Up/Down to/from Scandinavia : reflections

Ready to leave!

Ready to leave!

Now that this journey of 7331 kms is over, a bit of reflection is imposed. If I had only one phrase to resume this whole experience, I would describe it as hard but rewarding. Somewhat like hiking (serious hiking, not a simple afternoon in the wild), where some parts are definatly hard, some are really boring and in the moment you are very often not enjoying yourself so much but once it is all over, you are proud of having taken it from beginning to end and feel a greater individual. After all, it is through difficulty that we grow the most.

Me

Solitude was also hard at times. I am fine by myself, I do not get anxious when there is no one around but some things are just so much better when you get to share them with others that I would rather have company than not. Most often I would not fall short of people to discuss with at hostels but on a few occasions, my attempts at engaging conversations were infructuous and wish I would have had a friend with me to spend the night out with. I never had anyone with me during the day and while I do prefer the company of a friend, it is the evenings that I always find the most lonely. That is for cities but on the motorcycle, the noise and the concentration required make it a lonely adventure. However, when you are riding in group, you always have people to discuss the route and the sights with on a break or for that matter, just about anything that will take your mind away from your aching back and behind.

One thing that kept bugging me all along the trip was that I was not spending enough time at any given place. I kept reminding myself that this voyage was mostly about motorcycling and the road but everytime I met other people at hostels I could not help but feeling like I was being a very poor tourist for not taking the time to discover a place and it’s culture. Nonetheless, I got a good glimpse at many countries and while I will not have enough of my life to visit each of them in depth (the world is a MASSIVE place), I will certainly go back to some of them but probably not on a bike. People travelling alone were very common and while travelling, you make friends very easily because the mood is just right for it: everyone is actually in the same shoes. Spending only two days in a city was not enough for that and would only get me to the acquaintance level of friendship, thereby exacerbating the solitude issue.

Despite the rapid pace and the solitude, this journey never fell short of the virtues of travelling. It was enlightening, demanding, got me far away from my homely comfort for a certain amount of time and most importantly, gave me the opportunity to interact with new people. As outlined before, it was different than normal backpacking but it also had much in common.

This is certainly something I will do again in the future. Road trips are an awesome way of travelling (while gas is still affordable). The next one will most likely not happen on a motorcycle but if I manage to convince any of my relatives into taking it as a hobby, there might be a chance.

Motorcycling

The physical exertion of riding a motorcycle all day was not as bad as I had expected it. First off because I knew what to expect as I had done long distance rides before undertaking this trip and second for the reason that those little aches dit not get much worse with distance and time. After and hour, I have basically reach my quota of biking for a day. My behind is chaffing, my back is aching and my legs are tingling and depending on the weather, I am cold and my fingers are numb. With the exception of low temperature, all those little discomforts will not get worse and a good one hour break for lunch would pretty much reset the clock. However, I am abstracting the fatigue caused by long-distance driving but be it a car, a plane or a motorcycle, it is inevitable.

I have only good comments about the motorcycle. It held up very nice and never showed any sign of serious wear or imminent break down. From beginning to end I had complete faith that it would take me to end of my trip. The fact that it was only a 125 got me into some pretty tight situations but that is not the motorcycle’s fault, most of the time, it was sufficient. With regards to comfort I cannot really tell because I have not rode that many machines, but the Varadero being bigger that all other 125, having a greater carrying capacity and bigger saddle certainly helped into making this voyage more pleasurable. It got me where I need to go so really I cannot complain and I got the bite so I will definitively get another bike and it will certainly be more powerful that this one. This is not a goodbye because I get to keep it for another few months and plan on doing many other trips (to Valencia, Spain for instance) with it but when the time will come where I need to sell it, I’ll be sad.

Rankings

Best time in cities:

  1. Berlin
  2. Tallinn
  3. Helsinki

Most beautiful cities:

  1. Warsaw
  2. Nuremberg
  3. Brussels

Best roads:

  1. Germany
  2. Finland
  3. Sweden

Best country

  1. Finland
  2. Germany
  3. Denmark

Worst moments:

  1. Being in the middle of Lithuania soaked to the bone and shivering with cold with still 450 kms to go.
  2. Dropping my motorcycle in the middle of nowhere in Sweden.
  3. Riding with massive crosswinds on a road full of trucks in Poland.

Down from Scandinavia : stage 18 (final)

Lyon, France -> Toulouse, France
432 km dep: 09:10 arr: 17:30
Date: 17/08/2012
Weather: sunny


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A road bordered by planes in southern France.

A road bordered by planes in southern France.

The final day of riding! I forgot to set my alarm clock so I ended up leaving later than planned. The Causses, limestone plateaus that are found in this region make for really interesting driving and a beautiful scenery. As I left thos plateaux and came down towards southern France, the weather got insanely hot. In one village where I stopped for buying a couple of bottles a wine the temperature was 40C. When you are wearing a padded jacket, an helmet and long pants it is not long before you start cooking. The air was so hot that opening my visor for just a minute would start dessicating my mouth lips and nose. Luckily, a lot of the roads in southern France are bordered with massive Oriental planes that will create a a natural green roof for kilometers and kilometers. Sadly, those trees are also very prone to fungal infections and the French government is cutting down an increasing number of them each year so it will not be too long before the roads become exposed again.

Unlike other days, I wanted to arrive home as soon as possible rather than take my time and enjoy the way. I may event have costed me one or two fines because I am pretty sure I got flashed by a few radars. There is a possibility that I will escape it because those radars that I saw were front facing and unlike cars, motorcycle do not have a license plate on the front.

