The Sahara and Us Morocco 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stelvio Pass Bernini and Lake Como

Stelvio - Mighty Impressive but not the Transfaragasan 

Glacier at Stelvio
Originally our plan was to travel from Austria thru northern Italy do to the “Great Passes”, a motorcycling Mecca if you will. But Venice and friends got in the way of this, and we are glad we let them.

So now we are back to ride Passo del Stelvio, and Passo de Bernina. At 2730M Stelvio is a huge pass to take and with it being mid-summer there was more traffic than we would have liked. I have over an hour of video to see what you haven’t seen in person yet. It is staggering, the enormity of it, and yet Transfargarsan holds more appeal if only for the more mysterious location,  tunnels and construction techniques. The good part is that it is hot and sunny, usually people see it in the rain, or worse, snow. One fellow we talked to made 3 attempts before riding it successfully. Weather (rain), rock falls and weather(snow) were his earlier failures.

Suffice to say we thoroughly enjoyed going over it and welcome anyone to our house who wants to view video. I think about 1 1/2 hrs. for the whole thing but we will edit it to the really good parts. Probably the most interesting is the south down slope side where there are the tunnels that have almost 90 degree turns in the middle of them. You can really see that ( or not) in the video segment.

Onto Bernini and then St Moritz, a place that I came to at the end of winter in 1965, it is now a Banff of southern Switzerland. We were met at the Swiss border by guards who were intrigued by a Canadian (BC) plated M/C. Claims of it being the first they have ever seen. Onto St Moritz where the front lake is for sailing and the back lake is for Kite sailing. I have an excellent video segment on this as well.

We then stayed in a small Italian Alp village Chiavenna, at a place that Sandra had selected. It again is fantastic. We stayed here a couple of nights and visited Lake Como.
Over 100 counted

Lake Como

Lake Como is a very popular place in the summer and we decided we’d do a loop tour around it. It has charming and well known villages such as Mennagio where we stayed in 2006, and Varenna directly across the lake from Mennagio, and Bellagio, which has it’s namesake on a hotel in Las Vegas now.
Eye Candy in Varenna

Mennagio gelateria

We headed down the east side to Bellano and then onto Varenna a very picture perfect town. Here we found you could catch a ferry directly across to Mennagio which we did as well. Here are some pictures we took as we enjoyed the day.

The Italian Alps and Dolomites

“ Eremo di San Colombano” 
Mauro told us of a route they take to Rovereto, Passo del Fugazzi, that Betty loves on her Ninja 600 ( their other bikes), so he sent the route to us the next morning before we left Villa Gasparini. I mentioned before about Gasparini ; it is a fantastic place to stay.

So we decided to take it. It was very technical with lots of blind corners so I would suggest you ride it a few times before doing light speed on it. One thing I remember was Sandra yelling Whooaa! at a small church “ Eremo di San Colombano” 
 built into the cliff ( built out of the cliff), about 3 kms out of Rovereto. What a spectacular site to see and there are inscriptions dating back to 753.

And speaking of sights to see; one difference between Europe and Canada is the history that manifests itself in ruins, restored castles, and developed country sides. People have lived here for centuries and developed the countryside. Tiered vineyards, apple orchards, churches, castles, bell towers, etc. etc. .grace the countryside.

After a hard day of travelling/riding, we found a nice B&B up in the mountains outside Merano. That’s actually a transition we have made now, from travelling which we have been doing for nearly 4 months, to riding, which we are doing because we have selected a series of motorcycle specific rides to take.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Venice by Night

Betty Mauro Elisa and Massimo

Back in early June we had met Max, Elisa, Betty and Mauro in the Sahara desert area and had travelled out the next day on my mapping GPS. The stories they told have made us laugh many times so when we were headed back to Venice we told them and they invited us to come on a BACCARO tour. Originally it was translated to Bacarata tour.

It is a night time bar crawl in old Venice for a special fish appetizer called BACCARO which is actually cod as we later found out. To wander the streets of Venice at night with hosts that live there and visit along the way with friends and family was very special for us and we will never forget it. We never did see a tourist there during this time. It was all locals and much more romantic.

