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  • Bike Trip 2021 – Day 2

    The day dawned drizzly. Heavy drizzly. Ok, rainy! The river had swelled and was now a muddy brown pouring down the valley. I had some left-over bread for breakfast, settled with the owner, and put on my wet weather gear.

    I had initially thought to just head towards Matsumoto which was predicted to be sunny as quickly as possible, but ended up heading up into the mountains for a loop of the upstream reservoir instead. Glad I did as there were some pretty impressive bridges, and views from them, leading up to it. Just for a change the “loop road” was not closed so I could do the loop, although the minor road was quite minor…

    Heading out of the mountains the rain soon stopped and I rejoined the 299 to continue on to Matsumoto. The 299 now had a very varied character, from absolutely stunning road with fast sweeping bends and great asphalt to just a small country road.  At one point I saw a sign to a cave and, a quick u-turn later, headed up a very steep little access road to it.

    Fujido Cave turned out to be a mixed bag. The Japanese fondness of concrete and infrastructure took a lot of the character out of the cave, but I guess they have to make it accessible. Still, it’s worth a quick visit if you’re passing by with some neat rock formations. There’s also an impressive suspension bridge nearby, not recommended if you get vertigo!

    Continuing on, the 299 eventually became very small and then stopped – it was blocked off as so many other roads were. A couple of people in a small pickup truck gave me directions on how to continue on to Matsumoto, which turned out to be along the 45 until I could continue westwards on the 254. This road was also pretty nice in places. Along the way I stopped at a rest stop for some lunch and ended up buying some deer obento from a guy selling it out of the back of a “Ente”, a Citroen 2CV.

    Some great riding later I finally reached Mastumoto, detoured past the castle for a quick first look, and checked into the Backpackers run by a very friendly chap from Ireland. Time to do some shopping for some essentials (soap, shaver, towel), a quick freshen-up, and then I wandered in search of dinner. I ate some yakitori as it had outdoor seating and enjoyed my first beers with dinner in a long time – unlike Tokyo, Matsumoto still allows alcohol! Then I took some great night-time pictures of Mastumoto castle before turning in for the night.

  • Bike Trip 2021 – Day 1

    So feeling a bit down due to the incoming weather forecasts, I waved bye to my friend Edith, who was off to Okinawa for the week and had kindly offered to lend me her bike, a KTM750. I decided to at the very least do a quick loop on the bike around Tokyo before going home. Finding a park near Kanagawa River as my destination, I set off. Despite city-riding and traffic, HUGE SMILE!

    Enroute I found a small shrine and looped back to take a picture of the bike in front of it, then asked for safe riding from the local deity. Just before reaching the park, the heavens opened up and my jeans were soaked through to the balls in no time. So I guess the prayer backfired? I still stopped at the park and sheltered under a tree until the rain slowed and then stopped shortly afterwards.

    Riding back I stopped at a couple of spots to take some pictures and by the time I got back to Edith’s I went “stuff it”, packed a couple of tshirts and a toothbrush, found a cheap hotel somewhere in the mountains, and headed off.

    Best decision ever! Weather stayed dry and even though most of the trip was along city roads, which did eventually get wearisome, I was still very happy to be on the road on a bike again. Just bliss not having to think, just ride. At one stage I went over some hills with giant TV antennae which seemed to be a bit of a built-up version of Mt Cootha back in Brisbane. Unfortunately I was past it before I could think to find a spot to stop to take a pic.

    Eventually though the city roads petered out and things got awesome as I slowly climbed into the mountains. Especially the 299 is a really nice road once you get past any traffic – a bit tricky since it’s all yellow-lines, but there are a few traffic lights.

    With only 20 minutes to go to my destination, and my clutch-hand feeling decidedly sore after all the earlier city riding, I saw a big dam and shortly afterwards a road leading up to it, so off I went. Pretty spectacular! I was going to do a complete loop of the reservoir, but it turned out that the road on one side of it is blocked off for some reason. Still an awesomely scenic spot.

