Necessary and sufficient things to pack in
your knapsack for a summer motorbike tour in unknown environments and
Anything else will most likely create unnecessary distractions and will make finding the essential things more difficult.
Like life in general.
Professor of Computer Science
25+ years of touring experience in 5 continents
2017 JulyTransylvania, Romania: With Andreas and 2 BMW GS1200.
We were short of destinations because we have visited most places around Greece. So we intentionally started a trip without a particular target. Our first stop was Ikaria (first picture below), an island famous for its fiestas/festivals that last several days, and the longevity of its residents. Maybe the two are correlated. After that we went to Samos, an island next to Turkey (second picture). The plan was to cross to Kusadasi with a ferry boat. However, none of the ferries to Turkey carried motorbikes. Instead, we took the ship back to Athens (around 10 hours). We arrived after midnight, and we decided to start our trip to Sofia, Bulgaria, 800km north of Athens. The sunrise found us somewhere in Northern Greece (third picture).
After an uneventful Monday night in Sofia, we went to Veliko Tarnovo, a picturesque town in the mountains of North Bulgaria (first picture below). From there, we crossed the border to Romania. As shown in the second picture, the area around looks more like a wasteland than the border between two European countries. We spent the next night in the old town of Bucharest, which is much livelier than Sofia, even during the week nights. The selfie below is from the Parliament building of Bucharest.
Then, we continued north, towards Brasov, the largest city in the Carpathian Mountains. The main road connecting Bucharest and Brasov is rather small and has heavy traffic, including many trucks. The first picture below is where the road starts climbing the mountains. Brasov is very beautiful (second picture), but boring compared to Bucharest.
The next day, we visited Bran, a village near Brasov. The Bran Castle, in the picture below, is
a popular tourist destination because according to urban legend it was home to
Count Dracula. From there we did some routes on the mountains, which are
well-known among bike riders. Although the landscape was at times impressive
(second picture), we did not really enjoy driving because of the rainy weather, the
traffic and the very bad road conditions: there were potholes full of water,
from which you could not be sure that you would re-emerge.
Our final destination in Romania was Vama Veche, a beach
town on the Black sea, next to the border with Bulgaria. Compared to other
popular beach destinations in Romania, Vama has an alternative life style
(it started as a nudist beach) that attracts musicians, backpackers and similar
types. We liked our first night there. However, the next day it started raining
and we decided to head south.
The first couple of hundred kilometers were among the worst in my life. In
addition to the heavy rain, there were strong winds. Thus, we were riding sideways,
on a road that was slippery like a mirror. On top of that, extremely aggressive
Romanian and Bulgarian drivers were getting stuck behind us trying to overtake
in very dangerous situations. We managed to avoid problems, and eventually we
made it back to the border with Greece at sun down (picture below).
After a few days with friends in Xanthi and Thasos
island, and a night with family in Ioannina, we arrived safe to our
basis in Pyrgos, Peloponnese. The whole trip was worth it as an
experience, but you must be very lucky in terms of weather and traffic
to enjoy riding in the Carpathian mountains. You should also be very
careful of the drivers both inside and outside the cities.
Central Thailand: With a Honda CB 500X.
North Luzon: Philippines with a Kawasaki KLR 650.
Southeast Australia: Victoria, New South Wales with Andreas, Nikos, a BMW 1200 GS and a Ducati Multistrada 1200.
We took a flight to Melbourne, where we had arranged to rent the bikes from Garner Motorcycles. Their service was excellent, and we were ready to ride a couple of hours after landing to Australia. The first picture is before the beginning of the trip outside Garner Moto. Note that since it was June (start of winter in Australia), we brought heavy bike gear. We started with direction east towards the coast. Our first stop for the night was at Lakes Entrance (see second picture below), a picturesque town, which I assume is rather busy in the summer (but not when we visited).
The next day we continued towards Sydney. Although the
road is close to the sea, there is no seaview for most part. In
general, with few exceptions, throughout the trip the landscape was
boring: mostly straight lines with eucalyptus trees blocking the view
on both sides, as in the first picture below. The second picture is a stop at Eden, the southernmost town on the
east coast of Australia. The third picture is one of the landscape
exceptions, with a lake on the left hand side and the ocean on the
From Katoomba, it is about 2 days ride to
Melbourne. We stopped at Wagga Wagga (first picture below), midway
between Sydney and Melbourne. It is the largest inland city in NSW
(population 46,000). After an uneventful night that we had to drink our
whiskeys with soda water (at least not lime this time), we continued
towards Melbourne (second picture below), which is similar to Sydney
but a bit more multi-cultural due to the immigrants from Southern
Europe (including many Greeks). Although we stayed in Melbourne for
almost a week, we again did not manage to find proper nightlife,
despite repeated attempts. However, near Melbourne starts the Great Ocean Road that traverses through beaches, cliffs and rainforests (third picture below).
