Crocodile Hunting

Switzerland; a relatively small land-locked country in Central Europe known for its mountains, wonderful alpine roads, chocolate, watches, Swiss Army knives and . . . railways.

I have mixed feelings about Switzerland.

It can be a strikingly beautiful place, but it gets to me; the countryside is, I feel, often rather too over-manicured and can resemble pictures on a box of chocolates. For alpine motorcycling Switzerland is right up there, wonderfully maintained roads in some of the most magnificent landscape our planet has to offer. So I guess you can’t have it both ways.

It’s also undeniably it is one of the most expensive countries in the world to go shopping, though fuel prices are often reasonable. It’s public transport network is arguably the most efficient, punctual and integrated anywhere and fare-wise actually very reasonable to use. Busses, trams and trains all seamlessly link into each other with the precision of a fine Swiss watch.

The famous Swiss Railway Clock


So, lets look at those railways…

Railway construction in Switzerland got started in the mid 1840’s, by 1850 the famous British railway engineer Robert Stephenson was engaged to construct a network of over 600km of lines and the first true alpine route was opened through the Gotthard Pass in 1882.

In the early days of railways, nearly everything was powered by steam and for the Swiss there lay a problem; Switzerland has no source of coal. The country quickly became reliant on imported energy, which was both expensive and unreliable. The country was and still remains on the cutting edge of Hydroelectric power the Swiss railways became, of necessity, early pioneers of electrification. By 1939 nearly 80% of the network was electrified, whilst other European countries could only manage around 5%!

Most of the trunk and international routes are laid to what is known as “Standard Gauge,” the distance between the rails being 1435mm (4ft 8 1/2in) and many secondary and mountain lines are metre gauge, 1000mm.

Arguably the most famous of the metre gauge systems is the Rhaetian Railway, which operates in the canton of Graubünden in South-Central Switzerland and even extends to Tirano in Northern Italy. Serving the major tourist destinations of Davos, St Moritz and Klosters, the Rhaetian Railway has become known to travellers from around the world.

Rhaetian Railway train in Tirano Italy.

Two lines of the Rhaetian have grown to almost legendary status, the Bernina and the Albula, which are now both recognised as Unesco World Heritage Sites. The Bernina route is renowned for the “Bernina Express” which crosses the Pass of the same name, whilst the Albula is famous for Crocodiles!

At this point you may be forgiven for thinking that yet again Old Dookes has lost the plot, but please stick with me.

The metre gauge Albula line is 38 miles long (61km) and links Thusis with the spa resort of St Moritz, crossing the Albula Pass on the way. The route was opened in 1904 and is one of the most spectacular narrow gauge railways in the world. Originally the line was worked by steam locomotives, but by 1919 electrification work had commenced. For the technically minded, a 11Kv overhead system at 16.7Hz AC was built.

The newly electrified route needed some pretty powerful locomotives to keep the trains moving and therein lay a problem, because back in 1919 electric motors were bigger than we can make them today, a lot bigger!

The solution that the Rhaetian settled on was to use two of the biggest motors available. Then to mount them on the frames of a railway locomotive and link the drive to the wheels via a system of shafts and rods; quite crude, yet brilliantly simple.

The new locomotives weighed 66tonnes, were 43ft long, had a centre cab and long noses at each end.

With that impressive long nose they soon gained the nickname of “Crocodiles.”

For over 50 years the 15 Crocodiles were the sole motive power over the Albula route and each notched up impressive mileage during their working lives. Gradually their numbers began to dwindle, today there are only two left in service on the Rhaetian and then only for special workings. Four others survive as museum exhibits.

Last September when Harls and I were passing through Switzerland I planned that our route would take us over the Albula Pass. I also knew that one of the museum Crocodiles was on display at Bergün railway station which is almost the halfway point of the Albula Railway, so it seemed logical to pop in and have a look.

The road over the Albula Pass is delightful; it would have been even more so if we didn’t have seriously sub-zero temperatures that morning. Thank goodness for heated gloves and jackets! From the South the hairpins start almost as soon as you turn onto the Pass road in the village of La Punt Chamues, but unlike some other passes they don’t go on for long as you are already at serious altitude.

