Ready, steady… go!!

Day 12 – 6th January – Algeciras to Barcelona (1151km)

That’s what Esteve more or less intended to do the moment the ferry ramp was down – twist the throttle and not let it go until he got to Barcelona. That was a very long way, quite a lot more in fact than the journey to Almeria at the beginning of the trip, which had been a bit over 800km and had taken us quite a lot longer than we had anticipated. We were talking about close to 1,200km here, a distance that we had planned to split in two riding days – the first one from Algeciras to Ademuz, where my family has a house, saving us the cost of accommodation.

Esteve, however, was tired of so many days on the bike and insisted that he wanted to get home as soon as possible, and if that meant doing it on one go, so be it, he would have the whole weekend to unpack, rest, relax, and get ready to go back to work on Monday, a return that he feared would be stressful. I had tried to dissuade him, but there were other factors in play – remember the issue with Gerard’s bike’s forks? He and Raluca were not particularly looking forward to the long ride back either, even if it was in two days, so they were toying with the idea of calling the insurance regarding the botched repair, have the bike sent home, and get a lift back to Barcelona at the insurance company’s expense, maybe even spending a day visiting Granada. I must confess at this point that I was in part to blame for both Gerard’s and Esteve’s plans, as I had discovered some days before that I had forgotten the keys to the house, meaning that if we split the return in two we would have to pay for a hotel anyway.

The night before Esteve had already made up his mind that he was going to ride back in one day, and I was thinking about doing the same. Gerard and Raluca said that they would decide once they got off the ferry, so we agreed that the best thing to do was to say our goodbyes on the ferry and start the journey immediately out of the harbour.

We had got the boarding passes the day before, so this time we did not need to get up ridiculously early – departure was at 9am and we got to the harbour half an hour before. The 6th of January is an important holiday in Spain, when most people exchange their Christmas gifts, so everybody would be spending the day at home with their families and we were not expecting a long queue to board nor problems with traffic across Spain.

When we rode past the booths where they checked our boarding passes I was expecting to go straight to the queue to board, but instead found that we had to go through a customs checkpoint. I thought that we were done with that after crossing the border into Ceuta, we were already in Spanish and EU territory after all, but it seems the authorities were not happy with that.

The boom was down at the checkpoint and there seemed to be nobody at the booth, so we had to wait until a sleepy looking police officer arrived, clearly unhappy to have to work instead of spend the day with this kids. The only car in front of us was a big van with Belgian plates driven by a lone arab guy, and I thought that the police were not going to do a thorough check, it was only 10 minutes before departure time, there were very few cars on the line and, as I said, we were already in Spain. To my surprise, another officer came out of the booth with a dog, they made the van guy open the back doors and got the car inside, sniffing around. At that moment I remembered that I had put the ingredients for the sandwich in my jacket, which was folded inside my left pannier. ‘OK’, I thought. ‘No need to panic, it is a very small amount, for my own use, I can say in case the dog finds it… such small quantities are usually tolerated in Spain.’

The dog finished with the van, the driver got back in, started and rolled away. The police officer with the dog looked at our three bikes, the dog was looking away in the opposite direction, the officer looked at the rest of cars in the line, looked back at us and waved us past with a quick movement. The dog did not even turn to look at me.

With a sigh of relief, we rode on, only to find that there was yet another checkpoint to cross before the ferry, this time with an employee of the ship company and another customs police officer, checking passports. I had already put mine away, and when I stopped by him and started rummaging in my pockets to get it out he just looked at me, still with my helmet and sunglasses on, and asked ‘are you Spanish?’ in a thick southern accent. ‘Yes’, I replied, and he  said ‘OK, go on’. Top notch security here, I got on the ferry without having had my passports checked once.

The boat was a fast seacat and after only an hour of very bumpy sailing across the Gibraltar strait we moored in Algeciras. We had already said goodbye and were ready to go, I was going to ride back with Esteve in one go.

They lowered the ramp, we revved the engines and rolled out onto the pier, ready to hit the road and get kilometres under our belts as fast as possible, it was already 10am and we had at least 12 hours of riding ahead of us. We turned towards the harbour exit and found… another customs checkpoint! Again! This time I had about five or six cars in front of me, and the police officer with the dog (yes, there was another dog) was making it sniff around each and every car on the line. Once he was done with the car in front of me, he looked at the bike and he waved me past. The dog was not bothered with my left pannier at all. Crossing borders with a motorbike is great.

