|08-13-2009, 08:13 AM||#1|
Joined: Nov 2008
Location: Bergen, Norway
From Norway through the Alps to Tuscany and Provence
As a preface, this ride report contains clickable panoramas - be sure to click on them for larger, more detailed versions. Second, in accordance with EU directives, it adheres strictly to the metric system of measuring distance, speed and temperature. Be sure to click on this useful link if this causes any confusion along the way.
Day 1 to 3, The Art of Personal Transportation
But first off, we have to figure out the difference between the objects in the left and right frame of this picture:
One is a forest. Another is a tree. It has been said that you can't see one for the other, i.e. the forest for the trees. But that's only part of the picture (funnily enough). The thing about forests and trees is that you can never see both at the same time. You can walk through a lovely forest and look at its trees. You can tell old forest from new forest quite by instinct. You can see symbiotic and parasitic plants, you can see fragile life struggle with more robust competitors and you can see animals or their tracks as they too make their living from what is found in the forest. But you can't see the forest itself, you can't get get a sense of its scale or its place in the regional topography this way.
To see a forest you have to move swiftly through the terrain and see it clothe the land, curving sharply around human settlements, growing thicker and taller where the soil is richer and thinning to a gradient before it reaches its biological limitations of temperature and oxygen in the mountains. Scale can be a tricky thing to grasp, particularly when you only have two weeks off from work and about 6000 km to ride.
With this in mind, I had decided that I wanted to smell some flowers but I had accepted that I couldn't smell them all. The idea for a trip beyond the borders of my native Norway came last year, not long after I first got my motorcycle license. I wanted to tour England. Then several factors changed that a bit, first the ferry from my hometown of Bergen to Newcastle was cancelled. Then some of my friends said they would be vacationing in the south of France and invited me. In addition fellow inmate TageSK had with his great ride reports and open invitations convinced me I had to visit him in Tuscany. With the Alps along the way, a visit to England was postponed and the alternate route quickly materialized:
The Alps, Tuscany and Provence. That's where I'd be smelling flowers and looking at trees. Between them, relentless covering of distances - looking at forests and taking pictures of my bike at gas stations.
Speaking of my bike, here she is:
(The companion under the cover is an old R100 which leaks a bit of oil. Haha, old BMWs always leak oil! I'll regret my smugness soon enough)
A 1986 Suzuki GSX 750 ES. A hunk of the finest Nippon steel, fed relentlessly by four Mikuni carbs through 8 intakes valves, its Twin Swirl™ Combustion Chambers© ignited by the fury of the ancestors whose spirits escape through 8 exhaust valves and lets the surroundings know that this is 84 horsepower of serious business motorcycling.
It's modifications are limited to replacing a horribly ugly bikini fairing with a round headlight, touring specific mods is a 12v socket for the GPS or cell phone charging, a combination gauge with volts/temp/clock and ADV stickers on the luggage cases. Not exactly fully farkled as they say, but more than enough for me. The bag on the pillion seat contains my leather gear, in case of rain or lower temps. I figure I'll wear the Fieldsheer mesh jacket and textile pants for most of the trip, but hey there was extra room...
Suzuki's Combination Gauge™ (or the Command, Control and Information Center as I feel it should be called due to its rather imposing size) reveals a mileage, I'm sorry kilometerage of 90 994 as Monday the 20th of July nears 10 AM and the journey starts with a meager 2 km trip from my home to the port of this old girl:
The M/S Bergensfjord, a vessel designed explicitly for allowing the budget minded traveller to spend 1200 NOK in order to save 100 NOK on a bottle of booze, buy some salami in Denmark and then head home.
See you later Bergen.
While waiting for the boarding to begin, I meet Stefan from Holland who has done almost 2000 km on his 50 cc Honda through Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
The bike has been cam timed for more bottom end torque and he has rigged the 6 volt system to provide 12 volts for the iPhone, not to mention the luggage weighing about as much as the bike itself. I am very impressed. He has a site which includes a blog about his trip here: http://stefanruiter.nl/
We secure our steeds...
...and make our way to the Scandinavian SkyBar, which turns out to be wooden park benches on the steel deck exposed to the wind and not a rotating lounge encased in glass with soft jazz as my I imagined when I read the sign. Yes, this ship is really a cut down car barge to ship the many vacationing families to and from the continent and to allow the not so many but still present booze cruisers the opportunity of to import a tax free but high profit bottle of raspberry vodka back into Norway. It sucks and next time I'm taking the express ferry from the south coast. But Stefan and two Norwegian bikers make great company for the duration, we get with the program and work our way through a number of brewed products from the bar.
Morning arrives and after scaring some hangover demons away with an overpriced breakfast, prepaid with a useless voucher that didn't give any discount at all, we roll off the ferry at 8 AM. This was the good part of picking the ferry. I get a forced early start (for me) with no chance to hit the snooze button and the travel jitters have turned to a healthy appetite for distance. In fact, I blast through the rather flat but lovely Denmark stopping only twice for fuel. The next time I take out the camera, I've already made it to Germany and the next part of the Chain of Cheap Booze.
Norwegians go to Denmark for lower priced beverages, the Danes go here. The huge shopping center is stocked with all your stomach and liver may desire, but I limit myself to water, coffee and unleaded gas.
