Day 29 - 31/05/10
End Location: La Linea de la Conception, Spain (Gibraltar)
Days Mileage: 18
Total Mileage: 3947
Had a leisurely morning as I had to nip into Gibraltar to do a few chores. Unfortunately once I had mustered sufficient energy to ride over I discovered that it was a bank holiday and , given that the bank was one of my 'must do' chores I realised I was going to have to come back tomorrow.
Commiserated with a tasty full English and then sought out the internet cafe which was open. Realised as I was uploading some pics that my camera had developed a fault and that a whiskery shadow was blighting almost all of the photos!! Bollocks.
Back to the campsite to service the bike then off to the Mercadero to get some alcohol. James was staying another night so he was going to cook and I was to source the alcohol. Felt a bit stingy when I bought the €2.99 bottles but when it came to it James accused me of getting the posh stuff as he normally goes the €0.99!! Had a good long chat about all sorts again. James quizzed me about morocco but I don't think he is quite up to the necessary levels of enthusiasm.
What a pleasure it has been being able to share the great trip so far with someone who knows where I am coming from, in the most literal sense. Chores then on the road tomorrow.
Day 30 - 01/06/10
End Location: Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, Spain
Days Mileage: 101
Total Mileage: 4048
Woke at about eight and showered. James was already packed and ready to go so we said our farewells. Stuck camp and set off back to Gib for the chores. Did English shopping at Morrisons, visited the bank and changed money and then decided to get the fuck out of Dodge.
Set off on the quickest route to Alora along the coastal dual carriageway but it was getting very hot again - 35 °- so I headed inland to the Camino del Rey. This is the ancient crumbling path beloved of You-tubers that climbs up and through the gorge. When I found it the start of the path was missing - whether by accident or design I don't know. With no chance to get onto the start of the path it clarified whether I was going to try walking it. There were signs indicating that it was going to be restored so that might justify a future return trip. Even though I couldn't walk the path the location was lovely and the lake seemed to keep it cooler than back on the road.
It was just turning six and with the sweltering heat I decided to look for somewhere to stop. As luck would have it just slightly further up the valley I found the Bikers Paradise B&B. €35 for a room, dinner, a beer and bottled water, along with use of their swimming pool! Done.
Had a flounder in the rather skanky pool and spotted a rat lurking in the kitchen. I should have tried to do more with the evening but the heat had fucked me up. I must try and the Spanish way - morning and evening to do stuff, midday to to rest and eat.
Day 31 - 02/06/10
End Location: Granada, Spain
Days Mileage: 128
Total Mileage: 4176
Managed to be up for breakfast at 8am and then on the bike by 8:45!!
The Riding was lovely and cool so I rode back down to the gorge for another look and then headed up into the hills. The landscape looked gorgeous with the soft morning light really drawing everything in close.
The roads were very windy and the bike felt very unstable - I really must ditch some stuff. Rode down by the lakes on the other side of the gorge which were mirror smooth and it all reminded me very much of the Lake District in the soft light. Navigated to El Torcal without the 'assistance' of the satnav and it's useless Spanish maps.
I was just parking up at the visitor centre when a coach load of college students arrived so I wangled an English map and set off to do the long loop round the karst formations. Luckily they were not so adventurous so I had it all to myself. Unfortunately I assumed that the mapped route would be some sort of path when it turned out to be scrambling over rocks and through bushes for 2 miles.
Foolishly followed the satnav to Granada along the dual carriageway which was shit. Stopped at a service station where I struggled to obtain a sandwich from the worlds grumpiest waitress. Luckily it was delicious so I lay outside in the shade having a snooze for an hour or so.
Found the Alhambra complex fairly easily and bought a timed ticket. Very busy but well organised and it was never oppressively crowded. Initially I felt a bit Jaded with the moorish architecture after Morocco but the Generalife and then the Nasrid Palace were sublime. A fitting pinnacle to my string of Moorish gems. Easily found a campsite and again they had a pool. Also discovered that I had a broken tent pole, after I threw away the spare section back at La Linea yesterday!!! Bugger.
Day 32 - 03/06/10
End Location: Penas de San Pedro, Spain
Days Mileage: 233
Total Mileage: 4408
It has been very hard today - one of the hardest so far, but has ended well.
Woke feeling ill with a sore throat and my nose felt odd after the nosebleed that I had in the night - the second one of the trip. I haven't had one for years. Consigned my thermals and my cooking gear to the bin and discovered that my bottle of oil had leaked into the pannier. Arse!
Satnav tried to lead me through a parallel version of Granada so I resorted to following signs and after a quandary over Cazorla for Lammegeiers or Spaghetti Western dreams in the desert, I opted for Cazorla.
