Panniering Through Europe
Sup Advriders. I'm Alex from Sydney, Australia. For years I've been reading through the advrider ride reports and dreaming of taking my own trip - usually from the exotic surrounds of an office cubicle. While I've been riding for ages, the longest trip I've ever done has been a day. However, a few weeks ago I finally made a dream a reality and arrived in London, ready to grab my bike and begin a 5 month motorcycle tour all around Europe. The plan is very... fluid. I don't really know where I'm going to be specifically, but the general idea is something like this:
Basically, start in London, ride up to John o' Groats at the top of Scotland, ride back down, chunnel/ferry to France, then go eastas far as Germany, north to Nordkapp via Norway, back south via Finland/Sweden, south to Greece via Eastern Europe, through the Balkans to northern Italy (and probably up to Austria/Switzerland), then west to Spain and south to Morocco. Then assuming I haven't run out of time, back up through Portugal and France to London, where I ship/fly home. I imagine it'll mostly be road riding along small roads, but I'd like to get some dirt action in too if I can. Unfortunately in Europe there seems to be nice roads everywhere which makes things difficult, but we'll see what happens.
After a lot of research (see my post history) I decided to get a bike in Australia, farkle it up and ship it over. This is her:
Kawasaki Versys with Happy Trails crash bars and panniers, a Hepco-Becker top box, Barkbusters, a Givi Windscreen, heated grips (these came with the bike, before someone calls me a pansy :flip) and a cigarette lighter setup that allows me to run my phone as a GPS/stereo. I love the Versys - it's not a full-on adventure bike but it's cheap, handles great in the twisties even with a tonne of stuff on it and it'll do dirt as long as you don't want to go too fast.
I started a few weeks ago but I haven't got around to posting things on advrider until now (unfortunately I'm currently injured and immobile in Scotland, but hopefully that's temporary). I have a blog that covers the whole trip at panniering.com, and I'm going to put the posts on here, cutting out some of the more boring non-motorcycle-related bits. Looking forward to having you all along for the ride :clap.
Serbia - Belgrade
If you decide to travel, and you travel through Serbia, contact as we can help you about sleeping, motorcycle service or anything else.:freaky
Safe road and best regards,
Motorcycle club Ventus Via – Belgrade
hi, sorry to hear you are injured and immobile mate . . what happened and where are you ?
Sorry to read about the injuries but what a cool trip!! Definitely something to dream about, so cool you could finally make it a reality!!
Putting Rubber to the Road
So on the 14th of May I arrived in London, checked into my hostel and waited. My bike, a glorious bright green Versys had been due to arrive the same day but unfortunately due to shipping delays it wasn't until two weeks later that I'd be able to pick it up. In the meantime I kept myself busy doing backpacker things - museums, drinking, girls. Unfortunately at some point in London you just hit a wall with museums – try as you might you just don’t care anymore. Not so much with drinking or girls...
Anyway, on a sunny Friday two weeks later I managed to find my way over to the depot where the bike had been recieved near Heathrow. After taking a while to reach it (I don’t think many people walk out of Heathrow, so it’s a bit difficult to figure out where you’re going), I found the office and was told that there was damage…
… but just to the crate. Whew. It’d had a fair wallop too, and there were a few scratches on the panniers (including a repairable-looking one on the tank, unfortunately), but everything was there and in one piece. And by in one piece, I mean a bunch of pieces, as I’d had to take it apart to fit it into the crate… and now I had to put it together again. Which somehow managed to take hours, as everything that could go wrong did so. The heavy crash protection I installed back in Australia even got a workout when I accidentally dropped the bike off the crate – but it performed admirably, just a slight scuff on a pannier and that was all.
Let's never be apart again :")
Having finally gotten everything assembled, I wheeled the bike out of the warehouse and tried to start it up… immediately all the lights went off. Cue 2 hours of trying to push-start a heavy, pannier-laden bike whose engine hadn’t run for 2 months… all attempts were unsuccessful. Eventually one of the forklift drivers (all of whom were total legends) gave me a jump start from his car, and I was underway. Until I had to stop for fuel an hour later and the bike wouldn’t start again.
This time it was actually really easy to push start, but again and again I’d leave it running and it’d die again before I put my helmet on. Eventually (with the help of the guy running the petrol station pushing me) I was off again… only to find that the bike was running really weird – it’d sometimes develop no power, sometimes rev halfway around the tachometer even with no throttle, and the “FI” light that indicates a problem with the fuel injection was stuck on.
