1500 MILES IN A PAJERO
On the morning of Friday 15th January I waved goodbye to Julie, mounted my Yamaha MT03 and rode to Keighley 60 miles on the first part of the adventure.

Ready for part 1 of the adventure

The ride was cold with driving rain along the M62 but the snow seemed to have cleared away from the roads, especially over the tops near Mountain for that I was thankful, I thought I may have to go “The Long Way Round” via Bradford. I saw two large Pajero’s outside the clubhouse as I arrived, I was so cold that I couldn’t swear back properly at Barry! I got out of my wet clothes and into some dry warmer clothes and drank a cup or two of hot coffee. “Oi, where is the b-b-bloody bacon sarni then?”
Mali was speaking on the PC via the skype connection to wifey at the other clubhouse in Bulgaria, I nudged him winking and waved and shouted “Hi” to Janice on the ‘puter then grabbed my coffee and went through last minute questions with Barry in the other room leaving Mali and Janice to talk.
It was time to go! Mali was to leave early in his vehicle calling at family before meeting us at Ferrybridge services on the M62 about an hour away from Hull and then onto the overnight ferry. Barry and I had more coffee waited for our take off time, we had a rough plan for the road trip, it was a fluid one, the only rigidity was the ferry time out and the flight time back, otherwise Europe was our oyster for a week! Russ came up to wave us off as he was in the area, he had some good news for us that took us nicely to our start time.
DAY 1. KEIGHLEY TO ROTTERDAM….343 miles
“Biggles” turned the key and the 18 year old diesel coughed soundly into life, I’ve never seen so many knobs in a car (not including us two!) We were loaded to the gills with toilets for Barry’s new house. We had coffee, tea, sugar which were stashed in my galley in the foot well behind the pilots seat, the milks were to be purloined from the first tea stop we came to as would the electric kettle, we had more electric plug points in here than a Barratt’s show house. We took a few “just in case items” a new shiny red shovel, tow rope, window wash by the gallon, spare anti freeze, a jerrycan, spanners, sockets, wrenches a big hammer, a packet of Rennies for me some Gaviscon for him and yet more bloody spanners. Barry says we probably weigh over two tons! Our two grab bags fit nicely in the gaps left, we had gone over the check list several times, we felt sure we had everything and felt confident we would overcome any eventuality.
Both our furry hats sat on the back seat, we would use them in the days ahead along with gloves, combat boots new shreddies and lined winter pants, goggles and my black wooley commando hat snuggled with my two cameras on top of the log book along with all the maps, there would be no room for loud shirts and fancy trews on this adventure. He looked at me and said “Are you ready then Alginon?” “Yes Biggles, lets jolly well bugger orf” I replied, the anchor was pulled in and we picked our way through parked cars down the hill into and through Keighley settling on a south easterly direction to pick up the east bound M62 and the first stop at Ferrybridge to meet up with Mali, our third travel companion in his equally old crate.
Two hours later and he STILL hadn’t shown. Where the hell was he? We checked our timepieces for the umpteenth time. They say that time waits for no man, they were right, we had run out of it and had to make tracks. Mali had no phone, his Bulgarian phone didn’t work over here. He had the walkie talkie but was useless at this distance. So we just had to keep the faith and wait for him to contact us. Reluctantly we pulled onto the M62.
Just down the road Mali rang with news of a slight hiccup, he said it was no problem really he was at a garage at Dewsbury but would make it for the ferry. Thoughts of hospitals and such stuff evaporated instantly! At Hull docks Mali rang again this time with gloomy news, the garage could not fix the heater problem, and had broken the thermostat cover when putting it back together again! They were working to fix it with a bonding agent, the part was cast metal so fingers were crossed that the fix would work. Normally this would not be a huge problem but today was not normal, Mali was in transit to his home in Bulgaria 1500 miles away and was booked on the overnight ferry… in an hour or two. The door was closing fast in front of Mali
We had a discussion as to the available options, we got the maps out on the floor of the ferry terminal. Barry rang the garage again and asked Mali for an update… it wasn’t looking good, the part could not be fixed so a replacement was required but this had to be bought from a dealer near York and wouldn’t be fitted until at least the next morning! It was hard to take in at first, Barry’s mind was racing, I was slowing down thinking well he’s f****d for today let’s sit back a minute and look at the alternatives. He could follow us the following nights ferry and we could wait for him somewhere, preferably before entering Slovenia or he could drive down to Dover and drive east through France sometime tomorrow. He had Maps and was well able to do it.
On the ferry later that evening, Mali rang again to say he would probably head over to France from Dover In the morning go through France to intersect our planned route hopefully somewhere in Germany, he would ring again in the morning with another update. It was a bit depressing we were powerless to help except to talk routes and to remind him to get a working mobile phone for tomorrow and give himself a kicking for tinkering with the heater! Oh WHY didn’t he just leave the damn heater alone? Sods law had conspired against us, the simplest of jobs had been given to an unsupervised ham fisted apprentice who broke the part, who didn’t have a replacement, the nearest one near York, this lost him his ferry ticket and refund as it was a last minute cancellation and was going to put him about 24 hrs behind us at least! On the plus side, it would be a cheaper round at the bar tonight (it’s not the money) Mali knew his way around Europe to get home no problem at all. He wouldn’t be lost, just on his own. We mulled over where in Europe we might wait for him. The adventure would not unravel, we wouldn’t let it!
We had one or two stiff drinks at the bar and shook our heads in disbelief, settling down to listen to the crap singer in the stern bar for an hour or two. The crossing was a bit rough and sleep didn’t come to me easy, what would tomorrow bring for him I wondered as I finally drifted off to sleep. Barry meanwhile was breathing hard in the opposite bunk, he was in a deep sleep I hoped.

