Friday, July 25, 2008

Headed South and Crossing Europe....

Ok….it’s been a while. I’ve been off the radar and on the road sans internet. It’s been nice but hasn’t been conducive to any updates. Here goes my attempt at summing up the weeks since then….

-Hung around Czech Republic for a few more days before heading towards Barcelona
-Found myself in a killer rainstorm two-up on the bike with Kendra…blah
-Rode to Regensberg, Germany to stay at Anna Luisa’s again and actually see some of the town
-Rode through Germany in the rain and thunder…..scary few days
-Hit Switzerland and stayed with another couchsurfer (Melissa) for two nights
-Rode through some of the most amazing roads and mountains I’ve ever seen in Switzerland
-Hit Lyon, France and another Couchsurfer’s flat for a night and day in Lyon
-Rode for two days to Barcelona….boring
-Spent the night on the beach in my tent…..amazing
-Picked up Margot from the airport on the 17th and put the bike to the test with two people AND two people’s gear!
-Two nights in Barcelona and we headed for the south of France for beach time
-Two nights in Nice, France transformed my trip and my attitude
-Another day of riding and we were deep into Italy
-Spent a night in Genova, Italy
-Camped in Tuscany outside of Florence
-NOW in Florence for two nights in a hostel……
-Hitting the road for either Venice or Roma in the next few days!

So….that’s the bullet points….now on to the boring details.

It seems like months since my last update. So MUCH has happened since July 4th! As summed up above, I found myself stalling in the Czech Republic. Kendra made such a welcoming host that it was tough to leave. I used the weather as my excuse one day, but finally rode out the next come hell or high water….and yeah I found high water.

While at Kendra’s place I did manage to use a Fonda San Miguel recipe to make enchiladas for my Czech hosts. (thanks again Lauren) They were really tasty, but a bit spicier than most of us would have liked. I WILL make them again……awesome. My cooking has gotten better and I really enjoyed putting something together that none of them had experienced before.

I got on the bike and prepared to cross my path north by heading back south again to meet up with Margot in Spain. I ended up in the house of Anna Luisa and the company of her and Mark again. I had a great experience there and was SO glad that I returned….even if it did seem ridiculous to cross my own path. One morning I just sat at a sidewalk café drinking coffee thinking that yet again I was experiencing another trip high. Every day just seems to bring new simple pleasures and outlook. It was amazing to just be there an in the moment. I truly hope to return to Regensberg again someday.

I rode out of Regensberg into a hellacious thunderstorm, but rode late into the night and ended up staying the night at Melanie’s house in Oberdischingen, Germany again. She wasn’t home, but her neighbors let me in and I enjoyed a nice long sleep and shower the next morning before getting back on the road. Thanks Melanie!

From Ober I headed to Switzerland to soak up the riding and mountains. I arrived at a fellow couchsurfer’s house near Zurich and a party awaited. Melissa (my host) had a party going with Sangria and food and I enjoyed getting to hang with her crew of international travelers.

The next day Melissa took me around her town and we hit a photography museum and basically just hung out with no real agenda….pretty much like most of my trip. She was amazingly gracious and didn’t mind sharing her one room pad with me while I snored away and kept her awake. She even took me to her favorite Yoga studio in Zurich and insisted on paying for my session (it was damn expensive) and man was it great. It was exactly what my sore body needed. Amazing….yet again.

I sadly left Zurich and headed into the mountains of Switzerland. It was the most incredible day of motorcycling I’ve ever had. EPIC. The roads, the mountains, the tunnels, the views…..just epic. I took a few photos, but really not much as my hands were full with twisties and fun. Another day I will go back there and take more pics to share!

I ended the day in Lyon and another friendly couchsurfer greeted me with a floor to crash on. Marilyn (my host) is French, but spent time in Austin and dreams of moving there… you can imagine, we got along great. I spent the night talking to her about her time there and in Texas and the next morning she showed me some of Lyon. It was beautiful and somehow I forgot to take my camera. It was fairytale France really…..the stuff you see in the movies. I bought some postcards and maybe I’ll actually mail them someday.

I packed up from Lyon and headed to Montpellier. Boring….just slept in a crappy motel and tried to work out the cramps from riding for so long. I hit Barcelona on the 16th and found a spot on the beach to call my own. It was a relaxing day and night on the beach, but I was full of stress about getting Margot AND two people’s gear on the bike for a few thousand miles!

