Thursday, December 22, 2011

HB and Mike do France Part 4.

The final part. To start at the beginning go to Part 1.

Following on from Part 3.

After getting the bike packed up and having a quick bike to eat we left Barcelonnette heading back north for a couple of miles. We were heading to the Col de la Bonette. This pass is ofter referred to as the highest pass is Europe, bit its not. Col de l'Iseran is as I mentioned in Part 3. The confusion is caused by a senic loop right at the top of the Col de la Bonette that goes round the Cime de la Bonette peak. This wee loop is the highest road in the Alps at 2802 metres but its not a pass.
Anyway, I was really excited about riding the whole thing. I'd got a bit lost on my last trip around Europe and missed the Col de la Bonette, but this time we had a loan of Faithir's GPS. The Col de la Bonette is different than the other big passes. The road is a bit thinner and very open. you can see it twisting away up the hill before you, visiblity not really being obscured by trees. At the summit the rocks and dust have a black, volcanic looking colour to them, there's evem an abandoned ghost town in the way down the south side. As we were going up I noticed the GPS had turned itself off. I looked down at the wee auxilliary plug, thinking it had fallen out. Fucko. I'd kicked the plug and broke it. Shite. No more GPS. We still had the map so all wasn't lost, but it would prove to be much easier with the GPS.
At the top of the Col de la Bonette
At the top.

Note where the helmet is.

An abandoned village on Col de la Bonette.

It was really windy at the top, really busy too. There was loads of other bikes, some pushbikes, motor homes and cars. I put my crash helmet down on the pannier to take a photo.



Aw fuck sake.

A gust of wind had blown my lid off the bike, when it landed on the ground the visor had broken. Shite.
To say I felt a bit of a prick would be a fucking understatement. I'd lectured HB to no end about putting her crash helmet somewhere that there was no chance of it falling and causing damage, like a broken visor. What a fud. Oh well, the next 1500 odd miles would be done sans visor.
Riding down from the Cime de la Bonette you cross a saddle, where the road has steep drops on each side, I wish I'd had my Gopro to show what it was like. We were heading for Menton which sits just on the French side of the France/Italy border right on the Mediterranean coast. I never stopped here on my Europe trip and dipping my toes in the Med was on my list of things to do. If you're riding the Route Des Grande Alpes from north to south Menton is where you finish. As we headed south it got hotter and hotter, I could really feel the heat on my face. It's actually cooler to ride with the visor down, if you have one. The scenery around us was changing and taking on a near desert quality with red rock and dust everywhere. We pushed on following the Route Des Grande Alpes as best we could. the roads got narrower and narrower, at one stage there was only about one and a half metres of tarmac to ride on and it was fucking steep. If something had came the other way we'd have been fucked. There is another lack of photos here as it was simply too hot to stop. Every time we crested the brow of a hill we expected to see the Med, but no. On and on we pushed till eventually we could see the sea. An hour and a bit later we were in Menton. This had been the most challenging motorcycling of my life, maneuvering a heavy, fully loaded bike with a pillion round some extremely tight, twisty and slippy roads complete with unpredictably traffic. Lucky for me HB is an excellent pillion but still, I was fucked, and we still had to find the campsite. I stayed with the bike, hiding from the heat under a palm tree while HB went to the tourist information for directions. Even in the shade it was fucking roasting. I was sweating like a glass blower's arse/Josef fritzl on MTV Cribs/pregnant nun/insert your own one here.
Eventually HB returned with directions. The campsite was up on a hill overlooking the town so it was up another crazy tight road and we were there.

Menton Campsite
Menton Campsite

Broken Visor
Me and my broken visor.

In our tent at Menton.

Menton campsite was heaving but we got a space and pitched the tent, hammering the pegs into the hard dusty ground. It was fucking noisy too, all you could hear was crickets chirping away, it was pretty cool. It really gave me a feeling of how far we'd travelled. As I said earlier, the campsite is on a hill over looking the town. To get to the town there are stairs. Hundreds of fucking stairs. A real challenge in the heat, I had to stop for a few rests going up and down.

HB at the top of those bastard stairs.

Menton from the stairs.

Menton has a wee bit of a rough feel about it. It's nice enough but you can tell its a border town close to Monaco. Lots of fake Rolex watches and designer handbags were for sale and there were a few interesting looking characters stoating about. HB and I had some nice meals there and I eventually managed to get my feet in the water of the Med. On our second night we ate at the bar on the campsite. It had an ace raised wooden patio thingy with tables on it, so you had a nice view of Menton and the sea as you ate. We'd been having a few drinks after out food when I notice the occasional "Fack of you cahnt!" and "Fack off you wankaa" coming from a table of French folk. Turned out one of them was from Menton but had grown up in London, the result being his english was excellent but he had a really strong cockney accent which had rubbed off on all his mates, we joined them at their table and this led us to get talking to a bunch of guys wo were on a stag night. They were heading to Italy but stopped off for some drinks at the bar on the campsite as they rated it as the best bar in Menton. When they found out we were Scottish one of them went berserk. He'd visited Scotland, staying in Dornoch castle and visiting Loch Ness. He costantly reminded us of this. He then declared us to be his brother and sister and announced that he spoke Scottish, not English, he was really proud he could pronounce the names of where he'd been. It was then declared that our money was no good and him and his mates bought us loads of drinks while we practiced our French and they practiced their English. We had a quality night out with them and it was after 2 when we got back to the tent.

