Rides Around Europe

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Last few of 49 hairpin turns of Stelvio pass.

Europe is fairly densly populated and there is an extensive network of well-maintained roads. The history of Europe is basically about wars, killing, robbing, colonization... One side benefit of that terrible past are twisty roads going up unbelievably steep slopes to nearly all mountain passes (originally built for war purposes).

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Europe rides - Adriatic, Carpathians, Pyrenees and Morocco.

Dolomites

Italian Dolomites are undisputed crown jewel of the Alps. They deserve a section. Motorcyclists from all over the world go there to ride famous passes. But it's not justify the great roads that attract people. Nearly vertical rock faces attract rock climbers and base jumpers. Hikers go there to enjoy tranquil lakes and verdant pastures. But most people are content just enjoying the great scenery, comfortable accommodation and good food.

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Dolomites

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Near the Austrian border. Food is cheaper in Italy but the gasoline is a better deal in Austria. Being just one scenic pass away, it is easy to eat in Italy and fuel up in Austria.

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Marmolada group after a storm.

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A waterfall on the Austrian side.

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Lake Misurina is the jump-off point to visit Tre Cime.

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Southern part of the Dolomites is noticeably drier.

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Hiking around Tre Cime.

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Typical Dolomites view.

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Tre Cime, the famous view from the "back" side.

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Rosegarden section.

Ride Around the Adriatic Sea

Skopje, the capital of Macedonia is only a day ride from Belgrade. It is the birthplace of Mother Teresa and there is a memorial house dedicated to her. Just like in Sarajevo, Turkish influence can be felt everywhere. Promenade next to the river gets particularly busy at night. Good food and pleasant atmosphere made time pass by quickly. Next day I rode to Ohrid, an old town at the edge of the lake that goes by the same name.

Another half day of riding got me to Thessaloniki. It's the second biggest city in Greece. Meteora was the first major objective of this trip. Even though Greece is more famous for the sea and history, this is one of the more visually striking places in the country. Unfortunately, the weather was flaky and hazy. I visited a few monasteries and then headed to Delos, the pilgrimage center of the ancient Greece.

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Meteora, Greece.

I passed by Mt. Olympus, Old Corinth and crossed the Corinth canal on the way to highly recommended Monemvasia. Supposedly some biblical characters hang around this area, Apostle Paul being the most famous of them.

I passed through Sparta before heading to the Ionian sea islands of Zakintos, Kefalonia, Lefkada and Corfu. I liked Zakyntos the most but Kefalonia was interesting too. Both islands had some dazzling white sand beaches. The best part was that June is a shoulder season. Most tourists were Greeks who were trying to enjoy their sea before hordes of foreign tourists flood the country.

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Monemvasia's upper fortress.

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Enjoying the views.

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Spartan monument.

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The famous shipwreck beach.

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Ionian sea islands with dazzling white sand beaches.

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I found a good deal on a ferry to Italy. Less than 100 euros for both my bike and me. The ferry wasn't very crowded and after a good night sleep, I woke up on the other side of the Adriatic, in Brindisi. Apart from the few hours spent in Matera it was a full day of riding to the west coast of Italy and ferry crossing to Sicily.

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Beach below Taormina.

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Terra Manga Grecia.

Campgrounds in Italy are overcrowded, noisy, lacking facilities and generally rather poor values compared to guesthouses and hotels. In many campgrounds, showers are not free. But it got really bad in one campground where they sold me a token without telling me that I had only 2 min for the shower. Who can finish a shower in 2 min? Well, it was not fun toweling off foam. Then they had a disco at night. After this experience I started avoiding campgrounds in Italy.

Amalfi coast near Napoli is famous for villages perched on steep hills descending down to the sea and narrow roads clinging onto the cliff-sides connecting the villages. Italian riders are simply amazing, maybe little on the crazy side. They pass cars on the outside of tight, blind curves on Vespas - unbelievable!

