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Gelände Straße
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
...extract from my big trip blog...

06/07/05 - 07/07/05 Dubrovnik to Lefkada, 508 miles, 20 hours

Dunno where to start with this one. Left Dubrovnik, tired from the night before after missing the last bus (whilst blogging) then having to walk some of the way home in the pouring rain and lightning. Got on the road at a decent time, around 10.30am and rode under grey skies, feeling rather grey ourselves, to the Serbian Border high in a mountain pass. We were held in a traffic queue for 20 minutes or so as the stern, hard- looking Border Guards quizzed everyone ahead of us, examining their papers closely and searching vehicles both entering and exiting the country. We crawled to the head of the queue and presented our papers. "Green card" said the guard. We got out our swathe of documents, and the guard examined them for a while before calling over someone clearly better at reading English.

The second guard read over the Insurance documents and said we didn't have International Insurance. We had, and we do. However, he wouldn't have it, and said we needed to buy "Border Insurance", and held onto our passports, sending us down the road to a portacabin. after waiting a while we again presented all our vehicle papers to another official who wrote out some kind of certificate for which we had to pay 10 Euro each. We then showed this document to the original guard who looked us up and down again before stamping our passports and letting us pass.

We rode into Serbia feeling slightly out of sorts. The difference was immediate. Croatia had been a bright place, geared up for tourism, well signposted and had a good standard of living. Serbia on the other hand looked threatening to us. Whether we were just a little unsure of what to expect after our dressing down at the bordewr or what I don't know. The grey weather probably didn't help either. We rode on down the hill and through some plain, unfinished looking villages. People were sitting about, and everyone turned to stare as we passed. Even without number plates on the fronts of our bikes it was clear we we not locals.

Our first Serbian fuel stop loomed and we pulled into a shabby looking garage. They wouldn't take Visa, but Steve managed to pay for our fuel on his Mastercard. The people looked hard, worn and tired. Nobody smiled. This isn't Kansas anymore. We pushed on and had to circumnavigate a huge inlet which put 50 or so slow miles on our journey. There was a ferry, but neither of us had any local currency, and not a word in Serbian. Easier to go round. I settled into it a little and started enjoying the scenery. Steve however was totally on edge and desperate to get on and get out. We passed through a large port town, where I spotted a huge yacht, the "Lady Lauren" flying the British Red Ensign. Didnt expect to see any other Brits there.

We came upon another town, and a Bank. I drew out some Euros for Serbia and, on the Banks advice, some US Dollars for Albania. It was a drab little town. Steve waited outside with the bikes, and said he felt uneasy and threatened by the stares and shouts of passers-by. We pushed on. Another fuel stop and we managed to look at a map in the garage. Maps seem to be few and far between, and this one was very basic. I was prepared to buy it, but the guy in the garage seemed happy enough to let us look over it. I pointed to Albania and tried to ask if we could cross at a point near the coast. He pointed to a larger inland town and I think said we could cross there. When I pointed to the coast border again he nodded and made approving noises. We carried on towars the Coastal Border.

Passing through a surprisingly touristy little town we rode out into countryside again, following signs for the last town before the border. We passed through what was little more than a row of houses and out into open fields. The road stepped down from a wide carriageway into a arrow road, then into a single track road then, passing a sign warning of entering "Border Territory" into nothing more than a path. A red Merc came hurtling round a blind corner, sending us both almost into the verge. Round a couple more bends we came to the Albanian border.

There was a rusting barricade across the road with a "STOP - POLICE" sign, a camoflaged concrete gun emplacement and a watchtower to the fore of some shabby looking buildings. A burly looking guy in a Police jumpsuit came out and ambled over to us. "Passports" he said. "This is border, you no see signs?" he asked in a mixture of Dutch, German and English. We had seen the signs yes, which is why we were there. We told him we wanted to pass through Albania and into Greece. He told us to wait and wandered off with our passports. A few minutes later he returned and handed them back to us "Good Luck" he said, and turned to walk away without further explanation. We stopped him and asked if we were indeed at the Albanian border. "Yes" he replied, "but you no come in here". Eventually, and in German we got directions to another border crossing 50km away. Basically, back to the town and turn right was about as accurate as they were. We folowed the instructions and, passed the same red Merc stopped at the side of a middle of nowhere road. We rode on and I was convinced we were not going the right way. There were no signs, there were no other cars save for the odd one hurtling past the opposite way. There were animals wandering all over the road. Cats, dogs, goats, cows, donkeys, flocks of birds and rather oddly a tortoise!



