The Sahara and Us Morocco 2011

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Europe 2004 Part Two

Day 13 Arabba to Florence

View from our bedroom
After having a great evening trying pizza and calzones with beer at the local pizzeria we woke up the next day ready for an Italian type breakfast of buns and coffee. Instead we were pleasantly surprised to see the typical German type breakfast being served. This made our overnight there even better value!

It was a bit foggy up in the mountains (it burns off by mid 9:00 am) and we headed to Arabba to make our road connections to Passo De Salla. There are a ton of mountain villages in the Dolomites and each one has ski lifts basically that come right into the village. Essentially making every town a ski town and every villa, or hotel or BB "on the hill". Actually everything is on the hill all the time.I started to characterize that the ski lifts were like bus stops in Calgary or Edmonton they were that common and frequent. And every town seemed like Whistler BC.

We headed to the Passo de Salla and this area needs a bit of explanation. First,
I need to ensure to you that I am not going to exaggerate any of the following
information. Second, in the Italian Dolomites they do some special road markings
for safety, believe it or not. Many of these roads are not full width for the
passing of 2 cars let alone the safe passage of a tour bus and a motorcycle
going opposite directions. I could never get a picture of this since I could
never find a place to pull over a safely wait for a picture opportunity. So
therefore they have a lot of road narrows signs. As I mentioned before I tired
of the corners the day before. That was 2 fold, 1. the Beemer requires more work
at cornering than say a sport bike, but more importantly there is a corner every
2 seconds. The next feature of going over a pass is that on the way up and down
they number each corner (actually the number each hairpin corner) if it isn't a
hairpin then it doesn't count. They also show you the elevation in meters at the
apex of every corner.

So with that in mind the Passo de Salla has 31 corners up and 33 down. In 5
corners from #33 back to #28 I changed elevation by 700 meters. The pass in its
entirety is approximately 14 kms, so 64 hairpin turns in 14 kms, with an average
elevation change of 140 meters per corner will give you a sense as to the
challenge here. Now add tour buses, cars and 100's of Italian motorcyclists
wanting to do this at max. speed and you can get the picture of the challenge.
The following picture is a stitched photo of 3 photos to capture the magnitude
of this summit.
Passo de Sallo

Next onto Florence via Vicenza. We had been planning the trip with meeting Pat
and Belinda in mind and had agreed to meet Sept 6th in Florence, which was
today. However after many exchanges of emails along the way we had gotten an
email from them saying they would meet us in Padua on the 6th. Since we couldn't
find web access in the mountains and their phone number they had given us no
longer worked we headed in the general direction of Padua hoping for a
connection that never did materialize till much later that day.

After Vicenza and several traffic snarls using the normal roads we decided to
bite the bullet and go onto 1 of the Toll autostradas to Florence and thereby
recover to our schedule and also believing that perhaps Pat and Belinda would
try to get there today as well. It was an extremely hot day and we had taken off
every bit of motorcycle riding gear and if I could have changed to shorts I
would have. We hit the freeway and did what the R1150RT does best, swallow huge
amounts of pavement in relative comfort very fast.

We arrived in Florence in slightly over an hour and arrived in the centre core
looking for the B&B that had been recommended. With little luck in finding it we
opted to check out a local hotel the Hotel Pagnini and were met by very pleasant
and helpful family Cinelli members who showed us our room, very clean and all in
marble, and at a quite reasonable for Florence price. They then helped us dial
using their phone to be put in contact with Pat and Belinda, and also because of
their knowledge told us the phone number they had was from Spain and not Italy,
a little detail Pat forgot to share. In any event we contacted Pat and Belinda
and arranged to meet on the Cinque Terre 2 days later. We then headed out for an
excellent meal of Spaghetti with shrimp and a local red wine.

Day 14 Florence

 Michaelangelo's David is the defining attraction for Florence. So when we were having breakfast the next day and began talking to the couple at the next table
( something I always do) Charley and Rose, from Tampa Bay Florida, were heading
there too. This was their third time back to Florence in 3 years, and they were
excited to see David now that he had been re-furbished for his 500th birthday.
We became affected by their enthusiasm and asked if we could join them. In fact
we would spend a good amount of time with them at the gallery, go out for dinner
that evening with them and walk the Uffizi Square and have 2 gelatos that day,
they are SOOOOOOOOOO good!

Sandra and I spent easily a 1/2 hour just walking around this sculpture it was
so powerful. You can see veins and ligaments in the marble and as a Herald
writer recently put, "it is so lifelike that it looks like he could just step
down and walk away."
Uffizi Plaza

From there we carried on to get our first gelato of the day at 10:30 in the morning, 'Hey we're on holidays!" and we were overwhelmed by the flavor. Next the Uffizi Plaza where a copy of David stands as well as other statutes.
and then the "Pont Vecchio" a covered bridge that crosses the river. When we
Pont Vecchio Bridge 2 storey and covered
later went out for supper that night we would walk across the bridge and Charley
would tell us about how there was a separate covered portion for the aristocracy
so they didn't have to mingle with the common folk. As I said that night we
would walk the downtown area and feel the magic of Florence especially when a
violinist and accordion player would fill the square with wonderful classical
music. Florence is in the Tuscan hills and has the Aras river running through it. As
you can see by the countryside it is quite arid.

