Into South-East Europe

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Well, I could have remained in Stopfenheim for at least another week or three!
Not necessarily that there were so many things to see, rather the homely feeling Hubert and his family & friends created for me. I certainly reminded me that I do miss home. Travelling now for 103 days and finding myself almost every day in new surroundings is indeed interesting and satisfies curiosity. The flip-side of this coin is that I do miss my known and trusted family and friends, as well as predictable surroundings and things. Perhaps this is ever-so-gently growing each day.
I’d better keep the lid on it, as it could risk getting into the way keeping my eyes and mind open and remaining able to take in all these new places and people.
Enough soul searching for now.

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Where was I??

Leaving Stopfenheim gen south-east Europe.
Hubert gave me a ‘Geleit”, I’d say in English we would say: “rode with me for a while”. We travelled on back-back roads probably not even in maps.me, affording splendid views over hills and little villages. A final stop for coffee in yet another picturesque Bavarian village and we said out good-byes – for now.
Then I am on my own again. Willie Nelson’s song comes to mind ….. (On the road again …)

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I continue through the Bavarian mountains towards the Czech border having set my target to a small village, Cerenice, just southeast of Prague. I won’t go to Prague itself, have been there before, so rather aim for new places.

Most times of this trip I have been reasonable lucky and avoiding the rain. The same applies today, the skies are dark and threatening, but I’m able, or better the roads maps.me selects all skirt around the rain. I can see it coming down in the distance to my left.
But then my luck changes: only 30kms before arrival I get hit. The full Monty! Bugger!! Whilst “it is only water”, my usual mantra, this time it is bucket loads of it. My jacket soon gives in and I am wet literally through to the bone.

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Like a sopping wet dog I arrive at my small village. Luckily the pension is rather pleasant, it is homely, has a very nice hostess family and a superb breakfast. Immediately I extent my stay for another night. I will need at least a full day to dry out.

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Drying out gives me some time to collect some stats:

  • To-date – 11.August –I‘ve covered 12.964 kms on the bike since strating in South Korea
  • I have been on the road for 104 days
  • From these I had 72 riding days and 32 non-riding days
  • I’ve done an average of 301,4 kms/riding day – that’s almost spot-on my estimated 300km mark.

As I am dry again, I continue to see Sternberg Castle. I am not sure why the name rings a bell, perhaps some connection with WW2 or so? Help me out here, dear reader.

Then I ride on to Kutna Hora to see the Sedlec Ossuary, an underground church or chapel full with bones. Killing fields of Cambodia-like, however not the gruesome context – but a little spooky to say the least.

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the Family Coat of Arms … represented in bones

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… and the angles blow …

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the underground vault

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far out …..

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apparently the name of its ‘Artist’

Of course there is a story behind this …. see here for more

 

With some spooky thoughts I ride on to Budweis (Czech). En rote, another milestone happens: I roll over my speedo to 100.000kms! Kind of cool.

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This happens one 1km after here:

  • N 49 22 712 / E 014 43 617 (as this is the 99.999km mark) and I stopped to take a photo
  • on August 12, 2016
  • with my travel speedo on 13.115kms
  • on my 74th riding day
  • having left home 105 days ago
  • in the afternoon at 15.15
  • with 17 degrees Celcius (a rather cool day).

I herewith apply for my 100.000-on-one club trophy. Guys, can you post it to me? … just kidding.

 

Budweis is a friendly little town. Lots of the old city is still intact, restored and is surrounded by a small canal.

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Yes, I definitely sampled its beer! More than once.

I also take a day-trip to Krumlov, another small, very picture-book town a little south of Budweis. Despite being full of tourists, just like myself – I reckon the locals were outnumbered 1 : 100 – the place has a good vibe.

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lucky ducks float past

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Krumlov

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it’s major tower

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No, decided NOt to go in for a treatment …

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A Rothenburg ob der Tauber like village, apparently surviving all armed conflicts – lucky ducks. And some of them I saw swimming or floating in the fast-flowing river, which almost fully envelops this old small town.
Fully flowing also was my ride to and fro Krumlov! I was still staying in Budweis and was pleased to make this day-trip with no luggage. Initially I behaved as a good citizen or visitor on the road. But watching the local bikers who disregard all signage and ride hell for leather ….. well, I couldn’t help myself and soon followed suit:  – a nice change, pleased that I still can keep up with it, arriving with a broad grin at my Hostel in Budweis.

The one-and-only darkening stain on the day is an increasing earache, I got myself a ‘tropical ear’ as a result from riding in the heavy rain a few days earlier. To my dismay I find that no doctor, neither any pharmacy is open on a Saturday. So I revert to what every dinky-dei Aussie would do in this situation: I dribbled some tee-tree oil into my left ear and hoped for remedy.

 

Leaving Budweis heading for Budapest had me cross through Austria,specifically Niederoestreich (Lower Austria) . I could ridden to Budapest in one stretch approx. 500kms, but it would have been arduous especially avoiding Autobahns. Besides, currently I don’t do ‘arduous’…
So, instead I tootled along D-roads through nice, cool forest, breathing in deeply the smell and super-fresh air. Passing through small villages and gently rolling hills – a pleasure! To add spice to the day I had decided not to pre-book any accommodation (me = Captain Risky 😉 rather I had this phantasy in my mind of finding a nice looking Pension, in the heart of a small town, red flowers greeting me from the balcony, entering a rustic but clean room – and all that for a small handful of Euros.
Well, well I was in la-la-land. No such thing in the villages I traversed, not even close! Either they had no accommodation whatsoever, or what was there was closed for summer holidays. When I finally found a place by asking some locals – all rooms were booked out!! Niederoestreich pick up your act!
So I travelled on, a little tired, and finally I ended up in Mistelbach, a larger town.  Even there I was lucky to get a room in a semi-functioning Hotel: its kitchen was closed, the Sauna currently renovated, and the WiFi was shite as well. Walking outside to find food, the next two restaurants were closed as well. Mistelbach’s Harlekin Café became my refuge: food & drink and being able to sit outside as it was a balmy summer’s night. Here I celebrated my wedding anniversary with an extra dollop of Schlagobers on my ice-cream indulgence. One must male the most out of one’s circumstances 🙂

Mistelbach to Budapest had now become a shortish trip. Crossing through Slovakia another memorable incident happened:

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a look across the river into Hungary

…. for the first time, since having completed almost 13.500 kms I was stopped by a Police control! Travelling happily on a lowly ranking road, not even being aware of my speed, I could see a man stepping out waving me in. First I thought it was the motorcyclist who had passed me 20mins earlier. So I pulled over to stop, recognising at the same time it wasn’t this rider, no it was a Policeman, one of two. The other one presented his speed camera, showing that I had travelled at 113kmh. Alright, I nodded (helmet already off), quite probable – didn’t watch the speedo for a while. Then I confessed not even knowing what the ‘correct’ max speed was on roads like this one. “90kmh” was the response. Ohoh! shrugging my shoulders, what now? I heard the word ‘fine’ but tried to over-hear it. Meanwhile the speedcamera-cop got interested in my bike. Of corse was I much obliged to tell him my story! Any distraction from the word ‘fine’ would be good. I showed him from where and through what countries I had travelled. We almost had an amicable conversation about my trip. And when he asked about any technical difficulties, I could humbly brag (is that possible??) about my technical skills. I reported in detail the things I had to repair. Now the ice was broken, the word ‘fine’ never mentioned again. I also confessed that this was the very first time, here & now, that I was stopped by Police. The very first time, Officer!! The camera-cop, the more senior ranked of the two, had a Slovakian word with the other one and all was good.
I almost asked for a photo, but resisted, not wanting to stretch the just established rapport. After 20 mins I was free to go and with their wishes for a good trip. My lucky day!!

