The Sahara and Us Morocco 2011

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lefkada, Parga and Ignoumenitsa (IG – NEW – MEN- NEAT- SA)

Porto Fico at breakfast, you can feel the heat
Monday we awoke to another gorgeous morning over Lefkada Island, and our preparations to leave. It’s hard to believe the change in the hotel, and village in 10 days. Jane had said to us when we arrived “ Tell us what time you’d like breakfast, since you are our only customers”, to now being almost full with at least 4-5 families of 2-3 children each, plus a number of couples. The breakfast buffet was now being provided by hired staff, brought on to handle the load. June 15th seems to be a threshold for Vassiliki and Porto Fico alike.

We left after saying our goodbyes to Valentino as well, though Vicky and Florien, from Human Sport  Surfstation were a little late arriving that day,( part of Greek time and surfing) . Jim, Stasis’ brother arrived and told us again how much he loved and respected Canadian people from his visit to Vancouver for 6 mths. a few years back. Something we will have to live up to. We shook hands and we could tell how much he had been positively impressed with Canada, and I think wishing he could be there.

The morning was perfect for the ride, warm enough that I rode in a T shirt, underwear and my Air jacket and Air pants only, (too much info?) winding up the east side of the island past many of the places we had seen and been into before, they stood out in a blue foggy mist of the already warm morning that would later get to 33C. The road was devoid of traffic save a few vehicles and the next hour was taken on driving to Lefkis, savoring every corner and view that it presented. As I said to Sandra later at the Shell Station near Pervaza  some 73 kms away, “ That’s probably the prettiest 1 hr. drive that I have ever done.” It certainly ranks up there anyway. I have been blessed with doing more than most people for sure. Actually, another of the best was many years ago with my son Blair on the back of my Wes Cooley replica 750cc Suzuki. We had been camping in Montana as part of a Hiway to the Sun ride we did when he was I think about 15. And then there was a magic ride with daughter Shannon at about 8 yrs of age riding in front of me as I rode a Honda XL250 from Barkerville back into Quesnel. It was about an hr in duration as well.

Parga
Off the island and heading north, we had been told about Parga, a coastal village about 60 kms north of Pervaza, on the way to Ignoumenitsa so we made our way over some of the better roads we’d driven in Greece to the cut-off for Parga and the 10 kms in. On arrival we found a coastal village, stacked into 2 bays surrounding some very small outer islets. It was clear this was as well a Venetian village with an old castle ruins on the outer point. Unfortunately it is now overrun with tourism, which while charming on the waterfront is a collection of shops and restaurants geared to the tourist, and boy have they arrived!

After an hour in the village, we continue to head north, enduring some of Greece’s road construction oddities along the way. The first being a freshly paved stretch of roadway divided by pylons down the centre and facing us the typical blue arrow indicating our side of the highway. As I came around the next corner I was met head on by a tour bus, in my lane heading the opposite direction. Now this is a slightly wider single lane and I am able to avoid a head-on collision. I immediately wonder if I have, or he has, missed a traffic control signal controlling one way traffic in one direction then the other. Nope, I have vehicles on my tail, and so does he, in fact large dump trucks and delivery vans. Always something new to watch for.

On arrival to Ignoumenitsa we search out our booked accommodations in the now 33C heat. The town, a typical port town from another era is suffering badly now that the operation of the port has changed and no longer do people need to live here as much. It’s almost like in Ensenada Mexico where you can rent rooms by the hour.

Our hotel, back up in the hills behind the main street area is actually quite decent with a great shower, balcony, and air conditioner, which we hug as long as we are in the room, it gets to 36C. For lunch and later dinner we eat at a little Giros place in the town called “Kikkitirra”.very good giros and excellent cold draft beer for incredibly cheap prices. I leave them a big tip since I would otherwise feel like I was stealing.

