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The Greek Isles, Santorini

Santorini.

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.

Dinner at Alexanders with my Love

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.

Panorama looking southwest

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.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

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Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Europe, Greece, motocamping, motorcycle travel, Suzuki VStrom1000, VStrom | Leave a comment

The Greek Isles

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.

Tying the bike up for the ferry crossing

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.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Europe, Greece, Horizons Unlimited, motocamping, motorcycle travel, Suzuki VStrom1000, VStrom | Leave a comment

Albania, Macedonia, Old and New Friends

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.IMG_20180921_135104692

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.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Europe, motocamping, motorcycle travel, VStrom | Leave a comment

New Zealand, Fantastic Glaciers

 

After a great day on the boat we woke up to another beautiful day for riding and headed south. We were turning inland on State Highway 7 to Hamner Springs and Lewis Pass. It’s the northernmost of the three main passes across the Southern Alps, it is higher than the Haast Pass, slightly lower than Arthur’s Pass and second in elevation at 864 meters.

Our stop for the night would be Hamner Springs, so we passed by the turnoff and headed for a ride over the pass where we would grab something to eat and then backtrack over the pass again. The ride was beautiful with lower pastureland progressing to vistas above the cloud levels.

Arriving to town later in the day and with a forecast for rain, we decided to spend a couple nights and go to Hamner Hot Springs the following day. The Hot Springs are a complex of pools, some rock and some concrete, with varying water temperatures from the mid 90’s to over 104 degrees. It was a wonderful time just relaxing and soaking in the therapeutic waters. The downtown area was charming reminiscent of a small New England town. As we were walking through town we were overcome with the desire to sample a coffee and wonderful homemade scone while sitting at a small table on the sidewalk.

It’s overcast and threatening rain in the morning as we pack up and head south toward an Airbnb in Timaru. Arriving to town it is pouring buckets and we are both drenched to the bone and having a difficult time finding our Airbnb. Finally, we locate it and our host shows us in not real concerned about the puddles that quickly form around us. Showing us to our room he says not to worry about paperwork right now, just to get dry and warm up with a cup of tea. A couple other guys are staying also, friends from Austria and Germany. We end up in a conversation about the world wars and we are amazed how little we know about this subject. As the discussion progresses our New Zealand host gets on his computer, which is connected to a big TV, and starts pulling up maps and border changes for the past several hundred years throughout Europe. The discussion is super interesting and we walk away amazed at how much wasn’t taught to us in school and how much we take away from this spirited 2-hour discussion.

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The night sees the rain end and our ride to Tekapo and Mount Cook promises to be fantastic. Riding into town the views from the south side of Lake Tekapo looking north are amazing and we find a campsite near the edge of the water on a little bluff looking down on the beach. Perfect!

Near Tekapo, the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory (UCMJO) has an astronomical research observatory. It is situated at 1,029 meters atop Mount John. In June 2012, an area of 1,700 sq. miles around the observatory was declared as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association, one of only four such reserves around the world. This is home to many telescopes, including HERCULES (High Efficiency and Resolution Canterbury University Large Echelle Spectrograph), and the observational wing of the Japanese/New Zealand MOA collaboration (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics). Wow, this is quite a place and the views of the only small town around are incredible with views of the lake, snow caps peaks and glaciers, and the blue sky each commanding their own piece of the beauty. While we are at the observatory we hear an American accent. It happens to be an American doctor and his family. He is a ER physician, practicing in Australia, on vacation to New Zealand with his wife and three kids. We talk for a bit and his wife who is a nurse used to work at the very hospital I was born at in Cooperstown, New York.

Getting back to camp we see a car coming down the road and it’s our friends that were staying in Timaru the night before. They go and catch a soak at the nearby springs and come back, setting up their tents beside ours. Setting out our solar Lucy light as our campfire, we finish off a bottle of Scotch, talking into the night.

