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European Trip - 2007

The Story of our trip round Europe in the summer of 2007

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

 

Day 0

At long last, time has come to pass all my work on to my colleagues, bid them well as they take on the tasks ahead, and escape... woooo hooooo, we're off on HOLIDAY!!

Sorry, but I always get so excited when I leave work knowing that I have an adventure ahead of me... when I know I don't have to get up early in the morning to meet someone else's deadlines... when I know that my next move is simply down to my own personal choice (and Tracy's of course!)... when I know that for several weeks, I'll be living the life that my dreams are full of - days riding my bike, nights under canvas, unfamiliar locations, strange languages and customs, delicious unusual food and wine - all shared with Tracy...

OK, enough of the romantic dreaming. Since getting home from work around 5pm, we've been busy getting our stuff together. Tracy had already got most of it sorted, so all that I needed to do was run through it step by step, double-checking we hadn't forgotten anything, and piling it all up in the front room... and then trying to pack it all into the limited luggage space we have on the bikes. Tracy will have 2 panniers on her bike, as it is small and not ideally suited to carrying heavy loads, and I'll have 2 panniers, a top-box, the tent, a small roll-bag and a large roll-bag on mine...

The packing was made more enjoyable as we watched the "Hairy Bikers Cookbook" on telly - and discussed whether we'd be able to rustle up anything as delicious on our camping stoves during this trip!

and now it's time to relax with a cup of tea before getting our heads down for the night. We're still hoping Tracy's foot is not too painful (it's still slightly swollen and hurts a lot when she puts any shoes on, let along bike boots)... as tomorrow's a fairly long day with the ride down to Dover, the ferry to Calais and then on to St Omer for the overnight stop at a Formule1 (cheap and cheerful and saves the hastle of camping for one night!).

Hopefully we'll get chance to update the blog soon as we head down through France, Belgium and into Germany...

Thursday, August 9, 2007

 

Day 1 - Home to St Omer, France

Woke up to clear blue skies and little wind… most unusual as it normally rains on the day we depart, but I’m not going to complain!

Whilst I was getting the bikes out of the garage and collecting the last of our gear, Tracy squeezed her damaged foot into her bike boots and went decidedly pale. She looked ghostlike as she hobbled around grimacing in pain but gradually the colour returned to her face and she proclaimed herself ready for the off…


On the road again…



With the bikes loaded up we bid the girls farewell and off we went, heading out of town and down to the M60 before turning East onto the M67 and towards the Woodhead Pass and the M1. With the sun beating down and the countryside a brilliantly lush green from all the recent rain the journey was extremely pleasant, albeit slowed by the traffic. A quick stop for fuel just before the M1 and then onto the motorway for the long slog to Dover. Sat on my bike with my music playing and Tracy’s headlight bouncing around in my mirrors was enough for me to relax and settle in to the rhythm of a long ride. Traffic was pretty light with only a couple of stretches requiring filtering, so we made reasonable time down to the M25 – perhaps a little longer than it would have taken if we’d gone the more scenic route via Buxton and Ashfield to Derby, but with Tracy’s foot causing her pain whenever the pace dropped to a crawl, our decision to take the motorways seemed a sensible one.

We stopped at South Mims services for a much needed coffee, and when we got back to our bikes, I made a mistake getting on and my bike toppled over – right over the top of the side-stand and onto its side. And it was extremely heavy to pick back up. Note to self – if it falls again, get a picture and then get help picking it up again!

Suitably embarrassed and a little angry with myself, we filled up with fuel and continued on our way. By now it was clear we would not be able to catch the ferry we’d booked – the 5.20pm sailing – despite having set off at 10.30am and not exactly ridden slowly. Unperturbed we rode onwards, conscious that we were getting tired, and the last 40 miles to Dover seemed to take an eternity. Eventually we pulled up at the port and checked in, being directed to our lane and joining towards the back behind numerous cars and trailers…


Waiting for the ferry…



After a very short wait the tannoy announced our boarding and we were waved to the front of the queue and on board, where we strapped the bikes down and headed up the stairs to find a deserted restaurant where we made ourselves comfortable ready for the off… once we’d set sail and the restaurant opened we grabbed a curry (very expensive, but acceptable and given that we would have little chance to eat on arrival, our best option). Before arriving in port we bought a couple of bottles of Grolsch from the fridge for when we arrived and then it was back on the bikes ready for when we docked.

It took very little time from arriving in Calais before we were off the boat and riding on the wrong side of the road towards St Omer… It seemed to take longer than we expected, but after around 40 minutes we pulled up outside the Formule 1 and checked ourselves in. We really enjoy these simple motels with their pre-packaged rooms as they all look the same but provide a very cheap room with TV (CSI Miami dubbed into French) and a washbasin with shower/toilet just down the corridor. Within seconds of throwing the last of our luggage on the room floor, we had the cold beer open and toasted our first day’s riding... 346 miles, 7 ¾ hours in the saddle…


End of day 1, and a cold beer at last…


Friday, August 10, 2007

 

Day 2 – St Omer to Charlesville-Mezziers

We woke around 8.30am after a fitful night - still dreaming about work, so haven’t switched off properly yet… After packing and grabbing breakfast in the motel whilst studying the map and trying to sort out a route towards Prague, we decided it would be a good idea to have a shorter run today, and so picked my favourite campsite in the town of Charlesville-Mezziers, just down the N43. This is a campsite I first stayed at way back in 1998 when I went round France on my own – my first real bike tour and the one that made me realise I could travel independently and still have a great time. Since then, I’ve stayed there with Colin (twice – once in 1999 and again in 2002), David (on our tour round Europe in 2001) and Tracy (in 2005). I should really qualify for a “frequent camper” discount!

The journey there was uneventful, but non-the-less really enjoyable as we would our way through little French villages and down into rural France, past endless war graveyards filled with beautifully kept uniform white headstones – a reminder of the trouble this particular part of France (near the border with Belgium) had during both World Wars…


Camping again…



We arrived at the campsite in Charlesville-Mezziers around 3.30pm and checked in without issue (my French is still very rusty, though!) and pitched up the tent before grabbing a quick wash and getting changed, then walking in to town. The first disappointment of the trip hit us as soon as leaving the campsite, when the footbridge across the river was closed for repairs, necessitating a 20-minute diversion round to the road bridge. The town was very familiar from our previous visits, so we found the supermarket without trouble and procured the supplies we needed to cook our evening meal, then headed for a bar where we sat and enjoyed a couple of beers, happily watching the world go by… one of our favourite pastimes, made all the more entertaining by the eclectic mix of people and their fashions once outside the main French cities!


Cold beer, poor quality snacks, but good street entertainment!



After we’d supped our beers we walked back to camp, where I rustled up a Bolognese and pasta, whilst supping Pastis and red wine… a perfect end to a really good day…


And zees iz ze garlic…


Saturday, August 11, 2007

 

Day 3 – Charlesville-Mezziers to somewhere in Germany near Mosbach

Today dawned cloudy and overcast, but at least it’s not raining. We both slept fitfully again, interrupted by noisy campers and a our various aches and pains. After a coffee to stimulate our senses, we packed up camp and headed off on the road again. We took the N roads to Metz before joining the motorway network with the intention of heading deep into Germany to get us closer to the Czech Republic. What we hadn’t bargained for was how long this would take – it was a lot further than we thought and with no other stops apart from coffee, fuel and liquid adjustment, we finally pulled off the motorway just past Sinsheim – where there is a museum of air transport – including 2 Concorde aircraft looking as futuristic as ever – and took the scenic road into the mountains in search of a campsite.

