Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Just My Triumph and Me Cruising Europe

On my original 1969 Triumph somewhere in Yugoslavia
I ran across an old photo of my International Drivers License and another of my 1969 Triumph motorcycle and me while touring Yugoslavia.  Of course, it’s not Yugoslavia anymore, but this picture was taken in 1969 when the country was still under Tito, who was considered a “benevolent dictator” until his death in 1980.  Yugoslavia was dissolved in 1992, but I will admit that when I traveled there in ’69, it was one of the most interesting places I visited.
Part of my International Drivers License
            In those days, if you wanted to rent a room for the night, you would go to the train station and look for rooms advertised on pieces of paper tacked up by people trying to make a buck on the side.  I found a room for one night at a member of the communist party’s home.  The woman who rented me the room may have been a widow, but we couldn’t communicate well, so I don’t know for certain.  All I remember is that she slept on the floor in the kitchen so that I could have the bed.  I didn’t know this until the following day, when a girl traveler in the next room told me.  I felt guilty after I learned that, but this poor woman made some money for that particular night anyway.
            After riding through Austria, where people wore the old fashioned styles of  lederhosen and colorful dresses, I was struck by the fact that everyone wore black when I crossed into Yugoslavia.  It was a dramatic contrast.  
           There were no cars on the road where I traveled, but there were ox carts and people walking.  There were also men and women working in fields, stacking hay on wagons pulled by horses or oxen.  As I recall, there were more women forking hay onto wagons than men.
            I was also struck by the fact that stores only carried one make of each item, whether it was shoes or food.  I guess shopping was easy.  If you wanted shoes, you bought what the government provided.  No ambiguity or confusion there.            
There were nine countries I visited on my motorcycle, including Italy, Spain, Switzerland, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Yugoslavia.  Since my friend, who had planned to meet me at the Hofbrau House in Munich, couldn’t leave his new German girlfriend, I ended up traveling alone for weeks on end.  I traveled through interesting countries back when each was unique with their own currency and customs.  Sadly, it’s not like that anymore.
It should be added that I bought my motorcycle in Copenhagen, Denmark, where their tax was 100% on purchases for the Danes under socialism.  Imagine paying 100% sales tax in this country. Since I was exporting the bike, I could avoid the tax and I paid half-price for a 1969 Triumph 650 motorcycle.  If you look in my garage there is a 1969 Triumph 650 bike sitting next to its progeny, a newer Triumph, more recently purchased in Reno, Nevada.
I could write a book on that trip, but I’ll spare you.  The photos I found were just reminders of a great adventure a very long time ago.


  1. That might be an interesting project. It was sure an interesting trip, Chuck. I'll give you the first copy.

  2. Great photos. Have many more ?

  3. Yes. I don't where they are, but I do have a record of that trip and a helmet with stickers from each country I traveled through. I lost all my papers, records, passport, money, and all important info, along with my camera, in Pisa, Italy. Months after I returned, the Italian police found the stuff and shipped it to me. It was not all fun, but not many adventures are all fun.

    If anyone is interested, I have many stories of those days of my youth. Can't remember what I did yesterday, though.

    1. Don't quit now. We want the "rest of the story"! All the details with nothing left out!!!!!

      If you can't remember it all "make it up"!!!!

  4. Ed -

    There are always enough true stories that can be exaggerated or amplified that I rarely have to make anything up. But I'll look for my notebook, map, and photos to see what might be interesting.

    The "rest of the story" is that I came home and got married.

  5. Ralph: Great story on your Triumph ride through Europe. Wow 100% tax. We're half way there, did that thought ever cross your mind that in the USA half of your money would go to tax? The good news is that when we get to 100% tax here in the USA our shoe buying problems will be solved and happily for most men, just one choice from one supplier and no need to do that tedious comparison shopping for the best price. Another great thing no more wasted weekends going from mall to mall to help my wife find just the right color of shoe for her new spring outfit. Wow it just get's better no wasting time dreaming of the new technology with the new motorcycle models you can keep your hopes and dreams focused on keeping your ox healthy and fed so your wife has something to haul her hay with. I am thrilled that I will have the road to myself soon only needing to dodge ox carts. Of course I am kidding and will fight for and earn the privilege to have unrestricted mobile Internet so I can post to your blog with my iPhone and ride the countryside and visit dozens of malls each with dozens of shoe stores with my wife on the back of my Triumph Trident Full Dress EFI Rocket. Zooming around and through our shining cities on the hill. Great blog Ralph, keep up the great work. I am eager for your next post.