We spent the first night in Reims, had the first of many delicious meals and returned to our bikes the next morning in high spirits. And Howard's bike flat refused to start.
I stayed with him as moral support and translator while the rest pushed on for Freiburg. European breakdown cover sorted out breakdown assistance and transport to a garage, but the problem couldn't be fixed today and the next day was a bank holiday in France.
So Howard was given a hire car and I followed him down the motorway to Germany. At 10PM we arrived at our hotel to receive a hero's welcome from the rest of the group, who were kindly keeping the kitchen and bar open for us in a nearby Italian restaurant.
We spent the next day bimbling in the Black Forest; I elected to travel in our new 'support vehicle', which turned out to be a wise decision as it poured with rain. Lunch was very leisurely because the bike group were in no hurry to remount, and I enjoyed my authentic Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte very much indeed.
In the afternoon I spotted a sign that read 'Schnapsmuseum' and insisted on a detour. It turned out to be one of those small-town museums consisting of stuff the locals have found in their lofts, and as well as distilling equipment and ancient ice-skates the basement proved to contain a collection of antique motorcycles.
Of course the whole museum was a ruse to direct tourists into the attached spirit and liqueur shop, but it would have been rude to refuse.
We dined at the Italian again, this time joined by a skinny black cat who seemed very at home despite our waiter swearing that it was nothing to do with the restaurant. I slipped it cheese from my gnocchi gratinati until it was comatose enough to be scooped into my lap, where it lay purring and exposing its nether regions all through the coffee and grappa.
The next morning the Nexus, which had been progressively requiring more and more attempts before it would start, wouldn't start at all and it was my turn to stay behind and go through the rigmarole of breakdown lorry and garage.
The German mechanic explained that tracing the fault, which he thought was in the wiring, would take a long time and require all the bodywork coming off, and I'd be best off getting my breakdown people to ship it home. He said that the first generation Nexuses were badly put together, and had I perhaps had other electrical problems?
After I'd taken five minutes to snivel quietly in a corner I made the necessary arrangements, and Howard and I once again made our way to the next destination - Ernst, in the Mosel Valley - six hours behind everyone else.
I think the next day was the most pleasurable for all of us. The sun shone and we split into pairs and singles to do our own thing - which for the car-bound party consisted of a tour of the castle at Cochem and a ride up the mountain on the chairlift.
Then, around 5PM, we all (bar Mick and Julie, who continued sightseeing) met up at the Nürburgring.
This is a motor race circuit which opens to the public between races, so that anyone can purchase a ticket and have a go. It's notoriously dangerous and specifically excluded from many insurance policies (look for a clause about 'one-way toll roads'), but on this weekday evening early in the season there weren't too many takers and thankfully it wasn't the chaotic scene I had envisaged.
Looking at all the excited riders and drivers in the car park, and watching the rest of our group disappear onto the track to return ten minutes later wearing huge grins, I suddenly felt very bikeless and wistful and envious. cybersofa very kindly took me round on his pillion so I did experience the circuit, but it wasn't quite the same as doing it on your own machine. At least Roger was there to fly the maxi-scooter flag, and emerged from the circuit on his Silver Wing looking as unruffled as ever.
We learned that there was a possibility of Howard's bike getting fixed, so he and I deviated from the advertised schedule of a night in Bruges before the Chunnel home and returned to Reims, which fortunately has a large enough selection of hotels and restaurants to repay a second night's stay. On the way we checked out the spookily atmospheric abandoned racetrack of Reims-Gueux, where old buildings and advertising signs are lovingly restored by a Friends' association (thanks to shep_shepherd for telling me about this one!).
The bike was ready in the nick of time, so we picked it up and Howard kindly gave me a pillion ride home. This meant riding two up with two people's luggage on what is really a sports bike, in winds so high they made the national news, which was an adventure in itself. My own bike is presumably still in Germany, being recovered under the aegis of Eurotunnel's breakdown cover; I can't say I care particularly where it is at this precise moment, though I suppose I'll forgive it as usual.
Although it wasn't quite the holiday I anticipated, I had a wonderful time. Another well-organised and successful trip by cybersofa, and the possibility of Italy next year was mentioned by some parties. A few highlights:
- Being offered a towel in a motorway service station by a life-size standee of Humphrey Bogart
- Finding ourselves in a town named Wolf and stopping for coffee; asking the landlord how the town got its name and almost understanding his answer
- Dealing with breakdowns in two languages and all the French folk decorously assuming that I was Howard's Mrs
- The bilingual sign that translated 'Pique nique' as 'Spade screws' rather than the more obvious 'Picnic area'
- The chairlift (Sesselbahn) at Cochem
But I didn't take the Nexus round the Nürburgring and I didn't really do the Black Forest roads, which were the main points of the holiday as far as I was concerned. Achtung, Deutschland: I'll be back...