The Sahara and Us Morocco 2011

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Europe 2004 Introduction

Europe 2004

Ever since Sandra and I took the kids to Europe in 1991 we said we would be back and since it was Sandra's first time and my third I continued to want to ride my motorcycle in Europe having got the motorcycling bug there in 1965. Well this year motivated by the fact we bought property out at the coast and will make sailing a regular pastime we decided to do something different and go back. Then we learned that Pat Peck and his wife Belinda were going to be there and we decided to see if we couldn't meet up with them.

Planning the trip to make the most of the time/value was fun but very detailed. See trip planning here

We can tell you it paid off immensely and we met people along the way who are astonished at what we know and how we planned! Saturday mornings in late winter we would have the fireplace on, coffee in hand, have the laptop connected to the web and 3-5 travel books over as we strategized where we'd go. We used the Horizon's Unlimited website as the main motorcycle information website, coupled with an Alpine Roads web location. Rick Steves "Europe through the Back Door" Public broadcasting TV shows were very informative and his website, particularly the "Graffiti Walls" for accommodations and new back doors helped a lot. Searches by name for web locations and a British TV program called Pilot Guides rounded out the basic resource base. I eventually would establish our Yahoo web email address and home page which would give us weather reports, our stock quotes, exchange rates and news of the day for all the places we would be visiting. When Pat and Belinda saw this they wanted to know how to set it up for themselves.

The key was where we'd find the best deal on renting a motorcycle or deciding whether to ship our own very capable bike there. If you remember we shipped our bike to eastern Canada in 2001 with the express purpose of learning the shipping ropes. There are different types of trips for different people and interests and we have been defined by quite a few people as "Out there!" and "adventure trippers". Well may be that's true. This type of touring isn't for most people but Sandra and I found it more and more is us, and continues to help define our relationship. At 32 years plus does it need more defining??

Generally shipping the bike will cost you about $3200 Canadian dollars round trip plus acquiring European insurance coverage which is about $120 for the time period. We had contacted quite a number of rental/tour operators whose prices for the timeframe we wanted to spend were virtually equal in price to shipping our own. Then we found Bert Duursma BMW in Apeldoorn and after 2 quick emails I just got this very good feeling that they were the people to go with. As it turns out I was soooooooo right.

Next timing was dictated by Blair and Sandy's wedding and the redemption of Aeroplan points for a flight. Those timing issues decided we focussed on where we'd go with Amsterdam/Apeldoorn as the starting and finishing points since open jaw flights/motorcycle rentals just don't work. Actually planning the loop was quite simple except that we changed our France destinations several times based on making sure we saw new places instead of revisiting old ones. Paris was the only exception. A trip of 30 days requires a lot of energy to be expended so we also dedicated a lot of time to getting in good physical condition for it.

And we also agreed that since the motorcycle was a key part of the experience that we'd identify new places we wanted to see, highlight them on a map, determine "best road" suggestions and try and connect the two. We believe we did extremely well. 

  • If we weren't visiting a new European location we were driving a best motorcycling road to get to the next one. 
  • There were only 3 days in the whole trip that didn’t fit that model. 1/2 the first day out of Apeldoorn, the last day back, and a day through the middle of France. 
  • And as the trip progressed we found the big places less attractive and the small locations with their B&B's and real people a lot of fun. Sandra even wanted to give up Paris for the Normandy coast but we were able to fit both in and enjoyed them both. 
One thing that the motorcycle gives is the enhanced sensory experience. Europe was developed on the feudal system and most people resided in a small village and worked the surrounding fields for the master or lord. While the system has changed the organization of life hasn't. 

  • You can drive thru a village smell the flowers in the flower boxes, or the pigs in the barn or the baker with fresh bread or someone who has a fire going in their fireplace! 
  • And your vision is not obstructed by anything. Now that the trip is finished we wouldn't have changed a thing and are now figuring out where we'll focus on doing the next one. Germany and Austria offer incredible scenery and value for the Euro spent. France is very large and would take 3 weeks just to see adequately itself and we still haven't seen Spain and Portugal. Italy surprised us as being far more attractive this time round and Holland and the Dutch people are very warm and friendly. You see the dilemma. Now here's the trip.

