When Dreams Come True
by Stan Thibaut
Have you had a dream you hoped you could fulfill one day? For a little over twenty years now I have wanted to visit Deutschland (Germany) and not only see, but ride a motorcycle in the Alps. In July, I was able to visit some of the southern part of Germany, starting and ending in Munich (the English bastardization of Munchen). The German keyboard I used even had the two dots-umlauts, which could be used where necessary, IE-over the u in Munchen. I like the German way better.
I chose the Edelweiss Bike Travel group, as they had a variety of BMW motorcycles available. I further selected the High Alpine, as we would actually ride six days and stay in several different hotel settings. Patti was in Kabul, Afghanistan, so we arranged to meet in the baggage area of the Munich Airport on Friday, July 14. We were to land within 15 minutes of each other, but best laid plans, well, you know. My flight ended up two hours late. We made our way to the Hauptbanhof, the main train station in Munich, on a train from the airport. Our hotel was right across the street.
After checking in and freshening up a little, we went in search of the Hofbraugh Haus (umlauts over the a in Hofbraugh), for German bier and dinner. We walked around the area and finally after I asked for some directions, we found it. Ah the bier is great and I have to say that the stein of bier they served was equivalent to three, twelve ounce cans by volume and a six pack of twelve ounce cans by alcohol content. The amazing thing was, that even though the bier got warm, the taste was great 'til the last drop.
The next day we visited the Deutsche Museum, it covers the start of the Industrial Age until the present and I have to say it was well worth the time we spent. You really could spend days making a thorough tour of the museum. That evening we ate at the Bavarian Bier Garten and the bier was delivered in a similar glass, same quantity.
Sunday we rode the train to Sauerlach, south of Munchen, for the start hotel to meet for instructions about the upcoming ride and to get our assigned motorcycle. We rode the bikes for a few kilometers, from the Edelweiss garage to the hotel, where we all got together for our first dinner and to meet each other. Everyone on this particular ride was from the United States.
Our guides were already starting to put us at ease about the pending unknown territory we would cover. Something I learned right away was that if you wanted to do so, you could ride on your own, after the morning briefings. We received two basic routes we could mark on our maps, with some additional notes about sights to see. A few riders chose to ride with the guide, but I have to admit it was wonderful being able to get lost on your own. The only stipulation was that we were supposed to be at the hotel for the evening by 1800. That turned out to be a piece of cake, even upon getting lost two, to three times daily.
What an adventure. We, of course, took the wrong turn right out of the hotel, because Axel, one of our guides, told us to make a left on the main thoroughfare. Well, the majority of us picked the wrong big road going past the hotel to be the main road. After circling, we finally figured out, if we had made a left out of the parking lot, instead of going up to the traffic light, we would have been fine. Naturally Patti and I were the last ones to figure that one out, but we ended up doing just fine as far as time went.
We rode southwest from Sauerlach to visit two of King Ludwig II's castles. But first we had to get lost again. Stopping and closely examining the map, got us back on track. The first castle was Linderhof, his modest hunting castle. NOT! Carved marble, water fountains and beautiful mountain views. We visited a beautiful monastery, but for me the beauty was the BMW Z1 leaving the parking lot across the street. Neat car!
On to Neuschwanstein Castle, the second of Ludwig's castles and the one Walt Disney fashioned his Magic Kingdom Castle after. But again it was time to get lost through the city of Ruette. We eventually stopped to ask directions and no one spoke English. Amazingly enough, they looked at the map and got us going in the right direction. We got some nice pictures of the castle, but didn't bother to try for a tour, as there were hundreds of tourists already in line. One thing I should mention early on is that motorcyclists are respected over there, because it is a major form of transportation during the nice weather. We basically could pass whenever I wanted to pass and usually traveled considerably over the speed limit. Drivers often moved to the right and would wave you on by. Switzerland was the only place they advised to maintain the speed limit.
We rode on to find Warth, Austria and our first night's accommodations, the Familienhotel Jager Alpe. It was set in a ski valley, with each cow in the pasture having its own bell around its neck and horses grazing with them in the pastures. It was an interesting symphony of cow bell music late into the evening and beginning again, early in the morning.
OK, now day two, we will ride to Valduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, then onto three mountain passes in Switzerland. Most of the mountain passes are a social event. There usually is at least one cafe and in the bigger passes there are hotels, kiosks selling food, souvenirs and something to drink.
On our way to the Swiss city of Pontresina for the second night, we rode through Fluelapass, continuing on to Albulapass and then through Julierpass. Had to stop by the sign for the pass, for a picture, get something to drink, then continue on for more curves and mountain views. But before we got to the mountain passes, we met just before Marenfeld, Switzerland for a picnic lunch. The Edelweiss van and trailer was in a overlook parking lot, on the right side of the roadway, but none of us saw it until we had ridden passed it. Over a half hour time frame, bikes went flying by and then had to come back to the picnic location. Axel was cook for this gourmet picnic lunch. There was some beautiful scenery here, just as there is everywhere else in the Alps for that matter.
I have to tell you I thought it was funny that the older man, running the little snack stand, was listening to country music. Yup partner, real US of A, Country Music, so I had to chat with him for a few minutes and buy some bottles of water from him. Ye ha!! On through the mountain passes, through St. Moritz, then ending in Pontresina, Switzerland, just getting into the hotel parking garage as it started to sprinkle.
Day three, Wednesday, the sky was clear and it was another gorgeous day for riding. We left an hour later than the rest of our riders, as we did some shopping. Purchased a couple "Special Addition" Swiss Army Knives. We would ride to and over the "Mother of all passes" today. We were headed to Passo del Stelvio/Stilfser Joch. It's one I've wanted to ride for a long times Its picture is seen in many motorcycling in the Alps photos.
We rode into Italy at Livigno, then through a cool, dark mountain tunnel at Lago di Livigno and back in Austria at the end of the tunnel. We passed back into Italy and at St. Maria turned onto a narrow, winding road with many switchbacks heading up a mountain. We were about ten miles onto that road when we decided we were on the wrong road. What a great wrong road. We turned around, had to go back down the switchbacks. Oh Darn!
We went through Glurns, turning south to head for del Stelvio. Heading up Passo del Stelvio/Stilfser Joch, was one hairpin after another. They say there are about 42 going up the side we ascended and 38 going down the other side.! The only problem was the fact that there are many bicyclists on the road and cars stopping in the hairpin turns. Makes it tough to ride a smooth line through the hairpins.
At the top, we stopped for something to eat, souvenirs and to look at the road we had just come up. The pass is on the Italian, Swiss border and at the peak, there is a building with the Italian flag on one side and the Swiss flag on the other. There are two restaurants, a hotel, many gift shops and kiosks.
We caught up to the group that was riding with Axel, one of the guides, at the top. We had brats and sauerkraut at a kiosk of a friend of Axel's. Very good food I might add. Now it was time to storm down the other side. Never ridden anything like it here in the States. We did several more passes, most had bigger sweepers than the tight del Stelvio.
We ended the day at Bolzano, Italy. Good food, but did I mention the entire area we rode in was experiencing the warmest two weeks they had in several years. The hotel not only didn't have a/c, but they didn't have any fans either. Needless to say, good food, but hot and sweaty rooms. End of Part I
Stan and Patti ride into Italy in Part II next month. Ed.