Place: London - Ghent - Frankfurt - Volkach - Dusseldorf - Wallonia - London
Mode: Kawasaki Versys 650cc
Date(s) of Travel: August 13 - 23, 2015
In 2010, I was wandering around the streets of Cologne - Germany. One afternoon, I was walking by the side of the road and suddenly a motorcyclist pulled just next to me. It seemed like he had a problem with his motorcycle and he started fixing it. I was curiously watching his motorcycle, the dress code and the freedom that he was experiencing driving the motorcycle. I asked him can I take a picture of him with motorcycle and he said sure. When I was driving motorcycle in India, I heard from friends about German autobahns (sort of national highways/motorways) where you can drive without speed limits. That moment I decided myself I will drive a motorcycle in Germany one day.
Years passed by, but my dream to drive a motorcycle in Germany was always persistent within. In the summer of 2014 I decided to get a motorcycle license in UK. I joined the Edinburgh motorcycle school with the aim to get the full licence at the first attempt. I thought it will be a walk in the park to get a motorcycle license since I know how to drive one in India. From the day one I realised I need to unlearn lot of stuff and have to learn in the correct way. Adding to that the instructors were Scottish and their English accent was hard to follow for the first few days. But with some effort I was able to get my license at the first attempt.
In autumn 2012, I went to watch a football match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in Madrid - Spain. I stayed in a hostel and met few Dortmund fans from Volkach - Germany. I partied with them for few nights and they told me that I am most welcome to attend their yearly Wine Festival in Volkach. One of their friend, Maxi Fuss was always in contact with me and even we got an opportunity to meet again in London when he came for the Dortmund champions league football match final. Again he reminded me to visit Volkach for the wine festival.
In August 2015, finally I was able to make a plan to attend wine festival in Volkach - Germany. I informed my friend that I will be visiting the wine festival but I didn't mention that I am planning to come by motorcycle. I thought it would be a nice surprise for all of them if I reach there in a bike. Since it is going to be a long-distance ride, I made some adjustments to my motorcycle, bought some panniers and necessary break down kit. I watched a lot of youtube videos about motorcycle trips in Europe, I understood the basics of packing, learnt a lot about breakdown and safety procedures. I bought a GoPro action camera and mounted on my helmet to capture timelapse videos.
I was very nervous about the trip, because I need to cross english channel tunnel and few countries before I could reach Volkach - Germany. One afternoon I packed everything and decided to hit the road from London to Dover - UK. As usual, I have been forced to wait due to incessant rain in London. Once the rain gave up a bit, I hit the road and able to reach the outskirts of London after an hour due to heavy traffic. Once I reached the motorway it was a smooth ride for about an hour, but unfortunately heavy cross winds picked up. Though I was driving my bike about 70 mph, the crosswind was pushing my motorcycle to another lane. I was really scared and decided to stop by at a petrol station to introspect on what I was doing wrong. Finally, managed to reach dover around late evening and checked into euro tunnel. Since this was my first trip, I made lot of rookie mistakes. I wasn't sure where the immigration control was. I wasn't sure if I need to get down from my motorcycle before talking to the officer. I was very anxious and my thought process was weary. I was bit confused about where to park my motorcycle before embarking on the euro tunnel train. At last I was able to chin up and managed to find a way to board the train. The train journey under the english channel was very peaceful and I started thinking about how to drive on the right side and to adjust mentally from miles to kms.
After 30 minutes of train journey I reached Calais - France. Once I got out of the train and hit the highway, I realised all the roads were blocked due to Calais migrant crisis and it took some time for police to clear the crowd. I felt really sorry about this human life for a moment and started my journey towards Ghent - Belgium. The rains picked up heavily and after about 3.5 hrs of rain soaked ride I managed to reach Ghent and stayed there for the night. Once I started unpacking my bags I realised my rain covers for my panniers were done wrongly and all my clothes were soaked in water. God damn it, that was the last thing I would want after a tiring day. I spent some time transferring my photos from GoPro camera to computer and made a timelapse video for the first day.
