Saturday, July 14, 2012

Picking up the Honda

After communicating with the Honda seller by emails and a couple of phone calls, and after the money was transferred, all that remained to do was to get insured and then nip down to the Ardeche region to pick up the bike. Vendor reckoned the trip back would take about five or six hours, and I reckoned to get down there by train would take about the same. So, I should be able to get there and back in a day if I left early. Dogs wouldn't like being housebound for a day but they'd survive.

Arranged with the vendor to turn up last Thursday. Got insured on the Monday then popped into the travel ticket office in Aubusson. Oops! Discovered that the journey would take about eight hours and the departure time was around 1pm. So..., had to book the mutts into the kennels the following day (Tuesday) and pick them up on the Friday. Booked travel ticket for the Wednesday (40 euros - reduced rate for us old gits) and a hotel for Wednesday night at Montélimar (50 euros including breakfast - cheap and cheerful). Vendor kindly agreed to pick me up from the hotel on the Thursday morning (he lived about 20 miles away). After doing the paperwork I should hit the homeward trail around mid-day and arrive home at about 6pm. Seemed fairly straight-forward. Never is though.

Coach left Felletin at 1.10pm (was scheduled to leave at 1.15 - must remember to always get there early!) and arrived at Gueret station about an hour later. Train to Lyon was scheduled to arrive at 2.20. Eventually turned up 25 minutes late. Arrived at Lyon station at around 6.30ish. Lyon to Marseille train left at 7ish so I only had half an hour to kill instead of the scheduled hour. Bit weird being in the hustle and bustle of a city station at rush hour, especially when you're a hick from the backwoods who's dressed like a tramp and carrying a bunch of motorcycle gear in a giant-sized laundry-type bag from Ikea. Had a couple of espressos and my second home-made baguette (had knocked them up earlier that day - ham, cheese and tomato - saved a few bob). Train left bang on time and headed south down the Rhone valley. All very industrial with fleeting glimpses of the mighty river Rhone. Arrived at Montélimar at 8.51 as scheduled. Warm wind. Took off my socks (socks with sandals - a fashion no-no). Stood alone in the taxi rank waiting for a cab. Place was suddenly deserted - could have been my sweaty feet. Mercifully, a cab turned up after about half an hour's wait. Arrived at the hotel at about 9.40. Desk and door had shut at 9. Gained entry by tapping a code into some hi-tech buttony thingy. Entered my room at about 9.50. No hotel bar. No people. Nothing. All very odd. Hit the sack.

Next morning arrived hot and sunny. A good day for a bike ride. Had brekkie and the vendor arrived at 9.50am. Nice bloke, about 55ish, obviously quite well off, drove a new 3 litre VW Tuareg with all the gizmos. Did my best to engage in idle chit-chat about bikes, the economy and life in the Ardeche region as we headed for his home at Vallon-Pont-d'Arc following the Ardeche river with its happy holidaymakers paddling canoes. Arrived at his house (modern, electric gates, swimming pool, very impressive - interesting to see how the other half live!), did the paperwork and finally hit the road at about 11.30 aboard my new steed. Whoopee!

There were two routes back: the main road way (north to Clermont Ferrand and then left to Aubusson) or the cross-country route (north-west to Ussel along zig-zaggy back roads). Vendor suggested the cross-country route would be far more rewarding so I decided to go that way. Scribbled a quick list of route towns on a scrap of paper and attempted to picture a map in my head. Worked fine 'til I hit the minor roads. Had to keep stopping and checking the map. The trouble with back roads is that maps don't always mark them clearly. Helps if you have a stack of local maps so you can see exactly which road to take. But I had just one, which was fine for motorways and main roads and stuff, but useless for tiny country lanes. So I got lost. Not once, but quite a few times. Suddenly realised it was about 4pm and I was way behind schedule. And..., I was halfway up some mountain range on a road that was full off hairpin bends with Tour de France riders' names painted in gaudy colours on the gravelly tarmac. On the plus side, I was riding a motorcycle on one of the world's greatest biking roads. On the minus side, I was lost, fast running out of time, bereft of road sign info, and facing the prospect of spending the night in a countryside hotel - if I could find one before nightfall. Then, as is often the case, I luckily hit the right road, crested the top of Puy Mary (Google it -it's fab), descended and picked up the road to Bort-les-Orgues which eventually led to Ussel and home. Arrived there at 8.10pm.

Unfortunately, I only took a couple of snaps of the journey through the magnificent scenery of the 'Volcans d'Auvergne', and these were before I started getting lost and running out of time. Had I not got lost and had more time, I would have spent hours merrily snapping away. Shall have to go back there another day. Anyways, I've nicked a photo from the internet to show the kind of scenery I've been rabbiting on about. Admit it, it's impressive, huh?

Great trip. Great bike.