France is beautiful country, and I love french as a language, they speak with such passion and it is the most romantic language of them all.
Wow its quite difficult now thinking of the past and writing what happened almost two weeks ago. Its so easy to just live in the moment and think of what im going to be cooking up for dinner and who ill be meeting next and the next mountains ill be camping in.
But yes Ill give it a go, France deserves it!
France was something else. I came down from Luxembourg, as it finished off my terd... and spent my first night in Epinal with Lise, another couch-surfing host. We had a cup of tea and then decided to explore, we spontaneously headed for the mountains as they looked so beautiful from the plains. As the smaller roads turned into forest tracks, we continued up and up and into the slippery snow for some excitement. Stopping by amazing cascades and having snow fights and trekking high up into the mountains as the sun disappeared before us and the cool evening sky blew briskly upon on our faces. It was something real special to be up there, so peaceful and dead quiet.
The tiny French towns are so beautiful, some buildings derelict and falling apart, while some neighboring ones are almost brand new which gives quite a contrast. I love the tiny villages dispersed in the valleys. We had a great night that night, being shown french folk dances as Lise played the violin.
That next morning I woke up to a flat front tire, I only realised this once I had packed and was taking off. Bugger! Oh well, I said to my self, I have to learn at some stage how to repair my punctures on these extremely large wheels (comparing them to my postie's CT110). I remembered a tyre place coming into town, so I decided to ask the lads there, conversing with google translator, if I could use their space and their compressor as I still have not got my self a pump. MMM, note to self... get a pump! So I went through the process and found the wee hole, patched her up, and put the tyre back together. It all went quite smoothly until I hit the road and the tyre was not actually balanced correctly as I pumped it back up. So the tyre was somewhat vibrating as I hit the tiny windy snowy alpine roads as I headed for Colmar on the far North east of France of the Lorraine region. Does anyone know a good trick to get the tyre well balanced after changing it by yourself?
The snow through those alps was the thickest snow Id ever seen, it was so magical and so so beautiful, it must have just snowed. I haven't had much experience in the snow so it was very new exciting for me. So riding carefully with a funny bumpy front wheel through some extremely windy alpine roads with patches of snow was a bit of a challenge but quite enjoyable at the same time.
So from Clomar I headed North into a very beautiful wine growing region with a chain of small cute German looking villages. That evening I headed for the highlands where the forests are to find a nice camping spot, I ended setting up camp overlooking the wine growing regions and a small village called Riquewihr, it was a beautiful site. While cooking up a feast and drinking wine, I took the chance to pull out my melodica (a mini instrument with a keyboard controlling a row of reeds with a mouthpiece to blow into) and start teaching myself how to play it. One of my missions this year is to teach my self how to play the keys. It was real nice to be in the forests with the snow and have a warm camp fire. And in the morning for the number 2's, I must have had one of the best toilet views in all of France. I love my morning poo spots, its all about having the best view and really enjoying your surrounding as you release your unwanted biomass and feed the half frozen worms.
Being unsure of my route and where I wanted to go that morning, I decided to let it be a day of intuition. So I headed out after exploring more villages down towards Mullhouse on the country roads (the highways are boring and you have to pay for them). I was so close to Switzerland, so Switzerland it was. Mike sent me an email explaining must see's and go too's, so to Interlarken on the lakes I went. Stopping at Delemont and getting some info and a map of the Swiss areas, I bumped into another motorcyclist and got some nice advice and routes to follow. I jumped on the old tinternet and got some emails off Jess and Jerome who randomly were in the French Alps in the same national park back to the South East. So that was certainly decided to be my next destination. But as for the majestic sheer size of the monstrous mountains of Switzerland, I was in for a treat. After cheating and not paying for a years worth of highway usage to the Swiss government, I found myself in Interlarken, the sun was starting to set. I headed for Grenwald down the valley and I've never felt so small in my life as these three to four thousand meter high mountains uplifted and made me quite excited for exploring.
As I got further into the valley the snow got thicker and thicker and resorts and ski fields started to appear. It was a pretty flashy part of town, but on my map I could see smaller roads heading right under the mountains where i was to find a barn in the middle of a field full of snow. I really did not feel like camping in the snow so I had a bit of a sneaky peaky and figured that the barn was not in use and saw the loft full of hay. It is here where I snuggled up nice and warm later that evening after a late night walk and explore. This place was magic, and it must have been somewhere around minus ten degrees Celsius too. Some of these mountains are still only half the size of the Himalayas, so Im definitely in for a treat once I get to India!!!
The view from my barn window, it doesn't really capture the
sheer size but this mountain is just above 4000 meters high.
As the morning rush of skiers prepared themselves to get up to the slopes for a day on the powder, I was finishing off my porridge and everyone seemed to give me the double look like a curious cat would, and being the only motorbike Id seen on the road for a good while, i think I understood why. It was bloody freezing and the roads were somewhat icy in places. My fruit and veggies froze too, not good.
