This was to be my fifth RTE after previously attending Zagreb, Verdun, Bran and Moscow. It was also the second year in a row where I would visit two RTE destinations in one weekend (following last years unplanned trip to Riga on my way to Moscow). This year, as well as the designated destination of Alexandroupolis in Greece, I would also visit Bari on my way home - at least I would be on time for one of the destinations this year :-).
I planned this trip with my usual approach of there and back via Eurotunnel and staying in cheapish hotels selected via Booking.com. This trip was though a little different in that it was rather wonderfully interspersed with the World Cup as well as helping me fulfil a family commitment to my late mother.
Wednesday June 27th
Left early Wednesday morning from Bristol and had a clear run to Folkestone. Ended up on an earlier train and then had a pretty clear run to my destination for the evening.
This was a nice little town North of Frankfurt called Altendiez. I was staying in a guest house that seemed to be aimed at people exploring the local national park. I had a shared Kitchen, Lounge and bathrooms but as there was no one else staying until a French van turned up late on I had the place to myself.
Whilst there was no TV in the place (a nice touch on reflection) I had discovered via the internet that Germany had just exited the World Cup. We are all so used to Germany progressing to the later stages of football competitions that this was a major shock. The English amongst us are used to it being us exiting early so had a fair amount of empathy (what is the German for schadenfreude as the BBC quipped? ).
I found a local restaurant for dinner and enjoyed beer and pork whilst listening to a large table of subdued locals do an inquest into the day’s football events. I then eventually managed to find my way back to the guest house through a maze of lanes and alleyways and retired to bed ready for an early start.
Thursday June 28th
I was on the road by six and heading to my destination for the evening 700 miles away in the town of Kecskemet in Southern Hungary. Ordinarily I love travelling on German motorways. They are fast and the standard of driving is probably the best in Europe. The A3 on June 28th was not as enjoyable as usual. It was slowed down by a seemingly constant succession of roadworks and accidents. As usual, I carefully filtered through all of this. I am aware that it is apparently not entirely legal to do this in Germany. However, most German drivers though do their best to provide you with the space required. I encountered just the one Passat driver who blasted me with his horn as I passed. I ignored him and put it down to his mood being particularly poor due to a combination of the lousy traffic and the previous day’s football.
I was reminded of my controversial riding attire at a German motorway service station when a German driver asked me why I was wearing a BMW jacket whilst riding a Honda. I told him it was because BMW make good jackets and Honda make great bikes – he looked at me blankly…….
The other thing that impacted the days ride was the weather. The forecast had predicted the potential for thunderstorms for my ride on the Thursday and Friday through much of Germany, Austria and the Balkans. This proved to be accurate with probably 1200 of those 1500 miles being wet – ranging from light rain to biblical . Once clear of the A3 the rest of the route via Austria and into Hungary was pretty uneventful. I eventually arrived at my hotel in Hungary about 19.45 just as they closed their restaurant. The hotel was clean and the staff were great but it was a little tired and quite East European - not necessarily a bad thing - good to experience something other than standard western hotel decor every so often. The choice for dinner was either KFC or a large Tesco supermarket. I opted for the latter and ended up in my room drinking a can of Hungarian IPA and making Ham rolls.
Friday June 29th
|Mine and Phisdelo’s bikes in the Serbian rain|
Once In Bulgaria I lost Phisdelo due to a combination of sitting politely behind the Goldwing for too long and then getting snarled up in Sofia’s traffic. Arrived at my hotel early evening and it was great. Immaculate, large modern rooms and restaurant and only 30 euros for B&B. Schnitzel and beer for dinner
|Dinner in Bulgaria|
I only had 100 miles to do on the Saturday so had a leisurely breakfast and set off. Was a great ride through the mountains to the border crossing which was passed through quickly. The sun came out and the temperature rose pretty well as soon as I entered Greece. Had a great ride to the hotel, part of which was on my first toll road of the trip. The Greek toll roads are cheap and I think I paid about a euro that day and probably a total of 5 the following day.
