Saturday, November 01, 2003
I've been enjoying Ilja's hospitality for about a week now. It's been fascinating watching him transform from motorcycle adventurer to mild-mannered German technology manager and rowing coach.
Ulm is a pleasant, neat and tidy (and quite wealthy from all appearances) little city on the Danube between Munich and Stuttgart. It's also provided me with the opportunity to taste a Schneiderweisse beer for the first time since high school. Ulm is also home to the world famous (well, Southwest Germany famous) "Schneider von Ulm" (the Tailor from Ulm) who in the mid 17th century attempted to prove to the Holy Roman Emperor that man could fly by plunging into the Danube with a pair of cloth wings on his back. A feat of aeronautical prowess not equaled until 10 year old Otto Schmidt (the bully from Ulm) tossed the Tailor's 8 year old son into the river. Its uncommon for the son of a famous man to outdo his father but, with a little help, it can happen.
Ulm is also the site of the world's tallest church. As one can imagine, such a structure required the use of some massive beams. The problem was, the beams were all too wide to fit through the city gates. They tried rotating them 90°, but then, though narrow enough, the beams were too tall to fit through the gates. Fortunately, just as they were about to give up, some workmen spotted a sparrow carrying a piece of straw in its beak which it maneouvered through a gap in the stonework to bring it to its nest. No slouches they, the workmen quickly realized that they could do the same. By further rotating the beams they were now neither too narrow or too tall to fit, just very long. The sparrow has been the city's mascot ever since.
I don't want to give the impression that the people from Ulm are slow witted. Albert Einstein was born here. Everyone in Ulm seems to think he was some sort of genius. And until Einstein met John Von Neumann and his gang, I'm sure he believed it too, but that's another story, and frankly a better one than the one I'm writing so let's just get back to the trip chronology.
Leaving Romania, after fixing another flat in my rear tire, Ilja and I proceeded north to Hungary. We found a place to camp for what turned out to be the last time on this trip. (so far?). The next morning, after fixing yet another flat in my rear tire, and eating a couple of the best pears I've ever had, we headed up to Budapest.
Budapest is (are?) a grand city straddling the Danube river. Kind of a cross between Austria and, well Hungary. Hungary is another of those unique language enclaves in Central Europe. As the name implies, this is where the Huns (as in Attila the) ended up. It also has been the battlefield for many competing empires and cultures. Kind of an eastern Belgium. After all, why fight on your land when you can fight on someone elses. Christianity arrived in the 11th century and some 400 years later it was, at last, completely conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The Turks managed to hold it for some 125 years until, after several crusades, it was delivered back to christendom.
For those familiar with the story of the pied piper, Hungary is the land of the Magyars. Throughout the middle ages, Germans were imported here and elsewhere in Europe to foster a strong middle class of productive farmers and craftsmen. (Similarly, and there may be a lesson here, but as I write this I'm on my 4th of the afore-mentioned Schneiderweisses, Jews were imported throughout Europe to foster a productive middle class of farmers and craftsmen). Anyway, the pied piper stole the children of Hamelin and brought them to ... the land of the Magyar kings. Historically, tens of thousands of Germans emigrated to Hungary after the Ottomans were defeated at the request of the Magyar king.
As if we had planned it, we arrived in Budapest for the anniversary of Hungary's revolt against the Soviet Union in '55 - '56. This revolt, in part, led to the construction of the Berlin wall. Unfortunately the revolt was crushed. These events were somewhat overshadowed in history by the "Prague Spring" some ten years later and the contemporaneous communist revolts in Greece and Italy. I'm not a historian, but I think it could be said that we traded Greece and Italy for Hungary in order to preserve the status quo set up at Yalta and Potsdam.
We quickly realized that one night would not do justice to this grand city so we decided to spend two (which was not enough but all we could afford in time and money). Stopping in a little cafe in the Bohemian sector, crossing the Chain Bridge that links Buda and Pest, seeing the citadel and palace, strolling the cobblestone streets and visiting museums. It all would have been very romantic if only Ilja wasn't a 6'5" German man. Oh well, better luck next time.
We left Budapest hoping to make Ulm by nightfall. We didn't bother to patch my once again flat tire, since that really didn't seem to help. Instead we just stopped every couple of hours for air. By dusk it became apparent that the snow wasn't going to let up, so we had to stop for the night, just outside of Salzburg.
Thanks to the EU, the border between Austria and Germany is now just a sign and some abandoned buildings. The snow cleared by Munich and by the afternoon we were in Ulm and at Ilja's with all the comforts of home except for the kitchen sink. Literally, his former roomates took it with them when they left. Ask him 'cause I don't know.
