August 05, 2006 GMT
Scottish Wedding & Paris

We arrived in Germany via the motorway from France and of course being the naÔve travellers we are, got our passports ready for them to stamp at the border, but not even a cursory glance at the bike and certainly no passports, I don't think the bike even slowed down to 50km per hour.

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We consulted the AA Camping and Caravaning book and camped the night at a very flash but uninteresting caravan park before going to do battle with a German menu. Relief, it was in English and we were able to watch a World Cup game on the big screen.

Next day we were up bright and early and headed off through the Black Forest for a glorious days ride if you don't count the 2 traffic queues, one for the opening of a new tunnel "Tunnelfest" and another for an unknown event. We stopped in a typical German Village for lunch (not a touristy one) before continuing our ride up and over the hills.

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Camped the night at a very dodgy caravan park, however it did have internet access and cold cheap beer. For some reason the wheels fell off (us, not the bike) and we drank too much beer, had packet tomato soup for tea and fell into bed.

Upwards and onwards to Frankfurt, on the Autobahn, a little scary, we were doing 120/130 km per hour and we were left standing by the traffic doing 200+ kph in the outside lane. We arrived at Ulrich (Ricky) and Kai's place after lunch, where they fed us and BBQed with us till late. Ricky and Kai are wonderful fun and a wealth of knowledge as they spent two years travelling the world on their bikes, six of those months in Australia.

The following day Kai took us for a ride around his local area, glorious rolling hills of green, quaint villages and pine forests, stopping for an icecream and a viewing of one of Europes fastest trains.

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That night another sumptuous BBQ before the Germany versus Italy game. Kai was getting a little anxious that we would not have the BBQ ready in time so he resorted to using the electric fan to get the coals glowing hot.

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The outcome of the game was disappointing for them but equally so for us. It would have been great to see the host country go through to the final.

Next morning we were up early as were Kai and Ricky who dropped us to the train station where we caught a train, then another one, then a bus to Hahn Airport, made it with a few tight connections and onto Dublin with Ryan Air.

Dublin was Dublin. Busy, bustling, people slightly frazzled. We managed to catch a bus into the city where we even get off at the right stop before making it to our alright but expensive hostel. Out for the obligatory Guinness or two or three or four.

A fun night ensued. We ended up in a bar (where my girlfriend Kath and I had spent many a night last time we were in Dublin) with live music and lots of interesting people. We spend the whole night here, mainly because they have a delayed telecast of the Queensland v New South Wales rugby league State of Origin, and although we are not football buffs when at home this little link to Oz is too much to resist, quite hilarious as my facial reactions to the game have half the bar intrigued and shortly I have them all baracking for Qld (amazing what three guinness can do), well it looked totally doomed then buggar me dead if they don't win.

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Go to the bar to buy celebratory drinks where I get talking to the barman who is an Irish honourary Queenslander having lived there for a a few months, so he shouts me a Guinness.

By the time I return to my seat we have been invaded by Americans on one side and Czechs on the other. After about 5 minutes Skill and I realise that we have a Czech Mafiaosa complete with minder on one side and completely oblivious Americans on the other. What a laugh.

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The France versus Portugal ( I think) game began when the Czech guy informs us he has 10,000 euro riding on France winning and if they win he will be sharing a bottle of vodka with us. We decide on dicsretion and leave at half time promising to return after dinner. We don't return and France does win. I suggest it would have got very messy. We return to the hostel at 1.30 am, with no lasting connections to the Grande Mafiaosa fortunately.

Next day Skill and I went our separate ways, me to find an outfit for the wedding and Skill sightseeing.

Up early onto the airport bus and out to the ariport. Checked in, and out to the waiting lounge at the boarding gate nearly two hours early. (Skill is not impressed, why did we get up that early) We were in the Gate Lounge area for about 15 minutes when they announce that there was a security threat at Dublin Airport and for our own safety we were to stay where we were, the departure lounge doors are locked. Not a problem for us we think.

Then planes kept arriving and the people got off the plane but were not allowed out of the Lounge Area. Then flights were being cancelled left, right and centre, then the army, police and firemen arrived. Our flight was the only one that had not been cancelled but there was no information on the board either. Because there were now 3000 people (no exaggeration) in the lounge area you could not hear the PA system.

Skill goes to the loo and does not return. I go to the boarding gate and ask about the flight to Aberdeen, they inform me they have boarded and I can get on but it will be without our luggage due to the security lockdown. I ask them to call Skill which they do, repeatedly, but he does not appear. The security guard and I do a lap around the departure lounge/hall. No sign off him, so I make the decision to get on the plane, and there he is already boarded. I started to get cranky and am about to tear strips off him but then thought what is the point, he says when he couldn`t find me and the flight was boarded he figured I must have boarded, and once on board he couldn`t leave.

Well we are both here, the flight only has 30 people on it as all the other 220 people were not even allowed out to the boarding gate. Even if we don't have our bag, we will get to the wedding. We have not come all this way to miss it. We were reliably informed that we were the last flight out of Dublin airport for the next 5 hours.

Said a little prayer of thanks when we landed in Aberdeen and then onto the bus into town (after queuing to report our missing luggage, only to be told it may arrive tomorrow! May arrive! But we have a wedding to go to!!). I made a snap decision that I would have to go and buy another outfit, underwear, shoes and makeup.

