25 August, 2008

.... and in the end....... i'ts not the end at all.

Well I arrived in Palermo - strange city that it is - only to find that I can't actually ship from there directly to Australia. I have been told to head back North to either Roma or Genove.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that in August the whole of the Italy shuts down for summer vacation (holidays) and then there is also the language problem (no parlo Italiano).

So here I am Roma after another fascinating ride through Southern Italy, this time taking in the volcanoes,
both extant (Etna),

and extinct (Vesuvius)

and the cobblestone streets of Napoli (think Napoli, think very bouncy cobblestones). The street scene below is straight out of one of Sophia Loren's famous '60s movies such as Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow or Marriage Italian Style.

Now I am Roma though, I am still finding it difficult to locate a shipper. If anyone with local knowledge is reading this and can assist me it would be very much appreciated.

18 August, 2008

LA STRADA (with apologies to Fellini)

Hi all, I'm safe and well and have just arrived in Ancona Italia.
Just having a nice relaxing ride South - so many bikes on the road including many Burgmen of all denominations.

Since my last posting I have travelled through the Czech republic (Prague has the best beer in the world!),




and Croatia.

I'm now getting close to my final destination (Palermo Sicily) and am enjoying it so much I feel like turning around and doing it all again. The road gets into your soul (the journey is the destination) and the Burgie has been a faithful companion to me, albeit a bit worn and tired after all I have asked of it.

Soon, alas, it will all come to an end but in the meantime I will try and prolong these final days as long as possible.

The Italians are an interesting people - easily excitable and lively, but also very helpful. My final task will be to get the Burgie safely on board a ship back to Australia. I am not looking forward to this as it is going to be a challenging and onerous activity, and it aso represents the end of my time on the road.

03 August, 2008

Norwegian Wood - isn't it good.

You will all have read in my previous post about how I fell in love with Norway, but I have left out many of the details of my journey itself, so this is quick attempt to fill in the gaps.

During my very enjoyable stay at Chez Magnus, Magnus arranged for me to make a guest appearance in the local newspaper in Kalix Sweden, see below for details.

Hitting the road I left Kalix to head back to where I had been - Finland - to head North into the Arctic Circle and up to Nordkap. The roads through here are quite smooth, albeit a little damp, and those reindeer warning signs are not put there for nothing. My first experience of a stag with enormous antlers trotting towards me down the centre white line, as if he owned the road, was one of awe and wonder - what a magnificent creature. He was the first of many though, and as I crossed into Lapland and then into Norway proper I saw many more of both sexes.

Stopping to take photos was almost out of the question, however. The mosquitoes in this neck of the woods are plentiful and voracious - apparently that is why the deer come on to the road, to escape the mozzies. Tempted as I was to toss the poor suffering reindeer my can of Aeroguard, I needed it for myself.

I stopped for fuel once I crossed border, paying §3 per litre and enjoying my first $25 service station hamburger (yes, it is true what they say about Norway being the most expensive country in Europe)

Before long though, as I continued North, the winds grew steadily stronger and the night (although it was bright daylight) grew steadily cooler. I finally reached Nordkap, after travelling through 6 tunnels - the longest 7km - and windswept fishing villages, around 12.30am with many other tourists (including 2 Goldwings and a Triumph Sprint) enjoying the view from the clifftop. The wind by this stage was blowing a gale and one of the Goldwing riders needed us to rescue him as his bike was blown sideways and over by one huge gust (think how heavy a Goldwing is folks, and think what wind force is required to achieve that!).

I decided it would be inappropriate to try and erect the tent in that location so headed back 15km South to the lee of cliff face and set up camp around 2.30am (again in broad daylight). That was fine until around 5am when the wind changed direction slightly and I ended up with a flattened tent and a broken fibreglass tent pole to show for my efforts.

By 7.30am I was ready to get back on my way and continue South along the fjords, but first I had 2 or 3 mountain passes to cross. With altitudes up to 1,500 metres and plenty of snow, mist and rain it was truly desolate and bloody cold. Believe it or not though, the conditions may have been hard for me but I passed at least 50 hardy souls on bicycles all heading North into the gale up to Nordkap.

I finally reached Alta, to joke with the two service station attendants about what a miserable summer they were having (I can't believe anyone voluntarily chooses to live in such cities as Alta, Hammerfest and Tromse where for 2 months each year they see no daylight whatsoever!), before continuing down to Narvik where I had a most enjoyable stay in the local Youth Hostel.

Next day I continued further South along magnficinet roads and vistas, taking ferries across fjords, passing the maelstroms near Bodo, and crossing out of the polar circle again, to camp for the night alongside a fjord near Mo I Rana ( I figured camping was the easiest way to keep my costs down). It is here where I believe I caught the dreaded lurgy.

The following day was similar riding alongside fjords and up and down mountains. This part of Norway is only 6km wide at one point and I reached Dovre (the troll capital of Norway) to find all accommodation booked out and having to set up tent again 2 metres from a wonderful fresh flowing river.

After an early start I headed off to Sogndal via the Jostedalsbreen glacier and the magnificent UNESCO listed Geiranger fjord ferry - what magnificent riding.

I have told you about my unpleasant experience en route to Oslo, and from Oslo I was feeling quite under the weather fro the ride down into Sweden and into Malmo where I spent a morning in the local hospital before crossing the bridge into Denmark and Copenhagen. This evening was spent in a beautiful farmhouse hotel in Kosor on the Danish coast and the next day took me to Kiel in journey - a short days ride but added to by 200km of recrossing my tracks endeavouring to find a camera that may have bounced to the road somewhere along a 50 km stretch of freeway.

