July 23, 2011 GMT
Back Home Again
After riding in 13 countries and involuntarily visiting another (I’ll explain) in mostly good weather (fog and wet at Nordkapp, fog at Timmeljoch Pass, and some rain getting back to Frankfurt) but otherwise sun and warm, we made it back home to Southern California. In order, we rode in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland (helped the economy there by paying a traffic ticket), Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. 5800 miles of riding gave us more scenery than we could imagine. Since I had a GPS for the entire trip and it was keeping tabs on us, I have a visual track of the route. Here is a large scale look at the actual route in the GPS.
It matches fairly closely to the planned route
but we added the area in the Alps since we had a bit more time than planned. This picture of the Stilvio Pass
shows a portion of the switchback road but there was much more of it than that as this enlarged look at the GPS track shows.
All in all it was an EXCELLENT adventure and another “ride of a lifetime”. It is good to be back to the old routines (especially the naps in the afternoon)! :=) Oh, almost forgot the involuntarily visited country. Our plane out of Frankfurt had some fuel delivery problems and had to land in Iceland on the way to Houston. Still didn’t have enough fuel to make it to Houston so we landed again in Newark, New Jersey. Just a little more excitement to add to an already exciting trip.
All the pictures are here if you like!
Stay tuned for further adventures. I need to go to South Africa to complete the “Four Corners of the Globe by Road Tour”.
Rick (glad to be home again).
Posted by rickmcd at 10:38 PM
July 18, 2011 GMT
Stilvio Pass and Beyond
As I said, the Mountain Passes god gives and takes away. He/She must have been feeling bad about our near death experience on Timmeljoch yesterday as we had an almost perfect day for one of the most famous passes in the Italian Alps, Stilvio and then later and little lower Ligano. Here is what we started out with on the way up.
Beautiful scenery, warm weather, and curvy roads.
At the top it was still nice and we were still considering ourselves incredibly lucky. From the top the GPS said that the village of Bormio (our next planned stop) was 4 miles away (in a straight line) BUT 11 miles by road and here is why.
NO STRAIGHT ROADS WITHIN A HUNDRED MILES! :=)
Made it over that pass plus another, Ligano
and down into Switzerland. Mother Nature decided to show that she was still in charge so we rode in the rain and cold the rest of the afternoon. Thank goodness for the Widder electric clothing. We are now turning north for a little side tour thru the Black Forest and toward Frankfurt.
More pictures here if you like.
Rick (all Heidi’d out) :=)
Posted by rickmcd at 04:18 PM
July 17, 2011 GMT
More Alpine Passes
The Mountain Gods give and they also take away. They gave us a perfect day to ride the Grossglockner Pass in Austria but they got even when we tried to ride the Timmeljoch Pass. It was beautiful
right up till just before the top. The we stared DEATH square in the face with one of the curviest roads and near ZERO visibility. The rain, fog, clouds and road contributed to one of the most stressful rides (don’t know about Corey) I have ever done. It was the best scenery that we have NEVER seen. :=) Major switchbacks in in these conditions is NOT fun. After we got down a ways the fog lifted, and THIS is what we were riding WITH NO VISIBILITY!!
I told Corey that he had my undying admiration for leading us thru that. There were some GREAT views when we got out of the fog. Here you can see some of the switchbacks closer to the bottom.
Tomorrow we will try Stilvio Pass and another in northern Italy (IF IT IS NOT FOGGY).
Rick (glad to be alive).
Posted by rickmcd at 03:46 PM
July 16, 2011 GMT
We blew out of Prague heading south with a general idea that we would explore some of the Austrian and Swiss Alps. From Prague we rode into the very northeast corner of Germany, then into Austria, then into Germany (again) and back into Austria. Some very nice roads
and LOTS of quaint villages along the way.
After a bit of research we headed for a village named Zell am See in Austria.
