11th June 2017
As I’m sure you can imagine, with only six days to go until departure I’m finding it difficult not to get excited. Simply keeping my mind from wandering off and my feet firmly on the ground is becoming more and more difficult the closer I get to departure. Earlier I found myself sitting at my desk lost in my own little world, I was swooping through the Swiss Alps with beautiful mountain views all around. My sudden and rude return to reality was the thought that I mustn’t forget to buy a double pack of underpants from Peacocks in the morning; it’s not all throbbing engines and glamour you know.
16th June 2017
Well, the time is almost upon me, tomorrow, at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m., I’ll be leaving the house and riding my motorbike to Greece and back. I’m sure many of you think “Here he goes again the bloody idiot, off on a motorbike jolly for a month of mid-life crisis induced misery and hardship” however, if I could share even just a tiny portion of how bloody excited I am you’d understand. If extreme excitement was a sport, right now I’d be at the top of the leader board. Good night my friends, and sleep tight.
17th June 2017 – Day one and I’m lost already.
Is it possible to class a day as truly successful if one accidentally rides through the wrong country? Yes folks, I’ve just ridden through Belgium instead of France. <grin> Let me tell you how this happened. My plan for today was to get to Calais, then to ride to Dijon. So, I got to Calais, then set Dijon into my GPS and followed the magenta line. The riding seemed to be going incredibly well and according to my GPS I was going to make Dijon in record time. Unfortunately when I typed Dijon into my GPS it gave me a load of options, and me being me just hit the top one. This happened to be a road in Belgium that included the name Dijon.
Feeling rather sheepish, and with a very important lesson learned, I made my way to France (using my paper map). It wasn’t long before I was revelling in the land of the most beautiful hanging baskets known to man. Every time I visit France I’m overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of it all; that and the space of course.
With such an early start and no breakfast it wasn’t long before I needed to stop for food. I pulled in and made my way into the supermarket. Now, this is where travelling on your own gets difficult. I didn’t have anyone who could look after my stuff so I had to lug my tank bag and crash helmet into the supermarket with me. I wandered around, looked at a few bits, then squeezed past a shop assistant lady who seemed very busy doing something with the huge cheese counter. Unfortunately, my tank bag attaches to my motorbike using 4 very powerful magnets and as I squeezed past her my tank bag attached itself to her leg! I immediately apologised, luckily she laughed. She told me she had had an accident when she was younger and that they had put some kind of metal plate or contraption in her leg. After a bit of tugging we managed to free her leg from the clamp like grasp of the tank bag magnets, no harm done. I apologised again and quickly exited the shop without having bought anything.
Luckily for me there was bakers almost next door so I popped in and tried out my incredibly rusty French. After proudly asking for an apple tart the lady burst out laughing. This did not do my street cred any favours. When she stopped she told me I’d ordered a potato tart. What’s a ‘de terre’ between friends eh?
Other than a few weird Richardisms, today has been a wonderful day; much of it spent wondering how the hell I’ve managed to find myself in such a beautiful place. When I think about many of the choices I’ve made throughout my life I find myself cringing and full of regrets; however, it is the culmination of all those choices that has resulted in me being here at this moment in time. As such, instead of regretting some of my more controversial choices, perhaps I should be proud of them.
Anyway, I’m currently sitting in my tent about 20 miles south of Dijon after riding 735 kilometres, that’s 458 miles! Bloody Eck! No wonder my arse is sore!
Oh, I almost forgot, I made a new friend today. Whilst sitting in the queue to get on the ferry what should ride up behind me but another Honda Transalp! When this happens its mandatory to spent the ferry journey discussing the virtues of motorbikes and travel. 🙂 He said he rides on his own because he doesn’t like to ride fast, he likes to ride far. Excellent!
At this point you’re probably waiting for me to tell you my plan for tomorrow. Well, I don’t have one. I’ll see what I fancy when I wake up. 🙂 Sleep tight people.
18th June 2017 – Day two.
I woke up at 4am to the sound of a toddler throwing a complete wobbler in the tent next to mine. The parents did a fine job of demonstrating some of the most extreme volume whispering that I’d ever heard. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse another child started crying in a tent across the way, I swear they were playing one up man ship the little bastards. So, there I was, tired, miserable, and in my tent wishing I was deaf when something magic happened; the toddler that started it all shouted
“Fuck!”, obviously this changed everything. I sat up in my tent and listened hard. The mothers whispering went into overdrive which only egged on the little hero. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
At this point the father started laughing as did I. The mother then whisper-bollocked the father all whilst the terrible toddler demonstrated his fine grasp of Anglo Saxon. It was brilliant.
I left the camp site at 9, my destination for the day was a place called Saint-Jean-en-Royans which is the beginning of a wonderful mountainous road creatively called the D76 which sits on the edge of the French Alps. With the help of both a map and my GPS I wiggled my way through the roads and lanes absorbing a feeling that only France has. As the day got hotter and hotter I found myself longing for rain. With nothing but blue sky above me the chance was slim to nonexistent; however, up ahead I spotted a large sprinkler watering the corner of a field of corn. Every once in a while the jet of water would go over the road, I timed it to perfection and rode through just at its peek. With my coat unzipped and my visor fully open I rode into the fine spray to find out that it was actually more like a fireman’s hose. The shock of it gave me a bit of a wobble on but my expert riding ability and manly demeanour got me through.
After half an hour of riding through the beautiful French countryside, with its fields of corn edged with wild poppies and lavender, everything was dry and it was time to stop for a coffee. Unfortunately I’d finished my thermos flask the previous day so decided to stop at a McDonalds to fill it up as their coffee is surprisingly good. I pulled in and queued up being very careful to keep my tank bag away from everyone. When I got to the front I said
“Cat grand cafe noir sivooplay” please excuse the spelling! The girl looked at me and repeated “Cat cafe?” Unfortunately my French doesn’t stretch to “Yes please, I need to fill up my thermos flask and your coffee is nice and reasonably priced” so instead I just said “Oui.” Everything seemed to be going well until my coffee turned up, yes, coffee, singular. I struggled through but in the end was getting nowhere so went outside and got my thermos. The girl laughed and filled it up for the price of two coffees even though it took seven coffees to fill it. Nice girl. For some reason I can’t seem to go anywhere and deal with one person, by the time I left with my coffee I’d spoken with the whole team. As I rode past the McDonalds window I waived and everyone waved back. 🙂
It wasn’t long before the land started rising. The edge of the Alps is a special place for me, the first sight of those incredible mountains does it to me every time. And, I’ve always felt that the villages change slightly showing a modest hint of Swiss chalet. I rode through one tiny village and spotted a delightful old lady getting into her immaculate, red and cream striped Citroen 2CV. The picture was perfect; mountains in the background, fields with bales of hay all rolled up to the left and to the right the most picturesque little high street you can possibly imagine (she probably had a dozen eggs on the passenger seat too). I decided I just had to stop. I pulled up on the other side of the road, removed my helmet, grabbed my camera and pointed it at the old lady. This is when the shouting started. I have no idea what she was saying but it certainly wasn’t “I’m a lovely old lady, please go ahead”. I stood there for a moment too shocked to move. Then when she took a few steps towards me I decided to stick my tail firmly between my legs and run away. Crikey.
The beginning of the Alps really is a bikers paradise and, as such, there were bikes everywhere. Almost all of them went zooming past me at quite a pace as I plodded on. I’ve never really experienced bike envy before but after a few hours riding around the edge of the Alps it had firmly set in. Half of me envied the little sports bikes for their agility and fun nature but the other half saw how uncomfortable they looked. One bike stood out above the rest. It was an Aprilia RSV1000R, a bike I’ve owned myself, the chap riding it was in front of me and was obviously having a hard time. His bike was fully loaded up and he was trying everything to get comfortable. I sat behind him for about 70 miles and not 10 second went by without him doing something to try to get more comfortable. He’d take his feet off the pegs and let his legs hand down, move his arse to the left side of the seat, then the right, then he’d take his hands off the bars and stretch, then he attempted to stand up on the pegs which ended with quite a wobble. Unfortunately it all ended as he stopped at a set of traffic lights, he simply couldn’t put his foot down and the bike just fell over. He didn’t try to get up, I jumped off and tried to help but all his mates had him and and sorted before I knew it.. Poor sod.
Anyway, enough from me. Tomorrow it’s the D76. Wohoo.
19th June 2017 – Day 3.
I woke up just before six in the morning after a wonderful nights sleep. Another beautiful day presented itself as I popped my head out of my tent; the sky was blue and the sun was just about to appear out from the mountain it was hiding behind. As I sat and having my morning coffees I looked over at the bike. Unfortunately, when I had arrived the previous evening, I was issued with a spot which was quite awkward to get to. It was up high and to get there I had to take a route through someone else’s pitch, squeeze past their tent and then squeeze between a car and a tree. That was fine when I arrived as everyone was awake; however, riding my quite noisy bike through that lot at six-thirty in the morning didn’t seem like a nice thing to do. As such I was weighing up the pros and cons of just riding down the high and bloody steep hill/drop. I clambered down to the bottom and took a look, bloody hell. I just about managed to climb back up to my pitch and took another look, it didn’t look any better. I sighed when I realised that I was going to ride down it anyway. I know what I’m like and sometimes just can’t stop myself.
It didn’t take long to pack up the bike, I jumped on, started it up and rode it towards the top of the hill, Christ almighty! I went flying down the hill like my arse was on fire, by the time I’d reached the bottom I had built up quite a rate of knots and was heading right for the reception. I just about managed to stop as the lady came out looking shocked.
“I’ve never seen that before!” She said. It’s always good to have something witty to say in such situations but my brain was still recovering from my rather rapid descent. Instead I smiled and thanked her for her hospitality. She bid me fair well with a Bon voyage and I was off.
As I rode to Saint-Jean-en-Royans to pick up the D76 I was completely spoiled by the sheer beauty of the area. The sun was making its first showing from behind the mountain, the smells were of mint and lavender (with the odd spell of concentrated cow shit for good measure) and the temperature was perfect. When I reached Saint-Jean-en-Royans I checked the map and found the D76. I’d been looking forward to riding this road since getting my bike license nine years ago.
The road climbed, double backed and climbed some more. The smell of pine combined with the cool air felt like mountain adventure. The anticipation of whatever was going to come next was strong and wonderful. When I reached the part that I’d seen a million times in photographs I found that it wasn’t that high at all, it was reasonably impressive but I’d bigged it up in my head so much that I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I took some photographs anyway and continued with my ride.
Once I reached the end of the D76 I set the GPS (and checked the map!) for Chamonix and got going. One of the towns I rode through was called “Le Champ” and, as a person with a dubious sense of humour, I decided to stop at the sign, ignore all the cars and Lorries driving past and set up my camera and tripod. Two car beeped and waived and I received a wolf-whistle from a lorry driver, I like to think it was it was Kylie Minogue in her truck but I didn’t dare look up. With photograph taken I continued on towards Chamonix.
It wasn’t long before I ended up in the most horrific traffic ever. Everything was stopped and the heat was pressing down. The temperature readouts from the signs outside the pharmacies read 37 degrees and on top of that my bike was very hot and the fan was blowing the hot air onto my legs. I didn’t remember seeing a large town on the map so checked the GPS and found I’d accidentally rode into Grenoble. Interestingly, the Grenobleians (is that a word?) seem like a patient bunch, even though the traffic was terrible, I didn’t hear a single hooter and everyone simply waited patiently.
After being stuck in traffic for around 90 minutes I decided I needed a break so pulled over at the side of the road for a coffee. Shock horror I was empty! Luckily there was a McDonald’s just up the road so I popped in for seven large, strong, black coffees. The last time I’d done this I’d tried speaking French and completely buggered it up so this time I decided instead of speaking French badly, I’d speak in perfect English and be proud. When I reached the front of the queue I said
“Good morning gentlemen. I’d like seven cups of your finest coffee please, strong and black if you don’t mind.” I’m not sure what I expected but I certainly didn’t expect the response
“That’s no problem sir, we’ll have them ready for you in two shakes of a lambs tail.” It turned out the chap who was serving me was English, he had studied politics at Birmingham and was having a few months out before getting a job. What luck. I filled my thermos and continued.
Upon reaching Chamonix I followed some signs to Mont Blanc but there were lots of huge mountains there so didn’t really know which one to look at. I asked three people but each one gave me a different answer so I might have seen Mont Blanc, but there again, I might not have done. Who knows.
From there I made my way to Argentiere, Vallorcine, through the border which wasn’t there and into Switzerland. The only discernible difference I found when entering Switzerland was the speed limits. I continued on through Sion and Visp, then I spotted a sign for Furka. Being a person with a dubious sense of humour ( ! ) I found it worryingly funny saying “You Furka” every time I saw the sign.
