In Bruges? Not today, thank you…

One of the cool things about 2017 for me is anniversaries: it’s 50 years since I started riding motorcycles (okay, it was a knackered old Lambretta Li150 scooter and so not technically a motorcycle, but that’s when the bug bit me and I’ve been riding ever since). My Suzuki TL1000S is 20 years old this year, the Ducati 1000 SportClassic is 10, as is my V-Strom, and the Valkyrie is 15 years old; only the Rune breaks the symmetry as it’s 13.

So here’s the thing: someone who’s been riding for 50 years and touring for 44 must know a thing or two about packing bikes, you’d think? I thought so too. I’ve had a particularly handy device called an Oxford Cargo Net since for ever – probably 15 years – but when I used it for a recent trip to Cape Town it had lost all its elasticity. So while visiting our daughter Charlotte, son-in-law Nikolas and grandsons Theo (that’s him on the Valkyrie, pre-trip) and Zak in south-east London I was delighted to find a new one in a nearby bike shop the day before we set off for our two-week tour of Europe.

We duly headed off first thing next morning for the Channel Tunnel, with the new cargo net holding our tubular waterproof bag to the top of our Kuryakyn tote bag. The net packaging said it was good for loads of up to 1 kg, and the bag was probably just under 2 kg – no problem, I thought. I’m sure I’ve used it for heavier loads in the past. I duly left my trusty but non-matching bungee cords at home and hit the M20 for the Tunnel terminus.

My mirrors showed me the tubular bag was moving slowly but steadily leftwards under the cargo net, so Peter kindly held it in place with her left hand while we rode through the heavy rain to catch our 08:20 train. We made good time, so Peter nipped into the terminal building and emerged with a pair of purple bungee cords which we used to secure the luggage properly. So much for 44 years of touring experience!

The Eurotunnel boarding process has always been fast, efficient and easy – but Passport Control these days is another matter. You used to be able to pass through almost on a nod with a European passport, while my wife’s South African document usually needed a quick visa search and a stamp. Not any more. It was bad last year and worse this year. The queue for the border check was moving so slowly that we missed our 08:20 train and had to take the next one, about 20 minutes later. On the way back in Calais, it was even more chaotic. I guess that’s the price we pay for security.

The rain had disappeared by the time we emerged into watery sunlight in Calais. The French have not been too diligent of late with their maintenance, and the road signs out of the port were in such a bad state that the road numbers were rusted beyond legibility. We eventually found the right exit and headed for our first overnight in Germany.

We’d both loved the movie In Bruges, a dark comedy-drama (highly recommended), and seeing that our route passed straight by the old city we figured a lunch stop there was called for. Unfortunately, our visit coincided with some daft “No Car Day”, which meant that all entrances to Bruges were blocked to normal traffic. Only pedestrians and bicycles were allowed in.

We tried a selection of different routes, to no avail, so with great reluctance had to skip Bruges and move on. I’ll never be a tree-hugger, and I am not convinced that global warming has much to do with the internal combustion engine, so I doubt that this token exercise in vehicle banning will have done any good for the people of Bruges – just inconvenienced tourists who would have spent money there. Shame.

We rode on dry roads in ever-increasing sunshine across Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, enjoying a largely traffic-free journey. The only glitch was being offered a rip-off exchange rate of £206 for €200 at some German autobahn service area, which we declined.

After about 450-odd miles on the road it seemed time to look for a campsite, although the air felt increasingly chilly so a three-star hotel was also on the menu. We found one in Bad Camberg for about €72, including breakfast. It wasn’t anything special but it was warm, dry, had lots of space for bike gear and out-of-sight, off-road parking. We both needed an end-of-day beer and so started a mini restaurant crawl that began in a tapas bar and ended up with superb pasta in the town’s Italian eatery. We wondered if we’d succumbed to the attractions of hotel touring too easily, but there wasn’t a campsite to be found – maybe we’d camp tomorrow night, weather permitting.

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