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Photo by Josephine Flohr, Elephant at Camp, Namibia

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Josephine Flohr,
Elephant at Camp, Namibia



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  #646  
Old 10 Aug 2015
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Roaming Catholic Nun


Walking around the old city of Krakow


Taking a horseride through the cobblestone streets of old Krakow

Krakow is nice, but we're using it mainly as a base as we take a day trip to Auschwitz. Our trip to Central Europe is becoming a WWII tour. Auschwitz is the German name for the Polish town of Oswiecim, about an hour west of the city. The former concentration camp is now a museum, and is surrounded by modern Poland. A huge supermarket sits 250m from the front gates.


The lies the Nazis told to the prisoners of Auschwitz. A sign atop the entrance of the death-camp reads: "Work will set you free"

We opted to take the guided tour of Auschwitz and we were glad that we did. Although there are informational signs scattered throughout the grounds and there is quite a lot of history detailed inside the bunkhouses that are now converted to museums, the tour guide that we had gave a lot of chilling background information that made the horrors that much more vivid.


Electrically charged barbed wire all over the place was a grim reminder of how trapped people felt when they first arrived
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  #647  
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Watchtower ominously lurks in the background, sirens and snipers on the lookout for escapees

Jews from all over Europe were told that they were merely being deported. They did not know that a train to Auschwitz was a one-way trip. Very few prisoners escaped Auschwitz, the villagers who lived in Oswiecim were told that they would also be imprisoned for helping any escapees. But there were a few people who got away, and the stories they told which revealed the secret deathcamps in Auschwitz eventually led to some European countries like Hungary stopping the "deportation" of their Jewish population, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.


Inside the museum were items from "deportees" which were confiscated by the Nazis

The prisoners being taken to Auschwitz were told to take all their belonging with them. This was a pretense to have them come willingly if they thought they were merely being deported, as opposed to being sent to their deaths. When they arrived, all their possessions were confiscated, the valuables stolen and the rest thrown into large piles. These piles of possessions gave an indication to just how many people were killed in Auschwitz. It is estimated that at least 2 million people died in Auschwitz with speculation that the number is closer to 4 million.


A large pile of discarded shoes, a lot of childrens' sizes.

There was also a pile of human hair which were initially shorn off the prisoners to prevent the spread of lice, but also later to manufacture products made of human hair. Tests reveal that the hair had traces of hydrogen cyanide. They were cut off the prisoners after they had been gassed to death. We were asked not to take pictures of the hair out of respect for the dead.

That was not something I wanted to take a picture of.



A bus took us on the second part of the tour, a secondary camp built a few kms away to house more prisoners than Auschwitz could handle. This was the site of many movies made about Auschwitz. The initial unloading of "deportees" were done here. Up to 75% of prisoners unboarding were deemed unfit to work at the camps and were put to death immediately. This made estimating the total number killed difficult because these people were never identified or recorded by the Nazis.


Infamous unloading point at Birkenau

Birkenau was where the crematoriums were located. When the war was drawing to a close, the Nazis tried to destroy the gas chambers and crematoriums because they knew they would be judged by history. They knew what they were doing were wrong. So many people were complicit not just in running these death camps, but in the design and construction of such efficient killing apparatus. To move so many prisoners through a machine that could murder and dispose of them in such high numbers. And each cog in that machine, were they all monsters? Or did they go home every evening to sit at dinner with their wives, their sons and daughters, tell them stories before they were tucked into bed, stories that probably had very little to do with gassing millions of human beings and burning their bodies to hide the evidence.
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  #648  
Old 10 Aug 2015
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I don't believe in spiritual resonance or psychic energy. I read about the people's accounts of how they felt negative energy walking around Auschwitz with skepticism. It was a beautiful summer's day in South Poland when we visited the death camp. There are flowers blooming in the fields where prisoners waited their turn to be put to death by poisonous gas. But exiting the museum into that incongruous sun-soaked daylight, not one person in our tour group could speak or smile for quite some time.
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  #649  
Old 11 Aug 2015
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Very sobering. Thanks for sharing Gene
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  #650  
Old 15 Aug 2015
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Thank you all for your comments, we really appreciate all the encouragement!

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we entirely missed your passing through Leuven. Next time you pass by, let us know!
That might be very soon! We'll let you know.

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Did you come across the Curry Dog in Berlin? Amazing what happens when you shake yellow curry powder over a ketchup covered hot dog.
Is that the same as currywurst? Because we love that!

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Will you make it to Kyrgyzstan?
We would like to, yes!
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  #651  
Old 15 Aug 2015
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The work will set you free slogan is still repeated unfortunately
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  #652  
Old 18 Aug 2015
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/235.html



And we're doubling back and heading south again, through Zakopane once more and into Slovakia. New country today!