It wasn’t too long before we found a sign, although I almost missed the junction and caused Tracy to practice her heavy braking too! The site itself was down in the valley by the river, and whilst the proprietor’s English was no better than my German, we soon negotiated a pitch and some hard-standing to park the bikes on. Once the tent was up we headed for the on-site bar for a couple of cold beers and a game or two of “pass the pigs”. Then we smelt the food. Steak and chips… with onions… all smothered in szechwan spices… delicious…


Down by the river running past our campsite…



And so back to the tent, where I’m now sat typing in my journal into the laptop hoping that soon we’ll be able to find a cyber-café where we can update the blog…

Sunday, August 12, 2007

 

Day 4 – Germany to the Czech Republic (near Karlovy Vary)

As is starting to become habit-forming, we woke this morning to misty skies and broke camp whilst the sun tried its best to break through… as it started to appear we left the campsite and rode along a narrow lane (it might have been a cycle-path but we didn’t get stopped!) to rejoin the main road towards Wurzberg. The roads were just perfect, beautifully smooth tarmac, hardly any traffic and through what I now consider to be typically Germanic scenery – rolling hills lined with deep-green trees and through small sleepy villages…


At the roadside, somewhere deep in Germany…



From Wurzberg we took the autoroute past Schweinfurt, Bamberg and Bayreuth in order to make some progress, and then back onto scenic roads as we wound our way to the Czech border at Schirnding. We stopped at the guardhouse, where a very bored looking German border guard stared at me until I handed over our passports (not sure whether he was simply wondering why I had stopped!). He then proceeded to study the back page of my passport with great interest… and that’s the page with my next of kin details on, not the one with my photo! When he had handed them back, we rode the 10 feet to the next booth and repeated the exercise with a slightly more amused Czech border guard (think he must have found his German counterpart’s actions as odd as I did!). He took a lot less time and waved us on and into the Czech republic…

Unfortunately the signs proclaiming this fact, that would have made a great picture, were at the side of the dual carriageway and not somewhere where we could stop, so my David Bailey moment had to wait a few more hundred metres until we stopped at the first service area… for a much needed drink as the sun was now out and the temperature was rising rapidly…


In the Czech Republic at last!



It’s odd how simply crossing a land border can change so much, but the crossing from Germany to the Czech Republic seemed to mark more than a simple man-made line between two nations. First, there was the dramatic change in the weather. Sure, it had been getting gradually more sunny over the last hour as we approached the border, but no sooner had we crossed it than it became baking hot! Then there was the general feel of the country – the different languages on the roadsigns, the increasing number of industrial factories on the horizons belching out clouds of smoke into the light blue sky, the increasingly spartan landscape as the trees receded back into small clumps revealing endless plains of crops… But oddest of all were the women stood in the middle of the road at the intersections. At first, I thought they must have broken down and were waving to flag down helpful passing motorists for assistance. That would certainly explain how come there were in the middle of nowhere dressed in all their finery… then I noticed the absence of broken-down cars… and then that their finery wasn’t the sort they’d wear to church on Sunday, more like to the disco on Saturday night when out with their mates on the pull… that’s when it clicked. Oh, better stop staring and focus on the road ahead ;-)

We carried on riding for a while longer (and the ‘ladies of the day-time’ became less frequent as we got further from the border) until we passed through Karlovy Vary and saw a campsite sign pointing down towards the river. We followed a little winding road for miles until we arrived at the site – Na Spici at Radasov – which was just beautiful. Whilst Tracy sat on her bike baking in the sun, I wandered into the campsite reception to try and book us a pitch. My Czech is somewhat worse than my Outer Mongolian, so it was with some significant relief that I discovered the proprietor spoke excellent English. Within minutes I’d checked us in, bought a map of Czech campsites, discovered where the showers, toilets, restaurant and other facilities were and then wandered back with a smug expression on my face to explain it all to Tracy. She guessed instantly that he must have spoken English… seems she knows about my linguistic skills too…

After a quick shower we turned the bikes into a drying-line and headed off in search of a cold beer (or two)…


In the sunshine at the Na Spici campsite, Czech Republic



Suitably refreshed we headed back to the tent for a little while to read and rest our aching bones before wandering back to the restaurant for dinner. The food was excellent with starters of cold meats – pork and salami – followed by a hearty main course of rich meats. We also attempted to learn some Czech, trying to get the waiter to explain how to pronounce “thank-you”… it’s something like dverky-wee vam…

Monday, August 13, 2007

 

Day 5 – Karlovy Vary to Prague

After having ridden over 1,000 miles already, at least today we’ve a slightly shorter ride into Prague.

The day dawned like every other, with the mist hugging the valley and shrouding the campsite in an early morning dew that soaked the tent but left us feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead…


Early morning at the Na Spici campsite



We waited until the sun had broken through the clouds and burnt the mist away so that we could pack the tent away dry, especially as we’ve 2 nights in a hotel ahead of us. When the bikes we laden again we rolled out of the campsite and back onto the main roads, heading out towards Chomutov. We bought some rolls, ham and tomatoes from a supermarket and stopped at the roadside for breakfast, eating and relaxing in the sun, just 65km from Prague, safe in the knowledge that we’d be there in no time at all, and we couldn’t check in to the hotel until 2pm anyway.

After we’d left our breakfast stop, we worked our way towards Louny then on towards Slany where I made a minor navigational error and we ended up riding down minor country roads as we meandered on towards the E55 – our chosen route into the city.

The benefit of riding a bike over any other form of travel (with the possible exception of a bicycle, but that’s way too much like hard work!) is that these mishaps become part of the adventure, and it’s always possible to stop at the roadside and admire the view…


At the roadside, somewhere in the Czech Republic with nothing for miles around…



… and what a view! For miles around there was nothing. Just endless fields, with scatterings of trees and small villages dotted about.

It wasn’t long before I’d managed to get us back on track – the satellite navigation proving it’s worth as a rolling map – and we joined the D8/E55 towards the centre of Prague with only 22Km to go. A final stop at a services just outside Prague for a drink and an ice-cream (and to re-focus our minds after such empty roads) and we were on our way. Having already studied the map, and programmed the sat-nav with the hotel’s address, it was a really simple job to ride into Prague, take a couple of left turns and we pulled up right outside the Extol Inn, our hotel for the next 2 nights. Check-in was simple, again because the receptionist spoke good English, and we had the bikes locked safely away in the secure car-park, chained together and unloaded for once. Carrying the heavy panniers up to our room on the 2nd floor in the heat probably made us look more like intrepid travellers than we wanted (and smell too much like them too!), but thankfully the shower was hot and powerful!


Our room at the Extol Inn



Quickly changed from motorcycle travellers to tourists, resplendent in shorts and sandals, we caught the tram into the city centre, something that was made much easier as we’d visited Prague a couple of years ago – although that was in December and it was much colder and less busy!

No sooner had we arrived than the heavens opened. Yes, our first rain of the trip, just as we got off the tram dressed in shorts and tee-shirts. Nice. But Prague, and the Czech Republic is renowned for one thing – its beer! So we popped in to a bar to let the rain stop and sank a cool beer.


Prague after the rain stopped



When the rain stopped we wandered round the streets, re-familiarising ourselves with the city and remarking on how different it looks without the dusting of snow, and with the over-abundance of tourists crowded into the squares, following umbrellas held aloft like sheep to a shearing…

The biggest attraction appears to be the Astronomical Clock, where huge crowds gather every hour to watch as the clock chimes and the figures surrounding the clock-face (Vanity, Greed, Pagan invasion, and Death, move in time with the chimes.


