2 Wheel Vagabond

2 Wheel Vagabond


Wednesday 10 May 2017

Greece: Peloponnese, Delphi, Meteora

My Greek friends told me that Peloponnese is not an island but with the construction of the Corinth canal in 1893 I argue that technically it now is, either way crossing the Corinth canal is an impressive way to enter the Peloponnese. Building the canal was originally proposed in the 1st century AD but it wasn’t until almost 2000 years later that it was finally constructed, a quick stroll across the bridge will give you a birds eye view of the ships passing through 60 meters below, 2 navy boats were being escorted through the narrow canal as I was looking on and it was definitely a sight to remember. As I passed the bridge over the canal I also passed into an area that arguably contains the richest amount of ancient history in Greece, the next week would take me to sites that would stir the imagination with stories of great civilisations and epic battles. My first stop was the ancient theatre of Epidaurus who’s ruins still had surprisingly good acoustics but I was soon back on the bike enjoying the ride along the coastal road around to the city of Nafplion. The city of Nafplion was a wonderful place to stay, it was easy to spend hours strolling the narrow, romantic streets lined with historical houses with the impressive Venetian mountain top fortress in view high above. The Fortress was well worth a visit and for those with a little energy to spare a walk up the 1000 or so steps will reward you with some very impressive scenery, I had a little too much energy to spare and decided to jog up the steps 3 times for a little exercise, I could barely walk the next day. Not far from Nafplion lies the plain of Argos and the Ancient city of Mycenae, a place that I was very much looking forward to visiting. From the 2nd millennium BC Mycenae was one of the major centres for Greek civilisation and a military powerhouse that flexed its might over much of Southern Greece. Once ruled by king Agamemnon who along with the city itself is perhaps best known for their mention in Homers epic the Iliad and their role in the Trojan war. Many of the huge stones that formed the foundation of the city are still in place and as you make your way through the lion gate and up the to the palace it doesn’t take too much imagination to picture what life was like in this once impenetrable stronghold.

The coastal roads in the Peloponnese were a joy to ride with every corner seeming to deliver scenery that was more spectacular than the last. The coast line is littered with ancient ruins from thousands of years ago along with many Venetian fortresses, some of with house quaint villages that are now tourist attractions. The island of Monemvasia was the best example of this that I had seen, a short ride over the small bridge that connects the island to the mainland will seem to transport you back to a different time. When it came to romance Monemvasia was like the old town of Nafplion but on steroids, the old homes that once housed locals in the postcard worthy streets were now quaint guesthouses and restaurants to cater for couple in search of a romantic getaway. I was by myself so as much as I enjoyed the beautiful streets the romance was lost on me and I was wearing motorcycle boots so walking up the hill to the fortress wasn’t something I wanted to do either, after meandering through the lower part of the village I decided to put Monemvasia on by list of places to return to when I had more time to spare. I continued along the coastline to Cape Matapan, which is the southernmost point in mainland Greece and Mainland Europe. The road to the cape was amazing with several bays that contained small villages which were the perfect place to stop for a coffee and a bite to eat. Not far from the end of the cape I had to park the bike and put on my walking shoes for the last few km to the lighthouse that marked the southernmost point, it was well worth the walk, especially when I rounded the last corner and saw the old stone lighthouse that had no doubt saved many a sailor in its time.

The other great city that I wanted to see while I was in Peloponnese was Sparta, there is no way I could come here and not pay homage to the famous warrior class city-state. A visit to Sparta is sure to create high expectations but luckily my Greek friends and given me the low down and told me what to expect, and that was very little. When I arrived I realised that the advice was right, there really was nothing here from ancient Sparta and the only sight worth seeing was a bronze statue of a Spartan warrior. Despite this, I wasn’t disappointed, It was still an amazing place to visit and while I was there a fun run was taking place so I stopped for a while and cheered on some of the middle aged competitors with beer bellies who were harnessing a little of that Spartan spirit. The road from Sparti (which is the name for new Sparta) certainly didn’t disappoint, it wound its way through the mountains and as I negotiated the twists and turns I could envisage the young Spartan soldiers being sent out alone into the high snow covered peaks to prove themselves.

