Orson’s Travel Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Mountains

Western Scotland & Northern Ireland

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A plan was hatched to do Scotland properly. I had been once before in 2003 when the Guzzi was in a friend’s barn in Shropshire. At that time, I only had a week and had only made it as far as the Isle of Skye before time ran out and I had to turn around and head south. Still, what I had seen was enough to whet my appetite for more.

A P.M. was fired off to a friend in Scotland, asking for a few route tips. Instead, he went far above the call of duty and provided Google maps and plenty of suggestions on where to stay. He even went as far as to arrange an oil change in Aberdeen for my Thruxton. I hafta doff my chapeau to him. I owe him the equivalent in return. Unfortunately, as I headed out the door to the airport, I left his maps and printed advice on the kitchen counter. D’oh!

After an overnight flight to the U.K., I arrived in Nottingham and loaded up the Thruxton. By 2 P.M., I was on the road and heading north along the A1. At Scotch Corner, I turned westward on the wonderful A864 across the Yorkshire Dales. It was at this point that the team orson photographer realized that he had forgotten the camera’s battery back in Nottingham. He tried to blame it on jet lag but, his actions were inexcusable

At around 6 P.M, it began to rain lightly (this would be a recurring theme) and decided on a nice inn near Hawes. The plan for the following day would be to make time on the M6 motorway in order to catch the final day of the 100th running of the legendary Scottish Six Days Trial held around Fort William. I got lost in Glasgow and ended up heading northeast instead of northwest. I finally realized my mistake when I reached Stirling but, it turned out to be a fortuitous mistake as, the A84 turned out to be a great ride. Ha! Let’s see yer GPS do that!

Back when I was but a wee lad, the Scottish Six Days Trial was a major motorcycling event, dutifully reported on by the U.S. bike rags along with the ISDT and the Motocross des Nations. Sadly, in this day of freestyle MX and stunt shows, the trial has lost it’s luster and like the Daytona 200, lives off its former glory. Still, I felt an urge to witness this unique event in which trials riders cover as much as 100 miles per day over 6 days.

From my hotel, I rode up towards Kinlochleven, not really sure what I was looking for. After riding through the town and seeing no signs of the event, I eventually came across many cars parked alongside the road. A short walk up a dirt road soon had me at one of the sections along a rocky creek bed. It was interesting to see how the different riders tackled the sections, from the apprehensive youngsters to the wiley gray beards. Although the skies threatened to rain, it stayed mostly dry.

I then rode a few more miles to reach the famous Pipeline Section. Since I didn’t have a camera. It’s difficult to convey how long and how steep it is. It’s so long, they separate it into four sections. It was amazing to watch the riders switch from unstoppable bulldozer mode to ballerina mode then back to bulldozer several times.

Later in the afternoon, I rode to Fort William for the awards ceremony and to walk around the pits. A couple of blasts from the past were there with the team Ossa truck as well as the newly reformed Greeves factory. I was hoping to score a 100th SSDT t-shirt but, they were sold out and I had to settle for a beanie.

The next day, I woke up to face of an ominous rainy weather forecast. I was to ride across the breadth of Scotland to meet up with my friend in Aberdeen on the east coast. Amazingly, I rode through bright sunshine all the way up until 2 P.M. when a brief shower finally lashed out at me. Upon reaching Aberdeen, directions from a friendly local soon had me my friend’s front door.

My friend lives in an amazing home, formerly a church. If you’ve ever watched a James Bond film where the protagonist is invited into Dr. No or Goldfinger’s lair, that’s what it was like. A vast open area with a couple Ducatis and a KTM motard overlooked by a huge stained glass window. I think having a Bond villain’s lair is everyone’s fantasy. Impressive!

Stained glass

Following his advice, we agreed to make the fishing port of Ullapool our base of operations on the west coast. We left Aberdeen the next morning headed towards, Edinburgh. As I was just following my friend rather than relying on a map, I had no idea where I was but, the sun was out and the traffic was light so, all was well in the world. The highlight of the day had to be the road on the north shore of Loch Ness. What a magnificent motorcycling road with fast, sweeping curves and lots of places to pass slower traffic.

Looking north from the south end of Loch Ness

Loch Ness

After a drenching rain, we finally reached Ullapool just after 7 P.M. A fish and chips dinner from the local chippie, a hot shower, a wee dram of scotch and it was off to never never land to sleep the sleep of the dead.

Sunset over Ullapool

Ullapool sunset
The next day we headed north, using the single track road that hugged the coast.

Heading towards Achiltibuie on the Coigach coast

Coigach coast

Go north

Continuing northwards

North

Encountering two other bikers heading south

Bikers

The coastline reminded me of Norway at times

Coast

Coastt

Despite the threatening rain, we remained dry as we approached the north coast.

Loch

Near the north coast, the Highland terrain opened up and offered vast vistas

Vast

Open

Lake

We reached Durness on the north coast at around 4 P.M. before deciding to return to Ullapool via the main highway.

Views heading south

South

Southh

Southhh

Southhhh

Dropping down into Ullapool from the north

Ullapool

In Ullapool, we managed to find a shop that sold cheap digital cameras so, apologies if the pictures aren’t up to snuff. We returned to our friendly hosts at our bed & breakfast just outside Ullapool for a hot shower and a nice steak dinner. After a good night’s sleep, we headed south from Ullapool, again following the coast.

Glen

Vista

Mountain

The Isle of Skye hoves into view off our starboard

Sea view

Belach na Ba kind of surprised me. Being so close to the coast, I wasn’t prepared for something that resembled an Alpine pass.

My friend heading downhill on his Ducati

Belach na Ba

Loch Carron. Somehow, dark and moody seems to fit this location better than bright sunshine

Loch Carron

By 5 P.M. we were still on the west coast and my friend had been hoping to make it to Aberdeen that night! At Locharron, we bade our farewells and went our separate ways, my friend back to Aberdeen while I headed back to Ullapool for one more night before catching my ferry to the Outer Hebrides.

Outer Hebrides

The following morning I woke up to more rain. I suited up and made the short ride into town to the ferry pier. Only three other bikes waiting to board. You must really want to go to get there.

Hebrides ferry

By the time the ferry reached Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis at midday, the weather had improved. The rugged Isle of Lewis and Harris contain some of the oldest rock formations in Europe. While the scenery might be stark and bleak, I’ve always been attracted to these “edge of the world” type places.

Desolate isolation on the Isle of Lewis

Lewis

The standing stones of Callanish whose meaning has been lost in the mists of time.

Callanish

From Callanish, I turn south along the rugged western coast of Lewis

Rugged

West

Westt

Westtt

I continued south until grass started growing out of the asphalt. A sure sign I was getting near the end and would have to turn around

Grass

I should note that these aren’t ideal sport touring roads or even motorcycling roads at all but, if you have an itch for remote places, the Outer Hebrides definitely scratches that itch.

Pointing north

West coast

I rejoin the main highway and head to the southern part of the island known as Harris which is even more rugged than Lewis

Harris

In the town of Tarbert, I find a cozy bed & breakfast run by an elderly woman who reminds me of my mother. I’m struck by the friendliness and warmth of the Hebridean people.

