Neale Bayly takes another trip though
Greece on the Vespa 250 GTV.
More than a decade has passed since I last rode in Greece. Four months into a
solo journey around Europe at that time, I remember feeling at my most lonely
touring Athens, and particularly the Acropolis, amongst the crowds of people.
Months of hard travel alone were starting
to take their toll, so I quickly saddled up and blasted into the near deserted
countryside to the north as I went looking for a ship to Italy. Out in the wild,
unspoiled country, where time seemed to have stood still, a few hours of saddle
time restored my inner peace.
Arriving in Athens via airplane with a
good friend along for company, and two scooters waiting for us at the local
Piaggio dealer, my mood could not have been more different from my last visit.
Taking a day to play tourist in this fascinating city, and pouring over our
guidebook looking for a good route, I couldnít wait to hit the road and go
I was going to be riding the new Piaggio MP3, named for its unique three-wheeled
arrangement, and my friend Amy would be piloting the classically styled Vespa
250 GTV. With cooler temperatures, and the possibility of rain, we made a
decision to tour the Peloponnese as our guidebook told us the large peninsula
doesnít attract too many tourists.
Taking too many photos, and drinking too much coffee in small sidewalk cafes, it
was late in the afternoon before we saddled up and left Athens on our first day.
This meant we had to fight traffic for well over an hour, and it was with a huge
sigh of relief that we picked up the E94 heading west into the sinking sun and
rode out along the Gulf of Corinth. Pushing a serious head wind, we rolled along
at a steady 65mph, and I have to admit to being very impressed with the way the
250cc engines performed. Liquid smooth around town at any throttle position,
they did a super job of holding a decent highway speed. Although at these speeds
there is no power left for overtaking.
The Piaggio MP3 caught a lot of stares and questions in Greek that we couldn't
answer.Stopping for gas, we experienced more bewildered looks as the gas station
attendant laid eyes on the MP3 for the first time. Just freaking people out with
its dual wheel set up at the front, our inability to understand Greek probably
saved us many hours of discourse about the pros and cons of the system. I was
happy about this, as it was taking a few attempts to get the MP3ís operating
system buried into my subconscious, as I struggled to remember the parking brake
while flicking the switch on the right handlebar to lock the front wheels
together. Once done, this meant the MP3 didnít need to be put on its stand. For
longer-term duties, like leaving it overnight, I used the rear main stand for
extra safety though, as there was always a small nagging doubt in the back of my
head with the bike just sitting on its three wheels.
Heading further west, we enjoyed the many huge ships lined up in the Gulf of
Megara, reminding us what an important part ships have played in Greeceís
2500-year history. Humming along at a steady 70mph, there were a few wild
moments when a big Mercedes or BMW would come by at least double our speed,
seemingly impervious to the Greek speed laws. Over coffee at a roadside gas
station we hypothesized that these crazy drivers must be shipping billionaires,
who have the local law enforcement in their pockets. Talking with a Greek local,
and learning there is no system for putting points on your license in Greece,
our fantasy got reduced to rich people with enough money to pay the ticket. It
had been a fun idea while it lasted.
So with thoughts of Aristotle Onassis in our heads we made it to a place called
Diakofto for the night. A seaside tourist village, it boasts a small train
station where we could hop a ride on rack and pinion train from 1895 up into the
surrounding mountains. Sounding really interesting we were both up for a train
ride, so found a hotel on the water near the station and tried to get some
The views from the train ride were amazing as the restored locomotive made its
way along the narrow gauge railways though the Vourakios Gorge.
Waking to high winds and cool weather we breakfasted in town, booked our
tickets, and headed for our seats on the train. What a fascinating journey it
turned out to be. Riding up the front of the beautifully restored train, the
narrow gauge railway picked its way up through the dramatic Vouraikos Gorge,
over rickety bridges, and through unlit tunnels as it climbs 2100 feet in 14
miles to the town of Kalavryta. Having the dubious history of being the site of
a Nazi massacre during WWII, the modern town is thriving, and well set up to the
handle tourists who come here to ski in the winter.
Amy suggested a hike, as the train didnít make the return journey for an hour
and a half, so we legged it up the side of the mountain that sits above the
town. Affording incredible views across the surrounding mountains, valleys and
back down into town, it was a short and sweet hike but definitely worth it.
Heading back down to Diakofto our happy driver continually pointed out the most
photographic sights as we positively flew back to sea level. Arriving without
drama, we loaded up the scooters and eagerly hit the trail, happy to be back on
two, or in my case three, wheels.
Taking the rest of the afternoon to meander around the northern coast of the
Peloponnese, before cutting south, we set our sights on Olympia for the night.
In no hurry, and not out to break any long distance awards, we stopped for
photos and coffee, enjoying the relaxed pace of life we were riding through.
Hats off to Greek drivers. Calm, courteous, and totally aware of motorcycles and
scooters, they gave us room, gave us respect, and this only added to our relaxed
mood, as we didnít feel threatened in any way.
