Motorcycle Touring in the Pyrenees of Spain: Getting Our Curve On

In June, my wife and I took two motorcycle tours in Europe in celebration of our 35th anniversary.  This was the second tour of our trip. You can read about the first one, “A Motorcycle Tour of Eastern Europe: “Combat Touring” in the Balkans“.

Due to the rains and flooding in Europe in June, the river boat cruise on the Danube river we had planned to take between motorcycle tours was cancelled.  So we spent time in Ljubljana, Slovenia and Munich, Germany and then caught our connection in Nuremberg to Barcelona which is the start of the Pyrenees “Rock and Roll” tour provided by Hispania Tours.  This is our second guided Hispania Tour as we had so much fun on the first one the Extremadura tour, which now is a self-guided tour.

Sight Seeing in Barcelona

We arrived several days early to see some of the sights in Barcelona and stayed in the same hotel Hispania uses for the tour.  The hotel is in the Olympic Village area as is the Hispania Tours Barcelona office. The Mediterranean is just down the street.

Bacelona, View fromRoom

Barcelona, View from Room in Hotel Icaria

Barcelona Beach

Barcelona, View of the Mediterranian

My wife had visited Barcelona before so she took care of the in town sight seeing planning.

Antoni Gaudi’s Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia

Gaudi was a very famous architect at the turn of the 20th century. We visited two of his Barcelona projects, Parc Guell and the world famous Sagrada Familia Bascillica. Sagrada Familia started in 1882 and is still under construction more than 100 years later.  His architecture is original, stunning and life-affirming.  You MUST see these if you get to Barcelona.

Barcelona, Spain Park Guell

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Park Guell

Barcelona, Spain Park Guell Lizard

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Park Guell

Barcelona, Spain Park Guell Sculpture

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Park Guell

Barcelona, Spain Sagrada Familia

Barcelona, Spain Sagrada Familia

Barcelona, Spain Sagrada Familia

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Bascilica, Exterior

Barcelona, Spain Sagrada Familia Ceiling

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Bascilica, Ceiling

Barcelona, Spain Sagrada Familia Alter

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Altar

 

Gothic Section

We walked through the Gothic section of Barcelona visiting the church of Santa Maria del Pi.  We also took a tour of a home Gaudi designed, La Pedrera of Casa Mila. The design uses catenary arches in the attic, an undulating roof and air shaft atriums.  Examples of the furniture and hardware he designed for the apartments fit the human form very well. In the attic are exhibits of his work and design for Sagarada Familia.

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi La Pedrera House

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s La Pedrera House

Barcelona, Spain Gaudi La Pedrera House Entrance

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s La Pedrera House Entrance

Barcelona, Spain Gaudi La Pedrera House Roof

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s La Pedrera House Roof

Barcelona, Spain Gaudi La Pedrera House Chair

Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s La Pedrera House, Chair

 

La Rambla and Dinner

The next day was the arrival day for the tour with a welcome dinner in the evening. After breakfast, we walked along the La Rambla seeing the sights including the mimes. They are motionless until someone puts a tip in their jar.

Our dinner was at a restaurant on the water with the “other” guest who was riding on this tour. So, we ended up with an almost private motorcycle tour.  🙂

Barcelona, La Rambla Mime

Barcelona, La Rambla Mime

Barcelona, La Rambla Facade

Barcelona, La Rambla Facade

Barcelona, La Rambla St. Joseph Market

Barcelona, La Rambla St. Joseph Market

Barcelona, Hispania Dinner Sunset

Barcelona, Sunset from the Restaurant Deck

 

Pyrenees Tour

Rochelle had a lot of pain in the left wrist and thumb during our Adriatic tour.  Although several weeks had passed, she wasn’t sure if she could ride her own bike comfortably. Volker, our guide, made arrangements to have her bike in the van so she could ride any day or part of a day she wanted to.  We both really appreciated the customer service.

Barcelona, Brook & Rochelle Two  Up

Barcelona, Brook & Rochelle Two Up on BMW F-800GS

[When we got back home, she visited her doctor and the x-rays showed her thumb was dislocated.  Apparently, it was slipping out of the joint when stressed.  No wonder her thumb and wrist hurt.]

Sunday: Leaving Barcelona

Traffic in Barcelona is “free spirited”, according to my wife.  But on Sunday, the traffic was light and we left on a divided highway to the north.  Very quickly we were in the foothills and valleys winding our way up into the mountains.  Rochelle decided to ride on my bike today and get another day of rest for her thumb.

Pyrenees View

View from the Foothills of the Pyrenees

We stopped for coffee at old stone home winding up a dirt road to the front yard.  The owner took care of us and provided first class coffee and pastries for a late morning pick-me up.

Pyrenees, Coffee Stop

Pyrenees, Coffee Stop

Pyrenees, Snapdragons

Pyrenees, Snapdragons

We continued our way up into the mountains riding through towns and up and down the mountain sides. The weather was overcast, but we avoided rain. Due to the summer solstic, many of the towns were setting up fireworks to celebrate.

Pyrenees, Village

Pyrenees, Village Street & Mountain Side

Pyrenees

Framed Motorcycles

Pyrenees, Valley & Road

Pyrenees, Valley & the Road we Rode

We arrived at the hotel in Puigcerda with a small lake in front of the hotel and enjoyed our first “end of day” beer and wine. The day had cooled and it was cold that evening so we didn’t stay out to join those watching the fireworks in the evening.

Pyrenees, Hotel Villa Paulita View from Room

Pyrenees, Hotel Villa Paulita View from Room

 

Monday: On the Way to Vihala

We woke to cool, clear morning that was a bit nippy. After breakfast, Volker and Jesus, our van driver, motorcycle racer and mechanic par excellance, got Rochelle’s bike out of the van so she could ride. Today is a shorter ride, very scenic with great roads, so she wanted to join us.

We enter the small country of Andorra which is “owned” by the Bishop of Urquell in conjunction with the President of France.  It’s history goes back to 900 AD.  Today, it’s noted for being a tax haven resulting in a lot of “commercial Disneyland” type developments among the jaw-dropping natural beauty of the Pyrenees.  It’s often quite jarring to round a corner and be met with commercialism writ large.

Pyrenees View

Morning Ride in the Pyrenees

Pyrenees Low Temperature

Pyrenees Low Temperature 5 C (41 F)

Pyrenees Where We Rode

Looking Down The Valley We Rode Through

Pyrenees Where We Came From !!!

Where We Came From – Curvealicious!!!

Pyrenees Rochelle in Andorra

Rochelle in Andorra With Snow

Pyrenees Jesus & Rochelle

Jesus & Rochelle at the Pass in Andorra

After entering Andorra, the ride continued to stay cool and clear as we carved up one mountain side and then down the next.  It was a day for motorcycle riding and the scenery was stunning.  As today was a national holiday, we did have to hunt to find a restaurant for lunch.  Volker guided us to great location for our early afternoon coffee stop and siesta.

Pyrenees Lunch Stop Siesta

Pyrenees Lunch Stop & Volker Siesta

During the afternoon ride, we continued to stay very high in the mountains with a lot of snow still hanging around even though it was late June.

Pyrenees Lots of Snow

Pyrenees Snow Banks At the Top of The Passes

Pyrenees Our Road

Route Through the Valley

By late afternoon we arrived at our stop for the day in Viehla, the Parador de Vielha. The view from the back patio made a great backdrop as we enjoyed another well earned round of “end of the day” refreshments.

Pyrenees Parador de Vielha View from our Room

View from our Room at Parador de Vielha

Parador de Vielha View of Mountain Peaks

Parador de Vielha View of Mountain Peaks

 

 

Tuesday: Riding to Casa de St. Martin via France

The mountains behind the Parador were even more spectacular as the morning light flooded the peaks and the morning ride was still cool and with brilliant sunshine.

