Archive for July, 2004

“Am proceeding on foot, repeat, on foot!”

Monday, July 19th, 2004

Finally got a PC net connection so feel I should expand on that previous post a little.

I was about 40km from the border in Czech heading for a german town called called Chemnitz where I had some accomodation booked. I filled up at a servo for the final run to town. It had already been a pretty trying day, what with the 33 degree weather and that whole road closure incident.

So when I walked back to my bike and it wouldn’t start I really didn’t want to believe it was happening. In the back of my mind I recognised that symptom (won’t go into too much technical detail, but the battery had been killed by an overzealous charging circuit) but just pleaded with the gods for it to be something else.

Some other (German) guys riding their way also to the MotoGP turned up at that point and one of them push started the bike for me. It kicked over easy enough so I got back underway pretending that everything was all right.

Half an hour later I get to the border checkpoint and start slowing down as I approach the gantry. The bike stalled when I pull the clutch in and I immediately knew the worst had happened. No chance of restarting it and I coasted to a stop halfway between the Czech and German gantries.

I hopped off and sat down and tried to wake up, which is what I usually do in these situations. Didn’t work unfortunately.

(please excuse me for being so melodramatic here!)

Yeah so I stood there and looked around for a while. Kind of hoping that someone would approach me and ask if I needed help. Or at least demand to see my passport and cuff me for looking so obviously dodgy.

But no-one did for a solid 10 minutes. I pulled out some of my papers and tried to work out who I could call, or more precisely, who I could call who could actually help. I concluded that no-one really could so gave up on that line of thought.

Eventually a couple of old German guys were walking past looking at me in my sorry state and I asked if they spoke any English. One did and quickly understood my predicament. Lot’s of faffing about later the bike was stored there and we were on our way.

As soon as we’re clear of the border patrols, they pull over and the driver gets out and opens the boot. You know, deep south american horror movie style :-) Turns out he was merely fetching a beer for himself, and anyone else who was interested. They had loaded up on cheap Czech Pilz over the border, and god knows how many they’d already been through. I declined as they were far too warm.

So from there we drive another 10 minutes to a local pub, where we go in and have a drink. I was rather keen on getting to my hostel instead of sitting with these guys amongst lots of German and very little English – and besides I didn’t want to risk losing my hostel bed bearing in mind that it is MotoGP weekend here. Wasn’t really sure it was a great idea to convey that sense of urgency to these relaxed and helpful German chaps, though.

Anyway from there it transpired we were heading to the driver’s friend’s bike workshop, though it was 6pm on a Saturday so highly unlikely he’d be around. He wasn’t. Long story short we dropped the other two home and the non-english speaking one gave me a lift to Chemnitz.

The hostel wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for. Largely vacant, it had a couple of groups of people who were also here for the race, but only a couple of German boys who spoke English. They informed me that there is no such thing as general admission tickets here and my only hope (assuming I even found a way to get to the track) would be to buy a ticket from a scalper at around 100 euros. The place is totally deserted now and too far to walk into town again. Early night for me I should think. Nice and clean though and rather pleasant. Should have the room to myself.

So I admitted to myself that it’s generally better on TV anyway and didn’t end up going. Ironically a very similar situation to the Phillip Island GP last year where I was staying in Brenno’s house on the island all set for race day, but ended up staying in and watching it on TV because the weather was so crappy. Ah well live and learn :-)

So the bike is not coming with me and will quite possibly wind up being given away for free. I’ve been trying to avoid working out just how much that cost me, but failed because the numbers are all nice and round and easy to compute. Let’s just say that I could have done these 2000km in a Melbourne taxi for less.

On a train to Berlin tomorrow at midday. Things definitely ought to pick up from there, I hear it’s a fun place to be. Flying from there to London on Saturday night.. be nice to see some familiar faces soon.

So it’s been quite a lesson so far and I very clearly went about this whole thing the wrong way. I can say for certain that I won’t be trying to buy a bike in a another country again!

Honda reliability

Saturday, July 17th, 2004

For some reason it doesnt feel like the worst day of my life. Guess that can only be a good thing.

So the bike broke down. An electrical fault that this particular model is renowned for. The heap of shit is currently sitting in a customs shed at the czech german border.

So really i was very lucky that it putted to a halt literally at the border rather than any number of miles previously, in the much less hospitable czech rep. Mind you, if it wasnt for those crazies closing the MAIN road to pilzen forcing me to back track 60km and go via prague i probably would have made it to my hostel.