Oh no, not this again. When this sort of thing happened to my other bike, I only got it working after a lengthy service and a new ECU which cost $800. I called up the AA, and after half an hour of convincing them that NRMA (the club I get roadside assistance from in Australia) was a real FIA club with a reciprocal service agreement, they agreed to send out a truck within an hour.
Cue 3 hours of waiting... have I made a big mistake here, or the biggest mistake?
To be honest towards the end of the 3 hours my spirits lifted a bit. At the start of the day I was just another backpacker, whose biggest worry was whether some girl he’d met in a bar would return his SMS. Now I was a proper adventure tourer, stuck in a foreign land with no idea where he was and a bike that wouldn’t run. Eventually the AA turned up… turns out I hadn’t screwed the battery’s negative terminal in hard enough. Maybe I wasn’t as gnarly of an adventurer as I’d thought :-(.
… but nonetheless, I was underway, and the Lake District awaited me!
Sounds like an interesting adventure. Hope you get back on the road soon. I am planning to do a Europe trip and am interested in where and what you do...
Looks like it's been a memorable adventure and you're still in London :rofl
I woke up the next day and it was finally time to leave London. All I had to do was pack all the stuff I had into my panniers and I was away.
Unfortunately, being the pretty girl that I am I’d packed about about twice as many things as could actually fit into the panniers. And so, 2.5 hours after I started packing, I gave up, bungee-roped my backpack onto the seat behind me, bungee-roped my other backpack on top of it and attached the tank bag to the front. Basically I had so much stuff on the front the back of the bike that actually sitting in it felt like I’d slotted myself into some kind of jet-fighter – which was cool – but once again, my gnarly-adventurer-points took a hit.
What *am* I gonna do with all that junk inside that trunk? :-/
The ride actually turned out to be quite pleasant – I was pretty nervous about how the GPS setup with my phone and my bike would work but it was actually pretty good. The male english voice I have set up on the GPS app has this polite quality to it that makes me think of it as a loyal, intelligent butler that finds me the best roads and generally guides me, the kind of fool who would decide to go on a 5 month bike trip by himself, around. Hence I’ve christened him “George”. The bike itself remains unnamed though – I’ll think of something eventually.
Setting the GPS to avoid motorways actually turned out to be a pretty good way to find decent roads – I had a few hours of spectacular riding through sunshine and bright green fields of the land just north of London. Unfortunately though, because I’d started so late I eventually had to resort to the motorway, and spent most of the day on the slab.
The fun thing about having so much crap on the back of the bike is that its weight is more biased more to the back now, which is probably worse for cornering but so much better for accidental wheelies. After muddling my way through paying the toll on the M6, I frustratingly gunned the throttle and ended up wheelieing the first 100m from the tollbooth, which is really the coolest way I can think of for exiting a tollbooth.
The rest of the ride north was pretty unremarkable until I got to YHA Windermere, which is where I was staying. I pulled up to the carpark, got off the bike… and the view was like this:
The hostel wasn’t the most exciting of places, but it was a nice break from the chaos of London. The Lake District is
famous for its walking trails, so I strapped on the hiking boots that were taking up so much space in my luggage and walked and walked. I’ve got to say, the views here are *incredible*. It’s the sort of England that you see in movies like the Chronicles of Narnia and think “yeah, no way anywhere still looks like that – it’s all concrete, steel and glass.
Walking around reminded me of trekking in Nepal – postcards everywhere you look. The great thing is that there’s this
public bridleway system that allows people to walk across private land (particularly farms), so you walk through forest and up hills and through fields and over fences and so forth, taking in the views. The other cool thing was that this being spring, the fields were full of cute little lambs that’d run away as I walked past. With the perfect weather it was like some kind of pastoral paradise.
I know a song that'll get on your nerves, get on your nerves, get on your nerves
At the end of the day I found that as it was a Sunday night, the hostel was almost completely empty and I had my 4-bed dorm to myself, allowing myself to spread out everywhere. Unfortunately the spreading out everywhere resulted in me losing a tonne of stuff when I moved out but it was nice for a few days. So basically I was able to spread out, drink tea and soak up the serenity.
On the second day I took the panniers off the bike, gave George the GPS a route I’d found on the internet and went for a proper ride, and it was great. Endless narrow winding roads with amazing views – unfortunately my GoPro setup was a bit fail so I haven’t got many action shots, but I did stop quite a few times just for a photo. I’ve got to say, the Versys is perfect for buzzing through these tiny bumpy roads – you’ve just got to be careful of cars coming the other way :-/. The other great thing about the lakes is that one second you’re riding alongside a pristine lake, the next thing you’re climbing a winding mountain pass, and the next you’re sweeping through farmland on a plateau. It’s very varied and very beautiful.
