Day 16 – Wednesday 4th April – Riding into Istanbul – Susan

Forget the French and the Italians the most dangerous  so far (we have yet to get to China) are definitely the Istanbul drivers. Simon was riding David’s bike so  I had David  as an essential co-pilot in a white knuckle drive following the bikes on a two hour drive through the suburbs,.

Forget Gallipoli as we a small band of brothers ( and sister) battled, dodged and fought   our way into the city through the throngs of whirling Turks; no lane markings, white and silver cars weaving in and out of the bikes and van, funneling into  ever more narrow streets. The noise of battle was terrific , the smells assailed us The unnervingly calm voice of Sat Nav Sally continued  to interject crazy directions-  turn right then right again- what across 8 lanes of crazy drivers straight into the arms of the police guarding the Syrian peace talks. Peace talks! we were still several near death experiences short of the hotel. Suddenly a taxi clipped our leaders pannier  a heroic struggle ensued, Brave Richard regained his balance and we all breathed again.

We struggled on, Nick and Christian using the van as  protection, nipping in and out for brief skirmishes; Simon was  running shotgun for John, tooting manically. The hot afternoon wore on, Sally sat nav died,  we were now in the smaller streets  engaged in close combat. One by one the bikes started to overheat, we regrouped and mounted the final assault on the hotel from different directions, re- armed with a tourist street map.

As we parked the van  in a magnificent last flourish and fell out, we were clapped by the local residents and one, immediately sensing a  business opportunity, offered David a hair cut!

We are now investigating ferry routes out of the city.

 

Day 14 – Monday, April 2 – Vergina to Alexandropolis, Greece – Dave

Two weeks into our journey a diurnal rhythm has emerged –  8:30 breakfast (including a briefing on the day ahead by Richard, who has generously taken responsibility for most route planning and hotel booking).  9:30 – hit the road.  Mid morning – coffee break.  Light lunch at least-bad roadside cafe.  Mid-afternoon – coffee break.  Roll into hotel circa 4 or 5.  Shower, catch up with emails blogs etc.  Group dinner at 7:30.

Susan asked whether it’s possible to enjoy the scenery while riding.  The answer is ‘yes’.  Although riding requires constant focus on the road ahead, somehow one also absorbs the broader panorama.  It’s not at all like being in a car because (as on a bicycle or horse) you don’t just see it, you feel it – the weather, the smells, the splat of the bugs…  And, of course, there’s no distracting radio or conversation.  So, a very different experience of the world from that of the car driver, but (for me at least) more intense and memorable.

And, because of the focus and physical involvement, the hours fly by.

Today we started by riding through wide, flat, fertile valleys, then Susan chose a route away from the sea and up into the mountains.  Fabulous riding.  And all the villages were more attractive and better tended than any we’ve seen so far in Greece.

One curious development in Greece is the evolution of the roadside shrine.  These used to be made of wood and local stone, hence each was unique and blended to some extent with its environment.  Now they are bought pre-made and constructed from brightly colored plastic…

Hey ho…such is ‘progress’.

Ended our day in a modern seaside hotel outside Alexandropolis, positioned to hit the Turkish border first thing tomorrow morning.

Best to you all,

Dave

Day 13 – 1st April – Rest day in Vergina Greece – Susan

Having only just joined the group am honoured to be asked to be guest blogger- of course have greased my way into their good graces by bringing 7  very large jars of soothing  nappy cream with me , and industrial amounts of immodium.

bottom or psedocream

Today we stayed in Vergina where in 1977 the tomb of Philip the 2nd of Macedonia was found. Philip was Alexander the Great’s dad, he had a gammy leg, one eye  and 7 wives or so they say, around here. One wife conspired to have him killed in the local theatre by one of his guards. I think its the wife played by Angelina Jolie in the rather dreadful Alexander movie.  Another wife probably committed suicide.on Philip’s death and is buried in the neighbouring tomb. Herodotus records apparantly that wives did have to follow their eminent husbands to Hades! Feminism not noted in ancient Greece, there was also a rather extraordinary statue  in one tomb of a Greek soldier strangling an amazonian woman ! A local peninsula with many monastaries does not allow any women in the area, so fear of  strong women may not be just  an ancent Greek phenomenon.!

The third opened tomb is of a young royal male, possible Alexander the Great’s son.

As well as the tombs the museum displays many of the artefacts found. Nothing about

a golden necklace

the rather plain exterior of the tumulus or village prepares you for the wonderful riches within. Many of the tombstones have paintings and sculptures,the names still clearly apparant and critically Greek! Philip and Alexander are claimed as defintely Greek  and, as the guide said,  not some  pale wannabe macedonians of latter years.

