France, Italy, Austria & the Tirol, Germany & the Obersalzberg, Switzerland, France, 

October 2008  

As many readers already know I run a Bed and Breakfast for motorcyclists in the Languedoc region of the South of France. As such it is impossible for me to get away during the season, so every year I make room at the beginning and/or the end of the season to get away on the bike. After all, all year long I cater to motorcyclists on holiday and it wouldn’t be a “real” motorcyclists B&B if the owner didn’t go anywhere on his motorcycle.

My motorcycle for these getaways is a 1989 BMW R100GS that at present has in excess of 230,000 km on the clock. Originally purchased years ago as a back up motorcycle for my guided tours, she has stood the test of time; the other makes have come & gone but the GS has stayed. At first we didn’t get along too good but she kind of grew on me. There is no other motorcycle I would consider replacing her with; after all she does everything & does it well. Over the years much has been replaced & rebuilt, although she still runs the original crank and pistons. She starts first time, doesn’t smoke or use oil, is reliable and has a kick starter option should the need arise....which in the past it has on several occassions.

For October of 2008 I decided that I was going to visit a bit of Provence, go over the Alps into Italy, cut across to Lake Garda, see the Dolomites and then head into Austria and the Tirol and maybe Salzberg before heading into Germany and maybe the Obersalzberg region of Bavaria. The route back to France was to be through Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The following account is from the diary I kept.

Thursday 2nd October 2008

Coursan, Aude, to Castellane, Haute Provence

Total for day = 405km

Weather: Sunny but windy. Temp: 8°c / 16°c

I set off from Coursan just outside of Narbonne and will take the old “D” routes wherever possible, direction Castellane in Provence on the Route Napoléon (a fantastic route for motorcyclists) where I intend to camp for the night. Weather is sunny but windy. The first part of the journey is via the autoroute, mainly to get around Montpellier which is a horrible city to ride through, due to their road system and the large amount of traffic. Not recommended for motorcyclists!  

I leave the autoroute around Arles. I notice that the right hand side carb is leaking fuel onto and through my boot!  I pull over to the side of the road and see what the problem could be. A section is cut from the hose that connects to the carb from the fuel tank to ensure a snugger fit, but this is not the problem. Removing the float bowl reveals a jammed float with the needle also stuck allowing fuel to flow constantly. Easily rectified and five minutes later I am on the road again, the petrol on my right boot fortunately evaporating.

Camping at Castellane will give me an extra five hours ride time advantage into Italy. According to their internet site the campground I am looking at is open until the second week in October.

I follow the road towards Brignoles take the D562 towards Draguignan then North to Comps s/ Artuby before turning off on the extremely scenic D955 , following the route into Castellane. Truly beautiful scenery with rivers and gorges following the road,  a recommended route. I arrive in Castellane and look for “Les Lavendes” campground a small family run affair. The old lady cutting the grass tells me to put my tent wherever I please and that she will see me in the evening to take the booking. It is now around four pm.

I find a pitch that looks towards the old town of Castellane, with its ancient chapel perched high above the town on a rocky crag. A sight to see. I have bought a different tent this time. It is smaller and gives me more packing space on the motorcycle. I set up the tent and empty a can of waterproofing spray over it, especially the seams. I have no idea if it has ever been done or in fact if the tent is waterproof but I have no wish to find out otherwise. I use the entire can and am satisfied that it should be waterproof or at least water resistant should the worst happen.

I decide that a good walk into Castellane is in order. I have seen enough of the motorcycle for today...much as I love it.....so after changing into something far more comfortable I head into Castellane.

                   The Pont Napoléon, Castellane, Haute Provence, France                                                   Castellane, Chapelle Notre Dame du Roc (from campground)

                

Castellane is a glorious old town on the route Napoléon and truly merits a visit. Old stone facades painted in the bright pastel colours of Provence, stone fountains, and old men playing pétanque in the town square...how much more typically french can you get? I decide that a walk up to the chapel on the rock “Notre Dame du Roc” is in order. It is a long and ardous walk and I kick myself soon afterwards but I continue....puffing and panting the whole way. What a walk. Good for the system.....if you don’t suffer a coronary en route that is! Finally I arrive at the summit. It is well worth the climb. The views are magnificent. The chapel is open, the inside decorated with plaques and paintings on all available wall space many dating back several hundred years. The centre piece is a gold gilded statue of the virgin and child. The walk back down goes a lot smoother!

Back in Castellane I buy a few groceries and a small bottle of red wine before heading back to “Les Lavendes”. A well named campsite as the smell of lavender is everywhere and very pleasant indeed. I find the owner and square up with her...eight euros per night for the tent & motorcycle.

Dusk is falling as I fix my evening meal. Tonight a good cassoulet (ok so it came in a can...but it is a good one), with a glass or two of red wine. I get the stove fired up and we’re on our way. Fresh bread too.

I realise it cools off much quicker here at night than it does back in the Aude. It’s getting a bit nippy already. Luckily I have bought my warmer gear.  I also packed a small tiny canister gas heater which is great for raising the temperature in the tent to an acceptable level should the need arise.

Dinner finished and time for a shower. I head over to the shower block. The block is freezing although the water is hot enough and I spend several minutes under a good hot  shower. After drying off, I wash up my dishes and head back to the tent. The chapel on the rock is lit up and is a wonderful site so get the camera and tripod out. A photo not to miss!! Then straight to bed.

I wake up around midnight feeling cold. I lean forward in my sleeping bag rummaging  around the tent for my gas heater. The gas heater thankfully found and lit, the tent starts to warm almost immediately. I make sure the heater is safely installed where it will not fall or get kicked over (by me!) and that the tent is sufficiently ventilated. Within a couple of minutes the temperature in the tent is up by a good fifteen degrees and now is around 14 – 15°c. The ventilation is working well as I can feel a cold breeze coming in from outside on my face. Sometime during the night a cat... a male cat has decided that he will mark my tent and I awake again around 5am in total darkness to a horrible stink. Not a good start to the day. The cat stink is strong but for now there is nothing I can do about it so I try for a little more sleep.

Friday 3rd October 2008

Castellane, France to Lake Garda, Italy, via the Col de Lombard.

Total for day  =  586km

Weather: am france, sunny  but cool, followed later central Italy by heavy outbursts of rain. By pm Lake Garda dry. Temp: –2°c / 16°c

The next time I awake it is to bright sunshine. I did not sleep too good, first the cold, then the bloody cat. Cats are good for two things in my book; catching mice and if not good mousers then violin strings! I appreciate a bit of good Vivaldi!  I head to the washroom for a good hot shower (again). The shower is hot, the room freezing.....being almost open to the elements......great combination. I then sponge down the tent with warm water to try and remove that disgusting smell. Glad Laurence my girlfriend is not with me...I fear she would already be headed home.

After eating a good french breakfast with a hot cup of Ricoré coffee, I start to pack up the tent which has dried off enough and doesn’t seem to smell too bad.  On with my warm weather motorcycle gear, warm up the BMW then head into Castellane where I buy some fresh bread for sandwiches.

Today I intend to ride up to and through the Gorges de Daluis and then cross into Italy via the Alps and the Col de Lombarde.

I find the route and it is truly a scenic one, fantastic. The higher the better the scenery gets. The gorges are to be visited, completely unspoilt and go on for miles and miles. The only part of this first leg I find not agreeable is Isola 2000 a modern ski resort carved into the side of the mountain on the french side of the Col de Lombard (alt 2350m). Building is going on there for all it is worth, ski slopes and cable car lifts hacked into the previously magnificent mountainside; how can you call this beautiful? The mountainside is ruined forever! I pass through the ski resort and the road becomes instantly much more winding and narrow as I climb towards the Italian border.

On reaching the border there is a strange but marked difference between the French side and the Italian side. The Italian side is bare; bare of buildings, bare of ski slopes, in fact bare of anything artificial. It is heavenly it really is. The road is almost a track, it is single lane and paved but that is about it. There are small copses and lakes with not a soul or a vehicle in sight. Wonderful, and all to myself. As the miles roll by I see only one other person, an Italian on his bicycle, complete with panniers and backpack. The road is one of the most beautiful roads I have ever ridden on. Watch out for the cow pats on the road and the cows that go with them. This pass isn’t even listed in a book I recently bought that lists the passes in the alps; probably not a bad thing otherwise everybody would be coming up here which would ruin it. The scenery is breathtaking the lunar landscape giving way to lush tree covered mountainside as I decend. I stop to take some photos and listen to the bells of the cows as they wander across my path.

           Col de la Lombarde, on French Italian border (note BM Riders Club sticker !!)

    

I reach the main road and turn right heading towards Cuneo. The idea is now to make up some time by taking the main roads and autostrada towards Lake Garda. The beautiful scenery is gone and I am now on what I consider the most boring and un scenic part of  the journey so far. Crossing this part of Italy is no fun. Commercially it is no doubt the heartland of the country, but flat, straight and boring. Plus the roads are badly signed. Just outside of Asti I decide to get on the autostrada. There are two lanes of traffic, trucks doing 100kph in one lane and cars doing between 110 and 180 kph in the other. Makes for an interesting experience. I have never seen cars get as close at speed to each other as they do in Italy. Forget the safety margins, the closer the better. God forbid someone is forced to brake suddenly, there is absolutely no where for these nutters to go or time for them to react! I keep well away and let them get on with it, the trucks do the same, they have seen it all before! When one car wishes to pass another and both lanes are blocked then its on the horn, lights flashing and no more than 10cm between vehicles. If that does not work why not try making a third lane in the middle between the other occupied lanes? For the car in the fast lane it means that he is obliged to then occupy as much of the slow lane as is possible as well as his own to stop the vehicle behind from squeezing through. This all changes abruptly when a police car comes up behind lights flashing. Everybody gets out of the way, only to resume this diabolical driving as soon as the immediate threat of a traffic ticket has passed.

