Buzludzha monument might be restored

Last summer I visited this incredible relic of Bulgaria’s communist past and found it in a sad state of disrepair. The snow and low temperatures of winter had damaged the domed roofed so badly that the danger of collapse was imminent and the authorities had welded shut all doors and windows to prevent access to the inside of the building.

A combination of bad memories of the country’s communist era and lack of funds for its maintenance left the building to slowly deteriorate alone atop the mountain, but contrary to what most people thought, it has not fallen into oblivion. In recent years it has become a rather popular destination among independent and adventure travellers, photographers, and all sorts of people drawn to the strange but compelling attraction of abandoned places with an interesting story within its walls.

The ownership of the building was transferred from the state to the Bulgarian Socialist Party in 2011, but with restoration costing an estimate 7.6 million euro and a further 75,000 euro per year in maintenance, the party had doubts about what to do with it.

buzludzha-32The recent surge in interest in the building prompted a group of young Bulgarians without any political ties to wonder how the country could capitalise this interest and at the same time preserve an important part of its historical heritage.

Dora Ivanova, a 26-year old architect, has designed a project to restore the monument and turn it into a museum of Bulgarian history under the name ‘Buzludzha, Memory of Time”. She estimates the cost of the project to be around 1.25 million euro, much less than the Socialist Party figures, and has already received support from Nikolay Ovcharov, one of Bulgaria’s most prominent archaeologists, who introduced her to Boyko Borissov, the country’s PM.

Mr. Borissov promised to put an end to the building’s continuing decay, even though there are still many in the country who see it as a reminder of an era of totalitarian rule and would rather leave it to ruin.





The Calvert Journal


Puig wind deflector

The OEM tall screen that I ordered when I took the bike to the dealer for the 1,000km service is noticeably better than the standard one, but it was still not enough to stop the buffeting on my forehead. I guess it might be comfortable enough for most people, but I was spoiled by my V-Strom, which with a GIVI tall screen and more plastic in front of me has excellent wind management. To solve my issues once and for all, I ordered a wind deflector like the one I had on the ST.

img_7971Puig makes two versions of this wind deflector, one that requires drilling holes on the screen to fix it with bolts and another one that has clamps and does not require any drilling. If you plan on selling on the bike and keep the deflector and do not want to leave holes on the screen, or if it is too much of a hassle, the later one is the option to go for, although it does cost almost twice as much – 90€ vs. 50€ (approximate prices averaged from several sources).

img_7974I went for the clip-on one in spite of the price because I will pass it on to other bikes in the future and did not want to drill the screen, so fitting it is a really simple process.


Before fitting it to the bike, it is necessary to mount the supports to the deflector itself.

img_7976Remove the black plastic caps that cover the Allen screws, remove the screws, separate the front plastic part, line the supports with the holes in the deflector from the back and the front plastic part from the front, re-insert the screws and tighten them. Make sure that the clamps are facing the correct way (down).

img_7979Put the black plastic caps back on and you are ready to go fit it to the bike.

Loosen the screws that hold the clamps together. Do not remove them completely, just enough so that the clamps open and you can slide them on top of the screen.

img_7980Make sure the legs are parallel to one another, not in a “V” position, center the whole assembly on the windscreen and tighten the clamps. Ready to go!

img_7982 img_7981The deflector can be adjusted in multiple positions and heights, so now you need to ride and find the best one for you. I keep it mid-height for my day-to-day commute, it keeps the air away from my helmet at most speeds and does not get in my line of sight. For offroading I put it on its lowest position and for the motorway I raise it a notch.

Do not try to move it while riding!

Paneurhythmy – the dance ritual in Rila Lakes

When I was doing the 7 lake hike in Rila National Park I saw a few things that I found… curious.

The first one was a book, discoloured by the sun and languishing under the counter of a souvenir shop or roadside café near the chair lift that provides access to the lakes. Its title was Esoteric Guide To The Sacred Rila Lakes, and I must confess that seeing it gave the already impressive mountains an added air of mystery. You can find the book in Amazon, by the way.

The second were a group of people standing in circles by Babreka lake and performing some kind of meditation or dance. From the next lake, higher in the mountain, a series of big concentric circles could be seen on the grass where they were, making it clear that what they were doing was not a one-time thing.