You can probably picture me standing at the border thinking ‘id fucking better not miss the race tomorrow!’. A joyous sight i was.

4 old german guys took pity on me, and luckily one of them spoke english. They negotiated with the border guys to store the bike there, and promptly took me to the nearest pub.

I think one part of the experience i will never forget is being alone in the car with one of the non english speakers, changing gears for him because his hand was busy with the beer we were drinking, while ‘land down under’ blared from the radio.

Danke indeed.

Prague didn’t want me…

Saturday, July 17th, 2004

All the hostels were fully booked in Prague so I wound up in Cesky Krumlov instead. It’s about 180km south of Prague replete with the moat like river around the city and a castle. I’m struggling a bit here (9am) as I’ve procured my first hangover of the trip. So where to begin…

For once I didn’t get lost on the road yesterday. Admittedly it was a pretty straightforward 250km up the highway from Salzburg, but it was nice to make good time for once. The forecast rain never eventuated, and once I arrived the clouds dispersed and it would have been pushing 30 degrees. Sweeet.

So after quite a search to locate the hostel – all the streets are narrow cobblestones and not really supposed to be used by cars / bikes – I settled in and went wandering. The thing that really struck me about this place is that all the features on the ancient buildings (circa 1600s I think) are painted on!

By that I mean the ornate brickwork and trimmings are merely painted there on what looks like the equivalent of stucco. I imagine this won’t be readily apparent in any of the photos, so it’s an interesting approach to take and no doubt occurred because of the comparative lack of funds these guys had compared with, say, the Romans.

This place does feel quite similar to Venice in terms of the street layout and, of course, the legions of tourists. I felt rather lucky to have come in by road for some authentic Eastern European flavor. The border with Austria was the first one I’ve so far had to stop at and show my passport/papers. The change in scenery is quite dramatic once you get to Czech. Surprisingly the roads weren’t much worse (though that’s more a reflection on Austria’s poor roads) but the people are vastly different.

Not long after entering the country you spot prostitutes lined up on the side of the road pedalling their services. And I’m not talking a city street, this is a highway north from Austria, so they’re obviously very much targeted at the tourists. As were the pokie machines in the petrol station I expect.

I did feel a little uneasy at this point, I had visions of Russian mafia types holding me up with kalashnikovs and pinching my bike and passports. Of course I was fully aware this was merely a product of my overactive imagination (which comes into its own after a few hours on the road) but was nonetheless nervous. And keeping very much to the speed limit.

So it was with some relief that I found the town and slipped into my role as camera toting tourist. It’s a very insulated way to be and gives easy peace of mind. We (myself and a couple of boys from Melbourne I met here) went out for dinner and had this fantastic platter of meats. Brilliant stuff, and all of about 9 euros. Beers are, as widely reported, very cheap. Although I didn’t like them nearly as much as the Austrian wares.

I had left my bike in a carpark on the outskirts of the town, which I would apparently have had to pay 20 euros to get it out today if I left it there. Or I could (as I eventually did) just ride around the barrier ;-) Yeah so I wasn’t very keen on leaving it there for fear of theft from aforementioned Russian mafia types, so I grabbed it early evening and after riding around in circles for 20 minutes trying to figure out how to penetrate the city, parked it out the front of the hostel. It’s still there now so I’m happy.

Back on the road today, probably another 300km or so up to Chemnitz, the town near the track for Sunday’s race. Two nights there then Berlin. Sun’s out today so it should be OK, although the hangover might be a pain.

To Czech or not to Czech

Thursday, July 15th, 2004

Having a great time in Salzburg, it’s a really beautiful city. Went to a well wicked beer hall run by monks last night and drank litre steins of excellent beer. Well ok I only had one. But it was good.

Went to the fortress today, up this crazy 20 degree incline cable car. Fantastic views of the city, once it stopped raining at least. An amazing place that dates back many hundreds of years. Did all the usual tourist museum stuff and and snapped plenty of photos. Saw some very talented buskers and, yes, got a photo of them too.

Can’t post photos from my phone here, so no visual delights for y’all I’m afraid. I’ve taken 120 or so “real” photos with my digicam so one day some of those might make it up here. Maybe when I start to run out of memory card space and need to get them onto CD.

Salzburg does feel quite similar to Melbourne in many respects. Not least of which you can use the public toilets for free! Cafe’s are nice and friendly and it’s all quite easy to navigate. Oh and Mozart was born here so you can buy just about anything you like with his face on it. Bizarre that towns define themselves around one person.

