Another lap around France

If it seems I’ve only just written a blog entry about our 2015 trip to France, it’s because I have. The same thing that kicked me into motion to write that entry has prompted me to write this one about our 2016 trip (to mostly the same places). The 2019 trip will again be to many of the same locations, because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. July to see lavender in full bloom, then to retreat into the mountains for a few days of not being boiled half to death by the weather at sea level. Although this year will be somewhat different in that it also facilitates the escape from and celebration of a milestone birthday.

It was pretty standard fare, so much so I can’t recall a lot of it. One way ferry from Cork to Roscoff, followed by a couple of days of cross country motorway travel to get to the fun bit. Thinking back, the most memorable part of the cross country trip was our stop at Sainte-Etienne. Only worth recalling due to the shockingly bad hotel restaurant. When the food did finally arrive (burgers, pretty difficult to get wrong you’d think), they were burnt on the outside and entirely raw inside. I had to double check that we hadn’t somehow ordered steak hache from a confused chef, with a side of burger bun.

I did however discover a stupidly useful new skill, mostly due to the imagined horror of not being able to get into a bottle of sweet, sweet Sauternes wine. Turns out that there’s a dual-use tool in my puncture repair kit that will get the cork out of a bottle without much effort at all. I present exhibit A.

Onward and downward, to the heat and the most lavender I’ve ever seen. Riding around Provence, the smell was everywhere and it was amazing. I’m looking forward to that again this year. Even if it means I’m spending most of my time when not on the bike hiding from the sun.

While down south, we stopped at Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, a curious little town that seemed to be a cross between a location for a religious pilgrimage and a tourist trap. A lovely little town all the same and an ideal stop for an evening.

From here, we ventured further south, potentially as far south as it’s possible to be in France. From Moustiers to Castellane via a little bit of Verdon Gorge and on down toward Grasse.

Kept going beyond Nice (pictured above when we stopped for the French custom of le pique-nique) and along the (almost) coast through Éze. It was only by the best of luck and some split second road sign recognition that we avoided going through Monaco, an experience I’m told isn’t all you’d imagine it’s cracked up to be. If I want to see rich folks poncing around with hyper cars, I’ll observe them from a safe distance, through some high magnification binoculars.

We found our way down to Menton and along the beach front road, where I stopped and offered Julie the opportunity to wade through the shimmering and undulating mass of people packed onto what beach there was available, in order to dip her toe into the Mediterranean sea. She didn’t take me up on the offer and with the heat being what it was, that’s probably a good thing. I was about half a minute away from paying big money to go face down in a bath full of ice. One of the reasons I’d wanted to come to Menton in previous years is that it’s the start of (or the end of) the Route des Grandes Alpes. The huge stretch of mountain passes that brings you from Menton (obviously) north to Thonon-les-Bains, on the shore of Lake Geneva. But we had some more immediate plans. Namely to get into the mountains for some cooler temperatures and then at some stage to find our lodgings for the evening.

We were on the way to the tiny village of Roure, perched on the side of a sheer drop, as most things are in the Alps. Specifically, to Auberge Lo Robur, a fantastic and relatively small guest house with a Michelin star chef. Or at least that was the blurb if I remember correctly.

It’s a fancy affair and somewhat outside the usual, but it was decided that we’d just need to try it. I think if I was to go again, we’d have to go for the full-on seven course menu. Purely for practicality of course. For those who decided on anything less, there was an excruciating wait between courses. But the food (and the wine) was bloody good. The view from our table wasn’t bad either. We even had a visit from a Chamois goat, rather precariously perched on a nearby mountain ridge. Dinner and a show, the place had it all. Also worth a mention that all the staff were fantastic.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the toilet in our room had the most outstanding ‘poo with a view’ that I’ve ever seen or will likely ever see. 10/10, would poo again.

The next morning was a quick and valuable lesson. Something along the lines of “you’re in the Alps now, you need to plan your fuel stops more carefully”. With the bike computer estimating a range of about 15km and the GPS telling me that the closest petrol station was 20km away, I took the decision to leave the bike in neutral and roll it down the switchbacks, all the way to the valley we’d climbed up from yesterday afternoon. A journey of about 10km. So thoroughly impressed with myself that I managed to pull off such a daring feat of fuel economy, I completely forgot about the need to get petrol by the time we arrived at the petrol station and almost passed it. The Alps; Fill up early and fill up often. Or just don’t be a knob and ignore the fuel gauge until it starts flashing at you.