 

IMG_5415Budapest, a place I hadn’t been before despite its relative closeness to my previous home, Frankfurt/M in Germany. I had from a very reliable source – thanks Louise F. – to seek accommodation in Pest, the northern, flat part of town. Advise from this specific source is best to follow to remain somewhat securely in ‘the good books’ – many of you will know exactly what I mean. For my non-English speaking readers in essence it means to take your partners’ suggestions seriously …
Hmmh, not quite sure if I nailed this translation? Clarifications and better expressions warmly invited & welcomed from all readers!

Accommodation in Budapest was pre-booked but don’t believe everything you read about a place when using Bookings.com. Don’t get me wrong: this is a very convenient site when you wanna be sure you’ve got a bed for the night. I propose to still check each ‘booked’ detail out before you un-pack. My ‘apartment’ was to have a TV – I wanted to get a little Rio 2016 dose, hadn’t seen any of it. Well, there was a TV, but this TV had no reception. WTF! ?! Travelling for so long, I had reached a status that I couldn’t take even small beer shite any longer,  so I requested an alternative. I ended up a few streets elsewhere, in a smaller room – no apartment rather a ‘normal’ house with many private people living there. One flat rearranged to accommodate guests. It was in a rather nicer area, a little place just outside with coffee, bar and restaurants. Moreover this arrangement had breakfast included, as was the use of a washing machine. To its credit this place also extended my stay for one more day when I was sick as a dog with a powerful have-no-idea-where-it-came-form, 24-hour stomach bug. I would have been dead on the road otherwise.

Budapest is a nice town, ‘the old city Pest’ feels compact – not really ‘old’ for European standards, as most was completely washed away by a huge Danube-flood 300 years or so ago. Rebuilding was done trying to restore the old street layout, but most buildings stem from a similar period, nevertheless Pest is rather appealing.
Of course I had to book the Segway tour! Our guide Mercedes (her real name I was assured 😉 was more an ‘Esmeralda”.

FullSizeRender-7With her  arm outstretched and an open palm she commanded all traffic to a hold, so our small group crossed the street safely, following her like a gaggle of geese. Segway riding/driving is great fun. I want one!! If only Aussie authorities would have their heads together …

This brings together a recent fb comment I read that Melbourne is the worlds ‘most liveable city’! Then I look at the next placegetters and almost all of them are ‘newer’ cities. Why is there never an ‘older’ European city among this list?? Bloody hell, I’d better not getting started about this crap!

Back to Budapest being quite charming, almost a smaller Prague (sorry for this inept comparison).

For me it lacks the elegance of a Moscow or the vibrancy of a Paris. … and almost everybody is smoking! It is soo obvious when coming from Melbourne, I immediately smell it and have to suppress some annoyance and also wonder about the prevailing ignorance of the local populous.
Well, that’s really only my view, trying to make sense

 

From Budapest I rode into Romania and stopped in Sibiu, aka Hermannstadt. Sibiu is a small medieval-looking town almost in the centre of Romania. It was to be my starting position to ride the Transfăgărășan Highway, one of the ‘most desirable’ motorcycle roads in Europe on position 1 – see here

I decided to stay an extra day exploring this town, which almost celebrates its German historical connection. The former major of the town, now the President of Romania is of this German heritage.


I was extra-lucky as the ‘Sibiu Ralley Challenge’ was in full swing. An annual Classic Car Ralley actually having the Transfăgărășan closed for their exclusive use on this Saturday, 20 August. Had I not stayed this extra day I would have rolled up at the T and be bitterly disappointed, instead I explored-walked Hermannstadt. Here a few impressions.

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On my gentle walk, now counting as ‘practice’ for my sojourn with Louise, this town grew on me. Sibiu or Hermannstadt also still actively supports the Wandergesellen by providing a house for their accommodation and coordinating employment. What a great tradition this is!

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Sibiu felt friendly, looking after its appearance, almost dual-cultural. Additionally I couldn’t help feeling an Italian influence. The Romanian language sounds smooth compared to its northern neighbours, almost like Italian. Particularly the melody of the language sounded so close to Italian. Add to this me sitting in an Italian Ice-café at the main square with an Italian menu …. I was ‘sold’!

So I climbed up the clock tower – all 144 narrow steps – and enjoyed the view

One unhappy thing occurred again!?!!
When buying my ticket for the Brukenthal, Museum, named after the chief-benefactor and ruler for this town and area in past centuries, probably really a well-meant person considering the then circumstances (Aufklaerung). When I declared that I was a ‘pensioner person’ (so it was expressed on the displayed price list) guess what happened?!!  The old guy behind the ticket window didn’t even hesitate to ‘grant’ me that reduced price!!
Bloody hell!
What a shock for the second time in this part of Europe! I think I’ll need a facelift!
On second though I might try to befriend myself with reality …

are the Peter-Pan-days over for good?

How can one be a fool, even in older age – and not taken seriously??

Thoughts to ponder on the next long ride day.

However the Brukenthal Museum had some interesting stuff.

The grave of Graf Dracula …..?

 

A modern Art exhibition:

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almost a little Picasso like ….

And I walked along the former, partially standing wall, surrounding and protecting the city:

I also experienced the art of begging, or even “accosted begging” by – presumably – gypsies, but I am just giving in to my prejudices. The young girl and even younger boy were pretty persistent, almost aggressive, seeking out tourist-looking people.  And they were many of them about.

Later that afternoon I had taken a ‘strategic position’ to see the Classic Ralley Cars return from their final leg: the Transfăgărășan. They were expected to arrive around 17.00 at the big place and at 21.00 a large, public presentation would take place here as well. By that time all cars would be locked-up in the ‘parc ferme’.


Hmmmh, interesting to see, as long as I could get my other ‘homework’ (blog) done. Turns out that many cars in this Ralley are ‘classics’ in the Czech automobile industry: Dacias and Skodas sprinkled with a few Mercedes, Ford Escorts, a Porsche of course, Volvos, even two Ferraris, and a Morris Roadster– quite nice to look at! I noticed that all were registered in Romania, so a local Ralley this is.

So to conclude my stay in Sibiu, the next day i rod this recommended – un-spellable named – road across the Carpartian mountains, the Transfaragarsan

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Taking a turn to see another castle brought me onto the west-side of a large lake. A few kms in it turned a little muddy ….

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It took me two exhausting hours to paddle through the mud which got worse, but fortunately without laying down ze bike …. exhausted I was, but heading on to the Donau (Danube) delta …

About Facial head hair troubles

 

This is not a catch-up article, rather all happened today 17 August. Couldn’t help to capture and blog it …..

For the first time in my entire life, and that is almost 66 years, my facial hair is longer than my head hair ….!
Agreed, I do not have too many head-hair left, however even these disappearing bits always had been longer that my facial hair, which for the past four month has been supplemented by a full beard (well still growing and tightly cropped).