I managed to find some very nice wild camping spots in the Peloponnese, whether it was next to the beach or in the forest I always seemed to get lucky with a great location and my campsite just outside of Olympia was no exception, I pitched my tent next to a peaceful lake with some natural hot springs close by, perfect! As the site that was dedicated to the worship of Zeus and home to the Pan-Hellenic games since 776 BC, Olympia offered even more history, is it possible to overload on ancient history? If so, Peloponnese is the place to do it. I took a stroll through the museum and the ruins of the ancient arena while I imagined the athletes competing here thousands of years earlier.

My tour through the Peloponnese was almost at an end, the area was as impressive as I’d hoped,  I’d seen plenty of the sights but there was still lots to see so I have a good reason to return, for every large attraction I visited I seemed to find several more smaller ones that were also quite amazing. I made my way north from Olympia and crossed the Rio-Antirrio bridge back to the mainland, this wasn’t an end to the historical sights however, my next stop was the town of Delphi. Famous as the seat of the Oracle that was consulted for important decisions throughout the history of ancient Greece and at that time thought to be the center of the known world. Delphi is located on mount Parnassus and has a spectacular view of the valley, I was glad about this as I spent more time enjoying the scenery than the ruins because over the past few weeks they were all blending into one and the cost of visiting each site was seriously eating into my budget.

From Delphi I began making my way back through central Greece where I would cross into Albania, I was looking forward to experiencing the natural beauty of areas such as Meteora and Ioannina but first there was one for historical sight I had to see. On the coastline not far from the city of Lamia is Thermopiles, it’s not much more than a large sandy field were you can camp for free, with no fees to pay and no monuments in sight you could be excused for not realising the importance of the site. After setting up my tent I took a short 5 minute walk to the highway where a bronze statue of a soldier commemorates the battle that was fought here. The statue is of King Leonidas and the battle was that of the 300 Spartans that held off the Persian army at the Hot Gates (yes, just like in the movie). When It comes to free camping this has to be one of the coolest spots I’ve found, The hot springs that give the name to the area are still there and I took a soak in the warm waters while I imagined the battle that took place here. The coastline today is vastly different to the narrow pass that blocked the Persian army 2500 years ago but a map near the memorial shows the original area and from the top of the hill where the Spartans and Thespians made their last stand it’s not hard to see how a small force could hold off an army that greatly outnumbered it.

I’m not sure what I was more excited about, my visit to Thermopiles or my next destination, Meteora.  If you wrote a list of places in the world that offered the most natural beauty then Meteora would have to be pretty high up there, not only are the forested mountains themselves a wonderful sight but they are home to Monasteries that are built high on the cliffs. I had planned 2 days in Meteora but kept extending my stay and eventually stayed for 5 days, it’s still a place I want to go back to because it has so much to offer. On top of visiting the monasteries and hiking through the mountains, the area has some great rock climbing and I spent a few days climbing up cliffs and scrambling my way over maintains with my friend Vasilli, a local climber that loves anything extreme, his stories of slack lining, paragliding and base jumping definitely got my blood pumping for some more adventures. This area of central Greece offered no shortage of great roads to ride and as I made my way to Ioannina I made sure I took the twistiest roads I could find. I only stopped in Ioannina long enough to admire the view over the lake, my next destination was much more spectacular, Vikos Gorge. Listed in the Guinness book of records as the world’s deepest Gorge, Vikos was something Remarkable, the forest road took me through plenty of traditional villages and passed by some scenery that was mind blowing, I didn’t know if I wanted to keep on riding or put on my hiking boots and start exploring by foot, in the end I did both over the next few days but as always felt that I could have stayed for much longer.

As I approached the border of Albania I wasn’t too upset to be leaving Greece, I felt the opposite, why? Because I planned to come back and explore this wonderful country once again. I had barely scratched the surface of things to see here and many of the places I did visit begged for a return trip to explore further, “Greece, I’ll see you soon”.

