A Travellerspoint blog

Arrassing About

Saturday

Probably, for the first time ever we arrived with plenty of time to spare at the Shuttle terminal at Cheriton! But, sadly, the recently introduced "self check-in" was defeating the hordes car drivers that were unable to stretch their arms far enough to reach the touch-screens and who had parked too close to get their doors open to get out and do it.

It doesn't seem like rocket science to use the stats off the booking system to know the peaks and troughs of travel and to make sure that they have humans working at those times.

In the end we made it around to the terminal building where Nigel & Jane (Triumph Sprint) and Simon & Denise (Blackbird) were waiting. For once we managed to avoid the security check and went straight through to the queues to get on the train.

In the end, due to some problem that was never defined, the 0828 train was full despite around fifty cars and us with the right letter still waiting in the queue, so we got "priority" on the 0844. Priority? Not on a bike. It means that you can move from the queue to the side of the train and wait until they load the cars and then squeeze us on the back of the last carriage?

Once on the other side Nigel's "Betsy" took over leading us. Betsy is a Garmin Quest! For me, it was a pleasure not to lead. I have done it for years and I was quite enjoying my role as tail-end Charlie.

Another reason was that my Quest, Doris, after her problems on holiday where she lost satellites all the time, has been reset on the instructions of Garmin. She then thought we were in Garmin's US headquarters and was supposed to find the satellites to work okay. In the end it took her the best part of 8 hours (in three sessions!!) to find a third satellite to work properly.

Betsy took us the wrong way onto the A16 heading towards Boulogne rather than the opposite way. Then once up and running we had an easy run to Guines and then Ardres. Between the two we stopped for a coffee at the Restaurant du Drap d'Or, or the Cloth of Gold, which is situated on the main road near to where the Kings of France and England (see link) met to have some sort of discourse, but in the end ponced about that nothing got done.

The next port of call was lunch in St Omer. We arrived in the main square whilst the market was still on so we parked up with a load of bikes and left them there on the pavement. The nearest restaurant was "Les 3 Caves" where Claire and I have eaten before and we tucked into the €22 lunch. Bit of a belly buster, but in the end we mostly chose salads.

Dudes!

Dudes!

It was so hot that Nigel and I both needed some head cover... follicly challenged as we are, and guess what? A Buff folds to make a sort of pirate hat or even a bad-ass biker bandana... Now where's my Harley?

After lunch we had a round the houses escape from St Omer and finally got on the road to Arques where we found the boat lift. It's as you can imagine in an industrial area, after all that's the general idea of canals; to get goods about. The gippo site on one side of the towpath didn't fill us with much enthusiasm for leaving the bikes unattended with soft luggage on the Blackbird. We found that the boat lift, Ascenseur des Fontinettes, was open to the public but is no longer in use. Claire chatted to the lady that lives in the barge (you can see it in the pic on the linked website) about her cats and dog. We decided that now we had found the place, we'd fit it into another visit. So we set off with Betsy misfiring and leading us all over the place. In the end I took the lead and without Doris (or the Michelin map that was on the side of the bath at home) we had to try and navigate using road signs, none of which featured Béthune where we would turn off the N43 towards Arras. I have no idea how far we rode round and round before we eventually found the N43!

From then on plain sailing to Arras via the D937. This road takes you across two of the three peaks that formed the basis if the Battles of Artois in 1914 and 1915. Two were won back from the Germans by the French, Notre Dame de Lorette and La Targette. The third to the east is Vimy Ridge. Vimy Ridge was captured by the Canadians in 1917.

We stopped on the D937 at Souchez by a couple of monuments.

North Africa Monument

North Africa Monument

The first is a traditional monument to General Barbot who led the 77th Division and who very un-General-like was killed in action nearby.

Just up the road is the big French cemetery and museum dedicated to the battles for the three hills at Notre Dame de Lorette. We didn't have enough time to call in and it was by now after 4pm. Another day perhaps.

The second was much larger and laid out with an eternal flame and a strange water feature, the white marble is inscribed with the the names of the French soldiers that were killed in action in North Africa during the independence wars that raged in the 1950's and 60's.

As we set off southwards the signs to the left were to the Canadian Monument at Vimy Ridge, although we couldn't see it from where we were.

On the road for the last ten miles or so there are cemeteries to the different armies involved, as well as the British, French and German, there's also a Czechoslovakian cemetery and one to the Polish troops that fought in the Foreign Legion.

Once in Arras, Doris, thankfully restored to working condition (touching wood!!), led us to the hotel. Finding the entrance was more complicated though. Once booked-in we parked in the underground car-park. Exercising our right to avoid paying for the car-park, we took on ticket and shot through together and parked in the motorcycle-only bays. The slippery floor had all three of us spinning the rear wheel as we shot away.

After some R&R in the room we assembled for a drink in the bar and then to go into town for a walk around and dinner. Nigel had a rib place in mind in the Grand Place. As luck would have it we had booked for the same weekend as Arras was having a Quad Festival, and the Grand Place was set up with displays of the four-wheeled vehicles and their owners...

