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Old 06-18-2014, 07:06 PM   #1
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Schnitzel and Gewürztraminer—Europe 2014

After a short period of self-exile due to a slightly more-than-stressful work schedule, I’m well in need of a break and (hopefully) in good form.

The good news is that on Friday morning I’ll be handing over the keys for my flat to my cousin as I embark on a 5,000 km/3,000 mile pan-European adventure over 15 days, which will also mark my first proper journey on my R1200GS.

The tentative route is as follows, starting and ending in London, although I may have been over optimistic so it is likely to change as the trip progresses:
  • Sneek, Netherlands
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Wemding, Germany
  • Flachau, Austria
  • Vellano, Italy
  • Tende, France
  • Stelvio, Italy
  • Ammerschwihr, France
  • Luxembourg
  • Aachen, Germany
  • London, UK

I will be accompanied once again this year by fellow traveller Zev who has the dubious pleasure of riding pillion—although compared to my F800GS the R1200GS offers almost luxurious amounts of space and comfort.

The route as of this moment:



For those who’ve not seen me around the forums—this is me (with my F800):



And the beast:



I have the Vario panniers and OEM tank bag on my 1200—it’s going to be a tight squeeze but I reckon we’ll fit in everything. I’ve included a comprehensive packing list on my blog so please feel free to check it out if you’re interested.

Two sleeps to go!!
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Old 06-18-2014, 07:28 PM   #2
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Let's go!

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Old 06-19-2014, 09:28 AM   #3
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Super! Looking forward to following this one!
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Old 06-19-2014, 09:31 AM   #4
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Looks like this will be a blast. Looking forward to pics.
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Old 06-20-2014, 05:35 PM   #5
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Day 1 - London to Sint-Gillis-Waas

So much for an early start—by the time we were fed, watered and my cousin Carol given a crash course in my cat’s dietary regime, plus a last minute update for something at work, we set off at 11am with no hope of making our scheduled 11:48am Eurotunnel crossing.

It was my hope to fit everything in the panniers without expanding them (makes filtering through traffic easier with a narrower backside) but I finally gave in. Regardless, I think it was an accomplishment to fit 15 days’ gear for two people completely in three panniers and a tankbag without having to sit on any of them to close them.

Traffic in London had died down from the morning rush and the M20 motorway was practically empty so we made good time, the journey taking around an hour and a half.

The woman in the Eurotunnel check-in booth was oh-so-Folkestone as she scolded us like naughty school boys about being 45 minutes late and handed over the boarding card for the next available train, insisting that Zev promise he wouldn’t drop it as we rode off. Eurotunnel provide a great service as they will honour bookings ±2 hours from the scheduled time, presumably to prevent people from driving dangerously to make their slot—however this can involve a wait if it’s a particularly busy day.




Photo: No shame in a clean GS—waiting in terminal hell for our new slot

After 25 minutes I got tired of waiting under the beating sun at the terminal, and despite having an ’N’ crossing slot, tried my luck while they were calling the ‘K’ slot. My luck paid off as they didn’t even check, and just waved me through toward border control.

The first booth is to check out of the UK, and the second is to check into France. Of course these are both EU areas so they are only interested in people trying to transport restricted items (including pets which require a pet passport to re-enter the UK). It is unusual for motorbikes to be stopped due to their minimal cargo capacity. In fact, French border control wasn’t interested in seeing passports and didn’t even ask either of us to remove our helmets.

We ended up getting on the ‘K’ train along with about 10 other bikers, all with UK registrations, distributed between two carriages. A few Triumph Explorers, a Daytona, at least three R1200RTs, two F800GSs and a blue Yamaha XT660Z Ténéré (like this bike a lot!) among others. Mine was the only R1200GS which is slightly surprising as this is the top selling bike over 600cc in the UK.




Photo: Hello. I’m Zev. I’m hot and bothered because I kept my helmet on the
whole time we were queued in the beating sun before boarding the train. Now
it’s all wet inside. So shut up and let me read.

