Galleries and images from our epic ride from Bulgaria to Greece and back in 2017. The riders: Dave - XT660R, Scott - CCM GP 450 and Minky - CRF250L.
Ship the bikes to Bulgaria
Day 1 Pick up the bikes and get to Greece
Day 2 Get to Meteora in Greece
Day 3 Till whenever ride through the pindus mountains into Albania and maybe beyond.
Day 8 Start to head back to Bulgaria
Day 9 Arrive back and load the bikes - get drunk meet the locals who we know through previous events
Day 10 Home :(
What actually happened is as follows........
We lost Minky the day before our departure due to work and family illness. So we had lost the most experienced member of our team. The safety barometer too. Needless to say myself and Scott were gutted to loose our travelling companion so late in the day. :(
So it was up to us to sort ourselves out on this trip.
We arrived fresh and ready to ride, the weather was stunning and it was lovely to see Bulgaria in the summer time. Temperature was about 26 in Samokov when we arrived to uncrate and prepare our bikes.
I'd casually mentioned to Scott if he had the documents for his bike...... "Why would i need them?" Ooops, after a brief explanation and a frantic call to the girlfriend, some photos where sent over and we managed to get them printed at the transport hub... It was decided we were best keeping to Bulgaria and Greece and not testing the Albanian border with non original documents.
Ready to roll within the hour, approx 2pm and head to Greece... I found out my friends were at the lake having lunch, full family team, 20 of them !! So we nipped to Kamalot on the side of Lake Iskar for a quick lunch.
Cheap as chips food and a fanta, quick catch up and route discussion we said our hello's and goodbyes and we were off.
We headed toward the Greek border approx 2.5 hours away.... well that was the plan.
Within a few miles I noticed my newly fitted tyre was going down, then again about an hour later it went again... really didn't want to change it so I prayed the gunk in the tubes would do its job.... over inflated and hoped for the best....
We kept riding and riding, the roads where sublime, beautiful, nothing like I'd expected, great surfaces, near as dammit empty, twistys for miles and miles and miles and miles....... a few too many miles it seemed...
It became apparent that there was something a little iffy with my Garmin. Scott had the new montana but hadn't managed to put the European maps on it or ruff route we had... busy ! :)
I checked mine.. it was set to off road only, avoid highways / motorways / tolls etc etc etc... I quickly changed it. Plotted a route to Thessaloniki and we set off again.... we seemed to be doubling back on ourselves but soon we were off on more bigger and sweeping roads, through gorgeous planes and then we slowly started to climb ...
We just kept riding, it was glorious, the tyre stayed up, it was pumped, we were pumped as we headed towards the border.....
Arriving at the border we where told to line up with the wagons, a separate route to the cars... seemed strange, using internationally observed hand gestures it was confirmed we needed to stay on the road we were on.... Honk, hoooooonk... the truck behind us started to sound his horn and shouted wrong way in English.... More internationally observed sign language later it seemed the official knew nothing and we were indeed in the wrong lane... Quick U turn then back into the car line... 1st official realizing we were English, just said traveling. To which we replied yes.. on to the next window....
Passport - handed over
Documents for bike... ok.
No problems. I was free to move on. I waited to see if Scott had any issues.... good job I did... Problem !!!
No Possible !!
Needless to say we shit um !!!
After quite a lengthy exchange using lots of the words problem, big problem, no possible, the customs official deemed it a good idea to get his boss. A very smart, forceful looking man, who looked although freindly, not to be messed with.
Problem and big problem and no possible were still a constant.. He explained that if we were travelling to another EU country, its no problem... said twice for good measure, but as this wasn't EU... BIG Problem.....
It was obviously at this point I had knew we had f'd up .... " this IS EU I said, when did Greece leave the EU? I thought it was us 1st?"
"Greece? said the confused guard... "this is Macedonia no Greece" !!! even the brass on his lapels steamed up as he was clearly getting flustered by our extreme level of incompetence. I think he must have thought we were taking the piss.
I quickly explained we had a ... quite a serious navigational error that had brought us to him... but an error none the less.
Many apologies later and me asking him not to mention to anyone else that he'd met dumber and dumber that day, we were free to go.... back to Bulgaria.... but no !!! STOP !!!.
PASSPORT !! jeeeesus, I wondered what was in store for me after my half hour of no mans land... it seems I'd been signed out of Bulgaria but not into Macedonia ... I was truly in no mans land... and needed signing back into Bulgaria before I could move on...