Day 15 Florence to the Cinque Terre

A lot has been said about the Tuscan hills. As we left Florence the next day
after buying our new GIVI top case from a motorcycle shop called "Scarpelli's" and trusting the Italian mail service to deliver it to our hotel in Apeldoorn, that was misplaced trust I'll tell you, we headed out into the Tuscan hills.
This area is gorgeous with incredible mountain vistas (where have we heard that
before??) and there is a little village around every blind corner. And I didn't
count but there must have been 700 to 750 blind corners that day. Just about any
place they can they grow grapes they do.

We travelled this route to La Spezia and then into the Cinque Terre, pronounced
correctly as "Chink a Terra". It took us all day first because we bought and had
to ship the case, secondly because of heavy traffic leaving Florence, third
because Italian back highways are congested beyond belief and fourth because the
road isn't very well marked.

When we arrived in Levanto there was a place I was going to attempt to find but
it was getting late and we stopped at one B&B that was full and it referred us
to another just up the road which was Fernando and Leah's. We checked the place
out and since they had room and it was inexpensive we thought hmmm... maybe we
can do better. We checked a few other places out and everything was twice the
price and full so we went back and checked in. Just after that a woman came up
the driveway (remember its 34C out) and asked if they had a room. Fernando said
no and the woman almost burst into tears. We would find out later that evry
place was booked and how we lucked into their place, which put a room aside for
Pat and Belinda we'll never know but we are greatful.

The next morning we would learn that Fernando has 616 olive trees, many grape
vines and makes 1050 litres of olive oil a year and a huge amount of wine. The
first picture shows him taking off a bottle of wine to give to us to chill for
the hot afternoon and the second photo is him explaining his process of
decanting to Sandra. Note the oak casks.
Mine wine it is ohhh so good!!

Leah gave me olive oil on a plate to dip with breakfast bread. Their oil is so
light and flavorful compared to what we get it is unbelievable. Later that day
Sandra and I would use it when we made a salad in the evening when Pat and
Belinda would come.The remainder of the day was spent chilling out on the hot beaches of Levanto. It was 34C, sunny, and a wonderful place to relax. The Mediterrean Sea here is very warm and the wave action minimal making it a great place.

That evening we met Pat and Belinda at the train station, always an easy place to find and we were finally re-united after 30 years apart.

It was great to meet up with them and as you will see by the following days
events we had a great time.

Day 16 and 17 Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre region is a group of five (cinque) villages (terre) all
situated on the Ligurian Sea (really the Med). They were not accessible by any
highway, only by footpath and later train. Most of them still can not be
accessed by car. The area is unique and is now protected by National Park status
as well as recognized by Unesco as a "World Heritage Site". As you can see by
the pictures they are amazingly beautiful and it is no wonder that tourists now
flood the area. When I was researching the trip a guy on the Horizon's Unlimited
website from France warned me about how busy it can be especially on weekends
and closed by saying " Its the only place where I have been in a human traffic
jam on a hillside footpath".

Fortunately for us it was not that busy but as I said the towns and surrounding
Villages were all full. If you are planning to do this area we would recommend
the following. Buy a Cinque Terre all inclusive card for 1 day. That allows you
park access, riding the train unlimited (especially if you don't want to hike)
and any shuttle transfers between towns. It is only 1.4E more ($2.00) and well
worth the flexibility it gives.

On the Trail Day 1
We took the train to Rio Maggiorio and began our walk back north. The hike will
take about 5 hours to all the five villages so count on the whole day because
there are lots of places to stop and enjoy the water, eat, or people watch. We
ended the day in Monterossa had beers and caught the train back to Levanto.

We had only scheduled 3 nights in this area but it was so nice with such great
weather and friends that we decided to stay another day and maybe miss the
Normandy coast, or Paris. As we later discussed we only gave up going to Mont St
Michel on the Normandy coast as the trade off for 1 more day.
Vernazza Town Square

Vernazza from the Trail, a Million $ view

The people we first met at Fernando's gave us the low down on places to eat and we went to Totano Blu both nights we were with P& B. Sandra and I shared a huge
pot of steamed mussels with crusted bread in a wine sauce as an appetizer and
then had Salmon pasta or linguini and clams and other sea food. It was
fantastic. On the second night there, and sitting outdoors (of course) Belinda
in a raised voice said something about "All you Canadians". Moments later a lady
showed up and asked who was Canadian and shortly after she and her husband a Dr.
from Duncan BC were at our table to party. "It was so much fun!"

Sunday we had to leave and the weather cooperated by raining a bit. Fernando
gave us the weather forecast which was good for him "My grapes, they are so
thirsty, they need a drink". So we felt we had used up all the nice weather and
would drive a bit in the rain & we are well equipped to do. As it turns out the
weather cleared north of Levanto about 20 miles and we ended up having another
Our last pic before heading out
nice day while the lower part of Italy would get some well needed rain.

Saying goodbye to Pat and Belinda was a little easier knowing that we would see
them again in December when they come to Alberta.

Day 18 Levanto to Provence in France

Since we had waited out a rain squall to get our final pictures I was eager to
drive out of the rain towards Nice, France so we decided to drive the
Autostrada. And since we had travelled this route before we knew the route for
about 120 kms. is mostly 3/4 in tunnels and 1/4 trying to catch a glimpse of the
countryside as you exit between mountains.Travelling 130 to 140 kph on the freeway we were past by 5 really snorting Ferrarri's all red of course. The sounds of these cars is really wicked. The day cleared and we took off our rain gear when we filled with gas.