Pyrenees Mountains

Pyrenees Mountains in the Morning Sunshine

Pyrenees Valley View

Pyrenees Valley View

Yesterday we had passed places where the road was damaged from the river and this morning, the damage was much more extensive. The storms that had flooded the Danube had also been dumping rain in the Pyrenees the week before and Volker said he would have cancelled this tour if it had been scheduled for last week due to the mud slides and closed roads. At one place, an old stone bridge over the river had a huge gaping hole in the stones on one side, likely from trees, debris and the force of the water driving them into it. Trees, rocks and debris were strewn along the river bed and the water was still an angry grey and brown color from the hillside erosion.

Pyrenees Mountains Flood Damage

Flood Damage Beside the Road

Pyrenees River Still Running Fast & Furious

River Still Running Fast & Furious

As we headed up to the mountain tops and border with France, we left the devastation of the river and returned to impossibly green valleys.

Pyrenees Mountains Road

Hairpins and Curves from the Valley Below

We stopped for morning coffee and crepes just inside France at the top of a pass, Col de Peyres Sourde. This route is used for the upcoming Tour De France, and we passed many riders peddling their way to the top. But this week, the road was open for us as well as the bicycles.

Pyrenees Mountains Pass Entering France

Col de Peyre Sourde

Pyrenees Mountains Coffee Stop in France

Coffee Stop in France at Col de Peyre Sourde

After our break, we road to the Col de Aspin pass. I have nothing by the utmost admiration for anyone who rides this route on a bicycle, let alone a race.

Pyrenees Mountains Pass

Col d’Aspin on the Tour De France Route

Pyrenees Mountains

Pyrenees Mountains In Fog at top of Col d’ Aspen

Pyrenees Mountain Road We Road

The Road Behind

One road Volker usually takes was closed so we detoured to Lourdes and had our lunch break and then we were back into the mountains again as we headed toward the boarder with Spain.

At Col de Soulor, we were in the clouds with fog, mist and a light rain. We were met by a head of sheep as we rode along the ridge of the mountains on a narrow road with no guard rails, and drop offs of hundreds of meters to the valley below.

Pyrenees Mountains Pass

Col du Soulor Pass on the Tour de France Route

Pyrenees Mountain Sheep At Top of Pass

Sheep At Top of Col de Soulor

This combination of weather and road kept my attention firmly on negotiating safely to our next rest stop at Col d’Aubisque.

Pyrenees Mountains Fog We Rode In

Fog on the road from Col de Soulor to Col d’Aubisque

Pyrenees Mountains Pass with Fog

Col d’Aubisque

As we went down the other side of Col d’Aubisque, we descended below the cloud deck and eventually were greeted with sunshine and views to soaring mountain peaks as crossed back into Spain.

Pyrenees Mountains View

Down out of the Clouds, Sunshine and Rushing Streams

Pyrenees Mountains Top of Pass

Meadow at the Top of the Mountains

Pyrenees Mountains Pass

Snow and Lush Green Meadows

Several hours later we turned off the highway onto a dirt road to our accommodation for the next two nights, Casa de San Martin. After about 3 miles, we rounded a corner and looked down on the the old stone monastery that has been refurbished, updated and now operates as a hotel with gourmet breakfast and dinners. The property is over 1,000 years old and the monastery once belonged to the Abbot of San Victoria, the oldest monastery in Spain. Our rooms opened onto a deck overlooking the valley below. We enjoyed the traditional end-of-the-day beer and wine on the lower level patio and felt not a care in the world.

Pyrenees Mountains Hotel Casa de San Martin

Hotel Casa de San Martin Overlooking the Valley

Pyrenees Mountains Hotel Casa de San Martin

Hotel Casa de San Martin Entrance Drive

Pyrenees Mountains Hotel Casa de San Martin Patio

Enjoying Refreshment on the Patio of Casa de San Martin

Dinner, one of the best meals on the tour, was served at 8:00 pm in a stone walled dinning room with no rush or fuss. Simply superb.

 

Wednesday: Sight Seeing in Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park

We woke very refreshed by the setting, absolute quiet, and stunning early morning sunshine in the valley.

Pyrenees Mountains Hotel Casa de San Martin View

Hotel Casa de San Martin Morning View Across the Valley

We are going to ride in the Monte Perdido National Park and hike along one of the canyons.  Rochelle decided to ride her bike today and enjoy the mountain roads of the canyon.

The road is one lane and supposed to be one way into the canyon with a separate one lane, one-way road out of the canyon. However, we encountered a traffic jam at a tunnel on our way in due to several vehicles heading the wrong way. On motorcycles, we were were able to squeeze by the offending car and camper.

Monte Perdido Traffic Jam

Perdido Canyon Traffic Jam

The rode down the canyon was carved into the walls and provided spectacular views as we wound our way down to the river below.

Monte Perdido View

Perdido River

Monte Perdido

Monte Perdido Canyon

Monte Perdido Brook & Rochelle

Brook & Rochelle in Monte Perdido Canyon

At the end of the road was a parking area with trails to hike along the river. It was nice to do some walking and leg stretching. Along the path, we came across an overhang with a stone chapel built inside of it reminiscent of the Meas Verde cliff dwellings in our home state of Colorado.

Monte Perdido Stone Church

Monte Perdido Stone Church

Monte Perdido Flowers

Monte Perdido Flowers

Monte Perdido Flowers

Monte Perdido Flowers

Monte Perdido River

Monte Perdido River

After several hours of hiking along the river, we returned to mount up and head out on the other “one-way” route out of the canyon. We are headed to lunch in a smaller town with a Fortress. The lunch was an unexpected delight with excellent, nouveau cuisine served in a courtyard under a canopy of trees. After our meal, we walked through the village and toured the stone fortress.

Monte Perdido Tunnel

Monte Perdido Tunnel on One Lane, One Way Road

Village in the Monte Perdido Mountains

Village in the Monte Perdido Mountains

Monte Perdido Lunch, Artistic & Excellent

Lunch, Artistic & Excellent

Monte Perdido Village

Medieval Village Cobble Stone Street

Monte Perdido Fortress

Fortress Walls: Man’s Feeble Attempt and Nature’s Towering One

Late in the afternoon, we headed back to Hotel Casa San Martin with anticipation of another superb meal preceded by adult beverages and relaxing on the patio overlooking the valley. Axel and Rochelle both love potato chips and it was decided that upon returning the Hotel Casa San Martin, they would relax and indulge in their joint addiction.

Monte Perdido Hotel San Martin Sign

Hotel San Martin Sign

Pyrenees Hotel Casa de San Martin View

Hotel Casa de San Martin View

Pyrenees, You Shall Not Pass!!!

You Shall Not Pass!!!

Axel and Rochelle Potato Chip Pig Out

Axel and Rochelle Potato Chip Pig Out

 

 

Thursday: Riding to Peramola

Today will be a long ride to Peramola. We really enjoyed to relaxing and quiet at Hotel Casa de San Martin and are a bit reluctant to leave this morning.  Nonetheless, adventure awaits.  It has been steadily warming up each day and this morning is perfect riding temperature.

Pyrenees, Morning at Hotel Casa de San Martin

Morning at Hotel Casa de San Martin

Rochelle is going to ride with me today due to the number of corners, hairpins and required use of her left hand on the clutch. Although the Perdido river canyon yesterday didn’t show signs of flooding, we had a graphic demonstration of just how much rain had fallen last week when we rode past a dam with the spillway wide open and a mountainous torrent of water thundering from the sides of the mountain.

Pyrenees Dam With Spillway Wide Open!!

Pyrenees Dam With Spillway Wide Open!!

I had never seen a dam with its spillway wide open to keep the water from topping the dam. The power from that cascade was tremendous.

The route Volker took us on were roads he hadn’t ridden before and wanted to scout as possible additions to this ride. They were great, up and down hill and mountains sides, through fields and with curves, curves, hairpins and then more curves.

Pyrenees Brook & Rochelle Two Up

Brook & Rochelle Two Up on a Road Less Traveled

Pyrenees Fields and the Road

Road Winding Through Hillside Fields

By mid-afternoon we arrived at our destination, the Hotel Can Boix which is nestled in the side of a canyon. It was a fabulous location, and almost entirely deserted.

