Wednesday, 29 July 2009

She Says - Happy Moto!

Yesterday we spent the day driving to small villages in the Allier River valley, even visiting a cool church with fantastic medieval wall paintings but the scariest faces on angels and Jesus that I’ve ever seen!!, but I have to say I’m not massively impressed by French villages. In general, they are pretty but not wow-pretty, some places have had quite nice locations, but amazingly so many towns seem incredibly run down. We’ve seen this all across France actually – in Britain the prettiest and well-looked after places are the small towns but not here. So many buildings seem to be entirely neglected and badly in need of repair (not just a paint job!). I’ve got more of a feel for the architecture now – houses are very block-like, usually 2 or 3 stories high, and the fronts (at least) are covered in windows. The windows have traditional wooden shutters on them, and more often than not (in larger towns at least but not so much on road-front houses), the window ledges are covered with planters full of flowers, making them very colourful. However, I can’t really say I find it an attractive architecture and find it difficult to photograph except when there are flowers! We’re also getting a feel for shop hours, which are very different to what we are used to - shops close for lunch or don’t even re-open in small towns, and pretty much everything is closed on Sunday (except maybe early morning for bread). This is making us think hard about when we buy food and how far ahead we have to plan!

The weather is becoming hotter, and yesterday’s trip was pretty warm, so we’re getting a feeling for what it is going to be like once we reach southern Spain and Africa. Last night we took another swim back in the campground and treated ourselves to a seafood salad and a couple of beers to deal with the heat. Today we had a lovely drive into the hills to Auvers to see the la Bete sculpture (of a girl who fought la Bete), but the museum was closed. Unfortunately it wouldn’t have been that useful to us (all French) but did get confirmation while staring through the windows that one of our favourite movies is loosely based on the legend – Brotherhood of the Wolf – if you haven’t seen it, it’s really worth it. An information sign at a roadside toilet stop gave us a good English version of the legend and filled in some missing details.

The beautiful valley scenery continued on our way down to the A75 motorway and almost all the way to Montpellier on the French coast. We paid an expensive 7.70 euros to cross the Millau Viaduct (something I really wanted to do), a big fancy bridge over a very deep valley, but the problem was we couldn’t see anything below the bridge as it was so well protected on the edges! However, we could see the valleys well up from viaduct and these were really beautiful.

After the viaduct, the scenery almost immediately changed to really cool knobbly rock formations, then rapidly became desert-like (one town even had desert in its name). It would have been great to do some exploring here, but we really needed to get to Montpellier. We had decided that the best thing to do with the bike was get to Montpellier and see if we could get the chain changed, as it seemed to be the only problem that could easily be dealt with. The rear tyre had unfortunately worn more than we’d hoped – we’d sent a new tyre to contacts in Malaga, Spain, but we really needed a new one now plus Xander was concerned that if we go to a mechanic they wouldn’t let us out without a new tyre. Basically a cheap tyre to get us through the next month is all that is needed! He was also undecided about changing the sprockets (the cogs connected to the chain) as he didn’t think they needed doing but as it’s recommended to do chain and sprockets together and they usually come in a kit, we would look at the price and then decide.

We got to Montpellier and it was very very hot by this stage, having seen one sign telling us it was 36 degrees and maybe a road sign saying it was 39! After lobbing into Montpellier with no more plan than trying to see a mechanic shop, or asking the tourist info centre for advice or a phonebook, we filled the tank as the *$$^(%&^ trip computer died again (we’ve decided it’s best to go fuel up so we have the mileage reading to tell us how much fuel we’ve used!) While at the fuel station, we saw a shop we thought was advertising motorcycle repairs and figured it they didn’t then maybe they could direct us to someone who did. By this stage it was about 3.30pm and we thought we might have to book the bike in for a couple of days and stay in a hotel, of which several were nearby. Anyway, the very nice guy in garage directed us to place where he takes his bike, and we eventually found it after stumbling across some other bike stores including Honda – nothing in stock, Honda would take 2 days and no tyres and nearby tyre shop motorbike guy was on holiday till next Tuesday!! We eventually got to recommended bike shop, Moto Expert, who provided fantastic service, got us in straight away and replaced the tyre and the broken inner tube, supplied a new spare tube, and changed the chain and sprockets (only cost a little more). And voila, no more clunking noise!! It turns out the front sprocket was badly worn, which Xander says may have happened because of the bad link in the chain.

So we’re all happy now, though it has cost us a packet (over 300 euros)!! On top of that, we’ve only lost a few hours and were out of the shop at 6.30pm. Our guidebook noted there was a campground only 4km away and we actually managed to make our way here fairly easily!! It’s also costing us a packet (28 euros for the night and another 4.60 euros for the washing machine) as we are near the beaches and there’s tourists all over the place – the campground has something like 300 places in it (inc. static caravans, campers, tent, etc and there’s at least 4 other nearby campgrounds) so I guess it’s not surprising. We don’t care, we’re happy, we’re settled for the night, there’s an on-site grocery store (expensive but better than restaurant), we’ve got our laundry done in a proper machine (important as Xander’s clothes are covered in grease!!!). Even better, it is warm and dry here for almost th first time in the trip, and there’s also free wi-fi internet that we hope to make use in the morning as it’s too late and we’re too busy! I’m also happy because there has been a great show of bats over our site :-)

Tomorrow we plan to head into the Pyrenees Mountains, although we may detour to Carcassonne, a restored medieval walled city that was recommended by a friend, and sounds pretty, if not entirely original.

Monday, 27 July 2009

She Says - Frustration grows…

Unfortunately things aren’t getting better! At 2.30pm and only 13 kilometres from our destination (yes, there was a sign!), the rear tyre went flat. We’d been making really good time and things seemed to be going well, although we still had the clunking noise and French road signs aren’t always the most helpful so there was at least one major wrong turn. Suddenly the bike felt wiggly, we pulled over, and found the flat. Xander was able to get the bike over to a nearby pullout, where he had to change the tyre and repair the tube once again. We had a chance to learn some new French words when a nearby farmer, whose access road we’d stopped on, came to see what was happening! I have to note that no-one else stopped to help - though there were a few waves from other motorbikers, no-one actually slowed down and even a 4WD sporting a Horizons Unlimited sticker completely passed us by! So much for brotherhood to fellow travellers. A few people even honked loudly as if we were some sort of roadside attraction! Not that we needed help or were looking for it, it would have been nice if people had made a bit more effort to see that we were OK. The whole process took about an hour in scorching heat, and we were definitely ready to stop once we reached our destination, Monistrol d’Allier, located in a beautiful valley (not the mountains I was expecting) and with the Allier River right next to the campground. Xander spent some more time trying to work out where the clunking noise is coming from, then we went swimming in the river in the stunning evening heat. We talked about how we’re feeling about the trip, and I admitted I’ve been feeling like it’s all going wrong and I don’t know how we’re going to get through 2 years of this. Xander admitted some of the same feelings. We’ve been saying all along that we have to make sure we slow down and see things more slowly than we normally do (i.e. don’t try to see all of a country in 2 weeks as is our normal pattern), but we already seemed to be pushing on instead of enjoying ourselves. Part of the problem is the little piece on France from our 10-year-old Europe Lonely Planet guidebook does not give great detail for the whole country and we don’t really know what to see or do or even where to go. So we’ll stay here for at least 2 nights, which will give us a chance to relax, have a look around for the werewolves, and also see if we can work out what’s wrong with the bike. The evening provided a fantastic show of at least a dozen small bats, the most we’ve seen since leaving home and the only ones we’ve seen since reaching Europe. I’m not exactly surprised there were so many (and again as I write tonight) – there are so many bugs here!!! France has been incredible for insects, we’re camped next to another butterfly-laden buddleia bush with a nearby patch of lavender also a big attraction for them – I counted at least 14 species of butterflies and moths yesterday, including lots of swallowtails. I’ve now seen 5 of the coolest moth ever, the hummingbird hawk-moth, which I’ve only seen once before – this mid-sized moth acts just like a hummingbird as it hovers to drink nectar from flowers. On the bad side, it’s crawling with ants here and we constantly have to flick them off the tent (providing Xander with great amounts of amusement and musing on the thought patterns of insects……weeeeeeeeee……)

