April 15, 2005 GMT
Le Val d'Ajol, France

Thursday morning we went to Charles De Gaulle Airport just north of Paris to pick up the Transalp. Getting there was easy, the metro took us very close to the airport and we boarded a bus which dropped us directly in front of the freight company holding our bike.

Retrieving the bike was straightforward. The bike was shipped from Canada on KLM Cargo, but Swissport was the agent in Paris. After picking up the paperwork from Swissport we then walked about a half mile to the French Customs office. The customs officials were very friendly and were mainly concerned if we were planning on selling the bike in France (if so, they wanted duty on the value of the bike), and whether we had the required "green card insurance" which is mandatory for all vehicles travelling in Europe. After explaining that we had no plans to sell the bike and showing our insurance card, the customs officials wished us luck and we were on our way back to Swissport to get the bike. We showed the Swissport officials the customs documents, paid a fee of 64 euros and were shown the Transalp parked out back in the warehouse.

The whole customs process was very simple, it probably took no more than two hours from the time we arrived to the time we were reunited with the bike. Everyone was very helpful during the entire process, although Erika's knowledge of French sped things up a bit.

We were finally on the road! The bike was shipped with less than a quarter tank of gas, so the first order of business was finding a gas station. After figuring out which gas pump was fuel and which was diesel, we filled up the Transalp with some liquid gold. Fuel in France is a whopping $6.00 per gallon! So no pity will be sent back to the States on account of the record prices back there. It's no wonder that everyone drives such small cars over here. Like the little Smart Car that Erika wanted to stuff in our motorcycle top box.

Erika and the beloved Smart Car.jpg

Getting out of Paris was a challenge. We made a mistake of not buying a decent map of France as we only planned on spending a couple of days in the country. After riding around in circles for nearly an hour, we finally made our way to the motorway heading in the general direction of north. Of course, we wanted to be heading east, but at least it was a start.

After an hour on the motorway and nearly getting our credit cards eaten at the tollbooths, we decided that French motorways were just as boring as American freeways. A change of scenery was urgently needed!

The next off ramp deposited us into a completely different world, the beautiful countryside of the Champagne region. Rolling, green hills, charming small villages and smooth twisty roads made for an unforgettable motorcycling experience. Unfortunately, we were in such awe that we neglected to take any photos. Doh!

Each village looked straight out of a postcard, with golden stone walled homes and farmhouses, perfectly preserved. We pulled off the road for a rest stop near an old church with gravestones from the 19th century, where the only sound was birdsong from the pastures nearby. As a matter of fact, where WERE all the people in those villages? Maybe we really were driving through a movie set.

Along the way, the Transalp developed a peculiar problem. The bike ran out of gas within 15 miles of switching the fuel tank to reserve. It was strange, since there was still a good gallon of fuel remaining in the tank. Erika was not thrilled at running out of gas in the middle of the countryside on the first day on the road. We tipped the bike on its left side to allow extra fuel to settle near the petcock and the bike fired right up. Fortunately a gas station was within a couple of miles, so we filled the tank back to the top and the problem disappeared. Dave installed an inline fuel filter prior to departure and suspected that perhaps there was not enough of a "head" of pressure to move the fuel through the newly installed filter. This was still a surprise as Dave had already ridden the bike over 1000 miles with the same setup and hadn't had a problem. If anyone has any thoughts on this please let Dave know.

Everything was so picturesque that our 4 hour drive turned into 9 hours. We were due to arrive at Dave's friend Anne's mom's house in Le Val d'Ajol around 6:00, but 6:00 found us not even close. Using the Visa card in the local telephone was not an option to let her know that we were running late, nor was purchasing a phone card which apparently is the only way to operate the phone. We hoped that buying a nice bottle of wine would be a small appeasement for the worry we ended up causing her by being 3 1/2 hours late. At almost 10:00 PM we finally rolled up to her home. Anne's mom Annie and her sister Madeleine forgave our tardiness and fed us local specialties such as rabbit pate and cherries preserved in liqueur.

View of Le Val d'Ajol from Annie's house.jpg

We had a great night's sleep and woke up late to a nice breakfast with Annie. The view from her place in the morning was great--green green valley, cherry trees in bloom, church turrets and red roofed farmhouses. Her daughter and two beautiful granddaughters joined us for a while. We wished we had had more time to explore this region, known in France for its charm and beauty, but had to move on to meet up with Erika's parents in Switzerland that day.

Posted by David McMillan at April 15, 2005 10:22 AM GMT

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