Tag Archive: Ferry


Stage 1: Geneva to Stavanger

The first stage of my journey takes me from Lake Geneva region through Germany to Denmark and over the Baltic sea to southern Norway.

In brief here are a few stats:

  1. Over 2,000kms covered in 48 hours
  2. 995kms by motorcycle
  3. Overnight train and ferry
  4. Ride the Lysebotn (Lysevegen Road) with its 27 hairpin bends

And in pictures…

Packed and ready to leave on the first leg.

Packed and ready to leave on the first leg.

Checkin for the overnight train from Lörrach to Hamburg.

Checkin for the overnight train from Lörrach to Hamburg.

After a long hot night on the sleeper train, we arrived in Hamburg, Germany.

After a long hot night on the sleeper train, we arrived in Hamburg, Germany.

After long hot ride over 500kms through Denmark, we reach the port town of Hirshals.

After long hot ride over 500kms through Denmark, we reach the port town of Hirshals.

Preparing to board the Lysefjord ferry near Stavanger, Norway.

Preparing to board the Lysefjord ferry near Stavanger, Norway.

Under the towering cliffs you feel less than an ant, dwarfed by the sheer scale of the surrounding scenary.

Under the towering cliffs you feel less than an ant, dwarfed by the sheer scale of the surrounding scenary.

Hanging precariously 800m above the fjord, the Preikestolen is hard to miss. Renown as the most famous lookout point in Norway.

Hanging precariously 800m above the fjord, the Preikestolen is hard to miss. Renown as the most famous lookout point in Norway.

At the end of the Lysefjord is the Lysevegen Road with its 27 hairpin bends it snakes its way up the 900m ascent above Lysebotn.

At the end of the Lysefjord is the Lysevegen Road with its 27 hairpin bends it snakes its way up the 900m ascent above Lysebotn.

If you are not familiar with the terrain of Greece, Italy and Sicily then you may be forgiven for thinking that there aren’t so many mountains. Well I’m here to tell you different. Greece from head to toe is just mountains. Italy, well you can count the plains on one hand, and Sicily, the bends and tunnels never cease. This is coming from an Aussie who has spent the past two years in Switzerland riding the alps. So rest assured, if you are not a highway cruiser, then the back roads will be full of the still very authentic rural and rustic Mediterranean experience. Enough said. Since Pelopennese, the southern part of mainland Greece, where we spent several nights camping and the other part thereof drenched from head to toe and freezing from the torrential rains and flash flooding combined with single digit temperatures. So it’s no wonder why we took the ferry from Patra to Brindisi, in search of better weather. The only trouble is that to escape bad weather on a ship we had to go through it. And even the upgrade to a four berth cabin didn’t help. The turbulence, the creaking, the jostling, the clanging and the deep gutteral moans the Ionian Queen made as she crested and dived through the waves along the route to Italy was more than enough to keep one of us awake worrying about Francois below deck and whether we were about to re-enact the titanic, albeit on a much smaller scale…  Dawn broke and we saw land but Arja wasn’t happy until her feet were steadfast on the solid ground, and we were safely back on Francois. The only issue was that Italian customs needed to inspect the whole boat, what with 50+ trucks onboard, that took a while! Finally once off the boat, we waved farewell to our Italian duo from Roma also riding two-up on a GS, and we headed off in the wrong direction. I told you we should’ve keep following them, they know where they’re going, yells Arja through the intercom. Of course she was right, I was wrong and we did a u-turn on the freeway entry and back tracked the wrong way up the entry ramp all in true Italian style, afterall anything is permitted so long as you don’t get caught! This IS Italy, bienvenuti.

Sunset on the beach in Calabria, Francois gets a taste for sand and pebbles - Fully loaded too!

If the gusts of wind hurling us from side to side on the freeway didn’t get us, then the lunatic Italian drivers, screaming along the freeway at some ungodly pace did. It’s not often that I am caught unawares by drivers but in Italy it happens far too often for my comfort.

Next on the road was Ostuni, and if you have never heard of it then it’s probably because it’s more famous cousin, Alberobello boasting the Trulli houses overshadows this otherwise exquisite and gorgeous whitewashed town. It so happens that we rode on into town just as a parade was going on. Of course until this point we have been oblivious to all news and current events going on around us, including the riots in Rome, Mt Etna erupting and flooding in Catania. But we’re ignorant and we like^ it that way.

