Having had a number of holidays on our motorbikes, including some touring, earlier on in the year we decided to go one step further and do a bit of credit card touring. For those of you who aren’t sure, this road trip style basically refers to a multi-day journey for which you don’t organise your accommodation ahead of time, instead working it out along the way when you’ve decided where you’ll end up (using your credit card to book/pay for things as you go).
We had a destination in mind for our motorbike tour of Europe – back in January we skied in Obergurgl and decided during that week that we wanted to see the Alps in the summer. We also wanted to ride the Timmelsjoch Pass, a beautiful winding Alpine road between Austria and Italy. With twelve days at our disposal we booked a couple of Euro Tunnel tickets and somewhere to stay on our first and last nights on the Continent, packed up our bikes with what seemed like very little stuff (read my travelling light article, one on clothing coming soon), and headed south.
Me and my F650GS on the train.
Those of you who know me and how introverted I am will understand that to feel happy I have to be organised. So the idea of heading all the way to Austria (and Italy) and back without the promise of a bed for the night, every night, worried me – a lot. But the adventurous side of me relished the opportunity to tour with a bit of freedom to decide which way to head on a day by day basis rather than being stuck to a specific route. My brain was torn; there were arguments in my head between letting it all go and relaxing, and wanting to write down routes and get B&Bs booked. I had to remember that we were off to explore mainland Europe, where there would be towns and cities with hotels and restaurants that were easy to find, and if we had any massive problems we could very easily turn around and go home. It sounds silly but the fact that we were relatively close to home was a great comfort, although thankfully we didn’t come across anything that required us to make use of that proximity and bail out. Phew!
Riding in Europe. The roads were mostly fab – especially in the Black Forest.
Apart from wanting a bit of an adventure this time around, just a few weeks before we took this road trip we had found out from work that our unpaid leave had been approved, and so our big North American road trip dream was going to become reality. This un-routed trip through Europe would be the perfect trial run; we could hone our touring skills and begin to make plans based on our experiences over the two weeks. Perfect timing.
Our first day riding was all about motorway. Not the best riding by any means, but it’s quick and gets the miles done. We rode from our home in Lincolnshire down to Folkestone, via central London thanks to the Dartford Crossing being closed, all the way hoping that we would get onto the train and into France without any issues – if you think back to July and all the problems at the Tunnel there were then (Operation Stack had been in force on and off for a couple of weeks with hours and hours of delays for tourist traffic, not to mention freight!). We were pretty lucky in the grand scheme of things – there wasn’t any queue to speak of to get into the terminal, but we were delayed by about an hour to actually get on a train.
Our bikes on the train.
Once in France we turned left and headed straight into Belgium and to Bruges, where we spent the night. What a lovely little town! Cobbled streets, lovely architecture. It would be a nice place for a long weekend or city break, and you can get there on the train from London which appeals and has gone on my bucket list.
No idea what the glass sculpture represented, but it was pretty cool.
I’m not going to take you through each day at a time, but rather offer up a few highlights of our trip and a few photographs of the things we saw. The first place to give a mention to is Cologne (Koln), where we ended up on our second day because the weather turned very wet and we decided to head to a city to explore rather than spend much time on winding roads that were a bit greasy. So when the rain really came down we headed onto the Autobahn and straight to Cologne, boring but got the job done and meant we still had a decent day. Did you know that Cologne Cathedral has a shrine to the Three Wise Men (from the Christmas story), said to contain their remains?
Love locks in Cologne.
We used a cool book of motorcycle rides we have to find the “Romantic Road” through Germany which is supposed to offer some great riding. The only problem was it was really busy – obviously a main route with loads of lorries using it to get from A to B. The scenery was quite lovely, and we passed through some lovely towns and villages along the way, but it was so busy it put us off a bit. One of the highlights along this part of the route was Rothenburg, a touristy and busy walled town, but well worth a visit.
The main square in Rothenburg ob dem Tauber. Clock watching.
The best guest house of the tour – Gasthof Linden – huge room, lovely gardens, friendly owner who sat with us at dinner pointing out places on the map we should visit.
Came across this freaky four-headed giraffe on a random stop along the Romantic Road.
One of the biggest highlights of our tour, and the furthest south we travelled, was the ride along the Timmelsjoch Pass. A toll road starting in Hochgurgl, Austria and going into Italy, it is well known for it’s amazing views, high altitude and hairpin bends. Personally I enjoyed the views more than the riding but LincsGeek relished each bend. There are lots of places to stop along the road to admire the Alpine view, and some sculptures to enjoy too. The road is only open between June and October (ish) and there was still snow to be seen along the route, and is very popular with bikers, drivers and cyclists. We shan’t forget those views for a long time.
The view of the Alps from the start of the Timmelsjoch Pass.
My bike in Italy!
Just a few hairpin bends.
Snow in the Alps.
Bum in Austria, feet in Italy. Just about.
After a day off the bikes in Obergurgl (read about it) it was time to start heading home, but we weren’t about to hop on the bikes and head straight for Calais. We had plenty of time and a lot more to explore. It’s quite difficult on a tour like this to decide what to see and what to miss out, as there are so many places that are worthy of a visit. We decided there were two places we really wanted to see – Lake Constance and the Black Forest. From Obergurgl we headed to Bregenz which took us over some more spectacular mountain passes, this time in and out of the cloud and rain which made for a completely different spectacle. Unfortunately Bregenz itself was so incredibly busy we didn’t end up stopping there to see the lake, but instead (after a night in a motel) we stopped once we were further around the lake and in Switzerland, and ate ice cream with a rather fabulous view.
Low cloud in the mountains on the Hahnetennjoch Pass.
Lake Constance at Berlingen. The perfect place to sit and eat ice cream.
After half a day in Switzerland we headed back into Germany. We rode along the Rhine for a while, passing Boppard which brought back loads of memories of a similar road trip I’d done with my family as a teenager. From there it was into the Black Forest where we rode some of the best roads of the trip – quiet and fast, sweeping bends, amazing views.
The River Rhine.
In the Black Forest. Some seriously good riding here.
Schiltach in the Black Forest, a beautiful little traditional town perfect for an overnight stop.
Naturally, before heading back home, we had to make a stop at the Nurburgring just to see it. We didn’t ride it – our insurance doesn’t cover race tracks and to be honest I wouldn’t be confident sharing a track with loads of idiots on sports bikes (some riders/drivers were bad enough even on the roads in the area!), but it was great to see.
Our ride to Italy and back took us and our bikes twelve days and 2,243 miles through eight different European countries. We had all kinds of weather from 30+ degrees under a blue sky to torrential rain and low cloud, testing us and our kit and teaching us that flexibility is key when it comes to motorcycle touring for fun. We stayed in some great guest houses and poor motels, ate all kinds of food, saw some amazing sights and had an absolutely brilliant time. And, thankfully, the whole credit card touring thing really worked – once we got into a routine after the first couple of days we were both very relaxed and had a proper holiday.
Riding towards the mountains.
We learnt a lot on this trip that will be useful when we head over to Canada and the USA next summer (six months to go!), including about what we should and shouldn’t pack, how to read between the lines of Trip Advisor reviews, when to just head to McDonald’s and order chicken nuggets, what order to do things in when arriving at a new guest house, how many miles we can reasonably expect to do in a day, and other such lessons. I hope we get an opportunity to explore more of mainland Europe in this way in the future, but first we have a very important and much longer trip to get organised.