14 June 2004

Raid into Czech - May 2004 - Part 1

There’s a saying about the best-laid plans of mice and men… I have no idea from the mouse’s perspective, but planning this trip seems to have taken longer than my usual time, and from the human angle! It turned out to be more than poring over maps, both paper and electronic (MS Autoroute and www.viamichelin.co.uk).

Firstly, it was to be a weekend dash to join the 20th Anniversary of the founding of the Czech Suzuki Owners Club, with friends and fellow club members. Then it became a long weekend to accommodate my wife, Claire, on the trip and then a full blown week and the trip grew and grew. A week before the off, she found she had a business meeting with her company’s partners in Paris. The meeting date? The same day we were to begin our holiday! Plans changed again. Another days holiday booked for me and a change to the Shuttle booking. Luckily the fare was flexible and I was able to change without charge.

And so…

Tuesday 25th May

My plan was to be away early and to meander down to Paris where I was to meet Claire and her work colleagues after they had bombed down in her boss' Audi A6.

I had ordered Czech currency online from Travelex for collection at their desk at the Eurotunnel terminal, I like to have a few quid in local currency in my pocket when I arrive in a new country. I called to check if it had arrived and they said Securicor had been delayed and they would call when it did. It was gone noon when they called and after 1pm by the time I picked it up and then made my way round to a train.

Traffic was very light and they were only operating 2 trains an hour. I ended up in the second compartment on my train behind a 4WD and four other cars.

It was here I took the first picture of the trip, of my speedo and odometer to work out my mileage to Chudcice for the Rally. This showed 14104 and didn't include the 6 or 7 miles from home to the train, but this is hardly going to be a problem as I am unlikely to win the SOC's Attendance Trophy and wouldn’t need those extra few miles to swing it for me in a tiebreak or penalty shoot-out.

My idea was to stop for some marginally cheaper French petrol at the French terminal and then to stop off for lunch, as I hadn't yet eaten, at my favourite services in France; the "Aire Baie de la Somme" by Abbeville. In the end the terminal’s ELF station was closed for a restock and I took to the A16 southwards and I was soon on the outskirts of Boulogne, where I saved a few shekels at the hypermarket. Fuel was slightly cheaper than in the UK at the time, although we were just going through almost daily increases to line the pockets of speculators on the petrol markets across the globe.

I was aware that due to the hold-up that Claire was probably only about an hour or so behind. In fact it was nearer two hours as they had been delayed as well. As per plan I stopped for lunch at the Somme services, where I had a chat with a Dutch couple on an antique unfaired GL1000 Wing, over a coffee and a cake.

The only modifications to my BMW R1150GS for the trip was the fitting of an Alaska Sheepskin Butt Pad each, to try and ease the strains and pains on the buttocks on long journeys. The bike was in the first few miles since a service and the tyres had plenty of life. With luggage for two for eight days and a few heavy locks it probably meant we were almost at the service limits for a GS! As usual that know-all fellow, Mr H Sight revealed that we had a few t-shirts etc more than we were ever going to wear!

Once back on the autoroute I ploughed south at approx 130kph as it was an easy pace to keep to, and followed the MS Autoroute instructions right to the Campanile at Gennevilliers in the north western suburbs of Paris. By the time I had booked in, unloaded the bike and had a relaxing shower, Claire and her colleagues had arrived and were booking in. No chance to stand bollock naked in the shower to cool off.

I had planned a quiet evening in the restaurant with the newspaper and the latest Motorcycle Voyager and then possibly watching the TV in the hotel room, but in the end I was invited by the boss at the French end to join the assembled group of English and French colleagues for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Neuilly sur Seine. Ten of us squeezed into two cars to make the return journey.

We wined and dined at the company’s expense and it was almost 1am when we crashed out. At least we only had 400 miles or so to ride the next day after Claire’s meeting had finished. The day’s mileage was a relaxed 179 miles.

Wednesday 26th May

Claire was up early for breakfast and then off for her meeting a few miles away at the Port de Gennevilliers. I had a lie in before a leisurely check out and missed breakfast in the process. As it was still only 1030 I packed the bike up and thought I'd have a run into Paris to get a few photos with scenic "sights".
I took a quick photograph of the bike outside the Campanile before setting off for the Porte de Clichy and the northwest entrance to the city. All went to plan until I hit an unfamiliar boulevard that seemed to be ring-roading the north of the city, but inside the Périphique. I knew the city centre was to the right and so I took the first available right turn onto Porte de Poissonieres. A bit seedy looking but after a while I saw signs to Bastille and followed them. Although this bit had a lot of traffic, the centre of the city was remarkably light. I was amazed. The usual sounds of Paris; the constant police sirens and the hooting of horns the instant a light went green punctuated the trip. From Bastille I made for the river and managed to miss a sign and started heading eastwards, with the river on my right. I turned over a bridge and was then on a one-way bank along the Seine heading for Austerlitz. This time westwards, river still on right, naturally. At Pont Neuf I decided the first “scenic photo” could be “bike and Notre Dame”. Easier said than done on a hot day with 10000 tourists and their buses packed into the small space out front of the edifice. Eventually I did a 360° lap of the Cathedral and got a photo or two from the front, before the long-arm of the law told me to move. I then decided to take the Rue Rivoli to Concord and up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Although I might have been able to stop to take photos, the increased security meant that there were armed coppers and army all over the place, so I decided to keep going and just gawp when possible. Outside the HD dealership someone was taking a photo or photos of a scantily clad woman on a Harley of some type. Of course, this is the only place I didn’t get a chance to stop and gawp; not that I would have….of course.

