Friday, 22 July 2016

And the biggest "doozy" of the lot ...........

Yes, the biggest doozy of the lot had to be Stelvio Pass which is a very Italian pass - i.e.  lots of flair and passion! 

The day starts well .......... Wet!  A light rain but rain never the less. On goes the wet weather gear. Don't you think it somewhat flatters me? I could be an Italian fashion statement! Particularly as we are going to Italy today. 


Plans will have to be flexible today because of the weather forecast. . Nevertheless  we start by going over a pass named, very oddly, after a sewing machine. No , it was not the Singer Pass  or even worse the Suzuki pass  but rather the Bernina pass.  The temp drops to 10 degrees as we go over the pass. But the rain stops, the road becomes dry and the corners become beautiful to ride.  

Then again we are at the Italian border. Diana looks inside the " control booth" The officer sitting there appears to be sound asleep. It was deemed a wise move not to take a photo of him! 


We then then turn  right and head up towards the famous Stelvio pass. This pass has been  somewhat immortalised by Jeremy Clarkson in one of his driving programs and thus has become a magnet for motorcyclists even though he went over it in a car!  There would not be enough room anyway on a motorbike for Jeremy Clarksons ego! 

The road wound up through lots of tunnels, some new and wide in the lower reaches and some old and narrow ( probably a bit  like my arteries!) 




The valley steepens. You can just see the road going up the pass in the distance. 

 The road got steeper 

And steeper 


And then there was the top 


There were motorbikes galore of every shape and size


We look over the other side of the pass. Wow! And this is just the upper bit! 


In all there were 48 consecutive tight hairpin bends going down the other side !  Yes, 48 hairpin bends which is according to my calculations 96 extremely tight corners without a break!  Left to right, right to left  it just seemed endless. Because of the extreme tightness ech corner had to be carefully evaluated and manoeuvred around. The inside of some of the bends was about a metre across,  ie the seal on the inside of the corner went thru a 180 degree direction change in just one metre if you can work that out. That is a tight bend !  

. I was sure we were going to end up below sea level we dropped down so much. And the top bit was so steep you had to wonder just how they could have ever built a road there   Then the steepness of the terrain eased off a bit but the hairpins remained.  


What really amazed us was that at the top of the pass there were cyclists who had just ridden up the steep side.  Thst would have entailed a continuous effort hill climb of getting towards 2,000 metres in one go which just defies the imagination. It is almost as if it is a rite of passage for  athletic cycling Italians!  It certainly says something I guess for a Pasta diet! 

We felt a little overwhelmed and exhausted when we got to the bottom. Going down the pass  there were many  big patched holes in the crash barriers as testimony to those who did not make it. Sobering stuff ! 

Well you could well think that you cannot top all of that for the day. Well wrong! 

 After a brief break to change to fresh underwear and wash sweaty palms  we head down to the small city of Bolzano where we had planned to stay for the night. But the threatened rain and thunderstorms had not only not arrived but it was unexpectedly sunny again. So an executive decision is made in the front office to push on to the alpine resort town of Cortina D'Ampezzo ( think Queenstown ) for the night  

We got briefly " stuffed up" on the short tolled motorway section near Bolzano. We could not work out the tolling system. With impatient Italian drivers  hooting behind us I squeezed round the edge of the toll barrier arm to solve the problem. So far so good! . However at the other end of the motorway section the toll man was not amused to find we had no ticket. . He  laboriously wrote down our number plate. He filled our a very long form - all in Italian of course.   He gave us his opinion of ourselves in voluble Italian.  He was not amused. He pointed to a sign indicated a fine of about 75 Euros for no ticket. I think payment details are set out on the form. But we will never find out!!  So now we will have had our case reported to Interpol no doubt and there will be an Italy wide search for us with border crossings alerted!  But firstly, tell me,  from which of a possible 100 countries does that number plate come from? 

Anyway, Thst minor problem aside we suddenly find ourselves in Dolomite country. The vistas of the approaching  Dolomites with the afternoon sun on them.were unexpected and just superb. Let the pictures do the talking.....





