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.


Kicking Stelvio

I often think that my life is full of departures, never any arrivals, always in motion and moving on.

Take this morning for example. Sure I’d enjoyed staying in Ritten, but loading up Harls and firing her engine into life, then moving back on the open road; I was never happier.

We hit the Bolzano morning commute traffic right at its peak. It was total fun, street-fighting on level terms with the Italians, Harls growling around the city like she owned the place; I could never have done that with the big Ultra Limited! Then it was a spirited romp along the autostrada to Merano, where predictably everything ground to a halt as the road slimmed down to a normal highway.

On Italian roads you have to get your head around one thing, they are either mad all-out racetracks or you need to predict your arrival by the calendar – all or nothing, that’s just the way it is. Being honest, I put up with the tedium of stop-start traffic for about ten miles before I hit the “Stuff this, I’m on a motorbike” button and started, shall we say, “making progress!”

The weather forecast for the weekend ahead is rubbish. I had planned to spend two nights in Livigno and catch up on some of the local passes, but with snow due tomorrow afternoon and right through the weekend, I’ve pulled the plug on that idea. Instead we are only here for one night and then running away from the weather, before we get snowed in.

As a result, I changed the route for today. I was going to ride Passo Di Gavia from the South and have a play elsewhere tomorrow. Instead we headed into the Mustair valley and at Santa Maria turned left onto the Umbrail pass route. This is a narrow, little used back door road up to the (in)famous Stelvio Pass and until only a couple of years ago was not asphalted throughout. I knew it was narrow, so last year with Big Baby Blue I avoided it; good move, as after riding it today I don’t think I would have got Blue up it! For a large part of the route it climbs up through delightful forest, but of course the disadvantage is that there is no view, only road and trees. Until you hit altitude, but today that was up in the clouds.

The road is very narrow in places and some of the bends a tad tricky. After our exertions of yesterday I found that my dodgy left shoulder, locked up; I have an impingement in the thing and as usual it chose a good time to play silly! What it meant in simple terms was that I couldn’t move my arm far enough forward to push the handlebars through tight right-hand bends.

Time for a rethink, as I was riding like a muppet!

I stopped and did some stretching exercises, took a couple of painkillers, had a drink of water, ate some fruit whilst the pills kicked in and then got on with it! It didn’t half hurt, but at least we got going and soon were back into the swing of things. I got pretty good at going round hairpins one-handed too!

Not bad, one hand!

Soon we got into the clouds, then it began to get really windy and predictably the temperature plummeted to a little over zero. I was every pleased to have brought my heated jacket – doh, heated jacket! Turn up the heat nice and high and “Ping” the shoulder was feeling nearly normal; my heated gloves were nice to!

We paused to grab a photo at the standardly deserted Swiss customs post on the Umbrail Pass border and roared back into Italy. Ciao Italia! – We missed you for the last 30 miles.

On the border, anything Blue can do, I can do better!

Déjà vu / Déjà Blue!

Just after the fronter we turned left and knocked off the last half-dozen hairpins to Passo dello Stelvio. Umbrail is at 2503m/8212ft, Stelvio 2757m/9046ft, poor Harls with her simple carburetor was running very rich through lack of oxygen at these altitudes!

Looking East on the top of Stelvio.

I’ve said it before, I find the top of Stevio tacky, but today was about proving a point to the big lump of a mountain. I’ve beaten you now with both my bikes!

Harls on Stelvio, a touch of class amongst all that is tacky!

The top was fairly busy, very cold and with a bit of snow in the air, so after a quick look around and grabbing a bratwurst for lunch, we headed down into Bormio and then on towards Livigno. Knocking off Passo Foscagno 2281m/7517ft and Passo d’Eira 2208m/7244ft on the way.

Stelvio hairpin, “Going Down!”

Gnocchi and pizza for supper tonight!

I can’t eulogise enough how much I enjoyed riding my Harls up that mountain today. I feel that, despite taking Big Blue up there last year, I can now fully exorcise that beastie that was Stelvio.

Harls came, growled her contempt and kicked it just where it counted and I had the ride of my life!

“Been down one time
Been down two times
I’m never going back again.”

Catch you soon.


PS Trip total mileage so far 1584.

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.


Changing Down a Gear.

The more I travel, the more I have my faith in the inherent goodness of human nature restored.

Sure there are some crap things going on in the world at the moment and yes there are some truly twisted and evil people about, but they are the minority. That is why their perverse ways will never win against the greater majority.

Why am I being so philosophical? Well it’s probably got a lot to do with being in Italy!

What other country would come up with the idea of Cafe Corretto? It’s simple genius, espresso coffee is full of caffeine and wires you up, alcohol chills you out and makes you mellow; so the Italians figure if you put coffee and grappa, a fire-water made from distilled grape skins, together in the same cup, you won’t get wired or drunk! What a brilliant idea! I’ll have two, thank you!

I bowled into Livigno yesterday evening, with eyes like radar scanners having battled the crazy Swiss on autobahn and mountain roads and suddenly everything changed. Life became, just. . . chilled. At the customs post the duty officer just gave me a friendly wave and a thumbs-up whilst pointing at Baby Blue!image

Livigno is a funny place, it has “Duty Free” status and although not exactly a tax haven, it’s a near to one that you can get! The economy is based on tourism, skiing and shopping. . . Mrs Dookes is gonna want to come here I think!

