Mountain Dreaming

It’s turned mid-March, what’s going on? As I started to write this, outside Dookes H.Q it’s snowing again. . . I should be out on two wheels in warm Spring sunshine!

Looking back on some old posts, I realised that back in September I had promised to catch up with photos of a couple of Epic rides that Harls and I enjoyed in the Dolomites and South Tyrol. At the time we stayed in a really super hotel, it had great food, was really comfortable, but suffered from very shaky WiFi which caused me a bunch of stress and took away the pleasure of sharing what we’d been up to on a daily basis. Then after we got home life stuff got in the way and things were a bit forgotten, so dear blogonaughts I apologise and will now, hopefully, begin to put that right.

When I was planning our trip to the Dolomites and Italian Alps I looked around for a useful base that would give me different options of routes to explore. Knowing what mountain weather can be like, I didn’t want to commit to just one area; experience taught me that the weather on one side of a pass can often be totally different to the other.

As I pondered suitable bases my eye kept being drawn to a likely looking area just to the North East of the city of Bolzano. It offered easy access to both mountain ranges as well as the city, should I wish to vary things a bit. It also had the added attraction of an interesting looking narrow gauge railway; more of that in a future post. I didn’t know anything about this area, the Ritten Plateau, but it certainly looked interesting.

As things turned out, it was one of the most inspired choices that I think I have ever made! The view was pretty good too!

I rode to Bolzano from Gaschurn in the Western end of Austria. The day before we had crossed Switzerland in monsoon imitating rain, the going was tough and tiring. Now we had ridden the Silvretta High Alpine road in falling snow and ground hard miles out over the Reschenpaß through more driving rain and heavy traffic.

Reschensee on the Reschenpass on a murky miserable day.

This was supposed to be fun I kept trying to remind myself!

A spirited race down the SS38 from Merano to Bolzano in brightening weather lifted things considerably and then we found the SP73 road to Ritten. . .

Now dear blogonaught, promise me this one thing. If ever you find yourself near Bolzano in Northern Italy, go find the SP73. It doesn’t matter what vehicle you are on/in, the SP73 will put a big smile on your face! There are thirty bends that vary from tight hairpins to lovely, no wonderful, power-on sweepers that are guaranteed to put a big smile on your face and you could swear have been stolen from all of the great race tracks of the world! Oh and the views are pretty good too as the road claws it’s way from the valley floor to the high Ritten plateau.

When planning our route I’d looked at the SP73 on the map and thought, “That look’s interesting.” With the day we had just endured, I must be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to the prospect, I was tired, my shoulders were aching, my eyes gritty from the road, I was dirty, pretty sure I was smelly and not really in the mood to battle hairpins!

Then I took a right onto the SP73.

The road starts by cutting through vineyards as it begins it’s ascent North. The first few bends are sweepers, each one a bit tighter than the last, then there is a squiggle of hairpins and everything becomes clear, this road was engineered to be seriously enjoyed!

SP73, it’s the one for me!


The surface was great, the barriers reassuringly solid, but not intimidating and the view ahead clear.

It’s funny how quickly I can change my mind!

After such a day of hard, hard, miles this was just what I needed. “Harls” seemed to growl approval too as she leaned into each successive bend, her shotgun pipes spitting contempt at the gradient as I kept her engine in the sweet-spot of maximum torque.

Oh how happy the two of us suddenly became!

Just look at this photo of the start of the road, I took it a couple of days later from a cable car, how can you not enjoy yourself on that road?

We arrived at the hotel absolutely knackered, which is a quaint old British phrase meaning worn-out, but as I staggered into the reception I had a big stupid grin on my face!

Next day dawned a bit brighter, but the weather forecast was “Changeable.”

Over breakfast I looked out over the Western edge of the Dolomites; I’d ridden just over a thousand miles to get here and I wasn’t about to let a bit of “Changeable” stop me on my mission!