As we ate the noise from the thumping disco was almost ear splitting and the screech of two-stroke engines added to it. We watched the freestyle solo riders doing their bit on two ramps and a massive pile of straw bales. Quite impressive before it all came to an end about 1030pm and everyone drifted away.

We had a turn around the town again before going back to the hotel for a nightcap and then to bed.

Sunday

After a leisurely breakfast the plan was to go into the town for a look around, then to Vimy and Lille for lunch.

As we were very leisurely things changed. Firstly as we left the parking the barrier came down so quick I got left behind as the others shot off. The guy in the control box opened it for me!

In town there wasn't much to see on a Sunday morning, and after a walk around to look for a chocolate shop we had a coffee and changed the plan. Still Vimy Ridge but Cassel for lunch rather than Lille.

So we set off on Plan B. Betsy was still playing up so it was me to lead again - b*llocks.

Despite the criticism of the day before - okay, I did go through a red light, but in mitigation it was as I was on the outside of an old t*sser in a car and saw the pedestrian light go green and shot off. No one got hurt - I led us out of the town, via a petrol station and then on the direct route to the Canadian Monument. I don't accept the criticism that I don't give way at roundabouts! Unless there's a stop sign, I watch the left (in France!) and if the other vehicles are a way off I go. If they are close, I stop! I don't see the point off giving way to empty tarmac.

All would have been well, and the route Doris planned for us is there on the Michelin map for all to see, if the highways people hadn't decided to build new roads, rebuild old ones and close others. After some very off-roading that led up to the top of an unfinished fly over.... We found the N17 (the way I would have gone without Doris' assistance!) then they managed to mention the "deviation" that took us in a huge loop to the monument. When we arrived in the car-park the entire thing was covered in white shrink wrap" plus the walking areas lined with the names of the 40000 or so Canadian troops killed on the assault of the ridge was covered up too.

Doris, using Nigel's map and waypoints, led up off the wrong way and looped around to almost where we had just left. The reason? We hadn't actually tripped the waypoint and so Doris was taking us to it. Some reprogramming and we were off.

I am almost certain that between Vimy and Cassel that there are some major roads, or if not major, some without grass in the middle. Sadly, despite being set to "quickest" route, we had a magical mystery tour around rural Nord Pas-de-Calais.

We eventually arrived at the hilltop town where the Duke of York (not the current fat Andrew) marched his men up and down in the nursery rhyme. Despite the cobbles on the way up the town is very picturesque and motorcycle friendly. We went to a bar with a choice of hundreds of beers, but as it was lunch time we had light beers. But it is a place to go back to another time and stay locally so we can try them out. Some of the Belgian Trippels were 10 degrees of alcohol.

We then set off, with me leading again across country from Cassel through Watten towards Ardres and Guines, the last bit retracing our steps on the way out. This time not stopping at the Drap d'Or cafe, although it was open.

A tip we were given last time was to go through the Priority check-ins at Coquelles. They are self-check as the rest but tend to have no one queuing at them! It does work. Try it, but don't tell anyone else!!

We joined the queue for the 1711 train and less than an hour later Claire and I were being ignored by our cats and settling down for a nice cup of tea in our own house.

We both had a good weekend away and it has given us some ideas for other trips. There was some talk of the group taking a longer trip at Easter 2007. Maybe across to the Ardennes? We'll see. I just hope I don't have to lead again - too much stress.

Didn't take any pics today as I just didn't have time!

Posted by InvictaMoto 06:53 Archived in France Comments (0)

Somme Day Trip

The Battle of the Somme began in the early hours of the 1st July 1916. "The Big Push" that would throw the German Army back towards Belgium from the line running across Picardy. The offensive started with a huge bombardment to drive the enemy back from his forward trenches and cut the miles and miles of barbed wire that lay across no mans land. A partly successful barrage left many of the brave men that climbed out of their trenches that morning with nowhere to go and they were mowed down before reaching their objective.

At that time, the reserve and the next group of troops to move towards the line were still arriving. They moved by night so that air recon couldn't pin them down. My Uncle William was 26. Although born and bred in South London he found himself a private in the 7th Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry.

They arrived on the Ancre River near Corbié on the 12/13th July. On the 13th, they moved into the line and then were to assault Bazentin Ridge. Once again the wire wasn't touched. At 3.30am they rose with the front and communications trenches at Bazentin Ridge, some 1500 yards away as their primary objective. The Battalion strength was 33 officers and 905 men, at 600 yards they encountered uncut wire and heavy machine gun fire. They made no progress.

At 1100 they tried again making the front enemy trench. The 6 officers and 135 men that remained held out until relieved on July 20th.

Sadly my Uncle wasn't one of the surviving men. He was wounded and taken to the Casualty Clearing Station at Corbié where he died "of wounds" on July 16th.