Crowds gather to watch the Astronomical Clock do its thing…



We wandered aimlessly round the streets for quite a while, walked on to the Charles Bridge and listened to the jazz band playing, before grabbing a beer and wandering some more…


Jazz band on the Charles Bridge…



… by now it was becoming clear that we were both very tired, 5 days of travelling and over 1,100 miles were taking their toll. Despite it still being relatively early, we found a restaurant and ordered a traditional Czech meal – yet more meat, and way too much, even for me! – before walking it off for a while, enjoying the early evening warmth until we could last no more, and then catching a metro and a tram back to the hotel and turning in for the night…

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

 

Day 6 – Prague and…. MY BIRTHDAY!!

Yes, today is my birthday. As anyone who knows me would tell you, I like my birthday. It’s my special day of the year. Getting older doesn’t bother me (although the outward signs of increasing wrinkles and the odd grey hair, and the inward sign of aching bones and a tendency to go “ooohh” when bending over are of concern), and each year always seems to bring new excitement, so it’s always with great pleasure that I welcome another birthday. After I’ve had so many, you would think the novelty would wear off, but far from it…

This morning dawned with the bright blue sky showing outside the circular window (no, not a Play School reference, there really is a circular window in our hotel bedroom), and Tracy’s dulcet tones wishing me “Happy Birthday”. A good start to the day… once up, showered and dressed I was passed a stack of cards that had arrived prior to our departure (one of the problems with leaving home before the big day is that the bulk of my cards sit on the mat at home until I return). As usual there was a mix of sentiments expressed in the cards, and of course one “Old Man” card (you know who you are… just wait ‘til I get home…).


Old Man indeed…



After a quick breakfast we got the Internet access sorted in the room and I then spent a while bringing the blog up to date before we headed off into sunny Prague to do some sight-seeing. First there was the Astronomical Clock, complete with huge crowds, although Tracy managed to get a quick picture of me with only one Japanese tourist emerging from behind my ample physique…


Paul and the Astronomical Clock…



Then we walked round the now-familiar streets which were heaving with tourists in large and small groups, ignorantly pushing their way through the narrow passages and standing in rows taking photos of the same scenes, then quickly scurrying on to catch the next site… we took as many of the less well-trodden paths we could and crossed the river towards the castle from a bridge further upstream from the Charles Bridge, but there was no real escape from the crowds…


Prague Castle stands towering over the river…



We wandered round the streets near the castle, stopping for another cold beer (well, we are in Prague!) and a delicious lunch (Beef Goulash for me, and the most garlic-laden chicken for Tracy) before we came across the Franz Kafka museum with its rather interesting fountain in the grounds…


Tracy’s not sure where to look…



From here we walked up to the castle itself… and I mean UP… lots of steps to walk off the goulash and develop a thirst for another beer…


Tracy admires the view looking back down the steps we’d just climbed…



We arrived at the castle just in time to catch the changing of the guard ceremony. This happens every hour and draws a large crowd, as the 3 new guards march across the courtyard, out to the front of the gates, where 2 of them swap positions with the sentries. Then the 3rd guard returns with the replaced sentries, marching slowly back to the barracks. How they keep a straight face, when faced with a wall of tourists is beyond me…


Changing the Guard, with appreciative tourist audience…




Marching back to barracks, trying to avoid breaking into hysterics…


All this excitement was way too much for us, so we grabbed an ice-cream and carried on wandering aimlessly, trying to avoid the ever-more-maddening crowds, diving into another bar when it got too much… then finally meandering across the Charles Bridge, watching the artists draw portraits of willing victims, and to the metro/tram and back to our hotel for a shower and freshen up…

We’ve found a Thai restaurant for dinner tonight that’s highly recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide, and as it’s my birthday and we’ve had traditional Czech food already today… it’d seem rude not to give it a try!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

 

Day 7 – Prague to Cesky Krumlov

We woke after a good night’s sleep, made all the better for dreams of Thai food, motorcycling through stunning scenery under clear blue skies and endless supplies of cool beer… oh, that bit wasn’t the dream…

The day dawned hot and sunny, so after a quick breakfast we packed the remainder of our stuff and lugged the panniers and bags back down the stairs and out to the bikes. It took a little while to get them loaded up again, and ready for the off, during which time we both started perspiring heavily in the heat, and the thought of riding through the centre of Prague in order to get to the road South didn’t seem like such a great idea… As it turned out, the sat nav did an excellent job of getting us onto the main road out of Prague pretty quickly, and the traffic wasn’t too bad – even as we passed through the top of St Wenceslas’ Square (it wasn’t covered in snow, cold and crisp and even, at all…). Once clear of the town we picked up the main route South, and quickly found ourselves once again in the mist of the Czech countryside, with endless fields of crops burnt brown in the sun.

The ride was pretty uneventful, and we made good progress, stopping occasionally for a drink by the roadside, before stopping again just outside Cesky Krumlov. When we were ‘planning’ this trip, we picked this town as a must-see due to the rave review in the Lonely Planet Eastern Europe guide, and had chosen a campsite south of the town as our destination. Whilst sat having a cup of coffee and a bowl of beef broth soup, we again read the guidebook, and decided that staying closer to town would be much better, as we could make camp, get changed into our non-biking gear and take a short ride 2-up into town for some supplies and to have a look round.

And so, that’s what we did. And Cesky Krumlov did not disappoint. The guide had referred to it as the most picturesque town in Europe and I’d have to say it certainly ranks up there with the very best I’ve seen. It bears a resemblance to a miniature Prague, with a castle on the hill and a river meandering through the town, but the castle is like something from a medieval fairy-tale, and the rest of the town looks like the sort of place Hans Christian Anderson would have dreamt up – all pretty pastel-coloured buildings and narrow cobbled streets. The photographs don’t really do it justice.


Cesky Krumlov



Cesky Krumlov



Cesky Krumlov



However, it was still very hot and we wanted to have a cold beer, which we couldn’t really do when we had to ride back to camp, 2-up on my bike wearing just shorts and tee-shirts, so we bought some groceries and some cans of cold beer and headed back to the campsite.


Cesky Krumlov beer



Once there, whilst enjoying the beer, I made up some tuna fried rice. Now, this is a dish that I frequently cook back home, when in my own kitchen and surrounded by my collection of gadgets for every occasion. Here, I had a couple of tin plates, some small pans, a knife, a willing assistant and a cold beer. So, naturally it turned out just fine – I’m starting to enjoy campsite cooking... probably just as well, too!


Campsite cooking


Thursday, August 16, 2007

 

Day 8 – Cesky Krumlov to Brno (via Austria)

Another hot and sunny start to the day…

This morning we decided to take the opportunity afforded to us of being close to the Austrian border to visit another country for an hour or so. Once packed up, we hit the road, heading to the Austrian town of Rainbach im Muhkreis (it has lots of weird accents in the name, but I can’t figure out how to type them…). For some reason, we were both a little out of sorts from the get-go, a bit hot and sticky and generally not in the best of moods. Things didn’t get better when we pulled up at the side of the road for a fluid-adjustment break, only for Tracy to topple off her bike on the loose ground. Fortunately, there was no harm done to her or Lydia (her bike), save for an indicator which was quickly repaired with tape.

Once we set off again, we relaxed a bit more, and stopped for breakfast at a roadside café – where we both had fish and croquet potatoes. Not exactly great breakfast food, but it was the only think on the menu we liked the sound of. No sooner had we eaten and set off again, than we arrived at the Austrian border. Here we were waved through by the Czech border guards (who were surprised to have been disturbed from their tea-break) and rode into Austria without seeing any Austrian border guards.