Heading to Albula.

Early snow had given the scenery a delightful dusting of the white stuff and for Northern Hemisphere dwellers a sense that Christmas was coming. Fortunately the road was dry and clear, even if the temperature took my breath away as we climbed to the summit. Poor old Harls was having a tough time of it though, her carburetor was icing up in the thin alpine air and the lack of oxygen saw a serious drop in performance, good job we weren’t in a hurry!
We paused at the Pass, partly to take in the moment and also to let Harls warm up a bit; I know, it seems strange to stop to let the engine warm up, but it’s the way in the mountains.

As we began our decent, I set my sights on Bergün and the elusive Crocodile, but first there was a load more lovely twisty bends to enjoy.

For anyone that hasn’t either ridden a motorbike, or even a pedal cycle, it’s a little difficult to explain just how fantastic it is to ride around sweeping bends as your machine leans into the curve. Get it right and it’s simply magical; get it wrong and it’s, well, not so nice. . . fortunately we mostly get it right!

Pulling into Bergün station car-park, I kicked Harls side-stand down, grabbed my camera and went off in search of the “Croc”. I found it sitting in it’s own protective shed at the North end of he station and duly took a number of photographs.

The preserved “Crocodile.”

It’s quite an impressive beast and I must say that by and large it looked pretty well looked after. I have a bit of a hang-up about any machine that is parked up as a museum piece, yes its great that it has been preserved, but just sitting lifeless and cold it’s like the living breath has been sucked out of it.

Crocodile captured I wandered back towards Harls, but being a railwayman at heart I couldn’t resist a visit to the station platforms just to see what was going on. In short… not a lot! There were no scheduled departures and no-one else about, but wait a minute that signal is showing a “Proceed” aspect; perhaps there’s a freight train about.

Within a few minutes the rails began to sing their distinctive metallic song indicating a train was approaching. I looked to the North, scanning the line eager to spot the approaching train.

My jaw dropped open and I had to look twice; approaching me at speed was a Crocodile on the head of a train of excursion passenger cars!

A living breathing “Crocodile!”

The 78-year-old locomotive, one of only two left in working order, swayed over the point-work and tore through the station, it’s air whistle echoing a shrill warning off the surrounding hills and it’s side rods clanking a happy song as it passed by me.

Yes I was a train spotter again, but hey can you blame me!

I’d come hunting Crocodiles and my word, I’d found one alive and well in it’s native habitat!

“The biggest kick I ever got was doing a thing called The Crocodile Rock.”

Catch you soon.

Crocodile Dookes

Snow

The “Beast from The East” blew through Europe this past week bringing sub-zero temperatures and snow on a biting Easterly wind.

Predictably, large parts of the UK ground to a snowy halt as our infrastructure and many citizens failed to cope with the conditions.

Here at Dookes H.Q. we found ourselves nicely snowed in for two days, no drama and no panic. These days we don’t have a 4×4 vehicle; mostly we have no need. We also do not have snow chains or special snow tyres; again largely no need. What we do have is a good stock of firewood, two log burners, central heating with a full tank of fuel oil, plenty of food and an emergency generator if we need it; no worries there then!

The thing is though, as I look back over the years, this small dose of winter weather is exactly what we used to get on a regular basis when I was younger. I don’t know if you can blame it on “Climate Change,” but our weather is definitely different from when I was a child. Now before anyone pipes up that I must be looking back through the rose-tinted view of a child, statistics seem to support me. In the UK our winters are definitely warmer and wetter than they were as recently as fifty years ago. Our recent “Cold-Snap” has lasted about a week, in 1963 the cold spell lasted nearly three months!

Back when I worked in the railway industry we had, and often used, large snow-ploughs that were propelled by hefty diesel locomotives to keep the track clear. Then as winters got shorter, warmer and wetter many of the ploughs fell into redundancy. Over the years many of these ploughs were gradually disposed of, they were not being used and the cost of their maintenance simply did not make sense when balanced against the probability of their use, or so it was said! True, a number of ploughs were retained in Scotland where snow is often guaranteed, but overall the numbers fell.