Nothing like a mastercard, a tierd and cranky woman and a ticking clock. Like a woman possessed I had a complete new outfit in under 40 minutes. Skill collected his kilt, so onto the bus and out to our hotel, where we met up with friends from Oz. Lynn and Russ who were here for the wedding too.

A couple of beers, changed then out to dinner with 30 of the wedding guests, Donald and Lou (Bride and Groom) and Mairi and Hairi (Grooms parents). It was a lovely night and it felt wonderful to be amongst familiar friends who felt like family.

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Next day was a really slow day, got ready for the 3.30pm wedding. Our bag made an appearance at 1.45pm but even if we knew it would arrive then, it was cutting it too fine for the wedding and by then the damage was already done.

The wedding was beautiful, in a little chuch in the quiet Drumtochty Glen. The reception was at a local farmers barn, where we danced to the traditionl Scottish Band. We all had the best night. There are some weddings that will stay with you forever, this was one of them, Lou looked like a gorgeous mermaid/princess and Donald looked a very handsome highlander in his kilt. It was a truly special day and we feel honoured to have been a part of it.

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Sunday we spent with Russ and Lynn driving around the Scottish countryside before it was back to the hotel for beers and the big game complete with the Zidane drama.

Russ and Lynn were so kind to us, taking us to the airport next morning instead of us having to catch 2 or 3 buses. From Aberdeen to Dublin where we perched ouselves in the Airport pub for Guinnesses and waited for 7 hours to make our connection to Frankfurt, Hahn. Got chatting to two really nice young pommie guys. (Who like us had been waiting for their 7 hour connection to Stanstead) but they suddenly realised that their flight was boarding and they had forgotton to check in. Of course they were back half an hour later having missed their flight. They were still sitting there when we left 3 hours later.

Deciding that we better not make the same mistake we check in and have an uneventful flight back to Hahn where we find an Italian owned hotel to stay in. The owner picked us up in his Ferrari like van (well he drove it like one) and drove us to the next village where he keeps his restaurant open and feeds us at 11.00 pm.

Next day back to the airport, then bus, train, then miss our connecting train, so have to wait an hour for another one. Kai picks us up and we spend the day recuperating.

The following day is a quiet one until the evening when we all sit down to a lovely civilised dinner and drink way too much then Kai and Ricky's neighbour joins us bringing another bottle of wine. Needless to say everyone was a bit slow next day. And poor Ricky had to be up at 6.30 am and go to work. We all felt so sorry for her.

Next day Skill took a reconnaisance trip to SW-Motech about 90 minutes ride away to check out a bash plate for the bike. He got totally lost on the way there taking about 3 hours and absolutely soaked in a massive thunder storm on the way home. But he did manage to organise to get an alloy bash plate fitted the next day.

Next day we packed up our gear, said sad goodbyes to Kai and Ricky and headed off to get the bash plate fitted. You can see how sad Ricky is in the pic below.

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The people at SW-Motech were incredibly friendly and so helpful, we are now sporting a shiny new bash plate on the bike. The master craftsman in pic below (another Kai) did a quick job of working out how to fit an SWMotech bashplate to our Givi engine bars when they are really designed to fit to SWMotech bars.

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SWMotech also had some interesting bikes and equipment in their foyer, this one caught Skill`s eye.

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We camp the night in a great caravan park at Marburg, next to a lovely German girl who was about to compete in a Marathon which ran right past the Caravan Park, so we drank beer, ate dinner and cheered her on as she ran past three times.

From here we have a beautiful days ride through the Moselle Valley from Koblenz to Cochem and Bernkastel Kues following the Mosel river enclosed by the steep grape vined hills, it is a vey picturesque area with miles and miles of cycleways. The hills are so steep that they pick the grapes from an intricate monorail system.

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We camped overnight in a cute camping area complete with bar and restaurant, however we must confess to buying a cheap bottle of Aussie Merlot in a Lidel Supermarket and indulging in that. Are we sad or what in the Moselle Valley and we are drinking cheap Aussie reds. However we did sample the beers at the bar.

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Onward to Luxembourg next day where we stayed in a beautiful little town called Echternech.

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Once again in a stunning little caravan park on the outskirts of town. Cold beer, bread and croissants ordered and a friturie to buy cooked food from. I love European camping.

The following day we are feeling totally exhausted as we have been travelling pretty solidly for two months, and sometimes you have to remember to take a holiday from your travelling. (I know everyone at home will be thinking "What are they on about? But I am sure fellow travellers know what I am talking about).

So we we sleep in, read (no more english books left) and then in the afternoon take a short ride to the village of Vianden,

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before returning to Echternech via Diekirch when we could work out which way to go, all roads lead to Diekirch. Check out the sign.

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Back to camp where we have an afternoon beer, but I am starting to question my sanity, I found myself having a half hour debate with my husband discussing the merits of "Dab" versus the qualities of "Gluck". I think I need some female company I had flashbacks to a similar "Men Behaving Badly" episode. Oh my God, we are turning into Tony and Gary. I really MISS my girlfriends.

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Next day it is out of Luxembourg, through Belguim and back into France where we camp beside a fantastic river near a lovely Dutch couple who we spend the night talking to. We tell them that we are heading back to Paris and are wondering if we should use the camping area at Bois de Bologne. They assure us they have been there before and it is great.

