September 30, 2013

For those who are wondering...

... why we haven't updated on this blog much. Just klick over HERE or on the picture below, and you'll find out what we were up to lately.
Since Roland's Vespa Bella, a GTS250, is street-legal and back on the road we have seized every spare moment to venture off scootering.

September 29, 2013

A Vespa Group Ride - featuring French Pizza and German Cake

A small group of Vespa riders came together on a chilly and murky Sunday morning in a tiny no name border town (the border being French...). We had a bit of a drive (roughly 100km) but it was well worth it and we warmed up quickly thanks to good coffee, tea and new friendship.
The original plan, to explore the Alsace region was cut short due to adverse weather conditions, hence the team spontaneously slammed together a new tour.
First stop was at Fort Louis on the French side, close to the Rhine. The 17th century had seen continuous struggle between France and German, hence king Louis XIV ordered to build a square shaped fortress for defense. It was besieged several times, and today little more than some walls exist.
It never ceases to amaze me how extraordinarily bloody and gruesome the past between the two neighbouring countries France and Germany was. I am glad that these days are long over.
Temperatures were nasty at the river Rhine and the cold wind gusts didn't help. We all developed a mutual desire for a warm place and hot food.
Although green is still the prevalent colour of the trees, fall has found a way to show that its time is nigh: in today's weather pattern but also in reddish and yellowish leaves.
Our new friends recommended to try Flammkuchen (tarte flambée, flame pie), an Alsatian specialty traditionally baked in a wood fire stove, which is a very thin layer of rolled out dough similar to an Italian pizza crust, only it's square and way thinner. This is how we ended up at Auberge Du Rhin in Seltz.
My veggie version was topped with onions, veggies and mushrooms, while the original Flammkuchen included lardon and sour cream. It was delicious!
Our lunch gave us the necessary strength for the next stage of our little outing: taking the ferry across river Rhine to get to the German side. 
Naturally we were assigned a prime spot on the boat, and thanks to French socialism the trip across the river was free of charge. In France ferries are considered part of the road network, and hence, paid for by the government (or the tax payer if your like).
Finally we encountered some weather improvement. There were even hints of blue skies while we crossed the Rhine.
 Five Vespas eager to get to the other side.
Our next cultural infusion happened in Rastatt at Castle Favorite, a Baroque summer residence built in the 18th century.
The interior obviously shows a variety of 18th century craftsmanship and hosts the world's largest collection of Asian and European porcelain. But the museum was closed to the public.
We promenaded through the gardens and admired the details of the exterior, which was meticulously decorated with rhine stones.
Once again the crew was craving for something edible. You really gotta like those people because we had a desire for cake and coffee, too.
Again we were in for a treat. The castle cafe had a fantastic selection of pies and cakes, and while I stuck to a soy milk infused double espresso (my energy levels were getting low), Roland was in need for something with more substance: A raspberry mousse au chocolate cake. He was in culinary heaven!
And what had started as a grey and nippy morning ended up being a very nice combination of riding, historic sightseeing and culinary experience. Today we rode a total of 250km, thereof four hours of riding time, and another four hours, chatting, eating and walking around. It was well balanced, I'd say, and for sure won't be our last trip with this likeminded Vespa circle.

For more pics visit the German Vespa Forum, mehr Bilder gibt's im Vespa-Forum-Fred: KLICK