How's the serenity?
I’ve got to say, my visit to the Lakes really made me glad I’m doing this by bike – if I hadn’t looked at the map and thought “I only want to go so far in a day, what’s between Edinburgh and London?” then I’d never have come here, and I’d certainly have had much more problems getting around if I did.
"turns out I hadn’t screwed the battery’s negative terminal in hard enough."
Oh well - lesson learned. You won't make that mistake again :1drink
But yeah, funny how often mechanical problems are simple things :hmmmmm
So I'm a terrible person and I stopped updating this - unfortunately it's hard enough to find time to write let alone to find time to get everything onto advrider. Buuut I'm gonna try to catch up now, starting with where I was in Edinburgh 2 months ago.
Problem is that sometimes it's not really a motorcycle trip anymore, just backpacking without trains. So if you don't like it, ignore it or flame me or something. Anyway, onwards:
The last sentence I wrote was that things were looking up… perhaps I should’ve touched wood or something?
Resuming from where we were up to in Windermere, I rose early in the morning, loaded up the bike and got going. Fortunately I’ve now got a way more efficient packing scheme whereby stuff that doesn’t need to leave the bike – tools, camping gear etc – stays in the panniers, and the stuff I need in a hostel goes in the backpack strapped over the pillion seat. Unfortunately this meant that all my clothes were exposed to rain, but it was a sunny day so I was sure it’d be fine. The day would take me to Vindolanda, a fort on Hadrian’s Wall that is a current archeological dig and has been so since the 1930s, and will take another hundred years to completely excavate. The dig site is self-sustaining – they charge admission for people to come and see what they’ve dug up so far, and this money goes to fund them digging up more of it. Climbing up the replica tower they built and looking out into Scotland, it felt a lot like Game of Thrones… Roman soldiers would arrive here from across Europe and spend 15 years looking out into the Scottish wilderness, not really knowing what was out there or whether an attack would come.
Winter is coming...
Having crossed Hadrian’s wall, I crossed the proper Scottish border. Pretty much immediately the sun disappeared and the rain clouds rolled in… and it started to spit. Seeing how cars coming from the other direction were soaked, I figured it was a good idea to stop and put on my rain gear. Needless to say, it didn’t rain again for the entire rest of the ride, although I did cleverly put my sunglasses on the ground, thinking “I’ll remember to pick these up”. When I did remember it was two days later and I was in Edinburgh. Sigh.
Rain rain go away
Around 20km from Edinburgh I really started questioning George the GPS – 20km away from my hostel in the middle of the city and there were still farm fields whizzing by me. But it turns out the city really is that small – I’m in proper Europe now. The hostel I’d booked into (Bus Station Backpackers) turned out to be great – basically one level of a house turned into a cosy backpacker hostel, with the bedrooms turned into dorms and the living room/kitchen as a common room. Certainly the best hostel out of the handful I’ve stayed at so far. In fact, I liked it so much that I ended up staying for 3 weeks…
If you're wondering what this photo's of... it's *adventure*
I’m not going to go into too many details as to how I managed to do it, but the facts are as such – I was walking down a slippery slope, fell over backwards, dislocated my left kneecap in the process and although I could hobble immediately afterwards, by the time I woke up the next day I found that my knee was the size of a kid’s soccer ball and I couldn’t bear any weight on it at all. So somehow I got out of my top bunk, hopped to the kitchen and asked Steve the hostel owner if there was a hospital nearby. After Steve very kindly called me a cab, I was X-rayed, examined and told that I should rest it and come back in a week. A week later I was told I probably wouldn’t need an operation and given some physio exercises. A week after that, having seen the swelling in my knee not reduce at all I went back again and was told I probably would need an operation but the swelling would go down. Half a week after that my knee finally bent enough to just get my toes onto the gear lever on my bike, and I was ready to go.
I don't drag knees, I drag *crutches*
I actually really enjoyed my time in Edinburgh – most of the time I’d hang out in the common room with whoever was working, meeting all the various travellers from around the world who arrived. By some stroke of luck I’d managed to get stuck in a great hostel – I reckon next time I hurt my knee in Australia I might just fly to Edinburgh so I can recover there instead of hanging around by myself at home. Steve had spent a lot of his life travelling around the world with nothing more than a couple of pounds and his puppeteering skills, then opened a hostel in Derry (Northern Ireland) while the troubles were still going, and now left most of the hostel duties to his wife while he made a steady income through horse racing. Obviously he had some pretty good stories… learned a bit about horse racing too. Andrea also worked at the hostel – she was from Hungary and had spent most of her adult life moving around different countries working in different jobs for 6 months to a year at a time, wanted to open a restaurant one day, and never stopped smiling or being nice to people no matter how angry she had a right to be. I think her sunny disposition and delicious goulash really helped me get through the frustration of being stuck in the same room all day.