It is the jumping off point for some of the best motorcycle roads around and many of the Alpine passes that we were looking for. Unfortunately, we arrived in Zell in a little rain and right away met a fellow that said he had been waiting 3 days for the fog and rain to clear up so he could ride the pass. It wasn’t looking good for us as we couldn’t even see the tops of the mountains. In the morning, the nice lady at the reception asked if we were riding the pass. We said yes, but the clouds and fog had us worried. She immediately got on the internet and called up some real time web cams and said “It is a PERFECT day to ride the pass”. Sun and warm. We must have been good boys to get such a break. Many motorcyclists have said that you haven’t really ridden the Alps unless you have ridden Grossglockner Pass. Well, we rode it and did it in PERFECT weather. What Luck. It took us 4 hours to go 20 miles because we stopped so many time for pictures and such. Again I’ll let you decide which you think are best but here are some of my favorites.
Tomorrow we will head past Innsbruck and then on to St Moritz looking for more perfect weather and mountain passes. Wish us luck!
Many more pictures here if you like.
Rick (OD'ing on Mountain scenery)
Posted by rickmcd at 05:13 PM
July 14, 2011 GMT
Prague (or Praha as they say here)
Made it thru Latvia, Lithuania
Poland, and into the Czech Republic
and Prague on some very scenic roads.
Had trouble finding a hotel in old town since there is a film festival, a bohemian jazz festival, and some Norwegian thing going (Corey got excited) but we got lucky and found some “economy” rooms in a VERY nice hotel (Hotel Caesars Palace). The elevator doesn’t even go to the floor our rooms are on, since it is the attic but they actually are very nice and the fancy people in the lobby and bars don’t know that we are attic rats! :=) Several people had told me that Prague was the one place that we didn’t want to miss. They said it was beautiful and they were right. There are so many great buildings,
to look at that my neck hurts at times. Corey has some friends here and they took us to a famous roof top restaurant (and several bars) that had views that were unbelievable.
After the last blog entry, some folks said they were disappointed that there were no pictures – be careful what you wish for. There are a LOT of pictures this time. Sometimes 2 or 3 of the same thing as I was trying different camera settings (none of which are very good since it was generally cloudy and overcast). Don’t know what page the new ones start on, on your computer since every display is different (they start on page 39 on my little traveling laptop). I’ll let you decide which pictures you like best out of the bunch. The rest are here if you like.
Posted by rickmcd at 03:04 PM
July 12, 2011 GMT
Leaving Russia (Maybe)
Three days in Saint Petersburg. Time to hit the road and see what the border situation is. Turns out it is NOT pretty for us. Shelly still has no problem and is on his way to Gdansk and a ferry home to Gotland Island. Corey and I get the treatment (but we are used to it). First guard no problem. Looks at passports and says “go ahead”, cool. Second lady guard asks for motorcycle papers and then notices COPIES of registrations. Getting nervous. I tell her it is a rental motorcycle and she says “oh” and fills out a form. This might be OK after all. Get to the next lady (??) and she immediately yells that we have COPIES. Damn. We really figured we had her by the balls (and believe me I think she had ’em. Think of every stereotypical Russian woman that you have ever seen in a uniform in the movies and that was her in a nutshell) because someone had let us IN with copies. She made us stand in the sun for an hour or so, so she could demonstrate her authority. After conversing with a couple of others (and drinking a coke while taking a break, and laughing at something in Corey's passport (I think his picture, long haired hippie freak)) she let us go. Great. Got to the Latviaian border. Friendly but says “copies no good”. Here we go again. Finally after three hours and $15 for a notarized letter, they let us in. Since we had been stressed to the max and standing in the sun for hours, a beer was in order. A little roadside bar for truck drivers was a short distance away. We ordered 2 of the biggest beers they had and were told we owed $2.50 FOR BOTH. Figured the dollar was strong here. And sure enough. That night we stayed at a VERY nice hotel, had a GREAT dinner prepared by a chef that obviously had training because the pork loin was excellent and the presentation was superb (served by a waitress that smiled continually - unusual for us since NO ONE in Russia smiles). We had two beers and dessert and a prepared breakfast in the morning and when we checked out the total bill was $68 each. If you are on a fixed income (and I am) Latvia should be on your list of places to live (maybe). If you decide to move there BRING ORIGINALS - NOT COPIES. :=) We were really bummed thinking about the many borders we had to cross (Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia) but there was some GOOD news. Those countries use the European Union Protocols so we didn’t have to stop at all. Feeling better now. We are heading for Prague and will spend a couple days there and are now thinking we may have enough time for a tour of the Alps before returning to Frankfurt. No pictures as we were riding some great roads but no place to stop (except bars). Many farms and fields of corn and wheat (nostalgic for me as I drove a combine for several years in Oklahoma). Lots of roads with the trees completely covering the road which made it like we were riding in a tunnel at times. Prague soon and another update with pictures.
