An Autumn Ride in Eastern Europe

Zigzagging onwards, the current zig leads me along the arc of the Carpathian Mountains in a northeastern direction towards the ukrainian border and the crossing of Ulma. Unfortunately it was closed due to construction works, so I was told by a border guard. He spoke some english and we had a nice chat, but despite my best effort to convince him otherwise, he didn’t let me pass and pointed me to the crossing of Siret, some 60 km to the east. So zagging to the east then, before I zig back west to the Carpathian Mountains and the original zigzag.

The border guards on both sides there couldn’t be more different. Leaving Romania I passed a grumpy grandma, with thick rimmed glasses and a knitted scarf, drinking tea and more interested in her crosswords than my passport as well as a tall, lanky boy – who could have easily been her grandson – in a uniform several sizes to wide and short, searching my luggage for drugs and weapons. On the ukrainian side I was greeted by brawny, crop-haired guys (and a gal with longer hair) wearing camouflage battledress, complete with the assault rifle slung on the back. Despite the martial appearance, they let me in and I returned to my route trough the Carpathians, bumping and bouncing along the scarred and pitted roads towards Lviv.

 

From Lviv it’s just a short hop to the border into Poland and a lot of jumping long queues of cars to cross said border (luckily you are able to do so on a motorcycle and, more importantly, no one gets angry when you actually do it). But what a change this is, not only did I come back to central Europe, I had the impression of returning home (even though I’ve never been to Poland before). After months in the wilder parts of this world (for the lack of a more fitting description) it resembles so much more the world I’ve grown up and lived in, that the small differences didn’t really matter in comparison to the foreign smell of persian bazaars, the heat of the desert or the steep caucasian valleys. But beside all this metaphysical homecoming, there were also some more mundane adjustments, that had to be made. Prices for example, while the hostel in Lviv had cost me only 3€, I paid thrice as much for a campsite near Krakow. Or traffic regulations and driving habits, the previous months, I rode however and wherever it was best, inexorably using all the advantages of a motorbike (remember that border crossing a few sentences back), now, bright white road markings and a plethora of warning signs sternly tell me to behave and adhere to the central european traffic rules. Nonetheless, the following days consisted of placid and pleasantly uneventful riding, only interrupted by short visits to Krakow and Auschwitz and a longer stop in Wroclaw (thank you Debbie, for being my host and guiding me around town).

 

The last leg, from Wroclaw back to Karlsruhe, took me 2 days riding along small backroads crossing the Sudete Mountains from Poland into Czech Republic. The riding was equally uneventful and pleasant despite a bitingly cold wind, that heralded the coming winter and froze my fingers. After a night in a bohemian countryside inn I returned back to Germany via the Bavarian Forest. Somewhere along the last few hundred kilometers, my rear tire picked up a nail, started to leak air and forced me to stop at every second or third petrol station to refill the tire.

So – with a leaking tire – I made it home, in the late afternoon of a beautiful day in october, after more than 4 months on the road. Now, 2 years later, as I’m about to complete the narration, I can’t remember my thoughts or feelings as I switched off the engine and got off my motorcycle without the plan to set off again in the next morning. The only thing I can say for certain is, that I might have been home physically, but mentally I was still somewhere else, in need of time to adjust back from nomad to settler.