And that's where I come in. Claire, my wife, and me taking a day trip on July 16th 2006 to see the area and to put a small memento on the grave to show that although a small family, we remembered.

Instead of the car we took my BMW R1150GS as transport. The out run was by motorway to Amiens, purely to get there quickly. As it was the Sunday after Bastille Day, the villages were like ghost towns. The motorway traffic light except for enormous queues at the petrol stations. French fuel was over €1.40 a litre for Unleaded. And hardly a café or restaurant was open!

On arrival the Garmin Quest GPS (we called Doris) took us right to the cemetery.

Corbié Municipal Cemetery Extension

Corbié Municipal Cemetery Extension

We laid a couple of crosses and some silk poppies and had a few minutes of reflection sat on the wall under the trees that were planted new as saplings when the cemetery was opened. I left an entry in the visitors’ book to say that we had been there. The book is new for 2006 and a few pages are filled with names from people from across the globe.

William's grave marked by the crosses we laid

William's grave marked by the crosses we laid

After our reflections, we set off for town in search of something to eat, plans thwarted, as I was too eager to get there rather than eat on the way. “Desolé” became the all too frequent reply.

We then headed for Vaux and the monument to the Red Baron, or rather the place where he was shot down. And couldn’t find it. The temps now about 38C.

Aborting we headed for Albert. Albert the “star” of so many WW1 pictures; the church with the Madonna and child at right angles to the building.

albertcathedralweb.jpg

Then we saw it. From 15 kilometres there was a glow in the sky, then, as we got nearer, the glow became more solid. It was of course the gilded roof of the tower of the church. A wonderful sight.

Dscn0358.jpg

As we entered the town we saw a petrol station open and dived in. The time we were there quite a few bikes came to fill up, all kinds of race-reps, but no other BMW’s joined us. We bought water and some waffles in case food was not going to happen, and it didn’t. The two café/bars open had stopped serving. So we ate the waffles and stood to cool off in the shade.

Claire in the shade

Claire in the shade

I programmed Doris to take us back via Arras and Arques as I wanted to scout out places to go on another trip we are planning. The cross-country run takes you along the D928, to the north of the big brick memorial at Thiepval. The cemeteries start to come thick and fast now, signposts overloaded with the green Commonwealth War Graves Commission signs…and along the road there are so many more to pass, some quite small, and some really too large for comfort.

Arras was skirted and then we worked our way to the N43 and turned northwards. We wasted a half hour in Arques trying to find the Ascenseur de Fontinelles. And then gave up riding around glass factories and industrial parks in the tremendous heat of the afternoon.

The last leg was through St Omer to Guines and into the Shuttle terminal a little early. The auto check in offered us a crossing immediately for no extra cost so we took it. Bad move. Due to a broken down train in the Tunnel we got away at about the same time we were ticketed for and we still had empty bellies!

Posted by InvictaMoto 14:01 Archived in France Comments (0)

In the footsteps of Edward III & Henry V MiniTour

Choosing the dates of the MiniTour® for July 1st was a slight miscalculation, or a lack of forethought – 90th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme? But, in the end the ladies of the party didn’t want to do any “war” things on this trip and so we avoided the wars of the 20th Century. Instead of 20th century wars we opted for the earlier conflicts in the 14th and 15th centuries, namely Crécy and Agincourt.

Crécy was our Saturday stop en route for the hotel in Abbeville. The group consisted of 8 people on 4 bikes. Two of the riders had never ridden abroad despite years of riding experience and came equipped with a Pan European (Ian & Amanda) and a Blackbird (Simon & Debbie), with Claire and me on the GS. The fourth was Nigel with wife Jane on a Suzuki GSX600.

Doris (my Quest) ably navigating us across the forest at Crécy to the badly signposted battlefield. Talk of underwhelming. Okay, so the French lost but this is quite appalling. There’s a gravely car-park, some badly maintained toilets and a heavily graffiti encrusted tower to mark the spot where Edward III of England is supposed to have stood to conduct the English troops against the French cavalry.

Crecy parking

Crecy parking

Crecy Moulin

Crecy Moulin

In the “Moulin” the panoramas showing where the armies were deployed has been the victim of one too many cigarette burns. Pathetic.

On the Sunday and after lunch and then an hour or so exploring the underground cité of Naours.

Naours

Naours

The French lived underground at Naours in times of strife.

Then it was back on the bikes on the last leg of the journey to Azincourt.

Azincourt Visitor Centre

Azincourt Visitor Centre

Nothing could be in more contrast to Crécy. The roads are lined with cut-outs of knights and archers. A decent car park and an audiovisual display using TV-heads on models dressed a characters form the era. The hands on section in the mezzanine gives you the chance to see how hard it was to pull the string back on the bow and launch an arrow but 10 a minute must have needed super strength. “Well worth a visit” and only €6.50 to get in.

In the end a nice weekend with good company.

Competition time: No prizes on offer but can you guess what Nigel ordered for his lunch? Yep that's it, with a piece of lettuce known in the catering industry as "garnish". There were chips/fries/frites as well.....

