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26th September 2005
A French (Mis)Adventure
Mick Merrick likes to visit a traditional French classic bike rally during his summer holidays and, being a sensible fellow, he always arranges continental breakdown cover. Just in case...
Summer hols were here again, so off to the South of France we went -- Mick (that's me) and The Management (that's Vicki) -- to meet up once again with the mad French from Malaucene in Provence, and to visit the Mt Ventoux Moto-Anciennes weekend. A pal, Roy, on his BMW GS1150 was to be with us for the first four days, taking in the mountain weekend.
We met at the M25 Thames Dartford crossing early on Thursday morning, and the two bikes, our Ducati and Roy's BMW set off for Dover at a fast ride to catch the early-ish ferry. We left Calais in good weather, and headed off on A16. This is my preferred route into Paris as it always seems to have less traffic, with plenty of fuel stops which are off the Auto Route and so are cheaper.
Our first planned stop was Paris for lunch. Unfortunately I have a habit of getting lost in Paris! So I spent plenty of time studying the map and planning the route on and off the Peripherique, and took a print-out on the tank bag. Roy was keen to get a picture of himself with the Eiffel Tower in the background. With this in mind I had planned to follow the river along until we got to the Tower -- at which point we also spotted a handy bar for our lunch. All this and I still wasn't lost!
After lunch we set off for Auxerre, our over-night stop. I booked the hotels in advance because the whole world is on holiday at this time of year and rooms can be scarce. The hotel Le Seignelay is a treasure, one of the Logis de France listed hotels, with a warm welcome, good bike parking and excellent food. Our arrival here in the late afternoon gave us time to wander around the town to take in some sights and also have a very welcome beer or two. Auxerre is a very picturesque riverside town, sitting on the bank of the river Yonne.
Malaucene is only a small town but in the best French tradition the restaurants are very good. In the morning we wandered down town to get some postcards and to watch as the town slowly filled with the sound, sight and smell of old bikes. They start arriving early in the morning; some having camped overnight locally near the start of the run. This event still moves me; it's the sight and sound not to mention the smell of so many old foreign bikes that you will never see in the UK being worked hard. The fact that Mt Ventoux is 1912 metres high (over 6000 ft) and still people are willing to take their P&Js to the top is nothing short of amazing!
The town was filling up nicely by 11am so we bought ourselves a picnic and made off to the start of the run. We found a shady spot at a thoughtfully placed table by the source of the Grozeau, and watched as the car park filled. This year the age of the larger bikes was restricted to 1953 as the run was getting out of hand, becoming too large and losing its intimacy. This seemed to change the mix -- fewer British bikes, although there were some very nice ones like a very smart BSA outfit. There were the usual greetings of friends meeting up once again at the annual run, and even some people asking me where my Rotary was! The manager of the Lyon Motor Museum was very complementary about it and said that when I was in Lyon next with it I must call on him at the museum.
Before the start of the run Joel, the big cheese of the Moto Club Malaucene, gave us a word of warning about riding safely. The run finally got under way with a terrific roar and cloud of smoke as many engines were started and the owners gunned them away, not seeming to have heard a word of Joel's imploring! This year the assault on the Mountain was direct from the off with a stop at a viewing point then another at the Chalet Reynard.
On making the summit we parked in the lower car park. The descent was a longer ride than usual. This time as we took the road to Sault, a village renowned for its lavender. Some of the fields were still being harvested and the smell was breath taking. From here to Villes-sur-Auzon then to the pretty village of Bedoin and then back to Malaucene.
We now had time to wash and return to the La Grozeau to enjoy the evening meal at this unassuming but charming restaurant. It was while we were having our meal we saw the photographer with his laptop and printer selling some excellent photos of the bikes out on the ride. Both Roy and I bought photos of ourselves taken as we descended the mountain.
Next day we were up early for breakfast for an early off. The gathering has changed over the few years that we have been attending. At the first meeting we came to, breakfast at the signing on included pastis and red wine. Now only soft drinks are available, along with coffee of course. Sunday's mix of bikes was slightly different to Saturday's, but still a grand sight. We set off in bright sunlight, although the heat of the day was yet to come. The route differs every year and with so many villages to see in the region you can never get bored. So the out leg we went through Vaison-la-Romain, Nyons, Motbrison, and Taulignan. Returning via Valreas, Visan, Buloson, once more through Vaison-la-Romain and returning to the town of Malaucene. A round trip of 55 miles
As lunch normally goes on and on, Roy took his leave as we all sat down to eat. He had to get down to the south coast, some 200 miles away. Lunch was still going on, and on, when we too finally had to leave. With our arrival in St Saturnin-Les-Apt becoming ever pressing we bid a fond farewell to one and all and set off for Carpentras, picking up the N100 at Lisle-Sur-La-Sorgue then off to Apt. It was on this road that we caught up with an Aprilia Caponord 1000, and for the last 10 miles had fun chasing him until we turned off.