I slept a long time and only able to wake up by midday. My plan for that day was to cover 550 kms from Ghent - Belgium to Frankfurt - Germany. Around 3pm from Ghent I started to drive and the weather for that day looked pretty dry and I was very happy about that. After few hours of ride I managed to reach the border of Belgium and Germany and I was very curious to hit the autobahns in Germany. Well again I made a error in judgement with my petrol consumption and that costed me an hour long village ride in the borders to find petrol. After filling the petrol, I entered Germany and the roads and scenery were just fantastic to ride the bike. Unfortunately, I only could only autobahns with speed restrictions on that route from Liege - Belgium to Mainz - Germany. It got very dark around 9pm and I decided to ride with caution as I still had to cover almost 200kms more. After a tiring ride around 12.30am I was an hour away from Frankfurt and stopped at a petrol station to have a coffee. Then I realised I lost my GoPro camera on the way and not sure what happened. I felt very sad, as I lost one whole beautiful day of pictures. This was due to a rookie mistake again by not mounting the camera stickers properly to the helmet. After able to console myself about the lost camera, I decided to move slowly towards Frankfurt. The beauty of driving towards Frankfurt - Germany is that all the high rise building slowly gets closer and closer to you and the whole city at night just dazzles with colourful lights. That was a pretty sight and still I am able to reproduce those memories in my mind. Around 2am I managed to reach Frankfurt and was dead tired and I quickly hit the sack.
The next day, I took a stroll through the city as I have stayed there for few weeks, years before. It is a very small city where you can walk or cycle everywhere with so much ease and I love it for that fact. Evening around 4pm, I hit the roads again to reach Volkach - Germany which is about 2 hr ride from Frankfurt. It was a very pleasant ride and I managed to took few pictures in the autobahn since I lost my GoPro. I never let my bike in full throttle as I was still not prepared mentally and I was always doing the national speed limit which was 130 kmph. In the evening around 6.30 pm I reached Volkach and I tried to contact my friend Maxi from a petrol station on the village entrance. For about 30 minutes of trying, it was kept saying the network was too busy. I blamed my luck and I thought I should ask some help from the petrol station. The guy in the shop told me the whole mobile network in the village is jammed due to the festival. I told to myself, well there is no need to compare India with western countries as the word "technological progress" applies everywhere. I waited there for about 30 minutes outside the station and suddenly the guy from the shop called me and said, I was managed to call your friend through landline and he will be here any minute. I was very happy with that gesture as it seemed he kept trying my friend's number for me. One thing I learnt while travelling is, people are always friendly wherever you go except some arseholes who exists anywhere irrespective of country. Maxi came with his friend and his father to pick me up in a car and we were so happy to meet each other. He asked me, how I managed to come here and at this time, as the public bus station is far away. I told him, I came by motorcycle from London. We all had a good laugh as he mentioned to his father I am super crazy to come alone on a motorcycle to Volkach. We quickly went to one of his friends place to wash up and it was time to hit the wine festival.
I stayed in Volkach for few days and we partied everyday and people in that village were so friendly to me. I managed to visit few of other friend's houses and the hospitality from their parents were equally same as you would get in India. We biked around the nearby villages, wine yards, small hills and off roads. I tasted few local cuisines and they were very really tasty.
After few days of partying I said bye to my German friends and decided to go to Dusseldorf - Germany to meet my old school friend from India after 13 years. It was a 5 hour autobahn ride from Volkach to Dusseldorf and I said to myself, it was time to explore the power of my motorcycle. I was driving consistently around 120 and 130 kmph for few hours and when I found a narrow stretch of road with minimal traffic, I revved up my engine and it was slowly gaining speed. After about 150 kmph, I could feel the fuel injection in my motorcycle and I felt like a kid seeing a rainbow on a rainy day. The bike was going at around 180/190 kmph and the ride was so solid without any tail wind. It was one of the awesome feeling I experienced as a motorcyclist and it was a dream come true moment of driving in Germany. The funny thing was, still other big German cars were overtaking me at the speed above 250 kmph and they made me felt like I was the slowest one on the autobahn. I got my senses back and reduced my speed back to 120 kmph and managed to reach Dusseldorf in one piece. It was nice to meet my friend after so many years and I stayed with him for that night and we shared our good old school memories pulling each others leg.
The next day I left Dusseldorf - Germany and went to Eindhoven - Netherlands, Antwerp - Belgium and reached Ardennes - Wallonia. Ardennes is a place of natural beauty with mountains, rivers and small hills. I love mountains more than cities and driving through these places were an exhilarating experience. After exploring few of the villages, I made my way to Calais - France through Belgium. The day I reached Calais to cross the channel again to head back to UK, the migrant crisis was at its peak. Everything was shut and police were chasing migrants with rubber bullets, the euro tunnel was shut due to migrant breaches. I waited at the euro tunnel checkin park for almost a day as things were uncertain. I met few truck drivers and they were happy to share their stories about driving solo in Europe for weeks. Finally, I got a train late into the night and reached London after 2 weeks of motorcycling. The moment I reached home, I felt very happy about my decision to make this bike trip. It was worth the pain as the memories will last forever and also I felt, when you are out of your comfort zone these sort of experiences gives strength to push boundaries. [I have censored few personal stuff which I felt unnecessary. :)]
Thought of Day: To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries. - Aldous Huxley