Next I had to find my hotel, but the one way traffic system was baffling me so I stopped to ask help from a policeman or Carabiniere as they are called here. First thing he said to me was, “Bella moto/Nice bike!” Now that’s always a good start. When I told him which hotel I wanted he just waved me up a street that had “All traffic Prohibited” signs! Next, I pulled up in a small square just to get my bearings and a chap, who turned out to be the barman in a street side restaurant, appeared out of nowhere offering assistance; he’s now officially my new best Italian mate! We talked bikes, roads, mountains and watches…yeah that’s another story!

There’s not many places on the planet where I feel at home really quickly, but Livigno has hit the spot for me and I really can’t explain it, because normally it’s not the sort of town I’d choose at all…it’s those Italian laid back vibes I think! What’s more, just about everyone has a smile on their face! It’s probably those duty-free prices; petrol at €0.92/litre, it’s €1.40 in France for example.

I think the mountain air must have something to do with it as well!

Dinner of local air-dried beef with olive oil to start followed by venison ravioli in white truffle sauce rounded off the day beautifully, bellissimo!

Now, jotting this down over the most incredible breakfast; fruit, cereals, bread, dried meats, salami, cheese, pastries, cake, biscotti and of course more strong coffee, plus a view out over the mountains, life is still good and people are, well, just people who mostly want the same things from life….and despite what we in the western world hear from the media, it’s normally the simple things that make us most happy. In Italy that seems to revolve around a cup of incredibly strong espresso!

Talking of which, I was offered and accepted an “Espresso colazione,” that’s breakfast espresso. When it arrived, I estimate it was the size of at least four normal espressos and as strong as a nuclear reactor; I’m floating above the floor now!

With that, it’s time to get into my riding gear and go find some more of the most fantastic creatures on this planet; some more interesting people!



Swearing at the Swiss, or Four Countries in One Day!

It’s true, we’ve been in four different countries today.

We started off in France, near Mulhouse, then crossed the River Rhine into Germany, fought our way across Switzerland and finally kicked the side stand down in Italy!
I’ve got to admit that I put Autobahn, by Kraftwerk, on the Boom Box as we hit the motorway in Germany and headed South, geeky eh?!?!?

I really don’t know what to make of Switzerland.

I adore the scenery of the Alps, love the varied yet efficient railway networks and some of the cheese is ok, BUT…there’s an awful lot that I don’t like about the country.

Take for example the cities, on the face of it everything is glossy, upmarket and nice; scratch the surface and take a few back streets you’ll find there’s a seedier side. Graffiti covered walls, seedy run-down buildings and a thriving undercover drug culture are painfully prevalent; the gulf between the haves and have-nots is wide.

Then there’s the roads. The Swiss have a long history of genuinely innovative civil engineering. They have successfully built a network of highways that has conquered the various testing terrain that their landscape has put before them. Sheer genius. It’s just a shame that they have yet to discover how to safely drive on these wonderful creations!

In previous posts I’ve commented on Swiss driving and I can confirm that if anything they’ve got worse, a lot worse! Tailgating at high-speed, lane changing without notice, exiting at the last-minute and cutting across traffic when doing so, using mobile phones when driving, lane hogging…I could go on, but I’d only sound like I was moaning! Anyway, I went into fighter pilot mode; head on swivel, watch out for the sneaky attack out of the sun and never fly straight and level for more than three seconds, it worked I’m still alive! I hope this doesn’t sound too jingoistic, I’m just writing about what I see and experience!

Driving aside, all the Swiss I’ve spoken to are really lovely, it’s what happens when they get behind a wheel….

Back to the trip report then.
We cut across Switzerland from Basel to Zürich, through countless tunnels (I hate tunnels, remember) and followed along Lake Walensee to Maienfeld where we called in on the Harley Dealership. Then it was into the canton of Graubünden to Davos, where we turned left and climbed into the snow and over the Flüela Pass.

Flüela Pass 2389metres.

Flüela Pass 2389metres.


Dropping down after topping the pass we came to some road works and stood for a few minutes at traffic lights. Some others bikers came up the hill waving frantically, something was clearly not good. The lights went green and we gingerly moved off, rounded a corner to find hat the road surface had been removed! Not just planed back, no this was like all gone, all that remained was loose gravel and clay and on top of which it continued for about 200 metres around a hairpin bend at a gradient of around 10%!!!! Now big twin Harley’s aren’t made for off roading, I’ve done a bit on Harls on the flat in Spain, but this was, frankly, scary! So, gentle on the brakes, both feet down, stay in first and walk the bike down onto the tarmac…we survived!

At Zernez we took the Offenpass road and I must admit to having a ball throwing Baby around the various bends, which were testing but not too bad for a big bike like her!

Sometimes even big V-Twins look small!

Sometimes even big V-Twins look small!



The sneaky way to get to Livigno in Northern Italy, where we are for the night, is to use the single lane, two-mile long, Munt la Schera tunnel. This was built by a Swiss Company for a hydro-electric scheme in the 1960’s and once the construction for that was finished they agreed to maintain the tunnel for public use, subject to a toll – of course, they are Swiss after all!

Lago del Gallo, Livigno.

Lago del Gallo, Livigno.

I have to say it was quite an enjoyable experience, trundling through the tunnel all by ourselves and quite a different way of arriving in Italy!

That’s it for today, 243 miles in total and our first hairpins knocked off too!

“Wir fah’rn auf der Autobahn… ”

Catch you later.


PS Happy solstice!