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Bar scene in Brugge, Belgium.  Fellow on the right is a member of the Belgium “North Shore” chapter of the Hells Angels.  Guy on the left is a convicted cocaine smuggler on his last night out before reporting to prison the next morning.  Both nice enough guys. Joerg – the Hells Angel — both loves America and is pissed that he can’t get in because of past mistakes.  Seems the US thinks he’s a terrorist.  Gary, the smuggler, swears on a stack of bibles that he didn’t do this job , that he’s taking the hit for his best friend.  All of this takes place in the most charming town we’ve ever been to.  This is the last place on earth I’d expect to meet a Hells Angel.    You cant’ make this stuff up.

We’ve never had a smoother re-entry into motorcycling than this trip;  picked up the bike on the docks of Zeebrugge, Belgium with zippo hassles,  loaded him up in 45 minutes, and were hauling south before we could say “that was easy.”  Fifteen minutes into Day 1’s ride Karen says, “I don”t have my normal first-day-riding nerves.”

This could be good.

In fact, the first week has been smooth as silk and as beautiful.   First stop after 18 hours of plane/train/cab rides was Brugge, Belgium, often called the Venice of northern Europe.  They weren’t lying as every street is drop dead gorgeous and dripping with charm.  Put Brugge on your list, its worth it.

Our route is basically pretty much directly south through Belgium, keeping east of Paris in northern France and riding through the French countryside, which was a brilliant shade of green.  We stay at Reims, Dijon, and Avignon along the way.  All of the riding is on major highways as we need to haul to Nice by the 21st,  about 820 miles south of Zeebrugge.  We have skirted the rain covering the rest of France, but its still three-layer cold.

NVII has run like a champ.   No ill effects from sitting in various docks and ships for almost two months as he starts to get into stride at 80+mph (which is below the speed limit on the A5:).  I think it may be a good sign that many of my tools packed in NVII were stolen somewhere between LA and Zeebrugge.  Could this be the first ever no-problem-with-the-bike trip?  So far, so good.

The biggest noticeable difference in riding this time is the availability of good GPS maps.  Unlike South America, the Garmin is really precise and confidence-boosting.  My route planning has consisted of entering the Nice hotel’s address in the GPS and hitting the “Go!” button:)  I’m beginning to use it for everything;  finding gas stations, hotels, and restaurants are all a search away.  Very cool and very easy.

None of this means we were trouble free.  Basically, three days preparation for a 30 day motorcycle trip yields missteps.  I forgot the half-dozen really expensive maps at home, which were right next to the battery and charger for the new camera left behind.  We brought way too much stuff, which we had to leave behind in Zeebrugge.  And the aforementioned theft not only got my tools, but some goggles and other good stuff on the bike during transit.

Here’s a short list of our impressions so far:

  • Brugge — there couldn’t be a more charming place on earth
  • Reims — well, this is pretty damn nice as well
  • Dijon — OK, this has to be the cutest town
  • Avignon —  Wins hands down for tiny tiny winding streets with great, huge churches and sunny plazas

Maybe there’s a reason the French are a touch arrogant?  It’s just prettier here:))

 

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Four days before we’re set to leave, KR and I spread the maps on the floor and contemplate the always present question:  “Where?”  I then promptly left those maps behind:)

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In the Brussels airport, the Little Woman can’t wait to get going…

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to Brugge, which is called the “Venice of Northern Europe.”  It’s hard to argue.

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KR chased various horse-drawn carriages looking for the perfect picture

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Not a beer drinker normally, I try to do what the locals do; drink Belgium beer. I’m always eager to fit it.

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“Just” a plaza in Brugge, one of many many equally cute plazas.

Brugge is known for chocolate and lace.  This Chocolaterie combines both.  Picture taken by Karen

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KR insisted on going into a quaint looking bar only to find it full of Hells Angels and their friends.  We met the Angels the same night we were hearing about the biker shoot out in Waco…

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Even in Belgium, Hells Angels like Harley’s.

 

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The reason for being in Belgium is to pick up Now Voyager II from the docks of Zeebrugge.  “Certified” pilot delivers NVII outside Customs.

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First stop on the first day of riding.