Interspersed with lovely ski towns. When I say ski towns they are also very much summer vacation areas with heaps and heaps of people out walking and hiking and,judging by the dress,  taking it seriously. 


You have to admire the flowers on the bridge handrails   This was repeated up and down the road. 


More winding roads and it was down to Cortina for the night. One of my first cars was a Cortina ( That dates me!) Now I know where it came from! 


And we are almost there


And we arrive in Cortina about an hour before the thunder and lightening and promised thunderstorm. It was a nice feeling. And we stay in a lovely "Tirolian " style hotel with geranium window boxes and serving ladies in pinafore dresses. 

Tomorrow is a rest day.  Our first one since Helsinki!  Then it a 300 km zip down the road to Opatija in Croatia where we meet up with our daughter in law Melba's family. The bike is to be left there whilst we come back to NZ. So the next post will be a brief wrap up of observations of our 50 days on the road so far. 

Sensory overload

Yes it was - all day 

We start the day by starting up the Oberalpass. . The road started climbing over the pass within 50 metres of the hotel. The engine of the bike had not even warmed up properly and we were climbing rapidly. It was one of the gentler passes and one can tell it is going to be this because a cog railway also goes over the pass. We actually went over this pass  seven years ago in the Scenic train called the Glacier express that went  from Zermatt in the west to St Moritz in the east of Switzerland. 



Then it was up a more secondary road and over the steeper Passo del Lucamagno. "That sounds somewhat Italian" you might well say. Here all the road signs were in Italian including a big welcome sign. But something does not compute here. I stop for petrol and find it is charged in Swiss Francs. We ask the nice girl at the coffee shop. "The border with Italy is 40 km down the road" she explains. " But this area is the Italian speaking part of Switzerland and Italian is the official language here in this region ". Well, that explains a few thing and we say in our best Italian  "Gratzie" to her for her explanations. 

So we don't cross into Italy as we turn off just before the border and head off up into the hills again to the Italian sounding Passo del San Bernardido. This is a major highway route but we find the old road and cross the pass on the twisty and winding old route. Back to tight hairpin corners again. Yawn! 

The super highway we did not go on ( complete with a very long tunnel) 


The "by way" we did go on. The camera unfortunately does flatten out the steepness of the landscape. 



We get down the pass. " well,there just happens to be another pas ahead of us. So now it is up and over the more  Swiss sounding Splugen Pass. Many of the passes we have crossed have dams and  lakes near the top. I guess they go with the dammed windy road ! 


This time we do pop into Italy to be of course welcomed by another " sort of " border crossing. 


And in case there was some doubt as to which country we were in...   ! 


That is our road way up there 


We follow a pink bus which has extreme trouble getting round the corner. He took several bites at this one.


And one has to like the kissing rocks 


After one hour in Italy it was time to head to Switzerland again over the Maloja pass to St Moritz where we plan to stay the night. I thought it would be a nice gentle pass. Many many tight hairpin bends can see the road winding  up between the trees. The heavy traffic on the hairpin bends makes life "uncomfortable".  


Past some beautiful lakes 


And down into the swanky ski town of St Moritz for the night. Yet another day of sensory overload. I am one very tired Pony but a very satisfied one. We have just had three days of not a cloud in the sky,  balmy temperatures , no wind and to top it off stunning scenery. It is almost overwhelming. I go to bed that night a very tired Pony but a very satisfied one.  


Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Now the fun really starts

The next three days are going to be "pass hopping" over the high mountain passes of Austria, Switzerland and Italy. We plan to go overt about 12 "seriously big and demanding" passes. And the weather forecast is three days of absolute sunny weather. Bring it on ! 

But first we have to head a little east  of Salzburg. So it is a three hour motorway jaunt to a town near the Swiss border called Landeck. We say goodbye to motorways and hello to Bavarian alpine architecture 


 Immediately we are what seems a totally different country. I think we are in Switzerland. The map tells me clearly we are still in Austria. We see all the characteristics of Switzerland , men  hand sything grass on steep steel slopes. Absolute neatness everywhere. 


