Search This Blog

Travel Blog

Travel Blog
Fasten your seatbelts it's going to be a fun ride

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Serbian family....and yes, more rain.

This will be my last post about the trip.

Long, cold, wet, lonely stretches of highway. Didn't have any luck seeing anything cool during my last days riding.

But one great thing came out of a bad experience before I left Italy.

I ran out of facial cleanser and while I've stopped brushing my hair and don't remember to brush my teeth that often now, do like to have a clean face. The GPS was able to find a local Sephora store just a couple of miles from the campsite and off I went. 
In the rain. 

What the GPS didn't know is that the whole area around this store was blocked off to any motorized traffic. Albeit these crazy Italians will go anywhere on their scooters but even the Italians draw the line somewhere. So as I wound my way around narrow, cobblestone walkways, to the annoyance of everyone....well everyone except one boy that was about 6. 

He saw me coming. His eyeballs just about popped out of his head. His mouth opened and closed as if trying to speak but unable, and when I got close with my Big Red and my bright orange horns on my helmet, he exclaimed as if thunderstruck "WHOA!" like I was some superhero out of a movie. It was pretty neat and his dad gave me a wink too. 

After my brief replenishing stop, decided to get out of town. I had a lot of highway to go and the rain clouds were dark, so I started down a street with steel tracks for some kind of streetcar and before I knew it, did a 180 spin, ending up on the ground in the middle of an intersection. It all happened so fast. Then equally fast, a gorgeous, strong man ran to my rescue and picked up the bike while a duo of female cops came to check on me.

Meet Mary. She's the one on my right.

She's a rider herself and insisted that I ride the bike just to the next corner for a cafe to relax and calm my nerves. These ladies patiently sat with me and helped me calm down, even managed to get me to laugh. There wasn't much laughter left in me at this point.

I took off, avoiding toll roads and ended up criss-crossing back and forth over the damned thing anyway but I did pass through some cute towns. When I was low on gas, I found this place that had a Hello Kitty buff! It put such a smile on my face, I had to buy it.

First stop was Piran Croatia on the coast. Unfortunately, you can't ride into this town its so small, instead you have to park outside and bus in.
No thanks. 

Made it a "Dan" style stop and pressed on to Pula Croatia.

While I was moving in that direction, I noticed a couple of guys hitchhiking to get there and one looked deceptively like Ed MacFarlane. Somehow I passed these guys a couple of times more and by the third time we were grinning and waving at each other. I should have stopped, they seemed cool enough and looking back I realize that had I made some friends, I would have stayed in this town and avoided some drama to come.

Arrived at Pula and wondered what all the fuss was about. It was a tourist mobbed town with chaotic traffic....tried to find a campsite and while I was wandering around came on to this!

It was time to eat and I smelled a familiar perfume in the air.

Oh yeah. You bet!

So I decided to press on. All I could think of was being with my Serbian family for comforts I really needed. Soaking and cold again, a never ending theme. 

After a close call running out of fuel, I rode into Pirzan and pulled in the only gas station in town right when a heavy deluge of rain pounded down and I just sat there waiting and wondering what the hell to do. It was growing dark and I was making increasingly bad decisions and I knew it. Part of me just wanted to push on to get as close to Belgrade as I could and part of me knew it was folly because it was already growing dark.

Now, if I have some female readers, they will enjoy this next part. 
The only hotel in town was hosting a local bowling event where men from Italy, France and Spain were all staying. Most of them were smoking outside when S.A.N. (the little wet rat) pulled up on her Big Red and before I could turn the bike off, had half a dozen of them helping me with my bags and all trying to figure out what language I spoke. 
The Frenchies won and I hung out with them a bit before curling up in a comfortable bed and spent the night hearing the rain pour outside. 

Sorry ladies. No photos, and yes, most of them were pretty cute.

