Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Last Day on Continent

Today I had to travel from Heidelberg in Germany to Maidstone in the UK via the Channel Tunnel. A day was lots of time to do this. I decided that first I would visit the Castle near the hotel, but it was raining heavily - this slowed me down. The Castle is fantastic, but hard work in the rain. I saw the largest wine barrel ever, and some fantastic ruins - a pity that the castle was destroyed by fire and lightening. The views from the Castle over Heidelberg, especially of the old bridge,  are majestic. One good thing was that the rain finally stopped as I was about to leave Heidelberg.

My first stop was to visit Schengen in Luxembourg - my first time ever in this country. Schengen is famous for the Agreement that allows free movement across borders in Europe. There is a wonderful display of national flames beside the Mosel river - sadly the Irish tricolour is not among them, largely because the Union Jack isn't there either. Schengen also marks the location where the borders of Germany, France, and Luxembourg come together.

Just for the he'll of it I decided to travel through the Channel Tunnel to get from France to the UK - so quick! I was struck by how few bikes (4) were on the train, not many cars either. It was mostly empty.

Some photos from today:

Heidelberg Castle in the rain...



Heidelberg...



The largest wine barrel in the world...



The village of Schengen in Luxembourg...



The bike is on Luxembourg, straight ahead is Germany, while France is to the right...



An almost empty Le Shuttle...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Road to Heidelberg

It's approaching the end of this European holiday and it is time to head home. Roma and I had breakfast in the market in Innsbruck before we parted - her on a bus to Munich (to fly home), me - I was off to Heidelberg in Germany (440 kms). It was tough parting as we had just the best 12 days together. 

I first went to the local Harley-Davidson Store in Innsbruck to get a souvenir t-shirt (which I managed to do despite their dreadfully small selection). Then it was turn around and head west towards the town of Motz which would be my signal to turn north. After a while I noticed that there was no signs for Motz yet, but I kept going because navigating the Tyrolean valleys is easy - or so I thought. Just when I begun to think I had made a wrong turn, I noticed a sign that I did not want to see: "Italia". I had somehow managed to ride directly south rather that west. I also had to pay €9 for the privilege of using this road, and €9 back. In all I lost about 1.5 hours and a lot of pride! Italy was the sixth of 8 countries I will travel through on this trip. Soon after crossing into Germany the rain came and stayed for the rest of the day. My rain gear is good, and just my gloves were wet.

In addition to the rain, roadworks and awesome traffic jams made the day a lot longer. At one stage I was stopped so long that I got off the bike to take photos of the traffic ahead and behind (see below).

I am staying at the Hotel am Schloss, a basic but comfortable hotel. The view from my window is the incredible ruins of Heidelberg Castle, which I plan to go up and see in the morning. I was in Heidelberg before on business (with SmartForce), but remember very little. Tomorrow it is on to Calais through Luxembourg and Belgium - two countries I have never been to.

Traffic jam forwards...



Traffic jam backwards...



The wonder ruins of Heidelberg Casstle in the evening...


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Innsbruck


Yesterday we rolled into Innsbruck - a pretty city between huge mountains lining a valley. For the last leg of our holidays we are staying in a self catering apartment in the centre of the Old Town. Yesterday we walked about to check the city centre - Innsbruck is a lovely place with everything very close in a small city centre. Today we went up to the top of a local ski slope to get a better view of the Alps and Innsbruck. Smashing. We used the Funicular and ski lifts to get to 1,905 metres above sea level. We we came back down we went on the Sight Seeing tour, first big stop was to Schoss-Ambras which contains the world's oldest museum. Later we went to the Panoramaunde Bergisel Ski jump site - awesome. 

Some photos from yesterday and today:

Bridge over the River Inn...



In the City Tower with Roma...



View from the top of the city tower....



Only mad feckers jump this thing in the snow...



At the Schloss Ambras...


On top of the of the mountain at Seegrube...

Friday, July 21, 2017

Zell am See

Just for the hell of it we decided to take the bike out for a spin to Zell am See - about an hour from our hotel. It is a pleasant ride through the mountains, but as we got closer we noticed that many others had the same idea as us as the road was very busy. The town of Zell am See was packed with tourists, and as we were in our biker gear we found it very hot. We did not stay long and instead had lunch in a biker friendly cafe near Mittersall. On the way back to Kitzbühel I took a wrong turn, but overall it was a nice ride - Zell am See was not a great experience.

In the evening we were joined by Paul Radic from Enniskerry - he's a BMW rider, but otherwise OK. We had a great dinner together and shared r summer biking stories.

Some photos from today...

The bike:



A fine Alpine view:



With Roma in Zell am See:



What happens to old bikes when they die:







Thursday, July 20, 2017

Kitzbühel

Known more for its reputation as a ski resort, Kitzbuhel is also a popular summer destination - especially with hikers. Not being much of a hiker, I decided with Roma to give it a go. Rain was forecast from 10:00 (it did not come until 16:00), so we decided to set out early to go to the top of the Kitzbuheller Horn (2,000m) - we were the first people on the lift up (an extraordinary €37 for the two of us just to go to the top). The views from the top in all directions were magnificent - the hills were alive! We made our way down through an Alpine Flower Garden, and stopped in the Alpen Haus for an iced tea. We intended to take the easier route down, but somehow managed to take the most difficult one - it was very tough. But we made it to the bottom 3 hours and 40 minutes after leaving the top - my shirt was soaked with sweat and my legs felt like jelly. Nothing for it but to check out the hotel's spa where we enjoyed the pool and the no clothes allowed sauna (a first for me!)

