October 31, 2011

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away

The weather is crappy, it rains, clouds hanging low, the world has faded to grey. I do (long overdue) filing. I am reasonably bored. While flicking through the papers in the binder I came across an old invoice dated April 27, 1992.

It was the final bill from the driving school where I took my riding lessons. Motorcycle riding lessons are mandatory to obtain a drivers license in Germany, and don't come cheap. Total cost added up to 1,160.77 Deutschmarks, or in Newspeak 593.49 EUR (832.07 CAD).

It was a one-on-one training, just me and the instructor. My first lessons started out in the parking lot,  understanding basic functions of the motorcycle, learning to work the clutch, stop and go and slow straight riding.

There was one hour exclusively dedicated to stop and go uphills, left, right turns, and u-turns, and I remember that my clutch hand was sore from constant gear shifting to first and second and back.
Also, there were what felt like never ending hours of riding cone slaloms, circles and figure eights, smooth braking and accelerating.

After obtaining the basic skill set I was released into the real world of traffic, riding in front of the instructor who was giving directions over such a bad communication system, that most of his instructions became pure guess work and monitoring his indicator lights in my mirrors became a routine.

I got exposed to riding under different weather conditions (it rained often and a lot, and snowed once), as well as different light conditions from bright shiny daylight to pitch black night.

There was riding in heavy rush-hour traffic in the city as well as relaxed twisting and turning overland. Shooting down the autobahn in high speed and slow meandering along single lanes. All in all about 14 hours of intense mental and practical training, building up riding routines and muscle memory while cursing the instructor, the weather and the heavy clutch pull of the friggin' bike.

My training wheels: Kawasaki Eliminator ZL400.
Putting the invoice back in the binder I can't help but smile at myself upon this memory: I have never ridden a Kawasaki ever again since...

October 26, 2011

Vespa Melancholie

VESPA GERMANY from STYLE43 on Vimeo.

Filmed in Cologne, Germany, my old battlegrounds.

October 24, 2011

Water rattling by

I had watched the Rugby finals (Congrats to the Kiwis, the All Blacks scraped through...), and got to bed by 3AM, hence had a bit of a late start into the morning.
The world was still covered in a white blanket west-coast style, a.k.a. fog but by the time I had my cup of tea and was ready for the road the mist was almost gone, and a very welcome face appeared in the sky: Good morning Sunshine, the Earth says hello!
After pondering a bit which bike to take (decisions, decisions...) I thought it was nice to take out Paolo for a change, because as my working horse, he didn't get much sight-seeing lately, and not much fair weather riding either.
It was colder than expected, only 6C (43F) but my Olympia jacket and the Joe Rocket pants did well.
I was on my way to Minnekhada Regional Park to go for a quick walk around in the bogs, when I spotted some splashing in a nearby otherwise unassuming creek. As it also seemed a good photo op I stopped, and watched some of Mother Nature's mysteries happen right in front of me.
The water was boiling with salmon struggling to swim up the shallow waters, thrashing their way upstream to their spawning grounds.
There was a smell of decay in the air from the fish that only made it this far. I wonder how they find their way back. Do they follow a special homing beacon? During their cumbersome journey swimming against the water current, the fish encounter all kind of predators and have to overcome shallow waters, rocks, and waterfalls. They end up at their spawning grounds battered and bruised, only to propagate and die. And all this on an empty stomach. Where is the fun in that?

Moving on to Minnekhada the road narrows to a single lane. It is always fun to watch two oncoming cagers struggling to pass each other. Two motorcycles wouldn't even have to slow down for this ;-)
The word Minnekhada derives from the Sioux word for 'rattling waters', a purling and babbling noise present in the area from nearby creeks, rivers and streams.
 View from my cockpit.
Paolo seemed to enjoy the outing as much as I did, and the Vespa chugged along effortlessly. Temperatures became more bearable now as the thermometer hit the low teens (>51F).
I left the bike (can you spot it in the picture below?) behind, and hiked a few hundred meters into the park. There were bear warning signs around (with all the salmon at paw's reach, who's to blame them).
The view opened up to overlooking the marshlands. It was perfectly calm and I could listen to the rustling sound of the wind in the tree tops. What a great morning.

October 21, 2011

Mom, where do Vespas come from?

What you've always wanted to know but never dared to ask.

How It's Made from Vespa USA on Vimeo.

October 20, 2011

The Dark Side

Now with days getting shorter there is no avoidance of riding after nightfall. If you think that two-wheelers are getting overlooked in bright shiny daylight... then add some rain or fog to the mix (something happening quite regularly in this vicinity), and you will be completely invisible to others.

