, respectively. It was great seeing them and getting to spend some time with them in Heidelberg.
Rider friend from Kuwait
Greg, Melanie and Frank
We left the following morning and headed to France, bypassing the expense of riding through Switzerland. In the mountains it was cold but we found great campsites and fantastic roads to ride.
Just a bridge
The next day we stopped for the night at an AirBNB. They were travelers that are still in the midst of their RTW trip in a custom-built fire truck and are home recharging and saving again. We had a fun night talking about where we have been and where we all wanted to go. They even had a yurt in their backyard for guests to stay in that had come back with them from Mongolia, even the door.
Based on their recommendations we detoured to a site that was amazing, Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace. This man spent 30 years of his life building this amazingly hideous palace. One day in 1879 while out walking, he tripped on a stone that had an inspiring shape to it. While out on his daily 20 mile route through very rough terrain he would empty his wheelbarrow of mail and fill it on the return trip with rocks. Quite a labour of love, or just crazy?
That night we stopped in to see Ted Simon. He rode a motorcycle around the world in 1973 he rode his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 , “Jupiter”, RTW over four years and returned to write “Jupiter’s Travels”. He has written many books including another about his second RTW trip 25 years later, “Return to Jupiter”. Many adventure seeking motorcycle travelers, including myself, throughout the world look up to him and consider him their inspiration for adventure motorcycling and international travel.
He has now moved from California to the south of France and has his home there. It is also a writer retreat and backed by the Friends of Aspiran. We feel very fortunate to be able to call Ted a friend and enjoyed our night out on the town at his favorite restaurant in the village, just around the corner. His journalistic nature and questions always have a way of making you look just a little deeper for your answer.
From Ted’s we cut across southern France and into Italy and stopped for an espresso in the port city of Genoa. We also wanted to see Florence while we riding around Tuscany. We found a great AirBNB with a super great couple on the bus route about an hour outside of the city. The next day we rode the bus and train into the city and did the Hop-on/hop-off bus tour and it was great. Those tours are always an inexpensive way to see big cities. We next hit Pisa and did the leaning tower thing then headed to HU Italia.
Camping along the Mediterranean
We finally made it to the HU Travellers meeting Italy, held in the Tuscany region. The meeting was held in a fantastic area with the roads all around some of the best we have ever ridden, ALL directions. The facilities were once the home of a monastery and was now a beautiful equestrian center. The meeting was very well run and the hosts did a great job for their first meeting.
We met many fellow travelers and made some bonds with people who I hope will last many years and through many meetings on the road.