I am sitting in a small café, somewhere nea Senj, with the sea just a few feet away.The sun is shining bright and I have just ordered a beer. A bit of a perfect situation, you may say, but it is nothing, compared to the day Betty and I have had on the road.
View from the top of my beer bottle...
By 8.30, I was out of the campsite. Today would be a hard 500 km day, but the roads looked very inviting. I was hoping to travel up the Croatian coast road and stop somewhere near Senj. Betty soon dispatched lines of traffic and the road opened out nicely. I was hoping to loose traffic as it took the motorway north, but it appears the coast road is a popular tourists route.
The fabulous Croatian costal road...
Never mind, you don't travel by motorcycle to sit in a traffic jam! We skirted round coaches, motorhomes and caravans till the road became empty. On one side the mill pond still, blue green Adriatic, on the other, the imposing face of the Croatian mountains.
It was good to push Betty a bit. She had either been flogged down motorways, rattled to bits on knackered roads or being abused like a scooter.
Don't forget, she is a single cylinder bike. The piston that is rattleing around in the engine is bigger than the pistons in my 2.4 litre Tranny van. You feel every firing of the spark plug and the stresses and strains wear away chain and sprocket at a very quick rate.
So why? Well, the cornering grip of a single is phenomenon, you wind the throttle on so early, and the bike is so planted. Also if you are off road grip is much better. But, the noise... When on song, it is like Pavaroti has just bumped into Freddie Mercury!
Betty and I take a Kodak moment...
Lunch time was fast approaching and we were still 40 clicks from Split. Plan 2 came into action and I left the coast road, joining the toll motorway and put miles behind me at 130kph.
Plan 3 had spotted a mountain pass later on that joined the motorway to the coast road, so I stayed on the motorway for a whisle longer. I was feering how much this would cost. When I came off the motorway it came to an earth shattering 6 Euros!
So through a few small towns, I could see the mountains getting closer. Then up, up, through wooded valleys, but then, it was down, down. Surely I had not got to the 928 metres the pass was posted as being. Around a corner and the height was confirmed. In front of me lay the entire North Adriatic, pockmarked with islands, the sea still as a gargoyle. Below lay a road of hairpins that, i'm sure would bring a smile to someone's face.
Wonderful views from the mountains above the coast...
So more and more fantastic coast road and more photo opertunities, till after over 500kms, I needed to stop.
And now I have to go. The sun sets and I really need to see this!
One lump or two?...
After the sun had gone down over the Adriatic, I went out like a light. Morning was still warm but clouds were threatening. I joined a long line of traffic leaving Croatia and we chugged on towards the border.
I found this at the camp site... You first or me? I can't remember the polite way to do it
Croatia had been wondeful. Even the well trod tourist areas were brilliant. I am sure I will be back.
Into Slovenia then out of Slovenia. It was as quick as that. And that was the Balkans left behind. What a fantastic bunch of countries. All with their unique character. Some places were visually stunning, others, the total opposite, as If the war had ended yesterday.
The Dayton Accord, that stopped the fighting in 1995, was only meant to be a tempory measure. It was there to be replaced by a structure, politically worked, between all sides. That has not happened and It looks like all sides are polarising. 100 000 people died last time. I hope the rest of the world may do something before things get ugly.
So into Italy. Betty was loving it. She was born here. Lets hope she doesn't die here! Italian Autostradas are actually a lot better than, say a Croatian road. If a Croatian motorist would come across you on the road, he would more than likely try to nudge you off it. I've had dogs sniffing my arse from further away.
So it was head down, wind it on, because my bum was really hurting. The kms flew by and soon I was entering the fabulous Dolomite mountain range.
Entering the Dolomites...
Tiny roads swichebacked up and down over 2000+ metre high passes, huge rockfaces, snowcapped peaks all came into view. Again another biking paradise. The roads were magic, but required absolute concentration. Over cook a corner, and you could be doing 'birdman' for a good few seconds before you hit the ground.
So past The Marmolada, the highest mountain in the region at 3300 metres or so. I was on top of it 8 years ago. Into Campitello di Fassa and the same campsite my friend Ian, and I had stopped at. Nothing much had changed. Except everything was super expensive! 4 Euros for a beer. I got a bigger one for 1.3 Euros in Sarajevo!
