2017 road trip - Tewkesbury to the Alps on a scooter. Eight days around the Alps on a Suzuki Burgman 650 Executive.
Last day today and not a lot to report other than a long motorway blast from Metz to Calais and then Folkestone to Tewkesbury. As always, the French motorways are excellent, if a tad expensive at around £16 for that leg of the journey. From Metz it was towards Paris, then turn right and up towards Lille and Calais. As every day, the Burgman just purred along without fuss.
The weather was warm and sunny but about an hour out of Calais I could see what looked like a dark grey wall ahead of me. Discretion is not normally something I over-indulge in but I decided to stop at the next Aire place and put my waterproof over-trousers on, close the coat's air vents and put some gloves on, and boy am I glad I did. Within a couple of miles of setting off again the world went dark - from sunshine to absolutely lashing it down, forked lightning flashing around on all sides and the wind buffeting from every direction at once. The Burgman is pretty good at weather protection but this was about as wet as just riding through a solid swimming pool of water. Unfortunately out of all the gloves I had with me I chose the wrong ones and while they stopped my hands getting battered by 70mph rain, (which hurts!) they were the summer ones so soaked through in seconds. At the next toll booth I fished out the ticket and within a second that was sodden as well and barely went into the machine. I also discovered that as the gloves were not meant for wet weather the dye had come out and my hands were now a lovely shade of deep purple - I looked like I'd been doing a bank job and one of those exploding dye things had gone off!
Eurotunnel put me on a slightly earlier train so I was back in Blighty by 1pm, with then just a three and a half hour or so trip home. On the tunnel they load the bikes last and then make you park diagonally across the carriage. I don't wish to be too disloyal to Blighty, but as I found on my road trips to Norway and Crete, after returning from a trip elsewhere my God it does strike you as being dirty, crowded and rather shabby. Arriving home was startlingly hot though - about 33 degrees on the M25, this is not what you expect when getting home from a trip! In another move to make bikers shiver with apprehension at the breach of the biking code of conduct, I had to take my coat off during a stop on the M25 and ride the rest of the way home in a t-shirt, it was that or melt!
So that was it, 2017 road trip done. Exactly 3,012 miles (4,847km) in nine days, autobahn and mountain passes, gravel tracks and snow, baking heat and rain, glaciers, lakes, city centres, mountains, the lot. As ever, for me the point of the trip is not the destinations, they are just somewhere to sleep, but it is the journey each day itself and it was everything I wanted it to be. And the star of the trip - the humble Suzuki Burgman scooter. It did everything asked of it, went everywhere the big touring motorbikes could go. It kept up on the autobahn and climbed the highest road in Austria, nipped through city traffic and navigated mountain passes, without complaint, without fuss, and never ever felt like it was struggling. Sit on it, pop the heated seat and heated grips on for the chillier parts of the trip, cruise and enjoy the views. A brilliant brilliant bike.
One of the things I've been trying to avoid since Germany was motorways and despite this being a long long old day to get to Metz part-way up France I was determined to stay mostly motorway-free. Well, that and avoid paying the rather high cost of 40 Swiss Chuffs for a motorway vignette tax thing. The 40 Chuffs is an annual tax jobby and is the only one available these days as they seem to have done away with the shorter duration one I got a few years ago when on a car trip, but as I would only have needed it for an hour land a half or so there was no way I was paying that. I'm way too tight. Typical northerner.
So the day was designed to be motorway-free all the way and pretty much ended up that way right until the last hour or so outside Metz, and even then was a toll-free part of the French motorway system. I did read online before setting off that it is 'impossible to avoid the Swiss motorway tax' if you are riding through the country but it really is dead easy. On this trip I've now crossed south to north from Tirano to Chur, and now right over to the west and had no problem at all sticking to A-roads and avoiding motorways and as the tax is only needed for motorways have also avoided that. If you want to avoid the Vignette tax then it can easily be done.
The day's route went from the Verbier area up to Villeneuve on the end of Lake Geneva, then through Montreaux and Lausanne to a small border crossing (again, no need to stop at all) and into France, with the road hugging the edge of the lake for a good length of the way. Montreaux was a rather cool looking town and Lausanne was the only place where the traffic got heavy enough to snarl up, but I was soon through that. It was also exceedingly hot today, about 33 degrees, so the coat eventually had to be strapped over the box on the back to stop me melting completely.