I also need to clean the visor, the bugs in Germany are pretty fat but this one was just huge. Caught it at about 160 kph and it made a crunchy splat sound which I can still hear. Speaking of speeds, the Autobahn is of course known for just that. I was excited by it at first and managed to squeeze an indicated 210 kph out of the old Zuke - exactly as the 1986 sales brochure said. Not bad, considering all the luggage. Of course, the GPS coughs politely and corrects it to 191, but they didn't have that in those days and less than 10% error is good even for a brand new bike.
But yeah, the Autobahn. It's not all unlimited speed restrictions and even when it is, you are limited by the huge amount of traffic. And after a few hours of getting beat up by the wind (changing to leathers helped a lot), the whole business of high speed cruising gets kind of old. I'm nervously watching the mirror for attacking sales reps in BMW X5s, constantly changing lanes between the right which is full of slow trucks and camper vans and the left which is full of fast, well, anythings. When you think you're going fast and something comes up like a pouncing tiger, passing you with a shockwave, it can just as easily be a Citröen Saxo as a Merc SUV.
Much of the Autobahn has three lanes and 120-140 kph in the centre lane suits me just fine. I used to be an uncompromising fan of naked bikes, that works very well on Norwegian roads restricted to 80 kph. I now see the advantages of windscreens. The flow and rhythm of the Autobahn is another thing. Similar vehicles tend to bunch up, you can suddenly see a flock of 40 trucks marching in line like elephants or after a while of quiet left lane you suddenly get 10 sales rep BMWs in a row. All the while cars are changing lanes constantly to maintain their comfort speed, passing slower cars or letting faster ones pass. Tailgating hard is pretty common, so is brave merges into lanes with approaching faster cars. But the straightness and width of the roads allow you to see very far ahead and predict what's going to happen. "That Passat that just came off the on ramp is going to merge across straight to the left lane, better give him room." "That Caravelle ahead in my lane is catching up quick to the truck. Better change out to the left and pass him quick before he either brakes or throws himself out left onto me." Stuff like that. Then suddenly, brake lights and hazard flashers up ahead, it's another traffic jam.
Rush hour in Hannover, and a car accident up ahead as well. Total gridlock.
My best impression of "do not want :| ". I see a few bikes lane splitting and decide to go for it as well. My first day on the Autobahn and I lane split for like 5 km, most cars are happy to oblige and provide space. Eventually I pass the site of the accident (a single rolled hatchback) and I'm back up to speed.
It's nice when you find a speed buddy who has the same comfort speed as you and just relax behind him (or her, blonde women in Golfs or BMW 1 series have much in common with me in terms of comfort speed). But the one thing that makes long range Autobahning possible for me is having isolating ear plugs and a good selection of music. I would otherwise go insane pretty quick or at least not be able to do gas station to gas station legs of 200-220 km without stopping. Cause that is pretty much what I do, passing so many big cities, nice sights and billions of trees and unsmelled flowers. I repeat the mantra of "can't smell them all" and let the very appropriate Detroit techno spur me on. I tried listening to Kraftwerk's 'Autobahn', just for the occasion, but it's made for 70 kph in a VW Beetle. Just doesn't cut it I'm afraid.
Somewhere around Kassel, the sun drives me out of my leathers and into my mesh gear. Around this point I realize that the small oil leak which I thought I had fixed isn't fixed and isn't even small. Every stop leaves a black drop on the ground and since the top of Denmark I have taken some deep swigs of my packed bottle of oil. In fact, at this stop it's empty. 1 litre gone, a quarter of total capacity, in about 750 km. SHIT. Hanging hard off the throttle makes it worse so I keep the tempo within reason.
Next gas stop shows the careful throttle application helps and not much oil is consumed, and I am reminded by this public warning to drivers that on the Autobahn you look at forests from a distance - not trees up close.
The newest Porsche, the Panamera, on its way to the dealers. Filling up your rear view mirror soon.
Eventually, just as it gets dark, I make it to my destination.
Pfungstadt, south of Frankfurt, where my internet friend of many years (whom I've never met in person) Ralf has promised me a place to sleep. Ralf helps me in with my bags and we relax with some local brews on his balcony. After 1044 km in one day, doubling my previous single day distance, the Pfungstädter brew is manna from the gods. We go out for a pizza and some more Pfungstädters and I sleep like baby shot with a tranquilizer dart.
Guten morgen! I look like I've spent 14 hours inside a helmet.
Ralf is a good guide and takes me to see the sights of Pfungstadt. Such as a bike shop that sells oil.
They have a Yamaha / Fiat / Rossi display.
DAMN those are some cooked tires.
(pic borrowed from Ralf)
Aaahh there we go, doesn't that feel better? Now let's go see an actual sight.
Castle Frankenstein! Probably an inspiration to Mary Shelley, but mostly a piece of local feudal history with a great view.
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In the court yard there is an old trebuchet using for lobbing physical insults at the neighbouring count.
And the walls are covered with ancient and mystical inscriptions. Who knows what this one means.
