Archive for October, 2010


Whilst we were at La Cerisaie, Sarah read an information leaflet and discovered that there was a wine fête on in one of the little villages nearby. Over breakfast we spoke to the owner of La Cerisaie and he confirmed that the fête was in fact on that day, so we decided to go.

The village was in the hills. We got a clue that we were close when we saw lots of cars parked along the side of the narrow road, and groups of people walking down one hill and up another towards a number of stalls on a hilltop. Luckily, as we were on bikes, we were able to ride up to the fête itself and find somewhere to park inside the entrance but before the stalls started. We ended up alongside an area obviously set aside for a sheep shearing demonstration or contest.

The fête was a fantastic glimpse of French rural life, with stalls selling fresh produce, wine and food. There was a choice of cassoulet, confit de canard or fresh fish or langoustines to eat. We shared some cassoulet and some confit and they were delicious. After that we bought the last fresh wholemeal baguette from an artisan baker as he had just run out of his delicious walnut bread. We know that it was delicious because he had given us a taste of some samples that he had got left over, just so that we would know what we had missed out on!

We also bought some Muscat wine from a local producer, which was excellent. I discovered that if I zipped up the front air vents on my jacket but left the top part open then I could easily carry a bottle of wine in each vent. Result.

After wandering around and buying some stickers from a stall selling stickers, cd’s and books all relating to the local Occitan region and language, we decided to continue on our journey. For obvious reasons we didn’t want to ride with wine bottles in the front air vents of our jackets, and managed to strap them on top of the camping gear on the back of the bikes. At this point the chap who had sold us the Muscat wine walked by and was horrified that see that his wine was going to be transported in the sunshine. We told him not to worry as it wouldn’t be there for long!

We rode on and started coming across parked 4×4’s and lone Frenchmen with shotguns sat on chairs at the side of the road. I don’t know what they were intending to shoot at, but we just hoped that it wasn’t Les Motards Anglais.

(Maybe I should have stopped and suggested a hornet shoot)

The views were superb and seemed to go on and on and on, with row after row of hills receding into the distance.

 


Our first view of Carcassonne

 

 


The medieval town of Minerve

 

We came to the medieval town of Minerve that was billed as being one of the most beautiful in France.

Draw your own conclusions, but I have to say that our first sight of the ancient city of Carcassonne, with it’s walls and turrets beyond acres of grape vines, was far more magical.

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The following morning dawned bright and sunny and above all dry, the forecast had been right 🙂

While we were loading the bikes I fussed a young cat who was hanging around probably hoping to score some ‘Rich in Rabbit’. She then continuously either demanded our attention or insisted on investigating each item as we packed it. She finally settled down on Sarah’s tank bag tucked down behind the screen looking as though she was going to travel with us when we left. However she hadn’t counted on the noise of the bikes and legged it as soon as we started up.

We used the motorway as the easiest way of getting away from the conurbation that is Montpellier and then happily switched to normal roads followed by the far more enjoyable small roads through the hills towards Carcassonne.

In the middle of the countryside on the road to Moureze we came across a small French war memorial to The Maquis Bir Hakeim who were a group of French resistance fighters in the Second World War. The monument was erected in 1984 in memory of 105 martyrs of the underground. The monument was surrounded by immaculately kept war graves. We stopped and spent a few minutes paying our respects to people who had died whilst fighting for their country. It was an amazingly peaceful place particularly when you consider how those people had died.

We continued through Moureze, which was a beautiful old village with interesting rock formations, and stopped for a coffee in another picturesque village further on.

We then rode on into the hills and didn’t see another vehicle for ages. Imagine our surprise when, having stopped to admire and photograph a stunning view, a French Peugeot pulled up behind us and the elderly couple began asking us for directions. They had got lost, but having Mip and a map we were able to show them exactly where they were.

I haven’t asked for it, but I cannot ignore the fact that there is a bit of a theme regarding my interactions with various forms of insect life on this trip and today was not going to be an exception.

We were doing about 50 mph and were miles from any habitation when I decided to have a bit of a stretch to loosen up as we rode along. As I extended my left arm, Thwack, something hit my left hand with some force. My first thought was that a stone had been thrown up by Sarah’s rear tyre but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I turned my head to look at my left hand and was greeted by the sight of a bloody great big two inch long hornet holding tight onto my left thumb.

