Alps 2011: 4 Riders, 3 Countries, 2 Factories, 1 MotoGP Race

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by kendenton, Sep 12, 2012.

  1. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    Alps 2011

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    Peter, Frank, Dave and Me

    Introduction

    I think it's fair to say that from the moment I first turned a wheel onto Passo Sella in 2009 I've been planning this return trip. That experience, shared with my friend Jim (trflyboy on STN) was, by an overwhelming margin, the most amazing time I've spent on two wheels. It took 2 years to make it happen, but on June 11th I was back on an airplane headed for Europe.

    But let's back up a little.

    First up was putting together a crew of riders to join us. Long story short, in the end there would be four us going. Myself, plus Dave (nearlyseventy), Peter (gasguage) and Frank (Skee). Unfortunately Jim was unable to join me this time around.

    Next was figuring out where to go. I knew the Dolomites would be in the mix again - I think I could spend the rest of my riding days there and never be bored. Last trip we spent some time riding the passes in the Swiss Alps around the town of Andermatt, and while they were spectacular neither Jim nor I felt the need to go back and redo them. That left about half the trip open for new places.

    Looking into bike rental options, our riding areas got narrowed down to a few obvious choices. We could fly to Zurich again and rent from Moto Mader, but that would pretty much mean repeating the 2009 trip almost exactly, which we didn't want to do. The other locations with major rental bike options were Milan and Munich. Bikes from Milan were pricier, and would mean our first time on the bikes would be escaping Milan surrounded by crazy spirited Italian drivers. That left Munich, which would work out fine. There were several rental outfits to choose from, prices were pretty good, and it's a city I've always wanted to visit (I come from German ancestry).

    Using Munich as our base meant we had a few new riding areas to choose from to add to the Dolomites section - western Austria, the Black Forest area of Germany, a return to Stelvio and Gavia just to name a few. After an untold amount of e-mail exchanges and Skype sessions, a plan was made. We'd head out from Munich to the Berchtesgaden area of Bavaria, head over Grosglockner to the Dolomites, then Gavia and Stelvio on the way back to Munich.

    We chose to rent from an outfit in Landshut, just north of Munich, called Moto Maier. They had good prices, offered a large selection of bikes, and Hermann was great to deal with over e-mail. Dave, Peter and I would be picking bikes up on Thursday the 16th since we had more vacation time to burn, and Frank would get his on Friday and meet us at our hotel.

    This trip was going to cost a bit more than the last one, as airfare prices never came down this year for peak travel to Europe. I had started tracking prices in the fall of 2010, and they went from around $1,000 to $1,500 by Christmas and never came down. This was particularly troubling to me since at the end of the biking section of the trip my wife and son were flying out to meet me to spend an additional 2 weeks in Europe. In 2009 I paid $645 for my flight from PHL to ZRH, so I had budgeted around $2,400 for the three of us. Now I was looking at $4,500! I would have to do something about that.
    #1
  2. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    6/11, Flight to Munich

    (Not much motorcycle content for a few days, be patient)


    The thought of spending over $4,000 on airfare for my family made me look into the world of frequent flier miles, something I've never really considered before. I'm by no means a frequent flier, so I didn't yet belong to any airline FF programs. I did a lot of research, and found that there were several very generous credit card offers out there that gave a lot of FF miles for signing up. My credit score is thankfully very good, so I applied for a couple of cards and starting accumulating the miles.

    I was suprised at how easy it was to rack up the miles just for filling out a credit app (and taking just a small credit score hit for the app). It became something of an addiction a hobby, and before I knew it I had some very healthy FF accounts on several airlines. How healthy? Enough to fly business class (Envoy) to Europe for (practically) free and barely make a dent in the balance. I eventually booked a flight on US Airways in Envoy class, Philadelphia to Munich with a stopover in Frankfurt. The transatlantic flight would be on an Airbus A330, which offered a very nice bonus - US Airways used to offer a First Class section on that aircraft, with row 1 being fully lie-flat seats (regular Envoy/business have healthy reclines but still slope). US has since dropped First Class but they kept the lie-flat seats. They used to charge a premium above business class for those Row 1 seats, but starting this year they became available at no additional charge. I was excited to see seat 1G available when I booked my flight - score! I've never flown "in front of the curtain" before, and this gave me something else to look forward to on this trip.

    Dave and Peter would be leaving on Tuesday evening for a Wednesday arrival in Munich, and Frank would be arriving on Friday. I had originally planned to leave Wednesday as well, but I decided I wanted to spend more than one day in Muncih so I moved my departure up to Saturday. That would give me about 3 1/2 days to explore Munich before picking up the rental bike.

    I arrived at the airport about 4 hours before departure. One of the nice bonuses of flying transatlantic Envoy is access to the Envoy Lounge with free food and drinks, and I wanted to be able to enjoy that experience before my departure. The check-in agent offered to bump me to an earlier direct flight, still in Envoy, but I would lose my row 1 sleeper. I passed. The agent made sure I knew where the lounge was and sent me on my way. With barely anyone in security I was in the terminal about 10 minutes after stepping out of the car.

    As my usual pre-flight time at the airport is spent elbowing my way to the bar at Chickie and Pete's, then hanging out with the huddled masses near the gate, it's safe to say I was blown away by the lounge.

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    The stairway to heaven (aka Envoy Lounge)

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    Envoy Lounge, about as crowded as it got


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    Beer selection

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    Enjoying a gin and tonic, with mozzarella and tomato salad.

    I tipped the bartender $3 when I got my first free drink, which I thought pretty fair. Returning for my second drink, the guy in front of me tossed her a $20 - making me feel like a skinflint. Then she pointed out that drinks were complimentary, and he took back his $20 and walked away with his drink. I was back to feeling pretty good.

    I ventured out just once to get some crab fries at Chickie & Pete's and after waiting 10 minutes got a bucket of cold soggy fries. Sigh.

    Eventually it was time to head down to the gate for boarding, so I reluctantly said goodbye to my oasis of calm and headed downstairs into the maelstrom of the terminal. I was one of the first to board, and for the first time ever got to make a left after entering the plane. I made my way past the "regular" Envoy section, and another wall, and found my seat in the row 1 mini cabin. Oh man, I could get used to this.

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    The aisle seat was my home for the night. Don't hate me - it was free.

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    Dinner/breakfast menu

    Immediately after taking my seat a flight attendant came over to take my drink order. My request for a Gin and Tonic confused her - she paused for a moment, then asked "that's gin with tonic water, yes?". "Yes".

    I had no seatmate until just before the doors closed, so I was hopeful I would get to keep the empty seat for the flight (or maybe get to sit next to some late-arriving celeb). Eventually the seat was taken by the mother of a family of 6, all travelling in Envoy. She was a little bummed to be by herself "away from the Griswolds". My dreams of chatting up Angie Harmon were dashed.

    I passed on dinner since a) I had eaten pretty well in the lounge, and b) nothing on the menu sounded good to my (unfortunately) finicky palate. I did enjoy the Passion Fruit Mousse desert though.

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    My Passion Fruit Mousse

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    Settling in for the flight. My son and I could have played soccer in the area between my seat and the bulkhead.

    Watched some TV episodes and a couple movies ("Moon" was excellent) on the iPad, and tried in vain to get some sleep. I don't know what made me think I would be able to, I've never been successful before. There was a little turbulence a few hours into the flight, but nothing bad. I tossed and turned during the lights-out portion of the flight trying to will myself to sleep, but it wasn't meant to be. Soon enough morning was breaking outside and we prepared for our landing in Frankfurt.
    #2
  3. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    6/12, Arriving in Munich

    (couple days until Motorcycling content)

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    Germany!

    Got through Frankfurt passport control without being asked a single question. I had a few hours before my Lufthansa flight to Munich, so I made my way to one of Lufthansa's business-class lounges to kill some time.

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    Much more crowded than the Envoy Lounge

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    Mmm, free pretzels...

    I was disappointed to see that my Droid 2 Global phone couldn't find any service. I bought an hour of wi-fi and used the iPad to do some research, and turns out I should have contacted Verizon before I left the country so they could enable the phone for use overseas. My bad for thinking a phone with "Global" in the name would just work.

    The lounge was too hot to spend a lot of time in, so I wandered the terminal a bit and eventually made my way to the gate for my next flight. At this point the lack of sleep was starting to hit me, and I may have nodded off once or twice for a few minutes. Not good when you're by yourself in the airport.

    On boarding the plane, I was disappointed not to see any real "business class" in the cabin. Turns out on Lufthansa's intra-country flights, business class is a normal economy seat with the middle seat in the row not used for seating. So same narrow seat, crappy legroom, etc. Just the benefit of having an open seat between me and the guy in the aisle (apparently it only takes one flight in business class to spoil you). Oh well, at least the flight is less than an hour.

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    Not what I envision when I think "Business Class"

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    Somewhere over Germany

    Landed in Munich about 2:30pm (8:30am EST), and was delighted to see my bag already waiting for me. Followed signs for the S-Bahn trains, and came out of the terminal into a delightful covered outdoor plaza with a cafe and biergarten. This was a very nice "Welcome to Europe" moment, as I don't think anyone exiting an airport in the northeast US encounters anything other than chaos, taxis, highways, etc.

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    Yup, this is Munich


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    Plaza between terminals and where the trains are

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    Smokey Joe's cafe in the plaza. In the shade trees on the left is the Airbrau biergarten.

    Taking the train to my hotel near Rosenheimerplatz didn't go so well. I knew the location of the hotel, I knew which stop to get off at, and I knew to take either the S1 or S8 from the airport. So far so good. Got on the S8, and paid attention to the route map and saw the stops were matching up, so I relaxed, confident that I had conquered my first "I dont' understand German but I'll figure it out" challenge. Eventually the train stopped at Ostbahnhof, the stop before mine, and we sat there for a bit. Some announcements (all in German) were made, and some folks got off and some stayed. I assumed we were waiting for another train to clear the tracks, or something similar. After a bit we got moving again, but we didn't make any stops for a long while. We were creaking along above ground, with central Munich nowhere in sight. Another 30 minutes go by, and the train stops in Pasing, which is way on the other side of Munich. I asked the conductor for Rosenheimerplatz, and all I got back was "bus".

    Turns out the whole central S-Bahn corridor was closed that weekend, from just before my stop to the other side of the city. In Ostbahnhof I was maybe a couple blocks from the hotel, now I found myself with an hour-long city bus ride to add to my long train detour. The bus was SRO, packed with unruly kids and uncaring parents, hot as blazes, stopped every block, and I was exhausted. Just shy of four hours after landing I finally got to the hotel.

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    In line for the bus

    The Holiday Inn City Center was excellent, and the room gods were smiling on me and I got the largest room in the hotel, a suite actually. No wi-fi, but a very comfortable bed and a great view of the city. I tried to grab a little sleep, but now I was too excited about being in the city. Spent $30 on a phone call to Verizon and got my Droid working again before heading out on foot to see Munich.

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    Living Room at the Holiday Inn

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    No windows in the bedroom, but a very comfortable bed

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    View from the room. The 3 towers on the left are near Marienplatz, the center of Munich

    It was an easy walk to Marienplatz, and I spent the next few hours wandering around and taking in the sights of Marienplatz and the surrounding historic buildings and plazas. I also enjoyed a couple liters of beer, something I've really been looking forward to on this trip. I had kinda sorta planned on visiting all the biergartens in the city, or at least one from each brewery, but that was going to be a bigger challenge than I thought.

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    I will not take the easy food option

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    New Town Hall in Marienplatz. Even prettier in person.

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    My first german beer, a half-liter of Hacker-Pschorr Helles. Excellent.

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    I'm thinking this was some sort of bachelor party. These guys were loud and drinking a lot, but obviously having a good time. They would toast every pretty girl that walked by (of which there were plenty).

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    This was the guest of honor of the group above. Nice pants.

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    He played a mean Beethoven's 5th

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    Another guy out with his friends (note the signed shirts on him and gold-pants-guy)

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    Orlandostrasse, looking back towards the Hofbrauhaus. The "Gelateria Garda" on the right had fantastic gelato.

