Exploring the Alps on two wheels
Last Updated: 21st March 2019
Duration: 14 days (july/august)
Distance: 3724km/2299 miles
Countries: FR, DE, AT, CH, IT
When we actually got there, rain had been forecasted over all of the Alps for the majority of our holiday. So we opted to drop the planned route, cancel hotels and instead follow where the sun took us.
Our wits were tested along with our emergency kits with lost credit cards, a puncture, worn tyre, blowing fuses and faulty USB chargers.
We tackled the problems as they kept on presenting themselves and had a brilliant holiday.
Map Overview (Planned)
As it turns out, my mate couldnt make it to the alps this year, and I was looking at hitting this years Alps solo. On a motorbike forum, a VFR12 owner asked if anyone was heading to the Alps as his mate couldn't make it, and things just fell into place from there.
So to recap: Two complete strangers agree to be in close contact for two weeks. Are we mad? Yeah, I would say so.
2014 Honda VFR1200
This sexy black and silver 2014 Honda shafty comes with a full luggage kit, bagster tank protector and tank bag, Dunlop Road Smart 2 tyres and a Garmin Zumo 660 GPS
1999 Honda VFR800
Yet another sexy Honda VFR fitted with Y2K mirrors, Zero Gravity screen, motad exhaust, and Bridgestone T30 tyres and a Garmin Zumo 660 GPS. Additionally this bike has two Drift Ghost cameras mounted front and rear.
Planning and meeting
Planning for this trip initially was using Garmin Basecamp and the completed route transferred on to Garmin Zumo 660 units. Both bikes are equipped the 660, so a copy of the completed route was sent via mail. The only thing that was not planned was route for the VFR12 from Zeebrugger to the meeting place, as one can't really plan another’s route, especially when one isn't there.
"Planning the route to the hotel takes all of, yeah, 5 minutes"
We say "initially" as the route lead us into severe rain storms with warnings of flash floods, so we decided to scrap the route and plan on the fly. Luckily I had taken my little travel PC with me which had all the planning tools.
As far as paying for stuff, VFR12 wanted to split everything on the fly, so no one was owing anyone any money, which I was perfectly in agreement with.
Criteria for our meeting place was that distance travelled by each bike should be the roughly the same. Starting points were Scotland and Denmark, so the city of Dole in France was chosen as an amicable meeting place. Using booking.com we found a hotel and booked in advance.
The day of the meeting, VFR12 landed in Zeebrugger early in the morn and the VFR800 continued from his overnighter in mid Germany. The first to arrive at the meeting hotel was VFR8 at 14:00 (2pm) only to find the hotel closed and a sign stating: Open 5pm. So lunch was bought and waited in anticipation ;) By 8pm there is no sign of VFR12 and communications were lost. We hadn't swapped ICE details which we should have done as pre-trip procedure.
VFR12 finally shows at 20:45 and whilst food is ordered (kitchen closes at 21:00) he takes a shower and over his meal, he tells of his ordeal.
Day 1 - 25 July 2014 - 504km/311 miles
Last night, VFR12 explained that the route from Zeebrugger to Dole was plotted directly into the 660. Turns out that the 660 has a planning profile called "Motorbike - Curvy" which was chosen. This took VFR12 through all the small towns in France, so what should have been a six hour trip, took 14 hours. To make matters worse, a tired and hungry VFR12 then hit rain, arriving a not very happy chappy.
Today’s plan, was to get to Gorge Du Verdon via some good twisties, but as fate would have it the VFR8 notices a deep gash in his rear tyre. A Honda dealer is quickly located at Manosque which is on route, and a diversion is plotted.
"I've lost my credit cards"
On route to the Honda dealer VFR12 notices that all his credit cards are missing/lost. The cards are reported to the bank and promptly cancelled. His bank tells him to just go into any Santander bank with ID and they'll sort it out. Until then VFR8 agrees to cover VFR12.
