Riding Austria to the Balkans

Italy

The storm of course decided to hold back until I began Giovo Pass, just after leaving Merano for Munich. After the first minute of rain, thunder decided to boom and lighting chose to sizzle up the sky. Pefect timing really, considering it gave me the pass to myself, excluding three bmw motorcycles just starting their climb, and a some young bloke going for an afternoon run. Despite the rain, the riding was great. I couldn’t be bothered stopping to put on my rain pants, so before long, everything from knee to waist was soaked (thanks waterproof boots). Who needs to shower with weather like this. Free wash for everyone!

There’s definetly something serene about riding through the storm, especially in a cool place like Giovo. Thick grey clouds looming over delicious twisting tarmac, with old mother nature roaring in the background… The water splattering on my face was better then a naples pizza. Riding a motorcycle really gets you out there amongst it. You can feel every change in the weather as you rush past it all.

Austria

I decided to take the scenic route through Austria, despite the rain getting real heavy duty. Another 100km of riding in and daylight was beginning to fade, so I took to riding the highway towards Munich past Innsbruck. While riding down the autobahn, I began to get wheel oscillations at 160 km/h (for the second time this trip), and I put it down to spoked wheels, large panniers, large screen and big barkbusters protectors. Tapping the rear brake solved my little riding problem. I haven’t had it checked, so I guess I’ll never know.

Munich, Germany

Poor Benny had been waiting half a day for me to finish riding, so by the time I’d gotten into Munich he’d eaten his homemade pizza and prepared mine accordingly. Ever the wise man, he also supplied me with weißbeer and great banter about the old days, when we were younger, fitter and had much more hair then we do now. Even though we only managed to spend a brief two evenings together, he managed to show me Munich, even in the stroppy downpours that would not stop.

Waking up early the next morning, I was lucky enough to have the ADAC (german insurers and Carnet de Passage suppliers for places like Iran) a short walk away. Meadering down, I met with the representative who briefed me on how to use the Carnet after my hefty €5000 euro deposit. For those of you who don’t know what a Carnet is, here’s the short version – it’s an expensive book (you get the money back once you complete your journey) that allows you to temporarily import your vehicle into countries like Iran, Pakistan and India.

Get that signed, tick that, give this bit to the fella’s at the borders, keep this section, stamp this bit here… I forgot everything the representative had mentioned as soon as I steamed out the doors. Who cares about instructions – I was halfway to Iran already! Woohoo! Time to celebrate with Benny in Munich’s city with mustard schnitzel and hefe weißbeer. I got a specialised Benny tour of the surf park, the original brauhaus and the old city. I’m a lucky fella.

A lazy sleep in later, I zoomed out of Munich just before midday the following morning. I chased tightly curving regional farmers roads, riding for the first two hours before stopping for a final german currywurst. Yeah, it’s a not a traditional bavarian thing, but heck, the things are bloody delicious!

Austria

Back on the road a half hour later, I was riding Austria again, and wowser did it feel good. Every road in Austria was meant to be ridden. My three cylinder engine screamed in excitement as I whirled in and out of quick corners, riding past the rich, beautiful green alpine scenery. National park after national park whizzed past. I mean, the whole of Austria may as well be a national park it’s that spectacular. I could bet someone who loved riding built those roads.

I found a neat campsite with soft green grass in the middle of the Oberalps in Austria. Riding up the gravel path, I payed my 11 euros and pitched my tent with a weißbeer in hand, Trumpet looking on. While cooking dinner on my little fuel burner (forza pasta!), I took a good look around me. Surrounded by alpine scrub and a million trees, I watched the sun wave goodnight over the back of a darking mountain in the distance. I wasn’t in some five star, super michelin rated, glorious hotel with nicely dressed people. The smell of sweat reigned in the cooling evening and I hadn’t worn a clean pair of underwear or socks in 4 days riding. But the moment felt bloody miraculous to me, and that was all that mattered.

I beat the sun up in the morning, and got riding on the tasty curves before the morning rays began licking the road with their golden tongues. Without a vehicle to be seen, I was able to squirt through quickly enough to stop and capture some of beautiful Austria before the rest of the country woke up. Mist crept over the tips of small mountains giving the whole range a dreamy look. It could have been a lord of the rings set for a movie. Clear, cold rivers flowed past me as I entered tunnels bored straight through the last bastions of the grey alps.

On my way out of the alps, I pulled up for some petrol and a quick bit of bike maitenance. While I was looking for specific sockets, the mechanic in the garage asked me what I was looking for. I told her what size sockets I was after and within minutes, she had pulled out 3 sockets from her own toolbox and told me to keep them free of charge. What a bonser lass. That pretty much sums up every interaction I had with Austrians. They’re definetly a helpful, good hearted lot.

Hungary

Two hours of boring, boring riding ensued. Straight roads with nothing to look at but bushes and the occasional pothole. The hungarian drivers however, were a bunch of great people. I don’t remember having to overtake once on the opposite lane of traffic. They all just moved to the right and got out of the way, letting me go on riding down the road. Even at the lights they’d just move over and let me trickle through. A stark contrast to Australian drivers, who hate sacrificing even one inch of the road to anyone. I stopped for a heavy lunch (but so cheap) of rice and meat in cabbage leaves with pork knuckle and cucumber salad, before riding onto Budapest.

