Europe 2007                                           
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It's a warm sticky day, and we've driven across from Tuscany to get where we are now - Lombardy and the little town of Mantova - or Mantua as the Italians prefer to call it.

We find a seat at a pavement bar and order a couple of much needed ice cool beers, then sit watching as this fascinating Latin world floats by us. People greeting friends, hugging, kissing and lots of hand shaking takes place.  Then the big guy arrives, about 20 stone, wearing a pair of black shorts and a too small white T shirt tucked into the waistband, accompanied by a pair of brown brogues and a pair of extra long black socks he's obviously borrowed from a much taller person. A pair of thick rimmed black glasses completes the ensemble. 

He's a happy big chappie, going from table to table and greeting everybody with a cheery hello. Then in and out of the shops waving and nodding at everyone.  Once done, the whole process is repeated - several times. We watch, and nobody seems in the least bit perturbed by him, nobody comes to drag him off and nobody chases him away. This is typical of the Italians, nobody gets upset or annoyed, they just go on with their daily lives and accept the guy for what he is. 

Now.......put the average Italian behind the wheel a car, light the blue touch paper, stand well back, then watch as a brutal personality transformation takes place. Aggressiveness & impatience, heaving on their horns at the slightest provocation, in fact take his horn away from an Italian driver and I very much doubt he'd be able to drive at all, they see it as very much an essential part of the car's controls as the clutch, brake or steering wheel!   The thing is that they see all this as a completely normal way of driving, as is hanging of the rear bumper of the car in front - they always seem to want to be in the space somebody else occupies and they'll resort to any means to achieve it. Yet as soon as they park up their car and remove the key, they return to their former quiet amiable selves, the aggressive behavior is put away in their special little box - 'til next time..........Very odd!   

As soon as everybody has said their hellos at least 3 times, big guy toddles off down the street happy as a sandboy, chatting away to himself and counting his fingers................
          

 

So here we are once again, ready and eager to take off onto yet another Europe adventure. Wee Jimmy is on starting blocks, she's all packed and ready to go, it's been a difficult & busy year at school for her so she's looking forward to the break.  This years Euro tour will be just short of three weeks long and will take us down through France and over the Alps to Italy where we'll spend a week in a wee cottage in the mountains of Tuscany's Garfagnana region before moving  off into Slovenia.

Once again we're doing this trip by car in order to preserve my old bones, long bike trips are off the menu  for the time being unfortunately. The  Eunos Roadster has been sold, so we obviously can't go in that, it's gone to make way for a Yamaha V.Max which I hope to get when we get home - if a decent one can be found that is.

Mode of travel for this year then is Wee Jim's little Mitsubishi Colt which we bought a few months ago.  It's a 1.5 sport version so it goes quite well and has a fair bit of "poke" from the little petrol engine, which returns about 45 mpg.  It handles like it's on rails as well, so we should be able to have a bit of fun in the Alps in it. Air con and a sunroof are fitted so it'll be nice and comfy in there on the long journey. A quick oil change is all that needs to be done before setting off.


France

First overnight stop for us is to be The Swingate Inn near Dover, the weather in the UK has been appalling over the last couple of months so we're glad to be leaving the floods behind and maybe we'll get to find some decent weather and a bit of sunshine on the continent. Having said that the sun is now shining as we drive south to our hotel. 

I've stayed at the Swingate Inn before, it's very handy being only a 5 min drive from the ferry port so if it's an early start we don't have to get up at "ridiculous o'clock"  to make it in time!   The hotel has been taken over by a new management since my last stay and there have been a few alterations but it's still a great little hotel - nice clean rooms and they serve great food in their restaurant. See here for a review.  For now though the UK weather forecast is for more torrential rain so we can't wait to get out of here and head south.

 

   
Leaving the ferry At Calais

All breakfasted, fed and watered we've boarded the ferry and an hour or so later we've disembarked at Calais. The run down to the Hotel de Troyes is Autoroute all the way, so it's quite dull, uneventful & boring.  Troyes is a nice but unremarkable little town, not much to do or see here so we find a nice bar where we're now sat drinking and chatting to the barmaid / owner in our very limited French. It's good place to stop over and it breaks up the journey down to Chamonix nicely.


This is better, we've now now got past Geneva and are heading towards the Rhone Alps.  The scenery in this part of France is stunning, as we get nearer to Chamonix the snow topped mountains begin to loom into view.


The further into the Alps we get, the more tunnels we encounter. Some of them are quite dark to enter after 
driving in brilliant sunshine so the sunglasses are soon disposed of - usually in panic when I realise I can see bugger all! 