So that you can fully appreciate how much I enjoyed this sight I think that it’s important for me to explain that I do not like wasps and they do not like me. When we had been at Le Moto Camping Dordogne I had been quietly sitting reading when one had just flown up and stung me on my arm. I react quite badly to their stings and it was over two weeks before it had settled down. So it’s fair to say that I was not best pleased and had no intention of finding out just how much worse I react to hornet stings. The hornet had other ideas though, and far from being stunned or even squashed by it’s 50 mph impact with my hand, it was doing it’s damnedest to sting me through my my thin summer glove. Thankfully it was on the top of my thumb where there is kevlar and plastic armour so it wasn’t having much luck.

I immediately began frantically shaking my left hand about to dislodge it but to no avail, it just seemed to make it angrier. This was obviously having an interesting effect on my riding as Sarah had noticed my erratic riding and was wondering what was wrong. In the end I managed to knock the bugger off my thumb by hitting it against my hand protector. I have to say that hornets are definitely wasps with attitude. Bearing that in mind, I did stop and get Sarah to check my clothing to make sure that it hadn’t grabbed on elsewhere for round two.

We rode on along the D908 into a more populated region and saw a biker bar with a lifesize model of the Blues Brothers car on the balcony. We would have loved to have stopped and partied there but it was too early and there was no-one about so we decided to press on.

We did see a sign for a Municipal Camping site that made us smile.

We eventually stopped at a small Chambre d’hote (Bed and Breakfast) called La Cerisaie in the village of Riols. It was a beautiful old house owned and run by a Dutch couple who were very friendly and opened up their kids games room so that we would have somewhere secure to put the bikes for the night without having to unload everything from them.

Having settled in we wandered off for something to eat. After the days experiences I declined the delights of the premises with the painting of a giant insect on the outside wall and we had a delicious meal at a tiny restaurant on the road through the village.

After returning to Le Cerisaie we chatted with the owner’s brother, who was looking after the place and the children whilst the owner and his wife went out for a meal together, and who had laid on a surprise welcome for them. We left them to it, went to bed, and slept like logs!

Our budget definitely could not stretch to a night in a hotel in Monaco so we decided to head west and find somewhere cheaper to stay. Unfortunately we timed our exit of Monaco to coincide with rush hour. Entertaining to say the least. We had thought that the traffic was bad enough when we had arrived but this raised it to a whole new level. We had to negotiate the underground roundabout again, but second time lucky we took the correct exit, our tunnel climbed up, and we emerged into bright sunlight heading in the right direction.

We kept heading westwards until it was starting to get dusk, which coincided with us being on the outskirts of Cannes. I saw a hotel up on the hillside overlooking the town which looked easy to get to, and we decided to give it a try. The place was your typical business overnight accomodation type establishment, but was cheap and clean and offered everything that we needed. The guy on reception was very helpful and in no time we were booked in. He also said that we could park the bikes next to his Saab convertible in the secure staff area where he could keep an eye on them overnight. Bonus 🙂

The next morning it was very hot and we were soaked with sweat before we had even finished loading the bikes. Nice! We decided that we wanted to get some miles under our wheels and elected to jump onto the motorway rather than fight our way through the urban traffic and bake. It was a good choice, as travelling at motorway speeds made the 38 degree C temperature feel much cooler.

We had food that needed to be eaten as it was not going to keep in our tank bags in the heat, and so we stopped for a very late lunch at a motorway service area that had picnic tables in a wooded area at the far end. Very nice. It’s a shame that we do not have similar facilities at motorway services in the UK, but then I suppose that our weather would preclude their use for most of the year.

The downside of such a warm sunny climate though is the number and size of the insect life. Not usually a problem unless, as I discovered, you decide to picnic with your feet on an ant trail (well more like an ant motorway actually given the number of the things!), and they are about an inch long and take exception to my size 10’s causing a traffic jam. Thankfully my bike boots are motocross style and my bike jeans were tucked into them so, in spite of their best efforts, they couldn’t get inside my trousers to bite me. Sarah had gone off to find a loo, and the locals must have wondered what on earth the strange English biker was doing dancing around amongst the trees slapping his legs. It must have looked like Oompah meets Morris Dancing!

Once I was ant free and we were back at the bikes we started chatting to a Harley rider from Denmark and a Greek guy who was riding a German registered chopped Kawasaki EN500 to Spain for a couple of weeks of Spanish language school. Luckily he spoke good English as our Greek is marginally less fluent than our Italian.

We  had covered a good distance and were quite tired, so started working out where we were going to stop for the night. Sarah found a suitably priced hotel in a booklet that we had picked up when we had stayed at Le Boischaut in Chateauroux. The Greek guy, Pasquali, was also looking for somewhere to stay and so we agreed to join forces and ride together to the hotel.

