Open road: An Alpine Adventure
By: Web Editor
You can’t beat getting away from it all with a bunch of mates on bikes. That’s just what UBG reader, David Walton and three friends from Newcastle did and they sent us an amusing diary of their trip.
Finally we were off! Mark, Gordon (or Heidi, as he insisted we call him) John and me, heading for the Princess of Norway at North Shields. Shortly after 5.45pm, we were fastening down our bikes and looking for our cabin.
We spent the evening listening to Mike the guitar-man’s Bob Dylan repertoire, drinking expensive lager, discussing growing facial hair and contemplating the week ahead.
Our cabin gave us a captain’s view of our approach to Ijmuiden.
Soon we were rolling out of the port in sunshine and onto the motorway. Big mileage to cover today, 350-plus miles. Through Arnhem, over THE bridge and out of Holland into Germany, down the Rhine valley. Overtaken by BMWs doing 200mph – and vans doing not much less!
We didn’t quite get as far as we had hoped on our first day, on account of being shagged out by teatime.
Toured the industrial and social housing estates of the southern Rhineland for two or three hours looking for accommodation.
Eventually found ‘Bates’ Motel in a ghost town. A smartish looking hotel with a room-occupancy rate of zero. The lone receptionist spoke fluent German, and we spoke fluent English, but soon had two twin rooms booked for the night. An English-speaker turned up a while later and asked us to turn the lights off and lock up when we left in the morning! Anyway, we had the most welcome showers we have ever had then hit town.
Even McDonald's was shut at breakfast time in this place. Set off in the sun, southbound. Quick stop in Baden Baden at the start of the Black Forest.
After about 600 miles, my bike chain was starting to look as jaded as we felt at that moment, so I introduced my fellow riders to the 'Wal-oiler' (patent pending). Then off again towards Singen at the very southern end of Germany.
The Black Forest was very nice but started to get a bit boring after a day of it. Started to lose our way, but John took the lead. He threw the map aside and took us, seemingly by instinct, on some winding roads that led eventually to the Konstanz area, and the lake came into view just beyond a camp site. Kit off, in the lake. The holiday had started.
We put the tents up and strolled down for some pleasantly cheap bottles of beer and a round of German sausages and soup. The friendly German stall-owner sat down to chat with us, but we buggered off. We’re on holiday mate! Places to go – people to see!
The next thing I knew Heidi was wrapped up – swaddled head to foot with only his eyes showing – like a cross between a Muslim woman in her burka and a Ninja warrior – because he was frightened of the mosquitoes. As I took the piss, I noticed my naked arms and legs were covered in bites and swelling up.
Ninja warrior and Mark headed off to their tents for another early night while John and me finished off the beers. 8.30pm, rock ’n’ roll!
Woken at sunrise (4.30am) by a cuckoo that sounded like it was on the roof of our tent, but was shouting to its mates in clocks in Switzerland!
Eventually rose at about 7.30 to find Heidi was up and washing his bike... with a wet wipe.
Chatted to an English couple about the weather – what else – and headed off after a wash and polish. Nice camping facilities these Germans have.
Headed round Lake Konstanz, traffic quite heavy at first and quite a few nutters on motorbikes. Weather getting warmer.
We were in Austria by lunchtime, (though saw no sign of a border) and stopped in a little spa town... well, a little town with a SPAR. Got the Gaz stove out, got a brew going and lay in the sun, dining on bread, cheese and watermelon from the SPAR. Felt like a king’s banquet!
Had a laugh at a dumb blonde who was locked out of a car she thought was hers. Good job we didn’t smash the window for her – as someone was itching to do (Mark).
From there we eventually found our way onto the twisty mountain roads we had been looking forward to. They were so good, John and me found ourselves yodelling to each other as we flew through the open-sided tunnels that James Bond had raced through in his last film (Probably)
Up into the Austrian mountains and down into some glorious green valleys (Bludenz?), eventually finding another campsite at Prutz. As we rolled around the site looking for a pitch I swear I saw mothers hiding their children and fathers reaching for their shotguns. But we got our tents up and we were no bother. Hell, we’d probably be tucked up asleep by nine!
Sat outside a bar under a parasol in a little square. Had a few beers and some Austrian cuisine. Another German-only speaking establishment. (Does no one speak the Queen’s tongue around here?) Heidi interrogated the waitress about the menu, but she was having none of it. I think she was saying – look mate, you’re in Austria now. You’ll have to speak Austrian – or, well, you know, German. Anyway, the beer flowed and we all learned a little about each others misspent teenage years. Enough said!