I cause a bit more enviromental damage to the grass than Ralf's Civic but DAMN look at that color coordination! If you manage a brand whose identity is expressed in red and black and you are looking for some serious advertising opportunities, feel free to send me a PM. Rates are very reasonable.
pics again borrowed from Ralf
Thanks for the couch and the tour Ralf! Full tank of bleifrei benzin and wake up Mr Garmin. Points of Interest -> Nearest Swiss Alp -> Go! -> Calculating...
And off we go to the next gas station.
At this point I am thinking, what the hell am I doing? There's just no way I'm coming home without a Greenpeace lawsuit or without most of my crank bearings. Breathe, relax, fill her up, move on. It'll be fine.
And it is fine. As long as I remember to be easy on the gas, the German oil has disciplined the leak very well and for the next stops I don't have to refill at all.
I even get cocky enough to take pics at speed.
Gotta cough up 30 euros for a sticker. This allows me to ride the rest of 2009 on Swiss highways. So using them for one day is not exactly good value, but there you go.
Not much of Germany left!
And only a 500 km leg today so I can goof off at 100 kph and take pics. You do get pretty complacent after a while...
Eventually, Switzerland itself. This is after maybe an hour of the higways and we see the Alps start Alping themselves.
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I miss my turn off and go through the 16 km Gotthard tunnel. It's strangely hot in there, which reminded me of the terrible 2001 fire. Almost 40 degrees C, while the outside was 22. Weird. Anyway, when I get out I find myself in Airolo, almost in Italy. This is completely the wrong place! To get to my destination for the evening, a small mountain town called Ulrichen, the GPS says the shortest way is through the famous Nufenen Pass.
The final gas stop reveals that lighting conditions are less than ideal for alpine crossings. But off we go.
This is the only pic I take along the way, waiting at a temporary light where there's road work. The pass is a proper switchback fest and its highest point, 2478 m, is actually higher than the highest mountain in Norway. And I go over in complete darkness and rolling fog. With stray cows for good measure. With the visor open I could feel from the freshness of the air that there was a rather huge open airmass right next to me, but I couldn't see just how far down it was beyond the shoulder of the road. I laughed at the situation, but it was no problem at all. The GPS gave me plenty of warning of upcoming switchbacks and the temperature wasn't too chilly. I made it without incident to the Hotel Astoria were I noticed that even though I corrected "Ms" to "Mr" several times in the booking email exchange I was still listed as "Ms Ola Leier". Maybe the color coordination was just too good to be worn by a man. I received directions to their auxillary sleeping quarters...
... parked next to some British bikes...
...and retired with Generic News Network and some leftover cognac from the boat.
A good day of personal transportation this too. (Google refuses to route my Nufenen detour, it was THAT dumb)
Tomorrow, the Alps proper...
|08-13-2009, 01:46 PM||#2|
Joined: Jun 2007
Location: Tuscany, Italy
|08-13-2009, 03:00 PM||#3|
Joined: Nov 2008
Location: Bergen, Norway
Don't worry Tage, you will get the credit you deserve for the tree/forest dichotomy later on. For now, part 2:
Day 4 - Passing time and nearly passing out in the passes of the Alps
I'm usually very hard to get out of bed, but waking up in Ulrichen, Switzerland was not difficult. I knew I had some good roads ahead of me. But no rush, Ulrichen is a very scenic place.
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Just Swiss as hell.
The sleeping quarters. I talked a bit to the Brit guys, turns out they were actually planning to go to Norway but went here instead since the ferry had been cancelled. Funny since I would've gone to England but didn't for the same reason.
The Hotel Astoria markets itself to bikers and for good reason as you'll see on the map below. The breakfast wasn't exactly five star stuff, but nothing to complain about. I recommend the hotel for prices and location alone anyway.
Speaking of location, this is Alp day and this is the Alp route:
Hopefully you are not blinded my amazing skills in informative digital art, but this lovely loop gives you lot's of alpine pass notches on the handlebars. It's just that Google Maps think all of them are closed.
1. Nufenen Pass, in daylight this time
2. St Gotthard Pass, the newer one but not the tunnel of course
3. Susten Pass, perhaps the most scenic
4. Grimsel Pass, a strong contender to the same title
5. Furka Pass, as seen in James Bond - Goldfinger
6. Oberalp Pass, probably notable in some way but I was all passed out by then
Heading out of Ulrichen, I have to check out the local airfield. A bit of googling tells me it's no longer in use, so those shelters were probably only inhabited by Mirage IIIs and never Hornets. Good thing perhaps, jet engine noise in this narrow valley would probably spoil the milk in the cows.
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Up we go! This is where I came down last night. The valley on the lower right was an amazing taste of what was ahead. I love switchbacks as much as the next guy, but there's a lot to said for slightly climbing terrain with tight sweepers and lots of s-combinations. I considered stopping to document this, but there's not much point taking a picture of single corner is there? One corner might be the equivalent of a nice tree, but the real experience is enjoying a sequence of trees (a.k.a. forest) at considerable (but responsible) pace. Up here the roads were always wide enough to have a center line which means you can go into a semi-blind corner without worrying about an oncoming tourist bus. This is rarely the case in Norway, even on quite busy roads. Another point to the Swiss.
The altitude has a definite effect on what little bottom end the 750 cc rev tuned engine has.
