My first thoughts of making a European tour in my summer holidays kicked off in January. Bjoern, a member of a biker website I used had posted a thread about a meeting of the German XJR Owner’s Club to take place in the Eifel Mountains. The meet, known as the Rhineland Treffen would be held at Bad Neuenahr airflield between Cologne and Koblenz in late August. Minor problems like language difficulties and how to send the entry fee without the banks adding their margins were overcome when the thirty five euros went off in a plain brown envelope.
The Rhineland Treffen was to be just for starters and I had spent months planning a ride to the Nordkapp in the Artic Circle to tie in with my German jaunt. A wet summer in the UK leading to a few soakings changed my plans and I had another look at my map of Europe. All the way down in the bottom left hand corner I spotted Dubrovnik and thought, ‘that will do’- ‘it should be dry down there.’
My plan was to finish work on Thursday afternoon, load the bike that evening ready for an early start Friday and reach the airfield for the Treffen by Saturday lunchtime. It’s amazing how plans change when you get the bit between your teeth and what was to be a leisurely ride becomes an imaginary race against time!
Big Red in ‘eye on the horizon’ travel mode —
Packing and overnight parking in the kitchen went to plan and I was on the road by six o’clock next morning. There would be no motorways if I could help it and the rising sun was a red ball of fire in my eyes as I crested the ridge at Wenlock Edge heading south-east to Oxford and the Folkstone rail tunnel terminal.
I grabbed a hearty breakfast from the well stocked buffet at the Travel-Inn on the Evesham by-pass just a few miles from the gentile Cotswold town of Broadway where I arrange our annual meet for XJR Owners every September. I had put on a pair of long johns under my bike gear to ward off the early morning chill and as I couldn’t find a waste basket in the Travel Inn I squeezed them behind the radiator in the gents toilet and sneaked on my way.
Back on the road and raring to go it was a pleasure to givitsum up the winding Fish Hill that sucks you in with it’s two fastish left and right sweepers before it hits you in the guts with a tightening left-hander! Thought I could have done it even quicker and I was still chewing it over when I ran a couple of gatsos around Chipping Norton shortly before picking up the motorway network at Oxford.
Hoping to save time on the journey I had decided to use the chunnel crossing instead of my usual method of catching the first available P&O ferry from Dover. By pre-booking I had secured a good deal at just over sixty quid return. Allowing for the fact it would be the first day of my holidays I had left plenty in hand when I arranged to travel on the three-fifteen afternoon train.
I was quite surprised to arrive at the terminal for my crossing shortly after eleven o’clock in the morning, only to be told at the kiosk that as I was so early I could either go away and come back in two hours, or pay thirty quid extra and go on the next train which would be leaving in ten minutes!
Well, what would you do? Yup! I flashed the plastic, rode onto the train, packed my remaining sterling into the back of my wallet, shoved my wad of euros in the front, re-set my watch to European time and was riding out of Callais within an hour of boarding.
My plans to steer clear of motorways didn’t help with route-finding. I had hoped to do a loop south of Dinant and arrive at the meet via Luxemburg and the Nurburgring but that habit the Belgians have of changing place names between one signpost and the next in Femish/Walloon speaking areas threw me again. I got totally lost near Lille, it was coming down in buckets and as I stood there dripping all over his posh carpet a helpful head waiter in a smart restaurant by a roundabout directed me on my way. I was confused when he sent me towards Paris, the exact opposite direction to where I was trying to go but I soon picked up signs for Brussels and followed the auto-routes east to by-pass Liege.
I could have taken the easy option at this point by staying on the auti-route to Cologne then south on the autobahn to reach my destination towards dusk. But – names like the Eiffel Mountains, Nurburgring, Bad Munstereffeiffel were calling to me from my right and I turned onto a narrow washboard surfaced concrete road signposted for Eupen and the Ring.
I had a ‘square go’ with two sports cars both wearing the Ring logo on their bootlids. An Audi and a two seater Merc. Both were fitted with full roll cages and obviously knew where they were going. After a few kilometres I let discretion get the better of valor and let them go. There was no point tempting fate and getting in trouble with the law for speeding this early in my tour.
I rode on through some lovely places as I staggered this way and that across the mountains in the gathering gloom and eventually found the well hidden airfield site for the Treffen just as it got dark. Signing in completed I dropped by the club bar for a word with my German friend Chromi before heading back down the hillside to find the hotel he had booked for me in nearby Bad Neuenahr.
With the best part of fifteen hours in the saddle up to that point less fuel, minimal food and chunnel breaks I was relieved to feel my way off the hilltop and park in the carport behind the hotel and unload my gear. For twenty three euros per night I had a comfortable double room with en-suite services and breakfast in a small main street hotel boasting a public bar and restaurant.
After a quick wash it was down to the bar where any plans to get a taxi back up to the site for what was left of the evening were quickly dropped when the barmaid and her lovely pals, knockouts all of them, sang the Cologne FC song to the tune of ‘By Yon Bonnie Banks’! My first day on the road and I thought I’d arrived close to heaven! This feeling was reinforced when I saw the white sequinned Elvis suit hanging from a peg beside my table for the night then it dawned on me that he had done his National Service nearby. Heartbreak Hotel – no sir!
AAA part two