August 25, 2016


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May 27, 2016

Summer holiday?

A question asked by many of us who have regular office jobs is 'what am I going to do for my holiday this year?' You know, that couple of weeks in the year when you can escape the normality of working life. Should you follow the sun, lie on the beach or head for the Tuscan hills? Well, for me the ride to Sardinia last year reminded me how much I enjoy long distance bike journeys and whetted my appetite for more bike trips, so In the depths of winter I began mulling over options for another bike trip. Given financial limitations and geographic restrictions, it would have to be somewhere in Europe, so it was time to get the maps out and the thinking cap on . . .

I racked up about 7,000 miles over the winter on the new Tiger, fitted heated grips, a chain oiler, an end can and some metal panniers. There's been motorway slogs, single track mountain roads & green lanes. I now know have the right bike for a trip to most places. New tyres are on and there's a couple of weeks to scrub them in before the first little trip of the year. 

For a few of us it has become an annual pilgrimage to wend our way to the lovely Isle of Man at TT time. This year four of us are booked for most of race week. A beautiful farmhouse will be our lodgings and I'll get to find out exactly how fast a Triumph Tiger 800 will go on the mountain mile!

Swiftly on the heals of that jaunt will come a ride from Bristol up to Scotland for the northernmost round of the British Superbike championship at Knockhill. More watching bikes racing, but this time staying in a cow shed!

Just a couple of weeks after that comes the main event, the trip I have been planning for the last few months. I've got that couple of weeks of holiday and I wanted to go somewhere a little different. Trips to Spain, Italy or Austria did not feel quite adventurous enough. A route quickly formed in my mind as I turned my gaze to the more northern areas of Europe. That part of Europe offered lots of opportunities for firsts for me. I've never been to the Norwegian Fjords, never knowingly crossed the arctic circle on land, never experienced the midnight sun, never been to Russia. A circuit around the Baltic Sea would allow me to do all these things and more. As it turns out, there are no passenger ferries across from the UK to Scandanavia anymore, so that's another opportunity for a first - travelling on a commercial ferry.

So the plan is: two weeks to go through Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland (possibly the Czech Republic), Germany & France before getting back to the UK. That's about 4,500 miles by my preferred route. More than the average UK biker's annual mileage in 14 days. And I plan to free/wild camp as much as possible too. That sounds like enough of an adventure for an ordinary bloke who spends his days at a desk. Not an average summer holiday then.

The space on the ferry is reserved, I am waiting for confirmation of a Russian visitors visa and I am just trying to get insurance for Russia sorted out, although I understand you can buy it there. Then, all I need to do is go! I'll be blogging and tweeting - @dynamobang - when I can. I'll also be videoing and will post short clips while travelling if I can, but there'll certainly be video footage on my YouTube channel (dynamobang) when I get back.

January 15, 2016

The fall out

For the first time since my trip to New Zealand, the motorcycle touring bug had bitten deeply. The question was what was I to do about it?

Firstly there was the question of the bike. My Triumph Speed Triple had been admirable on the Sardinia round trip, but the mileage was now racking up on my PCP financed bike. It had already been to the Isle of Man TT and on a fair few camping weekends, as well as being my main form of transport. At a little over a year old, the mileage was heading over the 9,000 mark.

There's no physical or mechanical problem with that. The bike has a very understressed engine and I have no doubt it could take high mileages extremely easily. The problem with it relates to the residual value of, what would be perceived as, a high mileage bike and the knock on effect on the PCP agreement. I'm not going to go into the details of vehicle financing packages, but with the aim of ramping up the bike touring, the financing was going to become a problem which would eventually bite hard. I decided to chop in my Speed Triple for a bike which people expect to run high mileages and change from PCP to HP at the same time. Both of these choices made sense to me - and still do. It was the logical thing to do. Having managed to dent the rims of both of the alloy wheels on the Speed Triple, once due to a lump of masonry in the road which I couldn't avoid and once because of a high speed blowout on the motorway, I wanted a bike with tough, wire spoked wheels. This was handy because I also wanted a 'go anywhere bike' and the more serious ones of those come with that type of wheel, for good reasons.

