A Journey to Remember

A new beginning

 This all started back in 1988. John, a friend of mine, said 'Why don't you put your bike back together' I thought about this for a while, and then decided it might be fun to have the bike back on the road again. However the law had changed since I had stripped the bike down, to get the frame re-enamelled because it had a couple of chips in the paintwork, some eleven or twelve years previous. I was still a learner, I needed to pass my motorcycle test, because the motorcycle was a 250cc and learners were no longer allowed under English law to ride more than a 125cc motorcycle. My motorcycle was a Yamaha RD250DX built in 1976, I acquired it some 9 months later. Gleaming, beautifully in the sunshine as I remember. Now the same motorcycle was looking a little rusty and neglected, to say the least. There were parts in the shed, in the house and some in a box, in the greenhouse, all over the place. The parts were gathered and assembled, the bike, my old bike, was beginning to look more like a bike. With the aid of a few purchased items like tyres, a new battery and points, with fork legs from Derek Chattertonís old race bike, I was able to get an MOT test certificate. The bike was ready.
My RD250

I also had a new beginning

My RD250 back together
 The bike was now ready, but I was not. Part one of my test had been completed some time ago, part two was taking a while to arrive. But in time, I had my new driving licence. Now taxed, motíd and insured. I was able to take my RD250 out for a run, for the very first time. Not far at first, after all it had been a basket case for a good portion of its thirteen years of life. Just five or ten miles at first, then a trip to the Shuttleworth collection, at Old Warden aerodrome near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. Thatís one hundred and thirty miles plus, each way. Next, The Lake District, over one hundred and fifty miles away. The only problem detected so far, a charging problem. This was rectified with a replacement bush in the alternator. John now suggested that I went to Europe with him, Spain to be exact, in the coming august. We discussed this further, over a beer or two, at our leisure. Deciding that a journey right around Western Europe was in order

 Getting over there

 It was now approaching the big day. Passports checked, money drawn out of the bank, tickets for the ferry crossing had been purchased. It had been decided that it would be best to go directly to Spain, on the Plymouth to Santander boat, run by Brittany Ferries. I bought a gallon of two stroke oil to take along. About £7. It would cost from £9 - £12 per litre in Spain. I also didn't have any dedicated motorcycle luggage bags or panniers, so I took a normal suitcase. That must have looked a little odd, but I was on a tight budget. It was now the day before our sailing. I was on tenterhooks. We set off from Grimsby, where we both live, early on the Sunday morning. Heading for Plymouth, this was exciting stuff, Iíd never been this far before on a motorcycle. It's around 350 miles from Grimsby to Plymouth. The lack of experience began to show, my bottom was beginning to complain. I now knew why so many of my fellow riders werenít sat square on their machines. They were sat on one buttock, giving the other a rest! Tricks of the trade, eh, I needed to learn a few of those. It was night time when we arrived in Plymouth, accommodation for the night was now required and soon found, in a pleasant bed and breakfast with a secure area at the rear for the bikes, and not too far from the ferry terminal or the town centre. All was not rosy though. Earlier in the day, doubts had set in as to whether or not I could actually complete this journey.
 Washed and refreshed, John and I went out for a beer, as you do. John was very reassuring, saying that everything will be fine once I get abroad. ďReally, itís much better over there. Itís completely different, honest!Ē Mmm I donít know, I said. ďLook there are two crossings every week, if you donít like it when you get there, just come back. After all, youíve paid for the ticketĒ retorted John. I didn't know it at the time, but these were the last doubts, I was going to have.
 We were to sail on the new ship, Bretagne on only it's second crossing to Spain. Thirty hours after setting sail, we arrived in the Spanish port of Santander. A little bit worse for wear it has to be said. You see, on Johnís advice, he having made the trip before, we only bought tickets for the crossing only, which did not include a cabin. This was a big mistake. Where do you go when you donít have a cabin? To the bar of course. Thirty hours in the bar! How many people do you know that have spent twenty four hours in a bar? Let alone thirty. When John woke up there were some people eating their breakfast, on the table above him. Well I can tell you itís not a good thing to do. Lesson learnt; always book a cabin.
Our Ferry

