Sunday, September 4, 2005
It was late afternoon when I rode across the 100 - 200 yards between the Russian and Latvian border checkpoints. There were no other vehicles at the checkpoint and four uniformed officers lounging outside the building, apparently with nothing to do until I arrived. Not a very busy border crossing, at least not on a Sunday afternoon!
The four officers, all relatively young men, showed the usual interest in my motorcycle and the world route map on my panniers. One of them commented, in excellent English, that he rode a Suzuki 350. A quick check of my passport, International Driving Permit, and European green card (liability) insurance, which I had purchased before the trip from Stephan Knopf, and I was cleared to enter Latvia. I asked if I could exchange money inside, was told I could, and proceeded to exchange most of the Rubles, and the US dollars I still had, into Euros. The entire process, including the money exchange, took less than twenty minutes. What an easy border crossing on the Latvian side!
A quarter mile or so beyond the border crossing a long line of stationary trucks, the great majority large commercial trucks of the type we call semis or 18 wheelers in the US, was lined up in the other lane, and along the shoulder, of the road. They were two abreast at first, then single file, and this lineup stretched unbroken for 3 Ĺ miles! I know it was that long because I clocked it on my odometer. Apparently no trucks were being allowed across the border into Russia at that time. I have no idea why this was so, unless it was because it was a Sunday, but this explained the total lack of trucks I had encountered in Russia for about the last fifty miles before the border, whereas earlier there had been a great deal of truck traffic.
After a few miles I came to the first town in Latvia, the small village of Ludza. A welcoming sign at the edge of town indicated this town was founded in something like the year 1120. Now thatís old, at least by North American standards! Near the middle of the small town I saw what appeared to be a restaurant, and being hungry, stopped. for my first non-Russian food in almost a month. Although somewhat shabby appearing from the outside (the wall missing some plaster), the establishment looked better inside and perhaps ďrusticĒ would be an appropriate description. The name over the door was ďPie Kamina,Ē and I have no idea what that translates to in English. The waitress inside spoke a little English, and said they also had rooms to rent upstairs. Wanting to have a leisurely evening my first night outside Russia, I decided to stay the night. There were five rooms in the loft of the small building, two shared bathrooms with showers, and my room was clean and comfortable.
The waitress showed me where to park my motorcycle in a semi-enclosed area behind the building, complete with a chain across the gate and a dog who barked loudly and frequently for security.
I had dinner outside on the deck, watching the sparse traffic passing by, and studied my maps and planned tomorrowís route. The food was very adequate and the beer quite alright. I read for a time in my room and went to bed early, having enjoyed my first evening in Latvia and feeling a sense of accomplishment for having successfully traversed the huge country of Russia, the worldís largest.
Monday, September 5, 2005
After an early breakfast at the Pie Kamina I was on the road again, heading for the small city of Rezekne on Highway A12. The Latvian country side is an attractive, rolling landscape with many treed areas and farm fields. The roads are excellent and itís a warm, sunny day, making for very pleasant riding.
One difference I immediately noted between Latvia and Russia is the frequent occurrence of farmsteads in Latvia; that is, a farmhouse, usually a barn and/or other outbuildings, surrounded by farm fields. There certainly were a lot of farm fields in Russia, but seldom anything that looked like the farmsteads I was seeing in Latvia, and common in the North America. I assume this is due to Russian agriculture being done on large collective farms rather than on smaller, privately owned farms during the Soviet Union era.
Keeping with my practice, established in Russia, of not entering cities if that could be avoided, I skirted around Rezekne to the north and west, and headed south Highway A13. Shortly after going around Daugavpils to the west I came to the Lithuanian border. A quick check of my passport and in about five minutes Iím in Lithuania. The road number has now changed to A6.
I pass through a very attractive area of Lithuania where there are many small lakes surrounded by evergreen treed woodland. Other areas are rolling farm and woodland as in Latvia. I skirt around the city of Kaunas to the west, and soon reach the Polish border at Szypliszki. Again a quick check of my passport taking about five minutes and Iím cleared to proceed. The European Union is wonderful, at least for travelers passing between countries!