Conclusion: Unfortunately, there is not much to say about the trip because nothing really interesting happened. With few exceptions, the landscape and the ride were boring. Moreover there were speed cameras everywhere (we received a couple of speeding tickets by post a few weeks after the trip). Except for the gas, everything else (e.g., food, water, drinks) is expensive. Given that the nights were also uneventful and regulated (whiskey with lime!), it is a trip I would not recommend. Below, are pictures during some stops; probably among the most memorable moments of the trip.
Western US: California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana with Panos and a BMW 1150 RT (and a Toyota Corolla!).
I had done tours of the US with cars before, this was the first time on
a motorbike. Since renting a proper bike is in general very expensive,
we decided to buy a used BMW and sell it after the end of the trip. As
discussed later, this proved to be a bad idea. Nevertheless, we started
from San Francisco on a beautiful day with destination Yosemite
National Park about 320 km away. The
route is mostly highways except for the part near Yosemite. The only
interesting incident happened when, during a stop, we entered 20 meters
in a farm, in order to take cover in the shadow of the trees (see first
pic below). Immediately
a farmer came out of nowhere and asked us to exit his property; this
was not the kind of hospitality we experienced in previous trips. The
Yosemite valley is very beautiful (see second pic), but the
camp-site was full; so we had to go to another one, at altitude around
2500 meters, to set our tent. We arrived there at night, totally
freezing as the temperature was below 0 degrees Celsius. We
quickly set up the tent (see third pic), and we tried to eat at the
local kiosk. Not only we were not allowed to do so because we were 10
minutes past the closing time, but we were told that we could not stay
inside to warm our bones. Supposedly, they wanted to clean up, but they were still serving food. In
general, although we found professionalism everywhere during the trip, I
cannot say that we encountered true hospitality.
The second day we continued exploring the
mountains in Yosemite Park. The first picture below is at altitude
above 3000m. Then, we continued towards lake Tahoe, about 200km to the north.
The lake is impressive, with great forests ending next to the water.
After Tahoe, we continued on highway 80, crossing
Nevada with direction northeast. The highway is mostly a straight line
in the desert (see first pic below) and very boring. This actually made me
realize why there are so many Harleys in the US - there is no need to
turn much. The temperature was gradually dropping and when we reached
Elko (northeast Nevada) at night, we were again freezing. Although our
original goal was to go to
Yellowstone National Park, we were not properly equipped to handle the
(snow, and below zero temperatures at night). Thus, the next day, we
continued south, in search for higher temperatures. Optimistically, we
wore our shorts (see second
pic) for the trip. Indeed we were right and in the evening when we
reached the Red Cliffs Conservation Area (Utah, borders with Nevada,
about 750km south Elko, third picture) the weather was pleasant.
From Zion we continued towards the north rim of Grand Canyon (Arizona). Although the distance is less than 200km, we enjoyed the ride in the curvy roads inside the forests. As shown in the pictures below, the view from the top of the canyon is breathtaking.
From Arches we drove to Jackson Hole, Wyoming,
about 850 km north. We arrived at 2am and everything was closed. However, a benefit of the car is
that you can sleep comfortably inside (see first pic below), even when
it is too cold for camping. Jackson Hole is a small but nice ski
resort; to be honest, given its reputation, I was expecting more (it
basically has a main road and not much else). The second picture below is at the town center.
Bonus Pictures: Riding without helmets in Utah. Getting rid of the bike and switching to the car at BMW Las Vegas.
could have been a much better trip, if we did not have the problem with
the gearbox. Eventually, it was too expensive to fix and we ended up
selling the bike for
spare parts. The landscape was at times impressive (i.e., the national
but most rides were boring because the roads were straight and the
scenery infrequent, especially in the desert. Moreover, all the
that we visited were congested and most campgrounds fully booked. The
place where we found some kind of nightlife was San Francisco (in Las
had too many problems to think about it). In the rest of the towns and
it was difficult even to find a restaurant after 9pm. We did not have
tolls anywhere (in Europe we would spend several hundreds of Euros for
distance). We were stopped for speeding three times; the first two the
policemen let it go when they saw my international driver license. The
time Panos was exceeding 170km/h in Idaho and the policeman gave him a
for $250, which he kept as a collectible from the trip - I guess he
drive in Idaho again.
Sardinia, Italy and Corsica, France with Andreas and 2 BMW 1200 GS.
year's trip was "light" since it included two popular touristic
destinations in developed countries. We took the usual boat from Patra
(Greece) to Ancona (Italy).
From there we drove about 400km to Livorno, but instead of highways, we chose the equally fast route through Perugia using national roads.
In addition to avoiding the tolls, this route involves some beautiful landscape in Umbria and Tuscany, and permits quick visits to Siena and/or Florence.
To add excitement, we had intentionally not looked at the ferry schedules in advance; therefore, when we arrived at Livorno in the evening, we only found one ferry departing to Olbia, Sardinia.
The first day in Sardinia, we rode the eastern part from north to south, passing through some beaches around Orosei and great roads on the mountains of Parco Nazionale del Gennargentu (see pics below).