 Into Spain

John Williamson
 Now Iím entering Spain, drive on the right!, drive on the right!, I keep telling myself, because they drive on the wrong side of the road you know! Okay which way do we go? I donít understand any of these road signs, why is John following me? Heís been here before, he should be in front, perhaps he doesnít know either. Strange traffic lights, suspended on wires above the street, are they for me? Or the trams? When you turn left at a roundabout, youíve got to go all the way around it, weird. Iíve only been here five minutes and I have so many questions. My head hurts. We press on though Santander and out into the countryside. Wow! Itís so green, I mean, I'm from England's green and pleasant lands, but this is so green. Not what Iíd expected at all. Constant radius bends, what a good idea. Why on earth donít we have any of these, back in Britain?  No need to look for the apex all the time, just stay between the white lines. If youíre drifting wide, slow down or lean more, simple, relaxing and safe too. (by-the-by the ants in this part of Spain are about 5/8" long, dark brown or black)
 Weíre now travelling south along the N632 for Madrid. But Madrid is hundreds of kís (kilometres) away, not going to make there today. The N632 is a delightful road, turning and twisting and weaving and climbing and meandering itís way though the Cantabiran Mountains, but always gracefully. Mind you, itís no time to get complacent, thereís quite a drop off some of these turns. We have to stop every hundred miles or so, for fuel. But a stop was immediately called for, when we came across the ĎEmbalse del Ebroí ďitís huge, makes Lake Windermere look like a pondĒ exclaimed John. This reservoir feed by the river Ebro to truly enormous. Then on through the old city of Burgos and onto the northern plains, and on we kept going, only stopping for fuel, petrol for the bikes, and water for ourselves. The heat was building, it was mid afternoon. The sun was very bright and high in sky. So far, except for Santander, we hadnít had to deal with much traffic. That was about to change, dramatically. We were entering the metropolis, Madrid, the capital of Spain. This was no sleepy Spanish town, thatís for sure. With no apparent evidence of Ďla siestaí, we continued a pace. Speed limits? I'm Not convinced there are any, sixty miles an hour seems to be the order of the day here. I was about to encounter my second only, Spanish roundabout. A little faster than my first, I might add. Picture if you will, the massed Indians circling the wagon train, this will give you some idea of what lay before me, they always seem to go anticlockwise to. I could see it approaching, fast. Iím in the second lane from the right of the four lanes on my side of the road. This should allow me to change lanes quickly, should the need arise. I slowed, as I prepared to give way to the hoards of cars coming from my left. But all the cars behind me are just going around me, not slowing at all. Whatís going on? The cars already on the roundabout, to our left are now giving way to us. Back on the throttle quickly. Iím on the roundabout. But wait, whatís this, a traffic light. A flashing traffic light. And itís white! What the hell does that mean? Then an ambulance flashes by. I want to get off! NOW! Somehow, I don't recall quite how, I got off that roundabout and found myself in a lay-by, in need of a nicotine fix to combat the adrenalin rush Iíd just experienced. Much to the amusement of the people in the queue alongside, waiting quietly for there bus
 We exited Madrid shortly afterwards. Still heading south, now on the NIV bound for Granada, but is was time to call it a day and look for some digs, for the night. A roadside hostal was found quite quickly. It was cheap, clean and quiet, so we could get a good nights sleep and boy did I need one. Thank heavens for that international language, sign language. For neither of us spoke a word of Spanish and the Spaniards we had come across spoke an equal amount of English. It must be said, our hosts were polite, patient and courteous. Even getting their eleven year daughter, who was learning English at school to interpret for us on one occasion.
Our first Hostal

 A new dawn

John repairing his broken nitrious oxide bottle
 Day two in Spain dawns and both of us are feeling better for a good nightís kip. Bikes loaded and given the once over, weíre ready for another day in the saddle. Still with the compass pointing due south we ride on in wonderful sunshine. Itís almost like relaxing in a Ďradoxí bath while riding your motorcycle at the same time. Sheer pleasure. As we press further south, a strange phenomenon is observed by the pair of us. There are, every so often, Ďhot spotsí that is to say, small areas that are much hotter than the surrounding ambient, 'super heated'. It has been likened to riding though a hairdryer. These areas are approximately half to one mile in size, and do on occasion, take your breath away.
 It has been decided after the Madrid experience that large yellow blobs on the map, namely cities, should where possible be avoided, at least for the time being. So as we approached the city of Granada, we spotted a detour, a short cut no less, that would cut a corner off our journey and avoid Granada at same time. Without hesitation we took it! Only to find some miles on, in a town called Santa Fe, the road petered out into dust. The road we needed was within sight, but blocked by Armco fencing. Luckily a small gap, probably for pedestrians, was spotted and we were able to proceed.
Spanish road
 Signposts now indicated MŠlaga 127k. Thatís the Costa del Sol less than 100 miles away, wow! Just as life was seemingly so wonderful my bike started making a strange noise. Filled with dread at what I might find, I immediately pulled over to inspect the damage. It turned out to be no more than a loose exhaust baffle. What a relief! This was soon put right, once the exhaust had cooled enough to handle.
 Back on the road, heading west now on the A92/A359 then turning south yet again onto the A331 and onward over the mountains. It was here that John lost the map, yes the one and only map of Spain we had between us. I saw it depart Johnís bike, it was picked up by the wind and, whoosh! Gone, in a moment. John was oblivious to all this, speeding off into another mountain tunnel at a great rate of knots, horn blurting out his presence. After some considerable time I caught up to John, explained what had happened but the map was long gone now. The chances of going back, finding the spot where it had gained itís freedom and then traced itís unknown path to the maps current position, were slim indeed!
 Onward we pressed to MŠlaga and the south coast, the Sea! The Mediterranean Sea! Wow! What a sight, so blue and the sunshine danced on the waves. Believe me after two days in the desert, I could of just drove straight in. But this was no time to hang about, for MŠlaga was a large yellow blob on the now lost map and needed to be got out of, quickly. Itís late and weíre now heading west on the notorious N340, (I say notorious because itís a little known fact, that more Brits get killed crossing this one road, than any other single road in the world!) we soon pass a sign saying ĎTorremolinosí Now Iíve never been here in my life before, but this rang bells with me from a Monty Python sketch of many years ago. I had to go and have a look. We pulled into town, cruised along the front for a while, admiring all the scenery laid on the beach, as you do. It was decided this would be a good place to stay for a day or two, we needed somewhere cheap and clean to stay, so off to find a British bar. The happy hangover was itís name, sausage and mushy peas imported via Gibraltar were a house speciality, delicious, I had two helpings! Meanwhile John had gone off with a couple of locals to find accommodation. A place was found, just up the road. A room for us and a courtyard for our bikes, splendid.
 We parked the bikes up and got a lift back to The happy hangover in a, well lets be polite here, Ďwell usedí Renault five, just below the wooden plank being used as a seat, was an uninterrupted view of the road over which we were travelling, like something out of Wacky Races. Still we made it back and now the night on the town could begin in earnest.
John with a very cold drink