Menton Beach, better than Nice
When we got to Ventimiglia we took the advice of a Horizon Unlimited contributor
and took the road down through Menton and into Monte Carlo along the coast. As
you can see from the pictures the weather turned hot and sunny and Monte Carlo
was there exuding all its money and Nice all its beach glory. The route was
pretty busy though with Sunday traffic and while the beaches at Menton weren't
overly crowded the ones at Nice were buzzing.

After spending a lot of the afternoon around Menton, where we had our first
"Steak and Fries Baguette" Really! we toured the gardens of the Monte Carlo
casino where there are incredible works of art displayed in the gardens.
Unfortunately in my only photo gaff of the trip I deleted 1 Monte Carlo garden
photo to replace it with another but forgot to reset the camera to take the
picture. I didn't notice this till we were miles away.

You can feel the money here it is so powerful!

Onto Nice and we headed north onto another road which had been recommended that
would connect us to the Grand Canyon of France, the Gorge de Verdun. This road
was extremely beautiful and very nice to drive after having spent a week doing
blind corners in Italy. And we wound the day up in a small village with a
fantastic supper out on the terrace of a bistro with great red wine. I normally
tire of eating out after a short while but not this trip!

Day 19 Provence to Vaison de la Romaine

In France many places breakfast is "Petit De Jeune" and is not included in your room price and they charge quite a bit for what you get, normally a baguette and some coffee. So we had opted to avoid the cost of the breakfast at the place we stayed in and head into Entreveaux the next town. In France life revolves around the Pasterria and the Cafe. As we saw the fortress at Entreveaux I pulled over and then noticed a lady carrying her morning baguette. We stopped
found the shop and I had a quiche while Sandra had a choco croissant and we would buy excellent coffee at the cafe and sit outside enjoying this view. Not hard to take.

Entreveaux stands for "entrance" or control point. It is situated at a restriction or narrowing of the gorge in the river valley and the mountains and was capable of controlling access along the trade route from Paris to the Mediterranean. As such it would tax all traders who would move through the area. Thus being in a similar situation to so many of the castles on the Rhine.

From here we travel along the Canyon de Verdun. I was expecting bigger things from this part of the ride since so many people talked about it and while it is pretty there is only a small canyon-like component, which is particularly noteworthy. But since the road was the best way to connect the Entreveaux area to Gordes and the bee hive huts we didn't really drive out of our way at all.

We got to the beehive huts and it was scorching, easily as hot as 34C if not hotter. These huts are constructed of loose stacked stones in such a way that they are extremely strong, resist weather and water and were around for centuries. Many of the structures were converted and are still in use by people of the region for storing stuff and they continued to be built from neolithic through to 18th century times. In the picture on the right the pigs lived in the area directly adjacent and fenced from the home opening.  In the heat we experienced it must of been a special day when the pig slurry was disturbed.

We toured this historic site for about an hour then headed off for Gordes itself with its fantastic walled presence overlooking a vast valley of Provence. The picture is actually 3 smaller pictures stitched together using the advanced digital photo system available with the camera.
The day continues with a short jaunt into Avignon to see the Palais de Papes, a sanctuary that was built in the 14th century when the Vatican moved from Rome to Avignon for about 40 years. It would create quite a turmoil in the church since there would be 2 popes for a period after, one being considered an anti-pope.

From here we decided to head north to some of the great wine growing regions of Provence ( we actually are in a lot already) and finally are stop for the night was a small B&B near Buisson, France.  Sandra and I had stopped earlier in the day outside of Gordes at a winery and sampled some red wine. A particular variety "Cote de Ventoux" caught our tastebuds and we bought a bottle.

When we arrived at the B&B that night around 7 pm., one of the ones recommended on Rick Steve's website we were hot, tired and wanting to rest. We decided with the beautiful courtyard provided at the B&B that we would open the bottle and have a drink there first then go for supper. While we sampled the wine the owner whose wife works for another winery came by and while talking wehad a bit more wine. Then another couple, US by citizenship named Chip and Sandy arrive and we get talking to them and offer them some. In no time the wine is gone, I feel like I shouldn't drive since we hadn't eaten lunch that day, so the owners wife offers to bring out another bottle of their wine, some cheeses and some baguettes. So we finished off a second bottle of wine while enjoying some really stimulating conversation with Chip and Sandy. You know what they charged us for this wine and cheese plate( 5E) which is extremely reasonable.

The B&B owner is quite a bicyclist and during the period of time we visited he was talking about Lance Armstrong's tour de France group cycling close by. Matter of fact the section of the tour that he won so handily is very close to this area. So we thought we'd go see the section which was a tough mountain climb. Unfortunately the day started out cloudy and cool and with the cloud height low he suggested it wouldn't be worth seeing today. So we have vowed to come back here at some time to re-visit this area more.

Day 20 Vaison de la Romaine to Moulins

The day turns into just a drive day with no particular roads we want to take or scenery to see and we just head cross country to end the day in Mouldings. Here again is the typical old city but with a twist. Most hotels etc. are full with some type of business activity so we have to work at finding a place settling finally on a Comfort Inn (Primavere). These used to be good in '91 when we were there before but they are rundown and tired now. But they do the trick and they are cheap so we stay the night.

Day 21  Moulins to Paris

Another reason we pushed on more yesterday is that we wanted to arrive in Paris early enough in the day to find a hotel, get settled and see some sites of the City. It always works well when you get a bit of orientation under your belt for the next day.

