Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 321: Into Transylvania

Looking to find the cheapest possible flights, I turned to the internet. I was heading for Cluj Napoca International Airport, so I looked at the map and found it in Northern Romania. The flights were all from Gatwick Airport but were all far too rich for my wallet. I played around with the arrival times and dates. Finally I found what I was looking for. A £200 return flight with Malev Air. I’d never heard of them, but I’d never heard of Cluj Napoca either. The fact that both of those names have just been highlighted with red squiggly lines suggests that they‘re also something of a mystery to Microsoft .... mai pen rai

The drawback with finding the cheapest possible flight, is arriving at Cluj Napoka International Airport at the worst possible time, 3:00am. I should have arrived earlier, but the tiny propeller driven plane from Budapest, with the outside toilet and too many fat blokes onboard, had struggled to make progress against the wind. Arriving anytime after dark at Cluj Napoca International Airport should not appear on any sane persons 'To Do' list. There is nothing really wrong with the Airport, there just isn’t an awful lot of it. Still, only eight hours to kill before my bike arrives, and I’ve certainly slept in worse places.

Dawn arrives about two hours after landing, and with it has come the sunshine and heat. Why had I thought that Romania would be cold? Hell, I’d even expected Romania to only be available in Black & White. Come to think about it, I wasn't even sure the Transylvania existed. Too many old arty movies and too little research again.

It’s 11:00am and my bike has arrived. It’s a BMW 650GS with a nasty habit of stalling in traffic and wearing a well-shagged front tyre. I’ve ridden far worse and as somebody else is paying for it, I wont complain. I'm told that it's only a temporary bike and that I'll get to select another at the first hotel. I follow Alain, the ‘Transylvania Live’ tour guide, towards the first nights hotel in the city of Turda. It’s pronounced "Turdt" and in the interests of accuracy and not taking the piss, I ask for clarification on the spelling.

It’s 2:00pm when we arrive at the hotel in Turda. I check in at reception and change a few Euros into Romanian Lei. They hand me the key to a deluxe double room and ask me when I expect Tassaneeya to arrive. Oops! Clearly they didn’t get the eMail that I forgot to send them. Anyway, the hotel is clean, with soft beds and cheap beer. I meet Chris and Glen, two Australian journalists from Cycle Torque and their respective wives, Kerry and Sue. There’s an option to ride into the local valley but I've had too little sleep and my new bed is far too inviting. I wave them farewell and then hide from the burning sun in my room. An hour later and I’ve been woken by an amazing noise. It sounds to me like a cow pissing on a concrete floor, but it’s hailstones. In the space of an hour the day’s heat has vanished and the rain is falling as frozen spheres the size of golf balls. I fear for my new Australian chums, but as the hail turns to snow, and then to torrential rain, I just silently thank the discomfort of Cluj Napoca Airport for forcing me to decline the optional ride-out.

Dinner is served to four wet Australians, one well rested Brit and the team from Transylvania Live. They're a fun lot and putting all of us to shame, their English is perfect. Suitably fortified with some of the nicest beer that I’ve ever quaffed, we're then shown a theatrical demonstration on how to kill a zombie, "The Ritual Killing of the Living Dead". For those of you who are interested, they seem to favour the traditional wooden steak through the heart method. Here in Transylvania, they don’t call them ’Zombies’ they’re known as "Strigoi". It’s really quite fascinating but if I do encounter any Strigoi here in Transylvania then just like Shaun back in England …. “I’ll just head down to the Winchester and wait until it all blows over“.

The floods have vanished and the morning is hot and sunny. Just like at all of the best swingers parties that I’ve never attended, bike keys are drawn from a hat. I’m the winner, a BMW 1200 GS. But don’t worry, I swap it for a yellow 650 version and thus give myself an immediate excuse if I'm ever holding up the party.

Dakar Duck is attached to the right-hand mirror of my new bike. It's a charm for good luck and a constant reminder that I should be riding mostly on the right side of the road. A cheerful lecture on Romanian Road Rules is ignored and then the fun part begins ……. mai pen rai

Update: 17th June 2010

OK, it's Thursday 17th of June and in a few hours time I'll be flying out to Romania. I have no idea what Internet access I'll find along the way, so it could well be next weekend before I manage to update the Blog.