Today we woke to find the rear tyre had deflated again. Instead of repairing it again, Xander tried to put on the spare tube, only to find it was also punctured! Once repaired he then found it was the wrong size!!! Somehow he’d been sent the wrong part when it was ordered over a year ago for our Romania trip and it’s not the sort of thing you know till both parts are there in front of you. So he found there was another hole in the original tube, and the repairs on that one seem to be holding so far (cross fingers!). After feeling really despondent about how things are going and the fact that the weather was not so good this morning (even rained a little), we were on the edge of just sitting in the tent all day! However, we decided the bike needed a run to seat the tyre again and our friendly New Zealander neighbours, who are walking hefty parts of the Pilgrim Route of St Jacques de Compostelle (also Camino de Santiago, which we travelled parts of through northern Spain 2 years ago, and I’m hoping to visit Santiago de Compostella in Spain, which is the end point of the route, before we go to Portugal) and live here in France for half the year (oh to be retired!!), told us there was a museum dedicated to la Bete du Gevaudan nearby in Sauges. It turns out the region’s legend is about the Beast, not a werewolf but a large wolf, that attacked 82 people between 1764 and 1767, and it has become the legend for towns in this area (Gevaudan). We skipped the museum but are on the hunt for sculptures of la Bete, having already found two large wooden chainsaw-cut ones in and around Sauges. Unfortunately, the really neat metal sculpture of la Bete from Monistrol is currently away on exhibition elsewhere (just our luck!), but there is one other to visit in a small town called Auvers, which also has a museum on la Bete. We’re planning on staying another day or two here, to look around but also with the bike still having issues and Xander having no idea what is causing the problem, we figure it might be best to take things easy.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

She Says - Swiss mountain mania

We’re now back in France after spending a fantastic 5 days (planned 3!) in Zurich with our friend Kerstin, who we know from the UK and has been living here for 1.5 years. What a lovely city! The atmosphere in Zurich was so laid back – I don’t know if it’s for real (Kerstin seems to think so) or just the change after being in the UK for so long and faced with a constant air of aggression. While Switzerland is very expensive, there are lots of things to do for free, and it has public transport that really works and is worth using. We spent a day in the city, and our all-day ticket took us from bus to tram to water taxi on the lake to mini-railway up a hill! The city is pretty but not beautiful, looks newish without feeling new, grand without being ostentatious. For a place full of bankers and business, you certainly can’t feel or see it. We had lunch on the edge of the lake, right in the middle of the city, and it felt like being back in Hobart, Tasmania, when we used to spend time at the waterfront. We found ourselves falling silent, just chilling next to the water (while swans pecked my shoes – no-one else, just me!) in the amazing warm weather and feeling incredibly relaxed - haven’t found anything like that since we left Tassie. The next afternoon we went swimming – right in the middle of the city! The river Limmat runs through Zurich (forming the lake) and while the current is strong, you are able to swim in certain areas. We spent our time in something of a river obstacle course – in order to swim downriver first you must go up, and that entails making your way along a wall and platform beside the river, complete with chains on the wall to help you fight the current and slippery footing, and even a rope section where you have to jump in the river and pull yourself around the wall! At the end, you jump in the river and the current takes you back to the start where you grab hold of a staircase and haul yourself out. Awesome!! So much fun, and so great to swim in open water again after sooooooo many years. In this day and age of lawsuits and hyper-occupational health & safety rules, it was great to find something fun left for people to do – and for free! Xander was also very pleased that after all the years of asking and pleading if he can throw me in the water, I actually let him toss me over the rail. We spent the evening in a different swimming area further upstream, where Kerstin made sure we tried the amazing tuna burgers – big slab of fresh tuna with a wasabi sauce, wow! On our final night, we went to a great club that had free entry – ok it was Wednesday but still pretty amazing! Best of all, Kerstin lives out of the city and up a hill, so her view is not only of the city at night (another beautiful sight I haven’t seen since leaving Tassie) but also the Swiss Alps – wow again. Big thanks to Kerstin for showing us an excellent time in an excellent city, and for letting us hog her computer and fill the house with laundry (our clean bike gear thanks you!!). Kerstin has also added to our challenge list and has given us something to do on October 31st (Halloween, our favourite holiday) – we want to know what it is but we aren’t allowed to open the package!!!!

On the morning we left Zurich, Kerstin remembered that the H.R. Giger Museum lay in the direction we were heading. Giger is the creator of the Alien movie monster and is Xander’s favourite artist. The lure of seeing a museum set up by the painter himself was too much to pass, and it turned out the location was very worth visiting itself – Gruyeres, home of the cheese, with a walled chateau housing museums and shops and nestled under part of the Alps. The museum was fantastic, and next to it was a Giger-designed bar, where we couldn’t resist spending more money for hot drinks as the rain plummeted down and a massive thunderstorm took place! It seems we have a knack of creating reasonably good weather when we aren’t camping…..We stopped at the nearby campground, only discovering once we settled that we had a fantastic view of a mountain plus a river beside us and forest all around. What a spot! After a very soggy night, we woke to a gorgeous morning and set off to take a slow road towards France. I picked it because the map showed it going past mountains – I didn’t realise we would go over them!! We spent the day travelling only about 100 miles, going up and over and through the Alps through the most amazing scenery I’ve seen in a long time (wow every 2 seconds). We stopped in Aigle, Switzerland (CH), for lunch next to a chateau in a town full of vineyards (bet it’s not that warm all year round!) and surrounded by mountains, only to find ourselves back up the mountains again travelling from Martigny (CH) to Chamonix-Mont Blanc (FR) on a mountain pass that had me terrified! Not only were we scaling a mountain, but we were right on the edge to start with (driving on the right hand side) and on some corners the bike actually leaned towards the edge!!! I have a big enough problem travelling over very tall bridges in a car, let alone this! The pass was stunning once again, and as we approached Chamonix we started seeing the French Alps and their glaciers – more wows! We spent a few days in Chamonix on our trip 10 years ago, so we didn’t feel the need to stop here (it’s horridly touristy) and figured we’d find somewhere outside the mountains to stop for the night. Our slow rate of travel and the general topography meant we didn’t get much further and were still surrounded by mountains last night, in another lovely small campground but once again in the rain and thunderstorms! I have to admit to being very tired by this stage, having not slept well for two nights, and my temper was rather frayed and taking itself out on poor Xander. I made sure I got an early night!! We’ve not seen any of the typical black&white Swiss architecture as we’ve travelled, but up in the mountains have been plenty of chalets, including one near our campsite covered in deer antlers like some kind of hunting lodge. Architecture has definitely been nicer around here!