So a go anywhere bike which is good for racking up long distances, that basically means an 'adventure bike'. I had no interest in the big bikes, BMW GS1200, KTM1190, Triumph Explorer et al. They are so heavy, cumbersome at low speed and bulky that I fail to see the attraction. I wanted a middle weight bike for my purposes. Back in the day, before buying the Speed Triple, I had test ridden the Triumph Tiger 800 and my abiding memory of that test ride was thinking 'I could ride around the world on this'. With the next generation of Tiger 800 now on the market, an obvious choice was to take the new one for a ride and see what it was like. As I was after a wire wheeled rufty tufty bike, I would need the XC version. My friendly local Triumph dealer, Fowlers of Bristol, gave me their demo Tiger XCx for a couple of hours to see what I thought. That was long enough for me to go over the bridge in to Wales and give it a decent test. In a couple of hours I managed motorways, large A roads, twisty A and B roads, single track country lanes and even a bit of gravel track. In every situation I thought the bike was superb and the level of comfort was a revelation after the Speed Triple. As it was the XCx version, the bike came with a extra few bells and whistles, including cruise control. Surprisingly, no heated grips though.

A few days of head scratching followed the test ride. I spoke to Fowlers about chopping in my bike against a Tiger 800 XCx, but due to the mileage the equity in my bike was relatively low. I could always pretty much moth ball the Speed Triple for the winter, by which time the mileage versus age ratio would have swung a little further back in my favour. As it was, I happened to ask Fowlers when their demo XCx would be up for replacement. As it also was, their replacement demo was in the process of being ordered and their current demo would soon be up for sale! A deal was swiftly struck, my lovely Speed Triple traded in and an equally lovely Tiger 800 XCx left Fowlers a little earlier than they had been planned! I had also swapped from PCP to HP, so in 5 years the bike would be completely paid off.

And so begun my 'adventure bike' ownership. Having spent many years with haphazard bungees holding an assortment of so called luggage on to bikes, the lack of panniers etc didn't bother me. I got my trusty Rok Straps and roll bag out, put them onto my new bike - which actually had proper bungee points on it - and cracked in a few camping weekends away before the winter really set in.

January 09, 2016

Homeward bound

17, 18 & 19 August 2015

Inevitably, after a fabulous time lazing in the sunshine, spending time with family and good friends, 2 am swims in the sea and more, the time for the return journey arrived accompanied by another early start. Malc and I departed from Porto Rafael while the remainder of our party slept. During our stay in Sardinia the temperature had dropped a few degrees, making travelling more comfortable. We arrived back at Santa Teresa about an hour before our ferry was due to depart to find a few other motorcycles would be on the same ferry. A friendly French couple on a BMW GS (think Ewan & Charley to picture the bike) came and chatted for a while. Strangely, they showed me photos on their phone of a trip to Bristol. I'm not sure I was ready to see those photos of the next ultimate destination whilst only just having started the journey.

We spent the whole trip across to Corsica out on the deck of the ferry, seeing all of the sights we had missed out on during the trip south. Coming in to the port at Bonifacio, we saw buildings clinging to the rugged, stratified cliff tops & what looked like a staircase down the cliff face. Quite where the stair case leads to I don't know. I have made no attempt to find out either. Some things are best left as an enigmatic mystery, as the answer could well be quite dull! All off the cliffs around Bonifacio are truly spectacular. Geology just showing off.

Arriving back at Bonifacio

It was also much cooler in Corsica on the trip north and during the journey I received a text message informing me that there would be a delay in the departure of the ferry back to northern Italy. However, the revised departure time wasn't clear, so we decided to head for Bastia as planned, just in case. Arriving at the Bastia ferry terminal, it was still unclear when we would be leaving and there seemed to be no reliable news. As a result we ended up just killing time at the port. It's a shame, because it turned out to be a few hours. We could have spent that time on a detour to the mountains on the journey up the island. Those mountains had looked fabulous and would certainly merited exploration.  As it was, we watched the world going by for a few hours, including a fire in a nearby building which was put out by one quick acting local man and a fire extinguisher. The boy done good.

