Rachel Ratcliffe, and husband Roy, recently took a jaunt into Europe. Here’s their story.
La Dyna Vita
There is something about Italy. Is it the burning sunshine? The rolling hills sown with vineyards and olive groves? The breathtakingly precipitous shorelines? Or the succulently simple food? It is altogether la dolce vita, it translates to the sweet life.
Add riding a Harley to the mix and you get something even better, La Dyna Vita. As a Lady of Harley, I ride a Harley–Davidson Dyna Wide Glide. This became the theme of our journey through nine European countries in the summer of 2016.
Having a relatively big country and small population makes France a great place to ride. The roadways are fast and well–maintained. You can cover many miles in a short time.
After Holland and Belgium, we stayed overnight at the city of Reims in the champagne region of France. We had a debate about how to pronounce that. Is it like ream or rem? Is the last final s silent or not? Turns out we were both wrong. The locals say sometime like Rhems.
We got to sample some of the local champers at a tapas bar called Joseph just in front of the city’s magnificent cathedral. My hubby ordered some snails, or should I say escargot, to go with it. The French really know how to cook good food: simple, fresh and mouth-wateringly good. It made me realise that we eat and drink rubbish most of the time. Vive la France!
Even after just a couple of days riding in the sun, my hands had started turning brown but only underneath the gaps in my fingerless riding gloves: brown finger tips, brown knuckles. Even my husband’s lips burnt in the glorious sun. They were swollen by the time we arrived at the Rhone Alps later the following day. He looked like I’d punched him in the mouth. I hadn’t, honestly.
We crossed the western Alps from France, via Switzerland, to Italy with some trepidation. On previous journeys we had all–but–kissed the tarmac after leaving Italy’s roads behind. Italians were mad drivers: poor lane discipline, lack of peripheral awareness, driving too fast for conditions. Not this time however. Had we become Italian in our style of riding? Either more mad, or just more defensive. We worked together as a team using our helmet communicators. ‘Crotch rocket, six o’clock‘, was the warning for a racing bike (typically a Ducati) approaching very quickly from behind us. We used many such signals.
The mountain passes proved challenging but very enjoyable. The road switched back and forth as it climbed the slopes.
The Wide Glide is a big motorcycle for a girl. Its long wide forks are heavy at lower speeds. The large narrow front wheel finds the bumps and grooves on rough roads. I call it the sexy bitch: a beautiful bike with nice lines, but takes a bit of practice to handle confidently in such an environment. Decelerating into a 180–degree switchback, I feel the engine for the best gear while looking into and around the tight bend. The Glide swings around the apex and I open the throttle again. Exciting and nerve–wracking at the same time. Happily, I’m not afraid of heights.
We descended into Italy down the Aosta valley. From there we rode south towards Genoa and then followed the rugged west coastline along the Cinque Terre, Italy’s Riviera.
Hotter and hotter. We rode in Kevlar jeans, jackets and waistcoats with our Geordie HOG colours. But we started to wonder what to shed for comfort, yet retain some safety. My other half found the heat harder to bear. He was riding a Softail Slim S. It has a larger motor and the seat rests closer to the cylinder heads. He was riding with a heated seat. Heat from below, heat from above. My poor boy was starting to suffer from nappy rash. He said that he was beginning to understand why babies cry. So I bought him a bottle of talcum powder. Then he said he know understood why babies coo. Even so, we both started to remove gear to keep cooler: first our jackets, and later wore shorts and sun cream.
Bees and wasps kept hitting hubby. Our track crossed Italy west–to–east towards Rimini on the east coast, avoiding the autostrada motorway. The byways weaved between the bounteous fields, groves and gardens of Tuscany and Emilia–Romagna, a centre of Italian food production. He rode up front without a windshield. He prefers it that way. Bees and wasps kept hitting him, or rather, he kept hitting bees and wasps. The insects belonged in Italy after all, we were just passing through. After the fifth sting, the pain didn’t seem to bother him. I still gave him the necessary sympathy. Poor hubby.
We passed a lazy week sunbathing in Rimini, drinking Prosecco, enjoying Italian cuisine. We set out northwards, past Venice and up into the spectacular Italian Dolomite Mountains. We crossed the Austrian border at the Brenner Pass, following the ancient Roman trans-Alpine road towards Innsbruck, Austria.
Riding the Dolomites reminded us of the movie Avatar and the imaginary floating Hallelujah Mountains of Pandora. Our mountains weren’t floating but they made you want to shout Hallelujah.
Spectacular scenery makes you appreciate life. We take too much for granted, or take too little time to stop and stare at the beauty around us. Our rumbling V–twins added some sweet music to the scene.
At Innsbruck I had booked an overnight camp at lake Natterer See. They offer hobbit holes, barrels crafted into miniature apartments comprising one double bunk and a tiny living room. We slept like hobbits, until the thunderstorm stuck. Sheets of rain, thunder and lightning flashed across the mountain peaks. We could only laugh and drink wine in the dark.
From Innsbruck we rode through Lichtenstein and then to Germany at lake Constance. It was a surprise to see a large airship on the horizon. Aren’t they a thing of the past? Apparently not. Friedrichshalfen by the lakeside is home to the Zeppelin museum. Count Zeppelin started out building airships around Lake Constance.
Then there was more rain. Southern Germany likes rain. It must be the Alps. My boots started to leak. A pair of plastic bags served as waterproof socks. From Lake Constance to Mainz and Koblenz we were following the mighty Rhine.
Three thousand, two hundred miles later we arrived back home in Northumberland. Glad to be home, but glad of the adventure. Travelling expands the mind, opens the heart. Travel should be mandatory for everyone. We had seen so many wonderful places, met so many wonderful people. One road, two Harleys. That’s why we ride.
Rachel Ratcliffe, Lady of Harley