Slow-Road, Small-Town France.

Good evening everyone from the delightful town of Autun in the Bourgogne-Franche Compté area of central/eastern France….wow that was a mouthful!

I’ve been through this place before, liked it and vowed to pop back again. I still like it.

Originally the town was founded by the Romans, about 2000 years ago and it still carries traces of their presence today. Back in the UK we have Roman remains too, but they are all either foundations or other things in the ground like mosaics. We don’t have things like this, the Saint André Gate.

It’s one of two remaining gates to the Roman walled city, excuse the distorted photo; yes I know that one shouldn’t photograph converging parallels….but it’s the only way I could get the shot! Just think about it for a second though, no not the technical bits of the photo, that structure is really, really old! Almost enough to fry your head if you try to get a handle on how old and it’s still standing!

Anyway, enough about the Romans, after all, what did they ever do for us….?
(Apart from, roads, law and order, sanitation….) Ooops, sorry, I slipped into a bit of Monty Python!

We started out from the Jura this morning in pretty heavy rain, could have been worse though it was snowing in Switzerland. Fortunately the wet stuff stopped falling out of the sky, leaving Harls and I to enjoy a gentle potter across a delightful corner of France and covering a mere 125 miles. With no pressure to munch miles, I made sure that we stuck to the minor roads and frequently we went for ages without seeing another vehicle.

I think this is the right way up…
Reflections in a Jura lake.


Autumn is certainly beginning to set in and the early colours were looking good; they would have looked better with a bit of sunshine though.

Around the village of Mercurey, in Bourgogne, the air held a particular scent of raisins. The wine harvest was largely over, but the last grapes were exuding a lovely smell. The village dates from pre-historic times and is the most widely recognized and important wine village of the Côte Chalonnaise, producing more wines than all other village appellations combined and some of the finest in Bourgogne.

Vineyards, Mercurey Bourgogne.

The small towns we passed through were delightfully still, this is Sunday after all and the French still know what Sunday is all about; note that well you money-grabbing politicians in London’s Parliament!

The fountain in the village of L’Etoile; It means ‘Star,’ that’s a nice name for a village.

Sitting on Harls, luxuriating to the rumbling note of her engine, all was well in the world of Dookes…I just needed a bottle of the good Bourgogne wine and a portion of the wonderful roast chicken they serve around here!

Riding motorcycles is Not at all about how going as fast as you can, higher than ever before, or taking that corner oozing arrogance that you are “King of the Road.” No, it’s about breathing in the moment, smelling the air and celebrating the pleasure of passing by this way if only once…!

Anyway, the traffic will be busier tomorrow, but I’ll still be searching out the back roads and enjoying small town France; I might even grab a bottle of something to take home for Mrs Dookes.

“I will choose a path that’s clear,
I will choose freewill.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

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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

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.

Dookes

PS Trip total mileage so far 1584.

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.