WOW, INCREDIBLE, AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL, POIGNANT!
How do you accurately capture a moment like being camped out in a small olive field perched high on a mountain overlooking Ancient Olympia. Beer in hand, listening to Angus & Julia Stone and cooking up a Carbonara from fresh ingredients collected from villages along the same narrow road from Athens that Olympic contestants trudged along some 2,500 years before me. Watching the sun sink into theIonian Seain the distance where rolling mountains fall to the waters edge. The night before I was enjoying the company of hundreds in a busy downtown Athens nightspot.
But again, this story doesn’t start here. This account of my last three weeks starts when I spent 45 minutes negotiating weekend traffic out of Istanbul while I talked to Mum for the first time in a long time. As it turns out that was 7,022 km ago and since that time I have travelled through no fewer than 14 countries which have collectively afforded me countless memories. I many ways, with the trials and tribulations of India/Nepal/Pakistan/Iran behind my I feel like the last couple of weeks has been a bit of a holiday. None the less deserved, I just feel as though I have been on an annual holiday ride through the best of what Europe has to offer…a very popular pastime here. Although I have been doing some big distances and rough camping a lot of the time, with my road tyres on and heading via some of the big tourist destinations the time has been full of clichés and just…well…easy. This afternoon I head out to a post on the highway to watch a couple of bikes ride by in a race called the Tour de France, in fact I don’t think I have seen this many people in one place at one time since India. Though here they get around in a moving house most Indians could only dream of…if in fact they new what an RV looked like. Following that I will turn north to Paris and commence the final leg of my trip to London, before I do here are a couple of highlights from the last few weeks…
Gallipoli Peninsular/Anzac Cove:
After finally breaking free of the city traffic I drove for another couple of hours before turning left off the main road and down the Gallipoli Peninsular, that narrow section of land, fought over since time immemorial and the fateful landing site of Australian and New Zealand forces on an April day three quarters of a century ago. I drove the last few kilometres over the range and down into Anzac Cove on sunset and immediately felt goose bumps form and hairs rise on the back of my neck. In what was perhaps one of the most poignant moments on my trip I came to the cove just has darkness was falling, the only person there, alone to my thoughts. I camped that night a couple of kilometres down the road, a very spooky experience. Starting out at dawn the next day I watched the sunrise over the Sphinx above ANZAC cove and then toured extensively the many memorials, gravesites and monuments dedicated to ensuring that many generations to come will remember the events that took place in the area. I would find it difficult to comprehend anyone, regardless of race, religion or political persuasion not being moved by the area, a place where in matter of mere months 90,000+ men died, no less a result of 6,000 rounds of artillery falling on every square metre of land.
This is a country where antiquity beckons around every corner and I began my Greek experience camped out where supposedly the gods that created it all hung out…Mt Olympus. Most of my time inGreecewas spent inAthenswhere after a drive down the freeway I arrived the next day to spend four nights downtown at Athens Backpackers right in the middle of the Acropolis area. Stepping up the steps to the wonderful rooftop bar to find a heap of young travellers, Athens for me was tonic for the last couple of weeks spent mainly alone on the road. I was stoked to spend most of my time hanging out with a wonderful couple from California, Clay and Asha, hitting up a couple of backstreet pubs and spending an evening watching a symphony orchestra in the ancient amphitheatre below the Acropolis. It really did feel amazing to be sitting in a place where people have been coming to watch performances for the best part of the last 2,000 years. It was this point also that I started to feel in avertedly full bottle on ancient world history and in many ways was actually on a road trip back through time. Coming fromIstanbulI had been on a trail of ancient empires and byAthensit was really starting to come together. Snow freshly serviced I headed down the road to ancient Olympia and following my camp out, toured the extensive ruins the following day. A big shout out to the Aussie brothers Dan & Eddie for putting me up at the best choice for backpackers in Athens, the Athens Backpackers really is a top spot so make sure you hit it up if you’re heading that way.
Driving the Albanian Coastline:
After a quite night watching the Euro final and sharing a couple of quite ones with a fellow overlander, John in the Albanian coastal town of SarandeI headed up the coast. Cruising along in the beautiful sunshine and now listening to a bit of Enigma I found it hard to believe that places like this existed. Grapevines spilling over whitewashed walls overlooking beaches best described as perfect I thoroughly enjoyed being by the ocean again and being able to simply stop off a beautiful bay for a mid morning dip.
