Category: Sarah

One of the things that attracted me to the rally in Valais (apart from the roads and the bikes of course), was the mention of opportunity to visit the thermal baths nearby. Now I’m a huge fan of an ordinary hot bath after a rally, so this was something not to be missed. We’d had a recommendation from the lovely Richard to try out the thermal baths at Saillon, which were his family’s favourites, so after a quick breakfast, we headed off.

Castle above Saillon

We hesitated at the reception desk for a while, trying to work out which entrance fee to pay, and decided on the second level package of “Carpe Diem”, as it included hammam and sauna. Off we went to the changing rooms, wondering whether the norm here was with clothes or without, as I know that in some countries it’s considered quite unhygienic to wear swimming cossies in jacuzzis and steam rooms. Peering out to the locker side of the changing cubicles I was somewhat relieved to see folk modestly clad in their bathing suits, so we donned ours and wandered in to sample the delights. First up was the indoor pool, which we quickly wandered past to some steps down to an outdoor pool. It was cleverly done, as you could walk down into the hot water before swimming out under some plastic curtains to the outside world.

One of the outside pools

Well, what can I say? Obviously we have no pictures to share with you (except these little ones I’ve blagged off their website!), but imagine this if you will: a big pool with plenty of room to swim, bubbling jacuzzi all along the far wall, various water spouts and jets, all surrounded by stunning mountain vistas. Bliss.

After we’d enjoyed the delights of this pool, we were trying to work out what we’d actually bought for our upgraded entry to “Carpe Diem”, as there were signs to the hammam and sauna village off to the side of the outdoor pool, and it seemed to be free! Hmmm. Time to investigate. Off we wandered back into the indoor pool, and looked around for some clues. Eventually we noticed a sign to “Carpe Diem”, so off we went. We used our entry tickets to gain access to the top of a large spiral staircase, walked on down and were greeted at a second reception desk. The attendant explained to us, using a combination of the French we could understand and some pictures, that my swimming cossie was OK, but Tony’s swimming shorts (of the baggy shorts variety) were forbidden, and he could either wear tight Speedo typeย  swimming trunks or go naked. As he didn’t have any others, the latter was the only option open to him, so out went the modesty! She handed us some fluffy white towels which she recommended that we use when walking between rooms though.

Steam room sans steam!

We wandered through into the Swiss take on an old Roman baths. There were 3 different steam rooms, with varying temperatures, levels of humidity and fragrances, indoor and outdoor saunas, a foot bathing area, and a huge jacuzzi in the middle. Ahhh, bliss! We tried out all of the rooms, and I discovered that it was actually far more comfortable going naked, as let’s face it, you’re there to sweat! I did cover my bits up for the jacuzzi though, although Tony didn’t have that option ๐Ÿ™‚

What a wonderful place! Our favourite part had to be the jacuzzi, which had the bubbly bit like the one outside, along with various very high powered water jets under the water at different levels, so you could effectively massage most of your body from shoulders to feet.

Carpe Diem Jacuzzi pool

We must have spent about 6 hours in that bit alone, punctuated by occasional forays back around the various steam rooms. One go on the sauna was enough for us though, as neither of us enjoys the dry heat as much as the steam rooms.

After we eventually tore ourselves away from the joys of the Carpe Dium sanctuary, we discovered another couple of outdoor pools back in the main bit of the baths. One of them was another fairly leisurely place with jacuzzi and water jet bits, and there was a final pool that was the standard pool type shape, and laned for people who actually wanted to swim. Needless to say, we didn’t get around to trying that one!

Our own picture of "our" waterfall"!

Eventually, nearly 8 hours later and totally pruned, we tore ourselves away and rode off to find something to eat. We were ravenous after all that lying around, so decided to try a pizza – after all, we’d had pizza once in France and were on our way to Italy, so it seemed reasonable to try one in Switzerland for a country comparison. Very nice it was too, and we wended our way home to the tent for a good nights sleep, serenaded by the sound of the waterfall.

The Sunday of the rally dawned bright and sunny once again. When I say sunny, of course, there’s something a little different about the sun down in the valley. As we were surrounded by such big pointy mountainy things, the actual sunshine didn’t reach the valley floor until a good 2 or 3 hours after sunrise, and left a similar chunk of time before sunset. An interesting phenomenon that meant that in the Winter, folk living in the valley receive only about 20 minutes of actual direct sunlight, where higher up the mountains they got to enjoy a lot more of it. Lower temperatures with the altitude make up the difference though, so it’s all swings and roundabouts.