Anyway, I’m now sitting in my tent in a camp site just outside Furka (You Furka!) I’ve had a lovely shower and am now going to drink about five coffees. Lovely. Oh wait, I almost forgot. My shower was indeed lovely but unfortunately it was in two parts. The first part involved me getting into the shower, putting half a franc into the machine and getting wet, I lathered up all the bits that needed lathering up, then the shower stopped. I didn’t have another half a franc so was royally buggered, so to speak. I had a little camping towel so did my level best to hide my dignity and made my way to the reception for another coin. The walk was only about two hundred yards but it felt far longer. When I reached reception the chap gave me a coin and a smile and wished me good luck in getting back to the shower unscathed. I made it past the tent with a laughing children, past the tent with the gossiping ladies and past the tent with the smiling teenagers, back to the safety of the shower. Phew!
Well, that’s my story for today. Tomorrow I will be riding through the rest of Switzerland, seeing some mountains and trying not to get into any trouble.
20th June 2017 – Day 4.
I woke this morning at 5:40 to the sound of the chap in the tent next to mine checking his BMW 1200GS. He was attentively checking the oil level and tyre pressures. The front must have been microscopically low as he then attached his flashy electric pump and turned it on for literally two seconds. He then checked the pressure again and smiled to himself. Once he was happy he folded up the instruction booklet and packed it all back into its box. Just as I thought his bike was ready to go he took out an expandable pole and stuck it into the ground about ten feet in front of his bike. I was intrigued so continued watching. He switched his bike on checked the headlight was hitting the right mark on the pole. Crikey, now that is what you call attention to detail!
Taking his tent down was equally as detailed. Each of the guy ropes were loosened, unfastened, then folded before carefully packing them into their own little baggies. Before taking the tent down he wiped it over with a cloth then took the cloth to the sinks and washed it. He then hung the cloth on a mini washing line that extended from his panniers to his handlebar. When the washing line sagged a little he spent a few minutes adjusting the tension on the line. This went on, and on, and on. Camping on a motorbike is not easy at the best of times but with a serious dose of OCD it must be almost impossible. Still, he seemed to be enjoying himself.
With everything packed up he sat on his bike. Dressed in the full compliment of BMW gear he looked like a living, breathing BMW advert. I thought he was just about to ride away but no, there were lots more checks and tests to perform. He checked his brake light, front and rear indicators and other things that I think only BMW people know about. After about ten minutes of tests and checks the chap in the tent on his other side stuck his head of of the door and shouted at him. I don’t know exactly was what said but I think it was the Swiss version of “will you just fuck off!” And with that he rode away.
After watching Mr BMW packing his stuff up with such military precision my effort seemed a little sloppy. I took everything out of my tent and stuffed it all into my panniers, took the tent down and stuffed it into its bag, tied it all the the bike and buggered off. The bike is a Honda so there is no need to check the oil, tyre pressures or headlight alignment. Hehe.
So, yesterday someone kindly posted that I should ride the Furka Pass (you Furka!) which I thought was a great idea so I checked the map and set off. It turns out the Furka Pass is absolutely stunning, and when ridden at around seven in the morning it’s completely deserted. Meandering around the beautiful roads surrounded by the most incredible scenery was a moment to remember. However, as I climbed the bike started to falter. At just 5000 feet the air had thinned enough to cause my poor old girl to run rough. By 6000 feet I was restricted to first, second and third. By 8000 feet even third gear was out. I found the bike was okay going very slowly or with the throttle fully open but would fart and bang at anything between. Oh joys of carburettors eh?
Coming Down the other side was far better, with the thin air, my maladjusted carburettors and agricultural exhaust pipe the bike popped, spat, belched and farted its way down the mountain. When I got the the bottom I had no idea where I was and didn’t really care; it was a beautiful day and I was on my motorcycle meandering around Switzerland. I refused to stop and check the map or GPS instead I just rode around feeling the full force of freedom. Without meaning to I accidentally rode over another two incredible passes; Oberalppass and Sustenpass. As I descended down from Oberalppass I was getting faster and faster and was having a great time feeling like some kind of racing god when I was rudely overtaken by a post office van that had snuck up behind me when I wasn’t looking. It was probably driven by none other than The Stig himself! On the way down from Sustenpass I stopped for a coffee but had run dry. I also needed some fuel so stopped in the first petrol station I came across.
I believe there are two types of enjoyment on a trip like this, one is experiencing the beautiful scenery, the topology, the countries individual styles, et cetera and the other is the people. I experience the full compliment of the first type but am so paranoid about getting stuff stolen from my bike that I don’t really get to experience the people. As such I decided to trust a little more.
I filled up with petrol and made my way inside. I refused to keep on glancing at my bike and wandered around the shop picking up a jar of instant coffee, loads of water and a nice, home made chicken salad. I then went to the checkout and started paying. As the lady was typing in the prices I glanced over to my bike and saw a van stopped next to it with a thieving tosser leant out of its window trying to remove my GPS from my bike. I dropped my stuff, shouted “Oi!” and legged it out to my bike. Luckily the thieving tosser was also a shit-for-brains and couldn’t work out how to remove it so fled empty handed, I ran up the road after the van for about two feet then gave up. When I went back inside the lady asked if I wanted her to call the police but I didn’t want the agrovation so declined. So, as I’m sure you can imagine, the trust thing’s not going that well at the moment. Perhaps ‘paranoid’ is the right level to have when touring around on ones motorbike.
So, with a tank full of fuel and a bitter taste in my mouth I continued on my journey. Luckily the horrible experience was about to be replaced by a rather pleasant one. As I was riding up a hill just after a place called Selva I spotted a group of around fifty women skiing on skateboards. Judging by the way they were moving and the distinct lack of much clothing I’d say it was hard work. I slowly made my way passed them being sure to wait until it was absolutely clear before overtaking each one.
I continued through Laax, Surava, Davos and eventually into Austria and have found my resting place for the night; Innsbruck. I’m in a camp site by the airport so every now and again something lands or takes off which is quite a spectacle.
I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I’m going to look up Austria and see what it offers. Much love. Rich 🙂
21st June 2017 – Day 5.
Today had been hard. Sometimes it all just works out nicely, and sometimes it doesn’t. I was rudely awoken by a cracking thunderstorm at around one in the morning, this went on for about two hours and was all but impossible to sleep through. On top of that choosing a camp site right next to both a runway and a railway line was, in hindsight, not the brightest idea. So, to conclude, I had bugger all sleep and wasn’t feeling too bright but by 6:30 the planes and trains meant any chance of more sleep was long gone. I packed up and left.
On the bright side though, the morning was stunning with the overnight storm and the heat of the morning combining to produce a low mist which gave the world a wonderful but eerie feel. Before I left I’d checked my list of places to ride through and worked out how to get there. I couldn’t remember why I’d chosen the places I’d chosen and was too tired to check. As I rode from place to place one question kept presenting itself; what am I doing? And I found it very difficult to answer. My normal style when doing these bike trips is to just ride through these places and absorb the sites, I enjoy that, but now I was questioning it. As I rode on my mind tried continuously to answer the question. What was the point of it? Was it enough to just see these places, or was is necessary to stop and absorb myself in them? Should I be talking to more people? Should I eat in some of these places, or would a coffee be enough? My conclusion was that just blatting through each country without stopping, eating, or experiencing them seemed wrong. As I came to my conclusion I spotted a sign for Salzburg. Okay, I was going to Salzburg.
I’d read all about the beautiful buildings and super streets in Salzburg, and after seeing The Sound of Music <grin> I had high expectations; however, my first impression was one of complete chaos. The road leading in was being worked on and there was an incredibly slow traffic light system in place. A few people had decided not to wait which buggered it all up completely. The workmen tried their best to sort it out by directing people all over the place but then a lorry decided to do it on his own and got stuck. After sitting there baking in the sun for forty minutes I jumped off the road and onto the adjacent field. Twenty minutes later I was stuck in stationery traffic in the heart of the city.
When I saw a nice looking restaurant I pulled over and popped in. I asked if there was somewhere close to park my bike but it was about 300 meters away! I tried another restaurant but they also had no parking. Then, as I was just about to give up, I saw a restaurant with a big wide pavement outside. I rode the bike right up the the window and stopped. Excellent.
I secured everything as best as I could but left it all on the bike. I was about to enter the restaurant when a police car pulled up and told me I couldn’t park there. I asked him where I could park but the place he pointed to was not close at all. This would mean lugging my heavy tank bag, my crash helmet and my leather jacket all the way to the restaurant in the 34 degree afternoon heat. I decided against that and instead opted to continue riding around Salzburg to look for the wonderful buildings I’d read about.
After a further hour of going from one traffic jam to another, not being able to find a single place to eat that I could park close to and not having found a single nice looking building I decided to revert to my original style of just seeing the country side and eating the odd banana when I felt I needed some food. I got the hell out of Salzburg.
When I finally got out of Salzburg I stopped and had a coffee from my thermos. I decided to have a look at my route so far. I set my GPS to record the track so I would know the exact route I took from beginning to end. Unfortunately I found that it was only recording the last few hours. When your sense of direction and memory are both absolutely atrocious you do tend to rely on technology. Now the technology I’m going to rely on is the ball point pen. Here is a list of the places I rode through today.
Volders, Wattons, Kolsass, Pill, Buch, Zell am Ziller, Brixlegg, Kundl, Worbl, Walserberg, Salzburg, Puch, Oberalm, Kuchl, Golling, Tenneck, Mandling, Poham, Huittau, Espang, Liezen, Hall, Sankt Gallen and finally Landl.
I’m now sitting in a nice little camp site by a place called Landl. The chap is currently making me a pizza as that’s the menu. Lovely. Tomorrow I should get into Slovakia which I’m really looking forward to.
22nd June 2017 – Day 6.
Well, the hills are indeed alive with the sound of music, unfortunately last night most of it was by Dr Dre with some seriously ‘kick ass’ drumb & bass. Yep, the camp site I picked happened to also be the camp site of choice for a group of English students on a rafting trip. When I arrived they were out so I foolishly assumed that it would be a nice quiet place. I chose my spot and set everything up. When they arrived back is quickly became apparent that it was not going to be a quiet evening at all. Their group was comprised of around thirty people in, I’d say, their late teen or early twenties. I said hello, they said hello back but it was apparent that talking to me was not what evenings were for, which was fine with me as I had a blog to write! With the blog written and my evening coffee finished I decided it was time for bed. And that is when the music started. Luckily, being a sensible biker, I’d packed my super-mega earplugs. I popped them in my ears and said good night to the world. Obviously the young ladies were bitterly disappointed and spent most of the night weeping into their pillows.
I woke at about a quarter to six in the morning with the sound of banging coming through my earplugs. I popped them out and stuck my head of of the tent to investigate. I found an old fella on the roof of a nearby construction banging nails into some timber, at a quarter to six in the morning! I was tempted to ask him if he would be so kind as to shut up and fuck off but decided against it. I glanced over at the kids tents but they were all fast asleep. I got up, packed up, checked the map and buggered off.
I rode through a number of town and small villages as I made my way through Austria. I noticed that the mountainous areas were impeccably tended and immaculate. Everything was green and perfect. In every village there was at least one person out doing something, I even saw one chap washing a road sign! Then I really started looking and the thing that really got me was that for about sixty miles I didn’t see a single item of rubbish, and I do mean a single item. Not one!
As I came down to the lower areas of Austria it all changed. Not only was if far less green, it was also a bit more natural. There were things like weeds and the odd piece of rubbish in the road. Don’t get me wrong though, in comparison to an English village it was still immaculate.
After a few hours in the saddle my mind switched from taking in the surroundings to concentrating on my sore arse, aching back, roasting feet and sweaty body. I tied all the things any long distance biker does but none of them really made any difference. I stood up on my pegs quite a lot and did my best to massage my bottom (which the elderly couple in the car behind found very funny) but even that only improved things for a short time. The long and the short of it is that it hurts riding long distance on a motorbike, and it’s something I just have to accept.
I would love to say that the border was this and the border was that but the truth is that there wasn’t one. I’m sure there is actually a border, but there was no evidence of one from what I could tell, not even a ‘Welcome to Slovakia’ or a ‘Good riddance from Austria’. Nothing, nowt, nada.
As evening approached I started looking for a camp site, the first one I found seemed okay. I parked outside and made my way into the reception. When the chap told me the price was thirty-five Euros I assumed I’d misunderstood and asked again. He repeated his answer. Feeling that I was being bent over I just couldn’t stop myself
“Christ almighty, does that include your daughter?” I decided that, judging by the chaps face, I’d probably be best served elsewhere. I made a quick escape and continued my search. As this was the first time camping in Slovakia I didn’t know if all the prices would be high. The camp site I’m currently at was a rather pleasant seven Euros. Now that’s more like it!
My evening meal was going to be grilled chicken but they didn’t have that, so I chose fried chicken with salad but they didn’t have that either, when I went to choose something else I was told they only had goulash. I chose the goulash and enjoyed it.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you what Slovakia’s like, silly me. About one hundred yards from the place where the imaginary border should be the road turns from a beautiful quality black tarmac to a terrible quality miss-mash of bodges from God only knows how many years. Every now and again it improves a little but never by much, then it’s back again. The most fun are the ruts that the trucks make as they ride over the hot, low quality tarmac. Great fun on a bike. What I’ve seen so far certainly seemed to be beautiful, in a more wild way that Switzerland or Austria but I will report back when I’ve seen more of it.