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Amalfi Coas Road

Capri island is a short ferry ride from Sorrento. Seemed like a hangout for super rich and a tourist trap for everyone else.

I rode up along the west coast of Italy till about Rome, then turned inland towards Tuscany. Tuscany was ok, but I didn't quite get why people are so excited about it. I'm just not a big fan of half-abandoned towns and rolling hills covered with dry grass. Visiting Siena and few smaller towns was enough for me.

I didn't really plan on visiting Corsica, but I could not pass a ferry deal. After disembarking, I struck conversation with an Austrian rider and we decided to ride together for a few hours.

Corsica has some beautiful beaches, historic towns, beautiful mountains and laid-back atmosphere. I rode down south along the west coast and came back through the central mountains. Visiting Napoleon's birth house was a must-do thing in Corsica.

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Disembarking ferry in Corsica.

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Southern coast of Corsica and Bonifacio.

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Beautiful clear waters of Corsica.

I booked a ferry to Genoa because I love the Ligurian coastal and the road from Genoa to Nice is pure pleasure to ride. After two days in Nice, I passed through Verdon Gorge, twice. Both the southern and northern edge roads are amazing.

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Verdon Gorge.

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Verdon Gorge.

Route des Grandes Alpes is one of quintessential routes of Europe. It starts near Nice and ends up at Lake Geneve, linking high Alpine passes, deep valleys and historic towns by small, quiet roads. I did not follow the full course of the route. I got off it in Annecy and headed to Chamonix to spent few days in this beautiful place.

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One of many passes on the Route des Grandes Alpes.

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Early morning on Route des Grandes Alpes.

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Mt. Blanc, the top of Europe.

Carpathian Mountains

This is the second longest mountain range in Europe, stretching 1500 km from Serbia through Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia to Czech republic. This mountain range is also the largest continuous stretch of forest in Europe, a home to bears wolves, foxes, boars and many other wild animals. Before the trip, I was warned about the dangers of forest camping (it's not uncommon for wolves and wild board to kill people).

Of particular interest to motorcyclists are the beautiful mountain passes in Romania. Transfagarasan and Alpina, both incredibly beautiful, are famous among motorists from all over Europe.

Food and accommodation in Romania are cheap and of high quality. Drivers are curtious and riding in Romania is pure pleasure.

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Peles Castle.

After two days of mountain roads, I craved some city experience. So I made a 200 km detour to Bucharest, where I explored the old town, famous parliament buliding and gorged on cheap food and fruits.

No trip to Carpathian mountains would be complete without paying a tribute to count Dracula in his castle - Bran castle, built in 13th century. The inspiration for Dacula is a real character, Vlad Tepes, who was rather ruthless in his fight with the Turks. He loved having captured Turks impaled and would walk around dying or already dead, impaled people.

Romania is dotted with medieval castles and fortified churches. Bran castle is only one of Romania's many castles.

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Bucharest's imposing parliament building.

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Inside Dracula's castle.

After numerous passes, countless switchback and some beautiful canyons, I arrived in Norther Romania. This place is famous for two types of churches - wooden and painted ones. While wooden churches can be found all over eastern Europe, they are supposed to be the most beautiful here.

Painted churches, on the other hand, can be found only here. They have various biblical scenes painted all around them.

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Painted churches of Romania are rather unique.

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There are wooden churches all over Eastern Europe, but those of Bukovina are particularly famous.

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Wooden monastery.

I enjoyed cheap accommodation and great food in Ukraine. I hit some very rough roads and made it to the Slovakian border. There weren't many cars in the line but it took them forever to process each car.

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Slovakia's turbulent medieval times are obvious from many impressive castles.

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This tower was perched on a vertical rock.

There are no Carpathian mountains in Austria, but I wanted to visit some friends in Vienna. So I made a short detour south to this amazing city.

