28 August, 2006

Ready to go . . .

I leave in three days and things are almost under control. The million and one things I had to remember are down to about a thousand and one now, so there's far less to panic about. Quite looking forward to getting away, if only because anything I forget or am unable to do can only be regretted, instead of worried about.

I mused just yesterday how there are so many people facilitating this and they deserve sincere thanks. Without going into names and titles (you know who you are!) I am deeply thankful for the career break itself; for all the encouragement and advice; for technical help with the bike, and the extreme technology (the iPod, website, phone and digi-cam); for the great days out leading up to leaving; for last Friday night; for the addresses of friends and relatives around the world, given and promised; for all those looking after the (mainly broken!) toys left behind; for keeping an eye on the finances; for all those asking "are you no' away yet?"; for the address of the man who can tell me whether I can get through Libya; and for anyone who keeps up and wants to come and visit me on the way round. I couldn't have done very much at all without all this support. My appreciation of so many wonderful people is fairly boundless and leaves me misty-eyed so I'll stop before I start to blub! Basically I'm fair humbled by the incredible kindness and consideration of those I'm so fortunate to have around me!

I'm just about to pack the PC away so postings will be unpredictable from now on. I'll do my best. Thanks also, for taking the time to read this. The more comments the better - and please keep e-mailing with news. I need to keep up too!

07 August, 2006

The European Test Run

Got the Ferry at Rosyth with old friend Dean and travelled through Belgium, Holland and Germany into Poland and then up to its border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. This was a fairly uneventful run through flat and fairly uninspiring landscapes. Dean didn't much want to camp and so we used less expensive hotels. Luxury for me!

Having been politely turned back at the border ("I don't care what Mr Putin has been saying", said the border guard. We were hoping to blag it) for lack of visas, we found an excellent place in the back of beyond on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Here Dean took a room and I could camp. The Poles drink their vodka in shots straight from the fridge, and they're happy to share.

We then began to make our way south west through Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Switzerland to Como in Italy, where Dean would meet his wife Louise and sons Gregor and Ewen off the plane at Bergamo for a week's rest. As we went south the landscape became more much interesting. Firstly through the Carpathians and then the incredible Alps.

I left the Family in peace (and the blanketing heat!) and headed back into the Alps. Liechtenstein is fantastic and I will go back to Malbun. I walked in the Alps for a day at 2800m (9000ft) and then went to see if I could find a friend I hadn't seen (we realised together!) for 25 years. Her address meant finding her was a lot easier than I thought. And Switzerland is much smaller than it appeared on my map. Polly has lived in Switzerland for over 20 years, married and has two quickly-growing daughters. Her excellent ex-motorcycling husband Rolf was able to advise on the best roads to use to get back to Como and then to return to Switzerland to pick up the excess baggage they had kindly allowed me to leave in their garden, in my tent. Leaving this made me very grateful and the bike a lot lighter and more manageable for the crossing of high Alpine passes. Switzerland isn't so expensive, is very clean and has the best roads and scenery I've seen so far.

I found Dean sweltering back in Como and travelled back with him through France to the ferry at Zeebrugge. The bike did excellently well. Struggling a wee bit over the Alps due to lack of oxygen but keeping up well with Dean's Triumph Tiger (the 900 Triple, not the old 650).

23 days, 3888 miles from Kinghorn to Kinghorn. Confidence-inspiring and great fun but now I need new tyres! Next, the Big Trip - back across the flatlands to Lithuania for the fitba' game with Scotland. I need to find a good way of packing my kilt!