It was a fantastic day: not too chilly and a bright, sunny sky. The first part of the trip was unremarkable, only normal Autobahn riding with traffic and wind. Jessica and I stopped once at a classic rest stop with self serve gasoline, clean restrooms, and almost a restaurant. I pulled out the map purchased months before on a previous motorcycle trip to Normandy, to check the route and decide where we might end up that night. I waffled on buying a Spain map there; in the end the price wasn’t right, although later on I would regret that decision.
The road opened up once again, and before long we were crossing the Rhine into the famous wine region of eastern France. The French toll roads are comparable to the German Autobahns and American Interstates, but today wasn’t a day to hurry; we had already made our time, and it this was supposed to be the “vacation” portion of the trip.
Crossing the Rhine
Just weeks before the two of us pointed the bike north towards Hamburg and then Denmark headed to conquer Scandinavia. In the end, even though we had already traveled two days north and were closer to Stockholm than Berlin, we decided to turn south-east to Poland to see our friends there and then further south to Spain. Valencia was to be the last stop on the motorcycle trip, and we wanted to enjoy some summer on the beaches of the Mediterranean. Norway and Sweden had their own beautiful lures, one of them being that neither of us had been there before, but Spain was much warmer, much warmer. Even around the hottest/longest day of the year it hadn’t broken 60 degrees Fahrenheit that far north, and with all of our gear wrapped tightly around shivering bodies we rode on to Jessica’s cousin’s home near the northern tip of the peninsula we know as Denmark. There we warmed up over the next three days and decided south was better than north. I still don’t know if that was the best decision, but we did enjoy the rest of the trip.
It’s a funny thing about Spain. Often it is the warmest part of Europe, hotter than even Texas and in many places drier, but it’s much farther north. Chicago would be in Spain were they at the same longitude. And it’s not a big country. Anyway, the beaches of Benicassim were calling us, and it was the new stated goal to spend at least one week soaking in the warmth before catching a plane to Dublin. And at least one other thing weighed deeply on my mind. I had less than 2 weeks left before flying home to Houston, and I couldn’t reach the hopeful “buyer” of my trusty Vulcan 500. This would be a story of it’s own if I could only find a way to sell her.
So after making a half hour headway into France it was time for another pit stop. This time it was some ice cream and local chewy candy to tide us over. I got my standard bag of potato chips for salt and flavor. They never filled me, but fried potatoes are a comfort food and taste good no matter where you are in the world. This is where I mentioned my desire to do some more exploring than just highway to Jessica, and she agreed it would be nice to ride at a slower pace. She also expressed her disappointment that we had possibly passed a famous chapel about 10 miles back, and being an architecture student it was almost a duty of hers to see. We didn’t turn back, but our riding style changed.
The next exit on the toll road proved to be a good place and good road to get off of the numbing concrete and onto more scenic local roads. This road would take us to Lons, France where we would eventually stay for the night although Lyon at about an hour and a half farther was our destination. Only a quick adventure at a broken toll booth was in the way – helplessly trying to explain over an intercom to a woman that spoke only French that the automated teller wasn’t accepting the money. Finally we were on our way, and immediately everything changed.
The first thing we noticed was that instead of riding over the land we were now moving with it. The road followed a stony river through a luscious green valley in the peak of summer. The air was warm, and the cliffs and small towns that passed us by added immensely to the feeling of travel. I’ve occasionally debated the differences between a traveler and a tourist. The second almost carries a negative sentiment where the first give a sense of adventure. We were now traveling, visiting the places between photo ops and stopping to smell the figurative roses.
France is a beautiful country and worthy of all the pride her citizens give. There are no deserts in France, no Great Plains. For the most part she is hilly, sometimes mountainous, and covered with trees and farmland. France is a country large enough to support the people that live there with very little trade. Plus the land there is fertile and perfect for growing crops just one of which is wine. Like any other place there are small towns filled with simple people doing their daily task. One thing the French people cherish is their food, and you would too given the opportunity to enjoy it.
Jessica and I found a neat little restaurant-hotel alongside what had been many years ago the main road. Earlier after passing through countless small towns all the time looking for some “not too fast” food we had come across something really interesting. It was a Chateau or something. On top of an individual mountain sat solid and white walls of some type of fort. Evidently this town had at one time been some great military post, but I couldn’t figure how they got up to the top. The town had grown up on both sides of the mountain with the northern side reaching farthest away from the walls and towers that overlooked everything. The food in this town was more than we wanted to pay except for some American fast food chains. This led me to believe we had stumbled on some tourist area by accident. I knew nothing of it before that.
That deep into France few people speak anything more than French, and the menu was almost as cryptic as you can imagine. Our waitress was an older woman with health concerns but friendly and understanding; she must have met some travelers before. With the help of a phrase book I did recognize steak, but ended up electing something more economical. I should have chosen the steak. Without knowing it I had ordered sausage and recall making the remark, “I’m driving away from Germany to get as far as possible from this!” It was good sausage, but not what the doctor ordered. Jessica went for something simpler: cheese and bread. Of course she enjoyed that very much.
By now it was nearing dark and we needed to find a place to stay, but it wasn’t too late and we went a few more miles before giving in. The hotel we found was quite interesting and different from any I had experienced before. There was no host nor hostess, not even a concierge. Upon entering the front doors we were greeted with a locked door and a credit card machine. The price was very reasonable and the room comfy. The whole time there we didn’t talk to a single person. One channel, CNN international news, played English, but I had spent the last 12 months avoiding news, and this wasn’t the time to start paying attention. Besides I was reading a great book, Las Aventuras de Tom Sawyer. Yep, I was reading Mark Twain in Spanish. The story was the same, but all the grammar had been polished up to make it translatable. I was really into the book and got some good reading in. Jessica found time to update and upload her photos.
Here is a good place to put a few of mine in. Click the link to see all the photos.
It was a long enjoyable day. That morning we had left Stuttgart to say good bye to our very few remaining friends, and that evening we enjoyed a nice French dinner in the countryside of Southern France. The scenery was changing fast, but there was no idea of what we’d see the next day!