Venturing out of the city

October 27th, 2009

Experiencing a bit of the roads over last few days we decided to get back onto the streets and go further a field and see what was beyond Athens city. We headed towards the coast, not really knowing where we were going we drove for around an hour and stumbled upon a little café selling cheese pies which we had to try for breakfast. Sitting on a quiet-ish road side eating our breakie and drinks we asked a waitress of where the nearest beach was, amongst her great pointing attempt at English we realised we weren’t far away at all.
About 10 minutes drive we found a little harbour where cafes, hotels and fishing boats were. We stopped here for a little walk where we saw a crisp clear ocean with much sea life, several Apache style helicopters circling from the local army base, loads of dogs just strewn across car parks and beautiful hills appearing out of the sea we took a few photos before heading back to the car.
Following the coast seeing/smelling fuel refineries and amazing ways of life we found our first super market; My Market. Where we bought once more some food to try and a few presents.
We headed back to the hotel and got prepared for a night out in the city. We went in on the tram system for ease. The square was buzzing with life, people going in and out of very expensive chocolate and designer stores. After walking around for a while a Greek man noticed us looking a little confused; we could see little restaurants and pointed at a little pizza place that didn’t look very appealing. He opted to point us in the right direction by walking us to a lovely restaurant he recommended. A couple of streets across we were in an area we were familiar too as we had taken a few photos on foot earlier and passed through on the train. Yet again greeted by an old Greek man very proud to shake hands and be nice… as they do! We sat down and were being recommended our starters, mains and wine but decided to be a little decisive which didn’t seem to go down too well. We decided to have his recommended salad and cheeses but all had a different main, chicken & pasta, Mousaka, Chicken with potatoes and Pork steak which disappointingly turned out to be a normal pork chop!
Determined not to be fleeced we were still shocked at the 102euros it cost us; not realising they had charged us for the various little nibbled they plonked on our table! We were given a little glass of murky Ouzo which wasn’t as strong as Sambuca even though still at 40%; it tasted a little weird and I couldn’t stomach it!
We paid up and went for a little walk, trying to find somewhere we could have a little taste of their sweets for the first time. Finding very little open we came across one shop just closing and ran in for a few nibbles.
After spending a while in the square taking night shots we decided to call it a night and head back home on the tram; trying our ticket in the ticket validation machines we realised it was 1Euro return and it had stamped us for the journey back; making it an even bigger bargain considering the taxi the night before cost us 20Euros for no more than a 2mile/5 minute drop off.

Athens City Rush

October 26th, 2009

Started the day with the most gorgeous power shower which freshened me up and it looked like the day was going to be a good one, it was wet but clearing up outside.
We went up to the top floor to have a look over the city where all we could see were masses of white houses for as far as the eye could see. Next block over was the tram line so we headed off to the city centre on that, at only 1Euro each return it was at last a bargain!
The tram pulled in at Syntagma Square, opposite the parliament buildings. A stall sold what looked like pretzels and various other Greek bakery produce so we opted to have this for our breakfast.
Aiming for the Acropolis we were unsure of where to turn amid the mass rush and luckily noticed a little touristy train which went around various streets of Athens allowing us to stop off and soak up the local culture. Our first stop was at a little market and small shops outside an ancient library in ruins. Here there were few beggars who made you feel guilty of their despair but knew getting your wallet out would have been a brave mistake.
We headed off into the square where there were streets of shops, stalls and food kiosks. After walking around for a while we stumbled upon a Greek kebab shop where yet again an old man lured us in. He too recommended us a typical dish on salads, various meets and sauces which we felt a little anxious about wondering if we were going to be fleeced again. The man assured us by stating we should only order enough for 3 people as this would have been sufficient. The food came along shortly comprising of chicken, lamb, spicy sausage, chips, red onion and tomato. It was a very nice taster of local food.
We continued to shop amongst the rain which started to thicken as the afternoon progressed. We headed back to the train hoping to get a glimpse of the Acropolis after getting a few presents and personal memoirs.
At this point it was lashing down and we all felt a little disappointed that we were not prepared for the occasion with clothing etc. So we headed back to the start point.
All a little thirsty we found a little café where Greek coffees, beer and ‘Coke Cola’ were bought!
Suddenly the rain had passed so we set off on foot to the Acropolis. Going through very windy, tight Greek alleys we ascended the mountain that the Acropolis was on, but still no real sign of how to get there. After trying a few routes and speaking to several locals who were more than delighted to point us in the right direction we were at the gates of the Acropolis. The walk through the gardens was amazing, reading the history and seeing the effort involved in creating the marble work was astonishing. We came across an Amphitheatre on the edge of the hill which was near on fully preserved.
We took the last climb to the top of the Acropolis where we were taken by surprise of the sights surrounding us, apart from the beauty of the Acropolis itself, every bit of flat land, hillside for as far as the eye could see was covered by 4-5 story buildings. It was a mass white sheet. The Acropolis looked amazing amid the sunset where I managed to hopefully get a few nice shots. It started to get a little overcast and cool so we decided to make our way back. Due to mom suffering with her feet we found a taxi to take us back to the hotel.
The evening thereafter was a little bit wasted as we were all a little tired but unsure of where or what to do as moms feet were not going to be able to cope with much more walking for the day. We sat in our room drinking Ouzo, red wine and eating various produces we had picked up throughout the day.