In France I got way too excited by the sight of France's one decent contribution to culinary excellence since the 1970s, a Buffalo Grill. Marvellous. What can be better than ribs smothered in artificial BBQ sauce while country music is playing with plastic cowboys and buffalos dotted around the place outside?
My other stop was one of the 'etap' places the French sign off the main dual carriageways and motorways - towns or villages which have all the facilities of a services without building a special place. And as a way of getting extra visitors into the town it works - the church here was the afternoon coffee stop.
I left Verbier at 8.30am and arrived in Metz around 7.00pm - a long day but a fairly easy one with a few coffee stops and the lunch stop.
Metz is a surprisingly nice town with a huge old cathedral in the middle, a couple of rivers and loads of tiny streets around it so a most agreeable place to while away a couple of hours before bed and then the final drag home at last.
A day of snow, a car crash, mountain passes and a first for me, dirt track riding.
Today was a rather unexpectedly superb day. Yesterday was a good ride but the last two hours were two hours too far, on an arse that was killing me, and to a place I didn't particularly like (Chur). I had a planned route for today which was via long wibbly roads over about ten hours crossing Switzerland right to left, to Le Chable, a place about 15 minutes from Verbier. After yesterday through I decided to shorten it a bit and stay on the main-ish route between the two, avoiding the motorway and dual-carriageways but using the most direct option apart from adding some mountain hairpins at the end to cut a corner.
This was probably the best A-road I've ever driven or ridden along! From Chur it quickly becomes a quiet road winding from small town to small town, sticking to the side of one long river valley as you head towards the town of Andermatt, about an hour and a half from Chur. As you get closer to Andermatt though the road starts to climb higher and higher up the valleys, twisting back on itself as it crosses at first low mountain passes and then higher and higher ones in succession.
Andermatt itself is stunning and I discovered sits at the head of a valley, the only way out of which is up and over. The image here is taken from the lower end of the pass looking back towards Andermatt and was breathtaking in it's quiet and beauty. Not bad for an A-road route!
Eventually you reach the head of the pass and are above the snow line, so cue the almost compulsory shot of the scooter against a nice snow drift. There is a great cafe there with a decked terrace sitting about 20 feet in the air over the side of a snow-filled precipice - a fantastic place to stop, stretch the legs and get a drink and sarnie.
This road is known locally as 'James Bond Strasse' and was the location for the long shot in Goldfinger of Bond in his Aston Martin following Goldfinger in his Rolls.
This is not the only pass on the route and as you can see in the photo above as the road winds down the hill from one pass, off you then go back up the next one.
At the bottom of one of these passes I had parked up to let the hotel know what time I was due to be there (it is a small place so I thought helpful for them to know so they are not waiting around all day just for me to rock up). As I sat on the scooter there was an almighty crunch from about 200 yards behind me and it seemed a small car had misjudged the corner a little, overshot the exit of the corner and slammed sideways into the metal Armco barrier. Oops!
Thankfully there were no injuries apart from pride and paintwork.
From here there was a view of the distant Matterhorn - a sight guaranteed to make you want a Toblerone immediately!
Once I was about an hour from Verbier I had a choice, a long way around on the main roads, or up a mountain pass on an endless series of switch-backs and hairpin roads. As it was my last day in the mountains there could only be one choice so the hairpin route it was. I'm not saying that this was not necessarily the biggest road in Switzerland to start off with, or that the lack of traffic coming the other way crossed my mind as something to take notice of, but when the tarmac surface ran out these things did suddenly come back into focus!
By this point I was a good half an hour up the mountain and thought sod it, no point in turning back now so just ploughed on along the gravel and then dirt track, over the crest of the ridge and back down the other side when it met civilisation and a hard road surface again. I still don't know if this was a proper route but what the hell, it worked.
