Going back in time

It’s been 25 years. At the end of the village, through all the rain and sea foam whipping against the cliffs and rocks, about 100 metres away, looms a solitary building. The low-hanging clouds only allow little daylight to pass through. Warm light shines through the windows. My colleagues and I are inside, cleaning oil-drenched oceanic birds, nursing them back to health for their life in freedom. The entire day. In the evening, we take a small van to the surrounding villages to enjoy traditional Breton festivals. Without a single tourist present. I experience this two times as a teenager, for the entire duration of my winter holidays.

25 years later, I’m back at the station ornithologique, and I hang around at the open back entrance, hoping to run into someone. And suddenly – BAM! – it hits me. The smell is exactly the same as it was back then. A flashback of memories rushes over me. Since the 15-year-old boy first came here, Brittany has become a second home of some sorts associated with many memories from a period that was truly forming.

I start my journey to the west of France in Berlin, and I’m heading straight for that rocky spire that hits the Atlantic Ocean in the north of the republic. Pure&Crafted provides me with the BMW R9T. I have two weeks to recollect and revive my memories. As I plan my trip, I decide to ride all stages of my tour to Brittany on the Autobahn to have as much time as possible on location.

Monday, 23.07.2018
The R9T is packed with two weeks worth of luggage, and it masterfully takes me to Munster via the Autobahn. It’s an unusual feeling for me who usually rides a 60-year-old Triumph with a rigid frame. The bike doesn’t judder on uneven road surfaces; I don’t struggle with it at all. Instead, I feel the considerable difference in horsepower: 110HP pushing their way out of the 1200 ccm boxer engine.

Tuesday, 24.07.2018
After a relaxing evening with my brother in Munster, I put on my BMW leather suit again the following day. Such an outfit makes total sense considering the many kilometres I have to ride on the Autobahn, I think to myself. Cooking at medium to low heat is very popular amongst cooks. I don’t have that much time, though. So, I spent the entire journey at maximum temperature in my leather suit. I ride through the Netherlands and Belgium until I reach the border to France. In Valenciennes, the first hotel awaits with a cold shower. What a relief. Very important: a visit to the supermarket: to buy baguette and rillettes. Only then, I’m in France. Unfortunately, I can’t take my beloved sea salt butter with me due to the heat.

Wednesday, 25.07.2018
The next day, I saddle up my bags, and off I go. Brittany is within reach. I decide to take country roads for once. Unfortunately, the GPS isn’t very convinced about this and gives me the runaround. I double my travel time just like that, and so I have to omit my stopover in LeHavre. Still, I finally want to see the sea! A short stopover in Trouville (remember the beautiful German indie film “Der Strand von Trouville”?) lets me breathe sea air. The village tries to lure me into staying in Normandy with its clean and slightly posh sea resort ambiance. However, I have to continue despite the heat. Finally, in Rennes, the small hotel surprises with an astonishing mix of ship aesthetics and black-and-white jazz and burlesque-themed photographs. The hotel management’s single garage is reserved for the R9T where it spends the night with a bunch of other hotel guests’ trekking bikes. Unfortunately, it’s too time-consuming and debilitating to pay a visit to the Breton capital’s city centre. My core temperature is dangerously high and needs to be lowered with cold beer in the hotel garden.

Thursday, 26.07.2018 
Nevertheless: I’m finally in Brittany! So I saddle up, and off I go into the land full of vibrant and ancient rituals and craftsmanship. We’re an excellent team by now, and my luggage system has reached perfection. Early in the afternoon, I arrive at the seaside camping site. I already had to pay in advance. So, I tell them my name, I’m told the number of my pitch, and I GET RID OF MY CLOTHES! I quickly pitch my tent and make an espresso on my camping stove. I have arrived. The temperature is above 30°C here as well, and the sun beats down mercilessly. The sea is directly behind the shady trees. High tide has reduced the beach to a narrow strip. Crystal clear, turquoise salt water. Wonderful. At last, swimming in the sea again. In the evening, I enjoy a glass of pastis and check my itinerary. I think I prepared a variety of stopovers which cover Brittany well; the area’s wonderfully wild landscapes as well as its lively and vivid history.

