|Sunday 23rd July||North Shields ferry port||
|Monday 24th||Ibis hotel, Heilbronn, Germany||
|Tuesday 25th||Hotel Sonnenhof, Bregenzerwald, Austria||
|Wednesday 26th||Hotel Wittelsbach, Berchtesgaden, Germany||
|Friday 28th||Ibis Hotel, Graz, Austria||
|Tauern; Turracher; Gaberl|
|Saturday 29th||Hotel Miklic, Kransjka Gora, Slovenia||
|Tuesday 1st August||Hotel Sigmunderhof, San Sigismundo, Italy||
|Wednesday 2nd||Hotel Silvapina, Klosters, Switzerland||
|Jausen; Stelvio; Umbrail; Ofen; Fluella|
|Friday 4th||Hotel Hochdorfer, Hirschen, Freiburg, Germany||
|Saturday 5th||La Pommeraie B & B, Sprimont, Bastogne, Belgium||
|Col de St Marie|
|Sunday 6th||Ijmuiden ferry port, Amsterdam, Holland||
Richard and I met up at Sedbury lay-by at Scotch Corner, joined by Robin Heaton and daughter Jo for the run up to North Shields via the A68 to educate Richard into some north east roads. Robin needed fuel part way – why didn’t he fill up when he set off? It was suitably warm, but nowhere near as hot as it was going to get. We went to Tynemouth after lunch where we stopped for a short break. We had said our goodbyes and gone our separate ways when Richard remembered he had left his helmet in Robin’s top box. We managed to find them and avert the disaster it would have been at 3.30pm on a Sunday.
We set off for the ferry and boarded the Queen of Scandinavia at around 4.30 to find a largely empty ship – it was only one third full. Then I looked to see what the time was, and oh dear, I’d left my watch at home. So it was into the ship’s shop to buy one, and 39 Euros later there I was with a nice new watch. We were well entertained during the evening by a superb dance group in the nightclub on board. Docking in the morning on time, we set off for a two week marathon hoping Richard’s nine pre-booked hotels would work out ok. His bike is equipped with an old sat nav system so I followed on the 375 mile run to Heilbronn in Germany via motorways. We aimed for a 90mph cruise once in Germany, but I was surprised to see much of our route had 120kph (75mph) signs up. Despite this there were vehicles overtaking us. We met an English couple on a Blackbird at a motorway halt near Frankfurt who had been doing around 120mph. They had had a slow down warning from a police patrol so we were more watchful after that. We arrived at our first hotel at about 5pm with a little fiddle around Heilbronn since the sat nav did not have the necessary one way street information. A small hiccup occurred since we had been allocated a double bed, and Richard had specified single beds throughout. The receptionist pulled down a single bed from under the window, so all was well. Before setting off to find food we checked the bikes to find I had left some of my keys on my bike seat. Fortunately they were parked in the underground garage and not there for all the world to see. I changed my key system from then on. Near the hotel when we set off to find food was a temperature display which declared 39˚ at about 6pm. Phew! We realised it was hot, but not that much. It was still 23˚ at 10.30pm. We ate a pizza sat outside at a small café serving Bitberg beer which Richard liked.
The second day’s run to the Bregenzerwald in Austria was very warm as we sat in the café next to the hotel to eat breakfast at half the price of our hotel. Having got used to following Richard the day before my navigation skills were uncharacteristically rusty as we set off to find a castle I had seen from the A6 motorway a couple of years before whilst returning from Nuremberg. I couldn’t find it despite being in what I thought was the right area, so we headed off for Austria on normal roads for a change before a quick motorway stint to make some distance. This was to become a pattern for the rest of the holiday. We overtook a Mercedes SLK shortly after joining it. As we were cruising at around 140kph a few miles down the road there was a whoosh as he came hurtling past as though we were stopped. We never saw him again. We turned off the motorway earlier than Richard had planned on his sat nav to avoid a hot tunnel near Bregenz, and to enjoy the scenery on the approach to the Bregenzerwald. It was a good decision, and we celebrated with a big ice cream at a café with a panoramic view of the Bregenzerwald. Our arrival at the hotel Sonnenhof at Andelsbuch was via a very narrow track barely wide enough for the bikes, leaving both us wondering where it was leading. After showering, a couple of beers, and an exploratory walk round the village we retuned for the evening meal which was a barbecue on the terrace due to the arrival of a coach load of Germans of my parents’ generation for an annual reunion we understood. We were joined by a Dutch couple and had a thoroughly good time sharing jokes with them. I cannot for the life of me remember their names now.