The hotel was in a small town called Le Chable, close to Verbier so I popped into Verbier for a nosey around as well. And a thoroughly lovely and agreeable place it is too, although a selection of cold meats, two alcohol-free beers (got to ride back to the hotel yet!) and a cheesecake is about a million Swiss Chuffs so you leave with a satiated appetite but bankrupt.
And a last picture from the day, and probably my favourite photo of the whole trip, this cow peering into the camera as I was taking a photo on one of the mountain passes withe the road running along it. Love this photo!
A loooooong day today, and in the end turned out to be around a ten hour journey with a good nine hours of riding time in there. That brings the total to nudging on 2000 miles in the last five days and it is fair to say that despite the Burgman's comfy seat and my smug comments in previous posts about bikers, the only feeling in my bum cheeks now is unmitigated pain!
From Riva, a last view of the lake, then the first destination was the border town of Tirano which is mostly in Italy but then the Main Street pokes up into the hills and a few hundred meters along it is the border into Switzerland. As last time, the entire EU/Non-EU border crossing is a real time-consuming nightmare, involving slowing down a bit so a bored border guard just waves you on, and that's it. Not exactly the bureaucratic hell that the anti-Brexit campaigners keep promising will be unleashed upon us.
After Tiorano the road climbs and climbs until you reach the pass in this photo of the Burgman. Lovely fresh cold air and a quiet road, perfect. From the pass in these photos (and the one below with the glacier in the background of the Burgman) it was then down to St Moritz which is pretty enough but rather 'meh' and is presumably much better in the snow, and then on into more mountains. By mid-afternoon, to be honest I really was not in the mood for more hours of bum-pain, especially when it culminated in the town of Chur, which I can only describe as being the closest thing to an Alpine Salford I can think of. I'm sure it has a pretty centre, but that is a small kernel surrounded by industrial grimness. And the hotel turning out to be some kind of serial-killer motel thing on a main road which didn't help my sunny disposition either.
The less time spent in Chur the better, and tomorrow is carrying on across Switzerland east to west to the Verbier area which hopefully will be a little less 'industrial northern town' and more 'Adventures of Heidi' again. By the way, and only people over 40 will understand this - did you know that Swiss people's mouths do actually move in time with their words? Amazing. Heidi and Peter the goatherd lied to us...
An easy day today with the plan being a bit of a rest with just a lap of the lake and immediate vicinity so something around 110 miles.
I headed off about 10am down the western side of the lake which is a series of tunnels and open roads hugging the lake's edge. The road is lovely and slow and about 30mph all the way with time to take in the views and the fresh air, unless you are one of the hundreds of bikers on some sporty crotch-rocket then it is a frustrating series of desperate overtakes as you try to set a new lap record for a lap of the GardaRing. Settle back and enjoy the views and air lads and ladesses. It being a gorgeous day and a Sunday the place was full of Italians having a day out as well and the difference between them and the bikers is amusing. The Germans are all, again, head to toe in leathers, all black, all mean n'moody looking, racing along, while the Italians heading out for the day are on little battered scooters, in shorts, usually with a girl in a short dress on the back, and look perfectly content in the world.
My morning coffee stop was a small town towards the bottom of the lake and I love the idea of just pulling up outside, having a quick espresso next to the scooter, and then hopping on and trundling off again. This was in the town of San Felice, a quiet and thoroughly charming place.
The bottom of the lake is out beyond the mountains and in the first flat lands south of the Alps and if I'm honest is rather less charming than the northern mountainous end. It is a series of fairly tacky towns and beaches with lilo shops and the like which wouldn't look out of place in Rhyl.
Verona wasn't on the schedule for the day but as I was meandering through the slightly less charming end of the lake I realised I was only about half an hour away so a spur of the moment decision was made to have a lunchtime coffee in Verona itself.
Being a scooter rider again has a huge advantage there as you can just ride straight up to the main square by the opera house and there is a long long row of free parking spaces just for scooters and motorbikes. The intention wasn't to stay long as the idea of this trip is the journey rather than the destinations, so I only stayed for about an hour, long enough to have a coffee and a place of seafood spaghetti in the square, before hopping back onto the bike and heading back towards the lake again.