So next day we set off with no directions to the Camping Area other than we can see a small area in Paris called Bois de Bologne on our very, very basic Paris map.

The day is stiflingly hot, the thermometer on the bike hits 45oC so we are wandering if we should call it quits early at a nice camping area (with a pool) about 50 km from Paris. After some discussion we press on, managing to get ouselves onto the A14 into Paris, take a wrong turn and end up on the N14 to Versailles, an illegal U turn closely followed by another wrong turn and two illegal manouvres and we are back on track, getting closer to Paris, until somehow we end up in the wrong lane and into a tunnel under the Seine. Mmmmmmmmmm which way now, follow the signs to Paris Centrale, somehow end up going through another tunnel, back under the Seine, when amazingly we join the A14 again. As we are thinking how clever we are we exit the tunnel and I say to Skill "Oh ##*# (those of you who know me well can insert your own expletive) that's the L'Arc de Triomphe" it's looming in front of us about half a km away. Skill says, well I can't repeat what he says, (I dragged out the camera as we are riding along, the L'Arc de Triomphe is just visible on the right)

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when suddenly I see an exit with Bois de Bologne on it. " Right lane Skill right lane", I am not sure how he does it but he manouvres the bike across 4 lanes of traffic, and with that we are in Bois de Bologne. Still no idea where the camping area is so we just ride aimlessly when all of a sudden a camping signs appear and we follow them for about 4 km and "Voila" We have no idea how we did it but as we Aussies would say, "Sheer arse".

By now we are hot, tierd and a little rung out and the storms are brewing. It must have been our day as they had cabins available so we take that option. So pleased we did as a massive storm hit about 2.30 am.

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We have had four nights, three days in Paris doing all the touristy things, which for us has been so exciting. Each day we catch the bus then the Metro into the city. Negotiating Paris has been a little difficult as there are barricades up everywhere for the culmination of the Tour de France on the following Sunday.

Day 1
Arc de Triomphe

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Champs Elysee

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Louvre

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Day 2

Notre Dame

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Eiffel Tower

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Day 3
Montmartre & Pigalle

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The weather has been very, very hot culminating in a storm every evening. As we have been taking the metro everywhere it has been a little stifling even for us, so I don't know how the Parisians are coping. Mainly by swimming in their fountains I think.

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We leave Paris on Sunday as the Tour de France descends and decide that we will head back towards Amiens as we know where the bike shop is and that the people are friendly, as we need another oil change and a new rear tyre. Decide we will camp at Albert (where we stayed in the hotel opposite the church before), arrive early and chill out, our neighbours arrive back, a lovely Scottish couple Jim and Elaine, we get chatting and they feed us a few beers and then we decide we will go out to dinner together in Albert. They drove us in so we didn't have to get all geared up, and we enjoyed a lovely night together, to bed at 1.00am.

We pack up next morning say goodbye to Jim and Elaine and head into Amiens to the Bike Shop, Motoland which we find is shut. IT'S MONDAY, of course everybody shuts their multi million dollar business on a Monday, in fact nearly everything is closed.

What to do? We decide to go back to Albert and put up camp again before spending the day visiting the war museum, the Lochnager crater, an impressive WW1 crater hole 100m across and 30m deep where the allies tunnelled under a German bunker and blew it up, the Australian Cemetery at Poziers and the British Cemetery at Thiepval.

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We spend another lovely evening with Elaine and Jim where we have a shared BBQ and Jim and SKill engage in a few too many scotches and Elaine shares a bottle of champers with a very grateful me.

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Next morning Skill gets up early and heads in Amiens while I pack up camp, he arrives back at about 1.00pm complete with new tyre and new oil, but having just seen a motorcycle casuality still lying on the road in a pool of blood, police in attendance, ambulance just arriving but almost certainly too late - depressing and sobering sight.

We say good bye to Elaine and Jim again as we go our separate ways both heading towards somewhere in Belguim.

Skill and I felt that we kept being pulled back to Albert and Amiens, for one reason or another, maybe those old Aussie diggers were happy to have us visit for a while and weren't ready for us to leave. We really loved this part of France and felt an affinity with the area. It is hard not to be moved, there are literally 1000s of cemeteries, which really brings home the enormity of this war.

We have a pretty boring ride through lots of built up areas into Belguim

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finding camping in a awful camping area at Kemmel near Ypres. We decide to set up camp and then head into Ypres which is a beautiful town (and has camping, Buggar).

We ride into the centre and through the Menin Gate, (this monument is inscribed with the names of 54 896 British and Commonwealth troops who were lost in the trenches and who have no graves) where we spy Elaine and Jim. We park and join them touring the Menin Gate, and return for the last post played each night at 8 pm.

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Then the four of us have dinner together. Sadly we say goodbye to Jim and Elaine for a third time before riding back to camp.

We left Ypres and decided to make our way to Brugge to stay for the night, a lovely ride along a straight country road when a large group of cyclists approached us from the right along with a skittish looking dog, so Skill slowed for the dog (not even really braking) when there was this massive noise and a huge shunt from behind which sent us hurtling along, somehow Skill managed to keep the bike upright.

