Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lucerne, Switzerland to Konstanz, Germany

Our trip is winding down, and the weather is quickly turning to full-on autumn with pretty steady drizzle and the occasional cloudburst. It's always a bummer to see a vacation coming to an end, but what an amazing trip this has been. We had already planned on two short riding days for these last two legs of the trip, and given the weather we woke up to today, we probably would have made that decision anyway. The vast majority of this trip, we've had the GPS set to avoid highways... but not today. We set it for the hotel we reserved over lunch, jumped on the bikes between downpours, and took off for Konstanz, Germany. Our route took us through Zurich, which I would have otherwise been tempted to pop into and explore, but today we opted for more of a rolling tour in the interest of time and weather.

Our apartment-hotel reservation proved successful. It's always a bit of a leap of faith booking a hotel online, sight unseen. But this place was blocks from the altstadt, was easy to check into, had a private garage, and was nice to have more of a "homey" feel by virtue of being an apartment. We were able to take advantage of daylight left after we rolled in, thanks to the short trip from Lucerne, and Konstanz did not disappoint.

Probably one of my favorite things about this trip has been seeing just how truly old the Old Town sections of cities and villages really are here. The history is just so rich that it's humbling. The oldest dated building we found in our stroll around Konstanz was 1384--very cool! While we did get to capitalize on a couple hours of daylight, we decided it wasn't enough over a dinner of beer and Jagerschnitzel. We agree to get up early the next day to walk around a bit more before we head back to Niedereschach to give our loaned bikes back to Touratech.

The weather's a bit clearer today, and our early wake-up allowed us to take in Lake Konstanz's views. A nice way to wrap up our visit to this southern town in Germany.

- Brayde

Monday, October 22, 2012

Feldkirch, Austria to Lucerne, Switzerland

Not having a German map, and not much internet access for the last few days, we were finally able to figure out where the next two days of riding would take us while drying off in Austria.  We weren't far from the Touratech headquarters, so we'd have to get creative with our route.  We were spending a lot of time on the motorcycles in bad weather, so only riding for a small part of the day, then exploring a city the rest of the time sounded good to us.  Two cities that interested us were Lucerne, Switzerland and Konstanz, Germany. Both would be short rides and give us a good opportunity to explore.

Lucerne has a lot of history with many sights to see and a very old town center to explore, complete with a long covered bridge built in 1333.  After arriving in town and being soaked in the rain, we immediately decided to find lodging.  Again, most of the hotels in the historic part of the city were a bit above our price range, but eventually we found a nice one that wasn't too expensive and even overlooked the river and bridges.  We did some much needed laundry in the hotel room sinks then took advantage of a break in the rain and started exploring the city.  We worked up an appetite walking all over the place, so we treated ourselves to dinner and some beers at a local brewery on the river then went to bed.  The next day we would walk the old castle wall and see the dying lion monument everyone had told us about.

We woke up to pouring rain again.  After checking out of our room and leaving our gear at the front desk, we hit up the first shop we could find to buy an umbrella.  This proved to be a wise purchase. The old castle walls and lookout towers were fun to explore, and we managed to take in most of the sights in the city.  Lucerne has definitely been one of our favorites this trip. After getting back to the hotel and packing the bikes, we made one of the best decisions yet: book a hotel room in advance for Konstanz.  A quick bit of searching online found us an apartment to rent for one night in a great location at a great price.  If we had done this all trip, we would have saved a lot of money and aggravation.  We are used to camping every night and flying by the seat of our pants in a country where we know the language and customs, but it's a lot harder to do that here.  Lesson learned.

One of the bridges had paintings depicting the Black Plague.

The dying lion memorial for Swiss mercenaries that died in the French Revolution

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sondrio, Italy to Feldrkirch, Austria

After raining all night, we woke up to sun in Sondrio.  This was a welcome surprise as we were planning on crossing the Alps back into Switzerland and Liechtenstein. We knew that snow was a serious possibility, so picking the lowest pass was a priority.  Instead of the famed Stelvio pass which was about 2800 meters high, we planned our route over Bernina Pass through Davos, which was about 2300 meters.

After eating breakfast, uploading some pictures and doing a bit of writing we hit the road in the late morning. It didn't take long for the sun to turn back into rain.  As we climbed in elevation, the rain turned cold, and eventually to light snow in the highest elevation.  Brayde had her heated gear running full blast, and I wore every piece of thermal gear I had, but was still cold.  Luckily the snow never accumulated, and the temperature warmed to about seven degrees Celsius as soon as we started dropping elevation again.  The rain never let up all day, but my Klim and Brayde's BMW waterproof gear performed flawlessly, never leaking.  We didn't let the bad weather get to us, we've done our share of riding in the rain, and the roads were still breathtaking.