Here is the list of places I travelled through today: Pilfau, Gostling, Gaming, Muhling, Pulln, Erlauf, Ornding, Melk, Aggstein, Rossatz, Scholberg, Plank, Gars, Rosenberg, Horn, Grund, Hagendorf, Hausbrunn, Hohenau, kuklov, Senica, Sobotist, Hrasne, Banov, Horne Vestenice, Benice, Martin, Sucany and I’m now in a camp site 2 km’s from Sutovo.
Good night and sleep tight.
23rd June 2017 – Day 7 – The morning.
Last night was comprised of one huge thunderstorm, it’s starting to die down now but it’s still raining. I’ve checked the weather and it’s supposed to be lightning up in a couple of hours so I’m going to sit here in my tent and read for a few hours.
Oh, let’s talk about coffee. My body doesn’t function well without coffee. As such relying on outside sources for coffee always ends up with a cracking headache. My big plan was to fill up my large thermos with coffee from a cafe each day and live off that but to be honest it’s bloody expensive. Some places are asking for around twenty-five Euros which I don’t want to pay. So my plan was to buy some water and coffee at a supermarket and voila! Lovely, cheap, instant coffee. So that’s what I did. Unfortunately this morning when I went to make myself a nice cup of coffee I found that I’d bought sparkling water. Cold coffee is okay, but cold and fizzy is not nice at all. Doh!
Anyway, today I should have my first experience of the Carpathian Mountains. Interestingly, the Carpathian MountIns are home to the largest numbers of black bears and wolves in Europe. In the camp site cafe they have a bear skin complete with feet and head hanging on the wall. It’s absolutely massive.
Right I’m off to read my book and drink my fizzy coffee. Have a nice day ya hear!
23rd June 2017 – Day 7 – The evening.
Whato my lovelies. Today has been a funny old day. I woke this morning to a huge thunderstorm and heavy rain but it had stopped by about eight so I pack up and left around nine.
Riding through Slovakia was mesmerising, sure it’s got it’s rough parts but once out in the countryside it’s just beautiful, I’ll do my best to upload some photographs. It’s interesting, even though I only briefly visited Switzerland, Austria and Slovakia, I feel able to draw a comparison in my head. Sometimes the natural element of rough and ready is far more beautiful than the perfectly manicured elements of prim and proper. Slovakia being the former and Switzerland being the latter. Austria is like Switzerland but just a little less so. I think that sums them up for me.
The rough part I spoke of earlier was Brezno. It wasn’t pretty and there were parts where it looked most dodgy. As I rode through one of these dodgy looking places a car rode up along side me and a chap in the back waived his hand asking me to pull over, when I didn’t pull over he waived a plastic bottle full of a horrid looking brown liquid out of the window at me. When I still didn’t stop he waived a bloody big knife at me. To be fair he was grinning like a weirdo and probably either drunk or trying to sell me something, but waiving a knife out of the window was not the best way to get me to pull over.
Anyway, I decided not to stop for a while after that just in case and zipped through village after village. In one of the towns that I passed through I saw a huge billboard with a picture of Kylie on it. As I rode passed I raised both my hands up and shouted
“Kylie!” and blew her a kiss. The truck driver coming the other way obviously saw this and honked his bloody loud air horn twice. Then, as I looked up he waived his hands out the window in a very funny breast squeezing gesture. Made me laugh and brightened up my day.
So, at this point it was time to fill up with petrol again. As the bike has been struggling with altitude I decided to take my mates advice and fill up with better petrol. I passed the garages I’d not heard of and finally stopped at a Shell garage. I looked over at my options; the petrol labelled ‘Super-Plus’ had a weird picture of a huge, bald man wearing a brown leotard with a wooden pole across his back, sitting on the pole was a pair of luscious ladies in bikinis. I’m not sure I understand the message but that was definitely the fuel for me. I filled her up and departed. I only went up to about 3,000 feet today but the bike showed no signs whatsoever of any altitude sickness. Thanks Tim!
I crossed from Slovakia and into Hungary and immediately felt the need to eat, perhaps there is something in the name. I stopped at the first place I came across, parked the bike and made my way to the door. As I opened the door the noise stopped and everyone turned and stared. It’s always good to have a witty line ready for moments such as this but my head was all but empty. The first thing that came to me was a line from a film.
“Say! Any of you guys know how to Madison?” As you can probably imagine, it wasn’t the ice breaker I was after, instead everyone went back to their discussions and I took a seat. I looked for Hungarian Goulash, being that I was in Hungary, but it was an eggs and bacon kind of joint. I ended up with a chicken kebab and a salad.
So, here’s the list of some of the places I rode through today. Ivatchnova, Jaraba, Brezno, Telgart, Dobsina, Gocovo, Petrovo, Rostar, Kuntapolca, Kunova Teplica, Paskova, Aggtelek, Trizs, Ragaly, Zubogy, Kurityan, Mucsony and finally Hortobagy where I am now in a nice camp site.
My odometer is currently sitting at 32,727 bringing my total so far to 2,085 miles.
Enjoy your evening! Rich. xx
24th June 2017 – Day 8.
Before I went to sleep last night I sat outside with one of my special fizzy coffees and watched the may bug slaughter. It wasn’t difficult for the agile bats as the may bugs aren’t the most elegant of fliers. One bounced off my head as I watched and another dive bombed straight into my coffee. I have no idea what may bugs are made of but they make fizzy coffee froth up like you wouldn’t believe, especially when entered at speed.
I packed up and buggered off at 8:40 this morning with the thought of Romania on my mind. To be honest I had no idea what to expect and was happy to just get there and make my mind up with no preconceived ideas. First, though, I had the get through the rest of Hungary. I thought I was only about twenty km’s from Romania but it turned out to be over 150 km’s away. Bigger than I thought. When I did finally reach Romania I was happy to see an actual real life border with guards, buildings and even some signage. Oh, and queues. Like a good boy I queued up with all the cars but inside of about ten seconds I was approached by a friendly Romanian who told me that I should just zoom to the front. Being English, I have a very poor view of queue jumping but I was in someone else’s country and it would be rude not to comply with a locals request. I zoomed the the front expecting the people I over took to get the right arse on about it but they actually waived at me and smiled. Obviously one sandwich short of a picnic. I was immediately approached by a guard who said something in Romanian, then paused and said
“Passport.” I showed him my passport and was then waived through. I stopped a few miles up the road and looked at the map, a destination was chosen and then entered into the GPS. When I started following the route it became apparent that the GPS was trying to take me a very weird route. It wanted to take me back into Hungary, then into Ukraine, then along and passed my destination and back into Romania. I fiddled with the settings for a while but the bloody thing just didn’t want to play ball. I eventually got it working somehow and set off into Romania. The roads were full of holes and bodges upon on their bodges, many of the buildings were in a similar state of disrepair and the people seemed to look at me with distrust. As is often the case in a newly visited country, I felt uneasy at first.
Rather frustratingly, after riding around for approximately half an hour I found myself back at the border. The GPS was determined to take me through Ukraine even if it was completely out of my way. The destination I had set was only about forty kilometres away how the crow flies but the route the GPS had chosen was over three hundred kilometres! The map I had was of such a stupidly small scale that the whole of Romania was about the size of a beer mat so was completely useless. So without the GPS or a decent map I just headed northeast which was the rough direction I wanted to head in. This worked reasonably well; however, when I stopped for fuel I bought a nice, laminated, super lovely scale map of Romania.
With the help of my map I headed for the mountains, along the way I rode through lots of tiny villages. Each house had a bench outside where the occupants would sit and watch everything go by. For about fifty kilometres pretty much every house had its occupants sitting outside on a colourful, rug draped bench. The children would, more often than not, wave at me and grin excitedly when I waived back, but the adults just stared, with the odd one just allowing themselves a slight nod. It was strange how the occupants of each house would remain separate from those of their neighbours.
I made my way up into the Carpathian Mountains and just when I thought the roads couldn’t get any worse they promptly got worse. And that’s when the road works started. I used the bike magic as best I could to get to the front but sometimes there just wasn’t the space. The surface on these sections was sand and gravel but only a few inches deep so was okay to ride through, though when it got deeper the heavy bike became a bit of a handful. As I made my way higher the traffic disappeared as did the traffic lights, the roads had been dug up but it was just left up to me to work it out which I was fine with.
My normal method of finding a camp site is to wait until about 5:30 then to look out for signs for a camp site. This had not failed me yet but by seven o’clock I’d still not found one. I sheepishly asked the GPS for a camp site and it responded with one sixty kilometres away called Dimelza. I checked the route just in case but it was fine, just stay on the same road for sixty kilometres and then Bob’s your Uncle! I turned up just before eight and set up my tent.
When I turned up i unpacked everything, set up my tent and made my way to the cafe to write my blog. After about twenty minutes a Romanian lady came over and invited me to their evening celebrations.
“I’d be delighted, thank you.” I said. It turned out that one night each year they dress up in traditional Romanian dress and basically get pissed. What luck! The moment I joined them I was given a plastic cup full of vodka. I was told it was ‘vodka flavoured mineral water’ by one of the chaps but I can tell you it was seriously strong stuff. And whenever the cup got low it was topped up again. Then they got the BBQ going and cooked lumps of beautiful meat. If I could have designed an evening that would have been it, obviously with the addition of my lovely wife. 😉 Anyway, once sufficiently fed and watered I returned to my tent, on the way I did a tiny bit of stumbling and found I’d lost a flip-flop (glass slipper). So, I apologise for not writing my blog yesterday but I was enjoying myself and getting drunk. 😉
I’ve not kept up to date on the placed I’ve ridden through but here’s the list I’ve got so far. Carnac, Budesti, Sarbi, Valeni, Barsana, Sieu.
Mileage 32,727 to 33,005.
25th June 2017 – Day 9.
Needless to say I slept soundly but woke with quite a head. After drinking pretty much a full two litre bottle of fizzy water and eating two paracetamol, two ibuprofen and a wonderful breakfast of egg, sliced meat, cheese and tomato I started to feel better. I paid up, packed up and departed.
After literally just two minutes on the road I rode past an old chap on a pushbike who was staring at me with a worrying expression and and open mouth, as I approached he did the ‘Mary mother of God’ cross thing with his hand. He looked terrified. The first time this happened I found it weird. Within the next hour miles it had happened at least five more times and I was beginning to get a bit freaked out by it. One elderly lady actually got off her bike, leant it up against a post then crossed me with the look of complete horror. I have no idea why this keeps on happening but I have to admit to not liking it all that much. It eased off later in the day but must have happened well over twenty times throughout my ride.
Direction wise I was doing incredibly well following my posh new map, then I decided to take the scenic route and follow one of the white roads. The first thing that happened was the surface disappeared, then it started climbing, then it really started climbing. At this point it was so incredibly steep and narrow that stopping was not an option, if I stopped there was absolutely no way to get the bike going again so I continued. Then it got even steeper still and the ruts just carved deep slots in the mud. The only tracks I could see were tank like caterpilla tracks from, I guess, logging vehicles. Up and up I went with the bike’s back wheel struggling to grip but somehow continuing faultlessly. I was terrified but couldn’t stop, if I had dropped the bike at this point it wouldn’t have stopped until it had bounced it’s way to the bottom. My mind raced with thoughts of breaking the bike or myself but all the time I continued climbing.
All of a sudden it leveled off and I felt elated, not to mention incredibly manly! Then, shock horror, I spotted a family having a picnic sitting next to their steed, a bloody Fiat Uno! My manly prowess was immediately slashed from Rambo (First Blood) to My Little Pony (Pink and Fluffy edition). I rode over to them and got off the bike. I was actually shaking from both the exertion and fear when the lady said “wow, I thought that way was impassible”. I then spotted the other route up which was still quite bad but absolutely nothing compared to my route up. I could have beaten my chest there and then I was so chuffed. I told her that I rode up it purely by accident and that I didn’t suggest going down it in her Uno.
We chatted for a while and she told me that I had now entered into the area of Transylvania. I asked if I should be worried about being bitten by a blood lusting maiden but she told me that the real worry was the bears. She told me that they really do attack people and that I should be very careful. She then insisted on telling me about one of her friends who was attacked this time last year. It was very grim and equally as worrying. As I rode down the other side I found myself looking out for bears and starting to find them a bit of a worry.
I continued my journey to the beginning of the Transylvanian pass, or something like that, at a place called Carta. On the way I rode passed some kind of serious military installation with hundreds of huge and very impressive vehicles sitting outside. I think that was a place called Cincu.