If it seems like we have no idea where we're going, it's actually because we have no idea where we're going. We make a pitstop in Zakopane to pick up more of that smoked sheep cheese that we like so much. We bought some before since we are going to meet some friends later on and we wanted to give them a gift, but unfortunately we ate their present so now we have to buy replacements. Where can I hide this so we don't eat it?


Back through the Tatra mountains

The Tatras are a crescent-shaped mountain range that form a natural border between Poland and Slovakia. We've never been to Slovakia before so we didn't really know much about it except that I'm always getting it mixed up with Slovenia. Neda not so much as Slovenians were her neighbours growing up in Croatia.

Just like there was a noticeable change in affluence going from Germany to Poland, there was another such step-down heading in Slovakia. We had gotten used to being in Poland for the last week and a half and we were already acclimatized to the standard of living and the conditions there - it wasn't bad at all. But crossing over now, the roads were definitely not as well maintained in Slovakia and the border towns that lined the roads as we rode in reminded Neda a little of her hometown from the communist era.


Greeting all the Weekend Warriors out in force

A lot of local riders with PL and SK plates were out enjoying this beautiful early summer day. So nice to see green and blue for a change, and not grey, white and brown! We crossed over on a weekend, and our left hands were tired from all the waving we had to do to all the passing motorcycles!

Our map above is not entirely accurate, we spent a whole day in the Tatras exploring all the little roads around the Low Tatras National Park (Národný park Nízke Tatry). Our rough path is below minus some other smaller roads that didn't show up here. Check out the topography! Lots of twisty roads in between all those cracks and crevices. We love riding mountain roads!



A short video clip from our Sena Prism Action Camera:

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  #653  
Old 18 Aug 2015
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We stayed in a tiny town right in the heart of the mountains called Vysna Boca. The old man who ran the place spoke only Slovakian, but once again, Neda was able to put her Croatian to good use, communicating with common Slavic words. So useful traveling with a Universal Translator!


Beautiful scenery in the park


One of the reasons why I love traveling is to try out all the local dishes!

Because the cost of living is cheaper in Slovakia, we were able to gorge ourselves on Slovakian food without breaking the bank. We stopped at a roadside diner and only paid a couple of Euros for some traditional food. Neda ordered bryndzové halušky, which are small potato-dough dumplings covered with sheep cheese. I had Bryndzove pirohy which are the Slovakian version of piergies covered with the same cheese and some bacon bits sprinkled on top. So yummy!


Riding through one of the larger towns in Slovakia

After we finished playing in the park, we decided to head down to Budapest in Hungary, which was just a couple of hours away. Never been to Hungary before, so why not?


Hugarian Parliament Building

I had no idea Budapest was such a pretty city! Also crossing the country border between Slovakia and Budapest, we were climbing back up the stairs of affluence once again. It really is noticeable when you are crossing borders every other day. Although Hungary is in the EU, they still haven't converted to the Euro yet. We withdrew some Forint, the local currency, but realized that every place took credit cards, so it was unnecessary.


We rented an apartment in an old building downtown
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  #654  
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Walking around Budapest. Vegan restaurant... skip!


Fisherman's Bastion


Matthias Church in front of the Fisherman's Bastion overlooking the Danube River


Above the Danube

The are two halves to Budapest separated by the Danube River: Buda is the western side and is more hilly, Pest is on the eastern bank of the river and is more flat.


The Parliament building (Országház) is protected by uniformed guards


On the Parliament grounds, there are other guards doing some intense choreography
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  #655  
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Stone "Chain Bridge" connecting Buda and Pest, rebuilt in 1947 after the original was blown up by the Germans during WWII


St Anne's Church


Central Market Hall


Inside of Central Market Hall


Stuff you can buy inside Central Market Hall
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  #656  
Old 18 Aug 2015
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Dohany St. Synagogue


We called up our friend Barna, who lived in Toronto but moved to Budapest a few years ago

I met Barna when we first started riding, he was a crazy motorcyclist who spent more time with his front wheel in the air than on the ground. Out of all the motorcycles he's every owned, I don't believe he has ever changed his front tire, ever... When he met us, he showed us his new motorcycle, while wheelying down the downtown streets of Budapest! Nothing has changed!

It's been awhile since we've seen him, but it was great to catch up and see what he's been doing. He took us to a Hungarian restaurant and helped us order some traditional dishes. He told us a bit about living in Budapest. We were so curious about the language, it sounded so foreign, not Slavic at all. Turns out Hungarian is a Uralic language, and is in the same family as Finnish and Estonian. Huh!


