Friday, August 8, 2008

The Long Way 'Round (Part 3)


Getting through the border and tasting the icy cold beer on the other side is something I never thought would happen. I've steamrolled my way through this adventure with a strong mixture of ignorance and confidence. As I sat at the cafe drinking my Karlovacko I had a glorious epiphany. I was actually too stupid to fail. Of course I still had a lot of open road ahead of me before my trip ended but for all intents and purposes I had reached that 'close enough' mark and I could call the trip a success! I was hoping to make it to Rijeka today but without maps I had no idea how long that would take me. After Budapest, Lake Balaton, and the border crossing fiasco I was having troubles believing that I was in Bratislava this morning and it was only early afternoon. Man I can really fly when I need to.

View Larger Map

There was a center set up for renting cars, changing currency, and some tour operators. I found a place to buy a SIM card for my telephone so I got myself a local number and started texting the family. I knew they would be happy to find out I was in Croatia.

I hit the road and the first thing I see is a damn toll booth. I grab a ticket and I hit the highway like a bat out of hell. The road is flat, straight, and made for speed. I occasionally slow down to 160km/h to read road signs. Of course I don't have any maps but I figure as long as I keep my compass pointing west I cant miss the ocean. How I get there is of no consequence.

I get off the highway at the first convenient opportunity. I was a little bit worried as I approached to pay the toll. I didn't buy any Kuna at the border and I don't think I have any Euros left. I really hope they take credit cards. They swipe my plastic and send me on my way. I get a sneaky suspicion that I will get about 10kms and I will have to turn around and get back on the highway. I pass by a few villages and my pace has slowed down significantly. I'm lucky if I can do 100km/h. This could make for a long day, but who cares? I stop in Budinscina and hit the corner store for a beer. The man won't sell it to me in a bottle so I have to take cans. I grab a piece of cheese and meat to accompany my beer. I find a little church to eat at.

Elvis on the Move - Near Budinscina

I wind my way through the countryside and I see people staring at me as I go by. This is really good for a narcissist like me. Of course I'm translating their bewildered looks into looks of admiration. I see the highway up ahead and unless I want to go to Slovenia it looks like I have no option but to go on it. Damn it... another toll.

The signs say I'm heading towards Zagreb. Of course the signs also say I'm going to Rijeka, Sibenik, Split, and Dubrovnik. being from Canada, I sometimes forget how small most countries are. Seeing a sign with Dubrovnik on it would be like me pulling onto the highway in Vancouver and seeing a sign that said St. John's 7439 km

I bypass Zagreb and stay on the highway heading west. Although I make really good time when I'm on the highway, I'm much happier when I leave it. I pay my toll, again, and I take the back roads along the Croatian/Slovenian border. There are a lot of other motorcyclists on this road and I can understand why. The roads are in good shape and the scenery is gorgeous. I think Motorcycle travel in Eastern Europe has come a long way. I travel through Bobovica with a group of other motorcyclists. It's funny, for a guy who's as social as I am I find the group around me is making me a little claustrophobic.

Elvis on the Move - Motorcycles

The group stops in a small village and I honk my horn and give a little wave. They return the pleasentry and I continue on solo. I stop at a Castle to have a rest. I pull out the rest of the food and another can of beer.

Elvis on the Move - Castle

The rest of the afternoon started to fade away with each turn of the windy road. The weather was perfect, the roads were exciting, and I was caught up in the moment. The only word I could use to describe how I felt, "Perfect". The moment was brief but I still feel it as I'm writing this story. The scenery around me was breathtaking and every time I looked at my speedometer I noticed I was going so much slower than I normally do. I could feel that the highway was coming up so I took this moment to have another rest.

Elvis on the Move - The lake

I was right. The highway was just ahead and I went through yet another toll booth. This time I didn't mind so much. The sun had set an hour ago and the temperature was dropping quickly. The road sign read, "Rijeka 52KM". It was a quick drive into Rijeka but finding my way through town was a nightmare. It took over an hour to actually make my way to the center of town. When I got there I had no idea where I was going to stay. I cruised around in circles looking for a hotel but I was having no luck. I decided to dismount and look on foot.