There were lots of bikes in the queue for the ferry, but we didn't chat to others so much this time. We were tired after the early start, a bit bored after hanging around the terminal area for a few hours, plus we hadn't got the prize of heading to holiday time to keep us perky. The ferry was finally ready for boarding late at night. It must have been close to midnight. On the ferry, for some reason the personnel spoke to me in German, not sure why. I wasn't even dressed like your normal continental bike tourer. Although my German is mighty rusty, I managed to decipher the directions to our cabin. The cabin itself is was compact, but accommodated us for the truncated available hours of sleep.

Late night, still waiting for the ferry to Vado Ligure

Arrival at Vado Ligure was in the cool blue purple light of early morning. As we headed back northwards, we rode through mist in the coastal hills and anticipated the joys of hitting the roads on the outskirts of Turin at morning rush hour. The traffic at Turin turned out to be no problem, unlike the unpredictable Italian road signs. I was looking for signs to France, Frejus Tunnel, even Lyon. What got us off at the correct exit was a sign to Bardonecchia, a town I fortunately remembered passing on the ride south. Oh those crazy Italians!
We stopped for a coffee at a service station, where we got served with espresso which most UK coffee shops could only dream of - at a petrol station. As we headed back up into the Alps, we both saw what looked like a fortified church or a small castle on a vertiginous outcropping of rock, right along side the alpine road. If we had just been tiki touring, meandering around and exploring, it was the sort of place we would have definitely investigated. However, the need to pack the kilometres in meant it would have to wait for us to pass that way some other time.

The journey north through the Alps and central France, back to the same F1 hotel at Troyes, passed without incident. Not a wrong turn or delay. We spent a long lunch time break back in Chambery. This time we wandered around a little and saw the beautiful historic centre of the town. We took the time to sit in the sun and drink more coffee. We also nipped into a supermarket and grabbed the ingredients for a leisurely outdoor lunch, as well as food for the evening. 


We awoke the following morning to a strange dampness in the air. There was light rain as we departed the hotel for the trip back up to Calais. After about an hour on the road we had to stop to add extra layers, put liners back into jackets and don our neck warming gear. It was as though northern France was trying to help us re-acclimatise for the return to the cold of an average UK summer. 

I spent most of the journey through France that day wracking my brain, trying to work out a way to spend a few months bike touring through Europe. Before this trip, my bike touring dreams had centred on further flung locations, but this ride had reminded me how much there is to see much closer to home. I decided that I would have to dedicate a portion of my meagre brain capacity to the subject of more motorbike trips once this one was over.

We hit the UK under grey skies and decided to ride together until our routes parted, me heading west and Malc continuing with the journey north. As I reached the London orbital motorway (M25) all I was thinking was “what the fuck am I doing here”. As the rain set in, I was depressed, properly depressed, at the thought of being back in the UK, of going back to work, of going back to the flat where I live. There's not really anything wrong with any of those things, but I wanted more. I wanted to carry on travelling. I wanted to go to new places. I wanted the unfamiliar and the exploration. Instead what I got was massive traffic jams on the M25 which continued without respite on to, and along the M4. Filtering, filtering, for miles. And filtering through slow moving or static traffic for long distances is tiring. You really have to have your wits about you.

So, as I neared Bristol, a thought occurred to me. Where is home? Have I got a place I unreservedly call home? There is a place I have lived for the last 14 years & have a job & good friends there, but I have never thought that I'll be there indefinitely. There is also a place where I was born & grew up, where most of my family live and where I have got more friends, but I can't see myself moving back there. Apart from wanting to be with family and friends, it is really only financial circumstances which keep me in the UK. There was a definite need to get my thinking cap on. Not in terms of relocating my life, but merely to satisfy that desire to travel and explore. It was unlikely that current circumstances would allow me to be heading off for adventures lasting months at a time, but there would be ways to plan shorter and more frequent mini adventures. I remembered Ewan McGregor talking during the Long Way Round trip and what he said had more meaning for me then than ever before. It makes complete sense to me and it's something I want much more of in my life.

