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

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Taking it Easy -Rain Stops Play!

After the excitement of yesterday’s “Hogging the Hairpins” – why didn’t I think of that for a post title?!?! I enjoyed a very pleasant evening meal, did battle with WiFi and WordPress then turned in for the night.

Unfortunately, the adrenaline was still pumping, it took me ages to get off to sleep and then it was only fitful, I was still swinging around those mountain bends!

Halfway through the night it started raining, not your average rain either this was and at midday, still is, full on open the tap and throw away the plug stuff! Admittedly it’s nowhere near the catastrophes that have hit parts of the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean or Southern USA, for those people affected there it’s been life changing; I wish them all well for the future. Is anyone still denying that the world’s weather is all going a bit weird?

On the plus side for Harls and I, this was always going to be a rest-day, so at least we don’t have to go out in the wet stuff!

We are staying on the Ritten (German) / Renon (Italian) Plateau which is North East of the regional capital Bolzano, my altimeter tells me that we are 1268m/4148ft above sea level. The plateau forms the southeast tip of the Sarntal Alps and is between the confluence of the rivers Eisack and Talfer. The local tourist board boasts that Ritten has 300 days of sunshine a year, I’ve obviously copped some of the 65 wet ones!

Talking of the tourist board, these folk are very well organised; they should be really as Ritten has been a holiday destination since the 17th century. There’s loads of information on available attractions and sites of interest, sadly I haven’t time to see them all, especially the mysterious “Earth Pyramids” which are an erosion phenomenon that occurs in certain glacial moraine clays.

What I have got time to see and ride is the famous Rittner Bahn narrow gauge railway which this year celebrates 110 years of service. So more of that, with pictures in future posts.

Those nice people of the Ritten Tourist Board provide guests staying more than a couple of days with a “Ritten Card” it’s like a season ticket to ride the train, cable cars and give admission to museums and stuff like that. What a great idea, I’m off to try it out after lunch!

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

“You Rode in That?????”

I can almost hear Mrs Dookes saying that when she gets to see some of the photos in this post!

Let me put the record straight before anyone jumps to conclusions about my sanity; I’m not reckless, but sometimes circumstances develop that you just have to deal with and today was one of those.

I woke to wonderful alpine rain, just like yesterday really…except this wasn’t as heavy and there was no wind driving it. There was quite a bit of hanging cloud but Wet is still Wet though!

Checking out of my hotel in Gaschurn, I had a conversation with the receptionist about, yep, the weather and local road conditions. It’s always good to check out what the locals think.

I wanted to ride the Silvretta High Alpine Road, but I didn’t want it to become either an ordeal or dangerous.

The local view was that it would be fine, if a tad cloudy, “ein bisschen bewölkt!” There was the rider, to speak to the staff at the toll booth…

It was turn right from the car park then. Harls seemed happy enough; she’d spent the night in the underground car park and had dried out nicely, her two cylinders burst into life at the first turn of the crankshaft and she sat burbling away nicely, eager for the off. Or do I give that motorbike too much personality credit?

Off we set; the rain had eased enough that I could actually see where I was going, which after yesterday was a bonus. In addition the road surface was delightful!

After a few short miles we arrived at the toll booth and I coughed up the required €12, but just as I was getting my ticket, a car came down the hill covered in snow! I made a comment about this to the toll collector who said that it was ok, the road was clear! Leap of faith time then, let’s go…

The Silvretta Hochalpenstraße, High Alpine Road, is considered one of the most beautiful panoramic roads in the Austrian Alps. It’s just over 22km long and on the West side has 34 hairpins up to the 2,032m/6795feet Bielerhöhe Pass. We were attacking it from the West, tasty!

Originally the road was constructed to assist the construction of a hydro-electric scheme and dam, after the project was completed somebody thought that it would be a good idea to keep the road and open it to the public, I don’t know who that was, but I like them!

Like a lot of alpine roads there’s no mucking about, the climb started almost straight away, just round a bend from the toll booth and “Bang,” welcome to the mountain. Up we went and then the bends started, we were nicely getting into the swing of things when around one of the hairpins we caught up a coach. At first I cursed the thing, particularly as the driver insisted on staying in the middle of the road, no surprise there it was a Swiss coach! Just as I was starting to get a bit impatient about passing this bus, we rode into falling snow and things suddenly got “interesting.”

