I just realised that I didn’t write a review for 2021. Well, in fairness, not a lot happened during the first two years of the pandemic. In 2021 however, I took a break from the pandemic and visited Iceland which was a very lovely trip.
I thought first ‘not a lot has happened in 2022’, but when I went through all the pictures on my phone, I stood corrected. I did not post a lot and there was not one monumental event like in 2019 that dominated the whole story, but there were many little things and one ‘adventurous’ trip that made this a quite nice riding year, at least considering the conditions (still a pandemic going on, although less dangerous than the previous years). I will mention everything in a chronological order, after all this blog is a diary that lists what I have experienced. In contrast to earlier travel diaries, it is digital and public, but I essentially write all these stories for myself and not for others, although I don’t keep this blog private and I appreciate that so many people seem to like it 😊.
In February, I did small tours in the area, crossing into the Netherlands to the North, riding without a plan and relying on my GPS to carry me home when I had to turn around. I rolled also through the towns of Maaskantje and Schijndel, both notorious for the Dutch TV series and films around the New Kids, a Dutch ‘white trash’ comedy with (very) strong language and trashy humor. Dutch people will know what I’m talking about…What came as a big surprise: Maaskantje is actually a cute small village, LOL.
“Ik betaal goddomme helemaal nergens meer voor” (Richard Batsbak).
On the last weekend in February, I went to the first European Ride to Eat in Raalte, Netherlands. It was good to see some of the old chaps from the UK, Germany and the Netherlands for the first time after pandemic. A lot of stories had to be exchanged and the usual meeting point in February in the Netherlands makes it usually possible for everybody to come to the meeting as the temperatures are bearable. Even more when you have heated gear, hehe.
Another event that happened for the first time since 2019 was what was called in former times the “XBR Wintertreffen” (XBR winter meeting). Since 2003 I invited fellow motorbiking friends (linked to the XBR Alpentour events) for a meeting in March, accompanied by a yummy dinner. Since 2007, the meetings happened in Belgium; the mild climate allows to do a motorbike tour, often the first one in the year. This year, Jo, Hans, Ralf and Gernot made it to the meeting, Hans even made it on his Pan European. Using some of my bikes, we did a nice 100 km trip through Southern and Northern Brabant. In the evening, the motto of the dinner followed the typical pattern: my last journey. As my last trip went to Iceland, I tried to reproduce some of the nicest dishes I had enjoyed on the Island: sandwiches with aquavit, Humarsúpa (fish soup), slow cooked lamb and Skyr with fresh berries. Delicious.
During the ride-out, I noticed that the suspension of my BMW was not as smooth as expected, a lot of noise from the front and not a subtle reaction of the system. I had enough of it, last year I had the two shocks reworked by a company that was suggested by my BMW dealer. Didn’t go well, a few weeks later, the front shock was leaking and had to be reworked. So I was not amused to have a lot of noise every time I rolled over a bad road. I had enough of it, this asked for new shocks. So I visited my BMW dealer and discussed the subject. He advocated for new original shocks, after all they were specifically developed for this type of bike, being modern electronically adjustable high-quality items. Indeed, the riding comfort when the bike was new was impeccable. Hmmm, but what is the price? (I was suspicious..) Er, well, ehm…it’s 4.500 Euro, excluding installation (that’s another 800 quid). Wow. 🥶 And what is the price for the Wunderlich shocks that are made by Wilbers (excellent quality shocks)? 1500! Aha! So we do what? Dealer mumbles…”hmmm, yeah, that makes more sense”. I couldn’t agree more. So this was agreed and a few weeks later I had a new suspension. Under normal conditions, I would install it myself, but half of the K1600GT needs to be disassembled in that process and the electronic shocks need to be calibrated. Hands off!
In April, I had the idea to connect two business trips and left the old XBR in Valencia. Until picking it up, I had some other things to do.
After having done many motorcycle rallies, it was my first time to try a classic car rally, the Eifel Marathon Rally: Driving 390 km on nice back roads in the Ardennes and the Eifel. Not in a competitive way, just based on on arrow instructions (‘tulips’) on a touristic route. There were many great cars in this rally, it was fun to to be surrounded by a lot of iconic cars. My co-pilot and navigator was my neighbor Jeroen who managed to guide us criss-cross though the Ardennes and the Eifel during this long day. We started mid-field and arrived in the top group, that was fun!
My BMW was ready and I picked it up from the dealer; When I arrived at home, I was not happy. There was still some rumbling noise! I grabbed the front wheel with both hands…really? The wheel had some longitudinal play! Aaargh! The bike went back to the dealer, changing the ball joint (no.2 in picture).
I flew back to Valencia, picked up the XBR again and went to Portugal to the next R2E. I never had visited Portugal by motorbike before and was surprised by the country. Gorgeous roads and beautiful landscape. The meeting point was at the highest point of Portugal at almost 2000 m altitude. The hotel was great and after a nice evening with nice conversations, I left Portugal the next day and went to my home town in Germany. Portugal is a place I definitively need to visit more intensively in the future.
In Germany I tested the new XBR 680 that my mate Stefan had helped me to build. A true monster. Not 500cc, but 680cc push the ‘no frills – minimum weight’ bike forward. It had a 600cc XL motor before that, but the extra 80 cc with this tuned NX650 motor are truly awesome. On top of the extra displacement, a sports camshaft adds even more ‘oomph’.
Unfortunately, the gear ratio was not correct and the right sprockets did not arrive on time. I decided to ride the Magic 12 anyway, the 12 hours rally in Germany. Big mistake, I should have swapped the bikes. As usual, I had an excellent winning route and I even was ahead of my planned time when disaster struck. The brutal force of the motor and the wrong ratio had first killed the sprocket bearing and later the wheel bearings. With 100km to the finish, I called it a day and rented a van to return home with the poor bike. With the proper sprockets, it could have worked as it turned out later that year.
But this retreat was a wise thing. It was not worth to risk my health for this. A destroyed wheel bearing can lock the wheel at any time. You’d take the risk when you’re virtually leading in the Ironbutt Rally, but not in a short rally that I had won twice before.
The first test for the new set-up was a trip to Kent, riding the short ‘Invictus Rally’. Initially I had considered to ride with the ‘hot’ XBR680, but I was still waiting for the right sprocket. Well, my BMW was finally ready, just in time! I went to the BMW dealer, put a bunch of bills, equivalent to a very, very nice XBR, on the desk and rode home with a new suspension. Just in time to head off to England. As is it common for short rallies, I had received the rally book a few days before and solved the puzzle to plan a potentially winning route. I transferred the waypoints to my GPS and left for Calais, getting stuck in an enormous traffic jam at the Eurotunnel terminal. I arrived at my inn in Tonbridge and had some pub food before I prepared my stuff and went to bed. In the next morning, I went to the rally HQ, signed in, had some chats and set off together with all the other riders. The rally took place in Kent Sussex and Surrey. I had planned a tough and ambitious route that should give me a lot of extra points.
I arrived soon at the first location in Lynsted. In time. On the way to the second location, I wanted to introduce the third location in the GPS…and couldn’t find it! How could this happen?? Well, ok, I have to skip this one. Next location, fine, picture taken. Looking for location number five….where is it? Number Seven, eight?? I had to realize that during the waypoint transfer process, only half of the points were transferred. As I had left the laptop in the hotel (normally I always carry it with me, but not on a such a short rally). Well, this was it. It made no sense to continue when half of your points are missing. I returned to the hotel, packed my stuff and rode to the rally HQ where I informed the rally team that I dropped out and I would return home. This was a technical DNF like never before. I realised later that there was something wrong with the old Garmin Zumo 590, it gave me a lot of problems later. As usual, I had checked if the transfer of the points had happened, but I didn’t check for completeness. So when I rode back to Belgium, I took the decision to buy the new Garmin Zumo XT which I did.
However, I noted also something else during this trip. When riding on bad roads, the front of the BMW was still producing this rumbling noise. After all what was changed! I was super annoyed. So I went to the dealer (again) and discussed what to do. The bike rolled impeccably, but any small hole or obstacle resulted in a noise as if the steering bearing was loose…except that this modern bike, equipped with the duolever system does not have a classic steering bearing that receives any force from bumps. The ball joint was exchanged, so what else could be the problem? I had enough of this…the labour costs of removing any parts are actually much higher than the parts themselves…thinking we would remove one part after the other….so I took the decision to replace all remaining parts in the front. Yes, all of them. Sounds crazy, but I wanted to avoid further incremental attempts.
In June, I went for the trip I wanted to do since 2020, but the pandemic had put the plan on hold: visiting the ‘white spots’ on map in south-east Europe. I had planned the trip with Stefan in 2019 and finally it was going to happen. We wanted to visit a lot of countries in only one week, but the distances were rather short. After a week the a booth at an exhibition in Munich, we set off on a Friday evening and went to Villach in Carinthia. The next day, we enjoyed the beautiful Croatian coastline on the way to Split. We did a detour into Bosnia to Mostar and strolled through Dubrovnik. We passed the Kotor Fjord and went up Mount Lovćen in Montenegro, rode the stunning mountains of Durmitor. We rolled through the Tara Canyon and crossed into Kosovo, a truly different experience. We enjoyed the wild beauty of the Valbona Valley and the Albanian mountain, including its potholes. We stayed at the Ohrid Lake in Montenegro, rode the bumpy backroads of Southern Albania and were surprised by the hospitality in Gjirokaster. A day on the Greek island completed the trip before we embarked on the shabby ferry to Italy.
On the way back North, the odometer of the little XBR turned around for the forth time in a little town in Northern Italy: 400.000 km on the same motorbike! Now for the next 100.000 km 😊!
Back in Belgium, I picked up the BMW from the dealer….everything replaced….another monster bill…..first I thought everything was ok now, but I had my doubts…but it was too late to change my plan, I had to leave for the Brit Butt Light Rally in England, a 12 hours rally. Also here the rally book was sent one week before the rally, so I could come up with another cunning plan. The rally was based on collecting locations in the same group: the more locations of the same kind, the more points. One ‘group’ is also called a ‘string’. I had planned to do four strings which required a top-notch execution, there was only a buffer of 15 min foreseen in the whole day. The topic revolved around pre-historic sites that are quite abundant in central England.The tricky thing was that all points of the same string needed to be visited consecutively which resulted in a criss-cross and a lot of planning had went into optimizing this puzzle.
On my way to my hotel in Portishead, I noticed that the problem of the BMW lingered on…every time I rode over an obstacle in or on the road, a loud noise rattled the bike. I had no other chance than to endure this é&§%*%$!!! To my surprise, the hotel had its pub closed (staff shortage). Finally I could check in and leave my luggage. I went to the rally HQ in another town, registered and had dinner with German and British fellow riders. The next morning, I went back to the same place and started the rally from there. The roads and the locations were nice to spectacular, the traffic was a bit unexpected. I realised that the area was attractive to tourists as well and then there is always the notorious Saturday morning traffic. I visited iconic places such as large horses engraved in hills or neolithic monuments, such as Stonehenge. One location was crucial: walking from to road across a field, up a hill to take a picture from inside a neolithic monument. This are the things rally masters start to giggle when they develop their evil plans.
Finally I reached the top of the hill, had to find the entrance to the necropolis to take a picture from the inside. Luckily I had properly investigated the area before on Google Earth so I came prepared. Done. And now the walk down. I used to check if all my messages had come through – which was not the case, so I re-sent them again. I was faster than calculated but I had to realise that I was falling behind my plan as the traffic was slowing me down more than expected.
On the way to the points in Wales I could make up some time. Things looked good again. I was using the new Zumo XT GPS together with the old Zumo 590 and things were working well. Back in England I deviated from my routine and started to introduce locations for the next but one point, while riding. I had to go on backroads and single track farm roads but I could maintain my plan to do the four strings (spoiler: that nobody else was able to do).
At a certain point I was about to reach the next location, the GPS indicated ‘500 m to F2’…what? No, this must read ‘E2’, I had been there before. And finally it occurred to me that I reached the location F2 for the second time in one hour. WHAT?? The logic explanation: when deviating from the routine and looking for the next location, I had pressed on F2 and not on E2! This meant that all my well designed plan that was a kind of ‘all or nothing’ had just collapsed. The only thing I could do was do skip some locations of the fourth string and make the best out of it.
In the end it was a third place, something I had never managed before in a British rally (only 1st, 2nd and 6th places☺️). The best I could have achieved after this big error. In a long rally, you could maybe make up for it, but in this short 12h rally, no mistakes were possible.
The BMW gave me a lot of noises during the trip to England that I had ignored with a cold heart. But at home, I went to the dealer again and together we speculated what other source could be the cause. We were clueless, as every part in the front that could wear out had been exchanged. We agreed on an appointment to check AGAIN.
But before that it was time for another XBR Alpentour! I had equipped the grey XBR with the correct, custom made sprockets and now the system seemed stable. I went to meet Gernot in Karlsruhe and we rode together to the meeting point in Reutte, Tyrol. During the trip, I had to turn the bike as we had to turn around. In that moment, as it seemed retrospectively, my tank bag touched the starter button while the motor was running. The starter came on and would not stop! Even if I removed the keys! Panic! I tried all kind of things…The starter would not stop!! Sooner or later it would get fried! Frantically, I ripped the luggage from the bike, searched for my tools, removed the seat and tried to disconnect the battery while the starter was turning the motor hysterically😱😱😱. As I was in panic, the unscrewing did not happen without some flying sparks (in my panic, I tried to remove the positive and not the negative terminal 🙄). Finally, there was silence. What had happened? Well, pushing the button had pushed the starter relay that got stuck and did not get released. As the starter is connected to clamp 30 (permanent positive), a hanging relay results in a permanent current that cannot be switched off by the ignition key. I knocked on the relay and connected the positive terminal again. Silence. I pressed the starter button. Worked without problems. Everything ok again. It’s a Honda.
In Reutte we met Johannes, Hans and Ralf. The next day, we rode to Trento that we used again as a hub for the next three days to ride some of the best roads in Northern Italy. Monte Bondone, Valvestino, Pasubio, Sella, Monte Baldo, just to name a few. Not to forget the usual gastronomic part 😋.
As usual, we had a great time and my tuned XBR behaved as expected: spectacularly.
Back home, I rode to the BMW dealer for the appointment to inspect the bike…again. On the way, I noticed that the mirrors were vibrating a lot and I told this to the dealer. He startled and ran outside to the bike: ‘I have an idea’. I followed him. He took the whole cockpit in his hands and joggled it. I tried as well. I could lift the whole cockpit by one centimetre. So this was the crux of the matter! No suspension, no ball joints, no bearings….some bolts of the cockpit frame were broken and caused the annoying noise. After another intervention, the cockpit was fixed and I had a new bike. Trying not to think of all the money I burnt in this process 🥴.
