As promised, this week is a big one. I tapped out last week’s blog by the beautiful Lake Como in Italy. With the camp restaurant being the only place for campers and locals alike to go on a Saturday evening, it turned into a night club and I had yet another sleepless night. Luckily my excitement for a short trip to Switzerland got me up and going in the morning, oh my what a ride I had in store.
First off, I continued to make a classic Sunday mistake of needing fuel. Most, if not all petrol stations are closed on Sunday’s. There is a self-serve automated option however they don’t accept foreign cards! Several weeks ago, as I passed through a small French village running on fumes, I stopped at my 3rd service station with little hope of being able to fill up. Thankfully a local understood my predicament and let me fill up on her credit card in exchange for cash. Phew.
Sunday, I was at it again. Although this time it appeared my card did work, I just couldn’t understand the instructions. I was about to give up and leave when a group of bikers rolled in and told me that the woman behind me had pressed the button and it was in fact on my card. So, with much hand waving and moving of cars and bikes I filled up and was on my way. The stupidest part of this story is that I was in fact forewarned about finding fuel on Sundays…….note to self, must remember what day of the week it is.
Around the lake and into the mountains in the sun, a light breeze and an endless line of riders around every bend. True biker’s heaven. Weaving our way up an unexpected pass and across the border into Switzerland was spectacular. I tried to convince myself it was good practise for the following day, but I was feeling less than confident with buses coming down and cyclists on every turn. We made it to the top and on to the village of St Moritz, the ski town of choice for the well to do, just as pretty in the summer.
On to my second repeating Sunday mistake. Needing to buy groceries. Nothing, I mean nothing is open on Sunday’s in Switzerland. By some miracle I found a convenience store and purchased a few very overpriced supplies for my very special campsite. Recommended by a Swiss local, it was by far the most stunning place I have camped thus far. The owners were incredibly relaxed, if you arrive outside of their hours you write your details down on a piece of paper, chose your own site and set up. Perfect system.
Surrounded by towering mountains, a glacial stream running through the site and the sound of Swiss cowbells singing, it felt like being in camping Disneyland. The absolute highlight though was having a firepit on my site. Building a fire that would have made my mum proud, I cooked and sat by it, looking at the stars in the clear night air.
The following morning, I was invited for tea by Jeana and Josef and their gorgeous dog Zusi. They are from Austria and avid travellers in their mobile home. Josef had cycled the passes the day before, and all I can say is wow. Chatting over tea, biscuits and fun with the dog it was a delightful way to start the day. Plenty of hugs and well wishes before they set off towards Italy. I hope they had a wonderful time. These moments are what this trip is all about. My time in Switzerland was very short, about 12 hours, but they were some of my favourite so far.
On a side note, they had their van specially painted by an artist friend. Apparently, it wasn’t even close to what they had briefed but they agreed to it in the end. I felt it suited them perfectly. Happy, natural and free and no doubt they bring a smile to many passing motorists on their travels.
The camp was also perfectly placed to get me to the famous Stelvio Pass. I looked at the map and it showed a short wiggly road to get there, ok no problem I thought. To be fair it wasn’t a problem, but it was scary. It was a very narrow road with continuous switchbacks and a pack of cyclists to look out for. Reaching the top, on the snow lined roads was a feat in itself and we hadn’t even started what we had come to do!
Apparently, you can ski during the summer here, I can see that being true with an altitude of 2758m, it was cold. Stopping for the obligatory photo’s, it was a good chance to stretch and eat whilst chatting to many riders from all over Europe. As each one learned of my trip, they were all amazed and wanted photos with the ‘brave’ Australian girl riding to Mongolia on her own. Funny how I am suddenly brave by virtue of being a woman…..better than being called stupid I guess?!
After conquering the Umbrail pass on the way up, I actually felt very calm on the way down Stelvio. It was a nice wide road and everyone behaved themselves. It does go on and on and on though and just when you are sure you must be close to the end, it keeps going. Stopping for a rest at the bottom I have to say I was pretty damn pleased with myself, and Yogi of course. Team Yogi 1 – Hairpins 0.
That was only half the day. Heading east we continued into the Italian Alps, aiming for the Dolomites. Late afternoon we came into the national park and without doubt it was the highlight hours ride to date. I recall driving through here many years ago and thinking this is the ultimate place to ride, I was right. With the setting sun softly framing the peaks, now exposed from their white winter blankets, rolling through the gentle bends, Yogi humming along perfectly, scenery that literally takes your breath away, it was incredibly special. It was one of those moments in life when you feel every hair on your body stand on end, one I won’t forget for a long time to come.
Camping out in yet another spectacular spot, with a view of the mountains and the sound of melted snow rushing past all night, and FIREFLYS!!! What more could I want? Ok it wasn’t all amazing, it was incredibly cold and I ended up wearing socks on my hands to keep warm in the night, Nina you are a genius!
I chatted with two riders, one of whom had just done Mongolia and confirmed my hopes of being able to secure tyres in Russia, yet another nice encounter. So many of the people I have met thus far, other riders, have done many amazing trips. In comparison, I am really a novice, which I am fine with. The thing I have found so wonderful is that there is never a sense of judgement or arrogance from anyone I speak with. This is one of the things I really love about the motorcycle community, it is very inclusive and supportive. As long as you are out there, doing what we all love, it will be applauded and that is a rare thing.
Leaving Italy for the last time, the third time this week, I crossed into Austria on my way to Slovenia. Although only a day’s ride, it took me through gorgeous villages and scenes straight from the sound of music. I decided to stop for a picnic lunch over looking a valley, taking a moment to soak in the fact that I was crossing 3 borders, all in a day’s ride. For a girl from an ‘island’, that is very cool!
