June 19th


Rest Day, Kiev


Kiev was to be one of the highlights of the trip; neither Pierpaolo or myself had been this far East and it represented something that was still a bit mysterious, a bit fresh. In a world where the likes of Easyjet have made it possible to go to anywhere in Europe for the same time and money that it takes to ride the Piccadilly tube line from end to end, this is an increasingly rare feeling.


Getting tossed out of bed by a dodgy landlord at 7:00 AM from a decaying ex Soviet 20 storey apartment block definitely did not feature in this picture. Lack of sleep and a surplus of alcohol in the bloodstream makes it sooooo much rougher, but somehow we manage to drag our sorry selves out of bed and go in search of old mother Russia.


So what exactly did we expect to see today? What I know about Kiev I could write on a postage stamp...close to Chernobyl, erm some nice churches maybe, errrr probably lots of gorgeous girls walking around (The Beatles sung about the Ukraine girls, must be true), and perhaps some kind of photogenically crinkle cut old lady trying to sell her underwear and a turnip from a cardboard box in the street.


Pierpaolo’s buddy Alex soon has us marching across the whole city giving us the grand tour. Some very special official buildings and some glorious golden domed churches that manage to effect what I will call a  “Hansel and Ghetto” gone bling impression. You could take some amazing postcard shots in this place, but there’s a lot of chaff to sift through to get to the grain. There’s no hiding the fact that this is an ex Soviet city with all the architectural nuances that statement implies.


One vantage point above the town though is superb – a full view over the river Dnipro, with white sand beaches visible on the banks of an island in the middle. Above us towers a statue of a worker and a guy with a Stalinisque ‘tasch, done in the classic chisel cut homo erotica stylie. Staring out into the distance - torsos bared, they ooze a strange combination of steadfast solidarity and sexual ambiguity.


Afternoon has us riding the underground metro system, which, like Moscow’s, is a delight. Built in 1960, it remains largely unchanged to this day with original carriages still in operation.


There is something comforting about seeing infrastructure built 50 years ago still being able to handle the volume and demands of modern society. Queing for rotten cabbage, along with getting conscripted to a Siberian military outpost all conspire to make Communism pretty uncool in my books. It’s just a pity that the victorious free marketeers have airbrushed over the few good bits that were spawn from the idealogy.


What is also surprising is just how far down you have to go to get on a great hills to take into account on the system, but the tracks are, by our estimation 80 metres below street level. That’s a lot of unnecessary and expensive digging to do. But if you reason that the subway system was built in the middle of the Cold War, then one of the motivations of doing this may have been so the transport system could act as a civilian bunker in the event of an attack from those evil Capital Imperialists.


Back up to street level now and there is no hiding that there are some extremely good looking women walking around with ballerina figures. But there is something that is not quite right in their body language. It’s like as if none of them really wanted to get out of bed today, let alone exercise 17 muscles simultaneously and smile.  I take this point up with Alex, who replies that this is the norm in Ukraine and Russia. Smiling at a stranger is something that does not really happen.


So I’m thinking maybe the Beatles got it a bit wrong about the Ukraine girls after all. Current events would suggest that old Paul really isn’t the best judge of women. And apart from getting his bum on the cover of Rolling Stone (every man’s fantasy), our dearly departed John didn’t exactly strike gold with Yoko Ono. (for an amusing and occasionally expletive rant on why its OK to hate Yoko Ono, read this


That night we meet up with a couple of Alex’s mates for a few beers near the University Square. It is a surprisingly quiet night in town, so we jump in a taxi and come to a sort of dodgy looking Blue Light Disco in wooded grounds abouy 15 minutes out of the centre. Drinks are flowing and people are starting to fill the place up, when Alex reveals just before midnight that it’s his birthday tomorrow – yippeeee! Break out the Ukrainian champagne and behold the male stripper now performing on the floor. Oh dear, what have I done to deserve this punishment. Ludicrous amounts of rancid alcohol find their way into our glasses under Alex’s unwavering attendance, but by the stroke of 4AM we leave birthday boy to try his luck and get a smile from one of the leggy girls dancing badly on the floor. Ballerinas, my ass.


As it’s a foreign country and the birthday of a good mate, its all fun and giggles shrouded in a veneer of acceptable spontanaeity. But if it happened on your own turf you’d never be allowed to set foot from the house again.



