The slot machines must have been switched off at some point, because I drifted off, and woke up a bit after four, not long before we were due to arrive in Igoumenitsa. I woke Maria and we sat bleary eyed in the bar with coffee and croissants, until we were eventually unloaded and rolled into a Grecian sunrise. We quickly got off the motorway and started winding our way up through the misty mountains, getting our land legs back in nice fashion as we threw the bikes around tight bends, knowing that we had the road mostly to ourselves. It was a cold morning, but the turquoise hue tinting the mountaintops hinted that it would be a hot day as we climbed over the mountain pass and started our descent into Ioannina.
It being a Sunday, the town was pretty dead so we had a wander ’round
The seaside town of Ioannina was just waking up
and eventually settled into a cafe to make use of their wifi, and for me to start attempting some Greek words. After a few hours of sending emails we noticed the town had come to life and with the sun now shining full force, we started to look for something to eat. We were in high spirits after our morning ride, and neither of us could be bothered to stress about distances or schedules, so we figured a long, indulgent lunch with a cold beer was in order, then we’d just camp somewhere close by. We were easily able to recognise the good restaurants since everyone in town was out for sunday lunch, and some places were packed; others empty. We settled in at one of the busier places for some amazing gyros, then heaved ourselves back to the bikes and left town, stopping on the way at the only open cafe to buy a few tinnies and some wine for the night.
Almost immediately outside town the road began circling above a wide, tree filled valley and we took the first chance to turn off and drop down below the cover of the pines to set up camp. I was still worried about my bike, so I decided to use the evening to check a few more things off the list of potential causes. I stripped the side panels off and had a look through the coolant system – which seemed fine, although the reserve was a little low – and then worked my way around the bike, still finding nothing obviously wrong. Once she was back together we grabbed our beers and wine and went for a wander to check out the valley we’d made our home and watched the stars fill the sky.
The following day was…. interesting. As it turned out we’d stopped for camp further south than I’d thought, so we started the morning by knocking twenty miles or so off our planned route for the day. Awesome, we can make camp an hour early, maybe have a wash, or just go for a walk in the evening sunshine. Nice to have time to play with. Anyway, before that we had to pass through Prevesa, and an underwater tunnel that linked two peninsulas and based on the map we had looked to be a few miles long. Interesting. Unfortunately it turned out to be fairly short and underwhelming and to top it off, when we came out the other side we were greeted with a toll gate. Hmm. There didn’t seem to be any other road anywhere nearby though, so I pulled over to dig out some change. Maria pulled up next to me looking very worried, and leaving a gushing trail of coolant in her wake.
The toll forgotten for now, we turned the bikes off and got the tools out. As soon as we’d taken the side panels off we realised that the coolant reservoir cap had fallen off. Ha! Typical attention seeking behaviour from Seven; once she’d seen us checking Pippa’s coolant she decided to thow a tantrum. Our smiles disappeared though when we replaced the coolant, and the temperature warning light stayed on. OK, nothing for it but to do the job properly. We left the bike to cool down and had our lunch in the shade of the toll booth,
Roadside lunch, while Seven cools down
Playing cards while we wait for the engine to cool 🙂
then opened up the radiator and knocked the air out of the system while adding coolant. I decided to have a look at Pip’s coolant system too, to see if anything looked drastically different, hoping for some clues. I noticed a little hole under the water pump that was seeping liquid, and of course remembered that this was supposed to let me know that my pump seals needed replacing, and the coolant dripping from there onto the exhaust pipe was the reason I would occasionally catch Pippa smoking. Still no luck for Maria though, and we were starting to lose the light, so we gave up and payed the toll, then attached a tow rope and started wobbling our way slowly along the road, looking out for a safe place to camp. Eventually I was let off my leash, and I rode off up a dirt track to explore a bit. After a bit of bouncing around on the gravel, praying I didn’t fall off (it’d be tough to pick up the fully laden bike by myself) I found a nice little meadow, obscured from the road and bordered by a little stream, and I headed back to the road to lead Maria up.
