Thursday, September 27, 2007

A sobering visit.

Today we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. There is virtually no way of knowing how one will react when one enters the infamous grounds of this camp. I had a very strong, yet not completely unpredictable, reaction as tears began to roll down my cheecks within two minutes of entering the imposing empty courtyard known as the "roll call area". I was truly overwhelmed by the thought of the thousands of prisoners that suffered unimaginable treatment at the hands of their fellow human beings. I felt as if my body was filled with the fear, pain, anger, and despair that surely permeated through this camp and soaked and stained each and every structure in this complex down to every stone on the ground. In fact, I could not keep myself from constantly gazing at the stones beneath my riding boots and imagining the raw bare feet of the prisoners whose lives meant so little to their cruel captors. One, two, three....30 thousand...sixty thousand devastated pairs of feet walking over these same stones, some for the first time, some for the last. It is almost too difficult to imagine, and certainly for me impossible to understand.
The memorial site is very well set up and it provides the visitor a pretty complete account of the history of Germany's first major concentration camp which became a model for all future Nazi concentration camps. We arrived at 2pm and were ushered out at closing time and I still could have spent another three hours there contemplating the enormity of the events that transpired in "that time" not so long ago...
It is difficult to talk about this visit without having the urge to go on and on about the whys and the hows but I will fight this urge and simply say that it is imperative that we learn from the lessons of our past and do everything possible to keep from making the same mistakes, because we are all part of the same human race.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Live from Oktoberfest

We have arrived at a beer hall at Oktoberfest. Of course it is raining and it rained for 60 miles coming into MUNICH. We set up our tent in the rain, we were cold and wet, as we could see our breath. We took the bus and train but didn't really pay. Our new motto is "when in Rome, don't pay for the train"

But back to the subject: beer. We are on our second beer. They are about $10 a piece but they are one liter. We are with about 5,000 of our closest German friends, 2 brits on a bachelor party, 4 Japanese girls and one Scott who is too drunk to say "hello, I am from Scotland". It is 9:10 on a Tuesday night, and I am ready to give the title of Worlds Greatest Beer Drinkers to the Germans.

The beer "tent" is enormous maybe 200 yards by 100 yards. There is a brass and guitar band on the platform in the center of the room playing German drinking songs, Beatles tunes and some John Denver thrown in for good measure. Most people are standing on the benches dancing and cheering. My favorite has been the Blues Brothers "I need you!". I, of course, had to stand up and utter one of the great lines from the movie " I hate Illinois Nazi's"

There are enough Leiderhosen here to give a herd of cows collective heart attack. The frauline cleavage in the traditional wench outfits is enough to make me occasionally divert my eyes from the mesmirizing Clara.

In other words, we are having No Fun at All.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Happy Anniversary...(to us!)

Since this is our "honeymoon" trip, I thought it would be appropriate to tell that today is our (second) wedding anniversary.

We will celebrate in style by taking a spin on the Nurbergring and maybe having a fancy dinner (as fancy as you can get in jeans and t-shirts) in Stuttgart where we are headed today.

Besitos to my Big!

The Nurbergring expreince was a blast!!! What a crazy concept to have a complete free-for-all on a race track; the smell of fuel and burning rubber all around and all types of cars and motorcycles zooming by each other in a mad dash.
The fancy dinner was a no go, instead, we had a kebab dinner at a fast-food joint in Stuttgart.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Random thoughts

The picture of me at this phone booth is at the same location where one of my favorite movies was shot. The first person to identify the movie on the blog gets dinner at the NO NAME when we get back.

Lazily whiling away the day at Clara's cousin's house in Bonn, Germany.

Working on the Iranian visa is like working with the army, hurry up and wait. But, there are only two ways to India overland, Iran/Pakistan or Russia/China.

About 80 percent of the cars in Peru are white. Been meaning to write that for about 5 months. The most amazing marketer in the world is a man at a plaza in south Mexico who sells corn husks rolled in grated cheese to children. They line up for them. Simply amazing. And scary, the power of marketing.

Europe is so far ahead of the USA in environmental issues. Tinier cars, windmills all over the place, toilets with 2 buttons, one for number "1", one for number "2". Saves water. Recycling stations all around. People have cabinets in their kitchens for dividing recyclables into different categories. People ride bikes, roads have bike lines. Amsterdam had about 80,000 bikes in a giant bike rack next to the main train central station.

The roads in Europe are in great condition. I'm surprised how forested this densely populated area of western Europe is. It is also quite surprising how many Muslims are here, completely different from when I was here 20 years ago. The first exit I took off the highway in the Netherlands was a suburb of all Muslims and blacks, many from Jamaica. If you didn't know where you were you would never guess you were in Holland.