I discovered this morning that I'll arrive at Cluj Napoca airport at 01:30am, and the bike will meet me there at 11:30am. I'm thinking that Cluj Napoca Airport might not be the largest airport in the world and I've got ten hours to kill there .... Again that's not a complaint, just an observation .... mai pen rai

Post 320: Garden of England BMF Show

If was another BMF Show, this time down in Kent. Bloody hell. Just four weeks ago punters had been asked to fork out fifteen quid to visit the BMF Show in Peterborough. Are British summers really so short that the BMF need to hold their shows so close together?

Anyway, another free-pass and the promise of more free-beer saw me winding my way down the M20 at stupid o’clock on Saturday morning. I really should have ridden down on Friday night but a comfortable bed had gotten the better of me. Unfortunately once again it was my own bed, but I’m working on a solution to that one.

What can I tell you about this BMF show? Well, it was a typical BMF show so even if you didn’t attend, then your life will be no the poorer.

On the other hand, for me it was the best BMF show that I’ve ever attended. The Riders Digest had invited another couple of travellers to display their bikes around the TRD stand. I always thought that the collective noun for a group of two-wheeled-travellers was a ‘Confusion’, but after this weekend I’ve changed my mind. It’s got to be a ‘Giggle’.

Jacqui Furneaux had done the decent thing and arrived on the Friday evening. Maybe she was more enthusiastic about attending the show than I was, or maybe the journey from Bristol on her Enfield 500 would have meant a starting time that was even earlier than my own.

We’ve never met before, but Jacqui is an absolute hoot. She bought herself an Enfield 500 as a birthday present and travelled to parts of the world that I wouldn't even dare to mention. While I was busy whining about corrupt cop’s and crappy roads in Russia, Jacquie was quietly conquering war zones and roads where others would fear to tread. If anybody is 'putting-off' that next big trip for fear of 'this, that' or the non-existent 'other', then they really ought to look at what she has achieved. A real inspiration.

The second bike was a GS 1100 belonging to Irishman Joe Walsh. I’d heard rumours of Joe's exploits over the past ten years but finding any real information about his journeys is amazingly difficult. Joe travels so far below the radar that he makes Hollywood Stars and their Resting Actors chums look like nothing more than publicity whores. Joe currently works in London doing a job that would make lesser men abandon all hope. He drives a London Bus on the graveyard shift. For a man who travels the world, it must feel like a huge disappointment to be travelling daily between Twickenham and Heathrow, but Joe just smiles and counts the minutes. Every eight minutes means one pound of income and every one pound of income means ten miles of future travelling. What an amazing attitude.

I guess that we were supposed to chat with visitors about our respective journeys and entice them into subscribing to The Riders Digest magazine. However, I fear that we spent much of the weekend talking amongst ourselves, planting the seeds for new adventures and laughing almost to the point of pain. Hence the new collective noun for a group of two-wheeled-travellers, a ’Giggle’ … mai pen rai

As for me. Well, I’m just the mouthy bighead with a remarkably clean looking Tiger. I didn’t think that it looked quite so clean, but parked next to these two genuine articles, it really did look like an impostor.

Talking of being bigheaded, on Thursday I’ll be jetting off to Romania for a week. There’s a certain road that’s calling me and a free BMW waiting for me at Cluj Napoca Airoport. Cluj Napaca? I’d never heard of it either, but I’m sure that I’ll be able to tell you a hell of lot more about it two weeks time …… mai pen rai

Post 319: Beauty is in the Eye ....Ugly is in the Showrooms

Is it just me getting old, or are the Japanese manufacturers sending us some dam ugly bikes these days? Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolute stunners out there, but these three ugly ducklings recently caught my eye.

