Friday, August 27, 2010

West spain and portugal

After reuniting with the tiger I headed south. Through some nice windy roads and onto Lyon. Next stop was the Pyrenees. The weather turned and it started raining heavily. I stopped for refuge under an avalanche shelter over the road. I felt like the sheep sodden and with backs to the wind. The next way was perfect sunny and warm. I headed West following the range down on the coast and stayed the night near San Sebastian in Spain.


I rode into the beautiful Picos de Eurpoa, an amazing national park with some incredible scenery and roads. Some of the roads were sculpted out of shear cliff faces. One cliff accessible only on foot has a 1000m shear drop.

roads in the picos

In some small two horse town on the back roads to Salamanca, there was some kind of fiesta on so I stopped for some lunch. Lunch consisted of a full side of ribs and some crusty old bread. I seemed to be a curious oddity and attracted some inquisitive looks.

roadside lunch spanish style

Next stop was Salamanca, after getting stuck in the pedestrian only section of the old city I found a hotel to stay. I did a day ride down in to the supposably poorest region of Spain, once again beautiful scenery with the hills lined with olive trees and the odd forest.

local roads

I was once again mistaken for an Austrian, this time by a German lady riding a Guzzi. We swapped stories and good routes over some majitos, cerveza and tapas, finished off with some music a local Spanish band. Next day I headed west towards Portugal.


I took a route over the boarder that has only recently opened up, It was deserted and free of traffic. The country was mountainous and rocky. Granite was the rock of choice. There had been recent bush fires which left the landscape reduced to scalded rocks and blackened remains of grazing lands with the odd stone or mud shelter. As I headed further west towards the coast the dry and blackened country side transformed into a mixture of cultivated hillsides of olives and crops and large pine and eucalypt forests.

fires in portugal

I arrived I Lisbon on the eve of my birthday. After walking about for hours trying to find accommodation that was not fully booked out, I resorted to a travel agent to find accommodation in the city.

I headed out for some dinner. I found a nice place with tables blocking the street. I was seated next to an Irishman, an Englishman and a Mexican, they were just returning from a business trip to Nairobi and were discussing the unpleasant experiences they had had with some dodgy prawns. Interesting entertainment for the evening. After eating ¼ of an octopus I was off to find some live music… all I could find was some buskers, they were good none the less but it was time to turn in.

Thanks for the phone calls and messages of birthday wishes. Today was my birthday and what better way to spend it than riding in Portugal. I kept heading south towards the south coast through small villages who relied on cork for income. The trees were stripped and the fresh bright brown bark exposed below.

cork trees
I stopped in to an old windmill once used to grind corn and chatted charades style to the 3 old men who seemed to be responsible for the maintenance.

I arrived at the coast at Albufuria a beautiful town packed with tourists and holiday makers form all over. Had a dinner of fresh shellfish and some local green wine.


After a spur of the moment decision to head to Israel, I was a train to Frankfurt to fly to Istanbul then onto Tel Aviv. Unfortunately the flight form Frankfurt was over an hour late so consequently missed the connecting flight to Tel Aviv. Since I was now officially staying in turkey albeit two and a half hours in a Hotel, I was required to obtain a visa…. more waiting and more lines. It was the second time in the passport control lines I developed a deep hatred for lines.

The Hotel boasted 4 stars however what these stars meant was anyone’s guess. At reception I was greeted by a man who had his dirty white shirt unbuttoned and looked greasier than most. The room had no windows and was dank with smoke. In the bathroom I expected to see a body in an ice bath, missing a kidney. It was that kind of place. I left with my kidneys. After a few hours to nap I was picked up and taken to the airport for some more waiting in the waiting lines.

Arrive Tel Aviv - Israel
The erratic ride in the taxi of speeds up to 120 in 80 zones and cutting across 4 lanes of traffic, left me wondering if I should be paying for the transport service, or some wild new adrenalin sport. Or just ensure my life insurance is up to date.

I hired a car and drove to the north into the Golan through the Druze villages and stopped for delicious Druze pita. The Druze people are apparently very traditional and have a secretive ancient religion. Some traditions brutal and quite shocking.

The north still shows signs of the most recent conflict. Tanks still are at sitting silently high at their positions. On the flats the remnants of twisted trucks and tanks are not far from the memorials left for the killed soldiers. Tanks trenches, barricades and bomb shelters are never far away. Many abandoned buildings have pock marks or walls blown out. Land mines also are common in the northern areas. This is not a place to accidentally ride onto a firing range.