The bus, that only a turn or two earlier had been a pain, now became very useful. I could ride behind, take my own line through the corners and not have to worry about any oncoming traffic as they were pulling aside to let the bus through! Neat eh? As we got higher the snow got heavier, but with each numbered hairpin passing by I just kept the old girl ticking over and we carefully negotiated the climb.

At the summit we pulled into the car park adjacent to the dam and literally slid to a stand. It did cross my mind that I’m getting too old for all this adrenaline pumping excitement, it only lasted a second though, then I thought …”nah, bring it on!”

Ok, I know that there will be some folk with “Adventure” type bikes reading this and slightly scoffing. Yep, I suppose with your knobbly tyres and “ride on the pegs” approach this little ride would have presented no problem at all, but this is a Harley cruiser we are on, it’s different, very different!

In the way of things these days, the summit has a hotel, restaurant, visitor centre and gift-shop, but hey you can’t pass up the opportunity to use a high altitude loo, can you?

Photos taken, souvenirs purchased and Harls checked over, I started her up and headed on down the Eastern side. We dropped out of the snow pretty quickly, it’s to do with the foehn effect, which I tell you about in another post.

I had thought about riding into Italy via the Timmelsjoch Alpine road, but as this is at 2,474m/8,117ft a fair bit higher than the Silvretta, I exercised caution and chose the Reschen Pass route, which is a mere 1504m/4934ft. Unfortunately, so had most of the other traffic in Austria, Italy and Switzerland and then it rained again.

Just over the top of the pass is the village of The village of Reschen. In 1950 a reservoir was built that flooded part of the old village, all that remains is the bell tower of the old church that rises defiantly from the water. I quite like that.

Dropping down from Reschen would have been great, it’s a brilliant engineered road, but today it was choked with traffic. Further on, near Merano, things really did grind to a halt. It took half an hour to cover four kilometres and half of that was in a tunnel, even more reason to hate tunnels; it was hot, smelly, slippery, fume filled and noisy, but we survived! No chance of a cheeky bit of motorcycle filtering there today either.

Then after a nice blast down the Autostrada to Bolzano, we had another bit of climbing and hairpins to enjoy on the road up to Ritten, where we are staying for a few nights. More about that later, but wow, that road up from Bolzano was fantastic and as its local I’ll be doing it again and again, and maybe once more!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Only 152 miles today, trip total 1089 so far.

Wonky WordPress.

Hi gang.

All is good in the Alps, we are staying in Ritten, near Bolzano in Northern Italy for the next few days.

I’m having some connection issues with WordPress and can’t load today’s photos, which is a pain as it’s been quite a day and I really want to share it with you.

Hopefully WP will work for me tomorrow, or maybe it’s the hotel WiFi, either way please stick with me.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Crazy Photos

Regular Blogonaughts may be wondering just what’s going on with some of the photos that I’ve slid into the last couple of posts.

Just to reassure, old Dookes hasn’t had a sudden rush of blood to the head and isn’t going round riding his motorbike with a camera in his left hand and his right on the throttle!

No it’s a bit more dull than that.

Ages ago I got hold of a nice little Sony video camera, with the idea of capturing some video of my mountain exploits. The original plan was to slot in the odd video on the blog, but to be honest it hasn’t happened for a couple of reasons; I find even my own ride videos a bit boring and I wasn’t over happy with the results without a load of editing…something I haven’t the inclination to do! BUT, I’ve recently been playing around with the little camera and found that it takes semi-reasonable still photos, if a tad wide-angle. Best of all is that I can just press a button and the little thing happily snaps away at a pre-set interval, leaving me free to ride the road and download later.

Hopefully we will get some decent weather to see some real nice shots!

In the meantime, if you see a picture of the road that looks a bit leaning over….it’s because we were and you get to see it as it really is.
So welcome on board and please sit still.

Catch you soon Dookes

Wet Stuff

Last night when I telephoned Mrs Dookes, back at H.Q., I commented that the Vosges Mountains reminded me of my beloved Welsh mountains…bad move.

Looking out of the bedroom window, it’s wet.

This morning they took on the mantle even better, low cloud and rain, lots of rain. This was a real shame, as I had been looking forward to seeing more of this intriguing corner of France, oh well I suppose I’ll have to come back again some day, as I saw sod all today!

Climbing to Col de Schlucht, in the mist.