June 20th


KM START = 22,340 (Trip = 11, 970)

KM END =  22,910 (Trip = 12,540 )


Route: Kiev > Rivne > L’viv


Yes, I did say Ukrainian champagne up there - I only wished I hadn’t drunk it. I feel like Alexander Litvinenko did after his KGB Tea. A predictably late and groggy start that we must somehow snap out of, as there are miles and miles of the Ukraine to cover today and not alot of accomodation options en route.


Alex comes on over to wave us off and give us a sort of taxi escort out to the edge of town, as we would have lost hours getting out of Kievs unsigned road spaghetti unaided. He has been an amazing host and gone out of his way to show us the town – today he will hop on a train and make the 9 hour journey back home to where he lives. That’s a true mate.


On the bikes and at the first major unmarked intersection out of town we are already out of our element. One of those classic dumb tourist scenarios where we ask a passer by for directions and he replies in Ukrainian. Not my strongest tongue I dare say. Seeing that we are having trouble grasping what he’s saying, he then proceeds to speak Ukrainiain even louder, with the thought that decibels can overcome syllables. At least we head off in the wrong direction laughing.


The highway out of Kiev to the West is a massive concrete artery that cuts through the country, flanked by verdant British Racing Green old growth forest on either side. Every kilometre, there’s a group of people with makeshift roadside stalls setup, selling fruits and berries from the growth within.A constant chain of people with plastic buckets moves in and out of the forest, picking the contents and loading them in punnets for a hopeful sale.


Two hours down the road and we still have not made much of a dent in the journey. It’s at this moment that you realise just how damn enormous Russia was, and what must have been involved in running a country that stretched across half the world. We have passed only 100 cars today in total, but the state still has to maintain all the highways for this small volume of traffic. Trucks are the haemoglobin of the economy, and they need well kept arteries to travel down. For someone that has trouble keeping a 2 bedroom flat in decent order, the idea of running and maintaining a country like this is mortifying.


Communism in Russia brought about such atrocities as Lada cars and shrink fit polyester Olympic tracksuits. Frighteningly, these were assessed the prize fruits that could be shown to the outside world that would invoke the least derision; There must have been some heinous stuff that was hidden from Western eyes. But it is unfair to blame the failings of these years solely at the feet of communism. Part of the failing I believe is that the place is just too damn big to manage properly. Rampant Capitalism, as evident in the unchanged living standards, is clearly not the magic bullet for Russia’s problems. Is it perhaps the only country in the world with the problem of too much land?


Thoughts while riding the bike, as you can tell, have become rather rambling and philosophical due to the sheer amount of time spent barrelling down the nation’s empty highways. Reflections such as thes aren’t an afforded luxury, they are a necessity to pass the time of day.


As the mind wanders, its quite easy to lose track of the speedo. Pierpaolo is riding in front, and as we come over the crest of a hill in a small town, Johnny Lawski has his hairdryer pointed right at him and gets him to pull over...I shoot past but slam on the anchors 200 metres down the road and wait for him. Playing the stupid tourist and perhaps a few Euros should get him out of this bind.


10 minutes later and no sign of my buddy, so I start to head back up the road to where he’s pulled over. But he’s shooing me away! I stay at a respectful distance and on the signal that the ordeal is over, I turn around, roll down the road a bit and wait for Pierpaolo to catch up.


What unfolds is perhaps the strangest story of attempted bribery and failed corruption. Pierpaolo was asked to write down his speed he was travelling (95km/h), and then asked to present his passport for inspection. Mr Policeman looks at the passport, suggests that there is a speed problem, but fortunatley one that can be remedied with “Present for Me!”. One Hryvnia for each kilometre being the recommended bequest (about 12 EUR for all 95 of them).


Pierpaolo says he doesn’t have a penny on him, that his mate that went past on the bike had all the money in a little travel kitty, which is actually God’s honest truth. Mr Policeman suspects his Italian offender may be trying to pull one over an officer of the law, calling him in Italian “Furbo!” (crafty, cunning) with all manner of seriousness. Another viewing of the passport, and the question “Dove vive – Milano?”. Pierpaolo responds “Non, Venizia”. To which our policeman suddenly lights up and says “Ah, Venezia! Gondola! Bongiourno, gracia....”. It’s the funniest and most half hearted extortion bid I’ve ever heard of, and it makes me love the Ukraine even more.