Cazorla was pretty enough with a dramatically sited castle but I misread a sign and headed up to what I thought was a viewpoint but was actually a ludicrously steep off road track. Ground to a halt only to have the bike slide back with the front brake locked and me unable to reach the rear as I needed both feet to stabilise. No choice but to turn it and try not to fall off the highside. Fucking moron. Got the bike up and heading the right way but had lost all interest in sights or anything else. Just ploughed on through the very green but progressively duller national park with not a trace of any vultures.
I was still feeling tired and rough so I stopped and was soon spark out under a bridge. Appropriate to my troll like state.
I was woke after an hour feeling worse if anything but soon found some lovely roads of almost white tarmac winding through orchards and olive groves carpeted with wildflowers. The road up through Ayna wasn't scenic on the map, unlike Cazorla, but was a hidden gem, although I was more interested in pushing on that stopping for pictures.
Eventually the weather started to turn so I pulled into a petrol station to suit up just as the thunder and the downpour started. Luckily in the next town I spotted a hotel opposite a hilltop castle that I remember from my research. Lovely modern room for €25 then once the rain had abated I was up the hill to check out the castle. Had a lovely burger and chips and watched bullfighting on the TV in the bar, chatting sporadically with the very friendly barmaid before bed.
Day 33 - 04/06/10
End Location: Morrella, Spain
Days Mileage: 275
Total Mileage: 4683
After a hasty breakfast and a shambolic loading of the bike I was on the road to the 'Chinchilla of Monte Aragon' for no reason apart from the rodent-y name! What I got instead was a nice fortified hilltop town and castle, although the castle was closed for building work.
Next stop was the Castle de la Selva. Roads were generally awesome today and the riding was really enjoyable as long as you ignored the protestations of the satnav. Again not marked as scenic but much better than most of yesterdays, with ideal conditions - cool, still yet sunny.
Passed two more closed castles before heading through an out of season ski resort on the road to Alcaniz, winding through dramatic karst scenery. Oddly enough all of the pull-ins seemed to be exactly wrong to view the landscape, usually being surrounded by bushes or just out of sight . Very frustrating. I stopped to take a photo in Mirambec and got chatting to to dutch cyclists who reckoned that Morella was lovely so I had a new destination.
Rolled into Morella just before sundown and found a cheap hotel courtesy of the very vivacious tourist office girl. Had a lovely meal and three LARGE beers before wandering the streets until well past dark. My longest mileage so far and easily my best day in Spain.
Day 34 - 05/06/10
End Location: Navarcles, Spain
Days Mileage: 218
Total Mileage: 901
Bad nights sleep and barely made breakfast, feeling that nothing was quite right. Finally topped up the chain oiler and when I set off at least the bike felt smooth and settled. The scenery was awesome with some huge molar-like volcanic extrusions to one side and a twited spire with chapel on top on the other. Did a little sightseeing before moving on to Poblet.
The monastery was very kempt but only middling impressive, although a party of Americans with some fluent Spanish speakers meant I got a better than usual idea of the history. Had a coke in the cafe across the road, served by Spain's fattest goth chick and then I was back on the bike to Montserrat.
Spotted the appropriately named mountain from a distance and followed the road about being impressed by the scenery and joining dozens of other bikers enjoying the twisties. Eventually found the gate but couldn't work out how to get a ticket so I followed another biker through and parked at the top. Initially I was worried about my lack of ticket but then my draw dropped. What an incredible place. Hadn't really researched this place so what a lucky choice. Checked out the basilica but there was something going on so I didn't tarry. Outside I discovered that the train, the funicular and the cablecar were all about to stop for the evening so I had to content to walk down to the lower funicular stop. Much easier than coming back up that is for sure.
After making friends over an ice lolly I was back on the bike and headed for the satnavs nearest campsite - 39km away along Spain's windiest road!! Unfortunately, once found it clearly hadn't been open for some years. Cheers Tomtom!
I returned to the last town and was directed to a cheap hotel by a quad rider - literally across the road from where he was stopped. Once the manageress's English speaking daughter arrived I secured a lovely cheap room but made up for it with a fairly expensive steak dinner in their restaurant, although I had plenty of conversation with her which was a real bonus.
Day 35 - 06/06/10
End Location: Latour de France, France
Days Mileage: 142
Total Mileage: 5043
Dull drizzly conditions so I dithered over breakfast before setting off in a very relaxed state. Heading for Figueres along the dual carriageway through a series of fabulous long tunnels the weather improved and I stayed relaxed. I easily found the Theatrical Museum of Dali and parked on the pavement for my visit.
It was a really interesting place; it is surprising how influential he has been. Not many great paintings but the place as a creation in its own right was fabulous. An added bonus was a complete set of Piranesi etchings in the stairwell!
Heading through the scrappy and horridly busy border towns of La Jonquila and La Perthus the most impressive thing was the prostitute who has set up an a plastic chair in no man's land between the two countries!! Very enterprising.