One of my friends is a rider and from the little-know part of Austria - the "forest quarter." This part of Austria is completely off the tourist map. Had it not been for my friend, I wouldn't have even known about it. Farms and forests on rolling hills, criss-crossed by deserted roads are a heaven for any rider. I'm surprised this place is not famous in motorcycling circles.

From Austria, we crossed into Czech Republic and rode to Cesky Krumlov. This little town is full of tourists and for a good reason. Nearby is Budovar, Czech town where Budweiser beer comes from originally comes from. The US company simply stole the name.

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Another beautiful castle near Karlovy Vary.

With the first September rain, the weather got cold and the summer was over. I made my way down south to Dolomites and Cinque Terre through Germany and Austria in hope of warmer weather.

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Cinque Terre.

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Porto Fino

Pyrenees

I got a glimpse of the Pyrenees when I rode to Morocco, but I wanted to ride more passes of this mountain chain. While the Pyrenees were the main objective of this ride, I wanted to visit my other favorite places too - Dolomites, Cinque Terre, French riviera, Route des Grandes Alpes and Porto.

As usual, the weather in Dolomites was finicky and I had to run south for a few hundred kilometers to avoid a storm. It's hard to get more than 3-4 consecutive days of sunny weather here in summer.

I crossed into France from Aosta valley and headed through Ecrins and Vercors national parks down to the Calanques to meet my friend.

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Swimming at Calanques outside Marseilles.

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Hiking in Calanques is a much better option than taking a boat tour.

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A lake on the French side of the Pyrenees.

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Another pass between Spain and France.

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Pau Castle.

I had a good weather riding high passes of the Pyrenees and then later the norther coast of Spain - Catalonia and Basque. I loved San Sebastian, Pamplona (even without or especially without the bulls) and the infinite variety of tapas.

I was really impressed with Spanish cities (at least the ones in the north) and how well-maintained and clean they are.

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San Sebastian tapas.

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Tapas.

I had my first flat tire in Europe late in the afternoon when trying to cross from Spain to France. By the time I fixed the tire, it was already dark. Good thing I had my tent with me.

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It was quite challenging to get close enough to this tree to lean the bike against it.

I visited Picos de Europa mountains. There is a cable car that takes people from a parking lot high up to over 2,000m. Eventually an approaching storm forced me to ride south to Leon and on to Porto.

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High up above the clouds in Picos de Europa NP.

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Camino de Santiago - a must do pilgrimage hike for any real catholic. The hike is done over the course of five weeks and ends up on the western coast of Spain. But the city of Santiago de Compostela is really the high point of the hike. I don't know if I earned any heaven points by riding the route, but I loved "everything stone" in Santiago.

Eventually an approaching storm forced me to ride south to Leon and on to Portugal.

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Happy to be back in Porto again.

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Porto tram.

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Spain is littered with impressive castles and fortresses.

My poor preparation habits forced me to have chain changed in Girona and rear tire and break pads in Andorra. Andorra is actually not a bad place to get spare parts and riding gear as there is no tax.

First snow of the year also got me in Andorra.

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First snow of the year.

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In southern France I entered the flat tire hell - two flats in two days. For the first time ever, I got a flat front tire and it was an Ultraheavy Duty tube too. While mounting the tire, I managed to pinch the new tube. With no more spare tubes and setting sun, I was getting desperate. Then it dawned upon me that I had patches in my kit. The patches held for about 12 hours - good enough to get me to the civilization where I could buy another spare tube. Half an hour after I found the spare, I had to use it.

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A road carved out of the rock in southern France near Carcassonne.

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Impressive Carcassonne castle.

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Climbing Col de la Bonette on Route des Grandes Alpes.

Even though I rode them several times before, I still enjoy visiting Code d'Azur and Ligurian coast.

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Freshly restored buildings in Menton.

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Imperia, just across the border in Italy.

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Picturesque Camogli town between Genoa and Porto Fino.

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Ligurian coast.

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Sunset over Vernazza.

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Places where I spent at least a night.