Part 1 of ‘Wales to Albania & back (nearly) saw Owen leave his hometown in Wales on a European road trip riding South, ticking off several places from Santander & Pamplona to Monaco, Florence & Tuscany.
We tune in here for Part 2 and Owen is waking up on the beautiful Amalfi Coast and continuing to live the dream.
Day 10 The Amalfi Coast and the road to Bari
That morning I set off early and got a decent run around the Amalfi coast. Although busy on the Easter break it was definitely worth the trip. It really is an incredible stretch of coast line and the road that takes you round it is breathtaking.
By lunchtime I had cleared the coast and it was time to make my way across the width of Italy to catch the ferry from Bari that was leaving in the evening. After spending the morning riding the coast in just my jeans, I was surprised to find myself ducking into a café to dig out my thermals once again as sleet & snow began to fall inland. The rest of my journey involved repeated soakings, but the excitement of crossing to the Balkans and enjoying the changing scenery kept spirits high.
The moment I stepped onto the ferry to Montenegro I knew everything was about to change. Greeted by Slav accents and a ferry interior that clearly hadn’t been updated for 30 years I got the sense I was leaving the familiarity of modern Western Europe.
Everything leading up to this moment had just been the warm up act, and this was the adventure I’d come looking for. The sat nav maps, which had been reliable so far, were devoid of any detail, so it was time to revert to more traditional forms of navigation.
The map I picked up from the ships reception had a beautiful embossed Montenegro crest and a hardback cover, but I later found out that every almost every town name in it was completely wrong!
Day 11 – The Albanian Adventure
It had never been my intention to go to Albania, but my planned overnight stop in Montenegro could be only be reached by two routes and the most interesting looking route required crossing into the neighbouring country.
I was met with many questions at the Albania border, what was a 35 year old R100CS was doing so far from home?
I joined the road that would take me to my final destination. The first 30 miles couldn’t have been better. Hairpin bends and sweeping curves laid across the rocky mountainside on a surface the Swiss would’ve been proud of.
Abruptly the tarmac stopped, “must be some roadworks” I thought, and tentatively I continued on. After many miles with no sign of any work taking place it hit me…this isn’t work to repair the road, the road is still being built!.I was pleasantly surprised how well the airhead dealt with the loose surface so I decided to carry on. The surface grew gradually worse, and at the last hamlet visible on the map progress was impeded by diggers. I was greeted by the workers who were intrigued by the foreigner venturing into the hills. In broken English, they managed to communicate to me that –
A: in 5 minutes I would be able to pass
B: the mountain was passable, perhaps not for a car, but definitely for a motorcycle
I can’t say B exactly filled me with confidence, my RS was equipped with road tyres and weighs around 270 kilos fully laden. They made a gap for me to pass and I struggled through a bed of big rocks, my gangly legs saving every slip of the front wheel. From there on the road didn’t get much better.
I navigated up the mountainside with only 5ft of road to work with next to a sheer drop. The rear wheel struggled for traction on the loose surface and I winced every time the unprotected sump bashed on protruding rocks. It was hard going, but I was making progress. Just when I thought I had everything under control the snow began to fall.Occasionally the only passable section of surface came within inches of a deadly fall and the increasing snow coverage made it a treacherous surface. Within 100 metres of the summit the rocky road was almost completely covered. At this point I knew I was no longer on a scenic jolly round Europe, I was in the thick of an adventure and my adrenaline was pumping. On a normal day I couldn’t have ridden that surface without falling over.
The moment I reached the crest to find clear skies on the other side was filled with euphoria. Without snow, what once seemed like a tricky surface was now just a routine as I trundled down the mountain. When I eventually reached tarmac I was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief and happiness. A few documentation issues returning to Montenegro meant I didn’t reach Andrijevica until darkness. A 3 star hotel for only 25 euros and a hearty meal in a local restaurant provided luxurious sanctuary for me to reflect & recharge after an unforgettable day on the road.
Day 12 – Tour of Montenegro – Tuzi, Niksic, Sveti Stefan, Kotor & Herceg Novi
Montenegro is a small country, less than half the size of Wales, and I believed half of that to also be impassable due to snowy conditions in the inland mountains. So I decided to get up early and attempt to explore a good chunk of the available land in a day.
First stop was the Ostrog Monastary, an incredible building cut into an almost vertical cliff face high up in the hills. The road up was a properly vertigo inducing, with only spaced rocks to stop me and the BMW plunging over the edge.