Once again, the world did the remarkable border trick of dramatically changing the countryside. Where the Czech side had been miles of empty fields of burnt brown crops, we were now in a lush Alpine wilderness, with rolling green hills and forests of pine trees, interspersed with wooden cottages and signs for ski resorts (looked a little flat for skiing to me, but then again, I’m no expert). We followed the road that skirts the Czech border, through Karstift, Weitra and Heidenreichstein before heading back into the Czech Republic at Nova Bystrice. Here, the border was even more deserted, so we rode through unhindered by trying to get our passports out of pockets whilst wearing clumsy motorcycle gloves.


Back at the Czech border...



Once into Czech again, we hit our first minor problem – the sat nav didn’t know anything about any of the roads in this part of the country. This meant that we had to stop frequently to get the map out of the top-box, and probably took a longer route to Brno than was strictly necessary, but the sun was still shining, the roads were good and clear, and despite the discomfort from riding for so many days, all was well with the world.

That was, until arriving at the campsite. When I’d done the research into places to stay for the MotoGP race, I’d come across a campsite that was recommended by a number of people, and had made a reservation via email. We found Camping Radka without too much difficulty (I’d put the coordinates in the sat nav, and it had recovered its knowledge of the roads), but were both very disappointed with what we found. Perhaps it was made worse because a few miles down the road before we arrived were bars and restaurants by the side of the lake of the sort you normally find next to a big family campsite – the type that has a swimming pool, well-stocked shop, several restaurants and bars… what we found was a steep, dusty, small, packed campsite with no real facilities (just 2 toilets and 2 showers). The proprietor checked us in and asked us to pitch the tent in a very small area behind some other tents, as he was very busy (it being grand prix weekend…). So much for forward planning…

Deciding that it was too late to start looking for an alternative, and reasoning that we probably wouldn’t be able to get in anywhere else, we pitched up as instructed, and went in search of a cold beer…

After a couple of beers in the 2 nearest bars/restaurants, we returned and showered before heading back out again in the opposite direction to see if we could find somewhere nicer to eat. Needless to say, we didn’t, and so we returned to the bar closest to the campsite for dinner. The food was excellent, and with so much garlic on that I won’t need to worry about vampires for several months.

The final task for the day was for us to try and find somewhere to get tyres for Lydia. Before we set off we discussed whether she needed new boots or not, and being cheapskates thought that the ones she had would suffice. Whilst in Cesky Krumlov I looked again and noticed that they were both very worn, and that they had become noticeably squared-off from the 1,500miles we’d already ridden. With so many more miles to go, it seemed sensible to take advantage of being near a big city to get some new ones. But the anticipated cyber-café at the campsite was non-existent so we resorted to “phoning a friend”. We rang Colin, with whom I’d had a similar dilemma in Switzerland a few years ago. Then, Colin’s bike had been in desperate need of new tyres, and his brother came to the rescue by finding a tyre fitter nearby, all for the cost of a phone call. So, I called Colin, and asked him if he could find either a Ducati dealer (1st choice, Lydia being a Ducati), a BMW dealer (I could use my bike as the intro) or alternatively anyone who might supply and fit bike tyres. An hour or so later, I had a text message with the name, address and phone number (not that that would be much use with my grasp of the language!) of Dmoto – Brno’s Ducati dealership. Able to rest safe in the knowledge we could start our hunt for tyres there, we slept soundly…

Friday, August 17, 2007

 

Day 9 – Brno

It rained in the night, but has stopped now, and whilst it’s not as hot and sunny as it was, it’s still pretty warm. We woke early and made a cup of coffee whilst formulating the plan of attack. Tracy is very reluctant to wear her bike boots again, as her foot is still playing up, but our need to get the tyres sorted means that she needs to. So, once again I’ve watched her grimace in pain as she forces her over-sized foot into her boot and then gets on her bike. With the sat nav programmed with the address of the Ducati dealer, we rode into Brno and apart from a couple of wrong-turnings, we found it without too much difficulty. We got there just before 9am, so had to wait until opened at 9.30am. When the mechanic turned up, he spoke a little English and we managed to communicate our needs, he said there might be a problem as the rear tyre size was not one they normally have in stock (odd, as the Ducati Monster is their best-selling bike in Europe!), but he went to look anyway. A few minutes later he re-appeared with 2 Pirelli Diablo tyres in Lydia’s size. He then proceeded to wheel her into the service bay, where he and a fellow mechanic got on with the job of removing both wheels and changing the tyres. Shortly after they started a couple of Czech bikers arrived and started watching proceedings… guess it’s not every day they see a GB registered bike being re-booted…


Lydia gets her new boots



With the tyres fitted and paid for, we rode back to camp, via the supermarket where we bought a few supplies for later on. Back at camp we parked Lydia under the tree, and rode 2-up to find the race circuit. Where in England the circuits are very well sign-posted, in Brno, the circuit is not. We rode round for what seemed like ages, following the sat-nav to the address on the back of the tickets, which turned out to be a small housing estate – although there was a small contingent of security officials guarding a grassy car-park and directing a few people up the road on foot… As this didn’t look like the main entrance, we rode round some more, eventually finding ourselves at a large car and bike park, with signs to “paddock” and “circuit”. Result. We then wandered to the main gate, and entered the circuit, flashing our tickets and being waved through. Here, we bought an official programme, which showed the circuit layout – we were now behind the paddock on the start-finish straight, where there are paid-for grandstands. It was then that I remembered I’d booked tickets for a grandstand – only ours was at the opposite end of the circuit.

So we opted to familiarise ourselves a bit more with the circuit and walked back out of the gate (it’s not possible to walk around inside, like at most circuits), and then right round to the first grassy seating area where we re-entered the circuit, grabbed a beer, and went to watch proceedings from the top of the hill. We watched the tail-end of the 125cc first qualifying, and the MotoGP practice, ate a disgusting hot-dog (seems it’s not just the British circuits that can’t do decent fast-food, although it was much cheaper), and then wandered back to the bike. We think we’ve sussed out how to get to our grandstand for tomorrow’s qualifying session, but we’ll have to see.

Now we’re back at camp, and no sooner had we arrived and taken the opportunity to shower, than it’s started to rain again. And it’s really raining… so we’re inside the tent, Tracy’s reading her book, and I’m typing this up, so I can quickly transfer it onto the website when we next get to civilisation… hope the rain stops before tomorrow…

With no sign of the rain stopping, we decided to cook our evening meal in the tent… One of the reasons we opted for the Hilleberg Nallo 3GT tent was its spacious porch area, which is big enough to hold the panniers and leave most of the floor-space free for other purposes – in this case playing host to our stoves – on which I prepared and cooked Hot Tuna… and it tasted every bit as good as it does when I cook it back home, and we didn’t set fire to the tent or do any damage at all… so that’s another question answered – we really can prepare and cook a meal inside the tent when it is pouring with rain outside!


Paul tries onions for eyes…



Cooking inside the tent during a storm…



It didn’t stop raining for some time, so following our meal we sat reading our books until the light faded and we fell asleep…

Saturday, August 18, 2007

 

Day 10 – Brno (Saturday, qualifying)

Thankfully the rain stopped during the night, and we woke once again to clear blue skies and the promise of a very hot day at the circuit. Once up and dressed we rode back towards the first car-park we’d seen rather than heading to the main paddock entrance. This time, we were waved on up the road to “moto parking” which turned out to be on an earth bank at the top end of a campsite, no wider than a decent footpath and that looked like it have been cleared of trees just a day or two earlier. I put my newly-found off-road skills to the test as I manoeuvred the bike into position and we then set off to walk to the circuit.


