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Bike Profile - Posted 15th February 2012

BMW K75RT Travels, Part 4
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Steve MacGregor took his recently rebuilt 750 triple on a tour of Eastern Europe. After Poland came Prague and Vienna...

I set off at about nine and the mountain roads were damp and slippery. I was happy to join the main motorway at Turnov for the ride south to Prague. I was even happier when the rain stopped and I completed the ride in dry though overcast weather. I arrived at the outskirts of Prague at about 2pm. I was aware that the city has a ring road similar to the M25, and that my camp site was on the far side. I did my best to follow the ring road, but I quickly got comprehensively lost. The ring road was full of traffic lights and mysterious junctions which didn't appear on my map and the approach to signposting was more Heath Robinson than Highway Code.

After exploring what seemed like most of suburban Prague, I finally stumbled upon the right road. A few kilometres further and I started to see signs for the camp site. This was very welcome, but wasn't quite what I had imagined. I had booked the site online and it looked like a pleasant rural camp site, although it was claimed to be only 500 metres from a metro station. The reality was a little different. The site was a little oasis of greenery in a soviet era suburb of Prague. It was surrounded by housing blocks. However, the owners were friendly and helpful and the site itself was perfectly pleasant.

Not quite what it said on the tin... Prague, camp site

I spent the next couple of days exploring Prague. Of all the places I planned to visit on this trip, Prague was probably the one I was most looking forward to. I'm not even certain why; I probably have some romantic notion of Prague from watching too many old movies and reading too many old books.

I found the reality a little disappointing. Prague is an incredibly busy and commercialised modern city. There is some interesting old architecture but the streets are very busy and the shops are generally just the same as in any other European city (Costa Coffee, Marks and Spencer, MacDonald's, Starbucks and even a Red Cross charity shop). Everything was also very expensive - I saw coffee on offer at a pavement café at over £10 a cup, the most expensive I saw on the whole trip.

I went to the Charles Bridge, surely one of the most famous landmarks in Prague. It was seething with people. Every fifty metres or so multi-lingual guides were barking facts at bewildered clusters of tourists. The bridge was lined with stalls selling knickknacks and souvenirs and pavement artists selling portraits and cartoons of celebrities.

At one end of the bridge an old building was festooned with signs declaring it to be 'Europe's biggest techno and rave club.' Close by, the Prague Dungeon offered passers-by the chance to enjoy 'scenes of torture and execution from ages past.' I resisted the temptations of both, and continued to search for the Prague of my imagination. I failed to find it.

Should've gone to Brno instead... Prague Castle

Next I travelled south to Vienna. After a few false starts and a couple of unplanned U-turns on the ring road, I finally found the right motorway, heading south-east out of Prague past Jihlava and towards Brno. The landscape was very flat here, with lots of farms but few trees. The motorway was good but very busy. Before Brno I turned off the motorway onto an A-road for the last 120 miles, stopping frequently at roadside cafes and bars. Even here I made good time, though the road passed through many small towns and villages.

My last stop in the Czech republic was in the town of Znojmo. I sat in the shade in a large park in the middle of town, just listening to the church bells and watching the world go by. I continued south and crossed the border into Austria at the ominously named Haté.

In Austria, I continued South on A-roads until Stockerau, where I picked up the main Vienna motorway. Generally, the landscape here was still flat, open farming country, though there were noticeably more trees than there were in the Czech Republic.

As I got closer to Vienna the landscape changed into gently rolling hills covered in trees. The journey from Stockerau to my campsite at the West of Vienna should have taken half an hour. However, I effortlessly became lost on the Vienna ring road (are you seeing a pattern here?) and found myself a long way from where I wanted to be. It took an hour longer than I had expected, but I finally arrived at the site.

Ah, summer... Picnic area in Austria

The camp site in Vienna was described as being on the outskirts of the city, but in the Vienna woods. After Prague I was a little suspicious, but in fact the site was as advertised. Vienna is surrounded by low, rolling hills covered in trees. These, collectively known as the Vienna woods, are a notable feature of the city. The camp site was located to the west of Vienna, and there were trails and paths leading from the site to the nearby hills.

The weather was fine, so I took the opportunity to check over the BMW. Other than requiring a little engine oil, it didn't need anything at all. Despite being thrashed along motorways and autobahn, and hustled on twisty A-roads, it was completely oil tight and still ticking over like a sewing machine. On a trip like this, it's good to be able to forget about the bike and just concentrate on the riding and the scenery.

Next day I took a train into the city and explored. Vienna was relaxed and beautiful and I enjoyed it much more than Prague. The highlight had to be finding that the big wheel featured in the movie The Third Man is still there and still open. I couldn't resist taking a ride.

Not the London Eye... Vienna big wheel
RT BMWs on Right Now......

Next day I set off again, this time heading west for the first time on this trip. The weather was again perfect - the thermometer in the site read 24°C at 08:00. As I rode west I became aware of a dark smudge on the horizon to my left. Initially I wondered if this might be a bank of dark clouds but I soon realised that I was looking south towards distant mountains, the eastern spur of the Alps. As I continued west, these got closer and closer, until I could make out jagged, snow-capped peaks.

After Linz the motorway eventually meets the mountains and starts to climb. It got noticeably cooler (though this was a relief after the midday heat). The scenery was typically Tyrolean; chalet style houses with low eaves and window boxes filled with geraniums were perched on steep sided, wooded hills. In the distance grey and occasionally snow-capped mountains formed a constant backdrop. Even the view from motorway rest stops was fantastic.

Heading west again... Houses in the Alps

I arrived in Salzburg at around 4pm and found my campsite on a hill above town without difficulty. Salzburg is set amongst some very imposing mountains and there are some large castles perched on craggy outcrops above the town. It was warm (I'd guess at least 30°) and very humid and in the distance I saw that there were heavy clouds building up to the South. These filled in during the evening and by the time I went to bed the first distant mutterings of thunder were echoing round the hills. Several storms passed over the town during the night and there was torrential rain. Fortunately my tent stayed dry and when I got up next morning most of the rain had stopped…

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