 Chilli in Torremolinos

 Having satisfied our initial thirst in our new local we moved on into the town proper, going from street to street, bar to bar, club to club we were soon hungry again. So we ate, a kebab from a street vendor, with the hottest chilli sauce Iíve ever tasted experienced in my life! Bar none! And all the vendor did was run a wooden spoon that he had dipped into some red watery liquid along the top of the kebab, once! My tongues hanging out just thinking about it. This called for an ice cold beer, and fast. Boy did we need that. Cooled down we carried on into the wee small hours before deciding to call it a night and head home. Trouble was we didnít know where we were or more worryingly where we were staying, hotel name, street name, nothing! I assumed John had picked up a card from the hotel that he had booked us into, but of course he hadnít, nether had I. This is Torremolinos, the hotels stretch along the coast for fourteen miles! No problem, jump into a taxi, go to The happy hangover and we could find it from there! Piece of cake. But the taxi driver had never heard of The happy hangover, nor had any of his colleges on the radio. Not to be outdone, the taxi driver drove to a building not too far away, went inside, ďwhatís happeningĒ I said to John, ďDonít knowĒ he replied, then the taxi driver came out waving a piece of paper and shouting something in Spanish. He got back into the car and off we went again. Five minutes later, there we were outside our new local, horary! Itís The happy hangover. ( it was closed!) And so, to bed. There was one casualty of the night out however, John's camera (look back at the picture of John repairing his bike in the shade, it's hanging around his neck), it was left in that taxi never to be seen again
Good place to stay in Torremolinos
 This was home, for now at least. It was decided that we would spend a few days, possibly a week based here. It being such a pleasant and friendly place, run as it was by an Italian named Bruno. We could explore the surrounding hills and beaches by day, and more of the restaurants, bars and clubs by night. All most convenient.
 Having studied the contents of the beach for a couple of days, we were itching for a ride out on the bikes. Gibraltar was the destination, it's about a 160 mile round trip. Off we go bright and early the next day (very bright infact and around lunchtime, we are on holiday you know) heading west along the N340 stopping only in Marbella for fuel, nearly all the other vehicles in the petrol station are one make, Rolls Royce! Further on now, past Estepona I get my very first glimpse of the rock, it's enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention. We are now so close, on the N351 and into the town of La LŪnea de la Concepciůn. We are in a grid of narrow one way streets, all of which seem to take us away from the rock. How frustrating this is, every now and then I get a tantalising glimpse of where I want to be, and then the system takes me away from the rock. If I want to turn left the system tells me to turn right, or I want right, it says turn left! Only one thing for it, ignore the signs. Here we are, past the queue of cars waiting patiently at the border, past Spanish customs, past British customs. We're in!
 Quickly we swap from the right hand side of the road, to the left, we're in Britain now. Then we encounter a silly Spaniard driving on the wrong side of the road, get on your own side! we cry with that smugness of superiority you get when you know your in the right. But it slowly dawns on us that infact we are the ones on the wrong side of the road, they drive on the wrong side of the road in Gibraltar! would you believe it? Oops!
 Putting that potentially disastrous mistake behind us, we refuelled and set about exploring the streets. There is a 20mph speed limit in the built up areas, that leaves plenty of time for sight seeing. While taking lunch and refreshment at a pub by the name of ĎThe Angry Friarí which incidentally is opposite the governors house in Main street, we were approached by a couple of locals. They were interested in Johnís bike, a Suzuki GSXR1100 being motorcyclists themselves. After much discussion about many things related to motorcycles, including the wonders of Spanish road surfaces. (place your curser over the picture for a different view)
Our bikes in Gibraltar
 One of the two gentlemen, whoís name eludes me now, fetched out his motorcycle, a 900cc Kawasaki with a very rusty brake disc on the rear, as I recall. He was going to give us a guided tour of the rock. However this was going to be no ordinary guided tour. This chap knew his roads, thatís for sure. One particular tunnel I entered at around 30mph accelerating all the way though until I came upto a ninety degree left hander, then hard on the brakes. The others reported later that they had been approaching 100mph at this point, wow! No room for error in a tunnel, they're pretty solid. Eventually our guide left us to our own devices, we continued to ride the twists and turns of Gibraltarís roads for many hours. Thereís more here than you might first think. The time came to go home, back to Torremolinos. But a potential problem had now occurred to us, you see we are British in a British place, if we get stopped at customs for a check weíre in trouble. Both our passports and other documents required by the Spanish authorities are in Torremolinos. At this time there was quite a bit of friction between the officials of the two countries, and as a result Spanish customs were playing by the rules and checking most if not all of the people going through the border. We skirted past the waiting queue of vehicles, past customs without so much as a glance back and into Spain. The remainder of the journey back to hostal Los Riscos was mostly uneventful.

