|22-03-2006, 01:22 PM||#1|
Mapping the next ride...
Join Date: Mar 2006
European Alps Rumble 2001 (long) pt.1
17.Sept 2001, Melbourne
D-day…. after months of planning, plotting and organizing it’s finally “Showtime”.
Placing a post in the German and Austrian newsgroups we had 3 replies to our request for a bike-swap holiday (you take mine, I take yours); the problem being to find 2 bikes, one for Goodie, the other for myself, preferably close to some international airport in the European Alps area.
A couple near Vienna responded and seemed to be the “perfect match”; around the same age, similar interests and the ensuing months-long exchange of emails confirmed the initial impression.
By now we were also aware of various other peculiarities; especially concerning road rules; whereby the Austrian Police seemed to use their thumbs and dead-reckoning instead of speed-guns to issue tickets. Different folks, different strokes…
After the combined train/ airport-bus ride to get us to Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport and the 2 hours wait before take-off, we were finally on the way, settling in for the 7 hours to Singapore.
Another 2 hour wait and it’s on for the big one: 12hr 50mins for the hop to Frankfurt, 90 mins later another hour-and-a-bit to Vienna, gaining 8 hours time difference along the way, with only one night in between.
18. September Tuesday
Running a half hour late on the Lufthansa City-Hopper from Frankfurt we’re finally on the ground to stay. Vienna greets us with grey, cloudy skies and there’s a bit of anxiousness meeting Fred at the airport arrivals.
Finally being face-to-face after all those emails, calls and exchange of pictures, will he recognize us?
Just about instantly, out-of-the-gates, we run into his open arms, things seem to gel instantly, the ice is broken.
The following hour is spent carving the traffic in a people-mover, this bus rocking to 200kmh on the 130kmh speed-limited freeway to Wiener Neustadt, a small city 40km south of Vienna, our “base-camp” for the next few weeks.
Gaby and the 2 daughters Bianca and Birgit make us feel even more welcome and make it clear that we’ll be part of the family. Things are looking good….
After the hearty welcome we familiarize ourselves with the place and get the guided tour of their specialty-beer-wholesaling business, conveniently located in-house.
May the beer-tasting run begin…. time for that later though, a quick shower gets us awake again and we’re off to the Hohe Wand mountain range nearby (in the cage), for a first glimpse of the local roads and scenery and a shake-out of those cramped legs after the long flight.
The Lookout-tower provides great 360-degree views, since the clouds had lifted after lunch; the stairs on the way up make us look forward to some of the exotic brews that night.
After some more getting-to-know-each-other and plenty of laughter we hit the sack totally bombed out.
Early morning wake-up, the system clock isn’t synchronized to the time difference yet, leaving us some time to organize our gear, Fred and Gaby take the afternoon off to have a “checking-us-out” ride together into the nearby hills.
First we have a look at Bianca’s little 50cc Aprilia-scooter, what a beauty with discs front and rear, single sided front and rear end, technically a little marvel, and she can legally ride it, being 16.
Their good relations with a local Yammie dealer produce a T-Max 500 scooter demonstrator, Gaby and Fred going 2-up for the ride, both of them watching our progress on their “steamships”, the Honda PC800 (PC= Pacific Coast, a US model sold here for only 2 years, Shadow V-twin cruiser engine) and the BMW 1200LT, top of the range with electric screen, heated grips, reverse gear, CD-radio-cassette with auto-volume control which rises and falls according to the revs and all the other thingumabobs.
Getting away from the fray into the country-side is a relief; small, narrow roads, the smell of freshly slashed paddocks, wood fires and cow shit; the cascading mountains of geraniums flowing out of flower-boxes hung off balconies everywhere.
Many houses only seem to be a support-structure for flowers hanging, standing, squashed and squeezed into every nook and cranny.
Doors and windows are framed by the multi-coloured avalanches, the white-washed, rendered walls of the ground-levels contrasted by the sun-darkened timber-structures of the upper storeys with their overhanging roof beams and rustic timber beams making for a very homely and friendly atmosphere.
Nearly all buildings, even the sheds and garages, display that feel, older houses with their near black timbers and ornamental-rustic looking carvings topped with even more flowers displaying a peaceful grace.
Old timber sheds, hay-drying racks (with narrow timber-shingled roofs), carved signs and decorative timber troughs splattering an endless stream of water are dotting the areas around farm- buildings and front yards; moss-covered small timber bridges and flower-framed paths through the paddocks and up the slopes are signed walking-tracks for locals and tourists alike.
The ride starts off very apprehensively, not being used to the bikes makes for a few anxious moments, the weight being the biggest hurdle, especially at low speeds and tight turns.
After the winding roads through the farmlands we’re climbing into the hills, Fred and Gaby on the T-Max are carving surprisingly quick lines, that scooter goes like the clappers, even 2-up and looks a hoot to ride.
Both of us wobble behind, the Beemer causing me no end of nervous moments, it’s a barge on wheels. Close to 400kg wet and a steering head 2ft ahead of where it should be aren’t really confidence inspiring, combined with narrow, single-lane roads and tight, often blind corners around buildings.
The knowledge that any damage (local price A$44.000) will have to be financed out of our own pockets creates plenty of sweat.
The valleys are narrow enough to make house-corners stick out into the single-lane town-main fare, overshadowed by balconies framed in flowers, all up creating a tunnel-effect.
After the first hour we both begin to loosen up, tentatively tipping the barges into the bends starts to become more natural than frightening, but it’s all very cautious still.
