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Highlands (August 2011)

"Dedicated to the memory of my friend and co-traveller Costas (Doc), who just left early for another trip."

 

It was Thursday, the 4th of August 2011, when we began another tour travel!  We had chosen to wander the United Kingdom, especially the Highlands and then Ireland.  

We had to choose between a trip to Portugal or a trip to the Highlands!  The scale at the beginning leaned towards Portugal because I was crazy about Porto.  I was a little hesitant with this choice though, because of the high temperatures prevailing in Portugal in August.  After careful consideration I chose the Highlands, which seemed to be like a natural continuation of our previous trip to Nordkapp.

The dates of the trip had been settled in January, and the tickets were reserved in February, in a very special price!  Until our departure I spent a lot of time, I contacted friends who had gone in Highlands, I read travel guides, I searched in Greeks and foreign moto-forums for information, I bought maps and I started to "design" the route!

I spent some midnight oil to prepare this trip, and after some manipulations I made the exploration....  I presented it to Vana, and she agreed about the route and the details of the trip.

About a month before the trip, I visited Athens to meet Costas (Doc), to discuss an idea I had for a big and long journey in 2012 (in South America).  After the discussion he began to ask me for the trip I had to do in Highlands, and since he liked, he asked me if I wanted to do this journey along with himself and his wife, Elpida!  After discussions with the girls, we decided that we will attempt this, so we began to send SMS and e-mails with information, in order to make reservations in the same hotels for Costas & Elpida, in the hotels I had already booked ....

A great struggle was given to find tickets to ferry from Patras to Ancona!  After the Consortium ANEK & SUPERFAST Ferries, the situation straining too much on availability and prices!  We made it at last and we found tickets for the ferry!  I gave the material I had prepared for the trip (the Autoroute maps and information on cities and stations) to Costas to take a look to the route, to tell me his opinion,or to change something if necessary, and.... all set!  Everything went so well, and after that we counted the minutes until the moment we could wear our uniforms and get on the ship....

 With Costas and Elpida met each other on August, the 4th in the new port of Patras and boarded onto the ferry to Ancona. All in good mood, we were happy because we had to go a twenty days journey!  The next day at noon we disembarked at the port of Ancona, and began to cross Italy from south to the north, with our station for that day in Geneva, Switzerland. The motorcycles were "eating" quickly the miles, and the further north we went and the temperature was dropping, the most beautiful sound is played by the boxer engine of....  We arrived in Aosta, and we began to see the mountains (Mont Blanc) which rised imposingly ahead.  There was a small traffic jam, but the bikes overcame that "problem" quite quickly.  The price to cross the 12 km tunnel  (one way), it was rather salty.... 24,30 €!!!  And after a 6.5 hours drive, we arrived at Annemasse, 7 kilometers before Geneva, where we would spend our evening and our night....

On Saturday (6/8) morning, we loaded our bikes for to continue our way to the next station Paris.  But one screw on the back tire of Costas (Doc), postponed briefly our departure.....  After showing our care in Costas' motorcycle we started to drive on the French motorways.... The torrential rain for a very long distance of our route, marked our trip.  The waterproof BMW trouser I was wearing in my trips in the last five years, left me... wet, since the crotch point leaked water....  And also my Revit Apache boots, I had bought 16 months ago passed away....  My feet swam in the water of the French motorways....  Early in the afternoon we arrived in Paris.  After the necessary refreshment at our hotel.... walking and shopping....

The next morning we left back Paris.... We drove towards to Calais, where we headed to the Eurotunnel, which crossed the undersea English Channel in 30 minutes, and we went to Dover, England, where he began to drive from the left side of the road.  The English drizzle greeted us and escorted us up to London, where he first headed to the temple of tennis.... the Wimpledon .... and after our visit there, we checked into our hotel.  After we settled k refreshed we got on, in a red bus and went to the English Parliament.  After that we visited quite a few attractions in the English capital.  We finished our first day on the island with beer and fish & chips....