We easily found the hotel Prime, which was situated amidst a forest of hotels on the outskirts of Montpellier. They had secure parking for the bikes at the rear of the hotel and a lockable store for our camping gear so that we did not have to cart it up to our rooms.

Their restaurant and bar was closed and so we all went a wandering to find somewhere to eat and chat over a drink. There was very limited choice and we settled on ‘The Buffalo Grill’. This was an American style diner which served, yes you’ve guessed it, Buffalo, in various guises. It was very tasty, but the French waiter looked horrified when we ordered more wine instead of coffee at the end of the meal. We had a good time chatting with Pasquali who was getting used to riding his first chop. He loved the laid back comfortable riding position but had found that the forward controls had taken some getting used to, particularly in traffic when he had kept on trying to put his feet onto footrests that were not there!

We had decided to stay for an extra night as the weather forecast for the next day was rain and high winds. It wouldn’t have been too bad, but the storm was scheduled to follow our route westwards for a couple of days so we thought that it was best to let it go on ahead without us.

The next day was spent sorting things out, buying provisions, washing clothes, etcetera. Not very exciting but necessary considering that in order to cut down on luggage we only had three pairs of socks and pants each (S: don’t tell Tony but I have a few more than that!). If we don’t wash them every day or so then we have to resort to the old inside out and back to front trick (S: refer to previous comment ‘cos that’s a man thing!). Not something I’d recommend as a lifestyle choice in a hot climate. The visit to the supermarket was entertaining. The guy ahead of us at the check-out insisted on very neatly and very slowly packing each of his purchased items into his bag, rearranging them until he was totally satisfied. Having generated a substantial queue he then decided that he was going to pay by cheque which he took absolutely ages to write out. Aaargh!

I relieve the boredom of foreign food shopping by looking for products with interesting names, such as ‘Bum’ biscuits and ‘Plopsies’, a Coco-pops style cereal. This visit revealed a cat food that is apparently Rich in Rabbit… Rich in illicit cat drugs more like from the picture on the tin!

That evening we didn’t need to eat out as in order to keep costs down we had already eaten some of the food that we had bought at the supermarket earlier (we resisted purchasing any cat food). As Pasquali had also decided to wait out the storm, we decided to all go out for a drink. We found an interesting bar restaurant and had an enjoyable time talking and learning about each others lives and cultures.

We said our goodbyes to Pasquali as he had decided on a very early start the following morning so that he could make up the kilometres that he hadn’t ridden that day because of the storm.

We retired for the night hoping that the forecast for sunshine the following day would prove to be accurate.

We set off from St. Dalmas de Tende feeling refreshed, if a little bitten and drained of blood in my case. You will be pleased to know that I am certain that it was the Mozzies who were responsible and not an attack by Vampires. Mind you I’m basing this on the fact that my evening meal had been steeped in garlic so I don’t think that I am a member of the undead. I promise to let you know if I develop an aversion to sunlight!

As we headed towards Monaco we rode yet another interesting but well surfaced road, that was rarely either straight or level, through some dramatic countryside in great weather. Is it any wonder that we were both grinning and having a wonderful time?

Neither of us has ever been to Monaco, the tiny little principality made famous in films and car races as being the playground of the rich and famous. I have never quite understood the difference between Monte Carlo and Monaco, so when we next had internet access we Googled it – answer here for those of you that are interested.

We were looking forward to the experience (Sarah had been banging on about it for a while!), but didn’t quite know what to expect. So it came as a surprise as we rode around a bend to be presented with an amazing view of Monaco spread out below us.

We pulled off quickly into a layby on the side of the road, placed there for exactly that purpose judging by the number of folk that came after us and did exactly the same thing! I suspect this could be one of Monaco’s most photographed spots.

I don’t think that I have ever seen so much money floating on the sea before. Yachts, power boats, ocean cruisers, a three masted tall ship, all bobbing around on a calm, stunningly bright blue sea.

We headed for the sea front which was not very far away horizontally but was an awfully long way below us. This entailed quite a ride down the heavily conurbated and very steep hillside that Monaco is built on, including another first, an exit off a roundabout into a sharp downhill hairpin bend in heavy traffic! Thank heavens for all the mountain riding experience we’d had up till then!

We negotiated our way past the Monte Carlo Casino and down to the harbour side, whilst dodging kamikaze well dressed folk on scooters and in chauffeur driven limos, ending up shoe-horned into a sort of space by the side of a church, which was the closest we could find to a parking space. There were cars, bikes and scooters jammed into just about everywhere they could be, this small car park also had a number of the afore-mentioned limos triple parked with their chauffeurs standing around, chatting and smoking whilst presumably waiting for the calls to pick up their respective obviously well-heeled clients.

