Panther Publishing is off to the Black Sea

This is an account of a longish trip I made on my 1948 Panther to the Black Sea in May and June 2009. Its in date order starting below. (Last updated 19 June 2009)

I have always wanted to see the Black Sea. To me the very name is evocative of mysterious lands and strange people, a wholly different way of life and a landscape utterly removed from that with which I have grown accustomed. So before its all too late I want to at least catch a glimpse of this fabled sea and to become a 'stranger in a strange land'. Of course, it will not be as I have imagined it. In fact it will probably be little different from much of the rest of Europe with people every bit as friendly to an itinerant stranger on a 1948 rigid Panther as they are in most places I have ever visited. But first I have to stop in Italy to talk to a man who has a story to tell, or to be more accurate, whose father has told a remarkable story about his motorcycle adventures and which Panther Publishing is keen to republish, this time in English rather than the original German. But more of this later perhaps.
Right now the 'off' is imminent. On May 18th at midday I take a ferry to Boulogne and the journey begins. The bike is as prepared now as it ever will be following a complete rebuild of forks, engine and gearbox. Since I do almost all of this work myself I can only blame any mechanical mayhem which may develop on the road on my own incompetence: I prefer not to dwell on that too much!

The route has been chosen. Ride to North Eastern Italy. Turn left for Slovenia, on through Austria and Hungary and then Romania. See the Black Sea and the mouth of the Danube. Then head North to Poland; turn left and head West to the Czech Republic and home via Germany and France. Simple really. I hope to take a few photos and keep you in touch, always assuming of course that anyone at all is interested, but that is up to you! Several thousand miles on a rigid bike at our sort of age (the bike and I are much the same age) is bound to mean something will decide to stop working. I figure the weak link could be the organic component, but we shall see... Anyhow this is all a longwinded way of explaining why orders may take an extra day or two to process but Panther Publishing will still be open for business, orders will continue to be processed and dispatched much as normal and someone will be here dealing with the day to day business. (and with her normal efficiency Elaine has run things wonderfully well in my absence so a big thanks to her!) I expect to see e-mails on occasions as I drift through something called a WiFi hotspot I believe - if that is, I can recognise one when I am in it - or find myself in a cafe trying to make sense of a keyboard with strange characters.
Thats about it really, next instalment from the other side....

High Wycombe to Bolzano, Italy

Bolzano, in Italy is distinctly hot, sunny and altogether a very welcome place! After a week on the road suffering from cold, wind and rain in England and Northern France, intermittent thunderstorms and some persistent rain as I moved South into the Vosge region then over to the Black Forest in Germany following the Danube up to Ulm and then South over the Fernpass into the Alps it is really welcome to find the heat and dry weather. The trip has not been without incident. Electrical failures due to broke wires, wires trapped in the mudguard hinge and a dodgy headlight switch have caused mayhem. No sooner is one problem fixed than another comes along - generally either in the thunderstorms (at Cambrai in Northern France, or in the middle of a tunnel in in the Black Forest area where the bike glided magnificently to a halt in a cacophony of horns forcing me to abandon lights and replace a main fuse in the dark and in the tunnel. Scary. Very, very scary! But the cause of the problem was finally found and fixed at one of the most beautiful spots to mend a bike you can imagine - right on top of  the Black Mountains looking out over the surrounding valleys. A man towing a little 1953 Zundapp stops for a chat. He thinks I am having a Picnic with all my gear strewn over the grass!Ferpass in the Alps

 

I keep meeting the most amazing people on this trip. Pilgrims, yes real pilgrims walking to Santiago from Northern Holland and staying at Jos place on their way for a night. Not just one but four! Then there is the man on a bicycle who is cycling to the Black Sea! We have met twice so far on the trip, the first without speaking but we were on the same campsite in France, and now here at Innsbruck. He survives on beer - 5 to 7 litres a day, he says!. He expects to be at the Black Sea in 17 days. As it happens that’s about my time too, so maybe we will see each other in Romania!

 

 BOLZANO

So now the bike is running well and has thumped up and over the Alps to Bolzano, also called Bozen as this part of Italy is German speaking as it was part of the old Austro-Hungarian empire until 1918. There I meet up with a man with another amazing motorcycle story for publication and the translator and we conclude a deal which began a year ago by email. Glasses of his own wine from his commercial vinyard follow! Next, on to Slovenia.

