Happy 2017 everyone! My apologies for being a little absent. It was so good to spend time with family and friends. But I didn't forget about you! So here the second to last week of the trip. I saw the views of the ride report went over 50,000 now. Wow! When I started sharing the trip here I had no idea of the impact! I want to thank you all so much for your interest, continued support and kind words! Enjoy!!! December 6 and 7 2016 The ferry docks early morning. The view of the Italian coast by sunrise is promising. Once the paperwork formalities are over I find myself heading for the highway to Venice. A frosty 170 kilometers of perfectly paved toll roads lead through the Italian country side. Riding in Italy is like navigating the menu of a pizza restaurant. On the signs I spot place names like Bologna, famous for its pasta sauce, and Prosecco, Italy’s version of champagne. My lively imagination for food combined with the cold make me extremely hungry. Once I arrive in Venice I easily find the campsite. My Dad drove down from Holland to meet here and visit Venice together. When I spot the little campervan the first thing I notice is the sign on the window, bright yellow and with a thumb up it states “G’day mate”. A throwback to Australia where more than two years ago this adventure started, also with my Dad. Inside the van I find Dad and fresh coffee. It’s good to see each other again after almost 7 months (my parents came to visit when I was in Nepal). After catching up on the latest bike, travel and home news we take the ferry to the old city in the middle of the lagoon. It’s cold, but the sky is clear blue and the sun sparkles on the water. Once we set foot on the island of Venice we are immediately greeted by a group of cheerful buskers playing typically Italian songs. This is exactly the Italy of the magazines. We enjoy strolling through the beautiful old city. The squares, bridges and buildings. It all breaths a certain grandeur, like at any moment the tourists could be replaced with 16th century barons and women in corseted dresses on their way to a Masked Ball. After sunset we take the ferry back to the campsite. In the van I’m so delighted to have a stove and I cook a risotto. (The Italians would be furious if they would find me use that word for a simple rice & veg mix, but hey, they didn’t know). After a cold night with temperatures well below freezing we wake up to a perfectly white world. The mist has frozen solid onto everything, even the Chook Chaser is covered in a layer of white. My poor bike! We head for the ferry to enjoy another day in the magical city of Venice. Getting lost in the beautiful little streets, drinking perfect Italian coffee and eating fabulous pizza, it’s such a gift to share this with my Dad! December 8 Time to hit the road. Last night was again super cold. During breakfast the thermometer displays -3°C, with a meagre 0.3° increase by the time we are ready to leave Venice. It’s foggy and cloudy, not much sun to make the conditions more pleasant. After only 30 kilometers my fingers are totally numb. At the first fuel stop I struggle to hold the nozzle, my hands simply refuse cooperation. The rest of the day plays out roughly the same. But it’s amazing having Dad and the van there. At the stops I can sit in a warm environment for a while, hug my hands around a hot cup of tea before running a few laps around the fuel station to heat my toes up. Today’s destination is the most western part of Italy. A couple we met in Kathmandu invited us to their home. It was a challenging 470km, of which the last hour was completed in the dark. The address wasn’t on the map, so we stopped a few times to ask. Being in a civilized Western European country I’d expected someone would be able to direct us there, in English. But nothing was further from the truth. However, with a combination of body language, broken French, improvised Spanish and a sprinkle of English we finally found the house. They had just moved here, and the house was still under construction. But their reception was fabulous, wonderful company, a hot stove, hot tea, and beautiful food. Thank you so much for the lovely evening! December 9 & 10 After all the border crossings I went through on this trip it is so funny to be in Europe. Borders don’t mean anything here. Today we drove up one side of a beautiful snowy mountain in Italy, went through a 1 km tunnel and came out on the other side of the mountain in France. We continued roughly 40 kilometer to then find ourselves on the Italian coast again. No checks, stops, or stamps. The only thing giving away that you entered a different country are the words on the signs and shop windows. I loved the ease of Europe, until we entered a fuel station/rest area just across the border on the French Auto Route. I turned in to talk to my Dad, it was getting late. How much further should we continue? We decided that I would fuel up once more and ride for another hour or so before finding a suitable place to spend the night. When I turned the bike around to go back to the pump there was only a narrow, one-lane, one-way road to go back to the pump. After a year in Asia my interpretation of these kind of obstacles has slightly changed. There was no one coming the other way so I quickly, against all advises from the multitude of road signs, went to the pump. With a full tank I met with Dad again. He waved me in front: “Just stop when you feel like you found a good spot” But before we even made it back to the highway I was in serious trouble. A year in Asia and I almost always found my way, but here, on this French rest stop there were so many road signs, back-turning lanes, one-ways and no-entries it took me 5 minutes to find the entrance to the highway. I quickly realised the down side of Europe, the over-organisation of this place! We found a good rest stop to spend the night and the next day we continued on the bureaucracy filled French roads. Toll booth here, toll booth 2 km later, grab a ticket, pay 5 minutes later, toll booth again. The most challenging part of it? It’s all so-called automatic. Which means it displays the fare for a car, and there is no human to either confirm, deny or correct that fare... It took me a fair bit of frustration before I found out that a motorbike was classified as a category 5 vehicle and that there is an assistance button. From that point onwards at every toll booth I push the red button, waited for the lady to answer and then cheerfully yelled out: “Bonjour, je suis une moto!” (“Hello I am a motorbike!”) When we turned off the highway the landscape spread out before us and my frustrations disappeared instantly. The smell of the grass, the forest. The last 100 km to my aunt and uncle’s house were enjoyable, yet still cold. When we arrived at the bottom of the hill where they live, we were welcomed with a Dutch flag. Yellow and green balloons (signifying Australia, the starting country) led all the way up the driveway to the house. Right outside the house was even a sign “You did it (almost)” was dressed up with shiny Xmas decoration and twinkling little lights. Wow, this is amazing! For a second I got all emotional, but there was little time for that. My Aunt and Uncle came out and we were welcomed with big hugs. Inside awaited a warm stove and a celebratory bottle of excellent champagne. We hadn’t seen each other for over 4 years, what a way to almost be home!