Sunday, July 05, 2015

The European Trip, Day 28 - Traveling Day and Some Notes

Due to the oppressive heat wave that is hitting the region of Europe that I am riding in, I am changing my riding schedule a bit.

Now, most of the riding will be done in the morning, with the objective of being at the next hotel by 2-3PM at the latest, earlier is better.  It was 95°F (35°C) this afternoon according to weatherunderground website.  It has felt like an oven the last few days, in the afternoons.

Some travel notes before I forget them and then, on to the pictures today.

The following are my observations, based on my experiences, if I am in error, please let me know.

1.  When buying a SIM card for your phone, go to the cellphone provider's main stores, don't go to a shop that provides such things from multiple vendors unless you know it's trustworthy either by reviews from site such as yelp.com.  I overpaid by 35 Euros by trusting the sales guy at this "Telecom Shop" in Fussen, Germany and he bundled in crap I didn't need.

2.  If you have an Italian SIM card, and you do data roaming in Austria, it somehow invalidates your Internet access via the SIM when you return to Italy.  Now you have to find an open Tabacchi store, where they sell smokes, and have them "recharge" or ricaricare your phone with at least 5 Euros.  That's the theory anyways, it's Sunday so these type of stores are all closed.  I have to wait till tomorrow morning to find out.

3.  On Sundays, Italian gas stations without an attendant (and a lot of them outside the cities are automated service only), will not recognize your Visa Credit card.  Turns out, when in such an automated mode, they only accept cards issued by Italian banks!  Sure, you could use cash, but if you don't have a bill close to the amount you need, don't expect to get change back.  I realized this seconds after I pressed the commit button and ended up paying double for a tank of gas.  Stupid.
Try and find a manned gas station, and even then, I have my doubts about non-Italian bank cards.

4.  If you're not going fast enough (and you may be speeding according to the speed limit signs) drivers and riders will zoom past you.....lane markings are apparently just a suggestion, so don't count on solid line markers keeping folks from passing in dangerous spots.  They really don't mean to be dangerous, it's the way folks drive here.  Don't take a personal.  Keep a wary eye on the mirrors and try and slide over if you can.

5.  Leaving what in the US is seen as safe following distance is something that is apparently an open invitation for cross traffic to drive out of a side street and onto the road you're on.  You can't tailgate and be safe, you just have to be prepared for vehicles to dart into traffic in front of you.

6.  The GPS app I got for my phone proved lacking.  Sure, it can store maps offline but to do route corrections you have to have Internet access.  It also has an annoying lag when doing voice prompts so that by the time you're told to turn somewhere, you've gone past that street.  This got annoying quick.

I use voice prompt mode only, I don't want to look at a tiny screen and monitor busy traffic conditions at same time, one must be hyper alert in traffic!  So the lag I mention above led to many wrong turns, re-routings and frustration.

I've taken to navigating by road numbers and towns, using the GPS only for the last few miles to find the hotel in question.  No sense draining the battery on the GPS when really there's only one route to your destination, and most times, it's clearly marked.  I did lose a lot of riding time by having to stop and check my GPS whenever I'd get confused (which was a lot).  Sometimes I'd miss a sign because of traffic or poor sign location, sometimes it just wasn't intuitive, sometimes all of the above.  I have found though, that I have a great facility, when presented with two choices of road, of picking the wrong one....then within five minutes realizing this, checking the GPS and reversing course.

I have got to get a blue tooth headset for my helmet, wires for headphones are driving me crazy.

7.  I am now booking hotels the night before, not after traveling all day and being hot and tired while searching for a place to stay.  My mind, being frazzled, has caused me to make some big mistakes in terms of booking, costing me time and money.



I'll add to the above as other things are recalled.  Now, here's some pics I took while driving from Amerlugen, Austria to Bolzano, Italy today.  The idea was to be in a good staging point for tomorrow's passes enroute to tomorrow's destination of Cortina d'Ampezzo.

Taken yesterday evening while in Amerlungen, Austria, really close to the northern border town of Schaan, Pricipality of Liechtenstein.

The view from the main viewing areas of Hotel Yoga
where I stayed while in Amerlugen, Austria.

That's the castle in Vaduz, where the reigning Prince and
his family lives.  

I left at 8:20AM this morning after a nice breakfast with a family from Denmark on their way to France for vacation.

Just a picturesque scene, this area of Europe is chock full
of views like this.


Festung (Fortress) Nauders, near the town of Nauders on
the road to Reschpass (nothing to write home about).  
You come out of a tunnel and face the gun
ports of this old fortress.


Saw this castle/church? up on the hill as I rounded a curve, 
but failed to record where I was.



The rest of the ride was boring state road driving, looking for gas and paying double for it, and just generally baking in the heat of the day!  Took me a while to find the hotel as my sim card wasn't working (see #2 above) and I had to navigate by stop, look, drive, and repeat.

Took this shot of Bolzano, Italy after taking one last wrong
turn before finding the hotel.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

The European Trip, Day 27 - Fourth of July Riding on Four Passes

Happy Birthday to my adoptive country!  Today I spent it showing the flag (little one on the left shoulder of my riding jacket) around four very nice mountain passes in Switzerland.

Today I woke early and was on the road by 5:35AM heading towards Furka Pass to get the mountain peaks visible from there with the early morning sunlight if possible.

No cow stau this early in the morning so no problem getting up there in time to see the sun begin to paint the top portion of the mountain peaks with light.

The town of Realp, Switzerland

On the way up to Furka Pass Summit from Realp

Same spot, as last night's pictures


Another view of the peaks from further west of the 
Furka Pass Summit area.

