4/23/05 Sat Modena, Italy cold, rain, snow, everything else
I am sitting in a Hotel in Modena, Italy looking back over today.
I left Kirchheim/Heidelberg at 9 AM and arrived in Modena/Italy at 6 PM. I had every kind of weather a traveler can expect in Europe, it is April and April is unpredictable. I can report that the Bike runs ok. It stalled again when coming off the Autobahn or the Autostrada and I needed to restart it, which is a real pain. I already said that it can also be dangerous because a fast get away, when I need it, in case of an emergency, is not guaranteed. I need to fix this!
In addition, the ABS lights come on, too. What is this now? If the ABS light stays on (blinks) the ABS is NOT engaged and I have only ‘normal’ braking power. NO ABS! I stopped the bike on the side of the road, held the ABS button down, but it still blinks like it’s turned off. I drove with the blinking ABS light on for an hour, then I pulled over, turned the bike off and restarted it and now all is well. I think this bike has Gremlins.
I learned to write down all the towns on the way in sequence of the way I want to travel. It helps, reading the directional signs, and makes it easier to find the way in Europe. I wrote down more towns then I needed but the basic Idea works great. A Vignette (toll sticker) for a full year in Switzerland is FR 40. – ($?) (expensive). Compare that with the cost of toll in the U.S. It costs $ 6. - to cross GW bridge just once. And after the GW comes the Triboro ($3), etc. The Verazano Bridge is $ 9.- and that adds up to more in a year. At least in Switzerland you pay once and that is it for the year. Too bad I could not re-sell the vignette after I used it but it sticks now on my windshield of the bike and it’s an expensive souvenir. I wish I could use it in Italy, too but no. Tolls are cool in Italy, just stick your credit card in a slot at the toll plaza, get the card back and a nice female voice says: “Gracie!” the bar rises and off you go. Some roads work like the NJ Turnpike, take your ticket and ride until you exit and then pay using the same procedures as described above. Italy has something like EZ Pass but I am just riding thru, I have to do it the old fashion way and pay each time. But at least I could pay without using local currency, without fumbling for coins in my pocket with my gloves on. And I could use any Visa card, even an American card. Once off the Autostrada it is a little nutty. Since there are no blatant American advertisements for a hotel I had to look around and ride slowly. This causes the other drivers to beep. You are too slow for us. Beep! Know your way! Beep! Get out of my way! Beep! Beep! What are you looking for? Beep! Off the Autostrada in Modena I found (saw) a Holiday Inn. That is the only Hotel I saw. One night stay is 90 Euro (expensive). But since it started to rain I just took it. Besides, where is the next hotel? How much will that Hotel cost me? Looking for it in the rain? After 9 hours of riding thru the Alps in freezing weather? I wore my undershirt, shirt, and windproof North Face jacket, Gortex liner in Motorcycle jacket, Motorcycle jacket and all zipped up and buttoned up. Neck warmer, heated grips, etc and still felt chilly. April is early in the Alps. I saw that some passes are still closed. The Highway in Switzerland is always clear of snow and well taken cared for. Well I made it to Italy and that is it for today. I will have some food in the Restaurant next door, it’s a self-serve place and I saw they have spaghetti and meatballs. Good enough and cheap enough, too.
4/25/05 Mon Ancona/at Sea great riding weather
I figured that I would stay in Ancona and just wait in a Hotel near the ferry. I did not have to worry about room on the ferry tomorrow because I had a reservation via the internet. I even paid already via the internet and charged everything to my credit card. I had a print out with me of the confirmation, just in case it was needed. It turned out better than I thought. I was lucky and arrived in Ancona at about 11.45 am. I asked some Russian guys, hanging out near the ferry, to watch over my bike and went inside the terminal and asked if I could get on the ferry one day ahead of time. Lots of people were standing in line and it was very busy at the ticket counter but they had plenty of room, it’s a big, brand new ship and so I am going to Greece ahead of schedule. It helped to have this reservation print out because everything is computerized and they found me in their scheduling set up and just moved me one day ahead. I thanked the Russian guys for watching my bike, waved good bye to them and then waited in line, along with the other vehicles, to board. I can not believe how many cars and trucks fit into this ship. They are packing them in like sardines. For the drivers of the large trucks it is all a routine. For me it was interesting to watch and the time flew by. I was amazed that the truckers could back up their large rigs into the belly of the ferry with such an ease. I have trouble backing up with my little boat trailer, but they just backed up, trailer and all. Right into the darkness of the ship, into small places, right next to the other trucks already parked inside. Remember in Europe you have a lot of double, piggy back trucks and they are harder to back up then the American rigs. I was one of the last people to get on board because they fitted me in between the trucks and the wall of the ship. My bike looked real small inside the hull of this ferry. I used my own BMW straps to tie the bike down. Turned out later I did not need to have done that, the ride was real smooth. I am glad I had a seat reserved. Not because there is no room, but this ‘Air Seat’ section had one movie after another playing and the speakers were set on loud which is good for me. I noticed that a lot of people had a routine in traveling on this ferry. Most knew where to go, when to eat, what to do. Everything on board this brand new, Greek owned ship is set up like a cruise ship. Shops, Casinos, Discos, Bars, Coffee and Cake shops, you name it they have it. While I was walking around looking this ship over I was invited by a group of Russian truck drivers to join them. They were having a good old drunken time, right at the beginning of the trip. Food was all over the table top, beer in plastic cups, etc. They brought everything with them, bought nothing on board this ship; they obviously are making this ferry trip often and know the prices, know how to get around the expensive drinks. I sat down for a while but left because I have a hard time listening to drunks and their bantering. After a long trip of 14 hours the ship arrived in Igoumenitsa at 5.30 am Greek time and because I had a bike I was one of the first to leave the ship. Just at the crack of dawn. I just followed the LKW’s (Lastkraftwagen) and found myself out of town in the direction of Ionnina in no time. I am in Greece, the first time in my life in Greece. What a hilly trip! Left turns, right turns, up, down, never ending. The soil is very rocky and very poor yielding, except the bottom land of which there is almost none because of the hilly terrain and the mountains. Some Mountains still have a lot of snow on top. Spring just sprung, the trees are full of blossoms, and some of a lavender color I never saw before. Delightful!! Yes, I like Greece. I can feel it immediately, I like it.
