It’s a bit Parky!

(Old British saying for “It’s a bit cold” and a favourite of my old mate Chutney.)

What a lovely alpine morning I woke up to; blue sky, sunshine and what’s that glistening on the grass? Frost!

I took a short walk outside the hotel and the still morning air really made me catch my breath. Gee-wiz it was cold, minus 3°Celsius by the sign on the pharmacy just down the street, was going to be a bit of in interesting morning.

Just before I left home I was prevaricating about whether to take my heated jacket with me, September is meant to be summer after all. The wise-ness that is Mrs Dookes took the decision out of my hands, her suggestion that if I had it and didn’t use it against not taking it and wishing I had, totally persuaded me. Actually, it just took the decision out of my hands, but today I loved that woman just that little bit more, because I stayed lovely and warm.

I’m too tired now to do the math, but -3° in Livigno, bloomin’ colder at Bernina Pass, -5 at Julier Pass and -7° at the Albula; then add in the wind chill even at a modest 40mph, oh yes you’d better believe that I was so much more in love with Mrs D as the heated gear did its stuff!!! What a brilliant suggestion to bring it, thank you darling!

Unashamedly we were Pass Bagging again, well depending on your take, it was either Nature or God that put ‘them thar mountains’ there, so it would be crass stupidity not to enjoy them!

From Livigno we topped Forcola di Livigno at 2315m, and slipped out of Italy;

Swiss side of Forcola Di Livigno, no-mans land!

it’s a bit weird then, as you trundle along for a good five kilometres before you arrive at the Swiss customs point and border which is actually halfway up the climb to Bernina Pass. I pulled Harls over by the summit board on Bernina for the customary photo, what I assumed were puddles were actually solid ice….we were on a mini skating rink!

From the summit, the road sweeps North, like piano wire passing through glorious scenery and with the world famous Rhaetian Railway keeping close company. The swanky resort town of St Moritz lies at the bottom of the hill, but best not say to much about it and just ride on to Julier Pass, at 2284m we were getting higher….and colder!

Julier Pass

Funny that there weren’t many other motorbikes about, I wonder why?

At the Julier we did a ‘U’ turn and cruised back to St M, then hung a left for a few glorious blasting miles on almost empty road before turning left again onto the Albula Pass road.

In contrast to the Julier, which is built on the alignment of a Roman road, the Albula is pure Swiss sheep herder track. Tight, tricky little hairpins catch you out if you don’t pay attention and yes, I was daydreaming when one nearly caught me out…no harm done, the road was pretty much deserted. A pair of BMW bikes caught me up, poor Harls was struggling with the altitude and the cold, her carburetor was icing and I had to give her about 25% choke to keep her happy. The first BMW swept by me, but the second tucked in behind me.

Nearing the Pass I could see that this was hard country, almost a cross between the Arctic and the Moon, I wouldn’t like to get caught out here, even though it was mind boggling beautiful.

Parking Harls outside the Gasthaus at the summit, it turned out that the two BMW’s were a husband and wife from Munich. He had powered by me and she was happy to ride behind me as she though her husband was riding too fast; so did I, but I didn’t say anything!

Spot the icicles!

After taking more photos we continued North towards Tiefencastle, eventually picking up the St Bernadino Autobahn and having a bit of higher speed fun.

Peeling off to cross the pass at St Bernadino was a bit of a disappointment, so then it was back onto the Autobahn and more exhaust rasping mile-munching, oh I love that bike!

We dropped off to bag another Pass that had intrigued me for some time, the Splügen, which straddles the border between Switzerland and Italy. The thing that had captured my imagination as the compact set of ten bends just below the summit at the Swiss side.

Splügen staircase. Totally bonkers!

Compact also equals bloomin’ tight and tricky, especially on the inside bends! They do make a good photo though!

Then it was more Autobahn blasting for about thirty miles towards the St Gottard Pass. I had wanted to stick this one in as a cheeky extra, the main road now goes through a tunnel, but the “old main road” and the original cobble road still exist; today though for some reason they were closed with police blocking them off.

Oh well, back to plan “A” the Nufenen Pass / Passo della Novena, at 2478m / 8130ft this is the highest paved pass in wholly in Switzerland and I think it’s just moved up to my favourite pass in Switzerland too!

Broody mountains, looking North on Nufenen Pass.8130ft.