SLOVENIA May 29

Much seems to have happened since Bolzano. I have said good bye to some good friends there and set out for the Black Sea, now entirely on my own. The first stop will be at Vransko in Slovenia to look at a classic bike museum run by a Panther owner, but before then I have to get back over the alps to Austria and then run East before dropping down again over the alps to Slovenia. The weather is not promising, cloudy and threatening rain which duly turns up at my highest point some 1500 metres in the sky. Of course the alternator takes this opportunity to play up as the ammeter keeps on telling me it is not charging at any speed much over 40. I stop on top of the pass to see if tightening the alternator drive belt will work. It looks as if it might be out of adjustment which means shortening the belt or taking a bit off the top of the alternator. I choose the latter, borrow a gigantic file and set to work. Alternator now looks as if a camel has chewed it but it makes no difference, still not charging properly. Press on regardless.

Its now raining the proverbial animals as I ride through Austria trying to keep the ammeter on the positive side of zero. Its cold as well and the thermals are retrieved from my kit bag. I crack on to Villach in southern Austria, sparks still keeping going and using lights as infrequently as possible. Much to my surprise we make it and stop the night at a b&b somewhere in the mountains where you can look down on the clouds.

Wurzenpass and the tankThe next morning is bright and clear but close to freezing, or so it feels as I head for the Wurzenpass, one of two possible routes to Slovenia. This is not high, but twisty and very bumpy. To my amazement there is an old Soviet tank at the top, well inside the Austrian side, pointing its gun at Austria. Something seems wrong but I duly take the expected picture. The ride down the other side into Slovenia is pure magic. Not only is it a good ride but the scenery is stunning! I stop at Bled to see the lake which is all chocolate box image stuff and then press on to Vransko. I get lost bypassing Ljubliana and a man who looks like a farm hand comes up and asks me, in perfect English, if he can help! He can too, and I now find the right road with ease and head off to the bike museum who I know have a workshop. Sparkles are still holding up and I am Chocolate box Sloveniabeginning to suspect the ammeter is faulty and not the alternator.

Once I find Vransko I stop at the museum and am met by Peter who is a great enthusiast and has a simply stunning collection of old bikes. It includes rare Indian, unique Puchs, a Bohmerland hanging from the breakfast room ceiling, a number of racing Tomas bikes and many, many others. Well worth a visit even if you are not passing! I dine with Peter, Andres and their Panthers and all three of us take a picture with the bikes - a national record for Vransko and Slovenia! Peter also offers to help with the alternator and the next morning we set off to see a retired bike electrician. He pronounces the alternator and charging circuit as A1 and the ammeter a B12 or whatever that is in Slovenian! So I can set off for BledHungary! And that’s close to where I find myself now on the border between Slovenia and Hungary at a vineyard which offers B&B and lots of excellent local wine.

Friendly bunch the Slovenes. I was riding along when a car overtook me with a great bleeping of horns. We stop at a traffic light and the driver gets out walks across to me and says “Welcome to Slovenia!”, shakes my hand claps me on the shoulder as the lights turn green and he’s off! Then there is another man who follows me half the way up a mountain because my wet suit has just fallen off (yes it has been raining, cold and blowing a gale again - only took it off to ask the way to the b&b and grab a cup of coffee in the local Florists here in Ladova, Slovenia!). But now Vransko with Peter and Andres - I am in the middlehere I am at the B&B looking out over the vast plains of central Europe in a now peaceful, cold and stunning sunset - no photos as I have been tasting the locally made wines of this vineyard. They are just wonderful - drink Slovenian, I say!

Hungary May 31

Entering Hungary the first impression after all those mountains, is that it’s flat. Very flat. In fact flat throughout, which makes it somewhat uninteresting visually. But one thing that is ever present is the rain. It was raining and cold as I left the vineyard this morning and its still raining as many places with unpronounceable names flash by. A slight navigational error has me entering Croatia, I think, through the truck entry. Border guard says in language that’s all too clear, even if I can’t understand a word, “piss off back the way you came” and that means the wrong way down the trucks one way system. Lucky it is a Saturday and there are few about at this early hour.

