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.

Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.

The city of Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic is a great treat and definitely worth a visit.

Cesky Krumlov is a fairy tale in the Czech Republic.

Suzie, my Suzuki V-Strom Adventure 1000cc and I, had crossed from Ireland to Continental Europe in mid May and headed South through the Black Forest and the Alps, East to Slovenia and Austria, and after a quick dip into Hungary, endIMG_0470 (2)ed up in the beautiful city of Gmunden in the North of  Austria. Now it was time to move on to the Czech Republic. To the city of Český Krumlov. Český Krumlov is a small bohemian city in the South of the country set in beautiful surrounding countryside, on the Vltava river. As you take the little winding tree lined road north towards Český Krumlov, you see the river that flows towards the city on your left. Along the banks are rafting and canoeing centres where you can take aDSC06707 ride and enjoy the beautiful views from the river. There are many of these centres as well as camping facilities in the beautiful countryside that is South Bohemia. Cesky Krumlov is most famous for it’s massive castle but is ranked alongside Prague in terms of being a UNESCO world heritage site for it’s old city sector. It is amazing. On the day I arrived there was a music festival on I believe, and there was classical music in the streets, which was a treat. As well as the spectacular little squares and medieval buildings, the city has a vibrant air about it and unfortunately it has really been discovered by international tourism. When  we visited last, almost twenty years ago, it had been by train from Prague. We had enquired there about some interesting places to visit in the Czech Republic and someone had suggested Český Krumlov. I had been on a break from work in Bosnia at the time and was relying on public transport.

We took a train from Prague to České Budějovice and then a narrow gauge train travelling at about 25mph brought us to Krumlov. IMG_0474The return journey cost us the equivalent of two Irish pounds and we practically had the place to ourselves. We were delighted because even back then it was hard to get elbow room in Prague, on Charles Bridge for instance. That is no longer true in Český Krumlov. Now it is packed to the rafters with people wielding selfie sticks and queues in the restaurants are almost a definite. Back then the local food and beer was so cheap and yet of such great quality. I was amazed at the number of people that still chose to shell out three or four pounds for an internationally famous Dutch beer when the Czech beer was gorgeous and a large bottle of the tasty brew was about 50 pence or cents.

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The castle is so massive it’s almost impossible to take an image of it that gives you the sense of it’s size. All of what you see above is part of it. Here is another view that might help to give you  an idea of just how big it really is.

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In the first photo the section above is just the left hand portion of what you see. You can walk right up into the castle and through the maze of passageways and squares that made this a formidable fortress as well as a Palace in the days before it became a museum.

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Enjoy the beautiful town squares and I hope when you visit there are as many bands and musicians for you to listen to. Expect the food to be excellent here in the Czech Republic and local beer is vDSC06811ery good even though it is difficult to find a bar in the traditional sense. I found a restaurant called Papa’s and I was lucky to get what appeared to be the last remaining table on the veranda over-looking the river. The food and wine were fantastic. The dish I had was turkey wrapped in pastry and sitting on a bed of spinach. I highly recommend you give Papa’s a go if you’re ever looking for some place to eat in Český Krumlov. I found a little bar later that served local beer and it was as good as I remembered it to be from the previous visit.

This area is extremely popular with motorcyclists and they were everywhere. I saw a most unusual BMW bike parked near a pension / hotel and I wondered what the motivation for the livery was.  The reason for the popularity withDSC06822 motorcyclists is the challenging roads and the beautiful views as well as good food and beer. I stayed in a great little pension / hotel called The Vlatavin and the couple that own it definitely went above and beyond to make Suzie and I feel secure there. Suzie had her own  covered mesh compound for the night and the accommodation was first class for me too.

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So, having enjoyed Český Krumlov, it’s time for a good sleep because tomorrow is going to be a long day. I intend to cross Germany in one day and it’s a wide country. The weather is holding well with good temperatures so it should be a nice spin.

 

 

Burgenland. Land of Castles, Sunshine and Parties.

Visiting friends in Burgenland, Austria. They know how to party.