Corinth Canal
Morning view of a ship wreck from one of my free camping sites

Methoni Castle

Epidaurus Theatre

Romantic laneways of Monemvasia
Campsite at Thermopiles

Methoni Castle
Lion gate, Mycenae





Wednesday 26 April 2017

Greece, Crete

My first stop after leaving Athens was a ride along the coast to cape Sounion to see the temple of Poseidon, it was a little out of my way but considering that I dive for a living I figured it would be tantamount to a crime to not pay a visit to a temple dedicated to the god of the Sea. The ruins were impressive and so was the view looking over the southernmost point of the Attica peninsula, I found a local taverna on the beach below the temple and enjoyed the scenery while I relaxed with lunch and a Greek coffee. I was quite keen to see the many historical sites of the Peloponnese but after studying the map I decided that it would be a good idea to visit the island of Crete beforehand. My plan was to return later in the year to explore the Greek islands without the motorbike but Crete was big enough that it made sense to take a ferry with the bike and explore the island on 2 wheels. The ferry left from Pireas and the trip wasn’t a jump on/jump off affair, we left at 9 pm and arrived at 6am so I decided to spend a few extra Euro to get myself a sleeper cabin, I actually slept really well so after a quick coffee when we arrived I was ready to start exploring. The Minoan civilisation of Crete dates back to 2600 BC and with no shortage of archaeological sites and mythological tales associated with the area there was plenty to explore. My first stop after my much needed coffee was the ancient city of Knossos, the largest Minoan site and one that is associated with the mythical king Minos, the labyrinth and the Minotaur. Interestingly, unlike many other sites that have been discovered Knossos was controversially partly restored by the English Archaeologist Arthur Evans. With the use of lots of reinforced concrete and brightly coloured paint he seemingly based his renovation more on his romantic ideas of what the palace should look like rather than Archaeological fact, despite this, the palace is still the islands biggest tourist attraction and still manages to spark the imagination with its stories of labyrinths and mythical beasts. After seeing the palace that was once the hub of the Minoan civilisation I was on my way to visit a place that was perhaps not as grand but had an equally interesting history.  The Fortress that was built by the Venetians on the island of Spinalonga was originally for coastal defence purposes but from 1903 to 1959 it was used as a leper colony, today tourists can get a boat to the small island and walk around what was a quarantine area for one of histories most feared afflictions. Ex leper colonies aren’t usually high on traveller’s lists of places to see but Spinalonga really was a cool place to visit and definitely had a different history to the usual tourist sites that I’d been to.

Something that I immediately noticed and loved about Crete as I rode my way along the coastal roads were the many little seaside villages, I was visiting in the low season so there weren’t many tourists and many of the cafes and tavernas were full of old locals having a coffee and chatting away. Crete is just a wonderful place to see on motorbike, for me the highlight of the island was just riding the winding coastal roads, enjoying the scenery and passing through the villages that seemed to take you back to a time when the pace of life was a little slower and more relaxed. I spent most nights on the island camping and managed to find some very nice places to pitch my tent, whether it be beside a waterfall in a national park, next to a lake or on the beachside it seemed that everywhere I stopped offered an amazing place to set up camp.  Along with plenty of natural beauty and charming villages Crete also has some wonderful cities that showcase Venetian fortresses and harbours, it was a delight to meander through the old town of Chania and along the old walls of its harbour to the lighthouse that still stands proudly as the cities icon.

I spent a week exploring Crete and the first 4 days were in sunshine, on day five however the rainclouds came rolling in and the thought of camping didn’t seem so appealing. I was trying to visit Samaria Gorge but that meant crossing over a mountain pass, the higher I rode up the pass the more the clouds closed in and eventually I only had a few meters of visibility through the fog. I decided there wasn’t too much point in visiting the gorge if I couldn’t see anything through the fog so I begrudgingly turned back. It was starting to get dark as I headed down the mountain and there wasn’t too many places to camp, I eventually found a quiet olive grove that was far enough from the road but as I was about to pitch the tent I noticed a farm house a few hundred meters from my intended spot. I knew the olive grove was private property and the last thing I wanted was for an angry farmer to wake me up in the middle of the night because I hadn’t asked permission to stay on his land. I decided to take a ride over to the house and make sure it was ok to camp and as I pulled up in front of the little stone farmhouse a dog started barking like crazy, then before I had a chance to get of the bike an old man came out to see what all the commotion was about. I said hello and did my best to explain that I wanted to camp amongst the row of olive trees on his property, the farmer was a friendly guy but he could only speak a few words of English so it wasn’t easy making my point. I eventually used a little improvised sign language to show a tent and me sleeping, then I pointed at the tent on the bike and over to my proposed camping spot in the olive grove. I could see that the framer finally understood but to my surprise he said “No camp”, luckily this was immediately followed by “You stay here” and he pointed to his house. It was such a kind gesture and with storm clouds beginning to roll in I couldn’t say no, I parked the bike and followed the farmer inside. My new friends name was Emanuel and although he was 74 and lived by himself in a modest house he was an absolutely generous host, he offered me a seat at the table and soon brought out a bottle of what looked like homemade ouzo. Emanuel set about making me dinner and we spent the night watching Greek TV shows and drinking some local wine. I’ve met plenty of very generous people in my travels and this was another reminder that there are a lot of good people out there, by inviting a random traveller into his home for the night Emanuel not only provided me with a dry place to sleep but gave me one of the nicest experiences of my journey. The next morning after breakfast I sadly said goodbye and once again set off on the road.

