Archive for April, 2010

Italy bound!

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

(by James) The only worry we’d had on the weather front before leaving the UK was that no matter how nice the weather was forecasted to be (vital for Em to get as much practice and confidence!) the Alps can be unpredictable so to say we were relieved to awake to a perfect alpine morning with not a cloud in the sky is an understatement! We spent the morning heading south-east and getting ever closer to the first alpine passes… something that Em was getting increasingly nervous about, although she was slightly distracted by the fact that we were passing through Gruyere country (her cheese obsession knows no bounds!!) At lunchtime, we finally turned up towards the Juan Pass and via the intercom (bought at the last minute following generous wedding gift from my dad and clear instructions for what it should go towards!!) I was able to talk a very nervous Em through her first tight alpine hairpins. It wasn’t long before she was executing perfect lines out of every corner and looked for all the world like someone who had been doing it all her life (although her true thoughts were coming through loud and clear on my earpiece!!) Matthew, meanwhile, was loving putting his ‘bus’ through its paces, something that became clear when we stopped at the top with snow on the side of the road when, wide-eyed and grinning, his first words were, “You could ride your entire life and not come across roads like that!”

After dropping off the other side of the pass, we headed east towards Interlaken along the shores of Lakes Thuner and Brienzer (the latter the result of a slight navigational mishap by Matthew,(aka ‘the bloodhound’!) As we got to southern Switzerland, we discovered that sadly the vast majority of the high alpine passes were still closed for winter… a sadness that was not shared by Emily! This meant that our route to Italy (and country number four) would be via the 11 mile long Gotthard Tunnel. At our last petrol stop before the tunnel at around 5pm, we contacted Jack (Em’s brother) who informed us that we were booked for dinner with friends for 8.30 pm in Lisanza (the village he lives in) on the shore of Lake Maggiore) so we had to hit the road. Our joy at reaching the Gotthard tunnel was short lived as it quickly became apparent that no matter how much effort is put into ventilation you simply cannot aerate  an 16 km tunnel sufficiently, something you can only really vouch for on a motorbike – as the temperature quickly rose to what a car river later told us was 37 degrees of fume-filled road! Suffice to say we were very happy to reach the south end of the tunnel after a seemingly endless, but in reality 20 sweaty minutes of real discomfort, our only consolation being that we were just 30 kms from the Locarno and the northern shores of Lake Maggiore. Although the northern shores of Lake Maggiore are technically in Switzerland, culturally you are to all intents and purposes in Italy, and we all felt a great sense of relief and satisfaction as we ambled through the stunning villages and villas that hug the shores of the Italian lakes breathing in a warm evening air and an unmistakeable smell of Bourgainvilla that told us all that we had arrived in southern Europe. We arrived at Jack’s at 7:45 having covered 909 miles (it’s worth bearing in mind Em had ridden for less than 100 miles before we left!) in 4 brilliant days – just in time for a much needed shower before dinner – and then straight to Jack’s local (and very good!) restaurant where we met up with our friends Alessandro and Massimo from the local KTM garage (Moto Varese) who had brought along their mechanic Ivan and Russell – the team racer who is currently competing (very successfully) in the Italian superstock racing series in order to get himself back into the world championship series (ie. he’s very fast!) and Jack’s old flat mate, Chris.  Anyway, to cut a long story short – a great time was had by all and we all woke the next morning feeling a little delicate!

First few days

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

(by Emily) Having left in a state of organised chaos and nearly missing our Eurotunnel train, we then had a fantastically smooth first few days riding down through France; beautiful weather; courteous road users; great camp sites. The perfect start for me as a novice rider and great for Matthew, who had taken some time off work to join us on our first leg.

Heading towards the Alps, I was slightly apprehensive about tackling the passes, having been pillion over the world famous Stelvio Pass last summer and thinking ‘there’s no way I could ever do this myself’… Luckily for me, most of them were closed so we had to go by way of the Gotthard tunnel. However, this was not before hitting the Juan Pass – hairpintastic!!! Am certainly experiencing a steep learning curve…

Into Switzerland…

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

(Emily) Another beautiful day saw us continue down through Burgundy, passing Dijon, and then take a south-easterly direction towards Switzerland, our goal for the evening.  As the day wore on, the landscape become more hilly as we built up to the foothills of the Alps and I got to experience my first tight turns which acted as ‘nursery slopes’ before the inevitable mountain passes. By late afternoon we had reached the Swiss border and got our first sign of snow-covered peaks. Relief at finding a campsite in Moudon (having passed no signs in Switzerland thus far) was almost thwarted by ‘moto interdit’ (motorcycles forbidden!) at the entrance, but James soon sweet-talked them round and we were pitched up by the river in no time. Another tasty treat of meatballs and taglietelle cooked up by James, with Matthew’s customary cup of tea to follow. We love camping when it’s warm!!

Day two – our first full day on the road in northern France

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

(by James) We awoke after a freezing cold first night to the welcome sight of Matthew making porridge (probably the only thing that would have got us out of our sleeping bags!) Spent longer that we expected packing up the bikes – something that we no doubt will become more proficient at over the coming weeks and months. It was a beautiful day and we were soon enjoying empty roads as we wound our way through the heart of the Champagne region. Our modifications to the bikes proved their worth when Em dropped hers trying to do a three point turn on a steep cambered side road. Both bike and Em, who effortlessly stepped away as it dropped, were fine. That incident may have knocked the confidence of a lesser person, but Em is clearly made of tougher stuff and was soon back on the road as if nothing had happened.

Stopped for a picnic lunch by the side of a lovely river in the sunshine and had to drag ourselves back onto the bikes before we fell asleep! Continued south into the Burgundy region and found a superb municipal campsite in the tiny village of Precy-sur-Til. Again, we were the only people there and enjoyed hot showers, free electricity, and a pitch for two tents and three motorbikes for the grand total of 11 euros!!! Cooked up a hearty sausage and tomato pilaf washed down with a well-deserved bottle of local red wine and watched the moon rise. Perfect!

And we’re off!!!

Monday, April 26th, 2010

(by James) Well, we managed to prove the old adage about never really being ready to leave for a trip like this to be true by being up packing (and repacking) until 3am before rising at 7am to get ready for a planned 9:15 departure which eventually happened at 9:50! It probably wasn’t a bad thing in the end as we really didn’t have time for everyone to get too emotional!

By the time we left it was looking highly unlikely that we would make our 11:20 deadline for the Eurotunnel but we made good progress on the now post rush hour roads and were the last people to sneak on the train.

After a hour blitz on the autoroute to escape Calais we stopped for lunch in Arras where Em was able to get her hands on a kilo of Moules Marinere which made her morning’s stress somehow worth it – she had never ridden on motorways until this morning and was now having to ride on the right hand side!

After lunch we continued south, finally taking to the b-roads. Our normal practice of having no real plan and just heading in the general direction we want to go left Matthew a tad bemused, and to be fair, it wasn’t looking good when we had only spotted two campsite signs all day. However, fortune favours the brave, and the French obsession with camping didn’t let us down. We pitched in a little place in the back of beyond, munched on sarnies made by Em’s mum that morning, and were soon snoring away…