However, the second part (southern) of the trip is
not really interesting as it involves monotonous landscape through
Actually, with a few exceptions (e.g., the old
town of Cagliari), we were not impressed by the architecture of
Sardinia. After our stay in Cagliari (the capital), we were not
overwhelmed with the nightlife either.
The ferry from Lungone (north-east Sardinia) to
Bonifacio (south Corsica) takes about an hour. Bonifacio is striking
both when approaching with the ferry and when walking around inside.
Fortunately, our positive impression of Corsica remained during the rest of our visit.
We stayed 5 days and we enjoyed very much the roads, the beaches, the mountains, the well-preserved villages/towns and poker at the casino of Ajaccio.
I will let the pictures below to do the talking.
Approaching Corsica by ferry. Bonifacio in the background.
Sartene, south-west Corsica.
Typical landscape, west Corsica
Roadside, north Corsica
Old port of Bastia, the capital
The only problem in Corsica was that my
moto-luggage was stolen at night, outside our hotel in Bastia.
Fortunately, I did not have valuables inside, but it feels strange
after visiting so many exotic places,
to have this experience in France. On the
way back, we took a ferry from Bastia to Savona, Italy (again it was
the only ferry departing when we decided the trip home).
The ride through the highways of north Italy was
uneventful, except that we stopped at San Marino, a micro-state near
Ancona. Unfortunately, unlike Gibraltar and Andora, San Marino does not
have duty free goods.
San Marino (pretty much that's it - population 30,000)
Bonus Pictures: Yellow plants in the mountains of Sardinia. Andreas and locals in Corte, Corsica.
An easy trip. Despite being about one third the size of Sardinia, we
found Corsica much more interesting and pleasant, but we may have missed
something in Sardinia.
Except for the stolen luggage, the only issue I
can see in such a trip are the high prices, especially in Corsica. We
often paid 3-5 Euros for a bottle of water, sometimes in the middle of
The common charge for hotels in touristic
(i.e., most) areas, was 140 Euros. The ferry tickets were also rather
expensive, but then we visited during the high season.
Albania - Montenegro - Croatia - Bosnia – Serbia - FYROM, July 2012 with Andreas and 2 BMW 1200 GS.
I met with Antreas at Patra, we drove to Northwestern Greece to the border with Albania near Kalpaki (north of Ioannina), and then to Sarande, the largest city in the south of Albania.
The distance is around 330km and the border crossing easy. The terrain in the south part of Albania is mountainous and the roads are narrow. I would avoid this trip with a car –
you may remain stuck behind a truck for a long time since overtaking is difficult. Photo below is at the start of the trip outside Patra.
Although, when we first entered Sarande, we got the impression of third world (with the characteristic smell of sewers), the center of the city near the sea is actually well-developed.
There were nice beaches, coffee shops and numerous people enjoying the sun and the sea.
From Sarande, we took the coastal route to Vlore, the largest Albanian city by the sea. The distance is less than 200km, but the road is narrow and curvy.
However, the bike trip was worth it, as it is the most scenic route we found in Albania (see two pics below). Vlore was full of tourists, mostly from other parts of Albania.
The northern part of Albania (after Vlore) is flat, and the trip was boring. Moreover, there was heavy traffic especially when approaching the capital Tirana.
Thus, we decided to cover this part fast and go directly to Budva Montenegro, which is about 350km from Vlore.
We stayed in Budva for a few days and we drove through the entire coastline of Montenegro, which is not much (about 150km). The photos below are from Sveti Stefan and the golf of Kotor.
Despite the short coastline, the landscape is at times breathtaking. Moreover, there was a lot of tourism, mostly Serbs and Russians, and lively nightlife, but the bars closed at 12, even in the weekends!
Those wishing to continue had to go to big nightclubs, usually far from residential areas.
Then, we visited Dubrovnik (Croatia) which is a short drive (120km) from Budva. Dubrovnik is a truly international destination and it does not really resemble the rest of the Balkans.
It is definitely worth visiting, but it was too civilized for our taste. Therefore, after staying for the night we continued towards Bosnia.
Our first stop in Bosnia was Mostar, about 80km from Dubrovnik. The town became known during the civil war of 1992-93, when it was besieged by the Yugoslav army for 18 months.
Although it is mostly re-built today, you can still see the marks of shelling and bullets on several building. The picture below is taken from Stari Most (bridge), the landmark of Mostar.
The road from Mostar to Sarajevo (70km), is mostly next to Neretva river and rather scenic. Since it was very hot during that day, we swam into the river which, surprisingly, was very pleasant
(I was expecting really cold water). Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia (population about 500K). The ottoman influences, including kebabs and veiled women, are visible everywhere;
the same is true for the western influences, including nightclubs, mini-skirts etc. The first photo below is after the swim in Neretva, and the second outside the hostel that we stayed right at the center of Sarajevo.
The part of the road Sarajevo – Belgrade (total distance about 200km) in Bosnia passes through picturesque mountains and it was a pleasure to drive (see photo below). However the Serbian part is flat and uninteresting.
