Friday, July 15, 2016

The Alps

It's my first day on the road heading south to France, it takes a bit to get back into the swing of things, there's a lot playing on my mind as I set off down the road and I'm finding it hard to enjoy the riding, I've plotted a nice back roads route through the interesting German country side but my thoughts are on the large amount of work still required to allow me to travel through my intended countries. At one point I see a large Ski Jumping complex off to the distance on the side of a hill and immediately think of Eddie the Eagle again and then I realise that this is the place where he first attempted his jumping, it brings a smile to my face and I rip down the road with a new sense of optimism. Hell, if he can make it to the Olympics then maybe there is a chance I might just pull off this trip!!

I never did have a good look around central Europe and the Alps while here last summer so the plan was to have a quick look through France and Italy, head south for a bit before the big journey East. This would also enable me to catch up with the Valloire moto team, Patrick and PJ whom I rode with in Morocco last year. A couple of big days on mainly small roads and I make it to Patricks place high in the French Alps in the ski village of Valloire.

The next day Patrick and PJ take me out on a great loop taking in several high passes....the alps really do have some beautiful mountains and is a road bikers dream with lots of curvy roads everywhere. The DR has the cobb webs well and truly blown out trying to hang with Patrick on this 160 hp KTM 1190!!! Really enjoyed catching up with the boys again and also talking about the fun times in Morocco last year. I get a few tips on a loop south to the coast to take in the local highlights and set off  once again with a heavily loaded bike at a more leisurely pace.

One of the many great roads crossing the border with Italy and France

Out with Patrick and PJ

Patrick off to work in the morning with his Ural Sidecar

The grand canyon of France, Verdon I think it's called

A quick ride through Monte Carlo to check out all the posh

I like finding old roads

....And narrow ones

With summer heat and busy plains to the south I decide to head east right in the highlands of the alps and cross the border with Italy several times, it's all fantastic riding and the mountains here continue to impress, as does the friendliness of the people. One particular day after enjoying a great day of riding I decide it's time to find some place to camp and think that the small city down in the valley should have something. But it's getting a bit late and can't find anything. I decide to get something to eat and then freedom camp somewhere. I find a pizzeria which is not really ideal food for a diabetic but what the hell it's late, it's raining and I'm hungry! I get stuck into a massive pizza after winding the insulin pen off the scale and then have to administer another dose when beer turns up on my table courtesy of a large family of Italians who seem to be impressed to find a kiwi biking around their home town.

It's still raining outside when I leave the restaurant and decide to head back up the hill a little ways to a nice looking picnic area that I spotted on the way into town, it's a little out of the way and thinking if I setup this late and leave early I'm not likely to have any issues camping. Arriving back at the site it looks really nice, only thing is it's now overrun with a bunch of people who have set up bush party, big tarp with generator and massive big speaker system. My Idea of a nice peaceful sleep here is not going to happen, I think about it for a second, turn off the bike, head over to the tarp and attempt to communicate, more beer is offered and helps. Turns into a interesting but late night, the group being a super nice lot who have all moved over from Romania for a better quality of life! I guess that really is the fun part about travelling without a plan, it's funny just where you end up sometimes!

It's about 8 in the morning and the sound system is up and running after just a few hours sleep!

A little frustrated as the super reliable Dr refuses to start on the roadside in Italy. I decided to take the tank off to fix a seeping oil line and managed to snag an electrical connector under the seat, took a while to find it and a while to get the tank on and off a few times!

A bit of wear and tear, large zip tie should hold things together until I find a welder

Great riding in Italy, this road traversed a ridge up at 2000m

The ride east has me crossing back and forth between Italy and Switzerland. It's all good riding but down in the valleys it's getting really hot and not so enjoyable when held up amongst the traffic. Damn traffic, don't like traffic much!! When pulling up late in the evening at a restaurant I'm fortunate to meet Rachel and Franko and a few other friends having a beer outside in the shade.

I get a few stares as the obvious foreigner approaches but they are a welcoming lot and Rachel speaks good English. It doesn't take much persuading to accept Rachel's offer of a place to stay so I'm led out of town and up into a steep sided valley. After a kilometre or so of rough dirt road we park up outside an old church and then walk over an ancient stone arch bridge and into a village that was abandoned many years ago.

The houses are small and multi-storeyed and clustered together with narrow pathways between, it's all constructed in stone, with old timbers supporting the roofs. The stone work is impressive and the rock has been split into massive flat slabs for roofing and steps. Rachel has restored a house here made up of two small cabins with lofts and basements, one has a massive open fireplace. It's all very cool, and I find the whole village amazing. There are about 4 or 5 houses out of a dozen or so that have been or are in the process of being fixed up.

The village was abandoned when local inhabitants made up a false report that the above hill side was unstable and the whole village unsafe...all this so they could get given some more profitable land out in the flat lands down valley. Rachel who spent most of her working years wondering about the mountain tops as a geologist found this place and was the first to re occupy for next to nothing! 
The ancient village of Veglio where I was fortunate to have stayed a few days

Franko and his Fiat Panda, He ripped around in it like a rally driver. During the following days I saw many Fiat Panda's on the roads

Rachel, a very lovely lady who kindly offered a small cabin to use for a few days in the old Village of Veglio. Had a really enjoyable  couple of days break from riding, a couple small walks, checked out the wonders of the old village, sampled some fondue and a traditional spirt made from the root of an alpine plant, and had some great chats about unusual New Zealand birds!
This ones for sale.....would love to have something like this back home to muck about with.
Enrico and Carlo, fellow bikers from Italy, shared a camp with them during there loop through Italy and France

A small town on the way to the village of Veglio

Approaching the Dolmiti National Park, Italy

Out on a day hike in the Dolomite's, quite a spectacular area of mountains here! 

The view from base camp, not bad.

After the hiking in the Dolomites I head for Bratislava in Slovakia to visit good friend Daniel. The plan is to have a catch up and also obtain some of the remaining visa's that I require. It's now under three months before I enter China so it's possible to apply, I find the consulate ok but they don't accept applications that day, I have to come back tomorrow. Ok, no problem I can do that. "What do I need" I ask through the speaker phone at the locked gate just to make sure I have everything ready.... "just a photo and the letter of introduction".....great I have everything then......"and a residency card or work contract, judging by your accent you are not from here" ......WTF!!!

Didn't see that one coming, the Chinese embassy in New Zealand had told me that it would be no problem to apply outside of NZ. So now I can add China to the list of problem visa's along with Russia ....shit. It's a bit of a worry, maybe I can get it closer to China in Central Asia? There is some less desirable route alternatives to Russia but the China visa is essential! The whole trip is now up in the air!!

Daniel and his KTM 950 in Bratislava

This is Peter and his son Peter Junior. Peter is a friend of Daniel's and works a small auto shop just around the corner, super great guy. He welded up the pannier racks and helped to get a few bits and pieces for the bike sorted. Both his son and twin daughter were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 3 and interestingly both developed the disease just after some vaccination shots. We spent some time talking about diabetes and comparing our medical devices, both the kids run pumps and continuous glucose meters but unfortunately only one per family is funded by the government. I can't help but think about the challenges that these to kids are facing, I just hope that for them seeing me out travelling will maybe help give them some encouragement and maybe with a improvement in modern technology things will get easier.