2006 – Bled

This is the holiday we took in the summer of 2006. It comprised 2,500 miles to Slovenia and back, going via the Alps and the Dolomites to the Julian Alps, and coming back via the Tirol. Weatherwise it could hardly have been better – almost constant sunshine until the Thursday of the second week. So – to begin.

Day 0 – Friday 14th July 2006

After quickly loading our Thunderace with panniers, top box and tank bag, we caught the 5:30 p.m. ferry from Newcastle to IJmuiden. We were on the new King of Scandinavia. One immediate disadvantage we found on this boat was the bike parking – very cramped and difficult to get to compared to the sister ship Queen of Scandinavia. The lack of space was exacerbated by the company in which we found ourselves – two dozen custom Harleys complete with giant apehangers.

We had our usual really nice buffet in the restaurant, but could only manage about 5 courses each. Instantly on holiday! The nightclub on the King also turned out to be inferior to the Queen, as the stage wasn’t visible from most of the room. If you have the choice, avoid the King and take the Queen.

Day 1 – Saturday 15th

We were late docking in IJmuiden, and didn’t roll off the ferry until nearly 10:30. We were booked in that night at the Hotel Notre-Dame de Bonne Fontaine, near Saverne, so we got our heads down and zapped through Holland and Belgium, making the hotel late afternoon. There was a lot of traffic and roadworks, so we were pleased with the progress. We ended up with time for a nice walk in the woods before dinner, which was enlivened by a waitress anxious to practice her English.

Day 2 – Sunday 16th

Not far to go, as we were lunching with Bruce (aka Ace of this parish) and Jude, who live not far from Basel. Their company, beer, food and swimming pool passed the day most satisfactorily, and it was quite an effort to get back on the bike. Thanks chaps!

This was where the day turned downhill for a while, as we hit huge queues (and no room to filter) in Basel. Eventually, however, we found open road and made our way to Grindelwald, pausing to stretch legs and take in the view above Interlaken. We’d skiied the Berner Oberland the previous winter and had promised ourselves we’d come back for a couple of nights in the summer. So we knew what to expect – beautiful scenery!

Up to our room in the Jungfraulodge, onto our balcony, to be greeted by the north face of the Eiger in all its glory.

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Thence down to dinner. We’ve found it’s worth getting half board in Switzerland – they tend to charge a lot for the room and not much for the table d’hote meal. No problem with veggie meals for Pat either.

Day 3 – Monday 17th

Pat had visited Grindelwald as a teenager, and the family with which she’d stayed had taken her up to the Bachsee. She’d always wanted to go back, so that was the plan for the day. First leg was the cable car up to First. Swiss prices, of course – ukp20 each. At the top the view back down was breathtaking, from Grindelwald at 1,034m to the top of the Eiger at 3,970m – over 9,500 feet of slope!

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The walk to the lake was posted as about 40 minutes, but at my pace it took us a little longer. Still, a very pleasant stroll, quite warm even at that altitude. We were sharing the path with a couple of coach-loads of Japanese ladies, all with hats and some with gloves, and the occasional Japanese couple – one of which amused us when he, with acres of hillside to choose from, insisted on photographing her from the other side of the very crowded path. It took him ages. After pausing to take obligatory piccies ourselves we made our way back to the mountain restaurant at the top of the cable car for lunch.

Back in town we window shopped for a while, then headed for a launderette. As anyone who tours on a bike knows, the trick is to take only a few smalls and do washes (machine, sink, stream, wherever) every couple of days.

Day 4 – Tuesday 18th

A fairly long day’s drive, but mostly on fun roads. Our first target was the Grimselpass. Unfortunately we ran foul of the Swiss signposting and found ourselves going over the Brunigpass to the Hochstollen. Pretty enough, but not where we wanted to be. However, we found the right road in the end and enjoyed both the Grimselpass and eventually the St Gothardpass into Italy.

Thereafter it was a blast down the motorway to Lugano, pausing for a sarni at a service station just before the town. Lake Lugarno was pleasant, the locals (Swiss at the western end, Italians at the eastern end) building only on the hills above the northern shore so everyone has a nice view of the southern shore.

Lake Como was also quite pretty, but then came the worst road of the holiday – the S38 to Tirano. Our small scale map had not revealed exactly how built up this area is, and although we only had 50 or 60 kilometres to do it was all 50 kph speed limit, no overtaking and constant traffic. Still, Tirano was nice enough, as was the hotel we stopped in overnight.

Day 5 – Wednesday 19th

Off to Cortina. First came a very windy road up to the skiing resort of Tonale, and elevenses. Not the prettiest place – too purpose-built. The road down the other side was great fun – sweepy rather than windy. A short bit of motorway to save time and then the S48 eastwards. We stopped for a lunch in a two-house hamlet, in a tiny bar (for local people) staffed by a little old lady. Our German was sufficient to gain us cheese sarnis and some excellent beer, and our hostess insisted on coming round from behind the bar and shaking our hands before we left. I think we must have made her day – apart from the scenery she certainly made ours.

