Vespa World Days Croatia #3 | FEATURE
If you need a recap before reading the final part of this epic trip have a look back at Part 2 here.
Day ten: Time to Split
Sunday, the morning after the night before. Sore heads, hazy recollections and stories involving palm trees and flag poles spread around the Vespa Village as we met ready to head off. We’ll not mention who was involved but Taff was looking a bit sheepish and hungover. He’d also gained a new nickname ‘The Beast of Biograd’.
Heading back from Biograd to Split for the overnight ferry to Ancona we had plenty of time so decided to go the scenic route. I pressed the ‘find a thrill’ option on the TomTom. What we weren’t expecting was to find a 5ft long snake chasing a giant lizard around a blind corner. A quick emergency stop, the others skidding behind me wondering what had happened. My pillion jumped off and decided to chase the potentially deadly snake for a photo, in shorts and flip-flops… Anyway she failed as it quickly slithered out of sight.
Getting blown off
After a few miles of remote villages and dusty farm tracks our group decided we’d be better off on the motorway again. The wind started to get up as black clouds gathered over the mountains in the distance. It battered us and a violent unexpected side wind almost had me off over an open bridge. The sudden gust was fierce enough for me to have to slam both feet to the floor to keep us upright. Very scary, we stopped at the next garage to put proper riding gear on, lesson learned. Sweating inside textiles is less troublesome than painful skin grafts… This ‘find a thrill’ button needs pressing with caution.
The wind carried on hitting us for the next few miles so we decided to get back on the ‘A’ roads. Despite the clouds and a bit of rain, today was still a hot and sticky one. We were all sweaty and ready for a shower by the time we got to the ferry port in Split to check in. That’s where things went wrong for me; the booking agent had messed up our ferry booking and it looked like we might not be able to get to Italy after all.
Despite my print out being correct the ferry company had mistakenly booked us on an Ancona-Split crossing rather than the other way around. I had to wait for 45 minutes for them to try and sort something out and in the end had to pay 220 Euros for the privilege. The extra fare was refunded though when I got home but I’m glad we had a spare credit card and that they had space on the very busy ferry. Boarding the ferry was an experience in itself; hundreds of excitable Italian scooter riders were in jovial spirits. Cheering, shouting and larking around like Italians do, pushing in, trying to get on first, beeping their Vespa duck fart horns and generally being very Italian. All good fun though.
Day eleven, Lake Como, Italy
After a decent nights sleep in the cabin we docked in Italy at 8am and waved goodbye to Ali & Trev who were off to Spain and France. We weren’t hanging around though, we had a boring 300-mile motorway ride up to Lake Como to get underway. We’d got into a routine by now of riding for a full tank of fuel before stopping for breakfast. It saved an extra stop and quite a bit of time. Breaking it down into bite-sized chunks passes a long day quite quickly. We rode for Five hours and seven minutes with an average speed of 58mph. We missed out on lots of nice Italian sights unfortunately but sometimes you have to compromise and cover a good distance quickly. Today was the only time my TomTom failed us with fuel stops, the garage at the planned second stop had closed down and the next one was further on than was comfortable. I was the only one riding two-up and had the weight of extra luggage as well so ran out of fuel just as I got to the marker post for the next garage and freewheeled it to the pump – close or what?
After the cheapness of Croatia, Italy and Lake Como were a sudden shock to the system. Loads of expensive tolls for starters, the motorway one alone was 29 Euros. We got to Como and into our apartment just in time before the threatened rain caught us up, thunder and lightning set in for the evening. Steve’s wife met us in Como; Caroline had flown in for their anniversary. This was to be the groups last night of being together, Dave was leaving us here as well. He was riding back solo to get back for an event on the Thursday (he did 470 miles solo the following day). It was sad to break the group up and we all sensed the end was coming.
Day 12: Wet and windy
Day two in Como, we decided to do a bit of sightseeing so went for a walk along the lake then up the mountain on the funicular train. It takes you to the top of Como, or almost. There’s still a steep 35-minute walk to the very top where the lighthouse sits. Despite the dark clouds and the forecast of storms we decided to see what was at the top. It was a hot and muggy walk up the hill but we got there just as a few drops of rain began to fall. Two Euros to the lady and you can go to the top of the lighthouse to get a fantastic view of the lake and surrounding area, well worth it. That’s when the storm started; we got a spectacular view as it swept the valley. Thunder, heavy rain and impressive fork lightning, we tried to sit it out but after half an hour it was just getting heavier. We were only wearing shorts and t-shirts. Thankfully just as we were about to make a run for it the lighthouse lady gave us a large plastic bag each to use as a makeshift poncho. We were all feeling pretty cold by that stage so it was a welcome bit of shelter. The rain had turned the rocky path into a torrent of water making it impassable, so we were forced to make the longer descent down the road instead. Looking like drowned rats we were all glad to see the train station though and get back down to earth.