After a visit to McDonalds (sacrilege!) mainly for the free wifi, I sought shelter in first a hotel (closed 'til later)and then a campsite where there were two British bikers in reception just in front of me. As it was raining I postponed setting up the tent and got chatting to Brian and Chris from Inverness in the covered barbecue area instead. They invited me to bring the bike in but the electrical non starting gremlin had returned so It had another strip down. Running again I celebrated with a run to the village for some beers and then spent the rest of the evening chatting and drinking. Very pleasant. They are doing the same as me tomorrow with the Cathar fortresses. I will doubtless see them about as I will be staying another night.
Day 36 - 07/06/10
End Location: Latour de France, France
Days Mileage: 143
Total Mileage: 5186
Woke early but didn't need to push on. Chris and Brian set off and shortly afterwards I set off to the Cathar fortress of Queribus which was atmospheric and un-restored, with a long and fairly treacherous subterranean passage which I was able to tackle with my headtorch. It was a bit of a slog up on foot and a treacherous ride down on freshly gritted and steep hills but I was soon at my second destination of Peyreperteuse. This was more like it - very interesting with lots of different time periods and details. I passed Chris and Brain on the steps to the higher of the two keeps and warned them about the grit before heading on to my big destination of Carcassone.
It was a long ride on very windy back roads but I arrived in the early afternoon and spend a couple of hours checking out the possibly over-restored citadel. But very impressive for all that but not as enjoyable as Peyreperteuse. On the way back I felt I could better the satnav and cost myself an extra 20 minutes to get to the campsite. Spend the remainder of the evening drinking and jabbering with Chris and Brian.
Day 37 - 08/06/10
End Location: Montagnac, France
Days Mileage: 111
Total Mileage: 5297
Feeling pretty grim. Yesterdays short entry would indicate that it was a fairly uneventful day but it actually had more to do with sitting up drinking with Chris then dashing off a few words before sleep. Chris and I got on very well and having them both to chat to has been great after Spain. When I finally surface I found a postcard from Chris with his email address, wishing me luck, which really cheered me.
After a friendly parting with the patron and a good chat with some Canadian cyclists at the village shop I was on my way with the satnav really not helping. The weather got colder and greyer so I stopped at the Oppidum d'enserune which is a Celtic hilltop village. The excavations were nothing special but the museum was phenomenal for a single site. Most impressive was the 13thC drainage on the plains below, like a huge wheel of fields.
Struggled to ride on in the grey weather so opted for a municipal campsite at Montagnac, after several wild goose chases.
Day 38 - 09/06/10
End Location: Robion, France
Days Mileage: 114
Total Mileage: 5411
A really good nights sleep although my second snooze in the morning was destroyed by someone mowing the neighbouring pitches! Weather decidedly iffy again and I eventually hit the road at 11am!
An uneventful journey to Nimes where the satnav did itself proud and let me straight to the amphitheatre where I parked up with a host of other bikes. The amphitheatre itself was very impressive (the most intact in the world apparently!) but they had filled the arena with tarmac which did reduce the atmosphere somewhat! After chatting with some Americans on a arts trip I made my way up to the temple and hit the internet in the tourist office.
Back on the bike to Pont du Gard I was pleased to find that bike parking was free so I was straight in for nowt! Had a good walk around and up and over but they were setting up a huge firework display on the bridge so some areas were out of bounds. Still very impressive though, even in the rather grey conditions.
Back on the bike the wind was getting up so the first campsite was checked out and the very enthusiastic patron welcomed me with a free bottle of cherry juice. Tried to ring Gill who I had met in Morocco but no answer. I have realised that the rear tyre is totally worn out so I will need to source a replacement tomorrow!
Day 39 - 10/06/10
End Location: Robion, France
Days Mileage: 79
Total Mileage: 5489
Decided to go back to Avignon to get some new tyres fitted. Easily sorted if I come back at 2pm so I spent the morning sightseeing and doing chores. I would have liked to spend more time here looking about but the tyres needed to be changed so I headed back and had the rear pads done too. No spares for these obvious wear items so the total bill was BIG!! €388!! Daylight robbery!! Main dealer prices. Should have just bought the tyres and done them myself.
Decided to follow the suggestion of my patron from the campsite and check out the Luberon, first to Gordes and then onto the dry stone houses of Bories. This primitive and unusual building technique left little indication of age but apparently these were lived in until the 19thC. Nice but expensive for what there was.
Had pizza at a lovely brasserie overlooking the valley in Bonnieux and then returned home to my tent.
Day 40 - 11/06/10
End Location: Domain de Verdon, France
Days Mileage: 204
Total Mileage: 5693
Well, what a pivotal day as far as this trip goes! Nor sure where I go from here but. . .
Much nicer weather so I struck camp and headed off, stopping at Apt for breakfast supplies. A lovely steady run through Provence in decidedly mixed conditions - heavy cloud hanging over the hills but bright patches elsewhere. Overtook some dawdling motorists right through a static speed camera at exactly the wrong moment! Arse! Hopefully the interposed car and filthy number plate will see me alright.