Again I’ve not kept up to date with the places traveled through list but here’s what I currently have. Gocanesti, Lacobeni, Argestru, Yatra Dornel, Plaiul Sarului, Panaci, Coverca, Paltinis, Glodu, Suseni Lunca, Bilbor, Secu, Toplita, Galautas, Sarmas, Gheorgheni Gyergyoszentmiklos (yes, that’s a real name!), Secuieni, Vanatori, Albesti, Sighisoara and now I’m camped near a place called Carta.
Mileage for today is: 33,005 to 33,250.
Nighty-night my lovelies! Rich xx
26th June 2017 – Day 10.
As far as Monday’s go I have to say, this one takes some beating. What an incredible day!
Last night I finally rolled into a camp site at around eight o’clock and happened across a group of people from Poland on Honda Transalps (like mine). I pulled up next to them and set up camp. When I enquired about food at reception they told me there was a small shop down the road but I could be bothered so sat in front of my tent and opened a packet of crisps I’d found in one of my panniers. Just then, one of the girls appeared with some pizza for me, I accepted a slice graciously and wished I had more than just fizzy coffee and half a packet of cheese and onion crisps to offer. It turned out that they were planning on riding the Transfagarasan Pass too. After a lovely shower, and a liberal dusting of talc for my bottom, I sat in front of my tent and wrote my blog.
So Monday. I woke up feeling nice and fresh after a decent nights sleep. Said goodbye to my friends in the bay next door and after photographs and exchanging some contact details, departed for the Transfagarasan Pass.
The road was an absolute pleasure to ride and the bike performed flawlessly even up at over six thousand feet. Every time there was a beautiful photograph opportunity I’d go through the same old routine of pulling over, finding neutral, putting the side stand down, getting off the bike, taking off my gloves, taking off my helmet, unzipping the tank bag, finding the camera, composing the shot and finally taking the shot. Then I’d do the same in reverse before setting off again. Then to my frustration there would always be another beautiful vista, just a little better than the one before, just one hundred yards down the road and is was the old routine all over again.
“Not another beautiful bloody visa” I said in my helmet more than once. I do hope the photographs do the place justice.
About half way through the pass there is a tunnel which cuts through the very top part of the mountain. As you approach it it’s completely dark with the exception of some rather dim lights which show it dropping down steeply. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was about to descend down a mine shaft. The eerie feeling was not helped by the amplified growling, cracking and popping noises my bike made. The huge temperature drop inside the tunnel was very welcome though, even at around six thousand feet.
As I exited the tunnel I was presented with devastatingly beautiful scenery in every direction. It also dawned on me that it was, in fact, Monday morning. The combination of all this all at once resulted in me feeling like the luckiest person in the world. I stopped, drew a picture in my pad, and took some photographs. The last photograph was taken as a lady drove passed in her car, she screamed, then shouted Monday!”
With my “It’s Monday Morning!” Photograph taken I continued down the mountain and through the rest of the Transfagarasan Pass. Once complete I tried hard to log the memory in my head for prosperity.
At the lower altitudes of the Transfagarasan Pass there water pipes sticking out of the mountain rock and lots of people floating around. I stopped to see what was going on. It turned out that the water is incredibly pure and everyone fills up all their containers with this wonderful water. I filled all my containers up including the thermos. The water is wonderful and freezing cold.
Next on my list was the Transalpina Pass which is further to the west. I plotted my route on the map and made my way there. Before starting the Transalpina Pass I had to fill up with fuel so pulled over at a petrol station, filled the bike up and bought a roll for me. Immediately I exited the building I was joined by a scraggy little friend who I think may well have been a golden retriever. The poor girl was looking like she’d seen better days and needed a friend so I sat down and shared my lunch with her. She ate the food quickly and drank up the water, then when the food was gone she left. I sat and watched as she walked away, it’s no life for a dog in this hot climate. Poor thing.
When I reached the Transalpina Pass I asked my GPS to find me a camp site. The closest one was almost fifty kilometres away so I jumped back on the bike and started on my way. The road started the climb, then climb further and before I knew it I was at about three thousand feet. The sky was getting darker and darker and threatening rain. I continued hoping the rain would hold off but with just eight kilometres to go the heavens opened. Riding in hard rain is a horrible experience but you just have to slow down, shut your flaps (so to speak) and get through it. I’d done all that and was counting down the tenths of each kilometre when there was a bloody great flash of bright light and a huge deafening bang! I instantly let loose with a string of graphic expletives that cannot be reproduced here for risk of offending everyone. Usually I love thunder and lightning but that was way too close for comfort, I saw the flash and heard the band at the same time and could smell burning within seconds of the strike. As I was so high up and the only thing higher than my highly conductive head was a power line I felt completely vulnerable. The expletives continued for some time but before I knew it I’d reached the safety of my camp site. Feeling the need for something a little more secure I opted for my own little villa.
So, my villa for the night is all set up, I’m really looking forward to sleeping in a real(ish) bed tonight as the floor of a tent seems to have got harder as I got older. I’ve visited the restaurant where I asked for a typically Romanian dish. I was presented with half a fish with potato and lemon which was absolutely gorgeous. I saved a bit for the dog that’s been roaming around. They call it Bob Marley, I’m sure you can see why.
I’m now sitting here thinking about the people crossing me yesterday and almost being struck by lightning today. Coincidence?
Oh, and I’m not sure about the bears or vampires but the bloody horse flies bite like bastards. I’m far more lumpy than I’m happy with and dare not scratch them in case I turn into elephant man. I think it might be my girly soap that is attracting them so I’ve decided not to wash for a while.
27th June 2017 – Day 11.
If I had to use just one word to describe today it would be “incrediblybloodylong”. The time is now 22:45 and I’ve just turned up at a hotel. Anyway, my day..
Before leaving I had to pack all my stuff up and put on my leathers, unfortunately they take ages to dry so were still saturated from the previous day’s drenching. Starting the day with, what can only be described as, a squelchy bottom is not the best and I will do my utmost to avoid a repetition in future.
So, I left my ‘villa’ at about seven this morning and rode north through the Transalpina Pass. It was very pretty but nothing when compared to the Transfagarasan Pass that I rode through yesterday. There were a number of huge dams which were highly impressive but I was disappointed that I didn’t see any bears.
My original plan was to ride north on the Transalpina Pass, then to turn around and ride it in the opposite direction as I need to be heading south; however, I just hate going over the same ground so decided to take a different route through the lower land. This decision also came about because the combination of bloody cold temperatures and soaking wet leathers is miserable and low altitude heat was calling me.
To be honest it was never going to be much of a great journey getting from the North end of the Transalpina Pass (Sebes) to my crossing place into Bulgaria (Calafat). I set the GPS, checked the route and just followed the line. It took the best part of the day and was hard riding in the heat with lots of traffic on such a heavy bike.
There was one nice surprise along the way though, I was riding through a small lane and I must have surprised a large flock of small birds as they all flew out of the bush they were in. For about ten seconds I was one of the flock, they were all around me and one bumped into my visor. It was a fantastic experience.
As I neared the town of Calafat I was stuck in traffic when I saw a load of rubbish being thrown out of the window from the car in front. There was a bin not ten feet away so I got off my bike, calmly picked up all his rubbish, walked over to the bin and popped it in. As I got back on my bike the couple in the car to my left gave me a round of applause. The chap who threw the rubbish out looked very uncomfortable.
In both Romania there are lots of towns that initially seem like ghost towns. They are full of knocked looking buildings that you think are deserted; however, upon further inspection you can see people in side. Not nice places to live. It feels wrong taking photographs of other people’s misfortune so I think I only took on or two.
The border at Calafat between Romania and Bulgaria is a proper border with police, buildings, sniffer dogs and about ten million articulated trucks. Getting across only took me about ten minutes. I had to give the chap my passport and bike logbook. He then gave them back and waived me through. Easy peasy!
Trying to work out directions once in Bulgaria was not easy. My GPS threw it’s dummy out of the pram, my Romania map obviously didn’t cover Bulgaria and most of the signs are not written in the English alphabet. As such I got on a road that headed south and stayed on it. The first ten minutes in Bulgaria was a complete eye opener; it was simply stuffed full of dilapidated high rise flats in the most appalling condition you could possible imagine. It looked like some of them had been set on fire, others had partially fallen down and yet they were all occupied.
I asked my GPS for directions to the nearest camp site but it there were none close. I then asked it to find me anything. It came up with a number of hotels but they were all on par with their high rise neighbours so I decided to continue for a while and see what I could find. I kept my eyes open for signs for campsites or hotels but there were none. As the sun started disappearing behind the horizon I started preparing myself for a cold night in a field somewhere. By the time it was pitch black I’d still not found anything. I was looking around for a field in the darkness when I saw a sign saying ‘Restaurant and Hotel’. What luck! I pulled in and now I have a wonderful room with full facilities for only fifteen Euros! Hope the Georgiou luck continues to hold out for the rest of the trip.. 😉
Unfortunately, in Both Romania and Bulgaria there is rubbish everywhere. You can guarantee that every single lay by you stop in will see rubbish and toilet paper. That’s bad enough but my experience of Bulgaria so far is they’ve taken it to a new level. It looks like the fly tipping is a very popular past time here. The reason I rode for so long today was because every time I stopped to look at a place to pitch my tent I found rubbish, lots and lots of it. Very sad.
So, I spent fifteen and a half hours on the bike today. My arse is sore and knees hurt. Tomorrow I will see the Rila Monastery which is the highest in Bulgaria and beautiful apparently.
Here are some of the places I’ve ridden through today. Sugag, Petresti, Turmas, Tamasasa, Calan, Batalar, Hateg, Bucova, Glimboca, Laz (they couldn’t be arsed to finish the word), Sadova Veche, Rogova, Calafat, Vidin and Bela. I’m now about thirty kilometres north of Sofia in a nice hotel. Mmmmm.
EDIT: I found out why the locals crossed me on Sunday. I asked a lady at the petrol station as her English was excellent. She told me that a lot of Romanians are incredibly religious anyway but on Sunday they go mad and cross everyone. She also said that the size and noise of the bike on a Sunday might have cause some of the more hard liners offence. Apparently they also hate skaters and women who don’t wear bras. I had to laugh at that.
28th June 2017 – Day 12.
Okay, and breath. It’s ten-thirty and time to relax at last.
Today has been about being cooked, getting lost, getting the bike completely stuck, being eaten alive, taking the same wrong turning three times, swearing a lot and having a right laugh with the lady in the toll collection booth. When I was at school I was a complete idiot, I thought I’d changed. Actually, I don’t think I have.
Other people do travelling, sometimes through some incredibly challenging places, yet they always seem to make good decisions, they never make a complete idiot of themselves and they don’t loose their temper. When I travel, even through Europe, I seem to go from one disaster to another. All I had to do today was get to Greece and find a place to stay. What could possibly go wrong?
So, my day started in my lovely posh hotel room when I decided to check my new map of Bulgaria. Unfortunately I’d bought the version with the cyrillic names so didn’t understand any of it. When after a few minutes I’d still not managed to make head nor tail of the bloody thing I got irritated and threw it on the bed. As I did, the cover flapped over and I realised that I’d been holding it upside down. My second attempt was more successful and before long I had a route worked out all the way down to the border.
The ride through the rest of Bulgaria was reasonably scenic and bloody hot. Wearing an incredibly heavyweight leather jacket with leather trousers, gloves and crash helmet in forty degree heat is like sitting in a fan assisted oven. And when you stop it’s a race to get the jacket off before you overheat!
I wanted to visit the Rila Monastery but as I got closer it became apparent that it was going to be a complete tourist fest at the end of a long queue so changed my mind and continued south.
My plan was to try to spend the last of my Bulgarian currency but I forgot so now I have about sixty quids worth of useless Romanian Leu and about fifty quids worth of useless Bulgarian thingies. Neither of which can be changed outside of their respective counties. Doh!
Getting through the border was incredibly easy, I rode to the front of the queue passed all the trucks, a border police chap asked for my passport, he barely opened it then gave it back and told me I could go. And that was it, I was in Greece.
For some reason I felt that the pressure was off and from this point forward everything was going to be easy. My plan was to get a few kilometres from the border, then to stop and work out where to go but before I knew it I’d come to a military base with two soldiers standing guard. When I arrived they lifted the barrier and let me in. I apologised profusely and told them I was completely lost. They were lovely chaps and helped me with directions and before long I was heading into Greece for Thessaloniki.
I stopped and bought a decent map of Greece (with both English and Greek place names) and filled up with fuel. The lady told me that I looked very hot and that the weather was about to get a whole lot hotter. It was 38 degrees today but tomorrow should be 40 and then by Friday and Saturday they’re expecting 44.
After checking my new map I decided to head for a small place called Kato Sotiritsa. As the crow flies it was about 100 kilometres from where I was but the GPS wanted to take me a weird 370 kilometre route. After checking all the settings it turned out that I had toll roads switched off (because I’m a tight git). I fixed that which sorted out the route. It all went well at first, I zipped along nicely and was, for a large part, the only vehicle on the road.
