Here are links to two set’s of pictures, the first are the ones I took on the trip and at the rally, and the second are by, Andy Muller, a photographer, who is the proud owner of the 40th RS sold in the US so of course he brought it to the 40th RS anniversary rally. What a nice bit of serendipity.
My route to the rally follows US 36 which passes through Hannibal, MO.
On the Way to the Rally
Mississippi River, Hannibal MO
Mark Twain Statue at Hannibal Waterfront
I planned a shorter ride the day I arrived in Hannibal so I could spend some time visiting the Mark Twain museum. I stayed at a B&B in a 19th century home, the Dubach Inn. My suite was on the second floor with it’s own staircase and balcony where I enjoyed a Gin and Tonic at the end of the day.
Dubach Inn, Hannibal MO
The city turned the block where Twain grew up into a museum that includes his home, his father’s justice of the peace office, Becky Thacher’s house, and the home that was occasionally used by the street urchin he crafted Huckleberry Finn from. I really enjoyed the exhibits and learned a lot more about Twain’s life and the impact of it on his personality and ultimately how it became the source for many of the books that made him famous.
Reconstruction of Huck Finn House at Mark Twain Museum
Mark Twain Museum
Mark Twain Museum
Mark Twain Museum
Mark Twain Museum
Along US 36 I saw a number of signs about the pony express and the stops and routes they used. A rider would take the mail and ride a set distance each day and then hand the mail pouch to another rider who continued with the mail. The first rider then took mail from a rider coming the other direction and returned with it to where he started. This shuttling operation moved the mail from St Louis to California. Little did I know at the time that the Airhead Pony Express would be enlisted to deliver Gonzo and I on the last leg of the trip to the rally.
The next day I stop at a hotel in a suburb of Indianapolis, IN. At the start of the day I enjoyed riding on two lane roads although I was riding in a light rain and some fog for awhile. I took some state and county roads to avoid the heavy traffic I recall from a previous ride to the east coast on I-70 through Indianapolis. Alas, I poked along through Indianapolis suburban sprawl, construction zones for the last hour. It was a long day.
On the Way to the Rally
On the Way to the Rally
After I got to the hotel, I thought I heard noise from the transmission. I had replaced the bearings and seals, my first time doing this work, so I was worried I had failed to do the work correctly. But when I got up the next morning under a dull gray sky with light rain and drizzle and started the bike the transmission seemed to be quiet. I chalked up the noise I thought I heard to my paranoia and being hyper-sensitive to the new sounds from an unfamiliar bike and transmission.
I headed out in the drizzle and mist on my way to West Virginia near the Pennsylvania boarder to my next hotel. At my first gas stop late in the morning, I could hear the transmission noise again. It was louder and clearly something was not right. I still had another 200 miles to my hotel and no hope of finding any airhead transmission experts in this part of the country. At the end of the day I would still be about 350 miles from the rally location in Pennsylvania.
On the Way to the Rally
40th R100RS Anniversary Rally
Diagnosing the Problem
Tom Cutter, one of the best airhead mechanics and an expert transmission builder, was coming to the rally and he lives pretty close by. When I got to my hotel in Triadelphia WV I called him and described what I was hearing. I told him I planned to bring the bike to him and leave it and I would figure out how to get back home. He told me not to worry. He would start work on the bike on Sunday right after the rally and would get me back on the road as soon as possible. The huge weight of worry and dread that had been weighing on me all day suddenly vanished.
He had me do a number of tests including draining the transmission at an auto parts store to see what came out. When I got there and bought some gear lube and a drain pain, it was raining lightly and the light was fading as I started to drain the gear box in the parking lot.
Draining Transmission Oil at an Auto Zone in Triadelphia West Virginia
When I removed the drain plug, I found a circlip stuck to it. It secures the plastic roller that rides on the shift cam to a pin on the shifter arm. That can’t be good. I used my cell phone to send a picture to Tom. His advice was to not ride the bike any more if at all possible. I was tired, a bit wet and dejected as I rode Gonzo five miles back to the hotel in the dark to get something to eat.