The plan was to stay until Wednesday then head for Calais and the ferry, but as we enjoy the area so much we extended our stay until Saturday, also taking in the town of Chartres. Early Saturday morning I fired up the Duke for the return trip. I had booked a room in a hotel in Bourges, and once again the Logis de France directory came up trumps. The route was very simple: join the A7 autoroute at Cavillion to Lyon, the A47 to St Etienne, and the A72 to Clermont-Ferrand. The A47 and A72 are two really good routes: the further you go the better the terrain, as you head into volcano country.
We were on the A72 almost at Clermont-Ferrand coming to the end of the second tank of fuel for the day. I decided to stop for the lunch break at the next services. We had been making good progress with speeds up in the high 90s. I was really enjoying myself -- the road is interesting (for a motorway) with lots of up and downs with some good bends. A car pulled out, momentarily blocking our way. I shut off and when he cleared the way I opened up again. 'Oh that's strange, I've lost power,' I thought. 'Sounds like only one cylinder!' A quick check in the mirrors, no smoke… so the piston is still there?
I limped into the service area. Apart from burning your hands, you can't do much with a hot engine, so I let it cool whilst we had a very quiet lunch! Once cooled I found that the spark on the front cylinder had gone astray. I checked as far as I could but without a meter I was up s£%t creek. Now the fun (?) begins…
I phoned the breakdown services of Footman James Euro-assist. They said that whilst on French autoroutes the police must assist you, once we had been removed from the A72 I was to call back for assistance. So I rung the 112-phone number and asked for assistance. We waited for about an hour and tried again, having been told that they would be only 30 minutes the first time. This time I got the help of a woman who was in the rest area to explain exactly where we were. It worked this time and soon a van and a large roll-on roll-off truck appeared.
The Duke was tied down in the van, with me alongside to make sure it was ok, Vicki in the front with the girl driver and the truck following. We were taken to the small town of Pont-Du-Château. I again phoned Euro-assist. The nearest Ducati dealer was at St Etienne, some 90 miles away, and it was a bank holiday weekend. The bike was not likely to be looked at until Tuesday at the earliest. The best thing all-round was to get us a hire car and repatriate the bike later.
So we waited for the taxi which was supposedly being organised to take us to the car hire. When, after two hours, the taxi had not arrived I once again phone Euro-assist. This was taking an age. After twenty minutes on hold I finally got through. Then to my amazement I was told that the young lady that I had arranged all this with had gone home and NOT noted her actions on the computer so nothing had progressed…
Even more amazingly, they said they would ring me back later and tell me what to do then. I was seething and Vicki was no better. 45 minutes later, I rang back again. This time I was told that they could not supply a car and we had to make our own way home via train. At this, Vicki burst into tears. The operator then laughed at hearing this! I was just dumb struck. There we were in southern France: two panniers, a tail pack, a tank bag, two crash helmets and a haversack to carry on and off four trains, across Paris, and onto the ferry. They didn't even wish us a good journey.
The garage owner was also amazed; they'd never heard of such bad treatment. They phoned a cab for us and I once again consulted the Logis De France directory and arranged a hotel in Clermont-Ferrand. The morning found us on the local rattler to Lyon; from here we caught the TGV to Gare De Lyon Paris, taxi across to Gare De Nord, then TGV to Lille, from Lille by local rattler to Calais. Then taxi to the ferry terminal.
From here I again rang Euro-assist to see if they were capable of getting us a hire car from Dover. They did manage this but as the Euro-car desk was closed at Dover I had to phone their emergency number and get someone local to come out.
In the morning, Footman James called to see what we thought of the service! They were rather put out when I said that it was terrible… The Ducati was finally delivered back in the second week of September. What I did find VERY interesting was what the delivery driver said to me. When I told him of the nightmare we had been through getting everything arranged, he said that of the six bikes he had repatriated that day EVERYONE had the same story to tell. And not everyone was with the same insurance agent. So hang your head in shame, Euro-Assist!
Any more good or bad European recovery experiences?
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