After some morning walking on the snow, I decided to head back to France over the Alps again for another mission. I was ready for some of the passes to be closed but Switzerland seem to have the money to keep the smaller mountain passes open and clear of snow. Talk about the windies, I had an entire day of winding up and down and over and round so many mountains, it was crazy and frankly by the end of the day I dreamt of a clear open road in the middle of the desert. On the last dregs of fuel left in the tank, I must have just made it to the border of Switzerland and France where i could pick up some reasonably priced petrol. Ive been spending almost all my money so far on fuel, its been around 1.40-1.50 Euro's per liter.
After a couple of winding days on the road I was keen for a good chilling, I lost the email I got off Jess and so I was heading for Jerome in Val D'sere, as I was passing by other villages in the Parc National de la Vanoise, I suddenly remembered the town that Jess was in and spontaneously gave it a go. Montchavin it was, I asked around town and found her quite easily. Wow Jess was fantastic, she sorted me right out with accommodation and food as she was running a chalet full of quests. It was my first experience of a ski resort town and they are something different I can tell you that. With the only pub in town, literally next door it wasn't to hard to make some friends while Jess was working. All I wanted that first night was a Guinness to down as it was after all St Paddies day. We ended up having a few and then got a ride up the mountain to the next village with Nicco to a more english style pub where they actually had Guinness. After a night of drinking and being seriously tired, we decided not to get a ride down the mountain with the crazy drunken french guys and so we decided to slide on our bums down the piste (a man made ski slope) back to Montchavin. We had wild adventures as the piest bashers (what I called "Peace Bashers", they are these monster like machines that come out at night and plough the snow for skiing) were after us and we couldnt escape. So into the woods in the snow we ran ad then took a massive sliding all the way back down to Montchavin on our bums. Was so much fun.
After a couple of days chilling and getting into my book Shantaram, I went across the way to visit Jerome at Val D'sere, an even bigger resort town full of british skiers. I managed to find some french people in a pub there while I was waiting for Jerome to finish work off the slopes, we got into a bottle of the local Genopi, a very strong mountain herb liquor. It was delicious but after a few I wanted to stop so that when I finally met Jerome I could actually say and remember his name. Jerome was in good order, just like the good times that we spent in Morocco together. Was fantastic there, and the mountains were much higher too. It rained one day there which meant that the snow started to melt a bit. I decided to go for a walk and the pass beyond Val D'sere was closed, I kept walking and was admiring my surroundings and watching the vultures saw in the mountain top thermals when I heard this amazing deep heavy sound, as I looked up I saw this white and muddy wash of colors smash well above me. It was an avalanche, and in all its might it thundered down the crevasse from way up in the mountain tops covered i cloud and I then realised what it actually was. I ran as hard and as fast as my legs would take me through the snow, it seemed to happen in slow motion, but i guess Im just a real fast runner. I managed to take some photos as my camera was in my pocket. But wow what an unexpected event, I guess it just took me by surprise as Im not used to this snow stuff.
The Avalanche falling from way above the clouds
After taking it easy at Val D'sere I had to head back on the road the way I came as the pass to the South of France was closed due to the snow, so I had to go the long way round. I wasn't complaining though, as that meant I had to stop into Jess again and she was off work and had the entire five star Chalet to her self. Wow, a well needed chilling in the sunshine of the alps, it was well worth the stop, especially the spa on the roof top. I thought yeah man, live it up while you can because later on you are going to dream of that spa and that nice cold snow when your in the middle of the desert of Iran with no one around, trying to fix a mechanical problem or repairing another tyre puncture. So that I did, i chilled well out. It was like I was actually on a holiday which was fantastic and just what I needed.
We also did some very extreme late night tobogganing down the slopes, well mostly Jess. After being in serious pain from hitting my tail feather on the demented dips in the snow, I didn't really want to hurt my bum anymore. But Jess did the most extreme thing I've seen in a long time. With the little red button toboggan she is holding, she took off down this piste which was so steep and so so crazy, I was going to go after her, but looking at the speed she was getting and how out of control she was I pulled out and watched in hope that she wouldn't die. She was eventually stopped by a wall of snow that the Peace bashers were making, and to top it off, the peace bashers were after her. On that same piste, the next day there was an international competition for some super speed skiers wearing lycra suits. Man you've got some balls Jess. That was ridiculously insane.
Jess with the uncontrollable red button
Me with the unstoppable yellow one
After all the good times, I had felt I had to make a move and head to Italy. I didn't know how because so many of the passes were closed. After getting close, the only option was to go through a tunnel. That day the skies opened a pelting of rain and a mix of sludgy snow, I was well wet and cold and so the tunnel, the Traforo del Frejus, apart from the thirty odd euros it cost me, I was happy to be out of the blizzard in the alps and be dry in a warmer hole in the ground. I was having similar feelings as a wombat would in the mountains of Australia. I ended up having my lunch in there as I really did not want to start making a baguette in the rain on the other side. But as I came out into Italy it was sunny and dry, it was such a contrast as to what I had just been through. I've never experienced a proper blizzard before and to get that on one side of the mountain and to then have sunshine on the other... it was a real trip out.
Thanks for all the good times and taking care of me Jess, Jerome and Lise and everyone else I met. I really enjoyed my time in France.