When people think of Austria, skiing and wintersports are probably what comes to mind first. The West side of Austria is really beautiful and cities such as Salzburg and Innsbruck are really great to visit but for me my favourite part is Burgenland along the East side of the country, bordering Slovenia, Hungary and Slovakia. It gets about 300 sunny days a year and has castles, lakes, palaces and most importantly parties!

The reasons for this trip are: rambling by motorcycle around Europe; and, visiting my friend Steaffi that I have know for twenty years, when we were Peacekeeping in Bosnia in the 90s. He has a big “roundy” birthday and he invited me to the party. So I am staying in Austria for five or six days. I have been here at least a dozen times before and love his family and extended family and friends. I know all the good restaurants and wine houses by now too. 

Aunty’s place and Heidi’s wine house for example. Heidi makes great wines and really that is true for all Burgenland wines because they are very interested in the quality of their produce. It’s probably helps a lot when you have sunshine 300 days a year. 

Another remarkable thing about the friendly people of Burgenland is their ability to party. For example, have you ever heard of a celebration called Fruhschoppen? Neither had I. What does it mean? My friends weren’t sure either. Something like early drink celebration. 

I know exactly what it means. A reason to start partying early! That’s the “fruh” part. As for the rest? Who cares. It just means that instead of starting at the normal time for partying, you start before lunch. You eat beautiful food that’s cooked right there by the locals and served by young people who are wearing traditional Austrian costume, Lederhosen and Dirndl.
 There is no charge to attend but you can donate money which is collected for local youth activites. Another great aspect of these big parties, that the whole village or town, young and old usually attend, is the music. 

Every town has a band that plays traditional music. The sound is somewhere between brass band and orchestra, according to my limited knowledge of these matters. 

In some countries it would be frowned upon if you stood on the furniture.

 

In Austria it is almost obligatory to stand on the table and clap and sing along to show your appreciation. 

You have to be a little careful too in Austria because sometimes one party sort of runs into the next, or should I say the next day. 

On the day of Steaffi’s birthday party we went to a celebration party hosted by the local motorcycle club, the Flying Foxes, 

which had an emphasis on activities for the local children. The cluhouse and garden was jammed and yet again the guys were cooking and barbequeing right there in the yard and families enjoyed the festivities with great food and local wine. The club had gone to the trouble of making a little track in the garden so the children could try out mini quads which they loved.

 

We couldn’t stay long though because we had to get ready for Steaffi’s party. It was held in the Music Band Hall. It’s not the first party I went to there and as usual the food and the company was extraordinary. As well as the traditional main courses there were approximately a million cakes and sweet dishes. Everyone brought something. It was a fantastic party. The highlight for me was a music video that everyone of his family, children, parents and grandparents took part in, dancing to a very happy song indeed.

A meal in the Grenadier restaurant in Forchtenstein Castle, the night before my departure, 

with friends rounded off my visit. It’s a favourite for bikers too because of the interesting winding road up to the castle. 

Something tells me it wont be long before I visit again. In the meantime Steaffi and some friends are visiting my home two days after I get back. So where to next…

Musings on Medieval Kilkenny

Kilkenny is a great old city with lots to offer the visitor including some new experiences in beer.

New discoveries in Kilkenny City including the Growler

Some motorcyclists wash their motorbikes and put them away for the “winter” months at the end of September. This time of year can be a really great time for day-trips and even longer rambles. dsc05300This year the weather in October (and now in early November) in Ireland has been exceptional and there is no excuse for not kicking it into gear and twisting the throttle. A really great destination for a trip in Ireland is Kilkenny, a city in the south east of the country on the banks of the Nore River. Kilkenny is about an hour and a half from the ferry terminal in Rosslare Harbour, if you are coming from Uk or Europe, and about the same distance from Dublin. If you are planning on staying, there seems to be an endless supply of accommodation here.

 Kilkenny Castle, ancestral home of the Butlers, is now a great place to visit. The grounds and ornamental gardens are fantastic and are particularly worth a visit at this time of the year when the trees are turning dsc05330their beautiful golden autumnal colours. It’s a little bit late in the year to enjoy the full potential of the formal rose gardens with the fabulous fountain, but it’s still worth seeing. The inside of the castle is a great tour too, and among it’s treasures is the fantastic art gallery, part of the National Gallery of Ireland. Across the road from the castle is the Kilkenny Design Centre, in what was the coach and stable yard of the castle. It is now an internationally renowned centre of excellence for many craft workers and artisans.

