Tonight we are in Dijon, France, having just partaken in a most indulgent French dinner at a lovely restaurant. But before I get to the goat’s cheese (that actually smelled and tasted like goat), or us accidentally driving through a traffic-free UNESCO heritage protected site, let me pick up where we last left off…
Our passports arrived back from the Mongolian Consulate just in time but not without issues. We needed a letter from The Adventurists confirming our participation in the Rally to account for our lack of booked accommodation or firm dates. After a bit of haggling with the London office, said letter was provided and after several farewell parties, we finally got to say our goodbyes and extract ourselves from real life.
I was overwhelmed to be advised by Steve, my awesome boss at my work farewell drinks that the Partners of MinterEllison Gold Coast had agreed to match the funds raised by the staff for Cool Earth, and we were presented with another giant cheque! There go my plans to resign en route and join a Yurt cult in Mongolia!
Before arriving in London for the Rally, we decided to meet my mom in Ireland for a 10 day driving tour (as in hire car, we did not strap her to the back of the bike). We had a fabulous time and saw some spectacular things. My brother was unable to join us at the last minute due to work commitments, but we had great fun showing him around anyway!
Arriving in London meant time for serious business. We still had our Iran and Uzbek visas to get, and only 3 days to do it! As both Consulates were closed on our first day, a Tuesday, we set off early Wednesday morning to the Uzbek consulate ready for action. We were delighted to be second in the queue, knowing we needed to be at the Iran consulate well before they opened at 2pm. The lady taking applications was impressed with how organized we were (did someone say OCD?), until such time as we were required to hand over our passports for the visa to be inserted. With a blank look, Peter declared he hadn’t brought his – it was back at our AirBnB in Putney! So off I went to the bank to deposit the funds for the visa while Peter raced back for his passport. All said and done it worked out well in the end, and we were able to get both visas on the Wednesday without much fuss, but a lot of waiting in queues!
On Thursday night we bid a sad farewell to Mom. On Friday we set off to Woking to collect our bikes. We (as in Peter) had shipped them from Australia and Trevor, a fellow Rallier who had generously agreed to receive and babysit them for us. He is one of the six doing the Rally on a motorcycle this year. We arrived and spent most of the day assembling the bikes, and getting ourselves organized and packed. We then found a local B&B and agreed to meet Trevor the next morning and head down to Goodwood together. We cannot thank Trevor enough for everything he’s done for us.
The drive down to Goodwood was stunning, beautiful English countryside. Windy roads covered by trees allowing a dusting of sunlight onto the road. Spectacular. This is despite my first fall of the Rally (yes, even though the Rally hadn’t started I regard it as a journey claim!) where I tried to do a U-turn on loose gravel and came off second best. Scraped knee, bruised bum, ripped pants and a dented exhaust case, but otherwise we are all fine. Steve (my boss) refuses to honour his pledge to donate $100 to Cool Earth each time I fall off (and am injured) because the Rally hadn’t even stared. Fair call.
Saturday was… interesting. It was Rally Day Zero. We had to register, receive our free tshirt and beer. Then it was down to the Mongolian wrestling, sword fighting, partying and more partying. It was a lot of fun to meet people in person who had become virtual friends through the Rally preparation, and we heard some interesting and heartwarming stories from fellow ralliers. I was photographed mending my ripped pants (remember I only have two pairs!) with my ‘acquired’ miniature hotel sewing kit and superglue, as the only female Rally motorcyclist it was somewhat amusing to most (I have no idea why)… I think the greatest curiosity is how we are going to manage with so little luggage on such tiny bikes!
Sunday morning, the fun began. As we were packing up our tents, ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ blasted from the loudspeakers as the host drove around the campsite on his monkey bike waking up everyone with yells of jubilation through his bullhorn. Those Ralliers who weren’t responsible (old) like us and partied through the night, were feeling a bit fragile. But this was it, the big day!