It started by being picked up at our hotel then driven right into a special parking spot in Venice (most don’t exist), then visiting some of their favorite places and stopping by places like the Rialto bridge and Fish market. All with the temps’ still around 30C. The food and rinks were excellent but it was the friendship that is so special.
VIP Parking

The Rialto Bridge at midnight

Night Lanterns for Sale

The Fish Market at Midnight - What NO FISH??

Thanks again for such a special time. Betty has invited us back to Venice to teach us Italian and we have invited them all to Ladysmith to see our part of Canada.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Motorcycle Security while on the Road

Large Disk Brake Lock

There is a lot of concern, both real and imagined, about security of your bike while on the road. If you want to sleep at night, and not worry about the bike take some precautions.

Helmet Lock attached to mirror
The most obvious security rules are to use the locks provided with your motorcycle, in particular the steering head lock. If yours locks in 2 different positions, use the position that locks it hard left. The bike can only be moved in a left circle that way and is more difficult to walk. Use the helmet lock if one is provided. The V Strom has a keyed alike helmet lock  on the frame with a stainless cable so 2 helmets can be locked together, but I am not fond of the location, so we use two combination padlocks that lock the helmet D rings to the mirrors. While the mirrors could be unthreaded, with the steering head lock in place they can’t be. The helmets can be locked in place and even turned so rain couldn’t get at them.

Immobilizing the bike further we also use a disk brake lock. This type of lock comes in a number of different configurations, none of which are bullet-proof completely. Some lock the disk brake tightly however the lock itself is more vulnerable to drilling or popping. The small diameter hoop lock we use is thick in the hoop so that an attack with the grinder will take some time, and the hoop is so small when placed through the disk that a hydraulic spreader can not be inserted to deform the hoop bales. The key is the rotating pin variety, which is the most difficult to pick, drill or slide hammer. Larger hoop locks should be avoided since they can easily be deformed with a small hand held hydraulic ram. Use a bright cable bungee on the end of the lock that will run to your handlebar and remind you that you have your disk brake lock on or you could try and ride away to some very unfortunate result.
Clothing lock - A 6' long bicycle lock

When you’re riding and stop to visit an attraction a lot of times you are wearing your riding jacket. A simple 6’ long bicycle cable lock works well to thread through the sleeve (s) of the jackets, one inside the other and through a frame or hand hold on the bike. I noticed in Toledo Spain a Swedish fellow on a BMW GS use a laptop cable lock that he ran through the sleeve and to a grab rail. This cable is very thin and could be more easily cut with vice grips but it does offer some deterrence.

But the best security device we have had recommended to us by Pat and Belinda Peck is the bike cover. You can have the shiniest bike on the planet but covered it looks like a $300 scooter, and it prevents rain and sun from getting at the bike, and riding gear you may have left on it temporarily or birds from crapping on it. Two times that I did not put the cover on I came back to find a bird had sat on the bar looking into the left mirror and crapped on the gas tank. This device is compact enough that it fits in a small bag and is bungeed to the rack and deployed all the time now. The bike becomes invisible.
Bike Covered in Gibraltor - It almost disappears

We keep all of our electronics including the netbook, the smartphone, camera, video helmet cam, Ipod, GPS in our tank bag, which converts to a backpack or shoulder bag. If you don’t want to lug it, lock it into the top case before you cover the bike and it is generally safe.

Another fact of life when travelling in Europe and Morocco is parking. In Europe they do everything possible to help you secure your bike. In Morocco there is an industry that preys on the fact everything is up for grabs here and it is the career of parking guardian. This person sets up shop with a chair, generally a blue smock, an official badge of some sort, possibly issued by local authorities to guard your car or bike in an area for a fee. It’s a reality, and the coaching we have received is to pay about 10 dirhams a day for the ‘service’. But make sure you use all your own security devices because these people won’t be held liable if something happens.
Scooter Rider we saw today in Venice

And that brings us to theft insurance, something you can buy with your liability insurance in Europe at a very costly rate, and that has absolute exclusions for places like Morocco. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

And now here is the latest youtube update on security.