Why? .. or how did this happen?

Well, let me go back a little: going to a hairdresser always has been a somewhat ‘split’ enjoyment:

  • On one hand I love being kind of pampered. Somebody, almost virtuously, apply sharp scissors all around my head, does some combing, more scissoring and all with great skill and care. Makes me feel being a little pampered.
  • One the other hand I always moan about the expense for a task that I could almost do myself with a pair of clippers, a mirror and little, or ‘reduced’ carefactor what I look like afterwards. The clippers are an appropriate instrument, as I have a straightforward number 3 all-round. Onlhy, if in the hands of a professional coiffeur I ask for a number 3 on the sides and a number five on the top. I also ask this expert to ‘go easy’ on my remaining hairs on top of my scalp.
    This  #3=#5 cannot be applied with the clippers in the hands of a small selection of non-professional, that includes myself. In these cases the aim is to ask for a single number, i.e. #4 all-round and being prepared to accept a ‘reduced’ appearance.

So on this trip I knew I would be in for a haircut, despite seeing my barber for my Montmorency-pensioner-special  deal before I left. During the trip whilst in Novosibirsk, I had some time on my hand. Several times did I walk past a stylish looking barber store, and the decision grew in my mind to use them to clip my beard. Being alone for such a long time, the pampering aspect grew in importance thus had lured me into this action.  I also counted on that Novosibirsk can’t be too expensive. My compadre and moto-travel companion at this time, Neil, equally wanted to get a proper head-shave. This made my decision easier and in both of us went.

Whilst it was inexpensive for me (and I had two coffees) I walked out looking like a really old man . An extremely short cropped beard! To make matters/looks worse during a moment of being relaxed and dreamy, half-asleep in the barber’s chair, the Novosibirsk expert had also clipped my moustache (moo/moh??) way too short!! Now I looked like Solzhenitsyn, even represented my age-group extremely well – way too well. What a bummer! especially not being able to revert this unfortunate outcome.
From this moment all my phantasies about being pampered and coming away looking like a million dollars went down the gurgler. Instead I maximised the chance to hide my face inside my full-face helmet. As this is not a good idea when going shopping, in the end I had to give I to my Solzhenitsyn look alike.

Months went past and my head-hair, which got away scot-free in Novosibirsk, quietly grew longer. The full beard was growing and I cropped it at any mirror opportunity so the moh, ever-so-slowly, started to appear a little longer. Even to-date it is still no good and I can’t wait until it has re-grown to an acceptable length.
Moreover my head looked bad. Imagine helmet-hair when you don’t have a full head of hair in the first place. Norman Gunston could have been my brother. Cleary confirmed each time I slipped of my head-gear. Even violent rubbing of my entire head, straight after putting the helmet down, didn’t achieve any positive results in the looking-half-decent department. I rather looked like4 Jerry Lewis in The Mad Professor.

“This hair must be cut, cut by a professional!” became my mantra.
Hitting Budapest, a European town, filled me with positive anticipation to find a decent hair-professional and get it down: option # 3 and #5, or perhaps #4 all-round to avoid confusion.
When exploring the city my gaze not only aimed for the wonderful sights, old building facades and else, but also to spot a hairdressing saloon. Fortunately many signs here are bi-lingual: Hungarian and English. Therefore spotting an appropriate establishment wasn’t too difficult. I even walked into one, but the waiting time was too long, so I deferred. Finally, today, my last full day in Budapest, finding a coiffeur close bye was on top of my to-do list. And I did find one! A chain of stores named ‘Bio-Hair’. Not sure what the ‘bio’ meant, but ‘hair’ was good enough for me. In I went. Jackpot!! nobody waiting. Two young girls at the checkout, deeply  immersed in a -no doubt – professional discussion. One, perhaps behaving a bit more ‘senior’ sported rather long, spikey green fingernails (couldn’t help noticing but did not comment).

I inquired about a haircut pour moi, one length all-round (didn’t want to make it too complicated). 790 Hungarian money units it woukd set me back. Hungary operates almost a dual-valuta: their own, the Hungarian Forint (HUF) and the Euro. Even US dollars are still welcome. 790 HUF are about $A 3.80 – my kind of price.

I stated that I wanted a one number all-round cut and if they had a same/similar system to what I have been used to in Oz: numbers of length. Yes, they did and I confirmed a number 4 for me.

I took my position in the chair the young lass started to cut …. Hola! Ohh so short it seemed. “Is this really a number 4” I asked. “Yes it was!” was her response and she continued applying the clippers. Still, it looked rather very short, so I asked again. Same answer …

When she laid down the clippers and applied her scissors for trimming the edges, against my nature (naahh, not really) but a little reluctantly as I didn’t want to insult her, I grabbled for the clippers. Guess what!?!! Numero uno, # 1 clearly embossed on the black plastic insert which clips onto the cutting sheers. WTF!!

A temporarily stop in her cutting action, and the green-fingernailed lass came and joined the dilemma discussion, well a dilemma for me. I asked her to complete the cut and took the black plastic #1 clip-on thingo to the reception/check-out desk. A short discussion developed about the number on the clipper versus the length of the hair cut measured in mm. The latter was the young lass’ argument. Well, this black plastic insert had clearly a #1 on it. In the corner there was also a – presumably – hair-length achieved:  3 mm. As  my cutting-non-expert had argued with 4 mm, her argument clearly was 1mm besides the point.

In the end, I did not pay at all for this botched cut. I did however ask if I do not pay, would the cost for this cut come out of the wage of my hair-analphabet. “No” it wouldn’t I was assured.

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keep this pic in your kitchen, so you can shock your breakfast eggs ……

So now I ‘saved’ four bucks, did not get a number four, look definitely bald and won’t have to worry about helmet hair for at least two month.
Still not sure if this is a good outcome, but I will have to live with it.

I think I am fishing for sincere compliments how great that looks ………

My trust in overseas hair professionals has shrunk to less than 1 out of 10.
It is staggering how complicated communication can be and subsequently leading to unwanted results even you thought you know how to express yourself clearly. I will have to work on it …..

Bårlin – Stopfenheim

 

Bårlin ….., what can I say – have been there may times now visiting my older bro, same this time and it was just great! Not only does he know and share much of the history of the place, he and his partner also make a plentiful breakfast – indulgence and energy for the entire day!

I got there via a ride from Vilnius through Poland und ultimately Berlin.

Poland was almost as I remembered. But this previous trip now must been some 35 years back. Rode on pushbikes from Gdynia, Zopot, Danzig down south through the Masurian sees to Warszawa. This was just the time when Solidarnosc came into being remember the bloke form the Danzig ship building, Lech Wałęsa. Later he became President, perhaps a little too high reach for his capabilities.

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During this time one had still to queue each day to get the basics like brad, milk, butter. I remember being in Zopot when a queue went around the entire block, because they had butter. We stayed with people in Gdynia and they took turns each morning, on the way to work, to keep a place in the queue for bread…! Cycling through the country I still vividly remember the tree-lined street, the many storks and the rural 17th century feel it gave.