"I really feel this is where I belong. To be on this bike, to be seeing what I'm seeing & meeting the people I'm meeting. I feel like I absolutely belong in this moment now, it's where I should be. And luckily, it's where I find myself.' Thank you Ewan, that sums up motorcycle travel perfectly.

January 08, 2016

Sprint to the sun - Italy & mini France

8 August 2015

We awake in the dawn light at about 5:30 on the deck of the ferry and find quite a lot of people already up and milling about. The light is tinged with pink and off to the right (port? starboard? do I care?) is land. The ferry is cruising past the north end of Corsica towards the port of Bastia. It seems as though we will be docking any minute, but the ferry company know their business and it is about 7am before we actually touch tyres to the tarmac of Corsica. There's only about 170 Km's between Bastia and Bonifacio, the port we needed to reach to catch the ferry over to Sardiinia, and we had got all morning to get there. 

Up at dawn on the ferry

We decided to initially travel down the coast with Jeff / Geoff as he was looking for a coastal campsite on our route, but that plan immediately fell apart as Malc and I needed to stop for fuel. Our guide out of town and his satnav failed to see our furiously flashing lights, or hear the tooting of the bike horns as Malc and I pulled into a tiny street side petrol station. Jeff / Geoff was long gone. It was shame to lose contact with him, especially without having the chance to wish him well, but we were both running with our petrol warning lights on and there wasn't much choice. Fortunately for us, it was easy to find our way out of Bastia. Just head south. Before long we were out of town, the surroundings were becoming more rural. It was very odd to suddenly be back on French roads having been in Italy yesterday evening. Somehow Corsica felt both Italian & French. 

Since first coming coming up with this wheeze to ride to Sardinia and realising Corsica was the best route, I had the idea in my head of croissant and fresh coffee for breakfast, relaxing in the sunshine at a sea side Corsican cafe. By 8am, the temperature was hurtling upwards again and we were starting to gently simmer in our bike kit. We ended up stopping at a road side cafe in some small town or other. It wasn't by the sea, but it would do fine. The cafe owner was just opening up as we arrived and very kindly hurried to provide us with espresso and fresh croissants. We were in the shade on a very sunny morning, with a very French breakfast and that was close enough to my imagined scenario for me! As we fuelled ourselves up, the missing Jeff / Geoff rocked up. It was a great to see him. We just had a quick chat and then he went on his way, continuing his search for a suitable campsite. The chance meeting gave us the opportunity to bid him a happy journey and wish him well on his travels, which was the most important thing we hadn't managed to do.

Breakfast stop in Corsica

The trip down Corsica was excellent. To be fair, the speed limits on the Corsican roads were as difficult to guess as the ones on the Italian roads, so we just didn't worry about them too much! As long as we were being sensible and not travelling too much faster than the rest of the traffic, we considered that we would be ok. The roads were fun, lots of overtaking opportunities and enough twists and turns. The countryside and the views constantly varied, from arable farm land, to forests and of course, beaches, coves and blue green Mediterranean Sea.

As we neared Bonifacio, the traffic density increased dramatically, not helped by a road accident which was being cleared up. As everyone knows, huge queues of traffic do not have the same meaning for motorcyclists as they do far car drivers and delays were minimal. The same can't be said for finding the ferry port in Bonifacio. The main marina is almost impossible to miss, but that is not where the ferry leaves from, oh no, that would make it too easy. To increase the challenge in finding the ferry dock, there were no discernible signs directing travellers. In the end we had to ask for directions to the Sardinia ferry. Twice. Although Corsica is French, there has to be a hefty Italian influence, as it is typically Italian that the town is easy to find, but then the ferry port is not signposted at all!