We woke to another gorgeous sunny day, and more beautiful travel through fantastic mountain scenery down to Grenoble and on towards Valence, by which time we had passed several more amazing mountain ranges – I had no idea France was this beautiful. We’re trying to get through to an area SW of Lyon in the Massif Central where we’ve heard there is a town full of legends and sculptures about werewolves, which is why we keep pushing on at the moment. We then want to spend up to a week in the Pyrenees Mountains, travelling both the French and Spanish sides. These should both give us our mountain fix! While the roads are faster in this area (still rural but fewer towns along the way means we’re covering better distances), I’ve found it very tiring and have had a rather uncomfortable day, both on my backside and feet (I get bad vibration sometimes through the footpegs) but also my helmet was playing up, and I admit I’m getting a bit sick of being on the bike! If we weren’t pushing to get somewhere nice to spend a few days, I think we’d be stopping here instead. As it is, we’ve stopped in yet another lovely (though busier and noisier) spot in a town called St-Naziere-en-Royans, a lovely town with a massive canal aqueduct passing through it. Unfortunately, by the time we dealt with the bike (see next) and dinner, it was too late for lovely photos (except of the mountains downriver) and we can’t be bothered to go back to see the aqueduct lit up for the night!

We’re still having constant niggling problems with the bike, still seems to be about one per day. Before Switzerland, the trip computer played up again but again it was an easy fix (removing the fuse re-set it). Yesterday we started hearing a clunking sound particularly at low speeds that had us concerned. A check this morning found the chain was a bit loose and one of the rear wheel spokes had broken. Xander tightened the chain, but we still had the noise. We kept checking it today, and Xander was concerned that the clutch or chain needed replacing. One worry was Xander accidentally discovering that the rear brake disk was getting very hot. However, in camp tonight he found that the rear wheel had warped (probably from the broken spoke), which was causing the chain to catch and rubbing the brake disk. While working on the spokes to replace the broken one and fix the warping, he punctured the inner tube! Now the tube is repaired and wheel fixed as best as he can, but it all has to settle for a bit before he can tell if the wheel is still warped or not. At least we made sure we got into camp early so he could do this work and we could have an easy night.

Xander has been pushing us hard to learn French, but I can’t say it’s coming easily. It’s a language I’ve never had much affinity for (although I seem to be able to work out how to pronounce words, I can’t understand a thing I hear!) and I seem to find it more difficult than any other language I’ve tried – not helpful seeing as we’re going to need it a lot in West Africa! We were planning to learn it for some months before leaving home, and even borrowed a learning CD from the library, but never found the time to fit it into our daily routine. Then when we left, we didn’t have the CD installed on the new computer so no help there either! All we have is a reasonable French phrase book and trying to get people to help us with pronunciation…..I guess we’ll get there eventually?!

I should make a side-note (for anyone wondering what it takes to make a trip like this!) that while in Switzerland we had time to work out exactly how much money we have to spend on the trip. We did this starting in France, as our time in the UK included staying with friends/family, but also we had bills to pay, refunds to get, and more equipment was bought so it isn’t fair to include it. On our £30 per day budget (which we’ve stuck to pretty well so far), we have enough money for 22.75 months of travel (you can do the maths :-) ) The actual £30 per day will of course fluctuate a lot depending on visa costs, any bike repairs, ferry from Spain to Morocco, and added extras for things like safaris, treks and flight over the Peru Nasca lines etc. To get to that point, we had to spend nearly £7500 on various bits of equipment (a few things like bike spares and costs are still missing from my spreadsheet because Xander didn’t keep track!), plus money has been set aside to look after our storage shed in Oz for 3 more years. We’ve also had to get a lot of vaccinations/anti-malarial tablets, health insurance and ship our belongings to Oz, plus we’re holding aside a separate amount to cover our major travel costs (i.e. shipping bike between continents and import tax into Oz) and 2 more years of health insurance. We managed to sell an amazing £4100 of stuff, and are waiting on a few things to come back like tax refunds and rental house bond (rough figures already added to our total travel amount). Anyone who’s serious about doing a trip like this and wants to know more details, just ask!!! At some point, I’ll get time to update the packing list with what we’ve actually brought with us – new stuff added and a few things removed has made my old list out of date. Again, anyone interested in seeing this if I don’t get around to posting it, just ask.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

He says - Spechen Ze Deutch: Zurich

We headed to Zurich, Switzerland to visit a good friend of ours Kerstin. It was an easy two hour ride, that was the most nerve racking of my life. On every forum, everyone you talk to, every newspaper, absolutely every thing is absolutely crystal clear about how strict the Swiss are about speeding. The speeds are roughly 10kph slower then what you are used to. There are cameras everywhere, and “they” (in legend at least) fine you for going even 2km over the limit. When you get caught the fines are huge. We are taking hundreds of Swiss francs per kilometre over the limit. Equating to 1000s of francs per offence, we are talking about impounding the bike. We are talking about trip ending incident, and I am no speed hound!!

Although I agree that speeding should be kept in check, in my humble opinion, the level that the Swiss take the speed-control to is actually dangerous. I spent so much time looking at my speedo, I could have easily missed seeing a car pulling out of me or a pedestrian (who just walk out in to the street with out looking).

With only a few grey hairs more, we found Kerstin’s street easily enough, and amazingly without incurring the wrath of the police. What we did not have her house number written down. Yes, it was on the computer but that is a major hassle. Luckily Tam still had the mobile phone and we simply called. Turns out that we were only a few metres way.

Other then the draconian approach to speeding fines that Zurich is something out of a “Star Trek” idealism. There is little to no poverty, everyone is happy, they get paid well, and the city is clean, beautiful, and has low crime. Even prostitution is considered a legitimate (and Taxable) job!! The down side is as a tourist (on a stringent budget) this is a very expensive city. A simple meal could cost us our entire daily budget. Thanks to having a local host we were fine.