This is a rugged, old area which has been farmed for over millennia. What is my first impression of Greece? I like it a lot.
It is still cold but I am dressed for it. I ride on and on until the afternoon. The temp is great at 24 C. At about 4 pm I am looking for a place to stay and I like the town of Kozani. It is not too large, has a hotel and looks friendly and has this old world charm. Not a great place, mind you, but it will do just fine for an overnight stay in a small town. The hotel in Alonaikia (Kozani) can give you a room for 40 Euro. The hotel is old fashioned and does not see a lot of travelers. It is a mix of friendliness and curiosity that greets me when I look at the people. Some old men ask me where I am from and when I tell them I am from America they just shake their head and walk on. Most ask me in German, I think it’s because they worked in Germany years ago and returned to Greece; living the good life.
I have trouble reading the signs. The Greek alphabet is not exactly like ours but some letters are the same. I wrote a list since I don’t have a book but can not type it here (my computer does not allow Greek lettering)
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
A B r P
To read a road sign is difficult and needs a lot of time. Some of the letters look totally different. The C looks somewhat like an ‘r’ or the letter Y looks like a pitchfork. It is difficult finding the way while reading road signs and watching for traffic.
I learned the following in Greek so far:
Ef ferish to = thank you
Nerro = water
So I can eat now and not starve. I went to a small restaurant in town that the hotel owner showed me. He actually walked me over to it, made sure I would not miss it. At the Restaurant I had exactly what you read above. A Greek Salad for dinner with bread. It was very good, I was hungry.
Walking around I noticed a lot of chairs are in use in Greece. Almost every place has chairs sitting in front of their door. There are a lot of coffee houses or tea places not all that busy but lots of them never the less. Do Greeks drink that much coffee?
4/26/05 Tue New Kapala, Greece nice weather Cool.
I tried to take the local roads but got lost (it is hard reading the signs) and took the real local, almost dirt roads to Sassaloniki. A big, huge town and not exactly great for what I like. I prefer more authentic Greek people in smaller towns. So I pressed on towards Kapala but even this town is too large for me. Buses, taxies, noise, etc. I looked at an old hotel but decided ‘no, not this town’. It is also very hard to park my bike inside a big city. In any case, smaller places appeal much more to me, I can understand the layout of the roads immediately and it just feels better to be in smaller towns when visiting by bike. Anyhow, now I am in NEW Kapala and it’s just right. The main street has shops of all kinds and the hotel is 2 blocks off the Ocean in a residential neighborhood. The proprietor is 70 years old and I’m the only guest in a 30 room hotel. The proprietor was 15 years in Germany and learned the trade of ‘Schlosser’ (metal worker). He has 2 sons (43 and 36) and worries because both of his children do NOT want the hotel. Both have their own life and the father (owner of the hotel) sits behind the reception desk and brutes of what to do with the hotel. He does not want to sell it; he wants to leave a legacy for future generations of himself. The old man’s German is good enough for me to understand even so he speaks with a Schwaebish accent. For dinner I had Sardines and bread at a local place. It was a small local hole in the wall and 6 Greek men were there drinking a lot of beer. 2 of them spoke some German. It was broken German but enough to get along. My name is Johann. It’s easier for Greeks to say then Hans. I was fed Ouzo and beer by those guys. They even offered me a Polish girl and showed me her picture. The music played and they all sang and had a great, old, drunken time. I bought each of them a bottle of beer and left them to their happiness. On the walk back to the Hotel I found an internet place and finally checked all my e mail and answered questions and wrote a quick note to Mike Paull. Then while walking back I saw the Hotel Proprietor sit next to a building supply store (his son’s) and in typical Greek fashion sat next to him on a chair and talked and watched people go by. It’s the week before Easter and old ladies walk by and go to church. He knows them all but disregards most of them. He nodded to just one or 2 women and in my mind I ask is it because it is not polite to say hello to women in general? Or is it because he is not liked or he knows they don’t like him? I did not ask him but still wonder today? What is the Greek way of greeting women? After he closed his sons shop for the night, around 7pm I left and I took a shower at the hotel and the water came out of a handheld faucet and I had to stand over the toilet seat in order to let the water drain off my body. The all tile floor had a drain in the middle of the room but it did not work. It reminded me of Russia. The Hotel is only about 20 years old, how could they build it like that? Is that why the sons don’t want the hotel? Or is it that this hotel does not belong in a residential neighborhood like this especially when it has hardly any guests. Anyhow, I liked this place, it was just right for me. I slept well and my bike was parked in front of the place, in the street, and was perfectly safe.