Betty and the Marmolada...
Every second bike that rides past is a BMW GS adventure bike. They certainly are popular but, for me, just don't ring any kind of bell. Practical, I am sure, but I can't ever imagine it being really fun.
So dinner with a thundering river, views up to Sasso Lungo and a bottle of Merlot. Luckiest man in the world. Again! Saying that, my bum feels like George Michael's after a night of cruising. I have done almost 1000 kms in 2 days!
The rest of the night in the Dolomites was entertaining. I found my mp3 player and remembered, I liked music. So standing with my back to a tree, I looked up at the wonders of the Dolomites and mouthed the words of many a song as darkness came, with a broad grin on my face.
All of a sudden, there was this old chap there looking at me with a similar grin on his face. I think a few lyrics may had leaked out. He was Flemish, and we chatted for a long time about travelling, the state of our countries and Europe. This is one of the joys of travelling alone, you are not only forced to talk to other people (or cows), but you are a prime target for other people to come and have a chat with you. It's great.
The morning saw me away by 8.30 and I left the Dolomites to join the Autostrada up to my first mountian pass, The Jaufenpass. at a mere 2094 metres high, it was good fun to hit all the hairpins. The view from the top was fantastic. Betty and I stopped for a bit. to admire the view.
Time was beggining to creep on. I wanted to be in Oberammergau by 2pm. so I could unpack, eat, bathe (it had been a while) and wash my clothes (has never happened, last pair of knikcers inverted for past 2 days). After this I would need to ride to Munich airport to pick up my family so we could spend a week in the town together. The other side of the Jaufenpass was a nightmare. slow cars, constant hairpins, roadworks and ancient tractors coming the other way. I was becoming late.
When I got down to St Lenardo in Passeier, my road atlas showed a fairly straight run into Austria and beyond. Unfortuntately, after passing through the delectiably named Moos in Passeier the road took me up the 2509 metre Timmelsjoch. Now this pass had hairs on its chest.
With it being a Saturday and a sunny one at that, there where hundreds of bikers out and as I peoceeded up the pass, I was being goosed by some dude on his BMW GS1200 adventure bike at the front of a big group. The drop off from this mountain pass were very spectacular, but I am afraid, for the sake of Betty, a much maligned model of big traillie bike, we had to show a clean pair of heals. And we did, mainly because there wern't any long straights to allow the bike behind, with twice the power, to catch up. It was toe down on a lot of the corners.
The Timmeljoch Pass. It will put the Willies up you...
The silliness lasted 10 minutes but I know I has to stop, it was a bit mentally tyring. I pulled over at a nice spot to view the pass below. It was a long way down, a very long way down. And then I looked up to where the pass was going, it was a lot higher, and the road looked even more severe. I was beginning to pap myself. The last few hairpins were taken at a snails pace and then hthough the tunnel. On the north side, the amount of snow was fantasitc. the side of the road had up to 2 metres of snow at the sides.
By this time I was proper late, midday had long gone and I was only just inside Austria. Fortunately, the roads now became quicker and at about 3pm I crossed over into Germany. I was immediately pulled over by a German policeman.
I has a twofold plan for getting pulled over, and it depended upon circumstances.
If I was pulled over, and it was a fair cop, I had been speeding (I try not to in excess), or done something knowingly wrong (like riding the wrong way down a one way street shouting "Pene Picolo"), then I would pull over and assume the strongest Glaswegian accent I could do. I would be as helpful as possible, but in a dialect even I would find hard to understand. I had been told, if the police can't understand you and it's going nowhere, then thewy will tell you off and let you go, especially if you are as nice as pie. And I can do that, uninteligibly.
Or if it was a random stop check, I could be nice as pie, too, but entirely legibily. This was one such occasion. The young officer took my licence, my vehicle registration and my insurance details and then I remembered, I didn't have my counterpart of my driving licence. I couldn't really change my accent now could I? Do you see where dishonest plans get you?
The Policeman came back, and retuning my documents, he wished me a very plesant stay in Germany. Stuff like that doesn't make good TV for Police, Camera, Action, Tazer (he was asking for it), but it does make you feel confident about a countries police force.