The third was the people hiking in the area. Not all of them, obviously, most were tourists like me, visiting the lakes, but if you paid attention there was an unusually high number of people who were not dressed as you would expect to tackle a hike up the mountains – most of the wore loose robes, a lot of them white, the kind of clothes one would take to a meditation session.

Finally, on the way back to the chair lift, hundreds of tents could be seen scattered around a mountain hut by lake Ribnoto Ezera, and a lot of people kept coming up from the lift in the direction of the improvised camp even though it was already getting late.

So, what was that all about? Well, it turns out that we missed quite a big event by just two days. The Paneurhythmy is a ritual dance that takes place every year on August the 19th in which followers of the Universal White Brotherhood meet to celebrate their new year.

Fear not, the Universal White Brotherhood is not a racist movement, rather the opposite. Its followers define it as “a harmonious creative Manifestation of the Divine Origination within the whole cosmos” and believe that cosmic energy is at its strongest in Rila lakes on that particular date. They meet and form “the living circle of Paneurhythmy” to “to enter a world of poetry, freedom and creativity”, their belief based on seven principles:

The Law of Supreme Intelligence

The Principle of Correspondence

The Principle of Vibration or Movement

The Principle of Polarity

The Law of Rhythm

The Principle of Cause and Effect

The Law of Unity or Relatedness

You can find a detailed explanation of each principle on their website. The movement was founded in 1897 by a Bulgarian theologian called Peter Deunov, known to followers of the brotherhood as Master Beinsa Duono, who began taking people to Rila lakes to perform the dance in the 30s. Today people of all nationalities converge in the same spot.

Dancers dressed in white and barefoot form concentric circles, with a choir and an orchestra in the centre. The circles are marked with white stones, and the participants dance to music composed by Deunov, with lyrics in a language he invented.

Followers of the Universal White Brotherhood are known as Deunovists, and the movement is registered as a religion, although it was not always the case. At the beginning of communist rule in Bulgaria, the movement was relatively undisturbed thanks to its founder’s friendship with Georgi Dimitrov, the country’s first communist leader, but after his death in 1949 they had to become clandestine to escape the party’s purges. It was not until 1989 that they were legally registered as a religion.

Today the movement also has followers outside Bulgaria – in France, Belgium, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Mexico and even the Democratic Republic of Congo.



The Hindu – Pilgrims flock to Bulgarian mountains to cleanse spirit

About Pan-Eu-Rhythmy

Vagabond – Dancing with the brotherhood

Some figures

Here’s the trip in numbers:

  • 5,799.7km
  • 9 countries
  • 35 days (25 days of riding)
  • 232km a day on average
  • Longest day: 660km
  • Shortest day: 6.2km
  • About 307 litres of fuel
  • 2 new tires fitted two days before starting, Heidenau K60, both still in good condition on the bike

Things that broke:

  • Nothing! (it’s a Honda)
  • The pump on the Coleman stove stopped working, fixed at Doug’s Motocamp in Bulgaria
  • 0 punctures

Things I lost:

  • A GoPro camera in Bulgaria, found by a very nice guy who found me and gave it back two days later

Things that got stolen:

  • A beer bottle and a beer can from the fridge in a guest house in Dubrovnik


Day 35 – Thursday 1st September – Barcelona (6,2km)

Barcelona is a relatively small city in extension, its growth limited by two rivers on either side, a range of hills behind and the sea in front, but that is one of the many things that make it such a great place – it has size that makes it friendly to citizens and visitors alike, if you do not mind walking you can get to most places on foot within an hour. The other positive side effect of its size is that, for travellers, is one of the most beautiful cities to approach.

When you fly to other cities your plane usually overflies nondescript fields, industrial areas and satellite towns before landing at an airport several miles away from the city. It is impossible to identify your destination from the air, and you only realise you have reached it after travelling through (usually) grey suburbs. For those cities you reach by boat, the story is similar. Ports are not the greatest sights, and the beauty city you want to visit is behind a long expanse of oil and gas tanks, shipping container yards and railroads.

