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The old problem kicked back today. Navigation. I knew it was going to be a bad one and I warned her that i thought so. Google maps couldn't plot me a route and I had precious little to go on. The guy at the F1 hotel said it was no problem, maybe 2 hours although google said 4. I liked his optomism. We stayed and chatted for nearly an hour, nice guy, great English and seemed to know his shit. You get a certain arrogance when you speak English, the fact is most people speak some so you really don't need to bother with other languages but hearing others do it is impressive, especially as my own ability with them is so rudimentary.
Anyway, we followed his route, which disagreed with the other three methods, ie, signs, google and GPS but then they all disagreed with each other too and he steered us right last night.
We ended up at an impass where the same road went in both directions to places I hadn't plotted on my notes. We stopped to check the map on the motorway at an SOS phone point behind a truck with a sleeping driver. Then a crapped out car pulled in behind us with what I thought was a flat tyre. It was actually more blown than a rich drunk kid in a brothel and had taken half the wing with it. Maybe... the whole car was so knackered it was hard to tell. I tried to help him out but as he opened the door the panel dropped off and the speakers fell out. His boot had the random clutter of several lifetimes but no jacks of wrenches. He asked if I had one.... errr....
So we got directions off him and we left him to kick the shambolic remains of his "car" to crap while we headed out. We got onto some kind of main road and stopped to fill up and check we were heading right. A Swiss couple this time, a pair of bikers. They didn't know but that wasn't good enough. They took my map and stomped off into the crowd demanding answers. Never have I seen such helpful people or such a fearful crowd. They told me the story of the day... I was going right. I left and we headed after the signs that I had been assured lead the way to Mulhouse. Of course we followed and it still didn't feel right. The satnav was moaning and I was heading miles off course. I stopped and checked a map. I only had to come off at the next juntion and all wold be well. I confirmed this while chatting with a rider on a 1150 gs (how my sore arse envied his cushion on wheels that wafted along on a sea of mechanical luxury). He told me I was in a completely different town and illustrated it by pointing at a map he was holding upside down. I thanked him anyway. We left by the next exit and sure enough the road signs lead us god-only-knows where. All this time the road numbers never got close to what they were meant to be but we were following signs to Mulhouse the whole time. Now my GS was saying we were off course and getting worse all the time. Signs came up showing left and rights and towns meant to be on the same line in totally different directions. All I can assume is we were following signs off the country lanes to a main road but we lost around 2 hours and added 100 miles to the journey. We stopped for lunch today but nobody had any food left. I parked next to a UK bike in a nowhere town. I was quite excited but he turned out to be French and I felt cheated out of a conversation and sulked for the next few minutes. We eventually found a village where i warned her was the last chance for food, we were making lousy time and virtually lost and it was time to stop being fussy. A woman followed us out and said they had no food but could make us sandwiches. We had that. They were big enough to choke a rhino and the bread had the consistency of granite, it was honestly like chewing a delicious kind of rock.
We headed off to more getting lost before a last map check which promised to drop us off on the A-road we should have been riding on for the last few hours. Then my guts played up. I can usually eat dog-shit without any trouble but I thought it best to get whatever was in there out with the minimum fuss. We got on the main road and stopped at an Aire. The toilet was a traditional hole in the floor but nature had to have its way and the deed was done.
I can't see how a cheese sandwich did that but something was not right. My other half had ham but she was fine and she's a delicate little flower.
We headed off into the wild blue yonder with untold miles to make up. I cracked on and made a solidly unpleasant pace around 70-75, even cracking 85 at one point although the bike was unpleasant to be on.
Eventually we made it, exhausted to Mulhouse. We looked around and my initial impressions were, what a shit-hole. It's very different to othetr French towns being a border town. There was considerable ethnic diversity which was unusual. There was also pawn-brokers, Cash-converters, high visiblity police, etc. All the trappings of poverty and the town had a very unpleasant vibe. We got directions twice that both led to different places and eventually just stopped in another hotel and asked. Apparently we were in the wrong town. Thanks for that, Google. We headed off and got more directions. Well one guy said he knew and then went off to buy Ice-cream so who knows what happened there. A woman was nice enough to phone her husband and ask and gave us some wrong directions. Luckily they were almost right enough that we muddled through.
The place was full of Polish lorry drivers so I got a chance to have a with the people that had been trying to kill me all day on the A43.
Beer makes Jack better.
Fed up with navigation. I feel like it's all my fault but not really sure what to do for the best. I phoned the hotel, he said turn left but I hadn't told his where I was yet. I asked a Turkish man in a kebab shop if he spoke English. He said, "Nein!". That's not even French.
Anyway, the hotel is crap, F1s are cheap but honestly I'd rather camp. They're just not worth the hassle.
But the nice thing about this one is an Italian GS1150 outside in the car park. This thing is mint... I mean mint. Lovely colours too with nice modifications. This is a truly gorgeous machine.
Also I had plenty of time to think. Want to know what I was thinking.... Read next...
Well today was a lot easier. The hotel was a pig to find but the way back to the main road was a doddle. If Google maps had played nice then last night wouldn’t have been an issue. In any case, we got back to the main road in about three minutes and made it into the next big town in about 25 which was just under halfway to the camp site where we’re staying.
We were expecting a difficult border crossing but we weren’t prepared for what happened. My partner is Asian and has struggled hard to get qualified for a European visa and get the legalities organised for this journey. She is completely legal but the paperwork is complicated and entry is never completely guaranteed. In all the other borders we were simply allowed straight through without checks but this time we were on a main road into Germany, the world capital of over-organisation (other than England).
So we were driving along and we crossed a river. There was a lot of industry around, mechanical bridges, factories and specialised boats moving things around. How unusual for France who would struggle to organise a pissup in a brewery if not for the fact that they just et pissed up anywhere, everywhere and always. Then I noticed the signs were in German. Simple as that. Nothing. Not even a police car at the side of the road, not a notice, not a sign. It was almost a disappointment.
So we trundled into town and stopped off to consult the map. We would be following my downloaded directions and the GPS co-ordinates in the final instance. The GPS insisted we go forwards. We made our way through the town with a very poxy 30kph speed limit which is nothing short of frustrating and then the town stopped and it was rolling hills everywhere. I had to go straight on and the road suddenly went left and right so we just took the moral high-ground and went to find something to eat.