Big thanks to our friends Tom and Christine and their family whom we just spent a 4 day retreat with, and enjoyed the birthday party for Christine's dad. 4 days in the house and the television never turned on, wonderful. That is one of the great purposes of this trip, to meet people from different countries and cultures and make friends. (we met Tom and Christine riding Africa Twins in Argentina) I believe that by breaking down these barriers we lessen the future chance of wars, terrorism, imperialism, and other ism's. They were excellent hosts and we will always remember the delicious wineberries.

Except of course Long live Kevinism.

Today was a beautiful day for the 25 mile ride from Koln to Bonn. We will try to ride the nurbergring tomorrow, the famous old GP circuit. In our month here in Europe, until yesterday we had only had 3 days of riding where we haven't worn our rainsuits. Needed to get a new clutch on my bike after the gearbox seals went bad.

I am sick of hearing about Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. Most of the real bikers we meet think they are real twits. My take: when watching their video at one point Ewan says 'I wish it had been a more authentic trip' without all the camera's, support, attention, etc. SO DO IT!!! It isn't like Ewan McGregor doesn't have the money to buy a couple bikes and take a trip. You don't need all the gear, support, donated motorcycles and camera's. Or do you???

I miss New Orleans, especially Thursday nights at Vaughan's and Tuesday's at Bullets.
Has anyone been to a Wednesday night at Plough and Stars?

Is there a single politician in America telling the truth about anything these days?
I liked the Republican presidential candidate from Alaska who said he wasn't afraid to tell Americans that they are Fat and Stupid. It's true, but even I might be able to word that a bit better. However, after eating fish and chips in the UK and Ireland almost every day for 3 weeks I could afford to lose some weight.

It is great that so many people we have met on the road are continuing to do well. Josh, and Andy and Tim and ....

off to dinner!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Copy of published article in Colombian magazine "Caras"

Milestones from Germany

We have arrived at our friends Tom and Christine's house in Cologne, Germany. We are now well over 20,000 miles traveled. We set a record on the way here, doing 4 countries in a day. It was a mighty effort, we pushed ourselves to the limit, but we did it--Belgium, Luxembourg, Belgium again and then Germany. John Glenn would be proud!

Funny how stereotypes are so often based in reality. Once we got on the autobahn....the left lane started zooming by us at 100 mph, from Mercedes, to tiny Fords, even a Smart car. We also stopped by the Iranian embassy in Brussels to try and get a visa on the day that the French and Iranians were verbally blasting each other about war. Not necessarily the best day to work on our French while we spoke to a native Arabic speaker, but it went fine. The Pakistani embassy was typical of the "impossible" paperwork regimes famously known in Pakistan and India. The embassy smelled of something, I thought food, Clara thought worse! The civil servant's first response was that our request was impossible and that we would have to go to Washington, DC to get a visa but with some prodding an alternative was found, although also not an easy one.

Germans have some interesting habits. Some good, some bad, some strange. Good is that beer glasses are automatically refilled unless you put your coaster on top indicating you have reached your limit. Bad is that the wait staff won't come to your table if your menu is open, which can be a pain if you don't remember. Strange is that they only drink bubbly water. They even have machines in their homes which add "fizz" to tap water. Some restaurants don't even have bottled water without fizz. Quite odd!

The Cologne Gothic cathedral is pretty amazing, huge, detailed, and inspiring! Our hosts have been fantastic, as we prepare ourselves and our paperwork to try and make it to India.

Luxembourg was quite nice, and worth a day or two trip if visiting Europe. Gas was a bit cheaper than in the rest of Europe so far, maybe $7.50 a gallon instead of $8.
The cost of things is killing our budget, and a constant reminder of how far America has fallen. Thanks George!

Hope the Red Sox can limp across the line first...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

3 days in Amsterdam

On one of the hundreds of bridges in Amsterdam.

We finally had a "honeymoon" on our honeymoon trip. We booked a nice hotel for three days, parked the bikes in car garage, bought a tourist ticket and saw the city. Boat tour, museums, restaurants, the redlight district where sex, drugs, and probably other things were offered to us in Dutch and English. Wonderful walking city with friendly people and the whiff of legal marijuana smoke emanating from many corners.

I feel like I have seen a real master, as I was blown away by the Rembrandt paintings. The Van Gogh museum was excellent as well, and Clara in particular really enjoyed it.

Off to Brussels tomorrow, to try and get some Visas, Belgian beer and maybe some chocolate.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Away from UK

Knock, knock
Who is there?
British Isles.
British Isles who?