By now, we had progressed from simmering in our biking kit to full on boil in the bag. Parking up at the ferry dock, we signed in before grabbing a spot to wait which was shaded and relatively cool. It was pleasant enough but was trumped easily by the air conditioned interior of the ferry. Having watched in amazement as the ferry executed a three point turn where it seemed suicidal to do so, we were soon lashing the bikes down before heading straight for the refrigerated indoor lounge. Settliing close to the bar ensured swift access to fizzy drinks and cold bottles of water. It's not a flashy ferry, but it felt like the height of luxury. The overnight stop in mid France by now seemed a fair few days ago and setting off from Bristol must have been weeks ago, surely.

Waiting for the ferry at Bonifacio

As the short ferry journey neared northern Sardinia, we had cooled down enough to venture up on to deck. The breeze was perfect, taking the edge off the early afternoon sun. We could clearly see Santa Teresa di Gallura, the Sardinian ferry port, but looking north the Southern Corsican coast barely looked much further away. We knew now that the journey was basically done. There were only about 30 Km's to complete from the ferry port to Porto Rafael, our ultimate destination, where Malc's family would be waiting for him, and hopefully a cold beer would be waiting for me. Not only was it not far, but we knew the route having travelled it before, Malc far more often than me. That meant that my route finding duties were over until the journey home as well. However, all bikers know it to be true that the start and end of any journey are always the most dangerous. At the start of the journey, you have not got into the swing of it, not settled down, not got your awareness working properly. The end of the journey, your mind can wander to the journey being over, to you destination having been reached. It is vital to stay in the present and to keep concentrating. As Malc and I kitted up to get off the ferry, we looked at each other and said "last 5 percent", meaning, 'we're nearly there, don't do anything daft and spoil it now'. We would be taking it nice and easy on this last stretch.

With my leather jacket stowed on the back of my bike, we headed off for the very last leg. Now I know it's not a good idea to be riding around a Mediterranean island on a 1000cc motorbike with only a t-shirt for protection (apart from the helmet, gloves, Kevlar jeans and boots of course), but I'd had enough of overheating. It was much cooler pootling along without the jacket on, but it didn't take long for me to feel the sun burning on my arms! It was worth it though.

The familiar views as we rode up the small road which crosses the hill hiding Porto Rafael were very, very welcome. It was lunchtime - exactly when we had expected to arrive. As we sat down for a cool beer at the local bar with Sarah, (a local, a business partner of my sister in law and also a family friend) we had done what we set out to do. Home to Sardinia in two and a half days. A shade under 1,100 miles including the Eurotunnel and two ferry crossings - on naked sports bikes with no satnav and no touring luggage. On the way, we had seen plenty. We had met new people. We had seen the countries and the sights. We had experienced far more than anyone would jumping on a plane and flying over. That was the point for us. We were going to make the journey anyway, so why not make the journey an event in itself?

January 01, 2016

Sprint to the sun - Home to Northern Italy

6 & 7 August 2015

A nice ride from home in Bristol to the warm sunshine of Sardinia? Yes please! The whole reason for the trip was to be there for my sister in law's birthday. Limited time available to get away from work meant there was to be no loitering or exploration en-route. This was to be a blast from Bristol to northern Sardinia, via France, Italy and Corsica, including the channel tunnel and two ferry crossings, to be completed in two and a half days. The return trip would be the same route and time limits. My brother, Malc, would be taking the same trip with me, but he would be starting from Cambridge. The plan was to meet at the Maidstone service station on the way to the Eurotunnel terminal. We would be taking bikes normally not considered exactly suitable for touring. Malc would be on his Triumph Street Triple and I would be on my Triumph Speed Triple. Not a pannier or top box to be seen.

At the end of the first afternoon, I had the room to myself for a few minutes and relaxed on my bed at the Troyes Sud Formule1 hotel, about of a third of the way down France, reflecting on the first day of the trip.