It is worth mentioning that after Sarajevo, and upon entering the Serbian part of Bosnia we were stopped by policemen for speeding – the incident cost us 20 Euro in “gifts”.
Around 50 kilometers before Belgrade we entered the first real (toll) highway of the trip.
We stayed in Belgrade for a couple of days and we enjoyed it. The city is beautiful and the nightlife lively, especially in the weekends. If you visit, start with a coffee or early drink at Strahinjića Bana,
continue to one of the bars under the Most bridge, and finally end the night (or morning) in one of the boat-clubs at the other side of the river.
It may be worth
visiting the Sava lake where locals go to swim in the
summer. Frankly, we were not impressed because it was too busy (we went on
Sunday) and the water was not appealing.
Below, sunset at the castle of Belgrade with a view of the Danube.
The return to Greece was uneventful. We had a stop-over at Skopjie, the capital of FYROM, where most landmarks (e.g., airport, main highway and square) are called Alexander the Great.
Come on people – get a life. I have to admit, however, although Skopjie is small (less than 500K) and we were there on a Monday night, the city was bristling with life, until very late.
This was in stark contrast with Athens, which was very quiet during the week days. Blame it on the crisis.
On the left, a stop at Sveti Stefan in Montenegro. On the right, outside Tirana we met a cyclist who was returning home to Spain after a 3-year tour of the world. This is indeed hard-core touring.
Conclusion: Compared to some previous trips (e.g., Morocco, Syria), this was a walk in the park in terms of conditions and kilometers traveled.
All the custom crossings were straightforward and the roads in no worse condition than those in Greece.
Among the places that we visited, I mostly liked Montenegro and Dubrovnik (for the landscape) and Belgrade (for the vibe). Keep in mind, however, that most of these places are not particularly cheap.
France - Spain - Morocco - Portugal - Andorra, July 2011 with Andreas and 2 BMW 1200 GS.
started our trip from Peloponnese, Greece. Here, outside Andreas' house,
lighting "one for the road" - in the background the bikes fully
We took the ferry from Patra, and after 23 hours we reached Ancona, Italy. There are 1-2 ferries per day Patra - Ancona, and the tickets are relatively cheap for the distance and the quality.
Below, Andreas at the port of Ancona. The weather was cloudy (common for northern Italy - as opposed to Greece in the summer), which is convenient for long riding.
We crossed northern Italy and part of southern France (a total of about 900km) in a single day, in order to reach Aix en Provence, where we stayed at a friend's place.
For those who are not familiar, the highway tolls are very expensive in Italy and France, and even more so in Spain. Moreover, there are a lot of speed cameras in France (not that we cared because of our Greek plates).
Continuing south, we visited Sete, a tradditional town 20km south of Montpellier, and Cap d'Adge, a beach town around 30 km further (see pic below).
I prefer this area to the more touristic (and in my opinion overdeveloped) strip between Nice and Cannes, i.e., the most famous part of Cote d' Azur.
We continued to Barcelona, where we stayed for a couple of days. Barcelona has extraordinary architecture, nice beaches nearby and lively nightlife.
However, it is very busy during the summer, and we spent several hours before we found a hotel downtown.
After Barcelona, we crossed most of mediterranean Spain (650 km) to Almeria. Although, we arrived late (around 10pm), there were 3 ferries departing to Morocco within the next 1-2 hours.
However, they seemed fully booked (due to Moroccan immigrants returning home), and people in that part of Europe do not, in general, speak English. Eventually, we managed to get tickets and depart around 11:30pm to Nador, east Morocco.
It is worth mentioning that, although the trip is only 5-6 hours, the tickets were more expensive than those for Ancona-Patra (23 hours and much better ferries).
The good thing is that in the ferry there were Moroccan officers so that passengers can pass through the time-consuming immigration procedures during the trip. Indeed, we spent most of the trip completing forms and queuing up,
so that upon arrival, we only had to wait for about half an hour at the customs. From Nador, we continued east, on the mediterranean coastline, until reaching the borders with Algeria (see pics below).
On the way we stopped for coffee and swimming at the (touristic) beach town of Saidia. Although the landscape and the sea was nice, I cannot say that we were overwhelmed (maybe our Greek standards are too high).
Mediterranean coastline at east Morocco and border with Algeria
From there, we turned southwest and we rode through a gorge at the national park near Berkane, stopping on the way to sample the local cuisine (see pics below).
After the park, and towards Fes the landscape changes to desert-like and we encountered the highest temperatures in our lives. It must have been well above 50 Celsius, despite being cloudy.
We were afraid that either we, or the bikes, would crack under the extreme heat, but eventually we all made it to Fes.
Most Arab cities have a "medina", i.e., an old town surrounded by walls. The picture below is outside the medina of Fes, possibly the largest in Africa..
Inside the medina there are open markets as well as workshops for making local artifacts. Below Andreas outside a tannery - Fes is famous for its leather products.
