The bike passed! I’m glad we used Gray’s in London.
Okay, so what have we learnt?
- Europe is bloody freezing in March/April
- Bielefeld (where?) is easily forgotten
- You can’t beat proper bike gear for staying warm & dry
- Helen’s micro down jacket was much more versatile than my stripy fleece type thing
- Nike Combat compression thermals are brilliant; no need for anything else under cordura winter coat, so you don’t feel like Michelin Man
- I need a better system for not losing small expensive items like 64GB USB memory & phone adapter (didn’t make it out of first hotel)
The bike needs:
- A better horn
- A bigger front brake master cylinder (already ordered off eBay)
Grays Tyre Service
We were cold, we were lonely, they were there, they were there, for our MOT test.
The second day at Ferme Neomie, was market day in Le Bourg so we all went in and pottered round the market stalls and cycling and outdoor shops. The market had that typical French feel and was full of atmosphere. The town is well serviced with a large supermarket and many smaller shops, cafes and restaurants.
Back at the campsite, a few people had a nap due to overdoing it the night before. Helen strangely decided to have a go at preparing and cooking whole artichokes for the first time, on the tiny camp stove. They turned out great but were very labour intensive. Both Jerry and Helen developed a fondness for them and thought it well worth the effort. We had a great evening meal at the campsite cooked by Helen and Sarah and a bit less alcohol was drunk than the previous night as we all intended to move on the next day.
So far the weather had been fair at Ferme Neomie. Some baking, hot sunshine but also a bit of rain. Day 3 at Le Bourg was set to be hot and sunny, whereas the forecast for the next two days was not so good. We decided not to move on to the Val dÌsere area but to stay at Le Bourg for another two nights so that we could ,have a great ride out that day without the luggage, while the good weather lasted. We sadly waved goodbye to Sarah and Jerry until we see them again in Berlin at New Year.
Day 15 was a great day of motorcycling as we rode up Col Galibier, as recommended by Jerry. The ride up was pretty easy compared to some other high alpine passes but the views at the top were superior to most we have seen. We headed off to Col La Croix en Fer but were beset by a series of problems which included the road being closed due to road resurfacing. We drove around in circles as the GPS tried to adjust to this fact. There was no prior warning of the closure and no deviation. The area around this pass is definitely worth exploring as it is much less busy than the area around Deux Alpes and Col Galibier. Again, however, we came across a very ugly ski resort, complete with high rise blocks. We also came across some very authentic, French villages which were all closed up for Sunday to balance things up.
Day 16 was spent pottering around the campsite and Le Bourg due to the threat of rain. We had moved from the emplacement we shared with Sarah and Jerry to the paddock. At first, it seemed delightful with lots of space, thick grass and wonderful views of the mountains. It was not until the first morning we awoke there that we became aware of the slug problem. Big black ones on the tent and in our stuff inside the porch. Dave rehomed them using an unwanted plastic mug.
The rain promised fro Day 16 had started early evening and by the next morning was heavy and persistent. Even our super, all weather tent was taking the strain. At least the slugs had been washed out. Dave heroically donned full waterproofs and went out to cook the breakfast. The rain lashed down for another 3 hours but we took advantage of a short break around 11am to pack up and move on to Grenoble. It was a miserable journey in the rain but only took an hour.
We had booked a hotel room near the station so that Helen could easily catch a train to Arles the next morning, where she was spending a few days while Dave met up with Jason and Spider for some more riding. It was embarrassing turning up at the hotel dripping wet with carrier bags of damp, smelly gear. The Ibis Styles had good facilities, including on site underground parking which they let us have for free, good WIFI and breakfast included for 75 euros. The shower was the best we have encountered all holiday. Also useful is the location of Carrefour Express next door.
Of just as much interest as the parking was the proliferation of Indian restaurants and ethnic supermarkets, all closed when we arrived. We smartened ourselves up and went into town on foot wearing our bike boots as they were our only dry shoes. The old town is what you would expect of an old French cityand, on a clearer day, the mountain views extend in every direction. The atmosphere was severely dampened by the weather though, as it had been in Turin. We found some vegan food a a pretty terrible falafel shop and fortified ourselves with a drink in a cosy bar.
That evening, we headed for Shiva Indian restaurant only to be told that they were full. The Bombay told us the same thing but took pity on us and found us a table with low level cushion type seating-just iike camping-which we could have for an hour and a half. The place was thriving and the staff were super friendly. The food was fairly good but not spectacular.
We had arranged a week before to meet old friends Sarah and Jerry at a campsite in Le Bourg dÓisans in the French Alps. We were heading that way anyway and they happened to be staying there for a few days in their great VW camper van. Dave had not seen them for 10 years. We first met Sarah in 1996 when we rode around India together for a few weeks along with a motley group of other bikers met along the way.
The ride from Turin was fast and easy along the motorway. There are some very long tunnels as you approach the French border. First impression of the French Alps is that they are not as pretty as The Dolomites. Higher, yes but less forested and there are more ugly ski resorts. The villages are mostly newer and do not have the atmosphere of Italian villages. You do see more snow though and lots of waterfalls.The highlight of this short trip was the Col Lauteret at 2,200m with great views from the top of the pass. It was bloody cold though. Only in France will you find stalls selling local delicacies on a high mountain pass. We bought some jam from a woman who claimed to make all 16 varieties herself. I am sure that making the jam is a lot more rewarding than standing out all day in the cold trying to sell it.
It was great to see Sarah and Jerry. Jerry had just come back from riding over one of the high mountain passes, Col Galibier, 2,600m, on his bicycle! The campsite Ferme Noemie was stunning. Run by a friendly British couple and very laid back. It was strange to be surrounded by so many British people. It did not take long for the beer and wine to be broken out. Sarah cooked a veggie curry and a very nice evening was had.