Inside was a gentleman I can only describe as old, haggered and riddled with religion (incase you haven’t guessed I have no experience in writing blogs!). He was a proper artefact and I was hanging out to take his photograph, but when I gestured with my camera he shook his head. Out of respect I resisted my urge to take a cheeky shot from the hip.
By this point the temperature was well into the 20’s which for a man who grew up in the damp kingdom of Wales, is uncomfortably hot (especially in riding gear). I headed to the coast, passing the beautiful Skadar lake on my way. I took a break on the beach, stripped off my riding gear and spent an hour relaxing on a deserted beach, with the stunning Sveti Stefan island building for a view.For the second half of the day I ventured back up into the mountains to find a road I’d read about on the Lonely Planet website. The road from Cetinje to Kotor winds over the Lovcen national park, and delivered the most incredible views over the bay of Kotor.Day 13 – Herceg Novi to Dubrovnik
After some long & eventful days of riding I made the decision to take a day off in the town of Dubrovnik. I made the short journey into Croatia to Dubrovnik early in the morning, booked into a hotel and donned the shorts & flip flops.Dubrovnik is a truly stunning city, and I enjoyed it relatively quiet. I have heard stories of multiple cruise ships swamping the city with tourists making it unbearably crowded, but off season it was a pleasant place to be.
Day 14 – Dubrovnik to Plitvice Lakes
Feeling refreshed after a day off the bike I was ready to hit the road and make some miles.
That day I road all the way along the coast as far as Zadar before heading inland to make further miles on the main motorway. The motorway was almost deserted, and during a moment onset by boredom and madness I opened up the old BMW to see if the old beast still had it – why did I ever doubt it? 135mph showing on the clock before I released the throttle and returned to my usual 75mph cruising speed. Not bad! (although with the original top speed only being a claimed 130mph without panniers this only goes to show the speedo is far from accurate).
30 miles before Plitvice I left the motorway and headed into the countryside.I found refuge in a pretty little hamlet where I stayed in the fantastic House Izvor. It felt more like I was staying at a friends house than in a B&B. When asked by Tom (the owner) what I’d like for breakfast I jokingly said “Full English Please” (I was so sick of continental breakfasts by this point), and woke up to find bacon, eggs & sausage all waiting for me, what a legend!
Day 15 – Plitvice Lakes to Ljubljana, and the 50p spring
I woke up on this day knowing time wasn’t on my side. I needed to be in work in 6 days and still had over 1300 miles between me and home. I got to Plitvice lakes just after Sunrise and enjoyed a walk around the parks before the tour buses started to arrive.
By 10am I was on the road, with only one mission in mind – head North West and make some miles!
Nearing the Croatia/Slovenia border I was surprised to see an old fighter jet apparently floating in an open park next to the side of the road. On closer inspection I found it to be part of a haunting open memorial to the war. Old fighting beasts were just left out in the open surrounded by unrestored buildings showing the effects of heavy shelling & gunfire.
Particularly horrifying yet fascinating was the wreckage of a fighter jet which had been crashed during the conflict.
I couldn’t help being in awe of these amazing machines, but it was an uneasy feeling knowing the death & horror they must have once been involved with. Despite the fact that the majority of the Balkans was gripped with a devastating war only 20 years ago, this was the only real evidence of a conflict I saw during my travels.
After that brief break I continued onto into Slovenia where disaster stuck (the second biggest disaster of the trip). “Jurgen” got stuck in third gear as the gear lever went limp and gave no feedback from any movement. I limped to the nearest city, which happened to be the unpronounceable capital, Ljubljana. With it being Sunday I had no choice but to check into a hotel and wait till the morning before I could find a mechanic.
Day 16 – Heading home…without my bike
The next morning I managed to find a BMW garage where the bike was assessed. The fault was most likely to be the “50p spring” inside the gearbox. Unfortunately said spring is only replaceable by opening the gearbox which requires either the engine to be dismounted or the rear end of the bike to be removed. Also hampering my progress was the fact that parts for such an old bike aren’t kept in stock and might take weeks to arrive. It was clear if I was to be back in work in time I wouldn’t be travelling home on that bike.
I booked a flight home via AC European Breakdown cover and that was the end of the adventure…
4 weeks later – Jurgen lives again!
