Over the next week I will start to finalise the clothing, equipment, accessories and more that we take with us. Two people, on one bike, for 18 days means that we will have to be very selective in what we carry. I might put a manifest together when we go, and update when we get back, to help me learn what is and is not useful on a long road trip like this. We have done longs trips in the past, so have got some experience, but there is always something to improve on.
So we packed most of our stuff on the weekend. We have each managed to fit our clothing (other than shoes) into a saddlebag, but all the stuff for the bike, plus laptop, chargers and more will need to fit into the top box, and that will only be finalised on Friday before we leave.
I bought a bunch of locks and chains and other security for the bike after a fellow resident told me some horror stories of bikes getting stolen here. We won’t take them all with us on the trip, but will take a subset, as we will be leaving the bike in a number of public places during the tour.
I a trying to stay focussed at work, and not check out before Friday, but it is difficult. I am really looking forward to this long-awaited trip. One slight downer – the weather has been glorious for a few weeks, but today it is wet and raining quite hard, and probably 10 degrees cooler than it has been for a month. I hope this passes before Friday.
So – the day has finally arrived after months of planning and waiting impatiently. We are pretty much packed up and ready to roll, just doing a few last-minute things before suiting up and lugging our baggage downstairs.
I am very excited about this trip – this will be the longest road trip I have taken for about 35 years, I think. And we are visiting new areas that neither of us have seen before. I have wanted to see the Italian lakes for a long time, and to go over the St Bernard pass, and to do a whole bunch more things that I have not had the opportunity to do before.
It is Lena’s birthday on the 19th, and I have a surprise in store for her. I will reveal more at the time, but I am looking forward to it, too.
Okey Doke, we are off to get suited and booted – see you later.
Bonjour mes ami from your actual continent of Europe. We are in a cheap hotel in St Omer, about 40km south of Calais, having made a late crossing of the Channel (actually, we took the tunnel under it). It is 23:30 on Friday evening, Bastille day in France, and we are enjoying lazing on the bed and catching up with the world of social media.
We finally were ready to leave home mid-afternoon after much faffing and re-packing, cleaning and tidying of the apartment, and more faffing. I also finished the lastepisode of Season 6 of Game of Thrones today, which I much enjoyed. Anyway, we were rolling before4pm. Traffic was bad, and though I did a fair bit of filtering between cars, the bike is pretty heavy and a bit unwieldy fully laden. It is probably weighing around 600kg all told, so I am still a bit cautious with low-speed manoeuvres.
Anyway, we made the cut-off for boarding our train with 15 minutes to spare, only to be told that there were some technical power issues in the tunnel, and trains were delayed by 30 minutes. 30 minutes turned to 60, and we drank some coffee to pass the time. 60 became 90 when they finally called our intake, but we sat at the final staging point for another half an hour before we boarded. we were very last onto the train – glad they could fit us on or we would have ha an even longer wait. We finally set off over 2 hours later than scheduled.
The crossing is pretty quick and uneventful – about 35 minutes door to door. Amazingly, there is internet connectivity through mobile phone networks, and I was able to message Ben while 20,000 leagues under the sea. Modern technology is pretty cool.
Last on, last off (as Mr Miyagi says). We left the train, and stopped to fill up with expensive petrol. Suitably fuelled, we ventured out onto the right-hand drive roads of the Continent. We rode about 30 minutes south, and arrived here at St Omer around 2300 ish. A quick bedtime snack, a quick blog update, and then teeth and beddington. See ya tomorrow.
We woke up on the outskirts of quiet town in the north of France. It was early (for us) so we tried to not get up, but eventually had to surrender to the fact that we were not going back to sleep, and so we showered and had a continental breakfast in the hotel.
The first few days of a road trip usually entail some re-packing and adjusting of arrangements, and today was no exception. Most of my bag was unpacked and re-distributed, as was the main bag that goes into the top-box. Lena and I each have a bag in a side pannier, and we share the top-box, which has a lot of stuff like cameras, laptops, bike gear, shoes and toiletries in it. Happy with my re-packing, we loaded up, and set off towards Metz.
Today was planned as a “motorway” day. Motorbikers like twisty roads and scenery, and little traffic; motorways offer the opposite. However, our aim is to get south as quickly as we can, so todays route was mainly the Autoroute des Anglais, and then the Autoroute de l’Est.