The first town I come to in Poland is Suwaitki, and here I make a wrong turn, ending up on a road going northwest instead of the more main road going more due west to Gizycko. It takes awhile for me to realize my mistake, and it being my nature to dislike backtracking, I continue on these smaller and more secondary roads in a generally westerly direction, but north of my intended route. I donít have a map detailed enough to show somel of these roads, but Iím confident I will eventually reach Olsztyn, the next sizeable city on my intended route because the roads are extremely well signed (better than in the US), there being frequent signs for every town.
These back country roads are also in superb condition, the asphalt pavement being impeccable everywhere. They are somewhat narrow (often about 1 Ĺ lanes) and winding, but very pleasant to ride except for one thing - about every two to five miles the road goes through the center of a village, with very reduced speed limits in force, and this makes it difficult to make good time. The countryside continues to be rolling with alternating farm fields and forest as in Latvia and Lithuania.
I eventually come to an attractive village with many flower beds along the main street. I donít know the name of the town, but according to the ever present signs, itís north of Etk. While Iím stopped to take a picture of the town an older lady approaches and begins a conversation. Of course she speaks entirely in Polish (or at least I assume itís Polish) and I canít understand a word. Despite this she continues for a few minutes, speaking in a most kindly and gentle tone. I wish I could converse with her, but all I can do is smile, give her one of my cards, and say goodbye.
Eventually I do reach a more traveled road, and beyond that I arrive at Olsztyn, the largest town or city I have encountered all day. There doesnít appear to be a way to circumnavigate Olstzyn, at least not on my map, so I begin to ride through the middle of the city. I soon see a familiar sight but one Iíve not seen for the past month - a sign with the famous golden arches of McDonaldís! Now Iíve not in the past been a great fan of McDonaldís, but the thought of an American hamburger was just too much to resist and I pull into the parking lot. It turned out they donít take Euros (I thought all the EU nations did), but there was an ATM in the McDonaldís and I was able to use it to get some Polish currency to pay for my Big Mac and Coke. A very different lunch than any Iíve had for the past month!
Leaving Olsztyn I continue on the main road southwest toward Grudziadz and Bydgoszcz. As dusk approaches I begin to look for lodging for the night. Eventually I come to a restaurant with a fairly large building adjacent. It appears it might be a small hotel, but there is no sign indicting such. I ask at the restaurant and am told it is indeed an inn or hotel, and stop for the night. This is quite an attractive building in a very pretty setting, being across the road from a very nice small lake (see the photos section for pictures). It turns out this facility appears to be something like a boarding house as there about a half dozen men staying who take their meals there and leave in the morning apparently headed to a nearby worksite. Itís run by a couple with young children and they occupy the downstairs rooms. My room is very clean and comfortable and the bathroom is shared. I am able to park my motorcycle for the night inside a shed like building that the proprietor locks. Since I donít know the name of this inn I canít recommend it by name, but I do recommend it.
Tuesday, September 6, 2005
Iím up early, collect my bike from the storage shed, and set out across Poland to the southwest. My route across Poland takes me through the small cities of Grudziadz and Bydgoszcz toward Szczecin, near the German border. I soon encounter very large birdís nests situated on utility poles, some of the poles appearing to have no purpose except for the nests. I never saw any birds in or around the nests, but I believe these must be the nests of Polandís famous storks. Certainly the nests were stork sized and very impressive.
My intentions were to swing south just before Szczecin and cross into Germany at a border crossing a short distance south of that city. However, I turned south too soon and wound up in the town of Pyrzyce. I had lunch at a gas station - restaurant type complex at the northern edge of town and got directions to the nearest border crossing from a young man who was the service station attendant. However, I soon found myself lost in the rural Polish countryside between Pyrzyce and the border crossing at the German town of Schwedt. After wandering around on these back roads for two or three hours I finally reach the crossing. I couldnít help but be amused since there was a whole country somewhere to the west but I couldnít find it! One of my favorite sayings is ďAll who wander are not lostĒ or ďNot all who wander are lost,Ē but in my case Iím beginning to wonder. At least the countryside was very pleasant - rolling terrain with intermittent fields and forest, and no traffic.
The border crossing into Germany was similar to those crossing into the previous three EU countries (and the checkpoint was uncrowded with only two or three cars ahead of me in line) except that after I was waved on there were two young men in military type uniforms waiting who waved me over and searched my luggage. (This was the only border crossing on my entire trip where my luggage was searched.) The officers were pleasant, the search was quick, and the entire crossing took no more than fifteen minutes.