We found one restaurant that looked open but were told they were no longer serving. A woman came up to us and said that if we decided quickly she’d see what she could do. The restaurant was the scary sort where you imagine you’re going to walk out without any cash left but we blundered in anyway. Being Asian my partner likes to eat a larger meal in the middle of the day although I prefer to wait so we try to compromise and I figured it was her turn to pay so we’d do what she wanted.
The woman helped us with the menu as I don’t speak a word of German I didn’t pick up from war movies. My partner ordered something with pork and I got the vegetarian special with extra vowels. I didn’t really care what it was, we were hungry and interested to try new stuff.
Two salads were served, both highly delicious and filling but there was no pork in hers. Then two more massive plates of food came. Hers had noodles that were as thick as chips and mine was a giant fried shredded potato with vegetable covered in cheese. Both were amazing, really delicious and cheap too. It came to less than 20euros with a drink so we over-tipped and headed out. We aimed aimlessly into the black forest. Now this place is beautiful in the same way that Switzerland was and in some ways was quite similar. It’s a mountainous region but more civilised so it’s just essentially hilly and green, like a microcosm version of Switzerland or the latter in a snow-globe. We just rode about aimlessly snapping pictures and wilfully getting lost. There is a fair bit of civilisation here, a little too much and the French national parks have an edge on it here with far more drama but this wins in terms of civilised, controlled beauty.
Riding conditions are superb but I longed for a ride around these glorious roads solo, unencumbered by the weight of a passenger but this is something that is absolutely best to share so the inconvenience was marginal at worst.
We got serious after a few hours and found the place with no further trouble. The place is littered with A-roads and I found that a little sad, we even came across some heavy industry which was like a blight, a mark on an otherwise spotless clean cloth.
We pitched the tent, our first night camping. No problems, it went up easily enough and I quite like camping. The only thing was the cost which was only meant to be 4.5 euros somehow got up to 19 but we got plenty of free stuff and it’s still cheaper than a hotel. We’re staying an extra night to rest up and explore tomorrow without the hassle of a schedule or the weight of our baggage. Food is cheap here, far cheaper than France but maybe a bit too delicious. Large seems to be the norm, perhaps larger and more widespread than England that has a noticeable obesity problem.
Looking forward to a hassle free day tomorrow and saving some cash. From here we’re pushing into the Czech republic and then Poland. We wanted to go further but time is against us. A month is not enough but it was the longest visa she could get.
So I thought mostly about why I was travelling. Now this is not to say that doing so is not a suitable end in itself and even when you're facing the misery of battling road-signs or any host of other irritations it's still fun. When you travel long distances you tend to have time to think. This is what I think about. I find it useful to have the distraction of the road to worry about, it keeps “that” part of my mind busy and allows a freedom to think that you otherwise don’t often enjoy.
So... Philosophy now... please read around....
The cage. Part 1
The reason I'm doing this is to understand more about myself and the human race in general. Charles Darwin postulated the theory of evolution based on his observation of political interaction which he later withdrew. One of the most interesting observations of us when he suggested that Humans do not behave as a wild animal gone tame but as a wholly domesticated creature. Now that’s an interesting observation and I believe an entirely correct one. It does however open more questions than it seeks to answer.
I believe we are every bit as trapped as a chicken in a battery farm. Now the chicken is an unconscious, experience-response organism, a fairly crude brain and is almost entirely instinct driven. That means it’s motivated towards equilibrium of its biological needs. Entrapment causes frustration and discomfort but anything not causing damage will be neddfully tolerated as struggling is wasting energy and risking injury, both of which are instinctively programmed in as negative. Now a chicken born into a cage or put in at a sufficiently young age will simply perceive this as an environment. It won’t hate the loss of freedom, it will experience the environment from the perspective of continued survival. It accepts it because without a conscious aptitude it is incapable of abstractions and even imagination. It cannot conceptualise freedom it has never had.
A mouse crawling through a modern building will similarly not perceive the fact that it’s walking around on an artificial structure designed to accommodate another being by techniques it cannot begin to comprehend. It will instead consider the surroundings as its environment and will decide on their worthiness by their ability to satisfy its bodily needs as driven by its instinctive programming. In other words, will there be food?
Humans are different by an order of magnitude. We have consciousness. This strange and unscientific thing cannot be measured or proved and yet the human ability to think about this statement is proof of its existence.
A very smart man once said to me that “meat cannot think.” This is true, the human brain varies only slightly in real terms from any other creature of the same physical dimensions and yet Humans work in a totally unprecedented way. Consciousness sets us apart from all other creatures on the planet which is an astounding feat if you consider the mind-boggling array of life here. This is a kind of quantum leap you’d expect between a germ and a rat. It would be like putting hands on a snake. We are totally separate from anything else due to this simple ability to wonder. It’s not even like our brains do it. Humans are a cluttered, jumble of impulses, some randomly firing so that in our voices we can head objectionable suggestions from within our own minds. We are intelligent creatures with a functioning brain, a computer the likes of which modern technology can only dream about producing and we’re also conscious. It’s like the two are working together, side by side and not always in agreement. If you consider the simplicity of the Human body which still has many mysteries then how can we ever hop to understand the mind? We’re barely beginning to scratch the surface and yet we’ve not even begin with the mysterious soul so often spoke about but so rarely attempted to explain. If the mind is more complex than the body by an order of magnitude then consciousness is likely to be more confusing still.
So this chicken is caged and yet cannot conceive of his entrapment. She is a prisoner of this environment and her restrain serves the needs of another creature, again which she has no concept of. She views it as a larger animal , nothing more. She has no concisions faculty of her own so no way to project that faculty onto another creature, she has no frame of reference and no ability to use it if she had.
What if Humans are in the same cage? A chicken is little more than a body with a sophisticated computer in it to continue its survival with a pre-programmed set of instructions. The body is of use to us. Humans can, to a degree ingest it and it lays eggs which are also edible. That is the limit of our interest for the most part.
Now a human has no natural predators. We are relatively free to move around the planet within the confines of our technological progress, ie we are stuck on this rock until we figure that out. Our brains are reasonably uninspiring. The fact is almost all of our mental abilities can be emulated and bettered by a piece of technology in some way. Try working out a square root faster than a calculator and you’ll see what I mean. Try viewing a scene from a movie you just saw in your mind and then watch it back on a DVD. Technology tends to be aimed at building on the weaknesses of our brains although they’re not weaknesses at all but rather the poor communication between the two human elements functioning together. Very little technology goes into emotional thinking replacement. Your brakes might have electronic ABS but they’ll never love you for it.
