I just finished playing Tour Guide to an old friend and his daughter on their first ride in the Alps. Rich kept a daily journal as we stopped for each night, and rather than write my own, I thought that his outlook might be enjoyable.
Without further ado:
Day 1 – June 29 – Friday – New York – 6000 miles
Julie and I left SWF (Newburgh, NY) at about 1500 (45 minutes late) and arrived in PHL (Philadelphia, PA) at 1600. The flight to Zurich was scheduled to leave at 1810 but at 1730 we were told to move from gate A20 to A8 (not even close) because the skin was wrinkled on our original aircraft. Nice – don’t they have Oil of Olay at US Air? The flight was uneventful and the seats were not as comfortable as I remember for a 767. I slept for about 2 hours. We left PHL over 90 minutes late but arrived in Zurich only 15 minutes behind schedule.
Day 2 – June 30 – Saturday – Zurich to Andermatt Switzerland – 140 km
· Here I introduce bullets as asides, paragraphs concerning ancillary information not describing the trip – this one is about the elevation profiles downloaded from Mike’s Garmin. It shows distance traveled against elevation in feet. There should be one for each day (unless rain curtails travel).
Mike Jordan’s plane was 30 minutes early so he was waiting for us outside of customs. We were waved through the no declarations door. Mike suggested we get some francs and Julie was able to use the ATM and get 2 shots of 200CHF, I could not as my ATM card was refused. We hopped on a train for the Zurich main station then to track 9 for the train to Aarau. Peter Volgger from Moto Mader met us at the station at 1000 and brought us to the BMW dealership in Oberentfelden. Nice place. Our bikes were right out front with our names on them.
Peter spent a lot of time showing us the features (and needs) of each bike. We were off on 2 wheels by 1100. Mike brought his Garmin loaded with MapEurope so we just followed him. At Lake Luzerne we stopped at Mike’s favorite ice cream shop “Brunnen” but 3 cups of 2 scoops each cost almost 20CHF. At $0.80 per CHF (Swiss Franc) that is expensive ice cream.
Switzerland is beautiful AND expensive – as we were about to find out. Leaving Lake Luzerne traffic was stopped dead at the last tunnel before Andermatt. Finally we decided to ride between the cars for 2 or 3 klicks (kilometers) until the shoulder opened up to exiting traffic for the lake we arrived in Andermatt about 30 minutes later - 1700.
We took about an hour’s nap then went looking for food. Dinner was at the Hotel Monopol across the street. Julie and I shared a pizza (because we thought it was like the American version of pizza –a size and thickness of crust that one person cannot finish), but it was quite good. Mike had a bowl of spaghetti. Back to the hotel at 2000 and we were asleep by 2030 – for a good 11 hours.
Day 3 – July 1 – Sunday – Switzerland – 224 km – 8 hrs 14 min – Passes Furka – Grimsel – Susten
Breakfast was at 0700 on the 4th floor.
· Continental breakfast is included with the room and it is MUCH better than any “continental” breakfast offered in the states. Fresh rolls and cold cuts, croissants and jelly, good coffee (as opposed to the coal tar served in Italy) & OJ and cold cereals were available - all healthy and tasty.
We left the hotel around 0900 and gassed up at the edge of town heading for the Furka Pass. This was our first test with real switchbacks and it sure did get our attention quickly. Look into the turn, stay on the throttle, never mind the 3,000 foot drop with no guardrail 5 feet away. If you make a mistake you won’t stop bouncing for 3 hours. Man did I learn fast what good motorcyclists the Europeans are – the crotch rockets were passing us neophytes at ridiculous speeds. Furka tops out at 2,431 meters or about 7,000 feet. There is snow all around us at the top and the first thing I said as we peaked was “Holy Crap” will you look at that view. When we ride together back home I will put my left arm up as if to say ‘look at that view’. Riding in Switzerland I would need both arms up all the time – the scenery is breathtaking – all the time – that is ALL OF THE TIME.
Just over the summit we came upon the Hotel Belvedere (of Goldfinger fame) Right behind it is the Rhone Glacier (or what is left of it – Al Gore had it melted to prove his point) which is the source of the Rhone River. I filled my water bottle from a waterfall there – clean water and cold! Our next destination was the Grimsel Pass at 2,165 meters. This is the Marcus Dairy of the Suisse. All bikers who want to have a great ‘day ride’ end up at the Grimsel for lunch. We watched 2 guys have a snowball fight and we were introduced to Ramseier carbonated apple juice – a great thirst quencher and less sugar than soda.