Circlip from Shift Quadrant Roller – Shouldn’t Be In The Transmission 🙁
The Airhead Pony Express
After dinner I decided to post a note to the newsgroup used by rally members for communication to see if anyone might be in the area with a trailer that could take Gonzo and I to the rally hotel in Pennsylvania and then went to bed for a night of fitful sleep as I reviewed scenarios of how to get to the rally and all the changes I had to make to my return hotel reservations since I was going to be delayed. On top of that, my credit card had been fraudulently used on the internet and the card company had cancelled it. Ah, it never rains but it pours 🙂
The next morning, I saw a note from Duane Wilding who lives near Annapolis, MD. He offered to load his bike on his trailer instead of riding to the rally and it had room for mine. The detour would double the time for him to get to to rally changing a 5 hour day of riding to more like 10 or 11 hours of towing. I didn’t see any other offers so I called him and asked him to come pick me up. It would take him an hour and a half to get the trailer hooked up and and I agreed to call him if in the mean time I heard from someone closer who was able to help.
I started to call my hotels to put my rooms on hold, called my wife to let her know what was happening and as I scrolled through other email, I suddenly saw a reply posted by Scott Mercer right after I sent my note. I had missed it when I first looked at my Email. His note said he was an hour and a half away and had a truck with his bike in it and there was room to add mine. I connected with him, confirmed he was still able to come by and pick up Gonzo and told him I’d call him back as I had to cancel my ride from Duane who was going well out of his way to help.
When I called Duane back and told him to stand down, I reached him just before he was about to start driving my way. And then I got two more calls, one from Scott’s friend, Tom Gaiser, who was bringing his R90S in his pick up truck and said he would come by in case we needed help getting Gonzo in Scott’s truck. When I hung up I got a call from Keven O’Neil who was bringing his bike on a trailer following my route from Indianapolis. He too said he would stop to help and in case my bike didn’t fit in Scott’s truck, there was room on his trailer. I had gone from famine to feast. I was overwhelmed by the generosity and support from these Airheads. What a great bunch they are.
Airhead Pony Express Arrives-Kevin O’Neil’s RS On His Trailer
Scott Mercer’s Trailer with Tom Gaiser Supervising
Gonzo in Mike Mercer’s Trailer Next to His Mint 1978 Motosport
Five hours later we turned off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and stopped next to an appliance that was as ubiquitous as cell phones are today when the RS was brand new. I couldn’t resist; I went over, picked up the handset and it had a dial tone. That pay phone still works for it’s intended purpose, just as my 1977 RS does. How unexpected, and fitting to find this relic on my journey to a 40th R100RS anniversary rally.
Working Pay Phone at Our Exit on Pennsylvania Turnpike
We pulled into the Holiday Inn parking lot, unloaded Gonzo and parked him in the growing group of RS bikes in the parking lot. Then Scott and Tom drove to their hotel 20 minutes away.
The Rally at Todd Trumbore’s Home
The next morning, Friday, I got a ride to the rally at Todd Trumbore’s home where the rally was held from Mike Cecchini who brought his bike on a trailer.
Todd Trumbore Host for 40th R100RS Anniversary Rally
I spent the day in awe of the variety of bikes parked outside Todd’s “Bavarian Bike Barn” including a Munch Mammoth, an ISDT race bik, a replica of the Udo Gietl prepared R90S that won Daytona in 1976 and the first AMA Super Bike championship, A Mondial and of course, multiple examples of well cared for RS bikes and more first year bikes than I’ve ever seen in one place a one time.
Here is a short video of starting the Mammoth and the sound it makes.
Some of the 40th RS Anniversary Rally Attendees and Their Bikes
There were talks by Hans Muth, Udo Gietl, and Tom Cutter, and numerous conversations with fellow airhead RS owners about their bikes. Hans graciously designed the logo on the far right and Todd did the other two. I have all three stickers from the rally and will find a suitable place of honor for them in my work shop.
40th RS Anniversary Rally Logo’s Designed by Hans Muth
On Saturday, Mike put Gonzo in his trailer and as the next airhead pony express rider, faithfully delivered us to Todd Trumbore’s. We unloaded Gonzo and I rode him up Todd’s driveway so I could say with a straight face that I rode him to the rally. 🙂
Gonzo Getting Tied Down in Mike Cecchini’s Trailer
My 1977 RS – “Gonzo” – Parked Among His Fellow 1977 R100RS Bikes
Mike Cecchini’s R90S Fitted in RS Body Work – Beautiful !!!
Meeting Hans Muth and Getting Gonzo an Autograph
It took a year of work rebuilding the bike and several adventures along the way while riding him to Pennsylvania, but I met Hans Muth, shook his hand and got his autograph on Gonzo’s factory inspection sticker. An amazing end to a year of work and adventure riding to the rally.
