top of page

Jof's World Tour: Getting to grips with the Grossglockner

Trip miles so far 7,221

By Jon Newey

Croatia: When I awake in the Pula hostel I find that I have acquired some room-mates in the night. This is a ‘mixed’ 4-bed dorm and when I went to sleep I was the only occupant…

Rosie and Jensen are 20-somethings who are ‘Inter-railing’ around Europe for a month. They’re from Yorkshire. Having established that we’re all Brits, we exchange travel stories over breakfast. They plan to go island-hopping along the Croatia coast for a few days and then they want to go to Albania. I wish them luck! Maybe their stay in Albania won’t be quite as challenging as mine….

Today I plan to walk into Pula and join a ‘free’ walking tour. I like these walking tours. They are low-key, low-pressure, and the guides are full of interesting info. Today’s guide is a history teacher called Dalen. In a two-hour stroll we visit Pula’s amphitheatre, the Roman city walls, the Gemini gate, the arch of Sergii and the old Roman forum. Dalen tells us that Pula is still an active ship-building port with a shipyard right in the heart of the town but apparently the number of jobs at the shipyard has recently been cut from 4,000 to 400 because the yard owners can see that water-front hotels and a marina would be a lot more valuable than a shipyard.

A lot has changed in Croatia since it joined the EU, the rise of the tourist industry being one of the more visible effects. There are other recent changes here too because Croatia adopted the Euro as its currency just 6 months ago. Prices everywhere must be shown in Euros and Koruna in an effort to prevent opportunist price-hikes. Apparently, Croatia now has a picture of Nikola Tesla on their new Euro coinage. That’s annoyed Serbia because although Tesla was born in an area that is now Croatia, he was Serbian when he was born so both countries now claim him as one of their own. Croatia’s new coinage has caused quite a diplomatic stooshie, it seems. We shouldn’t forget that Croatia and Serbia were at war less than thirty years ago, so it doesn’t take much for tensions to rise!

Once the walking tour is done I wander back through the town looking for things to sketch. I walk up to the star-shaped fortress on the hill and then I park myself under a tree near the amphitheatre. I only get halfway through my sketch, though, when suddenly the heavens open and a deluge of rain falls, and falls, and falls. People are soaked. The roads are a foot deep in running water. Watercolours ‘al fresco’ and rain don’t mix!!! I retreat and stand under a nearby shop canopy hoping it will soon stop. It is like standing behind a waterfall. It doesn’t stop.

I’m one of the few people equipped with a rain coat, though (come on, I’m from Scotland,…), so after a while I venture out and wander about in the rain. I stop at a café for lunch. Eventually the storm passes and I’m soon back under the tree again to finish my sketch.

Tonight I have a second night at the hostel. It is Saturday, it is the start of July, and the hostel’s beach is busy with loud party music late into the night. ‘Five-hundred miles’ seems to be a local favourite (surely they need to re-record it as ‘Eight-hundred-and-four kilometres’ for their EU fans…?) and Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ gets a rousing chorus. The big one, though is Uriah Heep’s ‘July Morning’, which has become something of an institution in eastern Europe causing dawn to dusk partying every year on 1st July. Particularly so in Bulgaria, apparently, where people go to the Black Sea coast to watch the sunrise every year, just because of this song. Humans are strange beasts, I think.

Rosie’s dad has joined us in our dorm today. He’s going island-hopping with Rosie and Jensen for a few days. It turns out he’s from Fife and his grandfather was a manager at St Magdalene’s distillery in Linlithgow.

Rosie tells me my sketch of Pula amphitheatre is ‘Well sick’ which I am assured is some kind of compliment.

Earplugs are wonderful things. I sleep well. Next day the rain has gone and I wander back into Pula under clear blue skies to see what else I can sketch. The Arch of the Sergii catches my eye. The inscription on it says – in Latin - it was paid for by Lativius’s wife ‘with her own money’. The arch is a memorial to her husband, son and uncle who all died in battle around 30BC. Amazing to think that more than 2,000 years later they are still remembered because of this arch - and because of the money that paid for it….

I ‘chill’ back at the hostel for the rest of the afternoon and I have the dorm to myself for tonight. Braw. The hostel has a beachside bar and the barman is from Ireland. I order a beer and we chat for a bit. He’s been in Croatia for 15 years he says. When I ask him what brought him here, he replies enigmatically ‘A girl’ and gazes heroically towards the sunset. Brilliant. Give the man an Oscar….!

Monday comes and I’m up early. I don’t have far to ride today but I have an important task to do. Tigger is due an oil change. The nearest Triumph dealer is in Austria so Pula’s Yamaha dealer will have to do – oh the shame! I’ve emailed the owner a few times but we didn’t really come to a clear conclusion about it, so I decide to just rock up and see what I can get. No bother he says. It’ll be done by 11:00. In fact it is done by 10:30 which is even better because it means I have time to go ‘non-motorway’ all the way from Pula to Ljubljana. Fresh oil has Tigger purring happily like a proper big cat. And what roads, what roads.