Once you twist and turn your way down on the western side of Furka Pass Road, you can get a look at what's awaiting you to climb up to the summit of Grimsel Pass.

Road to Grimsel Pass

Besides shops, there wasn't much else to take pictures of
at the Grimsel Pass Summit, but the scenery got better
as I headed now east towards Sustenpass.

The other side of Grimsel Pass


Following pictures are taken after Grimsel Pass and before Sustenpass.  The many short rock tunnels along the way gave me an idea.













The view from the eastern side of Sustenpass Road

After Sustenpass, it was steady riding with still some twists and turns thrown in along with a few small towns, until I arrived once again in Andermatt, just south of my starting point in the town of Goschenen.  Took me just shy of two hours, but as you know, I stop a lot and when moving was moving at URAL speed.  

Andermatt, Switzerland

From Andermatt, it was cruising on the road to Chur heading towards Lichstenstein.

There was one more pass to bag, the Oberalpass:

I almost blinked and missed the summit of Overalppass, 
it wasn't too twisty or difficult of pass.

Looking back towards the summit of Oberalppass

Made it to Liechtenstein with no issues in terms of riding.  Did have some trouble finding internet access as I didn't have an data sim that would "roam" within Austria.  I had booked a hotel in the town of Amermulen but no wifi, so no route.  I don't have a dedicated GPS, using an app on the iphone which supposedly works when offline but not to do the inital route planning; and if you deviate, it doesn't re-route without internet access.  Kind of dissapointing.

I overheard a local man talking in English to his little daughter and I asked him for help.  His English was very good and he told me that once you go into the Zentrum or City Center (we were in Feldkirch, which I knew was "close" to the hotel) that the city provides free wifi.  Score!

He also looked up the route on Googlemaps and gave me some directions as well.

I thanked the man and after waving to his little daughter (who kept eyeing me suspiciously),  I motored over a few blocks and found the free wifi.  Got the route downloaded to my phone and off I went.

Found the hotel at the top of a big hill, quite steep that driveway, you must maintain momentum or you'll smoke the clutch on the rig!

The hotel reception desk wasn't manned, heck the front doors were locked.  There was a number to call but again, no data/cellphone sim for Austria.  I took a chance and guessed at what the hotel wifi password would be and guessed correctly!

Now with Internet access, made a VOIP (voice over IP) call to the hotel's manager Anton, he came over in under ten minutes and got me checked in.  I am waiting out the heat of the afternoon as I craft this posting.  All the locals are saying it's been one heck of a summer so far in terms of heat and humidity!  Just my luck.

Oh, I did ride a few miles within the confines of Liechtenstein, it looked he same as Austria or Italy to my eyes!  So I decided to stay in a hotel in Austria instead of worrying about exchanging money and such.  I don't know if I'll do any touristy things in the morning before continuing my way east.

Am debating, Garmish-Partenkirchen or Bolzano?


Friday, July 03, 2015

The European Trip, Day 26 - St. Gotthard and Furka Passes

I left Bormio after breakfast this morning, at 8AM and would arrive at Goeschenen, Switzerland shortly before 4PM.  Long day of riding.  Didn't take any pictures till I got close to Saint Gotthard Pass north of Airolo.

Climbing on State Road 2 north of Airolo

A view of Airolo as one climbs towards the pass


Old St. Gotthard Pass Road from New St. Gotthard Pass Road

First though, after failing to find an inexpensive room in the town of Andermatt, I found one online at the nearby town of Goeschenen, even though it was more expensive than the last two hotels I'd stayed at in Italy.  Oh well.

After getting cleaned up and a small dinner, I headed back out to shoot Old Saint Gotthard Pass as opposed to the New Saint Gotthard pass which while having some twists, is just kind of boring.

The St Gotthard Pass sign is on the new road

When I got there, there was thick fog billowing out of the valley below.  Steve of Scooterinthesticks would have loved it, and done a better job with the fog than I managed.  So I drove the rig straight down to the bottom level past all the hairpin turns and rode till the road met State Road 2.

Looking upwards into the fog, after negotiating the last
hairpin turn on Old St Gotthard Pass Road.

Weird looking concrete structure I found on the way to
the new road.  I wonder what its function is?

This is cow country, lots of these cows on the pass, 
I would find some more later as well.







I got on State Road 2 and rode towards Furka Pass, hoping to catch the last bits of the sunset.  I found traffic stopped on westbound Furkastrasse for unknown reasons soon after passing through Hospenthal.  I thought perhaps there'd been an accident in the town of Realp just ahead but that wasn't it.

Traffic moved for a bit but then slowed to a crawl and became stop and go.  This is on the road between towns so it wasn't something you could maneuver around; though several squids did "lane filter" past all the cars and I while we moved in spurts.

Finally, got to a point on the road where I could see what the problem was:  It was a Cow Stau!
Stau is German for traffic jam, hence my use of the word.  It looked like farmers were herding a whole bunch of cows, moving them from one field to another, and using the road as the way to do it!

Cow Stau

After perhaps 30 minutes or so of this mess, the cows were finally removed from the road and traffic started moving again.  Made it to Furka Pass just in time to catch the last bits of sunset.


Following pictures were shot from a location just west of the Furka Pass Sign:







Following shots were done as I rode back towards the hotel along Furkastrasse:



One last look towards Furka Pass

I rode home in the gathering darkness, thinking I'll have to hit Furka Pass in the early morning tomorrow as it should be quite scenic.  I'll be hitting other passes as well that are near here, thanks to info given to me by Gary France.  Thanks Gary!