The next morning, I continue south to catch another ferry, this time to the Isle of North Uist. I make a quick detour to the small island of Scalpay where I again reach the end of the road and am forced to turn around.

Scalpay

Cross Harris

I’m surprised when the sun makes a rare appearance to reveal some pristine, sandy beaches on South Harris

Beach

Sandy

Sandyy

I reach the ferry port at Leverburgh to find that I am the only motorcyclist waiting in line. You must really, really want to get somewhere to be the only motorcyclist.

Leverburgh

The ferry ride to North Uist took about 50 minutes but, it was no simple crossing as the captain had to zig-zag his way amongst a veritable mine field of rocks and islets. He definitely earns his paycheck. Although not quite as rugged as Lewis & Harris, North Uist seems even less populated and remote

North Uist

Sunny

A lonely telephone box stands sentinel along a back road

Phone

North Uist is connected to the Isles of Benbecula and South Uist by a series of causeways. A local told me that during a bad, winter storm, a car and its occupants were swept off a causeway and out to sea by a rogue wave.

Another squall about to drench me blows in off the Atlantic. The wind was blowing the entire time I was on the Outer Hebrides. I can only imagine what the winter storms must be like

Squal

I made it as far south as the Isle of Eriskay off the southern end of South Uist before turning around and heading north. About 10 miles from my hotel, I was hit by yet another drenching squall. Suddenly, the Thruxton sputtered to a stop as if it had run out of fuel. Great! I was stranded in the middle of nowhere, with the rain pouring down. I peered into the gas tank and gave it a shake. I pushed the starter button again and, she fired right up! Hmmm. Maybe the carbs sucked in some rain or sumthin. I high tailed it to the hotel before she changed her mind again. That would be the only hiccup during the trip.

The next morning on the main road on North Uist (seriously, this is the main road), a herd of sheep blocks rush hour traffic. By the time they had been herded to their paddock, a four-car traffic jam had been created

Sheep

I made my way to Lochmaddy where the MV Hebrides would take me on the 2 hour crossing to the Isle of Skye.

MV Hebrides

Once again, I was the only motorcycle on the boat. I didn’t see any motorcycles that looked like they were ridden by locals on the Hebrides. The few bikes I saw were obviously touring. With their roads and their weather, you’d have to be serious to be a regular motorcyclist on the Hebrides.

Once on Skye, the weather let lose with a vengeance. The forecast called for two solid days of rain so, I did what every perfeshunal dilettante does and found a nice hotel to hole up in and get some laundry done.

Rain

Eventually, the rain let up a bit but, not enuff to give me blue skies. Portree is the main town on Skye

Portree

The Cuillin Hills in the distance on the Isle of Skye

Cuillin Hills

Ferry number 4 would take me from Skye back on to the mainland

Skye ferry

Argyll

The Morvern Peninsula is an isolated place of wonderfully stark scenery

Morvern

In the little town of Lochaline, I stumble upon the White House restaurant that serves locally sourced meals. It was here that I had one of the best meals of the trip. These unexpected gems that you happen upon by chance are part of the allure of travel for me.

Heading back north along Loch Linnhe with ever-present threatening skies

Loch Linnhe

Ferry Number 5 takes me across Loch Linnhe

Loch Linnhe ferry

Once again heading south, I make a detour thru Glen Coe. This is one of those places, like Yosemite, whose beauty stands out even in inclement weather

Glen Coe1

Glen Coe2

Glen Coe3

I continue south through the port city of Oban which kind of reminds me of small version of San Francisco. A western port with a slightly seedy underbelly. I make it as far south as Lochgilphead before a bit of rain followed by a strong, cold wind makes me stop for the night.

The next morning I head south along the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula on the A83. With a good view of the ocean and a salty sea air, it stirs memories of my days in Northern California

Kintyre1

Kintyre2

Kintyre3

At Campbeltown, I fill up with fuel and turn north following the single track lane up the eastern side of the peninsula

Kintyre4

At Claonaig, I await ferry number 6 to take me across as the Isle of Arran looms in the distance

Arran1

Arran2

Impressive mountains of Arran

Arran3

I head east across the middle of the island and get a view of the Firth of Clyde with the Scottish mainland in the distance

Firth of Clyde

A one hour ferry ride takes me back to the mainland at Androssan where I make a quick hop south to get a hotel in Troon in preparation for tomorrow’s ferry to Northern Ireland.

I wake up bright and early on Friday and make my way to the ferry terminal. This is the day before the North West 200 race in Northern Ireland and this time, I surely won’t be the only motorcyclist on the boat. I’m one of the first bikes in line and get to watch the bikes accumulate

Ferry queue

I soon begin to notice a trend. Most of the race fans are in their 50s or close to their 50s. I see a few riders who might be in their mid-30s and none in their twenties. I’m wondering if high insurance rates are the cause of the lack of youth or maybe it coincides with the birth of the internet some twenty years ago.

Soon the signal is given and the horde of bikes is herded on board. I figure there must be between 200 and 300 motorcycles

Bikes

Northern Ireland

I arrive in the port of Larne at about midday and am met by fellow Guzzisti, BelfastGuzzi from the V11lemans web site and his friend, both on Guzzis, who have kindly offered to provide me a tour of the northern coast

Guzzi

The North Antrim coast road doesn’t seem to get much press but, it’s a fantastic ride. Much too tight and lined with stone walls for any kind of serious sport riding but, the scenery more than makes up for that

Antrim1

BelfastGuzzi takes me on a road less traveled that hugs the coast and offers spectacular views of Torr Head

Antrim2

The picture doesn’t adequately convey the steepness of the single track lane descending the hillside

Antrim3

Antrim4

Antrim5

Antrim6

Antrim7

Unfortunately, race day dawns with a windy rain. I walk from my hotel down to the grassy viewing area at the Metropole and by the time I find a place to sit, the rain is diminishing

Metropole

By the 11:00 starting time of the North West 200 race, the rain has stopped although the track remains wet. The 600 Supersport class leads off and Aussie Cameron Donald engages local lad Alastair Seeley in a ding-dong back and forth battle. Donald’s Honda seems to have the ponies but, Seeley’s Suzuki gets him under braking and manages to hold on for the win.

Unfortunately, during the Superbike race, a bike spews its oil on the racing line as it begins to rain again. Cleaning up the track and a bomb threat to the paddock throw a wrench into the works and, by 4 P.M. the organizers decide to call the event in the name of safety. I can’t say I blame them. following a mist of spray at 190 mph is no place to be.

Still, I’m glad I went as I got a good feel for the event and enjoyed the atmosphere. Excuse the crappy hand held photos

Entering the Metropole Section after a 160 mph straightaway

Metropole entry

The famous railroad bridge

Bridge

which leads up a slight rise into a blind right hand kink

Kink

I walked further down the coast to get a shot at the top of Black Hill

Black Hill

As luck would have it, the day before and the day after the race were rather nice. I mount up and head west towards Donegal in Ireland

NI

You can hardly tell when you cross the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. If there were any signs, I missed them. I make my way to Glenveagh National Park against a considerable head wind. I’m surprised by the sparse vegetation, almost looking a bit like New Mexico. Not what I expected of Ireland.