 Time to move on

map eastern Spain and Alcoceber
 After several days of exploring from our base in Torremolinos a date was agreed upon to move camp. The day duly arrived, but John wasnít moving from his bed. You see John had been out the day before trying to drink Fuengirola dry. Well it was dinner time before we said our goodbyes. We were now back on the open road, the N340 east bound, though MŠlaga, Nerja, Motril and AlmeriŠ before turning north with the road towards a town called Lorca. This part of Spain looks just like the wild west does in the films. In fact some wild west films have been shot here. I had to stop once to remove a tumbleweed that had got tangled up in my front wheel. Time was pressing so we pushed on. We got as far as Alicante that day and stayed just outside of town. John had got somewhere in mind, but where? Back on the ship we had met a guy by the name of Lee, he too was on a motorcycle and was visiting relatives in Spain. Heíd suggested that if we were to travel past his place we were welcome to pop in. John had written Leeís details on the map that was lost on day two, and now couldnít remember the address. All he could recall was that it had something to do with a bar and alcohol. A map was acquired. Then I slowly read out the names of the places along the coast in an attempt to jog Johnís memory. After a little while John said Ďthatís it, Iím sure thatís ití the name, Alcoceber. A bar called ĎThe Clapí in Alcoceber. That would be tomorrows destination.
 I was awoken by the sound of coaches revving their engines in the square below our balcony. Never mind itís another lovely sunny morning here in Spain. Our bikes retrieved from the barn where they were garaged for the night, we were soon back on the road. Breakfast was had in Benidorm then north, still on the N340 to Valencia and beyond. At a place called Torreblanca we finally see a signpost for Alcoceber. Our search is nearly over, we look for the clap bar, but no joy. Nobody here seems to speak English. Help is sort at the local tourist office, they have at least heard of Bar el Clap. With there assistance we quickly find our destination. Only to find, to our horror, that Lee had left for home just hours before our arrival. Would you believe it!
Bay near Benidorm
 By now it was well into the afternoon and other ideas on where to go were nonexistent. So it was decided to have a beer and relax a little. After all there was a very nice young lady behind the bar at 'El Clap', Lee's sister I think. After a while it was decided to stay nearby in a hostal that we had passed on the way into the village. We were able to get a room quite easily at the Hostal Tosalet, or tossalot as we named it. I must point out that this place was clean, friendly and had excellent food - it's just our warped sense of humour. Anyway, having showered and eaten we took a tour around this little place called Alcoceber, this didn't take too long and we soon ended up back at bar El Clap. More beer! Thirsty work this touring, you know. We spent the remainder of the night in the bar. Or a least that's what we thought. The bar El Clap was now closing, but the now two lovely young ladies behind the bar wanted to go out. And they thought it would be a jolly good idea if we came along. Not wanting to disappoint our hosts, we obliged. So the four of us climbed into a jeep and off we went. Nice to be driven after so long on the bike, Out of the village we went, and on. After some time we turned off the road onto a dirt track. 'Where are we going?' - 'Don't worry, just sit back and enjoy the ride,' came the reply. Sure enough, after about half an hour, we came to what looked like an old wooden ranch house out of the wild west. Only it was a bar, with beer, food, music, pool table, bandits (the sort you play, I'm pleased to say), tables, chairs and a dance floor, out here, in the middle of nowhere, amazing. I have no idea what the place is called or where it is, but a good time was had by all, drinking, eating and dancing the night away. Wonderful. We spent a couple more days hanging around Alcoceber before moving on. Now heading north on the N340, towards the city of Barcelona. A large yellow blob on the map, but one I particularly wanted to visit. It wasn't that far away according to the map, so wouldn't take too long. Or at least that's what we thought. But this part of Spain, N340 was very busy. The motorway however, running nearly parallel with us was almost empty. John persuaded me to give the motorway a go. Tickets collected, off we went at a great rate of knots. It's a toll road, that's why it was empty! I can't remember the amount we paid for this trip along an almost deserted road, but it was worth it Just to experience the super super, smooth road. Not to mention all the traffic we avoided. We soon arrived in Barcelona. I was not impressed at all. Derelict, scruffy and the smell, well the smell alone was enough to put anybody off. It was bad. Nevertheless we pressed on, further and further towards the city centre. But that smell just would not go away. Reluctantly I had to agree with John, this was too much to take. We'll have to give this one a miss. So we turned around and headed back out of the city and into the countryside, away from that smell. We soon came across a little roadside bar. Where we replenished ourselves and discussed where to go now.

 Climbing to the clouds

 Andorra was to be our new destination. The C1411 was our route and we were soon gaining height into the Pyrenees. Travelling through the pine forests, the awful smell from earlier on was soon forgotten. Mile after mile of hairpin bends, twists and turns, marvellous. On one particular section I freewheeled down hill for around ten miles. After many miles of these fun roads we headed into a tunnel, cold and damp inside. Emerging back into the light, we were greeted by, would you believe it, rain. We were in Spain, in the sunshine, now into Andorra and it was raining. So we quickly pulled over, into one of the many petrol stations that littered the sides of the road. Andorra looked like a second world war fuel dump at this point, something associated with likes of Rommel. A chap in the shop said it never rained in Andorra, in August, this was exceptional. Not much comfort.
Bikes in the Pyrenees
 A little while later, when the rain had stopped we carried on into Andorra proper. We stopped at a bar to ask about accommodation, but even with the aid of sign language we couldn't understand where to go. So one of the men in the bar gesticulated to us that we were to follow him. He mounted a 49cc moped. But believe me I could only just keep up with him, up the steep slopes and around the twisting narrow streets. A complete nutter, he never backed off the throttle once. Wow! what a ride. We had arrived at a Hotel, in one piece amasingly. Then we thanked our guide (who could of been Evil Knievel's dad for all we knew) and booked a room for the night. The hotel also had underground parking for our bikes, which was an added bonus. Rested and showered we went out on foot for a recon of our new surroundings. To be honest there wasn't much to interest us, it was mostly shops. So we found ourselves a nice looking bar and had a couple of drinks and some food. It was noticed that things here were more expensive than in Spain, all except the price of petrol.
 We only stayed the one night in Andorra, moving on the next day towards France. We set off around mid morning, still climbing the Pyrenees. It was quite cool already. But it got a lot colder when it started raining again. I didn't have a thermometer with me, but recon it was about 5˚C It really did bucket it down this time. So we parked and sheltered by a row of lockup garages. From time to time, when a window in the clouds allowed, we had some wonderful views back down into Spain. We also noticed from this vantage point, that the clouds were actually forming below us, then moving up the mountains to a position above us, and then raining on us. After a couple of hours standing in one spot, with no sign of a letup in the weather, I decided it was time to make a run for it. We weren't that far from the summit, and it may not be raining on the other side of the mountains. Well we managed to get to the summit, but we were soaked and freezing cold. I spotted a building, it was an old petrol station I think. Anyway we stopped there, and went inside. There were some other people already there. Also much to my delight there was an industrial sized gas powered hot air blower. Ah! warmth. We dried out and got warmed up, by which time the rain had at last stopped. However the roads still resembled rivers. So we gave it a little more time to dry, before setting off.
  We rode past customs, without stopping of course, and into France. It was now all downhill. It was still very wet, with hairpin bends and metal manhole covers in the middle of the road. And on one bend I spotted a frog (a real one, not a French person) about the size of a dinner plate in the road. Very dodgy. It was during this decent that we we're overtaken by a French nutter on a Kawasaki, scratching in the wet. After a few hours we arrived at Perpignan, turned left along the coast road and along the N9 towards Montpelier. Surrounding us was what looked like paddy-fields with freshly sown rice plants. John said that he seemed to remember that this road was seven or eight feet above the height of the fields. Upon closer examination it was discovered that the rice plants were infact the tops of sweet-corn plants.

