VIDEO | Getting There – Parts 4 & 5

VIDEO | Getting There – Parts 4 & 5

As I write this, it’s been nearly a year since Allie and I left on this adventure. Seems I should get caught up. The good news is that business has been good. Allie and I have been busy enough that keeping current on here hasn’t been a priority. But we’ll try to balance that out a bit.

At any rate, the video Part No. 4 (below) starts out on our last day in Italy, and follows us to Greece. In editing it, I’ve tried to capture the emotion of our travels; what it was like to say goodbye to Florence and Rome, and to be greeted by Athens. I made an effort to include shots from the daily/weekly routine – like “planning meetings” on the beach in Glyfada, taking the subway everywhere, and occasional visits to the market in Monastiraki.

We’ve already mentioned the somewhat-bitter taste that Athens left in our mouth, but it’s so important to keep it all in context and remember the soul-quenching feelings and experiences that come from travelling outside of your country (not to mention comfort zone).

These videos are a self-indulgence for me, in the sense that they’re really just for my own entertainment and benefit. Obviously I want to have something to share with friends, family, and future kiddos. But I’m a collector. I want to capture moments like this – the visual, the emotion, the nostalgia – and keep it all, and have it to take with me. There really is beauty and magic to be found while wandering foreign places – even in the dirty, dumpy streets of cities who have all but given up. I’m glad we got to sample life in Athens, even for just nine weeks.

 

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

And then there was Skiathos.

For all the stress and hard work in Athens, the pay off was Skiathos. This was our much needed get away. Allison and I wrote all about it already (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) if you want more of the back stories and photos. I’m sure it sounds obnoxious to complain that we needed a break from Athens, but so be it.

We needed a break from Athens. And this was it.

 

 

Watch the other videos on our home page by scrolling down to that section. Or click here.

 


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Sparta on a Motorbike | Day One: The Gods Smiled on Us

I think Allison would agree with me that the highlight of our time in Greece was – without a doubt – the motorcycle ride from Athens to ancient Sparta (and a good chunk of the Peloponnese Peninsula). As you can see on the map, this first day of travel would take us from our apartment in Athens along the bay to ancient Corinth, down through Argos and a magnificent mountain range near Achladokampos on the way to Tripoli, then down to Sparta.

It would turn out to be one of the best weekends of my life. I hope you’ll humor me and read along while I describe the events leading up to it.

Or don’t. The pictures are pretty, too. :) 

* * *

When we first set out for Italy and Greece in March, I was hoping to rent a motorcycle once in Florence, then again at some point in Athens. I’ve already mentioned that we were on a minimal budget, and – having encountered some unexpected expenses – we had all but accepted the idea that we wouldn’t be able to afford this second Mediterranian motorcycle ride.

We worked hard to create extra projects and new services to offer our Vagabond Original clients. I was glad that we earned some extra play money and made it out to Skiathos. Once we got back from that much-needed island hiatus, we were basically preparing to head home soon. IT wasn’t looking like we’d be able to rent a motorbike after all.

But it was eating at me. There was a naughty little motorcycle demon, gnawing on my black, leather boots and playing in my motorcycle jacket hanging sadly in the closet.

The demon knew. The very first time I started seriously considering a visit to Greece, I knew I wanted to ride a motorcycle to Sparta. And no amount of consoling myself with lists of amazing things we had already done would assuage this demon. There was only one way to exorcise it, and it involved two wheels and gasoline.

By some miracle, I as able to work hard and scrape together some last minute funds. Return tickets had already been purchased well in advance, and we had our other expenses budgeted and covered. This extra cash was just for some last-minute playing before we would leave. I started searching frantically for a motorcycle rental shop, but it was a bit last minute, so most of the places we called didn’t have anything available besides goofy little scooters and tiny 150-250 CC motorcycles (not nearly big enough).

The demon laughed and shook his chains.

But someone on Mount Olympus was looking out for us, even in seemingly insignificant ways. I found a place that had a 650 CC bike available. A Honda. Nothing wrong with that, but I had to dismiss my hopes of riding a BMW this time. Still – while 650 CC is at the small end of the spectrum for two-up riding – this was the best option available to us, and I was just thrilled that we were doing this thing.

The plan (originally) was just to leave on Friday (our last Friday in Greece, in fact), stay the night in Sparta, then ride back the next day in time to drop it off before getting charged out the nose for a 3-day weekend rental. So it would be a quick trip – just an over-nighter. This would be enough to satiate me (and the horned imp, now waltzing around in my leather gloves).

So the motorcycle was booked. Our room in Sparta was booked. The route was planned. Kilometers and liters were factored again and again.

