When life gives you lemons, go ride Lemonade!

Homeward 2021

We are heading back home. We leave Athens for a nearly 400 km. (250 mile) run across Greece to the ferry dock. Then it is a 24 hour run up the Adriatic Sea to Venice, Italy. Last is an 800 km. (500 mile) run over the Alps to Knopf Tours in Heidelberg, Germany. Knopf Tours is a complete motorcyclist’s support company. This is where we store the Wing while we are at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But first we have to get out of Athens (YouTube Video). At least it is not raining like it was when we arrived. We rode across the center of Athens to a medical clinic to get Covid tests. Afterwards we headed for the divided motorway (What we call a freeway in the US.) and headed west. There will be 14 toll booths and over 24 Euros in this run.

Like many European countries Italy requires a form (PLF - Personal Locator Form) to be filled out online before entry into the country. But they also require a negative Covid test, whether or not one is vaccinated.

We are traveling by ferry from Greece to Italy. Both upon loading and upon exiting the ferry nobody asked for our test results. 110 Euros wasted! The rules for entering a country change often and it can be hard to keep up with them even when checking online daily.

 

 

Our original plan on the return to Heidelberg had us taking the scenic route by crossing Italy in the very southern part and going to Sicily by ferry. Then more ferries to Sardinia and Corsica before taking the ferry to France. But a week before we left Athens a “Medicane” (what they call a small hurricane in the Mediterranean Sea) had hit Sicily creating flooding, landslides and killing two people. Additionally the weather forecast for our time there was rain and more rain. So we changed the plan to just head for Heidelberg by the shortest route, But this meant waiting for two days in the Greek port for the Venice ferry to arrive. So we killed time and ate good food at Timos Taberna across the street from our hotel.

 

The scheduled loading time is 05:30. But there is no ferry in sight. When it does arrive it is 3 hours late. Loading was not fun. (YouTube Video.) It is a 24 hour run to Venice and we need to be over the Alps that same day. Snow is coming. It snowed three days ago but the two days of sun and traffic have cleared the road surface of snow. We need to get over the Alps during the break in the weather. The other option is to run west across Italy, south of the Alps, into France and then north around the end of the Alps and back east to Heidelberg. This adds 3 days to the trip. The ferry being four hours late in leaving Greece puts our crossing of the Alps in jeopardy. We have 400 km. (250 miles) to go after landing.

 

There are two passes which must be crossed. The first is Brenner Pass. (YouTube Video) There is a four-lane, divided motorway leading up to the pass through vineyards and orchards, passing castles and monasteries on the way. This is a toll road and we pay the fee at a booth before we cross into Austria at the pass. Austria has a toll also but is is a sticker for your windshield that you buy at gas stations. And it turns out they have toll booths as well.

 

 

 

The first station, which is in the pass, does not have any stickers for motorcycles, only for cars, which they will not sell me. It is cold, just below freezing at 14:00 (2 PM). Look at the snow on the guardrail. So after warming up a bit we head down the pass to the next station. They also do not have any stickers for motorcycles. (It must be too late in the season for motorcyclists.) So we go on again but after having lost another half hour we decide to just run on. We will only be in Austria for another 2-3 hours. Just before we get to Innsbruck there is a toll booth and we pay 10 Euros (this is in addition to any sticker) to go onward. We consider this enough payment to just cross Austria and go on.

 

It is cold and getting late as we head for Fernpass. This will lead us to Germany. (YouTube Video)

We crossed Fernpass just after the sun set. It is still somewhat light but fading fast. I have a hotel picked out at an elevation of just under a thousand meters (3000 ft.) as our destination. This is below the snow line. We arrive after dark. It has been a long and stressful day. Crossing Fernpass was done below freezing. There is a thin layer of ice/frost on the road. It shines in the headlights of oncoming traffic. The next morning we wait for the temperature to almost get up to freezing before we continue. The sun is out bright and we hit the road just before 10:00. The ride on to Heidelberg is on good four-lane, divided road, The Autobahn. This is a section without speed limits. If I want to pass a slower vehicle I have to check way back in the left lane. Some traffic is moving at at least 160 kph. (100 mph). I am doing 115 kph. (70 mph) which is the speed limit at home and a speed that I am comfortable with. If I don’t check way back before pulling out I risk getting rear ended by the speeders.

Knopf Tours is officially closed for the season. There is a room available but no breakfast service. We need to wash the Wing and give it an oil change. We also need to sort out the stuff being left with the Wing and the stuff we are taking home. I take it to a local carwash and clean three months of bugs and dirt off. It is amazingly only lightly dirty after that length of time and the 9.590 kilometers (5,960 miles) we have traveled. Knopf Tours is a full shop and has the oil I need and I have the filter.

So after it is clean I return and change the oil and do a couple of minor repairs so it is ready to ride again next year. The tires still have several thousand miles left on them.

As my home page shows the Wing is up for sale. It is a good running bike. I used only one quart of oil in the entire trip. It is high mileage at 166,700 so I checked it regularly because I didn’t have a good knowledge of its oil usage. It will make a very good second bike for anyone who wants to ride Europe but doesn’t want to ship their bike to Europe. Most tour companies will let you ride your own bike on their tour and at a discounted price or just plan your own routes like we did.