Crazy... on we went back down the road, towards the Hotel paradise 3* heaven as it was going dark, we had our tails between our legs.
The Adventure had truly begun.
Day Two - after a lovely night in Paradise, we were welcomed, fed, watered and entertained by 2 english speaking girls and a moody older women. £20 per night, food was free as I always say in Bulgaria as its that cheap !!
There is always something cold on the plate though that should be warm. Good food though. The rooms were eastern block but clean, brown, lots of brown !!
One of the girls in Paradise was studying fashion design in Falmouth of all places and spoke English really well. The Bulgarians are generally always good hosts and really friendly towards travelers. She asked why only older people would speak to her in the UK, said that if she spoke in the common room in the University to say her mother, but in Bulgarian, she could empty a room. Seemed to think the language put her fellow students off somehow. "Only people from the balkans will talk to me, even in a club they hear my accent and that is the end of the conversation".
Older people on the other hand, she found to be engaging and inquisitive towards herself and culture. She asked why this could be... I didn't have an answer. "Elderly people like you are always kind"... Elderly !!!!! that was the end of our conversation lol.. She was lovely and was clearly upset on why the young people of England had such bad attitudes towards her and her friends. I obviously corrected her on her use of the word elderly :)
It was a great laugh, we tried to get invites to her and her mates pool party in the local town... but the good hosting didn't stretch to this :)
Sorted the bikes and then off.. after checking and double checking against Google that our route was the correct one !! Garmin still send us some crazy ways so I decided to stick with Google and maps.me
Our route map of the entire trip. To Greece !!! .. hopefully.
It was a great day to be riding, fresh air, warm, great roads and knowing.. ish we were finally on the right path...
My tyre had stayed up over night and we rode through valleys and lovely twistys toward the main motorway that should take us to Greece. Quick lunch stop, Scott needed a cash machine as he'd turned up without any currency... lol.
Re group and onwards. Glorious !! The plan was to head towards Thessaloniki ETA 3:30 pm perfect...
The ride continued via a lovely A road busy in parts but sweeping and twisting under a tree canopy through gorges and opening out as the landscape change before us.
I was a little hot and we were getting hungry so I stopped at a garage. It was a rough looking place compared to the all singing all dancing garage a couple of hundred yards before... I looked down at my wheel.. big problem...
Gunk was escaping from the valve hole, the tyre was still inflated but there was obviously an issue, the last time I saw this, the valve let go and I watched Minky slide down the road somewhere in Shropshire.. I didn't want the same thing to happen to be so I decided I better change it than risk it.
There was a bike stand outside the garage, a little unusual, but bloody handy, although I was roasting, it was HOT, my crap fish tank gauge I bought for £3 off ebay showed it was 36 in the shade. I really didnt want to fight with a E09 mitas in this heat.. The ubiquitous smoking bloke sat near the pumps saw our plight and said the words we'd got to hear on repeat.. problem? Big problem?.... we agreed.
2 minutes !!! We waited as we was not sure what 2 minutes meant for us... sure enough, 2 minutes later the owner of the bike stand appeared... "Problem?" Me and Scott in harmony: "YES !! big Problem"
"10 minutes" came the reply... !!
10 mins later a pick up with a young lad sporting shorts and flip flops turned up. .... "Problem? " lol yes repeat :)
"200 meters - follow ", so we did. Just behind the petrol station was a row of garages each with different businesses of no idea origin, a car mechanic place opposite and his place.
Outside was this !!!
Inside was even more toys and tools - we had stumbled on the right place. He spoke no English, but Tony a mechanic from opposite knew a little and we fathomed out how to convey we wanted it fixing and if possible a spare "reserve" tube.
Sorted, wheel off and our flip flop friend drove off and a crazy guy on a vespa? was dispatched to source us a reserve tube.
Tony came over with some fresh water melon blimey it was tasty. It was still pretty bloody hot when 2 lads turned up on an old tenere. He spoke good English and we exchanged some bike chat and laughs. The others were soon back with tyre and spare tube sorted, oh and a range of classy aftershaves that the crazy man was trying to sell us. We all had a propper laugh.
40 lev - £20 for the tube and repair. My tyre had been put on the wrong way in the UK and also had a staple stuck in the tube, hence the gunk. Lucky we stopped.
We were on our way again within 2 hours, with great memories of some lovely folk.
We were approx 20 kilometers from the border. It was 1.70 Euro toll at the border for bikes.
Typically Scott has no euros. So managed to get the guy in the car behind to give him the cash as I'd already gone through....
