Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday in Sevilla; photoblog

Sunday is for church...
Maybe our bar opens later?
We're goin' footy!
Maybe jazz later?
I redid my Kaliningrad  'do'
Early Sunday street
Currently having pre-footy siesta to the strains of Amy Winehouse.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Sevilla (7203)

We left the respite of Wes and Lucy's place, grateful for their hospitality.

Since we wanted to ride the scenic route (105 mins longer), we went early to avoid the worst of the heat.

Us, early
The road from San Pedro (yes, Peter Smith, a town named for you) via Ronda and Algodonales, the A-397, is a biker's happy dream. Rising from the coast into the hills, it twists, turns, rises, falls and generally does what bikers dream of.

Then it happens upon the Venta el Madroño, a cafe with a view on a climbing curve whose name, I think, loosely translates as 'Stop here if you've been looking for a break from your ride for about 25 minutes longer than you intended and your arse is aching (and you really want some breakfast)'.

It's a bikers' bar, as evidenced by the motorcycle in the room and the photographs.

The terrain on the whole ride was joyous. In pockets we smelled the heat-risen scent of the flora, sometimes thyme, sometimes lavender. We saw regimented olive groves and, as we moved north from the lushness of the coastal hills, the yellow of the dryer landscapes that made both of us think of Don Quixote.

We're in a very lovely apartment in Sevilla now for a week. No more chasing of tails for us.

There'll be flamenco, food and, maybe, football. Aren't we lucky!

Home thoughts from abroad
Whatever you may think, we haven't 'escaped' the parlous goings on in politics in London. We keep abreast of it, discuss it and worry about it - as you do. I feel guilty about being away during this time (I know it's irrational) and, should barricades be required to be manned, don't discount coming back to do so. If you think I'm bonkers, I hope you're right.

Johnson's a buffoon, yes, but he's a dangerous one.


Thursday, September 26, 2019

Bike service report

George, of Motos Cereto Nerja, was the business, he knew what was required and made me feel confident he would deliver. And he did.

I provided oil filters (two are required for the DCT), brake pads and tyres, he provided oil. (I fitted the air filters myself.)

The plugs and chain were new when we left and should last the trip.

Tyres are Motoz Tractionators; GPS for the front, Adventure for the rear.

They even washed the thing!

They offered me two prices, one for cash, one for card (remember that?).

The details
And I left with George's warning that the tyres are new and hard and that I should take it easy for a while. This is particularly good advice here. The roads, due to the heat and infrequency of rain, are quite slick.

Sevilla tomorrow, Cueta (Spanish Morocco) Friday week.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Resting up and recovering

Due to the kindness of Weston and Lucy (bro-in-law and sis), we've been accommodated in style in Nerja.

I've done a bit of work on the bike.

New 'filtros aires'
This was more to prove to myself that I still could, and that bringing the tools was worthwhile. Stripped to the waist, torso glistening in the southern Spanish noonday sun, I demonstrated my mechanical competence to the admiration of passing señoritas. (The majority of this is untrue, but I did replace the air filters.) The bike is now with George in the town where his mechanics are doing the difficult stuff. (Actually, that's untrue, too, the bit I did was the most awkward.)

And I took fit-for-Africa tyres to get those fitted.

Off to George's!
And we've been to the caves. (We were herded through. It wasn't very relaxed.) They are impressive.
The caves
Regarding serotonin
On each of my last several posts, I've wondered about mentioning that I've been accompanied on the trip by an old friend. He turns up in my head when the serotonin deserts me. It's always a bit more grey and chilly when he's there. Dunno why he showed up. Sometimes you don't. I'm fending him off, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

Didn't seem echt, me writing this and not saying.

Should collect the bike today and we'll leave for Sevilla soon. Morocco by middle of next week.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Spain, bullfighting and Seville (6961)

What not to do
'Avoid Nordkapp and making rendezvous' was Grant Johnson's advice. Joint founder (with wife Sue) of Horizons Unlimited, the world's foremost long-distance motorcycle touring website, he knows a thing or two about long-distance motorcycle touring.

Well, we went to Nordkapp and found out what he meant.

And then...
My excellent brother-in-law,  Weston kindly agreed to allow us to use the place in the south of Spain (Nerja) he owns with my sister Lucy as a repository for items I'd need to service the bike prior to the Africa leg of the trip. This, effectively, constituted the aforementioned, to be avoided rendezvous. I thought I'd left enough time for the Europe trip - I was wrong. So we've been having to get more of a move on than has been entirely conducive to the relaxed, easy, laid-back trip Angelika and I imagined.

