Category: Both of us


Well actually, the sequence was Automobile, Plane and Train…

Not long after our return to the UK Tony’s father David was admitted to hospital. They confirmed the diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia, and unfortunately his condition continued to deteriorate. After some time the consultant recommended that he be moved to a residential care home.

We discussed options with David, who decided that he would like to spend some time with his grandchildren in Scotland. Tony’s sister managed to find a wonderful home near Aberdeen where he could stay.

It took a bit of organisation to get David to Scotland. Firstly we hired a van and drove with some of David’s personal effects up to the care home, a distance of over 400 miles each way.

We knew that such a long drive would be too much for David, so arranged to fly with him up to Aberdeen airport the following week. We were impressed with the help that we had at both airports, where they provided a wheelchair at either end, and a lift to get on and off the aircraft.

Tony’s sister and her husband met us at the airport, and drove us to the home where we helped him to settle in.

It was an extraordinarily emotional time for us all.

In May 2011 we received a late night call from Scotland as David had been admitted to hospital suddenly. The prognosis was not good, so we decided to get ourselves there as quickly as possible.

There were no seats available for the early morning flight, so we let the train take the strain. It turned out the choice was a good one, as that morning was the second time that flights were grounded due to the Icelandic ash cloud – luck was on our side on this at least!

Tony’s father passed away peacefully the following day with his family by his side.

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We awoke to a dry day with the sun gamely trying to burn off the mist that was rolling down off the mountains. A quick check of the weather forecast revealed that we were due some rain today, no, having read the forecast properly, lets make that lots of rain, and strong winds moving across the country later on in the day…

When we set off my father hadn’t been very well. He had insisted that we still make this trip as, in his words, “It’s bad enough that I’m not well, but I don’t want it on my conscience that I prevented you from making a trip of a lifetime”. Something for which I am very grateful. Thanks Dad.

Because of this, we knew that at some point we would have to come back home to see him, hence our decision to have a shakedown trip through Europe first before going to the Americas. That way we could be close to home in case we were needed. I’d had a telephone call from the consultant, and it was apparent that that time needed to be soon.

We had booked a ferry from Santander to Portsmouth in three days time so, with the bad weather looming, we decided that we were going to make a push and try to get as far as possible before it set in. This gave us the added benefit of being able to ride the last of the twisty N260 in the dry, particularly as much of the road sported ‘Slippery When Wet’ signs, and the regular cliff faces and drops didn’t give us much room for error on some of the bends!

Well I’m glad to say that the N260 lived up to it’s reputation, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves yet again.

At one small town the road was temporarily blocked by a procession of Morris Men dancing with their sticks, followed by a band.

We parked up to enjoy the spectacle and have a quick look around before setting off again, finding an artisan baker who had an interesting sign, and an ancient AMC two stroke motorcycle fitted with the biggest crash bars in the world!

Further on, we couldn’t resist stopping for refreshment at a beautiful bar restaurant in the curiously named town of Gavin.

Next stop was for petrol, and whilst filling up, we noticed some interesting cars across the road in a restaurant car park. We went to take a look and discovered it was a French sports car club, obviously out for a Sunday drive in the last of the sunshine. After a nosy at the cars, we  thought to have a bite to eat at the restaurant, but the owner was a miserable sod who refused to serve us. I think that he just didn’t like bikers as he was happy to serve a family that had arrived after us in a car. This was the only time that anything like this had happened since we had left the UK and I was pretty angry, however we left quietly and denied him our business.

A few kilometers further on we came across the La Trobada restaurant which was very friendly and cheaper to boot, bonus!

As we rode on westwards the scenery changed quite dramatically, with the ground being very barren and appearing to be made up of large pale grey rocks and scree.

Imagining it without the patchy vegetation, it looked as though it could have been a moonscape, or even a stage set from a Science Fiction movie.

Nearby was a lake with very low water levels, and I think that there must have been some hot springs somewhere as we occasionally got wafts of a strong sulphurous smell, and neither of us had been eating eggs (S: the odd sign for thermal spas was a bit of a clue, as well!).

It was late afternoon when we joined a motorway, and as we rode along, the skies were getting darker and darker. We were doing the old “Shall we, shan’t we, stop and put our waterproofs on” thing, when the first few large, heavy rain drops hit us, so it was straight onto the hard shoulder. Unfortunately not quite quickly enough – by the time that we had waterproofed up, it was lashing it down and we were both rather damp. We should have stopped earlier, but then hindsight is always 20/20.

The winds were picking up but that wasn’t too bad, it was the sudden gusts that actually pushed the bikes across the road which made riding a bit fraught and tiring.

It was getting late and we decided that the best thing was to find somewhere to stop for the night. It was a good call as I’d had enough wind induced moments for the day, having had a particularly close call on a bridge when the wind nearly gusted me into the armco barrier. I don’t mind admitting that it scared me, which caused me to tense up, which of course just made things worse.