This said we travelled some beautiful area on the way into Paris. As you can see by the road sign in the picture we are on the way to Paris and turn a corner and there are 2 nuclear reactors  power generation. Drive a few kms. on and we arrive in a small village with this other picture for scenery.

The remaining distance into Paris was pretty easy. I had known Sandra was pretty concerned about driving into Paris and kept urging to stay outside but I had used the example of Florence where we were right in the centre and lost no time getting out and seeing things, and driving the bike into the areas is quite easy and parking is nothing at all.

So I kept going and hit the huge ring road that circles all of Paris then followed the directions for reaching the city centre. We were rewarded by the following scene as we got close to downtown and stopped for directions.
Eiffel Tower with the original statue of Liberty in the foreground

After stopping for directions twice since crossing the city was a challenge we finally arrived at the Hotel Chopin a place that had been recommended to us. They advised they were full but they had a sister hotel that she might be able to book us into. The Chopin is a nice little place close to everything and reasonable for Paris prices. And she suggested the other hotel while being 1 star more in features might be able to meet their prices for 1 night, but we wanted 2. They wanted to charge us over double our budget amount for the 2nd night and we said No we'd look around. They then agreed between the 2 hotel receptions to a Chopin price for the 2 nights and I then said yes. With some good directions we found our way over to the new hotel which was within 2 blocks of the Pompideau centre, one of the things on Sandra's must see list.

We then went to the centre which is a library and toured it. There must have been a 1000 computers set aside for use, but no email allowed. We got a password and caught up on some news, future weather forecasts ( I have a special Yahoo page established for quick travel stuff including currency rates), before heading out to see Montemarte cemetary, the Moulin Rouge and finally eating out at an Irish Pub in Paris. What??????

Day 22 PARIS

Our next day began walking the 2 blocks down to the Seine grabbing coffee and croissants at a cafe and sitting looking at the  scene at the left from the bridge. After coffee we headed over to see Notre Dame Cathedral which is in much better shape than when we saw it in 1991. There is so much advanced stained glass in this church it is amazing and the stone work outside is beautiful as well. Since we had prioritized what we wanted to see we weren't going to go to the Louvre again since we were there before and the Accademia gallery in Florence was its replacement. So we walked around many of the sites just to see them either again or for the first time. On the Champs D'Elysee we stopped for crepes since this was on Sandra's menu of things to have in France. They were great and we continued on past all the fashion stores to the Arc D'Triumphe. Little did we know we'd see this all again the next day.
Arch D'Triumph

After this our walking tour took us to the Eiffel tower hoping that an earlier newspaper report of the Tower being on strike was no longer in-force. Unfortunately it was and we missed going up there again. We returned by walking down the Seine past the Grand Palais also closed, and finally back to our hotel where we enjoyed some more red wine and cheese.

Louvre entrance, no Mike Tyson this time
Later in the evening we'd walked back down to the Seine and sat overlooking the city watching the lights and cruise boats play on a most beautiful city.

Our last  look of Paris would be an initially terrifying notion for Sandra. We had asked for directions out of Paris toward the Normandy coast and the hotel receptionist said the simplest and easiest route was to go a block over to the Rue Rivoli, head west on it till you get to the Place de Concorde (2nd most congested traffic circle in Paris) then up the Champ D'Elysees  to the Arc D'Triumphe around it and out the west gate to the City. I winced after hearing the directions because I knew what Sandra's reaction would be but after the screaming and kicking subsided we got on and did just that.

Well maybe I'm oversimplifying it a bit. I'm leaving out all the European scooter tactics I have learned, driving in bus lanes, splitting lanes, racing to the front of traffic at a stop light and generally driving as crazy as they do. And it was morning rush hour.

Champs D'Elysees, a busy route!!
In 45 mins we were through the city out the west gate and in a town 25 kms away having quiche for breakfast. Not bad for a country boy from Alberta.

We continued going west towards Ruone and onto Honfleur. Sandra forgot about a travel log we had watched on it but it is a tourist site and we found it to be very similar to Lunnenburg Nova Scotia. Here (below) we would be reminded that Champlain who founded Quebec sailed from here first in 1602 and later 5 more times in the settling of eastern Canada. And many of the early settlers came from this region as well. The Captain's quarters are in the stone building at the top centre of the picture.
Champlain's Contribution to Canada

We arrived close to noon and found a nice little B&B completely self-contained just outside Honfleur on a farm. It was a perfect little place and really cheap with a microwave and sink as well. The breakfast wasn't very good as typical but we enjoyed having a place in the country all to ourselves.
After a lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes where I had an omelette and Sandra "Croque Monsieur" with the local apple cider we walked around the parks that were beautiful and saw all the sites in the centre. I forgot that I shouldn't have a beer or cider at lunch and after our walk we found a nice park bench and green grass where I laid down and fell asleep almost immediately for 45 mins. Sandra said other tourists would walk by and point at me and laugh. Oh well, I'm on holidays!

That evening we had a nice meal at another of the sidewalk cafes in town and drove back to our B&B in the dark.

Day 24 Normandy Coast

Canada was involved as part of the Allied invasion of France on June 6th, 1944. On our previous trip we had visited the WWI memorial at Vimy Ridge. This time we wanted to see the infamous "Juno" beach. Today was going to be spent entirely on the D Day beaches and we started off by driving down to Pegagus Bridge, the first bridge liberated by the British on June 6th.

