For this trip I’ ve been doing our daily updates on Facebook, but I thought it would be good to put together a summary of roughly the first half of our current trip from Heidelberg, Germany to Madrid, Spain. I’ll not do a day by date report; rather, I’ll prepare this report by major stopping points. Also, there are many more pictures than I am imbedding in this blog. Those can be found at: http://timmer.smugmug.com/Travel/Europe-June-2014
If you want to know about any of the pictures, email me at email@example.com and I’ll attempt to answer your question.
OVERVIEW – May 26 to July 4ish, 2014
This trip was planned to be a clockwise circle from Heidelberg, Germany where our bike is stored, down to Albertville, France where we would visit friends who are studying French in preparation for moving to Togo as medical missionaries. From there we would head through the French Alps to Monaco to see where the rich and famous play. Barcelona would be our next major stop, and this stop would be a scouting trip for a longer visit in October when we plan to return before boarding a cruise ship to Tampa, Florida. Madrid was the next goal and the plan was to stay with missionary friends, The Thornburgs, for a few days. Leaving Madrid, we’d head for Granada, Spain, Gibraltar, Seville, Spain, and then ride north through Portugal, re-enter Spain and ride east loosely following the famous Pilgrimage road before turning north along the west coast of France before returning to Heidelberg where we’ll store our bike until the next visit. If the time works out, we may be able to see other friends in Marpent, France (north of Paris).
Heidelberg, Germany & Horizons Unlimited Gathering
Upon our arrival in Frankfurt we found the shuttle bus to Heidelberg and quickly became re-familiar with the Knopf Tours facility and re-acquainted ourselves with Stefan Knopf, the owner. Our BMW R1200GS was exactly as we left it 2 years ago except that it now had new tires, a factory recall had been accomplished, and new rear brake pads were installed along with a new battery.
I installed the new FUZEBLOCK power distribution device, cleaned up some wiring, installed a volt meter, and Grip Puppies, and we were set to leave. A friend from the States arrived to pick up his Gold Wing to begin a trip around Europe as well. We enjoyed a nice dinner together.
When I set up this year’s trip, I discovered that Horizons Unlimited (www.horizonsunlimited.com) which is a group devoted to international motorcycle travel was going to have a 3 day German gathering 30 minutes north of Heidelberg. So we decided to attend. It was a full on camping event in a cow pasture, with presentations at night about various aspects of world motorcycle travel.
I gave one presentation on storing a motorcycle somewhere in the world and using it as a touring platform and a second presentation on riding off pavement in Montana. Both presentations were well received and that led to many new acquaintances and tips about where to ride. While at the event, we took one day to do a loop ride in the area which took us to Regensburg which has a dragon museum.
Worms and its famous cathedral also made it on this ride before we made it back to camp.
Ludwig, one of the attendees for my Montana presentation was quite emphatic about a route to Albertville, and assured us that we would not be disappointed. One of our mantras for travelling is to follow local knowledge if at all possible. So on Sunday, 6/1 we broke camp, and followed Ludwig’s suggestion on the route over Furka Pass, and we were not disappointed. The first few 180 degree right hand uphill corners were intimidating, but lots of practice made them easier as the ride progressed.
Here’s a few views from the top of the pass.
To say riding these passes was breath-taking would be an understatement. The natural beauty and the engineering marvel of constructing the roads was so impressive.
Taking this route was a bit longer than my original plan, so we secured a room in Brig, Switzerland and enjoyed a nice pizza dinner.
The following day’s ride into Albertville was equally beautiful with several more really nice passes. On this day’s ride there was some sort of bicycle event going on, so besides the many curves, we were constantly passing the bike riders. But of course we were being passed by the many sport bike riders who think it’s Le Mans. But they were courteous but aggressive riders.
Albertville, France – 6 Days
We initially thought that we would be in Albertville only a few days to visit with our friends, the Molsee’s, but on the third day there, I became quite ill with some sort of flu like symptoms. Our stay ended up being from Monday through Saturday which allowed for the bug to work its way out of my system. Besides lots of rest, we were able to be faux grandparents to the Molsee’s boys and one of the highlights was walking each day to the bread store where 4 loaves were sold for the price of 3. Only 3 loaves usually made it back home! Even the next to youngest was eager to be pushed to the bread store as he knew what would happen on the way back.
Albertville is a delightful French town which was host to the 1992 Winter Olympics. There are still some traces of that activity, but for the most part the town is back to being a nice little French town with a quaint old section, a modern railway station, and what we are seeing all over Europe: infiltration of American fast food restaurants.
Before I became ill, we were able to take a little ride out to Beaufort which is noted for cheesemaking and up to a nice dam before being chased back to our home base by rain. Trust me, riding these narrow and twisty mountain roads is no fun in the rain.
On our last full day in Albertville, we went to a nearby community, Gignon, for a car show. Pictures of that show can be found at: Car Show
Ethan, our host, dropped us off at the old walled city which is just outside Albertville when we walked around it before returning to the Molsee’s.
