[September 2017 Jeff] Since we're now travelling through lots of smaller countries and, in general it's mostly sightseeing stuff, I'll try not to bore you with too much detail and rather attempt a short summary of each country.....of course writing more if anything unusual happened.
When we left off last time we had reached Helsinki, Finland. From there we caught a ferry across to Estonia which was all nice and easy and checked ourselves in to a cheap hotel in Tallinn and made ourselves dinner. In the morning there was a knock on the door and I opened it to a half naked Ukrainian truck driver saying something about my passport, repeating the same phrase over and over but the only word I could understand was "passport'. I didn't need to put in much of a performance for the dumb look I gave him as I had no idea what he wanted and wasn't about to hand over my passport. He eventually went away. Half naked Ukrainian truck drivers were to be a constant feature in the coming weeks.
Tallinn has an "old town", (as do many cities in Europe), so we caught a bus and spent a very pleasant few hours wandering around, ending the day at an old German style pub, inexplicably staffed by pirates.
On our first day on the road out of Tallinn we dropped by the Jõelähtme waterfall, touted as Estonia's Niagara Falls - which took a stretch of the imagination. Estonia is a pretty flat country to ride through, no mountains or twisty roads, but what I really liked about it was the nicely graded dirt roads which meandered through quiet farmland and some national parks, which we just seemed to end up on without specifically seeking them out.
We were looking for a campground, but the first one we arrived at had a very strange feel, it was well maintained and a lovely place but completely deserted. We stayed for around an hour, had lunch, fired up our primus stove and made a brew, but no one showed up so we decided to leave and find another place.
As we cross into Latvia we get caught in a drenching rain which persists for hours soaking us through, so camping's undesirable. Ideally we would get a hotel / hostel room with heating where there's a chance to dry our gear out, so we find a supermarket and, undercover for a few minutes use our phones to locate a campground that has cabins - these usually have heating, but when we arrive find something a little unusual, the "cabin" is on a pontoon moored on a mosquito infested river. It doesn't have heating and indeed isn't much bigger than the bed that's inside.
The following day we head to the coast of Latvia at Karosta where we take a tour of the prison built around 1900 as an infirmary but later had a more gruesome history at the hands of Nazis and the Russians. It was a great tour, very interesting and the guide acting the part well as the stereotypical communist soldier.
These Baltic countries are very flat and uninteresting as far a motorcycle rides go, but the geography does get interesting. To the Southwest of Lithuania is a pocket of land that isn't labelled on most maps. Turns out it's Russian territory, there's even a tiny spit of land on the coast that has a border post on it between Lithuania and Russia. We have to stay clear of it as we don't have Russian visas. We do however take a look into visiting Belarus as they just introduced visa free travel for EU and Australian passport holders (among others), however looking into it closely it's only possible to get this at the airport in Minsk, entering via land borders still requires a visa although I expect this'll change in the near future once the machines of bureaucracy grind into synchronisation. We make for Poland instead.
Entering Poland we're reintroduced to some very special driving habits that we haven't experienced since Africa........overtaking within 6 inches of the elbow while there's oncoming traffic on a blind corner - that sort of thing, you never really get used to it and it requires an extra dimension of concentration so that you don't get a little fright every time a car appears beside you in your lane. It's a long day's ride into Warsaw but we'll be rewarded by staying with a friend, Coreen and taking a few days rest. We arrive a little early and so find a bar for a drink then Coreen messages us and says she's home. We vote to chill out and eat in with a few glasses of wine and a reasonably early night, perfect after the long ride.
Coreen's working at home and we go out and visit the "old town". Having been virtually flattened during the Second World War, Warsaw is relatively new and has a modern, bright and spacious atmosphere to it, there's an exceptional use of colour in the architecture showcasing that a city doesn't need to be all concrete and glass, it looks incredible and the theme's continued throughout Poland. Curiously, as the old town was also destroyed, it's now one of the newest towns in Europe. The story of the reconstruction is inspiring - the works of Venetian painter Bernardo Bellotto, court painter to the King of Poland in 1768, who created beautiful and accurate paintings of the buildings and squares were used nearly 200 years later to recreate the town. Rubble from the ruins was recovered and reused in the reconstruction.
