Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thank god I can understand "you put diesel fuel in your bike you <expletive> idiot.." in Albanian....

Yep.. that's right, I did.

Impatient during my long slow trip through Albania, I decided not to wait for the attendant to fill up my bike and went right ahead and filled up to the brim with "Benzine" which, in every country I had been to so far, is unleaded fuel... hmmm, not Albania. Having filled up, and being keen to move on, I had my money out and ready to pay when the toothless, grease covered attendant came charging, arms-a-waving in a tirade of passionate Albanian poetry.

I thought I'd offended him, or committed some sort of faux pas by filling up myself, so apologised profusely and tried to pay... this wasn't enough though.

Thankfully he was able to explain through pointing, a short game of charades, and a bunch more swearing, that I'd filled up with the wrong fuel and we'd have to empty the tank!

A quick shout over the fence, and all of a sudden three other men appeared. These three were almost comical - the greasy rotund mechanic looking guy with a well groomed but overly large goatee and trustworthy smile (several teeth included), the smooth clean cut Danny Zuko style sleazy guy in the car, and the ADHD napoleon complex cheeky dumb little guy that everyone just seemed to laugh at... myself included - though I am quite sure they were laughing at jokes he was making about me!

The mechanic looking guy syphoned the bad fuel out of my tank and into a bucket, and then I happily let the attendant fill up with a full tank of unleaded... after tentatively starting the engine, and mechanic guy revving the b'geezus out of it, it seemed to run fine. Phew!

After a few quick thank you's, lots of laughing and some genuine smiles and handshakes, I was back on the road, putting gingerly along what was to be the last of the decent road for a while...

Aside from some pretty nasty piston slap under 3/4 throttle for just a minute or two as the remnants of the diesel was burnt, the bike's never run better!!

I'm forever thankful for the help those guys provided though. The attendant could have easily sent me on my way, and given the roads I encountered just a few kilometres later, I would have been in big trouble - I'm quite sure I would have done some serious damage to my engine had I ridden off, in a hurry to get through the rest of the country, at full throttle!

Lesson learnt. Have patience, and let the attendant do his job!! Apparently all we need is just a little patience...

From Croatia to Greece.. do you know what's in between there?!_

Well, neither did I.. but apparently you have to get through three other countries before you can get there overland!! Not to mention the gorgeous, but incredibly slow coast road from Split to Dubrovnik and beyond...

The first country was Bosnia and Herzegovina which was no big deal. In fact, I didn't even take off my helmet when they checked my passport both on the way in and the way out!! It was just a quick pass through the country that took maybe an hour or less...

The second, Montenegro, was slightly more stressful when they asked for all my papers - which I have of course, but wasn't expecting the question, so didn't have them readily available. In fact, annoyingly, they were tucked away safely right in the bottom of my bag!! Three quarters of a frustrating hour later, and I was through.

It's funny you know, border control stations, no matter between which countries, seem to be such hostile and stressful places. None of the guards ever have smiles except when they're holding your passport, talking in another language to their colleagues, and laughing (what on earth could be so funny? Just give me my damn passport and let me in!) and you always feel guilty until proven otherwise... not a nice feeling. Plus, for me, the ride into any new country is always filled with anxious tension as I learn the quirks of the new roads and how not to die on them, the new signs, the new people, the worry of if I remembered the right currency or not (or even if I remember what currency the country use!!). Thankfully the Euro makes it pretty easy, and experience has shown in a lot of cases, Euro will be accepted even in countries where they've not yet converted..

After a long ride, I spent a pretty relaxed night camping in Petrovac, with my new little friend Jenny... I seem to have a newfound power of picking up since my travels began... she was so cute too, and stayed the night with me. Here's a picture of her:



I wish I had planned to stay in Montenegro for longer, it seems like a cool place, and really pretty too, but alas, I had places to go, people to meet...



For the third leg, the anxiety was somewhat enhanced as the ride took me into Albania... the land of toothless carjackers, gypsies, and in some cases - no return. Or so the interwebulatormachine tells me.

