After Africa, riding through Europe felt like a holiday. Europe is bikers’ heaven – with its perfect roads, awesome stops, petrol pumps everywhere, great food and abundance of campsites. The only big difference is the value of money. Especially for travellers like me, who don’t have any planned destination and ride until the sun sets, Europe can be really expensive, as you may eventually end up halting at a very expensive city or stop.
I arrived in Spain from Kenya. I got the bike out of customs and opened out the packing crate, assembled my batteries and put Mrs. Nutella back together, so that we could quickly restart our journey. Those who have been following my ride know that the rain and I have had a long-lasting love affair. The rain did not fail to make its appearance – in any of the continents I rode across, irrespective of the season. And the story once again repeated in my 7th continent, Europe.
As soon as the bike was assembled and I was ready to hit the road, I felt the first drop of rain. I smiled, as I knew that the final leg of my ride had started. The rain and thunderstorms caused the temperature to drop to a chilling 8 degrees Celsius. I wore whatever I had, just to stay warm. The rain kept coming down in sheets, making it difficult to see the road ahead, forcing me to slow down to stay safe from the cars on the highway.
In developed countries everyone follows traffic rules due to the fear of heavy penalties. You could get yourself killed or badly injured if you break them – and no one expects you to do so. While riding on highways through Europe, low speeds can be even more dangerous than high speeds!
I was worried about getting hit by a vehicle coming up from behind me if I did not maintain a certain speed, even though I was in the slow lane. But as the rain got worse, it was safer for me to stop at the closest petrol station and wait out the rain’s intensity.
It was just after sunset and I decided to halt in the next city and to avoid getting soaked in my tent, preferably find a room to sleep for the night. It was around 10pm when I reached and I was shocked to find that cheapest room (if available) was selling for €250 a night! There was no way I could afford that. Thanks to my great sense of direction, it turned out that I had halted in one of the most touristic destinations in Spain!
Finding a campsite in that heavy rain was absolutely of the question. It took me two hours to find a little room in a grandma’s house for €45 a night. Out of options and as I was already soaked to the skin, I decided to grab the offer, while it was still on the table.
There is an old saying, ‘Anything good, comes at its own cost!’ Of course, Europe has good roads, beautiful stops and amenities for bikers but they come at their own crazy cost too! I got to the first toll kiosk in France and read the toll rate was €19. I thought that I had misread or heard. At the next toll kiosk a 100km away, the story repeated. I quickly decided to take a detour from the highways and opt for small country roads instead. I am not a big fan of riding on highways but maps.me kept sending me back to the highways. I finally had to reset the App settings to ‘No Highway’! And I was glad for the decision, as it took me through several beautiful small towns and villages that were certainly off the tourist trail. I made rapid progress across Europe, crossing a beautiful country almost every couple of days. Having friends in almost every country in Europe made the journey even more enjoyable. I was able to savour the wonderful food and enjoy a glorious European summer. I guess I even caused several heads to turn, when people saw the number of flags on my bike!
I was happy to get to London and spend a few days with Alex and his family. I then made my way to Harley-Davidson’s 115th Anniversary celebrations in Prague, and thereafter to the BMW Motorrad gathering in Garmisch. With the most number of flags and having clocked the highest mileage on a BMW in 2017 and 2018, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment.
When I had several breakdowns in Africa, the BMW teams in Germany and India helped me a lot. In fact, they were instrumental in ensuring that my ride continued. I had the opportunity to visit the BMW head office in Munich, where I got a warm welcome and met with Cora, a lady who has been a great supporter of my ride.
While I was in the BMW head office, I got a call from Shiva and the Indian team. They happened to be passing through enroute to the BMW Motorrad Garmisch and saw a BMW parked that had a license plate from Maharashtra, India.
They immediately knew it was me. I was so happy to see Shiva and the India team. It felt like I was back home in India! I then headed towards Eastern Europe – through countries that are rich in history, culture, food and fashion. I had visited several of these countries before while I was a back-packer. But this time on a bike, the experience was quite different. There were even a few countries, whose names I had only read about on a map, and they turned out to be some of the most scenic with their small villages, lakes and beaches.
I’ve had good experiences at all border crossings between countries in Europe. However, the border crossing from Albania into Macedonia was not a pleasant one. Apart from the long queue, all the officers were smoking while on duty, making it hard to breathe in the immigration kiosk and office.
Also I was surprised when they insisted on charging me, what I believe is an unfair insurance charge of $50, although I was scheduled to ride through Macedonia for less than a day, before continuing on my route to Greece. When I told them that I needed to enter Macedonia merely to get to Greece, I was told that it was my problem and if I did not want to pay the insurance charges, I would not be allowed to enter the country. It wasn’t the value of the $50 that I was annoyed about, but more their behaviour and attitude that I found appalling. But it did not take me long to forget the experience and enjoy the beautiful road again.
Greece has been among my favourite countries for its food, people and architecture. When I reached Thessaloniki, the roads were empty as it was a Sunday afternoon. I started to explore this quaint city along beautiful but narrow lanes that had sharp curves and large cobblestones. I was hoping and praying that I wouldn’t slip on these roads. I reached a hostel and put Nutella on her stand. Due to the slope of the road she lost balance. The next thing I heard was a sound and I turned to find Nutella flat on the road.
I walked to the hostel, but there was no one there. I headed to the nearby café and there were only three girls, dressed in beautiful short dresses and high heeled shoes, there was no way they could help me. After calling for help from the next junction a couple of kilometres away, I had to wait for half an hour before help arrived. It was extremely hot, and Nutella and I were dehydrated, hungry and needed a good rest!
I am now heading to the last European country on my route, Turkey – the only country that separates me from Iran. I can feel my heart racing, as I am not sure what awaits me when I attempt to enter and ride through Iran on my bike. As you all know that Iranian women are not allowed to ride bikes in Iran. Appealing to the authorities to reconsider this rule has been my campaign since I started my ride.
I keep my fingers crossed and trust that all things will work out well!
words by Maral Yazarloo