Friday, May 22nd
Once we had the motorcycles, all of Europe opened up to us and it was unbelievably exciting but also a bit daunting. Our first mission from the airport was to make it back to the Arleane's hotel in downtown Brussels. We downloaded the City Maps 2 Go app which provided our GPS location (blue dot) as well as the location of the hotel (red dot) but did not provide the directions to get there. Therefore our method of navigating consisted of us following the blue dot on our phone screens and hoping certain roads/highways would take us to the red dot. After weaving through a couple cobblestoned alleys and breaking quite a few traffic laws, we made it to the hotel. It was our first experience navigating through Europe, it was difficult, slightly scary and an absolute blast. We wanted more. Instead of staying another night in Brussels, we made a gametime decision to move on into the Netherlands.
We road from Brussels to Breda, a city just north of the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. After accidently riding through a couple horse trails, and maybe even some hiking trails (I took a wrong turn and road through the forest a little ways), we found a great campsite in the woods.
We had an unbelievably comfortable night in our first camping experience of Europe. We were able to test out our bug nets and they worked great at preventing the gigantic insects we could not identify from bugging us (all pun intended) during the night.
Saturday, May 23rd
We woke up to a group of about 25 Dutch runners taking advantage of the cool morning. We hadn't realized how popular of a spot it was. We packed up, rather slowly because we were still trying to get the hang of how to fit everything into our Givi cases while maintaining some sort of organization.
We left the campsite and made it into Breda, where we found an Aldi shopping mart.
For those who have never been in an Aldi (I never had), it's a cheap, albeit delicious shopping center. We got cheese, bread, sausage and a single beer. Each beer was a pint and only 0.39 euro. Our favorite beer in college was Gennessee due to it's low cost (approximately 0.50 dollars/ 12 oz can). However this Dutch Pilsner seemed to be giving Genessee a run for its money. Therefore, after breakfast we all decided to go back and get a couple more 0.39 euro beers.
We road from Breda to Amsterdam and found Gaasper Camping Ground on the outskirts of Amsterdam. We were greeted by a friendly teller who gave us a detailed rundown on how the campsite worked and how to get into the city. We set up camp, had a couple of our 0.39 euro Dutch Pilsners and took the Metro to downtown Amsterdam.
The night consisted of a few more beers and a few questionable decisions, the main one being the decision to walk through the red light district at 4 am. We arrived back to the campsite at 5 and gratefully crawled into the tent.
Sunday, May 24th
We woke up around 10 am to a stuffy tent and a bit of a hangover. We decided we were going to rejet our carburetors for lower elevation. They were jetted for Boulder elevation and were therefore running fairly lean now that we were at sea level. The whole operation took us about 4 hours, slightly longer than expected but it was the first time any of us had done it.Once our bikes were running properly and we were confident in our work, we headed back into Amsterdam for dinner and some sight seeing.
We ate a dinner of fruit, bread, cheese and meat pies on the side of a canal and waved at numerous families enjoying dinner on their boats while travelling the canals. We visited the Anne Frank house, tried some salty black licorice, which was not nearly as delicous as I thought it'd be (I had to spit a couple pieces out, which is pretty rare when it comes to me and candy), and walked around the city. We returned to the campsite and got an early nights sleep to try and make up for the late night before.
Monday, May 25th
We woke up at 6 in order to get to the airport so that we could pick up Sarah, Grahams Australian girlfriend of 2 years who will be traveling with us for the next 5 weeks. It was awesome to pick her up and even greater to see Graham so excited about it. However it definitely made me miss my girlfriend back home, Rebecca, quite a bit more and I could tell James was feeling the same way about his girlfriend Kelly. After a quick repacking of Graham's bike, Sarah brought an impressively small amount of gear, we got back on the road and headed to Frankfurt.
Our first experience with the autobahn consisted of surprise and awe. I had imagined autobahns to be terrifying to drive on; fast cars giving no regard to other drivers. Half of that was true. Some cars do travel 150+mph but everyone is aware of the other cars/motorcycles/trucks on the road. I felt safer on the autobahns with cars zooming past going twice my speed than I did on the Interstates in the US.
After eating a quick Durum (kebab meat wrapped in a tortilla with some vegetables) in Frankfurt, we headed south of the city to find a campsite. We were told by a German motorcyclist that the best way to camp in Germany was to knock on farmers doors and ask to sleep in their yard. We knocked on 3 different doors and tried to communicate with sign language and limited German if we could camp in their yard. We had no luck. However that didn't matter because we came across a campground that allowed us to sleep in their field for free.
With the addition of a fourth traveler, the tent space was a little tight. James and I got creative and set up a little shelter between our motorcycles. Luckily it didn't rain.
Tuesday, May 26th
Waking up at 6 in the morning the previous day was an eye opener to the benefits of getting an earlyish start. We decided to set our alarms for 7 am every morning. Despite a spider bite on my lip and James's normal puffy eyes, the packing of the bikes only took us 30 minutes (opposed to the normal 1-2 hours). It felt like we were starting to get the hang of camping with our motorcycles. We ate a breakfast of yogurt, bread, tomatoes, salami and juice from the nearest Aldi and got on the road.
While riding, I was listening to Johnny Clegg and for the first time the whole idea of the trip waved over me. We've been running around for the last month getting everything organized for the trip and trying to stay organized on the trip that it felt like I hadn't had any time to breathe and relax. But on the autobahn, between Frankfurt and Stuttgart with cars traveling 150mph, I found a moment to reflect and really realize what we're undertaking. We'll be on the road for 7 months, not sleeping in the same place for more than 2 or 3 nights, experiencing something new every day and immersing ourselves in situations I can't imagine until they happen. It washed over me all at once and I got unbelievably excited.
We found a great campsite in the middle of Stuttgart that was a little out of our price range (10 euro per person) but worked great with our plans for the evening. My cousin, Nick, who is currently living in Stuttgart, offered to pick us up and take us out to dinner. We went to Och's N Willis and had a meal that I will most likely salivate over for the rest of the trip. I got the Och's N Willis (a giant fried pork leg with a dumpling and cabbage salad) that nearly burst my stomach.
After dinner we visited a pub for beers and toured the city. The night was great. It scared me that after only a week of travel through Europe, my body craved a meal of that caliber. What will happen after 3 weeks of traveling through Kazakhstan and Kyrgzystan?
Wednesday, May 27th
I'd been trying my best to limit my food intake in order to shrink my stomach and get used to being content with less in preparation for our travels through the middle east. The pound of pork meat, pound of dumpling and pound of cabbage salad was equivalent to a Thanksgiving dinner and my stomach stretched, a lot. I woke up starving.
Despite the hunger, we took the time to shower, not knowing when our next would be (turns out this was a good idea, it's June 1st and we still haven't showered) and got on the road. Riding through southern Germany was relaxing, we took some back roads and enjoyed the abundant green farmland and rolling hills. We pulled over to put on jackets and within a couple seconds Sarah had created a mini flower bouquet.
That night we made a guess and rode off a main road into a village. From the village we found a small trail road that eventually had an off shoot to a logging road. We followed the logging road, thankful for our dual sport KLRs and found a great camping spot on the side of the road. It was our first, of hopefully many, spontaneous, beautiful camp grounds.