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    No visit to Munich is complete without a visit to the Hofbrauhaus

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    Pretty lively inside, but too hot and crowded for me

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    The biergarten in the back was much more my style

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    A tasty liter of Dunkel (dark) beer

    By about 10pm I couldn't fend off sleep any longer. I made my way back to the hotel, set an alarm for 7am, and passed out.
    #3
  4. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    6/13, Munich

    (Motorcycling content tomorrow! I'm going to keep the narrative brief for the next few sections - I'll eventually post the longer versions on my website)


    Not sure what happened to my 7am alarm, but I woke up at 11:30 instead. Barely enough time to shower and check out of the hotel. I had found a great deal on a hotel near the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), so I needed to move myself over there before exploring more of Munich.

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    My home for the next 3 nights (or so I thought), the 1st Hotel Creatif Elefant

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    Oh boy that's a tiny room. With no a/c.

    Walked from the hotel down the main pedestrian strip (Neuhauser Strasse) to Marienplatz. Weather was perfect, I was well rested, it was shaping up to be a great day.

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    Inside the Frauenkirche, my first European cathedral. Yowza these things are big.

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    Pretty serious organ

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    The Antiquarium in the 500-year old Residenz, former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs (mostly the Wittelsbach family)

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    Cool perspective painting on the ceiling, only works if you stand in the exact center of the room

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    A recurring theme in Munich's buildings was "Here's what it looked like before 1945..."

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    Nice new brickwork, but not nearly as grand as it once was

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    The Emperor's Hall, at one time converted into private apartment for King Max I Joseph. Nice digs.

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    The baroque Ancestral Gallery

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    This view probably hasn't changed much in the last couple hundred years

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    Theatinerkirche near Odeansplatz

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    Statues outside Theatinerkirche

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    Inside Theatinerkirche

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    Delicious Augistiner Helles

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    I was disappointed to find that Munich isn't nearly the car mecca that Zurich is. After 2 days this was the first interesting car I found.

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    The first Ferrari of the trip

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    Hey, is that Sean Connery?

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    This guy was outside the Residenz, just about shouting about the history of the ruling family "if anyone knew the secrets of who killed so-and-so...". I first thought he was a nut like you'd find outside a momument in DC, but turns out he's a really enthusiastic leader of a Mike's Bikes Tour. I would have definitely enjoyed him as a tour guide.

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    His tour group. Next time around I think I'll give it a try.

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    Another shot of the Hofbrauhaus

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    Menu from Hard Rock Cafe opposite the Hofbrauhaus. 14.75 Euro was about $21.50 when I was there. That's a pricey burger. I passed.

    About 10pm I made my way back to my one-small-step-above-hostel hotel room where I fully expected I would collapse and get a good night's sleep. Unfortunately the lack of a/c and tiny confines of the room conspired against me. The only way to get any air in the room was to open the window, which didn't help much but did let all the noise from the busy street in. I watched some TV, read, listened to music, counted sheep, every trick I could think of, but no use. By 6am I gave up trying to get any sleep and got ready to go out for the day.
    #4
  5. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/14 - Part 1, BMW Welt and Museum

    (I have no notes from the next 2 days, so going from memory here)

    This turned out to be a very tough day, as I had gotten zero sleep the night before. Combine that with jet lag, and another sleepless night just 2 days ago, and I was lurching around like a zombie extra from "Shawn of the Dead" for portions of the day. There were lots of reasonably priced food vendors at the main train station, so I shuffled over there to get a croissant and a soda (Mezzo Mix, a Coca-Cola/Fanta concoction that my son and I love from EPCOT's "sodas of the world" pavilion). To get to the BMW Museum I would have to take a combination of trains, the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn. Fortunately the S-Bahn construction that derailed me on Sunday was all completed, so it was a painless 15 minutes or so of travel.

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    Various trains waiting at the Hauptbahnhof. Need to take the ICE one day...

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    The BMW Welt, with the Olympia Tower in the background

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    BMW Welt and Olympia Tower

    The BMW Welt combines a showroom, exhibition center, customer delivery center, restaurants and meeting facilities into one giant "BMW Experience" facility. I wasn't really too interested in the Welt, but it opened an hour before the museum so I had to kill some time there. I also walked over to get a view of the nearby Olympic stadium area, but there wasn't much to see from my side of the bridge.

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    The interior of the Welt

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    The black wagon (like me, Europeans love wagons) is in the elevator that brings cars up to customers awaiting delivery

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    The Welt had a few motorcycles on display, including this tasty classic

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    as well as the latest K1600 GTL

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    Across the street from the Welt was the BMW Museum and BMW's headquarters

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    I always get a laugh out of these BMW C1 scooters

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    Photo shoot with BMW R1200RT and Moto Guzzi Norge GT

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    I think the Norge looks pretty good in white

    There wasn't a factory tour available in English until later in the afternoon, so I had to make do with just touring the museum. Cost was 12 Euro and it was self-guided, go at your own pace. I spent about an hour going through it and felt it was pretty impressive. Focus was 80% autos, 20% motorcycles I'd guess.

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    First motorcycle engine, from 1923

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    One of the coolest features of the museum was the "wall of bikes". Several stories tall, it made for an impressive display of the history of BMW bikes. Unfortunately it was difficult to get a close look at some of the bikes. This photo was taken at the top level of the wall.

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    Looking down another section of the wall

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    IIRC, this was the only room devoted to bikes

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    Lots of engines on display

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    Artistic display of trunklid badges. The ///M5 would do nicely, thank you.

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    The bike room

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    Oh my. The BMW "Batmobile", the 3.0 litre CSL. Oh my.

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    You could listen to recordings of the different M motors

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    The first M car, the 1978 M1

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    A car I lusted after as a teenager, the 1983 M635CSi.

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    The Isetta

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    The Roadster room

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    Heading up to the BMW Art Cars exhibit

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    I don't know a lot about art, but I know what I like. ;-)

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    To get back to the train station I crossed the bridge and went through the Welt again. A lot more people in it now, and I noticed there were a bunch of folks gathered together in the middle, and several employees standing by the stairs. Not sure what was going on, I decided to hang around for a little while. I was glad I did, as it turned out to be one of the highlights of the day. After just a few minutes a rider on a BMW G450x rode out into the middle of the floor and started riding around. Then he headed for the stairs.

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    He did several circuits, up and down the stairs and roaring around the ground floor. What a hoot.
    #5
  6. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/14 - Part 2, Munich

    (I have no notes from the next 2 days, so going from memory here)

    By this time my lack of sleep was really putting a hurting on me. My brain was "foggy", I was feeling really cranky, I'm pretty sure I was muttering to myself, basically I was beginning to lose it. Things would get worse before they got better.

    Took the U-Bahn/S-Bahn back to the Hauptbahnhof, and noticed that I was starving when I got off the train. I was in no mood to try some unknown food as my insides were quite "delicate" from the jet-lag and no sleep, so I broke down and got some chicken strips at Burger King. Unfortunately, they were completely nasty, didn't taste at all like I expected, and I could only get down 2 of them. This didn't help my mood any.

    I had enjoyed The Residenz so much I decided to take a tram out to the Schloss Nymphenburg, the summer palace of the Bavarian ruling family. My all-day 9 euro train ticket was good on all trains, busses and trams in the central area of the city, so that was handy. The short (15 minute?) tram ride lets you off right on the edge of the grounds of the palace - unfortunately the palace is a good mile or so walk from that edge. Schloss Nymphenburg is very impressive from the outside as you approach, so my hopes were high for an equally impressive tour. I paid my 11.50 Euro for a combination ticket and headed into the palace. 10 minutes later I was back outside, having fully experienced all 8 rooms that were open for viewing. What a rip-off. I wandered the admittedly impressive grounds for a while, and toured the Museum of Carriages (the Marstallmuseum) which was surprisingly interesting.

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    Schloss Nymphenburg

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    One of the very few rooms you could tour

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    Pretty impressive backyard

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    The back of the main part of the palace

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    Man are these carriages ornate

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    Made the longs walk back to the tram station, got some ice cream and rode back to the main train station. The ice cream gave me a much-needed energy infusion, so I decided to keep on touring the city. I was very concerned with being able to sleep that night, so my plan was to basically exhaust myself to give my body no choice. I was also avoiding any caffeine or alcohol to make it even easier. I have to say it was hard to spend a day in Munich and not have any beer :-(

    Next up was a trip out to the Theresienwiese, the fairgrounds used for Oktoberfest. Besides just wanting to see the area, I wanted to check out the Bavaria Statue, an 18.5 meter high and made of bronze. I took a longer-than-needed journey on the trains to get there after misreading the map, but eventually found my way there. Not sure what I was expecting, but the fairgrounds were basically just a huge empty swath of concrete. I could see the Bavaria statue in the distance, so I made my way across the deserted fairgrounds. The statue and surrounding hall of fame were pretty interesting, but I passed on the climb up the inside of the statue. I think the price was 5 euro, but I was feeling burned by the Nymphenburg experience and also wasn't sure I really had the energy to make the climb. Next time...

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    You have to imagine it packed with thousands of drunken revelers (and roller coasters!)

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    The Bavaria Statue

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    The "Hall of Fame"

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    A long walk back to the Hauptbahnhof led me past the Hacker-Pschorr biergarten. I really wanted to sample their beer, but instead just sampled their men's room. When I got to the train station I was really starving and wanted to eat something substantial. I discovered, not surprisingly I suppose, that a little food would clear the fog and set me straight for an hour or two. I didn't want to attempt any more German versions of American fast food, and just the thought of my usual standby of pizza made my stomach flip, so I took a chance and ordered some grilled sausages from a take-away in the train station. Those of you who know me, or have at least read my trip reports, know that I'm unfortunately a picky eater. I wish I wasn't, but after 45 years it's a very hard habit to break. I'm fine with hot dogs, but I've never really had many sausages so I was pretty wary. Lucky for me the sausages were absolutely delicious! It was just a few euro for 4 links of Nuremberg Sausage on a nice crispy roll. Feeling refreshed, and having plenty of time before attempting to sleep, I took the train back to Marienplatz.

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    "Spare Rips" made me laugh

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    My afternoon salvation, and the first new food of the trip, Nuremberg sausages

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    Folks watching the 5:00 glockenspiel show

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    The namesake of Marienplatz, the Marien statue

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    My favorite dessert as a kid was seven-layer cake. Living on Long Island, there were lots of bakeries that made them, but having moved away I haven't been able to find it anywhere. I was utterly delighted to see slices at the Riechart bakery, and with the first bite I was instantly 8 years old again.

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    New Town Hall looked fantastic after a quick rain shower passed by

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    The backside of The Residenz

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    This pavilion behind the Residenz dates back to 1615

    I wanted to increase my chances of a good night's sleep, so I visited a drugstore and asked about a sleep aid. The woman came back with 2 choices, one herbal, and one she said "this one, how do you say, make habit?". I chose the herbal, not wanting to come back from a European vacation an accidental junkie. I couldn't put it off any longer, so I went back to my tiny hotel room around 9pm.

    Tomorrow 2 of the other guys on this trip would be arriving, and the next day we were due to pick up the bikes and start riding. I was very concerned that my lack of sleep was going to screw up tomorrow's group day, and even more concerned that if this continued there would be no way I'd be riding a motorcycle over mountain passes. All this weighed on my mind as I lay in the even-hotter-tonight room and tried to sleep. And tried. And tried.

    By midnight, after 3 hours of tossing and turning, I was pretty close to a full-blown panic attack. Sleep was nowhere to be found, the room was closing in on me, and I felt like I was really beginning to lose control. Lack of sleep can do some strange things to you. I called my wife who basically "talked me down", and she encouraged me to get out of there and go get a different hotel room. Happy to have a plan, I quickly went on the web and found a room at the Holiday Inn I stayed at earlier, packed up and dropped my key off at the front desk. I think I told him I was leaving for good, I can't really be sure. I wasn't thrilled about the 2 pre-paid nights I was losing, but money can be replaced. Spent about $30 on a taxi from the train station to the Holiday Inn, and mentioned repeatedly at the check-in counter that I needed a room with a working air conditioner. I'm pretty sure they thought I was a bit crazy, and truth be told I probably was.