From there, north into the Alpine passes and standard mountain photography began. Not very much of it, the focus was more on the road and riding the balls off said road.

The riding of balls off roads needs to be interrupted by other things, like eating and sleeping. So we made our next stop in Valloire, on the north side of the Col du Galibier. It is, as you might expect and like the vast majority of everything else in the area, a town catered to winter sports. So it’s a town that doesn’t really know what to do with itself during the spring/summer/autumn months. I was expecting a completely abandoned ghost town of a place before we arrived, but was glad to see that there was still a surprising amount of life in the town. Those mad folks that do stuff that requires lots of energy, like walking and cycling. So maybe not so much a town that relies on winter trade. It’s easy to assume. While riding around on mountain passes, there are dozens of similarly sized places that just shut down for the non-winter months. It can be a little unnerving. Like some kind of extinction event has taken place and nobody bothered to tell you.

It was on a crowded Valloire supermarket shelf that ‘Alan’ was discovered. A short, cheeky, beret wearing Marmot that whistles on command. Oh la la. Shamefully, I don’t have any photos of Alan on the journey, except the below photo of Julie taking his photo with a bunch of his less swanky cousins. Somewhere on the far side of Col de L’Iseran.

Otherwise, as I’ve said above, photography was fairly standard fare for mountains. Stop the bike for five mins, take a few quick shots with the phone, continue on.

One of our final stops in the mountains (because I’m not really sure if where we were going next was still ‘in the mountains’) was at the establishment whose owner has come to be known affectionately as “the tartiflette lady”. Following our first stop there while on honeymoon in 2014, where we both experienced tartiflette for the first time. Long story short, no tartiflette this time around. But it’s still a pretty unbeatable place to stop. I’m not telling you where it is, because I don’t want the place constantly booked up for the next hundred years.

But what’s this? Lightning strikes twice! Oh yes. At this point I discarded all notion of ever having to follow through on my threat to add a corkscrew to the bike toolkit.

From Bourg-Saint-Maurice we headed north-east back into the hills, instead of our normal route deeper west into France. Whenever we’re away, and somewhere in the Alps, I always feel like I should be going into Switzerland more. I have tended to mostly avoid it due to change in currency, not speaking any German (or indeed that mad Swiss-German stuff they speak in some parts of the country), the exorbitant fees charged to use the motorways and somewhat due to the perception that the majority of Swiss towns dislike bikers. Or maybe the biker dislike thing is specific to certain areas. Anyway, whenever I’ve crossed the Swiss border, I’ve usually planned on crossing it again before the end of the day and resting my weary bones in any of the neighbouring countries.

For the above reasons, I really haven’t had the opportunity to ride many Swiss passes. Mostly just those that either begin or end in either France or Italy. I know I’m missing out. Maybe it’s getting time to branch out a bit, now that I’ve done practically all of the French passes at least twice?

Anyway, bucking the trend for one year at least, we set our sights on a night in Lausanne on the north side of Lake Geneva. That meant a slow but scenic ride around the lake, through many towns large and small and past a surprising amount of vineyards. Switzerland has a wine industry? Indeed it does! But something like 80% of the finished product never makes it outside the country. What does make it out doesn’t seem to travel much farther than their direct neighbours. Shame. Maybe. I can’t really say.

We’d chosen to stay in Lausanne on the Swiss equivalent of St. Patricks Day. Some big Swiss national holiday. I imagined Lausanne would be a hive of activity. Buzzing with people on the streets, festival kind of stuff. On arrival, it was possibly predictably Swiss. Quiet, reserved. The only ones on the street were the drug dealers we passed by on the way to a nearby craft beer place for dinner, and drinks of course. Drug dealers aside, because every city has them, Lausanne seemed like a very nice place indeed.

Avoiding any motorways (for reasons above), we made our way back to France through the wilderness, pretty much an ‘as the crow flies’ route to the border. We found a nice spot up at Lac de Joux. Somewhat secluded but still enough hotels and restaurants that made it a candidate for a future one-nighter. Back into France through the cutest little border crossing I’ve ever seen and swiftly back onto French motorways to continue our journey onto Dijon.