At least the BMW was finally ready for the longest rally this year, the Brit Butt Rally 2022. After my errors sending bonus location pictures with the wrong codes last year that resulted in a disappointing 6th place. So after all the hiccups of last and this year, I wanted to focus on sending proper information and pictures at every bonus point locations. I arrived early at the rally hotel in Coventry and had time with fellow participants. The registration, odo meter calibration ride, technical inspection and filling up petrol is a well established process, after all this was my 12th Brit Butt Rally. After the dinner we had the riders meeting and the handout of the rally books. This year’s theme was simple: castles. This sounded great. Big objects in remote places. No riding in big cities, less traffic, simple tasks. Maybe an occasional walk. I had high hopes that my wish would come true: riding to Scotland. After my monster ride in 2021, including riding from Dover at lunch to Penzance before sunset on lots of secondary roads with zillions of weekend drivers, I was desperate to ride through the Highlands, avoiding the typical bank holiday traffic.
I sat down in my hotel room and started to carve out another monster ride, this time to Scotland. This could work. As the rest break is quite long now, I needed to have a good hotel in a central position. This needs a good planning as my plan needed a hotel with a 24h check-in, as little detour as possible and a petrol station nearby. Not something you would find in the middle of the Highlands. Possible towns were Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Some locations were daylight bonus points only, this made it very tricky to find good solutions to this puzzle. Another challenge was the big combo bonus that required visiting a castle up north in the Highlands and another one north of London. It was clear this would be a close shave, no room for mistakes. There were two variants of this route, depending how I could make progress, they both went through Edinburgh so this had to be where I booked the hotel, next to a petrol station and close a daylight bonus point for the next morning.
As usual, I tried to look for alternatives. This is very important as often your first impression can trick you and the second best option turns out to be the better one. Alright, what could be an alternative? Well, there was only one option where enough points could be found: going to Cornwall and Wales. I use a well-established method based on spreadsheets that helps me to quickly calculate the points value of draft routes. I did the calculation of a route similar in riding time and concluded that it would not bring more points. So the decision was clear: I wanted to go to Scotland, avoiding all the traffic to be expected in the Southwest. I didn’t bother to go into the fine-tuning of the alternative route; I had longed to go to Scotland, so Scotland it was going to be. At 6 a.m., the horde left the parking in the dark. I had to get to Scotland as quickly as possible with only one quick detour near Penrith where I visited Brougham Castle. I passed Glasgow and Loch Lomond, as usual infested with tourist caravans. On the way north, Barcaldine Castle was visited and I was still in time. What I had not expected: crossing Loch Linnhe requires taking a ferry! Of course it was on the other side and I had to wait. The crossing took 20 min off my plan and suddenly I was behind schedule. The road to Tioram Castle was beautiful, but mostly single track, so this costed me more time. However, riding in this part of Scotland is just fantastic, lots of nature and no traffic.
Near the famous Eileen Donan Castle it started to drizzle and wouldn’t stop for the next hours. I was falling behind my tight plan and had to realize that I couldn’t make that daylight point east of Inverness in the evening. This required a change of plan. I dropped the route to Aberdeen and decided to go to the north, near John O’Groats instead. I would have to shortcut through the Highlands using the A9 going to my hotel in Edinburgh. With this the points loss could be minimized.
But first I had to visit Ardvreck Castle up in the very Northwest of the Highlands. Things were running smoothly, I enjoyed flying through the highlands. I reached the A9 north of Inverness, visited Dunrobin Castle (see picture to the right) and turned north. I reached the Castle of Mey at sunset, just in time as it was a daylight bonus location. Well done. I filled up again early in Thurso for I did not want to look for petrol until Edinburgh. I put on the Erika lights and turned night into day; with these floodlights it is pretty safe to ride at night. I calculated the distance to the rest hotel in Edinburgh, more than 500 km to go on the A9 and only a short distance on motorway. Gulp! 😨. I deliberately left out Urquhart Castle as I wanted to save time to able to go London the next day, I could recover the points later if there was time left in the end. It was a great dark ride through the Highlands, passing Inverness and visiting the Blair Atholl Castle.
I arrived at my hotel at midnight where I would stay for seven (!) hours to get the maximum points for the rest break. That is a very generous rest break. Back in the times when the Brit Butt rallies were more competitive, there would be only three hours of rest break, asking for much more bonus hunting at night. The break gave me time to fine tune the second day to make sure I could get the big combo north of London.
The next day went smooth, refreshed I continued my monster ride. On Saturday I had covered about 1900 km in 18 hours, I simply had to maintain the pace to make the finish in time. After some criss-crossing though the Borders and Yorkshire I went down on the M1 and made it to the Berkhamstead Castle north of London to bag the big combo in time. I made it back to the finish in Coventry with a few minutes to spare, after 2711 km (1685 mls). I think this is a record in the history of the Brit Butt Rally, even more considering the shorter effective riding time than before. This was only possible as I was riding a lot on motorways with no traffic.
I had achieved what I came for: going to Scotland and losing no points at the table, i.e. I had sent all pictures and information correctly. So this looked like a very good result. Yet during the ceremony, I was surprised by the high point values of the other riders…I was called on the podium when only three riders were left. And for the first time in a Brit Butt Rally, it was third place for me. John Cross and Dave Winter came second and first with a bit more points, but a lot fewer mileage. What? How was this possible, they all went to the southwest…had I overlooked something? Anyway, it was a splendid ride and I had perfectly executed the planned ride.
Back at home, I had a look at the calculations. To my surprise, I noticed that in the calculation of the alternative route in the spreadsheet, I had not ticked the boxes to add two combos, this would have changed the whole picture. So I sat down and recalculated in detail a possible route through the southwest with the correct point values. To my surprise, the total points value was 2400 points higher than my route to Scotland, with 20 % shorter distance! 😫 (I had thought it would be 600 lower). This was more than double the gap to first place. Right, confidence restored, I still can design winning routes. Just a simple, but stupid error. As the saying goes: ‘the one wins who makes least errors’. I keep on beating myself, maybe it’s time to get my act together and to ride a perfect rally again 😊.
In October I had a weekend to spare and wondered what I could do with that time. I did not want to go far away, but why not doing the IBA Benelux four corners ride? Visiting the points to the North, West, East and South and also the geographical centre of each country? In less than 24 hours? This sounded like a good ride for a Saturday? The tricky thing is to find the right order, after all I didn’t want to do a lot of extra kilometres from and back home. The plan was to do 1929 km in 20 hours, starting at 6:30 in the morning. I had chosen to ride with the old Pan, the IBR veteran and most successful LD motorbike in Europe. I went to the northernmost point in Belgium first, I knew the place, but it took me several attempts to take a usable picture of myself and the bike in the dark. The next location was the most western point in the Netherlands near Westkappelle (see picture to the right). I went to Zeeuws Vlaanderen and when I crossed the border, some drizzle started. This came as a surprise, in my plan I had expected two to three hours of rain in the afternoon. On my way to the western point of Belgium at the French coast, it would stop but return again on the way to Brussels. It was a classic: you think that it will stop soon and you don’t put on your rain suit. So after visiting Belgium’s geographical centre, on my way to Luxemburg and Belgium’s southernmost point, the rain got worse and the roads in Wallonia are notoriously bad, especially in the rain. Here, the BMW would have served me better with its electronic adjustable traction. After a long traffic jam I was quite behind my schedule, and I saw that the rain would accompany me through Luxemburg and the Ardennes on secondary roads. OK, that’s it. No need to force it. This is supposed to be fun. I had only done about one third of the ride and through the capillary forces of the wind stopper balaclava, I was soaking wet under my jacket. I called it a day, rode back home and had a hot bath to get warm again. Next time I try it in summer.
But this attempt had served me; I knew that the Pan was in good shape to be used for the last rideout in this year: the ride to eat in Milan. I wanted to go there in one day and arrive before 3 p.m. at the hotel to drop the luggage and to show up at the usual meeting point for the picture at 4 p.m. So I started very early in the morning and zoomed through Germany and Switzerland. I had a good pace that allowed me to have a snack before the Italian border. I arrived in time at the hotel, checked in and showed up at the meeting point ‘Il Dito‘ with 30 min to spare. A special place 😅.
We had the usual dinner and chatting in the evening, a nice closure of this season. The ride back was of course a piece of cake for the seasoned Pan European and its rider. The bike always surprises me time and again that a bike designed in the 80s can still be such as a smooth and reliable ride. One of the best bikes ever built.
Sooo, 2022 was a year with a lot of interesting things happening. Not any big events, but a lot of smaller things that were of interest. Six new countries visited with the XBR. A new racing XBR. Another great Alpentour (No. 22). In terms of rallying, this was a kind of annus horibilis. Never since 2011 had I finished a year without a rally victory. Two DNFs and two third places are due to some bad luck and stupid mistakes. On the other side of the balance I know that ad planned excellent routes that, if perfectly executed, had been winning routes. Shoulda coulda woulda. It doesn’t matter, I just need to return to my usual routine. After the pandemic break, maybe my performance is a bit rusty 😄.
What’s up for next year? Well, probably the biggest rallying year ever. I’m a participant for the Iron Butt Rally in North America – the mother of all long distance rallies. And then the same thing again in Europe, the 12Days Rally. For the first time a copy of the IBR happening in Europe. two big rallies in one year, but it will be a one-off as this probably will not happen again. So no big trips are planned apart from that. More on this blog in the next months 😎.
I had asked for and early 7 a.m. breakfast as we had a ferry to catch. Tatiana prepared us a fine breakfast with homemade cheese, jam, honey and fried dumplings. She was very charming again, calling us „good boys“ and „very positive“. The place was superb value for money, especially compared with earlier accommodations. And then Tatiana. Imagine the most hospitable and charming landlady you have ever met. And then put some iced sugar on it. That’s Tatiana.
We parted at 8 a.m. and rode to Saranda, our ferry harbour to cross the strait to the Greek island of Korfu. Thanks to the Sat Nav, we could find the small ferry harbour in the harbour and waited for the check-in….one hour later. It was only 9:15 and we were already roasted by the, seeking shadow where we could.
When another boat arrived and all the passengers wanted to leave to compounded area, chaos broke out. When you only have ONE policeman and ONE little gate that have to cope with with the influx and outflow at the same time, it get’s…complicated.
Finally we could enter the tiny ferry. All the good seats were already taken so we identified the free seats that would be in the shadow during the crossing. The only downside was that they were close to the women’s toilet. There was a large and noisy group of Polish tourists and after they had downed a crate of beer (!), the women lined up to get rid of it again…
The arrival at Korfu was somewhat less chaotic than the check-in in Saranda, but only slightly. The passport control in the building just took some time, but then every vehicle needed to be inspected one by one. We were last (no need to hectically queue, hakuna matata) and then the guy saw our dirty bikes and didn’t bother to inspect them. Well,…
What to do with half the free day? Our ferry to Italy would only depart late in the evening. We exited the harbour and visited the office of Minoan Lines as requested in the confirmation e-mail. However, this was a misunderstanding as it was meant that you had to visit the counter in the terminal prior to departure.
We rode along the coast, enjoying the splendid views on the sea and the small bays.
The idea was to have some snack in a snug location. Finally I spotted the right thing, called „The White House“, a restaurant right above the water of a small bay with a free table in the shadow. We ordered Greek salad and grilled squid and permitted ourselves a glass of white wine with it. The food was less traditional but with a modern touch. Anyway, it was tasty and we had to leave before the wedding party would arrive.
It was pretty hot and humid so the best place seemed to be the highest place on the island, in this case, the 900 m high summit of Pantokratoros. Home of a monastery and lots of radio communication. And a small café where we had a gorgeous view. And some chilled drinks.
We had spotted a tiny road at the bottom of the mountain, gravel, so we thought. We asked the barman and he said it „had a lot of stone“. We wanted to give it a try. After less than a kilometer, I called retreat. Stones, yes, but rocks? This was a tough road. Maybe ok without all the luggage and extra weight, but under these conditions…better to turn around than to risk a fall on the last kilometers. We rode down the mountain on some tiny roads and with good views. Down at the coast I had to fill up and had to help a very clumsy guy who tried to serve us.
After that, we rode to a taverna we had spotted in internet but found it closed. We picked another place with tables outside near the harbour and decided it was Gyros time with some beers. At 9 p.m. we went into the harbour and checked in. We still had to wait for about two hours until we could enter the fenced in area and had to wait another one until the ferry arrived and finally was moored properly. In the meantime I checked the air filter of the bike as it was running a bit rich. The dirty piece that I removed from the airbox confirmed my idea: I never had such a dirty filter…when did I last change it??
The ship’s staff welcomed us in the same way we would be treated the next 20 hours: rude and unfriendly; a guy trying to tie down the bike was shouting at me that I should lock the steering lock and fumbled with my keys in the ignition. I shouted back this was not possible and that he should take his &($%!!! finger off by bike and removed the keys before he could destroy something. The officer was also very charming.
The ship was a real disappointment, probably a punishment battalion of Minoan Lines. Instead of a plush ferry like the MS Venice, this MS Florencia filled the gap. Dirty, crappy food, unfriendly staff, no proper facilities…charming! We tried to kill time as good as we could. Epic: Greek truck drivers heavily smoking under a series of “no smoking” signs.
We arrived an hour late the next day in Ancona at 6 p.m. The check-out was quick and soon we were on the autostrada. As the sat nav said that we would arrive at the pre-booked hotel at half past eight, I pushed the XBR a bit….in the end we were flying with 150 km/h, a speed our bikes hadn’t seen in a long time. We made up some time and arrived at our 12th (!) country of our trip: San Marino. It is a very scenic place, dominated by a huge rock where the old town is located. We parked our bikes at the parking of the pedestrian zone and walked to our hotel. After a quick shower we were ready for dinner. The views from the terrace of the Piazza della Libertà are truly spectacular.
Next to the Piazza, we managed to get a table in the restaurant “La Terrazza” that has gorgeous views as well. We ordered all kinds of local products, beer (“Titanbräu”!), wine, antipasti, home-made pasta, Tagliata and desert. All very good. The gastronomic highlight of the trip. After a digestion walk through the old town we hit the sack.
