Alpine Adventure 2010

Visiting Italy: Lake Como and a Case of Jet Lag

We touched down in Milan at about 8:30am local time. Looking out the window of our taxi at the big blue sky was in direct conflict with what time my body said it was. Even when you’re excited and running on adrenaline, you can really feel a 6 hour time difference. Especially when you’ve been up for 20 hours already.

Knowing that we’d be tired, we scheduled our first day in Italy to be a day of rest. We picked up our rental BMW’s and traveled just a quick hop, skip and a jump up the autostrada to Lake Como where we’d made a reservation at the Hotel Metropole & Suisse.

Lake Como Italy Hotel Metropole and Suisse
Our Hotel Room at Metropole and Suisse lake Como

Though check in time wasn’t until mid-afternoon, they were kind enough to allow us to enter our room early. It was a sweet and clean little room with a double balcony looking out over the lake.  We immediately dropped our gear and threw open the doors to get a view of our place for the night.

After my excited ooh-ing and ahhh-ing, we cleaned ourselves up and set off to explore the city on foot.  We ambled down the stone streets, looking down small corridors. We ducked in to the beautiful and centuries old Duomo. We sat and sipped beer at a piazza cafe and did a tall piece of people watching. People are basically the same everywhere but as my man Vincent Vega would say, “…it’s just – it’s just there it’s a little different.” Like – European men sit with their legs crossed in a way that American men just do not.

Motos, Motos, Everywhere!

To say that Italy is a motorcycle friendly country would be the understatement of the century. Motorcycles and scooters are part of the very fabric of everyday living. Everyone is zipping around on two wheels, with luggage boxes mounted on everything. There is no “you don’t put a topbox on a sportbike,” foolishness going on.

Scooters and bikes park in moto-specific stalls, sidewalks or wherever they fit. They are discouraged from taking up car spaces. Riders pass leapfrogging around cars in traffic and up to the front of traffic lines at stoplights and no one blinks an eye. No one gives you the finger, no one honks. If you can fit your two-wheels somewhere ahead of where you are now, put them there! It was a lot to get used to because it goes against the grain of what I know in my daily life.
Scooter parking in Lake Como Italy

In one of my strokes of brilliance, I pushed for us to take a tour of the lake by boat. In the warm sun. After being awake for more than 24 hours. On a gently rocking boat.

I’m sure the tour was lovely. Hopefully I didn’t keep anyone awake with my snoring.

Lake Como from our Hotel Balcony Walking through the city of Lake Como Italy Lake Como Italy Old Church
Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni Lake Como Italy Le Mani - Massimi Clerici - Hands Statue at Lake Como Train Station Lake Como Doorway Statues

As the sun began to set, we started to run out of gas.  Though it felt like a defeat, I just had to take a quick snooze. Back to the hotel we went and slipped in a nap for a few hours. By the time we awoke it was dark and everything but the crowded cafes was closed.

Drinking beer at Cafe Monti Lake Como Dumo Como Italy Interior Duomo in Como Italy
Looking at Como from a boat ride Piazza in Como Italy The view from our balcony in Como Italy

We again set off on foot strolling through the old walled city. It was now past 11pm. Our bellies were growling and in a strange turn of events the last remaining thing open for us to grab a quick bite to eat in the beautiful Italian city of Lake Como was… McDonalds.

It could have been the power and wonder of travel, of this gorgeous city, of Italy itself but I will tell you this~ sitting next to the lake eating that flimsy McDonalds cheeseburger at 11:30 at night was pretty romantic.

Lake Como from our balcony at night

Motorcycling from Lake Como to Bormio

We awoke long before the revelers of the previous night and departed Como heading towards the town of Bellagio. The picturesque town sits at the tip of Lake Como’s peninsula. From there you can catch ferry boats to different points on the lake. Since we were heading northwest to Bormio, we hopped the ferry to Verenna.

Bikes on Bellagio to Verenna Ferry

The view from the ferry Bellagio to Verenna Heading to Bellagio Italy Bellagio Italy from the Verenna Ferry

During this leg of our travel, we would be exposed to many things for the first time. It was the first time we saw the little white signs with the word “tornante” on them. That’s Italian for a hairpin turn.

In my travels here on the Northeast coast, the hairpin turn is like seeing a bear in the wild. Sure, they are out there somewhere but you only see them once in a blue moon.

Your Papers, Please

We also experienced our first of many border crossings going from Italy to Switzerland. In my mind I had built the process up to be something a little more complex than just having a man in uniform wave at me and send me through. I figured there would be some passport stamping or something.

Crossing the border from Italy to Switzerland

When I pulled up to the first guard booth and stopped, I looked at the guard and he gave a lazy wave. I wasn’t sure if he was saying “hi” or sending me through. So in my amazingly awkward and jerky way, I was like “uhhh, am I okay to go?”

