Friday, August 8, 2008

The Long Way 'Round (Part 1)


I would love to have spent a few more nights (months...years) in Bratislava but I had to keep moving. If I stopped anywhere for too long I know I would probably not be able to move any longer. Not that getting stranded in Bratislava would be such a bad thing.

Speaking of being stranded in Bratislava, I forgot to mention in my last posting that I broke down in Bratislava. Fortunately, the locals were very helpful in getting me revved up and moving again. It wasn’t really a true breakdown but I discovered my bike has an idiosyncrasy that I didn’t know about until later on in my trip. When I start my bike for the first time on any given day, if I screw up and don’t get it started on the first push of the ignition button my bike won’t start for 10 to 15 minutes. The only way you can get her to run sooner is if you have the energy and strength to push her with 100 pounds of luggage on her. After all the riding I’ve done, strength and energy are the two things I need to conserve the most. Besides, waiting around for 15 minutes leaves you free to do other things like eat and drink beer. Eating to replenish energy and drinking beer to increase strength... I think I’m on to something. In this case though a couple of young men helped push me and get me started. After my bike was started and I turned around to thank them. The one guy says to me that he met Ewen MacGregor (from the TV show Long Way Round ) in Prague on his trip around the world. He thought I was way cooler for making my trip on the bike I had chosen without anyone to help me. I think he's right. Of course I haven't watched Ewen MacGregor's show so I don't know what he's comparing me to.

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Writing this posting after the trip is over I look back at this day with some fond memories. I then start to go through my pictures (or lack of them) to remind myself how absolutely grueling this day was. I want to tell you ahead of time how long I was on my bike and how many kilometers I traveled but perhaps I should save that for the end of this story.

I began my day on the road to Budapest. I got off the highway whenever possible and enjoyed myself on the back roads. I had a lot more confidence doing that since I knew I could always double back if I got truly lost. It made the day so much better. I met a group of German bikers at a gas stop in Hungary. They looked like Mad Max meets low budget 70's biker movie. I was having some vibration issues and I was taking time this stop to tighten bolts and have a beer. The Germans all came over and started to take pictures of my bike. They really enjoyed the look of it and couldn't believe that a Yamaha Maxim could even look like this. One of the guys took some measurements of my saddle bags. They examined my bike in ways only a German can. One of the guys introduced himself as Klaus and gave me his card. Interesting title... Trucker, Biker, Musician. It's good to have multiple occupations to fall back on. He invited me to a big biker party in Southern Hungary. He pointed on the map and I was truly tempted to join them. Damn, damn, damn... No I just couldn't. It was out of my way.


I rode with them for about half an hour but then I veered off the highway again and took some back road to Budapest. I passed some very cool looking castles and stopped here and there for refreshments.


As I approached Budapest I remembered that the Formula 1 had just ended and that it was going to be very busy. As I entered Budapest it started looking very familiar. Oh right? I had been here already. This is Vienna, no Prague. Nope, the signs say Budapest. How could anyone who didn't speak the language tell? They look so similar. Oh I know how they could tell. The people are fatter that the Czechs and not as clean as the Austrians. But asides from that it would be tough to tell. I decided not to go all the way into the center. Traffic was bad and I didn't get a very good feeling about the place. I decided to take my mother's advice and check out Lake Balaton. I found a tourist stop and grabbed a site seeing map. Lake Balaton wasn't too far from Budapest and it was due West which is the direction I needed to head anyways. Now from Budapest one has choices. You could stick to the highway and travel around the south side of the lake or you could take the back roads and travel the north side. I obviously chose the north side. As with most of my decisions on this trip I think I chose correctly. It was a beautiful ride with the lake to my left all the way. I stopped and had a swim. The water was warm and clean and the beer tasted like another. I barely dried myself off. I just re-garbed and let myself air dry on the bike.



I started to hit civilization pockets here and there and I was unpleasantly treated to European views on death. As I was entering a large traffic circle I saw the ambulance to the right and I slowed down as I passed. There were two paramedics smoking cigarettes and standing over the body of a dead motorcyclist. His body was practically ripped in two and it looked like he hit a metal pole. The bike was shattered and I decided to lay on some throttle and get myself away from this. I put 20 kilometers between me and the accident and I pulled over and had a beer. I spilled a little on the ground for my fallen comrade.


I got around the lake and I decided to cut back up to the highway. There was a lot of (unattended) construction going on and all traffic was diverted from this beautiful new highway to an older crappy road. I decided to have some fun and lay first tracks. I went around the barriers that were erected to keep cars off the new highway and started heading due west on the virgin tarmac. It was excellent! I could see people on the old highway looking at me with jealousy as I booked past them doing 180km/h. I gauged my location using my odometer and I found an exit to get off at to rejoin the rest of traffic. The funny thing is is that one exit later on the old highway it diverted me back to the new highway. If I had just stayed on the road I was on I would have merged in anyways. The road signs were telling me that I was 20kms away from the Croatian border so I pulled over for gas and a beer.


I wasn't sure what to expect at the Croatian border since the insurance I purchased in Germany didn't actually cover me in Croatia. A fact I've hidden from everyone up until now. I believe it is always easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. Of course, being stranded at a border crossing would kinda suck...

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