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Französische Pizza und Deutsche Torte
Mann, war das ein useliges Wetter am Sonntag. Trotzdem machten wir uns auf den Weg nach Norden, um uns mit einer kleinen Vespa-Truppe zu treffen, die in der Elsässer / Pfälzer Gegend eine Tour organisiert hatten. Treffpunkt war das No Name in Berg, einem kleinen Grenzdorf mit Frankreich in Spuckweite. Dort konnten wir uns nicht nur an den Getränken erwärmen, sondern auch an den Gesprächen mit unseren neu gewonnenen Freunden. Das Wetter auf der geplanten Route versprach nichts Gutes, und so wurde spontan umgeplant. Die "Kollegen" kannten sich aus und boten uns einen gelungenen Mix aus Spazieren(fahren), historischen Stätten und regionalen Leckereien. 
Zunächst ging es nach Fort Louis zu den gleichnamigen Festungsruinen, danach zum Rhein, aber da war es zugig und kalt, so dass das Bedürfnis nach etwas Heissem zwangsläufig aufkam. Diese bekamen wir dann in Form des Flammkuchens (für mich die vegetarische Variante), einer elsässischen Spezialität, die wir noch nicht kannten. Es war köstlich. So gestärkt überquerten wir bei Seltz den Rhein mit einer kostenfreien Fähre.
Danach fuhren wir durch Rastatt zum Schloss Favourite, einem barocken Kleinod und ehemaligem Jagd- und Sommerschloss. Wir lustwandelten im Garten, genossen die Sonne, die sich inzwischen doch einmal blicken ließ, und entschieden, dass es Zeit für Kaffee und Kuchen sei. Auf der Terrasse im Schloss-Cafe kamen wir dann bestens auf unsere Kosten. 
Danach trennten sich unsere Weg leider wieder in alle Himmelsrichtungen. Diese Kombination von Roller fahren, Kultur und Kulinarischem war ganz in unserem Sinne, und so hoffen wir, dass wir die Truppe in der kommenden Saison mal öfters treffen werden.

September 27, 2013

Every Evening of this Week...

... we got in some riding time. The spousal unit finished off work early enough to be able to spend the remaining two hours of daylight with me on the Vespas, and to get to know the area a bit better.
With the change of season kicking in, and the days getting shorter this window of opportunity will be over in a few weeks, and we will soon be confined to weekend trips.
But thanks to The-Powers-That-Be there will be an important holiday (unity day) coming up next Thursday, and we hope that the weather will play along nicely for us to get in a bit more weekday saddle time.
***

Jeden Abend dieser Woche...
... waren der Gatte und ich auf unseren Vespen unterwegs. Roland konnte früh genug Feierabend machen, so dass uns immer noch zwei schöne Stunden Tageslicht blieben, und so konnte er unsere Umgebung mal etwas näher kennen lernen. Leider wird sich dieses Zeitfenster bald schließen, denn die Tage werden kürzer und die Arbeitstage bestimmt länger... Aber demnächst gibt es ja mit dem Tag der Deutschen Einheit wieder einen freien Tag und im Oktober hoffen wir auch noch auf einige schöne Wochenenden.

September 26, 2013

Sportster Update... kind of...

Back in summer 2012 when there were no thoughts about leaving Canada, I got in contact with a custom shop in the lower mainland in order to get my Sportster propped up a bit more Scrambler-style or Street-Tracker-like. Most upgrades were straight bolt-on parts, there was some custom painting involved and a couple of custom designed accessories which I couldn't find as an OEM or aftermarket part. All in all it came down to an amount I was willing to save up to get the bike the way I wanted. Then the move happened and nothing was done...
Fast forward to August 2013 when my Sporty arrived safe and sound in a shipping container. But then it took two more weeks for the customs clearance certificate to arrive. Meanwhile I started checking out potential motorcycle shops to help me with the TÜV approval. A dealership was found, alas their TÜV representative seems to be a hardliner who doesn't accept any of the paperwork I had presented. 

Not satisfied with the outcome I took it up to talk to the TÜV myself to get a better picture on the situation, as I suspected that it might be one specific guy and not the organization as such that is opposed to accepting my documentation as is.

A very friendly and competent gentleman from TÜV gave me a ring a few hours after I had put in my request and confirmed that the documentation is o.k. as long as originals (which I have) and a data sheet for the motorcycle are provided. He also referred me to a guy in the licensing office, who I had a chat with after. He was also happy with the documentation and told me that they need to do a background check on the VIN, in case the bike was stolen. Once vehicle clearance has been provided, I will get the go ahead to have the necessary modifications done for the TÜV approval. Hopefully by early next week I will know more.

And bonus, I got a recommendation from the office for a local custom shop (30 odd klicks away) which can likely help me through the ordeal of getting Rover street-legal. I talked to the owner of this shop, and he was quite confident to get it done, as he had been involved in importing American iron many times before. Now finally I can see some light at the end of the tunnel.