Motorway miles are easy, generally pretty boring, and quick. We had very little traffic on our roads, and so we ate up the miles, stopping for a couple of refuels (bike and tummy) along the way. An un-remarkable trip, we arrived in Metz late afternoon. Our hotel is opposite the main train station, and I put the bike into the station car-park. However, the hotel had private parking for 5 Euro, so I decided to move the bike.
My car-parking ticket decided, in its own Gallic manner, to not cooperate with my attempts to leave the carpark or pay for the parking. I tried all the gates, parked up and went to talk to the station Information folk, and tried all the gates again, but to no avail. Eventually I had to ride around the side of the gates, and left without being able to pay for the parking. I relocated to the hotel garage, and headed up to our room for a well deserved (and very necessary) shower.
We walked to the old town, about 15 minutes from our hotel. We stopped in a large square and had a drink, and then wandered around until we found the Cathedral. It is a hugely ornate and impressive building, and we had 15 minutes to wander around inside, taking pics of the stained glass and ornamental architecture.
Dinner was steak, served al-fresco in a nice place on a busy pedestrian street near the Cathedral. Accompanied by a nice glass of red, and a homemade sauce, it was delicious.
We walked down to the Moselle river close by, took a few pictures of a large church on an Island in the river, and them ambled back to our hotel.
A pleasant evening, not too hot, ended what has been a pretty easy day – other than trying to liberate my bike from the train station carpark. Tomorrow, we head to the Black Forest in the southwest of Germany.
It rained overnight, and so it was quite overcast and damp when we woke up. Neither of us slept very well, and so we were awake early and ready to get moving. The hotel had a really nice breakfast, and we set off on our way to Germany well before 0900.
The weather was quite cool, and I stopped to zip my waterproof liner into my bike jacket. It was not actually needed in the end, but rather safe than sorry. We burned up the kilometres along the Autoroute de l’Est, and left it it after about 180km had passed.
Without any fanfare, border posts or even a cursory notification, we were in Germany. We finally were off the motorways, and wound our way through Baden Baden and up into the Black Forest. Twisty, windy roads and beautiful forest views accompanied us for the last hour of our travels.
We got into Bad Wildbad around midday. We are staying at a well appointed by slightly decaying spa hotel in this small Swabian town. Our room was not ready, so we walked through the pretty town and sat outside a restaurant by the river. I had a pork Schnitzel which was great, and a local beer which was even better. Lena had a grilled trout which she enjoyed immensely.
Back to the hotel, and our room was ready, we changed out of biking gear, and then walked less than 100 meters to the Sommerbergbahn, a funicular railcar that climbs almost 300 meters in a 700 meter stretch, from down in the valley to the top of the Sommerberg. The views from the top are stunning – green forest and valleys as far as the eye can see.
In the forest at the top is the Baumwipfelpfad, a walkway built high up in the trees. We had a walk through, and were treated to even more fabulous views. The walkway ended at a spiral tower, 40 meters high, which gives one an unfettered vista of forest in 360 degree technicolor glory.
Back down the steep rail to our hotel, changed into bathrobes, and then wandered across the courtyard to the spa. Like nearby Baden Baden, this town is blessed with thermal springs, and they have built a whole spa complex, with saunas, pools, showers, plunge pools, steam rooms and more. We did a bit of exploring around the 3 floors of facilities, and then commenced activities with a sauna and then a swim.
We could not help noticing that there was a notice as soon as you left the first floor of the spa, saying something like “from this point onward, you are required to not wear a bathing suit when using the facilities”. Basically, clothing is optional on the first floor, but thereafter, the breeze is your only modesty. The Germanic folk are generally very comfortable with nudity, and it was quite relaxing to be swimming, sauna-ing, plunging, showering and having a kleine bier on the sunny top deck without the encumbrance of any cover.
We spent a couple of hours enjoying the spa, then went back to our room and got dressed (somewhat to our disappointment) for dinner. We meandered further along the river that runs through this small town to Hotel Alte Linde, and had a nice meal and a tasty bottle of Beaujolais.
I have been suffering from cramp in my calf for the last couple of days, but as I subjected it to a severe pummelling from a high-pressure jet in one of the spa pools, I am hoping that my right calf will be a bit more relaxed and easier to use tomorrow.