By avoiding the motorway we’re taken on a magical-Garmin-mystery-tour of harpins and twisties up to 1,000m above sea-level in the Ucka National Park, and then back down again with stunning views over the Rijeka bay. Fabulous.

Then before long we’re crossing the border into Slovenia. That makes country number 19 for me on this trip, 18 for Tigger. And then we’re soon approaching Ljubljana. The weather is warm but not hot, the traffic is light and when I arrive at my ABnB it is a perfect little studio flat with its own balcony, a parking space for Tigger and just a 15-minute walk to the city centre. Some days just come together perfectly like that!

I decide to complete Tigger’s 10,000km service by cleaning the washable air-filter, plugging in the laptop and using ‘Tigertool’ to check for error codes and to reset the service light, and lubing the chain, controls and cables. The spark-plugs can wait, they’ll last. The air filter on a Tiger 800 is a bit of a pain. It sits inside the airbox which is under the fuel tank. You have to take off a dozen different bits of plastic bodywork to get at it, it takes an hour to do it, and it’s only worth the effort if you have a new filter ready to replace the old one – you can’t just clean it. Honestly Triumph, this is supposed to be an adventure bike…. In some parts of the world you need to clean the air filter every day! Knowing all this beforehand, I fitted an aftermarket washable ‘pre-filter’ when I was prepping the bike for the trip, so now all I have to do is pop the seat off, pull the foam filter out, wash it, dry it with a hairdryer, re-oil it and pop it back on again. Much easier. Ten minutes tops.

Job done, I clean up and head into town. Ljubljana is the only capital city I’ve visited on this trip but it is so compact it is hardly more than a town*. It is rather beautiful, however. There’s a castle on the hill, medieval streets that are now filled with pavement cafes, there’s the river and the bridges over it. All very quaint. And also very wet today. Thunder rolls overhead, lightning flashes, the heavens open and none of the pavement cafes look very inviting in the sudden deluge!

I scarper back to my wee studio collecting some food from a Merkat on the way and I cook myself a slap-up dinner, eating it on my private balcony, listening to some Elgar, drinking some Merlot and watching the rain bouncing off the pavements below. What’s not to like? Ljubljana will still be there tomorrow!

Tuesday starts with my monthly Zoom meeting with Scott back at the office. One of EKJN’s big projects just now is a new-build mosque in Kirkcaldy, and I’m now able to give some first-hand ideas and advice about mosques. Today the sun is shining in Slovenia and once the meeting is over, I wander back into Ljubljana for the afternoon. Slovenian stew from a street vendor for lunch, a steep climb up to the castle and a wander along the riverside just about fill my day. I like Ljubljana. It is a cool place to be.

Wednesday morning comes and I’m up and ready by eight. Today Tigger and I are crossing the Alps into Austria. I still don’t have a toll-road ‘vignette’ for Austria, but I feel sure I can get one somewhere along the way. I’ve tried a few local garages but they only have vignettes for cars, not for motorbikes. I set Garmin to ‘non-motorway’ just to be on the safe side and off we go.

Detour number one takes me to Lake Bled. People I spoke to in Croatia all said that if I’m going to Slovenia then Lake Bled is a must-see. To be sure it is a very pretty lake with a church on an island and a castle way up on a craggy cliff. All very picturesque, but it is very commercialised too, with hotels

and cafes and boat trips and tour buses. I park Tigger in a dedicated motorcycles parking bay, sit to do a sketch, enjoy the wee interlude, and then I press on.

The next detour is the Wurzen Pass, a tiny B-road that squirrels its way up towards the border between Slovenia and Austria, topping-out at a height of 1,073m. There are dozens of other bikers whizzing about in this area. I stop at a filling station to ask if they can sell me a toll-sticker for a motorbike for Austria. Sure enough, they can, so 5.80 Euros gives me ten days of access to Austria’s toll roads. At the border there’s a man sitting in the passport booth but this isn’t an ‘active’ border so he doesn’t even look up as he waves me past. Bingo. Here I am in Austria, country number 20 of the trip for me.

Detour number three for today is a big one. I prod the sat-nav and force it to take us over Austria’s Grossglockner pass. The Grossglockner was recommended to me by Tom and Martina who I met on the ferry in Montenegro. Austria is their home territory so I guess they know what they’re talking about. Oh yes, they certainly do. The Grossglockner is astounding. The mountains, the glacier, the hairpins, the 30 Euro toll fee…. The road winds its way up and up and up to a breath-defying height of 2,504m at the top. That’s 400m higher than Romania’s Transalpina pass! And then it winds its way down and down and down on the north side of the Alps. By the time I’m down in the valley I’m close to the border with Germany. We’re still in ‘non-motorway’ mode so the toll-sticker won’t be necessary after all. Oh well, it wasn’t expensive and it makes a nice souvenir.

