Europe 2004
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DAY ONE

After polishing off a bottle of grappa, Joe & I poured ourselves in to the limo and set off for Logan International. Shortly after arriving at Logan Tim & Thomas pulled in. We found George inside, all checked in and ready to go. A quick stop at the duty free for some Jack… “yeah, we REALLY need two bottles, anyway, it’s cheaper” and we were off! Food & entertainment in coach on Swiss were pretty unremarkable. Is it just me or are the seats getting a lot smaller?

DAY TWO

We arrived in Zurich, bleary eyed and jet-lagged, not quite sure of the time. We got through customs & immigration without a hitch and were met by Tim’s girlfriend. We all grabbed cash, and set off for the train. Tim jumped into Tina’s car promising to meet us in Aarau… I still think he got some lovin’ on the way to Moto Mader… We get to Moto Mader without any drama and pack up our rentals. I have a BMW R-1150-RR (Rockster), Joe & George have new R-1200 GS’s, Thomas has a K-1200-GT and Tim, who thinks the BMW’s look a little too boring, ends up with a Yamaha R1! We set off south out of town heading for Luzern, traffic is light and we make good time. We hit the Susten Pass and head for the Grimsel Pass. At the bottom of the Grimsel I swing left to climb Furka Pass and head towards Andermatt. Joe follows up the Furka, as does George. Unfortunately two things have happened… Tim and Thomas haven’t seen George turn left, and they miss the little sign for Andermatt. They toss a coin & head right. The weather is kind of crappy, leftovers from hurricane Francis, and the roads are wet. I stop at the top of the Furka and wait for the group. Joe arrives, as does George, no sign of the brothers though. We see two bikes heading up, and figure that’s them, but when they arrive it’s not. Joe asks them if they have seen anyone, and they haven’t. We decide to head back down the pass and see what’s up. We reach the bottom and Joe goes to check the road towards Brig. He comes back after a few minutes and says it’s pretty twisty. We make a few phone calls & decide to book a room at Hotel Glacier-du-Rhone in Gletsch for the night. We ask about gas and are told its available 11 km down the road towards Brig. We decide to go tank up and hope to meet up with Tim and Thomas at some point later. After getting gas Joe spots our missing comrades flying down the road back to Gletsch! We take off in hot pursuit and catch them in a short distance. Happy ending! After a good meal & a few beers we all turn in early, too much excitement for one day.

DAY THREE

We all head back up the Furka Pass, weather is still a little murky, and pop out in Andermatt. On the back side of the passes heading east the weather is a little nicer. We stop & snap some pictures and then continue up the Oberalp Pass towards Chur. Before we reach Chur we head south towards the Albula Pass. With Thomas in the lead we begin our assent of Albula, and the fog goes from thick to impenetrable! The top of Albula is almost a joke, with visibility about 2 meters. We stop & look around, then head down with Thomas leading the way… I think he said he would get even with us for that! J At the bottom of Albula we swing south towards Pontresina and the Bernina Pass. The weather is starting to clear and the Bernina is a beautiful ride. We stop at the split where the road leads to Livigno and decide to keep heading down into Tirano. Joe said “let’s go do some crimes (from the movie Repo Man)..” and that’s all I needed to hear, the Rockster was Rockin’ down the pass.. sun shining and dry roads. I love Italia! At the bottom we stopped to plan our next move and Thomas found his first European grocery store. It was a beautiful thing, fresh grapes, bread, cheese and prosciutto. We never went hungry with Thomas around. We headed a little ways north towards Stelvio and found a great little guest house, La Stua. We killed the first bottle of Jack that night, and laid him to rest with full honors! Across the street we had a killer dinner and that evening even got to watch the Miss Italia contest on TV!