I said "what the @#$% was that" and Skill replied "a @#$% car just hit us", we pull over and clambered off, me ready to explode and rip the person limb from limb as there was absolutely no excuse, on a long straight road, the cyclists on the right highly visible in their orange reflective jackets as was the dog and we were slowing not braking hard. However a young boy and his Mum hopped out of the car. Yep you guessed it, a newly licenced driver (2 weeks), honestly he could not have hit us any more dead centre if he had tried, his VW badge embedded in the back of the bike. However this was probably the best thing that could have happened as we just kept going in a straight line.

We are expecting to see massive damage, but surprisingly there was quite little - considering. The rear guard was bent up under the bike on top the rear tyre, licence plate light was broken the hose clamps on the tubes were busted and our pvc carry tubes were pushed into pillion footpegs and the end caps squashed on tight. Other than that mostly cosmetic damage and not too much.

After about an hour of broken english communication and a call to the police etc we managed to ride away, very shaken but really none the worse for wear. We both felt very jarred and my back and neck a little sore.

All we could both think of was, this is almost a repeat of Ewan McGregor's accident in "The Long Way Round" We have now christened it "The Ewan Incident".

We continued onto Bruge discussing what we should do about the tubes and the rear light quite sure that the tubes were beyond repair. (We couldn't get the lids off)

Arrived at the camping area at Brugge, it was full as was the other accommodation we tried, so we just decided to get out of Belguim and head for the Netherlands, the next camping area we tried was totally gross with no shade crammed in with about 5000 other tents so off we go to Sluis, finally success, a lovely little camping area with big beers and a restaurant. Well you know where we spent the rest of the day. Dutch beer seems to make everything just fine.

Managed to get all our washing done, had a fantastic dinner and when we got back to the tent at 11.00pm after watching the whole camping area playing BINGO someone had left 3 (English) motorcycle magazines for Skill. So you see what started out as an awful day ended very nicely really.

Next mornning we surface late and are trying to decide what to do for breakfast when the depositor of the magazines rides past on his pushbike with his son.

We get chatting and Andy, a motorcycle enthusiast invites us to their on site van for breakfast. What a lovely family, his wife Zara and two sons are English but have a permanent van here in NL where they holiday, so are semi locals. They help us out with directions and sightseeing tips.

We walk aroud Sluis which is a beautiful little town, complete with windmills and old dyke walls (which I forgot to take photos of, sorry)

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When we get back Skill still hasn't found a hardware to replace the hose clamps on the tubes so Andy offers to take him to the hardware store. Success. Skill works on the bike and we try to unscrew the tube lids for about 40 minutes finally prizing them loose and surprisingly they seem to be fine.

Andy and Zara's kindeness will long be remembered and appreciated, their simple act of kindenss really rejuvinated our spirits and made our stay in Sluis so enjoyable.

We leave Sluis and head up the Netherland coastline, complete with tidal control gates along this sea dyke in pic below.

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through the 6km tunnel and then onto Nijmegan via the freeway. Jim and Elaine had recommended a camping area to us but we could not find it and it was getting late so we stop and ask some people, they are B and B owners so we even briefly consider going with them. They are not sure but know of a camping place outside town. It is now 7.30 pm it is starting to rain with pretty ferocious storms all around us. We follow the B and B owners directions and end up at an out of the way camping area which has camping cabins available, Yes we will take it. By this time it is raining quite heavily and the thunder storm is in full force. We have been so lucky with the weather and finding accommodation.

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Next day it is into Nijmegan for a wander around before returning to our camping cabin for a few beers and our last night in The Netherlands.

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We are now in Switzerland staying with friends who we have not seen for six years. We have spent time in Germany, Austria and even a quick visit to Liechtenstein. But that is another story.

We are safe, well and happy. Cheers & Beers

Quote of the Week: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing" - Helen Keller

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Posted by John Skillington at 05:13 PM GMT
August 28, 2006 GMT
Germany to Italy

We leave Holland via the Autobahn and head back into Germany, once again we are left standing by the traffic in the left hand lane. Scary stuff but the Germans seem to be very good drivers. We end the days ride at a village called Melsungen, we never seem to have a destination we just follow the camping signs.

A good pick, a camping ground on a river with a central lake. The owner was a gregarious German who now lives half his life in Spain and the other half running the caravan park, but previously was into freight forwarding and travelled all over the world.

The weather was stiflingly hot so we go to the bar and have a few pints (three to be exact) of the local ale, the owner comments on our drinking prowess "You are very thirsty" and gives us a welcome present two small bottles of German liqueur, one like Baileys and one which apparently is good for the stomach. We follow the afternoon Happy Hour with a swim in the lake.

Then of course the inevitable happens, a massive thunder storm hits, but by this time we are back at the bar restaurant for tea. Schnitzel (of course) pomme frites and cabbage salad. What to do about the storm, we stay chatting with the owner until it abates and bolt back to the tent. Bang, crash, thunder and lightning, time to put the ear plugs in and hope for the best.

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We wake in the morning, tentatively sticking our head out of the tent but all is Ok, overcast but dry.

A nice days ride ensues down part of the Romantic Road which officially runs from Wurzburg to Fussen through Bavaria. It is incredibly hot and humid, and we end up getting moderately lost as we are diverted through a town but after the town no more diversion signs. The GPS saves the day as our map is not that detailed.