Rolling country highways degenerate into BMX tracks and the next 200 kilometres of the M17 is enough to loosen any fillings and line the pockets of the next city’s chiropractors.


560 kilometres from our starting point, and we reach the city of L’viv. Our expectations for this place were absolutely minimal – the only reason we chose to stop here was because it’s impossible to get to Budapest, our next destination, in a single day, and this looked like the best spot to stop from the map. But what a delight the place is.


Journey into town is on a descending 3 kilometre dark cobbled street, where not one stone appears out of place. Surrounded by a wealth of well laid out parks, the city shows off its wonderful Austro-Hungarian architecture in the golden afternoon sun. And it all looks fabulous. We check into the regally titled “Hotel George”, where our bedroom is more like a ballroom. 24 foot ceilings, herringbone wood parquet floor and beds that you could go walkabout on. Hardly the rough end of European accommodation.


Our wanting to secure the bikes for the night gets the full attention of the doorman. He lets us ride the bikes into the hotel and park them in one of the unused rooms out the back. Even our filthy motorbikes are being treated like royalty here!


We get scrubbed up, have a nice dinner in an outside brasserie and then head out to one of the local clubs “Millennium” for a drink and a bit of a boogie. It’s only a Wednesday night, but theres enough people in here to make it interesting, and no shortage of rather happier looking girls on the dance floor.


L’viv has been an absolute surprise, and a city we can both highly recommend as worth a weekend visit. A real jewel of the Ukraine and a nice example of an Eastern European city prior to the Cheap Flight Fungus that will eventualy blight them all.



June 21st


KM START = 22,910 (Trip = 12,540 )

KM END =  23,550 (Trip = 13,180 )


Route: L’viv > Skole > Chop > Budapest (HU)


No peace for the wicked - another long haul scheduled for today with a 600+ kilometre drive to Budapest . Plan is to catch up with another local mate of ours there, Adam. So we roll the bikes out of their posh dorms and head out onto some roads that would make some African nations blush.


But this all starts to change as we head towards the forested hills near the Hungarian border. Roads become tarmaced and develop a lovely mixture of cambers and corners so that riding becomes a real pleasure. And the countryside is gorgeous. What reminds me of Albertan flat lands gradually morph into some of the best bits of Northern British Columbia, with the old lumber and mining towns en route adding to the wild frontier effect.


The forests we pass through are dense green, and the river that courses through has boulders artistically placed within, enabling the water to froth up and leave a cappuccino foam on the tops of them. Hay stands baled up in the fields like amber teardrops or Hershey kisses – farmers here stake something that looks like a tea mug holder in the ground, and layer it with a pitch fork this way so that the hay stays off the floor and dries quicker.


And throughout this country idyll are churches that look the product of true fantasy... thatch and timber constructions with resplendent domes that look like metallic onions, beetroots and turnips from a distance. It’s like Hansel and Gretel again, but this time they’ve gone righteous lo-carb vegetarian with their choice of roofing material.


Gazing at these wonders, the sun on our backs and blue skies ahead...well only a speeding ticket could ruin this. But in that strange Ukrainian way, it actually improves the afternoon. 92km/h in a 60km/h zone, pulled over and the cops immediately barking at me in Ukrainian. Language barrier means I really don’t know when or what to offer the guy. I do catch the word “bank” and “ticket” and a signal to somewhere off in the distance, but I figure if the guy wants to wangle some cash from reckless foreign motorists such as myself, then he should at least heed the commom courtesy of a few basic phrases of extortion in the requisite lingua.


After 2 minutes of shrugs and “I dont understands” in 3 uncommon languages, he gives up and sends me on my way. God bless this turf. They wouldn’t last 1 week in the Moldovan Police Academy but I do like the cops in this country. Next time I’ll leave a tip.


Push push push all the way to the border – about 3PM and our stomachs are rumbling, so we stop off at a border hotel for some lunch. If there is one thing that is becoming evident on this trip, it is our uncanny ability to find the dodgiest eating places without GPS assistance. Its a new built hotel restaurant from the outside, with al fresco seating on the lawn. Seemingly innocuous. Walk inside to place our food order, and the setup is all too familiar... 2 waitresses, uniformed in some leopard effect spray-on outfit and lo behold! Surely that’s not a keyboard player on center stage playing to an empty room?