The next morning we left San Marino not without filling up with “cheap(er) petrol”. On the way through the Po plain, it got hotter and hotter. Close to Verona, I exited the Autostrada and looked for a nice village, because the XBR was celebrating a special day:
I had never expected that I would ride 400.000 km with this bike, but it has happened! 400.000 km through 55 countries on four continents; the bike had sometimes some issues, but it never let me down, I always reached my destination, no breakdowns! Well, it’s a Honda! This asked for a short victory lap:
The rest of the trip was easy. Motorway in Italy and Austria. Temperatures up to 37 degrees. Lots of drinking breaks. Last scenic shortcut via the Achensee. Back in Miesbach, we went out for a Pizza (that we didn’t get during the trip) and concluded that this was a great trip, twelve countries in nine days, a lot of new impressions, and a good time!
After an early breakfast we south, riding along the lake. The night before, we had changed the plan. Instead riding on main roads and visiting the UNESCO heritage town Berat, we decided to cut through the Albanian hinterland and to experience some backroads before arriving at Gjirokaster. We knew it could get bumpy….
At the south end of the lake, we climbed up the road when we had to acquire a ticket to cross the Galicia National Park. From up there, we had first views on the Ohrid and later on the Lake Prepansko where we met good tarmac again.
Some kilometers to the south we crossed the border into Albania again. This time, I was asked for my insurance at the Albanian border. Gulp! I handed over my insurance paper with the stroked-through „AL“ and the Kosovar insurance, maybe this one would be valid here, too. Apparently it did. Or not. After registering my data, I could pass and we were back in Albania. The first part to Korça (home to the Korça brewery as we had yet discovered) was a good road. In Korça, I looked out for a more modern petrol station where I could pay by credit card. The road south of Korça was in a fantastic state, brand-new! Would this ride today be a piece of cake? For a while, we were living this dream, riding on perfect tarmac. Until the road ended and we faced the reality of Albanian backroads again. The landscape was nice, but the surface required all attention. The town of Erseke was clearly preparing for some mass tourism…whenever it will come. Slowly, the road deteriorated more and more. It turned more into a track, although I know many tracks that would feel humiliated to be compared with THIS.
The sights were lovely, though.
We crossed a little pass and I had to notice that I felt some play in my handlebar. What was going on here? Clearly, it was getting worse and the bad road clearly revealed it. Finally we reached the town of Leskovik where a decision or action needed to be taken. In my mind, I had developed already some plan B and C, should this be a problem that couldn’t be fixed. They all involved crossing into Greece immediately, avoiding bumpy Albanian roads. However, I had an idea…; I had experienced something similar during my trip in Iran….a play in the steering that showed on bad roads. Later, it had turned out that the steering bearing was not tightened properly. Could this be the same problem here? I explained the issue to Stefan and had him riding the XBR as well. He confirmed my observation. By putting our tool boxes together, Stefan checked the steering bearing screw…and fix it, it was indeed not tightened enough! A quick test showed that this had been the problem, probably the counter screw was a bit loose and the bad road had worsened it, loosening the bearing screw that holds the bearing in place. Phew! Resolved. We could continue with plan A. With the help of the Sat Nav, I could find the road but I soon concluded that there must have been a reason why there was no indication, it should have said: „not for public use – ride at your own risk!“
The whole way down to the valley we met one couple on mules and one car who seemed happy to meet a living soul. In terms of landscape, it was worthwhile, but I was happy that the bearing was fixed, because this was the worst part on our whole trip. The thing is that you never manage to get it properly documented on pictures, so you simply need to take my word.
Down in the valley, close to the Greek border, about 90 km from Gjirokaster, we were surprised to find a road with perfect new tarmac! This was our reward after this suffering? Anyway, we enjoyed it. I did a bit less because the steering bearing was a bit too tight, something that was adjusted later after arrival. We were motivated to hurry a bit, because a large thunderstorm was forming where we just came from. After 1.5 hours and a fluent ride and good and scenic ride in two valleys, we arrived in Gjirokaster. It is listed as UNESCO heritage for its ensemble of Ottoman houses that were preserved even during the communist era. The fact that it was the birth town of Enver Hoxha may have played a role here.
The Sat Nav led me through very narrow streets, only passable for motorbikes until we arrived at our Hotel Argyropolis. It has the highest rating I have ever seen on Booking.com, a whopping 9.9 out of 10. And we were not disappointed. We were welcomed by Tatiana, the owner. What she lacked in English vocabulary, she overcompensated by kindness and hospitality. The 200 year old house had been renovated thoroughly and put in a very modern and clean state. For Albanian standards, it’s off-scale so the 9.9 rating is justified. Our room was next to the house, super clean and cozy. After an urgently needed shower, we were ready to walk to the city centre nearby. Tatiana told us to wait and to join her in the patio and returned with two glasses of water and some homemade caramelized water melon skin. Very tasty, I never had this before.
In the city, we understood why the city aspires to be the touristic centre in the region.
Old traditional houses with tiny streets….and lots of souvenir shops and sellers. This seems to be the essence of tourisms. We walked around a bit before we went to the restaurant that we had spotted in internet. We were very early and could occupy the tiny balcony in the street. Good for watching, but also prone to getting roasted by the setting sun until it disappeared behind a mountain.
The food was ok, maybe not up to the high expectations, but ok. After that we walked up to the old castle where one has a good view on the city and its location on the mountain’s flank.
We had in mind to have some concluding drink on a terrace and found a very modern, „cool“ lounge-type place with a large terrace with a spectacular 270 degrees view.
We spent the rest of the evening there and filled up our liquid reservoir, as the sweating during the day depletes you of a lot of water. The thunderstorm did not make it there, but provided some dramatic scenery. When we returned to the hotel, we discovered the even „cooler“ streets with DJ music and youngsters sitting in the streets. This was in contrast to the call of the muezzin coming from the centric mosque.
In the morning, as expected, we were greeted with a splendid view. We had our breakfast at the terrace outside with a scenic view that can match many places in the Alps.
Before crossing through Albania, we had to exit the Valbona valley again, a nice ride. When the direction of light is different and the sky is blue, the views also change. If you are used to the Alps, it’s quite beautiful, for Albanian standards it must be exceptional. Down in Bajram Curri, we took a different turn and headed south this time. Soon we passed a large water dam and followed the bends upwards above the lake.
For the next hour, we had a lot of good views on the large dam lake, riding along the flanks of the mountains. The road range was from acceptable to bad at times and we soon began to understand the Albanian road code. Well, if there is any. The unwritten part says that there are only roads, not lanes. The concept of „this is my side of the road and this is yours“ is not applicable; it omits the last part of this approach and leaves only „this is my side of the road. Period.“ In practice, you have to be prepared that an oncoming car comes flying around a corner, on YOUR side of the road where you are trying to avoid some potholes or gravel that are quite abundant. Strictly defensive riding is the only way to avoid any problems. This is not new to me. Every now and then I stopped and took some pictures.
This road turned into another one that led over mountains and valleys with scenic views. We came to a junction with a motorway (!) And rode the last kilometers to Kukës on a dual carriageway, what a contrast.
In Kukës, we learned two things. First, road signs are not needed in Albania (just like in Kosovo). The locals know the way to the next town, so there’s no need for them. Luckily, my Sat Nav worked very well and showed me the right way. Without it, Albanian cities could pose a challenge. Secondly, we had to notice that Kukës was populated by a remarkable concentration of high-end luxury cars, preferably Mercedes. If possible, in a S-Class AMG version. We were reflecting about this oddity and I came up with a possible explanation. Kukës must have a hard working, law-abiding population that takes out the fruit of its hard labour on its free Wednesday morning to proudly ride it around town, showing that diligent work does pay off. I could not think of another explanation than this one.
We filled up, paying in Euro with a correct exchange rate. We left the city on the way south and rode on some mountain roads until I spotted a new and pretty hotel with a pretty terrace. Why not making a short break with a soft drink. I checked the map and it occurred to me that me must have taken a wrong turn outside of Kukës (note: road signs can be missing outside towns as well). This is a weakness of the Garmin Zumo 590: sometimes it doesn’t take the route that makes most sense, but the one that is shortest. The road in the valley should have been the better option. We decided to risk it and to continue on the mountain road. In the end it was worth it. The road was challenging at times, but the itinerary was surely more rewarding in terms of scenic views.
In Peshkopi we were back on the main road, the Sat Nav showing me the way to exit the town again. Soon we were at North Macedonian border that was very quiet.
On the Macedonian side, I was asked for my insurance for the first time. Luckily, the „MK“ logo is not stroked through like the „AL“. On the road, we noticed immediately that the road conditions improved. No more suicidal drivers and monstrous potholes. After having passed the town of Debar, we rode fluently along a long lake, making good progress.
Here, close to the border, the road signs [sic!] were in three languages: Macedonian Cyrillic, Macedonian Latin, and Albanian. The latter mostly sprayed over.
Finally we reached the Ohrid Lake and rode through Ohrid, a popular holiday destination. The Ohrid Lake is a large lake surrounded by a mountain rim and lots of accommodation around it. One of them is the Hotel Belvedere. With views on the lake. We parked our bikes in front of the entrance, just like the VIPs as we were, and approached the reception. I remembered positively that I had made a booking for a suite with two bedrooms. It was very spacious indeed with a view on the lake. At the first look, a plush accommodation, at the second, no so much if you have an eye for details.
We had considered to extract some cold beverage from the mini bar to quench our thirst, but the amount of life forms in the small fridge and the stains on the cans made us change our mind. We moved to the restaurant terrace where we went for the safe way (bottled beer).
We switched over to dinner later, once we got hold of the young waitress that occasionally blessed the restaurant with her presence. We learned that the hotel was also the chosen place for the entire football team (name forgotten) occupying the third place of the Kosovar Superleague.
The downed the Kosovar Rakija from the monastery on our large balcony later.
Although we could get our breakfast only at 8 a.m. again, we managed to leave at 9 a.m. We descended to the Tara Canyon, the second deepest in the world after the Grand Canyon. It is the largest and deepest canyon in Europe, which is for the most part located in Montenegro, and to a smaller extent in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We stopped at the Đurđevića Tara Bridge that was built between 1937 and 1940 in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The 365-metre-long (1,198 ft) bridge has five arches; the largest span is 116 metres (381 ft). The roadway stands 172 metres (564 ft) above the Tara River. At the time of its completion, it was the biggest vehicular concrete arch bridge in Europe. It is still very impressive today:
We followed the canyon and had some great views, although it is difficult to stop at the best ones. The waters are spectacularly green and clear. For the next 40 km, there was no settlement or even hamlet, just the canyon and a good road. Fantastic.
The landscape after this was less spectacular, but still beautiful. We rolled slowly through the green countryside and enjoyed the morning. Then I had missed a turn and pointed to Stefan to turn left. I heard a crashing noise behind me and saw man and machine on the ground. He slipped on some sand when he wanted to turn. But luckily it is a BMW GS with crash bars so no harm done to rider nor steed apart from a few scratches. It showed, however, that carrying gloves even in hot weather is still a good idea. In Rozaje, we filled up tactically to have enough juice for the whole day. We rode up some densely wooded mountains and arrived at a pretty abandoned border post. The Montenegrin side took it slow, the Kosovan side as well. It’s good to have some quiet border crossings as well. We had to buy some insurance for the Kosovo which required some patience and explanations to the clerk but we succeeded and we were now owners of a very colorful piece of paper for 10 Euros. Before that, we had to pass a herd of cows that shared the road with us. Their cowboy said that he had lived in Augsburg for 30 years. It’s a small world.
While decending, the Kosovan plain was right in front of us. We sat down under a tree, had a little break and enjoyed the view. .
This was the only picture I took in Kosovo and later it will turn out why. We carried on and arrived at the city of Pejë. The towns we crossed were bursting with life, a lost of recent progress seems to have been made. People have come a long way, it is a weird mix between old and new, it reminded me of the situation in Eastern Europe in the nineties. The was one special place to visit according to the Lonely Planet guide: The Visoki Dečani Monastery. Luckily, my Sat Nav found the way, roadsigns seems to be really absent in the area. When we approached the monastery, we had to pass a check point (!) by the…..KFOR! It began to dawn on me that this could be a political issue. The monastery is Serbian orthodox, surrounded by ethnic Albanian Kosovars. I had a look in the guide. Indeed, I was right. The KFOR is the peacekeeping force of NATO members stationed in Kosovo after the Kosovo war in 1999. From Widipedia:
The Visoki Dečani Monastery is a medieval Serbian Orthodox Christian monastery located near Dečani, Kosovo. It was founded in the first half of the 14th century by Stefan Dečanski, King of Serbia. In 2004, the monastery was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO) as “an irreplaceable treasure, a place where traditions of Romanesque architecture meet artistic patterns of the Byzantine world.”
Albanian civilians seeking refuge in the monastery returned to their homes following the withdrawal of Serbian military from Kosovo in June 1999. An Italian unit of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) was subsequently assigned to guard the monastery, which was attacked on several occasions. Since 1999, attacks on the Monastery have increased, there have been five significant attacks and near miss attacks on the monastery.Wikipedia, Visoki Dečani
Suddenly we were reminded of this frozen conflict that is pretty much forgotten in Central Europe. We found the entrance to the monastery that was guarded by a heavily shielded check point. We were friendly asked by a soldier to park opposite on the parking lot. At the gate, I chatted a bit with the Italian soldiers, but they were well trained and gave diplomatic answers about their mission and the situation in general. We had to leave our passports and received a visitor badge. After that, we could enter the small, walled area. The church is not so big, but it does indeed have a byzantine touch about it. The next pictures are all from the internet, no photographs were allowed.
We entered the churched and were immediately stunned by the quantity of the frescos that covered all the high walls. We were asked about our whereabouts and the friendly man started to tell us something about the church’s history. This developed into an interesting talk, partly speaking in code because our conversation touched politically and historically sensitive subjects, such as the founding of the monastery by the Serbians, the Battle of Kosovo (Schlacht auf dem Amselfeld) in 1389, the role of Kosovo in Serbian history, the Balkan War in 1912 etc. It was a very good background given from a more Serbian point of view.
In the monastery shop, I purchased two Rakija (“Grappa”) from the monastery for late use. When walking back to the parking, I was thinking about this absurd situation that represents the complicated entanglement of “ethical” relations in the whole region of the Balkans. Croats vs. Bosniaks vs. Serbs vs. Kosovars/Albanians vs. Macedonians vs. Bulgarians…. what a mess.
We rode towards the mountains and the border, this was a only a very short visit to the Kosovo. Shortly before the border, a very ambitious Golf III overtook Stefan, but he wouldn’t overtake me as well, would he? Well, he managed in the last 20 m before the checkpoint! Wow! A first glimpse what was ahead of us in Albania. The border checks were quick and my question where I could buy an insurance was met with an indecipherable grunt that probably meant “I don’t know/who cares/please leave/don’t embarrass me”. The first town we crossed looked different from the other countries we had visited so far. A tad less developed. I thought to have even spotted an old monument of the Enver Hoxha era.