After crossing over the higher elevation passes of the Alps, we decided to visit the very small country of Liechtenstein. We parked the bikes in a garage, and wandered around Vaduz, the capitol city, where the castle that the prince lives in is located. The rain continued on, and we were soaked from walking around.  A quick lunch and a search for a hotel confirmed, that Liechtenstein was one of the most expensive countries to travel in, and we wouldn't be able to afford lodging there.  The owner of the sandwich shop suggested riding 50 kilometers to Austria, and finding lodging there since it was much cheaper.  We took his advice, threw our riding gear back on over our soaked clothes, and headed to Austria.

After visiting many hotels that were all booked up, or closed for the season, we finally found lodging. Just across the border, we snagged a decent room in the town of Feldkirch, named after the old church in the field that happened to be right by our hotel.  This is where we'd stay and dry off for the night.  In all the rain and cold, we forgot to take any pictures of Liechtenstein or Feldkirch. 


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lago di Como to Sondrio

Feeling well-rested and ready to enjoy more of what northern Italy had to offer, we pack our belongings all the way back to the bikes and take off on some of the twistiest roads yet. The curvy nature is fun and interesting. Coming around a blind corner to meet a big truck or tour bus head-on is not. We're all in 1st or 2nd gear and looking out for each other, though, so it works out.

I read about two neat, little lake towns on either side of Lago di Como that follow a suggested driving route, so that's where we're headed. This includes another short ferry ride, too! After wandering the streets and steps of Bellagio and eating pizza lunches (check out Matt's interesting choice below on the left, complete with fried egg and hot dogs), we jump on the ferry to Varenna.

The promise of amazing views, castle relics, and a working falconry at Castello di Vezio takes us up more twisties above Varenna. Despite the fact that when we finally found the castle, it was only open for about 20 more minutes, it did not disappoint. The falconry display was unfortunately closed, but there was a cool big owl at the entrance, and the views really were spectacular. Plus, we got to see an olive tree grove!

We really wanted to stay at an agriturismo for the night, but this was one of the few times when traveling without plans didn't work out so great because it turns out reservations are required. Oh well--you win some, you lose some. So, we ended up in Sondrio for the night, where Matt got to try out a döner pizza. At least it wasn't a complete loss!

- Brayde

Views from the castle

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ride Like a Local

For an American, especially someone from the Northwest, riding in a country like Italy is a very different experience.  There's no room on the road for a passive rider here.  There are a few things that I've picked up over the last few days from watching how the locals drive:

Car ahead of you driving too slow?  Pass them.  Ride their ass until you do. No questions asked. Nobody gets angry.
No room to pass? Make room.  Lane split. Do whatever you can.  Surprisingly the car you're passing and the oncoming cars completely understand.  This is just how it works over here.  Pass around a blind corner?  Sure why not.
Camp out in the left lane? Never.  You make your pass then you immediately get back in the right lane, otherwise there will be a large Mercedes or Audi flashing its brights, rolling up on you at 150 mph.
Merging.  Just do it. Someone will get out of your way.  If not, see "Lane Splitting" below.
Lane splitting. Seems to be practiced regularly, mostly by motorcycles and scooters, but sometimes by cars.  Kind of hard to do with large panniers on.  Still not sure if it's legal, but it's fun, and efficient.
Don't Hesitate.  It will just confuse people.  Pick your move and commit to it. This applies when you're a driver, rider, and pedestrian.
If all else fails... Just do whatever maneuver you want with confidence.  The other drivers can see it in you and it doesn't matter if you have the right of way, or if what you're doing is legal or normal, the other drivers will generally accept it if you do it with style.  Besides, I'm sure they see much crazier stuff in traffic on a daily basis.

It didn't take long during this trip to pick up some of the riding techniques commonly used here.  It may seem crazy if you think about it in an American city, but it works in Italy. In fact, if you didn't adapt to their styles, I think you'd get eaten alive on these roads.  My only fear is that I will take some of these habits back home with me and get in a heap of trouble.

Stay tuned for helmet cam footage...


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lago d' Orta to Lago di Como

Our pace has slowed a bit, in part to take in the scenery and in part because we're stuck going about 30 mph the majority of the time. But that's ok because the tight switchbacks on the hills coming into and out of every little village and hairpin turns within them don't allow us to go much faster than that anyway. These turns put anything we've encountered stateside to shame. Tight turns have never been my favorite aspect of riding, but as Matt says, I'll be a pro after this trip!

After clearing up some housekeeping issues (why do we always forget to tell our credit card companies we're traveling?) and wandering the city a bit more, we hit the road to skirt the southeastern shore of Lago d'Orta. Then Matt impressed me with his Italian skills and got us two tickets to take the ferry across Lago Maggiore. We've been told that Lago di Como is a must-see, so that's today's destination.

As the day winds down, we find ourselves in Monday rush hour traffic coming into the city of Como. Not ideal, but we manage alright and take in the mixture of old and new architecture that seems to be typical of Italian cities.