A quick flight to Athens

October 25th, 2009

Awaking too early as my phone had not correctly updated itself I decided to try to get the extra hour before I really had to be up. Waking this time at 2.45am by dad knocking on my door I felt quite awake and ready for the break.
Last minute checks and we were off, I decided to drive and actually got all the way to Birmingham without feeling tired; it was a holiday record!

Going through numerous checks including the near on complete strip down; where I had to get my laptop out of the bag, chain off, belt off, everything out of my pockets, coat off etc etc we sat in the lounge for only about 10 minutes before getting onto our KLM flight to Amsterdam. Set off in sun rise heading over Norwich way with little turbulence and a weird breakfast; 45 minutes later we were landing, 15 minutes later the plane had actually parked. Seems weird that it takes 15 minutes for a plane to get around an airport, 45 minutes to get from Redditch to Birmingham via car yet only 45 minutes to get from Birmingham to Amsterdam via a plane; amazing!
Amsterdam seemed a very rich fertile place with large estuaries all of which was very flat, that was about as much we saw as we had to go straight to our next boarding area.
Jodie had bought a bottle of water at the last airport as part of package little realising it would be taken off our hands soon as we tried to board our next plane. The deal wasn’t so much of a deal after all and didn’t we know about it… Jodie wasn’t impressed we could get scissors, a laptop and mobile phones through but not a bottle of water; whatever happed to our 5 basic needs!
Before long it was time to fly again, this time a 3.5 hour flight to Athens. The flight went smoothly with sandwiches, a chocolate brownie and various drinks. Flying over the Alps it was most picturesque, still with lots of snow on the peaks even though it is end of summer.
Landed at a very wet Athens airport at around 2.30pm local time, which including losing 2 hours through time difference.
Soon found our car in the car park which was a Seat Leon, looking relatively new yt somewhat battered!
We precariously joined the motorway and set towards Athens central where we were greeted with mayhem! Never seen anything like it, cars everywhere but in a lane, bikes going through red lights, horns sounding left right and centre for no apparent reason. Taking a few wrong turns was a big mistake, taking a three right turns you would assume would get you right back on track but that was not the case, it was near on impossible to find the route again. Eventually after asking 2 people who sent us in different directions we found the hotel, or so we thought… Turned out to be the Convention centre, but we knew we couldn’t be far away at all; or so we hoped after it taking some 4 hours to get where we are. We booked in and realised an extra charge was required for parking the car at 19Euros per night. The car park had a Hummer, Maserati 4.2l, Porsche 911 GT; but thankfully several other low key cars like ours too.
The hotel was 5 stars alright, with Concierge, large open areas, glass lifts, marble walk ways and that typical business vibe.
We got our room keys and settled in before going out for a meal, not knowing where to hell to go the concierge got us a taxi to a local Greek restaurant which was family run. Down a back street we were greeted with rain and a typical old Greek man. The food was nice and well priced, or so we thought; our first mistake was asking him to provide us with his recommended house wine, not realising until they has 2 bottled down them it was 25euros a bottle totalling our menu at 120Euros! We had a mixture of salads, lamb special, Mousaka and Bolognaise.
We headed back to the hotel and went to bed after arranging tomorrow.

