Dolomites image on MatadorNetwork…

One of the images I took in my cross-Europe ride in August is featured as the headlining photo in a MatadorNetwork photo gallery today about “What Have You Seen Outside Your Window While Traveling?”: I had originally posted about it here.

When I saw a request for photos under this theme, this seemed like the only fitting one to me because it’s one that is forever in my mind. I recall the Hotel Colli owner ushering me into this delightful room, which seemed practically palatial after days on the road staying at hostels by night. He opened the balcony doors with a flourish and I gasped. I had been riding through the Dolomiti all day of course, but it still seemed like such a luxury to get a room with a gorgeous view like that. I think I took this picture the next morning after a well-earned night’s sleep when I stood outside and gazed at those magnificent mountains again, longing to stay there an extra day. Part of me wishes that I had, but looking back at how things turned out, it was probably a good thing that I headed to Ljubljana that day because I escaped the torrential rains and snowfall in the Slovenian Alps that followed just a day after I had ended my ride.

This is still my favorite place in the world though, one that I think of wistfully when things are going rough. I feel fortunate to have seen and experienced it. I know I will return there someday, maybe spend a couple of weeks in those mountains, riding a motorcycle, hiking WW2 trails, gazing at the craggy peaks that changed color with the changing light, eating casunziei and other local delicacies, and drinking wine and at one of the small cafes that line the main street, where all the locals know each other. I felt warmth, love and caring amongst the people here like I had rarely felt with strangers on the road for most of that trip. And the mountains – oh those mountains! – engulfed me and made me feel like I had finally come home.

Ljubljana to Vienna…

On Sunday morning, I woke up 7:00AM, packed up all my gear, loaded up the bike and rode out of Matej’s building to join Christoph and Daniel. We made our way to Zmajski most to get pictures of our bikes in front of the dragon. That done, and after a brief stop for fuel, we made our way out of Ljubljana.

The bike felt good – it felt almost lighter than the SV and the same height. I took the top box off so that I wasn’t carrying any extra weight that I didn’t need. I spent most of the morning trying to get used to riding it. We went through some really pretty roads as we rode out of Slovenia. I made a mental note to leave at least 2-3 days at the end of the month to ride around the country. My jetlag in the beginning had prevented this and it would be a shame to not see more than Ljubljana.


We made a brief stop at the border. Like I’d been told, there was no border control any more, so no chance of getting a stamp on my passport. The world was just going to have to believe that I rode through all these countries. After we crossed, we rode through a stretch of twisties including some really tight hairpin turns, one of which I completely blew – a tight, steep, uphill one. Why don’t we have roads like this in Washington again? When we stopped for lunch after three hours, I realized how slow we had been going (because of me) and felt a little gloomy at how rusty my riding skills were. I had done no conditioning rides this year at all, and the narrow twisty roads here seemed quite technical. I know that I will get into it after a few days of riding though.


We stopped at Klagenfurt for lunch and Daniel realized that his front brake pad had *fallen off* and he had no more front brakes! what rotten luck! He ended up parking his bike and C.’s brother’s place nearby and taking the train back to Vienna.

That left just C. and I. Since we had to get to Vienna by nightfall, we decided to change routes to some slightly faster roads. It was still going to be almost six more hours of riding though – a total of almost 450km all together.

There were sections of the ride that were fantastic – long sweepers, somme tight turns, fantastic valleys and countryside, hot sun, trains rolling by to the right, little deserted towns… and there were a few dull sections, where all you did was go in a straight line. My energy level was fine until the last hour as we neared closer to Wien (Vienna). It was night now and we rode through the darkness on the outskirts of the city. Tired as I was, I love riding at night through city streets. :)

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We finally made it to C.’s street, where we parked the bikes and staggered upstairs with our stuff. We went out after a while to a McDonald’s to get some food. I was pretty braindead by then.

I slept well that night. I also finally bid goodbye to the jetlag.

Day 3 in Ljubljana

Brief update from Ljubljana. Slept in this morning and felt pretty crappy even after I did wake up and get out of bed. Damn jetlag!

