Archive for August, 2010

Leaving the Chateau

We awoke refreshed but unfortunately we didn’t leave the Hostellerie de Fontanges until quite late. This was due to me wishing to update our blog and having to use their intermittant wifi connection in the bar as we had checked out. I eventually won and we finally continued towards Le Camping Moto.

We followed the N88 and the N102 with a short section of motorway the A75. What a collection of different but truly stunning roads. Initially the only hint that you are gently climbing is the change in the trees with more and more conifers appearing. Then the section of A75 motorway climbs to 740 metres above sea level then drops to 580 metres then climbs again to 760 metres all in a mile or so. There is then is a newish bridge over a stunning gorge, Mip didn’t know about it and thought we were grass tracking then flying! On the bridge we had to really drop the speed as the side winds were catching the bikes. After that the road climbs to 1264 metres above sea level and the temperature dropped to 14 degrees C. I know, I know, but we have been getting used to 30 to 40 degrees recently.

No I didn't enjoy that road either!

We followed the N88 to Pradelles where we turned onto the N102. Wow what a road! It twists and turns, rises and falls, with hairpins and narrow bridges abounding. A wonderful biking road with a good surface that the V7’s were just made for.

We were now in the Rhône-Alpes region of France but we realised that, because of the nature of the roads, our average speed was quite low and that we were not going to make Le Camping Moto before 8 or 9pm. We decided to keep our eyes open for somewhere to stop and subsequently headed for Vals-Les-Bains as it sounded interesting. It is a 17th century spa town where the French have been coming to ‘take the waters’ since 1845 and is still going strong. We passed several campsites en-route but none had any eating facilities and we had nothing left with which to make our own meal.

In Vals-Les-Bains we found an interesting hotel-restaurant called Les Celestins and booked in. We were told to park the bikes directly in front of the restaurant were we provided some impromptu entertainment for the diners as we unloaded them inches from their tables, separated by only a sheet of plate glass. A short time later we ate there and received several smiles and bonjours from the same diners.

The staff were again great and allowed us to store all of our camping gear on the ground floor of the hotel rather than having to leave it on the bikes or cart it up to our room on the second floor, with no lift and a steep spiral staircase.

I have to say that our experience is that France is quite a pro biker country and that, if you have a go at speaking Francais, then the French will bend over backwards to help you out.

We ate a fantastic meal of mostly local produce in quirky surroundings that we felt completely at home in (we can see you smirking there!). In fact we are enjoying the place so much that we have decided to stay for an extra day. I love the freedom that being on a long trip and always trying to plan to give ourselves plenty of time and therefore flexibility between destinations or deadlines gives us.

Innocent looking knives

We have had a wander around, taking care to only go into the shops signed as ‘Entre Libre’ otherwise you are expected to buy something. At one Newsagents they had an extensive collection of knives, some beautifully crafted ones for sale for hundreds of euros, but the ones that amused me were those disguised as everyday objects. Obviously handy if you want to smuggle one in through customs!

Pimms O'clock French style - Neat!

This afternoon we decided that it was Pimms O’clock, but quickly discovered that the French serve it neat with ice! Sarah’s expression says it all really.

The river behind our hotel

So here I am sat at the laptop at Les Celestins, typing away to you all, with a glass of Viognier in my hand and smiling. It has actually been quite difficult at times to walk away from my old life, but it’s now really beginning to sink in just how good our decision to wed and fled was 🙂

Seen parked outside Les Celestins

The Midi-Pyrénées is the largest region of France, bigger than the Netherlands or Denmark, and is situated to the east of The Dordogne.

Sarah has found a small Moto Guzzi rally being run by the Valais Moto Guzzi club of Switzerland. The rally is on the weekend of the 3rd of September and is being held in a small village to the west of that famous landmark The Matterhorn. (Even I should be able to spot that!) Sarah took one look at the collection of hairpin bends that is the mountain road shown on their website and exclaimed, ‘I want to ride that!’ I took one look, totally agreed and the decision was made. Sarah emailed the club and we had a swift reply from the organiser, in English thankfully, and we were booked in. Simples! So hence the reason that we are now heading East through The Midi-Pyrénées.

The guys at Camping Moto Dordogne told us about another biker campsite, Le Camping Moto, near Crest, to the south of Valence, so we decided to head for there en-route. We were also told about a web site of biker friendly accommodation called ‘A Bikers Guide to Europe’ done by a guy called Allan Wren. Check it out, it’s very good.