We began the next day with a gentle run over the Hochtanberg pass after a refuelling stop on our way to find the Neuschwanstein castle apparently used for ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ or something similar. We were intending to do the castle tour, but you could only join a suitable language tour, and we would have had to wait until about 4pm. Since we had well over 100 miles still to go we decided to go up to see the castle from above instead and be satisfied with that. Resuming the bikes, Richard’s sat nav showed its first sign of playing up when it couldn’t work out which way to go for a while. This was to become worse as the tour went on. The next hiccup with it was having past a sign for the motorway to Salzburg showing it as straight on we turned north instead for at least 12 miles. Richard maintained that the system was set to find the quickest route, but how can routing more than 12 miles out of your way doing two sides of a triangle instead of one be quicker? The traffic on the motorway was very heavy, being evening rush hour. This didn’t stop a BMW car driver doing what BMW car drivers seem to do the world over and barged his way in between our two bikes, all at about 70 mph. Later as we approached Berchtesgaden Richard began to overtake a VW Polo. As he was alongside it the driver decided to overtake another car at the same time, forcing Richard very wide. Apparently his horn still works. We reached the hotel for our two day stay just after 5pm, showered, changed, and went in search of beer and food in that order. The hotel was impressive – large rooms with high ceilings and very well kept. We rated the breakfasts as the best of the holiday. The beer we drank was at the Hotel Post, and it was excellent, but the service was slow, though the food good. We were entertained later on by a trio singing a mixture of German traditional songs and ‘conventional’ pop song covers. Richard was disturbed by the unwanted attention of a wasp, not for the first time. It found me boring since I didn’t wave my arms at it, so it concentrated on upsetting Richard. I didn’t think it understood his Anglo Saxon very well.
On day two after our excellent breakfast we walked to the information centre to arrange our tour to the Eagle’s Nest. This was to cost us 40 Euros, and left at 12.15pm, returning at approximately 4. So we hopped on a bus and rode the 3.5km to the Konigsee, had a row on the lake and a quick lunch before returning to Berchtesgaden for our tour. We shared the coach with 23 other English speakers, and it was very ably led by our guide, David Harper, an American domiciled in Berchtesgaden for apparently 18 years or so now. He began his guiding as soon as we set off, showing us buildings in the town built by the Nazis as they set up a second seat of government there in the 1930’s, and up the mountain at Obersalzburg. We arrived at a car park on the site of a former hotel, now destroyed, to investigate the underground bunker system before boarding a second bus to go up the mountain road to the Eagle’s Nest. There is a fleet of four specially constructed buses to deal with the 27% climb to the tunnel where you gain access to the lift for the final 150 feet. This tunnel is lined with unpolished marble and used to be heated, being about 50 yards long. Hitler apparently was driven along it in his 7 ton Mercedes car to the lift. The cars would then have to reverse out, turn round, and reverse back in to collect Hitler and his entourage after their visit. The lift itself is brass lined to combat Hitler’s claustrophobia, and also heated even now. The view from the top was stunning as it overlooks the valley in which Berchtesgaden is. And so it was back down the hill to our hotel, more beers and food. As I moved a chair and sat down, a German bloke adjacent to where I sat objected noisily and aggressively. He seemed to think I had knocked him with my chair as I moved it, but I am equally certain I did not. We were beset with more wasps too. We finished the night off at the ‘Sound Bar’ across the road from the hotel.
It was off to Graz in the morning via the castle at Werfen which, I had been told a few years ago, had been used for location filming for ‘Where Eagles Dare.’ It certainly looked like it as we wandered around, and then waited for a birds of prey display. When you’ve seen one bird in action I suppose you’ve seen them all, but I have to say the noisy Golden Eagle was very impressive. A quick bit of refreshment in the castle courtyard, and we were off to the Millstatersee near Spital an der Drau. As we approached traffic lights with me in the lead since I’d been this way before, I knew we had to turn left. Richard’s sat nav was telling him to turn right. He reckoned it was probably quicker that way, but we would have missed the lakeside views anyway. I checked my map later, and decided that the sat nav way was, once again, going to be further anyway. So we proceeded along the lakeside and then a left up the hill towards Bad Kleinkircheim, birthplace of one Franz Klammer, he of downhill skiing fame. We climbed the Turracher pass only to have the ride spoiled near the top as we met our first rain of the tour. It was only a sprinkle really, but we stopped at Turracher Hohe for a quick bite. Or at least Richard did whilst I had an ice cream. Leaving here, the roads dried up and we enjoyed the fast ‘A’ road sweepers on the way down the pass to Predlitz. We continued along the relatively uninteresting road on the river Mur valley bottom to Judenburg where we turned off the sat nav route to negotiate the excellent Gaberl Pass. On the way down here, coming around a left hander there was this train seemingly rolling up the road. The tracks were a mere yards away from the road at this point, hence the illusion. The final run in to Graz was on motorways. We were followed part of the way into Graz by a biker copper, but he did not bother us.
