There is great weather in all of central and western Europe and I am spoilt for choice when looking for potential destinations for my autumn voyage. The usual piles of biker gear occupy my kitchen table once more this morning:
I spend the day preparing the bike for the start of the journey tomorrow morning, pack everything and upload the pre-planned route for tomorrow into my GPS. The tank is full, the bike is freshly serviced, has new tyres and the weather is excellent - I could quote Harold Macmillan ("You never had it so good"), but if things look so perfect then there's always something going terribly wrong soon afterwards.
I leave just before 0900 hours this morning. It's only 73 kilometres to the German border, but first I encounter two closed roads near Winterthur. I then decide to escape this country on the motorway (or what passes as such in Switzerland), only to encounter a traffic jam two miles into that endeavour and finally 30 kilometres through Swiss autumn fog. For these reasons it takes nearly two hours before the border is reached. With a sigh of relief I take a short stint on the German autobahn. A quick burst up to 160 kph should get the rust from the gear wheel of the sixth gear - that was necessary as you never get to use the sixth gear in Switzerland.
Immediately the roads widen, the traffic dwindles to nothing, and the fog disappears magically right at the border. The Black Forest is next. I have added a few minor roads to my GPS route, mainly to check on the condition of the German road system. Readers of my past trips through Germany might remember comments like "Third World conditions". Luckily over the past few years the Germans have realised that good infrastructure is essential for commercial success - the roads are much better and I encounter only a single road closure. By the way, here is a picture of the Marsupilami Mark II from today:
The ride is fantastic and at an elevation of 1000 metres the temperature is optimal for motorbiking. But afterwards I have to cross the Rhine just north of Strasbourg. The altitude drops to 100 metres and the temperature goes up to 28 degrees.
I find a nice hotel near Neunkirchen in the evening, but as their restaurant is closed today I fall back on a tried and trusted method to get my food intake for the day:
Let's hope for more of the same tomorrow.
I leave at 0830 hours into an oncoming cold front - which I have expected. Further east this will bring rain, but out here in the west it will just bring some welcome cloud cover that should keep this afternoons temperature in the comfortable area for motorbikers.
The ride is first through the Hunsrück hills. By 1100 hours I arrive in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg - with the bike showing a remaining fuel range of 21 kilometres. There is reason behind this behaviour; at 1.28 Euros per litre, petrol is much cheaper than in the surrounding countries. My American readers may shake their heads in disbelief, but well over five dollars per U.S. gallon is very cheap out here.
Luxembourg reminds me very much of Switzerland; fairly populous, very clean and wealth displayed everywhere. The one big difference is that the people here have a decent road infrastructure (though only towards the north and west of Luxembourg city itself, the south and east is just as overcrowded as Switzerland) which makes the ride out here sheer bliss today in spite of the rather heavy traffic.
By noon I arrive in Belgium. Three countries in one morning, five countries in my day-and-a-half of biking, one of them a Grand Duchy plus Belgium being a Kingdom - again I see my North American readers shake their heads...
Here is what the scenery looks like:
I am biking the route the Germans under Heinz Guderian made infamous in the spring of 1940, when they invaded France through the Ardennes. The Belgian roads are less immaculate and much dirtier that those in Luxembourg - but they are winding and completely void of traffic.
The hills are not very high, but those mediaeval knights and ox cart driver that created these roads were absolutely following the contours of the land. The animals pulling the wagon could pull a massive load when the road was level, so there are lots of long bends in the roads, like in this image:
With these winding roads it is no wonder that I make slow progress. At one stage I take a shortcut that shaves 12 kilometres of my track, but if I saved any time I leave to you to judge:
By 1500 hours I finally reach the flatlands of Picardy. Finally the kilometres start clocking up. The French recently lowered the speed limit on country roads to 80 kph (50 mph), which is the same as in Switzerland. But this being France simply means that everyone ignores it, including the cops.
There are thousands of war graves out here, which I find somewhat depressing. Here is an impression of the one in Vis en Artois:
I continue my ride until I reach the Arras area. Decent hotels are hard to come by out here - who wants to have his vacation among the Chti?
I first try a nice Gîte in an impressive mansion house, but unfortunately no one is at home. Next I try a privately owned hotel in the outskirts of Arras - but it has recently gone out of business. I admit defeat and book myself into a Premier Classe franchised chain hotel. Diner is sorted by a sandwich from the next door bakery.
10 hours on the bike, 480 kilometres - this was a long day.
Below is the usual map with my GPS tracklog.