Mip, our SatNav, plotted a route for us that avoided all but a short section of motorway and we were sorted.

After Sarah saved my helmet

After a couple of hours riding we stopped at a layby for a short break and leg stretch. Whilst taking my jacket off I clumsily knocked my helmet off my bike onto the grass verge on the other side of my bike. I shouted as it rolled over the top edge of a grassed and wooded bank with a 100 foot drop.

The 100 foot drop

I couldn’t do anything as I was the wrong side of my bike but Sarah threw herself to the ground ([S] Ouch my knee!) and caught my helmet with the outstretched fingers of her left hand. Another two inches and it would have been out of her reach and I would have been helmetless. I ran around and grabbed my helmet and gave Sarah a great big kiss for saving the day. Note to self – Always put your helmet on the ground as soon as you take it off. Thought to self – Why do these things always happen to me? Answer to self – To help you to learn and it sure stops life from being boring!

Hostellerie de Fontanges

We kept on going until we were quite tired, and then with Mip’s help we found the Hostellerie de Fontanges. We didn’t realise that it was a Chateau until we got there and thought that it would be way over our budget. Imaging our surprise when we found out that it was only ten euros more expensive than the Campanile that we had stayed in at Mont Saint Aignan near to Rouen ([S] so only marginally over budget!). The staff were not at all phased by two dusty bikers turning up and let us park our bikes in the courtyard.

Bike only parking at the Chateau

They gave us a lovely room with a wonderful deep bath that we threw ourselves into to soak away the stiffness caused by our muscles adapting to riding so much. After a meal on the terrace overlooking Onlet-le-Chateau we slept in a lovely real bed. It is amazing how over a week of sleeping on an inflatable mat can make you appreciate some of life’s more simple pleasures!

Where do I start? The Dordogne is a beautiful area full of picturesque villages, hilltop medieval towns, castles, wooded valleys and an amazing mixture of roads. So much to see and do.

One of the wooden chalets

We decided to spend the first couple of days chilling out at Moto Camping Dordogne. They have pre-set up tents, caravans, wooden chalets and a restored old church for visitors to stay in if you do not want to put up your own tent.

What an easy going and friendly place, with excellent food. Don’t order the ribs unless you are seriously hungry! We spent our time alternating between relaxing by the pool and chilling in the bar, whilst chatting with other bikers from around Europe. As the owners are Dutch the campsite obviously attracts mainly Dutch riders (well whilst we were there anyway) but we met a few French and British riders too.

Dutch Tourer!

My French is okay but my Dutch is non-existant and so I am always grateful that most Europeans learn to speak decent English. We had a great time there and made some new friends. The site owner Pieter even got in some French Cidre in for us.

The day that we arrived there was the end of the main French and Dutch holidays, but even after a couple of days or so we found that the more popular tourist destinations were still quite busy. However our SatNav managed to find us lots and lots of twisty virtually deserted roads for us to explore, and proved that she still has a sense of humour by taking us down a series of gravel strewn tracks. According to the SatNav settings this was supposed to be the quickest route to Rocamadour (a beautiful hilltop church and fort). Ha! Not when you are doing 20mph on loose gravel it’s not. Ron is a Dutch BMW Gs1100 rider who is so tall that he has had to RAISE the seat!

No it's not a moped

He said later that he has the same SatNav. Unless he specifies the route in detail, often on his laptop in advance, then if he lets her have freedom to choose his route then she often does the same sort of things to him. He calls her Mip after a name used for dippy Dutch girls. Mmm, I think that we now have a name for our SatNav 🙂

Me hard at work

One of the great things about the campsite is that they have free wifi. They have a laptop for public use in the bar but the wifi also extends through the site. I was therefore able to spend several happy hours sat at a table alongside our tent in the trees with a glass of something and updating this blog. Why do you think the there have been so many posts recently?

Setting off again

Panorama near to Rocamadour

I love the Dordogne region of France. Hills, forests, twisty roads, a river, medieval villages, castles, and gourmet food with excellent wine. I rest my case.

We were not quite sure exactly which part of the Dordogne that we were going to aim for. Over the years I have stayed at various hotels and campsites in the region, but I recently realised that I was somewhat out of date having not visited for about 17 years (gulp!). Claire in Swindon gave us a recommendation by of a biker campsite called Camping Moto Dordogne, which is situated near to Saint Aubin de Nabirat. We had checked their site on the net and discovered that it was run by a Dutch couple, Pieter and Renske, and decided that we would give it a go.