After the night in Montenegro where I'd met some other bikers who'd just come up through Albania and warned me of the gypsies literally trying to grab things off your bike, and dodgy roads, I rode quickly but tentatively toward the Albanian border, with plans to just put my head down and get through the country in one day, thereby avoiding what would be certain death if I was to stay the night. Just a few kilometres shy of the border, I was pleased to meet Andy and Ian, a couple of bikers who were on a similar trip across the border - so we joined forces for the crossing, and as it turns out, got through without a hitch, albeit a slow crossing with many others heading into Albania (each on a suicide mission no doubt).

So step one passed without problem - obviously they just make it easy for you to get in, to lull you into a false sense of security..

The next challenge was making it through the border town where, by all reports, we would have gypsies hanging off us, trying to steal our gold tooth fillings (if not our actual teeth) as we rode deeper into their country's clutches. But alas no, in fact, not a single gypsy in sight. So Andy, Ian and I pushed on through and commenced our battle with the Albanian roads...

But again, battle it was not. The roads were actually quite good to start with. So I left Andy and Ian as I pulled over to fill with fuel. Waving goodbye to whom I was sure would be the last English speakers I would ever have contact with - as I would no doubt have my worldly belongings stolen, my bike picked to pieces and sold in exchange for weaponry,  and be locked away in a basement to starve to an inglorious death.

Believe it or not, no, none of this happened. In fact, whilst the fuel station attendant did indeed have no teeth, spoke no english at all (I do love playing charades to explain I need to wee, I'm getting quite good at it), and also kept my 5 Euro in exchange for only 4.50 Euro worth of fuel - I felt entirely safe, and comfortable in the modern, well equipped fuel station.

The journey from here continued in much the same fashion, though the roads did get a little dodgier... a three lane road, with no markings, shared by all road users travelling any direction they wish, was a little testing.. especially when the asphalt part suddenly drops 20cm and is replaced with horrid gravel tracks, but this I got used to and pushed through til about 2pm when it got far too hot to keep going for the moment, and decided to stop at Durres, a beach town in the north of Albania, for some lunch, relaxing, and hiding from the heat til it cooled a little later in the day and I could keep going. I wanted to push through as quickly as I could, but in the heat - where I was feeling a little light headed already - it would have been dangerous to keep going.

I, of course, got impatient though, and still wanting to make it through to Greece that day, I got back on the bike an hour or so later and started again...

Pleasingly, I came across what appeared to be genuine motorway. Signposted, lane marked, good quality motorway. I was feeling very confident of making it through the Greek border, and even getting some of the way into Greece. Indeed the road was fantastic, for the whole 3 kilometres or so it lasted. From here, it sadly went downhill, not literally unfortunately. The quality of the roads returned to narrow, mountain hugging, curved, avenues of death... but were still covered mostly in asphalt, and I could still keep a reasonable pace, albeit it at the risk of my own life - I figured the risk was worth it if it meant making it through to Greece before nightfall.

After a few more hours of this, painstakingly slow going, I stopped for some fuel -which was where my trip could well have ended...

I made it through the fuel stop though, and continued on up and along the increasingly curvy, mountain roads - sometimes having to dodge landslides that had evidently occurred within the days prior and hadn't yet been cleared from the road. At about 6pm, I could see the light starting to fade and be hidden by the mountains in some places, which made me even more eager to get a move on.

Albania had other ideas. It was at this point the roads.. well.. disappeared. Instead, only dusty, dirty, gravel tracks were left. Now I had accepted the fact that I would be sleeping in Albania for the night. I would have turned around believing that I was obviously on the wrong path if it weren't for the steady flow of other traffic travelling with me. This was obviously the right way - the only way - through to the next big town (Girokaster) where I had decided would be a good place to aim for, and look for somewhere to stay. The light was fading too quickly though, scarily in fact, as the "road" I was now on was literally covered with brick sized pieces of fallen rock taking my average speed down to about 20kph. Aside from the other traffic, and a shepherd with his flock of sheep, the place was deserted - not the place to seek somewhere to pull over for the night. So push on through I did, too far into the dark to be safe, and finally made it out the other side - in the rain no less - where the roads had improved and I happened across the small town of Telepane with a service station, a hotel, a beer, and the best bed and nights sleep I have had on my trip so far!! All for 20 Euros, including an espresso to see me off in the morning!

It was probably the scariest and most stressful riding of my trip so far... so bad in fact, that I didn't even stop for a photo of the horrendous roads...