Browsing a town map, I noticed that there's a museum for Maria Skłodowska Curie (Marie Curie), the famous Polish physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She won two Nobel prizes, the only person ever to do so in two different sciences - chemistry and physics. The museum proved a little discreet and hard to find and turned out to be situated in the house where she was born.
We spent another couple of pleasant evenings with Coreen, nice to see you again and thanks for letting us stay a chill out for a few days.
We left Warsaw behind us and headed south, stopping at a campsite on a lake in the town of Przysucha. It was hot, in the 30's. In this situation priority number 1 is to get the riding gear off, it was soooo tempting to just walk straight into the lake. As we pulled up at the campsite a nice Polish man who was sunbathing approached and took us under his wing, walking us around the three camp grounds situated along the lake and translating for us until we found a cabin at the last site. As soon as we were in we changed and went down to the beach for a beer and a swim. For an hour, it almost felt as if we were on holiday.
Our next stop in Poland was Kraków in the South, there's a couple of things to see around here. Auschwitz and Salt mines. We've booked a hostel, as we arrive in the driveway it doesn't look hopeful, a rather Soviet looking concrete block, however inside was a revelation, it was brilliant, clean and new. In the evening we went into the kitchen to cook dinner and found it full of half naked Ukrainian truck drivers, although we had no common language they turned out to be good blokes and made space for us, so we sat down to dinner together and watched the World Athletic Championships, specifically the women's high jump where they raucously cheered the Ukrainian girl and courteously clapped for us when the Australian girl was on.
In the morning we ride out to visit Auschwitz, there are actually 2 sites, Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz Birkenau, used by the Nazis as concentration camps during WWII. I had mixed feelings about it, I think it's good that's it been preserved and open to the public as a memorial, but you have to remember that these were real people and families, it's not fiction and the people there were completely innocent who had horrific things done to them. Many of the visitors seemed to disconnect themselves from the reality and busied themselves snapping pictures of the gas chambers, the used gas canisters and the belongings of the people that the Nazis collected, which was everything from luggage, jewelry, shoes and hair - there was a display case with an enormous pile of hair which was cut off of the victims, you weren't supposed to take pictures of this but I noticed some visitors sneaking shots when the guide wasn't looking - what for, to put in a slide show of holiday snaps for your friends?
The following day we visited the salt mine at Wieliczka, which produced salt continuously from the 13th century until 2007. Although the tour guide's delivery was akin to the acting in a Swedish detective drama, the salt mine itself was fascinating. It's 327 meters deep and is over 287 kilometres long, inside are numerous statues and even chapels carved by the miners from the salt.
Ukraine has introduced visa-free travel for our nationalities, so we decide to take a ride to the border at the small crossing of Medyka. At first everything goes as expected, we ride up to the Polish side and are met by a guard who takes our passports. When she asks for our bike document, I hand her my Australian registration paper and ask if she wants to see our insurance to which she says 'no'.
Things start to get tricky. I could tell that she's reluctant to let us through (even though we're trying to leave Poland) and she disappears for ages. Eventually she comes back and starts asking questions, "Are these the original papers" - I reply yes, even though they're not, but I know they have no way of checking this. "Are these your bikes, not rentals" - I reply that they're our bikes. She says that she can't accept our Australian registration papers and that we should have a European document for them - I query how she thought we got here in the middle of Europe and indeed into Poland, if our Australian registration papers aren't acceptable. She's trying to think of a reason not to let us through and now asks for our insurance. You're supposed to carry the original, which is bound into a little book (called the "Green Book"), but we haven't been able to get it sent to us at a fixed address yet, so we only have a photocopy. She doesn't bat an eyelid at our photocopies, but her eyes light up when she reads in the fine print that it doesn't cover Ukraine; we already know this but apparently it's possible to buy it near the border in Ukraine. At one point she relents and says that we can go to the Ukraine side and try if we want but a minute later retracts this and says we should see if we can buy insurance at the adjacent exchange office. We know this is a load of bull, but we go and ask. So, we're back two minutes later and getting on our bikes to ride back into Poland.
Congratulations Poland, you're the only country ever to turn us around at a border!
