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Monday, August 24, 2009

Willkommen nach Heidelberg

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Knopf Motorcycle Services in Heidelberg GermanyI woke up to the sound of traffic. I wanted to sleep a little longer but it wasn't a possibility. After being pulled over by the police for the second time I decided to call it quits for the night and find a place to bunk. I knew I wasn't going to find a hotel or a camp sight in the dark so I just parked my bike out of the way and walked into the farmers field adjacent to the gas station. I found a decent spot under a tree. I didn't bother setting up a tent because I didn't want to be too conspicuous. I just put on a sweater and climbed into my sleeping bag and used my duffel as a pillow. The cold weather woke me up so I put on a toque (Canadian for knitted hat) and fell back asleep.

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Cannonball Run Part III

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German Police...Again(August 24, 2009 - Near Frankfurt, Germany)The lights on the German police car light up in front of me like a slot machine, only I haven't won anything. I just went through this about a half an hour ago so its old hat to me. I don't even wait for the marquee on top of the cruiser to inform me what to do. I flash my high beams a couple of times to acknowledge them and follow them to the next pull out on the Autobahn.

News of my arrival in Germany must have preceded me. I didn't think I was famous enough to warrant my own police escort. I wonder if David Hasselhoff gets this kind of celebrity treatment?

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cannonball Run Part II

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The German police have decided to pull me over and I'm curious to find out why. At this point of the trip there's not much the police can do to me besides write fines and send me on my way. I'm pretty sure that when the police are through with me two things are going to happen. First, I'm going to have a good story to tell and second, the policemen are going to require psychological therapy to deal with the mayhem I am about to unleash on their very orderly world.

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Cannonball Run Part I

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(August 23, 2009 - Germany)After filling up with gas I stopped for a quick bratwurst to refuel my tank as well. I had forgotten how much I love German sausage. I retraced my route and headed back to the Autobahn. I wanted to make it to Heidelberg tonight but that was beginning to seem out of the question. Perhaps Frankfurt then?

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Running on Fumes

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(August 23, 2009 - Krakow, Poland) I was in a bit of a funk leaving Auschwitz and I wasn't sure how I was going to shake it. The concentration camp had a bigger effect on me than I thought it would. I wasn't sure what it was going to take to cheer me up when all of a sudden I received a sign from the heavens above.

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Next Stop Auschwitz

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(August 23, 2009 - Krakow, Poland)
It was gray and rainy when I entered the lobby of the Hotel Lord in Dębica, Poland. I had parked my bike under an awning to keep it as dry as possible but I knew from experience that I was going to have a fight on my hands getting her started. I didn't even bother putting my gear on.


I was soaked by the time I pushed life back into my motorcycle. Not to mention I was a good half kilometer away from the hotel. Wet, freezing, and out of breath I puttered back to the hotel to prepare for today's journey. I had a lot of kilometers ahead of me and the weather wasn't going to make it easier. I choked down three Turkish coffees while I dried off using hotel towels. I wasn't worried about my bike overheating as it idled in the parking lot. The weather was damp and crisp. Good for an air-cooled engine, bad for the pilot. I put on my limited rain gear. I didn't have any boots so I tucked my feet into plastic bags and put my shoes on over them. Today wasn't a fashion show to say the least.

I had looked at the road ahead on the hotel internet. I had about twelve hundred kilometers ahead of me and I was running out of time. My trip was coming to an end.

I went to turn out of the parking lot and my back end swung wildly out nearly flinging me off my bike. I decided to take a look at my back tire. I knew it was losing tread but I didn't want to see how bad it was because it might shake my confidence. Changing rear tires at the point in the trip wasn't even an option. I examined my tire, there was still some tread on most of it but I could see the steel showing through on patches of it. A smart man wouldn't have taken a chance of riding on this but I never professed to be all that smart so I continued forth.

I was nearing Krakow and I decided that I couldn't come this far and not stop at Auschwitz. I was making good time and I did need to stop for gas anyways. Besides, riding in the rain was making me cold and miserable. I really needed to stop and warm up.

I left the highway and followed the signs. It was pretty easy to find my way to this terrible place. I just followed the people. When I arrived at the gates I got a chill down my spine. I was actually glad that I didn't have time to tour about the compound because that gave me a good excuse to get out of here. I drove around the outside stopping here and there and that was enough for me. People who know me can understand this. Being near the place that dispatched so many human lives was overwhelming to my psyche. I had to go and I had to go now! I got on my bike and put this place behind me.

My mood was gloomy to say the least. The images of what had taken place at the concentration camps filled my mind and darkened my soul. I am by no means a 'new age' kind of guy but I can honestly say I have never been so filled with negative energy. As I headed up to the highway I had a sense of foreboding weighing me down. I couldn't shake the feeling and I knew if I wasn't so angry I would probably be crying right now. I was having troubles focusing on the road and the traffic around me. I should never have stopped there.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Big Fat Polish Wedding

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(August 22, 2009 - Dębica, Poland) The road from the Ukraine to Poland was not as easy as I hoped. I don't believe I've ever been so lost on such a grand scale. It took a lot of asking before I finally found someone who spoke enough English to get me pointed the right direction. I stopped at a little gas station / cafe for a coffee and I was rewarded with a server who spoke great English.

Not only did he draw me out a map with landmarks and signs to look for (complete with Ukrainian hieroglyphics), he also fed me perogies and then wouldn't take my money. He said it was payment for the English lessons but that was just his way of dealing with my objections. My wandering the Ukrainian road system probably added an extra 150 kilometers to my trip but now I was back on the right track. Besides the hour and a half wasted riding was way better than the hour spent at the border crossings. I'll never truly understand the reasons for having two crossings per border. But that's just years of living in North America. I have troubles understanding the purpose of borders at all. Right... tax collection... err, I mean the 'War on Tax Evasion' (It needed a catchy slogan.)

Once I got through the line up the Ukrainian's got mad at me for not having every slip of paper that was handed to me when I entered the country. That added fifteen minutes to my day. In the end they turned out to be really nice though the one guy looked at me with disgust over the fact that I had no protective cover on my iPhone. Decadent American.
Elvis Glazier Waits at the Polish Border
The Poles were a bit easier. I just had to wait my turn and what a wait it was. My god these line ups are long. Oh well, this will be the last border I have to cross on this motorcycle adventure.

Once I made it to Poland things changed drastically. This is not the Poland I expected. They have rules here! There are lines painted on the roads and policemen everywhere. After the countries I've been through I don't even know if I remember how to drive under these conditions.

I don't like it. I preferred the other way better. The way where motorcycles are completely ignored and motorcyclists are one mistake away from the grave so let them do whatever they want. I feel like I'm taking my driver's exam over again. At least the asphalt is smooth. I should make good time to Krakow if the weather holds. Is that a rain droplet on my nose?

Famous last words. The downpour was torrential to say the least. I knew that the tread on my tire was starting to wear a little thin when I could barely change lanes without my back end swinging wildly about. There was no way I could ride through this storm so I stopped at the first hotel I could see along the road. I was about a hundred kilometers short of Krakow and there was no way I was going to turn in somewhere and go searching. The sign read "LORD" in big letters. I wasn't sure if it was a church or a hotel with that name but I saw the beer awnings outside so my second guess was right. I pulled right up to the front door and parked underneath one of the awnings. There were alot of well dressed people walking by staring at me but I didn't pay them much attention. They can walk around, I'm soaked. I walked up to the front desk leaving a trail of water behind me. As I checked in, the smell of food made me salivate like Pavlov's fricken dog.

I went upstairs and got myself cleaned up and immediately went back down to eat. I found out where I was from the waiter. The Hotel Lord in Dębica, Poland. I must remember this because there is no way I will ever find it on a map. I asked why there were so many well dressed people in the hotel and he explained that there was a wedding here tonight. This could be fun.

After supper I went and bellied up to the bar. The hotel was so small that I was practically a part of the wedding. I could see the head table from my bar stool perch. Beer after beer went down as the meal turned into speeches and then into serious polka dancing. A few of the young men joined me at the bar for shot after shot of vodka. It was having an overly intoxicating effect on me but it would have been rude of me to refuse. At least that's how I justified my tremendous hangover the next day.