We all gathered at the Racetrack, our mighty steeds ready to rumble! The bikes got to do their lap first, and our two posties officially share the (only) Goodwood lap record for Australian Postie NBC110 bikes. We were filmed the whole way and if I get any of those pics I’ll post them at a later stage.
And with that, we were off to Dover for the ferry to France! While waiting for the ferry, our bikes attracted a crowd of curious bystanders, initially the other motorcycle owners waiting in the queue, but the crowd quickly grew. We spent a good hour trying to explain to non English speakers about our trip, some of which were wanting to give us money to help us on our way. The bike stickers came in really handy as we were able to show them the map, direct them to our website, and show them that we were raising funds for Cool Earth. It was pretty funny being the centre of attention.
We stayed in Calais night 1 and set off early the next morning for Paris. Having never been there before my mind was filled with the romantic notions of Paris borne of years reading historical romance novels. It was a city of contrasts and my romantic notions were shattered. While her old bones are still there, magnificent architecture and quaint little laneways, it is bursting at its seams with people and traffic. As we rode into Paris, we were met with street beggars and tents pitched under bridges which while heartbreaking, I suppose reflects the current state of affairs in Europe with the refugee crisis.
The motorcyclists in Paris are demonic, have no regard for road rules and do whatever they please. Peter seemed to delight in this attitude and was soon whizzing up one way streets, weaving through traffic and just owning it. I, however, had two near death experiences trying to keep up, and was literally almost hit by the proverbial bus doing an illegal uturn to grab a park in front of the Eiffel Tower. Peter did apologise after I had a meltdown of sorts and said he forgets I haven’t got 40 years’ experience riding like he does. I think there’s a compliment in there somewhere. All was forgotten when we got to kiss under the Eiffel Tower.
We eventually found a spot where we could get the bikes in the same photo with the Tower, but not before Peter asked a nearby construction crew to levitate them on their giant crane into the sky in front of the Tower for a photo and was (unsurprisingly) refused.
Having escaped the disappointment of Paris (by dangerously weaving through kilometers of traffic on the M6), we decided to head for Dijon and get as far as we could. The ride was magnificent and this is the France I had expected. Rolling fields with bales of hay, ancient farmhouses, quintessentially French villages tucked into valleys and hillsides alongside grander Chateaus as we whizzed by with the smell of molasses in the air. We figured out if we could wiggle into the slipstream of a truck, we could get a good run petrol and speed wise, and had great fun selecting our tow and chasing it down. Our stickers once again worked their magic and we had plenty of motorists hooting and waving as they drove by. Filling up with petrol is always a crowd gatherer, and by the end of the rally I have no doubt Peter will be able to give ‘the talk’ about our adventure in multiple languages.
Inspired by the beauty that surrounded us, we pushed on and arrived all the way into Dijon at about 9pm. We got horribly lost trying to find our little O’tel, and accidentally (on purpose) drove through the town square which (we now know) is an ancient medieval UNESCO heritage site. The Male in our team eventually (after more illegal driving) stopped and asked directions, and we found our way. Our lovely hotelier directed us up the road for dinner to a restaurant specializing in local cuisine and we had a gorgeous dinner. The only disappointment was, as hinted at at the start of this blog, the cheese plate which contained one sample which smelt and tasted like wet, dirty old billy goat as Peter put it. I of course didn’t believe it would taste how it smelt, only to be proved wrong after popping a huge chunk into my mouth. Blegh! Whenever I hear a rendition of Sound of Music’s ‘lonely goatherd’ I shall think of that one remaining chunk of cheese in Dijon.
Today we are off to Switzerland to tackle the Alps. My maniac driving education in Paris will no doubt come in handy as I wind my way along. Before that we are going to go for a quick walk around beautiful Dijon (I NEED to buy some mustard, surely!) before heading off.
Stay tuned to our Insta account where we’ll post some of the spectacular pictures Peter has been taking.