A Weekend in Glenmalure.

Another great Touratech Ireland event organised by the team at Overlanders and AMI.

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A great opportunity to meet up with friends in stunning Glenmalure.

Glenmalure was the venue this past weekend for the annual TouIMG_0901 (2)ratech Ireland Travel Event. It’s in it’s third year I believe and Derek, Hazel, David, Craig and Gary and the extended Overlanders and AMI family did themselves proud again. Mrs Rambler and I headed there on Suzie, my Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure bike. The event was excellent, as we have grown to expect, set in a magnificent location in the heart of Wicklow. Glenmalure is a beautiful valley in the mountains, very popular with walkers, climbers and cyclists as well as motorcyclists. The list of events for the weekend was impressive. Ride-outs, off-road skills and presentations about exotic biking locations such as Morocco, Asia and Siberia, for example. The photographs from the trips made exciting viewing. Of course there was a fine selection of exhibitor stands too with bikes, clothing and luggage and all kinds of gear to be examined and IMG_0909 (2)discussed and plenty of bikes to try out. The selection of bikes that AMI had on display in their marquee was magnificent. We thought the numbers attending were even bigger this year with bikers from many countries having travelled to this event as well as a good number of the Hakuna Matata members too. Hakuna Matata is a motorcycling club that Derek is a founding member of. It was nice to meet up with some of the guys again and join the venerable ranks of froth blowers on the picnic benches outside the Lodge in good company.

Glenmalure Lodge had plenty of fine food and bevvies to sample. It is a cosy family run hotel, restaurant and pub. To be fair it has a captive audience in this valley but it is a distinct favourite with explorers in this part of Wicklow, the ‘Garden of Ireland’. It is close to some popular attractions such as Lugnaquilla, a favourite peak to climb in Leinster, that is just south of Dublin; Laragh and Glendalough are close-by and both are also very popular destinations for walkers and others interested in outdoor pursuits; and, The Wicklow Way is very close, as is Avondale House and Avoca. The Lodge is a firm favourite of ours and true to form, the food was top class as usual, both for evening fare and the full breakfast we had the next morning. There was great music in the bar at night and lots of people availed of it for a spot of dancing.

Mrs. Rambler and I stayed in a B&B just a few steps up the road called Coolalinga and it was a quaint little spot that was nice and comfortable. IMG_0915 (2)We received reports from those that stayed next door in The Wilderness Lodge, self catering accommodation and they were equally impressed. The camping area was well populated with probably about fifty camper vans and lots of tenting bikers. I believe there may have been one or two late night parties there, with the occasional barbecue being fired up for a sausage or burger after returning from a little socialising in the Lodge. Pat, a friend of ours, said he had been catching some ZZZs when he heard the rattle of the barbecue and shortly thereafter got the mouth-watering smell of sausages. When he ventured out of his camp he was immediately invited to sample the wares by the friendly camping neighbours and a mini party ensued.

On Sunday I was investigating one of the exhibitor stands where the Royal Enfield retro bikes were on view and fine single cylinder thumpers they are, as well as the great side-car rig on offer. Chris, from Sprocket and Hubs motorcycle shop, was telling Mrs Rambler and I that they are hiring bikes as well as selling the Royal Enfield range in their shop in Adare. I was closely examining the Benelli 502 on display, which is a relatively newcomer to the smaller adventure bike market when Chris invited me to take it for a spin. IMG_0917 (2)I hopped on and took it over the hilly terrain to Laragh and back. A distance of about 30 kilometres I would estimate. After the big Vee (V-Strom 1000) I had to learn pretty quickly not to be shy with the throttle on this 500cc twin, but it’s a fun little bike that’s well planted, with a comfortable seat and a very effective screen. It’s not going to knock any of the big name adventure bikes off their pedestals but at it’s price range it would make a good alternative as a cheap commuter or a weekend traveller. The price in question is 6900 Euros. For an additional 800 euros there is a fantastic set of GIVI luggage, big enough to fit a kitchen table and chairs. It certainly would be a great option as a hire bike for someone visiting here that wanted something to bike tour around the Wild Atlantic Way, at 100 euros a day, which includes the basic insurance deal. Thanks for the spin, Chris. And a particular word of congratulations to the team at Overlanders and AMI for a smashing motorcycling weekend.

 

Suzie gets a facelift.

I eventually gave in and bought a GIVI Airflow.

I have been resisting an after-market screen for my V-Strom.

My Suzuki V-Strom Adventure 1000 brought me very comfortably around Europe in May and June and on my day trips and commutes recently and I have to say I was very happy with the comfort level. Someone had commented on a post of mine that I needed an after-market screen to increase comfort but I had resisted going for one. I felt that it would adversely affect the look of my V-Strom.