What the heck is that?

What the heck is that?

Posted by InvictaMoto 07:36 Archived in France Comments (0)

A Week in Fitou

Day 1 - Motorail

Despite scare stories that P&O were charging a supplement on anyone arriving for the wrong boat, either early or late, we had no problems getting an earlier crossing with Steve and Bobby.

The mini-group for this tour was Claire and myself on the GS, and Steve and Bobby (S&B) on the FJR1300.

Although a Yamaha (!), I have read quite a bit on how this bike is a perfect tourer having luggage capacity as well as the means to get a shift on with its R1 derived engine. Steve has added a Melvyn seat and has changed the OEM panniers for larger Kappa items fitted with a QD kit to let him take it all off the bike, frames as well. Plus a PDA with Tom-Tom GPS software and their intercom.

As for our side of things, I had the usual three box BMW luggage and Touratech tank bag. My only new toy was the Quest GPS I bought in June and that I was still getting to terms with. We had nicknamed her "Doris", but the voice she emits is more Joanna Lumley than Barbara Windsor, so Doris may be doing it/her a disservice. As I had only used Doris a few times and in the car I also had Michelin map 527 with me - the orange one!

I had planned a few trips out from Fitou on the Mapsource software on the PC at home and saved all the places I might want to go as "My Locations". This needed a bit of refining once I had a proper co-ord for the apartment in Fitou!

After lunch in Calais at the Café de Paris we made our way to the shops to buy dinner and then off to load. As if it was a parting gift it started to rain. Right up until we loaded the bikes on the train. As we were early enough we got on first, right at the front of the Narbonne carriages.

On the Motorail

On the Motorail

As things go the motorail saves riding down and gets you to within 40 miles of the Spanish border overnight. Although a touring motorcyclist, I have never done that sort of distance voluntarily and don't want to. As for the claims that it is cheaper than driving/rising? May be if you have a Roller or other gas guzzler.

We spent the evening eating our dinner as we sped southwards and then after a few beers in the cattle truck of a bar we settled down to kip.

Day 2 - Narbonne to Fitou

The train arrived a little later than scheduled and we were shepherded quite efficiently onto the buses to take us from Narbonne station to the Motorail depot about a mile away.

Even though the bikes had been loaded first the unloaders had unloaded them for us to get access to the many cars that were behind us. It saved us missing our breakfast in any case.

The apartment in Fitou is only 24 miles from the station and as it was barely 11am and we couldn't be in until 4pm we had to think of something to do. We decided to go to Fitou anyway and have a look where it was and on the off chance see if we could get in early. There have to be some perks knowing the owners. Sadly that had no effect and we had to go again and come back later!

Outside the apartment @ Fitou

Outside the apartment @ Fitou

Outside the apartment

Outside the apartment

We made our way to the beachside at Leucate Plage for lunch. It was very windy. It turned out that this was the "tramontana" off shore winds, and the reason for the numerous wind farms all across the region. It was a bit irritating as eating outside was more difficult with everything being bolted down to avoid fighting through a meal!

Beast of Burden - BMW R1150GS Leucate Plage

Beast of Burden - BMW R1150GS Leucate Plage

We then had a walk up the beach, in all our biking finery, before letting the GPS take us back to the door of the apartment.

Most evenings we ate in and so we needed to get some provisions and the local Intermarché provided us with all we could need.

Day 3 - Carcassonne Day

Although on holiday together as two couples it is sometimes a good idea to do your own thing, and this happened as we left for Carcassonne, purely by accident.

I misread the GPS and turned right and then onto a bumpy road, okay for the GS, but Steve was more apprehensive of taking his race tourer on it. By the time we had found somewhere wide enough to turn to get back on the right route we had lost them. We decided to let Doris as we had named the Quest guide us to Carcassonne the shortest way across the Corbières whilst Steve's Tom-Tom went the motorway.

Our trip was on small roads and through villages yet to be touched by the incomers from the UK and other places turning them into little bits of England in the sun. We popped out onto the N113 about 20 miles east of the city.

The cross country route was through Treilles on the D50 to Fraissé des Corbières, Villesqué and onto the D611 to Thézan and across to Ferrals les Corbières.

There was a medieval festival on in the Cité and the place was packed and roads closed, but the police let bikes through. There is a bike park right outside the old city gates but it only holds about 6 bikes. In the end we parked across the road in the entrance to the bone yard. Amazingly as I was navigating backwards off the pavement, S&B arrived in the opposite direction.

The cité is on one side of the river and the modern city growing up from the 13th Century is across the river.

We did a couple of laps of the cité centre with obligatory stops firstly for lunch, and then for a drink before we set off home.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

As we started to leave we got into a huge traffic jam of people by the game we came in at. The people coming in all over the place and those of us trying to get out wedged in with them. Then a guy tried to drive his car out.... Finally, like a cork from a bottle we were out... Pop!