Splash through the countryside and become aware of a nasty gravelly noise from the engine. Disturbing and its not improving. Stopping for lunch and a good Hungarian Goulash I figure the noise is bad. Set off again and the noise gradually gets worse until it sounds exactly like the noises I had before the big end failed in Ireland last year. This one is brand new so can't be failing yet surely? Arriving in Mohacs in south Hungary, the engine is clanking like a Mohacs Town Hallgood un so decide to stay in a hotel with communications and English speakers - might be invaluable, if expensive and there are no camp grounds anyhow. Very depressed, I start contacting friends in England re bearings and attempt to contact an Hungarian with a workshop. He, wisely, does not answer but at least I know the bearing numbers and might be able to affect a repair. Sunday spent waiting for above, trying to find a local workshop (difficult when you don’t know the Hungarian for workshop or bearing come to that!) walking down the Danube and learning that Mohacs is the site of a big battle many moons ago which kept those Turks out of Europe. Its actually a rather pretty place and in better times I could warm to it.

Monday dawns bright and clear but it’s a public holiday in Hungary so I sadly resolve to head back towards the UK and ring the breakdown people when its obvious to a deaf man that something is badly amiss.

Amazingly the noise is not quite as bad this morning and in the next 100 miles wears off until the bike is once again purring along. Never experienced anything like it! I can continue but am now many miles off course and heading in the wrong direction. So trimming the sails accordingly, I head off north of Budapest and run with the wind along the Danube. Its warmish, but by no means hot enough not to wear a few layers, but much better than it has been, and so far, dry! Of course that thought brings on a sprinkling of rain but not up to snuff compared to recent days. I make about 300 miles today, and am now back on course.

Stopping for the night in Hvatna in Hungary, I meet up with a Byelorussian couple making their way home from the FIM rally on the adriatic coast somewhere. We swap stories in a mixture of English, German occasional French and Russian. The beer aids comprehension.

Romania June 2 

Entering RomaniaNext morning in cool, but dry, thank the gods, sunshine I bash on for Romania. Every time I tell people I am going to Romania they shake their heads and give me terrible warnings about the place, but hopefully they will turn out to be people just like everyone else. Not too surprisingly they do. The border guards even want to see my passport, shake their heads in amazement and tell me the Black Sea is a long way away. Its actually only another 800kms plus from the border and I have now done 2750 miles or more - so quite a short hop it seems to me. The sun has now disappeared and its raining slightly (again) as I enter Satu Mare to change money and see my first Romanian town. Ye Gods! That fool has just forced me on to the pavement, and that pothole is an open manhole cover which could swallow my Panther whole! In a while I adapt and ride much more aggressively and all is well. People all point at me and one chap shakes me by the hand for being the first Brit to ride these roads on an old bike. Probably an exaggeration but make me feel good all the same! Surprising amount of English spoken too.

The Romanian towns look like a large and abandoned rubbish tip with dysfunctional and derelict factories and the most appalling buildings wherever you look. The town centres in some towns at least, seem to have been left alone and are a delight. Camping is apparently not an option, all the Romanians have said don’t do it, so perhaps I won’t here either. Drat. And in the worsening weather I push on for Dracula land.

Romania and The Black Sea

Romania looks and feels different. Every small village on the road seems rather drab and have one thing in common. The moment you enter a village or a town the road surface disintegrates. Sometimes it is just bad, but hit a big town and the ruts, potholes etc enlarge to mega truck size. There are also very few bikes in Romania so they are quite unused to bikes weaving their way between the worst of the disasters calling itself a road. They think I am suicidal and I think the local drivers are a bunch of lunatics. Honour about even, I suspect. As in Hungary, but even more marked here, the moment you come into a town its full of traffic, leave and there is practically none.

Grim block of flats in small townThe flatlands start to give way to hills and bends in the road as I head steadily East. The plan was to avoid the big towns by taking the little roads to skirt round them where possible. This plan lies in tatters: sometimes the surface on these roads is so bad it is almost impossible to make any headway. The old rigid can probably cope with it as it was designed in the days of dirt roads, but the luggage and I are a different prospect. With no rear suspension these roads become hard work and things start breaking - well the horn fell off when its bracket sheared. I decided in a lifetime of such weakness that I prefer some comfort and stick to the main roads which, generally, are good between the towns.