After viewing the city and the Alps from the deck of Kerstin’s flat, with the red kites soaring overhead, we spent our time exploring the city, and searching out the all important flag sticker for the panniers. The city of Zurich although as far inland as possible has a very maritime feel. The river, “Limmat” (not sure of the spelling) runs a dominate course though the city, starting in a massive lake.

The city is built around this lake and the social life of Zurichian seems to be based (at least during the summer months) around both the river and lakes. There was myriads of people walking, eating, drinking and of course melanomatic sun worshiping.

The view of the lake with the backdrop of the Alps, reminded me very much of home back in Tasmania. (Although the alps are much bigger!) So although I could barely understand a word that anyone was saying I felt very much at home.

My extremely weak German was made to feel even more useless, as the Swiss speak a dialect of German that is as far from high-German as one can get. Most Germans have a hard time the Swiss, where could this possibly leave me, but once again our local guide Kerstin saves the day, and does most of the speaking for us.

The most amzing thing is that Zurich completely lacks a feeling of threat. I cannot recall the last time I was in a city that held no sense of threat what so ever. Although I have not had any directly bad experiences in the UK there was always an underlying sense of violence. Even on our first night we were invited to a BBQ at a friend of Kerstin’s. (Thank you for a great night guys). We were walking in a city at night though the “red light district” at times and not once was there any sense of danger. I left Anubis exposed for several days and never once worried about it. Why this is I have no idea. But I there is anything that I will take from this part of the trip it is that.

The highlight of our time in Zurich is the “swim” we took. There is a government sanctioned area which is the out put end from their hydroelectric power plant. Here the current must be at least 20 kph (if not a lost faster). The fun is walking as far as you can up to the gates and riding the current back down to the ladders. You can not really swim it is more of a controlled “being washed away”. I felt like a kid again and was having a blast playing in the current and diving in to the warm rushing water. Twice to-date on this trip I have felt more like a kid than I have in years… My advice to anyone visiting Zurich.. is go for a swim!!! We spent the rest of the night sitting on the shores of the river enjoying the warm summer air and the company of friends. Our final day in Zurich was a relaxed one where we just stayed around the flat, and relaxed (and wrote a few over due blog entries). We left Zurich in style by going out dancing at a local alternative club. I have nothing but fond memories of Zurich. I am not a city person, preferring the open spaces, but if I ever had to choose a European city to live in it will be an easy choice, now.

Just as we were leaving Kerstin, mentioned the H.R. Giger museum. Giger, was made famous for designing the Alien, for the sci-fi movie franchise of the same name. He has been my favourite artist for as long as I can remember. Although dark and disturbing images proliferate his work, his work is strangely beautiful, unique, and powerful. He has been described as an occult artist, and I can see why some call him this but I simply love his unique works and original take on almost everything. There have now been many people that have tried to copy or assimilate his style but all have failed. There is only one H.R Giger!

Instantly our plans changed, we will no longer head strait back to France. We will spend a day and go see the museum. It was an easy ride, if not plagued with fear of speeding tickets. For times sake we took the motorways the entire way and it is as boring as it is in every other country. The directions on their website are rubbish. It is far simpler then they made to our take the road to Gruyeres, there is only one road in, take it and park and walk towards the chateau. The museum is on the right.. you cant miss it.

The village itself is stunning in its cuteness, it is a walled city that has maintained its charm and atheistic. At this time I could not care less.. I was going to see real H.R. Giger works. I was almost giddy. Those who know me well know what a rare thing that is. Once we made it to the museum, you are greeted by a couple of my favourite statutes, and bar decorated in the style of the Aliens set.

It was expensive, it killed our budget for the day, but I got to see something that I thought I would never do. I was not allowed to take photos in the museum itself but I loved every second of it.

I have to thank Tam here for indulging me. We even went in to the bar for a hot drink when the skys opened (again, we really should charge for drought busting). We camped just below Gruyeres, setting up in the rain where the lighting was so close and loud that I hit felt the need to hit the deck more then once and was ducking involuntarily at the thunder’s proximity.The next day (Saturday) saw us heading over the Alp to head back to France. The ride started like any other, us avoiding main roads and getting some what lost. I was still thinking about the Giger exhibit and really wanted an other look, however, once we hit the mountains all was forgotten. It was not (just) the stunning beauty of the mountains that wiped away the thoughts, but the vertigo inspiring mountain pass with sheer cliffs above Martigny.

We were head up at what felt like a 45° angle (but was more like a 15°). Anubis was working hard, and we kept climbing for at least 20 minutes. The road conditions were great for the first part. It was the fact that directly next to us was a drop of hundreds of feet strait down and getting higher all the time, that made it forbidding. The mountain pass that entailed a climbing a incline with a sheer drop to our side, both Tam and I started to experience a sense of vertigo. Leaning into turns, which makes you look down a 500m drop is a unique and bloodcurdling thing.

Anubis’s temperature was climbing and it started to worry me when we came up to a caravan going 25kph. Now the slower speeds meant that Anubis was working even harder and not getting the air flow that he needed. Luckily shortly after there was a place to pass and we were free…. Not.. it was not more then 500 metres before we came up on a cement truck, going 15kph. We were stuck there for an hour. This meant that the already over worked Anubis had to work even harder cus I could not get out of 1st or 2nd gear. Pass you say?… You try passing on a bike that is as nibble as a elephant with one leg and a bad knee, on switch back roads where you do not have more then 20 m visibility and on almost every turn a car was on my side of the road. Mainly do to the fact that people do not give bikes an entire lane. The temperature of poor old Anubis was at the half way point, back in Old Blighty it never got beyond the ¼ way point. But then again it was over 30°C and Anubis has not seen these temperatures since Spain. Eventually we were able to pass and pass again the next slowly moving obstacle, and pass again the next slowly moving obstacle….. When we finally passed the last obstacle were we able to enjoy the twisting roads and stunning scenery.

The added stain and heat may have affected Anubis more then I feared, shortly after we reached the peak we started to hear a clicking noise. I thought it was emanating from the front, Tam the Back. De javu?? The mountains are amazing. We come to the end of the pass both believing that we are already in France, but we arrive at a toll booth, as we were doing out best to stay off toll roads we were more than a bit confused. Seeing no option other then go back over the pass, we decide to pay the toll. Presently surprised, when we found out that it was a place to buy your Swiss vignette, our sticker proudly displayed we were waived though. That night at the campsite (already in France) I looked at what could be the cause, and the only thing that I came up with was that the chain was very loose, Yeah that could be it! Tightened the chian, and hoped for the best. It was then that I noticed a broken spoke. More on that saga in Viva La France!!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

He says-The Final Day!!

The day had arrived. The real trip has begun.

Our hosts fed us our last full English breakfast, and they joined us on the last ride we will take in the UK (for two years at very least. Together we road down to the cannel tunnel. Here we intended to get a coffee and chat while we waited for our train. But alas the tunnel does not allow people who are not booked in to say goodbye to friend and loved ones. So by the side of the road we said our goodbyes. Both saddened and excited we headed off to catch a train. Being on a bike we where allowed on the earliest train that had room and as such we only had to wait about 20min for the next one.

