CROATIA – EUROTOUR – SEPTEMBER 2013
When we set off on our holiday I planned to do a write-up for Celia, but did not tell her as I wanted to keep my options open. Well, it seemed too much like hard work and my resolve quickly disappeared into thin air as there was just so much to tell. As I did not keep tabs on other people’s daily adventures, I can only pass on my version of this exciting journey through some 8 countries.
Mike and myself have done biking holidays since 1996 when grey hairs, wrinkles and creaky bones were only a distant promise on the horizon. How quickly the years catch up with you and promises become all too soon an uncomfortable reality. However, as long as we can get the legs over and the eyes focused, who cares.
Over the years I have become somewhat of an expert at packing and deciding which bits and pieces to leave at home, so I was extremely pleased with myself when I somewhat smugly announced to Mick that we did not need a top bag. His reply was along the lines of “pull the other one”. Perhaps I had been a bit too ruthless when I heard later what others considered they could not live without. No names shall pass my lips, but somebody had brought 18 shirts. What I want to know is who is going to wash and iron them when they come home? Do not answer as I can already hear “and who is going to clean the bike?” However, judging by the size of the various top bags, they certainly were not the only ones.
We set off on Thursday, 29 August. Although the roads were busy, there was not much demand for “filtering” which, to my beloved, is definitely not a challenge too far. I do not much care for travelling on boring motorways and always try to think of ways to keep the mind occupied whilst the other half negotiates the traffic. I started off with counting the lorries from Poland, as they always seem well represented. After getting somewhat bored with this I moved on to drivers texting or talking on the phone. Here I could have made a tidy sum for George Osborne. What surprised me the most though was how many male drivers connect with their noses whilst driving. Why? Answers on a postcard please. We arrived safely at the Holiday Inn in Ashford ready for whatever the holiday would throw at us.
Friday, 30th August, MAUBEUGE
After a battle with the “blue rinses” at breakfast we travelled to the tunnel where we pretended to be Mr and Mrs Steventon. (We had not yet booked the tunnel at the time when Roy and Celia sadly had to cancel their holiday, so we travelled on their ticket.) After a pleasant but unadventurous journey we arrived at the Ibis in Maubeuge, France. What an exciting metropolis!! I reckon we would have had more fun spending the night with some Trappist monks. The hotel was ok but the town was deserted. Perhaps they knew we were coming and battened down the hatches. Okay, there is no need for sarcasm.
Saturday, 31st August – ATLAY
For us this was the first true day of our holiday when we would meet up with most of the other bikers at McD in Monschau in the Eifel region of West Germany. Without having synchronised our watches who should pull up at the same time but Lord and Lady Purchon. They arrived from Belgium where apparently Dave had fine-tuned his DIY skills at his daughter’s house. Seems to me the perfect travelling companion. Others arrived from Holland after a pleasant sea crossing from Hull to Rotterdam and Harwich to Hoek of Holland. Some less braver souls had travelled through the tunnel.
The journey to Monschau was hopefully a taste of things to come. The town reminded me of Baden Baden which we visited some years ago when on another biking holiday. Very elegant with its half-timbered houses. From here our treasured leader, Ian, took the reigns so to speak and guided us effortless through this lovely area to our next hotel in Altlay via beautiful long and curvy biking roads. We had an afternoon stop at the Biker Hotel Restaurant Hullen in Barweiler situated in the Eifel district. The hotel is only a few miles away from the famous Nurburgring. Collectively we threw caution to the wind and tucked into their delicious cakes and savouries with wild abandon. Owner Ralf Friedrichs and his wife, who are the fifth generation of the family to run the hotel and are bikers themselves, made us very welcome and gave us some freebees to boot .Heaven!! Now our holiday had really started.
Late afternoon we arrived at hotel Morschbach in Altlay in the Moselle region. After a quick beauty routine (au naturel is no longer an option) we all gathered on the outside terrace for a quick drink before dinner. Pleasantries were exchanged when suddenly all I could see were arms and legs going everywhere and Meg landing in the lap of the DIY man. The garden bench had collapsed. Obviously it did not have a leg to stand on. Nobody was injured and, more importantly, no valuable liquid was spilled.
In we went for dinner. A beautiful effort had been made with the table decorations and the dinner was lovely. The atmosphere was somewhat spoiled though when the hotel owner suddenly decided that the original charge for DBB would not cover his costs, and it was agreed that we would all pay an extra 15 Euros. The fact that the booking was arranged months ago did not seem to trouble him very much. Call me cynical, but think “big bikes-big money” – coincidence or was the owner unrestrained by moral scruples? The next morning someone (not me) had spotted a member of the rodent family near reception!! Need I say more?
