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6 days, 6 countries, Europe 1st trip
Hi folks apologies as you can see i did this trip 2008, wrote it up in 2009 and then found this site 2010 ! Hope you find it fun tho and who knows may inspire others !!
After many years of lusting after such a trip, I've been a biker since 18, now I'm 41 2008 was the year for me. Having had a miserable time following a knee operation in May 2008 by July things were looking up, cash was good and I thought bugger it now or never.
So basically I booked a one way ticket from Dover to Boulogne via Fast ferries (now defunct) for the bargain sum of £19 pounds and a return trip from Rotterdam to Hull for the slightly higher sum of £150 quid ! I had learnt from a previous family car trip to France the 4 hour drive to Dover ( well Portsmouth last time) was always fine going but a right twat coming back. Hence the much shorter trip. Plus on a map the trip from France round to Holland seemed an ideal route to get a taste for this European lark.
The only other commitment I'd made was to meet an online friend in Holland at some point. Max Euser or Buffie as I knew him was character from the online game World of Warcraft, I'd played with this guy for some 3 years and in game he had agreed it was ok to look him up in Holland, I was looking forward to this.
Preparations for me included not much more than a home service of the bike, buying some cheap canvas Oxford panniers off flea bay and a tank bag from Hein Gereke. Sat nav duly updated with European maps courtesy of the internet. I rigged up a ciggie lighter socket on the bike to power the sat nav. Notable the sat nav was just my car Tom Tom one, figured it would get me round at least and I'm too tight to buy a flash bike type unit. Quick call to Carol Nash, confirmed ok to ride in Europe and breakdown cover all in, bargain! In terms of preparation that was pretty much it, no itinery just get from France to Holland in 6 days and see whats what on the way.
(All loaded and set for off, note the play tent on the back , who was i kidding !)
Up early ferry sails at 4pm ish so planned to set off from Normanton around 10-11am, bike duly loaded up, I had no real plans for accommodation, so packed a small lightweight tent (a playtent in reality !) and an old army sleeping bag. I mistakenly thought I'd rough, it bugger hotels….however more of that later. I had however planned in my mind at least to stay in a F1 hotel in France the 1st night, though I didn't book in advance. Loaded up I was ready to go it's amazing how much guilt I felt leaving the wife and kids, is it selfish to spend all this cash on a single trip alone? I know others have felt this way, odd isn't it?
So I hammered down the M1 not stopping for much really other than fuel, weather was great nice and sunny, I think I had to fill up twice on way down, here I see the dis-advantage of touring on a Firestorm !. Anyway duly arrived in Dover with an hour or so to spare before my ferry. I filled up just before being waved through the checkpoint to be lined up ready. What a crowd the queue was, cars, vans, campers but oddly just one more bike, a chap and his wife right at the front, big BMW Ewan McGregor type, had a chat and headed to the café for rather overpriced Tuna melt, but nice none the less.
(loaded and waiting)
I sat in the lovely sunshine; the weather couldn't have been nicer and awaited the ferry. Didn't seem long before it arrived and we were duly waved on board, I had heard good things about Fast Ferries and their bike storage and all seemed true as I was ushered into a purpose built bike holder and duly locked in. Left all my gear on the bike bar the tank bag which had all my important stuff an headed to the top deck and found seat. There's nothing much to the Fast Ferry, more of a large speed boat, but I guess the journey only takes about 40 mins there's no point in restaurants etc.
(my transport to Bologne)
So we headed out, I chatted to a couple who were touring France to pass the time and enjoyed the lovely views of Dover as we steamed out. My god I can't believe I'm actually here, what lies beyond? Where am I going? Will I break down? So many thoughts.
Before I knew it we were docking at Boulogne, gear up, unlocked and head off the boat, man it's so hot! Must be 28-30 degrees, so uncomfortable in leathers. I head towards customs, completely oblivious as to what I'm in for but pleasingly I'm waved straight through. Then suddenly like many others I guess I pull up, I have no idea where I'm going, no idea what to do!! So I take a few minutes study my map and get my head together, god I'm in France on my own with a one way ticket from Rotterdam in six days ! What the hell do I do now? I had decided I'd bed up in Boulogne, Calais or somewhere close for the 1st night and also that all my routes would be back roads not motorways. I think it was around 5 pm when I arrived in France the weather was great the day still had a few hours, so I punched in Calais on the sat nav via the coast road and headed off, through busy Boulogne, soon I was on open roads in beautiful French country side, I was so happy. However soon I came across what seemed like a French Police road block? Damn…..oh they wave me through, twice the French have been nice, I like this.
