September 09, 2007 GMT
london

We escaped from New York with our sense of humour intact and some important shopping done. Jo and I both found down parkers at a good price as well as a small mountaineering stove and fuel bottle. Jo also had new walking shoes and I had a good light weigh micro-fibre shirt. Overall, not too bad.

The escape was not without its drama. Aer Lingus staged through Dublin, a smallish hub run with such incompetence that they give the impression of a great hub on a bad day. We missed our connection into London milling about with the crowd and could have missed the second flight.

Our daughter, Sarah, and her partner Mike have a small one bed room apartment close to the centre of London near St Paul’s; too close-in to park a vehicle and inside the “congestion tax” zone. As a consequence, we decided to leave the bike at the shippers and have our first week on shanks pony.

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Sarah and Mike's tiny flat in London. Definately no cat swinging here!

Jo used to live in London and I have been there a number of times so this was a very relaxed time with no real pressure to see anything much. We walked a lot, relaxed and walked a lot (tube strike) and got on with sorting administration for our trip.

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The GPS works fine off the bike and was useful in the back lanes (if you could get a signal).

Insurance was the biggest problem and it took several days of effort to find a company prepared to insure our foreign registered bike. When we found one, the price was enough to make the eyes water. Still, it was necessary and, in the end, done.

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Bikes lead a hard life in London!

Our tourist stuff was limited to walking the Inns of court, an area of particular interest to Jo and reacquainting ourselves with Soho and some of the more interesting inner areas. The rest was rushing around in a frenzy of organising that made it clear how far we were from fully prepared when we departed home. Oh well, we will get it right next time!

Posted by Mike Hannan at 03:54 PM GMT
September 10, 2007 GMT
Lyon

Our week of indulgence in London was over too soon. We were just getting used to relaxing when it was time to go. Mr Lufthansa flew us to Lyon via Munich and we took the “scenic” suburban bus into town to find our Hotel in the older part of town,

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Sarah, Mike, Jo and Nick roamin the Roman ruins.

Our daughter Sarah and her partner Mike had been in France for a week touring Champaign. They hurried off to Paris on Friday afternoon to meet our son Nick who flew in from Vietnam and drove down to Lyon to meet us. We hadn’t had the family together in the one place for more than a year with Sarah in London, Nick in Canberra and us on the Gold Coast and had a lovely couple of days catching up, eating and watching the Wallabies play.

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Nick with the Lyon Basilica in the back ground.


Saturday night we had a special celebration dinner at a genuine French two star place. The food was excellent but we ate far too much. Keeping the weight down would be a real challenge if we had too many of these dinners.

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Mike and Sarah in the old silk district (not thinking about food)

On Sunday, Mr L got us back to London via Frankfort (just for variety) with enough time to drop off the last of our non-bike clothing and repack for bike riding.

From here on our lives would become much simpler, and much more complicated.

Posted by Mike Hannan at 04:12 PM GMT
September 12, 2007 GMT
National Motorcycle Museum

Birmingham National Motorcycle Museum

12 Sep 07

Like all good bikers I had no choice but to detour on our trip to Wales to visit the National Motorcycle Museum at Solihull near Birmingham. It was our first day on the road with the bike and a chance to settle down the luggage pack and get used to the weight of the fully loaded bike.

Our first hour out of London covered 19 miles (whatever they are) and provided a fair test of our ability to keep the bike upright in heavy traffic. No lane splitting just yet!

A few hours run up to Birmingham and Kylie (our Australian accented GPS) led us unerringly to the Museum.

Our bike riding friends will understand when I claim that this is an amazing place. The collection contains many unique exhibits and complete sets of the most famous models.

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The National Motorcycle Museum is a must see for all bikers

The interesting aspect for me was the number of prototype models that might have competed with the technology of the Japanese models with proper investment and a little workforce discipline; a museum of lost opportunities.

Jo settled down with a book while I paid my money and wandered into the exhibition halls not to be seen gain for many hours!

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Mike deciding which one to take home in the sample bag. It you could select twenty it would still be a hard decision!