Andrea, Robert (the Bruce), Sebastian, and I
The guests were great too – I’d considered telling the stories of a few of the more significant ones, but it’d take a year. It was really interesting staying for a long time and seeing generations come and go – one night everyone would know each other and settle into a dynamic, then the next night half of them would leave and be replaced with a new group, which would form a whole new dynamic with the people who remained from the previous night. It was sort of like watching a sitcom or something, where old characters leave and new characters come. When people left it was originally sad, but eventually I began to settle down and trust in the odd inevitability that for every awesome person that left, another person, just as awesome but entirely different, would come along and replace them.
Another generation - best friends for a night
If anything, the nearly-three-weeks I spent in Edinburgh were too comfortable. A month previously I’d been sitting on my arse reading reddit, drinking tea and watching TV all day and decided to go on an adventure to escape all that mundane-ness. Now I found myself, once again, sitting around, reading reddit, drinking tea and watching TV, but on the other side of the world. I began to feel the same sort of fear I did before I left home – how could I just ride around the world by myself? What if I got lonely? Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay here? Ridiculous – it was definitely time to go… but every day I’d go out to my bike and find that my knee just didn’t bend quite enough to ride. I think the catalyst for it finally bending enough was Andrea going on holiday – once I didn’t have her delicious cooking to eat, my body finally got its act together on the whole healing thing. When I did finally leave I think I felt even more emotion than I did when I was leaving home in Sydney… after all, this time I wasn’t even coming back.
On the Road Again
And so, finally I strapped my crutches to the back of the bike, returned them to the hospital and set out for Inverness. God help me, I’ll do this Europe trip even if I have to limp the entire length of the continent.
Your Knee's Not Healed Until You Can Drag It
And so it was on a sunny Edinburgh afternoon that I typed “Inverness” into my GPS, rolled back the throttle and I was on my way once more. Fortunately it was a short ride, seeing how it’d taken me until 2pm to even get going. I really need to start packing my things the day before I leave :-/.
I found riding with my dodgy knee easier than I’d thought – the touring pegs that I’d installed (these are footpegs that clip on far forward of the normal footpegs and allow you to stretch your legs a bit) turned out to a lifesaver – I was able to keep my left leg stretched out and only bend it when I needed to shift gears.
An odd sunny moment
A few hours of riding later and I was in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. Apparently the actual population is about 57,000, but 2 million tourists come through every year. I can see why – it’s a beautiful little town, straddling a perfectly clean (not even boats are allowed) river. As with everything in Scotland though, shame about the weather. Inverness was actually so much fun I ended up staying an extra day – I met up with some people who were staying at the hostel in Edinburgh, as well as some more people that they’d made friends with, and for a while we had a whole group going. First night in Inverness we took advantage of cheap Tesco beer and built a big Tennants tower for Nessie to climb.
The #1 thing to do in Inverness is to go down the road and see Loch Ness – I even got to use the extra helmet that takes up so much space in my luggage, as someone finally had the courage to be my pillion passenger. Unfortunately we didn’t see Nessie – or did we?
Well no, we didn't
Inverness is a small enough town that the guy who does the walking tours is actually the guy who owns the tour company – basically this larger than life Scotsman who declared at the beginning of the tour that seeing how it was a small town, it was illegal not to say ‘hi’ to people on the street, and spent the whole tour ambushing shy tourists with enthusiastic greetings as he walked past. Another highlight of the town was that after missing out a number of times in Edinburgh due to being immobilised, I finally got to go to a Scottish music bar. It was actually a great time – the musicians all come in and sit around a table in the middle with their drinks (I guess this is in deference to the times where actual patrons would come in, grab an instrument and just start playing) and play some great music – it’s actually quite hard not to move to it… so rhythmic.
That's some good fiddlin'
Although I had fun, it eventually came time to leave Inverness and continue north. After the traditional morning full of fart-assing about while pretending to pack my stuff up (and trying to program a route into my GPS, which ended up forgetting where it was up to halfway anyway… sigh) I finally left at a world record 2pm. The ride up was nice enough, but that whole corner of Scotland seems to have this horrible feeling of emptiness – there’s sea to your right and barren farmland to your left and not a whole lot else. Despite my late start, this just happened to be the summer solstice so I was able to get around Duncansby Head, John o’ Groats and Dunnet Head (Dunnet Head being the actual northern-most point of mainland Britain) while it was still light enough to take photos, and continue riding until I got to Tongue.