Gute Nacht, meine Lieben
Well well, we have just completed our first (and last) full day in the Germany. Our little town of Bad Wildbad was truly idyllic, and this morning (almost) did not break the spell. Lovely breakfast in out hotel, packing is getting easier, and though the bike was in the nearby garage, I could ride it up to the door to load up, so in all a good start.
Actually, it was a good start, until we went to check out. The hotel staff had been immaculately polite, helpful and with polished English, and paying for the stay, I was ready to end our time there without hiccup. The receptionist asked me where we were headed to, and I told her our destination. “Ah, Lake Constance – beautiful. So much better than the Mediterranean”. At this point I could not argue, having never visited Lake Constance. However, I have seen a number of points on the Med, and while lovely, it can be dirty and unappealing in places – so I was fully ready to accept that the lake formed by the Rhine was indeed much better than the Med.
“It is so much better”, she continued. “There are no dead refugees floating in it!”. And there you go – in a tiny, picturesque village miles from anywhere, safe and solitary, and never likely to attract anyone but the white and wealthy – Mrs Average has a strong and very negative opinion about refugees. I was flabbergasted.
Anyway, setting xenophobia aside, we paid up and drew a hasty retreat. I had planned a route which took us along a famous biking road through the Black Forest. This meant returning on our previous days roads for about 20kms, which I didn’t mind at all as they were pretty, forested and twisty.
We rode along the 500 road for about 70 kms. It was stunning, with amazing views. We stopped a few times to gawk at the scenery and take photos. We waved to a lot of bikes going in the opposite direction, they were also enjoying a perfect day on a perfect route.
About 20 K’s from Rottweil (who knew?), we ran into roadworks and a diversion. We had passed various signs threatening us with some kind of roadworks, but between us we can sprechen about 6 words of German, and so we blithely ignored the warnings. Anyway, before we could get to Rottweil (the breed of dog is named after a butchers dog from this town), we hit a dead end. A tentative turn on gravel (my bike is not easy to manoeuvre), and we turned back. My Satnav lady got a bit excited and kept trying to turn us around and send us back to the gravel pit. I ignored her with fortitude, and blindly felt my way through the countryside of Baden-Württemberg.
One of our detours took us through a small town, and we stopped at a local supermarket to stock up on lunch supplies. Suitably stocked, we continued our tentative route through the pretty agricultural countryside, and suddenly found ourselves on a motorway. We stopped at a picnic spot for our lunch, which was delicious. Germans certainly know how to make a good salami.
Back on our route, we headed south-east, until we came to Lake Constance. Friederichshafen is about 25km along the shore, but further roadworks and holiday traffic made sure it took us an hour to do the final 20k’s. Not only was the going tough, but the blazing sun was slowly cooking us in our bike gear. We crawled along to our hotel, plonked the bike outside the front door, and staggered in to a modern-looking building, the Seehotel. The clerk was very polite, again spoke great English, and I though Lena was going to kiss him when he said we had been upgraded to one of the 2 premier suites that they have in the hotel.
Our room is amazing – it overlooks the lake, is very modern, has a lot of glass and mirrors, and is very comfortably appointed. We moved the bike to the underground garage, unloaded, and spent ten minutes “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” at the room and views.
I was very drained by the ride and heat, so I had a shower, Lena gave my neck a massage, and I promptly feel asleep. I slept about an hour, and then dragged myself out of bed so we could have a walk along the lake. It is very pretty, and had wonderful views across it to Switzerland, and as they day was very clear, we could see a great collection of the Swiss Alps.
We could also see a massive collection of humanity. Today is the culmination of the Seehasenfest. The Lake Bunny Festival. I kid you not. Apparently, after the 2nd war, the area was very depressed. It was an industrial town (Ferdinand, Graf von Zeppelin had his factory here), and so was heavily bombed by the allies. The towns mayor, in 1949, in an attempt to brighten kids lives, started the festival, and it has grown to be a major family festival.
Unfortunately, I think we missed much of the traditional festivities (if there were any). We found a kilometre of fast food stalls, beer tents, candy stands, carnival rides and amusements, and a massive throng of over-excited, and often intoxicated, people. The place was loud.
