Words and Photos: Tim Burke
Greece is special. I knew it would be before I even got there. I have known about its history and have read about its epic mythological stories since I was in grade school. Ancient history is around every corner in Greece, and it has a way of making you want to slow down to appreciate it.
I arrived in the country on a ferry from Brindisi, Italy. By this point, I had been on the road for almost two months and had traveled over 22,000km through England, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Andorra, and Italy.
Ferry Port – Igoumenitsa, Greece - The 8-hour overnight ferry to Igoumenitsa, Greece put me into the country at almost 6am – which was perfect for getting an early start on the day. Although there is plenty to explore around this northern city, just south of the Albanian border, I wanted to get my big-city exploring over with in Athens before being able to really take my time, exploring this country’s small villages and small twisty roads.
I got off the boat and hit the road for Athens in warm temperatures, where cooler waters along the coastline created low lying fog. As the road roller-coastered through small hills, varying terrain, and ocean inlets, I would ride into and out of this thick fog which felt like flying a fighter jet through cloud layers!
Although I usually find freeway travel boring and avoid it at all costs (preferring to stay on backroads and trails), the 5-hour ride to Greece is made quicker by hopping on the “super slab” in certain sections. The Greek highways are filled with plenty of entertainment like goats and donkeys in the back of pick up trucks… and even helicopters being towed behind small cars!
I spent 2 days in Athens which, for me, was enough time to see the major tourist attractions like the Acropolis, the temple of Zeus, and Syntagma Square. Both food and drink are reasonably priced in this busy city, and there is no shortage of street vendors. Any city that can offer great food and drink for a motorcycle-traveler on a budget will always get a good grade in my book!
While Athens is history-packed and full of entertainment, I only have limited patience for busy city traffic, so it was time to see what the rest of the country really had to offer!
On my third day, I teamed up with husband and wife ADV riders from Athens
(@bikesandbaking) and we rode out of the city, south, to the Temple of Poseidon: A historic monument atop steep cliffs with sweeping views of the Aegean Sea. The ride out of Athens to the south is paved and full of twisties. The sea water just off the road is bright blue and small islands are visible along the length of this route.
It doesn’t seem to take long to get away from the city’s traffic and into the countryside where natural beauty and ancient history mix together.
My friends and I parked the motorcycles at the Temple of Poseidon and walked out to the steep cliffs that plummet towards the ocean. After we took in the views and enjoyed our packed lunch, we said goodbye and parted ways. I continued north towards the city of Rafina where I took a short ferry to the nearby island of Evia. Aside from small fishing villages, this island is relatively desolate and is a slice of heaven for motorcyclists. Generally speaking, the island is long and narrow and has only one main road which runs north and south. The magic though happens on the small dirt roads that veer off the main route, down to desolate and hidden beaches on the Aegean Sea, on the east side.
The Sea has been pummeling the east side of Evia for ages and leaves a rocky and jagged coastline in its wake.
As I meandered my way north, the entire ecosystem of the island seemed to change. While active, gusty, and continuous winds keep tree and forest growth relatively sparse in South Evia, the north part of the island is covered by green and lush forests. Trees cover the winding mountainous roads, sometimes feeling as if you’re riding in a twisty tunnel.
Looking north from the island of Evia, huge and jagged mountains are visible on the Pelion Peninsula. After seeing this landscape, I knew I had to go explore these mountains. From the north end of the island, I took a ferry into the town of Glifa. From Glifa to Volos, the road takes you through miles of fields where some farmers still use donkeys and mules to sow the land. It is like taking a step back in time!
One of my favorite aspects of motorcycling is the ability to smell your surroundings, really making the journey more intimate. Traveling through the rural, low lying farmlands of Greece really provides you with that sensory overload that connects you to the environment, and give us motorcyclists that feeling that we are always chasing after.
Once on the Pelion Peninsula, there are tight switchbacks and sharp corners to keep any motorcyclist happy.
As beautiful as these asphalt mountain roads are, the real beauty is found by getting yourself lost on the peninsula’s dirt roads.
Steep cliffs crash into the ocean where they meet the most brilliant blue waters I’ve ever seen. Every bend of the road is worthy of a photo. For an easily distracted photographer like myself, it really makes covering any distance difficult!
The best part about traveling along these remote stretches of shoreline, especially on hot days, is jumping in the water! White sand beaches are scattered along the length of this rugged coast.
