The Last Hoorah - (not FF)

Another year another Euro-tour - BMW F650GS, Triumph Tiger 800 and Honda Varadero venture to Slovakia.

Still a member
A sobering fact – this is the last of our European tours, as a member. By next summer, we will no longer be in the club – although what that actually means is yet to be even vaguely defined. Ironic perhaps therefore that this year, our destination was to one of the newest members. Even if it is 14 years since they joined, Slovakia is still flush with the enthusiasm of membership. Corporations are bringing manufacturing plants into the country. The drabness previously behind the iron curtain is still visible but is being replaced by colour and vigour. In fact there is not a lot of difference when crossing the Danube at Dubrovnik; although Slovakian villages, tucked away in the wooded hills, have a long way to go to match the chocolate box scenes of Austria or Germany.
Not all those who wander are lost…
This year we were only three: Tom on Varadero 1000, Mike on Triumph Tiger 800 and me on the BMW F650GS. The trip started well at the Tunnel reception, when Mike announced that his GPS had stopped working. Past Robblogs will hint at the joy that this news was received by me. I don’t think either that it resulted in any more navigational errors than previously – indeed, by agreeing the routes on paper, with perhaps extra detail, it was fresher in the memory for the following day. Tom does run a GPS, but is less forceful at implementing it – and his maps ran out after Austria.
City Life
Mike runs a Brussels company, so his flat in the city was our first overnight stop. Happily, he knew the objectives and led the negotiations in and out. (more than could be said for our politicians!). Mike was this year’s planner, even if he had to write it down on paper at the last minute.
Distance no object
If you’ve only got 10 days, and are heading for Slovakia, there is going to be a lot of riding. Autobahns accomplish the distance, but don’t satisfy the soul, so deviations were planned. The first of these, was in the Ardenne, for a quick look at the Spa-Francorhamps circuit. I learned later that the section we came across was Turn 7 / Malmady. A touring car race had just started, with much squealing and gnashing of gears, but after a couple of laps of observation, we had to continue our journey. There seems a lot of geographical similarities here to the Nürburgring; although of course, Spa is not open to all, and the green hell is no longer on the F1 calendar
Now into Germany and the change was significant. There are still a lot of unlimited sections of Autbahn and the locals make every use of it. The principle of over-taker-priority is also upheld, to the extent that a fast driver will intimidate anyone foolish enough to be slower and in the outside lane. Closing fast before finally braking at the last minute, if the action has not worked. Empty 3-lanes can safely take 120mph, but busy 2-lanes are less well suited. On a bike, the intimidation is even more unnerving and Mike observed that it was probably safer to travel at 95, rather than 80, as it might lessen the impact !
Across to Karlsruhe and towards Stuttgart, we encountered the most chaotic services ever devised. The single Pforzheim services serve both east- and westbound. That would be bad enough, forcing eastbound re-fuelers to travel the wrong way through the area, but at the weekend, HGVs use this as a camping site, so any signage is obliterated by walls of cabs, curtains and containers, lining the parking area. It took us about 30 minutes to find fuel, spend a Pfennig (Cent) and escape in the right direction. Small consolation that the Germans can get it wrong too!
Glimpse of the future
Our overnight was in the pretty town of Babenhausen, SE of Ulm. Mike had booked an automated hotel, which emailed/texted the door entry-codes to us that afternoon. It worked OK, although was not very social – is this the sign of hotels to come ?. We made up for that by finding the local Greek restaurant, which satisfied the evening hunger; and a bakery, which satisfied breakfast pangs.
Forsaking the Autobahns now, we passionately passed Oberammergau, found a good mountain road over the Achenpass and into Austria for lunch by the Achensee. This was more like it, although Salzburg was busy rebuilding its roads and tricky to negotiate – whatever planning we had done. A bit more Autobahn, then a very peaceful late evening meal at the Gasthof in Waldhofen-an-der-Ybbs. (Lots of wood around here, but no golfers)
Wind up
No respite from the mileage necessary to reach our destination, we headed for Vienna and the Autobahn to Bratislava. I nearly caused a disaster by thinking that SLO on the sign was for Slovakia but realised in time that SK was more appropriate.