Barcelona is a completely different story. The approach flight path to its airport is along the coast, right in front of the city, and those who are sitting on the starboard side of the plane are rewarded with one of the best views of the city skyline that makes it easy to spot the most important landmarks they are so eager to visit. Coming from the sea, the experience is similar, and the port for passenger ships is right in the city, so when you drive off you are already practically in the centre, no ugly transition through industrial areas.

I had never arrived in my city by sea, and when the crew announced that we were an hour away from port I got to the top deck to try to spot land and see the approach. It wasn’t long before I saw a faint line of mountains appear over the horizon, and sooner than I thought I was able to identify the unmistakeable silhouette of the mountains of Montserrat a few miles inland.

img_1373The second thing that became recognisable against the sky was the Collserola television tower, and then the mountain of Montjuïc, the Montseny range in the distance and finally the first tall buildings of Barcelona right by the sea.

img_1376Little by little the buildings became more recognisable, and I saw the Mapfre tower and Arts hotel, the Agbar tower… an Italian kid visiting the city for the first time squealed with excitement when his father pointed at the Sagrada Familia, and much faster than I expected, we were docking at the port terminal.

img_1387I got the bike off the ferry and rode straight into the afternoon rush hour traffic of the city. After so many kilometres in places where there seem to be no traffic rules, I had to do my best to control myself and not start overtaking cars and riding on the wrong side of the road to get home faster.

img_1396I once saw this little sign on a hostel in Sweden, and as I lay my head on my pillow I thought what a great truth it was.


Day 34 – Wednesday 31st August – From Brindisi to Civitavecchia (660km)

The ferry reached Brindisi at 6:00, just as the sun was rising behind the huge cranes of the dock. I rolled out of its belly, parked by the exit and offered everyone who was driving off the ferry a strip-tease show as I took off the clothes I had worn for the voyage and put on the riding gear.

img_1370I had to be in Civitavecchia by 20:00 at the latest in order to get the tickets and board the 22:00 ferry to Barcelona, but after my experience in the Igoumenitsa port terminal I preferred to get there earlier than that, so I had decided that for the first and only time in the whole trip, today was going to be an all motorway day.

img_1369I rode out of the dock, quickly left behind the always ugly area around a port and soon was on the motorway. I was starting the day already tired – had not slept much on the ferry, it was too hot and noisy, so I decided to stop often and take it easy.

Compared to the roads and motorways I had used in Greece, this autostrada made Italy look like Switzerland – perfect tarmac, civilised drivers (yes, in the south of Italy), free Wi-Fi in all petrol stations and rest areas… The landscape was not bad either, particularly in the central part of my journey, when the motorway crossed between two natural parks, the Parco Regionale di Monti Picentini and the Parco Nazionale di Cilento Vallo di Diano. From there it went down to Naples, around it and all the way to Rome.

I stopped very often to rest, eat, read a bit of the book I was carrying and at first at least, refuel. But petrol is rather expensive in Italy, so I decided to test how far I could get with one tank on this new motorbike. Theoretically, it should be able to reach 400km, but I had never seen such good fuel consumption figures in real life. I was riding on mostly flat motorway, however, and was in no particular hurry. I was about 380km from the port in Civitavecchia the second time I filled the tank, so I set myself the challenge to refuel next in Barcelona. I filled the tank to the brim and set off for the reminder of the journey trying to apply everything I knew about economy driving. I say ‘driving’ because I learnt that in the car, I have never applied such style to the motorbike…

img_1371I kept a steady 100km/h, without accelerating hard to overtake slower vehicles, letting the bike coast downhill with very small throttle openings, anticipating other driver’s manoeuvers to avoid braking, etc.

It was boring as hell, but riding on the motorway always is, so going faster or riding more aggressively was not going to make much of a difference. Anyway, at about 19:00 I was just two kilometres away from Civitavecchia when the reserve warning light came on. On normal use this usually happened between 270 and 300km. This time it was at 383km. I had achieved an indicated 4.4l/100km average consumption, and according to the on board computer estimate, I could still go on another 66km, although that number tends to be rather optimistic.

The terminal building in Civitavecchia was much quieter than in Igoumenitsa, there were no queues, the Grimaldi offices were clearly indicated, there were seats everywhere, and there was free Wi-Fi. Well, for the first 15 minute. I got the tickets and waited around for about an hour, when boarding began.