DAY FOUR

After a heavy rain all night, the weather was cloudy, but promising. A quick look at the mountains revealed some “white stuff” that we are sure wasn’t there the day before. I am thinking this might be a replay of 2001 when the top of Stelvio was closed to motorcycles due to snow. We get loaded up and say goodbye to Tim’s new friends from Holland. On the way up the mountain it is getting noticeably cooler. We arrive at the little kiosk about two thirds of the way up the western side of the Stelvio Pass and see several cars coming down with lots of snow on the roof & hood! Yipes! We press on up the hill with me and Tim leading the way. Just past the Swiss border & the turn for the Umbrail Pass we see a bike parked on the side of the road. Looks like it’s been there all night…. 6” of snow!! The road is getting slushy and my shield is starting to fog up…. Remember to breathe. We arrive at the top, to see the snow plow clearing the parking area, and it looks like the other side is clear. We snap some pictures, and George gets us all “Stelvio Pass” stickers, and then it’s “you lead Greg” for the trip down. I figure it’s because my florescent green Rockster will be easy to spot in the snow. The descent is a little slow at first, plenty of slush on the ground, but later the road begins to dry and the air warms up. Time to wick it up and enjoy the descent! I get to the bottom in good shape followed by Thomas who’s had an unfortunate tip-over. No real damage, just a bit of scratched plastic, but he’s bummed none-the-less. The rest of the group arrives and we set of towards Merano. At Merano we swing north over the Jaufen Pass into Sterzing. At Sterzing we head south along 12 through Brixen, where to Thomas’ delight we find a EuroSpar (grocery store) and have a little picnic in the parking lot.Then it’s back on the road south to Gardena and the Gardena Pass. I miss the turn off initially and end up taking the round-about way through Kastelruth… oh well, so far so good. We jump on the Sella & get stuck behind some “geriatric Germans on tour” in a VW mini-bus, almost as much of a pain in the ass as American blue-hairs in a mini-van. L At the bottom of the pass we set off for the hotel we stayed at last year only to find them closed for renovations… we stop at another, same thing, bummer. Finally Thomas finds a place that’s open and we check in. Nice big rooms and a huge deck. The second bottle of Jack comes out just as papa Smurf passes out.. it’s tough getting old! Time to celebrate my birthday!

DAY FIVE

The day dawns beautiful & clear, have I mentioned I love Italia? After another great breakfast we set off up the Sella for Passo Pordoi. The roads are relatively clear, and the day is warming up nicely. After a quick trip up Pordoi we consult the book and try and plan a route around Cortina that will take in as many of these beautiful passes as possible. We head south through the valley towards Agordo and then up and over Passo Duran. Duran is pretty narrow and doesn’t seem to be too busy. A nice road, but a little nerve-wracking at the top with bumpy pavement and blind corners. We stop for a few minutes and enjoy the view and plan our next move. Looks like it’ll be downhill to the town of Dont, and then a left over Forcella Staulanza then towards Selva di Cadore and Passo di Giau. After a quick descent of Duran (the north side being a little less technical with more sweepers and a wider, smoother road) we form up and head north. This time the Smurf takes the lead as we begin Staulanza. Joe is riding really smoothly, he has his game face on, so I decide to go to school and watch the “master at work”. Next thing you know we’re launched over the pass and headed down into Pescul and I am thinking we’ll have a nice stop in town waiting for our friends…(we were going pretty quick)  when all of a sudden I see Tim flying (and I do mean flying) up behind me. Uh-oh, this can’t be good….. He’s waving pretty frantically for us to turn around, so I do a 180° and head back over the pass as fast as the Rockster will take me. I get almost all the way back into town on the other side of the pass when I spot a rider standing in the corner of a turn slowing traffic. Ever get that really sick feeling in the pit of your stomach? The ambulance was just arriving and there was George, prone in the road. Tim and Joe arrived on the scene, as did the Carabinieri. The bikers who had stopped & helped direct traffic said their goodbyes, and Thomas decided to ride with George to the hospital. Tim took care of getting Thomas & George’s bikes to the local garage for storage while Joe & I waited for word from Thomas. Hell, we didn’t even know what hospital they took George too. All-in-all a big downer for the day. L We finally get the call from Thomas, George is fine! His knee is sore, but no broken bones. They are at the hospital in Belluno, about 45 minutes south of where we are so the three of us head south to find the hospital. After a long delay due to road work and a couple of wrong turns we find the hospital along with George & Thomas. George has a knee brace on and one of those neck collar things, but says he feels fine. We decide to find a place close by to spend the night, and see how George feels in the morning. At this point everyone is pretty much worn out, but off we go. As Tim & I are walking across the parking lot we spot a “EuroSpar” right across the street. I said “Tim, your brother will be ecstatic if he sees that grocery store”. No sooner do I say the words and there’s Thomas headed across the street. I get the feeling everything is going to be ok. We find a little place just outside of Belluno and send Tim back via taxi to gather up George & Thomas. Dinner that night was good, service was so-so. We had a couple bottles of wine to celebrate George’s good fortune, and Thomas ate several helping of pasta with little-necks. He almost ordered a third bowl, but decided on desert instead.

