FOR EASTERN EUROPEAN RIDERS

The main things you will have to contend with are suspicious immigration authorities and a language barrier. You may also find prices in some countries alarmingly high.

Many countries are sure that everyone from the former communist bloc is determined to stay on as an illegal immigrant. The two worst are the United States and Britain.

In the United States, assuming you are flying in, it is a good idea to have your return ticket already paid for. You should also have plenty of money (in cash or travellers' cheques) as well as at least one major credit card. You may also find it advantageous to demonstrate that you have good reason for returning to your home country, such as owning a house there, or having a job.

I should add that Americans often have a problem with the idea of anyone taking even two weeks' holiday, let alone three, because many American wage-slaves have as little as one week of annual 'vacation' and two weeks is regarded as very generous: some companies even insist that the two weeks be taken separately.

These problems do not affect only Eastern Europeans. When in 1982 I went to California to bring Frances back to England so we could get married, the dialogue went very much as reproduced below (LM = 'La Migra', the US immigration services). It is worth reproducing quite a lot of the dialog to show what you may have to deal with. He already knew that I was there to pick up my fiancee and that I had a return ticket.

LM: How long are you staying?

Me: Three and a half weeks.

LM: How much money have you got?

Me: Don't know. (Checks wallet). About $200.

LM: That's not enough to stay three and a half weeks.

Me: I know. But I've got $2000 in the bank.

LM: Which bank?

Me: Barclays

LM: Why?

Me: They are my bank in England.

LM: Why have you got $2000 in the bank?

Me: Um... Because that's how much I'll need to live on?

LM: Why is it in the bank?

Me: That's what banks are for. You put money in, you take it out.

LM: But why have you got a bank account?

Me: It's better than carrying cash.

LM: Why did you say you were here?

Me: I'm here to collect my fiancee.

LM: Why?

Me: So we can go back to England and get married.

LM: Why?

Me: Well, that's what you do when you're engaged.

LM: Why is she going back to England with you?

Me: Because that's where I live. I own a house there, too.

LM: But why is she going back with you?

Me: Because we're going to get married.

LM: Are you sure you are not going to stay in the United States?

Me: Increasingly.

Later, the UK immigration service turned out even worse. Twelve years later, we spent two years and two days out of Britain. Those two days meant that Frances lost her right to residency in the UK and therefore had to start a 'probation' period all over again, to show that ours wasn't a marriage of convenience -- after well over a decade!

I would never wish it upon anyone that they should rot in hell forever, but a brief spell in purgatory might give those assholes a chance to reflect on how they did their jobs when they were alive (if you can call it alive). If they can do this to someone who has a return ticket and comes from one affluent country (where they have a job) to visit another, think what they can do to a young motorcyclist. Or even a middle-aged one.

THE LANGUAGE BARRIER

You are presumably resigned to the fact that hardly anyone outside your native country is likely to speak your native language. I once asked someone in Skoda Photo in Prague if he spoke English. "No," he said. "Do you speak Czech?" You may however imagine that English or German will always be enough.

Although English is probably the most useful language world-wide (see also the section on Language), it is by no means universally spoken -- though the more expensive the hotel or restaurant, the more likely it is they will speak English, so if money is not a problem, English may indeed be all you need.

English probably is the most useful second language in much of Europe, but in Portugal we have found French more useful, while in Spain (away from the holiday resorts) and in much of Central and Eastern Europe, German is understood far more widely than English.

In France, you really need to speak French. Many French people genuinely cannot speak even basic English, despite having been taught it at school, and even if they can, they may well choose not to. They will be more willing to speak bad English to you than they would to a native English speaker (the French hate to show themselves in an unfavourable light), but in 'la France profonde' -- 'deep France', where we live -- they may well speak only their native tongue. The only real exception is border areas, where you may find German or Spanish or at least Catalan.

Even more, you need to speak English in Britain and the United States. You may be able to find a few people who can follow French in England (though very, very few in the United States) but German will be next to useless. It is not even widely taught.

PRICES

Top-end prices in businessmen's hotels are much the same anywhere. The real variations come in when you want to stay in middle-range or even cheap hotels. Very roughly, cheap countries such as Portugal cost slightly more than much of Central and Eastern Europe; mid-range countries such as France and Germany cost 50 to 100 per cent more; and expensive countries can easily cost more than twice as much. It is worth knowing, though, that some countries exhibit very wide variations, as much as a factor of two inside the same country. There is more about this in the (paid-for) country-by-country sections.

Similar considerations apply to meals: it is useful to know what to eat, and when to eat it. Breakfast, at an English 'bed and breakfast' where it is included in the price of the room, can be such a substantial meal that you need little or nothing at lunch time; but French breakfasts (which are often charged extra) are not worth bothering with, especially at the prices demanded.

And when it comes to drinks, price structures can differ radically. In England, for example, a glass of wine is slightly more expensive than half a pint (call it 320 ml) of beer. In France, a small glass of beer (250 ml) is likely to cost twice as much as a glass of wine. And in either country, the beer will cost you twice as much as it would in the Czech Republic. Once again, we have tried to give the best guidelines we can in the (paid-for) country-by-country sections.

DISCLAIMER

This information has been verified as far as possible but should not be taken as definitive. You alone are responsible for your safety on a motorcycle (or elsewhere) and should always ride and behave accordingly. Click here for the Official Health Warning.

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last updated: 04/11/03

© 2003 Roger W. Hicks