If I can get replacement tires and tubes I still hope to make it to the coast. I've got Ilja half convinced to come along. Tickets back to the states on the 10th and then a well deserved vacation.
Click for photos of Central Europe and Ulm
posted by matt; |
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
New Position Report. Alone and at the end. Not as morbid as it sounds. I am on a greek island enjoying the sunsets which are stunning and Matt and Ilja are now Ulm, Germany.
posted by Shaun; |
Slideshow: Russian Far East
Slideshow of Magadan to Mongolia.
posted by Shaun; |
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Greece and End of Journey for Shaun
After Matt had to pay $100 for his Turkish visa when he was previously told that he didn't need one, we were all dubious to entering Greece which belongs to the EU community. What would the insurance requirements be? Who needed a visa and who didn't? What was security like considering Greece and Turkey's past confrontations?
Our answers were short in coming when we arrived at the border. The Turkish side was a breeze with a few questions and a blur of stamps. Crossing over to the Greek side of the bridge the AK47's were exchanged for American M16's and we are formally in the EU - Greece was our next port of stay.
Before arriving at the immigration posts we were faced with an interesting problem though. Signs informed us that to proceed further we would pass through a disinfectant spray that would ensure any bugs would not make it's way further from the east. This is not a problem for a car or truck but poses an entirely different scenario for a bike and it's rider.
None of us wanted to be covered with what was most likely a toxic spray even with our helmets on. Hesitantly we tested the device to see what activated it - a light sensor that took about a second to activate the spray. All that was required was waiting for the spray to stop and with a quick flick of the wrist we were through even though Matt mistimed and was rewarded with a slight dousing of the unknown chemicals.
On arrival at the Greek border post only another 100 yards further, I went first - avidly desiring high costs would not be forth coming. The immigration official surveyed my passport and without raising an eyebrow or a question stamped my passport before returning to his paper.
10 feet further the customs agent was not even at the window but talking to some of his colleagues at the rear of the office. Noticing me waiting patiently at the window he called out in excellent English, querying where I was from. When I answered 'New Zealand' he looked slightly confused as if thinking to himself 'where on earth is that' before giving me a wave of his hand and returning to his conversation.
It can't be that easy can it? I thought to myself. Sure enough though that was the end of the matter and I was in Greece. No extra fees, no custom payments on the bikes, no searches. By far the easiest crossing we have done to date.
Relieved, I waited only a couple of minutes before also being joined by Ilja and Matt who both had broad grins spread across their mugs. They were also ecstatic at the ease of the crossing.
Taking a quick look at our maps we assured ourselves of the right direction and continued westwards.
Earlier in Turkey, we had discussed amongst ourselves the plans going forward. I was low on money and needed a place to stop for a while to organize myself and find work if I possibly can. I had chosen the Greek islands for it's idyllic settings and due to the low season - it's optimistically low prices.
Matt and Ilja both decided to continue north into Bulgaria and westwards where Ilja would stop in Germany and Matt will find a place to store his bike before returning to the States. Matt is also determined to make it to the coast of the Atlantic to make his trip a true circumference of the world as much a bike could go. If he succeeds he will be the only one of the three of us to do so - so far.
After spending the night close to the coast and almost getting stuck in some marshes reminiscent of our time in Mongolia when we spent 2 days stuck in a dry lake, we parted ways near the Greek Macedonian border around 800km north of Athens.
After riding 15,000 miles with Matt for the past 5 months, I am sorry to see him go. He has been an excellent traveling companion. His patience and intelligence not only deeply respected by myself but revered by the people we have met. Matt with his quick grasp of any language and friendly manner has always been the first to approach the locals to ask for directions or other answers.
Matt's knowledge of culture and history was almost like taking a walking talking encyclopedia with us. When going through a region, he would talk about the history and with nary an exception would bring up an interesting fact about a religion or a conqueror that had made a similar journey in the past.
Traveling with others as everybody knows, brings out all the facets of a persons personality and it was not an exception on our trip. Through the highs and lows of this type of travel it is very hard to hide the strengths and weaknesses of our personalities. Matt has shown himself to be a person of strength, courage and intelligence and above all a great friend. Having taught me a lot, I'll miss his company and look forward to traveling with him again soon.
Ilja has also been an excellent riding companion, with his intelligence and methodical way of achieving results. He has been the mechanic of the trip always being the first to jump in when there is a problem making sure that we will continue the journey. He was initially going to ride with us for two days, but because he is such an easy person to ride with, it ended up being two months.
That being said, the goodbye was a strange affair. One not to be expected.