Got a spot of breakfast at the pizzeria from my first day here. Breakfast appears to be a rather novel concept here. Most people don’t do it like they do in the US. They didn’t have a breakfast menu and my scrambled eggs and toast turned out to be a fried egg with warm bread. It was tasty though, so no complaints. :)

Then I walked a block away to a tools store to get a Phillips head screwdriver because I forgot to bring mine. Got a set of four for a good price. Also picked up a hex wrench set to get the 2.5 mm one in case my GPS decides to go AWOL on me (the only way to fix a frozen Garmin is to take the battery out, and yes I appear to have misplaced the wrench I brought with me too). Walked about 20 more minutes down Dunajska cesta to find a key place I had looked up to make copies of the bike key (I only got one key) only to find that the place was closed. Meh… guess I should have called before. Took a bus back to Pegamova ulica.

Then went about fixing up the GPS mount and I finally have it working and installed and done. I find that the tank bag the bike comes with holds my camelbak bladder nicely too. I also found an assortment of locks in the tank bag and top case. I get the hint. :P I tried to take the top box off but couldn’t get any of the nuts to budge. I found out later tht Givi topboxes have a button inside to easily take the case on and off the bike. I’ll give that a try tommorrow.

After this I must have slept for about an hour. When I woke up, it was almost 3:00PM (where on earth does the time go?) and bright and sunny outside. Since my body was now synced to 7:00AM Seattle time, I was fresh and alive and ready to go. I changed into a dress and walked out the sunshine and felt like a million dollars. How I had missed the sun!

I took a bus down to the city center, took some better pictures, then walked by the river, which bifurcated to the right. This was far enough from the main tourist hot spot that I managed to find a good pizzeria with cheap food. I got a glass of red wine and horse meat goulash with bread balls. It was delicious, except that the portion size was very American and I could barely eat about half of it.


This done, I walked up north a little towards the Roman Wall – the remnant of a wall that stood in a city that exited there from 10-13AD. It was quiet and peaceful and a really nice walk down the park that was on the inside of the wall. I guess it was far enough away from the main hub that the tourists didn’t venture down there.


Christoph called and we arranged to meet at Preseren trg in front of the McDonalds (lol). :P Him and his friend Daniel were staying the night and we’re going to ride to Vienna tomorrow morning. They turned out to be a blast. We went to a sidewalk cafe and got the local beer. They got food and I got a Slovenian dessert – some kind of cake which I didn’t like too much because it was more bitter than sweet. We talked and talked and got along really well. I think I’m going to enjoy riding with these guys. We might make a slight detour instead of going directly to Vienna if Christoph can get Monday off. It must be the staying within the city for so long, but I am longing to camp. They didn’t bring tents though, so that might not happen for a few days.

Oh well, Vienna, here I come!

Arrival in Ljubljana…

I arrived in Ljubljana at noon on the 29th, completely braindead from having been awake for 24 hours straight. To make things worse, Matej had to work until 3:00, so I would have to wait for almost three more hours before I could even think of sleep. Thankfully, he had booked a shuttle for me and I was greeted in Ljubljana airport lobby with a sign that said my name. The shuttle driver loaded up my bags and off we went. One of the passengers was a friendly Finnish girl who was in Slovenia for a course the university. She helped me call Matej, who talked to the shuttle driver and told him where to drop me off.

The shuttle cost only 8 euros and I got dropped off at a pizzeria close to Matej’s place on Pegamova Ulica. I ordered some pizza with sausage and bacon toppings, and got a vegetarian one instead. *sigh* I needed to eat more vegetables anyway, so I dug in. I played on the Droid when I wasn’t falling asleep in my food. Finally Matej showed up, we hugged and drank tea and talked for a little while. He turned out to be a lovely guy and was very easy to talk to.

We walked back to his apartment and he showed me to my room. I would have gone to bed right way, except that we had work to do. He took me to a local place where I had to sign some paperwork to get roadside assistance (a whopping 58 euros for a year because they had no option to get the service for just a month). After this, we went and got a sim card for my phone. It was practically impossible to get a card that would work for all the European countries, so I ended up getting a $25 prepaid card that would work in Slovenia for 15c a minute, and be in roaming for the rest of Europe. I’ll probably just use this phone for emergencies only. I *might* pick up sim cards in the various countries that I travel through though.