I couldn’t hear him very well but I think he said “yah.” Seriously, who wants to assume you’re okay to cross a border if you really aren’t? So, I questioned him again by asking “ok?” and gesturing the universal symbol for moving forward. He gave me an exasperated “ok” and then pointedly said “go!”

Fine, fine, I’ll go then. Sheesh! I know he must have thought I was a moron. And he just might be right. But that’s part of my charm.

Near the Berninapass heading to Livigno Italy

When we made our way towards St. Moritz and on to Livigno, the mountains began to show us their grandeur. We cut along a roadway that was carved through the rock, gradually rising above the treeline. It is in these moments that you feel so tiny in the world. The beauty that nature presents to you can be so incredibly humbling.

Heading to Livigno Italy Heading towards Livigno Italy Heading towards Livigno

Leaving Livigno heading towards Bormio

We were scheduled to meet Pimmie in the town of Bormio. He was riding down from the Netherlands to spend the week riding with us. It had been over a year since we last saw him, so Kenny and I were both bubbling with excitement.

Heading into Bormio Italy Riding in Bormio Italy Pimmie arrived in Bormio after riding all night

Now we were three.

Kenny and I arrived first at the hotel with enough time to shower and clean ourselves up from the days ride. About an hour later, Pims turned up safely. It was so great to see him again. It felt like no time at all had passed.

Albergo San Lorenzo in Bormio Italy

We spent the rest of the night getting caught up, laughing, relaxing and planning for the following day’s ride. There was a lot to be excited about. From this point on, we would be flying by the seat of our pants; going wherever the sky looked sunniest and the roads were winding.

Motorcycle at Bormio Hotel Hotel Stelvio Bormio Italy Piazza in Bormio Italy

We chose to meet in the town of Bormio because it was the foot of one of the most legendary mountain passes and one of my bucket list items – Stelvio. That’s where we were headed the very next morning…

Cross One Off The Bucket List: Riding the Stelvio Pass in Italy

In realm of people who are passionate about pursuits that involve wheels; cars, motorcycles, bicycles – it seems that everyone knows the name Stelvio. We’ve seen it in photos around the internet, zig-zagging it’s way up and down through the Italian Alps. It has become a legend, a holy grail road.

Before having seen it with my own eyes, I too held the Stelvio Pass as the pinnacle of my road riding desires. I made a deal with myself that I would ride it one day. Sunday September 5, 2010 was that day.

Pimmie and I looking north towards the Stelvio pass

60 Tornante
Stelvio holds in it’s grip 60 hairpin turns. Yes… 60.

From the Bormio side heading north as you begin your ascent, you turn, turn, turn your way up thinking – “wow, this is amazing! I can’t believe all of these hairpin turns!”

That is of course until we crested the summit and began our descent. There are 48 hairpins on the way down, each marked with numbered stones. Winding down those terraced turns broke us in right for the rest of the trip.

You learn quickly that even though it may feel alien to you, at times you have to use the both lanes. There is no staying only on “your side”. It was a trial by fire and I felt like I was prepared for anything the trip would throw at us after that.
The North side of the Stelvio Pass Italy

Up we go on the stelvio pass Tibet building stelvio pass Bormio Stelvio Pass Elevation Sign at Summit
Passo Dello Stelvio - party at 9,000 feet Kenny parked atop stelvio pass The Stelvio Pass

The summit of Stelvio is like a party at 9,000 feet up. There are people from all over the world laughing, taking photos and enjoying the kinship of like-minded people who also came to behold such an awesome spectacle.

Milling around up there at the summit, watching all of the bikes and people was a moment in time that I felt like I wanted to hold on to as tightly as I could. I’d waited so long to see this thing. I never wanted to forget what I was seeing, what the air felt like, what it took for us to get there.

As with everything though, you have to let it go and move on. So onward we went, down, down, down the Stelvio pass.

Pimmie, Me & Kenny on the Stelvio Pass

Sometimes I look at my life and think… Damn! I’m lucky.

A Sunday Ride Through the Swiss and Italian Alps

On Sunday, we started our day with a bang, leaving our Bormio hotel and heading straight up and over the Stelvio pass. Winding our way along it’s delicious serpentine hairpins, I wondered if my day was figuratively all down hill from there. As we motored on, I quickly found out that it had just begun.

The passes that we covered on Sunday were:  Stelvio pass, Ofen pass, Flüela pass, Julier pass, Moloja pass

From the northern foot of the Stelvio pass we went on to the Swiss border and headed towards the Ofen pass. This pass was generally fast and loose with good tarmac. It had more sweepers and few (if any) hairpins. The biggest difference with this pass was that the roadway ran through a forest, whereas the other passes moved up and over the treeline. It reminded me of riding in California.