Our first night in Slovenia was spent camping in their only national park, Triglav. With a more sub-tropical feel and change in trees it was yet another stunning ride. There is something special about the roads here. They are far from the smooth black top we have been privileged with up until now, but they have a feeling of soul to them as you ride through deserted mountains and traditional working villages. Perhaps it is also the feeling of being somewhere I have never been before and feeling slightly more adventurous.
The adventure continued the following morning as we were set to unknowingly cross the Vrsic Pass to leave the national park. With numbered corners, you can count down the hairpins as you wind your way up to the top and back down again through the forest. Even with roadworks to contend with, less than perfect road conditions and the delightful surprise of cobblestones, only on the corners for the ride down (do they secretly hate riders?!), it was still my favourite pass. What it lacked in smoothness it more than made up for in scenery.
Our destination was Slovenia’s most famous tourist attraction, Lake Bled. A glacial lake, it is like an emerald mirror with crystal clear water. Thankfully it was only a 10 minute ride from our camp on the river as although it was absolutely beautiful, it isn’t somewhere I would go out of my way to see. That’s just my thoughts, don’t take any travel advice from me, remember I am a terrible tourist 😊
With spectacular but strenuous riding all week my back hasn’t been at it’s best. I have made it a mission to do even 10 minutes of yoga every night before bed and it has made a huge difference. Funny how we know how much better we will feel if we only spend a few minutes a day to look after ourselves, yet it still doesn’t happen. Remember what day it is, do yoga. How hard can it be!!!
I had planned to camp for a few nights in Bled and catch the train to Lubljana, however, my old friend the weather came into play yet again as it was set to go from a scorching 35c to 15c and pouring rain. So, after a week of poor sleep I have treated Yogi to a couple of nights rest in a nice undercover car park in the capital while I looked around. It was the least I could do for him.
Wandering the streets of Lubjlana after the rain passed was a wonderful time, the skies still heavy with dark clouds and a chill in the air. I have a new-found appreciation of knowing I will have a proper roof over my head when the skies are sure to open at any moment. The atmosphere was relaxed and although there were other travellers around, it felt like a city of locals, going about their business enjoying their pretty town. With a row of traditional houses and shops lining the small river it had a vibe reminiscent of Amsterdam without the over-crowding and tacky souvenir shops. If you needed a place to do all of your Christmas shopping at once, with unique, quality handmade goods, this would be the place to come. Something that stood out to me as I slowly walked around, was the number of international restaurants scattered throughout the main square. This has been the first time since coming to mainland Europe I have observed a multicultural mix of cuisines and I was very excited to have some Thai. Having an amazing array of foods at my fingertips, any day of the week is also something I take for granted back home.
Leaving Slovenia via a casual ride through the countryside and small villages was a great way to finish my time here. With a playlist aptly named ‘Happy’ blaring in my helmet, we zig zagged across the corn fields for a few hours. In the middle of corn rows, seemingly out of nowhere came a border crossing. The first one I have had to show my passport at since leaving Dover in the UK. A stamp and I was on my way again. Stopping for a picnic beside a trout fishing lake, the sun keeping me warm from the cool breeze I was feeling relaxed.
Packing up and off again, not long into the ride a huge line of stopped cars stretched ahead. Weaving my way to the front I saw it was a border control point. Again? We were already in Hungary. Waved to the side by a very grumpy looking guard, I was asked once again for my passport and this time my registration. Pulling my bags apart to get to the papers I asked the younger, slightly friendlier official, what country? Perplexed at my stupid question he pointed ahead – Hungaria. Hmm ok, with a very confused look he answered before I asked pointing behind, Croatia. Oops! We had accidentally crossed into Croatia on our way from Slovenia to Hungary. So once again it was a 3 country day with a random picnic in the middle!
Our start to Hungary had been once of confusion and quickly got worse from there. Only 10 minutes after crossing the real Hungarian border we left the highway for the accommodation in a village. Riding the broken streets through a very rural and residential area, I became more concerned by the minute. Surely this can’t be right. It looked nothing like the google street image I had checked the night before. As the nav informed I had arrived, outside of a very run-down house I immediately knew it was time for plan B.
With only 2 more hours to drive to Budapest I decided to keep going. Humming along the motorway at 130km an hour, I had a feeling that something was amiss with the luggage. Pulling into a rest stop, I parked to the side, just as I lifted my weight off Yogi, he decided he had had enough! With a roar of the engine, over we both went, tumbling to the ground with no idea what had happened. Flicking the kill switch I casually got up, took off my gloves and helmet and snapped a photo. Not even a single swear word (I know, I was also shocked).
Starting to remove the luggage to shed some weight before I attempted my first bear lift unassisted, a young couple and an older man came rushing over. I saw her quickly glance at my number plate and in perfect English, ‘Can we please help you’. Laughing I graciously accepted and in 10 seconds Yogi was back on two wheels but still feeling very unsteady. Manoeuvring him around until I felt like he would hold, I started to reload the gear. Having lowered Yogs so my short little legs can touch the ground, now means his stand is very upright. Even the slightest angle in the ground surface has the potential to push him over. I am usually very good at checking for this, but it had already been a long day, so I jumped off quicker than usual.
Loaded up and ready to go again I was feeling quite pleased with myself for not stressing out or even getting flustered. Whatever the cause, drops are inevitable and as long as you and the bike are relatively unharmed who cares. I spent a little too much time patting myself on the back before I looked down and saw we had less than a litre of fuel left in the tank. Another oops! Perhaps Yogi was in fact feeling faint before? All this country hopping is hungry work. Filling up, finally on a Saturday night, we have finished the week in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. You will have to wait until next week though as it is dinner and bed for me, Yogi is already tucked up at the front door of the hotel feeling very important.