We entered the Valbona valley, probably one of the best natural beauties in Albania.
The Valbona Valley National Park is a national park inside the Albanian Alps in northern Albania. The park covers a total area of 80 km2, encompassing Valbona River and its surrounding areas with mountainous terrain, alpine landscapes, glacial springs, deep depressions, various rock formations, waterfalls and the Valbona Valley with its dense coniferous and deciduous forest. It is characterized by its very remote areas which have a large preserved ecosystem all of which is primarily untouched with pristine quality. This vast pristine ecosystem is the centrepiece of what has been referred to as the Albanian Miracle of the Alps.Wikipedia
The views were indeed spectacular. A deep valley and high mountains. Clear rivers. Definitively Alpine. But not something you would expect at this latitude.
I had reserved a room in a hotel at the very end of the valley, reachable by a bumpy piste after 1 km. The place was modern and clean and after stowing our luggage, we went back to the XBR to fix the play in the sprocket/rim/damper. By working hand in hand, we quickly removed the back wheel, cut some rubber stripes out of the rubber mat I bought in Dubrovnik and placed the pieces to reinforce the rubber damper, thereby reducing the play. The whole work lasted less than 20 min. I also exchanged the spark plug and topped out the chain lubricant, service done!
After a well-deserved shower, we occupied a large table with gorgeous mountain views, accompagnied by some quenching beers. We ordered dinner and the young waiter who spoke some German elegantly made us order more and more until the large table really made sense. It was all very good and we managed to eat almost all of it. After all, we have no lunch breaks so the stomachs are pretty empty.
Later in the room, I tried to write my report and upload the pictures, but I did not succeed. This means my reports will be a bit delayed from now on.
The downside of a late breakfast only served at 8 a.m. is that you leave very late, to be confirmed again today. We took off at 9:30 when the sun was high and the temperature as well. The view from our small room overlooked the harbour, not so bad. Outside Dubrovnik, there was a scenic look back:
I tried to wait as much as possible to fill up, in the end it was shortly before the border. To my surprise, the consumption was below 5L/100 km (over 47 mpg), demonstrating the relaxed riding style the day before. Soon we arrived at the border with Montenegro, having to queue for a while at the Croatian post and the same at the second check point with the Montenegrin police. I took a deep breath and remembered the border crossing from hell to Russia. Compared to that, this was nothing. We entered Montenegro and realised that the living standard was not so high than in Croatia, but still remarkable. The downside was the slow traffic.The plan was to ride the whole Bay of Kotor, but taking the ferry seemed to be the better option. Not only to make up some time, but to see the mighty mountain range that forms the background of the fjord. We took the ferry to the other side of the Bay, a nice change.
This was indeed a good idea. Opposite of the mountain rim, we could see the massive geological formation and ride through the small villages until we reached the town of Kotor.
The traffic jam in Kotor did not pose a huge problem for us and soon we climbed up the hairpins above Kotor, occasionally climbing up “goat tracks” as shortcuts. The traffic was hilarious: Camper vans, trucks and even tourist coaches tried to share a road that often was not more than five meters wide. Hairpin by hairpin the road went higher and the view on the Bay of Kotor was nothing short of being called “spectacular”.
The hairpin would not end and up on the mountain, we had the full one view on the Bay of Kotor and the full coastline:
The small road turned into a wide, new road and higher and higher we rode until we arrived at a scenic spot on the top of a mountain. Here, the Mausoleum of Njegoš is located, interring Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, located on the top of Mount Lovćen. He was a Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, poet and philosopher whose works are widely considered some of the most important in Montenegrin and Serbian literature. The path or rather a tunnel to the mausoleum on the top of a mountain seems a bit megalomanic. A long tunnel with more than 400 steps leads to the tomb and a statue of 28 tons of granite.
A bit “too much” for my taste. Anyway, the views were fantastic and before leaving, I downed a large glass of freshly pressed orange juice. It was already rather late and our next stop was far away. We returned to the heat in the plains and passed by Podgorica, the capital. It was bloody hot again (35 degrees) but we tried to escape the heat by riding towards the north on a new dual carriageway that was not fully opened and the traffic had to share two lanes. The system showed a disturbing lack of planning and safety measures. Weird. At least the road was in a good condition and we could make good progress. After an hour, we turned to ascend to the monastery of Ostrog, another special place for Montenegrin or Serbian sentiment. After 12 km of a tricky road, we arrived at the monastery.
The Ostrog Monastery is a monastery of the Serbian Orthodox Church situated against an almost vertical background, high up in the large rock; it is the most popular pilgrimage place in Montenegro.The sights overlooking the plain were great, the exterior is special, the interior was interesting at best. If you’re orthodox or interested in iconostasis, that is. Entering a tiny room I was almost baptized by a monk but I could retreat in time. Apparently a huge place in terms of Serbian history, but somewhat underwhelming in arts history. Or maybe I just missed the good bits.
We descended to the main road again and enjoyed the quick ride ascending into the mountains. After an hour, we arrived in the area of the Peja Canyon where we filled up and had a short break. The water in the nearby lake had a turquoise color, indicating a high concentration of loam particles.
We took the turn to the Durmitor National Park and climbed through hairpins and tunnels until we had a good overview in the area. Spectacular views, to say the least!
Soon the winding road reached a plain at 1500 m altitude with rolling hills and lots of farms in between. This was a sight I had never seen before.
A small, but decent road, no traffic, the setting sun in the back and cooler temperatures made this a hard-to-top ride in the early evening. The road went up to 1900 m altitude with a great scenery of stunning geological formations.
Beyond the highest point, the road dropped quickly, but we still had great views:
Shortly after 7 p.m., we arrived at the hotel Pavlovic, a good hotel where I had booked an apartment that now contains all our gear in different places. My socks were contaminated beyond fixing and went directly into the bin; no point carrying this toxic material for few more days. After a shower for me AND my underwear we visited the restaurant where we tried the smoked lamb. Our guess was it was more mutton than lamp but it filled our stomachs nicely together with some deserts and a very good mokka Turkish style. It is quite fresh here at 1500 m altitude, very welcome after the humid coast. Prices are reasonable here, not like at the coast. Tomorrow there will be two more countries: Kosovo and Albania.
Our breakfast fast was rather late – 8 a.m. – but our program for today was not very tight so we could afford a relaxed one. We had to carry our luggage to the fenced parking that caused my sweat to flow in streams – hot and humid mediterranean climate does that to me. The weather was – what a surprise – sunny and hot. We started rather late at a quarter to ten, after topping up the motor oil and chain lube, and left Split riding on the coastal road again. It was a detour but definitively worth it. Lots of beautiful sights, cute little bays and beaches, too many to stop every time. It is tricky to capture the atmosphere in pictures – a lot is lost there, but I think you get the idea:
We filled up again and joined the motorway again. The temperature was in the 30’s with higher humidity at the coastline. Soon we reached the border to Bosnia and Hercegovina and after a short passport control, we were in! I had planned to visit the Kravica water falls, but due to some lacking road signs, I gave up and dumped the idea. The next destination was Mostar, the notorious city known from the Yugoslavian war. It’s not very far from the, just some 50 km.
Mostar is situated on the Neretva River and is the fifth-largest city in the country. It was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva. The Old Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most visited landmarks, and is considered an exemplary piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. Two wars (Serb forces versus Bosniak and Croatian and Croat-Bosniak war) left Mostar physically devastated and ethno-territorially divided between a Croat-majority west bank (with ca. 55,000 residents) and a Bosniak-majority old City and east bank (with ca. 50,000 residents), with the frontline running parallel to the Neretva River.
Almost 30 years have passed by and the Bosnian War seems to be over a long time. However, quite a number of ruins reminded us of the past when we rode into the city. Today, Mostar centre is full of tourists and souvenir shops. We parked the bikes in the shadow, close to the pedestrian zone and locked our jackets and helmets to my bike. We strolled between numerous souvenir shops towards the Old Bridge.
The Old Bridge is unmistakenly the outstanding piece of architecture in Mostar. It stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed on 9 November 1993 by the Croatian Defense Council during the Croat–Bosniak War. Subsequently, a project was set in motion to reconstruct it; the rebuilt bridge opened on 23 July 2004. The bridge is considered an exemplary piece of Balkan Islamic architecture and was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557. Upon its completion it was the widest man-made arch in the world. Given that mosques, synagogues, and churches in Mostar were in proximity, the Old Bridge was targeted for the symbolic significance it served in connecting diverse communities.It can be considered an act of “killing memory”, in which evidence of a shared cultural heritage and peaceful co-existence were deliberately destroyed. This resembles latest developments in Ukraine where the cultural heritage is targeted as well.
We crossed the bridge to the other side and discovered some nice cafés under it with a view on the bridge and the people who were eager to join some rafting boats. A large jump into the river was also near where people jumped from 15 or 20 metres height. We found a small table in first row and enjoyed a Turkish/Bosnian Mokka.
After this relaxing break in the cool shade, we walked to our bikes and rode back, in some 35 degrees. But instead going back to the coast, we did a little detour. Bosnia owns a small strip of land at the coast that cuts the Dalmatian, Croatian coast in half. By riding directly to Neum, the Bosnian city in this enclave, we avoided to cross into Croatia, back to Bosnia, and back to Croatia again. Only one crossing to Croatia was needed.The last 50 km today were very scenic, I stopped again a few times, much more stops could happen, but I’m usually too lazy to turn around.
Well, and then, finally we arrived at King’s Landing. Oh wait, I think in this world it is called “Dubrovnik”?
We quickly found our accommodation, like yesterday a place that has a few ok rooms, but is not really a big hotel. But for our purposes it’s ok. A quick shower and we were ready to visit the Old Town of Dubrovnik, historically known as Ragusa. It is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean Sea, a seaport and the centre of Dubrovnik-Neretva County. In 1979, the city of Dubrovnik was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in recognition of its outstanding medieval architecture and fortified old town.
We walked through the narrow and wide streets and alleys, its picturesque squares. As it was already in the evening, we didn’t walk the huge ramparts on the huge wall that surrounds the old city. A genuinely marvelous city with a very special atmosphere.
I had to think of my favorite scene in GoT:
That was the right hint. We discovered this busy bar outside the wall, just over the sea with magnificent views. Time for an aperitif!
After that, we want back to that yard that we had seen before, looking great. We had some salad and grilled calamari, very delicious.
Cozy. On our way back to the hotel, we criss-crossed the old town and enjoyed the lower temperatures. No fire-breathing dragons anywhere in sight!
Luckily, our rooms have airco again. Tomorrow, the new country will be: Montenegro (Црна Гора).
We started the day early – off to breakfast at 7 a.m. It was surprisingly good and we had a good start in the day. We packed our stuff and at 8:15 we sat on the bikes and wanted to set off – I started the motor, released the clutch – and heard a terrible sound from the front! I remembered that I had tested my lock yesterday and had put it around the front wheel. Well, the cracking sound resulted in a damaged front fender that was totally broken and even ripped out of its screws on the left side. Fantastic! Only two meters travelled and already a damaged bike! We assessed the situation – this looked bad. I came up with the idea to fix everything with some gaffer tape – not beautiful, but effective. But there is another advantage when you travel with the best mechanic on this side of the Mississippi: Stefan came up with the idea to heat a screwdriver with a lighter and to burn two wholes in the plastic of the fender, fixing it to the underlying fender frame with zip ties. A very bold idea…
And it worked! Wow! Rock stable. With only 15 minutes delay, we headed off. On the motorway and off to Slovenia. But before, we filled up and wanted to purchase a vignette for the Slovenian highways. Only possible online. For the next 10 minutes, I arranged to book with my smartphone two vignettes for us. The weather was splendid today. We passed the Karawanken mountains in the tunnel and rolled through Slovenia. Easy going, we were not in a hurry. Around Ljubljana there was some heavy traffic that required some filtering. We had decided not to ride the whole day on motorways but to do some shortcuts on secondary roads. The first one was rather slow – lots of traffic and little chances to overtake. We passed the Croatian border, did a short break and descended to Rijeka on a good motorway. There, the Adriatic Mediterranean welcomed us with fantastic weather. Hot, but not too hot, blue skies and fantastic views. Soon we left the motorway behind us and rode on the coastal road No 8. There was still quite some traffic but the views were fantastic, postal card quality. In Novi Vinodolski, I had to stop and take some pictures.
In Senj, we had to fill up and combined it with a short break. I needed a snack, enjoying the great view from the petrol station. After Senj, the road turned into a fantastic ride: little traffic, gorgeous views, mostly good tarmac and nice bends. A scenic motorbiking dream. I rode a bit faster to occasionally stop and take pictures. This was so much better than the motorway!
Shortly after picturesque Karlobag we stopped for a break for a scenic view. This road made it directly into my top ten of motorcycle roads. The 150 km between Senj and Zadar are highly recommended!
It was quite hot, above 30 degrees, but when riding it was ok. Even the best flow has to end and near Zadar we joined the motorway again. The next hour was rather boring and I checked whether a detour along the coast would cost us a lot of time. It would so I dumped the plan again. With 30 km to go, we exited and took a road to the coast, descending to the blue coast again. With our today’s destination (Split) in sight, I spotted a larger-than-life ad of Bauhaus, the big DIY shop. I set my Sat Nav to this location as I had a cunning plan. When putting the rear wheel back in the bike, I realized that the rubber dampers in the rear wheel are quite worn, resulting in a large play. Not always fun to accelerate. In the shop, I purchased a rubber mat, a cutter knife and some clue. Should I get too annoyed by the play, I could add some rubber to the damper.
Some minutes later, we would arrive at the rented room – so we thought. But the place was located in a small street that seemed to be inaccessible for motorized traffic. After some turns, I walked to the place and met the landlord. We could push the bikes there and check in. We were shown the locked parking later. It is a nice room in an old building, one of the few that was left a few days ago, considering the centric location. After the shower and the washing of the riding underwear, we walked through the old town, that is dominated by the old palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian:
What was a bit off-putting was the sheer quantity of people in the streets. How does this look like in August???
In the end we place that our landlord recommended to us – a very authentic place, not so touristic like many others. Not fancy, but the food was very good. We had octopus salad for starters and sea bream and Cevapcici for main course. Simple, but very tasty.
The price however was not traditional, but very much adapted to the new reality in town. Wow.
We walked back through the harbour promenade, wondering where all the people came from. Party time!
Today, we went through Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. Tomorrow, we’ll make a detour through Bosnia. A new country.