At the Honda dealers, the rear tyre is inspected on the VFR800 and is concluded that its just a "flesh wound" and we can carry on without any worries. Admittedly I was a bit disappointed as I was hoping that whilst they changed the rear out I could test ride the new VFR800. I asked anyway, and they gave me a matter of factly NO.
Meanwhile VFR12 finds out that there are no Santander in France, and another set of calls to his bank gives 2 a solutions.
1) A one time only, go to the nearest bank and withdraw total sum required (in this case approx 1500€) which is a lot of wonga to be carrying around, or 2) VFR8 pays and VFR12 transfers the cash with online banking.
We decide option 2 is the most viable at this point in time.
We proceed to the hotel at Gorge du verdon, and with a shaky start to the trip, we arrived safely at the hotel. The view from our room was fantastic and turned out to be a great hotel to be used as a base. The first night even treated us to a spectacular thunderstorm.
Day 2 - 26 July 2014 - 274km/169 miles
We wake up to blue skies and not a trace of the thunderstorm from last night. As this is a base hotel, we have not packed our bags and instead wash our luggage free bikes to a shine and proceed to explore the Gorge du Verdon area.
We depart late-ish as we have to sort some finances out. The sun is shining, the roads are dry and the scenery is stunning.
Day 3 - 27 July 2014 - 270km
Tomorrow we leave our base hotel and head towards the Alps, so today we climb on to our bikes, again without luggage and take a different route exploring this fantastic area.
This route is slightly shorter and tighter than yesterday, but the views are breathtaking.
Whilst out on one of the slower roads, i.e. you could tell there was a gravel pit in the vicinity, I decide to lift my visor up to get a tad more air in, and it seems that as soon as I did that, I get stung by a wasp just above left eyebrow. One emergency stop later and getting my helmet off faster than you can say "Bugger me I got stung by a wasp. How unsporting of it", my helmet was off and sting removed. I did manage to get revenge on another wasp though :)
This night VFR12 transfers the first set of money. We go through the last 3 days transactions, a sum is agreed, and that sum is transferred. We discuss that we know that I'll be covering at least the next three days, and he's using €270 per 3 days, so if if he can send an additional €270 with this transfer, in 3 days when I get them, his usage is already covered. But VFR12 turns this idea down.
Day 4 - 28 July 2014 - 311km
Today we say our fairly wells to Gorge Du Verdon and start our trek northwards. The Alps are beckoning and spirits are high.
We stop off at Digne for some brunch, where VFR12 gets chewed out by some German pillion woman, much to the amusement of VFR8. Apparently parking in the same paring bay as them set her off. The German biker (guy) was very apologetic and they went on their way. Poor guy, I could help comparing him to Richard in "Keeping Up Appearances".
Later on that day we stop off at a fire station where we start talking to a rather saucy French lady in fire uniform.
By middle afternoon, we saw the first signs of rain brewing in the distance, and before we knew it, we were in the middle of it. Speeds dropped, and we again pulled out our trusty booking.com to find nearby lodgings. This time we find a 3 star modern hotel with pool and gym. Note to self: Must start using facilities that attracted us to the hotel in the first place.
Now that Wifi is so widely available, over dinner (which we had at the hotel due to the weather) we checked the weather forecast. VFR12 uses meteox.co.uk and VFR8 uses yr.no. The forecast for the next 5-6 days doesn’t look too good, and the picture on the right we are on the French side of Aosta, and our route takes us NEE towards Billinzona. We decide to wait until tomorrow morning to reassess the situation.
Day 5 - 29 July 2014 - 310km
This morning we wake up to rain rain rain. Over breakfast looking at the weather radar we see that the Alps are covered in rain and the forecast is the same for the next 5-6 days with warnings of flash floods.
This is where VFR12 comes with a totally out of my comfort zone, but absolutely correct observation. "Why are we here?" he asks, "Are we on holiday to ride in the rain or for the sun and dry roads?" Our route takes us directly into rain for the next few days, so we decide to scrap the route and go instead where the sun takes us. To get there, though, it's a days riding in the rain. Southbound motorways it is.