DAY 2 ROTTERDAM to KEMPTON in SOUTHERN GERMANY…..501 miles
Breakfast was enjoyed in a lighter mood as we neared the continent, later we stood outside on the after deck picking out the Dutch coastline in the pre dawn light, it was quite fresh and damned windy, if one stood at the railings it fair blew the skin from ones body, years ago it would have made a mess of my hair but not these days alas!

An hour later and we were driving down the ramp and introducing ourselves to the young Dutch policeman, he listened as I ticked off where we were going, “Good luck and have a good trip sir” he said, Barry clicked our Sat Nav on to assist our passage. To hear her mispronounce the long sounding road names made us laugh out loud and made us feel superior in spite of her 24/7 demands

It is such a huge port area here at Rotterdam and goes on for miles alongside the auto route, refineries to the left and right, the sun was breaking through, It was Saturday the truckers were not in abundance thankfully, our 2 ton crate was not exactly the nippiest of things! I saw white powder here and there in the huge flat fields, it had been snowing but not much. We droned east towards The Ruhr in Germany, our spirits were up high, we were on the continent “The Tinkerers” drama felt less negative this morning as I imagined the dastardly apprentice auto mechanic swinging gently from the gallows in the morning light in Dewsbury..The little Bastard!!…My vivid imagination made me feel so much better. We settled down to the short hop across Holland and prepared to tangle with the aggressive German black cars, we see them every year but they still take some getting used to.
I got myself set up with the map to plot our route and keep an ear out for what Sat Nav was telling Barry to do. The swine has a tendency to “throw a curve” now and again, as the next two new bridges proved and she tried to send us into Rotterdam. She comes this way every year why can’t she remember like us men can?
We passed through Holland after about 120 miles still heading in the direction of Dussledorf and The Ruhr before swinging south on a new heading towards Cologne, then south east again for Koblenz and Mannheim going south underneath Frankfurt this time. The sun was gone now we could still see light snow on the fields here and there, the roads were dry and clear. We pulled into a service station after two hours for a leg stretch when Mali contacted us, they were struggling to make the bond work so would have to fit a new part after all. He was going to head for Dover and hoped to get on the midnight ferry, he would use his long distance lorry driving experiences to catch up, he was still a long way off, we talked about meeting up somewhere in Austria along our route, that was depending on how quickly the new part was fitted, we remained optimistic. We put his predicament from our minds for now until our next prearranged “sitrep” Settling down to a faultless drive on the German auto bahns, we were beaten up often by the dreaded “fast black ones” We kept a steady 70 mph all the way due to our two ton weight and 18yr old crate so when one after another the blacks roared past we both let out an involuntary yell “FOOOOK ME!” Getting overtaken whilst doing 90mph on the bike is bad enough but our slow speed of 70mph made us feel so much more aggressive, it happens with such a rush and roar that the expletives came thick and fast as we are frightened shitless for a second. Barry said “F**k me that f****er came up my a*se from f******g nowhere!” It’s always the same on the first days in Germany. We were laughing and shaking our heads, they were coming up so quickly from so far back that to see them coming was very difficult.
It was time for a brew so I slipped quickly from the navigators position through into the galley (back seat) but not before kneeing our crate out of Barry’s selected drive. Whoops! I must remember not to touch that gear stick thing …..I only did it twice more after that! This was our second German kettle as the first one proved to be kaput, Ha! So much for their famous efficiency “Deutch Der Spring Tic Technics” my arse!!! It took 40 minutes to brew a full kettle, we had more multi sockets on board than in a students bedsit. There were more knobs sockets and switches in our crate I couldn’t help but be impressed, no batteries required in this baby! The PG when it came was like necter and Barry did the Bisto sound, I on the other hand went European and had black coffee an lots of zukker. Oh yes this was the life!
All afternoon we droned on through Germany, the white stuff stayed with us all the way, it seemed all Germany had a dose of snow, sometimes it looked like it had been quite deep but by now of course it had all been cleared from the roads. The turn off for Kempton came at about 18.00 hrs and we stopped whilst Barry punched the Sat Nav… “FIND MY HOTEL YOU BITCH” It helps to assert ones authority over these things before they do the same back, right? Having gone left, left, right, right, right we landed at our digs for the night www.hirsch-kepmton.de as the last grains of daylight went. This was a clean well run overnight stop and one we will use on our bikes in June as a stopover on our way to ITALY in June. We are combining this adventure with a “recce” for a possible 2011 tour. Even though you APPY WANDERERS are not here you are still in our thoughts! We had dinner and a few drinks here in the busy Italian restaurant before retiring early to bed. Mali rang about midnight with a new update, he was finally on the Dover ferry and would hit France by 01.30hrs. He intends to head east to intersect the planned route then play catch up. We would speak again mid morning to work out a plan, with that T1 and T2 rolled over and returned to deep slumber. We would like to point out at this moment in time that we had SINGLE beds, we only share the days together and not the nights!