Brno Car Park…



Just as we were leaving the “car park”, a bus appeared to take spectators to the circuit, so we hopped aboard and were treated to a virtuoso driving performance as the bus-driver hurled the coach up the road, round several hairpin bends and managed skilfully (?) to avoid hitting several refuse lorries coming the other way… To say we were relieved when we disembarked at the end would be an understatement…

From here it was a short walk to the circuit entrance, and from there a short downhill stroll to our grandstand. This gave us a great view of the circuit, towards the end of the stadium section as the bikes come in from the right, through a set of S-bends and off down the straight. And so we sat and enjoyed the qualifying sessions, eating the supplies we’d carried down and drinking the odd cold beer (at just 45K – around a pound - per glass, it would have been rude not to have at least one!). Qualifying was good, but despite the cheers and chorus of air-horns blaring out, Valentino Rossi could only qualify 6th… and with Casey Stoner fastest in all the sessions we’d watched so far (bar yesterday afternoon when Sylvan Guintoli surprised everyone by pipping him to fastest), the race tomorrow looks to be a foregone conclusion…

We decided to leave the circuit early, rather than stay and watch the 250cc qualifying as it was incredibly hot all day, and we were starting to get a bit sunburnt. The ride back to the campsite, and then the warm shower, restored our sense of well-being and we started to prepare our evening meal… which was supposed to have been chicken fried rice, but as the chicken we had bought a couple of days earlier had started to cook itself, we opted for “chicken-less fried rice”. Which was all going great until I went to check the rice had cooked and promptly spilled it… so now we were faced with “chicken-less fried rice-less” or “fried” for short… That was, until our Dutch neighbour, on hearing my explanation of surprise at dropping the rice(!), offered us the remains of his rice… so the meal was back on… and very good it was too, nicely washed down with a bottle of wine…

Sunday, August 19, 2007

 

Day 11 – Brno (Sunday – Race Day)

Race day dawned colder and overcast, although we were up much earlier – around 6.15am (although others had been up from 5.15am making a lot of noise as they got ready to leave). We quickly sorted ourselves out, including packing the supplies – ham, pepperoni, biscuits, water, cheese, tomatoes and crisps – into the cool bag we’d bought in the supermarket yesterday. Once packed we followed the same route as yesterday to the “moto park” in the woods, and again got lucky with the bus to take us to the circuit. When we arrived, our grandstand was completely empty, but the hillsides surrounding the circuit were starting to fill up, and the chorus of airhorns had already begun…

We made ourselves comfortable in the grandstand and ate breakfast whilst watching the crowds gather… and then the morning warm-up sessions started. By now the noise whenever the favourite riders – Lukas Pesek (Czech) and Gabor Talmaci (Hungary) in the 125cc class in particular – was getting very loud, and the atmosphere was building up nicely. Then, in the 250cc class warm-up there was a truly horrendous accident, when Simoncelli fell off and his bike skittled back onto the track in a cloud of dust, leaving another rider – Taro Sekiguchi – completely unsighted. He braked hard but couldn’t avoid hitting the bike and being catapulted up into the air to land hard on his back and head. Lying obviously unconscious in the track, he was quickly attended by marshals and doctors – the ambulance getting to him very quickly – but it was obvious he was hurt. The noise had completely stopped and the whole circuit was engulfed in an uncomfortable silence as the thousands of spectators that had already arrived watched events unfold on the giant TV screens… for several long minutes there was complete silence. Then, once he had been taken by ambulance to the medical centre, word came over the public address and in by-lines on the TV screens that he was being taken to Brno hospital for further tests – and once the medical helicopter had flown off, and the track finally cleared of debris from the accident, the action started again, but to much less noise from the crowd.

With the morning sessions concluded, and the action delayed by 15 minutes, the first race of the day – the 125cc class – got underway. With the 2 local heros racing at the front, the noise returned to its previous level and the atmosphere built up again. And what a race it was, lots of action with the lead changing frequently – and with Lukas Pesek getting onto the podium in 3rd, the partisan crowd were well pleased. Even the large Hungarian contingent were happy with Talmaci finishing 2nd… Our own hero, Bradley Smith, had a poor start and what looked like a difficult race, but he still finished well.

The 250cc race was a bit of an anti-climax, with Horge Lorenzo running away with it, and the chasing pack becoming more spread out, resulting in something of a procession. My prediction that the MotoGP race would be similar with Casey Stoner running off into the distance was confirmed when he got the holeshot and started to pull away, with only John Hopkins able to run anything like his pace. With Valentino Rossi having a bad day, and the vast majority of the crowd being his supporters, things were not as exciting as they had been earlier in the day.

With the racing over, the huge crowd started to leave, but Tracy and I hung around to allow them to clear the roads, and waited for the final scheduled race of the day – the sidecars. Only they didn’t show up and after waiting until 15 minutes after they were due to start, we joined the other stragglers leaving the circuit and made our way back to the bike, and on back to the campsite.

The campsite was now much less chaotic than it had been the previous couple of days, with the number of tents much reduced and we even had some space in which to sit and chat. For our final night here, we decided to go and eat at the other restaurant, but they didn’t have an English menu and we’d forgotten the phrase book. Normally, this would be a great opportunity to simply pick something and take pot-luck, but having had bad experiences already with Czech food (way too much garlic, even for garlic-lovers like us!) we reluctantly went back to the restaurant we’d eaten at on the 1st night. I ordered chicken piquant with “American” potatoes (thick-cut chips with skins on), and Tracy ordered the local dish which was described as shredded chicken inside shredded potatoes – and a side order of buttered sweetcorn. My meal was delicious, as was the corn, but Tracy’s was anything but – it tasted like garlic superglue in a crust of stodge! Needless to say, we shared mine…

Monday, August 20, 2007

 

Day 12 – Brno to Varin (Slovakia)

Another bright and sunny day, as we packed up camp following our 4-night stay at Camping Radka… 4 nights longer than we’ll do here again, given the lack of basic facilities… on reflection, we might have been better staying closer to the circuit in one of the official MotoGP campsites, as there was little here worth paying the extra for…

Once packed and on the bikes, we set the sat-nav for Banov, a town on the road we want to take into Slovakia and close enough to the border to get us on the right road. This greatly simplified getting out of Brno, as we needed to cross the town in order to head out East. Once again we found ourselves riding through the Czech countryside, with its vast expanse of tightly-harvested crop fields burnt brown in the sunshine, and the incongruous industrial factories dotted here and there.


Czech Countryside



We had an excellent ride, stopping much more frequently now the rush to reach a pre-determined destination was over, which made the whole journey feel more relaxed. It didn’t take us too long to arrive at the Slovakian border despite our repeated stops, and here we were asked for our passports again. Smiling at the 2 border guards (unlike other borders, the 2 ‘sides’ stood together and chatted) seemed to be working, as when the asked for the papers for the bikes, and I answered by pointing to the bottom of my pannier, then making like I was going to have to dismount and take everything off the bike, they simply smiled and waved us on our way… and then we were riding into Slovakia!!