The next morning I found the airport and picked up a smiling face from back home. It was more than welcome to see Margot and instantly begin the “work” of traveling by motorbike. We packed up the bike and determined that stuff needed to go home. (a box is headed to Austin right now with my winter clothes) We hit Barcelona and instantly found a hostel with a sweet room for a good price. We unloaded…..threw on flip flops and walked the city. Barcelona is one cool town. Great architecture…..great sights and smells…nice beaches.

Unfortunately some thugs took a shine to our helmets that were cabled to my bike at the beach one day. GONE….poof….$900 worth of helmets. I had no idea a cable that thick could be cut so easily! I was beyond pissed, but Margot helped to calm me down and we walked all over town looking for the moto shop that didn’t seem to exist. We found it and plunked down the cash for something we owned just a few hours before. We decided to get over it and not discuss it again as it just got me mad all over again. Needless to say….we’re carrying our helmets everywhere now!

I have MUCH to say about how cool Barcelona was, but I’ll just let the pics tell a bit of the story. We stayed a few days and headed towards the south of France for more beach time and amazing views. Riding the bike with two people is a bit challenging to say the least. It is made to take two people, but NOT comfortably. My extra cushy seat is good, but mainly for one person. We also tried to avoid the motorways headed back through Spain and France, but found the back roads to be more than a bit confusing and simply uncomfortable. Motorways are expensive, but sometimes the only way to get miles under my belt.

In two days we managed to ride from Barcelona to Nice, France with more than a few stops in between. We rode along the coast in Marseille and were overwhelmed by the cliffs and water. Truly breathtaking. That day and into the night we avoided the motorways along the coast and near Cannes we hit the coolest 30 mile stretch of road I’ve ever ridden. (yes Switzerland was beautiful, but France’s twisties took the prize for fun). I have NEVER had to concentrate so intensely for so long as I did on that short stretch of road. It was switchback after switchback and I couldn’t believe I was on it!

We did think ahead and booked a room in a fabulous 1 star hotel and rolled into Nice amazed by the sights. What a great town. The coastline of this town is covered with beautiful people and more to look at than we could handle. We chose Nice mainly because it had a KTM dealer and I needed a starter for the bike, but we were really glad we ended up there regardless. I did ride over to the KTM dealer, but they couldn’t be bothered with helping me to diagnose the problem unless I was paying them to do all the work……a total waste of time. I made the decision to kickstart the thing until it annoys me so much that I take it apart to replace whatever is stripped. At this point with the idle upped it seems to have no issue starting on the first or second kick. Bueno.

We took in some great food, beach time and energy in Nice and chose to move on to Monaco and into Italy. Monaco was insane….posh, expensive and confusing. Margot took a ton of pics as we rode around just taking it all in. We chose to move onto Italy and were glad we did. The roads along the coast are almost repetitive in their beauty. Serious mental pictures that I will take home with me.

I believe that I will leave most of the descriptions of the beauty to the photos….even though they fail miserably to capture how overwhelming it all is.

Details…..we ended up in Genova, Italy and without a place to stay. We rode around for almost 3 hours before finding a place that was sufficiently shitty enough (read CHEAP) and we couldn’t get off the bike and unloaded fast enough. My ass is NOT happy about the long rides! Margot seems to mainly have issues with her knees. Genova had pretty spots, but mainly seemed a bit dirty and overpriced. Late that night we walked all over looking for edible food and then right behind the hotel we stumbled upon a tiny alleyway-café where we got a more than enjoyable Italian man who said that Texans were his favorite kinds of Americans and that he’d spent time there 40 YEARS ago! We thoroughly enjoyed just sitting in that dirty alley until after midnight listening to the partying Italians around us on a random Wednesday night….good stuff.

The next day we got online to find campsite near Florence. Internet access has been almost nil since I left Germany so being prepared for the next city has been tough and annoyingly time consuming….but spending 3 hours driving around Genova convinced us that finding a place to point to the day before often makes more sense than randomly hunting upon arrival. The campsite was north of Florence in the mountains and a perfect break from the cities. We unloaded there…set up camp and went hunting for a nice Tuscan meal. We ended up doubling back to a restaurant called “Enoteca”! As some of you know, this is my favorite spot in Austin….so it was too good to pass up. Here we were in this fancy restaurant in the middle of a beautiful mountain valley in Tuscany?!? How did we get so damn lucky!? The food was AMAZING and the whole experience was almost loaded with guilt for just how good it was.

We crashed hard that night as the campsite was quiet…cold and cozy. We woke up late the next day and hit the showers…and the POOL! THIS is the way to CAMP! Everything was really just perfect.

