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Old 08-02-2011, 10:57 PM   #1
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Joined: Jul 2008
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A Little Taste of the Alps. (CH,FL,A,DE,ITA)

A couple of years ago my sister invited me out to Liechtenstein, where she, my brother-in-law, and two of my nephews like to spend the summer away from the mess and the pollution of Hong Kong. I was supposed to take this trip initially back in July 2010 but when my vacation request from work was denied I was forced to move it back another year.

I then got the idea to combine the family vacation with a little riding vacation, so I invited along my buddy Armen and his then-girlfriend-now-fiance Sarah. "Planning" started a year before the trip, but really didn't get in earnest until 6-months before when we started buying plane tickets, reserving rental bikes, etc. It wasn't until a month before flying out that we started making up packing lists and getting down to business.

What it cost?
$1600 - Round-trip plane ticket SFO-Zurich-SFO + travel insurance.
$1400 - Rental for BMW F650GS (+ 1000 deposit)
$1500 - Road expenses (gas/food/motel/tolls/car rentals/gifts/misc)
------
$4500 Total (or thereabouts)

Not cheap. But well worth it.

We flew out to Zurich on July 9th, and flew back in to SFO on July 22nd. Non-stop both ways (10.5 and 11 hours respectively). From Zurich we rented a car, drove to Liechtenstein,

Our first glimpses of Switzerland, from the car.









First impressions. It was really green. And stunningly gorgeous. Pictures just don't do it justice.

Sarah and Armen (Sarmen henceforth) spent the night at the chalet before driving out to Venice the following day (Armen proposed en route). Sarmen spent a few days in Venice while I hung out with my sister and my nephews.

The view from the chalet in Gaflei, Liechtenstein. Looking southwest towards Sargans, Switzerland.


The chalet.


It was cozy.


Filled with a lot of dead things.
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:00 PM   #2
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Liechtenstein is a tiny country (some 60 square miles) bordered by Switzerland in the West and Austria in the East. I picked up a miniscule amount of German while I was stationed in Germany (a decade ago), but they don't speak German in Liechtenstein. They speak a dialect called Alemannic, and I can't understand a word they're saying. Even their numbering system is all messed up. I drove all the main roads in less than an hour. Tiny, but very very rich. Some more pictures from Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

The prince's castle. They actually live in it and it's closed to the public.






Another castle in Balzers, Liechtenstein:


They have these speed limit signs that give you a sad face if you're going too fast. I found them amusing.


The Swiss Army at work...







Here's a video I shot with the GoPro. Riding from Gaflei to Triessen in Liechtenstein. Steep and downhill all the way, but the fish-eye lens flattens everything out.


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Old 08-02-2011, 11:07 PM   #3
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After a couple of days in Venice, Sarmen rejoined me at the chalet and then we drove out to Thun to pick up our bikes on July 14th. It's about a 2.5 hour drive from Liechtenstein.

I snapped this pic along the way.


We had reserved our bikes 6 months prior. We had originally reserved an R1200GS, an F800GS and an F650GS. Beach's dropped the ball and gave away the F800GS about a month before we flew out, and we ended up with the CBF600 in it's stead. Beach's doesn't quite have it's act together so I would recommend renting from somebody else if you end up doing a Euro Trip yourself.

Our bikes at Moto-Center Thun.


Hondas




BMWs


This placed was stocked. I have never seen a motorcycle dealership in the Bay Area that had this much bikes and accessories in stock.










I couldn't afford anything in this store however. Prices were easily 2x-3x what we'd pay for in the states. An example of some of the comparable prices:

GoPro HD Motorsports: $299 here, CHF550/$697 there.
Scala Rider G4 Powerset: $359 here, CHF600/$761 there.
BMW R1200GS: $18000 here, ChF26000/$32990 there.

Everything was marked up. Bikes to gloves. I walked all around the entire store, checked out the discount racks, and couldn't find anything remotely in my price range. Everything is so ridiculously expensive.
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:12 PM   #4
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Routes:
Part of my trip planning was reading through this book.