We left Slovenia in sunshine and rode through some great scenery, on fun roads, for a couple of hours. Detouring into Italy (crossing the border in the middle of a housing estate) to ride along the corniche into Trieste was a bit disappointing as there were trees and bushes blocking the sea view all along the coast road. Trieste was a bit crazy with traffic but was a beautiful Italian, port city with a huge main square and a real Italian atmosphere. We both commented on how much we preferred it to Prague. Dave did a great job riding and navigating through the city, with the help of the GPS, under difficult conditions.
We crossed back into Slovenia for a while and felt impatient to see Croatia. On approaching the border, we were surprised to learn that Croatia is not party to the Schengen Agreement and there was a proper border crossing with guards, where we had to show our passports. Some Swiss guys in a sporty Audi were turned away, which made us a bit nervous (as border crossings are prone to do). We had no problems entering our 24th country on a motorcycle together though.
Almost instantly, the landscape became less mountainous and pine forests had turned into vineyards and olive trees, with a real mediterranean feel. We crossed the Istrian peninsula, which seemed totally devoid of life. We passed through a toll booth which seemed to indicate a motorway only to find we were on a normal, well surfaced country road, that clearly warrants a toll in these here parts. When we got to the other end of the toll road, it was free for bikes, so no complaints but still weird.
We checked into our lovely hotel Villa Annette for two nights, as part of Helen´s 50th birthday treats. A lovely room with stunning views over the bay of Rabac from the balcony. A bit of a change from camping. You always feel like a pair of tramps arriving at a nice hotel on the bike with all the gear and the smell of camping lingering. on entering the room, we instantly raided the mini-bar for cold beer and pretzels.We had a posh meal in the upmarket, hotel restaurant where the cutlery was too big for Dave to feel comfortable and the waiter kept hovering. They made a pretty decent attempt catering for a pair of weird vegans. Pudding was a champagne glass with liquid strawberries-delicious. We sampled the local wine which is made by the hotel- it was ok but came in BIG glasses. It was a lot better than the Slovenian beer. Croatian beer is pretty good too. We have a feeling that years of hardship have made drinking a higher priority for the locals here.
On our second day in Rabac, we ventured up the hill looking for a supermarket and found a wonderful Venetian town. Just our kind of thing. What´s more, the restaurant on the main square advertised vegan burgers. We had to change money, as Croatia is not in the euro. We changed 30 euros but found lunch cost only 10. We pottered around the tiny, cobbled streets and admired the sea views before stopping at the supermarket to take a big bag of beers back to the hotel.
We’ve been to Slovenia before, about ten years ago. This time, we are on a brilliant bike. Last time, we were on a Yamaha Thundercat. We must have been miserable sods back them because we do not remember thinking that Slovenia was stunningly beautiful…and it is…remarkably so.
Yamaha Thundercat. Not a brilliant bike.
The weather was very mixed today and we had the waterproofs on and off a couple of times but we arrived dry, which is the most important thing when you are camping.
The scenery upon entering Slovenia from Austria, via cutting the corner off Italy briefly, was equally the best we have seen in Europe. We were so high up, looking deep into the valley below that it was almost like being on a plane. The tall, rocky Dolomites to the west and the green Julian Alps to the east and north were staggeringly beautiful. The road was also a lot of fun. It was as if everything had been shrunk down since Austria. The road much narrower, the mountains close enough to touch and finally the sun shining.
Bovec is an attractive little tourist town in a wonderful setting. A campsite, B&Bs, advertising rooms for 25 euros a night, two big supermarkets and a few bars and restaurants. Helen´s favourite place was the tiny greengrocers where they sold big punnets of black cherries and fresh, green figs which we polished off after a meal of tofu curry cooked on the stove. Slovenian beer is pretty terrible but then the people do not come across as party animals. We noticed that back in 2004 on our last visit. Good beer is clearly not a priority.
Dave´s turn to cook breakfast
Okay, here we go! We were a bit nervous leaving Berlin, as is normal at the start of a trip. Fortunately, we picked the quietest day on the roads since Germany were last in the World Cup Final.
The journey was fast and easy, except for the bit just over the Czech border where the motorway disappeared and became a dodgy, patched up road- very Eastern Europe. A tip for bikers- you do not need a vignette to use the motorways in Czech. They are free for bikes so no need to stop at the border and buy one.
A Bit About Kit
Triumph Tiger 955i
Ten years old, owned by us for eight years, this bike has seen off five other bikes we have owned, including, most recently, a Triumph Explorer. It’s standard except for:
- CCC exhaust
- Whatever happened to the Carbon Can Company?
- Touratech panniers
We booked into the Eurostars David Hotel in the “new” town. The Art Nouveau style of this part of the city reminded us of Barcelona. We really want to like Prague but we just don`t. It underwhelms us. It lacks the atmosphere of the Italian and Spanish cities that we love.
We visited an English and an Irish pub to drink some beer and cider and eat Walkers crisps. Us expats are easily satisfied. We also find Czech pubs either too touristy or too local and a bit scary so we played safe. Czech beer is nowhere near as good as German beer. Call us fussy but we would rather pay extra for German beer. Once you have gone German, it is hard to go back- this only applies to beer.
Predictably, we end the first night in an Indian restaurant- Indian Jewel, opposite The Dubliner in the old town. The total lack of good Indian food in Berlin, leads us to seek out curries on our travels. Helen´s dahl was excellent but Dave´s curry was not spicy enough for a Brit and disappointing. We still ate too much though and waddled back to the hotel early to avoid the match, hoping we could pretend it was not happening.