This is a summary of my month long solo motorcycle ride through Europe in the summer of 2010.
ROUTE: Ljubljana -> Vienna -> Prague -> Berlin -> Hamburg -> Cologne -> Luxembourg -> Strasbourg -> Freiburg -> Basel -> Interlaken -> Bellinzona -> Padua -> Cortina D’Ampezzo -> Bled -> Ljubljana
COUNTRIES VISITED: Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Italy (Rode through 8 countries, visited 11 total)
TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED: ~5000 kms = 3100 miles
TOTAL TIME TAKEN: 1 month (August 2010) although this wasn’t a purely motorcycling vacation. I spent quite a bit of time visiting friends, taking the train or ferry to places, or just laying around and relaxing. Europe had pretty bad rain in August this year too, so that I couldn’t ride nearly as much as I wanted to.
MOTORCYCLE: A 2005 BMW F650CS, which I rented from a rider in Slovenia.
1. The roads – The Swiss and Italian Alps are every motorcyclist’s dream come true. I’ve never ridden on *anything* like those roads. My only regret was that I was on a bike that simply wasn’t as much fun as a sportbike.
2. Lane splitting – I didn’t know what I was missing until I actually experienced it! I was able to ride between lanes every time I encountered a gridlock. I could go right up to the front of the line every time I hit a red light. It’s not only allowed, it’s expected of you.
3. No left lane campers - Europeans observe the rule of “Stay right except to pass” at all times. I’ve never seen traffic flowing so smoothly on freeways as I did on the autobahns and autostrades there. And it’s not like you go slow either. Most all traffic drove at 130kmph.
4. Passing – A car could be going well above the speed limit and you could still pass them without them getting all upset and bent out of shape. For some reason, Europeans don’t get road rage when they get passed by faster vehicles. It’s almost expected, and some of them even move over for you.
5. No cops – I never had any trouble with getting pulled over by cops even though I broke well past the speed limit in several countries. They make the United States look like a police state by contrast, going by the sheer number of cop cars we’re used to seeing monitoring speed on our roads. I’ve always rolled my eyes a little at my fellow riders who complain about cops, but I finally empathize with them to a great extent.
6. The sights - This was of course the Old World, where everything was steeped in history, to the extent that you have to prioritize how much history you were able to take in on any given day. :P
7. The people – As usual, it’s the people you encounter on the road who are the best part of your journey. I consider myself to be really fortunate and privileged to have been able to meet so many good, kind people on the way – the Slovenians who hooked me up with a bike and a place to stay at both ends of my journey, the Austrian guy from ADVRider who rode with me from Ljubljana to Vienna on the first leg of my journey, put me up and took me out with his friends, the random Polish guy I met at a gas station in the Czech Republic who took me to a biker rally, the motorcyclist in Hamburg who put me up and gave me a scenic view of the city, the ADVRider from Luxembourg who took an evening off to show me his city, the lady from a gas station in Italy who gave me a postcard of the Madonna delle Grazie to keep me safe on my travels when she heard that I was riding solo to the Dolomites, my good friends in Stockholm and Cologne who took such good care of me, the students and travellers I met in youth hostels, and all the good people in practically every country with whom I shared laughter and conversations in broken English. :)
1. Rain- It rained for two days after I landed in Slovenia. It rained when I was going through the Czech Republic, enough that I was stranded. It rained for four days straight in Germany, once again enough to strand me for that long. It rained when I was crossing the Swiss Alps. It rained when I returned to Slovenia. It pretty much rained all the f***ing time and I spent most of my time re-routing and dodging rain and missed out on seeing a lot of places that I would have loved to have ridden through.
2. Weather - When it wasn’t raining, it was hot and humid. But I get that I cannot complain about rain and cold *and* the heat, so I’ll let it go.
3. Language barrier – I guess it’s only respectful to learn a bit of a language of a country if you are planning to visit, but there was no way I could have learned Slovenian, Czech, Slovak, German, Danish, Swedish and Italian before my ride. As a result, I had a difficult time of it when it came to communicating with more than sign language in many countries. It also got to be really isolating as the days went by. (Yes, young people spoke good English, but only in the western countries and only in the bigger cities.)
4. Tourists – Yes, I realize I was one of them. No, I still hated them nonetheless. The bigger cities like Prague and Vienna were infested with them and you just have to deal with them if you hope to go see any of these great cities.
5. No wide open spaces – There really aren’t any in Europe like in the United States. Not surprisingly, most of the land is developed and you don’t go very far on the road before you encounter the next town or village. After a while, it was easy to feel a little cramped. There’s a reason why there aren’t very many cruisers out there.
6. Cell phones – I obviously didn’t have a cell phone under contract out there, and acquiring a phone that would work seamlessly in every country was harder than I had imagined. Most prepaid plans were optimized to the country in question while some countries didn’t sell SIMs to non-citizens. Roaming charges were unbelievably high. I ended up spending a lot of money just to be able to have a phone for emergencies. And maybe it’s a sign of how much we depend on our phones, but not being able to just pick up the phone and call friends whenever I wanted was a little difficult to deal with.
I eventually intend to add the following entries for folks who might want to attempt a ride of this sort:
- How to acquire a motorcycle in Europe
- Checklist of things to take care of before heading to Europe
- Differences in riding in Europe vs. the United States
AUSTRIA – MUSEUM DISTRICT
SLOVAKIA – BRATISLAVA
CZECH REPUBLIC – KUTNA HORA TO THE CHURCH OF BONES
CZECH REPUBLIC – ZEROTIN
GERMANY – BERLIN
GERMANY – HAMBURG
GERMANY – MOSEL-SAAR-RUWER
GERMANY – COLOGNE
GERMANY – BLACK FOREST
ITALY – DOLOMITES