October 2006

9th October 2006 |

I landed in Frankfurt, took a train to Duisburg, and set off on a non-stop ride through rain to Hamburg to celebrate my cousin’s birthday. I spent a couple of days with my family while my shoes dried out and I got my hair cut. Couldn’t stay longer because I had to meet my German publisher in Cologne, which meant going south again, even further. It was still raining, so I gave in and bought some boots just to make sure that it never rained again – and it didn’t, for five weeks. In Cologne they put me up in a super hotel with a remarkable bar. Here’s a picture of it

From Cologne I started wandering East. I noticed a town called Waldeck on the map, which reminded me of a fantastic book by a young and rather beautiful Jewish banker’s daughter called Rosie. She fled from Berlin and the Nazis in 1938, went to New York and became an American journalist. Then she went to Romania in 1940 when the Nazis were taking it over, and lived there for more than a year (very courageous for a Jewess) so that she could write about it. She even had an affair with a high-ranking Nazi officer. Incredible! Apparently she was married to a certain Baron Waldeck, and used his name on the book.

I thought I might find out something more about her. I found a castle and some lovely scenery, but this Waldeck was apparently from a different branch of the same family.

Here’s my bike in the village.
This style of building is called fachwerk

From Waldeck I came to Kassel and decided to have look. There were some interesting buildings on the river but I had trouble parking somewhere safe. I only took one picture, and here it is. The girl in front looks as though she’s trying to grow her own stilts.

Then it was time to go to my first rally, at Gieboldehausen.
The Mother of all German Rallies is Bernd Tesch’s deal on the Belgian border. It’s been going for nearly thirty years and I first went in ’95. Bernd specializes in ‘survival training’ so he used to have it in March when the snow was still on the ground, although he has relented a bit now and put it back to April. It’s a great rally, mostly for long distance riders, but it’s very intense and Tesch dominates the proceedings.

Some people felt the need for a more comfortable and relaxed rally at a more pleasant time of year, so now a bunch of them, mostly German, go to a pleasant village in north Germany, near the university town of Goettingen, and not far from Kassel. I’ve been several times, and really enjoy it.

Here’s the post rally breakfast scene

After that I started to ride south. I was really enjoying the 650 Funduro. It dates back to ’97, single female owner, ten thousand miles, a steal really for 2000 euros, and I’ve got those soft black Australian bags slung across the back. I’m having a bit of trouble with the gearing at slow speeds but I’ll get used to it (or maybe change it). I asked my German friends to tell me where to visit on my way to Slovenia and they all said ‘Go to Bamberg’ – So I did. Manfred’s Dad used to take him there once every year, and I went to the same hotel, the Weyrich.


Bamberg is a really beautiful old German city and here are some pictures

This is the old town hall.

Next day I had a leisurely ride to visit friends near Augsburg, and went through stunning countryside. Germany is densely populated, but manages to hide the fact quite well. There were some stunning views, like the one below.
Something I noticed for the first time on this trip is that the Germans, unlike most of the rest of us, have found a way to take a lot of their light industry into the countryside without spoiling it so that people can live a rural life, sustain their villages and gardens, and still have well-paying jobs. It is not unusual to ride through a forest or farmland and come across an isolated factory, clean, tidy, obviously controlled with great care for the environment.

From Augsburg I went over to Munich and then south across a bit of Austria, (avoiding the motorway becase they make you buy a vignette to ride on them) and then came over into Slovenia. Maribor, where I was going, is fairly close to the border of this little country. I came through Slovenia on my way back from the world three years ago, but I wasn’t this far north. It’s taken me a while to get used to the idea of it being an independent country, but along with many others I have conceived a great admiration for it. It appears to be both rural and prosperous, and that’s a hard trick to pull off.

My reason for going was that my mate, Dave Wyndham, who helped me round the world, told me about this Krauser Rally that he goes to every year, and it just fitted in perfectly.