At one point I run into a Police speed trap or something and out hops a policeman signalling me to a stop. He has not really allowed for 60 year old brakes and I am quite pushed to stop even close to him, but I suspect he is used to this looking at some of the Dacias and Ladas on the road here. He points to my lights which are on, or at least the pilot light is. I signal that it is on and he shades his eyes gets very close and looks inside the headlight. Sure enough my 8 watts or whatever of light are gleaming brightly in there, and on the back too. He smiles says Da and waves me on! Apparently I comply with the law. I am glad he didn’t ask for documents as that might have proved more troublesome.

Places to camp are more or less nonexistent in the sense of campsites. Hotels are rare and B&Bs (Pensiunes) not all that common either, much less so than Hungary where they are not exactly plentiful either. You take pot luck and sometimes find the only place in even quite large towns. One of these was a truck stop place and I spent a pleasant evening with a group of drivers beginning their rest day. Beer and the sweet Romanian wine flowed at a steady pace… Between us we had about 6 words in common in a variety of languages but we got along very well. They clearly thought I was a madman, warned me against all the thieves on the coast, showed me the best roads etc. Funny how it is always the town down the road that’s full of thieves, never the one you are in!

The Counts CastleOn another occasion I slept in the shadow of Draculas castle at Bran. The castle is a gread brooding relic but now surrounded by the normal tawdry souvenir shops, but with an excellent cheese shop and some other specialities thrown in for good measure. I decided against the tour of the castle inside and opt for a meal and a room instead.

Really nice man there let me service my bike in his garage, even moving his car out so I could have exclusive use. All that needed doing really was to tighten up the rear chain, add oil here, there and everywhere, adjust the brakes a bit and leave everything I could damage well alone! I continue to be amazed that the luggage and rack have not given more trouble but all seemed present and correct and hanging on like grim death. The pounding we are taking really has to be experienced to be believed, given that I am on main roads for the most part.

And so it is on and ever on, now over some of the most beautiful roads in the world, mountains and trees go on for ever in Transylvania and the roads are reallyTransylvaia mountains good here. Long sweeping bends as the roads go through the mountains and follow the valleys, bright sunshine and warm for once - the best days riding by far. I potter along at a steady speed really enjoying the ride - wonderful to have a smooth surface for a bit. It can't and doesn’t last of course. One of the surprising things about the Romanian countryside is the transport system in use. A modern invention really, the horse and cart with specially made carts using modern tyres. They are all very similar and must have been made in a factory until quite recently, I think. Great to see them, but less fun as you swing round a bend only to find two having a chat in the middle of the road! Sometimes of course it’s a flock of goats, but there is always something to keep you honest!

Danube flood plainComing down from the mountains the world goes completely flat. Its Mass produced Romanian transportprobably 100 miles from the Danube delta and rather more to the sea, but what I think I am riding through is the Danube’s flood plain which rather explains the scarcity of villages in these parts. And when I hit the Danube at Brailla it has become simply vast and still flowing at a fair clip.

The bike is suffering here. I have been looking for the right road out which has meant crashing and banging over the badlands of Brailla’s streets and all the roads out of town for ages, when I realise the forks are simply not working much of the time. Pulling off to investigate I find I now have the right road! Its not the bridge I am looking for it’s a ferry! But the forks have seized up on the big lower bush and once compressed are staying down, clonking and squeaking their protest. I consider my options and decide I have to free them up so go looking for a can of WD40. This is a surprisingly hard thing to find when you need one, don’t know what its called in the local language and when everyone tells me with great certainty I can find anything just 100metres down the road but once there not a chance or even the semblance of a chance. By now its hot, thunderstorms are approaching and itDanube just before the Delta is becoming a pain to keep going. And yes I have tried every petrol station in the city, I think. Suddenly I hit a vast supermarket (Tescos of course, seem to be a lot of them over here) and right next to it a vast DIY place. Here I finally find something that will work and squirt the bush through the screw holes to free things up. I knew I should have brought my grease nipple adapter and grease gun! Anyhow this works wonders after much squirting, dropping of small screws in supermarket car parks in the rain, frantic searching with great relief when I find it under my boot, so I set off.