We made our way up the Val di Fassa, impressed by how pretty it was – especially given the tourism. Halfway up we had to stop and photograph our first Dolomite.

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We had a bit of time to spare, and I fancied popping up to the Passo di Sella – so we did. This was a road we should have done twice (YTC#1, who was there around the same time with Jean, did just that) – once to enjoy the bends and once to enjoy the stunning scenery. If you like mountains and you haven’t yet been to the Dolmites – go!

Back down the way we came and off to Cortina, where the Hotel Regina was putting us up for two nights. A quick change and into town for a drink and eventually dinner.

Day 6 – Thursday 20th 18th

We planned to have a day without biking, so first up was a wander into town. In a sense we were a bit disappointed as we had expected Cortina to be very up-market, whereas apart from the predominance of fashion shops it was just a town like any other – albeit in a stunning setting.

After a coffee we caught the cablecar up to Faloria. Some wonderful views, down to Cortina in one direction

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and across to mountains in the other.

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We got chatting (as much as our very basic Italian would allow) with four elderly but sprightly ladies holidaying together. Whatever the Italian is for entente cordiale (or English for that matter), that’s what we enjoyed.

The cafe at the top looked inviting, so there we lunched, before making our way back down. The rest of the afternoon was spent window shopping, followed by quick ziz and change and into town for a drink. The nearest cafe was once again as far as we got, but this time we stayed boozing and people watching until it was dinnertime and the waiters brought round the menu. I reflected on how nice the location and the weather was compared to home, but how ordinary the passers-by looked compared to those on the quayside at home. For a pud we strolled into the town centre to a proper gelateria.

Day 7 – Friday 21st

Off to a reasonably early start. Sovenia was beckoning. The first leg of the journey down to Pieve was very pretty. It was also fun, as the bends, which had to accommodate coaches, were just that little bit less extreme. Even so, after an hour or two I found myself wishing for the occasional straight bit. The 35C temperature didn’t help.

We stopped in a small village for a coffee, where the very pretty waitress wouldn’t accept a tip because she liked the English. Eventually we joined the A23 motorway and took it almost to the border. Crossing into Slovenia brought an immediate deterioration in road surface. No matter, it was but a short bimble down to Bled.

Bled was as pretty as I remembered. I was fulfilling a promise I’d made to myself 35 years previously, when six of us in an old VW Microbus had called in on our way back from India. We’d all been enchanted, and I’d promised myself a return trip some day. This was it. Our hotel on the lakeside was perfect. From just round the lake you could see this.

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Our hotel is barely visible in the trees right on the shore, below the church. Top left is the castle. Hotel meals are taken on the terrace.

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We decided to dine in the hotel, then wandered along the path by the shore to the main promenade. By pure chance we had chosen to arrive the weekend of a festival. What was normally lakeside parking was entirely taken up by craft stalls and food stalls. Actually, they were a lot more than stalls. Each one was a mobile kitchen with tables under an awning and more tables outside stretching up the grass at the back.

We called in to the tourist office, and then wandered back to the stalls for a drink. We chose the stall closest to the stage that had been erected in the middle, so were well placed to listen to the visiting American choir that was the main event. Unfortunately many of the songs were connected with Christianity, so we found them monotonous.

Early night, as we were both tired.

Day 8 – Saturday 22nd

First up was a climb up a small footpath through the woods to the castle. Almost the first thing we found inside was a small cinema playing several factual films about the history of Bled, in English, and of Slovenia. Slovenia was the first part of Yugoslavia to cecede, in 1991, and after 10 days of fighting found itself independent.

We had a good wander round the rest of the castle, then forced down a beer on the terrace of the castle’s cafe. The view to our left was down on to our hotel and the town, and to our right the far end of the lake and the island.

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Back into town for a peasant meal of beans and bread (absolutely delicious) before hopping on the train.

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Not a real train, of course, but a fun and cheap utility all the same. It ran every 20 minutes or so, and for € 2 you could ride right round the lake, hopping off and catching the next train as often as you liked. So we had a nice ride round.

In the evening we ate at another of the stalls – a mixed grill for me and some chips for Pat. We were entertained by a marching brass band, clearly very hot in their traditional costumes, marching and playing and frequently stopping at a stall for a beer or two. We again found seats near the stage, where this time the act on stage was an English choir. They sang nothing but religious songs. However, we sat them out and our patience was rewarded with an excellent rock group. Their repertoire was mostly covers of standards, but that suited wrinklies like us just fine.

But the best bit of the evening was still to come. We made our way down to the lakeshore in time to watch the gondolas floating hundreds of candles on the water. This was followed by the most amazing fireworks display. We had hoped to watch this from our hotel’s terrace, but all the seats were taken. Nevertheless, just before it started, Mateja, the hotel manageress who’d been looking after us so well, came down and found us in the crowd to say she had a table for us. So, a cocktail or two each and a fine display to round off another wonderful evening.