How it all started…

The flight is delayed and sitting on the runway because apparently they have an inadequate supply of water. It’s too early to start worrying about making my connections, so I figure I’ll spend some time writing.

What I really should do is sleep because I’m so sleep starved from getting only five hours of sleep last night – I had to wake up at 4AM to get to the airport at 5AM. But I see that it is 5PM in Slovenia now and I want to try and stay in that time zone as much as possible. I’m really wary of getting the jetlag from hell and losing days when I get there. This probably means that I try and stay awake throughout this flight, and get some sleep from Toronto to Frankfurt.

I have all sorts of good resolutions for this trip. I resolve to write more frequently, blog as often as I can, upload photos as frequently as possible and make at least one video diary recording at the end of the day. We’ll see how well I do once reality intervenes. I will also try and reply to comments as frequently as I can, although I hope that folks understand that this won’t always be possible.

I’ll start with a brief recap on the story so far, in other words, where am I going and why? I am headed to Ljubljana, the capital city of the gorgeous country of Slovenia in Eastern Europe. Why Slovenia? That’s just how it worked out. I would have preferred to have started somewhere more central, like Germany, but an opportunity landed in my lap where I had the chance to rent a motorcycle from a fellow rider in Slovenia.

Given my history with BMW, I’m not particularly excited about riding one of their bikes, but it had the advantage that it’s a bike I’m familiar with, having ridden an F650GS before. None of the standard bike rentals that I found in Europe were made for a person like me. The rates were also quite a bit exhorbitant, most averaging about $100/day. Shipping my own bike over wasn’t much of an option either, as it required a lot of co-ordination and organizing of shipping months in advance.

I had looked into purchasing a bike in Europe, but European countries typically do not allow non-citizens to register vehicles or get insurance, so this was a dead-end too. Also, even if you did find some sort of workaround, European bikes do not conform to US specs, which would further complicate the import of the bike back into the US.

There used to be an option a few years ago for people to purchase a new US spec BMW or Ducati in Europe, ride it around Europe, and drop it back at the factory or dealership who would then ship it to the US for them. Unfortunately BMW appears to have discontinued this, and I’m not sure if Ducati does this anymore either. Not that I really want to own a BMW or Ducati myself anyway. So an F650CS it is!

My plan is to start off in Ljubljana, ride around in the area a little bit, then head north through Austria to Vienna, possibly take a ferry across the Danube to Bratislava and back, the north again towards Berlin. From here, I will ponder which direction to go and how. As of now, I just want to get through the various flights and circumvent the myriad ways in which immigration and visas work.

Seattle to Slovenia

I’m all checked in and waiting at SeaTac arport waiting for my 8AM flight. I fly to Ljubljana, Slovenia with two layovers at Toronto and Frankfurt (My flights are  Air Canada 540 @8AM, Lufthansa 9635 @5:30PM and Lufthansa 2444/Adria Airlines @10:15AM, if you want to follow along and check my progress online). My Ortleib bag and two saddlebags fit perfectly into my two checkin baggages, weighing in at 48lbs and 38lbs each. I’m bringing a carry-all bag and my helmet with me into the plane. Checkin and security was pretty smooth. I got yogurt, granola and berries for breakfast, and a coffee that I didn’t touch. I picked up some souvenirs for my hosts in Ljubljana.

So this is it. There is no turning back now. And yes, there have been times in the past week or so when I have questioned the sanity of what I am about to do.

The past couple of weeks have been emotionally fraught with personal issues, wrapping up at work, running around doing last minute errands and mentally preparing myself for the month ahead. I tried to remind myself that this was going to be a *vacation* and I should be relieved to finally relax and let go, but the truth is that it won’t always be fun times. There’s going to be many, many times when I’m going to wish I was safe back at home, and I know I’ll miss the comfort and familiarity of Seattle and my life here.

In many ways, adventures seem to be the most fun when they are over and you’re home safe, and the worst at the beginning with all the trepedition and fear of what lies ahead and the naggin fear as you wonder whether you finally bit off more than you could chew.

A friend reminded me that this was what I was dreaming of during all those winter nights, longing for warm weather and escapades in far off lands. It puts things into perspective. And he was right, of course. I finally have what I live for through most of the year. And so it begins.