Again, the motorbikes where first to get on board, so I managed to get a good spot with a power socket and settled down to watch a film and spend the night. Tomorrow afternoon I would see Barcelona again.

Tour of the Peloponnese II

Day 33 – Tuesday 30th August – From Finikounta to Igoumenitsa (492km)

I got up late today and had another shower before setting off, I wanted to experience what comfort my room had to offer, as I was not going to get any for the next 48 hours. I was going to spend the night in a ferry crossing the Ionian Sea from Igoumenitsa to Brindisi, and I had not booked a cabin. The second reason for getting up late, aside from being tired from the long ride the previous day, was that the ferry was leaving at 22:00, so I had all day to cover the almost 500km that separated me from the port. No hurry.

The ride up the western coast of the Peloponnese was a lot less interesting than the east coast. The road to Patras, while not a motorway, was a more important one than the small roads I had been riding on the day before, so there was not much to see. I imagine that the best idea for this leg of the journey would have been to cut across the centre of the peninsula and ride across the mountains, but I did not have time or energy for another mega ride.

What little motorway I found near Patras was free, I only had to pay for the bridge that links the townships of Rio, on the outskirts of Patras, and Antirrio, on the other side of Gulf of Corinth. I was expecting a normal road bridge built on concrete pillars but instead I found a masterpiece of engineering. The bridge, called Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge, is the longest fully suspended bridge in the world, and is a sight to behold.

On the other side the road was more interesting, going up the hills again and inland for a while before becoming a motorway. I was in good time, so when I got to Amphilochia, on the shore of the Ambracian gulf, I decided to go around it on the west side to do some sightseeing instead of going straight north towards the motorway to Igoumenitsa. I stopped for some late lunch in Amphilochia (an excellent gyros), which was a rather beautiful town, and then took a very interesting road.

img_1363The Ambracian gulf could be a lake if it were not connected to the sea by a narrow opening, and I was enjoying the views from a straight bit of road with no traffic when, after returning my attention to the road, encountered a sight in my rear view mirrors that might be familiar to drivers all over the world – the four rings of an Audi nose two millimetres from my arse. I don’t know why the guy had not overtaken me, but hate people who tailgate, so I decided to put some distance between us. There were a series of ascending fast corners starting right there, so the guy quickly disappeared from view without me having to ride particularly fast.

You remember I said that Greek drivers are very bitter about being overtaken – well, Mr. Audi was no exception (although I had not overtaken him) and he moment the road was level and straight again, I saw him appear in the distance going as fast as he could to catch up. I would have let him pass, but by the time he got close the road was twisty again, and he had completely disappeared again.

Statistics usually give Ukraine and Albania as the countries with the most dangerous roads in Europe, at least measured by the number of deaths on the road. Having travelled on both countries by motorbike, I did not find that drivers were particularly aggressive or reckless, but they are cursed with some of the worst roads I have ever seen, made worse by the fact that wandering animals of all sizes, kids, horse carts, bicycles and lots of other things that should not be on the road are everywhere. Italians also have a bad reputation, and yes, I can confirm that they drive very fast, but most of them are excellent drivers and know what they are doing. Greece, however, is a different matter. The roads are no excuse here, they are generally good, the problem are the drivers. First, they just have no respect for any traffic rule or their own lives. They are a compendium of all possible wrong conducts on the road. Mobile phones, no helmets on the motorbikes, zero use of indicators, pulling out whenever they feel like it without checking the road, and a long etcetera. I have never had so many near misses as in Greece, and I have ridden a bike in Albania, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. Second, they are essentially shit drivers, and this guy in the Audi was no exception. Any idiot can bury their foot on the accelerator on a straight line, but you need to know how to drive to take a car round a corner and keep the pace, and believe me, I did not find a single driver who seemed to be able to do it in Greece. And third, as I said, they seem to be very proud.

So, back to our friend in the Audi – I was bored, and just to annoy him I started waiting for him in the straights, letting him catch up and then disappearing in the corners. I guess he got quite mad. When I got tired I just resumed my normal cruising speed and soon I was at the narrow mouth of the gulf, where I did not find a bridge, as I was expecting, but an underwater tunnel, very similar to the one that connects mainland Norway to the island where the Nordkapp is.

