Monday, July 13, 2015

The European Trip, Notes and Lessons Learned.


Almost 2600 km ridden, most of them (2232) on the 2014 URAL Retro.

Rode through five countries of the European Union:  Austria, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Slovenia.

The Retro averaged about 40 mpg, the Ranger/GearUP, perhaps 29 mpg.

Paperwork:

Get your international driver's license from your local AAA office.

You only need the Road Tax Vignette for Switzerland if you use their Autobahns.  Link to which roads require a vignette: LINK

Next time in Austria, pay the fee for the Vignette (less than 10 Euros), some of the state roads going through cities can eat up time because of getting lost while trying to navigate them!  Cross the big cities using the autobahn, then promptly get off after transiting the big city limits.  Both Salzburg and Linz were two cities where having the vignette would have been a good thing.

Does rental vehicle provider provide the green insurance card?  Ural of Austria did do this for me, a nice service on their part.  Note: they are a dealership/distributor first, not a full-time rental outfit.  Spend the money and get the comprehensive damage insurance, we got a dent in our rental car's tailgate (we think someone backed into it while having a bike on a carrier).

Get travel insurance for medical coverage, trip interruption, etc.  We used our local AAA office for this and flight/car rental booking.

Gadgets/Internet:

To power your electronics, one usually relies on a cigarette lighter outlet. The rig I was rented had a new tub, so am guessing they'd not put the stock Powerlet outlet back into it?  Or perhaps European Retro models don't have it.  This of course, meant I couldn't charge my phone/GPS while riding.  Or you could carry a connector which clamps onto the rental vehicle's battery posts with a cigarette lighter outlet on the other end.

Roaming data sim vice country specific sim?  I think the next time I go on a multi-country ride, I'll research a cellphone sim that can roam for data at reasonable prices, buying country-specific ones works but turned out to be a hassle.  If you go with country-specific, buy them from their own stores, not stores which service multiple providers.  Know which package you want, don't let the sales guy pick it for you.

Get a Real GPS mounted on bike and visible with blue tooth!  Blue tooth on helmet too!  Maybe if I'd had a handlebar mount for my iPhone6, but I don't know if I could have viewed the screen easily; add that to the fact that taking one's eyes off the road is not a great idea.....

A handlebar-mounted compass would have been nice.  Here in Colorado, one looks for the mountains to determine West, in Europe, this proved a bit more difficult especially in the Alps where there's mountains everywhere!  Learn how to tell direction by seeing where your shadow is showing up.  In the middle of a pouring rain, the shadow method will be "sub-optimal".

Riding:

Ride your own ride.  The tailgating driver behind you will soon pass you, whether the road markings permit it or not.  The white "sprinter" cargo vans were the worse, followed closely by AUDIs.

Riding in Italy can be "interesting".  More so than in Austria or Germany. Be hyperalert and expect cars/trucks/scooters to dart out from a side street and into the "safe following distance" you're maintaining in relation to the vehicle ahead of you.

Mountain pass roads can be really narrow, be careful and expect fast moving traffic to come whipping around a blind curve.

Get real maps, and use them!  Saves a lot of stops.  GPS is great but I think for the "big picture" route research, you can't beat real maps.  Detailed maps....the ones I got were not really detailed and proved pretty useless except in determining the general direction of an autobahn/autostrada.

It will take more than double the amount of time predicted by google maps to cover the distance between two destinations, probably triple if mountain pass roads are involved.  200 km/day turned out to be a long day on the URAL.

Packing cold weather gear ensured I would be riding in a major heat wave.  Carry water, more than a water bottle, to soak down your shirt in hot weather!  You can buy water each time you stop of course, but it's more expensive than gas!

Caveats:

Always have some tens for automated gas stations.  In Italy, the automated stations only seem to accept credit cards issued by Italian Banks.  Be prepared, have some tens, usually around 20 Euros would fill up the tank on the URAL Retro.  Larger denomination bills are accepted but No change given.  SonjaM tells me you can also try asking other riders to use their cards, giving them money as reimbursement.

The Swiss may return change in Swiss Francs, they do take Euros.  Don't forget to get rid of the Swiss coins before leaving Switzerland, the money exchanges I tried later, didn't take coins.

Sure, pre-booking the night before saves some hassle upon arrival at new overnight destination but if you pre-book and can't make it to that destination, you're going to lose money.  This is also where a real GPS would aid immensely.

Lodging:

If you're feeling adventurous, try a room at the Gasthof that offer them, they're cheaper than what you can find via booking.com.

I didn't try AirBnB rooms.

A "single" room will be small, barely room to swing a cat but they proved good enough for my needs and all came with bath/shower in room.  


Logistics:

When flying out of Frankfurt, Germany: No sense getting to airport before 6am, though you can check bag in, you can't go thru the gate's boarding pass control and passport control till 630AM.

Buy the German chocolate at duty free store after border control checkpoint, it's cheaper by a lot....bought 2 x 7Euro each outside, the duty free had 3 x 7Euro total! 

If you book a hotel near the Frankfurt airport, you should call the hotel to ensure you know which terminal gate their shuttle will go to for pickup. Unlike the airports here in the States, Frankfurt's airport had multiple spots.

Try for direct flights from overseas back to your home town. Customs and rechecking the bag in is a big PITA, not to mention going through security once more.

Route taken via Rental Car.  


Pictures taken: 4288+
Pictures used: 601 or 14% of total taken.

8 comments:

Richard M said...

Thank you for not only blogging fantastic photos during your trip but providing these tips and lessons learned.Do you also get the liability insurance from the car rental company?

I carry these rechargeable USB USB battery packs. The 2200 mAh one (freebie from Alaska Airlines) is only about 4" long and maybe 1" square. It will completely charge the iPhone 5S from almost dead and has over twice the capacity of the GoPro battery.

Charlie6 said...

Thanks RichardM, I had a small version of the battery pack you described, good for one charge of the iphone.

Anonymous said...

Wouldnt international calling / data plan on your US phone have been cheaper??
I did that when I went to UK and Iceland and everything seemed to work seamlessly. Plan was pro-rate too.
Dave Morrell

Trobairitz said...

Great little lessons learned from your travels. Sounds like you took one for the team figuring it all out. Tough job, but someone has to do it.

Charlie6 said...

Dave M. Yeah, looked into that with Verizon, my provider. Costs were higher.

Trobairitz, sometimes, as the saying goes, it could be my purpose in life is to show others how not to do things.... :)

SonjaM said...

Valuable lessons, and likely helpful for the next traveler heading to Europe. You should maybe make it a sticky post.

David Masse said...

Dom, that was my experience too, what is it with the people who drive Audis?

I would add to your excellent list to be wary of restricted zones in Italian cities with a rental car. A couple of hours navigating in Florence to our AirBnB and then the car rental office, plus a few hours in Lucca, cost us close to $1,000 in fines, months after the fact.

Loved your vacation posts. You are one lucky guy!

Charlie6 said...

SonjaM, thanks....as to making it a sticky note, unsure, though I will refer to it next time a trip such as this comes around!

David M. Thanks and yes, good info.