Friday, 27.07.2018
It cooled down a little. The Distillerie des Menhirs is on my agenda. After a little detour in my rain suite to the lighthouse of Penmarc’h via small and winding roads, I ride to Plomelin through light drizzle. I have an appointment with Christel. She’s the wife of one of the three brothers who run the distillery. Apart from Lambig, the traditional Brittany cider brandy, which is made from cidre, they distill the only known buckwheat whiskey here. Buckwheat, or “blé noir”, is an important crop in Brittany. Supposedly, it was introduced by the last regent of Brittany and two-time queen of France, Anne de Bretagne, after the crusaders handed it to her. It’s a crop-like plant that also grows fast and lush in Brittany’s barren soil. A stained glass window in the barrel cellar depicts Anne de Bretagne with a bouquet of buckwheat in her hand.

After an insightful tour, I start to feel the delicious Lambig’s effect. I ride to the small town of Benodet and look for a patisserie artisanal. Apart from the French patisserie classics like “eclair” and “tarte au citron”, I fell in love with the “kouign amann” back then – a traditional Breton cake made from artfully folded dough and loads of sugar and “good butter”. I find a great patisserie to enjoy some cake, and I make a mental note of its ranking. From now on, at least one more contender for first place will be added to my list every day. I enjoy riding along the narrow streets of Benodet right on the Odet’s now sun-drenched estuary. The neighbouring village of Le Guilvinec is famous for its fishing harbour. At a street café, I quickly down a beer and ask the pub landlady to recommend a fish restaurant in which she would go for a meal as well. Of course, she recommends La Chaumière at the opposite end of the small harbour. Behind fluttering Breton flags depicting ermine canton and black stripes on a white background lies the small restaurant with about ten tables. I take a “Cassolette de Saint-Jacques à la bretonne”. Scallops are one of my favourite dishes, and its fished in the bay of St. Brieuc and in Brest under strict conditions. Delicious.

After dinner, I ride along the coastal road to enjoy the setting sun. Tonight is a blood moon eclipse. When I arrive at the beach behind the camping site, the sky is so full of heavy clouds, you can’t see the moon at all. The wind has gotten stronger, whipping fine raindrops in my face.

Saturday, 28.07.2018
My tent remains secure and watertight, however.Today’s destination is the North European continent’s most western point. Only in Portugal, you can go further to the west than at Pointe de Corsen. The route leads me to the middle of Brittany, and from there around the Bay of Brest. It’s possible I might have briefly forgotten to mind the speed limit. Without luggage, the R9T is even more fun. I underestimated the temperature and put on a flimsy pair of jeans instead of my leather suit. After a three-hour ride, I’m chilled to the bones. It’s about 18°C now, and it’s only going to be 20°C maximum as the day progresses. From the vantage point, I ride along narrow roads on my way back over land. Winding roads are a lot of fun on the R9T. My next destination is the picturesque harbour town of Douarnenez in the Bay of Brest. It’s a small town with typical Breton natural stone houses with extra colourful house fronts at the boardwalk. My hunt for kouign amann is over quickly, and afterwards, I descend to the harbour via steep and narrow alleys. Today, it’s harbour festival, and a colourfully clothed group with instruments of all varieties play folk songs and jazz classics on the quay while countless big and small sailing boats occupy the bay. However, my last destination for the day is the village of Locronan which I loved so much as a teenager. It’s a village solely composed of unrenovated historic natural stone houses in which artists and artisans practiced their professions.

It’s a great memory which has been on my mind ever since. As soon as I pass the village sign, a steward in a reflective west directs me to a parking area. I feel uneasy, and after a short walk to the village square, my idea of this place is destroyed entirely. It’s only about shops optimised for tourists. There’s nothing cheap here, but also no trace of the adventurous-looking artists and their small crammed studio shops. The old buildings’ slightly morbid appearance is also less defined than I remember. The special ambiance of this place, where, as I recall, visitors were allowed to be spectators for a little while, has been lost. I’m disappointed. It has started to rain again. Back to the camping site.

I’m spending a strenuous and sleepless night in my mini tent. The wind has increased again and, together with the rain, it lashes very loudly against the tent. In addition, I try to move as little as possible so that no piece of luggage or clothing touches the tent for water not to enter.