Say hi to Pimmie everyone! Heading toward Ofen pass Ofen Pass in Switzerland Heading towards Vicosoprano Switzerland
Julier pass Switzerland On the Julier pass Switzerland Bikes parked in Switzerland

The sheer number of motorcycles and maxi-scooters that were out riding this loop on a sunny Sunday afternoon was just staggering. There were bikes everywhere! Some observations:

  • It was nice to see nearly everyone was dressed in full gear.
  • Most bikes were toting some type of storage luggage on them.
  • Naked bikes and the big BMW GS’s were the most popular bikes on the roads.
  • We saw very few fully faired sportbikes in the mountains.
  • I saw a few other women riders but not nearly as many as I expected to.
  • The majority of road surfaces were very good!

It seemed too that the competence and skill level of the majority of riders we encountered was really quite excellent.  But, I suppose if you spend your life riding those roads, you just have to get good at it. The roads aren’t forgiving.

Don’t Wait Up!

My two traveling companions, Kenny and Pimmie are quite a bit more speedy than I am. I’m not slow but I am just unwilling to take what I see as unnecessary risks anymore. I’ve come to realize that my ability to enjoy a ride isn’t always directly proportional to how fast I’m moving.  My riding throughout this trip would definitely be classified as “conservative.” There were times when I felt a little bit like an anchor as I watched them fade out of my view. Though neither one said anything negative about it, I did wonder if they were fed up with my dawdling.

Until we got into a comfortable rhythm of riding together, I could see them checking mirrors for me, pulling off and waiting, wondering what the heck was taking me so long to turn up. I tried to be clear that they needed to stop babysitting me and to just wait for me at the next turn off.  I’m not a new rider or someone who has no skill, for crying out loud. I contended that there were plenty of people around if I should find myself in trouble or in need of help.

Shortly after my speech, on the Flüela pass I saw Pimmie had actually doubled back to look for me. I will admit it bothered me to think that he would have spent any time worried about my riding. The irony was of course that not 3 minutes before I came literally inches from busting my ass pulling onto a pea gravel shoulder to take some photos. The front tire just washed out sideways while I was slowing to a stop. I managed to catch it at the last second. Of course, I kept that to myself until now ;o)

I absolutely loved the stark landscape of the Flüela pass.

Fluela pass in Switzerland

The Flüela Pass – Switzerland

Julier Pass Switzerland

The Julier Pass – Switzerland

Sportbike-shmortbike. Run What Ya Brung!

The last pass that we took for the day was the Maloja pass, which is about 30 miles south of St. Mortiz, Switzerland. It is a tall, terraced, hairpin turn pass. The view from the top looking down over the roadway was amazing but unfortunately there was no room to stop for a photo. When we reached the bottom of the pass, I found a spot to pull over and was hoping I could get a view from the bottom up.

Group of BMWs heading up the Maloja Pass

As I sat on the side of the road a group of guys on GSs came motoring towards me on their way up. Zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom they rounded the bend by me with the last guy sending sparks up as he dragged his sidebags through the hairpin. I laughed in spite of myself. It was just so freakin’ awesome to see this train of bikes rail through the turn. I’m so goofy, I clapped. The last guy smiled as he righted himself and rode away.

GS dragging sidebags through hairpin maloja pass

The three of us pulled into a small guesthouse hotel at the foot of the pass in the town of Vicosoprano for the night. Though we didn’t turn a lot of miles in the grandest sense, they were quality miles.  None of us drank enough throughout the day and it had started to show. We were all tired and unfortunately, Pimmie wasn’t feeling very well.

We sat on our balcony and listened to sound of the church bells ringing in the town below. Nestled in amongst the trees, the only sound other sound we heard was occasional high rpms approaching the corner until the sun went down.

Our hotel in Vicosoprano Switzerland

The view from our hotel in Vicosoprano Switzerland Our balcony Vicosoprano cable car going into the clouds Vicsoprano Switzerland

This was one of the most amazing days of riding of my entire life.

Killing Time Around Vicosoprano, Switzerland

A low, silvery fog nestled in to the valley while we slept. It was hard to tell if it was raining or not when I looked out over the balcony of our room.  I crossed my fingers tightly that the ground was dry and trotted downstairs for breakfast saying good morning to the animals in the hall along the way.

Ummm.. okay? Hotel Taxidermied animals

Pimmie wasn’t looking so hot. Two days prior, his ride down from the Netherlands was long. Follow that up with not getting a good night sleep in Bormio. Riding an intensive day of passes and not enough to eat or drink all day brought things to a head. It was obvious that he needed some more rest, so we sent him back to bed for a little while.

With Pimmie trying to catch a few more winks, Kenny and I went to poke around in the little towns below. We stopped in the villages of Castasegna, Stampa and Bondo to have a look around.

Rock Tunnel near Vicosoprano Switzerland

it’s just – it’s just there it’s a little different.