I spent the night in a campground in the small coastal town of Agios Ioannis, a village with an abundance of family-run restaurants, bars, and shops. With warm temperatures and a light breeze, it was a perfect night to spend in my hammock! My hammock packs into my sleeping bag stuff-sack, smaller than a grapefruit. I find the easiest way to set up a hammock is by using ratchet straps (which I never go without on a motorcycle trip)! Depending on the length of the straps, it allows you to be far less picky about finding trees that are “perfectly spaced” for hammocks.
I woke up in my hammock to perfect blue sky weather and had to say goodbye to this heaven-like village. I climbed the steep mountains above the city of Volos. These mountains offer a spectacular view of the valley below and are worth stopping for a while to take in the view.
I headed southwest out of Volos to explore the mountains that stretch between Lamia and Patras. This is where my jaw hit the floor.
Since my travels are rarely planned with turn-by-turn details, I often improvise by exploring off-shoots that appear to connect to other small roads. Some of the best riding I’ve experienced on this trip comes from a spontaneous style of planning and unexpected detours towards anything that appears pretty!
I spent the night in the mountains north of Itea, where the galaxy’s stars put on a show.
The Milky Way stretches over the small village of Delphi.
Next on the agenda was the Peloponnese Peninsula, home of the original Olympics and the cities of Tripoli and Sparta. I was told beforehand that this region would be pretty, and boy, I was not disappointed. Making my way over to the Peloponnese via Patras, I recrossed my tracks from my first day in Greece. Again, with no plan and no predetermined routing, I aimed my handlebars towards steep, rugged terrain, knowing that narrow mountain roads would be abundant. With only a vague general destination programmed into the GPS, the navigation system will continue to “reroute and auto-correct” as you allow yourself to become lost on mountain roads.
I hit the bottom of the peninsula, the second-southernmost point of mainland Europe (Tarifa, Spain is #1) before tracing the east coast north again. This “turn-around” at the bottom of Greece was a big moment for me as I knew that it now symbolized a north-bound journey for me for the next 2 months. Ultimately, I had Norway in my sights. On any journey, it’s always a bittersweet feeling when you reach a turn-around point, wherever that may be. I stayed the night in the city of Nafplion, treated by an unforgettable sunset.
Right at sunrise, I loaded the motorcycle up and headed to the island of Corfu off the northern coast. I would again force myself to use only backroads on this leg. It took almost 8 hours to reach Igoumenitsa, where the two-hour ferry would take me and my motorcycle to Corfu.
It was in Corfu that I would spend almost an entire week, at the Pink Palace Hostel, resting an injured foot from a 50cc scooter accident. Often times, during these adventures, life can throw us curve balls. During a routine maintenance overview of my bike, I had learned that one of my front calipers must have gotten “sticky” and was only using one piston to apply brakes. This caused one brake pad on the right front rotor to wear out prematurely, to the point that it was almost metal on metal! Luckily, there was a scooter rental shop right near my hostel.
So for $15, I had myself a lean, mean 50cc machine to chase down brake pads on this small island! “It’s just a 50cc scooter,” I, of course, told myself. “I’m a big, bad ADV rider… I can handle a 50cc scooter,” so I thought.
Off I went, on a hot Greek day, in just jeans, a T-Shirt, and sneakers to ride the island on my new scoot. It was only 5 minutes into the ride that a car backed out of a driveway right in front of me. Hard braking led to an all-out sideways slide on this 110kg toy! I went down, and so did the scooter. It was the next day, after hobbling to catch a cab, two busses, and a 1/4 mile walk to the local medical clinic that I learned that I had fractured a metatarsal bone in my right foot. There was also a pretty deep laceration from where the pavement ground through my sneaker and into the ball of my foot. Lots of lessons were learned that day but ATGATT (All the gear, all the time) was the biggest one!
With an inability to sit still for too long and a bad case of restlessness, I lasted only 6 days of the recommended 15 day “rest” period. I had an entire continent to explore, so I wrapped my foot tightly in a bandage, stuffed it into my Sidi Goretex boots, strapped a crutch to the top of my pannier and headed to catch the ferry off the island!
I was northbound to explore the Balkans, and eventually the rest of Europe, all the way to Nordkapp, Norway.
My “down-time” in Corfu allowed for some low-key exploration of the island and a week of making lasting friendships.
By the time I left Greece, I had racked up well over 2500km of travel. Still, I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface in this country. Greece is a magical place that’s only made so special by the people that call it home. Thank you to every person that I met along the way during my time here. I will never forget this experience, and I hope to be back soon. No scooters involved next time, though!