Wes and Lucy's place 
When we discovered that Lucy and niece Georgina would be at the apartment, but gone by the time we planned to arrive, we decided we'd like to see them and bypassed Barcelona, Valencia and Murcia (all possible ports of call) in an unseemly schlep down the Autovia del Mediteráno (I even got the Pillion on the bike at 5.30 one morning to make the most of the day on our longest run!) to reach them.

So we feel a bit guilty that we've not done Spain justice (but see below), so we've decided that we're going to use a little of our 'extra days' that are now available to us, to spend a week in the home of Flamenco, rest up some more, prepare mentally for Africa and take in some of the music and dance of the dispossessed in this most emotional of countries.

In-restaurant entertainment
Cultural differences, as previously observed, are fascinating. Sometimes it's the low-key, non-tourist stops that are the most insightful.

We overnighted, on our race south, in the La Paz hotel in Alcantarilla just south of Murcia. It's a solid place, no frills or delusions of grandeur. It caters for workers and occasional travellers and has a typical Spanish restaurant/cafe bar, all coffee machines, bright lights, hubbub and a large TV screen. '!Diga me!' (Talk to me!'), is the waitress's opening gambit, more intimate and warm than it looks in print.

When we came down for dinner, they had bullfighting on the TV. And not some sanitised version. The torero kneeling before the bull's horns, the creature itself, shoulders soaked in its own blood and, finally, the moment when the bull fighter opens his underbelly to the bull's lunge to plunge the sword into the animal's spine.

I wondered about the morality of it. But, I wondered, is it more cruel, more dehumanising than, for example, factory farming?

The Spanish seem to be linked to their past more firmly than we are in the north. And not just to customs, but to what being human means - or meant.

Anyway, we had the football on before the gambas al ajillo arrived.

Being in Nerja is a watershed. Africa's next - and, truth to tell, I think we're a little nervous. Well, it's not worth doing if it's not a challenge, eh?

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Home truths and worries ♡

From the Pillion

Pillion in Carcassonne
You know how your nearest and dearest aren’t shy about pointing out your shortcomings? And how you notice traits in others you don’t like about yourself? Well, recently, during our trip break at my mum's, I pointed out one such trait to my mum, at which my sister, without pausing for breath, piped up 'But you do that too, A LOT!' She then readily admitted that she shared the same annoying habit. We all had a good laugh about it in the end.

Got me thinking, though.

We are now in week 12 of the trip, almost 10,000 km under our wheels and glutes. Any niggles that exist in a relationship come to the fore when you live together. But they present themselves under a magnifying glass when you’re travelling, especially on a motorbike, and spend so much time together.

It’s an adventure, it’s challenging and there’s serendipity. No regrets. The good stuff far outweighs the trouble zones.

We seem to have found an MO that works for unpacking, packing, unpacking, packing... (why oh why did we pack a hairdryer, Simon’s hair straighteners, a coffee machine?? Ha ha, only joking!)

We’ve posted some stuff home already, e.g. the extra jumper I bought for the forecast Arctic front at Nordkapp that turned out to be a freak 20 degrees! (Actually, maybe no longer freak, but that’s a different discussion).

Both Simon and I read ‘Jupiter’s Travels’ by Ted Simon before the trip (Thank you Len Brown, again! 😊) and I’ve just finished ‘Dreaming of Jupiter’. It’s Ted’s account of retracing his motorbike journey round the world, some 30 years later, at the age of 69-71.

Our hero, Ted Simon 
Ted is a writer who happens to ride a motorbike and his books are a joy to read. I love his philosophical insights. Anyone who loves travelling, by motorbike or other means, would enjoy reading his books.

On a different matter, I can’t help following politics in Westminster and watching in disbelief and with an increasing sense of unease what is hiding in plain sight. The drama that is Brexit has morphed from a Shakespearean tragi-comedy, at which Britain’s European partners just shook their heads, to a full-blown tragedy. The parallels to developments during the 1930s in Germany are, to me, striking. Hitler came to power legally and, once established, set about dismantling democracy by stealth and force, silencing the opposition and employing his propaganda machine to brainwash people with misinformation.

Sounds familiar? Except that the possibilities of contemporary IT are far more powerful and wide-reaching than Goebbels’ radio propaganda.

Let’s hope that all the checks and balances the (unwritten) constitution in Britain has to offer will guard against the insidious undermining of democracy that Johnson and his cronies are trying to bring about.