I checked the bike’s clock and saw it was getting late, later than I had expected, so I abandoned the quest for photos and decided that I get back to the Port to meet Claire as she finished her meeting. She had her bike gear with her, but we needed to be away as soon as possible to get to Germany for the planned overnight stop. I got a chance to see the spectacular buildings of “La Defense”, the French “docklands” style development but spent more time in the dimly lit tunnels underneath it!

As it was, I found my way quite easily to the Port but took ages to find the building she was in. The lack of signposts and local workmen that didn't know their a*ses from the elbows didn't help either. In the end we left later than expected. I calculated that we wouldn't make the ETAP in Mannheim, where we were to meet the rest of the party, and so I cancelled the room and looked for an alternative.

On the A86 we made good progress round this outer ring, passing the Stade de France as we looped around the northeast of the City. We were soon on the A4 eastwards having missed the N3 exit and as we cleared the city edges and the Disney turn offs, the traffic got lighter. We stopped for a coffee and a snack as neither of us had had lunch. I checked the youth hostel book and called a few. Full. Well perhaps not full, but they didn't have our preferred accommodation - double or twin rooms, preferably with own loo. Mrs Devall doesn’t do camping or dorms. In the end I booked us into the hostel at Heilbronn. This turned out to be where things were going to go wrong the next day as Heilbronn was further east, i.e. further on the planned route, than Mannheim! In the end with no maps of France or Germany with us (I had two Michelin maps, Czech Republic and Austria, with me!) it was all guess work.

We made very good time and arrived about 1930 and started to look for the signs. The instructions in the handbook are not that good. In the end we saw a familiar sign and followed it, up through where they are building a new tramline. A bit of off road on the sandy base for the new line is about the only time the GS was off tarmac on the entire trip. The hostel was almost empty and the room was okay. We booked in and changed into civvies and went down the road to the nearest restaurant for a beer and some Schwabian cooking. The day’s mileage was about 385 miles.

Thursday 27th May

I checked the map on the wall of the YH to see we were about 40 miles further east than Mannheim, so I then sent an sms to the Team-SOC leader, Tony, simply to say we would leave about 9am and head along the motorway. We actually left about 9.15am and wound our way through the morning rush hour (such as it is!) back to the A6.

As we approached Nurnburg I decided to go the way I know using the road to Amberg and then S14 to the border. I sms'd again as it seemed that we might be have been ahead of the rest so a break would be okay. We ventured into the centre of Nordberg to have breakfast, and then back out on to the A6 and along towards Amberg. Another sms session revealed that the others had taken the all-motorway route rather than the way we have been before; across country from Amberg to Waidhaus.

By Amberg I needed petrol as the yellow light was on constantly so I pulled into to a small station, bought some water as well as a tank full. I was hoping to have made it across the border where a tank full of 95 unleaded is 57.6p against Germany's 75.8 (at the exchange rate at the time) but I had failed miserably. I sms'd again and then we set off along S14. The road was clogged with trucks and we had to nip in and out of the line to over take them, one here, another there when the opportunity arose.

The border formalities were very swift and the border guard just smiled when I asked for a stamp in my passport. I have one already from my last visit and another might have filled up the blank pink space! A quick stop to adjust ourselves, plus a photo of the CZ speed limits sign to show we were there and then we set off along the new dalnice towards Plzen. I stopped again for coffee and a snack and filled up the bike again, its first taste of Czech unleaded! Another text to the others to say we were at the first services after the border got a reply to say that they had waited for us on the A6 as they guessed we would have to stop where they were! Oops. I felt a bit guilty, but we had kept them posted where we were. They then replied to say they were at the border. I estimated them to be about 60 miles adrift of us and the best part of an hour off. We set off again up the motorway and after no more than 300 yards it had finished! I had thought that as the tarmac and the services were new that they had finally finished the loop to the south of Plzen but was wrong. It was nearly finished... or at least more of it was finished and usable than the year before according to Tony. I stopped again at the last services before Prague, near Beroun, to let them catch up a bit. We filled the tank again to ensure that the next day we didn't have to scrabble about for fuel on the cross-country section.