Arriving in Olympia in the warm early evening light, we found a super clean
hotel for around 45 Euros, and the small kitschy tourist town fairly devoid of
people. Opting for leg power, we walked into town where we found a nice family
restaurant for dinner. It had been a cool, windy day, but the trade off for
being so early in the season was empty hotels and restaurants and light traffic,
so we werenít about to complain.
There isn't much left of the historic city of Olympia, but it's still worth the
trip to see the amazing ruins.The following morning found us battling a few
early morning tour buses for our visit to ancient city of Olympia. As the
original home of the Olympic games it is well worth a visit, although the ruins
are just that, with little of the original structures still standing. All of the
good artifacts are in the nearby museum, but with time against us we elected to
Leaving the Greek Gods of sport behind, we had a quick, positive run in with the
Gods of travel, as our hotel patron told us about an alternative route through
the mountains to where we wanted to go. I had a feeling it involved small
country roads, and with Amy giving two thumbs up, it was time to go explore.
Leading us up into the mountains above Olympia, the near deserted stretch of
black top that climbs up the town of Lalas had me transported to a state of
bliss within five hundred yards. Devoid of traffic, and for many miles signs of
civilization, it was our first trip back into the older Greece. Shepherds walked
their sheep in the road, old ladies in drab clothing and headscarves swept their
stoops with old-fashioned brushes, and small farmhouses punctuated the
landscape. We saw few grazing animals, and no real agriculture on this leg of
the journey, but with snow capped mountains lining the horizon, it wasnít a
problem as the view was magnificent.
The giant Spartan warrior, Leonidas, stands tall guarding the city of Sparta.
Twisting and climbing around for hours, the afternoon sun told us the best of
the day was behind so we picked up a larger highway and positively sped down
into Tripoli. A large town that resembled Athens with its apartment style
buildings and crowded streets, we stayed long enough to inhale a candy bar and
check the map. A committee decision had been taken to make the ancient city of
Sparta for the night, and exiting onto a deserted two-lane road I knew it was
the right decision. Snaking through deep valleys for many miles, and with
mountain ranges to our east and west it was a stunning, if not cold, ride to
Sparta. Ending with the sun just behind the mountains, and the snow capped Oras
range still burning orange from the last rays in the east we found a lively,
bustling city. Forty-five Euros saw us in a clean, modern hotel, with dinner
less than a hundred feet away.
Awaking to find Sparta bathed golden light, the first real sunny day of the
trip, it was time to explore the ruins of ancient Sparta. Finding the area open
with no ticket collector in sight we rode the scooters right in, finding a
peaceful olive grove carpeted with soft green grass and stunning views through
to the snow capped peaks. Most of the buildings were little more than
foundations, the majority of the brickwork having disappeared to make houses and
walls centuries ago. It was wonderful though, and felt more natural that perhaps
this once proud city should be allowed to slowly go back to the earth without
Vibrant fields of yellow flowers were truly a sight to see.The rest of the day
was off the charts. Pulling out of Sparta with a cool, fresh breeze blowing
through the visor, and the warmth of the sun making it through to my bones, we
began to climb to Goritsa and Geraki. Riding through more fertile olive groves,
busy farms and fields of the most vibrant yellow flowers, it was a day that is
going to make it into my all time best motorcycle ride list. Climbing, climbing
and working our way through small villages, as we rode through the center of
peopleís lives, the smiles in our helmets grew larger and larger. The landscape
was as picturesque as anything I have seen in over 35 countries on two wheels,
and by lunchtime we were sitting in the town of Kosmas, pinching ourselves to
make sure we werenít dreaming. An artist town at the top of the world, the
journey off the mountain after lunch to Leonidio could not have been any more
different to the journey up, and was equally stunning for a whole different set
Arid, and devoid of any form of human life except the magnificently engineered
road, the road hurtled down the steep sided canyons, flicking left and right
with white knuckle switchbacks and hairpins. Demanding 101% concentration Amy
rode like a trooper, and for short periods I left her to make her way down while
I stopped to snap pictures.
In reality the distance was only some 50 miles, but in stimulation per hundred
yards, you could do a couple of days of Interstate riding and not get close.
There were few cars, and no room for error as the scooters played mountain goat
and delivered us safely to town. A little milk and cookies to celebrate, and we
were off to the next jaw dropping experience as we began to head north up along
the Mirtoon Sea.
The stunning views along the Mediterranean coast were hard to break free from as
we had to begin our journey back to Athens.
I have ridden along the Mediterranean coast a few times, so the vivid colors
were not new to me, but the experience was not diluted in anyway. Phenomenal
shades of blue played across the sparkling water, with the vegetation on the
side of the cliffs blazing its spring color best. The twisty road was as
challenging as anything to date, and by now we were encountering a little more
Unfortunately, we had to resist the call of the many small coves and islands
that threatened to draw us in to sit and absorb the beauty around us, as we had
to return the scooters to Athens. So, we cut inland around Astros and made for
the highway. This gave us one last chance to race the scooters as we pinned the
throttle for Athens. Picking up a tail wind we cruised along at 85mph for the
majority of the ride, and I was impressed with the speed and stability of both