Getting my feet in the sea.


Me sleeping in the street. I couldn't handle the heat.

Getting some food in Menton.

Me and some mental French guys.

The south coast of France was hot. Really fucking hot. We left Menton heading along the coast to a wee town called Cassis. We rode through Monaco before nipping onto the motorway. It was hot, had I mentioned that? When we got to Cassis we made a decision to blow the budget and HB's credit card and get a hotel room. What a good fucking decision it was. We got a room in the Hotel Liautaud. It had air conditioning and a balcony overlooking the harbour and the town square. It was nice and cool. Coooool. I had nice long shower and got all the dead insects off my face. I tell you, it fucking stings a bit when you get a bee in the face at 90mph with no visor.
Cassis was awesome. We spent three nights there just chilling out. We done all the touristy things, took a boat trip out to the Calanques, big hidden coves with cliffs up each side. We done a tour of the town and had a look around the stalls on market day. The GS never turned a wheel the whole time we were there, it just rested in the town square among the other bikes, of which there were hundreds. It was great to see all the bikes coming and going. everything from wee mopeds to customs, classics to supercharged, nitrous breathing missiles. Cassis seems to be one of those places petrol heads all end up going. Along with the bikes there were quite a few nice cars to be seen, there was some serious money floating around the harbour too.

casis pano
The view from our balcony.

Can you see the GS?

HB in Cassis.

cassis pano2
Cassis signpost.
Cassis views

I was mostly eating mussels.

The bikes and the boats.

At the market. I bought a donkey sausage of that last guy.

On a boat ma'fucka!

After Cassis we had planned to head north via the Millau bridge, but that would have meant quite a big detour. Instead we opted for the 500 mile motorway blast to Aubigny Sur Ner. Aubigny is twinned with Haddington, the town where I lived when I was a wee boy here in East Lothian. It has a massive Scottish connection and they are very proud of their Auld Alliance history. They have a Scotland day with a pipe band dressed in kilts and everything. There is a castle of the Stuarts that we visited and when the staff there realised that we were Scottish they let us in free of charge, telling us we were on Scottish land. All we had to pay for was a wee audio guide. We stayed in Le Cutty Sark, a Scottish themed pub come hotel. We were there for two nights which allowed us to have a good look around the town. Aubigny is a proper oldy world feeling French town with narrow side streets and wooden beams on the buildings. We wandered about going to the shops and cafes. When I was buying some ham in the butchers he was that excited that I was from Haddington he shouted his other workers through from the next room to talk to me. That night we ate in the Cutty Sark, some of the locals had visited East Lothian before and were asking questions about the area and people they knew. In no time we had a que of people waiting to buy us drinks and talk to us, no shit! We were also joing by a scary ex Forign Legion guy called Pascal and his wee dog Pileau who both turned out to be plesant enough, despite Pascal giving us a demonstration on how badly broken his nose was. We had a great time, even the barman bought us a beer. We felt really welcome.

The Cutty Sark.


The Castle of the Stuarts.

An old map off Haddington.

Local wine.

Pascal and pileau


Our holiday was drawing to an end. We had two nights left and we planned to spend them in Bouillon just over the border in Belgium. I had been to Bouillon before and really wanted to take HB there. Its an old town divided by a river. On one side of the river is the houses, hotels, shops and the like. The view of other bank is mostly taken up by the huge castle.
We stayed at Hotel Relais Godefroy, a nice hotel right on the bank of the river which served good food from their barbecue. The also served beer, something that the Belgians do very well. In my opinion Belgian beer is the best in the world, I tried to get as much of it in me as possible while still being able to see the sights and walk. We had a good look round the old castle and took in a faconry display, toured the town and visited the market. We also bought a couple of beers and took a pedalo boast for a paddle on the river. The next day we had a good breakfast and within a couple of hours we were waiting in the que to get on the ferry, homeward bound.

buillion pano
Bouillon from the Castle.

Bouillon Castle at night.

Hotel Relais Godefroy

Belgian beer.



A classic car rally turned up near the castle.  The owner of this work in progress had every pass the car had done written on the side. Quality!

Spoke beer with the owner of this old BMW.




Heading back home.

We had some low points with the GS breaking down, but all in all we had an amazing time. I would reccomend a tour of France to anyone, do a wee bit research and get some ideas of where you want to go and things you want to see but keep your plans flexible, you never know whats going to happen or where you might end up!
Hope you enjoyed my wee story.