From Fes we drove to Marrakech in a single day. Although, the distance is not large (around 400km), it was one of our most difficult days, due to the extreme temperatures, the bad road and the heavy traffic.
You can see the discomfort in our faces in the pictures below. We actually wanted to cool down in the lake of the first pic, but we did not manage to get the bikes close enough.
We liked Marrakech more than any other city in Morocco. It has a huge open market (see pics below), with many shops, open restaurants, coffee shops and strange characters that perform all kinds of tricks.
It also has decent bars. A word of advice though: if you see a beautiful woman smiling at you in a bar don't get too excited; chances are that she is working.
This is true for most (if not all) single women in bars in Morocco. On the positive side, despite being a muslim country, it is easy (but relatively expensive) to find whiskey and most types of alcohol.
Our next stop was Essaouira, west of Marrakech, on the Atlantic ocean. We were mostly impressed by the sudden drop of temperature when reaching the ocean,
since within a few kilometers of intensive heat, we had to wear the winter jackets. Because of the low temperature and the strong winds, there was nobody swimming, but many people were wind and kite surfing.
The road south of Essaouira, towards Agadir, passes through some beautiful beaches. Possibly, this was the most scenic route we did in Morocco (but we did not go up the Atlas mountains).
Agadir is a modern beach town on the Atlantic, near the border with Western Sahara. It has lots of tourists from Morocco and elsewhere, but not much character (and no medina).
We stayed for a night and then headed north, taking the only highway in Morocco. After a stop in Casablanca, we drove all the way to Ceuta, the Spanish enclave at the northern tip of Morocco.
Entering Ceuta was impressive. Although still in Africa, it could be a nice town anywhere in Spain. We stayed there for a couple of days.
Andreas even participated in a poker (hold' em) tournament at the local casino and got second prize (and a useful amount of cash).
The statue in the picture is Plato, another reminder that we are back in European culture.
The ferry trip for Ceuta to Algeciras (Spanish city on the European coast) takes about an hour. The picture below is from this trip, with Gibraltar rock in the background.
Similar to Ceuta in Morocco, Gibraltar is a small British
colony in Spanish territory, and requires passport inspection.
Except for the duty-free cigarettes and alcohol, we did not find any reason to stay there - instead we continued west towards the atlantic coast of Spain.
a scenic, but windy, route we reached Cadiz, a beautiful town on the Atlantic
(see pic below), with a well-preserved historic town center.
From Cadiz we rode to Lisbon, Portugal, a distance of about 600km . The road was mostly highway, and the trip was easy (if not boring). I had never been to Lisbon before and I was pleasantly surprised.
It is an imposing city built at a striking location. We also happened to be there in a weekend, and it was nice to see so many people out partying (compared to our previous unexciting nights in Morocco).
During the trip from Lisbon to Porto (north Portugal), we encountered some very strong winds and rather cold weather (we had to wear the winter jackets again).
After Porto we turned east, towards the mountainous area near the border, re-entered Spain and continued until Valladolid. This was probably the day that we covered the longest distance
(we crossed more than half of Portugal south-north, and almost half of Spain west-east). Below Andreas at the central plaza of Valladolid.
From Valladolid, we took country roads to Zaragoza, the highway to Lleida, and then we turned north to Andorra. The last part is on the Pyrenees and involves some breathtaking landscape,
as shown in the picture below. Obviously, the temperature dropped as we climbed the mountains, and the evening in Andorra (altitude more than 1000m) reminded me of winter in Greece.
Andorra is an independent principality, sandwiched between Spain and France, and entering it requires a fast passport inspection. It contains a small town and a few villages nearby,
for a total of 80,000 people. Although there is not much to see, it is a shopper's paradise, at least according to European standards. In addition to the usual tax-free suspects (alcohol, cigarettes),
you can find cheap designer clothes, and most importantly for us, motorbike accessories. We bought helmets, gore-tex jackets, and other small things.
However, the smile in the picture below, is because we found (and transported on the bike all the way to Greece), a gallon (4.5 liter) bottle of Jameson (Ireland's finest whiskey) for only 50 Euros. Priceless.
The route from Andorra to France also involves some curvy roads (see pic below). It was unusually cold and windy for the season (at some point we saw
a thermometer indicating 6 degree celsius in relatively low altitude), but I prefer this to the heat of the desert.
After a few days stay with friends and family in Montpellier, France, we took the way back to Greece, where we enjoyed the rest of the summer drinking Jameson.
Conclusion: Since most people know what to expect in Europe, I will focus on Morocco. First, I recommend this trip as an experience, but not for having a good time
(if you look for a good time you'd better fly to a luxurious resort in Greece, Brazil, or Thailand with much less money than the cost of the bike trip).
Often, the heat is too much, the roads too bad, the people too poor, the beaches not that good, and the nightlife not that exciting.
However, I am happy that I did it, and I would do it again soon if only it were closer to Greece, at least to go-up the Atlas mountains and deeper in Sahara.
But I would choose a cooler season.
