Mark Ingle

Brexit: The day Britain left Europe and we left Britain

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Three Months, Two Students, One Motorbike

Being a university student, and so tied to one place for most of the year, it’s easy to get itchy feet. After our last minute decision to ride our motorbike from Wales to Marrakech last summer, my girlfriend and I decided this year to be more prepared: more savings, more planning, and most importantly, more time. The question is, will three months really be enough?

A year of talking, months of planning, weeks of preparation, and we were still running late the morning we were supposed to be leaving. We woke to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU, and were still wrapping our sleepy heads around the idea that our savings, the fruits of nine months’ labour, were worth ten percent less than when we fell asleep the night before. After all the build-up to our departure, it felt like our balloon had been burst; money aside, we felt foolish getting ready to embark on this great European adventure whilst the rest of Great Britain collectively raised two fingers to our continental cousins.

TaxRebate.org.uk

Remember when the pound fell after the referendum result came through? The financial consequences of this affected more people than many care to admit. (Photographer: TaxRebate.org.uk; Flickr)

Hours after we had planned, we were finally ready to leave. We clambered onto the bike, our luggage making us hop awkwardly to get into place. I gave all our bags one last shake  to make sure they wouldn’t move, and twisted my torso to see Charlotte behind me.

“Ready?” I shouted through my helmet, despite the fact her head was inches behind mine.

“Yalla!” She shouted back, with a thumbs up for emphasis.

This was an Arabic word we had picked up in Morocco and continued to use. It simply means ‘Go’, and is something the donkey drivers shout to their donkeys to encourage them to move. Given how loaded our bikes always seem to be, it seemed appropriate that we took it for ourselves.

I slipped the bike from neutral into first, released the clutch, and we began rolling away. Like opening a window in a stuffy room, I could feel the cool breeze on my face blowing all the morning’s worries away. Nothing behind us mattered now;  we were away!  Continue reading

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David Schiersner

Breakdowns and Beers: Holland and Germany

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Three Months, Two Students, One Motorbike

Being a university student, and so tied to one place for most of the year, it’s easy to get itchy feet. After our last minute decision to ride our motorbike from Wales to Marrakech last summer, my girlfriend and I decided this year to be more prepared: more savings, more planning, and most importantly, more time. The question is, will three months really be enough?

Of course, on a motorbike adventure, being the master of your own destiny only works as long as the bike does, and in a wet and windy petrol station near the Belgian border with Holland, the bike stubbornly reminded us of this. I must admit that I am probably a bit biased when it comes to singing the praises of travel by motorbike, and if you were to ask me to list all the reasons why travelling on a motorbike is the best, you’d need an hour or two to get through them. Despite this, mechanical failures are definitely difficult to big-up.

As Charlotte lacks the finer mechanical knowledge I pretend to possess, she sat on the kerb and kept my temper from boiling over while I hunted for the problem. Tool roll spread out before me, it did not take long. Under a side panel that covered the battery, I found a wire broken clean in two, the metal underneath the plastic rotten through. The problem was infuriatingly small, but I didn’t have the tools to fix this simple problem. After a quick think I was out of ideas and just sat down on the floor, willing the wire back together with my eyes. Of course, the wire stared back at me, broken as ever and laughing at my incompetence. I could almost hear the bike saying “Ten thousand miles in three months? No chance, mate.” There’s nothing like a breakdown to remind you that that what you’re doing is foolhardy at best, downright stupid at worst.

vijay chennupati

Rain, wind and a breakdown: it’s hard not to lose hope when you’re on the road in these conditions! (Photographer: vijay chennupati; Flickr)

Accepting that we would need some expensive help, I went into the petrol station to borrow their phone.

“Bonjour, ça va, j’ai un probleme avec ma moto, parler vous Anglais?” I  said into the receiver when a breakdown company answered.

“Hello Sir, unfortunately I only speak a little English, I will put you through to an associate who will be able to deal with your problem,” came the calm, collected voice on the other end. Just a little English then!

When the mechanic arrived he too only spoke “a little English”, before launching himself into a tirade against Brexit and recommending us some roads to see in Italy. Still, he had the bike running in ten minutes. We rode away whooping and hollering, and it wasn’t until we reached a campsite over the Dutch border that we realised we’d lost our tent pegs somewhere during the day. We spent a shaky night with the tent tied between the bike and a tree, and hoped that we’d had all our bad luck in one go.

usteinmetz

Dümmer See is a large lake in southen Lower Saxony, not far from Bielefeld and Münster. (Photographer: usteinmetz; Flickr)

After our breakdown, the next few days were spent making up for lost time. One night was spent in a wide open field ringed with caravans, our solitary tent in the middle. An old man and his dog braved the morning rain to come and say hello to us. When we told him of our plans his bushy eyebrows disappeared up and under his hood, and he hurried back to his caravan, returning a few minutes later with two cans of Fanta for us. At Dümmer See, a lake in northern Germany, a receptionist in the tourist information centre let us hide in her office from the rain for an hour, helpfully informing us that it was sunny now in Holland where we had just come from.