Slovakia…



From the border we rode into Trencin – a town famed for its hilltop castle – where we took advantage of the toilets in a café (seems we’re both suffering from traveller’s stomach), took out some Slovakian currency from an ATM and ate lunch whilst sat watching the children playing in the water from a fountain feature in the square. I’ll put the lack of photographs down to my growling bowels, as I completely forgot to take any of either the fountain of the castle…

Our next stop was to be the campsite near Terchova in the highly picturesque Mala Fatra National Park. We rode up towards Zilina but with no sat-nav coverage and only a rudimentary map, we took the road to Bytca as that’s where the road to our destination appeared to originate. Only it doesn’t. For several hours we rode around the Slovakian countryside to the North West of Zilina, when we needed to get to the North East… After several trips down some very narrow and bumpy back lanes, including one particular section that looked like it would terminate in a grand house with severe looking security guards that didn’t welcome lost strangers arriving on motorbikes, we emerged again into the centre of Zilina… and here we saw the signs to Terchova that had been so lacking elsewhere… It seems the road does not start in Bytca at all, but right in the centre of Zilina, from where it was a very short ride to the campsite at Varin (there is another site closer to Terchova, but by now, at 6.30pm, we were determined to stay at the first one we found). Fortunately, the site was lovely with a new toilet/shower block and a bar/restaurant on site. Pitched and feeling better for the shower, we headed for the bar in search of a cold beer or two…


Slovakian beer…



Despite the hearty lunch and traveller’s bellies from earlier in the day, the restaurant looked inviting so we moved inside away from the midges and ordered a bottle of wine and some food. This time we ordered something more likely to be palatable – Tracy having a kind of Chicken Kiev with ham and cheese instead of garlic butter filling and chips, and for me, a Chicken and bacon dish with fried potatoes. Both were very good, as was the wine. But half-way through our meal the skies outside lit up with lightning and the rain came hammering down on the roof so hard that it was merely seconds before there was a shower dropping from one of the roof-joists right into the middle of the restaurant floor! And us, sat there with just tee-shirts and shorts on, at least a five minute jog from our tent… With the rain not relenting even after we’d finished eating, we had no choice but to grin and bear it, and move as quickly as Tracy’s still swollen foot would allow, getting soaked through on the way back to the tent. Once inside we rid ourselves of our sodden clothing and only then realised that we’d left the towels on the bikes to dry following our earlier intentional showers… and the rain didn’t let off until morning…

Lying in the tent, listening to the rain pounding down on the roof, marvelling at how light it became with each burst of lightning and counting the seconds until the thunder to work out how far away from us the storm was and which way it was moving, had us feeling like excited children… perfect…

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

 

Day 13 – Varin to Vysoke Tatry (High Tatras)

Morning broke with the sun shining in a clear blue sky, and the remnants of last night’s storms rising in the form of mist from the surrounding trees. We were up early this morning, and packed and on the road just after 8am, feeling refreshed and ready for a short day’s ride into the High Tatra mountains that form the border between Slovakia and Poland. This is the area that my Polish friend, Aggy, takes her summer holidays in, and is great for hiking – although as we’re travelling by bike we haven’t been able to bring our hiking gear.


Camp Varin…



Rather than head straight for our destination, we rode into the Mala Fatra valley itself from Terchova, a rode that reminded me of some parts of the Route Napoleon in southern France as it wound its way through a narrow valley with steep cliff sides, before opening out again as it reached the head of the valley. Here there is a cable car that takes hikers in the summer, and skiers in the winter up to the summit at Vranta, some 1500m or so up into the Mala Fatra mountains. We decided we should catch the cable car to the top for breakfast, and so purchased our tickets and managed to get on the cable car just before a coach unloaded it’s cargo of middle-aged hikers ready for their day in the mountains. We must have made quite a sight, the 2 of us dressed in our motorcycle gear amongst all these fit-looking hikers in their shorts and boots with rucksacks laden with lunch…


Vratny Cable Car…



The view from the top over the mountains of the Mala Fatra was well worth the cost of the trip (620k up and down again, about £13). When we’d done taking photos we went into the café and ordered a sausage and coffee (not much in the way of choice!) which we each managed to eat a little of… at least the coffee was good… and then we headed back down the mountain to the bikes.


Vratny View…



From here we rode on to Dolny Kubin, but it was becoming increasingly clear that Tracy’s stomach was not in good health, so rather than take our intended scenic route to Poprad, we hopped on the main road and high-tailed it to the town in search of a pharmacist. That didn’t stop us marvelling at the difference in scenery between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, though. Here, the roads meander up and down the hillside, and there are really quaint little villages dotted about – all of which have houses that look like they’ve seen better days, but beautiful churches with lovely spires and graveyards where every grave as fresh brightly-coloured flowers on…


Slovakian town…



Once in Poprad, we quickly found a pharmacist and whilst Tracy guarded the bikes, I went to explain her condition and try and get some suitable medicine. Well-versed in the art of international sign language, I acted out someone with excruciating stomach cramps and Niagara-falls standard diarrhoea and the helpful assistant handed me some tablets. Hope my acting is better than my language skills, or Tracy could find herself cured of something she doesn’t yet have…

From Poprad we negotiated our way out of town on the right road (eventually – how I miss the support the sat-nav has provided until now!) and within a few minutes pulled up at the gate to Eurocamp FICC just outside Velka Lomnica. This is the site most recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide, where it describes it as “Five minute’s stroll from the train station, Eurocamp has restaurants (which include good folkloric Koliba Restaurant), bars, shops, a supermarket, a swimming pool, tennis, sauna, disco, hot water and row upon row of parked caravans.” Well, it might have had all those things in its soviet-era heyday, but now it resembles a run-down Butlins! The shower blocks remind me of the wash-houses from soviet-block films and the whole place should be in black-and-white and not colour… that said, it does have Internet access (although I’ve also found a someone’s unsecured wireless network I can piggy-back on!), the showers have hot water, there are washing machines (charged by the hour), so it’s not bad at all… just not the paradise the LP suggested, although the views are spectacular…


The washing block at Stalag Luft Eurocamp FICC…



EurocampView…



Once pitched we set about rustling up some soup, just in time to watch the latest pyrotechnic display from the dark grey skies moving towards us from the nearby (but completely hidden) mountains. True to form, the heavens opened just as the soup was cooked, so we hid in the tent again eating soup and waiting for it to stop. Fortunately, this downpour only lasted an hour or so, before the leaden skies were replaced with bright blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds…

So we went exploring and having familiarised ourselves with the punishment blocks (sorry, “facilities”), we paid for an hours use of the washing machine and Tracy did her best impression of a domestic goddess. Just in time, too, as our supply of clean tee-shirts was about exhausted, and with the washing lines strung between Lydia and a lamp-post laden with clean clothes, we set off in search of a supermarket and food. We remembered seeing a “non-stop” Tesco (they seem to be everywhere in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia) just outside Poprad, so headed straight there with empty panniers… Here we made 2 important purchases in addition to the inevitable rice, tuna, chicken, chillies, wine, beer… we bought a small wooden chopping board and… a WOK! For less than a pound we bought a 12” non-stick wok…. Hurrying back to camp we realised that in all the wok-related excitement, we’d forgotten to buy any eggs, and as we wanted chicken fried-rice (with the chicken this time) we needed to get some. As there was a coop supermarket in Velka Lomnica we stopped there and Tracy went inside in search of eggs… Now, before she went in, I told her the German for eggs is “eye” (not sure of the spelling) and that here they would be something similar. Only she must have heard about my performance in the chemists earlier and wanted to practice her own acting skills…. It seems the whole shop had to join in, watching this little crazy English woman, dressed in full motorcycle clothing despite the heat, as she clucked and made chicken-like movements… suggestions ranged from chicken meat, to chicken stock cubes and other chicken-related products until she finally remembered what I’d said and told them “eye”… at which point there was a chorus of understanding and she got 5 fresh eggs… wish I’d been able to see more of it from where I was, sat on the bike outside, but what I saw was still quite funny!

So with the panniers laden with goodies, we returned to the campsite, showered and sat down to another great camp-site meal cooked this time using vegetables chopped on our new chopping board and cooked in the wok… what a brilliant purchase!

