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May 31 2008

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European Wander ’08

Part 1

Dover to Lake Bohinj in Slovenia – just under 1000 miles.

31st May

Dover – St. Die, France – 3 countries and a Grand Duchy (England, France, Belgium and Luxembourg). 421 miles

We only had 3 hours of sleep the night before as we were busy getting the bike and luggage ready. We quite often leave packing etc. until the last minute, but this was a record even for us!

We had over 400 miles to ride, so we decided to just ‘go for it. Unfortunately we had torrential rain for 10 minutes, confirming that our ‘waterproof’ liners weren’t. Luckily we have brought our proper waterproofs and will make sure to use them in future. We got into rural France and it was very nice but had lots of traffic so eventually we set the sat-nav for the quickest route to hotel, which meant motorway. Here Kevin experienced a really weird sensation – being passed by cars!!! (the bike we’ve bought for this trip is built for comfort not speed and is hopefully more at home on the bad roads we are anticipating riding). We finally arrived at the hotel and met up with our PEMC friends who we will be ‘traveling’ with for the next week. Dinner was ‘interesting’, being served up in a small Kindler jar. Guess they must have a glut of them!

St Die

Kevin outside our hotel in St. Die

1st June

St. Die – Oetz: France, Germany, Austria. 312 miles

We had a good start – took an accidental right into a forest and did a circuit of the forest instead of going directly down the hill. Nice little detour!

Forest Road

Forest Detour

Yesterday we saw where all the Dutch caravaners go for the weekend and today we saw that cycling is a really big thing in Germany. At some point we crossed into Austria and rode through several very long tunnels, one was over 8km long and extremely hot inside. We’re definitely now in mountain country.

Pit Stop

Scenic Pit Stop

The weather has warmed up nicely and we had to stop to take some of our thermal kit out of our jackets. We didn’t have any rain and on the whole the roads have been very good, nice sweeping bends – one quite tight one where the left pannier grounded and made us jump. Hotel is in the middle of mountains and is biker friendly so the bikes all went in the garage.

Mountains

Alpine scenery

2nd June

Oetz – Lake Bohinj: Austria, Italy, Slovenia. 256 miles.
Oetz

Kevin outside our hotel in Oetz

The pass we wanted to use (one of the best in the Alps apparently) was closed due to snow so we had to detour. That wasn’t too sad though as the scenery through the backup pass was beautiful.

Wiggly road

The pass was just up Kevin’s street. Looks like Mr Squiggle has been at the Sat Nav again!

We wandered round Innsbruck for a while looking for a bike shop so I could get some more armour to replace the uncomfortable stuff on my knees but no luck. We had the same luck at the local BMW dealer who, after getting Kevin to come round the back of the workshop to explain what the issue was (part of the instrument display including fuel and temperature gauges is blank), told him he was full and had no time to look at it. Quite why he didn’t say that from the outset we have no idea. The BMW dealer was a marked difference to the backstreet bike shop that couldn’t have been more helpful in finding the BMW dealer for us. Shame it was such a waste of time!

Road Protection

The road is well protected from falling rocks

Beautiful scenery

The scenery was beautiful

After a short motorway hop we headed down the E111 which is a very twisty, scenic and sometimes narrow road which we wandered down slowly as we were admiring the scenery. We saw bikers coming the other way with waterproofs on so we took the hint and put ours on; just as well as it absolutely poured for the next few hours. One village we went through had standing water through the main street and a man standing in his shop doorway armed with a broom sweeping the water being washed on to the pavement by cars away from his shop; there was so much of it we don’t know how successful he was. Most of the cafes seemed closed but we did eventually find somewhere to stop for a ham toastie. The rain stopped for a while then restarted at about the same time we got back on the bike.

Rain looms

Just before the rain hit

Just as we were entering Italy (again), there was a long queue. That seemed unusual as most of the borders are now so low-key you have to look hard to see the new country sign. So we moved to the front of the queue (as you do!) and saw 5 or 6 bikes on the side – they were our friends, wonder what they’d done? It wasn’t to be too long before we found out as we too were herded to the side of the road. Apparently there is a ticket for using the motorways in Austria (called a vignette – we thought that was some sort of salad dressing!) and as we had just done 5 miles on the motorway we had been bad Brits and the nasty Austrians fined us 65 Euros for the pleasure. I did try to argue – none of us knew about it – but they insisted that it was very clearly marked at the borders in English (not clearly enough!) and that you could buy these things at the petrol stations (if you could find one open!)…anyway, entent cordial turned very bitter at this point as we handed over our dosh and resolved not to go on the Austrian motorways again (and maybe even miss out Austria all together if possible). This was a major topic of conversation at dinner and Kevin was alone in saying it was our own fault for not checking.

After the rains

Once the rain stopped it was lovely

Anyway, our last 50 miles or so were uneventful as we passed on to Slovenia. The roads definitely got more ‘interesting’ as we moved into the ‘East’, they don’t go in for nice tarmac – the road surface is literally shiny, and there’s gravel on the roads in odd places (our first slide in a bend of the holiday), but first impressions of Slovenia are very favourable. The economy certainly looks rural – they have some peculiar roofed wide ladders (a bit like the old climbing frames in the school gym) which they appear to stuff hay through, presumably to hang and dry out. All the houses we’ve seen so far have been larger than we had expected.

The Hotel is very nice, and will be even better when they finish it!! We’re here for three nights, so time to give Kevin’s ‘bits’ a rest (and mine!). Plan for today is to go on a boat trip on the lake and then up the mountain on the cable car (except we’ve just looked out of the window and it’s pouring; we may do some more reading instead!).

We love the internet!! Kevin posted a question on the forum for his bike and within half an hour he had a reply and a possible solution for the instrument panel problem. We’ve been out there this morning and it looks like a promising fix…watch this space!

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