Tuesday, June 21, 2011

17th/18th June, Brindisi, Italy.

Found a first class campsite, that was more of a holiday resort. Friendly staff, particularly Maria in reception who spoke excellent English. A very well run place that was clean and had a pizzeria by the pool. Saved troubling the Colman stove etc. Slept like a log till this incredible racket at 3am woke me. Thinking that this huge engined thing was going to run me over, I got out to see that it was a tractor with a spray machine, dowsing the numerous hedges with insecticide. I found out that it had to be then as that is when the mozzys settle.

It was a short run into the town and found a ferry booking agent almost immediately, I had allowed an hour for this, so this put me ahead of the day. Alas no cabins left, so an airline time seat was the next best thing.
With 6 hrs to fill, I parked Batty by the train station and wondered into the centre/port. Great town that has many echoes of the Romans. In the museum it tells how it use to be their eastern Mediterranean port that many a campaign launched from. Next to the museum was the cathedral and there was a wedding taking place, so did not venture in. The side door looked right into the service and this beautiful bride in the loveliest of dresses was kneeling taking her vows next to this thug of a man... Mafia I thought, rather ungenerously.
After lunch found Internet cafe right  by where I had left Batty and caught up a bit.
Yesterday and today have been the hottest day of the trip so far, 31 degrees I saw on a sign. When on the move, it is fine, but wearing all the armor etc when one pulls up, it is a sweaty business.
At the docks have had the pleasure of meeting Paddy, a 70+ year old retired architect biker from Waterford in Ireland. He is on a 6ish week tour of Europe. He is having a great time, largely staying in youth hostels. It is his 45 wedding anniversary tonight, and poor chap has had me across the table as his wife is minding the fort back home.

Also on the boat, who we met queuing for the boat, about 20 Vespa owners from Sicily making their annual tour. Great guys of all ages, who love their bikes and a fun time. They were mighty perplexed by Batty, but she won them over quickly enough.
Bye bye Italy, I have loved nearly a thousand miles of your roads, your fabulous hill top villages and towns, rich history and architecture ( what little i saw). Alas I did not found you the friendliest bunch, although the exceptions were lovely, I guess had I spoken your language it would have been a different story. I was a surprised that the Pizza is your national dish, far more pizzerias than UK tandouris, let alone pubs, they were on every corner and in the tiniest of village.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

15th/16th/17th June, Italy

I had let the battery run down by having the lap top on charge for too long,  although great to be able to have caught up on matters communications,  a bit of a pain bump starting Batty. Luckily we were on a hill and it was not a problem, but that fear of it not starting is quite intense. A few miles down the road and short on fuel, I stopped to buy 8 liters of veg oil at the Penny store, a chain of supermarkets, now I am pretty blind to the odd looks I get when that is all that is in the basket. I had parked Batty at the entrance, which was also a garage forecourt. It takes a bit of a time to empty the bottles into the tank and I have learnt to take the fiddly tops off in advance which does speed things up a bit. Anyway it does attract attention and the pump attendant, yes they still have them here, came over to see what was what. He laughed and laughed, which got only louder when I could not start her. Eventually the kick start worked and all was well. To give him his due, he did offer to push the bike to bump start her. An old lesson re-learnt, don't stop the engine for at least 30 mins when the battery has been flat.
One thing I have noticed is the proliferation of solar panel farms here. There are a lot and it would be interesting what proportion of their energy comes that way. UK is way behind. This resonated with a discussion Humphrey and I had at the weekend, he has a long proven and successful track record of investing early on in all matters technology and the like, he is of the view that Sun energy will win out over all other energy forms  as the panels become more efficient, from the current 15% to 40% and even 60% over the next 5-10 years. Which combined with an annual 20% drop in production costs, makes it compelling. The holy grail is storage of energy, and that is what the boffins are intensely working to crack. There is promise that mass and efficient storage is not far away. He  imagined a world with hardly any power cables scaring our landscapes as most energy needs are created locally.
Talking of energy, the last fill up was on 1/3 to 2/3 veg oil, and all seems fine. Today I will switch to 1/4 diesel and see if I can standardise on that.
Having sat outside the DHL office from 2 till 4pm in Foggia, waiting for it to open after the very generous length of lunchs they have here ( in fact had a long lunch myself... and devoured a few more Neville Shute pages). When it didn't, I translated the rest of the message on the window, with my iPhone app, which said that they were closed all Thursday  afternoons. So plans had to be changed a bit. Bloody SIM card, why does the law of sod say that I will never need it?
Found a local shabby hotel room, as the nearest campsite is an hour away it has a very single bed and a view of a wall. My needs are modest, and it has turned into a clothes washing opportunity. Alas no Internet. But what do you expect for €45.
As I have driven further south in Italy, there are 2 economic indicators that have become apparent. The first is that I have seen no Ferraris south of Milan, but loads north  and the second, much more importantly, is that the further south Batty has been over taking cars almost regularly, twice yesterday, and 3 times today. Ok so they are quite slow cars, driven by somewhat elderly folk, but even so I can feel her gusto swell as we sweep past.   I will keep these indicators going as more of the world greets us.