This evening was spent camped at a Rast Platz alongside the autobahn as all accommodation was booked out in Kiel.

Yesterday I took a short ride to Hamburg and arrived early enough to take the last bed in a backpacker's lodge in St Pauli (a great bohemian location near the Reeperbahn) and today I have arrived in Berlin in an attempt to understand the changes that have occurred since I last rode into this city in October 1977 (and there was a big wall around it :-)).

Tomorrow it's off to Leipzig to visit the Stasi museum and then off to Prague and Budapest to see a little more of Eastern European history.

02 August, 2008

Heaven and Hell in Scandinavia

I have been to paradise ... and it is in Norway.

From the wild and woolly north to the milder southern climes, this is a land which has been blessed with beauty.

Every corner you turn, your eyes are peeled back with the most wondrous sites - from a stag reindeer standing in the middle of the road with its massive antlers, to ominous dark clouds and foreboding skies with grey clouds moving past a light speed, to the howling gales at Nordkap - the northern most point in Europe with daylight at 2am, to mountain glaciers with clear bright snow, and pools of reflective ice, silver cold cascades tumbling hundreds of metres into clear mountain streams turning into rivers, and ending in Fjords with massively vertical sides and massively deep trenches. Even the lush verdant fields and pastures, and old cottage towns which usually do not interest me, are so perfect that it takes your breath away.

It is land of indescribable beauty, and you want to cry with joy as the winding roads show you yet another aspect of this land of the North.

There is no stopping it though, when you think you have seen the best, and it cannot get any more perfect, it does, and keeps on doing so. When Tolkien wrote the 'Rings' it is clear he based the geographic setting on Norway.

.... and I have not even begun to describe the motorcycling side of things. With my new Bridgestones installed the Burgie was literally gliding through the turns as if on a cushion of air (sorry if that sounds a bit magic carpetish guys!), whether on drenchingly wet roads in the mists of the mountains, or whether sweeping up and down fjords with 20 linked hairpin bends, the Burgie could not put a foot wrong. The roads are cambered precisely such that your body movement is sufficient to have the bike turn in exactly as needed for a flowing entry and exit.

Ah, paradise......

I have also been to Hell in Norway (it's around 20-30km north east of Trondheim on highway E6 if you wish to check your atlas), but my personal Hell was my experience with drinking the local water. Now Norway has some of the coolest, freshest, cleanest and tastiest mountain water I have ever tasted (yes folks, it's on a par with Siberia), however, I seemed to sample a bad batch of the stuff somewhere South of Narvik.

At first I had a little stabbing pain which I put down to having skipped lunch. On day 2 the pain persisted but was not particularly troubling. On day 3 I woke up at the youth hostel in Sogndal and went down to enjoy the usual marvellously fresh and wholesome Scandinavian breakfast which is included in the tariff. After finishing breakfast I went down to the Burgie to perform a little preventative maintenance (check oil levels etc.) before starting the day's ride to Oslo. I finished this, walked back to wash my hands and immediately vomited. I did so twice more before starting the ride but wasn't feeling that bad and put it down to maybe a reaction to the nip of vodka (from my stash from Russia) the previous evening.

I figured the fresh air on the ride would clear things up and managed around an hour in the saddle before I had to take my first break - well to use a 'Monty Python'ism, whatever was wrong with me had opened the sluice gates at both ends!

Back on the bike again, the day was getting warmer and I managed a further hour in the saddle before having to stop and lie down in the shade. I lay down and promptly fell asleep, only waking when the heat of the sun increased as the sun moved across the sky. I woke up and promptly vomited another 6 times (it was a real eye opener to see how little of my breakfast had been digested in any meaningful way).

I was totally and utterly nauseated by now and could do nothing but sleep a little longer finally waking to see how the sun had travelled significantly across the sky and I needed to get a move on if I was going to make the relatively short distance to Oslo before nightfall (which is around midnight this far North). I groggily roused myself, vomited 3 more times and crawled onto the Burgie. By this time I was feeling really ill and knew I was in no fit shape to ride, but hoped a bit of a cooling breeze could do me no harm. I rode 20 metres out of the roadside rest spot onto the highway and realised I was blacking out - all went dark and I had no control whatsoever. Thank goodness there was little other traffic around, as I wobbled sideways across the road before managing to get near the side of the road and barely hold the Burgie upright for the minute or so whilst my swoon passed.

Figuring I had sufficiently embarrassed myself in front of all onlookers I determined to keep on riding and made another 5km towards Oslo before pulling over, throwing up again and sleeping for a further period.

On awaking, I knew I wasn't going to throw up any more but the urgent feeling was now below the waist line.

Four days have passed since that dreadful day and I am only now starting to feel truly better. I visited the hospital the following day in Malmo Sweden and they were most reluctant to prescribe antibiotics to assist. My motions have improved from water (20 times a day) to soup (10 times a day) to porridge (5 times a day) and finally today to nothing, so I figure I'm over the worst of it.

The worst aspect though, and I put this down to my debilitated state and temporary loss of faculties, was losing my camera three days ago in Denmark. From what I can recollect, I left it sitting on my luggage when I left a rest spot on the freeway between Nyborg and Odense. The loss of the camera is not really a big deal but what is, is that the SD card in it contained all my photos for the last 3 weeks. :-(

Whilst I am hopeful of possibly recovering some of those taken in Russia, the Scandinavian shots, alas, are gone forever. I guess this shows the positives and negatives of digital camera ownership. In the past we could only take 36 shots on a roll of film, but if we lost a camera we only lost 36, instead of 360 photos.

The lesson is learnt, though, and I will ensure I regularly swap memory cards in situations where I cannot easily get Internet access for uploading.