The RT behind my bike in the photo above belongs to a Scotsman who’d just toured England. He’s now off to the Black Forest. He commended Zev’s bravery for agreeing to ride pillion for 3,000 miles.

The Eurotunnel trains are so smooth, no tie downs are required—bikes must be on the side stand, in 1st gear angled toward the kerb in the carriage. Couldn’t be easier.




Photo: Hello. Zev again. Not only are you disturbing my reading, but now
you’re interfering with my yoga moves. I hate you and I’m going to shove
that camera down your throat.

All said and done, and jumping an hour ahead from GMT to CET we came out the other side about 3pm. Out the other side and up to speed, we were feeling somewhat more refreshed and in better spirits. As soon as we crossed over the border into Belgium (about 25 minutes ride) I exited the motorway and reprogrammed the GPS to route on the backroads.

I’ll pause for a moment to mention that we are already altering the original route plan—skipping the visit to my family in Sneek as they are away. So I’ve pointed the GPS to Aachen (originally planned for the end of the trip) for a stop at FC-Moto so Zev can buy a new helmet to replace his ageing (and very noisy) Shark S500.

We reached Brugge around 5pm and it was overwhelmed by mainly English-speaking tourists (UK and American/Canadian)—as in, we could barely get through the streets. I finally made my way to my favourite little Egyptian restaurant opposite the Frietmuseum and was disappointed to read a note on the door that the owner was on holidays until next week. The other restaurants and cafés nearby had menus starting from €25, a bit steep for a light supper, and clearly cashing in on the tourists.

We figured this was our cue to leave Brugge with empty bellies and find a supermarket along the way. I adore Brugge, but visits are best left for the off season—February/March and October/November when the streets are quiet and the restaurants return to ‘local’ pricing.

Belgium’s roads have improved substantially since even last year with barely a pothole in sight, and the backroads cut through some beautiful scenery—tree lined stretches, red poppies everywhere and fields of onions and corn. Because of the proximity to the North Sea, northern Belgium can be extremely gusty, and there are sections of planted forests which act as windbreakers. These are found around northern France as well.

We came across Buurtwinkels OKay supermarket in Assenede and chose a few bits and pieces for an on-the-go dinner. I love that AriZona tea drinks—my sugar rush of choice—are offered everywhere in Belgium as they are near impossible to find in the UK. However, I discovered that supermarkets in Belgium don’t take debit/credit cards (they only accept cash or a special local credit card for this purpose from what I understood) and I hadn’t stopped at an ATM to withdraw cash. The cashier was kind enough to hang on to our groceries while we rode a few kilometres to the nearest cash point.

After our classy car park dinner party we carried on in the general direction of Aachen. By 8:30pm I was feeling more and more distracted so it was time to fire up the booking.com app to find someplace suitable to settle down for the evening.

And what a place we found—the Fruithof Tack in Sint-Gillis-Waas, not far from Antwerp. As the name implies, it is a B&B located next to apple and pear orchards. The whole place, from top to bottom, is absolutely gorgeous and the owners welcomed us into their home with local lagers and an hour of warm and friendly conversation. They opened up their fruit processing area so the bike would be secure and even insisted on carrying up the luggage. Couldn’t have asked for more—highly recommended.


After a day where things were just a bit more difficult than they should have been (and not enough photos were taken), being able to type this post from one of the most comfortable beds I’ve experienced in a long time was the perfect way to wind down.
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Old 06-22-2014, 01:35 AM   #6
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No wifi last night - update later!
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Old 06-23-2014, 01:08 PM   #7
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Day 2 - Sint-Gillis-Waas to Bad Driburg

After a huge buffet-style breakfast we left the Fruitoff Tack around 11am and headed toward Aachen for a quick stop at FC Moto so Zev could buy a new helmet.



Mrs and Mr Tack, owners of the beautiful Fruithof Tack.



Ready to point the GPS to Berlin.


Belgium is full of speed cameras—there is one at nearly every traffic light. At a cost of several thousand Euros each, I'm not surprised the country has financial difficulties! Even more annoying are the 80kph speed limits off the motorways—most EU countries have 90–100kph speed limits on these types of roads. Cruise control is a very good thing on a bike...