Very fragrant riding through the cliched fields of lavender before stopping at a closed fossil shop with huge plastic dinosaurs outside. Very surreal. The clutch had been feeling odd so I adjusted it up and headed into the gorge de Verdon. I stopped for one of my many photo breaks to capture the vivid turquoise of the river below, and as I pulled away the clutch lever went slack causing a sick feeling in my stomach. This was already my spare cable fitted in Cordoba!! I chugged back up to the village to the local garage. This place was a complete shithole but the mechanic found an emergency cable that he had fitted in ten minutes for just €10! It looked dodgy though so I elected to find a new one so I headed to the nearest town of Draguinan.
Astonishingly it had a huge Kawasaki dealership but the Asian guy behind the counter, despite speaking good English, was about as helpful as a Nazi in a synagogue. No cable, no ideas. Clutching (ha ha!) at straws I went to the Honda dealer next door who rang round and found me a cable in Frejus, despite there being no money in it for them. Super service. The only downside was the extra 15 miles of journey.
Unfortunately the satnav drew a blank on the address given but I stopped a biker who not only knew where it was but lead me all the way there. In and out with new cable in no time at all.
Relaxing somewhat I rode back towards the Gorge de Verdon, only to realise that the speedo had now failed as well!! To compound my feelings of despondency the weather started to turn as well so when I reached the gorge again I had pretty much had enough. I found a campsite and set up. It feels like a cop out to go home at this point but how many breakdowns or mechanicals does it take?
Day 41 - 12/06/10
End Location: Latour de Chevigny, Lyon, France
Days Mileage: 233
Total Mileage: 5926
Still undecided about what to do. Feeling surly and down on the trip I decided to set off north and see what happens. Stopped at a garage and borrowed a jack to lift the bike whilst I checked the situation with the speedo - bonus - just a broken cable, rather than a fractured hub like last time! Checked out the Citroen Museum which was like pristine examples of my motoring history and set off up the Route Napoleon and spectacular scenery, just following the satnav and racking up the miles. It got very cold as I hit the mountains prior to Grenoble. What a spectacularly sited town that is. I had set myself a target of 220 miles and this came just after Lyon so I stopped and after some very bold enquiries about campsites I ended up with no joy but next to an F1 hotel so I thought 'why not?' and booked in.
Spent the evening mulling over my options; I am getting close to not having enough time to do the rest of the trip as planned. Clearly the bike will break down again. How much more time do I need to lose before the chance of getting to turkey is lost? Besides, I am jaded with sightseeing and scenery and even great roads. Undoubtedly the real high points of the trip have been the people that I have met. I will see how I feel in the morning.
Day 42 - 13/06/10
End Location: Villeneuve, Switzerland
Days Mileage: 219
Total Mileage: 6145
Had a terrible nights sleep and was feeling ill will towards the world so I just set off in some very cold weather. Without thinking too much about it I headed for Albertville which was very green and pleasant compared with my previous (winter) visits. After that I tagged on behind two french bikers but they were getting a tank on and I lost them in traffic. A detour up into the mountains and I picked up a larger group of bikers heading towards the Mont Blanc tunnel. Stayed with them for miles until the last off before the tunnel where I headed for Chamonix.
Checked out an impressive glacier amongst dramatic scenery and then decided to set the satnav for the Chateau de Chillon at Montreux in Switzerland. Much more impressive scenery than coming through the Jura! Wow. Rolled down a crazy long incline and through a long tunnel. Sensibly avoided the motorway trap at the exit and easily found the Chateau.
Very impressive but busy. Spend a good while checking it out before I noticed the rain beating down outside.
I finally couldn't delay any longer so I set off to find a campsite, ending up next to the lake in Villeneuve. They would only take Swiss francs cash so I had to go and hunt down a cashpoint before I could book in. A great meal in local restaurant, revisiting steak frites.
As I walked out the sun peeped through the clouds finally so I grabbed my camera and headed out along the lakeside taking pics in the evening glow.
Day 43 - 14/06/10
End Location: Goshenen, Switzerland
Days Mileage: 169
Total Mileage: 6314
Rough nights sleep so I spent a half hour sat outside the local co-op sat in the sunshine waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in. The satnav took me any way but the direct route to Interlaken but the journey round by the lake was gorgeous in the bright morning light.
The road up to Grindelwald was impressive, but like Gavarnie, it got better the closer you got. I rode up, right through the town, and up to the top of the road. I parked in the Wetterhorn Hotel car park and saw a sign directing me to the foot of the glacier. Remembering the Ordesa gorge I remembered to chuck a banana and some water into my rucksack and set off.