SIM cards don't come easily, but at 12.30 it had turned up, having been at another depot. The DHL chap was v helpful and spoke pretty good English.
On Southward and have a less twisty route, putting up with the odd juggernaut. They seem less violent somehow down here, maybe I am just getting use to them.
Much my joy I came across lots of  Trulli buildings, I wasn't sure where they were in Italy but knew it was southern. Having read about these funny shaped houses that are the things of fairytales, there are thousands south of Bari.
Now in the heel of Italy and the port of Brindisi only an hour away, I am hoping to get a ferry to Petra in Greece tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What has Hannibal and Batty got in common? They both crossed the Alps....

More of that later.

Bella, Humphrey, Ben, Sasha, Millie and Sam Nokes have been marvelous hosts to me for the last couple of days. As well as the amazing hospitality, the time spent going over the plans, washing Batty, learning so much about Switzerland and the Alps has been grt fun and a great launch pad for the trip on going.

View from their back door...

Left Champery after a fine breakfast and given a big farewell from clan Nokes. The joy ride trips the evening before on Batty, with riding hats and ski helmets adorned had gone down a treat with Ben, Sasha, and Millie. Their enthusiasm for all things Batty  was most touching.

All the wiser, the suggested  drive up the Rhone Valley, surrounded by vineyards, was a special morning. Then to have the slow but spectacular chug up the 2000m to Simplonpass with the snow topped peaks just moments away, made even the expense of the rather ordinary sausage that I had for lunch at the top forgivable.

Batted down the other side into Italy   .  I have spent little time here before and am sure it is a place to share, rather than as a lone traveller. So I may crack on through, taking in the odd site.
I had read about it, but it took a bit of time to sink in, what the made up girls at the side of the road waving at the drivers were. Hitchhikers dressed like that? And so many all of a sudden. Then it clicked that these were the desperate victims of horrid events and circumstances in Africa manifesting themselves as prostitution on country roads in North Italy.
4000 miles rolled onto Batty's clock towards the end of the day.
Philippe was right about Italian campsites being crowded and expensive, €13.50 for the night and crammed next to the chatty, movie watching neighbours, makes for a different experience to the almost empty €8 French sites.
There was I thinking that the sun would only shine now that I was in Italy, all night it rained and I lie on my re inflated sleeping bag/ mattress combo in the tent at 8.30am, waiting for it to ease enough to break camp and head for Pisa. Luckily I am reacquainting myself with a Neville Shute novel 'Requiem to a Wren' which is so charmingly and well written the kindle pages afresh at a great rate.
 First night's setting in Italy, Lago di Virerone


Rain subsided and had a magical drive through Piedmont country side. Zigzagging for endless miles. Garmin the Great took me on fabulous roads through the likes of Gavi, a favorite Italian wine of mine and then to the north of Genova.

 My picnic lunch views

Camped at a very over grown campsite that was more akin to a wildlife sanctuary. When I left at 7.30 in the morning the poor hassled proprietress, had she spoken English, would have been quite clear about her thoughts of having to get up to let me out. Had I spoken Italian, I would have given her a thought or 2 of my own about the smelly loos and the flea bites that were a gift from her non stop barking dog...