We were finally out of the harbour and the long way back home began. We used a combination of motorways with and without tolls, looking for the fastest and at the same time cheapest way to get back to Barcelona, and we decided we would only stop for fuel and once to eat, for lunch. There were clouds and maybe rain forecast in the south of Spain, but once we were away from the coast the sky cleared and we had perfect weather for riding, even though the temperature never went above 12ºC. On the second refuelling stop I had to put on all the clothes I had for the first time in the trip, we had been riding over 1,000km above sea level for hours and I was freezing. Things got a bit better when we got near the coast again past Murcia, but only for a short while. Night caught us still south of Valencia, and I finally made it to my front door at about 10:20pm, after leaving Esteve in Vilafranca. We managed 1151km in 10 hours and 26 minutes, according to the GPS, the fastest we had ridden in two weeks.

As I looked up from the GPS, I saw Nat, who was coming back home with a pizza and some beer as a welcome present. Now, THAT is love.


First taste of Africa

Day 2 – 27th December – Ferry from Almeria to Melilla and Melilla to Fez (317km)

Another extremely early rise did not help Gerard feel much better, and by the time we got to the port at 6am he was starting to have second thoughts about starting the trip, but we were all hoping that a good dose of drugs bought the previous evening and four hours to sleep on the crossing to Melilla would make him feel better.

img_1455The rest of us spent our time on the upper deck, the only passengers fool enough to brave the cold to contemplate the sun rise over the sea.


When we got off the ferry the temperature was much higher, and after filling the tanks to make the most of Melilla’s special tax regime, we rode across the town to the border, where we officially crossed the door into Africa.

Well, actually, we first had to try to get our bikes across a human flood trying to get across the border. Not the immigrants or refugees that you hear about in the news, trying to reach this small piece of EU territory in Northern Africa, but a mob of Moroccans that cross the border to buy things that are cheaper than in Morocco or impossible to find there and then take it to their country to sell it. To prevent the border facilities from being overrun with people carrying boxes and bags the guards only open the pedestrian crossing at given intervals and then all the people waiting make a run for it. We were riding the bike behind a van and a short distance from the vehicles entrance we saw a lot of people sitting around and waiting, Then, as luck would have it, just when the van was driving over a zebra crossing the guards must have opened the doors, because everybody suddenly stood up, grab their stuff and dashed to the gate. In a matter of seconds, we were surrounded by a human mass, and I feared that someone would bump into or be pushed against us and with such a heavy bike and a passenger I would lose balance and end up on the ground.

Once we had managed to get past the crowd and into the border compound itself the chaos continued – we had prepared the import forms for the bike, but we still had to fill in a small immigration form, get the passport stamped and get the import form signed and stamped at the border and at customs. The immigration forms we had to fill in were nowhere to be found, and the reason was that the ‘helpers’ that are found in most borders had them. The ones here were very persistent, and the attitude of the people working at the border did nothing but encourage them – there were no signs and no explanations at all.

We navigated our way through that mess with the ‘help’ of one of those guys and in a matter of minutes had all the paperwork complete and just had to wait for the rest of our group while we enjoyed a curious show – a ridiculously overloaded car was trying to carry more goods than what I imagined the import regulations allowed, and a border guard had taken the wheel and was driving the car into a separate area of customs, while some men unloaded the trunk as the car was moving and threw bags over the fence where their friends were waiting to avoid having them confiscated.

Once we were all done, we left the border compound, exchanged some money and hit the road south. There was a lot of police, but nobody stopped us, and once the worst of Nador’s traffic was left behind, we enjoyed quite good roads until we found the motorway that led to Fes.


After the rest on the ferry and some food, Gerard was feeling better and had decided to go ahead and continue the trip. We had started riding quite late because of the border crossing, and we were worried that nightfall might catch us before reaching the city and finding the place where we were staying, but we managed to get there just after sunset and ride into a maze of backstreets in a neighbourhood overlooking the medina, looking for the house where we were going to spend the night.

We had booked rooms in a property through AirBnB that was advertised as a ‘palace’, but the plain metal door we ended up in front of looked quite uninviting. The owner came out and told us that we were staying further down the road, and led us to the palace.

And what a palace it was! By now it was already dark, and after going through a metal gate we parked the bikes in the garage of a separate building and took our stuff down a street, across a patio, through a big doorway, down an alley… after few hours of sleep and lots of hours of travel, I was completely disoriented and felt I was floating from one place to another, until another big wooden door opened and we were led into a courtyard that could very well have been in the Alhambra.

img_1552After crossing it and walking up some stairs we reached our room – a cavernous space of about 100 square meters, ceilings over six meters tall decorated with elaborate carved and painted wood, thick curtains… it was unbelievable.


