June 19, 2012 GMT
On the road to home
Waking up in the Best Western Hotel in Ieper, or Ypres as is is known to English speakers, was quite an experience. I was in a comfortable bed, there was no sound of rain, I was not freezing cold and no immediate concerns sprang to mind. Had I died and gone to Hell?
I needed a few problems at least, so I went for breakfast and left my jacket on my chair when I left. All around me were gernerally British people, on War trails, following stories from both World Wars. I was shocked by how fat everybody was in comparison to the rest of Europe I had seen. Still, the law of small numbers could be operating here, so I put it to one side. The breakfast could of done it.
Tyne Cot war cemetary...
I loaded Betty up. I wanted to visit Tyne Cot war memorial, at Passendale, the largest Commonwealth war grave in the world. It seemed an important thing to see, it would be my last, To be haunted, yet again, by the foolish past seemed a good way to go out.
The trip up to Passendale was through functional villages, rather bland and post modern. very 1930's looking. Then I realised, this whole area would of been flattened by a million shells. The only history in these parts would be underground.
I suddenly felt a lot of respect for the architecture. Every roundabout had some sculpture on it that cried out the folly of war. Whether it did or didn't had no clear meaning, but it did to me. Them is the best sculptures.
I arrived a Tyne Cot at about 9am. From the car park, it was hard to see the place. I wandered around the long path into the place and as little glimpses took hold, I was rather taken aback by the size of the place. What should 20 000 graves look like?
The pill boxes at Tyne Cot...
The whole experience is carefully managed to bring you into the graveyard with some understanding of the depth of loss felt by the Commonwealth of 55 000 of it's children. It was an increadibly moving exprerience, expecially the reading of the names. every name is read out on an endless loop.
35 000 bodies are scattered across France and Belgium and have never been found, their names are recorded here. It was an emotional experience yet again. I have got quite emotional a fair number of times, and I think I have a common denominated apart from horrific death, injustice and innocent blood liberally spilt. It is the crazed selfish ambition of idiotic, psycotic and selfish political leaders.
The walls contain the names of the 35 000 who are missing...
So, what now? I could visit a million war graves and get even more irate. I could go to Amsterdam to see Vincent, as I had promised, I could go to the beach, but I reconed it to be a bit like Skegness, but with no guarentee of donkeys.
My topbox was beginning to smell like a French supermarket. Very organic.... Both my feet and socks were now in plastic bags as both boots were leaking and the socks smelt almost as bad as the topbox. Betty's clutch cable was liable to go at any second, and it looked like it was about to rain.
I have really enjoyed listening to a very mature young Scottish folk/rock singer, Amy MacDonald, at times over my trip. A wonder tune, The road to home.
Oh the leaves are falling from the trees
And the snow is coming don't you know
But I still remember which way to go
I'm on the road, the road to home
Oh the sound is fading in my ears
And I can't believe I've lasted all these years
But I still remember which way to go
I'm on the road, the road to home
Oh the light is fading all the time
And this life I'm in, it seemed to pass me by
But I still remember which way to go
I'm on the road, the road to home
Now I must say goodbye
Keep telling myself now don't you cry
But I'm here where I belong
I'll see you soon, it won't be long
I'll see you soon, it won't be long
I love that song, It may talk a bit about a final end, but it is a happy final end, and my eyes were fixed on the not so final end, but a kind of final end (hoping the final end wasn't a broken clutch lever on the M25......Suicide awaits).
Travelling is really good, it makes a man, or woman out of you. But coming home is so fantatic, because you get sucked up in love and great tales and then you start to reminice and then make plans as how you should change your life for the better. Coming home is wonderful, especially when you have left so much.
If I shook my beetle, I reconed, I would make the 12pm sailing from Dunkirk, so I shook that very same beetle and, after a few wrong turns, ended up at Dunkirk ferry terminal. 100 Euros seemed a complete rip off for the next ferry, seeing as an internet search a few months before came up with about £35. but I was ready for home and the beetle was still, irritatingly, still shaking.
I was assigned row B and found to my joy I was 6th on the boat, 3 lorries and 2 bikes in front of me, hopefully 6th on 6th off. although, this had been proved otherwise in past experiences!
Betty had to be tied down because she was so excited about going home...
The ship set off and for three quaters of the journey it appeard that Frnace was about a mile off the Port side. I was getting well into my voyage, I even knew where my lifejacket could be found (should I need it).