With no mishaps for over an hour my confidence grew and before I knew it idiot Georgiou had struck again. My GPS had asked me to turn off in five kilometres, then four, then three, then I got sidetracked with my thoughts and the next thing I knew I’d missed my turning. I checked my GPS and it seemed I had to go up the motorway for twenty kilometres, then come back for twenty kilometres and then take the turning I’d missed. Bugger.
After a few expletives I accepted my fate and rode the twenty kilometres. I did as I was told by the GPS and exited the toll road, stopping to pay my toll at the booth, then went round a few roundabouts and got back onto the toll road paying my toll as I did. I made my way back and before I knew it my GPS was telling me to turn off in five kilometres. I warned myself
“Just pay attention you idiot. It’s not hard, grown ups do it all the time. Be a big boy. Come on, you can do it”. When the GPS was down to 600 yards I saw the turning and took it. I watched in horror as I realised I’d taken the turning too early and that I had no other option but to ride the twenty kilometres back up the motorway again, then I’d have to ride the twenty kilometres back and would definitely not miss the turning again. As you can imagine the string of expletives was now getting serious and they were fired out with real vigor.
I told myself that there was no point in throwing a wobbly as it wouldn’t help. I calmly rode the twenty kilometres up the motorway, again. When I exited the chap in the toll booth smiled knowingly and took my money. I made my way round the roundabouts and stopped at the booth to get back on. The lady took one look at me and pissed herself laughing.
“You’re back!” She said with a huge grin. We had a bit of a laugh at my expense and I buggered off feeling like the idiot I was. As I departed I said
“See you in a minute.” Which she found very funny.
I rode the twenty kilometres, again, and really concentrated on not making any mistakes. I watched the GPS count down and passed the turning I’d taken earlier but then realised that there was no other turn off. This set off my expletives again. I decided to switch off and ignore the GPS for ever and follow signs. The sign for the next turning appeared but was all in Greek. I thought ‘this must be the right turning’ and I took it.
I was taken round a few roundabouts and ended up heading the way I’d just come. I switched on my GPS and to my absolute horror, found that I was heading back up the bloody toll road for twenty kilometres, for a third time. This did it for me, I completely lost my temper and let loose with an extended set of expletives, fired out with such force that I’m surprised my tonsticles didn’t come flying out with them. I could actually taste blood in my mouth after that little tirade.
I’d calmed down by the time I reached the toll booths twenty kilometres later and was seeing the funny side of it. The chap took my money, again, and I made my way around the roundabouts to the other toll booth. The moment the lady saw me she had a complete fit. She almost wept with laughter. I could do nothing else but join her, we literally cried as we laughed. When we eventually stopped laughing she told me that the road layouts changed a while ago and that many people make the same mistake; however, she said that I was the first to come back three times which set us off again. She gave me a big hug, wished me well and laughed at me once more. I got back on the toll road and rode back the way I’d just come for a third time.
Before I reached the turn offs I decided to stop and and tell the GPS to avoid toll roads at all costs. I also examined the map and wrote down the names of the roads I should be looking for. This time I took the exit and correctly made my way onto the far smaller roads which wiggled their way towards my destination; Kato Sotiritsa.
As I rode along gently with the cool breeze wafting around my jacket and the sun getting ever lower in the sky I reflected on the earlier episode. I bet that wouldn’t happen to Sam Manicom or Lois Pryce.
The ride to Kato Sotiritsa took me past fields of crops and tiny little hill top villages with roads that are like tiny cobbled walkways. With the backdrop of mountains behind the scene really was everything I’d been hoping for.
When I arrived a Kato Sotiritsa I decided to ride through it in one direction to find the nicest place, then to go back and book some accommodation. This was easier said that done. After trying to book in a number of hotels and ‘rooms’ I found that everywhere was full or closed. This was not good.
So, what to do next I wondered. I decided to ride along the coast to the next town in the hope that I would be more lucky there. I followed the coast road which wiggled around as the sun disappeared behind the horizon. The road took me up into some tiny villages with some incredibly small cobbled lanes only a few feet wide. With no white lines to guide me and many choices to make I don’t need to tell you that it wasn’t long before I ended up in another sticky predicament.
I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere down the line and ended up going down a very steep path just a few feet wide. At the end of it was a locked metal gate. Now, in a car you can use reverse but on a motorbike you don’t have a reverse gear so that’s not an option. As I could see it I had three options.
Option number one was to turn the motorbike around and ride back up the track. The width of the track was far less that the length of the bike so that was completely out of the question.
Option number two was to push the bike backwards back up the track but bearing in mind that the bike weighs well over three hundred kilograms and that the track that I was on was both long and very steep this was also out of the question.
Option number three was to curl up into foetal position, stick my thumb into my mouth and cry like a baby. This as I saw it was the only option left.
I opened up the panniers and removed my thermos. With a tepid cup of half fizzy coffee in hand I thought about what to do next. I examined the gate but it was firmly locked. I peered at the small house through the gates and saw movement. If I could get someone to open the gates then I could turn the bike around and get back on track. I shouted for help.
“Hello there. You I say. I’m in need of some assistance.” And when that did’t work “Help!”
This seemed to do the job perfectly as the couple both came out to see what was going on. I told them of my predicament using my best sign language but they didn’t have a key for the padlock. This was a problem. Just as I thought I was getting somewhere the couple promptly turned and left.
“Okay bike, it’s just you and me then.” I chatted away to the only friend I had and congratulated myself on another fine mess. Right then I heard a car, I looked up to see a beaten up Lancia reversing down the track towards me. I noticed that it had a tow bar on the back.
The chap got out, pointed at the bike, laughed at me, then handed me some rope. He tied one end to his to his tow bar and I tied the other end to my swing arm. Towing a heavily loaded motorbike up a steep and bumpy track backwards is not something you do every day and could easily end up going wrong.
“Slowly please.” I said. He repeated. “Slowly.” Over the period of the next twenty minutes we managed to get my bike up the hill. It wasn’t pretty but it worked and I didn’t drop it once. Once at the top he shook my hand and pointed me in the right direction. By this time any trace of daylight had disappeared and I was covered in a smelly layer of dirt and sweat. Or as the mosquitoes call it, lunch!
I got back on the bike and continued my journey. It felt so good to have some moving air going past me but the weight of not having found anywhere to stay was pressing down hard. I asked the GPS to check for camp sites but that drew a blank. I asked the GPS to look for any kind of accommodation but they were both seriously thin on the ground and miles away.
The road took me up into the hills and I found myself looking for suitable place to set up my tent which was difficult in complete darkness but then, as luck would have it, I found a spot. I stopped the bike, unpacked my tent and stuff and was promptly eaten alive by just about everything that could fly. Bearing in mind that the door of my tent broke about two thousand miles ago so mosquitoes were free to come and go all night I decided that camping was not a great option. I swore profusely as I packed everything back on the bike.
After drawing a blank with accommodation I decided to just ride through the night, I’d find somewhere tomorrow in the day light. All GPS’ should have a button for ‘really expensive five star hotels with air conditioned, mosquito free, fresh air and a swimming pool’ in case of emergency.
Once on the move again I started to feel better about my predicament. I think it was the ‘up in the air’ element of my situation earlier that I found so hard to deal with. Once I’d made the decision to ride through the night I had a plan again and everything seemed better. This is when I saw the sign ‘Hotel’ I popped in on the off chance and to my delight the chap said
“Yes we have a room for you.” What luck! And they were still serving food. After a shower and a ‘new bite discovering session’ I enjoyed a plate full of souvlaki and went to bed. Another typical Georgiou day done.
29th June 2017 – Day 13.
I’m writing this text from the veranda of the pension where I’m staying. The evening air is warm and humid but the slight breeze keeps it pleasant. The roof is comprised entirely of vines, the beginnings of their fruits starting to appear. The gentle sound of Greek music is slowly replacing that of the cacadas as the sun makes its descent towards the horizon. The calamari starter is long gone and I’ve just been presented with a beautiful looking fillet of chicken accompanied by, what can only be described as, a glorious Greek salad. Is it not moments like this that us Brits come here for?
To my left is the road I rode in on, though it has the comfort of familiarity, it’s been done, enjoyed and lived. The road to my right is far more interesting. It represents opportunity and the excitement of the unknown. Tomorrow I take the road to my right. Where it leads only chance knows. Perhaps new and exciting challenges. Perhaps.
30th June 2017 – Day 14.
After another sound nights sleep in a real bed I made my way down stairs and had breakfast. It was the normal affair with one small difference; after about half an hour I noticed that I was sitting there in my boxer shorts. I’d remembered to put on my tee shirt and flip flops but had completely forgotten my shorts. I did my level best to look inconspicuous and going by the fact that there was no queue of ladies, and no police turned up, I think I got away with it.
After breakfast my plan was to ride to Calabaca to see the Meteora. The down side was that the temperatures inland were almost always significantly hotter than at the coast and today had been forecast to be a real furnace of a day; however, it fitted in with my schedule quite nicely so I was going. I dumped most of my luggage in my room, donned my leathers and made my way out to the bike. I left at nine in the morning with the thermometer reading 35 degrees.
The ride to Calabaca was on nice and fast roads, the exception being Larisa which was a bit of a traffic fest. Two hours later I arrived at Calabaca and after a short ride up to the monastery I was presented with the incredible spectacle that is the Meteora. Taking photographs was a reasonably quick affair as the moment I stopped, I cooked. I rode around to see it from all the various angles and took lots of photographs.
Before I rode back to my room in Agia I decided to visit the tourist shop to see if I could buy a sticker for the bike. They didn’t have a sticker but one of the chaps asked about the bike. It turned out that he studied Economics in London and rode his bike there from Greece. He had a very nice KTM which is far posher than mine. He gave me a Meteora fridge magnet as a souvenir, nice chap.
As the day grew hotter I really felt the need to get back. If I was in shorts and a tee shirt it would have been just about bearable but in those leathers it felt like I was ten minutes away from being dead. Luckily the ride home was easy with the traffic not being too bad in Larisa, the temperature in Larisa hit 46.
As I rode back into Paradies I was greeted by the grinning owner, Demetrius, holding a very welcome bottle of ice cold water for me. Even the locals are finding this intense heat hard work.
I’m now sitting here on the veranda tucking into a very nice souvlaki and a Greek salad.
The trip may well be about to change course for a bit as I’m thinking hard about finding a nice place in the Pelion and chilling for a while.
Anyway, if you managed to read down to this point then I congratulate you, not the most interesting blog today. Hope you enjoy the photographs.
1st July 2017 – Day 15.
Today I had a decision to make. My plan was to ride from England to Greece and, well, I’ve done it. My wife and mates aren’t meeting me here until Friday so the question is, what the bloody hell do I do for a week? There were all sorts of answers spinning around in my mind but with the temperature being so incredibly hot I decided to find a nice base in the Pelion to explore from. The next few days are going to be hot so I’ll explore on foot. After that, once it cools down a bit, I can get back out there on the bike. In the mean time it won’t do any harm to be completely pampered whilst based in a wonderful little mountain village in a beautiful, old stone hotel. So, within a few minutes of making that really hard decision I found myself on booking.com staring at images of ‘The Traditional Mansion – Evilion’ situated in the most incredibly beautiful mountain village of Makrinitsa. For the bargain price of just less than two hundred and seventy Euros I secured it for seven days.
So, with my decision made and my accommodation booked I made my way down stairs for breakfast. I was met by the ever happy Dimitris who served me up a special breakfast for my last day which included amongst much else, none other than my favourite, the humble boiled egg. Dimitris joined me for a while and we chatted about our respective lives for a while. I needed to get underway before the sun really started pumping out its rays so thanked Dimitris for a super stay and started packing up. With everything packed and the bike all ready to go it was time for a little photo session. With photos taken, and hands shaken, my stay at the Paradies ended. What a thoroughly great place. Thanks Dimitris!
The ride to Makrinitsa where my hotel was was only about eighty kilometres so I assumed it was going to be an easy ride. Surprise, surprise it turned out that that was not the case. I set off at about nine and everything was going well until about thirty-five kilometres from my destination. My GPS told me to take a turn and who was I to argue? I took the turn, then another, then the road simply disappeared. I bounced along hoping that something good would happen but needless to say it didn’t. Man handling a heavy bike on steep and broken ground is difficult at the best of times but in the intense heat it took every ounce of energy I had. I rode back up the hill and onto the road but my bloody stupid GPS just told me to ‘take a u-turn when ready’. I try hard to be a gentleman but sometimes I’m pushed over my line.
After a string of bad language that would have done Billy Connelly proud I thought it a good idea to check the settings. It turned out that I’d left it on ‘shortest route’ instead of ‘fastest route’, I also had ‘use unpaved roads’ ticked. These were duly rectified and we set off once more. This time on real roads with Tarmac, white lines and everything. The GPS counted down the kilometres to Makrinitsa and everything was going according to plan when I was asked to take a right turn. Having faith in my GPS because of its corrected setting I followed the instruction. The new road I was on was smaller and bumpier than the old one and zigzagged its way up the side of the mountain. I’ve been on many a mountain road in many different countries so wasn’t too concerned about this.