I am concerned.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Castles in the air (6157)

This is where we're staying now. Our place is just at the foot of the fortified city walls. It feels as though we're extras in a film version of Gormenghast.

We've travelled so much recently that on arrival, knowing we have three nights before moving on, it feels like it will be a long stay.

Long trip thing
It's another function of a long trip, I suppose, but we stayed in a very intriguing town a couple of nights ago with lots to do and see (Avignon) in a superb location (Airbnb right in the heart) and spent the evening in, cooked for ourselves, played backgammon, went to bed early and left first thing in the morning. You don't always want to be out doin' stuff. But we should have stayed longer.

We've more or less topped ten thousand kilometers now. The actual mileage in blog title.

Too much food
Eating out is fine as an occasional treat, but you always seem to get more food than you need. And it's not always good. The more touristic a place is, the less reliable the food.

Cultural difference
With apologies to the French (I'm usually commenting on the current nation, but this is a Geman thing), I saw this in Nürnberg thought it should be reported;

Philosophical loo roll
I thought 'this is really odd', Mind you, at that exact moment I was standing in the bathroom of a foreign apartment photographing the toilet paper.

Nice people we've met
Back to Avignon briefly, Gilles, our host was a very lovely man who made us feel cared for and welcomed. It's a treat to encounter someone like him.

You should also know about the driver who stopped to help because we were clearly lost. It was in Kaliningrad. He didn't need to. It was a gratuitous act of kindness.

And the young Latvian woman at the border with Kaliningrad who, unbidden, translated the customs document for us

And the waitress at the Cafe de la Paix, who yesterday breezily invited us to park the bike up amongst the tables when there was no room on the road (see yesterday's Noonpics).

People are good-hearted if you're open to them being so.

Local colour

Carcassonne street
There should be more streets named after singers and songwriters, don't you think?

Carcassonne flowers
Other thoughts
Will Man Utd ever win anything again under their current regime? Probably not.

Can we deal with the climate crisis? These chaps give interesting insights: Carbon Brief.

What's the best thing to do about politics in the UK? (Whoever thought May's deal would end up looking like a good compromise?)

Who will we get to change the tyres on the bike in Nerja (south of Spain) before we go to Africa?

Pillion and Pilot to hold meeting today to plan last European leg of trip.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Annecy (5768)

We rode through Switzerland to get to France.

Bird of prey
En route, we sat in a roadside cafeteria overlooking a small rural vale in which sat a small farm. It was the hunting territory of a bird of prey, perhaps a kestral, perhaps a kite. We watched, fascinated, as the bird prowled its realm. It began sitting on the railing of the veranda our table overlooked and lazily swooped across the fields to the farmhouse gate and sat again. As we were eating, it was waiting its opportunity to do likewise.

French charm
We're in Annecy. It's a beautiful place, mountains, lake, narrow streets, old-town atmosphere.

Sunset over Annecy
Glimpses of mountains along the streets embroider a stroll in the town.

Moonrise over Annecy
Backstreet gig in Annecy
The music at this gig was in interesting mix of rockabilly and Klezmer.

On Annecy lake
I was struck, sitting in a town square bar, by the prettiness of the French language. En masse, it's a mellifluous babble. Definitely easier on the ear than any other we've encountered so far. It's not a new thought, I suppose, but against the backdrop of ten weeks and many different languages encountered, it reoccurred to me.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Grim satisfaction (5537)

Staying in the tower
We're sleeping in a former water tower overlooking a lake. It's charming.

Youth hostel, Konstanz
Riding in the rain
The weather forecast for our ride here from Deisenhofen to Konstanz, the main city on the shore of Bodensee (Lake Constance - the largest lake in Germany - to you Brits), didn't bode well.

Persistent wet conditions mean poor visibility; either your glasses steam up (visor down) or get rain on them (visor up a bit). And there's always a nagging feeling that your grip isn't all it might be - leading to a more gingerly approach to manoeuvring - especially overtaking. This means you're either sitting behind some car transporter catching all the crap it's throwing up, tailgated by a driver wondering why you're not overtaking, or you're overtaking said vehicle, catching all the crap it's throwing up, tailgated by a Raptor Car (see last post) intent on your imminent destruction.

Getting this type of journey done is, as per the blog title, at best grimly satisfying.

Still, the weather cleared and the final lap, along the shore of the lake to Meersburg and the ferry to Konstanz, was a joy. And we got on the ferry in double quick time. Lovely. (Apart from one boorish French Harley rider.)