I am not much of a morning person. I am not much of an anything person, to be honest, and often when I awake, either from a nights rest or a nap, I am pretty groggy. I felt pretty grim this afternoon – probably a combination of post-nap drowsiness and being baked in the sun while clad in biker clothing, plus a bit of sunstroke thrown in for good measure (my face – particularly my nose – burnt on todays ride). Anyway, I am not a fan of crowds at the best of times, particularly not of loud, jostling revellers, but combined with my feeling somewhat unwell, I did not enjoy what was meant to be a pleasant and edifying afternoon stroll along the promenade.
We passed at least 3 extremely loud live bands, all playing rock music. badly. One of them had a singer that could sing (kind of) in tune, which was refreshing, but it didn’t really improve the music much. In fact, now in our lovely upgraded suite overlooking the lake (and the festivities), i can hear one of the bands mutilating many rock standards as I write. John Lennon is currently spinning in his grave at the travesty that is a Germanic “Hey Jude”.
Anyway, back to my trials of the late afternoon. Lena dragged me along the lakeside in one direction, then another. The sun was too bright, and even with my sunglasses on I couldn’t see much. My wife is many wonderful things, and she is good to me in so many ways. However, if she has a plan in her head, then the world could melt for all she cares – she is going to follow her plan. I shuffled behind her for an hour – though it felt like 12 hours – until she finally noticed that I was not firing on all cylinders, and so she shepherded me into a restaurant, which had a lovely terrace overlooking the lake. A glass of wine and a salad later, and I started to feel vaguely human. We had a nice meal as the sun set – a Swabian version of beef Stroganoff for me, and a Greek Nicoise salad mutation for Lena. She enjoyed her tuna and sheep cheese salad a lot. My beef was lovely, accompanied by what I can only describe as a combination of scrambled eggs and dumpling mix. It went together well, and as I was coming around by the time I ate, I rather enjoyed it.
Now mostly recovered, we strolled back to the hotel, and got down to the serious task of keeping our blogs up to date. Lena is writing one in Russian, and she has many more photographs than me already, so go take a look if you can read Russian (or even if you can’t).
The band are now tormenting Freddy Mercury with a terribly poor Queen medley, so I will leave you before they commit sacrilege against another dead rock icon.
I am not sure what time the music stopped, but I fell asleep pretty quickly. I always carry a fair supply of earplugs with me whenever I travel, and I swear by the things. They have saved my sanity on many occasions. Last night was no exception – I slept the sleep of the just (or of those with no conscience).
Breakfast at the Seehotel was fine, and the coffee was damn good. Suitably refreshed, we suited, booted and loaded up the wagon, and again were rolling before 9. It took all of about 3 minutes to hit another diversion, and so we edged our way around the roadworks until we got onto some sort of main road, after which the going was easy.
We crossed into Austria within the first 45 minutes of our day. There was no border, no rd carpet awaiting us, and no press to mark the solemn occasion. I like this whole Euro “no-border” thingy. If only we could make it last. We filled up with petrol at a stop just inside the Eastern Republic, and then followed the A14. As main roads go, it is pretty spectacular. The Alps are pretty impressive and dominant, and offer breathtaking views.
We left the main motorway near Bludenz, and joined the S16. This is a road that joins the Tyrol with the west. It runs through to Innsbruck and beyond, and passes through a very pretty route. We enjoyed winding through the high routes and tunnels. At some stage, there was yet another diversion (there is a theme appearing here), and we learned that the Arlberg tunnel was closed. The diversion took us on the old road above the 14km tunnel, and we wound our way through pretty Tyrolean hamlets. The screenshot below indicates a section of the route that we had to navigate – hairpin bends galore! I am worried that I will not make it through one of these bends at some stage on this trip – I only hope that the drop over the side of whatever bend we fail is not too high.
We passed by steep fields with cows wearing cowbells, lots of forest, rivers and waterfalls. Having survived the diversion, we rejoined the main road and went through a bunch more tunnels. Finally, we turned off the main road, and headed up the Otztal valley. More views beyond poetic description appeared before us, and we followed the rushing river up the valley for about 25km. We arrived at our secret destination around 1pm.
The Aquadome, a spa and hotel, offers multiple delights for the discerning guest. A complex with a series of pools, saunas, steam rooms, relaxation lounges and more awaited us.