It’s now time to look for a place for the night. The other side of the river is not an option as there are no towns for several hours riding. I head off looking for a place, there should be a campsite here at the National Park. I miss the campsite and the park, no idea where they went but I never saw either, and carrying on I find myself on the worst road ever - for 40 kms! It looks OK, there are none of the lorry swallowing potholes, the surface appears more or less intact, nor is it corrugated precisely either, but it simply is rough and has many, many depressions designed to throw a rigid rear end about two feet in the air. I can make no speed much better than 25mph without huge leaps into the air and just settle back to see it out . After a long day this gets really tiring but eventually I find the truck stop mentioned earlier and life looks up again.

Panther reaches the Black Sea and journeys endNow its on to the Black Sea where I can see the sea rather than the delta. Arriving at Constanta is an experience. It must be one of the worlds most ugly cities - square miles of concrete blocks of flats, everything is grey and drab even in the sunshine and it goes on for ever. More roads unfit even to bear the name of a road but eventually there I am: on the beach at the Black Sea. I feel a beer coming on! I think I have now done over 3000 miles, lost track of the days and have found wonderful people and awful roads in about equal measure. If I did this again I might consider that there is a place for these modern contrivances like rear suspension after all!

 

Romania - the start of the return

The Panther finally stopped today. Approaching the dreaded town of Santu Mare, where manhole covers are surplus to requirement it seems from the first visit, I was watching a young boy trying to outrun the bike. Then suddenly realised there is a level crossing ahead which means major panic. Many have no barriers and the onus is on the driver to stop (there are signs). This is strongly advisable otherwise bike and rider may part company as these level crossings are ‘bumpy’. Anything over 5 miles an hour and bike may never see the rider again. I digress. Slammed on all the anchors and hit the crossing at about 10 miles an hour. Legs and bike everywhere and then nothing. Stranded at the side of the road, bike ticking over but going nowhere with a broken throttle cable. In one of those great moments of rejoicing, I have succeeded not only in beating the child to the level crossing, but also have broken down right by a hotel with a bar! Life is good. The Panther just wants another night in Romania. In fact it has been extraordinarily well behaved these last few days.

First we went up the coast to the delta again and, because boat trips to see wildlife are more difficult to arrange on a moments notice than I had been led to believe, I settled for a run into the furthest point reachable in the delta. The road is not good. In fact its diabolical. The bikes bumps and crashes all over the place but we make it: bike, luggage and rider all together and still attached. There is little to see at first but a stroll down to the waterside (not sure if this is river, lake, backwater or what) in huge heat has me seeing literally hundreds of dragonflies and walking up the bank a bit I scatter scores of butterflies with each footstep. Sheer magic. You have to ignore the rubbish along the bank though.

Shady place on the DanubeI decide not to stay in Tulcea the capital of the Delta - its not very interesting and the places look expensive, and no camping. So press on back to the Danube and the start of the return. Which brings me to that dreaded place of sticking forks, Braila. On the way I pass a lovely place of meandering river - all willows and water weeds. Next it’s the ferry over the Danube, and then find that campsite or somewhere else to rest for the night. Once again fail to find the campsite but manage to get a room in the local knocking shop. Sunday is a quiet day it appears. Nice room, cheap and I manage to get out before madame finds the substantial oil patch on her nice new brickwork drive…

On, and ever on into the mountains now, and Romania changes completely. Suddenly it is staggeringly beautiful, places to stay much easier to find, more prosperous and the roads are sometimes rather better. I get tempted to take the scenic routes and find out that they can also have some of the worst roads too! I take a number of excursions including the Monastery at Bistrita which is mind numbingly beautiful. It's also a place that attracts the local idiot who insists on getting a priest to bless their car with much sprinkling of holy water and signs of the cross both inside an out. Bizarre. I consider asking them to bless the Monastery at BistritaPanther but that might stretch their credulity and my Romanian. Decide to ride on into the gathering thunderstorm. Another two days of trying to miss the worst of the back breaking bumps and potholes and generally areas where the road does not seem to exist in any meaningful sense has my back in trouble. The bike seems totally unaffected by it. Temperatures now back in the 90s I think, and I find a serious traffic jam in one of the unavoidable towns on the route. I toddle up the inside, then the outside to reach the cause of the delay; road works, and only one lane open. Since this is the only road out of town and its 4.00pm and rush hour it would appear the people have taken no notice of the lad with the table tennis bat painted green and red and have met in the middle, both sides fully supported by a cohort of other vehicles. Police have been called and are not at all amused to find a Panther pushing its way to the head of the queue. I have to make sure I am well tucked in and get evil glances for the next 20 minutes as they sort out the mess. I leave the bike ticking over and in all that time it never misses a beat. That’s me trying to play cool - seems to work too because the steady thump, thump irritates the policeman no end.