Regarding the practical issues, we always felt secure, but we avoided the lawless hash-growing areas around Ketama. Although we had heard stories about bribe-taking police officers,
we did not have any problem; we were never stopped and the policemen were willing to help us whenever we asked for directions. There was unleaded gas almost everywhere, but sometimes of dubious quality
(the engines would occasionally complain). Next time, I would avoid the gas stations with goats and other folk themes, and go to the more modern looking ones instead.
The only complaint was about the people who where bothering us all the time, asking for cash in exchange for services like parking the motorbikes, completing custom forms,
finding hotels, guiding us through the cities etc. In most cases, we simply ignored them, unless we really needed to find a hotel or navigate through a city fast.
Finally, this link contains useful information about custom procedures and riding in Morocco from somebody much more experienced on the topic.
Bonus pictures from Morocco:
Andreas with his new friends, and a local chef (perhaps surprisingly, we did not have diarrheas or related problems this year - maybe we got stronger after last year's experience in Lebanon).
Turkey - Syria - Lebanon, July 2010 with Andreas and 2 BMW 1200 GS.
the boat from Athens to Rhodes, near the southwest coast of Turkey. Rhodes is
one of the largest and most touristic islands in Greece.
There, we met Steve, an old friend from Hong Kong.
After a couple of days in Rhodes, we took the boat to Marmaris, on the coast of Turkey. Although the trip is less than two hours, the ticket is very expensive because there is
only one operator and only three boats per week. This is, in general, true for all crossings between Greek islands and Turkey.
From Marmaris, we drove southeast to the seaside town of
abandoned since the population exchange of 1923. The legend is that Muslim immigrants from the Balkans refused to relocate in the village because they considered it haunted.
Near Kaya, is the beautiful lagoon of Oludeniz, where we camped for the night. The area was very busy (maybe too busy for my taste) with several options for nightlife,
water sports and paragliding.
From Oludeniz, our plan was to cross the southern coast of
beautiful beaches, picturesque towns (especially Kas), and high mountains. In general, I liked the southwest part of
(Canakkale to Izmir
It is worth mentioning that in
is only political, and not real. In general, throughout our 3000km within
The 100km between Antalya and Alanya (to the east) is flat and full of huge hotels. However, after Alanya the terrain becomes mountainous and touristic development stops.
The road is small and curvy (see photo), almost all the way to Mersin, the next big city, several hundred kilometers away. From Mersin, there is highway to Iskenderum,
an industrial city next to the border with Syria.
We had tried to obtain Syrian visas in Athens, but it was not possible because their computer system was down. At the time, the explanation sounded strange, but things became clear
when we arrived at the Syrian side of the border; it was simply a mess. A huge queue of trucks and cars, people running around and no obvious organization of any kind.
We had to wait a few hours in several offices (see photo below), pay a significant amount of money (most of it - about $120- for the carnet du passage,
required for all vehicles every time they enter Syria), and give small "gifts" to various "officials". On the positive side, the visa process was simple
(the visits to the embassy in Athens were unnecessary, as the complications were due to the bikes - not the visas), and there were always good people around willing to help.
The landscape after entering Syria and towards Haleppo is distinctively third world.
Haleppo is a world heritage site, and it deserves it at least because of its well-preserved old city. It also has a decent number of tourists, some good hotels
and excellent food. I was surprised by two things. First it
was the diversity of the people; among the deeply religious folks (e.g., fully
you could see a few that could be easily European (e.g., women with tight skirts or jeans), but were locals. Second, it was the hospitality;
wherever we went to Syria (and later in Lebanon) people would go out of their way to help us navigate, offer us tea, food or whatever they could provide.
I had heard about Arab hospitality before, but I was pleasantly surprised to experience it first-hand.
After Haleppo, we crossed a large part of
(i) most of the route was in the desert under 40-50 degrees Celsius with no trees or anything to take cover from the sun; (ii) to our horror, we discovered that the (few)
gas stations did not have unleaded gas. Eventually, we had to fill the tanks with leaded gas, and we completed the trip fearful that at any point the engines would break down
in the middle of nowhere. The engines held, and eventually we reached
(unless you are an archaeologist).
Palmyra, we continued to Damascus. Again the landscape is mostly desert with
few villages breaking the monotony.
However, as usual, we had some worthwhile moments and met some interesting people during our travel breaks.
Damascus is a big city with chaotic traffic. With a little help from our friends (see Arab hospitality), we quickly found a nice hotel in the old city, and started exploring the
(i) famous bazaars, (ii) the colorful coffee shops, (iii) the numerous food options and (iv) the local characters as shown in the pictures below.
and the border crossing is less complicated (but still non-trivial). First let me finish with the negative aspects of
It is very densely populated and has so much traffic in the summer that you cannot enjoy driving or the landscape. The roads are full of roadblocks (sometimes including tanks),
which may stop you (e.g., we were not allowed to enter Saida, and were made to U-turn in the middle of the highway). Finally, there is always the risk of being trapped inside
because the borders often close, if there is fighting (which is rather common). All these disadvantages are outweighed by its people: intelligent, multi-lingual, helpful and optimistic.