I headed across Germany to the northwest as I intend to go the the North Sea. Darkness is approaching as I reach the town of Teterow and see a motel, the Golden Krone, situated behind a Greek restaurant. There I stop for the night and have dinner in the Greek restaurant. It seems a bit amusing that my first night in Germany I have Greek food for dinner. And it was authentic Greek cuisine. The motel room was typical of a US type motel. There was no secure parking, but the parking area was well lighted, and with the bike covered, locked, and the motion alarm on, I had no worries about theft.
Wednesday, September 7, 2005
The motel supplied a continental type breakfast and after that I head west toward the North Sea. Before that I find myself on an autobahn for the first time, the first freeway or expressway, as we call them in the US, I have encountered since I left Seattle. The traffic moves very rapidly. Iím soon seeing very large windmills used to generate electricity (and continue to see these frequently throughout my travel through Germany). These are larger than the usual electricity generating windmills seen in the US, and turn at a considerably slower speed, thus being much quieter.
After passing north of Hamburg and then turning north toward Denmark, I arbitrarily pick the seafront village of Busum, located between Hamburg and the Danish border, for my visit to salt water and am soon there. One of my goals for this trip is to photograph the motorcycle at an ocean or sea as a symbol of reaching the end of each continent (although these arenít really the endpoints as itís possible to reach points further west or east, the symbolism is important to me). However, I find a very large seawall separates the North Sea from any road or street in Busum, so a picture of the bike in front of the saltwater isnít possible. I have to settle for a picture of the bike in front of the seawall, and a photo of the North Sea from atop it. I have a nice lunch at an outside restaurant associated with a good sized hotel across the street from the seawall. Itís a lovely day, warm and sunny.
After lunch I head south, get on an autobahn north of Hamburg, and continue due south through that city, past Hamburg, and on southward, remaining on autobahns all the way. One of my dreams has long been to fly to Germany, rent a Porsche, and drive the no speed limit autobahns. Here I am, finally, and for the first time, on autobahns, and Iím on a slow KLR 650 that Iím afraid to ride any faster than 70 mph because of the chain breakage problems Iíve had. I sure would like to make it to my destination, Heidelberg, without another chain problem!
Every country Iíve been in has had slightly different driving patterns, and I find those in Germany very interesting. Although much of the traffic (not all) on the autobahns moves at very high speed (often well over 100 mph) where there is no speed limit, in sections of the autobahns where there are speed limits these are rigorously, and almost without exception, observed. And, on the rural roads the driving is very conservative, again with the speed limits being carefully observed. At times this seem almost to a fault. For example, on one two lane rural road I came upon a fairly long line of cars stacked up behind a truck that was moving about 5 mph below the posted speed limit, but none of the cars would pass. Overall, I would say the drivers in Germany were the best of any I encountered on my journey.
Darkness arrived and it was obvious I would not make Heidelberg today. I exit the autobahn at a town named Kircheim (I believe there is more than one town by that name in Germany - this one was just off the autobahn somewhat north of Frankfurt). Almost immediately I see a small hotel of Tudor style architecture, the Hotel Eberbeck, and check in. I find that there are about ten Harleys in the parking lot so Iím not the only motorcyclist staying there. My poor, dirty KLR 650 looks quite shabby compared to the chromed and shiny Harleys.I walk a couple of blocks to a fast food outlet (lots of these in Germany), eat a quick bite, and itís off to bed after a long day, the longest mileage day of my entire trip to that point.
Thursday, September 8, 2005
The Hotel Eberbeck also supplies a continental breakfast. After breafast as I am packing I hear the roar of un-muffled Harley engines as the other motorcyclists staying at the hotel leave in a thunderous exit. If I were going by sound alone, I would think I was back in the USA!
Soon itís back on the autobahn heading south toward Frankfurt. But, in about twenty minutes my worst fears are realized - I hear that sudden, now familiar, increase in rpm from my motor and feel a loss of power. Another broken chain! I quickly pull off onto the shoulder, stop, and run back to pick up the chain. Fortunately (if it can be said there is any good fortune about a third chain breakage) the chain was on the edge of the road and had not been run over and damaged, as had been the case near Moscow.