The blog title could also be applied to my foray to the tournament in Nürnberg. Apart from the 'satisfaction' bit. We shall speak no more of it. Actually, I quite enjoyed it, results apart (P7: W1).

Both the above bring to mind the immortal words of the very wonderful John Cooper Clarke in the ultimate put-down poem; '.. I've got you under my skin / You make life a fairy tale; Grimm'

Lost in Konstanz
We had a nice dinner in town last night. I confidently lead the way to the bus stop. We ended up in the wrong bloody country! We were in Switzerland. Which was no good because our bus definitely left from Germany.

Three countries meet here. Austria, too. This is the furthest south-west in Germany and its temperate climate makes it ideal for fruit and wine-grape growing.

A photo a day
Don't forget to have a look at Noonpics; one photo per day from the trip.

And do please leave comments - we love to see them and the fact that we haven't found out how to reply doesn't mean we're not interested in your responses.

France, via Switzerland, tomorrow.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Resting up...

Voyage of discovery 
Since we left Kaliningrad and ventured out amongst the less tempered driving of (more) central Europe, I've made a surprising discovery. My bike's a beast.

This is a Honda Africa Twin DCT. It's an automatic - though we'd never call it that; it's not sexy enough for a motorcycle. But it is. And ridden in standard drive mode it's super relaxing. Sure, it takes its time to accelerate and only changes down when it really has to and never stays in the lower gear for long. But it's economical for its size, weight and power - and, as I said, is really laid back.

I've owned the bike for six months or so and I've always ridden in this mode. Until Estonia. I realised I couldn't wait for it to lazily change down when I wanted to overtake with a would-be World Rally Car racer behind me also wanting to go and so I began to experiment riding in Sports (#1) mode.

Bloody hell! It changes down in a trice, hangs on to the lower gear for ages, really gets a shift on just when you need it to (especially when you're overtaking and there's a Raptor Car* on it's way with its beady eye on you) and - here's the best bit - screams like a banshee!

Sheep's clothing...
One press of a button and this placid, easy-going camel of a thing turns into a testy, snarly overtaking machine. It's a heartening discovery.

Too hot
I know you know it's too hot and I know you know why and I know you know its not trivial. Probably you know about the Extinction Rebellion world protests that are starting this weekend. Well, just in case you don't and you want to get involved.

It wasn't until we encountered the Ore Mountains on the border between Bavaria and the Czech Republic that we realised how flat our journey had been thus far. Apart from the coastal range just south of Hammerfest we'd hardly seen any hills. And hills are nice. Views, interesting overtaking opportunities and, well, variety.

And currently...
I'm on my way to the Nürnberg Backgammon Open and Angelika is doing whatever she does when alone in Munich and freed from having to consult her Pilot on every decision. Lucky her. (It will probably involve cake.)

*Raptor Car; car, probably black, probably executive, probably in Germany, probably driven by male middle-manager who deeply believes that he can drive through or over you if you don't get out of his fucking way and isn't unhappy to convey this to you by driving within inches of you at excessive speeds. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Dresden to Hilde's Haven (5372)

And now, a little break from the trip proper as we hole up for a while at Angelika's mum's place (and A's childhood home) in Deisenhofen, just south of Munich. Hilde (for it is she) is laid back, friendly and the perfect hostess for two travellers in need of a rest.

Posh hotel

The Pillion, grinning and bearing it
But not as as needy as we would have been were it not for opting for the Hyperion hotel in Dresden. We enjoyed it. Really friendly they were. And, you know, we had access to the Exectuve Lounge, as you do - a light breakfast perhaps, a complementary afternoon beer, early evening repast, that kind of thing. (But you had to get in sharpish for breks or the Yanks got all the bloody eggs!)

Dresden on the Elbe
The Dresden Panometer
As with many of the places we've been, I knew little of Dresden. In my narrow awareness, its name was always prefixed with the phrase 'The bombing of', and I was interested to learn more about this. I was a little surprised (aren't we all when our self-o-centric view of the world is overturned?) then, to find that the only event I knew of warranted one short sentence in the Museum of Dresden's timeline of the city; 'On 13th February 1945 the centre of the city was destroyed by bombing'. And that seemed to be that. They have a long history to address, 'my' event was just one of many.

It's been a major trading city, a centre for fishing, a shipbuilding hub (the latter two many miles from the sea but on a major river of Europe), and latterly, a major base for cigarette and optics manufacturing. Then there was WW1, then Nazism, then Communism and then reunification.