We pull over just away from the border and plot a course to the Krakowiec border 30km North. It's a little busier but we're through and into Ukraine within an hour. Outside the border post is a petrol station with a little office selling insurance, which we buy for US$4 each.
The roads are bad and the driving aggressive, but nothing new to us, drivers who try and push me off the road quickly settle down and back off with a little determined riding in return. Old Ladas are everywhere some sporting home made spoilers and paint jobs.
Driving in the towns was reasonably civilised but sometimes the main roads were paved with cobblestones and had a myriad of tram tracks criss-crossing the streets, making for a difficult time, even the local riders said it's a nightmare in the wet. We stayed in a city called Lviv for a few days and had a nice look around the old town and Lychakiv cemetery.
The cities we visited in Ukraine are charming and very pretty, however the countryside is flat and uninteresting to ride through, combined with the bad roads and driving standards, plus the need to get moving to meet a date in Bulgaria we decide to head to Romania. It's a bit of a pity because we had intended to catch up with Дмитрий (Dmitry) and Марина (Marina) who we met in Sweden, but when we look at where they live, it's at the other side of Ukraine, there's also the political situations on the Crimean and on the Eastern side of Moldova (which we would have travelled back though) to consider. Reluctantly we decide to push on and head for the border.
The border crossing between Ukraine and Romania takes a while but time passes quickly as we meet a local Ukrainian rider and his girlfriend who we chat to as we wait.
Well.....what a contrast Romania is to Ukraine, not far from the border we climb through the first stunning mountain pass, followed by another and then another. The countryside between each is punctuated by small farms, people on horseback and horse drawn carts, it's all very medieval looking but breathtaking to ride through.
Looking for a spot to have our sandwiches I spot a dirt track which looks like it follows a river so we head in and follow it for a while. Eventually it opens out into a clearing and there's a very strange looking tunnel going into the mountainside, on closer inspection I see that it once had thick iron blast doors so I reckon it must be a relic of some cold war facility. Later I also spot a concrete hatchway in the ground which is slightly ajar and I've the impression that it goes down a very long way indeed. Walking into the tunnel a little way makes me nervous and I back out - Romania does have bears and wolves after all. Still, it gives me a thrill, I love exploring and finding things like this.
The following day we pay a visit to Bran castle which has a vaguely tenuous link to the Dracula legend, we are after all in Transylvania.
One of the famous mountain roads in Europe is the Transfăgărășan in the Carpathian mountains, one drawback of being famous is that it can get an abominable amount of traffic on it. It's not too bad when we get there since it's a weekday but still the odd slow moving driver is a hindrance to enjoying it as much as could be possible. Nonetheless, it's spectacular but as we climb the clouds invade and cover the top of the mountain. We're lucky enough that they part just long enough to take a few iconic snap shots.
There was much to like about Romania, we had a great time there and it should be on the "to do" list for anyone who owns a motorcycle in Europe.
The border requires a ferry crossing, the Romanian side was friendly and easy going, the border guards were very interested in the bikes. We didn't know what to expect on the Bulgarian side, not knowing anything about the country in advance. The border guard at first seemed serious but he suddenly realises we're saying that us and the bikes are from Australia which he thinks is preposterous and prompts him to do something I don't think he does very often - he extracts himself from his cubicle and comes out to look for himself. When he sees the Sydney plates he chuckles, shakes his head and waves us on.
We ride directly to Motocamp Bulgaria, a hostel especially for motorcycle travellers in the middle of Bulgaria. It's location is prime as it's at a crossroads for motorcyclists coming out of or going to Turkey travelling to places like India, Iran, Pakistan as well as coming in or heading out to Russia. When we arrive there are two other motorcyclists already there, Paul from Australia and Nick from England. Paul's on a BMW and is coming out from Mongolia, Russia and Central Asia, Nick's on a Royal Enfield and heading across to India. Motocamp is run by Ivo and Penny, who we've been in contact with for a while as they arranged our insurance for Europe and we're due to pick up our renewal for it here. Ivo also ordered a new front tyre for Wallace and oil for us - yes, we have jobs to do while here.