Apparently most people go to John o' Groats and miss this, even though it's just down the road :-/
I was in Tongue mainly (entirely) because I wanted to buy the iconic produce of the town – stuff that says “I <3 Tongue" on it. Because it was already 8pm before I arrived all the shops were shut, so I figured I might as well stop there for the night. But this wasn't to be just any night, because I, in my infinite wisdom, had decided I'd take advantage of Scotland's wild camping laws and pitch my tent. What I found, however, was that while camping 100m+ from a main road in Scotland might be fine with the Police, it was not decidedly not fine with the massive numbers of midges that were everywhere.
For those of you not familiar with the Highland Midge, it’s like a tiny, really dumb mosquito that gathers in a cloud and continually comes at you – hundreds will gather on anything that emits carbon dioxide and sting the crap out of it (quite a few were trying to suck blood from my bike as well as me). They’ll fly right into whatever you’re doing – trying to cook anything results in a dozen midges crashing right into your bowl and forcing you to eat them along with your mac and cheese. I could’ve moved campsites but I was pretty invested in this one – it was out of the wind, hidden from a main road, right next to a freshwater stream and I’d had to do my first ever gnarly adventure-rider-stream-crossing on my bike to get to it. I wasn’t just going to give up in the face of these pests, no matter how many were in my face. I just kept my bike helmet on and kept moving.
Wild Camping: a 1-step recipe for gross misadventure
Unfortunately I found that the combination of endless day (I was at the very top of Scotland, so night went from about 11:30pm to 3am) and the fact that my camping gear wasn’t really up to keeping me warm in the highlands temperatures didn’t make for very good sleeping. After a rough night I reemerged from my tent into the midge cloud, packed up my gear, roared back over my gnarly-adventure-stream and went back into Tongue. It took me stopping at two different shops to find the last “I <3 Tongue" sticker - a phyrric victory at best. At this point I found that George the GPS had forgotten where it was up to in my grand around-the-coast-of-Scotland tour and I didn't really feel up to 8 hours of riding, so I just told him to get me to the Isle of Skye however he felt was best and got on with it.
Despite deviating from my original plan, the route I did end up taking was still spectacular – probably moreso than the coastal roads, which were windy and too desolate. Much of the highlands are connected by single-track roads, on which two cars can’t comfortably pass side-by-side, so every time two cars see each other going opposite directions, one has to duck into a layby by the side of the road and let the other pass. People are oddly courteous about this – often I found myself riding off the road to let someone by, only to find them insisting that they let me past instead. The other fun thing about single-track roads is that it’s actually illegal for someone going the same direction to hold you up – as soon as you turn up behind them, they’re *legally obligated* to get out’ tha way. The roads themselves are spectacular, narrow, winding routes that take you past lochs and through deserted fields. The highlands give you the impression of that part of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where they’ve built a new earth but haven’t populated it with people yet… there’s so much space but it’s eerily empty.
A wee bit empty
That day when I’d talked to people (to get the sticker, get petrol etc) I’d noticed they’d been looking at me a bit weird. After stopping at a cafe for lunch and going into the bathroom to wash my hands, the reason became clear – looking at the mirror, I realised that my face was covered with dead midges, and somehow a massive tick (or something like a tick?) had managed to burrow its way into my *cheek*. Fortunately I was able to pull out the tick with my fingers fairly easily (good thing I hadn’t trimmed my fingernails for a while), clean my face up and get on my way.
The Misty Isle
Getting to the Isle of Skye was a confusing experience – I was expecting to be charged a massive toll to use the bridge (turns out its free now), and having not seen a single tollbooth I was on the island for half an hour before I realised I’d made it. I managed to just walk into a hostel and get a bed for that night – I wasn’t doing any more camping in Scotland. The Isle of Skye seems to have the most motorcycle tourists of any place on earth. Every second vehicle is a farkled-to-the-eyeballs 1200GS on its way from Germany or the Netherlands or so forth. At nights, the back carpark of the hostel was entirely filled with the various bikes of the residents.
My bike makes some friends
Skye itself was a beautiful place – I took a long ride around some of the main attractions, including the Tallisker whisky distillery, which was good fun. Really the landscape of Skye echoes what I’ve already said about the highlands of Scotland – beautifully empty. It was at this point that my bike finally picked up a name – introducing Os the Kawasaki Versys.