There was an obvious visual difference between the houses and buildings scattered around the countryside when compared to those here at home. As I rode along I mulled over just what those differences really were. It seemed like the homes and their decoration used materials from their immediate surroundings. Simple, elegant solutions to making railings, roofs, fences were all plucked from the wood, stone and earth right in their own backyards. Everything seemed to be in tune with the land.

One of my favorite things about traveling is that everything is new to your eyes. Even the most mundane acts undertaken by people going about their every day lives offer you as the traveler something interesting to look at. We parked along a wall in Castasegna and watched a woman working in her garden. In that moment, as she toiled in the dirt and moved amongst her flowers – it all seemed very beautiful to me.

Watching everyday life in Castasegna Switzerland Palazzo Castelmur Switzerland Swiss Houses in Castasegna
tunnel near vicosoprano Tight squeeze between a car and a bus Hi Kenny!

Many times throughout the trip when we were in populated areas I stopped and asked myself if we were allowed to ride or park there. Often towns and villages were paved with stones that to my eyes look like driveways or pedestrian paths, much less like roads.

Riding through a small Swiss town

Though I may not have seen a red do not enter sign there were some cases I just wasn’t sure.  Over time, I started adopting the idea that apparently there were no driving rules and you can stick your motorcycle anywhere you like.

Cable car into the fog vicosoprano

That little speck is the car going up, up, up…

When we arrived back at the hotel, we sat for a few minutes watching a cable car make it’s way up into the fog. From our vantage point it looked like the tiny little car was going straight up into nothingness. When I contemplated that idea for a few minutes it kind of freaked me out. Some people volunteer to go quietly into the abyss, while others cling to the terra firma.

Soon Pimmie had come down stairs, looking like he was feeling quite a bit better. We paid our tab, said goodbye to the animals in the hallway and set off riding for the day. The roads were dry and we had passes to see. This day was going to be a humdinger…

*The cable car goes up to the Albigna Dam/Resevoir/Hut

Motorcycle Nirvana: Riding The Splügen Pass

In typical case-of-the-Mondays fashion, the weather report didn’t look promising. But, the fact that the fog was burning off and the sun was elbowing it’s way through the cloud cover was encouraging. Three sets of wheels hurtled towards riding nirvana.

One beautiful thing about the alpine mountain passes of northern Italy and Switzerland is their proximity to each other. You come off of one pass and with just a few turns you’re heading towards another. Having spent the night basically at the foot of the Maloja pass, we were in prime position to set our sights on the Splügen pass.

When you head up the Splugen pass from the city of Chiavenna, the road wriggles it’s way up a mountain along a terraced roadway. Hairpin turns are stacked against the earth rising up, up up and you find yourself riding through unlit tunnels on the side of the mountain. Hairpin turn in a tunnel, anyone?

Splugen pass tunnel hairpin

The Italian portion of the approach to the Splügen pass and it’s terraced turns and tunnels is viewable on Google Maps street view. If you have some time to poke around, take a look for yourself! It will give you a feel for what the climb was like.

Pimmie goes to work on the Splugenpass

On many of the passes it seemed that there was a personality shift when you reached a plateau. With Splügen, when the road started to loosen up a bit you are treated a view of Lago di Monte Spluga and the turns become much more gentle and flowing. When I say gentle – I mean more like a sidewinder instead of a coiled rattlesnake.

Shortly after Lago di Monte Spluga came in to view, I came around a corner only to have to throw on the anchors in a hurry. There were cows parked in the middle of the road. That was an… interesting moment.  When I finally made my way to where Kenny and Pimmie were parked, they too were having fun with cows. You can see Pimmie making friends in the video clip:

Near the Italian-Swiss border the feeling of the pass changed again. The road became a ribbon of turns that worked it’s way down into a valley. When my eyes first caught a glimpse of what was spilling out before me I actually said “wow” out loud and immediately stopped for a picture. Unfortunately no photograph I ever took could do justice to the magnificence of this delicious roadway making its way through such a beautiful landscape.

Splugenpass on the Swiss Side

View from near Lago di Monte Spluga splugenpass Lago di Monte Spluga splugenpass Kenny follows Pimmie on Splugenpass
Kenny and Pimmie heading up Splugenpass to Lago di Monte Spluga Bikes parked in Splugen Switzerland Cows on Splugen pass

When we reached the end of the pass in the town of Splügen, Switzerland, I swear I wanted to hi-five somebody. But then I’d have to kick my own ass. The riding and the scenery of the pass were amazing.