After an hour or so I pulled over at some out of town random French supermarket, time for junk food supplies, biscuits and pop later and at the fear of a few dodgy looking French teenagers eyeing the bike I headed off again. I seemed somehow to bypass Calais the riding was good and headed for Dunkirque this would be my home for the night. As I was heading for the town centre I spotted an F1 at the side of the road, knowing they were renowned for good value I headed in, time for my best French! Yes, they had a room 29 euro's I recall Inc breakfast nice. The area wasn't too good, as most F1's are in industrial areas but it had secure parking and I asked for a room over looking the car park.
F1's are a strange thing, bit like a McDonalds hotel I guess, all the same, rooms sleep 3, have TV and wash basin, toilets and showers are out on the landing, none the less they are clean( usually) and do the job, so much for camping ! Though I had always expected to hotel the first night.
(Room with a view) (Well i laughed)
So now I begin what will be become the daily ritual of unloading my entire soft luggage and humping it up to my room, remember I'm in leathers and its like 25degress still.
Completely and utterly goosed I strip of and head to the showers, man they feel good…though it's some what odd to run down the corridor in minimal clothing to where the showers are. Cleaned and refreshed I'm starving, right time for food!
I chuck on jeans and a loose jacket and head out to explore, the bike and riding feels good without all the leathers and luggage, I give Dunkirk a taste and sound of a Honda Firestorm on a warm summer evening, grin! Now it will become clear I'm not into fine dining nor do I drink so the best I manage in Maccy D's ! Yep I come all this way and on the 1st night of my adventure I eat MC'ds……and yes they taste just the same. Fed and watered I head into the town area for a bit of sightseeing; oddly it's devoid of people?? Where is everyone? Isn't Dunkirk famous? any way I had a bit of a walk around and soon head back, I'm knackered, not long before the bikes locked up and I'm in bed fast asleep…..
Not sure what time I woke, didn’t matter really, this was my adventure I could do what I liked. I got dressed and headed down for my free breccy, slightly anxious, the reception area had become a breakfast bar, a strange collection of families, singles all eating copious amounts of bread, jam, cereal, orange juice etc typical French fair. I had my fill not really talking to anyone and decided to have another look around Dunkirk see if anyone had actually materialised! Wondering around I came across a French market, I never knew they could be so mesmerising, the French have such passion for food a cliché I know. They are such characters, young and old, especially the old, talking, shouting in this strange language all for a bag of fruit or tomatoes! It's almost like a theatre, unreal in some ways it's so articulate, this is how England should be, people here seem individual, outspoken, they have pride and purpose. This whole event shames the English in my mind, think of Asda, our lack of markets, we'll soon be America! I digress.
I took time to watch this spectacle, the sights, the sounds, the smells; I could have spent hours here but was conscious I needed to head on. So back I went loaded up, man this soft luggage is a chore, wish I had panniers! The sun was out again and the temp was rising.
Ostend, Belgium this time, sat navy loaded, coast road chosen off I go.
More beautiful French countryside, a quick visit to Bray-Dunes, not sure why just seemed nice. I soon hit the French, Belgium border, is this it? I asked myself, how unremarkable, a bent sign and an unmanned gas station, he he. So this is one Europe!
(The Belgian border)
I fill up, odd that the petrol stations here seem un-manned, more odd my helmet rolls of my bike and hits the floor, bugger!, only a scratched visor. This area is odd; soon I hit a large area of congestion, shops selling ciggies, lots of Union Jacks ?? What's it all about I'm unsure, though I'm damn glad I was on the bike and not in a car, I quickly filtered through and headed on. Pulled up in a random Belgium town, re-stocked my biscuit supply and headed on. Now I tell you the Belgium coast is a pain in the arse, I have never seen so many high rise flats, so unlike the French side. I didn't like it it was hot and uncomfortable going;
(The beauty of the Belgian coast road ! )
I push on to Ostend, hoping that by tea-time I would find a hotel. A few laps of Ostend result in nothing other than my temperature rising, bugger this I head out towards ZeeBrugge, I recall seeing a F1 on the map. Tried a few hotels on the Belgium coast but all were full or looked just downright sleazy. To be honest I was getting a bit worried now, camping areas seem rare and the thought of not finding a hotel was worrying me. Finally in Zeebrugge I pick out the F1, its in a lorry park out side of town, not as nice as the 1st but I'm so knackered again I'm just grateful they had a room, more expensive as well 35 Euros I recall. Usual ritual, unload, shower, change head out. The lady on reception offers me a card offering discount at a restaurant in the town, I head off to find it, go in sit down and am duly ignored for 20 mins ! lol, f'this I'm off. After wandering round a bit I hit upon what looks like a chippie !, the place is packed so I join the queue…I get talking to a young lad who suggests, chips, a deep fried fish thing ! In his words and to celebrate I get a can of larger! I know I don't drink but it felt. Rebellious I'm on an adventure… So there I was sitting on a bench eating chips and a dubious fish thing, washed down with cheap Belgium lager. I finished up by having a walk along the sea front, people watching….then I came across an odd thing, music, dancing? Yep around 50-100 Belgians dancing in public to what seemed like the equivalent of the birdie song ….how odd.