 On Monday 8/8, we repaired the tire of Costas' motorcycle in a tyre shop by placing a elastic mushroom.  After the repair we continued our journey to Liverpool with a stopover at Silverstone....  After 120 kilometers, we arrived at Silverstone, where we toured the track and the facilities of the circuit.  We left back the Silverstone and we drove northwest to Liverpool.  We made a short stop at BMW dealership in Northampton where I bought a new waterproof pant, new boots (Pro Touring 2).  They offered us a coffee and we enjoyed the moment.... After the renewal, we started driving again, and after traveling quite a distance -400 km approximately- we arrived in the city of Liverpool....

 I could say that I was very impressed by the Cathedral of Liverpool during our visit there.  After that, we went to the city center by our motorcycles.  We were in the city of Beatles, and we had to visit the Cavern Club, where the Beatles played their first songs....

The cloudy morning, of the 9th of August, found us at the hotel in Liverpool, packing up, and once again we loaded our bikes set off for Edinburgh, Scotland.  We made a short stop at Carlisle for a coffee and we continued on our way again, but no longer by the highway.  We drove in the secondary roads.  After a few kilometers we entered officially in Scotland!  It was written on the signs.... Welcome to Scotland....  We were driving in the secondary roads, where the nature bewitched us with its' beauty....  In the afternoon, with the accompaniment of the famous drizzle, we arrived in the tower (Carberry Tower), where Costas had booked rooms to stay.  In Edinburgh, the "Athens of the North", as they call the city, we walked to the famous pedestrian Royal Mile, where we saw various events of the festival which takes place every year in August.  We visited the beautiful castle, the museum of whiskey, and we went to a Newton Faulkner's concert.  Edinburgh  is a very special city, because the architecture and the culture captures the visitor....

On Thursday, 11/8, we left the Lowlands and Edinburgh as we headed north to the Highlands....  It was the moment we've been waiting to start the real exploration....  We were again on the road towards Inverness now and again with the escort of heavy rain!  We arrived at the first point of our route, the bridge of FORTH, 14 km northwest of Edinburgh. T he bridge was built to accommodate trains, it is an attraction which someone could make a detour to see it....  The next point of our route (under a persistent rain) was the Wheel of Falkirk....  This engineering marvel, built in 2002, connecting two uneven channels between and  allows boats to continue their travel in the canals....  Our third stop on Thursday, the 11th of August on our way to Inverness was at Killin, where we visited the waterfalls of Dochart (Dochart Falls).  The sight was really beautiful!  The  power of water will always impress the people....

The sequel to of cool days found us riding on our motorcycles, on our way to Inverness.  The wonder of the nature was compensating for the rain....  The quality of the asphalt was something extraordinary for our standards....  After the rain, the road were getting dry in almost ten minutes, despite the humidity.  We NEVER felt insecure, and we felt the great relationship of rain - asphalt and tire.  On our way, we visited the distillery of Dewars at Aberfeldy, the Blair Castle, the Cardhu Distillery at Knockando, and the Glen Grant distillery in Rothes....  It was getting dark when we arrived at Inverness, and after a short research we found a B & B (Bed and Breakfast) according to our standards, where we settled in.  The elder and kindly owner of the B & B took care of our relaxation.  At once we refreshed, and we went out there to explore Inverness and get something to eat because the day was a little bit difficult ....

On Friday morning 12/8, we got ready for the big day, which included the visit to John o 'Groats!

We started driving towards the northernmost point of the United Kingdom, and on the way I noticed that the streets were full of drains which they help on fast drying of the asphalt after the rain....  I didn't even find a simple point that the surface of the road could hold water creating a risk of aquaplaning....  Before noon, we arrived at John O 'Groats, the euphemistically "northernmost" point of England, where we took some pictures, we got a coffee and after that we continued our way to the Castle of Mey, which was located 20 km west of our course.  This castle belongs to the Queen of England, where she spends some days in the summer....  Seven kilometers west of the Castle of Mey, is the Dunnet Head, which is geographically the northernmost point of England (and Scotland ...)....  So we departed to Dunnet Head....