Our cage is just as invisible to us as it is to a confined bird. It’s just as frustrating, just as annoying and we test it, bite against it but ultimately we accept it. It doesn’t threaten our survival and we’re used to it. We don’t even know it’s there because it’s a part of our perception.
If a creature was of the next level of magnitude up from us how would we see it? We are only conscious, we don’t have the ability of this being so we cannot perceive what this ability might be and we’re also unable to project this ability onto our perception. If we see an injured animal we can sympathise. It’s something we understand but the next level up from us, we’re completely incapable of perceiving it. If confronted by it we’d interpret it in a way that makes sense to us just as a caged chicken interprets a human farmer as a bigger animal. We may see it as an alien, a god or a loaf of bread with a really interesting thing written on the wrapper. We may see it as a rock, or a whale.... or a planet.
So the cage is around us but it doesn’t appear to hamper our movements significantly. That poor chicken can’t stand up. We can get in a car and drive to the coast. The restriction placed upon us is a different one and does not significantly impede our physical movement and we’re so used to it that like the chicken, we don’t even know it’s there. We don’t know that there’s any other way to exist since this is our current condition and for most of us the thought never occurred that there’s anything wrong with the world. The battery animal is provided for. It’s fed and its waste is managed, it’s survival is, to a degree in the interest of the jailor so it’s maintained within the confines of the convenience of the higher creature. Just like that we are maintained and we accept the frustrations of our condition because our survival continues. In fact we can do slightly better than that, we can flourish although doing so is extremely rare. Our physical needs are met through one means or another but in the developed world where the population is somewhat balanced then it’s exceedingly rare to see someone starve to death, even someone who refutes societal norms absolutely. The frustration the entrapped animal feels is one of instinctive drive to search out food and keep itself clean enough to avoid the worst infection. Even a basic animal is driven to explore its surroundings as doing so is a better guarantee of survival, that drive is completely frustrated by an animal confined in a modern farming environment. The animal will survive but not being able to finction as it’s instinctively biased to do will negatively impact on its wellbeing, just as it does with all creatures, including Humans. We’ve all known, to some degree the negative emotional impact of denial of basic instinctual urges. Every fat person will know the difficulty of rejecting food they know is not healthy when habitual behaviour has identified itself with the survival instinct. What about the adrenaline rush of dangerous sports, the near physical push againt you as you approach something you have unconsciously identified as dangerous enough to pose some threat to your survival. Pushing against that instinct is extremely difficult but there are others we push against every day. The urge to procreate is the one we manage most carefully on a daily basis which was why it was convenient for Sigmund Freud to study it.
We all know the difficulty of denying an urge from a deep place in our minds and yet a farmed animal must do this daily as part of its existence. So must we as socialised humans, we daily fight against our urge for more space, territory, time, increased wealth and status and yet this is now accepted as a normal part of society, it’s simply mainstream existence for the overwhelming majority of those living in the modern world.
Just like a caged animal who doesn’t appreciate the nature or circumstances of its incarceration we are entrapped in our confined existence and have little concept of the true reasons behind it because those reasons serve a power that exists on the next level beyond human consciousness, a level we are in capable of conceptualising.
So then travelling is another step towards identifying this cage. Just like a bird can flap its wings and feel the edges of it confinement I’m spreading out to feel the edges of mine. Obviously mine is not a wire mesh holding back my arms and legs, mine is one of a conceptual barrier. I’m a Human prison of a trap made out of my own humanity.
Chickens escape all the time although they have no deliberate inclination to do so. It happens, doors locks fail or they escape during handling. It happens every day and it happens on an accidental level too with humans. We just have to learn to be aware of it. Does a raving psychotic actually have an ability to walk outside the cage, do hallucinogenic drugs actually show us a glimpse of freedom? For a chicken a cage is a literal box. For a pet the cage is more sinister. A cat or dog is trapped by its own instinctive behaviour towards survival to bond with its captors. A dog especially exchanges the unwanted elements of instinctive pack programming for the ones we find more acceptable in exchange for food and shelter. When a dog reverts to the basic roots of its programming and bites a human or goes wild, we have it executed. The trap for the dog is a kinder place than the fate of the farmed animal but anything that modifies natural behaviour and frustrates basic drives is a cage of some sort.
It’s quite possible that Human consciousness is in itself a trap, a confinement of some sort, a tether to a pattern of thinking and a way to limit us. That thing that sets us apart is often the thing that’s useful to exploit just like chickens end up in boxes because their eggs taste good.
So that was my on-the-road musings for the other day. I’ve got lots more so see how much more time I get between navigational disasters.
We just did the tourist thing today. We unwound a bit and went for an easy ride. We headed back to Triberg which is the home of the worlds largest cuckoo clock and because I knew the way. I thought I remembered seeing it and she got excited when we passed it so all was good. We rode back and it was nice to dump all of our gear and ride a bit more freely. We plodded on looking for photo opportunities but really there weren't any. I got the tap on the shoulder as passed the world of 1000 clocks, a tourist trap with a giant clock bolted to both ends. This is code for stopping so she can infuriate everyone with constantly photographing everything in sight. We stopped and the clicking began. I went in for a coffee as the place advertised a cafe inside. The cafe was actually a coffee machine next to a plastic table but needs must.
We carried on up the road and they're nice roads, very nice but not great. The first part of the Black Forest was lovely, really nice but being the beginning we expected it to build where it actually doesn't. As you go deeper in the towns get bigger, the land gets flatter and the scenery gives way more to industry. It's a crying shame as this region has a great deal to offer. I'm quite sure there were many routes we missed but this was one of the big points of my trip and it's left me a bit disappointed, especially after France and the Pyrenees.
SO we saw a crowd outside a big clock and I noticed the time, about 2 minutes to the hour so I spun her about in the road and headed back as soon as it was safe. She was wondering if we were lost again but I filled her in and she primed her camera expectantly. It turned out, according to the signs that this was, in fact the biggest cuckoo clock in the world and the crowd was waiting with a deep anticipation. Then the hour chimed, a wooden bird came out and a lot of people were just laughing. It was really pathetic, a total let-down. We carried on to the town and parked up. I wasn't sure, there were no other bikes around so I didn't know if the Germans were strict on parking. I found a carpark behind a hotel that had a notice Parking Plus Bikers. There was no ticket machines and I parked virtually in a verge out of everyones way so I took up no space anyone else could have used.