Glenveagh

After about 4 hours, I reach the west coast of Ireland

Rosses

I turn back towards the east and what was once a headwind, now became a tail wind…woo hoo!

A sectarian mural in Northern Ireland. Bobby Sands and Che

Sectarian

I continue eastward on the scenic Barnes Gap scenic route thru bucolic countryside

Barnes Gap

I had planned to go see the Joey Dunlop memorial in Ballymoney the following day but the weather once again foiled my plans. High winds with gusts up to 70 mph created havoc across Northern Ireland toppling trees and making it generally unsafe to try and ride a motorcycle. The high winds also forced the cancelation of my 5 P.M. ferry so, I had to book for the following day.

The next morning, the winds had subsided and I made my way back to the ferry port in Larne.

I don’t know which is more impressive…this guy riding an Aprilia 125cc two-stroke from Scotland

Aprilia

or this guy who rode a BSA Lightning from Switzerland

BSA

I arrive back on the Scottish mainland at Cairnyan and begin to make my way towards England across the Scottish Borders district

Scottish Borders

After spending the night in Carlisle, I begin my last day on the road with my last bit of two-lane across the scenic Northern Pennines

Pennines1

Pennines2

At Scotch Corner, I grab lunch then hit the M1 Motorway and make the final blast down to Nottingham. Despite all that rain in the forecast, I really only had about four bouts of riding in solid rain. The rest of the times I was dodging rain showers or riding in a drizzle which wasn’t hardly like rain at all and, even had a few spells of sunshine. I had previously rated the Kiwis as the friendliest people I had encountered but, after this trip, I think the Scots and the Irish are on par with the Kiwis. Outstanding hospitality.

Trip stats:

Mileage: 3000 miles
Travel days: 18
Rest days: 3 (due to rain & winds)
Ferry crossings: 9
Police encounters: 2
Police interaction: 0
Midge attacks: 1

Route Maps:

Scotland

NI Map

South Wales

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During my recent visit to the U.K., they were experiencing unseasonably warm weather for this time of year. In the U.S., they would call it an Indian Summer. I dunno what they would call it in Wales. A Druid Summer?

I arrived in Nottingham and reunited with my Triumph Thruxton after a two year absence. The Trumpet fired right up as if it were only yesterday. We set off towards Wales under cement gray skies but, with an improving forecast. When I say cement gray skies, I don’t mean cement-colored but that, it actually looks like the sky is filled with cement. A thick pea soup mixture that dulls everything it touches. The grayness persisted for the entire first day of the trip so, not many pictures.

After overnighting in Brecon, Wales, day two dawned under similarly gray skies but, the weatherman was calling for patches of sun as I headed south across the Black Mountains. As I crossed over the top of the mountains, the fog was so thick that, I had to slow down considerably and had to allow a car towing a caravan (camper) to pass ðŸ˜Ū

By 10:30 A.M., I was beginning to detect some brightness through the mist

Mist

Fall colours

Fall

Welsh backroads tend to be a tad narrow, down to one lane wide in places with pullouts to allow other traffic to get by

Backroad

By noon, the sun was out in full force as I approached Swansea on the south coast

Sun

After getting through Swansea (a lovely looking city), I made my way to the Gower Peninsula. I stopped at the seaside village of Port Eynon for a lunch of fish & chips. I talked to a couple of local riders, one on a Harley and the other on a beautifully maintained, 30 year old Kawasaki Z900. I continued on to the town of Rhossili where, I found lodgings at a hotel overlooking Worm’s Head

Worm

Looking north from Worm’s Head to the wide expanse of beach. The little black specks in the water are surfers. Yes, surfers in Wales…in October

Surf

Sunset over Worm’s Head

Sunset

The next morning, I was so taken by the beauty of the locale that I had to snap a few more pictures

Morning

Exploring the narrow roads along the coast. In the U.S. this would either be a bicycle or golf cart path. It’s hard to make out due to the brightness of the sun but, that’s the Bristol Channel on the horizon

Path

On my third day, I left the Gower Peninsula and made my way around the Loughor Estuary, following the coast towards the Pembrokeshire National Seashore. The rugged Pembokeshire coast near the town of Bosherston

Bosherston

Continuing westward, there were many other people out enjoying the fine autumn weather

Westward

Looking back eastward along the narrow, coastal road

Eastward

I spent the third night in Haverfordwest before continuing the next day towards St. Brides Head in far Western Wales

St Bridehead

The village of St. Brides is as peaceful and idylic as they come. Location, location, location

St Brides

Nearby, two fishermen were setting their pots

Fishing

I continued north along the coast, trying to stay as close to the shore as possible by following the narrow, one-lane roads. Less sport and more touring really. Looking back south along the coast

Coast

Approaching the town of Broad Haven

Broadhaven

Coastal farms were in abundance

Farm

A solitary stroller enjoying the fine day along one of the broad, Welsh beaches near the town of Newgale

Beach

Time was beginning to run out and I had to begin to make my way northeast towards Nottingham. The mysterious Preseli Hills from which the bluestones of Stonehenge eminate, hove into view

Preseli

I rejoin the coast at Cardigan and follow the coastal road northwards past retirement and vacation homes. Near Aberystwyth, I find a nice country hotel with a splendid view and a fine restaurant. I enjoy a nice meal with accompanying adult beverages for my last night on the road. Wales is the closest place I’ve found that matches the beauty of Northern California. Sonoma County or Wales?

Wales

The next morning dawns bright and shiney and after a full Welsh Breakfast, I point the bike eastwards back towards England but, not before getting a few final pictures of the stunning Welsh countryside

Welsh

Welshh

Valley

The roads open up as the terrain begins to change. The Triumph falls into a relaxed pace as if trying to delay the journey’s end. It seems happiest when just puttering along at 65 to 70 mph on a lazily sweeping two-laned roads. A steady, unhurried beat like a Miles Davis composition 🙂

Home

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for better weather. To expect 4 days of continuous sunshine in October is to be tempting fate but, somehow it was as if I flew through the eye of a needle. I get the feeling I may have to pay on a later journey.

Route map:

Map

Trip stats:

Riding Days: 5
Rest Days: 0
Mileage: 800
Police encounters: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Sheep encounters: 1,000,019
Bee stings: 0

2005 Eastern Europe

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The loosely knit plan was to go from northern Italy over to Romania, hit the Carpathian mountains and follow them back into Slovakia and the Czech Republic, then continue to the UK. Unfortunately, The Alps were between me & Romania. It’s a tough job but, someone had to do it. From Parma, I headed north to the south shore of Lake Garda.

Garda

My route took me along the west bank of Lake Garda. Quite an impressive road as it is dug out of a sheer cliff face. About half the time was spent diving into tunnels dug in the cliffside then darting back out into the bright sunshine.

Gards Road

Continuing north towards Madonna Di Campiglio, I traversed the northern Italian wine growing regions. If there were ever an Olympics for scenery, Italy would be on the podium every time — my favorite European country.