I tried one more time to make it to Samaria Gorge but once again the weather just wasn’t in my favour, I turned around and headed to the coast where I started to make my way back to the city of Heraklion and the ferry to the mainland. The ferry trip to Crete was surprisingly peaceful so I expected to get a good night sleep on the way back to the mainland, what I didn’t realise was that there were a few hundred teenage school kids aloes on the ferry that evening. My room was quite far away the reception desk which meant the kids had no supervision in that area, I think that they took this as an opportunity to turn the hallway outside my room into a street party. Maybe I’m getting old but my patience for the noise outside my room was wearing thin as it got close to midnight, I wasn’t sure if these guys were partying or fighting but either way they were damn noisy. I got out of bed and walked into the hallway, the kids were oblivious to me and continued with their ruckus, that was until I got to the end of the hall way and pretended to film them with my phone and then headed toward reception, the look on their faces was priceless and they certainly quietened down a little. The guy at reception had obviously had quite a few complaints that evening, he saw me coming and asked my room number before I had a chance to say anything, he told me he’d sort it out before I could even complain. I’m not sure if it was the staff of the ferry or the teachers that sorted the kids out but they were soon quiet and I managed to get some sleep, I guess that these days I’m the grumpy old guy that complains about the noise instead of the young guy causing it, we all get older and you might as well embrace it. We arrived back at Pireas at 7am and I was soon on the bike and heading to Corinth to cross the canal that would take me into the Peloponnese and the area that possibly has the richest history in Greece. 

My new friend Emanuel
Venetian harbor and lighthouse, Chania

beachside camping
View of the island
One of the picturesque backroads

Chania lightouse
A random but beautiful church

Spinalonga island from the mountains above

Another beautiful free campsite, complete with bar across the lake
My transportation to Crete, "Knossos Palace"

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Greece, Thessaloniki to Athens

I can’t remember being as eager to arrive in a country as I was about Greece, not only did it mean that I would finally be getting my bike fixed but experiencing the history and beauty that the country was famous for was something that I was very excited about. First things first, before I could go exploring I had to pay a visit to Stavros and the team at 6 days service point to get my new suspension fitted. The Wilbers WESA suspension had to be ordered from Germany so I had a week without the bike to explore Thessaloniki, although it’s the second biggest city in Greece it wasn’t long before I had seen most of the sights so I took the chance to wind down and relax for a few days. By the time I got the call from Stavros I was well and truly keen to get back on the bike, best of all with the new suspension fitted the big girl was handling better than ever, many thanks to Six days service point for their awesome work. Before heading south to Athens I decided to head East to Halkidiki for a few days to catch up with some local riders. The riding there was amazing, it was a perfect mix of winding tarmac roads and twisting dirt tracks that follow the coastline, there was no shortage of stunning views and it seemed around every bend a picture perfect beach appeared. While I was in Halkidiki I was invited to join a group of riders for a weekend camping trip down to the island of Evia and back. This was perfect, Evia was not far from Athens and it meant that I could make use of some local knowledge and ride the best back roads for the weekend. The group met up at a café in Thessaloniki and we were soon on our way, it seemed these guys had a thing against straight roads and we headed south along the twistiest roads they could find, perfect! Our route took us past mount Olympus, I had wanted to climb the mountain but it wasn’t possible due to the weather, The snow covered peaks of Greece’s highest mountain were very impressive, climbing it would have to go on my “to do” list.  We made our way down along the coast of central Greece and jumped on a Ferry to Evia, I must say it was a pleasant change riding in a group instead of always riding solo, especially with these guys, the atmosphere was great. We found a very nice campsite in the north of the island and we soon had our tents set up and a bonfire started, I soon discovered that my borrowed tent was a little too small for me and had to sleep with my feet sticking out the door, no problems, the weather was great and I was happy to be camping again. The guys on the trip were a bunch of characters, there were plenty of laughs and they soon brought out an assortment of homemade spirits like Raki, Ouzo, Chippero and even some pretty good homemade wine, I was definitely going to sleep well tonight. The guys also set about teaching me some Greek, of course that consisted of swear words and I was soon greeting everybody with “Kalimera Malaka” which always caused a fit of laughter. The Greeks know how to start the day and it seemed that everybody had Greek coffee boiling on the fire by the time I got out of the tent, a strong coffee is ideal for getting you pumped for the day of riding ahead, especially when somebody else makes it for you.