A quiet Back Canal

If you’ve been following you know that we were in Venice in June, but really only to catch the ferry to Greece, and we saw Venice from 100’ above the grand canal. Much less crowded than our experience today. Who really goes to Venice twice in one trip anyway?

First we woke up to temp’s in the low 30’s, and since we had driven right into Venice last time we decided we were going to do te same this time. That part worked great, except that by the time we got off the bike we were sweating profusely.

Vaporetta's Full - check line up
We had our Ipod and phone with us planning to take a leisurely vaporetta Line 1 to St Marks square and listen to the guided tour. Yeah right. 

We get to the ticket booth, a line-up like you wouldn’t believe had developed (see picture of Sandra standing near a que, and a ticket agent and customer are screaming at each other, all amplified for everyone to hear. 

“Can’t you read?” She questions, and the American customer replies “Yes, I can read but I don’t understand ‘cause it’s in Italian”, 

I’m pretty sure I heard her response to that, but it was under her breath.

 Honest these are the things people say!

Rialto Bridge

So Sandra says, looking at the line up, “let’s walk,” so I discard our Ipod plan and out comes the map. We actually do quite well walking to the Frari church and Rialto bridge when things get bogged down and there is literally a human traffic jam. 

At one point a girl next to me flicks her pony tail while I am lifting my arm to take a picture. The hair gets caught in the crux of my elbow, which is sweaty. I take the picture and turn only to begin pulling her hair. She did not understand how it happened and began to yell at me. I just turned away, “I don’t understand, I’m Canadian!” Fortunately it wasn’t amplified.

By the time we got to San Marco Square the place was nuts, so we walked around and checked and each of the sites had line-ups that would last the afternoon, and with the temp. at 34C with a humidex of 39C we decided our initial walk around plan was all we’d accomplish. 
St Mark's Basilica

Human Traffic Jam on Bridge

We visited the mask shops. Venice is known for it’s “Carnavale” similar to Mardi Gras just before Lent, and everyone wears masks. So it has become a real tourist item here. We purchased a small intricate one to display at Christmas with our other trip mementos. We can’t carry any more and we’ve shipped some stuff at great expense.

Don’t go to Venice in August, or when it’s 34C. It isn’t worth it. We were here in April with the kids in ‘91 and it was sunny, warm and we had San Marco sq. to ourselves.

Lovely Canals

Traffic on the Grand Canal

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Austrian Alps

Traunsee, Saltzgammergut

Some of the finest scenery you will ever find is in Austria. As we crossed the border from CZ back into Austria the roads got better, the scenery which had been beautiful along the Vltava river, with the road winding from Cesky to almost the border got even more spectacular with the terrain changing from treed forest to more open rolling land.

Steeples --- Churches and Mountains
Nothing compares the the volume of church steeples that are in each town, nestled in a small valley in between the rolling hills. And in the distance we could see the looming Austrian Alps near Gmunden.

Gmunden is situated on one of the Salzkammergut - Dachstein lakes which are east of Salzburg and south of Linz.
Near Gmunden

Day Trip to Salzburg

Mozart in Salzburg

As we rode the volume of motorcycles increased as we drove south. By the time we arrived in Radstadt we must have seen 150- 200 bikes in a 100 km stretch of Alpine road, and maybe 75 cars and 50 trucks. This is an area we will be spending some time in now that our agenda has been 90% completed, and we would like to organize a European ride here for our friends we have ridden with for so long.
Our Salzburg Experience and the Augustine Brewery

So follow this blog over the next few days and see if any of this might interest you. Since we are keeping the bike here for at least another year, if there is interest we can easily arrange some rentals, and organize accommodation and use a central spot to ride out from each day without the need to haul all your gear. This would allow some riders who want to take a day off to do so and still see some neat tourist sites. 

