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Greece on a Harley

Author: Becky B.
Date of Trip: June 2004

I’m not totally sure why I have always wanted to visit Greece but I think it all goes back to a magazine article I read many years ago. It showed a couple backpacking and walking along some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen. But it wasn’t just the beauty of the country, it was the beauty of the people and the idea that they were so friendly that they would stop and talk to anyone who smiled at them. So, I knew I had to go someday, but my idea wasn’t to backpack but to motorcycle the roads. And I wanted to do it before I turned 50. Well, 50 was breathing down my neck so I started making plans. The coincidence of the Olympics coming just made it all that much more urgent. I wanted to see what the world would be seeing later that summer.

My favorite travel tool is the Internet so I did a search and found very little about motorcycling in Greece and only a couple Web pages by people who live and ride there. But I did find George! He lives in Athens, rides a Kawasaki Zephyr 750 and speaks and writes great English. I picked his brain for several months before my trip about everything from what to see to how to navigate the Athens subways. He gave me much insight on the country and assured me that a solo female rider would be safe in his country and not to worry because most Greeks spoke at least conversational English. He was right about it all. Our e-mails were almost daily right up to the day I left for Athens. Becoming friends with George turned out to be one of the most important friendships I have made in years.

I then contacted a Harley dealer in Greece to try and find a motorcycle. I knew that big bikes are rather rare in a country where gasoline is close to $7 a gallon but I wanted a bike that I would be familiar with and felt comfortable riding. Elmec Sport Harley in Glyfada, which is a suburb of Athens, turned out to be a lucky choice and I was put in touch with Dina Branis who is in charge of H.O.G. for all of Greece. Her e-mail told me to call her soon, which I did but I was blank when someone answered the phone in Greek. You see, I speak absolutely no Greek! I stumbled through, “Hi, this is Becky from America” and then her Greek immediately turned to very fluent English. She had no accent and I could have sworn that I was talking to my next door neighbor. It turned out that Dina was born and raised in York, Pennsylvania until she was 13. I couldn’t wait to meet her.

I arrived in Athens on a Saturday and it didn’t take me long to realize that Athens is just another New York City with lots of taxi cabs, few trees and too many people. I loved it anyway. I had no intention of visiting the Acropolis but when I visited the Monastiraki market I found myself within eyesight and walking distance. I was very glad that I did. I could see all of Athens from the top and there were so few visitors that I could take photos without having to wait until people got out of my shots. I was very surprised that one of the most famous ruins of the world was free to the public.

I met my Internet buddy George who took me to a couple of great Athens nightspots and introduced me to his friends. I really felt at home but I couldn’t wait to pick up my bike and hit the back roads and begin my travels. On Monday I headed to Elmec Sport Harley to pick up my Heritage Softail and meet Dina. Walking into the dealership was just like visiting any dealership in the U.S. If I didn’t know I was in Greece I would think I was back in Ohio. I was surprised at just how “Americanized” the place was! Dina has been working there for two years and her sole means of transportation is her 1994 sportster. She told me about how she was just a breath away from being on the Greek Women’s Olympic softball team and this 110-pound very petite and very feminine bundle of energy is a Volunteer Firefighter! She is one of the most interesting people I have met in many years.

After lunch with Dina she led me to the road that took me past the Olympic stadium and out of Athens. I was on my way. My map had many places circled that both George and Dina suggested I visit. I left Athens going west and onto Peloponnese and went as far as Korinthos that day. It wasn’t a long ride but it was very interesting. One thing that I noticed was that every few miles the scenery changed. For awhile I felt like I was riding the green hilly roads of Tennessee and then only a few miles later it looked like the red sculptured rocks of Utah. The road was always lined with wildflowers of every color.

I found a hotel in Korinthos and it was that very next morning that I realized Dina was right when she told me that Greece had very few lady motorcycle riders. When I left the hotel in the morning I was followed out to the sidewalk by what must have been every hotel employee that was on duty that day. They all watched me load up my bike and ride away!

Day two of being on the road was the beginning of the best ride I have ever experienced, and the roads I found just have to be the best in Greece! I am addicted to taking photos of just about everything and after passing the first two things that I regretted not stopping for I made myself a promise. Instead of later wishing I had stopped, I was going to. I rode south through Tripoli and on to Sparti where I stopped for lunch. The road out of Sparti going west to Kalamata was a motorcycle rider’s dream. It took me through and over Mt. Taigetos and what seemed to be hundreds of hairpin turns. The scenery was unbelievable. From Kalamata I went south to Kardamilli, Stoupa and Trachili. Kardamilli is a small village with cobblestone narrow streets and hundreds of photo opportunities. I stopped where the sign said “rooms” and stayed in a very modern room with a kitchenette that opened onto the Mediterranean for what was less than $30. The next morning I watched from my balcony as a small fishing boat docked and the little old lady boarded the boat to inspect what she would buy for the day’s menu.