Without Mip to help us with the finer detail we took a wrong turn in the confusion of a multi-motorway junction just outside Pamplona, and ended up on a scenic tour of an industrial estate whilst trying to work out how to go back on ourselves. Eventually we made it back en route, and started looking for a promising place to pull off and find somewhere to stay for the night. Pamplona is the city famed for it’s annual spectacle of the Running of the Bulls, which meant there should be a lot of hotels around the town and it’s surrounds, but deciding on the best exit from the motorway to find them wasn’t proving to be the easiest of things, what with the rain, traffic and our general tiredness. Eventually we just picked an exit, left the motorway, and started looking for somewhere to stay, but with no luck, everywhere seemed to be closed.

In Iza on the outskirts of Pamplona, we saw a small sign for a hostal pointing up a side road. After a bit of a trek and a few wrong turns, we eventually came across a converted barn and farmhouse which looked lovely. The owner heard the bikes and came out. They had no guests, so we were welcome to stay and park our bikes in their garage. Excellent.

The Hostal Rural Huartearena was built into the hillside and their garage was basically most of the ground floor. It was massive and just the sort of thing that I dream of having one day, being immaculate, painted, heated and lit. I was feeling bad about us and the bikes dripping water all over the floor, but they weren’t bothered and let us hang up our gear to dry.

Our hosts were very friendly, the accomodation superb, and the home cooked evening meal wonderful, so when we retired to bed, we were both very happy, warm, dry bikers 🙂

We had been looking forward to visiting Carcassonne for quite some time. The fascination with the place started a few years ago when Sarah had a regular Games night with her friends Pam and Ari. As three is an awkward number, she went to a local specialist games shop looking for a game that would be fun to play with only that number of players. They recommended the award winning (yes, they have awards for games!) tile building game ‘Carcassonne’, which fast became their favourite.

Next we both read an excellent historical fiction called ‘Labyrinth’ by Kate Mosse, which is set in Carcassonne and the surrounding area.

Because of all this, Carcassonne had featured as a definite destination in our travel plans from the start. We were over the moon that our first view of it was magical, with it looking as splendid in reality as we could have hoped for.

Sarah found a campsite called Camping La Cite within sight of the old city walls, which had plenty of space and was quiet as it was approaching the end of their season. We booked in, and it was good to be able to hand in my RAC Camping Carnet at the reception instead of having to surrender one of our passports. We picked a spot amongst a stand of walnut trees near to a stream, set up the tent, and settled in.

That evening we received a telephone call from our friend Rob, who was in Bordeaux with his girlfriend Martina. We had previously talked about the possibility of meeting up, and they now decided that they would travel south and meet us at Carcassonne. I was blown away as they only had a few days of their holiday left and we were quite a distance further south than they had been planning on travelling, particularly given that their ferry back to the UK was sailing from Calais.

They were tired of camping, so we decided to ditch the tents and share one of the mobile home type units that were available on site. The fact that the mobile home had heating was a big decider as the nights were definitely turning cool! They arrived early the next evening and we all chatted and caught up over a meal.

We had heard mixed reviews of Carcassonne, with some saying it was wonderful, and others saying is beautiful but over commercialised, being full of bars, cafes and souvenir shops. We decided to walk there along the riverbank and find out for ourselves.

As we approached the old city of Carcassonne my first impression was one of awe, as the fortified city is huge, very imposing and in excellent condition. It is obvious that various parts have been renovated, but I found it to be impressive and beautiful. Yes there were a lot of businesses inside that were aimed at the tourists, but there were also normal shops, and to my surprise some private houses. I had no idea that people actually still lived inside the walled city. We had the benefit of seeing the place out of season on a weekday, but I can imagine that our impressions would have been quite different had we been there on a busy Sunday in August.

After we had looked around a little, we headed for a bar. How unusual I hear you cry, but for once it was not just our desire for a drink, but a rather more sad occasion. Wayne, a friend of ours who had celebrated with us at the Wed-n-Fled rally (amongst others) had been killed by an allegedly drunk driver who failed to even stop at the scene. Whilst I would like to rant on about the sort of despicable person who would do that, I had better not as this is really not the time nor the place and the matter has yet to go to court. We coincided our drink with his funeral so that we could be there in spirit to celebrate his life. Ride free Wayne!

Of course one drink led to another, and after we had polished off a couple of bottles of wine I had my first taste of Grog, a drink made with rum, hot water and sugar. I think that interesting is the best way for me to describe it, needless to say that I won’t be rushing to order it again. Martina had moved on to Irish Coffee, which was like none I have seen before. It came in a large glass and was multi layered, with hot whiskey and brown sugar at the bottom, espresso coffee in the middle and cream on the top. It came with a straw so that she could sup from any of the layers at will! A better choice than the grog, methinks.

After we left the old city we decided to finish off the day with a BBQ and made use of the one of the communal BBQs that were scattered around the campsite. It took some time but was delicious!

On our way to Carcassonne a couple of days previously, we had passed a very picturesque marina on the canal du Midi, and as the next day was beautifully sunny, we decided that this would be a good place to visit. We parked up near to the marina and walked, as the road that ran down the side of the canal was closed by an armed Police officer whilst workmen were tarring and stone chipping patches of the road surface. Hot tarred and chipped feet anyone?!