After that, the road became tedious and unremarkable again until the last bit before Igoumenitsa, where it followed the coast for a while and then connected to the last bit of motorway coming from inland, where it made a prolonged descent through the hills and straight to the port.

This was an important port, and as such a very busy one. I followed the signs to the terminal building and found myself in what looked like a refugee camp. The car park was complete chaos, it was full and there were cars parked in the middle of the alleys blocking the way, there were people with bags, cases, big bundles of clothes and cardboard boxes everywhere, some sitting, some lying on the floor sleeping. I reluctantly left the bike as close to the front door as I could, removed the tank bag and went into the building to try and exchange my reservation for a ticket.

The inside of the building was no better, it was packed full of people queueing to get tickets, to go through passport and security checks, etc. I looked around but there was no counter with the name of my ferry company, European Seaways. I went to ask at the closest thing, a counter marked European Management Maritime Company, because the name was similar and they were the only ones without an endless queue at the moment. I gave my reservation sheet to a girl who looked like Kate Winslet doing the most boring job on Earth and asked if they were the company I was looking for. She glanced at the printed paper for a millisecond, gave it back to me without looking at me and said ‘not here’. I asked her whether she knew where it was and she replied ‘no’ still without peeling her eyes off the computer screen. Well, thank you… I went to the only other desk without a queue, at the other end of the hall, and a much more helpful girl told me that it was indeed the company I had just been to, EMMC. I went back to my friend there, told her I had specifically been directed there and she just repeated ‘not here’. Well, if anyone from EMMC happens to read this, know that you have a shitty employee at your desk in Igoumenitsa and tell HR that she would be better employed in the back office, where she would not have the bother of having to deal with actual people. To load shipping containers, for example.

In the end it was a guy from a cargo company who told me that the Europan Seaways offices were not in the terminal building, but across the road, and they were not even marked as European Seaways but something else entirely different. Great.

I had been running up and down wearing all the riding gear and carrying the tank bag and the helmet, so by the time I walked into their office I was soaked in sweat, impatient and nervous about having left my bike unsupervised at the terminal. I saw that there were only a couple with kids in front of me and that they were already being given their tickets, ‘wonderful’ I thought, ‘no queue’, but unfortunately they belonged to that species that are not happy with simple information until it has been repeated to them about a hundred times, so after several minutes of ‘Pier 13?’ ‘Yes, pier 13, at the end of the port’ ‘At the end?’ ‘Yes, straight on until the end’ ‘Number 13?’ ‘Yes ma’am, pier 13’ ‘At the end of the port?’ ‘Yes, at the end’ ‘We board there?’ ‘Yes, your ship is in pier 13’ ‘Pier 13?’, etc. etc. etc. I was ready to kill the whole family, chop them to pieces and throw them off pier 13.

img_1365I had arrived early to the port, but by the time I got my tickets it was already boarding time. Not willing to waste a minute more behind people for whom simple information is a challenge, I got on the bike and shamelessly skipped every queue I found – to get out of the car park, to enter the docks area, to go through security control and to board the ship. I was the second vehicle to get on (behind another motorbike), parked the bike and went to find myself a place to put down my sleeping mat.

Unlike the Grimaldi ferry, where the air conditioning is usually set at about 5ºC, there was no air conditioning at all in this one. By the time we set off dozens of other people had camped on every flat surface on every deck, and it was unbearably hot. I decided to leave my sleeping mat there and went to the upper deck to get some air and see the port slowly disappear in the night. Bye-bye Greece, I’m glad to have survived your roads but I’m afraid I won’t miss you much.


Tour of the Peloponnese I

Day 32 – Monday 29th August – From Athens to Finikounta (610km)

The previous day I had programmed a route on the GPS taking into account the roads that my map marked as panoramic ones and information I found from a bike tour company. I wanted to get away from big cities again and enjoy small coast roads at my own pace. The end destination was Finikounta, a small beach village at the southwest tip of the peninsula and the only place where I had found accommodation within my dwindling budget. I finished marking all the waypoints, the GPS calculated the route and it told me that it would take… ten hours.

Well, I was leaving early, if the bike was not out of the car park by 7:00 I would have to pay for another full day, so I thought I would take it easy, stop often and I could always pick a more direct route if I got tired.