Trachili is a very old and traditional fishing village that looks like it came right off a calendar photo. I only found it after following the wrong road along the ocean. The scenery along the road to Trachili reminded me of the Big Sur area of California with the high cliffs and rocky surf. I would stop every half-mile or so to take pictures and every time I did two women on bicycles would pass me until we leap frogged right into Trachili. I stopped at an outdoor café where they finally caught up and I learned they were both schoolteachers from Germany who vacation with their husbands and kids each summer in Stoupa.

On my way to Koroni I passed an old man leading a burro loaded with firewood. I pulled off the road a quarter mile ahead of him and waited for him with my camera to catch up. I snapped a few shots and by then he was waiving his hands in the air and probably cussing me out for invading his privacy without his permission and taking photos. I understood nothing that he said to me in his raised voice. I took off my helmet as I was trying to tell him politely “English only” and it was then that he immediately changed his attitude. He said a few words, shook my hand and walked off! I guess being female made it all right with him.

When I left Koroni my next planned stop for the night would be the small fishing village of Finikouda. I found out early that following road signs in Greece took some talent and a good map is the most valuable thing you can pack. They have three ways of spelling the towns on the road signs. All English letters, all Greek letters or a combination of both. It wasn’t always easy to figure out which town you were coming to next. And when I did get into a town the road signs seemed to disappear and I was left to finding my way through it by using nothing but a sense of direction. On my way to Finikouda I found myself at a three-way fork in the road and no signs. I got off my bike and walked up to a farmer who was sitting on his porch reading the paper. He barely raised his eyes to point as I asked “Finikouda?” I followed his finger around a curve and before I knew it I realized I was already about 100 feet onto a dirt road so bad that I couldn’t stop and turn the bike around by myself. It wasn’t wide enough and if it were, the ruts were too deep to turn the front wheel. Rocks were jutting out of the ground and there was barely enough room for me to pick my route between ruts and rocks. I just kept going through what felt like 100 miles of the worse road I have even ridden. When I finally hit pavement I stopped the bike, put the kickstand down, and wiped the sweat off my forehead. I almost kissed that pavement! I had only met one car the whole 5 or so miles and I figured that if I got stuck or had problems I would be there all night.

My intentions were not to include castles in my schedule but I found one in Koroni and then Metori. The one in Metori can be seen from quite a distance and it was majestic to see from the hill coming into the town. I spent quite a long time there just taking pictures. It was the most unbelievable place and probably the most photogenic I have ever been. I would advise anyone visiting Greece not to miss it. I was surprised again that there were no entry fees or guides. You just walk around and stay as long as you like.

After leaving Metori I was as far southwest as I could go so I had to head north stopping in Pilos for lunch. Not far from there I found the first four-lane road I had seen in days. I was able to make good time but wondered what I was missing by not following the coastline like most of my ride had been so far. My plan was to ride north to Patra where I could stay the night before taking a ferry the next morning across the Patraikos Gulf and then eventually catch another ferry to the island of Corfu.

Petra is the largest city west of Athens and Petra is where I met the worse of Greece. I got off the expressway and headed towards the water district where I figured I would find a room. I was slowing down for the first set of Railroad tracks that I had seen since I had been in Greece and before I realized what had happened, I was bumped on my left side by a car. The bike was sliding out from under me and down the road. All I could think of was to roll out of the road before any cars behind me might hit me. You can imagine how angry I was because I knew my trip was over. All my planning was to come to fast end. The driver didn’t stop but several people did and picked up the bike. I couldn’t stand on my right leg and I knew immediately it was as fractured as the rest of my vacation plans!

I was taken to St Andrew Hospital where I had to figure out what I was going to do with no transportation, no place to stay, and I couldn’t even walk. I was two hours away from Athens and the airport. I stayed the night at St Andrews and called George the next morning and friends back home to get my flight home changed. I didn’t want to go home but really had no choice since I was put into a cast from my toes almost to my crotch. The conditions at the hospital were another story all by itself. Thanks to the family of the lady in the next bed I was given basic things like a pillow.

Now, I am sure that most riding stories don’t end with accidents and broken bones. But I have been riding for 28 years and have always known that these things can happen and they can happen anywhere. Sometimes experience just isn’t enough. If you have something that you really want to do, you have to start making plans and do it. This was my first solo bike trip any further than Toledo to Boston and I have no regrets. By the time this is published I will be riding again and maybe even making plans for my trip back to the most beautiful place I have ever been.

George borrowed a car and came to Petra to pick me up and take me back to Athens and the airport. That was when I remembered again why I had wanted to come to Greece. It was the people. It also reminds me of why I will return to Greece and finish my trip. I still have Corfu and Santorini to visit and friends to see again.

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