Euro ’17

  • This was the main page when we planned and then undertook our tour of the alps and lakes in 2017
    So – we are off on our next big adventure. I have created a blog site to track our travels, so that our nearest and dearest (and you, dear reader) can follow us as we wind our way through the Alpine passes and clear blue lakesides of Europe. 6 years ago, I proposed to Lena while on a bike tour, which took us over the French Alps, via the famous Route Napoleon, to Nice. We loved the tour so much, and were determined to do another, particularly through the Alps – which were stunningly beautiful, and a joy to bike through. Things like weddings, honeymoons, moving to London and more seem to have gotten in the way, but we have been planning this upcoming tour for a while. Our trusty Suzuki Bandit 1250, which took us on the last trip, was retired earlier this year, and in its place I finally got a Harley. Yes – I admit it – I bought an old-mans bike. We need comfort, tons of luggage, and a CD player, so I finally bought a beast of a machine to provide all this, and more. She is called “Big Blue” – because she is big, and blue, and  beautiful. We are setting off on July 14th from London, in the late afternoon, and cross into France on the Eurotunnel, so that we can start our Saturday morning, the first full day of our holiday, already into France and ready to chew up some miles. I am going to try keep this site as a journal of the trip. Here is a link to an approximate map of our trip. It is not totally accurate, and will no doubt change each day as we find new things to explore, but it should give a sense of the plans we have.
  • Getting my kit together
    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.
  • Three more sleeps
    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.
  • And here we are
    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.
  • Day 0 – Home to St Omer, France. 160km
    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.
  • Day 1 – St Omer to Metz – 430 km
    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. Bonne Nuit
  • Day 2 – Metz to Bad Wildbad – 250km
    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
  • Day 3 – Bad Wildbad to Friederichshafen – 293km
    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. Laters, Alligators.  
  • Day 4 – Friederichshafen to Oberlängenfeld – 216 km
    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?
  • Day 5 – Oberlängenfeld – 0 km
    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). The view from our room. 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.
  • Day 6 – Oberlängenfeld to Malcesine – 306 km
    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. Buona Notte  
  • Day 7 – Malcesine – 0 km
    Another day without travel. We are taking 2 days on each of lakes Garda, Como and Maggiore, so that we can relax and enjoy the surroundings, water and local hospitality. However, it wasn’t quite a 0 km day – we rode in to Malcesine this evening for dinner, so in truth it was a 13km day. After breakfast, we got the tourist bus into Malcesine. A couple of errands in town, and then we walked up to the cable-car station to take the cableway up Monte Baldo. A 2-part journey, you change cars part way up, at San Michele. The top station is 1760m above sea level (Lake Garda is 65m above sea level), and the views are, once again, special.
    Cable car ascending Monte Baldo from Malcesine
    The day was a bit hazy, but the visibility was OK, and we walked along the ridge line at the top of the mountain. In one field there were a bunch of paragliders preparing to take off, so we sat down to watch them.
    Paragliders preparing on Monte Baldo
    The gliders were waiting for the right wind conditions, and we sat for about half an hour without any activity, when suddenly a few of them took of in rapid succession. It was great to watch them leaving the ground and very quickly flying under their own guidance and power.
    Lena watching a paraglider on Monte Baldo
    We roamed around the peak for a bit more, taking in the various views in all directions. Garda is huge – it is almost 52km in length – and surrounded by mountains on all sides. We could see the northernmost tip, but could not see all the way down to the south of the lake. After roaming for a while, we got the cable car back down to town, and returned to the scene of the previous evenings meal to have our lunch. I had a local dish – cold cuts and cheese with a local bread, and fried gnocci that had been flattened. Delicious. Lena had aubergine with parmesan and tomato ragu, plus some pork escalopes. After eating we explored the town once more, finding a number of areas we had not seen before. It is hard for Lena to be in a place like this, with so many shops and so much tat to purchase, and not have space on the bike to carry any new stuff. Bus back to the hotel, a swim in the clear blue water, and then some pre-dinner snoozing and bloggery. We couldn’t (well, we could, but felt we should push our boundaries a bit) go back to the same brilliant restaurant 3 melas in a row, so we went for number 2 on the TripAdvisor list this evening, and we were very glad we did. A family run restaurant, Al Gondoliere has been open for 28 years. The proprietor was a great host, his wife runs the kitchen, and his daughter works looking after tables. The food was very good, and the attention was lovely. We are about to start packing our stuff that has spread out across the room over the past 2 days, so that we can get a clean start in the morning. We are only going 200km tomorrow, but we are taking the scenic route so I think it will be about 5 hours of riding. See you at Lake Como. Nighty night.