The sky gets darker and darker, so we stop to put on our wet weather gear, unfortunately we are 5 minutes too late and while getting our gear out of the panniers we end up soaked.

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Oh well keep riding, which we do for another two hours till finally we both decide we have had enough, everything is wet including my passport, buggar, forgot to put it in a plastic bag.

Stop at one Gausthaus but the owner has just got rid of twelve cyclists so is having the day off, ride past another hotel in a little village called Bettwar, has a sign outside 21 euro, per person (but in German of course) so I venture in, perfect, huge room in a quaint village complete with restaurant and bar.

Whenever we stay in a lovely hotel room we instantly trash it, turning it into a drying room, come Chinese Laundry, in short we make a huge mess. It storms that evening but not before we manage to take a walk around the village.

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Next day we take a short ride into Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber. This quaint well preserved medieval town, with cobble stoned streets is enclosed by huge stone walls, the only entry and exit points being through the ancient gates. The Lonely Planet Guide tells us that according to a legend the town was saved during the Thirty Years' War when the mayor won a challenge by the Imperial General Tilley by downing more than 3 litres of wine at a gulp. Sounds like he could give Bob Hawke a run for his money.

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After a long chat with an English couple who want to know about our trip, we exit via the medieval gates and continue onwards towards Fussen.

We are not sure how it happened but somehow we get diverted off the Romantic Road again and have to ride along a VERY Unromantic Road until the GPS gets us back on track only to be diverted again around a horrendous looking accident (Did I mention it is now raining again) tierd and wet we call it quits early at a grottyy pub run by a very cranky little man, not with us but yells at his staff all the time. Even though the room is questionable, the surroundings are picturesque, a church to the right, a huge barn full of cows to the left and mountains all around.

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We enjoy a lovely Italian meal at a little restaurant across the road and when we come out of the restaurant we go for a walk around the town. Somewhere in the distance we can hear a band playing, we follow the music past the cows, and dairy to the local school.

Skill being Skill, walks up the stairs and into the stairwell outside the auditorium. Inside there is a thirty piece band in traditional Bavarian dress and a small audience. During the next break the band leader walked over and asks us to join the audience.

The concert was a final dress rehearsal for the band for a concert the following night. What a treat for us, they played a mixture of traditional and modern music for an hour and a half. Of course it was one of the times we had left the camera in the hotel room and neither of us wanted to miss out on any of the concert, so you will have to take our word for it, they looked and sounded stupendous.

It is at this point I should point out that this village was no bigger than Yarraman or Mt Mee (a comparison for the folks at home) but the school was beautifully equipped and had a huge centrally heated auditorium and quite large modern classrooms, obviously Germany places a lot of value on Education and their schools???????

The following day we head into Fussen which is only five minutes ride away, this scenic little town is home to the Neuschwanstein Castle which we check out from a distance as there are so many tour buses around.

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We also make contact with Luzius and Irene our friends in Zurich (Skill comes back slightly embarrassed and says "I'm pleased I rang, they live on Lake Zurich not Lake Geneva, but that's closer anyway" After coffee and strudel we ride into Austria.

We have a days ride through Austria bypassing Innsbruck and heading over the mountain passes and yes once again the mountain passes and roads are glorious. We end the day having to pay an outrageous 10.50 Euro toll to ride through a 15km section of the Piz Buin Mountain Pass, we were slightly outraged as there were no toll signs on the road (well none we could read anyway) and we had bought our vignette (sticker) to use on the freeways.

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We end the day camped in a tiny campground run by a lovely old couple who came and visit us to check out the bike, we had a very long conversation, them in Austrian and us in English, but I think they got the drift of what we were doing and where we were going. That night we have more live music as the people in the house across the road are having a rock jam session in the garage.

And it rains and rains and rains. Next morning it is still raining so we stay in bed hoping it will go away but of course it doesn't, it just gets heavier and heavier so we make breakfast in the tent and pack up in the tent, get our gear on in the tent and then pack up the tent in the rain. I emerge from the tent into the pouring rain with all my riding gear including my helmet, Skill says I look like something from Apollo 13.

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We have a whole day of riding through the rain, into Liechtenstein, to Valduz and then out of Liechtenstein into Switzerland, that took about half an hour. No photos, sorry as it was raining very hard but we can report that the Prince is doing a bit of a refurb on the Palace Valduz, apparently he can afford it, he is worth 3.3 billion pound sterling. Other interesting facts about Liechtenstein is there are 80 000 companies registered there, double the population and they are the worlds largest exporter of false teeth.

The rain just gets worse and worse but we keep riding as we want to get to Luzius and Irenes. We are nearly there when a torrential thunder storm hits (think of a summer downpour is Brisbane) thunder, lightning and driving rain, road flooding with manhole covers on the road popping up, not something you want to see while riding a bike. We are absolutely soaked except for the riding gear underneath our gortex liners. I have to tip the water out of my bag as Skill does with his back pack. Five minutes later we arrive at Luzius and Irene's place.

For those of you who don't know the story, we got to meet Luzius and Irene six years ago. Skill and his two mates Pete and Mark were doing a two week outback ride when they came upon a young Swiss couple in a broken down old Range Rover. They helped them as best they could and organised the Garage in Birdsville to tow them, and then of course spent the evening with them in the Birdsville Pub. Later when Luzius and Irene arrived in Brisbane they looked us up and stayed with us for a night.