Surprisingly calm we waited, then boarded, and then alighted the train. It was not until we were in France and had been riding for 20-30 minutes did it hit me that we are travelling and will be for two more years.

We had no plans and no destination. Originally we our train was scheduled to get us into France late in the afternoon, and we planned to camp near by. But we were almost two hours ahead, so we rode a bit. When we travelled to Romania a year prior, I got us very lost getting out of the train area, this time. Bang right on the A16, what I did not know was that it is a toll road. Luckily once we found out we were able to get off at the next stop and did not pay that much. Well sort of…I had not un-packed our stash of Euros from the bottom of the pannier so at the first rest area we pulled out everything we owned looking for it. The result was we lost Tams warm riding gloves.

We got off the main road and headed east. 50 miles on these little roads took over two hours. It started to get on in the afternoon and so we decided to look for a campground. Tam started to hear a squeak coming from the back of the bike, I heard it from the front. At first I was hopping it was the badly maintain Renault in front of us. However eventually I found out that it is in fact us. Well some of it was us, mostly was him.. but enough of it was us. I started to worry; it is too early for things to be going so wrong. I am afraid it was output shaft. Now the trip computer locks up again. I am not happy, but luckily we found campground shortly after and could try and understand what is going on. A quick examination told me that the clutch cable adjuster has come loose. Excellent a free and three second repair. Worrying but not bad a sprocket bolt and nut had come loose, and was grinding against the swing arm. In all my years of biking I have never seen or even heard about his. But again.. Excellent a free and three second repair. To be sure I went though and tightened all other nuts and bolts and could only find that one of the rear brake Alan bolts was also loose. While the tools were out I decided to do a general fix-up, so I modified the locking mechanism on the left pannier lock, both the front fork boots had sagged a bit so I cleaned compression arm and repositioned the boots and finally moved the tarpaulin bag that was acting like a rear pad. Thereby giving Tam more room and moving even more weight forward.

The next morning the squeaking was gone, I had over tightened the clutch cable so had to pull over and tweak it, but all in all we seemed have diverted a disaster. We spent a relaxing two days taking the slow road though France. On the night of the first day we road in to a smallish city Montmedy, that was over looked by a massive citadel, we both thought that it would be great to see. So when we saw signs to it we turned. This is how this trip should be!! As we approach we were a bit cagey about how much this is going to cost. We pass a campground and both think that we should look at it on the way out but it may be too early to stop. We road on, the citadel loomed huge in front of us. Euro signs flashing before my eyes.. How much is this going to cost??. We get closer and start following signs for parking, no fees mentioned yet. We go though ancient gates. No fees mentioned yet. The cost must be astronomical if they wait to tell you till you are already there. We cross though the city walls over a draw bridge, No cost. We park and start to explore, we see the signs to go to the ramparts. Ahh here is where we will get stung. No cost. We spend a couple of hours exploring the city and its ramparts most of the store rooms are still accessible, you can wander almost anywhere ..wonderful. We then go to the campground and find it to be perfect as well, and less then half the price of the night before. We spent the evening relaxing and taking more photos of the citadel.

The next day was a dullish ride back on some main highways, We passed though a 9km tunnel that cost us €7.70 in tolls and we could have taken a free mountain pass. Eventually tiring of the motorway we again pulled off to a small village that was simply stunning. Most of the house were “old” but well maintained.

At the campground we stayed was a working vineyard.
It was the hardest communication day we had. The owners and his family was exceptionally nice but spoke French combined with German (albeit a dialect or accent that made it hard for us of extremely poor German to understand).

My brain was having hard enough time dealing with the one new language (French let a lone a hybrid one). The next morning he told us that the tour du France was come though town and joked that we looked like the officials due to our hi-vis jackets and bike.

Friday, 17 July 2009

She Says - Sightseeing in France

Well our idyllic night couldn’t have gone worse! The nearest tent family talked noisily until at least midnight – maybe longer but we couldn’t hear over the rain!! An incredible storm with sheet lightning and very close thunder started, and when the rain came it drowned all other sound. Unfortunately it rained so much that we got rather wet! In general we were dry, but enough water soaked through where our bike clothing touched the tent that it ran all the way between our sleeping bags and soaked some of our gear as well as bedding. Thankfully it was all over by morning and we were able to pack up in relative comfort other than a shower or two. Xander was not feeling well when we woke, but by the time I returned with fresh croissants and pan au chocolate, he was starting to feel better. Alongside a fresh baguette for lunch, this seemed a fairly pricey breakfast (bit over 5 euros) – I’ll have to see how it matches up in the coming weeks, but it was worth it!

We spent the day slowly making our way along one of the main roads, which are surprisingly different to UK non-motorway roads. There seems to be a town every 10 metres and you barely get up to the 90 kmh speed limit before another town appears. This has made progress very slow, so we popped onto a motorway for one stretch, and will probably do a bit more of this tomorrow. There are also toll motorways that we have to be careful of, as we found yesterday just as we got started – hence why we’re travelling on smaller roads, but these are usually nicer anyway. As we’ve started coming more south, the towns have grown prettier and the landscape is looking much nicer. Around 3pm, we saw our first hilltop chateau off in the distance, but we quickly entered the town it’s in and it was no chateau! Instead it’s a citadel, a walled city, but very unlike those we’ve seen in other places. Like some we saw in Romania, the place is basically a ruin but there are still many houses inside and even a couple of shops! We drove up, expecting to stop outside for our photos due to an expensive entry price, but to our shock, we passed through 3 ancient gates and were suddenly inside the walls! We’d passed a campground on the way up the access road to the Citadelle de Montmedy. While feeling better by now, Xander was pretty tired so we decided it was worth stopping here for the night so we could enjoy walking the walls and go back to do some night-time photos. Such is the joy of just pootling along, with no fixed plans or timeframes, where you can do whatever takes your fancy. I think I could get used to this! The citadel is amazing, the walls are absolutely massive and tunnels and cellars appear all over the place to take you through them. They seem to keep getting deeper down the site too! We haad a lot of fun exploring whatever tunnel we came across. There are a few ruined buildings inside the walls, and a number of apartment blocks of traditional styling. There is also a church but we couldn’t go inside as they were putting on a puppet show. As far as we can tell, the place was built in the mid-1600s. We went back at sunset and got some beautiful golden shots of the outside walls, and I’m trying to decide now whether to go up on my own to do some night photos, as poor Xander flaked out quite early.

The campsite is gorgeous, the best we’ve seen in a long time. Most of the individual locations are separated by hedges, so there’s no chance of someone parking right next to you. We chose a spot that has a beautiful flowering tree over it. There’s only room for 30 groups, and it’s lovely and quiet for once!! French campsites are a bit strange so far – no toilet paper and no sink plugs, but at least we carry our own of both!