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And down the other side. They look nice and wide don't they? The leathers were not a bad choice, quite nippy up there. I speed through the lovely villages near Airolo, regrettably without taking photos.
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But I was anxious to get up the St. Gotthard or San Gottardo Pass. This is one of the best panoramas I've made I think, stiched from 8 photos. The roads were quite busy with traffic, but that's fine. There is also an older pass over St Gotthard but steep and narrow switchbacks on a misty and chilly morning on cobblestone (yes COBBLESTONE) without ABS is just an excuse to talk to the nice girls at the insurance company. Some other time.
This is the village of Hospental I think.
Passing a beautiful river as I head north towards Susten Pass.
Some old water powered industry, looks like it can do more than just grind flour.
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Whoa, haha. Lot's of low sides in this corner. Be careful up there folks!
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Susten Pass really is amazing. Looks like all the motorcycle borne CO2 has scared the glacier up the hill a bit, but just look at all the damage it has done to the mountain! Serves it right.
Gotta get some more bleifrei. At this point I should have realized I was not taking any proper pose pics of the bike. How cool it would have been to put some proper Alpine shots of it in the not too distant "for sale" ad. Bad move.
This just isn't good enough.
But the roads up there were. Climbing up Grimsel Pass is something more than just a motorcycle amusement park. It's like a team of scientists designed it for an experiment on how much endorphines a motorcyclist's brain can produce in 15 minutes. Utterly amazing! And no pics of it because a corner, trees, forests etc.
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The water has a strange color, the flatness of the color just isn't captured properly by the camera. I finally queued up Kraftwerk on the MP3 player, just as "Europe Endless" gets me into the perfect mood of mid tempo enjoyment I pass a sign that says "Kraftwerk -> ". Obviously some hydroelectric plants in the area, but coincidence? I think not.
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I only properly appreciated the dam when I got to a good vantage point. The feeling you get is similar to filling a bowl with water to the brim, then holding it over your head with streched arms.
Heading down to the village of Gletsch I start smelling something weird petroleum-like, something burning. I immediately get the oil leak jitters thinking that it's suddenly all pissed out and my red hot bearings are cooking what's left of the oil into bubbling tar. But no smoke and good throttle response...
...but once down in Gletsch it all makes sense.
They were firing up a steam train! Once I was satisfied the smell wasn't coming from my bike, it smelled lovely. I started on the climb towards Furka, looking for a good vantage point to re-shoot the train but before you know it...
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...I'm on the top.
At the Hotel Belvedere. All right, I'm buying the Alpine Glamour. Hotel Belvedere, at the Furka Pass. Doesn't that sound like the perfect obscure retreat for you to take Audrey Hepburn away from the paparazzi in your E-Type?
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"Yes Audrey, the view is wonderful. But it is better from our room. And I do believe there's some champagne left."
I can't not have lunch at the Hotel Belvedere so I have lunch at the Hotel Belvedere. A nice little pile of Swiss Francs exchanged for some oven dish with bread, cheese, ham and some pickled vegetables. It's not for me to tell the Swiss how to make food, but I think Audrey would've been having second thoughts about my travel plans at this point.
With some ice cream, hot coffee and some long, satisfying puffs from a smoke, I head towards my bike again. The tourists are gathered around it for some reason. As I prepare to lecture in several languages about the supreme combustion efficiency of the Twin Swirl Combustion Chamber and the subtleties of the oil cooler and its thermostat, I realize they're actually just next to it, taking pics of some alpine rodents.
Bah, sure they're about the size of cats but are they cooler than a ninja sword on two wheels, available with fully adjustable front and rear suspension in 1983? Tourists...
Moving on, I catch a whiff of a pleasent smell...there's the train again! Amazing that there's trains in these areas. The steam train is obviously for tourists, but it was actually the main communication device not many years ago, its cog wheel system pulling it up the steepest hills.
Through the town of Andermatt.
Across the Oberalp Pass, complacency finally catches up with me. I believe complacency is the #1 killer of bikers and here's how it got me. I had gone through pass after pass, completely comfortable with the roads and my own tempo. It's just a grand day out. After eating at Belvedere, there's a slight drizzle and I start to slow down a little. Wet roads always makes me pucker up a little, particularly when it's just drizzling over a surface that has been dry for some time. After getting passed by some aggressive riders I think "maybe I'm going too slow", I wasn't really paying attention to my speed. "But this is just fine, all things considering" I think, around 80-85 kph in 5th, just cruising over the high valley floor while School of Seven Bells sing their sweet, psychedelic tones (from the album Alpinisms, appropriately enough) and I'm just basically along for the ride, very passive and enjoying the view.
Then, initially obscured by some houses, was a corner. "Came out of nowhere" as they say. Nu-uh, the corner has been stationary for many years, it was my brain that was off to nowhere. Suddenly it's pulled back to riding a motorcycle in the alps. The corner is about 90 degrees, semi-blind and the surface is (in my mind) wet.