Snow Ploughs at Blair Atholl, Scotland, 1982.
Photo Steven Duhig

In a way those old snow ploughs represent the situation throughout the United Kingdom in many other organisations and infrastructure; our response to adverse snow and ice is based on the likelihood of it occurring. No surprise that this attitude originates from accountants and bean counters, not from the people who actually get out there and deal with the conditions!

To be fair, here in the UK when we do get some winter rolling in we can generally get by with a dusting of rock-salt on the roads and an extra pullover. I just wish that with our “Everything Now” society that people would just take a moment to accept that some journeys really are not necessary and why not just embrace the conditions and enjoy it?

Outside Dookes H.Q., going nowhere!

Which is all a rather long-winded way of saying that I haven’t been out on any motorbikes for a few days… Actually, the thought of a nice 400cc single cylinder scrambler with big knobbly tyres really appeals, but Mrs Dookes just frowned at me with that idea!

In a way, I’m practicing what I preach. I haven’t needed to go anywhere, so why risk it. I have in the past ridden in snow, it’s OK but I really wouldn’t recommend it as a real fun experience. Some years ago I was heading up the North side of the Grimsel Pass in Switzerland. At the start of the climb by Lake Brienz it was raining and raining hard. I was heading for Andermatt and to get there I had to climb the Grimsel, which at 2165m/7103ft is quite a barrier.

Snow and Harls, not great fun!

As “Harls” and I began to climb, the air suddenly became noticeably colder and beyond the village of Innertkirchen the rain gradually turned to sleet, then it began to snow. Bear in mind that this was late June!

Somewhere down there is Innertkirchen.


The snow started to get heavy and I began to question whether I should go on. A pair of headlights came up behind and a van passed, giving me plenty of room on the whitening road. The van was sign-written for a builder from Andermatt, that was good enough for me, I set in to follow. The only problem was that it promptly disappeared into the murk.

My helmet visor was white with sticking snow, as was “Harls” touring screen; worst of all, my glasses were also covered over and I was peering over the top of them. I gritted my teeth and got on with it, I kept the bike in second gear and plugged away at the incline. My feet skimming the surface of the road acting as outriggers, but getting covered in snow! Bends came and went, I really had no idea where I was in relation to the summit of the pass; somewhere near the top I knew there were a couple of lakes, but I couldn’t see anything. I felt the gradient ease and we swung through a gap in the mountain, suddenly the snow turned to sleety rain we were over the top.

Grimsel Pass, South side.
Oh those twisties!


Within a few hundred metres the rain eased to mist and half a mile later we dropped out of the cloud, it had been quite an experience!

The lake on the top of the Grimsel – Nope, never saw it first time round!


Last summer I returned to the Grimsel and smiled to myself as “Harls” and I swept down its magnificent Northern flank. “So this is what it looks like” crossed my mind frequently!

Grimsel Pass North side.
“So this is what it looks like!”

Yes riding a motorcycle in snow is possible, but y’know I can’t really recommend it!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Learning to Fly

“I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings.”

I knocked “Harls” out of gear and let her roll to a stand on the edge of the car park. I let the engine idle freely for a minute or so, letting the valves cool a bit after the arduous climb, then switch off and … silence, save for the gentle metallic “tinkle” of an air-cooled engine cooling down.

Time to take stock.

We were sitting on top of the Nufenen Pass, at 2478 metres/8130 feet above sea level. It’s the second highest paved pass in Switzerland and the eleventh highest in Europe. There was early snow lying around, the air crisp, cold and blown by a keen North Westerly wind was just enough to catch your breath.

Nufenen Pass

We had just climbed from Airolo in the Bendretto Valley; 1319 metres of climbing over a distance of 24 kilometres, average grade 5.5%, maximum grade 10%. No wonder her engine was warm! The panorama of the Bernese Alps before us was magnificent, a fair reward for the effort of the climb.

It had been a long day with seven passes collected, a fair distance covered and hideous traffic on the Gotthard Autobahn, but we now had only 14km and 1108 metres of decent down to Ulrichen and our stop for the night. I was almost blowing the froth off the top of a cold one!