As we approached we saw a number of the boats which had “Le Boat” written on the side, which I thought was particularly helpful for the landlubbers amongst us.

We made enquiries and discovered that Le Boat was the name of the local boat hire company, which prompted us to go for a pleasant and relaxing boat trip along the canal midi.

Our final full day in Carcassonne was rounded off with another very pleasant evening at the campsite.

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!

The view from our bedroom window

We awoke refreshed just in time to see a bunch of paravane parachutists enjoying themselves, swooping and swirling about in the clear mountain air above Chamonix. One tasty continental breakfast later, we were packing the bikes under a blue sky in bright sunshine and getting ready to set off. We have been so lucky with the weather.

In no time at all we were enjoying throwing the V7’s around some more twisty roads with stunning views and before we knew it we were at the Swiss border. We slowed down at the customs post, ready to be checked out, but no one appeared so we just rode on through. We were on our bikes in Switzerland!

We stopped to refuel and had a pleasant surprise as the petrol was much cheaper than in France. The prices were displayed in both Swiss Francs and Euros but my mental arithmatic quickly revealed that it was cheaper in Swiss Francs than Euros. I paid on my card and we decided to keep our eyes open for a cash machine so that we could pick up some Swiss Francs. No problem, after all this is Switzerland, renowned for it’s banks.

Near Martigny

We had a great ride and got to the town of Martigny, which was not too far from the village of Collonges where the Valais Moto Guzzi Club were having their rally. We had been looking out for a cash point on any likely bank looking type building since crossing the borderbut had failed miserably. Sarah pulled up in a layby outside the tourist information office and I went into the bank next door to try and get some Swiss Francs. As I walked in I realised why we hadn’t been able to find any cash machines: they keep them all safely inside. A few moments later I walked out much relieved, with our Swiss Francs in my hand. We were soon on our way again, destination the Moto Guzzi Rally.

Riding down the road from Martigny to Collonges, we had to pull over to admire a cascading waterfall that spewed out from halfway down a mountain. I love waterfalls, actually being around water generally, and this one was pretty spectular. A couple of photos later we were on our way again, only to halt once again by the side of the river we crossed over once we left the main road. We’d noticed when riding through the alps that one of the streams we followed was an amazing bluey-grey colour, and this was a river that was exactly the same! We had no idea whether it was because of being glacier run off or what, and later discovered that it was none other than the Rhone, so at some point we’ll do a little internet research to find out the cause.

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…

Deciding to ride around the world on motorbikes was the easy part. What has proved far less easy is choosing The Bikes to do it on! We started out avidly reading all the books and articles we could get our hands on. We picked the brains of various folk who’ve been on long overland trips. We’ve been out test riding various options. It would appear that there is no perfect bike for the trip – everyone has their own opinions, favourites and views, and of course everyone’s journey is their own.

It’s fair to say that we are in a complete quandary! Everything we’ve thought of is a compromise of one sort or another. How much road riding will we be doing? What about when the tarmac runs out and we’re on dirt or mud tracks? How much luggage can we carry? Will we be able to pick the bikes up when we drop them, as we’ve been assured we most definitely will?

We started off really not wanting to be Ewan and Charlie clones on BMW GS’s. Tony was keen to stick to his beloved Moto Guzzi’s, maybe even setting off on a pair of 30 year old V50’s that he owns. Small, light, reliable and easy to fix are all big plusses. Old, high mileage, on road design, and spares issues are the down side.

So we thought we’d take a look at the BMW’s after all, as they do seem to be built for the job. First off we test rode the GS800. A good bike, but too tall (we’re not!), not a particularly comfortable seat, chain drive, and most importantly, Tony just didn’t feel at home on it. Next we thought, to hell with it, we’ll give the GS1200 a go, as we’d seen one out at a friends and realised how much lower than the 800 it was. Bizarre with it being a bigger bike overall, and worth a go. That and the fact that every one of our friends that we spoke to who owned a GS1150 or 1200 absolutely loved them. It was a lovely, bright and sunny week back in October 2009 – you know the sort, of the warm Indian Summer variety. Every day that week except the day that we had booked the test ride – that day it absolutely tipped down! We were soaked by the time we’d ridden the 20 or so miles to the BMW dealer. Tony went out first, seemed to be gone for ages, and came back dripping but with a big grin on his face. I went out and did the same – rode nearly 30 miles around the back roads and up the motorway and felt like I could just have kept on going! A good omen – we both felt very at home on the thing, and as if it would really look after us. We were still a bit high up and couldn’t get our feet flat on the floor, but there were options to lower the bike enough to take care of this. I was still concerned about the sheer size of it though – how would we manage with them when we were off road?

We decided to think about our options for a while, partly as we just didn’t have the dosh to buy them then and there anyway – we had other vehicles to sell before we’d be in a position to shell out that kind of money, and October was not the best time of year to be selling bikes, even if they had been done up to saleable condition. We were also concerned about the cost of the bikes which would have a huge impact on the cost of the Carnets for the bikes (the bike “passports”), as this is based on the value. Hmmm, time to take stock and think…