Sunday, 28 July 2013

There and Back Again

Due to being really busy both at work and at home since I got back I haven’t managed to do a holiday write up so far. Rather than do a day by day account as normal I thought that I’d just give a brief overview and do separate posts with pictures for the highlights, notably the racing at Spa, the motor museum at Château Savigny-les-Beaune, and a couple of  high passes in the Alps.

Sticker Norman produced for the trip
As in previous years, the plan was to find an event around which we could organise the trip. This year we decided on the Rider's Classic races at Spa in Belgium. That way the whole thing has a bit of a focus, with the remainder of our time away largely spent riding our bikes here, there and everywhere. Our first stop was Lieges, only about 30 miles from Spa. From there we spent time in Dijon, Chambery and Metz, before our final stop in Bruges.

Proposed Route
There were be six of us; Yours Truly (Triumph Tiger 955i), Norman (MZ Skorpion Traveller), Terry (MZ Skorpion Tour), Other Terry (Kawasaki ZZR1400), Stuart (Triumph Tiger 800), and Gareth (Sachs Roadster). Sometimes we travelled together, but more often than not we travelled in smaller groups, or by ourselves. As we have discovered before, six is slightly too large a group to travel comfortably together, it being too easy to leave someone behind when traffic lights change or if we become separated by other traffic.

Making use of cycle racks outside the hotel in Dijon
On the first day we decided to avoid the main auto-route and take the smaller roads instead. This was a bit of a mistake as the Belgian countryside isn't really all that interesting, and one or two of the bikes began to overheat quite badly whenever traffic slowed us down. As it rarely fell below 30º C during the day the whole time we were away overheating, of both us and our bikes, was to plague us as the holiday continued, I’m afraid to say. We are simply not used to the heat, and any time the sun actually comes out from behind a cloud is likely to prove too hot. The same seems to be true of our steeds.

On the other hand, on the quieter roads we did ride through a number of small towns which had premises with scantily clad women in their windows, obviously put there to attract passing motorists (or, perhaps they were having problems with the heat as well?). Quite surreal at one o'clock in the afternoon under a blazing sun and situated next door to what looked like ordinary residential homes and small shops. We would have missed that experience on the auto-route!

However, after that first day we saw quite a lot of the French auto-route system, including their money-hungry paige toll roads. True, you needn't pay the tolls if you stick to other roads, but these invariably take longer and you find yourself weighing up the pros and cons of, on the one hand, quick but expensive, versus slower and only slightly cheaper. You have to remember that travelling for longer to avoid the tolls means that you are using incrementally more fuel in doing so, thus defeating the point of using these roads to begin with. Not to mention ending your day exhausted and with frazzled nerves due to the heat and the extra hours spent in the saddle.

Lining up in the pit lane
The races at Spa were entertaining and, like the races we went to last year, you can wander freely around the pit lanes taking photos and generally annoying the people working on their expensive race machinery. You also get incredibly close to the racing itself, with bikes whizzing by a couple of yards away. It’s difficult to imagine that happening at home as everyone is increasingly paranoid about ‘health & safety’ and getting sued. As the event is for classic bikes it was like a trip down memory lane at times. Anyway, I’ll put up some of the hundreds of photos I took in a later post.

The rest of the trip was spent hopping from city to city, the whole point of which was to reach Chambéry and get to play on the high alpine passes, some of which are used in the Tour de France, before heading back homewards.

The Alps seen from our hotel in Chambery
This part of the trip was a bit of a mixed bag. There were good times; mainly evenings out in interesting towns, the amazing motor museum at Château Savigny-les-Beaune, which has to be seen to be believed, unexpectedly coming across live music in Chambery town centre and sitting listening to it while sipping on a beer or two and, of course, the roads in and around the Alps.

Church on an island in Metz
However, there were also the bad days; days spent riding very long distances in quite ferocious heat. The free-for-all at the services in Luxembourg (more of which in a separate post). The hotel in Lieges which had no air-con, windows that you couldn’t open and wouldn’t let bikes into their car park leaving us to park them on the busy pavement outside, and the one in Metz which turned out to be more of a hostel for migrant workers and their families and made us a bit nervous about security.

I’m sure that the others could add their own personal likes and dislikes. We did, however, survive it all and, at the end of the day, it’s all about the experience. Be it good or bad, it’s all part of the adventure.

Waiting on the ferry home
At this point I must say a big thank you to Norman at youcan'ttouronasingle for doing all of the donkeywork for this trip, booking the ferries and hotels etc. He has done his own write up of the trip so you can check that out on his blog here

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