Module 1 Motorcycle Training

October 24th, 2009

Started the day early as I had my DAS training, as per usual I was running late and found myself rushing around at 8.30 looking for important documents and protective clothing as the rain was pouring down.
I got to RMT a little later than normal but luckily not too late.
Soon got dressed up and ready, more-so than RMT as they had got me the wrong bike!
There was another lad with us for the morning who was preparing for his Mod 2, so we stayed around Redditch and Bromsgrove covering typical test routes. The weather was quite dismal but was a great experience to have covered it now rather than on my test for the first time. It didn’t seem as bad as first thought, although you have to be cautious of the wet, a bike still has a lot of grip.
Before long it was lunch time, I felt more confident than ever before, but still not entirely comfortable, realising I was having to over stretch for the clutch meaning I wasn’t using it correctly and still not slipping it enough.
We prepared the bike with a strong cable tie to help me out with the clutch and headed off to the Mod 1 test centre where I will be having a taste of the circuit; comprising of several module including pushing the bike, weaving in and out of cones, figure of 8, emergency stop, swerve manoeuvre, u turn and walking pace.
I struggled a little with the figure of 8 but felt very confident that I will be ok on my test. We headed back to Redditch and unfortunately started to splutter a little bit, suddenly losing all power and realising that the bike had been on reserve all day; meaning I had no reserve to get to any fuel station so had to drain a couple of litres out of the other bike.
By 4.30 I was home and knackered as usual, once more finding muscles I never knew I had!
It was all a mad rush preparing for the holiday as I hadn’t done anything yet.
By around 10.30 I had been to Tesco for last minute things, had a shower, packed my bag had yet another take away and ready for bed.

The Long Journey Back

June 27th, 2009

Started the day with normal breakfast, packed the Landy and headed for the border of France up the valley. We drove for approx 30 minutes crossing down through a lovely picturesque valley stopping off up a track for 11 seconds. We drove for a couple of hours dropping into a nice French village which had a market on we walked round and bought a French stick for lunch. As we came out of the shop down the one way street Sharon an Richard came by and stopped. Asking how they were doing, Sharon seemed to be struggling a little but is made of stronger stuff than us! We said our goodbyes and carried on to a lovely river where we had lunch when we pulled up we drove a little way into the river realising it was very rocky bottomed reversed out and had our stick with soup an Pringles mmmm lovely! A man was down by the river in a car but after a while he came and babbled something in French then took numbers of the cars and the bike on the back; strange!
We drove for a couple more hours stopping for walk around a shopping centre. A little more driving before finally getting our just deserved STRAWBERRIES mmm! A little while later we were on outskirts of Bordeaux where we pulled in for the night stop had quick shower and when Porl got out he thought the window was still open so popped his head out of the window and ended up banging his head causing us both to laugh hysterically – as I had shut it hoping to cool room with air conditioning.
At 2000h we walked to a nice little French restaurant sat outside and had beautiful meal, I would say it was the best of the trip so far. We took a gentle stroll back to hotel and got ready for early start tomorrow.

Ski Slopes

June 26th, 2009

Woke earlier than the alarm but still feeling tired with all the late nights and early mornings, got ready as usual followed by a poor breakfast. We were shocked of hearing that Michael Jackson had died and it wasn’t long before I had received 2 jokes regarding him and kids. Set the bikes ready for a 1030h leave, we had decided to head off for the ski slopes. The first track lead through some back streets of Panticosa and the village next to it. The first bit looked like a footpath leading from the top of the village to the bottom, it was very steep with water channels very so often which flung us in the air.
The start of the track was very easy for rider and passenger as we wound up the mountain hillside taking in breath taking scenery of the blue lake and massive mountains.
Pantecosa Resevoirs

Porl and I headed off in front of the others and saw a very hairy looking beaver type animal. We headed deeper up into the mountains where the scenery just got better and better, before long we were on the ski slopes and every so often there were snow cannons which looked quite weird. We came across a group of wild horse and several fowl. We first stopped by a large crystal clear lake where Porl spotted another beaver like creature but less hairy.

