Kallithea 2002

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In September 2002 I traveled from my home in Maesteg to Kallithea, in Greece, in order to play with the Cardiff chess team in the European Club Championships. On the way I stopped for a few nights in Budapest where the company that I work with was showing a couple of new fruit-machines at an exhibition. I left Budapest at about 10:00 on the Friday morning for the 700 mile trip to Kallithea. I should probably have left earlier.

The Friday was fairly uneventful apart from the atrocious weather. The roads in Romania are not generally well drained and the local drivers none too courteous. Many times my waterproof suit saved me from a soaking when cars drove through deep standing water while overtaking me. As a result I only covered about 240 miles and stopped for the night in a Hotel at Caransebes in Romania.

With 460 miles to cover on the Saturday I made an early start. I'd traveled less than a mile when I was waved over by the Romanian police. I didn't understand much of what they were saying but it was obvious that they considered 40mph through town a bit excessive. We established fairly soon that I didn't speak much German or any Romanian or Russian, and that they didn't speak any English French or Dutch, so most of what followed happened in German. While filling in their paperwork they persuaded me to produce my Passport, Driving License, Insurance documents, and some money. They also wanted something else so I tried my MOT certificate and the bike's Registration document but neither was what they wanted. After failing to explain what they really wanted they finally tore up the paperwork and wished me a pleasant journey. They even returned the money I'd paid as a fine!

I continued South to Dobreta-Turnu-Severin and then turned right on the road towards the ferry at Calafat, but I must have followed the Danube a little too closely and I soon found myself in an area where none of the road signs made any sense. It was a very rural area, and all of the traffic on the roads involved horses and carts. "Fiddler on the Roof" might easily have been filmed here. I just kept driving South, on poor roads with monstrous potholes, using the sun for navigation, through villages where most of the children were pointing at me. Motor vehicles were very rare in this area, and two-wheeled motor vehicles even rarer. I finally found the road that I should originally have taken, having wasted almost two hours.

I continued to Calafat where I took the ferry, across the Danube, to Vidin in Bulgaria.

Bulgarian roads are much better than those in Romania so I continued to Mihailovgrad, now called Montana, and Sofia with no problems and continued towards Kulata on the Greek border. By this time it was getting dark.

Near Blagoevgrad, on a perfectly good new road with a ridiculously low speed limit of 36mph, a couple of policemen waved me into a layby. Simply by looking very confused, and repeating "I don't understand" a lot, I managed to persuade them that I wasn't worth the effort and, after pointing emphatically at my speedometer, they let me continue. Twenty miles further up the road a different couple of policemen waved me over. One of them looked at my rear number-plate and then spoke in perfect English ...

"Do you know the maximum speed on this road?"

"I don't know" I said, "it's a very good road - 80 kph?"

Fresh new tarmac, white lines, cat's eyes, all built with EEC money.

"No" he said, "it's 60 kph"

"I'm very sorry. I didn't know" I lied, "I'll be more careful."

"What sort of Motor-cycle is this?"

He was a motor cyclist himself, probably something of a rarity in Bulgaria, so we chatted about bikes for five minutes, the speeding offence forgotten, before he wished me a safe journey.

I must have crossed the border into Greece at about 23:00 and I was cruising, at about 90mph, along the dual carriageway towards Salonika when, suddenly, there were blue flashing lights behind me. Not again! This policeman found it hard to believe that I'd started the day in Caransebes, so I showed him the receipt from the Hotel, and that I was going on, that night, to Kallithea. He just shook his head, as though I was insane, and wished me a safe journey.

I reached the Hotel at about 02:00, after 17 hours on the road. At the entrance to the Hotel there was a barrier and a small building with a couple of "security" youths.

“Hello – is this the Pallini Beach Hotel?”

“Hotel is full.”

More slowly: “Is this the Pallini Beach Hotel?”

“Hotel is full.”

“I don’t care if it is full – I have a reservation.”

“Hotel is full.”

“I am John Trevelyan of the Cardiff Chess Club. I am sharing a room with Alan Spice in this Hotel. My room is arranged by the European Chess Union”

“Hotel is full.”

“Which way is reception?”

“Hotel is complete full”.

Hmm – another word of English!

“I’m going down to reception to find out where my room is.”

“Motor stay here” he said. “No car parking at reception”

“I’ll take off the luggage first” I said “then I'll bring the motor back”. Maybe in the morning. So I drove past the barrier, which he didn’t raise, and down to reception. Parking was no problem. I asked them where my room was.

The hotel really was full.

The team was staying, for one night, in the Hotel Palladium about a mile up the road. So I went on there.

They were also full, but after half an hour they somehow found me a room. The first hotel, although it was full, had a bar which was still open and this was where most of the team were. I didn't know this so, although I really needed a beer or two, I just crashed out.

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John Trevelyan