At Piacenza the dark clouds I saw in the distance on my left all day long have converged with me. It starts to rain. Do the cars slow down due to the dangerous and slippery road conditions. Eeerrrrrr....No!

I finally get off the autostrada at Brescia. It is dark early due to the horrible weather. I pay the toll and then have absolute hell trying to find the Lake Garda route. The signs are not continual. This is where I could really benefit from a GPS unit. Finally, with pure luck I find myself on the western side of the lake which is where I wanted to be all along.

Is is far too late (and miserable too) to find a campground so I decide on a hotel. There is literally mile after mile of expensive quality hotels here...but the prices...well you have to laugh (or else you’ll cry). I ride on past the small town of Salo and continue along the lake front road. It is now totally dark. I finally stumble on a hotel that looks decent and looks as if will be reasonably priced. The “Hotel 3 Lampioni”in Troscalano. I pull into the driveway, heave the old BMW onto its mainstand and go inside to enquire. The hotel is clean and tidy with marble floors and marble stairs as seems to be common in Italy. A well dressed man is at the counter, obviously the owner. He speaks perfect English and yes they have a room. En suite single for 30 euros per night. He insists on showing me the room. Excellent value. Its large enough and has a fully tiled bathroom with shower and toilet and the linen is crisp and freshly ironed. A bargain at the price. He asks if I will be eating at the restaurant as the chef stops cooking at 9.00pm and it is now 8.30. There is no point in looking elsewhere to eat, besides I am far too tired to want to go out again. I follow downstairs and check in. I will pay in the morning; I obviously made a decent enough impression. I unload the motorcycle and lock her up. I head straight up the marble staircase, modern but class with its hand forged wrought iron railings and into my room where I immediately strip and hop into the shower. Crank up the hot water...and there is plenty of it. Then quickly put on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt before heading down to the restaurant.

There are a few other couples at the restaurant which is always a good sign and some of them appear to be locals...an even better sign of good cuisine. The menu is bought and I pick a spaghetti with sea food and a carafe of red wine. I know.....white wine with sea food....but in my book it all depends. Besides I feel like a red wine and to tell the truth am not too fond of white or rosé. The only exceptions are a good foie gras and oysters....now in either case a red wine would be totally disgusting.

The sea food spaghetti arrives within minutes.......if it is as good as it looks then  I will be well pleased. It is absolutely piled high with mussels, clams, calamar and chunks of cod, all in a fantastic sauce. The pasta is cooked as only Italians can cook a pasta. Nobody else comes even close. This is W..O..N..D..E..R..F..U..L!!  I have been lucky. I dig in and enjoy. The red wine, whilst just a table wine is equally good. The price? Fifteen euros with the wine. Fantastic value.

I clean my plate although there was more there than I would have chosen to eat. I choose a sorbet for desert and finish off with a coffee & a Cognac. Then its up to my room where I hit the sack and am asleep in seconds.

 

Saturday 4th october 2008

Lake Garda to Mittersill Austria via the Felbertauern Tunnel

Total for day = 378km

Weather: Bright and sunny, not a cloud and no rain both were forecast for this area for  the next two days....just goes to show how accurate 21st century weather forecasting is! Sunny into Austria but the higher I get the cooler it becomes. Temp: 12°c / -6°c

I wake up early, partly due to the main road that runs outside the hotel. A nice enough place but if I was staying several nights I would want a room on the back......that backs onto Lake Garda.

Out of the shower and down to breakfast. There are quite a few people this morning. A simple breakfast but a good one, then its take care of the bill; go up to my room and pack my things.

The weather is sunny this morning. I hope it will hold. The last weather forcast I saw for this region had predicted rain on saturday.....so for now the Gods are with me....sunny but cool. I put on several layers as today I will be heading into the Dolomites and then the Tirol Alps....where however sunny it may be, warm it will not.

All in all the BMW has been very comfortable so not too many aches and pains this morning. Just before I left home I replaced the foam in the seat (which I had recovered and refoamed only the year before) which was leaving me in agony on all but the shortest rides. The upolsterer had used a foam which would be fine in an armchair but not on a motorcycle. The result was that after several hundred kilometres the foam would compress offering no support and virtually leaving me sitting on the seat frame. Rather than have it recovered again I decided to source some high impact foam myself and give it a go. I found an oldy worldy type shop in Narbonne where they specialise in anything made of rubber; car belts, industrial belts, flooring, hoses etc....if it is made of rubber then they have it. Some of the stock looks as if it has been in the store at least fifty years, but still its the service that counts and that they are magnificent. Helpful and smiling...just like business used to be conducted...before these superstores and super hardware stores where the employees seem only to be there to while away the hours and could care less about the customer. “The customer.....who’s that and what’s that all about?”

They pull out a long piece of high impact foam. Perfect. I take it, get it home, cut it to size and then glue in multiple layers. The new seat trimmed and fitted by yours truly has worked wonders, and has made the old GS a pleasure to ride. And....all for the princely sum of TEN euros. Beat that!!

I choke the BMW and then crank her up and let her warm whilst I get kitted up. I hate riding the motorcycle before she is warm and although many today will laugh at my warming the engine up before use and point out it isn’t necessary, I would strongly disagree. Not one of them I have met has the same mileage on their machine and not one of them is likely to arrive at that mileage.  When I was flying, standard procedure was always...always...to make sure that all the temps and pressures were in the green before the aircraft lined up on the runway. A critical thing for an aircraft engine, there is much less stress on the engine components when they are at optimum operating temperature. It worked then it works now....just that Mr average no longer can be bothered to take the time in this disposable world we live in....He’s normally a busy executive with a busy lifestyle....and to be frank he just doesn’t give a damm. The bike will be traded in as soon as the newer “better” model is out so what does he care? Until that time he rests safe and secure with his manufacturers warranty and his worldwide comprehensive breakdown cover....neither of which I have.

I load up the old BMW. Using the old Krauser panniers makes life so much easier than the old throw over type. I sourced  a small back pack to fit into each pannier. Different colour for each side. That way on arriving I just take out the back pack and the pannier stays locked to the motorcycle. These old Krausers have seen every type of weather that exists and never ever have they let in the slightest drop of moisture....are they still made that good?

Right, bike warm and we’re off. Direction Bolzano and then Austria!!

The road alongside Lake Garda is stunning. I stop several times to take photographs. The small town of Limone is absolutley amazing with its colourful rows of houses, restaurants and shops bordering the lake. Then on to Rive del Garda where once again I just have to pull over to take a photograph. It was only last year that I was on the other side of the lake on my way to Venice and the weather was fantastic back then too. I have been lucky.  These Italian lakes are some of the best in the world.           

               Lago di Garda, Italia                                                                            Rive del Garda                      

    

Too soon it’s goodbye to the beautiful captivating lake Garda (I will be back!) and along the valley towards Trento. The scenery changes and there are fields of fruit trees lining the road. In the distance are mountain peaks with snow on them.....the direction I am heading in!! At Trento I head on towards Bolzano. We are slowly working higher and higher.

There is quite a bit of traffic on this road probably due to it being a saturday. After Bolzano the road narrows considerably and we are on route for the “Passo del Brennero” or Brenner Pass that lies between Italy and Austria. The plan is to turn off just after Bressanone and take the route that runs to Lienz, Austria.

The scenery is fantastic as is the weather. The sun is out and although not warm I am comfortable enough. The further North I head the more snow I see......a first this year for me as it does not snow very often in the Narbonne region....once every ten years or so.

I find my turning and take the route towards Lienz, a well maintained route with not too much traffic on it. The Dolomites start to appear and of course I constantly pull over to take photographs. All this modern technology actually slows me down! Before I pulled over to take a photgraph but was sparing of camera film. It was expensive to buy and expensive to develop and you didn’t waste it. You carefully selected your photographic subject and took one...maybe two shots and then moved on. Now with digital photography you have a memory card that holds potentially thousands of photographs..... with no developing or film charges. The sky is your limit...the result for me being that I take even more photographs than I did before. However, on the plus side, the photographs are much easier to take and you can see what you have shot immediately....Somewhere there is a happy medium I am sure.

             The Italian Dolomites                                                                                                   Still in Northern Italy en route for Austria

    

I head to Lienz, now well and truly in Austria, where I refuel (noticing that petrol is much cheaper in a landlocked Austria than in France.??). Then its off in the direction of that famous pass the Grossglockner. There is a lot of snow on the ground and the higher I get the more there is until I reach a point where the route is blocked off. The chap at the roadblock tells me the pass is closed....due to a heavy snow last night, but they hope to have it cleared and opened by tomorrow afternoon.   