We ate at the hotel. The food was, as usual, monsterous. I ordered something-something-something which was noodles with cheese with a light salad and she changed her mind a dozen times. The waiter was a cock. Really rude, blunt, impatient and arrogant but he was like this with everyone, we weren't singled out for special treatment. She eventually went with German sausage which she fancied trying. The food was too big for one plate so my salad came in seperately. It was nice but so filling I could barely stand afterwards. Hers was likewise and she couldn't finish or even come close. The waiter grunted and said goodbye in a way that translated conceptually to "piss off" and we didn't tip him.
We waited for the other big clock and it was a similarly disapointing experience so we gave up on big clocks. We rode back slowly looking for more things to photograph but the region just didn't sing to us.
Tomorrow we're heading to Nurenburg and then into Prague. The black forest is nice, it's a fun place to visit but it's not what I hoped. It feels like the leftover piece of Switzerland but scaled down a bit. We carried on past the camp and stopped to look over the scenery and honestly, I've seen better in Kent. Shame.
Last night was rough. The rain came with a vengeance and the storm hit the park with the ferociousness of a German person attacking a Bratwurst. The tent did well to stay up and did better to keep us dry but it did, all of our stuff was kept out of the worst of it. The noise though kept me from sleep as the sheet drummed to the music of raindrops the size of golfballs.
I lay awake worrying about the next day facing hairpin bends in pissing rain with overzealous Germans in heavy luxury-derived cars anxious to overtake while redesigning my troublesome fuel layout in my head.
I woke up on the alarm so at least I slept a bit but felt like the inside of my skull had been cleaned out with a scouring brush. I packed up the tent while my partner fussed about every minor details of applying her makeup until she, frankly started to annoy me. I packed the bike myself and got all of the gear loaded while she stared blankly at me, moaning intermittently about wanting to go to the toilet block instead of doing something productive. In the end the guy who ran the camp moaned about a missing card for the wifi and charged me the blunt end of 40 euros for the two nights occupying a 3m square patch of wasteland. His website said 4.5 for a bike but apparently you have to also pay to be a human being on this particular camp although that was not stated before we rode several hundred miles to be there. This is not unusual and it’s my understanding of the culture that caused the misunderstanding so I took it on the chin. Be warned that when you book a camp here you should confirm the price up front instead of assuming you will be asked to pay what the literature said.
I was almost tempted to just drive off and not pay, there really would have been nothing he could have done and I doubt he would have cared very much but I’m just not built that way. Either way, I was disappointed in the camp. The owner was typically German, he loved to tell us all the rules and then completely lost interest once he had the money... Are you listening here, BMW? He, like many Germans in the service industry was rude and abrupt with no interest in actually serving us, just in providing a basic function and getting paid for it. I don’t know if tipping is customary here but if it is then I assume most of the waiters are starving to death.
So I did my morning mapping which is my way of reconciling myself to the journey ahead online and with the benefit of maps and GPS, none of which generally help very much. She joked about hoping we didn’t get lost again which was additional pressure I could really do without after her lack of help and a night without sleep. I got us onto the right road to lead us out to the motorway and, predictably the actually road stopped and restarted and left me wondering where we were because, of course signs would just take all the fun out of it.
Now the bike started playing up. I don’t know if it’s an issue with my bike or these models in general but occasionally when I start her from cold and rev too hard straight away she refuses to stay running at tickover and just dies. Today she did that again. She was fine at first, we fuelled up and there were no issues but then it started and nothing would keep her running at tickover short of me keeping the revs high. My guess is it was the temperature. As we climbed into the hills it suddenly got very cold and maybe the bike was not warmed through enough to tolerate the sudden shift.
We stopped at a town which was on our way and proved we were actually going right and had some breakfast. She got very excited about cake, I had coffee and the bike had half an hour to cool right down. After that she ran perfectly and all was well with the world which is what happens at home when this problem strikes.
All was plain sailing after that, we got onto the “81” the main road into Nuremberg but hit a junction suddenly at Stuttgart which separated us off into three lanes, all with half a dozen names on the signs with none of them the one I wanted. We hit traffic suddenly which happens a lot here as they all fight to get off the junction into the fast lane and we stopped off to check the map. We had no idea where we were now as the signs had let us down completely. Against the odds we were on the 81 and still going right. We followed it along and had a straightforward run ahead. We caught a little rain which had left the roads very greasy and that around the point we hit some nasty crosswinds but the roads dried and we started making better time.
German efficiency.... that’s an odd concept. I wonder where the idea that Germans are efficient actually comes from. I had to use a motorway toilet today, several times and it left me with a deeper understanding of the culture that spawned the BMW R1200gs.
The toilet is good. A solid piece of polished metal, indestructible and well shaped. Not as uncivilised as a hole in the floor in France, this was a piece of engineering. Sadly there was no flush. The flush was very cleverly built into the door so the toilet automatically cleaned itself on your exit. Of course in the real world this never works and every toilet in Germany is full of week-old piss. You can get it working if you swing around on the door but this level of sophistication can’t replace the elegance of a chain that you pull to clear away your bodily waste. It’s tough to see what they hope to achieve with this over-complication. People are not so proud of their bowel movements that they generally leave them for the next person to marvel over. As a species we can generally be trusted to flush a toilet. Technology of this kind can rarely be trusted to do anything other than fail. Also the metal toilet is not a kind place to stick your arse which is the primary function of the unit. So here we have German ingenuity failing because they’ve not really thought it through. I’ve owned a GS. Great machine and I was a proud owner who loved to ride it. Sadly, it didn’t work. Speaking with regular tourers who ride in extended groups they tell me it’s frequently the GSs that fail. This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. You have the basis of an amazing machine which is let down by over-complication. Nobody wants to tour on a metal toilet that only flushes occasionally when a chain is cheaper, easier and more reliable.
I can see why the GS has become bigger. They love to enhance, to improve, to embellish, to enlarge. German cars are bigger, more luxurious with smarter gadgets and clever engineering and that’s how they like everything. Bigger, richer, more controlled.