So…that’s yet another impossibly long update. Sorry for the length, but I really haven’t even scratched the surface of what I’ve seen since the Czech Republic. We’re now in a Florence hostel and about to set out to see more sights here. One more night in Florence and we’re either heading for Venice or Rome. We’re thinking of taking a ferry from Southern Italy to Spain again….so it’s all up in the air. Update more when I can. For now just check out the pics as Margot has clicked off quite a few. I’ll add comments as I have time. Also....if you're viewing pics I suggest viewing from the set icons on the right hand side of the main Flickr page. So....view "Headed South" folder today. This will give you the pics in the order they occurred versus the somewhat random way Flickr "streams" them.

Over and out, A

Friday, July 4, 2008

straddlin' the border

How much can one man fit into a week? More than I thought I could, that's for sure. The pic above shows that I made it as far north as the border of Poland and the Czech Republic.


-rode to Regensburg. Stayed one night and moved on
-arrived in Most, Czech Republic
-rode the bus to Prague to enjoy creepiest sleepover yet
-met up with group to climb a mountain
-conquered the mountain, slept like I never have before
-hanging in Most....

So. I left Oberdischingen, Germany on Friday with a destination of Regensberg, Germany in mind. This time I used the GPS and set it to "direct" and "no highways". Wow...what a difference it made! I ended up on amazing twisties and switchback roads for 5 hours! I would ride for 3 miles and be in another tiny village that looked just like the one before it.....The major difference between the villages there and the ones back home is that they are ALL clean and well taken care of....with amazing local luxuries that small towns back home seem to lack. I rode through fields of amazing bean-like plants riding up telephone pole height wire structures. They were beautiful and EVERYWHERE! I later figured out that it was all Hops. for BEER! Now I know why the stuff tastes so good......the plants are cared for as if they were made of gold. Amazing.

Through (CS) I found more cool hosts. Marc and Anna-Luisa hosted me by letting me stay in Luisa's apartment alone. So cool........right in the center of a beautiful town in a really cool 500 year old building. (pics are posted) It was quiet and perfect to unwind from the road. I had drinks in a rose garten with Luisa and watched Spain beat Russia in the Euro Cup semis. Then I slept like a baby and the next morning enjoyed chatting with Luisa as she got up especially to make me coffee and send me off with a smile. She's invited me back for my return that looks like it will lead me right through Regensberg on my way to Switzerland. I intend to take her up on the offer and spend a few days in Regensberg soaking up the scenery a bit more. Apparently it's one of the few decent sized towns in Germany that wasn't almost totally destroyed by bombings during the war. More than a few tour guides on CS have offered to show me around. Soon...

On Friday morning I rode off headed towards Most, Czech Republic to prepare for my weekend of hiking and camping. I arrived at Kendra's place who graciously offered to let me stay at her place and ride along with her to the organized CS trip up the highest peak in the the country. She was great and welcoming. We stashed my moto at her friend's place who had a safe garage to shelter it in and we rode the bus to Prague. Now....this is where it got interesting/frustrating. We met up with another fellow CS'er who offered to host us both for the night before we caught the bus to the base of the mountain with the rest of the hiking group. He was this Turkish guy who I'm now referring to as "Turk Diggler". As nice as he was....he was perhaps the most awkward character I've met in quite a while.

We got to his flat and were ushered in with a bow and a curtsy looking move. I thought "great....this is gonna be fun". He walked us into the smallest efficiency apartment I've ever seen. one closet of a kitchen and one water closet. All the windows were shut and the blinds closed. It was hot....and it seemed that he and deodorant did NOT get along. He shows us the bed and explains that we can all sleep on it. A queen bed.....nice. I immediately have visions of my GLORIOUSLY spacious one man tent outside. Damn....I left it on the motorcycle. I'm screwed.

Kendra and I exchanged the glance that acknowledges the fact that we are definitely NOT going to enjoy our stay in this dungeon with the awkward (to put it mildly) Turk Diggler. We go out to have dinner with Kendra's other friends and reluctantly return to the flat knowing that's it's just going to get worse. I was having SUCH a hard time even breathing around this guy as his B.O. was about as bad as I've ever been exposed to. Diggler announced that he was taking a shower and I almost jumped up Toyota style knowing that if he didn't I might vomit in my sleep! So...we agree to all laying sideways on his bed to give more breathing room and the light goes out....but not before he attempts to amuse us with really odd youtube stand up videos on his cell phone. I can't tell you how stupid they were.....until Kendra awkwardly told him we were tired and had a damn mountain to climb the next morning!