We chose a hotel in the GPS just outside of Como to stay the night, and after passing it two or three times, we finally found it. The good news: it was directly on the lake and even happened to be the cheapest spot yet! The not-so-good news: we had to hike all our belongings about 100 meters down to the hotel below. At least they had private parking! The hike was well worth it, though, and we enjoyed a lovely lakeside room. Lago di Como certainly didn't disappoint!

Our hotel was the building on the left

- Brayde

Caux, Switzerland to Lago d' Orto, Italy

We woke up to what every motorcyclist hates to hear: heavy rain on the roof.  A quick look outside verified the weather had turned cold, windy and rainy.  After a great breakfast, we packed up and waited for a break in the weather to take off.  The rain slowed for a bit and we rode back down the winding road, which was now a little slick with wet leaves.  Luckily we both ride with waterproof gear, so the wetness really doesn't bother us. Our plan for the day was to make it over the mountains into Italy.  We would ride through a massive tunnel, then drop down into the Valley D' Aosta, famous for their mushrooms, cheeses and wine.

Once over the mountain pass San Bernardo (yes, that's where the dogs are famous from), the rain stopped and we pulled into the village Aosta.  We ate lunch, explored the streets, and came across some kind of cheese festival.  They had cows and other animals out in the piazza for children to pet, and a couple dozen local cheese makers had tables out.  There was even cheese judging for anyone who wanted to compete in the middle of all of it.  It was pretty nice to sit back, drink a Fanta, and watch all of this happening.

After exploring, we headed east through the valley towards Lago D' Orto.  We read about a nice hotel on the water there and pointed the GPS in its direction.  By the time we arrived into town it was dark.  The GPS started taking us down narrower and narrower roads until we were riding on what seemed like walking paths.  The annoyed pedestrians were a sign that maybe we took the wrong route.  When we popped out into a piazza filled with restaurants and gift shops with our lights beaming onto dining customers, we realized that we really shouldn't be there.  A quick U-turn and a race back up the hill on cobblestone paths dodging tourists on late night strolls took us back to the main road.  We found a different approach on our own, and ended up in a different waterfront hotel that was as beautiful as the others.  The room had a view over the lake, and the other side of the hotel looked over the island San Giulio, which housed a massive monastery.  A great dinner of fresh pasta and local fish and mushrooms from the region was the perfect ending for the day.

- Matt

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Laufen to Caux (Montreaux), Switzerland

After sleeping in, eating breakfast, and barely checking out in time, we were off again to another late start.  This was ok though, as we were well rested and the weather was beautiful.  Our route today took us on roads that made our jaws drop.  From Laufen, we rode some of the twistiest roads we’ve ever been on through farms, small villages, and over mountain passes.  We stopped for lunch at the top of one of the passes for a salami sandwich and a coke.  All the pastures were filled with cows that had huge bells hanging from their necks;  even through the motorcycle and wind noise you could hear the cows all around the valleys.  It sounded a lot like wind chimes.

We came down from the mountains to ride along lake Neuchatel before heading back up another pass  through Moudon towards Lake Leman. It was starting to get dark, so we really wanted to make it to a hotel that was suggested by a co-worker in the small village of Caux, outside of Montreaux.  After we made it down to the lake, the GPS started taking us up some very small winding roads up the side of the mountain.  Pretty soon the road got steeper, darker and more treacherous.  After stopping and evaluating the GPS’s route, we decided to turn around and try from a different side.  An hour  and 6 kilometers later, it was pitch black and we were climbing our way back up the other side of the hill towards the palatial hotel in Caux.  This huge hotel perched on the side of the mountain overlooking Lake Leman was turned into the Swiss Hotel Management School, which my coworker attended.  Unfortunately the hotel does not rent rooms, so we followed the GPS even further up the hill in hopes that it was correct that there was other lodging.  Luckily, we found a small bed and breakfast that had one room left for the night.  They were known for their fondue, and of course that’s what we ate for dinner along with a local bottle of wine.  Our room, while small, had a great view over the lake.  Amazing how things work out.

- Matt

Monday, October 8, 2012

Foreign Countries on a Foreign Bike

I haven't spent much time on bikes other than my own BMW F650GS (single cylinder) and Yamaha XT250, so I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about riding in foreign countries on a new bike. I should've known I was in very capable hands, though. Between the fabulous folks at Touratech and my own wonderful husband, I have ended up on an amazing set of wheels: a BMW F650GS twin cylinder. This has all the handling and weight that I know and love but more power on demand. Now I can keep up with Matt! Plus, the twin cylinder system provides an unbelievably smooth ride, a stark contrast to my "thumper" back home. The folks at Touratech even hooked up an outlet for my heated gear so that I can ride through the Alps without freezing to death! In other words, I could not have asked for a better loaner. Now the only thing I'm nervous about is missing this bike when I go back home!