First though, I just needed to drink in the scenery and bask in the satisfaction of crossing another high pass…

It’s been just about a fortnight since Harls and I got back from our Italian travels and I think that I’ve almost recovered. If I’m honest, for the first few days after I got back I could have done with a holiday to get over the trip, these long distance adventures don’t get any easier with age!

That said, our schedule on this last excursion was pretty punishing, even with a day off from riding, but you know I never seem to learn! The trip was pretty epic; 2736 miles in total, 40 “mountain” passes, 7 countries, one return sea crossing.

The thing to focus on though, is those mountain passes….that’s where I have a bit of a problem.

I’m hooked on them!

I’ve always had a love of high places, right from an early age stomping around the beautiful Welsh mountains in Snowdonia. It’s something I can’t really describe adequately, other than “Put me on a mountain and see a happy Dookes!”

As I result, when I got into this motorcycle touring habit it just seemed such a natural thing to head for the high passes and then keep going ever higher. Please understand that I don’t necessarily have to go touring in the mountains, it just makes me a bit happier. I written before about my quest to ride Galibier, but by visiting that magical place it sort of opened up a “Pandora’s Box” of other possibilities; the more I pondered the map of Europe things just got even more interesting.

What started out as a whimsical idea began to grow into a list of targets!

I made a few rules for myself along the way, otherwise the whole thing was going to get totally out of control.

1. The road must be paved, no dirt tracks.
2. Dead end roads do not count.
3. The road must be open to all public traffic.
4. Military or private service roads are not allowed.
5. Closed or disused roads also not allowed.
6. Europe West of the Carpathian Mountains only (at the moment).

Oh yes, whilst I think of it. For those of you who may be wondering what old Dookes is on about with a “Mountain Pass”…..

A Mountain Pass is a route through a mountain range which often crosses over a ridge, gap or saddle. Mountain ranges make formidable barriers to travel and transport, even in our modern era, so passes have through the centuries become vital for trade and defence. They are also some of the most beautiful places on earth.

Albula Pass

Looking at the options from my self-imposed rules, the highest road is the Cime de la Bonette, 2802m, which is near Jausiers in the French Alps; the highest Pass being Col de L’Iseran, 2770m, which is near Val d’Isère also in France.

Cime de la Bonette


Now because I’m not the sort of chap who settles for the easier option, it had to be the big ones that I went after first, but no it’s not at all been downhill from there! At the beginning I didn’t make a conscious effort to chase the list, but it’s sort of evolved and become a bit “semi-organic” …almost with a life of its own. To be honest, one day I started crossing out the places that we’d been and it sort of took off from there!

Back to the recent trip. I have to admit that “Pass-Hunting” was part of the planning process and that we were pretty successful with it too. Of the highest paved passes on my list I’ve now bagged the top nine, 24 of the top 30, 40 out of 50 and a whole bunch of “lesser” passes too; the really great thing though is that most of them have been done on my beloved Harls and I can’t be happier for that.

Cole de Mont Cenis 2083m.

What’s next then?

Well, I had been thinking of a trundle around Scandinavia to Nordkapp sometime next year, after the snow has melted. The thing is, I’m torn, there’s still unfinished business in the high mountains and that little obsession is gnawing at me again. The other consideration is the small matter of age. Riding some of the passes is hard work and whilst I love the scenery and flying around the clouds, but I’m not the greatest fan of really tight hairpin bends, they are far too much hard physical work on a big bike with an impingement in one shoulder and arthritis in the other!

Learning to fly around the clouds…

BUT…

There’s a tourist itinerary in France called “Le Route des Grandes Alpes.” It runs from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea and takes in some of the best mountain roads and passes in Europe; it caught my eye a few years ago. For sure there are a number of the “big ones” on the route that we’ve done in the past, but hey going back to Galibier and dropping down to the Med would be no hardship at all! In addition, we could put in a side trip just across into Italy and grab a couple of targets that have eluded us so far and whilst I’m still half capable.

Notice I keep referring to “We” and “Us” in my narrative?