On my flight home from Slovenia I couldn’t help feel extremely disappointed that the trip was coming to an end. It had been one hell of an adventure as well as a challenge and I didn’t feel that me or the bike were ready to give up. Jurgen had transformed itself in my mind from a temperamental weekend plaything to hardy travel companion and I felt it only fitting that we would complete the trip.
The RAC presented me with two options – either have the motorcycle returned to me at home or I could be reunited with my bike in Slovenia when the repairs are done. Despite it being the more expensive option and it being a very busy time of year for me I knew in my heart I wanted to finish what I started. I managed to find a 6 day gap in my diary and booked my flights. With 1300 miles to go and only 5 days or riding to do it in I knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of time for sightseeing!
Day 17 – The reunion & the Grossglockner
Monday morning I left my hotel room and was waiting at the door by the time the BMW garage in Ljubljana opened for business. I was greeted by Ales who had kept me in the loop with progress on the repairs while I was back at home. He proudly brought me to my bike where I found that they had not only repaired the gearbox, but serviced, tuned & cleaned it! My shining steed looked beautiful, and as soon as the engine fired in to life I could hear the mechanic had done a stellar job tuning the carbs…the airhead never sounded so good! I have got to say a quick thank you to the team at Cosmos BMW who were so helpful throughout the repairs.
My mission for the day was to clear the Alps by sunset so I set off as soon as possible. By early afternoon I was in Austria and beginning my ascent of the epic Grossglockner pass. Even in May the snow is piled up 12ft high by the side of the road.
Worth a mention is this stunning R100RS which was parked up at the top of the Grosglockner. This is the original shape of my bike before the fairing was removed, although mine was definitely not as immaculate as this one, what a beaut! By the evening I had made it into South Germany and enjoyed a pleasant pint of Bavarian beer with a hearty dinner in the town of Eisenberg.
Day 18 & 19 Big miles and disaster number 2
The next two days were mostly a blur of rapidly approaching while lines, road signs, service station snacks, visor cleaner & body aches. By the end of the first day riding I had got as far as Luxembourg. The highlight of the day was the famous Route 500 in the Black Forest, a truly brilliant bike road.
Here I also met Jurgen’s long lost son at a petrol station – the spectacular BMW HP2 sport.Essentially the same bike except with 30 years of development, its amazing to see how much bike technology has moved on in this short period of time.
It was nearing the end of day 19 when things got a little too exciting.
Throughout the afternoon the traffic around Brussels had been slowing and speeding up regularly. While sitting in the outside line I noticed the traffic up ahead had slowed up dramatically. I grabbed a handful of brake and put my hand in the air to signal the danger ahead. Unfortunately, on checking my mirrors it appeared the rapidly approaching SUV hadn’t noticed this. I wrung the throttle in a desperate attempt to accelerate out of danger, but it wasn’t enough. A huge crunch later and my hands where ripped from the bars and I was sitting aboard a bucking & weaving bike which eventually hit the central reservation and sent me sliding down the Belgian highway. I sensed lying on a busy motorway wasn’t a good idea so the moment friction brought me to a slow enough pace I scrambled to my feet and hurdled into the central reservation.
With my heart at maximum velocity I was accosted by well meaning members of the public & the guilty driver checking I was ok. To my amazement, I was unscathed aside from a stinging bit of road rash where my jacket had lifted. I looked around to see the whole motorway stopped and bits of my bike strewn across all three lanes. With only 450 miles left to go, I knew my bike journey had come to an end. Worth a mention are my Bull-It Italian jeans. Despite looking and feeling like normal pair of jeans, the Kevlar under layer survived a high velocity slide down the tarmac and definitely saved my skin.Once again the RAC came to my rescue and as soon as I’d filled out the police report I was recovered and taken to rental car depo. After all our adventures me & Jurgen parted company & the final journey home was sadly made by car.
5 weeks later – Jurgen finally makes it home!
Fortunately the story has a happy ending. Not only did I survive without injury (a little achy the next morning!) but eventually the bike was delivered back to me by the RAC. A lot of parts of the bike were damaged but with an insurance settlement it is still repairable. So here begins the next adventure, restoring Jurgen to its former glory!
Thank you for reading my story, a full set of the images taken on the trip are viewable in this gallery https://www.flickr.com/photos/99600825@N05/sets/72157652059015766
And my website which includes more motorcycle based photography