Man, were we Hungary! We Finnished all our food!


After dinner, we rode up to a scenic overlook where we could catch the city at dusk
and see all the lights of Budapest turn on for the evening along the Danube



Finally a picture of the two of us! Thanks Barna!
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  #657  
Old 20 Aug 2015
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/236.html



We're getting a bit burnt out and tired of sightseeing and traveling. Again.

It's been about a month of riding around Central Europe and we've seen a lot of stuff, I think we need to take a breather as well as take some time to digest everything. Over the last three years, we've met a lot of fellow travelers and a lot of them live in Germany, so what we've planned for the next week or so is just hop around the country and visit all of our Deutsche freunde who we haven't seen in a while.

On the way there, we booked an AirBnb place in Slany in the Czech Republic with the intention of riding into Prague (about 45 minutes away) to see the city, but everyday we found an excuse just to be lazy. Travel fatigue has set in big-time. I don't think we would have appreciated it, so we'll leave it for another time. When our booking ran out, we hopped on our bikes and headed west on the highway towards Germany.


Happy times somewhere in the Czech Republic. Leaving Slany on the way to Germany.

It's another nice riding day, and we were doing good mileage so far. But then about 50 kms away from the border, I notice Neda's bike in my mirror slowing down. I tap on the communicator and she yells, "I think my chain broke!"

Oh no.

Her bike is rapidly disappearing in my mirrors so with my four-ways on, I pull over as quickly as I can to the side of the highway. Neda pulls in the clutch and manages to maintain enough inertia to coast to a stop behind me.


Something we should have Czeched much earlier...

So many thoughts are running through my mind at this point:

1. I feel very responsible for this. At our the last service in Belgium, we had neglected to put on a new chain because I wanted to save money and I thought this chain would last a few thousand kms more. I was wrong and now this would cost time + money.

Ever since coming to Europe, everything is so expensive here (compared to Latin America where we came from) and I've become frugal to the point of irrationality. The bikes are not just the main mode of transportation for this trip, they *are the reason* for the trip and should have been the #1 priority regardless of cost and I forgot this fact.

2. We need to start cancelling appointments. We were going to meet Colleen and Dan in Germany tomorrow as they were riding back from a motorcycle meet and we could intercept them on their way back home to Switzerland. Obviously we're not going to make it. Depending on how quickly we can get a new chain for Neda's bike, we might or might not be able to see some of our other friends later on.

Seems like everytime we start to make plans, they always fall through. I think we are allergic to calendars...

3. We have no SIM chip in our smartphones. Trying to keep costs low, we just use Skype over free Wi-Fi wherever we're staying. But now we can't call anyone. And who would we call? We'd also need a data plan to look up who could help us. More €€€... Is it worth the money to always have that safety line? Right now it seems so...

So here we are, one bike stranded on the highway between towns, 18-wheelers are moving over to the passing lane to give us room on the narrow shoulder while we figure out our next move.

It would make sense for Neda to hop on my bike and ride off looking for help, given that she speaks a Slavic language and can get by better than I can. But she doesn't feel comfortable riding my tall, overloaded 600lb behemoth. For a brief instant, in my mind I was back at the BMW dealership in Toronto over three years ago when I was planning to trade in this R1200GS for a smaller F800GS. Common sense said to take two similar bikes for parts interchange and also Neda would also be more comfortable riding an 800GS than the 1200 if she needed to. Like now...

4. But I was stubborn because I really liked my Big Pig.


Contemplating what to do at the side of the road

So there was no other option. I hopped on my bike and rode on down the highway to find the next town and look for help. I punched in "Closest Auto Services" on my GPS knowing that they probably didn't service motorcycles, but they could probably tell me where I could find a moto shop. The GPS led me to the town of Nýřany, just a couple of kms down the highway.

I navigate through the quiet streets of this small Czech town and end up at the locked gates of the auto shop. They looked to be closed on Saturdays. Now what?

I looked around to try to find some help. In the driveway at the house next door to the auto shop, an older gentleman was getting off his scooter and walking to his front door. I rode up to him to ask for assistance. "Do you speak English?", he shook his head in reply. Ugh.

I don't know what to do. I consider thanking him and taking off to find someone else to help us, but the man kindly told me to wait as he went inside his house. A few moments later, he came out with his wife. She didn't speak English at all either. Oh how I wished Neda was here! But his wife did call up their daughter on the phone. She lived in Prague but *she* spoke English. So I explained to her what our situation was. She relayed this information to her parents and they looked up the number for the local tow truck so they could call one for us.