I ended up joining a splinter group of the wedding party in an after party at a local club. I don't remember how much vodka I drank but I do remember being pulled into a private room upstairs with the owner of the bar and a bunch of the local mafioso. Finally some service! The vodka cost about fifty cents a shot but the mix was four bucks a can. In the owner's office everything was free so I started watering my vodka down with Red Bull. Nothing like mixing your downers with your uppers to really screw with your brain. I made a polite and speedy exit when the hard drugs got piled on the table and one of the guys took his shirt off to reveal his pistol tucked into his belt. Fortunately, they bought my excuse of being too drunk without me having to self induce vomiting. They called me a taxi and I was gone like a shot. I was happy to make it back to the hotel without any incident. I was less happy to wake up.

What a party!

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The Endless Steppes

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(August 22, 2009 - Ukraine Republic) I woke up this morning in Rivne. It's a small city in the northwest of the Ukraine Republic. I spent the night at the nicest hotel in town. It cost me roughly ten dollars.

I figured I could spend my savings on a lavish supper, but I didn't have any luck with that. Not the lavish part, my meal was extravagant. A cheese platter for four people, bread for a small family, sausage and cold cuts to feed a German oom-pah band, red borscht, Chicken Kiev, and four imported Czech beers (this time Pilsner Urquell). That came to a grand total of fifteen dollars. The girls were laughing when I ordered so much food. They were in shock when I finished it. "How come you not so fat?", was the question the one lady asked. It was too hard to explain a camel and a desert so I just laughed and ordered another beer.

I felt great this morning. I knew better than to load my luggage onto my bike. I knew I would be spending the next half hour or so push starting it so I saved myself the hassle of loading and unloading and then reloading. It was the right decision. Normally I attract a crowd when I push start, but there just wasn't anyone around to attract. I had to push alone. Half an hour later I had spent a thousand calories to get her going. I loaded up and headed out of town. I was hoping to get to and through most of Poland today. Next stop Auschwitz.

As I rode out of the city and into the countryside, I was wishing that I had more time to spend in this country. The Ukraine is so beautiful. The rolling hills, the endless steppes, and villages untouched by modern man give it a unique charm. I'm feeling very nostalgic. I feel like any moment I could come around a corner and see the farm where I grew up in Saskatchewan. Not the Saskatchewan of today but the Saskatchewan of the 1970's. This land hasn't been fooled with promises of progress. It's simple and unapologetic for it's hardness. This is a land where men are bred and mother nature has no sympathy for laziness. I love it. I imagine Ghengis and his hordes thundering over the plains looking for their next conquest. I see Napolean retreating from Moscow over the frozen land. The land is timeless with only an occasional monument to tell future generations who strode here.
Elvis on the Move - Elvis in front of Ukrainian War Monument
Today it's me.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Chicken Kiev, or is that Chicken Kyiv?

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Elvis Eats Borscht in the UkraineFriday August 21, 2009 - Kiev, Ukraine

This morning I tried to get an early start out of Odessa but that didn't turn out to well for me. My bike had sat for a few days and I don't think it wanted to leave quite yet. I can sympathize. Odessa is such a wonderful city and I truly hope that I will be able to return. I tried and tried to start my bike. I push it up and down the street trying to bump start it, I bypassed the ignition relay to let the starter motor turn it over, and I tried yelling at it. None of these worked. Finally, a group of young Ukrainian men came over and they pushed me. Wonderbar! I'm started.

Why are they yelling at me?

My bike is on fire!


Do I turn it off? It took so long to get going.

I turn off my bike and lift up my seat. I had a towel draped over my shoulder to wipe away my sweat so I used it to smother the flames. It would seem that the AC power inverter that I wired has shorted out to the frame and is now a charred burnt mess. I took out my cutters and I culled the burnt wires out of the bike. I hope she starts. First push of the button and I have ignition. whew. I let it run for a bit and warm up. I noticed during the marathon push fest that I had absolutely no front brakes. Good thing I have brake fluid with me. A couple of squeezes on the brake lever and I know what has caused the problem. There is a loose fitting at the collector block in the front of my bike. It probably rattled loose during my journey. I tightened it up and hooked up my one man brake bleeding kit. I have practice with this procedure so I get it done quickly. I do a preflight check and start to pack up my luggage. I go to put on my gloves but there is one missing. Damn it! I guess I'm going to have to Michael Jackson it back to Germany.

I had originally planned to cut through Moldova on my way home, but I honestly don't want to chance the border crossings. Instead, I'm going to head north to Kiev and then cut west through Poland. I head out of town keeping the sun to my right and my nose pointed north. The highway is as straight as an arrow so I make great time. I'm there in under four hours.

There are some things in life that just have to be done. New Years in Time Square, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival in Brazil, etc. There are also some foods that have to be eaten in their hometown. Peking Duck, Buffalo wings, Champagne, and Chicken Kiev.

I stop at a restaurant and as I enter I wonder if they even know what Chicken Kiev is. I mean, maybe they just call it... chicken. I look through the menu and there it is! Chicken Kiev or actually Chicken Kyiv. I'm sure it's not a typo. They give me a bowl of red borscht with sour cream to start and I have to tell you that this has got to be the best soup I have ever eaten. I accompany it with a bottle of Czech Budweiser. Now this is the life.
Elvis Eats Chicken Kiev in the Ukraine
I hadn't had a real breakfast so this really hit the spot. The ladies in the restaurant made me feel so welcome and the meal truly had that home cooked feel to it. Probably because the restaurant was a part of their home.

Completely sated and fully recharged I mounted up and headed out. The sun was overhead so I was left to my own wits to figure out which way was west. As the afternoon progressed I knew I was heading the right direction when the sun was in my eyes.

Why does the journey home seem so uphill?

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Day Off

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August 20, 2009 - Odessa, Ukraine Republic

What a beautiful day!

Even though I didn't get to bed until around six this morning. I woke up rejuvenated. The countless Redbull vodka's didn't have their usual effect on me. I had all the energy in the world. I showered and got dressed for a day of sight seeing. I figured I should let Marco and Paolo sleep. I'm sure the Karaoke took its toll on my two Italian 'crooners'.

I went downstairs for a coffee and was surprised to see my friends already there. I guess the air in Odessa is good for one's constitution. Oh well, no sense in wasting being in good company. Let's make that coffee a Heineken.

Marco and Paulo were having travel issues. They had promised to meet a friend in Bulgaria and they had no way of getting there in time. Like myself, they were under the impression that there was a vast ferry network from Odessa. I just to be super clear on this point. There isn't! Ferries are few and far between up here and from all the information that I could get they only run between here and maybe Istanbul. Needless to say it took half a day for my new friends to figure this out.

After my good morning beer I decided to go do a little sight seeing. I left the boys behind to go figure out their schedule and I hit the town alone on foot. But not before filming a little summary of my trip. Since I had a small crew I let Marco man the camera while Paolo nudged his way into the shot. Check it out:

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Let the Good Times Roll

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August 19 and 20, 2009 - Odessa

The beer never tasted so good.

I sat in the lounge with Marco and Paulo and consumed one beer after another after another after another. And so on... It was so yummy. I realized I needed to pace myself a little when the guy from the front desk came over and told me I needed to move my bike. When I stood up I immediately needed to sit back down. Hmmmm? This is going to make parking my bike interesting. No biggie. I'll just walk it down.

There were a couple of young ladies sitting down in the lounge when I got back and judging solely by their appearance (trust me, they stood out like a sore thumb) I could tell that these girls were working. My judgement was confirmed by Paolo when I sat down. Marco, a better and more trusting man than myself, was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's right. Maybe they are just local girls that decided to come down to a hotel, sit by themselves in an empty lounge, and choose a table beside ours even though they seemed to be really good friends of the bartender who greeted them and pointed at our table. I'm too much of a pessimist.

Needless to say the lounge was better when it was just us in it so we were motivated to find new surroundings. After the adventure I had endured I could have done one of two things; sleep, or drink.

So that was decided quickly. I decided to accompany Paolo and Marco for some more drinking. The only problem was we didn't know where to go and none of us spoke the language. Or so I thought. As it turned out Paolo had been taking Russian lessons for work and he turned out to be an invaluable asset. After a quick conversation with some locals we were in a taxi and heading to the club district. We got out of the cab and we were immediately in the middle of what looked to me like a carnival midway.