Onwards and upwards along the tight twisting back roads of Puglia we rode until Alberobello and the Trulli houses. But these weirdly constructed houses, reminding me of the Indian cow patty stacks were still used and lived in. Bizarre but true. The only thing to top off southern Italy would be some troglodytes, an exploding volcano and making Sicilian TV. Well guess what! Oh damn, there I go again blowing the story before I’ve even begun to tell it. Well it’s pointless saying this now but if you want the details then you’ll have to just keep reading.

By now you should know that I don’t write pace notes or keep a detailed roadbook of each and every turn and how many kilometres to this turnoff and to that road and so on, so for me to start now would be a waste of our time and we wouldn’t be enjoying our travelling, it would become too much hard work, and well I’m all about riding and experiences of new cultures and languages. If you’re not happy, then write me a letter. By the way did you check out our location map which is updated in realtime? I know it’s not perfect but it’s a start and yes there are some bugs…

So from Trulli we went to Sassi, the town known until the ’50’s as the malaria cesspit of Italy. The people had no electricity, sewerage or running water and were living in relative squalour. So a visit to the troglodyte dwellings of the Italian poverty from yesteryear was on the cards. The careful route planning was all prepared by my trusty and beloved co-pilot, all down to a tea. However it would be stupid to ignore ‘official’ hawkers seeking out tourists to sell them some accommodation or a guide to visit Matera, the modern town above the Sassi underworld and the caverns built into solid rock. We did our own tour by foot but upon our return to Francois, the offer of accommodation in a Sassi B&B cave sounded too good to pass up, so we were led astray to a cave room, right out of the Flintstones, complete with a shower embedded into the stone. All this for a mere 40 euros, well who are we to say no when it started at 80. We were tired and hungry and it was late, we caved, pun intended.

The next day was slow going from Puglia over the mountains via the smallest of small mountain roads to Calabria. It was slow, rough and at times felt endless, and we didn’t cover more than 300kms. Truly, the steep uphill blind hair-pin (switch-back) corners were a lot to handle, add the full weight of Francois and throw in some gravel to the mix and then add an earthquake to destroy the road and you’re starting to paint a picture. Then there are the Italians, cutting corners, herding goats and sheep and parking their cars in the middle of blind corners, to catch the unwary. After ten hours on the bike we were exhausted yet again and we bargained for our hotel room having circled three towns just to find all the camping sites closed, as hard as we could. The trouble with travelling quickly is that you need to adjust the budget accordingly, it’s fine to say let’s wild camp, but if you don’t have food and water and as we can’t carry much, it’s not always possible. So far this trip we have stayed in the same place only twice and now it’s the end of our twentieth day on the road. But before we found our hotel, we dabbled with the idea of sleeping on the beach, and almost did as the sandy detour with Francois was not far off being stuck in the soft dirty silicon.

Idyllic waters and the headland of Tropea Calabria

With our deadline for the ferry to Tunis looming over us, we decided to cut short our visit of Calabria and make straight for the ferry to Sicily. Only the day before in Sassi, an american couple had told us about Mt Etna recently erupting, and well, we didn’t believe them, so we decided to see it for ourselves. It turns out that Mt Etna did have a little spit and spew out some gases and ash but nothing serious.

Mount Etna 3329m spitting out ash and gases

On our way down from Mount Etna, we got lost and ended up in the town of Adrano on our way to Enna where we are staying tonight. As I was confused and wanted to check the map, I pulled Francois up by the reigns right smack bang in front of the Castle and directly opposite the town hall. Just at that very moment the Liberal party member Pietro and his journalist and camera-man walked out of the Municipal building and saw a sight for sore eyes and spotted an opportunity. That was us, two sunburnt, lost tourists with a big yellow motorcycle speaking not a word of Italian between them. Not to be camera shy, I accepted the request to tell all Sicilians how wonderful Ardarno, umm, Adrano is and what a beautiful castle they have, all on camera. So to all our Sicilian fans and to the greater Italian public that no doubt watches Sicilian regional TV of Adrano, we salut you and say G’day Mate!

Oh and for our efforts, the party member for the liberals gave us a clay mask of the devil, no we’re serious, photo will come soon, I promise.