I turn the BMW around and decide to take the route North towards Mittersill. I will try again maybe tomorrow. By the time I am back to the main road the sky is clouding over and after fifteen minutes it  starts to snow. As soon as the sun is gone the temperature drops drastically. I am really glad I have my winter gear on and especially my winter gloves....what a difference they make.  

             Grossglockner, Austria. Pass closed due to heavy snow (3798m)                            Rte to the Felbertauern Tunnel, Austria

    

I continue and the snow stops. The sun comes back out and I continue towards Mittersill. As I climb higher there are more and more signs that a really heavy snow storm has passed this way in the last day or so,  the snow is piled well over a metre deep at the sides of the road and the trees are flocked. It calls for some photos.

Then it is into the Febertauern Tunnel. The cost an extortionate 8 euros but there is no other choice; this is the only route. The inside of the tunnel is full of warm air...it’s wonderful especially after the bitter cold outside. The tunnel is long over 5km and when I emerge the other side it is into virtual night the light blocked by a serious blizzard falling. The road is covered with a few inches of fresh snow and I end up following a snow plough down the mountain.  This type of riding is exhausting mentally and physically, trying to make tiny changes in throttle and motorcycle position. And not upset the motorcycle. I use the back brake sparingly, very sparingly and only when necessary and keep the bike in the higest lowest gear possible if that makes sense. Stay off the front brake totally otherwise it will go down! Too low a gear and it is likely to lock up the rear wheel, too high a gear and I have no control over using torque to my advantage. There is no room for error or mis judgement of speed or angle of lean, the slightest and I will be sliding down the road with the motorcycle, off the mountainside or into the trees! Plus I am now freezing cold which makes it all the harder to concentrate and make smooth movements and ajustments to any of the above mentioned. The kilometres seem to creep by. By the time I am at the foot of the mountain all of my energy is sapped and I am ready to find a hotel. Camping again is out but for different reasons than yesterday! Finally, the blizzard dies away. The BMW and myself are both plastered in snow, I am physically shattered and my riding ability totally sapped. To push it any further than necessary today would be foolish indeed.

I come into Aurach, a small village where through the now thick fog (it just gets better and better!!) I see the lights of a hotel. I pull in off the road and go see if there is a room available. There is indeed and at 43euros it is a bargain. Not as much a bargain as in Italy but a bargain none the less..

The room is really nice, a large double bed and an en suite with a shower plus a large cast iron bath tub...which will be appreciated. The furniture is in the typical Austrian style of beautifully decorated hand painted pine. I am well pleased. Plus there is a restaurant which is open at eight. Perfect. Could not be better!!

I take off my wet motorcycle gear and hang my jacket over the hot radiator. Hopefully it will be dry by morning. I turn on the bath and run the hot water. Strip off then into a tub full of hot water. Heaven, after the ride earlier! I especially like the old cast iron tubs, they keep the water hotter for much longer than these plastic tubs that are everywhere these days. I put on my headphones and relax to some quality comedy “Hancocks Half Hour”. Nothing like it today ...and the perfect matching of old recordings and MP3 technology. The episode is “Hancock the Magician”; great humour even after all these years.

I get dressed and then it is time to head down to the restaurant. A good Austrian steak with a garlic sauce washed down with a good German red wine. Followed by that classic appfelstrudel and finished off with a fine cognac. Then it’s off to bed. So much for the camping idea!

 

Sunday October 5th 2008

Aurach Austria – Berchtesgaden – Obersalzberg – Grossglockner – Mittersill

Total for day = 305km

Weather: Foggy cold start to the morning. Freezing fog clearing to a bright very sunny if very cool day. Temp : -3°c / 6°c

I wake up early and get out of bed. It is getting lighter outside....enough to see....FOG....and lots of it. Thick fog too. Hopefully it will burn off as visibility is currently from my hotel room to the other side of the road which is maybe twenty metres at most.

Not really sure of the route today, but I am rather tempted to head over towards Salzberg, famous for being the birthplace of Mozart and then maybe towards Berchtesgaden and the Obersalzberg which is famous or rather infamous for being the place where Hitler and his cronies hung out, or rather had their country homes. That aside it is supposed to be one of the most picturesque sights in Germany...being just over the border from Austria.. I also wouldn’t mind seeing where the Berghof, Herr Hitlers private residence once stood (before being  bombed by the RAF in 1945 and then subsequently blown up by the Austrians in 1952). Now apparently there is virtually nothing that remains. Also high above the Berghof  in the mountains stands the Kehlsteinhaus better known as the “Eagles-Nest”, often mistaken for Hitlers house but acutally a gift to him from the “people” of Germany for his fiftieth birthday. This was totally missed by the allied bombing and survives intact and is according to my guide book not supposed to be a tourist attraction which is in total contradition to what I read on the Internet recently. We will see.

The BMW is a little hard to start this am but probably due to the fact she has stood outside unprotected with the temperature this morning being –4°c. I knock off the ice and kick her over a couple of times just to loosen things up a little, then thumb the starter and she bursts straight into life. Quality engineering.

After eating a good breakfast, I get packed and head out. The fog is clearing up. There really is so much that I want to see in Germany and Austria but time and funds are both in limited supply so I will do what I can and save the rest for another day. I shall have to come back here that is all there is to it! 

I head out north towards St Johann in Tirol. The fog is starting to really break up now and the peaks of the snow covered mountains are bathed in early morning sunlight. What a magnificent way to bring in the morning. The air is so clean and fresh and invigorating...fantastic. Several times I pull over to the side of the road to take photographs. ....a perfect time of year with the mountains covered in snow, a blue sky and the trees with their autumnal colours. Quite unforgettable. 

                 St Johann in Tirol, Austria                                                                                        Route to Berchtesgaden, Germany

    

The Austrian drivers are very fast and very aggessive. If you are not going the same speed as they are, they will practically run you off of the road. They sit literally inches off your back wheel until they can pass and then cut in immediately and quite unecessarily. Absolutely no room for error at all which makes it very dangerous indeed. Of course being in their heated leather uphlostered Mercedes S Class, they are completely removed from the world outside. After overtaking they all form up together and travel at the same speed. Drive or ride at the same speed as everyone else in one of their “formations”  and you will not have a problem but too slow or too fast is not allowable. Strange. The Italians on the other hand just have to be in front.....a bit like the dog that has to pee on the post first. Let an Italian that has been on your tail past and he’ll overtake like a demon possessed....then as soon as he’s past he will slow down to the speed you were, and are still riding at. He’s in front ....that’s all that mattered.

I take the road towards Bad Reichenhall and from there cut across country following the signs for Berchtesgaden. The scenery is absolutely stunning as I work my way up into the mountains. Picture postcard beautiful and everything so clean. Truly a beautiful part of the world. I spend more time off the motorcycle than on it taking photographs every chance I get .....and there are quite a few. It is a bit on the cold side still but the breathtaking scenery more than makes up for that, real picture postcard material.

Berchtesgaden is packed, people everywhere and cars everywhere. Far too packed for my liking so after looking closely at a tourist information map on the outskirts of this small Bavarian town I decide to give it a miss and head for the Obersalzberg instead. I will visit Berchetesgaden later during the week maybe when everybody is back at work.

I had printed a map out of the area before my departure and after a quick study I decide to work my way up into the Obersalzberg to see the places where many of the events that would shape our modern world were enacted or at least planned.. Unfortunately the Obersalzberg area of the Bavarian Alps gained international fame not for its outstanding beauty of mountains and lakes but from being the “home” of Herr Hitler. Apart from the “Wolfsschanze”  this was where Hitler spent most of his time during World War II. The scenery is supposed to be some of the best in europe and already from here it looks very good. There are no road signs and few of the maps show this area, as it is still after 65 years a sensitive subject. I had printed a couple out on the off chance that I would be in the area... time and weather allowing.

I follow my maps out of Berchtesgaden and up into the Obersalzberg and find myself surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen anywhere in the world. As I had mentioned nothing, but nothing is signed which makes it very difficult. The reason given is that the German authorities do not wish to encourage neo nazis to visit  and make this region a shrine. My thinking is that if they are already neo nazis then they are already going to know all about it anyways and not going to discover it just by chance.

The strange thing I notice in Austria is how quiet the roads are between the hours of 12.00 and 1.30pm. They have all gone for their sunday lunch. Then at precisely 1.30....after finishing up their appflestruddle...... they all....and I mean they all.... jump into their cars and go for a relaxing ride in the countryside and then more likely than not, a good long hike in the mountains...whatever the weather. There are hundreds of cars on the road. Riding along you come to mass impromtu parking lots with hundreds of cars where they have just left them in the middle of nowhere. Then come 4.30 its all back to their cars and drive flat out headed home as if the devil was at their heels. Strange but predictable with such impeccable timing....they must all wear Swiss watches! 

I find the road and climb up into the hills. The weather is fantastic. I follow the signs to the all new Intercontinental 5 star hotel. This hotel has been built on the place where Herr Gorings house once stood, so in itself provides quite a landmark and a starting reference point for anyone wanting to visit this area in more detail.