It was so lovely to see them again, they are such a great couple and the open hearted generosity they showed to us was overwhelming.

Their home is right on Lake Zurich, complete with boat shed in the front garden and directly behind is the Lindt chocolate factory. It is in such a picturesque location. We have our own little flat where we are able to spread out and dry out.

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The evening we arrived we shared dinner with their friends and family for their monthly movie night.

Next day Irene takes us to visit Zurich and Luzius joins us in the evening, we go for drinks in a bar overlooking Zurich and then they take us to dinner at a great restaurant which is housed in a very old converted stable. They are very naughty and won't let us pay for anything.

We spend most of our time talking and catching up. It is also great for us to have a break from travelling and Skill spends time downloading photos etc.

Luzius and Irene take us to see the house and land they have bought and will soon be renovating/building. We also go for a walk along some beautiful country lanes. We are amazed that you just come across a cafť in the middle of nowhere, we also stop at a farmhouse where they sell cordials, coffee and cake. All based on an honesty system.

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Luzius' family are amazingly generous and include us in their lives, a late lunch we share a traditional Swiss Dinner, "Raclette", potatoes, special melted cheese and lots of accompaniments. Sensational.

We share many memorable meals with them including a fantastic grill cooked indoors.

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Luzius brother and Australian wife were also visiting. They are a wealth of information about the Middle East as they both worked for the Red Cross, their last assignment was 12 months in Afghanistan.

We do not want to leave Zurich or these wonderful people and a broken tent pole gives us an excuse to stay another day. Skill goes back into the city to buy a repair kit. That night Luzius is away with work but Irene takes us out to dinner, a lovely Pizzeria right on the Lake.

Such hospitality, we are looking forward to reciprocating as they did not have a good time in Brisbane, their hire car got broken into, and their cameras and other gear was stolen. Then when their battery died, no one would help jump start them. These are not the kind of stories you like to hear about your home town. So much for Queensland hospitality.

We do manage to drag ourselves away after 5 days but not until we have a shared lunch on the waterfront.

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We head back the way we came into Zurich making for the mountain passes. Up and over the Klausenpass, where we come across the Swiss army on maneuvers just before it starts to rain AGAIN.

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We find an idyllic hotel, Hotel Eidleweiss not too far from Wassen. I think the photos tell the story. A more scenic location would be hard to find.

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Next day we ride more mountain passes - Sustenpass, Grimselpass, Nufenenpass, Pso d S. Gottardo.

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Before heading up the Maggia Valley to camp the night. Slight problem. The Camping Grounds we try are full, the last one on our list is also full, what to do now? We are weighing up our options when the manager walks past and starts chatting to us, he is a biker and cannot believe we are travelling on an Australian bike. He finds us a small space and does not charge us for the night. Every time things seem hopeless an angel appears, even if it is in the form of an aging biker.

Next day is an early start riding the Pso del s. Bernadino and Splugenpass where we cross the border into Italy. At the border they take absolutely no interest in us at all, we are interrupting their morning coffee and paper.

We camped the night just inside the Italian border at a very scenic campground near Chiavenna, complete with mountains, waterfalls and an old (falling down) church.

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Next day out of Italy back into Switzerland over the Julierpass near St Moritz,

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over the A'Lbulapass into the town of Zernez where we camp the night in a campground beside a river in the mountains. It is freezing, well not quite but less than ten degrees. We manage to cook our dinner and drink our Aussie Red before the rain starts.

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When we awake next morning it has stopped raining but there is fresh snow on the mountains all around us.

Onwards towards Bolzano after crossing back into Italy. It starts to rain so we stop in a quaint village for coffee and cake.

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We seem to have now had endless wet weather. We get caught in a traffic jam and it just continues to rain and rain and I might mention the temperature is less than ten degrees again. In the end I have had enough and say to Skill take the next exit off the Freeway, which he does than we have a choice of right or left. Hmm go Left which he does, then we have a choice of two three star hotels,(which is amazing as this village is in the middle of nowhere) hmmm the one on the left. Yes they have one room left, it is very expensive but includes dinner and breakfast and there is a Garage for the moto. Yay, in under half an hour I go from cold and wet to soaking in a hot bubble bath with a glass of red in salubrious surroundings. Sometimes everything goes right, but other times of course it doesn't.

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The staff at the hotel are quite taken with us and seem to go all out to look after us, it turns out we are their first Australian guests in five years. It also turns out that we are in the German speaking part of Italy, which I didn't know existed.

They really are lovely, at dinner time they find someone who can speak a tiny bit of English and through charades and descriptive narrative we get the general gist of the menu.

Manager pointing to menu "Animal ....mmm....." she then puts her hands on top of her head indicating ears.

Lan "Baa baa"

Manager "No"

Lan "Moo moo"

Manager "Yes, little little."

Skill "Oh calf, veal."

Next item on the Menu

Manager "Animal"

Lan "Baa Baa"

Manager Purses her lips, no

Lan "Oink oink"

Manager "No no"

Lan "Fish"

Manager" No No Animal brings Eggs, Easter"

Lan "Rabbit"

Manager "Yes Rabbit"

And finally she explains the last dish is Tofu, but her look of disdain at this vegetarian dish obviously precludes us from ordering it out of respect for her efforts. We have to remember we are in the German part of Italy and the Germans love their meat.