Again we had 300 km (180 miles) to cover and we wanted to get to get to the region in plenty of time to find the site and to set up the tent and get organised. (We are optimists after all.)

The motorway from Chateauroux has enough bends in it to keep it interesting even at legal speeds, and has one section through some hills, where you exit a series of bends onto a bridge over a valley with a fantastic view. (Sorry no photograph!)

We had the coordinates for the campsite but our SatNav decided that taking us straight there was just too boring and decided to take us down some roads that barely warrented the description. It’s finale was to tell us to turn right up a grassed bank to get there! So with the sniggering of the SatNav in our ears we rode round and round trying to find the site.

It was at this point that I discovered the true folly of wearing a matt black crash helmet in 38 degrees of blistering sunshine, whilst riding slowly. Boiled brains anyone? I was beginning to make some bad riding decisions and I realised that I had to pull over and pour some water over my head to cool off. I was initially going to use the water conveniently situated in the waterbottle attached to my pannier, but I quickly found out that it had absorbed so much heat from the sun that I could have used it to make a cup of tea! The receptionist from Le Boischaut unknowingly come to my rescue as her ice cubes had kept the water in my backpack cool. Within seconds of pouring some over my head I felt much better and realised just how much the heat had affected me. I have been warned about heatstroke when riding in hot sun but this was the first time that I have experienced it. Dangerous.

Set up and relaxing

We set off and Sarah quickly spotted a sign for Camping Moto Dordogne, after which we found the campsite quite easily. Despite being loaded up the V7’s inspired confidence and we handled the gravel roadways leading onto the site very easily.

We were met by the owner, Pieter, who gave us two cold drinks on the house. Heaven. We had arrived.

Appropriate wall paintings

Resting that extra day was a brilliant decision as we both got up feeling much better. We didn’t quite make it up in time for breakfast, but we did resolve to did pop to a local Supermarche and buy some bread, cheese, tomatoes, etc to have later for brunch.

I wanted to aim for a small town called Chateauroux. Why Chateauroux I hear you ask? Well, some years ago, (it’s actually over 15 years ago now that I think about it, mmmm doesn’t time fly!) I organised a trip to the Dordogne region of France for a dozen or so members of a bike club that I was involved with at the time. We overnighted there and stayed at a small independant hotel called Le Boischaut, which is a short walk from the town centre. They were friendly, cheap and provided secure garages for us to put the bikes in overnight. I had previously checked the internet and had been pleasantly surprised to find their website. So, following a quick discussion with Sarah, a decision was made. I rang them and booked us a double room and garage for that night!

Excellent. We had set ourselves a goal, which felt really good because it gave us a specific focus, and I was glad to be leaving the sickness and illness behind.

By the time that we were organised, (Tony & Sarah time strikes again!) with the bikes packed and ready to go it was close to 1pm, so we chose to ride bigger roads as we had about 350 km (220 miles) to cover that afternoon. We set off into brilliant sunshine with smiles on our faces, and one Supermarche provisions and petrol stop later we were properly on our way.

Lunch was a fantasic picnic at an Aire (French motorway service area). We picked one that just had a toilet block and wooden tables and benches in the trees. The Brie and Tomatoes on a Baguette brought back so many memories to us both and we really began to feel that we were in France.

The little V7’s were running really well but the fuel consumption had dropped from the 65/70 mpg, that we were getting riding normally and without panniers or luggage, to 52/53 mpg. It just shows how much difference that panniers, luggage and French motorway speeds can make.

The ride to Chateauroux was relaxed and suited how we both felt. The levels of traffic were much lower that I am used to in the Midlands and it was a pleasure.

Le Boischaut had changed hands but was essentially the same friendly place with a red rubber ceiling in the reception and bar. We settled in and walked into town in search of something to eat. The excellent Restaurant La Gare had closed down but some questioning of the locals produced recommendations to go to La Rue Grand. Apparently this was where the majority of bars and restaurants were now situated. We walked off in search of La Rue Grand and as we got closer we could hear live Jazz music being played. A little further on we stumbled upon a four piece band playing in the street. The road had been closed to traffic, the nearby bars and restaurants had filled the street with tables and chairs, and they were doing a roaring trade. We got a table near the front and had a superb evening. Some considerable time later we walked/weaved (delete as appropriate) our way back to Le Boischaut and slept like logs.