Back to the tent with the Ninja. Got punched in the back of the head at 3am by said Ninja in his sleep. Dreamt I heard someone riding a Harley around the campsite, but it turned out it was only Mark in the next tent, snoring.
I think Tuesday was one of the best days of the trip. We hit the road early and headed into the Austrian mountains after a quick coffee and croissant at a café. We passed the road to Italy, but the barrier was down. Italy was closed!
We had a longer coffee break outside a café in a valley near the Swiss border (Restaurant Posta Veglia to be precise – it’s on one of my photos!) and played ‘guess the make of the motorbike coming around the bend’.
We felt we should have stuck our noses over the barrier so we could tick Italy off our list of countries visited. Heidi reckoned his spitting ‘DNA’ into it counted. Fair enough.
From there we headed into the snow-covered mountains – into the Alps proper. Mark’s notes say this was Finstermunzpass, which led us to St Moritz.
The temperature in St Moritz was now 32ºC. Time to sit down and have a brew in the car park. Chatted to an Italian motorbike couple touring the area.
The roads and scenery here were fantastic, but were about to get even better as we rode up through Julier Pass (altitude 2284m). Stopped on the way to play in the snow and take some pics. Then on via Tamins.
At some point today we crossed one of the only marked national borders – Austria to Switzerland. An official muttered something and waved us through.
We stopped for another quick brew in a side road by a large traditional brown timber Alpine house. Here we watched the sky blacken, and the weather duly started to change. We hung on as long as possible, but when the hailstones started, we slipped into our waterproofs. The temperature had now dropped to 3ºC.
We crossed the Oberalp Pass with the weather at its worst and stopped only long enough for Mark and John to take a photo of the ploughed 12 foot snowdrifts.
At teatime we rolled, a bit cold and soggy, into the trendy Swiss ski resort of Andermatt. The resort seemed pretty full, and we got passed around a bit between hotels, but eventually got a single room each in the Kronen Hotel for 87 Swiss Francs (£52). (Worth it, not to sleep cheek to cheek with a violent Ninja!)
Had traditional Swiss dishes in a nearby restaurant. An added bonus was an English-speaking waiter – at last! A great day, but quite a tiring one. Heidi found it so tiring he was in bed at 8, after declining alcohol. The first day of his detox schedule.
Woke up to more rain, but what the hell? Gorged ourselves in the hotel’s self-serve buffet restaurant, and nicked a stash for lunchtime. All four wet bikes started no problem. And we were off again, over the wet cobbles. Auf weidersehen Andermatt.
We headed down the steep winding road of the valley in a storm. Thunderbolts and lightning – very, very frightening! We made it safely down to Brunnen on the picturesque Lake Lucerne and the rain eased off. Off with the waterproofs and time for a brew on the pavement. We picnicked in the park by the lake on our stolen goodies and fed the swans on the leftovers.
We were now heading across central Switzerland towards France with the Alps behind us. We rode some nice roads and eventually crossed the border into France. Hotels were looking a bit scarce, but when we eventually found one, it turned out we were back in Switzerland! My receipt says Hotel Cigogne, Miecourt. Swiss Francs and Swiss prices again! French-speaking, however, so we were okay, coz we had Mark!
Breakfast of bread, yogurt, smelly cheese and coffee. Filled our stomachs and pockets then loaded up ready for the off. Back into the Alsace region of France.
Time for another brew – to the amusement of a group of ‘mature’ German BMW riders who rolled in out of the mist. Friendly sorts, out for a long day-trip. Had a bit of a chat across the language barrier. They had some nice gadgets, like bike-mounted cameras, but I didn’t notice any Wal-oilers!
We had ridden about 1000 miles by now, through five countries, plus a bit of England, but it wasn’t until we had been in France for five minutes that people started flashing their Peugeot lights at Heidi, because his lights were a bit bright! And it was after only about 10 minutes that some old French git was winding down his window to give us some verbals!
Anyway, unperturbed, we headed for Nancy, where we spent a few hours back in the sunshine. Nice city – buildings, fortifications, square, park etc.