What a place!

Hot, sunny, manic, oozing style and money from every well dressed pore… We had a very small mooch about and a wide-eyed look at what we could see from where we were before deciding to forget the expensive coffee and head out of town – we’d seen enough to get an inkling of what the place was like, and were absolutely melting in our bike gear. I now understand why almost every other rider was wearing normal and therefore cool clothes.

We set off only to encounter yet another first, negotiating an underground roundabout with several tunnel exits to choose from. In the heavy traffic we were not quite sure which exit to take… Mip doesn’t work well underground and it was really not clear. Picking one almost at random, we ended up going through a series of tunnels which then spat us out right by the opposite side of the port.

Slightly bemused, we spotted a car park by the marina and pulled in for a breather and to gather our wits. It turned out we were in the car park of Stars’n’Bars, with a covered outside terrace right by the marina. Ah-ha – somewhere we could actually get that expensive coffee whilst being able to keep an eye on the bikes and all our gear – perfect!

Outside the bar they were displaying, and presumably taking orders for, a Greman electrically assisted pedal cycle that was almost a motorcycle. Interesting and very green but rather expensive, costing as much as a medium sized real motorcycle.

After perusing the surprisingly reasonably priced menu we decided to go all out and have lunch rather than just coffee, and massively enjoyed the people watching, not to mention overhearing bits of the many and varied conversations that were going on at the tables around us. It turned out that we were there on the first day of the Monaco Boat Show, and one was a chap discussing the customs requirements for his armed bodyguards and specifically for their guns and ammunition to get into the Seychelles.

It was a great taste of how the other half live!

My bike chose this moment to develop a slight problem, the choke stuck in the ‘Off’ position. Of course, rather than be annoyed, I was immediately thankful for small mercies as that is much better than it sticking in the ‘On’ position. I have dismantled the left hand switch and choke lever mechanism and that moves freely once disconnected, as does the choke mechanism underneath the fuel injectors, so it must be the cable. Unfortunately the cable is difficult to get to without taking the tank etcetera off, so as I can operate the mechanism by hand and starting is not a problem, I decided to leave it until a more convenient time.

Since before we left the UK Sarah has said that she wanted to have one expensive coffee in Monaco, so we set off from Asti towards the South of France.

There were loads more lovely twisty roads, which we enjoyed immensely, but after lunch I realised that either I was really off my game or that the handling on my bike had deteriorated. I eventually realised that my rubber mounted handlebars were moving slightly and quickly stopped to sort it out. We had taken the handlebar clamps off when working on the bikes before leaving England and one of the nuts had come loose. Unfortunately it was a size of spanner that I didn’t have with me. I spoke to a guy who was chopping wood outside his house nearby, he disappeared inside and lady luck was definitely with me when he came out a few moments later with the correct sized spanner. After a couple of minutes I had tightened the offending nut, checked the others, returned the borrowed spanner with thanks and we were on our way again.

What an improvement in the handling. It must have been gradually loosening for some time but so slowly that I didn’t notice until it got to a significant level. It just goes to show that having worked on something it is worth not just doing the double check once you have finished, but a triple check after riding for a while.

We had a fantastic ride, with some amazing scenery and mountain roads, and took the tunnel back into France. We didn’t see any border control and continued to the village of St. Dalmas de Tende where we stopped for a break. It was 5pm and we decided that this would be a good place to stay for the night.

We wanted to stretch our legs and so went for a walk through the woods along the banks of a nearby river. It was lovely with the sound of the water running over the rocks, and so picturesque.

A sign warned us to be careful about wild animals and snakes but neglected to mention the crowd of hungry mozzies who were queueing up to have a feast at restaurant Tony!

At least I kept them from biting Sarah.

Having left Mandello del Lario it was wonderful to be ‘On The Road’ again, although getting used to riding the bikes fully loaded again took one or two bends to perfect!

After our experiences with Milano traffic we decided to give it a wide berth and stick to the smaller roads. Although far more time consuming this gave us the opportunity to experience more of Italy and the less known towns and villages. We did learn however, to be more careful when setting a Via Point in Mip our SatNav, when she took us into a busy town centre packed with heavy traffic and then out again. Fun with our panniers and luggage. She does exactly as she is told and takes us through the exact point that we clicked on rather than using any bypass or ring road to get around the town. Something that we need to remember when we are creating a route in advance on the computer.

