October 27, 2005 GMT
Good and bad in Central Europe
Suddenly there were motorcycles everywhere, a stark contrast to the empty roads further east. I could say a lot about the many Austrian alpine resorts and the Grossglockner Road, but obviously it would be old news to road travellers. But it was all very nice. At the same time everything became very straightforward, and when stuck for a few days in the tent in rainy Lichtenstein I made the decision to do a U-turn and continue the excursion to some more far away places. It had to be a new continent. Yes, why not really go to Asia, to Istanbul and do the classic overland route to Kathmandu.
Bliss in Austria
A lot had to be done before I could do the U-turn. After a quick look at Switzerland I parked the bike at Knopf Tours (www.knopftours.com) in Heidelberg, Germany. Then I flew home, not without problems, because a can of WD40 had emptied itself in my luggage bag and mysteriously erased all ink print on the airline ticket. I worked at the Arctic stations to save some greens, and I applied for the necessary visas. A new international driver’s license was necessary too. So was the green card. Not to forget the Carnet de Passages that was obtained at the Norwegian Automobile Association. The trip would for sure last longer than the six week limit on the travel insurance, so a costly extension was made. A vast number of vaccines were taken. Some back-up medicines was provided by my doctor, and a letter of content was written by the pharmacy. My Dad volunteered as manager of the Bureau of Domestic Affairs, and Torger and Christina agreed to quickly forward all mail from my home address in Tromsø. Finally, Grant and Susan kindly provided me with this web log so that friends and family knows what’s going on. Thanks! And while all this was happening, Knopf in Heidelberg made sure that Balto the bike was safe and given a full service. Grrreat work!!!!
Knopfs: The garage every motorcycle dream about
The first drive on the second stage took me to Frankfurt where I met the legendary Ingo the Raumfahrer. He told some exciting stories from recent trips in Venezuela and Ecuador, and in the spirit of travel I gave him a bottle of Linie Aquavit, a Norwegian specialty famous for being shipped around the world before being offered to customers. Ingo insisted he would not open the RTW bottle before I returned.
OBS: TO ALL OWNERS OF XT600, XT660, TT600 etc...
I continued to Köln for an appointment with Off The Road AG, a company that promise to make your adventure bike better. Don't be fooled. They mounted a vacuum fuel pump (which loosened and caused oil spew through an engine gasket), a chain lubrication system (which fell off), and an oil cooler (which fell apart and caused the loss of half of my oil reserves). Thank God these things didn’t happen somewhere remote like in a desert. In addition they recommended their so-called 30 litre aluminium tank which in reality was smaller. Petrol was leaking from it when new, and the tank was still dripping like a coffee machine after they repaired it. At this point I expected some efforts on their part to solve the situation. After all, they made the thing and I had not yet been able to drive a single meter with it. But their suggestion was that I buy some glue and fix the problem myself. Say again???!!! Naturally I returned the thing with request for a refund or a replacement. Bizarrely they refused to pick up the parcel at the post office in Köln. After a week of no reply I received this mocking message by email (quote): "It is not possible for you to say: Oh, I do not want the tank anymore."
They claimed no responsibility whatsoever. The only comfort was their promise to send the repeatedly asked-for receipes for the tank payment and the job. They never did.
This bulky thing is a new product from Off The Road AG. They pretty much work like the carpet salesmen in Istanbul. After some fancy talk they make you pay a lot for rubbish. Some people call it swindle.
The so-called repair
It’s sad. I trusted these people with more than a thousand euro from my travel budget. But I received zilch benefits, just hassle, and I regard the money as stolen. I wish I knew then that you’ll find a much wider collection of Yamaha TT and XT stuff at www.kedo.de , more reliable wünstertanks at www.rikycross.it , and better travel gadgets at www.touratech.com
Posted by Erik Saue at 12:12 PM
As initially mentioned I was curious about the myth saying that you can not drive through Eastern Europe without being mugged by thugs and harassed by authorities. Well, by now I had driven 6000km without being mugged, stopped by police, or paying any bribe. Border patrols had been friendly and efficient. My confidence was on top. Then a few kilometres into Slovenia I was speeding twenty above legal through a village, when a uniformed man blocked the road before me.
As I came closer I realised he signalled for me to slow down, then waving me by with a smile, as if in a hello and good luck in Slovenia. He was right. I signalled back a thank you, and thereafter I was law obedient all the way to Austria in gratitude to that welcoming police officer. So, in my opinion the generalisation of Eastern Europe as notoriously criminal is dead wrong. Then again, you can hardly call Slovenia a typical eastern country. It had a far more western feel to it than the previous seven. In fact, it has the benefits of most western countries, with an above average of entertaining roads for biking, plus the benefit that the budget will last twice as long as if in e.g. Austria or Switzerland. Slovenia should be on every biker’s wish list.
