2 Wheel Vagabond

2 Wheel Vagabond

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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

Evia

Panathenaic Stadium, home of the first modern Olympic games

Panathenaic Stadium
Morning coffee in Evia



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