I arrived at the apartment that were were to stop at and was totally blown away by how nice it was, it was certainly in a different league to any UK holiday accomadation we have stopped in. Our hosts, Gerrad and Nellie, originally for the Netherlands had stocked us up with enough tea bags to keep a workman heads down for a month and a whole host of other things to keep us going.
A quick shop at Lidl, a shower and a clothes wash, not quite in that order and it was a lightweight Betty and I on the road to meet the family at Munich Airport.
Halfway down Autobahn 95, doing 130 kph, Betty missed. It was a "Listen sonny, I am about to die, so start to make plans, quick"! I was close to a junction, so missing and reviving we got off the Autobahn at the next junction, only to join another one!
Betty went totally blank a few seconds later and I freewheeled into breakdown cut in. Of all the times had to break down, was the one time I had to be somewhere at a certain time!
So... It is an Italian bike, therefore an electrical problem is likely, so is the way she died. A wiggle of the ignition barrel lead indicated some on/off life. Then I knew I could fix this. If only my penknife was not 80kms away in Oberammergau!
20 minutes of cack handed cutting and hot wiring saw Betty back to life and with a very inpromptu start up sequence, we were back on the road.
I arrived at the airport very late, but fortunately my family were noy yet out of the arrivals. I was constantly worrying because I had ridden over a peice of grass to get into the car park and not obtained a ticket. Needs must and I didn't understand the language either (Glaswegian model was on high alert).
Coming back in the dark was hard work especially with roadworks but eventually we got to our apartment. So here we will stay for a week.
I am going to blog off for this time. but after I return to my trip, we will be heading to some high alpine passes, some famous mountains and a concentration camp. I will post again by 10th June. Ciao!
So a lovely week of respite in Oberammergau, Barvaria.
My family came to join me and we enjoyed a wonderful week of climbing hills, eating in mountain restaurants, taking trains up the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain and relaxing.
Betty has been put right by the local garage and is ready to go, although her oil consumption is beginning to worry me. Saying that, she has been mercilessly thrashed up and down autobahn/autostrada/toll roads, something the lady was really not designed to do. Perhaps this increases the oil consumption?
So, tommorrow it is an early delivery to Munich airport, a visit to Dachau concentration camp (I love the cheery thing) and then over the Stelvio Pass to Bormio in Italy, Something Betty will be much more adept to.
We have all loved Oberammergau, the apartment was the best we have ever stayed in, for the least price ever paid. The people have been wonderfully warm and friendly, I could not say a bad thing about the whole of German. I would move here, but I think I would damage the place irrepairibly!
The day started exceptionally early. I left my luggage at the apartment and escorted my family back to Munich Airport. The rain pelted down as we came through the centre of the city.
Of course, I had not taken my Waterproof, because I didn't want to carry it around the airport. Instead I was wandering around the airport in soaking pants! Nice.
So off everyone went, and I immediately felt lonely. Things weren't likely to get any better as I had planned to visit Dachau Concentration Camp that morning. I figured the rain and wet would help to add to the sombre mood.
The gatehouse at Dachau...
I parked up, got my audio guide and wandered up the entrance. There was the gate house and on the gate 'Arbeit Macht Frei', Work will set you free'.
The cynical inscription...
From then on it was a 2 hour visit to Hell. It was emotional. Often a battle not to burst out crying in front of other people. I stood in a gas chamber by myself. Next door was the crematorium. It was haunting beyond belief.
The gas chamber...
I think everyone should go to a place like that. Just so you can see what happens when you stand by and don't open your mouth. An inscrption said it all. 'They came for the Trade Unionists, but I said nothing, because I am not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, but I said nothing because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to say anything'.
Returning back to Betty, I found I had left the keys cunninly hidden in the ignition. 100% stupidity in a 5 foot 5 inch package can now be quantified.
Back to the flat, load up and off we went. Out of Germany for the last time. Hugely impressed, have I said this already?
Through Austria, quite unevetful really, and into Italy via a reasonable pass. What I was really fishing for was the Stelvio Pass. At 2758 metres ASL, it is the second highest paved pass in the Alps.