There are a number of reasons to consider an after-market screen to add to a motorcycle. It can decrease wind buffeting and also reduce noise. I felt that neither of these issues were particularly intrusive on the V-Strom and that I could do without changing the screen. Then I saw Norman’s GIVI Airflow on his V-Strom at a biking meet recently and I thought it looked good. He assured me it had made a marked difference to the comfort level so I was converted. Craig at the AMI & Overlanders shop in Gorey ordered a GIVI Airflow suitable for my V-Strom. When Craig called me to say it had arrived I rode in to the shop and Conor and I installed it in a matter of minutes. I am glad I was convinced to go for it because there is a noticeable reduction in noise and it has reduced buffeting, even if I didn’t think there was too much in the first place. The screen is easily adjustable and it only takes a few moments to change the height. I set it just below my eyeline and it works great. I don’t think it looks too bad either. The featured image was taken on the quay in Wexford. The image below is a little closer and I hope you will agree that it looks good on Suzie.

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Now is absolutely the time to enjoy it because the weather is glorious. Today it was reading a nice 24 degrees Celsius (75 Fahrenheit) with beautiful sunshine and blue skies. Yes, I know bad weather will test the effectiveness of the screen a lot more but hey, I’ll take the sunshine while it’s here.

D-Day and Saint-Mère-Église.

A visit to the Cotentin Peninsula and the D-Day celebrations as my tour of Europe is drawing close to an end.

D-Day and the Normandy landings are commemorated every year on 6th June.

From Le Mont-Saint-Michel I rode my Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure up the Cotentin Pennisula to Saint-Mère-Église. Saint-Mère-Église was one of the first villages in Normandy to be liberated from the German forces, by the U.S. Army 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, on the 6th June 1944, as a result of the Normany landings. I got there in the late afternoon and met friends from home who go to Normandy, specifically Saint-Mère-Église, every year for what proved to be one of the biggest pageants I have ever witnessed, the D-Day Commemorations. I unloaded the tent from Suzie and started to get it set up as quickly as possible in a stiff breeze. I had experienced some showers on the road North from Le Mont and it was clear that rain and stormy conditions were not too far away. I got it up quickly with some help, and sure enough the rain and strong wind arrived right on cue, as I and my friends walked towards the Place du 6 Jun, in the centre of Saint-Mère-Église. You can see from this image, that I took moments after getting the tent set, that the wind was starting to whip up. The bushes are sideways and the tent is under pressure already.

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Saint-Mère-Église is well known because of an incident that occurred during the airborne attack, involving a paratrooper known as John Steele. The paratroopers from the 82nd Division had been dropped over the village while the local population were tackling fires caused by incendiaries dropped before the attack. The Germans were present, supervising the bucket brigade, trying to put out the fires.

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The descending paratroopers were clearly visibly, and easily picked off by the Germans. John Steele’s parachute got caught on one of the church pinnacles and he was a sitting target. I’m told that a burst of machine gun fire was directed at him. He was hit in the foot and feigned death. The wound in his foot caused him to bleed heavily and this convinced the Germans below that he was dead. He survived and was captured but later escaped from captivity and rejoined the fighting. He regularly visited the village after the war until his death in 1969, and was made an honorary citizen of Saint-Mère-Église. An effigy of John Steele hangs from the pinnacle of the church in his memory.

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The Normandy landings and the men that liberated Normandy is the theme of the commemorations and it is just extraordinary how many exceptionally well preserved, genuinely original vehicles turn up here in immaculate condition, exactly as they would have been in 1944.

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The whole peninsula is the stomping ground for a massive variety of military vehicles and the roads and narrow streets of the small villages nearby are chock-a-block with the usual holiday traffic as well as these military vehicles.

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Enthusiasts in precisely accurate battledress uniforms come every year in every type of vehicle you could think of from the era, to commemorate and celebrate the beginning of the liberation of Europe from the Nazi regime. That beginning was the landings at beaches such as Utah and Omaha that are just a few kilometres away and well worth visiting.

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There are museums in Saint-Mère-Église and Utah Beach, and many more that are worth visiting in the greater area of the invasion. I visited the ones in Saint-Mère-Église and Utah but because it was so stormy and wet, I didn’t much feel like going further from base. The museums I did visit were very well worth it.

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The exhibits included original aircraft, realistic battlefield scenes and examples of trench defences.

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There are also a huge number of memorials to the people that lost their lives in the landings and the ensuing battles.