Day 9 – Sunday 23rd

Several people had commended Lake Bohinj to us, so we jumped on the bike and headed into the Julian Alps. 20 miles later we were staring at yet another stunning view – a lake nestling in beautiful mountains. We rode along to the end, parked up and set off on what turned out to be quite a hike up to the Savica waterfall – which was not very spectacular and not really worth the climb. We amused ourselves, however, by working out all the different things we were not allowed to do, according to the sign at the bottom.

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Refreshed by the inevitable beer, we rode back to the start of the lake to find some lunch – this time on a restaurant terrace.

Next up was a trip the length of the lake on a steamer – except that in order not to pollute the lake the boat was electrical. The trip was most relaxing – at least until we got to the far end. Then the heavens started to open.

The rain was still on a bit, off a bit as we got back to the bike, so we jumped on and let the storm chase us all the way back to the hotel. After a shower we headed back along the lake side to the stalls and the stage. The former served Pat up a beautiful barbecued trout (sold at € 2 a kilo) and me a bowl full of venison goulash, and the latter produced Slovenia’s most famous folk group. We never did catch their name, but their performance was terrific.

Day 10 – Monday 24th

In the morning we took a pile of washing on the bike round to the campsite at the far end of the lake, where there was a lauderette. Back in town be bought bread and cheese for a picnic by the lakeside, then caught one of the local boats over to the island – Slovenia’s only island, as it happens. There are 99 steps to climb to get to the church,

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inside which is a bell rope which you pull while you make a wish.

Once back at the hotel we took books down to a bench by the side of the lake and read until it was time for dinner. Seeing it was our last night in Bled we had dinner at the hotel, the first half on the terrace and the second half inside, necessitated by a thunderstorm. We reflected on how nice Bled was and how friendly and good-looking the Sovenians were.

Day 11 – Tuesday 25th

Time to leave Bled. We were off to Austria, and I fancied a look at the GrossGlockner Pass. It took a bit of finding, as Austrian signposting can be a bit hit and miss. Fun roads, though, and the pass met our expectations. We were not, however, expecting the € 17 toll at the foot, their excuse being that we were entering a national park. The road up was nice and twisty

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and there was a nice little biker’s spot right at the top. In the distance we could see Zell am See,

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which is where we ended up for lunch by the lake side. We hit another really dull road after Kitzbuhl – all 60 and 80 kph and no overtaking, ultimately more breached than observed (pace WS).

Our hotel, the Aldranshof, was set on a hillside above Innsbruck. It wasn’t serving dinner that night so we wandered into the village (all of 50m) to the local eatery.

Day 12 – Wednesday 26th

First up was a little trip into Innsbruck to buy a map of Germany, ready for the following day. Then off into the mountains, up the Stubaital. This was the Tirol at its best, with several impressive waterfalls

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(to give you an idea of the scale, those are people right at the bottom) and some glaciers at the top. We actually tried to walk on one but we’d left our sunglasses on the bike at the bottom of the cable car and we could barely see our way, so gave up.

Dinner in the hotel. We found our German was improving.

Day 13 – Thursday 27th

Off to Germany. Dull motorway to start with, then another great road through the mountains to Reutte. We had a lot of miles still to do, so we were quite glad to pick up the motorway. It was busy, though, all the way past Stuttgart and Karlsruhe. Then the heavens opened. We quickly found an unofficial exit at a point where the motorway forked, stopped to pull on waterproofs, then had an exciting time trying to rejoin our original route over the junction. We then made our way cross-country to Kaiserslautern, briefly joined the motorway southwards, then exited for the final road to Trier.

Trier looked as nice as we’d hoped. However, finding our hotel (which would be easy to find once we’d found the railway station) proved difficult as we couldn’t find the station. Not one sign. Eventually we had to stop and ask directions (by now our German was good enough to understand simple answers accompanied by gestures).

Having settled in we went off to find some nosh. This was easy, as the centre of the old town is compact, very pretty and full of restaurants.

Day 14 – Friday 28th

First thing was to look in on Tourist Information, which produced a map and some suggestions as to what was worth seeing. We ended up having a good walk round in the morning, enjoying the town

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and a little bus tour in the afternoon, interspersed with visits to various bars and cafes. Trier is worth a visit, and lives up to its boast as the oldest town in Germany (even though it was part of France for some years). They’ve combined ancient and modern very well. This is a well known hamburger chain.

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For our evening meal we decided to see what an Italian restaurant in Germany was like. Fine, except it was run by Germans who spoke no Italian, so for English people it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi!

Day 15 – Saturday 29th

We were worried about how many roadworks we might encounter on our way to the ferry, so we set off in good time. As it happened we needn’t have worried, so we were back in IJmuiden in good time. This was nice, because we’d arranged to meet some Dutch friends, Dili and Gilbert, who were coming up from the Haag, and this gave us time to have a good natter in the bar near the docks. Nice to see you guys!

The trip back to Newcastle was as pleasant as ever. After our usual buffet dinner we wandered through to the nightclub, where Pat spotted two vacant seats right by the dance floor in the no-smoking area. So that was us set for the evening, being equally entertained by the excellent dance troup, the band and a couple of hen parties.

A nice end to a nice holiday. And just like the previous year, it was even sunny as we sailed up the Tyne.