    By 1am I had the new room down to a pretty cold temperature, and was delighted to be able to pull a blanket over me. I set my alarm and requested a wake-up call, as well as texting one of the guys arriving tomorrow advising him of my whereabouts in case slept through all the alarms.
    #6
  7. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/15, Dave and Peter Arrive

    (I have no notes from today, so going from memory here)

    (Tomorrow there will be some actual motorcycle riding!)


    Sleep! Glorious sleep. I've had better nights, I kept waking up every hour or so, but I did actually manage to sleep. I can't tell you how good it felt to be out from under that pressure. I will never again take sleep for granted.

    Unfortunately the Holiday Inn didn't have any rooms available that night, so I had to find another hotel room for my last night in Munich. Dave and Peter were booked at the NH Muenchen Deutscher Kaiser, right around the corner from my old sweat-box, so it made sense to move myself over there. Made a reservation online (at nearly 3x what the sweat-box cost) and took the short train ride over there. Once again I impressed upon the front desk my need for a room with working a/c, and was given a room on the 6th floor. I declined the offer "maybe you would like internet in your room?" for 25 euros and went upstairs. I had a minor moment when I couldn't get the a/c to blow cold air, and after a quick trip back downstairs I learned you have to set the dial on the sun, not on the snowflake, to get cold air. The sun, because it's sunny outside, so you might want cold air. Um, OK.

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    From the window near the elevator you can see my old hotel

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    The Hauptbahnhof is the large grey building in the center

    Dave and Peter showed up in the lobby right on time. They both had had some concerns regarding their flights; Dave was flying Air Transat that only flew to Munich once per week and had limited options if there was a problem, and Peter was flying Air Canada whose customer service employees had just gone on strike. Fortunately there were no problems and Peter even managed to get an hour's sleep on the flight. The guys got checked in, cleaned up, and we set out for downtown.

    I took them around to all the best sights I'd seen while I was here, and we had a good lunch at a cafe right in Marienplatz. Having had such success with my sausage experiment the day before, I ordered another variety this time, mit brezel. It was great to see friends again, and share laughs over a beer. I felt like the trip was really getting started now.

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    Dave in Munich

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    Peter setting up a photo. It was good to have a beer again, especially a Paulaner Weissbier.

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    My sauerkraut remained untouched, but I devoured the rest of it

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    How can you pass up a photo op like this?

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    Second Ferrari of the trip

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    Great music from this quartet

    After taking in all the regular places, including another tour of The Residenz, we took the U-Bahn up to the Englischer Garden. This was on my to-do list for Munich, but didn't get a chance to visit yet. It's one of the largest urban public parks in the world, and features a fantastic (and huge at 7,000 seats) biergarten located at the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower). This turned out to be a completely delightful place to hang out and have a beer, with lots of shaded benches and a variety of food options.

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    The Chinesischer Turn

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    Couldn't help but think of The Blues Brothers "Chicken wire?"

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    Interesting contraption for drinking and riding. Saw a couple variations arond the city.

    After a while we walked south through the park towards the city in search of the surfers. Yes, surfers. Even though Munich does not boast any oceanfront, or big sandy beaches, it has a thriving surfer community. We basically followed the river and the sound of the surf and were soon rewarded to an almost surreal scene, folks in wetsuits surfing in the middle of the city just a few feet away from a busy street.

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    Great pictogram

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    Fascinating to watch this going on in the middle of the city

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    Waiting patiently for their turn

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    You could tell who was going to give a good show by how they jumped in. The new guys would put the board in the water and slowly stand up on it before gently drifting into the middle of the river. Hot dogs like this kid just jump in and land on the board with complete confidence.

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    Sometimes they wiped out in spectacular fashion

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    And sometimes they would just call it a run and fall in the water so the next surfer could jump in

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    <iframe width="425" height="349" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/5jqvmsDCgWQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

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    I was disappointed to find this after Dave called me over to "check out this rack!"

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    Passed this gorgeous E-Type on our way back from the surfers

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    I wonder if they remake this every once in a while ("Johnny, what can you make of this?" "I can make a hat, a broach, a pterodactyl!")

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    We ended our day at the Hofbrauhaus

    By the time we had finished our dinner and beers at the Hofbrauhaus it was around 9pm, and the guys couldn't keep their eyes open. Back to the hotel, and requested an early wake-up call to start the big day tomorrow. My room was about 17 degree celsius, and sleep came mercifully quickly.
    #7
  8. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/16 - Part 1, Landshut to Bad Reichenhall

    Fortunately I had a second night of pretty good sleep, pretty impressive since I was very excited about picking up the bikes and beginning the motorcycling part of this vacation. The three of us met down at the lobby of the hotel, grabbed a quick breakfast to go in the train station, and boarded the train for the 40 minute ride to Landshut. The dealership was only a few blocks from the station in Landshut, but dragging our luggage through the town made it seem much farther. The dealership was kind of in a back alley, making it a little tricky to find, but once we walked into the courtyard we were delighted to see our bikes lined up and ready to go.

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    Our train to Landshut had nice private compartments. This was also the first train (or bus or tram) that someone checked our tickets.

    One of the reasons for going with Moto Maier was the large variety of rental bikes available. I had gone the BMW route last time with a too-big-for-the-Alps R1200RT, so I was eager to try something different. My main criteria, other than the bike being "right-sized" for the twisty mountain roads, was that it be a bike that is not available in the US. Between dealer demos and events like Americade I've demo'd almost every bike that interests me, so this was an opportunity to sample some forbidden fruit.

    I wound up choosing a Yamaha TDM900. I liked the idea of a twin with upright ergos (similar to my Multistrada), and the TDM fit the bill nicely. Dave normally rides a BMW R1150RT and was also eager to try something smaller, but even more interested in trying something with more power. The new Honda CBF1000F was his first choice. Peter's daily ride is a BMW K1200GT, which is pretty similar to the Yamaha FJR1300 he chose to rent. I think one of his concerns was knowing what the hard bags would hold - all of the rental bikes had triple hard cases, but only the Yamaha's were factory and thus a known quantity. Frank's Honda Varadero was also waiting outside, though he wasn't due to pick it up until tomorrow.

    One of the things we went back and forth with pre-trip was figuring out GPS options and heated gear hook-ups. Herman had Zumo 660 units for rent at 60 euro for the week, but then how would I get all the routes and waypoints on it? If I bring my Streetpilot 2720 how woud I get it mounted and powered? Should we ask Herman to wire the bikes for the heated gear or do it ourselves? This was an easy choice for me, as I didn't want to rely on someone saying that would do it. I get burned by that on an Eagle Rider Harley rental once and it soured me on "oh yes, we can do that for you". My concern about my Garmin 2720 was magnified by the fact that it required power to run as there is no battery. If I couldn't get it wired up for some reason I'd be in trouble.

    Another option presented itself when Jim offered to lend me his Zumo 550 for the trip. Since it can run on batteries (for a short time) that was a better option so I took him up on it. I upgraded it with the latest 2011 Europe maps, transferred all my routes and waypoints to it, and packed it (and the mounting kit) in my suitcase. While getting the TDM900 packed up, I was delighted to see that Jim's Zumo 550 snapped right into the 660 mount on the bike. Powered right up and was ready to go - woohoo! I threw my Gerbings battery lead in the sidecase to be installed later - didn't really want to start pulling the rental bike apart at the dealership.

    I had packed a little lighter for this trip than the last one, and still found myself with tons of space in the hard luggage. I could have done it without the top case if needed, though I prefer using one.

    For the 2009 trip Jim and I brought all our gear over - boots, pants, jacket, helmet, gloves, taking up most of a pretty big suitcase. For this trip we chose to rent our gear from Herman (except Frank that is, he is wisely dubious as to the availability of gear his size). The cost was 50 euro for the whole outfit which seemed like a reasonable price to not have to lug my own gear over there. Dave and Peter benefitted even more from this as they would be continuing their vacation after returning the bikes and would need to haul their gear to Rome and Paris.

    Herman took us to the stockroom in the back of the dealership and went about getting gear that fit us. Jackets and pants were pretty easy, Dave got a nice Dainese textile jacket and Peter and I got Held textiles, but boots and helmets were a little trickier to find good-fitting items. After a few helmets that didn't work, Herman cracked open some boxes of brand-new Caberg flip-ups in our sizes (we had requested modulars) and we were set. I also got a brand-new pair of boots (which took a couple days to break in to be honest). Overall we were very impressed with Herman's operation.

    Bikes loaded, gear on, bluetooth communicators linked, GPS programmed, paperwork signed, we were finally ready to roll. Herman snapped some shots of us, some with our camera, some with his, gave us cards with his private number, and we pulled out of the lot...and promptly got lost. Just a little bit lost, but still not an auspicious beginning. Within 2 blocks of the dealership the Zumo had us turning onto a bicycle path. Hmm, that won't do. Turned around and took another crack at it. Eventually we found our way out of the bustling town of Landshut and onto the open road.

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    The route for the day

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    Moto Maier's parking lot / bike delivery area

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    Packing up

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    Ready to roll (photo courtesy Peter)

    Our goal for the day was pretty straightforward - take a mostly direct route from Landshut to the hotel in Bad Reichenhall about 90 miles away. The short ride should give us time to get a feel for the bikes, and when we got to the hotel we could make any adjustments/installations and maybe go for a loop in the surounding area.

    I took an immediate liking to the TDM. Very comfortable riding position, more power than my Multi 620, and a nice engine sound to boot. We stuck to route 299, which would take us about 2/3 the way to the hotel, and after an hour or so stopped for lunch. There were only a few tables on the patio outside the restaurant, and we had to wait a bit to get one out of the sun. We placed an order as best we could to a waitress that only spoke German (more sausages for me, please), and started enjoying that "hey, I'm motorcycling in Europe!' feeling. It was only after lunch that we got into trouble. It was such a nice day, and we were all feeling good with the bikes, that a plan was hatched to take a more backroad way to the hotel. Problem was I had only programmed the direct route, and like an idiot did not have a paper map of the area. You should see what I brought for the other sections of the trip - laminated, annotated maps and route sheets, a Michelin map of Italy, the works. But of course nothing for Germany.

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    Lunch stop

    Needless to say, our plan of "we'll just head in the general direction" didn't go well for long. We couldn't really find any interesting roads, and the estimated arrival time on the GPS just kept getting later and later. We decided to ditch our meandering plan and set a direct course for Bad Reichenhall. Unfortunately that didn't work out too well either. We ran into some construction that had the road the GPS insisting we take closed off. It's interesting the way the Germans mark that sort of thing - you come to a roundabout, and there will be the normal sign for what towns are down the next road, but one of them will be crossed off. We didn't decode that until going 4 or 5 miles down the road (man, we have this place to ourselves) and coming to the bridge that was out. No choice but to double back and try some other road. It was during this back-and-forth and rerouting that my frustration with the Zumo began. I don't know if it's just the way the Zumo works, or maybe it was the mapset, but the unit took forever to notice it was off-route and decide to recalculate. Recalculation was very speedy, but the delay before it got around to doing it was doing us in. Combine that with it's tendancy to announce turns at the very last minute, and it became very irritating. You'd ride along, it would change from "turn in 0.5km" to "make right now!", you'd miss the turn, and for the next 30 seconds (maybe more) you'd roll along waiting for it to notice you didn't make the turn. By which time you've passed the other 2 streets that could have gotten you back on track.

    Eventually the Zumo's routing left us no choices other than "Take A94 East". A94, of course, meant the Autobahn. I hadn't really considered taking the Autobahn at this point on the trip, having only been riding a new bike in a new country for a couple hours. We stopped for a little roadside chat and I advised Dave and Peter about Autobahn ettiquite.



    • [li]Don't tailgate[/li]
      [li]Stay in the right unless making a pass[/li]
      [li]When checking your mirrors before moving into the left lane for a pass, look as far back as Berlin. If you see a car, don't move[/li]


    With a combination of trepidation and excitement all of us merged onto the Autobahn for the first time and immediately saw the fabled sign on the right shoulder - the white circle with diagonal slashes, aka "No Speed Limit". Traffic was thankfully very light, and we mostly cruised about 80-90 in the right lane except to make a short pass of slower vehicles. Our Autobahn segment was short, maybe 5 or 8 miles, so we were just getting acclimated to it when it was time to exit. Just as I was thinking "OK, that was nothing too special" two Audis flew by us in the left lane, doing I would say at least 140mph. We were doing 60 or 70, getting ready to exit, and they passed us literally like we were standing still. Fun.

