Saturday, November 26, 2016

Europe Tour 2016 Part 5 - The last leg.

Continued from Part 4

Having had a great kip in Hotel Altitude we packed up and headed north again. Today's ride would be a short one, with Beaufort being our destination, just over the next pass. Beaufort was where HB and I had got stranded for three days when the 1150 GS's fuel pump shat itself back in 2009.
Riding away from Val d'Isere it seemed like we were going down for ages before the road climbs sharply up the tight twists and turns to the top of the Cormet De Roselend. Aidan loved this pass, flying off in front,  chucking his Triumph through the tight turns. The pass opens up at the top offering great visibility to really have fun in the corners. We stopped at the top where there was a guy selling juice and some local meats and cheese. He offered us a wee taste which we took, despite the flies landing here and there. 
We tore off down the hill once more till Aidan pulled over for a photo in nearly the same spot as we had broken down years ago. There's great views of Lac de Roselend, which the road flows around before a wide hairpin decent to Beaufort. 

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We stopped in Beaufort for a coffee and some superb cakes over which we discussed our options. I suggested staying in Beaufort, another hotel guys? I left the guys at the cake shop and headed to tourist information, then round the corner to the two hotels that were open in the small town. The cheaper of the two looked the nicest and also said if we stayed we could park our bikes in their garage. By the time I got back with the options everyone else had decided we'd definitely be staying in Beaufort. They agreed on the hotel with the garage and in no time we'd stashed the bikes, had a shower and were back at the cake shop having a braw cold beer. I'd always said that if we we're back in Beaufort it would be good to stay in a nice hotel and get a good meal rather than being stranded bikeless in the tent. That evening we went out for that meal before heading back to the hotel for an early night (for us).

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phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour







Beaufort was to be our last night in the Alps. Our next destination was at the end of another long motorway stint. We were headed for Aubigny sur Nere, a town with a big Scottish connection and is twinned with the town of Haddington where Euan and I went to school. 
At one of the fuel/water stops I got stick for riding too slow. I had been sitting at 130-140 kph according to the GPS but Euan Rossi and Aidan Marquez thought I was driving miss Daisy. I suggested a wee race too Aubigny which, once was re-worded into a "challenge to Aubigny" to satisfy Aidan's paranoia about cursing ourselves, was on. I sat at my 130 - 140 and watched the pair of them pull off onto the distance. We chilled out and followed the GPS off the motorway onto and A road before we were guided along some really nice, almost single track backroads. We passed Sancerre and rode through its awesome vineyards which came right to the roadside. Soon after we pulled into Aubigny and found our campsite. The weather was once more superb, but making a hot tent less appealing, especially when there was "mobilehomes," wee chalet type things available. Our plan was to stay two nights at Aubigny so HB and I made the executive decision to take one of these  chalets for the four of us.
I asked if there were any other bikes here. Surprisingly the answer was no. I expected Euan and Aidan to have made it here before us, but they were no where to be seen. We chilled out on the front of our chalet and I nipped back and forth to reception to access the wifi and check for messages. After an hour we started to get a bit concerned. Still no sign of Euan and Aidan. My mind flashed back to Aidan's worried voice about cursing ourselves by having a race....
Eventually the phone went. They were fine and had arrived in Aubigny town centre. I gave them directions to the campsite and they rolled in, happy with the decision to take a chalet.

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phone pics from euro tour

Our time in Aubigny was spent chilling out at the chalet and wandering around the town. France were playing is the football competition (world cup maybe? I cant remember) and the wee old lady in the shop gave us a lip stick type thing that painted red white and blue French flags on our bodies. There was also a few shouts of "Viva l'Ecosse!" to us, I dunno if this was down to Brexit or the Auld Alliance. We tried to visit the Stuart's castle, but it was closed for renovation. We sampled loads of nice food and drinks, from local French black pudding to a kebab and cocktails in the Cutty Sark pub where we watched the football. France won and the locals went mental, driving around beeping their horns and shouting and waving flags. We also got more "Viva l'Ecosse!!" shouts as we walked back up the street to the campsite.

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phone pics from euro tour

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phone pics from euro tour

Leaving Aubigny Sur Nere took us onto another motorway blast north. Bouillon was our destination; a small Belgian town just over the French border and only a few hours ride back up north to the ferry at Ijmuiden. We had crossed the border and I had dropped my speed a wee bit as the sat nav was all over the shop thanks to its out of date maps not quite matching the roads. I had spied a few signs for Bouillon, so I new we were close. Just as I was looking for the slip road to take Euan blasted past (he must have been hangry) taking the lead. About half a kilometer later there was the slip road, about a hundred meters after the junction was Euan. His flight of the navigator pace was no match for the beemers brakes. Luckily the dual carriageway we were on was empty cos Euan's solution was to ride back up the road. It was only a hundred meters or so.....
In Bouillon we found Hotel Godefroy easily, and got the our shit off the bikes. This was to be Euan and Aidan's last night, they were getting the ferry home the next day. We had a great meal at Chez Betty's had a few Belgian Beers and sampled some cafe gourmand, coffee served with wee cakes and desserts. Aidan and Euan set off earlyish the next day while it was still relatively cool. HB and I had an extra couple of days which were spent relaxing around Bouillon while trying to hide from the 32 degree heat.