The ANTICA hotel, Kempton

Day 3…KEMPTON to MALTA in AUSTRIA….approx 281 MILES.
There had been a large snow shower during the night and the town was being swept early by two or three snow ploughs, those small boxy one seater municipal street sweeper vehicles cruised up and down keeping the roads open, whilst out in the rural parts they used those high waisted Unimog 4X4 trucks to keep country life flowing, we followed one such vehicle for a few miles until we, we slid only once before getting back on the auto route, still heading south towards Austria. Another update with Mali was forthcoming we noted his progress and decided to dawdle to let him catch up quicker, so in a while we would take in some back roads and have lunch in Berchtesgaden. This had been a holiday destination for many Wanderers since 2005, we wanted to see the progress of the hole in the town centre, the heart had been ripped out of the place when the old hotel and shops where torn down last year so we took the chance to check on progress. The mountains were in view to us now as the clock ticked past the hour of eight, snow draped along the sun kissed ridges and peaks, it looked fabulous, the temperature was down to about -5 and seemed even lower when I persisted in sticking my head out of the sun roof to take a photo or two. We passed the glass factory and the lovely fast curve where Mr Lovel had a “moment” with a big blue forty ton chrystal glass laden M.A.N truck, and threatened to turn “The Purple Pussy” into the biggest chrystal pink jigsaw this side of Christendom! I’m still giggling at the memory and no doubt he will be when he reads this, well done that was my high spot of 2009.
Our twisting road wound its way through narrow gaps in the mountains and followed the river; we came across an amazing sight on the rock face to our left, stopping the car we stepped out to stand mesmerized at huge icicles’ and great “clods” of ice as the water had seeped through the rocks before succumbing to the big freeze, I didn’t know ice could have so many colours, white silvery shards hung amongst green, turquoise and dirty brown examples, Barry stood amongst them to show scale when I took the photograph. We made use of the stop and struggled round the back of a hut in eight inch of snow for another minute of a different Bisto moment! We thought it a good idea if I stood up in the galley and photographed the scenes through the “turret” I lasted about a minute, it was sooo cold, I dropped back down with red ears. I wrapped my head in extra fur, applied goggles and popped back up again, at some point a local appeared behind us. I was pointing up high to the left and right in amazement, I bet he thought I was doing Hitler impressions, but I can say with hand on heart I really was pointing around in amazement. I stayed up as we followed the river all the way to the town. It was raining slightly as we stopped and had a light snack at the friendly kebab house. We strolled down to the precint to find the new hotel growing from the big hole, it is going to be one of those “Well being” spa hotels according to the posters we saw last year. A few outlets were already open for business, the hotel and the other outlets looked to be on course for its summer opening in 2010.
We strolled around for an hour or so when at 12.30 we rang Mali again for a progress report, he was nearly at Munich now. “Barry, he is just three inches behind now! Using the map I figured he was just over two hrs away at his speed of 70mph, his vehicle was identical to ours so we knew this to be a fair assumption, we left wet Berchtesgaden and made for the auto route which lay about forty minutes away, we said we would make contact again in two hrs. We chose our route without needing Sat Nav, these roads were familiar, we drove down the hill to the lights and left along the bypass half a mile to a small road on the right just after the 1944 guard post hut and the salt mine then up over the tops towards the Panoramic Strasse, turning left towards the town below. Snow and mist stuck to us as we slowly wound down the blind side of the mountain into Hallein driving past the large multi stores where some Appy Wonderers had us pull over in 2009 whilst they went in search for travel kettles.
We soon joined the route south again and I checked the maps and decided Mali was only about ninety minutes behind us on the auto route. The cloud was replaced by a thick grey blanket that dumped heavy snow on us, the lanes merged into one white track, we began to climb again we saw the huge snow ploughs that worked in pairs, one on the outside lane, the other a hundred metres away on the inside lane they were big orange industrious vehicles with lights flashing to front and rear, each truck had a huge plough to the front and another that run down the length of the body that slightly angled out so forming a single right angle(ish) plough, the lead truck pushed the snow into the path of the second and he pushed it away to the side. But still snow began to build up on the tarmac as we settled to 40 mph. The occasional local still went like a bat out of hell around us! I got the impression that owning a 4×4 to some folk means they are invincible. We pulled over after a while at the services and sent Mali a text of our position, we also called him to double check then we settled in to wait the return of “The Tinkerer” The snow let the sun appear, it lit up the surrounding mountains just a few minutes before dropping out of sight as dusk closed over us. We walked around a bit, looked in the shop and had a coffee when the walkie talkie crackled into life