By the time we’d finished eating it was getting dark, and despite it only being 8.30pm, we retired into the tent and laid there discussing the days events, laughing at the funny bits, and making plans for tomorrow… which involve doing nothing, for a change…

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

 

Day 14 – Vysoke Tatry (High Tatras – rest day)

And so today dawned bright and sunny again, with good views of the mountains in the distance. Our plans for today are simple. We’ve been travelling almost non-stop for 2 weeks and need to sit around and chill out, catch up on the Blog, read our books, and relax… and so that’s exactly what we’re doing…


EurocampView…



And so that's what we did... not much, but just what we both needed!!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

 

Day 15 – Vysoke Tatry (High Tatras) and… TRACY’S BIRTHDAY!!

Once again I was able to wake Tracy on her birthday with the words “Look what I got you for your birthday!” and to reveal a stunning landscape to drive the sleep from her eyes, as the day dawned bright and clear with excellent views of the Tatra Mountains from the doorway of the tent…Bleary-eyed, she blinked away the last remnants of a good night’s sleep and smiled at the beautiful sight.


Tracy’s Birthday View…



Once up and showered, whilst I cooked us some boiled eggs for breakfast, Tracy opened the few birthday cards that had arrived before we’d set off. It’s always an odd feeling, opening birthday cards whilst camping, but with the sun shining and the mountains looking their best, Tracy started to feel as though it really was her birthday…


Tracy opens her birthday cards…



With the cards opened and breakfast over, we decided that we should ride two-up for the day, so Tracy can relax and enjoy the scenery whilst I do the riding. Our plan was simple – first the Dobsinka Ice Cave, then ride around the Slovensky Raj countryside for a bit towards Levoca, a town famous for it’s beautiful buildings.

With the weather already getting hot, we got into our bike gear and set off. It was a short ride through beautiful wooded scenery to the ice cave at Dobsinka. The cave is a 1km walk up a steep path, which caused Tracy some discomfort as her broken foot was once again squashed into her bike boots, but we were soon sat down waiting for the guided tour of the cave – guided in Slovak, of course, so we wouldn’t understand anything that was being said!

The cave itself is remarkable – due to the convection currents of the air inside the cave, it creates its own cold micro-climate which keeps the water inside the cave frozen all year round. It was one of the first caves to be opened to the public and installed with electric lighting, and remains a key tourist attraction. The steps down into the cave pass directly through a tunnel cut into the ice – creating a very eerie sensation as we walked down into the depths, with the temperature dropping quickly…


Tracy enters the ice cave through a tunnel carved in the ice…



Once inside the cave, we were surrounded by remarkable sights of ice-sculptures formed in the ice as the running water freezes in the cold air. These rise from a lake-bed of solid ice, that looked to be several metres thick. Taking photographs inside the cave was difficult, not least because of the number of people on our guided tour, but also because of the dim lighting, but they give something of the impression of the amazing nature of this cave…


Inside the Dobsinka Ice Cave…



Inside the Dobsinka Ice Cave…



Inside the Dobsinka Ice Cave…



Inside the Dobsinka Ice Cave…



When we left the cold of the ice cave, the day had brightened up even more and was now getting very hot. We took the opportunity to ride round the surrounding countryside and into the Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise), an area of outstandingly beautiful countryside, with rolling tree-covered hills and beautiful little towns. Taking several of the minor roads we rode into a little town called Dedinky, which was by the side of a beautiful lake….here there was a campsite, and we wished we could have up-rooted our tent and moved here, it was so beautiful…


The beautiful town of Dedinky, in the Slovasky Raj…



From here we rode through the deeply wooded countryside, on very narrow and bumpy roads to the town of Levoca. According to the Lonely Planet guide, life inside the walled town has changed little in the last century or so, and it’s easy to see why. All the houses surrounding the main square are beautifully painted in pastel colours, some with frescoes, some without, but all immaculately clean. The square itself houses the main church and the “Cage of Shame”, where the town’s criminals were caged in full sight of their fellow townsfolk… it seemed only natural that I took a photo of Tracy “in” the cage…


Cage of Shame…




Beautiful buildings line the square in Levoca…



We stopped in a restaurant on the square for Tracy’s birthday lunch, and had an excellent meal although even inside the cool of the restaurant the day’s heat was getting to us. Sat in motorcycle trousers we ate well before heading back into the sunshine to wander round the square and take a couple more photographs before the heat was too much and we re-mounted the bike and headed back towards the campsite…


The imposing building at the centre of the square in Levoca…


Friday, August 31, 2007

 

Day 15 – Just outside Velka Lomnica – and suddenly everything changes…

A warning… What happened next, as we were riding back to camp, is not pleasant. This blog was supposed to be a record of our “shakedown trip”, our preparation for our big adventure, and an opportunity for us to share the excitement we get from travelling by bike.

However, I must now record details of an event that will probably change the future for both of us, and whilst it is far to early to speculate on what the future holds, it is certain that what happened at 3pm on the road out of Velka Lomnica will change some elements of our future plans…

I will keep the details as simple and clear as possible. Writing this blog is part of my own healing process – I believe that by getting the story out of my head and into written form should enable me to start to regain the ability to think of things other that what happened…

Which was…

Riding back to camp in the searing heat of the early afternoon, on Day 15 (Tracy's birthday - 23rd August), we turned into the village of Velka Lomnica, crossing the railway lines behind a truck, which we followed slowly through the village. As we started to enter the open countryside that links the village with the flat land on which the campsite is situated, there was a left-turn, from which a silver car emerged travelling in the opposite direction. Still behind the truck, I waited until it was past the junction before signalling and pulling over to the left to overtake. Accelerating steadily we started to pass the truck, when suddenly and without any warning it swerved across into our lane and right in front of us. Faced with a wall of solid yellow, I swore and tried desperately to turn left to get out of its path, but to no avail and there was a sickening crunch as the front side of the bike hit the driver’s cab, just in front of the truck’s front wheel. The next few seconds are clear to me, but I won’t record the details here. Suffice to say that I wrestled with the bike, attempting to get us away from the truck, and we ended up with the bike hitting the deck on its right side and the truck screeching to a halt. I got up quickly, winced at the pain from my right leg, and frantically looked around for Tracy. She had landed close to the truck’s rear wheel, head towards the rear and was lying on her left side.

Fortunately, she was conscious, although in obvious pain and complaining that she couldn’t breathe. She looked extremely frightened and I felt sick. I knew, from the motorcycle first-aid course we’d done earlier in the year, what to do, and started talking to her to calm her down whilst checking for any obvious injuries. She had an open wound on her right arm, visible through tears in her jacket. Apart from that, there were no visible signs – although it was clear from her breathing and her complaints of back pain that she had probably broken some ribs and might have a back injury. I carefully removed the helmet to help her breathe more easily, again putting the training to use, ensuring her head and neck was kept still and supporting her head with my jacket, trying to make her comfortable – all the time shouting at the gathering crowd for an ambulance.

The next few minutes passed quickly, as I talked to Tracy and re-assured her that everything would be alright. The police arrived and were appraised of the situation by the locals, and told me (in Slovak) that an ambulance was on its way. Within a few minutes an ambulance arrived and the crew – one of whom spoke some English – quickly took over. I told them as best I could what injuries I suspected, and they put Tracy on a back board and gave her oxygen before carrying her to the waiting ambulance. In what must seem like an odd act, as soon as the medics were dealing with Tracy (and whilst still shouting encouragement to her), I grabbed my camera and took a couple of shots of the accident scene – I’ll only include the one of the bike here to show where it and the truck ended up…


The accident scene, as my bike deposits all its oil over the road…



My requests to accompany her to the hospital were refused by the police, who insisted a 2nd ambulance was on its way to take me, and that I’d be taken to the same hospital. And with that, Tracy’s ambulance set off and I was left with the police and all the on-lookers. I was breathalysed (clear, of course), as was the truck driver (also clear), had our passports, my driving licence and the documents for the bike taken and questioned politely in Slovakian as they tried to establish what had happened.