I finished my rather splendid frühstück (breakfast) and hit the road; first up was the delightful SP73, could it get better? Oh yes it could!

The weather accurately lived up to the forecast. We are in high mountains after all and what we missed from time to time in panoramas, we gained by flying through swirling clouds and savouring fantastic glimpses of stunning limestone crags.

Our route cut right into the heart of the Dolomite mountain range; I work on the basis that if you don’t do the big ones, then frankly, you are not really trying! First we crossed Passo di Costalungo (1745m) then headed for Passo di Fedaia (2075m),
Giau (2230m), followed by the famous “Sella Ring” of Falzarego (2105m), Valparolo (2197m), Campolongo (1875m), Gardena (2121m), Sella (2240m) and Pordoi (2239m).

At the top of Passo di Giau is a delightful “Refugio,” a sort of cross between a bar, restaurant and hotel. This being the South Tyrol, I went native and enjoyed an “Apfelstrudel und Kaffee” for lunch and very good it was too. Just the thing to set me up for the hard work of the Sella Ring.

Biker fuel.

Not only was the food good, but inside, yes inside, the café was one of my all time favourite motorcycles, a Honda 500 Four, Young Dookes drooled over these bikes and I’d still love to have one today!
It’s a funny thing riding hairpins in the clouds, there’s no distracting views; it’s just you, the road and the motorbike. To be honest I’m not always a great lover of hairpins, I find that they disrupt my riding rhythm too much, but on this day they kept coming and I can honestly say that I was really enjoying myself. At the start of the South West climb to Passo di Giau, was a sign, “34 Tornante,” (34 Hairpins) each one was then numbered…after riding 22 I found myself screaming out, “No! There’s only another 12 left!”

Passo di Giau

What a contrast to last year trying to slog “Big Baby Blue” up Stelvio…

This was heavenly, in a totally indulgent two-wheeled petrol-head sort of way!

I was so glad that I brought “Harls” with me; I really wouldn’t have enjoyed it, or probably even attempted it on “Big Baby Blue.” The more I got into the swing of things, the better my beloved “Harls” responded. True, she’s a bit of a handful going downhill; the rear brake has a delightful habit of fading as it gets hot or wet, but fortunately her engine braking helps out a lot, then hey I’m sort of used to it and wouldn’t have her any other way.

“Harls” – the true star of the show!


We trundled back to the hotel having crossed off the ten highest paved passes in the Dolomites, that first beer before dinner tasted good and I think that we thoroughly earned it. . .

Not bad for an Old Geezer on a getting on a bit Harley Softail!

“I’ve decided what I’m gonna do,
I’m packing my bags for the Misty Mountains.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

A Victory – Of Sorts.

OK, I’ve found where the picture problem is…yep, hotel WiFi strikes again!

It’s a bit of a source of annoyance to me really, I book into places that advertise WiFi and frequently I get let down by intermittent service, poor connectivity, slow speeds and other annoying issues. Normally it’s the places that like to think themselves as a bit more “up-market” that are the worse culprits…like where I’m staying at the moment! In contrast most smaller Bed and Breakfast/Chambre d’hôtes places score better, so here’s to the little people who make the world go round!

Right, rant over: what’ve you been up to Dookes?

I resolved to get out of the hotel, whatever the weather, by 13:00hrs and as it was still raining I put on my motorcycle leathers….well, they are waterproof, then took a stroll down to the local Rittner Bahn station, all of 150metres from the hotel. I’m going to do a separate post on this delightful, yet incredibly useful, little railway in future.

I’ve got to confess, the reason I chose this hotel wasn’t really the WiFi, it was the location and the fact that it had a narrow gauge railway at the bottom of the garden!

Better still, it’s the halfway point of the route and being single track, it’s where the loop is to allow two trains to pass; old Dookes knows his railways!