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Leaving on a merry ferry

We are booked into the overnight ferry to Amsterdam tomorrow, we will head for the terminal right after my leaking gearbox seals are replaced at the Bolden BMW dealer.

We are camping near the beach again where the river Tyne flows into. The English channel. Took a nice walk this evening, a pond with swans, amusement arcade park getting ready to close for the season, a basketball, biking and skateboarding park, where teenagers were doing bike tricks, shooting hoops, and a couple were destroying the block wall between the park and the road. The type of wanton destruction that makes you want to just slap some sense into someone.

But we are just observers, leaving this land soon, so could only shake our heads and move on.

Had a second great tour of Edinburg this morning. A gorgeous and expensive city, that we place right at the top of the list of recommended places.

Finally, the magazine article about us came out in Columbia this week. A nice 5 page spread. I believe the magazine is called faces, and it is the weekly one with Tom Cruise in it!

Excuse to me, but is a good time having possible in the Amsterdam?

(Oktoberfest is nearby in Munich, anyone, anyone? Meister???)

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Change in plans

Turns out the ferry from the shetlands to norway is completely booked, so we head south...

To where we are not sure. At least newcastle, maybe Africa or India. Such are the vagaries of our mission.

We made it to Cullen, to enjoy the famous "skink" for dinner. This is as inhabited as a ghost town can allowed to be. We are camped on a bluff overlooking the ocean, where raucous winds aided in our tent preperation, the same ones which buffeted us all day. Another day of wind and rain. Not the plains of Spain here.

Delicious fish and chips just south of the castle for lunch, as we cruised down the east coast. Once a day for me on average, I can feel my body larding up, but it has been 10 years, so I must indulge.

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Thoughts from the cold, windy tent

We’ve been riding up the West Coast of Scotland and it is as stupendous as described by contemporary biking friends. We’ve seen rugged mountains, heather everywhere, highland cows –pronounced “haelen coooos”, herds of wild deer, tourist buses from Skye south, eerie landscapes and castles, tourist information boards which explain the different ghosts you might see, and which of those are friendly or not.

Water, Water everywhere. From light blue ocean lit by the glint of a sun ray sneaking through the clouds, just visible between rocky peaks coming down out of the misty hillsides. It is visible like an unobtainable oasis. It doesn’t even warrant thinking about finding that sunlight as experience in the highlands teaches that the sun is occasional and wonderful and to be enjoyed when touched upon you, but never worth searching for. (short of a trip to Spain, of course). The weather has not been bad, but not good either. We end up wearing our rain suits eventually everyday, then leaving them on until we come to our tenting place. Another source of the water, is the numerous Lochs that offer up stunning scenery of tranquil surface reflecting sheer walls of rock with heather and ferns clinging to their sides. The fresh water Lochs are fed by the numerous rushing streams, crisscrossing the countryside, winding back and forth in their bogs, they in turn being fed from springs emanating from the ground or cascading from edifices high up the hills.

The clouds are quite unlike the clouds over Ireland which are dull and flat and gray bottomed, seemingly bored with their usual everyday activity, like a factory worker on a shift. “hi, George”, “hi, Ralph” the clouds seem to say to each other, clocking in for another faceless day of hanging over the Emerald Isle, spraying down whatever insides they have picked up in the evening from the Atlantic and getting ready to do it again the next day. But nor Scottish Clouds! The clouds are magnificent and alive, whirling, twisting, closing, touching, forming and reforming. You look up and form a notion as to their type as you ride along, then are sidetracked by an ocean view, a ruined church,
or some natural beauty; when your eyes return to the sky they have reformed leaving one to doubt ones own memory as to how recently the heavens were checked. They cling to the mountains like tendrils, rush through passes with an icy sting that feels like a ghoul going right through you, they rise and fall, caught in the same currents that push your motorcycle around the one lane roads. At one point today the entire sky became light and wispy on a blue background and seemed to me to be reflecting the waves of the ocean below it over a canvas thousands of miles square.

We inquire about local hostels or wooden huts in the campsites, but everything has been booked. Although not overrun with tourists, the facilities are full with the ones that are here, many, many of whom are motorcyclists who know a good thing when they roll their throttle through it. Tonight we stay in Scourie, at a campsite overlooking the bay that is run by elderly but friendly Angus McKenzie. When I introduce myself as McCrea he immediately knows the history of my clan, that we are known as “the suit of mail” to the Mckenzie’s, long have we been their protectors. His mothers family are McCrea’s, and he recounts how many of them left the local area in the early 1800’s displaced by the English. He laughs as we finish up and says we are probably related in not too distant past.