Land mines

We drove to Ein Gedi near the dead sea and went for a swim in the salty waters. The small waves seemed to travel much slower and the water appeared and felt oily. The water was hot and stung like hell if it got into your eyes. The only vegetation in the area is the occasional date farm or the odd oasis. We had dinner at a Kibbutz which is similar to a commune but a little less hippiefied and more of a communal farm.

riding at the dead sea

I had a look around the old Jerusalem and saw the usual tourist sights. Road blocks were common around the west bank and Jerusalem and security seemed high. There were metal detectors and bag searches at all public places, shopping centres, bus, train stns etc.

spices at market

I had dinner with a lovely family who’s father is metal worker who is a holocaust survivor. He worked in Auschwitz as a blacksmith. Up until recently still producing metal sculptures. I went to see cars and bikes at the weekly car club gathering. Not the place I would expect to see such a gathering of corvettes, dodges and others.

Leaving Tel Aviv. I arrived at the airport earlier than needed as I had been questioned and security was tight and lengthy on entry a week earlier. This was fortunate as I was taken aside and integrated for over an hour about purpose of trip, who I met where I went, If I had accepted any gifts/packages. Etc. My apparent lack of luggage and reason for light travelling seemed to be particular interest. I was x-rayed 3 times and my luggage more. My shoes got special attention and were taken several times. The first time they were swabbed the machine got the attention of 3 security guys. Not sure what the reading produced. I was taken to a small room and questioned once again by a “supervisor“. I was asked to take and show photos to security. The carry on luggage was taken as it apparently required extra time for examination and arrangements were made so it was available for pick up in Frankfurt. Once they established I was not a threat I was personally ushered through the passport checks and security and onto the waiting plane. Security is tight in Israel.

Italy and around

While the bike was in for a service and some work, I met Sarah in Paris. First up was the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph, the Musee Dorsay (of water lilies fame) and the Notre Dame. All very nice all bar the hoards of tourists and stifling heat. We spent a day in the Louvre which was spectacular to say the least. We went to la duree for some macaroons and wandered the streets.

We caught a train up to Reims and took a champagne tour of GH Momms and another, the name escapes me (too much champers maybe). We spent a few nights in a nice B&B before catching a train back to Paris.

From Paris we flew to Venice. On the plane we realised the Campervan we were supposed to pick up from Venice was actually outside a small town about 150 km away - Vicenza. Close but no cigar. So a Bus, taxi, train then taxi ride later we arrived at what was to be our home for the next few weeks in Italy.

the camper

We headed south via Modena (place of balsamic fame) over the mountains through small villages not suited to a camper but perfect for a bike (had to remember not on bike but in a 6m long camper) then onto marina de Massa (Carrara) famous for its white marble quarries of which are thousands of years old. I did a tour of marble museum. Pretty much anything that could be made of marble was. The town square and fountain was marble, gutters - marble and aggregate in the bitumen also seemed to be marble.

We walked the full length of the cinque terra which took us through the 5 villages basically along the rugged coast.

surveying the terre

Then drove to Florence via Lucca to see the birth place of Puccini. We hired some bicycles and cycled around the city walls.

Arrive Florence. Once again (in typical Italian style) the motorbikes and motor scooters siphon through the lanes of slow or stoped traffic trickling out over the white line ready to explode onto the empty space once the lights change. No incidents but some close shaves.

The campsite was situated in an old olive grove. The trees were old and gnarly and heavy with fruit. We spent the next few days at cathedrals and galleries all which were impressive.

Next up we left the camper on the mainland and headed for the Island of Elba. I hired a 150cc scooter and took a look around island. It was no Philip island but I did manage to get the scooter up to 90km/h, down hill, with a tail wind.

I swaped the tiger for this?

Next stop Rome. But not before Savano, Sorano and Pitigliano with the Etruscan tombs. We looked at the main attractions did a night tour and had a tour of the with an Australian priest. He was still pretty ocka with the “yea I dunno if we’ll get down there” and was keen for news from home.

Swiss guard at the vatican

medieval village
in the palace gardens

Next up we headed towards Tivoli to see Hadrian’s villa but on the way had a small accident. We were heading around an “oblong about” and a Getz tried to cut across in front of the van. Van-1:Getz-0. Van damage- smashed mirror, indicator and some panel damage. Getz damage - smashed windows, doors and front guard, wheel that looks like a pie with a piece missing and some suspected suspension damage. 2 Police arrived, then 3 more-one of which could speak English. I wrote a statement, we had some confusion with some insurance papers,( at one stage my papers had been given to the other driver by mistake). We had some tears from Mrs Getz, the tow truck came, some reluctant group hugs with the police and we were on our way again.

group hugs

Stirred but not shaken we headed to Pompeii, Paestum and hiked up Mt Vesuvius.