We took several photos and chatted about skiing for a while before deciding to go up the last stint to the piste, again Porl and I left before the other to give us a head start up the very steep mountain. It was quite comical trying to get up as we needed the speed but it was a little bumpy. Half way up we noticed one of the beavers dead in the path and shortly after Porl had to start riding the clutch but we ran out of steam and started rolling backwards where I had to jump off very quickly.
Only having to walk 30 yards or so I jumped back on before we reached the top where the views were out of this world. Again we took several photos including a go at panoramic.
Pantecosa Panoramic

We had a spot to eat which all we had with us was some Bombay mix which I ripped the bag open by mistake.
After dinner we slowly headed down, passing the dead animal I had to take photos! We next headed off towards the ski carts to have a little look, before heading back down to the bottom where we had a lovely ice cream in a bar where we sat in the sunshine and decided what to do next. We thought we would have a little drive around to find a new restaurant but had no luck due to it being out of season. So before long we were in the hotel garden drinking and deciding what to really do for tea. The gentleman here was very good with English and we learnt a bit from him, one of the things he said was the beaver type animal is a Marmot (Marmota marmota). We decided to go back where we went last night for tea and have a la carte.
It was about 1815h by the time we had finished the drinks and headed back to the rooms for a rest where Porl and I fell asleep for about 30 minutes. Porl had a bath again then I had a shower and watched strongest man for a while before meeting up for tea.
We were quite disappointed by the a la carte so decided to have the same menu as last night. This got me a little worried as the fish I had intended to have was not on the menu, after deciding to have what we thought was char-grilled pork he said the fish was available so I had that, not taking in Clive’s advice from last night that “you can’t go wrong with pork”!
The starter was really nice and so was the fish so I was quite happy, the pork turned out to be a really nice piece of beef steak apparently. We all finished our desserts and chatted for a while before heading back to the hotel to pay up as Russell and Pat are leaving at 0600h in the morning. We said our goodbyes before deciding to write today’s blog. The room had a mixture of flies, moths and daddy long legs which Porl was trying to batter to death with a towel whilst I tried to write the blog. It is now 2333h and I am all done for the night.

First Time For Everything…

June 25th, 2009

Woke at 0730h started to pack the bags for our next hotel, met for breakfast at 0800h very nice it was too, Richard appeared to tell us of his plans and that Sharon could not walk so they were going to stop where they were and have the day to rest Sharon’s leg and he was going to fetch the Duke from Pamplona to see if Sharon would be able to get on it when needed, so we packed the Landy up paid the bill and headed off.
We were soon on our first track and started to climb was getting pretty good Clive was leading when he came to a stop because a bike was coming towards us the lad pulled up next to us and in his best English said that the track would be very hard for our cars it was only just passable on a bike so he said not to carry on so we turned round and did a little road work, the tracks where not too bad today, some were better than others. We had a little drive up a river, up the side of a rock face, all in the name of off roading. At lunch stop I really needed to do something that I had never done before, turns out bears are not the only ones to do it in the woods!
We did 150 miles today approx 65ish off road. At approx 1730h we started to head for the Hotel in Panticosa which is a nice little Skiing resort with the chair lifts etc still in place.
The Hotel is ok, but they didn’t do evening meal so we had a little walk into town. What a disappointment it was for me, I chose the wrong dish as the waiter could not explain it too well and Clive saying you can’t go wrong with Pork; I ended up with pigs trotter – just fat and bone… MMMMM! We spoke to Sharon and Richard to see how they were and they said Richard is fetching the BMW in the morning and Sharon will try the Ducati by lunch time to let us know how they are planning on getting back.