There was scarcely a shoulder on the autobahn at this point, only an approximately four foot wide grass strip and then a line of bushes, a situation where working on the bike is possibly dangerous. Certainly having cars zooming by three or four feet away at over 100 mph is intimidating. Once again using the word fortunately in a qualified way, there is a break in the thick line of bushes right where I had pulled off, just wide enough for me to push the bike through and off the autobahn shoulder. On the other side of the bushes is a rest area whose exit I had just passed, and that allowed me to work on the bike in safety.
This time the master link had not broken, as in the two previous occurrences, but rather was missing altogether. So itís possible the link didnít break this time but rather had thrown itís retaining clip (It was not a continuous chain). The repair was thus easier, consisting of simply inserting a new master link (I still had several left). To gain access to the chain I had to partially unpack and remove my panniers, which (along with re-packing, etc.) took longer than putting the chain back together. In any case I was soon back on the autobahn heading south. So much for adventure number one for the day.
I soon encountered adventure number two. As I approached Frankfurt I was running low on gas, but assumed there would be very frequent sources for gasoline along a route as well traveled as an autobahn. Wrong! There are service islands that are not exits, like some US freeways that are toll roads, at intervals along the autobahns, and in this particular location they were situated quite far apart.As I neared the huge US air base at Frankfurt, it was quite some distance to the next service island and I was on reserve. Then my engine began to miss a bit, so I pulled off onto the exit for the air base, thinking that surely there would be a source of gasoline outside such a place as the airbase. Wrong again. I did not find a station and the bike was now missing more than it had been on the autobahn. I found a grassy spot and laid the bike over onto itís left side, then tipped it past horizontal so that the gas trapped in the the lower right side of the tank would move to the left side where the fuel pick-up for the petcock is located. On a tank such as the IMS one I had on the KLR, this provides sort of a reserve fuel capacity after the usual reserve is used up. So it was back on the autobahn traveling at a very conservative speed and hoping the remaining fuel would last until the service island several kilometers away. The bike motor was not longer missing, and I did make it. End of adventure number two for the day.
When I reached Heidelberg I exited at the numbered exit Stefan Knopf had told me to use in his directions, which were to a Holiday Inn where he would meet me. However, no Holiday Inn appeared and things didnít look at all right, so I called Stefan using the satellite phone. Turns out, there were two exits by that number, like an A and B, and I had taking the wrong one and wound up too far west. Using Stefanís new directions I passed back over the autobahn, but still couldnít find the Holiday Inn. I asked two different people along the way (there is much more English spoken in Germany than in Russia, of course) but wound up at what I assume is the down town Holiday Inn, which wasnít the right one. I stopped at a small park with a large fountain and once again called Stefan, by not thoroughly frustrated by what had turned into a quite trying day even though the ride was the shortest on my entire trip so far. My problem was solved by Stefan riding there on one of his bikes and guiding me to his bed and breakfast. End of adventure number three, thankfully the last problem of the day. I had to remind myself repeatedly, ďAll who wander are not lost.Ē
After I removed the items in my luggage I would need for the stay at the B&B and the flight to the US, Stefan had me follow him to his shop and storage facility a few blocks away to he could prepare the bike for air shipment from Frankfurt to Boston. This involved washing the bike (the airlines apparently donít care about dirt, but want absolutely no oil residue on the bike, so itís best if the bike is washed) and loaded it on a pallet, in turn loaded onto his trailer, ready to haul to the airport the next morning. I was ravenously hungry at this point, not having had any food since the light continental breakfast many hours before, so while Stefan prepared the bike I walked to a nearby restaurant to eat. The first one I came to was a Chinese restaurant, and thatís where I had dinner.
Stefan had something like 75 motorcycles at his storage facility, most of them for his rental business (Knopf Motorradreisen) but some were also his personal bikes. One of the latter was a beautiful and very collectible Indian Chief that made me very envious. I rode behind Stefan on his K75 (heís very fond of this particular model BMW) back to the B&B, and went to bed early, being very tired but relieved to have completed the Asia and Europe segments of my journey.
I have now traveled 9,343 road miles since leaving my home in Idaho.