In the summer of 2015 the news story of attempted illegal migration to the UK via the channel tunnel was all over the media. The news sites, the news on the radio (I don't have a TV) and the papers seemed to be full of stories of huge traffic delays, extensive traffic diversions and violent behaviour around the tunnel terminals. With this very much in mind, I decided to leave Bristol early in order to mitigate the anticipated problems at Eurotunnel. A couple of cups of strong coffee is all that was required before the off. Apart from toothbrush & paste, everything was packed the night before to aid a quick get away. A tank bag and a waterproof roll top bag strapped over the pillion seat of the bike holds everything thing required & more. Rok straps are a must for the roll bag, much quicker, easier and safer than bungees or a cargo net. The roll bag on the back necessitates a rather inelegant mounting and dismounting of the bike, as it stops me simply swinging my leg over the seat - I am not as flexible or supple as I once was! Thankfully, over the course of the trip this will become a more natural and slightly less embarrassing process.

Getting up and going at sparrow fart always has the major advantage of quiet roads for the first couple of hours, and it proved to be the case that day as the commuter traffic didn't really start to build up until I hit the notorious M25 Motorway around west London. Reaching the our service station meeting point a good hour and a half before we were due to arrive at the Eurotunnel terminal, it transpired that there had been barely any traffic after leaving the M25. No miles and miles of filtering through traffic, not even a diversion. Being so early, I was expecting to have a bit of a wait before Malc arrived, so a quick top up with petrol and purchase of a suitable GB sticker preceeded my trip to the ubiquitous coffee shop of doubtful quality. Having assumed the worst on the traffic front, Malc was already there! We saw little point in hanging around, so chugged down the coffee and wended our way down to the terminal, all the time expecting a sudden log jam full of lorries with resigned drivers and cars full of dejected holiday makers - after all, it was school summer holiday time. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Damn that Daily Mail style sensationalist journalism!

Our early arrival turned out to be a happy accident though. We were swiftly ushered onto an earlier crossing by happy, smiling Eurotunnel personnel. So quick, simple and pleasant. Not even a passport check - but we did get a quick random security check, which must have taken all of a couple of minutes.

On the Eurotunnel
In no time we were on the roads of continental Europe. There was one missed turning leaving Calais, but then it was all southward and pretty straight forward. The temperature was rapidly rising. My liner jacket was quickly stowed away in the tank bag at the first rest stop, about an hour into France. As expected, there were frequent, clean and well equipped services, rest areas and petrol stations. At the first petrol spot I had a chat with a Brit who was driving with his two children, to Geneva in one hit. Having done the south coast of France in a day before, I know it's a perfectly feasible trip by car, but naked sporty bikes are a slightly different story. The driver was intrigued and slightly confused by the fact that we didn't feel isolated, exposed or lonely travelling decent distances by bike. If you have ever ridden a motorbike you will understand, it is only those poor souls who haven't tried riding who can't grasp the intimate connection with your surrounding environment, the levels of constant concentration and the cameraderie that biking brings to a journey, no matter how long or indeed how short.

As we were getting our kit back on and preparing to set off again, a car adorned with advertising passed through the station forecourt. I am presuming the driver was the subject of the advertisement, it being for Terry Thomas: tennis coach. I really, really hope that he chose his life long profession after watching School for Scoundrels (the proper black and white version). Hard cheese!

Navigation for our trip was by the traditional map method. In fact we had just a relatively small, stupid scale 'glove box' road atlas of Europe. I was working on the principle that if a larger scale map was required, we would just buy one locally. I'm sure a satnav would have worked fine, but it's another thing to lose or break- a map is easily replaceable and substantially cheaper. So at the start of the day I would write a super simple road book to get us to our destination. A days worth of road numbers, vague directions and place names proved to easily fit on a single side of A4 paper, which was then stuffed under the clear plastic window of my trusty old magnetic tank bag.

I had forgotten how large and sparsely populated France is compared to the UK. It was a revelation to reaquiant myself with views of such huge uninhabited expanses, with perfectly tree lined roads and canals. It's a frequently beautiful country.