IMG_5231I looked out for it and much of Poland is still rural, however things certainly have changed. The houses in the villages are well kept, in sometime bright colours. The farm machinery is as up-to-date as you would see in most European countryside, but the green, the tree lined streets are all there. And of course I could see many, many storks. They impressed me as they did these many years ago. Standing completely still in their nests. Some times more than one – I saw three in one nest. First I thought they were man-made displays to rue a long-gone area, but slowing down and looking a tad longer made me realise all were indeed real! The I also saw them stalking (or should that be ‘storking’??) in the small meadows beside the road. Regrettable none of them carried a bay in a nappy en route to the expecting family …. ‘Puff!” goes another (Disney( dream …

As have been trying to avoid free-ways, motorways and Autobahns. This approach adds to the distance, but for me is a much more pleasant ride. I literally can breathe-in the countryside. I stopped for a break at what must have been a Mill in the old days. Now a restaurant, with tables in the back garden edging onto a little quiet lake. Very tranquil and the staff were nice and spoke English as my Polish is down to about 5 words L .

FullSizeRender 25I was approached by Wiktor S, he saw my Adventure Riders sticker on the panniers and confessed to be ‘a lurker’ there as well. I learnt that Wiktor’s dream is to do a similar long journey, perhaps even in the next few years. Wiktor’s family may have some say in it, however he would like to travel from Japan, via Vladivostok back to Poland. Wiktor, if you read this, Do IT! as soon as your posting is over!

I stayed overnight in Grietzwald once again close to the road for an early getaway to Berlin and a pre-rush-hour arrival – which I didn’t manage.

 

Well, and then there was Berlin!

FullSizeRender 24But one more thing, another observation to share: In Australia the media tells us of the migrants problem in Western Europe. Well, it may well be down south (haven’t been there yet) but ‘Hello!?’ there is literally nobody home at the border between Poland and Germany. Neither was there anybody at the previous border crossings. So the experience is the opposite to the one in Russia, Mongolia, Korea etc etc No wait, not even a glimpse of anybody in uniform! You almost miss feeling a little excited to cross another border. The signs change, especially when entering Germany I was able to read and understand each sign – what a relieving difference. Didn’t know, wasn’t aware that I had missed that so much – put a smile on my dial.

The changes in landscape become less perceptible. Germany is yet another tad more ‘aufgeraeumt’ meaning in English perhaps something like ‘in ordered fashion’ or orderly. Not certain how exactly to describe it, perhaps it’s just my subconscious, especially the German bit of it pushed into the background for a few decades. Can’t put my finger on it, but it felt more aufgeraeumt.

Maps.me led me through some wonderful side-roads. All roads of course, but certainly not major, sometimes even going through areas where people lived a normal life, you know housing areas. Well, I am not complaining, other than saying if you use maps.me bring along time so you can take-in the sights.

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The stay at my Brother’s partner’s – Gaby – flat was perfectly comfortable. I even got the use of the main bedroom! Somewhat embarrassing, but since I like comfort I only protested (the Australian way: Are you sure? really?? ) for a little while.

Breakfast, as said, was ‘Vielfalt’ a favourite word of mine!

FullSizeRender 27I was able to get some errands done. We explored berlin a little only, as I do know it reasonably well.

One opportunity I didn’t want to miss, was making contact with the local BMW Motorrad club in Berlin. No surprise, it resides in Spandau, and actually emerged form a Werks-Klub, meaning a club formed by workers of the BMW Motorenwerke in Spandau. They informed me that every Sunday, at the Spinnerbruecke above the Avus (the former road-racing circus in Berlin) is a huge meeting of many Motorradfahrer und Motorradfahrerinnen, let’s be gender-balanced here. 😉

I stuck the details in my maps.me and after 30 mins had arrived. Indeed hundreds of bikes and their riders congregating at some open-air café-cum-park and had a breakfast or just a drink, but all with plenty of chat. I wondered how would I recognise who is the BM-club there, but fortunately when pulling up I parked ride behind an F800. A woman had just stepped off this machine and I ask her about the Spandau BM club. “Come with me! You met the right person!: she responded in perfect English and, let me ask you dear reader. wouldn’t you have followed her as well.FullSizeRender 31

Soon I had a seat on a large table, everybody very friendly, more or less my age group and we shared BMW Motorrad club life matters. Like in my Victorian-based club, they equally find it hard to attract younger members. Their membership is around the 40 mark and most of them have more than one bike. As I said: like my Victorian club. I left some of our stickers and I am sure they found a suitable place in their clubrooms, which by the way they had rented for the past 45 years or so.

The other days were spent mainly with my bro. We’ve made the most out of it, as we see each other less than a blue moon appears. Had walk together, shopped a little, annoyed/ amused strangers we met on the road, ate out in a Bavarian restaurant, met up with Rudi’s daughter Carola. She indeed has a nice flat and seems in good spirits – Hi Carola! was great to see you!
Rudi and I even inspected the not-yet-ready flat he occupies. Finally we managed to show off the bike (and myself) to his friends and all in great spirits and a sincere appreciation that we had yet another change to spend time together.

So god stuff all-round, as it always has been between us! Happy man I was.

 

I left Berlin for another catching-up indulgence in Bavaria (should I eat there in a Berlin restaurant??) Last year I went into BMW Southbank to arrange a crate for my bike to be shipped. the Southbank people have been most helpful for my sometimes ‘odd’ requests, they must be used to them, so in this instance they were much helpful again – thank you Southbank. Your logo is on my windscreen seeing the world!
Walking in, I couldn’t help noticing a dusty and battered R1100 parked in front. Moreover, it sported a German number-plate. Interesting! Inside, my mandatory trip to the coffee machine led me past a dusty-clad bearded biker. No doubt the rider of this German bike. Happy to embrace any opportunity to talk in my mother-tongue I involved thus fellow, Hubert in a conversation. Promptly I learnt the he had been on the road for the past 18 months!! He had come from Bavaria over-land through 23 countries (or more) to Darwin and ultimately to Melbourne, Australia’s navel! Hubert and I got acquainted quickly, so I offered hi a place to stay in Melbourne at our house. Hubert eventually took me up on this offer and later I was able to assist him in shipping his bike back to Hamburg, as the bike-part of his journey had ended here. He went on via Peking and the TransSib express to Moscow and Berlin, completing his journey in 22 months. More info here: Huberts Reise

Now, I was ready for a return visit in Bayern (Bavaria). Actually it is in Mittel-Franken (middle Frankonia) to be precise. The small village of Stopfenheim, close to Weissenburg (a bigger town/Kreisstadt) would become my home-away-from-home as Hubert looked after me like a long-lost brother. I was immediately accepted into his larger family, his daughter, brothers and one sister, his parents and friends, It is indeed a special thing if you

walk/drive through a town and almost every second person knows you, waves, stops for a chat. Well, that was the case for Hubert, and I was the ex-German migrated to Australia visiting in Stopfenheim. Words cannot describe how pleasant this experience was, sincere and open hospitality by everybody I met there.


Additionally we figured out that a sound emerging from the front was the clicking of the now defunct headstem-bearing – thank you Mongolian pistes. The BMW-Motorrad shop in Weissenburg wanted 85 Euros for s replacement, which had to be ordered in. Hubert found locally a non-OEM replacement for half the price AND it was available over the counter. We replaced the bearing, using his brother’s mechanical workshop and a proper press. All done within one morning and now I can ride again without any niggling thoughts if my front-end fails on me.