  • Day 8 – Malcesine to Abbadia Lariana – 233 km
    We have completed 1912 km on this trip so far, and have loved every kilometre of it. Well, I say that, but actually, today we didn’t love a couple of the kilometres that we travelled – let me enlighten you. But first, let’s get back to where we were. We were up by 7 once once more, in our room overlooking Lake Garda. We were mostly packed up, so Lena went for a swim while I pottered about with our kit. Breakfast was at 8, and by then we had the bike loaded, and were ready to roll as soon as we had eaten. We did so from the hotel terrace, enjoying the special view a final time. We were rolling by 0830. Our route took us back north along the shoreline of Garda, and we hugged the coast as we rounded Riva del Garda at the northern apex, and headed south down the western shore. Views were great, but Saturday traffic was not, and a number of the towns we went through were jammed. Eventually we turned of the coast road. I had planned a route between Garda and Como that would be pretty and challenging, so we headed up into the mountains that sit between the two. The going was good, but after about 10km we went through a set of hairpins that were pretty difficult on my barge of a bike, and Jellybean got quite distressed by the experience. We stopped, and she downed a beer to steady her nerves while I replanned. There was no way down from the mountains without some hairpin-ing, but we chose a route offering the fewest tight turns, and picked our way down into Brescia. An industrial town that seemed to be past its finest, we wound our way through it and joined the motorway to Milan. A boring 150km or so on the motorway on a very hot day was not much fun, but it got us towards Lago di Como without the need to traverse any more hairpin bends. Our second stressful kilometre of the day came at a toll station on the motorway, somewhere near Milan. There was a lot of traffic, and while Italians are known for many positive attributes, efficiency is not one of them. The toll booth operators were very slow indeed. Now my bike is many wonderful things. However, we have already discovered it is less nimble than most, which is why we were on the motorway in the first place. It also has a 1690cc engine, a few short inches from my legs, and on a day when temperatures were 35 degrees centigrade, and we were stopped for a long time, moving forward one car-length at a time for 20 minutes, that engine threw out a lot of heat, slowly roasting my legs.
    A custom bike we met near Milan
    I thought that I was just about ready to be able to add some peppercorn sauce to my calf and have a decent meal when we reached the toll operator, handed over our Euro’s, and could put my feet back up on the running boards and ride, delivering much appreciated cool air to my legs and engine. We reached our destination, Abbadia Lariana, around 1300 ish. A small town on the eastern arm of the upturned Y that is Lake Como, our hotel once more offers us lovely views of the lake. We had to wait for our room to be ready, so downed a quick beer and went for a pizza (finally) at a restaurant next door. Fed and cooled, I had my obligatory afternoon nap, after which we went for a swim in the lake. So far, we have done pretty well with our hotels, even the budget ones in France, and this is no exception. However, I probably wouldn’t choose Abbadia again if I were visiting Como. The beach was not that clean, and neither was the water we swam in. Cool and refreshing it may have been, but swimming past cigarette butts and other unidentified detritus is not my idea of relaxing waters. Still, we enjoyed our swim, and cooled off on the grass lawns by the water. Back upstairs to our room for a shower, then a walk along the shoreline to explore the little town, and finally through a warren of small and ancient streets to find another diamond of a restaurant. Hidden in what seemed to be the back verandah of someones house in the maze of cobbled streets, our host runs a fine establishment, with great wine and excellent food. The homemade sausage was fab, and our meals were really good, as was the attention we got from the landlord and his staff. So good, in fact, that we have already booked for tomorrow evenings meal. Lena is already asleep while I finish of my blog. The internet service is pretty slow here, so my 5 photos are still uploading – I will add them tomorrow. Until then, dear readers……..  
  • Day 9 – Lake Como local – 0 km
    This was definitely a zero kilometre day, though we a lot of travelling today. Quick and shabby breakfast in the hotel, and then we walked to the pier to await the 0928 ferry to Bellagio. The ride took an hour, and called in at various stops along the way.
