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The Wife, the Tiger & Me

After our exploits around the world, USA, South America, New Zealand, Asia and so on, we decided it was time to attack Europe in a bit more detail. Yes I know that a lot of blokes think I'm mad "what you take the wife on the back.” Well sorry lads that's the way it is, in the last ten years we have covered tens of thousands of miles, and believe it or not very few arguments.

After scouting around the tour company's and chatting to a good friend John Collyer. We decided it was to be Croatia via Slovenia, France, Germany, Austria and returning through Italy route. I had a chat with Alastair Mc Farlane of MCI Tours at Excel who came up with the goods. A group tour over two weeks, from Calais, down the Dalamation coast to Dubrovnik, then a ferry to Ancona, Italy and back through the Mont Blanc tunnel.
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The next quest was the bike, after having both my hips replaced I'd been running around on a new 650 V Strom, well with the luggage and the wife maybe a bit under powered. It had to be a trailie but with plenty of power. After scanning the web and the dealers, I stumbled across a 6 year old Tiger 955i with 4,000 miles on the clock, at a reasonable price. I'd always liked the 955i shame they discontinued a well proven bike. A couple of new tyres chain and sprockets, and a quick service and we are good to go.

The tour was booked for August, so hopefully not a lot of rain. The day had come Sunday 4th August 4am bike loaded passports, insurance breakdown cover, money etc, all the last minute panic things. The last thing I needed was half way to Dover and something vital missing..(yes, Carole was on board). It was the perfect ride, there's nothing like riding at daybreak, with the whole road to yourself. Time for a quick chat at the gate, then on the 6am ferry for breakfast with the group. A nice assortment of bikes, 800 tigers, BMW GS's couple of Multistrada's & a Gold Wing etc. Time for a team brief with Alastair then we are off. We decided to ride with John to Saarbrucken (Germany) around 376 miles, a great ride with temps around 27 degrees C, quite a bit of motorway but needs must, it gets you there and that part of France is a bit bland anyway.
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The next day is a fantastic ride through Germanys black forest loads of sweeping bends and mountain climbs across the Rhine, Baden Baden for lunch and on to Augsburg. Day 3 takes us through Austria some stunning scenery running through the alpine villages and valleys, some of the hairpins really do tighten up on you, makes for interesting riding in my mind, but don't be to complacent. With all the luggage I had on board the back end did twitch a few time, so trying to keep up with the locals was not an option. Lake Bled to Zadar (Croatia) really did start to heat up with temperatures of around 40 degrees. We didn't hang about, out of Slovenia across the border at Rupa and then picked up the coast road. Fantastic riding again, the Croatian coast is really something else. The Hotel at Zadar was on the beach so the first port of call was a dip in the sea, then the mandatory beer round the pool.

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The next morning was an early start because of the heat. Its a long day today, 260 miles of coast road to Dubrovnik and it is not that fast, loads of Italians and Germans in their camper vans, reminded me of a bank holiday exodus to Devon on a bank holiday in spring; I had great fun filtering past them in the hold ups, through the seaside towns and road works.

About 175 miles into the trip you have to head in to Bosnia to the border at Opuzen to buy Insurance for the bike. They demand that you show your log book, passport and licence as proof of ownership. This is compulsory, without it you can't pass through the stretch of Bosnia that runs along the coast. About 7 miles that divides Croatia in two, allegedly for the Bosnian Navy, the only thing we saw on the coast was pedlos and fishing boats, (they must have submarines).By this time the heat was almost to much, so we stopped at a cafe on the beach and I promptly removed my jacket and jumped off the pier boots and all. The sea was cool and I looked round to find Carole close behind me, much to the amusement of the locals in the bar. (Brits abroad, the shame of it).

On arrival in Dubrovnik we had dried out, time to settle down for 3 days sightseeing. The history and the ambiance is great, we had a guided tour of the old town and a talk on the war in the early 90's. A little crowded in the heat due to the fact that there were 3 cruise ships in the harbour and the place was mobbed with Italian's.

The next morning we decided to do a rekey further down the coast towards Montenegro. It wasn't long before I found a dirt track on the GPS leading to a disused beach, it was quite a find. Around four hotels abandoned and shot to bits from the war, it must have been a really exclusive resort in the Yugoslavian days back in the late 80's , it actually wasn't that long ago.
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It’s Monday morning the next ride is to Split via Mostar Bridge, Bosnia, about 180 miles up the coast. It can be quite an eye opener getting through the Bosnian immigration but today was an exception, I just said "Me English" and the guard said "oh ok then!!! off you go".

The ride up to Mostar is a quiet one, nice roads, short tunnels and great scenery. On arrival we found a secure car park paid the cafe owner a few Euro's to look after the bikes, then wandered off to the bridge. Originally built in 1566 by the Ottomans, over the Neretva river, the bridge became an iconic part of the war when the Croats took it out with around 60 shells in November 1993 - something that the Bosnians prayed would never happen. Now fully rebuilt it stands as a shining example of Bosnian heritage and architecture.
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On leaving Mostar my Sat Nav decided to have a major dysfunction, (annoying and slightly worrying) the mapping in Bosnia is not brilliant, and my Collins road map is not the best either. We ended up in an industrial estate and had to ask a local, who said "You don't want to go back via Opuzen its far to busy go over the mountains and head north, its a much better ride". Ok, so we headed for the pass slowly climbing to about 1,000 feet, the views were fantastic and at that height I could see the sea, so I just needed to head west. We passed through some of the newly built villages and retail parks and on towards the border, back in to Croatia, and arrived in Split in time for dinner.
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Split is one of the oldest cities in the area built around 1,700 years ago, its a transport hub between the islands in the Adriatic and the Apennine Peninsular, a great mixture of old and new buildings, and a new marina to the north. At 6pm we head for the ferry, a 10 hour night crossing to Ancona in Italy. After a 2 hour fiasco loading 1 car and 1 lorry at a time, then the bikes, they preceded to tie bits of string to things like mirrors and brake leavers, (no chance). Luckily I had chucked a ratchet strap in my top box just in case, we all helped to tie down properly and settled down for the night.
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Another great ride in the morning up through Tuscany to Montecatini via some of the Chianti villages, the scenery again is totally different, quiet roads with perfectly groomed trees and vineyards as far as the eye can see.

Montacatini is a well known spar town ,about 50 miles north of Florence, very upmarket and dusted with only the best dressed Italians in the bars and restaurants. The next day we decided to have a nose round the area, and ended up in Pisa, parking the bike was really easy, and despite hundreds of tourist it was reasonably easy to move around.
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I'm sure that tower will get to a certain angle and just fall over!

The ride from Montacatini is around 330 miles of Autostrada, through countless tunnels not at all bad for a motor way trip, all the way up the west coast to the Mont Blanc tunnel, then on to Scionzier. The road drops down forever into the Alps, miles of alpine villages and snow capped mountains. the tunnel is well organised now after the fire, they are 100% on safety, 70 kph and a spacing of 150m between vehicles. Break the rules and its a ticket, (no exceptions) there are lasers and cameras wall to wall.
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Its quite a bit of motorway now as we head on to Metz, just really an overnight stop before the last 300 miles back to Calais, (and that was in the rain!!) luckily it was Sunday morning so the traffic was not too bad. By the time we got to Calais it was sunny and dry. I spent most of the time on the upper deck wondering what the traffic in Dover was going to be like.

All in all it was a great trip, the bike performed superbly, and not one complaint from the wife. The organisation, route planning and flexibility created by Alastair and Fiona was second to none, I can't thank them enough, if you want total satisfaction and a worry free trip, you can find them at:

Mark Stone.
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