 A complete wash out

Floods in the South of France
 As we past Nimes and headed towards Avignon, it became apparent that the whole of the south of France was flooded. We must have asked for a room, at close to two hundred hotels without any luck. I guess the folks out of the campsites had moved to the hotels when the floods came, leaving nowhere for us to stay. But this doesn't excuse the behaviour of the people in these hotels, most of which didn't even have the courtesy to say 'no' when we asked if they had a room free. They just turned there backs on us and walked away. The contrast between the friendly and helpful Spanish hoteliers and these from the south of France couldn't have been greater.
 Our original plan was to ride along the south coast, stopping somewhere on route to Monaco. We were completely fed up with this place by now, so it was decided to head north up the N7, away from the coast to higher ground. We had quickly gotten out of the flooded areas, but were still unable to find accommodation. What's more, John was getting very low on fuel, with no sign of a petrol station. So we turned around and headed south, back the way we had come.
 We passed a couple of closed petrol stations, by which time John's bike was running on fumes. So we stopped at the next one, and spent the night there trying to get some sleep, not recommended. I don't know what petrol pump attendant thought in the morning when he opened up. Finding two motorcyclists huddled up by his pumps, not looking at there best it must be said. But we filled up and again headed north on the N7. We were both grubby, filthy, cold and damp, and pretty pissed off with the frogs at this stage, as we headed towards Lyon. We were also a little hungry, having not eaten since Andorra. So we found the equivalent of a transport cafe, ordered a couple of drinks and a couple of baguettes, then a couple more. That felt a lot better. Back on the road still heading north, on the N6 now towards Dijon. Before reaching Dijon we took a right onto the N73 towards a town called BesanÁon, where we booked into the first hotel we found, the Campanile BesanÁon-Ouest Ch‚teaufarine next to the Hotel Formula 1. A hot shower and soft bed was all that was wanted at this time. After a couple of hours kip, I awoke to find John watching the TV. He was watching 'Allo 'Allo! which had been dubbed into French. I didn't understand a word of it, and was at a loss to see how the French think it's funny.
Hotel in France
 A little later on I went out to have a look around the area, having been too tired to take much notice on the way in. What can I say, it was hilly and green. I took a couple of pictures, then headed back to the hotel. I needed some nosh. So did John as it turned out. Our hotel restaurant looked a little on the posh side for our tastes. As in a few carefully placed leaves and other none filling items on a plate, with a dollop of sauce on the side. All for the princely sum of £60! or thereabouts. I've been told that is what the French call 'an art form' yeh well we Brits have a name for too, and it's not art. Off we toddled to find the local pub, which we dully did, just up the hill. A pleasant enough place with good food and fine beer. There was also one other attraction, a table football game. We quickly found a couple willing opponents to play against, and started to play. I must point out here, that we had been playing this game, both at home and through Spain. So we're not new to it. However, the French seem to have different rules to everybody else. They spin the players around endlessly, and should the ball stop moving for any reason, yes any reason (i.e. the other team have the ball). In comes a hand, picks up the ball from your players feet and then throws it back in. They should have a glass top like everybody else, and we did argue the point, but then, as I was quickly learning they are the French.
 The following morning we were on the road again. It had been decided to avoid Switzerland due to their intolerance of vehicle emissions. My bike being a two stroke, smoked. Officials can be quite peculiar at times, so best not to take the chance of being fined. Besides I'm not much for chocolate and cuckoo clocks. Northeast then, though Colmar where we should have turned right, but for whenever reason we didn't. We continued on to Strasburg. Well this was a disappointment. Strasburg I thought was in Germany. It's a German name, it sounds German. But it appeared to be in France. It's a interesting looking place, it's just on the wrong side of the border. Okay, over the bridge and into Germany. Now where? refuel, eat and then find one of these German autobahns we've heard about. We ate and filled up in Offenburg before heading north on the A5 past Baden-Baden and onto Karlsruhe. Turning onto the A 8 for Stuttgart. I just love the attitude here towards driving, coupled with the discipline of the German people. Makes riding a pleasure, whereas in the UK you'd be flashing your lights, blowing your horn, diving onto the breaks or simply overtaking on the wrong side because some ignorant sod can't be bothered to abide by the rules. Plus there's only two lanes and no speed limit. There's only speed limits at junctions, and these are strictly adhered to, by everybody. When the sign says 60 everybody goes at 60 not 65! Amazing. Can you imagine this happening on the A1 in the UK? In your dreams. Let me explain a little, the right-hand lane is the driving lane - this is the lane you always drive-in. The left-hand lane is the overtaking lane - you may use this lane to overtake a vehicle in front of you and then return immediately to the driving lane, but you can only start this manoeuvre if you think you can complete it without holding a up a faster vehicle. Getting caught up-to, while overtaking is a no no. The person holding up the traffic, is the one breaking the law, here. Lov' it! just lov' it!
Stuttgart in Germany
 We arrived in Stuttgart later that day, this area looked very German. As I'd seen in the films. We quickly found a hotel for the night, then went out to check out the town. This was a far bigger place than those we had been staying in, but we never felt intimidated for a moment. Infact, the German people we encountered were welcoming and friendly. This was to be repeated throughout Germany.
 After a really good ride around, we took the bikes back to the hotel, then went out on foot for a beer. A pleasant evening was passed away in the restaurants and bars around Stuttgart town centre. There didn't seem to be a lot for two young guys to do around Stuttgart during the day, though I'm sure had we looked harder we'd have found something. So we checked out of our hotel and a little later we 'hit road again' as the song goes. Backtracking at first towards Karlsruhe, then north following the Rhine Valley. Going past Heidelberg, past Mannheim through Darmstadt and on into the centre of Frankfurt. This was a big place, a big yellow blob on our map. But it didn't feel menacing in the same way that Madrid had. I can only put this down to the discipline of the German driver. Being able to predict what other road users are going to do accurately, is very reassuring.
 Back home in Grimsby, I once knew a girl by the name of Julie who left old Blighty to go and live and work in Germany. I was told what she was doing, but for the life of me couldn't quite remember, if she was selling frankfurters in Hamburg or hamburgers in Frankfurt. So I was now in the centre of Frankfurt, and it would have been extremely rude of me, having been there, not to say hello. So we located the nearest police station. I went inside, up to the desk and asked if anybody knew of a girl from England called Julie selling Hamburgers in the city. I realised it was a long shot, but one has to try you know. After all 'The Crazy Germans' famous in Mallorca. But that's another story. After a little while the police officer came back to the counter, he apologised and said nobody had heard of Julie, but not to worry as they only usually get to know naughty people and wished me luck with my search.
