France 2002

Although we’d previously spent nearly a week in the Ardennes with the Suzuki Owner’s Club, we had not yet had a proper continental holiday on the bike. Now was our chance!

Day 0 – Friday

Home from work at lunchtime, we set about packing for a week in the alps and a week in Provence. Our Thunderace can take a tank bag, two panniers and a top box so there was plenty of room. We caught the five thirty ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam. Its not cheap (UKP 350 for two people in an inside cabin plus bike, return) but it meant that after 350 miles we were nearly in the alps rather than just reaching Dover.

The standard of food and accomodation on the ferries was good, out and back, but tying the bikes down was not as organised as PandO.

Day 1 – Saturday

Nine oclock – we disembarked at IJmuiden into pouring rain. We only had 3 completely dry days out of 15, but this was one of the wettest. Into Amsterdam for a coffee. Pat had never visited the Red Light District, so we had a quick prowl around. There was one young lady in a window, even at 11:00, so Pat got a flavour of what it was like. Into a cafe for a spot of lunch and then a quick blast down the motorway to Liege for the night. We’d prebooked in the Campanile, and the guy on reception immediately offered to move a couple of cars out of the hotel’s garage so we could lock up the bike.

Day 2 – Sunday

A longish day of motorway riding. The interesting bit came at lunchtime, when on changing down to pull into a service station my left foot couldn’t find the gear lever. It was dangling from the connection to the gear box, the pivot bolt having disappeared somewhere back on the road.

A quick ponder over coffee yielded two options – call out the breakdown service, or proceed in fourth (which was the lowest I could pursuade the gearbox to go). The latter meant forgoing our planned blast through the Vosges, but at least we could still make Ace’s – our planned stop for the night. Ace’s instructions mentioned that he lived at the top of a drive. Those who’ve been there will appreciate the torque of a bike that could do that fully laden in fourth, albeit with much judicious application of clutch.

The day improved forthwith with drinks, visit to local restaurant and more drinks, Many thanks to Ace and Jude for their hospitality. Not so early to bed.

Dscn0542

Day 3 – Monday

We found Ace had been busy after we’d retired, and had eventually found a bolt that gave us a functioning gearbox. What a star. It probably wasn’t going to last for long, however, and as Ace and Jude’s route to work took them past a Yamaha dealer, we followed them there. As soon as they were out of sight we wandered to the door of the dealer to read that they were closed for the holidays. I quickly got on the mobile to Ace, who, once at work, found us a dealer in Basel. We duly got to said dealer – closed on Mondays. Next plan – take it steady to Annecy, where we were staying that night, and find a dealer there in the morning. We were about to set off when up turned a pretty young lady on a Fazer 1000. I explained that the dealer was shut, to which she replied that the salesroom was – but the workshop at the back was open. She duly arranged for the mechanic to look at our bike before hers (we were in German-speaking Switzerland), oversaw the fitting of exactly the right bolt from stock, and then paid out some Swiss Francs in exchange for some Euros when the machine didn’t like our credit cards. Daniella has our eternal thanks, and our telephone number for her planned trip to the UK some time.

The Euro is a godsend. We visited 7 countries (well, nearly) – Holland, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy and Monaco. Apart from the unplanned detour to Switzerland our only money problem was the fact that we were British and therefore not using Euros in the first place.

A mostly wet motorway ride saw us reach Annecy around teatime. We got our hotel sorted (and cover was again offered for the bike), and were thinking about meeting dog and h for a drink when the heavens opened again. To cancel or not to cancel – answered by a message from dog cancelling. So we ended up having a dry dinner at the hotel. We’d pre-booked from the Logis de France website every night in advance, and every hotel was good. All but two offered to put our bike in a garage or under cover for the night.

Day 4 – Tuesday

This was to be a relatively short day, as we were booked into a hotel at La Rosiere that night – it was a possible future skiing base that I wanted to suss out. We started with a wander round Annecy.

Annecy

It’s a really pretty town, and we’d accidentally chosen a market day.

Next up was some fun on our first real alpine roads. Up to la Clusaz, then the Col des Aravis and into Flumet for a baguette and beer. Then the Col des Saises to Beaufort, over Roselend (gorgeous lake) to Bourg St Maurice and finally up to La Rosiere.

Once again our chosen hotel offered to let us put the bike in their garage, and showed us the drying room for clothes. The weather had cleared up, and so we did the few twisty miles up to the Petit St Bernard Pass, the border with Italy, before returning to La Rosiere for some dinner. The restaurant we chose managed to rustle up a veggie dish for Pat, thoughtfully cooking the potatoes in lardons to make them a bit tastier! Moules were in season so I had the biggest bowl-full imaginable.

Day 5 – Wednesday

A dry sunny morning, perfect for a blast down to Bourg St Maurice and then up to the Col D’Iseron. I’d done this road a couple of times in ski coaches on the way to Val D’Isere, and had vowed to do it one day by bike. I wasn’t disappointed – and this time we got rather higher than the resort itself.

Dscn0566

A quick stop in a Bessans hotel for a coffee (the landlady’s 10-year-old daughter most excited at being allowed to serve foreign bikers) and then we crossed the Col du Mont-Cenis into Italy. We detoured to Susa for petrol, finding five garages all closed for lunch. Back onto the motorway to find a service station, then a nice little run via Cesana to Montgenevre and back into France. The last leg was a belt down some smooth curves to Gap, where we were to spend the night. We nearly got caught out by a lorry suddenly anchoring up to avoid a stray dog, and were also lucky to be going slow past a speed trap.

