Macedonia and Greece
Macedonia was actually not in my route. It was a last minute decision to enter this country because I wanted to see Lake Ohrid from the Macedonian side. Upon declaring my bike at customs at Kjafasan border, the officer insisted to see my GC. He wouldn’t let me in until I showed him one. The price for GC was EUR50 for 15 days (that’s the minimum).It was very expensive. I felt like going back into Albania, but I was so tired and cold after the stressful ride and my hosts’ house was just 26kms away from the border. I didn’t have any choice but to purchase it. The most expensive GC among all 28 countries in GDR so far, considering that I would be in the country for 3 days only.
Finally, I reached Labunishta village after riding 400kms in 10hrs. It was a very tiring and cold ride indeed. The challenge didn’t stop there as I had to ride on a very narrow and steep road, or I could say alley, to reach my host’s house which was located almost on top of the village. It was indeed a scary ride as my small powered bike with heavy loads at the back seemed almost unable to climb up the steep ascent. The last right turn to reach my host’s house was so sharp and steep. Past experience had taught me that with my lack of skill and the lack of power on GD’s side, taking the turn right away would cause disaster. I had to continue riding straight onto a flatter ground, then only slowly made the turn to the right. Thank God I didn’t drop my bike, but God knows how fast my heart beat at that time.
Bertha, her husband, Cani and their granddaughters were already waiting for me. Bertha is an Indonesian who married Cani, a successful jewellery businessman (specialised in pearls) in Macedonia. She was introduced to me by Adeeb, a famous Malaysian cyclist who rode all the way from the UK back to Msia. Bertha served me hot soup right away when she saw me shivering. How shouldn’t I be? I had been riding under the rain in the mountain for 10 hours!!! After taking a hot shower, Bertha served me a delicious dinner of steamy white rice and ayam penyet with sambal (smashed fried chicken with hot chilly paste), a very famous Indonesian dish. It was sooooo delicious. This must have been the best ayam penyet rice that I have tasted in my whole life. Thanks Bertha. I spent three nights in Labunishta. Bertha and Cani treated me like their very own sister. I felt very touched by their kindness. The same goes to all my previous kind hosts. Bertha told me lots of things, mainly about her past and her experience living in Macedonia for the past few years. I was really amazed by the strong will of this lady.
She may have seem small in size, but the way she fought her life battle was indescribable, something in front of which I’m sure many of us would surrender if we were to be in her shoes. Despite being a full-time housewife currently and a housemaid previously when she worked in Hong Kong, she was rich in knowledge as she spent most of her time reading academic books. If only her fate turned out differently, I wouldn’t be surprised if this lady became a successful woman holding an important post as she’s a very smart person. She impressed me with her thoughts and opinions and I must say that I really admired her. She also talked about the charity and Islamic foundation which she raised while in Hong Kong, how she put her efforts (without being paid) in teaching Islamic knowledge to Mualaf and whoever needed it.
How many of us could do that? On the other hand, her husband, Cani is a very generous man when it comes to Islamic charity. His family and himself had built some mosques in and around Ohrid. Every few months, Cani will allocate a certain amount of his money to buy groceries such as rice grains, flour, sugars etc. and he donates them to the poor villagers. Whoever in need will come to him asking for help. Mashaa Allah. My salute to both of them and may Allah grant them jannah for their good deeds. I managed to visit Sturga, the Lake Ohrid city during my stay in Macedonia. Bertha showed me around the beautiful old city. We strolled along the charming little shops and houses with beautiful flowers dangling from the balconies. We also visited an old mosque and a church and spent some time taking in the view of beautiful Lake Ohrid.
Bertha also took me to an Old Fort near Struga from where I had a bird’s eye view of the whole city and Lake Ohrid from above. Time to say goodbye to my wonderful hosts. Both Bertha and Cani tried to persuade me to stay longer, at least 1 week more, unfortunately I couldn’t do that. Bertha gave me so much food for my upcoming trip that I didn’t have the space to put it in my box and panniers. I also got some souvenirs from her. What kind-hearted people she and her husband were. It was hard to leave them. I hope we will meet again someday. The ride from Labunishta to Macedonia – Greece border was interesting. I passed lots of wheat fields. Some were still green, some were golden, waiting to be harvested. Wild flower fields of white, yellow and red dominated the view. At one point, my GPS directed me to take an off-road. I thought that was the correct road so I followed it.