Pyrenees Hotel Can  Boix

Hotel Can Boix

As we parked out bikes in an empty garage, another couple arrived on a BMW R1200-GS. This Austrian couple had been on a self-guided tour provisioned by Volker and the plan was for them to join us this evening and then ride with us to Barcelona tomorrow.  The language of the evening was German as Rochelle and I were the only non-German speakers. But after almost six weeks in Europe, we had grown accustomed to hearing numerous languages and inferring the general flow from gestures, tonal inflections and the wide range of non-verbal queues that are common regardless of one’s native tongue.

 

 

Friday, Final Day and Return to Barcelona

This morning we are going to ride to the town of Oliana and visit a motorcycle museum with a very wide collection of vintage and classic bikes.  Many of the exhibits are Spanish bikes as this part of Spain was home to a large number of motorcycle companies including Bultaco, Ossa, Montessa and other lesser names.

Pyrenees, Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain

Motorcycle Museum, Oliana Spain

I found a nice exhibit of my first motorcycle, a Bultaco Metralla done up in Spanish livery.

Pyrenees, Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain My 1st MC, Bultaco Metralla

Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain: My 1st MC, Bultaco Metralla

The exhibit had a great selection of motorcycles from around the world, some short-lived revolutionary designs and others that became the mainstream.

Pyrenees, Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain, DKW Wankel

Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain: DKW Wankel Engine Bike

Pyrenees, Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain, FN Inline 4

Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain: FN Inline 4

Pyrenees, Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain Indian w/ Side Car

Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain: Bright Red Indian with Side Car

Pyrenees, Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain BMW

Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain: Vintage BMW Design Still Endures

Then, it was on the road again with another healthy helping of curves, corners and mountain roads as we headed closer to Barcelona and the end of our tour.

Pyrenees, Mountain View

Mountain Lake on the Road to Barcelona

Pyrenees, Outside Barcelona

Jagged Peaks Outside Barcelona

Pyrenees, Santa Maria de Montserrat

Santa Maria de Montserrat Outside Barcelona

It was Friday evening when we arrived at the outskirts of Barcelona. The traffic was going to be “interesting” as we were going to cross the city from the hills behind the city to the harbor where Hispania Tours office is located. We girded for the battle ahead, and then, like salmon swimming upstream, dove into the traffic with Volker leading the way.

Pyrenees, Barcelona Skyline

Barcelona Skyline: We Have To Get All the Way to the Water!!!

At one point, as we headed out of a roundabout, a large red city tour bus next to us decided to move over into our lane. I accelerated with gusto to get out of his way and heard Rochelle’s exclamation as the front fender of the bus passed an inch or two by her right elbow. Space is tight in the city and folks seem comfortable using every inch of it. And, scooters are everywhere and like minnows in a stream, seem to fill any and all available space around the other vehicles. It’s expected that scooters and motorcycles should lane split at red lights and move to the head of the line. And if two motorcycles are next to each other with enough room to squeeze a scooter in between, expect that space to be filled.

Pyrenees, Barcelona Scooter Riders

Barcelona Mother and Son Scooter Riders

We arrived back at the Hispania Tour office and had our last “end-of-day” beer standing around and recounting the highlights of our ride. Then, we reluctantly handed over the keys and unpacked our gear from the van. A fair well dinner at the hotel with toasts and celebration rounded out a most excellent week riding the spectacular scenery of the Pyrenees.

 

A Motorcycle Tour of Eastern Europe: “Combat Touring” in the Balkans

For our 35th wedding anniversary, my wife, Rochelle, and I spent June in Europe and rode two different motorcycle tours.  The first tour, offered by Adriatic MotoTours  headquartered in Ljubljana, Slovenia, was the Intriguing Southeast Europe tour. We started in Belgrade, Serbia and then rode through Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Kosov, Bosnia-Herzegovina, returning to Belgrade 14 days later.

Adriatic MotoTours Intriguing Southeast Europe Tour Map

Adriatic MotoTours Intriguing Southeast Europe Tour Map

Then we take a river boat cruise on the Danube from Budapest, Hungary to Nuremberg, Germany.  Next we fly to Barcelona and go on a motorcycle tour of the Pyrenees.  Hey, we only get one 35th anniversary, so let’s pull out all the stops and spend five weeks seeing sights we never dreamed we would see. In retrospect, I would classify the southeast Europe tour as “Combat Touring”.  It can be loosely defined as, “Touring on street bikes where roads and surfaces vary from high speed divided highways to short stretches of unpaved gravel or dirt “roads”.  Those who do Combat Touring should have flexibility and resourcefulness and a willingness to go with the flow as plans can change at anytime. That’s all part of the Combat Touring adventure 🙂

Day 1: Getting There

As we departed from Denver, Colorado, I took a picture of window next to our boarding gate with a quote from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“, which proved prophetic, particularly the “Don’t Panic” part.

Fitting Advice For Travelers "Don't Panic"

Fitting Advice For Travelers “Don’t Panic”

We arrived in Belgrade about 24 hours after we got out of bed to start our trip and only had a few hours after we arrived before the initial rider briefing at the start of the tour. There were 18 people on the tour; three couples from the US, three from New Zealand, and a couple each from Canada, Australia and South Africa. We would have 10 tour bikes, (my wife and I road our own bikes but all the others were going two-up), a lead guide and tail-end guide on bikes, and a chase van carrying luggage, parts, tires and a spare bike. The briefing covered rules of the road in each country, the tour company rules, what to do if you got lost, currency exchange (each country has its own currency) and set expectations for food and lodging.

IMG_0874

First Tour Briefing From Metej

IMG_0861

Late Night Logistics Before The Ride

IMG_0894

Our First Supper in Belgrade

Day 1: Getting There

 

Day 2: First Day Riding and Biffing in Bulgaria

Today is the longest riding day (at least in terms of miles) of the tour going from Belgrade, Serbia to Belogradchik, Bulgaria.  Rochelle and I got some rest, but we both were still a bit strung out by the 8 hour time difference.  Nonetheless, the rush of starting a tour kept us energized as we got breakfast, attended the first start-of-day ride briefing and then mounted up on our bikes for the first time.  We both were riding BMW F700-GS bikes.  My license plate included a wistful message, “UR-14”, if only 😉

Brook's "Wistful Wish" License Plate

Brook’s “Wistful Wish” License Plate

The day went well with morning coffee stop at the Smederovo Fortress along the Danube river with a rich history, including explosion of an ammunition train next to it in WW II.  We had lunch at a nice restaurant along the Danube and afterwards we road right through the Golubac Fortress on our way to the Bulgaria boarder. Late in the afternoon, we made our first border crossing into Bulgaria.  I took a picture and immediately attracted the attention of the officials, who scowling, made it very clear that taking a picture of the border is not welcomed.

Smederevo Fortress & Train

Smederevo Fortress & Train Where WWII Ammo Train Exploded

Smederevo Fortress & Danube River

Smederevo Fortress & Danube River

Illegal Picture of Entering Bulgaria

“Illegal Picture” of Entering Bulgaria

After everyone crossed the boarder, which took about 30 minutes or so, we continued on our way in the late afternoon toward our first stay in Belogradchik, Bulgaria.  The road was a nice stretch of winding asphalt through trees and meadows.

Biffing in Bulgaria

Biff: Noun: a Blow or Punch
Biffing: Verb. To be struck or hit hard by something.

Then, as I leaned into a corner, the couple in front of me went down. As I was look past them to the apex of the corner I suddenly notice the back end of their bike is sliding out and realize they are going down.  The next thing I know there are two people and a bike spinning in front of me.

I slow down, straighten up and move into the on-coming lane to avoid running over them, but at that point their bike start to spin along a trajectory that kept it right in front of mine. In the end, it knocked my front wheel out from under me and I go down. I recall thinking I was going to be able to stop but the ABS cut in and I wasn’t able to avoid their bike.

A very hard and reverberating THUMP echoed through my body as I came to a stop at the side of the road. My bike and I had parted company and it was resting on top of theirs.  I got up and went over to try and lift my bike up and quickly realized my left shoulder was hurt. I felt it and there was a very large hump along my collar bone. “Damn, it’s broken”, I said to myself.