Since we completed our visit to Dunnet Head, we drove west to Durness and Ullapool, where we intended to stay overnight....  The cloudy weather let us enjoy the incredible beauty of the landscape.  This northern part of the landscape of Scotland, reminded me strongly the northern Norway, especially the landscape in Nordkapp.  It was bare and a little wild....

Late in the afternoon, we arrived at Ullapool, which is wonderful....  It had already begun to drizzle....  We were searching for a hotel room or for a B & B before entering Ullapool.  We didn't find anything....  It was unbelievable!  It was Friday and the weekend was starting....  We left Ullapool, and we continued our route driving another 140 km around looking for accommodation....  We found quite a few on the road, but there were no vacancy....  We arrived at Kyle and we found a B & B, because the owner was absent all day long from home and the rooms were not given to others.... The time had reached nine o'clock in the evening, we were on the bike several hours and our stomachs were starting to complain strongly....  The kitchens in the local restaurants and Pubs were closed so we settled on an Indian restaurant....

 On Saturday morning (13/8), while the weather was always ready to rain, we left the B & B we stayed the previous night and we drove 4 kilometers, to Eilean Donan Castle, the most photographed and hallmark of Scotland.  It was really a nice experience our visit to the castle.  After our visit to Eilean Donan Castle, we left for the Isle of Skye in constant rain and strong wind....  We visited the Talisker Distillery, the only one in the Isle of Skye, and were guided in areas where distillation and production was taking part.  Unusual experience!  In the afternoon, we left behind us the beautiful Isle of Skye, and marched to Fort William where we stayed overnight.

On Sunday morning (14/8),  we were relaxed and we had a nice breakfast in the hotel.  We left the beautiful Fort William for a dreamy way south, to Glasgow.  First we made a stop at a charming fishing village, in Oban, and right after we drove in the national park Trossachs, part of which is the most frequent destination of Scots - and not only - Motorcyclists....  The first stop of the day was for a coffee in the town of Oban.  Then we slipped into dreamland of Trossachs and we made the necessary stop at Loch Katrine, where we tasted some delicious soups....  Impressed of our tour in the national park of Trossachs, we continued to Glasgow where we arrived early in the afternoon and we settled at a High Tech hotel (Citizen M).  After the necessary refreshment, we went into the streets to discover the city....  Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and the third largest in Great Britain.  An industrial city which had its own color .... (Red actually ....).

On Monday, 15/8, a National holiday in Greece, we got ready to leave our High-Tec hotel (M Citizen) in Glasgow, and we drove to Troon to take the ferry to Larne, Ireland.  Our aim was to make a short visit in Belfast and right after to arrive in Dublin.  We boarded on the ship, where the crew secured the bikes with proper attention and respect.  They really surprised me!  We arrived at Larne after two hours underway, and we hit the road to Belfast.  We made a short round in the center of the city with our bikes and we stopped for a snack.  After Belfast, drove to Dublin through the highway.  On the way, the signs were written in two languages, English and Irish....  In the noon we arrived at our hotel and after a refresh, we took the bus to the center.  The truth is ....... we got the classic red double-decker bus to do a favor to Costas who had the desire to get on such a bus....  We went to the center and specifically in Temple Bar, where we listened live music in the famous Temple Bar, and we drank one Guinness for the occasion.....

On Tuesday 16/8, we left early from Dublin to catch our ferry (to England), in Rosslare.  We had in our minds to visit the Rock of Cashel, and Cork in Ireland.  But when we tried to book tickets for the ferry, there was no availability, except in that, at 08:45.... so we didn't have enough time to visit the two sightsites in Ireland.  So we departured early in the morning from Dublin, with a little drizzle (as always ...), to cover the 150 kilometers that separated us from the port of Rosslare....  The trip from Rosslare (Ireland) to Fishguard (England, Wales) lasted about three hours....  We had arranged to stay in Bristol on that day.  So as soon as we disembarked from the ferry, we started driving to Bristol, a city with a long maritime tradition, where after a brief visit to Cardiff, arrived early in the afternoon.  The channel of the River Avon encircles the center of Bristol.  We explored the city for a quite of time on foot.  In the evening, we ate fish & chips and we drunk beer of course.