The next day we get stuck into our jobs, a quick oil change, clean and tension the chains, I make a temporary repair to a broken chain guard and fit my front tyre. I get the tyre on easily, but when I inflate it I can't get it to sit on the bead evenly. Over the next few hours I inflate and deflate it half a dozen times and put it out in the hot sun in between to soften it up but it's just not playing the game. I put it aside for the day and tackle it again the following one. I'm still struggling when a Bulgarian mechanic comes over for a chat, turns out he's a fellow DR owner so he's keen to see what modifications we have. He's a nice chap and asks what I'm doing, when I tell him he shows me a trick using ratchet straps that gets the tyre to seat first time. That means the bikes are ready for a small adventure with Paul and Nick the next day.
The Buzludzha monument is a building built by the Bulgarian communist regime in 1974 to commemorate the events of a battle that took place in 1891. It's now abandoned and derelict but still a fascinating building to see. We get lost a couple of times, but lost in the best possible way - with fellow motorcyclists in the backroads of a country that's extraordinary and strange to us. It's not just us that feels out of place, I notice something that I haven't seen in a long time - people stop and stare wide eyed as we pass, with a look as if we've just landed from Mars. We arrive back at Motocamp just before dark and end the day in good spirits with a beer.
As always happens in these campsites, we've all stayed several days longer than we meant to, but the next day we all set off and ride a few hundred meters together before going our separate ways - except for Sally and I of course who stick together 😬
We head south through Bulgaria continuing with the theme of little adventure rides, getting lost in the backroads and making our way through tiny single track paths, often coming to dead ends and sometimes landslides. We're rewarded by sights of deer and coming out onto a beautiful dam - although we arrive at the bottom of the dam wall which is somewhat intimidating.
We camped beside a lake on our last day in Bulgaria, just as we settled down in bed, someone set off a fireworks show 50m from our tent - I'm not talking party poppers either, more akin to New Years. Sal was worried about bits hitting our tent, which I didn't think was possible even at that distance, until I stuck my head out and promptly got a little bit of shrapnel in the face. It went on for ages but nothing we could do as we were trapped in the tent.
Bulgaria left us with a very nice impression, not just because of the fun we had at Motocamp, but the interesting riding and stunning scenery. The people that didn't think we are from Mars were also super friendly and welcoming.
A quick border crossing and we're back into the schengen area of Europe - for a short while anyway. The roads are good and I'm enjoying the ride, although coming down one mountainside I hit a slippery patch on a sharp bend and go into a slide, managing to just save it before low-siding ...... point taken, it slows me down for a bit. We ride straight to the coast and find a cheap hotel across from the beach. It's hot and we're melting in our Klim gear, so we peel it off and head to the beach for a swim.
The following day we ride up into the mountains to view the Meteora Monasteries which have been inconceivably built on top of the rock columns hundreds of metres high. Occupation of the area by the Orthodox monks began in the ninth century and over the next eight centuries six Monasteries were built. It's certainly a stunning sight and mind blowing how they got the materials and equipment up there.
We camp that night near the Monasteries and head to Albania in the morning.
As soon as we reach the border, a beggar approaches me and as I ride up to the control point my front wheel disappears into a giant pothole - welcome to Albania I guess.
However, once we're into the country, we follow an incredible coast road to Vlorë, unfortunately the experience is marred when we come up to an oncoming truck in a tight village street and the stupid white van driver in front of me reverses to let him through, just assuming that there's nothing behind him. I madly paddle myself backwards but don't have time to look if there's anyone behind me. Luckily there isn't and I narrowly avoid him running me over. naturally he goes on his way oblivious to what nearly happened.
Anyway, my mood is partly restored when we come across an abandoned submarine base, very James bond.
Wow!.......Montenegro was the biggest surprise in all of Europe! We had no idea what to expect given that it's only a 220km (136 mi) ride across the entire country. Well, that ride was 220km of jaw dropping, eye popping, astonishing, staggering, stupendous, extraordinary, phenomenal, grin-inducing motorcycling happy place.
The ride begins with narrow single track road.....this part is Scotland (we figured out by now that everywhere in the world looks like either Australia.....or Scotland). The road winds it's way along the edges of a valley, almost seeming to hang from the hillsides at times, up and up it goes until it crests a peak and tumbles down the other side in a ribbon of tarmac. It then flows out into flat-as-a-pancake pasture land and it seems the fun's over and it's time to switch the brain off......not so fast!