The ride back up the eastern side is absolutely gorgeous - loads of lovely quaint towns and the road just meandering along the water's edge all the way back up to Torbole and then Riva itself. In the end it was about a six hour trip out but spent largely trundling along happily at slow speeds, just taking in the air, the sun and the views. Lovely.
The evening was a pizza in one of the back street squares in Riva, and short meander around the town as the sun set, then off to pack ready for the next day's journey up to Chur and into Switzerland.
When I went to get the scooter in the hotel car park, there was a nice Jag XE parked next to it. I do love a Jaaaaaaag and did the last road trip to Norway in a Jaaaaaaaag XF, but you know what, for the mountains I'd take the scooter any day.
Today was a fairly short day of only around 190 miles but again the route was such that it would still take around six hours of riding to do. I did have a route pre-planned before setting off from home (the magic of TomTom MyDrive - select a route and upload it to the SatNav beforehand) but decided to just let the TomTom decide which way to go. The Ride 410 SatNav has an option for 'choose winding roads' so I set it to that and just followed wherever it pointed me. And it was superb in its choices.
From Belluno it headed up into the mountains and into a series of high passes. As you climb the landscape quickly changes from typically Italian back towards a more Alpine style again. The route is clearly popular with bikers as there were groups of them, largely consisting of more leather clad Germans, (given the fact it was about 28 degrees, often in an odd combination of leather trousers and braces over t-shirts), up in the mountain passes.
The roads are really quiet and pretty much all like the small mountain lanes in these pics, with occasional villages and a handful of small towns on the route, just enough of them to assuage any anxiety about a mid-way refuelling stop. In the largest of the towns I passed through the route I wanted was blocked for some event or other meaning taking the fall-back navigation option of 'drive about randomly until the SatNav finally finds an alternative route', Finally, after I passed the same cafe of people for the third time I decided to just press the 'avoid road block' button and that fixed it - should have thought of that sooner, silly boy.
From there it was up into the mountains again and a lunch stop at a cafe at the top of a pass. One of these bikes is an impostor among the big boys. Some proper bikers may look down on scooters but it was amusing seeing how the bikers were hauling themselves off their bikes like they had been abused by a ship-load of randy sailors arriving in port after a long voyage after sitting in the same forced position for ages at least whereas with the Burgman I did arrive there in a modicum of comfort still.
From there was a long slow drive back to lower levels again via series of gorgeous twisting hairpin-strewn roads, back to civilisation and larger towns, eventually picking up an A road for the final drive towards Riva at the very head of Lake Garda. And back among loads of my scooter brethren again. I have to say I am impressed with the Burgman - it's gone everywhere the big bikes can go, from autobahn to high alpine roads, without ever feeling out of puff or as though it is struggling.
Riva del Garda is exactly how I remember it from a visit as a child, a largish town sitting at the top of Lake Garda with the mountains just dropping straight down into the lake. The hotel was on a pedestrianised bit of the town but it seems that in Italy 'pedestrianised' doesn't always apply to scooters so I could drive up to the hotel and park in their small garage, perfect.
Tomorrow is an easy day, with a lap of the lake and surrounding mountains so around only 150 miles or so and probably about six hours, back to Riva again before starting the journey north again to Switzerland.
Fair warning, no sarcastic jokes and nothing went wrong today, but lots and lots of overly enthusiastic prose about how utterly brilliant, if knackering, the journey was, along with loads of photos. It wasn't a long day distance-wise, about 200 miles, but took around eight hours to do as it was all done on tiny Alpine roads, with everything from 22 degree sun to near-freezing snow and hail. Easily the most fun day I've had on the bike yet.
The starting point was Kitzbuhel which on 1st July is not quite in-season yet so is very sleepy and kind of preparing itself for the summer season, but unlike the arrival yesterday it was sunny and warm. From there is was up to a town called Zell am See, a ski resort by a lake, then from there turn right towards the Grosglockner and the High Alpine Road.
A quick mid-morning coffee-stop at the cafe in this photo, and then off towards the High Alpine Road itself. The road is a toll road billed as the highest road in Austria, but at 25 Euro is easily the best £20 anyone on two wheels will ever spend. It is about 45km of narrow twisting road which winds its way up and up and up, passing through layers of cloud, up to around 2,600 meters, about 8,500 feet. The views are spectacular from start to finish and bikers of every type abound everywhere on it.
