Euro Vespa

Nevers, France

As the evening progressed hundred and hundreds of people laughed, hugged and shook hands with new and old friends.  Many were exchanging patches, decals and insignias.  The diverse flavor and camaraderie reminded me of international karate events that we have attended.  It is from these moments that we take international friendship back to our homes.  The common thread here was Vespas and these were hard core Vespa people!
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By Alan Dollar

I will start by saying that I am a novice scooterist.  I have enjoyed rides with Vespa clubs here in California and even attended one Amerivespa.  Traveling around the world to take part in European scooter rides was not in the realm of possibility.  That is until I found out that my teaching gig in Germany this year would end a few days before Eurovespa 2001 was to be held in Nevers and Fourchambault, France.

I decided to stay over and see sights on the way to France after leaving Germany and be a part of Eurovespa, even if it meant riding in the back of a truck to be a part of the event.   

A black belt from my karate school in California, Doug Achterberg, would be accompanying me again to Germany to teach.  Rather than return home while I headed off to France my friend wanted to tag along and learn more about the scooter craze.  I know there are times he gets tired of hearing me talk incessantly about Vespas and he probably wanted to see what the madness was all about.

I contacted the President of Vespa Club France, Jean Lean Blanquart by email to gain information about lodging, registration and so forth.  He was very helpful, friendly and informative from our first contact. 

He made hotel reservations and offered to pick us up at the train station in Nevers.  We became fast friends via our emails and Mr. Blanquart informed me that he was going to let me use his own PX200 while I was in France.  My excitment grew knowing I would actually get to ride in Eurovespa!

Time passed quickly, the teaching and sightseeing were finished, the long train ride had just ended and there we were in the Nevers train station, Thursday afternoon June 22nd.  I heard someone calling my name.  It was the President, Mr. Blanquart and a translator from his Vespa Club Dijon.  He does not speak English.  It seems that our email communications were by way of his computer translation program, which worked wonderfully.

He whisked us off to the hotel for check in, answering his cell phone every two minutes the entire time.  While waiting around the lobby for him to finish yet another call and twenty more details I met Christa Sorbock, President of Federation International Des Vespa Clubs, FIV, and a Vespa legend.  She is very delightful and extremely knowledgeable about Vespas.

Finally we were back in the van for a ten-minute drive to the next town, Fourchambault to pick up our borrowed scooter.  Members of the Vespa Club Dijon were waiting around for our arrival. 

I looked at all their scooters and showed them photos of some of mine and without speaking each other’s language, laughed and understood each other’s mutual compassion for Vespas.

We left them to their busy tasks preparing the next days opening and hit the road, in France, on a Vespa. It was a thrill!  I still laugh when I think about how odd this pair of 230 pound Americans must have looked running around the countryside on that small Vespa.

Eurovespa festivities were to begin at 2:00 PM, Friday June 23 in the Municipal Stadium in Fourchambault.  This is the city where the now closed ACMA factory is located.  Established in 1951 ACMA produced Vespas and the Vespa 400 car.  This first Eurovespa of the century was being held in Fourchambault to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of Vespa in France.

Prior to the opening I strolled around the grassy camp area along the Lorie River, marveling at the variety of Vespas and methods of camping from pop-up tents to unique looking vans.  I met a few people, bought and traded some memorabilia and headed over to the official site of staging and activities.

The nearby stadium was massive with an outdoor football field and stands on one side and an equally large parking lot on the other.  The large gravel lot was opposed by another grass area in which food booths and a large tent had been set up for eating and entertainment.  The calm Loire River flowed slowly along the back of the complex, adding tranquility to the chaos of almost 2000 buzzing wasps.

While waiting for the gates to open I heard a group of Holland scooterists, whom I could not understand, mention Kruger and Aschaffenburg, which I did understand.  The famous German Vespa racer, Hans Kruger, recently relocated his 110-scooter collection to the Rosso Bianco Auto Museum in Aschaffenburg, Germany.  I reached in my pocket and whipped out some photos I had taken there a week before. Within a few minutes I had a group of smiling, chattering Dutch friends.

The Stadium gates opened promptly at 2:00PM with scooters and pedestrians pouring into the narrow, tree-lined entrance and heading for the registration tents organized by country. A nice little bag of souvenirs and tickets for breakfast and lunch accompanied the registration.

The afternoon was dedicated to meeting new people, finding a few old friends, watching arriving scooterists, viewing the rows and rows of Vespas and perusing the early bird parts booths.  It was nice to meet the famous Vespa restorer Giorgio Notari from Italy, at his booth.

I found a friend from America, Eric Dutra from San Diego.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Mike McWilliams, President of the Vespa Club of America and his lovely scootering wife Gretchen.  I introduced them to my friend Kees Portanje of Holland and soon became lost in the deep four-way conversation of these Eurovespa veterans.

As evening approached, the crowd thinned out as people prepared for one of two musical venues available that evening.  A French cover band played to the dancing pleasure of a few hundred people in the large tent at the Eurovespa site.

A street fair, open to the general public, was being held in Nevers, which featured a French ska band.  This tired old man had to return to the hotel early to rest up for the full day ahead on Saturday.