Some photos from today:

At the top of the Kitzbuller Horn...



Near the Alpine flower Garden...



My new Facebook profile picture...


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Salzburg

Today we made the short trip to Salzburg by bus for a little sight-seeing and some lunch. Jaysus - Salzburg is crowded! Just after we got off the bus we were outside Mozart's Residence, and decided to have a look. It is an interesting story and exhibition about the famed composer and his family. Some of the instruments he played and music (and letters) he wrote are on display. The Museum is well worth a visit and does not take long to go through. Later we went to the Old Town where we visited the opulent cathedral and saw Mozart's statue - one would think that he was Salzburg's only citizen, his name is everywhere! We had a smashing lunch in Mozart Platz and following a wander we got the bus back to Berchtesgaden in time before the spectacular thunderstorms hit. Tomorrow we move on th Kitzbuhl in Austria - weather is starting to become more uncertain!!!

Some photos from today...

Lunch at the KK restaurant:



Salzburg's best view...



The statue of Mozart...

Monday, July 17, 2017

Berchtesgaden

Today we had the pleasure of visiting two of south Germany's most popular attractions: Konigsee and the Eagle's Nest. First up was an early morning visit to the lake at Konigsee - we had no problem getting on a boat for a pleasant trip on very calm waters. The scenery was astounding - high clifffs either side of us all the way. Plenty of waterfalls to see and lots of clear Alpine water. The boat trip is about Alf an hour to the end of the lake. We walked for a while and enjoyed the woods and lake in equal measure.

Following above we made our way to the Eagle's nest overlooking Berchtesgaden. We took the bike to the basement car park and followed this with a bus trip up the mountain. Very organised. At the top bus park we had a 40 minute wait to take the elevator up the final 124 metres. Once we were through we were in the Eagle's Nest - Hitler's retreat in 1938. It was very crowded and because you had to reserve a bus back down we were against the clock all the time. The views were breathtaking, and even though Hitler was a Hollis, it was interesting to think that we walked in the same places as he did today.

Some photos from today....

On the boat in Konigsee:


Waiting for the return boat...


Trying to blend in with the scenery:


Roma and I at the Eagle's Nest:

D

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dachau

Today, Roma and I took the bike up to Dachau just outside Munich - we went to see the Concentration Camp Memorial. It was difficult enough to find, signposts were not obvious enough for me and I got lost. There were a lot of people there and it is a sombre place - everyone walking about in a subdued fashion respecting the dignity of the place. The chilling message "Arbeit Macht Frei" greets you at the entrance and from there it is horror depicted all the way. Over 30,000 people were murdered here, and even though it was not an extermination camp on the scale of Auschwitz - savagery of the cruellest order was committed here. The museum tells the story of many people who were here, from the beginning when only Hitler's rivals were imprisioned to the liberation by the Americans. The crematorium was the most horrific part for me - I had never seen anything like this before. There was also the gas chambers (which reputedly were never used for mass killings) - scary to be even in the room.

Following all this it is hard to be cheerful and get back into the holiday mode. We went into Dachau Old Town (Aldstadt) for a late lunch and went up to the nearby castle to get a great view over Munich. In the evening we were definitely cheered up by the CSD Street Festival where lots of LGBT folks were celebrating Pride. Roma and I joined in and loved the style plus the young people's ability to share their pride in an open positive way. Horrific to think that Hitler would have ordered all these young people to be gassed.

Some photos from today....







Friday, July 14, 2017

Hop-on-hop-off Munich

For a sort stay in any city, a hop-on-hop-off tour is a great way to see a lot in one day - today we tried Munich. Our first port of call was the Nymphenburg Palace - an interesting place, but like Powerscourt House. Lots of gardens to see,  it we moved on to the next stop which was the BMW World and Museum. Fantastic cars, but I had a special in the motorbikes - but I am still loyal to Harley-Davidson despite some fantastic machines old and new on display today.

Next we went to the Allianz Arena - home of Bayern Munich. Disappointingly the next tour of the arena was 1.5 hours away, so we had to settle for the super museum tour. I loved the nostalgia of the past football achievements of this top European team. Later we meant to the English garden for a beer and some welcome sun.

Some photos from today....

At the Bayern Munich Museum:


Out side the Allianz Arean... 

With a beer in the English Beer Garden...

At the Nymphenburg Palace with Roma...

With one of the many antique bikes in the BMW Museum...



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Autobahn - AwesomeBahn!

My bike can do 180 kph (110 mph approx) - I discovered this on Autobahn 8 from Stuttgart to Munich yesterday in a no speed limit zone. This is the fastest I have ever driven any vehicle by some distance. The bike had no difficulty at this speed - it seems that the Harley-Davidson Road King was built for this. No loud noise or vibrations to deal with.