I also went on a milk-run, a real one!, with Hubert. Whilst in Vor-Ruhestand (a rather great German approach to early retirement whilst still obtaining the bulk of your ‘usual’ income without losing any pension entitlements – Australian Government listed up!), Hubert still does some jobs here & there ensuring he doesn’t exceed his 450 Euro/month limit, otherwise his entitlements would shrink. One o these is a milk-run, driving a large DAF semi-trailer collecting farmers milk from as far as close to the Czech border. So for one ‘run’ almost 700 kms I became the co-driver. But that’s a wrong title, rather I was the non-silent observer and making-sure-I-am-not-in-the-way.

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This was another interesting experience, one I hadn’t done before, at lest not in such a super-large truck. Great skill, especially judgement about the length, width and height of your vehicle and how to steer it through impossibly tight lanes and corners – impressive! Whilst Hubert was un-coupling empty milk tanks and collecting full ones, I had a squiz with the farmer at a spot where we stood for longer. Here we had a milk farmer. He had about 120 cows that never saw the outside of their large, computer-sized shed. Every one of them wore a bracelet around its neck, capturing absolutely all data: the time when this cow fed herself, when she was due for milking, how much milk she gave, when she went voluntarily into the automatic cow-washing lane etc etc. You name it, this farmer could call it up via his computer. The milking was done fully automatic with laser-guided suction cups memorising the position of each tits, and cleaning each prior to applying itself.

The entire feeding cycle was computerised, even the dishing-out of feed was done by a robot. This farmer still needed to work, however his worked certainly had changed. I wished my Badminton mate, Mick could have seen this farm and spoken to this farmer. Him, his wife and one of his elder sons were working full-time on this farm and he also grew potatoes. However his maximum holiday one a year never exceeded two weeks – a farmers’ life. Remember that German employees usually get around 5-6 weeks, fully paid per annum. Well, I guess that is progress in farming.

Later I watched another farming machine active of the harvested fields. This one collected all the hay, strewn on the ground, pressed it, baled it with a wire wrap-around and literally shat it out as it progressed over the field, about one large rectangular bail in less than a minute. Effective!! no doubt.

Hubert and I did a pushbike tour to some nearby lake through forest crossing the ‘Limes’ a Roman-built defence system, kind-of like the Chinese wall just somewhat smaller and more basic to keep the Teutonic warriors at bay.

FullSizeRender 16A round-trip of almost 30 kms worked up a good hunger to be satisfied at Hubert’s brother Alfred’s place. We spotted some wild sows as well, fortunately behind a fence of a former ammunition factory.

Another highlight was the BBQ Alfred organised at his home. His wife, son and daughter together with their partners were present and I enjoyed tasty Frankonian food. Fortunately I was able to secure the last pre-packed batch of Kangaroo eat in the local supermarket. This was a surprise even to Hubert. BBQ-ing it and cutting it in stripes made it last so everybody could have a sample. All commented positively, and whilst that may have been done of courtesy, I am sure that the men might want to try this type of meat again.

To round up reporting and reflecting on this experience was a special visit to a real Schloss in Ellingen, a small town located a few klicks away from Stopfenheim. Since 1216 this Schloss belonged to the Deutschen Orden but since 1815 had been the home of Feldmarshall Carl Philipp Fuerst von Wrede.

Hubert knew Helmut, the manager and Helmut agreed to give us a tour. And let me assure you – it was a super-special one! First I was able to touch the walls of the cellar. IMG_5254I learnt that I just touched walls erected in ???? the only part of this entire building which originates form the first water-castle build here. Subsequent fires and a 30-year long lasting war eventually produced the third Schloss on the same site in 1708, right where it stands now and where I touched the walls.
Other highlights were a duel with an invisible enemy using an original age-old double-hander sword.IMG_5263

Fortunately nobody was harmed in this bout.

I stepped into the private rooms of Fuerst von Wrede, even saw his private bathroom. Upstairs I climbed, to stand on the balcony of the music and reception room. The musicians sat in this hidden balcony, right under the ceiling on each side of this room and practiced their trade. The rounded ceiling echoed their play down into the room. I could see the clothed-hooks in the wall where they would have hung their coats.

Then I peeped into the private chapel, now used for wedding ceremonies, again from the private balcony only the Wrede family was able to access directly from their private rooms.

This was all super-interesting and impressive. The top of this however was a climb into the roof of middle tower (one of the three). There, squeezing my way through huge wooden roof constructs, past the employees’ quarters, windowless for the lower echelons, I finally reached the trapdoor leading into the roof ‘balcony’ affording a stunning view over the entire area.

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“Thank you, Helmut!” Unfortunately we missed to admire your Classic Small Car Museum, so there must be another time!

If you ever are close to Weissenburg, don’t miss to see this Schloss in Ellingen. Its rooms are fitted out with precious silk wall-paper, hand-printed.

Furniture and room fittings are among the very best you can see in Bavaria in the style of Klassizismus.

Be told that exactly vis-à-vis is the Ellingen Schloss-brewery crafting another refreshing Bavarian/Frankonian beer and traditional food. Cakes can also be had (just for the Prez).

Judging by the above you can imagine that I easily could have stayed another week. It was hard to dis-engage form this environment, its people and the super-welcoming vibe. Alas, a Chinese proverb states that “guest are like fish – after three days they start to smell” so, heavily smelling I decided to move on making my way further south through Czech, Austria and Hungary towards Romania.

Deeper into Europe

Riding south from St. Petersburg forced a decision: namely which direction to go: further south in Russia towards Georgia and then into Turkey or giving Turkey a amiss and instead turning west towards the Baltic countries and Germany?

I opted for the latter as the word re Turkey was not positive and the situation there volatile. With many police and large chunks of the judiciary taken into custody all kinds of things could happen. Writing these lines now weeks later has eased my concern re Turkey. The western media may not like the developments there, however a great part of the Turkish population seems in favour. Time will tell.

So I had one more – final – stop in Russia. My next stop would be the Baltics, as Berlin was much too long to do it in one day avoiding ze Autobahnz, as these are boring to ride with luggage.

Almost 420kms down from St Petersburg the small city of Opochka awaited. The solo-ride felt good and I made good progress. The weather had changed, some light rain, constant overcast and heavy clouds were threatening more unpleasant weather. I booked myself a warm room close to the road, outside this small city of Opochka, allowing an early off next morning. With an early start I should make Berlin the next day.

My choice of accommodation turned out positive. (Again, sorry but I ‘lost’ this photo) A roomy pension-come-restaurant place with friendly staff and good Polish food. My room was out towards the back, so I could hardly hear the noisy road carrying the St. Petersburg – Baltic states and beyond traffic. I enjoyed a decent meal (deer) and a large beer. Hmmmh “deer and beer” go well together. Watching a Quentin Tarratino movie on the big screen in my room (download from the web, transfer to USB stick, stick into TV) rounded up the evening. This Quentin bloke certainly has something wrong with his head! what a violent movie it was, typical for his style, the only one I could find to download for free, therein lies the reason.