Today has not been without problems again, even though it has ended well. Early in today’s ride, Xander heard a metallic clunk and looked down to find part of his keychain missing. We searched the road for about 15 minutes before he realised he’d left that section in his trousers – I could have throttled him!! Unfortunately we found we had lost something else – sometime yesterday my winter gloves went missing, as it was the first time I tried out my summer gloves (which I’m very happy with so far). As luggage space is tight and I changed gloves last minute before leaving the UK, my gloves had gone into the tank box but somewhere along the line were taken out and we must have driven off without them or they fell of the bike. This either happened on the Channel Tunnel train while were swapping the UK map book for the Europe one, or it may have been when we stopped on the toll road to dig out our euros as we weren’t prepared to need money so quickly! It has worked out OK though, as there have been plenty of motorbike shops around and when we realised late this morning that the gloves were missing, we just dropped into a shop and got a new pair. Not good for our budget though!!! We’ve already left a couple of random bits and pieces at people’s houses along the way – much easier to pack a campsite and know nothing is left behind! We’ve got to be more careful about where we put things and make sure they will get packed again by making them very hard to miss!

We’ve experienced an interesting phenomenon while preparing to travel – people are setting us challenges! I figure it’s high time I noted these down, for others to follow but also so we don’t forget them. It will be interesting to see if more challenges arrive along the way!
1) Gareth – to find a bongo in the Congo (a type of deer)
2) Xander’s work colleagues – gave us a donation to use towards a fancy meal in Morocco in a restaurant like La Yacout in Marrakech
3) Tam’s work colleagues – gave us a donation towards a nice meal in Europe
4) Sam – when we find the most amazing place in Africa, buy a beer and raise it in his direction (don’t know when we’ll know – this challenge might be met a few times!!)
5) Pete & Deb – gave us their Morocco guide book, put their address inside, and we are to add our details then leave it for someone else to use, in the hope that the book will one day make it back home

I also thought I would note a couple of things I’ve learned along the way:
- never put anything just out of the way and not completely obvious – it’s going to be left behind
- in a quiet campground, put your tent near others, not in the emptiest location where many others can later set up next to you
- don’t leave helmets where they and the intercom connections can get wet – loud squealing noises in my head are painful!
- Xander’s mesh trouser pockets are perfect for putting my bras in for machine washing
- falling asleep on the bike (and yes, I do it frequently!) makes Xander jealous when he’s tired too
- butter in a ziplock bag doesn’t stay where you want it when the weather is hot

Thursday, 16 July 2009

She Says - Parlez-vous Francais?

We’ve made it to France!!! We spent a fantastic night last night with a fellow bike-travelling couple, who not only really understand what we’re doing (pretty much the only people we know!), but it turns out they have lived in Africa and spent a lot of time returning on holidays! Our trip was made very real by hearing their stories of wildlife experiences, gorgeous places to visit, suggestions on places to go, and actually realising – hey, we don’t have to just admire their photos and stories, we’re going too!!!! They put on a BBQ for us and invited some fellow bikers along, so it was a great way to spend our last UK night. This morning they gave us our final English breakfast, and then rode with us to the Channel Tunnel train, where unfortunately they were not allowed to join us while waiting for our train. We arrived so early that, as happened last year when we used the train, we were able to go on an earlier train – being a bike, we don’t take up much room so they happily let you jump up the queue if there is room! This was good because it allowed us to get into France a bit earlier and travel out of Calais before finding a campground. Campgrounds have been well advertised within the towns we’ve passed through on the smaller roads we’ve travelled. Already having a stock of food for dinner and breakfast, plus a few euros, made it easy to keep going till 5pm before stopping for the night, so that has got us well into the countryside, which is really nice. Already the campsite feels different – this one has the big tents and a restaurant and swimming pool, but none of the feel of a similar site in the UK. It’s much quieter, children are better behaved, it’s just…different. The staff have been incredibly friendly (unlike previous French experiences) and the owner wanted to get a photo of us for their website because he thought our trip was so great! (he hasn’t come by yet though) To top it off, there seems to be insects absolutely everywhere since we arrived in France, including a buddleia bush here in the campground that was absolutely covered in butterflies – so of course we set our tent next to it! I couldn’t believe how many there were and how close I could get to them when taking photos.

The weather has been beautiful, and warmer than we realised when we passed through a large city – 30 degrees Celsius even at 4pm - but we were coping pretty well in our normal gear and summer gloves. We’ve passed through small town after small town and a lot of agricultural land (fully into haymaking) and even stumbled across the ruined entrance to a massive abbey just up the road from the campground (up high on a hill while we drove beneath – difficult not to see it and want to go visit!). I haven’t really got my head around the architecture yet, it’s been quite a mixed bag but mostly seems new, so I can’t say the place is beautiful or different really. We’ll be making our way fairly slowly (about 3 days) across north-east France to visit a friend in Zurich, Switzerland, for a few days before we return and start looking at France properly. We’ve decided to focus on rural France, to keep away from the cities we’ve seen before and try to get a better feel for the place. This is particularly because we’ve heard rural France is really nice, but also when we visited rural northern Spain in 2007 we absolutely loved it.

We’ve had some more bike problems – a squeaking not too long before we stopped for the night turned out to be a lugnut and bolt working their way loose from the rear wheel! This could have been a disaster is it had come all the way off. As it was, the nut was grinding so it was pretty obvious once Xander started working his way over the bike to find out what was wrong. While he was at it, he found the clutch cable had stretched, possibly due to the oil needing a replacement, which is pretty surprising seeing as he did it just before we left home. Hopefully it was just a bad brand. The tent pannier seems to be working well on the front of the bike, although I can’t tell if it’s creating more wind noise on my helmet or if it is actually more windy than it has been lately.

Only other problem is that Xander has come down with a cold and is feeling pretty miserable tonight. We may end up staying an extra night here to wait for him to get better but will see tomorrow. If nothing else, it gives us an excuse to make use of the mobile bakery van that will arrive in the morning, and to take our time travelling to Switzerland!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

She Says - Goodbye UK

Well, we’re already finding it difficult to keep on top of the diary! Not being the most consistent diary keepers anyway, we’re finding it difficult to be tourists during the day, cooking dinner and cleaning up, then finding time to do all the bits and pieces we need to in the evenings. The last 2 weeks have consisted of sight-seeing and friends/relatives-seeing, plus getting everything sorted out a bit better, including various repairs and adjustments that have either cropped up or didn’t get sorted before we hit the road. We’ve also made use of friends’ internet connections to get on top of all the final bills and arrangements that needed sorting (the main reason for spending these 2 weeks in the UK). We’ve continued to reassess everything we’re carrying, have made new purchases to replace certain items, and Xander has pretty much worked out the system for packing everything onto the bike. This included moving the tent pannier to the front of the bike last night, as it turned out it was blocking the rear brake light and the additional brake lights just weren’t enough to compensate. We’ll see how that goes as we set off today to the final friend before we hit France tomorrow afternoon!!!