Friday-Saturday, September 9-10, 2005
This was my first day of no riding since the day I had the bike repaired in Oktyabrskiy, Russia. These were two days of lots of rest and relaxation - reading, a little television (CNN was available in English), short walks to explore the neighborhood, and lunch, napping, etc. The B&B is located in a building that is also the home of the Knopf family, consisting of Stefan, his wife Petra, and four children. Three of the children are school age and I didnít see much of them, especially the two boys, who were apparently also engaged in athletics. However, the youngest child, Stefanie, was pre-school age and at home most of the time I stayed at the B&B. She is a delightful, beautiful child who hung around with me a great deal since I was someone new and had time to give her lots of attention. She was also very talkative but of course only spoke German which I couldnít understand. Needless to say, she was the subject of many photos and a few of these are posted in the Photos section of this website. The B&B featured comfortable rooms with a shared bathroom and was a most pleasant place to stay. The surrounding streets were narrow, winding and very old, and quite picturesque in places.
I selected a novel, The Last Juror by Grisham, from the small collection of books available in the B&B. After I had read part of it I noticed the inscription on the inside front cover giving the previous owners name - Dr. Gregory Frazier. Dr. Frazier is a very well known international motorcycle traveler and author who has ridden around the world four times, more than anyone else, I believe. He had recently stayed at the Knopfís and obviously left his book. He may have been on his fifth around the world ride at that time, although Iím not certain of this.
I had been limited to wearing only my motorcycle boots since I left Vladivostok because of not having space to pack shoes. Thankfully, I was able to borrow one of Stefanís bikes to ride to a nearby shopping area and buy an inexpensive pair of athletic shoes. Petra was kind enough to wash almost every piece of apparel and clothing I had, including my riding jacket and pants, for a nominal fee, which I very much appreciated. On Friday I walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch which featured Italian cuisine. Here I am, four days in Germany, and I have yet to eat a lunch or dinner of German food.
A very active part of Stefanís business is motorcycle rentals to riders for tours of Europe, and three such parties arrived while I was there. Jon and Sharon (didnít get their last name) arrived from Pennsylvania but through some mixup the remainder of their party was late and didnít show while I was there. Pat and Judy Bygott from Denver, and Judyís brother Dave Kosan also arrived and headed out on rental bikes the next morning for a tour. Since Jon and Sharonís friends hadnít arrived they left with Pat, Judy, and Dave. However, the evening before they left we all walked to a nearby restaurant that did feature German cuisine and had a very nice dining experience eating outside in the biergarten and enjoying good conversation, mostly about motorcycle travel of course. At last I had some German food!
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Today I flew to Boston on Air France. I was fortunate that Stefan had to go to the airport to pickup another party so I was able to ride with him rather than taking a bus. Even though my motorcycle was taken to Air France at the airport by Stefan on Friday, it still hasnít shipped yet. For some reason which I donít understand, there is quite a wait for the bike to actually be shipped. Thus, I shall get to Boston before the bike. My ticket for this flight was arranged by Stefan and was very reasonable in price, especially for a ticket purchased on short notice.
I greatly enjoyed my stay in Heidelberg at the Knopf B&B, and really appreciated Stefanís expertise in arranging shipping of my motorcycle and purchase of my airline ticket. In total, Stefan provided the following services: European vehicle liability (green card) insurance in advance of my trip, preparing the bike for shipping across the Atlantic, arranging shipping, and transporting the bike to the airport, arranging my airline ticket from Frankfurt to Boston, loan of a motorcycle for a short shopping trip, bed and breakfast accommodations for three nights at a very reasonable cost (About $50 US per night). In addition, Petra did my laundry for a very reasonable fee. For any motorcycle traveler passing through this area and needing any of these types of services (and also motorcycle rental), I most highly recommend Knopf Motorradreisen. And, above and beyond all that, the delightful company of young Stefanie Knopf was priceless!
I planned to take my motorcycle helmet on the plane as a carry-on (because of lack of space in my luggage) but this was initially questioned at the ticket counter. However, after checking with a supervisor, I was allowed to carry it one. The young man at the counter asked, apparently seriously, if I was carrying it on because I was afraid of flying. Not understanding, I asked what he meant, and he asked, did I intend to wear it during the flight?!! Amusing.
My itinerary was a flight from Frankfurt to Paris and from there to Boston. All of that went without any problem and I was soon bound for the US. My last view of Europe was of a picturesque patchwork quilt of farm fields somewhere along the French coastline.