As I said at the outset rental location for the bike determined where we flew to especially since it was financially so much different. So where is Apeldoorn? It is by train 1 hour south and east of Amsterdam and from the Schiphol airport. It was so easy to get to 10 mins after clearing Customs at the Airport we were on a train to Apeldoorn. We found the Abbekerk Hotel

After our tour we got on the bike headed to Koblenz, where the Rhine and Mosel merge and then down to Lorelei Rock and the castle eye candy region of the Rhine.
If you took on sugar from this eye candy I'd be diabetic! We stopped for lunch along the Rhine then headed onto some autobahns for the quick trip down to Heidelberg.
140 to 160 kph quick that is! Once there it was great to re-visit one of the most beautiful old castle cities of Europe. We found the same restaurant in the central square that we had eaten at with the kids in '91 (schnitzel) and then drove the bike (not supposed to) to just outside the restaurant door where we had supper then drove off to find a room for the night. That night we stayed on the Neckar River in a basic hotel. Nothing great just a room. But after our other experiences you feel robbed if it doesn't offer something extra.

Day 3 Heidelberg to Rothenburg de Tauber
It was a misty morning that we awoke to and we thought that since the first 2 days had already had a smattering of rain showers then clearing that we might be doomed to this but the mist provided a neat backdrop for us as we motored through the Neckar river valley with each village poking its head out after the other. At one point it cleared and we drove under Schloss Harburg a huge castle on a rock outcropping. The road now actually passes through a tunnel 500' below the castle and it was neat to see a modern highway underneath a 14-century castle.
We arrive in Rothenburg
just before lunch found Haus Karin, which had been listed in Rick's book as a great place to stay. She didn’t disappoint with a great location within walking distance of the Old town,
we enjoyed the day and evening touring the old town with quite a history, had another great meal this time Rouladen, and took the Night watch man tour which was equally good. Fell in love with Rothenburg and would list it as a must see place with its town square, quaint setting and old history in the Holy Roman Empire. We'd hear a lot about this empire on this trip.

Day 4 Rothenburg to Bad Heilbrunn
After a super breakfast at Karin's place and visiting with 3 other motorcyclists we headed off towards the Andech's monastery near Herrsching. It was today that we learned that you shouldn't expect to find accommodation on a beautiful weekend near a large city like Munich.
We got to Herrsching near lunchtime which is our normal strategy, get to where you want to be by lunch get a place, tour the area, and be ready to move on the next day. Not here. Everything was booked, it was hot and sunny, the weekend and every Adolph, Gertie, and Wilhelm is out in their Porsche Boxster or Smart car or whatever. We visited the Andech's monastery which is renowned for its quality beer and after beer and lunch we moved on finally finding accommodation in Bad Heilbrunn by 5:00pm. A beautiful medical facility town right on the edge of the Alps. Here we had an incredible room and the best sleep I have ever had in my entire life.

The next morning we had breakfast with a visiting therapeutic specialist taking a course there and she explained the area to us. The weather was beautiful and we were on our way.

Day 5 Bad Heilbrunn to Salzburg
Our destination overnight allowed us to consider some Alp back roads since we had traveled further the day before. We chose to go over the German Alps and into Austria and then return back into Germany over another pass and into Berchesgarten (Hitler's hideout) before going onto Salzburg. The scenery and drives were great with us dragging footpegs on the Beemer quite a few times along the way. When we stopped to ask for directions once we had a guy stop offer his help in quite good English then explain that he was a German POW in WWII, taken prisoner to England, then escaped there into the countryside where he had to learn perfect English to go undetected before the end of the war. And you learn this all from just asking directions. The whole trip was filled with this kind of 'extra'.
Once we got to Berchesgarten we caught the bus tour up to "The Eagles Nest".
This bus ride into the clouds is one incredible ride and the hideout at the top quite impressive. In one of the pictures you'll see a brick mason
standing on a single board over a 6000' drop, placing stone. Another shows Hitler on a balcony we would also stand on.
When we returned to the bike it was beginning to spit rain so we put on our rain gear and took a back route into Salzburg that a Horizon's community member had recommended. It was gorgeous but was broken by the skies opening and a downpour like you wouldn't believe. A short trip into Salzburg and we located Trudy's B&B which we had booked for 3 nights. She immediately dried us out and we went out for dinner at a "Weiner Wald" world famous for their chicken dinners. It was excellent. Trudy told us when we returned that the forecast the next day was for Hot and Sunny and it didn’t disappoint.