five minutes later than his projected estimated ETA. I kid you not folks it was that close! Minutes later “The Tinkerer” pulled into the services, we waved and shouted insults in the usual juvenile way when men get together!
Mali shuffled out of the frozen interior of his crate wrapped in three pairs of undies, all his socks, big coat and blue thick wool hunters cap with ear flaps tied down his hands stiff with cold inside huge bikers gloves, the poor man could hardy swear back he was so cold! It was good to see him, “The Tinkerer” really was just a couple of inches away! We took him inside for coffee and a warm, he proceeded to tell us his story in detail regarding the garage in Dewsbury, a simple quick job had turned to “kack” For that, we thank you Mr Singh and your young apprentice! Another incident befell Mali, as he trundled through Austria when two of their finest police officers pulled him over for a check!
They were plain clothed and rode in a huge shiny black, maybe it was his Irish plates, maybe it was his unusual attire that caught their attention? Here is how the “tug” went……..
“Papers pleeze Danke, ver are you going and vot haf you got in ze back Mein Herr?
I’m g-g-oing home to B-Bulgaria and thats k-k-kids clothes, f-f-food and b-baby sss-stuff”
The second officer must have become suspicious of Malis physical state because he then said
“OK, you vill take it all out pleeze, ve haf to have a butchers hook”
One unterofficer looked in every box then went through the babies clothes, Mali couldn’t help but mutter
“You won’t find anything in there to fit you mate”
“Vot?”
They are all CHILDRENS clothes in there, the officer still did a hand sweep of all the boxes.
“Vot is all zis food for Mein Herr?”
“ I’m meeting my mates up the road and we are going to have a barbi”…
“Vot?”
“Yes, we always do it”
“Vot are ze ski’s for Mein Herr?
“They are not ski’s it’s a fold down baby cot that rocks on rails”
The policeman said something about all Englishmen being mad, they eventually sent Mali on his way. Courteous and polite they were but just not needed today! Perhaps it was fortunate that me and Barry took the back road today, or that could have been us and I might be scribing this from zer clink!! It was a humorous story but wasn’t at the time for Mali, who had now earned a new nickname, he is “Lucky Lacy”….because he isn’t!

Dusk had firmly set in as we hit the road in convoy for the first time, I folded another map page over as we pressed on south east now, we kept in contact by walkie talkie talking away like lost pals. The village of Malta near Bad Gastein was our destination, we had met the English folk of our next hotel at the recent NEC bike show and had booked two nights here. We spoke to the lady of the house and used her directions to the hotel, but we just missed the turning in the blackness, we had put Sat Nav to bed.
Malta was a small village we figured the hotel would be easy to locate and Barry had Roslyn on the end of his phone, Sods Law pops his head up again and we head of into the hills, the road turned to a thick snow track we couldn’t see lights anywhere. Barry rings again “You don’t want to be right up there dear! Come back to the village and look for the church on your left, we are right behind it” Look for the CHURCH. She says! But we are sat in blackness up strange mountains. “How the F*** am I going to see a church in this bleedin pitch black Barry?” (I was getting tired by now… can you tell?) We drove back down to the village and stared hard into the darkness. “THERE” we both said we could just see the steeple fifty yards away from the street lights. John and Roslyn were on the door waiting for us as both Pajero’s pulled up at www.hochalmspitze.com John provided drinks as Roslyn showed us to our room over the road, the restaurant is in one building whilst the bedrooms are just across the road. We had thought about having an extra day here earlier as a break for the two drivers, and maybe a peek at THE GROSSGLOCKNER just a short hop away but now the extra day meant Barry and Mali could sort out the heater problem. John and Roslyn were really nice, friendly, helpful and enthusiastic, Roslyn had only recently embraced motorcycles and loved it then took the plunge with this biker friendly venue. John was an ex garage owner and able mechanic, he knew Citrons inside out, he proved to be an excellent help to the guys, offering extra special sockets, a blowtorch and coffees….and of course a red milk crate for Mali.