The next day woke up to more rain (I've stopped hoping for a clear day by now) and worried about yet another high altitude pass on my way to Zagreb. I stopped at a gas station and another rider taking a break said 'whatever you do, don't go to Split, its pouring hard'. So guess what happens next?

The GPS put me on the road to Split by mistake and the next exit was 40km away. Toll roads in Europe are very different than the US. Once you get on one, its a commitment. I ended up turning back and riding against the traffic, on the shoulder to get to the exit I took by mistake once I realized I had 30+ minutes in increasingly pouring rain in order to turn around.

Rode through Zagreb. Didn't look nearly as cool as in the James Bond movie, From Russia with Love.

Finally crossed the border into Serbia and once again, because of outdated maps in the GPS, it could not find the little town of Opovo where I was going to stay with my Serbian family. I rode the long way, avoiding Belgrade, and finally made it to the tiny village, where once again, no one knew this family or even the address. WTF.

Following my intuition, I finally turned on the right street and there Milorad was, sitting outside waiting for me to arrive. Within a couple minutes, Angelina came outside with a big smile and warm hug.

Then it was time to FEAST!
She's an excellent cook and I spent days looking forward to being in a warm, comfortable bed. Under a roof and dry for a change and eating excellent food.

She made one of my favorite dishes that I tried many times to order along my trip. Stuff peppers.

And these little custard filled cream puffs. Deadly.

Goran's parents have a large garden out back and this pizza was made with tomatoes and fresh herbs from it.

Nancy's stuffed and smiling again.

I met these wonderful people through a friend I worked with a few years back here in the Bay Area. Their daughter, Mira came to visit and took me to Belgrade for a wonderful day of wandering about the historical areas and finally helping me find my lemon Blend-A-Med toothpaste.

Then what? You guessed it. MORE food.

They managed to put the weight I had lost back on me within just 3 days.

It was with sadness I took off towards Sofia for my last leg of the journey. Thankfully, it didn't rain and I made it there in good time. Luke was there waiting for me and I unpacked the bike in short order and made ready for my departure.

I was hoping for a dinner to talk to him about my trip (at that point I almost needed a psychiatrist) but he had other plans and dropped me off at a hotel near the airport. The next day I took a cab through the gypsy settlement and boarded the plane with swirling emotions. 

Thanks for reading about my trip, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, learned what to avoid from my mistakes and are inspired to get out there and do it yourself!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The cursed snow and rain

All through this trip there has been talk of Susa and the amazing gelato there by the boys but after lots of cold rain, we nixed the idea.
 We had a wet night in France but then proceeded through the Southeastern part (Rhone-Alpes) to get to Lake Maggiore in Switzerland and Como in Italy but not before riding through exceptional, high elevation flatland's with rolling emerald green fields and roaming livestock and dotted here and there with dense forests. This went into my top 5 rides ever. Thanks Dan!

I was so in love with the topography that I didn't stop once to take a darned photo but we did stop in a tiny town and have the weirdest donar kebab yet but in a lovely courtyard where two young boys looked up to no good.

As the day went by, we watched ominous clouds and then finally made it to a campsite called Gran Bosco that Dan and Danny have been to before. Max is the manager and was kind enough to let me stay in a friend's trailer because I was too cold to camp. He even hooked up the electricity and the blankets were so heavy I barely moved all night and enjoyed hearing the wind howl outside.

My home for the next 12 hours. 

Thought it worth mentioning the bathrooms we all know to use flip flops in public showers but honestly, 90% of the facilities we've used in the campsites were cleaner than most hotels I've stayed at.

So we woke up and with Max's help checked some webcams on the highest pass in Europe and it looked clear. Col de I'Iseran and the St Bernard and some other pass that escapes me now.

My favorite photo of the trip.

Not really, but this lake was beautiful.

Riding through these passes was scary as all heck. It was freezing. I had no heated grips. I was wearing summer gear and I have Raynaud's. I was screwed. My hands froze so completely that at one point we had to stop and warm my hands on Dan's headers. I burned my gloves but they were smoking enough before I burned my hands to stop in time.

