BMW R1200GSA vs Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX

Friday, 30 November 2012

We're nearly ready to roll.


I spent ten minutes outside first thing in the morning making a small modification to the bike. I learnt a lesson from this. "DO NOT BREAKDOWN WHEN IT'S COLD". The sun was shining but it was only three degrees, and after a few minutes my fingers were freezing, and painful to use. I'd hate to be working on a bike for half an hour in these conditions, or worse. Brrrrrrr!

With this in mind we really need to move now. The temperatures are plummeting here this week (below zero at night) and I'm concerned about the dreaded black ice. I've never seen it, I don't want to, and I have absolutely no idea what to do if I encounter it. So I'll just try and avoid it.

After sorting our gear we have decided that it was just too expensive to freight stuff home. We don't have time to try and source a cheaper alternative, so we'll just leave it here in our suitcases and sort it all out when we get back.

With the morning sorted Nina picked us up to take us out for lunch. That's where things started to go wrong. We drove into London to visit a Japanese restaurant that has a great all you can eat deal. Unfortunately the deal was only for dinner, not lunch. No problem, we'll have lunch anyway. Then Nina got a nice surprise. A 60 pound parking ticket. Poo! That put a bit of a downer on the day. 

We made our way back to Hemel and stopped in at a fantastic camping store. Both Suzanne and I found some really lightweight running shoes made by Merrell. They are super comfortable and they squash nearly flat for packing. I'll be happy to leave my old sneakers behind. There's nothing wrong with them except that they take up way too much space in the panniers. We finished off the day by having a walk around old Hemel, then a couple of drinks at The White Hart.

  The White Hart, the only place I've ever been give a scotch and ice in a tall glass.

Tomorrow's plan is to get going around 10 or 11 am and head towards Harwich, dropping in on Brian and Julie in Essex on the way. The ferry is booked for tomorrow night's crossing around 10 pm from Harwich to The Hook of Holland so we have plenty of time.

It will be good to get back on the road.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Yay! We finally made it to the museum. It was worth the wait.


I made an 8 am start on the renovation today. I fired up the steamer and stripped the walls of all the wallpaper. I finished that little chore at about 1.30. The walls now need filling and sanding to be ready for paint. I might get stuck into that tonight.

Nina arrived at about two and we made another attempt at going to the museum. Yes, believe it or not, we finally made it to the Tring Natural History Museum. "The museum started in 1889 as two small cottages built on land which the first Baron Rothschild gave to his son, Lionel Walter. The larger cottage was to house Lionel's insect collection and books, and the smaller one was for a caretaker. The first caretaker at Tring was Albert Minall, Lionel Walter's taxidermist".  
This quote was from a plaque in the museum. (Does this mean that Walter stuffed Lionel? If so where is Lionel now?)

This is a great museum and contains a huge collection of animals and insects. it's well worth a visit if you are ever anywhere near here. Here are a couple of photos out of the bundle that I took while we were there. I forgot my camera so I borrowed Nina's while we were there. It took me a while to get used to it so some of the photos are a bit "different":

 The bird collection was enormous, and included some enormous birds. The penguin on the left was nearly as tall as Nina.

 Interesting comparison.

 More birds...

 ...and more.

 I've just washed my feathers,
and I can't do a thing with them.

and more birds. 


 Do you like my feathers?

 A tiny part of the huge collection.

There were lots of Spideys there.


 That's not a centipede. This is a centipede!

At last I finally got to see a badger. 

One interesting display we watched was a video on how animals are prepared for viewing. The taxidermist used an Edible Mole Rat and showed step by step how the little guy was prepared. It was a little sad, but also very interesting.

 Lovely old Elizabethan style house outside the museum.

Peak hour in Tring.
I still can't get used to the daylight here.
This photo was taken just before 5pm.

Really cool Royal Enfield cafe racer. The factory will build something like this next year. In Perth call JCS Motorcycles for details.

The Anchor, right across the road from the bike shop.
We had to stop in for a drink.

The local drop. It wasn't bad at all. 

Next stop, The Marchmont Arms. Very nice.