Passing by Reims, we arrived at the Troyes sud F1 in sunshine and warmth of the late afternoon. The F1 hotels are clean, simple and cheap. There's no frills, but a decent bed for the night, good showers and breakfast for about £20 each is perfect for our needs. After an early start and a good few hours in the saddle, the last thing we wanted to do after showering and relaxing for a bit was to get back on the bikes and ride into Troyes itself. A walk around the local area revealed absolutely nothing of note, but fortunately there was an ok restaurant right next to the hotel, where we could have some al fresco food and a beer in the evening. It was almost too hot to sleep. I don't think either of us really managed more than occasional periods of snoozing.
The morning of day 2 we were both very ready to get back on the steeds and rack up some serious kilometres. The destination was Vado Ligure, a suburb of Savona in northern Italy, to catch the overnight ferry to Corsica. We headed south in blistering heat on superbly smooth roads which rapidly became busier as we neared the larger cities of central France. In the relative cool of the early morning we passed through some fabulous landscapes just south of Troyes. Hill side vineyards to the north and fields of sunflowers to the south. Just glorious.  

Around Dijon & Lyon the roads are really quite busy. Not UK busy - not static traffic or requiring filtering - but hectic by comparison to anything we had seen since Calais. By the time we stopped for petrol between Lyon & the Alps, it felt like we were riding in desert conditions. The barren, arid lunar surroundings a stark contrast to where we had been just a few hours earlier, but with a beauty of their own.

The next way mark on the make shift road book was Chambery, a town I had only ever been to during the snow season. The Alps hove into view and arriving with them were large smiles on our faces. Riding through the Alps was one of the parts of the trip which we had both most looked forward to. Although we were travelling against the clock and would have to continue on the main autoroute & peage roads we had been on all the way through France, we knew the views would still be pretty special. Pulling into a road side rest area beside Lac d'Aiguebelette just before Chambery, proved to us that we would not be disappointed. The green/blue glacial lake glinted in the sunshine, nestled in the forested foot hills of the Alps. The peaks of the mountains beyond promising a glorious afternoon to come. Leaving the main road, we headed off into Chambery to get lunch and a cool drink. Our biking gear for British riding was proving not to be quite as well suited to the temperatures in the southern French summer.

Lac d'Aiguebelette

Croques monsieur’s and cold fizzy drinks consumed at a small street side cafe, we rode off into the Alps proper. The roads prove to be as quiet and smooth as everywhere else in France, but the surroundings leapt up a few notches on the scale from rural idyl to stunning mountains. It is quite magnificent. As well as being visually glorious, the afternoon had become overpoweringly hot. There were no temperature gauges on our bikes, but had to be in the high 30's celcius at least. The heat made it impossible to ride with the helmet visor up, the air was simply too hot. We are used to the UK, where opening your visor is an instant temperature regulator as cool air rushes in. On the ride through the alps, the reverse was true. Rather than the wind chill effect, it was more reminicent of being in a fan assisted oven. As we pushed further into the Alps, the tunnels becoming more frequent and providing some temporary respite, making me whoop out loud with relief as the temperatures dropped significantly, until the Frejus tunnel that is. 

Before the Frejus tunnel on the French / Italian border, and we stopped for petrol. We were now both very hot & sweaty, in need of more cold fizzy sugary liquid. Some petrol pump issues tested my rough school boy French to it's very tight limits. The people in the petrol station must have been humouring me, I'm not convinced that what my frazzled brain cobbled together actually made much sense, but eventually we were off again.

The lack of research into the trip meant that the toll fee for the Frejus tunnel came as something of a surprise. At over 12.5 Kim's long (we think in km's now), and very hot & stuffy the tunnel doesn't provide the shelter of the previous, shorter tunnels. It's far more oppressive and there don't seem to be many cars driving through with their windows open, for good reason! We exited the Frejus to find that we're in Italy. I didn't even see any notices or any sign of a border, but the roads are suddenly much worse and the cars driving around us instantly go bonkers. The civility of the French roads is a stark contrast to the immediate change to typical Italian driving lunacy. Lane use etiquette and speed limits are thrown out of the window.

