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23rd November 2004

A European Adventure, II

Mick M took his Ducati ST4S on a continental holiday, rather than risk a run of classic catastrophes. So, naturally, everything that could go wrong... did. Three incidents later, could the riding holiday finally begin?

After losing our belongings off the back of the bike, we stayed in town to go shopping. Vicki was burning my ear to say the least. We managed to replace some of our lost items. That evening we dined on the riverbank, watching the sun go down to a perfect sunset, cutting up a loaf of French bread to have with ham, cheese and a bottle of wine -- finishing up under the moonlight. We decided to put it all behind us, and get on with the rest of our holiday.

Outside the cafe, the novice road racers would play merrily on into the night...We now had to get to Toulouse in one day instead of two as we had already booked our hotel. So the route was changed from a leisurely two-day meander to an autoroute charge with a few miles cutting across country. This is where the Ducati is in its element. On the autoroute, making up time is simple but no fun. Get onto a good Rn-class road and the Duke came alive. It took it all in its stride -- long straights, fast corners, hills, and traffic. I was at last starting to enjoy myself. We arrived in Toulouse mid-afternoon, taking six hours on the road to cover some 300 miles. Now that's what I call a sports tourer!

The town of Toulouse is improving its metro and some parts are a building site, which makes it very difficult to see road and direction signs.

Whilst we were stationary at the kerb, studying the map, a local cyclist approached and we ended up following him to the road that we were looking for. He then disappeared into the traffic before we could thank him.

The hotel was good, the town even better, and both of us were now starting to enjoying ourselves. We even splashed out with a meal on a boat moored on the river. A bit over budget but hey! We deserved it. With the holiday back on track, we had a good time in Toulouse, and visited Albi to see the Musee Toulouse Lautrec. Next we headed for Biarritz via Lourdes. The Lourdes visit was initially made out of morbid curiosity, but it turned out to be very moving.

Arriving in Biarritz we used our well-tried formula of heading for the old town and looking for a suitable hotel. The Hotel Rose Trianon looks a picture and had a room for us and, at 85 Euro per room including breakfast, was a good choice. By chance we had arrived in Biarritz the day of a night market. We were pleasantly surprised with the old town, and anyone who has been to a French night market will know how great they are. This one was full of bands and dancers. It was more of a carnival than anything else.

Ducatis on

The no-expense-spared special effects applied to this image perfectly illustrate Mick's visual abilities at the time this photo was taken.Next day we were off to uncharted territory for us. We have been to the north of Spain once before but we speak no Spanish or, for that matter, Portuguese. Our target for the following day was Gijon a town on the north coast of Spain. This was to be an over-nighter. They have their own type of very strong cider, which they pour from over their heads into glasses that they hold down by the floor. You are then required to drink it straight down. It's patently obvious why, when the taste hits you! This leads too much spilt cider and much of it splashing around on the floor and anyone nearby.

Santiago De Compostela was the main target of this holiday and the road from Gijon to Santiago was an eye-opener. Once off the north coast road and onto the N640 it changed dramatically from what was a good duel-carriageway to an exciting switchback of a road, with magic swoops up and down, bends tight and not-so-tight mixed in a terrific variety. This road has yet to be found by the masses but I reckon it is far better than the Rn85 of southern France.

We spent three nights in Santiago, visiting the usual tourist haunts. Santiago was full of musicians adding to the atmosphere. Whilst we were strolling around with the Ducati parked close by, I noticed a local paying close attention to the bike. I saw him touching it and looking all over it, but something in his manner told me that he meant no harm. It's funny; I have seen people look at many bikes before but this guy appeared to be charmed by it.

He spoke no English and I no Spanish, but all he wanted to do was admire it (something no one has ever done to one of my bikes before!). He managed to ask if he could sit on it -- just as the rest of his family turned up, mum and two young kids. I am sure some of us have been there! Married, two kids and longing to have a bike! So how could I say no? I think it made his day.

In the final installment: Portugal, Madrid, and encounter with the local Police and the Hotel Ritz...

'Hurry up and take the photo; I don't think I can hold it on this slope for much longer...'


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