It was around midday so we went for something to eat. Where to go was again the topic of conversation. John, to my surprise said he'd had enough for the time being of long straight roads like the autobahns. He wanted an ordinary road with some of those constant radius bends :) So we consulted the map, and there was a road full of squiggles only a couple of inches away. Northeast in the direction of a town called Fulda. Having filled our bellies and bikes with fuel, it was off to find the squiggly bits. I noticed at this point there were passing a lot more 'bad' places. We'd pasted quite a few already, but there seemed to be more and more. Places like Bad Schonborn, Bad Homburg and Bad Nauheim. Strange. After a little while we found the squiggly road, and it didn't disappoint. One left-hander flowed effortlessly into the next right-hander, then left, then right, then left and so on, gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'on a roll'.
 While rekindling our love affair with constant radius bends, John spotted through a gap in the trees, a glider flying low. Both being keen on gliding we quickly gave chase, as best we could being limited by having follow the tarmac. Before too long we found ourselves at an old airfield, established in 1909 according to the sign. We rode in, suddenly! to my astonishment a man came running down one of the hanger roofs, shouting something or other in German. He was infact re-painting the name of the club on to the corrugated roof, when he developed 'a run' in the paint. What I actually saw was him chasing the paint down the roof. After the man had dealt with his run, he turned and greeted us, realising we were English he asked if we would like a beer. Not wishing to offend, we graciously accepted. A very fine beer it turned out to be, and most welcome. We asked about the possibility of having a go, but were told that they'd just had a test flight, and had found it too windy to fly safely, so were using the time to do other little jobs around the field. Hence painting the roof.
German Gliding Club
A glider
 Though windy, it was a warm and sunny afternoon, and our hosts were friendly folk, so we stuck around. We were told of a little hotel in the local village, which I believe was called Ortenberg, near Selters. We soon found the hotel, went inside and was instantly assaulted by a barrage of verbal gobbledygook from about half a dozen Arabian looking gentlemen. When the desk clerk arrived to see what all the commotion was about, he explained that they were full and that in any case this hotel was booked by the government, for political asylum seekers only. He directed us to the bed and breakfast accommodation down the road a little way, with the usual German politeness. A couple of rooms were duly booked for a couple of nights at the Gasthof Lenz. Now John wasn't much for walking very far, so this place was nigh-on perfect. Next door to our hotel was the pizza shop, next door to that was the disco and a short ride away was the gliding club, what more could a man ask for? Having showered and rested it was now time for tea. John went off to the pizza house, I stayed preferring on this occasion to use our hotels restaurant. I ordered an omelette, a Spanish omelette. As I remember the lovely blonde young Fršulein that worked at the hotel asked me if I would like full or squashed potato.
 I tried to get an explanation but communication at this level proved to be too much, though jolly good fun, so not knowing what to have, I plumped for the squashed, though I didn't know what to expect. No worries, turned out to be mashed potato, served at the side of the omelette. After tea I met up with John, having had a couple of beers in the hotel we decided to go and take a look at the disco.
It was still relatively early in the evening when we entered the disco. We ordered a couple of drinks and were also given bingo tickets with our change, which the barmaid explained would be played in a little while. She also asked if we'd like the numbers called out in English, but I said no German's fine. As the numbers only went up to 99 I thought this would be aright as I could count to there without much problem. What I hadn't reckoned on was the speed at which they were read out, too fast for me, and John had long since given up. And so it was back to the bar for another beer. We had quite a lot of beers that night, only drinking in half pint measures, and trying a different one each time a round was ordered. We were attempting to find which one of the couple of hundred beers they had, we liked best. Needless to say we didn't manage them all that night, and had to come back the next night in order to finish them off. Sometime during that second night the barmaid informed us that we'd had tried them all now, which one do we prefer? we looked at each other and together we said 'I can't remember' so we had to start at the beginning all over again. It's a hard life init.
German guest house
The iron Curtain
 After a few days at this pleasant place it was time to move on again. We carried on in roughly the same direction we'd been travelling, northeast. Entering the town of Fulda, we couldn't help but notice that there were Trabant's parked everywhere, seemingly abandoned. We pressed on, back into the countryside, eventually without any warning the road just ended. There was a fence in front of us. A high fence, with lots of barbed wire on it. Beyond this fence, about a hundred yards away was another identical fence, and just beyond that we could see where our road started again. The fences stretched to our left and right as far as the eye could see. The signs on and around the fence didn't need any translating, electrified fence - mine field - machine gun post - do not enter or you will be shot, were all too easy to understand. We'd found 'The Iron Curtain' and just over there was the DDR. At that moment a loud noise grabbed our attention. Coming from our right, a rapid thud, thud, thud we heard. It sounded familiar, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. But it had our full attention. Then out of a fold in the landscape, it appeared to us, as if it had come out of the ground. It was a helicopter, a military helicopter. Heading straight for us. Gulp! I took a few steps back, away from the fence. I was trying to decided on which side of the fence it was flying, ours or there's? It came closer and closer, flying right over our heads, It was one of ours, what a relief. There were a few moments there, when I was quite worried, I can tell you. Just a couple of hundred yards away the helicopter landed in amongst some trees. 'Come on' John shouts as he mounts his bike and gives chase. Turns out that they were Americans, very friendly Americans at that, and there was a whole load of them in a base hidden from the outside by the trees. If it wasn't for the helicopter, you could just drive past and never know they were there.
 We pressed on in a northerly direction as best we could, before hanging a left at Kassel. Now heading towards Dortmund and back on the autobahn. The miles (or should I say Kilometres) were being eaten up very quickly and we soon passed Dortmund and Essen. I saw a sign for Dusseldorf and was tempted to go and say hello to Oz and the boys from 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet'. But, reminding myself that it was only a TV program and not real, yeah right LOL.