While doing my mapping a gentleman came over who raced XTs and he planned a whole months worth of sight-seeing for me on the map even though I explained several times we only had another week and a half and were leaving Germany this weekend. They are a great people, really warm and friendly. They’re proud of their country and rightly so, it’s a beautiful place. I like German engineering far more than half-arsed Italian bikes with fiery passionate performance but little attention given elsewhere. Far more, also than Japanese consumer-oriented product management and far more than the British following-along while shouting “me too.”
Germany is, for my taste a little too controlled, a little stale. The food and technology is a bit too heavy, a bit too much to swallow. This country loves its little luxuries, it’s built on them and it loves to show them to the world but in many ways it’s the one that’s reminded me most of the UK. We weren’t sorry to leave the Black Forest. The roads were not what we wanted or expected. They could have been if they’d just been left alone but every few meters is another gift shop or hamlet built out of tourist-trap cafes. The further we went in, the worse it got until it was just Kent but slightly more vertical. The shame is that maybe Germany doesn’t know to stop, the people are like that when they help you. They go just a little too far in trying to take over. It’s nice that they’re so friendly and the people we’ve chatted to have been warm and genuine but they often try too hard.
Of course tonight we’re in Nuremberg, a big city. Life is always different out of the countryside so we’re eagerly anticipating finding stuff that makes everything I’ve just written totally obsolete.
Again, our waitress looked and behaved exactly as the others, just couldn’t wait to get rid of us. The town is actually very nice, very clean and very welcoming. Musicians busk at the sides of the streets and make no mistake, these are musicians. The town is lovely, a balanced little outcropping of ancient culture where a person can wander through, relaxing in the moonlight. There’s a terribly German flavour to everything here which is actually very refreshing. Coming from England where British culture has long ago collapsed it’s very pleasant to go to these truly European places where life and culture don’t just get stored in museums but live and flourish.
We had a fairly easy run into Prague today making good time until we struggled a bit to find the hotel/motel/hovel that we’re booked into.
Last night we stayed at a Hotel/Hostel and it was ok, fairly cheap but quite low quality. It wasn’t the low budget decor that bothered me so much that everything was an expensive extra until it ends up being cheaper to stay in a better hotel if you’re not careful. Well we were so **** them. At first they wouldn’t let me park the bike in the carpark as there was already two and her argument was that if there was another the cars might not be able to get out. I told her I was happy to park in a car space as it was offered with free parking but in the end just ignored her and parked it anyway by a railing. Of course nobody had a problem with this, she was just being awkward. We had to pay for the internet so I paid her in loose change which annoyed her and made me laugh as she kept losing count.
I packed up this morning and a German guy hovered on a low balcony above me and decided to talk at me in the distinctly German way which totally precludes listening. There appears to be no German equivalent of the phrase, “what do you think?”
“BMW?” he said as I kitted up the bike. Apparently he had had a BMW car for a number of years. He told me he liked water-cooling and fuel-injection. I tried to tell him my bike is not really a BMW as it has a Rotax engine and was built by Aprilia in Italy but trying to talk was clearly a poor use of my energy. He was unable to explain why he preferred those particular features but argued I desperately needed them in my life. I tried to explain I had both and in some ways saw a great deal of benefit in not having them. He talked some more.
As we checked out he came back to me again and started talking. He asked if we were on our way to Munich. I told him Prague. He grunted and walked off immediately. If I had know this would have worked I would have put CZ badges on my bike. Actualy... I’m a big fan of the CZ 660 singles, especially the Bhagira and thought about one for this trip or that trip..., I favoured the low cost and easy spares as it had a Yamaha engine. Also it used carbs so it would have been fairly easy to work on. Against it was a small tank, relative low quality, average fuel economy and difficulty getting upgrade parts. Oh well.
As we crossed the CZ border, again, not really a crossing, it was just a sign by the side of the road and we were in, things changed suddenly. The petrol stations have bars in them and some have strip clubs. Everywhere you turn are signs of prostitution and other tourists warning you to watch your valuables. I actually quite like it here. The main road was quiet apart from the odd convoy of slow moving trucks. There was some truck jousting going on where two evenly matched trucks struggle to pass one another blocking the road for everyone else but most behaved really well and the driving standard was actually very high. Off the main road the roads have no fences, just wide open and very free-looking. In town things were much more cluttered, more random with low cost buildings and lots of unfamiliar businesses everywhere. Skodas are really popular, as omnipresent as the obligatory BMW in Germany or clapped out Fiat in Italy. There aren’t so many “nice” cars, by which I mean the same cars as all the other ones with a more expensive price-tag for extras that only exist for the owner to brag about. The economy looks stretched... more economy, less consumerism. People don’t pile stuff into their trolleys and the restaurants are empty meaning people are cooking at home.
We struggled to find the hotel, (this is hardly news) but I swear, this is not my fault. We stopped about 20 miles outside and I used Google maps from a motorway free WIFI. We got directions and I drew a map. We looked for signs to the place to come off but no signs and then the main road vanished leaving us wondering what was going on. In the end we figured it out, the places were road names but google was lying to us.
So we’re staying here tomorrow night too. The hotel is low rent but has free breakfast and it’s better than camping. I can handle the drawbacks so long as we don’t have to stump up for tons of hidden extras again.
I got to get a solo rider today, so nice to lose the weight off the bike and go for a quick ride. I bought some bits in a shop with euros. The woman didn’t seem impressed and i’m sure I didn’t get the right rate but that’s my fault for not being properly prepared.
I seem to be a bit of a novelty here. Bikers seem relatively rare, even scooters are few and far between but that might be different in town, we’re still in the suburbs. A few people have noticed us, both together and me alone. We’re attracting some funny looks. Not sure why but will keep watching.
So I'm bored... my other half is ill again. She's being a bit of a drag now. She won't get involved whenever things need to be done and I'm having to do everything, think of everything and take responsibility for everything. I went out to get some bits and asked if she wanted to go out for something to eat. She said she did so I just got water and some bits. Then I get back and she decides we're not going out so now I have to ride back into town again for food. She's like this all the time about everything and it's tiring.
Now she's ill, she's just stuck in the room half sleeping, half looking at tour guides. I don't mind seeing Prague but I'm getting a bit bored of travelling with her. She doesn't like to go out, she doesn't like meeting people, she doesn't seem to like anything. She was moaning about the hotel. She can't seem to understand that we're moving from country to country in a few days, things change fast, standards, conditions, etc. Ok, this hotel is very basic and there's nobody here who speaks any English but it's fine and it's cheap too but it's not good enough for her...