***

Noch keine Neuigkeiten zum Thema Sportster Zulassung
Im Sommer 2012 hatte ich mir noch keine Gedanken über einen Rückzug nach Deutschland gemacht und besprach mit einer Harley Custom Werkstatt die Umrüstung meiner Sportster im Street-Tracker oder Scrambler Stil. Die erforderliche Summe wurde gespart und zum Winter hin sollten diese (meistens) Anschraubteile dann besorgt und angebaut werden. Mit dem Umzug hatte sich diese Sache dann erst einmal erledigt. Mitte August 2013 kam nun unser Umzugsgut an und ich hatte meine Sporty wieder. Da saß sie nun in der Ecke der Garage, denn es vergingen noch weitere zwei Wochen bis ich die Zollpapiere endlich hatte. 
Inzwischen war eine Werkstatt gefunden, die nicht nur die erforderlichen TÜV relevanten Umbauten erledigen konnte, sondern mir auch noch einige meiner lang gehegten Zusatzwünsche erfüllen sollte. Die technische Seite war offensichtlich kein Problem und ich habe bereits ein entsprechendes Angebot erhalten. Nur was nützt das, wenn der TÜV Mann meine Dokumente nicht anerkennt? Es werden Papiere gefordert, die so in Kanada und schon gar nicht in der Provinz British Columbia existieren. 
Also habe ich mich gestern mal mit einer anderen Zweigstelle in Verbindung gesetzt, um der Sache auf den Grund zu gehen und wurde sehr freundlich beraten. Meine Papier wurden überprüft und für gültig befunden. Jetzt muss noch über die Polizei ein Nachforschungsantrag gestellt werden, für den Fall dass das Fahrzeug gestohlen sein sollte. Auch hat man mir seitens der Behörde einen lokalen Mechaniker empfohlen, der sich auf amerikanische Maschinen spezialisiert hat. Ein erstes Gespräch hat statt gefunden und stimmt mich äußerst positiv, dass ich meine Sporty doch noch auf die Straße bekommen werde.

September 25, 2013

I must go to where the River flows

I was born in northern Germany, in a small town somewhere between Hamburg and the Danish border. This geographic heritage makes me a Fischkopp (fish head) as my fellow countrymen would put it. Naturally I became a water aficionado long before I became a motorcycle fan.
The strange attraction to all things water related remained solid all my life. Now, my dilemma is that I am totally land-locked. I couldn't be further away from the open water.
Hence, with the closest ocean a day trip away I have to find other alternatives to get my 'water fix'. Just recently I had the opportunity to visit Lake Nagold and the Schwarzenbach reservoir, but this time I was drawn to the river Rhine.
The lower Rhine region or Bas-Rhin as the French say, is a flat and very fertile region and for miles I rode through an a-maize-ing area.
I traveled small paved roads (lesson learned!), and finally found myself close to the river but not finding any rideable access to it. I could have easily maneuvered around the gate but I am German, so it's not in my blood. A sign explained that motorized vehicles are not allowed to go further to protect the birdlife and the environment. Fair enough!
So, I had Alonzo wait behind the barrier while I took a hike in the marshland. The bog and surrounding dykes are supposed to prevent the flooding of the hinterland in case the river carries high water levels.
Continuing my journey I crossed the Rhine and entered France, then I followed the route south to find another river crossing that would take me back east again.
Aside from the traffic signs you wouldn't notice much that you just changed the country. And due to the colourful history most folks in the Alsace region still speak German.
I spent my lunch break sitting on a bench overlooking the water, and watched the clouds go by. That's the way I like it.
Young swans were competing to get mom's attention.
Soon it was time to return to home base, and I programmed my TomTom to the fastest route (without having to use the highway, please).
Well, it's good to know yet another beautiful place where I can satisfy my craving for water. And bonus, thanks to change of season this little jaunt was almost bug-free.
With another three hour round-trip and an additional 120km on the clock my scooter is now beyond the 3,000km mark.
 Life is good!

***

Zum Fluss. Zum Wasser.