I was daydreaming on the bike looking out at the magnificent views to our left and enjoying the beautiful road - the best we have been on to date when a light snapped me back to reality. Ilja's turn signal was to my right and he was exiting the highway with Matt close behind. To late for me to follow them safely, with a confused look over my shoulder and equally confused looks returned to me, I saw the last of Matt and Ilja as the disappeared towards the north. I had mistaken the exit we would part ways in my distractions and so there was no goodbye. The next exit was a good 30km down the road and would take too long to retrace my path for a farewell.
Contemplating as I rode on, I mused that it was for the best, and goodbyes were a pointless task anyway. An adieu was more of a fitting gesture if any were to be given.
Alone. Almost for the first time in so many months.. Over the next two days I made my way down to Athens with reflections of what lay behind and attention to the challenges that would be my bedfellows ahead of me.
After three days in Athens, I had orientated myself and with the answer to questions about a good island to stay a while, I packed my bike onto one of the large ferries at the port of Athens and settled down for the nine hour journey to the island I now write from.
For me this part trip has now finished. The trials and rewards of the last few months are now morphing into new ones. I now have a small studio on the cliffs of a beautiful vista for a short stretch. A dream of mine for the longest time. A new quiet place to unwind after the past months..
I will post no more of the impending on this website and leave the ponderings of motorcycle travel to Matt and Ilja who are still on the trip. Taking the time to fill in some blank spots of the journey such as Mongolia and adding photos, thoughts, equipment reviews, I'll continue to publish these over the coming months when and where I get internet access.
I hope that all that have read part or been following the entire exploit, have enjoyed reading about our journey as much as we have in putting it on this web site.
Now I sit on the sidelines and look forward to Matt and Ilja's continuing adventures.
"Push a man down with adversity and he will only get up stronger, strike a man with conformity and he will struggle to ever rise again"
posted by Shaun; |
After a short but expensive rest in Istanbul we had an appointment with the local Turkish BMW representative to get some much needed service on our bikes. Ilja and I both needed replacement chains and sprocket that we required so soon after our departure from Yekanterinburg. Matt was also in dire need of a replacement front brake disk from his accident about a month before.
Hear the call to prayer in Istanbul
Arriving at the huge firm about 60km west of Istanbul we were once again reminded that we were well on our way to the west once more. The plush showroom stored the latest and plushest models of the BMW line, and a modern cafeteria gave comfort to those waiting for their services to be completed. With a professional air we were greeted by the service rep who assured us that they would make the strongest effort in having us on our way before the day was finished. A promise that we were all skeptical of due in part to the parts needed and also some past experiences with such service pledges.
We were not to be disappointed however. Not only did they have the parts needed in stock, but there was also two willing and skilled bike mechanics eager to show off their skills on our ailing machines. Taking us in to view the bikes and give a constant commentary on the progress of the machines we were kept comfortable and awaited the outcome.
My only disappointment lay in the ability to fix my headlight which is in need of some parts that were not in stock but the mechanic gave it his best, otherwise we were all delighted with the service received even if a tad expensive and were eager to get them on the road again.
Being the last to leave we continued on our way as the night fell on us. With my headlight pointing straight up into the ever darkening sky above, I was of course finding it difficult to see ahead of me, a situation that hastened our search for a campsite. It quickly became apparent that due to the abundance of dwellings along the road that we would have to settle for a hotel. Once decided on this avenue we quickly found a seemingly quiet lodging close to the sea.
A small three story building announced it was able to bed us for the night and seemed quiet indeed. Unfortunately it seemed to be the local entertainment spot for the truckers that would be doing trade between Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. Just below our rooms was a nightclub that started up almost as soon as our weary beings collapsed on the all not too comfortable beds. The night turned out to be a long one accompanied by the giggling Russian girls brought in to entertain the more liberal guests and the sound of middle eastern pop music that seemed only inches from our heads. With mosquitoes adding to our woes, we all missed the comfort and safety of our tents.
Waking early the next morning we loaded our bikes and set the course southwards for the Gallipoli peninsular where I was eager to spend some time viewing the historic battlefields of the Anzac campaign during the first world war.
Around 5pm after which, we continued south to a small port which took us across the straight back into asia and we stuck to the road for another 2 hours before arriving at the even more ancient battle field of Troy leaving us camping in the back yard of a small shop setup for the frequent tourists also keen on viewing the archaic ruins. Here Matt got to live our a desire since the beginning of the trip by riding the bike through the lobby for security and storing them next to our tents the following morning.
The following day after Matt and Ilja walked the battlefields of old, we make our way for the Greece border 150km to the north west.
posted by Shaun; |