2 Wheel Vagabond

2 Wheel Vagabond


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"

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