Stayed at Hotel de Paris in the center of Dijon. A very convenient but entirely no frills affair. It fit the two most important criteria; bed and somewhat secure parking. Dijon is another lovely place to stay for a night or two. Get into the hotel, stroll around. Couple of tasty French craft beers in Les BerThoM and a spot of dinner. Good going for a transit day. Certainly not the warm beer and plate of soggy chips in a motorway hotel I’d have ended up with if I’d been on my own.

Another transit day in Reims, a city which in the same fashion as Dijon, is quickly becoming a favorite for the one night transit stays. Or two night extended transit stays. I was quite impressed with Reims on our first multi-nighter here (in 2014?). How much my favour was influenced by the quantity of champagne I’d consumed during the tour of Mumm, I cannot comment on. It’s an easy kind of place to stay relatively close to the city center, then walk in for some dinner and of course a couple of local beers.

Brugge is as Brugge always is, like a poorly cut indie film that has hastily been put back together with several important scenes missing. I believe on this occasion, the early afternoon beers led to longer than average mid-beer snooze. Then, on waking up still drunk, finding the most accessible option is chips and whatever batter shrouded mystery meat they’re serving today. It’s a while coming, but I fear that after the 2016 stop in Brugge, I may have seriously diminished my stock of ‘Brugge points’ in the eyes of my ever patient wife.

Alas, that was 2016. Another lap around the sun and another lap around France. Outstanding. Roll on July.

Part 8: The Beer Run

I had originally mapped this meandering waffly mess out as a 10 part saga. The kind of thing that’d keep on giving all the way to the end. As this is supposed to be a photoblog and not a repository of short stories, I’m going to squash all the final detail in this post. Parts 9 and 10 would just have been text anyway. I didn’t exactly take many photos once leaving mainland Europe. If you take any fantastical revelation away from this first paragraph, let it be that I actually planned these posts, even though at the best of times it may only appear as if I’m winging it, completely feckless and without a single rational thought running through my head.

Having packed up at the hotel and paid my bill, the first order of the day was breakfast. I’d spied many, many Boulangers in the area and on visiting the first one, I found it was closed. Same with the second and third. Right then, no breakfast in Ribeauville. There was one major thing I needed to bring home, supermarket wine. In France, that means something else. It means buying a bottle of wine for €10/15 that would probably cost upwards of €40 in Ireland, if you could even get your hands on it. So the wine shopping isn’t unlike sniping, buying a select few bottles that’ll fit on the bike but is good enough so you’re not wasting the space for the journey home. In this case, Sauternes. A tiny region south of Bordeaux, famous for sweeter than sweet wine. I picked up a few top shelf samples and made my way to the checkout. I have adopted a certain style at French supermarket checkouts, mostly by way of coping with understanding about 5% of the repeat by rote speech that checkout people give to customers. Turns out this was a little different. I thought she was asking me if I wanted a bag, but I said they’d fit into the tank bag I was carrying around with me. Again, pointing at the tank bag. This went on for a minute, with the people in the early morning queue behind me becoming noticeably more Parisian with every passing second. Finally, the penny dropped, mostly when she slowed down what she was saying. In essence “open your bag so I can check if you’ve robbed anything, you dodgy looking foreigner”.

That little bit of excitement made me completely forget about breakfast. Which was unfortunate, because I hear supermarkets are in the top three most ideal places to buy food. I returned to the bike and played a little game of Tetris, figuring out where I could stash the wine so it’d be in one piece when I got home. For anyone that needs to know, the answer is “in layers of dirty socks”.

Onto the motorway and pointed north, toward Luxembourg. I was being a cheap bastard today, deciding to completely avoid France and it’s notorious tolled motorways in favor of an ‘as the crow flies’ style of navigation toward my next destination, Brugge. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have taken the empty, wide French motorways. More on that in the next few laboriously detailed paragraphs. I did eventually stop for breakfast, although it was lunch by the time I got it. Just because I know you were worried about my wellbeing.

Luxembourg, yeah that’s fine. You get through Luxembourg in about the same time it takes to toast a slice of bread. For some unimaginable reason, I’d chosen to ‘see a bit of Belgium’ and take the route directly up the middle of the country. Oh man was that a bad idea. I think I made it about as far as Namur before the traffic started. Then it was solid traffic all the way through Brussels and almost as far as Ghent. Normal traffic would be fine, you’d deal with it. But Belgian driving standards make Ireland look like I don’t know, Germany maybe? Well, that was a confusing sentence. Most of the time I was too horrified and terrified to attempt to filter through the somewhat stationary traffic, for fear of ending up as fodder to someone’s lapse of judgement.