The morning however, after the greatest night's sleep ever, was absolutely beautiful. And with the assurance of the hotel staff that the roads from here to the border were much better than what I had just experienced, I set out shortly before 8am for the best morning of riding I've had so far. In this weather:





I breezed to the border in less than an hour, and was in Greece by 9, where I enjoyed some great riding roads, and gorgeous weather for my welcome... a nice way to end an otherwise hectic trip! I'd do it all again in a heartbeat!

Happy Birthday Faja!!_

Wish I was there to have a beer with you! Have a great day, night, and weekend! Love ya!


...little patience, mm yeah, mm yeah

need a little patience, yeah

just a little patience, yeah

some more patience, yeah

need some patience, yeah

could use some patience, yeah

gotta have some patience, yeah

all it takes is patience,

just a little patience

is all you need
















Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Greece > Crete > Plakias > Wolf's house_

Having an awesome time here in Plakias, on the southern side of the Greek Island of Crete.. the weather is perfect, and the hostel and all it's other guests are really good value.. and most of them regulars for sometimes 25+ years!

There's been plenty of relaxing, plenty of eating, a little bit of drinking, a heap more relaxing, some activity... and then some more relaxing!




The first night I arrived, a little weirded out by the hippy feel of the place, and the abundance of older guests... that was soon forgotten though as a bunch of us were rounded up and taken out for dinner up the mountain to Myrthios... that finished at Joe's Bar (of course) at about 4am drinking $0.50 shots of Raki.

Then one of the days we went on a river walk up the mountain to Myrthios again - it was just myself and Thorsten, a crazy German guy who I get along well with, walking up through the otherwise deserted river!








Then last night after another day on the beach, we were invited to dinner at Wolf's house. Wolf is a German guy also who after a few visits to Crete and the hostel, decided to stay and has bought a house! It was such a cruisy and relaxing night, with a bunch of good people - a few German's, a Polish guy, me as the only Aussie (for a change), an Austrian, a girl from Norway, a guy from Belgium, and one pommy guy, Bernie. We all enjoyed some nice food, good drink, and the mood was topped off with Bernie playing guitar! Such a good fun, no expectations kind of night - perfect!



Today we're hiring mountain bikes for the day and getting around on those, and tonight there's a concert we might head off to... apparently it's a hitch hike away though, so should be interesting! Then I think just one more day of chilling out, enjoying the weather, and back on the boat to Athens on Friday night, so I can get my bike, and get back on the road - I miss it!! I just hope she hasn't ended up like this one......


Friday, September 24, 2010

Best meal experience of my trip_

A couple of nights ago, I had the most amazing meal experience of my trip so far. I say experience because I think the schnitzel I had in Austria was a marginally better meal, but the experience I had here on Santorini at Ntomatini, Perissa Beach was truly awesome. Every part of it extracted a genuine and unforced "wow" from Jamie and I.

We started off at the restaurant next door as we saw they had grilled haloumi cheese which we'd been wanting to have, and was the perfect start. Then made our way along the promenade before we decided upon Ntomatini where the mood, the food and the staff were just brilliant. Perfect even! The service started with a fun, laid back Aussie girl from Toowoomba called Kristy, who's travelling Europe in a 16 seater bus (and uniquely hitch-hiking for a driver!!)... She was just plain good at her job. Very relaxed, very helpful, and knew exactly what we wanted out of our night!

Then the food. Wow.

We decided to order, and eat, just one dish at a time. Such a good way to do it, and as the boss mentioned, the "Greek way" of eating. We started off with a Roast Beetroot salad, served with a garlic puree, followed by sliced eggplant rolled and stuffed with feta and herbs. Then a dry, smoky pork with sticky balsamic and sun-dried cherry tomatoes. Next, the piece de resistance of the savoury dishes - and what I decided I had to go back for last night - stuffed whole calamari. So impressively presented, and absolutely delicious. The stuffing was mainly rice, with some cheese and herbs and vegetables. You have to come here try it to really know!!




Some beer, some local red wine, some Ouzo, and some time later - the deal maker. The clincher. The climax. The orgasm of gastronomical proportions. Chocolate lava cake served with vanilla bean AND orange sorbet ice-cream.

