Karin Gritsch, a travel freak and petrol- head embarks on a motorcycle ride of a lifetime through Greece alongwith ‘Edelweiss Bike Travel‘ company of Austria. (www.edelweissbike.com.) She shares her story and experience with Motoroids.
I stopped my motorcycle somewhere in the boonies of Greece. First, I had to take a deep breath. The group took the other route today and the only fellow who decided to join me was off on an incredible ride aside from the main route and was riding far in front of me. Totally lost in thought I realized that I would never be able to catch up with him – and he had the map!
By now I should have become panicked at the thought of how to get out of this unfavourable situation but things seem to be different in Greece. I stopped to take a break, completely exhausted from the enormous number of curves I just had to deal with, turned around my head, and absorbed one of the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen. From here I could see the sea miles away and the sinking sun shone a romantic light over the countryside when I suddenly heard the motor of a BMW motorcycle roaring…
On time at 9 am in the morning I pushed the starter button on my brand new fire orange BMW F 800 R. While I listened to the incredibly powerful sound of its 800 cc engine I tried to remember all the good advice and safety tips our tour guides gave us at the welcome briefing the evening before. Riding out of Athens in the morning rush hour was like riding on a race track. Even with my F 800 R, which is easy to move and easier to accelerate, I had my troubles keeping up with most Greek car drivers, going far over the speed limit. After about half an hour of practical motorcycle survival training in the chaos of Greek city traffic we reached the new bypass highway built for the Olympic Games in 2004. We shortly left the highway and the traffic began to lighten up, it was time to dive into the Greek outback. Mostly used as farming land for cotton, corn and grapes the area around Athens showed us nice scenery for our introduction to Greek riding.
Athens showed us nice scenery for our introduction to Greek riding. Some very nice, windy roads accompanied us to Aliki, where people of Athens own a holiday home and where we had our first lunch stop. Markus, leading Edelweiss customers all around the world for 16 years now, volunteered to order a selection of Greek food for our group. We could lean back and wait for the local delicacies we would get instead of figuring out what the odd Greek letters on the menu might stand for. After lunch we continued on our way to Delphi. Situated up in the Greek mountains and not far from Arachova, the biggest skiing area in Greece, we spent the night in a typical hotel with a fantastic view of the coastline. Sitting on the balcony of my room and watching a goat flock walking by, I thought that this would be the perfect day to shake off the daily grind and to put on the holiday cheer.
Two routes on day 2 from Delphi to Olympia offered us a wide variety of choices: Those who wanted to visit the famous oracle of Delphi could do some sightseeing in the morning and would continue to Olympia on a shorter route along the coast of the Golf of Corinth, with nice scenery and smooth riding. The bigger part of our group decided to join the tour guide on the longer ride through the mountains with challenging roads and lots of switchbacks. David, a nice Texan guy with whom I built my own group on most of the riding days, and I decided to do the easier ride and to stop and breathe in the Greek cosiness whenever possible.
A long-term tradition on Edelweiss tours and a matter of safety is to have a daily coffee stop in the morning and in the afternoon. Recommended by Markus, we found a beautiful place in the town hall of Eratini. A cup of café frapé metrio megalla (cold coffee with milk and sugar) was served to our table and was the perfect refresher after a great ride. After lunch in Nafpaktos, we had to ride across the 2.2 kilometre long bridge connecting the mainland to the Peloponnesus peninsula. Built in 2004, this huge formation made from tons of iron was definitely another highlight on our tour. Closer to Olympia we could still see some slight leftovers of the big fires in 2007 when the area around Olympia almost got completely destroyed. Olympia, where we spent our rest day, was the scene of the ancient Olympic Games.
Riding as a passenger on a BMW R 1200 GS on that day, I used the opportunity to get a new point of view on the joy of riding. Greece is actually a huge mountain range growing out of the sea and while Georg, my pilot and participant in the Tour of Greece for his fourth time already, guided us through the fairyland of never ending turns and twists. I thought that even in the Alps a similar ride is hard to find. A special highlight on our rest day was lunch. In a small mountain village far away from fever and stress we could enjoy our first Greek fast food. Giros Pita (bread filled with French fries, tomatoes, meat and sauce) was a nice alternation to the food we normally had: Tzaziki, Saganaki, Tyrokafteri, Choriatiki, Kalamari and Greek Salad are just a few delicious examples of Greek cuisine and our daily ritual to let the tour guide order a selection of different stuff for the group gave us the chance to taste a wide variety of food.
Our journey continued — next stop Kalamata! The first few miles on this day led us along the coastline of the Peloponnesus peninsula with some long, drawn out curves. Accompanied by Markus, who was driving the support van, we paved our way to Agia Nicolei. Riding through an olive grove after coffee we finally reached Pilos, located in the so-called Omega Bay we felt more than pampered when we enjoyed our private lunch with the tour guide. Then, our ways separated, Markus went the direct way to Kalamata and David and I continued on the recommended route. After four days of riding in Greece we thought that it would be time for a little adventure. By pointing on the map with closed eyes we chose a short side trip. Not having a clue if we would get lost somewhere we turned away from the main route and did the famous leap in the dark. A secret path with incredible riding we would never have expected turned this side trip into one of the best experiences on tour and even if I was left behind for a little while, this was something we had to tell the group at night. Back in the hotel we got a short lesson in Greek history. Otto, prince of Bavaria became the first King of Greece in modern times. Beside the whole historical story he is the one who established beer in Greece and the blue/white colours of the Greek flag. So thanks to Otto we could celebrate our survival and the half time of our trip with a nice glass of Mythos (Greek beer brand).