Ljubljana was situated in the bed of a crater. The narrow streets and the three miniature bridges in the city centre made it seem more like a village that a capital. A few hours were spent strolling around, and then the course was set to Bled, a holiday resort further north where I had a swim in the lake and a night on the town with some backpackers. As with many other backpackers from the U.S., they had sawn Canadian flags on their rucksacks to avoid being targets for unfriendly comments or forced into discussions about politics. The following day they planned to trek the surrounding mountains, and I gave them my “rescue food”, two bags of delicious Real Expedition Food. I thought my stomach did not need to be rescued anymore. But I deeply regretted it two days later when my Visa card malfunctioned and I had to wait in starvation for cash to arrive. So, NEVER give your bags of Real Expedition Food away!
These boys ran away with my food
The prime target in Slovenia was the Soca Valley. I sat down by the river, reading Ernest Hemingway’s “Farewell to Arms”, a novel inspired by the authors own experiences as a solider in the area during World War I. It was strange being in such beautiful place thinking about the bloodsheds that had taken place on the same soil. And of course, it was Hemingway’s experiences right there that made him the legendary writer he became. The Soca and Bled area is also referred to as the Julian Alps, and you’ll find outstanding zigzag roads up and down the mountains, just the kind that most bikers like. After investigating these for a few days I went for the Austrian border. East Europe was history, and I was on my way home.
No, this is not Audun Raudes gate in Harstad
Posted by Erik Saue at 12:00 PM
October 22, 2005 GMT
In a park in Budapest I met Petra. She offered me to pitch my tent in her parents garden, and after meeting them all and been served a wonderful dinner my status increased to houseguest. Then the father took me on a city tour in his car, an extraordinary experience, because his goal was not to show me the nicest places, but the worst.
On tour in the gypsy quarters, in a Citroen Xsara driven like Loeb
A remarkable fact about Hungary is that every year about a thousand people are killed in bicycle accidents, something that might explain why there were so few bicycle riders in town. Obviously there were very few left. Petra and I went on a walkabout, visiting the main attractions in Buda. Among other things we arrived at the mansion of the prime minister where tourists were gathered to see some fancy dressed soldiers do their turns on the catwalk. Allegedly they guarded the minister’s house. When the show was over a single policeman was left. He didn’t look very happy, explaining that the soldiers got all the attention, while it reality it was he who guarded the prime minister, not them.
The Hajnal ladies, what a cool family! Thanks!!!!
Petra’s mother was from the western part of the country, and on departure she gave me a map of her home region. Unfortunately I did not linger for long because I was anxious to see the ocean again, and I did not stop for the night before I was far inside Slovenia.
I never investigated if it was hundred meter to it, or if it was hundred meter long
Posted by Erik Saue at 03:57 PM
Over the Tatra Mountains, down a winding road, and in between some bushes was the border. The two border guys seemed impressed when I replied that I was going to Asia (then said as a joke), but their confidence in that I would make it across their own country evaporated like gasoline on a hot day when the bike didn’t start after the paper inspection was done. Just a flooded carburetor, but they didn’t know, and they sat in their booth pointing and laughing while I was working on the problem. “Going to Asia with that thing? Ha-ha, good luck.”
I do not remember, but this might be the city of Levoca
I like the bike. One cylinder, one carburetor, uncomplicated wiring system, fuel cheap, light weight, fun to drive, and fast enough. Even I can understand what is wrong and do repairs when it behaves out of the ordinary. Behaves, yes, it has a personality. It can be grumpy, a real bitch sometimes, but if I treat it in a certain way it is returning the kindness. Some people think it is silly to give the bike a name. I do not agree. Something with a name becomes a someone, and you tend to pay more attention to its wants and needs. I’ve named the bike after a heroic dog. The name is Balto (I say some more about the dog later). “Good morning Balto, how are you feeling today? Ouch, your chain is dry? No problem, we’ll fix it in a flash.”
The Spisske Castle and the village below
Stary Smokovec is an excellent starting point for trekking the Tatra Mountains. In the center of the village is a big sign telling about the lodging options, and as I arrived another traveler was studying the many options. Eric had driven from France in a Golf, and we got some flats at Pension Vesna. My flat was very nice, the price was low, and the boarding house owner offered Balto a garage. Pension Vesna is a super place for bikers and hikers, highly recommended. The next day Eric and I went on an excursion to the eastern part of the country. Among other things we went to the Spisske, the largest castle in Slovakia. There were a lot of gypsies living in the region, looking distinctly more southern that us pale faces from the Arctic, and for the first time I got the notion of having driven quite a distance from home.
Southern Slovakia: A decent cup of coffee is hard to come across. A jar of Nescafe is as important as spare parts for the bike
Posted by Erik Saue at 03:54 PM