Things start getting difficult tomorrow, and becomes what I call the real start to the trip (even if we do have a tendency to think of Africa only!). It’s been a pretty easy 2 weeks getting used to travel in the place we live, now we have to see how campsites are advertised (the world camping list downloaded into the GPS will start to come in handy!), plus we have a different language to deal with – one neither of us knows! We’ll be away from the comforts of home and people to drop in on, so we have to be totally self-sufficient (OK, not 100% true as we are seeing a friend in Switzerland, but you get the point!). We won’t know where to find anything, whether food or bike parts or anything else needed, and it will all be rather confusing! At least we’ve done it before (Spain and Romania particularly), but not over the timespan or with the set-up we have now. Cross fingers it will go smoothly!!

We had a great time up on Hadrian’s Wall, had slightly better weather for the final days and got plenty of walking done plus saw a good chunk of the wall. We then headed back to Lichfield! We had to go to a motorbike store to get summer gloves for me, as well as go to a large camping store to restock – we figured it was easiest to go back where we knew, and it got us halfway to Exeter where we had friends to see for a night. After that, we had 4 days along the south coast in Dorset, a surprisingly wonderful part of the country. This area is known as the Jurassic Coast for the fantastic timeline of geology from one end to the other from Triassic to Jurassic to Cretaceous. We stayed 2 nights near Lyme Regis, a seaside resort town that is famous for its easily found fossils, mostly ammonites but also dinosaurs, around halfway along the coastline. We spent some time fossicking for our own fossils, finding a few ammonites and maybe a fossil bone! (couldn’t take them with us though). We walked across one section of rock that was covered in massive ammonites, some almost 2 feet wide! Unfortunately one night I found I had lost the ammonite I found the day we left home, which must have slipped out of my camera bag where I had moved it for “safe keeping”. I have to admit to feeling rather devastated by this, as I’m not religious but believe strongly in fate, and I had felt the ammonite discovery at that time was a really strong sign that everything would be OK for our trip. I’ve consoled myself by saying it’s gone back to where it came from, as we’ve found the same rocks in our driveway are on the beaches in Dorset, and that this is also a good sign. I’m still not entirely convinced however…

We also got to see red rock stacks, reminiscent of the 12 Apostles on Australia’s Great Ocean Road, at the Triassic end of the coast, and white stacks made from chalk all the way down the Cretaceous end of the coastline. I won’t get to see the White Cliffs of Dover before we go, but I got some very good white cliffs anyway! We also got to tick off another of the places to see on my list – the Cerne Abbas Giant, a massive chalk figure cut into the hillside complete with club and rather large appendage. Possibly a 17th or 18th century farce or maybe older, it’s still an impressive feat of construction. Dorset is a lot quieter than other areas in the UK, very rural, full of impossibly cute towns with thatched roofs and stone constructions, and had a very Tasmanian feel to it. We’ve travelled all over the UK, found cute places to live though felt it would be hard to decide where to go – both of us said Dorset would be a great place to live! A note to all those people who over the past 4 years who have said to me “what do you want to live in this country for?” – you have an amazing countryside and incredible history here, there’s so much to see and do, get out there and enjoy it!!!!!

We headed further along the coast towards Brighton, where we spent a lovely couple of days with Xander’s aunt, uncle and family, who looked after us well and let us use their washing machine for our smelly clothes! I found leaving a bit difficult, as we’re on the track of saying our goodbyes, and leaving the UK is getting very close. We also don’t know when we’ll see people again who we’ve seen easily over the last 4 years. Now we’re getting ready to leave Xander’s best friend, someone we’ve known from Tasmania, who has looked after us for a couple of days while we’ve littered his floor with all our stuff, trying to find ways to cull more things and pack better! It’s been good to stop for a while, slow down, sort out all our mail he’s been collecting, and catch up on a few things that we haven’t been able to deal with. We’re still not on top of everything, for instance I doubt we’ll get these blog entries uploaded before we hit the road, and we still haven’t set up photo-hosting so we can add some pics to the blog! I guess we’ll have to spend time not being tourists, catch up on things, and start spending money in internet cafes!

We’ve managed to stick to our £30 a day budget so far, but we’ve not had to pay to go see anything due to our wonderful English Heritage membership and not particularly wanting to enter anything that need paying for! Food has been easy enough to deal with, we’ve had a few splurges such as fish & chips on the beach and a seafood soup, but have kept it fairly simple. We’re running around a bit but are still only filling the tank every 3 days, although we are filling at a bit over 250 miles and it seems we can stretch that out further (roughly 23 litres out of the 36 litre tank). Camping has varied but is generally around £11 per night and have been fairly easy to find and quite nice. However, the biggest problem has been that we seem to attract large roudy family groups! As we’ve tried to stay for at least 2 nights in each campsite, we’ve found our lovely idyllic spots have become crowded with new arrivals on the second day, and they all want to camp near us!! The last site had FIVE families set up near us – yes, we moved!!! Camping in the UK is quite strange to us – people seem to want all the comforts of home, they bring the most enormous tents and create tall privacy barriers around them, and some of the sites can be so massive with people crammed into every spot (this includes campers, caravans and static caravans) while providing swimming pools, bars, restaurants, playgrounds, etc! Nothing like what we are used to, where camping is a way to get away from everything and sites can be pretty basic.

The trip itself is still not feeling entirely real, although that feeling is slowly changing. I’ve been talking about it all for so long, and I feel I answer questions on auto-pilot, that’s it’s not really me speaking and that I’m not really doing this trip. In fact, I wonder sometimes if people are simply thinking it’s all a pipe-dream and not actually going to take place!! So many people have been saying “so you must be really excited then?!” but to be honest, it’s been difficult to get excited when there was so much to sort out with the house, and now I just feel like I’m being a tourist at home. But the closer we come to leaving the UK, the more real it’s becoming. I’m already past the feeling that I have to return to work – several weeks packing the house helped that! But I’m not yet feeling that there is no end to the trip, that we will be going where we want to go, when we want, and taking as long to do it as we wish – an amazingly bizarre concept I have to say!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

He Says – England

We have been on the road for nigh on 2 weeks things are going well, not perfectly but well. I was wrong the trip computer was an amazingly simple fix. Minutes after I typed the above doomsday message I had an epiphany, “It seems like a locked up computer, right.. so what do you do with a locked up computer.. reset it… I pulled the fuse out, and Robert ‘s your mothers brother, we were back in business.

The tent tube pannier is still causing some issues, it is complete obscuring the 3rd brakelight which is a safety issue I can let slip. So sometime soon I will try and figure out a different place for it. It is an issue of balancing: weight distribution, safety, convinces, and aerodynamics. Where is now is the best off all but safety, and this is the one that must take highest priority.

Trip wise we have spent the rest of out time on Hadrian’s Wall exploring it, is a beautiful part of the world. Some of the views were stunning when the weather held out. Tam never did get her summer gloves sorted out. We also decided that there were a few bits of kit that needed changing or replacing. So we decided to head back to the midlands where we knew the bike shop and camping shops.It was back to the real world for a day. We ended up in a campsite in Lichfield about 4 miles from our old house. The next morning we were off to buy more stuff. It seems odd that we are struggling to get everything in to the bike so we should buy more. But this is what we did.

