Friday, May 15, 2015

Paris to Portugal to Italy to Germany

        As the clouds open up to nourish the green rolling hills of southern Germany I sit and wright. Reflecting back on the last two weeks I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the European coutryside and the kindness and generosity of the locals we have met along the way.  To date, this trip has been everything we hoped for.  After leaving Paris we navigated our way south to Macon, France to meet up with our friend Olivier.  Though our conversation was labored due to a substantial language barrier, we felt more then welcome in his home for a night and very much enjoyed each others company.  Upon his recommedation, we twisted and turned our way down the backroads of southern France towards Millau. Through rolling hills of patchwork vineyards, along picturesque mountain streams and through ancient villages it was like riding through a postcard, as most of this trip has been.  From Millau, we set the relatively unknown country of Andorra on our radar.  From what I can tell, the area where Andorra resides was settled by some rather intelligent folk in the most incredible region of the Pyrenees.  Knowing full well that they had discovered something amazing, the Andorrans hang on to there country with pride.  No reason to become part of Spain or France when you are doing as well as they appear to be.  
       Spain, a diverse country complete with mountains, endless olive groves, beautiful coast lines and arid desert.  Funny thing is, we never really intended on exploring Spain much buyet we ended up covering more ground there then anywhere else to date.  In fact, we ended up as far south as one can go in Spain, even crossing into Gibralter (the odd ball British colony just miles from Africa) and spending a night in Faro, Portugal.  Getting back to Gibralter real quick, you know those Prudential commercials with the big rock as there logo? Yeah, thats Gibralter.  I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea this country existed.  Covering 2.5 square miles, the majority of the country is towering rock that has been used for centuries as a british military base.  We had the fortunate experience of getting a tour of the rock from our friend Amanda, who lives nearby in Spain with her husband, Tim.  We took the cable cars to the top of the rock to mingle with the monkeys (which, by the way, are all registered as british soldiers), capture an amazing view south towards Africa and north towards Spain.  Another interesting fact about the rock of Gibralter: There are more then 34 miles of tunnels within the rock that were used by the soldiers, it is still used by the military and if you walk down to the bottom you will experience difficulty walking for upwards of 48 hours.  True story.
        We said our goodbyes to Amanda and Tim and put Barcelona in our sights.  The ride from southern Spain was rather uneventful. A quick stop to visit our friend Robby (a Romanian living in Spain), a stop in Granada and an amazing ride up the coast as we approached the city of Barcelona.  That night we opted to find a campground 10 miles from town and take a bus in to town to do our sightseeing.   Turns out that is a nice way of going about it.  Barcelona truly is a beautiful city with head turning architecture on every corner, fountains in the courtyards and an Arc de Trioumph.  Based on the recommendation of our friends Carl and Erika, who have visited Barcelona, we had an excellent meal at Casa Alfonso.  HIghly recommended by us as well.
         Putting Barcelona in our rearview mirrors we road some of the most incredible roads I have ever seen, on the way to Collieure, France.  When I say incredible, I'm not exagerating.  PIcture a narrow, tight, twisty road with one side bordering the Ligurian Sea and its rocky, picturesque coastline. The other side of the road lined with vineyards that seemed to be cut into the steep fertile hillside like a green staircase.  The road wound its way north, up and over hills and into France where we met with oru friends Jean and Elisabeth.  Riding into Collieure we had no idea what a Gem we would be discovering.  An absolutely incredible experience in every way.  There generosity, hospitality and kindness is of a level we should all be striving for.  The town of Collieure is that of a fairytale, everything just felt good in that place and I hope to go back.  But for now, it was time to move on.
         This is the part of the story where the hardships of motorcycle travel started to reveal itself.  But, by now, I've learned that at some point in any trip, something will break.  And it did.  On the other hand though, I've never not gotten home from a breakdown without my motorcycle, so I wasn't to worried.  Kaylas oil pan decided it was time to crack and start dumping oil out the bottom, not surprising as Kayla appears to enjoy riding over things that, well lets just say, are a little to tall for a Harley-Davidson.  Though her "stunt bike" riding is entertaining for everybody involved, it's a little rough on the oil pan.  Our first attempt to repair the crack led us to a small shop in Montpellier, where we ended up sleeping in the shop van overnight while waiting for the welder to arrive in the morning.  Unfortunately, the repair did not go as planned and ultimately began leaking worse then it had been when we got there.  Despite this frustration, I can say that mechanics gave it there best effort, work hard on it and helped us in everyway that they could.  At the end of the day, the job may have been a bit out of there skill level.  Our next attempt led us to MHC Workshop where Roman Vaugnoux worked his magic and made the repair look easy.  This, hands down, was one of the most impressive motorcycle shop experiences I have ever had.  As of current, no leaks.  Thank you Roman. Simultaneously, I sat on the curb and replaced my clutch cable that was literally hanging on by three strands, not a good feeling when you are clutching your way through big cities.  
        With all repairs successfully completed it was time to make up some time and get to Alba, Italy to meet with our friends Bob, Paulo and Dino at the Mekka of Choppers clubhouse.  
        For now, I'll leave you with that, my fingers are getting tired.  