It had been raining on and off all day but I had slowly begun to dry from the mornings soaking. The lower slopes of the Stelvio was dry, then up through the clouds, wet, then dry with the odd bit of blue sky. It was like being on a plane.
Betty was getting ideads about flying...
Actually it wasn't, because you would never get a 737 around the hairpins (and those babies have some lock!).
45 numbered hairpins on the East side, with a fair few un numbered lower down. My hairpin technique has been slowly developing, but I think Owl Neck© is the prefered method. The © thing means I have copyrighted it and you have to pay me, say, 10 pence everytime you use it. As long as we have that cleared up.
Hairpin after hairpin on the Stelvio Pass...
Owl Neck© technique takes the fact that riding hairpins especially on the inside can be hard work. It is made easy by Owl Neck© by simply turning you neck 180 degrees to see what's coming. If it's clear, lune it on any side of the road you see fit.
If not clear, use another methodology (Scooteritis?) To learn Owl Neck© you can begin by riding backwards. Can I have a bag full of money now?
Everything was closed when we got to the top, so a breif picture would suffice. On the other side great big lumps of snow abounded and the view was supurb. The clouds hung in the valleys and around the peaks, I hit a curb and fell off! I was only doing 5kph or so, and manged to eject safely.
At the top of the Stelvio Pass...
There was Betty, front hoop in a snow drift and very horizontal. In fact more than horizontal. An OBTUSE angle. I would need help to lift her, and seeing that, goodness and kindness is a re occuring theme of this trip, I looked at Betty's shocked expression for five seconds and a biker was dismounting to help me.
Betty, just after she was picked up, and she wasn't being cheap...
We had a jolly good laugh about how stupid I was (another reoccuring theme) and I was soon on my way. I also picked up the end of Betty's brake leaver that had snapped off. Oops!
I was hoping to wild camp in the mountains aboue Livigno on the Italian/Swiss border but the weather was awful and I was very tierd.
So I stopped in at a lovely hotel on the outskirts of Livigno and got a room. The chap running the place is wonderful, he is desperate to ensure I am enjoying the food and the view.
Outside I can hear cattle bells ringing as the sheep wander about. Better than a lulaby I think!!
I was awoken by an explosion. Don't know why and I wasn't too bothered to find out. Pigged out with breakfast and was out into the rain by 9am.
The lovely Forcola hotel in Livigno...
Over a few of the passes, We were in the clouds. Everything misted up and I was down to 40 kph, looking over my steamed up glasses. I must have looked very studious!
Betty lost in the clouds...
I had passed into Swizerland an hour ago and the rain became constant, whether high or low. My undies were filling up with water once again. The steep sided valley I was travelling in was so wet, so swiching to the next valley 5 miles to the West, the rain stopped!
No ships have ever run aground on the 2000+ Oberalppass in Switzerland thanks to it's lighthouse...
No need for sidestands, when you have a 3 metre high snowdrift...
The weather became dryer, and the next few passes were even unclouded. We were beginning to make good progress, in spectacular settings. I think Betty had forgiven me for dropping here the day before, because she was eager. The serious frown on her face had subsided, and I detected a slight smile.
Betty on the Julierpass...
To be quite honest, most of the passes crossed in Switzerland were more enjoyable than the Stelvio Pass. The Stelvio was just too narrow and in really bad condition. I guess its reputation is it's height.
Kodak moment on the Furkapass...
Into central Swizerland I arrived, and it was wall to wall massive mountains, waterfalls exploding from cliff faces and wonderful buildings. Through Interlarken and into the Jungfraujoch. I was getting very excited. If the clouds were kind I may just catch a glimpse of the Eiger.
On the Furkapass and missing a bit of clutch lever. Keep lightening the load...
She could of had her skirt held high pulling the world's biggest moonie for all I knew as she was wrapped in clouds.
I pitched up at the Eigerwand campsite and bought supplies. Oh, fresh milk (Eigermilch), for decent tea. A can of beer(Eigerbeer), with dinner. After that I bought another beer at the bar (Eiger...I'm not carrying on with this), and bought 1 hour of internet access for 6 Swiss Francs! Jeepers Creepers! Still I can continue to look at the Eiger from the bar. She may yet unveil herself.