I had an expensive coffee with no kick and a cheese and onion pasty, now that was really good. It then dawned on me that I should get some rest. I lay my head down on the upper outside seak only to be surrounded by excited 13 year olds on a school trip. The kiddies ball pool was empty but I knew I was on the home straight, don't spoil it with some wild accusations now I thought, so I put my head down on a table in the club class restaurant and had a few minutes.
A farmiliar site to welcome you home...
There were the white cliffs of Dover. A wonderful welcome home and I really mean that. Home is home, it may not be as wonderful as some of the things that you see, but it is home, and home.... well.... its Home! Boat docked, second off boat, sneeky overtake of lorry on Customs corner and I was in the lead coming into Passport control chicaine. I dazzled with passport in mouth and was useded through with cursory looks, behind me the 2nd place campervan was pulled over for full cavity inspection.... What a crushing victory...
It had gone from right right right to left left left, but old habits die hard so I reveted to scooteristis and took whatever lane I wanted. Soon I was on the M25 and found the Dartford Tunnel creating a 5 mile traffic jam. It was Friday. I filtered between cars expecting a right who har, but to be honest, I had no problems apart from a transit van driver whom tried to kill me by closing up the gap. Well, he might need a new nearside wing mirror, because I hit it pretty hard. Nob.
I got ot the toll booth and didn't pay anything again only to find Betty was flashing red and overheating, her fan had not come on and she was about to pop, so a slow build up to speed brought the temperature back down. Any standing in traffic was going to be bad so I guess I had a doctor's note...
The rest of the trip up the M1 and M6 was a nigthmare, stop, start standing traffice, roadworks, it was a terrible welcome home. I decided to take the M6 toll road to avoid more traffic around Birmingham, although I was convinced that there should not be so much traffic. Typical English people working late on a Firday Evening. The I realised I had not put my clock back, therefore, I was infact in the middle of the rush hour!
The toll road was great apart from a massive thunderstorm that turned it into the M6 toll river. One biker had stopped under a bridge, it was so bad.
Getting off the motorway, I was supprised by how many people had put out bunting and union jacks to celebrate that I was coming home, especially as it was a bit of a suprise for everyone. I wonder who had told... Saying that, it could have been some other minor event that had happened like some old lady having a job for a very long time being celebrated...
So I arrived home... How good it was to see everyone again, should I start telling the stories now.... No. I was going to enjoy a really big cup of tea that someone else had made, but before I did that, Betty and I had a little 'Valle' moment. It wasn't 'bye bye baby', it was 'Well done Baby'. 'Oh, and I will buy you a new clutch lever'.
Posted by David Bailey at 12:10 AM
June 15, 2012 GMT
The Longest Day
I was awake at a reasonable time and ready to go by 9am. Of course the clouds had disappeared to reveal the French Alps in all their glory. A better view from any campsite, I have not found.
I love waking up in France, when people say Bonjour to you, it is like they really mean it. It is a real welcoming of a new day. I wish I knew more French so I could discuss the joys of living with them.
The overiding desire was to get home, so no views or temptations to go see would shake that. I didn't have much of an Idea where I would end up but if I could chew off 500kms of France, I would be satisfied.
To do this I was going to be a heathen and use the toll motorway. Most of France would pass away unseen, but, sorry France, I have a garage full of bits of shelves that really need to go to the tip.
You do get what you pay for on French motorways. I scudded through France with Betty held open. At 2pm I had reached my 500km goal, and I was still feeling OK. So we go a little further, and so it continued.
Somewhere near Reimes, I came off the motorway (total cost, from Chamonix, 36 Euros - Good value to me). I was looking for a campsite. To be quite honest, I was shocked at how dilapidated the buildings were. It was like I was back in Bosnia, just without the shell holes!
So I carried on riding and looking, but nothing looked even remotely habitable. I had got so fed up with the region that I made my mind up to skip the country.
Belgium was far smarter and looked nice. I just couldn't find a campsite, or hotel. I guess I was so far away from anything I knew. So I looked at the map, the only thing close that I knew anything about was Ypres. There would be lots of hotels there for confused English people as that was where most people stayed who were visiting war graves.
Passendale was also on my list of things I wanted to see and it is just up the road.