It started to drizzle and Claire tried her brand new waterproofs and so did I. As I use the bike more, I had a new pair of Swift unlined trousers but has left the braces at home. As she had her Draggin Jeans on she wanted a lighter pair, unnamed! We togged up and took the motorway back to Fitou. As it was Sunday and the last day of the holidays for many people the roads were quite busy.

Day 4 - Cathar Castles Day

I had read in the Michelin Green Guide about the Cathar castles and the history of the Cathar people and two of the local castles were in east riding distance and up in the mountainous area to the north-west of where we were staying.

S&B decided to go further afield to some villages to the north that are built on a curious system much like a Catherine wheel with the square in the centre... We decided to give that a miss and I programmed "Doris" to take us to Quéribus and Peyrepertuse.

We set off a little late after breakfast on the terrace and it was another warm day, but the wind was up again as we made our way up through Fitou and out into the hilly terrain behind. The tramontana is a semi-permanent wind and to take advantage of it there are wind farms everywhere. And as a tourist they don't look too bad. However, I might have other ideas if they stuck one near my house.. NIMBY? Moi?

We head in a different route to the Carcassonne day and the D9 to Opoule-Périllos was single track for much of it. Once again we went through small villages where tourist have yet to blight the area with their villas and bright blue swimming pools! Staying on the D9 was quite confusing as Doris became a little distracted by the sheer number of turns in the village, but once we navigated past the sleeping dog stretched across the road we were back on track.

At Vingrau we earmarked this for "another day" as it looked a nice place to have lunch. Of course, "another day" didn't happen on this trip. Doris took us down the D59 to Tautaval where there is a museum of prehistory (cavemen to us) that we glided past as the coaches in the parking put us off a little. Into Estagel, "off-route recalculating" Doris kept piping up as we side tracked to fill the almost empty petrol tank.

Here the N117 is quite scenic and green lined on the Michelin Map and we followed it to Maury before making a right turn towards Cucugnan on the D19. Then simply follow the signs as the Chateau du Quéribus is clearly signposted and then clearly visible perched high on a mountain top.

27000 miles @ Queribus

27000 miles @ Queribus

The road up is twisty and the edges are rough and gravelly, and to my dismay there was a coach wedged in the entrance to the sloping car park. I parked up near the rear side of it and we untogged a lot of the bike gear intending to walk up to the castle. We had arrived at a popular time and the people climbing the path looked like ants and plenty of them so we decided to wait. The wind was up and as we stood on the end of the car park overlooking the valley below the sudden gusts nearly had me over the edge and Claire almost suffered a similar fate as the wind caught her jacket and she nearly became a human kite!

DSCN8041.JPGDSCN8052.JPGDSCN8045.JPG

The coach party finally came together and from the cafe/visitor centre we watched it reverse and set off. Not really expecting to see the Italians again.. but....

After a coffee we decided to get some lunch and started back down the road towards the Peyrepertuse some 10 miles away. As we arrived in Duilhac sous Peyrepertuse we passed the coach stopped at the side of the road at a small diner, as we hair-pinned up the slope we saw another one on the left and I pulled in. This one almost empty. And we had lunch.

DSCN8071.JPG

As we sat under the trees the coach went past so we knew that they would be ahead of us a Peyrepertuse itself. I was in no hurry to get up there as a result, but off we went.

The guidebook doesn't mention how hard a climb it is to get to the castle once you have parked and paid your €5 each.

In the UK they would have banned the public from going in. The castle is built on what looks like a giant lower jaw of some immense animal, lion or wolf... It is hardly distinguishable from the rock as it is made out of the same grey rock itself!

DSCN8075.JPGDSCN8078.JPG

Once parked you set off to the right and then climb up the path through the trees. Although they are building a new permanent visitor centre, the current one is a portakabin. For €4 you can hire an audio set that gives you a commentary as you climb and climb and climb....

As you climb the first section you have no idea that in fact you climb over the ridge to the other side and then walk up and down along the paths for about half a mile before you get to the entrance to the castle. In this distance you perhaps go up and down about 100 metres altitude.

The middle picture above is the view you get as go round the corner of the ridge expecting to be there by the entrance!

The climb is worth it. You do need to have sensible footwear, and yes we did see flip-flops and shoes with heels. In fact bike boots were not that clever despite ankle protection, they aren't designed for the climbing.

Once up there the views are stunning and if you can avoid a heart attack, so much the better. The walk back was along the same route and the down bits were as tricky as they had been when the were up bits!

DSCN8085.JPGDSCN8082.JPGDSCN8090.JPGDSCN8103.JPGDSCN8099.JPGDSCN8107.JPGDSCN8105.JPGDSCN8112.JPGDSCN8111.JPG

Back in the car-park about 2 hours after we set off we enjoyed a drink before setting off for the third stop of the day, except this was not a castle but a Gorge - The Gorges de Galamus.

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

31323988[center

17_c8a8ec5e5c.jpg caption=Gorges de Galamus]Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

Gorges de Galamus

[/center]

It was hot and sticky back inside the jackets, the Hood and Draggin jeans we were wearing are an alternative to leathers but not any cooler in this climate but at least look like you are in civvies...