Although a whirlwind tour, the kilometres were worth the hours spent doing them. Driving through the stunningly beautiful countryside’s of Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Slovenia it is just bizarre to think that little more than a decade ago much of these parts where simply torn apart by often gruesome violence and government oppression. A part of the world rocked by a long time by the worst of humanity it was hugely refreshing to see these countries moving onward and upward. I found much of the area to be surprisingly modern even in downtown Prishtina which still has a heavy UN/EA presence. A compelling thought that came to me often while driving was a comparison toIndia. It seemed sad to me that while these countries so fresh from oppression seem to be forging ahead at a rate of knots yetIndia(and Pakistan AND Nepal) seem to lag behind in a never ending race of humanity. Although problems still exist (likeSerbiarefusing to acknowledge Kosovo as a separate nation and thus forcing me to drive viaBosnia), these countries seem to be willing to forgo face and openly accept the help of other nations and bodies like the EU. In fact a met two blokes from Scotland at the border, guards from the EU and part of a monitoring force which were simply overseeing and helping the local guards. It seems to me that actions like that are only going to result in the best of knowledge transfer, corruption reduction and a bright future that countries that have set aside their differences now thoroughly deserve. I drove out of Bosnia and into Croatia arriving inDubrovnikon the evening of Thursday 5 July. Although Dubrovnik looked nice, it was no place for a poor traveller like me and 10 minutes drive out of town I found myself another olive field, my own beach and own view…winning!
Arguably one of my best days riding, I started out from my olive field and drove along what surely must be one of the best coast drives in the world. I am only going to say to those reading this that you simply need to go and see it for yourself. Like the Himalayas my biggest problem was staying on the road while I tried to take in the view albeit on a slightly (much) safer road. Despite rather heavy holiday traffic I did 474 km up the coast and out on to the spit north of Varsan where I had been told a car ferry back to the mainland was available. My day ended in an amazing way..I turned off into what looked like a small village right down by the waters edge. After asking for permission to camp on a small patch close to a house I was promptly invited in, offered somewhere to shower/cook etc and eventually somewhere to sleep. I ended the night having drinks late into the night with a lovely family that lived in what can only be described as my dream house.
After leaving the coast in CroatiaI drove viaSloveniatoAustriaand camped out at the base of the Dolomites. I remember thinking that someone must have ordered all ofAustriato look exactly like what it looks like in postcards. It filled the stereotype wonderfully and in many ways it just seemed to look “perfect” to the point that someone must regularly lawn mow hundreds of kilometres of fields just so they look pretty. The following morning I joined many hundreds of fellow bikers on a trip over and through the Dolomites toVenice. Two things have surprised me about motoring inEurope, bikers on big bikes, no matter what make or model they are, wave to each other. I have passed thousands of bikes on the roads of Europe and I could count on two hands the amount of bikers that haven’t waved to me as I have sauntered past with my beloved girl. The other thing is motorists signalling via flashlight the presence of police. It seems hard to believe that after travelling half way round the world from Australia this is a practice that is alive and well elsewhere. About mid morning I arrived on the island of Venice. Although I had originally planned for this to be my overnight it ended up being a day trip (in which I relentlessly lugged my gear about). Although Venice does seem to be a beautiful spot, I did found it to be overcrowded, over priced and over loved-up. After a couple of hours eagerly awaiting Jason Stratham to suddenly veer around a corner in a jet boat I retreated to the car park to get packed and get going. I made it another hundred or so kilometres down the coast before nightfall
Driving into Rome I discovered a problem with Snow’s water pump. It was going to need replacing but fortunately that was going to be straightforward process. I drove straight to BMW and handed over the keys. A while later I was walking the streets looking for somewhere to live. After a number of enquiries I managed to find a place, central near the big international train station Termini. Although again expensive it would be remiss of me to say that at this point of my trip I wasn’t feeling a tad lonely and I was lucky to fall in with a couple of young lads from the US and that night we hit the town. I spent the next two days in Rome, certainly not long enough time in a city which can only be described as remarkable. The seat of modern civilisation this is a city where minor buildings would be major tourist attractions in other capitals. The boys and I spent hours and hours just walking the city, amazingly just that simple activity can keep you enthralled.
I left Rome on Thursday and have driven down to the south of France where I will see the tour today. I rough camped the night before last about 50 kms south ofMonaco, better suited to my style of travel after finding myself out the front of the Casino Monte Carlo being snubbed for a valet park. Last night was spent on likely the last patch of grass available in a caravan park in the finish town for Stage 13, the first time in four months I have paid to camp. It is school holidays in France (and Italy) and the crowds are simply incredible. There are people EVERYWHERE.
I apologise for the above monologue being a bit of narrative. I certainly would have loved the time to spend more time writing of late but the mission of fitting as much of Europe into the smallest amount of time has meant spending a lot of time just travelling. Truth be told, I find myself so excited I can’t sit down. Firstly for the tour this afternoon and then via Paris, for home toLondon. This really is the home stretch now and I can hardly contain my excitement. It is also an interesting feeling with the excitement of arrival yet thoughts of reflection seeping in while at the same time trying to simply enjoy the moment. I look forward to making sense of some of my thoughts about the last couple of months and sharing those with others. In the meantime, it’s Bastille Day and I’m inFrancewatching the Tour…go Cadel!