Thursday, December 20, 2012

Go West, Young Man

Sunday was to be spent mostly at the Milan Motorbike Show, with perhaps a side helping of Milan city centre if time permitted.

We retraced our tracks of the evening before, and this time arrived at the exhibition centre when it was actually open. Being on our bikes meant we could use the designated bikers parking area that not only allowed us to by-pass the long traffic queues, but also drive pretty much up to the doors. The car park proved to be almost more interesting than the exhibition, as the variety of bikes there was astounding, and the crowds were smaller, but we went in anyway, patiently joining a long ticket queue for about 20 minutes, only to reach the front to be told it was a membership line for something or other we weren't interested in, and the ticket office was over yonder. I have to say, I was finding it very frustrating not being sufficiently au fait with the Italian lingo. In Florence I'd been defaulting into Spanish again, which only helped a little, but I was frustrated at my ignorance. If I ever go back, I will have to call on the services of Michel Thomas once again...

Inside the arena, the flash and sparkle of machinery was distracting. The venue was ridiculously huge, the map of the stall printed on several pages of a handbook. Ed's sat-nav would have been useful in here too. we wandered around looking for bike brands that interested us, paying homage to the BMW stand, before taking a look at the latest Yamaha Tenere (my bike of choice - just the normal, 660cc one, the 1200cc Super Tenere was bigger even than Ed's behemoth!) and the KTM 450, which was what was tempting Ed as an option for buzzing round London village when he has to get back to the real world once more.

To be fair, my knowledge of bikes is so limited I had had my fill pretty soon, and when Ed realised the clothing brand he was looking for didn't have a stall, he lost interest too. We had a bite to eat and then jumped on the metro and headed into Milan proper to have a wee look see.

Pigeon chasing: More popular than medieval architecture
The Metro tipped us out in the main piazza, and once again the scene was dominated by a massive cathedral. Once again it was a truly impressive building with some stunning carvings and bronze moulded doors, but built at whose expense and under what threats all those years ago?

We went for a bit of a wander up some streets, realising that once again we didn't have enough time to do justice to the places we were visiting. I'm not sure Milan is actually that special in itself (being a city, it kind of has that "just another city" vibe about it), but I know I would dearly love to go back to Italy some time and take more time looking about.

Little Brother is watching you...
Wandering back to the Metro and our bikes, we talked a bit about how Ed was feeling with regards the impending end of his trip. He pointed out that this stage of his trip, from Turkey to the end, was the first time he had needed to go in a westwards direction. Up until now, it had always been eastwards, and it was little things like this that brought home to him that things were drawing to a close. Between Milan and Kent, there was really only a stop in Switzerland, at the house of one of his friends from the first part of his trip along the Silk Road (a fitting reunion for the final leg), and a pausing at one of the cemeteries in France that commemorate the World Wars. Having had a (comparatively) small trip of my own a few years ago, I had some idea of how overwhelming it was to be coming to the end of an epic, life-changing trip like this. The end of my own trip, in 2009, had left me very contemplative, prone to navel-gazing, trying to take stock of all that I'd seen and done, and would have to do on my return, and my trip had been only half the time of Ed's. I could only guess at the maelstrom going on in Ed's head as he drew ever closer to the UK and the real world. All I could do was be a wall to bounce thoughts off if he needed it, and I was happy with that.

On the Monday morning, we were up early and excited to be aiming for the Alps and the Monte Blanc tunnel. We had a choice of roads to the tunnel: the autoroute and the back roads. You can guess which we chose, and we were treated to some more picturesque mountain villages on the way. The tunnel itself was like the Frejus tunnel I'd gone through a few days before, although this time I didn't need to hold on to the mirror on the way through. Out on the French side (the customs was tough - the bloke just glanced at our number plates and let us straight through when he saw they were British. As it should be.) we dropped down in to Chamonix, before striking out to Lake Geneva and Switzerland. We had a short stop for a  cup of tea with one of Ed's  lawyer friends from his early days in the biz, before making the last dash to a town whose name escapes me for the moment, and the house of JB and Arlette. JB had been with Ed on the London - Beijing stage of his trip, and he was so keen to catch up that he'd been tracking Ed on his Spotify locator all day, and had sent a text message when he noticed us go off route for our cup of tea! He was infectiously enthusiastic about bike trips in general, Ed's trip in particular, and motorbikes full stop.

JB and Ed
For the next 3 days he and Arlette opened their homes and their hearts to us, making us feel extremely welcome, showing us about Lausanne, and taking us on a 4 hour hike up his favourite local mountain - of which there were no shortages in the area! We were treated to a genuine Swiss fondue, luxury Swiss booze-filled chocolates and a real sense of 'being home'. Yet another "must come back to", not least because of JB's suggestion that the Dolomites in Summer were fantastic riding. I think I'd need a newer bike for that one...

Eventually, it was time to say goodbye to JB and Arlette, and begin the last push. Appropriate choice of words, as this last part of the ride would take us past some of the most famous (should that be 'infamous'?) battlefields of WW1 and 2. I know that Ed had been planning on visiting some of these sites and I very much wanted to as well. To this end, we set off for Nancy with a view to visiting Verdun the next day.  Little did we know that even this close to the end, our road still held one or two surprises up its sleeve...

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