 

Persephone captured by Pluto wall painting in one of the tombs

 

One of the larger tombs has wall paintings of Persephone’s capture and  decent into Hades. These date from the 4th century BC; the colours  still vivid, with definite prespective,the depicted emotions complex and beguiling.  The face of the grieving  mother, Demeter, is especially touching with dignity and pathos. Within the royal tombs were found  golden quivers and bronce armour and golden caskets for the bones of the dead. The funeral cloth of purple and gold in which the wife’s bones were wrapped is still sumptous. In contrast there are some simple but beautifully designed silver drinking tankards and wine glasses. Would not look out of place in a scandinavian design shop.

silver drinking vessel

But  there are some items that no pictures or descriptions that can do justice, you will just have to all come and see them for yourself!

There are several items of golden jewellery  there is a larnyx , a diadem and several golden necklaces They are of exquisite craftmanship with oakleaves and flowers and even  tiny bees The flowers are fixed on tiny springs so that when the wearer moved the whole Larynx would shimmer. Each individual piece is astonishing – nothing subtle about it though- couldn’t get away with it in inner city Bristol on a friday night or even  at the Oscars.

The other items of extraordinay beauty and skill are the many small sculptures in ivory of peole animals gods and heroes- each face different, detailed folds of cloth hair and expression. so many  thousands of years old and yet still so alive!

Many thanks to David Norgrove who told us to come here!!

Philip's quiver

Local waterfalls are full with snow-melt, the blossom is  out, the vines are budding and poppies and dandelions grace the road sides but the villages look poor and unkemptwith many discarded buidlings and rubbish around, the poverty is not picturesque. The people however have been out of their way friendly. Off East towards the Turkish border tomorrow in the tracks of the Saracens, Basil the Bulgar slayer  and other defeated hordes.

Days 11 & 12 – March 30 & 31 – Bari to Trans-Adriatic Ferry to Vergina, Greece – Dave

Thursday night we took a taxi into the lovely little town of Polignano – ancient and perched dangerously on a cliff above the ocean.

 

We ate at a tiny Osteria.  What a discovery!

The chef is a nervous, bespectacled, crop-haired, 30 something genius who once worked in Harrogate.  The owner is Michele, who looks like Dustin Hoffman in Kramer v Kramer and, it soon transpired, rides a BMW.  On learning that we were en route to China, Michele told us that we were living his dream and he called his 2 biking pals to tell them to come and meet us.  They didn’t speak English and we don’t ‘t speak Italian, so we all smiled at each other and nodded a while, then showed off photos of our motorbikes – international male bonding, but didn’t feel like something ‘real bikers’ would do.   While this was going on, Michele talked fast to his friends in Italian and gestured at us.   He was  clearly saying ‘Look, if these old bastards can do it, how hard can it be?’.

The meal was outstanding  – the best so far – and we decided to return soon.  So…

Friday lunchtime, after a quiet morning catching up on emails, doing grocery shopping etc., we rode back into Polignano and the chef confirmed his genius with a series of even more tasty and innovative dishes.  If only we could take him with us…

Later we rode back to Bari and onto the ferry…

View From Ferry Cabin

 

…bound for Igoumenista in Northern Greece.

A calm overnight crossing, landed circa 7AM.

Spectacular snow-capped mountains to the east where we were headed.  The motorway was wonderful – we had it pretty much to ourselves, the other drivers were NOT ITALIAN and the views were jaw-dropping.

Welcome to Greece

 

As we climbed into the mountains, the early-morning temperature, already chilly, dropped steadily till our gauges flashed to warn us it was 0 degrees C.  But the stunning, mist-shrouded views compensated for our well-chilled bones.

For hours there were few signs of life – just the occasional small farm or shepherd’s house.  This is beautiful but rugged and inhospitable land.

Finally the road swooped down from the mountains through a series of villages that were  all built since WWII – sad-looking and shoddy – stucco peeling from breeze block walls, abandoned commercial buildings,  piles of trash etc.  Apart from the hugely expensive and practically unused motorway, Euro-money doesn’t appear to have benefited the people here.

Richard led us off the motorway, through yet another sad village, and up a narrow, winding side-road.  Not at all promising.  But suddenly, on the hilltop ahead, was a curious, multi-colored building – our hotel.

Our Hotel Near Vergina

Thomas, a 40 year-old member of the local family that owns the hotel, came out to great us in a broad Midlands accent.  Turns out he did A levels in Coventry and a degree in technology and business at Warwick University.  His younger brother, who studied architecture in England, designed the hotel, that was completed 4 years ago,  Sadly, it seems that business has not been good in these troubled times and Thomas’s anxiety re. their prospects was close to the surface.

As soon as we checked in, Simon headed off to Thessalonika to collect Susan at the airport.  They returned at dinner time.  Great to see Susan, but it  It appears that even her presence is not going to be enough to rescue the tone of the conversation that has sunk to third form level.

Best to you all,

Dave