On a day that was off to an iffy start with Pim not feeling well and the threat of rain, we’d just made out like bandits. And this was just the beginning…


Splügen Pass – Photo by Adrian Michael

One of the World’s Best Motorcycling Roads: San Bernardino Pass

Though it has been in use since Roman times, the San Bernardino pass was first made known to me from the first episode of Top Gear season 10. In it, Clarkson, Hammond and May set off to Europe to find the world’s best driving roads. Watching that show on DVD in the dead of winter as 3 feet of snow piled up outside lit a fire in me. One of the best driving roads? If that isn’t enticing, I don’t know what is. It was only logical to add this switchbacked beauty to our ever growing To Do list.

Leaving the town of Splügen, Switzerland we headed west towards the northern foot of the San Bernardino pass. Like the Splugen pass coming from Chiavenna, the San Bernardino pass began it’s ascent up the mountain like a terraced ribbon candy, zig-zagging its way up many switchbacks into mountains.

When the pavement unclenched it’s teeth and we rose above the treeline, the road opened up into a few kinder, gentler turns. I was able to catch glimpses of partially obscured, smooth tarmac on the left and right. I thought to myself how could those sections of roadway actually be connected to one another?

When the team of engineers began talking about paving the pass and asked “What is the shortest distance between two points?” the answer must have been “WHO CARES?!”

The San Bernardino Pass Switzerland

At the summit of the pass there is a restaurant at the San Bernardino hostel. It sits alone in the stark landscape overlooking Lago Moesola. Even though the sky was threatening to open up on us, there were many people out enjoying the day there.

IXS Ducati Multistrada San Bernardino PassWhile there taking in the view, we spotted a pair of new Ducati Multistradas that were stickered with IXS logo stickers. The bikes were surrounded by 4 guys dressed in identical textile suits and matching helmets, and a man driving what I assume was a support car. With more guys than bikes they must have been either riding 2-up or were swapping riding duties.

They went through the motions of the standard magazine photos – you know like the ole side of the helmet shot. The one that catches the guys eyes with his visor flipped open while he contemplatively looks off at the scenery and pretends to not notice a giant camera lens next to his head. I wonder where those images will appear.

Lago Moesola San Bernardino Pass Switzerland

We were already riding on borrowed sunshine-time trying to beat the rain that was forecast earlier in the morning. It was looking quite gray and a little threatening, so we didn’t dilly-dally for too long. We set off heading south to continue along the pass.

Not long after riding past the lake another roller coaster of sidewinders was waiting for us. The view of the racetrack-like road was enough to send you into fits of excited giggles. Kenny and Pimmie dashed off ahead and I pulled off. I was able to watch them making their way around some of the curves like watching my own personal roadrace.

San Bernardino Pass Switzerland South Side

Around the web many people include the San Bernardino Pass in their listing of the best driving, cycling or motorcycling roads in the world. Now I can see why. The diverse scenery, the road condition, the road layout – they all combine to make this pass an absolute joy to ride. It is not to be missed.

BMW F 650 GS on San Bernardino Pass San Bernardino Hostel Kenny and Pimmie Riding San Bernardino Pass
Fuzzygalore on the San Bernardino Pass - Thanks for the pic, Pimmie!

I’m pretty sure I smiled all the way up and all the way down.

Someone Pinch Me – Switzerland is Motorcycle Riding Heaven

When we climbed down from the top of the San Bernardino pass, we had the rain on our heels. If we were going to make the most of our plans for the day we were going to have to get on the gas and hightail it out of there. We were heading towards an area in Switzerland just above the northeastern border of Italy.

In this part of Switzerland, there is a group of mountain passes that is just outstanding. They provide many hours and many miles of riding on beautiful asphalt, beautiful views and delicious curves. These passes are: Nufenen pass, Grimsel pass, Furka pass, Susten pass, Gotthard pass.

Novena Neufenen Pass Switzerland

When you head north along the Novena/Neufenen Pass it brings you to the intersection of the Furka and the Grimsel passes. Having to make a choice, we opted to stay left and take the Grimsel and would try to hit the Furka the following day. So up we went along the terraced switchbacks into the mountains.

The Grimsel pass from the south

The view as you were climbing higher was spectacular. I pulled off to take some photos and I could hear the echoing sounds of 2 people on sportbikes coming down the neighboring Furka pass. I watched the 2 little dots making their way along the mountain road as their song echoed through the valley.

Grimsel Pass with partial View of Furka Pass

Neufenen Novena Pass Switzerland Cross at the top of the Grimsel Pass a view of the Furka Pass from Grimsel pass
F 650 GS on Grimsel Pass Switzerland Motorcycle sculpture at the top of Grimsel pass Pimmie conquers the Neufenen Pass in Switzerland

All through our trip I never got over the feeling of just how small we are as people here on the earth. The magnitude and scale of the mountains was incredible. This photo of me riding on the Grimsel pass personifies that to me. I was nothing more than a speck traveling along on the road of life.