One cannot fail to be impressed by the wind farm on the Austrian side of the Slovakian border. There must be 100s of the beasts, all waving their arms on the Danube plain. Probably barely equivalent to a single unit in big power station, but still impressive.
Get your kicks
In Slovakia now, although the Autobahn looks no different to Austria. We finally abandoned it at Bankska Bystrica and joined Route 66, which was as good as it implied. Winding, undulating, generally well-surfaced and little traffic. Well worth the trip.
Reality kicks in
I reluctantly admit that GPS can be very useful in finding the hotel. Mike was now using his phone’s navigational aids for that, but he must have done something strange as he took us to an unsigned, rather ramshackle looking site with long single-storey buildings forming a square. As we rode in, excited screams from many children filled the air and rather dishevelled people appeared from all directions. This was not our hotel – we think it was probably a refugee camp. Slovakia was very reluctant to take anyone up to 2017 – have they relented now, but banished them to old barracks, out of sight? These poor people have nothing and here we were, visitors from a world of plenty. I am not sure who was most shocked – us or them, but I am sorry to say we did not hang about to bridge the divide but turned tail and ran. We, in the UK, have isolated ourselves from events which we have helped cause and now regard it as not our problem.
Jack Daniels
The hotel, when we found it, was fine. We were there only 3 nights, but managed to win round the staff, who were initially a little wary of motorcyclists. Apparently the local Hells Angels meet there every year: they drink a lot of Jack Daniels.
Mainly in the hills ?
Our first free day in Slovakia saw us explore the Spiska Magur hills to the north – and the river marking the Polish border. This turned very wet after coming south and deciding the rain would be less in valley. Hah ! – stair-rods and flooding near Poprad. If really adventurous , we could have gone to the Ukraine border, but that would need a bit longer – we only had 2 free days here, so explored some more of the villages in the hills for the rain-shortenned second day. In retrospect, we should have explored the spectacular castle Spissky Hrad, which appeared to us, on the way back to the hotel, but the last evening’s beer beckoned. Definitely more time needed here.
Big Blue
Last night in Slovakia was on the Danube, SE of Bratislava. Its not hard to see why the Danube plain is as wide as it is. The river here is contained by flood defences, but is still huge – more like the Thames estuary at Southend – except that this river has nearly 1000 miles to go before the Black Sea.
Narrow escape
Now some serious mileage to get us back to Munich, , via some superb Austrian alpine roads to break up the monotony. At one stage, I foolishly braked hard to take advantage of a signed Gasthof. Mike was close and missed the turn, but we went straight back onto the Autobahn, not knowing that Mike had taken the next immediate turn to meet at the Gasthof. When we finally met, I confessed my error and promised to stop at the next opportunity. Of course, this did not now arise for another 100 miles, by which time lunch was over. However, a kind hotelier took pity on us and provided sustenance, while erecting his huge TV screen for the German-Mexico match that evening. Luckily, we did not hang about for the match, as he might have been less than amenable after that.
Old Friends
After overnight next to the Ammersee meeting some ex-pat friends of Mike, we headed for Brussels via a mixture of roads. The mainstays of Europe here are very rich and pleasant lands, each with individual character – and many Brits have taken advantage of that. Everyone here is our neighbour and we could have continued the 40 years of cooperation and integration, whilst still keeping individual character. Instead we have chosen isolation, under the pretence of a Victorian vision of ourselves as a world power. If our 18 years of Euro-tours has contributed some good to this integration, then Cameron’s totally unnecessary and catastrophic attempt to lance the boil of UKIP, has destroyed it – and a lot more besides. Maybe, in 20 years, the folly of all this can be admitted, but I suspect the real perpetrators will escape either by hiding (Cameron), or finding others to blame (Boris et al.)

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Euro tour.

As ever, an excellent read Graham. I'm just glad I've had a lovely break in France, otherwise I would have been quite jealous!


Euro tour

I agree with Colin; an excellent summary as usual. Luckily no crashes or breakdowns this time.