The guy in the car park did not speak any English, but when I moved the bike he pointed at the sticker from Albania in the panniers and gave me a thumbs up, so I understood he must have been from there.

img_1340The day was breaking as I rode through the streets, and traffic was not as bad as I feared (the guy from the B&B had told me that they witnessed an accident in the junction in front of the building every day). I was determined to avoid the motorway, and as I was riding around the gulf of Elefsina on the old 8 road, just past a rather depressing area full of oil tanks, the sun came out behind Athens.

img_1337From there on, the journey got much, much better. There was no one on the road, and what a good road it was. It wound its way along the coast, offering superb views first of the gulf of Elefsina and then of the much bigger Megara gulf, until the village of Isthmia, at the mouth of the Corinth canal.

img_1341I thought that the Peloponnese peninsula was attached to the rest of the country on this side, but it turned out it is not. There is a manmade canal that connects the Megara gulf with the gulf of Corinth to allow ships to pass through, but it is very narrow, just over 20m wide, which limits the kinds of boats that can actually use it, most cargo boats need to sail around the peninsula. The motorway crosses it via a bridge that is high enough for boats to pass under it, but the road I was on was much nearer its mouth, and therefore lower, so the bridge must allow for the passage of ships. Instead of some variation of a bascule or lift bridge, the Isthmia bridge is a sinking one – it disappears below the surface of the water and rises again once the ship has passed. The road surface is formed by steel beams to allow the water to flow out of it quickly, and this combination of steel, water and big gaps between beams makes it extremely slippery and dangerous on a motorbike. I crossed very carefully, but when I was only two meters from the other side the bike started to slip sideways for no apparent reason. Luckily, I was able to maintain control and climb onto the bank safely.

Here is a video (not mine) that shows how it works:

Past the village the road became narrower and the towns smaller and further apart. The hills rolling down onto the sea were rather high and its slopes steep, making for really beautiful scenery.

img_1343When I reached the outskirts of Nafplion I was once more reminded of the stark contrast between towns and the countryside in Greece. This was the only really ugly spot I had found all day, and I left it behind as fast as I could. After having lunch near Leonidio, I started heading inland for a while to save some time (at this pace the journey was going to take way more than ten hours) and chose to avoid Sparta altogether (no more towns!).

img_1344For the next couple of hours, the coast road gave way to a mountain road that took me through a canyon, over a 1000m near mount Parnon and down the other side of the mountain range. It was a marvellous stretch of road, and only the fear of running out of fuel spoilt the fun.

img_1355I had not filled up in Leonidio, thinking that I would find a petrol station at the next village, but they were all very small mountain villages without a trace of a petrol station. It was not until I had reached the foot of the other side of the mountain that I saw a sign pointing to one in a village only one kilometre in the opposite way I was going.

img_1356I took a small detour stopped at an old, tiny petrol station. A shady looking young guy who did not speak any English filled up my bike, and while he was at it a friend of his arrived and started walking around the bike. When he saw the Albania sticker he pointed at it and said ‘fuck Albania’, without a trace of a joke in his voice. He was well over two metres tall and did not look particularly intelligent but I was sure he could rip my head off my shoulders with one of his huge hands. I replied ‘yeah man, whatever’, paid and got the hell out of there. At least I had my tank full and I had seen a rare contraption – a Yamaha scooter with shaft drive.

img_1359Instead of going straight to Kalamata, I headed down to find the coast again in the village of Githio, and then rode the coast road up to Kalamata. This detour and the mountain road were probably the best bits of road in the whole day.

img_1362At Velika, west of Kalamata, I left the main road, still following the coast, for the last bit of road before Finikounta, and then I cut across the hills on a road that was little more than a paved track, crossed two hamlets and ended up right at Finikounta.

It was already dusk, so I did not have much time to visit the town. It was a tiny place by the beach, quiet and very nice, and the hotel was much better than what I was expecting at that price.

Final departure

Day 31 – Sunday 28th August – Athens (0km)

Today marked the beginning of my way home. My sister and Alex were taking a ferry to Santorini in the afternoon to spend their rest of their holidays in the islands, and I was supposed to start my way back.

I had booked a ferry from Igoumenista to Brindisi on Tuesday, but when I started planning the trip I saw that it would take considerably less than I had thought it would, so I still had two and a half days to visit in Greece instead of just riding to the port.