Ich bin ein Nordlicht, oder besser ein Fischkopp, geboren irgendwo zwischen Hamburg und der dänischen Grenze. Auch wenn ich nicht viele Lebensjahre im Norden Deutschlands verbracht habe, zieht es mich immer wie magisch ans Wasser. Nur, dass ich hier im Schwarzwald nicht weiter davon weg sein könnte. Also suche ich mir immer mal wieder 'Ersatz', so wie neulich, als ich an der Nagold-und an der Schwarzenbach-Talsperre war. 
Diesmal sollte es nun an den Rhein gehen. Auf kleinsten (geteerten!) Straßen geht es gen Westen, durch Wiesen und Maisfelder bis ich an einen Hochwasserdamm komme. Dahinter Marschland, aber kein Zugang zum Rhein. Ich mache einen kleinen Spaziergang und wechsele dann auf die französische Seite. In südlicher Richtung dümpele ich dann durch Dörfer, die noch deutsche Namen tragen. Wären nicht die Straßenschilder und die Bureaux du Tabac, würde man nicht merken, dass man gerade neben dem Fluss auch Landesgrenzen überquert hat.
Bevor ich mich wieder nach Osten aufmache genieße ich noch eine spätsommerliche Mittagspause mit Blick auf's Wasser. Ich höre dem Plätschern der Wellen zu und beobachte junge Schwäne beim Spielen, dann geht es weiter über Lahr nach Hause. Insgesamt war ich wieder drei Stunden unterwegs und habe dabei 120km abgespult. Inzwischen habe ich bei Alonzo die Dreitausender-Marke geknackt.

September 23, 2013

Germany votes for Mutti

61.8 million voters, 34 parties, and a total of 75 Million Euro campain budget (for all parties that is). Germans have been called to cast the ballot for the federal election.
In Germany elections always take place on Sundays, between 8 AM and 6 PM, so most people will find the time to vote. For a federal election you actually have two votes, one for electing a local candidate directly, and a second one for the allocation of seats in the Bundestag in Berlin.

Usually the campaigns tend to be a bit boring, as there are not many show elements involved. This time there was one "TV-Duell" between Angela Merkel and her contender Peer Steinbrück plus there were quite a few of roundtable discussions with top politicians of the leading parties CDU/CSU, SPD, Green Party, "The Lefties" and FDP. The voter had lots of opportunities for an informed decision.

As usually no party in Germany gets a majority it is standard that there are coalitions between two or more parties to reach a joint majority. Although it was obvious for months that "Mutti" (Mommy) Angela Merkel would continue her leadership for another four years the big question was whether she could continue working with the liberal party FDP, because this junior partner was ailing significantly in the last few years.

And indeed, when the first prognosis was presented at 6PM it was clear that the FDP would not reach the necessary 5% of votes to be allowed into the Bundestag. A second party (AfD) got close to 5%, but did not make it either, and there were a few other parties with a total of 6% that did not even get close to that threshold. So all in all almost 16% of the votes did not have any impact on the future seating in the federal parliament which was unheard of before in Germany! This situation had the strange effect that the CDU/CSU - although "only" at 42% of the votes - was close to reaching the majority.

In the end they did not make it though, and now there will be a very difficult phase of negotiations between Merkel and the SPD (or the Green party). In theory there could be a coalition of SPD, Lefties and Green Party, but this seems highly unlikely. If no majority can be found within the next months it could happen that there might be another election. The next weeks will be very interesting!

September 22, 2013

Tag you're it!

Today we put Bella to the test, and ventured out to solve a picture puzzle called Vespa-Tag posted on the German Vespa forum. This is how it works: Find a landmark, take a picture with your scooter in it, and post it on the forum with a cryptic description.
Hints are ok, but no mentioning of the actual geographical location, a game very similar to geo-caching. Once solved the successful explorer will be entitled to post a new visual riddle.
We engaged in the challenge and found the motive in question: The peace cross in Bühl, a French-German post war memorial constructed out of WWII bunker and defense wall material.
It is a very impressive landmark symbolizing peace and restored good relations between two former war opponents.

After resolution we meandered along back roads towards Baden-Baden. The spousal unit was very happy with Bella's performance. There was German wildlife on display, which is just randomly happening so we took the time for some snapshots.