We drove back up the east coast to drop the camper back then caught a train to Venice. Ate delicious pizza and some of the best clams and muscles available to mankind. We took a tour of the glass making on the island of Morano and went to a Vivaldi concert in the evening.

tide rising in the square in venice

We caught a train to lake Como and stayed half an hour out of town up on the side of a hill with lake views. I tried finding the Moto Guzzi museum/factory but was let down by unreliable public transport. We were waiting for a bus back to the train station and the chef offered us a ride with her mother who was headed in. We folded ourselves into the Getz like some circus performance as grandma chef reclines her seat back to lock Sarah’s knees firmly into the back of her seat. No seat belt required.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Alps, Meditarian and equine cusine.

The weather finally cleared and it was time to head towards the meditarian coast. The rough idea was to take some back roads over and through the Swiss and French Alps making my way South West to arrive at the French/Italian boarder where it meats the ocean. Taking advantage of the fantastic roads and villages the Alps have to offer.

From here I chose some high roads with some high passes. One of which was closed due to snow totally obscuring sections of the road, it was a long ride back over the slush, mud and rocks to get back down to the main road. but saw and heard many “marmuts” a small alpine mammal that looks la bit like a squirrel/guineapig with a high pitch whistle.

Snow blocking road

I came across an abandoned holiday resort complex beside a creek, complete with 7 stories, a basement level, swimming pool, slides and high diving board. It appeared it had been abandoned for 50 or so years and in a state of decay. Some floors had collapsed and the roof was gone. I investigated its depths, including some small tunnels which appeared to be concealed exits that lead to a door in the side of the hill. I foun spent ammunition shells and clips and other bit’s a pieces including a burnt engine block. When I found a headlamp exactly like mine smashed amongst the shells and spend fire extinguishers I decided it was time to move on.
resort in ruins
I rode on upwards into the mountains and the road narrowed into a track and I passed some old fortress ruins. Didn’t see another soul for the next few hours of riding. The tracks offered football size rocks protruding through the gravel surface waiting for a lapse of riders concentration. I reached an old fort that had been inhabited by a diary goat farmer, who legally or otherwise had set up a rather primitive diary shed in and around the fortress. The milking took place over the old draw bridge and the tower was used for storage.

High in the mountains
 I later learnt I had passed through a large military firing range hence the absence of people and the oddities i came across.
Now onto the French Alps and what they have to offer. After a few false starts up roads that remained closed due to snow or land slides, I headed for the regular bitumen passes. Atop the Galibier I met some friendly Dutch bikers who thought it was a novelty to have a picture taken with an Aust registered bike and Aussie rider.

I stayed at a pub in Barcolenette before heading off for what was to be one of the best days of riding yet. Barcelonett to the Mediterranean. The roads wound out of the snow capped alps and into the maritime alps. Medieval towns clung to the sides of the mountains while the roads with an excess of hairpins were carved out of the cliffs below. The temperature picked up and olive groves started lining the mountains until finally emerging on the Mediterranean coast.

The light fresh air and smell of trees changed to dense humid air filled with the smells of traffic and fish. I had reached Ventimiglia, and the weekly local markets were on selling things from fish to curtains. The traffic seemed like absolute chaos. My indicators had stopped working earlier that day and I was concerned it may cause some confusion. As it turned out indicators were purely optional, we went round one lane roundabouts 4 abreast. No indicators no worries.

I caught up with Jen, a friend origionaly from Eulo who was working for the Devia family in Italy. The lovely Devia family let me stay in their beautiful home overlooking the ocean for the few days I spent exploring the local area. We did some day trips into the mountains to Dolce Aqua and Pigna meandering around the streets and sampling the local cuisine. I even had some horse, best had with a drizzle of lemon juice.

the village of Pigna

After being overtaken in the slow traffic one too many times by prepubesant girls on scooters, it was time to adopt the Italian riding style - if you fit through there ride there, quickly. I was told kids can ride up to 125 cc once they turn 14.

One night while in San Remo we went to a local festival “festa dei popoli”. It was in the old part of town in a small town square created by a WW2 bomb that levelled the buildings in the vicinity. The band sported 2 didgeridoos.

Church in the Maritime Alps

I did a day trip into Monte Carlo. My impression of Monte Carlo - many casinos, many big boats and fast cars and many women wearing not many clothes. Not the place to go if you’re on a tight budget.

It was time to say good bye to the coast and the lovely people I had met and head North East for the Dolomites.

