Day 1 - 23rd July 2013 - UK to Amsterdam

And so it begins...

The Netherlands   Amsterdam CIty West

Well all the waiting is finally over and the tour has started. My daughter, Katie was there to see me off and into the blazing heat I went. If you’ve seen the posts on FaceBook, you’ll have seen that I didn’t pack light, but one thing I did forget was the ice pack for my backside !! I now know that there’s a good reason why people wear touring suits for these sorts of trips. The first Hein Gericke I see, I’m getting some goretex trousers and ditching the Halvarsson jeans. It’s either that or risk actually hard boiling my poor plums !!

If the hotel room in Folkstone with no aircon and a rattling fan wasn’t bad enough, the raging summer thunderstorm overnight and a 5am start meant I didn’t sleep that well, but the excitement lifted me and it was soon time to board the train ( last person on/off ). An effortless and relaxing 45 minutes later and I was disembarking in France.

This should have been the start of a simple run to Amsterdam, but my GPS had other ideas and spat the maps completely. For 40km it sent me towards Paris and after that, I gave up with it and resorted to Google Maps audio on my iPhone and the good old paper map in my tank bag.

The drive up to Amsterdam was mostly what I expected. Generally impeccable road manners from everyone, so the only hold up was a huge boat in Rotterdam meaning the bridge had to be raised. I was tailgated three times in Belgium and France….and sadly every time it was a Brit. A sad indictment of British driving standards !

One thing I wasn’t expecting was to enter each new country, marked with a simple road sign. No flags, banners or any real ‘celebration’ of any kind, just a sign saying the name of the country you were entering, followed quickly by a sign starting the new speed limits. It was very surreal when I’m used to passport control etc etc. Certainly sped things up, that’s for sure :)

I’ve been out and eaten ( a lot cheaper than expected for a tourist hotspot in Europe…. London, take note ), but tomorrow should hopefully see a full day of ‘touristy’ stuff, before I set off for Germany on Thursday.

It’s finally started and I’m loving it so far :)

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Day 2 - 24th July 2013 - 'GPS Madness'

Thank you Karma

I have often moaned that I must be massively in credit to the Bank of Karma and would be due a pay-out very soon. After the last couple of days, I will definitely need to top up my account again, thanks to two wonderful Dutch people I met since I’ve been here.

As you know, my GPS decided to spit it’s maps and I was starting to worry the trip might start unravelling before I’d even got to the ‘good stuff’. Well, after getting to the hotel, showering and heading into Amsterdam, I stopped in a cafe to have a cold drink and see if anyone knew of a good repair place/Internet cafe where I could try and resurrect my poorly Garmin.

The lady who served me, Esrah, said she would speak to her boyfriend as he is a biker and within 20 minutes, I was given their address and invited round the following morning where Djuro would be happy to help.This morning, I went round, expecting a 5 minute job, but two and a half hours later and over an hour on hold to Garmin*,we’re still no further along and Djuro has to go to work, so we arrange to meet back at Esrah’s cafe Tuin10 to see if we can sort it.

To cut a long story short, we have to go back to their flat, to use the fast Internet and download a massive restore file. After stopping for a delicious Indonesian take-out ( I insisted on paying and had to fight them to let me ) we got back to the flat for another fruitless three hours and I have to leave as it’s getting late. We’ve agreed to meet up in the morning while Garmin’s servers allow a tortuously download overnight in a last desperate attempt to sort things.

If all that kindness wasn’t enough, Esrah has kept me jacked up on espresso all day, Djuro is determined to help as much as he can, even to the point of offering to lend me his own Garmin ( we have the same model ) if mine is dead, so I can continue the trip with much less hassle than paper maps. These aren’t people I’ve known for years, I met them just over 24 hours ago. Like I say, I am seriously in debt to the Bank of Karma.

¤ Garmin, you and I will be having a one way conversation and it won’t be pretty. 60 minutes on hold for tech support for an item that cost me £400+ and decides to spit it’s maps and there’s no way to solve it, without KGB levels of hacking, just isn’t good enough. Brace yourselves, there’s no lube !!!