 

 

 

Our hotel at Chamonix is once again the De l'Arve, where we stayed last year. Chamonix is just another stop-over en route to Italy, but because we like the place so much we're staying here for two nights. The town is a lively little place with lots of bars and restaurants.  For our first night we head off for a meal in a French restaurant that cooks Italian food - which is absolute shite, I hate French food anyway but Italian grub cooked badly by a Frenchman really is the pits. That plus the fact that a young guy and his moll have come and sat at the table next to us and are chain smoking while they eat makes the whole experience even worse - we eat up and piss off!  

We had a bit of a lie in this morning,......well, we're on holiday so it doesn't really matter. Wee Jimmy wakes me and we go down to catch the last of the breakfasts, we arrive back in our room where I stroll out to the balcony to take in the view and spot a load of hang gliders coming off the top of the nearby mountain. They make a great sight against such a brilliant backdrop so I grab my camera and take a few shots - I'd love to have ago at this......

 

 

 

 


When we came here last year we went up to the top of Mont Blanc on the cable car which was an amazing experience. This year we want to try something  different so we opt to take a run up the mountain from Le Fayet - a small town to the west of Chamonix - on the ratchet driven tramway.

Le Fayet is a pleasant & quiet little town / village. We've got here around mid day and the tram has knocked off for lunch so we've come over to a small pavement cafe for a drink or two and a bite to eat while we wait. Unfortunately we didn't get fed because they forgot we'd ordered. Great - so now we can have the pleasure of starving on the way up the mountain!   Eventually the tram  office opens and we go buy a couple of tickets......I'm starting to feel like a tourist!

 


Waiting for the tram at Le Fayet

 

 


End of the line - for the time being!

 

The tram should go to the summit at Mid d' Aigle (2372mtrs) but because of violent storms in previous months where landslides have destroyed the track, it now only goes to Bellevue - shown in the shot above. There are calls from some local townspeople to close the upper sections of track anyway, because of the damage done on the higher parts by inconsiderate trippers who leave a lot of rubbish behind, and the tram makes access too easy. So, whether the top section will ever be re-opened is open to to debate. 

The ride up to Bellevue is a nice way to see the valleys in this part of the Mont Blanc range, and there are lots of walks from here.  It must be said though that nothing can compare to the cable car ride up the mountain, although this is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, it lacks the sheer feeling of going on a real adventure like going to Mont Blanc summit does

 

 

 

After last nights fiasco with the French restaurant, tonight we've decided to try an Indian place which we discovered on one of our little walkabouts in the town.  We got here just in time, they found us a table for two, but since then they've been turning people away.  It's looking quite promising,  the amount of people wanting to eat here is a good sign........Or maybe they've all tried the French / Italian crap we had yesterday and decided to give the Indians a go.  Thinking about it, the few Chinkie eateries here were quite full as well!

We've been sat here for a few minutes - chosen what we want and are now waiting for our order to be taken when a thought occurs to me  - there's not one Indian running this place. The chef popped his head around the door earlier and he seems to be Australian judging by his accent. A waitress has just walked by nattering away to a customer and she was definitely born within the sound of Bow Bells, and our waiter has just arrived to take our order and he's from Rotherham........Nice!     

The meal though is fantastic - genuinely one of the most delicious Indians we've had in ages.  If ever you're in Chamonix give it a try,  it's called "Tigre Tigre" and is near the railway station area.  A few nightcaps and then it's back to the hotel, where we fall asleep to the sound of the River Arve' rushing past outside our balcony window. 

 

 


 

It's time to leave Chamonix behind now and set the sat nav for Tuscany in Northern Italy, where we'll be spending a week in a little cottage. Rather than go through the Mont Blanc Tunnel into Italy we've decided it will be nicer to go over the Great St. Bernard Pass into Aosta.  If you'd like to see a vid of of some bikes going over there - and some other passes of the Alps click on this link. Go to "Select video by Map" choose "Alps" then select the "Great St. Bernard"  from the map.................but don't forget  to come back here 'cos the best photos are yet to come...honest!!

We've done a few passes of the Alps over the years, the Furka, The Gothard and the Col de Forclaz to name a few, and I've got to say I was expecting the St. Bernard to  be more spectacular, but it's a bit disappointing really.  One thing that is very noticeable is the road surface. On the French side it's quite good, but as soon as the border is crossed into Italy it deteriorates into a flaking, pot holed ridden mess. There are roadworks going on in places so lets' hope they're trying to fix it.

 


Starting the climb up the Great St. Bernard Pass

 

 


Just about at the top. The white building on the right is the border between France and Italy

 

 


The Italian side of the Great St. Bernard


 

Italy


Now in Italy proper - This is the beautiful Aosta region


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