It's a hebrew name. Hey, brew
It’s a long story as to how this name came about, but the name represents the bike and the trip – something unknowable, dream-like, occasionally antagonistic and slightly beyond me. Unfortunately at this point I picked up another passenger. As the rider of a modern bike, the thing I fear most of all is the little light on the dashboard that represents a problem with the fuel injection system coming on. If it comes on, there’s nothing I can do by the side of the road to even see what the problem is – it requires a proper mechanic with a proper diagnostic kit to plug into the bike and get a fault code. Obviously this happened on Skye, only 3000km into the trip. Ffffuuuuu…
The light went out briefly and I stopped to take this photo. Look how happy I am... the light went straight back on after I started the engine back up. 'Och', as they say here
The thing was that the bike still worked fine – even things that would indicate a fuel injection problem like not being able to idle properly, or fast idle to warm up weren’t happening. I resolved to ignore it until I got to London, or it went away. In keeping with the habit of naming things that I’d got into, I christened it Fi the FI light. And so after a couple of days on Skye, Os the Versys, Fi the FI light, George the GPS and Alex the foolish Australian motorcycle tourist saddled up and rode to Glasgow to spend the night. This was the wettest day so far – I’d meant to stop and take heaps of photos as I travelled through Glen Coe and Loch Lomond but it was so wet and foggy there was barely any point – for the most part I just charged through the whole thing as quickly as possible. On the way I met a couple of motorcyclists who were going from Leeds through Fort Augustus, Tongue, Wick and back to Leeds – basically my whole time in Scotland, over 1000 miles – in a day. Certainly brought me back to earth.
Rain rain go away
My final night in Scotland was spent in Glasgow. To be honest I ended up being pretty glad I was only spending a night there. While Edinburgh is a shiny tourist paradise with its bad parts firmly out of view, Glasgow is very much one city everywhere – as a Polish guy in Skye put it, “it shows its guts”. Although this is admirable I guess, it doesn’t really make for that fun of a time, especially seeing how my hostel was full of old, long-term residents and every when I went into the backpacker bar in the city there weren’t too many people around. The hostel let me park the bike in their front yard though, which was pretty cool.
Pretty good hospitality
What is good in Glasgow is the fantastic Riverside Transport Museum, which I saw before leaving for London the next morning. It shows the standard history of trains, cars, trucks etc you get at any similar museum, but puts a really interesting Scottlish/Glaswegian slant on it. For instance, it has a whole early 1900s Glasgow street complete with a subway station that gives you a history of the Glasgow subway (the 3rd oldest in the world). I didn’t even know Glasgow had a subway until I got there, but apparently it used to work by having a steam engine pull a giant cable around the ring of stations – to move, the driver would basically turn a wheel which grabbed the cable then to stop he’d let go of the cable and hit the brakes. Supposedly it worked quite well for 30 years.
Pretty difficult parking spaces
That day I’d resolved to go the whole way back to London in one day, which meant a whole day on the slab. Reluctantly I queued up 6 hours worth of music, typed my Uncle’s address into my GPS and drove onto the onramp. London, bike repairs, Wimbledon and eventually France awaited me.
:clap nice one keep it up and enjoy the ride!
So at this point things are going to get pretty un-motorcycley because everywhere in Northern Europe is like 2 hours away from everything else. But I'm still gonna post this stuff up in case you're interested. It'll turn back into a motorcycle tour around Denmark.
Parlez vous Francais?
So after a hard day on the slab I arrived back in sunny London, where I was going to stay with my Uncle Keith before going to France. Basically I needed a quick pit stop – to get Fi the FI light looked at and a major service before I tried to ride around Europe. Fortunately I was able to find Chris, a guy who works out of his garage on the south edge of London, and he fit me in for the major service even though I only called two days before. The cause of Fi’s sudden appearance turned out to be a problem with the sensor that sits in the exhaust and makes sure the bike doesn’t pollute the planet too much. I had no idea what had happened to it until I ordered a new one, went to install it and realised that it was broken because my aftermarket bash plate, which was already dangerously close to the sensor, had somehow cut it in half. I think it's because the Happy Trails plate is made in America where they don't have exhaust sensors on the Versys... or because I put it on wrong. Probably the latter. Seeing how I’d have to remove the bash plate to replace the sensor, I don’t care too much about polluting the environment and I’ve become kinda used to Fi’s company, I decided to continue to let her stow away and not fix the sensor. If it gives me problems down the track I’ve still got the part with me so I can fix it then. Maybe.
London was also notable because Wimbledon was on. Wimbledon, if you haven’t heard of it, is where people come from all over the world to test their skills in that most English of pasttimes.