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Day 4 - 26th July 2013 - Lippstadt to Berlin

Berlin for tea and medals...

  

I’m really sorry dear reader(s), but I wasn’t able to update last night. I’d had a really long day and when I got to the site, I didn’t have a good enough data connection to get online and update, so this is two updates stuck together….

First and foremost, the GPS situation is sorted. Djuro worked on the problem for another two hours after the map download and eventually managed to get the system to at least work using the maps on an SD card. It’s not perfect and Garmin still need to sort the unit, but Djuro’s heroics have at least got me a 99% working GPS.

Yesterday was an emotional day for me, for a variety of reasons.

  

The first stop, after I collected my GPS and said goodbye to Djuro and Esrah, was the Allied War Cemetery in Arnheim. If you have ever watched ‘A Bridge Too Far’ you’ll know how important these places are and walking around these beautifully tended graves ( taken care of by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission I was reliably informed by the Kiwi I bumped into in the car park ), then seeing the ages on these ‘men’, really brings thing into perspective.

After a quiet reflection there, it was off to the Mohne Dam, site of one of the successful DamBuster raids. Again a site where great sacrifices were made by ‘men’ barely old enough to shave. You don’t really get a scale of what was achieved until you’re standing there and trying to take it all in.


Last stop of the day was the old family home when my late Dad was stationed with 22 Sigs Regt in Lippstadt. I was last there over 35 years ago and the Army have all gone now, so it’s changed drastically. It still brought home a flood of happy memories for me and I think the next time I’m in Germany, I shall make sure I’m touring with my brother and we can come back to see the old place.

I managed to find a nice little campsite locally, so I pitched the tent with thunderclouds building and quickly showered, did some laundry and dinner, before repairing to bed.

Morning was a bright burst of yellow in the ‘Twinkie’ and although the thunderstorms never happened the morning was horribly humid and everything was soaked in dew. After cooking some porridge for breakfast and a coffee to wash it down, I packed the tent, cleared the pitch and then showered so as to last as long as possible while I was still clean. About 30 seconds as it turned out, before I was drenched again.

That set the tone for the day and in between a detour to ‘see more of rural Germany’ which ended up being so bumpy it set off the ‘shuffle on shake’ option on my iPod and so uncomfortably hot as well, the tailgating Audis on the autobahn ( pretty much sure that Audi and BMW drivers are generally the most ignorant on the road ) and standing chatting to a lovely old German guy who saw the bike and insisted on telling me about when he worked for Triumph in Nigeria ( a story I would have enjoyed more if I wasn’t in full gear, just about to leave while he stood there is shorts and t-shirt ), it took it’s toll. Eventually I arrived at the campsite and pitched the tent, cooled down and even though I had already drunk six litres of fluid during the day, drank the contents of two cold bottles of ice tea, before sitting down to write this…..now the mossies are here with a vengeance, so I’m. Going to finish off and hide back in the tent.

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Day 6 - 28th July 2013 - Berlin

A Day Of Rest

Yesterday was my first full day in Berlin and despite the wretched heat, it was a lovely day.

I’m ashamed to say I broke my own golden rule on biking and rode without full protective gear.

The camp site itself is some way from the centre of the city and will a warning of taxis prices being ruinous still ranging in my ears, the heat proved too much, so I hopped on the bike in t-shirt and trousers and headed into town.

I managed to do a fair few of the famous sites in Berlin, starting with a wander through the glorious Tiergarten which was a blessing, given the amount of shade offered. I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice to say the Brandenburg Gate is as impressive as you’d imagine, the memorial to Holocaust victims is thought provoking, if only for it’s design ( maybe that’s the point ), Checkpoint Charlie was interesting, as was the associated museum and the Topography of Terror is something everyone should see if they have any interest in the Holocaust.

The highlight of the day though was a bonafide currywurst mit frittes und mayo in view of the Brandenburg Gate. Yes it was expensive and touristy, but it’s the one thing I promised myself when I was in Germany.

Today was due to be even hotter, so I elected to have an admin day and just relax with a good book ( Lois On The Loose – an excellent read about one woman’s ride from the top of North America to the bottom of South America ) and carry out laundry.

