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Europe.....

Discussion in 'Ride Reports & Pictures' started by austin, Sep 28, 2018.

  1. austin

    austin Well-Known Member Forum Supporter

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    .....by car :( .........

    A very little one that's harder to pack than the bike.

    I blame a life-long friend of mine who, earlier this year, was waxing lyrical about a trip he had planned down to the toe of Italy in his MG-F. Roof down, warm air ruffling the hair, lightweight camping, etc etc. I was smitten!

    We had already had a couple of short trips this year on the bike that hadn't gone so well, mostly on account of shitty weather, a bike that wasn't running too well (fixed now though), a new helmet that I wasn't getting on with and a new Blue tooth communication set up that wasn't working properly. We also remembered last year's bike trips - being either freezing cold a lot of the time in Scandinavia, soaking wet in Portugal, or unbearably hot in Spain.

    A couple of weeks later, and as some of you will already know we got a bit giddy in a Mazda dealer after just going to look at an MX5 they had in. Long story short...we ended up buying a brand spanking new one and trading in our our nice sensible Seat Leon. The MX5 is our only car now and is in many ways even less practical than a bike. The boot is tiny and not a good shape for packing, the cabin is tiny with no proper glovebox or nooks and crannies for storing stuff. We actually have to take less stuff with us than when we go by bike. We sit just as close to each other - shoulder to shoulder instead of thigh to thigh and still have to shout above the wind noise whether the roof is up or down. It is however an immensely enjoyable car to drive, in fact it is the only car I have ever owned that I would say I enjoy driving. Here it is, erm fully loaded up (trust me it is)

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    A fly in the ointment for our plans though was Anne's mum who has not been well all year. Since before Christmas she has needed daily visits to make sure she was eating, drinking and taking her tablets. We moved her into a care home in the Spring and then had to deal with her house - emptying it and getting it ready to rent out to put toward the care home fees. In July we finally got to the bottom of her ill health - an untreatable Bowel Cancer with a diagnosis of weeks to months before it would kill her. Strangely the diagnosis seemed to perk her up and she has mostly been better than ever since. Its probably the drugs and all the attention she gets now.

    Aside from all that the 2018 British summer was kind to us and we managed several 1-2 week long trips away in the new car to the Isle of Mull, Wales, and Dorset and Cornwall, but as autumn loomed we were hankering after a longer trip. So with Anne's mum in the middle of a good spell of health we booked the car onto a last minute channel tunnel with a vague plan to head towards the Balkans for a quick tour around Serbia, Bosnia and Albania before heading home. Little did I know how slow the car would be compared to the bike.

    I didn't take enough photo's for an illustrated narrative so here's the main points and a few pictures.

    Mid-afternoon Eurotunnel, then 60 French motorway miles to our only pre-booked accommodation - an F1 Hotel in Arras, northern France. £30 a night, fantastic value.

    Day 2. Set the Sat Nav to avoid motorways and tolls resulting in a very pleasant drive across the Ardennes of North France and Belgium into Luxembourg and a night on a Camper-Van packed campsite in DieKirch about 30 miles north of Luxembourg City. Nice site and nice town but the camper van section looked exactly like a carpark. As the only tent campers there we had the tent section to ourselves so it was actually quite pleasant for us. Also very cheap at only 15 Euro a night.

    Then 2 nights in Germany as we headed south and east and just a few miles on the Autobahns to avoid Stuttgart, Munich and some other congested places. The derestricted parts of the Autobahn are insane to drive on with the big Mercs, Audis and BMWs cruising down at 130+mph. One Porsche came past us at what must have been 170 or more - foot hard down it was deafening and rocked our little car so much Anne nearly jumped out. I never saw it coming in the mirrors. Overtaking at anything less than about 90 mph required a long hard check of the mirrors for something coming insanely fast from miles away but nevertheless always seemed to result in a Merc or something doing some last minute braking then sitting about 6 feet from your bumper (still doing 90) while I cleared the lorries I had pulled out to overtake. The most insane thing though was the little Hyundai Getz's, Kia Rio's or whatever being thrashed within a mph of their life and topping what seemed to be 100mph. I was mostly happy to cruise roof down at 65-70 or so just speeding up for those hairy overtakes.