After breakfast the next morning we saddled our motorcycles and took off for the mountain village Thalamai. Morea, a famous olive oil producer once chose this tiny little village to be its location for traditional olive oil production in Greece. A short guided tour later, where we could take a glimpse on an old stone olive mill, which is still in operation, and prepared with a years reserve of different oils we went on to see the caves of Pirgos Dirou and Mani.
In a 45 minute boat ride through the 1300 meter long connection of caves we could see some spectacular flowstone formations. In combination with the underground waterways these flowstone caves belong to the miracles of nature in Greece. Riding around the middle finger of the Peloponnesus peninsula, named Mani, in the afternoon we then stopped to take some pictures of the ancient city of Vathia. In the 18th century the population in Vathia counted 300 inhabitants. Consistently decreasing, this city became less important when the total population went down to 11 inhabitants in 1979. Our destination on this fifth riding day was Githio, a fishing village located in Laconia in Greece and long known as the seaport of Sparta.
First stop on the next riding day was Monemvasia, a medieval fortress in the east coast of the Peloponnesus peninsula. Located on a 300 meter tall and 1.8 kilometer long rock, this fortress was scene of multiple historical stories, and it is still occupied. After enjoying our daily sightseeing stop we continued on our way to Nafplio. Normally roads in Greece are top with mostly new pavement and fantastic grip. We just had to be careful whenever we reached the coastline, because of the sea, a salt film covers the roads and makes them slippery. Back at the coastline and up at 850 meters above sea level we reached a section similar to the famous Passo di Stelvio in Italy. To get back to sea level we had to follow switchback after switchback, always having the sea in sight.
Another short coffee stop and we finally reached Nafplio. The hotel we spent our overnight was one of the best hotels on tour. Hidden in a small side street this so-called boutique hotel offered us a special kind of Greek flair. Maria, owner and matron of this fantastic place took care of us in a lovely and courteous way. The rooms, identified with the names of Greek goods instead of the typical numbers, were incredible with old traditional furniture and a luxurious touch. Dinner was totally home cooked by Maria and included some secret receipts you will never find anywhere else in Greece.
Our first sightseeing stop the next day, which was also our last riding day, was quite early. Immediately after breakfast we got up our bikes and rode up to the military fortress Palamidi, in Nafplio. While I stood there, in the back this enormous building and in front of me a fantastic view, I had to remember the story about prince Otto from Bavaria and thought that he should have had this BMW F 800 R to conquer Greece. In Palea Epidaurus we had our last lunch. Still being on the Peloponnesus peninsula we shortly reached the Channel of Corinth. A last set over, a last incredible ride along the coastline, a last ride on the highway and we finally reached Athens.
The tour guides provided by Edelweiss Bike Travel, Markus Hellrigl and Peter Zangerle, are experts in their job and fantastic guys to travel with. Without their help and support I would have never been able to finish the tour. Riding through this Mediterranean country it offers you an unbelievable combination of mountain and coastal routes and sights which are worth seeing. Curve after curve you can pave your way without hitting any traffic, in fact, we had to dodge goats walking on the street more than cars. Food was top no matter where we were and the hotels chosen offered us a wide variety of different styles. People living in Greece seemed to be the friendliest humans I ever met. If you just know a few words in Greek like efaristo (thank you) or para calo (please) they heartily welcome you and let you be part of their fascinating world.
Now you know the secret ingredients of an unforgettable motorcycle experience: Choose a country which is worth being travelled, make sure that it fulfills your expectations regarding routes, hotels, sights and food and compare all these great factors if you do what you like most: Riding a motorcycle and fully enjoying life!
My Impression of the BMW F 800 R
Since I’ve had my motorcycle licence I have ridden several different bikes from Honda, Ducati and BMW. Each bike has its own pros and cons but none of them fit my requirements more than the new BMW F 800 R: A straight sitting position, wide handle bars and a powerful engine are just a few of its advantages. With a 775 mm seat height and around 200 kg weight this motorcycle can be perfect for short people and especially for women. The naked style in combination with the new colour “fire orange non-metallic” let this motorcycle look sporty and sexy – and maybe its rider too!? Equipped with side and top cases, those available for the F 800 R are easily extendable and offer enough room to put in your riding gear, ensuring the kind of comfort you expect when travelling.
Very smooth to turn in and to accelerate out of a curve it guarantees much riding fun, but a hell of shifting work too. No matter if you ride in a mountainous area like in Greece or somewhere on a four lane highway, with its six-speed gearbox your riding is always powerful and it just takes a few seconds to overtake another vehicle. Also good to know in times of an economic crises is that the fuel consumption can’t be beaten with 4-5 liters per 100 kilometers.
Conclusion: When you purchase a BMW F 800 R you not only pay for the name
BMW: You spent money for high quality, much riding pleasure and a top look – to say the least!