Kilkenny seems to be a Mecca for tourists, which is not a big surprise when you see the numbdsc05335er of great cafés, restaurants, bars, hotels and tea rooms as well as the large number of historic buildings and other attractions on the “medieval mile” which is a tour that includes the Castle, Rothe House, the Smithwicks Experience, Saint Canice’s Cathedral and many more interesting attractions. The town itself is a great shopping town and the old passageways such as the Butterslip, many still with the original flagstones still in existence from centuries ago, bring you through an archway, under the buildings and down to a lower street below. There are quite a few of these passageways that are reminiscent of the medieval city.  It’s also famous for too many festivals to try to tell you about them all, but there are festivals celebrating food, arts, theatre, comedy and beer, and more.

A beer festival? Yes indeed. Kilkenny had a very famous beer festival and it drew large crowds a few decades ago but it was discontinued only to be recently revived as the Kilkenny Craft Beer Festival. In 2017 it will be held from the 5th to 10th July. I suggest you mark it in your calendar. If you are looking for a reason to visit Ireland or Kilkenny it will be worth your while mulling those dates to plan a visit, especially if you like your beer. If you’re a biker and you want to visit a biker friendly place in Ireland, this might be the trip for you, as there always seems to be lots of motorcyclists here.  Kilkenny has always been famous for its brewing industry.  The Monks of Saint Francis Abbey started brewing their own here around the 13th century and brewing caught on in in a big way in Kilkenny. Richard Cole and John Smithwick started a brewery in Kilkenny around 1705 and their Smithwicks ale was brewed there up until a few years ago. The Guinness Group purchased Smithwicks in the 60s but the brewery and the Smithwicks experience is still there, at least as a visitors centre.

There are some great eateries in Kilkenny but a recent discovery for food and beer needs to be shared here.  First established in 1702, the Sullivan brewery was the biggest in Kilkenny, a city known for brewing and it has re-opened in recent times at John Street. dsc05354The Tap-room opened in August this year and it is a worthy pilgrimage for beer drinkers. A couple of recent visits have convinced me that this is a destination with many added benefits when I swing the leg over the bike and try to figure out which direction to take. Thdsc05366e Sullivan’s ale is a great drink and far superior in my humble opinion, to another well-known ale that was formerly brewed in Kilkenny.  I was reliably informed by a pretty young lady behind the bar that the beer is so superior in taste because they use four different barleys which are there on display beside the Growler dispenser, more about which I will explain shortly. It seems that a number of varieties of hops are used too, to get the great taste that doesn’t have that crafty beer after-taste that many people profess not to like. The Sullivan’s Brewing Company has a lot of Smithwicks names associated with it. I met and briefly spoke with Paul Smithwick on my most recent visit. It would seem that Smithwicks and Sullivans, once great rivals in the brewing industry, may have thrown their lot in together to revive the famous tradition of beer crafting in Kilkenny and it seems likely to be a resounding success.

There were some added benefits to my visit to The Tap Room as well. An offer of a wood fired pizza, made right there, and a great pint of the brew, which is called Malting Red I believe, for a tenner is a great idea. Jalapeño peppers, pulled beef and other tasty bits on a thin crispy base along with the delicious beer was a great lunch and the pièce de résistance was the aforementioned Growler. Now, this is a new experience for me, and one that has already enticed me to revisit there.  A Growler is a container for draught beer. In this case, it’s a seal-able litre bottle that the dispenser first removes the air from and replaces  with CO2 (I think), and then fills it with the tasty draught brew. dsc05370It meant that when I had finished my lunch I could fetch the Growler that I had brought back with me from my previous visit, from the top-box on the bike, and get a refill. This task was performed admirably by the helpful young lady behind the bar. I then had a litre of the delicious draught brew to bring home to enjoy in my own time. So guys, if you are looking for a place to head to when you are out for a blast, I recommend a spin to Kilkenny and if you fancy a bit of lunch, and if your taste in beer and pizza runs is a similar vein to mine, I suggest you stop in Sullivan’s Tap Room, on John Street, Kilkenny.