Then there was... just us left!

It was Tony’s turn to be a tad hungover this time, so he slept on whilst I was up and chatting to some of our new friends. A lot of folk were up mega-early and had packed and left before I was up at around 9ish (I know, early for me!), but our fellow Brits, of which there were 8 in total, all took their time to pack up so that their tents had a chance to dry in the sun from around 10am. No rain, just a heavy dew, as the weather gods had once again been kind to us with a beautiful weekend.

We took our time and made sure that we were the last tent still standing, and old rally tradition of mine that we just happened to resurrect. First on and last off, seems fair! One of the Valais club members, Jean-Maurice, had offered to take us back to his house for lunch, and very patiently waited till we’d finally finished packing and were ready for the off at the crack of 1pm.

Still waiting...

He wanted to show us some of the roads which we had missed from the ride the day before, so took the scenic route up some amazing hairpins to Lac de Champex and back round again to his small village near Verbier. Absolutely beautiful, and an interesting challenge with fully loaded bikes, even with the hints on how best to handle the hairpins that he gave us beforehand.

Yes, the water was very cold!

After a wonderful 30-odd mile ride, we came to his house and were welcomed in by his family. Veronique, Jean-Maurice’s wife, who was originally from Mauritius, had prepared a delicious Mauritian dinner which we all dived into after whetting our appetites on the ride.

The view from Jean-Maurice's veranda!

After we had completely stuffed ourselves, Jean-Maurice pulled out some maps of Switzerland and Italy, and we spent a happy hour or two plotting possible routes to and around Mandello del Lario, and looking at the options for heading over to the Stelvio pass.

We eventually took our leave and headed off to get the tent back up, as we’d decided to stay in Valais for a few days. Jean-Maurice had offered to take us on another tour around the region, so we’d exchanged phone numbers and he promised to call us later. Another place with so much to see and so little time to see it in, but we wanted to fit in what we could, including a day at the thermal baths that sounded so relaxing! We had spotted a small campsite by the waterfall on our way to Collonges for the rally, so went back there and got ourselves set up in just enough time before the light left us.

OK, so the road gets a bit twisty up ahead...

Jean-Maurice called to say that the weather forecast was good for the next day and then expected to rain on and off for three days after, so suggested that we postpone the trip to the baths so we could take our tour on the good day. We arranged to meet him in Martigny at 1.30pm, and, as we were nicely full of the meal we’d been treated to earlier, we decided on an early night so that we could be up at a reasonable hour the next day. Well, reasonable for us, anyway!

Tony enjoying the view

Monday saw us up, breakfasted and on our way in plenty of time. We met up with Jean-Maurice and off we went on what turned into a 70+ mile trip. We picked up a couple of J-M’s friends en-route, who we just happened to bump into, 2-up on their Very Purple BMW K100RS. They decided to join in the fun, and away we went, up hill and down dale, or should I say, up mountain and down more mountain! I had the SatNav on so we could track the trip, although I have now found out, 8 days later, that it seems the SatNav only saves the last 7 days, so it’s gone. Gutted! It was a wonderful day, though – we saw all sorts of amazing roads, fantastic vistas, and strange and wonderful things such as the rippley pyramids, which are indeed a natural formation.

Yes, they are actually a natural formation, or that's what they tell the tourists, anyway!

We stopped for a coffee break at a hotel in Nax, a small town perched on the side of, yes, you guessed it, a mountain, and at the juncture of 3 valleys. The break was very welcome to me, as I’d discovered that needing to go to the loo most definitely affected my riding when dealing with the twisty turnies, so the relief was two-fold!

Many miles later we all parted company and we headed off back to our campsite, tired but happy. We decided that we’d done enough riding for one day, so walked over to the restaurant attached to the campsite, and perused the menu. Not cheap, but that was something we’d come to expect in Switzerland, so when we spotted Chateaubriand on the menu, we decided, sod it, we’re on honeymoon, let’s push the boat out! This caused much amazement to the owners of the restaurant, who said, “But the English usually eat cheese omelettes!”. After a little light bantering, it turned out that in 28 years of running the place, this was the first time that any Angleterres had ever ordered Chateaubriand! Good to know that we continue to surprise and entertain as we go.