Just down from the brand new Intercontinental (apparently a hotel that vets both its clients and its staff for Nazi conections/intentions! Hello...this is 2008!!) is the old Hotel Zum Türken. It is an idyllic setting. This was a private hotel on the Obersalzberg until the 1940’s when it was forcefully purchased from its owner (at a bargain price I would imagine) to become the new headquarters of the secret police and the barracks of the personal SS guard of the führer. A system of bunkers and tunnels was then constructed under the hotel linking it with all the houses of the top officials on the Obersalzberg. It served in this capacity until 1945 when it was severely damaged during the British heavy bombing of the Obersalzberg. After the war the hotel was bought back by its original owner and over a period of many years finally restored to its former glory. It is to this day still owned by the daughter of the same family and run once again as a private hotel.

I notice that there is an entrance and signs to the bunker system under the hotel. I enquire at the hotel. Three euros! This should be interesting. I pay my money and go through a trellis style gate and then down a concrete spiral staircase underneath the hotel. Apparently this was one of the main entrances to the bunker system. There is a massive system of tunnels and rooms down here. Luckily they are in very original condition and have not been rebuilt or spoilt by having been re furbished for the tourists. The feeling is a little eary in the least. I am the only person here and there are hundreds of metres of tunnels, stairways, rooms and even machine gun posts. Some of it has seen action. At one machine gun post there is clear evidence of a bazooka being used against the emplacement with the heavy iron bars of the reinforced concrete exposed by the blast and a hole about 40cm in diameter in the wall. Well built that’s for sure. It is a proper rabbit warren here. Some of the rooms are signed and several tunnels are bricked up. There is one that is marked “Hitler Haus” which is dead ended (bricked up) but originally would have led (and probably still does) to the Führers bunker itself complete with guard rooms, kitchen, dining room, bedrooms etc The bunker system wasl designed to be pretty much self sufficient and  supplied with water from an underground well system that still works to this day...having not been touched and last serviced in..1945! Typical German engineering. Not only are there tunnels everywhere but at several different levels, a real maze. It is a shame that some of it is still sealed off after all these years as it is so interesting and brings it all so much closer to home. Who was it said that by understanding history we can understand our future?

             Hotel Zum Türken & Bunker System, Obersalzberg, Germany 2008              Ditto 1939/45

    

 

    

After about forty five minutes I decide enough is enough....it is a bit claustrophobic in the tunnels and I have seen all there is to see, so I start retracing my footsteps back out again, several times making mistakes. Finally, it is back to the concrete spiral staircase and back above ground. I read somewhere amongst all the information posted on the wall in the hotel entrance that during the heavy bombing by the British in 1945 the workers and staff of the houses took shelter in the bunker and that as a result there were no casualties. None? Quite amazing looking at the photographs after the bombing as above ground there was hardly anything left except ruins amongst an almost lunar landscape.

Back to the motorcycle and I decide to try and find where the Berghof once stood.....it should be only a matter of metres away. I turn the BMW around and head out of the car park. I take a photograph of the Zum Türken in all its glory for the album and then start to head down the hill. Almost immediatlely there are a couple of overgrown once tarmac covered tracks on the left hand side. I pull into the first one and put the BMW on its stand. So this is where is was. This first entrance according to the map  was the goods entrance and the second the main drive up to the Berghof. Now there is absolutely nothing....a couple of metres at best of overgrown tarmac are all that remains.  I follow a well walked track into the undergrowth. Several times I come upon evidence that someone has been digging in the area, bits of broken brickwork exposed here and there. Then there is a flat area. This must have been where the house once stood. Back in towards the hill are the remains of the concrete retaining wall with bits of piping sticking out and trees growing everywhere through what was once the ground floor of the Berghof.

 

      Site of the former Berghof & “famous” room with the view,  Obersalzberg, Germany Oct 2008 and May 1945        

I work my way forwards and come to a slope. The view is that of the infamous “room with a view”, the picture window that Hitler had designed that would disappear into the house leaving a massive open window overlooking the mountains and onto his native Austria. I get out the camera and set it up to take as close as possible a shot “from the window”. I take several, the benefits of digital photography; that way when I get home I can see which one most closely resembles the original view by comparing it with photos on the internet. A strange chilly feeling that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. 

I start to head back towards the motorcycle. There are several families that appear as if from nowhere. They take photos of each other in front of the remains of the retaining wall, unaware that there is anyone else around and when they finally see me they look rather embarrassed. As I force my way through the undergrowth I run into a whole family coming through in my direction. I am forced to stand aside to let them pass. Father, mother, son, daughters and grandkids....all heading for a nice sunday stroll in the woods to see where the haus of Herr Hitler once stood. The son a tall blond headed chap in his late twenties smiles and says “Hallo” in German and then smiles and follows up with a laugh a comment about Herr Hitlers house.

I reply in German that I am English and don’t speak much German. Bad mistake.......most Germans speak perfect English and I have at once become the centre of attention of the whole family who are then introduce themselves to me one by one....including the grandparents that must be their late eighties ( age possibly a giveaway here??). Of course having found an Englishman on the Führers turf as it were they immediatley start to pose questions... How? Why? Where have I come from? Do many English people know about this place? I answer the best I can without making it too apparent that I feel uneasy about the whole situation. It is obvious here that we have an entire family of rather errrrr patriotic Germans, bought home by the son spreading his arms out to encompass the area saying “Es ist schade....nein?”. We say our “auf weidersehen’s” and part. His car is parked right next to my old BMW.....a brand spanking new M5 series convertible BMW. I find myself wondering if I haven’t seen this chaps face somewhere before......I almost always never forget a face. A famous German footballer perhaps? I think maybe so.

              

                   Remnants of rear retaining wall of Mr Hilters Berghof, Obersalzberg.

 A bit of background on the Berghof:

The Berghof started life as a much smaller mountain chalet known as Haus Wachenfeld built in 1916 by Otto Winter, a Buxtehude businessman as a holiday home. By 1928 Winters widow had rented the house to Hitler and by 1933 Hitler had managed to purchase Haus Wachenfeld with the monies received from the sale of his book Mein Kampf *(or “My Life”...probably better translated as “My Struggle”), written whilst in prison. He must have made quite a packet on the book as he also bought himself a nice Mercedes too!

By 1935 Hitler started to rebuild and expand Haus Wachenfeld renaming it the  Berghof (or mountain house). No expense was spared. A large terrace was built and decorated with large colourful, beach resort style canvas umbrellas. The spacious entrance hall “was filled with an unusual display of cactus plants in majolica pots. The main dining room was panelled with hugely expensive cembra pine. Hitler’s large personal study also featured a room complete with telephone switchboard. His library was crammed with books on architecture, history, painting, and music. The great hall furnished with expensive Teutonic furniture complete with a large globe (showing current German conquests of course) not forgetting the beautiful huge red marble fireplace. The great hall even contained a small projection booth hidden behind one wall, for evening screenings of movies (including “banned” Hollywood productions). Many colour home movies made by Eva Braun survived the war and show Hitler relaxing with his guests at the Berghof. These guests included not only political figures but also painters, singers and musicians from throughout the modern world. Smoking on the property was only allowed on this terrace. Hitler did not smoke and strictly forbid smoking elsewhere on his property or in his vicinity. (He was also a tea totaller, a vegetarian...and loved animals......just goes to show you never can tell!!) Among those filmed at the Berghof were Heinrich Himmler Albert Speer, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Joseph Goebbels. Modern lip reading computer technology software has been able to actually identify parts of these conversations. The Berghof served as Adolf Hitler’s principal residence for for less than ten years.

The Berghof  featured in many top selling worldwide designer magazines of the time. In an issue of the American Homes & Gardens in 1938 Hitler said “This place is mine, I built it with money that I earned.” Not to be outdone British Homes & Gardens magazine credited Hitler as being “his own decorator, designer, and furnisher, as well as architect” describing his Berghof as “bright and airy” with “a light jade green colour scheme.” It also noted that caged “Hartz mountain” canaries were kept in many of the rooms which were furnished with German eighteenth  century antiques. The house was maintained in the style of  a grand hotel with several housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, chauffeurs and other domestics. Hitler had his own personal vegetarian chef (who was not vegetarian) with his diet coming mainly from nearby newly constructed kitchen gardens and a large on site greenhouse.

By the mid 1930s the Berghof had become so much of a tourist attraction that it was deemed necessary for the security of the Führer to impose severe restrictions on access to the area.

Underneath the Berghof and connecting the surrounding houses subsequently built in the area by top officials in the Nazi party was constructed a network of large self contained and self sufficient bunker systems. Kilometre after kilometre of tunnels complete with kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, machine gun posts, telephone switchboards, electricity generators and water systems, much of which still survives today.. Hitlers private bunker had kitchens, guard rooms, as well as bedrooms for him and Eva Braun. This bunker allegedly still survives, although access to it is blocked off.

In April of 1945 the Berghof and the surrounding mountain side complex was almost totally destroyed during a concentrated heavy British aerial bombing campaign. A few days later it was set on fire by retreating German SS troops, then systematically looted after American troops reached the area (A search on the internet will amaze one as to the amount of furnishings, silverware, pictures etc that were removed from the Berghof & surrounding homes by American troops in 1945...and for sale). Talk about pillaging!! This looting was applied equally to each and every of the other houses and buildings on the Obersalzberg. We must be talking literally about hundreds of tons of artifacts that were looted, transported on American army trucks and then shipped via American ships to the United States of America. Unbelievable.