It goes a little something like this; A low percentage of Irish car drivers will purposefully block filtering motorcyclists, in a kind of typically Irish begrudging “nobody gets in front of me. If I’m stuck in traffic, so are you”. In France, quite a high percentage of car drivers make it their mission to move over in their lane so filtering motorcyclists can pass them. I gather this is because at some stage in their driving career, the majority of French people were motorcyclists. France is awesome. In Belgium, it seems to be the case that a decent percentage of car drivers are too busy trying to figure out what shapes the clouds remind them of, or what is happening in an adjacent field to be in the slightest bit worried about what’s happening on the road directly in front, beside or behind them. The basic awareness of other road users seems to be somewhat lacking. Or maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe they just don’t give a shit about anyone else on the road and their primary goal is to get where they’re going, dead or alive. That was my journey to Brugge via central Belgium.

But it was OK, there was a golden light at the end of this tunnel. A malty, hoppy golden light that was calling to me like a siren song since I left the Alsace region that morning. I arrived in Hotel Maraboe in the early afternoon, left my bike in the indoor parking and had the quickest shower & change of clothes known to man. Hit the street and with great purpose and furious thirst, headed straight to De Garre for the house beer. A Belgian (of course) tripel with a striking resemblance to one of my favorite beers, Gulden Draak. No coincidences here, they also make that beer. It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, if Willy Wonka was a slightly bemused, grumpy character standing at a small bar, polishing elaborate glassware. The beer was delivered with the customary small bowl of cheese and I only then realised that this was dinner. This was going to end poorly.

Undeterred, I forged ahead into the beer menu. Actually, no I didn’t. Because I knew exactly what I wanted from this place. Their own beers. This is why I came to Brugge, for a precious hour or so spent quietly at a table in De Garre, watching the locals and tourists do their thing. Next up was my favorite, Gulden Draak quadrupel but this time on tap. As if flowing from the secret stash of the Gods directly into my face hole. With the tripels and quadrupels on the menu, I thought I better get something a little more substantial, food wise. Not being able to make sense of the menu, I asked Willy Wonka for some help, only to be informed that “this is a bar, not a restaurant” in a tone that very much said “drink your beer and fuck off, tourist”. Except it wasn’t like that. The tone and delivery you get when you ask direct questions in Europe sometimes bewilders an Irish sensibility. You ask a direct question, you get a very direct answer. Getting into a brief ‘who can be most direct’ rap battle style competition with the staff ended up with him winning the bout, but me getting a plate of charcuterie and mustard to go with my beer. This would surely save me from going face down on the street and giggling like a schoolgirl as soon as the fresh air hit me when I left the bar.

I quaffed my Gulden Draak with accompanying sausage and mustard with a smugness and sense of accomplishment that I’m not usually known to possess. The reward for long journey almost completed successfully. For not slipping on the wet, wood chip strewn roads of the Black Forest and not sliding to my doom on the freezing cold mountain passes of Austria. There’s a theme developing here, but I’m not going to explore it too deeply right now.

The moment of truth. The ultimate test of mettle was upon me. Two strong beers in and very little food, could I now stand up on my first attempt and if I made it all the way up to a standing position, can I remember how to walk? Left, right, left, right, left, right. Yes, the body remembers. In a way I can only seem to manage once I’ve had a few beers, I quick-marched back to the hotel, set my alarm and made boozy snow angels in the bed. A much needed disco snooze before round two.

Ding ding, seconds out, round two. Next up was another staple. A place you go to more for people watching and the inevitable tourist doing something uncharacteristically wacky. Like last years Asian salaryman entirely out of his gourd, walking around the bar trying to speak Flemish to strangers. Except he didn’t know any Flemish. Nobody knows any Flemish. It’s a made up language, like Danish. Anyway, the destination was a mid-point between the hotel and some proper food. It was ‘t Brugs Beertje, with a seat at the bar and a copy of their comprehensive beer menu in hand. I went with what’s on tap this time, first up a Rodenbach sour (yes, I’m getting more into the sours in the last couple of years. Never thought I’d say that) followed by a ‘when in Rome’ Brugse Zot. In between those two, about another hour of people watching and conversation earwigging. Highly enjoyable stuff, even if it probably made me look like a nutcase. Or at least more nutcasey than usual.