We rounded a bend and there it was, the Albanian border...AGAIN! There were definate signs of life at this one though. In fact they were downright friendly. We passed through after showing papers, paying "taxes" to un-uniformed "officials"and filling in more forms. On into Albania.

Again the change was immediate. Maybe our moods lifted too. We'd made it across! The sun had come out too which always helps. Everyone stared. These two fully geared up bikes and riders was clearly something very unusual here. Kids broke into huge smiles and cheered, whistled and waved as we passed. Old guys mimiced taking pictures and waved and shouted (presumably) encouragingly. We waved back, feeling like proper movie stars. The roads were wide and smooth, the country was clearly poor and we passed through little roadside shanties and villages. Steve rode through a flock of birds shortly after clipping one of three chickens, doing what they do best – "crossing the road". Don't ask me why. ;-)

We rounded another bend and were directed over a narrow bridge. Its surface was loosely placed wooden boards which didn't look like they'd hold our weighty bikes. The road surface on the other side was not so good. We stopped at an unmarked T junction and some locals shouted and gesticulated to the right. Before we'd asked anything! We had nothing else to go on so followed their direction, hoping it would take us to our planned overnight stop at Durres on the coast. The roads were long and straight, but it seemed that every 5 miles or so there was a speed trap. Fortunately there was a bit of traffic about and weren't feeling the need to rush so the ubiquitous Mercedes' that blatted past us, honking their horns and flashing their lights, ended up getting pulled as we cruised by.

A couple of hours later and the sign for Durres came up. Right turn. Off the long straight road. Immediately the road ended. Just like that. It was a main road, to what I think is the countries second city. Now we were on nothing more than a dirt track. Not like you'd find in the countryside though. This was 2 sometimes 3 lanes of motorway traffic. HGV's, speeding mercs and long Army convoy passing us in the opposite direction, sending huge swirling, blinding clouds of dust up around us. There are potholes, and there are POTHOLES. They ranged from little ones (considered huge at home) to car sized craters some of which , due to oncoming traffic, there was no option but to drop into, hoping that you'd pop back out the other side. There were odd little metres here and there of what might at some point have been a road, but not for a long long time. We were up on the pegs, trying to pick our way through. This was the real stuff.

On and on it went, sometimes you'd get a few hundred metres of tarmac and just begin to relax again then, without warning the tarmac would end and you'd drop off a lip back into deep gravel and dirt. Eventually we made it Durres, having asked for directions several times. There were no roadsigns. The town was chaos. More unpaved roads, unfinished buildings, massive potholes, and hundreds of staring faces! The people looked poor and well worn, many sporting impressive gap-toothed smiles. We spotted a cash point, something of a novelty and a new idea in Albania (so much so that there were A4 printed instructions on how to use the ATMs sellotaped to the wall) and withdrew 5000 Leke each, intending to find food and lodgings somewhere on the seafront. We rode through the town, and it was best described as a dive. It was clearly so poor that neither of us felt comfortable leaving the bikes. We looked for a hotel with secure parking but the best looking one in town (50 Euros pp, pn) had only a little fence around the carpark.


We decided then, around 7pm, that we'd push on. We needed to feel secure, and wanted civilisation again. Durres would probably have been ok, I kinda feel bad that we didn't stop and experience it, I'll almost certainly never go there again. However, we pushed on and picked up a semi decent road again, no signs, but the sea was comfortingly to our rights so we knew we were heading South. An hour or so later, starving hungry we pulled into a roadside bar/cafe. We hadn't eaten all day and were both ravenous and dehydrated from an already long day in the saddle. Immediately everyone in the cafe surrounded us, clamoring to look at the bikes and these two "spacemen" that had just landed. Definately a novelty for them.

