A week in the south of France

There are times when being cheerful and funny is not funny or appropriate.  One such time was 2 weeks ago, when the ambulance I called at 4:15am for Anthony arrived.  Anthony calmy woke me up saying “I need you to get up”.  Did I miss the 5:30am alarm clock for our day trip to Calais with my mum? No, it was much earlier and Anthony is writhing in agony.  Not his heart this time I hasten to add.  But what?  He tries to vomit when he never ever vomits.  His body is trying to expel something.  The pain on his side is relentless.  So once again, as he likes to joke, I call the ambulance.  By the time the ambulance arrives, the pain has subsided somewhat, he is dressed, can walk and I am ready to accompany him.  The paramedics are surprised to see him walk.  So Anthony jokes that whenever I call 000 or 999, the operator says they recognise me as a regular caller, do I want ambulance or helicopter?  Shut up Anthony I tell him, annoyed, then immediately feeling guilty as I know how much pain he is in really but he is putting a brave snd cheerful face.  Many basic tests and prodding later, and the pain now bearable, the ambulance leaves us behind having told us they suspected kidney stones and if the pain came back, to drive to the hospital emergency department and wait to be seen.  Over the next few days, the pain came and went, gradually in lesser intensity and I can happily report that he has had no pain whatsoever for about 10 days.

So we spend a week holed up at my sister’s home, waiting and dreading for the pain to return then both nursing a bad cold and cough at the same time.  We recover in time for our week in the south of France.  But this was not about touring in Provence but something completely different.  A retreat if you will.

A number of our kind followers and friends have often asked us when we were going to write a book.  We never thought our sedate travels would be of interest to the wider public but after so many questions and much encouragement, we have thought well, maybe. Maybe we could inspire others.   I recently read that a very well known writer and motorcycle traveller, Ted Simon, was opening up his home to aspiring writers and artists.  Ted is very well known amongst overland travellers and especially motorcycle travellers, mostly through his first book, Jupiter’s Travels which narrates Ted’s four-year journey through 126,000 km across 45 countries on a Triumph Tiger 100 500 cc motorcycle from 1973 to 1977. His book was first published in English in 1979 and I first heard about him and his book from fellow travellers in our hotel in Karthoum in 1982. An opportunity to get feedback from a successful writer who has inspired thousands of travellers over 49 years?! Inespéré!! 

We had met Ted in the US a few years ago and had had a few discussions with him.   I had read many travel books including his of course, read a book on how to write a book, spent quite some time thinking about our potential book and knew the blog would be useful for reference but that was it.  After about 18 months, I finally worked out a structure, and the first chapter.  Time to get some honest and early feedback.

We organised to visit Ted and stay in his 5 bedroom home in Aspiran, a tiny village in the south of France.   It was great to see him again, exchange stories and experiences – such a generous and kind man.

Well, I wanted brutally honest feedback and it was brutal!! The book structure and concept was sound he told me but I had better learn to write because how I wrote was bad!  Brutal but exactly what I needed.  Ted explained what was wrong and it all made sense. I went back to my first chapter and proceeded to work on it.  What Ted said was correct of course, I could see it clearly now.  I gave him examples of what I changed and it seems I have understood.  It doesn’t mean I will manage to achieve what is required, but I have been given some invaluable pointers.  I have always believed Anthony writes better than me anyway so we’ll see what happens now…  

Anne with Ted Simon in Aspiran

Aspiran, France

Walking outside Aspiran, France

While in the Provence area, we could not resist visiting a few historical and beauty spots on the way from and to Marseilles. It is amazing how much one can see, how much history and stunning places one can see when one travels slowly.  Medieval villages, roman bridges and viaducts, 12th century abbeys.  3 Unesco sites in one day!!   We could spend months in that region alone!

Camargue horses

Arles Coliseum

Arles obelisque and town hall

Frank Gehry’s aluminium Luma tower, Arles

Parc des Atelier with Frank Gehry’s aluminium Luma tower, Arles

Roman necropolis Alyscamps, Arles, France

Roman Pont du Diable outside St-Guilhelm-le-Désert

View from Pont du Diable

The back of Gellone Abbey, St-Guilhelm-le-Désert

Medieval St-Guilhelm-Le-Desert, France

Benedictine Gellone Abbey, St-Guilhelm-Le-Désert, France

Medieval St-Guilhelm-Le-Désert, France

A thistle, the shepherd’s barometer in the south of France

1st century Roman Pont du Gard, France

Pont du Gard, France

View from the Pont du Gard towards Nîmes

Gordes, Provence

12th century Cictercian Sénanque abbey, France

Sénanque abbey, France

Village des Bories, 18th century shepherds’s stone huts, Gordes

Borie stone hut, Gordes

On the way to Ted’s, we stopped in Arles and met up with one of my brother’s ex-girlfriends.  We had been in correspondence ever since his death so it was special to finally meet in person.  She and her husband even decided to stay at the hotel we were staying so that we could spend more time together.  Very special… Alan would be so happy…

Finally meeting Eve

-Anne

It’s a wrap – the end of our fourth motorcycle journey

Streak and Storm are back in storage for a well earned rest after 2 months on the road.  They have both accumulated over 60,000 miles / 96,500 kms. Both will need a good clean and service before returning to the road in future.  Anne’s chain and sprockets have reached the end of their lives and will need replacing but this will wait until before we next take Streak and Storm on the road again.