I visited the Bolzano and the Reinhold Messner mountain museum. Set in the ruins of a castle looking towards the dominating Dolomites, the Museum is a part gallery, part museum, part shrine to the mountains honouring great climbers past and present. Suitably inspired to summit some peaks but lacking fitness and equipment, I rode some passes and took in the scenery.

The Dolomites

The Dolomites are absolutely amazing and the roads that wind through them are perfect for a bike. Many of the roads have numbered hairpins, many had in excess of 30 up each side. Endless fun. No wonder I only got 7000km out of the rear tyre.

Hairpins in the Dolomites

From the Dolomites it was back to Blotzheim via lake Konstanz and the Black forest. The tiger is left at a Triumph dealer for some repairs and maintenance while I travel with Sarah for a few weeks in a Campervan.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

To the Alps

From Worms it was a nice ride to Speyer. As I was castled and cathedraled out, a visit to the “Teknik” museum was in order. It housed a space shuttle, and many record breaking machines. Bikes (rally, GP and land speed record), Cars (too many to mention) Planes, far to many to many to mention all- from the largest prop plane, a modern passenger jet (747 maybe ) to the replica of the Wright Bros flying machine. It had anything else mechanical from the industrial revolution to present.
Fast plane

Fast bike

Next it was off to Stuttgart for the Porsche, Mercedes and art museum. But apparently Mondays are the day museum close. Disappointed, I headed off to a town dedicated to healing, health and leisure, Baden Baden. I wandered around the ruins of the old roman baths then off to the” modern” roman baths, “modern” in a relative sense, it was built in 1877. It was a strict no cloths policy so you had to shed your threads and go naked. It was a three hour affair of 17 timed sequential activities the traditional way. It included hot rooms of 68 deg and cold baths of 18 deg. Between where were soap and brush massages, cream services and the “relaxing room”.

Suitably relaxed it was then off to the Baden Baden youth orchestra concert for some Mozart and Bottesini.

The next day it was off towards the Black forest. A few days enjoying the riding in the black forest.

When crossing the boarder from Germany into Switzerland a cyclist stopped to talk. As it turned out she rode a motorbike from Switzerland to Darwin where she married a guy from Aus. We had a drink and swapped stories. Her house was decorated with Australiana, I even had a beer with a VB stubby cooler. After getting a few tips on the best roads and exploring the area for a day I was off to Basel. It was great to meet like minded motorcycle/travel enthusiast, thanks Katharine.

In Basel (blotzheim) I met up with Paul, a motorcycle rider. We rode along the French/Swiss boarder and up around the French German boarder along some old WW2 battle grounds. The weather was not so good with visibility on the high passes around 15m and raining.

 Roman ruins
 Paul, Me, France and Switzerland
 War memorial - France
Riding some passes in the clouds

From Basel to a village named Liestal, where the original Seilers originated from apparently. I headed over a pass called the Glaubenbergpass, most bitumen but some gravel. On top I was stopped by the Swiss army. The clouds had swallowed an army truck and taken it down into the abyss. The skid marks literally went over the edge and out of sight. A sober reminder of the perils of high passes in bad weather.

Seiler Street - It's a one way street 

Swiss Army watching over tiger

While waiting I had a coffee with some of the Swiss officers who complained of the boredom and tried to justify the soccer match they were playing on the rocky pad at the pass.

After an afternoon of rain and thick fog I arrived at Seelisberg - a small alpine village. I met up with Doug, Gwynn, Hazel and Peter. I Walked amongst the wild stawberries and rasberries and ate cheese produced by a local diary farmer/cheese maker sharing the Seiler surname.

Water being blown back up waterfall

The weather took a turn for the worst and it rained and snowed. It's ment to be Summer? I had to stay put for a few days in Seelisberg. Over the next few days I got to know the local “Tell” bar quite well. Mainly just for its warmth of course. On the first visit, unbeknownst to me I sat at the “stamm tisch” which is the area set aside for the locals. Slowly more and more men came at sat at my table with inquisitive stares. Once we established I was writing a record of my travels and not recording their conversation we got on just fine. We talked about the quality of Australian vs German beer, the days football matches and the weather before snorting snuff and drinking “Kaffee trash” a coffee schnapps beverage. (quite nice contrary to what the name suggests.)

Black sheep with bling

I did a few local passes and some day trips around the area before turning into an ice cube.

Then it was off into the Alps again.... cold Alps. Did a few more passes (Grinsell, Furka and Susten) and headed towards Mont Blanc. Its rather difficult to ride in snow

Tiger in the Alps

Me in the Alps

Roads in the Alps (below about 1500m)

Me trying to ride tiger on the snowy roads in the Alps


Bike riders in the Alps

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Eel, wine and winding roads

Well this one day started on a mission to find some sox. It ended dining on locally hunted deer and drinking expensive French wine...