At this point it must be said that the toll prices for the French motorways have noticeably increased since the last time I used them (approx 5 years ago) and can comfortably conclude that in future planning, I'll try to avoid them as much as possible.
The new route takes us West by Chambrey, then south back to Gorge Du Verdon, but the Garmin is telling us that there is indeed a Santander bank in Lyon. We stop at Chambrey to dry off and discuss our next move.
International Bank TransfersOption 2 of day 1, i.e. VFR8 pays and VFR12 transfers online, isn't really working out that well. Firstly, VFR8 have to keep constant tabs on how much VFR12 is using and a couple of times on the French motorways, with the rain, paying together and wotnot, VFR8 lost track of the toll prices. Secondly, as our banks are in different countries, we have the addition joys of international transfer charges with a three day lag. Charges are imposed for both sending and receiving funds, so by the time the funds show up in my account there is considerably less funds than is needed to cover the expenses of paying for VFR12. Top that all up with exchange rate fluctuations, this was turning into a accounting nightmare. It's a relief then, when Garmin was pinpointing a Santander bank not more than 45 minutes (80km) away.Discussing the financial issues over a fast food burger, VFR12 argues that heading west to Lyon will only prolong the time we spend in the rain, so in spite of all financial reasoning, we head due south instead. It is here where I start feeling that my travelling companion is starting to take liberties. Gradually the dark rain clouds subside to light grey and finally spots of blue sky emerge. We enjoy an hours worth of dryness before we see dark clouds looming in the distance and stop to look for a nearby hotel with booking.com. Now that we are pushing our comfort zones and trying new things, we decide to choose a newly listed "Inn" with no reviews. These aren't the hotels we usually go for, i.e. under 8.2 on booking, but we're feeling adventurous. Don't judge a book by it's cover So we pull up to this square block in the middle of nowhere with a bar. Behind the bar is a crooked stairwell. At the top of this crooked stairwell are 3 crooked doors. Behind one of these crooked doors, and with only a small window at knee hight to let light in, this was my room for the evening. The bed was so comfortable and the shower was heavenly. Totally refreshed we head to the restaurant which resembles a little cafe and we are treated to the most fantastic meal we have had so far on this trip. We are so impressed by our hosts food and lodging, that by the time we turn in, we have already decided to stay another night and to explore the surrounding region tomorrow.
to scrap the route
Day 6 - 30 July 2014 - 309km
This morning we wake up to this gem of a place we've found in the blazing sun and we plan a 250 odd kilometre exploration of the surrounding area over a "sweet" or "salty" breakfast. Sweet being jams and salty being meats. We can see whiffs of dark clouds in the distance.
We wash our bikes down to get rid of yesterdays grit & grime and head off into what continues to be a rather nice and pleasant day considering that the rest of the Alps are enveloped in rain.
An hour into ride I loose my rear facing Drift Ghost action camera. Luckily VFR12 is behind me and shouts over the Sena what's happened, and we stop to recover the pieces. The drift is indeed a sturdy camera and there is minimal damage to the unit. On closer inspection I can see that the sticky padding holding the cam bracket to the Ram Mount plate has come off. Maybe the rain got to it? but "funnily" enough, the front facing camera is experiencing condensation problems from yesterdays rain, so I feel a mail will be sent in the near future to Action-cameras where I bought my cams. I rear cam replaces the front facing cam with condensation and we carry on for the rest of the day enjoying some good biking roads.
Later on in the evening, we can see that weather wise south is the way to go with a sunny window opening into Italy in a couple of days. This is good news because Garmin can see a Santander in Cuneo. For tomorrow though, the plan is to head into Cannes.