    I kept going and found my hotel – a very traditional-looking japanese inn nestled high above the road. Upon entering the first thing is a common room with a wood-fired stove, rather rustic looking. The owner is a youngish-chap though (I was expecting a fossil to be honest) with two young girls and made me welcome. We managed to communicate and I got shown to my room. After that I sat down for a bit to relax, then hiked down to the river and had a swim. Great, now not only are my jeans still damp, but my only pair of shorts is wet as well… but it was worth it!

    By the evening other guests had arrived and we enjoyed a small fire outside while chatting and eating dinner – home-cooked chicken which was very delicious. When the rain came back we all went into the common room where one guy kindly shared some sake and, later on, some food. Despite my lack of japanese it was an enjoyable evening.

    Time for bed, going to try to go to Matsumoto tomorrow to have a look at the famous black castle!

  • Poland Day 9 – Tatras to Wildalpen

    Got up early(ish) and had a lovely brekky before anybody else was around.  The lovely lady brought me my washed clothes which weren’t quite du yet. Oh well. I spread them out in the roof outside my window while I packed the rest and fit the bike ready.

    The roads and views once I got going were absolutely stunning, with hardly any traffic about to spoil things. Soon however I was out of the mountains and into the plains where summer asserted itself with a vengeance. The temperatures climbed well into the mid thirties and the roads got ever more boring.

    Things did not really improve once I hit Austria, if anything worse as I encountered several roadworks with long waits in the scorching sun. Eventually however I found mountains again and took advantage by taking several detours along promising looking roads. One of the highlights was the Höllental, only slightly spoiled by a slow bus in front of me which I couldn’t get past.

    Eventually I reached my planned stop for the night though, the Wildalpen, which were in even more stunning scenery than any I had driven through so far.
    First stop was a restaurant where I had a well deserved beer. They helped me find a bed for the night in a B&B just a few doors down.

    While sorting out my room a couple of bikers pulled up at the servo opposite and I got to chatting to one of them. Markus and I ended up having a beer before he had to keep going. I had a great dinner of red deer steak followed by a childhood delight, Kaiserschmarrn.

    Then it was trying to sort out the home Internet connection with Dana’s help before heading to bed.

  • Poland Day 8 – Wyjście Salt Mine

    Hot hot hot!  Rode to the salt mine and got a ticket. Nice and cool down below.
    Pretty impressive underground tour. Did the extra museum tour as well.

    Came out of mine to find it had rained heavily. Helmet was soaked, great.. and it had cooled of a lot. Still the roads down to Zakopane were pretty good although heavily trafficked. Zakopane itself I didn’t like to much. Way too commercial and touristy.  And every piece of dirt had some dude hovering over it waiting to charge you parking while local cops ensured you didn’t park on the side somewhere.

    I saw a bunch of bikers in a cafe and pulled up. They had just come back from a training ride and one suggested I keep going to a town called Smokovec in Slovakia, which I did (after coffee and cake) and glad I did so! Once in Slovakia the roads were perfect and the scenery amazing.

    I ended up getting a room in Penzione Koliba with a great view of the Tatras. Dinner was red deer steak, then to bed to plan the ride for tomorrow.  I’m sorely tempted of going to try to get to the Hochalpenstraße in Austria after seeing some pics from some friends who rode that road a few days earlier.

  • Poland Day 6 – Auschwitz and the Tatras

    Up way too early – woke up at 5 or so due to the guy one bed over felling entire forests. Underwater. Dozed until 6 and then got ready. Luckily breakfast was available much earlier than advertised so I got a quick bite before heading off.

    Once on the road the GPS said it was only an hour to Auschwitz instead of the two Google had said last night. Oh well, at least the roads were pretty clear.