The call of food was once again upon me and I floated down to the main square to peruse the selection. All a bit ‘pizza’ or ‘seafood’ related really. So I ended up in a fast food place with frikandel and chips, drowned in fritessaus. All prepared and delivered by a very happy but monumentally sarcastic staff member. A tourist in the queue ahead of me was frantically searching around in her bag, before looking up and proudly asking “can I pay with dollars?”. Knowing what was coming, I had to put my hand up to my mouth to hold back the shit eating grin. The man practiced the best comic timing I’ve ever seen before delivering a short, sharp blow that was among the most witty and cutting responses to a stupid question I’ve ever heard. Either that or my beer-addled brain filled in the blanks and made it that way. I wish I could remember what he said. The customer paid with a card, then retreated to the upstairs seating.

I sat outside under a canopy adjacent to another gentleman, a fellow traveler in the world of fine beers, who looked as if at any moment, he might pass out face down into his carton of sauce covered chips. I’m with you my brother. Or at least I will be a couple of hours from now. I sat eating my delicious but somewhat poorly thought out dinner and watching the sheets of rain that had rolled in across the square, sending under prepared people scattering for the nearest cover.

Around the corner and back to De Garre. Two more beers, probably two of the same that I’d already had earlier in the day. That’s how good the stuff is. I’d gladly substitute those beers into my diet in place of water. It’d be a short life, but it’d be a good life.

The same ‘can I stand, can I walk’ mental evaluation was performed when it came time to leave, which was chucking out time apparently. Seems this happens earlier in Belgium. Or maybe the staff had just had their fill for that particular evening. Seems like that kind of place. I did the dance of a thousand hiccups back toward the hotel, passing on the way a couple who were in full-on photo shoot mode in the pitch black alleyways. Him directing and critiquing the whole affair and her striking poses not seen since the heady days of early 2000’s glossy magazines. It was as surreal as it was preposterous as it was hilarious. I was in a new, post-beers state. At least 50% more witty and 500% more unable to give a single shit than usual. For some reason, after I’d passed them I let out a loud guffaw that echoed around the empty streets in my very best faux-French accent. It went something like “huaw huaw huaw, Les Americans, huaw huaw huaw”. I don’t know why it came out in a ridiculously overplayed French accent, I just went with it. Seemed right at the time I guess. Yes, I am an asshole.

Passing ‘t Brugs Beertje, I pondered going in for a moment. I quickly realised that was a poor plan. For one, I was already far thinker than I drunk you am and two, on closer inspection the place was closed. The decision was made. Either way, I had to get up relatively early in the morning to be in Calais for a train back to the UK. If I missed that I’d have to stay in Brugge forever. Drinking, writing, taking photos and being smug about things I have no right to be smug about. I’m still unsure why I got up the next morning to get the train.

Surprisingly fresh the following morning (yay for great beer with no shitty additives), I wandered downstairs for some breakfast. Lots of breakfast. Like, breakfast for four people. I was going to have to store it in my cheek pouches because I was unlikely to be eating until much later in the afternoon. I tend to do that when I know there is road to be covered. Get it done, or at least the majority of it, then worry about why I suddenly feel lightheaded. It’s one of my many character flaws. The ride to Calais was relaxed, even detouring through Dunkirk on the way, because war stuff. Except I again realised that there’s no war stuff in Dunkirk. I’d done the exact same thing the previous year. “Ooh, lets go through Dunkirk, because war stuff”. Idiot. Even with that diversion, I still made it to Calais in time to catch an earlier train. That’s one of the huge strengths of the Eurotunnel. There are so many trains departing, you can get an earlier one if there is space and you turn up well ahead of your booked time. Simply marvelous.