Tomorrow is the last day in Berlin, where I hope to visit Hein Gericke for some new trousers !!

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Day 9 - 31st July 2013 - Berlin to Prague

Stay classy, Prague

As Berlin disappeared into my mirrors, I set my sights on a country I’d never visited before and started the unknown part of the tour. I have lived in Germany and the Netherlands, even though it was over 30 years ago, but I have never been to the Czech Republic and I was itching to get over the border.

It’s only a relatively short 180 mile hop to Prague, but wanting to explore a little, I set the GPS to avoid motorway and toll roads. This time, it didn’t try to send me down farm tracks and road long forgotten and instead threaded be through the hills and valleys and into the Czech Repulic on a hill top, surrounded by trees, in the rain…..perfect :)

After a couple of hours of ‘back road’ riding, I was starting to get the familiar sore bum ( Triumph, call that a comfort seat ? ), so I switched back to the highway and blasted into Prague, greeted by an almighty downpour, the likes that would make Glasgow proud ! Never the less, I was here, so I found my hotel, unloaded the bike and showered, before heading out into Prague for a nosey.

I was offered the chance to go to Prague some years ago and I will always wish I’d taken it up. A lot of people have been to Prague to visit and there must be 100,000′s who come each year, which has had the obvious negative effect. Don’t get me wrong, Prague is still a gorgeous city, steeped in history and culture, it just now has a fake veneer put on to pander to the tourists ( yes, I get the irony of a tourist bemoaning tourism ), much like a 70′s actress who is desperately clinging to any remaining beauty, by having ever severe plastic surgeries. If only Prague could take a page from Helen Mirren’s book and allow a natural beauty to shine through.

Anyway, I’m rambling. I have enjoyed Prague immensely and I will definitely be returning, with a travelling partner and when it’s out of season.

Tomorrow, Hobbes and I head to Ostrava ( via the Bone Church – officially called Sedlec Ossuary ) for a night and then onwards on Friday to Krakow :)

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Day 13 - 4th August 2013 - Krakow

Bonden. That's enough easting.

Today was the last full day in Krakow and it has been an experience I will never forget. In fact I will be coming back to visit again, when I can arrange it.

Yesterday started with a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau ( Auschwitz II ).

I don’t need to tell you anything about this place and if I tried to, I would be lost for words. It defies explanation and really should be visited. There is nothing more to say.

In the afternoon and early evening, I visited a famous local salt mine in a village called Wieliczka. I wasn’t expecting much ( apart from a respite from the scorching heat ), but it was actually very interesting and full of lovely stories and legends, which the guide explained to the group I was with. It’s not a quick walk around and even though it was quiet there, the tour took nearly two and a half hours, so wear comfy shoes.

Now I’ve stayed away from plugging any particular company/hotel or restaurant on the trip, unless they have been exceptional ( hence the shout out to Djuro and Esrah earlier in the tour ). This time it’s the turn of Tomasz from http://www.krakow-auschwitz.com who was superb.

I booked the day through their website and everything was agreed ( pick up times and price ) before I arrived in Krakow. Tomasz was there to meet me at the hotel and whisked me off to the first tour in Auschwitz. When we got there, he had already booked my place on a tour and went off to collect my ticket for me. Once he knew I was okay, he agreed a place to meet me and off I went. The same again for the Birkenau tour and after those, I was driven to the salt mine and the same again, Tomasz took care of everything regarding the tour. He was waiting for me when the tour finished and whisked me back to my hotel, happy and tired. All the while Tomasz was friendly, helpful and engaging. We chatted about everything from football to communist rule and it was a pleasure to learn so much about Poland from him.

Thanks again Tomasz and good luck, when you get married in September.

Have a shot of 70% Polish vodka for me ;)

Today was a much more sedate ( but still tiring ) day for me. I was going to get taxis, but decided to walk and took in the royal castle, the market square ( again ) and the Schindler Enamelware factory too. The castle is on the banks of the Vistla and affords some lovely views over the town. Again, if you’re going to walk around Krakow, then I’d wear good strong shoes.