Before leaving in the morning we connect with FB and head out for a visit to Hooker Glacier on Mount Cook. Again, the views are incredible with blue skies and we ride along the west side of Lake Pukaki on Mount Cook Road with the views of the glaciers in front of us getting larger around every corner as we get closer and closer.

Finally, at the end of the lake the Hooker Glacier looms ahead of us, thrusting up into the clouds and down to where it finally meets the land. The road ends at the Aoraki Mount Cook Village and we stop in for a coffee on the deck of the Hermitage Hotel, with views of the glacier right in front of us.

Wanting to stay on the coast again we push on and start following the Waitaki River and decide that a short cut is in order to save some time. Turning at Duntroon we set off on a good road that soon turns to dirt and twists and turns, up and down over what I find out is Danseys Pass and one of the prettiest passes in all New Zealand. Our short cut turns out to be much more time, but the beauty and stopping to get pictures is the cause. Mid-way through we stop at the first place we have seen, the Danseys Pass Coach Inn, for a drink. They are getting ready for an event and are too busy to even get us a glass of water. Hmmm!

There was a nice campground in Moeraki on a hill overlooking the ocean and beach that we wanted to try. After setting up camp and cooking supper we wandered down to the beach for a stroll. As we walked down the beach with the setting sun, the wail of the pipes could be heard in the distance. A solo bagpiper was facing the sunset and playing “Amazing Grace”, one of my Dad’s favorites, on the pipes. As Melanie and I stood silently watching and listening, with a warm heart, I could feel the spirit of my Dad standing beside me. Such a great moment to enjoy.DSCF2333

The Pipes are Calling (click for video)

Stopping in Dunedin again we had decided to take the Taieri Gorge Railways from the historic Dunedin Railway Station. This station was built in 1906 to serve the railway that had already been in operation between Christchurch and Dunedin and, in 2006, was recognized by DK Eyewitness Travel as one of “The World’s 200 Must-See Places”. The building is Flemish renaissance style and is constructed of dark basalt from Kokonga in the Strath-Taieri with lighter Oamaru stone facings, giving it the distinctive light and dark pattern common to many of the grander buildings of Dunedin and Christchurch. The southern end is dominated by the 37-meter clock tower visible from much of central Dunedin.

The ride we were taking would leave Dunedin and pass through Taieri Gorge, negotiating this narrow and exhilarating river gorge and awesome landscapes and literally turning around in Pukerangi, making its way back to Dunedin. The carriages were all original, built around 1915, and had been restored to their previous elegance. It was a wonderful journey full of incredible vistas and surprises around every corner.

After the train ride, we headed north toward Oamaru where we would camp for the night and have an opportunity to see the small Blue-Eyed penguins come to shore in the dark after being at sea all day. We got to the road which they cross before dark, and soon there was one, then two until a several all stopped at the edge of the road, then waddled across, headed to their homes on the side of the hills.

 

Our trip was almost over so we took the bike back to Lindsey’s friend’s house and headed to Christchurch for a couple days, sightseeing and relaxing before our five days in Fiji.

The airline we flew, Fiji Air, offered first class service and a free stopover in Fiji. We found a great hostel on the beach for only $US25 per night.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, BMW, Horizons Unlimited, motocamping, motorcycle travel, New Zealand | Leave a comment

New Zealand, North Coast of the South Island

DSCN4203Leaving the glacier area of the South Island we continued our journey north up the coast to an attraction called Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. This area has unusual rock formations that look like huge stacks of grayish pancakes. The waves crash into the sides of the rocks exposed to the sea and there are connected pools of water on the interior where the water rises and falls with the wave action. On the exposed top of the formation a footpath leads you throughout the rocks giving wonderful views of the rocks and the water.

We hit the town of Westport after leaving the rocks and wandered through town looking for a bakery for some breakfast. Coming across a music store, I saw a yellow ukulele hanging in the window. I had just recently started playing a uke after going to a Horizons Unlimited meeting in California. A mate from Australia, Eddie, was playing one by his tent and carrying it around on his motorbike as he rode wherever he chose. Anyway, I bought it as I was missing practicing on mine at home.