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And as you travel around the immediate area, within 10 or 15 kilometres of Saint-Mère-Église, little villages like Carenten, a village that the Americans hoped to, but failed to take that first day, you meet more vintage and military vehicles.

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When the rain became heavy, it’s not hard to understand why some stopped and sheltered until the latest burst of rain eased off.

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Others braved it even during the heavy downpours whether they were on vintage Harleys or open-top troop carriers.

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One of my favourite bikes on tour in the area was this 1943 Harley that the owner drove around on, and I managed to catch up with him in Saint-Mère-Église. He was kind enough to take a picture of me with his bike. That picture, which he took with my phone, is the featured image. I took an image of him driving through the square in Saint-Mère-Église.

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I wasn’t the only biker that was impressed with this Harley because every time he parked the bike, a crowd of admirers began to gather.

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As well as the pageantry and fun that this annual event creates, there is a serious side to the proceedings. The brave warriors involved in the landings are honoured and remembered by the French civil and military authorities.

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Wreathes are placed at the memorials to those who lost their lives in the endeavour to bring liberty in 1944. While the speeches were in French, it was obvious they were delivered with passion and admiration for fallen heroes.

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The crowds watching were a mixture of locals and interested spectators like my friends and I, as well as many that were dressed up in very realistic WWII uniforms. It also appeared to me that many that attended were currently serving military personnel, intent on paying their respects to their veteran predecessors.

All too quickly my couple of days in Saint-Mère-Église came to an end. It was time to head to Cherbourg for a return ferry trip to Ireland.

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I really enjoyed my trip around Europe and there are too many highlights to pick a favourite. Visiting friends in Austria and experiencing their party atmosphere again was really great. The beautiful Italian Alps and Lake Bled in Slovenia, Gmunden in Austria and Namur in Belgium. Too many great experiences to crown any as number 1.

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An overnight trip on the ferry and before I knew it, Suzie and I were preparing to disembark in Rosslare. A short spin home and time to reflect on a great adventure and of course, time to think about what’s next!

 

The Normandy Landing.

On to Dieppe in Normandy in Northern France and the cliffs at Étretet. A stop at Le Mont-Saint-Michel on the way towards to Saint-Mère-Église for the 6th June.

From Belgium Suzie and I moved on to Dieppe in Normandy, France.

After Belgium it was on towards Normandy in deteriorating weather. It was getting a lot cooler than it had been down South, in Austria and the Czech Republic for example. There the temperatures had been between the high twenties and low thirties in Celsius. Now it was down to the low twenties and occasionally into the teens with showers and ever increasing wind. I had ridden my Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure bike from my home in Ireland, taken the ferry to France, and then on to Germany, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, through Austria and across Italy in the Alps to Slovenia, then spent a few days with friends in Austria. I visited Hungary and the Czech Republic, crossed Germany, and then visited Luxembourg and Belgium. I was now heading back through France, to be at a small town called Saint-Mère-Église, on the 6th June. I was stopping for a night or two in a small port city called Dieppe in Normandy. It is overlooked by an impressive looking, 15th century fortress, Château de Dieppe.

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The city was once a walled city and one of the five original gates to the city, known as Les Tourelles de Dieppe, has survived.

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Dieppe is quite pretty, but to a large extent it’s importance as a port and a seaside resort has all but disappeared, and while it does have a port side boulevard or promenade with a myriad of restaurants to choose from, it is probably not the most fashionable of places to holiday now. It is still an interesting and historic city to visit and is very popular with motorcyclists.

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It’s also still quite a busy port for the yachting fraternity and you could spend a considerable amount of time admiring the pleasure craft tied up in the marina.

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It is noticeable too, how many of the finer cars in life are to be seen in Dieppe. Apart from some Porsche and Ferrari examples that seemed to be there for some kind of event, that standard of car is certainly not out of place on the streets of Dieppe.

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I visited one of the great little restaurants situated along the promenade and while the language barrier did cause some problems, as neither of the two girls that were serving had any English, I had to use my very limited French and a bit of guess work to choose my order. I think you can see it didn’t work out too bad.

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A nice fresh fish dish with the fish wrapped in bacon. I didn’t do too bad in the dessert section either.

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No idea what it was but it tasted gorgeous. One of the girls chose a white wine for me that came in a carafe so I didn’t have the benefit of looking at the label. Whatever it was, it was light and dry and went very well with the food.

The next morning I rode up to Étretet, which is best know for it’s white chalk cliffs, and is very popular with tourists, and the beach and town were very busy. There were also lots of fine motorcycles and vintage cars to admire in the town.