As the bike and I ascended the road got smaller and steeper, and the hair pin bends got so tight that going round them was like performing a tiny u-turn. Then it really got steep. More than once I had to stop and allow the bike to roll backwards for a bit just to get round. Even in the monstrous heat, and with the bike fully loaded, it was fantastic fun.
As I got closer to the village I started getting worried as I could see no trace of life anywhere. The hotel is not close to a beach but is right in the heart of a village so if the village was not up to much then I’d be in for a miserable stay. I got closer, and closer, and closer, and still there was no life. This was not good. Then, as I neared my destination, the road name changed to Agios Georgiou and everything simply came alive. The views were to die for, the streets turned to cobbles, the old stone houses and shops had beautiful flowers outside and, most importantly, there looked to be a super selection of fine restaurants from your basic chicken souvlaki all the way to fine cuisine. I bounced over the cobbles feeling the happiness that emanated from the people milling around. This was not only better than I’d expected, it was better than I’d hoped!
The details on booking.com did say that there was free parking close by so I was not expecting to park right next to the hotel. I rode as far as I could and when I could go no further parked up with a load of other bikes. I unpacked the bike and secured what was left and continued in the same direction on foot. I had no idea where I was going but that didn’t matter for once as a chap who was sitting drinking some coffee with friends looked up and said “You must be Richard.” Indeed I was. I followed him through some devastatingly beautiful cobbled streets, passed some restaurants to the hotel.
Wow, not only was the village beautiful, the hotel was perfect too. With thick stone walls, heavy solid wood doors and beautiful flooring the place fitted perfectly into the feel of the village. This was definitely for me. I was taken to my room and introduced. Obviously lugging all my luggage through a bustling village dressed in heavy black leather took its toll and by the time I’d reached my room I was about ready to collapse. I took a quick photograph of my horrible sweaty self then jumped into a wonderfully cold shower, where I stayed for a wonderfully long time.
After a small nap to energise my poor suffering body I decided to take to the streets. With leathers replaced by shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops the slow walk around the village felt wonderful. I made my way through the main centre and continued until I’d reach its end. When I attempted to take a photograph my camera refused to fire. This was all I needed. I’d finally got my camera gear exactly as I wanted it; the Nikon D700 body and excellent Nikon wide angle zoom are a perfect combination, very tough and reliable, and take excellent quality photographs, so I was not expecting this. Upon further examination I found that the button that removes the lens had been pressed in so a small turn of the lens fixed everything. Phew!
On the way back I decided to stop and have some food. A nice chicken souvlaki accompanied by a bottle of ice cold water and a double Greek coffee (with no sugar) was my order for the day. After finishing my food I walked around some more. There were three huge, and I do mean huge, trees in the main square called Bladanos trees. The largest one is thought to be over a thousand years old and is supposed to be the second oldest tree in Greece. Standing next to it that doesn’t surprise me at all. There is an old Greek Orthodox church in the village, I popped in and thought about my Granddad George for a while.
So, tonight will be about having another shower, getting down to the bar and trying out some of the local beverages. Hic!
2nd July 2017 Day 16.
With the temperature set to be about forty today it was definitely an ‘explore on foot’ day. After a double espresso, a boiled egg and a nice slice of cake for breakfast I made my way out into the village. I’m not sure if it was the early hour of the day, or the fact that it was a Sunday, but the village felt even more tranquil than that of the previous days. The distant sound of the bells from the Greek Orthodox Church in the village square combined with the sound of the mountain water running down the slipways next to the cobbled paths completed the scene perfectly. I watched as an elderly man watered the flowers outside his shop and wondered about his life, I’m sure he had all the same problems and worries as the rest of us but it was difficult to imagine as I watched him tending to his flora. After a liberal watering he carefully checked through the leaves and removed the tired ones. When he finished with each plant he ran his hand over the top like he was ruffling the hair of a young son, then he smiled and moved onto the next.
I slowly made my way through the village trying to take in both the sites and the sounds as I went. As I made my way past the string of restaurants I was treated to a cornucopia of wonderful aromas; the sweet one was by far my favourite. I made a metal note to pop in on the way back and continued through the village. I passed gift shop after gift shop and peered into each one to see what they were selling. They all seemed to be selling the same stuff then I found one that sold baseball bats, I thought that a little strange and then I saw hand cuffs sitting right next to them.
“Bloody hell, what kind of village is this?” I muttered under my breath.
I continued to the end of the village then kept on going. With the temperature rising I was a little worried about getting burnt, I don’t burn as a rule but in temperatures such as these you never know. I’d attempted to get some sun cream in the village yesterday but unless you want a bead necklace, a wooden donkey or a fridge magnet you’re going to be out of luck.
Being well aware of how terrible my directions are I concentrated on keeping my bearings and took note of every small junction I took. Before long I had descended enough to make my ears pop. When I turned and looked back at the village it was far further than I expected. I about turned and made my way back towards my base. It was a hard walk back but soon enough I had the village in my sights. I walked past the shop selling baseball bats and hand cuffs and continued back the the restaurants where the sweet small came from earlier, I found a place and took a seat. When the waiter turned up with a bottle of the wonderfully cool mountain water I placed my order of Pan Fried Chicken. Whilst I waited I read my book and admired the incredible views.
Fifteen minutes later I was presented with my feast. I had made an excellent choice. The pan fried chicken both looked and smelled incredible. In this heat my appetite disappears but it was back with vengeance the moment my dinner arrived. I enjoyed my food and read another eighty pages of my book. After my chicken I had a slice of cake and a double espresso to keep my caffeine addiction happy then made my way back to the hotel for a nice cold shower.
All in all I walked for around eight hours today and the one thing that struck me about the places I’d gone through was the complete lack of pressure; not once did I see anyone who looked to be in a hurry, everything still seemed to be happening but at a pace that was far better suited to the hot environment. Perhaps I’m just used to living in a place where pressure and speed have become the norm.
3rd July 2017 – Day 17.
Two things happened today. The first is that I became a true devotee of my superb motorcycle and its incredible abilities. The second is that my GPS and I are getting divorced. And yes, those two facts are indeed linked.
I woke this morning to the sound of the most incredibly loud cicadas rasping their racket through my window. I rolled over trying to get back to sleep when the ‘loud and proud’ rooster from hell started. I got up and had a shower.
My plan for today was to ride to Tsagarada and locate the villa that my wife and friends are staying in when they arrive on Friday. On the way there I would take the low road skimming round the outskirts of Volos and on the way back, the high road in the mountains. And that, my friends, was the plan.
I departed at nine before the heat of the day. The first twenty minutes went completely according to plan, then the GPS asked me to take a left off the main road. Before following its instruction I stopped and looked down the road in question
“Fuck that!” I mumbled under my breath. It looked like the kind of thing solely reserved for goats, so steep it simply looked like a drop and with a surface of loose stones and dirt. I decided to continue on the main road for a bit to see what happened next. The next road the GPS asked me to turn down looked much better so I took its advice and turned. It didn’t take long for me to realise that this road was simply punishment for not taking the one earlier. Within one hundred yards it became so steep and narrow that I was committed. I made my way around a slight right curve to find a van had completely blocked my path. I managed to stop my bike on what must have been a forty-degree slope. Holding both the front and rear brakes to stop it sliding I looked around and wondered what to do next. The van looked like it had been there for a while and wasn’t going anywhere, it was the same width as the track so getting past was not an option. To the left of the van there was a house and to the right there was a bit of rough ground that was so steep and bumpy that it wasn’t even worth considering. I let loose with my horn and waited. Nothing.
“Hello!” I shouted in an attempt to get some help. Still nothing.
“Well, it looks like it’s just you and me again old girl. Sorry about this.” I said as I realised this was not going to have a pretty ending. I kept the back brake locked and slowly released the front just enough to allow me to steer the the bike to the right. I was hoping this would enable me to perform some kind of weird u-turn but instead the bike just slid. I slammed on the front brake but on the loose dirt the bike just slid and continued over the edge.
In that horrific instant, when I realised I was going down ‘the quick way’, I found myself so completely consumed by terror that even the most vulgar of exclamations were completely impossible. I grabbed hard on the handlebars and we literally flew down the drop.
To say the ride down was messy would be an underestimation of the most enormous proportions. It didn’t take long before the bike and I were hurtling down the hill completely out of control. We hit a hump in the ground and was immediately sent skywards. Moments later we landed with a bloody great clattering thud. Controlling the bike was completely out of the question with every bump sending us off in a different direction. After one particularly violent bump I found us heading straight for the roof an old wooden barn. Just as I was resigned to end my days in the barn the bike miraculously changed direction and we shot onto the road below. I grabbed for the brakes and skidded to a stop. I just about managed to get the side stand down and literally slipped off the bike onto the floor.
“Jesus fucking Christ Almighty!” I exclaimed as I shook from the shock.
I’d only gone and fucking made it! And what’s more, I’d made it without leaving any traces of my bowels in my pants. When I attempted to stand I found that I was shaking so badly that I decided to sit there for a while longer. After ten minutes or so I started feeling better and checked the bike over, I expected to find quite a bit of damage but, other than a reasonably sized dent in my thick aluminium sump guard and a few scuffs here and there it looks like we got away with it.
When I got back on my bike I found that, in the heat of the moment, my tank bag had flown off which contained my iPad, camera, phone, wallet, passport and all sorts of other essentials. I traced my tracks and found my tank bag by the landing site of the first large hump. Everything seems okay but for the zip on the tank bag which was pulled open and now won’t close but that’s not really a problem. I consider that a very close shave!
Before Setting off again I calmly removed my GPS from my handle bars and placed it in my tank bag. I knew I needed to head in an easterly direction so I pulled out the compass from my tank bag and took a bearing. I looked for a landmark that was in the right direction and spotted a hill with a funny shaped top in the distance and headed towards it.
From this point forward the ride to Tsagarada was most pleasant. The good quality roads wiggled their way down to the beech where I found them deserted with a single fishing boat bobbing up and down a few hundred yards out. We then made our way up into the mountains and meandered ever closer to our destination. The bike purred along along pleasantly in the knowledge that directions were coming from me and not the bloody minded GPS. It wasn’t long before I spotted a sign for Tsagarada and before I knew it I was passing a nice cafe with parking right outside. I pulled up and switched the bike off. To my amusement, in the silence I heard the GPS asking me to ‘turn around when possible’. I smiled and ignored it completely.
In my haste to get out before the heat of the day I’d left without having my morning coffee, this combined with my near death experience of flying down the slope of doom completely out of control had left me with a headache from hell. What I needed was caffeine. I placed my order.
“Kalimera, Two double espresso’s please and a bottle of water.” It turned out that the waiter, Nick, was also a biker and had taught music theory in England.
“You don’t want a hot coffee really?” He asked. The alternative was something called a Fredo Espresso which is large, frothy, cold and very refreshing. I had two. And a Snickers ice cream. And a large bottle of water. And a few paracetamol.
By the time I’d reach the villa that my wife and mates were going to be staying in my headache was almost gone. I rode past and continued down to the end where there is a wonderful view of the sea and, if you want to clamber down, a nice beach. Still feeling a little shaky I decided not to go any further and set about finding my way back.
On the way back I wanted to take the high road over the mountains so thought about the direction I needed to travel in and followed my nose. Before I knew it I was riding through the village of Kissos which meant my sense of direction was perfect. Who needs a bloody GPS eh?
I made it back without issue and indulged myself with another wonderfully cold shower. I tried a different restaurant for dinner and looked through the menu. After my rude awakening this morning I opted for the ‘Rooster with potato’. It got the last laugh though as it was tough as hell and not particularly tasty. You live and learn.
Now to join my hotelier for a nice scotch or two as the sun descends on a day I survived against all the odds. Hic!
4th and 5th July 2017 – Day 18 and 19.
Yesterday I did bugger all so decided against one of my boring, super-lengthy blogs; however, today I’m going to meander my way down to the bottom of the Pelion so my blog is going to be both full and detailed. I’m going to try my hardest to avoid any of that stupid off roading stuff so hopefully I’ll live to tell the tale.
It all started with a hearty breakfast. A boiled egg, some cake and a cheese pastry all helped down with a nice Greek coffee. Then it was back to my room for dressing up. Nope, not the frillies today, the leathers. As I slipped into my heavy leather trousers the dark red patch of sunburn I’d received at dinner yesterday screamed merry hell. Ignoring the pain like a true super hero I zipped up, grabbed my tank bag and buggered off.
When I reached my bike I found that it had been moved into the corner and completely blocked in by cars. At this point I should explain that there are actually two Richard Georgiou’s; there’s the calm one, he’s patient, reasonably emotionally intelligent and a bit of a thinker, the calm one hates making a scene. Then there’s the angry one, he has zero patience, zero tolerance and doesn’t give a damn about making a scene, the messier the better. Cross the angry at your peril. Now, they are both completely necessary but they don’t care much for each other. The calm one is very nervous of the angry one but understands that he is sometimes necessary. The angry one completely detests the calm one and thinks he’s wimp.