Thessolaniki, probably not how u spell it, Big city. Big tarmac Rutts !!! Lol dealing with ruts in a city. WTF.
Found the seaside, parked and proceeded to find a room. Few phone calls and we made it to Hotel Pella. Nice clean and 38 euros for two with a 3 Euro breakfast. Great city, Hot hot hot. Even fans in the street to keep u cool.
Lovely narrow streets filled with bars and alfresco dining, I have never been to a city that is sooo full of beautiful people. It must have been 4 to 1 female to male ratio. Spot the minger.. there wasnt any!
Had a gorgeous meal, fully local, then a few pints. Some street kids playing guitar and bongos came over, they played, Scott paid but as he went to hand the money over the largest kid tried to snatch it... as he pulled away his full pint of lager went all over me crotch. I looked to all of Greece like I'd pee'd myself.
We stayed out, drank more, had the craic.... It was a late one. I showered fully clothed when we returned to the hotel at silly o'clock to get the sticky beer out me one and only kecks.
It's soo hot over night they were completely dry in the morning. After a 3 euro breakfast.. " very good".. It wasnt we went off to explore the old town today. Then see where the bikes take us. METEORA - the ( technically) start of our adventure. This is where we had a rough very old copy of the TET trail and some other routes given to us from various forums...
Day 3. Set out from Thessolaniki... late after a hard night on the tiles :) Went into the old town... not much we could see from the bikes and I think we'd both sooner ride than walk around history.. quick frappe then onto a braaap.
Lazy ride down the mway for about 3 hours to make up time after my puncture n navigator errors. Past the only adventure riders all holiday, a group of Dutch. Not the most friendly of folk. They all seemd a litle weary... It was hot!! 47c on the temp in the queue for the toll.
Sorted my Garmin. Had a strong word and a delve into the settings. Finally pulled off the m way onto a bloody gorgeous twisty road for about 30+kilometers.
To Meteora. Well worth it... my word what a place. Nature at its finest. Managed a couple of little trails... we saw 8 wild tortoises within half hour. If in doubt... come here.
The trails start tomorrow.. hopefully not at 44 degrees Celsius.. It was that hot queuing for the toll both.. cost approx 5 Euro in tolls to get here. Motorways are clear and good surfaces. Unlike city's that have tarmac rutts !. Wish us luck tomorrow.
Day... what day are we on?
We started at Meteora to follow a very early version of the TET route.
Towards the Pindus mountain range. It began over a lovely pass then onto the trails, a few river crossings and a pretty washed out trail. It would have been difficult after any rain.
Then back onto the white stuff, I can't say black stuff as the tarmac is white around here.
An epic route over a closed mountain pass. The road said closed, we risked it, what are adventure bikes for !! What a pass, stunning !!
We saw maybe 4 cars moving all day as we picked our way through trails and forests and villages. Sublime, all be it very hot.
Simply a beautiful ride. We went off route and followed some trails to a lake, super blue in colour with a few fisher men and their 4*4's parked near the lake. We followed this for a while, took a few photos. Spotting many a route back to the road we thought a short cut was in order. So sending Scott on the lighter bike 1st I watched and waited... I creeped down the slope a little, then braaaaaaaaaaapp, the distinct sound of a bike stuck on a hill, then I saw him fall. Nothing serious, but obviously stressful. I think he rolled back into the only fence in greece and got caught in the the wire.
I ended up negotiating the steep climb down, to park and see if he needed help. It was a little sketchy but all good. XT660R in its spiritual home land. Finally he made it out and down the hill. I opted for riding out and around back above him to try and help but he was out and we were laughing, a close call, but all part of the fun.... On wards to the white stuff... after many many a lovely road, no cars or bikes just views and views, a few trails peeping out of the side of the road, we took a few, a few dead ends and one that ended up very steep with think slate like rocks... then it just got steeper, it was very late in the day, and comedy hot so we opted for the best option... retreat :)
We ended up at a family run guest house, eating home made feta, wild fresh fish, fresh BBQ sheep's cheese and the local spirit cipero, Tsipouro also home made. Gorgeousness!!
Bring on today braaaping adventure.
Tortoise - the 1st one, never seen a wild one ever, we saw 9 within an hour on the trails.
Loads of little bridges, loads of great roads and tracks.
The route we took... didn't really get lost either which was a first.. :) You can't really get too lost as every turn there is something to entertain you as you ride.
You can keep your other passes. One with no cars, generally great surface and beautiful views... and no one else !!