The ruins of the Berghof stood until the Bavarian government (pressured by the Americans) finally gave the order for them to be blown up, so on the anniversary of Hitlers birthday in 1953 the remains of the Berghof were finally blown off the side of the mountain.

 *********************************************

Back on the motorcycle and its back into the Obersalzberg. I come to a clearing in the woods and signs everywhere. I pull over at a roundabout in the middle of nowhere. Below me there are parking lots jammed full of cars and tour buses....there must be a hundred tour buses alone. I read the signs and realise that this is the departure point for the “Eagles Nest”. I read somewhere  that it was NOT a tourist spot??   I really don’t want to pass on a visit as I am in the neighborhood as it were, but there are far far too many people around. Maybe I will come back tomorrow and visit, assuming that it will be quieter on a Monday morning. I decided instead to head back south and if possible to cross the Grossglockner if it is open.

     

               The Obersalzberg, Germany seen from Berchtesgaden                                                Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany

I ride into and out of Berchtesgaden.....a place that I would like to visit more without the tourists...so maybe tomorrow for Berchtesgaden too. I stop at a small tobacconist and buy a couple of stickers for the motorcycle panniers before heading out of town the same route that I came in by. Soon I am in need of petrol, so stop at a station that is literally on the border and must have served as the old border crossing many years ago. These days there is absolutely no way to tell that you have crossed from Germany into Austria and vice versa,  apart from a small sign that you will not see unless you are looking for it and should you blink you will have missed it. Parking signs are larger.

I follow the signs south to Zell am See and head for the Grossglockner Pass (3798m) Maybe it will be open as the weather is and has been far better than it was yesterday. Fingers crossed. I take the Grossglockner Strasse heading South. So far so good. The roads are clear just a light covering every once in a while of snow but nothing serious. I reach the toll booth for the Grossglockner. There are several cars parked along with a couple of motorcycles. All the booths are closed and there is a sign saying closed due to a heavy snowfall further up the pass. A woman in a shop tells me that it will be open tomorrow morning but that they had over a metre of snow in 24hrs yesterday and they are still trying to clear the pass. Shame as it would have been beautiful up there. The price for this private road is a little on the expensive side....18 euros one way for a motorcycle...but still...there is only one Grossglockner I guess.

Back on the motorcycle and back towards Mittersill. I am getting cold now and have only a limited amount of daylight left and don’t want to find myself riding around in the dark....again. I know where the hotel is that I stayed in last night and I will head that general direction. If I find something else on route so much the better, if not, not a problem.

I continue into Mittersill then turn right heading north towards Aurach. I came this way yesterday but the weather was terrible and I saw nothing. It really is very scenic with a fantastic road sweeping into the mountains. I come to the Thurn Pass and see a beautiful traditional log cabin style gasthof on my right as I take a corner. The front of the hotel  is an amazing sight covered in flower boxes with brightly coloured flowers and  bright coloured umbrellas on the terrace. I stop as soon as I am able to safely do so, turn the motorcycle around and go back. I will see if they have a room. If so, this is where I shall stay.

 

I pull into the driveway below and climb the stairs to the terrace where there are guests sitting enjoying what remains of the late afternoon sunshine. A little cold normally for me but I have my warm weather motorcycle gear on, these people are in shirts sleeves....brrrrrr. There is no one else around so I wander inside. I find the patron and my luck is in, they have a room available. He insists on showing it to me first, so we mount to the third floor and the room is perfect. Large with a terrace on the back of the hotel looking over the mountains or rather into the mountains. It is very reasonable too, 48 euros with breakfast. This will do nicely....in fact perfectly. Shame Laurence is not with me, she would have loved it! I follow him downstairs, check in and then have a cold beer in the last of the sun. I ordered a small beer and this absolute monster arrived...I told the young girl that I had ordered a small beer....her reply....”but that is the small beer”. She disappears and comes back with an empty large beer stein.....the small beer is good.....I doubt with the large stein that I would be able to make it up the stairs to my room afterwards.

         Gasthof Hohe-Brüke, Thurn Pass, Mittersill, Austria (highly recommended!!)

       

I ride the motorcycle into their private driveway (after the beer?), put in on its stand out of the way and unload it, lock it up and haul my backpack to my room. After a long hot shower I relax on the amply large bed and at 7.30 I get dressed and head down to the restaurant. There are several people already eating, it seems a popular place for locals as was the restaurant/hotel I stayed in last night. Always a good sign. The same young man who checked me in hands me a menu, recommending the special which is a pork chop in apple sauce with fresh vegetables. Sounds good to me.....so I order this with a glass of house wine. He asks where I have come from and I tell him Narbonne in the South of France. He knows it well, and apparently went to university in Nimes......just over an hours ride from Narbonne. He works here in the family business until the end of the month then works as a ski instructor at the nearby resort for the winter season. His brother and sister continue the hotel through the winter and he rejoins them when the ski season is finished and the tourist season starts for real.

The food arrives quickly and is really delicious. One thing I cannot fault so far in Austria is the quality of the food. The coffee maybe, (after french and Italian coffee what else is there...and believe me Starducks does not count or rank!) but the food no. I finish up and for desert decide for the second night running to go for the appfelstruddle.....fast becoming a favourite of mine and especially warming on these cold mountain nights. And again it is followed up by a glass of good french Cognac...where would the world be without good old french Cognac? Often imitated, never equalled. Then its off to bed for the night. I have yet to decide what I am going to do tomorrow......go back to Berchtesgaden and see the Eagles Nest or take the Grossglockner. Either way I need to think about starting to make a start soon towards home as I am now several days ride from Narbonne, and one thing I don’t want to do is get caught in a snowstorm that traps me in the Alps for a week or more and it can easily happen at this time of year.

 

Monday, October 6th 2008

Thurn Pass, Tirol, Berchtesgaden, Eagles Nest, Innsbruck, Landeck, Davos Switzerland

Total for day = 449km

 Weather:Bright and sunny. Foggy in the am with a spectacular view of the Thurn Pass from the hotel itself! Temp: -8°c / 8°c

 

                                                                        Glorious morning view from the Gasthof!!

 

I take breakfast in the hotel and then pack and load up the motorcycle. It is a cold morning....-8°c......in the sun! Luckily I have the kick starter and kick the bike over a few times before even thinking about hitting the electrical starter. She fires up easily and I let her warm as I proceed to knock the ice off the controls and tank. I take several photos of the hotel, it really is splendid with all the flowers  and the early morning sun, backed by snow covered mountains. A real postcard hotel. I have really enjoyed my stay here and wish it were for more than one night.

I thank everybody for their hospitality and head on out.  I have finally decided to go to Berchtesgaden, see the town and then see the “Eagles Nest” before heading back south. That is the plan but as with all plans it is subject to change. I really wanted to do Salzberg too but time is too short. Just have to come back next year after their winter when the snows have all melted.

I head on towards Aurach and pass the hotel I stayed at the night before. Both were good, both were very good in fact. Then its on past St Johann in Tirol and on to Bad Reichenhall turning off for Berchtesgaden.  This has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth....just has to be. I am not in any hurry so just relax and take my time, the GS being an ideal motorcycle for the region.....although I guess that it is back in the area that is was designed for and built in, so it is at home in more ways than one.

Berchtesgaden is far quieter today thank goodness....everybody is back at work. I ride into the centre of the old town and just park my motorcycle on the side of the road....in the best french style of park anywhere you want. Maybe this is not acceptable in Germany...(I know it isn’t in the UK), but do I really care if I get a German parking ticket? Not really....I doubt .it is enforceable in france and the worse that can happen is that you could get a wheel clamped...but in this respect the Germans and Austrians authorities are not so retentive as their British counterparts. I leave the motorcycle and walk into town. It is extremely scenic with its old central fountain and buildings many painted with frescoes of typical German Bavarian peasants and burgermeisters. It is not as sunny or warm as it was yesterday otherwise I could easily be tempted to sit in outside at one of the many street cafes with an expresso in the sunshine and watch the world go by for a while.

                      Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany

            

Back to the bike and out of town, direction the Obersalzberg once again. I ride up into the hills admiring the scenery and before I know it I am at the parking for the “Kehlsteinhaus” or “Eagles Nest”. I park the bike up and pay my parking fee (1 euro). I am parked right next to a newish looking Harley Davidson covered top to bottom in dirt sporting english plates. A look at the speedo reveals lots of miles.... a real Harley rider...How rare. The owner arrives and we get to talking. He is from Essex and has been over here a few days riding through some attrocious weather en route to get here. Like me he is doing a whistle stop tour before heading home and like me today is his last day before he heads back home.

 The Kehlsteinhaus or “The Eagles Nest”

I buy my ticket for the next bus up to the Eagles Nest and then wait around for the bus to take us up the private road to the entrance tunnel. It is possible to walk up there but it looks rather a long walk... at the least a couple of hours..uphill...seriously  uphill.......so maybe more.

The bus arrives....exactly on time....something I miss in france. Everybody gets in and there are many different nationalities represented on just this one bus. I can hear Slavic, German, French, English and American accents. Quite impressive. Then the bus quickly filled... direction the Eagles Nest!