Unlike France, it is often tricky to know what the speed limit is on Italian roads. To be fairly safe, we just judged by the average speed of other road users - much as the speed of UK motorways seems to work? Blasting down out of the Alps, we stop for more cold liquids and sugar before Turin, not realising how close we are to the city itself due to ridiculous Italian road signs.  A check of the tiny map tells us that we are only a km or so from the main Turin bypass / ring road. We are making pretty good time with only a couple of hours of riding left to reach the ferry port - provided there's no mishaps.

The trip round the edge of Turin is memorable for the crazed driving antics of the other road users. Malc seemed to get the worst of the treatment, as I see him in my mirrors, get squeezed from all directions by idiotic drivers. All I can think of is where the roads used in The Italian Job may be and singing 'The Self Preservation Society' to myself. My main concern on this stretch of road is allayed as a minor miracle occurs and the exit we need is actually signposted in a manner which makes some kind of sense.
Apart from the t-shirt clad FireBlade rider racing past us as though we're standing still, the road south to from Turin to Savona is exceptionally dull until we get relatively close to the coast. The road then becomes much, much more fun for bikes, with hills, super smooth tarmac and every fun type of corner I could think of. 

Getting to within spitting distance of the ferry port turns out to be surprisingly easy, but I managed to miss the correct exit at the port entrance roundabout! The first missed turning since leaving Calais, and easily rectified. We arrived early for the ferry and could have gone for a wee explore of the local area, but in reality we have been on the road for enough hours. We are a tad tired out & simply can't be arsed to pootle off to look at the town. Instead we sit down for a cooling beer in the evening sunshine. As we slowly recover from the heat of the day, a Brit biker came over to talk to us. Without even seeing the number plates on our bikes he knew that we are also British. Apparently our general overheated, disorganised and scruffy appearance was enough to indicate that we were Brit bikers! It turns out that our fellow Brit is a chap called Jeff (or Geoff?) who is on a year long tour of Europe on his fully loaded BMW GS1200. A few weeks into his journey, he is getting into the whole travelling experience and has decided to head to Corsica on something of a whim having had the island recommended to him by a biker on a campsite. 

I know how it feels to be travelling on your own for long periods and so we decide to adopt him for the evening. Solo travelling is a great experience, but sometimes you need some company for a little while. Just getting to the point where you are simply chatting, instead of regurgitating variations on the same spiel about what it is you're doing, is a welcome change and a return to a semblance of normality.

Malc and I swiftly agree that we would love to spend longer travelling through France and the Alps. It would be great to get off the autoroutes & peages, to see France in greater detail. Immerse ourselves in the country more. The people we have met in France over the last couple of days have been warm, friendly and welcoming.

The sun disappears over the horizon and as the evening darkens, the queues begin to form up for embarcation. We head on over to join the inevitable lane reserved for all those travelling with less than four wheels. The three of us end up in conversation with a group of French motorcyclists who are heading to Corsica for two weeks of exploring and riding. This is their third year of biking holidays in Corsica and they are obviously enthusiastic about the Island and the roads. One of the French guys actually knows where Bristol is and asks when I left home. Er, yesterday morning I reply. His face is a picture as he almost refuses to believe that my response is true. He looks at us, looks at our bikes and seems to privately decide that we are typically ridiculous Brits.

Bikes lashed down, we lug our gear up onto the deck at the rear of the ferry. The night is warm and there is an outdoor bar which is open! Malc, Jeff/Geoff and myself have a few chilled ones and a chinwag to finish off a long, hot day. As a result of our limited travel budget, we decided not to book a cabin for the route down. We know that tomorrow there will not be too much riding and that we should be at our ultimate destination by the early afternoon, so kipping on the deck of the ferry seems both cheap and an additional unusual experience to cram into the journey. 

We are obviously far from the only people travelling on this overnight ferry who have decided to rough it for the night. The decks and the interior spaces of the ferry are full of people who are far better prepared for the night than us. They have got everything ranging from sleeping bags to twin inflatable matresses and duvets. Of course, being us, we just lie down on an empty(ish) bit of deck with our riding kit now doubling up as blankets. Eventually even the music from the outside bar can't keep us awake and we manage a few hours alfresco sleep.