Footnotes

^ Perhaps it is a bit tongue in cheek, but the truth of media is that it’s rarely telling the whole story, and if you were brought up to know that lying by omission is still a lie then by induction media are doing that, in portions that are just believable enough if you don’t know better or if you’re not really sure where the accounts are coming from.

Day 1, Saturday, 1st october

The alps to the Alpi apuane and Tuscany

We find ourselves now in the evocative region of Tuscany and the stunning mountain range of the Alpi and really what a change from Switzerland. The landscape went through such dramatic variations as we passed from the valley of the Rhone over the Alps then in the northern plains of Italy which are so hot and dry. Our route eminated the route that my parents took 30 years ago, almost day for day. It’s not the first time we will cover the tracks of my parents on this voyage of discovery through north Africa. But we leave them now as they took the boat from Genova and our trip now takes us deep into the tuscan hillside. We arrived at the Mediterranean sea just at the height of Livorno, following the autoroute until Aulla the gateway into the Alpi Apuane and northern Tuscany. We meandered our way to Bagni di Lucca and up to our pre-booked B&B at Cocciglia. Our hosts were waiting for us with big smiles at the entry to town, it was a good feeling to have arrived after what was a long eleven hour day and 648kms. The town was picutersque but tiny and our hosts insisted that we park Francois up the narrow laneway and in front of the house, with some careful manouvering he was tucked away for the night.

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Day 2, Sunday 2nd Oct

We rose for an early morning walk before breakfast to explore the tiny village and surrounds of Cocciglia, with only 14 inhabitants year long. The walk certainly brought on our appetite and the home made bread at our B&B was delicious. We left Cocciglia in the direction of Pistoia. By mid morning the Sunday traffic was already quite heavy and we knew it would be slow going to Firenze. Luckily we were going in the opposite direction to the Italian weekenders leaving the city life and heading for the hills. We used our newest gadgets, a GPS equiped Google Android tablet and 3G WIFI dongle to navigate into Firenze with unexpected ease. Our setup is also tracking our every move as we wander and meander our way through Southern Europe to North Africa.

In the center of Firenze we parked just a stones throw from Piazza del Duomo and locked up or helmets and the front tank panniers with the bicycle lock taking our valuables with us as we continued our tourism by foot. There would seem to be almost no ugly or uninteresting part to Italy, everywhere you look is one amazing sight after another buildings full of history and character. Without a doubt the Ponte Vecchio is the most famous bridge in Italy and rightly so.

Firenze to Chianti wine region, Greve in Chianti, Montevarchi, Arezzo, to the Parco di Livarno.

Campsite was closed so we headed to the top of the park where therwas some flat ground more suited to camping. Although the wild pigs and hooligans in their cars perturbed our tranquility which otherwise was a superb location with a crescent moon and a clear night and a sky filled with stars.

Day 3, Monday 3rd October

We woke to the gentle rustle of wind in the trees and a lot of relief knowing that dawn had come after a restless nights sleep. The morning on top of parco national di Livarno was fresh but with the promise of hot and dry day ahead. The telling factor was not just the bright orange sun but the lack of dew and especially the lack of condensation on the inside of our tent.

We decided to break camp and head straight into town and look for breakfast and coffee. Down the hillside we stopped for a picture of the Church we passed on the day before, a church  on the pillgrimage route of St Jacques de Compstelle.

We stopped in Castiglion Fiorentina at a busy little patisserie where locals were having their morning coffee standing at the counter. Our breakfast of coffee and pasteries was enough to get us going, we hopped back on Francois and headed for Cortona. Admittedly the whole region of which we know very little, and especially the less visited parts of Tuscany are amazing. Towns like Cortona, Gubbio and Greve in Chianti certainly warrant a less rushed visit, however our goal is to make our ferry for Greece and ultimately the Sahara.

We kept on whilst the going was good and as there was a lot less traffic on the minor roads the riding was most pleasurable.

At the checkin for our ferry to Igoumenista we met Dave, from UK on a BMW 1150GS, Mark from Switzerland on an Africa Twin and Lori also from the UK on a Yamaha Tenere all on their way to South Africa. On the boat we caught up with the trio and shared some of our experiences and talked through their travel plans. It is always nice to meet like minded souls on the road, it’s a kinship or brotherhood, not to be sexist but there is a kind of mateship even if we are complete strangers otherwise, brought together by a common interest.

The first thing we did onboard the ferry was get our 4 berth dorm and have a shower. The heat below deck coming from the engine room created a sauna like parking and we were both dripping with sweat.