This thing was incredible, with its firm outer crust, and flowing lavalike, saucy, puddingesque centre - it truly finished us off for the night, or so we thought.



To top it all off, we were served some complimentary Rakomelo. The cinnamon flavoured, strong but smooth spirit was a great way to seal the flavours of the night and set in concrete, the experience that was eating at Ntomatini.

The photos in this blog are actually from when I went back last night to celebrate my final night in Santorini, and probably my last extravagance for a while (and get through some post cards!). We were far too overwhelmed with goodness to even think about taking pictures the first night...



(PS - no, I've not been paid for this post!!)

Croatia with a side of Slovenia_

So I'm a little out of order... after Hameln, I still have Berlin to tell you about in a little more detail, Prague and the rest of my time from Czech Republic through to Austria... but for now, I felt like writing about Croatia... plus, I had a challenge to meet for a little friend of mine...


Hmmm.. where to start...

Croatia was... just what I needed. Everything I was looking for. Perfect... almost.

The trip from Slovenia was surprisingly nice, especially after the trip in from Austria was somewhat hellish, with horrible weather... a thunder and lightning storm no less. Just what you want when riding into a country you didn't realise you had to ride into, to get to Croatia... It - Slovenia that is - was pretty and relaxed, and the people were lovely - when you saw them. I was there on a Saturday night, and the place was almost deserted. But otherwise, for me, on this part of my trip, it was just a place to stay, get some rest, call Dad for Fathers' Day, and push on through to Croatia.

The road out of Slovenia, as poorly sign-posted as it was, was actually perfect for riding, curved and smooth and open - until the dirt bit.


I either missed a turn off, or followed the "best" road they had... and battled at about 10km/hr over this bumpy and very slippery road, with front tyre due for replacement.. not fun! But so so pretty, when I stopped and was able to look left and right!

From here it wasn't far to the Croatian border, which I managed to get through with little pain, but a bunch of stress. Again, it was unexpected that the border would actually be patrolled (makes sense in retrospect given they're not part of the Schengen area) so I kinda freaked, as I didn't have my passport and papers ready. All was fine though, once I'd got my stuff together, and I passed through without hassle.

A rest and a bite to eat at what appeared to be a perfectly OK establishment on the roadside, and I was back burning through the gorgeous curves, frequented by many a biker, on the way to Zadar, Croatia, via Rijeka in the north.



I spent the hot, gorgeous afternoon making my way down the amazing curves of the Croatian coast on the Adriatic. Tiring stuff, but so rewarding! And with views like this the ENTIRE way, oh so worth it.




After a long day on the road, I pulled into a small "Aparmenti", "Sobe", "Zimmer", "Rooms", "Unit" - whatever you call it - showered, put my feet up, ate, and crashed into bed. Looking forward to the short trip to Zadar the next day to meet up with Jamie, the girl I had met in Berlin.

This is where the "almost" comes into play... I woke at about 5am, feeling like absolute death and feeling the need to vomit. I absolutely hate vomiting under any circumstances, so tried to push through, unsuccessfully. Apologies for the detail, but thankfully I made it to the bathroom in time and I vomited so violently and felt so bad through my whole body that I thought I had expelled bones from my hips, knees, feet, chest, skull and fingers... not a nice feeling. But one I endured for the following 18 hours or so, in this small square of a room. If I'd have been up to it, a time delay camera and the resulting footage would have been hilarious as I found myself moving and wriggling and bouncing all over the room trying to make myself feel better, and get away from the pain of my aching kidneys and body... I think I sat in every chair, in every position, in almost every square metre of the room... not fun! I can only imagine it was food poisoning, and I figure - based on the timing I am told - that it must have been from the roadside meal I had earlier in the day, just past the border. Bastards!!!


I was very lucky though, to be staying with a husband and wife who had young children and were very caring and looked after me the whole time. Right from the moment I crawled out of bed at about 10am and begged for some Sprite (they paid for and brought a 2 litre bottle for me, along with stomach settling pills), to the "Szchpagetti" for dinner, and the enormous, crisp, sweet apple they brought me for breakfast the morning I left. Thank you Zdenko Rikelj, and your lovely wife for looking after me, and your kids for entertaining me too!