The route started out nice and sunny, twisting it's way up towards the snow line, with patches of cloud occasionally rolling in. The photo here of the mountain poking through the cloud layer is around this point where it was still about 19 degrees and sunny. Then at roughly 7500 feet high you cross over a ridge... Oh boy did the weather change. Within about half a mile it had gone from 19 degrees and sunny, to 9 degrees and absolutely chucking it down, then to 3 degrees and sleet and snow and hail and rain, rain rain like I've never seen. I'd swear it was coming upwards from the valley below as well as down from above! This probably sounds like crazy talk, but it was absolutely brilliant! Invigorating and fun and thoroughly enjoyable, especially under a decent coat and I'd stopped on the ridge to put waterproof trousers and gloves on as the weather had looked heavy ahead.
The road has very occasional cafes dotted along it so as the rain was just beginning to penetrate the gloves I pulled off for a warming coffee, emergency chocolate cake and a change of gloves to a nice dry pair. Chocolate cake fixes most problems in life. Changing gloves is one of the benefits of having brought no less than four pairs of gloves with me - perhaps a touch obsessive I admit! I should also sacrifice a goat or something in eternal thanks for the Burgman’s heated seat and heated grips.
From the cafe it is still another 20km or so to the Grosglockner glacier itself, and about 7km from the glacier itself another road joins coming up from Lienz and is where coaches visiting the glacier come up from. The road is so small and twisty though that the coaches never get over about 10kph so overtaking is no problem at all. The Burgman has a 'Power Mode' which makes it stay in a higher rev range and be more responsive so I left it in that and the coaches were no issue at all as I darted past. I'd swear I hadn't stopped grinning for about two hours.
The glacier itself was a little shocking in an eco-beardy kind of way. I have been there before but it must have been when I was about 12 or 13 or something and we went by coach. Back then you got out of the coach and either got onto this little funicular thing that took you down from the main car park or just went down some steps and walked out onto the ice itself. Now some 30 or so years later the coach park sits a long long way from the glacier, with the visitor centre still being a good kilometre or more from the end of it and the funicular lift jobby and steps are now just running down to the rocky base where the glacier used to be. Seeing such a retreat for myself was really surprising - very different from reading about it or seeing it on TV.
From there you double back on yourself for 7km to the junction with the road from Lienz, then turn onto that to start the long slow winding route down and towards Italy.
I did get a salutary reminder on the way down of the need to take it carefully on the exceptionally tight hairpins when one sports biker heading the other way over-cooked it completely coming around the corner, ran wide onto my side of the road and was mere inches from running out of road completely. He was lucky to have got away with that. Very lucky. The corner was unusually wide with a bit of run-off, I was a long way back and could give him a flash to let him know I'd seen him and he had time to get himself sorted again, and there was no car or coach coming up.
As you descend you finally exit the High Alpine Road toll route, and after some thick thick fog back into the sun and warm again. All this way has been tiny and very quiet roads - absolutely fantastic. However from here to Belluno didn't exactly get busy, just onto what we could call B roads and an occasional A road to trundle happily along through this part of the Alps, or the Dolomites.
You can tell you are in Italy now rather then Austria by the road users. The Alpine road was full of Germans on big powerful sports bikes or touring bikes, clad in enough leather to survive a plane crash. As I got close to Belluno I couldn't help grinning at the sight of the chap coming the other way - an open-faced helmet, in shorts, flip flops, t-shirt, on an old red Vespa, with a fag hanging casually out of his mouth. Pure Italian!
Belluno itself was somewhere I just chose at random as a place that looked about in the right spot for an overnight stay but turned out to be a lovely large town. The hotel's restaurant looked a bit poncey and over-priced so I jumped back on the scooter to head into town and being on a scooter in Italy has one major benefit - park wherever you like! There was a food fair thing on in the main square and the car parking was all packed but scooters? Just drive into the pedestrianised square itself and abandon it on a corner somewhere among dozens of other scooters of all shapes and sizes, perfect!