Off to Latvia the next day, a typical movement at the Russian border to make it to the front of the queue worked once more and the Latvian border post were cheerful and friendly. The crossing was relatively fast ~ 1.5 hours and off I went into Latvia. I noticed the change of the landscape immediately. All a little bit more ‘cultivated’, perhaps organised (aufgeraeumt) compared to Russia. So, rather soon I had passed through Latvia and into the next Baltic state: Lithuania. From now on I didn’t see any border posts at all. Some deserted-looking buildings appeared to be the remains of a previous border, but nobody inside, some even a little derelict looking.

Lithuania had Vilnius, it’s capital was my target.

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view from the old city’s wall towards new city of Vilnius

The coordinates in my bike for my accommodation led me to somewhere else in Vilnius. So, once again, I was lost. A feeling I have come accustomed to. I must look it, as another local biker saw me and offered help. He guided me to my place where the key=person had been waiting and I was ‘saved’ again by a local biker.

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way up the former wall with tower and perfect city all-round view

I offered to buy him a beer to show my gratitude, something we would do the next day.

IMG_5177I had booked myself into a little under-the-roof flat, fully furnished, very new and ideal for a solo traveller. Ideally located in the Old City and fully equipped, but a washing machine was missing and I had so much washing to do …. BTW Vilnius has no laundrettes (a business opportunity no doubt!) But since I had a contact in Vilnius, a woman from previously Melbourne, who had returned to her home town seeking a better life and new partnership. I ask her to came to my rescue.

The city is compact, a little quaint and also has 34 churches and chapels or thereabouts, also plenty! I did the now almost obligatory city-bus tour, walked into a Lithuanian-America friendship celebration, watched some beach-volleyball on a man-made filed close to the Vilnia river, did a push-bike tour through the city and a forest close by, walked a lot and sampled the Lithuanian food.

I caught up with the friendly biker, and to my great shame I cannot recall his name. Truth to be told, I never was able to pronounce his name and was to embarrassed to ask again. Now I am even more ashamed but I wear it with a great sense of regret – should have asked! he and I met at a Harley Davidson test ride day and then had a snack above Vilinius.

He also showed me some nice spots in the town. We had some food in the market hall and I do like places like this. reminds me of the Vic market and back further to Frankfurt’s Kleinmarkthalle. Finally he took me to his motorcycle club-house: a house boat on the Vilnia river! Well, here’s a thought for my club, Prez listen up! This club indeed goes for little journeys on the river, a very shallow one, fortunately this boat has a low draft, even if several heavy bikes had been riding the plank making it on board! Now, its weight has further increased sporting a BMV Vic MC-club sticker in the club room.

Vilnius struck me as another rather pleasant town with its own fair share of history. It was summer, people were out and about, many street cafes were open and busy with tourists as well as locals – a buzzy vibe around the city. Most of the time I moved around the old city and learnt a lot through the tours by my friend and also did a guided city walking tour.

 

I made one attempt to visit Vilnius’ university located in the old city. Trying to enter I was stopped by a woman, some official living in a small gate house demanding an entry fee pf me, for just walking in a taking a look. ‘Hallo…” not for me. I trued to reason about the purpose of universities vis-a-vis society and education at large but gave up. This was just too petty for me. I hope is does not represent access to uni in Lithuania …

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Another day Joana and her friend took me to Trakai, only a little outside Vilnius and something like a ‘Sommerfrische’ for locals and tourists. It is a peninsula or is it a proper island – not sure as there is a land connection. Lots of water, several islands and the largest one is dominated by a castle. A great place to be and relax, eating ice cream and enjoying the slower pace. One of its trademarks is that the housed have always three same-sized windows in the front – so I was told.

 

 

Here are some views of the castle standing in the middle of the water in Trakai lake:

 

Another highlight was a food-tour. Yes, you read correctly – a food tour done by a group of young locals who saw a market niche in showing off their home and its culinary delights. We walked into six (or was it seven?) different establishments sampling a range of locally made food and drink. So a most pleasant couple of hours spent. My tour guide was well versed in all aspects of food and how it relates to the Vilnius/Lithuanian eating culture and history. Unfortunately I was the only participant, which allowed me to completely exhaust my question repertoire, but I had hoped for a larger turn-out. Still a most enjoyable way to explore a place: food.

 

My stay in Vilnius gave me plenty of time to consider my – again revised – travel plan. Now I will adapt to the Turkey events by not going there 😦

Bike is re-packed and ready to cross Poland into Berlin tomorrow.

Go west old man.

St Petersburg

 

Risking this is becoming a city guide, St. Petersburg warrants a single entry in my blog.

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Griboyedov Canal with view to the ‘spilled blood’ chapel

The 716 km ride was one of the longer ones – to be avoided in future – fortunately no problems. Neil and I are still riding together, although St Petersburg will be our swan song, as our ways will part beyond.
However, finally we figured out a better way of riding together: the ride-at-your-own-pace-and-wait-@-predetermined-spots-for-each-other method. It worked well! You must know that riding as a pair or in a group has its advantages and probs – I’ve elaborated in a previous post. Most irritating for me is riding as a pair/group in traffic. We all have a different sense of speed and risk-taking, especially when it comes to over-taking other traffic. Some of us are familiar with lane-splitting (at traffic-lights) and higher-dense rushhour like traffic. So, when riding in a group, somewhere behind a fellow rider, I constantly uhm and ahh about not taking THAT opportunity to overtake, rather being forced to continue breathing-in the exhaust fumes and not being able to see ahead especially when stuck behind a truck or caravan.

Our approach solved all this. We rode and overtook at our own liking and pace, didn’t have to constantly observe the rear mirror to ensure your other partner/s are still within sight. Instead we arranged to meet ~ at each 150kms at a spot easy to see when approaching so behind rider/s could see soon enough o pull over safely. Worked like a threat and no grumbling in one’s helmet ;-). This also ensured we took sufficient breaks, stretched our legs, drank water and decided on the next spot.

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St. Petersburg was kind to us arriving late at 20.30 but still in good daylight. We found our accommodation with no trouble. Again a hostel, this time mainly frequented by Russian holidaymakers, youth and families alike. It was close to the centre, so all was in walking distance. The city was brim-full with Tourist, just as us, however most of them Russians.

EXPOLRATION was firmly on the agenda!

St. Petersburg, the Venice of the north. It has many waterways and even more small and bigger bridges, most of them share a specific history. St. Petersburg felt different to Moscow – couldn’t help to contrast. Formerly Leningrad, it hasn’t quite the flair of Moscow, high heels are much less common, I guess it is caused by the cobblestone streets in town. Although St. Petersburg breathes history more easily and tangibly – all being rather accessible by foot. It just feels more ‘stately’ like an ancient Capital (as it was for a period of time).

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Entrance to the place square and Alexander column in front of the Winter Palace (Hermitage)

 

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Hermitage main entrance

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One of four horse-taming statues on one bridge depicting the founder of St. P

There is the Hermitage and we were rather able to avoid the queue! Most people just line up when they see one, thus not exploring other means to get a ticket and legally jump the queue. The Hermitage can be booked on-line and the emailed ticket gets you through in a separate entrance, although the ticket costs a little more – no worries. There are at least two ticket machines perhaps a little hidden in a side-alley, both never had a queue.