Spending whole days outside,  we slowly observed the landscape change from the flat panoramas of Holland to the forest lands of Northern Germany. Charlotte had lived in Germany for the past year however had never made it as far north as Hamburg, and so we planned on stopping there for the weekend. We pressed on now, aware that we were blessed with time but wanting to spend it elsewhere, further into the trip. Everywhere felt too familiar, too close to home, and we were eager for the adventure to begin properly.  Continue reading

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hiromichi-torihara

A Break in the Weather: Czech Republic

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Three Months, Two Students, One Motorbike

We crossed into the Czech Republic, and for the first time on the trip we felt like we were stepping out of our comfort zone. As was to become the norm over the coming weeks and months, we found the first few days in a new country a linguistic struggle. No matter how many times I would practise the basic phrases with Charlotte outside a shop, by the time I got to the counter all memory of the strange noises had faded from my mind like snow in the morning sun. Instead, all I could remember were the now-useless phrases from the previous country, in this instance German.

jake-setlak

Different languages, different currency…these are certainly the trickiest parts of a European road trip where you can hop from country to country in just a day. (Photographer: Jake Setlak; Flickr)

When I approached the counter to pay at our first Czech petrol station, I forgot the three words I had been practising outside a minute before, and in my confusion I reverted back to German, hoping that the geographical proximity to the German border would hold some sway. The young, blonde girl behind the counter stared blankly at me, and coolly replied to everything I said in Czech. I rounded the whole exchange off with trying to pay in Euros, forgetting that the Czech Republic have their own currency. Like I said, the first few days across a border are always difficult, and I resolved to make a conscious effort to learn more phrases as soon as I could.

Yet it wasn’t just the currency and the language that were different; the whole atmosphere of the Czech Republic was different to Germany. The towns and villages we passed through felt a lot more ‘Eastern European’ than they had 20 miles ago. We gently rolled south, our sights set on Prague which was an easy day’s ride away, and found a campsite near the airport which was large and busy. Revelling in how much further our budget stretched here than anywhere else so far, we treated ourselves to the washing machine that was available for guests. With a length of rope strung out between the motorbike, a tree and our tent, we hung our now clean clothes out in the sun, the motorbike looking quite ridiculous in its new role as a clothes horse.

Roman Boed

Prague offers an exchange rate that works very well for UK travellers, and to be able to splash out in a capital city is always a treat for those travelling on a budget. (Photographer: Roman Boed; Flickr)

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Martin Dvoracek

Crossing Borders: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Three Months, Two Students, One Motorbike

When we did leave Prague we were in no hurry to get too far so we stopped for an early lunch, after an hour or so of riding, at a burger stand in the centre of a town called Kutná Hora. Enjoying the sun, we decided on a whim to try a campsite on the edge of town that we had seen signposted. We were particularly pleased when we learned that Kutná Hora is home to the Sedlec Ossuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to thousands of human bones. Skulls were piled up in every alcove around the dark church, and a chandelier of human thigh bones hung above us. As we usually found in areas with a high concentration of tourists, the ignorance of people around us playing on tablets and talking on their phones proved to be grating. We watched people hurry around, viewing everything before them through the lens of their camera phone, aggressively tutting or nudging strangers out of their way so as to get a better photo, before moving on without taking any time to actually look properly.

Todd Huffman

It’s always frustrating when attractions are so busy you feel you can’t fully appreciate them, but this shouldn’t put you off visiting great places. Shown above, the Sedlec Ossuary. (Photographer: Todd Huffman; Flickr)

We ended up hurrying around the church, keen for the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere that was caused more by the living than the dead, to be eradicated by the warmth of the sun and the space outside. Our macabre evening was not over however, as we dined in the town square surrounded by animal skins and heads. Banishing the final memories of our argument in Prague by splashing out more than we would have spent in the original restaurant anyway, we feasted on meat on the bone, potatoes and vegetables, all washed down with a few local beers.

We kept moving east, avoiding the larger towns and cities and enjoying the sunny Czech Republic. The days got hotter and as we approached the Slovakian border, the sun became almost unbearable, its heat sweeping across the ground like a dragon’s breath consuming all in its path. The stifling heat made us think of shade as a valuable commodity, as only this could offer us scant relief from our discomfort  most leather trousers and motorbike boots are not made with ventilation in mind.

Robert Scheie

When travelling by motorbike, be prepared for the searing, trapped heat brought on by wearing excessive amounts of leather in the sun! (Photographer: Robert Scheie; Flickr)

And so, although we were rich with time and in no hurry, the heat pressed us on, our sweat-soaked bodies only given relief by the cool breeze created by our movement. Luck was on our side though, and we were treated to roads lifted straight from a motorbike magazine. With every mile closer to the Slovak border the road twisted higher into the mountains; a brilliant cacophony of hills, woods, curves and bends kept us entertained as the sun slowly set around us. The pregnant anticipation for the top, the view and the descent built up and up as we rose higher before bursting like a dam as we crossed into Slovakia. Continue reading

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