Alps

The pic below shows where I will build my house. That will be my driveway and those will be my grapevines and that will be the view that I will wake up to every morning and *pop*…and then I wake up and realize I was dreaming. Especially when I find out a tiny little two bedroom bungalow around here goes for about 800,000 Euros.

Vineyards

I encountered these Germans aboard Italian Aermacchi-Harley Davidsons at a roadside cafe near Cortina. They were just returning from the Giro d’Italia, held the previous week.

Aermacchi

Can you imagine pounding the Alps into submission aboard 175cc bikes? YEEHAW! They told me that their top speed was 130 kph… fast enough to make you see gawd when you went to grab a handful of those drum brakes.

On the second day of my vacation, I proceeded to fight my way through the Italian Alps, bypassing the Passo Di Stelvio because I think that 500 hairpins in 11 kilometers is a wee bit much. Passing Bozeno, I made my way to the chi chi Italian ski resort of Cortina D’Ampezzo. I think Giacomo Agostini has a home here.

I got lost, and when I turned around I saw this view. Sometimes it pays to get lost.

Dolomites

No matter how many times you see them, the Dolomites never fail to impress. They shoot out of the earth like giant T-Rex teeth ripping the sky to shreds.

Did I mention I loved Italy? You could spend years between the Alps and the Appenines and never run out of roads to ride. Here’s a typically beautiful Alpine village near the Italo-Austrian frontier.

Tyrol

The SÞd-Tyrol region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before WW I when it was ceded over to the Italians. Lots of blonde Italians here. Another mountain village.

Mountain

Austria is like some strange other-world where gas station attendants resemble doctoral candidates back in the U.S. Motorists don flourescent orange vests just to change a flat tire. Every valley offers a picture postcard alpine view. It seems almost too good to be true. It makes you wonder what craziness lies beneath the surface of all this perfection. I often wonder if I’d want to live someplace as perfect as this or some chaotic place like Mexico where you can do pretty much what you want… must strike a balance. Coming from the chaos of an Arab country, it’s a bit disconcerting to encounter such orderliness.

When I arrived in Graz I saw an information kiosk. I stopped and looked it over. On a wall was a map of the city with little lights denoting the locations of different hotels. When you selected a hotel on a touch screen, a light on the map lit up for the corresponding hotel, and a picture with a description of the hotel showed up on the touch screen. It was almost a bit too much for me to take in. In spite of all this orderliness, I managed to make my way to the Hungarian border relatively unruffled.

After Graz, the terrain gradually dissolved into rolling hills… not much to write home about sport-touring wise. From the Alps, the terrain generally settled into rolling hills and then into a lumpy carpet sorta terrain. After you’ve ridden through the Alps for a couple of days, everything else sorta pales… still interesting in that never-been-there sorta way.

Hungarian plains.

Plains

Sign

The best Hungarian goulash I’ve ever tasted.

Goulash

It never ceases to amaze me… the scope of the Roman Empire. From Portugal on the Atlantic to Romania on the Black Sea, someone who speaks one of the romance languages can essentially get by. All the languages are that similar. Truly a legacy of the power and influence of the Roman Empire. Quite a heavy police presence, though. They’re mostly parked on the side of the road. I was lucky and avoided detection… hehehehe

Budapest is amazingly beautiful. The architechture is flabergasting. This place must have survived WW II relatively unscathed. Budapest’s famous Chain Bridge.

Bridge

The architecture is truly mind boggling. So much is lost on modern architecture, though. In reality, nowadays, I don’t think they could afford the craftsmanship that went into these old buildings… sigh.

Buda

Overlooking the Danube.

Danube

Children prepare to take part in a folkloric dance show in central Budapest.

Dancers

Hungary is truly in a state of transition. You’ll see the latest Porsche pulled up alongside a thirty year old Trabant at a stop light. They seem to be doing quite well for themselves since the fall of Communism. The only bad thing is… EVERYONE seems to smoke! I guess it’s a carryover from the bad old days of communism when things were so bleak that just a hit of nicotine gave someone something to look forward to.

While I was in Budapest, there seemed to be some sort of biker rally going on. Hundreds of bikers escorted by police, made their way through downtown Budapest, honking and waving as they went. I wish I could have joined in, but my bike was back at the hotel.

Bikers

One day from Budapest and I was at the Romanian border. I was a bit apprehensive as I didn’t really know what to expect or even whether I needed a visa. I pulled in behind a Swiss couple in a station wagon who were bringing in aid for an orphanage or something. The customs guy was going through their stuff with a fine-toothed comb. I gulped and waited my turn, trying not to think about the movie Midnight Express. He shot me a gruff look as if to say, What da heck do YOU want? He walked behind my bike and saw the Italian plates and told me to go on. OH! thankyouthankyouthankyou! Yes sir! Vroooom! I was in.

Entering Romania.

Romania

I’ve never been anywhere that had such beautifully crafted houses of worship, whether churches or mosques. For such a poor country, the amount of workmanship and labor that went into their churches was impressive.

Church

Uhmm…I think I’ll keep moving on.

Dracula

The terrain was beginning to have more hills. The Carpathians couldn’t be too far off. Approaching the city of Brasov, I saw my first glimpse of the Carpathian mountains. Not as impressive as the Alps or even the Pyrennes, but still impressive, nevertheless.

Carpathians

Romanian roads started out ok, and then steadily deteriorated. My last day in Romania I must have averaged 20 kph. Potholes just waiting to strike. Then it started to rain. Oh woe is me. A double whammy. Oncoming cars in your lane weren’t trying to run you off the road… they were just dodging and weaving around potholes. I was dreading a flat or a bent rim, but the mighty Guzzi escaped unscathed.

Rough

I could just imagine bending a rim then having to hole up someplace while waiting for a new one. Relaaaax…stay another night…it wont hurt a bite…errr…a BIT…it wont hurt a bit. Yeah… uh huh.

Actually, the hotels in Romania were easily on par with those in western Europe. I was pleasantly surprised. However, their coffee sucked. If there’s a special hell for coffee lovers, it must be something like Romania. I guess it depends on what you’re used to. Romanians may go to Italy and grimace when they drink Italian coffee. Their orange juice, on the other hand, was excellent… freshly squeezed.

The terrain was gorgeous, reminding me a lot of the Pacific Northwest. I’d say Romania is 40 to 50 years behind western Europe… probably on the same level as Latin America. Once they get their roads fixed it’ll be a great place to tour.

A Romanian lake.

Lake

I couldn’t follow the Carpathians into the Ukraine because of visa requirements, so I dodged back into Hungary, then made a quick lunge to the north into Slovakia to rejoin the Carpathians. The High Tatras are the highest peaks in the Carpathian range. This part of the Carpathians is a national park in Slovakia, as well as in neighboring Poland. Unfortunately, the weather still hadn’t improved much, so I didn’t have the opportunity to take any good pictures of the High Tatras.

I had one little incident with a Slovakian bus and a mud hole. There was a section of road that had been flooded by recent rains. Off to the side they had constructed a makeshift bypass. The bypass was also muddy from the rains. I had just about finished negotiating my way across the bypass when a bus appeared on the other side. Rather than waiting for me to exit, the “roads” scholar behind the wheel of this juggernaut decided to proceed. In doing so, he cut off my exit line, leaving me only a huge mud puddle to go through. I wasn’t about to risk seeing how deep that puddle was, so I came to a stop. As he came around me, his rear wheels started coming closer and closer. The sides of the bus started to rub against my left saddlebag.