Day 7 - 31 July 2014 - 301km
We get packed and say goodbye to this gem of a place. We head south,
An hour or so from Cannes, we book a hotel, and plot it into the GPS which turns out to be full. We head to another hotel and here we really feel the price difference. €75 buys you a 12sq/m room with 2 beds, a table, shower etc. In other words a sardine can.
We hit the town and drool over the expensive cars, one even hears a whisper of Danish in the air.
After some persuading I get VFR12 to transfer some money.
Day 8 - 1 August 2014 - 300km
Had we followed our planned route, we would've been playing around the Italian/swiss/austrian boarders by now, but instead we wake up in Cannes. Not bad, not bad ;)
Last night, VFR12 got a bit frustrated as he didn’t have any money to spend in Cannes. Even more of a reason to get him to a bank, so today I insisted that we set this as a priority, but another problem crops up. His rear tyre is just about finished and we can see that his tyre is not going to get him home, so a twisties route is planned to Cuneo, Italy, we double check with google street view that its still there. The sun is shining.
On the way out of Cannes we stop by Honda dealers in Antibes and Nice looking for a tyre. Quotes for his rear 190/55ZR17 were 260€ and 210€ respectively. Worst of all they don't have his tyre in stock, so delivery is first in 3 working days. We've already done our homework and this tyre shouldn't cost more than 180€, so we decide to push onto Cuneo. The VFR800 then starts blowing a fuse meaning that it doesn't have indicators, break lights or horn.
We limp on.
The roads to Cuneo from Cannes are an absolute bikers dream. Thoroughly enjoyed them and for early afternoon we pull into Cuneo and ride up to Santanders address.... Only to find that we've ridden 120km for a bank that's not there. We savour the moment. Turns out Santander doesn't have any banks in Italy, they are just affiliations. VFR12, gets on the phone to his bank and by 6pm he's still waiting for the bank to transfer funds to a local Western Union branch.
We book a hotel in the area via booking.com (9.2 rating, very nice), and VFR8 shoots off to check in within the stated time, only to find out its closed, with metal fences and beware the guard dog signs. I think some one, somewhere is trying to tell us something.
We find another hotel on the outskirts, and I kid you not, within seconds, we get a call from the owner of the first hotel saying.... we're here now. After we explain, we are asked to cancel the reservation via booking, which we do so and find that we get a cancellation fee of 70€. A quick call to booking.com's 24hrs customer service, sorts that misunderstanding out :)
So finally, by the end of this day, VFR12 has money in his pocket, is self sufficient and we go into town, to calibrate. We find a pizza place, VFR12 pays out of pure appreciation that VFR8 has covered his backside for a week. We get back to the hotel and crash out... Nothing else can go wrong... right??
Day 9 - 2 August 2014 - 213km
We wake up with VFR12 having a flat rear tyre. Back into damage control mode, but the little break was nice.
We're quick off the draw and start making the needed calls, whilst VFR12 proceeds to repair the puncture. After all, we do have a check out time that needs to be adhered to. Its not long before VFR8 has contacted the local Honda dealer which, surprise surprise doesn't have a 190/55ZR17 in stock, but not taking this for an answer, (not that we have a choice) VFR8 goes off shopping thought being that there must be a tyre shop that does have the required size in stock..... somewhere. True to that thought a tyre shop with a Metzler M7 in his size is located and even comes with a quote for 160€ fitted. By this time VFR12 has repaired the puncture, and proceeds slowly to the tyre shop. So far so good.
VFR8 forks out for the tyre, as VFR12 forgot in his haste to take some money with him. As it turns out the VFR1200 is a complicated machine, and it has sensors out its ass... literally... It has sensors in the exhaust and it has an exhaust latch. After fitting the tyre, the VFR12's traction control and gear box warning lights stay on. We locate the Honda dealer.
As it turns out, the cable for the exhaust latch had hopped out of its pulley, and 30€ later the cable is in its place and we continue on our journey.
From here, if we travel NE direction we should be able to keep south of the rain, and general direction towards Milan.
