Europe June 2016 Part 1 – Damp Pants, Big Pizzas, Huge Forts and no we Didn’t

Days 1 & 2. Damp Pants and Big Pizzas

After yet another typically bleak English winter and somewhat uninspiring start to the summer it felt good to heading for Dover ferry port on my heavily laden Thundercat for my next biking adventure. Even the damp weather couldn’t dampen my spirits as I met up with Matt, Andy and Geeg. But the big trip wasn’t getting off to the best of starts as the rain started to really come down hard after 80 miles or so. We battled south through miles of standing traffic on the M25 around London. It really amazes me that anybody chooses to live around there and put up with that daily grind. Geeg, who has only recently returned to riding after a long break was filtering with increasing confidence. Good job too, there was miles and miles of traffic and we would of taken hours to get through without filtering past as much as we could.
We had dropped into a formation with Andy on his GS BMW at the front, the two identical Thundercats in the middle, then Matt bringing up the rear on his GSA BMW. It did look a little like Geeg and I had been arrested and were under police escort!
After a long, damp ride we were all relieved to roll onto the car park of the B&B Matt had located just around the corner from the Ferry port. It was just great to peel off our wet bike gear, get into some dry clothes and down a much needed pint! Geeg in particular was keen for a beer judging by the speed he downed his first one!

Damp first leg done

Where did that go??

The next morning we were greeted by more grey skies, but at least it wasn’t raining. We were a bit late getting to the check in but Andy rather cheekily led us right to the front of the queue down what was supposed to an unused lane. He used his silky charms (!?) on the port security and we were waved onto the boat….phew.

Sneaking to the front of the line

He is such a smoothie…

The crossing was suitably uneventful and we tucked into a nice healthy breakfast of vegan Couscous and mineral water to fuel up for the long haul ahead. We headed out into France and as we left Calais I couldn’t help but feel slightly uneasy at the sight of what has become known as ‘The Jungle’…the camp were all the migrants are gathering before they desperately try to get into the UK. A shanty town in our midst….
Right how do I put this? I normally like to fill my bike trip tails with anecdotes about how much fun we had and what a good a time we were having. This time I really can’t do this, because the truth is we had a long, long damp haul through France, Belgium and finally into Germany before getting to Koblenz, our base for the next few days. Just under 900km covered since we left home. Matt had done a top job on the hotel picking and like the day before it felt good to park up the bike in the underground car park, get into some clean, dry clothes and set to on the first pint. Top tip here…if a group of you are riding together, squeeze as many bikes into one parking space as you can…we got all four bikes in one and only paid about €10 for our parking. That is how exciting the riding was today…I am writing about parking deals.

What is German for damp? Feucht apparently…

Refreshed with a beer in the hotel bar it was time to start appreciating my surroundings. The Go Hotel was excellent, comfortable room, located smack in the middle of this historic and pretty German town. We headed into the town centre on foot to check out the local bars and find somewhere to eat. Typically we got to the first bar and took root! One ENORMOUS pizza and several beers later we wondered back to the hotel. The holiday was underway.

The crucial first beer

I suppose it makes a change from a light salad….

Days 3 Wot no Bikes?

After a tough couple of days on the bikes we decided to leave them tucked up in the underground car park and head out on Shank’s Pony to check out Koblenz properly. Well what a lovely town, if almost eerily quiet early on a Sunday morning. The ‘summer’ of 2016 has been a tough one for central Europe and heavy rains meant the river Rhine that Koblenz sits on was heavily swollen and running high, fast and angry.

We ame across this little statue as we walked into Koblenz…it seemed an apt metaphor for the European summer and our trip so far…

But, to our mild surprise, the boat trips were still running, so we hopped aboard the large river cruiser and headed off downstream. We were surrounded by impressively larger river mini cruise ships and some huge commercial barges. The views from the boat were most impressive and gave a different perspective on the town. We had good look at the giant Deutsches statue and we could also see a huge hill fort…we decided to check that out once we got back to dry land. This involved taking a cable car across the river and to the top of the hill. No problem, unless you really don’t dig heights. Poor old Geeg might be happy on a 150 mph sports bike but he did not look a happy bunny as the cable car started its’ ascent!