Elvis on the Move - Elvis and Paolo at Arcadia in Odessa

This was Arcadia and it's the place to be when you're in Odessa. There are so many restaurants and clubs here that it would take you a week to try them all. We went to a little steakhouse to start and then we hopped from one bar to another until we finally got to this big open air disco. I wish I could remember the name but I was very, very drunk at the time. Perhaps Marco or Paolo will read this post and write a comment on the name of it. Needless to say I never thought I would enjoy myself so much at a disco but I really did. The fact that the exchange rate made me feel like a millionaire didn't hurt. It was so inexpensive to drink here and the service was beyond incredible. If this club was in Vancouver you would have troubles getting more than two drinks in a night. The joint was wall to wall with people yet it seemed to flow. I wasn't without a drink for more than fifteen seconds at any given point in the night. I don't know how many people were in the place but it was alot. This was exactly what I needed. Haven't spent so much time alone or riding it was nice to be around such energy! I wouldn't last a week in solitaire confinement.

Marco and I sat at a table together for most of the night. I only saw Paolo from a distance as he never once stopped dancing. I don't know where he gets his energy. My energy on the otherhand was being mainained by a steady stream of Redbull and Russian vodka. I knew I would crash hard but I was having too much fun to worry about it.

We left the club early.

Early in the morning that is. It was about 4:30 or so and the sun was starting to come up so we decided to head back. Through no fault of our own we got delayed. On the walk back to the taxi stand we passed a karaoke kiosk and we unanimously thought it would be a great (not good but great) idea if we serenaded the entire arcade.

Marco and Paolo lit up the stage first with a traditional Italian love song. I'm assuming it's a love song because I don't believe Italians have any other songs except love songs.

Elvis on the Move - Marco and Paolo Sing for the Ladies

I headlined the show with some Evil Western Rock and Roll music and belted out a version of Elvis Presley's Suspicious Minds, complete with Karate kicks and pelvic thrusts.

Elvis on the Move - Elvis Singing Suspicious Minds in Odessa

And like every great performance we left the crowd wanting more.

Good night.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Albanian Gypsies

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August 14, 2009 (Somewhere near the Albanian border)

I know this is a little late but I was going through some of my helmet camera footage and I came upon this gem of a video. You really need to watch this:

After getting through the Albanian border I came to a one way bridge and was stopped there. The young kids of the village swarmed me and I began to feel unsafe. You really need to watch this video to understand what I mean.



You can see that these gypsies were sizing me up to rob me. I did manage to get myself free of them, but when I stopped at the next gas station there was a cut on my bag. Fortunately the bottom of my bag was lined with towels so there was no way to get anything valuable.

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The Death of a Thousand Cuts

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The motorcycle ride through Odessa was amazing. A feeling of euphoria washed over me as I meandered through the streets of this city. I couldn't wait to see the Black Sea from Odessa. It has been on my mind for so long and today is the day I get to do it! As with most larger cities I have been in during this trip I was lost within minutes. My sense of direction seems to have evaded me and I end up on a highway leaving the city and heading out towards the country. Sheesh. You would think I would get lucky every once in awhile.

I decided to stop at a gas station for a drink and directions. my motorcycle needed a rest and I needed some liquids. I grabbed an iced tea and then I noticed something so amazing I was awestruck.

Gin and Tonic in a can! I love this country!

With an iced tea and six cans of pre-made G&T I asked the girl for directions back to Odessa. The language barrier came into play and the only useful information I got was a finger (not that one) pointing back the way I had come. I knew this already, I was just in denial.

Entering the city for the second time didn't have quite the same effect as the first. Now I was starting to get a little peeved. Even if I had a map I wouldn't have been able to decipher the letters they use on the streets anyways. Armed with that piece of useful information I just randomly navigated myself through the streets of Odessa until I found what I was looking for. A tour bus parked in front of a hotel. I'm in the right neighborhood now. This was the nice part of town with expensive shops, trendy restaurants and hotels on every block. The only thing that was missing is water. Where the heck is the Black Sea? I dismounted and took up my search on foot. This was a good idea. I was so close already but without getting off my bike I would have never seen it. The viewpoint could only be reached by foot.

Fantastic! The port was breathtaking from up here. In many ways it reminded me of Vancouver. There were alot of freighters coming in and out being loaded and unloaded. This was a working waterfront and it was busy. I could see a hotel down there but I really had no idea how to get there. I mounted up again and went in search of a road down to the water. It took a little while but I finally found a route. Getting to that hotel wasn't very obvious at all but I did make it. I pulled up to the front and I went in to see about getting a room. The people in front of me were taking a long time so I decided to sit down and have a gin and tonic while I waited. I wasn't trying to attract attention to myself but having a can of gin and tonic explode on you while you jump up and try to deep throat a can really does get people looking at you. Once the effervescence settled down I was left with about a third of a can which I finished quickly. I don't even want to know what I look like. I decided to stand in line and try to motivate these people to finish their business a bit quicker.

A couple of guys walked in and lined up behind me. I had noticed that they took some time to check out my motorcycle as they walked into the lobby.

"You didn't drive that bike from Canada did you?", the one gentleman asked me in a thick Italian accent.

"I did! And I gotta tell you it was a little cold coming up over the North Pole", I replied. I could see by the look on his face that he quickly understood my humor and the joke wasn't lost upon him. He began to laugh.

It's very rare that you know right away that you have met a lifelong friend, but I knew the instant I met these two Italians that I was introducing myself to two lifelong friends. Marco and Paulo would be my posse while I stayed in Odessa. I was still trying to check in and these guys were in desperate search of the internet to find their way to Bulgaria. Without thinking twice I reached into my bag and gave them my laptop. This hotel had WiFi so they could check ferry schedules while I checked in. I told them I would meet them in the lounge after I got settled in.

This story isn't about Marco and Paulo though. The next two days will be full of them. This story is about me. I know it sounds selfish but if you keep reading you will understand. After waiting far to long I finally checked in. I have to admit that Odessa is cheap, sorry inexpensive, and I would recommend coming here if you're in need of a vacation that offers good value.

I went up into my room and got myself cleaned up. My hand was aching from the burn and I there was alot of puss forming. I could tell you how I dealt with this or you could just watch this video. Trust me, it's a good one:



After I finished administering my first aid I got dressed and met Marco and Paulo downstairs for a beer I think my generosity paid off with the computer because they bought the beers.

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Welcome to Odessa

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This posting is going to be a Video Only Post. For those of your receiving this by email or RSS feed you will probably have to go to the website to view the video.

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Open Mouth, Insert Foot

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August 19, 2009 Somewhere in Moldova (Again?)

After my new Russian friends left me behind I slowly geared up and continued my journey towards Odessa. About 30 kilometers down the road I passed the Russians who were stopped at the side of the road. I thought about joining them again but I decided to keep going. Besides I was traveling at a good pace and my front brakes still don't work as well as they should. I honk my horn and wave and they return the wave. Man! They look like they're really enjoying themselves. I honestly don't know if I could travel in a group, but I can see the allure of having companions. Of course, before I could ride with a friend I would actually have to have a friend who would want to torture himself with this kind of a ride. And he (or she I guess) would have to be the kind of friend who wouldn't keep telling me what kind of idiot I am for not having a plan, or route, or bike, or clue.


Nevermind. Sounds like to much trouble. The lone wolf rides alone.. and uncriticized.

Another fifteen or so kilometers down the road I see a long line of traffic. Most of the cars are stopped and people are wandering about. There are some kiosks at the side of the road selling various things that I can't read the signs for. What is this? Another border crossing? I don't see a building.

I decide to ride around traffic and see what the hold up is. A soldier with a machine gun is stopping everybody. A couple of weeks ago I would have turned around and got in line and waited. After the road I have traveled I drive right up beside the soldier and ask him what's going on. I don't understand hm anyways but I have my papers in my hand and say, "Odessa". He doesn't look twice at me or my papers. He just hands me a slip of paper and stamps it.

Whatever... I just continue on and wonder what the people behind me are waiting for. About two hundred meters ahead another soldier stops me and takes my slip of paper. I give it to him and just as I'm about to leave he turns my bike off. I lurch forward a foot and nearly dump my bike. I scramble to regain my footing and the action startles everyone around me including the rest of the soldiers. Three of the other soldiers jump to attention and before I have myself righted there's the muzzle of one gun wedged on the back of my neck while the other two soldiers have their machine guns leveled at my face! I freeze... and wince my eyes. My bike falls..... Shit, I'm dead.

YELLING, Yelling, yelling..........

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it..................nothing.


I open my eyes... I'm not dead... yet.