Having enjoyed fabulous roads yesterday that took me to the heart of the countryside, it did however take a lot of time and the miles were not very direct, so today the Garmin was reset to include 'highways' and as a result got to Pisa at noon to spend an hour or so wondering at a wonder.

Then on through Tuscany, which it had to be, if the number of UK license plates were to go by. What a fabulous landscape, and deserves a prolonged trip, but not this time...there is a world to see first.

Spot the rainbow...after a vicious down pour

Siena is now, and the campsite is 5 star. Clean and tidy, grt showers and internet to boot. Dining at the Alla Speranza in the Campo, trying to imagine a barebacked horse race....I wanted to say that having seen their driving, I could understand the mad mindset, but so far the French have won that prize.

I have been putting my friends to an awful lot of trouble over a silly SIM card. I have a paranoia that if I loose  my phone, I will be incommunicado and lost. Firstly 02 have sent a duplicate for activation in the event, but of course to my London hse. Jacqui DHL'd it to Bella in Switzerland, DHL could not find the address (I could, with ease) but they could somehow today.....this had Bella running around all over Switzerland so that it could be forwarded to a depot in southern Italy for me to collect. After all that, if I don't loose the phone, I will be a real time wasting numpty.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

8th /9th /10th June

8th June
Arrived with Philippe late yesterday afternoon, having had quite a struggle with Batty's clutch all afternoon.
As always great to catch up with old pals and great to re acquaint with Mdme Chandless. A welcome whiskey was thrust into my hand and the day's recovery began.
P and I headed off to his local Cous Cous restaurant and gossiped furiously about you lot.

Generosity comes in great waves, as I am finding more and more on this trip. Batty had to be partially stripped to find out what the problem was. Uncle Philippe was called and his garage was made available for the task.
The problem quickly became clear as  one of the engine panels was removed and the pushrod between the clutch lever and the clutch mechanism was clearly knackered. The pushrod wasn't hard enough for the job, no sniggering at the back. For those with a technical interest, this rod has to be hardened at both ends to allow for the ball bearings at each end to push against without wearing it. For some reason this had not been done during production, so Henry has sent a replacement overnight by UPS.
The up shot of this is that the poor Chandlesses have had to put up with this traveler another night. He has has had to endure delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Comfortable bed, great wifi and broad and stimulating company. This is traveling in style and I am so lucky that this problem happened with such friends at hand.
The best part is that Philippe is going to join me for a day and a night on my way to Switzerland. A tent has been bought and once his mighty BMW machine learns the way of Batty's Zen like  pace I am sure they will run sweetly together.


24 hrs after the problem was identified, it was solved. UPS arrived on time, Harry for once did not muck up his mechanics, and Batty rode out of Grenoble with a perfect working clutch.

In the morning,  in a Patisserie getting a little something for Batty's hosts, I was struggling to ask the shopkeeper if she also knew where a florist was 'près d'ici',  she gave me a long very fast answer that whistled over my head. Then she laughed at my doubtless look of hopelessness, said ' Alright love, I am English' much to my delight and frustration. .... she had had me and said she didn't know whether to own up or let me practice my lost cause French. A jolly moment or 2. Still couldn't find the damn florist, even with directions in English. It is a frustration that people don't give you the amount of time or the distance when giving directions. It is probably my poor retention and imagination, but without these dimensions I find it difficult to gauge directions. That said the great thing about getting lost, is the unexpected.
Philippe and I rode off into the Alps on stunning roads. On the way out of Grenoble an egg was thrown from a 3rd storey window at the car in front, a direct hit. Just as this happening was sinking in, I was the target  and another direct hit on poor old Batty. Shocked and bemused I pulled over and ranted at what to do with Philippe. We left it and as I calmed down saw the funny side, and even had to admire the shot. I am sure there are a couple of kids very proud of themselves. Batty needs a wash now. Just between you and me, I think I did the same when young and it was great sport.....all I pray is that those little tikes are at the receiving end of a direct hit later in life.
Looking down on Grenoble

Up at the first Pass

P chatting to  chap at a Cafe, whose son was v keen

I started writing down the roads that blew my mind in terms of the beauty and just amazing for biking, but it was a list that just grew and grew, there are just hundreds of these ear-poppingly heavenly roads.
Philippe had to return to Grenoble at lunchtime and that was a sad farewell. He and Madame had treated me like family for the last couple of days and it was greatly appreciated.