Not wanting to miss anything during our short stay at Eurovespa we were on the Vespa and back at the Stadium for the 8:00AM breakfast.  I soon found that the French definition of breakfast differed greatly from mine.  Breakfast consisted of a small croissant, a small half loaf of bread and instant coffee that I must say tasted like a strong two stroke mix. Taste and volume aside, I commend the staff for their timely serving of a couple thousand of these meals.

More parts and memorabilia booths had arrived and the parking area was completely covered with Vespas, Apes and Vespa cars.  I watched as seasoned looking scooter veterans arrived.  I was amazed at the number of clubs present from all over Europe, each proudly displaying the club’s banner on the leg shield of each scooter.

A ride through the country to the Nevers-Magny-Cours Formula One racetrack was to begin at eleven.  Ten minutes before the hour Vespas started firing up everywhere.  By eleven everyone was filing out of the Stadium onto the street.  I found this impressive punctuality to continue throughout the Eurovespa events!

We rode through the quaint streets of Fourhcambalt.  People lined the streets throughout the city cheering and waving as we passed.  As we reached country roads the string of scooters stretched out for miles.  The rolling green countryside and the multicolored throng on Vespas was a beautiful sight to see. 

My friend Doug and I took turns driving while the other shot video and photos.  If anyone on the ride has any photos of the crazy guy riding backward on the back of the black PX200 I would love to see them.  That fool was I.

After an hour of visual rolling beauty we arrived at the racetrack.  After a brief pause for the entire group to assemble, we were turned lose for one lap around the track.  What a rush!  Riding a Vespa around the track of the Formula One French Grand Prix is a memory that will make me smile every time it comes to mind.

After the infamous lap everyone parked in a large grass field and hit the lunch line.   It had become a hot summer day.  Lunch turned out to be better than breakfast.  There was meat on the bread and a welcome bottle of water.  I don’t mean to give the sponsors a hard time.  They did a great job providing for everyone in a very efficient manner.

As everyone ate, Vespa talk filled the air.  I watched Eric and Mike sit for an hour in the gravel and scorching sun, talking about scooters and gatherings.  Small groups began departing so we decided to get out of the hot sun and follow one of the groups back.  It soon became apparent that the route back was somewhat different than the one we took to get there.

We rode with them all the way back to Fourchambault, where we had the good fortune to rejoin the entire returning group just before pulling into the Stadium.

The 4 o’clock return was just as scheduled. A new look had befallen many riders, sunburned faces and arms were becoming visible everywhere.  Fortunately there was plenty of shade, enhancing the afternoon events.  Speeches, ceremonies and awards presentations were held on stage.  Plaques were handed out to various clubs for most in attendance, furthest ridden and so forth.  Trophies were presented for the winning entries for the best three oldest restored Vespas and the best three oldest Vespas in original condition.  Music played and local youth groups performed demonstrations.  The afternoon was festive as everyone felt the spirit of Eurovespa build.

By early evening everyone was headed back to clean up for dinner, entertainment and a torch light parade that night.  We arrived at the Centroexpo in Nevers to a parking lot full of Vespas and everyone in the best clothes they could fit in their scooter trunk.

The doors opened at precisely the prescribed time of nine.  Once inside we found rows and rows of long tables marked with country flags to aid in seating. Along one wall of the gigantic hall were dozens enlarged photos from the days ride.  I was again impressed with the punctuality and organization of the entire event.  I learned that evening there were 2,200 people from 20 countries representing 221 Vespa clubs!

The roast duck dinner and commemorative Eurovespa wine were delectable.  Throughout dinner a wonderful show of French cancan was provided on a raised stage.  The drawing for a free Vespa was won by a little old lady, honest.

As the evening progressed hundred and hundreds of people laughed, hugged and shook hands with new and old friends.  Many were exchanging patches, decals and insignias.  The diverse flavor and camaraderie reminded me of international karate events that we have attended.  It is from these moments that we take international friendship back to our homes.  The common thread here was Vespas and these were hard core Vespa people!

Later everyone departed for the parade through the city.  In no time we were rolling through the small city streets of Nevers, behind a police escort, to the cheers of throngs of people who lined the streets at midnight.  The Vespa history is strong there.

At the end of the parade we were herded into a large lot in front of the town cathedral for the fireworks show.  The fireworks began exploding right overhead.  The cascading explosion of fireworks rained down on us and illuminated the diversity of the group that was Vespa!

Eurovespa so far had been fantastic, however, I left the group that night feeling very sad.  Doug and I had decided before arriving in France that we must see Paris for at least one day.  In order to do so and stay on schedule to return home we had to sadly depart Nevers early Sunday morning for the train to Paris.

During the train ride to Paris I thought about all the effort and organization and experience went into producing such a successful and spirit filled event of this magnitude.  My hat is off to Mr. Blanquart, Ms. Sorback and the entire staff.  Very well done!

Sunday afternoon while standing at the top of the Eiffel tower enjoying the breathtaking panoramic view and curvature of the Earth, I couldn’t help but think; damn I wish I were back at Eurovespa!

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updated 6/28/05