Day... Decision day ...
Try and get to Corfu for a party night? Go to one of the many coastal towns near Igoumenitsa or go Kavala the total other side of Greece to meet with me mates who had hired a coach and driver for 3 days to visit the coast.
We decided Kavala - a big day as it would be 5 hours riding but we figured we had to head that way ish any way to get back to Bulgaria. Kavala
Corfu etc, just wouldn't have had the time to enjoy it... would have been funny though :)
But 1st to the Vikos Gorge Vikos Gorge
The day started with the usual Garmin issues, 1st off get some then we went round in one big circle, then an off shoot, then finally an hour later found our way to the Vikos gorge. It was a lovely get lost morning, but we knew time wasn't on our side as we still had the mammoth ride to Kavala to deal with.
Gorgeous gorge it is too. Stunning. Epic shear drop twisty tarmac for miles and miles and miles.
Unfortunately on the way back Scott shot off to do some fast riding them apparently. That CCM with him on it is quick !!! He decided to go off road he thought I'd seen him, I hadn't... there started an hour long search.. he wasn't at the crossroads, he wasn't at the garage. So I got to ride it all again looking for him.
A little worried to say the least. Finally after sharing a fag with a shoe less man on top of the pass he answered his phone :) twas a relief.
We arranged to meet somewhere on the main motorway. As we'd decided to do the marathon ride to Kavala to meet my UK friends n family that evening.... somehow we spotted each other travelling in opposite directions down the motorway.... lol :) all sorted and the ling ride started.
What a motorway.. not every day u can say that. Smooth, empty, tunnel after tunnel, huge bridges and amazing views as we chased the setting sun on our way to Kavala.
Soon it started to go dark, after a finally finding a proper service station with air con !! glorious, I just stood at the door for a while enjoying the blast of cold air.. It was the only motorway service station in 150 miles .. it was then when we noticed Scott's bike has used loads of oil. Half a litre or there abouts... they only have about 1 litre to start with !!
So we topped her up, fueled up and then onward into the night.......
Arriving 5 hours later in Kavala, 11:30 om ish. We could smell the smell of the ocean and holidays. Life was good, we were tired.. only to find our hotel reception had closed for evening they were apartments that had been booked for us, they apparently had waited an extra hour but at 10:30 the called it a night, we were bedless..
After frantic search for another hotel all we could find where hotels for 200 euro plus ! finally we found one 40 euros with under gound car park so we had a pint with the British team we'd travelled so far to meet with..., it had been 12 hours riding day and was badly needed !!.
Leaving the very swish boozer - By now it was maybe 2am time for bed and the 7k ride to the hotel... we set off into the night, feeling far to woozy to be riding, although we'd only had a pint.. fatigue I guess.. Only 150 yards later the CCM died... it had run out of fuel... a little comedy stress, quick siphon from my tank and we were away... bed !!! :) :)
Kavala is beautiful Greek northern city. Busy with Greek and Bulgarian holiday makers, and some pasty white English.. us. Not a cheap place but so good to relax and swim for a day. We spent the day on the beach swimming and eating, followed by a lovely meal with the familys and locals. A most excellent day off and we were both glad we'd made the effort.
Time to head back to Bulgaria ... ride some more of the Rila. It's definitely been an adventure so far.
Day... on our way home :( ish
After a great meal in a local Greek Tavern, Epic meat feast as usual, we were invited into the rear of the restaurant... probably only used in winter as it was stifling in there... Low and behold an ancient church just through the rear door, the restaurant was built on to it, it was a little weird to say the least, albeit very very beautiful. I tried to take some photos but they just didn't do the tiny church any justice. Good food, amazing place. !
Followed by a few drinks by the harbour, right nice it was too.
The morning after the night before... with sore heads and a slightly heavy heart we decided we didnt want to ride bikes and we wanted to play in the sea some more lol..... unfortunately Bulgaria was calling so we dithered around for as long as we could... Well after lunch then took the plunge to go sort ourselves and the bikes... its was rather warm.... protocol involved wearing as little as possibe within reason whilst packing the bikes for riding, then a quick dash into our riding gear and on the bikes and moving before the sweat really started to pour. 38+ C I think it was.
We opted for the scenic route of course, via the mountain passes towards Bankso then onto Samokov, we so far had missed all the threatened thunder storms and torrential down pours but only just....