    ON the ferry from Bellagio to Como
    Views on lake Como
    Bellagio is at the centre of the inverted Y of Como, and is pretty fabulous, if not a touch over priced and over self-important. Still, it is a joy to explore, and we did for a couple of hours. After a pleasant lunch, we hopped onto the slow boat to Como, and spent a couple of hours trekking south down the western arm of the Y, stopping at little towns along the way, until we arrived at Como.
    Lena in a Bellagio alley
    Como approaching from the lake
    Como Cathedral
    The lake is pretty populated, and there are houses, villas, hotels and palaces pretty much all along the way, on both side, from Bellagio to Como. {Insert impressive celebrity name here} owns a place on Como, and I can see why. The town after which the lake is named is quite large, and we walked around, visiting the Cathedral (which is fronted by statues of Pliny the Elder and Younger), and various other sights. A nice ice-cream later, the obligatory pair of earings obtained, and we were back on the fast ferry (45 minutes this time) back to Bellagio. A couple of pints of beer, than the last ferry of the day from Bellagio back to Abbadia Lariana. Quick refresh, and then we went to Il Vicolo, where we had enjoyed such a lovely meal the night before, to return to the scene of the crime. Tonights meal was just as enjoyable. Tomorrow we visit lake Lugano, on the way to our final Italian lake of this trip, Lake Maggiore. See you there.
  • Day 10 – Abbadia Lariana to Baveno – 217 km
    Lake-hopping today. Or, the title of todays post could be Italy/Switzerland/Italy/Switzerland/Italy/Switzerland/Italy/Switzerland/Italy. Breakfast outside this morning was accompanied by the staff fussing around us, as they said rain was coming, and suggested we eat inside. We held off, but as we finished, the heavens opened up, and a deluge the likes of which have not been seen since Noah hit Lake Como. Our bike was under covered parking directly accessible from the hotel, so we packed up, and retired to the room with iPads and laptops to wait out the storm. An hour later, and it was still raining, lightening and thundering, so we gave up waiting and headed out. Aiming south again, we re-traced our steps to the south of the lake, and then turned west. After half an hour, we took the Lake Como motorway, and headed towards Como, but followed the road up to Chiasso, where we crossed into Switzerland. North and a bit west-ish, and we hit lake Lugano, which we crossed by bridge. We rode along the shore for a while between Paradiso and Lugano, and meandered cross-country until we got to Lake Maggiore. We crossed between Switzerland and Italy about 4 times during this bit of the day, and lost track of which country we were in. We intersected with the east shore of Maggiore at Luino, and then hugged the shoreline heading north. A nice lunch at San Nazzaro, and then rounded the north pole of Maggiore and trekked south along the shore to Baveno, where our lovely hotel is situated. Another immensely pretty lake, every bend and turn offered new and stunning views. And again, we have got amazing views from our room balcony, and entry from the hotel garden directly to swim in the lake.We are looking onto 2 islands in the lake, Isola Superiore, and Isola Bella. They are indeed beautiful, and superior. We got here late-ish for our “usual” – about 4pm. We had a lazy afternoon swimming, sunbathing and beering. Now it is time to consider an evening meal somewhere in the magical land of lakes and peaks. Laters….
    Lena on our balcony overlooking Lake Maggiore
    View from our room, Baveno, Lake Maggiore
    View from our room, Baveno, Lake Maggiore
    Crossing Lake Lugano
    Maggiore view
  • Day 11 – Lake Maggiore local – 0 km
    Another bike-less day on our biking holiday. Last day at the (Italian) lakes today, and it was a glorious one. The sun shone, the skies were blue, the birdies sang and the cotton was high. We had a lazy morning, skipping breakfast to chill, swim and browse the webs. Late morning we got dressed, and walked into Baveno, about 1.3 km away.
    Baveno as viewed from our hotel
    Baveno is actually further from our hotel than our destination for today. Isola Superiore o dei Pescatori lies 713 metres from our balcony (according to google maps, and google does know a thing or two), in the middle of Lake Maggiore. So, in order to get there, we could swim (nope) or get the boat, which goes from Baveno – hence the trek. It took us 20 minutes to walk to Baveno, and then 5 minutes to ride the ferry to the island. With a population of 57, it is the only Borromean island that is populated all year round. Trip advisor shows 17 restaurants on the island, which is only 375 metres long. Along with a few hotels and a lot of tourist stalls, we saw a church and not much else.