"Passport?", the original soldier asks with his hands out to his side easing his partners guns down with his hands. I hand him my passport but it's hard to get my hands to work. He looks at it and hands it back. His body language says, "Move on" but I'm deaf to it right now. It's a bit of a garage sale around me as I have dropped everything I was holding on to. I pick up my bike and put it into neutral and slowly walk my bike forward seeing if anyone was going to shoot me. As soon as I clear the checkpoint area I hit the ignition hammer it into first and drop the clutch. I'm in fourth within seconds as I try to put some distance between myself and the soldiers. Once I feel safe I pull over. Everything that I dropped at the checkpoint is wedged under my ass or tucked into my jacket.

I throw down the kickstand and get off my bike.

Damn it! That was scary. I replay the moment in my mind. It starts to make more sense. When the soldiers turned my bike off the bike backfired. Everything else was a blur. It's hard to see what's going on when your eyes are shut tighter than a gnats ass stretched over a rain barrel.

I sit for a moment. I see a soldier about twenty feet away but he's wearing a different uniform. Who cares? He's got a gun and I don't want to be anywhere near him. As fortune would have it I've stopped at a fruit and vegetable market at the roadside. I walk over to the guy selling grapes and after a bit of negotiating which consisted of me handing him two Euros and him filling up a plastic shopping bag full of grapes, I find myself a seat and almost start eating them. Before I can get one in my mouth the guy stops me and takes my grapes away. What's going on? Oh!!! He's washing them for me. How nice.

I sit in this little courtyard with thatched roof tables and I enjoy my grapes. There's no way I could eat this many grapes but I'm giving it a good try. It doesn't hurt that these are the best grapes I've ever tasted. Of course they say that after near death experiences colors look brighter and things taste better.

I take out my video camera and film my surroundings. I'm really enjoying being in this spot. The weather is nice, the grapes are amazing, and Im alive! It really doesn't get much better. I wish I had something to drink.

The guy who sold me the grapes walks up to me and motions me to join the table of guys a few meters away from me. I happily accept. Next thing you know, I'm eating sausage and bread and tomatoes and cheese and I'm washing it all down with some fantastic red wine being served out of a recycled two liter pop bottle. Now this is living. Everybody is having a great time, the guys are laughing, and they're trying to communicate with me. It takes me awhile but I finally explain that Canada is not a part of Alaska. I try to explain my trip to them but it's too hard to do it with words alone. I pull out my fold up map of Europe and I take a felt pen to draw my route. Holy shit! I have traveled a long way to get here. The guy takes my pen and draws the line to accurately place me on the map. He shows me the map and says,"Moldova".

Not understanding what he's saying I recap all the countries I've traveled through. Germany, Czech, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and now the Ukraine.

He responds saying, "Moldova?" as a question.

I go on to tell him how much I hated Moldova. I tell him this and I use sign language to back it up. After the way i was treated at the border crossing I really can't say too much about how much Moldova pissed me off. I'm guessing he was surprised that I made it through too. In hindsight I can see the error of my ways but at the time I feel I was justified in expressing my opinion of Moldova. He looked at me do my little pantomime about being disgusted of Moldova and then he brings me over to the map again. He points to where he drew our location and says, "Moldova". I'm like, "No Moldova" with a sour look and then he says it one more time before I understand what he's trying to say. I grab the map up closer and with horror I realize that I'm in Moldova right now. There's a small piece of Moldova that cuts across the road to Odessa. Oh my God! I'm an idiot! Ive just been sticking my fingers down my throat while describing this man's homeland. I feel awful. These guys have been treating like family and I repay them by slagging their country. I'm a jackass.

Fortunately, he doesn't even chastise me. I'm pretty sure he knew what I was saying but he could see the look on my face and I'm sure he realized I was sorry. The wine is flowing quite freely and the mood is good. No tourist is going to ruin the mood here. We talk some more, drink some more, eat some more, and my antics are forgotten quickly. They try to teach me a bit of their language but the only work I figure out is cheers. Of course I forget how to say it now. But that's probably the wine's fault.

So after being fed by these wonderful people, I get up and begin saying my goodbyes. They make it very clear that they would like to see me come back after going to Odessa. I might just do that. As I get my gear together they come back with a bag of assorted fruit. I object but there's really no use. I know how these kind of people are. There's really no sense in saying no so I quickly turn that 'no' into a 'thank you'. I accept there generous gift and walk over to my bike. The kids are around it looking it over with the soldier I spoke of earlier. Unfortunately, I still have my camera on when I approach so they scatter being very camera shy.

I get on and continue down the road. I really should come back here. I think I could really enjoy myself here. It's seems very relaxing. As I ride I can feel the bag of fruit behind me and it warms my heart to know that the poorest of people are always the most generous!

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Cops and Robbers

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August 19, 2009 – Afternoon

Elvis' Bike with Ukraine PolicemanI'm being pulled over again. I really dread the feeling I get when I'm pulled over for the first time in a new country. You really just don't know what to expect. I mean, I kind of know what to expect, but I never know what the outcome is going to be. One of the things that I have learned in my travels is that the police in most of these Eastern European countries want my money. What I don't know is the tactics they are going to use to get it. Fortunately, thus far they have only resorted to using broken English and sign language. Someone really should remind them of how heavily armed they are and how unbelievably alone I am.

"Papers?", he says in his thick accent. Everytime I get asked this question I always feel like I'm in some war movie. I see a confused look on his face when I hand him my documents. Sweet, the match has begun and the first round goes to yours truly.

The word they use for a traffic fine in the Ukraine is, "Protocol". The officer uses this word many times as he mimics the reason for pulling me over. It's quite funny. He points at the stop sign and stomps both of his feet down one after the other. I completely understand what he's getting at. I was supposed to come to a complete stop and put both of my feet down at the stop sign. I pretend I don't understand only because I am enjoying his new found line dance.

Point, STOMP, STOMP.

"Protocol"

Questioning look from Elvis.

Point, STOMP, STOMP.

"Protocol"

Questioning look from Elvis. This is too easy.

He beckons me across the street where another older officer and a soldier are standing watching us. I think the older officer is enjoying the young officer's dancing as much as I am. He hands the the older officer my papers and the game comes to its conclusion swiftly. He hands them back to me and motions me to go on my way. This puts everyone in a good mood. I may be getting away without a fine but the game isn't over yet. I need a trophy. I've decided that anytime I get pulled over I want the cops to pose in a picture with my bike.

I takes a little convincing but he finally gets in front and I snap a picture. He does one more dance for me to remind me to come to a complete stop and I get going again. It's still early and I really want to make it to Odessa at a decent hour. The Ukraine landscape may be beautiful but the roads are hardly drivable. That's probably the reason why there aren't many vehicles on the roads.

I get back underway and head down the road. I'm passed by a group of bikers and I try to keep up with them but like most of my encounters on the road it's impossible for me to keep up. Oh well...

The lone wolf rides alone!

The pace today is slow and relaxed. I don't know how to describe how I feel right now. I'm having such a moment of euphoria. I'm in the Ukraine right now on a motorcycle I built with my own hands. This is incredible! I'm on a route right now that I would wager not too many North Americans have even seen. It's definitely the long way 'round. There are quicker routes to get to where I'm going but I'm loving the choices I made to get here. The villages I'm passing look like they are still in the 1940's and 1950's. People are still getting around using their horse drawn wagons. The roadside is littered with people selling everything from wine and liquor to watermelons and vegetables. It's at this moment that I remember why I wanted to take this trip in the first place. I've heard stories about countries like Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Hungary back in the 1960's and how wonderful they used to be. The accounts of how you could stay at the finest hotels and eat the best food for next to no money. How the people were just so poor yet so wonderful. I made that trip last year hoping to see some of that, but it wasn't to be. Capitalism had taken hold with both hands and wiped away the memory of the communist regime which held them back. Hungary is now more expensive to visit than New York and Czechoslovakia doesn't even exist anymore.

That's what makes this part of the trip so wonderful. It feels untouched by progress and I love it. Some of the roofs in the villages are thatched and the people are dressed very traditionally. I doubt there's anyone in these villages that has even heard about the Gap.

More cops up ahead. It's great that everyone feels obliged to warn you of every police stop. I slow down as I approach the police but they're already busy. One of the bikers that passed me is pulled over. I guess his friends didn't care enough to stop. My mistake. As I enter the next village the rest of his 'gang' are stopped at a little watermelon stand being run by two young girls. I decide to pull in.

