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. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Reasons I travel

                I was reminded yesterday as to why I enjoy travel and why I think it is impoprtant.  We woke in the morning excited to drop our motorcycles off at the shipping warehouse, the next big step towards our travels in Europe.  But what happened at the warehouse, the experience we had, was an eye opening one.  There we were, dropping off two expensive Harley-Davidsons, leaving on what most would consider a trip of a lifetime.  Spending an extravegant amount of money to, at the end of the day, take a vacation.  Though I do feel there is more to it than that, ultimately, that is what it is.  In this warehouse we were surrounded by luxury items such as riding lawnmowers, vintage cars and crates of Tesla motors...all of these items being shipped overseas to people with plenty of money.  What we didn't expect to see was three train cars, tucked in a corner of this monster establishment, packed full of bags of rice.  The rice was being shipped to Africa.  We inquired about this and was told that the train cars come through weekly.  The rice comes from Arkansas, finds it way to this loading dock, then shipped to Africa where lives depend on its arrival.  I don't think it was the thought of rice being shipped overseas that struck me, it was the diversity of items around it.  Here sat a shipment that will keep people in a country overrun with hunger, disease and conflict, alive for another day.  Next to it, items that will help somebody mow there manicured lawn easier or impress there buddys.  Something to think about anyway.  It's a big world out there with people living in all sorts of conditions.  Be thankful for what you have, even if it isn't much.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Memphis to Wilmigton

          The riding through northern Georgia, Alabama and into South Carolina is hard to beat.  The roads are narrow, lined with plenty of trees, grasses and amazing flowers that send an unbeatable aroma through your nose.  Along the way we stayed with our friend Kevin "Mailman" O'brien, Kaylas' Uncle Tom and her brother in Charleston, SC.  I'd have to say that Charleston is one of the nicest towns I have been to in a while and it actually inspired us to stay for an extra day to explore the town further. With the cobblestone streets, buildings from the 1700's and the salty coastal air the town is full character and history.  Another noteable experiance in Charleston was North Ridge Custom Cycles.  We spoke to a fellow there by the name of Thomas Black.  He was kind of enough to let us use his back lot to drain the oil in my bike and adjust the clutch on Kaylas.  From Charleston we took our time, as we have been this whole trip, getting to Wilmington.  The route north took us to Myrtle Beach, a small beach town overun with drunk college kids.  Though we did stay the night there, I don't plan on going back anytime soon.  Unless of course I fell off the wagon, had a need for a cut rate airbrushed t-shirt and maybe a fight with a frat boy named "Bro"...then I'd go back.  Luckily we escaped without any of this happening.  
         Currently I rest my feet in Wilmington, NC.  My experience here has been great so far.  My old neighbor Tom was kind enough to arrange a place to stay with an old college buddy of his, Pious.  Pious welcomed us with open arms and we can't thank him enough for his kindness and generosity.  It shows a lot of character to host a couple of dirty bikers for a week without anything more then a referance from an old friend.  
         Yesterday was a big day.  We dropped off our motorcycles at the shipping yard where they are being prepped for the voyage.  Everything there went smooth and the gentleman who helped us even offered to drive us downtown, being as how we were stuck there otherwise.  I'm always amazed at how helpful people are on these trips, its refreshing.  So for now, we are simply waiting for the ship to arrive and looking forward to its departure, between 5 and 7pm friday evening.  Once on the boat, we will be completely out of touch for 11 days as there is no WiFi or cell service while making the Atlantic crossing. So, for now, here are a few pics.  I'll try to be better about keeping this blog up do date once we get there.