We lay there while he sits up at the end of the bed surfing the internet or something on his phone for HOURS! I couldn't sleep....Kendra couldn't sleep and he simply just sat there at times staring at both of us. At 4:30 Am I get up to drain my system and there he sits in the dim sunrise light coming through the window just staring at me from the end of the bed. I ask him what's up and he simply shrugs his shoulders. WEIRD! Essentially neither Kendra or I slept more than 20 minutes all night and acted as if we were sleeping to quell the awkwardness of telling him that he was making us very uncomfortable.

The alarm FINALLY went off at 6 am and we POPPED out of bed in hopes that we might get some sleep on the 3 hours bus ride to the mountain. Diggler, of course, jumped into the kitchen to prepare an awkward meal to top off our awkward night. He made one big omelet with french fries and we choked it down while we smiled and thanked him for his efforts. He then offered to give us money for our trip and seemed sad that we were leaving. At one point he told Kendra that normally the only friends he had at home were the spiders and the ticking of his clock! That explains a lot I suppose. was the WORST night of sleep, or lack of sleep, that I've had on this trip and in recent years for that matter. It was perfect timing since I was about to take on the biggest physical challenge I'd undertaken in many years!

We got on the subway headed for the train station gleeful that we were rid of Turk Diggler and talks of how we should've just ridden the bike to the mountain and camped out somewhere on the side of the road. What a waste!

Well...the mountain. It was great. After a 3.5 hour bus ride with no sleep we arrived at the base of the mountain with 13 other really cool people. The group consisted of a handful of Czechs, a Ukranian, A Frenchman, another American and two Australians. I knew it was going to be challenging with little sleep, but my lack of gear made it even worse. I wasn't willing to buy it or carry it for one weekend so I set off with one pair of soft footed converse, a thin hoody, a dirty pair of jeans and a not-so-well-suited-school-backpack filled with everything from Nutella to a bottle of Vodka. NOT GOOD.

About 3o minutes in it was obvious to Kendra and I that we would officially be bringing up the rear of the group. The rest of the group seemed well geared-up and bright-eyed from actually sleeping the night before.....not to mention experienced hikers. feel like crap AND perform like it too...tough day. Regardless....we accepted the challenge of finishing and we DID! The sights were beautiful and the climb, though exhausting and extremely rigorous, was well worth the effort. We went from hot and muggy to COLD and windy rain at the top. The climb was about 16km long and at one point we were walking along the ridge of the mountains after the first serious climb for about 5 km. It seemed like a nice break until we looked at the last 2 km to the peak WAY out ahead of us! Steep doesn't come close to describing it. It was totally intimidating and ominous. Coming back down on slippery rocks made it even more challenging......shedding clothes as the temperatures increased rapidly.

We made it a little over half way down to the cabin that the group had rented for us nestled into a small valley. It was perfect.....totally archaic with a wood stove, no lights and dirty soft beds everywhere. It was perfect. I unloaded my pack and just laid there for abotu 30 minutes trying to NOT feel like the oldest guy of the climb. (yes...I later found out I was tied for the position) The group prepared a big kettle full of beans and pasta and we feasted and drank like kings! It was one of the best meals I've ever had. The mixed group mostly spoke the universal English so it was quite fun hearing about their travels. Unfortunately intense pain in my legs set in later and I was forced to sit most of the time, but it was really a great evening. I mean...I DID have scotch to drink afterall.

The next morning we ate leftovers, packed and cleaned up the house and walked the rest of the way down the mountain to the buses. It was a successful trip and one I won't soon forget. I was glad to have tested myself again, but next time I'll bring proper shoes and a proper pack. I'm certain the climb would have been infinitely easier for me with both. I'm considering doing more climbing back home......Stefan is already working on that.

Once back to Kendra's place we went to a bar to watch the Euro Cup final between Germany and Spain. It was a good game, but unfortunately it ended as expected with Spain as the victor. Oh well...I'll enjoy the positive vibes down there in a few weeks.

For now I've just been soaking up this small former communist mining town, Kendra's hospitality and her friend Lenka's Czech cooking. Good stuff! My allergies have been consistently horrible over the last week, but I hope they soon fade. I'm taking meds and praying for the end of the infection that has set in. Why is it that I only get this in the fall back home, but in Europe it's a year round issue?

Today I intend to use a Fonda San Miguel recipe (THANKS Lauren) to make a proper 4th of July meal with Tex-Mex!?!?? the europeans think mexican food is exotic....and you know....I like the idea of cooking it again. So....I'm posting pics. I'll make comments as I have time. I hope all back home enjoy the holiday and get some outdoor time today.