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Karen’s first suggestion for a hotel in Reims.  Not surprisingly, they didn’t have any rooms for the likes of us.

Reims

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The biggest church in Reims is their version of Notre Dame. Pretty impressive

Just another biker tourist on the street of Reims

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Karen’s always looking for new art for Corona Adobe:)

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The patio bar of another hotel we didn’t stay in

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The French take their Champagne seriously.

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Dijon

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KR contemplates the next photo on a street in Dijon

Artist at work

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Dijon plaza

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Screen shot of a Skype session with Sam H.  Using Google Earth, he’s showing us where we are in the old section of Avignon.  We’re somehow close to the yellow pin.  Not sure how we got there and, more importantly, not sure how we’re going to get out.

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The Garmin led us to a hotel in this maze of tiny streets, only to be told there was no room at the inn. This photo doesn’t really capture how narrow the streets are.

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What the view looks like from the saddle of NVII.

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Our hotel, the La Mirande next to a gigantic Catholic church.

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This is a shot of just part of the church in Avignon.

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A typical street scene at a plaza next to some Roman ruins from the first century.

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KR quickly snuggled into the hugely-expensive La Mirande.

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Meanwhile, NVII is relegated to the basement “garage” awaiting his next jaunt.

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Another morning, another chance to ride. KR says after five days, “I’m tired of always unpacking and packing each night. I want to stay in one place!” Voila – prayers answered as we’re going to NIce for four whole days:)

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We take this super highway out of Avignon:)

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Three short hours later, we arrive at the Hotel Boreal (the pink building). Tomorrow we’ll take a scouting trip to Monaco to see where our seats are:)

13 replies
  1. chuck Bachrach says:

    Glad you are enjoying “our” country. We just came back to
    Paris from Marseille. Off to
    Amsterdam next Monday and home on
    Wednesday, the 27th. Still hope
    that your travels bring you here
    while we’re around. Chuck

  2. Keith Frohreich says:

    We, too, are huge Brugge, Avignon, and Nice fans. You may have read that the papacy moved to Avignon for about 100 years. Too bad you missed Arles.

  3. Pam Frohreich says:

    As usual, LOVE YOUR TRIP REPORTS!! Did they tell you how, towards the end of WWII, the Mayor of Brugge talked the Allies into bypassing the city for their bombing campaigns? And the Germans bypassed it as a storage depot…

    Also, If you return through the Dijon area, take a jog to Beaune, and an amazing little castle near it… Not to be missed! Enjoy the race!!

  4. Ron Kuhl says:

    Glad to hear all is going so smoothly. And it looks like your weather has been good, too. As for Brugge, you are right that it is one of the most beautiful and charming small cities. We loved it and recommend it as you did.

  5. Ken Passon says:

    Get to the famous Hotel Negresco in Nice and try and find the farmer’s market. If you get back to Amsterdam, go to Kuykenhoff Gardens. I think it is open this time of year and KR will love it.

    Ken

  6. Chuck & Marilyn says:

    Great to see you out and about again. We will look forward to your reports. How did they get you tools? Tear up any bags?

  7. Bill and Maryann says:

    Love your photos and your writing….I am with Karen, it’s good to stay put in a place for a little while. Now, what is a little while?

  8. Yvonne says:

    Thanks for sharing all your adventures. Some of those places bring back great memories! Enjoy the beauty of it all. Not to mention the wonderful food and wine 🙂 Bon voyage!

    Yvonne

  9. Gary & Monika says:

    Cool!! We also shipped our truck to Zeebrugge, Belgium and loved Brugge. It was an easy place to start our Trans-Eurasian Odyssey around the world, Portugal to China, four wheels on the ground. 40,000 miles and 26 countries for two years. Just returned in January. More on our blogs, http://www.turtleexpedition.com. Way behind. Starting in Greece again soon.

    Gary

  10. Sindhu & Greg says:

    Thanks for sharing. You’re on to something with a French person having the right to be arrogant if they choose; France is a truly beautiful place.

  11. Peter Paccone says:

    Yo Freddo
    Just now getting a chance to catch up on your travels. Loved this one; a part of Europe I have never been to but have much interest in. Thanks for all the great pics. Best to Karen and wish you both continued and safe travels.

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