Down the other side of Grimsel we stopped at about noon for lunch in Brienz, just before Interlaken. Lunch was quite good but mucho expensioso Dora. 85 CHF. BTW CHF is Confederation Helvetica (the real name of Switzerland) Franc. We drove through Interlaken and up the Lautenbrunnen Valley where we took pictures of 4 stupendously high waterfalls.
One of them had just enough volume to see it cascade over the edge about 1,000 feet above us but the water never reached the ground. It evaporated or dissipated but you could stand under it and not get wet. One of them was a monster you could hear roaring more than a km away. Next we headed for the Susten Pass via Innerkirchen. At Innerkirchen we stopped at the center of town to wave at the internet webcam mounted atop the hotel.
We called home and had Andi capture our picture. Mike called his son who did the same. Anya (my granddaughter) went to get a magnifying glass so she could see us. At Susten Pass Julie stood in a snowbank holding a chunk of ice for the camera. Down the Susten and back to Andermatt by 1730. We had dinner in the rain with a friend of Mike’s who keeps a bike in Germany all year round. That way he just flies over and vacations all summer at a fraction of the cost of renting.
· If one is going to make a habit of touring Europe or bagging Alpine passes most summers then having a bike already here makes sense. There are a few regulations concerning insurance and bonded storage to deal with but when looking at our trip expenses the motorcycle rental is by far the most expensive item – half of the entire $4,000 cost. For $2,000 per year it does not take many trips to justify a second bike stored in Europe. Of course if you have a pal who happens to live in Europe and already owns a BMW and will lend it to you for a month every summer, why then you have it made!
Day 4 – July 2 – Monday – Switzerland – 72 km – no passes bagged today
We awoke to pouring rain and decided that at 13°C it was not a good day to ride. We read our books and relaxed until at around 1500 then the sun peeked out. Mike was raring to go so we suited up, as the roads were still wet, and headed out. The destination was a Yamaha shop about 10 miles away where we would try to get Julie a face shield for her “half hat” helmet. When they did not have face shields she absolutely refused to even try on a ¾ or full face helmet. We tried. Mike even offered to pay for half but she would not budge. We headed back towards Andermatt and then it really started to rain. We had our gaiters on and the Kilimanjaro jackets were superb. We found that gaiters are a poor substitute for rain pants. OK for wet roads and the occasional sprinkle. My butt was soaked, but with the heated seat on the R1200RT I was not uncomfortable. Julie was not so lucky. Once out of the wet clothes at the hotel we went to the 3 Kings (of Orient fame) restaurant for dinner. The waiter gave Julie his card and phone number, hah. I hope he isn’t holding his breath. At midnight she woke me with a plumbing problem. Seems the sink ate her contact lens. Dad was able to disassemble the trap and recover it though, and extracted a promise to return to the helmet store. Forecast for the morrow is nice morning and rain by mid afternoon.
Day 5 – July 3 – Tuesday – Switzerland – 192 km – 4 hours – Passes Klausen & Pragel
Sluggos we are. Slept in until 0830. Breakfast as usual on the 4th floor. Today we decided to get food at the CO-OP and lunch on the side of the road wherever the fancy hit us which is way cheaper than the restaurants. We left Andermatt at 1100 and headed back to the Yamaha dealer. We found a great HJC ¾ helmet that Julie liked and I bought it for 199 CHF (fair exchange for the Kilimanjaro she bought for me).
· Time to rave about the BMW R1200RT. Not as classy as the K1200LT Andi & I rode last year but what a motorcycle! Smooth, quiet, powerful, comfortable – all you could want in a Touring bike. The heated grips and seat are easy to dismiss as frills until you get cold – then they are most excellent.
We left the dealership and were on to Klausen Pass.
We took many great pictures on the way up but before we neared the top we got socked in. It was not fog – we just got high enough to enter the cloud layer. Sure looked like fog though. Then we encountered our first cow. On the road. A baby but just as big as our bikes. We made our way through them (6 or 8) went around the switchback and smack into their parents. They were WAY bigger than us – intimidating size wise but gentle and obviously accustomed to motorcycles. We just beeped at them and they moved out of the way – sloooowly, but they moved.
The “fog” got thicker as we climbed. We summited uneventfully and partially blind (fog) and went down the other side, carefully. Next Mike wanted to do the Pragel Pass. “A little narrower” he said. Understatement is his forte. About halfway up we lunched beside a lake. This entire country is like a postcard everywhere you turn.