All I can say is thank goodness the starter, entrťe and desserts were from a buffet where we helped ourselves.

The next day we are both very loath to leave but load up the bike and onwards to, well we aren't sure but at least it is not raining. We have a lovely days ride up and over some more mountain passes with Pso de Mendola, Madonna di Campiglio where admire the saw-tooth like Dolomites mountains the highest peak being 3150 metres.

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We ended up taking the freeway from Bresica to Piacenza where we decide we should start looking for accommodation, well Piacenza is gross so we ride along the Trebbia River where we eventually spy a camping ground in a tiny village which remains nameless to us, we camped next to some hippies that partied till 4 am and then their dog started howling at 6.00am, Thank God for ear plugs is all I can say. The only saving grace was the wonderful pizzeria in the town Piazza only a short walk away, cheap, fantastic huge servings, and really friendly helpful people who helped us out choosing the best pizzas for us.

Next day we have a lovely days ride through the hills along a very winding road that continues to follow the Trebbier River. At one point we stop to put on the wet weather gear, near a water truck, and once again we have a conversation with the driver, him in Italian, us in English but the general gist of it was, all this rain and here I am delivering water, ridiculous. We enthusiastically agree.

It was one of those days when things should have been simple, ride along the coast and find a camping area. We end up riding aimlessly, looking for camping check out two, yuck, third down a goat track, where the bash plate gets crunched and to top it off we are running low on fuel. The only upside was we saw some lovely villages and beautiful coastline and bays.

Eventually we back track to Deiva Marina, however when we arrive at the camp ground we have a choice of only two camping spots on a terraced hill, both look as though they are pretty wet and will flood easily but we take our chances. We are pretty tierd so just decide to stay put for a couple of days, and to be honest we didnít even leave the camping ground. We enjoy two nights but decide we will stay another night, mainly because it is raining but also because I have been bitten by a wasp (while reading my book in the tent, unbelievable) and my arm has blown up like a balloon.

Skill spends the morning downloading photos and researching ferries to Greece, and we are just having our lunch when we can hear the thunder rolling in. I go and grab a big sheet of plastic that some campers have left behind and put it under and up the sides of the tent while Skill builds a small diversionary wall, we then sit in the tent, open a bottle of red and hope for the best.

A torrential down pour with thunder and lightning, there was a river of muddy water running under the plastic under the tent, and thank God Skill built the wall otherwise we would have been soaked as the water was gushing down from the terraces above, it was like a waterfall.

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Finished the bottle of wine about the same time the storm finished and emerged with damp tent floor but otherwise reasonably unscathed.

It stormed again during the night but nothing like the afternoon. We packed up our mud soaked tent the following day and had a late start, an ordinary days ride to Sienna. We take the exit off the highway to Sienna North and I make Skill stop so I can pull out the Lonely Planet to check where the Camping Area is. After consulting the guide book, the Compass and the GPS we work out our plan of attack, only to look over at the roundabout to see a dirty great big Camping sign. AHHHHH we have just wasted 20 minutes. This seems to happen to us a lot. We find the camping area which is on the side of a hill in the dirt, but OK. Once again set up camp and go to the Bar/Pizzeria for tea. We have found camping to be very expensive in Italy. The cheapest place we have stayed in was 20 Euro. That's $32 AUD and you have to pay 1 Euro each for the shower and 1 Euro 60 cents to use the pool. The most expensive was 32 Euro!!.

I have to tell you about the SHOWER SAGAS, each camping ground has its own shower protocol which every other camper in the place seems to be aware of but we are completely in the dark. Some places the showers are included in the price, but you have to press a single button in and the water comes out for approximately ten secondsif you're lucky, not great for hair washing, so you have to position your bottom to press the button in continuously so you can rinse your hair. The next challenge is whether it is token or coin operated hot water, if it is a token you have to go and do battle in French, German, Belgian, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss or Italian explaining you want a shower token, this usually takes me half an hour. Then sometimes it is a flickmaster tap, sometimes two taps and sometimes just a cold water tap so when the scalding water comes out of the nozzle and burns you you realise you have to turn the cold tap (which is never labeled cold) on. The other combo is token/coin plus a press button that you have to keep pressing. There are other various combinations including upside down flickmaster taps, wrongly labelled hot and cold taps, but the very worst is paying 30 Euro to camp in a very dodgy campground only to find they have NO hot water.

Siena is a gorgeous Tuscany town with a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and well preserved Gothic buildings.

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According to the legend Siena was founded by the sons of Remus - one of the twins raised by the wolf and also one of Rome's founders. We catch the local bus into the town from the camping area and visit the shell shaped Piazza del Campo the towns cultural centre for 700 years.

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They are still in the process of cleaning up after the Palio two days previous to our visit. The Palio is a wild horse race and pageant held in the Piazza. Siena is divided into 17 districts and 10 of these are chosen annually to contest the race. The town is still in party mode so we enjoy the atmosphere.

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We visit the Doumo (Cathedral) which was begun in 1196 but donít go inside due to the long line, and then it is off to the Chiesa di San Domenico & Santuario di Santa Caterina churches where St Catherine's preserved head and thumb is displayed - gruesome. It is a lovely church and seems to be visited by many monks.