I made my way to Lausanne in Switzerland to see Bella and Humphrey. I am spending a couple of nights with them, before leaving for Italy on the 11th.

It has been a great ride from the UK, both in people, places and experiences. A better warm up I could not have wished for and now this phony war-like part of the trip  is ending. Gone will be the familiarity of  companionship,  delicious home tucker and regular comfy beds that has spoilt me rotten over the last 2 weeks. I am in the right place and pointing in the right direction for some earnest journeying to begin.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


4th June.

Spent 2 happy days with Charlie Haydon, with the great bonus of Pat May arriving for the weekend a couple of hours after me. He had been threatening to come along, and delighted he did. The three of us go back to our late teens, when the world seemed resolve around bikes, girls, parties, booze and the odd other stimuli. The order of importance fluctuated, but in essence that was it. Why it seemed complicated at the time I am not sure, but it was a lot of fun. 30 years on life revolves around, oh, bikes, girls, parties, booze, family for some, business / work, mortgages, pensions and health. More complicated maybe, but somehow less stressful.
Yesterday we went to the coast and enjoyed moule fritte at a seaside shack, which with a bottle of local cider was a fabulous dejeurne. We stopped at a US world war 2 memorial and graveyard site.

There was a very old American chap who looked at least 90. Difficult to imagine his emotions, we assumed he had to be there to see the graves of his fallen brothers. On bidding him good afternoon, I got a rather lost look, a poignant moment. On the way hope we delved into how long that memorial would be there for, prompted by the much stated 'never to be forgotten'  type plaques.

 Leaving Charlie's in the rain

5th June

This morning the plan was to have a look at and clean Batty's injector, before leaving at noon.  I had gone back on to almost pure veg oil and it was a mistake as they had coked up.

A 10 minute job, but typically in Harry's world of maintenance things go a little wrong and I dropped a washer down the injector hole. Luckily with Charlies' kit and steady hand it was recovered. The upshot was leaving an hour late. Pat joined me for the first hour on his Triumph before setting off for the ferry home. It really tipped it down for most of the run and camping was looking challenging. Luckily it cleared up by the time I got to looking for a camp site at 6ish. 

I am writing after my first camp supper on the first night alone, 150 miles down the road. I have about another 350 miles to go before hooking up with Philippe Chandless. I plan to do it over a couple of days.

As ever wanting to plug pals businesses on this blog, Charlie runs a great self catering holiday cottage  setup and for £400 per week a family can come an enjoy the remoteness, beauty and tranquility of Normandy only a couple of hours from the ports. Www.normandyselfcateringcottages.com.
Pat has a property search business in Devon and after 20 years in west country property has a knowledge and insight that is difficult to match. Www.qwest.co.uk

6th June

Tipped it down overnight, but my Big Agnes tent lived up to it's promise, however my boxers and socks (they like to be washed daily) did not dry on the line alas.

Beautiful  run to near Vichy.
Spotted that the clutch cable was beginning to fray at the lever end. Thought this could be part of my clutch worries, that I have been adjusting most days a quarter or half turn. Now there is no adjustment left on the main adjustment. Replaced the cable, which took about 30 mins and then vigorously oiled the other cables on the bike, I should have done this more regularly, lesson 105 for the trip.
Henry is sending out a couple of replacements along with some hopefully remedial solutions for the clutch adjustment, which won't involve too much mechanical work, fingers crossed. 

Having rather slated the Garmin satnav earlier, I have to take it back, certainly in part, as it has taken me on some absolutely stunning roads. By selecting the no highway and autoroute option, I have travelled along just fab roads. There have been a few single track roads, but 95% have been 2 and there is hardly any traffic. Just perfect for my 30-50mph speed range and lorry avoiding quest.

The day carried on with a broken speedo cable, and on going clutch problems, so much so that it was easier to stall Batty at lights and then find neutral, before restarting. Henry has sent an instruction on possible things that may be causing the problem.

Friday, June 3, 2011

First few days, Spain and France

30th May....notes from the road...not great English, but a bit of a record...

Left ferry at Santander at 1pm and took a great road to Vitoria, through hills and valleys.

