It was a hot day when we left Berlin and this beautiful weather made me feel very confident about my Hyosung. Everything was clean and the engine was running perfectly. I pushed my GT650 out through the main door and I immediately saw Martin in full leather next to the BMW R1100GS.
“Why are you wearing a full leather suit?” Boy, he’s going to regret this choice.
“It matches the color of my red BMW. And why are you wearing an open face helmet?” He thought I was going to regret my choice.
“Not only it matches the color of my blue Hyosung but it’s the perfect helmet for this heat”
“Ok, and what if it rains?”
“It’s the middle of August, Martin. If it rains it’ll be a refreshing summer rain of thirty minutes or so.” But I still had my rain gear with me.
So easy, almost boring
On the German autobahn, I pushed it to almost 160 km/h but without wind protection, it wasn’t a happy cruising speed. So I kept it to an average of 140 km/h. In the “no speed limit” parts, the German highway is smooth and straight like a billiard table. It’s the perfect top speed track but after a while, it can also get incredibly boring. Anyway, we’re not here to rush. We didn’t find any traffic, the air was just perfect, and the sky was of such an intense blue that I began to wonder if it would be too nice, almost boring. Because I could simply don’t understand what could possibly go wrong this time.
Sure, most of my trips are characterized by some unusual event. From the common accident or breakdown to the uncommon ones like a flood, erupting volcano, or hail. I know the last one doesn’t sound spectacular but it happened in the middle of the desert.
As we were getting closer to the border, I realized that skipping the last gas station was a big mistake. The first light which indicates 1/2 tank level was on for a while and the reserve light had just turned on. But I haven’t seen any service area for 40 km and there was no sign that something was about to come. That was stupid, and at the next stop we both realized that no one would build a gas station close to Poland from the German side. Because anyone would drive a few miles more to fill the tank in Poland where the gas is a lot cheaper. On the other side, there should be one right over the border. After riding for miles with all of the Hyosung’s warning lights on, the bike started to show me her disappointment, coughing for attention. “Please, don’t die now…” I thought.
We crossed the sharp division separating the German billiard table and the Polish highway. Suddenly I had the sensation of riding a Harley-Davidson on a staircase.
What will fall apart first, me or the bike?
I have to admit that the suspensions of the Hyosung weren’t helping the situation. Martin wasn’t having the same problem on the BMW. But this wasn’t the biggest issue because I still was desperate for gas. And soon, when I was thinking about how comfortable were my boots for pushing the bike, and the engine clearly in the final throes – I found a gas station, and let it roll to the pump with my engine off.
While I was about to fill the tank I found out something interesting that I didn’t remember when we bought it. There were little spots of rust inside the tank. Nothing really bad, I thought.
After 100 km of this bone shaking road, I had to pull over to stop the torture. I lied on the ground to bring my spine in place again. There were a lot of trucks in front of a wooden grill house so we decided to stop for a coffee and see if we could get some information about the road.
An old man told us that it’ll be another 30 km of that kind of road and after that, it will be fine. That connection wasn’t very popular, so the government decided to leave it as it was.
“I should mark each bone in my body with a number,” I said
“Why?” asked Martin
“Just in case I would lose one on the way”
“I don’t know what are you talking about” he felt relaxed “wait! Are you saying that the Hyosung is uncomfortable?”
“No” I would never admit that in front of him.
We got back on our bikes and after the longest 30 kilometers of my life, we got to Wroclaw.
Wroclaw is a nice little city with a small historical center. Later, we head out to enjoy a good dinner and some fresh air. But before that, we had to find a safe place to store our motorcycles. We found a parking lot a couple of blocks from our hotel but Martin was still looking around suspicious. Germans make a lot of jokes about the polish stealing their cars and motorcycles, so I was trying whatever I could to keep Martin off of these thoughts.
“Martin, relax the bikes are safe someone will be here the whole night”
“Alright, lock them together with the chain and it’ll be fine”
“Well, I got to tell you something…”
“I forgot the chain”
“I knew it…”
I tried to reassure Martin by showing him two other motorcycles on the parking lot. A Suzuki V-Strom and a Triumph Tiger, both late models. “If I was a thief, I would steal those two before ours, ok?” I had a point. He looked at me for a long second then he took the jacket and helmet under his arm “The first round is on you tonight”.
The Sparta Wroclaw
Walking through downtown, we saw a lot of posters of motorcycle racing and we discovered that in Poland people are crazy for Speedway races and Wroclaw seemed to have the strongest team, the “Sparta Wroclaw”.
For those of you who are not familiar with speedway races, I’ll give my best to explain it. It consists of a race on an oval dirt track riding anti-clockwise for four laps. At the start, there is a starting line like in Motocross but with just four motorcycles with their respective riders. Before marking this sport as boring let me tell you something about the bikes.
They weigh 77 kg, have engines up to 500cc powered by pure methanol and they have no brakes. And it doesn’t finish here. No titanium or uncoated ceramic is allowed, no telemetry except lap timing and no electronic control of any sort. And did I say that no brakes are allowed? No brakes of any sort.
By doing this, they keep the costs low and the show exciting which is great and incredibly smart.