After checking out the remains of the old Wetterhorn cable car station (oldest in the world!) I followed the path to the foot of a rough sequence of rickety wooden ladders leading up out of sight over the rocks. Very dodgy looking, but solid enough, I estimated there were 800 steps in total, ending at a small cafe and a bridge suspended on a cable that was strung across the chasm where the river of meltwater ran. It was no longer possible to walk to the foot of the glacier as it had retreated so far ( demonstrated by historic photographs on a board) but worthwhile and impressive all the same.
I retraced my steps and had a chat to a couple of British women who had taken an interest in the bike. Suited up and moving on towards Chur in awesome scenery when I spotted an immense and dramatic waterfall tumbling over the sides of the glacial valley I was travelling along. I thought of the Reichenbach falls where Holmes and Moriarty plunged to their deaths(?) and then spotted signs for it about two miles down the road. Unfortunately the funicular had closed an hour before I arrived so I just pushed on again. I stopped for fuel and supplies so I could push on until I found a campsite so I started riding up towards the Sustenpass in bright but sporadically cloudy conditions. The most visually interesting pass so far with glaciers visible below me through wispy cloud from the top.
However the journey down was drear and cold out of the evening sun and the mountains ahead looked like a black wall. Quite a sense of foreboding but after quizzing some reticent locals I was directed to a campsite up the next valley. Climbing into light mist I soon found a very barren looking campsite but loads of caravans so I guess it must be okay. I booked in with the two guys in reception who looked surprised to see me.
Immediately I paid up the shut up and drove off leaving me with the realisation that I appeared to be on my own here. The caravans were all permanent residents and were strapped down with huge ratchet straps. I had to ride the bike through a river to get to the camping field but it was okay. I set up my tent and then bumped into a middle aged lady called Caterina with a camper van who offered me a hot chocolate. We ended up sitting and chatting for the evening. It turned out that she was Dutch and was retracing travels from her youth - and this was a place that she had great memories of.
Day 44 - 15/06/10
End Location: Mustair, Switzerland
Days Mileage: 144
Total Mileage: 6458
Woke early to horrid rainy conditions so I just snoozed, waking properly at about 11am. Struck camp and rode back across the now twice as wide and somewhat deeper river and parked up. Had a coffee with Caterina and then set off up to the dam at the top of the valley for some impressive views down on the campsite below.
Tagged along with a couple of German BMW riders down to Flims where I peeled off over the Oberalpass and the Ambulapass which was stark as fuck and very cold. Just a bare classic u-shaped glacial valley ending up on a wooded plateau. Had a small amount of harassment by two total dick BMW driving boy racers, highlighting the close proximity of Italy perhaps. Trying to impress me with their speed and skill but just being dangerously inconsiderate, leading to a mutual exchange of obscenities!
Eventually found a campsite at Mustair literally on the Italian border, with a gang of German bikers. Washed some clothes and retired for the night. Another mostly grey and unappealing day!
Day 45 - 16/06/10
End Location: Selva di val Gardena, Italy
Days Mileage: 86
Total Mileage: 6544
Absolutely chucked it down all night - I knew it was a mistake to hang my washing out!! Full waterproofs and then backtracked to the road to the Umbrailpass in very low cloud. Was followed up by a large convoy of Porsches and BMW sportscars that I let past given the shitty conditions. I bet they were very impressed when the road turned into muddy shale track for 4 miles where it was being resurfaced and more impressed when I overtook them all again! An extended set of switchbacks climbed into the clouds and the visibility dropped along with the temperature. The summit was like the arctic with high snow banks either side of the road. I started down the Stelvio pass in horrendously wet and cold conditions, with a string of classic jaguars coming up the otherway, and passing three Brit sportsbikes riding very gingerly indeed. I was on a roll though and left them like they were coasting. Naily trailie beats ZX10!! who would have thought that!
I reached the village at the bottom, thankfully below the cloud, and parked up. One of the jags had stopped here with an overheating problem. I suggested bridging the fan switch but he wasn't interested or listening so I didn't bother. The three Brit bikes rolled in 5 minutes after me - they were on a 10 day tour and less than impressed with the Stelvio. To be fair the views weren't much!! Had a nice chat with the wife of the jag owner though.
Had the rain return with a vengeance on the dual carriageway to Merano so when I saw the wall of cloud ahead as I entered Selva I checked out the tourist office who directed me to a very nice cheap B&B. This area is nominally Italian but really I am Germany! The accents, the architecture, the food; all clearly German. Was ceded to the Italians after the war apparently; just not sure which one.
When the rain stopped I went for a stroll to find the chapel and castle that were the main tourist attractions (apart from the skiing obviously!) and then rode back as a most excellent sunset was gleaming over the Dolomites.