Fuzzygalore on the Grimsel Pass

We made our last gas stop of the day in Innertkirchen. With the late hour, the waning daylight and the ever present threat of rain we decided it was time to pack it in. We would ride the length of the Susten pass and grab a room in the town of Wassen.

The Susten pass didn’t seem to climb in the same way the other passes had throughout the day. It seemed to run more like a canyon road along the length of the valley instead of just up and over. The last 15 or 20 miles of the pass, Kenny and I spent some time riding together which was nice since I’d been kind of floating solo as I poked along looking at things and stopping for pictures.

Pimmie's Aprilia Tuono on Grimsel Pass in Switzerland Kenny heading in to Wassen Switzerland Wassen Switzerland Sustenpass Sign

Even with our late start we managed to get in some fabulous riding. On our third day of traveling we’d been through the Splugen pass, the San Bernardino pass and now the Novena pass, Grimsel pass and the Susten pass. Not too shabby, really.
Gasthof Alte Post our hotel in Wassen Switzerland

We took rooms at the Gasthof Alte Post in Wassen and had dinner outside in what was left of the fading light of the day. Our rooms had no TVs, no Wifi and no clocks. The three of us spent the night looking at the highlighted routes on our map, watching videos from the day’s riding and making plans for what we were going to do the next day. Those plans included contingencies for pouring rain which as the night wore on, came calling.

Riding to Austria: Our Dark Cloudy Day Has A Silvretta Lining

Church Cross in Wassen SwitzerlandThe first thing that I did when I woke up was open up the window and look out. To my dismay the roadway was damp. But… at least it wasn’t raining. I watched four little birds playing in the fountain outside as the chilly morning air crept in. I then padded around our little room, looking at postcards, receipts and stickers that I’d accumulated so far.

With Pimmie still sawing logs in the room next door, Kenny and I set off on foot for a walk through the little town of Wassen. Just a stones throw from our hotel was a small church; St. Gallus – perched on a hill that overlooked the valley. We stood there in the damp air listening to the trains going by on the tracks above and below us and watching children in the nearby school yard.

The view in Wassen Switzerland train in Wassen Switzerland Garden Gnome in Wassen Switzerland

Wassen Church St Gallus

When we started walking down the serpentine footpath back to our hotel, the heavy sky opened up. The rain that we’d managed to dodge the day before had caught up to us. It was now time for us to pay the piper. It was pouring.

Back at the hotel, with Pimmie now awake, we sat looking at our maps over breakfast. My heart broke a little when we decided against riding the Furka and Gotthard passes in the pouring rain. Sometimes I just want to kick myself when I put things off for “later”. Especially when later doesn’t come. Instead of the 2 passes we’d skipped the day before, we’d head towards clear skies in the west. We set off over the Oberalppass and headed towards Austria.

Swiss Army border near Liechtenstein Fountain in Wassen Switzerland Liechtenstein Phonebooth!

For most of the trip, I didn’t sleep very well. Each night, I would wake up several times. One night I actually had some strange, upsetting dreams. I could probably count the number of times I’ve had a bad dream in the last 10 years on one hand, so that was pretty unusual. Between the rain, my lack of good sleep and “lazy” riding we were doing, I think it put me in a lull. This was the first day that I felt really tired on the bike.

Pimmies Photo - Castle near Swiss - Liechtenstein border

Near the Swiss – Liechtenstein border, we crossed through what appeared to be a military post. I was a little bummed to not see a single guy opening a can of beans with his knife or something. Maybe they were all busy invading Liechtenstein again. *Point of note: Apparently aside from being a tax haven, 1/3 of the world’s false teeth are made in Liechtenstein.

Austrian vignette stickerWhen we crossed the Austrian border, we had to stop in a gas station to get a vignette sticker to put on our bikes. A vignette is a toll sticker. Apparently, you can be fined some serious Euros for failing to have one displayed. I guess that’s just one of those bits of information that is good to tuck in your back pocket, you know, in case you’re ever in the neighborhood.

Within a few miles of our last border crossing for the day, the clouds started to lift and the roads began to dry. It couldn’t have come soon enough. We were all tired and a little less enthusiastic than we’d been on the days before. Though riding through tree-lined valleys and along side streams was indeed beautiful, I think we were spoiled by the mountain riding. As luck would have it, we were heading towards the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse.

Silvretta High Alpine Road Austria

photo by Böhringer Friedrich – Click for Source

Silvretta High Alpine Road was a fantastic ride. It starts low in a valley and weaves it’s way up along nearly perfect pavement. Once you get above the treeline you are in a rocky and barren landscape. Snow-capped mountains and glaciers surround you as you approach the reservoir at the road summit. This alpine pass was just what the doctor ordered. Silvretta was the silver lining of our otherwise dark, cloudy day.

