Bexley, Kent, UK. 24th April 2014.
Gone are the days when you could roll up at a ferry terminal on your bike, five minutes before the ramp went up, knowing you could always get on. You have to be there to ‘check in’ now. I’d waved goodbye to my family half an hour later than I intended to and by the time I’d met up with my mate Kevin and reached Dover I’d missed the boat. Never mind, the great thing about a busy port like Dover is that there’s always another one behind.
Leaving the family was a huge wrench but so was the one I applied to the handlebars when I pulled out from behind the garages and nearly collided with a car! Let’s hope that’s the worse that happens on this trip as far as collisions are concerned. Don’t worry family, I got better at riding as time went by. 🙂 Thanks Kev for joining on the first leg. It was great to have your company.
Now any traveller will tell you that it’s when things go wrong that something nice happens to make up for it. On this occasion I met Gerry, another biker who was heading for France to start his journey to Greece. He’s the same age as me, has also retired early and is riding his Triumph Explorer through France and Italy to a villa on a Greek island. In the same way that I booked my first night’s hotel in Ypres back in October, to make sure I left, he had booked his ferry from Brindisi to Greece several months ago for the same reason. His ride, like mine, will be back roads and easy paced as he wanted to unwind after giving up his stressful job. So we enjoyed breakfast together (a last full English for me) and shared experiences, the way that travellers do.When the ferry docked we went our separate ways. Cheers Gerry, I hope your trip goes well.
Now if you look at a map, Calais to Poperinge is a simple journey but first you have to get out of Calais. It should be easy, especially with the ‘help’ of GPS, but don’t be fooled, it isn’t. It’s no wonder the hundred years war took so long to fight if all the armies went via that town.
I eventually made it to Poperinge in Belgium and found the Talbot House Museum, a very special place for the soldiers of WW1 and a fascinating piece of history. It was a R&R centre for men of all ranks and was a place of great peace and rest for weary troops. Unusually, all ranks mixed together and took what solace they could before returning to the front. It is a place that exudes the sense of calm that the troops must have enjoyed. I learned that they do B&B, which must be a special experience. Read more about it here. http://www.talbothouse.be/en/museum/home
Into Ypres and I found my pre-booked hotel, Ambrosia House, which is run by a young couple. He’s a keen biker and she Polish. So I was very quick to ask her to recommend some places to visit there. She was happy to do this for me. Nothing to beat a local’s recommendations. The hotel is small but is very close to the main square and therefore the Menin Gate. I thoroughly recommend this hotel as it is well run and the room price includes bacon and eggs for breakfast. Lovely! The owners are very helpful people. Use them! Here’s their website. http://www.ambrosiahotel.be/
The Oyaji Bikers will be pleased to learn that I revisited the Cyper Cafe, had a great meal before going to the Last Post Ceremony, and went back for waffles with chocolate, with hot chocolate along side, afterwards.If you want to know the significance of this, then read all about it here. http://bikerslittleworld.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/day-1-home-to-ypres.html?view=timeslide
The Last Post Ceremony was very good. It never fails to move me and although I’m not a military person in any sense I find the ceremony spiritually uplifting. The whole area is worth visiting, especially if anyone in your family was involved in the wars. I videoed it this time so find it here on You Tube if you want to see what goes on.
For more information on the Last Post Ceremony, go here.
Another useful website is that of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They have the responsibility for looking after all commonwealth war graves around the world and they do an amazing job. Their website is here: http://www.cwgc.org/
The next day was spent riding across the Belgian/French countryside, avoiding large towns where possible (not always successfully), aiming for a camp site in Luxembourg. Camping Steinfort, a small place with reasonable facilities and free Wi-Fi, surely as essential for today’s traveller as a postcard shop used to be in days gone by. It was on my arrival that I’d left Belgium having failed to eat a single Belgian Bun. Now, I like a bun so that must be regarded as a serious error on my part.
Friday’s aim was a camp site near Baden Baden that I’d found in the camp site guide. Well I never was very good at aiming because I missed this one by about sixty miles! Not a navigation problem but a research one. I’d misinterpreted the book and gone to the wrong place. I’d planned to spend a couple of days looking at Strasbourg and riding some of the local good biking roads, in particular the A500. Reckoned to be a real good ride, I missed it completely. In the event, the camp site was of a very high standard although expensive. It was located in the Black Forest, a place I hadn’t planned to visit but was glad I did. The town was nice although with steep streets a Welshman would have been proud of. The main focus, judging by the hotels, was spa treatments and there seemed to be plenty of old folk looking to beat the ageing process. Walking the streets was nice and made a change from sitting on the bike. I spent a couple of nights there, just relaxing and planning. The camp site had a bar where they served Flammkuchen. This is a cooked in an oven, like a pizza, and is a very thin batter base covered with a creamy cheese and various toppings, just like a pizza in fact. Served on a wooden platter, they also come with sweet toppings and of course I had to try that too.
It had been a great day weather wise, but the night made up for it. It rained all night, with thunder and lightening rolling around the surrounding hills. I knew I was going to have the fun of packing up the tent in the rain next day, and so it proved.
I’d decided to spend the next three nights in Munich and booked a bed in a hostel very close to the city centre. Quite cheap at just under 30 Eu per night for B&B in a shared dorm. The internet makes booking these things so easy, and Sunday’s wet and cold ride to Munich was followed by a welcome shower, with the bike safely tucked up in the underground garage. One thing about Bavaria though is the stunning countryside. Even the motorway went through some great scenery and the roads I rode after leaving the camp site were challenging and great fun. I went over two passes in the hills, getting as high as 1250 metres at one point. I think that counts as a mountain in Britain but it’s just a big hill in this part of the world.
I walked from the hostel for five minutes and came across a restaurant/takeaway serving Uygar food. The quality must have been good because it seemed to be the meeting place for all the ex-pats. Uygar is one of those areas that has been absorbed into greater China. It is close to, and shares some ethnicity with, Kazakhstan. Munich has an ex-pat community and their judgement about the quality of the food was right – it was delicious. I’ll go there again before I leave.
So a relaxing couple of days in Munich to look forward to, doing the tourist thing. And the bier? We’ll see!