Day 4, Tuesday 4 October

We disembarked at Igoumenitsa to the dawn of yet another beautiful day, greeted by a deep red sky over the Ionian coastline. Exiting the international port we said goodbye to our acquaintance, Stefan from St Gallen in Switzerland who was riding a Honda Firestorm equiped with an enormous rear one-piece saddle bag. The short ride to the domestic port of Igoumenitsa was already hot, making our riding gear stick to our skin.

We headed straight for the old town of Corfu and parked next to the fort towering over the city and a local food market selling fruit, vegetables and that mornings catch of fresh fish. I feel the true way to meet locals and gain a sense of a town or village is at the markets where they shop. The most marking thing so far of Greece are that almost no one wears a helmet. And even fewer are wearing any kind of protective clothing, perhaps understandable given the heat and inconvenience of it but this just demonstrates the lack of policing in Greece.

My first impressions of Corfu are much like any Mediterranean fortified town, the old town isn’t especially interesting but has a certain holiday feel about it, what with all the tourist shops and scooters. Leaving Corfu I was surprised to see eucalyptus trees along the roadside, the smell of the gums made me immediately homesick and all I felt like doing was sitting under the shade of the glorious trees chewing on their leaves like a Koala.

We left the island’s metropolis for the peace and quiet of the north-west. Barely out of town several motorcyclists overtook us at speed on the mountain roads, none of them had any helmet and not so much as a pair of sunglasses to protect their eyes.

Our swim in the sea at agios georgios beach was divine providing the much needed respite from the heat and humidity. After our bathing in the salty waters we went in search of a supermarket and a camping spot. Instead we found a sensatioal sunset on top of the hill in Afionas. Where we decided to spend the night.

To save a little we cooked our own dinner of Pork marinated Corfu style and a salmon steak to accompany our Greek salad and tzatsiki.

Wednesday 5th October

Beautiful breakfast of fruit salad and thick creamy yoghurt with honey and some unannounced intruders that decided to take a bath in Arja’s honey. The youghurt, which was more like the french fromage blanc, had a scoop of honey in the middle and looked a bit like a minature bird bath, or perhaps thought the wasp. The inscense brought out by the owner helped but these wasps (not wogs) were not to be deterred.

On our morning stroll through the Town of Afionas we noticed a high proportion of foreign land owners, which seems to be very much the trend and often they are the ones bringing in money that helps to restore old delapidated buildings and towns. On our way back to our accommodation at Porto Timoni we decided to have a rest day and stay a second night to relax, do our washing and go swimming. Of course the location and scenery had a lot to do with the decision but mostly we wanted to have a romantic and intimate weekend, just us and no riding, afterall we are in sorts turning a page, what with Arja having left her job, it’s a time to celebrate.

Walk down to the beach of Porto Timoni followed by a siesta and later some detailed route planning up into Albania.

Quite naturally a beer on the terrace restaurant led to a delicious meal from the family run restaurant of the same name as our accommodation.

Day 6, Thursday 6th October

Breakfast consisted of freshly squeezed orange juice, assorted fresh fruits, filtered coffee, honey youghurt and of course the annoying wasps… On our way out of Alfionas we headed to the north coast and the mountain village of Perithia. From there we took a dirt road that joined Petalia.

Hilltop lookout of Pantokratos which dominated the whole island with its telecommunications towers and baren brown hillside dotted with the odd shrub. Keen to make Albania we decided to skip the rest of Corfu and make straight for the port to catch our ferry back to mainland Greece.

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Even though our trip has had a rough outline for almost a year now, the detailed planning hasn’t really been possible until just several weeks ago. Why not? Well, if you’ve followed the news in Europe, North Africa and the Middle-East then you’d know that according to reports, the region is in turmoil^. This has made our planning extremely difficult to say the least. Our original plan was to ride the western Mediterranean through Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia then back to Europe via Italy or France. With the closure of borders to Syria and Libya and the cancellation of the ferry service from Alexandria, Egypt to Venice, Italy, this route was made virtually impossible (not to mention that visas for Syria are currently not being issued). The added headache regarding how to return from Egypt to Europe due to the cancellation of the passenger ferry meant that the only other option was to fly back and freight Francois, requiring significant time and paperwork.

Our backup route would take us to the western side of the Mediterranean, including Morocco and Tunisia. Less than two months ago we didn’t even begin to consider Algeria as an option. At first we thought it would be imppossible as no one we knew had travelled through Algeria in over a decade. Then when we realised it might be possible, we found out that there were almost no ferries running from Algeria outside of the peak summer season to mainland Europe, and what with the border between Algeria and Morocco being closed for the past 30+ years, we were short on time and solutions. Persistence and a lot of research has paid off; we are now almost set for Algeria, just waiting nervously for confirmation of our visas.

New route through North Africa

Route around the Mediterranean Sea

Route around the Mediterranean Sea

Visas

One of the least well known countries in North Africa would have to be Algeria. Having only recently come out of a 20 year long civil war and still not entirely open to tourism, it is no wonder why Algeria struggles to attract attention when it is overshadowed by Morocco to the west and Tunisia to the east as favoured tourist destinations by Europeans for decades. So why do we want to go? Well the answer is easy, because we want an adventure of course! But truly, we don’t know much about Algeria, it’s not even on the tourist map and the only people we know that have been to Algeria were there more than a decade ago. So given it’s not a tourist destination, it’s also not the easiest of places to self-drive with our own vehicle, and so wisely we have enlisted the help of a recommended travel agency based in Southern Algeria to accompany us and provide us with vital local knowledge and expertise. The visa requirements for Algeria are quite strict and without the support of an accredited travel agency, we would need to obtain a certificate of accommodation (Certificat d’hebergement) for every night we are in Algeria, we would also have needed a letter of invitation (Lettre d’Invitation) to accompany our visa applications. This still doesn’t guarantee that we would be issued with visas, so we went with the Travel Agency in order to have some credibility for our visa applications ensuring they would be taken seriously.

As of today, Arja has received her visa, however I am still waiting for mine. It’s only 4 days until we leave and I am pretty anxious about getting my passport back. The visa, and my passport, is still with the Algerian Consulate here in Geneva and is the missing link in our North African adventure and without it, we will have put off a lot of planning and to prepare a plan C, just in case. Now that we are so close and it looks like we will be going through Algeria,  it is very exciting and I have butterflies in my stomach and I can’t sleep at night. Who would’ve thought that a little piece of paper could put us on such a knife’s edge.

As for the other countries, Tunisia and Morocco there is not need for a visa, so that makes it a lot simpler. Although that said, the day after we arrive in Tunis, there will be elections and judging by previous unrest resulting in strict curfews these elections may prove to be more than just a nuisance.

Equipment & Preparation

We are essentially undertaking an expedition into the Sahara and like any adventure into remote arid desert regions respect for our environment is paramount to our success and also to our survival. We have made several, albeit small but important changes, to ensure we are adapted to the climate and conditions of the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains. The temperatures are likely to fall below 0° degrees Celsius at night and may range up to or even above 30° during the day. Water and carrying enough has always been a difficultly especially when we are already fully laden and packed to the brim. The addition of tank panniers at the front of the bike will help with carrying extra supplies and water, if Arja doesn’t fill them with baklava and other sugery sweets behind my back! We will need to change to desert going tyres and regularly check our air filter to ensure it is clean. All of which will count when we’re lost knee deep in Saharan Quicksand.

We’ve done it before, so why the anxiety?

Well it’s simple, each trip is different, our trusty stead is not new any more, he has clocked up over 70,000kms and with recent issues† we are still a bit apprehensive about Francois’ mechanical and electrical state. We are also going through some very troubled regions. Together with the unpredictable nature of motorcycle travel, and our limited window of leave, we are trying to fit in a lot in a short amount of time. But most of all I can’t leave without my passport that is still with the Algerian Consulate in Geneva, pending issue of my tourist visa!!

Footnotes

^ The following are sample reports of turmoil in the regions from Europe, to the Middle-East and North Africa; Arab Spring, Greek Riots, Spanish Protests, Libyan Civil War, Egyptian Revolt – Mubarak, Syrian Revolution, Tunisian Reform.

† Fuel Pump Controller failed for the second time, closely followed by the battery and the ABS unit. We also had to replace the rear brake disc that was out of spec. During the ABS unit replacement, the BMW dealer also performed two recalls on Francois. All in all we should be set, but it’s never a certainty. Of course, having all these issues happen whilst at home are so much better than on the road leaving us stranded.

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