The Suzuki Hayabusa was designed to slip through the air with minimum drag. It probably still holds the record as the fastest ever mass produced motorcycle so the design clearly worked, but it certainly isn’t pretty. The photograph shows the 2009 model, but for 2010 things haven’t changed a great deal. Come to think of it, the Hayabusa was launched back in the 1990’s and aesthetically speaking it looks pretty much the same as it did ten years ago. I’m trying to think of another bike that’s been around on the showroom floors for that amount of time, and I’m struggling to think of one. Answers on a post card please ……

Ok, due to its longevity I’ll forgive the Hayabusa its ugliness, but what excuse do Kawasaki have? The ZZR1400 might be a great new bike, but why did Kawasaki have to make it look like a stretched bug? From any angle it’s just plain ugly. And why of why does the exhaust pipe look like it was made by Matrix-Churchill ? Don’t give me all that crap about ‘Emission’ and ’Noise’ regulation, have you ever heard a brand new Harley or Ducati on full chat? As for Honda’s new VFR1200 ….. don’t get me started.

For the past six years, I’ve had the pleasure of writing for TRD magazine (The Riders Digest). Aside from giggling at the size of the cheques that they sometimes remember to send me, the other fun part about writing for TRD is their editorial policy. They don’t have one. If something’s good then I can call it "Good", but if I think that something is just a little bit crap, then I can be honest without worrying about Honda or Yamaha pulling their future advertising campaigns. If you’re more interested in how a bike makes you feel than you are about the weight saving of Yamasaki’s latest titanium exhaust flanges, then you might like to get your hands on a copy of TRD.

To get a ‘Free’ copy, simply eMail "MKT1" to with your address, and a copy of the magazine will be in the mail before you can say "0-60 in who gives a flying-toss, it looks bloody gorgeous and I want one". Happy reading folks ……

* UK addresses only. Conditions probably apply. The opinions expressed by the writers may not represent the views of real adults. Your thoughts may be recorded for training purposes .... etc

Post 318: BMF Show .....

I’d been invited to the BMF Show at the East of England Showground. I’ve been to the BMF shows before; Peterborough, Kelso and Kent. I hadn’t been impressed by any of them and I’d vowed never to attend another. However, the invitation to Peterborough included a ‘Free-Pass’. I like anything with the word ‘Free’ attached to it, it’s my kind of price.

Friday night was 'Speedway' night. The last time that I watched speedway was back in Vladivostok, July 2008, a lifetime ago. The East Midlands lacked the glamour and vodka of Eastern Russia, but it was still fun.

I was helping out on The Riders Digest stand, which is actually a small tent. The once "Free" magazine is now a "For Sale Only" publication and the intention was to try and increase the number of subscribers. The monthly A5 magazine, hailed as "the best writing on the streets", is also available in all good newsagents. You’d think that publishing a magazine and getting it onto the shelves of WH Smiths would be quite a simple process. Print the magazines and employ a professional distributor. "Simple" yes, "Free’"no. I’ve seen how much "Grease" it takes to get your magazine onto the retailers shelves and it makes the Duchess of York look like exceptionally good value for money. It’s actually cheaper to write, publish, distribute and then give the magazine away "Free" than it is to try and sell it through major retailers. It also doesn’t help when your "Professional Distributor" goes down the financial toilet and takes a large chunk of your money with it … mai pen rai

So, while the major manufacturers adorned their pitches with shiny new bikes, The Riders Digest employed the services of The Rat Bike Club. They were "Free". Horses for courses.

Of course, the "Rat Bikes" on display had all been lovingly "Ratted" by their owners and therefore I‘m not sure if they really qualify as "Rats". My favourite "Rat" was the white Honda CBR 600. A genuine "Rat", unloved and right royally abused by it’s owner. Unfortunately it’s abusive owner is none other than Roger Tuscon, editor of The Riders Digest but to be fair, he has used it as a Despatch Bike for the past few years.

So, the BMF Show. Expensive coffee, expensive new bikes and cheap waterproof clothing that probably wont be waterproof for long. I wasn’t particularly impressed. In fact, the most interesting exhibit at the show was actually in the camping ground, right next to my tent. A Honda Pan European with a quite stylish "Uni-Go" trailer. It’s the first one that I’ve seen on the road, and I like it. What does it feel like to tow a trailer on the arse-end of a bike? I think I need to find out ….. mai pen rai