    Auschwitz did not have as big an impact on me as Buchenwald had a few years earlier. Either I’ve become desensitised or the exhibitions in Buchenwald were more graphic. Auschwitz was mostly just the buildings and pictures, whereas in Buchenwald a lot of the old Nazi equipment was still on show. Terrible regardless.

    From there I wanted to see the other camp, Birkenau, only a couple of miles away, but some busybody parking attendant wouldn’t let me park in an unused corner of the staff carpark and told me to park in the commercial car park half a mile away or so despite a security guard having earlier told me it would be finev for me to park in that corner.

    So instead I rode around the camp on the bike and then headed to the mountains.

    Unfortunately I discovered that the south of Poland is very different to the north, or indeed most places.  Instead of having villages consisting of a cluster of houses with a couple of streets they just build the houses along the main street. Cue villages which are tends of miles long and hence a mostly unenjoyable ride as it was all at 50kmh.

    I did take a wrong turn at one point and ended up in Slovakia for a few miles.  The road just near the border was awesome as it went up into the mountains and there were no houses. Yayy.

  • Poland Day 5 – Warsaw to Krakow

    Instead of the originally planned route, which was mostly highway, I took the 79 all the way. This meant quite a detour but I had no other plans for the day.

    The road was well paved but at times very frustrating. The first 20km or so out of Warsaw was extremely slow moving traffic. Then there were some very long stretches at only 50kmh. But still better than highway.

    Later in the day I got to some very nice open stretches with little traffic and even some small hills and corners.  Moments like those are worth all the other bits.

    For lunch I stopped at a service station in the middle of nowhere which had a nice looking restaurant next to it. They had strawberry-filed peroggi! So I called them lunch with a cup of coffee.

    Later in the afternoon thunderstorms abounded. I managed to avoid them all, sometimes by minutes as the last rain fell and the roads were soaked. But about 20km from Krakow I slowly but surely entered a downpour which persisted on and off until I parked next to Wawell castle. Combined with some roadworks the bike now looks like I’ve been plowing fields with it. Need to find some bikini girls to wash it now! Lol.

    In Krakow I soon found a Tourist Info, but this time without riding into the main square. Just as well, plenty of cops about. I booked into Momotown Hostel which was easy enough to find. A nice hot shower later and I was ready for dinner. The weather wasn’t..  so I had a good conversation with a chap called Dave until the weather cleared as I hadn’t thought to bring bad weather clothes for walking around.

    I had been told about a herring bar so resolved to try and find it. But the spot were it was so posed to be only had a closed up shop next to a Cabaret and a sex shop. Hmm. 2 young guys hit me up for some money for wine (at least they were honest about it!) while I was standing there a little aimlessly, which I refused. Nevertheless they said they knew of another herring bar just around the corner and walked me there. It turned out to be the smallest bar in Krakow (space for about half a dozen people), and a really neat place to boot.

    I invited Jacob and Piotr (the aforementioned winos) for a couple of vodkas while I ate (the vodka apparently being essential while eating the herring) and had a great chat with them for the next hour or so. Might catch up with them again tomorrow.

    But for now, and somewhat inebriated, I need bed as it’s an early start tomorrow.

  • Poland Day 4 – Warsaw

    Had a quick brekky at the hostel and then rushed off to make the free walking tour of Old Town.

    Our guide was called Bartosz, or Bart for short, and gave us an interesting 2 hours guided commentary around the sights, statues, and people who have populated the area for the last 600 years or so. The highlight for me was seeing Marie Curie’s birth house (I never knew she was originally polish) but I also liked the narrowest house (from the front only, to avoid taxes) and the story about Shit Hill.

    After the tour I had lunch (a very yummy steak tartare and polish sausage in mustard sauce, washed down by a couple of beers) with Bart and a mate of his Blazej, and later on Blazej’s girlfriend joined us too.