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It was warm and sunny and the queue for ice cream was extensive as you can see. The streets of Étretet are full of beautiful old shops and buildings and there are no shortage of interesting restaurants and cafés to chose from.

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The beach is excellent with a great promenade from where there are many places where you can take steps down to the great looking beach. You can walk right up to the top of the white cliffs on either end of the beach as there are well worn paths to get you there.

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After Étretet I set out for a well known landmark. Le Mont-Saint-Michel, as you can see in the featured image, is one of the best known images of all attractions in this part of the world, and it’s well worth a visit. Nowadays you can’t actually drive up there as it’s always so packed with tourists. It’s well served with a large amount of car and coach parking and shuttle buses to bring you right up to Le Mont. I didn’t hang around too long though as the gathering rain clouds were an omen for my visit to Saint-Mère-Église for the final part of my visit to Normandy.

Lunch in Luxembourg. Breakfast in Belgium.

Suzie has been so reliable and comfortable on this trip. We move on to Luxembourg city and then Namur in Belgium.

Suzie my Suzuki V-Strom Adventure 1000 takes another few countries in her stride.

It was time to move on from my cottage in the woods in Neunkirchen, Germany, so I packed my gear on my V-Strom and prepared to head into Luxembourg. I haven’t said much about my Suzuki V-Strom Adventure 1000 in my posts about this European trip. Why would I unless I was encountering problems? Apart from refilling the Scott oiler occasionally and a quick check over before another days riding, there was nothing to do but ride. This bike does what it’s supposed to do without a fuss. It’s a big comfortable bike that let’s you eat up the miles with ease. A fill of fuel for a little over twenty euros keeps you going for most days, about 400 kilometres. I found that was enough except for one or two days where I covered extra ground for a particular purpose. Of course if you drive it like you are on a race track you will have to pull in to fill more often. It’s well able for poor roads or even occasionally no roads, as I found when crossing into Hungary, where pools of water and rocky unpaved roads were the surprise order of the day. If you want to tackle canyons, rivers and mud pits, my advice is to buy a scrambler. Or a horse.  If you want the kitchen sink get a 113 cubic inch / 1800cc behemoth American tourer. Or a camper van. For most of what you’ll find on a regular motorcycle tour in Europe this bike is perfect and it doesn’t miss a beat. If I had to criticise it I would say that having come from a silky smooth inline four, I found that the throttle control is a bit “lumpy” at low speed but that’s not unusual for a two cylinder bike.  It’s an excellent all-round bike and I’m delighted to own it and I suspect I will get many kilometres or miles of reliable enjoyment with it.

Luxembourg is both a small country and very wealthy, busy and cosmopolitan city. A serious amount of damage could be done by a shopaholic with a flexible credit card in this city of wide DSC06837 (3)pedestrianised shopping streets. Every top designer brand I have heard of has an outlet close to the centre, and the city has a real air of wealth and history about it that I’m not going to dwell on. I parked Suzie in the shade  with a few companions, as you can see in the featured image, and went to explore. I had lunch under a shady umbrella watching the shoppers with their bags from top dollar designer outlets go by. While the temperatures were still relatively high, there were some ominous looking clouds in the sky. Clouds? I hadn’t seen much of those in recent weeks. At least the temperatures were back down in the twenties even if the humidity was still noticeable. After lunch, I left Luxembourg heading North towards Belgium, in light showers that weren’t going to cause any problems or discomfort.

Namur is a fantastic Belgian city with street dining and beautiful little squares full of cafés and restaurants. It’s most prominent building is a citadel, or fortress, that overlooks the convergence of two rivers that meet at the city. It’s well worth visiting and is a fine viewing point to see this interesting little city. I sat in a leafy square, DSC06903 (2)Place du Marché Aux Légumes, and ordered a glass of wine surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of university students from the university of Namur or the Facultés Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix, to give it it’s proper title. The tables were shoved so close together to make room for the big crowd that it was easy to talk to the people next to you. I spoke to some students of medicine and law sitting close by. A pretty young student called Roman, a student of medicine, advised me to go a little tapas restaurant in the next street. I took her advice and had a smashing meal in La Cantina, or rather sitting outside La Cantina, on Rue de la Halle. I strongly recommend it as the food was great.

Namur is well worth a visit. I choose it because it’s not one of those cities that you can take a cheap and cheerful flight to, for a weekend away. When you travel by bike you can stray off the beaten path. DSC07001 (2)It’s got everything. A very cosmopolitan and vibrant feel with interesting and historic places to visit such as the magnificent citadel and beautiful churches, one of which, the renowned Saint Aubin’s Cathedral, has many pieces of art, extraordinary bells, and a belfry dating back to the 12th century. DSC07004 (2)Amazing, considering how badly damaged the city was during both world wars. It is a shopping city of considerable note even if not at the standard of Luxembourg. Sunday morning is market day and many of the streets are full of stalls selling everything from books to clothes and anything else you can imagine. Try to experience Namur yourself if you ever get the opportunity.