The hotel is up on a hill overlooking the town and surrounding mountains at during the night a huge thunderstorm rolled through just adding to the drama of the day, a great end to a great day.
This is the second long day of not a lot as it was another 400 mile blast of pretty much all motorways to get to the Alps but from tomorrow the trip starts proper - no more motorways for at least five days, hallelujah.
After 923 miles of riding on the scooter in two days, the effects so far are surprisingly little. I can still bend my back as well as a decrepit overweight mid-40s chap can, and my bum seems to be coping OK with having been stuck on the same seat in the same position for the best part of 21 hours. Adjusting the seat back alters the pressure points and makes it nice and comfy again. The scooter is coping brilliantly so far.
I must be getting old as the autobahn used to hold a fascination for me as the last bastion of unrestricted speed but these days it's all just a bit too frantic. (It reminds me of a few weeks after Damon Hill retired as a Formula 1 driver - he was being interviewed by Clive James and was asked how he knew it was time to retire and he answered, 'it was at the first race, the lights went out and everyone charged off from the line and I just thought 'what's the rush?'). The speed differential between lorries doing around 60mph and then cars coming up at 130mph+ seems less exciting these days and more a tad nuts, but it's probably just me rapidly approaching old age. Part of the issue on the autobahn is making sure you are not going too slow and needing to match the speed of the traffic so on the scooter I just sat there at about 85 to 90mph and that seemed to do the trick nicely - not too fast to be catching trucks too quickly, but not too slow to be getting in the way. At that speed the Burgman was barely breaking a sweat so cruised along with still some extra poke to overtake trucks quickly when needed.
The stereotype that Germans do like a rule is definitely true on the motorways. The autobahn is a free for all between junctions but as you approach exits or tighter sections the speed limits come in at 130kph (about 80), 100 (about 65) or 80 (about something less than 65). The Germans will come hurtling along at speeds faster than seems possible, but when they get to the speed limit signs they don't just lift off and coast a bit as we do at home, they slam on the breaks and drop immediately to spot-on the indicated limit. And talking of the 'hurtling along' bit, how do they do that? I get the more powerful cars really going for it, but how do they get the slower ones to still do it? While happily trundling along at about 90mph I got passed by a Hyundai Santa Fe like I was only doing 30. I have a Santa Fe and it has never gone that fast in its life and could only dream of such glories. If I dropped it off the top of Snowdon it couldn't go that fast! And that was shortly followed by a Toyota Aygo looking like a particle fired out of the Large Hadron Collider - how do Germans get them to go so fast?
I want to be sarcastic about Germany and the Germans but I can't as they are all thoroughly lovely. The ride through Germany may have been all autobahn but the countryside is marvelious and the people are universally great. On the many many stops for petrol, the people in the petrol stations always chatted and said things like 'have a good journey' and so on. Although they do seem to sell some more 'specialised' stuff in their loos!
The weather has been on/off sunny and then wet, and as I approached the Alps I stopped to get the Vignette tax thing you need for Austria (something around a fiver so not expensive and places selling them are well signed as you get near the border). It was dry and warm at the garage selling them and in the distance was a row of Alps looking all sunny and inviting apart from one valley which was completely blanketed in thick heavy cloud and clearly suffering one hell of a storm. I thought it looked rather dramatic and lovely. I revised my opinion about 20 minutes later when it became clear that this self same valley was the route I was taking into Austria. Lovely!
Kitzbuhel in my mind is forever associated with 1980s era Ski Sunday which was always featuring something called a Klammer hurtling down some slopes which sounded impossibly existed to a lad in Wigan. In reality I have been here twice now and it may well be the wettest place on earth! I still like it though - a charming place and a good place for an overnight stop.
Tomorrow is a route called the High Alpine Road up passed the Grosglockner glacier and right up into the mountains so fingers crossed the weather breaks for at least some short spells while up there. And hopefully many more photo opportunities than so far.
The first day was planned purely as a long long blast down motorways to get as close to the Alps as possible in one day, and was a day I had been a little apprehensive about as it was going to involve staying on the bike for over 500 miles.
(Note after reading the above: I don't mean 'staying on' as in falling off!)