I tried to hold the bike up, but I was no match for the bus. Over into the mud went the Guzzi. I managed to not join it in the mud. The bus driver is looking at me in his rearview mirrors as if to say, “wtf are you doing in the mud?” While I was looking at him as if to say, “wtf are you doing driving a bus?” I struggled to lift the Goose and finally managed to extricate it onto dry land. Nobody in the following cars came to my aid. I guess they didn’t want to join the fun in the mud. I was fearing a broken turn signal or a cracked fairing, but I was lucky. Nothing more than a liberal coating of mud. The bike now looked appropriately battle-tested.

In all my travels, Slovakia more closely resembled Northern California than any other place I’ve been to. The only thing is, the roads aren’t in quite as good shape. On the plus side, there is less traffic than California. Winding roads going through rugged mountains and following alpine streams make for great motorcycling.

Slovakia

The High Tatras.

Tatras

From Slovakia I took a last minute detour into southwestern Poland just to say I’ve been to another country. I only travelled for about 100 miles in Poland, but it was nice hilly terrain, making for an enjoyable ride.

I entered the Czech Republic from Poland. I don’t know what it is, but my Canadian passport freaked out the border guards. They had to take it into the main office and confer with their colleagues. I guess they don’t get many Canadians. Fortunately, I haven’t had any troubles. After a few moments, the passport gets stamped and I’m on my way. Unfortunately, I haven’t been as successful in my money management. I have currencies from five different countries in my wallet. I never seem to spend it all before I’m into another country. It reminds me of the days before the Euro.

The Carpathian Mountains are but mere foothills by the time they reach the Czech Republic. They still make for some wonderful motorcycling roads, though. The Czech roads are the best I’ve encountered in the former Eastern Bloc countries. Fast sweeping roads through open hills then darting into dark forests with some occassional tight twisties thrown in… good stuff.

Czech

I met an elderly Czech gentleman at my bed & breakfast. He told me that he was 15 years old in 1945 when the Russians came and occupied his country. He fled with his family to West Germany where he lived in Cologne. When Communism fell, 40 years later, he returned to his old home town. He went to his old house and knocked on the door. The man who answered the door recognised him and gave him a hug saying, “this is still your house”. It was wonderful talking to this old man. I reminded me of the old John Prine song, “Hello In There”. I’m sure that same story was repeated all over Eastern Europe.

I made my way to Prague, which is similar to Budapest. Both cities straddle a river… both have enchanting architecture. Prague had a few more tourists, though. I took another rest day in Prague.

Prague

After a couple of days in Prague, I continued westward. I pulled up to the German border entry and received a doleful look. I said, “Hi. I’m Canadian.” The border guard said, “Bye. Go away.” Didn’t even ask to see my passport. I guess they’re not too worried about people on sport touring bikes. I laughed and went on my way. It surprised me a bit. I thought that would be the toughest border to cross.

I made my way across Germany to the southwestern town of Freiburg, near the Black Forest. A lot of great riding there. I got lost several times, but didn’t care as the roads were so good. It’s right next to the Swiss border, so it’s in the foothills of the Alps.

Germany

Picturesque German town.

Town

Right across the French border I noticed all these squiggly lines on the map, so I figured that’s the place I needed to be. Dang, those French not only know how to cook, but they sure do make some hellacious biking roads. The Germans aren’t too far behind.

Scenic village in the Alsace-Lorraine.

Alsace

After working my way north thru Alsace-Lorraine, I re-entered Germany near Kaiserslautern. I must have hit the local biking road because there were bikes all over the place. Excellent roads through darkened forests.

Dark

From there I worked my way up the Rhine. Great weather on a Sunday… there were a bazillion bikes out. Great views of castles all the way up to Koblenz. There I hung a left and wandered down the Mosel River Valley, famous for its wines. Every tour of Europe should include a ride along the Rhine. There are roads on each side of the river. You can see the castles on the other side easier, but you can’t go wrong on either side.

Cochem on the Mosel

Cochem

Everyone talks about the Alps, but there’s so much more to Europe than just the Alps. Don’t get me wrong, the Alps are spectacular, but don’t limit yourself to just one area.

I finally found a carwash. The Guzzi looked semi-respectable now. I was drinking a soda outside a convenience store…this woman gets out of her car…takes one look at me and my bike…thinks about it for a moment…then clicks on the burglar alarm on her key chain. I kinda liked that.

I followed the Mosel River into the tiny nation of Luxembourg. I ended up staying an extra day in Luxembourg. I usually blast through the tiny country on my way to something more interesting. This time I decided to spend a day touring within its borders. What a great choice! Wonderful roads along the Mosel River… other roads wandering through forests so thick that no sunlight penetrated the canopy in spite of it being a scorching day. I’ll defintely have to pay Luxembourg more mind in the future!

From Luxembourg I entered Belgium through the Ardennes, passing through many towns whose names recalled the Battle of the Bulge.

The Ardennes Forest, haunted by the ghosts of World War II.

Ardennes

From France to the English Channel the terrain devolves into rolling farmland. Not too interesting on a motorbike, so I got on the autoroute, blasted to the Channel, and hopped on the 5pm ferry to Dover, where I got a hotel room for the night. Met an old timer on a KTM 900 v-twin modified with a sidecar. He was on his way to an enduro event in Wales.

The White Cliffs of Dover.

Dover

The last day of my trip… and I wanted to make it count. I blasted west on the motorway all the way to Bristol near south Wales. This took up half a day, so I had another half day to enjoy as much of Wales as I could. At first it didn’t seem all that special, but the deeper I got into Wales the more I was captivated by its beauty and its GREAT motorcycling roads. I may have stopped to take more pictures on the last half day than at any other time on the trip. Maybe it was the realization that the trip was coming to an end and that stopping to take pictures might prolong it indefinitely.

Alas, I reached my friend’s house in Shropshire a little after 6pm, bringing the trip to an end. Here is a shot of the mighty, mighty Goose in the Welsh countryside on the last day of the trip.

Wales

I can’t say enough about my mount. As a city bike or an every day ride, yes, it may have shortcomings, but as a dedicated sport tourer it’s hard to beat. The sound of an Italian v-twin in song as it blasts through a series a curves is one of those things in life that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and make you glad to be alive. If you haven’t made plans to sell your current bike and purchase a Le Mans, please proceed to do so immediately.

Trip Summary:

May 31 to June 22.

7500 km / 4800 miles (it seemed like a lot longer with all the bad roads)

Rest days: 4

Traffic citations: 1, in Romania. I managed to negotiate it from 10 Euros up to 100 Euros. (I should explain. As the policeman was writing the ticket he asked how much my helmet cost. I said it cost 200 Euros. He said he makes 100 Euros a month. We continued talking. It turned out he was a biker himself and asked about getting a helmet from western Europe. I felt sorry for him after hearing what his monthly salary was, so I offered to send him one at no charge. He ripped up the ticket.)