What a great choice I made. These guys are from Russia and they're alot of fun. The first thing they do when they stop is strip down to there jeans. In this heat I can understand why. Plus, they're wearing alot of armour. It's making me feel a little under protected. I strip down as well and they invite me over to share some watermelons with them. I happily accept. We find ourselves a great spot in the shade and start carving up the fruit. Their missing compadre joins us and they all greet him with laughter. These guys all speak a little English so it's a nice change for me. It's been a long time since I've been social and I'm enjoying it. I asked the guys about his 'protocol' and he replied, "fuck stupid police I don't pay anyways".

"Good to know", I think to myself.

I pulled out my video camera and caught these guys on video. The one guy told me how his wife doesn't like him taking these trips and threatens to destroy his motorcycle. It seems to be a common theme amongst women with husbands who ride.

I take a few pictures with the guys before they gear up to leave. I decide to hang back and save myself the embarrassment of not being able to keep up and I save them the hassle of feeling obligated to slow down. We say our 'dasvidaniya's' and they hand me a bottle of Russian vodka as they head off down the road.
Elvis with Russian Gangsters
It was nice meeting up with my Russian counterparts. I didn't want to ask them how they afforded such expensive beautiful bikes but my hunch was that these guys were Russian mobsters. Hard to bring that one up in polite conversation. Besides, who really cares?

Out here on the road we're all outlaws.

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Only when you have eaten a lemon do you appreciate sugar.

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August 19, 2009 – Afternoon

I'm in the Ukraine and heading to Odessa! The border crossing was pretty easy in comparison to many others. It still took forty five minutes but it wasn't terrible. Unlike my new friend Mikhail from Italy who was heading up to Russia for work. They went through his vehicle with a fine tooth comb. They have two lineups for the crossing into the Ukraine. The “Red Line” and the “Green Line”. He was in the “Red Line”. You don't want to be in the “Red Line” because that's the spend a few hours getting to know your customs officer line. It has a pit underneath it so they can inspect your undercarriage as well. I chose to go through the “Green Line” and it was much simpler.

At this border crossing, the Moldovans and the Ukrainians share office space. I'm not sure whether I'm coming or going, I just float around and try to get someone to point me somewhere. After the Moldovans release me from their country the Ukrainians have me fill out a form to enter their country. I fill it out quickly and hand it to the officer.

“Where are you staying?”, he asks me.

“I really haven't decided.”, I respond,”somewhere in Odessa”

I can see the frustrated look in his eyes. “You need to have a place to stay”, he commands in his deep accent. You can not enter without a place to stay. He puts on his hat and gets up to leave his desk. He hands me my forms back and says quietly,“Hotel Odessa Black Sea. That's where you will stay.” He leaves the room and I fill out the form with his recommendation. I want to hand it back to him but he won't acknowledge me now. I get the feeling that he did me a huge favour and that he could get in trouble for it. I wait for the other officer to come and hand him the forms. He takes a brief look at it and...

STAMP.

Everything is good and I'm on the home stretch. I just need to wait for the inspector to come by and look at my bike and gear. While I wait my new friend Mikhail is reaching his boiling point. He's being quite belligerent about the process of getting through the border. Fortunately for him and perhaps me is that he's doing it in English. I must say I was a little uncomfortable talking with him because I didn't want to get into the “Red Line” but at the same time this guy was an absolute character and I couldn't help but want to talk to him. For all the borders he has to cross to get to Russia he's developed a great sense of humour. Of course it's mostly aimed at stupid border guards so I'm his biggest fan. We both get released at the same time and with that release we both shut up ad get in our vehicles as quickly as we can and burn out of there. There's a time for joking and there's a time for business. We both know how to discern between the two and we take off as if we stole our vehicles.

I pass the final checkpoint and I'm now officially in the Ukraine Republic. It has taken so much out of me to get to this point that it's hard to put into words how I feel. I will simplify it for you:

“I feel Great!”

(Very hard to say without sounding like Tony the Tiger from the Frosted Flakes commercials.)

The roads are terrible, I can't read the road signs, and I'm probably lost but I'm in really good spirits. The weather is beautiful and for the first time since crossing the mountains in Albania I actually feel like I'm going to succeed.

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All Work and No Beer, Makes Elvis Go Crazy

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Elvis Cafe Racer Beside Ukrainian Relic with SidecarAugust 19, 2009 – Ukraine Republic?

Now I thought the roads in Bulgaria were the worst that Ive seen. Let me clarify that. I thought the roads in Bulgaria were the worst that I have seen called 'highways'. I have seen some bad roads. The worst have to be the mountain crossing through Pogradec in Albania. But they didn't call that a highway. I think the term the Albanians used was 'goat path' or some translation that doesn't mean quite the same thing in English.

The 'highway' here in the Ukraine is terrible but I'm used to bad roads. The first chance I get to make a decision regarding direction I get it wrong. Fortunately, I hit a dead end fairly quickly so I've only lost ten kilometers at he most. I go back to the fork in the road and take the other branch. That's where I see this beauty of a motorcycle with a side car.



This is just such a rare find for me. The guy that owns it laughs at me taking pictures of it. Twenty kilometers down the road I understand why. They're everywhere! If I had the time and money I would come back to this country and fill a container full of these to bring home. Talk about a bulletproof motorcycle. One and two cylinder bikes with a kickstart. It doesn't get more reliable than that.

I head down the right road to the town of Izmail and I become lost again. They don't make this easy. I'm pretty sure that Odessa is the only city of consequence in this region. You would think that they would make the route easy and well marked. I drive around town a bit trying to pick up the scent.

I meander aimlessly through town when I come upon a group of young me having beers at a little cafe. “I could really use a cold beer”, I think to myself and turn in.

I'm the center of attention while I park the motorcycle. I get my gear off and I go up to the guys and ask them if they speak any English. I'm in luck they speak a little. I ask them the route to Odessa and they begin to tell me. I can tell by their English that this is going to take awhile. I stop them and excuse myself to go get a beer. When I go into the store and grab a beer the woman looks at me funny and says something and takes my beer away. I assume she is going to open the bottle for me, but I'm mistaken. How awkward. Maybe she doesn't want me to have a bottle. I've had that happen before. Some shopkeepers are sticklers about keeping all their bottles for deposit. I go to the cooler and grab a half liter can of some Ukrainian concoction and put it on the counter. Her mood hasn't changed but I put money on the counter and she reluctantly sells me my beer. Do I even dare ask for a glass? No need I see them.

I come back to the table of guys and I put my gear down and pour my beer into my glass. The beer hasn't even reached my lips when one of the guys stops me.

“You can't drink that”, he says with a worried look on his face.

I respond with a puzzled look. “Why not?”

“None. Not while with motorcycle”, he informs me.

"Not even one?", I lament.

Another guy enters the conversation with, “you can drink beer and motorcycle in Kanada?”

“Yes. But only three or four beers.”, I do the weight calculation on the fly and I can see the shock in their eyes. These guys wouldn't even consider having one or two for the road. They look with amazement. They then explain that with even a sip the police can put you away and it will cost 500 Dollars to get out.

I hand the beer over to them and they are pleased. I'm wondering if I was just conned. No matter, the beer cost about 50 cents. They give me directions to Odessa. Like when I got lost in Albania it turns out I'm only two blocks away. I get through the town of Izmail and back onto the "highway". I make my way getting closer to Odessa with every kilometer tick on my odometer. Nothing can stop me now.

Am I being pulled over by the police?

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The Longest Yard.

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August 19, 2009 – Morning

Recap: Elvis was being led by the young border guard to the return line to Romania, his bike still impounded, and all of his gear still at the hotel in Moldova. Could this be the end of Elvis and his trusty cafe racer as they travel around the world together?

The story begins... again.

The guard was moving at a terrible pace. It's a good thing I lost all that weight and ran every morning prior to taking this trip. The “Fat Elvis” would have had a heart attack running up these stairs. The “Fit Elvis” only had a minor heart murmur. It didn't help that I could feel the lump in my throat as I knew my adventure was ending here, right now. How will I get my stuff back? I mean I have all my camera equipment in my shoulder bag but my clothes, my laptop, my tools. They're all in my army bag. This is going to suck. I'm going to miss my toiletries. At least I'll smell like a local when I take the bus ride of shame across Eastern Europe. Where's that lawyer when I really need her?

I followed him into the building and he led me down a row of offices with handwritten signs. The office door he opened had a sign and the writing resembled the word:

“INSURANCE”

There were a few weird Russian characters in there, but that is what it translated to in my mind. This is good! No, this is great! They want me to buy insurance. Insurance for my bike that is. I'm moving forward! Don't let my face show how happy I am. Keep your poker face together Elvis. Don't let them know you were ready to fold.