Typically, after a couple of weeks of hot sunny and dry weather, come setting off day it was raining and forecast to do so pretty all the way to Germany. In the event though it was much more stop/start with only a few showers on the way and the scooter's ample fairings being enough to keep me dry. Even so it was a day for rocking the casual summer look of a heavy waterproof biking coat, big biking boots, waterproof gloves and waterproof over-trousers. Sometimes riding is a long long way from the mental image of some chap trundling across the plains of Arizona on his Harley in jeans, t-shirt and shades - not quite a scooter on the M25 in plastic trousers!
Packing is tight and I have one jumper with me. Somehow, by the time of my first fuel stop on the M4 I had managed to get a nice oil streak down in and then by the time of my second stop on the M25 for a breakfast Burrito, managed to tip half a bottle of coke down it. So that's me looking like a tramp for the rest of the week then. And before anyone who knows me says it, no change from normal really.
Traffic was bad but one of the joys of the scooter and the pay-off for being in the rain is pressing the button to fold the mirrors in and nipping between the rows of stationary and slow moving cars, on the M4, M25 and also in a massive jam which went on for about 10km outside Lille. Handily, there I caught up with a French chap on a big loud farty chromey bike thing which was so loud all the traffic moved to one side to jump out of his way so I could glide along nicely between the rows of cars in his wake. Looking on my scooter like a long distance pizza delivery chap.
The route today was as much of a surprise to me as anyone as I just told the SatNav to aim for Trier then just relaxed and blindly followed what it said. After the Channel Tunnel it was towards Dunkirk, then down to Lille, south through Belgium to Luxembourg, then into Trier itself. Belgium is nice enough but it has to be said it's main positive feature is that it isn't France so doesn't have that same glum air of 1970s depression while banging on about 'superior food' which may have been superior 40 years ago but hasn't moved on since.
Just to confuse the unprepared traveller it turns out there is an area of Belgium called Luxembourg, which is not your actual Luxembourg. This dear European Cousins, makes no sense. How can you have a big part of your country named after another country? It would be like the Germans creating a part of their country called France or Poland or something. Oh, hang on a minute, they have history with that already don't they...
No photos today as it has been just sitting on motorways and going and going. Apart from fuel stops. A LOT of fuel stops. It may only cost about a tenner to fill the scooter up but on the downside that fill-up is only good for 120 miles or so meaning once the tank gets to half way you can't take the risk of another big gap between filling stations and have to stop yet again.
The upside of the regular filling stops is that it does make you get up regularly and stretch your legs and bum cheeks. Not literally with the bum cheeks as that would probably be unwise on a petrol station forecourt.
That's the first 500 miles down, tomorrow is another long seven or eight hour ride from Trier to Kitzbuhel, but at least that's then the start of the Alps proper.
When I went to Crete in the Santa Fe, I stuck a blind spot mirror on and looked under the car to make sure there was indeed a spare tyre where there was supposed to be one, and that was the full extent of the preparations. When I went to Norway in Jag I did a bit more as you can't entirely trust a Jag to go when you want it to, so had it serviced first just to make sure. On a scooter this time it was due a service so I did that, had a SatNav fitted, and as the tread on the back tyre was getting a tad low, had a new tyre fitted as precaution. That's proper preparations that is, I was quite proud of myself.
And isn't it always the sodding way...! £160 for a new tyre and fitting and it has been on less than a week and only 48 hours until I set off, it has a puncture. I haven't had a puncture for about 12 years in the car, but stick a new tyre on the bike and within hours down it goes.
I called the lovely people at Frasers in Gloucester and they ordered me a tyre in so off I went this afternoon to get that done, and guess what, I got on the bike to head down and the handbrake has gone on it now! The brakes are fine so that's OK but unlike most bikes the Burgman has a handbrake as well which is pretty handy when it comes to parking on slopes - that little bit of extra comfort that it won't go rolling off down the hill by itself. And I expect the Alps to be pretty slopey. Being slopey is kind of the point of them.
Frasers took pity on me and had a look at that as well while doing the tyre, in which by the way they found a massive rusty nail sticking right through - no wonder it was going down.
As a precaution I really must buy one of those spray-can tyre-repair things on the way home. Hopefully that's all the problems out of the way now. Fingers crossed.
