Denis – Le Grand Chef!

Yesterday evening Jacques suggested that the sunshine was so nice it would be a good idea to sit outside with the wine….five minutes later it started to rain! To be fair it was just a short shower, but wetness falling from the sky nonetheless.

The weather forecast said that today would be nice, lots of sunshine and warm after a cool start. So how come I woke to a thunderstorm?
Breakfast, still raining.
Pack bag, still raining.
Load Harls, still raining.
Start up and move off…..yes, still the blasted rain was falling!

I rode for fifty miles in grim wet stuff, heavy spray and general murk, then there was a line in the road and “Ping!” Dry.
About time too!

Having been spoilt by the back roads for the last couple of days, hitting the Autoroutes again was a bit of a culture shock for me, but I swear that Harls was enjoying it; cruising really is her thing.

We called at Bourgueil for fuel and to get a bottle of one of Mrs Dookes favourite wines, then it was back to mile munching the asphalt.

I don’t know what it is about the City of Angers, but every time I pass that way I seem to find one of the “Idiots of the road” out on exercise and today was no exception….”Street Fighter” mode it is then!

The D775 road between Angers and Rennes is gradually being rebuilt, where the new bits exist they are sublime, but some of the old sections are rough, hellish rough. Fortunately these days, there are more new bits than old and the dry new(ish) smooth black-top is good, very good indeed. Harls and I loved it!

I took a coffee and comfort break at Segré then pushed on and refueled just South of Rennes. The old centre of the City of Rennes is truly lovely, but take my advice and go there by train as the traffic is always a snarl up, right from La Périphérique inwards. Today though, we just sort of did a tangential ricochet from South East to South West and hunted out the N24, a good old-fashioned French dual carriageway.

Frequently the old ’24 is a pain in the backside, but today we hit it just right; not too much traffic to slow us down, but enough to have some fun overtaking and letting them hear how Harls on full-chat sounds – which is fantastic….at that point I remembered that I didn’t put my ear plugs in after our coffee break and that is why, my dear Blogonaughts, my tinnitus is screaming tonight!

The reason for this 300 mile dash was to see my old friends Ann and Denis at their lovely Château in the heart of Brittany. Ann is one of those French women who don’t really age, they just improve; Denis, he lights up a room with his smile and is never happier when he’s with his horses or cooking for friends, he plays the amiable buffoon well, but is a shrewd operator really.

The view from a Breton Château, pas mal/not bad!

Harls was ushered into a garage and for some reason Denis parks his car outside, strange as he has three other garages!

He pours me a cidre, this is Brittany after all.
“OK Gallois, j’espère que tu as faim!”
After a hard day’s riding I am truly starving, trust me. The shower washed away the road grime, but now the road hunger is kicking in.
Denis is, as I frequently pull his leg, “Un Grand Chef!” – A great chef!
He knows it, but it’s more than that, it’s more about the love he puts into his cooking.
The French, it is said, live to eat and the rest of us…well, we just eat to live!

Anyway, after more cidre, nibbles and merriment, Denis disappears into the kitchen and wonderful smells start to waft out. Ann smiles, she knows what alchemy he gets up to in there!

In due course, large duck breasts appear sizzling on stones, Denis like cooking on stones!
The frivolity continues, except that the food isn’t frivolous and the company is great.

More cidre, this might hurt in the morning.

Apple tart, Tarte aux Pommes, like only the Bretons can make, follows on.

Then it’s coffee and Lambig, a type of Breton Calvados and now I’d better go as Denis is giving me stick about loving my iPad more than him!

I tell him that he is a great chef – “Un grand Chef!”
He laughs, “Non Gallois, Denis c’est le petit Chef.”
We laugh like friends do, he knows that I know that he is talking rubbish!
Ann just winks at me.

Catch you soon. Bon soirée.

Dookes

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Slow-Road, Small-Town France.

Good evening everyone from the delightful town of Autun in the Bourgogne-Franche Compté area of central/eastern France….wow that was a mouthful!

I’ve been through this place before, liked it and vowed to pop back again. I still like it.