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    "End of Restriction" (web pic, not mine)

    It wasn't too long before we got to another crossed-off town, another road closure, and this time the Zumo redeemed itself. A mile or so after detouring down a side road, it suggested we make a right onto this small road that led into the woods. OK, why not? As the road got smaller and smaller, my smile got bigger and bigger. By the time we were in the thick of the forest the road was no wider than one small car. What a hoot! I wish I had stopped to get a picture, but I was too "in the moment". The forest segment was (too) short, and opened up into some farm area before depositing us just on the other side of the road construction. Nice!

    We had a short water break, as it was getting pretty hot. Peter's Caberg helmet was bothering him, so I swapped him my Shoei to see if it would help. We both liked our new helmets so much we kept them for the rest of the trip.
    #8
  9. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/16 - Part 2, Bad Reichenhall

    (I apologize for the lack of "bikes on road" pictures so far. I assure you that will improve soon :thumbsup:)

    The Hotel Almrousch in Bad Reichenhall was a great choice. It was located on a quiet side street (though you could hardly call Bad Reichenall a bustling metroplis), had some room for bike parking directly in front of the door, and had spacious rooms with balconies overlooking the mountains. Check-in was good for a few laughs, as the woman at the counter did her best to inject some English words into her conversation with us. At one point she tried enlisting Peter's help in translating her German to us - funny, since she had no reason to think he spoke German (which he doesn't). Passports were handed over, documents signed, and we were given keys to our rooms - keys on very heavy red tassle keychains. Obviously they did not expect you to take your keys with you when you left the hotel.

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    The Hotel Almrousch. I had the corner room on the top right.

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    Convenient bike parking. The sign behind the bikes (featuring the tassle keychain) was ripped off the wall during the overnight storm)

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    They even rolled out the red carpet for us

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    The view from my room as the storm rolls in

    After getting settled in our plans for an evening ride were scuttled when a storm system moved in. We didn't know how long it was going to last, so decided instead to check out the town and get some dinner. None of us had packed normal raincoats, so we used what he had on hand. My fashionably black Tour Master rain jacket wasn't too conspicuous (which I suppose makes it a crappy bike rain jacket), but Peter's hi-viz Froggs Toggs certainly get some looks in town. The pedestrian zone was pretty empty as we walked into town. Once the rain started again we took refuge in a small Italian restaurant at the edge of the main piazza (or platz, I suppose, since we're still in Germany, but piazza sounds so much nicer). After dinner we continued walking down to St. Zeno Church, which dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. We also passed some sections of remaining wall that dates back to the same timeframe, as Bad Reichenhall was once a walled city.

    Dinners were delicious all around, and we topped it off with some great gelato from the window outside the restaurant. Tomorrow would be our first full day of riding and the last of the four musketeers would be joining us later in the day. We got back to the hotel just as the rain started up again, and this time it came down with a vengeance. The driving rain was accompanied by strong winds, so much so that a large sign was ripped off the side of the hotel. Hopefully tomorrow would bring better weather.

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    The main square was not exactly thriving

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    Excellent pizza

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    Peter and Dave

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    St. Zeno church, parts of which are around 800 years old

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    The southern edge of town. Notice the white concrete tram towers in the middle-right.

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    Turns out this is the world's oldest aerial tramway still in its original design

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    Close-up of the tram station at the top of the Reichenhaller.

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    Walking back to the hotel we still only encountered a few other people
    #9
  10. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/17 - Part 1, Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest

    The only "tourist attraction" I wanted to visit during our riding days was The Eagle's Nest in nearby Berchtesgaden, and we planned that for today. We spent some of the morning wiring the bikes for heated gear, and had a nice buffet breakfast in the hotel (included in the room cost). The weather was looking so-so when we headed out.

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    Quite a storm last night

    There weren't a lot of road choices to get there, so we stuck with the direct route on 20 which actually turned out to be pretty nice. Most of it was just pleasant country road, but there was one section close to Hallthurm that provided the first serious curves of the trip. We had a little navigational trouble at the rounabout in Berchtesgaden (c'mon Zumo, recalculate!) but the town wasn't so big you could get lost in it. The Zumo also started showing screens for "Device not supported" and "USB Cable connected to wrong port" which didn't help with my navigation efforts. We hadn't decided whether to go with a guided tour or just wing it ourselves, so we walked on over to the tourist information building to get some more info. The extremely distracting young lady I spoke to (in a very low-cut dirndl) swayed us to not bother with the 60 euro per person guided tour and just ride there ourselves. She did give us a good road map of the area, and pointed out that the direct road to the Eagle's Nest was closed and we would have to take the longer detour over curvier roads. Oh darn :-)

    A brief background on the Eagle's Nest, or Kehlsteinhaus, is probably in order. This small chalet-style building was built in 13 months using slave labor on a subpeak of the Hoher Goll known as the Kehlstein, and was intended as a 50th birthday present to Adolf Hitler. The Nazis used the area around Berchtesgaden and Obersalzburg as a sort of retreat, with many high-ranking officials having summer houses there. If you've ever watched a program about WWII, you've seen footage of Hitler at the Berghof, his summer home overlooking the mountains. Not surprisingly this area became a target for allied bombing toward the end of the war. Whatever buildings used by the Third Reich that weren't bombed were destroyed when the Allies occupied the area and over the following several years - nobody wanted the structures to become neo-Nazi shrines or tourist attractions. About the only remaining building is the Eagle's Nest, which was spared destruction at the local government's insistence. Interestingly, Hitler only visited the Eagle's Nest about 5 times.

    I wanted to visit the Eagle's Nest because it would be my first big WWII historical site. I'm in no way a fan of Hitler and the Nazis, but the importance of the history and what happened in the region is undeniable.

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    First part of the day

    The detour road up to the Eagle's Nest were for the most part a lot of fun, even if they were a little wet. To get to the Eagle's Nest you have to park at a tour center, then buy a ticket for the bus that will take you to the top of the private road. We paid for parking, and then in searching for a bathroom came went downhill and discovered the museum. Paying for our tickets, we were advised that there were no English signs in the museum, but we could pay more for a headset that would provide some narration. We passed on those, thinking we wouldn't be in the small museum for long. In hindsight, at least one of us should have sprung for the headset as the museum, while small, was packed with interesting displays that none of us could really decipher. It didn't take long for the cumulative effect of hundreds of Nazi exhibits to take hold and after 30 minutes or so I just wanted to sit down and look out a window at the mountains. Monumentally depressing. Before leaving the museum we toured the remains of some underground bunkers, and that was fascinating as well as being chilling.

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    Looking out a machine gun emplacement covering a stairway into the bunker.

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    "Have you looked down at your pants yet?"

    We left the museum and got our bus tickets, which all have assigned times. After a quick snack our bus was ready to leave. The 20 minute bus ride up the mountain is on a curvy private road, which on a clear day boasts some magnificent vistas. On this day, however, once we got above a certain elevation all we were greeted with was white clouds/mist. You could just about see the edge of the roadway and then...nothing. Certainly not an ideal day to visit a mountain-top retreat for the sweeping views, but sometimes you just have to deal with what you have.

    When you exit the bus at the end of the road, the journey is still not over. First order of business is choosing your departure time for the bus ride back down the mountain. They advised 2 hours for a good visit, but based on the visibility we figured an hour or so would be more than enough time. A pair of enormous doors open into 400-foot long tunnel, at the end of which is a brass elevator that takes you 407 feet up into the Eagle's Nest itself. If we thought the view on the bus ride was obscured, that was nothing compared to the visibility outside the Eagle's Nest. We did a short walk higher up the mountain, where we could literally hardly see our feet in front of us. We wandered around a bit, both inside and out, before grabbing a table in the circular great hall for some snacks.

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    The entrance to the tunnel

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    Doors to the tunnel

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    Probably just wide enough for a vehicle to whisk dignitaries through

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    And what am I supposed to be seeing?

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    Not ideal

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    The exhibit shows what the view SHOULD look like behind Peter and Dave

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    The sun terrace has some of the few historical photos on display

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    This photo, from the website Third Reich Ruins, shows Hitler on the sun terrace

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    The red Italian marble fireplace was a gift from Benito Mussolini

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    Mmm, fantatic seven layer cake. I could have eaten a whole cake.

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    Dave and Peter

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    Boy, can't wait to see that picture

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    Finally, out of the clouds

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    Too bad it's a private road, would be a lot of fun on a bike
    #10
  11. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/17 - Part 2, Frank Arrives and the Burgerbrau

    The weather had improved dramatically, but our run back down was hampered by a Porsche Panamera who insisted on braking for every turn or bend in the road. No way did this driver deserve a Porsche (even an ugly bloated 4-door one). We still had a few hours to kill before meeting up with Frank back at the hotel, so we layed out a quick run around nearby roads. Our first gas stop of the trip was painless, though a little irregular in that you pumped first and went inside to pay. In the US that would never work.

    We had a great run on 305, which started out as a fast country road with great views. After a few miles of scenery-watching cruising, the road tries to kill you with a 10-mph uphill hairpin that is not particularly well marked. Beginning at that hairpin the road completely changes character, with lots of hairpins and tight turns to enjoy. We passed the scene of a bike accident that tempered our enthusiasm a bit. There were a few emergency vehicles and personnel on the road, and a KTM RC8 in a ditch on the roadside that actually didn't look too bad. Just past that, however, was what I can only describe as "some kind of Kawasaki" that was completely destroyed. I hope it turned out OK for the rider, but from the looks of the bike I doubt it did.

    We turned south near the town of Schneizlreuth, and passed into Austria for the first time (Welcome to Osterreich). We rode through some tunnels and the road got less and less interesting and more and more busy. I had intended to break off this road onto L251around Unken, but never saw an opportunity to turn. When we got near Lofer we stopped to discuss our options. We could either backtrack to Schneizlreuth and take 21 to Bad Reichenhall, or try to make a big loop to the west around St. Johann in Tirol. As tempting as the long route was, we figured it would be good to get back to the hotel and meet up with Frank, and perhaps do more riding as a quartet.

    Heading back to the 305 intersection we passed the "Welcome to Germania" sign, and had a good run on 21, although with heavier traffic than ideal. Highlight of the return trip was a BMW 6-series passing us in the twisties. We were down a reasonably brisk 90kmh in a 60kmh zone, but this guy obviously had someplace to be, blind curves be damned.

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    Map of ride back from Eagle's Nest

    Frank was a welcome sight as we rode down the street towards the hotel, shooting pictures of us as we arrived. We chatted for just a little while about his trip down, and asked whether he wanted to go ride or call it a day. Frank was having none of that, and voted that we get out and ride - impressive given that he had just arrived in Germany having flown overnight and picked up the bike straight from the airport. I put together a quick loop that would take us through Berchtesgaden again, and, for the first time, the four us rode out together.

    I'm pretty sure we took 21 back down to 305, although it could have been the smaller 2021. We had a great-paced run on 305 accompanied by perfect late afternoon light. The four of us were doing well as a riding group, which wasn't too surprising as we've all ridden with each other at one time or another over the years. Konigsee (Lake Konig) was just past Berchtesgaden, so I steered up toward that thinking it would be a pretty vista for a quick stop. Turns out it's a big tourist destination, and we had to pay to park in a giant lot (missed the cheaper bike parking ticket machine though). The area was filled with kitschy shops selling postcards, lederhosen, etc, and the shops all led down the hill to the boat dock and the only tiny piece of the lake you could see without taking a boat ride, all of which were done for the day. We took some pictures, decided not to have dinner at what would certainly be an overpriced and underwhelming tourist trap cafe, and made a beeline back to Bad Reichenhall.

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    Map of pre-dinner ride


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    From Konigsee you can just see the Eagle's Nest above the clouds

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    The only part of the lake you could see

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    Konigsee is a tourist trap.

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    You can just make out the Eagle's Nest again in the clouds.