It is time for another little adventurous trip. It’s only a short one, but like the trip to Japan, it was postponed for some years, in this case due to the Pandemic. Three years ago, my mate Stefan and I decided to do a trip together, the concept was fairly simple: visit the white spots (aka unvisited countries) on my motorbiking map. In this case, this means Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and North Macedonia. Not in three weks. Nor two weeks, no. We plans to do it in 9 days, which is equivalent to one country per day. And of course I ride with my trusted steed, i.e. the old Honda XBR500 with 397.000 km on the clock.
After leaving the fair in Munich where I worked this week, I returned to my place in Miesbach and changed gear considerably. I left shortly after 5 p.m. in showery rain and picked up Stefan. We filled up and set off for our first long ride together in four years. Our old ladies (a 1985 XBR and a 88 R100GS) go slow, but steady. We had decided to do a short trip in the evening of about 280 km that would save us some riding the next day; we passed Salzburg and crossed the Alps on the Tauernautobahn direction south. We had put on our rain gear at home and finally we passed some strong showers; riding in the sunshine in full rain gear does look somewhat stupid. In the end we profited from our anticipation.
After 2.5 hours we reached our destination for today, Villach in Carinthia. The hotel is “no frills” near the station but ok. We walked a short distance to a nice brewery where we had some good beers and good local food. Tomorrow the heat will start and rain gears won’t be needed for a while.
Should you be interested in checking the GPS track: https://new.spotwalla.com/trip/7ded-65eee9b-cf5f/view?p=Balkan
Sometimes I seem to have good ideas. In this case, it was based on my ability for pattern recognition. I had to do two business trips and some time later a trip to my house in Bavaria. Hmmm, couldn’t I combine these? And then there was this Ride to Eat in Portugal. Hmmm…Portugal was a white spot on my motorbiking map. And there was the Magic 12 rally in Western Germany…
Then I had this plan to combine everything.
Well, I combined two business meetings at the Lago Maggiore and in Valencia by riding with my old XBR500. It was a smooth ride and I was really lucky with the weather. I stayed with family in Valencia and on one day, I went out for a ride with my XBR buddy Johannes, who was by coincidence on a motorbike vacation in the area. I showed him my favorite biking/motorbiking roads north of Valencia. We had a really nice day out in perfect weather.
I left the bike in Valencia and returned by airplane. One week later, I returned to Valencia by plane and the next morning I set off for the Ride to Eat meeting in Portugal. I set off at 6 a.m. at some cool 14 degrees. The motorway climbed up to the Utiel Requena region and it started to get chilly. I stopped and put on my sweater. Hmmm, only 5 degrees now. While riding to Madrid, I hoped that the sun would soon warm up Castilla….which it didn’t. When I was west of Madrid, I stopped in bright sunshine and put on my rain suit! There was a nasty cold wind that made me shiver all the time. The rain suit at least protected me from the windchill. Close to the Portuguese border, I stopped in Ciudad Rodrigo, looking for a place to eat. I had not remembered that Portugal is in another time zone so I had another hour to get to the meeting point. By coincidence, I passed by the local Parador in the old town overlooking the plain. Hm, why not. I had some suckling pig (famous in the area) and when I left the restaurant, it was finally warm outside. Before reaching the border, I noticed that the sparse Castilian plain turned into a green land with many bushes, trees and shrubbery. The motorway in Portugal was of excellent quality. I had to book into the automatic toll system that works with number plate recognition (!) The landscape was lovely now and I finally warmed up in the Portuguese sun.
I exited the motorway in Covilhã and was surprised by this neat town situated at the bottom of the Serra de Estrela mountains. The views were very nice, what a difference after the Castilian plains. And the road was very winding and in a good state, this felt a bit like in the Alps!
Higher and higher went the until I reached the highest point in Portugal: Torre in the centre of the Serra da Estrela, just under 2000 m altitude. And there was already the rest of the pack: riders from UK, the Netherlands, Germany and other countries, meeting at 4 p.m. sharp for the group picture of the “European Ride to Eat”, that happens at a special place anywhere in Europe. This time it was in Portugal and a good excuse for me to visit the country: it was a white spot for the XBR, I had never been to Portugal on a motorbike before! After the group picture, we headed downwards to the Hotel in Manteigas where we all stayed for the night.
On the way down I had swapped my new notebook with the one from Tommy who had given me the idea to use it for navigation. It’s a big bricking the front, but it gives the option of using nivation apps (Waze, Maps) in real time. It worked quite well on this first trip, but while riding the tablet does not charge. The swap confirmed that it was not a problem of the tablet; Tommy’s tablet showed the same problem. My conclusion was that the vibrations of the XBR make the flexible contacts oscillate which results in a bad connection. When the motor is switched off, the tablet charges normally.
After checking in, I discovered an unexpected rider: it was John Young who’d not beet at the meeting point as he had overslept 😆. We had a chat before I checked the shower in my room. The hotel was a very elegant spa with its own fountains. A great pick. This was also confirmed by the good buffet dinner. We had a good evening with a lot of good conversations. After a relaxed breakfast the next morning I left very late at 10:30 a.m. (well, actually at 11:30 Spanish time). I did a little detour and enjoyed the plush landscape and the picturesque villages. I was reminded of riding in Northern Italy and concluded that I definitively have to return to Portugal for some proper riding.
Soon I reached the Spanish border and was back in flat Spain. I filled up in Salamanca and turned north. Only when I turned east and followed the Ebro river, the landscape changed for the better. I was in the Rioja region now and liked to ride through the rolling hills. Mental note: a trip to La Rioja is on the wish list for a long time already.
I made good progress on my route to the Pyrenees. My idea was to visit Andorra the next day. Why? Because the XBR had not been there, so….Earlier, I had managed to book a hotel in Lleida for the night, using the tablet. This might sound scary, but actually it is easy during a slow motorway cruise. I ride quite relaxed on the old XBR that is only a few kilometers short of 400.000 km. 120 km/h is usually the right speed that makes the old lady feel comfortable. I had a moment of suspense when there was no petrol station when I needed one. But in the end you need to have patience. Finally I arrived in Lleida and checked into the prebooked hotel.
I had selected it for its good reviews of its restaurant. You can understand my disappointment when I heard it was closed on Sundays! It was difficult to find an open restaurant; in the end I visited a Chinese-Korean-Japanese restaurant called “Himalaya”…where I was the only guest. I ordered a Japanese classic – Ramen with Gyoza that was actually quite alright. My plan to have some nice Catalan dinner had to be postponed. On the way back to the hotel through the sleepy town I had to make a detour; I was stopped by a policeman who suggested to take another route. Apparently, a big police squad was doing a raid. Not so sleepy as I thought then.
After a good night’s rest without a breakfast, I left Lleida at 8 a.m. and headed north. I enjoyed riding through the soft, green hills, a true pleasure. I made good progress and decided in Ponts to have a classic breakfast in a roadside bar: un cafè amb llet i dos croissants, si us plau! I had a long day ahead of me, so I needed a solid foundation for the day.
I spured the XBR, but the closer I got to Andorra, the more cars with Andorran plates (Porsches, Jags, BMWs) passed me. And not just by a small margin. They seemed to be drawn by a strong, invisible force towards their home principality.
Very often I did not manage to stop when there was a magnificent view, but sometimes I was able to stop the flow:
Finally I arrived in Andorra where I filled with “cheap” petrol. Cheaper, that is. Andorra la Vella is really a special thing, like any other micro states. Only a small patch of land, but the fancy buildings indicate that a lot of money is parked here. I had planned to stop and to visit a wine shop. I wanted to acquire a souvenir from Spain. The shop had an exquisite selection of fine wines from Spain and France, top notch. In the end a bottle of yummy Valbuena was stowed away in my panniers. I decided not to ride over the pass, but through the tunnel towards the French border, I still had a long way to go on that day. After a chilly ride with the mountain tops covered in snow, I crossed the border and descended into France. although I still had to ride on country roads, I made good progress and joint the motorway again near Carcassonne.
The route northwards was simple: follow the A9 along the Mediterranean and the Rhone valley. A petrol and snack stop near Bezières. I planned to stay anywhere near Lake Geneva, best on the French side to avoid pricy Switzerland. However, a lack of vacancies made me rethink this. North of Geneva, only few places were still available, so I booked one with good evaluations. It did not have a restaurant, so I thought to have a stopover before. Unfortunately, it turned out that Monday evening in Switzerland is the equivalent to Sunday evenings in Lleida: everything closed.
In the end I had to visit the only place that was open: a Chinese restaurant! So no Swiss dinner tonight. Well, the Chinese food was ok and with a full stomach I tried to find the hotel. Hotel? In a residential area?? Let’s check…no, the address is correct! But this is a private home? I rang the bell and was welcomed by the landlady. I had booked a room in a private house! Slowly I realized that the place was listed as “chambre d’hôte”. Private room. Ok, no problem, any hotel would be more expensive. The lady was very friendly and served me a beer with snacks. The place was cosy and in the morning, the charming host served a spectacular breakfast on the little balcony with views on the Lake Geneva and the Mont Blanc.
I was well fed for the last stint to my home place in Miesbach, Bavaria. In finest sunshine, I cruised across Switzerland to Lindau. I decided to avoid motorways and chose the roads close to the mountains. It was quite fast, and in the early afternoon I arrived on home soil. Before arriving at my house, I had to make a stopover at one of the most beautiful places in Bavaria: Kaltenbrunn over the Lake Tegernsee.
After this relaxing initiation I rode to my home place where I spent some relaxing days. This is best done in some nice weather, for example like this:
Of course I also some important things to do. Last year, I had purchased a tuned motor from a Honda NX650 Dominator with the intention to replace the 600cc motor in the grey café racer XBR with it. 680cc instead 600cc instead 500cc. Higher displacement and a hot cam shaft. My mate Stefan had swapped the engines some weeks ago, the idea was now to install an oil cooler to keep the temperature at bay. On one day, Stefan took care of it and organized a new oil hose as the provided one did not offer a proper position. In the end, the result was very satisfactory, everything looked fine.
There’s no replacement for displacement.Honda XBR680
I did a short test ride and the set-up seemed to work, the power is flabbergasting. Everything was tight, no leaks, no issues. So this meant that Stefan and I had to go on a longer, proper test ride the next Sunday. We did nice tour to the Lake Chiemsee and back. I soon noticed that there was something…different. The revolutions of the motor did not match the usual pattern. It was difficult to ride with less than 3000 rpm in the small gears, difficult in 4th under 4000 prm und impossible in 5th gear. The rpms in 4th gear at a certain speed were lower than normally in 5th! What was wrong here? The gear ratio was completely off!
The Dominator has a 15 teeth front sprocket, a 45 rear sprocket and a 520 chain. The XBR has a 15 teeth front sprocket, a 36 rear sprocket and a 525 chain. So I had ordered a Dominator 15 teeth front sprocket, a 36 rear sprocket with XBR geometry and a 520 chain. Seemed logical.
What I didn’t have in mind was the primary gear ratio of the motor. I discovered that both XBR and NX motors are totally different. With the help of a calculator website and the data from the internet I could confirm my observations. I also could calculate what the right ratio would be. I ordered a set on the internet only to find out later that for this rear sprocket (15/46 teeth) I had overlooked to check for the right geometry (right inner diameter and right bolt circle, but wrong bolt diameter). Right, cancel it. However, there was no sprocket with 15/46 to be found, only a 13/39 combination. According to the calculator, this should be similar. I ordered it with the aim to receive it before I would return north the next weekend. Good plan, but I didn’t count with the bad performance of the parcel delivery. It arrived far too late and left me no option than to do the Magic 12 rally, situated in the federal state of Northrhine Westphalia with this gear ration, an unpleasant ride. On the way up to my individual starting place, I noticed the strong pulling of the chain, caused by the wrong gear ratio. This was not good. I could ride in fifth gear above 130 km/h, but it was not smooth. In the hotel I checked again my well designed plan; we had received the data some days earlier. It was a good plan, potentially a winning plan. Visiting lots of places plus a lot of extra points taking pictures of town signed whose first letters would form the name NORDRHEIN WESTFALEN. All set.
I got up a four and started the 12 hour rally with a petrol receipt at 5 a.m. There was not a lot of traffic in the morning when I whooshed though the country side. The motor does have a lot of oomph, indeed. I visited the storm-stricken town of Paderborn, there a tornado had one day before destroyed the centre of the town. I had passed the storm not far from it; it was so scary that I had considered stopping. In the morning, lots of trees were bent. Ironically, the plaque that had to be photographed was still there.
Some places were special and I was riding in the countryside, avoiding the slower parts of the Ruhrgebiet. When do you meet a statue to remember a pig race?
I was way ahead of my plan and soon there would be the mandatory lunch rest. I noticed that the chain had some slack and I planned to tighten it during the break. When I wanted to do. it, I noticed that the rear wheel had some lateral play!! Aaaaargh! What the….!!!! This was it? I still had some hours to go and there was no shortcut to the finish. So I only could hope for the best and continue my plan. Which I did. I rode very carefully for one hour and visit quite some places, but, I was skeptical if I could make it. At a certain point I had to make decision. I stopped and checked the play. It got worse. And the hub of the rim was bloody hot.
Alright. That’s it. This rally was not so important to risk my life for it. I checked my options and phoned a car rental in nearby Siegen. Luckily they had a Mercedes Sprinter left and one hour later I rode the XBR into the van. On the way home, I informed the rally master and went through my options.
I still had an old XBR in the shed that I could cannibalise…I could fix it and return the next day as promised. So I did. After return to Belgium, I pulled the spare XBR out of the shed and removed the rear wheel. Then I did the same with the grey XBR. The wheel play was spectacular. When I removed the axle, removed the wheel and inspected the parts, the problem evident: the wheel bearing cages were destroyed, but the problem had probably started somewhere else: the sprocket wheel bearing. It had given in first which resulted in a play between sprocket base and the rim. Slowly, it destroyed the bearing completely and damaged also the wheel bearings.
With the help of the spare parts bike, I managed to exchange everything, the bike was ready to go again. The next morning, I returned to Siegen and returned to Belgium on the XBR. I learned that that my plan would have been sufficient for first place, but I have won so many rallies that it doesn’t matter. Safety first.
Later, I finally discovered a website that would sell the right rear sprocket with the right geometry. I purchased it and today I replaced the whole kit.
This seems to be the right gear ratio now, the bike seems to ride “normal” in the first short test. All in all, a fantastic bike. My explanation is the the wrong sprocket resulted in a permanent pulling of the chain that made the sprocket bearing surrender. Not a bike for the long haul like the black one, but fantastic for short, intense rides in the Alps. That’s the main purpose.
In the meantime, I had some issues with the K1600GT’s front. But this for another story.