Day 4 and 5 at MALTA ………”The Tinkerers” day.
After breakfast, Mali opened the bonnet and climbed in to have a good look, Barry leant over and joined him. I stood around looking at the mountains all around us, John came out to see what we were doing. Barry and Mali decided to try and put right what was not. At about 13.30 hrs they had done what they could. Proving their work though was more difficult, trying to run the engine up to a high enough temperature that would activate the fans just wouldn’t happen it was too cold. So we decided to drive down into nearby Gmund for lunch and see if anything happened. Lunch was had but still nothing happened so we went back up into the mountains.We retraced the route from last night and saw beautiful sights especially the ice formations and the frozen waterfalls, higher and higher we climbed, still nothing happened with Malis fan but at least it wasn’t loosing water, so we agreed to bash on in the morning on the auto route into Slovenia. We turned around returning down to the hotel going slowly admiring the stunning views and stopping often to take photographs. That night we sat chatting on our own in the hotel bar where we had

 

dinner and drinks and generally chewed the fat until midnight. I felt optimistic and we all felt happier now Mali was with us, at least if he had problems we could help.

DAY 6 …..AUSTRIA-SLOVENIA-CROATIA-SERBIA-BULGARIA ….790 miles
07.00hrs and we were all awake and down for breakfast, we had a special full English breakfast as advertised in the menu, here in winter the menu is not in English, they bring that one out in the Spring and I have to say it looks very good! 08.00 found us paid up and driving away from the hotel waving goodbye to John and Roslyn, it was beginning to get light as we climbed up to the stilted auto route hundreds of feet above, a string of low mist clouds formed and clutched at the nearby mountain side we climbed to the same altitude we gathered speed on the wet road heading to the Slovenia border just an hour away. Both vehicles sounded OK, ours was just that bit louder probably because our fan was working!

This was pointed out to Mali in his fridge a hundred metres behind. A short answer was his reply! I sat looking at the mountain tops through the light wispy cloud, soon we began to climb above this and the clear blue sky looked perfect, we could feel the suns heat on our faces as it burst through the windscreen yet the temp showed only -4.
Pretty soon the Austria/Slovenia border came up, we stopped showed passports and pressed on…to the toll booth to pay our passage. I think it was just 6.50 euro for the whole run through to the Croatia border 120 miles away. We got the “vinagrette” too for another 6 or 7 euro’s. I think it’s pronounced vin-yeta but I/we Brits have a way of making their words fit our own tongue! I remember for example the first time I saw Clermont Ferrand on the French road signs I pronounced it “Clement Froid” and have known it as such ever since! In some countries you have to pay to drive on their roads, this is not a huge amount (except for Switzerland) The duration of validity of the toll varies in each country, plus you get the cute little sticker that gives one a certain “cudos” when back in little old England and lets lesser mortals know that you are indeed a man of the road…or woman! Some countries just ask for a toll payment if you travel along their auto routes, France being a typical example. Don’t try and avoid paying this it WILL end up costing you dearly. I found this to my cost when I was a rebellious youth. I remember wiggling my cruiser past the automatic toll booth in Portugal thinkin “bollix to paying the toll” I thought I was a proper clever little stick until I pulled up at the manned booth 200 miles ahead, that “rebel moment” cost me over a hundred quid, I felt a right plonker I called myself some pretty awful names all day after that! So folks remember to pay up and keep your tickets, the boys in blue could ask you for them. Ok enough of that lets get back to the adventure!
A couple of hundred yards further on we saw a tunnel entrance, this was The Karawanken Tunnel It was over seven kilometres long, we saw huge fans in banks of five above us as we entered and by the end of the tunnel I had counted fifty of them. It was a marvellous piece of engineering. Work began on it in 1986 and took five years to complete, it’s partly owned by Austria. Less than a month after its opening, in late June 1991, the Slovene terminus of the tunnel and its border post were briefly seized by an armoured detachment of the Yugoslav Peoples Army during the Ten-Day War. The site witnessed brief but intense fighting, which included the ferrying of reinforcements to the Yugoslav troops by helicopter and culminated in an ineffectual airstrike by the Yugoslav air force. The border checkpoint building was heavily damaged in the crossfire.
A twisting auto route of about 120 miles length in sunny conditions followed a long mountain range and brought us to the Slovenia/Croatia border. We were briefly looked at and waved through, then again through a second barrier, we had to drive a hundred yards forward to the Croatian checkpoint where two officers asked us the usual question, “Hello, what have you got in the back?” The two Croatian officials asked, “A couple of toilets, would you like a look?” I smiled. They both just looked at me and our passports eventually saying “Your English aren’t you, why are you going to Bulgaria? After Barry’s reply They nodded their heads revealing a slight smile before nodding us towards Croatia, I guess it pays to try and smile and be perhaps a little humorous, I think we were in danger of going over the top at times though with our toilet explanations. I looked back and saw Mali had been pulled over by the two female Slovenian guards at the first barrier, we pulled over and waited, he was fifty yards away so it was difficult to hear or see what was going off. He drove up slowly shaking his head, he forgot get a vinagrette at the last toll booth so Mali was fined over a hundred pounds!