The rest is motorway. Miles and miles of UK motorways, although mercifully quite a bit less congested than I’d experienced some days ago when this journey was beginning. I did also find the right services. By right I mean one with a pasty shop directly adjacent to motorbike parking. Reading services. Need to commit that to long term memory. Now back to about 70% mental capacity following my pasty and coffee, I checked my itinerary and came upon the idea that I’d be able to get home tonight instead of tomorrow. I’d have to ride like a possessed bastard all the way to Fishguard, but I could possibly get there with minutes to spare before the 6:30pm ferry departed. I’d be able to get home by about midnight and surprise Julie. Surprise, I dragged my disheveled, thousand yard stare corpse home a few hours early. Yeah, maybe not such a good plan after all. I’d also lose money on the B&B and on the ferry, neither of which allowed cancellations or changes.

So I rode on through the now beautifully sunny late morning, not realising that the sun beating down on me was going to give me a thumping headache later that evening. It was either the sun, the lack of earplugs or the last of the beer leaving my system. Take your pick.

More monotonous motorway, miles and miles of it. Across the Severn bridge and through the toll (free for motorbikes). Into South Wales. Some time later, including some time spent shouting at the GPS, I arrived in my B&B in the middle of nowhere. Just as I had planned it. A couple of pints in the almost empty bar over a pleasant conversation with a hill walker and his very chatty miniature schnauzer. No politics, no religion. Good food, peace and quiet. Early to bed to catch up on some Netflix and to be ready for the final leg.

The next morning I enjoyed another huge breakfast, although somewhat different fare than the last week or so. Fried everything and not a slice of cheese or bread roll in sight. It was possibly a little much, given that I’d been eating continental breakfasts. I should have given up half way through and not left the table with a slightly overfilled feeling. Same old story.

I was still the best part of three hours ride on back roads from Fishguard port and my ferry was departing at about 1pm, so I needed to get a move on. The morning was sunny and fresh, great weather for making progress. Except then not so much. I was less than an hour into the ride when it all turned to shit quite rapidly. That slowed me down somewhat and I arrived soaking at the ferry check-in. Ready to peel layers off to get at the required documentation, I was beyond grateful when none of that was required because the cheery man at the check-in desk already knew my name and allowed me to go right through. Service you can only dream about. Got straight onto the ship, another thing to be grateful for when it’s pissing rain. I’d like to think that was on purpose, a kind of ‘get the bikers out of the rain as quickly as possible’ sentiment from the port crew. It is very much appreciated.

The crossing was as crossings are, long and boring. I peeled off the layers of soaking plastic and laid them on a chair in the area I’d now entirely taken over. Tried to get some sleep, a difficult proposition when there is a disaster movie playing in the background. I can’t understand why mass transport companies choose to play movies about mass transport disasters on their services. Maybe I’m attributing too much thought into the selection process.

Something that always cracks me up for some reason is the border crossing when you get back to Ireland. You wait in line for a member of the Gardai to lazily inquire on your country of residence or your nationality. You see me in the line, you see the Irish registration on my bike and the Irish flag sticker on the windscreen. You can see the huge, dopey, sun and wind burnt Irish head on me as I roll to a stop next to you. Sometimes, I’m tempted to say “Rwandan” or “Micronesian” just to see what’ll happen. I suppose what’d happen is me being directed to a customs search area for being a smart ass, then spending hours with some revenue official quizzing me about every sock, t-shirt in my luggage and then anally probing me to ensure I’m not a drug mule. So instead, I just say “Irish” and pass by without event.

As always, the traffic coming out of Rosslare port is a nightmare. Little bit less so when you’re on a bike and can pass much of it with very little effort. Although in this case, the overtaking was spiced up a bit by the relentless heavy rain that showed no sign of letting up. Again, miles and miles of road. Although much more familiar roads this time. Maybe it’s worse knowing every inch of the road and knowing that even if the best scenario happens, it’s still going to take you precisely X amount of time to get home. The monotony was broken up a bit by chatting to the nice lady at the Waterford bypass toll booth for a few minutes. “Coming back from holidays?”, “Oooh, Austria”, followed by the usual Irish small talk about the weather and how shit everything here is in comparison to where I’d been. Good times.

The weather did finally clear up, a nice finale to the 2785 mile journey. It allowed me to be a little braver with my speeds and offered up a few more passing opportunities for the remaining miles. I got home as if I’d never left. Put my bike back in the garage and gave it the now customary thanks for being absolutely faultless throughout. Slippers on and a large quantity Julie’s home made soup in the microwave, served with enormous and poorly sliced hunks of bread. As much as I love motorcycle travel and seeing new (and some familiar) places, there is nothing quite like coming home.