Rick (escapee from Russia)
Posted by rickmcd at 06:51 PM
July 09, 2011 GMT
Nordkapp, the northernmost road point in the Eastern Hemisphere, Check. Looking forward to getting out of the rain and cold, Check.
We headed south down thru northern Finland looking for warm. Didn’t take long to find it. We crossed the Arctic Circle again
(only going south this time) and it was already MUCH warmer. We were so happy about the nice warm weather that we let our speed control get out of hand. The long arm of the law reached out to us and explained the fact that just because we needed to go south where it was warm we couldn’t do it as fast as we wanted.
Ticket Time! Fortunately Shelly was leading at the time. Corey and I told the cops that we were a tour group and Shelly was the leader therefore he should get the ticket but not us. They accepted that and told us to move along.
It was not looking good for Shelly when we left! :=) We still don’t know what happened because Shelly won’t talk about it but apparently he DIDN’T get a ticket. Lesson learned. Still heading south but at a much reduced rate! :=) Finally made it to the Finland/Russian border
where the nightmare began. The Finnish guys were very friendly but said we couldn’t check out because we didn’t have the ORIGINAL registration for the rental motorcycles. Understandable (Although we had some very BAD thoughts for the company in Frankfurt). We begged, pleaded, cried like little girls but they said unless we could get the company to say that it was OK that we weren’t going in to Russia. We called the company in Germany (my phone bill will break me probably) and put the Finnish guys on line with them. That worked. They were happy and so were we
(the real bomb was still to come). We joyously headed into Russia only to meet the nastiest (while the best looking) border guard that we had ever seen. She said “NYET” and meant it. We weren’t entering without ORIGINAL motorcycle documents. “GO BACK” She said and just kept repeating it. Begged, pleaded, cried (again) all to NO avail. She was just plain nasty. Back to the Finnish guys who were VERY friendly and helpful. They produced a letter that stated that they had talked to the company and everything was OK. Signed and sealed by the head guy. Back to the nasty Russian border. Fortunately the good looking blond was replaced by another good looking blond who unfortunately had taken training from the first. She looked at the signed and sealed letter and actually laughed out loud. “GO BACK”. FOUR HOURS spent for nothing. Shelly of course was having NO trouble since it was his personal bike and HE HAD THE ORIGINAL REGISTRATION. Shelly waved goodbye as he headed for Saint Petersburg while Corey and I cried on the side of the road while looking at a map to plan a new route by ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia (since we couldn't go thru the Russia Roads). A main reason for crying was that we had $200 invested in Russian Visas and $1400 in paid for rooms in Saint Petersburg (Very mad at the rental guy for sending us out and assuring us that we had all we needed to get into Russia). The new route would take us by another Russian border about 35 miles south of the one that rejected us. We said “what the heck, the worst they can do is turn us back (Again). We pulled up to the Finnish border and they waved us thru as the first guy had called and told them to expect us. :=) LOVE those Finnish customs guys. Now for another try at the Russian border. Pulled up and the nice lady stamped our passports and said “go ahead”. We couldn’t believe it and sure enough it wasn’t true. As we tried to ride away they said “you have to process your bikes into Russia. CRAP!!!! Over to another office expecting the worst and another very pretty lady said “let me see your motorcycle papers”. This was it we were sure. But wait, she started typing and ask us to fill out two forms (in Russian so IT WAS NOT ALL THAT EASY but she actually helped us figure it out. She left with our papers and said “wait”. We were still sure that it was all going south any minute BUT SHE CAME BACK AND SAID “HAVE A GOOD VISIT TO RUSSIA”. Not one word about copies of our registrations vice originals that the first border said was a MUST. We didn’t know whether we were illegal aliens or not but we got away from the border as fast as we could (while observing the speed limits) :=)
Saint Petersburg here we come. Surprised Shelly as he pulled up at the hotel about the same time. Lots of pictures from our walking tour and the two boat tours we took (Peterhof on a Hydroplane and a canal tour on a very short boat.
The buildings and scenery are unbelievable.
