Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Greece for Motorcyclists:
Since this is a motorcycle adventure, I thought I would write a bit about motorcycles while we maneuver around the continual roadblock of Iran. Since we had our passports back we were able to leave Turkey and visit Greece. It was well worth the time.
The roads are in excellent condition, and you can go about as fast as you want. Within the first hour of crossing the Turkish border (where the speed limit for motorcycles is 45mph) a Green Ninja buzzed us at about 120 mph with his Spydee leathers being about the only thing I could make out of him in his crouched racing position as he zoomed through the curves of the dry mountain pass. Yeah, baby!
The views are wonderful, from the Aegean Sea and the 1400 Greek Islands in them, to the aforementioned mountains including the highest: Mt. Olympus, the myriad historical sites, great museums, the best tourist information and maps in our known world, and tthe women whom Clara and I both thought surprisingly beautiful and fashionable. Plus with No Helmet Law, if you choose, your views can be even less obstructed.
Greece is 90 percent mountains which means never ending twisties. Traffic is Spartan, with the usual rate of speed being about 80 mph, 100 if you drive a German automobile. Although people drive fast, they aren’t treacherous like the Turks, and they respect your space. Since almost half the population of Greece lives in Athens it is no surprise that it is chock full of traffic jams. However, even on the highways the cars and trucks keep to orderly lanes that allow bikers to make their way forward between the traffic, often at high rates of speed. Once again, $7 dollar a gallon gas doesn’t seem to deter much traffic, although the pollution wasn’t as bad as I remembered or had heard about. This may have been tempered by the constant strong winds and occasional rain we had during our stay.
There are multitudes of motorcyclists, many of excellent ability. From weaving in an out of traffic, to high speed cornering, to burnouts and wheelies at stoplights it is clear that the Greeks enjoy two wheeled (and one wheeled!) freedom. We saw everything from the latest bikes, tons of scooters, and an early 60’s BMW in original condition put-putting around the old sections of Athens, complete with hop-a-long handle for the pillion.
Athens, a city as white as La Paz is red, full of 4 to 6 story whitewashed concrete buildings only hemmed in by the mountains within site of the Acropolis, was a pleasant surprise. I had an incident on a motorcycle there 15 years or so ago which resulted in me fleeing without front brakes on a Ninja 900 to Yugoslavia for Freedom rather than pay an extortion like payment; this left me with a bad taste in my mouth, fear of local gendarme and a remembrance of garbage odor. This time was much better.
Speaking of time, I was impressed to find out about Clepsydras: Greek Water Clocks. Back in the day of Rhetoric, politicians were given specific amounts of time to plead their case in the first true democracy. Since Swatches didn’t exist back then, they used clay pots with a hole in the bottom and a hole near the rim at the top. A plug would be put into the bottom of the pot and then it would be filled until it reached the pre-measured hole at the top, this way all speakers would expend the same volume. As the speaker would rise to pontificate, the plug would be pulled and he would have until the water ran out to get his point across. A great speaker was one who could convey and sum up his argument just as the water ran dry. Of course, or maybe unfortunately, more important topics and speakers would get larger jugs. Obviously, politicians have been chasing bigger Clepsydras ever since the Greeks started us down this path of Democracy.
The second great thing about Athens was the musician Orestis. Yet another respondent to our Horizons Unlimited query to meet up with two wheeled brethren along the way. Despite being a recently forlorn romantic, he was a great host who showed us around the City, explained how it was much better and cleaner since I had been there years ago, and confirmed what a wonderful place it is for bikers. He also informed us that, surprise, surprise, it is better in the summers and that it is really easy to take your motorcycle to different Greek Isles for 20 or 30 €. He wouldn’t hear of letting us pay for dinner, although he did allow us to treat him to a delicious ice cream waffle. Any two wheeled adventurer (especially single females!) should look him up if in the area. Don’t be fooled by his long hair, he really does love Heavy Metal! We hope to join him on one of those Islands someday, it sounds quite enchanting and relaxing.
We enjoyed the food in Greece, excellent salads, mixed grills, and fish. The people everywhere were friendly, from offering advice, to a free ice cream with a meal. It was interesting to go “back” to the EU after spending so long in Turkey and getting used to the standards there. Clearly, the Greeks built better buildings (as many in Turkey told us, the quality of building had gone down since the Greeks and Armenians left), had better roads, and let fewer smog belchers on the highway. I calculated that there were about one seventh the amount of police on the roads, and in my unscientific observations it seemed as if they were more interested in controlling traffic than obtaining bribes.
On our way out of the country we met up with a Honda Varadero club who were cruising en masse despite the cold weather for a weekend getaway. They also confirmed that it was a great place to ride, but better in the summer, according to the guy with the wool hat on under his helmet.
We were able to make it from Athens to Istanbul in two days, a distance of about 700 miles thanks to the good roads, cruising at an easy 80 mph, despite some additional rain. The border crossing we think is the quietest we have seen in the whole world. There is only one stop on the Greek side and 3 or 4 on the Turkish side depending on whether you are coming or going. Still, it is straightforward and friendly, and although we did have to get 6 months of Turkish insurance for $10 bucks, something they didn’t make us do when we arrived by boat from Ukraine, they allowed us back into the country on our previous 3 month Visa which saved us $40 dollars.
Do yourself a favor, learn to say “casas” (hello) and “epheristo” (thank you), wait for summer and get yourself and your bike to the cradle of Western Civilization.