At this point the tour guide at the end, Dušan, and some of the others in the group are attending to the couple who are sprawled in the middle of the road.  I walk over and tell Dušan I am pretty sure I had broken my collar bone and was going to lie down as shock was setting in.

Long story shortened, an hour and a half later, I’m in an ambulance riding to the emergency room at the hospital in Vidin, Bulgaria.  At one point, the driver hit a pothole so hard, the gurney and I are airborne, so I had to brace myself with my feet against the back door of the ambulance and hoped they had latched the doors tightly. 🙂

After the attending doctor, who spoke English well, admitted me, I got x-rays, twice. The couple were also getting x-rays, he for his ribs and she for her knee.  Then, they called the “specialist”. He came in about 10:30 pm and there was a long discussion in Bulgarian.  I was convinced my collar bone was broken: why else would the radiologist take another set of x-rays after she took the first one and then the attending call in a specialist.

After several minutes of animated dialog between the attending and the specialist, the attending pronounced the verdicts: “You”, he pointed to the man, “no broken ribs, just bruised”.  “She is okay too, knee not broken, just bruised and swollen. We will try to drain fluid from it.”

Okay, now it’s my turn. I guess they saved the worst for last. “But you, you not very good” he said looking at me.  “Lots of damage to your shoulder.”  I nodded as my heart sank. Even though I figured my collar bone was broken, there was a distant hope it wasn’t.  I nodded my head and told him I had dislocated my left shoulder 40 years ago and now this had happened to my left collar bone.  Bad luck on my part. He looked at me quizzically and then said “How old are you”. I told him wondering why that mattered at all.

Then, the two of them resumed an animated discussion in Bulgarian as they pointed and gestured at my three x-rays. I thought to myself, “Yeah, they are deciding how big they have to make the cast and if I have to stay overnight.”

Finally, they turned away from the x-rays and the attending said, “Ok. Shoulder not broken.  But, you need to have it checked when you get home.”  He went on to say, “We will tape it and and put a strap to hold your arm up.  Keep it this way for three weeks.  You should be OK.  Be sure to see your Doctor when you get back to America.”

RAY OF SUNSHINE #1: I DON’T GET A CAST.   Immediately I thought to myself, “Maybe I can ride the Pyrenees which is five weeks away. Who knows!!! 🙂

Now, taping the shoulder involves pressing down on my column bone and applying adhesive tape in an X using several strips of tape. That got my attention. After that, they put a 1 inch wide piece of gauze around my neck and hung my wrist in it to hold up my arm.

Then I asked them about payment and handling that using insurance coverage. The attending looked at me quizzically again and I repeated my question slowly using different words.  His brow unfurled and he said, “No, it’s not need for you to pay. All treatment in Bulgaria is free to everyone, even if you not live here.”

RAY OF SUNSHINE #2: NO HASSLING WITH MY INSURANCE  COMPANY IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY 🙂

Then, one prescription is issued to the couple for pain and inflammation and another one to reduce the swelling in her knee.  But, I get nothing.  I ask if I can get a prescription too, and I’m told “No. Use theirs”.  I had to admit, that’s certainly easy for the hospital and cuts down on paper work.

By 12:30 am I get to the hotel in Belogradchik and am reunited with Rochelle.  The chase van driver, Matevž, came to the hospital earlier in the evening and stayed with us during the evaluation and then drove me back to the hotel while the couple took a cab to a pharmacy. On the way back he explained that they had looked at my bike and there was nothing wrong with it. They couldn’t find a scratch on it anywhere.  The other bike, well it got pretty banged up and the shift lever was broken off.

RAY OF SUNSHINE #3: I DON’T LOOSE MY DAMAGE DEPOSIT.

When I got to the room, I replaced the one inch wide piece of gauze for a sling with a triangle bandage from my motorcycle medical kit that I brought along “just in case”, and took this picture to commemorate my “Biff in Bulgaria”.  Then I took a pain and anti-inflammation pill I got from the couple and went to bed.

Result of Rider Crashing Ahead of Me & Bad Timing on My Part

Result of “Biffing in Bulgaria” on the 1st Day

Day 2 Photos

 

Day 3 & 4: On to Sophia and our First Rest Day

I slept pretty well that night. I borrowed some more pain and anti-inflammation pills and the “Universal Prescription” so I can get them filled when I find a pharmacy. When they got the prescription filled the night before the pharmacist let them keep it so they, or I, could refill it anytime, no worries.  How quaint compared to the US approach to prescription drugs.

Before we left Belogradchik, we visited the Belogradchik Fortress that was built into the rocks.  It has been used for centuries and most recently was used during the Balkan wars in the 1990’s.

Built into the Rocks

Belogradcik Fortress Built into the Rocks

I was going to ride in the chase van to Sophia with Matevž with the couples bike in the back. He rode my bike and she rode in the van with me as her knee wasn’t bending very well. As there were only two extra seats in the van, this allowed everyone to continue the tour.  Rochelle rode her bike with everyone else.  I waved good bye to her as they all rode off while Matevž finished loading up the bags in the van.

We were on old roads with many pot holes, lots of bumps, patches, sand, gravel and in several places, no road at all, just the sub-base of crushed rocks as the road crews worked on repairing the road.  We passed through several abandoned villages that have become ghost towns.  Most of the younger people left for Sophia, the capital, or western Europe to earn a living.

IMG_0997

Nearly Abandoned Town in Bulgaria

IMG_1280

Horse Cart Ride to Town

Only a few farmers, many elderly, are left. Local transportation includes walking while pushing a wheel barrow, riding a bicycle, horse or donkey cart, farm tractor, rototillers pulling a trailer, with a few prosperous ones driving scooters, cars and an occasional truck. Most of the farmers in the fields do not have any machinery; the labor is mostly manual as they cut and stack hay or weed the fields. No one waves back at you, smiles, or shows any sense of connection with you as you go by.  This part of Bulgaria is “dark” and my mood isn’t helped by the rain clouds and overcast skies and the throbbing in my shoulder when we hit the large pot holes.

GOPR2298

Walking the Cows On the Main Road

GOPR2313

Old Scooter

IMG_1380

Every Now & Then, Wealthy With Mercedes

I feel a bit bruised and sore by the end of the day when we arrive at the hotel in Sophia after all the bumping and jostling over the rough roads. But, the scenery is pristine and offsets the discomfort of the bumpy ride.

The Road to Sophia

The Road to Sophia

IMG_1391

The Road to Sophia

IMG_1386

The Road to Sophia

Sophia, Bulgaria is a modern city and tomorrow we get a rest day tomorrow.  That night we eat at Happy Village where they put on a floor show with dancing and music that ends in a conga line of all the patrons snaking around the dance floor.  Much fun and a welcome contrast to the darkness of abandoned villages from earlier in the day.

IMG_1029

Dinner at Happy Village

IMG_1058

Happy Village Entertainment

IMG_1087

Happy Village Entertainment

IMG_1171

Happy Village Entertainment – Customer Helping Pay For Her Meal 🙂

The next day Rochelle and I get my pills via the “Universal Prescription” and also locate a sling for my arm. Then we head out to take a walking tour of Sophia. The “Free Sophia Walking Tour” was conducted by a student, Vickie, who is studying to become a lawyer. Some notable sights include the former communist party headquarters building, the central bank “suicide balcony” (should the country default, the head of the central bank is expected to “do the right thing” 🙂 ) and a number of Roman ruins embedded in and below the city. Below are pictures of the remains of a Roman road from Constantinople to Sophia that’s now part of a shopping mall. You don’t see that in the United States.

Vicki, Tour Guide for Free Sophia Tours

Vicki, Tour Guide for Free Sophia Tours

Former Communist Party Headquarters in Sophia

Former Communist Party Headquarters in Sophia

Bulgarian Bag Pipes

Bulgarian Bag Pipes

Old Roman Road to Constantinople-Underground and Surrounded by Shops

Old Roman Road to Constantinople-Underground and Surrounded by Shops

Lower Level Shop & Roman Road

Lower Level Shop Uses Old Roman Road to Constantinople

Sculpture in Sophia Park-Human Condition?