Exiting Duilhac we had a hairy moment when the car in front stopped and the driver flung his door open, it missed my knee by about an inch. I stopped and gave him some Anglo-Saxon for his troubles, all he could do was shrug!

We continued on the D14 along another green lined section of road. From this side the chateau is clearly visible along the top of the "jaw". The road wound it's way through vineyards to Soulatgé where we encountered a load more sleeping dogs in the road and hanging off the pavement and where Doris said to turn left. Which we did, sailing past a house and a bemused old man in his garden.

A few metres on the road stopped in a vineyard. Perhaps I had turned left too early. Back up the road, past the man and then back to the top where really the road doglegged, not really a left in the real sense.... And off to Cubières and the left turn that takes you to the Gorges.

As the road is so narrow and overhung with rock, there are no buses and no RV's allowed on this section. Plus they are traffic light controlled to make the centre section, and the narrowest, one-way.

In summer, they don't trust the visitors and they provide and escort in each direction for you to follow and have marshal's at each end to ensure the drivers stop at the red light!

Les Gorges de Galamus - Waiting for the green light

Les Gorges de Galamus - Waiting for the green light

I was a bit slow off the mark after being ushered to the front by the marshal and a couple of frogs got past us to ruin the photos!

At the end of the narrow bit and beyond the next lights, the valley opens up wider to allow space for a car-park. As you look back up the gorge you can see the refuge for walkers clinging to the rock (bottom right most pic above)

We had a quick drink and as it was getting late we decided to head back to Fitou and call in at a supermarket on the way...

Day 5 - Dali Day

Well, it was supposed to be Dali Day. We got up relatively early and breakfasted and then the battle of the GPS' started with both of us trying to make sure our GPS had the best route and could find the centre of Figueres!

I led (as usual!) and we opted for a motorway run down into Spain, have the usual coffee break and then go into the Dali Museum. Part 1 accomplished but part two... err never happened. So for the second time we saw the outside and didn't get in.

Dscn8153.jpg

Last time back in 2001 it was closed for lunch, this time the queue to get in was about 300 yards and moving at about a yard every five minutes. It was over 90 degrees of Fahrenheit and the queue wasn't in the shade at all... Dali Museum & Theatre (Satnav - N42.16096 E2.57587)

So after a drink outside a bar we buggered off on the next leg of the trip that would take us to Rosas/Roses for lunch and then the coast road back to France and then home. The GPS was set and off we went, managing to get out of Figueres was easier than getting in and finding a parking space...

It was just as hot at Roses and luckily we had plenty of empty luggage space to pack the jackets and lock the helmets on to the bike with a cable (as we always do on holiday!) and wander about in jeans (remember these mutha's are Draggin or Hood and VERY hot to wear!) and bike boots.

Lunch was okay, not brilliant at a restaurant on the seafront overlooking the beach and then it was time to "walk it off"... Paddling and sitting in the sun.

Dscn8165.jpg

From Roses we planned a coastal trip back to France via Portbou. Tip: Fill up with vastly cheaper Spanish petrol before the border crossing into France.

All went well until Colera (sounds pretty disgusting) where I took a right as Doris said and we went into some small town, I kept following her instructions and lost S&B. Their tom-tom or tom for short, had sent them 2nd right onto the main road that from a distance looked like road works (!), and so they were ahead of us. Doris bravely soldiered on and "off route recalculating" took us deeper and deeper into the hills behind the village until in a repeat of the previous days trip we arrived at a dirt track heading into the mountains, Doris still claiming that in 1.2 ms (or whatever) we should turn "second right"... In UK all turns are variations of left, and in Europe she changes to variations of right! Sixth right is quite off putting.

We re-traced out steps after I re-programmed Doris to take us to Portbou again and in the end we made the right or correct right turn and were off along the coast. We passed S&B re-fuelling in Portbou and we headed for the petrol station a few yards from the French border high above the town. Luckily it was open and there wasn't much of a queue!

From then on much of the coast road to Port Vendres is mainly downhill and very twisty. I opted for the (ill advised?) tactic of picking the cars off one at a time to get down a little quicker. All went well and I forgot that S&B were behind us. We had one "moment" when I looked ahead and the road was empty coming towards us for may be 300 yards, I tipped it ion on the outside of an arsehole in a mini-motor home who looked at me alongside him and who then drifted out to push we wider. If I had stopped him at the next pull off for one of the vineyards I'd have punched his lights out. It was deliberate, no two ways about it. The look on his face was etched into my head for hours afterwards, the smirk. Luckily I was able to get back in and ahead of him before the next bend. Okay I might have surprised the **** but he had no need to try and kill us.

At Banyuls the traffic was held up and I didn't do so much overtaking, as there was a gendarmerie car in the line. S&B didn't catch us ad I crawled to the junction for Collioure and they still hadn't come into view.