The road up to the Eagles Nest is quite amazing and it would be worth the entrance fee for a ride up this road alone. The views off the mountain are spectacular, and the drop off....vertical for several hundred metres. The bus winds it way slowly up to the drop off point in low gear, the ride up taking a good fifteen minutes. 

              Entrance Tunnel to the “Eagles-Nest”

    

 The bus drops us at the parking lot opposite the entrance to the tunnel that leads into the mountain. The tunnel was hewn out of solid granite and runs for over a hundred metres into the mountain before entering into a dome roofed room, where the elevator ride giving access to the Eagles Nest some 124 metres above begins. The elevator itself is something to behold and is completely original. The entire surface of the inside is surfaced with highly polished brass, and complete with Venetian mirrors and green leather. Pretty sumptious. The elevator is operated by the original massive Mann diesel engine hidden inside the mountain, still used daily and maintained in perfect order.

On entering the Kehlsteinhaus there is in the main reception room (today a restaurant and open to the public) a large fireplace of red Italian marble. This fireplace was presented to Adolf Hitler by Benito Mussolini. "Happy 50th Adolf!". The edges are now much chipped away, vandelism by American soldiers wanting a souvenir (I have subsequently seen certificated (?) pieces of this red marble for sale on the internet!).

Background on the “Eagles Nest”

The Kehlsteinhaus was built by the Nazi party as a 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler, commissioned by Martin Bormann. It was to be a retreat for Hitler and a place for the German state to entertain visiting dignitaries. Although the Kehlsteinhaus is on the same mountain as the Berghof and only a matter of minutes drive away, Hitler apparently only visited a handful of times, never staying longer than a matter of minutes. He suffered from Vertigo and this is sometimes given as the reason.

Construction took only 13 months quite an engineering feat even by todays standards and that includes the mountain road and tunnels. It is situated on a ridge at the top of the Kehlstein mountain (1834 m) that it took its name from.  The road is amazing, some 6.5 km long that in its time cost some 30 million Reichsmark to construct (somewhere around 150 million euros in 2008 terms).

In 1945 Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, later President of the United States, claimed that the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division were the first to take Eagle's Nest. However, General Maxwell D. Taylor, Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division claimed it was his men of the 101st. Photographs and newsreel footage show 3rd Infantry soldiers relaxing on the Eagle's Nest patio, "drinking Hitler's wine", at the very least affirming that they were present at the Berghof during May of 1945.

Strangely enough they are not alone. Other groups also claim to be the first include Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion 506th Regiment and the French 9th Armoured Company (composed mostly of Spanish Republican volunteers).  The Kehlsteinhaus' museum states that it was “captured” by a unit of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division. So who knows?

Regardless as to who actually “captured” the Kehsteinhaus, apparently no one was able to enter for a period of several days as the entrance could not be found to the generators which power the elevator shaft. The importance of this is that as a result there was suprisingly little “liberation” of artifacts by the liberating armies (ie the Americans....). Subsequently it was used until 1960 by the Allies as a military command post, before being handed back over to the State of Bavaria in the 1990’s.

***************************

Out of the elevator and we are in the hallway of the Kehlsteinahaus itself. The weather is clear but it is cold and there is much snow still standing. Be careful where you walk....a slip on the snow in the wrong place and a long long drop will be your fate. I tread carefully...very carefully!!

The crowds are out already and there are surely more to follow. I was lucky enough to be in one of the first buses but there will be others crammed with tourists. Fortunately it is nowhere near so busy as it was yesterday when I passed, otherwise I would have been forced to give it a miss. 

The views are spectacular views and I see Mozarts town of Salzberg in the distance and in the other direction Lake Konigsee. After a good look around and taking photographs I decide to get out before it gets too busy. The bus ride down the Kehlstein is again as good as the ride up.

Back at the motorcycle and time to decide where and what I am going to do. I need to start heading back towards france, so now would be as good a time as any. I get kitted up and fire the old girl up and ride down the Obersalzberg towards Berchtesgaden making a last minute decision to take the autobahn direction Munich and then down to Innsbruck. Hopefully I can cover a decent amount of kilometres this way. The autobahn is about as boring as any motorway, any peage, or any interstate highway can be. They are the same the world over and designed with one purpose in mind and one only; rapid transit between points. For this they are ultra efficient. An hour later I stop at Innsbruck to refuel. The woman at the station asks me if I have a tax sticker for the autobahn on my motorcycle. She points to the Austrian police who are outside going vehicle to vehicle checking and tells me it would be wise to buy one as they will only wait until I leave to pull me over and fine me for being on the autobahn without a permit. It is good for ten days and costs 4 euros something....which has to be the cheapest yet. Not like Switzerland where they insist on selling you a years permit just to pass from one end of their tiny country to the other .Still both are cheaper than in France where you pay each time you use the péage.....which can really add up. I purchase one and walk out of the petrol station. Whilst I am in the very act of applying the sticker to the BMW a traffic officer walks up looks the BMW over and nods approvingly, I am glad I paid the four euros.

Back  in the saddle the aim is to cover as much ground as possible before nightfall. From Innsbruck it is via autobahn to Landeck before turning off and taking the old route to Susch, the plan is to follow the road as far as Chur and spend the night there. As the light fades the tempertaure in the mountains drops off rapidly. I reach Susch and am now in Switzerland and back in the mountains.

I take the turning for Chur. There is no traffic except myself as I work my way up the mountainside. I hear the sound of a car below somewhere that is really moving. I look down the mountain and there far below me a couple of turns back is an old bright red Ferrari Dino from the 1970’s absolutely pedal to the metal coming up the mountainside. I can hear the roar from that fabulous motor through my helmet and on every corner the spinning of the tires. It is evident that he has decided to catch me up......so I decide to make him work a little harder and open up the old BMW a little putting some distance between us. We continue like this for what seems  like ages and then darkness is upon us. I can see very little, the road temperature has dropped, and the road is unfamiliar to me so I decided to concede and let the Ferrari past.  Within a minute the Ferrari is upon me and I pull to one side and signal him past. When the opportunity arises he pulls past waves guns the motor and gives a blip on those wonderful Fiam airhorns that Italian sports cars seem to come with as standard. Then he is off into the darkness and I find myself totally alone on the mountain. Driven as a Ferrari was designed to be driven.

I continue onwards. The pass is known as the “Fuelapass” and it has to be the coldest most desolate pass I have ever ridden. This would be a terrible place to breakdown...I keep my fingers crossed.....miles from anywhere and not another soul on the mountain with temperatures now well in negative figures. The roads are starting to freeze over in places so I take it very easy indeed. Mile after mile of nothing and then I come across an old style coaching Inn in the middle of this barren landscape. There are lights inside and it is open but  I continue onwards...I just want out of here and figure out that surely civilsation cannot be that far away. The minutes pass; they seem like hours.....maybe they are hours. I am cold, miserable and all I want to do is get out of this mountain range, get a nice hotel and get a good hot shower and a good nights sleep. As always I have pushed it too far and should have stopped fifty or a hundred kilometres ago...before I ever saw this Fuelapass.

                                                                 The Füelapass, Switzerland.....grim, cold & desolate!!! (Makes Bodmin Moor look like a walk in Hyde park)

Finally I am over the top and start to work my way back down the other side of the mountain. I pass a few houses set back in the woods. A good sign, there will be more. And sure enough there are. I come into a town...I miss the name completely and decide I am stopping at the first hotel I come across. After crossing an intersection, there is ...surely a mirage, a beautiful...almost regal looking hotel off to my left. The foyer is lit by a massive outdoor chandelier and there are a couple of cars in the driveway. Looks like I may be in luck. As I get closer it would seem that luck is not in the cards. The “cars” in front of the hotel are a brand new Bentley Continental and an Aston Martin Vantage. Hmmmm. I pull up outside and feel already as if I am trespassing in my old motorcycle gear. There is a board with information at the foot of the stone steps. Very nice indeed.....and the price? Ah here it is.....the small writing......485 Swiss Francs per night for a single room!! I am not quite sure just how much that is in euros...Well not exactly....but I would hazard a guess that one would not see much change out of 350euros. A little steep for a one nighter for a poor motorcyclist. I shall continue onwards. Where am I anyway? I came over the pass from hell and into a town where the price of a room for a night should be the price for a weeks board and there are Bentleys and Astons in the driveway. I’m tired I must be hallucinating.

I ride through the main street of the town and see several other equally luxuriously appointed establishments with equally impressive porticos and names. This is too much........... there are no “normal” hotels for “normal” people that I can see.  It is then that I see the name of the town..... Davos/Klosters. Somewhere a bell rings deep in my head. I have heard of this name before. I have it! This is where the rich and the even richer come and stay and go skiing. This is where royalty comes. Great......so much for a good reasonable priced hotel here then.

