Lake Como – Flying on Water

Our trip to Bellagio on board MV Milano was relaxed and quite delightful.

Bellagio is one of those “must go to” places that everyone tells you about, my experience is that normally these places disappoint me and yep, you guessed, so did Bellagio!

OK, it’s a nice enough little place, but like many “nice little places” it’s popularity proves its downfall. We found a nice restaurant for lunch and I did manage to find one little alley that wasn’t crammed with shops selling crap or heaving with people!image

Now, I’d been doing a bit of devious planning about our return trip. Where it had taken us two and a half hours to reach Bellagio, I’d figured that forty minutes would be better for the return journey!

You see, Lake Como is one of the few places outside the former Soviet Union where regular Hydrofoil services operate and as regular Blogonaughts know Dookes is rather partial to savouring different modes of transportation!

Years ago I rode the Jetfoil that used to operate between Dover and Oostende, but being an open sea service it was prone to cancellation due to adverse sea conditions. As Lake Como is a tad more sheltered, I was sure that our trip would be more assured!

Because Lake Como is so big, 46km/29 miles long, a high-speed service between the principal towns makes sense. For many years this has been provided by a fleet of Italian built hydrofoil fitted boats, which is pretty apt seeming as how an Italian virtually invented the hydrofoil!

Enrico Forlanini born in Milan on 13 December 1848 was an Italian engineer well-known for tinkering around with various concepts and machines, I think I would have got on well with him! He started playing with hydrofoils in 1898 and by 1911 had a vessel that exceeded 40 mph on Lake Maggiore, just over the hill from Como.

40mph in 1911, on this!

40mph in 1911, on this!

Err, what’s a hydrofoil, Dookes?

Oops! Sorry, I should have explained earlier…

A hydrofoil is best described as the boat equivalent to an aircraft wing and just like the wing of an aircraft provides lift to the aeroplane to make it fly, the hydrofoil wing (which is like a big letter C under the hull of the boat) passing through the water lifts the hull of the boat out of the water. This means that drag is reduced, the vessel moves faster and best of all energy is saved making the whole thing more efficient. On the down-side, hydrofoils are very demanding when it comes to maintenance and that makes running them a very delicate balancing act that most accountants balk at; fortunately, engineers love them and at the end of the day, wonderfully, I’m not an accountant!

Those blasted accountants are unfortunately winning the battle, the ‘foils are gradually being replaced by high-speed catamarans, which though not quite as fast are lot cheaper to build and operate. Anyway, in the meantime, hydrofoils are just so sexy!

Sexy eh?

Sexy eh?

Oh yes, by the way my love affair with hydrofoils can be blamed on that secret agent James Bond 007! In the film “Thunderball,” one of the stars was the “Disco Volant,” a hydrofoil used by the villain Emilio Largo, which obviously was blown-up by Bond in the end!

Disco Volante in "Thunderball."

Disco Volante in “Thunderball.”

Anyway, there we were waiting on the pier at Bellagio for the return service to Como, our tickets for the high-speed service safe in my top pocket. Mrs Dookes is used to me at time like this, I get all excited and stressed up at the same time!

There was quite a crowd, this was a popular service and we probably were not going to be able to pick and choose where we sat, bummer! Once we got on-board, we ducked left and found two seats right at the front of the vessel on the port side (left to the land-lubbers) right ahead of the hydroplane. Excellent!

The hydrofoil the pale blue thing sticking out of the side of the boat.

The hydrofoil the pale blue thing sticking out of the side of the boat.

As we settled into our seats the vessel cast off and the two big 1,400 HP diesel engines propelled us towards the centre of the lake. Safely away from the landing stage the engines spooled up and the hydroplanes began to work, the spray around the windows dropped away as the hull climbed away from the water and we were literally flying above the lake! It’s a bit like being on an aeroplane as you speed down the runway and lift off the ground. I was as excited as anything, Mrs Dookes was less impressed. Boys stuff, I guess!

Looking out of the window at speed, we're flying on that hydrofoil!

Looking out of the window at speed, we’re flying on that hydrofoil!

We skimmed along the lake for around ten minutes before we made our one intermediate stop. Then the process of slowing is very like a water-skier who settles back into the water as speed declines, only in our case it was the hull that dropped back into the water to become a real boat again.

Cut the speed and now the hydrofoil drops the hull back into the water.

Cut the speed and now the hydrofoil drops the hull back into the water.

OK, I admit that the hydrofoil doesn’t have the charm of the more traditional ferries. I love them for what they are, a brilliant example of applied engineering that really does the job very well indeed.