Shaking Hands with Hans Muth Next To My 1977 R100RS
Hans A. Muth Signature on My 1977 R100RS Factory Inspection Sticker
Fixing Gonzo’s Transmission
Saturday evening, Tom Cutter and I loaded Gonzo on his trailer and I rode Tom’s “Fake S” R100/7 to his house that is about an hour away. What a treat, to say the least. 🙂
Gonzo Loaded in Tom Cutter’s Trailer Next to His R Nine T
Tom Cutter’s “Fake S” That He Let Me Ride – What a Hoot and Very Kind of Him
On Sunday, he pulled the transmission out, disassembled it, cleaned and inspected it, replace the circlip and roller, and reassembled it. He found no other damage to the transmission. After careful measurement of my circlip and a new one, it seems the new one I installed is not the correct size. I failed to catch that when I installed it since this was the first time I had opened a transmission so I had no experience with the parts. That said, in the future, I can compare the new parts to the old to reduce this kind of mistake in the future.
My Circlip (Left), Correct New One (Right)
the circlip was a bit too large compared to the new one he installed. Either it was a defective part, or I damaged it when I installed it. On Monday morning, we installed Gonzo’s transmission and Tom took care of a couple other assembly mistakes I made. By 2:00 pm Monday, I was back on the road heading home.
Going Back Home
I rode on US 50 most of the way until Topeka Kansas where I got on I-70. I went through Athens, Ohio on Tuesday and stopped to meet Kent Holt of Holt BMW who provided the paint and a great deal of advice when I tried my hand at painting. He took me on a tour of his facility and he spent almost two hours talking with me. What a treat/.
Marvin Greeted Me at Holt BMW with Coffee 🙂
Kent Holt in his Work Shop
Kent Holt’s Ride with Custom Paint Work
I stopped in Jefferson City, MO to stay at a B&B housed in a civil war ear home built on a high bluff over looking the Missouri River and had dinner at an Irish pub around that corner, Paddy Malone’s, that is one of the oldest continuously operating pubs in the mid-west. There is a flag from every county in Ireland on the ceilings and walls. A great place to relax.
Cliff Manor B&B Jefferson City MO
Gonzo Resting at the Cliff Manor B&B Jefferson City MO
Missouri River From Patio of Cliff Manor B&B Jefferson City MO
Beer Board at Paddy Malone’s Pub in Jefferson City MO
Jefferson City MO Irish Pub with County Flags
The next day I rode to Hays, Kansas. In the afternoon, I had 30 MPH cross winds for several hours and at one point, the bike thermometer showed 102 F. The air conditioned lobby of the hotel was very refreshing 🙂
I arrived home on Friday about noon after riding over 3,300 miles in the past 11 days, meeting great people who love BMW bikes and especially the RS and attending a fabulous rally celebrating the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the R100RS.
Ending Mileage – Over 3,300 Miles
To all the airheads at the rally who directly helped me get there or took a moment to talk with me and provide words of encouragement that lifted my spirits, thank you from the bottom of my heart. RS riders in particular, and Airheads in general, are some of the nicest folks you could ever want to spend a weekend with.
After finishing the rebuild of this bike on July 21, I prepared it to ride out to the 40th RS anniversary rally in Harleysville, PA (yes, “Harleys” ville). I put almost 1,000 miles on the bike prior to heading to the rally and corrected a number of problems. I also set it up for touring by adding my old Garmin 2610 GPS, a set of Hepco-Becker panniers I had on the R75/6, my Wolfman tank bag, and a pair of Kathy’s Journey fairing bags.
Wolfman Tank Bag with Kathy’s Journey’s Fairing Bag
Ready for Touring
I decided to name this 1977 R100RS, Gonzo. My wife and I have a habit of naming our motorcycles for Muppet characters, and after some thought, Gonzo seemed to fit this one.
I plan to ride on US highways on my way to and from Pennsylvania avoiding the “super slab” as much as possible. Unlike my Iron Butt rides, this ride will be leisurely with time to smell the flowers allowing five days to ride out and five to ride back.
I packed a maintenance kit with extra tools along with clothing and other essentials for a trip.
Tools and Spares List
On Sunday I took a picture of the starting mileage and right at 8:30 am I got on US 36 no far from my home planning to stop about halfway across Kansas.
Starting Mileage with Gonzo Ready To Roll
US 36 shares I-70 for the first 30 miles with the usual hurrying and scurrying traffic even early on a Sunday morning. When I turned onto two lane US 36 at Byers, CO I enjoyed the relaxed pace with no traffic on a beautiful sunny morning.
US 36 in Eastern Colorado
Traffic Conditions on US 36 in Eastern Colorado
There is race track on US 36 and I stopped to take a picture of the cars coming down a hill. I pulled over on the shoulder, put Gonzo on the side stand and got off to get a picture of it in the foreground with some race cars going by in the background.
