London-Paris-Olomouc-Warsaw on a Kanguro

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Will Rogers, Feb 12, 2021.

  1. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    This RR is meandering a bit because my Czech language studies at Olomouc University required four weeks attendance so apart from trips to Kraków and Vienna, it was excursions around Moravia by Volkswagen or Morini. It was an exciting time in Europe after the fall of the communist regimes. Everything was opening up. In London in the 1980's you'd rarely, if ever, meet Poles, Czechs, Hungarians; let alone anyone from the Soviet Union. It was an exotic time - and also extremely cheap in Czechoslovakia - so every night was a party!

    I'd first travelled to Eastern Europe by train in the summer of 1982 and had a great time in Hungary where you would hardly know you were in a communist country followed by a miserable time in Romania which was a real shocker - incredible poverty and Orwellian corruption under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena - who was also a real piece of work. Both ended up being machine gunned in a ditch on Christmas Day 1989.

    I'd been to a Talking Heads concert in Budapest - maybe the first time any band from the West had performed there - and had met loads of Czechs who had travelled down for the concert. I was persuaded to visit and hitch-hiked from Paris to Prague in the summer of 1983. My interest in Czech history and literature grew to the point where I signed up as a part-time student at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in 1990. I soon found out that Slavic languages have many case endings which makes them very hard to learn - well for me anyway! So I dropped out after the first term but still had the place at the summer school in '91.

    A rear engined Škoda - the best of all the East European marques. This was the 'Sports' model. Looks good. Olomouc Summer School 09 (3).jpg l
    #21
  2. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    I had to go to Vienna to get the Kanguro and, on the way back, found another group of volunteers willing to have a go at fixing the troublesome muffler. There's something about the mechanical nature of motorbikes that cuts through language barriers and cultures. There always seems to be a way of bashing/lashing old bikes back into working order. So often I've been given help and hospitality by strangers during my motorcycle travels in Europe, North Africa and South-East Asia. Olomouc Summer School 19 (2).jpg
    #22
  3. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    Continuing with the meandering... one of the regular sights were parked up planes in town centres. Better than scrapping them - this Tupolev Tu-104 had been converted into a bar. Olomouc Summer School 07 (4).jpg
    #23
    MadRider777 and Ginger Beard like this.
  4. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    Migs were parked up all over the place Olomouc Summer School 10 (4).jpg
    #24
    MadRider777 and adixxon like this.
  5. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    Sorry, but it had to done! I'd met up with my friend John from London, who was holidaying with his Moravian fiancée, Hana Olomouc Summer School 11 (2).jpg Olomouc Summer School 11 (4).jpg Olomouc Summer School 11 (3).jpg
    #25
    MadRider777 likes this.
  6. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    This was my first taste of South Moravian wine - the good stuff from Hana's parents' village vineyard in Huštěnovice - Na zdraví ! Olomouc Summer School 10 (3).jpg
    #26
    adixxon, Essbee and MadRider777 like this.
  7. Essbee

    Essbee Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2009
    Oddometer:
    288
    Location:
    East Coast, South Africa
    Interesting bit of history about Romania, you got me googling there. I was also in Central Europe, in Germany, in 1991, and I clearly recall a Romanian youngster that was on course with us. Little did I know what a turbulent time his country had been through. It was also evident that there was an influx of ( ex) East Germans into West Germany seeking better jobs, lifestyle etc.
    #27
    Will Rogers likes this.
  8. wobbly one

    wobbly one Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    285
    Location:
    Billings, MT
    Brilliant stuff Will Rogers - please continue!
    #28
    Will Rogers likes this.
  9. Gedrog

    Gedrog 1000 mile stare a 1000 stories to tell

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2013
    Oddometer:
    3,730
    Location:
    Lost in the Sahara
    My friend that I work with, in Romania, always gets nervous when anyone dressed in Black arrives at a restaurant and he always switches to these hushed tones something leftover from the days of the secret police and also a very Russian mentality.

    Budapest is amazing compared to Bucharest, however, in Bucharest, you can see year-on-year improvement, when I went for the first time for work in 2007 the place looked run down but since then they have done a lot to improve.
    A country that really shocked me was Bulgaria, with huge industrial complexes stripped of all machinery and people basically still living just above the poverty line, I was there in 2019 and it reminded me of scenes of my youth in the 70's Rural South Africa. To even try to understand why the industries are standing still is confusing as the different age groups have different opinions on what happened after the collapse of Russia one thing is clear there was a lot of corruption.
    #29
    Will Rogers likes this.
  10. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    Glad to hear that you are finding my RR interesting. The early nineties were a very optimistic time in post-communist Europe.

    I think, because in Cold War propaganda the countries of Central and Eastern Europe behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ were always referred to as the ‘Soviet Block’, it give the impression of grey uniformity. So it was a real eye-opener for me when I travelled to Hungary in 1982. It didn't start well. I took the night train from Venice to Budapest and was ordered off at the Hungarian border and marched back down the tracks to Yugoslavia by armed guards in those high peaked caps with the big red stars on them. It was like a scene from an old spy movie. Stupidly, I hadn’t got a visa beforehand... I hitchhiked to the next road crossing and eventually got across to a small town and spent the night in the local pub. Couldn’t have planned it better! I had a great time in Hungary.