As a final treat we thought that we should take Streak & Storm out to a couple of motorcycle themed places in London we had not been to before, namely ‘The Bike Shed Motorcycle Club’ in Shoreditch which opened in November 2015 and the famed ‘Ace Cafe London’ on the North Circular Rd which originally opened in 1938. With all our motorcycle travels we had never ridden motorcycles in Central London.  Anne decades ago had bravely ridden a bicycle around London until it was stolen but that is another story.

Crossing Tower Bridge on Streak

Tower Bridge from Streak

The weather is kind to us, but does not make up for the horrendously slow traffic we encounter, and this is a Saturday.  I could not imagine how people do city riding every day. We wend our way slowly through SE London trying to stay in the correct lane before we both realise that there is a small white motorcycle on a blue background for the bus lines, Eureka, we are off and making much faster progress.  Over Tower Bridge, a must do option and finally arrive outside The Bike Shed.  I am contemplating how to cross the oncoming traffic into the entrance when a group of a dozen or so street bikes swamp us, one pulls across the oncoming traffic and authoritatively stops the cars.  We all nip across and into ….. a small laneway between the tables and chairs of the patrons: it’s great except we have our wide panniers and the rest are slim street bikes.  Still, all survive and we park in the back under the railway arches.

Parking in the Bike Shed London

The parking under the arches is filled with a cacophony of motorcycle engines as we all park.  We are the only adventure bikes and dirty ones at that.  Streak and Storm with their panniers, sticker covered top boxes and loads strapped on the back stood out amongst all those smooth road bikes, but none of them have had the adventures Streak and Storm have experienced.   

The Bike Shed store

About to have brunch at the Bike Shed

Well worth a visit and great to have such a place in central London for motorcyclists to meet. Kudos to those who set the Bike Shed up.  Do go and support this establishment if you are in London, “use it or loose it as they say”.   After a delicious brunch at the Bike Shed, on to the Ace Cafe via Euston Rd – again the bus lanes were a saviour for the clutch hand allowing us to keep moving at a steady pace. The Ace Cafe was a transport cafe from 1938 to 1969 built to service traffic on the A406 North Circular.  In the 50s and 60s it became a magnet for young motorcyclists and became one of the birthplaces of the Care Racer:  it was one of the cafes motorcyclists would use for short races between popular cafes.  (for those interested, check out www.caferacertv.com/the-history-of-cafe-racers/ )

Anne outside the Ace Cafe London

Ace Cafe and time for a coffee

Finally for those who want to know, and so we will not forget, here are the trip facts and figures

– This was our fourth long distance trip on Streak and Storm since 2014

– We visited France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Faroes, Iceland and Germany

– Streak & Storm have now been to 50 countries

– Streak & Storm covered 4,500 miles / 6,700 kilometres this trip

– We replaced two parts on Storm, the rear ABS cable and LH Instrument control

– Both motorcycles have now travelled more than 60,000 miles / 96,500 kilometres

Heading back to storage, thanks Streak and Storm

This trip to Iceland and the Faroe Islands has been yet another great experience, we have seen and done so much, made new friends and renewed our bonds with existing friends.  We will however focus on warmer climes in future for our motorcycle travel.  We now seamlessly switch to four wheels for a two week road trip.  Yes a couple more blog entries to come.

– Anthony

Billund, Berlin, Belgium and back to Britain

 

Land at last, after three days clinging to the tattered rigging and being cruelly pounded by the North Atlantic’s icy waves, we stagger ashore in Denmark thankful to be on dry land again.  

What a load of rubbish! We had a generally smooth crossing and any thoughts of seasickness were caused by me, Anthony, having a small sinus blockage. We have found the M/S Norröna of the Smyril Line a comfortable and well equipped little ship, perfect for us especially with the forward facing cabin above the bridge.  We just had to open the window and shout our instructions down to the crew below.  Well I would have done if the window opened. We could watch the bridge camera showing the sea ahead on the TV screen in the cabin and then confirm it by looking out the window. One of only six forward facing cabins, luck of the Speeds I guess.