Onward.... after about an hour or so we started to follow the mountains then drifted into the middle of them... snaking and winding our way along for what felt like hours... it was hours !! The tarmac smooth, grippy, hardly any cars just mental lorries that had to be overtaken....if you dare.
Finally reaching the border, documents needed, no toll and back to the land of in my opinion, better food and of course much much cheaper.
The border guard was confused by my sticker on my bike, "what is bike? " Yamaha I replied, "No !! YSS " ? " huh?" I said in my best Bulgarian.....
"YSS??" then I noticed he was pointing at my tank stickers .... luckliy the Yamaha badge is still there so all was resolved... back to the twistys.......... miles and miles of them.... Scott spotted a go kart track at the side of the road,,,, very VERY posh. Better than any UK one I have visited ! and a 3rd the price too... That was it... the race was on.... well for a lap.. Scott then told me he has 2 racing karts at home and left me like I was going backwards.. still great fun and a good break from the bike... we were sweating cobs after tho !
We pressed on, seeming to miss all the rain.. we saw the after affects and we could see it all around us, black and ominous but nothing directly on us... I knew as we entered the forest part of the road that it could get a little slippy... my word, the road was like ICE !!! 10 miles of terror, gravel and muck washed onto the road at any junction, they had had some serious rain. We were both glad we had been so hungover to ride early an opted for an after lunch start..
Entering familiar territory and the road drying off, the sun on our back, ish :) we entered Samokov and proceeded to the hotel, Appartely a feast awaited us.. We had two options... road ride the final part, or take the trail to the hotel.. we took the trail obviously.
Started easily enough, well the 1st 30 yards, then as we started to climb.... the Mitas e09 and XT644 tryes beacame slicks and I was on a bucking bronco ride. Needless to say I binned it , nearly slipped down the banking, Scott on his trail tyres were even more useless. !!
It was obviously at this point it started to rain, and some how went dark within seconds.... A little disconcerting to say the least... The big muddy push up the hill for both bikes and we slithered our way over the top and back down to the hotel... were a feast was duly served. Well earned !!
And great to meet the gang again :)
Our last day tomorrow before we load the bikes for shipping home........ relax or ride........??
We obviously chose to ride.. To Black Rock. This is the place up in the Borovtz mountains where they used to throw partisans off the top... after some torturing 1st of course !!
The Black Rock (Cherna Skala) is a natural phenomenon in the Rila mountains, about one hour on foot from Borovets, in the direction of Zavrachitsa mountain lodge. The distance from the summit of the rock to its stony base is about 135 metres forming a gorge with a sheer cliff. Dozens of men were killed here after the 9th September, 1944. They were victims of the new "people's power" from the region of Samokov and the villages of Iskar and Belchin.
The victims were wealthy people - traders, craftsmen and wealthy villagers from the region - killed without trial and sentence.
After the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, Bulgaria began to talk freely of the men from Samokov who disappeared without a trace in the autumn 1944.
http://pametbg.com/index.php/en/memoria ... black-rock
Horrific histories !!!
Feels wrong having photos up there and smiling for the camera now knowing just how bad the place was.
The old Ottoman trails to the rock after the recent flooding had washed away completely in parts and took some serious negotiation on the trusty XT, Scott's CCM and Matts KTM even struggled a little.
A great little route of about 60 miles ish and, pretty big bike friendly.
But it was soon time to go sort the bikes ready for shipping.
After loading the bikes and a quick shower it was time to go eat food with the locals. Our guides from our enduro events Venci and Fury. Pappa, Larry to help translate and drink with us and also a random Bulgarian bloke who just played on his phone, We ate local and drank local till we were stuffed and pretty pissed too.... £70 for all of us all in !!
Great night, Great crack ace food.
If ever your in the region, call in. it wer right nice ... as they say in wigan :)
All in all
2000 kilometers covered
approx £10 in tolls ish
1 litre of oil "Scotts bike"
half a litre of Tsipreo ( greek spirit)
half liter rakia ( bulgarian sprirt )
We ate cheese of some description almost every day for 10 days.
3 international borders
1 unintentional border :)
bike drops 1 - me
girls numbers asked for 3 - all by Scott :)
numbers received = 0
scary moments - a few
crossed words, odd one
laughs had - loads and loads
Smiles per mile 99%
trails 10% roads 90%
Bikes shipped with www.bulgariabikeshipping.com approx £500 per bike return. each bike was under 120cm tall with all bags removed.
Hope you enjoyed the read, hope you can forgive my bad spelling and loose use of the English language :)
Hopefully I'll make a video with the silly amount of footage I have.