 On Tuesday 17/8, we started our day early....  We had to cover 626 km from Bristol to Reims (France) and in additionto this, we had to visit the Stonehenge and to pass beneath the English Channel with the Eurotunnel.... After visiting Stonehenge, we drove east to get on the Eurotunnel.  But I have to quote this ... Stonehenge was not brought us the feeling of ecstasy, perhaps because we are Greeks and we have a rich history and rich legacy, a legacy of our ancient ancestors. If we were some of the many Asians who arrived in heaps of tourist buses, perhaps standing in awe in front of the stones.... Maybe we were influenced by what they have written occasionally for the authenticity of Stonehenge ....

For one more time we passed undersea the Channel with the Eurotunnel and we continued to Reims, the city of Champagne, where we arrived in the afternoon.  What impressed me most was the Reims Cathedral, especially whenit was lit up at night.

On Thursday, 18/8, we left Reims.  Costas and Elpida decided to visit Colmar in Alsace, who had not visited it before.  Vana and I, drove to Basel in Switzerland, because two years ago, we toured Colmar and the Wine Routes, and the incredible wine villages....  On the road to Basel we stoped for a brief visit to Nancy, and we arrived in our final destination, in lunchtime. It was a very hot day and we found children splashing in the fountains of the city....  Further away we saw people to take off their clothes, and wearing a bathing suit to swim in the waters of the Rhine.

On Friday 19/8, we left back Basel and we started driving south, towards Italy, where we would stay overnight in Bologna (760 km), with many intermediate stops....  Our first destination was the Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen where river rapids leading to waterfalls, remind us of the power of nature....  After our visit to Rhine Falls, we went to St Gallen and to visit Altstatten, a village located in the district of St. Gallen. It is the village that lives our friend Harry with his family, where fe works as a doctor and his wife as well.  After visiting our friends, we drove to Liechtenstein, to the capital Vaduz....  Vaduz looked like a small village....  We left from Vaduz, and we continued south to Bologna, where we would meet with Costas and Elpida.  On our way, the San Bernardino pass is awesome and we will definitely go back there....  Not with rain hopefully next time....  We arrived in Bologna and we met Costas and Elpida and we spent our last night of the trip there.

 

Saturday 20/8, we departured from Bologna to Ancona.  We left early in the morning, and we found heavy traffic in autostrada, because some works were on from Rimini to Ancona. It was a Saturday morning and quite a few people were on the road to go somewhere for weekend.  The ship was departing at 13:30.  Huge traffic jam.... We arrived in Ancona and boarded on the ship, on time.

This trip ended on Sunday morning 21/8.

During the trip in the Highlands I did something different from what I was doing in my previous trips. With Vana, we co-travelled along with another couple who didn't know earlier....  Costas and Elpida was a pleasant surprise at all!  Costas and I were driving in the same way and this was something very positive for our trip.  In all of our appointments, whether it was morning to continue our journey or whether it was to wander a place, they were always on time!  Tirelessly over the bike and laughter was never absent from their lips!  Even in difficult times, when fatigue from the endless driving some days, and when it was hard to find accommodation, humor not vanished!

Vana is a constant value!  As always, worthy companion and photographer!  She needs no introduction!  Gold!

And of course, to say a few words about my bike, with which I did 7,250 km without denying me anything (I'm a demanding rider....).

About my equipment, I have to say about my Rev'it (Apache)boots, 16 months boots, betrayed me, and on the first day of rain leaked for good.... My waterproof pants BMW, after five years of uninterrupted wearing during the rainy days of my trips, leaked water...

I replaced them in a BMW dealer shop in Northampton.  Too bad because for my previous boots I had paid a lot of € and the seller sold them for 100% waterproof ....

The helmet I was wearing BMW System 5, gave me hard time, because the "fog" visor, was permanently blurred, and needed from time to time cleaning in order to have visibility....

My tires (Michelin Anakee 2), inspired my safety at all times over the lovely English asphalt, which in 80% of the trip, it was wet.  Not once I felt insecure.

And last, the choice of destination, I can say it was the best.  The nature in all of its' glory.

 

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