The two carriage train arrived vaguely on time and after climbing on board I enjoyed an entertaining ride to the Western end of the line at Soprabolzano, about fifteen minutes later. From there I transferred to a cable car for a twelve minute ride down to the City of Bolzano, which was somewhere in the mist below…

There’s something about Bolzano that I like.

It’s a bloody awful place in many ways, jammed into a narrow valley with industry, commercial, residential, retail and transport all fighting for space. It’s always steaming hot and often seems to have its own special smog, but I love it! The place is so….Bolzano, a melange of the Tirol, Italian and Dolomite culture, with these days a fair slice of the rest of the world thrown in on top!

I stepped off the cable car and took in the whole grubby panorama, definitely the base station is not in the most salubrious part of town, it that honest grittiness that makes me smile. After the almost ersatz and slightly false “chocolate box” surroundings of Ritten, this was the “real” Italy; my Italy.

I walked into the first grubby cafe I could find, sat on a high stool at the bar and ordered.

“Buon giorno, un cafe, per favore.”

Within seconds a tiny cup of potent black liquid was clattered on the plastic surface in front of me, a wrapper containing a chocolate coated coffee bean sat on the saucer.

“Grazie.”
“Prego.”

The barista pushed a small dish with the bill across the counter, €0.90. I dropped a €2 coin on top of the bill and pushed it back, shaking my hand, no change, that’s your tip.
The barista smiled at me.

“Grazie signore.”

I sipped the coffee thinking, “wow this is good,” then the caffeine whacked me somewhere at the back of my head, vaguely between the ears if I recall correctly. Why oh why, can only the Italians do coffee this good? I mean, it’s not hard – just take coffee, roast it properly, grind it properly, pass hot water through it and bingo, coffee! Coffee like nowhere else in the whole world.

I wandered the streets of the old town, just taking in the atmosphere and people watching. There were tourists everywhere, but as today was market day, lots of locals were out shopping too.

The narrow streets of the old town are today largely taken up with all kinds of boutique type shops, Mrs Dookes would be in her element here, but I find it all a bit faux. It’s just not my bag.

From the old streets I continued West and passed over the Ponte Talvera bridge. There was something I wanted to see.

Standing at the end of a small park is the Monumento alla Vittoria, the Bolzano Victory Arch.

To say that this structure is one of the most divisive in Italy, is a bit of an understatement. To many it is the epicentre of the unrest and continuing disquiet caused by the absorption of South Tirol into Italy in 1919. Originally conceived as a memorial to the men who died in the Alpine Campaign, it was hijacked by the Fascist regime and specifically Mussolini who dedicated it to “The Victory of Italy.”

Over the years this imposing structure has been defaced, reviled, worshiped and even considered for demolition. Today it has been restored, not to glorify it’s Fascist roots, but to serve as a reminder of past mistakes, errors and atrocities and act as a continuous dialogue between the past and present.

In the basement of the structure is a fascinating and very professional exhibition telling it’s story through the past 90 years. I found it fascinating yet sobering, particularly the persecution of the German speaking population of South Tirol under the Fascists; then of course along came the Axis Alliance with Nazi Germany…and things changed a bit, causing Mussolini to think twice. The Italian Proclamation of Empire in 1936 caused the monument to take on a new mantle, that of a centre of new national glories and ideology, the construction of the modernised city of Bolzano underlined the Fascist significance of the monument.

My visit left me feeling quite uneasy. I don’t like extremism from whichever end of the political spectrum it raises it’s slimy head and the Fascists of the 20th Century are right up there on the Dookes revulsion scale.

I admire both the City of Bolzano and Italy in general, for confronting the past as personified by this monument in a straightforward and honest way. I hope it will serve as a reminder of how things get screwed up when jingoism and extreme views are allowed to run riot.

The place left me feeling uneasy…I was glad to walk away, but I worry that the lessons of the past have not been learnt. My own country’s current stance with Europe being of particular concern, along with the joint madmen in Pennsylvania Avenue and Pyongyang…

I returned to Ritten still troubled, but then the sun came out and the view from my balcony gave me hope. There’s nothing like a little sunshine to raise the spirits!
In the words of Pete Seeger.