The river was really high

On the good ship something or other…

The impressive fort

A big German on a bigger horse

Matt was moaning about being cold…its traditional

Cable car ride over the swollen Rhine to get to the fort

Man up Geeg!

Well we got to the top and nothing disastrous happened, no snapped cables, no plunging into the raging torrents below…
The fortress itself is massive and has a history stretching back at least 1000 years, and there have been signs of Roman occupation of the sight too, and even hints of people using the area stretching back into pre-history. The fort always seemed to of been in the middle of things!
The complex is on a huge scale and is an absolute maze to navigate with loads to see from art expos to military exhibitions;  not the least of which was a stunning view of the Rhine/Mossel  River valley from the ramparts. Ironically as we had left the bikes had been left parked up the weather was steadily improving and we enjoyed an alfresco lunch in one the forts court yards. The day was developing into a proper goodie! We descended into the bowels of the complex and watched/listened to a superb light and sound show that detailed the forts long history. We were stood on steel gantries and at one point Andy, in reaction to one of the louder bangs virtually threw himself over a barrier….we didn’t laugh….not much, well a bit…ok we pissed ourselves. One of those moments where you perhaps needed to be there to get the full effect!

The images really do not do the scale of the castle justice, we enjoyed lunch in the open as the weather improved and the view across the Rhine and Moselle rivers was amazing

We headed back across the river rather amazed that all of this was accessible for just €11.80! That included the trip in the cable car too. The town is itself is lovely and full of beautiful old building that have been faithfully restored after the destruction that WW2 brought to the place. We just wondered around the centre taking it all in, before wondering back to the hotel to round of a superb day with a soothing pint.

Enjoying the centre of Koblenz

Day 4 No we Didn’t

It was with a slightly heavy heart that I left Koblenz the next morning:  there is so much to see here and I felt we had barely scratched the surface. We didn’t get to check out the roads as much as wanted to either, so we just have to come back! Oh dear! The day got off to a slow start as Matt’s brand new bike boots had split and he needed a new pair.

Matt was really happy with his new boots…

We found what must be the biggest bike clothing store I have ever seen! The choice was incredible…almost too much! Once Matt was sorted we hit the road in earnest and headed into a region known as the Eiffel. Now this is great biking country and for perhaps for the first time on this trip things were really clicking from a biking perspective.  We had been tipped off about the ‘258’ and we attacked it with some gusto. My Thundercat is a bit of a veteran these days, with the suspension in particular well past its’ best,  but this didn’t stop me enjoying the superb roads and fantastic countryside surroundings. We even popped in on the Nurburgring for lunch, and before you ask…no we didn’t. In fact not much seemed to be going on there at all on the day we visited. It is an impressive venue and well worth a visit.

Finally some decent weather and roads to enjoy it on!

As Frankie Howard might say…you can’t beat a nice pair! For those of you under 40, look him up!

The legendary Ring

Big old place

Back on the bikes the roads got more demanding and more fun…tight switchbacks mixed with open sweepers…technical, rewarding riding. My 600 might be old…but it can still boogie! We did manage to lose each other for a while but we sorted that out in the end…all part of the fun. Geeg did manage to boil his rear brakes fluid at one point, which shows how demanding the going had been! I did have one ‘moment’ when the back end stepped out on me….but overall it was a cracking days riding.

Enjoying the roads and the views

Geeg was really enjoying his big biking adventure

We rolled into Trier and quickly found our hotel. Matt had done well again: Friendly staff, decent rooms for the money and dry, secure underground parking. We took root in the hotel, the woman who ran the restaurant seem to quickly ‘adopt’ us and we had a hearty meal and a few beers before rounding off the day watching the England game from the Euros. The trip was beginning to take on a rhythm as these rides often do. It just feels so good to have an extended time with your bike and your mates and let your troubles melt away.

Part 2

Some educational bits….