Started raining heavily and even had sleet/snow up on the high ground. Finished up without the energy or inclination to camp, so the 3 of us have bunked up in a functional hotel called the Duque De Wellington.....  Some beer and plate of food restored our rather soaked spirits. Our spoken Spanish is poor, but the Basque folk are very welcoming and their/our investment in their roads is first class.

We are getting Garmin weary having been sent around the houses, there are probably tricks to learn, but as yet they are causing more frustration than direction.

31st May..... crossing the Pyrenees

We covered some beautiful roads today and the joy of 2 wheels and scenery forgave any rain and shitnav angst.

Great but wet crossing of the Pyrenees. Batty loved the corners.

The bikes are running well and the few tweaks made are just fun and all part of the adventure.

More rain, but waterproof kit doing a great job,  my 25 year old walking boots are giving me the driest feet of the three of us.

Joined by Brendon today, a Brit who now lives in Massive Central. A fun man and rides a very swift 350 Bullet.

We camped by the Garron surrounded by Vineyards. Henry created a mind blowing curry...both in deliciousness, but even more so in spiciness.

1st June. ...on the road to Limoges

Yesterday Batty recorded 136mpg. By far the best and what I was hoping for. Will now start putting veg oil back in and see how we do.

Loads of wind. Found it a bit of a struggle going at 40-50 on the main roads with huge lorrys passing at 55 and cutting one up on occassion. Henry has a new Diesel engine just coming which he is about to test on bikes like Batty and it is 30% more powerful. This is quite a tease as I think if I could do 60mph comfortably, then it would make quite a big difference on Western roads. When I am by myself I will aim for slower roads and pull over when big trucks come up behind. There always remains an option to fit a bigger engine in due course...given a bit of airfreighting and lifting...we will see.

Roger has been beset with troubles on his bike (a 525 Lightning) the battery was knackered and then various brake switches had given up. Now that they are all fixed, things will get better.
He, like us all, fantasize about a new bike when one has trouble, only to forgive all when one's old friend returns to normal and the love affair carries on.

He and I found a lovely campsite near Bellac whilst the other 2 had a successful mission getting Roger a new Battery and supper.

One bit of sad news for the trip, via text from Uzbekistan, is that Mette, who was going to join in Turkey can no longer make it. A great shame and I was thinking of putting out an SOS lest anyone wanted to join me, but then took the view that it was an opportunity to push through Turkey and Iran a bit faster and try and get to Nepal for early August....it would be better weather wise alround.

Brendon was chef and delighted us all with a fine pasta ensemble. Another evening of beer, g&ts and wine.

2nd June. Parting ways

Farewell fellow Bulleteers, as we part company, they to the Rally south of Paris and I for a long over due visit to Caroline and Brian, Emily and Harriet near Poitier. Henry, Roger and Brendon have been great companions and I enjoyed joining them on their run to the rally hugely. Not only was the company extremely generous and fun, just the immersion in many matters Royal Enfield has swelled my knowledge of the bikes no end. Batty and I look forward to joining them in a couple of years time.

Caroline  and Brian are nearing the completion of the restoration of a very fine town house in L'Isle Jourdain. The kitchen produces amazing things, and this is a very happy non camper today.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

If I had known 2 months ago what I know now...

WARNING, this post contains absolutely fascinating and brilliant information for those interested in engines running on vegetable oil. For those whose fascination is not so profound...you could skip it, I am sure later posts will be softer and more human feeling stuff...all those good byes etc....

When I set out on this adventure, I was persuaded from my own research that running a diesel engine on vegetable oil would be fine, maybe a few starting problems when cold, but otherwise just as normal diesel fuel. The truth is that this is the case in part, but after 2000 miles of trials I was suffering from increased starting problems and lack of power. This was coming to a head about a week ago and I was beginning to despair for the venture as a whole. My mind was racing for solutions, such as mixing petro diesel with vegetable oil and therefore compromising much of the essence of the journey.

A week ago I was having lunch with my cousins in Kent, and this anxiety came out. Then Andrew suggested that I spoke to Paul Day who they had been supporting in his business venture. Andrew described Paul as a scientist who was developing products and systems for running large-scale generators and engines on bio diesel and the like.