Around lunchtime we stopped for another high end dining experience in a Carrefour car park.



Shut up. I haven't had my Carrefour chocolate covered waffle yet.



The most amazing disabled sign I've ever seen—so loungy, and with curious alien shaped head.


We arrived in Aachen just after 4pm and discovered that FC Moto closed at 4. So no new helmet for Zev. I'd assumed a shop like this would be open until at least 5 or 6pm on a Saturday so this was somewhat of a disappointment. I programmed Berlin into the GPS and we set off again.


However, the B-roads afterwards made up for this. I've mentioned on a previous trip how well-engineered German roads are, and with 100kph limits you can cover ground effectively. The roads wind through fields, forests and little towns, all with quite spectacular scenery and very little traffic. It was almost like we had the countryside to ourselves.


We stopped for a quick rest at a park.



Zev here with a smile. These foxgloves would make a lovely spot
of tea—if you wanted to bump someone off, that is.



More than just a fern. It's a German fern.



I'm no sculptor or art critic but bloody hell what a ghastly work this is...


Afterwards I hit the autobahn for an hour to make up a few miles. With the panniers and top box fitted BMW recommend a top speed of 180kph/110mph which is understandable considering they are as aerodynamic as bricks and can therefore potentially induce oscillations in the chassis (weaving) at very high speeds. For the record, at this speed the R1200GS gets 35mph according to the computer—therefore you can empty a tank in less than 2 hours! And the engine howls at these speeds (around 6,500rpm) with the exhaust flat wide open. Some of the sections of the clip are sped up 8x and apologies in advance for the crap audio.



One autobahn moment made me laugh—there were two people on a 4-cylinder Japanese adventure-style bike who were riding around 160kph/100mph when we passed by. About 10 minutes later, I heard what sounded like mosquito trapped in a hairdryer and they passed us again at around 12,000rpm. To the rider—if you read this, sorry you felt you had something to prove :)

We excused ourselves from the autobahn and headed back into the countryside, stopping to refuel in a little village which was decorated with bunting over the road. Almost immediately after we rode through, they closed the road and a marching band appeared out of nowhere. We'd inadvertently taken part in this town's festival.



Zev here. I'm avoiding eye contact with Grandma and her
hot wheels behind me... I don't know what her game is...



While refuelling we were serenaded by a marching band. Reason 117 to love Germany.


Continuing on we came across vast fields of bearded grass. I suspect this is grown to feed livestock during the winter months—but whatever the reason, the colours seemed to be part of an augmented reality.



And reason 118 would be the golden fields.



No. You're wrong. This is not an HDR photo—these colours are real.



The great divide between young and old.


Yes, the temptation to ride the motorbike through one of these fields was almost overwhelming, but the idea of spending the rest of my holiday in a German prison put a damper on it.

Around 8pm we started to get tired and hungry. As we descended a hill we saw a glowing 'm' poking through the treetops so we gave in to all sense and shamefully stopped for Happy Meals. Bellies full of questionable content, I found a potential hotel nearby.


We arrived and the hotel was locked up tight—in fact the whole town of Bad Driburg was devoid of people and traffic, very strange for a Saturday night during the World Cup! After a few minutes a woman opened the door and said their were closed, but that she would call another hotel nearby.


Success! We had a nice room in an extraordinarily 70s-kitsch hotel on the top of a hill—the Waldcafé Jäger. They let me park the bike in their beer cellar, possibly the most unique parking space to date. Sadly, however, their WiFi was broken—I like to get an idea of where I'll be travelling the next day as I wind down for bed. But such is life.

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Old 06-23-2014, 01:17 PM   #8
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We went for breakfast at about 9am—in usual German-fashion it was various meats and cheeses, breads and eggs, as much as you can manage. Suitably full-up we continued along the B-roads toward Berlin with rather ominous clouds looming ahead.

Nature called so we found the first somewhat discreet side road. Zev was skeptical about who might be down it, and sure enough a rather guilty-looking couple emerged. Ha! After a quick 'comfort break' we felt a few drops of rain as we set off again.