Another desire to get back home is the fact that Betty is not at her best. Todays 850kms will not have helped. She has been going 130kph+ at 5000rpm+ for over 10 hours today. Her oil consumption is at addict level and there is a sickening scrating noise when the brake leve is pulled in, indicating the clutch cable is disintegrating.
Hopefully it will hold on till I get home. I hope Betty might appreciate me as much as I appreciate her. I have a terrible feeling that she may be nothing more than an antidave. Some inanimate object for my own character to strike back against.
I best stop talking like this, otherwise the loony van, possibily even propelled by electricity, will come calling.
So tomorrow will be looking around WW1 sites. Funny that I was there where it began in Sarjevo. Here it ended for so many, too many, a shameful many.
Posted by David Bailey at 07:19 AM
June 13, 2012 GMT
Glaciers and Big Decisions
I know the past few days had taken a bit of a toll as I wasn't up until 10am. I was going to take things easy, although this was slightly enforced as it was raining quite a lot.
I decided to walk up to the glacier and have a look around. I fashioned a rudimentary ice axe on the way up but the paths took me to a mountain hut. From here the views were fantastic but acccss to the glacier was impossible.
The Bossons glacier below the Aiguille du Midi...
I wasn't too keen on the risks involved crossing a morraine valley with a few million tonnes of doggy ice above me. In the valley below they had constructed a kind of glacier catching dyke. It must have been 20 metres high and wide.
The Bossons glacier...
So down I went, spending a few hours reading in the tent, whilst the sky emptied itself of rain.
I am rereading a great book all about probalility, luck and chance and how humans are very bad at understanding it. Apparently rats outperform humans in totally random games because we look for pattern. A lot of things in life are totally random, so often there is no pattern.
I finish filling my head with Pascal's Triangle and went into Chamonix to find some money and food.
Chamonix was nice, a bit like a normal town but with a mountaineering slant.
One thing that got me rather irate here, as well as in Zermatt, was the amount of Aisan tourists walking around with face masks on. Now my understanding is that people wear them to reduce the polution entering their lungs or because Avian Bird Flu is flexing its pandemic muscles.
I don't think you need a face mask in places like Zermatt, because all fossil fuel vehicles are banned and you are 1500 metres above sea level. The air is so pure, you can smell a fart from 200 metres away.
So lets explore the other posibility shall we? From an internet searh, it appears that no international pandemics are forcast. Imagine what I must of thought when I saw all these face masks and haven't looked at the news for a month.
Personally, I think face masks should be banned. A terrorist could be hiding behind one. But really, if I were to go around Zermatt shouting."Plague, Plague, the plague is coming"'! I would soon be locked up in a loony van (I bet they don't have an electric loony van in Zermatt), and helped into a straight jacket. The good afluent people of the town would not want visitors to think the Plague was visiting?
A quick supermarket sweep bought all the necessities. Back to the campsite to plan my next move.
Better weather is coming but I don't really want to do some of the big passes into Italy now, I have done enough. So I turn my head North West and in the direction of home.
It doesn't seem too close, and then it spits at you...
There are a few places in between I would like to see, but it is homeward bound. And to trumpet it, the glacier shoots a few tonnes off into the valley!
Posted by David Bailey at 07:13 PM
June 12, 2012 GMT
Time to burn out of this hole!
It had rained all night and cheapy tent had kept me dry. It continued to pour down outside, and I was left thinking what I could do.
I chatted with a few Swedish climbers who were hoping to climb the Matterhorn even though it was very early in the season. They were just sitting around waiting for the weather to break. We all agreed that Zermatt was not a place for anyone but the very well off.
Dark Tourism... have a guide go round the graveyard telling you how everyone died, in detail...
I walked into town to try and find a WiFi spot, eventually having to buy a coffee in McDonalds to get one. The weather was looking bad for this day and the next, so my mind was made up. I would ride to Chamonix where there was more to do, it was cheaper and the weather would break quicker.
I packed in the rain, wished the Swedish lads all the best and trudged off to the station. I had not enjoyed my visit, apart from a brief glimpse of the Matterhorn.
I ate my lunch in the Tasch terminal of the station under hard glares from the staff. I just don't fit in here! Stranger in a stranger place again!
At least Betty was glad to see me. It had been a long stay in a rather dark underground garage. Motorcycles are afraid of the dark. I know this is true because they all have headlights. Think about it.
As soon as we left Tasch, lt stopped raining. It was quite nice and sunny at lower altitudes, warm too.