You all know how it goes. Push the inner handlebar, look through the corner, LEAN AND BELIEVE! I did none of those, I just stood her up and went on the brakes with white knuckles and a straight knee. Rear wheel locks almost instantly, tail comes sliding out to the right. I let off the rear, tail kicks straight so hard my butt is lifted clean off the seat and only my deathgripping hands are interfacing with the vehicle. Ass back down, stomp hard on the rear again as I go off the road and onto gravel. Tail kicks out the other way, let it go, it kicks straight and almost off the bike again. The end of the gravel parking space is approaching quickly, my mind has already crashed and is going through the motions of crumpling metal, flailing limbs and a tearful conversation to the pretty insurance girls.
While the rear end keeps waltzing down towards the scene of the accident, the front brake has actually removed some energy from the equation. The right foot still insists on stomping the hell out of the brake lever, I kick out the tail again, but don't have enough balance to let off properly so the bike starts tailsliding properly. But most of the speed is gone, suddenly the front wheel stops against a rut with me half way off the bike. Perhaps I could've held it, but since my ass was almost off the bike and my brain was so far into crashing it was already off the phone and waiting for the recovery truck, I couldn't. So it goes down at 0 kph.
Ok, breathe. Breathe again. Look around. Anybody see it? Nope. Phew, nice. Try lifting it. NNGGGH. No way. Breathe some more, shoulders down now, check ignition off. Try again. NNNGGGHH. Up it goes. Gas has leaked from the vent on to the tank bag. I REMEMBERED SPARE CLUTCH LEVER YESSSSS! Breathe some more, have a giggle. I take the tank bag off to let some gas evaporate, wipe it off with a napkin and get out the camera.
Colors heavily altered to make the skid marks stand out better. The front wheel basically tracked in a straight line from between the white line and the grey station wagon while my rear wheel was clearly doing other things.
Between the milk cans telling riders (who are actually riding mentally as well) there's a corner, the old farmer's building which is probably protected and carries a fine for damage and the rolling green hills of the Oberalp Pass, I think I ended up in a very sweet spot in the middle. And as you can see, the surface only had a few drops, nothing that would compromise my grip through the corner. Bike did not have a scratch. Alternator cover rested against grass, so did the clutch lever. Fool's luck.
So there you go. Push, look, lean and believe is one thing - but complacency is another. A superior rider uses his superior judgement to stay out of situations that requries his superior skill. I failed at every point and give myself a thorough mental ass chewing for it. What a cheap lesson though. I ride on and from that point, my brain was riding all the way too.
The shakes pass quickly thankfully and the trip carries on like this.
Taking a bladder and lung break where the route turns south. These Austrian fellows were travelling by hardcore chopper, one with a sidecar. Both kickstarted. Cool stuff.
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I turn off south again after the south-east line at Tiefencastel, a great example of a Lovely Swiss Village™.
The last Swiss pass for the day is past lovely villages like this and across the Julier Pass. The top itself isn't much special but as mentioned before, a slight climbing road with sweepers and combinations is the best there is. With both body and brain along for the ride I regain my confidence on these absolutely epic twisties!
It was so good I had to stop and take two completely meaningless pictures of a road. Trust me on this. From Tiefencastel and up to the Julier Pass is some of the best handlebar tugging, ass dancing, apex sweeping motorcycling you can do outside the most famous passes. GOD DAMN that was fun. And it's not a popular road for locals or tourists so traffic was practically nada.
Another example of Lovely Swiss Village™.
Julier Pass itself is quite bumpy and even if the scenery is great I was pretty natured out by this point.
Eventually, down into St Moritz, the famous ski resort for the European glitterati. I have to snap two pics of the nice streets in the more working class end of town. The pretty girl who happened to find herself in both pics will have to excuse me, I'm not (much of) a crazy stalker, it just made for some nice dynamics in the streets.
Mmm very nice dynamics, yes.
Stop! Biker's inn. Take a picture. Then move on.
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This rather poor panorama captures the upmarket end of St Moritz, but not the most fairy tale looking hotels. It's a fascinating place. I don't think I would be comfortable here, even if I could afford a splashy room. But the air of old money and aristocratic ways is a bit fascinating, even if everyone can and do go here today. Half way through her cheese, bread, oven dish thingy at Belvedere, this is where Audrey Hepburn would casually mention we should have gone instead. Women!
Hee hee, I'm on the other side of the "no bike" sign, watchu gonna do about it?!
As solo motorcycle sightseeing goes, this is no different. Stop, drink of water, light a smoke, shoot some pics, think "yup, it's nice allright" and move on. We've got a border to cross.
I notice quite a few supermotos thumping around in St Moritz and I guess the road south is their favourite romp as all the sharp corners have fat single track skid marks through them. A few low side scratches as well, but you need a few of those before you get the hang of "backing it in". Not that I know, I'm done with rear wheel shenanigans for now.
At Pont Muragl (so the map says) there's a great view of a glacier.
And a great place to catch some air for our supermoto friends. Looks tempting doesn't it? I check today's agenda and conclude that jumping a 250+ kg motorcycle with Cold War suspension tech is not on it.
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Further south is another epic section of sweepers. Excellent visibility all the way and just balls out, sing inside your helmet, awesome riding. Another meaningless pic of a road expanded to a half decent panorama.