Sunday/Monday, 1/ 2 September – INGOLSTADT
On Sunday we travelled to the Ambassador Hotel in Ingolstadt where Roger and Edit joined us after having visited family. The next day everybody was going to visit the Audi factory except for Mick and myself. We were going to visit my sister who lives in Schwabhausen, about 1 hour from Ingolstadt. I was quite happy for Mick to visit the Audi factory first but, bless him, he gallantly decided he would forego this and take me to my sister instead. We did have a lovely time, my sister and me reminiscing and tussling over childhood memories and Mick devouring his favourite meal Spaghetti Bolognese.
Everybody appeared to have thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the Audi factory, which was followed by a mooch around the old centre of the town which dates from the 18th century. The town stretches along the shores of the river Danube, which was definitely not blue when we crossed it. When Johann Strauss composed the “Blue Danube” it was not yet touched by pollution and probably blueish, but he can be forgiven as the surrounding area of Bavaria more than made up for this indiscretion. Edit told me later that she was enormously proud of what her fellow countrymen produced at the Audi factory. I fully understand what she means and, no matter how long you live somewhere else and how much you love your host country, you can take the girl out of the country but you never quite manage to take the country out of the girl.
I have always believed that ignorance is the main ingredient of a settled life. However, today I am making an exception as I am becoming aware of Alan and Ann’s odd craving for fire stations. Chocolate I can understand, but fire stations? Should we worry? Are they loosing it? Does he want to check the hoses? Have they got shares in fire stations? No, no, no and no again. Apparently it is part of a competition to find as many fire stations as possible in places embracing all the letters of the alphabet. Wished I never asked because for a while Mick and myself became “anoraks” until it nearly made me loose the will to live. During this holiday they have travelled miles and miles to find them. Would I do it? You can guess the answer but, whatever floats their boat, is ok with me. I admire their tenacity, but no need to put all the pictures on the website!!
In the morning we stopped at the Johanniskreuz Bikers café in Trippstadt which reminded me of the Horseshoe Pass in Wales (a favourite bikers meeting place). It is a well frequented bikers stop-off and the outside kiosk provides drinks to many thirsty bikers. The little man serving at the kiosk was lovely and most accommodating. He could cope with coffee, but tea was slightly more complicated. For this he had to run into the hotel, some 30 yards away, order the tea and run back. By the time he had served all of us he had made about 6 separate trips and was ready for his first half-marathon. All you could see was his bold head bopping up and down along the leading edge of the hedge. We were in stitches as it was such a comical sight.
Once again, wonderful country roads, beautiful villages.
Tuesday, 3 September – LEOBEN, AUSTRIA
As far as I can remember, nobody was doing the A-routes and so a full compliment of bikers set off prompt at 8.30 to ride the B-route crossing into Austria from Germany. A special praise for Jimbo here who was doing a stirling job in making sure that the front “wing” was regularly updated with news of the troops back home.
We had not purchased a vignette for the Austrian motorways and, as we were less than willing to collect a big fine, some of us managed to purchase one from a motorway garage. Only a few were available so some of us had to trust to luck and hope that the Austrian police were on their teabreak. Fortunately they were, so a big sigh of relief all around.
Morning coffee stop in Neumarkt Sainkt Veit, a small town in Bavaria – Germany, followed by lunch on the shores of Lake Attersee which is the largest lake of the Salzkammergut area of Austria. Here pandemonium reigned. We all sat outside to begin with but there were so many wasps that slowly everybody was retreating inside. Wrong decision, as this confused the owner no end. It was Faulty Towers Austrian style. The lake was wonderful and a photographer’s paradise. All too soon we had to move on but the roads more than made up for the beauty of the lake.
In the afternoon we travelled deeper into the beautiful Styria area which seemed somehow familiar to me. All was revealed when I saw a sign for Eisenertz, a small mining town some 25K from Leoben, our abode for the night. We had visited this area before with Roy and Celia and some other friends. Forgotten memories of Roy, Mick, me and our friends in a wetsuit doing white-water rafting (get the picture!) and Celia slightly the worse for wear trying to eat spaghetti Bolognese. This was a long time ago and the photos will stay where they are.