Countries: 12. Italy, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, England, & Wales.

Bee stings: 0

Pucker moments: Many, many minor ones. 0 major.

Best T shirt seen: In Budapest, a picture of Che with a joint in his mouth with the caption: “fook the revolution”.

Best store name: In Romania I saw a shoe store named Al Bundy Shoes (they get a lot of American TV there).

Map

Goa, India

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March ’05

With the sunny beaches of Goa just across the Arabian Sea, I made this my target for a quickie visit. I arranged for the rental of a bike via the internet and upon my arrival in Goa, my hosts were waiting for me at the airport. A one hour trip through a maze of Goan roads led us to the home base. A sort of biker’s country club for Europeans visiting Goa.

Now, mind you, while in Goa, there’s a wide variety of two wheelers you can choose from. there’s the modern Honda Hero single cylinder as well as a Yamaha single cylinder bike. A plethora of scooters or mopeds to choose from. But, if you’re going to maintain your biker credo in Goa, anyone who is anyone at all will choose the Royal Enfield Bullet (pictured below). Yes, the mighty Bombay Busa…the Bangalore Bandit…the Goan Gixer…the…well, you get the picture. This is the two wheeled weapon of choice in the Indian sub-continent. With 24 raw, earth pawing horsepower at its disposal, other two wheelers quiver in fear in its presence. Nothing else even comes close for maintaining that all important cache of cool amongst the rabble. Its exhaust note alone announces to other two wheelers to move aside, here comes a *real* bike.

Unfortunately, its fearsome influence ends with the two wheeled set…for in India…might makes right. The bigger you are, the bigger the chunk of pavement you’re entitled to. Where in the states and Europe, ultra powerful sportbikes dice and slice through traffic, here, the roles are reversed. Trucks and buses rule the asphalt with a heavy hand, often times occupying the center of the road leaving cars, bikes and rikshaws to scurry for the shoulders for whatever morsel of road remains. The big rigs aren’t shy about taking what they assume to be rightfully theirs. As such, you ride extremely defensively. As soon as you see a lumbering juggernaut bearing down on you, you immediately assume the submissive “paws in the air” posture by diving for the 6 inches of asphalt left for you on the shoulder. As the behemoth roars by you whisper a silent,”thank you Mr. truck driver for not impaling me on you front grill”, then you continue on your journey

My first day was just a half day so, I spent it learning some of the main streets around Goa then, I headed to the beach! The temperature was a balmy 80 degrees and humid. The water temperature was perfect! Not to warm not too cold. Just right. While lying on a lounge chair, gazing askance at topless European women, I found I had too easily succumbed to Goa’s relaxed charms.

Dealing with a new set of traffic rules was just part of it. The Enfield sports right foot shifting and left foot braking. On top of that, the shifting pattern is one up, three down. Just like the latest GP bikes then :biggrin Now, imagine trying to learn this new shifting and braking system while in a foreign land. I’m not the most prolific writer when it comes to painting a picture with words to describe something. The only thing that I can imagine that would come close to describing the experience is that, it was like trying to ride a bike on Pluto while wearing full scuba gear. It felt that awkward. Many times I would stab at the rear brake only to discover, to my horror, that I had just shifted up two gears rather than slow myself down. Other times, I would be pawing at the shiftlever, trying to find neutral, only to look down and see my foot uselessly trying to toe up the brake lever :rolleye What was euphimistically termed the front brake was actually a front deccelerator. It didn’t actually stop your forward progress, it merely slowed you down before impact with whatever you were slowing down for. You soon found out that the rear drum brake was your lifeline. If only I could remember to stop stomping on the gear shifter in panic stops.

Oh, yah. Then remember you gotta drive on the left. Mercifully, with the poor road conditions and the harried traffic situation described above, I never got going too fast. A sense of pride & accomplishment overcame me whenever I reached 3rd gear. Selecting 4th gear teleported you into an unchartered dimension. A realm where angels feared to tread…inhabited by mad dogs and even madder Englishmen waiting to accost any unassuming newbie biker brave enough to enter their domain.

While all this bike and traffic learning was going on, I was also travelling. On the second day, I rode to far northern Goa to see Fort Tiracol. Originally built by a local ruler, it was taken over by the Portuguese when they colonized this coast in the 16th century. The beaches in northern Goa are less crowded than in south Goa making things a whole lot more pleasant. All the roads in Goa were single lane width asphalt. Center stripe? Hah! Shirley you jest!

Here is a pic from Fort Tiracol.

Coming back from Fort Tiracol, I stopped to take a picture of local fishermen fishing in the Tiracol River. The shadowy figure in the foreground is a street urchin who tried to strong arm me into giving up a few Rupees.

Waiting for the ferry to cross the Tiracol river. As the ferry approached the landing, the captain made a stab at the landing but, the river current dragged the boat on by, nescessitating a second attempt 🙂 I don’t know why I was laughing. I was about to put my life in his hands. We boarded and prepared for the journey but, the boat crew walked off to the nearby snack kiosk for a break. So much for a schedule. When they came back on board, I noticed that one crewman took his position down below to resume bailing. Always comforting to know they have someone assigned to bailing duties. Thankfully, it was but a five minute journey to the other side.

A Hindu shrine/temple on the way back from Fort Tiracol. Goa is crawling with westerners on all manner of two wheeled conveyances so, I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb when I stopped to take pictures.

After a long hot day fighting my way thru Indian traffic, I found myself lured back to the beaches again for a swim and a late lunch. I didn’t have a bad meal the whole time I was there. Excellent seafood currys would burn the roof of my head off. Even the biryani rice set my head to smoldering. Good stuff.

The road along the Mandovi River. There were billions and billions of palm trees in Goa. They must have been invented here.

Approaching Candolim Beach. This is about the typical width of a Goan road. Even the main roads were this wide. Now imagine trucks, buses, cars, cows, rikshaws and a billion scooters.

Another Hindu mini shrine.

Goa is nestled between the Arabian Sea to the west and the western Ghats mountains to the east. Naturally, I assumed if there’s mountains, there must be curves so, off I went in search of some twisties. My destination was an “eco-resort” type place nestled up high in the mountains.

Here’s a picture from high in the western Ghats. When I say high, I mean they rise something like 2500′. The traffic lessened substantially as I left the coast, allowing me to enjoy myself in the curves. I still had to be on the lookout for the occassional pot hole while monkeys chastized me from the trees.

Looking down on a water reservoir during the climb into the Ghats.

The Ghats were a nice change but, the eco-resort was a little to tranquil for my liking. I soon found myself wishing I was back on the beach. After a day exploring the mountains, I headed back to the coast.

Here’s a river crossing coming down from the Ghats.

Another aspect of riding in India was all the animals. Cows and oxen were left to roam freely, many snoozing along the roadside, oblivious to the roaring traffic or even on some beaches right in amongst the sunbathing tourists. Also dogs, pigs and occasional monkeys…all with an innate sense of how traffic operates. I never saw one road kill the whole time I was there. They seemed well versed in the ways of traffic. I took a bit of pride that I managed to motivate one sleepy dog to his feet with my Enfield backfiring under decceleration. The monkeys were camera shy. Never hanging around if I tried to stop and take a picture. Prolly cuz they’re hunted for food? Dunno. The monkeys had limbs out of proportion with their bodies. If you stood on their toes and held their hands overhead, they’d prolly measure close to 6 feet!

