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.

Down from Scandinavia : stage 14

Warsaw, Poland -> Berlin, Germany
592 km dep: 08:45 arr: 20:05
Date: 09/08/2012
Weather: Cloudy

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Contrary to what those French girls said at the hostel in Vilnius, Warsaw is a very beautiful and lively city in which I would have gladly spent more time. The Poles were also very nice people, outgoing and welcoming. I did not see much in terms of museums but I walked around the city for a whole afternoon and could really tell it had a glorious past (so many palaces) and is also moving towards a rich future (lots of construction).

For the rest I will be quick because I am heading to restaurant with my girlfriend and frankly, there is not much to say. The route in Poland was just an ordeal from beginning to end. The roads are long, straight, traverse a countryside devoid of anything but fields and pass through villages that are quite ugly and without character. Add a lot of trucks, some reckless drivers, a string upwind and you get a recipe for an unpleasant day. Every gas station has a bar, so I would not be surprised if a lot of people are actually drunk at the wheel.

The moment I hit Germany I was back on the idyllic roads I got a taste of during stage 4 and in no time got to Berlin. I will be spending four days in this city, a very welcome break that will finally allow me to properly visit this city.

Warsaw's old town, well not really "old" because it was entirely destroyed in WWII and subsequently reconstructed.

Down from Scandinavia : stage 13

Vilnius, Lithuania -> Warsaw, Poland
530 km dep: 09:05 arr: 20:20 (-1)
Date: 07/08/2012
Weather: Heavy rain then cloudy with intermittent rain

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Vilnius was like I expected it to be, beautiful but quite boring. Being a student city, most of the action happens during the school year. Interestingly, the city had an unreasonable number of churches; around forty the guide said. The skyline was peppered with them and they all had something different which allows me to guess they used to all cater to specific purpose of religion. I wanted to see the inside of an Otrhodox church in Riga but did not get to because I was wearing shorts! I had another chance to visit one in Vilnius but it was already too late when I found it.

The rest will mostly be weather related because that was all my day was about. I had been lucky so far and only got rained on a couple of times; it was never very serious too. This time, my luck ran out, I woke up and it was already pouring outside. Someone asked the receptionist at the hostel to call a cab and later came to cancel because it had died down. So I took the opportunity and jumped on the bike but as soon as I got going, it started raining really hard. In no time, my feet were soaked and I could feel water dripping down my pants and my back, turns out that my jacket is poorly conceived and leaks at the front zipper.

After 20 kms, I was getting really cold so I decided to stop and put more layers on, another shirt and the emergency poncho that I had stowed away under the seat. Not enough it seems because 15 minutes later, I started shivering. I wanted to find a dry spot to change but had just entered a national park. To make matters worse, I was again sharing the road with a bunch of trucks which means I could not really slow down without them passing me and soaking me with their trailing mist. A very dangerous situation but at last, there was a small café (khaviné in lithuanian) so I stopped there, rushed inside and ordered something to warm myself up.

This really got me reconsidering today’s voyage and was about to ask the waitress at the café directions for the nearest hotel when the sky started clearing up. After a while, the raining had lessened a lot and I could see patches of sunlight on the horizon. It was still raining tough and the weather forecast said intermittent rain so I got dressed up even more. I put on an extra pair of pants, got rid of my wet stocks, put on two fresh pairs and some plastic bags to waterproof my feet and hit the road again.

I managed to go for about an hundred kilometers before the weather decided to jeoparsize my security again but it was not the rain or the cold this time, it was the wind. Near the Polish border it got so windy and gusty that I got pushed into the oncoming lane several times. I decided to stop but once again could not so I pulled to the very small shoulder with a flasher on and slowly made my way to the closest exit. This part was probably where it got the scariest in the whole trip. There is only one road that links Poland to the Baltic countries and believe me there are more vans than cars making the crossing. To make matters worse, the E68 as it is called is only two lanes wide and polish drivers not being much more competent or concerned with safety than their baltic counterparts kept passing me very close and even if there was an oncoming vehicle. Nevertheless, the wind eventually diminished and the road soon started going westward so I got going again. A bit further down, all the trees were mangled with many of them uprooted or simply broken; this must have been the doings of a storm but since all the debris had been swept away to the side, it must probably not too long ago altough not today; which goes to say that this region is quite windy.

The rest of the trip was mixed bag of what I had gotten so far with increasingly more sun as I was nearing my destionation. The land being really flat, I could see rainy clouds from far away and would just stop and let them pass, which also explains why the route took a very long time. Finally, I made it in one piece to Warsaw. The city being a capital, I will be spending two days here and then on to Berlin.

Motorcycling really sucked today.

Down from Scandinavia : stage 12

Riga, Latvia -> Vilnius, Lithuania
339 km dep: 09:30 arr: 16:15
Date: 06/08/2012
Weather: Cloudy

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I am going to keep this short because I only have the evening to visit Vilnius. I had a good time in Riga but felt like two days was enough and I had pretty much exhausted all I wanted to do there. I left quite early for Vilnius and despite the short distance, it is a good thing I did because the road ended up being really frustrating. Since no regional roads would take me to Vilnius, most of my ride was spent on the highway with a front wind so strong I was pretty much limited to 90 km/h and could not go in 5th gear (not enough torque). I did end up finding a smaller road and had great time driving in the Lithuanian countryside but this was not for long and was soon again amongst trucks and speeding cars.

A Mig-21.

Around the halfway point, I saw a bunch of soviet military aircrafts parked near an airfield and stopped for a while to take a closer look. The machines were in bad shape but since this is such a rare sight it was definatly worth my time.

Tomorrow, I will be leaving really early for Warsaw. The original plan was to sleep in between but now I will have to do it in one long stretch. Hopefully the roads in Poland will be as good as they were in the baltic countries.