Yes, that’s right it doesn’t take much to make Dookes happy; just a big noisy machine generally!

We sped back to the delightful city of Como with plenty of time to partake of some lovely Italian ice-cream and have a little pause before enjoying a super evening meal in a fantastic little no-nonsense restaurant, but that’s another story!

Catch you soon.


The Last Col

I had real mixed feelings as I guided Baby from Como this morning.

With Mrs Dookes flying out to be with me, I had to pause, draw breath, stop being self-centred and only thinking of motorbikes for a few days. I’ve got to admit that despite it being quite a difference from my normal road-trip ‘modus operandi,’ it worked superbly and the break from riding did help recharge the old Dookes batteries! On the other hand, I was just about ready to get rolling again by this morning, there’s only so many pastel shaded salmon coloured houses with tile roofs that I can cope with looking at!

There is just one funny thing though, after three days of not riding it came as a bit of a shock just how heavy Baby really is! I supposed I’d got so used to her massive bulk that I’d forgotten how bloody awkward she can be at slow speeds and on indifferent road surfaces, like stone cobbles! Thank you Como for reminding me of that!

Once we got on the open road I was able to relax a tad, if one can ever relax when riding on an Italian Autostrada! Now don’t get me wrong, the Italian motorways are not in my opinion inherently more dangerous than any other high-speed trunk road found throughout Western Europe, you just have to approach them a bit differently. For example, apart from lane one the other lanes have strict minimum speeds and frankly you be crazy to ignore that. What the Autostrada really does is make people use their mirrors properly, not lane hog and anticipate well in advance. True you will see bonkers things occasionally, but tell me a motorway anywhere where you don’t! The only unfortunate thing about the Autostradas is that the majority of them are toll roads and not cheap ones either, so whilst they undoubtably save time you pay for it!

Leaving Como we headed South, skirted Milan and struck out East to Turin where we took the A32 towards the French border.

By Susa and 130 miles of hot, hot, hot slog, I was ready for a change and turned off the Autostrada to find some altitude and cooler air. At 2083metres/6834feet Col du Mont Cenis seemed to fit the bill nicely, it’s just that I’d forgotten how much hard work it takes to get up there! The road isn’t technically very difficult, but I’ve always found that I can’t really get a rhythm going on it and today was no exception!

At the top of the climb is a lake, Lac du Mont Cenis, an artificial lake that supplies water to two hydroelectric stations. During last winter extensive maintenance was carried out on the dam and as yet the lake has still not reached anywhere near its normal level, which made for an interesting contrasts to previous visits.image

As I wasn’t in any particular hurry, I stopped for a most enjoyable lunch at a small restaurant that overlooks the lake. Talk about a meal with a view! image

The road from the Col drops down to Lanslebourg via a delightful ladder of five sweeping hairpin bends, which being nice and wide, were a joy to cruise round on Baby.

We plugged away down the L’Arc valley, whilst surrounded by impressive towering peaks it gets quite tedious the nearer you get to Modane and St Michel de Maurienne. There’s just too much squeezed into a very narrow valley, a major railway line, several freight yards, two main roads, a Péage, various quarries and factories not to mention the River L’Arc!

By La Chambre I was ready for a change.

There was one more big Col on the Dookes list, another classic from Le Tour de France that had been calling me for years; Col de la Madeleine. Despite Baby being such a handful on the narrow mountain roads I decided to go for it, remembering how I’d ridden last year on Col de Lombarde I knew the bike could do it!

From La Chambre to Madeleine the D213 road is 20km long and gains 1522meteres at an average gradient of 8%, that’s quite a climb, over a mile upwards. Oh yes, there’s twenty hairpins as well! At the top you are 2000metres above sea level, that’s 6562 feet.image

I’ve got to say that I enjoyed every single metre of that climb. I just let Baby find her own pace and gear, she’s not a sports or adventure bike, so no point in trying to ride her as such. She is big, long and heavy and as such you’ve got to approach the tight twisties with respect, do that and she’ll do the job! Just like today.image

Arriving at the summit was incredible, I remembered that someone once described Madeleine as “beautiful, but heartbreaking.” imageI’m not sure about the heartbreak, definitely beautiful, but for me to was the culmination of a quest that began by a young boy who over forty years ago dreamed of visiting the great Tour de France Cols.image

As I stood admiring the lovely stone summit marker, a golden eagle called from high in the clear sky above me, it’s call echoing off the surrounding mountains.
I looked upwards to that majestic soaring bird.

If we dream to soar from what we are familiar, that is normal.
A few are lucky enough to fly with their dream.

. . . and now that last Col has been climbed, where else can the dream lead to?

Catch you soon.