The road climbs again, this time into more rugged peaks, steeper than before. We stop for a look at the map, but can't comprehend what we're looking at, depicted on our map is tunnel after tunnel and it's difficult to visualise what sort of road can need so many in this kind of valley, there are even roads meeting mid-tunnel resulting in an underground T-intersection. Continuing on we come to the top of the range and the vista laid out in front of us is incomprehensible.....apart from a stunning river we can see the entrance and exits of countless tunnels but it seems impossible to connect them to follow the path of the road.
I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story, and I've put together a bit of video from the ride......
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
The magnificent road ends just before the border, there are only a few cars and we're out of Montenegro in no time. A short ride across the river and we arrive at the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the first time we're asked for our green card insurance - which doesn't cover any of the Balkan countries - I hand it over keeping a neutral expression, after all if we're not allowed to enter it means we get to go back into Montenegro, which would evoke no complaints from me. Nevertheless, the guard doesn't say anything and waves me through.
We ride into the city of Mostar, to visit the well known landmark of the 16th century bridge built by the Ottomans, destroyed during the Bosnian war and later rebuilt with help from the U.S. Turkey, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands and Croatia. The city is a fascinating mix of cultures with a big Muslim influence. We're trying to get as close as we can with our bikes but there's a lot of parking attendants vying for business, eventually we spot some other bikes and the parking attendant - an ex-policeman who tells us he was shot in the war - negotiates a reasonable rate and isn't too pushy trying to "help" us find hotels and so on. He even looks after our jackets and helmets while we go and see the bridge.
The bridge is well known for it's jumpers, who collect tips from tourists and dive the 21 metres to the river below. After lunch we head back to the bikes and leave Mostar, being a big tourist attraction it's disproportionately expensive here. We ride out of town and head for the border with Croatia.
Another quick and easy border crossing bring us to Croatia, and back into countries where our Green Card insurance is valid, avoiding paying for insurance at each border has brought us a small sense of achievement and saved us hundreds of Euros.
Browsing the map, I spot a national park, Krka, on our way so we decide to ride in and take a walk around. It's incredibly beautiful and nice to see locals swimming in the aqua green waters below the waterfall and picnicking. At times like this I can't help reflecting on the contrast that we experienced in Africa and all the vastly different places that we've ridden to on our bikes. A couple of months ago I was kneeling in front of Sally's bike in the middle of the Sahara changing a tyre with an Egyptian police escort standing over me with machine guns, now we're lying on the grass in a Croatian National Park eating ice cream - what a life this is.
We make our way up the magnificent coastal road of Croatia, stopping at one layby for a chat with a couple of Czech guys touring in an MX5. We give them a couple of our stickers and they seem a bit sad that they don't have anything to give us in return, but as we're about to leave they run back over and give us a couple of stickers that they remembered they had in their luggage. Turns out they're gun enthusiasts and the stickers were promoting the right to keep their guns in the Czech Republic. Nice of them, but the stickers had to find a more subtle spot on the bikes to avoid any attention from customs and police.
Further up the coast we cross to an island and find a campsite, after setting up we walk to the local corner store for a few beers and some supplies. This was to be our last campsite of the trip, from now on we need to rocket across Europe in order to get back to the U.K., ship the bikes and get back to Oz - we have jobs waiting and have said we'll start on October 11th, it's now September 14th and we have a long way to go.
A bit of research on Slovenia seems to show that its wide spread system of caves is the most well known - or at least the most promoted - attraction. The caves at Postojna are unique among ones I've visited anywhere by the entry method to the cave system.....you catch a train. The ride reminded me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Although the first part of the tour felt like a forced march (it was a big group and we walked for ages before the guide stopped to give a talk), it was really interesting and quite unique. There's a type of rare salamander that lives in the cave system and there are aquariums and web cams set up to see them.
When we got out of the caves it had started to rain, so we waited around a bit and then went off to fetch the bikes and do our daily grocery shopping and find a hostel. We skirted the capital, Ljubljana which actually turned out to be pretty quiet and an easy ride through, then proceeded North, stopping for the night in a peaceful little place called Zeče.