Here on the north side of the Alps the weather is different. Slovenia and the south part of Austria were a very comfortable 20 degree C and bright sunshine. The north part of Austria is all thunder, lightning and rain. We pass through the border into Germany. I’ve already been to Germany on this trip so it doesn’t count as another country this time round. Minutes later I’m parking Tigger in a Motorad Parkplatz in the carpark of the Bavaria Hotel in Inzell. It is still raining. I’ve booked a room but the hotel’s lights are all off, the doors are locked and there’s no-one about. I hang about in the rain for a while wondering what to do. Eventually someone on a first-floor balcony spots me and comes down to let me in. The explanation is that its Wednesday. Obviously. That means half-day closing in the town and most of the restaurants and cafes are shut, including the ground floor of this hotel. What is it with me and cafes that are closed as soon as they see me coming along? I’m starting to get a complex about it….

No bother. The room is fine and the balcony lets me keep an eye on Tigger. I hang up all my wet gear to dry and then set off to find something to eat. Two restaurants are open, a Thai food bar and one called Kamin-Beisi which is advertising authentic Bavarian meals. I’m in Bavaria so Kamin-Beisi wins. I duck through the door (you must imagine the Bavarian accordion music in the background) and I ask for a table for one. Ah, says the waitress, in this restaurant you will not sit alone, you will sit with other people because we all like to talk to each other. Sure enough, I am seated at a table with Frank and Erica, both locals, about my age. Frank is a lawyer and Erica is a cow-girl. No, really, she has a job tending to the needs of 35 cows that live in the nearby mountains. She sleeps in a mountain shack when she’s on duty. And, as luck would have it, Frank and Erica are both bikers. Frank rides a V4 Ducati Multistrada and Erica rides a V2. They regularly send their bikes by truck to far flung corners of the EU, fly themselves to meet the bikes and then ride them back home. Fantastic, and easy to do when you live right in the centre of Europe! We talk about bikes and families and work and politics. We share some Schnapps and local beers. Prost! The accordion music gets louder. The schnitzel is excellent. I make my excuses before the singing starts...... So, what started as a potential disaster with me standing miserably outside a locked hotel in the rain ended as another serendipitous evening where good things just seemed to happen ….!

The sun is shining when I wake. The Bavarian breakfast is good and Tigger and I are soon on the road. We’re heading along the autobahn to Stuttgart today, but I already have a detour in mind. Frank and Erica recommended a nearby castle that would be worth a visit, the Koningschloss at Cheimsee. I set it as a ‘next stop’ on Garmin, but…. it isn’t quite that simple. You see the Koningschloss is on an island in the middle of a lake, accessible by boat for foot passengers only. I steer Tigger off the autobahn and we head towards the small harbour at Prien. There’s a dedicated parking area for motorbikes so I slot Tigger in. I’m going to have to leave him with all the luggage on, which I don’t like to do, but there’s no option today if I want to see the schloss. I padlock everything on and cover everything with the bike cover (its like a magic invisibility cloak, honestly, it’s the best security device you can buy) and then I go to buy a boat ticket.

The island is great and the Koningschloss is amazing. It was built for Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1870ish and it is a near exact copy of the palace at Versailles, including the garden, fountains, statues, cherubs and all. I had been planning to visit Versailles on my way through France later in the week, but current problems there with civil unrest and riots and curfews mean that I’ll need to give it a miss. So being here to see a duplicate on an island in a lake in Bavaria is a real bonus!

A couple of hours later I’m back on the mainland. Tigger is exactly where I left him. From here the road is not exciting, nothing like the Grossglockner of yesterday! It is just autobahn mayhem from here to Stuttgart. The usual dances with Porches, BMWs and Audis keep me on my toes for four hours straight. Polkas with the Porches, Bona-novas with the BMs and outrageous tangos with the Audis.

My host at my ABnB in Stuttgart is Yilmaz. He offers me coffee and water as I arrive and asks me to remove my boots. I recognise these traits - he’s Turkish. Yilmaz works from home and likes having ABnB guests to stay to add some extra interest to his week. We chat for a bit about the political situation in Turkey, the political situation in Germany and the impact of Brexit on the UK. He suggests that I should visit the local wine museum (this part of town is surrounded by vineyards) but I find it is closed when I get there. They must have seen me coming…. The apartment is very pleasant with its own quiet garden and patio so I decide to cook for myself tonight. I came here with the idea that I could ride into the city for the evening and visit the Staatsgallerie, but I realise I am just too tired to do it. A convivial chat and a couple of Bavarian beers seems like a much better way to spend the evening.

And before I know it another week has passed. I imagine next week will be my final week of this Europe tour. Germany, France, England, Scotland. Sounds easy when you say it quickly but it’s still another 1,000 miles so anything could yet happen….


*Ljubljana’s population is 0.28 million, approximately half the size of Edinburgh.

73 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page