The arrival back in Denmark sees a small rise in temperature to 17 degrees celsius. It is surprising the difference a couple of degrees of extra warmth make while riding to us.  We have decided that we are not, and never were, the heroic all weather hard core riders that appear on the covers of the Adventure Motorcycle magazines; we are more the temperate domesticated variety, but we are happy so what else matters.

From the northern tip of Denmark, we head southwards ignoring the multiple ferries heading north to Norway, another time perhaps.  Our destination is the town of Billund in central Denmark and yes the home of Lego and the original Legoland.  I have not had an interest in Lego since my early teens, but the opportunity to visit the original home of Lego is too good to pass up.

The original home of Legoland

What we discover is an interesting mix of rides, working models and clever little items almost hidden from view at times.  As someone who grew up with the basic bricks and not the multiplicity of sets that exist today I am impressed by the large scale builds just using simple bricks such as Mt Rushmore showing four US Presidents heads and somewhere we have been in 2015. The wildlife park is just as realistic, in my view, and a lot safer than the real thing, no-one has ever been seriously mauled by a lego animal. I will let you enjoy the photos without more of my commentary.

Ready for takeoff at Legoland Airport.
This one nearly ate my icecream!
The locals are very friendly.
Never built anything like this at home.
Largest ever Lego model, full size Star Wars X wing fighter, 5.3 million bricks.
Bigger spiders than those back home in Queensland!

Onward towards Berlin leaving Denmark and getting onto the German autobahns with their fast flowing traffic. Unlike India where rear view mirrors are an optional extra, here one needs to have eyes in the back of the head literally.  With higher speeds, those small dots in the far distance grow large quickly, but we found German drivers have a disciplined helpful approach to fast driving which included lane discipline, something lacking back home in Australia.

Our friends in Berlin have moved further out and for the first time since 1994, we are staying out of the city, almost in the country near Potsdam.  This area was still in West Berlin as evidenced by the different shades of green paint on the bridge and the photos showing the progression of border controls from 1945 to 1989.

Glienicker Bridge once split by the Berlin Wall

We decide that we will spend our days in Potsdam as we are focusing on smaller cities and towns and we have been to Berlin a number of times before.  The weather gods smile on us as we wander through the streets and parks of Potsdam in sunshine. I have not been there before but Anne has researched it and takes me on a leisurely tour through the city.

St Nikolaikirche church and Potsdam Museum
Old East European apartments
Stadtschloss in Potsdam

Knowing Anne’s interest in art, our friend Antonia took us to see a Street Art display at Yaam (Young African Art Market) which has been operating for some 11 years at the same location. Located near Ostbahnhof station on the banks of the river Spree, it is an Afro Caribbean venue with bars, beaches shops and art spaces.  Here we meet Frank, one of the street artists running the Street Art display and we find out the artist responsible for the piece we all like the most. 

Antonia, us and Berlin street art.
Best Street Art by Frank at YAAM
More Street Art at YAAM, Berlin
Street Art YAAM, Berlin

Frank then introduces Anne to virtual graffiti using digital spray cans on an electronic screen showing the Berlin Wall.  Anne quickly got the hand of it and I think all clean walls should be worried if she passes with a bag full of aerosol paint cans.

Anne in graffiti mode
Anne and Frank Raschke of Ice37

With all the recent news around global warming and carbon reduction, it was interesting to hear from someone with whom we had ridden in SE Asia that he now travels long distance by train in Germany, not only to reduce their personal carbon footprint but also to demonstrate potential clients of their green credentials.  Something neither of us would have thought of in our careers.  As Bob Dylan said way back when “The Times They Are A Changing’ and in this context the words first verse is quite prophetic.

En route to Belgium and my cousin’s place, we stop half way at Gütesloh, a town of some 100,000 people.  A short walk through the town showed us a prosperous high street filled with a wide variety of shops with a more prosperous feel than those we have seen in the UK.  No empty shopfronts here, the high street in Gütersloh seems to be thriving, I wonder why the difference?

Old houses in Gütersloh
High street Gütersloh
Electric scooters for hire in Gütersloh

Leaving town, we pass the now deserted RAF Gütersloh / Princess Royal Barracks former bases for the British forces in Germany. For over 60 years British military forces were based here but all have withdrawn back to the UK.  The place has an unused air about it although a steady stream of vehicles through the main gate may mean some future use of the facilities.

The old RAF Gütersloh base

As we return to my cousin’s place in Belgium with Streak and Storm, I recall that this was our first stop when we set off on the first RTW journey over five years ago with shiny motorcycles, all new equipment and no idea of what we were going to experience. This was the first time we had caught up since then so it was great the see the family again.

Anthony’s cousin Lesley, Hans and Chayton

Onto the Eurotunnel and back to the UK, a quick visit to Anne’s mum.

On the Eurotunnel train
Anne’s mum finally meets Streak and Storm

Another week before we wrap up this motorcycle trip…

– Anthony