“When will they ever learn.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Playing Amongst the Clouds

Apologies before you start reading this dear Blogonaughts; I’m still having trouble loading pictures, so until I can make the technology work, please read on, enjoy and by all means comment or message me. – Dookes

There are times when I find it quite difficult to articulate exactly what I think without reverting to boring superlatives, or even worse, tedious exclamations.

Tonight, I’m enjoying dinner at my hotel which is located in Ritten, just North of Bolzano, Northern Italy.

Well, that’s the first problem.

Look on the map and yes, indeed, we are in Italy. Speak to the local people and you’ll find out that we are in the South Tirol. The predominant language is German and certainly in the restaurant tonight, that’s all I can hear. The food, is pretty Germanic too, some rather nice Schnitzel.

It’s one of those unfortunate situations that history has bestowed on the world. In this case until the early 20th Century the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then along came war. The fighting in the Alps and Dolomites during World War One was vicious and protracted, men fought at altitude in trenches dug in rock and snow. The casualty rate was incredibly high and a considerable number from the weather conditions and malnutrition. It became known as “The White War.”

After hostilities ceased, Italy claimed large tracts of the region as war reparations. Then twenty years later along came World War Two and Mussolini tried a further land grab. Once everything had settled down in 1945 new lines were drawn on the map, but unfortunately no-one spoke to the local people…I believe that you can colour a map, but not people’s hearts. The end result is a fascinating bubble of Austrian-ness nestling at the very top of Italy’s boot.

To the credit of the government in Rome, they have recognised that there is a difference and Bolzano is now recognised as an “Autonomous Region.” Travel around the area and you will see many more Austrian flags hanging from houses than the Italian Tricolore. I consider myself lucky to have had a very interesting conversation with a couple of local folk earlier today about both their history and identity. There will be more of that in a future post, but today I rode around their truly beautiful region.

The weather accurately lived up to forecast, changeable. We are in high mountains after all and what we missed from time to time in panoramas, we gained by playing in the swirling clouds and enjoying tantalising glimpses of wonderful limestone crags.

In many ways the lack of distracting views was a bit of a benefit, we rode literally hundreds of hairpins today. If I was rusty on them before, I’m an old hand now!

At the start of the South West climb to Passo di Giau, 2236m/7336ft was a sign, 34 Tornante, 34 Hairpins…after riding 22 I found myself screaming, “No, there’s only another 12!”

It was heavenly, in a totally indulgent two-wheeled petrol-head sort of way!

I am so glad that I brought Harls with me; I really wouldn’t have enjoyed it, or probably even attempted where we rode today, on Big Baby Blue. The more I got into the swing of things, the better my Harls responded, her exhaust seemed to spit contempt at the gradient as she conquered each climb and bend. Yes, she’s a bit of a handful going downhill; the rear brake has a delightful habit of fading as it gets hot or wet, fortunately her engine braking helps out a lot, but hey I’m sort of used to it and wouldn’t have her any other way.

At the top of Passo di Giau is a delightful “Refugio,” sort of cross between a bar, restaurant and hotel. This being the South Tyrol, I went native and enjoyed an “Apfel Strudel und Kaffee” for lunch and very good it was too.

Overall today we topped the following Passes:
Costalungo 1745m
Fedaia 2075m
Di Giau 2230m
Tre Croci 1809m
Falzarego 2105m
Valparolo 2197m
Campolongo 1875m
Gardena 2121m
Sella 2240m
Pordoi 2239m

Not bad for an Old Geezer on a getting on a bit Harley Softail!
Favourites, by a country mile, Di Giau and Pordoi, hairpin heaven.

Was it a good day? You bet is was!

“My uniform is leather
And my power is my age!”

Catch you soon.

Dookes