This led to me visiting Paul at his office and workshop near Sittingbourne on my way home. As a backdrop Aquafuel  have been awarded many times for their innovative and successful development of  engines and power sources in both environmental and highly efficient ways.

After a short meeting it soon became clear that I was heading for a serious problem, which would have probably meant the engine failing in a few thousand miles. The thing about vegetable oil is that it is much more corrosive than petro diesel and also because of its viscosity, ignition relies on the oil being hot and fluid enough as it enters the combustion chamber to fully ignite.

So there are two things that needed to be dealt with. The first was the rapid deterioration of normal engine oil when using vegetable oils,  almost immediately apparently there is much greater wear on the engine components as well as congealing around the piston and rings. This has been overcome by using an incredibly high quality oil that is only available, at the moment, for use in large-scale plant. This oil is so robust that Paul thinks that it will take me halfway around the world before I need to change it. He is looking into this further, and has said that he will be able to courier a supply to me when the time comes.

 The second problem is how to get the bike to start on a fuel successfully without it coking up the injectors in the cylinder head.
The solutions are either:
 - to have a dual tank, one being for regular diesel or bio diesel, which one would start the engine on and once hot, switch to vegetable.
-  to have a heater that will bring the oil up to full ignition compatible temperature
-  to mix in 25% diesel fuel with the vegetable oil.

Had I known this I would have had a combination of the first two solutions, all of which Paul would have helped develop scientifically.

So it looks like I'm going to have to use 25% diesel fuel. This is sad but unfortunately the ticket is booked and I'm leaving in two days. It would not have taken much to have changed it and it would have been a matter of a few hundred pounds to have made the bike almost 100% vegetable oil fueled.

I might look into having a tank made with one part for vegetable oil and a much smaller compartment for bio diesel, this would save the day a great deal.

I went back to Aquafuel yesterday and I spent an hour or two with David, who is an engineer working with Paul. He showed me what was involved in cleaning out the injectors, which will need to be done every 2000 miles approximately to keep it running well. I learned so much about the engine in those few hours that my confidence in this element of the journey is 10 fold by comparison to what it was before.

As a further bit of most unexpected and extremely generous sponsorship, Paul has waived the charge for their very valuable time setting me up, wishing me every luck along the way. I am very very touched by this and I know Batty is loving her new oil  and will run forever.

It has made me think that there is a business opportunity to be had providing a solution to the problems that Paul has solved. It would involve the small unit supply of the special oil in 1 L containers, a heating element system for the vegetable oil, and possibly a dual fuel switch and tank for motorcycles.

Thank goodness for double glazing...

Tucked up in a goose down sleeping bag with a very comfortable integral sleeping mat, secure in a fabulous 2 man tent, rewarded this soon to be tent dweller with a great nights sleep.....Right up until the planes started coming over at 6am, drowning out the busily chirping black birds and my friendly robin who always says hello, when I go into the garden. I had forgotten one of the main reasons for getting the house double glazed was the dawn to dusk aircraft...the sooner Heathrow moves to the Thames Estuary the better for many Londoners.

I have not sought any sponsorship for this trip, but have been knocked out by the generosity of Big Agnes who make the tent and sleeping bag that I am taking. George Bowie, my fellow EO forum mate, has set up a new business, Nine Point Nine, supplying those who want the best kit for all things out doors. His offer of the kit turned into Big Agnes saying that they would supply it for free, if I let them know how it performs on the trip.
5 stars so far. The products are very light and seem super tough. With Big Agnes coming over to the UK, the likes of Eurohike will have to be upping their game to compete, and by some measure.
I am not a great Tent expert, but my brother George is as about as expert as you get, having run the south west's premier marquee company for the last 20 + years with his wife Fiona. A big shameless plug for The Devon Marquee Company.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My new bedroom

I am testing my new tent tonight. Not very adventurous being in the garden, but then better to do so than hundreds of miles away.

Big Agnus is the brand of tent and it took just 10 mins to put up, and that included reading the instructions. It is a great tent and I have my pal George Bowie to thank.

I will post tomorrow on how I slept and also how this last 10 days have been, pulling all the last bits together for the trip, all the good byes etc.