OK, I dragged her out for a Beer... Anything was better than sitting in that room listening to her brain ticking over about sightseeing tomorrow. We found the hotel has a bar built onto it so we went there. Kind of rough, people staring at us as we walked in in a kind of reservedly hostile way. I asked what she wanted and so I had to go to the bar and ask if they had a glass of Rose wine. I tried to explain what that was to fits of laughter from the barmaid so I just ordered 2 s. The fits of laughter spread like wild fire until everyone was laughing. People still kept shooting glances at us but looked away when i made eye contact. It's like something out of an old British movie here. People just don't seem to know what to make of us... or me... or her???
So I've been thinking about the perfect bike. Logically the 650 single is that bike but it's not perfect for me. It's ok 1 up but I need more power. I'm struggling with the tiny 55 horsepower output and I need more. I'm a big lad, I used to do a lot of weight-training and even though I've cut down now I remain the thick end of 17 stone with most of the weight up top. Add to that her and her luggage and the bike struggles. I don't know what would be better. A tenere with a TDM engine would be fun. Why didn't they do that? The new TDM is just about the perfect design ADV bike but is a bit too heavy for the little engine. Put a bigger lump in it and it would have been a brilliant bike (for me) and they already had a proven parallel twin engine that would have worked just nicely.
The TDM itself doesn't do it for me. I had one. It just didn't feel right but it has a bit more power. Mind you, when i had one I thought it was gutless.
I guess I want sportsbike performance. I'm seeing too many roadsters out here on the continent and I'm missing the power of the Millie/Fireblade. Actually the Fireblade was a great bike. I had the 99, the last of the carbed machines and the best of the bunch. The earlier ones were good but this was a slightly improved engine over them and the later bikes cooled down performance for a few years to come. The 98/99 was a great, reliable engine that behaved itself in all conditions. I upgraded mine with a sporty exhaust and a K&N jet kit. Not only was it powerful and quick, it was reliable and fuel-efficient. It delivered impressive mileage, as good as 80mpg on a run.
What's really bugging me is that it was comfortable too and it would have been fine for a trip like this.
I need more power!!!
Mind you... in CZ there are police everywhere so maybe I'm better off with the single.
Just a bit of a tourist day in Prague central today so nothing much to report. Weather was great until later when it darkened fast and a few localised showers.
The city is very nice but has been wrecked by capitalism. Every inch of ancient architecture now has a neon sign or a gift shop. It's like seeing a beautiful girl with a scar on her face.
Also everything here is a ripoff. Every time you spend money something goes wrong, although everything is far cheaper here we've spent twice as much. I bought shopping yesterday in Lidls and it came to just over 8euros and I paid with a 20. I got back a 200 CK note and enough change to go to the pub with. This morning I bought fuel with a 20, just over 200 CK and only got a 100 CK note in change. I lost about a fiver there and it's the same story everywhere. Even changing money is no help because they catch you at the exchange places too. It's beautiful but not a place to pass through casually. We did a river cruise and then the announcer called right at the end, "I have to announce because we didn't tell you earlier but there is no bus back, you all have to walk." Sadly typical of this place. Actually it wasn't far but it's annoying. She took a picture next to a dressed up guy outside a tourist information and he had the cheek to ask for a tip.
Sad really because this town is really something special, it's very beautiful with some amazing building with a very odd vibe to them. Definitely glad we went.
We had no trouble with stealing despite the many warnings. The bike was left all day in a car park and was unmolested. Turned out we should have been allowed to park for free but the attendant didn't tell us that bit. I didn't tell him my bike can ride over pavements and out through pedestrian walkways so we can call that one a draw.
Not many bikes here. I literally saw a dozen all day including two scooters. That came as a surprise. The ones I saw were nice bikes, Harleys and KTMs so the riders are passionate people. There is no casual biking like the rest of Europe. Everyone nods and waves though, the few we saw were happy to see someone else on two wheels.
Well worth the trip and I recommend anyone to see the city but bring Czech Koruna and then it's a lot cheaper and shop at bigger stores, they are less likely to (be able) to rip you off. In future I'll be asking the exchange rate before I buy anything, I'm in that habit now. We stopped at a very exclusive bar for a and had a couple. Two s came to less than one Coke so things are pretty cheap here.
Driving standards are good, very good. People are polite and stick to sensible speeds. They even give me space when I'm clearly confused.
One other thing I've noticed is the astonishing lack of English out here. We hardly ever see or hear any English people. We've only seen to UK bikes and one of them turned out to be French. Tomorrow Poland... maybe a few days but soon need to start plotting the route back. I'm aiming to spend a last few days in Amsterdam getting totally off my face.
Ok, just a quick one today. I did my morning mapping in Prague and checked everything out on google maps. There were twoo pages if instructions just to get out of the main town. Daunting to say the least so i warned the other half it might be a tricky one. I even downloaded the co-ordinates of the place we're staying tonight and imput them to the sat nav which seemed to work fine.
I got as far as I recognised from yesterday and then got to the first turnoff according to google. It told me to follow a sign to three towns and take that turn off. All three of the towns mentioned were on different signs going in different directions. I just guessed and followed the little pink cursor pointing towards Worclaw (I now know is pronounced "Ross-love").
So against the odds that seemed to work out. We ended up on the motorway for an hour, maybe more and then we were suddenly forced from the road due to roadworks and found ourselves in town. We followed more signs and cursors and found ourselves ging along quite happily in the czech countryside. More up my street, it was nice to see a bit more of the real country.
We ended up in Nova Mesa for lunch and had none of the problems we had before. People were totally friendly, brilliant English, great food/service, everything and no ripping off.
We followed on and suddenly found ourselves in Poland. It was a long trek through the country but fun. Nice roads but really awful driving. They drive like a mixture of the worst of all the other countries brewed up together.
We ended up in Worclaw and saw a UK numberplate. We waved, he waved. He stopped, we stopped and we all made friends. Like us, he'd not spoke to an English guy in a while so it was great to chat with a familiar accent. Nice guy too, he's been on the road for 3 months on a 600 Bandit more down to earth than my bike and all the better for it. There's too much arguing on here about what's right and what's best when this guy is doing it on a machine with personal issues and all his gear straped on haphazardly with bungies. It was great, we swapped numbers and are meeting up for s and food tomorrow.
It took us another 50 miles to get to the hotel/hostel which was 10 minutes up the road. We followed the Sat nav which took us miles out into the coutryside and predicted the hotel was a small bush in the middle of a field. We actually found it pretty easily following local directions.