The Marchmont Arms is a very nice pub / restaurant.  We'd driven past it quite a few times so tonight we thought we'd better drop in and have a quick one on the way home. Like I said, it's very nice, but it's a little bit quiet. Just as we were leaving we bumped into our friend Bart who has just started work there. I think Bart might liven the place up a little bit.

Then it was home for a beautiful roast dinner prepared by Juliet. The perfect way to finish a great day.

There is so much happening and so much to do we could easily spend another month here, but it's time to move on. We have decided that we are firing up the BM on Friday morning and heading across to Amsterdam.

Anyone in Holland want to catch up for a "coffee and a shmoke?" 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Another old pub, and skiing in Hemel.


We had planned another sightseeing day today. Nina rocked up early afternoon and we headed off to the museum. We were a bit hungry so when we drove past a quaint little old pub called "The Three Horseshoes" in a place called Winkwell, we decided to stop for lunch.

The Three Horseshoes.

The canal alongside the pub. The canal boats would be great for a weeks holiday, just floating around the UK. 

This pub was built in 1535 and was another low ceiling job. Duck down low when you walk in the door or you'll have a headache that's worse than your hangover.

I had a good feed of delicious mushroom soup followed by pork sausages and mash. It was really good and only 10 quid. 

Bangers and mash.

The down side was we experienced British service at it's best. The waiter asked if everything was OK and Nina said "Well, now that you've asked, the potatoes are nearly raw." His reply was, "Oh, I'm sorry. Are they hot enough though?" No offer of a replacement, or cook it a bit longer, just "Are they hot enough?"  What the?

Anyway, it was very relaxing, and we were enjoying the conversation so we stayed for a while. When we decided to leave it was after four, so the museum visit was cancelled again. We'll go tomorrow...if we get there.

Because the museum was a no go, we made our way to the Hemel Indoor Ski Centre.

Yay! I'm in the snow.

It was really cool (-6 degrees, but no pun not intended) so we sat in the cafe, had a drink or two, and watched everyone skiing. It felt like we were at a ski resort on holidays. Fantastic. The only problem is that we all got the ski bug while we were there We are sitting down right now with Nina looking at ski holidays in Austria. It's actually quite cheap to go skiing in Austria for a week from here. Is it cheap enough?

I'll let you know. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Cathedral, couple of pubs, and lots of questions.


The home renovations were put on hold today and we went sightseeing for the day. Nina picked us up and took us out for a bit of a look around Saint Albans.

We started with the Cathedral which is "This is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain" according to the website. It was spectacular. The craftsmanship that has gone into this building is just amazing. The photos below were taken at about 3.30 pm, and it was really dark, so they are a little blurry. My hands aren't as steady as they used to be. Nina and I snuck through a few closed doors and had a look around some smaller back rooms and even found Alban's Shrine.

The thing that touched me was the prayer board. People write their prayers on little cards and pin them to the board. Written on one card, in very young handwriting, was "Please don't let mummy and daddy yell any more". Lump in throat time. 

 Walking up the hill toward the side of the Cathedral.

 The front is imposing.

 The services crack a well deserved mention.

 A small part of the organ.

 A little bit of carving.

 Nina wants to get married in here.
Watch out boys.

Alban's Shrine.

We then drove to the bottom of the hill to Ye Olde Fighting Cocks. This is the oldest pub in the UK and once had Oliver Cromwell stay for a night. It holds the title of oldest pub in the UK in the Guinness Book of Records and is recorded as being an 11th Century building on an 8th Century site. So we sat in front of an open fire and enjoyed a few drinks in a thousand year old pub. I did have to stoop when I walked to the bar, but apart from that it was great.

Outside Ye Olde Fighting Cocks earlier in the day.

Nice and warm.

I'm happy. I've found a pub that is older than I am.

An Olde Fighting Cock at the table.

Then it was back to Nina's for a bit of a feed and onto her local pub, which is only about fifty yards outside her back door. They were having a quiz night so we Aussies formed our own three person team and showed the poms just how much we didn't know. We failed dismally but had a lot of laughs while doing so.

Yes, four out of seven,
and that was one of our better rounds.

All in all a fun day. Thanks Nina. Tomorrow is another touristy day which will include a visit to the local museum.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Sunshine, blue sky, a quick ride, some more renos, and a farewell party. What a busy day.