Originally the town was founded by the Romans, about 2000 years ago and it still carries traces of their presence today. Back in the UK we have Roman remains too, but they are all either foundations or other things in the ground like mosaics. We don’t have things like this, the Saint André Gate.

It’s one of two remaining gates to the Roman walled city, excuse the distorted photo; yes I know that one shouldn’t photograph converging parallels….but it’s the only way I could get the shot! Just think about it for a second though, no not the technical bits of the photo, that structure is really, really old! Almost enough to fry your head if you try to get a handle on how old and it’s still standing!

Anyway, enough about the Romans, after all, what did they ever do for us….?
(Apart from, roads, law and order, sanitation….) Ooops, sorry, I slipped into a bit of Monty Python!

We started out from the Jura this morning in pretty heavy rain, could have been worse though it was snowing in Switzerland. Fortunately the wet stuff stopped falling out of the sky, leaving Harls and I to enjoy a gentle potter across a delightful corner of France and covering a mere 125 miles. With no pressure to munch miles, I made sure that we stuck to the minor roads and frequently we went for ages without seeing another vehicle.

I think this is the right way up…
Reflections in a Jura lake.


Autumn is certainly beginning to set in and the early colours were looking good; they would have looked better with a bit of sunshine though.

Around the village of Mercurey, in Bourgogne, the air held a particular scent of raisins. The wine harvest was largely over, but the last grapes were exuding a lovely smell. The village dates from pre-historic times and is the most widely recognized and important wine village of the Côte Chalonnaise, producing more wines than all other village appellations combined and some of the finest in Bourgogne.

Vineyards, Mercurey Bourgogne.

The small towns we passed through were delightfully still, this is Sunday after all and the French still know what Sunday is all about; note that well you money-grabbing politicians in London’s Parliament!

The fountain in the village of L’Etoile; It means ‘Star,’ that’s a nice name for a village.

Sitting on Harls, luxuriating to the rumbling note of her engine, all was well in the world of Dookes…I just needed a bottle of the good Bourgogne wine and a portion of the wonderful roast chicken they serve around here!

Riding motorcycles is Not at all about how going as fast as you can, higher than ever before, or taking that corner oozing arrogance that you are “King of the Road.” No, it’s about breathing in the moment, smelling the air and celebrating the pleasure of passing by this way if only once…!

Anyway, the traffic will be busier tomorrow, but I’ll still be searching out the back roads and enjoying small town France; I might even grab a bottle of something to take home for Mrs Dookes.

“I will choose a path that’s clear,
I will choose freewill.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Tradition

Hello everyone.

Tonight we have returned to La France and are in the Département du Jura. This is a part of L’hexagone that is new to me and I must say so far I am very impressed!

OK, this is going to be brief…no hotel WiFi available to be worth a biscuit. Actually it’s a great little provincial France hotel, the sort that is rapidly disappearing. I don’t know what it is about paper-thin walls and floors, threadbare carpets, questionable electrics and cheap tatty furniture that people don’t like these days. These places are all about tradition!

Personally, I love these old places for the bags of character that they have and I feel it will be a sad day when they are all gone, honestly I do. As usual there is limited choice in the restaurant, but what you get is plenty of good freshly cooked food typical of the region and enough to satisfy the hungriest diner.

Anyway, have we had an experience today…more big passes in the Swiss Alps, got caught up in a fantastic Swiss traditional feast day, beat the weather(just about) and rolled into France in time for supper! – All of which I’ll tell you about when I get some decent internet access.

Harls is safely tucked up in the hotel garage, keeping the owners Suzuki company and I’m just about to eat, après un petit apéritif, salut!

Bonsoir et attrape-toi bientôt!

Dookes

It’s a bit Parky!

(Old British saying for “It’s a bit cold” and a favourite of my old mate Chutney.)

What a lovely alpine morning I woke up to; blue sky, sunshine and what’s that glistening on the grass? Frost!

I took a short walk outside the hotel and the still morning air really made me catch my breath. Gee-wiz it was cold, minus 3°Celsius by the sign on the pharmacy just down the street, was going to be a bit of in interesting morning.