2017, new year, new road trip time, slightly shorter this year taking in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and, sadly, France as it couldn't be easily avoided, with a lap of the Alps as the main goal.
The plan is a blast down the motorways to get as far south as fast as possible and then switch to tiny one-track roads for a five day meander through the mountains.
New trip, new vehicle
After a couple of long trips by car, 2017's trip has a whole new approach. I wanted to ride either a scooter or a motorbike for decades now so after 20+ years of talking about it, in summer 2016 I started the process of getting my bike license. If you've not experienced that, it is a rather long and convoluted process involving something called a CBT which is basically a one day course confirming you can go in a straight line and not fall off, following that is a theory test, and then for the full unrestricted licence another couple of sets of lessons (in which I did actually fall off, oops) and tests.
My first bike. No so much suitable for a trip around the Alps as delivering pizza.
I naturally was of the opinion that as a chap of a certain age I am clearly God's gift to the open road and wanted to do all of the tests and lessons in one go. The CBT was no problem but Lawrence the very patient instructor at Westside Riders did gently suggest that I may find it useful to ride around on a 125cc scooter for a while to get used to being on the road on two wheels first before diving into the main lessons and tests. Despite being convinced I was a natural I acquiesced and bought a small scooter only to discover one tiny wee issue, this being a complete inability to turn right out of a junction. Any junction. This it turns out is a slight inconvenience as it is generally very hard to get to a variety of interesting destinations via the means of the left turn only.
Eventually I mastered the concept of turning right without wobbling around like I was about to just collapse in a drunken heap, passed the theory test and in December 2016 did the two sets of lessons and tests for the full bike licence which I am pleased to say I passed. Without any money in grubby envelopes changing hands. Maybe.
This means a full licence to ride anything but there are some restrictions of my own making, the most important of these being that these days I absolutely prefer comfort over speed, so sitting on some tiny pocket rocket wedged into a single testicle-crushing position is not going to work at all. Even the 45 minutes or so of the motorbike test meant being wedged into a single position for so long it was like a Guantanamo Bay torture technique with agonising cramp in my leg. And I also have an appreciation for things such as heated grips and a heated seat to keep one's saggy arse nice and toasty. I am also way too lazy to be changing gear in a car so there was not a chance of me wanting something with gears when it comes to a bike as well. But it needs to have enough poke to do decent journeys.
By the way, if you've not ridden a motorbike before, I shall describe how the damn things work with gears. You pootle along and need to reduce speed to a slow pace in traffic so you squeeze the right lever (brake), then stand gently on the right foot pedal, (back brake), slowly release the right twisty throttle thing, while still squeezing the right lever, then while doing that and treading on the right pedal and twisting the throttle you also slowly squeeze the left lever (clutch) and flick the left foot lever down to drop down some gears. But not too many or you'll hit neutral which is in there somewhere, but neutral is not at the bottom of the range as that would be too obvious. And somewhere in that you are supposed to check your mirrors, indicate, and watch out for the inevitable Peugeot driven by a blind and deaf dwarf who hasn't looked in a mirror since passing his driving test 40 years ago. Whoever designed the controls is a complete mentalist. It's a right pain in the arse! Automatic is the only way to go.
This process, and deciding on a scooter for comfort and boring things like storage, leads to pretty much just three. A Honda Silverwing, a Suzuki Burgman 650, or a BMW. The BMW is clearly out as I learned how to use indicators in a car and it is clear that no BMW car or bike in history has ever been fitted with indicators so I would be a bit lost without them. The Silver Wing has pretensions to the Gold Wing's smaller sibling but is a bit 'meh', so the Suzuki Burgman 650 it is. And I love it. Superbly comfortable when riding and you can move about to different positions as you go, adjustable backrest, heated grips, heated seat, electrically adjustable windscreen to move it up when it gets a bit breezy, or down out of the way when you want to be open. Perfect.
So this is the mighty steed for the 2017 journey, a Suzuki Burgman 650 scooter in stealth grey so I am not visible on radar as this will clearly be a supremely useful feature on the M25.
Roll on 28th June - departure date.