We pre-embark at the main terminal, meaning telling them “We are here” and getting our tickets stamped, then we buy a few things to make sandwiches with the next day while on the ferry. Finally, after supper, we buy our last Baklavas at a bakery, dripping with Greek honey, and sit on the small beach in town and watch the fiery orange sunset over Corfu. We expect the trees to ignite as the sun sets on the outline of the mountains there. Absolutely a perfect day! Well except for the near head on collision, and the rush of tourists.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Waiting for the ferry, us and Austrians
After having such a great day yesterday we have resigned ourselves to the fact that we have to catch a ferry that will take us back up the Adriatic coast re-tracing on sea the 2500 kms we have ridden south since leaving. The Anek people tell us to be at the docks at 0700 hrs, one hr before the ferry is supposed to arrive, but I check the Marine traffic website at 0600 hrs and can see the Ferry has just rounded the point off Lefkada and gives an ETA of 0830 hrs so we set that as our show-up time, 1 hr before the ETA. It actually arrives another 15 mins late, hey this is Greece and we’re lucky it showed up at all I guess. After boarding and being shown our cabin, we walk the ferry to see how it’s laid out, and we begin to feel like prisoners again, trapped in a controlled environment for the next 24 hours (and outrageous food prices), surrounded by fellow travelers  many of whom like the Morocco ferry and Venice ferries of 2011 have already laid claim to wind protected areas outside where they create their shanty town of temporary accommodation. We have taken a cabin as usual.

One benefit of the ferry travel is an almost instantaneous comparison allowed, since you board a time capsule (ferry) and 24 hrs later are delivered into another country, and you can immediately contrast the culture, architecture, language, roads etc.

Since I took such extensive photos on our 2011 trip to Venice I have for the most part parked the camera only allowing myself to take a moving video of the Venice canal area where I had taken a neat still shot before, and it will allow me to use both when I create our travel video on Italy. Since it is early in the day and mid-week we know our friends are all at work  and have put themselves out so much for us, we take advantage of our early arrival, and being 1st off the ferry, and head by autostrada to Flero and the GIVI factory.

I encountered a bit of an issue with one combo lock on the new bags and wanted to pick up another. When we arrived we walked into their R&D area where they were developing GIVI racks for the new BMW R1200GS (water cooled version). A spotlessly clean lab, with special jig tools for constructing the proto type. The technician called for someone who could speak English, I mentioned my problem and within 2 mins he came back with two new lock combo sets  (free) and then came out to the bike, showed me how to remove the old one ( since it was locked) and then checked fitment on our other GIVI luggage to make sure we didn’t need anything else, then wished us a great journey. What a fabulous company and service! When installed I could tell the combos were much better.


Next dealing with the heat. As we headed to Levanto the temp. signage in various places kept flashing, 33C 36C and 39C. Yep it was that hot. Maybe not 39, I suspect that one was in the sun, but definitely 36C in the shade was valid. 33 was earlier.

Finally

 we head out for our favorite supper here, mussels in wine sauce, and a thin crust pizza. And then top it off we get gelato. As good as ever!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

S4 Sun Sail, Surf and Smiles

S4  Sun, Sail, Surf and Smiles
Falassarna Beach


So where have we been the past while? We decided to enjoy the area around Kissamos while waiting for the ferry that never came, so when booking tickets off the island the travel agent asked if we’d been to Balos beach, or Falassarna beach. They explained that Balos was listed as I think 35 on the top 100 list and that Falassarna was beautiful as well. Seems the only way to get to Balos now is by an all day ferry excursion as the bad road in got washed out with the spring rains, so we headed to Falassarna one day.