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My left turn to the north east towards Livigno. You know it's a good motorcycling road when it has these warning signs. "Why so fast?" or something. I'm reminded again by the empty helmet that the best motorcycle rider has his brain with him all the time, a bit of speed on good roads with good visibility is less dangerous.
Looking the other way, towards Italy. With the European Uni..no wait. I mean with the Schengen agreement and everything, the Swiss border guards' main task seemed to be beating the day shift's Tetris score but further up at the Italian post I am stopped for the first time. Only to ask where I'm from and where I'm going, so this whole European freedom of movement thing is working out very well. The last person to ask me for a passport was my mom on the phone before I left, and as it turned out, noone else did.
The outskirts of Livigno, looking back where I came from.
My constantly revised plan on this particular day has me spending the night in Bormio, or tenting somewhere near. Even though I brought a tent, I feel I have to be in real serious trouble in a very desolate part of the world before I even consider a night in there. Guess I'm not hardcore enough. So as dusk just starts hinting about turning to darkness in the most civillized mountains in the world but still a good way out of Bormio, a nice looking hotel catches my eye and I think "yup, this is it".
It turns out to be a very nice family run ski resort hotel called Hotel del Cardo. Which by the way has very friendly prices in the off season.
Indoor parking as well? In gratitude I find some cardboard to put under this whole oil situation. There is exactly one employee (and no guests) who speak English, she conveys my request to the Mother of the house who kindly responds that "yes, even though the kitchen is closed we will find you something to eat". And it is of course a primo dish of pasta, a secondo dish with lamb and vegetables and of course some dolce - something pannacotta like with gelatinzed cream and raisins. And a pitcher of red. We're not far into Italy but damn are we in Italy!
I can retreat to my room, get out of my red shirt (which I donned for dinner) and finish off the tiny cognac and some more Generic News Network (the talk shows on Berlusconi's channel didn't appeal). Going to bed with a full stomach and a good wine buzz is one of the Prime Pleasures of Life. Doing it after - for me - a pretty damn eventful day of motorcycling in the Alps makes it so many times better.
Tomorrow, Stelvio. And the Autostrada.
|08-13-2009, 03:33 PM||#4|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Port Kennedy, Western Australia
What a magnificent adventure! Great write up and pics.
'13 Triumph Sprint GT; '04 Triumph Tiger 955i
|08-14-2009, 07:04 AM||#10|
Oman Dirty Biker
Joined: Oct 2008
Location: Sultanate of Oman
Ola M, Excellent narrative and pics, very weill done. Thank you
Offroad Riding - Lap of Oman for Mary 2008: http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=416409
The 8th Wonder of the World Discovered in Oman: http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=476324
|08-14-2009, 04:11 PM||#11|
Joined: Jul 2003
Location: Louisiana, USA
Great Report!!! Thanks for sharing..
Good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
2007 Star Stratoliner
2004 V-Strom 1000
|08-14-2009, 04:28 PM||#12|
Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Stuck somewhere in motorcycle Purgatory
it's a REAL GS, it won't break :D
just keep oil in the sight glass and that roller bearing crank will go another 100,000 kilometers! Great pics as usual!!
Txt msg with Dan right after he was paralyzed:
Me: Hey Dan-O. Just wanted to say howdy and Love ya!
Dan: Howdy and Love you too. Doin' good and feeling good.
Me: Give 'em hell, little Bro!
Dan: Roger that.
|08-31-2009, 02:16 PM||#13|
Joined: Nov 2008
Location: Bergen, Norway
Sorry for the lateness in updating. The chore of image processing conflicted a bit with the chore of working which both conflict with the chore of nightlife. But anyway, here's day 5. The first day of not crossing any borders and also across the highest mountain pass.
I left you last time just falling asleep at the Hotel del Cardo in the small village of San Carlo between Livigno and Bormio.
It's a lovely hotel.
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And a lovely valley, the area is called Valdidentro.
Next to the hotel is a church from the early 1600s.
Cool looking Cinquecento parked out front, but judging by the air pressure in the rear wheel I don't think it sees much action in the valley twisties.
I trust the Abarth logo is original...
The house cat was quite substantial. I guess life as a mouse around the hotel is not easy. I wouldn't mind joining it in soaking up some sun in the quiet hills...
... but today's route to Tuscany is a decent 570 km and I need to get going.
So with a decent breakfast consumed, I pay my bill, carry my stuff down into the garage and politely dispose of the piece of cardboard I left under the bike to catch the ever-present drops of oil. I ride up to Bormio to get some gas. The road is very enjoyable and the small villages really look like a mix of Swiss and Italian styles and culture. Think of it like a brown timber house, grass on the roof and a bench outside where two grandmothers sit all day watching passers by, occasionally going into heated gesticulating arguments.
Bormio is pretty busy with tourists but I get my gas and I head up towards the hills...
You can't see the sign in my un-cropped photo, but it says Bormio to the right and Passo Stelvio to the left. So up we go!
As we learned in Switzerland, the road up towards a mountain pass is often the most fun with better view along the road allowing some speed through dancy twists and sweepers. But I quickly realize the traffic is really dense and I'll have to take it easy.
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The ascent begins.