Day 46 - 17/06/10
End Location: Lienz, Austria
Days Mileage: 95
Total Mileage: 6639
Yesterdays decision to stay the night in Selva paid off as I was rewarded with a perfect cloudless view of the Dolomites in the morning sun. Had a leisurely breakfast and thanked my hosts for their excellent hospitality then back on the bike. Fabulous roads round the Sella circuit with loads of bikers. Held up a pair of hooligans on KTMRC8s on very loud pipes - I was riding like a tosser but what awesome roads. The run down to Arabba was probably the best of the trip so far. Easy to read, great tarmac and they just flowed for mile after mile. I wasn't holding anyone up on this one as I nailed all the turns.
Heading on towards Austria I caught and stayed with two guys on KTM 990 Adventures until they peeled off so I followed and had a coffee then a look at the local castle. Habitable but tatty and locked up.
Moving on towards Lienz when the weather took a real turn for the worse again!! Pulled off to re-plan and ended up watching TV in a local cafe for an hour or two. Located a campsite in town and booked in to find it overrun with British people! Apparently they were all there to compete in the European kayaking championships. Got chatting to a young lady resplendent in a tutti-frutti minidress and shiny black leggings who was invalided out of the competition then spent the rest of the evening in the bar watching TV.
Day 47 - 18/06/10
End Location: Glanz, Austria
Days Mileage: 86
Total Mileage: 6725
Better weather in the morning with a fabulous view of the dolomites along the valley in the sunlight. Decided to hit the Grossglockner as I was so close. Weather deteriorated as I pulled up towards the tollgate where I tucked in behind a huge group of Italian bikers. No rush though - all very chilled. Got a map and a 50th anniversary sticker! I was afflicted by photo fever all day and had to stop just about everywhere I could to get some snaps. Not the best weather but what a phenomenal road! As I pulled through the tunnel at the highest point on the first climb I was presented with a magnificent vista along the valley. This truly is scenic alpine road!
Checked out the sights and the museums, including one with the most awesome huge crystals I have ever seen! Single amethyst crystal over 18 inches high and a foot across. Beautiful. Did numerous runs and re-runs and watched lots of old bikes nailing it up the hill and then coasting back down.
It was getting cold so I decided to drop back down to the Franz Josef Glacier on the other side but just as the rain/sleet started in I had a weird loss of power from the bike and it wouldn't pull up the hill to the high point. After some fretting and re-starting it ran enough to clear the crest and then as soon as I could coast it cleared and I was away again. Fucking heap of shit.
Hit the visitor centre and then took teh astonishing walk through the mountain along the glacier, emerging every few hundred yards to get a look from a fresh vista. Walked down but stopped short of taking the funicular right down to the glacier. The crazy thing was there was nothing to give any sense of scale. The start of the glacier was over 7miles away but it looked so close.
Spotted some ibex and then decided to go down the way that I had come and continue towards Slovenia, rather than Berchtesgaden. Lovely campsite, great cafe and a good night.
Day 48 - 19/06/10
End Location: Bled, Slovenia
Days Mileage: 89
Total Mileage: 6814
Another bad nights sleep and another uninspiring cloudy day. I set off towards Slovenia but the road over the pass was one long steady but steep incline through pine woods. At the top I saw a sign for the bunker museum so I stopped for a break. This pass had been a 'live' border until the break up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and was littered with dug in tanks and gun emplacements. Quite impressive reminder of recent history. I was crossing the Iron curtain! After a Dumb and Dumber moment using the facilities I was back on the bike and rolling down into another storm. . . . Welcome to Slovenia!
Stopped in a very rustic cafe just after Kranska Gora and watched the clouds rolling over the Julian alps and down into my valley! Bugger. I bided my time until it eased off with a tasty strudel and the world's smallest cup of coffee but it was cheap I guess!
Back on the bike it chipped in heavily again as I rolled into Bled, and I failed to find a place to stay courtesy of the useless tourist office. Back on the bike I became aware of a horrendous rattle from the engine as the engine idled in traffic. Feeling that familiar pit of the stomach feeling I realised that if mechanical investigations were needed then a campsite would be better than a hotel. Found one half way round the lake and was rapidly booked in.
Did some chores and even watched some of the world cup whilst having a few beers. Yet another horrendous downpour! I am sure this year must be setting some sort of record! Internet weather says it's here to stay for three days! Great.
Day 49 - 20/06/10
End Location: Bled, Slovenia
Days Mileage: 3
Total Mileage: 6817
The foulest weather all night and all morning. Breakfast, showered then back in the tent reading until 3:15pm when it eased off enough to take a short ride to Villa Bled, Tito's holiday home. Checked out the internet to find a message from Chris from Inverness, and replies on the KLR forum suggesting that I check out the balancer chain and tension. Easily my laziest day yet on this trip. Need to do something before I die of boredom though!
Day 50 - 21/06/10
End Location: Bled, Slovenia
Days Mileage: 9
Total Mileage: 6826
Woke to yet more shit weather and felt rough, waking regularly through the night, yet managed to miss the camp breakfast! Felling very down and no idea what to do. Just couldn't get out of my negative frame of mind. Dozed and read in my tent until about three when it brightened up enough to visit the Vintnar gorge. A nice boardwalk and a powerful flow but I wasn't in the right frame of mind, although it did lift my mood somewhat. Found and stopped an oil leak but no improvement on the rattle. Swatted up on what to do via the internet but as I need to remove the side case I need dry weather.