So, as I stood there looking at my bike stuck in the corner, I felt myself move slightly towards Mr Angry but Mr Calm was still easily in control. I walked over to some of the gift shops near by to inquire if anyone knew who owned the cars that were blocking me in. The first three were closed. This pushed me one notch closer to Mr Angry. I kept my calm and took a walk into the square and politely asked if anyone knew who owned the cars. Nope. Another step closer.
I made my way into the church but that was empty so visited the near by restaurant but they didn’t know. Another step closer. By this time Mr Calm was struggling to stay in control. I went back to my bike thinking that there must be a way but it was definitely out of the question. I checked to see if any of the the cars were unlocked so I could remove the handbrake and shove it out of the way but they were all locked. It was at this point that Mr Calm got over ruled as Mr Angry came storming in.
“Get out of the way you twat!” Mr Angry mounted the bike, started her up, revving it to get some attention, then placed his thumb on the horn and left it there. As you can imagine this caused somewhat of a scene. People came from all directions and when enough people had arrived he took his thumb off the horn.
“These cars have blocked me in and I need some help moving them.” With Mr Angry oozing both confidence and ability it wasn’t long before the place was a flurry of movement. One man came literally running over with some keys and moved the car that was right in front of my bike. Mr Angry accepted his apology and rode off towards the Pelion.
Whilst Mr Angry was in control everything felt fine but slowly Mr Calm returned and he felt terrible. What a scene, oh the humiliation. He was not happy, but it was in the past now. And it served its purpose, I was on the road after all.
My aim for today’s trip was to ride down to the very bottom of the Pelion. The route through Volos would be full of traffic and nastiness so the route was to be the high mountain route via Kissos on the 34. Once the 34 ended the name of the road weirdly became ‘Epar.Od.Milina-Trikeri’. Seems a bit of a mouthful but hey, it’s all Greek to me.
The ride was superb, the roads were stunning and the views were sublime as you’ll hopefully be able to see from my photographs. The only problem I had was the burning from my sunburnt leg. As time went on the day warmed up and my leg got hotter and hotter. Ignoring it was easy at first with the amazing scenery but after a while the balance between pleasure and pain changed. Still, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it so I decided to just let it hurt and shut up.
As the roads climbed to around twelve hundred metres it got cold, the clouds were at the same altitude as the road and were moving quite quickly. I pulled over and watched for a while but the temperature had dropped a lot and it didn’t take long until I felt the need to get going again.
I wasn’t planning on stopping but when I reached the little village of Chorto I was presented with a beautiful scene; water, a few boats and a cafe. I pulled in and stopped.
As I got off the bike a couple who were sitting close by glanced over. I did my best to place an order for a double Greek coffee without sugar but got into a right pickle, the waitress looked at me and rabbited away in Greek.
“You know, I haven’t got a bloody clue what you’re saying.” I said with a smile. She continued rabbiting on and the couple next to me started laughing. It turned out they were from Kent and a great couple. We chatted for half an hour or so about this and that. I hope I didn’t over do it, I can talk for England sometimes. Oh, Hello James and hello Barbara if you’re reading this, it was a pleasure.
I rode past the villa where my wife and mates will be staying soon and took some mental notes then made my way south on the ‘Epar.Od.Milina-Trikeri’. Every hundred or so yards there was a photo opportunity. I rode past most of them and just enjoyed riding such a wonderful motorcycle in such a wonderful place. The motorcycle seems to have come into its own since its terrifying flight the other day. The sound from its engine is pure mechanical perfection and the note from the exhaust has changed slightly. It seems to have a little more raspiness on acceleration and has become more grumbly and poppy on overrun. It’s truly a pleasure to ride.
With that said, my arse was not so enamoured, it was killing me, my leg was on fire, my right knee wanted to be straight and my left calf was cramping. I got off and walked around for a bit which made it okay.
I made it all the way to the very end of the Pelion. Then, when I realised that it was not actually a ring road, I turned around and rode back. The last few days of disasters had given me a bit of a negative view of bikes and I’m happy to say that today has been such a pleasure that the humble motorcycle has redeemed itself.
When I got back I had a long, cold shower, checked I had my shorts on and went out for dinner. It was ‘pan fried chicken’ which was super tasty and a great big, heart attack sized, piece of chocolate cake with melted badness on top. Followed by a complimentary jug of Greek coffee. They getting to know me know.
I hope you enjoy the photographs.
6th July 2017 – Day 20.
It turns out I’m not as fit as I thought I was. After being told about a beautiful wooded walk by the owner of the hotel I’m staying in I decided that today was the day. I checked I had my shorts on, had some breakfast, grabbed my camera and set off.
The next village, Portaria, is only about two miles away so the walk there was pretty easy. The sun was not yet in full swing and although there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky the air hadn’t had time enough to warm up much above twenty-five degrees. In the direct sunlight I ambled my way slowly absorbing the view, as is often the case you see so much more when walking. After about a mile I passed a nondescript building where something was definitely going on. Going by the grunts, groans and the sound of balls being whacked against a wall it was either some kind of weird torture chamber or a squash hall, or perhaps both (not that squash is not torture enough).
When I reached the shaded archway which was the beginning of the walk I stopped, had a drink from the fountain and looked around. There was a cafe close by and the light from the sun, dappled through the trees, seemed to give life to the tables. As is ever the case the temperature difference between the direct sunlight and the shade was marked. I made my way through the archway and began the walk.
The sound of running water when the land is dry is always a pleasure, the walk from Makrinitsa to Portaria may well have had a wonderful view but the land was dry and hard. The instant change from hot, brown and dry to cool, green and full of running water was a pure delight. I made my way down the tricky slope admiring the columns of light that the overhanging trees allowed through. I took the cap off my lens, composed and fired. The open, three dimensional world we live in is full of so much more depth than when flattened into a single plane but I was happy enough with the results.
The walk climbed it’s way through tiny overhung pathways, rickety wooden bridges and over boulders worn by the feet of walkers for what looks like hundreds of years. As it continuously climbed I found my legs, normally quite strong and able, had started to shake and quiver. I continued taking my photographs being sure to check the exposure each and every time and compensating whenever necessary. I stopped and looked back to discover that I’d done a reasonable job getting as far as I had without a break.
When I reached the end of the walk I exited the woods back out into the heat and direct sunlight. The change from dark and green to bright and brown was a rude shock to the system. I foolishly assumed that I knew where I was and wasn’t lost when I made the decision to walk back via the road instead of back through the woods. I found the road, jumped on and continued walking.
After half an hour I was surprised that I didn’t recognise the road and couldn’t see any anything to confirm my position but I thought that was obviously because I was on the part that skipped back to the beginning of the walk. After a further hour or so of walking I still didn’t recognise the road which was worrying me. When I eventually came across someone I asked
“Makrinitsa?” The lady smiled and pointed back in the direction of which I had just come. The look on my face must have told the complete story as she laughed and offered me her bottle of water. In her eyes I could see the word ‘idiot’ forming nicely. I thanked her, turned down the water, about turned and allowed my wobbly legs to carry me home.
As I’m sure you’ve worked out, I made it home. My little four or five mile walk probably ended up being about ten which knackered me out completely. I hope the photographs are worth it.
EDIT: The photographs aren’t as good as I was hoping but I’ll be damned if I’m going back!
7th to 15th July 2017 – Day 21 to 29.
Whato my lovelies! This period is skitted through briefly here in my blog but will be written up fully in my book in all its argumentative splendour.
So, I’ve spent the week with my darling wife and now I’m on my way home. I’m currently in Italy in a camp site just north of Rome after catching the overnight ferry from Igoumenitsa to Brindisi last night and riding north today. In typical Georgiou style the week with my gorgeous and wonderful wife didn’t have the best start. Unbeknownst to me my mobile phone had dropped its connection to the carrier and hadn’t been receiving or sending text messages for the best part of two days. Flowie had taken my silence to mean that I had crashed and was dead. As you can imagine she was incredibly unhappy and I was incredibly in the shit.
A trip like this is hard work and with the heatwave that had spanned the area I was exhausted and looking forward to a nice and relaxing holiday with my loveliness. When I arrived at the place where my wife was supposed to be staying I rather egotistically expected a welcome and lots of smiley faces. Instead I got a huge bollocking and a very unhappy and panicked wife crying her heart out. On top of that Flowie had fallen out with one of the friends she was going to be staying with so needed to find somewhere else to stay. Add to that the fact that she hadn’t slept for coming on 48 hours and hadn’t eaten all day and I think that pretty much paints the picture.
That evening we found some temporary accommodation for the night, unsuccessfully tried to hunt down our friends so we could ask if we could steal one of the hire cars for 24 hours and found a nice restaurant to eat at. It wasn’t the best evening; emotions were high and conversation strained.
The following day we had to find some accommodation for the remainder of the week and get a hire car arranged. We found a nice hotel right on the beach in the small village of Agios Ioannis, the receptionist lady was very helpful and found a car hire company in the closest city, Volos. Unfortunately the car hire company couldn’t deliver so it would be down to Flowie and me to work it out. We’d drive the hire car we already had to Volos and pick up the new hire car, we’d then drive both cars back to our friends, give their hire car back, Flowie would then drive our new hire car back and I’d follow her on my motorbike. Phew …
Unfortunately, the bed in the temporary accommodation was not great and the air conditioning made lots of weird noises so we’d got next to no sleep and were both grumpy. On top of that the address for the car hire company was not clear and we felt a little like we were being ripped off as the prices were high and, as is often the case in Greece, their card machine was currently broken so they were only accepting cash.
I won’t go into detail here but suffice to say that the day was long, very hard and full of arguments, though it did end with everything arranged and in the right place.
So, after two days of shit we could finally enjoy our holiday. We visited the little cove where Mumma Mia was filmed called Damouchari, Flowie and Nick became friends again, we ate, drank, read our books on various beaches and visited the local sights. There are plenty of stories but I’ll save them for the book.
Flowie was going to be staying for a week longer than me but the accommodation and new hire car had only been arranged for a week, and she didn’t really want to stay there without me, so she decided to book a flight and return home when I left on Friday. Unfortunately this meant that her holiday was half the length and double the price, poor thing.
Before we knew it, it was Friday. Flowie drove our hire car to Volos with me following on my bike. We said our goodbyes, I jumped on my bike and left. The end of a holiday is never much fun and the fact that we were going home separately made it feel worse, as such the goodbye was brief and left me feeling quite sad.
The ride across Greece to Igoumenitsa was reasonably easy, the roads were decent and it was only about 230 miles. The ferry trip I had previously booked was due to leave Igoumenitsa at 11pm on Friday so I arrived very early and had 9 hours to kill. I drank coffee and ate cake.
The ferry turned out to be wonderful, it was almost empty and very comfortable; I got an excellent nights sleep and felt refreshed for my ride up through Italy. It docked at Brindisi about nine and a half hours later. As I rolled off into another new country I momentarily felt the traveller in me lust for adventure but then the need to get back hit home, I jumped on the main road and made my way up the east coast of Italy.
I have lots of photographs but I’ll just put a few up here. I miss my wife. I miss my dog. I miss Home.
16th July 2017 – Day 30.
I’ve ridden my motorbike in Italy before, it was in 2009 and I was left with the opinion that the people of Italy didn’t want me there. This time I was determined to change that. I learnt enough words to be polite and I had instructed myself to be super nice to everyone even when things went wrong. The first day, Brindisi to just north of Rome was okay, even their driving was a bit better than I remembered. I did my level best and the people responded. On top of that, the campsite where I stayed last night served up a truly top class dinner and desert. It was beef in tagliatelle for starters, pork wrapped in bacon in a beautiful red wine sauce followed up by crime caramel with some kind of chocolate drizzle on top. At this point the Italians could do no wrong!
My second day in Italy; however, was more of a challenge. I was hoping to get another excellent nights sleep but unfortunately I’d put my tent on an ants nest. After my delicious meal I returned to my tent and hit the sack. After a few instances of itching and scratching I decided to switch on my torch. I was confronted with a horrific sight of the inside of my tent literally crawling alive with hundreds of huge ants. The zip that normally closes the door to things like ants broke at the beginning of my trip so I had no defence against the little blighters so I filled the tent with the anti-bite spray I had and waited half an hour for them to die. I the shook the tent out and finally got to sleep around three.
As you can imagine, after that little episode sleeping in the tent wasn’t easy and I kept on switching on the torch and checking, and my imagination was running wild. Luckily the new location I’d chosen seemed to be ant free. I woke at around seven, had some coffee and departed. A severely crap nights sleep was not the best way to start a new day, especially one that could well include moments of ‘heightened anxiety’ combined with the need to hold ones tongue (just like every other Georgiou day abroad)
Now, let me just explain that I’m extremely keen to get back home as I need to sort out some stock problems I’m about to have with my business, as such I don’t have the time to nancy my way through Italy as I’d like. That said, I was obviously going to be stopping at petrol stations for fuel and food so was hoping that the experiences were going to be good ones. I was also going to be experiencing some more of the Italian driving.