As we drove into the area parking the Fiesta in front of us bogged down in the sand and got stuck. Seeing this I swerved to the left, felt a slow sinking feeling and hit the gas, creating quite the rooster-tail but getting enough momentum to not sink in. It is a beautiful stretch of beach listed as #100 on the top 100 list of world beaches (so who cares). On that list, Chestermere Beach or Long Beach isn’t even on there, come on, they have to make it.
Vassiliki from our Balcony
After leaving Crete and landing back on the mainland at 06:20 in the morning we made our way quickly out of Athens and up the coast towards Pervaza, deciding not to head back to Kardamyli. At the junction for Lefkada island we headed to Vassiliki
Village at Night
as we had spotted some places that looked like they would be good. On arriving we checked out a couple of accommodations before finding Porto Fico Hotel, a family run hotel right on the beach. Now it has a windsurfing school attached to it  “
Human Sport”.
School
So after a day of enjoying the scenery, pool and sun we decided to give wind surfing a try with a couple of lessons. Needless to say we’re not experts but it has whetted our appetite for more when we get home. We interspersed lessons and practice sessions over a few days and on an off day we’d head out exploring.






Egremni
Now Egremni beach is also listed as I think #23 on the list so we headed there. That is where Sandra’s swimming Youtube video was shot. A very pretty beach, it still doesn’t compare to Porto Katsiki beach which we had featured earlier.

Sivota
And today wanting to wind up our Lefkada island segment we travelled 9 kms to another cove and village, this time Sivota, 
the home of the Sailing Holidays flotilla fleet from the UK. A very protected bay it attracts Kayakers as well. One of the boats Sailing Holidays has is a fleet of Jaguar 27’s. These are really Catalina 27’s that were sold under licence to the UK by Frank Butler. While old, they have been renovated and refurbished, now carrying self storing mainsails, a completely re-worked interior with 3 berths (1 double). The Lefkada island, Kefallonia Island group is almost identical in qualities to the Gulf islands with 2 exceptions incredible weather and beautiful clear warm water. And by the way, can they grow Basil here as well. Look at the leaf size. In fact the front leaf is over 5" in length.
Basil on Streoids


















While staying at the hotel we met extended family of the owners in Noel and John McIlwraith.
Sandra, Statsis, Jane, Noel and John
They hale from Australia and we’d share many a story and chat in the afternoon heat, and finally with Stasis and Jane, the owners we all went out for supper the evening before they left. Now tomorrow will be our turn. We leave with great big smiles on our faces, meant to stay 2 days and stayed 10.





Invasion of the Paddleboarders
One day a large 100' yacht came into the bay and anchored, quite a ways out likely 1/2 a km.. The next morning, hot and calm a group of paddle-boarders from the Vass Club invaded. When you think you are in the middle of no-where's......

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Knopf Tours Container to Vancouver late October 2013

To all our friends and followers who travel by bike as well, Stefan Knopf has a container shipment planned for late October 2013 to Vancouver  from Heidelberg) arriving 5-6 weeks later.

The reason I mention it is two fold. One he is a great guy to deal with and fair pricing, the second is that our bike will be shipped back and by adding more bikes to the container everyone's costs are reduced.

So give him a shout and let him know where you heard it!

Ferries (Just some observations for travellers)


After a number of European trips, specifically covering 7 years of ferry travel I think I can distill some common practices to trip organization with ferries involved.

Routes and Schedules
There are a number of good resources on the web but one I have used the most extensively now is this one, Ferries.gr. It covers many of the ferries that travel to Greece and within Greece. But one thing you should know, Greek routes and schedules change from season to season, so but less so from year to year. So, if you want to travel in June , July 2014, review schedules now. But it is unlikely that you will be able to see an off-season schedule for later this year. They are ready to schedule likely 6-8 weeks in advance nothing more. Similarly, Marmaris Ferries will do the same for travel to Turkey from Greece.

Another great resource for Greece in particular is The Greek Island Hopping travel guide. It’s a very comprehensive guide showing such things as “routes by port”, “frequency by season”, and the characteristics (a bit subjective) of each island.  

And if you want to blow your mind about watching  in real time what is happening with Greek ferries click on this link. Marinetraffic. Thanks to Anna, who knows everything about Greece at Maria’s Place in Santorini.

Using Port Offices
What information you can’t glean from the contacts I have provided so far you can do in real time by visiting the port office where you with travel from. They are somewhat like the air traffic controllers of the waterways and they can give you status updates when you do not have wi-fi to check yourself.