I woke up this morning and the room was very bright. When I peeped out through the curtains I found a clear blue sky and bright sunshine. It was time to ride.

I'd made an eBay purchase and I was supposed to pick it up yesterday, but I got so tied up in the dining room changeover that I just couldn't manage it. Boy am I glad I didn't go. Today was so much nicer for a ride.

I'd bought another Pacsafe Lidsafe helmet bag. These things are great. They are a waterproof helmet bag with a stainless steel mesh in the liner and a security cable. You can leave your helmet in the bag, and lock it to your bike knowing it will still be there when you get back.

We now have two Lidsafes, and a large and small Pacsafe. The Pacsafes will be used to secure our soft bags to the bike as I don't want to lose another tent, or anything else, off the bike. All we need now is another small Pacsafe and we're right.

It was perfect riding weather. It was nice and cool (about 10 degrees) so the bike ran beautifully. There wasn't much traffic around, and about an hours ride in each direction was just right. It's funny, a year ago, if you suggested we go for a ride in sub ten degree temperatures I would have thought you were mad, but with the right gear it's really enjoyable. I was a bit hesitant on spending so much on gear, but it really is worth every cent to have the right stuff.

When I got to Surrey it very dark and cloudy, and it looked like a big storm was rolling in. I did feel a few spots of rain, but that was all. Then I was back on the bike and enjoyed sunshine all the way home.

Thanks for the helmet bag Sam. It will be put to good use.

Back home it was back into renovation rescue. We had a lot to do and people arriving later in the evening for our "Farewell UK party". Any excuse will do. We did some good work and made it presentable before everyone arrived  We still have a bit more to do, but it's nearly there.

Our little farewell was a lot of fun. We had bought all the ingredients (and I mean all) to make pizzas and everyone had a bit of fun creating their exotic toppings.

A few photos from the night:

Suzanne and Carla practice T and T. 

Carla and Jo practice I don't know what. 

 Mike practices his pick up lines on Magda.

 Caroline and Heather just being nice.

This photo sums up Carla nicely.
Look out Australia, she'll be there next year.

Thank you time:

Firstly a huge thank you to Paul and Juliet for letting us take over your home for so long, and for last night's fun. We'll miss you guys.

Another big thanks to Jo and Jim for making the effort to drive two hours to get here, and bringing Penny. Then driving two hours home again. Thanks guys.

Bart deserves a special mention as well. He worked very hard in the kitchen all night making pizza bases and some pizzas for those who didn't want to do it themselves. Thanks mate.

We wound up around 1am as it was a work day for most the next day. This is the one part of our trip I don't like, saying goodbye to friends we've made along the way. Some we'll see again, others we may not, so it's a bit sad. We have been very lucky to meet so many wonderful people during our trip. Leigh, Aiden, Jason, Shane, and "He who can't be named" at the Isle of Man. The whole mad crew of Dutchmen at the Assen TT. Kira and Lisa in Austria. Zdenka in Slovenia. Mike in Montenegro. Yvan in Switzerland. Sam and Clare in Weston Super mare. And so, so many more.

Looking forward, I guess we have lots of new places to visit and lots more new friends to meet as well. It's all good.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Boy, talk about one extreme to another. Yesterday the Lemur experience, today Renovation Rescue.


As both Paul and Juliet were away today Suzanne and I kicked it up a gear and put in a last ditch effort to clear out Paul's office and reinstate it as a dining room. The plan was to remove everything from the office, pack it into Juliet's car, and drop it off at the warehouse tomorrow. After a spring clean (in winter) we would move the dining room table and chairs back in to the dining room from the lounge (sitting) room. It couldn't be too hard could it?

Easy, we were into it. Well, I was while Suzanne slept in. Obviously a lot of Mojitos make you tired. The room was emptied, apart from a large desk which I'll need to disassemble to get through the door. That was easy. I didn't get anything into Juliet's car though because it didn't stop raining all day long. Apart from that, all was well.