I continue out of town in the hopes of finding something somewhere. I am tired and exhausted and hope to find something soon. I continue on and a few kilometres down the road I come to a neon sign for a hotel. From the outside nothing extra special. It is open too. I park the motorcycle and wander in. Inside the hotel is really really nice...maybe too nice? They have a room and it is 65 euros....if I am paying by cash. You bet. I hurriedly pay my 65 euros before the well presented owner changes his mind. I am “signed” in and he shows me to my room a really nice old room panelled in antique pine with a large four poster bed. This will work quite nicely....a bargain in fact. I am well pleased. He then tells me that I can park the motorcycle in the hotels private garage if I wish. I do indeed, so follow him back downstairs and then we wheel the BMW into the old stables, empty apart from a large set of truck wheels and tires and what looks susiciously like a Ferrari Mondiale parked in the corner in semi darkness. It is indeed and belongs to this gentleman. My second Ferrari in almost as many hours. He explains that he keeps it in here but only uses it a couple of time in the summertime every year. It is metallic blue and is a real beauty just oozing class. We lock the old GS up and then I thank him before heading up to my room. Time for a hot hot shower methinks, and then if there is time a good hot meal in the hotels restaurant.

Intentions, good intentions. I take a fantastic hot shower......get out, dry off and then decide that maybe I deserve another...so back into the shower it is. Then out, dry off and turn on the TV to see what the weather will bring tomorrow. Somewhere in between, given the warmth of the room and the relaxing of the shower...I fall asleep. I awake an hour later, much the better for my short nap but not much the better knowing the hotel restaurant is now well and truly closed. Dreams of a nice juicy steak are dashed. Reality sets in. There is a mini bar in my room. Tonights meal will be...let me see....... a cold Swiss beer, a bag of assorted nuts and some pretzels. Fantastic ( I am being sarcastic here). Deep in the stables is my motorcycle and deep in my panniers on said motorcycle are all types of canned food and soups....... all safely locked up for the night.Oh well.....could be worse.  I drink the beer, which actually is a very good malted dark beer and down the nuts & pretzels. I won’t die of hunger. I watch a bit of television.....french channels too....the weather for tomorrow looks good ...then off with the tv and off to sleep in my nice large and very comfortable bed.

 

Tuesday October 7th 2008

Davos, Switzerland, Sisteron France

Total for day = 645km. Weather: Foggy & cold in the am, cold in the mountains, sunny in the pm Temp: -2°c / 7°c

I wake early in the morning and decide to hit the road early, I will grab a bar of chocolate or something similar when I fuel up and then stop for breakfast a little further on.

Down at the front desk, the brother of the man who checked me in last night...an almost identical twin... so definately the family business. I give him a list of what I took from the minibar, pay the bill and explain that my motorcycle is in his garage. He goes to fetch the keys and I follow him out. I load up the motorcycle and point at the Ferrari. “My brothers pride and joy” he explains...no explanation needed...universally understood. I thank him for his hospitality and he wishes me a safe trip but tells me to take care as the road surface in places will still be frozen. Appreciated & thoughtful advice, especially appreciated by a motorcyclist.

I set off, direction Landquart and then onto Chur. It is light and the sun is starting to rise. Looks as if it will be a good day thank goodness. I fill up the motorcycle in Chur and grab a chocolate croissant and a couple of bottles of mineral water. Always a good idea to have a spare bottle of water. Then back on the motorcycle fire her up and its direction the Overalp Pass to Andermatt, followed by the Furka Pass.

The Overalp pass (2046m, or 6,197ft) is beautiful, the old GS perfect for the route. I fill one of my water bottles from a mountain stream high on the pass (after checking for cow sheep etc in the vicinity and I quote Will Rogers “Never drink downstream from the herd!”). The water is crystal clear and comes directly from the run off from the snow above and it tastes so good. I continue on and then wind down the pass and into Andermatt.

Andermatt is a beautiful small town nestled in the valley between the passes. It really is oldy worldy with its cobbled streets ...which would be fun on the motorcycle in the wet I am sure....and its old Swiss chalet styled houses and shops. I really must come here and spend a little more time....looks like it would be a good place to camp....in the summer time....I make a note!         

                                                                     Andermatt with its old cobbled streets

Then its out of Andermatt and direction the Furka Pass (2436m). I was here in June of this year so am familiar with the Furka. I climb and climb and stop to take photos. The sky is blue and the weather crisp but warm when in the sunshine. At the top of the Furka I stop to take some photographs of the scenery and the view of the Grimsel Pass and the Rhone Glacier (source of the river Rhône) on the other side.

                                                             The Furka Pass, Switzerland with Rhone glacier in distance... centre (just under 8000ft or 2436m)

I ride down the Furka and decide to give the Grimsel a go. Last time in June, I rode the Grimsel Pass twice.....and on both occassions the weather was so terrible that I never even saw either the pass or the scenery. All I saw was thick freezing fog and snowbanks high on either side of the road......and that in June. This time I hope it will be different!

I turn off at Gletsch for the Grimsel Pass (2165m) and start the climb up to the pass and lake at the top. The sun is still shining and it is clear.....but there again it was the same last time until I hit the peak and then all hell broke loose and continued for thirty or so kilometres. I hit the peak and it is crystal clear....the view fantastic, the lake, the mountains, the snow,everything.. I park the motorcycle and get off to take photographs. At last I have seen the illusive Grimsel Pass.....the one and same as in the old black and white photographs I cherish that my late father took when here in 1952 on his old BSA Gold Flash that he had ridden from England to Southern Italy and back via Switzerland and the Grimsel Pass. He would have loved it today. Back to the BMW and I continue on down the other side of the Grimsel. After several kilometres I decide to turn around, go back over the Grimsel to Gletsch and then down to Brig and head out of Switzerland to France. It is quicker and the roads more likely to be open. Switzerland is a great place to be but I would not like to be stuck up here for a week, and not be able to get home due to inclement weather, and did I mention that I am (supposed) to be at a friends wedding & reception back in france on the 11th? 

                                                                    Grimsel Lake & Pass, Switzerland (7,103 ft or 2165m)

I head down the Grimsel, then towards Brig....after following the now boring road in a large valley heading towards Martigny. Hardly a soul on it and I  eat up the kilometres and before I know it I am in Martigny. Somewhere along the way I miss my turn off (Albertville) and end up heading towards Geneva and Annecy....not really where I wanted to go.

I head around Lake Geneva before turning towards Annecy and then Grenoble where I join the Route Napoléon....very scenic and a really great road....especially for motorcyclists. Quite a bit of traffic on it this afternoon though. I am hoping to reach Castellane tonight around seven pm or so, in time to pitch the tent and spend a last night camping. It is not to be. Night falls early here and darkness is starting to fall.

As I am coming up behind a slow moving truck placed to overtake, something is either picked up by it wheels or falls off of it and comes flying into my motorcycle. I saw a blur, I feel the impact as it hits the front headlight surround, knocking out my headlight immediately and shaking the motorcycle considerably. Fortunately, very fortunately, the small bikini style fairing on the GS took the impact and deflected the object out of my path, otherwise it would have taken me clean off of the motorcycle with disastrous consequences of that I am sure.  I brake as hard as I can without losing control of the motorcycle and bring her to a complete stop in total darkness....not an easy feat I can tell you. The impact has knocked out the headlight and ripped off the fittings that attach the small headlamp/cockpit fairing to the motorcycle itself, leaving the fairing almost dangling form the motorcycle, held in place by the wiring harness and the speedometre cable. I have lost both low and high beam but am able to get the parking light to work and with the help of a couple of bungee cords am able to make a temporary repair of sorts. Then very very slowly I limp the motorcycle towards the next town some 15 kilometres away just short of Sisteron.....there is absolutely nothing in between. There I pull in under street lamps and for the first time I am able to acess the damage and really see how fortunate I have been. It looks from the impact marks as though it was a large chunk of tyre rubber that hit.!

I am able to make a repair that will hold. I have a spare headlight bulb that will work....apart from the fact that part of the wiring has also been ripped completely out leaving me with only the full beam circuit. It will have to do for now. As I start to patch up the old girl the heavens open and it starts to tip it down. I hurriedly finish, load up my tools and get back on the road. Full beam is bound to annoy but at least I can continue. I now have no hope of making Castellane tonight and will find a hotel as soon as possible. I continue on my way my high beam annoying several cars which flash me to dip my lights.... Fortunately I come across a motel style hotel within ten minutes. It is a nice enough looking place and I pull in.

There is a room available and it is 50 euros with breakfast. A fair price, plus they have a restaurant as well. The owner tells me to pay in the morning, so I haul my baggage up to the room and then take a hot hot shower. It really feels good to get out of all the motorcycle gear and after changing I head down to the restaurant.

I take the menu at 18 euros which seems a little steep but when it arrives I understand why. Fantastic, for starters guinea fowl and fresh vegetables and they really are fresh. Really really good, helped down of course by a good red wine. I finish up with cheese and a home made chocolate desert that is almost worth killing for, it is that good, with a coffee and  my by now customary Cognac of course...and I believe that is me done for the day.

The weather tomorrow is predicted to be heavy storms and there is a strong wind getting up outside in support of this prediction.

I go to my room hit the sack and sleep like a child.

 

Wednesday October 8th 2008

North of Sisteron to Coursan

Total: for day = 387km. Weather: Horrendous...really really horrible!!!! And cold...very cold. And Rain lots and lots of it...riding hell really!!

Temp: 2°c / 8°c

I awake in the early hours. It is still dark and there really is a terrible wind blowing outside. As yet there is no rain but we will not be counting on that one and I will make sure that I have all my waterproofs on....just in case!

I eat a good breakfast and then settle my bill up from last night. The patron tells me to be careful as the weather forecast is bad enough that the area from here down south is under a storm warning for heavy storms and winds.

