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Old 12-08-2014, 10:00 AM   #1
LoneMeow OP
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One man, two wheels, four weeks, twelve countries in Europe

This is the story of my "big trip" around Europe in the summer of 2014.

The usual caveats apply: English is not my native language and I'm not a very good storyteller, so read at your own peril.

The background

I finally got around to getting the motorcycle license I had been dreaming about for along time at the ripe age of 33 in spring of 2013. The first summer was spent riding the local roads and going to track days, but unfortunately ended with a crash that broke my left clavicle, scapula, 2 ribs and damaged the shoulder joint. Luckily this happened at a stage where I was already completely hooked on motorcycling.

I have for a long time had visiting Normandy on my bucket list, but never got around to doing it for one reason or another, but motorcycling finally gave me the perfect excuse - "I can combine two fun things".

This was also my first real multi-day motorcycle trip, not counting the track days I had attended. I kept on being told that I should plan something less ambitious as my first trip, but could not really see why so I decided to go and do what I wanted and not what others thought I should want.

The Plan

During the dark days of winter, The Plan started to take a form: I would visit some places from my bucket list and try to meet some friends I had not seen for a long time (or ever, in one case). Looking at the finances and vacation days I had available, the plan started taking form: a "grand tour" of Europe in 5 weeks.

I made a list of the things I wanted to do:

  • visit an old friend in Uppsala, Sweden
  • visit a friend near Gjøvik, Norway
  • see Preikestolen near Stavanger, Norway
  • visit a friend in Denmark
  • ride along the coast to Normandy
  • visit museums and historical places in Normandy
  • visit a friend in Frankfurt, Germany
  • visit Salzburg, Austria
  • visit the Baltics

Using this list, I planned the route like this:


Now the clever ones may already have noticed that the number of countries mentioned in the thread title does not match the map - as you'll later learn things did not always quite work out as planned.

On a trip this long living expenses can be considerable, especially given that many of the countries on the list aren't exactly cheap. For the me solution was relatively straightforward. I used to go camping a lot with my parents back when I was young - so I figured if I could manage camping for extended periods back then, I should be able to do that again. Similarly, I didn't want to rely on finding reasonably priced restaurants (such a thing does not exist in Norway, for one) so I got myself one of the excellent Trangia portable stoves, with a gas burner since finding fuel for the alcohol burner seemed unreliable in some of the countries I was intending to visit.

Preparations

During the spring and early summer I rode the local roads a lot and went to a track day to regain my confidence in myself and the bike. While we're on the topic I'd recommend going to a track day to everyone who rides - at least if you have a club around that arranges track days with instruction for those who desire it. I put about 6000km on the odometer before the trip and felt pretty relaxed about riding again.

To prepare for the trip I had to buy essentially everything needed except the bike - insurance company had repaired my trusty old Suzuki GSX650F instead of totaling it (which makes no sense at all, but that's another story). I did not especially hurry with the purchases, which turned out to be a mistake and caused some excitement as the day of departure closed and I was still without a tail case - the company I ordered it from had promised delivery in "two to three weeks" but it turned out be "two to three months" in reality. In the end things worked out and on the morning of 16th of June everything was ready to go - except this wasn't the departure day, as I had delayed by one day to attend our company summer party (which involved tearing up some countryside in 4x4s, awesome).

17.6. Day 1: Espoo - Uppsala 316km

Got up at 05:00, showered and checked the weather forecast: cold. So I threw on some extra clothing, ate some quick breakfast and tossed the last items on the bike that I had not packed last night. Thumbed the starter, and the engine fired up right away as it always does. Quick commemorative photo and there was no excuse for not getting on the road so off I was.



The first dozen kilometers were spent figuring out how much the extra load affected the handling and checking that everything stays in place, then I was on the motorway to Turku and cruising in the morning light. Unfortunately, it was cold. In fact, very cold. This would turn out to be the theme of the trip.

There are occasional signs on Finnish motorways with temperature information - the first one I passed said:
Air: +3C
Road: +5C

Temperatures are more or less equal as I am writing this - a bit over 2 weeks before christmas!

A quick refueling stop on the way (not really necessary for the fuel, but quite necessary to warm up the rider) and I reached Turku harbour in good time. Too good, in fact - I was the first to arrive in the queue and the ferry had not even arrived yet. Eventually it arrived and previous cargo was offloaded, then loading began, however they were loading the cars and trucks going to Åland first. While waiting for my turn to be loaded, it began to drizzle. The loadmaster took pity to me and came to tell he'd let me go in first as soon as possible - turns out he's biker aswell. I was a little surprised the guys handling the loading did not think it necessary to tie the bike down, but I trusted their expertise. There was only one other bike on the ferry in addition to mine, and it was offloaded at Åland - unfortunately I did not manage to meet the rider.