    Isola Superiore o dei Piscatore – view from our hotel
    Our hotel (the orange/ochre coloured one on the water) – Hotel Romagna – seen from Isola Superiore
    Little cove on Isola Superiore
    Looking north to the snowy Alps – we are heading there tomorrow
    This little island is rather pretty, and offers great views in all directions. The Borromeo family began acquiring the 5 islands in this part of the lake, but now this one is the only island that does not belong to the family. It is still referred to as one of the Borromean set, though. Itt’s name refers to the fisherman who have traditionally populated the island. A typical lunch awaited us at one of the seaside eateries. I particularly loved the Bresaola which is local to this area. YUM!! We then strolled around the island in about 15 minutes, which included about 13 minutes of (not me) browsing stalls for souvenirs and junk and postcards. A bit of a relax in the sun, and we then boated back to Baveno, and walked back to our hotel, where we continued the long-standing days tradition of relaxing in the sun and swimming. Episode 1 of Series 7 of Game of Thrones was view-able despite the low-rent internet connection, so I watched that before we walked back to Baveno for dinner.
    Lena swimming in Lake Maggiore from our hotel
    Tomorrow we head up the Simplon pass to Switzerland, and will end up tomorrow eve at the top of the Great St Bernard Pass, in the 1000 year-old inn which gave its name to the mountain rescue dog breed. It was 32 degrees today, I think it is due to be about 5 degrees at the top of the Swiss Alps tomorrow – quite a difference. See ya in Swiss dreams.
    Lena on Isola Superiore, looking north at Baveno and up to the snow-clad alps of Switzerland
  • Day 12 – Baveno to Great St Bernard Pass – 243 km
    We awoke to another idyllic day. The lake was clear and still, the sky blue and crisp, the weather warm and inviting. We had breakfast in the hotel, watching the boats ferry folk around between the towns and Islands. After we had eaten, Lena wanted another swim in the lake before we left, so she went off to do that, while I packed up our gear, checked routes and satnav settings, and got into my travelling gear. We loaded up and got ready to leave – I had a wobble as I was backing the bike out of the parking spot, and nearly dropped it. It weighs 408 kg without any gear or petrol, or me, so it does not need much of an angle tip to want to lie down. With help from Lena and one of the staff who happened to be passing I managed not to drop it, but cramped up my left calf in the process. We road south along the lake shore for 3 km to Stresa, the next town along. Lena had fallen in love with the sparkling red wine we had discovered in Baveno, and there was a specialist wine dealer in Stresa that we hoped would stock it. I am not sure where we would have fitted any bottles on the bike, but the dealer did not have any, so we left disappointed. Heading back north now, we rode alongside Maggiore for 7 km, then turned west and headed up towards the mountains. The Simplon Pass awaited us. Sempione in Italian, Simplon in French/German, it is 2005 m high, and connects this part of Italy with the Rhone Valley. The climb was pretty, and easy on a wide road. We stopped at the top of the pass, and had a very expensive lunch (welcome to Switzerland). Then down to Brig, in the heart of the Rhone Valley.
    Simplon Pass – 2005 metres above sea-level
    Top of Simplon Pass
    The Rhone rises at the Rhone Glacier, some 35km north-east of Brig. We travelled through the Rhone Valley in France 6 years ago when we did our first big bike tour – you can read about that day here. Today we rode along a much more timid version of the Rhone as it first gathers momentum and is still tentative, before turning into the massive body that powers the industrial areas further west and south. Here the Rhone Valley was up to about a kilometre wide, and surrounded by high mountains on both sides, and punctuated by efficient-looking, but  unremarkable and non-aesthetically pleasing towns. We rode through this valley for about 80 km or so, and then at the approach to Martigny we turned north and headed up towards Italy, via the Great St Bernard Pass. Much higher than the Simplon pass, the route takes you through very spectacular scenery. A few twisty hairpin bends, but nothing we couldn’t handle as they were reasonably wide. There is a tunnel that takes you through the final 6km of the traverse, but if you are heading to the actual col, where the Hospice and Inn of the order of St Bernard sit, then you take the narrow road leading up there, just before the tunnel starts. We are staying at the Inn tonight, so we took the route up before the tunnel starts. The road climbed high, and fast, and offered some – much more challenging – twisty roads and hairpins. We navigated these safely enough (I am getting better at these 2-up sharp corners on the Harley), and found ourselves 2473m above sea level, at the Inn and Hospice.