It was great to spend time with the Molsee’s and encourage them in there upcoming journey to Togo. It was also inspiring to be around other young missionaries who were studying French in preparation for their service in the French speaking world. Sunday morning found us enjoying a last meal together before they drove to church and we continued our journey towards Monaco.
Monaco & Beyond
The roads down to Monaco were not as technically challenging as the roads into Albertville, but it was still quite enjoyable to be riding in the French Alps. We had hoped to make Monaco in one day, but that simply didn’t happen. We found a campground with a pool in Digne, France; and the refreshing dip was not a disappointment. Dinner was a mile or so walk into town where we found a pizza truck with a stone oven inside. Dinner was consumed sitting on a bench watching the traffic pass by (and there wasn’t all that much!)
We rode the non-toll road into Monaco and found ourselves a parking spot in a motorcycle only parking spot in front of the Auto Club of Monaco and right in front of yacht harbor. Since this Monday was a holiday, it wasn’t open, but there was lots of memorabilia in the window displays. The actual course for the Grand Prix of Monaco is held on the city streets and we were able to ride much of it. Nearby was a grocery store and some cool liquid refreshment and sandwiches provided an excellent break from the heat.
Since Monaco is so expensive to stay in, we did a couple more loops and took a low road along the coast heading west toward Nice before heading north to Draguignan where we secured a hotel room at the la Victoria where the proprietor provided us with secure off street parking. There was a festival of some sort going on, and many of the streets were blocked off which made navigating somehat challenging. We walked into the core of downtown and found dinner at a sidewalk cafe before heading back to our room.
The Rhone American cemetery is located here and upon our departure, we located it and did a tour and paid our respects. There was a group of French school children there that morning and they were excited that Americans were there visiting the cemetary. They were also amazed that I was born a year after many of those buried here were killed. It certainly gave them a sense of perspective.
Our route took us by Avignon and Angela wanted to sing and dance on the famous bridge of the same name, so we pulled into an underground parking facility, locked up our helmets and jackets to the bike, covered it and up to the square. There was a little tram taking tourists around, so we took that before finding our way to the bridge for more pictures.
Heading south out of Avignon, I searched using the GPS and found a campground near the village of Vallabregues. While the proprietor wasn’t especially friendly, there was a Dutch couple that arrived just as we did, and we enjoyed some very pleasant conversation about European travel. There was no internet. They were travelling with a car and mobile home. After a refreshing swim, we had a VERY leisurely open air dinner in the village and didn’t make it back to the campground until after 11pm and we still needed to set up the tent!
More delightful French roads led us to our next camping spot at a place called Le Fun on the Mediterranean at Fitou. Judging by the name alone, I didn’t quite know what to expect, but they had wonderful campsites with electricity, an Olympic sized swimming pool, internet (free for an hour at the bar/little store). The ground here was rock hard and stakes were hard to drive in. The campground was virtually empty and 16 euros rate (it was the going rate so far) was good. For dinner we rode into the village and ate at a little hotel which specialized in serving mussels. I initially missed this, but after having a nice dinner, we were served an appetizer size serving. They were wonderful.
After a short ride along the Mediterranean, crossing from France into Spain was a non-event, except that the police presence in Spain dramatically increased. Since we needed fuel, we found a fueling station on the Spanish side of the border, and used that opportunity for a lunch break as well. Angela expressed her pleasure at being able to once again just speak and think in Spanish and her confidence was readily apparent.
Having now ridden in a number of large European cities, upon our arrival in Barcelona I wasn’t fearful about riding there. We initially didn’t know where we would stop, but we knew that we didn’t want to camp. Using a McDonald’s restaurant as a place for a break, we used the WIFI to scout the lodging opportunities. We like Ibis hotels and found one nearby. Upon arrival there, the rate was 222 euros! No thank you. We headed further into town and found another, but it was booked; however, the desk clerk checked on another nearby location and found us a room. And off we headed for a about a 15 minute ride.
Upon checking in, we unloaded the motorcycle, took cooling showers and headed out to explore the area around us. There was a restaurant in the park across the street the seafood menu selections were intriguing, so we ate there. Yummy.
Angela wanted churros and chocolate (thick chocolate), so we sat out in the evening air and enjoyed those before retiring.
The next morning at breakfast we met an Austrian young fellow who was also a motorcyclist who was here for the Moto Grand Prix races. We enjoyed much pleasant converation before we excused ourselves and learned where the subway station was and caught a train into the central city where our normal custom was to ride the hop on, hop off bus. We quickly found it, and rode the three routes for the day. Since this was a scouting trip for a planned return trip in October, we located the cruise ship terminal and even enjoyed lunch near there. It was a fun city to become acquainted with and we have a number of things we want to see upon our return. There’s lots of unique architecture as shown by the following pictures:
It is worth mentioning that this day was Friday, June 13, Angela’s birthday and while we were enjoying dinner we were interrupted by loud banging of drums. It seems that Andalusion fire walkers were about to begin a parade that included the the use of fireworks as part of their rituals. Of course, Angela partied along with them.