It seems that the owner’s grandfather had been the Pacha of Casablanca and this was his second residence, where he kept his four wives and at least 12 courtesans while he was meeting the likes of Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosvelt.


Overwhelmed by all the things we had experienced in the last 24 hours, we crashed in our beds under several layers of blankets and fell fast asleep.

How to get the bikes to Morocco

One of the first things we looked at once we had the dates and a rough outline of the route we were going to do was to consider which options we had to get to Morocco. There are more than 1,000 km of motorway to get to the ferry that crosses the Gibraltar strait, too much to ride on one day.

The first alternative we considered was the ferry from Barcelona to Tangier – it would save us a long ride, petrol, tolls, tires… but unfortunately the ferry does not operate every day, and there was no ferry available for our departure day, the 26th of December.

The second alternative was to put the bikes on a trailer and drive to Algeciras. We would be able to take turns at the wheel, reducing fatigue and pay fuel and tolls only for one vehicle. It sounded like a good plan, if it were not for a couple of details – one, we did not have a trailer; two, none of our cars had a trailer hitch. Then Gerard remembered that his family have a trailer in his hometown – not a trailer for motorbikes, but a big one nevertheless, big enough to take three trail bikes. Not the kind to be easily discouraged, we rode halfway across the country to see the trailer and test whether the bikes would fit on it. If they did, then we could consider fitting a trailer hitch on my car and splitting the cost among the five of us.

The trailer was big indeed, but definitely not designed for motorbikes. It was quite high and did not have a ramp, so we had to improvise. Gerard provided an old desk that looked sturdy enough to support the weight of my bike (the biggest one) and I got it up the improvised ramp using the throttle and clutch while walking next to it, with the rest of the guys holding its back.

Once we got it on the trailer, it became clear that there was no way three bikes were going to fit in there.


That would have been the end of the trailer story, but a friend of mine offered to us his, which is specific for bikes. With our hopes up again, I went to get a quote for fitting a trailer hitch to my car and, to my dismay, it was a lot more than we had anticipated. Not only that, but there would be the extra cost of homologation, including a trailer in the insurance policy, the paperwork and having an extra license plate made. On top of that, the trailer is designed to fit three bikes, but of a smaller kind – endure bikes, race bikes… we had no guarantee that it would be able to take three big trails. That, and the time it would take to find secure parking for the car and the trailer near the port for two weeks plus the potential cost finally put us off the idea.


We also considered having the bikes sent as I did when I visited the south a couple of years ago, but the shipping costs for a two-way transport service, plus plane tickets were too high compared with fuel and tolls.

Finally, I was told that there is another ferry line connecting Almeria to Melilla and Nador, which would save us about 300km, bringing the ride down to about 800. We reckoned that if we set off early we could be in Almeria by early afternoon, giving us time to have a good rest and enjoy some tapas before taking the ferry before sunrise the following day.


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.


Balkan Adventure 2016

Day 1 – Friday 29th July – Ferry from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (0km)

I had had the new bike for more than three months; it had dutifully fulfilled its role as my daily transport to and from work and had had its occasional outing at the weekend, but day after day I had been feeling that it needed, longed for a proper trip, the beast wanted to be unleashed away from the city. So when the holiday have finally came, it was time to take it on its first long trip. Where? The Balkans.

The plan was to take a ferry to Italy, cross the country, take another ferry and start from Croatia, then ride south to Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece and back to Italy via another ferry.

20160730132925I started my holidays at the very end of July. This had an instant impact on the beginning of my holidays in two notable ways.

One, I got a reminder of how hot and damp the city is this time of year as I dragged about 40kg of luggage from my flat to the garage where the bike sleeps, one piece at a time. After a lot of sweating, pulling straps and tying knots, the game of Tetris was complete and the bike loaded.

Second, I got a taste of the joys of starting my holiday at the same time as millions of other people in the shape of a neverending queue at the ferry terminal.

IMG-20160729-WA0019Once on board, the ferry was choke full of loud people, screaming kids and dodgy-looking Eastern European truck driveres, one of whom tried to start a fight at the top deck bar. At least the two-hour delay before we set sail was made much more enjoyable by the company of an Argentinian couple who have been travelling around the world on their motorbike for over two years, and who had a lot of stories to share. You can find out more about them here and here.

Run for the ferry!