Using Travel Agencies and Credit Cards
In North America travel agencies have gone the way of the DoDo bird and are almost extinct. Many people now consult the various airlines or ferry lines online, book and pay for their tickets and either print their boarding passes or receive a E-boarding pass to their smartphone.
Not so in Europe. First, back in ’06 when we were planning a month trip to Croatia we knew the date we should be crossing from Bari, Italy to  Dubrovnik, Croatia, so I had emailed Jadrolinija Lines to determine ferry sailing times, and costs. I exchanged mail with an agent who offered to hold a reservation for us and our bike, without a deposit or payment for 2 months, and for me to come into the port office a couple of hours before sailing to claim them and pay. For one thing, to pay I would have had to send a Bank wire transfer to their account, something the agent was aware that Canadians don’t have ready access to. everything worked out perfectly.

Now, what we have found in Greece is that many of the travel agent offices that are independent but under licence to the ferry lines, do not have Bank backed, or ferry line backed lines of credit, so you can not pay by credit card at many of them. Here in Kissamos two agencies lost the sale of our tickets from Greece to Venice because they couldn't accept a credit card, and I would have had to return another day since banks on Greece have defined small withdrawal limits. Balos Travel however, because they wanted the sale, asked us to wait 10 mins while they re-opened their line of credit with the bank, and then could handle the financial transaction. Hey as long as I have valid tickets, backed by my credit card companies purchase protection program I’m covered and that’s what you need to be concerned about. Similarly, in Morocco the major ferry line ticket office in the port only took cash, which the fellow promptly placed in his own pocket. We had to make a withdrawal from an ATM in the terminal building. 

When we were in Santorini, the port office of Sea Jet couldn't issue a ticket but the travel agent in Thira could. We were sent to Nomikos Travel. Fortunately we got a very hard working agent there, 2 other agencies we had spoken with didn't really care if we connected to Crete, and she called the boat coordinator for the specific ferry we were wanting to travel on to see if we’d get on. She called them back at least 4 times on our behalf and called me after 7:00 pm. One night to say, yes I can issue tickets for you. Our hats are off to Nomikos Travel in Thira!!

Arriving at the Port, Day of Travel
Our recommendation is to arrive at the port the day of travel with tickets in hand already, though we have bought tickets for slower runs when we knew they’d be slow, for instance the ferry across to Morocco from Spain.

Ferry terminals are not like in Canada. They are nothing more than a concrete dock structure that the Port agents manage for the next ferry to arrive and depart. It is the Ferry operator of that specific boat, that will decide who will load and in what order, so moto’s do not necessarily go on first, or last, but at the direction of the loading foreman. So you need to be ready to move when asked. Since we are Canadian, so many of the operators take an interest in us, and talk with us and I think give us a bit of special treatment, but we've been in situations, again leaving Morocco, that it was one big mix-master of activity.

In Piraeus  the major port just outside Athens, you should do advance research (using Greek Island Hopping and even Google) to pre-determine which Dock Network to arrive at. There are 8, and they are divided first by Island grouping, (Dodecanese, west Cyclades, east Cyclades, Ionian, Sporades, Aegean, Saronic.) and then by Ferry Line… just like the airlines.

Fortunately I used Google Earth, street view and ferry line info to determine the gate we needed to be at, since it’s not like driving up to a ticket wicket at BC ferries. They do not exist. I set that as a waypoint in Garmin, then drove directly to it, found the ticket office, bought tickets, and left for our hotel only to return the next morning and drive right onto our ferry handing off tickets as we drove up the ramp. It’s nice when it works.

Expect the Unexpected
We have had hit and miss experience with departure schedules and timing. For instance in Morocco we stood for 4 hours after the original departure time in 30+C heat, before we even loaded to leave Tangiers. In Piraeus this trip with Blue Star, and with Minoan in 2011 the ferries left exactly from the major port right on time.