Wimbledon has a system whereby not all the tickets are sold up-front – a limited amount are sold every day to the first who buy them. Which is to say, the first who queue to buy them. I got up at 6am and queued from about 7:30am to 11am in order to get a ground pass, which gets you into the minor courts without many big names. As I went in at 11am, there were already people pitching tents for the next day’s line. That’s what you need to get centre-court tickets. Insane.
Queue queue queue
The queue is its own spectacle though. It is without a doubt the finest queue in all the world – what Roger Federer is to Tennis, the Wimbledon staff are to queue management. Upon arriving at the park where the queueing is done, you’re presented with a card giving you your exact place in the line. At that point, no one can jump in front of you in the queue, so you can chill. The queue is then cut up into sections and allowed to sit down on the grass. Newspaper sellers come past – all the big UK papers are represented, each with their own choice of useful Wimbledon freebies like sunscreen and ponchos. Upon being stood up and walked into the grounds, you’re led past a bunch of stalls where companies invite you to play video games and present you with free food and drink samples. Upon actually getting into the All England Lawn Tennis Club, you go find a free court. Then queue. And queue and queue and queue and queue.
Unfortunately sometimes Wimbledon runs out of queues and they make you watch this weird game
By the time I got to actually see some tennis it was 2pm. Then it rained and they suspended play before it started. After finally seeing Casey Dellacqua get slaughtered by Maria Bartoli (in straight sets, in about 2 hours) I was already pretty bored. So basically I’d queued for 5 hours to see 2 hours of tennis. In fairness though, it was still a pretty cool day – I got to sit right next to the court, close enough to see the sweat on the players’ brows, and all for 20 pounds or so.
Once called Henman Hill, this is now the Murray Mound. They'll stop renaming it as soon as they find another word for hill that alliterates with "Failure"
After a few days Chris very kindly delivered Os the bike back to my Uncle’s apartment and the next morning it was time to hit the road. And by road I mean road-then-ferry-then-road because it was time to go to FRANCE.
Goldwings always look so tempting on cold days, but then so do cars, and once cars look tempting so do campervans. It's a bad train of thought.
Once again after leaving way too late I found myself racing down to the south of England to get the ferry to Dover. Enjoy these pictures because I’m sure as hell taking the tunnel when I come back to England – the ferry was friggin awful. After a very late start I arrived at Dover about 2pm. When I bought a ticket I got told the next sailing was at 2:45pm… okay, that’s a bit of a wait but whatever. Having parted with my money, I rode up the ramp and got told that actually it was more like 3:40pm. Wtf mate? 3:40pm came and went and about 4:45 we were rolling onto the ferry. At that point it sat just off Dover for half an hour for some bollocks reason. By the time I got to Paris and sucked up an hour timezone difference it was 10pm. Fffuuuuu…
Nice and secure
Last time I was in Paris was 2002… a long time ago. I remember it being a magical place, just like in Amelie. This time, coming as an older and far more cynical man, I’ve gotta say it didn’t grab me in quite the same way. The whole city has an unwelcoming sort of vibe hanging over it – like you don’t belong and you’re not welcome either. On the other hand, interactions that I had with the actual Parisians were never too bad – I never started a conversation in English and tried to do things in French, and mostly found that they’d happily switch to English once I stumbled through my memorised “pardon, je parle ne francais pas”. At one point I had a policeman walk up to me while I was stopped on the bike and start speaking to me in French. “Oh shit”, I thought. “Maybe he’s going to go check through all my papers and my warning triangle and my breathalizers and all the other crap I need to ride here once he realises I don’t speak French”.
“Pardon… je… ne…” I started, trying to remember the phrase while shouting loud enough to allow him to hear me through my helmet.
“You speak English?” said the policeman professionally. “There is some gasoline over there, make sure you don’t ride through it”. He then turned and walked away, answering my “Merci!” with a “You’re welcome!”.
Phew! Let’s celebrate with some fine art.
The Musee D'Orsay
One of the reasons I wanted to come back to Paris and indeed Europe in general was to see some of the art I’d seen as a teenager again now that I’m a bit older and ever-so-slightly wiser. The Musee D’Orsay was fantastic then and fantastic now… I loved how it takes you through the various generations of artists and how many of the pictures have stories behind them (stories that you’ll only hear if you pay for the audioguide, naturally).