Camping by the waterfall

The meal was absolutely excellent, and the local wine that they recommended to accompany it was also delicious. We retired to bed fully replete once again. Happy days indeed ๐Ÿ™‚

All the Brits

Photo stops notwithstanding, it was an easy ride from Chamonix to Collonges, and we arrived on site at around 2pm. Other than Phil, a fellow Guzzi riding Brit, we were the first folk there other than the Valais club, who were still setting up. We were warmly greeted by Giorgio and Richard, who we’d been in contact with by email beforehand, and were the first to get our tent up so had our pick of the nice level sports pitch.

Nice inflatable, nice duck!

The rally was being held in the Couvert, a local community facility, like a village hall but with three open sides. It was filled with wooden tables and benches, and had kitchen and a bar which were being run by the club. There were also excellent toilet facilities on site, and even some communal showers. Superb. Party on!

After setting the tent up, the club were also organised and we went to book ourselves in. Richard, an ExPat Brit living in Switzerland, took our 15SF (10 Euros) entry fees, and in exchange gave us each a load of goodies, including a sticker, patch, free beer token, minature bottle of the local schnapps style hooch, and a bit of swiss chocolate. Needless to say that the chocolate and minatures didn’t last long.

Happy smiley people

The club had local beer on tap, but as I have never managed to aquire a taste for beer of any flavour, I asked what else was available. Now I’ve never thought of Switzerland as a wine producing nation, but we couldn’t help but notice the large quantities of grape vines clinging to the mountain sides in pretty little terraces whilst on our way into the valley, and it turns out that they do make wine, and do it rather well. They just tend to drink most of it themselves rather than export it, which seems fair to me! I partook of one of the local whites, a Fendant de Fully, which I liked so much that I partook of a bottle or three more than was good for me. Suffice it to say that a good night was had by all, it’s just a shame that it all gets rather fuzzy for me past about 1 or 2am! I do believe we were amongst the last still standing though, in true Tony and Sarah tradition.

Then there were two...

The next day I was somewhat the worse for wear. Definately too wobbly to go out on a challenging ride on twisty mountain roads, so we declined the offer of the organised run and went back to bed for a while after seeing the rest of the folk off. Saturday night was a much more sober affair, well for me, anyway. We had the opportunity to enjoy a local speciality, the Raclette. This was a simple affair, basically take half of a round of cheese (and they’re big rounds!), stick it under a little grill, and wait untill the top layer has melted and started bubbling. Scrape that on to a plate and add a new potato, a gherkin and a few pickled onions, then eat. Scrummy, but not desparately filling, and after a couple of these we moved on to the main event, a full platter of cheese, salami and walnut bread. A little more civilised than your standard rally burger van! A little more pricey, too, but this was Switzerland. We scoffed what we could manage, and ended up asking for a doggy bag for the substantial leftovers. The nice man at the cheese stall happily re-assembled the sliced cheese and packaged it all up beautifully for us.

Bit posher than your standard burger van!

The wine was going down a tad more slowly for me that night, so of course it was Tony’s turn to get a serious drinking head on. Several bottles of wine later we were chuffed to bits to be given a prize simply for attending the rally from the UK on our honeymoon – a huge bottle of the local brew in a presentation case along with a couple of matched glasses, oh, and a couple of beer mats too, just so we could keep things civilised. Long distance awards went to a lovely Danish chap, Sven, and Val from the UK, who had only passed her test a year and a half previously so was still on a restricted bike. The prizes were a minor challenge to work out how to transport back home, and we always love a challenge!

We managed to be some of the last to retire yet again, and eventually threw in the towel and headed for our tent at around 2am, tired but happy – a good rally indeed. Big thank you to the Moto Guzzi Valais club for making us so welcome and organising such a great event, highly recommended to all of you Guzzi riders out there!

PS This was my first ever non-UK rally, definately not my last!

Proving the Swiss have a sense of humour!

