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!

 

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.

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…

From Stelvio to Bled, Slovenia.

Through the Italian Alps to Bled, Slovenia.

After Stelvio I stopped in a beautiful town in South Tyrol, Italy called Silandro, or Shlanders if you prefer the Austrian version. First night in Italy so it had to be fantastic Italian food and wine and a stay in a lovely hotel. Next morning I tracked East through the Italian Alps. Remarkable little towns that seemed to be barely perched on the steep mountainside. 

Then after two days in the Italian Alps I decided to visit Lake Bled in Slovenia, and to get there the best option seemed to be the autobahn through the 7.5 kilometre Karawanken tunnel that links Austria to Slovenia. So Suzi Suzuki had the first run on a motorway all the way from Northern France.

When I visited the castle I made sure she had some shade from the hot sun as well as the company of some other motorbikes.

Now it’s time to return to Austria, to Burgenland South East of Vienna, to spend a few days with a great friend who has a “roundy” birthday to celebrate. Steaffi and I were peacekeepers together in Bosnia twenty years ago and have been close ever since and I’m looking forward to meeting his fantastic extended family again. I think there is a possibility that we might drink one or two white wine spritzers too.