Sculpture in Sophia Park-The Human Condition?

Day 3 Photos, Belogradcik to Sophia

 

Day 4 Photos, Sophia, Bulgaria

 

Day 5: Sophia, Bulgaria to Demir Kapija, Macedonia and Popova Kula Winery

Having gotten two days rest, and a decent sling, it’s time to get back in the saddle again, at least as a passenger.  We are up early leaving at 8:00 am. I ride on the back of Matej’s new R1200-GS water head bike.  I position my fanny pack on my left side and rest my arm on it while riding.  I keep the sling inside my jacket and put my arm in it at rest stops and when walking around.  I’m good to go. 🙂  Who knows, maybe I can ride again tomorrow. We stop at the Rila monastery, a World Heritage site, originally built in the 10th century in the mountains outside Sophia. It is in a spectacular setting with gorgeous frescoes.

Rila Monastery Entrance

Rila Monastery Entrance

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery-Fresco

Rila Monastery-Fresco

For lunch, we sat at a restaurant next to a swiftly flowing mountain stream and have “Shopska Salad” which is simple; tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh feta cheese with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We find this simple dish everywhere and it’s always excellent due to the garden fresh produce and fresh goat cheese that has real flavor, unlike the manufactured tomatoes and processed cheese we get in supermarkets in the US.

Shopska Salad :-)

Shopska Salad 🙂

In the afternoon we cross into Macedonia and find the mood is festive: people smile and wave at you as you go by and we end up in the middle of a wedding that has taken over the main street of a small town.

Wedding in Macedonia

Wedding in Macedonia-We are Invited

Around 6:00 pm we arrive at the Popova Kula winery in Demir Kapija, Macedonia on a hill side overlooking a valley of grape vineyards. While Rochelle is cleaning up, she discovers that the bathroom door locked when she closed it and she can’t open it.  After several attempts, the staff find a key that will work the lock and she is free.  Another day, another adventure.

The winery site provides beautiful vistas, offers excellent wine and cheese, and we enjoy an enormous dinner in the dinning room with wall sized openings framing the hills behind the winery as the sun sets.

Popava Kula Winery

Popova Kula Winery

Popava Kula Winery

View from Popova Kula Winery

Popava Kula Winery

Wine & Cheese in the Tower at Popova Kula Winery

Popava Kula Winery-Dinning Room View

Dinning Room at Popova Kula Winery

Day 5 Photos: Sophia to Demir Kapija

 

Day 6 & 7: To Ohrid, Macedonia and & Rest Day on Lake Ohrid

Today we ride to Ohrid, Macedonia on Lake Ohrid. I told Matej last night that I plan to ride today. I can lift my left arm above handlebar height and move it to either side without pain. I figure I can rest it on the fanny pack and ride with one hand when it gets sore or tired and I really don’t need the clutch as the gearbox on the F700GS lets to shift by just backing off the gas a bit and kicking the shift lever with my foot.  As we are checking out in the morning, the owner gives Rochelle a bottle of wine as an apology for the bathroom door locking on her last night.

Popava Kula Winery-I Ride My Bike Again :-)

Popava Kula Winery-I Ride My Bike Again 🙂

The moment of truth comes immediately for me as I have to ride down a gravel road from the winery to the paved road.  But, no worries, I negotiate the gravel fine with both hands on the handle bars and get no complaints from my shoulder. Instead of my arm being in a sling for three months, it’s only taken three days to get enough motion to ride again. Good Times 🙂

There is a long and a short route today and Rochelle and I decide to take the short route. Matej loaned us a spare GPS so we can find the hotel in Ohrid as the others are going to ride the longer route. Rochelle’s left wrist is getting very sore. She has had to do a lot of gear shifting and clutch pulling and this is aggravating her wrist which was giving her trouble before the trip.

Road from Bitola to Ohrid, Macedonia

Short Route from Bitola to Ohrid, Macedonia

We end up wandering down some narrow alleys in Ohrid but arrive at the Royal View hotel overlooking Lake Ohrid with Albania on the other side.  We get another rest day here so despite the fact my shoulder is a bit sore, I can rest it before continuing the trip.

View from Hotel with Albania on the Other Side of Lake Ohrid

View from Hotel with Albania on the Other Side of Lake Ohrid

The next day we walk to see the sights in the old city of Ohrid and relax a bit.  The old city has a Roman amphitheater and is very scenic with the surrounding lake and mountains in the background.  There is a statue to the two brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, priests, who introduced Cyrillic writing to this region, We see the 11th century St. Sophia church, the 13th century St. Jovan Monastery, the 4th century St. Pantelejmon church and cruise down the modern shop filled streets of the new city. We enjoy a great meal at a small restaurant near one of the older churches.

Greek Orthodoxy Priests who Invented Cyrillic Alphabet-National Heros

Greek Orthodox Priests who Invented Cyrillic Alphabet-National Heros

Abandoned Next to New

Abandoned Next to New

Macedonian Mountains

Macedonian Mountains Above Lake Ohrid

St. Jovan Church-13th Century

St. Jovan Church-13th Century

St Pantelejmon Church-4th Century Mosaic

St Pantelejmon Church-4th Century Mosaic

Kitten & Mother-Lunch Time

Kitten & Mother-Lunch Time

Textile Shop, Ohrid

Textile Shop, Ohrid

Old Ural, Ohrid

Old Ural Motorcycle, Ohrid

Day 6 Pictures: Popova Kula Winery to Ohrid, Macedonia

 

Day 7 Pictures: Ohrid, Macedonia

 

Day 8: Riding on to Gjirokaster Albania

Albania is starting to move out of the sluggish shadow of occupation. The closer we get to the coast, the more investment in infrastructure, hotels and tourism there is. Today we ride around Lake Ohrid and cross the Albanian border. The weather in the morning is unsettled, and so is Albania which Matej calls the “Wild, Wild East” of Europe.

Entering Albania

Entering Albania

After we cross the boarder from Macedonia, and soon after stop in Korce, Albania  for a coffee break.  We find the traffic rules “entertaining” as anyone can go anywhere at anytime. Pedestrians will step off a curb and proceed across a street teaming with cars and trucks. Drivers go where ever they need to whenever they need to. Traffic lights do not exist in intersections. Welcome to Albania 🙂

As we are about to leave our coffee stop, a young boy with his baby sister in his arms approach us begging for small change. I don’t give him any and he becomes interested in the motorcycle.  I show him how to start it and let him try the throttle. There is a huge, ear-to-ear grin and then lots of questions in Albanian. I respond in English and we understand each other perfectly. This is the lights, that’s the brakes and over there is the kill switch, and when you twist this, it gets LOUD.  Cool Beans :-).  I think he was much happier with the hands-on experience than the small change.

Korce Coffee Stop & My New Friend & His Sister

Korce Coffee Stop & My New Friend & His Sister

Now the roads start getting interesting as this part of Albania is not benefiting much from infrastructure investments.

Albania Village

Albania Village

Trail Through the Woods

Trail Through the Woods

For lunch, we stop at a rustic”resort” in the woods that is a trout hatchery and rents cabins for vacationing Albanians and tourists. It’s charming and the proprietor’s daughter greets us with a few sentences in English. She steals everyone’s heart.  The highlight is fresh caught trout for lunch.  We watch our meal going into the net and then to the kitchen before being served to us al fresco on the outdoor patio.

Lunch Stop & "Hotel"

Lunch Stop & “Hotel”

Our Hostess

Our Hostess

Hotel Weight Machine

Hotel Weight Machine

Herding Trout

Herding Trout for Our Lunch

After lunch, the roads get more “interesting” as we wind up and down mountain sides and in and out of valleys on our way to Gjirokaster, Albania.  Rochelle’s wrist is really hurting by the end of the day after negotiating uncountable 180 degree hairpin turns, potholes, rocks, gravel and roaming live stock. We are pretty tired, but amazed at the gorgeous scenery.