There was no border post into Hungary (as usual we took a less travelled route). There was a strange feeling here, it was dead quiet, hardly anyone around even as we rode through small villages. After a long day we arrive in a small village of just a few houses and a pub. Sal's booked a room in a guest house and we pull up outside the address. A guy wanders out of the front gate, he has a welcoming smile and gives us a wave, but doesn't speak any English at all. I say hello and go through the mimes asking if we can bring our bikes into his front garden. He gives me an odd look, but shrugs and says OK. Something doesn't seem right, so I enquire further if this is a guest house. He says no, and motions to a place further up the road.
At the correct place the guy speaks good English and is very happy and excited to see us. It's a big house and we have it almost to ourselves, there was one other couple staying there but we never saw them. He says he has to go and asks us to lock up the house when we leave in the morning as there will be no one around.
The next day we ride past Lake Balaton, the biggest lake in Central Europe and spend the night in Polgárdi before turning North towards Slovakia.
In the morning it started raining, a heavy, soaking, deluge. If we could have afforded the time, we would normally call a day like this a rest day and hide indoors watching movies and reading. Instead, we're having a rather miserable time and all we get to see of Slovakia is one petrol station that we stopped in to thaw out with a hot chocolate and a sandwich, apologising to the attendant for the muddy puddle I leave on the floor where I was standing. We're wetter than a frog's pocket and Sal calls ahead to the guesthouse to ask him to put the heating on ahead of our arrival.
We arrive gladly and see that the house has a carport for us to park under. It seems that the room is actually a separate little apartment and that the owner has put on a fire for us. He welcomes us and it's toasty warm inside so we waste no time stripping off our sodden stuff and spreading it around. The owner knocks on the door and comes in with a bottle of spirit to warm our cores. It's some kind of schnapps that he makes himself and he leaves us the bottle, we only have a couple, wary of it as we need to ride the next day, so we opt for a cup of tea instead. By rotating our gear around in front of the fire it's acceptably dry by morning. It's a brand new day and the sun is shining.
We have one final touristy thing we want to do in Europe, which is visit the old town of Prague. There's a good road system and even though we hit it in peak hour it's no problem at all to find our way through and get to our rather strange hostel where we'll stay for a couple of nights. It's centred around a large courtyard set behind secure gates, it looks like it used to be.....I don't know, military barracks or a school of some sort? We pull up outside the gates and the hostess comes out, at first she says we need to leave our bikes outside, we flatly refuse, it doesn't look particularly secure on the street, besides why can't we park inside the gates, you could get a fleet of trucks in there. She opens the gates and we ride in. The apartment is a substantial size but bare wooden floors and we're feeling the cold having been exposed on the bikes all day. We ask if we can put the heating on, she snorts and snobbishly says that it's only September and we Czechs don't turn the heating on until at least November. When she's gone I turn the stove on full for a bit and that takes the edge off.
We're a little way out of town, but there's a great public transport system so we catch a tram into the centre and spend a pleasant day rambling around the city and old town.
Dash to britain
It's now September 20, we start work back in Sydney three weeks from today. It's under control, but we still have to ride to Wales, pack the bikes and ride back to Heathrow to deliver the bikes for shipping then get ourselves back to Oz. We make a beeline for the U.K. in three days, catching the ferry across the channel this time, which turned out to be a disappointment as there's no viewing dock on the ferry, we were hoping to get a good shot of the White Cliffs of Dover, instead all I got was a good shot of the back of a bald bloke's fat head. The train's a much better way to go and the only way I would do it in future.
We ride up to Kinver and spend a nice evening with Sal's friends Wendy and Brendan. Time is short and we have a few more things we'd both like to get done. I want to visit a cousin and Sal wants to spend another day with Wendy and Brendan, then go and see old friends Mark and Louise in Birmingham. Even though it's Sal's birthday we're not going to get it all done unless we divide and conquer, so I head off. Sal spends a great day on a boat cruising the quintessential canals of the Midlands with Wendy and Brendan's friends.