DAY SIX

The sun is shining & George’s knee is sore, but he’s game to ride, so off we go. We give Thomas & George the address of the garage where their bikes are and load them in a taxi. Tim, Joe & I take off over Duran rather than going through town. Duran is a little more crowded as today is Saturday and the locals are headed up to go hiking, but we make it over with no drama and blast down into Zoldo Alto, arriving at about the same moment as the taxi (well, just a minute or two behind him…). George’s bike fires right up, and it’s up the hill for a full tank of fuel and back at the Forcella Staulanza. This time we make it over with no incidents and stop in the little town of Selva di Cadore. After grabbing some food and letting George stretch his leg a bit, we’re off towards di Giau. The weather is perfect, clear blue skies, cool, with dry roads, and not much traffic. We charge up Passo di Giau and stop to take in the view. I think this is probably one of the most photographed passes in the Dolomites.

It’s also very popular with motorcyclists, as we are practically in the middle of a bike show! We check the map, and the time, and head down towards Cortina. We grab the SS-51 north towards Toblach. The road is pretty, passing along through the valley. We stop at Toblach and decide to head west through Bruneck and towards Brixen and then take the S-12 north. Our goal is to get to Eschenlohe and the Gasthof zur Bruecke. We had been along S-12 on our way south, and it’s not a bad road. I think George said it reminded him a bit of Vermont. We make pretty good time until we cross into Austria. The Austrians have apparently adopted the American style of “speed traps”. Traffic was quite heavy and moving slow with few opportunities to pass. Every bike coming the other way warned us with “slow down” signals. It’s warm, and my IXS jacket which is great at altitude is a little warm now, we’re all tired, and just a bit impatient. We resist the temptation to whack the throttle and spot the radar van at the bottom of a hill heading in to a town…. A couple of times we were tempted to jump on the Autobahn but Peter at Moto Mader had warned us we didn’t have the toll stickers for Austria. Tim’s plan was to head back to Switzerland & see his girlfriend, so after passing a couple on-ramps to the Autobahn, he couldn’t take it anymore & bolted…and then there were four. The rest of the trip up north was uneventful, we got a little lost in Innsbruck, but it was nothing Joe’s command of German couldn’t solve. We double back a couple of kilometers, cross the bridge and are on our way to Eschenlohe. After a long day of riding we pull into town just a the cows are coming home. right down the middle of the road. We wait for them to go by and then pull in. A couple of large German beers & a good dinner and it’s another good day of riding behind us!

DAY SEVEN

This is our day to head in to Intermot, the international motorcycle expo & trade fair. We jump on the train (four of us on a family pass, ride all day for €22.00) and arrive at Munich main station. We grab the U-bahn (subway) out to the expo center. The expo / convention center is the old Munich airport and the place is HUGE! There is hall after hall of cool bikes, every kind of gear and accessories. They also have a full size motard track set up outside and tracks where you can test ride bikes. BMW is also running a time-trial with F-650’s and the grand prize is a new F-650! Very cool, but I don’t think it’ll fit in my carry on luggage. The new BMW K-1200-S was the star of the show. Very cool looking and quite comfortable to sit on. I would love to test ride one of these. Maybe Euro-Tour 05? The Europeans also don’t have any problem with “sex sells”. We had painted girls and Leo Vinci, the pipe manufacturer, even had a stripper. Didn’t get a very good shot of her, but she did draw quite a crowd.

They must have known Thomas (aka Mr. Hayabusa) was coming because they brought his tour bus. J After a full day at the show we stopped at Marienplatz and had a beer and some food. Our waitress was a bit of a pain in the ass, but it didn’t spoil our good cheer. George’s knee seemed to be better from all the walking and the beer seemed to help too. We took a little wander around town, and then headed for the train station and our train back.