Stone bridge in Austria

Silvretta High Alpine Road Reservoir Pimmies excellent photo of a boat on the Silvretta reservoir Silvretta High Alpine Road

It was getting to be late in the afternoon. For all intents and purposes we were a hop, skip and a jump from Innsbruck. So, I used my executive powers and decided that’s where we would stay for the night. So, with no plan whatsoever we went to the beautiful city of Innsbruck, Austria.

A Few Short Hours in Innsbruck, Austria

RumerHof Hotel Rum AustriaAfter a long day in the saddle we pulled in to the city of Innsbruck around dinner time. We found a nice,  inexpensive hotel on the outskirts in the town of Rum. We got cleaned up and went for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. By the time we finished up, the sun had set and what was left of our evening was quickly ticking by.

We hopped in to a taxi and went into the old part of Innsbruck. Because our vacation was a riding vacation, we left home with no plans to spend time sightseeing or city touring. The fact that we were in Innsbruck at all was icing on the cake for me. So when the cab dropped us off, we did what we would do on the bikes and just wandered.

Cathedral Square Innsbruck Helblinghaus Innsbruck Austria The Golden Roof Innsbruck Austria

I’ve said it so many times before but, it really is the little moments that stay with you. We sat in the cathedral square talking and taking in the powerful façade of the Dom zu St. Jakob. We three just sat on a bench talking about history and the nature of people.  There were no city sounds – no traffic, no sirens, cars, no honking. As I sit here on my deck writing this, I can still feel the cool air of that night around me like an embrace. It was one of those perfect moments that I didn’t fully grasp the value of until it was long since gone.

Dom zu St. Jakob Innsbruck Austria

Given the late hour, everything but a few cafes in the old part of the city was closed. It was very interesting to walk around with the feeling that you’ve basically got the place to yourself. There was no hustle and no bustle, it was just us walking.

Being in that old place immediately filled me with a sense of romanticism. It was made up of nothing more than a group of lifeless buildings just like every other city the world over, but… it felt different than home. It felt faraway and special.

We walked to Maria-Theresia Strasse and had coffee in an outdoor café. When the waitress informed us they were out of apple strudel, it was like a dagger in my heart. Can you believe that? I missed my golden opportunity for strudel in Austria. I did have some manner of schnitzel for dinner though, so we’ll call it a draw this time.

So there we were – me, the love of my life and our dear friend.  We were a man and a woman from New York, having coffee with a Dutchman in Innsbruck, Austria. All because of motorcycles. I think that’s pretty cool. It’s in those moments I can really feel just how awesome my life is.

Cafe in Innsbruck Austria

Innsbruck Golden Roof WangRight outside of one of the most famous buildings in the city, the Golden Roof – there are 2… um… things… on the sidewalk. Yes, the Golden Roof is lovely and historical and all of that, but these just struck me so funny. While other people were nodding thoughtfully and taking photos of the building, we were giggling like schoolgirls over the sidewalk wangs.

I still have no idea what they were for but I think it’s probably best not to let the imagination wander too far on this topic.

Austria - Home of KTM! Austrian building is shocked by what it sees! Hadid Nordpark Cable Rail Station Innsbruck Austria
Hadid Bridge Rail Station A Bacon Store! Innsbruck Austria

It was around midnight when we grabbed a taxi back to our hotel. Our little walk through town was just too short. In many ways it pains me that I was in this lovely, fairytale place so worthy of exploring, yet we had no time to do just that. I can only hope that life will steer me there again some time down the road.

In the meantime, we had more riding to do.

From Innsbruck to the Dolomites and Corvara, Italy

Oh, Innsbruck. Our time together was too short.

On Wednesday morning, we packed up our circus in no time flat and said goodbye to the city. We were heading back up in to the mountains. Following yet another of my whims, we would be heading towards the town of Corvara, Italy.

Nestled snugly in the shadow of the beautiful Sassongher mountain, Corvara first sneaked into my brain from a photograph I saw in a travel ad. I tore the page out of the magazine and stuck to our refrigerator. I would finally have the chance to see this beautiful little village with my own eyes after looking at it for 6 months in my kitchen.

Steuibenfall in Austria

We left Innsbruck heading west where we stopped off at the Stuibenfall in Umhausen. It is the tallest waterfall in Tyrol Austria and a beautiful sight. The view overlooking the Ötztal valley isn’t too shabby either.

Snow on TimmesljochMotoring on, our route brought us up and over the Timmelsjoch Hochalpenstrasse. Like, Silvretta this roadway also had a toll. When we pulled up to the booths to pay the fee, we could see  misty clouds getting closer the higher we went. Just a few miles in to our ride, the fog thickened.

It was a chilly 4°C. It was the first time I remember seeing any standing snow on the roadway. I had to flip on the heated grips because my hands were starting to sting as the wind whistled through the perforated areas of my vented summer gloves.