The idea for a separate wedding and reception came from my Mum – she’d told us about one of the ladies she works with whose daughter had recently married. They had a small ceremony, went off on honeymoon, and then had the reception when they came back. The more we thought about that, the better the idea sounded – after all, it’s two parties instead of just the one! Not to mention that everyone had told us that your wedding day seems to go so quickly that you rarely get a chance to talk to everyone. It also took away the problem of trying to find a castle for the wedding that allowed camping, so that we weren’t asking folk to shell out for a hotel room to come and celebrate our wedding with us. We decided to combine it with our leaving party, and to cut a long story short, after hunting for venues and much discussion, what had started off as a one night do with a live band and camping ended up escalating into a full blown weekend biker-style rally… the Wed’n’Fled Rally was born!

We originally planned to use the same venue that we met at, and to have the same band playing that we were dancing to (yes, we are both incurable romantics!), but had some difficulties with the site, the main one being that they didn’t have a marquee big enough for the size of do we were planning. This was going to whack the cost up immensely, as marquee hire doesn’t come cheap. After a lot of legwork and some asking around it turned out that the Boring Old Fartz MotorCycle Club had an enormous marquee that they were willing to hire to us at a reasonable cost, but we would have to transport it ourselves. Not a problem we thought, we’ve got a friend with a transit van. Then we went to visit the club and saw just how big the marquee was – a transit wouldn’t cut it, we needed a low loader! Doh! Looking around the BOF’s clubhouse and the Rugby Club that it was in the grounds of, we realised that it was a much better venue than our original one, and we decided to switch. That was definitely one of the best decisions that we made! The BOFs were absolute stars – they took over a lot of the running of the site for us and really made it easy – thanks guys!

In typical Tony & Sarah tradition we ended up sorting out some of the details at the very last minute, managing to book a Friday night band all of about a week before the event – luckily it all worked out right when it came to it. We ended up with Ode and the Bebops, a fun skiffle band for something a little different. The Saturday band had been booked for a year – it didn’t take much thinking for us to book Subway, who not only were the band that we were dancing to on the night we met, they’re also a top-notch party band to boot! They really pulled out all the stops and rocked our socks off.

The weekend was another success, with a great time being had by all.ย  We especially enjoyed the 400+ rocket balloons that our friends Heather and Nich had given us for a wedding present, although some of the BOFs who had to clear them up the next morning might disagree! It really doesn’t get much better than having your very own rally, filled with family and friends – a big thank you to all of you for coming and helping to create such a brilliant eventย  ๐Ÿ™‚

The Wedding

I don’t know why, but I had this idea in my head that I would like to get married in a castle – I guess it’s the Princess in me! Tony was quite happy to humour me, so I spent an inordinate amount of time researching possibilities on the internet. One of the first places I looked at was Kenilworth Castle, a mostly ruined place just down the road from us, which is looked after by English Heritage. Unfortunately this proved to be prohibitively expensive, and with very little choice on when it was available as it’s open to the public. The search net was widened, and I ended up researching castles from the top to the bottom of the UK, and even a few further afield. Believe me, if you ever want to know anything about castle hotels in this country, just ask as there’s a good chance that I’ll know!

We had decided on a small ceremony followed by a big reception/leaving party a few weeks later so that we could celebrate with as many folk as possible whilst keeping the costs down for us and them. I narrowed down the choices for the wedding to two castles of an appropriate size: Rowton Castle near Shrewsbury, and Castle Venlaw near Peebles in Scotland. Venlaw was the perfect size for the number of people we were planning to invite, plus it had two other major advantages over Rowton: a round turret (I did say it was the Princess in me!), and the romantic suite actually being in the turret! Rowton was much closer though, so much more accessible for us and the majority of our guests. Being so much closer meant that it was the first one we visited of the two, and they made us an offer too good to refuse – we had decided to get married on the 21st June for various reasons, and as this was a Monday, it was a much less popular day than the usual weekends that the majority of folk go for. This gave some challenges along the way later, but meant we had terrific bargaining power when if came to agreeing a price!

Of course, once we had decided to go with Rowton Castle for the wedding and had agreed to take the place on for exclusive use, we just had to fill the bedrooms up – after all, they were included! So the wedding party ended up doubling in size, but what the heck.