    We decided we much preferred the rural back roads and Germany from that perspective is one of our favourite places. The roads are fantastically surfaced nicely curvy and a pleasure to ride or drive on. There's plenty of picturesque towns and villages with a nice mix of Medieval and Modern buildings especially in Bavaria. "Bakkeries" were our favourite stops for freshly made sandwiches, coffee and the best selection of the best cakes you will ever eat. Progress though in the car was slow. The MX5 is a plenty fast car but maintaining the rapid progress you can make on a bike requires way too much driving effort. 60mph in the car through a series of curves that would be an easy joy on the bike at 70 or more is hard work and feels like I am driving like a loony. Same with overtakes - the car has good acceleration but you still need a much bigger gap and of course the steering wheel is on the wrong side. Then there's the towns, queues you cant filter to the front of etc etc . Keeping a bike-like pace is do-able for a short while but not all day like you can easily do on a bike. So, despite long days sat in the car doing 200 non-motorway miles was hard work and I was exhausted at the end.

    Austria arrived eventually and after looking at several "camping" sites at the North end of the Grossglockner pass that were stuffed full of Caravans or camper vans with no tent pitches at all we got onto Booking.com and booked the nearest cheapest hotel we found - the "Begrgasthaus Biberg". If I had thought about I would have realised that Berggasthaus translates into Mountain Inn and when I got the email with details it said it was at 1500 metres (about 5000feet ) on a dirt road. After getting lost and driving up a mountain bike trail, we eventually got on the right dirt road that zig-zigged its way up the valley side. Very steep, very tight gravelly hairpins that resulted in a bit of opposite lock despite the traction control kicking in. Great fun and after about 5 miles of this a very hot car and exhilarated Austin & Anne rolled onto the grassy frontage of the Guest House. Awesome it was.....

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    We went over the Grossglockner pass the next day, the highest pass in European Alps. It pissed down and was foggy nearly all the way up. No good views but a nice drive anyway and plenty of bikes wobbling their way round the endless hairpin bends.

    About 1 mile in (it costs 35 euros to drive the road).
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    At the top - the Edelweiss visitor centre. I think its 2600 metres. There was still some snow patches on the car park.

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    With all the stops and what have on the Grossglockner - the main visitor by the glacier is well worth a visit with a good history of roadsport over the road and motorcycle museum too. But, we only did about 60miles for the day so stayed at the south side and got an early start aiming for Slovenia.

    It was Sunday so loads of bikes on the very tight Alpine roads as we crossed Austria Eastwards and then South into Italy briefly and then into Slovenia. I liked Slovenia - a lot. Great roads, although the surface was more like the UK than the super smooth roads of Germany and Austria. The alpine scenery was stunning and loads of cafes and inns catering for bikers and fast cars - of which there we plenty mostly with Italian plates. We ended up in a town called Bovec which bills itself as the adrenaline capital of Slovenia with just about every adventure sport and adrenaline filled adventure on offer. Watching people parachuting, para-ascending, mountain biking, 4x4ing, rock climbing, white water rafting from a cafe chair in the sun in the square of Bovec was good enough for me. The campsite was the "Eco Adrenaline Camp" just out of town which as a nice mix of hostel and camping and good central feature of a covered camp kitchen and a communal fire. We stayed two nights to have a day exploring the area....

    River in a narrow gorge
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    and a loon jumping in....
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    Waterfalls a long walk into the mountains. This just one of a bout 6 similar drops linked by deep pools. It was hot and sweaty getting up there and we both had quick skinny dip in the ice cold crystal clear alpine water. I guess that's another bucket list type thing ticked.
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    More narrative and pics later but this one made me smile (in Austria I think).....