Zev here. Can you put down that bloody camera long enough for me to find a bush to pee in?!

My gear is waterproof but Zev's trousers were not, and the rain started coming down much harder very quickly. We took refuge at a petrol station so Zev could put on the waterproof over-trousers and had a conversation with two chaps on quad bikes. These look like fun but they are lethal machines in the wrong hands (namely mine)!


We rode past field after field of blue and pink carnations and yellow daisies.







Fields of daisies as far as you can see.

Then we came across a strange tower, which had been retrofitted with a spiral staircase so passers-by can enjoy the view. I should mention that Zev is a hobby botanist making salves, lotions and tinctures, and he is always on the look-out for new plants. 







Up the hill from the fields we came across this odd tower and obelisk.




Zev's botany skills kicked in straight away.




Of course that spiral staircase proved far too tempting—view from the top of the tower.




Proof that I am actually still a part of this trip.




Looking out the entrance of the tower.




A charming forest pathway running past the tower.

Heading into the east of the country we stopped briefly to find a restaurant and came across this amazing sight:







Germany has something for everyone—fast roads, slow roads, scheissevideos and takko fashion (sandals with socks, presumably?) 

Unsuccessful—the whole country seemed to be literally closed up by 5pm on a Sunday evening—we carried on after feasting on a handmade pizza from a petrol station (clearly this isn't a culinary tour!) and soon arrived in Brandenburg.





Brandenburg town square with fountain burbling away.




Clocktower in Brandenburg.




I'm gonna cut you.




This chap seemed none-too-pleased that I was snapping away photos...

Somewhere between Brandenburg and Berlin we decided to take an inviting-looking side road with scenery like the African savannah.





A tear in the fabric of space sending me to the African grasslands? Sadly not—just a field road. 

Back on track, the fields suddenly turned into dense forest with the sun trickling through the trees. I tried to capture this as best as I could on camera, but the following photo doesn't begin to do it justice.






A rather stunning bit of forest.




My bike is getting close to its place of birth.

We arrived in Spandau at about 6:30pm and stopped to find a hotel. After several unsuccessful attempts—a couple with only street parking and one with the phone engaged for more than half an hour—I spoke with the bookings people at Novum Hotels and the lady found me a room (and secure parking) at the Hotel Aldea right in central Berlin. Perfect!


We went for a walkabout to find something to eat and even Berlin was suspiciously quiet—there were others out and about, but not many at all. Perhaps I'm too used to London's unrelenting crowds but everywhere we've been so far feels so calm and quiet!






Berlin tower block—all satellite dishes tuned into the World Cup!





A slightly derelict but impressive stately building.





The most delicious meal I've had in quite some time...





...which was served to us at Efrane Bistro





So super dodge...

Back to the hotel, full of felafels, Mr Sandman had no troubles at all.

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Old 06-24-2014, 02:42 PM   #9
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Nice report so far George.
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Old 06-24-2014, 03:10 PM   #10
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great photos, very vivid, I did think your shot was an HDR.
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Old 06-24-2014, 03:16 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shay View Post
great photos, very vivid, I did think your shot was an HDR.

The giveaway for HDR is the haloing around high contrast areas - I used a strong filler flash on that pic to compensate for the sun's position but it really was that vibrant there - I've not seen anything like it before! Amazing area!
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Old 06-24-2014, 03:16 PM   #12
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Nice report so far George.

Thanks Rich, more to come soon!
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Old 06-24-2014, 03:31 PM   #13
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Great RR Duffs, keep it coming. I am in Rome with my wife right now, and Europe, particularly Italy is a lovely place.
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Old 06-24-2014, 06:11 PM   #14
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Day 4 - Berlin

Today started with a bit of a lie-in which was disturbed by the housekeeper despite the 'do not disturb' hanger on the door handle. For some reason the wi-fi wasn't working in our room, but it was working in the hotel lobby. That's two for two in Germany, one of the most developed countries in the world—what's going on?


We had breakfast at a little bakery just over the road from the hotel—filled rolls and milky coffee, yum! And it cost something silly like €6 for everything.