Much like me, Os failed to blend in among the more fashionable (and cleaner) Parisian two-wheelers
Paris was the first inkling of awareness that I was now well and truly walking the backpacker trail. Whether your chosen mode is a Contiki tour or Busabout or Eurail, every young person in Europe comes to Paris. And seeing how uni holidays had just started back home, especially Australians. I heard more Australian accents in a day in Paris than I did the entire previous month in the UK. The unfortunately thing about travelling as an Australian is that you come to realise that we aren’t the nicest, warmest friendliest people in the world… in fact, we’re the most obnoxious. You never see a Canadian stumbling around a bar drunkenly trying to get people to join him in a rendition of ‘O Canada’, but you’re not even surprised to see an Australian do the same (with ‘Waltzing Matilda’, obviously). (Note: there are some exceptions).
Sacre Cour > Notre Dame. Face it.
Being on the backpacker trail and staying at St Christophers also meant that I saw the demographic in my fellow travellers change a bit. In Scotland I mostly dealt with people who travelled for the adventure and the experience of travelling. In Paris (and a few cities to follow) I started to meet people who were come mainly for the party, for whom the sights were less relevant. Usually they were pretty young and on their first proper independent trip… one morning at breakfast I met a pair of girls who were both travelling alone and were afraid to go out and see things on their own. In Paris. I can’t be too critical of this because in the end it’s not like I’m some kind of intrepid traveller either, but it did remind me that I was hardly in adventure-mode anymore.
Maximum Tourist-Mode... engage!
That said, I did have a pretty nice time in Paris. It is a great city, but it needs to be appreciated by staying at a little hotel in a narrow street with a French concierge who speaks with a heinous accent – I think the impact is a bit lost in the common rooms and pub crawls of the backpacker circuit. No matter what happened to me in Paris there were always going to be three French things I liked – the Citroen DS, Jean Reno (what a guy!) and of course, Le Tour de France.
'Le Tour' is a tour, whereas 'La Tour' is a tower. Glad I finally cleared that one up
I went to see the tour in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, a seaside town near Calais which I expected to be a lovely little village packed with cycling fans – I considered myself lucky to get a reservation at the town’s only hostel. On arriving after a franky pretty boring ride, I found that most of Boulogne-Sur-Mer consisted of industrial-looking square buildings, most of the town was empty apart from the hostel which was, like all hostels outside big cities, full of school children. That said, my dorm room was packed with cycling fans… 3 cycling fans apart from me, which was good enough. One guy had come over the channel from England to just see this stage – the other two were travelling all around France following it from stage to stage. Unfortunately I didn’t have an Australian flag to facilitate yelling for Cadel, but fortunately the two guys who were following the tour had brought some flags instead.
I'm a sucker for a shield
Wales because one of them was Welsh and who cares if there are no Welsh cyclists, Argentinian because they’d decided to pick an unremarkable Argentinian domestique and cheer him on at every stage, and Swaziland because it’d come up on Amazon when they were buying flags and it was pretty cool. So seeing how having a flag was much more fun than not having one, for that day I was Swazi. Swazish? Swazinese? Not sure…
Major european sporting spectacles all seem to be about waiting
We got to the finish line early, got places 150m away from the finish line and set in for the 5 hour wait till the cyclists actually arrived. It’s by no means a boring wait – there’s a whole carnival of companies that go up and down the crowd teasing them with free samples. I’d always thought the French were corporation-hating communists but dangle some gummi bears near them and they will << scream >> “HARIBO! HARIBO! HARIBO” until a packet is thrown into the crowd. We didn’t get a lot of free stuff compared to the French, which might be because we weren’t loud enough *or* it might be because I was pretending to be an African. In conclusion… racism!
Two pixels of me went around the world!
When the cyclists finally did show up (late I might add… lazy bastards) it was nuts. Coming from a country where nearly no one cares at all about cycling beyond whether Cadel Evans is winning or not, seeing the French cheer as Sylvain Chavanel made a daring break a few km from the finish line was amazing. Seeing the cyclists finally stream in is a bit of a problem though, because in helmets and sunglasses they could basically all be clones of each other… I wanted to cheer Matty Goss as he tried to win the sprint but to be honest I had no idea who to look at. Not that it probably really mattered because I imagine if he did see someone madly waving a Swaziland flag at him he’d probably think I was cheering for someone else anyway.
Aaaaand that was finally it for France. No more parleying fronseh for me, it was time to learn some Dutch. And by learn some Dutch I mean completely fail to learn Dutch and just speak English to everyone instead. Unfortunately my last day in Paris my camera broke completely and my phone’s power button broke (hence why there’s no actual photos of the finish of the tour – my phone crashed and I couldn’t get it back on again). From now on photos are gonna be a bit scarce, but hopefully when I get to Hamburg I can get the camera repaired (at cost naturally, last time I buy a Nikon >:().
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