What is it with these crappy strip joint places masquerading as restaurants? Its almost as if IKEA has a naughty “under the shelf” range of business furnishings, with their flat pack nudie bars being sold all over Eastern Europe complete with identically kitted staff and the ubiquitous matching keyboard player – audience optional. Only this theory can explain the jarring uniformity of these establishments on our travels.


The food however is surprisingly good, and with a belly full of it we glide through Ukrainian customs and snake our way through Hungarian immigration leving behind a conga line of humans simmering in their 4 wheeled sardine cans. Sometimes a bike is the only way to travel.


The road to Budapest is a good 300km, but it is marble smooth and sparingly policed, so getting into town before dark is no problem. The heat builds up and the wind drops right down – by the time our friend Adam comes to meet us in the centre, the clouds are brooding and thunder rumbles in from the distance.


Pierpaolo has been to Budapest before but its my first time. I always found it hard to believe that a city could be talked of in the same breath as Prague (Paris has too much dog shit to be a serious contender), but even with torrential rain lashing it down it is easy to see the charms of this place. Adam introduces us to his delightful girlfriend, knows all the staff in the restaurants and bars, and lets us have his flat for the night right in the centre of town. As mates in foreign cities come, they dont come much better than that! After a few beers and some table fussball in a cool bohemian pub next door, we head home and grab some well earned ZZZ’s.



June 22nd


Rest Day – Budapest


The Hungarian language is pretty tricky to get your ears around, so as a result I cannot remember the names of any of the fantastic places we saw today. Pathetic. You should expect more from your fellow travel bloggers :o)


Anyway, 30 degrees and blazing sunshine seems like the perfect excuse to spend most of the day at one of the amazing outdoor baths in the city. A welcome leftover from the Ottoman empire, these baths are a real focal point of city life -  a place where you can cool off and catch some rays in the outdoor pools in summer, or get a therapeutic natural mineral bath indoors any time of the year.


Wild storms break in the evening – but we head out anyway for a great dinner then off to the Buddha Beach club till 3AM. Great music playing, in a city where the people obviously enjoy going out and having a good time. Budapest, we will miss you.



June 23rd


KM START = 23,550 (Trip = 13,180 )

KM END =  23,773 (Trip = 13,403 )


Route: Budapest > Bratislava (SK)


After 8 weeks of travelling side by side through 12 countries on our bikes, today sees the departure of Pierpaolo back home to Italy. All the exotic bits of the trip, the unknown elements, have all been enjoyed and catalogued – everyday life now awaits us both, and the unnerving reality of riding alone back home, in search of a job land heavy on the mind.


So its goodbye to the guy who has shared countless shitty rooms and mud floors with me, along with all the usual banter and funny stuff that happens when 2 lads go on holiday. Well it’s not really goodbye as I’ll be seeing him again, but without a motorbikes it wont feel quite so cool.


Pierpaolo is riding back to Fontanafredda through Austria, while my journey will take me through Bratislava, Prague and Hamburg before I cross back over the channel. We wave each other off, and pretty soon I am out of the city limits and banging along a smooth but dull highway to Slovakia’s capital.


In town I meet Milan, the brother of my old flatmate Jana. Its great to see him again – one of those guys who always wears a Size 24 smile on his face. Park the bike at his flat, locking it to just about everything thats bolted down as he lives in a slightly dodgy area. Then it’s off to a concert in the park where some great local ska bands are playing from midday until midnight. Another sunny day with good music and 30p beers on tap. It’s not a bad comedown.


Milan is off at 4am the next morning for his summer holiday, so he leaves me the keys and we say goodnight and goodbye.



June 24th


KM START = 23,773 (Trip = 13,403 )

KM END =  24,213 (Trip = 13,843)


Route: Bratislava > Brno > Mlada Boleslav > Prague (CZ)


Milan is gone by the time I wake, so I get kitted up, drop the keys through the mail box and walk outside to where my bike is surprisingly still standing. Car and bike theft is almost out of control in Eastern Europe, so drivers never really complain about the traffic... they’re actually happy just to be in it.


