Saturday, July 9, 2011

Greece... again_

So I have said it once before.. and I am not afraid to say it again... ahhh Crete... wonderful, sunny, beautiful, naked, gorgeous, amazing, hot, thought-provoking, incredible, inspiring, relaxing, peaceful, spiritual, addictive Crete... I think I love you. Except this time, I can add mainland Greece to the equation too - the naked bit in particular!

I had initially planned to be in Greece for my birthday, but instead decided to spend it with new friends in Novi Sad after my trip to Bosnia, and then make my way down to Greece thunderstorm dodging via Macedonia, after a week or so chilling out and enjoying being 30. Turned out to be a great decision... I had an awesome time partying, and then got away for a couple of weeks of what was intended to be lovely, sun-soaked relaxation...

Hmmm, things didn't quite work out that way!! Certainly it was sun-soaked... but I think I soaked in booze the whole time too!! From Serbia I rode to Nea Anchilios to visit my friend and hotel owner Vasillis for a day or two, after which I planned to head south and ferry across to Crete, with the bike this time. As I arrived at the hotel though, I met a group of super cool guys and girls from all over who were all studying in Germany together and were visiting Greece for a long weekend. I ended up staying a couple of days extra, and we all hung out for the whole weekend, drinking and playing volleyball on the beach and just generally having fun. The first night we were there, after having known these people for only a couple of hours, we even ended up in the Aegean butt-naked after a dare resulted in all 15 of us skinny dipping spontaneously!! Fun times! Somehow I managed to get away with the whole weekend without taking a single photo... possibly a good thing!!

A couple of days, many drinking games, hugs, handshakes and Facebook details swapping later, I was back on the road southbound toward Athens, and the overnight ferry to Crete. I never look forward to the overnight ferry, it's always such a hassle with the bike, and dragging all my stuff up on deck, and then the effort to sleep on the floor.. and this trip was no better!! It was however, well and truly sweetened by the fact that I arrived in Crete at around 5:30am, and was able to ride to Plakias as the sun was coming up. A glorious 90 minute ride with no traffic, and no worries! It was awesome to arrive at the hostel and be welcomed by Chris, and the obligatory shot of Raki... at 7am... ouch! It turned out to be a good start though, as there would be many more after this one...

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My last time in Plakias was spent sleeping, chilling at One Rock beach, eating gyros, or drinking at Joe's as always... this time was no different, aside from the fact I had to do it keeping up with Sky - the crazy new Egg Princess, and Isabelle, Hillary, Eve, Becky, Holly, Delilah, Kel, the Marshall lads, J and Eddie to mention just a few of the crazy crew I spent my "relaxing" time with... so there was much less of the first three, and much MUCH more of the drinking at Joe's (or anywhere we found ourselves really) component... happily though, it was good good times. And don't worry, there was still enough chilling at One Rock done...

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Sky and I even threw together The Amazing Race Plakias 2011 (TARP 2011) as a bit of fun... We had awesome fun putting it all together over the couple of days we had, and then the day itself turned out to be a cracker! From Raki laps at pool bar, to climbing the steps to Wolf's, and beach volleyball to a box of mystery (I dare you...).. we had it all... and the event lasted something like 14 hours from when it started at 1pm, til it finished sometime in the wee hours after 3am... of course with an obligatory meal stop at Nikko's where we were looked after like royalty (but I think behaved like... well, travellers!!)... I'll let the photos tell a bit more of the story...

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One of the favourite activities was the Bomb and Bob.. Apple Bombs (sit down, lean back, open mouth, have 'friend' pour measure of vodka in mouth, fill with apple juice, top with whipped cream and cinnamon, close mouth and swirl - as demonstrated below by the lovely Izzzzzzy), followed by good old school-fete style Apple Bobbing...

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The apple bobbing champions... scuba divers of course, used to having their heads under water!!

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And dinner at Nikko's...

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Followed soon after by award presentations and celebrations at Joe's where we also held an Air Band competition to top off the day's point winning activities... thankfully there's no photos I can find of that!

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After a couple of days to recover, I was back on the bike, and the ferry back to Vasillis' hotel where I left my bike half way through my epic journey to get to Sweden for Midsummer festivities!!

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Friday, July 8, 2011


After a couple of false starts, I finally managed to escape the sturdy clutches of Novi Sad in Serbia (temporarily mind you, I am writing from there now!) and headed west-ish towards Bosnia on May 26th... somehow I managed to go via Croatia (check that on Google maps, you'll see why it's kind of odd!) and therefore didn't quite make it to my planned destination of Sarajevo on the first day... certainly not the worst mistake to make though, I rode through some gorgeous villages on some amazing (albeit tiny) roads and crossed possibly the smallest and dodgiest border crossing yet... just one guy in a booth with a couple of dirty rabid dogs and a manual boom gate on a dirt road!! What fun! :o) . It was just one of three border crossings in total for the day.. Serbia -> Croatia -> Serbia -> Bosnia!! The ride was gorgeous, but the heat was intense... somewhere around 40ºC, and hotter in the sun... and hotter again inside my black leather jacket and black helmet... this wasn't so bad on the day, but I realised the next day after a restless night sleep in a motel, that it had knocked me around quite a bit and I was suffering from some wicked heat stroke.