Race Cars on the High Plains Race Track Along US 36
I sensed something wasn’t right and as I moved my eye from the view finder, I could see Gonzo was rolling forward and starting to fall over on the left side. I dropped the camera and grabbed him from the right side, but he was tipped too far over on the left and I could couldn’t pull him upright. The best I could do was slow the fall. A slow motion CARUMMPPP followed as he went down on the edge of the top fairing panel and then lay on the side of the road leaking gas onto the shoulder. In my hurry to get the picture, I didn’t put the bike in first gear before putting it on the side stand. There was a very slight down hill grade and of course, it crept forward as I was framing the picture until the side stand folded up.
I quickly went over to the left side and pushed him back up on his feet (it’s good to know I still have the strength to pick up an RS with loaded panniers) and then put him on the center stand. The top left faring panel is scraped on the edge and has a crack and another hairline one above the turn signal. Those are exactly the places I repaired when I stripped all the body work off, so a previous owner had the side stand fold up too. There is the also the usual scrape on the lower edge of the valve cover. Gonzo is “broken” in at last 🙂 Yes, that’s a smile, not a frown.
Result of a Tip Over – Oooppps
When I finish a rebuild, I’m always nervous about getting dings or scratches on the finished bike. But, eventually, these show up. So I have come to appreciate the arrival of the first ding, scratch or dent because I don’t have to worry any more about trying to keep the bike pristine.
I built Gonzo to be a rider, not a hider. Although I would have preferred my stupidity didn’t result in damage to the fairing, I can’t let that interfere with the enjoyment of riding him nearly 4,000 miles over the next week and half. “Endeavor to Persevere”, as my Email tag line goes. So I motor off heading to Kansas.
The Cannonball Rally is a ride across the United States for vintage motorcycles. This year, the rally is open to bikes built in 1936 or older. There are some 120 entries and the route goes from Daytona Beach, FL to Tacoma, WA, a distance of more than 3,900 miles.
The rally comes across Colorado. On Saturday, September 13, the riders stayed in Burlington, CO on the eastern plains. On Sunday they stop for lunch in Colorado Springs and then continue to Golden, CO for dinner. On Monday they continue west over the Rocky Mountains stopping in Leadville before ending the day in Grand Junction.
On Sunday I rode Grover, Rochelle’s 1973 BMW R75/5, and she rode Elmo, her 2002 F650GS down to Colorado Springs. We met another BMW rider, Sawyer and his friend Ashley, on a green 1972 R75/5 toaster tank bike. We took a nice ride over the Palmer divide on our way to the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Museum (aka, Pikes Peak Harley Davidson). We arrived when the first rally riders were scheduled to arrive only to find about 20 rally bikes were already there.
There are six BMW bikes in the ride along with a lot of Harley’s, and some more exotic bikes such as Henderson, Moto Guzzi, Sokol, India, Brough Superior, Neracar, Moto Frera, and Sunbeam. I chuckled at one point as a rider put a pan under their parked bike to collect the oil leaking from the engine. Several bikes arrived in a swirl of blue smoke as oil was blowing on the headers. The oldest bikes are 1916-1917, so nearly 100 years old. It is impressive to see these bikes and their riders do a cross-country rally on iron that old.
We had to head back early due to another commitment, so we weren’t able to ride with the Rally riders on their way to Golden.
Here are the pictures I took at the Sunday lunch stop.
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.
Barcelona, View from Room in Hotel Icaria
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-Gaudi’s Park Guell
Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Park Guell
Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Park Guell
Barcelona, Spain Sagrada Familia
Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Bascilica, Exterior
Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Bascilica, Ceiling
Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Altar
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’s La Pedrera House
Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s La Pedrera House Entrance
Barcelona, Spain-Gaudi’s La Pedrera House Roof
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 Facade
Barcelona, La Rambla St. Joseph Market
Barcelona, Sunset from the Restaurant Deck
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 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.
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
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 Street & Mountain Side
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
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.
Morning Ride in the Pyrenees
Pyrenees Low Temperature 5 C (41 F)
Looking Down The Valley We Rode Through
Where We Came From – Curvealicious!!!
Rochelle in Andorra With Snow
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 & 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 Snow Banks At the Top of The Passes
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.
View from our Room at Parador de Vielha
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 in the Morning Sunshine
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.
Flood Damage Beside the Road
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.
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.
Col de Peyre Sourde
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.