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    Last edited: Sep 28, 2018
  2. Flyfifer

    Flyfifer Member

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    When I decided to Retire 10plus yes ago I also decided I would have the wee convertible I had always wanted.
    The plan was something cheapish but nice.Avfew weeks and Several examinations of scruffy MX5s later a new MK3 Copper Red 1.8;example was purchased.
    It looked the part and met some of needs but keeping the soft top clean drove me to distraction. Conveniently the hard top Roadster was launched and an Aluminium Silver 2litre version was purchased.
    The boot in both was big enough for lots of week's away but it was twitchy so a similar vehicle with a bigger footprint was sought.
    Enter the RCZ.
    Good performance and a huge boot , great car----- my daughter has it now !
    Austin, I fear you have started a journey ---- the Porsche was nice wasn't it !!

    Ian
     
  3. austin

    austin Well-Known Member Forum Supporter

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    5 years ago we arrived in Croatia on the Ferry from Italy but it is much better to arrive from the Slovenian mountains. Slovenia really is a nice place to visit and we will be back but the mountains were soon left behind as we headed to the southernmost tip of the Istrian peninsular. Why there? Just coz I googled "best campsite with a beach" Croatia and a Daily Telegraph article said go to the South of Istria. We certainly got on a nice campsite but no beach, just sharp rocks, but nice clear water. After driving almost solid for a week we were ready for a rest and decided to stay put until we got fed up. The rest of the Balkans could wait for another day. The weather was good, the campsite was cheap (15 euros) and the facilities fantastic - I think on account of the number of Germans staying there who don't seem to tolerate anything else). We stayed 5 nights in the end and had the tent camping section to ourselves again. No pics I am afraid as we mostly just lounged around the campsite or swam in the sea or drank loads of beer - a proper holiday for a change.
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    North to Italy and a long day into the high Dolomites and another randomly selected top pick hotel in the mountain village of Collina.

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    Oh, it was Anne's birthday too.

    Brenner pass out of Italy and straight across the "panhandle" of Austria saw us back in Germany but struggling to find anywhere to camp. It was the weekend, the weather was glorious and the campsites were either full or car parks of Mobile homes. The only hotels we could find on booking.com and the others were £150+ and even a big dose of cake and pot full english breakfast tea failed to lift the descending gloom. Eventually we spotted a "pension" in Garmisch Partenchirken at 65 euro. Booked it and off we drove - into a queue just like trying to leave the Lake District on a sunny bank holiday. We did eventually get through the queue andchecked into the pension above a late night Kebab shop!! It was all ok in the end with a nice clean room that didn't smell of kebab and even the shared loo and bathroom worked out ok. Sadly despite 200 satellite channels and an air of expectation there was no porn on the telly. I did have to get up earlyish to move the car to avoid a ticket as it was no parking on the street after 8am. Breakfast was in the kebab shop and was probably the best one we had all trip. Just shows not judge on appearances.

    A relatively short day saw us at Erding, just north of Munich for a visit to Therme Erding - a massive Spa and swimming pool complex using ground water from an underground lake. We have been once before and its a great experience. The spa side of things has something like 35 differently themed saunas as well as several themed swimming lagoons with all sorts of massage jets, bubbles, seats and beds to lounge around in and so on. The Sauna and swimming is done German style :D (if you don't understand that go and google it) and the jets and bubbles certainly tickle your fancy. :whistle: There's a "campsite" right by the complex - our new Redverz Tent in all its glory.... The campsite is really the farmers field next to the complex with a portaloo in the farm yard. There had been a fire just a few months ago that had burned down the barn that housed the facilities so I think it used to be a bit better. Car is in the farmyard by the big round bales in the barn.