DAY EIGHT

Another sunny day and nowhere we really need to be, perfect! We head south towards Oberau with no luggage and no worries. We stop at the local Kawasaki / Dianese dealer so George can replace the pants the paramedics had to cut off him and then we’re on our way. We pass through Ettal and turn left on the road to Reutte. This is a beautiful road that runs along the river valley and through parkland. We tour through Reutte and continue south on 198 towards Elman. Going through Elman I am surprised to see a cop, in full uniform, standing on the side of the road! I immediately grab the brakes only to realize it’s a wooden cut-out of a cop, sort of a scarecrow for speeders. Crafty! We take the left and head for the Hahntennjoch. This road starts with a few classic switchbacks, is quite wide & well paved. We stop at Bschlabs for a look around. The road gets narrower as we go up and then the eastern side is a bizarre landscape of rock slides and a long view down the valley. It is mostly well paved though, and I would say it’s worth doing if you’re in the area. At Imst we turn north on 189 and head towards the Fernpass. This was pretty crowded with lots of minivans & truck traffic. We slowly made our way up the hill until I spotted the traffic signal… Road Work! Being good European riders, we filtered up to the front of the line and when the light went green we were off. Instead of stopping at the top of the pass, and letting all that traffic catch us again we continued down to the other side. We jump on 179 west and head back towards Reutte / Fussen and Schwangau. We stop in Schwangau and have some lunch, look up at the castles, but aren’t really in a tourist / cultural mood, so decided to get back on the road. Heading north up 17 towards Steingaden the road is closed, detour, so following my nose we set off in what seems like the completely wrong direction through Prem. Eventually we see the signs for Steingaden again and I breathe a sigh of relief. Wouldn’t want the guys to know I thought I was lost. We loop back down towards Ettal, on a beautiful fairly fast piece of road, long sweepers and green grass all around. This is also a lot like parts of Vermont. We pull in to Ettal and George goes to check out the monastery while Joe, Thomas & I look at postcards. Thomas wants to look for some touch-up paint for his bike, so we head towards Garmisch while Joe and George head back to the hotel. We get almost all the way to Garmisch, but I’ve lost my mind. I see signs for Austria, and not thinking, I feel like I’ve gone the wrong way or too far. So, we turn & head north, but that’s the wrong way too. It’s been a long day. I check the map & we decide to head for Murnau instead. Stopping in Murnau we find a drug store & start checking out the nail polish. The lady was very helpful and we got just what we needed for what we hoped would be a quick touch-up. We arrive back at zur Bruecke after a good day of riding. Then it all went wrong… who told Thomas that Red Bull & vodka would be a good idea? After several (five, six? Lost count) we had an awesome meal and crashed… hard. The next day was going to be ugly.

DAY NINE

The plan was to head up to Dachau and tour the former death camp. I didn’t have it in me… too much Red Bull I think, or it could have been the vodka, so I begged off. Joe and George went though and came back saying it was a very sobering experience. I got up, showered and headed downstairs to go for a ride only to find Thomas still here working on his touch up job. Still not feeling 100%, watching Thomas work was enough exercise for me. We decided that the nail polish wasn’t quite right and thought we’d look for a body shop or car dealer. Waltraud, the owner at zur Bruecke came out to see what we were doing and she was a bit put off. She explained that “this just isn’t done” meaning that we were cheating and after thinking about it for a while we came to the same conclusion. Thomas decided it was better to do the right thing, take the hit on his deposit and keep his karma intact. Like Joe always says “integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching”. So, with the paint mission aborted we decide to head in to Garmisch. Thomas has directions to a Laundromat and he wants to wash some of his clothes, and Garmisch is a cool little town to wander around in. We find the Laundromat and the girl there will wash, dry & fold all Thomas’ clothes, same price, so we can head out and see the town. We find a spot to park grab a milkshake and go wandering. We speak to some people who look like they might be from the States but it turns out they are Canadian. When I ask where they say “Victoria”, funny that, my brother lives in Sooke (small town just up the coast from Victoria). We all have a good laugh about what a small world it is and say our goodbyes. Thomas finds some music and a CD player in Garmisch and we head back to the Laundromat. Mission accomplished we head back north to prepare for OKTOBERFEST!