Each set of allied forces had deliberate targets to achieve that day and the Canadians were the only force to achieve all of their targets that day. The beaches in Normandy are beautiful much more in a west coast of Canada type way than the tropical type beaches of southern France. It is too bad they will always have this stigma attached to them.

The house in the picture above alway carries a Canadian flag on its balcony as a reminder of the Canadians that liberated it on June 6th, 1944.

In the right hand picture you will see the actual photo taken of Juno beach and that house the day the Canadians came ashore in the invasion. Note in that picture many Canadians carried bicycles not because they heard the area was great for cycle holidays but because they were to penetrate behind enemy lines quickly and scout what reinforcements were coming. We watched a tribute to the veterans on June 6th in preparation for this area. It is 60 year since the invasion and the last major milestone date that most of the vet's will be alive. It is critical that we all remember the contribution made by the allies with their lives.

Incidentally, the area is great for a cycling holiday and Sandra and I are thinking we might come back and do France by bicycle in a future holiday. The Normandy and Brittany areas, probably the Cote D' Zur and more of the Rhone region.
Cemetery at Bene Sur Mere
We continued on to see as many of the beaches and sites as we could that day. There is a Canadian cemetary at Bene sur mer that has over 2000 soldiers buried there. On one gravesite, that of a French Canadian soldier, there are small Canadian and Quebec flags plus a larger Canadian one with the word "Merci" written on it. It was a very powerful site.

Also powerful was the 360 degree theatre at Arrowmanches, more into the Gold beach and Omaha beach areas, British and US respectively. Here you get to see a gathering of US military film that was for the "eyes only" of the Pentagon during the invasion. It is nw transformed for public viewing as well as current film pieces of some of the same areas today, to show the hell of that day and the peace of today. The film was developed by the French government about 10 years ago.

At Gold beach Sir Winston Churchill came up with the idea that they should attempt to build a portable harbor and bring it there to create their own protected port by which to land further troops and supplies. This was done and used effectively for the duration of the war.

Unfortunately the only site was missed out on was the US cemetary. We arrived there 5 mins after it had closed for the day. It is the only site that has a timeframe to it and for the obvious reasons.

Day 25 Normandy Coast to Bruge
Our next day heading out from the Normandy coast had a terrible feel to it. Because, we are definitely heading back to Holland to turn in the bike. The holiday is almost over but not before one last beautiful place to visit. Bruges, Belgium.

I won't bore you with the details of getting there but suffice to say that it is a major day's ride from Normandy to get there. On our way we had had a small lunch at a Mc Donald's in St. Omer with "Harvey and Joan" from Sherwood Park, wow that was scary but we were still a bit hungry so Sandra still wanted to try the French Fries with Mayo that is popular here.

Once we got that out of the way we walked the centre of the city and saw quite a bit more than when we took the kids here in 91 or at any time when I had been there previously with my parents. Belgium is struggling under the EU rules and is quite expensive. We did buy Belgium chocolates here, though. We stayed about a block away from the Centre of the City and had a nice meal out of Lasagna. Mussels are supposed to be the speciality here but they are over twice the price of the ones we had in Italy and they could not have been better. Bruges is known as the "Venice of the North" with its picture perfect canals that wind through the town.

In the evening after supper I wanted to get a picture of the town centre in the evening sun. It is one of the best centres in all of Europe. Again, using the 'stitch' function of the camera I seamed together 4 pictures to illustrate the town centre. I hope you enjoy it!

The picture is the one below.

Day 26 Bruge to Apeldoorn

Our last day would be a rush since we had to drive 280 kms back to Apeldoorn, check into the Hotel and unpack and repack everything we would take off the bike, check on our mailed package and trace it if it hadn't arrived and return the bike to Burt Duursma.

The day was blustery and cool and threatened rain so we put on the rain suits though we didn't need them, fortunately. We headed toward Antwerp and caught a bypass Toll autobahn around there towards Breda, Holland. Just past Breda on the way to Utrecht traffic ground to a halt so I began to split the traffic lanes slowly moving towards what I expected would be an accident. I drove easily 8 kms that way until my left hand tired out from operating the clutch so much. I stopped and looked at a road sign that indicated an exit to N322 in 600Meters so I checked the map and it would provide a back route around the traffic tie up and onto Apeldoorn. So I caught the road shoulder drove to the exit and we were off.

We arrived back in Apeldoorn about 12: 20 pm. and pulled into the driveway of the Hotel at the same time a postal truck was driving out. The post office had finally delivered the GIVI case 2 weeks after mailing it from Italy and not a moment too soon!

We were welcomed by the hotel owners who then prepared tea for us with Dutch chocolates and sat for a while as we had tea and briefly went over our story. Later that day I would drive the bike back to the dealer, close out the contract on the most amicable of terms, and walk back to the hotel. Mission accomplished we headed out for one last European meal before heading home.

I hope you have enjoyed the Web epic, sorry it was so long but there was just such a great amount to show. And keep in mind there are a lot more pictures than what are shown here, so just be warned.

Next Eastern Europe in 2006

Europe 2004 Introduction

Europe 2004

Ever since Sandra and I took the kids to Europe in 1991 we said we would be back and since it was Sandra's first time and my third I continued to want to ride my motorcycle in Europe having got the motorcycling bug there in 1965. Well this year motivated by the fact we bought property out at the coast and will make sailing a regular pastime we decided to do something different and go back. Then we learned that Pat Peck and his wife Belinda were going to be there and we decided to see if we couldn't meet up with them.