The Schindler factory was different to what I was expecting but still interesting. I was expecting the factory to still be there with the machinery still on the shop floor, but the site is now more of a history of Krakow leading up to the German invasion and immediately after when it came under Soviet rule.

It’s definitely worth a visit, as there are a lot of Schindler related artefacts there.

As the title says, that’s enough heading east, so tomorrow sees me head due south and into Slovakia. If the reports are true, the roads/driving will be worse than here, so I’m going to be needing all my ( few remaining ) wits about me………

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Day 17 - 8th August 2013 - Hungary to Salzburg

Bonden. That's enough easting.

As the old adage goes, all good things must come to an end, which means I’m now heading west and towards home. Unfortunately an admin ‘snafu’ in the UK meant I lost about £500 in wages that I had ear-marked for the tour. That and with the freakishly hot weather, I have decided to call it a day and head home.

Budapest Map View

The journey from Krakow to Budapest went fairly smoothly. I say fairly, but I nearly came a cropper on two different occasions in Slovakia ( whoever had Slovakia in the sweepstake, sorry you didn’t win ). The first was entirely my fault. I was too busy admiring the scenery to see the car in front had stopped. Thankfully the Tex has had uprated brake pads fitted ( thank you Pidcock Triumph ) and with the ABS, I was able to brake and slip down the side of the car. 30 mins later, on a blind bend, the front wheel hit a bit of pipe I saw too late to avoid and set off a mini tank slapper. Luckily there instinct kicked in and I powered on, to sort it. On both occasions I was so glad the road was hot and the tyres were warm. It could have been a vastly different story on wet roads :/

After an un eventful stay in Banska Bystrica ( the hotel was great..right out of the Cold War spy stories I’ve read ) I headed off and arrived in Budapest in good time. Having checked in, cooled down and showered/changed, I headed out for a quick mooch.

I knew that Budapest was going to be a city I’d enjoy and almost straight away it proved to be exactly as I expected. I was lucky enough to be staying in the centre of Budapest, so the Danube was only a short walk away, as were a couple of the famous bridges. I walked a quick loop and made a mental note of a few places to visit.

I knew the following day was going to be scorching, so I set off for Gellert Hill early. A very tiring and sweaty walk later, I was stood at the top, by the Liberty Monument, admiring the stunning views over the city. The Citadel offered a welcome respite from the heat and an interesting alternative view to parts of WW2. Having taken enough photos and with the heat becoming unbearable, I had a bite to eat and repaired back to the hotel for a siesta. Once it had cooled, I headed out again and explored a little more! including trying my first venison steak. Very tasty.

Once again, Budapest is a city I will definitely be coming back to visit in the future, especially in winter, from what I have advised. Then I can have more time and less stifling heat. It’s full of history, character and there is a buzz about the place. Another city to be explored with a travelling partner, I think.

Salztburg Map View

This morning was hot again, but I had to reach Salzburg for the overnight stop, so it was head down and only stop for petrol and to buy a vignette for Austrian motorways. Sadly I had to have a 15 minute un scheduled stop after a very polite Austrian bike cop pulled me for 130kmh in an 80 limit …:/ ( oops ). Once I realised he was on a VFR1200 I did briefly think of just gunning it as his tank would be empty before he caught me :D , but I didn’t feel like appearing on Austrian TV’s equivalent of Stop Police, so I sheepishly handed over my 35 Euros and left him dealing with a black Merc that was tailgating me, before I was stopped. Hopefully he got hammered for his twattish driving ;)

The rest of the trip was a blur of gorgeous valleys, chocolate-box houses, lakes and mountains. I did learn from Slovakia and made sure there was a lot of space between me and the guy in front before I started gawping, which meant I arrived safely and I write this in my Salzburg hotel room, listening to a dodgy Austrian TV music channel.

Tomorrow is 500 miles to Reims ( sounds like a Dean Martin song ? ) and then a short hop to the channel tunnel on Saturday…….all being well, home in time for City v Leeds on Sunday :)

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Video & Pics of the trip





My home in Lippstadt, Germany, aged 8-10



A lovely Bratwurst mit frites und mayonnaise!