That’s because “Harls” and I are a team when it comes to those Passes. Sure, big “Baby Blue” is more comfortable on the transits and she has got a few Passes to her name, but she’s sooo heavy when it comes to doing the business in the mountains.

Déjà vu.

It’s a no brainer, there’s only one bike for me and anyway I want “Harls” to have the glory when we finally clear the list!

Déjà vu two!

Looks like that’ll be the plan for next year then, with suitable domestic approval of course.

“I’m learning to fly, around the clouds
But what goes up must come down.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

In memory of Tom Petty 1950-2017

Tradition

Hello everyone.

Tonight we have returned to La France and are in the Département du Jura. This is a part of L’hexagone that is new to me and I must say so far I am very impressed!

OK, this is going to be brief…no hotel WiFi available to be worth a biscuit. Actually it’s a great little provincial France hotel, the sort that is rapidly disappearing. I don’t know what it is about paper-thin walls and floors, threadbare carpets, questionable electrics and cheap tatty furniture that people don’t like these days. These places are all about tradition!

Personally, I love these old places for the bags of character that they have and I feel it will be a sad day when they are all gone, honestly I do. As usual there is limited choice in the restaurant, but what you get is plenty of good freshly cooked food typical of the region and enough to satisfy the hungriest diner.

Anyway, have we had an experience today…more big passes in the Swiss Alps, got caught up in a fantastic Swiss traditional feast day, beat the weather(just about) and rolled into France in time for supper! – All of which I’ll tell you about when I get some decent internet access.

Harls is safely tucked up in the hotel garage, keeping the owners Suzuki company and I’m just about to eat, après un petit apéritif, salut!

Bonsoir et attrape-toi bientôt!

Dookes

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.

Dookes

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.

image

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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!

Offenpass

Offenpass

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.

Dookes

PS Happy solstice!

Badges of Honour

I’ve just finished preparing “Baby Blue” for our latest trip, which is just as well because in less than twelve hours we will be sailing to France.

As usual I’ll be taking the Plymouth – Roscoff service, which is run by Brittany Ferries. At eight hours it’s not the quickest crossing of the English Channel, but it is one of the longest and as the port of Plymouth is only 25 miles from Dookes H.Q. it makes sense to use it; an overnight crossing with a cabin and comfy bed makes it a no-brainer!

One of the last preparation things I had to do was to remove last year’s Swiss Autoroute Vignette from Baby’s screen. I must admit that I was a little sad as each of the stickers represented a bunch of great experiences, but hey it just makes room for new ones!

“What’s a Vignette Dookes?” I hear some of you saying.

Well. . .

Many Autoroutes/Motorways in Continental Europe are toll roads, you have to stop every so often to either grab a ticket or pay the toll charge. This can be a pain in the rear on a bike; you have to remove gloves, find the ticket, find cash or your cash card and then pay the toll. Yes, sure in some places you can obtain an electronic pre-pay tag, but mostly it’s not worth the hassle setting the things up if you are only passing through and are not resident. In Switzerland and Austria they have a different approach, you have to purchase a “Vignette” and stick it onto your windscreen before you venture onto an Autoroute.

Vignettes: Yellow - Swiss. Blue - Austria

Vignettes: Yellow – Swiss. Blue – Austria. Grossglockner speaks for itself!

Austria are pretty good to occasional users/visitors as not only are annual Vignettes available, but also short-term ones too which are ideal for people just either passing through or on holiday.

In Switzerland there is no choice, only 12 month Vignettes are sold at 40 Swiss Francs a pop – that’s about £29 at current exchange rates. Typically for the Swiss the sticker has to be displayed in very precise way on the vehicle and woe betide you if you don’t get it right or fail to display a sticker, big on the spot fines apply!

On the face of it the Vignette seems a bit pricey, but compared to French or Spanish tolls it’s actually not bad value and the joy of not having to stop every time you enter or exit the Autoroute is also well worth it!

I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying that we are heading to Switzerland, at least that’s the plan at the moment, once we get off the ferry!image
“Like a bat out of hell, I’ll be gone when the morning comes.”

Catch you soon, on the road.

Dookes