The town of about 500 has a wedding on in the town center. There is an announcement in the once a week town paper which is a double sided 8.5 x 11 which apologizes that they couldn’t send out invitations but everyone is invited, just bring a bottle and enjoy. We walk by to observe, and a lovely waltz is being played by fiddle, guitar and flute. Kids run around outside in the dark as the informal but beautiful reception continues inside, and more and more locals walk up the gradual hill to join in. There is such a beauty and elegance in a small town simple get together. Real warmth and sharing, that we often miss in the formalities and banalities of the big city.

At lunch the day before at an ubiquitous white tavern/hotel on the side of beautiful bay I talked to the proprietress about the malt whiskeys. She said the locals only drink the blended whiskeys, the foreigners and tourists partake of the dozens of single malts hanging about the bar that Scotland is famous for. I tell her I’m glad I’m not a big drinker, and particularly not fond of whiskeys. She laughs in a knowing way.

Friday, September 7, 2007

I spy with my wee eye...

Something beginning with the letter D:

Something beginning with the letter S:

Something beginning with the letter H:

As Gruff as a Billygoat

Kevin On top of an Historic Bridge in the Speyside

We survived our night on the shore of Loch Ness, alas no sighting. We spent the next day at the gorgeous Eilean Donan, the ancestral Castle of the McCrea's. It was rebuilt in the early 20th century after being blown up during the Jacobite risings.

Scotland is rugged, beautiful and hard. The kind of place you fall in love with in a deep, earthly way. Maybe the only place you would put on a tartan skirt and wield a 6 foot broadsword against superior numbers in order to defend. Life is not bountiful, but it has everything one could need.

We spent last night on Skye, before coming over crossing some haunting mountains which looked like the hugest ancient temples in the world, wrapped in mist, to settle at Applecross for the night. Joining us are Andy and his partner and friends. Andy, his sidecar and sidekick just spent 1.5 years in South America where they met many of the same people we did such as Tom and Christy. Easy bonds are made amongst such similarly minded people. Who couldn't like a guy and a sidecar driving around South America and Scotland!

Up the west coast tomorrow, wheather weather permits or not.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Confronting the Monster!

No, not the corruption and idiocy in government. Something tangible.

We just set up the tent on the south shore of Loch Ness, almost directly opposite Urquhart Castle.
We will wait through the night to catch the beast, perhaps doing the famous "nessie" dance which is related to the washing machine except with the addition of some camera tourist oblique references.

Some great Scottish words and phrases we have picked up in addition to the ubiquitous "oach eye". When there are advantages to either of two paths to take you might say "you gain what you lose.". The way to describe a typical day here which includes constant varying wind, high and low clouds and mists of rain here and there is a "dreich" day; and of course, the long-haired beasts grazing in all the fields around here are called "heeland coos".

We head to the ancestral home tomorrow, Eileen Donan, the McCrea castle at the head of 3 Lochs. We are planning on heading north to the Orkney and Shetland Islands before catching one of the last ferries of the year to Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. If people have suggestions for places to stay or see please let us know.

Fall is definitely in the air, and we are getting our cold weather gear ready for Scandanavia.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Say "Whisky!"

Today we traveled the Whisky Trail here in the Highlands. We visited three distilleries, namely:


The Glenlivet,

and Cardhu.

At each distillery we learned more and more about the process of turning three basic ingredients of water, yeast and barley into fine Malt Whisky. We got to taste the best 12 year whisky from each distillery and both agreed that we liked the Glenfiddich sample the best, with Cardhu coming in second and Glenlivet a distant third. However, all the distilleries were beautiful and had very nice and knowledgeable staff. It really was too bad that we were driving our motos because I would have loved to continue following the trail and partake of a lot more whisky. Hmmm!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

6 months on the road!! and now In the Highlands of Scotland.

Yesterday, marked the beginning of our seventh month on the road and it was one of the best days of Kevin's life because we spent the whole day at the world famous Braemar Gathering, one of the oldest of the Highland Games, sitting opposite Her Royal Highness, the Queen watching events such as Highland dancing, piping, putting the stone, throwing the hammer, my favorite the tug of war and Kevin's favorite tossing the caber.
Kevin could hardly sleep the night before due to his excitement and he woke up at 5am and patiently waited until the alarm went off at 6am before he sprung out of bed and began to encourage Phil, Christine and me to hurry up! We were in our kilts and ready and on our way by 7:15am and arrived in Braemar at 8:30am. We were among the first people at the gate, assuring us the possibility of getting great seats on the field.

Kevin and Phil looking like proper clansmen

The Queen!!! waving at ME!

Kevin doing a proper highland fling.