And history continues. As it happened, on the very day we were there, an election took place, with echoes of the past ringing around.

AFD: not everyone's choice
Outside the city centre, though, was the Dresden Panometer. It is a permanent art-installation-come-historical-monument based in a disused gasometer. It's a monument to the bombings and it made me cry.

There's no self-pity, no shying away from the responsibility of the Germans - and Dresdeners specifically - for the role they played in bringing about the horrors of WW2. Full acknowledgement is made of the havoc wreaked upon Guernica, London, Coventry, Warsaw and Leningrad amongst others, placing the bombings 'here' fully in perspective. The focus was on how war kills and the deep sadness of this.

The Panometer wall
The historical background
Our cinema
Carmine Street GuitarsThat evening the Pillion outdid herself by finding a very charming film for us to watch in a very charming bijou definitely-off-mainstreet cinema. It's called as above and if you like people, making, music and all things lovely (especially if you like guitars), go see it.

Hilde's Haven
And now we're at Hilde's, chillin'. We'll probably be here for a few days. I'm travelling to the backgammon in Nürnberg, Angelika will be reading, chatting in Bayerisch and drinking tea. But we'll be in touch.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Farewell Baltic - and Southwards! (5058)

At the time I thought it was the crossing from Helsinki to Tallinn that marked the end of our first phase, but it wasn't. It was riding south from Gdansk and leaving behind the body of water that has been the backdrop for our trip so far.

We've more or less circumnavigated the Baltic and its associated seas. And it's been great. The people, the history, the food, the cultures, trade, industries, wars, invasions, occupations, languages - and the biting insects, well, we now know just a little bit more about them - and we're fans.

These waters have connected the places we've been to. We've ridden over them, under them, beside them (sometimes with sea view, sometimes not) and been ferried across them (more than once) and it's sad to leave them behind.

But we have - and everything seems just slightly different. The roads, the traffic, the driving styles and the country codes on the vehicles (we even saw some GB stickers).

Border crossing
Leaving Russia was easier than getting in by a factor of 7:3 (90 mins v 210).

Rude receptionists 
We arrived in Gdansk, tired and dehydrated (that really hot weather had returned) to meet the rudest hostel receptionist so far. He seems to have decided to piss off as many 'guests' as possible. I rolled with it - I was too tired to start looking elsewhere at that stage. The hostel is la Guitarra - there are others, if you visit.

Gdansk is a lovely holiday town that seems to have taken on the mantle without sacrificing its dignity.

Water play
Bridge up!
Angelika took the political walking tour (in German with an overly verbose guide). I wisely spent the very hot afternoon mostly prone with a beer or two.

Lost in Łòdź
We're starting to lose faith in our GPS. There are two streets in Łòdź called Stefana Jarancza and, despite being given the correct city code, it took us to the wrong one. On the dodgy side of the city. On an unmade road. With an angry alsatian guard dog nearby. In thirty degrees.

The 'clay' of the unmade road was actually sand and I nearly dropped the bike when I hit it. But I didn't. And we eventually found the right place - but it added an hour to the journey when the heat meant we could have done without it.

But Łódź is a vibey and chilled place and we enjoyed our post-snooze wander in this, the home of Polish film. We ate in a Jewish restaurant. I had tea with Slivovitz.

Flâneur territory
Street clock
Where we stayed
The plains
One thing that strikes you as you ride from Kaliningrad to Germany across Poland is how flat and easy to traverse it all is. Long, straight roads. Various generals have used this to their advantage over the centuries. No natural impediments to movement, you see. It has contributed to one of the main historical themes of these parts.

Throttle control
I imagine many of you are wondering 'How does Simon keep a grip on his throttle all day without his hand becoming cramped and tired when the poor chap doesn't have cruise control?' Understandable that you would. Well, I alternate the main effort of the grip between index finger and second finger of the hand, relaxing the other when not on duty. It works. There, you can relax now.

Camping in the heat
Here is a photograph of the pilot pondering:

Pondering pilot
This was during the (very hot) run from Łódź* to Dresden. I was thinking about how it was going to be, pitching our tent in this heat, after this gruelling day and camping for three nights in what was forecast to be stifling heat.

So we're staying in a posh, expensive hotel in the heart of Dresden's Old Town. Sometimes the self-indulgent choice is the right one. (Certainly, the Pillion seems to think so.)

*We've given criminally little time to Poland. Another occasion, maybe.