Okay, and breath. It’s ten-thirty and time to relax at last.
Today has been about being cooked, getting lost, getting the bike completely stuck, being eaten alive, taking the same wrong turning three times, swearing a lot and having a right laugh with the lady in the toll collection booth. When I was at school I was a complete idiot, I thought I’d changed. Actually, I don’t think I have.
Other people do travelling, sometimes through some incredibly challenging places, yet they always seem to make good decisions, they never make a complete idiot of themselves and they don’t loose their temper. When I travel, even through Europe, I seem to go from one disaster to another. All I had to do today was get to Greece and find a place to stay. What could possibly go wrong?
So, my day started in my lovely posh hotel room when I decided to check my new map of Bulgaria. Unfortunately I’d bought the version with the cyrillic names so didn’t understand any of it. When after a few minutes I’d still not managed to make head nor tail of the bloody thing I got irritated and threw it on the bed. As I did, the cover flapped over and I realised that I’d been holding it upside down. My second attempt was more successful and before long I had a route worked out all the way down to the border.
The ride through the rest of Bulgaria was reasonably scenic and bloody hot. Wearing an incredibly heavyweight leather jacket with leather trousers, gloves and crash helmet in forty degree heat is like sitting in a fan assisted oven. And when you stop it’s a race to get the jacket off before you overheat!
I wanted to visit the Rila Monastery but as I got closer it became apparent that it was going to be a complete tourist fest at the end of a long queue so changed my mind and continued south.
My plan was to try to spend the last of my Bulgarian currency but I forgot so now I have about sixty quids worth of useless Romanian Leu and about fifty quids worth of useless Bulgarian thingies. Neither of which can be changed outside of their respective counties. Doh!
Getting through the border was incredibly easy, I rode to the front of the queue passed all the trucks, a border police chap asked for my passport, he barely opened it then gave it back and told me I could go. And that was it, I was in Greece.
For some reason I felt that the pressure was off and from this point forward everything was going to be easy. My plan was to get a few kilometres from the border, then to stop and work out where to go but before I knew it I’d come to a military base with two soldiers standing guard. When I arrived they lifted the barrier and let me in. I apologised profusely and told them I was completely lost. They were lovely chaps and helped me with directions and before long I was heading into Greece for Thessaloniki.
I stopped and bought a decent map of Greece (with both English and Greek place names) and filled up with fuel. The lady told me that I looked very hot and that the weather was about to get a whole lot hotter. It was 38 degrees today but tomorrow should be 40 and then by Friday and Saturday they’re expecting 44.
After checking my new map I decided to head for a small place called Kato Sotiritsa. As the crow flies it was about 100 kilometres from where I was but the GPS wanted to take me a weird 370 kilometre route. After checking all the settings it turned out that I had toll roads switched off (because I’m a tight git). I fixed that which sorted out the route. It all went well at first, I zipped along nicely and was, for a large part, the only vehicle on the road.
With no mishaps for over an hour my confidence grew and before I knew it idiot Georgiou had struck again. My GPS had asked me to turn off in five kilometres, then four, then three, then I got sidetracked with my thoughts and the next thing I knew I’d missed my turning. I checked my GPS and it seemed I had to go up the motorway for twenty kilometres, then come back for twenty kilometres and then take the turning I’d missed. Bugger.
After a few expletives I accepted my fate and rode the twenty kilometres. I did as I was told by the GPS and exited the toll road, stopping to pay my toll at the booth, then went round a few roundabouts and got back onto the toll road paying my toll as I did. I made my way back and before I knew it my GPS was telling me to turn off in five kilometres. I warned myself
“Just pay attention you idiot. It’s not hard, grown ups do it all the time. Be a big boy. Come on, you can do it”. When the GPS was down to 600 yards I saw the turning and took it. I watched in horror as I realised I’d taken the turning too early and that I had no other option but to ride the twenty kilometres back up the motorway again, then I’d have to ride the twenty kilometres back and would definitely not miss the turning again. As you can imagine the string of expletives was now getting serious and they were fired out with real vigor.
I told myself that there was no point in throwing a wobbly as it wouldn’t help. I calmly rode the twenty kilometres up the motorway, again. When I exited the chap in the toll booth smiled knowingly and took my money. I made my way round the roundabouts and stopped at the booth to get back on. The lady took one look at me and pissed herself laughing.
“You’re back!” She said with a huge grin. We had a bit of a laugh at my expense and I buggered off feeling like the idiot I was. As I departed I said
“See you in a minute.” Which she found very funny.
I rode the twenty kilometres, again, and really concentrated on not making any mistakes. I watched the GPS count down and passed the turning I’d taken earlier but then realised that there was no other turn off. This set off my expletives again. I decided to switch off and ignore the GPS for ever and follow signs. The sign for the next turning appeared but was all in Greek. I thought ‘this must be the right turning’ and I took it.
I was taken round a few roundabouts and ended up heading the way I’d just come. I switched on my GPS and to my absolute horror, found that I was heading back up the bloody toll road for twenty kilometres, for a third time. This did it for me, I completely lost my temper and let loose with an extended set of expletives, fired out with such force that I’m surprised my tonsticles didn’t come flying out with them. I could actually taste blood in my mouth after that little tirade.
