This. Is. Motorbike! Day 1 : Thessaloniki to Nikiti

  • Weather: Sunny Departure: 11h00
  • Arrival: 18h30
  • Date: 31/07/15
  • Distance: 260km

Thessaloniki to Nikiti

Up bright and early, I showed up at the agency and took possession of my new two-wheeled companion on time. I knew the bike was an Honda Varadero 125 and I was pretty excited about it since I had owned one a few years back. I had taken this bike across Europe so I knew very well that despite its small engine, it was capable and comfortable enough for the long journey to come.

My rideShe was not in the greatest of shape though, with 75k on the counter and a roughed up body, I quickly noticed that she was an earlier model than the one I was familiar with. A carburated model and a picky one for that matter. Nevertheless, once the engine got warm, everything was fine so I took off, made a stop at a motorcycle shop to buy gloves and hit the road.

For the first couple of hours, progress was slow. I was taking back country roads, signage was poor and the riding (at 38C) was far from enjoyable. I was actually starting to wonder if there would be anything to write about this day.

And then I crashed.

I was following the highway on a service road in a bad state of disrepair, but at least there was no trafic to deal with. I went up a steep hill and as soon as I was on the other side, I noticed to my horror that the road about 50 meters down was completely flooded and proceeded to do an emergency braking procedure. I had so little distance that I applied maximum pressure, but due to the gravel on the road and the downhill slope, the bike started to slide. I released and hit the brakes again. More sliding. Soon, I lost control and dropped the bike while both she and I continued sliding for a couple more meters. her on the right side, me on the right knee. We managed to stop ten meters short of the river. I got up, swore profusely, made sure nothing was broken (on me) and got the bike up on its stand. My jeans were torn and exposing a pretty deep gash on the right kneecap, my left calf was scratched all over but otherwise, I was ok. The motorcycle got out with a bent brake pedal and a scratched fairing but was in working order.

Not bad I thought after having calmed down a bit. I took a glance at the river. It appeared deep. Too deep to ford and anyway, I was going too fast. If it was not for my fall, I would have most likely crashed in the water and ruined the bike for real. Going down in this case was the best option.

The damageI normally would have stayed longer to collect my thoughts and maybe take a couple of pictures for posterity, but the sun was pounding on me and the air was barely breathable. I had to get the wind going again. Some kilometers later, I finally found a bit of shade and stopped to have a cigarette, tank my water canteen and treat my wounds. Was a fall really the only course of action I thought? In this situation, yes. But a good driver will simply never get himself into that sort of mess in the first place. This accident was avoidable. My mistake had been to assume that the road was fine on the other side of the hill. Never make assumptions I reminded myself, that’s one of the key principles of defensive driving.

Slightly mad and still shaken, I made it for the highway and in little time reached the dive shop in Nikiti. Everyone was out diving, so I refilled on water, ate some sandwiches. Decided on not letting this incident ruin my day of riding, I jumped on the bike and headed for the peninsula. The road was excellent and the views magnificent, hairpin turns in mountains and slaloming bends along the coast. This 2 hour ride brought back the peace in me.

Awesome motorcycling road

Awesome motorcycling road

Once back in Nikiti, I entered the shop and got annoyed looks from what appeared to be the owners. They knew about my arrival but their welcome was anything but warm. I inquired about a room and got a rude reply that the cheapest option was 30 Euros. Expensive but given the location, I could not hope for anything more affordable. Félix, a French instructor that worked there offered  to take me to the house where the room was, informing me while walking to the car that the owners were Bulgarian which explained their apparent rudeness while in reality they were being friendly.

Once there, I was informed that there had been a misunderstanding and that the room was occupied. This greatly compromised my stay here as I had check on the web and there was nothing below 80 Euros in this resort town (popular with Bulgarians and Serbians). Félix right away understood the situation I was in and kindly offered me a place in his tiny apartment, which I promptly accepted under the condition that the beers would be on me that night. It had been a while since he had had someone to speak French with so I think for that reason alone he would have appreciated my company, but since we shared many common interests, we got along great.