The breakfast in the super-expensive hotel was the best so far in Iceland. Well, it better be, the hotel was all right, but the price is not. It is clear that Iceland is expensive, but this pricing is shameless, taking profit of the tourist boom. I did not know that this would be topped in the evening….
So the plan was to get to the ferry harbour with a little bit of detours and many sightseeing stops. Most of the first destinations were close, at the Myvatn lake. I removed all the double layers of clothes, for today I would be walking a lot (in the end it was something like 5 km!). I started with the biggest exercise first, the Hverfall, an ancient volcano that exploded and left a very particular crater. I walked up to the rim and decided that this would be enough, the walk on the rim would be more than two kilometers, not so nice in motorbike gear. I took my pictures and descended again. The view was really great.
The next stop was only a few minutes away, a place called Dimmuborgir. The area is composed of various volcanic caves and rock formations, reminiscent of an ancient collapsed citadel (hence the name). The Dimmuborgir area consists of a massive, collapsed lava tube formed by a lava lake flowing in from a large eruption. As the lava flowed across the wet sod, the water of the marsh started to boil, the vapour rising through the lava forming lava pillars from drainpipe size up to several meters in diameter. As the lava continued flowing towards lower ground in the Mývatn area, the top crust collapsed, but the hollow pillars of solidified lava remained. The lava lake must have been at least 10 meters deep, as estimated by the tallest structures still standing.
I chose the second shortest itinerary that led through the bizarre formations. There is a cave where in winter you can meet the Yule Lads, the Island version of Coca Cola’s Santa Claus. They are a group of 13 mischievous pranksters who steal from or harass the population and all have descriptive names that convey their favorite way of harassing. They come to town one by one during the last 13 nights before Christmas (Yule). They leave small gifts in shoes that children have placed on window sills, but if the child has been disobedient they instead leave a potato in the shoe.
The next stop was a bit in the north, I had to queue a little bit to step down into the small cave called Grjótagjá. Its popularity has probably increased as it was, like Dimmuborgir, a filming spot of GoT. But apart from that, it is really a very beautiful cave filled with hot water. Bathing is forbidden, as temperatures could suddenly spike and maybe kill some of the abundant tourists. Not good for business. Talking of business, in Iceland, all natural sightseeing spots are for free. Other countries would try to make a fortune by asking admission fees. Here, this is achieved by other means.
My sightseeing at the Myvatn lake was finished. Now some riding was due. My tank was pretty full, but I filled up to have some peace of mind, petrol stations would be scarce today. The next attraction was not very far way, though. Next to the main road, there was the area called Hverarönd. It is a prototype of such areas, consisting of stinking steam vents, solfataras and boiling mud pits. The whole area is metamorphosed by the geothermal activity and thick deposits of silica, gypsum and sulphur cover the ground. One has to be very careful crossing such areas, because the thin crust might brake. There is an intense smell of various sulphuric compounds; it reminded of my basic chemistry studies, when the courses on inorganic analysis would require the use of hydrogen sulfide that was bubbled through the samples. We students spent months in this nice odour. Those were the days!
After some more riding, I had to leave the Ring Road and ride 25 km to the north where I parked the bike and walked, together with a lot of other tourists, to the Dettifoss waterfall. This was really worth the long walk, an impressive fall. As the water was very muddy, I wonder if the high temperatures lead to an increased melting of the central Icelandic glaciers.
It was midday, but there were no facilities except toilets at the parking, so I hoped for some café along the road. About 30 minutes later, I saw a sign “coffee and cake, 3 km”, pointing to a place away from the Ring Road. I was not really in the mood for cake, but I hoped they had something else as well. So I took the turn. I rode for about 4 km on a terrible washboard track, leading to some houses. It took me a while before I spotted the “hotel” on one door and “coffee” on the other. Closed! The sole cyclist who looked tired and thirsty was surely more disappointed than I was, I could at least quickly get way from this deserted place. After doing the washboard again, of course.
The landscape was very arid now, but beautiful.
Finally there was a small café next to the road, actually quite cozy. I ordered a typical lamb soup that was very tasty.
The road ascended to 600 m now and I realized that the warm period was over. I was on a high plateau where the temperature dropped to 14ºC. After a while, I had to get the inner jacket liner out of the pannier. The whole day, temperatures did not rise again. Back in the east, real Icelandic temperatures reminded me how lucky I was the last days. I descended towards Egilstađir, the largest town in the east. I filled up, bought a pastry in a supermarket and warmed up again a bit. I was underdressed for these temperatures.The last 25 km to the ferry port in Seyđisfjörđur were even more chilly. I realized that this the highest point of the whole trip (630 m) and the same weather and temperature welcomed me back (foggy and 8ºC at the pass and clear and 14ºC at the fjord). I checked into the Hotel Aldan, i.e. the room is in a different building.
Before that, I quickly walked through the centre of the village…
After having a shower in my “room”, I concluded that this was one of the largest rip-offs ever. An old room of 5 square meters (sic), almost no hot water in the shower and an almost inexistent internet connection…OK, it is clean, but this is a joke. Not the place as such, but it’s at least 100 % overpriced for international standards. Highwaymen?
I went back to the main building for dinner and I must say that the food and service was very good. My last dinner in Iceland….
Tomorrow morning I will embark the ferry back to Denmark and make a concluding report when I’m back at home. It was a short trip, but the right time!
After the simple breakfast I left the hotel in Laugar that had been my home for two nights. The hotel was ok, its personnel was – let’s say authentic and a bit on the robust side. Most of the guests are from Iceland, so that seems to be just right for this purpose. I set off at nine and had to go south again before I could turn eastwards. On this short distance, I overtook a camper van and realized that it was Martin, the guy that I had missed yesterday! I waved and stopped in the next village. What a coincidence! Did I already say “it’s a small world”?
Martin took out his foldable chairs, made tea and we sat there for 45 min, discussing our past, present and future plans. When Martin is not traveling around the world, he is working as a professional tour guide, like right now, herding some other camper vans in a trip around Iceland.
As I wrote yesterday, we met under funny conditions on a road in the outback in Zambia in 2011 and were sporadically in contact through FB ever since. He told me he sold his old Honda Africa Twin – but plans to buy a “younger” one instead. What a nice encounter!
“You meet the nicest people on a Honda”Honda (1964)
We parted and on the road that should bring me back to the ring road, I had to do 20 km gravel. No problem, I’m getting the hang of it. The next stop was planned since yesterday, in Stađir I met Karin and her husband who are on a long trip with their van. I know Karin from the GB500/XBR500 scene and the meetings for many years and thinking what is the probability to meet here….did I already happen to mention that “it’s a small world”?
We had a nice chat and exchanged experiences and plans – again, I seem to be the exception, going around the island clockwise, everybody else seems to do it the other way around.
The motto of the car is ‘Hakuna Matata’ – I like that!
I continued my ride and started to discover the northern coast. After all the spectacular views and pictures of the past days, it is difficult for Iceland to keep the level that high – but I it still a nice scenery, but I noticed that I stopped less to take a picture. My plan was to reach Sauđarkrókur around lunch time. The XBR was running happily, humming its tune. It was getting warm now, the predictions of the Icelandic weather service are really spot on! I stopped at a spot called Þristapar where the last execution was carried out in Iceland in 1830. Apparently, the news had not yet travelled to Iceland that chopping off heads and putting them on pikes for display wasn’t really en vogue anymore in other parts of the world. The story seems to be well known as there is also a love story behind it.
I realized that I had done a miscalculation – yesterday, my prepayment at the pump resulted in a not completely full tank – something I had not thought of anymore. But as the XBR’s consumption is reliably low, I reached Sauđarkrókur without any problems. I filled up and weighed the options to have something for lunch. The “Hard Wok Café” (sic) seemed to be the best option. I didn’t want to have a large fusion wok dish for lunch so I ordered some humble fried noodles.
I sat outside in the sun and decided to remove the inner liner of the jacket for the rest of the day – I felt roasted in the sun! Remember what I said in the beginning – if there’s a tropical heat wave in Iceland, I’ll still have the space to store away the surplus clothes. This just was happening! I had temperatures between 19 and 22 degrees Celsius in the afternoon, here’s the proof of it:
I rode along the beautiful Skagafjord and reached the Northernmost tip of the trip: next stop North Pole…
I reached the old “herring capital” of Iceland – Siglufjörđur. I visited the Herring Museum that explains the vibrant history of the town. The town grew up around the herring industry that was very strong in the 1940s and 1950s. The number of inhabitants amounted to 146 in 1901 and to 3.015 in 1950, and back to 1.806 in 1989. Herring fishing declined considerably after 1970, and the herring processing plants were closed. Today Herring fishing is no longer productive in the region. The museum explains the living and working conditions of people involved in the business.
I was considering if I should stay a bit longer or to try to get to Akureyri to visit the Icelandic Motorcycle Museum before it closed. Yes, let’s try that! An hour later, I rolled through the second largest Icelandic town – Akureyri. I still had half an hour to visit the small, but particular museum. Lots of “rare” exhibits, such as the home built bike with a ship engine, an old Henderson rebuilt from a scrapyard-piece-of-iron, a Hercules Wankel, old Triumphs and Hondas…
I checked into the pricey hotel and took care of the dinner reservation – conveniently, it was just over the street (Rub23) and was a recommendation from Viktor, a mate I am playing Floorball with and who gave me a lot of tips for the tour. It’s his hometown, so he should know best.
I had an aperitif on the hotel’s terrace, planning the next day when I discovered something that freaked me out for a second. My right elbow felt strange…and it looked funny! A massive bulge was hanging on my elbow! I had immediately an idea and a quick check on the internet confirmed my suspicion – this was a bursitis! I never had one in my life, at least not in the elbow. I went through the options – I did not have an accident or a wound there – so it must be from overstraining. But what could be the cause? Well, there is one obvious one that gave me problems in Russia – the aftermarket carburetor spring is very strong and requires a lot of force – I could feel some strain in the lower arm, but nothing compared to Russia. At least I’m carrying the tool again (cramp buster), that should help a lot. The good news is that there no strong inflammation and no pain.
I directed my attention away from it – the restaurant was waiting. I ordered the full monty, a six-course menu with the “freshest products” they had, accompanied by selected wines. Sushi is very prominent on the menu – no wonder, after all super fresh fish is just at the doorstep. The food was quite good, but not at the same level as the restaurant in Reykjavik. But I enjoyed it. The sommelière was apparently in an apprenticeship, so I corrected her gently that one wine was actually from Spain, not Italy ☺️.
Before entering the hotel, I climbed up the stairs and had a look over Akureyri by night.
In the morning, I had an early breakfast and spent two hours typing yesterday’s report. I was not in a hurry, I had booked a whale watching for the afternoon and because of the bursitis, I decided to cut my route short, today’s program was interesting enough. It was again a fantastic day, plain sunshine and warm temperatures. I stared at my thermometer….21 degrees at 11 a.m….the tropical heat wave was indeed here!
I made a stopover at the Gođafoss, whe water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 metres over a width of 30 metres. A lot of water, but the height difference is not spectacular.
I rode north and was happy that had put the throttle rocker/cramp buster, this should avoid too much strain on the arm. I could feel that my theory was correct. The annoying thing is that I thought about changing the setting of the carburetor at home, but considered that “it would be ok”. This is definitely the last time this happens now. I’ll take care of it.
Soon I arrived at today’s highlight: the town of Húsavík. Famous for its whales and a recent film….but more about this later.
In the little town, I picked up my tickets, but had to conclude that every restaurant table was taken. So I went to the petrol station and bought me two sandwiches, this should do. At 13:20, the whale watching left right in time. I had managed to sit right in front – best views, but highest seesaw. A marine biologist from Barcelona gave good background information. We went for about half an hour before we spotted the first Minke whales. This was only the preparation for what was about to come.
We discovered two humpback whales that kept us entertained for a long time. Apart from the usual blowing and diving, suddenly the whales started breaching! The biologist told us that this rarely happens here. I tried to catch it as good as possible:
I truly remarkable experience! After three hours, we were back in the harbour where my thermometer showed a whopping 25 degrees Celsius! I visited also the whale museum, an impressive exhibition about the world’s largest mammals.
The next stop was not far, overlooking the bay…..I give you a hint:
Someone was clever enough to set up a bar in the town that makes people believe it’s the one from the film (it isn’t), but the little “Ja Ja Ding Dong Bar” contains some memorabilia from the film and the film shooting that happened in town (NOT the bar scenes). FIRE SAGA!!!
And here of course is the one and only….
I filled up the bike and started the last ride for today, about 45 min to lake Myvatn that I circumnavigated. There are some places that I will discover tomorrow.
I arrived at my hotel and despite the cozy room, I was a bit annoyed by several things: despite the hefty price, no breakfast was included, at 7 p.m. I was told the restaurant was fully booked for the day, the nearby alternative was fully packed and I had to queue for 20 min only to sit outside on a windy and freezing terrace, receiving the dessert at the time of payment, standing in line for 15 min to be able to pay….all of this can be optimised. I made now my peace with the hotel in the bar, writing the report and tasting several Icelandic spirits such as Flóki Whisky with and without sheep dung smoked barley and Reyka, a Vodka. For the first time in Iceland I’m surprised by a LOW price of something.
Tomorrow is the last riding day in Iceland. Few kilometers, but many stops, I guess my arm likes this plan.
I knew I had a long day in front of me, so I tried to get up early. At 7:30 a.m., I entered the breakfast room – that was pretty empty. I learned that the breakfast would only start at eight o’clock. Well, I used the time to fine-tune the trip of today. It would be a roundtrip through the Westfjords, returning to the same hotel. This meant that I could leave all my luggage in the hotel. I wasn’t sure yet how big my route would be – I wanted to visit most of this area, but the basic route was already some 560 km. Clockwise or anti-clockwise? Should I add an extra loop to the west? I left without having the answers.
It was a fantastic sunny morning. While riding, I went through the options.The stop would be in Isafjörđur, the largest town in the most remote point of the trip. There, petrol stations were available (very scarce in the area) and I could have lunch there. I decided to go clockwise – for the simple reason that the gravel parts were in the southern part and I wanted to have the trickiest part behind me soon.
After some thorough thinking I concluded that doing the extra loop would be too much for today. Well, I COULD do it, but that would result in a 11 to 12 hour ride. Instead riding 560 km (of which 60 km are gravel), I would have to do 680 km (with 90 km gravel). Possible, but a bit out of the comfort zone. It turned out later that the shorter route was just right.
Soon I reached the first gravel part of some 25 km; I had entered the fjord area. The views were beautiful, especially on such a sunny morning. What a good idea to ride without the luggage, this type of dry gravel poses no problem for the XBR. I made good progress and stopped a lot to take pictures.