We extracted the bike from the underground car park and did a bit of a bike tour of the main Berlin sights. In retrospect it would have been more efficient to walk—Berlin's traffic isn't bad, but the lights are very poorly timed (green for about 20 second then red for 3 minutes) so it is an exercise in patience. Nevertheless we persevered—including accidentally following a police van into a tram station which required a u-turn and a hasty escape.






The Brandenburg Gate where east met west in the old Germany.





Even the enormous R1200GS is dwarfed by this stunning church.




Photoshop's questionable attempt at piecing together my photos of the church.




The Berlin television tower as Zev watches on—for the photo purists, this photo is somewhat HDR (by hand in photoshop) because I couldn't get the camera to play ball in these lighting conditions...





Zev inspects Vivienne Westwood's Berlin branch.

Berlin has an incredible botanic garden—Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem—and naturally Zev wanted to have a look. We arrived about 5:30pm, coincidentally during 'happy hour' where the entry fee is halved to €3. Bonus!


I was having trouble deciphering the parking regulations so I stopped at Riller & Schnauck BMW Motorrad which is just next door to the entrance of the botanical gardens to ask advice. They explained that if you park a bike on the road you need to pay but it's difficult as there is no way to secure the stub. But you can park on the pavement (aka sidewalk for my North American friends) for free as long as there is 2 metres of space between the bike and the roadway.


However, the chap to whom I spoke suggested that I simply park among the other bikes at the dealership which was very kind as it was a far more secure location than the roadway (safety in numbers). So a special thank you and mention of this dealership!


The gardens are incredible—according to their website they have 22,000 plant species covering an area of 43 hectares. Once inside, the plants block out all the noise of the city—the environment is so calm and soothing, it's understandable why so many Berliners spent time there.


Trails run through everywhere you look and there are no 'keep of the grass' signs anywhere—you are encouraged to get up close to all the plants, such a refreshing find in an over-regulated world.





Entering the botanical gardens.





One of many ponds.





This one's for you, Leslie—a blue heron cools its feet in a pond.





The rose area.





An space to relax after miles of garden trails. 





Who says there's no time to stop and smell the roses?





More roses.





A rather unique root system.





Like one of the many lakes in Jasper Park, Canada—but in the middle of Berlin. 





Rustic.





What I would imagine Vincent Van Gough would create for his garden.





Ever get the feeling that some giant leaves are ready to feast on you?





The otherworldly greenhouses—built long, long ago.





Random find: Just in case you bugger up your brolly—a special umbrella recycling bin.





Plants from the Brazilian rainforest.





A little slice of Arizona in Berlin.





This little chap was eyeing us up as we exited the greenhouses.





Fancy.





Sunflowers supported by a sandwich board





While the botanical gardens were amazing, unlike this chap I didn't prance through them while ripping off my loin cloth... 

Props where props are due—a photo of my bike nestled among the others at the dealership...




A big thank you to Philip Lange at Berlin's BMW Motorrad dealership for allowing us to park while we toured the botanical gardens!

Afterwards we returned to our hotel to freshen up and then headed out for dinner. Berlin is not what you would call a beautiful city, but it is a welcoming place with a charm of its own with wide, tree-lined roads and functional architecture.




Looking east from the hotel entrance.




Well creepy window display.




Looking west on Bülowstraße towards U Nollendorfplatz station.




Bülowstraße.


My friend Esa from Helsinki had just been in Berlin and suggested we try out Zsa Zsa Burger (Motzstraße 28, 10777 Berlin-Schöneberg) and we were not disappointed—definitely worth a visit!




Delishagasm!




Zev attacks a pint.




Motzstraße.




A bit more Berlin randomness—for all your sex dungeon refurb needs.

After dinner we walked back to the hotel, stopping off at a 24-hour supermarket to pick up some snacks for the journey to Prague. Still no working wi-fi (getting slightly annoyed by this now).
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Old 06-24-2014, 06:15 PM   #15
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Day 5 - Berlin to Prague

For the second morning in a row, I've been rudely awakened by a housekeeper walking in, completely ignoring the 'do not disturb' sign on the door! Not good enough, Aldea Hotel!!



