Tag: Italy

From Innsbruck to the Dolomites and Corvara, Italy

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.

Someone Pinch Me – Switzerland is Motorcycle Riding Heaven

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.

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

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.

Motorcycle Nirvana: Riding The Splügen Pass

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 a 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
Killing Time Around Vicosoprano, Switzerland

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

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