Sunday, 29.07.2018
The rain doesn’t stop. Contrary to my habits, I try to stay in my sleeping bag and sit it out, but that works only for a certain amount of time. Unfortunately, my tent doesn’t have a canopy let alone an awning. That means the moment I open it, it rains directly into my tent and on my belongings. Well, at least the tent is small in pack size, and it was affordable nonetheless. Since the rain doesn’t subside, I hijack the veranda of an empty bungalow rental, and, wrapped in my Mexico blanket, I make an espresso. “Pain au chocolat” and “pain de raisin” from the small campsite supermarket even taste good in shitty weather. Even though, I am sometimes eyed suspiciously, I can sit here for the next five hours, undisturbed. I have coffee, I have tobacco, but, unfortunately, I have nothing to read except for a German tabloid paper and the internet connection is also bad. My mood hits a low point; even lower than 16-18°C, wind and rain.

As soon as the weather seems to get better – relevant weather portals fuel hope – I put on my leather suit and flee the camping site. In Quimper, the oldest Breton city, a festival celebrates Breton culture. During the 30-minute ride, the sky already tells me that it doesn’t really care about forecasts. As I park my R9T, the rain hits down hard again, once more, lashing through the narrow alleys of the medieval-looking city. On the central fairground, I encounter people after all, sojourning under the one or the other tent, waiting for the rain to stop. On stage, various dance groups perform formation dances to Breton music. Upon the first sounds of this characteristic music, shivers run down my spine. I am back! I remember visiting the so-called Fest Noz (a traditional Breton festival), and how, for example, an 80-year-old deaf woman taught a 15-year-old provincial punk wannabe how to master Breton dances. Great memories. The drizzle blurs my memories a little; a queasy feeling remains in my stomach as the parade of various dance and music groups starts to move through the historic district despite the annoying rain and gusts of wind. The daily cake competition entry temporarily brightens my mood. I treat myself to a small fish platter before I head back to my tent. My leather suit, kindly sponsored by BMW Motorrad’s clothing department, holds off the continuous rain completely.

Monday, 30.07.2018
The following Monday, the cramped humid space shows its flaws: humidity has spread equally amongst my belongings. Everything’s soggy and damp. HOWEVER: on a visit to the wash house, the sun finally pushes through again. Very timidly but still. My Bialetti is steaming. Espresso and the delightfully fresh pain au chocolat and pain de raisin. My good mood increases as a few clothes start drying under the sun. Today, I’ll pay a visit to an oyster farm. At this time of year, there’s not enough time for a proper appointment to learn something about oyster farming. It’s school holidays in France.

I ride through the beautiful landscape; I quickly stop in Forêt Fouesnant to try some cake, and then I ride endlessly along single-lane mini roads through the countryside. Along forests and meadows. A roebuck is startled and runs off across the field on a parallel course to mine. The R9T leans beautifully into the bend without any luggage. I love it.

I ride through the small village of Riec-sur-Belon and follow the road signs to the oyster farm. The Belon estuary is one of two places in Brittany which is famous for oyster farming far beyond borders. In the small bay, a few boats anchor in what little water the low tide has left behind. Three oyster farms and an affiliated restaurant are located here. Another one is located a bit further. Anne de Belon. I walk along the boardwalk and the quay wall, and I already see the basins and crates in the dry riverbed, installed there for oyster farming. At the end of the boardwalk lies a small restaurant with an open kitchen. Outside, people sit on white plastic chairs and look at the small river’s estuary where the fine oysters they’re slurping are from. Meanwhile the sun is beating down hard. Reggae and ragga music comes out of a small speaker. Behind me, I hear people cracking some mussels. In front of me, kittens sleep between the tables in the shade provided by the food-relishing diners.

I order an assiete du jour with a variety of oysters, mussels and rock lobster. It’s divine and delicious. By now, all diners are gone, and the staff sits on the terrace over coffee and cigarettes. I feel incredible. After a cup of coffee, I heavy-heartedly divorce myself from this beautiful ambiance, and I look forward to riding along the narrow roads through nature.

A quick stopover at the ville close, the walled medieval city centre in Concorneau, leads to an outstanding encounter with my beloved kouign amann.