Poland is nice, I like it here a lot. It's rough and ready but honest. (so far).
More tomorrow. It's getting late and i'm getting tired.
Ok, feeling a little more awake now. We had a nice drive into Poland. Poland is also a nice place to drive for the most part. There are a lot of speeding cameras here but they’re all preceeded by a warning sign and almost all had been damaged so they wouldn’t work. I gather the speed limit was 70km which seemed enough in those areas, nobody was actually driving any faster.
Driving standards, as previously mentioned are poor. People are willing to kill and die to overtake you even if they then don’t drive any faster than you did. People pull out into oncoming trucks or hover right on your rear waiting for a moment. Also you can be driving along and suddenly a car is in your lane. Not a totally safe place to be so you absolutely need your wits about you.
So the Satnav took us about 15 miles out from Wroclaw into a patchwork quilt of fields on some of the worst roads I’d ever driven on. Forget fire-roads, green-lanes or unmade roads, these really give an endure bike a workout. It was one place where I could comfortably leave every other vehicle standing although as soon as the tarmac returned, so did the crazy overtaking. The roads are bad even in the centre of town so it’s hardly a surprise that they get worse out in the sticks. The road was a shattered mess of cobblestones, loose brickwork, sand, old tram tracks, gravel, glass and dead horses. Workmen stopped to stare os we drove past, the bike seems to attract a lot of attention here and I've not seen very many so far. A couple of GS500es on the way in and a couple of chop-style things (not my taste so not very good spotting those.)
In some ways it’s a lot like being at home. We went into a local mall for something to eat and a big half-naked man shouting and half-drunk with his deeply unattractive, even louder and even more drunk partner were being escorted out by security with no force but friendly persuasion. It was just like Lewisham was every day before they burnt it down. The buildings on the outskirts where we’re staying are crumbling into dereliction and remind me again of home, Thamesmead and Erith (before it was turned into a giant supermarket).
The people are different from European. They look different and have a different way of acting. They seem more restrained, more responsible but somehow unaffected, aloof and insular. There is none of the gangs of kids screaming with youthful enthusiasm into the early hours and everyone seems happy enough to leave everyone else to get on with their own thing. People don't seem to connect here, not to each other and certainly not to us. People are seperated into groups of loose affiliation.
Navigation actually wasn’t that hard, once we got back into town we found the place fairly easily with some good directions. It always amazes me how some of these people know these places. I mean an obscure hostel tucked behind a supermarket is not something most people would ever know about but everyone seems to know exactly how to get there.
The bike is doing well, we’re in the home stretch now, another week and we’ll be back home. Weather permitting my brother will meet us in Dover. He’s taken to his new V-strom with a passion and loves to ride it. It will be nice to ride back to home with him although I will have to go into London first and drop off my other half. Irritating details of the mundane responsibilities of daily life are already intruding on my trip. In fact during the whole trip I’ve been keenly aware of my responsibility to her and it’s a hell of a drag. I’ve had to make constant schedules, arrive at hotels and camps at given times, worry about every detail while she just sits on the back telling me she’s getting tired. I would never take her on an extended trip again, she’s made it a lot less fun than it should have been but I guess that’s women for you. She's not a biker at heart and doesn't enjoy roughing it. On her Facebook page are derisory comments from her many friends saying how she must be tired, cold or uncomfortable. Nothing about how she's enjoying the benefit of this kind of travel. Her attitude seems inline with their philosophy.
The rear tyre, a TKC80 has held up amazing well and will still have plenty of life in it when i get home. The headstock bearings need to go and the brakes need sorting... a fair bit needs sorting but she’s held up fine. I have work to do when i get back but it will be a pleasure, this has been a learning experience and has helped me get things straight in my head, or at least firmly crooked.
Poland... I don't know. I like it because it's different and interesting and the basic part of my mentality relishes the simpler lifestyle, the slower pace, cheaper food and drink but I'm also keenly aware of the negative differences. We went to the laundry and on our return the key wouldn't work and the door handle was damaged. I think someone tried to break into the room but nothing seems missing. We are actually right next to the main office.
I do get the impression we're slightly affluent here. The bike is getting a lot of attention, mostly positive but I wouldn't want to leave her parked here long. We walked to the shop and bought a few random bits. I bought some Vodka for a friend back home and we passed a drunk guy living in a ditch drinking dregs out of an empty can and another gentleman looking for things in dustbins. They look at us with a certain envy and I almost feel like we're rubbing their faces in our good fortune at being able to afford to just drop into their city for a few days to eat well and snap pictures with an expensive digital camera.
We took a walk into the mall for something to eat and, like Thailand and other countries where the economy is failing (all of the West is becoming like this) people are shopping but nobody is buying. People wander around in pairs or alone, mostly business-like but nobody is carrying bags, nothing is being bought.
I have worked with some Polish people, quite a few, actually and have a lot of respect for them. They work hard (mostly) and take responsibility more than westerners. One told me they hate this country, it's grey and flat and depressing. I disagreed at first and berated London which has collapsed in on itself in a premeditated pit of consumerist apathy but I now see their point.
The suburbs here are a desperate place. People use what they have to survive. Young girls are here in the Hostel looking for men with foreign passports and not shy about it. Young men are learning English so they can apply for work abroad. There is a feeling that people don't want to be here and I know how they feel. I have spoken with Polish people about this place and rarely hear positive things said.
I guess now I can see what they were saying. Capitalism still seems to be a new concept here. The stores are shiny and new and still slightly novel and it's breeding a culture of wanting. Wealth is stamping its foot hard on Eastern Europe and turning a richly historic area into a lurid display of the latest fashionable items, as decided by the cost of producing them.
Was this place better under communism? Well of course the politics of power rarely benefit the people of any country but I've heard people say further East that things were better before. In Poland, I can't say but I imagine that we've simply traded one set of problems for another and sold some idealism for a few shiny bangles.
We're heading into Germany again tomorrow. A short stopover in the country and then on into Berlin. I want to get a vibe of that city and am hoping to worm myself into the Motorrad building and see if I can tag onto a guided tour with little actual hope of that happening but stranger things do...
We're heading into the old city later, a small hub of bars and buildings which is apparently very nice although I prefer the honesty of the suburbs, I think you can tell more about the building from the way the way the foundations were laid than you can from the decoration.