Elvis on the Move - Rijeka Center

The town was alive with action. But I still couldn't find a place to stay. The tourist center was closed but they had a little computer outside with a touch screen. After negotiating my way through a few menus in Croatian I finally noticed the Union Jack in the corner. I touched the Queen's flag and was rewarded with information in English. The computer gave me the addresses of a few hotels nearby and I set out on foot.

Now the directions said it was only a few blocks away but I was lost in the maze of streets and squares within minutes. What I thought would be a 5 minute walk turned into 45 minutes. When I finally found a hotel, it wasn't the one I was looking for. This didn't matter anymore. I needed to get myself indoors. My odometer read that I had traveled 1115 kilometers today and my body could feel every last one of them. I walked in the lobby and I was fortunate to find someone at the front desk willing to check me in. I got my room key and made my way back to my bike. I didn't hesitate to jump the curb and drive my bike through a busy square to park in front of the hotel. I even had to wind through cafe tables to get there.

The moment I entered my room I dropped everything and had a 40 minute shower. The mini bar was stocked... for about 10 minutes. I drank four beers, four mini wine (two red & two white), two bottles of water, and two bottles of soda water. If there was any hard alcohol in the fridge the cola would have been toast to.

I decided to go out on the town and have a few more drinks. There were so many people out. It was very relaxed and people were just wandering about. I sat down at a cafe in the main square, had a few beers, and watched people. I walked around a little more and then I was drawn into a bar playing loud music. It had been a long time since I had been in a busy bar and I think I felt the same way Luke Skywalker felt the first time he walked into the Cantina in Mos Eisley. The people look different, the drinks are strange, and I don't understand the music at all. Of course all three of these things are pluses in my books. I realize it's time to get back to the hotel when I can actually understand the music. My mind must be playing tricks on me.

Elvis on the Move - Rijeka Night Life

I meander back to my hotel stopping a couple of times along the way to abuse my liver. I stumbled into the hotel and I swear I was asleep before I hit the bed. One more night.

Previous StoryNext Story

readmore »»

The Long Way 'Round (Part 2)


If you don't remember what the last post was about you may want to have a little recap. Part one of this epic day can be found here: (Part 1)

As I approach the Hungarian - Croatian border I start to get a little nervous. I did purchase additional insurance in Frankfurt but it doesn't cover you in certain countries. Croatia is one of the countries I'm not covered in. Of course the fact that I have Canadian license plates on my bike is more than enough to confuse anyone. Exactly how did I drive here from Canada? But I don't think that's why I'm nervous. It's been awhile since I have seen any border crossings. The EU has created a travelers paradise in Europe. Now crossing the border into Croatia I find myself wondering how they are going to react to a motorcycle painted up with Canadian emblems and using 50mm ammo cases for panniers.

Oh right! I've also had about three beers in the last thirty minutes and I know Croatia is known for zero tolerance. What gives with that? How can you have zero tolerance in a culture where it is normal to start drinking at 7 in the morning? Besides, it's nearly 40 degrees Celsius (104F) you just sweat it out anyways.


As I get closer to the border a little Volkswagen cuts me off to get in front of me. I see the plates say the car is from Italy. Figures. I've driven in Italy. That was a normal merge for an Italian. I guess he wants a nice cold beer on the other side of the border more than I do. Car by car, I inch closer to the crossing. I've turned off my bike, removed my helmet, and I walk the bike as each car clears the crossing. This is the first time I've crossed into Croatia by motorcycle and I'm a little confused. There are two sets of people checking things. I'm not sure what the procedure is but as long as I keep moving forward I'm doing OK. The officer in the booth hands a couple of passports to the VW in front of me and it moves forward. I approach the first customs officer with my passport clenched between my teeth. I stop and hand my passport over. He takes a long look at it, stamps it and hands it back to me.