Then, with a distant thunder bolt and a clap of thunder hanging in the air, the guy I had just booked the bike with called back with a deal we couldn’t refuse.

“We were thinking, here, that this is not a long time for you to have the motorbike. If you’d like, we wanted to offer you to still pick up the motorbike on Friday, and then have the motorcycle through the weekend – three days – and drop it off on Monday morning, but we would only charge you for two days. Would you be interested in this?”

Yes.

That would give us enough time to do some extra riding on Saturday, make it back to our apartment in Athens, and maybe screw around a little on Sunday before dropping it off Monday morning.

This flexibility would pay off in a different way than we imagined. But that’s for later.

Thursday night, we checked the whether report for our trip. It had been raining pretty hard that week. It looked like there would be thunderstorms Friday morning in Athens, blowing through around 11am, with more thunderstorms in Peloponnese (where we would be riding) around noon for a few hours. But if we timed it right, it appeared that the Peloponnese storms would blow through before we got there; meanwhile, the heavy rains would reach Athens again, but not until after we had left.

In theory.

Like I said, it felt as if someone On High was taking care of the tiniest details. This pattern of happy circumstances would continue throughout the weekend.

Friday morning came, and went about as planned. There was rain first thing in the morning which let up by the time we got to the bike rental shop. Once there, we were looking over the Honda that we were about to rent. While in the garage, I noticed that someone had brought back a BMW F650GS.

“Is the GS available?”

It was.  She was. Another bonus.

* * *

The first leg took us out of Athens, along the bay, and straight to Corinth. There was plenty of traffic getting out of Athens, and more lane-splitting than Allison would have liked.

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Corinth is located on the narrow neck of land connecting the Peloponnese Peninsula to mainland Greece. It actually has a narrow canal (think Panama) carved right through it to allow ships to pass from the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf and out to the Aegean Sea without having to travel all the way around the peninsula (you can see the canal if you zoom in on the embedded map at the top of this post).

We had limited time, and the timing with the storms had to be monitored, so we bypassed the modern city and went straight for Ancient Corinth, situated just south-southwest at the base of a steep, rocky hill that has to be described as a mini, mound-like mountain. On top of this hill is a large, ancient fort.

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It was amazing to see the Temple of Apollo and imagine the apostle Paul walking those same paths and preaching Christ’s gospel to the Corinthians.

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We couldn’t help but sigh in disappointment at the junk lying around, typical of so many of the sites we saw in Greece.

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No matter.

One of my favorite things about Corinth was the large fortresses built on the hilltops.

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From one fort, you could see another fort on top of some distant hilltop on the horizon (if you look closely, you’ll see it).

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Turn around, and you could see another, on yet another hilltop in the other direction.

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This is Persephone.

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We stopped here and explored the hill a bit before sitting down in the golden grass for a picnic.

Just as we described in our Skiathos posts, our adventure picnic was, again, made up of hard boiled eggs and some fresh oranges. Not much of a meal. Just some proteins and sugars to get us to where we were going. I look back fondly on these meager lunches. Hard-boiled eggs will forever remind me of adventuring.

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The beauty of it all was staggering. Still thinking about the apostle Paul, I wondered aloud if he ever wandered on this same hillside, lamenting the sins of the locals in the city below.

We took turns with the camera, trying to capture just a bit more of the feeling of this place before getting back on the road.

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The day had grown warm, and the sky was gorgeous. Although we couldn’t see them, the storms between us and Sparta were dissipating as planned. We got back on the road and headed south, toward Argos.

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It was great riding. We leaned into curve after curve as the road snaked its way up into the mountains south of Corinth.

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The stretch of road through the mountains near Achladokampos (between Argos and Tripoli) was particularly spectacular – both scenery and riding. I wish the camera could have captured even a tenth-part of the depth of those mountains and valleys. The landscape, sky, and lighting added drama to the high-speed curves of those foreign highways. Talk about a natural high.

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I got a little emotional a couple times, doing what I love, with the woman I love, feeling watched over by a God that I love.

We were doing it. The stuff we’d been talking about. The motivation behind quitting my desk job after Morocco was the catalyst that led me to Allison, led us both to full-time freelancing, had recently led us through the cities and countryside of Italy, and had now led us here, flying down a mountain road I knew I would never see again, in some of the most dramatic lighting, scenery, and context I could dream up.

I felt an overwhelming sense of exhilaration and peace. We were doing it. And we were going to be okay.

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In the noise of the engine and wind, I found myself shouting expletives of joy inside my helmet. If only you could have seen what this sky really looked like.

After stopping to take these photos, we put away the camera and took a moment for ourselves to absorb the stillness, and observe the movement of the shadows and the light.