Or so I thought. There were some shelves bolted to one of the walls. OK, let's take them down, and the angle brackets, and the battens holding them. Oh look, the wall is wallpapered, and when you pull the wooden batten off the wall, the wall paper comes away with it. Next step, we'll strip the wallpaper, off all three walls. Then we'll fill the holes left by the shelf supports, sand the walls, sugar soap the lot, and then give the whole room two coats of paint. And we can't paint the walls without painting the ceiling first, can we?

What was initially a small job removing the furniture from a room turned into a Renovation Rescue and decorating exercise. What have we done?

We had planned to leave on Monday and are having a farewell get together here tomorrow night in the dining room. It might now be a bring your own paintbrush party.

Can we strip the wallpaper, fill the holes, sugar soap the walls, and give them two coats of paint before the guests arrive tomorrow night? Of course we can.

Can't we?

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Lemur day. One of the best days so far.


In the words of King Julien XIII "What was that? Oh, it was me".

Oh wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!

What an absolutely, awesome, brilliant, beautiful, fantastic, wonderful day we've just had at Paradise Wildlife Park. Yes, I liked it.

King Julien's song.

WARNING - We took over 300 photos while we were there, so this blog will contain quite a few.

Juliet, Suzanne, and I rolled up at Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne, Hertforshire at about 1pm. We were there for our up close and personal, behind the scenes encounter with the Lemurs. I don't mind admitting I had butterflies because I was so excited. The lovely head keeper Jana met us at reception and introduced us to our guide, primate keeper Steve. Steve took us to the Lemur enclosure and after a quick briefing of dos and don'ts (Most of which I ignored. Sorry Steve) I was handed a bowl of sliced up banana and apple and we were taken inside the Lemur enclosure.

Have a look at that hand. What a thumb,
but it's not opposable.

It was just such an amazing experience being in with these little guys. The females are the leaders and as such they got first pick of the food. Within a minute I had a couple of girls on my back (Yeah, what's new?). When they had finished the boys moved in for a feed. Leftovers I guess. The boys were a lot heavier and when one jumps on you from about fifteen feet away you know it. Thump! Oh, there's Lemur on my shoulder.

OK, enough babbling, here are a "few" photos:

Check out the baby. So cute.
I want one.

Some people are so impatient.
The guy on the right was obviously hungry.

I was very popular.

Is he blowing a raspberry at me?

 Check out the guy in the window.
It's actually a cat door.
A Meer"kat" door. Oh I crack me up.

 Don't you love those eyes.

Suzanne got a small look in.

Juliet made a new friend.

Now this is cool. My version of a mullet.
If I had a third one I could plait them.

Can you say "Movember?"

They were so gentle I was amazed. They would take food out of your hand and you would almost not feel them take it. At one point I put a piece of banana in my mouth and let one of them take it.

Gentle? Yes, very.

After about forty five minutes we left the enclosure and I was in seventh heaven. I was extremely happy and ready to head home completely satisfied. Jana was there and introduced us to Miles, who was a keeper who looked after the reptiles, and, wait for it....the Meerkats. "Would you like to visit the Meerkats?" Jana said.

Are you kidding? That would be YES! So off we went. On the way to the Meerkats we were treated to a small reptile encounter. Firstly we got to hold Biggie the Royal Python. She was beautiful and I'm still intrigued about how snakes move. She slid through our hands so gracefully, while flicking her little forked tongue out feeling the air, it was just magic.

Blurry photo of Biggie the Royal Python.
It was a bit dark inside and I didn't want to use the
flash because she might not have liked it.

Then we had a real treat. Miles got a Tenrec out for us to hold. These little guys are from Madagascar (I really think I need to go there). They are like a small hedgehog, or a tiny echidna with a pretty face, but they climb trees. It was so cool to hold this tiny thing in my hands. While Juliet was holding him, he stretched, then yawned and stretched again. Miles told us we were really lucky to have seen this as most keepers haven't ever seen it. All the spikes on his back spread as he stretched, then folded inward toward his spine so he had an indented line down his back.

Look at that face. He has a haircut like mine,
and it's the same colour.

 Don't you just want one.

I think my nose is a little bit bigger.

I was now on a huge high, and there was more to come. We went into the Meerkat enclosure with a couple of bowls of food. Who would have thought anyone would be so excited about some maggots? Apparently they are the Meerkats favourite. We sat down and the Meerkats were all over us.