Again, a long and tiring day but we would not have missed it for the world. You just do not know where to look first and I felt slightly sorry for the riders. Pillion passengers have all this beauty unfolding in front of them whilst the riders mainly see tarmac and overbanding. Some countries are overbanding mad and you can not help thinking that some of it is done on a Friday night when the overbanders have a “free for all”. Hopefully the swoopy roads (as Ian calls them) and hairpins more than made up for this.
It was quite late when our group arrived at hotel Bachgasslhof in Leoben. We were billeted in the hotel but unfortunately Ian and Denise were in accommodation about 100 yards from the hotel. Dinner had been arranged by the owner of the hotel at the Italo-Steirer restaurant nearby. The food was lovely but it took some time before everybody was served as everything was cooked fresh. Nevertheless it was well worth the wait. After lots of banter and a few drinks we retired to our room and slept well until we were woken by the church bells in the morning. These Austrians love their bells!
Wednesday, 4 September – LEOBEN TO POREC
For me this day was the day I had looked forward to the most as we were revisiting Route 69 (between the towns of Arnfels and Leutschach) and the Pavlic Pass which is a mountain pass connecting Slovenia with Austria. I remember vividly travelling this route when we were here in 2006 and it is indelibly printed on my mind. Long sweeping bends and exhilaration as good, but different, as when negotiating the Stelvio Pass in Italy. This time we travelled the route in the opposite direction of what we had done previously, but first stopped off at the famous Route 69 café for refreshments and stickers. Edit’s wasp sting was a speciality of the house. We thought of absent friends and collected a sticker for them. Although they were not here in body, their spirit travelled with us.
I had told Richard and Christine how good it was and hoped that I had not oversold it. No worries here as Richard’s facial expression was worth a thousand words. I believe Christine’s vocabulary was a tad colourful, but it must have been the excitement!! Ian invited Alan to go up front and he took up this challenge with gay abandon. Mick did not need any encouragement from the pillion passenger either. Emboldened by the recently fitted progressive springs he tackled the route like a pro, occasionally frustrated by the local traffic as it temporarily stole the momentum. Certain road traffic rules were ignored but hey, was I going to spoil the fun. No way. I am sure Ann, Denise and Christine were like-minded. The remainder of the day had a lot to live up to.
Thursday/Fri/Sat, 5/6/7 September – POREC
Wednesday night, after a long day in the saddle we arrived at hotel Grand Palazzo on the Porec Riviera. The hotel was situated yards from the sea and a short walk from the town centre. Lots of restaurants, cafes and beautiful old buildings. Perfect.
We were allocated our rooms and looked forward to a shower and dinner which, in our case, took longer than anticipated. When we opened the door to our room we were greeted by an industrial vacuum cleaner and workmen’s tools in the bathroom. Rang reception/apologies/second room. Started unpacking but stopped halfway when Mick discovered a leaking ceiling in the bathroom and a private swimming pool on the floor. Rang reception/apologies/truffles/drinks/third room. After half an hour’s wait the first room was ready and we moved in. At long last the well deserved shower but alas, the shower handle was broken. By this time the steam from Mick’s ears could have filled buckets. I went to reception and let them know in no uncertain terms how we felt. (I was calmness personified.) Asked for the manager, but he was not in. Spoke to him the next day. Full of apologies and a peace offer (routed to J&J) was gracefully accepted.
The next few days were spent exploring Porec and some, I believe, got their bike out and explored the surrounding area. Some went on their own, others went in groups or met up during the day. A&A went on a cruise and a search for more fire stations. There was so much to do and see. The first night we ate in the restaurant with I&D and R&C. Lovely food and excellent service. The other nights we preferred to go out in groups and try the various eateries followed by a walk into town and to-die-for icecream afterwards.
The more energetic amongst us did walks around the seashore; others took a boat trip but we (R&E-R&C-M&N) preferred to take the little train which took us quite some distance through beautiful parts of the town and ended up at the local waterski resort. Over a drink, and lapping up the sun, we watched some good and some not-so-good skiers honing their skills.
On our last night Richard and Christine invited all of us to their room (a massive suit) for a drink before dinner. Their balcony was the perfect place to chat and watch a wedding which was taking place in the hotel. For the men it proved to be the perfect spot to appreciate the female “outfits”!! The music till 3 o’clock in the morning was less welcome. Ian heard nothing and slept like a log. How could he when the rest of us saw every passing hour on the clock. Later we visited one of the local eateries where the drink was flowing and the food was very good.