I decided to spend that night in the city too, as I did not fancy sleeping in the suburbs, and the parking space for the bike was paid until 7:00 the following morning, so I might as well use it.

IMG_1314We visited the neighbourhoods of Plaka and Monastiraki in the morning, had a very good Gyros for lunch and after the long walk back to the B&B, said our goodbyes. I did not fancy going back to the centre until dinner time, so I stayed and planned the next two days. The ferry departed at 22:00, which left me two full days, so after studying the maps I decided that I would ride around the Peloponnese peninsula and see if I could leave the country with a more favourable opinion.


City of ruins

Day 30 – Saturday 27th August – Athens (0km)

At 7:00 I had already got up, put all my things on the motorbike and ridden the short distance to the B&B where I found my sister and her husband, Alex, who after a sleepless night of travel were all ready and determined to be in the Acropolis by the time the gates opened, ahead of most tourists.

We had some breakfast on the way and little past 8:00 we were at the foot of the hill that contains some of the most famous archaeological remains in the world. There were only a few people queuing ahead of us, and they all looked to be past retirement age, but nevertheless a member of the staff came down the queue asking them whether they were students. They said they weren’t, and so did we when she asked us, but a guy who was behind us, not much younger than ourselves said ‘yes’ and without any further verification, the girl handed him a free ticket. Damn… we could have saved ourselves 30 euros.

IMG_1161There were many things to see at the foot of the hill, long before reaching the Acropolis itself, the Odeon of Pericles, the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthero, the Odeon of Herdes Atticus…  But after having spent a while contemplating all these remains, my sister declared that she wanted to see the Acropolis before the bulk of tourists arrived, and that we would have time to see the rest on the way down.

IMG_1171Unfortunately, there are some parts in the world where, no matter how fast you run, or how early you get up, you can’t escape a cruise party, and when we reached the main entrance we saw the stairs swarmed with people with little stickers on their polos marking them as belonging to this or that ship, taking pictures and listening to their respective guides, who tried to keep a reasonable distance from each other not to create interferences. The explanations were long enough for us to slip through and walk through the entrance without too much company.

IMG_1195I am not given to getting up early, but this was definitely worth it – walking into a nearly empty Acropolis first thing in the morning, as the sun rises and the morning is still cool, is something that has to be experienced. We have all seen pictures, we have all studied it to a certain extent at school or high school, but actually setting foot on gives a feeling that is difficult to describe. It does not matter how many pictures I might post here or in Facebook, come and feel it yourselves.

IMG_1183Our ticket included entrance to many other archaeological sites throughout the city, and we spend all day visiting them despite the high temperature. I make a point of not discussing politics or religion on this blog, but when one sees what an advanced civilization this was, you cannot help but wonder how far mankind could have got if it had not been by huge step backwards that the Middle Ages and Christianity represented and in a way still represent. I do understand the basic human need to feel that there is a purpose to us all or to believe that there is a superior being that knows best what it is doing, or at least someone to blame for all the random tragedies that happen in the world, but I keep coming to the conclusion that religion has done us no favours at all. And it is not just religion, more and more lately I keep thinking of that George Carlin quote: ‘never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers’. Walking around the ruins I wondered if thousands of years from now other people, maybe from other planets, would walk around the remains of our world listening to the explanation of their guide: ‘and then in 2016 Trump became President of the United States…’

IMG_1238We also visited the flea market on the other side of the Acropolis and wandered for a while around the narrow streets of the Plaka neighbourhood, but decided to save that for the following morning and headed to the Philopappos Hill for the best view of the Acropolis.

IMG_1273The hill is located to the southwest of the ruins and is the perfect spot to see the sunset with a perfect view of the Acropolis glowing red in the light of the disappearing sun and then contemplate the lights of the whole city turning on little by little, until almost dark, when the Acropolis itself is lit. Amazing.

IMG_1304As we walked across the centre, however, my impression of the city the day before was confirmed – away from the Acropolis and the streets that surround it, the city seems to be crumbling to pieces. There are a few EU capitals I have not visited yet (Dublin, Bratislava, Luxembourg, Oslo), but I think it is safe to say that Athens was, by a considerable margin, the one in the worst condition.