- Brayde

A Late Start - Niedereschach Germany to Laufen Switzerland

After a short, early-morning flight from Berlin to Stuttgart and a long drive from Stuttgart to Niedereschach, we arrived back at the Touratech headquarters in the afternoon.  After a quick lunch, it was time to pack up the bikes and head out.  This was easier said than done.  First we did a little shopping.  We needed maps for the countries we’d be riding through as well as new riding gloves for both of us.  After that, it was time to load the bikes with everything we needed, and pack our bags to leave at Touratech.  This was the most time consuming part. We decided not to camp during this trip, so really all we needed to bring were clothes, camera, and riding gear, but it takes a lot more time to pack someone else’s bike that you’re not familiar with.  By the time we hit the road, it was around 4:00 in the afternoon.  We had hoped to make it to Montreaux, but that definitely wouldn’t happen. 

The roads were excellent, and gave us a good chance to get used to the feel of the bikes. A stop at the Swiss border required us to purchase a pass for one of the motorcycles to ride on the highway.  Brayde’s bike already had one.  This is sort of like paying the tolls for all the roads in Switzerland for the year, all at once.  Too bad we were only going to be there a couple days.

Our hotel in Laufen (pink building in middle)
The first stretch of the trip took us to Laufen Switzerland, a quiet little town not too far across the border.  We booked a room at the only hotel we could find and had a nice dinner amongst a bunch of rowdy local farmers at the restaurant next door.  The plate of food I had was massive, but was a good sample of local sausages, liverwurst, and pork.  After catching up on some blog posts, it was time to catch up on some sleep.  Hopefully we’d make it to Montreaux tomorrow.


Saturday, October 6, 2012


From Intermot to Berlin! We have spent the last two days exploring Berlin with our dear friends Ian and Ebe. What a city! Respect for the history is displayed in big ways (Berlin Wall) and small (Stolperstein or “stumbling stone,” a brick families can purchase in the sidewalk to honor a loved one they lost in concentration camps). As luck would have it, we even arrived on German Unity Day, celebrating the day the East and West were reunified after the war. So, we got to bump into a big festival, too. Obviously, 48 hours doesn’t do a city the magnitude of Berlin justice, but we made the most of it, visiting several sightseeing destinations and, of course, beer gardens.

We visited an interpretive center across the street from where a church was demolished for the construction of the Berlin Wall because the borderline ran right through it.
What the Berlin Wall used to look like, before professional artists

Berlin Wall now
 Berlin is a fascinating blend of cultures, which translated to many meals and snacks around the city as we explored. We should probably go on a cleansing fast when we get home, but it’s been well worth it to us! My favorite so far has been Käsespätzle with pork strips, followed closely by Dürüm Döner. Can’t wait to see what other regional fare our trip has in store for us!


Friday, October 5, 2012

Intermot Cologne 2012


We were fortunate enough to visit the Intermot motorcycle show this year on press day.  Intermot is a biennial show held in Cologne Germany, and one of the biggest in the world.  About 1100 exhibitors put up massive displays and close to 200,000 people are expected to attend.

This show has a much bigger scale than anything I've attended.  I've been to a lot of trade shows through my job, but I've never seen the manufacturers pull out all the stops like this.  For example, when BMW rolled out the new water-cooled R1200GS, they rode two of them down a staircase and a ramp while a rock band played in the back ground.  After unveiling the bikes they served food and drinks.  The roll-outs from other manufacturers like KTM and Suzuki we attended were equally impressive.

There were so many displays that it would take you a couple days to see everything  Brayde and I managed to walk though every building and hall, and I think got a good sampling of all the new bikes and products.  Our feet were tired, and after a few Kolsch beers, we got a good night's sleep knowing we'd be flying to Berlin first thing in the morning.

I took plenty of pictures, so if anyone wants to see more, just let me know.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

How to Order a Beer in Cologne

We have been to Cologne a few times in the past, and were busy with Intermot, so we kept the sightseeing to a minimum.  Cologne is a beautiful city.  Their Dom is one of  my favorite cathedrals in Europe.  I highly recommend spending a day there if you can. One thing you need to do when visiting Cologne is sit down and drink a nice local Kolsch beer.

The beer ordering process in Cologne is unique, but very efficient once learned:

Step 1) Pick a table outside and sit down.
Step 2) If you want a beer, put a coaster out in front of you.
Step 3) Waiter will come by with a beer for you.
Step 4) Drink beer.  Be careful.  The glasses are small, but pack a punch.
Step 5) When beer is finished, another one will immediately be brought out.
Step 6) Once you've had enough beers, place your coaster on top of the glass to indicate you're done. If you are not sober enough at this point to do so, have a friend do it for you.
Step 7) Pay your tab, then go get some currywurst.