Our room has a spectacular view up the valley towards Italy (more on this in a future update). We unpacked (as in we threw all of our gear around the room for 10 minutes until it was unrecognisable), then donned robes and went to the spa. We had a good lunch, and then entered the serious business of trying every sauna, pool, relaxation room and expereince that the place offers. Another “textile-free” facility (at least the private, adult hotel guests only section) we were flopping and flapping and sweating and swimming for hours. I think I have never been so clean in all my life.
One of the saunas was set at 100% humidity. It was a large room, and about 15 people were in it, when young Klaus entered. Entirely in German he described the treatment he was offering us all, and then proceeded to pour handfuls of honey into the palms of our hands, and encouraged us to rub the honey all over ourselves. I have never smelled as sweet, and probably never will again. We then sweated for another ten minutes before being set free to go and wash ourselves thoroughly. An enjoyable, if slightly odd, experience.
When we could spa no more, we came back to our lovely wooden room, got dressed and went for dinner. A bottle of wine and a lot of food later, and here I am, updating my blog. How dedicated am I?
For those of you who have been paying attention, it is Lena’s birthday today. The one accommodation that I had booked without giving her any detail was for her birthday stay. We arrived yesterday at the amazing Aqua Dome spa and hotel, and have been enjoying the combination of luxury hotel treatment, fab spa facilities and stunning Alpine views.
High up the Ötztal valley, our hotel sits on the broad valley floor next to the Ötztaler Ache, a tributary of the Inn river (you have heard of Innsbruck – it sits on this same river further down). The hotel is separated from the spa by a 40m tunnel (these Germanic types love tunnels for some reason), and we shuffle between the two in robes and flipflops (and nothing else).
Today is a relaxing day, and for the birthday we had a couples massage treatment in the spa – very relaxing. They also gave us each a glass of bubbly to follow the massage. They gave us champagne at breakfast too, and we had a drink at lunchtime, so we are truly in the spirit of chilling today.
We are still trying to figure out how to pool all of our photos, but are not being successful thus far. I will add some in when I can. The remainder of today will be spent eating, boiling ourselves in the spa, and having a bit more to drink.
OK – it is official: I am out of superlatives. This trip is giving us day after day of fantastic scenery, food, roads and experiences. I have tried to describe these as we have gone along, but I think that I am at the end of being able to convey just how fantastic the experience is.
We had a wonderful time at the Aquadome, and were heading for the Italian lakes today. I had planned a ride up the Timmelsjoch pass, and down the Passo del Rombo into Italy. It is a tough ride, narrow and with many hairpins. I was worried about the Harley – with two of us riding, it is not the most nimble of rides, and it doesn’t turn very easily. I had done my research and was willing to tackle the high pass – both for the ride experience and the views – but the weather forecast was pretty shitty, and so I let discretion get the better part of valour for me, and we chose an alternative, easier route today.
We rode back down the Otztal valley to join the Inn valley, and then turned east once more and headed to Innsbruck. There, we headed south onto the Brenner pass, and followed this over the Alps and into Italy. It is a wide motorway, and carried a lot of traffic – it is one of the major alpine passes in use today. The scenery was still superb, and the Dolomites in view are spectacular.
The descent from the pass lasted about 60 kms, I think my brakes were pretty hot by then. We stopped for some fuel, and turned off the main road towards the northern part of Lake Garda about 30 km from our destination. We wound our way through some small towns, and then came to Riva del Garda – the northernmost point of the lake. Gouged by a glacier during the last ice age, it sits 65m above sea level. It is ringed by tall mountains, many over 2000m in height.
It was about now that I ran out of superlatives. checking in to our hotel, our room overlooks the lake. The hotel sits on the shore, and has a small beach for residents.
We had a quick and very good lunch, then donned our swimsuits and went for a paddle in the cool, clear blue water of the lake. We swam, sunbathed, napped and repeated the cycle for a couple of hours, and then walked into Malcesine, about 7 km from the hotel. It was pretty hot (32 degrees C), but not too humid, so the walk was bearable.
The views on the walk continued to take our breath away. We eventually reached the little town of Malcesine, dominated by the 13th century Castello Scaligero.
Using TripAdvisor, we found great little restaurant in the old town, and enjoyed a meal of local foods and wine, and a Tiramisu to die for. Tomorrow is a non-riding day, and we aim to come back and explore the old town further.