    20 on the return trip was fun again. There was a quick "moment" when some camper van pulled out of a parking lot right in front of me, but I was able to zip around him in the oncoming lane. I was riding point at this time, so I was continually checking my mirrors to keep track of the guys. When we got to the really twisty part of 20 I watched Peter on the FJR have a "moment" as well. Turns out the FJR can't manage quite the lean angle his KGT can, and he started scraping big time on one of the hairpins. I had just checked my mirrors and saw him drifting wider and wider before reeling it back in. Thankfully there was no opposing traffic.

    Got changed back at the hotel, and made our way on foot through the town to the Burgerbrau. We had initially tried to book rooms here early on, but rooms sold out while we were discussing it. There was an all-you-can-eat BBQ going on outside, but there were no available tables. We reluctantly found a table in the deserted inside dining room, but our hangdog faces must have made an impression on the guy seating us - a few minutes later he came to our table and motioned us to follow him outside. "Macht schnell!" he kept saying as we practically jogged along with him outside. He pointed us to a newly-empty table and we gratefully plopped ourselves down. The smell of the BBQ was tantalizing, and the atmosphere was enhanced by the small band playing outside. This was a night where it all came together - perfect weather, great food, good music, and most of all good company. We wasted no time filling (and refilling) our plates wth freshly-grilled pork, chicken, sausages, meatballs and various side dishes. While I am normally reluctant to try new foods, the combination of good beer and the grill had me grabbing a bit of everything.

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    OK, never seen that before

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    The grill and buffet at the Burgerbrau

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    My plate - the chicken and sausage were delicious, the pork so-so, and the meatballs (hiding behind the pork in this shot) fantastic. Phone on the table was for texting the family back home.

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    Dave's plate

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    Frank, Peter, me and Dave

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    Our entertainment for the evening

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    Nice bespoke glasses for the Burgerbrau

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    A great long dinner with friends

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    The walk back to the hotel

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    Hotel Almrausch after dark

    Tomorrow would be our first full day of touring with the whole group, and we had a full day planned with a route hitting all the supposedly good roads in the area. Hermann's book was a little help, but most of the suggestions came from enthusiast websites.
    #11
  12. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/18, Austria Loop

    I had laid out a route of a little over 200 miles for the day that included some roads that were specifically mentioned in Hermann's book and some that just looked good on Google maps. I was also using this great set of maps as a source of good road choices. Since we managed to hit some good roads yesterday I was hopeful that today would uncover some gems. The weather wasn't looking great, but you have to take what you get sometimes. We all decided to taunt the weather gods and not don our rain gear.

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    Frank is raring to go

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    Departing the Hotel Almrausch

    After getting gas just south of town our first new road of the day was 305 going west from Schneizlruth. What the road lacked in twists and turns it made up for in scenery. When it wasn't passing through quaint little towns it offered sweeping views of the countryside. It would qualify as a decent connector road to get to something interesting, but I was hoping for more. At Reit im Winkl we turned south on 176 towards St. Johann in Tirol, which turned out to be quite a busy and, quite frankly, ugly town. Truck traffic had increased substantially in this area, and my love for Austria was waning.

    I had planned a 50km loop from St. Johann in Tirol west to Worgl, then east to Kitzbuhel and back up to SJiT, but just a few miles in decided to scrap that whole section. While 178 may look good on a map, it was just a busy commercial road that we shouldn't be wasting our time on. I don't know what 170 would have been like, but I'm guessing more of the same. We backtracked through SJiT and picked up 164 to Saalfelden which took us over Griessenpass. Or at least that's what the map said, the pass was certainly not memorable in any way.

    We stopped for a quick break (eat, drink, bathroom, warmer gear) near Saalfelden, and then had to stop a few miles later to put on rain gear as the gloomy day with on and off fizzing finally turned to proper rain. We continued on 164 over the Dientner Sattel, which at 1357 meters was our first real fun road of the day - which unfortunately wasn't saying much. Our enjoyment was kept in check by the steady rain and the car traffic. By this time we'd been on the road for nearly 4 hours and really hadn't come across really fun roads.


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    Lunch (well, pretzel anyway) stop

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    I was born in the Bronx. Austria is not the Bronx.

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    My bathroom had a nice view

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    And the rain gear goes on, making the day even better

    We split off 164 onto 166 on the other side of Huttau, and at least shed some of the traffic. There were a couple roads in this area that I had high hopes for - one was Pass Gschutt, which sported a 17% incline, and the other was a road through Postalm. The Postalm was a toll road, and highlighted in Hermann's book.

    Pass Gschutt didn't take us where we needed to go so we just did a run over it to Gosau and headed back. The very beginning of the road was quite fun with several hairpins, steep hills and some tight turns, but it quickly petered out into another "just kinda curvy" road. In the town of Gosau there was some kind of big community event going on, with many folks in traditional dress and people setting off fireworks. I'm thinking it was a wedding, but I'm not ruling out a funeral either. Whatever it was, it slowed down our return to the pass while all the partygoers drove from the fireworks site to a reception hall. We did a photo stop at the start of the good section of the pass, and several of the guys made runs up and back for the camera. Unfortunately the gloomy weather did not conspire to make for interesting photos.

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    Pretty scenery, but the road was just so-so

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    Frank's enjoying it

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    Waiting on the revelers

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    Crappy photo of Dave on Pass Gschutt

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    And a crappy photo of Frank on the same pass

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    The front of the TDM is certainly...interesting

    We made it back to 162 and turned north to get to the Postalm road. We had some confusion finding the start of it, with the Zumo saying one thing and the road signs saying another. We stuck to the road signs and found ourselves heading higher and higher as the road got narrower and narrower. Within a couple kilometers we were on a glorified goat path with no other traffic in sight. We left behind a couple isolated farmhouses at the start of the road and then were "in the wild". Even with the subpar weather and its attendant visibility issues there were some terrific views deep into the valley below.

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    The veiew from the start of the Postalm road

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    Dave's quite pleased

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    Not to bad on the straight section, but when this bus just missed my parked bike on the hairpin I held my breath

    After another few kilometers we came to a toll booth, and had to pay 4 euro each to continue. Given how "blah" the roads had been so far I was happy to fork over some cash for what promised to be a good road. Took the four of us a while to deal with cash, gloves, toll gate, etc. Once we were all on the other side of the gate, I started a routine that would serve us well for the rest of the trip: I told everyone to go "ride their own ride" and "wait for everyone at the top". I was glad we could stay together on the transit sections, but I wanted everyone to do the fun roads at their own pace.

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    Fortunately the BMW driver was patient

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    "Who's unimpressed with Austria so far?"

    The Postalm was certainly the highlight of the day, and I bet it would be even better on a dry day. We pretty much had the road to ourselves which was an added bonus. A shorter ride than I had hoped led us to the broad open summit where we all met up again. Fortunately the road had much to offer past this point, and it began twisting and turning it's way down the eastern side.

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    I had to wait a minute for these guys to get off the road

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    The top of the pass

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    Dave's day was going to get worse before it got better

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    More cows at the top

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    The eastern descent of the Postalm wound its way through a narrow canyon. Dave's in the distance there.

    It was at the photo stop above where we ran into a problem. When I packed up the camera and rode up to Dave, he motioned for me to stop. Turns out when he stopped to take in the view he noticed a great deal of steam/smoke coming from his bike, and a pool of liquid forming beneath it. Unfortunately none of us are really mechanically inclined, so we set our heads to scratching.

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    The investigation begins

    Was it the radiator? Didn't look or smell like coolant, but what if the bike shop used water instead of coolant? Brake fluid? Some sort of overflow reservoir? We poked around a bit, and it didn't look like anything was actively leaking when the bike was started. I slotted in behind Dave and we rode for a short while to see what would happen. Not much, it turned out, until we stopped again. Dave stopped the bike, got off, and billows of steam starting coming from the radiator area. The bike wasn't riding strangely, there was no temperature gauge to check, the coolant level wasn't dropping so far as we could tell, and we were really not in a good place to do anything to the bike. We decided to ride the few kilometers to the Agip station the Zumo promised us was ahead.

    The rain started coming down in buckets as we neared the gas station, and it was a relief to be under a roof for a bit while we figured out what was going on. With the aid of a very helpful local who lent us his phone (because none of us could figure out how to correctly dial a German number, the + sign was the culprit) we gave the dealer a call, and the best Herman could do was send a truck around on Monday. This being Saturday, that did not fill us with happiness. Worse yet, tomorrow was to be the ride over Grosglockner into Italy, and a bike with issues on a Sunday could be big trouble.

    To make a long story short, it was rain water. Like I said, none of us are mechanics. When Dave rode the bike, splashed up rain water would collect on some fairing inner or some other hideyhole, and when he put the bike on the sidestand it would dump out over the radiator producing copious amounts of steam. Buncha geniuses we are.

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    A very helpful stranger

    Once we had that sorted, we just needed to get back to the hotel. My route had included some more exploring east of Salzburg, but the rain hadn't relented and we were mentally beat from mucking with the bike and playing out various "what if" scenarios. A more or less direct course to Bad Reichenhall was plotted (avoiding the Autobahn though) and we pulled out into the deluge. We had some more GPS-induced problems on the way back, culminating in ending up in a back alley of a back alley in Bad Reichenhall. While Frank punched more buttons to find the correct route out, I took off up a tiny leaf-strewn path that looked promising. Fortunately it did end up at the main road so I didn't need to try to turn around or head back down the slippery path.

    We parked the bikes, got changed, and headed into town for dinner. Some of us managed to score umbrellas from the hotel, others just used their raingear to stay dry. We ended up at the closest restaurant to the hotel, La Dolce Vita. While it had been a mostly disappointing day for me, with the exception of the Postalm road, this dinner helped end the day on a high note. Meals were excellent all around, beers were large and cold, and desserts were fantastic.

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    Yum


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    Route for today
    #12
  13. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/19 - Part 1, Up the Grosglockner

    I can't tell you how jazzed I was about today - after 2 long years I would once again be riding in the Dolomites, a place I consider heaven on earth for motorcyclists. We'd be staying for the next several days at the Hotel Mesdi, one of the high points of the last trip. Adding to my excitement was the prospect of introducing 3 friends to this area and acting as tour guide. To top it all off, we'd be leaving Austria by the best way possible, riding over the Grosglockner.

    Once again the weather looked uncooperative in the morning, so we had a quick discussion about changing our plans. Perhaps we shouldn't bother with the Grosglockner in the rain and fog? That alternative was quickly dismissed and we donned our rain gear after a hearty breakfast and headed south.

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    I wasn't sure about sharing my shower with "Tricky Ricky"

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    My room at the Hotel Almrausch

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    Funky sliding glass door to the bathroom

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    Nice view from my room

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    Getting ready to roll

    Frank had plotted today's course so he took point as we rode down 311 past Saalfelden and Zell am See to the town of Bruck where we gassed up. I made one quick photo stop to get a shot of the Austria sign but couldn't swing getting the Germany sign on the other side of the road. Most of the ride was pretty uneventful, but pleasant enough. That may be how I would sum up riding in Austria on this trip - "pleasant enough". There had been a few really fun stretches of pavement, but there was also an awful lot of dull connectors to get to them. Don't get me wrong, riding in Austria kicks ass compared to riding near my home in southern New Jersey, but knowing some of the other areas we could have been in it didn't impress. As I described earlier, I had basically swapped out riding the passes near Andermatt, Switzerland for riding this area of Austria, and in hindsight I'm not sure I made the right choice. It was good to see a new area, but nothing we rode in Austria comes anywhere near the phenomenal confluence of Furka, Grimsel, Nufen and St. Gotthard passes from the 2009 trip. I would have hated to miss Munich though, that's a town I really fell in love with.

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    The big day begins

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    Dave

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    Dave waiting on me to finish taking pictures (as usual)

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    The scenery is definitely getting more interesting

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    Not sure about the ergonomics on that thing

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    So, how do you get to the other side of that?

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    A welcome sign of things to come

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    Frank heads off to the start of the Grosglockner. You can see a sign for it on the far left. No idea what those other 2 round signs were (or used to be).