It was hard to get an idea of just how big the rides were though, because the maps in the book weren't in a constant scale. It was also pretty sparse on directions, luckily Armen brought his GPS along and we got along pretty good. I never did any concrete route-planning though. I'd get routes and ideas from the book but I'd cut them up and piece them together to suit our needs, I don't think we ever completed a single loop the the author recommended. I also never planned the routes more than a day or two in advance, and we'd usually hash out the day's route on the breakfast table, based on where we needed to be that day, how much time we had, and how crappy the weather looked.

Weather
The weather wasn't cooperating with us. June through September were supposed to be perfect riding months for the Alps. Instead they had an unseasonably hot April and May, and an unseasonably cold July. Where the weather should've been warm, 30C-40C (86F-104F) we got 1.5C-26C (34.7F-78.8F). I packed for warm weather, leaving my cold liners behind. Mistake! Most mornings were nice and sunny but often the afternoon brought rain showers. Cold and wet in high altitude means freezing one's ass off. Nothing we couldn't deal with, but I certainly appreciated the F650GS' grip heaters.

Speed, Roads, Drivers
I loved the roads in Switzerland. For the most part they were very well maintained. Speed limits were 50kph (31mph) in the towns, 80kph (50mph) on the highways, and 120kph (75mph) on the autostradas. Drivers were very disciplined and either drove at the limit (or just above) and it was very easy to pass with the lack of solid white lines (double yellows). We're going at a pretty leisurely pace for the most part. Rarely where we ever in a hurry to get somewhere. The idea was to get where we're going, bikes (and 1000 Euro deposit) and body intact, and if we have fun along the way the job is done. We had a lot of fun along the way.

Photos/Videos
I take most of my photos on the fly. I have a small Kodak point-and-shoot that I dangle from a carabiner on my Camelbak and slip into my jacket pocket. I take it out, turn it on, snap a couple of shots, put it back. In a pinch I'll just drop it and let it dangle while I make a grab for the bar. Rarely are my shots composed, so don't expect perfect shots. I have a GoPro mounted on top of my helmet. I turn it on when the road looks interesting. Otherwise it stays off.
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:12 PM   #5
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Day 1: Thun to Andermatt.

Passes Bagged:
Grimsel Pass 2,436 metres (7,992 ft)
Furka Pass 2,165 metres (7,103 ft)

Unfortunately in all the excitement I completely forgot all about my SPOT. So I have 0 tracks on our first day of riding, but here's our route laid out on Google Maps.



South of Interlaken was supposed to be the "Switzerland of Yosemite". We went south and east to Grindelwald and were promptly met by a wall of tourist. The scenery was great, but we could've skipped Grindelwald entirely and not missed much relatively-speaking.

Things picked up when we doubled-back and went further south to Lauterbrunnen.

Staubbach Falls near Hotel Jungfrau






The area is supposed to be hopping in the winter with all the ski resorts nearby (Wangen, etc.) but it was only OK in the summer. We headed back to Interlaken, and made for Andermatt.

This is Furka Pass heading towards Andermatt.


As you can see we were riding in soup half the time. That was an adventure in and of itself, sometimes you'd be on top of a ridge and there'd be a dropoff on the side but it would just be covered in fog/clouds. It felt like you were riding on a narrow road through the clouds. It was surreal, and a little freaky.


Looking up at Furka Pass from Gletsch:


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Old 08-02-2011, 11:13 PM   #6
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Day 1: Thun to Andermatt. continued...

It's unfortunate that you can't see the tops of these mountains.


Furka Pass traversing the mountain.


Arnoha on the GS.


Up up up we go...


The couple of buildings that is Gletsch is down there.


At the top of Furka Pass.


Back into the clouds.


Soup. I can see Sarah about 50 feet away, Armen is almost completely invisible.
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:14 PM   #7
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Day 1: Thun to Andermatt. continued...

A little village on the way to Andermatt.


We found a room at the Alpenhotel Schlussel, 65 each. $280/night for a glorified Motel 6.


Pretty good views though:




The bear flags represent the canton of Bern.


The start of Oberalppass on the right.