I took it. And we had a calming session over a menthe a l'eau and milkshake in Collioure and I texted Steve to tell him where we were.

From Collioure we set off for the apartment via Perpignan. And this is were I learned another lesson about Doris and "Vias". If you plan a route from A to B and include some place en-route or "vias" then she'll plot a wonderful route for you. I was still on shortest rather than quickest calculation of routes, and Perpignan as a "via" seemed a good idea. What's that noise they used on "Family Fortunes" when some berk couldn't guess the answer the 100 idiots they asked a question has come up with - well that should be part of Doris' repertoire!

Collioure

Collioure

Everything was fine until we hit Perpignan, we stopped and got some bread and cakes at a local bakery, then she took us through some of the smallest back streets in the Arab quarter you could wish never to go. Doris doggedly tried to get us to go to wherever the waypoint is for Perpignan! In the end after about ten minutes of little alleys we found a signpost to the centre and were saved from the perpetual Groundhog Day circulation of the same streets. Hallelujah.

I quickly tickled Doris' buttons and she led us from that misery back to Fitou. Still, we saw some places the tourists never go!

Day 6 - Do Nothing Much Day

Spent the day hanging about locally with a visit to Narbonne to do some shopping and then a visit to Port La Nouvelle. Not the most exciting of starts with a rather horrible port area leading to a very nice but windy seafront. Time for an ice cream.

Day 7 - Towards Canigou

The idea was to see if we could get up Canigou. The start was across country towards Estagel once again, and again we stopped in the same petrol station before a bank stop to get some cash.

In the end we decided to stop for a bite of lunch. But, this was before my newly acquired interest in fords! Estagel has a quite magnificent "Irish bridge" type ford. We crossed it in both directions, and in summer there is hardly any water in the river.

Lunch was taken at the Le Commerce bar and restaurant. And it is more than that; it's the local betting shop as well.

We were joined by an unusual diner as we started the coffee course. A young magpie flew down to an adjoining table to do battle with a piece of a cornetto wrapper! No doubt it was attracted to the shiny paper. I gave it a small pack of sugar cubes and it set about ripping the paper off to get to the sugar. Then a noisy little kid from another table came and frightened it off... if anyone needed a slap across the legs!!

In the end we never got to the top of Canigou on the route I had planned. Partly as it was off-road and even more importantly that the road was closed to motors.

So in surrender we returned to the apartment and got our swim gear and went to the beach for a last swim in the Med for the year.

Day 8 - Homeward bound?

The next day was home time for the four of us. Although we had planned in the various GPS' a route to take us the the hotel in Saint Nectaire in the Auvergne, we of course were separated within a few miles and Steve did his own thing. S&B eventually arrived about 25 minutes after we did after going a totally different route.

We got to ride over the famous Millau bridge, but as we were suffering the first rain since the Carcassonne day, it was almost impossible to see. So no photos.

Once the rain relented we did stop and have a look at this marvel - the Gustave Eifel designed Viaduc du Garabit. We had a drink and a tidy up and managed to get the waterproof overtrousers off. Claire's new ones had leaked badly and her Draggin' Jeans were soaked. My new ones had fared better and I wasn't as wet although I have had a trickle down the back of my neck that had wet my shirt and jumper underneath.

Viaduc du Garabit

Viaduc du Garabit

As it was clearing up we made our way to the Hotel de la Paix. The hotel is excellent for bikers and the hosts, a Dutch couple and their family make motorcyclists very welcome.

Hotel de la Paix @ St Nectaire (Auvergne)

Hotel de la Paix @ St Nectaire (Auvergne)

Hotel de la Paix

Hotel de la Paix

The restaurant is very good and the food on the night we ate in was excellent.

The hotel is situated in Haut St Nectaire, although it is a very short walk to the lower part of town where there are some fine hotels and spa hotels.

St Nectaire is also well placed for anyone wanting a base in the Auvergne to visit the volcanoes and the lakes that abound in the area.

We have earmarked it for another trip and we'll stop at the same hotel as we enjoyed it so much.

It was quite cold at night though, this must have been due to the difference between the Med and Massif Central.

Day 9 - To Paris

After breakfast we packed up and set the GPS systems for Paris. It was inevitable that we would take different routes and I had got used to not looking in the mirrors to see where Steve had got to.

We had a non-motorway ride across country to meet the A75 to the north of Clermont Ferrand joining it just afterwards in fact. The ride to Paris was uneventful and relatively traffic free for the most part. The GPS location that Steve had got was pretty accurate to a few feet.

Sadly, the narrow streets and tall buildings meant that Doris kept losing the satellites and we seemed to go around in circles, crossing the same junctions time and time again, but like a slap stick film from different directions! Finally we arrived at the Kyriad Paris IX Montmartre. Not badly sited; right in the centre of the "adult" zone and less than a quarter of a mile from the Moulin Rouge.