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    OK, that's very pretty

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    The TDM900

    It took us just over 2 hours to reach the toll plaza for Grosglockner. The tarrif was pretty stiff at 19 euro (about $26.50 US at the time), but the reputation of the road seemed to warrant it for us. For your duckets you got a brochure, a sticker, a receipt, and most importantly, a "magic coin" to open the tollgate. Temperatures were dropping and rain was falling so I had my heated gear connected and cranked up. I took up post at the toll machine to help get everyone through (no sense eeryone fumbling with coins and gloves) and get some photos, and in a few minutes we were ascending the famed Grosglockner High Alpine Road.

    Not that we could immediately tell what the big fuss was all about. As we started bending through the initial hairpins the fog got thicker and thicker until you could just barely see the road in front of you. We had again started the "meet at the top" riding model, but nobody was attacking the road so we were in loose formation for most of the beginning. After a photo stop at an all-too-brief clearing in the fog (where a group of dozens of classic Alfa Romeos were heading the opposite way from us) we continued the ride up into the white mist. By this time the rain had started mixing with something more solid, and the fog had gotten even denser. I know I was happy to have another bike in front of me so I could see his taillight. There were some sections in the beginning where I don't think we did much more than 15 or 20mph for miles at a time. I can honestly say the ride up Grosglockner was enjoyable only looking back on it (what's the saying? Adventure is adversity recounted at leisure). At the time it was a pretty miserable slog up a cold, wet road with zero visibility. I had to laugh as it got colder, wetter and foggier, but after a bit I just wanted to be done with it.

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    The $26.50 magic coin

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    Enter...if you dare!

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    Dave

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    Frank

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    Hey Mikey! I think he likes it!

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    Hairpins ahoy!

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    Up we go

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    Frank and Dave appear through the gloom

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    Frank

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    Dave

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    A brief break in the fog

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    As always in the Alps you share the road with cyclists

    Surprisingly it got a little better as we neared the top. The fog was going in and out (and the in sections were just as bad as earlier), but the rain/snow/whatever had stopped. One of the features of the Grosglockner that we were looking forward to (or dreading, depending on who you were) was the ride up the cobblestone switchbacks to the Edelweisspitze, the highest point on the "High Alpine Road". Our hopes were quickly dashed (or fears averted) when we got to the entrance and saw the snowplows still clearing the road. Even if they weren't clearing the road, the wet/icy conditions on the cobblestones would be a recipe for disaster for sure. We warmed ourselves at the rifugio/gift shop, had some ice cream, warmed ourselves again, and took in the views during the brief breaks in the clouds.

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    I don't think we're going up that road anytime soon

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    Where we're headed next

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    "next on the catwalk is Peter, showing off the latest offering from Frogg Toggs, the hi-viz rainjacket..."

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    Plenty of other crazies out today

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    Road? What road?

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    Oh yes, much better now.

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    Dave's debating if a snowball to my face would get me to stop making him pose for pictures

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    Our warming refuge for a little while

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    The other side of the mountain

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    Here come the guys

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    Frank and Peter

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    Dave

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    I really liked Peter's Hi-Viz Frogg Toggs jacket

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    Maybe, like the tunnel in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" things will be magical on the other side
    #13
  14. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/19 - Part 2, Down the Grosglockner

    It was only after we passed through the tunnel that the weather started to improve. Seamingly with every additional mile the clouds got thinner, the air warmer, and it wasn't too long before a patch of blue sky miraculously appeared. Maybe we could salvage this day yet! Sure enough, 15 minutes later we were carving up hairpins on a beautiful summer day (albeit a chilly one) under a blue sky with puffy blue clouds. Suddenly all was right with the world and a new item was added to the "Top 10 Moments of the Trip" list. The Grosglockner instantly became one of our favorite roads. Vastly different than everything we had ridden on this trip so far, it was all suddenly perfect pavement, big mountain views, and fellow bikers sharing the moment.

    The run down that side of the pass was over much too quickly. Actually, I thought it kept on going. I had left the guys behind to go get some more photos, and when I came to a traffic circle I went across to the other side to take the spur road up to the glacier. Not all of us were on the same page, and some confusion led to Peter exiting the circle onto the road that led to the exit of the pass. We waited roadside for a while, then sent search parties out when he didn't show up. Eventually he was found at the southern toll plaza, unfortunately on the other side of the tollgate. Lucky for him he had kept his receipt so he had no trouble getting back in. I had really enjoyed my fast run down the pass to the toll plaza, to which I had added some sort of artificial sense of urgency to find Peter. For the run back I think I pretended I needed to get the word back to Dave quickly so I enjoyed another very spirited run to the roundabout.

    Since the weather was so perfect none of us wanted to leave Grosglockner. We all agreed that we should take the side trip to the glacier, even if it meant delaying out arrival in Arabba until near dinner time. This turned out to be a great decision, as the road up to the glacier was excellent, and the views absolutely outstanding. We hung out at the glacier for a bit, grabbed some snacks, and then enjoyed a perfect summer-day ride down to the toll plaza.

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    Could that actually be a tiny piece of blue sky?

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    While the road was nice and dry, the shoulders were dicey

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    What an amazing road

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    Peter enjoying a dry road for a change

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    The 22nd hairpin on Grosglockner

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    You can see more of the pass in the left

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    What a change from only an hour ago

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    Frank passing by

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    The Grosglockner High Alpine Road

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    My kind of traffic

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    I can't overemphasize how hot I think the Honda CB1300S is

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    What a great way to spend an afternoon

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    I think every other biker stopped at this turnout to enjoy the view

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    The road up to the glacier

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    Well, he is ATGATT and he's wearing Hi-Viz, so I guess he's kind of safe

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    The Pasterze Glacier is moving at the rate of 15 meters per year

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    That's a very big rock. Too bad we didn't have time to take the Glacier-bahn tram down to the bottom

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    Goofy group photo

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    That walkway was just hanging in space and I didn't like walking on it. Not one bit.

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    View on the ride back down from the glacier

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    Frank's got his head in the right place

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    Wow

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    Beautiful series of man-made waterfalls

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    It was fair to say we really enjoyed the Grosglockner

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    That's a really long gallery coming down from the glacier

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    The exit of the Grosglockner
    #14
  15. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/19 - Part 3, A Return to the Dolomites

    After regretfully leaving behind the best road of the trip so far we had a straight shot of around 20 miles on 107 to the town of Lienz so we put Dave out in front. For the majority of the transit sections either Frank or I would take point since we had the GPS units, but it was nice to be able to mix it up a bit. Besides, since Dave and I had our Scala Q2 headseats connected I could help him out with any route decisions if we came to any confusing junctions. This worked out just fine, even when we had to deal with another crossed-out road town that was on our intended route.

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    Our gas stop was well guarded

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    Tiny ski town

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    "Hey, is that...?"

    For the most part we were on a fast B road (E66 in Austria, which turned into SS49 when we crossed the border into Italy) on our way to Valdaora, our jumping off point to the Dolomites. We were able to keep a good pace, but with our extended stay on the Grosglockner our ETA for the hotel was getting later and later. Once we crossed the border into Italy traffic started getting pretty, well, interesting, with Italian bikers doing what Italian bikers do - pass all over the place. I knew I was back in Italy when a rider on a Ducati 1098 (or 848, or 1198, etc) came at us around a curve, knee down, surrounded by pretty thick traffic. While I had gotten used to the "pass whenever" style of riding by the end of the last trip, after so long an absence it came as somewhat of a shock again to see riders lane-splitting in curves, passing in blind corners, etc. I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing the other guys eyes were popping out of their heads at some of the moves people were making. Of course it doesn't take too long over there to find yourself going over to the dark side...

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    Woo-hoo!

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    Technically the TDM900 was still in Austria

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    Dave

    Frank's route had us leaving the main road at Valdaora and heading south on Furkelpass, or Passo Furcia. Even though it was getting late I was eager to try this pass out as it was a new one for me. I'm very glad we did, as it turned out to be a treat of a road. Very, very narrow in places, hairpins, views, perfect pavement, little traffic, all the things you hope for in a pass were present and accounted for.

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    Looking back down to the start of Passo Furcia

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    "I'm in Italy!"

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    You can just see one of the hairpins on the far right. Great little road.

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    My first Italian pass of the trip, and a new one to boot

    After Passo Furcia we worked our way down SS244 through Corvara in Badia, and the guys got their first up-close look at the Dolomites at the start of Passo Campolongo. With a late-afternoon sun highlighting the mountains it was truly a magnificent sight, and I couldn't think of a better way to end a day that had started so uninspiringly. I can't begin to tell you how glad I was to be back in the Dolomites.

    We dispatched Passo Campolongo pretty quickly, and while the guys were very impressed with it I knew Campolongo was really one of the area's minor treasures. The roads I would take them on tomorrow were going to blow them away.

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    Back in paradise

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    Dueling cameras

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    View from Passo Campolongo

    We rolled into Arabba around 6:30, and as we got closer to the hotel I could feel myself starting to get downright giddy. You ever have that feeling when you're so excited you start talking too fast and can't keep still? That was me. Right up to the point where we pulled into the hotel lot and I dropped the bike. I think I was actually so elated that I forgot to put the sidestand down. First time I've had a bike on it's side in over 15 years, and it's a rental. On the plus side the bike was not in pristine condition when we picked them up, and the side cases (which took the brunt of the fall) were already sporting some battle scars. I was also in good company that day - Peter had dropped the FJR (which actually was pristine on delivery) earlier in the day on the Grosglockner, but out of sight of everyone, not right in front of all his buddies and the people enjoying drinks outside the hotel.

    When I went inside to check in I was delighted to find that the manager/owner immediately recognized me and welcomed me by name - that was an unexpected surprise! We got ourselves checked in and met downstairs for dinner a little later. One of the big bonuses of the Hotel Mesdi (and most of the hotels in this area) is that your room price includes a full dinner as well as a substantial buffet breakfast. You have assigned tables that you return to every night, and we were seated at the very same table I had last time. I was even more pleased when our waitress came over to get our drink orders and she remembered me as well. She also asked about Jim who was with me last time while we ordered our first round of beers. Agnes was a delight last trip, and I was very happy to see that she was still here.

    Dinner was excellent, as was the beer after a long day in the saddle. Back in my room, sleep came quickly.

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    Nice going

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    Our menu for the evening. It took a while to figure out the layout - salad, then ravioli, pasta or soup, then Cordon Bleu or pork chops or smoked ham, then creme caramel.

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    My plate of smoked ham. Tasty.

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    Texture was a little rubbery, but taste was phenomenal
    #15
  16. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/20, The Dolomites Best Loop (Part 1)

    Today was going to be a slam-dunk. The sun was shining, we were in the middle of the Dolomites, and we were on motorcycles. For our first day in the area I had put together a loop that would take in the best roads and sights that I experienced 2 years ago. It was nice to start the day knowing the roads were going to be great, as opposed to the last few days where we explored and hoped for the best.

    Breakfast was excellent and even more filling than last trip since the hotel has added made-to-order egg dishes to their offerings in the morning. I went with the bacon and eggs, and found the eggs delicious but the bacon nearly raw - the concept of crispy cooked bacon hasn't really caught on in the area I suppose. They don't know what they're missing.

    One of the best things about the Hotel Mesdi (and there are many good things) is it's location - it's literally on a hairpin curve at the base of my favorite pass in the Alps, Passo Pordoi. You turn right out of the parking lot and start swinging the bike side to side as you ascend the mountain. That fun would have to wait a bit on this day as first order of business was fueling up and the nearest gas station was 4 miles on the other side of town. On my last visit this station was always staffed, but this morning we had to figure out the automated fueling station for ourselves. No credit cards were accepted (credit cards are hit-and-miss for gas in the area), so you had to guesstimate how much fuel you would need and prepay with euros. Unless you have multiple bikes with you to take up the excess it's best to underestimate what you think you'll need.

    With all the bikes having more gas than when we got there (but not filled) we doubled back through town, past the Mesdi, and began the ascent of Passo Pordoi. I'll say it once again - I can't tell you how thrilled I was to be back in this area and particularly on this road again. We broke off to "meet at the top" and I zoomed ahead to setup for some pictures of the guys coming up. I can't decide what I was looking forward to more - riding the pass or seeing the reactions of the other guys when we talked at the top.