Nearing the top after two barrelloads of switchbacks and a nice valley run, I find this gang of enforcers having a day out. I think it's some civil defense type of organization but I've forgotten what it said on the side of the car.
Now, for some reason I've thought Passo della Stelvio was something only motorcyclists cared about. I guess it's because I'd only heard about it in a motorcycling or classic car touring context and somehow imagined it was a deserted summit, possibly with a hot dog stand and a brass statue of some famous 1950s Ducati racer. Somehow I should have realized an easily accessible mountain pass with beautiful views would be interesting for tourists buses, camper vans and other visitors as well.
And cyclists. Lots of cyclists. I don't know at what sea level they start, but you have to be impressed by the guys and girls cycling up to 2760 m.
It takes its toll I suppose, this medevac chopper landed next to the main square, presumably picked up some emergency case and took off again.
There's several hotels up here, I suppose it would be a fun place to stop over although I doubt the nightlife is jammin'.
Lots of touristy stuff.
And lots of bikes after all. Lots and lots of bikes. I can't believe I forgot to take a good pose pic of my own bike at the summit of Stelvio. That's a worse mistake than almost crashing in Switzerland.
I enjoy a good hot dog from a stand (my imagination was correct on that at least) and realizing there's quite a distance to Tuscany, which is today's destination, I get to work on these:
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Perhaps the most enduring image of this particular area. When the Top Gear guys were here they seemed to enjoy the luxury of empty roads. But I met cars or other bikes in pretty much every corner and the surface was quite bumpy as well. So greatest driving road this particular bit is not, but it's still worth a visit for all the other reasons. I've heard some say that it's better to go across north to south, the opposite of what I did. It's more fun to go up switchbacks than to go down them and the northern end is more challenging roadwise, but my recommendation is this: Don't worry about it, go across whichever way fits your travel plans. The difference in actual riding isn't all that big and both sides are worth several stops to enjoy the views.
But if you're taking panoramas, don't rush it. I tried another 8 piece panorama going down and it failed completely. Oh well.
The east side of the valley is spectacular!
But you don't get to see much of it when violent fatigue has given you greyed out tunnel vision.
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Further down the fields become more practical for agriculture and the tiny villages start reappearing, each one with its own church of course.
Finally down to the flat valley floors (at about 700 m altitude Google Maps say), Italy starts looking more like Italy. Both in the plants, the Dolomite-y rocks and the dense traffic. I make my way down to Bolzano and start getting ready for the Autostrada.
Stopping at a random place for a drink of water and airing out my trousers.
It's starting to look like Italian temperatures as well. Granted this is in the sun, but I felt my Fieldsheer textiles - the jacket partly meshed and the pants not meshed at all - was not going to do the job well. I wouldn't die, but I wouldn't be very comfortable either. Oh well, they were on sale.
Without spending much time fiddling with my camera, I hit the Autostrada. They have a toll system which I later thought works very well, but the intimidation factor at introduction was high. Because I didn't have a clue how it worked. I'm in front of a gate, I press a button more out of desperation than curiosity. A ticket comes out. I take it. The gate opens to my astonishment, I stick the ticket in my jacket pocket, forget to zip it up and hit the motorway. Sadly for you, a few miles later I manage to zip it up at speed, depriving you of an amusing story with me at the other end without my ticket. Cause that's how it works, as long as you're on the Autostrada, all gas stations and so on are inside the ticket zone. You travel as far as you want and when you get off it, you put the ticket in a machine or in the hand of appointed personnel and you pay for the distance you've driven.
From Bolzano to my off ramp near Pisa it cost about the same as the Swiss sticker allowing me motorway access all year. So it's not cheap, a good argument for choosing the back road.
But when you have a set destination and a limited amount of time, that is what you have to do. And as we all know, the photos of the trip will all be at gas stations.
Such as this. Let me know if you want it in high resolution, perhaps in sepia tone or with your family members edited in.
That center spot is definitely starting to take on a different texture from the sides, all the straight up cruising wears a flat spot in the middle. Another plus point for those back roads.
I got used to the traffic on the Autostrada fairly quick. The Italian drivers are bad, but not that bad. It's funny how the body language of cars is the same in every country but the behaviour different. I could tell when a car was less than eager to pass in the left but too bored to sit behind me in the right when he chose to stay somewhere in the middle, his mirror missing mine by about 12 inches at 120 kph.
When the rush hour started it got really packed around the cities. In the heat the emergency lanes were very tempting indeed and when I was sure there were no carabinieri in my rear view mirror I joined the sportbikes and scooters (all in t-shirts and jeans or shorts of course) there. At one point I could see a car parked in the emergency lane up ahead and pulled back into traffic. Good idea, it was a cop car. And the tiny glimpse of the scene was quite funny, they were writing a fine to a guy with a very trendy beard in a Smart Fortwo, his expression all "this is ridiculous!". Very Italian I thought.
Eventually I make my way across the boot and through the toll gate without setting it on fire or getting myself arrested. The GPS takes me a a longer and more complicated way to the village, but it's all good when it looks like this.