Earlier today, I had seriously considered the idea of driving back to Thessaloniki and return the bike, but I don’t yield to fear, it’s just there to be overcome.

This. Is. Motorbike! Intro

It had been a while since I last went on an adventure riding trip. I was overdue for some motorcycling around. Going to Greece was an excellent opportunity to get my fix. I knew the countryside was full of beauty and there was no better way to check them out than with my own set of wheels and at my own pace. Greece is famous for its islands and apparently they are a must see, but they’ll still be there for the several decades older version of me to enjoy. For that matter, most travellers I encountered were heading there, which further motivated me not to follow them and go my own way.

The plan almost fell through. In a great spur of wisdom, I had decided not to book the bike in advance in spite of now being the high season. The result was that I was left hanging in Athens. There was only one rental agency for motorcycles there and all they were offering me was a large bike at 80 Euros a day with a 250 km daily cap on distance. As experience has shown me, that is not nearly enough, but more importantly, if I’m going to be paying this much money for a bike, I’ll ride it until I can no longer feel my ass.

Luckily, Thessaloniki, the country’s second largest city had an agency and through them I managed to book an Honda Varadero 125. Not a powerful bike by any standard, but roomy and comfortable. Also a machine I was extremely familiar with, since I used to own one.

Greece motorcyle map

A look at Google maps back home had indicated that Greece was very mountainous. On closer inspection of a map I had bought in Athens for the trip, I confirmed that this was indeed the case. Some section of roads that the makers had deemed worth driving through were highlighted on the map and most of them were north and west of the country.

That’s the direction where I decided to head. With a full week of riding ahead of me, I’ll have time to improvise the rest.

Athens, Greece

I had not reserved any hostel but had some marked on a map I printed off the web. Option A was full, so I had to resort to a 45 minute walk to option B with all my gear right in the middle of an Athenian summer day, which in the process forced me to revise my previous definition of “hot”. Luckily, they had a dorm bed for me, with A/C. After a massive nap to ward off the effects of a sleepless night aboard a plane, I set out on foot to explore the city, first climbing mount Lycabeus to get a nighttime view of the city while sipping on a Greek beer: life is not so bad…

The stadium where the first Olympic games where held

The stadium where the first Olympic games where held

Walking around is pretty much all I did during my time in Athens, in the day and at night with a beer in hand. There is loads to see and learn about, but it was high season and everything was seriously crowded. Athens, in the likes of Rome, has the vast majority of its attraction and tourist districts concentrated within a square kilometer or so. Other city in the world will get more visitors, but here, the concentration of selfie stick and sun umbrella weaving individuals gets to extreme levels. I’ll gladly spend an afternoon looking at rows and rows of Greek vases, but not if I have to wait one hour in queue and not with masses of tour groups clogging every passage.

The Acropolis, under never ending restoration

The Acropolis, under never ending restoration

I did see the acropolis, because I had to and for the occasion got up extra early to get a headstart on the swarms but otherwise all I did was roaming around in the cooking heat of the city, checking out the Athenians living their lives and drinking extreme amounts of water while barely going to toilet.

Abandoned and foreclosed buildings were abundant in the capital so I absolutely had to do a bit of urban exploration. My visit to the derelict “Peace and Frienship Stadium“, home of the Olympiacos basketball club, turned out to be the highlight of my stay. That day, I had visited the Acropolis in the morning and had taken the metro to Piraeus to walk around the famous port, which was nothing like I had hoped it to be and overall a huge disappointment. On my way back to the metro station, I decided to cut trough was appeared to be a park, but was in reality leftover sport facilities from the 2004 summer Olympics that the Greek could just no longer afford to maintain. I like a bit of urban exploration. There in the background the stadium was standing and I thought it must have suffered the same fate at its neighboring buildings, which made it a prime candidate for a bit of trespassing. It looked abandoned alright, doors were bolted shut, every surface had a graffiti, in the stadium were soda machines displaying advertisements from the mid 2000′s and a group of homeless had set up camp in the stadium’s bar, which looked like it had been the scene of a recent terror attack.