Yeah, thats a whole octopus!  Portugal.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Where in the world are we?

           If anybody had any doubts about whether or not heaven exists, I can tell you with complete confidence that it does.  Turns out it is down here in Portugal along route N-2, north out of the coastal town of Faro. Its manicured roads dip and weave through rich corridors of wild flowers, broad leafed trees and rich soils in way that only a fine composer would lead a royal orchestra.  Oh wait, or was riding over Pas de la Casa in Andorra with its 9,000 foot snow lined, alpine roads? With bluebird skys, views for miles (from what felt like the top of the world) and crisp thin air it seemed a bit otherwordly.  I don't know, maybe it was riding through patchwork vineyards in southern France.  You get the point.  Finding an incredible stretch of road out here in the old world has certainly not been an issue.  I'm probably getting ahead of myself though.  Maybe I should back track a bit from where I left off in my last post here.  
         After exiting the ship and spending a few days in Antwerp, Belgium, working on getting our land legs back, we finally received our motorcycles from customs after four impatient days of waiting and an unexpected $600 tab to cover european motorcycle insurance for two months.  Spending time in Antwerp wasn't exactly a prison sentence though.  This beautiful city, blanketed in history, art and architecture, was the perfect place to stay while wrapping our heads around what we were about to embark on.  Our days were spent walking and exploring through courtyards and alleyways, sipping espresso while watching street performers entertain guests drinking vino on a cobblestone patio or simply laying next to a bronze sculpture soaking in the warm sun and watching the locals go about there business. Though, when the call came that our bikes were ready, we excitedly packed our bags, jumped into a taxi in front of the hotel we were staying in (Hotel O by the way) and went straight to the shipping yard where our motorcycles lay in wait of there rightful owners.  

This was where our taxi dropped us off after we got off the ship.  Thats the Cathedral of Our Lady.

The white building in the corner was our hotel in Antwerp.  It's directly in front of the Cathedral.

Just one of Kayla, looking beautiful as usual!

Local street performer trying to make a few Euros

           So there we were, excited, nervous and ready.  We not only started our motorcycles, we were starting an experience we would never forget.  And just like that, we were off.  First destination, Paris.  Knowing that with our late start and unfamiliarity of how to navigate European roads reaching Paris on the first day was a long shot, so we headed west to the small coastal town of Nieuweport, Belgium.   Our first ride went relatively smooth.  Finding our way out of town was simple and traffic wasn't to terrible.  Fotrunately though we didn't have far to go, just far enough to get accustomed to different road signs and ways of marking street names.  We landed in Nieuweport around 7 in the evening with a cold wind welcoming us to town.  With us both still feeling a little Euroshy and not wanting to deal with looking for a campground at this time of day, we opted for a hotel room and do I put this?, rather strange chinese dining experiance.  An interesting way to finish our first day on the road to say the least.  Day 2, our first full day on the bikes, was great.  We started by navigating, not to well I might add, the endless curves of the Belgium back roads as we headed south to the french border.  Once crossing into France, we opted to get some autobahn experience and get to Paris, which wasn't to far away at this point.  As we approached the city we both spotted the Eiffel tower in the distance, exchanged a smile and a thumbs up, then immediately got off on the wrong exit.  In all fairness though, it really seemed like the right one.  What we exited onto was a 4 lane intersection, merging into one lane with cars fighting for a spot like Hulk Hogan in a wrestling match.  We managed to get through it safely then retreated to the first gas station on the right.  At the station, we met some friendly local biker types that informed us that yes, he had in fact taken the wrong exit but they would be happy to lead us to the correct one.  Good thing to, otherwise we would probably still be ther riding around in circles.  Speaking of circles, let me tell you about the roundabouts in Paris.  Five lanes wide, no lights, signs or lane markers. Cars coming and going from all directions with no clear direction but yet it seems to work.  I discovered quickly that the best way to approach one of these hair raising situations is to close your eyes, twist the throttle and put your feet out.  Sort of a bumber car method. 
           Again, we decided to stay in a hotel for a couple of nights here, knowing it would be potentially our last for a while and that we were looking forward to a little sightseeing.  We stowed our bikes in a secure underground parking garage and went off on foot.  First destination was Notre Dame where we put our level of fitness to the test and climbed the 400 steps to the top of the bell tower...I need to start jogging or something.  We did however, after only a few moments of being legitimately concerned of my legs cramping and falling down the spiral stone staircase to what would most certainly be the end of my trip, make it to the top where we joined other camera yielding samurai tourists in an attempt to capture on film what can only truly be captured with the human eye.  
       From Notre Dame we hoofed our way over to the Louvre to get a better look at this Mona Lisa painting everyone has been talking about.  Normally I'm not one to get excited about old paintings but there is something pretty cool about walking the halls of the most famous museum in the world.  You just know that some dude a damn long time ago wishes he was still alive to see how much his painting is worth now.  Arc de Triomphe was next on our checklist.  If you have ever watched to the Tour De France you know what I'm talking about.  Its that famous arch on the Champs Elysee right smack in the middle of Paris that the riders pass by on there way to the finish line.  Of course, we had to climb the 300 steps to the top of that as well to get a picture.  Luckily though, this was the last item on our checklist, which was good a thing as the soles of my boots were wearing awful thin.  I'm going to leave you on that, it's getting late down here in Faro, Portugal.  I'll try to get you caught tomorrow if I can find WiFi again.