On the road to Brno and the roads are wonderful, much like the Routes Nationale of France but with 10% of the traffic. It’s really fun riding, but I am so used to the reassuring site of number plate “LP06 OPW” in front of me, it does feel a bit empty. Bikes are great fun, but they are so much better with a mate beside you.


Destination today is just outside of Mlada Boleslav, where a good friend of mine Pavel has a small house in the country and a 15 month old baby boy I have not yet seen. From Brno to Mlada , the country backroads are absolutely fantastic – real old world farming country, but with perfect tarmac winding its way artistically through the occasional rustic village.


The bike I’m on has served me faultlessly for the last 13,000 kilometres, but i can’t help but feel a bit of the 7,000 kilometre itch. I’d happily gift my dependable Japanese plodder - the one that has seen me through good times and bad - for just 2 hours on a wild, streamlined Italian beauty. A temperamental and lusty Ducati 748 would be just the ticket, but I better stop thinking these covetous thoughts before old faithful picks up on them and throws a piston.


Pavel and his family are in great form, and it’s wonderful to see his little boy in action. Sunday tea and cakes, then I ride behind him back to his flat in Prague for the night. Security again takes priority – Pavel had 3 company cars stolen from under his window within a year! So we take the bike around to a hotel secured garage. Walking home from here would be a pretty poor finish to the trip.


It’s still a beautiful late afternoon, so we walk up to one of the parks nearby, grab a goulash and a pint from a vendors stall and watch the sunset over this incredible city.


June 25th


KM START = 24,213 (Trip = 13,843)

KM END =  24,975 (Trip = 14,605)


Route: Prague > Teplice > Hamburg > Rendsburg (DE)


Meet up with Pavel for lunch near his flat, and then its a massive haul to my next destination north of Hamburg. Although this is not a hugely adventurous part of the trip and will hardly have people trading in their Charley and Ewan books in the hope that this gets published, it is satisfying as it enables me to plot a course home dropping in on good people I have not seen in ages.


Driving up to the border at Teplice is nice enough, but as soon as I enter Germany and take the Autobahns then it starts chucking it down. Maybe this is punishment for staying away from my “No Motorways” philosophy, but with 800 kilometres to notch up and 8 hours of daylight I am not left with many alternatives. After 2 months of riding through some truly awful conditions, I am sort of conditioned to this now, so the answer is to just keep on riding and punch your way through it.


The clouds seems to be tied to my bike and supplied by an endless fountain – wherever I turn, they go. After 3 hours of this I pull over, wring the gloves out, squeeze the jacket and trousers till they are just damp and grab a coffee. Nothing like a bit of caffeine to add 10 degrees to the day and motivate you for the next slog. But all of my bags are saturated and there is not a dry stitch of clothing within them.


The turnoff ahead to Hamburg and things get a lot better....6 lane autobahn becomes 2 way  country road, and even the sun pokes its head out to mark the occasion. After half a day underwater, this seems like the greatest luxury in the world! If I can just angle all parts of my trousers and jacket so that they catch the wind, then in an hours time I will be dry again. Excellent! It’s motorcycle life philosophy... things on this road may all seem crap now, but if you keep going for just a few more hours / kilometres, then the grey clouds will part and light will come through.


As the sun starts to dip, I realise I may not make it before nightfall, so for the first time on this trip (honest officer!) I really open up the throttle and gas it through these back roads. On a bike I think it’s better riding quick, alert and visible then driving invisibly in the dark. This race against the sun adds a huge element of fun to the journey, and by the time the light’s all gone its just a 30 minute trundle in the dark to my destination.


Anja welcomes me into the family house, gives me a hug and a much needed cup of tea and lets me collapse early. I have been on the bike 10 hours, stopping only for 1 fuel stop and a coffee the whole day - I am feeling pretty battered. Time for some sweet dreams in a friendly house.



June 26th


Rest Day – Hamburg


Rain Rain Rain. Play with Anja and her friend Jana’s 5 kids (3+2). Sign a contract for a new job starting in a month, then read the kids bedtime stories in the most horrendous German ever spoken.


I lasted 10 weeks in my German classes at school... either I was getting my pencil case thrown out of the window by the teacher (ok, I did talk a bit), or he was bringing in his accordion and singing old German folk songs with conviction. Something had to give. Herr Wigney, I am sad to say it was me. Please forgive me - the music made me do it.