I arrived at the hotel Erika late morning, checked in, showered, changed and did some washing which I left to dry in the heat on my balcony. Ran into Phisdelo again and we had a very good lunch in a local taverna with a couple of carafes of white wine. I then retired to my room to sleep off that and the fatigue I had amassed over the past few days.
We then met Jaybee and Johnny M for the group photo and then had another pleasant and inexpensive meal in the selected restaurant. The owner was “honoured” and I think somewhat bemused that we had ridden across Europe to have dinner at his restaurant before heading home. On reflection, I guess his bemusement was somewhat understandable.
|Group Shot in front of Alexandroupolis Lighthouse|
Jaybee, Johnny M and Phisdello had all planned an early start to head back home via Bulgaria.
I was going home via Italy. My Mum died in 2016 and had decided that she wanted her ashes scattered in three locations. She was a Catholic from Liverpool who had spent a couple of years of her youth in Italy with a mystery Italian. The destinations for her ashes had therefore been selected as Liverpool, Rome and Florence. The Liverpool piece is fairly straightforward and my niece had recently visited Rome and taken care of that piece. I was carrying some of my Mum for a trip to Florence. Having never been to Albania before I decided to get to Italy with a ferry from Durres in Albania to Bari in Southern Italy. The ferry left 22.00 Sunday evening so I had plenty of time.
My route through Greece took me west along the coast and was nicely scenic. Somewhere along here I passed another bike and we exchanged waves. He caught me up at the next toll booth and gestured for coffee so we met at the next services and sat down for coffee after filling our tanks. This chap (Italian) put a few things into perspective. He was riding a 1990s Suzuki and was returning from a month and 15000kms riding around Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Iraq. He had also tried to get into Syria (apparently impossible without a Syrian passport) and Iran (had skipped that as did not want to wait 48 hours for a visa). He described riding in Iraq as a pain in the backside due to constant checkpoints where you have to remove all your gear, present your documents and generally justify your existence. I had been feeling a little anxious about riding through Albania on my own and this was greatly put into perspective by our discussion over coffee.
Albania and Macedonia eventually turned out to be pretty straightforward. The roads are fairly poor but as with most places the people are great and keen to engage. I arrived at the Ferry terminal in plenty of time and sat down to enjoy their air con and the TV in their bar. I watched Russia defeat Spain in the company of the local (Russia Supporting) police and port staff. They provided a great atmosphere.
|Durres Ferry Terminal, Albania|
Monday July 2nd
|The Palio on the Telly and two Japanese football fans|
|View of the Ponte Vechio|
Tuesday July 3rd
I had planned an early start with a shot at a return home in one go in mind. I woke up even earlier than planned and left my hotel by 4.00am. The Autoroute took me to Aosta in Northern Italy and through the Mont Blanc tunnel. The total cost of the Italian Autoroute from Bari to Aosta was 109 euros. The toll for the tunnel was a further 29 euros. Whilst expensive, the advantage of the Italian and French Autoroutes is that you do make good time and despite a couple of French thunderstorms, I did keep going all the way to Calais.
|Parked up on the France side of the Mont Blanc tunnel|
|The view down the Eurotunnel on arrival - the footy is on!|
Reflections on the trip.
- I continue to love the ST1300. It is not perfect – generates massive amounts of heat in hot weather and I really must do something about the seat, but it is a fabulous bike especially in the context of IBA rides.
- I continue to love the whole concept of the IBA – a bunch of loosely aligned like-minded people riding large distances to turn up in strange distant places for beer, food and chat – what’s not to like.
- I need a new sat nav. I am using the seven year old Zumo that came with my bike. It is/was a great device but is maybe just past its best especially for IBA usage – you have to manually load the maps you require as it will not hold mapping for all of Europe. Consequently, I have had a few instances where I had to divert somewhere and then found I did not have the relevant maps loaded (e.g. Riga last year). In addition, it did not want to route me out of Florence - I spent 20 mins riding around the city at 4.00am until I eventually spotted a sign for Genova and was on my way
Another great RTE, probably my last this year but I look forward to considering whatever is decided as destinations for next year.