 A Bridge Too Far

 One of the strange things about riding a solo motorcycle, no matter how many other people you're travelling with, is that you are still all alone inside your own helmet. Your mind wanders to some odd places at times, then there's the singing and talking to oneself - I won't go there right now. Back on the road, and we were now following the signs for Holland. It was during this section that we travelled over some enormous viaducts, enabling the road to maintain height. Keeping it flat and fast. There was however a very strong crosswind coming from our left. While going over one of these viaducts which curved to the right (constant radius of course) I was actually leaning the bike to the left, to counteract the wind, but turning right. That was extremely unnerving and felt plain wrong, I don't mind admitting, I didn't like that at all. The wind eased after a while, but then it started to rain. I'd seen enough rain in the Pyrenees to last a lifetime, so wasn't best pleased. I wanted to stop and take shelter, but John had other ideas. He'd got himself up tight behind a coach, like an inch off its bumper. Sheltered from the rain eating diesel fumes, he seemed quite happy there. So I, unusually, went on ahead. We were on the road to Arnhem and getting very close to the German Dutch border. That's when it happened again, one of those mind wandering moments. This time I started to whistle the tune to 'The Great Escape', yes I know Steve McQueen was at the Swiss border and not the Dutch border, but that didn't seem to matter, and besides it had stopped raining and the sun had come back out, so I was feeling jolly. As I approached the booths at the border controls I slowed down, then was courteously waved through first by the German and then by the Dutch officials. Conveniently there's a place to pull off the road and have a bite to eat here, so I waited here for what seemed like an age, for John to arrive.
Arnhem Bridge
Dutch Police Patrol Car
 There were several Dutch police patrol cars parked at the border. They were open top Porsches and the two policemen in each had bright orange open face crash helmets on. I'd never seen anything like it before. I think they could go quite a bit quicker than my RD250 and there were now speed limits in force as we were in Holland, so we'd better watch out. They were probably here to catch motorists who'd forget or ignored the fact that they were no longer on a German autobahn.
 After filling our faces with a little nosh it was back on the road again. Heading west then north, destination Amsterdam. I knew it wasn't going to be easy to find accommodation and somewhere safe to park the bikes. This turned out to even harder than I'd anticipated. Amsterdam's hotel rooms get booked up by lunchtime and it was quite a bit later than that when we rolled into town. We tried, and failed to find a place. There was nothing else for it, we had to leave town and try elsewhere. We found a place with plenty of rooms available about 14k out of town, John wanted to stay a night here at the Hilton, in Schiphol. Just so he could then say he'd stayed at the Hilton. Bugger that at £100 per person per night. We'll stay somewhere cheaper and you can lie, I told him. A little further on we came across a small town by the name of Nieuw Vennep. We found a hotel, booked in, showered and ate. It was good to be clean, dry and fed, after a long day in the saddle. We chatted about the day over a beer or two in the hotel bar, until that is, they closed. It was only midnight, and we felt like having a few more beers before retiring for the night. So we enquired at the bar, as to where we should go. We were directed to a bar just a couple of streets away. Where we duly arrived.
 We entered by the front door, and were greeted by the sight of one chap smashing a chair over another man's back. We immediately stopped, looked at each other, as to say what have we walked into? when the barman called over to us, "come on in lads, don't worry about them, there just having a bit of fun" Well I didn't know what to think. But casually we edged over to where the barman was standing. He then explained, to two very startled Brits that fighting is allowed in the bar provided that the fight stays the other side of the white line painted on the floor. He went on to say that we were welcome to step over the line and join in if we wished to. But if we brought the fight over to this side of the line we would be thrown out instantly, and he didn't look like he was to be argued with either. We both declined the barman kind offer, preferring to have a few drinks while being entertained by the locals. This was a most unusual place, and unique in my experience. We stayed in Nieuw Vennep for a few nights, and It won't be forgotten in a long time that's for sure.