The trip to Oktoberfest is like a mini vacation all on it’s own. I believe there are twelve “tents” set up by the various breweries and they are packed to the rafters with people eating, drinking & partying. The vibe is one of light-hearted albeit drunken fun. There wasn’t a time when we sensed anyone getting to that “mean-drunk” stage. Everyone there was just having fun! We were the guests of our hotel and got a bus ride in along with special VIP seating. All the food & beers were paid for and it was up to us to have a good time. We could handle that! Looks pretty relaxed in that picture… big beers, not much going on but then… look over the balcony! A sea of humanity! But, it was our duty to have fun so… The beers were flowing and the food? Did I mention food? George was obviously back to 100% now & ready to rock. I think Joe figured maybe a smaller bike than the R-1200 GS would be a good call so they commandeered these two on the midway. But, like everything else, good times have to come to an end. So with one more toast we were off to find the bus… and a place to PEE! Safely back on the bus and headed for Eschenlohe, George to a few moments to reflect on the day’s events…

DAY TEN

Did I really drink that many beers? With slightly fuzzy heads we check out of zur Bruecke and head west for the Schwartzwald (black forest). Back down through Oberau and Ettal and up towards Landsberg. It’s really windy, and it’s making riding less than enjoyable. It’s also kind of gray, and cooler than it seemed in Eschenlohe. Oh well, we press on regardless. We jump on the Autobahn west towards Memmingen and Thomas winds up the big Beemer on the wide open stretches of roadway. We turn north on the A-7 heading towards Ulm, and the plan is to get off the highway and take 312 west but….. We have been traveling so fast that I have run off my map (the way I had it folded) so we end up just outside Ulm at a rest stop scratching our heads… Joe pulls out the Garmin (the real one) and shows me where he thinks we’re at. We decide on 10 across to 28 and then 28 all the way to Freudenstadt. From there we get on 404, a great twisty road heading south-west to Bad Rippoldsau and then on to Oberwolfach. We arrive at Gasthof Linde in fine style. Klaus calls over to Pension Grünach to set up rooms for us and we’re good to go. We head over to the hotel to drop off our gear and change, and then back to Gasthof Linde for a fantastic meal. Klaus helps us with our route back to Switzerland, pointing out a great road between St. Blasien and Albbruck. After a few more Red Bull and vodka it’s time to call it a night.

DAY ELEVEN

The rain has been hammering down all night, but seems to be letting up. We have a great breakfast at Pension Grünach and get ready for a rainy ride. The wind is still howling and the riding is, how shall I say it, unpleasant. We head on undeterred though, and by the first gas stop we see some signs of blue sky. Eventually we reach the Rhine and head towards Bad Sackingen and the Swiss border. In years past we have simply been waved across the border when they see our Swiss plates, but this time was a bit different. Passport & driving license says the official… seems like there was a bit of a crack-down underway, as several cars are stopped. A sign of the times I suppose. We do get our passports stamped though, so at least we have that going for us. The rest of the trip south to Moto Mader is uneventful. We stop at a Harley dealer so I can get a tee-shirt for a friend and can’t get over how much money they get for those bikes! Upon arrival at Moto Mader Peter surveys the damage. George gets touched for around 415 francs and Thomas, whose damage seemed insignificant (just a few small scrapes) gets touched a little more forcefully.. I think it was closer to 1000 francs! But, Peter being the good guy he is, reduced Thomas’ rental charge, so the net result was only about 600 francs and he threw in a waterproof IXS bag no charge! Peter gave us a lift over to the train station (two trips) and we get on the train for Zurich Airport. At the airport we grab the hotel shuttle and check in. Tim & Tina drive over & have some drinks with us and take Thomas (who is staying for another week in Europe with his wife & son). We say our goodbyes, and retire to the bar, just beers for me, as I am wiped out. All this leading & navigating isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Hat’s off to my friend Ken Mitchell who leads us on great rides in New England! Joe and George are drinking some crazy stuff, kind of like grappa, but made from plums! I had one.. yup, tastes like grappa. We hit the rack, early trip to the airport in the morning.