Czez Goes East - Prague by BMW
The Road Issue 1 - November - December 2005
Last year I went to the BMW Motorrad Bikermeet at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria for a long weekend and rode my 1150GS eight hundred and fifty-odd miles home in a day.
This year fellow MAG member and R80RT rider Lucas fancied coming so we thought we'd have a more leisurely trip taking in Prague on the way there and participating in FEMA's MEP Ride at Strasbourg on the way back.
Lucas and I meet up at the Green in Boston at 06.30 for a cool but dry trip to Dover to catch Speedferries boat to Boulogne. This boat lives up to it's name, being speedy and a ferry but they do only have one vessel, which cuts down on flexibility of travel. So it's straight through customs and a quick blat down the motorway to Brussels where Lucas breaks with Mid Lincs MAG tradition and leads us straight to the Sleepwell Hostel in the city centre. By now it is hot and our rooms are at the top of the hostel and we head for beer, food and wine. I don't think I've ever seen such a concentration of restaurants as in the middle of Brussels so we pick one and are entertained by a group of American ladies who I think are escapees from Desperate Housewives but turn out to be working for an organisation called The American Allies. So to bed in an oven despite the cooling fan. As we were on the top floor the windows to our rooms only opened a couple of inches. This is apparently to stop depressed travellers climbing out onto the window sill and tossing themselves off. (what ? ed)
Bye-bye Belgium and Hello Germany. It's a beautiful day and we have an excellent ride on good roads with courteous drivers and decide by late afternoon to find somewhere to stay for the night. Time for a Czez traveller's tip; don't bother with the hotel chains that are usually on industrial estates on the edge of town. Look at the map, pick what looks to be a reasonably sized place and head straight into the centre. Park up and look around and you'll find local hotels which usually have garages for the bikes and are in easy walking distance of the bars and restaurants.
I've done this many times and have never had a duff one. Today we picked Wurzburg and a really nice hotel (the Sankt Joseph) for 50 Euros each for two double en-suite rooms including breakfast and secure parking for the bikes. Out for some nosebag then down to the riverside which is very picturesque and the gathering place for all and sundry to enjoy a few beers. No yobs, no boom-boom Novas, zero police presence; if this is European harmonisation, bring it on! Admittedly we did get bored to death by a German-American (supposed) 'Nam Veteran but he was just drunk and friendly enough.
The glorious weather continues and Prague beckons. We stop at the border for a photo and to swap our cash around. Passports at the ready we approach a rather stern-looking guard so I greet him with a cheery hello and he just glances at the bikes and waves us through without checking anything. This is something I've encountered many times at borders and it confirms my suspicion that the travelling motorcyclist is a much more welcome and trustworthy visitor than that lot in cars and buses. What also supports this theory is that when we went to get our motorway passes (200 CzK) the cheery young lady said "No, on ze motorvay ze motorrad is free!" Good thinking Czech Republic; France take note!
Any road up, an uneventful ride to Prague apart from the lady in the ancient Skoda driving at 45mph in the overtaking lane and refusing to move over. Everyone had to undertake her which always makes me nervous in case said driver wakes up and changes lanes during this manoeuvre which could lead to a different sort of "undertake her".
Lucas' sense of city direction (mine's hopeless) led us over the cobbles and tramlines to the Hotel Kafka which I had pre-booked. We parked in the rear and went to reception where that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach started. The receptionist told us we couldn't park there despite the fact that I'd asked for secure parking.
There had been a balls-up and we were booked in for a week later. Oh bugger! However the young lady contacted the booking agent and sorted out a hotel round the corner which had secure garaging complete with electric doors and cctv and was, notwithstanding the former communist party receptionist, a lot better than our original one. All's well that ends well and thank you Hotel Amadeus. Another Czez Traveller's Tip; don't panic if things appear to be going pear-shaped as people are generally helpful and will assist you in solving the problem if you're nice to them.
We were trying to get tram passes (they don't take cash!) which you have to buy at the post office which was closed, but found that we were within easy walking distance of the city centre anyway so another problem solved itself. We had a good meal and some Czech beer in Staromestske Namesti which we'll call the Old Town Square for simplicity.
Never on my travels have I seen so many attractive young ladies in such a small area (apart form MAG AGC of course). Prague; European City of Tottie! On the subject of beer, half a litre will cost you about 75CzK (£1.60-ish) in the Old Town Square but walk just outside and you can pay as little as 25CzK. As to the cost of some of the young ladies I can't help you ... honestly!
Today we decided to have a day off the bikes and a good look round Prague, which is a really beautiful city. The famous Astronomical Clock is a bit of an anti-climax but a must-see if you're there. We headed for Wenceslaslas Square which is in fact, an oblong with a road running round it and a statue of the man himself at the end. "Not as bad as the rest King Wenceslaslas " would probably be more accurate than "Good King Wenceslaslas ", but it wouldn't scan too well in a Christmas carol! What I found quite moving was the simple memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, who were two students who set themselves on fire in the square in 1969 in protest at the Russian domination of Czechoslovakia. Laying down your life in this way is a far more effective way of making your protest than murdering innocent people. We got tired of walking so we had a trip round the city and up to the castle in a 1930 Prague-built car, which was an experience.
Night time brought the usual beer, food and Tottie-watching activities and was rounded off with Absinthe. Never in my life have I tasted such firewater!! But unfortunately Kylie in her green fairy outfit did not appear!