Had to rub my eyes at the sight of these two. I thought I was hallucinating.
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:15 PM   #8
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Day 2: Andermatt to Gaflei, FL

Passes Bagged:
St. Gotthard Pass (Passo del San Gottardo) 2,106 metres (6,909 ft)
Nufenen Pass (Passo della Novena) 2,478 metres (8,130 ft)
Grimsel Pass 2,165 metres (7,103 ft)
Susten Pass 2,224 metres (7,297 ft)

Had my SPOT running this time so I actually have tracks.


After a decent continental breakfast, Day 2 started with the headlight bulb on my F650GS failing. We swapped it out for the high-beam bulb and got back on the road. Thinking I'd save myself the effort of having to pull out my handheld digital, I had the GoPro set to take a picture every 10 seconds. The results were less than spectacular, it just wasn't quite getting the right pictures (read: boring).

The view around Andermatt:




Heading south towards St. Gotthard Pass and Italy. That's a horse-drawn carriage up ahead.


This was a little trippy having an oncoming train and an oncoming car on both sides.


Top of St. Gotthard Pass, can't see much because of the low-lying fog.




Lots of tunnels.
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:16 PM   #9
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Day 2: Andermatt to Gaflei, FL. Continued...

GoPro acts funny inside tunnels. 3 different shots inside the same tunnel. It's almost artistic...




Still on the St. Gotthard Pass.


Skies are finally clearing a little.




They build these turns on stilts that stick way out the side of the mountain, it's kinda trippy.



Down in the valley is the is the town of Airolo. Still in Switzerland, but everything is in Italian.
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:17 PM   #10
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Day 2: Andermatt to Gaflei, FL. Continued...

Airolo...


This is the road heading to Nufenen Pass (Passo della Novena). Hard to see in this one (see larger picture), but the chopper has a cement bucket slingloaded underneath. The ballsy bastard drops the bucket between a bus full of tourists snapping pictures and about 20 feet away from Sarah. Like a boss!


Starting to look interesting.








Sarah


Armen
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:17 PM   #11
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Day 2: Andermatt to Gaflei, FL. Continued...


Climbing up to Nufenen Pass...




The top of the pass.








Heading down north.


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Old 08-02-2011, 11:18 PM   #12
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Day 2: Andermatt to Gaflei, FL. Continued...

Ulrichen, Switzerland. the hangars at the airport are covered over with grass and look like small hills.


Grimsel Pass. Armen is just clearing the hairpin.


This place looked magical.





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Old 08-02-2011, 11:19 PM   #13
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Day 2: Andermatt to Gaflei, FL. Continued...




Taking a break. Bees where everywhere, and they seem to be attracted to shiny and colorful things. Like blue bikes and yellow hi-viz jackets. We bugged out of here quick when they started swarming.




Heading north towards Innertkirchen and to Susten Pass.




Susten Pass and the Stein Glacier.


Lots of motorcyclists and group rides on the Susten Pass.
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:20 PM   #14
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Day 2: Andermatt to Gaflei, FL. Continued...


Screw up here, and there are no barriers to stop you, it's a good 400-500 foot freefall.


Looking west towards Innertkirchen.




Stein Glacier


Susten Pass looking east towards Wassen.


Sarmen heading down on the left side.







Sadly we were running out of time and energy by the time we hit Altdorf and we were still 2 hours away from Liechtenstein, we decided to hit the autobahn and skipped out on Klausen Pass as we originally intended.
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:21 PM   #15
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Day 3: Schwagalp Loop

After a night in the chalet we found ourselves dragging ass and not really in a mood to ride, might have been a touch of altitude sickness. It didn't feel right to have the bikes sit however, given how much we paid for them, so we planned for a quick loop close to home.

Passes Bagged:
Wildhaus 1,090 metres (3,580 ft)
Schwgalp 1,278 metres (4,193 ft)



This was probably the best riding weather we had out of the whole trip.


I love the countryside.













Austrian-style steeples in every village.


Didn't take too many pictures of this leg of the trip, but I did run the GoPro for a while.




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