Just before I left home I was prevaricating about whether to take my heated jacket with me, September is meant to be summer after all. The wise-ness that is Mrs Dookes took the decision out of my hands, her suggestion that if I had it and didn’t use it against not taking it and wishing I had, totally persuaded me. Actually, it just took the decision out of my hands, but today I loved that woman just that little bit more, because I stayed lovely and warm.

I’m too tired now to do the math, but -3° in Livigno, bloomin’ colder at Bernina Pass, -5 at Julier Pass and -7° at the Albula; then add in the wind chill even at a modest 40mph, oh yes you’d better believe that I was so much more in love with Mrs D as the heated gear did its stuff!!! What a brilliant suggestion to bring it, thank you darling!

Unashamedly we were Pass Bagging again, well depending on your take, it was either Nature or God that put ‘them thar mountains’ there, so it would be crass stupidity not to enjoy them!

From Livigno we topped Forcola di Livigno at 2315m, and slipped out of Italy;

Swiss side of Forcola Di Livigno, no-mans land!

it’s a bit weird then, as you trundle along for a good five kilometres before you arrive at the Swiss customs point and border which is actually halfway up the climb to Bernina Pass. I pulled Harls over by the summit board on Bernina for the customary photo, what I assumed were puddles were actually solid ice….we were on a mini skating rink!

From the summit, the road sweeps North, like piano wire passing through glorious scenery and with the world famous Rhaetian Railway keeping close company. The swanky resort town of St Moritz lies at the bottom of the hill, but best not say to much about it and just ride on to Julier Pass, at 2284m we were getting higher….and colder!

Julier Pass

Funny that there weren’t many other motorbikes about, I wonder why?

At the Julier we did a ‘U’ turn and cruised back to St M, then hung a left for a few glorious blasting miles on almost empty road before turning left again onto the Albula Pass road.

In contrast to the Julier, which is built on the alignment of a Roman road, the Albula is pure Swiss sheep herder track. Tight, tricky little hairpins catch you out if you don’t pay attention and yes, I was daydreaming when one nearly caught me out…no harm done, the road was pretty much deserted. A pair of BMW bikes caught me up, poor Harls was struggling with the altitude and the cold, her carburetor was icing and I had to give her about 25% choke to keep her happy. The first BMW swept by me, but the second tucked in behind me.

Nearing the Pass I could see that this was hard country, almost a cross between the Arctic and the Moon, I wouldn’t like to get caught out here, even though it was mind boggling beautiful.

Parking Harls outside the Gasthaus at the summit, it turned out that the two BMW’s were a husband and wife from Munich. He had powered by me and she was happy to ride behind me as she though her husband was riding too fast; so did I, but I didn’t say anything!

Spot the icicles!

After taking more photos we continued North towards Tiefencastle, eventually picking up the St Bernadino Autobahn and having a bit of higher speed fun.

Peeling off to cross the pass at St Bernadino was a bit of a disappointment, so then it was back onto the Autobahn and more exhaust rasping mile-munching, oh I love that bike!

We dropped off to bag another Pass that had intrigued me for some time, the Splügen, which straddles the border between Switzerland and Italy. The thing that had captured my imagination as the compact set of ten bends just below the summit at the Swiss side.

Splügen staircase. Totally bonkers!

Compact also equals bloomin’ tight and tricky, especially on the inside bends! They do make a good photo though!

Then it was more Autobahn blasting for about thirty miles towards the St Gottard Pass. I had wanted to stick this one in as a cheeky extra, the main road now goes through a tunnel, but the “old main road” and the original cobble road still exist; today though for some reason they were closed with police blocking them off.

Oh well, back to plan “A” the Nufenen Pass / Passo della Novena, at 2478m / 8130ft this is the highest paved pass in wholly in Switzerland and I think it’s just moved up to my favourite pass in Switzerland too!

Broody mountains, looking North on Nufenen Pass.8130ft.