The curious thing for me was that even at 110 mph I had to get out of the way of some other drivers who were queuing up behind me to pass me out. Savage! Slowing down to 100 mph felt like I was stopping! Heavy traffic soon put a stop to this.

Finally, I am enjoying a beer in Munich after1,100 miles of road- cheers!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Green Fields of France

Today was about World War 1 for me. I have never been to any of the battlefield sites. For the first time I traveled through Northern France and the Thiepval region where a lot of the action during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 took place. I had about a 1.5 hour ride from Calais to Thiepval which featured a lot of rain, but after this the rain stayed away for the rest of the day. The Thiepval Memorial was my destination and it was easy to see from a long way off. It is a magnificent monument to the dead of WW1 who have no known grave. It is also a monument to a waste of life. While there I looked up the Irish regiments and spotted a "O'Loughlin, J" listed under the Dublin Fusiliers - I'm sure I am not alone in looking up family names on such a memorial. I also visited the Ulster Monument followed by the best part of the day in Beaumont-Hamel. Here I toured around a field dedicated to Canadians from Newfoundland who fought here in 1916 - I was struck by how close the front line with the Germans was. This evening I have ended up in Verdun and I have toured around the city centre of this historic location.

Some photos from today...

A wet Start to the day in Dover.
At the Thiepval Memorial...

Look closely - there is a "J O'Loughlin" listed...

At the Ulster Memorial...


Real trenches...

These are the German trenches, the Bristish trenches are below the tree line - a few hundred metres away...



The view from my hotel room over the Meuse... 


The huge memorial to the Battele in Verdun...




Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Day of Rain

I picked one of the wettest days to cross Britain today. Apart from the first hour or so in Wales, it rained all the way. This means water from the sky, water as spray from other vehicles, and water splashed up from the road. The trip from Holyhead in Wales to Dover in England took 7 hours over 406 miles - inevitably some water gets through my gear. The weak spot is water getting underneath my leggings over my boots. It runs up the boots inside the leggings and makes my jeans wet at the knees. On a short trip this is a minor problem, but after 7 hours it starts to spread down to the feet and up to the ass. By the time I arrived in Dover I felt like I was sitting in water.

A shout out to The Swingate Inn where I'm staying - they dried everything for me in their big tumble drier. By the time I had an Indian meal and a pint inside me - I felt a lot better.

Early start tomorrow - unfortunately rain is forecast again for much of the day. Destination tomorrow is Verdun - I hope the hotel has a tumble drier!

What I had to ride through today...

Image source: Screen shot from UK Met Office.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Almost Ready To Go! #RoadTrip

Today is about getting ready for a ride to Munich starting early tomorrow morning. It is a three day trip and is 1,800 km (1,120 miles) long. Day 1 starts with the 08:05 ferry from Dublin Port to Dover in England. The ride from Holyhead in Wales to Dover is 621 km (386 miles) - estimated to be 6 hours and 15 minutes by Google. I'll have to stop at least once for petrol on the way. On Wednesday morning I am taking a ferry from Dover to Calais - my end-of-day destination is Verdun, a distance of 443 km (275 miles). A long the way I am visiting Thiepval to take in some First World War sights. Unfortunately it looks likes I'm going to get quite a bit of rain on both days - I hope my rain gear will be up to the task. However, riding all day in the rain it is impossible to stay completely dry. Rain also slows down everything and it can be pretty miserable, especially the spray from trucks on motorways. But it beats being at work!

On Thursday morning I'm setting out from Verdun to Munich - a distance of 585 km (363 miles). This should take just under six hours and I hope to meet Roma in Munich - she will have flown from Dublin earlier in the day. The forecast for Thursday is good so far - so I'm looking forward to testing out the new bike on the Autobahn!

I'm a bit more nervous ahead of this trip than for my previous road trips to Europe. It is six years since I rode to Murcia in Spain in July 2011 - my last long ride. Previous to that I rode to Sigean in France (July 2008), and the Algarve in Portugal (July 2005). Long journeys are not easy on the body while riding a bike - the shoulders get stiff and the ass gets sore. I hope the body is up to it! At least I have cruise control on the bike which will make things easier. Trips like these are what a Harley-Davidson Road King was made for - for the next 16 days I will be riding every day around south Germany and Austria, and back home via Luxembourg, Belgium, France, and the UK. I'm looking forward to lots of sight-seeing and being in the Alps, and of course blogging along the way!

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Graduation at Ulster University

On Friday last Roma and I attended our daughter Vicki's graduation with a BSc in Culinary Arts Management from Ulster University. The ceremony was held in the Waterfront  Hall in Belfast - a fantastic location for such a ceremony. Despite several hundred students graduating, the ceremony went quickly. My heart was bursting with pride hearing Vicki's name called out and seeing her collect her parchment. Vicki looked great and we certainly enjoyed seeing her in cap and gown - very academic! The graduation ceremony in my own college is one of my favourite days of the year. Students look great dressed up and the formalities of the ceremony always fascinate me. It's a day for students to feel very proud of their achievements, and for families to participate with pride. 

Congratulations Vicki - well deserved!