Monday, 1 August 2016

Riding 'Round Part I: Belgium, Cologne & Luxembourg

I'm not sure anymore where the initial idea to get a motorbike and license came from, or to take a trip through Europe and the UK. I really loved the small motorbike trips I took in South East Asia so I'm sure that had something to do with it. I got my CBT (basically a learners) in London in April and bought my Honda CG125 the following week. Most people I know will be aware that only ten days later that bike was stolen from my house, but thankfully many people came to my aid and donated funds towards a second bike, my Yamaha YBR125. Having a bike also saved me a buttload of money in London, as I used it to get to work instead of the tube as well as taking a few other trips around the south of the country.

Wanting to do this trip in summer was part of the reason I wrapped things up in London in June.

My ride didn’t get off to a good start. My carburettor had been having some problems (and by some problems I mean it either the bike wouldn’t start or it would die while I was doing 100km/h on the highway) and so while I was in Sweden it was being fixed at the shop. It was only when I was about to leave for the ferry at Dover that I realised the problems were even worse and it was basically unrideable. Managed to basically bunny hop it to the shop where they finally fixed it up, but by then I had missed my ferry.

Worked out well because then I got to see Ab Fab that night instead. They even cocked up the tickets so they were accidentally free. Karma works people.

Some people might be deterred from taking a notoriously unreliable bike on a trip through continental Europe but my sheer optimism, combined with the fact that I didn’t really have any other option spurred me forward!

Next day, take two. I had a moment while waiting to board the ferry while next to a bunch of bikers about to start the Mongol Rally (this has moved to number one on my bucket list) where for the first time I thought, what the fuck am I doing? I can barely ride this bike and I don’t really know where I am going. But what could go wrong?

I’ll tell you what. About an hour in, on the highway in the middle of Belgium my bike just died. It had done this before but I thought it was fixed. I walked that thing SEVEN KILOMETRES along the side of the road to a service station. It was then it finally dawned on me what the problem was … my petrol gauge was faulty. Every time my bike had been dying I had run out of petrol, even though it still said half a tank. Not so bad, just meant I had to keep it above half!

I’ve learned a lot about my personality on this trip. When something bad like this happens I despair and get frustrated for about ten minutes, and then it mysteriously dissipates and my overwhelmingly strong optimism kicks in. I actually enjoyed my walk along the highway; it was sunny, the scenery was gorgeous and it gave me time to think. And I also thought, well what else can do I? Worrying is wasted energy. I was even prepared to just sleep on the side of the road on the grass.

Several hours late I rode into Brussels to meet up with the couple I was staying with, who I found on Couch surfing is honestly one of the greatest things I have ever done, but more about that later. Arnaud and Melanie were an awesome and super friendly couple who had a bed, food and wifi prepared for me and we got on like zombies on live flesh.

I spent one day exploring Brussels, seeing Atomium, Grand Place, the underwhelming Mannekin Pis, eating waffles and walking around with purpose (I don’t do aimlessly). I spent the evening with Arnaud and Melanie with one of the best kebabs I’ve eaten, talking about travelling and sharing Australian and French music (the only thing Belgium having produced being Stromae).

The next day I had planned to ride to Luxembourg City but decided literally as I was getting on my bike that I would detour to Cologne instead. Being on a bike I can’t look at my phone or maps so I rely on GPS through my headphones. But that needs data and I pay by the day so I try to avoid when I can and just memorise the map and use signs. After a couple of wrong turns I was on the right motorway. An hour later my stomach dropped out of my ass as I crossed the border into The Netherlands, which is distinctly in the opposite direction to where I was meant to be travelling.

My train of thought: Oh. Oh God. I’ve driven the wrong way. I’m almost at the fucking Hague. What am I going to do … … … you know what, this isn’t so bad. I could keep riding to Denmark instead. Yeah I’m going to do that.

My resilience and ability to adapt surprises even me. Turns out my geography is below par because there’s actually a tiny bit of The Netherlands that juts down between Belgium and Germany and I was just crossing that. I was a little disappointed to be honest.

I was still getting used to long rides so by the time I got to Cologne I thought my arms would never stop vibrating. Spent a grand total of two hours walking around the centre and eating currywurst, which gave me such epic Berlin flashbacks. Fuck I miss that place. Turns out all the hot men live in Cologne too. Feel like I should have stayed and found a boyfriend or something. Anyway I saw the big cathedral, that was big.

Three more hours or so and my fourth country for the day, I got to Luxembourg City, which is really small. Somehow that didn’t stop me getting so lost taking wrong turn after wrong turn, looping back and forth trying to get to the centre. At one point I remember just screaming and swearing as loud as I could, my pride saved by the sound of the engine. I think being alone on the bike for so long does weird things to you.

Stayed with a cool local named Askender, who took me for dinner over two nights and gave me some great suggestions about what to see in Luxembourg. I’d planned to just stay in the city, but it was such a glorious summer day that I took the bike out to the countryside. Firstly to the glorious town of Vianden where I spent time in the pool that overlooks the chateau on the adjacent hill, the ruins of Brandenburg Castle, tiny but pretty Esch-sur-Sûre and then walking along the banks of the lake where everyone was holidaying.

Accidentally ended up on some tollway in France that took me way past where I wanted to go, more swearing etc etc. Spent some more time at PAF (a monastery converted into an artist residency in St Erme), only nine days this time. Was devastated to find the supermarket was being refurbished and they didn’t sell the glorious ham that I experienced in 2012. Didn’t really connect with any of the writers or philosophers in residence so most of my time was spent in solitude. #bliss

To be continued ...

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