The view in the morning from our window

The following morning the sun rose in a cloudless sky and we decided that we would head for the Dordogne region of France. So a couple of hours later, having had our continental breakfast and the nicest croisants that I have eaten in a long time (and our first since reaching France) we were ready for the off.

The receptionist filled our water bottles with cold water from the fridge and let me fill our back pack water carriers at the sink in the bar. I thought that mine was taking rather a long time to fill when, to my horror, I realised that the drinking spout had dropped down and was busying itself by syphoning cold water onto the bar room floor. Ooops! Thankfully the receptionist saw the funny side and, after muttering something that I didn’t quite catch about Les Anglais as she mopped the floor, then turned up with a load of ice cubes to keep the water in our back packs cool.
So, after appologies and thanks to the staff, and having taken out both the thermal and the waterproof linings to our jackets, we were off heading south into the sunshine and feeling good 🙂

The next day, with me feeling emptier than a presidential candidate’s promises, but fortified by Imodium and a stubborn desire not to give in and let the bug win, we set off at the crack of noon into a day that had transformed into something rather warm, sunny and above all dry!

Owing to my less than perfect state, we decided to take the boring but easy option of using the motorway to get some miles under our wheels, and headed south.

We made it to Rouen in brilliant sunshine before my energy reserves ran out and I was so grateful when, at Sarah’s behest, Miss Sat Nav pointed out a very conveniently situated Campanile hotel in the outskirts, which proved to be spot on. The staff were very friendly and helpful and gave us a ground floor room whose door opened out onto the car park, so that we could park our bikes directly in front of our room.

Later I was feeling fevery and pretty rotten, and couldn’t face eating the meal that I had ordered in the restaurant. The staff were superb, cancelled the items we didn’t have and deducted them from the bill. I was feeling so crap that I had to abandon Sarah in the restaurant and I went back to the room and slept and sweated for twelve hours.

We had both pushed ourselves too hard, me the day before and Sarah the day after her fever, and so we decided to stay on an extra day to recuperate. It had finally dawned on us that the only real time pressures were those that we were creating and that if we took an extra day to get down to the Dordogne then so what. Much better to arrive refreshed than knackered or not at all.

So we did nothing but rest, eat and sleep for another day, after which we were both beginning to feel much more human and ready to travel again 🙂

I love ferries. I always get a real feeling of travel and of going abroad…funny that really!

The Dancing Ferryman

It’s always great to meet someone who is happy in their work. The crew member who strapped our bikes down was brilliant and made short work of securing our pride and joys with a simple but effective ratchet strap and pad affair over the seat.

On the ferry we acquired a table in the bar with a good view of the rain out over the bow, a couple of GB stickers and headlamp beam deflectors, and an up-to-date map of France. An hour or so later we were riding off the ferry onto French tarmac in Calais. We decided to head for the seaside town of Berck-Plage, simply because we liked the name…are you beginning to get a sense of the sensibleness and structure that we want to put to our travels?

We decided on the Neptune hotel on the sea front ([S] mainly because we were riding around in circles and it was the only one we could find!) and got a room overlooking the beach. Not that there was anyone on the beach who wasn’t wearing warm clothing and waterproofs as it was rather cold, very windy and raining!

The hotel staff were very welcoming and the receptionist arranged for us to park the bikes under the reception office window in the secure parking area at the rear of the hotel free of charge. Don’t worry, they made up for that kindness with the amount they charged us for the room!

Alien Sign

We ate in the hotel restaurant and I must admit that I was feeling not at my best. I put it down to tiredness but a few hours later I came down with Sarah’s bug, which had obviously fancied a foreign holiday and had stowed away with me on the bike from Swindon. Not good.

I woke up in the middle of the night and the room was bathed in a pulsating eerie glow. I thought Great! First I get Sarah’s bug then I get abducted by aliens….but no. We were safe. It was just the hotel’s flashing blue neon sign directly alongside the bedroom window.

I fell back into a restless sleep punctuated only by lengthy inspections of the bathroom’s decor, whilst trying not to wake Sarah who was herself still recovering from the bug, and wishing for a swift recovery.