I even manage to find the place I'm staying through the maze-like villages. But there's noone there. Of course I have failed to read my instructions properly and forgotten to call ahead. After some back and forth on the phone, I meet up with fellow inmate Tage in the village of Calci. He and his wife are entertaining guests in their favourite pizzeria and I join up for an excellent meal. They help me get in touch with the host of the guest house and eventually I'm parked, unloaded and sitting outside enjoying some wine and the sound of crickets.
Tomorrow, no plans at all. And that suits me just fine.
|09-21-2009, 05:13 AM||#14|
Joined: Nov 2008
Location: Bergen, Norway
Day 6: Dancing through Tuscan forests and climbing figtrees.
I wake up in a huge bed in a old charming house in Tuscany, it's relatively cool inside and hot outside. I take stock: Life is pretty good.
The magnificent hostess has prepared a nice breakfast for me. Fruit, yoghurt, ham, cheese, tomatoes and basil leaves the size of lettuce. Life is getting better still. I give Tage a call, my introduction of the standard politeness "everything good?" is answered with "of course everything is good, I live in Tuscany!". La Dolce Vita and all that might be a cliché but at this moment I embrace it completely.
I make my way through the narrow streets of the old villages, it's hard to tell where one end and another begins. It's even hard to tell where one house ends and another begins.
Eventually I arrive at Tage's house, looking down towards his driveway. The bike in front is his rental Transalp.
I get served some excellent coffee and given a tour of the garden.
Here's Tage and his friend discussing how the wild plum tree needs to be eradicated before it chokes the more delicate apricot tree.
While doing maintenance work on the stone wall, Tage came across a decades old stash of rather strong pain killer. Perhaps the previous couple living here had some marital issues. "I won't discuss with you any longer, I'll go work in the garden!" *dig dig* *glug glug glug*
We have a great conversation in the baking sun. An important topic is the one I introduced in the first post - seeing forests or seeing trees. This is Tage's maxim which I have shamelessly stol...adopted. Another thing we talk about is riding the ride vs riding the ride report. Sometimes you just need to get out and ride and let the sights flow through your eyes without worrying about documenting them for people on the internet. But doing that documentation is a great way of remembering. I would have remembered going across Stelvio or almost crashing in the Alps, but without writing this report I would perhaps not have remembered the smell of the Swiss steam train or the gigantic basil leaf at breakfast.
But almost every moment has something in it worth remembering. And if I wanted to stop and document those, the trip would not have been over yet. Perhaps I rode past something that was more worthy of memory than something I did stop for? Yep, there's plenty of things I regret not stopping for. I don't believe anyone goes through life without regret, and the sum of these small benign regrets are the perfect kick in the butt to go out again and see some more, or go back and see it again.
Sometimes trees, sometimes forests. Life is both fast and slow. After a change of pace, the new experience is always fresh and worth remembering.
I get some tips for local sightseeing and decide on seeing an old bridge and a lot of corners - we'll say that's a good balance of open minded sightseeing and egoistic bike riding.
But first a stop in the village of Calci where I am under strict orders to try the fresh ice cream. Sir yes sir!
The lemon ice cream is simply amazing. I have to control myself not to go back inside and order one of each flavour.
But off we go. I go across the rural plains, past the outskirts of Lucca and up into a valley. The buildings, the businesses and the people I see give a sense of the simple and low paced life, but I can't help but think that's an optical illusion. Perhaps the economy out here is just not big enough to manifest itself in something a dolce vita tourist would consider anything but the dolce vita. That charming little olive oil factory might not have faded signs because it looks more authentic for the tourists, maybe they're out of business. Either way you get a definite sense that the people and the culture is old and haven't changed much for many years. In some places that is bad, in this place it is very good.
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And a perfect monument to that is this, Ponte della Maddalena. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ponte_della_Maddalena
This bridge is so old, the first decree for its protection was issued in 1670. It was built around 1100. That is properly old. It is an amazing accomplishment for the engineers of its day. In an era we know as the "dark ages" and associate with stagnation and resistance to new thinking, these people were bold, enlightened and not afraid to think big.
I make my way up towards a hill which is a popular destination for local riders due to the severe twistiness of the roads.
Don't try anything too brave through here!
I'm pretty sure whoever designed this road was a motorcycle rider.
A small ski lift, but apparently there's not enough snow in winter anymore.
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The switchbacks were plentiful. It was quite unnerving to push hard on my flatspotted rear tire. Pushing into the corner the bike felt slow, then suddenly as I leaned past the crest it wanted to fall into the corner. I tried to limit myself to the center region of slow response, hoping it would wear down the crest to something of a smooth curve again.
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Eventually I run out of lovely corners and make my way back to Tage's house where I am invited to dinner.
I join Tage's wife Sissel in the figtree, nothing like starting a dinner by picking the ingredients from your garden.
BBQ fired up with cherry wood.
(pic borrowed from Tage)
And me fired up on some fantastic sausages.
The menu was as follows:
As I go to bed with the senses saturated by the good life, I know I am hooked. Tomorrow I leave for France, but I will have to return some day. The sooner the better.
|09-23-2009, 03:14 PM||#15|
Joined: Sep 2007
Location: Belgium, wrong side of the river
Like your reports. Thanks for sharing.
Honestly, have you ever heard of somebody looking back on his life thinking: "Oh, I should have travelled less and mowed the lawn more often"? (Pumpy)
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