Got chatting to a young Italian couple camped next door who had done the run down the Dalmatian coast but on pushbikes doing 140km per day! Decided to get stuck in and removed the near side engine case to check out the balancer chain and tensioner. Chain and spring were okay so I adjusted it and put it back together. A short ride down the road and the rattling was gone, and no oil leaks either. Postojna tomorrow then!!
Day 51 - 22/06/10
End Location: Gemona del Fruili, Italy
Days Mileage: 166
Total Mileage: 6993
Sunshine! I was up, packed and ready to go in no time. Had a final conversation with Sergio / Bal (the Italian/ Coventry camping couple) who said they were sorry I was leaving so soon which was lovely of them. Stopped for stores then after some satnav shenanigans I was headed out through tiny winding roads through wooded rolling hills with lovely vistas. Saw a lovely girl cyclist and turned to look back at her after I passed to see her doing the same. Luckily she couldn't see the crusty old letch inside the crash helmet!
Closed roads necessitated an early lunch and some amusement as two Aspencade riders had to navigate about the same obstacles with much more difficulty. I did about 4miles of dirt rack and eventually ended up traversing a lovely gorge but still wasn't really in the mood.
Then I was in Postojna and, my god, the scale of the place! It made every other cave I have ever been to look like an amateur operation. Having said that when I queued up for a ticket it was €25. Holy mother of crap! You robbing bastards! despite that it was hugely busy with two whole train loads of people going down at a time! A 2km trip through tunnels only just high enough in open carriages - you'd never get away with it in H&S UK!
We were grouped up by language and I got chatting again with the Japanese tour guide that I met yesterday in Bled. The tour leader was barely fluent but the caves spoke for themselves. We did a 1km long walk through a serious of impressive and huge caverns culminating in one with a shop in the middle and a huge sluice. Another slightly hair raising ride back and we were back where the subterranean river emerged. Stunning, expensive but easily the most incredible caves that I have ever visited.
The main eason for this researched stop was the vivarium of subterranean creatures. In particular this was the home of the proteus salamander or olm. I was fascinated in these creatures as a child thanks to one of my many wildlife books so it was the culmination of a long held ambition. But just me apparently as the vivarium was practically deserted. I was fascinated and eventually had to drag myself away before it got too late.
Back at the bike I geared up and got ready to ride away. As I clicked it into gear the bike just died! Arse! I just wanted to kick the fucking thing over and leave it but the car park was nearly empty and soon to close. I stripped it down and fiddled with all the wiring, battery, terminals, connector blocks etc. No sign of any fault! Praying to the gods of all things mechanical, I re-assembled it and it started.
But that was it. The last straw. My will to continue had gone. Fed up with the breakdowns and delays and the rain. I set the satnav for Innsbruck and, sensing my mood the satnav headed straight for Trieste at rush hour. Really not what I wanted. I plodded on and eventually found a campsite in the shadow of the alps at Gemona de Friuli.
Set up my tent and texted my friends to say I was coming home. I immediately had a call from Dot trying to dissuade me but I explained that my timescale had slipped and that I would be better off coming home and using the remaining time productively, rather than fixing my bike in every campsite in Europe. A frustrating day but realistically my enthusiasm hasn't recovered yet. We'll have to see what the journey home brings.
Day 52 - 23/06/10
End Location: Schwangau, Germany
Days Mileage: 228
Total Mileage: 7221
Up early to an almost empty campsite! Went without a shave for only the second time on this trip! Bizarrely the packing seems to have finally came together as it just flowed. A bit late!
Took a stunning and fairly quiet road through the dolomites, notable only for the ski resort of Sappada. Beautiful vistas but no idea about the skiing. It looked a bit drab as all these places do out of season so I opted for a cafe stop in Dobbiaco instead.
The satnav was heading for the Brenner pass (I was a bit sniffy as it was just 1374 m) and I retraced my tracks between Dobbiaco and Bruneck before upsetting an Italian road-worker by ignoring his red wand. When he finally let me go I met cars coming up the other way. What a shambles. But despite its relatively low altitude the pass was dramatic and quite cold.
It is probably my frame of mind but there have been a lot of arseholes on the road today. Italy definitely gets the award for the worst drivers in Europe. Four times I have had people do crazy overtakes to get in front of me when I am just moving along with the traffic. Of course I then just overtake the whole queue once the road is clear and leave them all behind. One guy overtook me three times and was clearly getting very pissy about it.
Innsbruck was beautifully situated with snow capped mountains all around and lovely sunshine once off the pass. I tried to find the required speedo cable but to no avail.