Abandoned Olympic facilitiesI tried every spectator entrance but no luck, they were all padlocked from the inside. After a while, I had given up and started my walk to the metro station when I noticed an inordinate amount of cars were parked in front of a service entrance and people were going in an out. Maybe they were just providing minimal staffing to the facility before it finally gets demolished? The entrance was guarded by a couple of dudes to which I had originally planned to politely ask if I could see the inside but the quick glance they gave me was enough to convince me that they did not give a gyros about my presence.

The Peace and Friendship stadium

The Peace and Friendship stadium

Awesome. I walked around until I found the staircase to the stadium itself and spent a good amount of time just walking in this very large enclosed space. It’s a weird feeling to be alone in a place that is normally crowded with other humans. Sounds like the wind, the birds knocking on the windows, the structure creaking, all echoing in this massive room for only my ears to ear. On the way out, a man gave me a suspicious look but on noting that I was heading for the exit, he did not bother to question me. The men at the entrance were still busy watching YouTube. Upon taking not the of ads promoting the team’s Facebook fan page, I rightly came to the conclusion that in spite of looking like it was bound to imminent demolition, the stadium was very much in operation, just under staffed and under maintained.

Inside the Peace and Friendship stadium

Inside the Peace and Friendship stadium

That night, nothing was going on at the hostel’s bar so I picked up my book, went to Syntagma square (where the protests usually happen) and read about astronomy (black holes) for a while, with a sense of having had a fulfilling time in this city. Athens was sort of how I expected it to be. Very much a European capital but with a more chaotic and messy touch. The price of everything I had to purchase (especially food) made me wonder how the Greeks could actually afford to live in their own capital but satisfied with my time there, I was nonetheless eager to leave it for something different. Next destination: Thessaloniki, where I will start my Greek adventure on two motorized wheels.

How to download a CBC radio show episode no longer available as a podcast

Sadly, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has a policy to keep podcasts available for download only 3 months for daily shows and 6 months for weekly shows with some of them being available for an even shorter time. Luckily, most shows can still be streamed from the CBC radio website using a flash/web player but are still no longer available for direct download. That’s convenient if you’re in front of your computer (which is seldom the case when listening to radio), but not that practical if you want to take an old favorite on a run.

Most of what we do on our computers is just data copying and playback, always in that order. So if it’s playing in your computer speakers, its coming from a stream, and if it’s coming from a stream, it can be copied as file. There are tons of software and websites that will let you do just that, but most of them are geared towards more popular streaming sites of the likes of YouTube and such so I had to resort to another technique for the CBC’s website. The non-trivial part here is to find the URL from which the data is coming from but modern web browsers and their built-in debugging facility have made this an easy task. Once you have the URL, you’re free to download the wanted file at will. This process assumes you’re using Chrome, but it works just as well with Firefox.

So let’s say I want to download this past episode of the show Ideas. There is a player on the page, but no download link.

  1. Bring up the page in Chrome but don’t start streaming yet.
  2. Left-click anywhere on the page and click on “Inspect element“, this will bring up the Chrome debugger.
  3. Within the debugger, switch over to the “Network” tab.
  4. On the episode’s page, start steaming the episode by clicking the play button, you’ll see a bunch of things happening in the debugger window.
  5. Click on the “type” column to sort the data elements by type and find the audio/mpeg one, that’s the file you’re streaming (see screenshot below). Mine’s name is ideas_20130307_53465_uploaded.mp3.
  6. Left-click on the name and select “Copy link address” or “Open in new tab” and that’s it, from there you can download the episode as a file. The link for my episode is http://thumbnails.cbc.ca/maven_legacy/thumbnails/14/881/ideas_20130307_53465_uploaded.mp3. When opening up the link in your browser, it might bring up its own player but if you click around, you’ll find an option to download the file instead of playing it.
Chrome debugger view with the stream data row highlighted. Left-clicking on the row will bring up a link to the stream itself and allow its downloading.

Chrome debugger view with the stream data row highlighted. Left-clicking on the row will bring up a link to the stream itself and allow its downloading.