I thanked her daughter on the phone and let her go. Her parents dialed the tow truck company for me and over the phone I gave them Neda's GPS location, but they also wanted a cell phone number to guarantee that someone would be there at the co-ordinates and not stiff them. I didn't have a SIM chip (see #3 above). The Czech couple graciously gave the tow truck people their own phone number, trusting that this stranger wouldn't leave them hanging for the bill.

I had been in their driveway for over 45 minutes at that point and I don't how it happened, but I suddenly realized that I was speaking to them using what little Croatian I picked up overhearing Neda talk to her family and friends over all these years. Maybe it was the charades and sign language as well, but I was able to communicate well enough to them, *and* I understood some Czech words as they spoke to me. I was so excited! Neda would have been so proud of me if she were there!

I thanked them profusely and jumped on the bike to wait for the tow truck with Neda. I could not get over how friendly, helpful and trusting this Czech couple were. I felt so much gratitude!


When I pulled up behind Neda's bike on the highway, I saw that she had made a friend

Lenka also rides motorcycles (same model as Neda's bike) and when she saw her stranded on the side of the highway, she stopped to see if she could help. She lived pretty far away, but told us that she could get her trailer and come back to give us a tow. Wow, that was so gracious of her, but I told her we had already called for one. She then offered us a place to stay if we were passing by her place, but unfortunately we were not going that way. We took down her information in case we were going to be around here again, which we just might in the future. It would have been fun talking bikes and travel with her.

She was *sooooo* nice! Based on all the Czech people I've met so far, they must all be the nicest people on Earth! All of them!!!
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  #658  
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Not long after Lenka left the tow truck came and proceeded to put Neda's bike on the bed. We communicated mainly to the driver's girlfriend who spoke English and acted as a translator. They asked us where we wanted to take the bike. Lenka had told us that she used to get her BMW motorcycle serviced in Pilsen, about 15 kms away from us, so that's where we decided to go, Neda in the truck and me following behind them on my bike.

We got to the BMW dealership and it was already closed, but peering through the window I noticed no motorcycles on the showroom floor. After a bit of checking, we found out that they stopped selling and servicing motorcycles recently. Now what were we going to do?

Our tow truck driver told us that he had a friend in a neighbouring town who was a motorcycle mechanic and that he was open on Saturdays. That sounded good to us, so off we went. The town was almost back to the spot where Neda broke down. There were a whole lot of bikes in the mechanic's lot but he told us that as soon as he ordered the parts and received them, he would start working on Neda's bike. Cool. But he said he could only order the parts on Monday, and they would probably arrive on Tuesday morning, which would be the earliest he could work on them.

Well, that meant we would need to cancel our plans with our German friends. Our tow truck driver helped us find a budget hotel back in Pilsen and even drove Neda back to the city. They did *A LOT* of driving for us that day. In addition, they arranged for the mechanic to pick her up on Tuesday. And the total charge for all this towing, chauffeuring and organizing for the day: €30!

I know how much gas costs and the mileage they did the whole day plus the time they spent working on all of this, it was obvious they were giving us a *huge* discount. Neda told me later that she bonded with the tow truck driver's girlfriend while in the truck, so I think they felt bad for us and wanted to help out.

Confirmed: Czech people *are* the nicest people on Earth!


As promised, on Tuesday afternoon it's all fixed

We were back on the road! Whohoo! But first, I wanted to thank the Czech couple who helped us call the tow truck, so we bought them a gift and rode back to their house to properly show our gratitude. And also Neda got a chance to meet these nice people.


Děkuji!!! Josef & Ivana and their grand-daughter.

You know, although it made our lives a bit more complicated for these past few days, sometimes it's these small setbacks that pull you out of a routine (even if that routine is riding motorcycles around the world), and expose you to the kindness of strangers, who despite not sharing a common language, still want to do everything in their power to help you out.
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  #659  
Old 25 Aug 2015
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Our little adventure with Neda's chain has derailed our plans to spend time in Germany. Instead, we are headed back to the RideDOT.com European headquarters in Leuven, Belgium, and back to the company of our good friends Eva and Thomas.

My brother is getting married, so we're flying back to Toronto for a short bit. Thomas' sister, Karolien has generously offered to store our bikes in her garage while we are away. We're so thankful for her and her family's efforts to help us out. We've been the recipients of so much goodwill and support, getting to know these people has really been the high-point of our travels.

In other news, remember that video that we shot in Belgium a while back? Well, here it is! How exciting!

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  #660  
Old 25 Aug 2015
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This thread is the reason I love motorcycles and travelling. I've probably missed it, but when are you guys headed to the UK?
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