Lots of photogenic castles and churches on the way out of town but I was still in a 'can't be fucked' mood. More stunning alpine scenery past the Zugspitze and then I was in Germany. Easily found Neuschwanstein but last entry was 2hours ago although it was still heavingly busy. Come back early tomorrow they said. The lovely Germanic girl at the tourist office found me a cheap B&B in the local village and I got settled before heading out for food and nighttime shots of the castle in the moonlight.
Day 53 - 24/06/10
End Location: Saverne, France
Days Mileage: 236
Total Mileage: 7456
Ate like a ravenous wolf at breakfast! Gosh I was hungry. Discussed my journey with my hostess and then set off after thanking her profusely.
Got a ticket for the first English tour as long as I walked up to the castle so I was away. Hit the trail, helped some lost Germans, and then reached the top to find it overrun with Japanese tourists. Got chatting to an American lady who was fulfilling a lifetime ambition who luckily realised that I was about to miss my time slot so I was in. A good English speaking guide but my god did she speed us through! 25 minutes. But it was beautiful; like a huge, over the top version of Castle Coch in Wales. Each room was beautifully painted and themed to a Wagnerian opera. Not to mention the grotto! No wonder they called him the mad king! Who builds a cave indoors? Totally barking. I dawdled purposely to get my money's worth and felt it very worthwhile, even though it was so quick.
I walked up to the Mariensbruck and after getting my leather trousers eyed up by tasty Japanese lady woman I was on my way back down. Threw al my change into a non functioning toilet turnstile and then simply stepped over it in a fit of pique leaving a queue of frustrated short people waiting outside.
I set off for Baden Baden just because it was in the right direction and had lovely flowing roads before getting special treatment by a gorgeous blond waitress in a cafe stop in an otherwise unmemorable town. We really hit it off and it was a shame to have to move on.
A run through the black forest and then I crossed the Rhine. The bike was feeling rough as a badgers arse but was pulling okay so I just pushed on back into France. I arrived at Saverne at about 7:30 and easily found a campsite with help from the world's fastest French speaker.
Impressed some of the snobbier caravanners when I returned to the campsite with water, beer a burger and chips. Get back in your mobile isolation chambers losers! Had a good day today after all but it hasn't changed my mind.
Day 54 - 25/06/10
End Location: Rochefort, Belgium
Days Mileage: 204
Total Mileage: 7660
Up early and into town. Booked my return Eurotunnel ticket for the day after tomorrow and had breakfast before heading up to chateau Haut-Barr which was very ruined but had good toilets which I tested thoroughly. Headed for Trier on the autobahn thanks to the satnav and pulled off when it started to rain, only to find them closing the road I wanted to take. Bugger! I whipped through the gap anyway and found absolutely nothing wrong with the road. That's German efficiency for you.
Entering Trier, which seemed a nice leafy city, I soon found the black gate and very impressive it was too with its monster blocks of cyclopean masonry. Looked around then hit the cathedral and enjoyed the carnival like atmosphere but I needed to be away.
Visited the Luxembourg national military museum which has a good collection of vehicles and wartime memorabilia but was soon on the road looking for a campsite, which I found in Rochefort.
Had delicious burger et frites at a roadside shack and gathered supplies in town before spending the evening chatting to my neighbour in the campsite. A nice little town.
Day 55 - 26/06/10
End Location: Gravelines, France
Days Mileage: 192
Total Mileage: 7852
Had breakfast in a lovely cafe in the town where the waitress panicked when she heard my English accent and went off to fetch the manageress, despite my order being entirely in French. Oh well. Probably Flemish speaking types. Straight back on the bike towards Beloeil passing Dinant and finally finding a new speedo cable!
Arrived at Beloeil early only to find that it wasn't open for another hour and a half! Retired to a very friendly and idiosyncratic cafe with a heavily stocked fish tank and a life-size sculpture of a very sexy looking Betty Boop astride a motorcycle. Had a lovely lunch and then was literally the first guest at the Chateau, greeted cordially by a gentleman of Asian extraction from London. It had a lovely faded glory and a lived in feel, much like Highclere castle in the UK. The gardens were huge but dull so it was time to move on.
Hit Ypres only to find that all of the roads were closed so I parked up and walked in anyway. The cause of the closures was the Ypres Rally. What are the chances of that? Last year when Roger and I visited the roads were all closed because of. . . correct, the Ypres Rally!! Had a good wander and checked out the Flanders field museum that was closed on the last two occasions.
Cracked off the last forty or so miles to Gravelines just over the French border and found a nice campsite near the beach. Celebrated with a final steak at the beachfront cafe and mulled over the ups and downs of my trip in the cool evening light.
Day 56 - 27/06/10
End Location: Bournemouth, UK
Days Mileage: 196
Total Mileage: 8048
Back via the Eurotunnel. Stopped for a proper full English as soon as possible on the other side then a relaxed run cross country back to Bournemouth. Home.