We were then on the road again across Alsace in the direction of Verdun. Mark’s fuel was getting low, and he was almost dry when we pulled into St Mihiel, an American cemetery. Generous to a fault, Heidi allowed Mark to siphon some petrol out of his tank. Equally generously, I gave Mark a piece of chewing gum to take the taste of petrol away!
Got directions to fuel and a little family run hotel in the village of Saint-Maurice-sous-les-Cotes. The boys nearly lost me at this stage, but they’ll have to try harder than that!
After Mark battled valiantly for some time with the French proprietor in her native tongue to describe the accommodation we wanted, and what was available, she suddenly cried, “Oh, you’re English! Would you like to see the rooms? Follow me and I’ll show you.”
The upshot was – one twin room, which Heidi and me took, and one double for the brothers. A bit more basic than we were getting used to, but at 51 euros all-in (for B&B) we thought it was so cheap we would let them rip us off for an evening meal.
As we wandered around the village to stretch our legs we found a cemetery, almost hidden among the trees, containing the graves of Germans who fell in WWI.
John reported that if the snoring continues one more night he may have to kill Mark.
As we paid up, said our farewells and packed our bikes up, I had to pop back into the hotel as I had left my jumper at the breakfast table. The friendly hotel owner had observed that we had taken about a dozen bread buns – as had become our habit – but had left one behind. (Well, you can only carry so many!) She generously asked if I’d like that one, too! I said, ‘Er, okay!’ and shoved it in my pocket! ‘Au revoir, madam!’
‘Bon appétit monsieur!’
From here it was a short ride to the historic town of Verdum, where we had a coffee by the river and a short stroll around the river bank and quay.
Then it was back onto the motorways and a long, long ride through Luxemburg, Belgium and Holland to Delft and The Hague.
There must be a thousand hotels around here, but when we arrived – pretty much knackered after hours on the road, we struggled to find one. God bless Novotel, who had an establishment in the city centre. Took the bikes down to the car park in the lift and had leisurely showers/shampoos/shaves in quite plush surroundings.
Then it was out for a night on the town! The city was very lively and a marked contrast to what we had been used to the rest of the week. We had a couple of beers, but John was clearly after something, a little different! He eventually got his hands on a hookah pipe – strawberry flavour, I think. John puffed so hard he nearly started hyperventilating, before a young Dutch dude, calling himself ‘Derek’, explained that the pipe just contained tobacco! Help was at hand, however, and ‘Derek’ rolled John something special – on the house – that smelled just like old times, obviously the real deal. John kindly gave us all (or most of us) a couple of puffs – just to check it out!
We then did a bit of a pub crawl. We had a sing-along in one lively little local, as the natives swung the light shades in time to the chorus, then introduced Heidi to heavy metal at full volume in the bar next door. The Heineken was a rip-off price, but who cared? It was 9pm and way past our bedtime! A few Heinekens later, we realised it was midnight and the place was still swarming with beautiful young blonde things. There were some smart girls, too!
We realised, although it was the last night of our hols, we did still have to get up in the morning and ride our bikes, and we really ought to get Heidi back to bed, before it all got too much for him.
A short hop to Ijmuiden for the ferry after a relaxing stroll and seat on the busy seafront where, as it turned out, you could hardly move for hotels.
As we returned to our bikes Mark and John struck up a conversation with an American family (flirting outrageously with the daughters, it has to be said) about cruiser-style motorbikes, while Heidi and I stroked the plastic of our Hondas and told our beautiful machines just to ignore them. Americans, what do they know about motorbikes?
On, then, to the port, where the King of Scandinavia waited to take us home to Champion’s League Newcastle.
With the bikes strapped down among the 100 or so others, and our cabin located, we headed up into the sun on the top deck to watch the band. We decided five quid for a bottle of Grolsch was a price worth paying to savour the last few hours of our trip...
Then it was a (relatively) cheap curry, rather than the over-priced restaurant meal, followed by a quiet seat under the captain’s bridge to watch the sun set on our holiday.
Me and Heidi turned in early-ish (hell, we’d had one late night this week!) but Mark and John headed for the casino to get rid of the last of their euros.
Journey’s end and home for breakfast with 1700 miles behind us, but not before Mark got pulled at customs for... well, looking like a drug-smuggling outlaw, we presumed. We listened for the snap of latex gloves in preparation for the intimate body search by a couple of heavyweights, but he seemed to get away with a quick cross-examining by a pretty young thing! It’s tough living on the edge!.
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