Our day started well the Harley riding, lady owner of Penzión Diana in Piešťany giving 25% discount to motorcyclists!
To delay the inevitable home run, we chose a cross-country route through the Czech Republic starting in wide open, rolling countryside with orchards laden with fruit and little red tractors dwarfed by gigantic, broad shouldered pylons flexing their pecs across the landscape – and a bitterly cold wind that soon had us stopping to add extra layers.
We ended in a more crumpled terrain of interlocking pasture, wooded hills, waterways, colourful backwater villages and an inordinately large number of ponds. Enjoying the ride, we barely stopped and the sun was setting a dusky pink behind the distant hills when we finally called it a day at Plzeň, home of Pilsner lager and Skoda cars – and some 40 miles short of the German border. Although a long day, it was a fabulous ride through beautiful countryside on a perfectly undulating, flowing strip of tarmac that has convinced us that the Czech Republic is well worth further exploration.
To break things up a little on Day 33 we intended to blast a few autobore miles to Limburg (near Koblenz) before heading off on a minor route, south-west into the Mosel Valley then up towards Aachen. As with the border into the Czech Republic, the only sign of it was a large reminder of the national speed limits, followed by a blur of autobahn, edged by dark woods and embankments, that occasionally gave way to reveal brief glimpses of manicured Germany with perfect, toy town villages, hillsides combed with grape vines and pin headed pylons marching into the distance in stiff legged formation. Maybe it was another poor choice of road, but road works, heavy traffic, frequent contraflow and the occasional accident slowed progress horribly. After eight hours in the saddle Bob called a halt to proceedings at Limburg where we found a convenient modern hotel just off the motorway with supper being garage wine (good selection again!) and a choice of McDonald’s, Subway or KFC – gee, he knows how to spoil a gal!
We woke to find a thin layer of ice on our saddles but, other than that, it was a perfect day for a bike ride: a crisp autumn morning, splashes of citrus yellow and burnt orange in the trees, a flawless blue sky and silky, smooth roads through beautiful countryside. It was obviously ‘our’ day as we easily found our minor road out of Limburg and had a lovely (very civilised!) ride through rural, more traditional Germany before dropping down into the Mosel valley where we followed the slow moving river for a while, its mirror calm surface perfectly reflecting the steep southern facing hillsides striped with grapes and dotted with red roofs and an occasional black church spire. At Cochem we turned north, zig zagging sharply up through the vineyards to pick up the 258; a fabulous road that took us cross country again almost as far as Aachen, passing the Nürburgring en route. We stopped at a local roadside café where you could have pretty much any sauce you wanted as long as it was with Bratwurst and frites – judging by owner’s convertible Mercedes Kompressor there’s good money to be made from sausage and chips!
During the afternoon we bounced around between Germany, Belgium and Holland and, towards the end of the day, inadvertently stumbled across the Belgian equivalent of the M25 on a Friday afternoon with a 20km traffic log jam around Hasselt. Thankfully continental drivers generally take a realistic view to motorcycle filtering so our delay was shorter than theirs and we eventually broke free to ride north to Tilburg and a convenient Ibis that felt more like an independent hotel. Preferring to sample the local brew as usual, we opted for a couple of Witte Trappe – white beer brewed by the Trappist monks in Koningshoeven, near Tilburg. They certainly know what they’re doing and it seemed the way to make it to heaven around there was to shut up and drink beer!
Our penultimate day started bright as we made our way towards Goes (Zeeland), where Anda, our Dutch motorcycling friend lives, but a haze developed as we headed west until the landscape before us was reduced to receding silhouettes of two dimensional villages and lollipop shaped trees. After an enjoyable couple of hours with a coffee and bolus (a local speciality tasting similar to lardy cake) we headed for Calais, our initial progress halted as we hit yet more road works! Fortunately we got through them quickly and were soon on our way, checking into the Budget Hotel in Calais in the early evening with a large police presence in the fenced compound ensuring the bikes were safe.
A perfect crimson disc of sun saw us into the Chunnel terminal where we caught the 9.20am train, two hours earlier than our booking. Back in Blighty we had a brief encounter with the M20 before turning south to visit our friend Patrick, a Cotton enthusiast with an encyclopedic knowledge of anything on two wheels. We then headed west through Sussex on a cross country route home; surrounded by houses and fences, trees and hedges and on traffic filled, dappled roads overhung with beech and oak; it was bordering on the claustrophobic until west of the A23 where the countryside itself seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, the vistas widened a little and there was room to breathe. The A272 made for a pleasant amble, stopping for a cream tea in a farm shop (how English!) which kept us going until we finally rounded the Stoford bend and the Wylye Valley lay stretched out before us – and home.
Hope you enjoyed the ride!
For those who want to know about the bikes ……
In 36 days (only just!) we covered 5900 trouble free miles.
Bob’s Kawasaki Versys (versatile system apparently) proved very capable but less suited to rough going than the Transalp. The 17” front wheel, and suspension that could have done with a couple of softer settings, gave a relatively harsh ride on poor surfaces. The wider profile rear tyre tended to throw mud and crud into the rear brake set up and back end generally, probably not helped by the minimal tail end bodywork. Fuel economy was very good at nearly 74mpg and motorway miles were swallowed with ease.
My Transalp has proven once again to be a good all rounder – dealing well enough with everything thrown at it. The 19” front wheel, softer suspension and shallower fork rake coping well with pot holed or dirt roads whilst the narrower rear tyre seemed to throw muck onto the swing arm, keeping the brake system etc. relatively clean. Fuel economy was lower at 67mpg and motorway miles were happiest at 70/80mph. I haven’t quite decided if it’s a good, or bad, thing but the need to refuel at 180/200 miles was a timely, if sometimes inconvenient, reminder that we needed a break.
Both bikes had a new set of the recently introduced Avon Trailriders fitted before the off which gave confidence in all conditions and the level of wear appears good, and similar, for both bikes. Interestingly, Bob’s wider profile rear took longer to warm up than mine – his observation!