Finally got my hands on a Deutchland map today, so it’s planning time. The MotoGP is about 360km from here. Praha would be less than half that. I’m feeling really lazy and rather comfortable right now so am fighting the apathy which might prevent me going.

Hang on, a better option would be to go after the race. Yeah that could work, though I’d need to do some serious days riding to get over to Amsterdam in a timely fashion. Praha is 170km from the racetrack so it’d be easy to rock up there on Monday morning and maybe stay for a couple of days. It’d be July 19th by then so I’d need to get a wriggle on after.

So what do the kids on the island say? You’ve all made it pretty clear that Ceske is not to be missed. So Prague instead of Berlin? Better czech the weather first…

Some other random thoughts from previous days that I neglected to post:
The cows in the farms along the alpine roads in Swizterland do in fact wear enormous bells around their necks. I’m not sure that isn’t just for the tourists benefit, but it was very cute.

The Porsche museum in Austria is an absolutely ripoff for 2 small rooms of cars at 6 euro. Avoid it!

Riding the Austrian alps were fun the other morning. Finally I had a set of good roads with minimal traffic. I spend a bit of time wondering whether bike touring is “better” in Australia or Europe. Between the highly unpredictable weather and awful traffic I think I have to conclude that Australia is better for that kind of thing. I expect it’s only going to get more difficult from here so it’ll be interesting to see how I feel at the end of the trip.

Austrian Bratwurst is seriously top notch. As is Wiener Schnitzel.

Can’t seem to remember any more just now… always happens ;-) Bye!

My kingdom for an internet connection…

Thursday, July 15th, 2004

I can’t believe its been 5 days since I found a ‘net connected computer. Evidently I’ve been suffering withdrawl :-)

Had a fairly crappy couple of days, actually. Really just been on the road the whole time because I couldn’t find any cities I wanted/could stay in. Venice is far too touristy/expensive to have more than one hostel (which I obviously couldn’t get to by bike). As I mentioned my plan was to spend a couple of days somewhere beachy.

So I tried Lido di Jesolo, about 40km east of Venice, on the Adriatic coast. The frustration began a solid 15km away from the coast; the traffic was just incredible. Eventually I managed to tear my way into a campsite despite mounting concern that I wouldn’t be able to find a vacancy anywhere anyway; I don’t have a tent with me. Anyway I poked around there for half an hour before deciding that 50 euro a night for a caravan next to a beach I also have to pay for was crazy.

So rather unimpressed I struck North.. once again without a concrete destination.

Lessons learned:
1. Make sure your destinations have hostels. Any other option – even ignoring price – is too boring if you’re travelling alone. I spent last night in a tiny town (Paluzza, near the Austrian border) where no-one spoke any english whatsoever. Not too much fun! But I’m very well rested and finally (hopefully) over my jetlag.

2. Assuming your destination has a hostel, book ahead! This time of year they really are all full, theyäre not just saying that to make their life easier.

3. The other option is to (as Purple Jules plans to next year) do the campervan (or camping) option. I’ve been blown away by the number of campsites everywhere here. You’ll have no problem at all finding somewhere to hitch up each night without needing to plan ahead at all. Pretty cool way to go. Probably not altogether that sociable, though. Seems lots of families and not a lot of English speakers go for this option.

Anyway I’m now in Salzburg. Took rather longer than I anticipated to get here which is becoming something of the norm for me. I’ve no idea why, but I’m having pretty major difficulties navigating Europe. I don’t know if it’s a language thing or if my nasal compass doesn’t work in the Northern Hemisphere! I took so many wrong turns today.. and tried in vain to avoid the autobahn. Anyway, I made it finally and this hostel looks pretty fun. The city looks quite nice too. Will have to venture out tonight I reckon.

Can’t be arsed going anywhere in the next few days. I was going to go to Prague but am feeling really uninspired by the idea of doing more riding than necessary for now. Need to be in Germany for the MotoGP on the weekend anyway. That’s only 170km from Prague so I might go after.

Italian pizza is awesome.

Far fewer bugs get splattered on my visor than in Australia.

Every petrol station in Italy has a bar with good beer on tap.

Food at petrol stations all over europe is far more edible than in Australia.

My German is better than my Italian.

German keyboards are still troubling me.

Austrian alpine architecture is so cute. It’s very Sound of Music.