The morning I left was a somewhat surreal one. I still wasn't feeling 100%, and was dehydrated and a little light-headed I think, so took it very easy on the road to Zadar where I met Jamie in the afternoon for some lunch and relaxing into the night.



From Zadar I put Jamie on a bus, and met her up again a few hours later in Split, and found ourselves an AWESOME hostel called Hostel Adria, about 10kms south of Split. We stayed one night, then left our stuff and jumped on the bike for a day of beaching, cruising, and then a night of camping - once we eventually found the right camping ground! There's so many in Croatia, but not all are... well... inhabitable!!





The next day Jamie bid farewell again off on a 40+ hour journey to Turkey and I commenced my relaxation phase. The real thing I was hoping Croatia would offer. And indeed it, and Hostel Adria did. I had the most amazing and relaxing few days literally chilling out by the Adriatic, reading, writing, swimming, sleeping, baking... Good. Times. And exactly what I shall remember Croatia for...







As I am sure you could understand, it was tough to leave Croatia... but I wanted to quit while I was ahead - and besides, Greece was waiting!!

I realise I've been a little lax lately_

Sorry about that. So today, I am sacrificing my afternoon in Santorini, to spend it updating my blog and keeping you my followers, across the important stuff.

All I have for inspiration is this view and Mythos beer on tap, available at the click of a finger - in the most polite Greek way of course.

Woe is me.



Sunday, September 5, 2010


Today I met the most amazing family after sharing breakfast and a laugh about our odd surroundings in Austria. We ended up hanging out all morning, and parted ways with handshakes, kisses and hugs... I have a feeling they'll be in my life forever... such a simple yet incredibly special experience - beyond any more words.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Third funniest thing I've heard on my trip so far_

A couple getting quite... friendly, in the 16 bed dorm last night, and everyone mocking the girl in all their different accents and languages.. "ooh yea, oh yea, give it to me.."

Then that same Kiwi guy... "get a rooOOOM!" and shortly after... "Have some diiiigNITY".

This post can't come close to expressing how funny it was!!

Two funniest things I've heard on my trip so far_

1) A French guy sleep talking - in French of course - in the dorm here in Prague.

2) A Kiwi guy reacting to aforementioned French guy and muttering somewhat under his breath "shut the FUCK up..!!"

Funny stuff.


So... of course you've not heard of this place. Neither had I, and I could barely remember what it was called when I got lost and had to find it again... Hamlen, Hamlet, Hammel, Hammer... ah yes, Hameln.

It's just abut 30kms south of Hannover, and I decided to camp here and just chill out for a couple of days and rest. Recharge the batteries, and save some cash. When I located my little camping ground I thought I'd take a quick circle to see what it was like and if there was somewhere decent to camp. BAD IDEA. I finished my loop with a couple of old crazy Germans chasing me to an abrupt halt at the reception area! I have no idea what they were saying, but they weren't at all happy about me riding through their camping ground without having first checked in. All was well though when I took my helmet off and apologised profusely in German and then tried to explain that I wanted to camp for the night by giving my best teepee impersonation. It must have worked because I got myself a good little spot to camp, a couple of toothless smiles, and even a restaurant recommendation for the night! Sure, it was the one attached to the reception, but it was nice all the same!

I recharged the batteries, did some domestics, and explored a little... beautiful country side... I have seen pictures like it in books!!







The world's easiest place to get to on the road, I was relaxed when I arrived.. and even more relaxed when I left... don't know why exactly............

I must admit though, having stayed right in the heart of the red light district, all the weed and sex and carry on really is just too much (geezus, I'm getting old - "carry on", what is that?), and SO geared to the tourists. But, I am a tourist, and I enjoyed it all the same!!

The place has such character, and is amazingly beautiful if you can get out of the smokey haze to find it. I spent most of my time in the Jordan area which is removed from all the craziness, and has a very Surry Hills sort of vibe, but mixed with the canals and locals makes it super cool.

Lots to see and take pics of too, and more than one way to get high... check out this guy!!



Something that was overwhelming from the minute I arrived too was the insane about of bikes. And I don't just mean on the street.. mainly on the foot paths! Literally piles of them!!!







And lots of other stuff going on in the streets too...