In riding school they told us not to out-ride our head-light. With that in mind I usually ride slower after dark, I still keep up with the traffic flow but limit my maneuvers, I reduce overtaking other vehicles, and wear my hi-viz gear all the time.

My commute is mostly on well-lit city streets, so there is still a good chance to notice and avoid hitting potholes, jaywalking pedestrians in dark clothing, stray dogs or other road hazards. Yet I don't feel as comfortable.

I still ride, but I don't like a riding in the dark, so when I expect to work late, I chose to rather commute by car.

October 17, 2011

Before the wet stuff cometh

As the spousal unit and I had to work during the Canadian Thanksgiving, we took Friday off in lieu and spent a long relaxing weekend in Kelowna, in the Okanagan Valley, South Central British Columbia. Although fairly close to home we hadn't been here in years.

We drove the slow route along Crowsnest Highway, and enjoyed the sunshine, with temperatures in the high teens (>60F) we wouldn't have to worry about the 'carry chains beyond this point' signs just yet.
Hope Slide, the largest ever recorded landslide in Canada
 Somewhere past Princeton
 Changing colours
 Thompson-Okanagan Valley

We had booked ourselves a roomy suite in a nice waterfront resort overlooking the Okanagan Lake. At the Bonfire restaurant we enjoyed salad and lasagne with a great local wine (a Quails' Gate Chasselas). Sorry, no food porn, too hungry...
A room with a view: Sunrise at the lake

The Okanagan is famous for its orchards and vineyards, and offers year round outdoor activities. Lazy as we are we didn't come for the latter, but we surely did get our taste of various wines, and good food.
 Excellent breakfast at the Bohemian Cafe
The chef's special: Cinnamon Crepes filled with pineapple and organic maple syrup yogurt. fresh fuit, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and a London Fog (breakfast tea with foamed milk).
 Kettle River
We strolled around in the Kettle River Provincial Park, following an old railway track which was converted to a hiking/cycling path.
 Nobody around to do it for us, so we had to do it ourselves...
Fall colours galore. Mostly yellowish, still... it makes a nice contrast against the blue skies.
At one of the countless fruit stands in the area we discovered pumpkins and squash in various sizes, shapes and colours, and multi-coloured corn.

The culinary highlight of our little sojourn was the Indian Nepalese Restaurant Everest in West Kelowna, located in a low-key building, equipped with sparse interior. The food however was delicious.
I picked a Vegetarian three-piece-dinner with Mutter Paneer, Aloo Gobi and Eggplant Bharta, while hubby went with butter chicken, lamb curry and chicken tandoori.

Sunday morning we checked out at 8AM and made it home by lunch-time. Note to self: We need to do this more often while the weather plays along.

October 16, 2011

California's Wine Country

Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley is not Tuscany or the Provence, and doesn't thrive to be, but it is certainly a worthy alternative for those who crave some Southern European flair every once in a while. Bonus, it is fairly close to our home, and in the same time zone.
There was an abundance of country lanes connecting the wineries (some big names and many small unknown to us), and we had to admit: This is definitely Vespa territory.
With temperatures in the twenties (70F) we rolled down the windows, wishing we had at least a convertible.
It was harvest time, and big trucks were racing between the vineyards and factory. We stayed out of their way by continuing to use the tiniest roads we could find on the map, and were rewarded with ever so beautiful vistas.
The grapes are ripe, and waiting to be harvested. By the way, they tasted delicious.
Especially this stretch of road with the old moss covered stone wall reminded us of Southern France. There was no sound except for the chirp of the crickets.
Needless to say that this won't be our last visit. There are so many little roads to explore (and wines to taste) that one could easily spend a week in the area to discover (or to get drunk...).
Speaking of... (discovering!). We visited Chateau Montelena, a winery that had a story to tell which was worth making a movie of. Actually, the movie does already exist: Bottle Shock with Alan Rickman.
The tale is said to be based on a true story where a Californian wine for the first time won a blind tasting contest in Paris back in the 70's when French wines were regarded as the world's best wines, and Europe would turn up their nose at American products. California wines earned a lot more attention since, and today many regarded and excellent wines are being produced in the area.
We watched harvesters sorting out the grapes. They didn't notice us and were busy with what they were doing.
Where is the romantic flair of wine cellars? Not oak but metal seems to determine the storage facility for wines.
I rather prefer the barrels. They look so much more picturesque than metal bins.

Alas, this is the last entry of our journey. The touristic part is over, but we had the pleasure to stay another two nights with our friends Guido and Andrea at their house, to catch up, enjoy their garden, admire their ever growing motorcycle fleet and relax (for a change).

Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.