Planning the trip to make the most of the time/value was fun but very detailed. See trip planning here

We can tell you it paid off immensely and we met people along the way who are astonished at what we know and how we planned! Saturday mornings in late winter we would have the fireplace on, coffee in hand, have the laptop connected to the web and 3-5 travel books over as we strategized where we'd go. We used the Horizon's Unlimited website as the main motorcycle information website, coupled with an Alpine Roads web location. Rick Steves "Europe through the Back Door" Public broadcasting TV shows were very informative and his website, particularly the "Graffiti Walls" for accommodations and new back doors helped a lot. Searches by name for web locations and a British TV program called Pilot Guides rounded out the basic resource base. I eventually would establish our Yahoo web email address and home page which would give us weather reports, our stock quotes, exchange rates and news of the day for all the places we would be visiting. When Pat and Belinda saw this they wanted to know how to set it up for themselves.

The key was where we'd find the best deal on renting a motorcycle or deciding whether to ship our own very capable bike there. If you remember we shipped our bike to eastern Canada in 2001 with the express purpose of learning the shipping ropes. There are different types of trips for different people and interests and we have been defined by quite a few people as "Out there!" and "adventure trippers". Well may be that's true. This type of touring isn't for most people but Sandra and I found it more and more is us, and continues to help define our relationship. At 32 years plus does it need more defining??

Generally shipping the bike will cost you about $3200 Canadian dollars round trip plus acquiring European insurance coverage which is about $120 for the time period. We had contacted quite a number of rental/tour operators whose prices for the timeframe we wanted to spend were virtually equal in price to shipping our own. Then we found Bert Duursma BMW in Apeldoorn and after 2 quick emails I just got this very good feeling that they were the people to go with. As it turns out I was soooooooo right.

Next timing was dictated by Blair and Sandy's wedding and the redemption of Aeroplan points for a flight. Those timing issues decided we focussed on where we'd go with Amsterdam/Apeldoorn as the starting and finishing points since open jaw flights/motorcycle rentals just don't work. Actually planning the loop was quite simple except that we changed our France destinations several times based on making sure we saw new places instead of revisiting old ones. Paris was the only exception. A trip of 30 days requires a lot of energy to be expended so we also dedicated a lot of time to getting in good physical condition for it.

And we also agreed that since the motorcycle was a key part of the experience that we'd identify new places we wanted to see, highlight them on a map, determine "best road" suggestions and try and connect the two. We believe we did extremely well. 

  • If we weren't visiting a new European location we were driving a best motorcycling road to get to the next one. 
  • There were only 3 days in the whole trip that didn’t fit that model. 1/2 the first day out of Apeldoorn, the last day back, and a day through the middle of France. 
  • And as the trip progressed we found the big places less attractive and the small locations with their B&B's and real people a lot of fun. Sandra even wanted to give up Paris for the Normandy coast but we were able to fit both in and enjoyed them both. 
One thing that the motorcycle gives is the enhanced sensory experience. Europe was developed on the feudal system and most people resided in a small village and worked the surrounding fields for the master or lord. While the system has changed the organization of life hasn't. 

  • You can drive thru a village smell the flowers in the flower boxes, or the pigs in the barn or the baker with fresh bread or someone who has a fire going in their fireplace! 
  • And your vision is not obstructed by anything. Now that the trip is finished we wouldn't have changed a thing and are now figuring out where we'll focus on doing the next one. Germany and Austria offer incredible scenery and value for the Euro spent. France is very large and would take 3 weeks just to see adequately itself and we still haven't seen Spain and Portugal. Italy surprised us as being far more attractive this time round and Holland and the Dutch people are very warm and friendly. You see the dilemma. Now here's the trip.

As I said at the outset rental location for the bike determined where we flew to especially since it was financially so much different. So where is Apeldoorn? It is by train 1 hour south and east of Amsterdam and from the Schiphol airport. It was so easy to get to 10 mins after clearing Customs at the Airport we were on a train to Apeldoorn. We found the Abbekerk Hotel

After our tour we got on the bike headed to Koblenz, where the Rhine and Mosel merge and then down to Lorelei Rock and the castle eye candy region of the Rhine.
If you took on sugar from this eye candy I'd be diabetic! We stopped for lunch along the Rhine then headed onto some autobahns for the quick trip down to Heidelberg.
140 to 160 kph quick that is! Once there it was great to re-visit one of the most beautiful old castle cities of Europe. We found the same restaurant in the central square that we had eaten at with the kids in '91 (schnitzel) and then drove the bike (not supposed to) to just outside the restaurant door where we had supper then drove off to find a room for the night. That night we stayed on the Neckar River in a basic hotel. Nothing great just a room. But after our other experiences you feel robbed if it doesn't offer something extra.