The guy hands over my registration papers to the guy with the cigarette and briefcase. He opens up his briefcase and begins the process of writing me up some Moldovan Insurance. The border guard left me there almost right away so I figured they had their fill of me. It took about half an hour to draw up the documents and when it was over I handed him ten Euros and he handed me my insurance policy. Very official looking indeed. When I get back to Canada I think I'm going to start making up official looking documents for my bike with pictures, stamps and embossing for my next trip. I'll make it a 30 page document written in languages no one can recognize. Oh right, that would be English in these parts.

I grab my policy and I run back down the stairs. I push my bike to the final checkpoint and hammer him with all my paperwork. My passport, my registration, my German insurance, my Montenegro Insurance, my Albania insurance, my Turkey Insurance, my receipt for a Turkish visa, my payment plan for my British Columbian Insurance. I fanned it all out in front of him. He took one glance and lifted the gate. I pushed my bike over to the hotel and I loaded up my gear. My beautiful gear that I thought would be lost to me forever!

I'm gripped, loaded, and ready to go. Let's get this party started.

Wrrrr...wrrr...wrrrr...wrrrr...wrrrr.

No love. It's a good thing I didn't try to abscond with my bike. I doubt the Kevler in my jacket was meant for stopping clubs to the face.

I pushed my bike up to a gas station about fifty feet away and I begin the routine to get started. This time it was considerably easier. I just used a two Euro coin to bypass the starter relay and I got ignition right away. Next time I'll wear a glove when I do this because the electric shock and heat kind of hurts. Not as much as the burn on my hand that I got when I was tweaking the idle on my bike after the new exhaust screwed everything up. That hurts way more. Especially because it's really infected now. I'm going to need a doctor when and if I ever make it to Odessa.

Who cares? Right now I need to make a beeline for the Ukraine and get my bike warmed up for the day.

I take the first right and enjoy the fact that I'm riding in Moldova. How many North Americans have been here on two wheels? Not many I bet. I think today I just joined a small fraternity of bikers who would be willing to ride n this part of the world.

That was short lived. The Ukraine border is right in front of me. That couldn't have been more than half a kilometer. You mean I went through hell for five hundred yards of Moldova? This is bullshit! They couldn't have made a border crossing between the Ukraine and Romania? Idiots!

View Larger Map
The map illustrates this better. Galati is the last town you pass in Romania, Giurgiulesti is the town where the hotel is, and Reni is the first town you pass through when entering the Ukraine.

For scale it takes ten minutes to drive from Galati to Moldova. It would probably cost half a million dollars to build a road around Moldova straight to the Ukraine.

Oh well, lets get this over with.

Next Exit: Moldova... sheesh.

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Je me souviens

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August 19, 2009 – Morning in Moldova

The morning couldn't come quick enough. I set my alarm for 6am and I was happy to hear it when it came on. I drifted in and out of sleep all night waiting for the Austin Powers theme (for Canadians who remember it was also the theme to the game show 'Definition') to wake me up. I was worried sick. My bike was confiscated by the Moldovan border guards and I wasn't sure what to expect this morning. I was getting ready to start some kind of international incident if I had to but I have a feeling there isn't a Canadian embassy within a thousand kilometers of here. I'm in a particularly uninhabited corner of the world where I don't think things like 'habius corpus', due process, heck... I doubt they even know what the Magna Carta was. Democracy is in very short supply up here. We're as close to being in the epicenter of communism as I care to be and although these little states have freed themselves of mother Russia's chains they haven't embraced capitalism with open arms either.

I do the walk of shame down to where they are holding my bike. I'm in full riding gear as a show of strength. Plus, if I have to run from gunfire I'm hoping the Kevlar jacket will help me. When I get down there I'm ignored. I wonder if these pricks know I have another set of keys in my pocket? I could probably get on and make a run for it. Of course if I get on and she doesn't start then I'm screwed. Nope, I'll have to do this the hard way. If that doesn't work I will wait for cover of the night and come in and emancipate her.

The guards finally notice me and they seem happy. It would seem they were expecting me and they brought in an interpretor. Fantastic! They introduce me to her and she greets me with a smile.

“Bonjour! Comment ca va?”, in perfect French. This isn't the first border guard who practiced their French on me. As a Western Canadian it's sad to know that we don't have much of an identity. Unlike our brothers from Quebec.

My heart drops,”Bonjour, ca va bien. Parlez vous English?” In the accent of a man who never got passed grade seven French.

What does the rest of the world think about Canada? I'm finding out on this trip that most people don't even know where Canada is. You always here about backpackers sewing Canadian flags on their luggage to no be confused with Americans. The truth is nobody on this side of the world really cares about Canada at all. For being the second largest country in the world we're really quite insignificant. I should have said I was American. At least no one expects Americans to be bilingual. Hell I don't think people expect Americans to be lingual at all. Pay the money and go. That's what an American would do.

“No non non, blah blah blah, english... pas... ribbit ribbit ribbit”, I had no clue what she was saying and she could tell that in my eyes. In truth I did get the feeling she was asking for money, but I glazed over that one.

I stood there and stared at her. I shrugged my shoulder and pointed at my motorcycle and raised my palms in a questioning manner.

She walked away and the guards had a huddle. One of the older guards said something to one of the younger guards and he goosed stepped over to me and grabbed me to motion me to follow him. His pace was fast and he led me up the stairs to the line up going back to Romania.

Damnit! I'm being deported and they're keeping my bike. It's OK. I can cope with this. I'll catch a bus to Bucharest and head back to Croatia. I miss the Adriatic. I'll get a tan and drink icy cold Karlovacko all day long. That doesn't sound bad at all.

I'm glad I kept that Romanian money after all.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Want My Two Dollars

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August 18, 2009 Evening

It's the strangest thing about Europe. Everytime you get to a new country you don't go through one border crossing, you go through two. They always make you leave the country you're in first and then enter the country you're going to second. I'm going to say this one time so that there is no confusion.

“European bureaucrats are stupid.”

I mean, let's face it. Who cares if you leave the country? Good riddance I say. What is the purpose of checking out? It's not a hotel. I didn't drink the mini bar clean and I'm trying to get away without paying. Like “fuck-off” you uniformed bureaucrat with a meaningless job. Go do something useful like filling the potholes with your useless corpse. Sorry. I shouldn't talk this way but it's just so damn wasteful. You're paying these useless pricks anyways make them do something useful. At least make them sweat.

So I breeze through the Romanian exit border and I arrive at the Moldovan entry border. It's a very serious border indeed. The first checkpoint was being guarded by a girl in a mini skirt and high heels with a machine gun. I wish I could show you because reality is stranger than fiction. I got a picture of her on the down low but I couldn't get one of her with her machine gun and I wasn't about to try to hard.



Talk about James Bond! It was funny until she kept us there for over an hour. I was so unbelievably thirsty and I found myself drinking from this rotted tap at the side of the road. I knew my stomach would pay for it later but I had no choice.

[insert tap picture]

There was no end in sight for this checkpoint so I bit the bullet and drank from the dirty tap. I found out later the delay was because they were doing a shift change. So remember, never cross the Moldovan border at eight in the evening. Not that it mattered for me in the end.

After I got past the first checkpoint it was all over for me.

“Passport?”

I handed over my passport.

“Moto (blah blah blah) ?”, he asked.

“Huh?”, I replied.

“Diplomat?”, he responded.

I blushed. “No, no, no. I'm not diplomat.”, I figured he assumed the way my bike was representing Canada he thought I was a diplomat. What he was asking for was the registration for my bike, or as they say “Diploma”.

I figured it out and handed over my registration. Unfortunately , this wasn't good enough for them. North American documentation doesn't have the proper flavor that these backwards hicks need. If the document doesn't have eight pages with official stamps on each one and a watermark or two they don't recognize it. In the future I'm going to be like Jim Rockford from the Rockford files and make fake documentation as I go. Of course the reality was these corrupt pricks just wanted a bribe. An Italian girl helped translate for awhile but when they finally received the 'Green Light' to leave they were gone quicker than the road runner. She tried her best but I saw the look in her eyes and they were filled with sympathy. She knew I was in for hard times.

I had two choices at this point. The easy way, which would have been to give them twenty Euro and drive away. Or the hard way, which was to try and not give them any money and try to appeal to their sense of righteousness.

I chose the hard way. And any bikers that follow in my trail can thank me now for not giving in to these bastards.

It was getting late. Maybe midnight or so. I had been there for about four hours when the senior officer said I could go. I was so happy. I walked over to my bike relieved. He walked a little quicker than me and took the keys from the ignition.