A Bloody Tough Cookie

June 24th, 2009

Got up normal time but feeling really tired today, Porl went to see if Pool was open but it sadly opened at 1000h. Got ready for breakfast which turned out to be amazing with plenty of choice from dried fruit to hot buffet, cereals to croissants, toast to cold meats. None of us wanted to leave but started to get bikes ready deciding we were only going out for a couple of hours.
Set off at 1045h, 15 minutes later than planned yet still feeling a little rushed for some.
Headed off towards a hill at the top of the hotel which was really rocky and bumpy to the point I kept loosing my footing and on one occasion I kicked Porl’s hands off the bars with both of us totally out of control we just started pissing ourselves with laughter. Came to a challenging spot after flying up the hill with ease as there were a few fallen trees in the way. This is where I got on foot and the bikers enjoyed the challenging routes around them, where i got a few good shots. Sharon over riding a lump and ending up way amongst the bushes was very amusing. Finally reached the road after getting around 5 fallen trees and thought I had lost my glasses so all followed our footsteps not finding them I looked deeper into my bag and stupidly found them.
Followed the road around which was mostly rocky but easier, going through a reserve we reached the top of another mountain and started heading down the other side. Coming to one bend we noticed Sharon on her side, she had taken the corner approach wrong and too fast as there was a lot of loose gravel on the track. She had taken a nasty gash to her knee but played it off as nothing had happened, Porl had a proper look and realised she had to go to hospital.. we couldn’t believe how she had taken it and wanted to continue to ride even without cleaning it. After a little heated argument Porl, Richard, Sharon and I headed off the mountain leaving Russell and Clive to continue whilst we headed for Jaca hospital. Reaching the hospital about 1430h we left Richard and Sharon to it whilst we go her passport, clothes etc. What a palaver all this was but had to be done. Clothes were in room but had no key, Passport was in Pinz but no one about or no keys. We blagged our way into room and got a few things before heading back off to hospital. Waited around until about 1615h after a X-ray and 20 something stitches, Sharon still wanted to ride but had been advised to take it easy fir 24 hours at least. Doctor seemed really friendly and helpful. Headed into Jaca to get pain killers before getting back to hotel.
After getting back to the hotel much later than planned Porl and I got ready for the pool which turned out to be a nightmare as the outside pool was being repaired and the indoor one turned out to be an expensive spa for 24Euros for 90 minutes. We scrambled back into the changing rooms before running to the bar. We sat and drank for a couple of hours before having another lovely meal.
After dinner had finished we all sat outside for half an hour drinking wine Anne and Pat had bought from Jaca earlier.
Settled down for bed around 0000h with the intentions of Porl riding his bike with Sharon in the Landy with me tomorrow as she was starting to struggle to walk with the leg stiffening.

A Long Day

June 23rd, 2009

Got up normal time of around 0730h and went straight for breakfast, which was the normal toast and cereals. Clive nicked some bread and ham for his sandwiches! The bill seemed really expensive at 330e for 3 nights.
Seemed a long time everyone getting ready, as usual we seemed to be hanging around for an hour or so as we are well prepared. Bad case of flies around us whilst waiting, seemed that Sharon had rubbed something in my hair night before! Just before leaving we all had a group photo with the peanut man and saw a Jay which I tried to take a photo of too.
Set off on the back road to Hecho then off into the mountains heading towards Jaca where we are to stay for 2 nights. Some very dusty tracks but interesting to drive as we had to dodge so many pot holes. Stopped on a narrow track for a cuppa and rich tea, which was cut short by a wide load combine harvester, so we set off again and went through several farm fields and shingle hills before stopping at a road side under trees for dinner. Tried the cheese we bought on the first day which was nice, but not as strong as it smelt.
Set off again towards a little village which had several tracks leading out the back of it, but came across the long awaited monastery which was beyond belief how it was set on the mountainside in amongst the rock face. Camera died here unfortunately so was a mad panic to charge again. Soon came to difficult sections which was nice and challenging but possible. Clive went off whilst we stayed in a field to check if track was passable, Clive decided it was ok, but Porl had to reverse down the track out of the field which was really scary as the angle, approach and edge was all challenging. Guiding Porl through the track for a while was awkward, I need to improve on my signals. A few hundred yards later it was impassable and all had to turn back on a very narrow road. We then noticed another track by which point Anne and I had swapped vehicles. Clive leading the way we had to push back several trees or drive on narrow windy tracks. This was a really good off road lane but sadly came to an end by an old disused house. We headed back towards the village and I noticed another track leading out but could not see how far it went on but we decided to give it a go.
At this point the village must have been laughing and thinking we were mad. Following the track it had many ruts and challenging routes which made the day very interesting. Again we were sent back near a disused house which was quite a way down the track at this point people were getting frustrated and hot, so we decided to call it a day and go to hotel now. On way back around track Clive let me drive the Steyr-Daimler-Puch Pinzgauer for a little while.
By about 1830h we had reached the posh hotel where Clive insisted we had to park the Landy elsewhere. It was at the middle of hillside overlooking its own golf course in the valley.
We all got settled in and scrubbed up before having a lovely meal. Shower was fantastic, heated mirrors et al in the rooms. Looked like Clive had made a very wise choice, as this seemed maybe a little cheaper than last stay.
After the dinner we went into the lounge for a couple of drinks before going to bed.