After about fifty uneventful miles on the motorway I decided to stop for petrol. I filled my trusty steed up with fuel, approached the payment chap with a big smile and said ‘Buongiorno!’. This worked perfectly. He smiled back, took my payment and said ‘Chow’ which I then repeated. I know that’s a long way from being Facebook mates for life but I was very happy with how that went. Another few successes like that and Italy may well slip into my top ten.
Two hundred miles later, and still with no bad incidents, I pulled into another petrol station and filled up. The payment chap seemed like a nice enough bloke and reciprocated my few words of Italian with a smile. With a new confidence in my ability to get on with Italians I decided to brave the petrol station shop and get some food. When it was my turn I opened with another ‘Buongiorno!’ and a smile then pointed to a thing that looked like a large scotch egg. He picked it up out of the display cabinet and said something in Italian. Unfortunately as he spoke, a large lump of spittle flew from his mouth and onto the thing that looked like a scotch egg. He noticed this and attempted to wipe it off with his dirty apron. Wanting to be polite but not wanting to chow down on another mans spit I shook my head and pointed to one that hadn’t been spat on in the display cabinet. The man then frowned, became very loud and showed me that he had wiped his spittle from my food with his apron. He then put it on the counter in front of me and tried to charge me three Euros. I smiled, about turned and walked towards the shop exit. At this point he started shouting. My normal response would have been to return and do some shouting of my own but I was trying hard to not have bad experiences so I kept my mouth closed and walked away. By the time I’d got on my bike he was back behind the counter, probably spitting on everyone else’s food. I reminded myself that every country has a man like that.
I accelerated up to speed and rejoined the motorway.
“It was but one incident Richard, and it would be wrong to judge all Italians on just one bad incident. Don’t forget that good things have happened too.”
I continued nattering away to myself in the middle of the slow lane when a car went zooming past me not an inch away from my handle bar, unfortunately he was going so bloody fast that the wind from his car blew me all over the place. I regained control and reminded myself that that was but a single incident.
“I know he was going too fast and he was in my lane but that doesn’t make all Italians bad drivers, just that one.”
As I continued on a lorry came into view. I waited until I got a little closer, checked my mirrors, looked over my shoulder and indicated out. After checking again that it was clear I pulled out and started overtaking the lorry. Before I’d finished overtaking a car came zooming up behind me and sat no more than about a foot and a half from my back tyre. That was the closest anyone has ever got to my backside and I have to say, on motorcycle it make you feel incredibly vulnerable. I didn’t respond, I just put it down as another terrible individual.
A few miles up the road I found another lorry, this one was behind a coach which was behind another lorry. I did all the looking and signalling and pulled out to overtake. The moment I got beside the lorry I checked my mirror and saw a car approaching very quickly. As it came hurtling closer I noticed it was a beautiful, black Ferrari 599. It slowed down in good time from God only knows what speed and waited patiently some way back for me to finish overtaking. When I pulled in he pulled up along side me, pointed at the bike, gave me a big smile and a thumbs up, then floored it. The sound was incredible and the thing shot off like a bat out of hell. He was having some serious fun! Good man!
Obviously I didn’t get to see much of Italy but from what I saw from the road the coast looked very nice as did the central mountainous regions; however, it was the approach to the Alps that did it for me. I turned left and whizzed into France before I got there but riding along and seeing those majestic mountains come into view is quite spectacular.
So, my opinion of Italians? Nice, they’re like normal Humans but with passion. I like that. I will say though that the cost of the toll roads seems a bit steep. The first day hit me for around 45 Euros in tolls, the second about 90 Euros which did include a very long tunnel as I entered France.
The moment I entered France the the sun started getting lower in the sky, the road meandered through the edge of the Alps and everything seemed like it had been painted British racing green. I’ve always had a soft spot for France and last nights riding just confirmed its number one placing. Even with my knees and bum shouting merry hell when it came to picking a camp site I chose one 50 miles away just so I could continue on those beautiful French roads for a little longer.
By the time I reach the camp site (about twenty kilometres south west of Grenoble) I’d done 821 kilometres, or 510 miles if you prefer that, and I had a raging headache. That’s when I remembered to make sure I had regular coffees. The last coffee I’d had was a little espresso first thing in the morning. I asked at reception but they had no coffee whatsoever, all they could muster was a beer (that wouldn’t have happened in Italy!)
I returned to my bike and raided my panniers. Luckily I found a half flat bottle of Coke Zero from the ferry trip into France at the beginning of my trip. I downed that with 2 paracetamol and 2 ibuprofen and a couple of litres of water. It definitely eased but refused to go completely. As I sit here typing my blog in the morning I can still feel the headache in the background. My first stop today will be a mega-coffee stop.
I’ve decided to enjoy today and to stop for coffee and cake at every opportunity. I’m not going to race home on the motorways but meander through the French countryside and do lots of smiling, lots or waving at other bikes and lots of being happy.
That’s all folks!
17th July 2017 – Day 31.
I’m sitting here in front of my tent in a camp site about 50 kilometres south of Metz. That means I’ve still got about 365 kilometres to ride tomorrow to make Dieppe. I’ve booked my ferry ticket for 1800 tomorrow evening so will be back home late tomorrow to see my loveliness and Nelly the dog.
Today has been about me being completely blown away by France, again. If I were to start writing about it here I’d burst into such descriptive bollocks that you’d all start weeping tears of joy and touching each other. As such I’ve decided to spare you the pleasure and write a few lines about my arrival at the camp site instead. I imagine that what I’m about to write about has happened to everyone but no one really talks about it. Well, it’s time.
So, I arrived at the camp site at around eight. The reception was closed so I just rode in and found a spot. The unwritten rule with camp sites is that if reception is closed you find a spot, camp and pay in the morning. As I jumped off the bike my stomach rumbled in a way that made me uneasy (if you know what I mean). I quickly unpacked, set up my tent and changed into my shorts. I then grabbed my toiletries bag and made my way to the toilet block.
Now, to get to the toilet block I had to walk past everyone else’s tents and caravans and it seemed they were all sitting outside deliberately to watch me as I walked by. As such I felt unable to run to the toilet whilst shouting
“IT’S AN EMERGENCY, GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!”
Instead, I clenched my buttocks so tightly that it would have taken a vice to prise them apart and walked (from the knees down) slowly, as if I didn’t really need to visit the lavatory at all. Then, when I reached the toilet block I zipped inside and looked around for the toilets, I found showers, sinks, nappy changing facilities and even a stock cupboard .. but no toilets. Then I spotted the familiar sign but to my horror the door was locked and needed a code to open. No doubt the code was given to the camper by reception upon their arrival.
“Oh shit” I said mumbling under my breath.
I tried a few numbers but to no avail and walked (from the knees down) back to my tent. Found some Imodium and ate them all.
The game was on, who would win. Would it be the contents of my stomachs, desperate to escape or the power of Imodium? I decided to wait and see. After another rumble I changed my mind. It was time to break the door down. I walk-skip-jumped slowly past the other happy campers smiling at them all along the way. When I got there I tried a few more numbers but to no avail. I pushed the door a little but it was not going to budge.
There was only one option left. I shuffled up to the closest irritatingly happy campers and asked
“Ou est le toilette?” Whilst trying my very hardest to keep my face from looking stressed or in need. They all pointed to the locked door and said
“Deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six” not being native to the country it took me a while to work it out, but the very instant I had I about turned and started towards the toilet. And that’s when the questions started.
“You must be the biker. Are you travelling alone?”
“So tell us about your trip”
“Did you like Romania”
“That’s a huge bike, how do you manage?”
I tried my hardest to be polite but the conversation combined with ‘battle of the buttock’ was zapping my energy and patience. I made my excuses and left. When I reached the coded door I actually said a little prayer to the flying spaghetti monster. I typed in the numbers and pulled the handle down. To my relief the door then opened. It was like opening the door to a giant treasure chest though instead of gold coins and diamonds there were beautiful toilets with toilet paper and soap and everything. I picked the cubicle nearest the wall and took position.
I wasn’t completely sure if It was just going to be a windy day or if Krakatoa was going to erupt but if I was a betting man I’d have gone for the latter. It turned out to be a windy day.
I sat there wondering if the family that had given me the number were wondering how it was going. I wondered if the people I had walked past were wondering what was going on. Why do I do this? Is it just me or is it an English thing? It’s bizarre really as if it was a wee it would be fine but as its a number two (I can’t even say it) it’s all a big secret to be hidden away and not mentioned.
Anyway. That’s my (b)log for this evening. I hope no one is offended.
18th July 2017 – Day 32.
So, the last day. I woke at around six to the gentle sound of running water from the small stream not ten feet away from my tent. Even with the beautiful sound of the water I could feel my mind starting to worry and wanting to work through the problems I could face upon my return. Have I run out of stock yet? Do I still have an income? Don’t forget to do your accounts. I forced my mind to return to the present and got up. I still had 365 kilometres to ride before I got to Dieppe and the last day is often the most dangerous; the mind wanders and the concentration ebbs away and the next thing you know, you’re on your arse sliding down the road at sixty.
I grabbed my bag and made my way to the toilet block. I smiled as I passed the locked and coded toilet door; with the amount of Imodium I’d eaten the previous day having a poo this side of Christmas would probably be a physical impossibility.
I entered the shower cubicle and had a nice long shower. After my shower I made my way to a sink, as I stood there shaving the last few days of scrub from my face I heard what sounded like a heavy smoker coughing up yesterday’s lining. It was disgusting, and it went on, and on, and on. Hawking, coughing, spitting.
I finished up and left expecting to see a large man in his fifties or sixties leaning on the sink struggling for breath. Instead I saw a women, probably in her mid-thirties, fag in hand. She had an angry look on her face and hawked up another as I walked past, I relaxed a little when I was no longer in spitting distance.
Even though my ferry wasn’t due to leave until six in the evening I still felt a need to hurry.
“Less haste, more speed.” I mumbled under my breath as I packed up.
Within half an hour all my stuff was packed away and the bike was ready to go. I grabbed a piece of note paper from my pad and made my way to reception which was closed. The board outside told me the price was seven Euros forty. I wrote the owners a note, folded up a ten Euro note and posted it under the door.
My trip from Revigny-sur-Ornain to Dieppe didn’t include any toll roads though I made one mistake around half way there and had to do a little creative riding to avoid getting sucked onto one. I stopped and looked over at the Policeman who was looking at me, I shrugged and pointed to the grass verge, he gestured to me which I took to mean ‘You’re English so we both know you’re going to do exactly as you please anyway.’ I agreed and rode up the curb, over the grass verge and down the other side. Thinking it was only right to say thank you I shouted
“Bonjour Monsieur!” then promptly realised that I’d said hello Sir instead of thank you or good bye. I looked in my mirror and saw him waving as I rode away.
There were a few diversions during the journey so the route might well look a little strange but here are some of the places I rode through on my way to Dieppe. Vroil, Charmont, Possesse, Vadenay, Bouy and Saint Maur.
When I arrived at Dieppe I found a nice little restaurant, parked outside and pulled up a seat. My order was Moules marinière with cream, garlic and parsley. It felt good sitting there almost home eating beautiful food in the port. I was tempted to have a glass of wine to compliment the food but when you’re trying to get a heavy bike onto a ferry you need to have balance on your side so I decided not to.
I finished my meal, paid up and made my way to the ferry terminal where I checked in, took a seat and waited for boarding. I had almost two hours to kill and did my best to fend off worrying about what I’d find when I got home but unfortunately I lost the battle and checked my emails. All of a sudden I was in a world of bills, pressure and anxiety and I wondered if I’d done the right thing in going away for such a long time. Was it selfish to leave my wife for such a period of time? A dog’s life is relatively short and was it right to leave her for a whole month? Would my business be permanently affected? I started to regret my trip and wished I’ve never gone. What had I done?
“Welcome back Richard.” I muttered miserably.
I tried forcing myself to read my book but I’ve never had much of an attention span and every once in a while I’d look up and glace around the room. I saw an elderly couple sitting in the section next to mine; they got up and walked over to the toilet. She went in and he waited outside. I continued reading my book.
When she appeared again I heard him say
“Have you washed your hands dear?” She went back inside and washed her hands.
When she reappeared a few minutes later she walked straight past him and stood in the room looking around blankly. He walked over to her and put his hand on her shoulder.
“It’s okay Hilda, I’m here. We’re on our way home now.” He said and gave her a big cuddle.
She didn’t cuddle him back, instead her arms hung limply down by her sides. He glanced over at me as his eyes filled up.
For me this was the answer to my question. Was it right to go away for such a long time? Yes it was. Life doesn’t last forever and it’s important to make the most of it. I hope Hilda and her Husband made the most of theirs.