The riders have a throttle and a clutch, that’s it. They slow down before the corner by going sideways starting a powerslide they keep for the whole turn.
It’s pure, old-fashioned racing and in Poland, it’s the sport with the highest attendance. This passion has its roots back in 1930 and it evolved till the Polish National Team won the World Championship seven times.
Sadly, we missed the race and I had to buy the drinks.
Robert Pirsig and his claustrophobic feelings
It was 9 am and it was already hot. As we left the hotel in our leather jackets we were melting. It was this typical continental heat in the eastern Europe. Freezing winter and hot summer. We couldn’t wait to leave the city just to gain some speed to have the relief of the air. I was enjoying my open helmet a lot, it made me feel like a true old fashioned motorcycle adventurer. I remembered Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” when he was speaking about helmets. He used to wear an open face helmet like everyone else back then but he also said that he didn’t like to use the visor because he felt claustrophobic. I grew up with full face helmets also because I’m more a racer than a cruiser, but now I started to enjoy it. It felt so real.
This time the highway was smooth and the wind had the perfect temperature to keep your body relaxed. And I also liked my Hyosung, it makes me feel young again. I don’t need a big adventure bike to make a simple road trip. A simple bike like this is all I need to have that feeling. Certain things are not supposed to be comfortable. You don’t watch a Rolling Stones concert while sitting on a sofa.
With such an easy pace we reached Krakow where we stopped for the night. We arrived in the late afternoon and even though it wasn’t “love at first sight”, I found myself liking Krakow more every minute I spent there. But first I had to check-in…
We booked a room in 1901
If Dracula would ever run a hotel, it would be this. I went to the reception and after I paid the room, the girl told me “Sir, I’ll show you your apartment. Follow me”. We went outside on the street and stopped by the first door of an old unrefurbished building from 1900, then she showed me a piece of paper with a code on it. She typed the code and we were in. We went upstairs to the 2nd floor where we found a scratched metal door.
She showed me another piece of paper with a code on it. She typed it and we were in. “Follow me”, she said, and this time, it started to feel creepy. We were before the door of what I thought it should be our apartment. She showed me another piece of paper with another code. She typed it, and we were in. It was pitch black, I heard the sound of a switch but nothing happened. “Shit, light is broken”, she said in the darkness. And then she said something that got me thinking: “do you have a phone? With light?”, ok, there are probably four guys in the darkness of this room, they just want my phone and some cash. “Sure”, I said. So I took my phone and turned the light on. She was standing in the between two doors surrounded by darkness with a piece of paper in her hand. With a code on it. My creepy horror movie feelings were complete. “Seriously? Another code?”. Then she typed it in, opened the door and showed me our apartment, which it was in 1901.
There was a big room and all the furniture was from a century ago like the stove next to my bed. I liked it, I had an apartment like that in Berlin in early 2000.
I was charm by Krakow. We went out that evening and to discover the city we decided to stay away from the center. It reminded me Berlin in the 90ies with its old, unrefurbished buildings of early 1900. Of course, Berlin was way more damaged by the war than Krakow. It was almost destroyed and old unrefurbished buildings are everywhere in eastern Europe but it’s not just this. What they share is this sparkle of light in the darkness like a flower coming out of a crack in a concrete wall. And like Berlin for me, it wasn’t “love at first sight” but rather a slow discovery step by step.
We were sitting outside a bar in the district of Kazimierz drinking beer arguing who made the best decision.
“I’m really happy with the BMW, it’s the perfect machine to ride long distances,” said Martin.
“It’s obviously the best bike but it costs four times as much as the Hyosung. And the point is we’re not crossing a rainforest, a desert or any hostile place”
“Well, this means you just have more comfort on the BMW”
“But it weighs more than an aircraft carrier”. At this point, we could go on and on without coming to a conclusion, so we decided to order more beer.
The day after I had a delicious breakfast at a nice cafe next to the market place and I just could confirm the beauty of the city. People were nice, well dressed and friendly.
I left Krakow with a good feeling and wanting to go back. But we are on a journey and a journey is made of discoveries, love, and goodbyes.
The end of humanity
After 70 km we stopped in a small town and it was in one of the most haunted places I’ve ever been. We stopped the bikes and turned off our engines but we didn’t speak for a long moment. We were standing at the front gate of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp. It is also the largest mass murder site in human history where over one million people were killed here.
We walked for a while next to the railroad until we found a wooden train wagon used to deport the prisoners. We stopped for a while trying to see the end of the camp from there but it was insanely vast.
Primo Levi was a Jewish Italian chemist who was deported in 1944 and managed to survive there until the liberation. He wrote a memoir about the time in Auschwitz in “If This is a Man”. It’s in places like these that the line between good and evil becomes so evident. But Levi warned us about something rather surprising, he told us that: “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
The Sky was getting suspiciously darker
I looked back at the gate for one last time. The morning blue sky disappeared and the wind was growing stronger like this place wanted to remind us where we’ve been. Black clouds covered the entire camp and were now expanding outside the walls. The wind was bending trees and carrying a lot of dust becoming strangely alive. It really looked like rain and we should have left that place as soon as possible.