I was so glad to be with them. Dan has been an excellent leader and all along this snow covered ride kept saying all the right things like "the tires are making good contact with the ground" that inspired confidence in me. We saw other miss-guided riders (they probably saw the same lying webcam we did and also decided to do the pass) and we eventually made it through and all I can say is NEVER AGAIN.

The last pass of the day.

Finally got back down to lower elevation and made it to our last camp site together on Lake Maggiore.

It was beautiful but those clouds looked ominous. Remember we are going on day 4 in the rain.

We took off from camp in the rain, and rode in the rain, all the way to Lake Como but thankfully the rain stopped just long enough for us to see Bellagio.

All of the hype of the beauty of this lake was an understatement. I was giddy with gratitude that we made it.

Our time together was coming to an end. This was the point that Adam was to ride with me back towards Serbia/Bulgaria but I was faced with doing it alone.
I coordinated with my Friend Fred who lives in Mulhouse France to meet in the Grindelwald, but we had a long hot tunnel (gotthard) to go through, and since all of us were cold and wet, we were happy for the 100+ degrees inside.

After that it was a turn off to take Sustenpass to Grindelwald and the boys kept going north back to Germany. I was scared to be on my own. It was far from the plan for me to be alone for the next 10 days and stupid really but what choice did I have.

If it wasn't freezing and snowing and raining, I would have been fine. Well I got all the way to the top of Sustenpass only to find it was closed. (Dan's maps made it look like a valley pass or I would have never tried) So what came next was 4+ hours of freezing rain all the way around to get to my destination that was only 30 mins away from the pass. Thank God I had Danny's GPS that they installed on my bike so I didn't get lost or spend too much time pouring over maps in freezing rain.

But when I say I am going to be somewhere, come freezing rain and snow...I'll be there. I arrived at the campsite and they didn't have cabins and I actually burst into tears. I was so cold. My friend wasn't there and I didn't know where to go.

I ended up down the street at a clean hostel that the campsite managers helped me get settled into and this was my home for a couple warm nights.

Fred walked in a couple hours later, a little wet and cold but not to bad and we went into town and had some excellent Aberlour 12 (we tried the 15 year and found the 12 to be more to our liking) then had fondue (with bacon) and turned in.

The next morning....I woke up to this! The North Face.

Oops,skipped something very important. Breakfast. All you an eat. Milk from happy cows. Water from the Eiger. Apples from the local orchards. (Dad, I ate an apple, don't fall out of your chair)

We decided to spend the $200 bucks and take the top of the world train ride through the North Face and this was worth every penny.

View of the glacier from the top.

And I thought I was cold the day before. My hair was blowing straight up.

Ice tunnels.

And sculptures.

Majestic views in every direction and the sun came through the clouds for a bit

I met Fred at a bar in San Francisco and what made our friendship stick was his 20 motorcycle collection that he casually mentioned. 

I also took on a stowaway and enjoyed some champagne before we made our way back down the mountain.

Went for lunch. Excellent asparagus cream soup.

And great sausage with mustard from a tube.

I said my goodbye to Fred and went back to the hostel for one last night of comfort before pushing on to Venice Italy.

I had some friends in Milan that I could have stayed with for a night (riders I met on my ride through Turkey) but decided to just push the freakin rain again)

I arrived at the campsite near Venice which was actually a mud hole from all the rain and got a nasty smelling little bungalow but some good pasta and went to sleep.

Took a bus into Venice the next day and started it off well with a pastry.

Cool doorbells here.

San Marcos square 

Loved these pink glass lights

Stopped for an overpriced lunch in an outside cafe where I asked for prosecco with a dash of limoncello in it (a big faux pas here in Italy) and found this pink pigeon.

My yucky 15 euro salad.

I found a store with smurfs! I collected these when I was a kid.

Lots of courtyards

Went back to the campsite, had dinner and prepared to leave the next day for Croatia. Yep, in the rain again...