Our second day in Evia was spent exploring the winding roads throughout the island, it was a great day, Evia is very beautiful but unfortunately I don’t thinks it’s too high on most tourists list of places to visit, I wouldn’t have come here if I was alone and I would have missed out on visiting a wonderful place. We camped the second night in a small village in the south of the island, there were literally a handful of people living here and we set our tents up in the local school yard that was unused because there were no local children. We shared a meal and a few beers at the only restaurant in town that evening but the next morning I sadly said good bye to the riders from Thessaloniki as they began their ride home and I tagged along with a few riders from Athens who had come to meet us. The ride to Athens couldn’t have been more relaxed, first we stopped for coffee and breakfast at a seaside café and then we stopped in a small village for lunch and of course some Raki before catching the ferry to the mainland. The ride to Athens took us past the city of Marathon, famous not only for the battle of Marathon between the Greeks and the Persians but for the legend of the soldier Pheidippides who ran the 26 mile distance from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory  and providing the inspiration for the modern race we know today. Arriving in Athens was quite exciting, not only was it a chance to soak up the Greek history and visit some of the world’s most famous ancient sites but I had also arranged to drop the big girl off at a local BMW specialist to sort out all the issues that had come up over the last 20,000 km riding through Central Asia. With the bike in the safe hands of Paris and the team at Boxer Garage I was soon on the tourist trail through the city. The number one attraction for most tourists that visit Athens is the Acropolis and I won’t lie, it was on the top of my list too. The ruins of many ancient building are scattered across the rocky outcrop in the center of the city but of course the most famous is the Parthenon, If you were hoping to get a photo of the temple without the construction equipment, you’re out of luck, I met travellers that had visited 15 years earlier who said the cranes looked like they hadn’t moved since they last came. An interesting feature of Athens is the modern buildings, if you go up to one of the viewpoints above the city you will notice that they are all roughly the same height and there a very few skyscrapers, Why? I was told by a local that any building over 9 stories requires the digging of foundations and as you were almost guaranteed to stumble across an archaeological site that would put a stop to construction very few people build over 9 stories high, I’m not sure how accurate that is but it makes sense. I visited a number of museums while I was in the city but my favourite was the National Archaeological museum, there were two exhibits in particular that I was keen to see. The first is probably also the museums prize exhibit, the mask of Agamemnon, which was discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 at the ruins of Mycenae. Schliemann new how to make headlines, he also famously discovered the ancient city of Troy, when he found the golden mask he was quoted as saying “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon” which sent newspapers around the world abuzz. According to modern researchers there is doubt that the death mask belonged to the famous king but the name still stands and Schliemann succeeded in igniting the imagination of people worldwide. Possibly even more interesting that the famous golden mask is the Antikythera Mechanism, which is known as the world’s oldest computer. The remains of the mechanism were recovered by sponge fisherman in the Antikythera shipwreck in 1901 and dates back as far as 200 BC. Consisting of over 30 precise bronze gears and housed in wood the mechanism was thought to be used to calculate the movement of planets and stars along with the timing of the Olympics every 4 years. Lost at the bottom of the ocean for 2 millennia it wouldn’t be until the 14th century that anything similar would be produced.

Athens has a lot to see and in the 5 days I was there I was busy doing my best to see most of it but the area around Athens and throughout the Peloponnese is covered with historical sites that begged to be explored, I was once again looking forward to getting back on my bike so I could explore with freedom. I didn’t take the guys at Boxer Garage long to get the bike finished, there was a long list of things to do so I was surprised at how quick they had managed to get it all done. The bike was as good as new when I picked it up, the ABS was working, the oil leaks were fixed, and the broken tail light was replaced along with plenty of other minor fixes. Paris had been working on the bike until 11 pm the previous night so I could get back on the road as quickly as possible and barely charged me for labour, you really couldn’t ask for more from a mechanic than that, I owe him a huge thanks for all his help. The bike was running well and I was keen to get back in the saddle so we were soon back on the road to see what else this amazing country had to offer.