 Coming to an end

 Our trip around Europe was now almost at an end. It was time to head for the port of Rotterdam and book our return passage aboard North Sea Ferries bound for Kingston-upon-Hull back in old Blighty. We'd book at the ferry terminal rather than try to find a travel agents locally, seeing as we had to go there anyway. As we approached the terminal I could see that there was no ferry docked where it should have been. Following further enquires it was discovered the Norsea was infact close by, in Rotterdam, in dry dock. Undergoing repairs to a broken propeller shaft. That meant there was going to be no sailing for Hull that night. We also had nowhere to stay, and the staff at the terminal didn't know where to send us because all the other passengers that were due to sail on that nights crossing were booked into all the local hotels, hostals and B&B's. So what do you do when plans go wrong and you've nowhere to sleep. Go to the bar of course, luckily there's one by the name of The Amstel about fifty yards away from the terminal. We sat down with a beer and started chatting to some locals about 'the broken boat' as they called it.
NSF North Sea Ferries NORSUN
 They gave us directions to where the dry dock was, so off we went to have a look. It's a big boat, and a big dry dock to go with it. But there's not a lot you can see from the outside and nobody was letting us see the inside. So back to the bar, and while our time away. It was getting late and the folk that ran the bar wanted to close, but we still had nowhere to go. One of the locals had an idea that there might be room at a hotel not too far away, so he made a phone call, explained about 'the broken boat' and low and behold found us a room for the night. Trouble was, we didn't know the area, his English while very good, wasn't brilliant and his directions weren't all that clear, we'd had a few beers and it was dark. So off we went in pursuit of our accommodation. We'd been travelling for a little while when I spotted a chap walking along in the same direction as us. So I asked him if we were on the right road for this hotel, showing him the note I had. Eye that's wo I'm stayin he said. I gave him a lift the half a mile or so to the hotel. We parked up and then paid for our room that had already been booked. The Scotsman I'd given a lift to invited us to the bar for a drink. His mates were already in there knocking back the whisky's. Seems they were all ship workers and they lived at this hotel. We had a lie-in the next morning, seeing as we'd had a late night. Then spent the rest of the day relaxing around the (indoor) pool. Before heading once again to the ferry terminal.
 When we did get there, we were told we'd have to wait until all the pre-booked passengers from both the day before and today had booked in and only then would we be able to buy our tickets, provided there was room for us and our motorcycles. Back to The Amstel bar it was then, for hopefully the last time this trip. We could see the goings on during the loading process from the bar, so there was no problem there. After a little while, the loading slowed, so we returned to the terminal to purchase our tickets. We were the last two customers in the terminal, when they said there was indeed room for us and our machines on board. They told us the price in Guilders. We then proceeded to pay with all the coins we'd collected to start with, Pesetas, Francs, Deutsche Marks, and Guilders before finally finishing off the payment with Sterling. We were the last passengers to board, our bikes tied down very close to the one and only loading door, that should mean we'll be first off at the other end :), to the bar!
 The crossing was pretty uneventful, visiting the restaurant and the bar to watch the entertainment before retiring for a good night's sleep. I had a breakfast in the morning before loading the bike for the last time. There's always a delay of about an hour opening the doors to let the passengers disembark when you arrive at Hull, and I've never understood why, until now. As we were last to get our motorcycles on board, we were first in the queue to get off when the ramp was lowered. We rode down the ramp, followed the lanes in a large arc before coming to a stop at the as yet unmanned customs booths. A small traffic cone had been placed in the centre of each lane. This was the only barrier between us and the open road. No more having to concentrate on riding on the right, just ride. But nothing was happening, there were no customs officials to be seen. John was getting impatient, revving his bike to show his disapproval. It worked, a customs official came out of the building next door to see what all the noise was about. "Are you in a hurry" he asked, "yes" we replied. "Well you'll just have to wait wont you, we don't start till 8" he added, before returning to his office. It was about 07:30 by now, so John pushed the cone in front of us to one side. We started to move off slowly, past the customs post, past the terminal and on to the docks, we were followed by a couple of Austrian coaches and a stream of cars and trucks as far as could be seen, they must have thought we'll follow these guys with the GB plates, there locals they know the score. Then off the docks and onto Hedon Road, the wrong side of Hedon Road! I was on the wrong side of a dual carriageway, John was on my left side grinning at me. Opps! I'd been riding on the right-hand side of the road for three weeks and it had become an automatic thing to do, who would have thought that, certainly not me. We rode together (on the left) up to the Humber Bridge, where John departed me to go and see Trevor Langfield about his nitrous bottle that fell off in Spain. John's rear tyre was into about the second or third layer of canvas when he left me, but it did get him home. I also wore out a rear tyre, though not to the extreme of John's

A lot of firsts were achieved on this journey for me, and it wont be forgotten. How many holidays can you say that about?  Yes, I'd do it all over again. I'd recommend it to anybody interested in motorcycling - get on a ferry and have a go
will you f*** off with that camera

 That's it

 Author: Thomas McNamara
Susuki GSX1100EG

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