I pack up and load everything onto the motorcycle. Direction Sisteron which is only a matter of a few kilometres down the road which helps explain why the restaurant was so packed last night. I pass through Sisteron wishing that the weather was better and I had the time to stop and look around; ok so I have the time but I would rather see Sisteron in sunshine....it looks a really interesting old fortified town that would reward the traveller well. This morning due to the weather the streets are pretty empty. As I pass through the first heavy drops of rain start to fall. At least I am prepared, the question is just how bad will it be and how long will it last. I am still a good five hours from home. I decide to take the péage and see if I can’t put some kilometres between myself and any bad weather that may arise, especially as the bad weather is blowing in from behind me. Worth a try. I get on the the péage at Sisteron heading south. Lady luck is not on my side. Within minutes the biggest deluge I have seen (since I was in Italy a few years back ) unleashes. The amount of rain falling is so heavy that I cannot see where I am going at all. The trucks are throwing up so much water that it is impossible to see either them or any cars that may be in the near vicinity. All of this is not good for a motorcyclist! I have my bright yellow (Triumph) waterproofs on but it is still far too risky.  I slow down and get into the slow lane letting the trucks pass me but every time one does the amount of water and suction created makes for a physical fight just to keep the motorcycle upright and heading in the right direction. Enough of this. I have had enough, I have never ridden on a highway where there are so many people driving so “star dot star” dangerously in such attrocious conditions. They are all totally insane and before this storm is through there will be a serious accident of that I am sure. I am also equally sure that I will reduce the odds that it includes me and decide to take the very next exit and get away from this madness.

The next exit appears and I exit. I have no idea where I am but I do not really care that much, it is just so good to be away from the idiots.

The storm is still in full swing. I continue on the old road that runs parallel before taking the turning signed towards Apt and Avignon. I am still dry and my waterproofs are doing a great job although I know that from many many years of experience this will not continue, especially if the weather does not ease up a little. I am starting to get cold too. The temperature has dropped considerably since this morning. It all seems rather ironic to me that I have ridden several thousand kilometres across the Alps, through Italy, crossing the Dolomites, through an absolutely horrendous snow storm in the Tirol, through Bavaria and back across the Swiss Alps.........only to take the most severe battering of all, within only hours of being home.

The storm increases in its violence and now there is heavy lightening thrown in as well with deafening cracks of thunder. As I am riding along concentrating as hard as I can, there is a God almighty bang and a flash so intense that I cannot focus my eyes for a split second. The ground and the motorcycle shook from that one, it felt like I was riding in an earthquake zone for an instant. I am not riding fast, it is impossible to ride over 45kph and there is virtually no other traffic on this small route which is good news (unless I break down that is). That was really really close...far too close....Then in front of me a tree starts to fall....in slow motion almost movie like!!  We’re talking a large full sized BIG tree here!! As I brake as hard as I am able the tree falls across the road blocking it completely some twenty metres in front of me. Luckily there was no other traffic on the road at the time and luckily I was not riding any faster.....had I been five seconds earlier it would have been on top of me! Someone was looking out for me! I ride up to the tree and figure out how and if I can get around it. There is a drainage ditch on one side that is not too deep...more of a gulley. There is water flowing in it but I really have no choice to give it a go, or turn around and head back looking for an alternative route....which will have to include that auto route   .....and with this weather? I decide to give the ditch a go....after all the old GS is an on road/off road machine is it not?.  So slowly into the ditch we go, the cylinder heads touching the sides, the wheels up past the spindles in fast flowing muddy water. The rear tire grips and we move slowly forward...I’m standing on the footpegs which are now just under water. Over and past a couple of long branches that brush my jacket and helmet and we’re past......now to get out the other side and back on the road. This proves more difficult than getting past the tree with the back wheel sliding around on the muddy bank and threatening to dump the motorcycle and me both in the ditch. The rear wheel spins and then the tire suddenly grabs something solid and propels me up the bank and i'm back on the road. My best bit of impromptu enduro riding for a good while.. 

The motorcycle may be doing fine but my waterproofs are starting to give up the ghost. The gloves which have done so well are starting to leak as are my boots......not helped by the ride through the water filled ditch. It will only be a matter of time before I am well and truly soaked through. Pessimistic? Not really, more realistic.

Six months ago I made a home made repair to the coil. The last time I crossed the Grimsel Pass in horrendous conditions the GS stopped on me...the engine just died. There was petrol but there was no spark. I dismantled the GS by the side of the road and finally found that there was a crack in the bakelite type material running the length of the coil. Fortunately I had a can of WD40 on me and was able to feed the nozzle into the crack and fill it full of WD40, this displaced the moisture that had obviously caused the problem, and after the tank & seat were put back in place she fired up. For the rest of that trip she gave me no problems. Back “chez-moi” I removed the coil for closer inspection. I checked on a new coil but the price of a new twin exit coil was pretty steep and besides this coil worked fine....apart from the crack, so I decided to give it a go and see if it could be saved. I flushed the WD40 out with a solvent, then took a Dremel with tiny grinding wheel attachment to the crack and opened it up a little making sure there was a good rough bonding surface. I then mixed up some Araldite and carefully fed it into the crack along the length of the coil. When it had dried I carefully sanded it back a little and then fed in some silicon compound as used for sealing leaks, edging etc in bathrooms. Worth a try in my book!!

Anyways, this repair I had made a few months earlier to the coil seems to be holding up well.....if it was going to have given me any trouble it would have been apparent by now. The wonders of araldite and silicon! In fact the BMW is running perfectly in such atrocious conditions that it really is a testament to the  design and build quality of their motorcycles

I finally arrive in Avignon feeling (and probably looking) somewhat like a drowned rat. Not too far to go now..... I take the ring road looking for signs for Nîmes and Montpellier. The péage is signed everywhere but it is not that I am looking for. I want the old route nationale. These are not signed at all well, the powers that be must have a contract with the auto route operators to direct the traffice where possible onto the autoroute....which is superbly signed at all times...they want my money; they want your money too....the reason for all the bad signs! I finally find the signs I am looking for and follow them to the auto route!!?? What the heck! For better or for worse I just now want to get back to the house, get out of this soaking gear, get into a hot shower and relax. Enough of the bad weather! The péage will have me back home in just under two hours. I get on the péage, open the throttle and sit there getting blasted by filthy roadspray for the next two hours passing Nîmes, Montpellier and Béziers before exiting. Fifteen minutes later I pull into my courtyard, walk into the house trailing & dropping wet gear everywhere and make a beeline for a good HOT shower. Home sweet home!! Exhausted totally.......but what a ride!!

The old GS was fine apart from the fuel problem at the very beginning which took a whole ten minutes to sort out. I was a little worried about my repair to the coil before this trip...especially as I had forgotten an old if mucky and serviceable spare, left on the office desk. But the GS never missed a beat and started easily under adverse conditions each time, every time. The high passes......getting on for close to 8,000 feet......the Furka and Grimsel posed no problems and the engine just purred. At the very highest altitudes there was a slight hesitation at 3000 rpm but nothing serious. She hardly used a drop of engine oil, maybe a couple of tablespoonfuls, although the oil in the gearbox was filthy after all those mountain roads and passes and all that constant shifting of gears. Not to worry. After every similar trip she has all oils and fluids changed regardless. The headlight and fairing have been repaired and are now as good as new, in fact probably better then new as I used this as an opportunity to make a quick clip system for the fairing and headlamp so now I can change a lightbulb in less than 5 minutes with ease.....unlike before where it was a real pain as any old style GS owner will tell you. Now its just four quick clips and two philips screws and I’m in business. The Metzler Sahara Enduro tyres were fantastic and I will be putting the same ones on again. Sure they are enduro rather than road biased but that should be evident in the name. Still on the road they handle really really well in all weather conditions and have good tread life. With the GS I get around 10-12,000km from the back and around 20,000km from the front which in my book is good value for money.

I saw most of the things I wanted to see and a few that I hadn’t really planned on seeing. I never did get to go to Salzberg.....but in my mind I think I used this as an excuse to justify another trip in the same direction, next year?? The crossing of the Alps into Italy via the Col de la Lombarde stays in my mind as does riding around Lake Garda, even though I have been there several times. Then the Tirol with its magnificent mountain scenery and the beautiful autumnal colours of the leaves....and the snow.....all part of the reason I wanted to go at this time of the year. Bavaria and the Obersalzberg in Germany was very beautiful scenic wise and very interesting from a historical point of view. Still I am glad I visited; you read the books, you see the films but it is almost surreal, this bought it home and made it very real. Switzerland and in particular the Grimsel Pass had to be done, it was a personal thing and I am glad I did it. Be warned that riding all these passes grows on you. I have several friends who have a book where they note each of the passes they have ridden, and each year they ride different ones adding them to their list. I used to think that this was ridculous and a bit like train spotting, but now I find myself mentally planning my next trip around a good pass or two. So I appologise ( I know several will read this!!). They were right, it really is contagious. So all in all a fantastic trip and one I can recommend to anyone who enjoys their  motorcycling mixed with a lot of nature, some very relevant history and unimaginable beauty. Another big plus is that it is not too far away from the UK or most of mainland europe either.

So until next time & ride safe

de Cayless, Martin

Narbonne, France