Sunday, 24 July 2016

Day 50: St Moritz to Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy. 300km 8.5hrs

Blue skies for the last few days have been marvellous.
A little drizzle overnight won't last.
One of the good things about traversing longish distances  is that the weather is likely to change
Today we are riding over the Bernina Pass, the Stelvio Pass- the biggest one of them all ( 2,757m  9045') Sella Pass, and passes in the Dolomites.

Our morning routine is very well established.
Most of the  packing is done before we have breakfast 
This morning our breakfast is overseen by a  huge moose.

Off we ride,
A day filled with hair pin bends.
Too many to count. 
At the beginning of most ascents and descents the number of tornanti  or hairpins is signposted.
Each corner is numbered and often the altitude is shown. I count them off.
48 tornanti on the descent of Stelvio. 

I prefer being outside of the curve and we can gracefully ride around,
Being  on the inside of the curve when ascending is another story.
It's like being in any tight space...
Slowly and cautiously my expert driver manouvres his loaded bike 'around on a sixpence'.
Plenty of practice today.

Beyond Stelvio pass we ride through a valley a with ' wall to wall' apple orchards.
Some are irrigated.
The fruit is ripening,
Fruit stalls with apples and apricots dot the roadside.
We stop for a break and agree that we will ride beyond Bolzano and on to Cortina d'Ampezzo in the Dolomites.
In his blog Dick describes our adventures trying to navigate the short section of the Brenner Pass highway for a few km to take us to the old road.
It was worth it.
The old road took us through forested valleys with occasional views of the sinuous Brenner viaduct above.

We  stopped for coffee at Gardena.
Picture perfect villages with colour coordinated flower baskets on the public buildings and hotels.
In the distance we could see the rocky peaks of the Dolomites.
What a treat we were about to enjoy.
More passes taking us high into the rocky mountains,
Over to Cortina d'Ampezzo.




Our first cappuccino after we crossed the border from Switzerland.
As we approached the border on the Swiss side a large truck with a rusty freight canopy was being checked by a guard with a heat sensing device. The truck was so poorly maintained that it drew attention to itself.  

Ascending to Stelvio pass. This section had 14 hairpins. There were many more.

Looking over the edge.
At the markets at the top of the Stelvio pass in Bormio. 
Many motorcycles - and lots of bicyclists. What a huge challenge it must be to pedal up this pass. 

Some more corners.
On some hairpin bends the stone barriers were damaged and had been replaced with red and white temporary plastic barriers.
Just reminded myself that I was excited by this and not afraid...

Many kilometres of espaliered apples grown close together. At first they looked like grapevines.

The 'paddle man' controlling the traffic at some roadworks.

An Italian Romeo club akin to those we saw many times in the USA. Men enjoying each other's company.

 Gorgeous colour coordinated flowers throughout Ortesei village in the Gardena Valley.
Oh my, unexpected grandeur. The Dolomites.



 Home for tonight - the sign said biker friendly and they were. A lovely welcome at the Franceschi Hotel. A family hotel with comfortable living areas and delicious food. We soon decide that this would be just the place for a rest day.

We have been on the road without a break since we left Helsinki. 
Perfect timing to have a rest day in this beautiful town Cortina d'Ampezzo.

Day 49: Andermatt, Switzerland to St Moritz, via Italy. 310 Km 5 alpine passes, 9 hours.

Words of encouragement are gifts we can freely give and freely receive.

Today I was thinking about who inspired me to get on the back of the bike in the first place.

Especially since we were riding high mountain passes.

So, today I want to thank Andrea Thompson, whose enthusiasm, delight and vivid description of her ride with Stuart Burns in the Indian Himalayas was infectious.

Andrea's encouragement in 2010 made me think that maybe I should try again to ride pillion with Dick.

Since then we have been 'on the road' in 36 countries, ridden over 130,000km and have met wonderful friends along the way.

Thank you, for your encouragement Andrea.

When I looked out the window this morning I saw a promise of a wonderful day.

Dick has planned a day riding mountain passes.

Five major passes,

Narrow roads, winding roads, tight corners, motorways, tunnels, viaducts

Lots of high places.