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Next day we have a really scenic ride through the heart of Tuscany, glorious countryside, picturesque towns perched on hilltops and an indescribable light that seems to bathe the countryside in pastel shades. We end the day in a beautiful camping ground near Narni between Rome and Assisi.

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In the camp ground next to us are two Dutch girls Hedwig and Claudia who have ridden their bicycles from Holland, Rome being their final destination. We get chatting and they share a bottle of red with us.

We share our dilemma with them, to go to Rome or not to go to Rome. They insist we have to go to Rome and show us some good camping areas that provide shuttles to the local transport. That night we mull over what to do.

Next day it is decided we are off to Rome. The girls have already left and when we are packing up the bike we find two tiny little dutch clogs tied to the tank bag. A really easy days ride down the Via Flaminia only taking a tiny wrong turn and we are at the Camping Tiber. Easy.

The campground is very good, quite expensive to camp and reasonably cheap for a cabin so we take that option. It is 40oC+ so we spend the day by the pool drinking beer and lots of water. The evening was still so hot we didnít feel like eating so we just got a pizza at 10 oíclock and fell into bed some time later still sweating. Of course an inevitable big thunder storm hit after midnight, but no problem in the cabin. At least it cooled things down.

For the next two days we wander Rome and see the usual tourist things, but hey its our first time in Rome.

Day One
The Spanish Steps with the church cloaked in scaffolding as is the case almost everywhere we seem to go throughout Europe.

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The Trevi Fountain with just a few tourists...

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The Colosseum

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The Pantheon

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That night we get back to the camping area late and run into Hedwig and Claudia who join us for happy hour where we celebrate their bicycling achievement Holland to Rome, over 2000 km. These two great girls also tell us that they are on their honeymoon so we drink to that as well. Then out to dinner at 10.30 pm. (I love that about Italy)

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Day 2
The Vatican and St Peters

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The following day we leave Rome, let me rephrase that, we try to leave Rome. We want to get onto the Ring Road but the entrance we need to use is undergoing roadworks and there are NO signs, it takes us an hour with us nearly riding into the centre of Rome and back out again. We do eventually get onto our chosen road and off we go. Most of the days riding is on the freeway, of course we take the wrong exit and end up in the grossest towns imaginable, not somewhere you would like to find yourself after dark. Eventually making our way down to the Amalfi Coast. Unfortunately it is very hazy due to fires.

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It is at this point that I should mention the driving. Everyone had told us how chaotic the driving was in Rome, but for us it seemed fine - just. However the closer we got to Naples the crazier and more dangerous it got. Poor Skill. I don't think he got to see any of the Amalfi Coastline as he was too busy watching the road and the traffic. Cars overtaking on blind corners, cars three across, buses and trucks just driving up the middle of the road. Scooters running up the inside and outside of us. While indicating that you were turning left across oncoming traffic was just an invitation for traffic to overtake you on the side you wished to turn, but the worst was the unlit tunnels with scooters and cars overtaking in both directions over double lines. We ended the day tierd and a little nervy at Sorrento in a camping area with ocean views to Mt.Vesuvius, but was littered with rubbish, had cold water and charged 30 Euro.

We decided to head to the beach for a swim but when we were walking down the steps to get there we walked past a sewerage treatment plant and the beach water was also full of plastic bags and rubbish (and we assume also sewage discharge). OK plan B sit on the jetty, drink beer and watch the locals. Oh yes and a glorious sunset over Mt. Vesuvius.

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Trying to decide what to do for dinner we are accosted by some local restaurateurs who want us to eat at their restaurant which we do. So glad we did, what a treat, fantastic gnocchi, and mussels and spaghetti. And of course the obligatory red.

Next day is a huge days ride, a whole 34 km to Pompeii where we camp in another awful camping area in the dirt. Not only is it in the dirt but there are feral mangy dogs in various states of decaying health, everywhere. Oh well we are here for one night and we are opposite the entrance to Pompeii Scarvi.

When Vesuvius blew its top in AD79 it buried Pompeii under burning fragments of pumice stone killing 2000 people in the eruption. The ruins are very impressive and give an insight into the lives of wealthy Romans.

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For us it was well worth the visit, but once again it was very dirty with a lot of rubbish strewn around. Skill was quite impressed as some of the mummified bodies on display were ones he can remember seeing in a "National Geographic" when he was a child.

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An absolutely fascinating place where you could probably spend weeks. It was very hot so we only lasted 5 hours before heading back to camp.

Back at camp we opted for a few beers and a chat to a lovely English couple, Paul and Penny who were on a three week holiday travelling on their Honda CBR1100. We spend the evening with them trading travel stories.

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We managed to leave Pompeii quite early and travelled the freeway to Bari. The freeways in Italy are quite expensive, it cost us 10.60 Euro for this section of highway. We had to pay at an automatic toll station which had vehicles queued for ages. While trying to feed the money into the machine I dropped my coin purse so had to get off the bike in a hurry and managed to twist my knee badly, as there was little room between the bike and the payment machine. I am now hobbling.

Down to the ferry terminal and tickets are purchased. Yay we are on our way to Greece but that of course is another story.

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We are happy, safe and well (except for a dicky knee) now lazing on a Greek Beach.

Cheers and Beers

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