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And with that, the demon was gone.

The sun had just begun to set when we made our way down a twisty canyon that opened up into the valley where we set our eyes on the city of Sparta. With large, rolling hills to the east, and the towering Taygetus Mountains overlooking the city from the west, Sparta was nestled in a valley not that unlike the one we’re used to in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Editor’s note: For the sake of context – here’s a photo that we took on Day 3, as we were leaving Sparta. For those of you familiar with the Wasatch Front in Utah, the peaks of the Taygetus that you see in the photo below are roughly 1000 ft taller (valley floor to tallest peak) than Mount Timpanogos. Impressive.

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For probably-very-obvious reasons, Sparta was a special place for me (I’ll gush about that later in the Man Things section). It was my Mecca. And the mountains made it feel a little like home.

Historical significance aside, it was a lovely little city. We got checked into our lovely little hotel room with plenty of time left in the evening to stroll around and find a much-needed meal (the eggs and oranges had worn off by now). Maybe it was to be expected, but Sparta is a town that knows why it’s on the map. We didn’t have to walk far before we came across reminders of Sparta’s heritage.

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After eating, sitting, and a bit more wandering, we walked back to our hotel and settled in for the night. It was a lovely day of riding. And Day Two was looking to be even better.

We had no idea.

VIDEO | Getting There – Part No. 3

And here’s Part No. 3 – and it’s the first motorcycle one, so you can imagine I’m a little extra excited about this one. This is the BMW F800GS (named “Sophia,” if you remember) that we rented while in Florence (for those photos and stories, click here).

So this video takes us through the Tuscan countryside from Florence, through Siena, Asciano, Monte Oliveto, to Buonconvento, where we turned around, headed back over that amazing pass back to Asciano, then headed east, looping back to Florence as the sun set.

I wish I could describe what it felt like. This will have to do:

Watch the other videos on our home page by scrolling down to that section. Or click here.

 

Trivia: “Hate the Taste” is dedicated to the Radicchio Risotto that Allison ordered in Siena. It really was the worst. Heh. “But I’d do it all again . . . .” (and, of course, the chorus speaks for itself).

Here’s the route we took:

 


Find more of my stuff on VAGABONDORIGINAL.COM or find me:      

VIDEO | Getting There – Part No. 2

Here’s another compilation of some of our favorite moments in Italy. This one starts where Part No. 1 leaves off, in Rome, and follows us north to Florence. It also includes some of our all time favorite moments of the trip, including the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and – most especially – when we watched our sweet friend Almas, the street artist, paint us a black and white watercolor of the Duomo and Giotto’s bell tower.

We’re excited to share this. We’ve been busy with work (hooray!) so personal video projects like this one have had to wait. But its important to us to have these; partially so we have our own video journal of some of our cherished memories, and partially so we can share our adventures with our family and friends. When you watch these, I hope you can feel even the tiniest bit of what we did.

 

Watch the other videos on our home page by scrolling down to that section. Or click here.

 

You’ll have to wait until next time for the motorbike footage from all over Tuscany. I can’t wait for that one.

 

Parthenon & The Acropolis

The day we returned to Athens from Skiathos, there was still enough daylight to hike up the Acropolis, on which the Parthenon and other ruins sit. It was blazing hot, and we were weary from our return trip from the island. But we were nearing the end of our time in Greece, and – not only was the Acropolis still very much on our to-do list – but once a month, they offer free admission to the site (normally around $15 per ticket).

That free admission day was this day. If we didn’t take advantage of the free admission, we’d still go another day before leaving. We’d just have to pay $30 that we’d rather spend on souvenirs.

We were still feeling adventurous (and frugal) so we dropped off our packs at home, readied some water bottles with lemonade (featuring fresh lemon juice from our lemon trees in Skiathos!), and walked to the subway station. Next stop, Akropoli.

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The hill to the top was somewhat steep, with small ruins littered about. Soon enough, we came upon those ancient stone steps, and up we went.

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We were a little disappointed by all the scaffolding, but the Parthenon was still pretty impressive.

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You can see where they’ve restored/recreated some of the missing pieces in order to rebuild parts of it. We made sure to point out to our nephews that some of the pieces look remarkably similar to Legos.

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From the top, there was much to see. Lots of other edifices surrounded the Parthenon, although there was very little information provided about which building was which. Regardless, it was surreal to imagine what it must have all looked like 2500 years ago.

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I love this next photo, and I wish I knew exactly what we were looking at. Allison likes to point out her toasty, sunburned feet shmeared with a coat of shiny sunscreen.

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The view was great. You could see all of Athens, all the way out to the sea on the western horizon. You could also see lots of other Athenian landmarks, like the Temple of Hephaestus, the Temple of Zeus, and the Panathenaic Stadium.