An English Spiv!
Zagreb was to our left as we pushed on eastward it was cold and the land flattened out, it began to look a bit bleak now, the mountains lay behind us as a low gray damp cloth took over the beautiful blue stuff, the land really opened up but to be honest we couldn’t see much through the damp conditions which cut visibility to about a mile, we settled down to a fairly drab and boring 200 mile trip, it was so drab I took photos of road signs, we drove through huge open rural expanses punctuated often by clumps of small black spindly bushes, and long lines of uniformed black, grey lifeless looking tall trees that ran for miles along the road side. Not many other vehicles shared our road.
Dozens of Buzzards perched along the road on fence posts, normally I don’t see these as I’m in the front seat on the bike, I pointed some out to Barry, we both agreed for such a good looking bird they have been blessed with a poor name. Here and there stark against the bleak backdrop strutted Egrets, they are miniature stalks and are white in colour.
I tried but could see not much of anything else. I was paying attention to the motels that were at the service stations, I was not impressed by what I saw so far, they were in a very poor condition, one had several windows missing, we discussed the state of the motels and felt more and more uncomfortable at the thought of staying in one of them for the night, we remembered the motels near the Hungarian/Romanian border they too had windows missing! Maybe it was like this because we were only a few miles from the Croatia/Bosnia border the likes of BanJa Luca and Prijedor, victims of ethnic wholesale murders 15 years ago just a few miles away to the south? Or because the road simply wasn’t used much and there wasn’t need for accommodation? We thought maybe we would find a hotel in one of the towns? I saw one ahead called SLavonski Brod but looking back now I realised it was the only town! Except for the capitol Zagreb we’d passed four hours earlier. The more we thought about it the more we didn’t feel like leaving the vehicles overnight so talked about maybe carrying on all the way to Bulgaria. I figured along with Sat Nav that we could be at our Bulgarian hotel before midnight, it was quite do-able, at the next stop a decision was reached and we would go all the way. The Croatia/Serbia border came next, there were lots of guards and officials here as we got a financial kicking, Barry was unable to secure insurance cover for Serbia .Nobody was offering cover back home in England so we had to buy it at here the border, the guards kept the documents as both Barry and Mali went to the insurance broker in the main building, I cleaning the windows and lights of the vehicles as the boys returned, the 280 mile run through Serbia had cost each vehicle £110 in insurance! “Screwed” was the only printable word that came to mind, but when they have guns AND our documents there was very little we could do, at least everybody had to pay and not just us. We drove up to the next guard post unsmiling as they double checked the documents before sending us on our way, finally we were in ugly Serbia, this too looked bleak flat and empty, the other route from the north through Romania back in 2007 seemed a more attractive route at this moment in time. I never thought I would say that as that road was unfinished and very punishing on both bikes and bodies!
Two hours later we arrived in Belgrade at rush hour, the auto route went through the middle, we couldn’t go around, there was no ring road, it was dark now as we settled in with the traffic as it shunted its way through the city and out the other side, I saw on the nearby stadium that Elton John was due to appear, “I bet he’s not bloody driving here!” I joked to Barry, the city held us up for about half an hour, the oldest rickety trucks and buses vied with us for space everyone in front swapped lanes back and forth, it was a nightmare at times. We eventually cleared the city and idiot city drivers to pulled over again on the other side to re group and have a bite to eat and look at the maps trying to judge our progress, so far we were doing quite well, after the break we felt OK about going on, at least we were clear of the city now and could get back up to 70 mph without fear of getting our nose or arse crunched. We had two hours to go before we left the auto route at Nis, then we would turn east to Bulgaria….sanctuary!
The snow had been falling for the past hour when we hooked east towards the Bulgarian border on a minor road, the snow was slowing our progress as we were forced to sit behind local traffic, the road twisted and turned and offered few passing places. at least that’s what we thought, try telling that to the truckers! One sat behind Mali and was making to overtake at any moment now. Sat Nav was still doing OK at this point until she went all dark on us then returned to say we were driving through rocks with a river and main road about a mile away to our left? I looked at the map with the torch, on Sat Nav we began to cross the river and joined the highlighted road again, it seems we had been on an adjacent road through the rocksI I counted down the miles to Pirot then Dimitrovgrad. The border was just a few miles ahead now as the time approached 22.00 hrs. We were suddenly overtaken by that forty ton truck I thought the lights close behind belonged to Mali at first, but in the driving snow it was hard to see far, he bashed on past us through the slush and snow, the conditions made no difference to the truckers I assumed they knew these roads well or they were taking some awful risks, this happened to us a few times and we just had to grin and take it. The border into Bulgaria was very welcome, we knew we were not too far away now, Barry and Mali crabbed sidewards in 4 wheel drive up the snowy incline to the fuel station and filled with a final tank of fuel before making our way to the Sofia. Mali slipped into his Bulgarian mode and found out a big truck had overturned ahead, no surprise there then! The Sofia ringroad lay ahead a few miles as did a rude reminder to the conditions of the local roads over here. A fast moving truck in front suddenly braked and swerved fifty yards in front of us, we slowed to see huge shell like craters that potted the road in front. “FOOK ME! ”-CRUNCH- BANG- THUMP! “Mali look out for holes mate!” I shouted on the radio. Mali said later all he could hear was our laughing as we bashed into the holes, it was a good job Barry put a bank of spotlights on the roof, he flicked them on infrequently to light up the darkness, sometimes when the snow was really heavy the lights couldn’t penetrate and it looked just like a huge net curtain being wafted badly on the windshield, lucky for it it abated when we hit the Somme like ring road and the lights showed the shell holes, Barry had time to wiggle the steering enough to hit just the smaller holes, I was glad we were not on our bikes tonight! I followed our progress on the ring road by noting our heading with the on board compass, the road had deteriorated badly and was going around the city like a old threepenny bit. We turned onto a south east heading, the snow stopped and we could see the odd aircraft lights coming in low which meant the airport was in the right place and we were nearly at our turn that would take us away from the city and onto our last leg towards Lovech just about an hour away now. The sat nav had us on track but it didn’t let us know exactly where we were, it just said we were on the right road, using the map is defiantly helpful. The snow began to fall hard again. Barry found by trial and error the right combination of lights to use in the driving snow, we soon came across that truck on its side in the ditch, we had no thoughts about it, it was just noted, I think we were getting that tired, not far to go now. Mali took the lead now and found our turn off to Lovech, he struggled to see familiar waypoints in these conditions..as did the Sat Nav now, some animal suddenly jumped out and ran in front of him, it looked like a small dear but couldn’t be sure as it leaped back into the tree line. We still met trucks making haste they were really cutting the corners In front of us, it was 02.00hrs now as we came into Lovech and the hotel at last. Mali did the quick introduction, we took our keys and went to our separate rooms whilst Mali drove home the final mile. I stood looking out of the window with just my socks on and I was swaying from side to side, I couldn’t stand still, we had been on the road for nearly 800 miles in 18 hours! I remember the last time we came here the last bit took us about 15 hrs, we had come in from the north via Romania in the pitch black, that was a tough ride too. It seemed to take me ages to unwind, I lay there with the Bulgarian version of MTV on and waited for sleep to take me.