Finally, I reached Flókalundur and had to confirm my decision. A short check was enough; I didn’t want to do 90 km gravel today. Here, the road turned to 35 km of gravel again and went uphill to a pass where large machines were building a huge new road. In this area, huge tourist buses were absent, maybe this could change with such a wide road?
I was approaching the sightseeing highlight of today: Dynjandi, the highest waterfall in the region with a height of 100 m. Now this is what I call a waterfall! It doesn’t contain a lot of water, but flows very picturesque down the rocks. There are several smaller waterfalls below it; a small track leads up to the big waterfall. I risked some sweating to get up to the highest point and enjoyed the view from there.
The missing part to Isafjörđur was special in many ways: beautiful sights and a single track tunnel (!) with a Y junction in the middle. I’ve never seen that before.
I arrived in Isafjörđur at 1 p.m. and looked for a place to eat. It is the largest town in the region with a mere 4000 inhabitants. But it does have some shops and cafes. I looked up some suggestions in internet and went to Tjöruhúsið, recommended for its fish and shellfish. I discovered an old cottage with some tables in front. There were two dishes available: fish soup and fish stew that you served inside the rustic cottage. I had to wait a bit as they had to refill the large stockpot. The soup was…delicious! Again! Similar to the soup yesterday, very tasty with lots of cream. I could get a second plate. And some good coffee afterwards.
I entered a chat with the owner (?) who happens to own two motorbikes and 13 cars (!). I asked him about this summer and he claimed “best summer ever!….at least since 2003”. I think he could be right, later it got cloudy, but the stable high pressure over Iceland is unusual and the temperatures are extremely high (later I saw 19 deg. on my thermometer). I filled up and continued my ride along the spectacular fjords, one after the other. I noticed that I had lost my little petrol can on the gravel roads. Luckily, my fuel consumption is very low.
It was riding in the Seyđisfjörđur, when I greeted two oncoming motorbikers. Wait a minute – I know this bike! I turned around and watched up. Indeed, it was the bike of Bodo from the ferry! Henry realized only a few minutes later what had happened and turned around.What a coincidence! We had a chat about what we had experienced the last days and we parted again. It’s a small world! And Iceland is a small part of it. There was no traffic, so I could increase the pace a bit…
I filled up early, so I don’t have to worry about it tomorrow morning. I was back at a quarter past six and decided to nurse the bike a bit: the chain could need a bit of tightening. That was it. It’s a Honda.
I had dinner in the modest hotel restaurant and I still have to lay out the route for tomorrow. I fled the quite lounge when a horde of American teens turned it into a dance floor (Ja Ja Ding Dong etc…).
Unfortunately, as I had surpassed the connectivity on my mobile, I could not meet with Martin who also was in the area. We missed each other narrowly. I met Martin on the road 2011 in Zambia, when I was going South and he was going North. Did I already say it’s a small world?
This morning I realized that I had forgotten something in yesterday’s report – no wonder, I finished it only at midnight. I wanted to explain why I had left out an interesting location before I arrived in Reykjavik. Reason No.1: It would have taken me a two hour detour PLUS a three to four hour walk (!). Reason No.2: the active volcano Fagradalsfjall, that erupted in March and spit fire during weeks, has been dormant for a while. I checked the webcam yesterday and on top, the only thing visible was some fog. So I arrived some weeks to late. What might have been:
But under this circumstances, it was not worth the long detour. Pity.
I left the hotel shortly after nine o’clock. (Left: plaque in the elevator. In Icelandic and Bavarian 🤪). It was a nice, sunny morning and I headed north, following the ring road. Once I passed under a fjord in a long tunnel. In Borgarnes, I left the road No.1 and followed the road to Snæfallsnes, the large peninsula sticking out like a finger in Iceland’s West. The landscape got more and more interesting, I occasionally stopped and took a picture.
What a beautiful day! This was again a remote place, void of large groups of tourists. I stopped at a scenic place in the west und read curiously a board that was displaced there….:
At mid-day, I got to Hellnar and took a picture of the beautiful scenery:
I realised that I passed a petrol station in the last village and turned around. In Arnarstapi, I was lucky to have a GPS that indicated me the way to the “petrol station”: a single pump in the middle of nowhere. All pumps in Iceland so far could be operated and paid directly at the pump. By the way, I have not visited any ATM in Iceland, I’m not carrying cash. Basically everything can be paid with plastic money.
I felt a bit hungry, so I stopped at a small place next to the road and ordered a Stapi soup, a local fish soup. It contained fish, shrimps, lobster…and lots of cream. Delicious!!
I did a little walk to the Gatklettur, a spectacular natural arch at the beach:
After a few kilometers, I stopped at the next scenic place and walked towards Lóndrangar. However, this time I had left the camera in the tank bag, so I will nick something from the internet…
I was in the Snæfellnesjökull Natural Park now, and the big volcano is dominating the tip of the peninsula:
It was a fantastic day. The views changed once I was on the Northern side of the peninsula, but it was still very beautiful. The main mountain range was covered in clouds and it seemed to rain there. However, at the coast I enjoyed perfect sunshine.
It was a fantastic day. The views changed once I was on the Northern side of the peninsula, but it was still very beautiful. The main mountain range was covered in clouds and it seemed to rain there. However, at the coast I enjoyed perfect sunshine.
And then I reached one of the most iconic mountains in Iceland: Mount Kirkufell. Also famous from Game of Thrones.
The was even a bridal pair, taking pictures. The view in the other direction was not too bad either:
I went on. I knew there were two issues ahead: a 60 km unpaved road and the bad weather ahead of me. When I passed the road sign of a shark museum, it raised my interest and I checked the rain forecast: actually it would make sense to delay my ride a bit as the rain would move on and I could maybe avoid it. So I decided to take a little detour, riding through an Icelandic moss landscape:
I arrived at a remote place that looked like a farm and parked the XBR in front of the building. The instructions were clear:
I paid the entrance fee and joined a tour. As I hadn’t been there from the start, a young lady repeated the most important facts to me. Apart from some shark teeth, the museum consists mainly of fisherman tools and wildlife of the area.
What is really special about this place that it produces a local speciality: the notorious Icelandic fermented shark meat (Hákarl). Not for the faint of heart. Shark meat from fishing by-catch is put into boxes and left fermenting. Then it is dried for months in the air, (and this is important) far from any other dwellings. I went to the drying house later, you don’t want to have this near your house where you live…
I tasted the offered meat, ok, it’s special, a bit salty, fatty and some hint of ammonia…let’s try another one…this one was much stronger. Whoa. Ammonia! Ok, let’s wash it down with the snaps. Right. Not my everyday snack, but I can understand why they like it here.
I went back to the road and soon hit the shortcut road to the East, I did not want to do more than 100 km of detour….
In the next hour, I slowly hobbled across different parts of this track. I was glad that the was almost no rain, it could have turned it very slippery. I enjoyed the views and managed to keep my speed between 45 and 55 km/h.
Finally, the track turned into tarmac and some kilometers later, I topped up in Búđardalur. Some minutes later, I arrived at the hotel in Laugar í Sælingsdalur. A simple, but clean hotel with a special feature: a natural hot tub! There is also a small reconstructed geothermal pool called Guðrúnarlaug or Guðrún´s pool. The pool is mentioned in the Sturlunga saga and Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, one of the greatest women in the Sagas, used to dwell by such a pool at Laugar. Well, if it’s part of Icelandic history, let’s try it out! I grabbed a towel and went up to the pool with the little changing hut. I had to share the pool with other people, so I didn’t take more pictures or videos. The water had about 40 degrees, perfect temperature.
The restaurant facilities are simple, but the food was tasty (Gravlax aaaaaand…..yummy lamb! Sorry Shawn, it’s too tasty). Downside: large horde of noisy, American tourists.
Tomorrow, I will remain in the hotel and start a large day trip through the Western fjords. A very long ride, but the weather looks good. Keeping fingers crossed.
I had not set an alarm and got up at half past seven. In the restaurant hall, the tour groups were already choking down their breakfast. For some strange reason I had to think of locusts…Before leaving, I had an issue to resolve. Yesterday, during a short stop, I received a phone call from booking.com telling that my hotel in Reykjavik had cancelled my reservation. They offered me an altertive that I should confirm. I had a quick look and said yes by e-mail. I sent three messages in increasing urgent tone asking for a confirmation. I received nothing. In the end I called the new hotel myself. Yes, the had received my name, everything was ok. Good, so I had a place to stay. This was important. I had checked the internet and discovered that Reykjavik was sold out! Well, unless you want to pay 500 quid for a nice suite….
I set off at nine and my first destination was not far away: Dyrhólaey, an extension of yesterday’s beach. The sea has formed holes into the rocks, forming arches. The area is also important as a reserve for the local bird population. The was a track to the voewpoint of the great arc, but it was closed for construction…
Today I experienced a more typical Icelandic weather: cloudy with some rays of sunshine and later some short showers. I continued my ride along the south coast. The landscape was changing again. I had not planned a stop there, but the setting was beautiful, so I decided to make a stop at the Skógafoss. Definetely a good idea. The waterfall is very beautiful and I played around with the Halide app if I could change the settings in rhe right way (longer exposure times). I should have tried at home. So I took more or less ‘normal pictures’. Anyway, a very pretty waterfall.
I moved away from the coast and rode inlands. I arrived at the Gullfoss, one of the iconic Icelandic waterfalls. Well, it is big, but I honestly had expected some ‘more’. On the other hand, it would be unfair to compare it with bigger streams like the Niagara Falls or the Victoria Falls that I had the pleasure to visit.
Anyway, when you think that all the water comes from a melting glacier, it IS impressive. In the adjacent shop, I found a country sticker for my pannier that I placed immediately.
The next stop was not far away: Geysir. Yes, this is the mother of all geysirs. I parked the bike and strolled up the hill, surrounded by hordes of tourists. This seems ti he downside of the enormous popularity of Iceland: buses spit out masses of tourists at the touristic spots. In between, there is quietness when riding.
I entered the restaurant/shop complex and acquired two sandwiches for lunch. I never had a lamb sandwich before, a very good idea!
The next stop was again a geological one. Kerið is a crater lake that formed when the magma chamber of a volcano collapsed and a little lake was formed by rhe ground water. In this cloudy weather, the colours were not that strong, but it was good enough for some good pictures. I walked around on the top of the caldera, avoiding too much movement. In this cool climate, a warm gear is great, but when you have to walk, you overheat in no time.
This was the only place where I had to pay an entrance fee.
Now The weather was a mix of of sunny spells and short showers. In entered the Þingvellir National park area, riding through a landscape of bushes and small trees. This is probably rhe closwst you get to a forest here. I arrived at the visitor centre and topk some pictures from the lake. Thingvellir is a special place on Iceland. The lake is the largest in Iceland, home to many species. Geologically, it is located on the rift between the European and the American plate that are constantly moving apart (geologically, but maybe as well politically).
In the centre, I visited the exposition on the importance of the place as a ‘thing’, or better ‘alþing’, the old Germanic place to hold frequent tribunals to settle disputes and to speak law. The ‘Althing’ meant that this was the supreme court of Island for almost a millenium. At this place, the independent Islandic Republic was declared in 1944. All in all, a place embedded in Islandic history.
I only had a lasr descent to Reykjavik in front of me. Close to the city, I filled up and checked my oil. I topped up the chain lubricant and checked the tyre pressure. After 920 km riding in Iceland, I discovered a novelty: red lights!!! And some Friday evening rush hour. I took a little detour through rhe city centre and arrived at the hotel. The reception was very friendly and I was told that the stay was already pre-paid (a gift from booking.com?). I had a shower and lefr for a walk through the small city centre. It is very nordic, but cozy and apparently lively.
I walked to the restaurant I had booked – albeit one hour too early. Luckily, this was not a problem. It was the restaurant ‘Matur og Drykkur’. In Iceland, many places are simply describing what they are. Like in this case, ‘eating and drinking’. Plain, simple. They serve a six course meal and I ordered wine pairing as well pairing as well. All in all, it was very good, using local ingredients. The sea weed tempura was surprisingly good, the roasted lamb divine. I was positively surprised by the Snorri No.10 beer, this is up to the level of a good Belgian Triple! I had the impression that someone must have given a very good recommendation in an American travel guide as almost all guest seemed to be Americans; except the Catalan couple next to me who thought that nobody could understand them. Well, I could. Luckily, the noise increased so I could not overhear their private conversation anymore.
I walked back to the hotel, making a stopover in the centre. In a bar, a live jazz band was performing very well and I discovered that they sold a Talisker 18 years for a reasonable price (considering this was Iceland). I had a dram in front of the bar and continued typing this report.
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world, and a small one. A few minutes later, I was back at the hotel. It’s a small, but nice city.
I’m afraid that tomorrow, I’ll be running out of luck: in the afternoon, some heavy rain will cross my way. The northwest is my destination now.
The first night on the boat was a short one. I couldn’t sleep very well and for some mystical reason I had booked breakfast at seven. 7 a.m. When I had a whole day to kill. The breakfast was….food uptake, not more. I spent some hours in the cabin watching TV or dozing on the bunk bed. I had lunch in the fancy restaurant again, two different sandwiches this time. The Faroese snaps was different, but I liked it a lot (Haviđ, 50 %). I spotted it in the boat shop so I think on the way back I will stuff some in my panniers.
I dozed a bit more in the cabin and moved to the panoramic deck as we would soon make a stopover in Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands. I hoped that I could pick up a 4G internet signal and upload the report of yesterday. I received a message from my provider that I would be charged a daily roaming pass. No problem. However, in a second message I was told that my credit was zero and I couldn’t buy the pass.
When we left the day before, I sent a few pictures, and as the ship’s wifi did not allow any uploads, I did it with a 4G connection that I believed to be from the Danish mainland. However, I was probably the ship’s 4G network which usually charges a fortune per Mbyte. Within seconds, my credit was evaporated and I was not able to re-charge my credit. Remember, bad upload speed. All of this got crystal clear to me when I could not connect to the Faroese network. I tried and tried to charge the account – until it finally went through! I was connected to the Faroese 4G and could upload the post.
After the boarding of new passengers, we continued the crossing through the Island. Suddenly, the fog lifted and enjoyed a fantastic scenery: steep fjells and little fjords, some spectacular views.
Just when we were leaving the last rocks, it was time for my pre-booked five-course in the fancy restaurant, accompanied by a matching wine selection. It was actually quite good, considering I was on a ferry boat. Yummy.
We had to do the passport and COVID test controls by the police on the ship that evening, but seeing the long queue, I decided to watch some news first and come back later. I met Henry and Bodo, the two lads from the boarding queue and we spent the evening together. The checks went quite smooth and we received a green voucher that should substitute the border control.