Anyway it passed and hour so I headed back. Needed fuel on the way…more un-manned station….shit !!! My cards being refused, try another, refused, balls, now I was panicking….I head off and try another fuel station, this time it works, I was so relieved, that wasn't the last time that happened throughout Europe, why I'll never know.
I had the usual F1 breakfast and decided to visit Bruges luggage free, so shot down the road parked up in the city centre, had a walk round nice place but too many tourists for me !
(Brugges clock tower, from the film In Brugges)
(bike anyone ? )
Oh and I remember the bikes, so many push bikes quite unreal to be honest. Anyway enough of Bruges back to F1 load up, check the map….mmm day 3 and i'm a bit close to Holland too soon…the decision I next made was a very odd one for some unknown reason I decided to go to Luxembourg ! Somehow on the map it didn’t look unreasonable. So off I set via Gent, round Brussels towards Namur all the time I used the back roads. The country side was nice the towns were pretty, Belgium's pretty !
(A few placed a travelled through as i crossed Belgium)
Lunch was taken care of courtesy of MC'S again ! Trying to be conscious of my figure I choose a salad! Got talking to a chap who pointed out nice routes down to Luxemburg, bid him well and headed off. Journey was only really interrupted by an unscheduled stop for a mass cycle race, how odd, as usual the sun was hot the skies were blue and I was sweating like a pig.
I guess sort of 4-6 hours later and many fuel stops, damn this tank range, I was having to fill up every 50 miles just to stay above half a tank, I realise Luxembourg is actually further away then I thought…..I arrive in Dinant, seems a tourist town and I was knackered as usual, everything ached and at this point I decided to give up I couldn’t ride any further, time to find a hotel. You notice camping just never entered my mind…
Probabaly the hardest and worst part of my trip was hotel finding, when your hot and bothered and on a fully laden 1000cc bike, crawling round town centres looking for hotels isn't fun, there must be an easier way ?
Finally pulled up at the IBIS in Dinat, shit….60 Euros !! that fifty quid…sod that loop the town again, soon decided to bite the bullet and pulled into the IBIS. 60 Euro's and no breakfast sheesh toeuist towns ! the lady puts me in a double room overlooks the river a/con man it's nice, cool, relaxing……bugger though to get all my luggage down. I lay on the bed knackered but loving this…shower time. Hell my arse was sore….queue a quick but undignified look via a bathroom mirror ! My leather pants are causing saddle sores……..queue the cream.
I head into the town it's a great place lovely castle atop the cliff, I was in time to get the cable car up and have a guided tour, unfortunately the guide didn’t speak English. Randomly a chap, turns out to be a Belgian soldier on leave, offers to translate for me, this is the sort of randomness I love.
After my visit I hit a back street shop followed my another chippie, they love their chips !, and go back to my room, food, tv, sleep.
(Dinant and it's fortress and church, views from top)
I eat the reminants of my purchase last night for breakfast, study the map, well I was nearly at Luxembourg so I may as well go now, load up and head off.
Bastogne was my destination, not knowing it's importance, I soon stumbled upon an old American Sherman tank in the town centre, seems the Battle of the Bulge took place here.
(American tank) (Odd what you find in Belgium ! )
Crossing the border into Luxembourg my plan was to head to Luxembourg itself but really as it was lunch time by now and looking at my map I realised how far inland I'd travelled my stay consisted of nothing more than a food and fuel stop and a few piccies, got to love the tax breaks of fuel, cheapest I bought in whole of Europe.
Here came another odd decision, looking on the map I realised I was close to Germany and not really wishing to ride any more in Belgium I plotted a route up through Germany to Holland, basically just staying within the German border.
(Germany, inc a random pit stop, i had a magnum under that tree !!)
Now I wish I had had more time for Germany, the roads were great especially down from Lux to German border; the only stop I made was for lunch at a roadside café just in Germany. The café seemed appealing as it had a few bikers already there, I sat down looked at the German menu, gobbledegook! Saw something that resembled a Tuna sandwich and ordered, turns out I got a pizza !