After several hours of riding we were getting tired and opted to look for somewhere to stay for the night. We selected Asti as it was the next conveniently placed town shown on the map, not realising it was the Asti of Spumante fame! When we got there we were amazed by the beauty of the old town and all of the flags and bunting in evidence. We eventually found a hotel in the main square called the Hotel Reale, that had a room available and, as a bonus, also had secure underground parking for the bikes.

There was grandstand style seating erected in the square and workmen sweeping up sand. When we asked at the hotel Reale it was explained to us that they have a festival and a horse race around the square which brings in tourists from far and wide, and that it had all finished the day before. Perfect timing eh!

Once we had settled in we went for a walk around the town and sampled some truly delicious Italian ice cream from one of the many gelaterias before retiring for the night.

The following morning we decided to have a coffee in one of the pavement cafes and write a couple of postcards. As we were sat there I noticed a group of men gathering alongside the cafe who then all walked onto the pedestrian crossing and stopped. Some began chatting and a few were reading newspapers but it was obvious that they intended to block the road. After a few moments the traffic began to back up and after a few minutes a photographer appeared and began taking pictures. There were no placards or shouting, it was all very peaceful and civilised. By now the delayed drivers had all got out of their vehicles and were stood around chatting. I saw a circle of five bus drivers taking the opportunity to have a cigarette.

The Police arrived and two were talking to the protesters whilst others were diverting traffic away from the blockage. By now a television film crew were there interviewing one of the protesters. We later learnt that it was all about a local factory that is a big employer in the town being possibly closed in a restructuring. Then as quickly as it started everyone wandered off and the traffic began to flow again.

Our cue to be on the road again.

We have been enjoying riding around the Lake Como area, particularly after we picked up a free book of suggested motorcycle rides in the surrounding area from the tourist information hut in the park at Mandello del Lario. It’s a good quality book and was free. The only problem is it is only in Italian but it’s easy enough to work out. Also the guy in the pictures should really be riding a Moto Guzzi, but he’s not. It’s not even an Italian bike, it’s a BMW!

Mountain Gravel Track

One of the suggested rides took us as far as it is permitted to go by motor vehicle up towards the top of one of the mountains. Great fun and tremendous views at the end of it.

Sarah enjoying her V7 off the tarmac

One day we decided to go for a walk along the shore of Lake Como. We were hand in hand, full of the joys of spring (well okay then, autumn) and enjoying a relaxing stroll. We sat on one of the park benches and were listening to the gentle sounds of the birds in the trees and the water lapping against the shore.

Suddenly I heard the roar of a big engine.  and saw an incredible powerboat come skimming along the surface of the lake. I have never seen one like it in the flesh and when it slowed to a halt further down the lake I expected Mr Bond to get out wearing a Tux!

After the factory visit with the Swiss Guzzitsi we all sheltered from the torrential rain by walking around the corner for a meal. It was so bad that we were all wearing our waterproofs and helmets. Rufty tufty bikers eh! It didn’t let up for 3 or 4 hours by which time there were streams flowing along most of the roads. Poor old Richard then had to leave to ride back to Switzerland in the pouring rain as he needed to be back that night.

We went with the remaining Swiss contingent to Agostini’s again as several had shopping lists of goodies to get before they returned home.

They then invited us to go with them to visit the Moto Guzzi Club of Mandello at their club house in the basement of the Guzzi B&B Guest House just down the road from Agostinis. Of course we said yes. The MGCM have a great set up, with a kitchen and a bar, and they laid on some drinks and nibbles for us and made us all feel very welcome indeed.

After partying with the Guzzitsi that night, Sunday dawned bright and sunny for them to ride home. Some left a little later than others after indulging in a tad too much Limoncello!

We had been planning to leave too, but a lot of our gear was wet or damp and needed drying out. No neither the tent nor the tarp had leaked. There was a slight slope to the ground and too much water for it to all sink in, so some of it decided to come and visit inside the porch of our tent. That wouldn’t have been a problem if the ground sheet in the porch hadn’t been old and rather porous. Luckily the sleeping area stayed dry.

We decided to stay an extra day to get everything clean and dry and festooned the bushes, bikes and any suitable dry surface with wet kit. I’m sure that it all looked very picturesque qently steaming in the sun, and if the site owners disagreed they were polite enough not to tell us.

The following morning was thankfully also dry and sunny but even so it took us ages to finish drying off stuff and to do a full pack down as everything had been unpacked. We were eventually ready to set off and say Goodbye to Mandello del Lario at the crack of 1pm!

Good to be back on the road though 🙂