Avan and Barry

The next morning we met up in the bar for breakfast, cheese, jams and some kind of fritters with coffee, not the usual breakfast but nice all the same. Barry had presented the Hotelier Avan with a picture of my hero, we spoke in different tongues briefly he was so happy with the gift, Avan’s wife came over she was a lovely dark haired lady, we got a bit mixed up and called her Joan throughout our stay when in fact her name was Anelya! Their son Iyyav spoke good English and joined us too and we are now pals on FACEBOOK.

DAY 7 -8-9……In Lovech.
After breakfast we walked to the bank to get some local cash, the first was struggling because the PC had crashed, so we went to another, the security guard looked on as two guys in furryats drew money and said hello to everyone in the bank, they are still somewhat reserved and we took some getting used to! Later we drove up to Mali’s in the nearby hills, Janice had just got the bacon on as we arrived, it was nice to see her again, their home is just about complete now and looks great. It is so well insulated I was too warm and wanted to go back outside!
Once Oleg arrived we took a tour of the hill side and the properties including the site of the forthcoming Wanderers clubhouse, we all piled into one of the Pajero’s and drove up and down the hill, I got up through the turret again and took photos it was all so

original the only tracks seen were ours, Barry thought it fun to drive through snow laden thin branches and cover me in snow, in return I flashed the camera in his face as he was driving along! Mali pointed out properties for sale here and there but they were under about so much snow it was hard to make out much, and a lot of imagination was required. it was the same when we came up to Barry’s place, which had been torn down ready for the rebuild, so this was very hard to visualize the progress. Except of course the old stone “Kazzi” For some reason this was still intact in one corner of the plot, maybe they have not heard of portaloos over here yet? Oleg kept laughing saying “Barry no house” When we first met earlier in the day he introduced himself by saying “Hello Barry…you old git” Ha ha ha what a good guy he is! Mali kept pointing at the thick snow saying what was going to be here and what they would build in that corner, I thought it amusing to see all three of them nodding as Mali pointed to the snow, it really it didn’t make any sense to me at all!
The afternoon was spent slowly because we were still pretty worn out, I think more than we thought if truth be known, later a quiet meal was had that evening with Mali and Janice.
The next morning Barry went early with Mali and an interpreter to the government building to get the Pajero registered for Bulgaria, I spent the morning mooching around town, this was my third visit here so it was a familiar stroll taking pictures in the deep snow, In the -10 conditions folk were hunched up in thick clothes and sorting out their morning chores I helped one guy who slipped onto his ass, he was most surprised when I started in English, he looked a bit confused then shouted something in Bulgarian at the slippy ground and struggled on his way. Come lunchtime Barry was done and we all went for a ride to the village of Drenov where Mali and Janice first lived, It lay on the hills about 7 miles away, the route was familiar to us from that ride in the tiny yellow taxis in and out of those bloody bomb holes! These days the road to Drenov had improved greatly, meeting Hatchko and all the family again was really good, we were shown great hospitality as usual and offered the dreaded Rakia, Barry declined…I took his! We sampled their home made wine too, we had a gathering to attend in the evening so we made our excuses and managed to extricate ourselves from the house waving goodbye to Baba Stasia the lovely old lady of the house. Mali and Janice stayed a while longer.