We booked into the Ibis hotel near the railway station in ‘new’ Graz. We walked the ten minutes or so towards ‘old’ Graz with an unimpressed Richard, but he was much happier walking around the old town, and enjoyed the evening. We ate in a little square close to the river. Later on we spotted a gentleman sporting long hair tied in a bun, and a long beard, which we thought was a bit unusual to say the least. We had spotted a bar advertising Guinness which Richard wished to try. The Guinness was warm, the beer tasted odd, and it seemed it was the local youth club as well, so we didn’t stay long. I tried to find the Irish pub which I been in before, without success, so we ventured back to the bar where we had eaten for a ‘nightcap.’ We returned to our hotel via bridges to a new bar built on an island in the river. They were lit with blue lighting which looked very attractive.
It was a short run today to Kransjka Gora. Richard’s sat nav programming had us route along motorway most of the way, but a quick scan of my map showed we could miss some of this out and travel on non-motorways for some of the way. We left Graz the way we had come in, and then I spotted a turn-off which would take us to road 70 which had some enticing looking twists. Once clear of Koflach that proved to be true as we wound our way up and down and round and round, until we hit motorway again to speed our arrival at Klagenfurt. Here we turned off to the very green Worther See where we stopped and had lunch before crossing into Slovenia via the short but enjoyable Wurzen Pass. Richard’s sat nav didn’t cover Slovenia, so it was back to good old fashioned maps and my map reading skills. We found our hotel with a little help from tourist info in Kransjka around 4pm. We were made very welcome by the cheerful little manager, giving us a family suite of rooms with one each and a little lobby for us with the bathroom in it. After a wash and brush up it was off to obtain the Tollars that masquerades for currency in Slovenia. I took out 60,000 which proved to be insufficient over the three days we were there. Just before our food stop we watched a girl trying to persuade the audience to participate in a short competition. Having no success she walked round towards where we were stood. I thought, don’t look at her, but it was to no avail, she grabbed my arm and marched me off to the front. I had to guide by spoken instructions another blindfolded fellah attempting to insert a pen suspended round his waist into a bottle. We won, and the prize was a cycle hire for two for a day. Yippee! After we had fed and beered, we pottered off to a big hall where there was a performance by some Russians. We were unprepared for the excellence of their performance – singing and dancing groups alternated, and both were very well rehearsed and obviously enjoyed what they were doing. The dancers included a sword dance, and various extreme gymnastic activities by the men, whilst the women showed their grace as opposed to sheer physical power of the men.
Richard had suggested we look at the possibility of doing white water rafting, since we had seen it advertised when we were there two years previously. We found two groups offering it, but decided to wait until after 5pm to talk to one of the groups who declared a presence in the relevant shop from 5 until 8pm. In the event no-one was there, so we went with option one on the third day here. We rode up the mountain on the new four seater chair lift, then took the old single seater to the mountain café before coming back down to enjoy the delights of the summer toboggan which had been built since our last visit. I was thick and didn’t push the brake lever far enough forward so I stopped at one point and couldn’t get going until Richard who was behind told me to push the brake lever fully forward. Then off I went. We decided to ride round to Lake Bohinj up the road from Bled. On our arrival back at the hotel it was swarming with security men and TV crews. The President had arrived for lunch with another three VIP’s. After a brief hold up we set off, arriving at Lake Bohinj in time for a late lunch around 2pm. After food, we had a short stroll around, taking photos, and then Richard decided to rough it and go for a swim. I preferred not to, though the water was incredibly clear. We returned to Kransjka a different way which saw us riding along an unmetalled bit of road for two or three kilometres.
