Time to start making some miles in an Easterly direction. All we need is a reliable car, good company, and the relevant visas.
So after tense wait and surrendering our passports at the Kazakh embassy in Prague, Sam and I decided to spend our week of mandatary waiting time (surely, surely, by now there should a system that allows an instant visa, even if you have to pay a “I’m an idiot and didn’t bother getting a visa before I left the UK’ fee), taking a little jolly down through Austria, Slovenia, popping into Italy to catch up with some family, and then looping back round to collect a pair of passports, pages dripping with the fresh ink of two brand new visas for Kazakhstan.
The driving was spectacular, with mountain passes through Austria and Slovenia, Lake Bled and Bohinj, and just general countryside perfection that seems to be abundant in that part of the world. The afore mentioned reprobates, Alex and Alex, came with us for the ride, as we hoped to travel further East together and were keen not to get separated at such an early stage. It was great to have some company, and some more perspective on the route planning through some of the trickier areas.
As well as bringing company and brainpower to the journey, they also introduced some excitement, starting in an Austrian mountain pass with beautifully tarmaced harpin bends stretching into nowhere, that seemed permanently inhabited by suicidal motorcyclists.
The Red Duke was leading Ms Matiz down the South side of the mountain, and on particular hairpin got a bit out of shape, the rear outside wheel lifted so slightly, and then time slows, the Red Duke gracefully glided into the grassy ditch on the inside of the corner, while shedding her roof rack in the process. If ONLY we had caught it on film.
Once the relevant clear-up had been dealt with the Alex’s waited in Austria to deal with repairs and the associated logistics, we travelled on through Slovenia and Italy, and passports successfully collected from Prague, onto Romania.
Romania was the beginning of feeling free of the constraints that travelling in Western Europe brings; expensive parking, restrictions on camping, motorway tolls, and endless one-way systems. Finally, we could drive and camp freely, our only restrictions being the the fuel in our tank, the quality of the roads, and our respect for camping on local farmer’s land.
We met up once again with Alex and Alex, sporting a well repaired vehicle, and new respect for the delicate relationship between tyres and bitumen. Together, we drove further East through the Romanian countryside, and ascended the incredible Transfăgărășan highway, that threads it’s way through the Southern Carpathian mountains, without incident.
More wild camping and country driving ensued, camping in fields out of sight of roads, crouching in silence as shepherds herded their flocks of sheep through adjacent fields, and generally bemusing the locals with our magnificent machines. Ms Matiz and the Red Duke were the talk of the town.
Cooking and reading were done in the starlight of unbroken skies that stretched to the horizon, untainted by the light pollution and urban glow that so many of us have accepted as part of life. For all that cities and urbanisation bring to society, they robbed us of a really quite special bit of nature, and a sight that would have been daily enjoyed by most of the world’s population up until the last hundred years or so.