Just got back from a late summer tour encompassing 10 countries [Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovinia, Italy, Switzerland]. The goal was of course riding the highly recognized roads known worldwide, taste the food, wine, and beer, and check out new countries I'd not seen before, and in my case, a few extra days to take in Oktoberfest Munich.
And so 4 of us rented bikes in Munich, [Allround out of Frankfurt], including 2 BMW GSA's, one BMW F800GS, and one Ducati Multistrada. This company seemed foggy in their information, and location at Munich, which it turned they do not have a location, but a representative Kawasaki bike shop to hold their bikes in the area. It turned out well, as the bikes mostly worked well, rental was reasonable, and drop off/pickup went well. As for the bikes themselves, the two GSA's, an '09, and a '10, were trouble free, except for one headlight bulb burned out, and in my GSA, the heated grips cut out for 6 hrs during a major rainfall in Slovinia, but later worked fine. The 2011 F800GS also still trouble free, a headlight bulb burned out, and the new Multistrada, a one day complete electrical interface shutdown during the same major rainday, also came back online once dried out, and the under-designed centrestand breakage from normal use, which meant side stand use only. Fuel economy of the F800GS proved unbelievably good, at more than 65mpg+, more than double the thirsty Multistrada, and the two 1200GSA's their usual 45-50mpg. Fuel stops were considerable only because of the Multistrada's less than 230km range.
Much has been talked about on the quality of roads within Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and it is true. The smoothness and lack of gravel or dust is something to behold. Avoidance of tolled Autostradas is the key, but means a vast decrease in distances covered because of the many villages one goes through, some with busy little roundabouts. This is the same with all of Europe btw. Now, as you enter former USSR territory, the quality of roads drops dramatically, which was noticed right away as we entered Slovakia, and as we headed east and south things got even worse. Almost without exception, road quality in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, inland Croatia, eastern Slovina, and central Italy were so fricking bad, I simply cannot imagine riding a full on sportbike anywhere there. Like really bad. Worse than Mexico. There is alot of building going on to make new highways in Romania and Croatia, but that looks like 5 yrs away, so almost all roads that might have been great for a big adventure bike were clogged with transport trucks and countless 10's of miles in traffic lines. Luckily, motorcycles seem to have 'carte blanche' free rein to pass at will and lane split anywhere and anytime, and park anywhere for as long as we want, which we did all the time. Things that would cause severe confrontational road rage here in North America don't even raise an eyebrow almost everywhere in Europe.
There are significant differences in the people in these little countries. I'll be carefull here as I know people on this forum call many of these countries their homeland, and respect them and like them. But this is simply an unbiased observation as I call it. German and Austrian people conduct themselves in typical conservative fashion, not much free spirit [big exception during Munich Oktoberfest, holy fuck!!], much has to do with the many laws there meant to discourage free spirit. At this point I'm undecided whether this way of living, or the North American "dum-fuckery and free idiocy" is better, but I was feeling supressed while there, and also previous times there.