The following morning we woke up surrounded by sheep. Seems to be a recurring trend. Since it was par for the course by now, we lazily cooked our breakfast and drank our coffee, till we saw the shepherd striding towards us, and started to get a bit worried. Turns out he just fancied a chat though, so I gave him my five greek words, in no particular order, then we shared our coffee and ciggies over a game of charades, trying to explain where we were going and why. After a while, he headed off to tend his flock, while Maria went up to the stream to wash some clothes,
Laundry day by the stream
and I took our one functioning bike back through the toll booth and in to Prevesa. I stopped at the first bike repair shop I found, and after an agonising half hour trying to explain that my bike wasn’t broken, but the one that was was the same, and that it wasn’t water that went in the radiator I somehow found myself walking out with a five litre bottle of coolant and a big grin. The exchange had unburdened me of the last of my euros, so I stopped at a bank to replenish, and couldn’t resist ducking into the supermarket next door for a six-pack of Fix. Back at camp Maria had finished washing our clothes, and with the beers cooling in the stream we set about the bike. Our first thought was to clean out the radiator fins, thinking that the unintentional mudbath may have blocked them up, but before taking anything apart we ran the bike again, and noticed that the pipes on one side were getting red hot, while those on the other side stayed cold. Must be a pump problem then. Just to be sure we detached the pipe leading out of the pump and ran the bike again. If it was working it would have sprayed coolant everywhere and since we were still dry, we must have found the problem. Ok so that wasn’t a problem that could be fixed immediately, but we’d had a few beers, and lets face it, there were worse places to be broken down, so we decided to wash the mud off our leathers and ourselves, have a nice long dinner, and just leave everything else ’till the following day.
We started the morning with a plan. We were pretty sure we’d figured out what was wrong with Maria’s bike, so we’d find an internet cafe, order the parts to be shipped poste restante to Athens, and just use my bike to tow her there. The city was the best part of 300 miles away, but that was still preferable to risking another bike mechanic’s bill and anyway, it should make for an interesting couple of days.
The new riding style was not easy to get used to, and we were making slow progress. In fact, by early afternoon, we’d only covered about fifty miles.
As we passed through Amfilochia, the winding road opened out into a main strip lined with cafes and bars, so we pulled over for a beer and ice cream and a monstrous shopping session to take care of our water pump woes. By the time we’d finished with all that it was nearing five o’ clock, and we were suddenly in a hurry to find somewhere to sleep for the night. The usual technique of unstrapping Maria’s bike and bounding off up the mountains wasn’t yeilding anything helpful and more often than not I found myself hurtling back towards the main road with a pack of angry dogs in hot pursuit. Eventually we settled on a small triangle of unused ground, a little ways from the road, and opened our two litres of plastic bottle wine. Well you can’t spend every evening with burbling streams and flocks of sheep.
The next day was a lot more productive. We would be staying on the same road all day, so there was no navigating to do, and we were starting to get into a bit of a rhythm with the towing. Going in to a bend, I’d take the outside line, and Maria would move towards the inside, so the tow rope would be stretched away from her front wheel. When a signpost appeared in the distance signalling a town, she’d ease on her rear brake, so my engine braking wouldn’t cause the rope to slacken. Little things like that, that required so much effort the day before were starting to become second nature.
Not that there weren’t mistakes. I would occasionally get carried away and take a corner too fast with Maria unable to lean against the pull of the rope, and she would occasionally overestimate how much we needed to slow down, yanking my bike backward and to the right, leaving me scrambling to keep it upright. Inch by inch though, we worked our way towards Athens.
The next morning, the alarm woke me up at 5am, and I peeked out of my sleeping bag to see the first hints of orange just cresting the horizon. Fucking hell. We heaved ourselves out of bed, drank our coffee in the cool of the rising sun, and started on the road to Delphi. That was the reason for our ridiculously early start; we wanted to see the famous ruins, but avoid being inundated with coachloads of tourists. As we climbed into the mountains, the morning air grew steadily colder, the roads got narrower, and the corners tighter. I was having real trouble getting both of us round the bends, since I needed to straighten up and open the throttle while Maria was still mid-lean and on one particularly tight right-hander I slowed down so much that I felt my bike start to topple and I had no choice but to gun it to straighten up. I felt the strap yank itself taught then heard a SNAP! as the tow rope ripped apart, pinging back towards me and cracking my rear light casing, and leaving Maria struggling to stop her bike from sliding back down the mountain. OK new plan; on really tight bends Maria would fire up her bike and ride round behind me, then straighten up and turn off before the engine overheated. With that problem solved we were soon in Delphi.
I felt a bit of an idiot shelling out to see bits of building that were there long before someone decided to put up a turnstile, but the site was well worth it particularly since we’d managed to beat the crowds, though only just. As we climbed higher, perusing each building set into the mountain and occasionally looking out over the valley below we caught the odd glimpse of the hoards of tourists below us, filling the paths and ruining each others’ photos. We amused ourselves for a while trying to photograph icebear on and around the ruins, inevitably getting barked at by the all female security force, and eventually worked our way back through the throngs and out to the bikes.
DON’T SIT ON THE EXHIBITS!!
Even if you’re not into the architecture, you can’t argue with the views over the valley
Awesome, they still used the Delphi amphitheater in the 30’s!