This area is great in late August early Sept. we have been here at this time before and in June. It can be rainy then, though when we came thru the rains had passed that year. Right now its in the high 20’s and sunny.
It was so clear the Eagles Nest
Hitlers Hideway was revealed

Well we have ridden in this area now for 3 days. Just awesome roads. And today I have mapped a set of motorad roads all the way into Italy on the way to Venice.

We get an early start since the forecast is for mid-30’s later today and the next 5 days. The Overtavern road and connector to Gmund is just fantastic and hardly any traffic on it. We shot 1:34 hrs of video today of the various different roads. They are so fantastic, and we road all the way to Venice and our favorite B&B the Villa Gasparini. This time the deal is even better because we booked on and got a 30% discount off the summer rate. (Too low to put up here). And you’ll have to wait until we edit our video footage and pictures of the Alps/Dolomites to get a sense as to how great it is, but you can easily count it by the # of moto’s we passed on the road. Radstadt to Venice in 1 day, I didn’t think it could be done. One pass the road warns of a 15% grade, another 12%. It is motorcycle heaven.

Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov by Night

Cesky Krumlov is located in the lower mountain area of SW Czech Republic and the Vltava River, the same river that runs through Prague begins in this area. The region to the SW against the German and Austrian borders was infamous for Czech citizens trying to escape to the west and being killed by their oppressors during communism. 

Pension Anna is Pink
It’s ironic because now people from all over flock here for its tranquil beauty. Described as CZ’s answer to Rothenburg de Tauber in Germany we got here around 1:00 pm in the afternoon. There were a lot of walking tourists on the streets at that time and “Pension Alley” spread to the left and right of us as we entered the Old town. That pesky Walking Zone sign that we had been scolded about in Olomouc poked it’s head up in the direction we were supposed to go for 1 B&B and I looked left and there was our 2nd choice Pension Anna. We checked there and they had a room, nice, super clean and big; comparable to the Schneiderterm in Sighisoara and very reasonably priced.

After checking in and changing we headed out to see the sights as well as catch lunch.
Bohemian Feast
We walked down to the main bridge and saw 2 restaurants that had a lot of people at them. After checking one we went to the Krcma U Dwau Maryi  which serves among other things  “A Bohemian Feast”, consisting of chicken or Rabbit or Pheasant and smoked ham, red cabbage and vegetables, a potato dumpling, a bread dumpling and some other stuff. It was fabulous and an excellent way to try all of CZ’s special dishes. It is located on the water just before the main walking bridge in Old Towne.The town is definitely like Rothenburg as in lots of eye candy. But here the focus is on the river and the castle.  And we really enjoyed watching the rafts in the afternoon as they came down a river channel and shot some small rapids. A few overturned but most were fine.

Pretty Serious Looks Here Girls



Later in the evening we’d return to the same streets to see the sunset and take some early evening photos. This is such a picturesque place. We’d recommend Cesky Krumlov to anyone looking for a quaint town experience.

Our favorite picture is that of the Girls. 
The Girls

Monday, August 15, 2011

Welcome to the Czech Republic (CZ)

Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

After leaving Auschwitz we continued on to the little town of Pribor, Czech Republic.(CZ) around 5:00 pm.  We managed to find a nice hotel here, the Zafir, which was very quiet on weekends, but has lots of business traffic during the week. The place is actually very elegant but it feels funny when you are about the only people staying at such a large place.

The next morning Sandra read where this was the birthplace of Sigmund Freud. Wow!

We continued on to Olomouc which was to be our destination last night until a large thunderstorm brewing drove us to the safety of Pribor and kept our record intact of 1 hr of rain while riding. 

Trinity Column a WHS
We arrived about 10:00 am. in Olomouc the next day. That’s like 3:00 am Ladysmith time. Not a creature was stirring except to CZ Policia who took exception to us being in the Town square photoing the bike on a Sunday in front of Trinity column. Seems this area is off limits to vehicles and is a walking zone on weekends. There is a little picture sign we were supposed to have seen. Never did.