But I am touched that 5 year old Jascha actually wants her bedtime story read by me. Either she going out of her way to extend Deutsche hospitaity, or its the funniest thing she has ever heard and she is completely taking the piss. I’ll ask her in a few years.



June 27th and 28th


KM START = 24,975 (Trip = 14,605)

KM END =  26,325 (Trip = 15,855)


Route: Rendsburg > Charleroi (BE) > Lille (FR) > Calais > Brighton (UK)


Again its raining relentlessly, but for the first time the thought of being at home comes to mind and lifts me. Catching up with all my mates in Brighton, having a mug of tea in my own kitchen, listening to the BBC weatherman say in his wonderful clipped accent “It will be partly cloudy with chances of showers” ... its the little things like that I miss about England. So despite the deluge outside, I make my plans to get on the bike and do the final stretch to Calais and across the Channel.


So that explains why I traded the warmth and welcome of Anja’s house for another full day of riding into a fire hydrant. Extremely dull motorways, rain starting to find its way into my socks and undies, but I can almost smell that first mug of tea so it’s all worth it.


550 kilometres is all I can manage before the limbs start cramping and the bones begin to ice. The black leather gloves I am wearing have left my hands completely dyed, like some B-Troupe minstrel. I pull into a non descript hotel north of Dusseldorf and call it a day. I am surprised they let me in, as I look like a real dero.


The next day it’s motorways all the way down to Belgium and into France, and there is respite from the rain of the past few days. But the motorways are about as exciting as a tax seminar, so I pop onto the Route Nationales for the last 200km to Calais. Despite being French, the locals are wonderful drivers – the best in Europe when it comes to making room for bikes and maintaining a safe distance from us.


Reaching Calais and my last ferry for the trip, having been on 10 in the past 2 months. On board I hear an American couple with 2 kids in tow, desperately flicking through a brochure and phoning local hotels in vain search of 2 spare rooms. Poor guys. They probably think Dover is some quaint seaside village with ale served in barrels and Morris dancing at the local pub each night.


But today she’s not looking so bad. The pale orange light of early evening covers the shore, and bulbous purple clouds squelch on the horizon – real Turner stuff.


Roll off the ferry and through British customs...gee its nice to see an English police uniform – one of the other weird things I missed about the place. Then quick sticks back to Brighton. I haven’t told anyone I’m coming as I thought it would be fun just to roll up on a doorstep, and Jon and Diets, landlords of my old house are the first people I visit. Lots of chat, lots of coffee – really great to see them again, and their lodger Javier also appears just as I am leaving.


I am in a bit of a rush to get down to the seafront...the light is all but gone, and I want to get the last snap of me and the bike on Brighton Pier at dusk. Like a pathetic “I made it to Brighton, the end of the world!” photo. I ride the bike up the footpath and start positioning it for the clinching shot, when a security guard comes over with a baton and tells me to “get that bloody thing out of here!”.


Damn, no back cover shot for the book that should rightfully outsell the last Harry Potter... the publishers won’t like that! But the guard takes a second look at one of the stickers on the petrol tank. It’s a crappy “theshortwayround2007” sticker I had made up for the trip, the intention being that you throw them at Customs people in dodgy countries, you appear official so they let you whizz through unmolested. But this guy has seen an Albanian flag on the sticker, and then starts to wax lyrical about his homeland and asked me if I enjoyed it.


16 flags on that sticker I had printed, and there were 2 countries on it we didn’t end up visiting...this guy picks one of them. Do I burst his bubble, insult his national pride and say “Actually we heard Albania is a corrupt and rat infested boghole, so we decided not to go there”. No. I become a diplomat.


“Yes, it was fantastic. I loved every minute there, and the capital Tirana is like something I have never seen before”


Big smiles all round, he’s on my side and now offers to take the picture of me and the bike in the perfect early evening light...”Click!”. It’s a surreal but fitting end to an incredible journey.






Swing my leg off the bike outside my flat, with the feeling that I really don’t want to look at a motorbike for quite some time. Go up and chat with my flatmate Fred and after 10 minutes it feels as if I’d just popped out to the shops to get some milk and walked back in.


After a week, the mind starts to wander again, and by the time I get back to work atthe end of July there are already plans drawn up for the next trip with Pierpaolo. Travel and motorbikes are good by themselves, but together they are irresistible.