We're hoping to meet Andy the biker for a snack and talk bikes'n'bollocks over a couple of s. We shall see.
Shattered. Just shattered. It’s after midnight now and I’ rapidly losing the will to live. In Berlin and there’s a storm kicking the shit out of the city. Lightning is rattling the windows but at least nobody steals bikes in the rain.
It all started this morning...
The alarm went off at 8 so we could pack and vacate comfortably by 10. Actually we comfortably were on the road by 9.30 with a fairly decent breakfast inside us and a warm effervescent glow of optimism that todays travelling looked pretty straight forward. I plotted the map and it was an easy ride to the A4 into Berlin. Simple. I was tired though. It was so hot last night I barely slept a wink
So with some fuss we found signs to the A4 by following the pointer to the correct direction. We knew it would be ok because Wrosclaw is surrounded by a ring road so you simply follow the arrow and join the next main road. So we found it easily enough, a few false starts, as always and in the end we found a roundabout with signs point to A4 Germany. So we joined and followed along. Then we hit traffic... bad traffic. We filtered as fast as we could but the weight was not conducive to sliding down the inside of moving trucks with any confidence. IN the end we got to the front to find roadworks blocking the way. We filtered through and I got a bit concerned that we were now heading back into town. We turned round and reversed, still no alternate sign to the A4. In the end we agreed I had to take a best guess and follow a road leading the right way. I found one to a town on the edge of Poland in more or less the right direction. We had some Zloty left so we figured we’d stop there for lunch. NO big deal.
We followed along but it was tough going. It started to rain but just a passing shower, in our direction at least. The skies were black and threatening behind us but we were heading into warmer climates. In fact it got a lot warmer. 24 became 26 and climbed up to 34 before it was through. We finally made it through the back routes to the little town where every sign to the centre pointed in a different direction. We eventually gave up and stopped at a cafe outside the station. Food was good and cheap and we finished off our Zloty with plenty of fuel and only 20-30km to the border.
We had a couple of Polish guys come over to say hello. One was from London and they tried to help us plan out our next route to Berlin. The first agreed my way was easiest, the other thought a direct ride into Cottbus would be quicker. We opted for easier and head off. Again, no signposts anywhere so we followed on to our arrow on the GPS. Eventually we were taken to a roundabout off back to Poznan, down to Cottbus or straight on so we went straight on. We carried on through a little village and by now the roads were getting narrow. They got narrow, broke up into dirt tracks and in the end we were riding through dirt in the woods. Luckily My other half has been trained in this, we go green-laning back home 2 up to prepare her for any eventuality and this was just such an event. It was great fun but the bike was just too overloaded to carry on. There was no guarantee the trail went anywhere in any case so we limped back to the village. Now I was starting to worry. We were off our maps and had only enough fuel to cross the border with no spare money and nothing with an exchange centre in it. We went all the way back, another 8 km and then stopped at the roundabout. We decided to go to Cottbus through lack of a choice but would look out for a crossing earlier on. No chance, 45 miles to Cottbus and the motorway. We had no choice so off we went.
We hit something. It was black, the same as the road and I was so tired I just didn’t see it. I hit it square and it was about the size of a brick. I slowed down and found somewhere to stop. You can’t just stop by the side of the road in Poland. Someone will just drive into you.
There was no damage to the wheels, no play in the bearings. All seemed fine so we rested up for a few minutes next to a wood. We cleared our stuff out when a snake came to see what we were up to but by now I was past caring and just hoped the venom worked quickly and was deadly to humans. We ran out of water at this point and the low sun was directly in my eyes and my helmet was an easy-bake oven and my boots were soaked with sweat. I was dehydrating fast, my mouth was dry, I was getting a headache and things were swimming in my vision. I was having trouble concentrating to I put on some music to help me focus. It’s always hilarious when you stop and some guy says to you how unbearably hot it is while wearing a T-shirt and you’re dressed in full bike armour and just putting a plastic tub on your head full of insulating foam.
We braved onwards and onwards while every deathwish driver in Poland tried to commit suicide and take us with them. I lost count of how many times I had to switch on full beams and ride into the roadside gutter to let a complete retard by on my side of the road after he tried to overtake without the space or power to do so. Honestly, how people survive this country is beyond me.
So we finally came off the country roads to follow signs into Germany. We crossed on an old cold-war installation which is now an empty pile of shacks. It was quite poignant really. We then saw signs to Cottbus and the motorway but it was yet another 25 miles. We carried on. By the time we got to Cottbus the motorway signs had ended and we got led into the centre. We got some water, which helped a bt and a woman came up to chat. She said the way out was too complicated so we had to follow her. We did that, we suited up quick and followed her out of the city. By now it was 34 degrees and the traffic lights were all against us, the bike was red hot and was draining the last of our energy with it. Finally we got to the motorway, blown away by the constant kindness of strangers we’ve encountered on this trip. Everyone we’ve asked has just wanted to help.
So we quickly stopped for the water and snacks she had bought and I reviewed the fuel situation. Not good. The forward tank was drained and the main was just over reserve and we’d clocked 180 miles with no idea when we’d see fuel. We carried on and clicked up 196.2 just as the reserve light lit up and just as we saw a fuel station sign 5km in the distance. Saved!
So we made the last dash to Berlin. We looked for the 13, 113 and then 100. No idea what they were but they turned out to be road numbers and following them was easy. According to the map the 100 led right to the hostel. Well it didn’t. Berlin is vast... just vast. I pulled off in the end at random to be told we were only a few miles out. We followed the guys excellent directions and they lead us a few miles from the Hostel. We then spent 3 hours following directions of people who wanted to help but were too proud to say they didn’t know. We hit the opposite problem, I asked one guy who should have known because the road the Hostel was on was directly at one end of the road he lived on. He sent us in the wrong direction but came running out to correct himself. In the end we just found it. Just after 10pm and the gates were locked but they let us in regardless.
Worst hostel ever! It’s got beds out of a prison and is filthy and staffed by idiots. I will read the reviews more carefully next time but none of the pictures match any of the rooms.
We went out for some food and a storm hit so i guess it could always be worse. Tomorrow we’re still in Berlin but in a 4 star hotel we got a cancellation with so we’re paying the same as this crap Hostel. Result!
I’m now shattered so I’m going to sleep in my prison-issue bed with no sheets as they were extra... I have sleeping bags and it’s too hot for them anyway.
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