Ok—let's reflect a bit. The hotel was fine—clean and functional as you would expect—with comfortable beds and the cost was reasonable. But this, and to a lesser degree the lack of functioning wi-fi, tainted the experience somewhat and had me woken up on the wrong side of bed. Check-out time is 11am anyway and she came in at 9:30! Grump grump grump.
We packed up and left with dark skies and showers here and there. After 45 minutes on the autobahn we exited to take the back roads, stopping off at a supermarket to buy some food for breakfast/lunch about 60km from Dresden.

As luck would have it, the skies properly opened but by the time we finished eating the rain had all but stopped so we carried on towards Prague.

The sun came out again and found the landscape changing to rolling hills with fast sweeping bends. At a roadside pull-out Zev noticed some foliage of which he wanted some specimens...




A few more for the specimen container.

...which gave me a few minutes to ponder the bike. Yes, the bike—not a lot has been said about it because it has hummed away dutifully without any backtalk. BMW really do make a cracker—even fully loaded it never wants for power, and the handling feels almost as light as when I ride it alone. I have been averaging 50mpg (10 less than my F800GS in similar conditions) and the bike has not used a drop of oil whereas the previous air/oil cooled engine is known to be quite thirsty at times.

If I had to split hairs, at certain revs and at specific engine loads there is a slight vibration in the bars but otherwise it is smooth as you'd want—considering it is a two cylinder engine with each chamber's capacity the same as a 600cc sport bike, BMW have done well to smooth it out, and the engine loves to rev quickly and freely.

The only other thing of note is a few rough shifts with the Gear Shift Assist Pro system when it should have shifted smoothly—that said, 99 times out of 100 it shifts flawlessly under light throttle, heavy throttle and everything in between. Perhaps a future software update will resolve the odd rough shift. The literature about this option is quite right—the system is absolutely made for the type of riding I've done on this trip and makes the experience quicker yet more relaxing.




Ready for take-off.




One for the GS Europe group!




A trail in the woods from the roadside pull-out to an unknown destination.

Carrying on, we reached what was once the German/Czech border checkpoint—not a very inviting structure and no doubt a cause of anxiety to many people through the years.




All function and no form.

I admit I felt a little bit apprehensive entering the Czech Republic, simply for the reason that the language is absolutely foreign to me (whereas I can speak French and Greek readily and enough German and Dutch to do the basics). About five minutes into the country I stopped to refuel and, without thinking, spoke German to the clerk—of course being so close to the border she responded in German. I needn't have worried, however, as it seems nearly everyone speaks English almost fluently.

The roads in the Czech Republic are much rougher than the German roads and require some acclimatisation—bends which cannot be taken safely at the speed limit are generally not marked. For example, on a 90kph road, in most countries a sharp bend will have an advisory posted at 50kph (or whatever is appropriate) but these advisories are few and far between here—extra concentration is essential. Also, where sections with a passing lane merge back to a single lane, they do so at the sign without advanced warning like most other places.

Nevertheless, the roads are fast and great fun, especially on a bike like a GS with extra-travel suspension so soak up the poor surfaces. I would say, among the most fun of any roads I've been on so far this trip.

We arrived in Prague around 5:30pm and made a few calls to find a hotel which offered secure parking. We found a room at the 4-star Hotel Louis Léger for €38/night, right in central Prague. I thought this was a mistake! The hotel was originally an aristocrat's mansion and was named after the French poet. The rooms have 12-foot ceilings and antique-style furniture. Absolutely lovely.

After a bit of a rest, we headed out to dinner after asking our lovely hotel receptionist her recommendation—Restaurace & Music Bar Legenda.




Legerova at sunset.

 I was so hungry I forgot to photograph the food but it was delicious and inexpensive (roughly half the cost of an equivalent meal in London).




Drinks on the terrace.




One for the road.

After dinner, straight under the duvet for a bit of blog updating and then off to sleep.
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Ride reports: Europe 2014 | Alps 2013 | Fryslân 2012
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