Taking a break in Halkadiki

Sunrise at our campsite in Evia
Beautiful Athens at sunset
Parthenon, Athens

Part of the Antikythera Mechanism

Mask of Agamemnon
Theatre at the Acropolis

Forrest of Halkidiki


Panathenaic Stadium, home of the first modern Olympic games

Panathenaic Stadium
Morning coffee in Evia

Turkey to Bulgaria

 When I was in Pakistan I noticed that my front shock was leaking oil, there wasn’t too much I could do about it there so I pushed on in an attempt to make it to Europe so I could get the problem fixed. I did my best to avoid rough roads and managed to get through Iran without any catastrophic failure to the shock but as I got close to Kayseri in central Turkey the handling of the bike deteriorated quite rapidly, all of a sudden both the front and rear suspension were very springy. I checked the bike and noticed that not only was the front suspension coil leaking but the rear looked like it had also dumped most of its oil. I did some research as to the best option for fixing my suspension woes and decided to replace the original BMW front and rear ESA suspension with new Wilbers WESA suspension, however, the problem was that the closest Wilbers installation partner was in Thessaloniki, Greece, this was roughly a 1400 km journey. I jumped straight on the internet and began researching weather it was possible to ride the bike in its current condition, it seemed that it was possible as long as I rode carefully as the handling would be severely affected. My decision was made, I would readjust my planned route and skip the southern coastline of Turkey, I would have to save that for another trip, and head directly to Istanbul and onto Thessaloniki. I rode very conservatively to Istanbul, hoping that the bike would be ok, luckily the Turkish freeways were relatively straight and smooth and the 700 or so km journey went by without a hitch, the city itself was also surprisingly less congested than I had expected for a city with a population of 15 million people.  Along with my suspension troubles my ABS had been playing up for the last 15,000 km since I left Thailand so I was very happy to get out of the traffic and find my hostel, park the bike and explore the gateway between east and west on foot for a few days.

Ever since I had entered Turkey 2 weeks earlier I had been singing the Istanbul/Constantinople song to myself, this was slowly starting to drive me insane, especially since I only knew one line and kept repeating that over and over again. I was hoping now that I had arrived in the historical city I could finally forget this cursed tune but of course it only got worse, everywhere I went while I explored the city I would be silently singing the few lyrics I knew to myself, I decided to just embrace the madness and enjoy my self-provided soundtrack to the city. There are very few cities in the world with a more checkered and colourful past as Istanbul, so here is a very quick history lesson thanks to Wikipedia. The settlement was founded by Thracian tribes as early as the 13th century BC and was originally known as Lygos, it was then colonised by the Greeks in the 7th century BC but fell to the Romans in the 2nd century AD where it was known as Byzantium. The city was renamed Constantinople in 330 AD by Emperor Constantine who made the capital of the Roman Empire and later the Byzantium Empire. Constantinople’s fortified walls, which were thought to be impregnable saved the city and the empire from many sieges and attacks, that was until the city finally fell to the Ottomans in 1453. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire the republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 and the capital was moved to Ankara, since 1930 the official name of the city has been Istanbul. With a past like that of course there are plenty of sights to see in the old city of Istanbul, The Sultans palace, the Blue mosque and of course the famous Hagia Sophia, which is now a spectacular mosque but was originally a specular cathedral. Below the city streets are underground Byzantium cisterns that were built by Emperor Justonian I to store fresh water, a stroll through the spooky, dimly lit rows of ancient columns is sure stir up your imagination. Better than the tourist attractions themselves was the walk getting there, for me making my way through the streets of the old city gave me the most enjoyment. As I made my way through the grand bazaar and alleyways lined with cafes and restaurants I got the feeling that a new experience would be waiting around every corner. Rather than frantically rushing from one tourist attraction to another, one of Istanbul’s best experiences is taking the time to sit at a café with a Turkish coffee or shisha and watch the many interesting people pass by.