Sunday we will see if we can get OUT of Russia. If you haven't heard from me in 3 or 4 weeks, we WERE illegal aliens and tell Julia to wait at least a month to have me declared legally dead! :=)
LOTS of pictures here starting on page 20 if you like.
Rick (maybe stuck in Russia)
Posted by rickmcd at 03:08 PM
July 05, 2011 GMT
The Malibu Channel Islands Eurotrash boys made it as far north as you can go by road over here (but it wasn't pretty, literally).
Shelly’s friend, Bo came thru again and surprised us at breakfast by showing up to lead us out of town and make sure we got on the right road north (someone must have told him about some of our wrong turns) :=) We made it as far as Umea on Saturday evening where coincidentally they were the host city for a Classic Car Show. There were hundreds of classic American and foreign cars from all over Sweden parading up and down the streets all evening.
What serendipity! The next day we rode into Finland and crossed the Arctic Circle
(way north but not far enough).
On Monday, July 4th we rode into Norway and up to the most northerly road point over here. It is 71 degrees north, about 1 more than Prudhoe bay. The two previous days and this day (up to this point) had been sunshine, and warm or sunshine and cool. Scenery so spectacular it take your breath away on the way up.
We ran out of trees but it was still gorgeous. We thought we caught a break and arrived on the perfect day until about 10 miles before the Nordkapp Monument when mother nature showed us who was in charge. Freezing rain and fog so bad we were down to about 5 MPH. We couldn’t even see the monument from the visitor’s center and it was only about 30 yards away. Took some pictures even though they did not come out very well at all but we still have proof that we made it.
Many more motorcycles here than Prudhoe Bay but still not a LOT of people have done the trip (if you don’t count the 25,000 cruise boat passengers that come up here weekly in busses from the port in Honningsvag). ;+} Celebrated with a nice bottle of scotch (that we carried all the way up here) and a nice dinner of Cod Tongue (If it weren’t for all that scotch I probably would NEVER have ordered it). :=) It was actually very good (must be that scotch again). We are now heading south looking for warm (weather forecast indicates it might be liquid warm) across Finland and to Russia/Saint Petersburg. Sometimes (many) we have to share the road with a LOT of Rudolph’s friends
but the scenery NEVER disappoints.
Many more pictures here starting on page 20 if you like.
Rick (from the Road)
Posted by rickmcd at 05:45 PM
July 01, 2011 GMT
A quick update before leaving Stockholm and heading into the wilds of the north.
OK, OK, I am admitting my mistake. For you observant folks that are experienced European travelers, the gas sign was from Germany and the prices are in Euros BUT GAS WAS STILL $9.00 A GALLON, and in Sweden it is about $10.00. A couple of times I have put $40 worth in the motorcycle tank. Corey says not to worry though that the gas in Norway is REALLY expensive. :=)
A friend of Shelly's (Bo) and his lovely Lady, Susan met us at the ferry dock and led us on a back way to Stockholm with a stop at a biker bar.
They later took us on a motorcycle tour of the town. What great folks and we can't thank them enough.
We were going to buy them lots of beer but nobody could afford it. :=)
Corey and I did a walking and
bicycle riding tour of Stockholm today. This is a WONDERFUL place to live IN THE SUMMER. LOTS of waterside restaurants, boats, partying, and expensive beer.
There are lots of pictures so I won't try to pick out the best, I'll let you choose for yourself. We also visited a very cool place here that is the home of a Swedish ship that was recovered in 1961 after being on the bottom for 333 years. It apparently is a classic example of government interference. In 1628 the shipbuilder had a solid design and King Adolphsus kept adding decks, guns, aft cabins , etc. to the point where it proved unstable. Proved it on it's maiden voyage buy basically becoming the first boat in the Swedish submarine service before it got out of Stockholm harbor. I got a picture of the model but the real thing is there and 95% original but in a very dark building so no pictures. Look it up in the internet. I think the ship name was spelled Vasa.
We will be traveling north for the next few days and don't know when I will be able to do another update so keep looking in. Oh almost forgot. I have been keeping my eyes out for the stereotypical tall blond good looking women but I never saw any (really Julia)
so Corey gave me this picture he took on the ferry. :=)
Many more pictures here if you like.
Posted by rickmcd at 05:38 PM