I’d calmed down by the time I reached the toll booths twenty kilometres later and was seeing the funny side of it. The chap took my money, again, and I made my way around the roundabouts to the other toll booth. The moment the lady saw me she had a complete fit. She almost wept with laughter. I could do nothing else but join her, we literally cried as we laughed. When we eventually stopped laughing she told me that the road layouts changed a while ago and that many people make the same mistake; however, she said that I was the first to come back three times which set us off again. She gave me a big hug, wished me well and laughed at me once more. I got back on the toll road and rode back the way I’d just come for a third time.
Before I reached the turn offs I decided to stop and and tell the GPS to avoid toll roads at all costs. I also examined the map and wrote down the names of the roads I should be looking for. This time I took the exit and correctly made my way onto the far smaller roads which wiggled their way towards my destination; Kato Sotiritsa.
As I rode along gently with the cool breeze wafting around my jacket and the sun getting ever lower in the sky I reflected on the earlier episode. I bet that wouldn’t happen to Sam Manicom or Lois Pryce.
The ride to Kato Sotiritsa took me past fields of crops and tiny little hill top villages with roads that are like tiny cobbled walkways. With the backdrop of mountains behind the scene really was everything I’d been hoping for.
When I arrived a Kato Sotiritsa I decided to ride through it in one direction to find the nicest place, then to go back and book some accommodation. This was easier said that done. After trying to book in a number of hotels and ‘rooms’ I found that everywhere was full or closed. This was not good.
So, what to do next I wondered. I decided to ride along the coast to the next town in the hope that I would be more lucky there. I followed the coast road which wiggled around as the sun disappeared behind the horizon. The road took me up into some tiny villages with some incredibly small cobbled lanes only a few feet wide. With no white lines to guide me and many choices to make I don’t need to tell you that it wasn’t long before I ended up in another sticky predicament.
I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere down the line and ended up going down a very steep path just a few feet wide. At the end of it was a locked metal gate. Now, in a car you can use reverse but on a motorbike you don’t have a reverse gear so that’s not an option. As I could see it I had three options.
Option number one was to turn the motorbike around and ride back up the track. The width of the track was far less that the length of the bike so that was completely out of the question.
Option number two was to push the bike backwards back up the track but bearing in mind that the bike weighs well over three hundred kilograms and that the track that I was on was both long and very steep this was also out of the question.
Option number three was to curl up into foetal position, stick my thumb into my mouth and cry like a baby. This as I saw it was the only option left.
I opened up the panniers and removed my thermos. With a tepid cup of half fizzy coffee in hand I thought about what to do next. I examined the gate but it was firmly locked. I peered at the small house through the gates and saw movement. If I could get someone to open the gates then I could turn the bike around and get back on track. I shouted for help.
“Hello there. You I say. I’m in need of some assistance.” And when that did’t work “Help!”
This seemed to do the job perfectly as the couple both came out to see what was going on. I told them of my predicament using my best sign language but they didn’t have a key for the padlock. This was a problem. Just as I thought I was getting somewhere the couple promptly turned and left.
“Okay bike, it’s just you and me then.” I chatted away to the only friend I had and congratulated myself on another fine mess. Right then I heard a car, I looked up to see a beaten up Lancia reversing down the track towards me. I noticed that it had a tow bar on the back.
The chap got out, pointed at the bike, laughed at me, then handed me some rope. He tied one end to his to his tow bar and I tied the other end to my swing arm. Towing a heavily loaded motorbike up a steep and bumpy track backwards is not something you do every day and could easily end up going wrong.
“Slowly please.” I said. He repeated. “Slowly.” Over the period of the next twenty minutes we managed to get my bike up the hill. It wasn’t pretty but it worked and I didn’t drop it once. Once at the top he shook my hand and pointed me in the right direction. By this time any trace of daylight had disappeared and I was covered in a smelly layer of dirt and sweat. Or as the mosquitoes call it, lunch!
I got back on the bike and continued my journey. It felt so good to have some moving air going past me but the weight of not having found anywhere to stay was pressing down hard. I asked the GPS to check for camp sites but that drew a blank. I asked the GPS to look for any kind of accommodation but they were both seriously thin on the ground and miles away.
The road took me up into the hills and I found myself looking for suitable place to set up my tent which was difficult in complete darkness but then, as luck would have it, I found a spot. I stopped the bike, unpacked my tent and stuff and was promptly eaten alive by just about everything that could fly. Bearing in mind that the door of my tent broke about two thousand miles ago so mosquitoes were free to come and go all night I decided that camping was not a great option. I swore profusely as I packed everything back on the bike.
After drawing a blank with accommodation I decided to just ride through the night, I’d find somewhere tomorrow in the day light. All GPS’ should have a button for ‘really expensive five star hotels with air conditioned, mosquito free, fresh air and a swimming pool’ in case of emergency.
Once on the move again I started to feel better about my predicament. I think it was the ‘up in the air’ element of my situation earlier that I found so hard to deal with. Once I’d made the decision to ride through the night I had a plan again and everything seemed better. This is when I saw the sign ‘Hotel’ I popped in on the off chance and to my delight the chap said
“Yes we have a room for you.” What luck! And they were still serving food. After a shower and a ‘new bite discovering session’ I enjoyed a plate full of souvlaki and went to bed. Another typical Georgiou day done.