After lunch the road disappeared. Well, Mike did say it was narrow but he never mentioned a freakin goat trail. AND we met 3 busses as they were headed down the mountain. I mean city busses not school busses or short busses or motor homes – city monster busses on a goat trail. What the heck were they DOING up there in the cloud bank with 55 Japanese tourists in a monster bus? And cows. Did I mention cows? Half the cows in Switzerland live on the Pragel Pass and they crap all over the road. And cow grates in the road every half klick. Did I mention how slick cow crap is on the road? How about wet cow crap? We summit Pragel in another dense cloud and headed down the other side. Though I thought it was not possible, the road got even narrower – I’m talking the entire road was narrower than my driveway. I spent the next half hour mentally painting a bull’s-eye on Mike’s back but most of the time I couldn’t see him through the cloudbank. We dropped elevation so quickly that the GPS function that tracks elevation was vertical – I don’t mean almost vertical – it was straight down. This was the narrowest road, the tightest switchbacks and fasted drop in altitude of the trip. And full of cow crap. I was glad to get back into the valley though. One thing that sticks in my mind for this day is the ever present, permeating and pungent smell of cow crap. Everywhere…. Yep, today is cow crap day and Andi (my wife) is SO glad she was not along on this excursion. She hates cow crap. Now I do too. It was now about 1500 and the rain started once again. Julie is now VERY happy with her new helmet. We were back to Andermatt by 1730 and not as wet as yesterday. We will depart for Italy in the morning. I hope there are no cows there.
Day 6 – Independence Day – Wednesday- Andermatt to Maranello – 550km – St. Goddard Pass
Up at 0700 - Raining again this morning. Breakfast upstairs. Settled our bill at 900CHF – Mike paid. On the road to Maranello by 0900. We went over the St Goddard Pass with my left arm waving around as usual. Holy Craps to the right of me and Holy Craps to the left. It’s all good. Mike took the old road made entirely of cobblestone – and today it was wet cobblestone; we opted for the new road. Julie and I met him at the bottom and we got onto the Autostrada. Crossing the St Goddard brought us into the southernmost Canton of Switzerland in which Italian is spoken – hence the Autostrada instead of the Autobahn. After 5 hours of superslabbing in powerful gusts of crosswind we arrived in Maranello, Italy. This is the home of Ferrari and our destination for the day. I called Sir K from the parking lot but got his voice mail – too bad.
I took 50+ pictures in the museum and just drooled over their toys. I could not find a 308 GTS though. Gorgeous road cars and F1’s were there too. We put on a lot of miles today and decided to forgo the Ducati tour and head north for the evening. We stopped in Lago de Garda at the Hotel Roberto – had pizza and a calzone for dinner. We also made an Excel spreadsheet to track our expenditures for the trip. I had started this log in a spiral book but when Mike offered the laptop….. well, this is the best way to keep a journal.
No cows today, yay.
Day 7 – July 5 – Thursday – Lago di Garda Italy – 170 km – Monte Tremalzo & Passo di Croce Domini
Standard continental breakfast at the Roberto – 80€ per person. We left the hotel around 0900 and headed east then north around the lake (largest in northern Italy) we were heading for the Hotel Paradiso. Mike found a ferry to cross the lake and saved us hours of travel.
The twisties up to the hotel were the usual goat trail (hah – there is nothing usual about them) and some of the tunnels were just wide enough for a Porsche 911 and a BMW F650 to pass – yeah, THAT tight, ask Julie.
This was the neatest road of the entire trip. Check out the pictures. The balcony at the Paradiso is directly above the water – 25 feet beyond the edge of the cliff with a clear and unobstructed 1,200 feet straight down to the water - and I have the pictures to prove it.
What a view – yeah, I know, does the view ever get boring? – not on your life!!! From there we took more twisties to Monte Tremalzo then had to backtrack as the road down the other side was closed. Lunch was at a small deli type place where we sent an email home using Julie’s Yahoo address. Then we headed for the Passo di Croce Domini. This was another goat trail most of which was like Pragel.
· For the rest of this tome goat trail will always mean roads narrower than our driveway and usually full of cow crap but also some of the greatest scenery on Earth.
So, Mike has shown us yet another pass in the Herman book of Alpine passes to “bag”. This one was exceptional in beauty and guardrail-less and unprotected narrow ass roadway. We met three guys at the top who were from the Fatherland and another German driving a Hayabusa. Nice fellas all. We dropped down towards the northeast and found a motorcycle friendly hotel Oasi Verdi in Prestine Italy. Dinner was pizza (again).
To be continued...