Fold-down back seat modification in a Toyota Corolla 1999 VE

Toyota Corolla 1999 VEOn several occasions lately, I’ve had to transport long objects or gain access to the rear strut mounts in my Toyota Corolla. On most cars, this would have meant to simply pull a lever in the trunk and fold the back seat down but for some reason, Toyota had made this an option on my vehicle (the North American VE model).

So in order to be able to take advantage of the full length of the car, I had to remove the rear seat, which is not that difficult and only requires a socket wrench, but still massively inconvenient. While undoing the seats, I had originally thought of a way to make removal easier and tool-less in the future, but did not decide to make the modification. Until now, with winter at my doorstep, I’m convinced fold-down seats are going to prove themselves quite practical should I want to go skiing.

The mod is quite easy and requires no specialized tools or knowledge. The end result is that you will be able to lift the backrest up and lay it flat on top of the bottom cushion, exposing the opening to the trunk .  Since the seat belts are bolted to the frame, disturbing the seating should not have any effect on their function. However, you might end-up discarding a part I call the V frame, which could possibly have some structural or security importance, I’ll get to it later. Lastly, I’m not going to post a full disclaimer, this is the internet so you’re following this guide at your own risk. If you or your passengers get hurt because of this modification, nothing can be held responsible but you and your judgement.

Removing the rear seat

Bottom cushion out

Bottom cushion out

Taking the rear seat apart is nothing really complicated. The bottom cushion is held to the frame of the car by only two plastic clips that are approximately lined with the two front seats. You can even feel them by running your hand under the cushion along the outer edge. Pry them out with a sudden pull and they should give.

Backrest out

Backrest out

Next, undo the three bolts holding the back cushion to the frame. There is a bolt in the middle and two at the extremities close to where the seat belts attach to the frame. Lift the backrest out and set it aside outside the car. At this point you can re-install the bottom cushion to make working in the car a bit more comfy. Finally, push out the black plastic cache that separates the trunk and the interior.

If you just wanted your rear seat out only as a temporary measure, stop here. The car is perfectly drivable in this state. You might notice the road vibrations becoming somewhat louder but that’s entirely normal given the amount of noise insulation you just removed.

Removing the V frame

V frame removed

V frame removed

What I refer to as the V frame is the coincidentally V shaped piece of pressed sheet metal bolted right in the middle of the opening to the trunk. It’s in the way but if it does not bother you you can certainly keep it there. I, for one, decided to remove it because I did not deem it to be critical for the safety or handling of the car. First, Corollas with factory installed fold-down back seats do not have it and I’d be really surprised if their frame was any different than the standard model to account for the added structural integrity. Second, if it’s purpose was to give the body more stiffness, the V would be upside down. It could have a part to play in case of rear collisions, but my theory is that it’s meant to add support to the rear seat. So If you agree with my logic, you can go ahead and remove the six bolts that hold the V frame in place.

Fastening the bottom cushion

Bottom cushion fastened

Bottom cushion fastened

Last major step is fastening the bottom cushion. It has three metal prongs that would normally slide under the backrest part of the seat, but since it will now become loose, the bottom cushion needs to be attached to the frame. Once you have re-installed the cushion, simply drill holes where the prongs are. Rest assured, the metal is not very thick and your fuel tank is a safe distance below. Once that is done, use properly sized sheet metal screws and washers and thread them through the holes you just did to hold the cushion down.

Cut that metal prongOf the metal prongs on the bottom of the backrest that used to be screwed to the frame, the middle one get in the way and should preferably be removed. Its not absolutely necessary, but it will make installation easier. This procedure can be accomplished with a bolt cutter or a metal saw. There is another prong right next to the one you just cut that is meant to slide under the seat cushion; leave it in place.

Finally, slide in the backrest, thread the seat belts in their correct position and set it so the metal loops below the headrests pair up with the hooks on the frame. Give it good tap so it sits correctly and you’re done. Nobody should ever notice this little trick but I’m sure its going to prove itself very useful.

Done! You can now transport dead bodies in your trunk without having to cut them up.

Done! You can now transport dead bodies in your trunk without having to cut them up.