I suppose I need to clarify what I like in a good Pass…

Having esoteric tastes in all things mechanical, I don’t conform to any norms. I ride Harley Davidson bikes because I like them, not because I want to be identified as “a Harley Rider,” I haven’t got a beard, ear-piercing, tattoos or a belt overhanging gut! The only trouble with the Harley’s that I ride, compared to other road or adventure bikes, is that they have a longer wheelbase and that means that they don’t like very tight bends much; neither do I! I do like a good gradient, long sweeping bends, nice views, places to stop and take photos, plus not too much other traffic.

On that basis :
Stelvio = Poor.
Nufenen = Excellent!

Here’s another thing to shout from the rooftops, that old Harls of mine has now topped the highest Passes in France, Switzerland, Italy and Andorra. She’s also done eight of the top ten in Europe and 22 out of the top 30 and we have plans for the stragglers!

The star of the show, on to of Nufenen Pass, looking a bit travel-stained, but we’ve been through a lot.

Any wonder why I love that bike?

At the end of today we rolled into our hotel car park in Ulrichen, tired, very happy and quite a bit warmer.

“One day like this a year would see me right for life.”

Catch you later.

Dookes

Kicking Stelvio

I often think that my life is full of departures, never any arrivals, always in motion and moving on.

Take this morning for example. Sure I’d enjoyed staying in Ritten, but loading up Harls and firing her engine into life, then moving back on the open road; I was never happier.

We hit the Bolzano morning commute traffic right at its peak. It was total fun, street-fighting on level terms with the Italians, Harls growling around the city like she owned the place; I could never have done that with the big Ultra Limited! Then it was a spirited romp along the autostrada to Merano, where predictably everything ground to a halt as the road slimmed down to a normal highway.

On Italian roads you have to get your head around one thing, they are either mad all-out racetracks or you need to predict your arrival by the calendar – all or nothing, that’s just the way it is. Being honest, I put up with the tedium of stop-start traffic for about ten miles before I hit the “Stuff this, I’m on a motorbike” button and started, shall we say, “making progress!”

The weather forecast for the weekend ahead is rubbish. I had planned to spend two nights in Livigno and catch up on some of the local passes, but with snow due tomorrow afternoon and right through the weekend, I’ve pulled the plug on that idea. Instead we are only here for one night and then running away from the weather, before we get snowed in.

As a result, I changed the route for today. I was going to ride Passo Di Gavia from the South and have a play elsewhere tomorrow. Instead we headed into the Mustair valley and at Santa Maria turned left onto the Umbrail pass route. This is a narrow, little used back door road up to the (in)famous Stelvio Pass and until only a couple of years ago was not asphalted throughout. I knew it was narrow, so last year with Big Baby Blue I avoided it; good move, as after riding it today I don’t think I would have got Blue up it! For a large part of the route it climbs up through delightful forest, but of course the disadvantage is that there is no view, only road and trees. Until you hit altitude, but today that was up in the clouds.

The road is very narrow in places and some of the bends a tad tricky. After our exertions of yesterday I found that my dodgy left shoulder, locked up; I have an impingement in the thing and as usual it chose a good time to play silly! What it meant in simple terms was that I couldn’t move my arm far enough forward to push the handlebars through tight right-hand bends.

Time for a rethink, as I was riding like a muppet!

I stopped and did some stretching exercises, took a couple of painkillers, had a drink of water, ate some fruit whilst the pills kicked in and then got on with it! It didn’t half hurt, but at least we got going and soon were back into the swing of things. I got pretty good at going round hairpins one-handed too!

Not bad, one hand!

Soon we got into the clouds, then it began to get really windy and predictably the temperature plummeted to a little over zero. I was every pleased to have brought my heated jacket – doh, heated jacket! Turn up the heat nice and high and “Ping” the shoulder was feeling nearly normal; my heated gloves were nice to!

We paused to grab a photo at the standardly deserted Swiss customs post on the Umbrail Pass border and roared back into Italy. Ciao Italia! – We missed you for the last 30 miles.

On the border, anything Blue can do, I can do better!

Déjà vu / Déjà Blue!

Just after the fronter we turned left and knocked off the last half-dozen hairpins to Passo dello Stelvio. Umbrail is at 2503m/8212ft, Stelvio 2757m/9046ft, poor Harls with her simple carburetor was running very rich through lack of oxygen at these altitudes!