“You”, and he pointed at me, “can go.”

“Moto”, and he pointed at my motorcycle, “no go”

“No no no no....nyet nyet nyet”, I responded and sat down. I was there for another hour when a guy with a machine gun escorted me to a hotel just outside the border crossing. For 5 Euro I checked into my room and came downstairs and had an ice cream and a beer. (terrible combo but the ice cream reminded me of my wife and I needed the comfort of a good memory). I sat on the front steps of this border hotel and I drank beers with the hoods that ran this corner of the world. The funny thing is is that people would walk up to the hotel and shake my hand thinking I was a new member of this gang. Everytime someone did the other members of my gang would laugh.

The Eurotrash music finally got to me so I went to bed. I put my sleeping bag on the bed they provided me. I think I would have preferred the woods to this room but at least there was a bathroom down the hall so the people who came to murder me in my sleep could at least wash up after. I had troubles sleeping thinking that my trip was ending here in this godforsaken place with these godforsaken people.

I'm scared.

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This is Rosco P. Coltrane and I'm in Hot Pursuit

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After my Evil Kneival stunt I cruised into Galati. The last town before he Moldovan border. I was lost immediately. I didn't want to screw around so I stopped for gas and asked for directions. The two young men decided to draw me a map. I seemed to get it until a young woman walked up and asked if I speak English to which I joyfully replied, “Yes!”.

She explained the route different. As a matter of fact the route the guys drew made sense to me. Her map was confusing. Plus, the first right the guys drew she made a left. Very different maps indeed. I will need to make a decision.

I'm going with the guys.

As I leave I see the girl in front of me roll her window down and motion me to it.

“It's better you follow me!” (insert Romanian accent)

“OK!”, this is good news indeed. We get out into traffic and make our way slowly down the main thoroughfare. The we take that first left.

SSSCCCCCRRREEEEEECCH!!

She's off like a bandit. Follow me? She said follow me? She meant chase me. No... she meant, “Catch me if you can”. This girl made Jason Statham from the Transporter (Parts one through three) look like a Sunday driver. She had me going down train tracks with the train, sidewalks, over slippery cobble stone, down dirt roads, around barriers, you get the picture. If I knew the way it would have taken me half an hour to get there. It took ten.

When she stopped at the border I thanked her and commented on her driving.

“I really like to drive!”, she said with a mad twinkle in her eye.

I offered her some Romanian money which she wouldn't take. I insisted but she just got in her car and rolled down her window.

“I'm a lawyer I don't need your money!”

Perhaps she doesn't. But I know she only became a lawyer so she could fight all the tickets she must get. It was just economical. Seven years of university must be cheaper.

The good thing is I never would have found this place. Actually that's not true ,I would have.

It would have taken me two hours. I remember Albania.

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Jumping The Shark

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Elvis Cafe Racer on Ferry Over Danube River in RomaniaThe day started out, let me rephrase that, the day didn't start. I got on my bike, put it in neutral, pushed the start button, and... nothing. Shit! I would say 'shoot' but this is the Internet. I need to get a reaction and express myself accurately. OK. Flick the key back and forth and toggle the stop-run-stop switch.

Try again...

“wrrrr....wrrrr...wrrrr...wrrrr....wrrrr”, no chitti chitti bang bang.

Frick!

(Editors Note: Trust me on the fact that Elvis didn't say 'Frick')

It wouldn't be such a big deal but my bike always draws a crowd, which seems to be dissipating now. Time to push start. I've done this before and I have to say it never took me as long to get my motorcycle to start as it did today. Probably the new exhaust. Speaking of which I'm exhausted. It took my over half and hour of pushing to get it going. I was starting to worry, but when do I stop worrying?

I bid farewell to the Romanian town of Constanta and I got on my way. The route was easy I had two choices and I knew which one to choose. Plus I cheated with a little Google map action in the hotel earlier. Needless to say I head out in the right direction feeling good about the day. The wind cooled me off quickly and I wasn't sweating anymore. As I was turning onto my main route a couple of Greeks on BMW G series bikes zipped by. I decided to catch up with them... yeah right. I pushed my bike to the limit and they just kept getting further and further ahead. It was only traffic that allowed me to catch up one time and then they were gone again. I hit 165km/h on a road I should be doing ninety so I gave up. It was a valiant effort but the machinery was just unequal. I'll catch them when their fuel injectors clog up or their electronics go haywire.

The game of chase did get me motivated to move though. I really opened up today. I was far more aggressive than normal and I blasted the tunes and watched kilometers roll on my odometer. It was an absolute blast. As I reached the northern Romanian border the villages I went through were amazing. Like something out of the 40's or 50's. Horse drawn wagons were the main form of transportation, the roofs were thatch and the young boys ran out to the street when they heard the song of my engine. They would twist their little hands hoping I would give them a couple of high pitched revs of the engine and I did oblige every one of them. What a treat it was for me and them! I even passed a village where the Gypsies were living in Yurts. It's truly a testament to how much ability we have lost due to what we call progress. The average Westerner would have a terrible time trying to cope like these people. It actually gives me a sense of hope knowing that there are people like this to carry on after we have destroyed ourselves.

I made great time. I should be at the Moldovan border in no time. What's that ahead of me? A river? Where's the road? I must have taken a wrong turn. I better stop and have a beer. I mean I should turn around and find my way. Nah... let's get that beer. Maybe ask someone how to get on the right track?

As I pull up to the little cantina ( I call it that because I'm so reminded of the rural areas of Brazil, in the north near the Amazon rain forest) and I'm greeted with a “Heyyyy.... Mad Max”, and some laughter. The one fellow also pointed out that my license plate was hanging by one bolt. I sat down and took off my gear. Half way through my beer I got out the tools and fastened my plate. I also took the time to secure my new exhaust. It had shifted a little over the day. I didn't have to ask anyone directions as the ferries running back and forth were pretty self explanatory. Thanks Google maps, you missed on that one. Not like it was a big river or anything. I mean... It's only the Danube!

The guys at the bar were the ferry traffic controllers though they seemed an awful lot like gangsters. Fortunately, these gangsters liked me and the helped me figure out the ferry lines. I took the truck ferry across and I have to say, I've never been on a vessel like this one. To load they get one truck to move back and forth across the deck to make the boat list to and fro. As the boat teeter-totters back and forth you have to gun it to get across while your ramp is higher than the boat deck. The unloading is identical.



Unfortunately I was a little over enthusiastic and timed my departure poorly. As the boat listed upwards I gunned it and launched myself four to six feet in the air and maybe seven to eight feet forward and landed on a surface so bumpy and worn you couldn't call it a road. I was dead. I mean dead dead dead dead. There was no way in this world that this was going to end well. Yet, to everyone's shock I landed perfectly and when I reached the top of the hill I hammered the back brakes and skidded myself sideways. Much like my muffler back in Turkey I decided I would leave well enough alone and leave my soiled underwear back on the ramp. I was so frightened I could barely dismount, but people came over to hug me and I wanna say 'high five' but it was more like groping. Which is kinda creepy because everyone was in their Speedos. Needless to say I don't think any of these people ever saw Fonzie jump the shark and I gave them the best show ever. As a matter of fact I was impressed with myself. I looked like something off a “Saturday, Saturday, Saturday!!” motocross commercial. How I survived I don't know but I've always held one thing about myself to be truer than anything else.

It's way better to be lucky than skillful!

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Turkey Hangover

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The one thing I have begun to dread on this trip is running out of gas and... BORDER CROSSINGS!!!

I hate them. You just never know how you're going to be treated or how long you will have to wait. I know Bulgaria is part of the EU, but it's not part of the western part of the EU and it has strange rules. Every step along the endless border crossing makes me more and more confused. I kept getting asked for a “chip”. I have no idea what they were talking about but when I gave them the confused look they kept waving me through to the next checkpoint. I don't think I will ever understand what they wanted but I have a feeling it had something to do with the sign that said you have to pay to drive on the Bulgarian roads.

After ten kilometers I became very happy that I didn't pay for it. These roads are, for lack of a better word, shit.

Shit, shit, shit, and more shit. It' only one word but it is so accurate. These aren't roads they're goat paths with a little bit of asphalt on them as a disguise.

The great thing about the motorcycle I drive is that I can beat on her and I know she will take it. I don't drive fast to begin with so my pace doesn't slow for even a minute. I just hang on like a bull rider and go. I have to tell you that the roads may be terrible but the scenery is amazing! The forest is only outdone by the oceanside resorts that I pass. I wish I had more time.