Rochelle Heading toward Gjrokaster

Rochelle Heading toward Gjrokaster

Rochelle Riding the Mountains

Rochelle Riding the Mountains

Gramoz Mountains

Gramoz Mountains

The "Road"

The “Road” Through Gramoz Mountains

Gramoz Mountains near Leskovik, Albania

Gramoz Mountains near Leskovik, Albania

This day is day of contrasts including the occasional donkey walking on the wrong side of the road piled high with hay, unexpected sights of great wealth in the middle of no where, and several “sheep jams” along the way.

Donkey Loaded with Hay

Donkey Loaded with Hay

Valley in Gramoz Mountains

Valley in Gramoz Mountains

Home of a Wealth Albanian

Home of a Wealth Albanian

Sheep Traffic Jam

Sheep Traffic Jam

Indeed, this part of Albania has escaped Starbucks, MacDonald’s, shopping malls, bumper to bumper traffic jams, and tract housing developments.  The scenery is pristine and the riding is demanding of your attention.  Rochelle and I go slow and manage to balance our focus between the road’s challenges and the stunning views.

Rainbow After the Rain

Rainbow After the Rain

Gjirokaster, Sunset Over Gramoz Mountains

Gjirokaster, Sunset Over Gramoz Mountains

Day 8 Pictures: On the way to Gjirokaster, Albania

 

Day 9 & 10: Sarande, Albania on the Ionian Sea Coast

Today we ride to the Ionian sea coast to the resort town of Sarande, Albania and have a rest day there the following day.  But first, we walk to the Gjirokaster Fortress at the top of the hill overlooking the town.  Inside is a museum with WW II military equipment and a US fighter jet shot down during the Balkan war. There is also a huge outdoor arena with stage that is used for cultural events.

Our walk to the fortress takes us through narrow, cobblestone streets where cars sometimes have to backup to make a corner.  But, people are out, shops are open and you get a smile, a wave and engagement when you pass by on the sidewalk.

Gjirokaster, Morning Fog

Gjirokaster, Morning Fog

Gjirokaster Intersection

Gjirokaster Intersection

View From Gjirokaster Fortress Ramparts

View From Gjirokaster Fortress Ramparts

IMG_1458

WW II Weapon Exhibit Inside Fortress-It’s HUGE!

IMG_1477

Tour Group with Old & New Weapons

IMG_1497

Moorish Clock Tower Inside Fortress

IMG_1511

Picture of Brook Taking Pictures

IMG_1532

Impromptu Performance on the Stage inside the Fortress

IMG_1534

Rochelle Becomes a Teacher Again – Pay Attention, There’s a Quiz!!

Gjirokaster Stone Carver Shop

Gjirokaster Stone Carver Shop

Starting the Day in Gjirokaster

Starting the Day in Gjirokaster

We ride out about mid-morning heading to Blue Eye spring. The roads are better as we wind up and down the mountains. The spring is located up a rutted dirt road where tour buses can meet you going the other way. We stop and walk to the spring and then have a nice lunch at the restaurant at the entrance.

Blue Eye Spring

Blue Eye Spring

Picnic Group at Blue Eye Spring

Picnic Group at Blue Eye Spring

Dragon Fly, Blue Eye Spring

Dragon Fly, Blue Eye Spring

As I’m walking back from the spring, I manage to drop my camera into a thicket of raspberry bushes on a steep slope.  With some help from the others, we finally find it.  Although my riding boots are waterproof, but I found out that doesn’t apply if the water can come over the top of the boots as I ended up misjudging the depth of a stream on my way back to lunch. Yet another adventure 🙂

IMG_1606

Snipe Hunt? No, Hunitng for Brook’s Camera

IMG_1607

Water Proof Boots, But Not From the Top 🙂

After lunch we head to Sarande and the Ionian sea coast of Albania, or the Albanian Riviera. The roads got better, wider, faster and construction projects were going on building hotels and other infrastructure needed to attract tourist dollars. This part of Albania is engaged in transformation into western Europe. When we arrived at our hotel, Hotel Butrinti, in Sarande early in the afternoon where we are greeted by a beautiful panorama with the Greek island of Corfu in front of us and the deep blue of the Ionian sea.

Adratic & Korfu from Hotel Butrinti

Ionian sea &  Corfu from Hotel Butrinti

We checked into the hotel and then assembled for the short ride to Butrint, an historic site that has been inhabited from as far back as 3,000 BC, and has ruins from the Romans that quite extensive. But first, time for coffee and refreshments before we enter the site.

Butrint Coffee Stop

Butrint Coffee Stop

In front of us is a small car ferry to Greece. If we wish, we can ride into Greece tomorrow on our rest day.

Butrint View of Greece

Butrint View of Greece

We spend the afternoon walking through extensive ruins fascinated by the extent of the Roman investment in Butrint which clearly was a vacation spot for wealth Roman families. It’s easy to see why as the site is tranquil, soothing with the dark blue of the waters surrounding the site.

Butrint Ruins Are Extensive

Butrint Ruins Are Extensive

Butrint, Roman Ruins

Butrint, Roman Ruins

Butrint, Roman Amphitheater

Butrint, Roman Amphitheater

Butrint, Roman Ruins

Butrint, Roman Ruins

Butrint, Roman Mosaic

Butrint, Roman Mosaic

Butrint, View To 3,000 BC Settlements

Butrint, View To 3,000 BC Settlements

That evening, at dinner, we are treated to a beautiful sunset over the Ionian sea. Life is good and so is the food and the companionship.

Sarande at Twilight

Sarande at Twilight

Saranda, Albania View from Hotel

Saranda, Albania View from Hotel Room

Saranda, Albania Cruise Ship in Harbor

Saranda, Albania Cruise Ship in Harbor

Saranda, Albania Rochelle Adds Adriatic to Toe Dipping List

Saranda, Albania Rochelle Adds Ionian Sea to Toe Dipping List

The next day, Rochelle and I opt out of riding to take the car ferry to Greece.  It’s a rutted dirt road and we both are in need of some time out of the saddle.  Her wrist continues to be quite painful and my shoulder would appreciate a rest as well. We walk around the Sarande water front and visit the older sections of the town and then take a dip in the Ionian Sea so we can add that to our growing list of “bodies of water we’ve been in”. Sarande is the farthest point from our start in Belgrade and tomorrow we begin heading back.

Day 9 Pictures: Gjirokaster to Sarande, Albania

 

Day 10 Pictures: Sarande, Albania

 

Day 11: Getting to Tirana, Albania, The Big City

Today we ride up the Ionian sea coast of Albania to get to the capital, Tirana.  We cross a couple mountain ranges and get onto Autobahn quality roads for the first time that head from the coast to the capital.  We see many more Mercedes and find this part of the country much more western and modern in its infrastructure.

The view of the Ionian Sea along the coast is mesmerizing and the blue color of the water is stunning.

Adriatic Coast of Albania-Study in Blue

Ionian Coast of Albania-Study in Blue

Adriatic Coast of Albania

Ionian Coast of Albania

We visit the Ali Pasha’s Castle which was his summer home along the way borrowing the key to the front door from the owner of coffee shop across the road after we pay a nominal entrance fee.

Adriatic Coast of Albania -Pasha's Castle

Ionian Coast of Albania -Pasha’s Castle

Adriatic Coast of Albania, Pasha's Castle

Ionian Coast of Albania, Opening Front Door of Pasha’s Castle

Adriatic Coast of Albania, View from Pasha's Castle

Ionian Coast of Albania, View from Pasha’s Castle

Adriatic Coast of Albania, Pasha's Castle, Brook & Rochelle

Ionian Coast of Albania, Ali Pasha’s Castle, Brook & Rochelle

Then we head inland and climb up into the mountains until we reach Llogaraja pass where the wind is blowing and its 30 degrees cooler for our lunch stop.

