Heading south

Somehow this episode was published the first time without any text. Very strange, but the internet (and wordpress!) works in mysterious ways at times.

At any rate, I was able to schedule a 3-day trip with my buddy Josef last weekend, and off we rode in a southerly direction, hoping to meet up with Ivo in the Czech Republic. We generally get in a weekend ride in the spring, and it’s always a relaxing trip. It was to be my first longer trip with the Enfield, so I put the heavy aluminum panniers on and added a reindeer skin to the seat in order to make it more comfortable..

Josef (the photo below is a few years old, when I still had my old ST) has a Moto Guzzi T3 from the early 1980s. The bike is an old Italian police machine and he has had it for over 25 years. As it’s his only mode of transportation, it gets lots of use and sits outside in all kinds of weather all year long. Its a wonderful old bike and a joy to ride, but generally needs a bit of work. Under 80 kmh it rattles and vibrates like an old bucket of nails, only to smooth out into a powerful, smooth hum when travelling faster than this.

We hadn’t gotten very far when Josef noticed the old Goose was leaking oil pretty badly. It was coming out in three different places, from the front of the engine and both the front and rear gearboxes. We quickly decided to turn around and my wife graciously said we could use her Kawasaki instead. We parked the T3 in the garage, strapped Josef’s waterproof bag on the back of the ER5 and headed out again, having changed our destination due to getting such a late start. The Kawasaki’s parallel twin certainly doesn’t have the power or character of the big V-twin, but it runs like clockwork and handles well. Josef was really happy he could continue riding, and so was I!

The weather was on our side and we made good progress on Brandenburg’s long, straight roads. South of Berlin, the roads head through huge swaths of agricultural country, and are often lined with street trees originally planted to give horsecarts shade. It’s usually windy here and wind turbines have turned this into an energy-producing landscape, which the locals are not always happy about. I much prefer the idea of renewable energy to the lunar landscapes of open pit coal mines, which can also be found in this area, but I guess if your house stands next to one of these tall, humming monsters you might think differently.

After a day of enjoyable riding we ended up at a small B&B in a village in southern Saxony that used to be Trabant (the most common East German car) workshop. It was quiet, clean and inexpensive, and we were the only guests. We usually travel like this, finding a place to spend the night when we feel like we’ve had enough riding for the day. We often end up in interesting places, even though it often takes a while to find something. It’s less stressful than prebooking and then finding out you are concentrating more on reaching your day’s destination than on enjoying the ride.

The next day we rode around trying to find a cafe with breakfast, only to find very little open. This is a rural area with a fairly poor economy, and one woman in a bakery told us there is no need to serve breakfast, as no one ever orders one. We grabbed a couple of Brödchen (buns) and headed south to the Elbe. Passing through Bad Schandau, which was teeming with bicyclists and tourists of all shapes and sizes, we cruised along the big river until crossing into the Czech Republic, and then headed up into the hills of a national park called “Bohemian Switzerland”.

The landscape of this border reagion is quite beautiful. Fields of bright yellow canola are broken up by forested hills, fields of grain, orchards and small villages. The weather was perfect for riding, with no rain in sight.

The roads on the Czech side were narrow and full of curves, and often ran alongside fast-running creeks and streams.

We stopped for lunch at a little hotel and pub in Doubice I had been to a couple of times before. They serve hardy local dishes of wild boar with knedliky (dumplings) and cranberry sauce. Everything on the menu is in Czech, so when ordering we got some help from a German couple who lived locally. Wonderful stuff, even if the non-alcoholic beer wasn’t quite up to snuff compared with the normal Czech brew.

After lunch we decided to stretch our legs before climbing back on the bikes (one of the disadvantages of long motorcycling tours is a lack of physical activity!). On the edge of the village there’s a wonderful rolling meadow with a small chapel in the middle, built under a towering linden tree.

The chapel was built to placate the spirit of Rohál, a local who was once banned from the village and who now supposedly inhabits the adjacent Spravedlnost hill. It’s a peaceful place and we enjoyed a bit of shade before moving on.

We then headed back to the German border along slow winding roads, past both new development as well as somewhat run-down old villas and churches. The Czech Republic appears to be changing quickly now as it modernizes, but it still has a very different feel to its neighbor to the north.

Back in Germany, we headed over to Stolpen and took a quick look at the castle that dominates this hilltop town. Built on basalt, the fortress is physically imposing and has a very long and chequered history. The view of the surrounding fields from the top is stunning.

The day wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at a Biergarten, where we unfortunately had to drink coffee instead of the more refreshing offerings they had on tap. Cooling off in the dense shade of the chestnut trees was a pleasure.

Headed back to our B&B, we found some small roads through lush green fields. More bicycles than cars here. When riding down these roads, it’s easy to forget about the rest of the world and its problems. It reminded me of what my neighbor replied the other day when I asked him how he was doing. He replied “Das Leben ist gut, die Welt ist schlecht!” (Life is good, the world is bad!).

After a long but perfect day of riding, we were happy to be back at our hotel. Even though we hadn’t ridden a great distance, we had been underway for hours. We picked up some bread, cheese and beer for dinner, which we then joyfully consumed while sitting outside on a bench watching the night approach, talking about what we had seen. It was my first longer trip on the Himalayan and it had run flawlessly. The weather was perfect, the company great, the landscape sublime, and life did indeed seem good!

3 thoughts on “Heading south

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