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    At this stage we were just going to blast back across Germany Luxembourg Belgium and France to the tunnel. But we decided we had enough time to nip north to Czechia for one night before heading East. So that's what we did. From Pilsen in Czechia which we visited last year it was 650 miles and 3 days back to Arras where we planned to stay in the F1 hotel again so that was 200 ish miles a day which did about half each on the Autobahn and half off it. An unremarkable journey mostly. The final leg was Arras to home - 400+ miles made all the worse by a 2.5 hour delay at the tunnel and mega queues on the M25 (how do you southerners and London eyes put up with it?).

    Total mileage 3450, 9 countries plus UK, so 10, 20 nights - 6 hotel / 14 tent. Most meals self catered. Total cost all in for 3 weeks just over £1800 (we budget on about £60 per day (Fuel/accomodation and food) when on the road, anything we pay up front like the tunnel is not in that budget) although the £1800 future includes everything so the budget well and truly busted really. I think staying 5 days in Croatia with very cheap camping and not really spending a great lot during the day helped keep total costs down to a tolerable rate. It all goes on a credit card so we just flex our home budget for a couple of months when we get back to pay it off. What's not accounted for at all of course is the car's real costs: Services and new tyres are now all 3500 miles nearer and gawd knows what the depreciation is on the car now.

    The trip was great fun but lacked the specialness of doing it by bike, although travelling in a somewhat inappropriate car like the MX5 fills in some the gap. The advantages of the car were mainly around travelling in normal clothes that you were comfortable in to go in cafes or walk around towns, shops etc. Air con even with the roof down keeps things cool when needed or warm when not. Downsides were the overall pace and distance that could be done in a day and of course parking. U turns also not quite so easy.

    Will we go again in the car. Yes but my biking days are not over yet.
     
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  4. Paul-S

    Paul-S Active Member

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    Nice one. We hope to take our Mk 3.5 out next year, not abroad just UK and possibly Ireland
     
  5. nick949

    nick949 Well-Known Member

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    Great report Austin, and terrific photos. It makes me hanker for some old world culture, but not for the crowds.

    I was hoping to be able to ride to near Sault Ste.Marie on Monday for a very quick job, but I need too much gear that I can't fit on the bike. Darn. Have to take the car. It just ain't the same (although I'll bet the Miata/MX5 is fun).
     
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  6. austin

    austin Well-Known Member Forum Supporter

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    You are spoilt or course, I can't think that there are many places in the world with fewer crowds than the back roads of Ontario and Quebec that you ride. For us though its as much about the randomness that bursts into our lives through amazing people, places and experiences. Perhaps next time you come over you should consider a trip on the mainland of Europe. Its plenty big enough to get away from it all - the further east you go the better it gets and a lot of the architecture makes the UK look like a mere youngster. I can feel a trip to Turkey and beyond developing in the back of my mind. :D

    And yup, the MX5 turns even the most mundane car trip into fun, although I doubt it would be any good at carrying archeological equipment as it is generally easier to get stuff on my bike than it is in the car. Which has just reminded me - I must buy your new book - go and watch your Amazon stats, they are about to go up by one :thumbsup:

    Edit....oops, no. Not available on Amazon.co.uk.

    Edit #2 I can't find on .ca or .com. Perhaps its coz I am over here and it won't download to the UK.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2018
  7. nick949

    nick949 Well-Known Member

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    I pulled the new book for a few days.One of the chapters was just published in the Sept/Oct issues of RealClassic, and although I own the copyright, it only seemed ethical to give it a chance there first. I'll be putting it up in a week or so and will post a note. Thanks for the interest. And yes, a continental trip is on the cards somewhere in our future.
     
  8. outrunner

    outrunner Well-Known Member

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    Austin, the lass that owns the cafe in Walkerburn near where I live has one of those cars with a rack on the boot lid with 2 Givi top boxes on it, quite a good idea I thought.

    Andy.
     
  9. austin

    austin Well-Known Member Forum Supporter

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    Aye, I had thought of that but the rack (or it might be the bootlid) has a limit of just 10kg. The top box I have on the bike weighs 4.5kg empty. I think the older models mx5 were made of sterner stuff though and could carry more weight
     

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