I had eaten and gone to bed just before it started to rain. It was pelting down hard as I layed up for the night.
I was awoken at about 2pm by a wet elbow. In fact, just about everything was wet. It turns out that the hot temperatures of the Adriatic had unglued the taped seems on the tent.
The rest of the night involved mopping up water with socks or undies and atempting to sleep under a waterproof jacket.
Motorcycle clothes dryer...
I refused to get out of bed until the rain had stopped which it finally did about 9am. It was like a tsunami had hit my tent. I needed some way to stop this happening again. I would go to the shops, hoping they would be open as it was Sunday.
In a word they weren't. Anyway more important things were happening. Clouds were clearing, the sun was coming out and the Eiger was unveiling itself.
The North Face of the EIger shows it's face...
I zipped up Tsunami tent, and that somehow drew a line under it. The cog train up to Kleine Sheidegg wound its way up the valley, and it soon became apparent I was looking at the North face. It was camera clickquick, I wasn't sure if I would see the face again due to the number of clouds.
Arriving at Kleine Sheidegg in clouds was no surprise. The fleet of mostly Japanese and Indian tourists ran to the next train that would take them through the Eiger to the Jungfraujoch, 'the top of Europe'. Well, the top that sells coffee for 7 Swiss Francs and has a souvie shop.
I lost 99.9% of people by heading up the path to the Eiger glacier. Most of the time I was in cloud but every now and again a veiw up or down the valley would reveal itself. Trudging up the path and through the occasional snowfield was hard work. I was panting like I was doing a 100 metre race. I was 2300 metres up though.
A bit misty on the North Face...
Finally I reached the Glacier station and there in front of me was the North East corner of the Eiger. If ever there was a mountain to put the Willies up you, this one ticks all the boxes. Fearful weather, difficult route finding, a lot of loose rock falling, very hard to retreat, very limited chance of rescue, but more than anything, Its deadly reputation.
On the Eiger Trail... One at a time...
I was going to follow the Eiger trail below the North face and see if I could find a wire rope climb over the eastern corner of the mountain. Both trails were meant to be closed. Scooterisis had flaired up again.
It was a long way down...
I was a tad freaked just to be touching the mountain. I was expecting it to reach down and flick me off its knee, as you would an ant. Its all about reputation, and perhaps I had read too many books!
Following the Eiger trail below the cliff face soon became a bit of an ordeal. Snow and ice still lay around and one slip would send you to a nasty place with big rocks and 100 metre drops. It was ice axe and crampon territory. I was not kitted up for this. One foot was in a plastic bag because my boot was leaking an it had begun to snow
I did 10 feet...
Above me was over 4000 feet of cliff face. I walked half on a bergsrung, half holding the cliff till sense told me to stop. A small stone falling and hitting the snow confirmed this. I turned back still looking for the wire rope climb. I saw the rope had been pulled up so endevoured to reach it. It was only 20 feet of climling on V Diff material, but after 10 feet, I got the willies and retreated. So now I can say I have climbed (on) the North face of the Eiger.
Thomas the tank Engine's steroid munching, foul mouthed half brother...
Halfway down, I stopped for lunch of bread and chesse, weird Eiger cheese, I think it came from goats. I did a lot of stareing. Sometimes I forgot to chew!
The view tot he Wetterhorn from Kleine Sheidegg...
Back at Kleine Sheidegg, a train was just pulling in. Should I buy a fridge magnet for 7 quid or should I just get on the train and bugger off?
So my Eiger adventure over, I returned to the car crash that masquaraded as my tent. Emptying the whole thing, to dry, I gaffer taped the seams on top of the tent. I hoped this would hold.
The Quickie Bar... I hope not, for the price you pay, it needs to last...
Gaffer tape appears to come in two indeterminate grades. Grade 1 will not stick on anything. Grade 2 will stick a space shuttle to a space station. I had brought Grade 1. So a number of applications of the Grade 1 material and that would have to do.
So a herty meat of pasta, sauce and sausage and it began to rain. If the tent was not going to hold I was going in the toilet block. So far after an hour of rain, everything is still dry.
I have managed to pay back a little kindness to some Austrian lads by lending them my washing up liquid and scourer. Its hardly Live Aid, but it is a start!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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'.
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