The crossing was about as boring as one can expect - I spent most of the time trying to read, unsuccessfully as the ship seemed to be full of hyperactive, noisy kids.





The ferry arrived in Stockholm a bit after six in the afternoon - forcing me to ride through the city in the afternoon traffic. It took me a full hour to get out of the city and I almost missed my turn a few times due to riding behind a truck hauling a large trailer that blocked the signs. Lesson learned: Don't ride behind large vehicles in an unfamiliar city.

I had arranged to stay with an old friend in Uppsala for the night, but as he was working evening shift I had a few hours to waste until it was time to head there, so I just rode around on the smaller roads in the area between Stockholm and Uppsala. Immediately obvious was how polite traffic in Sweden is compared to Finland - slower drivers will yield and help you pass and generally there's far less tailgating and aggressive driving.

Eventually my friends shift ended and I managed to find my way to his apartment with only minor detours due to getting lost (it turns out getting lost was a bit of a trend with larger cities on this trip - more on that later) and we spent the evening reminiscing. I even managed to get a good nights sleep despite the guy in picture below and his brother doing their worst to keep me awake. Turns out it's really hard to be annoyed by two extremely cute 4 month old ragdoll kittens...




18.6. Day 2: Uppsala - Kristinehamn 248km

The morning was beautiful and I had to get on the road while my friend had to prepare for work, so we said goodbyes and promised to try to meet a bit more often than once every 15 years. The days ride was mostly boring motorway run, but I was thoroughly enjoying the weather and the feeling of freedom of finally being on vacation (I had been working 80+ hour weeks for quite some while before this due to some mismanagement at work). I wouldn't know it at this stage, but this would turn out to be one of the few days of fantastic weather on this trip...

I had picked Kristinehamn Camping & Stugor as the campground I would stay at, and that turned out to be good choice. Price was entirely reasonable, amenities were as advertised and the wifi was fast and reliable. After setting up my camp I did a leisurely walk to the nearby supermarkets to pick up some food supplies and other minor things I had realized I didn't pack with me - sadly I did not find a collapsible chair that would pack into small enough space so I had to do without that.



Sunset over lake Vänern was impressive so I snapped a few photos and tried to get a timelapse of it (which failed due to miserable battery life of my GoPro - we'll get back to this later) and went to bed early.



Refuelings for the day:
12.5l / 247.7km = ~5.05l/100km

19.6. Day 3: Kristinehamn - Kristinehamn 310km

The night turned out to be very cold despite the warmth of the previous day, cold enough to wake me up multiple times to put on more clothes. Eventually I had all the clothes I could on and was still cold - this would unfortunately also turn out to be a recurring thing on this trip. Despite this I woke up refreshed - but cold! So off to a long warm shower and then it was time to make some decisions about the day. I was in no particular hurry so I decided to stay another night at the same campground and to spend the day exploring the surrounding area. So breakfast and then off I was, without any kind of a plan. I had seen a bunch of road signs about a "Picasso sculpture" so first I was off to find that.

It turned out to be this concrete thing:


After trying to figure that out for a while I decided it would be more fun to ride than try to understand art, and started riding a randomly chosen side road south. Eventually the road ended and I had to make a decision, and on a whim I continued south on route 26. Ended up in Sjötårp where the Göta kanal starts. Hung around for a while, hoping to see a boat transit the locks, but no such luck. Then I realized that it would be kind of shame to visit this region of Sweden and not see lake Vättern so I took a look at the map and decided to head towards Karlsborg.



In the town of Karlsborg is an old fortress which has some funny history behind it, namely it took so long to construct that it was quite outdated by the time it was finished by improvements in artillery and changes in warfare. The fortress still hosts an active military base but is now mostly open to visitors. Unfortunately the museum was just closing as I got there, so I just strolled around and marvelled at the lush green trees and old buildings.



While walking on the fortress revetments I had spied an airplane outside, so being an aviation buff I hiked around and eventually found it. It turned out to be a DC-3 on the lawn of the Fallskärmsjägarskolan (Swedish paratrooper school) and it was open visitors so of course I had to go and see. Inside I met two old gentlemen who were there to tell visitors about the plane and the paratrooper school and we chatted a little. They were interested about my trip plans and clearly liked that I was going to visit Normandy - they told me about the Swedish paratrooper team that had jumped from a similar DC-3 there earlier this year as part of the D-Day anniversary celebrations.