We chatted as best we could, one guy racing back to his car and producing a picture of HIS bike! A Suzuki GSX '95. He was Greek, but lived in Albania. He warned us that we should not use the roads at night. "Much much danger in Albania" he said "Greece OK, but Albania, much danger".
We sat down and ordered Souvlaki (Greek Kebab) and a plate of chips, washed down with some revitalising Coke. The owner asked if we wanted Ketchup and Mayo for our chips , and by the time he returned we'd polished off the platefull. We ordered another, and he came back with those moments later and drowned them in ketchup and Mayo. We sat for 20 minutes or so and gathered our thoughts. We had no map. We had no idea where we could cross into Greece, and after the Albanian incident it was clear that not every border point was crossable. We'd committed to it now, so pushed on again as dusk fell, with warnings of "much danger" still loud in our ears.

The road was ok to start with, almost motorway, and pretty quiet. It seemed to be going South too, which was cool. I think I had a Town name in mind, can't remember it now, my plan being to hop from one point of civilisation to the next, asking directions in each and slowly, and probably zig-zagging or way to the border. We turned off the motorway, following the signs, and again the road vanished, along with any kind of signs. I could see the glow of the seeting sun behind and to my right, so knew we were at least still going in the right direction. We kept going.

Total darkness now. No signs, no streetlights. Not even any lights in sight bar the odd car or HGV barrelling past. We pull into some nameless town and ask a guy at a corner bar "Greh-chey?" He points in the direction we were heading, off we go again. We repeat this process several times, each time getting more and more difficult to find anyone as evening turns into night, night into morning. One such stop, we're directed up a left turn which takes us through a village with lots of people in the streets, and boy racer types hanging about round cars. We head up in the direction we're told and the road again turns to single track. We pass a shut-up hotel and come upon two large stone gateposts marked with big red crosses. The only light is that from our headlights. We push on up the road which after a mile or so just stops. This time there's no track. Just big boulders blocking the way. We had to turn back and retrace our steps back to the original junction. As we pass the guys who gave us direction they shout something at us, who knows what.

On and on we go, stopping once for fuel at the only place that seemed to be open. We have really no idea where we are now. At this point even a map wouldn't help. We dont know where we are, don't know where we're going and don't know where we've been. I have an idea that we're still going South, but the glow from the Sun had disappeared hours ago. We get out the compass, and sure enough, the road seems to lead South. Difficult to tell though as it winds its way up hills and down valleys, everywhere with a horrible polluted sulphourous smell.

We're on a downhill stretch, quite nice smooth road and there's a couple of trucks taillights up ahead in the distance. Again, totally without warning the road ends. This time there's a drop of what feels like a foot or more, into deep gravel. Not good for bikes! We're knocking along at about 40 at this point and it's abig wake-up call,the bikes weaving around in the gravel as we fight to keep control. This is not a good place to come off. Eventually the bikes settle and we pop back onto rough tarmac again. We're totally on edge now. Trucks appear without warning round blind corners. We can see nothing outside the arc of our lights. We're stopping and changing the lead every half hour to hour. We keep seeing glowing eyes in the night along the roadside. Its dogs. There's strays everywhere. I keep imagining coming off and being eaten by them!

So tired now we're beginning to hallucinate. We see grinning skeletal faces where there are road markers along the forest edge, shadowy figures where there are trees and police speed traps where there's nothing at all. I'm really struggling. I'm leading and I can feel myself dropping off. I'm trying to sing in my helmet but I cant remember any songs. Nothing seems to exist outside the glow of the lights. I've got proper tunnel vision. I'm weaving all over the road, finding myself on the wrong side all too often. Steve pulls alongside and I barely notice, veering towards him. We pull over and get off the bikes. Dunno what time it is now. The bulb has blown again on my trip-meter, cant tell how far we've come, how much fuel's left. Doesn't really matter, we've got to keep going.

I feel a little better for the brief stop and Steve leads as we crack on again. Straight away I'm nodding off again. This is madness. We pass through another closed town and I see a sign. It says Greece, I'm sure of it, but there's no lights and its covered in grafitti. Steve has customarily barreled straight past. I still dont know what he looks at or thinks about when we're riding! We turn around and head back. It does say Greece, to the left. Its a real pick-up and we head out of town and back onto dark winding roads. I've got another town name in my head, cant remember it now, but I've been following it. Signs keep appearing and disappearing. Sometimes its on them, sometimes it's not. We might have passed it, its probably not the right place anyway, I have no idea.

The road widens and smooths out. Its almost a proper road again. Theres that name again on the sign, 58km I think it says. We head for that. The roads pretty good and we cover the distance quite quickly, though with trepidation incase it abruptly ends again. The name comes up again and there's two choices turn right or carry on. Must be a biggish place then. We plough on, my thoughtsnow turning to civilisation of some kind and maybe a hotel we can crash in and ask directions and carry on after some shut-eye. We round a bend and there's what looks like another petrol station. For the last 5 or 6 hours I'd imagined every canopied petrol station to be the border, I'd kinda given up on that idea by now. This was no petrol station though. This was it. Somehow we'd made it to the border. Which one was it though? We'd no idea. ALbania borders a few countries, it could really have been any of them!

"Greh-chey?" we asked the bemused looking official. He nods. Thank f*ck for that!

He doesn't want to see any papers. The "barrier" is 3 or 4 worn looking road cones strung together with flimsy looking chain which he kicks aside and waves us through. Is that it? We dont know. Experience has taught us that there's usually a bit on no-mans land after a border exit before the border entry to the next country. We pull away, dogs (maybe strays, maybe border guard dogs) flanking us, sprinting along and snapping at our calves, a mile or so down the road there's another border. There's about 8 lanes and they're all shut. More dogs harrass us as we pull to a stop. Steve wants to squeeze through. I think we'd better not and a dozy gurad exits from a building behind us and stands and stares. He calls the hounds off and we walk back to him and present our passports. He's happy enough with them and waves us back to the bikes.

Another guy turns up, looking equally bemused. It's probably about 3 or 4 am. He raises the barrier and we pull away into Greece. The dogs are after us again, there's one inches away from Steves back wheel and he's doing about 30! We outrun them and head on. The roads are superb. Broken, cratered tarmac and dust tracks have immediately given way to what feels like a racetrack smooth surface to us. There's a thick white line running down the middle, we haven't seen one of those all day. It's easy going, we've both perked up a bit. The roads are deserted and put 20 miles or so down before pulling into a little town.

...continued
 

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Gelände Straße
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3,037 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
continued...


We're waved down by an army jeep, parked up at the side of the road. There's 6 or so guys with machine guns. They seem more interested in the bikes than anything else and turn out to be really friendly once they've looked over our passports. They cant believe we're ridden through the night through Albania. We ask them where we can get a hot coffee. Both of us had left Croatia with just a t shirt under our jacket and now with a combination of tiredness , dehydration and the night air, we were freezing. They directed us to a coffee stop, but I think it was closed or we missed it.

We had no map of Greece either, our "European Road Maps" inexplicably not covering the bits we really needed. However there are loads of signs, first in Greek, then in English 50 yds or so later. We head for Ioniania, a name we'd spotted in one of Steves' guide books that looked like it was in the right direction. The town is a real surprise, and a real comfort. It's proper civilisation. We stop and withdraw some Euros, and head towards the centre. Its 4am and its almost busy. There's people everywhere. We find a cafe and instruct the guy how to make a strong hot coffee. Its quite a struggle for him. Clearly only used to serving the cold Frappe's the Greeks love. We finally get something close to what we want, and a bite to eat.

We've no idea how far Lefkada is, but I recall that it's fairly well to the North so it cant be that far. We get a little lost trying to get out of town and eventually pick up the main road again. There's signs to Athens which seems like a good bet. Just at the edge of town I spot a sign for Preveza, which I recognise as the airport which Sunsail used to fly their guests into when I worked on Lefkada. Sign says 98km I think. We eat up the miles on the smooth road and finally pick up some signs for Lefkada.