The hermitage is huge, so a two-day ticket would be something I would do/recommend next time. It’s cheer opulence can be disgusting to some, here are a few pics:

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Neil and I could manage just a few hours, maybe four then we felt overwhelmed by all the gold, opulence and history.

 

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I recommend to have a meal here at ‘Yat’, which was recommended to me – thank you B John O. Enter through a non-suspect stairs down into a cellar and be surprised by its ambience and selection of traditional Russian food – most enjoyable and a ‘must do!’ for your <own Moscow to-do list!

 

Couldn’t resist an did a Segway city tour. A small group of four and one guide saw us cruising from one end, over the river, to the other – grand! Definitely recommend!

 

More impressions of St. Petersburg. The next are the first-cafe-am- Platz! an oldstyle, grand-designed cafe to sample whatever Russian food you can imagine. Budget didn’t cover the $2000K portion of caviar, so we settled for little less, still enjoyed the atmosphere.

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St. Petersburg at dusk. Now it must be close to 11 pm

 

After three days Neil and I moved our separate ways: Neil to travelling north and I pointing ze bike towards the south-west. The Baltic countries are waiting.

 

Moscow

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What can I say??

To me, a most enchanting metropolis! A city with great vibrancy, energy and elegance – not to mention history! Moscow is a city of churches and theatres alike, one of each at every corner, sometimes two!

But before I prattle on let me fill you in on the train journey’s end:
Arrived on time and found our way out of the train into the subway. Immediately bought a tourist-train/bus/whateverotherpublictransport ticket for 5 days – cheap! – and dived into Moscow’s subway system. Found our exit station and, even better: the accommodation which was in close walking distance – not much schlepping of bags. Still, I felt like a mule (that’s how the bike must have felt for so many weeks now, BUT do bikes have feelings?? A question to ponder another time …..)

Telephoned the transport company and figured out their address. Our bikes had arrived one day sooner than advertised – happy!

It took another, little longer Metro trip and a walk through suburbia into an industrial area about 30 kms south-east of the cbd. We followed the locals across a railway line, slip-streamed through a security gate behind a friendly Russian woman on her way to work and found ourselves in a large transport and freight hub. Eventually figyered out where the office was, walked in, smiled and received good and very fast service. Got given a map of the place to find the right shed housing our bikes. Ducked some rather large trucks and met staff so together we could locate to our bikes, which we did. The speed of progress made me almost dizzy. Both bikes were there and the guys were no fuss helpful. They organised a forklift and lowered the crates to the ground, a rather wobbly affair. Must say that the ‘crates’ done in Novosibirsk were super-duper-basic, meaning very flimsy. But, ‘Hey!” am I complaining? No! just reporting 😉
Un-crated the bike and “yes!” my bike literally fell out the crate being released from the straps. Fortunately no damage done as lately it has had plenty of practice falling over. I wasn’t too offended about it. I guess during the remainder of this trip it will topple a few more times, even if I try my best to avoid it.
In the end, picking up the bikes from the truck-place turned out being much easier than anticipated. All was done&dusted in under two hours and we were riding back into Moscow, big grins on out faces.

Parked the bikes inside an atrium-like backyard (Hinterhof) at our Hostel. There I did some ‘maintenance’: changed the air filter sock, still full of Mongolian sand, flies and rocks. Changed also the actual air filter and, whilst at it, the spark plugs. Checked all screws & bolts, and even did some re-packing – version 53 – of my stuff. The most happy I felt about being able to buy a new cable for my Zumo navigator and installed it – now, all is working again.

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fixing only – not washed yet …..

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only cleaning the area where i was working on ..

 

Now to Moscow, to-date one of my five fav cities in ze world!
Well, I hear you ask (Les W.) what are the other four so let me disclose: Frankfurt/Main my home town is a must! Barcelona with its Ramblas and side street bars & eateries is part of my count. Siena in Italy, and Melbourne of course! There is also Paris which always has a relaxing impact on my when there and there is Vladivostok, the ‘Ruler of the East’. I must confess that the recency of the impressions has influenced my ranking, but as more cities are to come this may change, although thus is NOT a competition!

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The Red Rectangle, left Leni’s mausoleum and the Kremlin walls

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But back to Moscow! I explored it per pedes, on a cruisey pushbike (adding another mode of transport), by Metro/subway, bus, and even on a Tram! A beauty to see and take in!
Women and men are markedly different in Moscow compared to otherwhere in Russia… well, of course they are, but I meant in a dress-sense. The women certainly do not follow any specific fashion-trend. H’veowever the women I seen walking were wearing their own style, always immaculately dressed, in interesting but always stylish combinations, colour coordinated of course! One thing in common are super-high heels – most/all of them wearing these instruments of torture with a relaxed, confident and ‘being cool’ body-language. As I said: a most elegant place, great vibe.
Men dress with much less care so it seems, but I confess I didn’t have energy left to pay much visual attention to the men ….. after all, I am one of them and can do only one thing at a time. … and these days I am neither a fine picture myself when it comes to dressing.

Gum, the huge, super-luxury store housing all Ueber-Brands was a little disappointing, somehow I had expected something else. My expectations are often left-field, so don’t listen to what I am writing here – it’s purely my impression on the day. Gum’s façade looked stunning at night and during day-time we had a coffe&cake at Moscow’s top-café facing the Red Square, watching tourists which soon we would join.

The Red Square is a big space, but not a square at all! It is rather rectangular running alongside the walls of the Kreml.


The Kremlin is another huge construct filled with historic buildings and churches (not the same in my = heretic’s book).

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The Kreml houses a huge number of churches, chapels, weaponry and still serves in one building as the Parliament of Russia. I had not expected it being so vast and rich in buildings and history. Have a look here:

Here are some birds-eye views from some of the churches and buildings:

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No photos allowed inside so here are a few outside views:

The still parliament building inside the Kremlin walls. Apparently Putin, well loved by most Russians as he restores their pride after loosing everything through Perestroika, had landed with his helicopter earlier the same day. BTW, arriving/leaving by helicopter does not create traffic chaos, as previously when all roads were blocked for the President’s car cavalcade …

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the bell which never tolled ….

 

Gorki Park, Arbat Street, Hermitage Gardens are some of my personal Moscow highlights.

You can get there with Moscow’s close-knitted Metro system. Trains are old, so are some stations; trains are loud, as everything is rattling, but they appear within 3 minutes of each other! Always!! Anytime!!!

 

Did a pushbike tour in the evening/night hours all through big streets and small alley-ways, parks, past sights, including the park of the forgotten monuments (Stalin is present here several times). 13732046_1245530685457235_9045216304575303558_oI much recommend www.moscowbiketours.com and Vado, our tour guide. We were a group of two, covered almost 30 kms in four hours. Luckily I selected a cruiser-bike with wide handlebars and a most comfy saddle. The pleasant aspect of riding a push-bike in Moscow is that you ride wherever you want: street, footpath, bicycle lane when present – and nobody does mind at all!  There is a good partnership between, pedestrians, cars and pushbikes. Cars wait without hesitation when you step-out into a Zebra-Crossing, or wait if the street becomes too narrow. Never any hassle nor pressure.