A rather stern pair they were but they didn’t give us a ticket “This one is free!” but they recorded my details on an official scrap of paper he was carrying. I think they should be able to afford real notebooks for the Politicia. Makes them look more professional. Memo to self to write CZ government on this point when I get back.

Fortunately this was after we had taken a photo of the bike in front of Trinity Column a WHS of course, that was built in the 13th century to God if he prevented Olomouc from suffering from the Prague. Olomouc was saved and the tower is venerated in this manner. We also got a nice picture of the astronomical clock in the town square that is very nice and much better than the one in Prague.

Astronomical Clock
Then onto Prague. The countryside of CZ on a Sunday afternoon is filled with people doing the classic Sunday drive by car and MC. Really busy, and they stop by every pond or what we might even call a slough, to sunbathe, and like many Germans, nude. Sorry no photos guys or gals, this is a family blog!

Onto Prague where the IBIS Old Towne was full however the IBIS Karlin had a room. Now we have become big fans of IBIS and since I joined their " A" club they have sent some email offers. The latest while we were in Krakow drew our attention to the fact they had them in Prague and the Karlin was at a deeply discounted rate. We are staying in a 3 star hotel in downtown Prague for 49E including their fabulous buffet breakfast. Thanks IBIS and Trev and Chenty for tipping us to this great Europe chain.

Our tour of cities has become a little jaded now since we have seen so much but the view of Prague Castle and the Charles bridge is as memorable as the Sultanahmet in Istanbul, or the Sacred Familia in Barcelona from a distance. We like Krakow and its town square more but Prague has its place.

Communism Art
Prague and the CZ for that matter have a more communist hangover feel to it than Poland, though the countryside is very much rolling hills and small mountains, very picturesque indeed and more like Germany. Matter of fact they have a communism tour and communism art. I didn’t know there was such a thing. Keep in mind CZ was at the leading edge of the break-up of communism with the “Velvet Revolution in 1989 along with Poland and Lech Walesa. And they (CZ)  were the victims of Soviet action in 1968 when the soviets re-invaded the country when it had an uprising then. I vaguely remember that as a teenager, too interested in the Beatles at the time to follow current events. Apparently Poland had similar uprising in the early 70's.

Wenceslas Square with a giant St. Wenceslas on horseback is good, their astronomical clock doesn’t stack up to even Olomouc’s let alone Strasbourg‘s, and their Opera House doesn’t have the performance history of Vienna’s or Paris.

Beer Taps
But their beer here is definitely among the best. We had lunch at the Lonely Planet recommended U Vivid brewery pub. I think it might have been on Amazing Race one time where you had to deliver a huge amount of beer on several trays. We ordered a dark Pilsner Urquell with their beef goulash with a potato dumpling and  rye bread. WOW what an excellent meal. 

Entrance to Pub
This place is hard to find but I have a GPS waypoint for it. Are you surprised? Now we will relax with an excellent Moravian red wine and think on my brother-in-law Wes who visited there and recommended their wines.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


For this one I’ll let the pictures do the talking. 
Locations from which the Jews were transported

A Day's Rations 1500 Calories for 11 hrs hard labor


Cremation Chamber
Suicide Zone - a 15' wide area before the 2
electric fences where you were not allowed to be.
People who couldn't take it any more would just
walk into these zones to die. Soldiers would
immediately kill them by gun shot.

Execution Wall, this became too expensive
to use bullets

Cyclone 2 the gas used to suffocate prisoners
Here is enough to kill 340

Dr Mengele Experiments 

Gypsy Twins genetic sampling

Our guide explaining how this woman was 75 kg on entering and in 3 mths was down at 25 kgs, and this is how she looked 4 mths after liberation of the camp.
Rudolph Hess hung here April 16 1947 about
100 meters from the house he lived in with his wife
and 4 children at the camp

The House within earshot of the barracks and camp
still privately owned
80000 shoes harvested

4000 prs of glasses

Even prosthesis

From our visit with Sandie’s grandparents who endured the German war, then the Soviet Occupation, let’s just say, no one deserves to be treated this way