Later on we got a bit lost in Baden-Baden and all of a sudden found ourselves in a very nice area called Lichtentaler Allee. We just had to stop and take a walk in the gardens.
We had been in Baden-Baden before, and once again we thought what a nice city it would be to live in. Well, maybe some time in the future.
The pano shots won't do the beauty of the garden justice.

Then we rode east to Gernsbach where Bella developed sudden issues. The motor sputtered and went dead. But after a few start-ups the scooter was good to go again. We assumed that the culprit might have been some old gas residue because after topping up the Vespa with premium fuel at the next gas station the problem seemed resolved.

Next station: Forbach. The town draws its local fame from a historic wooden bridge across river Murg, and due to its architecture (no middle support pillar) it is a one-of-its-kind in Europe.
The bridge
Crossing the bridge is allowed for vehicles up to 3 tons. 

Traffic became crazy around the Schwarzenbach reservoir, an artificial lake used for power generation. There were motorcycles galore, and bikers were more than welcome at the various coffee places. Roland enjoyed his cafe latte with a a nice water view.
With already 150km on the clock we were into the last leg of our day trip. The late afternoon light was beautiful.
Once again we stopped at a viewpoint, just in time to watch a paraglider take off.

Conclusion: We spent a lovely day in fresh air, two people, two scooters, together riding, sight-seeing and strolling around. Life is good!
 210km - 4.5h saddle time

***

Wir lösen ein Bilderrätsel!
Nachdem wir am Morgen von unserem Wahlrecht Gebrauch gemacht hatten, haben wir uns anschließend auf eine Art Schnitzeljagd nach Vespa-Art begeben. Eine Vespista aus dem Norden der Region hatte ein Bilderrätsel im Vespa-Forum eingestellt und mit versteckten Hinweisen versehen. Mit detektivischer Akribie sowie unter Mithilfe von Google fanden wir den Entstehungsort des Fotos heraus. Man nimmt die Herausforderung an, indem man dann zur abgebildeten Sehenswürdigkeit fährt, diese mit seinem eigenen Fahrzeug ablichtet und das Foto online stellt. Damit ist man dann berechtigt, ein neues Rätsel einzustellen. Und so erfuhren wir vom Bühler Kreuz, welches im Rahmen der Wiederherstellung der deutsch-französischen Freundschaft als ein Denkmal des Friedens errichtet wurde.
Da wir nun schon einmal so weit im Norden waren, fuhren wir weiter Richtung Baden-Baden. Wir entdeckten Dammwild, und da man so etwas ja nicht gerade häufig in Deutschland sieht, machten wir aus der Sache auch gleich eine Fotosession. In Baden-Baden verfranzten wir uns dann und landeten in einem wunderschönen Park an der Lichtentaler Allee, in dem wir verweilten.
Danach ging es weiter nach Gernsbach, wo Roland's Vespa plötzlich Probleme machte. Der Motor stotterte, ging aus und war erst nach mehreren Startversuchen wieder zum Arbeiten zu bewegen. Wir vermuten mal, dass schlechtes Restbenzin aus Kanada der Verursacher war, denn nach dem nächsten Tankstopp gab Bella Ruhe und schnurrte fortan wie ein zufriedenes Kätzchen.
In Forsbach nahmen wir dann die alte Holzbrücke über die Murg ins Visier, die einzige Brückenkonstruktion ihrer Art in Europa, ohne Mittelpfeiler. Sie ist heute noch zugelassen für Fahrzeuge weniger als drei Tonnen, also mussten wir auch 'rüber.
Richtig verrückt wurde es an der Schwarzenbachtalsperre, denn das scheint ein beliebter Treffpunkt für motorisierte Zweiräder aller Art zu sein. Roland schlürfte seinen Cafe Latte mit Blick auf's Wasser, aber dann machten wir uns wieder zügig auf den Weg. Uns war hier einfach zu viel Betrieb.
An einem Aussichtspunkt über das Bühler Tal hielten wir wieder an, diesmal um einem Gleitschirmflieger beim Abheben zuzuschauen.
Fazit: Es war ein wundervoller Tag. Bei großartigem Wetter auf zwei Vespas durch die Landschaft rollern, was kann's Schöneres geben?