And it has help a little.

Once we were fully stuffed, and seams straining, with our new bits of kit, we headed south to see some friends (Nick and Julia) in Exeter. The ride down was a scary one. For times sake we decided to use the M5 (a 4 lane highway for the non-uk savvy). The weather started okay but rapidly became a nightmare the wind was so strong that Anubis, was being blown all over the place, the visibility was poor, people were not driving to the conditions, they did not have lights on and were hence invisible until the last second, and were passing us but not bothering to move completely into the next lane. Ironically, once we arrive in Exeter the weather cleared and we were met with a wonderful reception and a wonderful meal. Good friends and good conversation. For this we thank them. Life is good.

Our wonderful hosts allowed us to stay in their house the next morning even though they had to go to work. Ha-ha, we don’t . This, however, gave us the opportunity to go though things and clear out some junk and deal with some paperwork and final bills. When we were ready to leave, I went out to the bike to discover that we had a willing volunteer to replace Dr. Otterboro. We politely refused the offer.

From here we set off for the Dorset coast, we both felt that this is one of the prettiest areas of the UK that we have seen, the little villages with the thatched roofs, like something out of a costume drama was well ahh… enchanting.. to use the exactly correct word. We spent a couple of days walking around the Jurassic coast. Here there is a place called Lyme Regis where you can go to the beach and simply find fossils of the 100 million year old kind. So of course this is exactly what we did, we spent the afternoon looking for fossils. The stones were so soft that you could break them by hand. This quickly caused me to revert to childhood and I had a grand old time pretending that I was a superhero, was kicking boulders, to large for me to even move, just to see them crumble beneath my ALL MIGHTY POWER!! Ahh sorry…

With out time on the Dorest coast coming to an end, we hit one final sight. This is an area called Harry’s rocks. Although the name is uninspiring to say the least, disturbing to say the most, it was a gentle one mile walk to stunning formations and white chalk cliffs. This was particularly enjoyable for Tam as she had wanted to see the white cliffs of Dover but had decided that we did not have the time in the UK.

That done we took to the road again to visit some of my family before leaving the country. On route we headed up to the Cerne Abbas giant. This was to me very disappointing a 150 mile detour, and there was no really good view except by helicopter. Maybe they were made for aliens to see, cus it was definately not for walkers. We are running on such a tight budget and can not really afford to waste fuel and time like this. Non-the-less we made to my Uncle and Aunt’s house sever hours later and spent a wonderful couple of days with them relaxing and catching up.

With only 3 days left in the UK we arranged to meet up with my best mate, Dan, at Stonehenge, and spend a couple of days with him at his place in Oxford. Passing directly by the Cerne Abbas giant and a few other place we saw only two days earlier (on the exact same roads). We made it to Stonehenge.

Although we have both been before we were hoping that this time it would not be raining. We were blessed with blue skies for about 10 minutes, but during this time a kestrel was foraging around the stones. I feel that any magic that the place once held has been removed by the millions of tourists and safety barriers, and fences. However the sight of the kestrel so close to us and the stones, gave it a new type of magic.

Shortly after the kestrel moved on the skies turned black, the winds became even worse then before and the clouds opened up. Magic of the kestral??..

The resulting scurrying of tourists was amusing but resulted ending our time in that the stones. My mate arrive moments later, and we heading into town away from the tourists to find some lunch. What we found was the worst (and rather expensive for what you got) “thing” which you would be hard press to call a cheeseburger that that I have ever had! So take heed, when near Stonehenge stay a way from a place called Friar Tucks Cafe. We should have known when looking in side the front half of the “establishment” (as I can not in all good conscience call it a restaurant), was made to look like a ship and the rear was a pink(ish) caveish thing. None of us could actually understand the d├ęcor until we tried the food. Although it could be as simple as; “make the place weird enough and the customers will be too confused to complain about the food.”

From there we head back to Oxford via Avebury, another Neolithic stone circle but one that incorporates an entire town. Less visited and retaining its magic. Tam and I have seen it several times and still love it. Deciding it was time to head “home” we looked at the map, and found that the oldest white horse the “Uffington White Horse” was close. None of us has seen it so lets go!

On route there Tam and I lost one of our nine lives. Even several days later, writing this, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. We pulled up to a t-junction that was a mad house, cars every where, every one in a rush, turning in all directions, and no-one help anyone else out. I sat there for several minutes hoping to see a safe opening. But alas it was simply getting worse by the second. Then nicely a grey volvo waved me though, thank god!.. I pull up and look both ways. I see two bikes and one waves me into the lane. I roll a few inches further to get a better view before pulling out….. A RED AUDI BLASTS BY ME WITH CENTIMETRES TO SPARE. I lost control of the bike and wobble my way across the lane with Tam yelling in my ear. I had no idea where the car came from. IT WAS NOT THERE A SECOND AGO!!!… The two bikes stopped traffic so I could get sorted. I don’t know how, but we did not go down.. All was okay. We got to safety shaken but fine. Later, talking with Dan, he did not see the Audi either. Even together we could not figure out what happened. All I know is that 8 more centimetres more on my part and the Audi would have hit my front tyre and sent us spinning. Twenty more centimetres and we would have been dead. Best we could figure that in true British Audi drive style, when the bikers slowed to wave me though, he passed them and almost killed us. We made it to the White horse 20 or so minutes of slow riding last I was still shaken and my riding confidence was gone. I know I saw the horse but it has had no effect on my memory. I can still picture the Audi, in my head I can see the potential impact and the parts of us and the bike flying everywhere, but I can only remember the horse by the bad photo I took.

The rest of the ride was uneventful. Tam had been expressing the concern that the tent tube was obscuring the brake light. I had though it as well but could not decided where to move it to. Well Dan confirmed the issue, and the decision was made I had to move it. After a bit of playing there was only one choice. Above the headlights in front of the faring. It is ugly and a bit high, but the weight is nicely forward. We also once again went though the luggage and clean out a bit more chaff, we cast off little but all is working better.

Out last day in England, we head out to say good bye to others friends Pete and Deb. We arrived to an extremely warm welcome, and the news that there will be more friends from a bike forum that we met though ( The ride there showed that although we may be getting a little more wind buffeting the tent tube in its new position is working better. The weight distribution is much better the front tyre feels much less light, and over all the bike is far more nimble. Well nimble for an overloaded hippopotamus with an eating disorder.

It was a great night. The food was excellent, but more so Peter was a fountain of information. He lived in South Africa for many years and filled our heads with tales and visions that have made me want to rush down, and not bother seeing the rest of Africa. The evening continued when two more friend arrived, we talked travel and bikes and it was a great evening that soon turn into a late night. Special thanks to his daughter who gave up her bed for us.