I suppose I need to clarify what I like in a good Pass…

Having esoteric tastes in all things mechanical, I don’t conform to any norms. I ride Harley Davidson bikes because I like them, not because I want to be identified as “a Harley Rider,” I haven’t got a beard, ear-piercing, tattoos or a belt overhanging gut! The only trouble with the Harley’s that I ride, compared to other road or adventure bikes, is that they have a longer wheelbase and that means that they don’t like very tight bends much; neither do I! I do like a good gradient, long sweeping bends, nice views, places to stop and take photos, plus not too much other traffic.

On that basis :
Stelvio = Poor.
Nufenen = Excellent!

Here’s another thing to shout from the rooftops, that old Harls of mine has now topped the highest Passes in France, Switzerland, Italy and Andorra. She’s also done eight of the top ten in Europe and 22 out of the top 30 and we have plans for the stragglers!

The star of the show, on to of Nufenen Pass, looking a bit travel-stained, but we’ve been through a lot.

Any wonder why I love that bike?

At the end of today we rolled into our hotel car park in Ulrichen, tired, very happy and quite a bit warmer.

“One day like this a year would see me right for life.”

Catch you later.


Round, Like a Circle in a Spiral.

After the long days of mile munching and yesterday’s exertions on the high passes, I needed a bit of a breather today!

Unusually for one of my trips I decided to spend two nights in one place and I’m glad that I did because it took off the pressure to move on, this is supposed to be a holiday after all. . . OK and a multi-post blog reportage!

Over a leisurely Italian breakfast I pondered how to use my day. Looking at the map, I could see a nice circular ride; Bormio – Livigno – Bernina Pass(Switzerland) – Tirano – Bormio. About 90 miles, four passes and enough bends to keep things interesting without making it hard work! Oh yes and all day to do it, so loads or time to stop for photos and other things. Let’s go!

With light traffic and no particular rush to get anywhere, we paused at Passo di Foscagno. It’s not often that a view takes my breath away, but this was one, as the Italians say, “bellissimo!”

Passo di Foscagno, looking east.

Passo di Foscagno, looking east.

I particularly like the duck house in the middle of the lake!

Passing through the customs post and into Livigno I was struck how the air suddenly took on a distinct aroma of honey, rounding the next bend I could see that the pasture was full of bright yellow dandelion flowers and obviously the source of the smell. It was just like taking the lid off afresh jar of honey, heavenly sweet and quite bewitching!image
We skirted the main town of Livigno and started to climb up to the pass of Forcola di Livigno and the Swiss border. Strangely there was no sign of the customs rigmarole that we had seen yesterday at the internal customs post, we were just ignored!

Valle di Livigno from the pass.

Valle di Livigno from the pass.

With time to spare we pulled over for photos a lot!

The first bend in Switzerland.

The first bend in Swtzerland.

Val Laguné

Val Laguné

Once we hit the main road we hung a right and headed up the Passo del Bernina. At 2328metres this is no baby, but with a major road across it, not to bad to ride at all! Well actually it’s better than that, with new tunnels re-routing most of the heavy North-South traffic the pass is now pretty quiet, but with a stonking great well-engineered black-top to enjoy it’s a shame not to take advantage!

Bernina Pass, the old track.

Bernina Pass, the old track.

The wide sweeping hairpins of Bernina were a treat to ride on Baby, her long-wheelbase not being challenged like on tighter bends. I really enjoyed flinging her around and nearly went back to do it again!

We then trundled in a leisurely manner down the Poschiavo Valley towards Italy.

Somewhere down the road I had a bit of an epiphany, I realised that I really liked this part of Switzerland; it’s so Italian and not just the language! Here everything isn’t neatly manicured like a pastiche of the novel “Heidi,” here people work manually and are proud to do so; the cars are not all brand new Mercedes-Benz, more likely beaten up used Fiats. There’s an inherent honesty about the place and the people; they don’t talk to you with their hand out waiting to grab your cash. They are less Swiss, more Poschiavois, the valley is more important to them than the “suits” of Zürich and Geneva, long may it remain so!

Soon we passed back into Italy and ran into the picturesque town of Tirano, famous for being the southern terminus of the metre gauge Bernina Railway and the famous Bernina Express. Yes, you’ve guessed, I had to drop into the station.

We were just in time to see the 14:03 Bernina Express loading with countless German tourists. Time to grab a couple of photos and get moving again, the temperature was 30 degrees Celsius in the shade!

Bernina Express ready to depart Tirano.

Bernina Express ready to depart Tirano.

In the adjacent Italian State Railways station I found this rather tatty old steam locomotive looking very sorry for itself.image

All that remained then was a 25 mile cruise back to Bormio to complete our circle half of which seemed to be tunnels which I would normally hate, but these were well-lit, good surface and best of all. . .cool!

“As the images unwind,
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind.”

Catch you soon.