From the hotel we climbed through gossamer cloaked pine forest to the summit at Col de Schlucht, 1139m/3737feet above sea level. A mere pimple in mainland Europe terms, but impressive by UK standards; Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon in English, is the highest mountain in Wales (and higher than any upstart English peak!) at 1085m. Hey I’ve ridden higher than Yr Wyddfa today, diolch yn fawr!

Nearing the Rhein and the border into Germany, the rain relented for a while.

It’s funny but for some reason, the River Rhein strikes some sort of resonance with me. Perhaps it’s because we are both perpetual travellers, or maybe because I remember drifting off to sleep in the Night Lorelei express as we passed through the Rhein gorge with the whistle of the steam loco up front echoing off the rocky cutting walls…

Anyway, we paused at Île de Rhine (French spelling) and I caught a couple of smaller boats rising in the lock. You can just make out one of the larger bulkers waiting it’s turn upstream. The Rhein waterway is a busy place, lots of freighters ply these waters as well as passenger and pleasure vessels.

We then slipped quietly into Germany; well as quiet as you can be when sitting on a Harley with shotgun pipes!

Up ahead was the Schwarzwald, The Black Forest. I have begun to think of the place as “The Wet Forest” as every time I’ve ever been there previously it has rained, so today why change the habit of a lifetime? Yep, it rained, mostly!

The Black Forest, between the rain.

Ok, hands up, for about 15 miles it didn’t actually rain, much, and as a result Harls and I enjoyed our best part of the day. Lovely twisty stuff, with a fair bit of grip…if you ignore the resinous pine needles, fir cones and falling leaves. Actually it was fun, lovely Harley-Snarly fun, then it started raining again and we rolled into Switzerland….where it always rains!

I’m still making up my mind about Switzerland. They certainly can build railways, tunnels and bridges, but when it comes to roads they haven’t got a clue what to surface them with! We hit the Autobahn, it rained, then rained some more, then poured down, then it pretended to be a European version of a hurricane, then it opened the tap some more! I hope you get the idea; it was wet, very, very, very, WET! So wet, that the road surface was obscured by a mist of bouncing rain and vehicle spray; I knew it was bad when even the Swiss were slowing down. But the road…..oh Lordy, because those Swiss drivers in their big Mercs, BMW’s and Audi’s like a smooth road, I think that they surface it in marble…whatever it is, it doesn’t have any grip!

Harls had a new set of Michelin tyres before we set off and I must say I’m more than impressed with the way that they have behaved. True, we had a couple of “moments.” One was on the Autobahn when the front end went very light as we slightly aquaplaned, it was only for a millisecond, but it felt like a mile passed by; the other was passing through a town when we went over a manhole cover that I had failed to spot and the back end kicked out…actually that was quite fun! So well done Michelin, those new tyres are great!

We floated through little Lichtenstein, it’s the first time I’ve ever passed through a country without putting my foot down on the ground and then reached Austria, where we are tonight, Gaschurn to be precise.

Still raining in Austria!

I like Austria, the petrol is cheap, the roads have grip, the beer is good and the flammekueche, delightfully tasty! In reality flammekueche really hails from Alsace, but it’s been adopted all over Southern Germany and Austria; I think that the Austrians do it particularly well. It’s sort of like a pizza, but with a thinner crisper base, topped with crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions and thin strips of bacon. It goes very well with a cold beer.

Best of all, although the Austrian’s speak German they really are a friendly bunch!

So there you have it, a day of 246 miles, which around 220 were spent impersonating a submarine.

On the plus side, all of my riding gear performed faultlessly; apart from round my neck not one bit of the Dookes form got wet or cold and neither did anything in my luggage. I guess it just shows that if you get the right kit then it pays you back.

Not looking for sponsorship, but hey that would be great and with the usual disclaimer…

Thank you to :

Richa, for the rain suit.
Gerbings for the heated gloves and jacket.
Sidi, boots.
Schuberth, helmet.
Harley Davidson, FXRG leather trousers and jacket.
GIVI, luggage.
Highway Hawk panniers
Trespass and Mountain Warehouse, base layers.

I’ve had happier, less tiring days on a motorbike, but you know I’ve not had many more satisfying looking back at the end of the day; I guess it’s that sense of survival!

I mustn’t forget to mention the star of the piece, my beloved Harls; as usual, she, like me, just got on with it, but she did it with a lot more class than me!

That’s it gang, I’m off to have “noch ein Beer!”

“I can live without the rain
That’s falling on my head.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes