France, Italy and Greece


Saturday, 28th of April. We're at the gate of Asia, in Istanbul. All is well. We spent the last three weeks in the company of my father who rode his Harley with us from the North of Spain to Istanbul. Since he is unfortunately not as systematically on vacation as certain other people, he had to part from us here, leaving with some regrets about not having the time to ride on with us, as well as the intention to join us again.

We left from Ampuriabrava on the 5th of April, heading for Montpellier, Baux de Provence, Le Lavandou and on to Cannes. I spent three years in Montpellier as a student, so it was quite a pleasure to revisit old haunts and entertain Ellen and my father with some previously unreleased horror stories about my admittedly exemplary student existence. In Baux, we met a group of friends from Luxembourg, continuing the next day with a bit of a hangover (all quite in line with tradition), concluding the french part of the trip in Cannes, where we were very warmly welcomed by my aunt and uncle at their summer residence.

From Cannes, we rode into Italy, another one of the very much anticipated destinations on our trip, to a large extent because of the Italian food and wine. We were not disappointed. Pisa, Florence, Siena and Tuscany in general are every bit as spectacular as we expected, the wine was good and the riding pleasant. For spirited riding, we can recommend the Chiantigiana to Siena, the S73 to Montalcino, and the Via Appia between Potenza and Matera. Unfortunately, there were way too many tourists everywhere which tended to spoil the pleasure somewhat, but especially during the Easter Days, this is probably difficult to avoid.

Florence is the city that wins the prize for some of the most hair raising driving ever witnessed : The quantity of scooters buzzing around like mosquitoes combined with the rather dubious quality of driving make riding a motorcycle in Florence during rush hour an experience not easily forgotten. On our way south, we visited Naples and Pompeii, before arriving in Brindisi where we caught a boat to Patra, Greece.

Neither Ellen nor I had ever been to Greece, so the country was a fabulously pleasant surprise. The riding in Italy had already been good, but the riding in the Peloponnes (the southern part of Greece) was spectacular. It's worthwile planning two weeks just to explore the curvy backroads, tiny mountain villages and spectacular scenery. Next time, hopefully. We continued to refresh our knowledge of classic culture by visiting ancient Olympia and Mt.Olympus. We even managed to sneak in a bit of hiking and religious history at the St. John the Baptist Monastery near Stemnitsa. The region is so rich in history as to make it difficult to decide which sites to see, but considering our timeframe, we like to think we did a reasonably decent job. Culture still makes us thirsty, just in case anybody wondered, although we really cannot recommend Ouzo (or Raki, for that matter) as a thirst quencher. Evil liquids.

The ride through Northern Greece was uneventful, a bit rainy, and very windy. We liked Thessaloniki, mostly because of its very active nightlife. From Thessaloniki, we rode in two days to Istanbul, concluding the ride through the South of Europe with quite exactly 5.000 km covered, bringing the total distance to 42.000 km in almost nine months.

In Istanbul, following a recommendation from a friend in Luxembourg, we were received by a Turkish architect named Halit Er, who went out of his way to make our stay as enjoyable as possible, taking us to the untouristed restaurants full of happy local Turkish people singing and dancing, and showing us the sights. At age 77, he still managed to wear Ellen and me out, during a one day cultural marathon through some of Istanbuls major museums and a visit to the Bazaar. At the Bazaar, his influence convinced one bazaari, an old acquaintance and proprietor of a fabrics shop, to offer Ellen a silk velvet tissue she fancied as a gift.

We will stay a few more days in Istanbul, as there is still much to see. From here, we plan to ride to Cappadocia and on to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Following reports from Iranian friends, we decided not to ride through Iran as the political situation has been deteriorating. In Azerbaijan, we will take the ferry to Turkmenistan and ride east. More good times ahead.

Stay tuned.
Ellen & Manou