Porec could not have been a better place to spend a few days relaxing in the sun, swimming, visiting the various attractions (6th Century Basilica) and eating. All too soon we had to move on to our next hotel but not before another little drama unfolded in the Cox household. During the week Mick had asked where his boots were and I assured him they were in the cupboard. They were not. Whilst playing “musical rooms” they were left in the cupboard of the second room which was now occupied by one of the bosses and staff were not keen to wake him up after a late night. Let me just say, diplomacy was not an option here. Either they woke up the boss or Mick would take matters into his own hands. Needless to say the boots appeared outside the door some time later (after first denying they were there). I made sure my thank you was appreciated.
Sunday, 8 September POREC TO VERONA
Leaving Croatia was more difficult than we anticipated. After a beautiful journey on some narrow country roads we reached the border, only to be told that we could not cross. Merely locals carrying the right papers were permitted. I thought we were all Europeans with open borders. You can imagine the sarcastic remarks that followed this mishap. We had to cross via the international border. All turn around whilst unflappable Ian picks out another route. But, would we have to turn around again? No problem, he got us there and we entered Slovenia on our way to Italy.
We travelled for some 2 hours on motorways where everything was possible. White lines – no problem. Overtaking on the wrong side – piece of cake. Hard shoulder – They practically live there. A Harley Davidson rally must have been taking place because there were hundreds of them on the road. Them against us – no contest. Ian encouraged us to put our Italian hat on and drive like the locals. The challenge was accepted and beautifully executed. I was glad to leave the motorway though and head for the Italian hills. Tranquillity had returned. Verona here we come.
Monday/Tues/Weds, 9/10/11 September – VERONA
What can I say about Verona. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. Wonderful architecture, the river Adige, colourful, touristy, steeped in history etc. etc. Our hotel was on the edge of the city but close enough to enable us to walk to the centre. And what a centre! We visited as many places as we possibly could in the 2 days we were here. Venice had gone out of the window. Once I had seen Verona I’m afraid Venice had to wait for another day.
On the first night we all assembled in the Piazza Erbe with the Madonna fountain to sample the delights of the Italian kitchen as recommended and arranged by I&D‘s daughter Faye. Faye and husband Sebastian joined us and a good time was had by all.
After a good night’s sleep at the hotel Montresor Palace, we walked into town the next day with R&C suitably interrupted by sit-downs at watering holes. Where do you start in a place like this? The Arena, an ancient amphitheatre built by the Romans seemed the obvious choice. Later we boarded the local tourist train which took us on a 25 mins tour of the city. D&M joined us. Meg recommended a tourist attraction of her own – the toilets of a local restaurant but sadly we never managed to put in a visit. Too much to see, too little time.
On Monday evening we visited the Azienda Agricola Villa Spinosa in the Valpolicella region for a Wine Experience, once again arranged by Faye. What a magical place. We were met by Lisa who gave us a very informative guided tour of the Winery followed by an enormous ‘light’ dinner. Each course was accompanied by a different wine and an explanation by Lisa. I surprised myself. If I can remember correctly we had some 5 different wines, all of which I drank, together with an occasional top-up by Jim. The atmosphere was extremely jolly and a good time was had by all. Thanks Faye.
Next day (no hangover) we ventured by bus into Verona and visited some more attractions, now and then resting our tired legs in the various cafes whilst watching the world go by. We were too tired to walk and caught a taxi back to the hotel. Later that night some went into town but D&M, R&C and ourselves went to the local restaurant where we had a wonderful meal.
I have no regrets about Venice. We can always have a long weekend there (are you taking note Mick?) Verona you have stolen my heart. Loved it, loved it.
Wednesday, Thurs, Friday, 11/12/13 September – BEATENBERG
I am a little sad today. The holiday is not over yet but there is no denying we are starting the long trek home. As my Bailey’s bottle (for the initiated: like the chocolate hiding in the garage) is always half full rather than half empty, this moment soon passed. Lots of traffic on the road which hampered progress somewhat. After lunch we crossed the border into glorious Switzerland. No passports required but border control checking we all had our vignette.
For us this day was another highlight of the holiday. Mountain passes – 3 of them – Grimsel, Furka and Neufen. We have done them before, but for us there can never be enough. Sadly the Furka Pass was closed but the other two passes more than made up for this disappointment. Hairpins to die for (not literally), sweeping roads, gletchers, beautiful houses, trees, waterfalls, reservoir lakes, rock formations , tunnels, it was all there. I count myself awfully lucky to have the opportunity to see all this beauty.