Day 6 – Thursday

We’d originally planned to do the Route Napoleon down to the coast, but decide to criss-cross it instead. First stop was the hillside village of Moustiers, which as well as being delightful to walk around also produced one of the best Pizza Napoletanas I’ve ever had.

Next up was the Grand Canyon du Verdon. This is a spectacularly deep gorge, to which our photos don’t do justice. You can just make out 8 climbers in a row in the middle picture, for the mountaineers among you.

Dscn0579

Dscn0581

Dscn0582

A great run down the Var valley (yet another broad windy road and a “oh no, not another fantastic gorge” experience) took us to Castagnier, 8 miles north of Nice, where we were booked in for two nights. We’d chosen the hotel partly because it had a pool, which was where we headed first.

Day 7 – Friday

Breakfast outside on the terrace, then time for a bit of sightseeing. We had a meander along the coast from Nice to Monte Carlo, then back to Cap D’Aile for a swim followed by further vegging out at the hotel pool. We were in leathers, and were quite comfortable, the sweat that developed at traffic lights evapourating beautifully once we got going again! Getting dressed after bathing, however, was difficult, and we decided thereafter to adopt the local casual approach to biking wear if we were just pottering around.

Day 8 – Saturday

More sightseeing in the morning, taking the coast road from Nice all the way along to Frejus. Largely wasted, in that I was riding the bike and Pat had the uninterrupted views of the topless beaches. Time for Pat’s DA, methinks. We weren’t impressed by the Riviera. The views ought to be nice, but it’s just one big connurbation. By the time we wanted food we were on the motorway, so we settled for sarnies for lunch, and then an afternoon heading westwards, crossing the Camargue and ending up at my cousin’s house near Anduze. She, hubby and daughter have an old farmhouse in the foothills of the Cevennes, where we were due to spend 5 nights.

Days 9 to 12 – Sunday to Wednesday

Time out. The Cevennes are beautiful.

Dscn0621

Dscn0624

Dscn0625

They are immediately next door to the Lozere, where a friend is planning next year’s French run. Recommended.

We found two hazards worthy of note. Firstly, in the hills the French have a habit of coming very fast round blind corners on the wrong side of the road. Secondly, they don’t appear to have limits on the width of overbanding. We hit a long two-foot wide bit, reverse camber, in the wet – grip? What grip? The main roads in the dry, however, are huge fun, often just one continuous S bend.

Being only 30 odd miles from Nimes, a trip there was a must. We didn’t see any jeans (originally made from Nimes sail cloth, or “serge de Nimes” which became denim) but we did have a wander around the old Roman arena. The outside was impressive but the inside had been ruined, IOHO, by modern seating. An old arena can serve a modern function simply by using cushions – there’s no need for scaffolding.

Dscn0633

We also visited the aqueduct Pont du Gard (the people on the bridge give an idea of the scale).

Dscn0635

and the next day had a little dance “sous le pont d’Avignon” (yes we know, everyone does it).

Dscn0639

We also had a chance to reflect on exactly why it is we we go abroad. Food is a good example. Eating a long ambrosial lunch under the awnings on a terrace in a pretty French village is hard to beat, and we’d travel a long way in order to be able to do it. Yet, gastronomically, in most of France that’s pretty much it, whereas on Tyneside we can dine well on the local cuisines of half-a-dozen different countries in as many days. So we live here and holiday abroad. Perfick!

Days 13 and 14 – Thursday and Friday

Two motorway days to get most of the way home, broken overnight at a lovely inn in Villiers-sur-Suize. The landlord was really friendly (bike in the garage yet again) but appeared to speak no English – until after a while when I apologised for my poor French, whereupon he spent the rest of the evening conversing in perfect English!

The following day took us to Ieper, or Ypres. For years I’ve wanted to attend the Last Post which is sounded every evening at the Mennen Gate in Ieper, and at last was going to get my wish. The gate was built to commemorate those troops of the British Empire killed in the Ieper sector whose bodies were not recovered and buried in the numerous graveyards thereabouts. This amounted to a staggering total of 54,896. Each name is inscribed on the walls. We found almost an entire section of wall devoted to our local regiment, the Durham Light Infantry (click middle picture to enlarge).

Dscn0650

Dscn0652A

Dscn0655

The sounding of the Last Post was as moving as you would expect, and we were both tearful as we wandered back into the Market Square to find some dinner. What a way to spend your first wedding anniversary (our honeymoon had been last year’s Caudebec trip)! We cheered ourselves up with a bottle of Moet et Chandon, long promised since the ukrm trip round the caves in Epernay in the spring.

Day 15 – Saturday

No plans except to reach IJmuide by mid afternoon, so we went via Brugges. This is another pretty town and well worth a visit. The drive through Holland was a tad perilous. Dutch motorists love tailgating, and it was a while before we realised that a sign “For X follow Y” was the only warning we were going to get that a short slip-road to “Y” was just round the next bend. There were hundreds of bikes about, and we discovered at one service station, swamped by British bikes, that they were all off to Assen. The cashier there was busy noting down the registration number of a car that had driven off without paying, and was overheard to remark to another customer “we never have any problems with bikes!”.

The heavens opened just as we got to the ferry. Our cabin wasn’t working, so we got a free upgrade to an outside one – which was nice!

So – 15 days, only 3 of them completely dry. But we had a wonderful time, the Thunderace proved yet again to be our ideal touring bike, and we’ve got lots of photos and some great memories. Roll on the next time.