I have a struggle getting out of Kinver and the surrounds as there's a bicycle race on today and the streets are blocked, but with the help of some farmers and other locals I eventually manage to navigate my way out of the single track lanes and onto a highway. I'm lost, so I pull over and realise that I'm not too far from Coventry. There's a transport museum there which is home to Ted Simon's bikes. Ted Simon's books are considered somewhat of a must read among motorcycle adventure travellers. His first circumnavigation was from 1973-1976 on a 500cc Triumph Tiger 100, covering 45 countries and 103,000km. I can't go past the area without popping in to see his Triumph.
It's late in the afternoon when I leave the transport museum so I pay a flying visit to my cousin and start heading back across the breadth of England to Wales.
Sal had mentioned a ride through the Peak district and a famous pub called the Cat and Fiddle at the top of the range. It could be a nice ride, but I don't understand why there were so many trucks on the road as it isn't on the main route. The pub is closed, it being a weekday.
I decide to take a detour through Snowdonia, and quickly figure out the best method is to take the single track roads which are, by and large deserted. I meet the odd person and stop for a chat each time, making sure to hand out stickers along the way. I have plenty of stickers to still hand out, Sal's way ahead of me on the count, but I make good headway when I stop at a KFC for lunch and it's school finishing time. A large group of boys is gathered around my bike when I get back and they all take selfies and put my sticker on their bikes and backpacks.
Snowdonia was brilliant, I'd be happy to potter around in there for weeks.
We meet back at Anne's house in Prestatyn and start to get sorted by completely unpacking the bikes, putting all our gear through the wash, throwing away stuff we don't need anymore and giving the bikes a once over. We're getting them cleaned by the shippers, Motofreight, who know what's required to get them past customs in Australia. On the weekend Anne and Andrea have organised a big family gathering to see us off, thanks everyone for coming it was a marvellous evening.
The following day we head off, planning to take a few days to mosey over to Heathrow. We take the road down through Snowdonia exploring some different single track roads and stay the night in a pub in Abergeirw. On the last day we take off and have a plan to take lots of back roads on the way to Heathrow, however as I'm exiting a roundabout I can feel the now familiar wiggle that tells me all is not well with the air in my wheels. I pull over and sure enough the back tyre is flat. Our last 100km in Europe and I get the only flat tyre I've had here. As usual, it's the back tyre, which means unpacking the bike and getting all greasy up to my elbows. In the back of my mind I'd been dreading dealing with this tyre again, this was the one that I had so much trouble fitting at Richard and Becky's place that I damaged it and had to get someone with the proper gear to fit it for me, this could come back to bite me now. Sal knows it too and straight away says we don't have time for a struggle. We just passed through a town and Sal's on the interweb to see if there was a bike shop. While I take the wheel off, Sal's found a shop and the guy says he can fix it for us but can't come out because he's alone in the shop. Sal gets onto a taxi, but just then a guy stops and asks if we need help. I ask if he could give me a lift into town and he says no problem. He's a biker and happens to be taking some suspension parts to a different shop but he knows the one in town and takes me over there with my wheel. He even waits around while the guy fixes my tyre, (who only charges me a fiver). Ash, the rider gives me a run back to my bike and we take a few selfies and give him a sticker. Thanks a million Ash, you made that episode a whole lot easier.
At least I managed to stay fairly clean, we're flying out this evening after we drop the bikes off.
We get into Motofreight with only one minor traffic jam. It's all pretty easy and casual there, the guy who cleans the bikes was finishing off some work and I had the chance to have a chat with him which gave me a lot of confidence. Roddy and the guys were all great, we had a cup of tea and talked for a while as we got out of our riding gear one last time and into human clothes. Then it was just a short taxi ride to the airport.
End of the road.....(for now)
Mission accomplished, we travelled until we were skint, just enough to get us home and through to the first pay check.
Fast forward three months and we've settled back into regular life in Australia, jobs, an apartment, furniture.........routine! The bikes cleared customs in Australia on December 28th, two years to the day since we dropped them off at the shippers to begin their journey to Buenos Aires. I missed having a bike and riding intensely for those three months after spending two years in the saddle. Did I ever get sick of it? Never, not once, sure there were tough days, the three months in Lima was the hardest but it made getting back on the bike that much sweeter when we did hit the road again. There's more of the world to explore and I'm still convinced that the best way to see it is from the seat of my bike.
Below are a handful of stats I picked out for the few that are interested in that sort of thing.