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We’d hike down to the temple of Hephaestus by sunset.

It was cool to see the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch from up there, and seeing some of those areas that we had explored earlier in our wanderings around the city.

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The Panathenaic Stadium stadium was originally built around 500 B.C. and more recently reconstructed/restored just over 100 years ago on the remains of the ancient stadium. Shortly after it’s restoration, it was the site of the world’s first modern Olympic Games, held in 1896.

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On the way back down, there was still plenty more to see.

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Down at the bottom of the hill (just across from the market at Monastiraki), we walked through the Museum of the Ancient Agora. We didn’t take photos inside the smaller rooms where they displayed a variety of artifacts, including ancient pottery, tools, jewelry, demolished spear tips, and even a heavily worn, battle-damaged Spartan shield. It might have been the only thing in the whole place that I genuinely cared about. I wondered about the man who bore it, what battle he was fighting, and his family that he likely left behind.

Outside those smaller rooms were these large halls with modern replicas of the columns that once stood in their place, housing the headless sculptures of ancient gods and generals.

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Outside the museum, we walked through the garden grounds of the Agora.

Agora means “gathering place,” and we’re told that it was a favorite spot for some of the great minds of their time, including Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates.

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It was cool to see ancient ruins mingled with a Byzantine church built centuries later.

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The open grounds of the Agora have many pathways leading all over, but the one we took led us right to the Temple of Hephaestus. We got there just as the sun was waning in the western sky.

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The sun continued to set, and – with the sunlight – our energy levels grew dim.

We made it back home after a subway ride and an 800-mile hike back to our apartment. We were so exhausted.

With this and so many other boxes checked off on our to-do list before leaving Greece, we were beginning to feel the reality of our approaching departure date.

It was a good feeling. We were about ready to return home to Utah.

At this point, I had written off the idea of a motorcycle ride here in Greece. We were barely able to afford the trip to Skiathos, after all. I was trying to convince myself that I’d be fine without my daydream of renting another motorbike and riding through Corinth and across the Peloponnese peninsula to Sparta.

I consoled myself with the fact that we did get to see and do so many amazing things already, and that I was able to ride a bike all through the amazing Tuscan hills of Italy, earlier in our travels. The trip had been a great adventure and I was trying to be satisfied with it all.

Secretly, though, some part of my consciousness was doing everything possible to make that Sparta ride happen.

. . . there’s no need for a spoiler alert, right? At this point, you all know what’s coming next.

Skiathos | Part No. 3 : What We Needed

There are literally hundreds of photos that Allison and I took on Skiathos. I’ll share some of our very favorites that didn’t make it into Part No. 1 or No. 2 of these posts.

Here are more from the boat tour around the island that moody day.

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On the far side of the island, the wind blows so hard, so consistently, that trees actually grow sideways.

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Happily, those winds were pretty mild that day.

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Our captain stopped the boat at a handful of remote beaches that day, each with their own unique beauty. Our last stop before heading back to port was to one of the small neighboring islands.

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Neither of us could believe the color of the sea there, or how incredibly clear it was.

The boat tour was a great way to end our long weekend on Skiathos. It was one of the most touristy things we did the whole time we were gone this spring.

 

Some of my favorite moments on Skiathos were in the down-time. We spent a lot of time hiking from place to place. I have fond memories of waiting in the sun at bus stops, passing the time taking photos while we waited for the bus to town.

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I think back now on how luxurious it all felt, and how absurd it was for a couple of poor freelancers to be doing it. We did everything we could to stretch a dollar (or a euro, if you prefer). We even hiked on foot up that steep, ungodly hill to our house, rather than spend the 10 euros for the taxi. We cooked a lot of our own food, balancing that with sampling the local cuisine.

The few times we did eat out, we made sure to save Wi-Fi passwords for the restaurants we went to, since we didn’t have internet at our house; later, we would walk over and sit near those same restaurants just to jump onto their Wi-Fi . . . you know, to check our bank account and make sure we still had enough to make it back to Athens.

Skiathos was a special place for us. A much-needed break from work, from emails – and, frankly – from Athens. In stark contrast, Skiathos seemed completely set apart from the woes of the Greek economy and the dirty, unkempt, melancholy metropolis we would soon return to.

Skiathos represented something, I think. More than just a touristy destination, or a beautiful island paradise. It was the fruits of our labors, an achievement, and simultaneously it was luck, blessing, generosity, and serendipity. It was nature. Sweat. Sunburns. Smiles. Fresh lemons for our pasta.

It was just what we needed.

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Of course there are way more photos. We’re posting lots more on our Facebook page.