Fuzzygalore on Timmelsjoch Hochalpenstrasse

When we pulled off at the summit to see the pass museum, we couldn’t see a blessed thing of the view. We saw nothing but an abyss. The rain started to fall as we descended the mountain. Between the fog and the water on my visor visibility was terrible. I crept along, making my way down through the tunnels and hairpins trying to enjoy the ride.

Timmelsjoch in the rain

Stuibenfall Austria KTM Supermotos on Timmelsjoch Pimmie on Timmelsjoch
Pass Museum on Timmelsjoch Heli's roadside eats Our hotel in Corvara

When we reached the foot of the Timmelsjoch, we continued on to the Jaufenpass in the pouring rain. Between the mixture of cold rain and tar snakes, it turned out to be one of my least favorite passes. When I look at photos of the pass in the sunshine on the web, I can honestly say I don’t remember any of that. I just remember gray.

Jaufenpass in the rain

When we reached the bottom, we pulled off and ate a roadside hamburger. We dried up a little and made a plan to make tracks to Corvara. The cold rain dogged us the rest of the way. Sadly, the rain and fog robbed me of my view of the town below the mountain, but I had high hopes to see it early in the following morning. The sunshine was on it’s way.

Corvara, Italy and Riding Passes in the Dolomites

Well hello, sunshine! What a difference a day makes.

Our Balcony in CorvaraI wish I knew why I am a morning person. I so envy those that can slumber into the late morning. Alas, it isn’t in the cards for me. I’m the first one up at home and seemed to be the first one each day on vacation. I quietly packed up my things, got myself dressed and padded outside on to our chalet balcony. Sunshine. Aaaahhh.

Kenny rousted himself up and we set off for a walk through town in the quiet early morning. We sat for a while watching the cows that dotted the hillside. The valley was completely silent except for the sounds of their bells ringing.

Cows in Corvara Italy

Corvara in a magazineThis was it, this was the place that I glanced at every time I got milk for my coffee out of the fridge, every time I buttered a piece of toast – this place was something my mind latched on to as being a someday for whatever reason. And there we were walking down the street in Corvara.

Some dreams are small. And sometimes you don’t really even know why they leave an indelible mark on you. But, big or small, silly or not – a dream followed is worthwhile.

This day was a little extra special. It was Kenny’s birthday.  Lucky him, he would get to spend the day doing something he loves. Riding his motorcycle through the mountains. That sure beat getting something like say… a new sweater.

Dolomite Mountains along Gardena Pass

The Dolomites had a much more rugged, extreme and vertical look to them than the mountains we’d ridden through up to this point. They had an aggressive starkness about them that I loved.

The passes in this area were spectacular; Campolongo, Gardena, Sella, Pordoi, Falzarego and Valparola. Beautiful road surfaces, the layout of the roads and the scenery made a trifecta of riding perfection.

Falzarego Pass Italy

Dolomites on Campolongo Pass Gardena Pass Falzarego pass sign

Falzarego Pass Italy
It could have been the relief of having a nice sunny day after the rain. It could have been realizing a dream and seeing Corvara with my own eyes. Or, it could have just been that the roads were just that amazing – this group of passes was my favorite.

Amazing Motorcycle Road: Italy’s Gavia Pass

The 9th of September was bittersweet. It was a special day in that it marked Kenny’s 40th birthday. He got to spend the day doing what he loved; riding motorcycles on amazingly twisty roads. Unfortunately, it also marked the last day of riding that we were to do with Pimmie on our vacation. Our day’s ride took us from beautiful Corvara back to where we started our journey together in Bormio.

The Dolomites were spectacular. Between the scenery, the road condition and the weather I couldn’t have imagined anything to top those passes. As we pressed on heading west, it became apparent that we saved what I would say was the most surprising pass of all, for last; The Gavia Pass.

Going up the Gavia Pass

Like Stelvio, I found the Gavia Pass to be most memorable because it was such an anomaly. On the ascent from Ponte di Legno on the southern side of the pass, the roadway that climbs through the trees is a single lane, and a tight one at that. The problem with the single lane is that it has to support 2 way traffic.

The Gavia Pass Italy

It was an eye opener to feel like you barely fit through the road with sidebags on your bike to then have to make room for a car to squeeze by in the other direction. It was kind of scary but exciting at the same time.

Gavia Pass - Photo by Pimmie

Creeping around some of the blind corners closer to the summit I found myself hoping I wouldn’t be face to face with the grill of an oncoming car.

As usual I was the caboose on our three rider train up the pass. I would catch glimpses of Kenny pulled over watching for me every now and then. It was kind of cute – like he was “protecting” me. 🙂

Me - Riding up Gavia Pass - Photo by Pimmie

I found this video on youtube. It gives a pretty good view of how tight the roadway was in the southern section. Imagine trying to squeeze 2 cars through there!