The bikes were wired up, the Sat Nav and Comms system were working, Jo had done some running repairs on the tent for us, and we were ready to go… except that Sarah suddenly came down with a nasty bug that laid her up in bed for the best part of two days 😦 After much sickness and diahorrea, fevers and sweats, Sarah was feeling much better and was keen to make it to the ferry so that we could properly do the Fled bit. After all, one friend was already jokingly threatening us with the trade descriptions act!
It cost us two re-arrangement fees as each bike and rider was a seperate booking. Only Brittany Ferries seem to have grasped that one couple may wish to travel on two bikes and let you do it all as one booking. However the up side was that the crossing was £5 cheaper so half the fees were absorbed by that.

Having thanked Tich and Jo for doing such a good job and for looking after us so well for so much longer than was originally planned, we we got onto the bikes to finally leave Swindon….and promptly got off again. The sun had disappeared behind a black cloud that had decided to christen our departure! So, a couple of minutes of looking like we were doing astronaut airobics later had our waterproofs donned, we reboarded the bikes and set off into the fine drizzle with bloody great grins on our faces.

Beneath the White Cliffs of Dover

Regardless of the drizzle, which soon eased off anyway, it felt wonderful to be on the bikes and heading for the ferry port.

We had decided that Sarah would lead as she has a far better innate sense of direction than me. I would ride behind as I have got a bit more riding experience and could catch up more easily. I could also do all of the necessary tail end charlie duties that make riding in a group so much easier, such as keeping tail-gaters away and securing the next lane for lane changes. It also meant that Sarah could set her own pace and concentrate on leading us to our destination.

The Comms were already proving very useful as Sarah could relay SatNav instructions and point out dangers such as diesel spills. It also meant that we could be alone with our own thoughts or chat if we wanted to.

We got to Dover in good time and were first to board the ferry for the 14.30 sailing from Dover to Calais. Hopefully a good omen for things to come.

Okay, so, we had set off but we still needed to get power take offs fitted to the bikes, fit a Sat Nav and sort out and fit the comms system. This meant that en-route to the ferry port it was necessary to pay another visit to Tich at TWS wiring services in Swindon, this time for him to wear his proper job hat of electrics guru.

Essentially Tich makes wiring looms and sorts out electrical problems for anything from a moped to an aeroplane. He likes to work on bikes and trikes and is currently completely rewiring my 30 year old V50 Moto Guzzi to include upgrades to modern components and modern Guzzi switchgear.

He has made an independent fused wiring loom for each of the V7’s to run completely separately from the original wiring loom in order to supply power to the Sat Nav and to three separate din power sockets, one under the seat and two waterproof ones on the top yoke by the handlebars. He has also made leads that can plug into these sockets to convert to a standard cigarette lighter power output socket, and other leads to supply power to various pieces of equipment that need power or charging whilst we are travelling.

The wiring is hefty enough to handle plugging the 150w dc to ac converter I had bought into the cigarette lighter socket. This provides a mains type plug socket that any piece of UK electrical equipment up to 150 watts can be plugged into and run, although 150 watts would drain the bike’s battery in very little time!

Together (well I made the tea) we fitted the din power outputs and loom, the powered cradle for the Sat Nav to Sarah’s bike and the coms system to both bikes. Excellent, job done and Tich has made a very neat job of it with everything neat and all properly heat shrink wrapped.

Tuesday 10th August 2010 we set off from home 🙂

Our original plan was to go West to North America, but due to a family illness we had to make some last minute changes. We decided to go to Europe for a couple of months for a bit of a shakedown trip. This meant that we would still be within shouting distance if things didn’t go well, and would also give the care package that had been set up a test to make sure that things could work OK without us around. The up side was that we’d have a chance to check things out and make any necessary changes before the Americas.

Some friends came to see us off, to make sure that we actually went and record the event for posterity!

I thought that Nich from Mag was particularly brave in the pursuit of ‘that perfect shot’ by lying on the ground in front of us so that he could photograph us riding towards him and either side of him. What he didn’t know, probably because we didn’t think to tell him, was that this was the first time that we had ridden the bikes fully laden. Luckily all went well and Nich lived to tell the tale (and email us his pictures).

First things first and we headed off to Abingdon so that Sarah could get her haircut – got to get your priorities right after all! We stayed overnight with Sarah’s Dad, then headed off on Wednesday back to Tich’s for some more bike mods…