Whilst I was eating, I drew quite a bit on interest, from campers, bikers etc, nice friendly place.
Then oddly I heard an accent quite familiar to me, South Yorkshire, Barnsley to be precise. 3 lads had just pulled in , I started chatting seems they had come off the Holland ferry and were heading to Nurembourg, I explained my trip and they were quite taken back, all alone and six countires ! I think I impressed them.
Waitress duly paid , who by the way mistook my gestures and duly took 10 euros for the 6 euro pizza ! I guess she thought I was tipping generously.
One of the coversations I struck up was with 2 German bikers and I was explaining the trouble I had getting hotels, they gave me an address of a biker hotel ? in Kleve, Germany up near the Dutch border. So I decided that's where I would head for tonights, rather disappointingly I had to resort to more main roads to cover the distance through Germany and I basically hammered up through Germany arriving in Kleve at around team time. Frustratigly I failed to find the biker hotel despite asking numerous locals and trying sat nav..seems the address didn't make sense. So on another hotel hunt I finally decided on the Hotel Kleve for no other reason than the rate seemed on par around 50 euros inc breakfast, the receptionist was nice and let me park round the back under the fires escape so I could chain my bike up and then let me through the back door so I didn't have to carry my bags far. I appreciated this, more so it backed up my theory Germany seemed a nice place and I wish I'd had more time. The hotel was a very German affair hard to describe but just very German !
Reception suggested an eatery but I didn’t go, instead deciding on the old Mc's again. Count up that MC's in France, Belgium, Germany so far J
As usual I had a good look round the town sat a while in a fountain square quite impressed at how European life seems superior to ours….headed back and hit the sack.
( The town of Kleve)
Headed down to the breakfast room, despite my many work trips to hotels always feel uncomfortable eating alone in anything other than fast food…odd.
Breakfast was a good German affair and I stuffed myself, I noticed the Germans seems to pocket some for lunch !!
Packed both physically and on the bike I headed towards Holland, Arnhem, the border once again was devoid of all customs.
Pulling up in the market square in Anham to admire the church some random guy came over and started chatting, asking where I was from and going etc, pleasentries exchanged I headed for fuel, yet again.
I was aware I needed to call my friend at some point to arrange a meeting. I knew he lived in Amersfoort but nothing more , so from the next fuel station I gave him a call, he was at work all day but had planned the evening free, I agreed to spend the day checking Holland out then I would hotel up and give him a call. I picked a few random places, Zwolle, Lelystad and generally just blasted around, took lunch at a roadside café, some more random deep fried thing, chatted to a couple of dutch bikers on a large fully loaded goldwing, seem when they bike they do it in style.
(Dutch sights, countryside)
As I headed into one of my random destinations I saw my first rain…all the time up to this it had been glorious, the heavens opened and I got soaked. I've got to say out of all the countries I rode through Holland was my least favourite, probably due to the flatness and straigtness of the roads.
I asked at a gas station for hotels but the lad was clueless, so I headed to Amersfoort. Only at this point did I realise my sat nav had find hotels as a setting , damn !!!
So my bed for the night was the Tulip Hotel, Amersfoort, around 50 euros breakfast included, this was the nicest of all the hotels I stayed in.
Gear unloaded bike locked up under reception front porch, we had an almighty thunderstorm, glad I never did the camping !. Max agreed to pick me up from the hotel due to the weather. I waited in reception in anticipation
After a while I saw this large dutch guystriding across the car park, now even though I've never met or sent his chap I just knew it was him and when he spoke it was most surreal. A voice I have heard for 3 years from a Dwarf game character suddenly was this real life dutch guy…the most odd experience I've had in a long while.
We headed to his home, I met his wife and the dog J, he showed me his gaming room and we logged on to see if the kids were on…odd playing from another country to see if my sons were on..
We chatted for a hour or so and had a good laugh over the way English drink tea ! then we headed off to a "brown café" as he called it, a pub to you and me. Had a lovely meal and laughed as he downed the ridicuslsy small s served in Holland, we discussed WOW at great length, boring to an outsider but great for us.
Back to his home we chatted till late evening, had the obligatory photo, then he drove me back to the hotel. We parted company of course only to meet later the enxt week in game. This meet was a highlight of my trip and I think added greatly to it's value and memory.
I hit the sack full, tired and with tomorrows journey home in mind.
As usual stuffed myself at breakfast, rather sad at the fact this was my last day. Though at least the sun had returned.