I was enjoying the huge city more than I had expected but looking out at the sprawling metropolis from the old city I got the feeling that the old walls were once again providing sanctuary, now it was a haven for tourists from the bustling mass of people that called the city their home. No matter how much I enjoy a city it is never long before I get the urge to seek out less populated areas and with new suspension on the horizon I was soon back on the bike and making my way to Europe.

I decided to head to Thessaloniki via Bulgaria, it wasn’t much of a detour and I was told that purchasing green card insurance was cheaper there than the rest of Europe. Also as I am a dual citizen of Australia and Germany and I wanted to make the passport change a smooth as possible, this seemed the best way and would ensure no Schengen zone visa headaches later. As I crossed the border from Turkey into Bulgaria and passed into Europe I cheered at the top of my voice, if anybody had heard me they would have thought I was crazy but passing this milestone seemed like I had really accomplished a big part of my journey, Europe has always been a huge goal and although I still had a long way to go I couldn’t hide my excitement. Usually when I travel through a country I do my best to see as much of the countryside as possible, not In Bulgaria however, because of my suspension troubles it was all on the highway until I arrived at Sofia. After so many huge cities in Asia I was a little surprised when I arrived in Sofia, the KM’s on my GPS kept ticking down and I was waiting for a huge city to appear around every turn but it never happened, although it has a population of around 1.2 million Sofia has a much smaller feeling about it. Once again I was happy to find a hostel, park the bike for a few days and explore the city on foot, I jumped on a free walking tour of the city and had soon seen most of the city sights, as well as learning about the countries ancient history and its more recent history under communism. It wasn’t long before I discovered something else that the city is currently known for….. cheap alcohol, this was the first time I had seen 2 litre bottles of beer and the price was less than what I’ve paid for water in some countries. I hadn’t had too many opportunities to drink in central Asia over the past few months so I didn’t drink too much and we headed out to some local clubs where I was surprised to see that instead of dance music it seemed that the standard in most bars was hard rock and heavy metal, an interesting but nice change. Sofia also has a very strong café scene, at times it was hard to get a seat at one of the many cafes that lined the walking street. With a slight hangover the next morning a few of us headed down for a coffee, that was until we read the menu and saw that a double Gin and Tonic was cheaper than a Latte or cup of tea, not to mention that the shot size here is 50 ml, not the 30 ml we get in Australia, needless to say that it was time for some hair of the dog.

The 4 days that I spent in Sofia was more than enough to see the city, I would have to save the rest of the country for another trip when the bike was fixed, now it was time to head south into Greece and Thessaloniki where the big girl was going to get some love and care.
Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Byzantine Cisterns, Istanbul
Byzantine Cisterns, Istanbul
Mosaic, Hagia Sofia
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Palace guard, Sofia

Looking back at Istanbul from the old city

Wednesday 19 April 2017


The crossing from Iran to Turkey hit me with the coldest temperatures I had ever ridden in, I would do my best to sit on 100 km/h on the highway but with the temperature getting as low as minus 10 degrees at 12 noon, I would have to stop quite regularly  to get the feeling back in my hands. I was getting the feeling  over the past 1 ½ weeks since I left Tehran that I had spent most of my time just doing my best to avoid bad weather, I wasn’t enjoying the riding and I wasn’t going out of my way to do any sightseeing because of the icy road conditions. I was very happy to head a little further south to Cappadocia where I planned to meet my friend Charlotte for a week and explore the famous landscape dotted with “fairy Chimneys” and cave churches. I have wanted to visit the Cappadocia region since I saw people hot air ballooning through the unique landscape on a travel show when I was a kid, it really seemed like a magical place and it immediately earned a spot high on the list of destinations I wanted to visit. Arriving at any location with high expectations can be a trap, it’s a potential recipe for disappointment, Cappadocia however did nothing but impress me from the moment I arrived until the time I reluctantly left. I based myself in the town of Goreme which was central to all of the most popular valleys, walking distance to many of the cave churches and close to the launching point for the hot air balloons. Goreme also had no shortage of charming accommodation, most of the traditional cave houses in the old town had been turned into guest houses to cater for the tourists that flock to the area, we stayed in Chelebi guesthouse, the hospitality was amazing and the guesthouse was full of character, plus they had secure motorcycle parking which is always a big plus.