"You are from Vancouver", he says with that deep voice most Croatian men are born with.

"I am", I reply. "Have you ever been there?"

He laughs and says,"No. I just used to love the Grizzlies. I was sorry to see them move from your city."

"The Grizzlies!", I think to myself. Here I am out in the middle of nowhere and I happen to meet the only person outside of the Greater Vancouver District that even remembers we used to have an NBA team. What are the chances?

"I hated seeing them leave too", I lied. In truth, I had only been to one game and although I did enjoy being there I have honestly never taken much of a liking to basketball.

He ushers me forward. I pull in behind the VW at the secondary checkpoint. It's so hot out here on the tarmac and I can see it's getting to the woman they have inspecting vehicles as they pass by. She's talking to the Italians in front of me. She looks at their passports again and asks them something. I'm not sure what, but from my angle I would guess that she wants them to open their hatchback. Of course I go across the Canada - US border quite a bit so I know most of the things that border guards want from you most of the time (pray that they don't put on the rubber glove). Now I can see that being in the EU has some disadvantages. It has taken this man's ability to decipher the obvious intentions of this border guard. So instead of 'popping' his trunk I see the reverse lights come on as I brace for impact as he begins to back up.

The girl yells, "STOP", at him at the top of her lungs and he stops about a foot away from hitting me. Whew! That was close. She starts talking to him very sternly. I'm pretty sure that neither he nor I understood a single word of what she was saying and now that I'm practically sitting in his back seat I get to hear the conversation more clearly. Now I have very poor language skills, but I'm pretty much sure that one of the words she kept saying meant "stupid". She points at his trunk again and continues talking to him.

Boom. He hit me? He hit me! The rotten bugger backed up again and hit me. I just barely managed to keep myself upright and now it looks like a garage sale around my bike. Everything that wasn't attached is on the ground now. Fortunately the bike wasn't in gear so it moved backwards after impact. What a place for this to happen. I put my bike on it's center stand and dismounted to start collecting my belongings. I'm just glad I had my helmet looped around my arm so that I didn't drop it.

Meanwhile the couple in front of me (a guy and girl in the late 20's early 30's) are both out of the car and now there is a lot of yelling going on. The customs officer is yelling at the man, the girlfriend is yelling at the man, the girlfriend is yelling at the officer, and the officer is yelling at the girlfriend. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the show. I look around to see if there are people sneaking across the border. I only say this because if I were trying to sneak across this would be exactly the kind of distraction I would want.

The other officer comes out to join the fray. Perfect. I'm never getting through. The female officer keeps repeating, "No,no,no!", and pointing at the way back to Hungary. Even I know what she's saying now.

She hands their passports to the other officer and he tells them in English that they must leave back to Hungary and they must not try to come to Croatia again. The girlfriend starts crying and the boyfriend starts yelling at the customs officers. As he approaches them, arms flailing wildly the way only an Italian can, the lady unholsters her semi automatic 9mm Beretta. Nice gun!

The gentleman, I use the term gentleman now because that is exactly what he's become once the lady aimed the piece at him. The 'gentleman' returned to his car slowly, his girlfriend in tears as they followed the other officer around to the other side of the crossing. I see him hand their passports back as they peel out and return from whence they came. That will make the trip back to Italy long and quiet.
(The border crossing satellite image)

I approached the secondary inspection as the girl was returning her gun to her holster. I couldn't buy a story like this. How exciting! I go to hand her my passport but she has no interest in it. She lifts the gate and ushers me through. "Don't worry. I'm OK.", I say to her in my 'Inside Voice'.

Should I mention that I have drugs in my bum?

I ride through the crossing and I pull over at the cafe on the other side of the border. The first thing I see is the Karlovacko awning and umbrellas. I'm so happy!

(to be continued...)

Previous StoryNext Story

readmore »»

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.

View Larger Map

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...

Previous StoryNext Story

readmore »»

My Blog List