My little cottage in Leucadia is finally organized, and clear of all the stuff, I’m taking to Greece for my Summer Eastern European Adventure. Before embarking on an extended trip, I get a tad anxious. One the one hand, I want to be sure I have everything I think I’ll need, especially those items that may be difficult to source in Europe such as technology things like special batteries, chargers, and cables and personal effects. On the other hand, I fear I’ll bring too much and overload myself. For example, last year, I brought my lightweight tripod yet used it maybe only three or four times. Do I bring it again? I can see succumbing to the ‘fear of missing out’ notion—that if I don’t, there will be that time I kick myself for blowing it off. So I packed it.
This time I must bring those items that typically stay with my bike, like my favorite Aerostich Tank Panniers, a tank bag, necessary hand tools, spare 1.5L fuel bottles and a few other items that I generally pack in either the panniers or tank bag. But thieves in Split, Croatia robbed me of both and everything inside. Taking up most space is my riding gear including my boots, BMW Rallye suit, Schuberth helmet, Held Gloves, BMW Rain Suit, Warm n’ Safe heater gear (though I’m not sure I will need it), and the zip in GoreTex liners for my Rallye suit. Then there is all my technology and photography gear including my MacBook Pro, external hard drives, DSLR with lenses, DJI Mavic Air drone, and action cameras. You get the idea. It’s a lot. But I use it all.
All of this gear and my street clothing packs into two checked bags and a carry on. My camera gear all fits into a Lowepro Mini-Trekker backpack. With all this organized (sort of) I hand the keys of my cottage and the care of my legendary Bengal cat “Dar” to Emily—daughter to my longtime best high school friend Rob and his wife, Julia. She is delighted to tend to her (my cat’s) persnickety and loving personality. It’s always hard to leave her. Yeah, I know. Why does this globe-trotting adventure rider have a cat? It wasn’t my choice. She chose and adopted me a few years ago. I’ve been smitten ever since.
Where am I going? For 2019 I continue my journey of adventure, exploration, and discovery of lost vineyards and forgotten farms. Though there are places I will return to in the Balkans through the former Yugoslavia countries, this summer I will travel through northeastern Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgie, and Azerbaijan. All of those countries are new to me except Bulgaria and Romania. However, I have yet to explore the eastern part of these countries. As with last year, I will focus on connecting with people who are beating odds and making names for themselves in the worlds of cuisine and wine. There’ll be more taunting and complex history and plenty of random and freewheeling experiences.
I travel with no itinerary and make plans, appointments, and connections as I ride.
My direct and eleven hour Lufthansa flight from San Diego to Frankfurt on an Airbus A340-800 is uneventful. I secure an aisle seat on the left side of the two-four-two seat layout of the aircraft and snooze for more than half the flight. Instead, the drama of this multi-stop air journey begins in Frankfurt. Frankfurt airport is huge. I often joke that just taxiing after landing in Frankfurt usually lasts longer than an entire flight. For connecting flights in the vast airport means shuttling on busses, moving walkways, escalators, and staircases for several kilometers.
This is especially troubling and taxing when you have just fifty-five minutes to make a connection.
When I finally make it to the terminal for my connection, I must not only wait through a long line to go through customs—Yes I get a German stamp in my passport even though I will not step outside the airport—I must endure a long line to go through security.
I look at my watch, then my boarding pass. My flight boards in ten minutes. I’ve been running for thirty minutes. I feel sweat sticking my shirt to my back. I panic when I see the security line. I push myself forward in the Disney like line winding around several stations. When I see the opening to the x-ray machines, I plead with passengers, asking if they’d let me jump the rope. They do, so I crawl under the barriers. As I throw my carry on and camera backpack not the belt, the female security guard tells me I must separate all my electronics of my bags and into bins.
Are you kidding? That’s everything in both bags. The technology gear mentioned above is all neatly packed and organized. I tell her I board in ten minutes. It’s useless. The stressful part is repacking it all after the x-ray. Especially with other bags zooming down the belt and crashing into mine as I try to organize the gear. Though I don’t look at it, my watch is ticking, and I’m panicking.
I zip my bags closed and bolt down the corridor., get in line for an elevator. An airport staffer waiting there and pushing two wheelchairs senses my stress and asks me where I’m headed. Gate A16, I explain. She lets me on first and tells me I’m close. I soon realize “close” is relative as I must run down a 70-meter corridor with three individual moving walkways. These lead to a bank of three elevators and a staircase. I find thirty or more people waiting for the elevators, so I climb the stairs, hauling my heavy carry-on up and squeezing by the dozens of people climbing down the stairs. I think this should be quick. Except it’s not, the stairs keep going up and up. Five flights later I’m in the terminal. And just fifty meters down the corridor I get to Gate A16, but the rolling placard says Marseille. Wait. I’m not going to France. Good god, they changed the gate. It could be worse. Fortunately, it’s just two gates away—A18.
I made it. I’m winded and sweating more.
It takes the entire thirty-five-minute flight to Munich to settle down. In Munich, after a twenty-minute walk and five-minute shuttle bus ride, I treat myself to a glass of German rose. I’m happy to have an aisle seat on the Airbus 320 but bummed that because of heavy air traffic around Athens, we must wait and sit in the plane at the gate for an hour and ten minutes. So I text Nick, the taxi driver I arranged and Stratos the guy who’s been looking after my motorcycle “Doc” and who will meet me at the apartment to hand over the keys.
It’s twenty hours later after leaving San Diego that I’m in the apartment and getting out of my sweaty clothes. An hour later, I walk through Marina Zea to one of my old jaunts from last fall when I stayed here. It’s called “Corks & Forks,” and there I meet friendly faces who remember me including one of its owners, Stavros.
I start the evening with a crisp glass of white Greek Malagousia wine and a few glasses later, and a tummy full of good bistro eats, I wind down the evening with a glass of red Xinomavro. It’s about one o’clock in the morning when another owner of Corks & Forks pulls up on his Yamaha motorcycle. It’s Dimitris. He manages their other restaurant in Marina Zea, “Hams & Clams.” With more command of English, he sits down and welcomes me back and tells me he loves following my Instagram. After a few photos and laughs and my promise to visit “Hams & Clams” tomorrow night I walk home.
Just as I’m about to fall into bed and crash my phone rings—it’s my brother Jonathan and his wife Maria on FaceTime checking in with me.
It’s after 2 AM when I finally get into bed—28 hours after I left my cottage in San Diego on the fourth of July.
I get to sleep but wake up four hours later. After tossing and turning and unable to get to sleep, I relent to the subtle jet lag and get out of bed and go about the work of sorting through my gear and my social media and other digital content.
I’ll see George and my motorcycle “Doc” at Vagianelis on Monday, so I’ve got a few days to get sorted.
I’m feeling great. Here I am, back in Greece and about to start another adventure, picking up when my last one ended in late October last year.
Glad to have all of you along for the ride.