Day 6 Salzburg
So much to see. We walked into the old town from Trudy's
and bought a river tour ticket that would take us to the Heilbrunn Palace and trick water fountains. It would also allow us 24 hours of free entrance to most other tourist sites in Salzburg. The boat tour was good the Palace and trick fountains very amusing since a Prince/Bishop did them in the 17th century. We also toured the fortress, Mozart's birthplace, rode the funicular, the catacombs, and some of the incredible 44 Catholic churches in the old town. On the way back in the evening we stopped at a site where there was supposed to be a beer garden but there was just a church (1 of the 44). We opened a door and down some stairs you could hear a din of noise. At the bottom we opened a door to a beer hall that served draught beer in 2 sizes large and larger. .5 L and 1 liter that is. We had beer and pretzels there then staggered back to Trudy's that night.

We spent a second day here originally planning to rent bicycles and ride down to Hallein but the weather wasn't very good in the morning so we finished our sight seeing and came back and had a nap. Trudy offers her guests the chance to buy wine or beer from her made by a Farmer/vintner in Melk. For 1L of white wine you pay 3.3E. about $5 Canadian. Sandra and I did this, it was great wine and we weren't motivated to do much else, so we asked for a restaurant location close by. There we went to a Chinese restaurant that served the very best Chinese food we have ever had. And no we weren't tipsy and didn’t know the difference. Leaving here was like leaving home, Trudy makes you feel so welcome, her son's father-in-law passed away while we were there, they had to attend the funeral in Munich so we were left with the house to ourselves, talked about that and she recommended SARAN to go to supper and there they made us a special dinner (Spaghetti and shrimp). Salzburg was very good to us!

Day 8 Salzburg via Halstadt to Melk

One of the best scenic locations to see in all Europe is Hallstadt located in the Austrian Alps. It is a picture perfect place so we headed out to it in the morning, having gotten a late start because of visiting with Trudy. Plan on these delays, or seize the moment when they come because we have come to know Trudy as a friend now. As you will see by the pictures Hallstadt is a postcard place and so quiet you feel you must whisper while in town. By the way, they don’t let cars in town. After a lunch on the deck of a cafĂ©
we looked to connect some of the Alpine roads suggested through to Melk. At Wildapen we took a break by a scenic waterfall.
In Mariazell, we stopped for another break walked up a small set of steps and into a plaza with 1000's of pilgrims going to a Cathedral there. We went inside where a service was about to get underway and heard the pipe organ play. If you go to Europe don’t miss hearing the pipe organs in one of the cathedrals there. They are much more powerful than today's sound systems and just think back to the fact they were there since the 14 or 15th centuries.
On our way to Melk we encountered some really twisty roads and got into Melk around 6pm. Found a B&B and walked downtown to the centre square for supper. We sat out for supper, something we did a lot of on the trip and the atmosphere of being in a small square, listening to the church bells on the hour, seeing the ambience of the town unfold is beyond capture with words. And each evening is different.
We waited until morning to see the monastery there but this impressive facility is so dominating
the countryside you won’t want to miss seeing it. On from here through the Wachau valley and into Vienna tomorrow.

Day 9 Melk to Vienna
The drive through the Wachau and into Vienna was pastoral and open with its many farmers' fields. We wondered which one had actually vinted the wine we drank in Salzburg. As we got closer to Vienna the pace got more hectic and traffic heavier and we drove right downtown and into Vienna pretty quick. You realize that Vienna at one time if not now was the centre of the Happsburg dynasty and the Austria- Hungarian empire. A street sign showing Budapest, Prague, and Zagreb one way, Venice and Rome another causes you to realize this is a large centre and a cross road for Europe. The British dashed our initial plans for accommodation. They had decided to have a soccer match with the Austrian's so the whole town was booked for Friday through Sunday.
We headed back out to Purkersdorf (quite the name eh?) where the visitors bureau found us a hotel there for cheap and great accommodation. We would buy the Vienna train pass for 3E each a day and ride into and around Vienna for 1 low price and return out of the hub-bub there in the evening for a quiet meal and evening in the local towns square. Remember do this every chance you get! Here we sat under a beautiful tree in a courtyard, under a town bell that would toll every 15 mins the time. Ah Europe!