After meeting some friendly bikers and enjoying a coffee at a local cafe, we decided there was nothing better to do than go for a ride and enjoy the weather and local roads, seemingly made for bikes. After a stop to have coffee and cake at one of the guys mum’s place we were off into the villages and mountains, much similar to Mt Glorious but never-ending perfect roads.
 Many roads, castles, ferries, some smoked eel and the odd foot peg scrape against the bitumen later, we dropped into a small village. Dinner was gormet, deer (locally hunted by the chef and his colleagues of course) and white asparagus before heading to another village for a tipple of wine...

The wine house (for want of a better word) was found on foot, up a number of cobble stone alleys. We turned to blank ordinary timber door in an old building. One of the bikers (Richard) proclaims “here we are” or "this is it" or some such thing. Inside we find a room that may once have been a stable, barn or shed, with massive high ceilings and doors, lit only by candle light. A set of old stairs clearly out of place link this room with the rest of the building. Walls have partially exposed sandstone block with scattered whitewash clinging to higher parts of some walls. Some old French street signs hang on the walls. Paintings lean abandoned against the wall, some unfinished. In the corner a cabinet loaded with bottles of dusty wine stands modestly. Unaware of the value of its load.

This apparently is a place that only serves fine wine, mostly French, some German. The guy who runs the place is an arty wino who one day realised he will never drink all of his cellared wine and should share it with a few people, for a fee, mostly to chefs or fellow artists or musos. Only people in the know it seems. I think the owner just wanted us to have this particular wine so he could have a taste himself. I stepped out the door into reality and rode home wondering what had just happened that day.

The following days I gave some family friends some help on the farm, who kindly fed and housed me for over a week while waiting out some inclement weather. Thanks Thomas and Tanya. Was good seeing you again hope to see you before I head back.

We headed to a small village for a festival called schutzenfest. The festival has its origins as a time to prove which village has the best army; the tradition has lived on from the old days I think, but mainly just an excuse for a 3 day party and many beers.

After a good bye to the Voss family I was off to the Netherlands, First stop Alkmaar. After some high speeds on the autobahn (tiger is still protesting), I was in the wonderful land of dykes, cheese and windmills, that’s the type that keep out water.

Dali's treadly

After exploring the local galleries and streets of Alkmaar, it was south off to Amsterdam...

typical streets of Amsterdam
I saw the most unlucky guy in Amsterdam - a blind man in the red light district... He was tapping on the ground with his cane as much as those "ladies of the night" were tapping on their little windows willing anyone interested inside. There were plenty of pot cafes, porno shops and peep shows to stroll between whiles passively inhaling the smoke from someone else’s reefer, but otherwise not too exciting.

After a visit to the Van Gogh museum I was off south to Belgium. Had a stroll around the village of Bree then a quick visit to (Charleville in France). Under whelming to say the least. I decided to leave Charleville after almost being run over at a set of traffic lights by some crazy woman in a Reno Cleo (yes Brent women drive these). Not impressed. Sorry no post cards from Charleville-France.

remnamts of statues of famous guys, a book was written about the dude second from the end...
From here it was off to Trier, Germany. I stayed at a hostel where I met an Aussie guy from Bris. We went for a hike to a lookout which left us lost in the woods, doing cross country to get back to the hostel in time for check out. None the less it was good fun. To talk to someone without thinking and interpreting ever single word said was a relief. We had a look at roman baths and ruins then enjoyed the massive spaces and architecture of the cathedrals.

Next stop, the Moselle valley, famous for the Riesling. I rode up the Moselle amongst the vineyards, some of which are on 72° inclines running straight into the river. I enjoyed the offerings the villages had to offer – mostly wine, ice-cream or pastries (the staples of fruit, dairy and cereals). I camped at a lookout overlooking the moselle. Nice vista but noisy from the trains below.

The Valley is littered by Castles, complete or in ruins. If you weren’t looking at them on the surrounding hills, you were driving under them on the roads.

After heading North East along the Moselle, I headed south along the Rhine. Once again many castles scattered up on its steep banks.

After leaving the Rhine country side, the castles were replaced by nuclear power plant cooling towers and industrial buildings.

I took in a few synagogues and cathedrals in Worms, the grandeur and craftsmanship leaves one looking for words. Then it was off to a Jewish cemetery (the oldest in Germany apparently). The grave stones appear in no order, erratically crammed into the prime real-estate that is the cemetery. The pockmarks of bullets still scar scare some headstones telling a tale of yester year.