Adriatic Coast of Albania

Ionian Coast of Albania

Adriatic Coast of Albania, Road To the Pass

Ionian Coast of Albania, Road To the Pass

Adriatic Coast of Albania, Seashore Jewel

Ionian Coast of Albania, Seashore Jewel

Adriatic Coast of Albania, Road to the Pass

Ionian Coast of Albania, Road to the Pass

As we get nearer to Tirana, we encouter a caravan of cars honking horns with folks waving Albaninan flags. We learn that Albania is playing a world cup soccer match that evening and everyone is celebrating in anticipation of a win. It’s college football madness, but it extends for 30 miles and gets even more boisterous as we enter Tirana. And, then, we encounter Albanian city traffic again.

The first rule of driving in a large city in Albania is there are no rules, at least in the way westerners understand them. Everyone does what they want, when they want and the first one to blink, hesitate or slow down yields the right of way. This simple system applies to horse carts, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, semis, and motorcycles. You just dive in and swim. To a person, we all made it to the hotel with no incidents. Truly amazing. Traffic in Tirana is the best example of a “self-organizing chaotic system” I can think of :-).

Tirana, Albania-Mosque with Minaret

Tirana, Albania-Mosque with Minaret

Tirana, Albania-Soccer Match Celebration

Tirana, Albania-Soccer Match Celebration

 Day 11 Pictures: From Sarande to Tirana, Albania

 

Day 12: Riding to Prizren, Kosovo

Today at breakfast, we sit with a lady from Canada who is a lawyer and had just finished attending a conference on the state of equality in eastern Europe.  We mention we were going to take a river boat cruise on the Danube after our motorcycle tour of Eastern Europe and she looked at us oddly. She pointed out that the Danube river was in full flood and there was a state of emergency in many parts of central Europe. Hmm, maybe we ought to try and reconnect with the electronic world. Sure enough, I found an Email from Viking River Cruises that they had cancelled our trip.  Well, another adventure.  We certainly are getting our fair share of them. We didn’t have time to worry about what to do with our free seven days, but we take some time to think about the options as we ride the rest of the tour.

We go to Kruja, Albania in the morning which was the capital at one time. The trip again required riding straight into a stream of traffic as we neared Kruja.  Every round-about is flooded with every kind of vehicle imaginable including tractor trailer trucks, cement trucks and people. We are starting to get the hang of the Albanian way of negotiating traffic.

Kruje, Albania

Kruje, Albania

Kruje, Albania Museum

Kruje, Albania Museum

Kruje, Albania-Girls Being Merry on Merry-go-round

Kruje, Albania-Girls Being Merry on Merry-go-round

Kruje, Albania-Little Girl at Coffee Shop

Kruje, Albania-Little Girl at Coffee Shop

Kruje, Albania-Rochelle's Street Seranade

Kruje, Albania-Rochelle’s Ready to Seranade

Kruje, Albania-Motorcycle Truck

Kruje, Albania-Motorcycle Truck

Kruje, Albania-Old Alleyway with Shops

Kruje, Albania-Old Alleyway with Shops

After we visit the monastery and shops, we return the way we came and swim through the traffic. Our reward was a modern highway that lead toward Prizren, Kosovo. Rochelle had a lot of fun opening up her F700 on the sweeping curves without worrying about gravel or potholes.

Albania, Heading to Prizren on Superslab

Albania, Heading to Prizren on Superslab

Kosov Border Crossing

Kosov Border Crossing

Once we cross the Kosovo border we make our way to our hotel, Hotel Theranda, in Prizren, Kosovo in the early afternoon. Kosovo is predominately a Muslim country created in the aftermath of the Balkan wars. We hear our fist “call to prayers”, but not the last as our hotel is about 100 yards from a minaret 🙂

The hotel is quite modern and has decent internet service, but the instructions are — quaint. I’m still not completely clear about the “Service” section. That said, no one would have understood anything I tried to translate into Serbian, let alone recognized it as Serbian 🙂

Prizren, Hotel Information in Engrish

Prizren, Hotel Information in Engrish

We go out and tour the town to see some of the sights. The Sinan Pasha Mosque, surrounded by western fast food outlets, shops with expensive western clothing and jewelry create quite a contrast, but do bring home the idea that Islam and a western society can peacefully co-exist.

Prizren, Sinan Pasah Mosque

Prizren, Sinan Pasah Mosque

Prizren, School Children at Ice Cream Stand

Prizren, School Children at Ice Cream Stand

Prizren, Upscale Stores

Prizren, Upscale Stores

Day 12 Pictures: Sarande, Albania to Prizren, Kosovo

 

Day 13: Back to Serbia via Montenegro

Well, we have a plan to replace the cancelled river boat cruise.  We will stay an extra day in Belgrade, Serbia, fly to Ljubljana, Slovenia (home of Adriatic Mototours) rent a car and see the sights. Then we can drive to Munich, spend a few days (and see the BMW Museum 🙂 ) and then drive to Nuremberg where we connect with the plane to Barcelona resuming the rest of our vacation plan.  Combat Touring requires “going with the flow” and adapting to whatever comes your way.  We had a lot of help from Matej, Dušan and Matevž who helped book the extra night for us in Belgrade, and provided airline suggestions for the flight to Ljubljana. We send a big thanks to Matevž who provided his personal contact information and even extended an invitation to go sailing on the weekend with some of his friends if we wanted to (which we politely declined as we wanted to see the sights).  You can’t ask for anything more professional from a tour company.

We ride from Kosovo, cross the border into Serbia, then cross the border into Montenegro, and back again into Serbia on our way to our accommodation at Drvengrad (Wooden Village), in Mokra Gora. This is mostly mountain roads, some with sharp curves and switch backs with beautiful vistas.

Kosov, Tight Corners Ahead

Kosov, Tight Corners Ahead

Kosov Mountains & Mosque

Kosov Mountains & Mosque

The mountains in Montenegro are spectacular and the roads are in good to very good condition.  It’s an enjoyable day riding, but the border crossings get old as each one includes a checkpoint to leave a country and another to enter. Each time it takes us 20 to 30 minutes to complete the process.

Montegegro Mountains

Montegegro Mountains

Rose Garden at Coffee Stop

Rose Garden at Coffee Stop

Montenegro, Boy at Coffee Stop

Montenegro, Boy at Coffee Stop

Montenegro, Cross Roads

Montenegro, Cross Roads

There is long and a short route. The long goes into Bosnia-Herzegovina to a 16th century stone bridge, Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic in Vizegrad across the Drina river. Rochelle takes the shorter trip due to her wrist and I opt for the longer route.

Bosnia Border

Bosnia Border

Boznia Mountains

Bosnia Mountains

Bosnia, Mountain Church

Bosnia, Mountain Church

Visegrad, Bosnia-Mehmed Pasah Sokolovic Bridge

Visegrad, Bosnia-Mehmed Pasah Sokolovic Bridge

However, just at the entrance to Drvengrad, Rochelle couldn’t negotiate a sudden, sharp uphill turn to the Hotel Mecavnik and drops her bike. It’s the second time it’s happened to her on the tour, both times at very low speed. But, there is no damage to the bike, only to her self-esteem.  I point out to her that compared to me, she’s ridden the entire tour on her own and hasn’t crashed hard enough to require a hospital visit. She’s doing much better than I so far. 🙂

The hotel/resort was built by Emir Kusturica, one of Serbia’s best known film directors and has hosted Johnny Depp and other celebrities. It’s a very interesting place with something unexpected around every corner.

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik Our Room

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik Our Room

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik Room Furniture

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik Room Furniture

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik View from Room

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik View from Room

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik, Brook's Friend

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik, Brook’s Friend

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik

Day 13 Pictures: Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia.

 

Day 14: End of the Ride in Belgrade, Serbia

Today is our last day on the tour and we return to our hotel in Belgrade. We take some group photos at Hotel Mecavnik before departing to our next stop at the Kadinjača Memorial which is a WWII war memorial to the defense of Serbia from the Nazi invasion. It was built during the communist era. A museum has been added with exhibits devoted to the WWII Nazi occupation and on the top floor to the 1990 Balkan war and the “NATO Invasion” of Serbia. It’s useful and interesting to see a modern era war from the other side of the lens, so to speak. I found the WWII memorial haunting and one of the best examples of how sculpture can abstractly capture human emotions and then reflect them back upon you with profound affect.