Around 6pm we locate a local hotel and book a twin room, i.e. one room two beds (we're not that kind of friends) . Confirmation is received by mail and we head towards it. Turns out that the hotel didn't have any twin rooms. So we got two double rooms for the same agreed price of the twin from booking.
The view from both rooms was breath taking. VFR12 goes for a run and I head down to the restaurant and wait for him whilst I wait.
The owner approaches me regarding the meal and I say that I want to wait until my bud comes back... but until then could I have a beer?
The guy looks at me, not believing what he's just heard and stutters... "No, we dont serve beer here"
"we don't serve beer here"
Day 10 - 3 August 2014 - 291km
VFR12 wakes up this morning grumpy. Apparently some of the other guests had been up until 2am and VFR12 couldn't get to sleep. So he was giving every one the stink eye. We get ready and I present VFR12 with the bill for the tyre change and he promptly hands me the 160€. From here things started getting a bit weird.
I go in to split the bill, and whilst waiting for VFR12 start talking to the owner. It was a good conversation and a lot that had happened the night before suddenly made sense. I apologised that for him it must have been barbaric asking for a beer, but we weren't aware that this was wine country. Suddenly VFR12 is standing in the doorway fully kitted, helmet & gloves on asking in a pretty annoyed voice if we were going or what? "Yeah, if you're thinking of running from your bill" was the reply. For some reason VFR12 thought I was still paying for him, and asked if I wasn't going to pay his bill? We agreed from the very beginning that we would split the bill from the get go, and now that VFR12 is self sufficient, no, I was not going to pay his bill. He gets in a huff and says that he'll need the €160 back then, cause he hasn't withdrawn enough money.
Twas my turn to give the stink eye.
VFR12 begrudgingly pays his bill, and stomps off to his bike. I get ready and we head off. Finding the first parking area, I pull in and switch my engine off. Time to nip this serious piss taking in the bud.
VFR12 explains that he wasn't annoyed that I didn't pay his bill, but that he was made to wait. I explained that after all the challenges he threw my way the past 9 days, that he should think twice before getting annoyed with me and from what I could hear, he didn't have enough money to complete the trip. To be honest, at this point my gut feeling was that we should stop here, and I said as much. On that bomb shell we decide that we should try for a cuppa and a pizza in central Milan.
Cutting a long story short, we get to Milan in a slightly better mood, and we order a pizza in town centre. Whilst eating the pizza, the mrs calls me telling me that I've gone over budget, and although she hates cutting my trip short, economy is what economy is. I tell VFR12 and we finish meals. He nods to the waiter looking at me and says... "Its €20" The cheeky git wants me to pay for his pizza!!!
We say our fair wells and from Milan centre I get on the motorways, destination Denmark.
The resulting diamond that came out of the bomb shell that was the loss of credit cards and its consequences, was a single comment VFR12 made five days in to our trip. After seeing that the planned route was leading us into severe weather storms, VFR12 questioned the reason for being on an Alpine motorbike holiday, and dangled the question "Where's the sun?"
The implication of this simple yet innocent question has sent me on a major psychological journey. I was stopped in my tracks and made to reflect, where my instinct was telling me to go full steam ahead into flash floods. Stepping out of my comfort zone we did an about face, giving our planned route the middle finger and headed for the sun. Three weeks later, I'm applying these lessons learnt to my daily life.... steering me towards the sun.
I am constantly asked why I ride motorbikes, and the simple answer behind the complicated mechanism that is I, is that it's basically cheaper than a psychiatrist and ten times more effective. Motorbiking, and especially an Alp trip is a release valve for stress, and it simultaneously replenishes my batteries. My awe for the alpine mountains provide comfort and tranquillity. My place of Zen. In other words, this is were I thrive and flourish.
In situations like this, yes I did use a lot of energy in the aftermath of my travel buddy loosing his credit cards and I will definitely do things differently in the future, but out of that chaos came an invaluable philosophy. Finances was secondary.
For that, I owe him my thanks.
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