I think it must be against the law in Austria to have unstacked wood. I never saw a "pile" of wood anywhere. I am sure they must have wood stacking competitions and in Switzerland at least the grand champion being eligible to be the countries President. 

Anyway we go over the first of our passes  - Silvrettastausse pass. The road climbs and climbs. A silly comment really as I guess a road always climbs to go over a pass just as water always flows "down" a plug hole!  


Avalanche shelters everywhere 



Then down and hey presto we are in Leichenstein!  Not quite sure why but never mind. Then 10 minutes later we seem to have crossed the whole of Leichenstein and are now truly in Switzerland. 

Now  we enter the real Switzerland. We have an immediate agenda. Some 8 years ago Diana and I walked the "Via Alpina" across Switzerland starting in the east at a town called Sargans. On day 5 we left a little town called Linthal and we walked across Klausen Pass. That afternoon we have vivid memories of slogging up the pass in the hot sun. Next to our track was a zig zag road leading up th the top of the pass. For 3 hours as we slogged up the pass all we could see and hear was hundreds of motorbikes zooming round the tight bends as the went up and down the pass. I swore if I was ever reincarnated I would come back as a motorcyclist and " ride the pass " 

We I haven't been reincarnated but I have taken a shortcut and become a motorcyclist in this life. So it was revenge time ! 

We pas thru the little town on Linthal where we started walking from those years ago. Up the road the bike went. The sun shone, the bike purred, Diana's camera clicked incessantly and I am sure the birds were singing there little hearts out.  Oh, and the air smelt of new mown grass, and you could hear the ringing of cow bells through the helmets. It was heaven! 


The cows got interested in the bike. One stopped me while it licked the front tyre. Then it got " tyred"of that and let us through ! 

The walking sign we followed so many years ago 


We cross over the top of Klausen Pass and there 800 metres below the summit is the hotel we stayed in on the walking trip. So we can't do much better than to stay there again 



It was almost an impossibly pretty setting. We sat on the open deck drinking firstly " Rivella" then Swiss beer, eating Rosti and ruminating about what a marvellous day it had been. 

As impossible as it might seem the next day even got better. We started early and headed down  Klausen Pass.  Almost at the  immediate bottom is the turn off to Susten Pass. Yawn, another pass! 



Up and up we go   It is impossible to get in photos the true perspective of steepness 


Then the top 

We head down  the other side to Meiringen. Just before the town is a side road back up into the hills to a place called Engstlenalp . It is just below Joch Pass. The only thing there is a hotel and we also stayed there on our tramping trip. It was reminiscing time again. 

The narrow road up was very scenic



And Lo and behold there was the same hotelmComplete with silly hikers ! 


There was not a cloud in the sky and the setting was drop dead beautiful 


And the hills were alive with the sound of music. Somewhere in the photo archives back home is a picture of Diana in exactly the same spot but with tramping boots on. And now she looks just the same ! 


But there is work to do. There are two more passes to go over for the day. 

Next cab off the rank  is Grimsel pass. Again it is very very tight horseshoe bends as we climb the steep pass.  


Some of the cornets were so tight that the bike was on full lock, maximum lean, slowest speed, back brake on and still struggled to get round the corner  Diana could not take any photos of the tight corners as she was holding on for grim death. It is certainly "interesting" getting a fully laden bike with two people on it around the corners 


The pass in the distance on the right hand side of the valley is the one we have just come down 


We get to the bottom of the pass and is immediately over the next pass called Furken Pass. You can well imagine it was discovered by an Englishman! 
It was even steeper and tighter. 




Down the other side and time for a well earned rest in the town of Andermatt. As I closed my eyes for the night I was still going round corners. " Change down, lean, brake  and again and again!" 

And the next day is another 4 passes. Any more of this and I might "Pass out". It is exhilarating fun but at the same time exhausting work slaving away all  day in the cockpit as I have to do !