We stayed only four days in Beirut, but I have too many stories to tell. It is worth mentioning Elio do Brazil (see picture below with Andreas), the Lebanese-Brazilian,
who helped us with some bike problems, showed us around Beirut, and brought us in contact with other locals (including Greeks). The center of Beirut, recently rebuilt after the civil war,
is beautiful; go there during a summer afternoon and you
will see some of the most expensive cars parked around, and beautiful women
sipping their coffee or shopping in exquisite stores.
However, I was mostly impressed by the liveliness of the night life - these people know how to party (and I have enough experience on this topic to be an objective judge).
Because we stayed in
addition to the long distance, we had to cross two time-consuming borders (
However, we had not predicted an unforeseen factor that complicated things even further; apparently the Lebanese food proved to be too heavy for our stomachs, so we spent much of the day
(and indeed the rest of the trip, until we reached Greece) with diarrhea. This necessitated several relief stops in rural (below a mountain in
On the positive side, both the Syrian and Turkish borders near the Mediterranean (i.e., close to the Syrian city of
and we managed to reach
The landscape in Cappadocia is truly impressive, with several villages (within a few kilometers from each other) consisting (partially or entirely) of houses carved in rocks.
It was an interesting site to see, but I am not sure that I would do it, if it were the only destination of the trip. Maybe everything else after Beirut would be boring anyway.
From Cappadocia, we took the way back west, crossing Central Turkey. Interesting places that we visited include:
Konya, a tidy and deeply religious city at the heart of Turkey,
the natural springs of Pamukale,
a nice lake on the mountains near Mugla,
and finally, Bodrum, the expensive, busy resort opposite to the Greek island of Kos.
After two days in Bodrum, we took the boat to Kos, concluding an interesting trip (and an unpleasant diarrhea).
Conclusion: I strongly recommend this trip
provided that you can take the summer heat, and that your motorbike can take
the leaded gas of
We never felt in danger, and the people were always willing
to help, although, except for
because, in most places, you will not find experienced
mechanics or spare parts, and there are many crazy drivers in the cities of
Gas is very expensive in
although the distance to Haleppo is larger, the border is less busy (no trucks), more organized, and the route more scenic (forest instead of desert).
Allow for a few days in
(apparently I am not).
In the summer of 2009, instead of a big tour abroad, we did several small ones around Greece.
Ipeiros, Halkidiki, Skiathos island, July 2009 with Tony and 2 BMW 1200 GS.
Egnatia Highway in Ipeiros is a pleasure to ride. The same is
true for the new part of the Ionian Highway, recently delivered outside
Camping at Armenistis in Halkidiki, and sunset in Skiathos
Patmos island, August 2009 with Andreas.
Patmos is beautiful and has the highest quality visitors (VIPs, artists etc) that I have seen in any Greek island.
Compared to Skiathos that I went before (which is full of "mass production" entertainment), the difference is large. Compared to Zakynthos that I visited later, it is a different planet.
However, the island is small (it takes about 30 minutes to cross it on the motrobike), crowded and very far from Athens (I spent more than 11 hours on the boat to reach there).
Zakynthos island, Tour of Peloponnese, Elafonisos, August 2009 with Andreas, George and 3 BMW 1200 GS.
In Zakynthos, we stayed in Laganas, a place famous for his drunk young tourists.
However, most of the island is destroyed by touristic overdevelepment, and in certain places it reminded me of thirld world destinations (notably, Phuket in Thailand).
The good thing is that it is cheap and close to the mainland (1 hour by boat from Kylini, on the west coast of Peloponesse).
The bad thing is that it is dangerous for driving (too many drunk kids on 4-wheel bikes, at any time of the day and night), and you should stick to beer unless the bar-tender is your brother (all hard drinks are tampered).
Andreas on the boat to Zakynthos - George and I relaxing after dinner at Porto Roma, at the southernmost tip of the island.
I did tours of Peloponnese in 2000 and 2005, and I remembered them as the best tours that somebody could do in a few days. This summer, I reached the same conclusion again.
Peloponnese has a huge variety of landscapes and interesting places in a rather small area: the beautiful long beaches on the west, the green mountains of Arcadia, the towers of Mani,
the castle of Monemvasia, the ancient monuments around Olympia, the orange groves of Argolida etc. etc. As good as it gets.
Balkans - Moldova - Ukraine, July 2008 with Andreas, Tony and 3 BMW 1200 GS.
started from southern Greece and rode for almost 1000 km to reach the
north-eastern borders with Turkey.
A quick relief stop on the way - Andreas on a bridge over Evros river, Edirne Turkey.
The roads in Turkey and Bulgaria were full of animals (we came face-to-face with a couple of donkeys and cows, among others), and should be driven carefully (more on this topic later).
Our first night was spent in Burgas, Bulgaria. Here relaxing on the beach.