By the time I had worked out how to get around the block to the parking garage at the lower end of the street and walked back, S&B had arrived at the hotel and were just unloading. I did a "backy" and Steve parked up as well. It's not that I don't trust the darling Frenchies, but the pavements around the area looked seedy and filthy... god alone knows what with.

Whilst we were having a shower and get changed, S&B set off and although they went to a local bar, we didn't see them. Over the next few hours we wandered about up to the Sacre Coeur. I did overdo the photos as the sun was on the dome against the sky....

Sacré-Coeur

Sacré-Coeur

Sacré-Coeur in Paris

Sacré-Coeur in Paris

Sacré-Coeur in Paris

Sacré-Coeur in Paris

Sacré-Coeur in Paris

Sacré-Coeur in Paris

Sacré-Coeur in Paris

Sacré-Coeur in Paris

Then back along the Pigalle and had dinner at a pub with 100's of different beers.

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

Working in London as I do means I have often walked through Soho and have seen the sex shops and the genre, but it never really bothered me. In fact, some of the shops along the Blvd de Clichy were a bit of a bore, seen one 12" long black dildo, seen 'em all. Old hat even in 1970 when in Amsterdam on a footie tour!!

Day 10 - The last day

We were still in bed when we heard Steve's bike outside and by the time I had got some clothes on and the window open they were zooming off up the road. With an extra night away they were off coastwards.

We had all day to make the 190 mile run back to the Shuttle.

Posted by InvictaMoto 08:23 Archived in France Comments (0)

Picardy Blockhouse Day

After the success of the first Blockhouse Run in October last year everyone I asked wanted to have another trip across. As most of the Centre regulars were available, I picked Easter Saturday.

A £19 recce trip in February was to make sure I could lead the group, and hopefully a large group, to both the blockhouses and to the lunch venue without anyone getting lost! It worked.

The day dawned foggy in Kent and I set off for the Shuttle expecting to meet a load of Suzuki owners. In fact in our group there was only one Suzuki, the B12 belonging to Centre Sec Paul Bratton. The rest of the group were: Garry & Marie Page on his new Blackbird, Bernie and his grandson Jay on a BMW K series, Bob and Barbara on a Guzzi, Simon on a BMW F650 and finally me on the GS.

Frogside, the fog was thicker and our route to Ardres to meet the Sussex Centre was across country via Guines. In the end we only had one problem; Paul B's marvelous French that led to a massive over order of coffees when we stopped as usual for petrol and breakfast in the ELF Station on the exit from the Shuttle terminal.

At Ardres the Sussex mob increased the party by a further 4 bikes (all Suzukis) and six people. I led us to St Omer on the N43 and then on to La Coupole by following the road signs.

La Coupole

La Coupole

The huge concrete dome was built to house final assembly areas and firing places for the V2 "reprisal weapon", and is set in a natural quarry, but isn't hidden from the air. It relied on 5m thick concrete for defence. There weren't enough of us for a group discount but they do a reduced rate combined ticket for 13 euros to visit the V2 site at Eperlecques as well, luckily our afternoon visit. You are given a headset to hear the commentary in your own language, and this works well in the main.

You enter along a long tunnel and in one side chamber is a monument with the names of the 85000 French civilians that were sent to the concentration camps. This is some 10000 more than the number of French Jews that went with them on the trains. The V2 rockets were built by this slave labour at the Nordhausen-Dora concentration camp. The death rate worked out at about 4 slaves per rocket built.

coupole2.jpg

In two small cinemas you can see films about the German occupation of France, and another on the development of the space race culminating in man landing on the moon and the influence the development of the V2 had in that timeline.

On leaving I led the group into St Omer for lunch. The Kent group lunched in Les Trois Caves in Place Marechal Foch. The Sussex party did their own thing in the town centre. When we arrived I had a pigeon-franglais chat with a copper who was in the square as they cleared up after the morning market. He called the cleaning team over and they tidied the area for us to park up. Top man.

After lunch the majority of us set off for Eperlecques. As we turned in the entrance the small entrance hall and shops doesn't prepare you for what is to come. This blockhouse is built in the woods and is immense. We sent Jay over the moat to show its size in the pics.

Jay and Blockhaus

Jay and Blockhaus

V1

V1

Luckily this site never became operational as the Normandy invasion and heavy bombing rendered it useless. The Germans changed tactics and invented the mobile launchers that the Yanks and Soviets used for their ICBM's.

It was heavily damaged by the RAF dropping the massive "tallboy" bombs on it. See links ----->

We came out about 5pm as it was closing and someone suggested having a ride out as we had two hours to the Shuttle home. Somehow Bergues became the destination, and I led by using the rapidly disappearing sun as a navigation aid.

NB. Maps and GPS are far better. We eventually arrived in time for a coffee and decided we would come back...

The day ended with us back on the train, the fog coming back and an hour late due to hold-ups caused by a broken down Shuttle train earlier in the day.

Posted by InvictaMoto 15:22 Archived in France Comments (0)

(Entries 31 - 35 of 35) « Page 1 2 3 [4]