The traffic is busy and I have not seen this amount of high-class, most recent model luxury cars in any other city or other than the Frankfurt Car Fair (Automesse): big Benz, big Beemers, Maybachs, Rolls, Porsches and large 4-wheel limousines – certainly indicating plenty of wealth and not afraid to show it. Most are black with dark tinted windows. Can one feel the presence of criminal elements or is it just a movie concept??

Cafes, bars, little and large restaurants are at every corner.  Between all, small shops in the sub-terrain of houses, often upon entering into a cavernous space discovering a large, well-stocked supermarket.

Tomorrow early morning, to avoid the Moscow traffic, I shall continue northwards to see St. Petersburg, former Leningrad, former St. Petersburg. It will be a single day-long ride, over 700kms. However, I assume the roads are good. Not having ridden for almost a week, make me looking forward to it.

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A restaurant …..

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the famous Tea House

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fmr Government building, now houses a large fish-shop with Aquarium in the groundfloor

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Getting dark in Moscow, must be almost 11 pm

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Travelling on the Trans Siberian Railway

Mongolian border – Novosibirsk – Moscow aboard TransSib Express

~ 3500 kms in 24 hours

 

Having decided on the new route and drawn it into a map, brought some mind-relief.

Now, I am in a better position to share my impressions of Novosibirsk with you. It is the third-largest town in Russia. Novosibirsk, but relatively ‘young’ – see here. Novosibirsk claims to be the geographical centre of Russia.  In the city-centre stands an old small church, right in the middle of a super-busy road. This church indeed IS the geographical centre-point of Russia.

Here should be a picture, but it just disappeared in the Apple-hole. One of many I am afraid and a much-frustrating example of the up-load problems i have had in the past months. This explains the ‘back-log’ ……

Neil’s friend in Adelaide has contacts here and we were offered to stay in an unoccupied flat in Novo. Sounded great! To see it, actually find it, we met Anna, a friend of a friend of a …… Anna would turn out to be a huge help during our stay in N.

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life in Novosibirsk’s suburbs

She met us the next day to drive us to the flat. It was more at the outskirts of N and the public transport into N was a tad complicated for a non-local. We declined and Anna confirmed to us that our hotel’s location was much more central and allowed us to walk to most interesting parts in this town.
Anna checked-in every day to see we were alright. She explained things, acted as a translator, guide and overall looking-afterer. We met her son and her husband, Arkadiy as well. Without Anna’s and Arkadiy’s support we could not have dome what unfolded …

Meanwhile I checked out the city, got a much-too-shirt shave at a ritzy-looking barber, had many walks through town as the hotel was rather central.

The thought had grown to try out the Trans Siberian Railway. After all we were at one of its major stations, had about 3500 kms riding to Moscow through monotonous landscape ahead of us. I favoured the train option as it brings a welcome change from riding. My ‘meandering’ was never intended to be done by a single mode of transport. Rather as many different as were on offer was the thought, underpinned by the majority of the route done on the bike. Thus far I had covered plane, bike of course, ship, camel, 4-wheel drive car, not counting the many public busses and Metros taken in various cities.

So a possible experience a Russian train was an enticing option, but what to do with the bike? Could it be taken on the same train – ideal solution – or on another train or trucked to Moscow?

Traveling a leg on the TransSib, from Novosibirsk to Moscow covers a distance of almost 3500kms. On a bike this would take at least two weeks travelling. Doing a rough calculation of cost for train ticket and shipping, versus riding the entire distance showed expenses would be on par, even a little less using the train!
Moreover, the train-trip would take two days, so I further would gain time.

It so happens that Arkady, Anna’s husband had excellent business connections to a transport company, the largest one in Russia. So he offered his time and influence to make this part of the arrangement easy and no doubt more cost-effective for Neil and I.

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our saviour Arkady

Arkady, and Anna accompanied us to the trucking yard, where the bikes were to be palleted, wrapped and shipped from. Once they were off our hands, and conformation about their shipment  (about 6 days) was on paper and paid for, we now could purchase our 2-bed cabin train-tickets very conveniently at the desk in our Hotel.
All up, it took two days to organise and seal everything: the bikes ready to be packed & trucked, the tix were in our pocket.

The more relaxing part could now begin: walk, explore, try out Novosibirsk,its sights, tastes, business and surrounds. This included a rather unfortunate visit to a ritzy barber ending in a far too-shot beard trim ….. made me look like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

 

The Trans Siberian Railway trip itself was an interesting experience.
Honestly I had expected a little more from this. It is widely booked by international travellers and Russian alike, but certainly a tourist drawcard in Russia, some travelling all the way to Vladivostok. I had already met some travellers, who used this mode of transport, hopping off-and-on to stay at various towns and take in their sights.
Our 2-bed cabin, top of the range available, was just above ‘spartanic’.

Clean alright and the Provodnik looked after us very well, after I appeased her with a little present.

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our Provodniks awaiting us back

However, the word ‘Service’ does not appear in the Russian vocabulary. It seems as if the interests and needs of any guest come only second to the convenience of when and how the staff want to do their chores. Chores they must be, as almost, actually ‘everybody’, puts on a most miserable facial expression.
No signage other than in Russia, so Google Translate camera action came in handy. But the most intriguing for me was the restaurant car and its staff! Three, or were there four stout women ruled the roost, initially in uniform, for the remainder in civvies, but just at the penultimate stop changing back to uniforms . The info about opening times on the menu were simply over-ridden by these women’s needs. I walked into the car at 8.30 expecting to take a breakfast, when all kinds of underwear were spread over every seat for drying. “Niet”, the restaurant car opened at 9.30 I was told, despite the fact that food was delivered into other compartments. What was I not understanding and/or missing out?? Well, I shall die wondering …
Food served was basic, a little disappointing as I had pictures in mind of a more royal, Zar-like environment with black Caviar and champagne sitting on red velvet, lushly upholstered chairs seeing the landscape slowly go past …. “Puff!” goes another phantasy.

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the ever-going samovar

My reality was drawn double curtains, which despite some dis-approving looks, I relentlessly pulled open. Boxes of onion supply on the seat next to me. Caviar was not on the menu, neither champagne, so I order beer and skittles instead. Naaah, not skittles, now bowling on this train. Instead I went for the Russian-exotic meal option: sampling the likes of bear, elk and boar meat in various forms. Unfortunately I was not able to differentiate which one was which, it all came served on a single plate. The staff didn’t understand my questions seeking clarification, so no help from there – what a surprise !!?? It tasted alright – all of it! I would have it again, but shall demand to recognise what is what 😉

In the evening these women were joined by men, travellers, husbands, lovers or else – I wouldn’t have a clue. I just was amazed how boundaries are blurred, non-existent, but that is Russia. The women clearly enjoyed some groping, but – to their defence – it may have been their husbands or lovers – anyway it is their groping not mine – so I shall not pass judgement, rather report my bemusement.

48 hours are almost a tad too long, but Neil and I had plenty of other things to occupy our mind. We even watched a movie using our new mobile plan (unlimited date) for 16 bucks/month to the fullest. At the various stops, some short others longer, we left the train and – time permitting – got some food from the shops in front of the railway station.

Eventually we arrived in Moscow, got a Tourist travel card (recommended) and soon had found out accommodation, only a 20 mins walk away from the red square.

 

Moscow

What can I say?! I shall keep it for the next report, giving me a better catching-up feel ….