Looking East on the top of Stelvio.

I’ve said it before, I find the top of Stevio tacky, but today was about proving a point to the big lump of a mountain. I’ve beaten you now with both my bikes!

Harls on Stelvio, a touch of class amongst all that is tacky!

The top was fairly busy, very cold and with a bit of snow in the air, so after a quick look around and grabbing a bratwurst for lunch, we headed down into Bormio and then on towards Livigno. Knocking off Passo Foscagno 2281m/7517ft and Passo d’Eira 2208m/7244ft on the way.

Stelvio hairpin, “Going Down!”

Gnocchi and pizza for supper tonight!

I can’t eulogise enough how much I enjoyed riding my Harls up that mountain today. I feel that, despite taking Big Blue up there last year, I can now fully exorcise that beastie that was Stelvio.

Harls came, growled her contempt and kicked it just where it counted and I had the ride of my life!

“Been down one time
Been down two times
I’m never going back again.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

PS Trip total mileage so far 1584.

Bridesmaids

Hello Everyone.

It’s been another splendid day for riding motorbikes. Lots of sunshine, a bit of a chill in the air…but best of all, no rain! With all the trials by weather that we have been subjected to, it was the sort of day to savour and do something special and that’s exactly what we did.

Continued apologies for the lack of photographs, hotel WiFi is still being a pain, so I’ll keep this report reasonably brief and save the photos for a longer post in the not to distant future.

Because of the weather issues I’ve rearranged our schedule a bit and dropped some of the lesser Dolomite Passes, actually that’s just an excuse to come back here again….please Mrs Dookes! There were however three passes that I really wanted to bag (that’s slang for riding over them), initially they had been scheduled for our entry to Italy, but yep the weather stuffed that idea. The trouble is that they are all so high that even in the height of summer and precipitation can fall as snow. Over the last week all of them have seen quite a bit of the white stuff and only yesterday snow chains were required on two of them! As you can imagine, there was still a fair bit around today making things look quite superb.

Oh yes, I nearly forget to tell you which passes I’m rambling on about, I’ll give you the German names for them, as we are in the South Tirol after all, in order that we rode them:

Penserjoch 2215m/7267ft
Jaufenpass 2099m/6887ft
Timmelsjoch 2474m/8127ft

I set out with a blank canvas, sure I knew where I wanted to go, but I hadn’t planned a return route. That was good really, because I enjoyed the outward ride so much over the first two that once we had done the Timmelsjoch High Alpine road, I turned around and came back the way we went out! 😎

I’ve got to say that although the Timmelsjoch is supposed to be one of the classic alpine routes, it didn’t do much for me; I much preferred the other two. A case of the bridesmaids out doing the bride!

Yes, I promise I’ll write much more in future about all three routes with, if I say so myself, some really nice photos as well; please stick around for that.

In the meantime, keep the rubber down and the shiny side up!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

A Victory – Of Sorts.

OK, I’ve found where the picture problem is…yep, hotel WiFi strikes again!

It’s a bit of a source of annoyance to me really, I book into places that advertise WiFi and frequently I get let down by intermittent service, poor connectivity, slow speeds and other annoying issues. Normally it’s the places that like to think themselves as a bit more “up-market” that are the worse culprits…like where I’m staying at the moment! In contrast most smaller Bed and Breakfast/Chambre d’hôtes places score better, so here’s to the little people who make the world go round!

Right, rant over: what’ve you been up to Dookes?

I resolved to get out of the hotel, whatever the weather, by 13:00hrs and as it was still raining I put on my motorcycle leathers….well, they are waterproof, then took a stroll down to the local Rittner Bahn station, all of 150metres from the hotel. I’m going to do a separate post on this delightful, yet incredibly useful, little railway in future.

I’ve got to confess, the reason I chose this hotel wasn’t really the WiFi, it was the location and the fact that it had a narrow gauge railway at the bottom of the garden!

Better still, it’s the halfway point of the route and being single track, it’s where the loop is to allow two trains to pass; old Dookes knows his railways!