By a large fluke we arrived in Prague on a road I had never seen before, then came onto one I recognised and then arrived at the river but not where I had expected! Then without any further ado we were by the National Museum and a simple and legal u-turn meant we were at the top of Wenceslas Square. The apartment was on the other side, at no. 48, and we turned at the bottom and headed back up the square towards Vaclav himself. We had booked in and showered by the time we heard the rumble of bikes in the courtyard. We were about to leave a note to say we had gone for a sightseeing session, as this was Claire's first trip to Prague. In the end we didn't need to and we had a chat and the others wanted to get off for a drink and to unpack. Tony's group were, himself on a Bandit 1200, Dave 1 on a GSX1400, Dave 2 on a GSX1400 with stepson Aaron and Dave 3 on a Bandit 1200.

Claire and I had a walk down the square, failed to get served in a hotel bar, as the waiter was more interested talking on his mobile phone and flirting with the young waitress to serve us. Eventually, well after two minutes, we left and walked down towards the Old Town. We had a drink in the Opera bar by the Powder Tower and then took a few photos of it in the sun. Along to the Old Town Square where we had missed the clock do its thing. Then we found ourselves on the Charles Bridge with all the other tourists. I expended another few KB's of memory on some photos of the bridge and river and even a spot of silent video. We then headed back to miss the next display from the clock. An sms telling me I had left my light on the bike had me scampering back to the apartment to find it off and turned off correctly. Now we were back this far we looked for a place to have dinner. We chose the "Cerny Baron" at no. 52. We both had beer and goulash with dumplings (knedliky) and the waitress seemed sceptical that I wanted "zeli" as well. I know what I want and what I like! In the end I got it. I would wait another day before having the traditional Czech meal of pork, cabbage and dumplings. I’d waited this long, six years in fact, since my last visit, so another day wouldn’t matter. Even in a restaurant on Wenceslas Square, food and drink was still cheap when you compare it to the UK. And not too much more than rural Czech. Mileage today, about 280.

Friday 28th May

Are we there yet? Not quite. As the resident Czech “expert” having lived and taught in a school near Brno for a year over ten years ago, I decided to work out an off-motorway route to the rally site at Chudčice, taking in a few places of interest. Leaving Prague after breakfast saw us on the motorway for a few miles before we hooked left on the S4 towards Ceske Budejovice. At Benesov he then turned off onto S112 towards Vlasim. The idea was to go cross country to Pacov, where the FIM is reputed to have been formed 100 years ago this year (it was but they prefer to celebrate with celebrities in Geneva!!), then to Kámen Castle nearby to look over the State Automobile Museum, then down to Telc, a world heritage site.

Things went pretty well as the Czech road signs are usually very good, although we did seem on occasions to go round two sides of a triangle to get from place to place! Pacov was okay and it started to drizzle a little and the day was cold. The opposite of the previous week. The Castle was shut as well for some work so we flew past enjoying the S19 to Pelhrimov and then down the Telc. We did make a wrong turning and end up going slightly north of the intended route, but a map check in time saved nine and a correction meant we got back on track very easily.

We had a late lunch in Telc after parking in the tourist car park by the bus station and new petrol station. To our disgust there were some lazy so and so’s that had ridden their bikes into the square… but how?

It was mid-afternoon, when I led the troupe back to the bikes and we set off along S23 for points east. The road is quite well paved and in places the villages slow you up. In Trebic, one of the shoe capitals of Moravia, there’s a new road that might have been intended as a bypass, but it’s only half the length it needs to be but no doubt it works and will be finished one day. As we got nearer Brno we arrived at Zastávka, where I used to live. On the side of the main road they have built some new flats but this time someone copied the original pre-communist designs rather than use the grey concrete monstrosity plans that the commies piled up in practically every town and village. The approach to Brno is testament to the mass housing of the people during the 40 plus years of communist rule.  

The last few miles from the motorway junction at Ostrovacice to Chudcice were once again on small country lanes. We arrived at the rally-inn, called Pod Horkou, about 4.30pm. I can’t describe the looks I got turning a BMW into the packed parking lot of a Suzuki rally… until the ones that knew me recognised me as I took my helmet off! Someone joked I should have stuck an owners club sticker over the roundels!

At Czech Centre SOC Rally in Chudcice - May 2004

For the SOC's annual mileage competition, known as the "Attendance Trophy" I took another pic of the clocks, purely to show the mileage I had done to get there! Honest Governor. The calc showed a total of 1113 from home to the rally, so that's what I booked in with! And in the spirit of the thing, I only booked Claire in for the mileage from Paris....

The opening dinner that night was from 7.30pm, so we had plenty of time to change into civvies and get ready and even have a kip before a few beers and a meal. Claire and I retired reasonably early, about midnight, as our day on Saturday was going to be a little different to that of the other rallyists.

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