Mishaps and Mishapes

June 22nd, 2009

Woke up taking the piss out of Porl because he didn’t come home alone last night, that’s right he brought a carafe home… and didn’t he regret it!
Went down for breakfast a little later than normal which turned out to be the same servings as yesterday.
Set off for the other side of the mountains to yesterday, started off on a really nice lane but somewhat cold in the shade as it was only 1000h. I had put some foam to extend the seat as I was half on and half off and although at first this helped, the damage had already been done. We headed off deeper into the mountains and saw a snow topped mountain range which we tried to find a way up but only mountains opposite had tracks although after going half way up we were blocked by a locked gate.
Headed back down and took loads of photos at a bridge and waterfall. Just before here we saw the damage an avalanche had caused recently.
Headed off around the corner onto a nice looking route which would have taken us closer to the snow topped mountains but was cut off by road works, the people were adamant we weren’t going across even if we could have made it. Sharon pointed out a humming bird to me which was absolutely amazing to see from two feet away, so small, fast and beautiful, unfortunately didn’t get a shot.
We stayed here and had lunch, hoping the workers would disappear for their siesta but no such luck. The ladies went for a walk and spotted all sorts of fantastic wild life and brought back some wild strawberries which were really sweet but very very small, didn’t quite make up for Clive not stopping on way down but were good.
We got back on the bike and headed deeper into the hills seeing some breath taking scenery. We hit a track that was very muddy but dry, and had to cross the river, I tried taking photos of everyone as they crossed, with the exception of Sharon, who hit a rock and started flying towards me on one wheel so I ducked for cover! Trying to capture as many photo’s as possible throughout the day, having quite a giggle along the way, Richard and Sharon snidely ganged up and switched our bike engine off and then pranced around on their bikes whilst I took shots.
By now my bum has gone beyond recognition in terms of shape, feeling etc! We headed back into Hecho after a long drive back, desperate for an ice cream we looked around the whole village not seeing much open we headed back for the bikes, realising we had lost Clive and Russell. Suddenly they appeared and said half the shops were open, amazed, we went to have a look and ended up having a Magnum with nuts.
Before long the day was over and we had showered up for tea.
Starters was a vegetable soup with cheese and home made croutons for a sprinkling. The main was chicken with a creamy mushroom sauce and chips. Whilst pudding was Mille Creme, which was a creamy thick milk.
The owner gave us a free shot of a 1% alcoholic drink which was made with small berries, tasted similar to aniseed sherry, very weird drink indeed but I drank it!!
Once we had all finished we decided to show the photo’s so far, seemed that people lost interest quite quickly, but they were impressed!
It’s now 2315, so I had better go to sleep as we have a long journey ahead of us tomorrow to the really posh hotel which Clive keeps saying we are only allowed to go if we park the Landy out the back out of harms way! Damn, Porl is snoring and the wind is howling again, will I ever get to sleep?