When we arrived at our hotel in Beatenberg and walked out on the balcony the view was breathtaking. We looked out on the Thunersee with views of the Jungfrau (13642 ft high and the highest mountain in Europe) and the Eiger (13026 ft high). Overwhelming. Dinner in the hotel is a buffet affair and, as usual, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. With full stomachs, and a promise to myself to be more restrained the next day, we go to bed save in the knowledge that tomorrow night another chocolate will magically appear on my pillow.
Interlaken is not far away and the next day a group of us caught the bus to visit the town. I&D took us to their, I believe, favorite cafe/restaurant where the sight of the cakes could easily crumble my resolve to return home the same weight as when I left. I was strong though, but I could not say the same for Ian or Denise, the latter just having to sample what was rightfully Ian’s. We said our goodbyes to I&D who were going on a train and boat trip. The rest of us slowly strolled through the town which seemed full of people of Middle and Far Eastern origin. Camera mad they were.
We returned to the hotel in the afternoon eager to have a dip in the pool. Soon we were joined by Jim and Jill. On some previous night the subject of swimming was broached and Jill told us that she would love to swim freestyle but had never quite managed to master this. As I taught swimming in my spare time quite some years ago I was happy to give Jill a few tips. She may be a slip of a girl, but she has got the willpower of a giant. One of my best pupils ever, I was quite proud when she managed to do a full length of the pool within a short space of time. Brilliant.
This willpower was again evident when the next day a group of us travelled by train to Grindelwald and from there took the cable car to First via Schreckfeld so some of the bravehearts amongst us could go on the First Flyer. For the uninitiated, this is a whizz down the mountain attached to a cable over a distance of some 800 meters. I could not help thinking how Roy would have enjoyed this!! Jim, Jill, Ian and Denise were up for it, with Richard as back-up should someone drop out at the last minute. The back-up was required. After a running commentary by Roger up to the point of no return, the safety doors flew open and there they went. All four of them. I could hear screams all the way down and I swear someone asked for their mum. They thoroughly enjoyed it and said it looked scarier than it was in reality.
After a light lunch we all returned to the cable car. The original magnificent 4, bolstered by their earlier courage, decided to leave the cable car behind at Bort and tackle the remainder of the descent (Bort @ 1570m to Grindelwald @1050m) on a Trottibike (a scooter with brakes). I have it on good authority that one of them went through the hedge and broke a post somewhere along the way. I must admit that now I regret I did not have a go but perhaps at some time in the future the opportunity will present itself again. Back to the hotel for dinner and an early night ready for our last day in Verdun.
Saturday, 14 September – VERDUN
We have had some beautiful weather but the rain today reminds us that home is not very far away. We are leaving Switzerland and travel through the Vosges region of France to Verdun, our last hotel. We can do no justice to the lovely roads as the rain makes them somewhat treacherous, not in the least thanks to the overbanding, And why oh why are the drain covers always, always where you want to steer you bike? Going through some lovely villages I can not help but noticing that the places are deserted. No cat nor dog, nobody doing the garden, shops closed, no children playing; where are they all? I love France but living there – no – give me dear old England any day.
The hotel Le Chantoiseau is basic but comfortable and situated in a small village away from the hustle and bustle of Verdun. We put the heating on to dry our gloves and boots, having decided to buy some long waterproof boots as the legs of our waterproof trousers are not long enough to cover that part of our anatomy men used to swoon over in years past.
The dinner was superb. French cooking at its best. The wine flowed freely and was well appreciated by all judging by the somewhat highlighted cheekbones of the diners. Not all of us could remember what we ordered some months ago but, as always, we could rely on the boss. Lots of banter, laughter and high spirits. Dave Purchon, the father of the house, held a short speech thanking Ian and Denise for organising this wonderful, wonderful holiday. This was echoed by all of us. The cook, encouraged by Dave in his best French, joined us so we could show our appreciation. And we did.
Sunday, 15 September
After a typical French breakfast, and for me the last of the croissants – especially the chocolate ones, the holiday has come to an end. Tomorrow we will have been away for some 19 days. We have had a brilliant time. I never fail to admire Ian for all the work he puts into the organisation of these holidays and ensuring that we all have a good time.
We said our goodbyes to some lovely friends and head for the tunnel, the hotel, the cooking, the ironing ………………. You name it, it will be waiting for us.
Thanks for your company. It’s been great.