It got more and more difficult later with big stones, whilst at the same time I saw a paved road that ran alongside the off-road. Then it crossed my mind that the road I was riding must have been the old road. I found a path which linked to the new road but it was quite a steep climb. I managed to do it but I wasted half an hour riding on the off-road. Later, again my GPS played a trick on me when it directed me to a secondary road inside the villages. I followed the road for about 20kms and the whole time I was doubting that it was correct. My instinct proved that it was the wrong way as the paved road ended just like that, but my GPS showed as if there were still road ahead. I turned back 5kms and managed to find another road which was connected to the correct one. Again, I lost some precious time here. I hate it when my GPS decides to play games with me.
I arrived at the border and exited Macedonia without any hassle. To enter Greece, I needed to show the officer my GC. That was the first thing the officer asked. Greece was listed under EU countries, unfortunately my GC for the EU’d expired just 2 days earlier. I purchased a 2 months GC but failure to follow my own itinerary resulted in failure to enter Greece, the last European country for me before the GC expired. I had to pay an expensive lesson for that. It was EUR100 for 1 month GC, too pricey for me considering that I would only be in Greece for a period of 1 week only. Okey, lesson learnt. Next time make sure to follow what you have planned, or if you’re unsure, it’s better to purchase a longer period GC which will be cheaper than purchasing a new individual one. The road in Greece was better than in Macedonia. My destination for the day was Trikala. The view was interesting as well. I really loved the wild flowers, so beautiful. Before reaching Trikala, I enjoyed the rock formation views which are very famous here.
IThe next day, I rode to the capital city of Greece, Athens. The distance was 360kms, via E65 and E75. I had to pay toll 4 times. It was a very windy day and my small bike was swept by the wind a few times. It was quite scary, but the view from the mountain road (of which I’m not sure of the name) was awesome. There were lots of vehicles upon entering this big city, but that was not a big issue. The big issue for me was how steep the roads in Athens were!!! Everywhere in the city, you had to ascend and descend steep road and it was narrow. My host’s house was also situated on a steep road. To my amusement, Panos, who was also a biker and a tall guy, had some trouble to help bring GD inside his yard. He said it’s unbelievable that GD, which looked small in size, was actually quite heavy. LOL…
I stayed 3 nights in Athens and managed to meet Krista, a beautiful and friendly lady biker. She was linked to me by Tiffany Coates and Rashmi, the founder of Global Women Who Ride. The three of us were featured in GWWR. We met at a famous bikers’ meeting place and I met some other men and women riders. They were all very nice. They were amazed to know that I had almost done ¾ of the world. In Athens, I also managed to visit the first modern Olympic games stadium. It was a fascinating feeling to be there, not because of the structure or the architecture of the stadium, but for the glory and history of this place. This was the stadium which witnessed the modern Olympic games come alive after being banned for hundreds of years. I stared at the track for a long time, trying to imagine the glory created there way back in 1896.
Visiting the Acropolis is a must when you’re in Athens. I was lucky because it was Museums Day, so the entrance was free. I had to climb up a hill to reach the site. There were too many people since it was a free entrance day to visit all historical sites, anywhere in the world. In a way, I could save money, but it also meant that I had to ‘fight’ with other visitors to get the best picture. The Acropolis was impressive, but when I was there, restoration works were ongoing and there were many parts which were covered by scaffoldings. It was quite frustrating, especially after seeing a documentary showed in the Acropolis Museum of how beautiful this ancient site was (without the scaffoldings). Anyway, in my personal opinion, Lebanon offered much more interesting ancient sites compared to here.
After 3 nights in Athens, I made my way to Thessaloniki. Since this day’s ride was long (530km), I decided to take the motorway. Through my experience riding in France, Italy and the Balkans, you could only do 50kms per hour if you took the back road, due to the low speed limit, lots of roundabouts, traffic lights etc. If you stop frequently for pics, the time spent on the road will be much longer. The motorway here in Greece was nice and with little traffic, but the number of tolls was unbelievable. I had to pay tolls for 12 times, which cost me more than EUR20. There was one part where the road suddenly shrunk to a single lane, narrow and winding for 19kms, and I had to pay approx EUR2 toll for that part too. It took me 7.30hrs to reach Thessaloniki (with stops). I took some time to enjoy the seafront of this city. On my last day in Greece, I rode to Alexandrapouli, a famous beach town facing the Aegean Sea.
The ride was okey and fortunately, no toll. At one time, as I wanted to get down from my bike, I felt something holding my Givi pouch and it was stuck. I pulled my pouch with some force and it was freed. However, I noticed that the buckle strap was broken. I felt very angry with myself. The waterproof pouch had served me well and never failed to keep my important belongings dry inside it during heavy rain, no matter how long it rained. I had been wearing it on my waist everyday and there was not a single tear on the pouch even though the ride was rough. But now the buckle strap was broken due to my own carelessness. Sigh… I found a nice camping spot facing the beach and decided to camp there for the night.