By now it was well into the afternoon and the time suggested that I start heading back towards Kristinehamn, so I figured a route via some smaller roads and got on the bike. For once weather co-operated and the skies cleared, temperature soared towards +20C and I was thoroughly enjoying the ride, especially after I found some very good roads near Laxå.



Unfortunately, this good weather would not be a permanent thing, and as I was closing on Kristinehamn I saw dark clouds gather ahead of me, but I figured I would make it to at least the next town before the rain started. I was wrong. It did not rain for long, but whatever was lost in time was more than adequately compensated by how hard it rained. I managed to dodge the worst of it while refueling, but still got quite wet, despite my gear being "somewhat rainproof" Gore-Tex. Soon after, the sun was out again and by the time I got back to the campground, everything except my gloves was dry.
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Old 12-08-2014, 10:14 AM   #2
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What a great trip! thanks for taking us along and it's good see that you didn't give up riding after your first mishap! Keep the lovely pics coming

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Old 12-10-2014, 11:26 AM   #3
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20.6. Day 4: Kristinehamn - Gjøvik 350km

Route for the day:


Despite having positioned my tent in an area with shade, sun woke me up before the backup alarm I had set. Night had been cold again and most of my gear was damp from condensation when I woke up, luckily the morning was warm and things dried fast. Since this was the first time I had to tear down my camp and repack everything it took quite a bit longer than it would after some practice which delayed getting on the road. The ride through Sweden to the border was unremarkable, I stopped at a McDonalds in Arvika to warm up my hands and get lunch.

Saw this hilarious thing:


Then it was time to go across the border:


Due to time constraints I had to take motorway for part of the way even in Norway where it doesn't really save that much time due to the very low speed limits. The first really interesting road was route 181 from Sand to Gullverket, which at that time seemed like an awesome road but was actually just a taste of what was yet to come. Got a little confused after Eidsvoll and ended up on the wrong ramp to E6 which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since it eventually lead me to Hurdal where I realized that there was a small road going in the direction I wanted to go which I decided to take. Fv554 was incredible - not really a road for "road racing" but rather for the view and the low speed fun. Sadly my GoPro had mysteriously drained its battery and the road was so narrow that I did not dare to stop for photos.

Reached my friend's place before it got dark and went to bed early as I was quite knackered from the ride.

Refuelings for the day:
13.34l / 290km = ~4.6l/100km - the lower speeds clearly show

21.6. Day 5: Gjøvik 0km

We spent the midsummer day just hanging out, chatting and watching some movies and eating well - it turns out my friend is a great cook.

One could say I am a little jealous of the view he has from his living room:


This guy was happy to have an extra person around:



22.6. Day 6: Gjøvik - Kinsarvik 361km

Route for the day:


In the morning I packed my gear, said goodbyes to my friend and got back on the road. Weather was very unstable for the entire day, occasionally there'd be a rain shower and sometimes it was all blue skies and sunshine.

Countryside near Gjøvik:



River Etna between Dokka and Aurdal:



Strandafjord:


After Geilo the road started to climb towards the upper plains and got interesting. The temperatures also started to plummet, somewhat unsurprisingly considering the highest point of route 7 is, over a kilometer above sea level. It is for a reason that this road is one of the official tourist routes, it is definitely worth seeing. Just bring enough clothing. I believe temperatures were very close to 0C at the upper plains and I was utterly frozen even wearing everything I reasonably could.

Upon reaching the upper plains, things looked like this:


There was snow pretty close to the road:


...this close:


The best part of the road was yet to come, however. As I closed on Eidfjord, suddenly the road started descending steeply and both the scenery and the road itself went from great to incredible. I was torn between riding sporty and looking at the scenery, but in the end the scenery won. I can always do some sporty riding on my local roads, anyway.




The road quickly got back to sea level and then Hardangerfjord opened ahead of me.

Stopped to snap a picture of Hardangerbrua:


...and then ended up riding across it twice despite it not being on my route at all.

Problems started at this underground(!) roundabout:


The road does a 90 degree turn after entering the tunnel but before the roundabout which completely confused my sense of direction. The signs did not really help, none of the names were on my (utterly miserable) paper map and the road number was the same in both directions... So I ended up choosing wrong. Luckily motorcycles don't need to pay road toll so the only thing this detour cost me was a little time.

Across the bridge:


Now, what would be the last thing you would think they might be growing on the sides of a fjord in Norway? It might not be cherries, but that would not be a bad guess either...