    Hairpin bends on the way to St Bernards
    The views down both sides are pretty, and the southern view is spectacular, with snow-topped giants poking the clouds. The pass has been a major route for thousands of years – both Julius Caesar and Napoleon led troops over the pass. The Great St Bernard Hospice was founded here in 1049, and has been in existence since then, but there have been inns and buildings here since Roman times. St Bernard dogs were originally bred here, strong enough to plough through the snow, and with a keen sense of smell to find lost travellers. The snow can get 10 metres deep on the pass in the winter, and the road is closed from November to June. We haven’t seen a real St Bernard dog here, but there are plenty of posters, and souvenir toy dogs everywhere. After arrival and decanting our bags to our room, we had a bit of an explore. There is a small tarn just south of the Inn – apparently it does not thaw fully in some summers. It was pretty windy and cold (about 3 degrees), so we stayed out as long as we could before heading back to the inn for a couple of drinks before dinner.
    St Bernards Inn and Hospice
    2473 Metres above sea-level
    Looking south from Great St Bernards pass
    Cheese fondue for dinner
    We are now in bed after a lovely cheese fondue dinner, updating our blogs and listening to the wind howl through the narrow pass. Tomorrow – mountains and lakes once more, though in France this time. Night night…..
  • Day 13 – Grand St Bernard to Annecy – 217 km
    We did some lovely miles today, and saw some lovely mountains too. Breakfast at the Inn was simple, made and served by the monks who still inhabit the Monastery at the site. It was quite cold, only a few degrees above 0C, but the sky cleared a bit and the blue added to the great views. We packed up in our (by now) well practised manner, and headed back down from the col towards the tunnel to Italy. The hairpin bends awaited us, but we are getting more practised, and actually downhill is easier, so we practically sailed through them this time. 6km down the valley was the entry to the tunnel itself, and we turned back up the mountain to cross yet another border. Over and in to Italy we went, without much fuss or ceremony. Then down the long roads towards Aosta we flew, looking up and down the valleys. At Aosta we turned westward, and headed up towards the Mont Blanc Tunnel. By far the highest and most snow-covered mountain of our trip, Mont Blanc rises 4810 metres above sea level – just about double the height of last nights Alp. It is magnificent to behold, and dominates the area. The way through Mont Blanc follows a series of 6 or 8 “pre-tunnels”, each 2-3 km in length. This then leads into the Mont Blanc tunnel itself, 11,600 metres in length. The tunnel cuts through the mountain at around 1400m above sea level, and is 2,480m below the midi peak at one point, meaning that there is a lot of rock sitting on top of your head when you are riding through it. Out the other side and you are in France, heading down some pretty steep roads, with some lovely sweeping bends and grand views.
    Bike and view of Mont Blanc, from down on the French side
    Travelling in an arc, in roughly 80km we reached Lake Annecy. This is Europes cleanest lake, officially, and has been subject to close management and legislation to ensure it maintains its pristine nature. We are staying close to the town of Annecy, and have just got to our room to sort our stuff out. I booked this hotel using points from BA that I have gathered over the years. It is an ageing spa hotel, seemingly past its best but offering what seems to be some nice facilities and views over the lake. The hotel have cocked up our room with a lake view, so we are getting a free massage each tomorrow morning in the spa – can’t complain about that. For now, we will have to enjoy our view of the car park! At least I can see the bike, so I know it is safe. We are now off to enjoy the spa facilities. See you laters, mes pitites fleurs.
  • Day 14 – Lake Annecy – 0 km
    Well – you could say we had a lazy morning, We certainly did not get up for breakfast, but stayed in bed late. This holiday has had many long and exciting days, and maybe we just deserved one where we could relax and do very little. Or – and this is just a theoretical alternative – you might assume that we had a great meal last night, preceded by a beer, a lovely, chilled bottle of local rosé wine, as well as a champagne cocktail with our first course, and a well-proportioned bottle of red wine to accompany our meal. Also, you might postulate that the sommelier gave us a glass each of the Genepi to finish off with – a local liqueur made from wormwood. And that, in this theoretical universe, we were a little bit hung over and unable to fully function this morning. Anyway – I will let you be the judge. Eventually, at around 11ish, I dragged myself out of bed, had a quick shower, put on a bathrobe and wandered down to the spa. I mentioned yesterday that they had given us each a free massage as compensation for messing up our room booking, so off I went to collect on the offer. Lena was unable to take advantage of her offer, still feeling a bit under the weather, so I took her massage as well, and ended up feeling relaxed, invigorated and ready for my day by the time the lovely French masseuse had finished with me. My beloved, however, was not quite ready to face her day just yet, so we rested for another hour before we were both ready to face the day. We walked about 25 minutes to the charming old town of Annecy. It really is lovely – old, narrow streets, a pristine river and canals, quaint buildings and a ton of atmosphere. We would have happily eaten a scabby donkey, so hungry were we, but we lucked into a decent, if slightly touristy restaurant on the riverside, and devoured our tasty meals with gusto.