We went to the lounge and had a couple of beers together, only molested by the solo entertainer that made a conversation difficult.
To my surprise, I didn’t have a heavy head the next morning when I strolled to the breakfast. Everybody had to leave the cabins at 8 a.m., so I tried to have a nap in my gear in the corridors. Finally we were granted access to the car deck and I unstrapped my bike. The other motorbikes still seemed to be in a Zen mode, so I was the first biker to leave the ship. There was indeed no passport control and I entered the little town of Seyđisfjörđur.
To my surprise, I didn’t have a heavy head the next morning when I strolled to the breakfast. Everybody had to leave the cabins at 8 a.m., so I tried to have a nap in my gear in the corridors. Finally we were granted access to the car deck and I unstrapped my bike. The other motorbikes still seemed to be in a Zen mode, so I was the first biker to leave the ship. There was indeed no passport control and I entered the little town of Seyđisfjörđur.
The weather was as expected: cool 11 degrees, foggy with a light drizzle. I started my trip around Iceland! It was a slow start. The surface was wet and I needed to get used to the tarmac, it was very rough and felt it there was some gravel on the road. Most of the time there wasn’t any, but sometimes yes. The road moved upwards into the clouds. I apparently passed a fjell at 500 m and the temperature dropped to 8 degrees. Cozy. In Egilsstađir I turned onto the Route 1, the ring road around Iceland. I encountered a gravel section…how long would this take? The gravel was deep…I learned later that sometimes there are stretches of gravel that is rolled into a dense surface. In this case, the gravel had not been rolled yet…
In the next three hours, I rode through the Eastern fjords, occasionally stopping to take a picture. The problem was to capture the atmosphere on the photos, which was almost impossible, in reality, the landscape was often impressive. Slowly, the temperature increased from 11 to 13 degrees, but I could feel the cold creeping in. This was the real thing now – no fairing, no heated grips, no heated seat, no heated gear – just the fresh wind and I. I realized how much I was spoiled in the last years through the big bikes.
After 280 km, I arrived in Höfn, the largest town in the southeast. Finally the sun penetrated the clouds and temperature rose to 14 degrees. I filled up the bike, but didn’t find a compelling option to have lunch. I ordered a hot sandwich in a petrol station and tried to get warm again, it was quite chilly.
I adapted my riding style to the locals, there were more and more cars and the speed rose. The landscape changed, but in a spectacular way; I approached the Vatnajökull glacier. I could only see some individual glacier tongue, but the sheer size is hard to grasp.
Finally, I spotted the first glacier tongues; the white ice cap was shining in the distance. This was genuinely a beautiful sight.
The weather forecast was spot on! This turned to be a nice day with temperatures up to 17 degrees.
Finally I arrived at the Highlight of the day, the Jökulsárlón, a glacier lake like no other.
Of course it’s a tourist magnet and the top location in Southern Iceland. On the other side of the road, there is the second attraction of the location, the DIAMOND BEACH.
As there was high tide, there were only few icebergs on the black beach, but this is still a great sight.
The massive amounts of melted water was transported in large rivers to the sea.
The rest of the was dominated by one gorgeous view after the other, when I had passed the Vatnajökull, the landscape changed and the lofty small green mountains returned.
And then again the landscape changed. A lot of rocks, but covered by a huge amount of Iceland moss!
And finally, after 560 km, I reached Vik í Myrdal, the southernmost town in Iceland. I filled up and went around the big rock that dominates the town.
This is other of Iceland’s highlights: Reynisdrangar
This is really an exceptional place, I let the pictures speak for themselves…
The hotel is only a few kilometers away, the evening sun illuminated the landscape like a painting:
I checked in, had a shower and went to the restaurant, the usual routine. I had a fish soup and a tasty lamb roast. Simple, but good. I think I was lucky to have such a sunny day today, Iceland showed its best side today. This day will be the largest section on the whole trip (580 km). Tomorrow it will be a shorter ride. But this first day was a very good start.
I had a rather frugal breakfast in the somewhat shabby hotel and set off at a quarter pass nine. I passed the “Men at Sea” like the evening before and decided to join them for a minute.
My plan was to go up north at the west coast of Jutland, riding on back roads next to the sea. My first stop was at the ‘Tirpitz Museum’, a bunker of the WWII ‘Atlantic Wall’. It was never finished, but had it, its cannon on top would have had a range of 55 km. The bunker was spectacular, but the museum was a mixture of the history of the bunker, a very simplified summary of the war, local history and information about amber. Very modern and multi-media, but quite family-friendly and on the light side. Despite the hefty entrance fee, I had quickly done my tour and set off north.
I went mostly near the coast, sometimes only separated from the sea by large dunes. In Hvide Sande, a popular tourist resort, I encountered a sort of traffic jam.
I stopped and crawled over the dune to have a look the sea. The wind was quite strong today, a good training for Iceland.
In Thyborøn, I needed to take a ferry to cross that little gap. I passed all the cars and waited in the front to be called, the boarding was already ongoing. I made it on the ferry and parked the bike on the side stand. I climbed up some stairs to have a better view. The crossing is not very long and the sea was rather calm, apart from the wind. Yet the boat started to seesaw strongly – in a worrying way. The captain reduced speed and got it under control again. There was some noise behind the van where my bike was parked. People were calling for a motorbiker. Not good! I was the only one on the ship. Apparently, the bike had dropped and someone put it upright. I could tell by moved mirror, I had to fix it again. Luckily, nothing else was affected or broken.
I continued my ride along the pittoresque coast and decided in Agger to have a small snack. I ordered a Pølsermix, believing it to be a small hot dog dish. I received an enormous plate with chips and sausages, enough to feed an army. I had to leave big part of it, I was not in the mood for that amount of junk food.
I passed Denmark’s largest National Park Thy and stopped in Halstholm to get some needed commodities in a grocery store.
I realized that my chain lubricant consumption was a bit higher and regretted that I left the big bottle at home; I reduced the flow of the Scottoiler and concluded that I could always use motor oil as a second best option. My next stop was Blokhus at the coast, for a particular reason. It’s a nice touristic town and I was surprised that I could ride onto the beach. This was unexpected!
But my real intention was to find the main attraction of the town, I had apparently rode past it, so I had to go back. And then I found it…
Very impressive! Luckily, I could take a picture of the data, so I don’t have to type them 😇
I was considering to make a trip to Skagen, the Northern tip of Denmark but I realized this would get too late today and I didn’t arrive late at the hotel. So my next stop should be the last one for today. It was the Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse, situated in/on a large dune. I had read that it had been moved 300 m recently (!) to save its existence as the waves eat sand for breakfast.
I parked the bike as close as possible to the lighthouse that could be spotted far in the distance. I noticed that there was a kind of tourist trap about to set off to the dunes: a tractor with a trailer to transport lazy tourists. How lame is that, you might think, but it turned out that the 5 Euros for this return trip were the best investment in a long time. During the ride, I realized that the lighthouse was about 2 km away, this would have been a torture in warm motorbike gear. Almost Alpenbutt-esque, haha (this joke is for the knowing).
The tractor set off and it quickly turned out that this was fun: the guy went off-road up and down, criss-crossing through the dunes:
We were awaited by some sheep who were begging for a treat. The farmer would return in 40 minutes, this should be enough time to discover the area. I climbed up the dune and enjoy the fantastic views. I wondered how they could move the entire lighthouse in one go. Unbelievable.
On the bumpy, but entertaining way back in the trailer I realized that any attempt to walk to the dune would have been led to spontaneous self-combustion of my body due to overheating. It was also evident that the detour to Skagen was totally out of question now.
Only 25 km left to the hotel; as usual, watching Shawn makes me smile….
I quickly found the hotel in Hirtshals and the petrol station next to it. I saw the first off-road van and realised that I was at at the hub to Iceland.
I checked into the hotel and was quite miffed when I learned that the restaurant would not serve me dinner tonight. I had reserved the hotel particularly because it had a restaurant, so I didn’t enter the centre of town, and now they wouldn’t be accommodate, asking at 7 p.m. Nope. OK, plan B. I didn’t fancy to take a shower and then to ride anywhere, so I just rode without the hygiene stop. I stopped at a restaurant with a terrace and ordered something that sounded interesting….seafood “tapas”! A massive platter and a lot of work (35 min!)
I returned to the hotel and finally had my shower, after all I rode more than expected, some 410 km in the wind and sun made me feel tired.
This morning, after breakfast, I met an acquainted coupled from my home town in front of the hotel. How probable is that! We had a chat, they take the ferry to Norway. I went to the harbour and waited until it was my turn for check-in. In the hour before that, I chatted with some bikers in the queue. The amount of off-road, hardcore 4×4 cars is impressive. They will go where I won’t: the rough tracks in the interior of the island. I’d need another bike for that.
In the ship, we motorbikes had to strap our bikes, carrying the luggage to the cabin usually lets the sweat flow, but finally I’m in my cabin….only to find out that I hadn’t been cleaned! The receptionist made a walkie-talkie call: “housekeeping, we have a surprise cabin on deck 6, I repeat, ….” I waited sitting on the floor until my home for two nights was finally ready.
I found a relaxing spot where I could rest a bit until the restaurant was opened.
I had pre-booked all my meals, something that I rarely do. But as everything is breathtakingly expensive, pre-booking gets some discount and I need some food anyway. It sounded not like a large meal – “two sandwiches and a snaps”, but it was a good portion and the quality was very good, including the aquavit from the Faroer.
Later I discovered the Laterna Magica Bar with a fantastic view where I am writing the whole time. They have seats and sofas, what a great idea!
In the end, I spent the afternoon in the Panoramic lounge. I have slow internet, but the upload speed is not enough to post pictures. I hope that I will catch some phone signal on Faroer Islands.
(Indeed, after fixing some issues, I could upload it in Torshavn, the tiny capital of the Faroer Islands).
In the evening, I had an unspectacular dinner in the buffet restaurant. It’s a quiet boat trip.
On the morning of the first day I took it easy, packed the last missing things and set off for a smooth ride on motorways at a quarter to ten. Soon after I crossed the Dutch border, I was passed by three Belgians on BMWs. This is not remarkable as such, I was in a relaxed mood and decided to go at 110 – 120 km/h the whole day. The second rider had a personalised number plate named ‘Siberia’. Was this their destination? I could give them some advice…
I knew that some rain would come in Northern Germany, so I put on the rain gear very early. The predicted rain was not very heavy though and I lost quite some time in road works on the A1 where no filtering was possible. Later I passed Bremen and proper sunshine came back although accompanied by a strong wind. I was joined by my lucky charm – Shawn, the Black Irish sheep. He has joined me through America and Russia, not to speak of many places in Europe. I had washed him in winter and attached him safely behind the windscreen. When in motion, his arms and legs are happily flapping around so it looks as if he’s really enjoying the ride. Every time I look at him, it puts a smile on my face. 🙂
The last 60 km I had to go on nice country roads though the ‘Altes Land’, heading towards the Elbe and the coast. I was about to take off my rain gear when I spotted some dark clouds at the horizon. I left it on and indeed, 6 km before my today’s destination, the rain poured down. When I arrived at the house of Michael and Christiane, I took off my rain suit and….was completely soaked??? This kept me thinking for a while. I couldn’t find a hole….that’s not good news for the rainy climate in Iceland!
My visit was long overdue, for many years actually. So we had much to talk about and the rain did not invite to leave the house. We had a nice meal together, they both are fantastic hosts and I crawled into the bed only after midnight…(there’s a song for every occasion, right, Michael?😄)
I got up not too early the next morning and we had a sumptuous breakfast together. I knew I didn’t have to go far today so I was not in a hurry. I filled up and hoped I would stay dry until I would reach the ferry across the river Elbe. This plan only worked for the first 5 km. Luckily I could pass the long line of waiting cars and roll directly on the ferry. The “Elbfähre” is the only crossing west of Hamburg, connecting Lower Saxony with the Western shore of Schleswig.
At the other side, I did not have to ride wrong very long – a second visit was due. This time it was Ralf and his wife Kirsten. You would think the North of Germany is flat, flat, flat – but they live on the slope of a small mountain that provides them with a view over the low lands.
Ralf joined my first XBR Alpentour in 1994 and was riding a lot with me in subsequent years. He is proof that you can pass many, stronger bikes in the Alps with a heavily under-maintained XBR, failing breaks or many other shortcomings…
The picture at the left is from the epic XBR Alpentour in 2003 when he demonstrated that you don’t need ANY fork oil to master gravel passes in the Alps…
Kirsten made some tasty “Bauernfrühstück” and Ralf and I had a lot to chat about, after all we didn’t meet so often recently. I had never been to this place (no surprise, being up in the North), so it was another, long overdue visit. Much later than planned, I started the XBR again.
Well, the rest of the day was set: going up north on the B5 and crossing into Denmark, leaning into the strong wind. I had enough time left, so I could visit a rapid antigen test centre near Esbjerg. Last week, Iceland decided that a certificate of full vaccination would not be enough to enter the country, I would need another negative RAT (rapid antigen test) result. After some cueing, the testing and 15 min waiting time, I received my certificate. I filled up the bike and topped up the oil, all ready for tomorrow. I entered Esbjerg and check into my hotel. Remarkable here: the receptionist wears a pair of braces and a bowler hat and has a quirky humor. Maybe he’s a fan of Clockwork Orange….(should I be worried?).
In the shower, I tested if the rain suit had a leak, but I couldn’t detect any. I had a good dinner in a nearby restaurant with Tuborg beer from the tap. Rib Eye steak with a freshly prepared Sauce Béarnaise. Being used to Belgian restaurant prices does immunise you a bit when exposed to Scandinavian prices. You realize you’re in Scandinavia when you confess to the waiter that you have left your wallet in the hotel and propose to get it from there and he only replies: “yeah, all right”.
Tomorrow will be another relaxed day along the coast as my destination (Hirtshals) is only 330 km away.
Everything is set. All packed, but I still have that particular feeling that I forgot something….Well, as long as you have your passport and a valid credit card…
I decided to travel light again, although I could have stuffed everything into the panniers, I decided to carry same extra luggage. Iceland is not on a different continent, but I rather carry too many spare parts than too few. The big jug of oil is very likely too much, but I ran out of small bottles, so I won’t have to worry to carry too few oil. And it’s good to have some reserve space just in case a tropical heat wave strikes Iceland and I’d have to get rid of a few layers of gear.
Tomorrow, I’ll have a smooth, but wet ride to the vicinity of Hamburg, where I will visit Michael, an old friend, ex-colleague, ex-band mate and (ex-?😁) motorbiker. A very overdue visit.
The GPS track for the trip will be active from tomorrow.