Greece is actually one of the few countries on my trip where I have actually been before. Furthermore, it was EU territory and fact is having been where I have been, EU feels like home and from now on, border passages would be easy peasy. Thank God for that.
Being rather cheerful when entering Greece it soon however, slowly transformed into some kind of melancholy. I realised the trip now went into its last phase. It was soon over, I felt I was almost back in Sweden which is a really weird perspective since on any bike trip when you are in Greece and going back to Sweden it’s still a long way to go. Just not if you come from Hong Kong I suppose.
Being on the road like this puts your mind in a very special state and probably even more so if you ride on your own. That state of mind was at least for me extremely pleasant. My whole life I have been working like a dog, most of the time with my own business. Work has occupied my whole existence and for various reasons it has been impossible for me to escape. My ex wife says that if there was a study made on me I would have all the conditions labelled with letter combinations ever invented and then to top it up a few more never seen before. Maybe she is right, maybe not. Im too old to find out and don’t really care. Being on the bike is different, the stress level is way down and there is something meditative about it. Sure there are days with very difficult riding or grinding days where I ride for 14 hours in a day even though it might be raining non stop. But still my mind was in that different, good place. A place that only saw as far as the end of the day as opposed to being used to plan and worry years ahead.
Now, getting closer to everything familiar I felt my brain slowly starting to change its hole rhythm and focus. Not that it went to work mode but it sure was gradually preparing for it. Ever since I entered Russia I had truly enjoyed the fact that I had no more border crossings that I needed to reach on a certain date. Somehow now having reached Greece, that didn’t really work anymore. Too many references from my regular life forced my regular state of mind on me. There was nothing I could do about it really. Well, I figured I could fight it just a little bit with a swimming pool, calamaries and beer. Not ready to give up just yet.
I got all that at small town by the ocean, Alexandropouli. A quiet tourist town where I guess the peak season had just passed and it was now slowing down. For the first time on my trip I spent a couple of hours by a pool with a book and a beer. It was truly lovely but also an odd feeling. I was so used to being on the bike and now I somehow felt a bit guilty for not being out there. How strange is that? Evening came and I had a good dinner at a local taverna and a long walk. It wasn’t too bad but I have to admit I looked forward to being back on the bike I the morning. I had an itch.
A big hotel breakfast and away I went. The plan was to get to a town called Loaninna. I asked a friend, who is from Greece but she had never heard of it. I picked it simply because it was well located on route up towards Albania.
Bike driving was good, the roads were nice, the weather great and the music in my helmet kept me company. Days like that hours just pass by. I reached Loaninna early afternoon. It was such a picturesque little town situated by a big lake. I drove around in the town trying to find the hotel that I had booked the evening before on some website but I could not find it. Eventually, with a little bit o help I realised the hotel was not in town at all, it was on a hill top on the other side of the lake, interesting. It took me another 30 minutes plus to actually get there on the winding road up the mountain. There it was, a small family run hotel with maybe 6 to 8 rooms overlooking the lake.
I checked in to my room and opened the balcony door which was facing the lake. Even though it was warm outside it was no longer the Asian humidity, it was European dry air. I had a shower and went for dinner. Only problem, the hotel did not serve dinner. Damn, I was starving, I didn’t even have lunch. I basically never had lunch during the biketrip, only a snack. Hmmm, all I could do was make some of my freeze dried stuff. Not what I had planned for but I was simply too tired to go back to town. I had to sleep early because I needed to get up early. I knew I would have a tough day driving the day after. I planned to go from Greece through Albania and into Croatia in one day.
I woke up at around 6 and got all my gear on and went to check out. I figured there would be no way I would get any breakfast this early. I was wrong. I was so so wrong. The husband and wife who ran the hotel responded to my question about breakfast and said they would give me the best breakfast ever. It was truly truly a treat. Homebaked Greek sourdowbread, an omelette made from their own chickens with feta cheese and those wonderful, wonderful Greek tomatoes. Well, you simply have to have one in order to understand why they are so good. Greek cheese and loads of fruit topped the whole thing off and I was in heaven. But it wasn’t the food that made me most happy, it was that couple who ran like crazy between the kitchen and my table to serve one dish after the other and everytime they stopped by to drop something off they chatted a bit. I have never, before or after, experienced that kind of hospitality. We are all so used to American handbook hospitality that I suppose is ok. Have a good day is nicer to hear than go to hell. This was however genuine, they did everything they possibly could and more in order to make me feel good about my stay even though they knew I was about to leave and most likely would never come back. They simply wanted to give me a great experience. I will never forget that. They were masters at what they were doing simply because they really truly cared.
Stomach full, time to get going, long day ahead. Fact is even though I drove through Albania from south to north I still know nothing of the country. I just kept going and only stopped to get petrol. There was simply no time and I had not scouted Albania particularly well. My plan was to get to the Adriatic coast before nightfall. Only experience worth mentioning was at the border crossing where a few women, who were begging for money, tried to pull my wedding ring straight off my finger. Now that made me uncomfortable.
Don’t get me wrong, Albania is nice to drive through, views are nice, roads are good and people friendly but it didn’t stick, maybe because I was focused on getting far that day, my tunnel view was too narrow. Eventually I reached Montenegro which actually only leaves me with one memory. It was the only time during my long trip where I needed to take a ferry – excititng indeed.
Just in time for the sun to set I reached the little camping site in Croatia. It was no luxury but who needed that. A beautiful view over the Adriatic sea was just outside the tent. Only problem, again there was no food, I had two beers for dinner and passed out.