Budapest, Hungary

That afternoon, I wobbled into my mate Greg’s driveway in Budapest. I’d known Greg since renting a BMW GS700 off him back in Casablanca, Morocco, about four months ago for 2 months in North Africa. He’s a massive legend along with his missus Viki and the kids (hey everyone!). Lobo (the family german sheperd) gave me a welcoming lick and a nibble on the finger. We spent the afternoon catching up over cold Heineken’s, and then Viki tried to kill me with four salami and ham sandwiches. Not sure what that was about, evidently she thought I was on protest agaisnt food. You’ll never go hungry with Viki around, or thirsty with Greg in your midst. That evening I got a personal tour of Budapest by night from Greg and Viki – as well as some liver schnitzel and a curry bean soup. I was so buggered from riding I fell asleep in the car on the way back!

The next day brought with it Axler, a Canadian hitchhiker who I’d crossed paths with in North Africa. I picked up the blue eyed Canadian from Budapest airport in the sticky heat, found a hostel and headed out for the night. Within an hour of being in Budapest city, Axler and I went for a drink with Adrien (a fella I’d met in the arctic north of Norway). There we met with Luisa, Dominic and Gemma (friends coming out of the woodwork)…. for some interesting tasting vodka and homemade lemonades. Then the towering Fins Martin and Carin turned up and our group was complete – the next 3 days brought us together as family. We ate together, played durak together, went sightseeing together, swam together and spent a perfect three days getting to know each other (over the odd beer and lemonade). I really miss my Finnish friends, I feel like I’ve known them most of my life.

This actually brings me to a point in the story where I feel the need to explain something a little more. When I first began to put together this ‘ride all the way home’ thing, I thought, ‘yeah man, this will be awesome, I’m gonna see so many cool places and do so many cool things.’ … I never thought about the people I’d meet. But then I began meeting people, and all these people turned my journey, or my life rather, up to max level in about five seconds flat. It’s the people that made it a trip worth doing, you actually get to see how good the world can be extremely quickly on your own.

The crew spent a last perfect day wandering through the castle in Budapest before finding a patch of grass in the island park on the Danube river. I’d spent 3 perfect days in Budapest, but it was time to go – time was ticking and I had to send my passport home to get a Pakistani visa. To do that I needed to get through the balkan countries quick smart to Greece. With my Pakistan, Iran, and China invitation letter in my email it was time to go. With a last game of durak, the Fins headed off for some much needed sleep, as did I.

I woke up tired, grumpy and my darling triumph felt like a whale tugging along the titanic. I made a quick stop after exiting Budapest and adjusted the suspension at the next petrol station, and rechecked the tire pressures. She felt great after the adjustment, but because I had left so late AND because the hungarian road was so boring, I decided to camp on the south of lake Balaton. I found a cheap place to eat (5 euros for dinner), so I ate some pig hooves with baked potato while watching the sun set over the huge Lake Balaton. Pink hues tingled with the last of the golden sparks of sun rays resting on the lakes edge, it was a lovely scene to retire on for the night.

Slovenia

On the last 50kms in Hungary, I broke onto some reasonable curvy asphalt, and then BANG, all of a sudden I was in Slovenia. How the riding changed. Snaking roads twisted over hills, through rich green forests, to farmlands lush with vegetation. Quick, sweeping bends interchanged with tight hairpins all the way to Ljubljana. Hilltop churches overlooked Trumpet and I as we sang through the bends. A riding dream! Slovenian drivers also appeared to be just as observant as the Hungarians – moving to the right everytime they saw me in the rear view. Thank you Slovenia!

I’ve slept in some weird places in my life. Deserts. Straw and clay huts. Snowy mountains. The sides of roads. Budapest city streets. Strangers gardens. However, sleeping in a school was a first for me – and this school was actually a hostel in Ljubljana. Or a hostel that was a school. Work that out. The place was huge, teen graffiti raged on the walls of every toilet cubicle and wall space you could imagine. I’ve never seen so many pictures of pen drawn penises in my life, and I was in an all boys school for 5 years. Still, a bed is a bed no matter the place and I was happy to stop riding for the day.

Wandering about Ljubljana in the gold evening sun, there was alot happening for such small capital. It seemed the whole city was out socialising by the river, next to the beautiful bridges connecting the old to the new. Almost everyone was drinking wine and people watching, or looking on to the street performers. I struck out for some calamari and octopus salad, with some white wine in the middle of a white cobblestoned street in the old part of town, after doing some people watching of my own. Locals and tourists alike were riding bicycles in the setting sun, having a chat as they went about their errands.

Croatia

Croatia, well the little I saw of it, seemed nice enough. I rode from Ljubljana to Plitvička Jezera (those famous Croatian waterfalls). I really wanted to visit Zadar to see a friend, but time was agaisnt me and I had to push for Greece in the quickest, and most scenic riding way possible. As was customary for my time in the balkans, the roads in Croatia leading to Plitvička were a blast, except maybe the spilled gravel on every second corner, and oversized campers, plodding along doing half the speed limit. I hadn’t been sleeping well the last few days and was feeling the kill, so I pitched up camp in the early afternoon and called it a day, after a dinner on the burner of ham, cheese, bread and tomato sauce.

That night it rained dogs, aliens, trolls and lots of water. Thunder boomed all night, and the cold rain splattered hard on my tent. So much water had come down, that Trumpet had keeled over on the stand and was lying down on her side. I rushed over to her as soon as I saw, half asleep and barefoot, I picked her up out of the green mud and prayed to the gods of the road she hadn’t leaked all her fuel (I’d only left 3 litres in the tank). Even though the sensor was telling me I had no fuel left, somehow we limped to the closest petrol station and got some vitamin juice. The riding gods of the road were on my side. It was time to enter Bosnia – the home of cevapi and burek…

 

Stay tuned for another episode next week as I head for Greece through the balkan countries, get shouted at by border police and ride a ferry through little Norway.