We did it ๐Ÿ™‚

One of our best ideas was going up to stay in the area the day before the wedding so that we wouldn’t be rushed on the big day. We took over all the rooms at the Old Hand and Diamond, a lovely old pub just down the road from Rowton, and had a lovely meal with a lot of our guests coming to join us. The wedding itself went off with only one or two very minor hitches (like me forgetting to bring half of my make-up for the one day I wanted to look my absolute best!), but we had the most wonderful day. Judging by the feedback we had from the friends and family that joined us, so did they! We were blessed with amazing weather, and the staff at Rowton took such good care of us that we really didn’t want to leave… so we didn’t! We stayed for a couple more days after the wedding, which was absolutely wonderful. One of the highlights was breakfast on the patio as the only guests in the castle, a lifestyle that I have to say I could get very used to! If any of you ever fancy a castle wedding, I can highly recommend Rowton Castle – it really is an amazing venue, and more importantly has the most amazing staff.

Big, huge thanks to everyone who came and shared our special day with us – it was absolutely the best day of my life (so far…)! ๐Ÿ™‚

The new bikes are here!

We are very excited, we’ve met our new bikes! We went over to Speedaway Motorcycles on Saturday to go over a few details with them and make sure we were on track to pick up the bikes later this week. We knew the bikes had made it to the importer so were in the country, and were chuffed to bits when they told us they were already with them and in the store. We rushed through, and there they were, all shiny and new, and very nearly ours! Call me sad if you will, but I’ve said hello, and may have stroked my new (and only!) Moto Guzzi just a little bit when no one was looking. My first new motorbike, and the one that I will be spending my life on for the next few years – I’m allowed to be a little sentimental about that, now, aren’t I?

So here they are, the black one is Tony’s and the white one is mine – his and hers ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s a funny old thing – Tony’s been looking into these magic gizmos that you can get that have a GPS built in, and they track your journey and automatically plot it on a map. Sounds like a great idea to keep folk updated with what we’re up to, but it really got me thinking… You see, I travelled quite a bit when I was younger – on and off for around 5 years in fact. Now this was only 20 years ago, but way back then in the Dark Ages, there wasn’t any GPS. There was no internet, or at least nothing in common usage, no mobile phones, no email, no twitter, facebook or any of that malarky. I travelled without a single electrical item in my luggage, unless you count my film-based point and shoot camera that ran on batteries. I sailed across the Atlantic in a 46 foot yacht, and we navigated by sextant for heavens sake (though that is something I’m rather proud of, it has to be said)! SatNav was around at the time, but we didn’t have it – the skipper thought he’d bought a SatNav system and swears it was in the wrong box, as when he tried to set it up it turned out to be Decca, a system that’s now redundant and at the time was only good for navigating around coastal regions. Not much good for an ocean crossing then. So, sextant it was. No batteries required. Except the ones in the rather nifty little calculator that meant I still didn’t need to master the art of log tables.

Back then I used to ‘phone home once every two or three months as it was a faff to do so, and was prohibitively expensive. On odd occasions I would write postcards and letters home, and if I had an idea of where my path was likely to take me (which most of the time I didn’t, except in a very general sense), folk from home could write to me care of a town’s poste restante – see article here if you have no idea what that is, as Tony didn’t!

Blimey how things have changed! Now the list includes such absolute essentials as the ubiquitous mobile phone, a laptop or netbook, digital stills camera, video camera, GPS, GPS tracking gizmo (which may or may not be needed as the cameras have GPS built in these days!), iPod, and possibly my electric toothbrush (I’m older and my teeth need more care, OK?!). Oh, and a hair trimmer for Tony so we can keep his under control (hair, that is!). I’m sure there’s more that we could add that I just haven’t thought of yet, and I’m a little concerned that our entire luggage is going to be taken upย  with various chargers at this rate… Tent? Nah, no room for it, got to fit the speakers for the iPod in, sorry!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking all this, I actually think it’s all rather wonderful. After all, without it all, how would we be able to run this blog, and keep in touch with all you lovely people? It is a completely different world though, and my mind is just boggled with the sheer speed with which it has all changed. One of the things that I found most noticeable when I re-visited Sydney a few years ago was how every other place in Kings Cross (backpacker central) was an internet cafe. I suspect that’s changed again with the advent of netbooks, iPhones and wireless. Maybe it’s an age thing, does every generation reach a point when they’re awestruck by the speed at which things change?

Or maybe it’s just me…

Welcome to the Digital Age!

The Pig of Happiness

This is nothing to do with bikes or round the world trips… or maybe it is… Tony bought me a copy a while back and we just love it. This is a short film based on the book – we hope you love it too! Spread a little happiness ๐Ÿ™‚

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