    From there I headed to the tallest building in Poland, the “Palace of Culture and Science”. It was presented as a gift to the Polish by the Soviet people, but many consider it to be a sign of Soviet supremacy over their capital city. As such there is some controversy over it. Nevertheless I got a ticket to go up to the 30th floor which has the public viewing gallery. I picked a bad time and had to wait for at least a million school kids to go up on only 2 elevators but finally made it. Nice views from the top but not entirely sure it was with the wait.

    Having reached ground level again I walked to Łazienki Park, another 2 or 3 km away.  By now my feet were complaining bitterly, as the sandals I had with me on the trip were apparently not very suitable for much walking. So unfortunately I did not enjoy the park and palaces as much as I had been looking forward to, but still had a good slow wander around with a few pauses to take in the sights. I even got some pics of a peacock and red squirrels!

    To get back to my hostel I cheated and used a bus.. nice long hot shower and I’m rather contemplating skipping dinner and just going to bed.. Off to Krakow tomorrow!

    Oh, btw, the centre of town is quite civilised with plenty of free wifi around.

  • Poland Day 3 – Malbork to Warsaw

    Had a pretty good sleep but still didn’t get going until 9. I really don’t like mornings!  Packed the bike and took a photo of my hosts before heading off.

    The roads today were all good to excellent with only a short section fair.  All by western standards.  In fact,  a lot of the roads today beat the British ones hands down!

    Poland also seems to be a train spotters paradise.  On the first day I saw an electric locomotive from the 50’s pulling a freight train.  Last night there was a supermodern high speed express train similar to the shinkansen in Japan crossing the bridge in Malbork, and this afternoon there was an ancient diesel engine pulling freight cars alongside the highway. I really wish I could take photo dumps of my brain!

    The first stretch was lovely winding road through mostly rape-seed fields before I turned onto a highway.  I had breakfast at a highway services together with the first fuel stop not long after. I was planning to leave the highway in 60km anyway but when it turned into a massive building site and one lane road with lots of traffic I was convinced.

    I nearly regretted it as the town I turned off at had cobbled streets but the road out of town was great tarmac with beautiful countryside and forests. Unfortunately it was also mostly straight with only a few corners here and there but overall great.

    I ended up detouring through the centre of ??? Instead of bypassing it and it was well worth it although I then got lost for a bit on tiny tracks through the countryside until I found the main road again. The 62 going to Warsaw is straight and we’ll paved but has loads of traffic so I didn’t enjoy it much.

    Just before getting into Warsaw prophet I spotted a hardware site while stopped at a red light.  A quick bit of lane shuffling got me to the driveway and while they had nothing to fix my saddlebags which were all but falling off by now they happened to be next to a bike mechanics who were awesome.  A and b spent an hour helping me adjust the clamps I had bought in Germany a few days earlier,  even welding up an open tang.  No charge.  Really absolutely fantastic guys so if you ever need to get anything motorbike engaged sorted while near Warsaw do look them up!

    From there I headed into Warsaw and soon found the old town but no tourist info. A guy on the street told me about a hostel inside the old town itself and said I should just ride in – nobody would mind with such a special bike.  And indeed most people gave a thumbs up as I parked in the market place.  The hostel was full up abs the adjustment they rented was only available one night so I headed to another hostel which I had gotten from the tourist info place on the marketplace.

    They put me up in a 4-bed dorm and even had secure parking for my bike. After logging the luggage up 4 flights I had the first proper hot shower  in days! Bliss! Then a quick wander into town to get some food (peroggi, sour dough soup, and a beer. Yum!).
    Shouldn’t have had dessert – hit apple cake and a mug of hot fruit compote.  Food coma!

    In town were hundreds of online skaters getting ready for a night skate.  Apparently it happens every 2 weeks or so and is supported by ambulance and police. Fantastic.  I also found rental bikes – first 20 mins free then 1zt (20p) for half an hour, and just use your mobile number to register.  The Boris Bikes in London have a lot to live up to!

    Off to bed now ready for a full day of sight-setting tomorrow.  What luxury not to have to pack up at 9 to get going again!