Day 10 Vienna

Got a good start to the day and toured Schonnbrunn Palace apartments and Lippizanner stables before a tour of the Opera house in the afternoon. Saw St. Stephen's cathedral and the square where there are the typical entertainers.
Of course music and statutes are big.
Fashion is HUGE here, even bigger than in Paris, and Sandra pointed out a couple with her wearing this see-thru bra and backless top. Notice the guy is short and dumpy. There's hope for us all!
After a walk down by the Danube river
we had decided we would head back to the Hotel (Waldof) in late afternoon, buy some wine and cheese and have it on the patio there. We actually bought beer (Kaiser) 660 ml bottles, WOW and I said I didn’t want to have to drive any place afterwards, so we asked the hotel owners if they serve a supper (most of these places don’t). They had a tour coming and they apologized but said they could offer 1 type of meal which turned out to be a great soup and salad for starters, goulash and spatzel for main course and a apple crisp type dessert all for 10E. WoW! And Sandra had helped some other tourists access the hotel who were Romanian but spoke good but broken English. Still better than our Romanian though! That night in the back of the restaurant we visited with them for probably an hour learning about Romania and their 2 boys one of who was going off to law school. They were headed to Venice for the Gondola races and told horror stories of being held up at the border for 3 hours before being able to leave Romania. And they are in the tourism industry there. We really enjoyed this visit with them and exchanged business cards. We had prepared a business card for the motorcycle trip, which tells people who you are and an email address and web address to go to for more information about our trip. We found this well received and expect to extend our acquaintances this way.

Day 11 Purkersdorf to Radstadt
Purkersdorf is on the edge of the Vienna woods and an excellent kick off point for the motorcycle roads leading us back to Radstadt and onto the Alps and Dolomites. We headed out after saying goodbye to the Romanians in the morning and met up with a motorcycle group who we had asked some directions of. They turned out to be going in the same direction so we rode with them for awhile till nearly returning to Mariazell. Today would be a day of just riding some beautiful alpine roads with just the need to get close to the Grossglockner to cross the next day. By mid afternoon we get to a town called Radstadt and decided to call it a day, bought a bottle of wine and some cheese and ate out on our balcony overlooking the town. We eventually would walk into town by the local old castle and eat supper at a restaurant overlooking an incredible alpine vista. I know this sounds repetitive but it was just this way almost every day. Nothing special here, just everyday Austria.

Day 12 Radstadt to near Arabba Italy
OK today was going to be the drum roll of motorcycling days in Europe with us crossing the Grossglockner, a toll road that is called the "Top of Austria" route and an incredible road by report from every motorcycle source. Well we'll see, we have to compare it to the Highway to the Sun. Well, lets just say it covers about twice the height and 3 times the distance of Hiway to the Sun and has glaciers and motorcycles ( about 1500 that day) far away from the Sun road. And more of that eye candy that is giving me diabetes. At the end of the road is a town called Heiglenblut then onto Leinz and Tobiach in Italy where we stop take a look off into the distance see another pretty vista calling and change our route to go that way towards Cortina D'Ampezzo. Here we change direction to go towards the 'best' Italian route, the Passa de Sallo, and along the way we get tired of wheeling the multiple corners every 2 seconds (I know hard to believe but there were so many I did finally tire out). We stopped at a small Albergo, the Excelsior, perched high on a cliff overlooking an incredible mountain vista (heard this before??). We asked about their rooms, we were shown their best room, the only one with a balcony and I took this picture from our balcony to prove the more than 12000' variation from the tip of the mountain to the valley floor. All for $85.00 with breakfast for 2. That night we drove into the small village for our first great Italian pizza.

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