Next day its more mountains and some of the best countryside ever, and the day after. Roads continue to be back breaking but its worth every minute even when I get caught in a thunderstorm. Somehow the North of Romania feels like a different country, just magnificent, people even more kindly and helpful than ever, food is wonderful, beer good but wine remains dreadful!

Cross on a rockAnyhow now the bike is fixed again, and anyone reading this - do remember to take that funny slide-on cable end thing with you that stops the cable pulling through the twist grip mechanism, it’s a bugger to change a throttle cable without one - they always fall off when the cable breaks. Mine now all tightly taped in place!

Anyhow the bike has put up with some of the worst roads imaginable, has been pulling like a steam engine up the steepest hills, coping with ticking over for ever in traffic and 90 degree heat, and never misses a single beat. Not even had to adjust the chain again, oil consumption steady at better than 600 miles to the pint, fuel consumption about 65mpg, tyres still in good shape and not even had to put air in yet, gearbox still oiling the rear chain like I am sure P&M meant for it to do, and clutch has coped admirably with the bad traffic in towns. There is just so much that has happened it is difficult to know when to stop so probably about now I think
Tomorrow its Hungary and Slovakia….

 

Hungary to Germany - Return

Having finally left Romania I am now beginning to feel its really time to go home. Changing my Romanian money at the border for Euros is difficult as the lady seems to think I don’t know that Hungary uses Forints. What she doesn’t know is that I already have some Forint and wont be long in Hungary. In the end she gives me Euros with a sad shake of the head, comes out to see the mad Englishman leave and shakes her head in despair at the sight of my travel stained bike. So I press on through the vast flatlands of Hungary. I decide to bypass the old town of Eger in favour of the much more important, and much smaller town of Tokai - where they make some of the finest sweet white wine in the world and some not bad dry ones either.

Tokai is much more prosperous than the rest of Hungary I have seen so far. It is much like being in any good wine growing district in France or Italy with well kept streets, flowers, all the buildings painted and some lovely vineyards. I stop and sample a few - suddenly the pleasures of going home recede into the background…It’s warm, the wine is good… what more could you want?

But coming out of Hungary the weather resumes its normal thunder storms and I travel through some really heavy weather with gale force winds, thunder, lightning and torrential downpours which last about 15 minutes before bright sunshine for a little while as the next storm gathers strength. I stop early in Slovakia as its easy to get pissed off with being alternately boiled in the wet suit and suffering the wind buffet and lashing rain. The one good thing about this stop is that there is an incredibly friendly motorcycle shop right next door - Motoshop. The owner, Milan, says of course its OK to change the oil, sorts out a container, chucks a couple of his other bikes outside so I can do the job on the level in his workshop, and supplies a couple of litres of 20-50 in a flash. All this when he had been about to lock up and go home. He then insists on garaging the bike and luggage for me as there are thieves about (judging by the large dogs and serious fences here they take security pretty seriously), and then says, sure it will be fine for me to change the alternator belt and look the bike over on his ramps next morning for an hour.

I arrive the next morning and the bike is already on the ramp waiting for me. I change the belt, check everything else (still all OK) and start up. Will he take any payment other than the oil? Not a chance! Great people at Motoshop so thanks, Guys! and especially Milan the owner. One of them even tells me about a bike event down the road starting Lucenic town centrethe next day at Lucenic. As rather expected there is nobody there today when I roll in so I reluctantly decide to press on after a photo of the tin man in the town centre, as otherwise there is a lot of waiting around to be done, never my strong point. So its off through Slovakia and into the Czech Republic again.

Slovakia, like the Czech republic is full of lowish rolling hills in a really pleasant landscape where you can ride along in a world of your own. Not much on the roads, towns are small and interesting and I thoroughly enjoy myself riding through. At one point in the middle of nowhere in Czech land I come across a vintage car rally with several Tatras and some other makes I don’t recognise, and a little later, a strange procession of half a dozen vintage tractors ambling down a main road for no apparent good reason, but wonderful to see!