Tuesday, 31.07.2018
The night was truly shitty. A new neighbour pitched his tent next to mine and already wakes me at 5am. Great. I try to ignore the background noise and snooze until 8am. Today’s the day. I’ll be riding to the station ornithologique on the Ile Grande off of Brittany’s north coast. I traverse Brittany, and as soon as I reach the north side, road signs and village names jump right at me. I was already here once; over there was such and such: most names ring a bell, even though, on location, I can hardly remember any details. However, it’s a nice feeling. I ride along narrow roads over land, between stone walls and open fields. My first destination is the Maison entre deux Rochers. Back then, it was hard to find; today it has a Google Maps entry. Nevertheless, it’s still beautiful. In addition, there’s the pink-coloured granite rock, the Cote de Granit Rose’s namesake. I’m drawn further. I’m very excited about the station, even though, I know that I won’t be able to experience much. The manager is still the same according to the website, but I mostly dealt with his colleagues.

The R9T flies along the fields and graciously leans in the sometimes rectangular bends. At this point, the sun shows me what it’s made of.

I lay eyes on the station. Gosh. It’s been such a long time, and yet everything looks just like I remember it. My first impulse is to ride up the narrow path that leads from the visitor parking to the employee parking behind the building. However, I decide not to, of course, and park my bike in the front. As I reach the building, a guided tour is just leaving the area, walking towards the aviary in which the fed up birds are housed before they are returned to the wild. At the back of the building, I find the door open, and I take a quick look. Time travel! It’s unbelievable how you remember odours. The mix of food fish, disinfectant and detergent and birds. Even the outdoor basin with its swimming pool is unchanged.

From there, a long and rocky spire towers over the sea, which has completely receded because of the low tide, revealing its rocky seabed. I sit down at the front of the spire to smoke a cigarette and reminisce. Okay, I would really like to take a look inside. I return to the backdoor and call “Bonjour” in the direction of the common room, hoping someone would be close by. Through the window, I just saw people working in the back. A young woman emerges from the kitchen and common room, maybe from the bedroom behind even. I tell her my story in incredibly broken French, by the way, and she lets me take a peek into the workspace. She’s from Leipzig and currently completes her year as an ecological volunteer. How wonderful. Cleaning Northern Gannets or puffins covered in oil was this stations main task and speciality. These days, oil tankers have apparently stopped cleaning their tanks in the rough seas of the English Channel. The station hardly treats oil-covered birds anymore and takes care of injured birds of prey and marine birds.

I leave the station behind and ride towards the only bar-cum-restaurant on the island, and I treat myself to a galette jambon fromage complet and a sweet crêpes beurre et sucre after. “Galette” is Brittany’s traditional crêpes version made from buckwheat which is a little more savoury than its more familiar counterpart made from regular wheat. Reinvigorated, I continue to Morlaix to visit the famous viaduct which carries the train above the city. which is situated in the valley below. A great sight and a beautiful city. I head back to the south. Thanks to my GPS, I discover an incredibly divine motorcycle route from Morlaix to Quimper which leads me along beautiful bends and single-lane roads, along woods and meadows, through valleys and across some sort of plateau. I’m thrilled. My skills to ride the bends have declined since my last tour through the Pyrenees four or five years ago, but with every further bend, it take them smoother and lower. Marvellous. On top, such views in between… Awesome.

Wednesday, 01.08.2018
The next morning, the sun kindly shows its face at the camping site. It does indeed! It’s advantageous that my tent and sleeping bag dry completely before I put them back in my bags. I make an early start, and so I arrive in Guérande at around noon, my next destination. The landlord from which I rented a room is already waiting for me. At my request, he kindly contacted a paludier for me, a salt harvester. It’s his neighbour. It’s a bit difficult to understand him, but we arrange to meet in his salinas in the early evening. I use the time until then to visit the medieval city centre of Guérande which must have been important for the salt production back in the day. I find my daily cake contender without any difficulties.

At the salinas, I have to wait a bit for Fredo to arrive in his white van and his two dogs in tow. A boy waits with me. It’s his first day here, and he wants to work for Fredo during his summer holidays. The system of flat basins, which are connected through sluice gates, leads to an increasing concentration of salt in the added sea water. This system which consists of sand dams has to be made from scratch every year. Afterwards, the sun and the wind, which allow the water to evaporate, take care of the rest for the most part. Now the salt has to be extracted which requires a lot of skills and routine. The precious fleur de sel, extremely thin flakes created by the wind on the water surface, is carefully skimmed off. The more granular and darker sel gros is first pushed together with a special wooden tool in the shape of a T and a 3-metre-long handle, and then it’s extracted at a particular spot in the water. It has been done like this forever; lways in the same manner – it is certified that Fredo’s family business dates back to shortly before the French Revolution, and even before, on another piece of land, since fourteen-hundred-and-something! I find this incredible. Fredo generously wraps up some of his amazingly delicious salt for me and thanks me for my visit. He loves when people are interested in his profession, and that someone would even intentionally come here from Berlin. My landlord recommended the villages crêperie to me, and so, after my visit to the salinas, I sit in the restaurant’s garden, enjoying a bottle of local cider waiting for my galette with – of course – noix de St. Jacques. It’s unbelievably delicious! With a sweet crepes filled with caramelised apples and flambeed with Calvados, I perfectly round off my stay in Brittany.