Day 3 Heidelberg to Rothenburg de Tauber
It was a misty morning that we awoke to and we thought that since the first 2 days had already had a smattering of rain showers then clearing that we might be doomed to this but the mist provided a neat backdrop for us as we motored through the Neckar river valley with each village poking its head out after the other. At one point it cleared and we drove under Schloss Harburg a huge castle on a rock outcropping. The road now actually passes through a tunnel 500' below the castle and it was neat to see a modern highway underneath a 14-century castle.
We arrive in Rothenburg
just before lunch found Haus Karin, which had been listed in Rick's book as a great place to stay. She didn’t disappoint with a great location within walking distance of the Old town,
we enjoyed the day and evening touring the old town with quite a history, had another great meal this time Rouladen, and took the Night watch man tour which was equally good. Fell in love with Rothenburg and would list it as a must see place with its town square, quaint setting and old history in the Holy Roman Empire. We'd hear a lot about this empire on this trip.

Day 4 Rothenburg to Bad Heilbrunn
After a super breakfast at Karin's place and visiting with 3 other motorcyclists we headed off towards the Andech's monastery near Herrsching. It was today that we learned that you shouldn't expect to find accommodation on a beautiful weekend near a large city like Munich.
We got to Herrsching near lunchtime which is our normal strategy, get to where you want to be by lunch get a place, tour the area, and be ready to move on the next day. Not here. Everything was booked, it was hot and sunny, the weekend and every Adolph, Gertie, and Wilhelm is out in their Porsche Boxster or Smart car or whatever. We visited the Andech's monastery which is renowned for its quality beer and after beer and lunch we moved on finally finding accommodation in Bad Heilbrunn by 5:00pm. A beautiful medical facility town right on the edge of the Alps. Here we had an incredible room and the best sleep I have ever had in my entire life.

The next morning we had breakfast with a visiting therapeutic specialist taking a course there and she explained the area to us. The weather was beautiful and we were on our way.

Day 5 Bad Heilbrunn to Salzburg
Our destination overnight allowed us to consider some Alp back roads since we had traveled further the day before. We chose to go over the German Alps and into Austria and then return back into Germany over another pass and into Berchesgarten (Hitler's hideout) before going onto Salzburg. The scenery and drives were great with us dragging footpegs on the Beemer quite a few times along the way. When we stopped to ask for directions once we had a guy stop offer his help in quite good English then explain that he was a German POW in WWII, taken prisoner to England, then escaped there into the countryside where he had to learn perfect English to go undetected before the end of the war. And you learn this all from just asking directions. The whole trip was filled with this kind of 'extra'.
Once we got to Berchesgarten we caught the bus tour up to "The Eagles Nest".
This bus ride into the clouds is one incredible ride and the hideout at the top quite impressive. In one of the pictures you'll see a brick mason
standing on a single board over a 6000' drop, placing stone. Another shows Hitler on a balcony we would also stand on.
When we returned to the bike it was beginning to spit rain so we put on our rain gear and took a back route into Salzburg that a Horizon's community member had recommended. It was gorgeous but was broken by the skies opening and a downpour like you wouldn't believe. A short trip into Salzburg and we located Trudy's B&B which we had booked for 3 nights. She immediately dried us out and we went out for dinner at a "Weiner Wald" world famous for their chicken dinners. It was excellent. Trudy told us when we returned that the forecast the next day was for Hot and Sunny and it didn’t disappoint.

Day 6 Salzburg
So much to see. We walked into the old town from Trudy's
and bought a river tour ticket that would take us to the Heilbrunn Palace and trick water fountains. It would also allow us 24 hours of free entrance to most other tourist sites in Salzburg. The boat tour was good the Palace and trick fountains very amusing since a Prince/Bishop did them in the 17th century. We also toured the fortress, Mozart's birthplace, rode the funicular, the catacombs, and some of the incredible 44 Catholic churches in the old town. On the way back in the evening we stopped at a site where there was supposed to be a beer garden but there was just a church (1 of the 44). We opened a door and down some stairs you could hear a din of noise. At the bottom we opened a door to a beer hall that served draught beer in 2 sizes large and larger. .5 L and 1 liter that is. We had beer and pretzels there then staggered back to Trudy's that night.

We spent a second day here originally planning to rent bicycles and ride down to Hallein but the weather wasn't very good in the morning so we finished our sight seeing and came back and had a nap. Trudy offers her guests the chance to buy wine or beer from her made by a Farmer/vintner in Melk. For 1L of white wine you pay 3.3E. about $5 Canadian. Sandra and I did this, it was great wine and we weren't motivated to do much else, so we asked for a restaurant location close by. There we went to a Chinese restaurant that served the very best Chinese food we have ever had. And no we weren't tipsy and didn’t know the difference. Leaving here was like leaving home, Trudy makes you feel so welcome, her son's father-in-law passed away while we were there, they had to attend the funeral in Munich so we were left with the house to ourselves, talked about that and she recommended SARAN to go to supper and there they made us a special dinner (Spaghetti and shrimp). Salzburg was very good to us!

Day 8 Salzburg via Halstadt to Melk

One of the best scenic locations to see in all Europe is Hallstadt located in the Austrian Alps. It is a picture perfect place so we headed out to it in the morning, having gotten a late start because of visiting with Trudy. Plan on these delays, or seize the moment when they come because we have come to know Trudy as a friend now. As you will see by the pictures Hallstadt is a postcard place and so quiet you feel you must whisper while in town. By the way, they don’t let cars in town. After a lunch on the deck of a cafĂ©
we looked to connect some of the Alpine roads suggested through to Melk. At Wildapen we took a break by a scenic waterfall.
In Mariazell, we stopped for another break walked up a small set of steps and into a plaza with 1000's of pilgrims going to a Cathedral there. We went inside where a service was about to get underway and heard the pipe organ play. If you go to Europe don’t miss hearing the pipe organs in one of the cathedrals there. They are much more powerful than today's sound systems and just think back to the fact they were there since the 14 or 15th centuries.
On our way to Melk we encountered some really twisty roads and got into Melk around 6pm. Found a B&B and walked downtown to the centre square for supper. We sat out for supper, something we did a lot of on the trip and the atmosphere of being in a small square, listening to the church bells on the hour, seeing the ambience of the town unfold is beyond capture with words. And each evening is different.
We waited until morning to see the monastery there but this impressive facility is so dominating
the countryside you won’t want to miss seeing it. On from here through the Wachau valley and into Vienna tomorrow.