I forgot to mention the tea! I’ve read that the thing Indians living in the west miss the most about India is being able to enjoy real tea. Now, I’m a huge coffee lover. Grew up drinking the stuff…the darker & stronger, the better it is. However, I could quit coffee cold turkey if I could have the tea they drink in India. They had this variety called masala tea that they brewed with ground ginger in it. Mmmmm It was dark and strong like a cup of coffee and the ginger gave it a spiciness that tingled and cooled your throat as it went down. Absolutely tasty stuff

The bike I rented was a 2004 model Enfield Bullet. Surprisingly, it lacked a front disk brake that I jealously observed on some other Enfields. I saw all different types of modified Enfields. Bobbed, chopped, even a home made enduro Enfield. I didn’t see any cafe racer Enfields though. Probably due to the fact that the state of the roads doesn’t really allow enough speed for the aerodynamics to kick in

Here is a bobbed version I saw on the side of the road.

The Enfield, though not very fast, was a blast to ride. It reeks 1950’s bike credo. As I mentioned before, the brakes weren’t GP caliber. Oh, sure…if you squeezed the brake lever long enough, eventually, you’d come to a stop. Pouring on the coals by grabbing a handful of throttle elicited an “inna minute” response. It took it’s time getting up to speed. It seemed happiest chugging along at about 55 / 60 mph. The exhaust note was old school..a very cool sounding thump thump. I can see why they called them “one lungers”. There’s an ethereal human-like quality to a single cylinder bike. Maybe it’s because the steady thumping exhaust note so closely mimics the beating of a human heart. Laboring up a hill made it seem even more like a living being. As I said, considering the road & traffic conditions, it was probably a good thing I couldn’t go very fast.

the people were super friendly and eager to please. In fact, sometimes a bit TOO eager. Sometimes, I’d stop to ask directions and even before I could ask where it is I wanted to go, they would already be pointing somewhere. I soon developed a system where I’d ask 3 times. If 2 of the 3 responses matched, that’s the way I’d go 🙂

After one last dip in the sea, it was time to turn the bike back in and head for the airport. One week was much too short. I can see why the hippies found this place to their liking. It’s so laid back and the natives are so friendly, it’s easy to see why so many have stayed. I saw many Willie Nelson aged hippies who must have come here 30 years ago and just never went home. A charming place that’s just like, totally groovy. I can see myself going back. I met a Dutch couple who had just finished a 6 week tour of southern India on an Enfield. The German I rented the bike from, moves up to northern India during the monsoon season and runs tours of the Himalayas. Sounds tempting 🙂

One last shot of another Hindu temple.

Northern Thailand

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February ’06

I apologize for the inferior quality photographs. The team orson photographer had the camera set on the indoor light setting. How the guy manages to keep his job is beyond me 🙂

We landed in the northern summer retreat of Chiang Mai, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Tai and founded in 1296 AD. Escaping the airport throngs we made our way through the back alleys of town to the street that we had heard was home to many bike rental shops.

There were all types of bikes to rent, from scooters to a BMW GS even though there is supposed to be a 250cc limit on bikes in Thailand. I settled on a Yamaha 225 Enduro since I imagined the roads would be in less than pristine shape. For my first day, I would do a short loop from Chiang Mai west to Samoeng then loop back east to my hotel in Mae Rim.

The mountains around Chiang Mai are old and rounded and reminded me a lot of the Smokey Mountains. I made a short off road excursion to visit a Hmong village. The Hmong are mostly farmers. The men wear traditional skirts though, they looked like they were pretty serious so I wasn’t gonna call them a sissy or nuthin.

Route to the Hmong village.

The road continued to climb, giving me some mountain vistas.

Heading back east towards Mae Rim, I came upon an elephant/tourist safari place.

The mahoot had taken his charge down to the river for his daily bath. I don’t speak Thai so, I don’t know what was being said but, i could make some assumptions. The elephant walked into the knee deep water then turned to face the mahoot who began commanding him to lay down in the water. The elephant seemed in no mood to oblige. Being as it’s February, I imagined the water to be a wee bit nippy.

Lie down….lie down…lie down…lie down….lie down. This went on for what seemed like 5 minutes. Lie down….lie down….lie DOWN! The elephant let out a whistle/squeel through his trunk which I translated to mean,”dude, the water is COLD!”

The mahoot continued his monotonous command….lie down…lie down…finally, he raised his hooked stick thing and waded into the water towards the behemoth. The elephant let out an all mighty roar that stood the hairs up on the back of my neck. This I translated to mean,”you do NOT want to mess with me, dude!” I think the mahoot had the same understanding as I did as he quickly retreated to the riverbank.

He continued to try to get the beast to lie down for a few more minutes. After a bit, he seemed to say,”to heck with it!” and started walking away. The pachyderm duly followed him, probably snickering to himself with some satisfaction that he had won this latest battle of wills.

Me thinks the mahoot / big fella relationship is a tenuous one at best 😀

On the second day, I would make the journey to the northern town of Pai, just a few kilometers from the Burmese border. The infamous Golden Triangle. The road to Pai was an important trading route in the old days but the road today is still torturous with some 2000 curves in about 130 miles. The little Yamaha had its work cut out for it. It would be heaven if the pavement was in good condition but, that wasn’t the case. Still, the light weight of the lil Yammie proved to be a blessing as wrestling a liter bike through this madness would have left me a mindless puddle of goo.

West of Mae Ting just before the curves started, I came upon this flower draped hut. The smell of verdant flora was almost overpowering in places.

Then the fun started. The lil Yam was chugging a bit on the uphills but on the downhills, it was like a mountain bike on steroids. I’ll put it this way, I didn’t get passed all day. By Buddha, just give me a KTM Duke and I’ll convert. Heck, I may even come back in my next life as a Buddhist!

Just after lunch, I reached Pai. Pai is the starting point for hikers and rafters heading into the Golden Triangle never to be heard from again. Ok, I made the last bit up. It has a bit of a hippie colony atmosphere to it. Here, villagers cultivate their rice paddies.

After a nice lunch at a riverside restaurant, I made my way back to Mae Rim. Unfortunately, as there are few roads in this area, I had to backtrack the 2000 curves once again. I wasn’t complaining though as the little Yammie proved to be an adept curve straffer!

I woke up on the third day feeling out of sorts. It seems as though I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me. A mild case of food poisoning. I lay in bed trying to convince myself to hit the road, that I would feel better, but the body wouldn’t move. Finally around mid-afternoon, I managed to drag myself to the hotel hot tub to try to boil away the bad blood cells. Later I lounged around the pool like a perfeshunul tourist, even sipping mango smoothies to stay in character.

By the next morning, I was feeling well enough to have a breakfast of chicken congee and salted duck eggs. This being the final day, I would tackle the fearsome Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand at 8,208′ above sea level.