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Further up the coast we knew of a spot which had seals and they had recently had their pups, so off we went to see them. Climbing over some rocks we came within several feet of several with their babies. Not wanting to disturb or upset them we settled in and snapped a few pictures. They were so cute and most were small enough to be still nursing.

We camped for the night at a great campsite near the water with a little green buffer separating us. After taking a nice walk of the beach we came back and cooked supper and settled in to the sound of the waves for the evening.

 

The next morning, we were meeting with a friend, Klaus, who was also friends of the guy who gave of the GS to ride. He happened to be staying at a house Lindsay had rented for the summer on the northwest section of the island near Motueka. Following him on his little bike was a challenge as he zipped up and down hills and around curves like a champ. Klaus cooked supper for us at the house inviting us to stay in the cottage with him and take a good ride in the morning up over Takaka Hill and around Abel Tasman National Park. Supper turned out great, the wine was excellent.  The conversation and camaraderie was interesting as we talked about overland travel and shared stories.

The next morning was perfect weather for a ride and the road didn’t disappoint. Starting out the ride in the small beach town of Kaiteriteri we stopped for a coffee with fantastic views of Kaka Island, Torlese Rock and Tasman Bay. Green trees covered the Island and the blue water and sky made for a beautiful contrast while people played in the water and tall-masted sailing ships floated by. Expensive homes hung off the edges of the hills as the mountain slanted sharply down to the water’s edge.

The road twisted and turned through the forest up to Takaka Hills to an elevation of 791 meters with fantastic views of the valley below. Continuing our ride and playing follow the leader, we crossed over to Upper and East Takaka following the Takaka River back down to the coast where the road ended at Collingwood.

Thanking Klaus and hoping to see him again in Florida next year, we went our separate ways, him back home and us trying to sort out a decent camping spot with view of the beach. We found a great campsite at the Golden Bay Kiwi Holiday Park, right at the water’s edge, looking out on the bay.

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It was time to cross over the top of the island and head back south on the eastern coast. We take the road to Nelson and Picton, where the ferry docks to head to the north island. We have been told to take a road about midway there over the mountain with fantastic views coming off the other side of Okiwi Bay and out into Cook Strait, the water between the North and the South Island. The view doesn’t disappoint as we twist and turn coming down to the bay with what appears to be a different view with every turn.

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Arriving at the bay we take some pictures before finding a campsite in a grove of trees just steps away from a narrow finger of shallow water that leads to the bay. We cook up some dinner, enjoy a beautiful evening before having a great night sleep.

In the morning, we pack up and head to Picton and then to the coast and to Kaikoura.

We find a cabin for the next couple nights because the next day we will be going out on a boat looking for a day with the Hector (Spinner) dolphins. When we arrive, we find that you can rent wet suits to swim with the dolphins.  All the tour groups have the wet suits booked for days, so we opt to just go out on the boat and watch them. Note to self, next time make reservations way in advance.

The day was chilly but with nice blue skies and puffy clouds. The water was cold and the wind gave the South Pacific a bit of a chop. The boat pulled out of the dock and headed out looking for the dolphin. It wasn’t long before one found us, then three and then there were many swimming alongside the boat, jumping the wake, jumping out of the water and spinning for our enjoyment and crisscrossing the bow just having fun.

What an amazing sight as we all crowded to the rails and hustled from side to side enjoying the antics of these small dolphin. When the people in the wetsuits got in the water it looked like they didn’t have as good a view as we had. Seems that being on the boat was for the best after all. I had my motorcycle jacket on while out on the boat and during the excitement my SPOT GPS locator came loose and an Albatross took it for a ride never to be seen again, at least that’s what I tell people happened to it.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Horizons Unlimited, motocamping, motorcycle travel, New Zealand | Leave a comment

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