June 7-8, 2014
Two weeks of vacation!! Dan and I planned to ride to Great Britain and enjoy a bit of England, Wales and Scotland before coming home. The biggest obstacle was the new motorcycle: we were supposed to have the first service done at 1,000 km and when pressed for the maximum number of miles, the sales guy said “1,800 – 2,000 TOPS!” with deep concern. Therefore we calculated our planned route and found a good dealership along the way. We scheduled a service for Tuesday. Done!
We had no other plans other than to leave Basel on Saturday. We loaded up the bikes that morning and headed into France. Google promised us seven hours of riding and we wanted to catch a early evening ferry and spend our first night in England!
In our garage
The motorway in France
Statue of Liberty at Colmar
We went north to Colmar and then west into the mountains to Nancy, France. The temperature had been rising, but the mountains were comfortable. It was nice to enjoy the curving road as it climbed through the Voges mountains. The road went through a 7 km tunnel which was blissfully cool and it was almost worth the 6.50 euro toll at the other end.
The mercury was rising steadily according to the gauge on my motorcycle. It wasn’t uncommon to see it hover at 31.5C and in full gear in the sun, it was uncomfortable. We saw a lot of other motorcyclists on the road and surprisingly, all but one of them was in full gear as well. We were woefully unprepared for the heat and hadn’t brought any water or snacks. We plodded along as we passed by the highway signs alerting me to the amazing famous landmarks in the area: Paris, Reims, Verdun… so many things to check out some other trip. For now, we were on a mission!
Dan shedding some gear
There’s a lot of France in France
After much more than the promised seven hours, we finally arrived at the coastal city of Calais. It truly is an industrial town and didn’t hold much beauty. But it was busy!! The signage took us directly to the ferry dock and we went inside and bought our tickets. We then sat in line for a while for Immigration Control. We handed over our IDs and the woman said to me “Do you have your passport?” Passport? Why would I need my passport to travel within the EU? I bounced around Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein without it – why should I need it now? She waved us over to a man standing at the Control Office and instructed us to go inside.
The man inside was not kind. Polite, but not kind. He told me I was stupid, asked why I would even THINK of trying to enter England without a passport, repeated this two or three times, went into the back office to see if there was a way around it, came back out and said no, we should just turn around now, and then repeated his earlier insults. I was polite the entire time, as things usually work out and honey works better than vinegar. This time was different: there was no happy ending. We tucked our tails and went back to get a refund for the ferry and figure out what to do.
Options abounded. All we needed was the passport. One of us could ride back in the morning, grab the passport and head back to Calais. It was a seven hour trip one way, so fourteen hours wouldn’t be unheard of for a day’s distance. Not comfortable or easy, to be sure, but possible. We also looked into a flight to Basel, or a train, but they were either prohibitively expensive or outrageously inconvenient. We would have just said “Forget England!” and ridden somewhere else, but the European continent was being blasted by a heatwave and we still had the BMW service to consider. I was already over the 1,000 km initial mileage point, and with there still being two days before a motorcycle shop would even be open, it was a chance we didn’t want to take. We found a hotel room to continue our deliberations.
A lot of brickwork in northern France
Our decision was made: we would both return to Basel, leave the bikes in the garage and sort out the remainder of our holiday. Now all we had to do was brave the continued heatwave and not go over the 2,000 km limit. It had been 700 km just to get to Calais, so I had about 800 km to play with before I ran out of kilometers.
We got up early in order to spend as little time in the midday heat as possible. We were on the road by quarter to seven. Not as early as we had hoped, but the previous day’s stress had taken its toll. In fact, when I woke up I was crestfallen to realize that yesterday’s debacle was real. Because we now had no time constraints and could track our mileage, we decided to actually see the French countryside on the way home. My new GPS has a setting for “Curvy Roads” and we thought we’d give it a try. I must say: if you have all day to get somewhere and you’re not baking in your gear, this a great setting.
We began with a tour of what seemed to be every small town in northern France. They weren’t charming or cute like Swiss towns, but the brick work was pervasive and the architectural style was interesting.
Probably one of the coolest things I saw that day was the 24/7 potato store. Just an open door in a bank of other storefronts with a sign out front. We turned around to check it out. Inside looked like a locker room, with banks of small square windows set into the three walls. Each window displayed the item available: various types of potatoes, shallots, even eggs were available. Just put your money in the slot, open the door and retrieve your treasure!
Pommes de Terre
We had left the more populated areas behind and were now heading through open countryside. The morning was cool with low clouds – a welcome change and I enjoyed it while I could. But the wind was pushing the clouds away and eventually the sun came out and started to warm up the landscape.
Then the GPS started to throw us onto smaller and smaller roads. At first I resisted, thinking that the GPS was misinformed. Then I took one of the turns and was delighted with the results. Tiny little lanes through farmers’ yards and wending through stands of trees and past rich fields of grain.
The roads went through very small villages, sometimes consisting of no more than a dozen buildings. Like most of the towns I’d see so far in France, they looked poor and very few of the buildings look well-kept. The French economy isn’t doing well and it was evident throughout our trip.
Sunday morning baguette run
I hadn’t been paying any attention to the map other than the small screen on the GPS so I was surprised when we crossed into Belgium. There was a detour in one of the small Belgium towns which led us directly past a likely-looking restaurant with outdoor seating. It was lunch time and we could use a break. Despite the heat of the day, we chose shaded outdoor seats to the non-air conditioned interior. It was a small place and the proprietor was enthusiastic in his greeting. Half the tables were taken up by locals and we took an empty one and looked over the menu. Dan’s French is much better than mine (because mine is essentially non-existent) and I asked him what various dishes listed on the menu were. The proprietor came over and suggested the menu of the day items, one of which appeared to be perch fillets. Dan ordered the other daily special and we sat back to wait. What arrived at our table was nothing like what we thought we were going to get, but it was good and we stuffed our faces.
The ride from here is barely worth talking about. We found the main motorway and it took us through Luxemburg and then back into France. The best part was the return through the Vosges to Colmar. The temperature actually dropped below 25C for a few minutes and the road was the sort that motorcyclists seek out specifically. It was not the sort of road that I was fit for after the riding that had been done this weekend.
We finally left the mountains behind and it was just three and a half hours to Basel. We stopped frequently in hope that the weather would cool as the sun lowered, but it was pointless: the temperatures never went below 32C for the rest of the day.
We have since made plans for the rest of our holiday time and will leave soon for a different sort of adventure. And I’ll bring my passport this time, too.
Click here for the continuation of our adventure!