If the ferry you are catching is making a milk run and you are in the middle of it, expect to be delayed. Stuff happens. Another thing we have learned, try to avoid at all costs late night ferry arrivals or departures due to delays. Our alternative to the fast ferry in Santorini was one that left at 0340 hrs in the morning. So who thinks people travelling for leisure are prepared to do this? A regularly scheduled ferry to Chios arrives at 0330 hrs from Pireaus. And one from Crete to Rhodes arrives nominally at 0030 hrs. but it is a milk run, so that is likely 0200 hrs. Hotel operators all do have night managers. If you have a booking you will get your room, but if you didn't then you take your chances, however if the ferry fails to arrive during the night and arrives at 0900 the next morning you just forfeited your reservation payment as a no-show. Just one additional point. Greece is famous for ferry strikes, so you can show up at the port to find the boat isn't there and who knows when it will be, so, again check the cancellation policy with your booking or you may be out the cost of a night. We have been caught by a strike, but hadn't booked anything because it was an early arrival which gave us flexibility. Later day arrivals don't provide that.

We saw a couple (they weren't very bright in many regards) show up at our hotel (0100) from our late arrival from Santorini, without a reservation hoping to find a room. It seems they had scheduled to get off the ferry at 8:10 pm and catch the 9:00 pm bus to Chania, and they had a hotel reservation there, which obviously they couldn't use, and would get charged for.Don't know where they stayed that night since our hotel was full.
So when we found out that we could avoid all the regular hassles and schedule ourselves on a Kissamos to Githio, 0730 – 1425 ferry (7 hours) for 71E, versus a 2130-0600 ferry ( 9 ½ hrs) ( requiring a berth @ 200E) from Heraklion to Pireaus we jumped at it. This has been caught in the ferry strike, so even the best laid plans......

Sea Sickness

The final piece of advice is this. When the ferry you will be travelling on will be in rough seas, make your best effort to get seats in the middle of the ferry. The range of up-down, side to side motion, is dramatically reduced and you will be less prone to motion sickness. Also, where possible, try to keep your eyes on the horizon, or go to sleep, to reduce any tendency you may have.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Kato Zakros, Vai, and Agios Nicholas

Lost in Vai, Crete
As we circumnavigate Crete we head to the far south (east) to Kato Zakros http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zakros, an ancient Minoan settlement. Read the Wiki info for more detail. The roads to get here are difficult and in some cases amount to goat trails, or 1 lane shared paved sections, but the scenery at the end was worth it. Here we stayed at Stella’s Apts. which was very nice.
Kato Zakros

In the morning we headed off to Vai, a palm grove,


Vai

the only one on Crete, and it is believed it was brought there by the Minoan’s from Egypt many centuries ago. Apparently it is now made popular by an English commercial with it’s Palm trees, sand beach, and beach bunnies. I’ve tried to re-create the scene as best I could. (Laugh)
Beach Bunnies in Vai







From here we headed to Sitia, another port town on the eastern side of Crete, one can catch a ferry infrequently to Rhodes from here. As we ate lunch on the quay in Sitia we found an old statue of Romeo and Juliet. We’ll have to look up its connection to Sitia.
Romeo and Juliet Statue

Agios Nicholas
Then onto Agios Nicholas, a larger port town some 64 kms north from Sitia and a pretty place in its own right. We are staying at the Creta hotel, run by a family who she  Bernadette emigrated from Canada to Greece 21 years ago from the Magdelana Islands ( a Quebec island in the St Lawrence Seaway). She was so happy to see fellow Canadians she immediately said ( I love your flag!). Apparently she goes back (home) every year but owns and operates the hotel ( which is nice).




The last entry is about the Statue of “The Kidnapping of Europa”. It is associated to Greek mythology, but the name Europa from Zeus, is ultimately how Europe came to get its name. Now though, the statue erected here is a joke, because Greece with its finances has kidnapped the economic power of Europe with its problems.
The Kidnapping of Europa