Except they are in fact growing cherries:



As the pictures show, the road got quite narrow and that meant getting stuck behind campervans, buses and such, but the scenery was great so I didn't mind too much.

My campside for tonight was Kinsarvik Camping which I can recommend, good amenities and entirely reasonable prices, helpful staff that speaks good english.



After setting up camp I proceeded to do something about dinner, at this point I was starving after having skipped lunch (riding was too much fun...) so I walked to the grocery store - only to realize it was closed. Being from Finland (and even more so the capital region) I was too used to grocery stores being open late every day. Turns out, in Norway they close pretty early on weekends, at least in smaller towns. Luckily there was a gas station open that served something remotely "food-like" so I did not starve to death.

That being solved, I went for a walk and found this footpath:



Back at the campsite I checked weather forecasts for the next day and chatted online with friends back in Finland for a moment before going to bed as twilight was falling.

Refuelings for the day:
12.62l / 296km = 4.2l/100km - definitely showing the effect of slower speeds
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Old 12-10-2014, 01:46 PM   #4
Woland
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Thanks for sharing!

Looking good so far ;)
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Old 12-10-2014, 05:11 PM   #5
RedRabbit
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Looks awesome so far!
I'm so confused by the underground roundabout... haha! What a cool thing to see.
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Old 12-11-2014, 06:14 PM   #6
Blader54
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Fantastic report! Please continue! No worries about your command of English! It's fine. Great photos too!
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Old 12-12-2014, 10:27 AM   #7
thepav
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Thumb Enjoying this!

I am planning similar adventures on my similar machine, Starts JULY when I retire (early, possibly temporarily).
Thanks for sharing your story and your English is great.
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Old 12-18-2014, 08:26 AM   #8
LoneMeow OP
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23.6. Day 7: Kinsarvik - Preikestolen 281km

Route:


Last night while searching for food I had noticed signage suggesting there were some waterfalls nearby so after packing my gear I went to ask the campground staff whether it was possible to reach any of the waterfalls by road. I was told the nearest of the waterfalls was reachable by road, but that the road was not recommended for anything less than a SUV but that I'd probably be okay on my bike. I was a little apprehensive, having not ridden much on gravel (and not at all with the bike loaded as heavily as it was now) but decided to take the risk. The road turned out not to be too bad, it was pretty narrow but the surface was hard packed so I had no trouble at all reaching the old hydroelectric power plant next to the waterfall.

The old disused power plant:


The waterfall:


The goal for today was to visit Preikestolen which I learned about from ride reports on a Finnish motorcycle forum. This seemed like a simple task by the distance and the fact that I was up pretty early, so started the ride with pretty relaxed pace, staying well below speed limits and enjoying the scenery. After riding for an hour or so I stopped for a snack and to take some photos and met a local motorcyclist who told me he had already ridden more than 400km that day. Wouldn't sound so impressive, except for the fact that in Norway your average speeds are nothing like what you're likely used to. Either he started very early to rode at speeds I wouldn't want to even think about!

Houses on a cliff:


Stopped at Låtefossen for some pictures - it is indeed beautiful.





Turned the GoPro on for some "on the road" shots:






Coming down near Røldal there's a tunnel that very nearly does a full 360° - you can get some pretty good lean angle going there:


After the tunnel route 13 splits from E134 and for a moment I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn since suddenly the road looked like this:




Stopped to check the map and take some photos. Southern Norway is incredibly beautiful.







Somewhere along the way I ran into an unlighted tunnel and realised my headlight was not working. Stopped to dianose (failed bulb) and take more photos - it's incredible how clear the water in this river is.





Ferry crossing gave me yet again some time to take photos. I don't remember the price of the crossing but I remember being somewhat surprised that it was reasonable, given that Norway in general is a very expensive country.



As the ferry arrived at the shore I made a big mistake. I saw some guys on GSes rushing past most of the queue leaving the ferry but did not follow suit since I figured I was in no particular hurry. This was a big mistake as now I was stuck in a massive line of cars going up a pretty steep hill at a snail's pace. Overtaking on Norwegian roads can be a pretty iffy proposition and since the queue of cars went on as long as I could see I figured I wouldn't be able to overtake them all. Of course this was also the first time during my time in the country that the weather was actually quite warm so I was boiling in my extra clothes and riding gear.

It was not a hard decision to stop when I saw a sign for some touristy attraction. It turned out to be this ancient bridge:


Near Jørpeland:


Arriving at the campground I had a dilemma: whether to hike to Preikestolen or go buy food. If I'd go for food first, it would definitely be too late for the hike - but if I went for the hike first, I might still end up having to do part of it in the dark and was not sure if I could find food after that. Looking at the weather I decided to do the hike now - which turned out to be the right decision, as the next day weather was nowhere near as good.