Oberal pass,  Lucomagna  Pass, St Bernadino Pass, Splugen Pass,  Maloja  Pass.

Most with hydro dams at the summit forming lovely lakes.

South to Italian Switzerland, 

The Italian Tirol...What is that haze we see?  We are not very far from Milan.

Let's get back up into the clear air.


A wonderful scene to bless the morning.


 Time for a map to show you where we are going.




Andermatt from the Oberal pass road.


We set off from Andermatt are are soon well up the mountainside when we spot the Glacier Express on her cogwheel assisted descent.









Timber and stone 'barriers' on the bends.






Hay making is in full swing.

People with pitch forks, rakes, and small tedders turning the hay.

Some mowers have spiked metal wheels to manage the steep slopes,

Some farmers are using weed eaters to cut the grass and leaf blowers to turn and move the grass down the hill where a truck with a hay rolling machine will compact the hay.

Five years ago we saw farmers gathering hay in big burlap aprons and carrying it up to the barn.

The smell of fresh hay evokes childhood memories for both of us.

The smell of the 'used' hay from the barns  fills the air - sometimes near barns in the middle of villages.

At least the cows do get to be fed on fresh grass in the alps for  part of the year.

We have seen cows grazing high in the mountains and the farmers and their families are living in their stone summer houses.



 These young men are skate boarding down a mountain pass. Glad we didn't meet them at right at the hairpin bend. 


They go up to the pass by holding a strop attached to the bumper of a car.

Hair raising!




Splugen pass hairpin bends.








Lunch in Italy.


Beautiful lakes along the way. 

This lake is near St Moritz.


Caprese salad for starters. 



Followed by ravioli, sage butter and chanterelles. Simple and delicious.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Day48: Klausenpass to Andermatt, Switzerland.

The sun is up
Breakfast is served,
Orlanda is packed,
Let's ride some more mountain passes. 

First we descend the winding roads of Klausen Pass to the mid alp and to the lower alp and to the valley floor near Fluelen,
Then up Susten pass where there is snow along the road side.
The altitude is 2224m or 7,296'
Talking with other bikers over coffee and then off we go.

A ride along the valley floor to a discrete, almost hidden, entry to the road to Engstlnalp.
We wend our way up the narrow 
Switch backs to the valley at the middle alp.
A barrier across the road opens with the payment of 4CHF
We follow the stream up the valley and ascend to the upper alp and...
There in her pink and turquoise glory is the Engstlnalp hotel.
We have stayed there on two occasions- on our own walking expedition across the alps and also with an International group from Outward Bound that Dick organised.
Same warm welcome.
The cows are up here this time.
I have videoed them eating and their cowbells clanging ever so sweetly.
This time we have lunch and make our way down the hills which are alive with goat and cow bell music.

Grimsel pass is next.
7,100' Grimsel pass crosses the continental divide between the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
The pass connects the upper valley of the river Aare (a tributary of the Rhine> with the upper valley of the Rhône.
This is a 
Breathtaking ride
I realise that excitement is a better word to use than fear.
So I say to myself, I am excited to be doing this.
I am.

Next the Furkan pass.
We stop at the Belvedere and meet other riders,
We are thirsty.
We have a large bottle of Rivella to drink. 
Rivella is a Swiss drink made from milk whey.
We are warm
It is around 30degC.
We remove a couple of layers and open all the vents in our jackets - for the first time on this trip.

Down the switch backs, along the valley floor to Andermatt.
We have had a few longish days,
So we stop early at 3.30pm.
Time to give my driver a rest.
Time to wash our clothes,
Time to savour the day.



These walking signs are commonplace.
They are easy to follow,
White and red markers are painted on rocks along the way marking the routes.










Down Grimsel alp and the ascending road to Furkan  pass.

The Belvedere where we met Tineke and Erwin from the Netherlands.


The Glacier Exoress arrives at the Andermatt station at the same time as we do.

Lovely field greens salad. More tender than spinach an a mild flavour enlivened with olive oil and balsamic.

Schweinshaxe - pork knuckle for him.