Day thirteen, Friedberg, Germany
Itchy feet again, two days in one place, a very expensive one at that, was beginning to bore us. We loaded up and headed out of Como by 10am on Wednesday. We rode back through Switzerland towards Germany and a town called Friedberg in the Black Forest. You realise you’re getting used to travelling when a 224 mile ride is over too quickly. Having said that though the scenery helps immensely in this part of the world. We left Como in bright sunshine and crossed into Switzerland very quickly. The country still doesn’t fail to impress, lakeside greenery and rocky waterfalls drop steeply into lakes. Switzerland is a stunning place, even the forests look perfect, grassy slopes seem to be trimmed by hand, trees manicured, even the cattle are combed and sheep have a perm. Frequent tunnels break up the scenery though. We rode through one that was ten miles long. You have to wonder at the engineering and skill involved in cutting through mountains to build such tunnels. The ventilation wasn’t working in this one though, so sack the maintenance man. The hot stale air inside was unbearable so we were glad to ride out of that one into the cold fresh mountain air.
Switzerland morphed into Germany and by mid afternoon we were riding into the typical German town of Friedberg. Heading for a basic but clean hippy style campsite just outside town. We weren’t sure what to expect from this town but aside from a scruffy looking underpass with a few down and outs the town itself was typically German, pretty and busy. Loads of youngsters were busy doing university work outside in the evening sunshine and it had a cosmopolitan atmosphere. To be fair though we were all feeling a bit tired so didn’t make the best of Friedberg.
Day fourteen, La Roche-En-Ardenne, Belgium
The following morning we were on the move again, in the rain. We couldn’t complain though, it was our first wet riding day. We’d managed to pack up the tents before it started raining but spent the best part of 266 miles riding in it. Belgian roads are the worst we saw during the whole trip; large deep potholes litter the motorways. You need to keep your eyes on the road ahead and give yourself extra space at all times to avoid the worst of them. Belgian contraflows are a bit scary on a scooter as well if you go into them too quickly.
Thankfully the drab motorway was replaced with lush green forests and sweeping roads as we got close to our destination, La Roche-En-Ardenne. The town didn’t disappoint either. It’s a lovely Belgian town, with a medieval castle guarding it. The town was occupied during World War 2 and was razed to the ground by allied forces before it was liberated. The whole town was flattened but has been sympathetically rebuilt and has traditional cobbled streets and a town square surrounded by bars, cafes, restaurants and a fantastic butchers shop. Camping Benelux was located on the edge of the town alongside the River Ardenne. It’s a friendly campsite surrounded by forest. As we set up camp for the last time we met three Australians on bikes, they were just starting out on a five-month adventure to Turkey. We were all a bit jealous of their trip.
After a few cans of Jupiler from the site shop we took a quick walk down the river to town and found a Belgian restaurant. Good food and not too expensive. We had a nice surprise during the meal, some Belgian friends who live 45 minutes away in Liege had seen our Facebook check in and decided to come down and surprise us. A great way to spend our final night, we ended up drinking in an Irish bar until late, the only place in town that stayed open after 9pm!
Day fifteen, Zeebrugge
As we packed away for the final time, (thankfully in the dry) we were all a little bit sad. We popped into town for an Al fresco breakfast/museum and castle visit before heading north to Zeebrugge for the overnight ferry home. A fantastic adventure, no breakdowns, major fallouts, hassle or bad memories. The perfect touring holiday.
Day 16, Donington – DISC 15
Rather than go home from the ferry myself, Linsey and Sid carried on, straight past my own front door to Donington Park for a night at DISC 15. A scooter rally to mark the 30th anniversary of DISC 85 (my first rally). Once there I managed a bit of sprinting on my overloaded GTS (and a few other scooters), got to watch one of my favourite bands (King Kurt) and caught up with a few friends. A great end to the holiday.
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Choosing kit for a trip like this is tricky. Temperatures and conditions can vary immensely day by day. Here’s what I wore…
I opted for practical and inexpensive Buffalo Coolflo textiles. The waterproof and quilted inner layers can be removed to leave a mesh outer for hotter days. It was dubbed the ‘Playsuit’ by my amused riding companions. I also wore a Knox armoured vest beneath it for protection, the vest is a piece of kit everybody should own, see a review here:
Boots are TCX X-Street, comfortable, not too hot, waterproof and can be worn off the scooter without looking like a div.
My Arai RX-7V was new just before I left; even so it was very comfortable and had enough ventilation for those scorching hot days.
I used Knox Outdry for wet/cold days and Alpinestars GP-Pro for hotter ones, no complaints from either.
My panniers were the largest capacity soft luggage that Oxford make. They’re called X60 and offer 60-litres of storage space. Our sleeping bags sat on top of them, attached using two Velcro straps that came with an Ikea mattress (no we didn’t take the mattress!). Those straps saved loads of time and hassle when loading.
Scooter Buckaroo, the great travelling game. Although the front looks very overloaded it’s not actually too heavy. It had the Khyam Biker tent on there, plus a bag of extra layers, our airbed and anything else we had to take off as the temperature rose.
On the rear rack I used an Oxford Cruiser bag, loads of extra storage space and it doubles up as a backrest. My pillion was very comfortable. I attached the front and rear luggage using Rok Straps, much quicker and easier to use than bungees.
Vespa World Days 2016…
That’s it for Croatia but at the end of May I’ll be setting off to St Tropez for this years VWD event. We’ve not really done much planning for this one, other than booking a ferry from Portsmouth to Santander last year (cheaper prices). We’re going to spend a week riding through Spain before heading to the french Riviera for the rally. Then we’ve got five days to tour France before going to Paddy’s Sun Run in Bordeaux the following weekend, then we’ll be blasting home.