All packed and ready to go and it's pissing down! The least said about cobblestones, tramlines, heavy rain and "enthusiastic" local drivers, the better, but we eventually made it out of the city. We came across a couple of nasty-looking accidents on the motorway and met some touring Americans on BMWs at a service station where some young ladies were plying their trade to truck drivers but didn't approach us ... Can't think why! By the time we reached the German border the sun had come out and the rather attractive lady border guard once again just looked at us and waved us through.
We took an interesting route to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, mostly thanks to the diversion signs which don't actually tell you where to go! But once again it worked out for the better because we rode down some beautiful, uncrowded minor roads and arrived at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in high spirits. We had very little trouble finding our guesthouse but the Proprietor, Rosi Schwalm, must have been the only person in Bavaria who couldn't speak any English but we managed with the usual combination of gestures and pointing. The evening was spent eating and drinking as usual and watching BMW after BMW arrive.
We walked to the "bikermeet" site which only took about 15 minutes. The site is a large car park at the foot of the ski station, which has been modified by the town council to accommodate the BMW event. We had a good look round and then decided to have a ride out in the afternoon. We stopped at Am Plansee, which is a lake in the mountains in Austria and, like the whole area, gives us Fenlanders a case of scenic overkill!
Night time and back to the site for some steins of beer served by traditionally dressed Bavarian wenches, and loads of good, cheap food.
Lucas continued with his holiday ingestion of vast quantities of meat but I went for the pasta as it is good for soaking up beer! The evenings entertainment started with a traditional Bavarian spectacle of a group of men standing on the tables amongst the crowd and cracking humungous whips in time to the music. I can just see the Health & Safety Nazis in Britain tolerating that! There was further traditional entertainment, including the dance where the guys in Lederhosen slap each other round the face and on the arse, although I'm sure it's all quite innocent ...
Two big wigs from BMW, Pieter de Wal and Jurgen Korzer, welcomed the crowd as did the Lord Mayor of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Thomas Schmid. The music for the evening was provided by the Hogl Fun Band, who were a hell of a lot better than they sound! and towards the end had me singing Viva Cologne along with several thousand other people from 35 different countries. There was lots of dancing on tables but no problems whatsoever.
The facilities were excellent. The giant marquee had a wooden floor; people constantly cleared the rubbish away; and the toilets were the real deal and immaculately clean even at three in the morning! The admission cost for all of this? Nothing, free, gratis, etc. It's very easy to be cynical but it's nice to see a major motorcycle manufacturer putting something back into biking and you didn't have to ride a BMW to go.
After a slightly hung over Lucas had had breakfast, we rode down to the site for a really good look round and to watch BMW's works riders getting airborne round the motocross course on the new HP2 - impressive stuff! We took the cable car to the top of the Hausburg mountain, which gave an excellent view of the town and had a beer in a restaurant at the top and ran into Richard Harvey, Service Manager of my local BMW dealer. Small world, innit? Charlie Boorman was there with his bike, being his usual charming and patient self, signing autographs and having his picture taken with people. The stalls were selling everything imaginable for BMWs and displaying an impressive array of heavily modified bikes despite the German type approval laws - ingenuity will win out!
(Ed note: You may find the yare registered elsewhere in Europe and are 'just visiting' for legal purposes)
Saturday evening on site was incredibly crowded and we managed to listen to the band (Blechblos'n) from outside the main marquee and Viva Cologne seemed to surface again!
Beautifully hot and sunny for the tour of the Alps we had booked. This turned out to be a spirited ride through some high and twisty mountain passes which was fast enough even for Lucas! Lunch at Linas Hofschenke (a restaurant in the mountains) was included. We took in a bit of Italy and Austria and clocked up a total of 233 miles, most of which was on "challenging" roads. Not a tour for inexperienced or nervous riders. We returned to the site afterwards and everyone was packed up and gone so it was back to the guesthouse and out for more food and beer.
On our way to Strasbourg we stopped at Meersburg, which is a very pretty little town on Lake Budensee and once again landed on our feet hotel-wise at the See Hotel Zurmunz.
We continued to Strasbourg in extremely variable weather and met Wend and Dave (also from Mid Lincs MAG) at the Hotel Roi-Soleil. Our esteemed Chairman, Ian Moore, turned up later and we went out for a nice meal and even had the BMF along!
The man himself, Mr Trevor Baird, turned up for the MEP ride, which you will no doubt read about elsewhere.
It was dry leaving Strasbourg and then extremely wet riding which got so bad that we decided to spend the night at a Relay Routiers, which was basic to say the least! The Proprietor was an extremely jolly Frenchman who could speak no English but some beer and food soon made the evening pass.
A wet trip to Boulogne and more than the usual security checks due to the events of the 7th July, but a thankfully quick ferry crossing and then the nightmare of the M25 and Dartford Crossing (7 mile queue ....), but thank goodness we could filter. I waved goodbye to Lucas as I left the A1 and an hour later arrived home tired but happy having clocked up 2,647 miles.
I have made many trips into Europe and am always impressed by how much easier it is to travel than in Britain and how friendly and helpful people are towards motorcyclists. If you've never been abroad on your bike and are thinking about doing it, take my advice and go - you won't regret it, and like myself will probably become addicted.
Czez, Mid Lincs MAG