Posted by Mike Hannan at 01:15 PM GMT
September 13, 2007 GMT
Off to Wales

13 – 16 Sep 07

After the National MC Museum we had the economy class tour of Birmingham. Despite our best efforts riding the late night local buses, and our failure o find any real Brum-Balti food, we quite liked the place. It has a real “try-hard” feel to it and an interesting ethnic mix. Folks from Brm would understand the Gold Coast better than most other Brits.

Our trip down to Abergavenny, at the start o the Brecon Beacon National Park, was an uneventful roll through a pleasant, if cluttered English countryside. The only accommodation we could find was a spare room at the local conference centre together with a group from the Orange mobile phone company. This was a great deal with a huge comfortable room in a lovely old converted country house. Although I am sure that we provided a little amusement to the conference attendees when we rolled up and parked right outside the window of a presentation room.

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Jo finds out how the corporate training pound is spent in Wales

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Another pretty cottage in another pretty town

Interestingly, the place was booked out for a food festival over the weekend. We thought this a great joke as, like in other UK towns, we struggled to find anything worth eating.

A run over the National Park south to north then north to south was an interesting introduction to Wales with bare-arsed hills and rain over 300 m. Interesting from an Australian perspective, the park is grazed and there are little farming communities all over. Kylie was taking us via some very small back lanes with lots of blind corners and the surface slick with rain and sheep shit. Despite all this it was a great ride and got us into a flash B&B near Carmarthen in good order.

We met up with Nick that night and Sarah and her Mike and Mike’s dad John the next morning. All piled into the train for a couple of hours of British Rail entertainment down to Cardiff.

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Sarah and Nick on the train to Cardiff

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Mike and John Green at the mercy of British Rail

The stadium was great, definitely the best place we have seen to watch rugby. The atmosphere was electric but we were hoping the Welsh would sing a little more. Still it is hard to get enthusiastic about singing when your team is being taken apart.

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The best place anywhere to watch rugby!

More BR nonsense on the way back, a great dinner with the family at a very nice restaurant and we settled into our bed in the 16th century farm house content that we had a pretty good Welsh adventure.

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A family happy snap at John Green's home at Capel Dewi, Carmarthen, Wales

Posted by Mike Hannan at 01:31 PM GMT
September 22, 2007 GMT
France at Last

Getting to France

16 to 21 September 2007

Our initial plan was to tour the southern counties and then get a ferry out of Portsmouth to the south of France. This plan was dashed when our UK insurance company failed to send out some needed papers causing us to return to London to pick them up. Bureaucratic incompetence knows no geographic boundaries it seems.

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This photo shows the bike setup with the custom built tank box and removable side bags

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Another shot of the bike rig. Amazingly, it all works ok

Our run back across the country included a short detour through the Welsh valleys. These original coal mining areas look much as I remember from old movies of DH Lawrence novels: bare arse hills with bare arsed towns. These villages are a million miles from the swank coastal villages full of cashed up English refugees.

We stopped at one pub for a piss stop and I am sure we were the most interesting thing to happen that week. If only we could have understood what they were saying, I’m sure we would have had in interesting time with the locals!

We over-nighted at Thornbury (near Bristol) and visited Steve Smith’s uncle and aunt and his 8 Rolls Royces. We stopped at a smelly B&B out off Shaftsbury next to a dairy (bad mistake) and enjoyed the 17th century house and 18th century plumbing. We then headed for Kent and a couple of days make and mend to pick up the paperwork. The country lanes were crowded, the countryside cluttered but the ride overall was interesting and enjoyable.

Ashford gave us a chance to get some haircuts and find some internet access; both essential after the wilderness of the Wild West.

All of this faffing about left us short of time to get down to Montpellier for game three. The Channel Tunnel was the quickest option; or so we thought. Hours of waiting, then sitting on the bike in a line for more hours was only made bearable by the fact that it didn’t rain.

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Waiting for the train to France

To top off the experience, an emergency was sounded half way through the tunnel when a fuel spill was found in the deck above ours and we were evacuated to the end of the train for the remainder of the trip. Great!!!!!

