May again, so Hans and myself were planning on hitting Europe's roads for our annual week off. Our Brittish friend Darrell told us he and his CB1000 wanted to ride with us and arrived in our village just in time to order and eat some pizza's and get enough sleep to start the ride in good shape.
Day 1, friday may 19. Cloudy. We intended to ride the motorways up to Metz (France) and then ride the nice roads of the Route des Cretes. Unfortunately the CB1000 stopped every now and then, and it took us all the way to Belgium before the last pieces of tape were removed from the breathers of the new tank Darrell had mounted. The vacuum prevented the fuel to get to the carbs; nothing too bad but we wasted some time. As a consequence we didn't reach our destination, but funnily enough ended on the same campsite in Gondrexange as we did last year. By now it was raining constantly. We put up tents and went to the nearby restaurant for an excellent meal.
Day 2. The rain had stopped. After refuelling in Sarrebourg we headed for the Route des Cretes. Unfortunately we were stopped after some 20 miles, as the roads were blocked because of a car rallye. As we had left pretty late as well, we decided to skip the rest of the French roads and headed directly to Germany and then to Switzerland. We crossed the German-Swiss border at Rheinfelden and stopped for lunch shortly after. We wanted to reach our Italian destination (Ballabio near Lecco) this day so we decided not to take the very small roads but to get on with it. The road was entertaing just the same, with the Oberallpass but especially the Splugenpass as highlights. On top of the Splugen it was rather cold between the 2 meter high walls of snow. The road surface on the Swiss side had been good so the tight twisties had been quite enjoyable. On the Italian side the roads were of less quality but then the air temp was better! Chiavenna, Bellano, Primaluna and then the pretty good campsite at Ballabio. We arrived at 21.00 and had a hard time locating a pizzeria somewhere, but in the end we succeeded in filling our stomachs.
Day 3. Sunshine! The best way to wake-up in a tent. We wanted to get to the Monza track in time so we left the campsite early. It took us quite some time to figure out where the track was, no signs, nothing. We parked the bikes where the police didn't really want us to park them, got our tickets and took our seats on the grandstand. According to Darrell there weren't many places you could see the real action; the track is more intended for the racers than for the public. What astonished both Hans, Darrell and me was the way the superbikes gunned away after the green light. You never get the right impression on TV, this was just awesome. The races were fun with wins for Edwards (VTR1000) ans Chili (GSXR750), but the speaker was even more fun calling loudly with a high pitched voice "chilichilichilichili!!". After returning to the campsite Darrell explained the way to operate my cooking device and we prepared pre-cooked 'adventure food' (dried mountaineers food). It tasted better than I had expected, I think I'll use it more in the future.
Day 4. Sunshine again! After some coffee we worked hard to get all our stuff on the bikes again and did our last Italian hairpins on our way to Leccio. The first part of the ride was mainly on the autostrada, both boring and relaxing. Some excitement when passing through cities, like the time when a kid on a scooter pulled a wheelie, looked at us to see if were sufficiently admiring him and then hit the pavement. He was quite upset and kicked his little scooter; both we and another group of MCists had a good laugh! After a while we got fed up with the autostrada and left it near Alessandria. Riding the nice secondary roads to Imperia was a pleasure. We stopped for fuel and lunch in a small cafe alongside the road, enjoyed the sun and life in general. From Imperia on the Italian coast to the French coast was something else. Busy traffic, very hot weather, slow progress. That's when your wrists start to hurt (and your ass if I may say so). We reached 'the flat' after a short hooligan run and went looking for dinner in a nice restaurant shortly after. Later that evening we went for a walk around the harbour of Antibes. Amazing ships all over the place. Some of them as big as ocean liners, 4 decks and all. What the hell would you want a boat like that for?
Day 5. More sun. Today we wanted to make a tour round the Gorge du Verdon. We remembered the beauty from previous holidays and wanted to see it again. We had some trouble locating the Route Napoleon (N85) but we didn't care as we were quite relaxed by now. Hans and I swapped bikes for the day, and Darrell was giving his CB400/4 a hard time. The roads in this area are not exactly smooth, so while Darrell was having a hard time on his 400/4 I was struggling to keep the R1100RT on the road. It went unstable in every bumpy corner so I slowed down a bit and enjoyed the view.
We had a break for lunch in Castellane chatting about bikes and about this region. We finished the tour late in the afternoon and rode back to Antibes to buy food in a very nice supermarket. Plastic bags hanging from our arms, beer under the leathers, bread behind the fairing: we headed 'home' to eat it all. With a couple of beers and a bottle of wine each we enjoyed a very pleasant evening...
