May 24, 2014 – Kranjska Gora, Slovenia
It is amazing how far you can get in a couple of days when you put your mind to it. Two nights ago we were on the coast of Greece. Tonight we are in the heart of the Slovenian Alps. Kranjska Gora is center of winter sports for Slovenia. It is pretty darn nice for summer motorcycling, too. We saw lots of bikes today. Lots.
When we were in Venice we saw several large ships sail close by the city on their way to docking. I hoped we might do the same but it was not to be. We saw the ‘other’ Venice, the one with industrial docks, cranes, miles of pipes and towers, and countless big trucks. We did see Venice from the rail, but we were looking directly into the low morning sun as we did. It took our ferry a couple of hours from the outer buoy markers to get to our dock. We were one of several large vessels coming in along the channel. We backed in the last half mile.
Our boat is referred to as a Ro-Ro, as in roll on, roll off. According to the diagrams on the boat, this ferry had 4 decks for cars and trucks. We only saw two of them and they weren’t full. We were down to our bikes early and were the first ones off the boat. The boat runs on Greek time and the crew said we would dock at 9:30. Right on time, the first sign we passed on land was displaying 09:30 Venice time.
We spent a couple hours, and 20 Euros on the Autostrata getting to the Slovenian border. An absolutely gorgeous day for riding. Once into Slovenia I made a couple wrong turns but finally got on the road I wanted. I knew immediately it was the right one because we had to wait for several dozen bikes to pass before we could turn onto the road.
We rode through picture postcard Alps scenery. Just wonderful. We crossed the border northeast of Udine on SS54, then 102 and 203 back to Italy and SS54 again, down and around to here. I wanted to do 206 through Trenta and over the top but Debb wasn’t up for 100 switchbacks. I may run them tomorrow morning.
We rode under, around, and past snow-capped peaks today. What a change from the hustle and bustle of Athens just a couple days ago.
May 26, 2014 – Ljubljana, Slovenia
From Kranjska Gora to Bled to Ljubljana. It’s only 100km if you count the detour into Bled.
Bled is a pretty place but it has Tourist Trap written all over it. Everything around the lake has that St Mark’s Square quality to the prices. We stayed for a quick break, chatted with the German riders parked near us, and headed out.
We are right in downtown Ljubljana, staying at a very inexpensive hostel. It is staffed by a crew of the cutest young ladies who are happy to lug our luggage and wash our washing. In the area reserved for moto parking is an interesting combination from Germany; a new Triumph Explorer, an old, very minimalist Moto Guzzi, a well-cared for Suzuki water buffalo, and a vintage BMW GS. The bikes were all tied together and in one window of the hostel were boots, socks and t-shirts sitting out to dry.
The reception area is shared with a tiny cafe and next door, where I am now, is a bar and next to that is a bakery. Doesn’t get much better. The coffee here is quite good. The local beer is Union, served in 1/2 liter bottles.
We walked the river yesterday and it is a great place to spend a Sunday in this city. There are many bridges and nearly all of them have unusual statuary. Like Venice, there is a bridge with many, many padlocks. We were told lovers attach them. We had just arrived at the Triple Bridge when a group turned their ghetto blaster to some traditional music, formed a circle, and started dancing. I got it on video and when I find enough bandwidth you can watch, too. Not a complicated dance, but dancers and spectators alike were smiling.
This morning in the driving rain we rode the funicular up the mountain to the Ljubljanski grad. Over the centuries it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times and only briefly in that time was it used as a residence for a wealthy family. It has been a walled city, a prison, a military storehouse, and lots more. Sometime in the 90s it was purchased by the city, remodeled and is now mostly a musuem. Lots of ancient artifacts but the place seemed focused on the things they found there rather than the people who lived there. A little cold but it matched our weather.
This afternoon the sun has made an appearance, the cafe tables are dry, and the umbrellas have disappeared. I see a riverside dinner in our future.
I need to look at a map to see where we are riding tomorrow.
Evening update: We had our best meal in Slovenia this evening. Beef Carpaccio to start and it was wonderful! Then Debb had Risotto with mushrooms and I had pasta carbonara. Both were just excellent.
In for the night.
May 27, 2014 – Murska Sobota, Slovenia
Today was about the riding and the scenery and lunch. And about getting fixed on a destination rather than the ride.
We left Ljubljana and went north on 104 to Menges, then 225 to Stahovica and our first coffee break of the day. Another very cute bartender got to practice her English with us as she described the great roads and beautiful flowers on our route. She nailed it.
At Stahovica, 225 turns east and treats us to some switchbacks on the way to Radmirje. As pretty a road through the foothills as you could hope for. Then along the Savinje River to Mozirje, a big ski area. There is a cable car system there and we hoped to take a ride, but it was buttoned up for the summer.
We assuaged our disappointment by riding 695, 426 and 425 to Velenje and Highway 4 through Mislinja to Dravograd, and it was time for lunch. It took us three tries to find a place that served food but it was worth the effort. The happiest bartender in Slovenia served us goulash with a big bowl of cold polenta on the side, enough bread for 6 and two large beers. The goulash was just excellent. Our server was humming along to the music the whole time we were there. At one point she dropped and broke a glass and the humming barely stopped. She walked out, grabbed a broom and headed back in, humming all the way.
After lunch we followed the Drava River to Maribor, where we stopped to send some postcards and get something to drink. Temperatures were rising fast after a brief sprinkle during lunch. We parked on a big sidewalk next to a cafe and the guy at the next table started talking to us. He is from Lebanon and a dedicated traveler. We traded emails and facebook info, and he told us how to get to Lebanon “the easy way” from Turkey. He has traveled all over the Middle East, including Iran, Afghanistan, and the entire Saudi peninsula. Impressive. He kept saying, ” Lebanon is very safe. No worries.” Fun guy. He rides a Goldwing and has been to the US for GWRRA events.
I had it in my head to ride toward Murska Sobota and find a place to stay along the way. I didn’t realize the time when we were in Maribor and I left town, got gas and kept going. We arrived here in the heat of the day and tired. When that happens, at least for us, we tend to stay at the first place we come to. In this case, the hotel is fine but this town has little to offer the tourist. I should have found an interesting place around Maribor and called it a day. It is the journey, not the destination. I know it as well as I know my name, but I forget it this afternoon.
One highlight here; our hotel has a fantastic dessert cafe. We followed up a forgettable dinner with a very nice dessert. We should have skipped dinner and had two desserts.
We are out of the mountains and into a big agriculture area. We passed lots of hop fields today. Are Slovenian hops a popular ingredient for home brewers?
One other positive – gas is less expensive here than anywhere we have been. And so far, only trucks pay tolls on the toll roads. Bikes and cars are free. Gotta love that!
May 28, 2014 – Veszprem, Hungary
Ten thousand a night! Call me Mr One Percent! Fortunately for me and my banker, the exchange rate is 221 Forint to the Dollar. Our room here has a bathroom larger than our room at the hostel in Ljubljana! How often do you get to carry around 10,000 bills?
Today was a transit day. Murska Sobota to Veszprem. We stopped for lunch in the lakeside town of Keszthely. And I did something I haven’t done in years.
Western Hungary is a vast area of rolling fields and woods, pretty in the sunshine and it certainly looks like a productive farming area. Big fields of corn and barley interspersed with thick wooded areas. Some of those woods looked like paper tree farms. There were lots of them in Slovenia.
Once into Hungary we followed Route 75 into Keszthely for lunch, then Route 71 to Veszprem. Both roads are major thoroughfares so there is plenty of traffic and too much truck traffic, so the road condition really varies. There has been some heavy rain recently, so there are some short stretches of mud and dirt over the road, too. Today we passed our first highway officer sitting on the side of the road. Shortly after, a motorcycle cop passed us going the other way. These are the first enforcement guys we have seen this entire trip. In both cases nearly every driver coming toward us was flashing their lights.
No stops at the border, of course, but the unused customs buildings definitely had that Communist Block look to them. And they have deteriorated now that they are unused. We rolled across the broken pavement and continued on our way.
I would be surprised if roses weren’t the official flower here. Seems like every house and public area has lots of them. Many homes have a garden and some are very elaborate. In most of the gardens there is a row of tall wooden poles along one side. Sometimes two sides, but not often. Maybe for tomatoes, or hops? We have not seen hops since we crossed the border, but we did see large fields of some bush-like crop we hadn’t seen before. Very thick. I don’t believe you could walk through it. Update: It is canola.
We spotted an Irish Pub this evening so we ate there. I had Pork Medallions with fried sliced apple on a layer of candied prunes. Imagine warm jam. Very sweet. The apple was sliced in quarter inch thickness and coated with a corn meal and flour mixture and deep fried. Yummy. Debb has chicken breast in white sauce with chives and some other spice. Her potatoes were little balls of mashed potatoes. Think small marbles. Also good.
There are some notable differences between here and Western Europe. Nowhere in Slovenia or Hungary has there been a slot for our room key to enable the electricity. No signs not to put paper in the toilet. The hot water is hot! Scalding hot. Tipping is normal here, about 10% according to our fellow Irish Pub diners. I have not bought gas in Hungary yet, but I think it will be expensive. A quick look at a sign indicated 400+ per liter. That’s in the $9 per gallon range. Slovenia was much cheaper than Italy.
I left my jacket in the hotel last night. I sent them an email asking them to look and to send it to Mototouring in Milan if they found it. Their reply:
we find your jacket and we will send you.
We’re off to Budapest in the morning.
May 29, 2014 – Budapest, Hungary
Here we are on the east bank of the Danube, deep in the Pest district of Budapest. It was an easy ride here from Veszprem but was it ever cold! I had my heated jacket on for the first time in weeks. Brrr.
A good fast road brought us directly into the city. No tolls and no toll booths, despite warnings on Google Maps. As we got further and further into the urban center the freeway gradually changed into a typical 4-lane city street. Our landlord for the next couple of days sent me Google map coordinates and I entered them into my GPS, forgetting that the two don’t use the same coordinate system. Close! but not quite right. We circled around and made a u-turn and when we pulled over to figure it out, a well-dressed gentleman got out of his car just ahead of us and gave us directions that got us here perfectly. He spoke perfect English without a hint of an accent.
I had emailed back and forth with our landlord before coming and she said she was going to try and figure out parking for our bikes. Her solution would have been great but she didn’t have the keys to the big double doors to the apartment building and neither of our bikes would fit through the little people door. We parked in the loading zone long enough to get our gear off but that was long enough that our landlord was sure we would get in big trouble. She told us to park between cars for the meantime and then to go around the block to an underground parking garage.
Just before dinner, I rode my BMW around the block and parked underground. I walked back and got Debb’s VStrom to do the same. When I got to the garage the gate wouldn’t open. A guy in big truck pointed at a door so we went inside for help. He explained that the gate had a metal detector in the pavement and apparently the VStrom isn’t big enough to engage it.
While we were there I asked him the cost of parking – there were no signs anywhere and I had assumed it would be reasonable with the landlord’s recommendation. He explained it was by the hour, 24 hours a day, with no daily or weekend rate. It would have been $150 to park there until Sunday morning. He let me take the BMW back out and we parked near a tree in the sidewalk in a place no car can use. Several folks indicated our foreign plates would act as a Park for Free ticket. They were still undisturbed when we returned this evening.
Unlike any city in Italy and most we have been in in Europe, the sidewalks are not covered in scooters. There are scooters out and about, but not nearly as many as in other countries. The streets are also very clean. We have seen many street cleaning crews of 4 or 5, both men and women, walking around keeping things in order. We have also seen several guys and one gal going through the garbage cans gleaning various things. Paper and used shoes and clothing seemed to be items of interest.
We are in a typical 8 story apartment block, in the Dr Blondy Apartman Hostel and Apartments. Our host is a Sally Struthers look-alike. The later and larger Sally. I think she is a Dr, but of what I have no idea. She said she was quite upset that her other guests canceled, but we took an extra day so she is happy again. We have a huge 3 bedroom, 3 bath apartment all to ourselves. Kind of the opposite of what you expect in a hostel.
We have a small typical tourist map of the downtown areas and we were walking around with it when I realized the sun was setting in what I had thought was the northeast. The map is drawn for convenience, not for geographic accuracy and I was completely disoriented for about 10 minutes. That was an odd sensation.
We are on the Danube! What a treat. There are several long tourist boats tied up not far from us and they look like a fine way to see the country. Those boats seem about 3 times too long for their width. There are many big bridges across the river, but the green iron bridge near us is my favorite. Just gorgeous!
May 31, 2014 – Budapest, Hungary
It has been an interesting couple of days. There is lots to see and do in a big city but we will be happy to have Budapest in our rear view mirror tomorrow. Nothing wrong with Budapest, we just find ourselves more at ease in smaller places.
We are staying in a quite large 3 bedroom apartment. Until yesterday afternoon we had the place to ourselves. The landlord doesn’t live here and no one who does notices us. Unlike Ljubljana, there isn’t a common area to hang out in or a bar right next door. In short, there aren’t any people to talk with around us. Of course, we talk to waiters and coffee servers, but hardly anyone we aren’t buying something from. We find that when we are out of big cities we have more chance to interact with the locals in a non-commercial way. Seems to make a big difference for us.
Budapest is a very clean city. There are a lot of folks going around with brooms and bins sweeping up the streets and gutters. Debb and I guess that 95% of what gets swept up is cigarette butts. Must be millions of them. I think more people smoke here than in the west. There are lots of places you can’t smoke but outside it seems everyone does.
The sidewalks are completely empty. There are no scooters or motorcycles parked next to buildings or on wide sidewalks next to curbs. We see lots of two-wheeled machines running around but where they park is a mystery. Both of us think parking must be very strictly controlled.
Budapest is getting smaller, population-wise. The number of folks living in the city limits has dropped by 10% in the last 10 years. They are moving to the suburbs. Our landlady has two daughters who are MDs and she bought this place so they would have a place to practice. They are having none of it. When you get up to the top of a hill on the Buda side of the river you can see just how spread out the urban area is.
In one of my favorite movies, The English Patient, Ralph Fiennes plays the part of Hungarian Count Laszlo de Almásy. In the movie he has what I would call a quite severe haircut; cut short on the sides and long on top. A great many men in Budapest wear their hair exactly like that.
Tight pants and even tighter leggings here, for women. I think we have seen three women in a dress. Men, too; tight jeans or slacks with almost everything. Lots of men carry a small bag, and they all wear what I’m sure most American men would call ‘prissy’ shoes.
We did find a Starbucks so Debb could spend some time in her natural habitat. We found two, actually. I think there are 7 or 8 in downtown Budapest. There are several coffee places that are trying very hard to emulate Starbucks. Big block green letters, bigger than normal umbrella seating, and more ‘Americanized’ drinks. There are hundreds of coffee shops here.
In addition to all the euro brands of cars not imported into the US, there are lots of models that aren’t brought in by brands you know. Some are beautiful, others are wretched. A BMW 116D, available in two or four doors is awful. There is a Honda Civic model that is equally disgusting. Maybe the oddest is a Smart sports car. I have seen two and they were different years but both were very small and oh-so-ugly.
One little eastern-block junker had a slot in the passenger door window with a little basket attached inside. A sign taped to the window: “All donations will go toward my maintenance” I think I need one of those for my old XS650.
It has been quite cold here the last couple of days. We are hoping it warms up as we are headed north again.
May 31, 2014 – Pictures of Budapest
June 1, 2014 – Esztergom, Hungary
We didn’t get very far but we had a lovely day.
Just north of Budapest the Danube makes a big turn and the villages and towns along the river in that area are a delight. Just outside the city limits, the houses seemed larger and there were open fields and pretty farms. I thought many of these might well be homes for folks who commute into Budapest. All along the river there were lovely homes and estates.
The river is high. All along the edge you can see the water right at the high mark. In some places it looks like it can’t go higher without flooding. Many lines from boats that don’t move very often have lots of snags and brush caught on them.
We saw several tour boats on the river and they were all heading downstream. They all seem unusually long for their beam.
At Visegrad we rode up the hill to a big park and amusement area. We hiked to the top of the hill and got a territorial view of the river and the surrounding countryside. Very pretty and very green. Tuscany, eat your hear out. We had a great lunch in a restaurant at the top. Great food to go with the great view. And quite inexpensive.
The GPS (still working) took us directly to our hostel in Esztergom. As I was inside checking in, Debb was outside getting drunk. There were 6 or 8 folks heading out somewhere and they were talking with Debb about our Washington plates and one of them decided we should celebrate with some “fruit brandy”, as they called it. So naturally, I had to share ours. Much toasting and laughter ensued. They had a boat to catch, so we toasted that and off they went.
I paid the hostel in the local currency and got a discount. Nice place but there was no hot water in the morning. In fact, no water at all came out of the hot faucet. Odd.
June 2, 2014 – Rajecké Teplice, Slovakia
You may have to look a bit to find this place. We are just south of Zilina in a spa and winter resort town.
We are here because on this northern part of our trip we are following the Edelweiss Kings and Castles Tour. We don’t have the exact route, of course but we will find our way along close enough.
Another great ride today. Very pretty country and villages along the way. As soon as we crossed the border we were in farm country. Long stretches of tree-lined roads next to brilliant green and yellow fields. We had joy in our hearts.
We lost the sun somewhere this morning and soon after we had the heated jackets back on and cranked up. It was very chilly, especially over the mountain tops near here. We have come a long way north since Athens! We are about the same latitude as Vancouver, BC.
We are in a very nice hostel and when we returned from dinner there was an FJR from Finland in the parking lot. Maybe we will see him at breakfast.
We are hoping for a bit of sun tomorrow. We are heading toward the Tatra Mountains.
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