The next stop-over was in Costanza, Romania. We followed the coastal route from Burgas, which is not very interesting, except for the extensive construction (mostly touristy) in Bulgaria.
My opinion is that they are ruining whatever landscape was there. From Costanza we continued north, towards the Danube delta. The land is mostly flat and the road mostly straight.
Upon reaching Tulcea (Romania - near the border with Ukraine), we turned west towards Galazi.
Here, waiting for the ferry to cross Danube (Galazi in the background).
Galazi is next to the border with Moldova, where logic stops, and the fun (or nightmare, depending on how you see it and whom you meet) begins.
At the customs, there was an artificial queue of cars so that people would pay to get in front. This queue crossed a railroad line. Fortunately, the train stopped until people moved their cars.
On the positive side, the small bribes in official Moldova is nothing compared to what came later.
The south part of Moldova is considered the poorest area in Europe and has some of the worst roads I have ever driven (in comparison, the afore-mentioned roads in Bulgaria and Turkey seem like highways).
Due to the delay at the customs, we had to ride at night and under a severe thunderstorm. Eventually, we arrived at the capital Chisinau at midnight.
Chisinau is a rather lively city that combines soviet with western influences.
In order to go from Chisinau to Odessa (Ukraine), we had to drive around 50 kms in Transnistria, officially a part of Moldova, but in reality a no-man's land governed by gangsters with soviet era uniforms playing custom-officers/policemen in a non-existent country.
It took us about 5 hours and 500 Euros to cross these 50 kms, as we were asked to pay 5 times (for non-existent reasons).
Below, a "highway" in Transnistria, probably the most expensive in the world, and the necessary cigarette immediately after entering Ukraine.
Odessa is a beautiful city. Furthermore, its reputation regarding good-looking women is true. Here Andreas, trying (unsuccessfully) to mingle with the crowd.
On the way back, we took a different road south-west towards the Danube delta (Ukraine side), which is worth visiting (and avoids Transnistria).
After a short re-entry in Moldova and the usual small bribe (around 5 Euros - this is not Transnistria), we reached Romania, i.e., the civilized world (I never thought I would say that).
The most interesting event in Romania happened during a quick stop at a rather busy road between Galazi and Bucharest, when we realized that we were surrounded by hashish trees.
On the route from Romania to Bulgaria we found some heavy
rain. Nevertheless, when the goings get tough, the tough get going, and we
arrived safe in Sofia.
The last day we crossed South Bulgaria and re-entered Greece (i.e., the really civilized world, although some western Europeans may disagree).
Conclusion: in some sense it was good to visit the last wild part of Europe, but I would avoid the Transnistria experience again at any cost. Take good care of your bikes before the trip - in certain areas, even a flat tyre may cause serious problems.
There is a lot of car/bike theft in Ukraine and Bulgaria - leave your bikes in guarded garages. The customs are always time-consuming (even when you do not have to bribe). A GPS would have been very helpful, especially for navigating inside the cities. Do not expect people to speak English.
Bonus pictures: Tour of Chalkidiki (second leg) in
Northern Greece. Impressive landscape and beaches.
In 2007, I had three motorbikes: a BMW 1200 GS in Greece, a Yamaha FZ1-N in Hong Kong and a Yamaha FZ6-S in Singapore, where I stayed most of the year.
September 2007: Tour of South Malaysia.
I started from Singapore with FZ6 for a tour of Southeast Malaysia – on the road from Johor to Mersing
Although there are some excellent roads, the tropical heat and storms do not make riding very pleasant.
2007: Tour of central and eastern Malaysia.
The road from Singapore to Kuala-Lumpur is an almost straight highway (and bikes do not have to pay tolls).
Then, I crossed Malaysia west-east and rode along the eastern coastline.
The best part was in the hills/mountains of the Malay interior. Curvy roads and relatively low temperatures.
I first made a stop in Perugia, Italy to see Tony.
Next, I continued to France, where I spent a week in to Montpellier.
Upon return to Greece, I joined Andreas for a tour of Northern Greece (here in Kavala),
Our first stop Constantinople (Istanbul), a city with impressive monuments.
and Golden Horn Bridge.
Then, we continued south, towards the Aegean coast. Below, Canakkale, in Asia Minor.
Camping on the way.
Tired and dirty, we reached Cesme, where we took the little ferry to Chios - the Greek island on the other side.
Despite not being a very popular tourist destination, Chios offers some of the best landscape / bike routes
and beaches, that I have ever seen.
Southern France, Basque Country, Madrid, Pyrenees with Sophie
Southern France: Carcassone and Foix
Near the border with Spain: every village and a castle
Basque Country: San Sebastian
and Bilbao (Guggenheim museum)
Santander, Cantabria, Spain. Beach on the Atlantic Ocean
The flat land to Madrid and sightseeing there
Going up the Pyrenees from the Spanish side
and traveling around the mountains
about 7,000 km in 10 days. Very nice and good shopping if you stop in Andorra (especially for bike stuff).