    Lena and Vieille Ville Annecy
    Palais de l’Isle from behind
    Memorial Plaque in memory of 4 students from the school where this plaque is located – the students, aged 11, 11, 6 and 8 were removed from class by Nazi soldiers, and all perished in Auschwitz
    Palais de l’Isle, and venue for lunch (restaurant on the left of the picture)
    After feeding time, we ambled about the old town, enjoying the sights, shops and buskers. Our ramblings eventually took us down to the lake itself, and we hopped on to a motorboat for a half hour tour of the lake. The views form the lake were just as pretty as those looking onto it, and the water is clear and inviting. We traversed the upper quarter of the lake, visiting Beau Rivage and Veyrier, before heading back to the mouth of the Thiou river.
    Returning to the town of Annecy after a boat trip on the lake
    Views north on lake Annecy
    Lena, lake and mountains
    Our hotel, seen from the lake
    Lakes and Mountains, Annecy
    Mouth of the River Thiou, heading into Lake Annecy
    Our motorboat for the trip on Lake Annecy
    A bit of shopping for food supplies (and toothpaste), and then we stopped for a lovely coffee at a local cafe. We sat out in the sun, enjoying the sounds, sights and senses of La belle France. Finally we built up enough steam to climb the 25 minutes back to our hotel. It is now 19:20 in the evening, we are laid by the hotel pool in glorious, fading sunshine, drying off from a swim and updating the blog. In a bit we will head back to the room and feast on our local meats and cheeses and fruits that we bought in town, and then do some re-planning of routes for tomorrow. We were given some suggested routes to get great views of the lake, and Lena has some ideas about activities on the way, so I need to make sure our route is ready – and that our gear is ready too.
    Brad by the pool, blogging
    Bonne chance, mes amis.
  • Day 15 – Annecy to Langres – 404 km
    Another day in paradise. This holiday is an amazing privilege, and we are certainly aware of how lucky we are. We woke up in our lovely room overlooking Lake Annecy, and packed while we ate the remainder of the market foods we bought yesterday. Once we were eaten and ready, we checked out and loaded up the bike, then set off south-bound along the shore of the lake. We stopped for a nice coffee about 15 mins down the road, and then rode another 25 minutes to Doussard, at the landing site of a number of local paragliding clubs. Lena had booked herself a tandem paragliding experience, and so we found her pilot, and off they went to the launch site. I waited at the landing site, and as they set off it started to rain. Lena texted me to say they were waiting for the rain to stop, and eventually she did her flight but landed at a different field, and one of the school went off to collect her and her pilot – she really enjoyed the flight, and her pictures are amazing. The rain had pretty much stopped when she got back, so we saddled up and set off north-bound. We rode up the same side of Lake Annecy, and then headed in the direction of Geneva. We got a good view of Lake Geneva before turning westward. We rode through some beautiful scenery towards Nantua, and then slowly turned northward in the direction of Dijon. Today was a hot day, and even travelling at 130 km/h it was quite warm on the bike. We stopped for fuel and drinks a few times, plus a lunch. Our destination today is Langres. I had seen it on our previous trip in 2011, and had always wanted to visit – see link here. We finally found the small town around 7pm. Today was their annual food fare festival, and so getting the final few hundred metres to our hotel was a challenge as the streets were closed, and full of stalls. We slowly picked our way through the pedestrians, and got to our hotel without incident. I was in need of a shower, which followed shortly, as did a cool beer. We then went for a walk through this pretty old town, and enjoyed the buildings, streets and views. This was followed by yet another great meal, in the hotel restaurant. The restaurnat is named after Diderot, one of the towns most celebrated sons. Our hotel, Le Cheval Blanc, is a really old building, It was a church for at least 1,000 years (earliest written records identifying the building date back to 834). After the Revolution, the building, like so many other church or nobility owned property, was sold. A builder called Huin bought the place, and turned it into an Inn, which has been in operation since then. Just FYI – by the end of today we have ridden 2,993 km. PICTURES TO FOLLOW – INTERNET  TOO SLOW HERE TO UPLOAD ANY.