Thursday, 02.08.2018
It’s time to hit the Autobahn again. I leave Saillé at 9am under the torrid sun to arrive at Sébastien’s in Chartre at around 2pm. At over 30°C, he waited for me on his terrace in front of his workshop and now provides me with drinks from his fridge. That does me good. So, here all the famous Lucky Cat Garage custom bikes are conceived. They’ve been on everyone’s lips since their Sprintbeemer and its streamlined vintage dustbin fairing caused a stir at the Wheels and Waves a few years back. A vicious missile in a benign guise, inspired by a BMW.

For hours, we talk about the Sultan of Sprint racing series which Sébastien develops and organises: a big spectacle with a variety of motorcycles tweaked by amateur racers. The event’s fun factor is what makes the four races, which are held on various European race courses every year, so special. To the organiser, the event’s social aspects are as important as the races themselves, and that’s what people love about them. A colourful community of teams and audiences has emerged all across Europe. We also discuss the current societal and political situation, and people’s willingness to get interested in things and also question them. We brush on sustainability and conscious consumerism, but also how “Pied Pipers of Hamelin” types mobilise people more and more, and why these people allow them to pull the wool over their eyes. A very interesting afternoon that goes by in a flash. At some point, I have to interrupt our discussion unfortunately to check in at my hotel and hog the cold shower. It feels good. It became almost routine to do a bit of laundry in the sink afterwards and hang it in the room to dry. On foot, I return to Lucky Cat Garage, and then we head into town in Sébastien’s 1951 Ford “Shoebox”. Over a few cold drinks, we continue our conversation deep into the mild summer night before he gives me a ride back to my hotel in his Shoebox. Thanks to an elaborate light installation, illuminating the city’s historic buildings on the way, I learn that the Chartres Cathedral – a very detailed and impressive building – was completely colourful on completion. What a sublime impression!

Friday, 03.08.2018
After a warm night at the hotel, the next stage of my tour takes me to Strasbourg. It’s yet another day on the Autobahn at over 30°C which ends with a stroll through this very beautiful city. It wasn’t the brightest idea, however, to order a scalloped dish at these temperatures only to have tried something local. It took forever for it to decrease in temperature, so it was edible at least to a certain degree.

Saturday, 04.08.2018
After Strasbourg, I decide to refrain from riding on the Autobahn, and I gladly take a detour in the Black Forest to take on a few proper bends and altitude differences. It’s even great fun for the towering luggage behind me. As I reach the shore of Lake Constance after a short summer storm with rain, the sun, once again, beats down relentlessly. Unfortunately, I’m stuck in a massive traffic jam, and often I can’t even weave through the stopping cars. In France, by the way, it was custom to move your car to the right, so motorcyclists could pass. Back in Germany, this is not the case. Quite the contrary. Welcome home. Eventually, I can escape the traffic jam by taking a big detour only to arrive at my friends Ratz und Linda’s place at Lake Constance near Lindau two hours late. After a few glasses of cold water, I’m back to normal, and before we switch to more local brews, Ratz, a quite well-known tattoo artist by trade, leaves one of his small artworks on my skin to commemorate this 4,500 km tour on the R9T pure. It was a beautiful journey.

Sunday, 05.08.2018
On Sunday, I meet Marcus in their beautiful Temple Shoppers workshop in Munich which actually reminds me a little of Meister Eder’s workshop. Their in-house microbrew, Temple Hell, is delicious, an I tell Bernhard of Herzbube Motorcycles about some of my experiences before we wish him a great and safe trip to Northern Africa and plenty of fantastic experiences.

In the evening, the ICE takes me back to Berlin. I already miss all the delicious food.