The hike to Preikestolen from the nearest parking lot is 3.8km in horizontal distance and the elevation difference is 334m - but that is quite misleading as the trail alternates between climbing and descending along the way. The official estimate is that it takes about 2 hours each way and that would have put me very close to darkness, but as it turned out I did it in 1.5h each way despite not being in a very good shape. Along the way I was put to shame by being overtaken by people twice my age - I really should do something about keeping in shape...

Looking back at the parking lot after the first steep climb:


The trail is very easy and well marked compared to most I've hiked before.

Crossing a swamp:


There were a couple of small lakes (or maybe pond would be a better word) along the way and I was cursing myself for being stupid and not bringing a towel.


The last part of the trail has places where it goes close to cliff edges and was quite hard for me due to my acrophobia, but I persisted and made it. Weather was good and the view from up there is absolutely magnificent. Everyone visiting the area should absolutely visit this place if they are physically capable of doing so. I sat up there for a good 15 minutes just absorbing the beauty of the view before I could even grab my camera for some photos.

This is the view that was worth the entire trip:


After the hike back I found out that there indeed was a store nearby that was open which solved the food dilemma - very fortunately as I was quite hungry after hiking for 3 hours!

Took a shower and set my gear to dry:


Then it was time to cook dinner:


Would you believe sleep came easy that night?

Refuelings for the day:
9.27l / 205.3km = ~4.52l/100km

24.6. Day 8: Preikestolen - Kristiansand 263km

Route (approximate, distance does not quite match so I must have taken some detours):


A cold night (once again) followed by a rather unremarkable day. The original intention was to ride to Stavanger, spend half of the day in the city and then find a place to stay about halfway to Kristiansand, but weather disagreed. In the morning when I asked about weather in the campsite reception they told me it's raining in Stavanger so I decided to skip that and ride along the coast on some smaller roads instead. That was not to be, however, as the weather turned ugly pretty quick so I decided to head directly to Kristiansand and see if I could catch a ferry to Denmark and hopefully warmer weather.

Somewhere along the way I had the first issue of the trip where my credit cards would not be accepted - up to this point I had managed to not even exchange any local currency but when I stopped at some small roadside restaurant for lunch and to get out of the rain, it turned out they would not accept foreign cards despite the VISA advert on the door. What a bummer.

Most of the day was spent being cold, wet and just generally miserable and that lead to no photos being taken until near the end of the day when weather changed for the better.



As I got close to Kristiansand the sun came out, temperature soared closer to +20C and my mood improved.







Now I did not know exactly when the ferries from Kristiansand to Hirtshals leave - I rode in to the harbour just as the evening ferry was leaving... So I just looked up a nearby campsite (it was actually in the city, right next to the marina) and set up for the evening.

Kristiansand was interesting as it seems to have its own micro-climate - it was actually hot there and I ended up chilling in in shorts and t-shirt for the first time on this trip. The campsite was honestly speaking not worth the price I paid, I am fairly sure I could have just ridden 10 minutes out of the city and found something better. Live and learn.

There were a couple of guys at the campsite with on-road ATVs which looked like wicked fun, I must try one of those some day.

Refuelings for the day:
12.50l / 264.0km = ~4.73l/100km

25.6. Day 9: Kristiansand - Råbjerg Mile 94km

A warm night, for once. The local micro-climate is sure nice! I had to leave the campsite before noon to avoid paying for a second night so I packed up and went for a ride without any goal to spend some time, unfortunately weather started looking a bit unstable so I decided to get to the harbour while I was dry.

I had to choose between the two ferries on the Kristiansand-Hirshals route:





I figured the first one would be much more expensive as it was considerably faster and chose the cheaper option - stupidly as it turns out the price difference would have been pretty small and I'd have saved hours as the faster ferry also left much earlier.

Waiting in the queue:


Funky architecture near the harbour:


Leaving Norway behind:


Danish coast:


From Hirtshals I rode to Råbjerg Mile Camping where I spent the night. This is yet another great campsite - the owners have spent a lot of time and effort growing a beautiful hedge maze in which works to both provide privacy and as a windbreak. Great amenities at none too bad price, recommended.

Refuelings for the day:
12.46l / 295.7km = ~4.21l/100km
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Old 12-18-2014, 04:16 PM   #9
fonsecarlos
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A kind of travel I like a lot.
Thanks for sharing.
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