Probably the most iconic image of Cappadocia is the Balloons floating over the fairy chimneys, and understandably that is the biggest tourist draw card to the region, it was the low season but there were still 50 balloons going up every day and that number almost triples in the peak season. I’m not the biggest fan of early mornings, but with no shortage of vantage points to watch the Balloons serenely glide over the landscape with the sun rising behind, I made sure to always wake early to enjoy the view, weather it was from the roof of our guesthouse while sipping a coffee or from the cliff tops just meters away from the passing balloons it was always a magnificent sight. Gazing at the Balloons from the ground offered some great views but there was no way I was going to travel all this way and let everybody else have all the fun, naturally I booked a balloon ride so I could get a birds eye view of the area. My Balloon ride in Cappadocia was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my trip so far, it lived up to and even exceeded all the expectations I had. As soon as we took off we went high above the valley so our pilot could gauge the wind direction, this gave us a spectacular 360 degree view of the whole area, once the pilot was comfortable with the wind direction he took us down into the valley to get a close up of the fairy chimneys. When I say “into” the valley I really mean into the valley, we were floating just meters from the ground with fairy chimneys either side, how the pilot managed navigate the narrow space I don’t know but it was a real testament to his skill and was a breathtaking experience. We spent the next 2 hours floating over and through the surrounding valleys with some unforgettable views of the many cave churches that were long ago carved into the cliffs. There is no shortage of ballooning companies to choose from in Cappadocia and with the balloons literally bouncing off each other in the air I’m glad I paid a few Euro extra to go with Turkeye Balloons which was highly recommended by our guesthouse, the other benefit was the 8 person basket instead of the 24 people I saw crammed into some other the other companies baskets. We finished the balloon trip with a celebration bottle of champagne and still made it back to the guest house for the delicious breakfast they served every morning. I was initially a little worried about  visiting the area in late February at the tail end of winter however the snow covered peaks added to the atmosphere and the cold wasn’t unbearable, even in the balloon it was  quite pleasant with our warm jackets, thermals and gloves on.

My ballooning adventure box was ticked off but there was still plenty to see in Cappadocia, I lost track of the km’s we spent hiking through the valleys, discovering fresco adorned caves that seemed like  they hadn’t been visited in years. It seems no matter where you explore in the surrounding area you are sure to stumble across a cave with an imagination inspiring history and It’s not hard to find a cave that’s away from the many other tourists that visit the area so when you step inside you get the feeling that you’re the first person to visit for a very long time (just ignore the footprints of the other intrepid explorers that found the cave earlier that day).  Goreme also boasts a fantastic outdoor museum that lets you wonder through the cave monasteries at your own pace, most of these are home to magnificent frescoes that belie their age with their rich painted colours. I liked the idea of having a modern troglodyte experience by camping in a cave for a night but I enjoyed the luxury of my guesthouse cave room complete with Jacuzzi too much to swap, we compromised and were able to channel a little of the areas original inhabitants with a small camp fire in a secluded cave, perhaps the bottle of wine and marshmallows took away from the authenticity but we decided they were a necessity.

 Cappadocia is also home to some very extraordinary underground cities, some of these could house as many as 20,000 people and were used to hide the local population from invaders. The underground metropolis’s were self sustaining and contained air shafts and access to fresh water, entrances were hidden amongst the above ground villages and could be sealed off using large stone doors, safely sealing in the locals and their livestock until the danger had passed. We visited the underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, both of these were amazing, I couldn’t help but get that Indiana Jones feeling as I made my way through the tunnels that had been carved into the rock centuries before, trying to squeeze through the narrow tunnels and constantly banging your head because you are 6’ 4” quickly snaps you back to reality however. You don’t have to travel much further to discover the wonderful Ihlara Valley, venturing into the deep canyon has you hiking along a river on one side and steep walls dotted with cave churches on the other which gives a perfect blend of history and natural beauty. The valley has some very nice riverside restaurants and we finished our short hike listening to the sound of running water as we indulged in some local food.

With so many amazing sights to see in the area it’s easy to get caught up in the process of rushing from one destination to the next in an attempt to see as much as possible but perhaps the best thing about Cappadocia is the atmosphere. Goreme is home to many quaint cafes and restauants and taking the time to sit back and enjoy a glass of Raki while you smoke some shisha (double apple flavour is my favourite) is as much the capadoccia experience as anything.
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