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On the train before the emergency warning alarm sounded!

Two hours on the excellent French motorways south to Rouen cleared the cobwebs and a hearty French dinner put all right with our world again. Finding the Statue of Liberty was a bonus!

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Just like our love of "big" things, the French have a collection of little things, in this case, the Statue of Liberty at Barentin north of Rouen

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Just to get the size in perspective

Friday 21 Sep was our toughest day so far on this adventure. A “little” miscalculation in the navigation saw our 620 km (thank the heavens we are free of those dreadful miles) day extended over 12 hours.

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An interesting house at Nonancourt. Dieter would love finding a straight side in this building!


After winding though villages and back roads all day we gave up and headed for the motorway and tested the stability of the big rig at high speed over the last 250 km. 250 divided by 140 equals……..a quick trip to town.

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Places to stop by the highway are hard to find

Brive was an unexpectedly pleasant reward after a hell of a day.

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The Beemer standing guard outside a Brive hotel

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Brive markets.

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More Brive markets. The fresh produce is excellent at these local markets

The run down to Sete on the Med coast with a lazy, long lunch, and a wander through interesting back lanes, highways and mountain villages was just the kind of day we like on a bike.

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This big arsed bridge may be called a viaduct, but it is still impressive. 130 kph all the way

We found Nick at a cheap hotel (where else), a cold beer and some food and our miserable run to Brive was forgotten. To top it off, Sete is another great town.

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At last we get to Sete and meet Nick

Posted by Mike Hannan at 02:02 PM GMT
September 27, 2007 GMT
Sete and Montpellier

21 to 24 Sep 07

We could set up in Sete without any difficulty at all. It is a great little town.

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Settling in to Sete like a local. It is a tough life on the road.

Nick was there a day before us and had found a cheap hotel right in the centre of town with a garage for the bike and his little hire car. Nick had explained in his fractured French that we needed parking for a small car and a moto. Madame assumed “moto” meant the type of little scooter they ride around these parts and not the monster we arrived on. Ah, it is these little miscommunications that make travel fun!

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A view of Sete from a lookout above town

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Unfortunately, getting to the lookout required a gentle afternoon stroll

We settled in, bought some train tickets to Montpellier for the next day and found some food and cold beer. Life was looking good.

The only downside to the place seemed to be that with the three of us stuffed in a small room, Jo and I had to wear some bed clothes for the first time in recent memory!

The town of Sete is a working fishing port, container port and tourist centre. The old town is built on the mainland and two islands formed by a couple of nice straight grand canals.

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A canal at Sete by night. The weather is warm, but not warm enough for a Queenslander to swim

On game day (22 Sep) the train to Montpellier took about 40 minutes. The town was spacious, easy to get around and full of uni students returning from the summer break. The old hands were smoking and drinking coffee in the cafes; the freshmen standing on corners with large suitcases and a map, looking bewildered.

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French trains generally run on time!!!!!

I am not sure who decided to make the tramway the main transport to the stadium but he was certainly in the sardine packing industry. I am sure that the trip would be pleasant if you could breathe, but it was a very long trip on a hot Autumn day in a crush of smelly bodies. When we saw the crush pouring towards the stadium, we realised that crowd control is not a French long-suit and made a resolution to get to the game in Bordeaux much earlier.

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Crowd control the French way

Australia won comfortably over a lack-lustre Fiji outfit, we braved the tram crowd back to town, found more food and beer and coffee and pastries (all the necessities), and scurried back to Sete as quick as we could.

We were delighted to find a small Arc de Triumph in MP. After the tackiness of the mini-Statue of Liberty in Rouen, we thought we had found the French out twice in a week. Image our disappointment when we discovered that the MP Arc is hundreds of years older than the Napoleonic era version in Paris and not just a provincial replica!

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The Montpellier Arc de Triumph. Not as big as some!

A layover day to do the regular tourist stuff in Sete and find an internet connection and the Med coast was done and dusted, it was back onto the bike and into the mountain roads.

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Greg McBride would love the wiring on some of these old buildings

Posted by Mike Hannan at 06:11 PM GMT
 



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