Heading out of Barcelona on the A-2 highway (not a toll road), we were treated to cool temperatures and vistas not unlike Colorado or Wyoming or New Mexico. The road surface was excellent and with a speed limit of 120kph (about 74mph) we made good time to Zaragoza which was the most northern capital of the Moorish times. We rode around the city looking for lodging before eventually taking a break at McDonald’s to be able to use WIFI. There was an Ibis hotel nearby so we headed for it and it turned out to be right across the river from the historic old part of the city which was hosting a large festival. Since the day was still young, we joined the event and walked across the bridge with its display of very antique armament and toured the old city area including the Roman ruins.
Of course, Angela had to find another new and attractive friend who had just kissed her.
There was a pretty extensive section of Roman wall.
With Madrid now figuratively in sight, we left Zaragoza and continued on the A-2. The temperatures were a bit warmer, but as long as we were moving, it was wonderful.
About an hour outside Madrid we stopped for a lunch break. There was this interesting rock formation nearby that was not unlike those found in Arizona or New Mexico.
As we pulled up to the location that the GPS said was our friends’ home, Rose Anne was just getting out of their vehicle! How providential. We unpacked the motorcycle into a shopping cart; I parked the motorcycle and we all headed up to their apartment where we cooled off. As it was a Sunday afternoon and they had nothing else planned for the day, we spent the time getting re-acquainted and enjoying some ice water together until bedtime. We explained that we would like to spend a couple days touring Madrid and possibly do a day trip to Toledo before leaving on Thursday. Would this work out this way?
Finding the subway wasn’t hard although it was 3/4 mile walk away, and the train quickly got us downtown. Coming out of the subway tunnel, our first view was of the Golden Arches. We bought a 2 day Hop On, Hop Off bus ticket for 25 euros each compared to a 1 day ticket for 22 euros. We spent Monday riding the bus to get the lay of the land. Here’s a few pictures.
On Tuesday we chose to visit the Naval Museum (an excellent history of Spanish naval activity), the Egypt museum (closed but excellent views of the city, and from 6-8pm, the Prado art museum where we were in search of the Diego Velasquez paintings. No photos could be taken in the galleries. We used our 2 day pass to get around to these locations.
We hired a pedicab to take us around the Retiro Park. Here’s our driver cutting up a bit. He’s an actor as well. And he was a really good guide and driver and was in possession of NYC pedicab license!!
Upon our arrival back at our hosts, I asked if we could spend one more day on Thursday as a non-activity day before heading south on Friday. That was fine with them. That left Wednesday open. With a little research, we determined that a day visit to Toledo would be worth our while.
Wednesday morning found us navigating the subway with a transfer to a second line to the bus station location (Eliptica). At Eliptical, we quickly found the direct bus to Toledo, purchased round trip tickets for 20 euros total for 2 of us, and boarded the bus for the 50 minute journey. The 1/2 hour high speed train is also an option, but it only goes once an hour, is more expensive, and the bus travels every 30 minutes.
Toledo is a ‘must see’ city. We toured the cathedral and the El Greco museum, both of which were excellent. The city was in final preparations for the celebration of Corpus Christi. There were all sorts of banners and decorations. We even took the little tram tour which was excellent. There was so much more to see, but we just didn’t have time to take it all in.
The streets in Toledo are generally quite narrow (think donkey cart width) and the city has been under Spanish rule since the 1100’s, and the city is known for the production of bladed weapons which we certainly saw plenty. El Greco, the famous Greek artist, lived here and his works are displayed both the Cathedral and the Museum as well as other locations. Prior to the Spanish and Moorish rule it was also a Visigothic capital.
On this down day (no riding or sightseeing), we watched the installation of the new king Philipe VI (nice pomp and circumstance on many of the roads and sites we visited earlier in the week. I also updated this blog and our picture website.
We’re both loving the cultural experience of being in Europe again. In Barcelona and Madrid, one can look around and by looking at people and their mode of dress think that one is in America. Eating the local food is a very enjoyable cultural experience. The roads in the Alps are a real treat to ride from a technical standpoint, and the roads in Spain are in excellent condition. In the larger cities, the Hop On, Hop Off Buses are an excellent way to get the ‘lay of the land’, and public transportation is easy to master. Gasoline isn’t cheap: about $8 per gallon. It’s best to park the motorcycle and use the widely available public transportation. June is considered the ‘off season’, so camping is inexpensive at around $20 per night. Ibis hotels in the larger cities are nice as they have locked and secure underground parking (about $10 per night extra fee). In terms of navigating, it’s a bit of a challenge but not insurmountable when the GPS doesn’t correspond to the paper maps. I do use the paper map to give me a general sense of direction, although they are virtually unreadable while riding. Speaking of paper maps, one of the better ones that we received was from Ibis hotels. It’s got enough detail without being overwhelming.
We’re looking forward to the rest of the trip. Stay tuned.