The morning saw us heading off to book our white water raft ride – 32,000 Tollars, about £16 – and take up my prize cycle ride. We headed towards the Italian border, and then Richard dived off to the left towards the mountains. After a bit of a rest we continued up and found the site of some ski jumps which had been built for the 2006 Winter Olympics based at Klagenfurt. We returned via the forest on a clearly defined path at first which became less defined the further down we got. We eventually regained the original path, stopped for an ice cream, and returned to Kransjka in time to prepare for the afternoon’s fun and frolics. An 11.45 meeting time saw us paying up, and meeting Patrick and Carolin from Germany, our fellow rafters, and at 12.00 sharp the minibus arrived. We jumped in and set off via Tarvisio in Italy, and back into Slovenia, finally going 10 minutes beyond the little town of Bovec on the Soca River. The driver spoke no English or German, and dived off to the left down a rough track, arrived close to the river, jumped out and straight into another vehicle. Off he went leaving us stranded in the middle of nowhere with a little old man who only spoke Slovenian. Other rafting groups came and went, and after about half an hour back he came, this time with a minibus full of other rafters who had just completed the route, our instructor, Kino, and the raft on top of the van. Kino took charge then, sorting us out with wet suits and wet suit bootees, buoyancy aids and helmets. He showed us how to use the paddles, explained how he would control the raft, and then we were off. Gently at first in the wide river, then more and more rapids arrived to keep us occupied. At one point we caught up another group who had pulled their craft upside down up a rock and were diving down it into the river. Kino invited us to have a go, so we did. Despite the wetsuits the water was perishing. After 10 minutes or so of clowning around we were back in our raft heading downstream once more. Kino thought it was great fun to crash into a rock and send us down the next section in corkscrew fashion. Perversely we did manage to enjoy it too. Our next challenge was to climb up out of the river on a big rock and jump into the deep pool underneath. That task accomplished, we were off again, round a few more rapids, until Kino said we were near the end and we could swim round the corner instead of ride in the raft. Muggins here of course was first out. Rounding the corner there was a guy on horseback in the middle of the river, festooned with ropes. I suppose he was the safety man to pull people out if they got stuck. We had to carry the raft up the bank on our heads about 200 yards, and then get changed into our dry gear brought down by the little old man in his three wheeler truck. Kino drove back up in this to fetch the minibus to take us back to Kransjka – it took him about 20 minutes I suppose; time enough for a couple of beers then.
We stopped in Bovec on the way back to allow the torrential rain to subside a bit before resuming our return to Kransjka which we reached by around 6.45pm. We arranged to meet the Germans at 7.30 to have a meal and a couple of drinks to celebrate a splendid afternoon.
It rained overnight and was still giving it rock all when we got up for breakfast. Anyway, by 10.30 it was clearing so we set off for our Italian stop. I had suggested to Richard we take in two passes on the way into Italy but commonsense prevailed in the light of the poor weather, and we went the coward’s way down the main road instead. Through Tarvisio – very slow going – and on to Tolmezzo before turning north to reach the Plocken pass back into Austria. It was raining most of the way. We had a lunch stop at the top of the pass, but we were in low cloud so there were no views to be had. A left turn at the bottom of the pass, which had a surprisingly poor surface, we turned left to travel along the Bundes Alpenstrasse. In the rain. More tight bends and hairpins, some wooden decked bridges and several road works greeted us as we wound our way west towards the Italian border again. We stopped after an hour or so for a quick cuppa before resuming our westward progress, finding a little diversion (umleitung in German) across a wooden bridge and along a muddy, unmetalled track. We arrived at the end of the Alpenstrasse as the sun finally broke through to try to dry out soaked gloves. Then it was a slow ride along the valley to our next overnight stop at the Hotel Sigmunderhof at San Sigismundo.
You could call next day’s run the ‘Five Pass Run’, since that was the number of passes en route. It started badly. I needed fuel which we found but on the left of the road after about 6 miles. This road was very busy. Richard was in the lead using his sat nav. He was able to leave the garage before me, slipping into a gap in the heavy traffic which was risky for me so I elected to wait. And wait. And wait. About 2 minutes in all, by which time Richard was nowhere in sight. Ah well, I’ve maps, I know where we are going, I’ll just have to keep going on my tod. Perhaps I’ll bump into him on the way, or perhaps he’ll be waiting round the next corner. No such luck! At the time I had forgotten that he has his phone on, and I could ring him since it was connected through the Autocom used with his sat nav. I was too busy looking for Richard so I missed the sign for the road I needed at Bresannone, and ended up going south instead of north for 5 or 6 miles before finding a suitable spot to turn round. I eventually ran clear of Bresannone after about half an hour, heading for the Jausen Pass, number 1 on the itinerary for the day. Still on the lookout for Richard, I was unaware he had mistakenly gone on the motorway which we had not planned to do. Anyway I made excellent progress and soon turned off and found a place to stop and ring Richard. He was, it turned out, ahead of me on the pass. I resumed my route and enjoyed a rapid ascent until I saw a maniac waving at me from the side of the road at a hotel. It was Richard, so we had a coffee before resuming our climb up one of the nicest passes I have ever been over. We stopped again at the top for a quick photo session – we should have waited until we rounded the corner at the top because the views on the other side were truly magnificent. We did stop near the bottom at a café with loads of bikes parked outside. I had an omelette, and we ordered something with three eggs for Richard which turned out to be fried instead of in an omelette. The frying process had been a bit overenthusiastic, so Richard did not enjoy his meal. Everyone had a laugh at his expense however as a motorbike came flying down the pass; he was out there with his camera at the ready, only to find the biker turned off into the café instead of rounding the corner as he had expected.