Day 63 – Monday 26th of August – Omis to Hvar to Omis (199km – 150 by ferry)

We did not get up exactly early, I will give you that. By the time we got to the ferry terminal in Split it was almost 11 am and we were not very confident about being able to catch the ferry leaving at that time. I stopped the motorbike on the taxi rank in front of the ticket offices, right under the nose of four traffic wardens ushering cars onto the ferry boarding area and making sure nobody stopped there, but they did not seem to mind me. Nat went to get the tickets and she came back running, saying they had told her we still could make it onto the 11 am ferry if we hurried. I rode onto the boarding yard and up to the man checking the tickets. There was a queue of cars boarding, but when I asked him if we were on time, he asked whether we had tickets and when we said we did he just pointed at the ferry’s ramp and said ‘bye-bye’. I rode straight onto the car deck, jumping ahead of all the cars that had not boarded yet, but nobody seemed to care, that is another of the nice things of riding a bike. We parked it on one side, the crew strapped it down for the crossing, and we walked up to the top deck as the ferry started slowly moving away from the city. It was a gorgeous day and the city looked amazing from the sea.


There were several ships connecting the islands to the mainland, but the ferry only went to either Brac or Hvar, so we had had to choose. We had been told that the nicest one was Hvar, and also the one with the best beaches but once there it was hard work finding one, as the coast was mostly rocks. The landscape was beautiful, though, very small towns with stone houses, a very narrow road that went up and down hills and valleys and the island had very little population and even less tourists. We stopped at a small town with a quiet pebble beach and sunbathed for a while and went for a swim. The water was quite different there, it was open sea and you could tell that there was no longer the protection of the islands in front of the coast. The waves were higher and the color was no longer crystal clear, but a darker shade, due to the seaweed that was stirred from the bottom.


We stayed in the same town after the swim and had fish for lunch at a restaurant with a lovely terrace by the beach before heading to the town of Hvar, where we visited the fortress on top of the hill and enjoyed the views from there. After that we rode to the highest peak in the island, where there was an observatory, I imagine that out in the sea and with so little population, the night view of the sky must be amazing from that point.


It was getting dark, so we started heading for the other two main towns in the island, but after seeing that there was not much to see after dark in the first of them, we decided to head back to Stari Grad, where the ferry terminal was, and try to catch the 8:30 ferry, as there was not another one (the last one, in fact) until almost midnight.


By the time we made it to the docks it was a few minutes past departure time, but the ferry was still there with the doors open and two of the crew members were standing there. A couple of cars were still boarding, so I rode directly to them and asked whether we could get tickets on board. They shook their heads and pointed toward the terminal building, indicating that we should buy them there. I rode across the yard and Nat ran to the offices while I waited outside on the bike. There was one last vehicle that still had not boarded, about twenty meters from where I had stopped on the opposite end of the yard from the ship. It was a knackered old blue van with a couple of men that looked like a mix of old hippies and gypsies, and by the looks of it, it was them the ferry was waiting for when we had arrived. An old woman on crutches approached them, she had gone to the building to get the tickets, but when they tried to start the van, the engine would not fire up. They tried again and again, but it was not working. While they were trying to get the van started, the old woman stared to slowly make her way across the yard with the tickets in her hand; Nat was not back with our tickets yet and the two men decided to push the van into the ferry and at that moment a weird race started that looked like something out of a Cohen brothers film. The woman was limping two thirds of the way across the yard, the men had already pushed the van about a third of the way and out of the corner of my eye I saw Nat come out of the offices with our tickets in her hand and start to run towards the bike. She gave the tickets, which I put directly in my mouth while I fired up the engine and she jumped on the back. I revved the engine up and shot across the yard just as the old woman was handing the tickets to the crew and the two men were approaching the ramp with the van. I stopped right in front of them, handed the crew our tickets – bite marks included – and rode onboard a half-empty ferry which started closing the doors right behind us as the gypsies finished rolling the van onto the deck.

By that time it was pitch black out at sea, and as I had imagined earlier that evening on the observatory on the hill, the night sky was spectacular, thousands of stars twinkling above our heads as we made it back to the mainland.

Rain in the Baltic

Day 50 – Tuesday 13th of August – Helsinki to Tallinn (86km – by ferry)

This was going to be my girlfriend’s first long trip on the motorbike, or for that matter, her very first trip on a motorbike, and crossing Europe from north to south was quite a bit like throwing her at the deep end of the pool with no warning. It was going to be a make or break trip, so I was hoping for good weather, even though I was not exactly optimistic about the dark clouds we had seen the day before.