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    Between the buffet and the eggs, you could eat enough for the whole day at breakfast

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    The view out the back of the hotel

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    The view out the front of the hotel

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    Rain gear is not going to be required today

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    Took a bit to figure out the cash machine

    No one rode straight to the top though, unless you're the most hardcore "ride all day" type you have to stop and take in the magnificent vistas in front of you. As I expected, the other guys were blown away by the road and the views - and the day was just getting started! We leapfrogged each other up the pass as one person would pull over to take pictures, then another, etc. This side of Pordoi sports 33 hairpins, or tornantes, and we made the best of them.

    At the top we made our traditional shopping stop - I was looking to add more pass pins to my collection (though I already had Pordoi of course) and Dave was collecting stickers. In hindsight, 1.5 euro stickers make more sense than 6 euro pass pins, especially as the count rises into the teens. I think I now have about $150 worth of Alps pass pins on my walls at work.

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    Peter checks out the view of Arabba

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    Peter

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    Dave

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    Some of the turns of Pordoi are visible in this view down to Arabba

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    Frank's the first one by

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    You see every kind of bike in the Alps, and pretty much everyone of them is tearing it up

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    Peter on Passo Pordoi

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    Dave enjoying Passo Pordoi

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    Passo Pordoi

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    At the top of the pass is a tram to the top of the mountain

    We continued down the other side of the pass, working through another dozen or so hairpins mixed in with just "regular" tight turns until we picked up the start of Passo Sella. Sella is probably the most popular pass in the area and generally is much busier than the rest of the passes. Parts of it are also quite a bit tighter than Pordoi, and this combination of cramped quarters and lots of traffic somewhat diminishes my enjoyment of it. What it does have over some of the other passes are fantastic views at the summit - I dare say it may be the most beautiful view in the Dolomites at the top. If you can get a clean run up Sella, with little traffic to deal with, it can be an amazing experience. Unfortunately this is rarely possible.

    And it certainly wasn't possible on this Monday morning as Sella was quite busy with cars, pack of cyclists, other motorcycles, and busses. Each of these modes of transportation is dealt with differently, with cars being the most trivial -you just pass them. You pass cyclists as well, but they often cause backups as cars get jammed up behind them waiting for a long enough section to pass. Motorcycles, at least for us, are more of a threat from behind. None of us just put-put along the road, but almost without exception bikers in the Alps are exceptionally fast, skilled and from what I could tell, fearless. They come up quick, and at the slightest opening (or in some cases imagined openings) they flash by. It's the busses that are the worst though, and more often the issue is them coming the other direction. With some of the hairpins on these roads, as another STN'er put it, "tight enough so you can read your own license plate", you can imagine how much of the road a tour bus needs to make the turn. Yup, every square inch of it. If you see them coming with a corner between you and them, you need to recalculate how you're going to get through. My biggest moment on the way up Sella involved a pack of cyclists. I was rounding a super-tight right-hand turn that was very steep, and turned the corner to meet up with about a dozen cyclists going 1mph. With cars and bikes coming the other way blocking my pass I was reduced to pretty much paddle-walking the bike up the slope until an opening appeared.

    The top of Sella (well, the first top you come to, there's a much larger area another mile along) is very tiny but always packed with bikes. We managed to find spots to wedge our bikes into (Dave lost his first spot to a car that stole it "sorry") and walked around a bit.

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    I wonder if the guy on the GS500E packed his own chute?

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    While I'm mighty impressed with cyclists who can ride up mountain passes, they really mess with traffic flow

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    That's a tough view to beat (but we'll try). The Dolomites are like no other mountans in the world.

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    A gaggle of KTMs. I think there were 4 or 5 Dukes in the mix, a bike you hardly ever see in the states

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    Saw a couple of these KTM SM-T's over there. Sweet bike.

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    It was fun watching people walk onto the balcony and try to figure out why Dave (and others) were doubled over

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    Stunning, just stunning

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    OK...

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    Did you forget how much I lust after the CB1300S? Here's a reminder.

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    There were also a couple of quads out today

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    Dave enjoying a $6US can of Diet Coke

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    Me and Dave at the top of Sella

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    Dave and Peter

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    Me and Peter

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    Dave, Peter and Frank at Sella

    We had a nice run down the other side of Sella and, turning off onto Passo Gardena, left most of the traffic behind us. Gardena is another pass with fantastic views, perhaps not as dramatic as those on Sella but still beautiful. It was tricky finding a place to park the bikes as a bunch of pay lots had sprung up since my last visit. We did our round of pass-pin/sticker shopping and I set up on a hairpin to get action pics of the guys.

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    Passo Gardena

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    There are hundreds of curves like this in the Dolomites

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    Frank getting some pics

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    You see all kinds of vehicles on these roads. Later in the week we say a couple groups of these crazy trikes.

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    Pretty Guzzi California Vintage

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    Peter on Gardena

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    Peter giving the FJR a workout (and with that long wheelbase the FJR was giving him a workout as well)

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    Peter on Gardena

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    And back down he goes

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    We kept running into this group of VMax's over the next couple days

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    That's one red bike you've got there

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    Dave heads down so I can get some (more) photos of him

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    Peter

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    Peter

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    Hayabusa with sidecar, interesting...

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    Dave on Gardena
    #16
  17. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/20, The Dolomites Best Loop (Part 2)

    Next up on the "Best of the Dolomites" loop was Passo Valperola which has a rocky landscape distinctly different than the rest of the surrounding area. Valperola leads up to an area of the Dolomites that was the site of fierce fighting in WWI - in fact this area of Italy belonged to Austria before the war. Fort Tre Sassi was closed when we arrived, but you can look down the hillside and just make out a series of buildings and trenches that were used during the war. We spent some time at the top, walked back a bit to the rifugio for some shopping, and the blasted down the short straightaway to the top of Passo Falzarego. The short stretch between these 2 pass tops is a good place to "clean out the carbs" as it's about nearly flat and straight as an arrow, something that can't be said of too many stretches of road in this part of the world.

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    The buildings are hard to find at first, which I suppose is the point

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    Easy to tell when the fort is open

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    Inside the fort were thousands of artifacts from the battles in this area (forgive the smudge bottom-center, took me 2 days to notice it and clean it)

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    The buildings blended in beautifully with the rocky landscape

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    Trench

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    Looking back up at the fort


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    Peter's very impressed

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    View on our short walk to the rifugio, which you can just see part of in the upper-right section of the photo. We did not hike down to the pond.

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    There were lots of interesting trails available for those with more time

    The top of Passo Falzarego is always busy, and this day was no exception, though unlike Sella or Gardena there's plenty of room to go around for parking. We parked for a while, got some more snacks (lunches were becoming a distant memory), and generally took in the scene and ogled the bikes. The route I planned for today allowed us a lot of time for distractions which worked out well.

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    Parking lot at Passo Falzarego

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    The view in the other direction wasn't too shabby. Lots of easy hikes in the area.

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    Made me miss my Multistrada

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    Didn't know there was such a thing as an R850RT

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    We saw a lot of Multistrada 1200's over the course of the trip, but none was tastier than this Tricolore. :drool: :inlove:

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    There was a pack of Versys there as well, pretty perfect bike for the area I think

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    This was the most unique one, with Motech aluminum cases

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    I bet pops is a demon on that XL

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    It's one of those VMax's we keep running into...hey, check out that rear wheel...

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    Seriously? Does anyone really need MORE braking power on their rear wheel? Please enlighten me.

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    This guy had an awful lot of bling on that VMax

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    We saw a couple of the new VFR1200's

    We took Falzarego down towards Arabba again, turning off onto SP563 before getting there. SP563 is a tiny, crooked little road with about a dozen hairpins that descends sharply on its way to Passo Fedaia. On the last trip we had come up 563 in the rain, with an Audi wagon on our taillights the whole time - this run was much more pleasant. Once on Fedaia we split up, with instructions to meet at the dam. Fedaia is an out-of-the-way pass that doesn't really go anywhere or connect anything to anything so it doesn't see a lot of traffic. It's also pretty spread-out so there are some nice fast sweepers to balance out the hairping sections. Fedaia runs through an area known as the Marmolada, home to the mountain of the same name, which is the highest peak in the Dolomites at 3,343 meters. At the top is the dam of Lake Lago de Fedaia, and was used in the beginning of the "Italian Job" remake.

    We took a nice long break at the dam, seeing as the weather was just so perfect and the day was still relatively young. My planned route from this point was just to continue west on Fedaia, then turn north to meet up with Passo Pordoi and back to Arabba. After another ice cream (a pattern?) we decided to extend the day's ride. No problem, I figured, there's no shortage of great roads in the immediate area.

    We doubled back down Fedaia (which was no hardship), then found ourselves on SP20, a little connector road that would lead us to Passo Giau, our next goal. Like many (most) roads in the area, SP20 turned out to be fantastic, working it's way through a deep canyon and past waterfalls. In a small way it reminded me of Smoke Hole Road in West Virginia, which is no bad thing.

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    View from the other side of the dam, you can see 3 long galleries on Passo Fedaia

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    My steed on the dam

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    Peter crossing the dam
    #17
  18. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/20, The Dolomites Best Loop (Part 3)

    Passo Giau was a favorite from our last trip, and it didn't disappoint this time around either. It's one of the two main passes to get from the "big" road that cuts through Arabba over to Cortina D'Ampezzo, and it's by far the lesser used one. Each side of the pass is distinctly different from the other - the southern/western approach is mostly hairpin after hairpin (maybe 20 or so?) but the northern/eastern ramp is a mix of every kind of bend imaginable with stunning views down to Cortina D'Ampezzo and the surrounding mountains. I much prefer the northern section, as the hairpin-short straight-hairpin-short straight thing can get monotonous after a while. Giau rose to the top of Frank's list of favorite passes, and I suspect it was close to the top of everyone else's.

    We did our normal "meet at the top" thing, with everyone getting to do the pass at their own pace. After a short stay at the top I went ahead to setup for some more action photos since the background here is tough to beat.

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    Looking down the north ramp of Giau. Cortina D'Ampezzo is the town at the bottom.

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    The views on Giau are spectacular

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    Dave, Peter and Frank on Giau

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    Man I love those big nakeds

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    I lusted after this 1990's Triumph Sprint 900 when it came out

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    Can't escape that CB1300S

    And now for the action shots of the guys. I liked several variations, so forgive the somewhat repetitive shots.

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    Peter coming down Giau

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    Next up was Frank

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    And last but not least, Dave

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    I zipped back on the bike and had a great run down the north ramp. At various places I passed some of the guys parked on the roadside taking in the sights so I found myself a nice hairpin to setup on and get more pictures.

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    This will do nicely

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    Dave's first by

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    Here come Frank

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    There goes Frank

    Once we dispatched Passo Giau we headed for Passo Falzarego to get us back to the hotel. We had done half the pass earlier today, from the intersection at the top with Passo Falzarego west so this half up to the summit was new for the day. This half of Falzarego is pretty wide-open after some twisties at the start, and for the most part and you can maintain some decent speed. We stopped for a minute at the top just to regroup, and then Dave and I took off first. It was a lot of fun following Dave down the pass, I find I don't mind increasing my pace a bit when following someone I trust.

    We rolled into the Hotel Mesdi around 7:00 with a full day's perfect riding behind us. It was one of the best day's riding I'ver ever had, and I know the other guys were thoroughly impressed with motorcycling in the Dolomites. A delicious dinner only added to the experience.

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    Lasagna

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    My chicken. Tasty.

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    Not knowing what it was, Dave ordered the Beef Carpaccio from the menu. Now, Dave is not a picky eater by any means, and he'll try just about anything. I wish you could have seen his reaction to the plate of raw meat placed in front of him. Absolutely not interested. I am NOT an adventurous eater, but I'm usually pretty OK with beef so I tried a couple small pieces and found it delicious! Dave eventually swapped meals with someone.