Golden Sands, Varna, they are so beautiful but I will have to save this for another trip, I have to keep going. Romania is my destination today. If I'm lucky I can make Constanta today.

I'm a little anxious about running into the police. I don't have a vignette to drive these roads and I've heard that the Bulgarian cops like to beat on tourists for bribes. I'll have none of that! The road wears me down going through the passes and I have to stop a couple of times. There are some great roadside taverns and every hundred kilometers or so I stop and stretch my legs and enjoy a cold beer.

The problem with stopping on a motorbike is that you can't be quick about it. Park, kickstand, gloves off, helmet off, rider off, unzip jacket, etc. it's routine you have to go through forwards and in reverse everytime you stop. It always adds at least twenty minutes to every stop. That is if you don't stop and rehydrate with a liter of water or a nice bottle of beer. Then it's forty five minutes... at the least.

Bulgaria becomes a country lost in my rear view mirror and Romania becomes my landscape. In my obsession to make it to Consanta I pass by some great towns where, in hindsight, I should have stayed. I let you know the names when I get home and look at a map closer. Constanta was a disappointment. Just another larger town on the coast with no atmosphere. Whenever I see a McDonalds I know I'm on the wrong road. But the town serves it's purpose and I spend the night.

Tomorrow is a big day. Tomorrow I go to Odessa!

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Turkish Delight

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Everybody has a “bucket list”, that is a list of things to do before you die. Well... I have a list so long it would take two rolls of toilet paper to list it. There are minor things like, celebrate New Years Eve in Rome, which I have done, to major events like watch the birth of your first born, which I have also done (and I wasn't hung over afterwards). Today I can check off two more:

1.Ride a motorcycle to Istanbul, and
2.Ride a motorcycle to Asia.

I have gone years without being able to even check a single item off my list, yet this year I'm about to have a bumper crop.

My new muffler is making my bike growl. It's really sexy! Plus, I think I'm actually moving faster. This new high performance muffler was expensive, but I like it! The road out of Istanbul is great. I'm hightailing it to Bulgaria and I'm not going to waste anytime. I have been humbled by my midnight run into Istanbul and I know I'm riding on borrowed time. I need to make hay while the sun shines and get some kilometers behind me. The road is nice and new and I don't mind paying the toll to have some smooth asphalt underneath me.

Of course the smoothness of the ride makes me a little complacent so I decide to take some video as I ride. I pull over and set up the camera. With the camera in one hand I cruise down the Turkish highway taking video from as many angle as I can. That is until I see the red and blue lights flashing behind me, Is that a siren?

Damn it. I'm being pulled over... and for the first time.

The police get out of their car and approach. There's two of them and I don't know what to expect.

“Could we see your papers please?”

I hand over my international driver's license.

“Are you OK? Do you require any help?”, the older officer asks.

I'm not sure how to answer this question. Is this a trick?

“What ummm.. what's the word? Model of motorsicklet is this?”, the younger officer asks.

“It's a 1981 Yamaha XJ650 Maxim I reply.”

He gives me a puzzled look.

I see the recognition in his eyes so I elaborate, “It's a fully custom cafe racer that I built from scratch from parts I was given.”

“Ahhh!” It all made sense to him.

The rest of the conversation was about how much they liked, no loved, my bike and the reason they pulled me over was so that they could get a closer look. Talk about flattery. I was so worried being pulled over in Turkey and yet again I'm inspired by the motivations and kindness of my fellow man.

They were more than happy to take a couple of pictures with my bike and the one officer gave me his email address so I could send him the pictures. Turned on my video camera and they gave me a light show and a wave as they pulled away.


I wonder if the police in Canada would treat foreign bikers as nicely?

That question was hypothetical... I know the answer.

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Silence of the Lambs

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I decided that if I can get a new muffler I will drive to Asia, otherwise I will make a hasty escape out of Turkey (I'm sure I'm not the first person to do that) and head straight back to Croatia.

Success!!!

It cost me a fortune but the new high performance muffler is something else. The guys at the shop took every muffler they had and tried to fit it before we got to this little beauty.


500 Euro. How am I going to pay my credit card when I get home? I'm going to be in shit when my wife sees my credit card bill. But on the plus side, think of all the Aeroplan points I accumulated.

I think when all is said and done this trip is going to cost me the Range Rover Izabel wants. In all fairness how can I say no to the woman who lets me tour Eastern Europe alone?

Not Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe and now Asia. I am going to cross the bridge to the Asian continent. My bike is purring like a tiger and when I hit the throttle it growls now. I like this. Of course for 500 Euro I could have bought a new bike at home.

As I made my way to Asia, I noticed alot of traffic coming the other way. That's traffic I will have to sit in when I turn around.

When I cross the bridge to Asia, I take my time. The view is spectacular! More importantly my psyche is spectacular. So many thoughts rush through me as I think about all the hard kilometers I rode to get to this spot right now. The bridge doesn't last long and it seems a little anticlimactic. I really have no one to share this moment with. Everyone I know and love are 9000 kilometers away.

Hey! There's a couple of bikers waving at me. Maybe they will be my friend?

I stopped on the Asian side of Istanbul and pulled up to this couple riding "two up" on this beautiful BMW. I won't lie. After the countless days on the road I wondered to myself how these two manage to look like movie stars! Their license plate reads Italy and that's a long way away. I do 30 kilometers on my bike and I look like something that should live under bridges and eat goats. These two look like they just walked out of a BMW commercial.


Needless to say they were as happy to meet me as I was to meet them. Marco and Stephanie. They were doing the exact thing I was doing. Checking off their bucket list.

Europe to Asia on a motorcycle..... Done that!

We sat at the bridge for awhile and they informed me that it will cost me 20 Euro to buy a card to get through the tolls booth to turn around. What a scam. Fortunately Stephanie is smarter than Marco and myself and she came up with a cunning plan.

Since they paid for their card already and it has ten uses they will go through first and leave the card for me to scan myself through.

I like this plan.

Of course I like any plan that saves me money after this mornings "bad beat" (poker term) with the muffler.

We didn't get on the road quickly. We took our time and talked about Vancouver and the Olympics and we exchanged contact information.

The people you meet when you're touring the world motorcycle can be amazing. In the fifteen minutes that I talked with this couple from northern Italy I know that I will meet them again. There is a strange bond between people out on the open road without a cage around to imprison them from the world. Until you actually get out there and do it you can never know. Needless to say I could tell that I would know these two for a long time. So, Marco and Stephanie... this posting is dedicated to you. Thank you for helping me out. You have my contact information if you show up on my doorstep there will always be a bed for you.

We rode together through Istanbul rush hour and when our time came to part ways we just raised our hands and gave a little honk of our underpowered horns.

arrivederci

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The Road Ahead

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I'm sitting here in an industrial park on the outskirts of Istanbul waiting for the motorcycle shop to open up. I didn't want to drive through traffic to find this place so I woke up at 5am and got myself ready and checked out quickly.

I probably woke up the entire hotel when I fired up my unmuffled engine in the underground parkade. My god! What a racket. I remember when I used to like Harley's for the noise they made, I must be getting old.

I think I was a little too anxious because for the first time since starting this trip I actually found the place easily. It took me about 15 minutes from the hotel and now I have to wait for about three hours for it to open. Time to do a little maintenance. Maybe reattach my side view mirror? That would be useful. My neck is sore from all the 180 degree shoulder checks.

The loss of my helmet camera is a terrible blow to the documentation of this trip. It was so easy just to slide the switch on the camera and it would capture everything I would see. I think I have come up with a mounting system for my handheld camera so I can attach it to my handlebars and capture everything my motorcycle sees. I'm going to give it a try. The downside is I don't have that many batteries for that camera. I was counting on the helmet cam to do most of the footage so I bought five batteries for it. Enough for two days without a power source. I have attached a little AC power inverter with a USB power plug to my battery. I'm hoping I can charge my handheld as I travel.

I feel better today. If all goes well, and I get a muffler for my bike I'm going to make the crossing over to Asia today. If it doesn't go well, I'll make a bee-line for Romania. I may have to push my bike through the border crossing to not attract attention. I know the Bulgarian police will love me. They'll treat me like a Euro wielding pinata ripe for fines and bribes. They will be so happy to actually have a REAL reason for pulling me over.

We'll see what the day brings. I'm looking forward to the road ahead. I must remember to rest.

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