Barry and I left them and went for a drive onto the airfield, he let me have a go with the old crate and I did some doughnuts but it was a long wheel base thing so slid forward more than spun round, it was fun. It was so cold, beautiful and white it was very quiet too on the edge of the hillside. Normally you can see the faraway Balkan mountains but today it was so white it all blurred at a few miles distance.
A couple of hours later found us at dinner, it was in a sunken tavern and we took over most of it, most of the guys tonight worked for Mali and would be working on Barry’s house this Spring, so it was a chance for Barry and the lads to get to know each other more. Meanwhile I met the ladies, to my right sat Natasha she was a Russian and wife of Valu the silver Fox, he was adorned in new Bulgarian army shirt and pants, he has promised to get me one later this year! Natasha showed me pictures of her Dad, he was a tank driver in the 1960’s in the good old USSR. She spoke little English and I spoke even less Russian but with the drinks and lots of smiles it didn’t really matter. To my left sat lovely Venita who was the wife of funny guy Oleg, she took a shine to my camera and proceeded to take dozens of pictures all evening, we cannot converse much either but we send “smilie” icons to each other on SKYPE and I send her the photos she took! When we left to walk back to the hotel it was so damn cold it hurt, I had no hat on so my head and ears were instantly frozen, I have to say I was completely sober by the time we got back, got back to join Avan at the bar of the hotel, Avan talked a lot and we nodded a lot. Iyyov came in to join us from the bowling alley upstairs, I was telling him about Natasha’s dad in the Russian army, Iyoyov said his dad was in a rocket regiment as a Captain in his youth. “Wow, has he any photos?” I asked Avan shook his head and shook his finger, “Niet Russhi” Iyoyov said his dad hated that time, they all did, I tried to make light of it, but poor Avan got quite sad so we changed the subject, I was aching to ask more but didn’t.
The next morning we took our time rising, we had a stroll around town with Mali and Janice called at the supermarket and bought supplies, in the afternoon we returned to Drenov, we had to meet young Nadka, Barry had given a birthday gift but she wasn’t around the previous day, Valu the silver Fox ushered us into his house along with Natasha, Nadka a puppy dog and several cats, it was a homely little place. Out came the Rakia, Barry again declined ..good man more for me then! Janice had a nip, as did Mali, but I went toe to toe with Valu, I was being hospitable (and stupid ) Natasha and Naka brought out plates of food warm nut parkin cake, lumps of brown chocolate that tasted like marshmallows then a plate of white chocolate lumps that tasted familiar too, orange and lemonade for Barry…and yet more Rakia for me. At some point Valu thrust a big bottle of the home brewed moonshine in my hands plus two huge plastic containers of lovely dry red wine. It was a brilliant afternoon, though it later I admit was a bit hazy, I do remember going for a swim in the hotel where Barry joined me and the five teenagers left us to it after I urged the young lass to put MTV on the telly as we splashed around. I’m sure we had dinner but for the life of me I can’t remember where.
The next day we said goodbye to Avan and Anelya, Drenov village with Barry n Janice

I called out from my seat I’ll be back” in Russian! All 6 foot something of Avan came up to me wagging his finger at me again only this time he was laughing. Anelya gave us both a gift, a decorated clay oven pot which now sits on the kitchen window ledge. Barry drove the Pajero to the airport on a faultless drive, except for the few miles when we couldn’t see bugger all because the wipers and water jets had frozen up! It was getting colder. (a week after our trip Janice told us it had dropped to -30) We drove up close behind a yellow bus to get some slush thrown on the screen. At Sofia airport Barry handed the keys to Mali and Janice and we hugged goodbye, we had a wonderful time, an adventure followed by some great traditional hospitality. I keep saying I won’t come here again because it’s too far and the roads are awful, yet here I was again! Barry and Tina would return to check on the progress of their house in Spring What’s the chance that we and the bikes might be back in a year or two to share a glass or two of Rakia with old friends like Valu and Hatchko do you suppose?

Dosvedanya Comrade.
Or…….. Tilateronthen!