Actually I got the impression that there would be maybe a dozen of us, so I was amazed to find that there were almost 200 bikers signed up, all expecting to ride together through the countryside. Anyone who knows me, knows I am quite leery of group riding.

I couldn’t believe I was doing this.

Well, it turned out to be a very pleasant experience. Michael Krauser is the son of the man who used to build boxes for BMWs and started the rally. It’s been going for ages, and Michael keeps it going in memory of his father. He and his wife have become expert at planning routes and organising it so that it works. Can you imagine a string of bikes a mile long winding along small back roads without getting tangled up? Well they manage it brilliantly. And the locals, who don’t get to cross the road for half an hour, seemed to love it. Slovenia is a kind of rural paradise. I heard at least two people say they were determined to move there.

Michael doesn’t do boxes any more. He does sidecars,
and I think they’re beauties

The rallies move around every year and some people have been going to them for decades. Some of the better riders sign up as Z-men. They are the marshals, who learn the routes and get the group through the difficult bits.

Here’s Alain Boxe, marshalling the masses.
He’s an old hand on this rally and loves it. Ignore the trucks. They’re nothing to do with us.

I was there for four days, and then went south on my way to Italy. Half way along the highway to Ljubliana (the capital) I saw a sign for a motorcycle museum, and peeled off for a look. I think the village was called Vransko. I wrote it down and lost the note, but the museum was great – for the atmosphere as much as the exhibits. It was all put together by one man, Petya Grom, as a hobby. He’s been collecting since the early 80s, but now it’s become serious. His son said Petya would never let me take pictures, but when I told Petya I’d been twice round the world and wanted to put photos on my web site he was nice enough to invite me in. The picture you saw at the beginning was of a bike that had two gear boxes (among other things) that were connected, so that you could run in nine (I think it was nine, maybe more) gears.

Here’s Petya, with the Indian he rode all over Europe

I took a lot of pictures, of course, and didn’t have time to find out too much about the bikes, but maybe it will inspire some people to visit him and that lovely country. I’ll put the pictures on a separate page which you can go to at the end of this journal because I haven’t found out yet how to put an anchor in the text to bring you back here.

Petya’s wife has entered into the spirit of it. She runs a coffee shop and produces the exhilarating black liquor from a twin-cylinder machine, below. You might be able to make out the spark plugs and leads.

Next, to Italy. I was on my way to have dinner with my buddy Franco in Milan. I could make it in a day, of course, but that’s much too far for fun, so looking at the map I found Asiago about halfway. I’ve had Asiago cheese, and I thought I’d see what it’s like where they make it. The route to Milan goes past Venice and across a plain. It’s low down and hot. On my way I had a little excitement too. A huge traffic jam held me up, so I took some side streets and found myself suddenly right in the middle of the route for a major Italian bicycle race. There were crowds lined up on each side of me, and men with red flags and even redder faces screaming at me to get the hell out of there. Which I did. Pronto.

Then, on my way to Asiago, I learned about the shortcomings of road maps. For one thing they don’t show contours. From that sweltering, low-lying plain I suddenly found myself climbing at an ever steeper angle until, for the last twenty miles or so I was doing an incredible series of the sharpest hairpins, (torni), I’ve ever ridden. That’s when I really got into trouble with those low gears.

Asiago turned out to be in another world, high up in the Alps, but it was worth it.
I found a very nice, comfortable and inexpensive hotel called the Alpi. Here it is, on a pedestrian street:

They tucked the bike in behind the kitchen and I wandered off around this fairyland of a town.

There was a very attractive park right in the middle, between the cathedral and the town hall, and I found a piece of art work there that really impressed me

I bought some cheese, naturally, but it was disappointing. A nice texture, but very bland. Franco was quite scornful. He said it was for invalids. His mother used to give it to him when he was sick as a child.
There was a lot more to this trip, and maybe I can come back to it later when I have more time. Meanwhile, if you want to look deeper into Petya Grom’s motorcycle museum you can click here.