After stopping briefly in Pfzen, where they make Urqell beer and which has a gorgeous town centre, I make for the border with Germany and find myself at Cheb. The town has changed hugely in the last few years since I was here with some friends on my lightweight Panther. It’s wealthier, prettier and altogether quite a picture now. For those on that trip with me, Lurch is still there and practising his surly landlord approach to life with consummate success. Pfzen

Cheb campsiteAnd so into Germany and the driving torrential rain. It has been continuous since about noon and for most of this time I can't see the road at all. It is always difficult to be sure but I reckon something like two out of every three days have ended with rain and thunderstorms. Many days have been much colder than normal for this part of the world (a million thanks to the man in Slovenia who picked up and returned my wetsuit have been said almost daily!) and the North West wind has been more or less relentless at times. Yet for all that the riding has been excellent, there have been many sunny mornings and a few with sun all day, the countryside magnificent, the people I meet interesting and welcoming, and suddenly Germany seems just a step away from home even if it will still take a few days to get there.

The End

And the next day it is still raining! The waitress/receptionist at the hotel comes dashing out as I am packing the bike with a couple of bars of chocolate ‘because it's not always raining in Germany!’ I think about staying on…

By midday the rain has gone and the sun is shining, the world is OK again and I see a bike shop. Stopping to buy some gloves as my sodden leather and its lining have parted company and I can’t get the gloves on again if I take them off when its wet - this has been a bit of a problem on this tour from time to time! I fall about laughing when they make me a special offer on a pair of pretty ordinary gloves - 100 Euros! The kangaroo skin ones are the same special price too. I think I can put up with the old ones for a lot longer for that kind of money!

Fairy tale castles in the skyAnd so through fairyland castles and magnificent schlosses as I travel down the Lahn and up the Moselle. The river is deep green as it flows between the steep, vine covered hills and I decide to camp in a site right on the river where an Austrian motorcyclist and I tell each other travelling tales over far too many glasses of the Moselle wines that evening. The site has a wonderfully pretty view of a tightly packed little village and large church on the other side of the river, complete with ruined castle on the hill overlooking everything. I sit and watch the river flow admiring the view as the sun slowly sets. Moselle campsite view

Next morning its chilly rather than cold and very misty as I head across Luxembourg, bits of Belgium to France and Monmedy castle - a truly awesome place on an unimaginably large scale, and so on to my last night on the road at my friend Jos' place where I stayed on the first night exactly one month ago. This involves a few Leffe beers in a lovely bar which has not changed in 50 years. People there even look much the same too and I have a lovely evening before setting off in the morning, bright and early to catch the ferry at Dover. Guess what? Its raining again, not hard but definitely damp!

Montmedy castle dwarfs the PantherThe bike is still going well, still starts easily, ticks over easily at traffic lights, pulls well, but for some strange reason is using more petrol and oil than normal. Maybe it doesn’t like going home?

Off the boat and up the motorway to home I stop for petrol and notice the alternator belt has again worn itself out. I have used up my spare and this is looking pretty bad as the belt is de-laminating and may break causing potential damage to the engine if it jams in the pulley. I do some calculations and figure I will continue another hour, take the belt off and get home on the battery (the bike is coil ignition). It will be fine if I don’t need lights, which at 6.00pm I shouldn’t, and if there is no huge traffic jam on the M25 - which there is! I manage to bypass the jam on the back roads which I know well and suddenly here I am home at last and Elaine rushing out with the camera in hand to capture this moment for posterity! Its been great this trip, but it is even better to be home again. I figure I must be a very lucky man.

The end of the roadFor those interested in such things I travelled 8898 Kilometres or 5560 miles, used 3.5 litres of oil about, no idea how much petrol but probably averaged about 60mpg overall, I think. On the breakdown front, I had two short circuits on the first day due to owner negligence, broke a throttle cable (same cause really) replaced the front brake cable before it broke (phew!), the horn fell off, the light switch broke and I rewired the headlamp to avoid the switch, two alternator belts wore out probably because the pulleys are out of line - I had to fit a new alternator shortly before I left and it would appear they are not quite as identical as I thought; the forks jammed in Romania but WD 40 stuff and drips of engine oil cured the problem, and the kick start lever kept on trying to escape. Pretty trivial really. Bike is dirty, oily due to engine breather problems, but I think would be quite capable of doing the trip again tomorrow.