    My expectations for Romania were therefore raised unrealistically high and I had a real shock when I got off the train in Brașov. Pretty it was, but food shortages meant joining in queues for tasteless doughnuts and feeling glad to get one. I went to a supermarket where all the aisles were empty except for a stack of vinegar bottles. This was 1982 and things got a lot worse by 1989. What had been a wealthy country had been systematically looted by Ceaușescu and his cronies. Romania is still recovering but I’m sure it’s a great place to visit now.

    Czechoslovakia in 1983 was completely different to Hungary and Romania. After the 1968 ‘Prague Spring’ had been crushed by the Soviet Union, the new government was one of the most repressive ‘Stalinist’ regimes – maybe second only to the DDR (East Germany). I remember sitting in a busy pub which had such a quiet atmosphere because people were so paranoid at having a conversation and being overheard. It was beautiful in Prague and there were hardly any tourists, but it felt dull and oppressive. Very different now.
    #30
    Bt10 and Essbee like this.
  11. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    Yes, I think the expectation of fast change after the revolutions of 1989 petered out when faced with the social and political legacies of the old regimes. The mentality lingers on – worse in some places than others.

    I was in Dresden in the early nineties – not long after Vladimir Putin had been the KGB chief there. I'd been travelling to Russia the previous week and, in a restaurant, when the waitress asked if I wanted soup and I said ‘Da’ instead of ‘Ja’. The poor woman nearly fainted!
    #31
  12. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    #32
  13. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    The summer school was ending and romance had led to an invitation to join my new girlfriend, Anna, in Warsaw. Being a fairly long ride I decided to cheat (and save on wear & tear) by putting the Morini on the overnight train from Prague. It took most of the day to sort out the ticketing but by the evening I found myself sharing a six-berth couchette with three young Australian/Slovak gypsies which was interesting - they got a lot of grief at the border in the middle of the night.

    At 6am I got off the train at Warsaw Central and then watched it disappear up the tunnel with no motorbike in sight. A lot of Czech language is similar to Polish but they have a completely different vocabulary when it comes to trains. Apparently, my train had gone to the next station across the river and after a rip-off 100,000 złoty taxi ride (it's a scary looking meter but was actually only around $5) I found no motorbike. Eventually I called Anna for help - she'd already guessed. We tracked down the bike in the subterranean world of the Dworzec Centralny - minus one mirror which had probably broken when it fell over in the train...

    Then straight to the British Consulate to get a visa for Anna to come to London with me. The two policemen outside stung me for 20,000 złoty just for parking followed by an interrogation by a supercilious consular staffer. To anyone who ever signed on in a dole office in England in the 1980's I can honestly say that that would have been a joy compared to applying for a British visa - and for a fee of course. All this before midday!

    Here they are raising (or lowering) the Union Jack for us.
    Olomouc Summer School 24 (2).jpg
    #33
    rudy4pl likes this.
  14. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    I think I might have had the only motorbike in Warsaw. In the hot August sunshine, the road surfaces were like a soft jelly that never set. The 'tarmac' was rutted in the middle and curled up at the edges like an old lava flow. At junctions, where drivers braked, it was corrugated like a loose carpet. With terrible road surfaces and six-month-long winters of snow and ice, Poland was not really a great motorbiking country in those days. Nowadays the roads are great and the winters are shorter - I'd definitely recommend a trip there - especially the Baltic coast area or along the Carpathian mountains in the south.

    Warsaw old town had been rebuilt after WW2 but its most iconic site is Stalin's gift, the Palace of Culture. Olomouc Summer School 24 (3).jpg Olomouc Summer School 25 (3).jpg
    #34
    Essbee likes this.
  15. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    So we left the bike in Warsaw and took the train up to Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea. My favourite city in Poland. We happened to arrive on September 1st. This is the exact place where WW2 started - the bullet scarred Post Office. Olomouc Summer School 32 (2).jpg
    #35
  16. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    More recent history just a couple of blocks away at the Solidarity monument near the entrance to the shipyard Olomouc Summer School 33 (2).jpg
    #36
    squadraquota likes this.
  17. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    Met another biker - I'm guessing that's a German DKW Olomouc Summer School 36 (2).jpg
    #37
    rudy4pl and Essbee like this.
  18. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    A post-mortem Trabbi and a Polski Fiat - known as a 'Mały' - in the background. Olomouc Summer School 31 (2).jpg
    #38
  19. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    It was time to head back to London. We put the bike on the train from Warsaw to Prague where the plan was for Anna to take the relatively comfortable coach to London while I rode back solo. This plan fell apart when we realised we didn't have enough money for the bus fare - and I didn't have any bank credit cards in those days. Plan 'B' was to ride two-up on the Morini. Anna's frame rucksack was put on the tail rack and the smaller rucksacks were hung over the tank with bungee cords. Olomouc Summer School 42 (2).jpg
    #39
    rudy4pl likes this.
  20. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
    Oddometer:
    395
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    Ready to go! It was going to be all non-motorway roads through Germany, Luxemburg and France. Olomouc Summer School 42 (3).jpg
    #40