Next on the list was the Stelvio Pass, but this was about an hour away through the town of Merano. After some deft overtakes at the bottom of the pass we arrived at the first hairpin. It was Number 42. Now most hairpins have a radius. Some are tighter than others, but they do normally have one. Not so the Stelvio. The next climb starts immediately with no bend, after a near 180˚ turn; I suppose you could call them zig zags rather than hairpins. And there were 42 of them. We stopped at the halfway house to take a few photos, and then I suggested Richard waited 5 minutes for me to get ahead so I could use my little video camera on him. Up I went until at about turn 11 I met a car coming down just as I was about to round the apex of a right hander – the tightest bit abroad. I had to stop mid corner. Since we were on the side of a mountain, the road was not flat; it fell away so that my foot did not hit the ground where the ground was supposed to be. How I managed to keep the bike up, loaded with my luggage as it was, I’ll never know. Someone must have been looking after me. Anyway I managed to resume my ride, relieved but with a massive dose of adrenalin making me shake. I then met a bus coming down, but fortunately at a point where I could stop with ease. I was glad to reach the summit to take out the video camera and look for Richard coming up. We resumed our route after more photos and an ice cream. The next pass, the Umbrail Pass, was leading off from the descent from the Stelvio. We had not been on it long when the surface degraded to unmetalled road for about 2 miles. That no doubt explained why it was not part of Richard’s sat nav information. Down and down we went into Switzerland, and off towards the next pass, number 4, the Ofen Pass. We were slowed due to heavy traffic, but this pass is easy after the Stelvio, and it was not long before we were having a quick 5 minutes stop before the final pass of the day, the Fluella Pass into Davos. Turning right at the start of Davos saw us with 10 miles to go to Klosters and our next hotel, the Silvapena. We found it yards away from a railway track. Hopefully there wouldn’t be many trains. So next morning there was an ominous rumbling, followed by another 5, all between 5.30 and 6.30am. I needed Swiss Francs, and it took us the best part of an hour to find a suitable ‘hole in the wall.’
We had another day off next day, which was probably just as well since we woke up to more rain. So it was up to Davos on the train and a wander around there including a ride up in the cable car for lunch almost to the newly arrived snow – yes really, in August. We had a look in a toy museum which was more a puppet and doll museum really, and a walk to an art display which would have been 10 Euros each but we decided it wasn’t worth it.
We hoped the rain would have blown past by the morning for our ride to the Black Forest, but no such luck. Richard’s sat nav was still playing up, so it was back to maps and my memory for 2 or three hours. We stopped for a quick coffee overlooking a lake, and the patron opened the door to his balcony so I took the opportunity to step out to pop off a couple of photos, only to find him striding angrily over to the door to lock it as I re-entered the café. What had I done to offend, I thought? Lunch was a rapid affair – a sandwich at a garage at Will before resuming our route. Traffic in the Black Forest was horrendous, but it was a Friday with loads of Germans leaving work for their weekend fun and frolics. Although Richard’s sat nav was far from well, it once again found the hotel without difficulty.
However it was playing up again as we departed in the morning in still more rain heading for Bastogne in Belgium. Richard’s planned route involved motorway sections in France with tolls, so I re-planned it to head North West away from tolls. So it was across country we went to Colmar to pick up the N415 via St Die to Nancy. However a tunnel was closed so we were re-routed north to Selestat and a cut through the Vosges mountains which proved to be a super road, apart from the rain which was still hammering down. We stopped for fuel just short of Nancy to find the rain had all but stopped. It was non-toll motorway from then on round Nancy, Metz and Luxembourg which was just as well since it appeared that Holland was going home in its caravans from its summer break. We found our overnight accommodation just north of Bastogne with help from the sat nav which was now behaving itself, and pottered back into Bastogne to find memorabilia from the Battle of the Bulge and a very late lunch. Our B & B was in a very old Middle Ages house suitably fitted out with modern benefits like central heating and hot and cold running water. We had to eat there, and enjoyed a lovely meal with some rather questionable company courtesy of a landscape gardener from Brussels and his female companion.
We were away in the morning to find fuel first, and then it was the boring motorway bit back to Ijmuiden and the 6pm ferry back to North Shields. Again we were well fed in the Seven Seas buffet, and well entertained by the resident band and dancing troupe, and docked on time at 9am English time for the run down the A19. I reached home about 10.45.