Col d’Aspin on the Tour De France Route
Pyrenees Mountains In Fog at top of Col d’ Aspen
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.
Col du Soulor Pass on the Tour de France Route
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.
Fog on the road from Col de Soulor to 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.
Down out of the Clouds, Sunshine and Rushing Streams
Meadow at the Top of the Mountains
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.
Hotel Casa de San Martin Overlooking the Valley
Hotel Casa de San Martin Entrance Drive
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.
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.
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 Canyon
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 Flowers
Monte Perdido Flowers
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 on One Lane, One Way Road
Village in the Monte Perdido Mountains
Lunch, Artistic & Excellent
Medieval Village Cobble Stone Street
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.
Hotel San Martin Sign
Hotel Casa de San Martin View
You Shall Not Pass!!!
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.
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!!
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.
Brook & Rochelle Two Up on a Road Less Traveled
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.
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.
Motorcycle Museum, Oliana Spain
I found a nice exhibit of my first motorcycle, a Bultaco Metralla done up in Spanish livery.
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.
Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain: DKW Wankel Engine Bike
Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain: FN Inline 4
Motorcycle Museum Oliana Spain: Bright Red Indian with Side Car
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.
Mountain Lake on the Road to Barcelona
Jagged Peaks Outside Barcelona
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
First Tour Briefing From Metej
Late Night Logistics Before The Ride
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
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 Where WWII Ammo Train Exploded
Smederevo Fortress & Danube River
“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 “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.
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.
Nearly Abandoned Town in Bulgaria
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.
Walking the Cows On the Main Road
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
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.
Dinner at Happy Village
Happy Village Entertainment
Happy Village Entertainment
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
Former Communist Party Headquarters in Sophia
Bulgarian Bag Pipes
Old Roman Road to Constantinople-Underground and Surrounded by Shops
Lower Level Shop Uses Old Roman Road to Constantinople
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
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 🙂
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-We are Invited
Around 6:00 pm we arrive at the Popova Kula winery in Demir Kapija, Macedoniaon 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.
Popova Kula Winery
View from Popova Kula Winery
Wine & Cheese in the Tower at Popova Kula Winery
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 🙂
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.
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
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 Orthodox Priests who Invented Cyrillic Alphabet-National Heros
Abandoned Next to New
Macedonian Mountains Above Lake Ohrid
St. Jovan Church-13th Century
St Pantelejmon Church-4th Century Mosaic
Kitten & Mother-Lunch Time
Textile Shop, 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.
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
Now the roads start getting interesting as this part of Albania is not benefiting much from infrastructure investments.
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”
Hotel Weight Machine
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 Riding the Mountains
The “Road” Through Gramoz Mountains
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
Valley in Gramoz Mountains
Home of a Wealth Albanian
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
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
View From Gjirokaster Fortress Ramparts
WW II Weapon Exhibit Inside Fortress-It’s HUGE!
Tour Group with Old & New Weapons
Moorish Clock Tower Inside Fortress
Picture of Brook Taking Pictures
Impromptu Performance on the Stage inside the Fortress
Rochelle Becomes a Teacher Again – Pay Attention, There’s a Quiz!!
Gjirokaster Stone Carver Shop
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
Picnic Group at 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 🙂
Snipe Hunt? No, Hunitng for Brook’s Camera
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.
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
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
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, Roman Ruins
Butrint, Roman Amphitheater
Butrint, Roman Ruins
Butrint, Roman Mosaic
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
Saranda, Albania View from Hotel Room
Saranda, Albania Cruise Ship in Harbor
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.
Ionian Coast of Albania-Study in Blue
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.
Ionian Coast of Albania -Pasha’s Castle
Ionian Coast of Albania, Opening Front Door of Pasha’s Castle
Ionian Coast of Albania, View from Pasha’s Castle
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.
Ionian Coast of Albania
Ionian Coast of Albania, Road To the Pass
Ionian Coast of Albania, Seashore Jewel
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-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 Museum
Kruje, Albania-Girls Being Merry on Merry-go-round
Kruje, Albania-Little Girl at Coffee Shop
Kruje, Albania-Rochelle’s Ready to Seranade
Kruje, Albania-Motorcycle Truck
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
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
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, School Children at Ice Cream Stand
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 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.
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 Room Furniture
Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik View from Room
Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik, Brook’s Friend
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.
The Ladies of the Tour
The “Gents” of the Tour
Drvengrad, Serbia-Hotel Mecavnik, Political Commentary?
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
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-Rochelle Cooling Off
End of the Ride Party Toast
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
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