We had lunch of leftovers from the night before and bread drizzled with olive oil – free, and doubtless tastier than anything they were offering in the overpriced museum cafe – while chatting to another gs rider that’d stopped to say hello, then back on the road and through some amazing little towns (Arahova was particularly nice; check it out if you get a chance).
By about two in the afternoon we found ourselves in the outskirts of Athens. That seemed good, since it’d give us time to get settled in and recover from our early start, but we had no idea the shitstorm that was waiting for us. A Greek friend of ours had come up with a tenuous link for us – her boyfriend’s apartment was empty for a couple of days, and we were supposed to meet up with his father to pick up the keys. I stuck the address into the sat nav; it said we were about ten minutes away, while Maria tried the phone number we’d been given. The phone was answered by a woman who hung up as soon as she heard someone talking in English, then turned the phone off. Weird, but ok, Maria left a voicemail to say we were about half an hour away (just to be safe) and we jumped back on the bikes and started to follow the sat nav. A couple of minutes into the journey we were stopped on a small one way street waiting to turn right, when I heard a shout, and a guy in a suit came running out, waving at me to wait for him. “You’re English? What’s wrong with the bike? Do you need parts? I’m a GS rider and I have lots of tools. No? OK do you have a place to stay while you fix it?” It never ceases to surpise me, the comaraderie of bikers. I assured him we were all set up but knowing that we might struggle to get the water pump off (it’s notoriously difficult) I agreed to call him if we needed help. Before leaving he asked me how far away my friend’s house was, warning me that it was dangerous to tow for long distances. I breezily answered that we’d done 300 miles already and I think at that point he wrote us off as a couple of lunatics, but he wished us well and reaffirmed his offer of help. That was a trend that continued and it did wonders for Irish/Athenian relations. We couldn’t stop for two minutes to check the map without someone spotting the tow rope and running up with an offer of help.
Eventually we pulled up at our destination… to find a motorbike workshop. Hmm, appropriate maybe, but not exactly what we were looking for. The resident mechanic was helpful of course, and explained that we’d got the street name right, but were in completely the wrong municipality of Athens. The sat nav had started sulking, so we got directions from him to get us in the right general area, then figured we’d just ask again. An hour and another snapped tow rope later, we were both really starting to feel the stress of the long day and trying to tow a bike around a busy metropolis. And we were starting to make mistakes. Taking a right turn at a busy junction, I started to pull away before getting Maria all the way round, and the rope pulled taught before I’d straightened up, yanking me violently to the ground. In the middle of the Athenian equivalent to the north circular. Luckily a couple of people jumped out of their cars to pick the bike up and dust me off. I was fine, just incredibly pissed off that I’d dropped the bike for the first time (I’m not counting getting rear ended by Maria), and generally losing my sense of humour about the whole situation.
We stopped to catch our breath and I got the sat nav out to have another go at finding our road. We’d come to realise that because of the tricky translation from Greek to Latin alphabet, some of the street names on the map were a bit off. I found something that looked like it might be what we were after, and off we went again. As we neared our new destination the roads got narrow and twisty, so we had to detach. Riding up a particularly steep hill, I yanked on the brakes as a car shot across the junction in front of me, and felt my bike slowly slide down the hill, before I was clear to open the throttle and pull myself over the crest of the hill. Maria wasn’t so lucky, and as her bike started to skid slowly backwards, she was forced to throw it to the ground, stopping just short of the parked cars. We decided it would be best to just park up and walk the last few minutes to the street.
We again arrived with no sign of the apartment and no answer from the phone number we’d been given and we were starting to run out of ideas. I decided the situation could be immediately improved if I could find some cigarettes, so we headed off for a walk. Ten minutes later we hadn’t found a shop and for lack of anything better to do I got the sat nav out and started fiddling with different variations on the road name. All of a sudden it started displaying a result we hadn’t seen before. One that looked very similar to what was on our little bit of paper. And it was five minutes away. Surely this time….
The road we were following was far too twisty for towing, so Maria was forced to start up her bike and after a few minutes we pulled over to let her engine cool down. I had another look over the map while she ran off to a shop that she’d spotted and came back soon after with ciggies, beer, crisps, and iced tea. Funny how much sunshine can pour out of a plastic bag. She’d also had a missed call from Makis and as we read out the names of the roads we’d been following, he assured us we were heading to the right place! Finally at 6.30, four hours after we’d arrived in Athens, we pulled up at the flat. We took the keys, wrestled the bikes through the little gate, ran to the closing supermarket for wine and a frozen pie, and slumped on the couch, thoroughly exhausted.