As we entered former communist territory, there is still a noticable shell of protectiveness being worn by most. From cautious friendliness to a very noticable tourists on a big German motorcycles, to absolute stone faced robot like minimalist 'offishness', to downright gobsmacked curiousity and waving and crowd assemblage and staring in dis-belief in villages, as if we were visitors from another planet. I would say that with this new Europe, Croatia "gets it". They know the potential of the worlds biggest industry [tourism] and they have that absolutely fantastic coastline and stunning beauty, and are working hard to keep it that way. Romania is really trying [they want to join the EU], but gosh they have a long ways to go. Most is still third world, with subsistance living, cutting and harvesting is mostly done by hand, and produce grown in the back yard is sold right there. Horse and cart is still used by many familes, so you have to watch for horse shit on the roads as a bike rider, same in Hungary, and some parts of Serbia. There are few genuine gypsies around, we only really saw one big group of them, about 100, at the southern end of the Transfagarian Pass north of Sibiu, Romania. They were very messy, garbage everywhere, and distinctly different looking people from the rest of the population, and looked at us like a potential opportunity, we did not stop. In this region, tourism is not really recognized, and so hotels are sometimes dodgy unless you pay western EU prices. Serbia seems to be the one country that spinning it's wheels. Granted we only saw the the top half, but what we saw was a head shaker. Open garbage burning on the edge of towns, open sewer running along the ditches, strange acting, confusing, and indifferent border customs guards, angry armed standoff by farmers and security personel only 1 mile in Serbia blocking all roads in the region, it was not something we were ready for especially seeing the time warp that is Romania. If not for the absolutely unbelievable welcome and hosting we got from an old friend of many here [Sasa from Westwood vintage racing] who treated us like royalty every minute, hosting an outstanding restaurant meal of traditional Serbian food, and refused to let us pay for anything [even going to a doctor for me to get medicine for me for severe viral tummy problems from a Turkish spa in Budapest] I for one would have written it off. Clearly there are tensions in the air here, you could just feel it. We did not go into Kosovo, not even close to the border of Serbia/Kosovo [it's not even recognized by Serbia]. I saw 2 huge United Nations KFOR military armada's heading into that region while in Croatia. It really is a shame that the old usual religious differences [IMO religion is the ultimate downfall of humanity] still are preventing this small region to get going with the future as Croatia is. With guys like Sasa, this country has a great future!!
Italy is of course regional, with huge differences. Former Austrian territory Tyrolia continues to be my favourite place to eat, drink, and ride motorcycles in Western Europe. Southwest England is a close second. The lake district of Italy is beautifull, every corner is a postcard, every meal a masterpiece, every glass of wine brilliant. Bologna as a city is the culinary centre of the earth. Of course, visits to Ducati [Bologna] , Moto Guzzi [Mandello] Benelli and Morbidelli [Pesaro] were in order. We had to laugh at Ducati, as an example of the Italian ways, a sign that this country will continue to struggle financially. The tour there was of course escorted. We were made to wait outside at the guardhouse out on the street. It was warm out, maybe 28c. There's no markets or stores anywhere to buy water or anything. Once inside, during and after the tour, there was no place to get water or anything. The main Ducati outlet store was a 1/4 mile walk out to the big roundabout, there was a big fence around the place so we had to walk another 1/4 mile to finally get to it. There was no sales of anything there like water [many motorcyclists there in the heat just melting in their leathers]. A perfect opportunity wasted to sell Ducati branded water, even at triple the cost they could have sold out easily.
The famous rides and passes. The Stelivio is highly regarded. I've done it before. It's essentially your classic alpine climbing road. In other words, it's a series of mostly straight line uphill grades with 5 to 10 km/hr 180 degree turns. Different but not particulary great. The Transfagarian Pass, Romania. About the same as the Stelvio, except the road pavement quality is incredibly bad, very bad. The Top Gear BBC episode calling this the best road in the world is a total fucking joke. I cannot imagine taking a Ferrari on this road, it would be detroyed in 15 miles. A total goat path with outstanding scenery. The Transalpina Pass, Romania. Better than the Transfagarian because it has such a great difference of terrain, from gravel, new pavement, and brutal communist era pavement.
Oktoberfest, Munich. A Bavarian tourism bonanza. Kind of like Disneyland, a celebration of beer. Lots of beer. Tons of food. Much traditional pride and celebration. Multi national, people from everywhere. It was friggin' crazy. Never seen anything like it. The urinals were,,,eye opening. Basically, you rent the beer. When it's time to give it back, it's vey difficult. Mass panic to take a piss. The womens lineups were so long, women were going into the mens massive piss troughs, lifting their dresses or pants, and taking a piss shoulder to shoulder with the men, some standing forward, some bending backwards. Seemed normal after the third or forth time in, but must admit the first time I took a pee between two girls dressed in Bavarian dresses it was tough to uhhhh, relax if you know what I mean. Much regional singing inside. Every nationality. Everyone very happy, pissed. Much police presense. Very expensive beer, 10 Euro each. Massive pretzels, 6 Euro. Sausage and saurekraut 25Euro. Wouldn't have missed it for the world. But you've got to go to the old beer halls in the main part of town to experience the real thing, very special.