Coastal Crete by Moped: Misadventures and the Open Road
By: Anastasia Lomotchkina
When I first heard that Niels was renting a Vespa for us in Greece, I immediately envisioned how “Euro-chic” I would look strapped to the back of a shiny new scooter with the wind in my hair (helmet), gallivanting about Greece like some sort of rebel without a cause.
“Is this real life?!” I thought.
It seemed to me the stuff of my favourite childhood duo: Mary-Kate and Ashley. For those regrettably unfamiliar with their “work,” let me paint you a picture: In every cheesy blockbuster, the twins would travel abroad, finding themselves exactly one European stud each and inevitably ending up maneuvering the picturesque streets of (Paris/London/Milan/Wherever) on the back of their brand new scooters.
Before Niels appeared at our family’s rented Villa in Palikastro, Crete, the loudest roar broke through the typically silent village, swiftly followed by a cloud of smoke and dust. He emerged from behind the bushes, looked me dead in the eyes and said:
“They told me I could have any scooter I wanted, yet somehow this appeared in the lobby of my hotel this morning”
“This” was a tiny, rusted up moped with no recognizable brand name or make. “This” had a once-functional speedometer that now persistently hovered around zero, as did the gas meter, which was significantly more problematic. Most importantly, “This” looked nothing like the sleek bikes I had dreamt up in my head. Choosing to maintain our optimism, however, we lovingly named the moped “Super Bike,” and decided to accept her long list of flaws as “having a Grecian charm.” Now all we had to do was hope that it would support our day-trips without any unplanned detours to the hospital.
Where most cautious travelers would have immediately called up the rental agency and demanded a better bike, we decided instead to push Super Bike to her limits by taking her on long trips across the island. Since we had no actual way of telling, Niels and I guesstimated that Super Bike’s average speed was around 25KMs an hour, which can make traversing Greece’s largest island a major challenge for the bike. Instead, we decided to do bite-sized trips, heading first to the small coastal village of Bali.
Not even 10 minutes in to the first leg of our journey, the bike’s left mirror slowly regressed from its upright position and began to slump downwards until it was hanging by a string and flapping in the wind. As it so happens, Niels had chosen to withhold the information that he had already taken a nosedive on his very first trip on the way to our villa. The mirror had been dismantled, and his knee was entirely scraped up in the process. This meant that instead of looking in the rear-view mirror to see what was behind him, Niels had to rely on the passenger (aka yours truly) to look back from time to time and make sure no cars were passing.
Our method for checking gas levels was even more scientific, however. Super Bike’s tank was so small, that we had to fill her up approximately every 2 hours, depending the terrain. While riding, we feared constantly that we could run out of gas at any moment. Whenever we felt like the tank was lighter beneath us, we’d pull over and Niels would ask for a piece of straw off the side of the road. He’d then proceed to stick the straw in the tank, checking how much of it came out wet with gasoline compared to how much remained dry-- bullet-proof methodology, right?! Wrong… but I’ll get to that later.
Once we started the engine (albeit, with a clatter every time) and got going, it didn’t actually matter how many things were wrong with the vehicle. With the breathtaking views of the Cretan Coast from Paliokastro to Rethimno and back, I wouldn’t have cared if I were riding a tricycle at that point. The fact is that no one has ever come home from Greece complaining, and that’s because nearly everything about this country is amazing. Between the mountains and the olive fields, the beaches, the food and the people, it’s an altogether warm and welcoming experience that allows you to lose track of time, the way a proper vacation should.
For a week, the Super Bike served as our trusty sidekick, taking us all around and rarely failing us throughout... That is until we got to the second-last day. On this particular day, we had ventured out on a 4-hour journey to a tiny village of which the name I can’t even recall anymore. This trip was strenuous on our good friend, but we managed to make to our destination and tour around. Only, Greece is so good at getting you to lose track of time, that we completely forgot that all the gas stations on the island shut down around 9. Unfortunately, with our trusty gas-checking method, we had also failed to gauge how far we would make it until empty.
As if this wasn’t enough, as we cautiously set out in to the darkness, we realized that somewhere along the way both of the taillights had lost power, rendering us virtually invisible anyone behind us. My family had to drive in tow; maintaining a 25 KM/hr speed and providing the only light we had by turning the brights on in their car. As we predicted, about a third of the way in to our drive, the engine came to a slow and eventually completely stopped in the middle of the highway. We had no choice but to ditch the bike on the side of the road and come back for her later on.
When morning came, Niels went to pick up the sad little bike. He manually pushed it to the nearest gas station, some 5 KMs away, in hopes of filling her up. Upon arriving, however, he was told that the station was once again closed – for refueling, of all things. An hour went by and he was finally able to fill the tank with gas… only this wasn’t the end of it. After all that, the thing wouldn’t even start, so he once again proceeded to manually drag it to a mechanic next door. After a 15 minute examination turned out futile, the mechanic then had to resort to a very scientific method of his own to solve the problem—He mounted the scooter and furiously began to shake it back and forth while turning the key in the ignition. By some miracle this actually worked, and not 4 hours later, Niels was homeward bound atop the deathtrap.
In its final moments, Super Bike gave out one last time a few kilometers down the road from the hotel Niels was staying in. Having giving up caring completely, he pushed the moped home and placed it exactly where he had found it a week earlier. He then boarded his plane to Belgium, dreaming of his company Mercedes the whole way back.