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik

The Ladies of the Tour

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik

The “Gents” of the Tour

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik

Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik, Political Commentary?

Kadinjača Memorial, Serbia

Kadinjača Memorial, Serbia

Kadinjača Memorial, Serbia

Kadinjača Memorial, Serbia

Kadinjača Memorial, Serbia

Kadinjača Memorial, Serbia

Kadinjača Memorial, Serbia

Kadinjača Memorial, Serbia

The roads get rougher along the way and it gets hotter as we near Belgrade. Once again, we are in a big, modern city with new cars, trucks, buses and divided highway with dense traffic.  What a contrast to the back roads in Bulgaria, Macedonian and Albania of the past week.

River View on Road to Belgrade

River View on Road to Belgrade

As we pull into the hotel parking lot, all of us start honking our horns and as we pull up to the front door, we see a reception has been set up with champagne and strawberries courtesy of Adriatic Mototours. What a great way to say thank you to their customers 🙂

End of the Ride Party

End of the Ride Party

End of the Ride Party

End of the Ride Party

End of the Ride Party

End of the Ride Party-Rochelle Cooling Off

End of the Ride Party

End of the Ride Party Toast

End of the Ride Party

End of the Ride Party

After we check in and clean up, we go to dinner on the Danube river at a floating restaurant and toast our fellow travelers and new found friends at our “last supper”.

The Last Dinner

The Last Dinner

End of the Ride Dinner

The Last Dinner

End of the Ride Dinner

The Last Dinner

We collectively decide to provide a token of our appreciation to Matej, Dušan and Matevž. It’s decided by the “contingent from down under” that the “loud mouth American who is in Marketing” should say some appropriate words and make the presentation. 😉

After my remarks, Metej says a few words and points out that Rochelle is the first woman to ride this tour on her own and says she wins the “Courage Award”. Quite an accomplishment.

Onward to the next adventures, Slovenia and Germany, and then Spain and riding the Pyrenees.

Day 14 Pictures: Return to Belgrade and End of the Tour

Favorite Lake Powell Pictures

I enjoy the process of taking pictures. I usually try to compose an image and then take the picture with some hope the image I get will match the one I envisioned.

Back when I started with photography in the 7th grade, I was fortunate that my junior high school had a darkroom complete with enlarger. But, composing the picture was just the beginning. You had to develop the film. And that starts with learning how to unload the exposed film from your camera and wind it on a spool that goes into a light-tight can. But, you have to do this in pitch darkness so stray light won’t fog the film.  It’s done by sense of touch and could be frustrating when the film refuses to feed smoothly into the spool.

Then, you pour various chemicals into the can spinning the spool around to develop the film. When done, you open the can and take out a film strip with negatives (whites are black and blacks are white, and no, I could not afford color film or processing but those negatives show “negative” color for the three primary colors used).

Using the enlarger, you expose the print paper for a few seconds to light that you shine through the negative. This creates a negative, negative so once again black is black and white is white. But, when you turn off the enlarger light, there is no image visible on the paper. You have to take the paper and slosh it in trays of similar chemical solutions to get a print. There is magic in watching a piece of white paper slowly transform into an emerging image that finally comes into sharp focus.

The time from composing a picture to seeing the print for the first time was often several weeks as it took me awhile to shoot a roll of 12 images. I was very deliberate of what I took pictures of due to the cost of film and the labor of creating a print.

Today, with digital imaging, I get to see the picture “immediately” and I shoot many more pictures than I did with film. As with film, what I get is never quite what I saw in my mind’s eay. Sometimes its better.

Here are my favorites. And this link takes you to some more from Devin.
http://wordpress.reams.me/2012/lake-powell-2012/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Africa, Day 1-3, Getting There

We decided to take this vacation because Rochelle bid on and won a Safari in South Africa in March.  I’ve wanted to do a motorcycle tour in South Africa, so we planned the trip to combine both a motorcycle tour and the safari.

The flight over goes from Denver to Chicago to London then Johannesburg and finally Richard’s Bay where we rent a car and drive to the game lodge which is about an hour north of Richard’s Bay.  In total, we are spending about 3 and 1/2 weeks in South Africa.  We managed to pack pretty light, a skill developed over the years of taking motorcycle vacations.

Luggage for a Month

We left Tuesday, November 3 about 12:35 pm Denver time to catch a shuttle to the airport.  Our departure was set for 3:45 pm.  We arrived on time in Chicago, waited about 2 hours, and boarded the flight to London at 9:00 pm.  “Are we there yet” was Rochelle’s question as we got to the departure gate for the London flight. When I told her no, but she would have the great pleasure of my company sitting right next to her for the next 36 hours, well, her face just lit right up 🙂

Are We There Yet?

Only 36 More Hours To Go !!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We left about an hour late due to 2 issues with the plane, but arrived on time in London at 11:00 am on Wednesday, November 4.

Our layover in London was 7 hours, boarding the South Africa Airways flight at 6:00 pm. Rochelle took advantage of the comfortable sofa in the bar to catch a nap. A gent heading to Ireland took a couple of photos for documentation.  He then asked to borrow my boarding pass so he could buy duty free cigarettes leaving me his passport and wallet.  When he came back about 10 mins later, he offered to buy me a scotch, a Bells, which I had not had before.   A friendly and generous gent indeed.  Afterwards, I wondered if I should have been more cautious …

Rochelle Snoozing in Heathrow

I wandered around a bit finding a currency exchange to get South African Rand (a Rand is about $0.14).  I got screwed however.  It seems that since I was in the UK, and used US dollars, they first converted US dollars to British pounds, then converted British pounds to Rand.  So, I got hit by 2 currency exchange rates plus fees.  Lesson learned.  Get the currency exchanged at my bank in advance of the trip for the best deal.

After boarding our fight to Cape Town, we settled in for the duration.  I tried sleeping, but was only able to dose off and on until our arrival in Johannesburg.  We cleared customs quickly and headed to our gate for the flight to Richard’s Bay.  Rochelle was pretty tired by this point and took another nap in the lounge before we boarded our flight to Richard’s Bay.

Johannesburg Airport

Rochelle’s Nap in Johannesburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we arrived in Richard’s Bay, the first sight was a fire truck at the airport.  Was there a subtle message there? 🙂

Fire Truck, Richard’s Bay Airport

Our Plane to Richard’s Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rochelle was past tired at this point unable to keep her eyes open.  I rented the car, got the luggage loaded and then put her in the left seat to sleep.

Rental Car Welcome

I was off on the road to Zulu Nyala game lodge, reading maps, shifting a manual transmission with the left hand, and at every intersection repeating to myself, “Drive left, look right”.  After about an hour of driving on the left side of the road (speeds were 100 to 120 kph or about 60 – 75 mph), the last 20 km on dirt and gravel roads, we arrived at the game lodge and checked in.  Total transit time was about 40 hours, door to door.

Back Road to Zulu Nyala Reserve

Game Lodge Entrance

Rochelle went to the room and to bed.  I stayed up and went out on the afternoon safari with our guide, Kyle, at 4:00 pm meeting the other friends of Rochelle’s from Denver who were joining us for the safari.  I finally got to bed that night about 48 hours after leaving the house in Denver.  I slept quite well 🙂

New Zealand MC Tour Article-BMW Owner’s News

BMW Owner's News Article

BMW Owner's News Article

 

The BMW Owners Association (BMWMOA) publishes a monthly magazine, BMW Owners News.  I submited an article about a motorcycle tour my wife and I took in New Zealand on the South Island in February 2004.  This trip was a wedding anniversary present to ourselves.

The BMW Owner’s News  published my article in the May, 2009 issue. You will find good information about MC touring on the South Island, and can read about some of our adventures as an Antarctic low crossed the South Island in the summer time.