Day 9 Melk to Vienna
The drive through the Wachau and into Vienna was pastoral and open with its many farmers' fields. We wondered which one had actually vinted the wine we drank in Salzburg. As we got closer to Vienna the pace got more hectic and traffic heavier and we drove right downtown and into Vienna pretty quick. You realize that Vienna at one time if not now was the centre of the Happsburg dynasty and the Austria- Hungarian empire. A street sign showing Budapest, Prague, and Zagreb one way, Venice and Rome another causes you to realize this is a large centre and a cross road for Europe. The British dashed our initial plans for accommodation. They had decided to have a soccer match with the Austrian's so the whole town was booked for Friday through Sunday.
We headed back out to Purkersdorf (quite the name eh?) where the visitors bureau found us a hotel there for cheap and great accommodation. We would buy the Vienna train pass for 3E each a day and ride into and around Vienna for 1 low price and return out of the hub-bub there in the evening for a quiet meal and evening in the local towns square. Remember do this every chance you get! Here we sat under a beautiful tree in a courtyard, under a town bell that would toll every 15 mins the time. Ah Europe!

Day 10 Vienna

Got a good start to the day and toured Schonnbrunn Palace apartments and Lippizanner stables before a tour of the Opera house in the afternoon. Saw St. Stephen's cathedral and the square where there are the typical entertainers.
Of course music and statutes are big.
Fashion is HUGE here, even bigger than in Paris, and Sandra pointed out a couple with her wearing this see-thru bra and backless top. Notice the guy is short and dumpy. There's hope for us all!
After a walk down by the Danube river
we had decided we would head back to the Hotel (Waldof) in late afternoon, buy some wine and cheese and have it on the patio there. We actually bought beer (Kaiser) 660 ml bottles, WOW and I said I didn’t want to have to drive any place afterwards, so we asked the hotel owners if they serve a supper (most of these places don’t). They had a tour coming and they apologized but said they could offer 1 type of meal which turned out to be a great soup and salad for starters, goulash and spatzel for main course and a apple crisp type dessert all for 10E. WoW! And Sandra had helped some other tourists access the hotel who were Romanian but spoke good but broken English. Still better than our Romanian though! That night in the back of the restaurant we visited with them for probably an hour learning about Romania and their 2 boys one of who was going off to law school. They were headed to Venice for the Gondola races and told horror stories of being held up at the border for 3 hours before being able to leave Romania. And they are in the tourism industry there. We really enjoyed this visit with them and exchanged business cards. We had prepared a business card for the motorcycle trip, which tells people who you are and an email address and web address to go to for more information about our trip. We found this well received and expect to extend our acquaintances this way.

Day 11 Purkersdorf to Radstadt
Purkersdorf is on the edge of the Vienna woods and an excellent kick off point for the motorcycle roads leading us back to Radstadt and onto the Alps and Dolomites. We headed out after saying goodbye to the Romanians in the morning and met up with a motorcycle group who we had asked some directions of. They turned out to be going in the same direction so we rode with them for awhile till nearly returning to Mariazell. Today would be a day of just riding some beautiful alpine roads with just the need to get close to the Grossglockner to cross the next day. By mid afternoon we get to a town called Radstadt and decided to call it a day, bought a bottle of wine and some cheese and ate out on our balcony overlooking the town. We eventually would walk into town by the local old castle and eat supper at a restaurant overlooking an incredible alpine vista. I know this sounds repetitive but it was just this way almost every day. Nothing special here, just everyday Austria.

Day 12 Radstadt to near Arabba Italy
OK today was going to be the drum roll of motorcycling days in Europe with us crossing the Grossglockner, a toll road that is called the "Top of Austria" route and an incredible road by report from every motorcycle source. Well we'll see, we have to compare it to the Highway to the Sun. Well, lets just say it covers about twice the height and 3 times the distance of Hiway to the Sun and has glaciers and motorcycles ( about 1500 that day) far away from the Sun road. And more of that eye candy that is giving me diabetes. At the end of the road is a town called Heiglenblut then onto Leinz and Tobiach in Italy where we stop take a look off into the distance see another pretty vista calling and change our route to go that way towards Cortina D'Ampezzo. Here we change direction to go towards the 'best' Italian route, the Passa de Sallo, and along the way we get tired of wheeling the multiple corners every 2 seconds (I know hard to believe but there were so many I did finally tire out). We stopped at a small Albergo, the Excelsior, perched high on a cliff overlooking an incredible mountain vista (heard this before??). We asked about their rooms, we were shown their best room, the only one with a balcony and I took this picture from our balcony to prove the more than 12000' variation from the tip of the mountain to the valley floor. All for $85.00 with breakfast for 2. That night we drove into the small village for our first great Italian pizza.