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

It's an easy run north to Ijmuiden for the ferry. We got up there in no time and chatted with other bikers beside the boat. Once onboard it was the usual meal and a couple of beers in the bar. It's only a couple of hours run home, if you include a breakfast stop for a bacon roll just over the border back in civilisation.
It had been an amazing three week trip, but if you fancy a trip to the alps or the Black Forest you can do it in ten days or so. It's not that far away so get yer passport dug out and get yer arse over. You'll be glad you did.

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Mike.









Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Europe Tour 2016 Part 4 - Take the high roads.

Continued from Part 3

Even though I had waited till the last minute to pull my bike kit on I was still sweating like a pregnant nun as we geared up to leave Lake Como. We said our goodbyes to Faithir and Maw; they were heading north after we'd recommended Livigno so highly. I fired the bike up and plugged in the charger to recharge all my eleccy gear in the tankbag only to discover the plug had fallen apart and all the guts were rolling around in the socket. The parts were fished out with sweaty digits, luckily it was easy to reassemble the plug, and we were off. A sweaty commute to a petrol station was followed by the familiar motorway blast, the 130kph keeping us cool.
"The fucks going on here?" My GPS which we were relying on to guide us the correct route into the Alps was saying it was nearly out of charge. No good. I remembered the guts of that chargers falling into the auxiliary socket so at the next fuel stop I checked all the fuses. I was sure that the GPS was wired into the same circuit as the aux socket, but all the fuses under the seat were fine. Once the map had been studied and we were fuelled and rehydrated, we set off again. As we rode along I came up with the plan of phoning my Honda breakdown cover at the next fuel stop and asking them if there was a fuse for the aux/GPS circuit anywhere else. Unfortunately, the people who take the calls for Honda's breakdown are as much use as a chocolate fucking fireguard. I explained that I hadn't broken down but I needed some information regarding fuses. The operator wasn't interested so I hung up and gave Two Wheels Edinburgh, my local Honda dealer back in Scotland a call. They let me speak to Andy in the workshop who informed me there was a fuse for the aux/GPS circuit under the left hand fairing. He told me how to get the panels off. Sorted. We managed to get Aidan's temperamental GPS working and with as much as the route memorised from the map as possible, we set off for Pontechianale, high in the Italian Alps.
Once we were off the motorway we followed the relatively straight road through the gently rising wine country, before joining the bottom of Col d'Agnel, another awesome pass where Pontechianale sits halfway up on the Italian side on the banks of Lago di Castello. At the campsite I got our tent up and quickly set about stripping the plastics off the bike. Andy's instructions were spot on and sure enough, we found a blown fuse as I expected. Fuse replaced the bike was reassembled. All sorted in 45 minutes or so, will a wee help from Joe.

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Pontechianale is a wee place, so there was only a few places to eat. We chose a nice pizzeria before heading out to find a bar. Down on the bank of the lake we found Aury's Bar. Aury's was a crazy place with a big fuck off sound system that seemed to play the same song over and over again. We had a great night, it was only us, a few locals plus Aury and his staff, one of whom was obsessed with taking selfies with us down by the jetty. We had planned to only stay the one night in Pontechianale, but there was something about the place that made us stay another night. The next day was spent chilling out once more. Aidan and Jamie fished the lake and were so successful Wojtek and Joe bought a rod too. While they fished HB and I went up the chairlift. I'm usually fine with chairlifts but I was shitting my breeks on this one, my keys for the bike were in my pocket and for some reason I was paranoid they were going to fall out and get lost. We got a coffee and a bite to eat at the top where the view, like so many views in the Alps, was stunning. I was much more relaxed on the way back down with my bike key's zipped up in HB's bag and I managed to get a few photos of the Marmots that were scurrying around the hill side.

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wojtek grappa
Wojtek samples Grappa.

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Aury's Bar.

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phone pics from euro tour

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pontechianale pano

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Marmot.

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

Euan went up the chairlift after us, just managing to avoid a downpour on the way back. The rain didn't top the rest of the lads from fishing though, they pulled a good few fish out of Lago di Castello. There's a catch and kill rule on the lake, so our fish were donated to the folk who ran the campsite as way of an apology after we'd disturbed them coming back from Aury's the night before. Euan wandered about the village with HB and I before we all met up again that evening in Aury's. This time the bar was packed out; Italy were playing Germany. Aury was well pissed up, wandering about with an Italian flag as a cape and giving us free "Aury's Bar" prosecco. Itally got gubbed by the Germans so most of the crowd went home. Aury didn't seem to give two fucks though, within seconds of the game "Sofia" by Alvaro Soler was back on repeat and Aury was bouncing about the place. Jamie, Joe and Wojtek also told us that they were having to go home early, Joe had stuff to sort for his business, Jamie had really bad toothache and Wojtek was a riding in Joe's car. This would mean nearly a 1300 mile journey but that didn't seem to curtail the evening fun.
We packed up the following morning, hitting the road around 11. Col d'Agnel was quite busy with loads of big maxi scooters heading up the same way as us showing us some alternative overtaking methods. We stopped at the top for some photos and to say bye to Jamie, Joe and Wojtek. The views from the top are breathtaking. Col d'Agnel is the third highest in the Alps and the border between Italy and France is right at the top. There's even a line in the tarmac where the road changes countries.