Kayla being clever, me being completely oblivious to the fact that there was this kid directly in front of me.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Land Ho!

              A feeling of both excitement and nervousness washed over us as we climbed aboard the Independant Voyager, a German built containor ship that would take us from Wilmignton, NC to Antwerp, Belgium.  As a new experiance for both of us, we truly had no idea what we were getting into.  What we did know was that the ship was unstabalized, manned with what we thought was going to be a German crew (turned out to be primarily Polish, Romanian and Russian) and was a true working ship.  Because of this we didn't anticipate much in the way of comforts, and not much is what we got.
             Aboard the vessel was an 18 man crew and a total of 5 passengers.  The passengers consisted of Kayla and myself, a couple from Canada and a lone traveler from England.  All of whom were friendly, well travelled and consistently brought interesting and entertaining conversations to the table.  This was good because we spent a fair amount of our time around the table.  With a regular feeding schedule, consisting of some variation of fried meat and potatoes, we spent a fair amount of our time sitting and talking.  Lets be honest though, there wasn't much else to do.  On nice days though, we would walk around the ship and spend our afternoons soaking in the warm sun on the bow.  On one of these days we were lucky enough to watch flying fish and dolphins playing in the wake of the ship.  Dolphins I have seen before, but the flying fish were new to me.  Blue and purple in color, they would leep from the ocean, spread there wings and glide until they abruptly crashed back into the sea.  
            Speaking of weather, it consisted of everything from warm sunny days to what one would expect from the North Atlantic...cold, windy and big waves.  One day in fact, we got to experiance 16' swells that left me crippled for a day with seasickness, that was pretty awesome.  Luckily though, I only spent two of the eleven days sick in bed.  The rest of the time I did fine.  Not great, but manageable.  I learned a valuable lesson, I will most certainly not be taking a job as a sailor.  
            As far as entertainment went, Margaret and Peter brought a scrabble board with them so we passed the time convincing each other that our more questionable words were exceptable.  Kayla and I brought a cribbage board so that Kayla could continue to beat me on a regular basis.  On Easter Sunday, the captain threw a party that even included the ever popular form of torture...karaoke.  The philipino sector of the crew delighted us with there renditions of bad 80's love songs.  Andy, the lone traveler from England, entertained us by singing what?  The Beatles of course.  
           Lets see, what else is there to report?  The ship arrived at the port at 1am tuesday morning.  We, unfortunately, did not make it off the ship until 11am.  There were some logistics involoved withgetting  through immigration, but it went rather smoothly. As of right now, we are scrambling to get insurance lined up that is acceptable in Europe, ours was not, and our motorcycles are currently sitting at the customs building.  If everything goes as planned we should be on our motorcycles tomorrow afternoon and will start making our way south to Paris.  I did make a video of the ship you can check out on YouTube.  Here is the link-


Friday, April 3, 2015

Soon to leave, very soon

We made it to our ship about a half hour ago and are currently sitting in our cabin waiting to leave the port and embark on our 11 day Atlantic crossing. We port in antwerp, Belgium. Due to security on the port I was only able to sneak a couple of quick photos. The photos in no way do this ship justice. During this 11 day journey we will be off grid with no wifi or cell service so look for updates when we are there.