Nothing a bucket load of ice water and a couple of black coffees wouldn't fix (well, the coffee probably didn't help, let's be honest) and I was back on the road to Sarajevo by 11am... only 120kms to go, but I knew it'd be slow going.... even slower as it turned out when I took a 150km detour by mistake... oops! You see the thing is, even Google Maps and my GPS doesn't know the roads in Bosnia, so I obviously had no chance! The beauty if this trip though was that I had time to just go and not worry about where I actually was going, or even where I had been... the only plan I had was to get through Bosnia and back around up to Novi Sad (I told you those clutches were sturdy) for my birthday.

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I finally made it to beautiful Sarajevo sometime around 6pm - again in the scorching heat - in time to chill for a bit at the hostel (at the top of a 4 storey building....), then head out for some nice greasy Ćevapi and a wander through the old town as the sun went down - having been so exhausted from my trip though, I forget my camera in the hostel damnit! I did though, end up spending a couple of relaxed days just wandering the old town streets and surrounds, so managed to get a few snaps then... it was pretty confronting to see the buildings that hadn't been repaired since the Siege of Sarajevo in the '90s and while spending time up in the surrounding hills where armed forces were set up and attacked the city from all angles, it was difficult to grasp that an area so beautiful could have not so long ago, been the scene of a war that saw nearly 20,000 soldiers and civilians killed. When you read about wars that happened decades ago, they seem somewhat unreal, but when it's taken place during the years when you're old enough to know what's going on, and you remember it happening on TV, it makes it all the more real. It's relieving to know that's all over now, and the natural beauty of the country can really be shown off again.

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Hmmm, where have I seen this logo before....?

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After an awesome night in the hostel hanging out with a bunch of super cool travellers just chillin', drinking house wine and cheese and watching the football on TV, I had myself an awesome nights sleep, and was back on the road from Sarajevo, heading back to Novi Sad via whichever route I found... thankfully I got some direction from the hostel guy otherwise I may well have ended up somewhere deep in the Adriatic! As it turned out though, where I ended up initially wasn't much better in terms of location but perfect in terms of experience... After a few twisty turns through the hills past Sarajevo, and a pass through what felt like the longest, and certainly the scariest one way, dark, slippery dirt floored tunnel I have been through, I ended up on a dirt road next to a creek and pulled over for directions from a local. I was quickly welcomed in surprisingly good, but still broken English from my new Bosnian friend of about 60 years old, given brief but useless directions for the moment, and of course invited to have a cold beer!! Sure it was 11am, and I had a few hundred kilometres ahead of me to ride, but who was I to refuse? It was another scorcher after-all!

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So a couple of lagers, and a tour of the local private hydro power station (random, I know) later, I was back on my way pointed boozily in the direction of the ever narrowing dirt road... thankfully the beers hadn't gone to my head, or maybe they had just enough, but I decided to turn around and seek an alternate route... which nerve-rackingly sent me back through the same tunnel again! 900 metres of damp, slippery, narrow, darkness! Not fun-nee!!

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Once I finally made it back onto the road I was hoping for, I realised the decision was a stroke of genius and I was the happiest kid alive... the conditions were simply perfect for riding - warm, but only too hot when stopped, barely a breeze, and hardly any traffic on the delightfully curved roads! Knowing I had 3 days to complete 300kms I was happy to be able to take it very easily... this time I even had my camera over my shoulder which was my second stroke of genius because it allowed me to stop and snap photos more often, which as you can see, was absolutely worth it! (usually I keep it in my bag, and only take it out occasionally when stopped, it's too bulky to wear all the time, not to mention the weather...)

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The third stroke of genius was the decision to pull over in a small town just shy of the Serbian border called Zvornik. Not a naturally attractive place, but beautifully industrial, and the way the sun set and the light fell over the town was just irresistible to my camera's lens... I was close to losing all the shots you see below though as about an hour into shooting them, I was pulled up by the police whilst walking back toward my hotel and interrogated about who I was, why I was there, and most importantly, why am I taking photographs of the factories!! Lots of smiles, some smooth talking, an abundance of grand gesticulation toward the gorgeous scenery before our eyes, and co-operation when they wanted my ID, allowed me to keep all my photos, and I think I may even have made some friends out of the gruff old non-English speaking cops...

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Up early and off toward Novi Sad the next day, I ended up making it through in one go. The road after the Serbian border became less scenic, and I just felt like pushing through the whole way so arrived a day early and started the birthday celebrations accordingly!

I have to say though, to wrap up, much like Serbia, Bosnia is one of those countries that you must visit if you're in Europe, even if just for a few days... definitely worth the time. Out of all of the 25 or so countries I have been, never have I met so many genuinely lovely people from all walks of life who are just wanting to be friends, and share a drink or a laugh... you don't get that in many places, that's for sure!!

Check out the rest of the many pics here.