My ferry boarding was at 4pm though didn’t sail until around 8pm. I planned to do some more touring and would have liked to visit Amsterdam but today for some reason I'd had enough, everything ached, my willpower had gone a bit, so the day didn't really amount to much, I took a leisurly route heading towards Rotterdam, that included an interesting river crossing by ferry, and a stop at a castle, where I stopped and just lay on the grass pondering my trip.
I also watched a rather large ship being towed by a very small boat up a very small river ! I did more resting than riding this day and arrived in Rotterdam with time for another MC'S ! The Rotterdam I saw was a horrible place all motorways, busy, a melting pot, I wanted to get on the boat to be honest and that’s where I headed. How different this ferry was, a huge great hulking thing, one of the biggest I know now.
The hold was packed with bikes but you were left to tie your own bike with bits of rope, thank god the crossing was calm. I headed up stairs and found my cabin, these are small affairs but well appointed for what they are.
Showered and changed, I went to find something to eat but these places are expensive , best I could manage was a giant hot dog for about 5 euro's. As we sailed out the sun was setting, it was a beautiful sunset.
I was tired, sad, happy all at the same time. Glad the trip was ended as I don’t think I could have ridden any further, sad I was going home because my adventure was over. Uneventfully I went to bed.
Soon we were docking in Hull it was thick fog and cold, welcome home. I got on the bike and headed off the ship only to be put in a huge slow moving queue for customs. Great isn’t it I travel six countries and only on my home coming am I stopped for ages whilst 2 surly customs officals glare at my passport, waved on I thread through Hulls rush hour traffic , fill with fuel and head home, some 60 miles. I arrived back about 9.30, my wife came out glad to see me back, I didn't say much, unloaded the bike, gave it a wash and laid down on the sofa and fell asleep…..i was home.
Don’t tour on a VTR Firestorm, they are too uncomfortable and the tank range sucks
Don't travel too far, slow down.
Have hard lockable luggage, soft luggage hinders you.
Take half of what you believe you need.
Don't worry about accommodation there is always somewhere to stay, ok at cost !
Sat Nav even a car one is invaluable, but so is a good map.
Other than that, go with the flow…as you can see I didn't prepare in great length, perhaps I was lucky, I had no incidents on routes. What if I had had a puncture ? lost a key ? don't know but common sense rules and I'm sure I would have handled it.
Good write up, enjoyed the read.
I'll be in Europe and maybe Scandinavia next year and I must admit the camping/tent carrying issue had been on my mind. Ideally I'd stay in cheap hotels but really fancy 'roughing it' on a few occasions - but why carry all that gear unless its really needed?
thanks for the heads-up.
Live life now - you only get it once.
Agree, the whole roughing it idea, was never a reality for me. Budget 50 euro a night and get yourself a shower and a comfy bed, honestly it was pure bliss after a days riding.
enjoyed the write up thinking about going to holland via newcastle then gernany on my own didnt know weather to camp or hotel it i think you have just made my mind up lol
Enjoyed reading your ride tale...however as a Dutchman I just have to defend our little country a bit. Sure, the motorways are packed and boring I guess like everywhere else but I know what you mean, it's a very orderly country with little elevation,lots of reclaimed land with gridlike roadsystems and office/industrial estates. Still there are nice scenic routes If you know how to find them, stay on the smaller countryroads and you will be suprised.
Rides are never long, it is a small country and some of the older cities have rich history and old architecture. Rotterdam was your worst bet, all heavy industry and modern buildings (it was decimated in WW2) but Amsterdam is from another world I can assure you! Ideal country for shorter trips on mainland Europe, like Belgium and Luxemburg.
On my second trip into Holland I was utterly waisted, having had no sleep for 36 hours the only thing I remember was all the intersections look the same and I fell off my bike at the ferry port in Ijmuiden. literaly - stopped, forgot and fell over.
You are right about the speed, at the time you think you are doing the right thing, then when you get home, think about it, and then it sinks in that you don't remember much at all. Next time, you take the time and it gets better with each trip.
Is that a VTR1000F Firestorm? looks like a recent model, what year is it?
I love the bike, had one in Australia and in 1 year put 16,000kms on the clock. Brilliant V-Twin, load of fun an a great all-round bike to wizz round on.
So it looks like you'll have to come back to the mainland soon. You missed the best part of Europe - the Alps. On a storm the counter will be off the charts.
TurboCharger + Francois (our BMW R1200gs) '07
With the earlier models that had an 18lt tank I think it was around 150-200kms.
It is a thirsty beast and probably it's only flaw ;-)
TurboCharger + Francois (our BMW R1200gs) '07
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