I made it in no time to Toulouse and was greeted with an apéritif on the banks of the Garonne, a most welcome change from a diet of mostly sandwiches, pasta and cheap fast food meals.

DONE!

Down from Scandinavia : stage 17

Strasbourg (Obenheim), France -> Lyon, France
486 km dep: 07:30 arr: 17:45
Date: 16/08/2012
Weather: cloudy then sunny


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The village in Alsace I slept in was named Obenheim and around this area, pretty much every one of them ends in “heim” with some very weird names like Boofzheim or Ichtratzheim. Almost beats that place named Szczuczyn (give me a vowel…) in Poland. I left early without saying goodbye to my hosts but left a thank you note with two beers.

While looking at the map, I realized that I could cross through Switzerland. It was a small detour but just for the principle, I decided to head for Basel and then make my way back to France in the Swiss country side. That plan fell short as soon as I reached the border. Sadly, Switzerland is not part of the Schengen zone so they still have border control but what made me turn around was the 40 Euros they were asking for entry.

For the most part, the road was interesting as I was in a semi-moutaneous area and spent quite a bit of time following a river in a valley. On getting closer to Lyon, I found myself back on a French nationale which is nothing really interesting altough it sure beats the roads in Poland.

On reaching Lyon, I headed directly for the city center, walked around a while, had a beer and then left. Apart from being in a valley at the confluent of two rivers, which makes for an impressive cityscape, I am certain that Lyon has a lot to offer in terms of sights but the city being so big, I could not find any worth mentionning. I left early in order to find a good camping spot and I am very glad I did because the region is so very populous that I had to ride about 100 kms to finally be in the wilderness. The number of kilometers displayed in the post’s header does not include it as it is the distance between two objectives but if you add the two up I drove close to 600 kms today. Since it was on tomorrow’s route, it is distance I will not have to cover.

I am glad this trip is nearing its end, not that I do not enjoy anymore, but I feel I have had enough motorcycling and solitude for a while.

I had a cat for lunch today...

I had a cat for lunch today...

Down from Scandinavia : stage 16

Nuremberg, Germany -> Strasbourg, France
356 km dep: 11:42 arr: 19:25
Date: 15/08/2012
Weather: sun and clouds


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Nuremberg was a very interesting city. Having been the unofficial capital of Nazi Germany, it is the only place where it is still possible to observe Albert Speer’s megalomaniac Nazi architecture. The constructions being so big and massive, the city of Nuremberg cannot maintain them to their original state but what remains is enough for a trip back in history. As for the old town, it is also very pretty but since 90% of it was bombed by the allies during WW2, most of the buildings are reconstructions.

I tried to get on a walking tour of the old city but the guide never showed up. Later on at a pub crawl run by the same company, I actually got to meet him. What I tough was a company (Nurnber-walks) is actually a one man operation, on every single day of the week except wednesdays, Billy (he is american) offers walks at 9, 12 and 16 as well a pub crawl from 20 to midnight. On that day, he had to go pick up his sister who is visiting him from Philadelphia and ended up missing the rendez-vous because her train was late.

I knew the route was not too long today so I allowed myself a bit more time recovering from the previous night. I left late and even had to cut short a very interesting conversation with an Australiann but in the end, I reached Strasbourg in time for visiting it a bit. Strasbourg’s old city is a UNESCO site and is really something to behold. Most of it is restaurants and bars but they have managed to keep most buildings true to their origin giving the city the most “medieval” look I have ever seen.

Too bad I had to leave early to find a spot for the night and in retrospect, I should probably have gotten a room at an hostel because already when I departed the city, thick black clouds where gathering in the sky and half an hour later I got hit by a thunderstrom. Hoping that the rain would only be local, I decided to press on and probably took a wrong turn somewhere because I got lost trying to find the D468. The rain never stopped and when I did finally find it, it was getting too dangerous for me to continue. I got to the first covered spot and parked the motorcycle to wait it out.

I was actually in a residential garage so soon, the couple who lived above where asking me what I was doing and on hearing my story, they came down for a chat. They told me that the weather forecast was rain for the whole night and were kind enough to offer me a cup of coffee and a spot in their laundy room for me to spend the night in. In return, I will give them the two german beers I was planning to have tonight; it is too late for this anyway and tomorrow I have to be up really early.

Down from Scandinavia : stage 15

Stage 15 – Berlin, Germany -> Nuremberg, Germany
480 km dep: 10:40 arr: 21:20
Date: 13/08/2012
Weather: Sun and clouds


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Again, not enough time to visit Berlin, the city is just too big and dense for even a full week of sightseeing and let alone just getting a taste of the life there. It lived up to my expectation in being both rich historically and (counter-)culturally as well as very fun.

My next destination was unknown until yesterday night when I decided to go to Nuremberg. Munich was definately my first pick but it being close to 650 kms away from Berlin, I really was not motivated enough to go that distance. Nuremberg then was the most obvious choice. I will get to discover the city in more details tomorrow, but it having had a very important role in Nazi Germany makes it look very promising.

As was expected, leaving Berlin took a good chunk of time, close to an hour an a half before I had entirely left the city. Afterwards, it was village after village after village but the roads in between being so nice as well as the inhabited areas themselves, I am not complaining and actually had a lot of fun driving today.

It is no wonder that the Germans have become known for designing quality automobiles. Their road system is outstanding and also very well maintained. Signalisation is plenty and can be trusted so if a turn comes, you know what to expect (an then take it at the appropriate speed :)). There are virtually no trucks and other vehicles, while they drive fast, are very respectful. With roads like these, driving becomes a pleasure; something that is very well reflected in their cars.

There is not much else to say besides that I strongly recommend visiting Germany by car if the chance comes your way.