The two carriage train arrived vaguely on time and after climbing on board I enjoyed an entertaining ride to the Western end of the line at Soprabolzano, about fifteen minutes later. From there I transferred to a cable car for a twelve minute ride down to the City of Bolzano, which was somewhere in the mist below…

There’s something about Bolzano that I like.

It’s a bloody awful place in many ways, jammed into a narrow valley with industry, commercial, residential, retail and transport all fighting for space. It’s always steaming hot and often seems to have its own special smog, but I love it! The place is so….Bolzano, a melange of the Tirol, Italian and Dolomite culture, with these days a fair slice of the rest of the world thrown in on top!

I stepped off the cable car and took in the whole grubby panorama, definitely the base station is not in the most salubrious part of town, it that honest grittiness that makes me smile. After the almost ersatz and slightly false “chocolate box” surroundings of Ritten, this was the “real” Italy; my Italy.

I walked into the first grubby cafe I could find, sat on a high stool at the bar and ordered.

“Buon giorno, un cafe, per favore.”

Within seconds a tiny cup of potent black liquid was clattered on the plastic surface in front of me, a wrapper containing a chocolate coated coffee bean sat on the saucer.

“Grazie.”
“Prego.”

The barista pushed a small dish with the bill across the counter, €0.90. I dropped a €2 coin on top of the bill and pushed it back, shaking my hand, no change, that’s your tip.
The barista smiled at me.

“Grazie signore.”

I sipped the coffee thinking, “wow this is good,” then the caffeine whacked me somewhere at the back of my head, vaguely between the ears if I recall correctly. Why oh why, can only the Italians do coffee this good? I mean, it’s not hard – just take coffee, roast it properly, grind it properly, pass hot water through it and bingo, coffee! Coffee like nowhere else in the whole world.

I wandered the streets of the old town, just taking in the atmosphere and people watching. There were tourists everywhere, but as today was market day, lots of locals were out shopping too.

The narrow streets of the old town are today largely taken up with all kinds of boutique type shops, Mrs Dookes would be in her element here, but I find it all a bit faux. It’s just not my bag.

From the old streets I continued West and passed over the Ponte Talvera bridge. There was something I wanted to see.

Standing at the end of a small park is the Monumento alla Vittoria, the Bolzano Victory Arch.

To say that this structure is one of the most divisive in Italy, is a bit of an understatement. To many it is the epicentre of the unrest and continuing disquiet caused by the absorption of South Tirol into Italy in 1919. Originally conceived as a memorial to the men who died in the Alpine Campaign, it was hijacked by the Fascist regime and specifically Mussolini who dedicated it to “The Victory of Italy.”

Over the years this imposing structure has been defaced, reviled, worshiped and even considered for demolition. Today it has been restored, not to glorify it’s Fascist roots, but to serve as a reminder of past mistakes, errors and atrocities and act as a continuous dialogue between the past and present.

In the basement of the structure is a fascinating and very professional exhibition telling it’s story through the past 90 years. I found it fascinating yet sobering, particularly the persecution of the German speaking population of South Tirol under the Fascists; then of course along came the Axis Alliance with Nazi Germany…and things changed a bit, causing Mussolini to think twice. The Italian Proclamation of Empire in 1936 caused the monument to take on a new mantle, that of a centre of new national glories and ideology, the construction of the modernised city of Bolzano underlined the Fascist significance of the monument.

My visit left me feeling quite uneasy. I don’t like extremism from whichever end of the political spectrum it raises it’s slimy head and the Fascists of the 20th Century are right up there on the Dookes revulsion scale.

I admire both the City of Bolzano and Italy in general, for confronting the past as personified by this monument in a straightforward and honest way. I hope it will serve as a reminder of how things get screwed up when jingoism and extreme views are allowed to run riot.

The place left me feeling uneasy…I was glad to walk away, but I worry that the lessons of the past have not been learnt. My own country’s current stance with Europe being of particular concern, along with the joint madmen in Pennsylvania Avenue and Pyongyang…

I returned to Ritten still troubled, but then the sun came out and the view from my balcony gave me hope. There’s nothing like a little sunshine to raise the spirits!
In the words of Pete Seeger.

“When will they ever learn.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes