Firstly – a couple of gigs:
- Cat Power – she may be cray-cray, but she can sing. This was re-scheduled from last year, so had been looking forward to it for quite some time. Not disappointed. And as a bonus, as I was hanging out in the member’s bar, had a chat with the Customer Relations Officer, or some such. And I happened to mention I was gutted to miss out on tickets to The National – scheduled for the very next night – which had effectively sold out in under 5 minutes. She gave me her card, so I could call the next day – in case she could do something about that. I did call, she could do something about it (had a couple of spare ‘hospitality’ or VIP tickets or something – which she’s not allowed to sell) – and I got my name on the door, and made a donation to the Roundhouse charity, for about the price of a ticket (I actually rounded it up a fair bit).
- So – The National. Very pleased to get into this… considering the ridiculous demand for them, and there was no way of buying ‘scalped’ tickets. And yeah, good. Other than new songs, rather reminiscent of the last time I saw them – didn’t play “All The Wine”, and did acoustic Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks… but I was pleased. I do like me The National.
And then it was time to get back on that horse… or all 70 of those horses, on my sweet new bike. I sold my old one for £70… which I felt guilty about. It would have felt a bit better if I hadn’t got any money for it, but… I used the money for new gear, and to get a MOT (WOF) for the new one (which I’d been assured it would come with, but did not).
Anyway – the new bike. A 1997 Triumph Adventurer… when doing a bit of research on it… one of the first reviews I read had described it using the phrase “adds dollop of crass to already glittery, faux concoction.” This intrigued me. But when I went on to read “…the Triumph Adventurer is about as cool and stylish as purple velvet loon pants.” – I bought the bike without ever having actually seen/touched it – let alone sat on it. (I bought it over the phone, and had it delivered from Stoke).
I took it out for one short ride, on a slightly wet Sunday – and confirmed that it worked, an that I worked (my legs, in particular). And then, the following Sunday – with essentially all new gear/clothing, a backpack, and the hardly-ridden bike – set off for the Czech Republic.
A couple of things came apparent:
- My new Kriega backpack/rucksack is awesome. I read all sorts of reviews, claiming it takes the weight off your shoulders, can hardly feel it, etc – with suitable cynicism. But they’re all true! Good work Kriega. But then, any company who puts a 10 year guarantee on their backpack is probably pretty confident in their product.
- My nerves are shot. Riding on the motorway, every little noise, shudder, gust of wind – had my head full of visions of my front wheel falling off. And that just got worse as I headed into Germany – on the autobahn, where one feels obligated to go even faster; and in Czechland – where the roads had lengthy stretches of constant ‘bumps’, which I could never be sure were actually in the road… and my mind was constantly coming up with possible scenarios explaining what I was feeling… most involving my bike about to fall apart underneath me, at 130km/h.
But – I made it safe-and-sound. Caught the ferry from Dover, to Dunkirk – and then headed into Belgium. Stayed a night at a pension in some weird small town, which seems to exist in order to allow people to come and do some pilgrimage? There were multiple shops selling ‘religious items’, and what I think were big bottles of holy water. But not a single restaurant/supermarket/etc willing to sell me food after about 9pm – when I arrived. Eventually the people at the pension I was staying at – took pity on me, and cooked me a dinner. A massive, massive dinner – which I tried very hard to finish, but could not. And the nice man from the hotel/pension I’d originally booked a room in (but closed at 8pm – so sent me elsewhere) – offered to store my bike indoors for me. Much appreciated. Well done, weird little Banneux.
The next day – headed off into Germany, and the autobahns. Some people really do go quite fast on those… but generally, probably not much more than countries which do have hard speed limits. Anyway – I trundled along on that, once or twice winding it up to see how fast the new bike (and my nerve), was capable. Well – my nerve failed first… I was happy to see the speedo hit 100mph. According to one website, top speed is about 190km/h. I don’t see any need to prove/disprove that. Anyway – mostly headed along at the ‘recommended’ speed limit of around 130 km/h, often dropping down a bit slower and just cruising behind trucks/etc in the ‘slow lane’. And made it all the way across Germany in a day… found a small town just before the Czech border, and eventually found a hotel/pension to book into. Lovely place – garage for the bike… but once again food was problematic. I’d arrived at a decent time – I thought – but still very difficult finding anything on a Monday night. So – found an icecream bar which served beer, and bar-snacks in the form of “ham-and-cheese toast sandwiches”. Good work Vohenstrauss.
Next day – across the border into Czechland. From memory, the motorway between Germany & Prague wasn’t too bad. Just the wind messing with my head, making me continuously think I was going to die. But after Prague – eastern Czechland… particularly the right-hand ‘slow lane’… horrible horrible constant ‘judders’. And like I said above – my mind constantly coming up with explanations for this, involving a stone in my tyre about to cause it to burst, or something snagged somewhere, about to lock a wheel completely, or just that it really was the road – but was about to cause a tyre to burst or something. Just constant doubts/terrors. Awesome, good fun. But eventually made it to Pustimer, where the ridiculous hospitality began.
Ludek’s parents… without a word of english between them – guessed who I was, invited me in, and just started plying me with pivo, slivovice, and food. I was stranded there for a couple of hours – just being bombarded with brutal quantities/qualities of hospitality, until everybody else returned from visiting castles. More pivo & slivovice, and eventually left to go to Ludek’s auntie’s house, which she’d given over to us for the week. So yeah – my first impression of Czech hospitality: freely given beer, slivovice, food, and a house (with a swimming pool).
Slivovice probably warrants a word here. After having this clear liquor forced upon me… I did a quick google search, to figure out what it was I was reading. The first half-a-dozen ‘hits’ were all news stories, about how the Czech government had banned all hard liquor for a period last year – after several deaths… from people drinking slivovice. Apparently, quite a few cases of blindness also. Apparently now, a popular toast is “see you later” – making fun of this.
Anyway – a few days of such hospitality, lots and lots of very hot sunshine, and a couple of bike rides around the Czech country-side… the days passed by. I’d nearly forgotten there was a wedding involved. But there was a wedding, so we went to that. Very nice wedding, and very good reception. From what I recall. I remember somebody giving me a beer soon after I entered the reception venue (while this doesn’t sound that strange… nobody else was); I vaguely remember a haka; and I vaguely remember dancing… including one very successful “knee slide”, and two very unsuccessful knee slides (evidenced the next day by spectacular bruising… injuries now more evident (visually and pain-wise) than any lingering effects from falling off my bike).
The usual post-wedding hungover tired lazy day or two… a couple of nights in Prague (Prague is quite nice) – and then a few days taking mostly non-motorway routes back to England. The sat-nav took me on some brilliant roads, and also some rather dodgy ones. The Adventurer isn’t really designed for gravel roads. but it coped. I took a detour to ride along the Rhine for a while, that was spectacular. Koblenz valley, I think it was called – with constant castles on the skyline. Very cool. A night in Germany, a night in Luxembourg, and a night in Belgium – before catching a ferry from Calais back to the white cliffs of Dover, and back to London.
2,500 miles, or near to, by the end of it. Didn’t get pulled over once – which is lucky, as it seems my left rear indicator hasn’t been working since I don’t know when. And in France, there’s all sorts of ridiculous rules for motorists, and motorcyclists in particular. Have to carry a breathalyser (which I did), but also – put 4 reflective stickers onto your helmet. And they have to be such a type that they are impossible to remove, “without damaging the helmet”. WTF?
All in all, a good trip. And it’s probably about time I learnt how to perform some basic maintenance on the bike… overdue for the chain being cleaned/lubed/oiled. A general clean is also overdue… I got my glittery faux concoction a little dirty over the last couple of weeks.
Just looking over photos – I’d nearly forgotten about our daytrip to Brno – visiting the castle, and the pub where your drinks are delivered to your table by model train. Such a brilliant concept/gimmick.
EDIT: To answer the little sister’s question… by the end of it, motorways still gave me irrational fear, but I’m loving the small country roads/etc. But I guess that’s the way it should be anyway.