Next for Suzie and I will be to continue our journey, from Belgium into France, and up to the coast at the historic and interesting port city of Dieppe, on the English channel at the Eastern end of the Normandy coast.

East to West across Germany.

From Czech Republic across Germany in heavy traffic on the V-Strom.

After Czech Republic it was time to travel across Germany.

Germany is a beautiful country but after visiting Český Krumlov, the beautiful old city in the Czech Republic, DSC06754 (2)I wanted to make progress westwards. Ultimately I wanted to be in Northern France for a certain event that happens there every year, but I will give you details of that later. There are so many beautiful cities in Germany but I had to do the hard kilometres in one day to make it back to Neunkirchen in Saarland. And hard kilometres they were. Germany is like one big road works site when you are trying to traverse it on the autobahn. The autobahn itself can be an experience. When I crossed the border into the Bundesrepublik Deutschland it was a little confusing. As you approach the border of course you are hitting ever decreasing speed limits until eventually its down to 30 km/h as you are at the point of crossing. A friendly police officer waved me through and it seems I held no interest for the customs officers either. I was in the Bundesrepublik and keeping a watchful eye on the GPS. It normally let me know what the speed limit was on the road I was travelling. Now it had disappeared and I was at a bit of loss. A truck began overtaking me while I tried to figure out if I was still at 30 km/h for the border crossing, before the penny finally dropped. A lot of the autobahns have no speed limit. I had experienced this many times before and have no idea why it took so long for me to figure it out but of course it’s something every driver wants to experience at least once. Unlimited use of the throttle. I have on occasion, made total use of this and exercised the throttle wrist fully. The novelty wears off quickly though and you have to settle into the rhythm to make the most of the highway system. Boring, but at least it gets you where you want to go efficiently. Or so I thought.  Not this time. Every time I thought I was beginning to make good progress the traffic slowed. Inevitably it was more roadworks and in some cases it caused the traffic to bottleneck for up to half an hour. it seemed evenimg_0300 worse on the east bound side of the autobahn where the traffic was regularly at a complete standstill. Kilometre after kilometre of trucks at a standstill or at best at a crawl. The temperature was well into the thirties (celsius) and I hoped for their sakes the truck drivers had air-conditioning because even I was sweltering when the traffic slowed on my Suzuki V-Strom Adventure 1000cc. It was a long day even though I and the hundreds of other bikers travelling, had the added benefit of being able to filter between lanes in heavy traffic. Eventually though I made it to my little cottage in the woods near Neunkirchen and after a shower I headed to my favourite bar and restaurant called “Zum Landesknecht”, about five minutes walk away. A fine feast and a few beers later to was time to call it a night.

The next day I did a little exploring in the nearby small cities of Homburg and Saarlouis, both of which are well worth a visit. Both are historic cities and marked nowadays by the beautiful little “platz” or squares and streets with shaded café and restaurant seating where you can get a coffee or food while relaxing in the ambience of these little German cities. A feature of both cities is the large number of third level or university students and Saarlouis IMG_0505 (2)in particular has a very lively atmosphere with lots of students gathering in the late evening and early night to socialise, mostly outside the cafés and bars and it gives the place a real buzz. It has changed hands so many times because of war, as it borders Germany and France and this of course increases the degree to which this little city has a cosmopolitan feel to it. The city was originally a hexagonal fortress, built by Louis XIV to defend his empire. Another very interesting aspect of Saarlouis is the old stables and shelters built from red brick in a line, which are now being used as quaint little restaurants and bars. One of it’s famous sons, Marshall Michel Ney IMG_0515 (2)fought with Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. He was executed after Napoleon’s defeat even though he had a chance to save himself but he refused to renounce France in favour of Prussia. He requested and was given the right to command his own firing squad to fire with the following command: “Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her … Soldiers, fire!” Too much history, I know, but I am just trying to give you a feel for the place.

The next day I was up bright and early and it was time to head north towards Luxembourg on the V-Strom. I topped up the Scott oiler and gave the bike a good check over and set out northwards. Thanks to my friends in Neunkirchen IPA, particularly Thomas and Jürgen, both avid bikers of course. It’s always a pleasure to meet and renew our friendships. I will visit you there again in the future, I have no doubt.