Fairly soon the 2nd ambulance arrived and the crew got to work assessing my injuries, which I assured them were confined to a broken leg. As I was loaded onto the stretcher and into the ambulance I shouted for the police to recover the computer from my bike (as it contains the website files!) and they promptly handed me my sat-nav system! As I lay there, a woman appeared at the window and spoke to me in English, introducing herself as the interpreter. I can’t tell you how good it was to hear English spoken, and I was more than happy to give her my side of the story. She explained that the police had already formed a view of what had happened, and that she would see me at the hospital later. With that, they closed the doors to the ambulance and off we went.

As I arrived at the hospital and was wheeled in, I caught a glimpse of Tracy on a trolley being taken down the corridor and shouted after her, reassuring her that I was there and that everything would be alright. The next couple of hours passed quickly as I was X-rayed on a machine that looked like it was older than me (and probably was!), had my leg put in a half-cast (a “back slab”) and tightly bandaged. All the time I was asking after Tracy, and managed to speak to the doctor who examined her when she arrived – he spoke a little English and was able to tell me that she had broken her back – though thankfully with no sign of damage to her spinal chord – and had extensive injuries to her right arm, which was being operated on that afternoon. The only other thing of interest that happened was that whilst I was waiting to be “plastered”, I got talking to an elderly Dutch chap who had been brought in with a suspected broken hip. He’d been crossing the road on a pedestrian crossing, when a car came round the corner too quickly – he ran across the road but as he explained, “The mind runs like a 24-year old whilst the legs belong to a 74-year old” and so he went flying and landed heavily on his side. He wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned by this – but was fretting over his wife and “little dog” that were waiting outside…

Eventually they moved me onto the ward – and into a side-room. I kept asking when I’d be able to see Tracy, but they told me she was being operated on and I wouldn’t be able to see her until the morning. So it was clear I’d be spending the night in this side-room with my new “friend” the Dutchman. Only he wasn’t the only one in the room, as there too was his wife… and little dog “Bobby”… He seemed to think it was perfectly normal to have a dog in the hospital!! Despite the protestations of the doctor and nurses, he insisted the dog stay until his friends came to pick up his wife later than evening (they eventually arrived around 11.00pm).

After a restless night, with sleep interrupted by visions of trucks and waves of panic at what might have happened, I was given some crutches and shown how to use them to walk down the corridor. I continued to pester everyone who appeared for news of Tracy and when I could see her, and they told me that they’d be moving us into the same room that morning. Around 9am, I was moved and shortly after they wheeled a tired-looking Tracy into the room. It was a fantastic moment, and such a relief to be able to talk to her about what had happened, and to try and build up a picture of her injuries. It seemed that she had indeed broken some vertebrae (numbers varied from 1-2 depending on who we asked), and had extensive injuries to her arm (which had been operated on and put in a cast/bandage with several drains attached), a number of broken ribs (4 on one side, 1 on the other we were told) and a possible hairline fracture to her thighbone. But she was alive, and there was no sign of damage to her spinal chord, so we were both somewhat relieved…


The hospital room in Poprad, which Tracy likens to ‘Tenko’…



I spent the next few days sorting out our repatriation to the UK, being interviewed by the police, speaking to my insurance company, and trying my best to keep Tracy’s spirits up. The standard of medical care in Slovakia is somewhat behind that of the UK, and they simply don’t have the equipment to provide the care she needed. The nurses were doing their best, although some of them were very rough as they turned Tracy in the bed to clean her back. The pain relief she was being given didn’t seem to be containing the pain, either (it later transpired she had only been given very low-level pain killers that were totally inadequate). On the Saturday we received a most welcome visit from the British consul and a local businessman (Eric Wiltshire from Radio Tatras International) who brought us some biscuits, chocolates and books (which I was very grateful for, as I was getting exceedingly bored staring at the walls 24 hrs a day). To hear English voices again was a great morale boost, and they confirmed the story we’d been told by Lucy, the translator. I appeared that the truck driver had admitted liability for the accident, and the police were intending prosecuting him for careless/dangerous driving (or the Slovakian equivalent). Whilst this news was of no surprise, it was re-assuring to know that I was not to blame for the accident.

Finally we got news on Sunday that we would be repatriated to the UK via Air Ambulance the following day, and the relief was palpable. It was clear that Tracy would not get the treatment she needed in Slovakia, and we couldn’t wait to get back to the UK.

When the time arrived on the Monday for us to leave the hospital in Poprad, it didn’t arrive a moment too soon. After nearly 4 days in the sweltering heat of the hospital (no air conditioning, and windows that only opened partially as they were chained closed), we were so very relieved to hear English spoken again – this time by the German doctor and nurse that arrived to oversee our repatriation. These German women were our angels, and the difference in care between them and the Slovakians was marked. They went to great lengths to ensure that Tracy was calm and fully informed of everything that would need to be done in order to get her from the hospital bed and onto the plane. They were extremely gentle with her and gave her a shot of morphine which instantly made her feel much better. The trip out of the hospital and to the airport was uneventful, although I was disappointed they insist I sit in a chair rather than walk out as I wanted to. We were met at the airport by the 2 German pilots (who both spoke excellent English) and a gleaming Lear jet sat on the runway with the Tatra mountains clearly visible in the background.


Our private jet awaits…



With little fuss we were loaded on board and into the air for the short flight home. I was given a delicious prawn sandwich and relaxed, confident at last that we would soon be in the hands of medical experts who could start us on the road to recovery. During the flight I looked out of the window and saw the clear, unmistakable outline of Prague – with the river winding through the city and the island close to the hotel we’d stayed in. Unfortunately, I once again missed a key photo opportunity, as I looked down on the city where I’d had my birthday – which seemed like a lifetime ago now…

On landing at Manchester airport we were met by 2 of the most friendly ambulance crews in existence. They took extreme care of us – Tracy especially – even to the extent of trying to find an alternate route out of the airport grounds to avoid having to go over painted “sleeping policemen” to reduce the jolts on Tracy’s back… The transfer to Hope Hospital was quick and simple, and true to the promise of my ambulance driver, I had a cup of strong tea in my hand within half-an-hour of arriving at the hospital.

The relief on Tracy’s face at finally being amongst English-speaking doctors and nurses, who show genuine care for their patients and have the technology support to treat her was a joy to see. At last, the trauma of the past few days was behind us, and now she can concentrate all her energies on recovering.

As I write this (Friday 31st August at 12:21pm), Tracy is in hospital, and we think we have a complete picture of the extent of her injuries: 3 broken vertebrae, 8 broken ribs, a broken elbow, extensive skin damage to her right forearm, fractured pelvis and hairline fracture of her right thigh. Thankfully, no sign of nerve damage and she’s able to move both her legs and feet (albeit with significant pain due to all the broken bones) and can move her right hand and fingers. She should make a good recovery in time, but will need a couple of operations for sure. We’re waiting for the consultant to explain exactly what treatment she will need.

As for me, I’ve a broken leg, which is already on its way to healing, although I’ll be off work for a while. I’m now relying on Tracy’s daughter Katie to get me to the hospital and back for visiting times, although my family and friends are helping as well.

But most of all, I’m glad we got away so lightly. To be hit by a truck and survive is extremely fortunate.

The road to recovery – a different type of journey to the one we had planned – starts here…

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