Actually, the road wasn’t so fearsome as the road to Pai. Being as it was a National Park, its road was rather well paved. A walk in the park then. There were Buddhist temples every where you looked. They were quite elaborate and ornate. Here is a big one right outside the Doi Inthanon National Park.

Here is a view inside the park. You can see this portion of road was rather good. The mountains kinda resemble the Smokeys, huh.

After some huffing and puffing, the mighty Yammie achieved the summit!

Reluctantly, I made my way downhill and back to Chiang Mai to return the bike. I found traffic conditions to be quite reasonable compared to Saudi Arabia and India. The Thai people are a pleasure to be around. They go through their daily rituals with a smile on their faces, always seeing the bright side of things.

The natural beauty was stunning as well. I could see myself chucking it all in and becoming one of those Birkenstock wearin’, tie-dyed draped expats who give up everything to live in a paradise.

Cyprus

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November ’04…

Motoring east along the south coast of Cyprus near where the Goddess Aphrodite supposedly was born.

Heading inland into the Troodos mountains. The inland mountains reach a heigth of around 3000′ making it a wee bit chilly in November.

I traveled to the northwest end of the island to the rugged Akamas peninsula. The DR came in handy here as the pavement ended. I followed the jeep trail for a while but, with no cell phone or a flat repair kit, disgression became the better part of valor and I turned around.

I turned around and headed eastward along the northern coast. The road following the coast was a rather boring section of “s” curves and I had almost decided to turn around. I’m glad I didn’t! The road soon climbed into the mountains and began to resemble California Highway 1. Not quite as good but, not too shabby! It continued like this for about 30 km until I came upon the UN buffer zone between the Turkish controlled northern area & the Greek portion. A stern faced Greek Cypriot soldier making “turn around” motions with his hand indicated that my fun was at an end…BUT, I got to retrace my route on that fabulous coastal road! Exhibit A.

The same road along the northern coast. A domed roof identifies the church as a Greek Orthodox chapel on the shore.

Heading back to my hotel close to sunset…on the south coast of the island.

On my last day, I headed to a hilltop monastery I’d seen from the coast. No women visitors were allowed here but, the monks did grow their own wine.

Picture of the Hellacious roa…err…I mean, the heavenly road leading up to the monastery. Praise da lord and pass the Castrol

Last shot…heading down out of the mountains back to the coast to return the bike. The Big DR performed admirably on the pavement. The big single could have used a little more oomph but, it was still big fun in the twisties. Using this bike has me salivating at the thought of what a big 650 KTM Duke must be like. My only regret was that, I only had time to sample but a small portion of the roads on this neat island.

Written by orsonstravels

March 4, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Western Cape, South Africa

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February ’04

A South African friend in Saudi invited me to come visit so, I said sure! While there, I rented a BMW 1150 GS & took a quickie tour of the Western Cape Province. You really don’t get the feeling you’re in the “real” Africa while near Cape Town. It’s been so thouroghly colonized by the British that, the feeling is more of being in Australia than Africa. Not that that’s a bad thing. Just different. After a day spent exploring Capetown, I headed towards the wine growing region around Worcester in an early morning fog. In my continuing quest to find a Highway that can top California’s Highway 1, I headed out east along the coast from Cape Town.

Here are some shots of the coastal road from Gordon’s Bay to Rooiels. It has some dramatic coastline. If Highway 1 is a 10, I’d rate this road a solid 8.75, losing out only because its so short in comparison. Scenery-wise, it’s pretty darn nice!

After a nice lunch in the former whaling town of Hermanus, I headed inland towards Worcester. Lots of mountains! Most of the roads were fast sweepers. I’d guess the 80% of the corners I encountered on the trip, I never had to touch the brakes

Here is a shot at the end of the day, near my night’s stay at a wine estate in the Nuy Valley

On the second day, I’d stay in the Nuy Valley again, exploring the mountain passes. The further inland I went, the more barren it became. Here is a picture for those who like those long straight roads. For the amount of mountains I saw, the road engineers laid them out with a minimum of tight twisties. Like I said before, it seemed 80% of the corners were fast sweepers. On the second day, I rode over 7 passes. Not like your passes in the Alps or the Rockies but, nice to ride over

Here are some pictures approaching the Du Toits Kloof Pass. There’s a new tunnel now for woosies but the real fun is on the old road. They have signs warning you not to feed the baboons. Apparently they can get pretty agressive when there’s hand outs to be had. I came across a group & tried to stop for a photo op but, they scattered as if I had the plague.

On the third day, I would head farther inland to the town of Oudtshoorn, the “ostrich capital of the world”. They have more ostriches than people. This section reminded me of southern Arizona. I saw 4 other touring bikes on this stretch, all of them on BMW GSs. I also 3 cops but, they didn’t even flinch as I went by at about 80 mph

The fourth day I headed back to Cape Town. I went through some nice wine growing regions & even some mountain passes with pine trees. I wanted to hit the same stretch of coastal road while the sun was shining so, I rode it again in the opposite direction.

Robinson Pass between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay…lotta fun on this road.

Heading back towards Cape Town on the coast…

My last day with the bike, I headed down to the Cape of Good Hope. Even though it was a Saturday, it seemed as if I had the roads to myself. This is one of those “edge of the continent” places I get so attracted to. It kinda reminded me of Point Reyes. Here is the road going down the west side of the cape along the Indian Ocean.

The end of the road. I saw some ostriches down here too. They were right along the beach road. I slowed & let the bike coast. They were startled by the sound of the engine & took off running alongside me. For a few seconds I was recreating in a bizarro sort of way, that scene in Easy Rider where the horses galloped alongside the bikes 🙂

Here’s a shot of the end of the continent, the Cape of Good Hope looking south towards Antarctica

The Cape of Good Hope.

Ostriches in stealth mode sneaking up on the GS near the Cape…

From the Cape of Good Hope, I ended my trip by taking the fabulous Chapmans Peak Drive along the Atlantic side of the cape. What a dramatic stretch of coastline! Too bad it was so short. Still, it was a wonderful end to the journey.

I was never out of sight of mountains for the duration of my short trip. What surprised me was that, for all the mountains, there were relatively few tight twisty roads like in California or the Blue Ridge Mountains. I did manage to find a few mountain passes that were tight & twisty but, for the most part, the roads I travelled were fast sweepers. I can only guess that the mountains are spaced far apart, allowing road engineers to bypass the steep parts.

That said, South Africa is a large country, roughly twice the size of Texas so, I hardly got to see but a small portion of it. I’m sure there are many excellent roads I didn’t get to ride. All told, I made about 2500 km / 1600 miles in 4 & a half days.

The weather can be described as mediterranean. Quite mild. For being the middle of summer down there, I was surprised at how mild it was, only about 80 degrees during the day. I was expecting Texas like heat.

The people were very friendly, everyone waved…kids, adults…even teenagers. I passed a highway crew tidying up a roadside rest area & gave them a wave. Immediately 10 hands shot up into the air as if shot out of cannons, waving back at me. Try getting that reaction in the states or Europe 🙂 Rather than saying,”you’re welcome”, a thank you would elicit a charming,”It’s my pleasure”.

Here is one last picture of Chapmans Peak Drive…