Sure enough, as we rode out of the hostel and into heavy traffic, it started to rain. There was a huge traffic jam on the way to the ferry terminal, and what had to be a ten-minute ride was taking so long that I was afraid we would miss the ferry. If I had been in Russia, I would just have ridden onto the pavement and to hell with it, but we were in law-abiding Finland and there was no space to filter between cars, so I just had to inch forward patiently just like everybody else. In the end we made it to the terminal just in time to board and park the bike in front of a lorry. The rain was getting heavier and this crossing was on open sea, unlike the one from Stockholm, so I asked for some straps and tied the bike down just in case.


By the time we got to the top deck and the ferry was leaving, the rain was pouring down and there was a gale force wind. Fortunately, this ship had a bigger covered area on the top deck, so we were sheltered from the rain despite not having a cabin.

In less than three hours we were riding off the ferry in lighter rain and quickly found the hostel in Tallinn, right in front of one of the gates in the old town walls.There was parking space right on the door, and as it was just the bike, they did not charge us for it.


We dropped our bags and just as the rain had stopped, went to explore the old town. Unlike other European cities which are popular tourist destinations, I did not know anybody who had been here before, so I did not know what to expect of the city nor the country. Being an ex-soviet republic, I was expecting something quite gray, Russian-style, but it turned out to be a beautiful, city – the old town was charming, narrow winding medieval streets on a hill with views to a nice, modern, taken care of city.


We spent the afternoon walking around and then headed for a pub to have a pint of the local black beer, which was delicious.


Before going back to the hostel, we did some shopping (including superglue to repair my sandals) and then looked for a cheap place to have dinner out. This was a luxury I had not been able to afford since Russia, since prices in Scandinavian countries were ridiculously high, so it was a pleasure to find a cozy place where we had dumplings, salad, chicken Kiev, a pint of beer and dessert for 7€. I love Eastern Europe.

The Baltic Princess

Day 48 – Sunday 11th of August – Stockholm to Turku (247km – by ferry)

I had barely slept 4 hours by the time the alarm clock rang at 5 am, but I had 11 hours of ferry crossing ahead of me, so I thought that aside from catching up on the blog, I would also catch up on some sleep. I finished packing the few things I had not packed the night before as quietly as I could to try not to wake anybody up and as I was gathering my things, I found a very nice goodbye note from Andrew. There was nobody awake in the hostel, so I had a cup of coffee on my own in the kitchen and then rode the bike on deserted streets to the ferry terminal, ready to board the Baltic Princess just past 6 am.


The sun was already up and there were no clouds in the sky, the perfect day to spend on the deck of a ship. The good thing about being on a motorbike is that they board you first, so I had barely got to the queue when I was told to skip to the front next to a Russian biker, and we were among the first vehicles on board.


I left the motorbike a bit worried about it falling over if the sea was rough and went up to find a good place to seat. To my dismay, there was no sitting area, and as I had booked no cabin, it meant that I was not going to get any sleep. The only place where I could seat was the top deck, but fortunately the weather was very good, so it was not a problem. At 7:10, right on time, the ship started to move and we started the 11-hour crossing.


One hour into it I was already tremendously bored, and wondered what on Earth people found so great about going on a cruise. Writing for the blog and reading my book killed a few hours, but in the end what really saved me was discovering that there was WiFi connection, a very poor one, but enough to connect to Whatsapp and be able to catch up my loved ones. Spending the day on the road or socializing with people in hostel or hosts from CouchSurf does not leave much time left to chat with people online.

By noon, the ferry called at Aland, a big island between Sweden and Finland, and from the top deck I heard the rumbling sound of Harleys. I got up to see what was waiting to board and saw a big group of bikes on the harbor. It was the Turku MC, who had spent the weekend in Aland and were heading back home.


The rest of the day went by faster than I expected, and by the time the ship was approaching Helsinki, I was surprised to have had such a nice time on board. The sea had been very calm, so I did not get any motion sickness, despite the fact that I spent a lot of time staring at the computer screen, and we had not spent that much time in the open sea anyways, about two thirds of the trip had been among small islands on the coasts of Sweden, Aland and Finland.


Half an hour before docking all drivers were called down to the car deck, and when the doors started to open, about 40 Harleys started their engines at the same time. The resulting thunder reverberated in the cavernous car deck, setting off the alarms of every single car sitting there, it was madness.

I got to the hostel in only ten minutes, and since it was already late and Turku was a small residential city, with not much to see, had a shower and just went to bed, happy to think that the following afternoon I would be picking up my girlfriend from Helsinki airport.