  • Day 16 – Langres to Arras – 431 km
    Last full day on tour. This has been such an amazing trip, and each stop, town, lake or mountain has offered us new and inspiring experiences. We have seen and learned so much, swum in clear, cool lakes, sat atop the Alps and wrestled an unwieldy motorbike through twisty mountainous roads that would challenge the most agile chamois. Looking back, I can’t quite believe that we have been through all of this. A road trip has the attribute of so much change, that it seems a lifetime ago that we set off. We have stayed at 12 different hotels/B&B’s, visited 5 different countries, and ridden over 3,400 km already. I am not sure how many borders we crossed, but on the ride from Lake Como to Lake Maggiore, we crossed between Italy and Switzerland at least 8 times. It is the subject for another blog, but I spent a fair amount of time on this trip thinking about the madness of Brexit, and what we will lose when we secede from the EU, and I could find no upside. The bike has added a significant dimension to the trip, and I will probably reflect more on that at some future date, but I have loved having it as our trusty steed on this journey. It is solid as a rock when moving, by far the most comfortable ride I have ever had, and a joy to master. It offers some challenges, with the size and weight making low-speed manoeuvres and parking tricky, but it has served us brilliantly. It is built for eating up distance, in comfort and style. Anyway – today was a motorway day. The main aim was to schlep us most of the way back to the Channel Tunnel, so that we can cross on Monday morning with ease. We left Langres in a slight drizzle this morning, and within 15 km were on a motorway. We switched motorways a few times, mainly navigating north. Several stops for coffee, fuel, leg-stretches and wee’s at motorway services along the way. We left Langres at 9 this morning, and arrived in Arras around 1430. Sunday afternoon means the town centre is pretty dead, so it was easy to navigate. We are staying in a lovely B&B about 10 minutes walk from the main square and tourist centre, and after a shower and nap we wandered down to take in the sights and have a beer and dinner – which we did successfully. Lovely as this place is, their internet connectivity is shockingly poor, so this is being done via my phone. I still owe you some photos, but that will have to wait until we are back home in London. For the last time in a while: Bonne Nuit, Guten Nacht, Buona Notte from the Continent.
  • Day 17 – Arras to London – 225 km
    Last day. We woke up in our lovely room overlooking the garden of the house we stayed in. Another blue-sky day outside. We packed our gear for the final time, and then went for breakfast. Nell, the 3 month old French Bulldog puppy of the owners was the morning entertainment, and she certainly was very sweet.
    Nell of Arras
    Having broken our fast in the lovely garden, and suitably interfered with Nell, we loaded up, and hit the road. Arras centre was still a ghost town, and we were back on the motorway steaming northbound very quickly. The road is good, and there was not a lot of traffic so the 110 km to the Eurotunnel terminal was easy going, and passed by in a flash. We checked in, showed our passports to the relevant officials, and just had time for a wee before we were called to our train. Us and one other bike with a couple on board were at the very back of the queue. A crew of about 15 bikes were just ahead of us – they had spent a long weekend on a Benelux tour, and were heading home. We loaded onto the train, and I had a chat with some of the chaps around us. We admired each others bikes, swapped war stories and talked about the kinds of things that bikers talk about. The journey seemed to pass by in a flash, and soon enough we were rolling off the train. England was please to see us, and had brought out the sunshine as a welcome. The journery home was pretty quick – about 80 minutes. The last ten minutes was actually superfluous, but I had forgotten to tell Sally Satnav that we moved to a new apartment a few weeks before the holiday, so I was un-thinkingly heading back to our old place until I realised where we were going. A quick stop for fuel and some sandwiches (the fridge was going to be bare at home), and we arrived home at lunchtime, to a happy but vocal cat. It has been a wonderful, special holiday, and I am sorry that it has come to an end, but the memories and experiences will carry on. I am still going to write a few more posts about the trip, I will update and refresh photos and galleries, and otherwise entertain you with my sparkling wit and charming writing style. Auf Wiedersehen, faithful readers.