The trip to Chamonix was relatively uneventful. I didn't want to use the motorways because you had to buy an expensive vignette for using them. So I took slow roads that made slow progress.
As I rode up the pass that would take me into France, it started to rain hard again. Hard rain tended to run down my front, and end up somehow, in my pants, despite my biking trousers being waterproof. I had come up with a cunning plan and placed a carrier bag over this region to avoid this problem. It did look a bit odd at filling stations, but that is beside the point. In fact forget that last bit altogether.
It appeard to be working well. What was actually happening was the water was being stored up. So as I enterd the first hairpin bend the whole resevoir of freezing water let rip into my shreddies.
This had a number of effects, I screamed, I kind of forgot about motorcycling for a moment and I stopped steering. Like a true professional, I regained control just in time to avoid having to get landing clearance from Geneva airport.
After that incident, I removed the plastic bag.
Chamonix was bathed in a bath of drizzle when I arrived. I did find a nice campsite that lay right under a couple of Glaciers. If it is nice tomorrow, I will go and have a look.
Some tents have all the luck...
I set up the damp new tent and used the poles and flysheet of the old tent to make a rather spiffing lean to on Betty. Think of the tent as an over amourous dog and the bike as your leg, and you have the picture beautifully.
So I cooked, read and wrote most of this, out of the rain and dry. A million dollars!
Posted by David Bailey at 07:59 PM
The tsunami tent had a semi successful night at keeping me dry but by 5.30, rain was leaking in at a steady rate. I got myself ready for the off.
Fortunately I had seen a tent ln the local supermarket. Being a terrible tent snob, it was a poor choice but it only had to last for a bit over one week. At 29 Swiss Francs it was cheaper than expected. I hope that it is a deal, not indicitive of the water repellant properties of the tent.
The relatively short ride to Zermatt was uneventful. It rained a few times, the sun came out briefly.
Wonderful waterfalls spat out their glacial meltwater...
At Tasch, just before Zermatt, I had to leave Betty in an underground garage. She was not happy. It was like tying a dog to a lamp post and going to the pub.
I lumped my luggage into the train station. I asked for a return ticket and went to pay with a card. The dude behind the counter looked into my wallet and said.'CASH', despite there being signs everywhere for card payment.
My experience of tourist customer service in Switzerland has been very poor. It is like, 'Heres the mountains, now empty your wallet, CASH. (you nob)'. Surleyness was off the Vikki Pollard scale.
Zermatt... reet posh...
The short train ride arrived at Zermatt where I was confronted by a riot of tourism. I had to wait 5 minutes, just to get my head in gear. The village only allows electric vehicles and taxis ferried people about whilst trying to avoid Japanese tourists taking pictures.
I walked down to the camp site which would be best described as basic. Saying that, it was a tenth of the price of the cheapest rooms in the town.
I got the tent up eventually, it wasn't too bad. Question is, what to do with my old one. I have had it for almost 20 years. Oh well, A bin in Zermatt is better than a bin in Market Drayton, if you want a semi heroic end.
New tent up... The blue one...
I needed a shower. The men's shower was locked. The only option was the ladies. I returned to the tent to plan my blitzkreig tactics for a shower. Currently the campsite was deserted. It would be just my luck that as I was happily washing my nads, a large group of grubby femenists on a weeks retreat from the evils of men, would pitch up and line up for a shower.
I really had no way of talking my way out of that one, but l recon the odds were slim. Blitzkreig shower worked well.
I went for a walk around the village. These electric vehicles are a menace. They sneak up behind you and try to run you over, they drive on whatever side of the road they like and the drivers quite clearly couldn't give a care in the world.
I never saw a police electric vehicle, but I would of liked to point out to the authorities the bloke driving up the road smoking a big fat reffer. His eyes were rolling about on his cheeks and I think the whole of Steinmattstrasse were a lot more chilled after he had passed.
Indeed, I saw a four headed shrimp in the next street along.
Oh, yes, the Matterhorn, that Toblerone shaped mountain that peers down on this little town. It doesn't show its face too much. You can see it is there, but clouds veil her.
The best shot I could get of the Matterhorn. I think someone ele may have got a better one!
The shops here are great. Snap up a Rolex for 6000 pounds. Buy some mountaineering boots for 450 quid. A pint of beer costs 7 quid and it is 68ml short!
Posted by David Bailey at 10:00 AM