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    #18
  19. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/21, Vajont Dam Day (Part 1)

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    The Vajont Dam towers over Longarone (not my photo)

    A couple years ago I was watching a show about Engineering Disasters that did a long, detailed segment on the Vajont Dam disaster in Italy. The dam was completed in 1960, and at a height of nearly 900 feet above the valley floor it was, at the time, the highest thin-arch dam in the world. Unfortunately, to make a long story short, they may have known a lot about engineering dams at the time but they didn't know enough about geology. In the middle of the night of October 9th, 1963 an enormous section of mountain (about 350 million cubic yards) on the left bank slid into the reservoir, displacing about 30 million cubic metres of water. A wave of water rose up the right bank destroying the village of Caso, 850 feet above the level of the lake, before over-topping the dam and crashing down nearly 1600 feet below and onto the villages of Longarone, Pirago, and others. It's estimated that a total of 2500 lives were lost.

    For more detailed info:

    http://daveslandslideblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/vaiont-vajont-landslide-of-1963.html

    http://www.semp.us/publications/biot_reader.php?BiotID=373

    What's incredible is that the dam is still standing today. The disaster only chipped away a small section of the top of the dam, so it appears nearly perfect as it looms over the rebuilt town of Longarone. In preparing for this trip I was excited to see that Longarone is only an hour or so south of Arabba, and would make a great sidetrip. Even if no one else was interested in joining me I was going to check this out. I was pleased to find out that the other guys wanted to see it, although none of them had heard of it.

    I was awakened by the 7am church bells. If you miss them at 7 you'll get another chance at 7:15, then at 7:30, and so on - 9pm is the final bell. We had another way-too-filling breakfast (where Frank announced the location of the mystery fridge) and walked out to the sunshine to get the bikes ready for another perfect day.

    I had laid out a route to the dam that included a named pass, Passo Staulanza, and continuing as the road turned into SP251. Our ride to the start of Staulanza was marred by an abundance of truck traffic, but that thinned out as we turned onto the pass proper. As fun as Staulanza was, and it was a very twisty if not particularly scenic pass, it was the rest of SP251 that impressed me. Miles and miles (and miles) of twisty pavement, with a rock face on your left and a dropoff (with guardrail) to your right. Try to imagine the best part of Hawk's Nest in NJ, but extend it by 10 or 15 miles. No hairpins on this one, just lean-left, lean-right, lean-left for perhaps 20 or 30 minutes. My route for the day would have us backtracking on this particular section before heading over to Passo Cibiana and points north, so I was looking forward to rerunning it on the mountain-side.

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    Don't mind me

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    Fortunately the Monster rider saw the goat in time

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    Somce decent turns on Staulanza

    Just before Longarone there's a long tunnel, and immediately as you emerge from it you can look up in the mountains and see the Vajont Dam, impossibly high above you. I wish I would have stopped to get a picture, but I was thinking there would be a better vantage point. There wasn't.

    We had a little bit of confusion figuring out how to get up to the dam, but eventually the route became clear (read: we saw the sign for it). A series of tight hairpins took us higher and higher over Longarone and eventually into a series of tunnels, each with cutouts looking out over the valley. I was initially a little alarmed at the tightness of the tunnel until I figured out they were one-way and controlled with signal lights. As you exit the last tunnel there's a set of buildings on your right and a parking lot, which is the visitor area for the dam.

    I'm sure I can't adequately describe the feeling I had up there. At the parking lot you are looking out over the reservoir, or what used to be the reservoir. It first appears that you are just looking at a grassy, rocky field, but you're actually looking at what used to be the mountainside that came down to fill in the reservoir. Chilling. You can only see the backside of the dam from the parking lot, to see anything else you have to walk back through the tunnels. Frank stayed behind and the rest of us headed cautiously into the non-pedestrain-friendly tunnels. There were some interesting vistas available at the various openings in the tunnel wall, but it was only when you came out the other side could you get a good look at the front of the dam and get a sense of it's impressive height. The thought of a wall of water crashing over the top and roaring down to the towns below.... well, you really don't want to think about it.

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    What used to be a reservoir hundreds of feet deep

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    Backside of the Vajont Dam

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    Small shrine

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    Tunnels

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    Memorials in the tunnels

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    On the front side of the dam you can see some of the structure stabilizing the rock

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    Oh man, how do we get down to that road?

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    The front of the Vajont Dam

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    You can get a sense of the landslide scale in this shot

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    Tunnels to get to the Vajont Dam site

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    "..and on the right we have the female reproductive system"
    #19
  20. kendenton

    kendenton Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    106
    06/21, Vajont Dam Day (Part 2)

    While the rest of us had been checking out the dam, Frank had been busy plotting out a new route for the afternoon on the Zumo. I didn't have any "must-do's" on the rest of my planned route so I didn't mind too much a change in plans. Besides, this was a group tour and everyone should get input. In the months leading up to this trip I had impressed upon everyone (those invited as well as those who ultimately went) that this was a "choose your own adventure" trip. If people wanted to stay together that's fine, but I strongly encouraged folks that they could do anything they wanted, ride anywhere/anyhow they wanted, and hopefully we would all just catch up at dinner. I wasn't sure how that was going to turn out, whether some folks would splinter off and ride their our own routes, but so far we were all sticking together and that was working out fine. I think if there were more people on the trip we might have had multiple groups doing different routes.

    One of the side benefits of a trip like this is getting to try out different bikes, and I was itching to swap out the TDM for one of the other bikes. I had ridden an FJR before so that was last on my list, and Frank was going to lead on the Varadero with his GPS, so I tossed my camera in Dave's CBF. The ergos were more compact than the TDM but still on this side of comfortable.

    We retraced our route down to Longarone, doing all the hairpins downhill this time. I haven't spent time on an inline four in a long time, and have never had any long rides on a liter bike (even one as neutered as the CBF) and it was taking me a while to adjust to the different power delivery. I really enjoy the twin's strong midrange surge, be it the TDM on this trip or my Multistrada. The CBF's linear climb to a top-end rush was an entirely different experience and, to me, not well suited to hairpin strafing, at least on the downhills. I would open the throttle on corner exit and instead of a nice surge of torque propelling me a bit faster I had a lot of revs racing me to the next corner entry. I'm probably not explaining it well, but I like the lumpier "torque on demand" motor more than the "rev the rocket" type.

    We had a bit of trouble back in Longarone trying to get out of town and onto the GPS-plotted route. More than once we found ourselves dead-ended, or circling the same street a couple times, before finally being able to get on the right track. This was my first time on the trip without a GPS, and it was at once both liberating and maddening. It was nice to let someone else do the leading and not keep looking down to make sure you didn't miss a turn, but when things go awry the OCD in me gets frustrated and it was hard not to be able to see what the issue could have been. The Zumo's were continuing to be a source of frustration on this trip - it's surprising how quickly you go from "what would I do without this?" to "I'm going to through you in the next river!" when it misbehaves, or doesn't do what you think it should have done. 97% of the time the Zumo's were faithful and invaluable servants, the other 3% they were routing us down one-way alleyways.

    The road to the first pass on the new route was pretty uninspiring, just a busy commercial route through uninteresting towns. Passo d. Mauria turned out to be just so-so, beat-up pavement, no views to speak of, and short. We got to the top only to find that everything was closed, so no new pass pins (or ice cream) for us. Hey, sometimes you take a chance on a road and it doesn't work out, we've all been there.

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    Alps version of a ghost town

    I felt I'd had enough of the CBF to get a good feel for it, so swapped with Peter for the FJR. Dave took his bike back, and Peter took my TDM. The route didn't have us continuing over the pass, so I pointed the FJR back down the road and we took off. My goodness the FJR is a rocketship. Very comfy, and very, very fast. To be honest I can't say it loved being on a tight, twisting pass with crappy pavement, but in it's element it's probably killer. By the bottom of the pass I was eager to get on my TDM, and Peter was equally as happy to give it up. He thought it felt 'loose' and 'broken'. I wish I liked either of the other 2 bikes more, but I was relieved to be back on the TDM (and have my GPS back). Our next stop was via Santa Ana, a small pass north of us about 20 or 30 minutes away.

    Unfortunately that pass eluded us. We did a couple passes up and down the town but were unable to find the turnoff. Eventually we gave up and continued north in the vague direction of Cortina d'Ampezzo. We had a little stretch of busier boring road to contend to, but then found ourselves on Passo tre Croci which, at least on the southern half, is a fantastic fast road through the woods with some nice sweepers. Definitely a fun bit of road for some super-legal velocities. The hairpins (always there are hairpins) start near the top, and the ramp down to Cortina is a typical Dolomite twisty perfect affair.

    We spent too much time at a too-crowded gas station in town (including some time being concerned about the blue gas coming out of the nozzle), eventually filling up 3-abreast on the same 50 euro note. Tanks replenished, I led the group up to find Drei Zinnen, a viewpoint that eluded Jim and I last trip due to crappy weather. That wouldn't be an issue this time, but my lack of knowing exactly where it was would be. More Zumo-induced hilarity getting out of Cortina before we could start back up Tre Croci, then we had to pick our way through a string of construction vehicles trying to back into us, then finally a fun run up the pass. I stopped to talk with Dave on the side of the road, only to realize it wasn't Dave but just some random biker on a black CBF. When we got to the top (again) of Tre Croci I had had enough time to figure out that Drei Zinnen was out of our reach for the day if we wanted to get back to Arabba at any decent hour. The run down Tre Croci (#3) had us entertained by a girl driving one of those tiny 3-wheeled trucks downhill at an alarming pace. You see one of these ahead of you and figure you'll zip right by in a moment or two. I'll be damned if it wasn't tricky to get around this girl barrelling down the pass.

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    Gas in Cortina - we try to save by buying in bulk

    From Cortina there's two ways to get back to Arabba, over Passo Falzarego or Passo Giau. Hands down we chose Giau again. I had a great time following Dave down Giau, we were really in a good groove. That groove continued for me as we left Giau for another run on our newly-discovered SP20 and over Passo Fedaia. We stopped at the dam just to regroup, then completed the western ramp of Fedaia that we skipped yesterday. Fedaia passes very close under the biggest mountains in the Dolomites,which lead to Dave ranking them highest on his scale of rocks - "That's a big fucking rock!". Dave throws out perhaps one or two curses per trip, so you can imagine how impressed he was.

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    Frank on SP20

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    Peter on SP20

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    And finally Dave

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    Very cool geology on SP20

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    Nothing special, just a boring connector road in the Dolomites.

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    Looking back on SP20

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    Passo Fedaia

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    Lago de Fedaia

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    The TDM on Fedaia

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    Frank enjoying Fedaia

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    Now there's something you don't see every day

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    Dave and Peter at Lago de Fedaia

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    2-up on Passo Pordoi

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    Really, there's no reason to come ride the Alps

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    Peter on Pordoi

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    Nice!

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    Frank working it

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    These folks were having a great time going down Pordoi

    I can't recall where it happened, but I have a note about "crazy yellow biker". It might have been on the Pordoi, not sure, but as I'm approaching an uphill left-hander, with plenty of traffic coming down at me, I get passed by a guy on a yellow bike who then basically lane-splits the hairpin between cars going in both directions.

    We arrived back at the Hotel Mesdi with enough time to sit outside and enjoy a beer before dinner. I love this place - we sit down, a couple minutes later one of the waitresses comes out to see what we would like, and a few minutes after that we have a round of beers, some hand-cut fries and other assorted goodies.

    Topics of conversation included:


    • [li]The new Multistrada is the Alps Bike of the Year for 2011. Dozens of them around, they might have dethroned 2009's BMW R1200GS. Second place goes to the V/Weestrom. Lots of these as wel[/li]
      [li]I LOVE the looks of that CB1300S, but I think the inline four is a deal killer for me.[/li]
      [li]Dave has hit his toes several times on hairpins[/li]
      [li]Peter not in love with the FJR now that we're in the Dolomites - "too much work"[/li]


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    Nice way to unwind

    Dinner was very tasty tonight, topped off with a very good apple cobbler. After dinner we walked around downtown Arabba a bit (if there is such a thing) and checked out the ski lift area. Dave and Peter are avid skiiers, and at various times during our stay here you could practically see the wheels turning in their heads about coming here to ski.

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    Ever get that feeling you;re being watched?

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    Our dinners

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    Apple cobbler was delicious

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    These lifts would open in a few weeks to take summer hikers

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    Nothing to do

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    The back of the Hotel Mesdi. Dining room is on lower-level right, bar area lower level left.
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