This trip was very different from our previous travels in Europe. We did not camp! We stayed in hotels. And some of them were high-end hotels. We spent more money than normal for us but with the year’s delay in the trip because of Covid lock downs we had continued to save up for this trip.

There are lots of places to see in North America too. We have been to Alaska, Cabo San Lucas, Key West and Nova Scotia also. All by GoldWing. But Europe has charms and roads that do not exist in North America. Which is better? I don’t know. We have greatly enjoyed each for its own attractions.

This trip had its Covid related problems but was still a good trip. When traveling, problems crop up and one must deal with them. But the best part is meeting people and learning about their food, culture, history, goals and traditions. We made new friends on this trip and met with friends from past trips. We saw sights again and for the first time. We rode some great roads and some difficult roads. We stayed in four star hotels and barely one star hotels. We made reservations if we were staying more than one night but when traveling daily we picked something nearby at the end of the day. We ate at restaurants, cafes, taverns, street vendors and bought snacks at mini-marts. It all depended on where we were and when we were hungry. In Athens for 11 days we ate at a different place every day, except breakfast, which was provided by our hotel. We had Greek, Irish, Mexican, Spanish, hamburger, pizza, more Greek, etc.

On the road, gasoline is readily available. There was no problem with getting gasoline. But the price varied according to country. I’ve converted prices to US dollars per US gallon for consistency. Most everywhere it cost about $8 to $9 per gallon except Turkey where is was $6 to $7 per gallon. That is expensive for Americans where they complain about the price when it tops $3 per gallon. It is nice that the Wing gets over 40 miles per gallon. (16.8 km/liter) (5.9 l/100 km.)

Insurance is easy. Knopf Tours is an agent for the EU “Green Card” insurance through the German auto club (ADAC). It can be bought in monthly intervals. If you are over 70 you need a letter from a doctor saying you are competent to ride a motorcycle.

Money is easy to handle. Most of Europe uses the Euro, which in Nov. 2021 is $1.15/Euro. When we traveled Europe before (2006/7/8) it was $1.50/Euro. So this felt like a bargain. If you enter a non-Euro country just look for an ATM. They are very common and will give you local currency. Some will give out local or Euros or USD, your choice. We found that in Turkey that they like Euros and prices may be in shown in both currencies. Credit card transactions especially may well be in Euros. The Turkish Lira is dropping quickly in value right now.

We never felt threatened or endangered in any place we went. The people are as anxious to meet you as you are to meet them. And traveling on a large and fancy motorcycle will draw interest. More than once we had them ask if they could take a picture of the Wing with us and/or them. I have let children sit on it when they looked at it with envy. This brings smiles to them and their parents. You don’t need to speak the language to indicate that sitting on it is okay. Just indicate with your hands and smile.

The language barrier doesn’t really exist for English speakers. Not everyone we met spoke English or even good English. But we speak no Turkish or Greek. In tourist areas and major hotels it was no problem. At the Treffen in Turkey, English was the language most commonly spoken when the speakers were not of the same background. The official language of the GWEF (GoldWing European Federation) is English. They are the governing body for most all the Treffens (rallies) in Europe. Off the beaten path in some small town trying to find a hotel room it can be more of a problem. But, unlike our previous travels, we now have Google Translate. Type in your question and show the result to the person. If a restaurant menu or sign is not in English the camera option can give a translation too. We saw lots of people in the city streets and tourist sites that had t-shirts with a logo, comment, opinion, or advertisement on them. This includes kids, teens, adults and the elderly. I think over 90% were written in English. Seldom was it written in a non-English language but then the most common was French or German.

We have Samsung cell phones with AT&T service. We used their International Plan for phone service over there. It charges $10/day of usage for the first 10 days of a month. After that no more daily charge for the rest of the month. Because of background apps we tripped the charge every day. It was $5/day for a second line. This added up to $150/month. But this gave us the same plan as we had at home. All the calls, messages, data we would have used at home was just as available no matter what country we were in. This is very handy in this connected world. We used our phones just like we were at home. Google maps was great for planning routes, finding hotels or restaurants, looking up the bus or tram routes and schedules. The internet was available for reading reviews and doing searches. We could call hotels or friends and receive calls without problems. We had Kindle for books to read. This was a great improvement over the use of the “Lonely Planet” travel books and other books we carried before. If one prefers paper books there are bookstores in every major city with most having an English section. We did a mix of both paper and electronic on this trip.

Wifi in hotels varied widely in quality. Often the television was streamed over the wifi creating a load in the evening when guests turned on their tvs. Nearly every cafe/restaurant/bar has wifi too. These were often better for our use.

Would we do it again? In a flash! I would love to ride South Africa or South America also. We have ridden in over 50 countries and on 5 of the 7 continents and enjoyed it immensely. But I am starting to have minor health problems and we don’t want to be that far away from our health care. Medical care in Europe is very good in the cities. The hospitals and doctors are as good as US and all speak English, but we like to get off the beaten path and there it can be troublesome. We won’t be doing anymore multi-month trips in Europe.

We hope you have enjoyed following along. We have enjoyed the journey ourselves. Now click here to return to the home page.