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col du agnel pano

Jamie, Joe and Wojtek split off heading for home while Aidan, Euan, HB and I joined the Route Des Grandes Alps, a tourist route that heads over the highest paved roads in Europe. This was the part of the trip I'd been looking forwards to the most. Forget what Top Gear said about Stelvio, these are the best driving roads in the Alps. We went over Col d'Izoard, stopping for lunch near the top as we went down the north side of the pass. The French high roads are really popular with the usual bikes, cars and pushbikes. The roads are a pleasure to ride and the scenery the standard alpine stunning. We took in the views over lunch while we watched some mad bastards skate down the pass on longboards. Col du Lautaret followed then it was Col du Galibier. I had ridden all these roads before and memories of flying about on my 1150 GS, scraping everything on the corners came flooding back. I must have also have been a mad bastard back then. As we rode up the Galibier I was acutely aware of just how steep and far the drops were off the side of the road. Villages looked like models with ants scurrying about far below. The Africa Twin was performing well, the superb Continental Trail Attack 2's gripped the road nearly as well as my arsehole was trying to grip the seat. The bike even decked out a few times but I was far more aware of our mortality than when I had been in flying solo in my mid twenties. My fear of heights didn't take away from the fun of the passes though. So many people from back home don't appreciate that two longish days ride could have you on these absolutely stunning roads. They have to be among the best driving roads in the world and photographs don't do the scenery justice. There's glaciers, snow capped mountains, blue lakes and rivers, landscapes that look like another planet and that awesome Alpine Fresh air, that really does smell like alpine fresh air freshner, but without the chemicals.

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galibier pano

We pitched out tents in the excellent campsite in the town of Valloire. It was still roasting so we hid in the shade while drinking beers cooled in Euan's water filled pannier. Another great night was spent eating good food and having a laugh.We got a message that night from Jamie, Joe and Wojtek who were getting close to the Calais ferry, they were just passed half way home.
More stunning roads were ridden the following day. Col du Telegraphe ridden up and over before I made an arse of the navigation taking a left when I should have went right resulting in a 14 mile ride up a toll road. We pulled over at a picnic stop and had a heated discussion about which way we should have gone. I was getting called an arsehole for going the wrong way (Euan had a valid point, when you're going north and wat to head east, its right) while I was saying everyone else was arseholes for relying on my to lead the way all the time. Once everyone had been labelled an arsehole we studied the map, deciding the best thing to do was just go back the way we'd came. We stopped for lunch in Modane which lightened the dark mood. When you're travelling with a group it's pretty normal to get a bit frustrated with each other at times. It's also important that you don't hold a grudge or take anything personally, especially when everyone is is and hot and dehydrated as you are.
We continued north on the Route Des Grandes Alps, stopping for the occasional water, photo or fuel stop before we started climbing Col de l'Iseran. Col del'Iseran is the highest paved pass in Europe at 2764 metres, the weather takes its toll on the roads surface seemingly far more than the other passes. While the works to repair the road interrupted our ride it gave us some good opportunities for photos. There was still a fair bit of snow and ice near the top and the climb felt like it lasted for ages. Despite the rough road surfaces it is a cracking pass to ride, possibly not as much fun as Galibier but still stunning ride.

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At the top of Col de l'Iseran we had a brief discussion on where we'd stay. We quickly agreed that Val d'Isere, the next town after we got down off the pass was where we'd stay. As we snaked our way through the walls of permafrost and wee alpine lakes we caught glimpses of Val D'Isere far below. Once in the town we headed straight for Tourist Information. We were going to push the boat out. Tonight we were staying in a hotel!
We checked into Hotel Altitude. Pristine rooms were filled with smelly bike kit. Euan and Aidan hit the swimming pool while I sat and read my book for a bit. Whatsapp let us know that Jamie, Joe and Wojtek had made it safely home to Scotland around 11.30 that morning after an epic 1300 mile journey.
After a while we headed out for a wander, looking at the various huge wooden sculptures that are in Val d'Isere, before ending up at a great restaurant up a side street. Euan and I went halfers on a fondue and a rake of red wine. I'd never tried a fondue before, its like a cheese sauce that's served in a pot over a wee burner. it comes with a load of bread which you dip in the cheese and it's all accompanied with some cold meats and salad. It was nice enough, but even I found it to be a bit of a cheese overdose. Full of cheese and wine we headed out to a pub for the rest of the evening where we had a laugh and spoke to the locals. They didn't seem too friendly until they realised we were "Ecosse". The barman had lived in Edinburgh for a couple of years. Val d'Isere was as good as I had remembered it to be.

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Looking down on Val d'Isere

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

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More to come in Part 5