Day 6. Sigh... sun. Today was supposed to be the ride to the Pyrenees. Again we opted to take a mixture of autoroutes and smaller roads. This time the smaller roads were in the Camargue. Around six we were on the N116 from Perpignan to Andorra when clouds started to appear in front of us. We decided to call it a day, spotted a sign to a camping and followed a small winding road for a while. Then the camping (Le Canigou) appeared, beautifully situated near Espira de Conflent. They arrange many outdoor activities from here, the ideal spot for an active summer holidays. Unfortunately we were there a bit early in the season, so the kitchen could only supply us with Dutch snacks (the owner is a former Dutch farmer) which was less then we hoped for. But then again, the beers were good and so was the music.
Day 7. Sun. Now the fun would start again. From here we wanted to do a tour d'Andorra, then head back to take the D118 north. The first part of the day gave us perfectly paved sweeping mountain roads leading us higher and higher. The speed was also getting higher and higher, so the footpegs dragged in almost every corner. Fantastic! This is why we live. After a while the roads leveled out, and we entered Spain and then Andorra. Cheap fuel, cigarettes and cigars were bought, and we had coffee and pie for lunch. When we turned to the east once more, the road started to climb higher and higher again. And it got cold as well on the Pas de la Casa! A local guy on a GSXR passed us and I had some fun following him and giving him thumbs-up in the corners. Then we suddenly hit the fog. It was amazing. From one moment to the other no sight at all. The local carried on (!) but I slowed down as much as possible. After some 15 minutes the fog was behind and above us and we continued the ride with more confidence.
Darrell and I found the crossing with the D118 and waited for Hans. Ten minutes later we heard and saw him, but he didn't see us and seemed to carry on back to Perpignan! I jumped on the VFR, raced after him, finally caught him (he was making good progress as well) and returned to Darrell. The rest of the afternoon we spent on the best roads in Europe; it didn't seem to matter what roads we took, they were all splendid. As far as riding is concerned I consider this the best day of the week. We stopped at a camping municipale in Roquecourbe where we seemed to be the only living guests. We found a nice restaurant in the village where we were served by an old deaf guy who treated us like his children: "eat ALL of the soup, or I won't bring you the main course!'. A very nice bloke he was.
Day 8. It was friday by now. In two days we were supposed to be in Terneuzen Holland and we were still a long way from home. North we went, on sweeping roads at more than legal speeds. Then it suddenly was over. After Clermont-Ferrand the roads went straight again and took us to Saint-Amand Montrond, to a three star camping. Just before that the sun had stopped to shine and rain was pouring out of the skies. We waited a while but finally put up tents in the rain. After a while the rain stopped but the sky was grey. To the town centre for dinner and off to bed.
Day 9. Back to Holland. Clouds with a little sunshine. We picked up the autoroute, fell asleep and were near Gand (Gent) in Belgium some hours later. The rain had started again and there was some wind. Darrell and Hans missed the sign to Gand and I wasn't able to correct them, so we accidently split up. I slowly carried on, hoping they'd catch up soon but as it turned out they took another road to Gand. Anyway, some time later I arrived in Terneuzen, located a number of Brittish hooligan bikes and decided that's where I wanted to be. Darrell and Hans had already arrived, we had a beer and the landlady did her best to find us a room in some guesthouse. She succeeded, and even though it was a crummy place we were glad to have found a bed. We walked into the little town, looking for a cash machine and food. We found both, plus a number of Darrell's mates. To say they were sober would be a lie. Around eight we took a taxi to the village were all the guys had gone to see their band(s?) perform. Good solid rock&roll, I really enjoyed myself. Some of Darrell's friends had some tongue control left so we made acquaintance with a number of bikers who owned bikes from Ducati to HD. What a bunch. It was five in the morning when I hit my pillow... there were some problems getting a cab back.
Day 10. No headaches, just some friends gone for breakfast and I myself locked up in a strange house! They just left me! I managed to wake up one of the other guests who opened the front door for me. Phheww, I needed coffee! Hans and I said goodbye to Darrell who was staying for one more day. Off to the ferry Kruiningen-Perkpolder. There was a real storm going on, trees and branches all over the roads. We wondered if the ferry was still 'running'. It was, and it took us safely to the other side. Almost. Because of the storm they wanted as much cars as possible on the lower deck and we had to move our bikes to the front of the ferry instead of putting them on the spot for bikes. On the other side of the Schelde the ferry hit the embankment, not frontal but with it's port side. The blow threw us and our bikes, on which we were seated, to the floor. Lots of damage to fairings, mirrors etc. What a way to end a 3000 mile hardcore motorcycle week! Another 150km in rain and storm and we were home again. The week had been so good that the event on the ferry could not spoil our memories. Thanks guys!