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.

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.