 Apparently, if you're a Meerkat, and someone shows up at your house with a bowl of food, it's etiquette to climb into
the bowl and lay in it so no one else can get any. 

 Hand feeding a Meerkat. Oh wow.

 Make mine a double please.

"Hey Juliet . Take a look at this. 
There are two of them in there."

 Will you share with me?

 He was a little shy, but he came around eventually.

 These must be the rare Australian Meerkats.
They are huddled together under a heat lamp.

Is that a Meerkat in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me? This little guy climbed right in and snuggled up. You know that movie "We bought a zoo"? I think I need too.

As much as we didn't want to leave, it was unfortunately time to go. After our epic day we went to see Jana and say thank you. While we were in her office there was a thumping at the door.  I wondered what it was and it turned out to be an epileptic wallaby. The poor little thing was fitting. Jana and the vet were looking after her till she settled down. She was in good hands.

Suzanne, Jana, and a very happy Simon.

We  were so fortunate to have such a wonderful experience at Paradise Wildlife Park. A huge thank you to Jana for arranging this, and to Steve and Miles for looking after us so well. We owe you big time Jana. If you are ever in Perth, Australia you have free accommodation, food, and drinks for as long as you wish. A HUGE thank you from all of us.

As we left I was as happy as a dog with three tails.

The Lemur encounter is 99 GBP plus 49 GBP for an extra person. I reckon that is a real bargain. It's worth at the very least double that. If you have kids that love animals, or a friend that is awkward to buy gifts for, this is THE answer.

Come to think of it, it's only about four weeks til Christmas. This would have to be the best Christmas present in the world.


Paradise Wildlife Park is heavily involved in the breeding of endangered big cats. They are doing a wonderful job and do so with no government support, so the income from this park funds everything. (The cat's breeding park is in a separate location and isn't open to the public, although there are cats at the Paradise park). It costs around 1,800 pounds a day to run Paradise, so every pound they get helps. The upside is that if you do one of these experiences not only will you have one of the best days of your life, you will be making a contribution to the benefit of endangered big cats in the world. Serendipity at it's best. If you're in the UK, go and see them. Oh yes, please say hi to Jana for us.

Or, you could volunteer for one day a fortnight and help out at the park. Or you could buy a membership for a paltry eight GBP a month, and get this, that price is fixed for as long as you pay your membership. So in twenty years time you'll still only pay the same. Bottom line, for two quid a week you can go to the park 364 days a year and enjoy the whole thing.

So my day couldn't get better than that could it?

You want to bet?

The owner of the Paradise Wild Life Park, Peter Sampson, used to race speedway solos. He houses the National Speedway Museum in the grounds of Paradise. Am I in heaven? Animals and bikes in the same place. All we need is a strip club / bar next door and I'm moving in.

Take a look at this:

There was more than a passing nod to
Australian riders at the museum...

...including a big Jason Crump display.

"Jason Philip Crump is an Australian international motorcycle speedway rider. He is a three time Speedway World Champion. a World Cup winner and a former World Under-21 Champion" Wikipedia.

I've never ridden a speedway solo. 
Apparently they don't work unless you go fast, 
so that counts me out I guess.

 This is a "small" selection of
Simon Wigg's trophy collection...

...and a "few" of his medals.
I feel so inadequate.

Simon was the most successful British Grasstrack and Longtrack rider ever. He lost his battle with a brain tumour at a young forty years of age in the year 2000. It was a poignant reminder that even though I'd just enjoyed one of the best days ever, I still have to make the most of the limited time I have on this planet. We're here for a good time people, not for a long time. Enjoy.

We left Paradise (a perfectly apt name) just after four o'clock and as we were in the car Juliet said "Quick, Simon, there are Reindeer in the car park".  We leaped out of the car to watch a coupe of Reindeer being loaded into a trailer for a Christmas  function in town. It was right on sun set, and the deer silhouetted against they sky was magic. A perfect end to the day.

Sorry this is a really blurry photo. I just jumped out of the car and hit the shutter release a few times before they were loaded into the trailer for their trip into town.

Simon is a very happy boy today.