Friday, May 21, 2010
Before we began this trip we needed to find a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. I searched every available search engine on the internet for flights from Toronto (YYZ) to Frankfurt (FRA). I found Transat Air the least expensive at $ 958.-/person but then I waited too long to book it and the price turned into $ 1080 - then into $ 1198.-/person. This is way too expensive for a round trip ticket. I found that Air India flies out of Newark, NJ (EWK) for a price of $ 640.-/person and we booked that. Naturally we had to drive to NJ but since my children live there we combined it with a visit.
When travelling, every aspect needs to be planned and costs need to be compared. Once we arrived in Frankfurt we had to get to Heidelberg. I learned from my last trips that a Lufthansa shuttle bus departs every hour between Frankfurt Airport and a Heidelberg Hotel and I booked 2 seats on that shuttle via the internet. The cost for a one way ticket to Heidelberg came to Euro 22.-/person. From the Hotel stop in Heidelberg we took a taxi to Stefan Knopf (www.knopftours.com) where our bikes are stored. Cost for the Taxi is Euro 12.-. While all this seems complicated it is in fact very easy and beats taking the trains, buses, or costly pick-ups by a limo-service. The next best thing would have been to ask Stefan to pick us up at the airport but Stefan is very busy now that the motorcycle season has started and I did not want to burden him with our arrival. Our travelling, flight, bus, taxi went without incident and was completed as planned. We had some worries that we could be stranded because of the volcano eruption over Iceland, but none of that happened to us. We arrived in Heidelberg without complications.
We told Stefan via an email that we would be arriving on May 13th and he had our bikes ready for us. The needed paper work was done by Stefan as well. Our bikes needed Insurance for the 2 months that we will be riding in Europe and ADAC, a German Insurance company similar to AAA in the U.S., issues short term Insurance for foreigners and for motorcycles as well. Stefan handles all the paper work and the charge for a 2 months Insurance was Euro $ 250 per bike. In addition, we paid Stefan Euro 300 per bike annually to store the bikes. Add to that a yearly Insurance for road side assistance, also written by ADAC for Euro 115 plus 2 nights at Stefan’s Bed and Breakfast of Euro 60 per night and the trip starts off with a major expense. I will need a new front tire soon but this expense will come later. Riding a motorcycle in Europe is not an inexpensive hobby.
While we stayed at Stefan’s B&B we met Ken and Rita O’Malley who are going to visit Northern Italy this year. Ken stores his BMW at Stefan’s, too. Over dinner the first night we exchanged some info and I like the way Ken travels. Ken books a Hostel via Hostelworld and stays in one location for a few days. From that location he takes day trips on his bike and Ken plans very well and knows what he wants to see while in Northern Italy. Yes, he is flexible but he knows his route, knows what makes his trips worthwhile. For meals, Ken and Rita buy food at the local food markets and they cook in a micro wave or in the hostel kitchen. It is like living at home in a foreign country. Rita is a good cook and she can whip something up from whatever she finds in a supermarket. She showed me how they manage the food purchases on our 2nd day at Stefan’s. I learned a lot just watching and listening to her.
In return I told them how to enter Switzerland without buying the expensive Vignette, the Toll Sticker one must buy in order to travel thru Switzerland. Do not enter Switzerland on a highway. Take the local, secondary roads when entering Switzerland. Do not travel on the Swiss Highway system. If you do not use the highway, then you do not need the vignette. Naturally, the Euro is not accepted in Switzerland and you should have local currency, the Swiss Franc. Information of the most basic sometimes adds to a well planned trip.
Staying at Stefan’s B&B one runs into other bikers. While I know Ken and Rita and have been at their house in Louisiana and I know they know their stuff. Yet, each time I meet them anew I learn something from them. I also met a new guy from Michigan. This guy, Fred, just retired from GM after 37 years of toil. Fred it new to the EU and he bought a Honda, well equipped on E-Bay, just for the trip thru the Alps. Yes Fred was a newbie for Europe but he too, told me new things. He had an I Pod and stored all his info on this device. He received internet and weather reports on this gizmo and Fred even bought 100 Mega bytes of Phone calls for emergency calls to the States, just in case. I use “Medjet Assist Plus” for emergency situations. I pay Medjet but hope I will never use them. I do not have a telephone while travelling in Europe. I find the use of a phone and the European numbering system too complicated. When I need to make a phone call I use Skype on my portable mini-computer. I use a HP laptop computer, small and compact, made for travelling. I need a Wi-Fi connection however, and there are not too many hot spots in the Balkans, the place we have targeted for our trip this year. Travelling is always an experience and each time I travel I learn new things, new ways to travel. Nobody has the right way and each time we travel we adapt to the new country, the new language, and the new surroundings.
I prepare, I compare notes with other travelers, I am always looking and trying new ways to see the world. Some things are expensive but others, when planned right, are not. No matter the expense, motorcycle riding is my hobby and I use all my abilities to plan well, eat and sleep well. I want to ride well, without drama and arrive and be safe. I prepare the best I can.