So you think you might go to Europe, eh? This post is directed mainly at North American readers; we here in New South Wales, Australia can’t even pass our front doors. Or back or garage doors. Luckily we can still pass the dunny door (Australian slang warning).
Some German Autobahnen (note correct plural) really do lack speed limits but this creates a couple of problems for international motorcyclists. Firstly, not all of them are like that. Keep an eye out for speed limit signs, which can be hard to do in the euphoria of finally opening up your Electra Glide to see what it can do.
As well, where there actually is no limit, Germans drive really fast. I have been sitting on 240km/h in the overtaking lane only to have the blacked-out Benz behind me flash its lights, impatient to get past. To give drivers their due, they do not use the horn; high beam in Germany is known as the ‘Lichthupe’ or light-horn.
Both the Austrians and the Swiss make you buy stickers which entitle you to use their version of an Autobahn. The Austrians will simply and happily collect a substantial fine if you don’t have one; the Swiss will act as if you’ve cast aspersions on William Tell’s archery skills and act outraged before collecting a substantial fine.
Italian Autostrade quite commonly have only two lanes going in each direction, and are almost always crowded. You may (in fact you must) ignore any theoretical speed limits, and have only two options. Travel in the right-hand lane and you will be among the trucks. These generally travel at a little over 100km/h which is under the other traffic’s speed limit of 110km/h, unable to go faster because their tachographs will dob them in to the Polizia Stradale. Or you can use the other lane which is dedicated to cars, all going as fast as they possibly can just short of constant encounters of the third kind.
Which lane should you choose? The right-hand lane is even more polluted than the rest of the landscape, covered in oil and slow. The other lane is a terrifying dice with Alfa Romeos and even Fiat Unos. Your choice. Oh, if there are three lanes then the middle one will be dedicated to overtaking, if you’re in a truck, or undertaking if you’re in a car. If you’re on a motorcycle? Shrugs. Your call, segone.
You will also need to pay toll, but Autostrade just don’t allow you to leave if you don’t. On the positive side, motorcyclists can ride up one-way streets the wrong way, through pedestrian zones and along streets closed for roadworks wherever they like in Italian towns and cities. This does not apply in Venice.
Do not under any circumstances eat in any establishment which has English translations on the menu. This may lead to consuming some truly weird concoctions but face it: Europeans have been eating the generative organs of farmyard animals for centuries.
Please do learn a few words in the language of the country you are visiting. Locals will appreciate this, not because they will understand you but because you will sound highly amusing while you try to get your lips around their deliberately difficult accents. Simply pointing at things is not popular because it is not funny.
Ah yes, body language. In France, raise your arms until the forearms are horizontal. Open both hands. Shrug and widen your eyes, and raise your lower jaw until your lower lip squeezes the upper lip. This works as an apology, an insult and acceptance of approaches of a sexual nature. The difference in Italy is that you leave your arms down by your sides and turn out your hands, but you shrug more definitely – ideally until your shoulders are level with your ears. Raise your eyebrows as far as they will go and tilt your head a little. A good Spanish gesture is to pull your head back with a lowered chin and a closed, downturned mouth. This too can be a compliment or a suggestion that your opposite number’s mother was a hedgehog.
In Italy, do not under any circumstances brush your left shoulder with the extended middle and index fingers of the right hand. This is more of an insult the further south you go, but can also lead to instant outrage in the north. What does it mean? This is a family website.
In many other countries including the Nordic ones, it suffices to straighten your back, raise your chin and lower your jaw slightly without opening your mouth. See any Ingmar Bergman movie for guidance.
In Norway, I am assured that the Norse equivalent of the highway patrol (I visualise them with horned but EEC-approved helmets and armed with double-handled, also officially approved, axes instead of guns) regularly borrow camouflage army clothing and hide in the bushes with their radar guns. Is this true? I don’t know, I’ve never seen them, but that might just prove the point.
If you are going to any of the Nordic countries, remember that alcohol is prohibitively expensive there. For your own use, or as a pleasant surprise for a host, take as much booze as you can fit into your panniers. There is an official limit, but as one Norwegian with a shopping trolley full of tequila told me, nobody ever checks. The Customs people drink too.
Drunk drivers are not regarded with censure in Nordic countries but with respect, because they must be rich. I just made that up. So there you go. Have fun, you lucky people.
(Photos The Bear. You may find that some of this post is somewhat tongue in cheek.)