We get really close and turn off the motorway and get immediately lost again. The signs don't seem to make sense and we end up on a pedestrian footpath and through an underpass under the road we need to be on. We turn round and think we're retracing our steps. Steve's just behind me as we pull back onto the main road. I hear him shout something (comms are still down) just as I see a big white arrow pass below the bike. We're heading the wrong way up a dual carriageway! I turn around to see Steve's bike lying on its side in the middle of the road!
I'm worried as we'd both dropped the bikes before and each time it had taken 3 of us to pick them up. I park up and somehow the bike lifts straight up, adrenalin probably. Steve had been so busy shouting at me and trying to turn quickly that he'd lost his footing. Easily done, and once the bike is past a few degrees over there really is no stopping it!

We gather ourselves and pick up another sign for Lefkada. Somehow we're still heading the wrong way, so perfom a very illegal U turn across the centre reservation of the empty motorway and head back through a tunnel, not sure under what! There's a toll at the end and as I struggle to get to my change I drop a few Euros on the ground. The guy at the booth leans out, counts the money on the floor, smiles and gives me change! I feel better! The sky's been lightening for an hour or so and as we ride onto the causeway over to Lefkada there's a full on pastel-pink and blue Greek Island sunrise going on. It's beautiful. I feel like crying. We've made it.

We pick up signs for Nidri, and ride through a deserted Nikiana (where I used to work) spotting out a campsite as we pass and stopping for a quick look at the harbour where I used to live on the company yacht. Not much has changed. There's a few more Tavernas around the little harbour, but none are open. It is 6.30am I suppose. We head into Nidri, where I am sure we can find a coffee. Some of the roads look familiar and I smile as I recognise names of hotels and bars.



We pull up outside a cafe and step off the bikes. We're filthy and dusty, and probably stink. There's a guy with a big grey moustache sitting out the front of the cafe sipping out of a can of Heineken. I presume he's the owner and as we step onto the patio he smiles and beckons us over, kicking out a chair for us both. We sit down and he helps us order a coffee. A hot one, again, confusing for the lad operating the machine. It arrives milky and sweet, rather than strong and black but I don't care. Vassilis (the moustachioed one) it turns out had live in Blackburn and so speaks decent enough English. He tells us proudly that he has a Honda Super-Dream 400 1983 with Sidecar parked up along the road a few miles. He also tells us that he's had his licence revoked for 6 months for drink driving, which means that he has to drive his car instead! It turns out that Vassilis is not the Cafe owner at all but seemingly the local drunk. He thinks I should remember him when I talk about Sunsail as he says he used to supply the ingredients for the Punch that the Flotilla guys used to make. He mentions a couple of names that sound familiar.

We're directed by Vassilis to another campsite on the far side of Nidri, but it looks like a bit of a dive so we turn and head back to Nikiana. We wait an hour for the campsite owner to turn up at 9am, whereby he waves us in and says just pitch anywhere. We throw the tents up in total autopilot and fall into our beds.



I wake at 2.30pm. There's a text from Mum and Dad "Matt [my brother] okay in London". Makes no sense. Why wouldn't he be? Got another text from Aimee " Several big explosions in London, still going on, 20 dead so far". I get up and tell Steve, we start texting and calling home. Networks are jammed, cant get through. We feel helpless and a million miles from home. Manage to get a glimpse of a dodgy black and white telly at reception and that now iconic image of the double decker bus opened up like a sardine can. Cant make much out, but it doesn't look good. Everyone slowly checks in and gets back to us. Feels weird being here, while all that's going on at home. Doesn't seem real. Hope everyones ok.
 

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Wing Commander
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14,437 Posts
powerful stuff.
I was out and about collecting computers from an office I was taking over, oblivious of it when my mum phoned to ask if my wife was OK. Only then did I try to find out what was happening. Of course, with the mobile network shut down there was no info.
Mind you, I remember IRA bombs going off in London.
 
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