We break the ride at the (self-proclaimed) “best biker-pub in Lower Austria”, the Kalte Kuchl, (one of the major hang-outs for Vienna-based riders) for a well deserved Coffee and Apple strudel, apparently sold by length, topped generously with cream, amongst droves of other bikers.
Then we’re onto the home stretch around the foot of Snow-Mountain (yes, with snowy crown up top) and the local “race track” of Hell-Valley-Gorge, where we start to enjoy the ride and, for the first time, stay with the T-Max.
Ending the day with some more sample-beers of Fred’s collection and more-getting-to-know-each-other sees us falling into bed well after midnight, jet-lag catching up again after a beautiful day with blue skies, sunshine, temps in the 20s (high 60’s F), great roads and even better company.
I think we passed the “test” of being able to handle their bikes.
Tomorrow we’ll be off on our own….
Crunch time…we’re off for the big one.
After some more tips we’re finally rolling out of the yard by about 10.00am, all packed up and eager to go.
Leaving towards south-west, the 40km to Gloggnitz are mainly straight, broken by a tank stop and the purchase of some general-duty maps to compliment our stock, we turn south into the hills, climbing the Wechsel Highlands. Tight, twisty road, old castles perched on rocky outcrops, which rise out of the deep green fields below, the road extends south, dipping and weaving through farmland and small but frequent townships.
The occasional hairpin still stops the hearts, even the Hondas close to 300kg make navigation ponderous, and the Beemer needs brute force and a fine feel for balance at those times.
We finally meet up with a main road pointing south, with nice, long bends it’s a beauty at speeds around the 100kmh, up and down gentle hills, the bikes seem to feel at home here. It’s not fast, just quick, continuous fun with enough time for having a look around and the knowledge of not having to turn back at lunch.
An hour later the first “real” mountains appear on the horizon, a chain of ragged, rocky peaks a long way off to the south.
A small wayside stop (“sausage-hut”) covered in flowers, provides some delicious, if strange, local specialty tucker and freshly pressed half litre pots of apple juice, after which we turn south once more.
Those distant mountains become ever clearer and closer as we roll into Bad Radkersburg , right on the Slovenian border, time for a fill-up.
It was time to find out if my Australian passport was good enough to go across the border without the need for visa or other paperwork.
It was, and we continued to Maribor, the first city this side of the border.
In general, roads, buildings and everything else seemed to be very similar to Austria.
Looking closer though, showed up quite a few differences.
There was obviously less money around, roads were dominated by small cars, quite a collection of old Skodas, Fiats and VWs, the former Eastern Block alliance showing through. Then, in contrast, there were some Mercs, quite a few newish Jap-Harleys, plenty of Kias and Daewoos.
The flowerboxes weren’t quite as overflowing as on the Austrian side, BUT they were there.
Maribor itself still showed plenty of leftovers of the former Eastern Block influence. Drab facades, which hadn’t seen a coat of paint for a long, long time and crumbling rendering dominated the city streets, curiously broken up by modern architecture, HiFi and electronics stores hidden by 100yo entrance doors with peeling paint and businesses in ground floor positions, obviously hastily converted from bedrooms to showrooms.
No town without Maccas, though…. even in Maribor !!
Pulling onto the wide footpath for a quick check of the map, an old man approached and we had a nice chat with a very agile-minded 90-year old, who’d seen many changes to this region in his time.
Interesting, very interesting….
Somehow weird, talking to a living history book…
We turned west and followed the valley of the river Drava (Drau), running parallel to the Austrian border, an often-narrow valley with pretty, rural buildings and slow-flowing waters.
The Beemer drew attention everywhere, something I had to get used to.
Pulling into Dravograd, we turned north, crossing the Austrian border, then missing a turn-off facing west, which got us onto some twisty country one-laners; trying to loop into the general direction in our search for a bed for the night.
Approaching dark, we finished up in a small-town.
The local pub/guesthouse/ BnB had a room overlooking the stables and haysheds of the attached farm buildings (all part of the family business).
The smell was decidedly rural, the room simple and clean with plenty of wobbly furniture and noisy floorboards…all that with an out-of-the-60s-twang to it. Bewdiful…
A couple of beers and some talk with the locals and the lady-of-the-house finished the day, sleep came quickly despite the face glowing from all the sun that had penetrated the visors.
What a start to the day…. church bells at 6.00am woke us with a bang; and more sunshine out there.
Breakfast is almost always part of the arrangement of staying overnight in these parts of the world, and what a feast it is: Fresh bread rolls, various other breads, boiled eggs, cold meats and cheeses, honey and jams, big pots of coffee, the list goes on and on, it’s a party.
With bulging belly and floating on caffeine it’s time to try the trick of the reverse gear on the BM (gosh, it needs it!!!), and it WORKS.
Kick the engine into life, flick the lever near the gearshift across to Reverse, then hit the starter button again and the “Enterprise” moves slowly backwards, jeezas…
Let go of the starter button and the beast stops, flick the lever again, kick into first and off it goes…so, who copied it from whom, the Honda (Wing) or the Krauts (BMW)?
We need more Austrian Shillings, they seem to disappear in a bloody hurry, go-juice is about A$1.80/litre, bed and brecky about A$75-110/ night for two, a small snack-style meal with drinks around A$ 35 for two.
The first Bank can’t help and the guy behind the counter gets big eyes at the sight of a stack of Australian $50s.
The next Bank is ok and off we go, filling up along the way to the next Pass, the Seeberg-Saddle, getting us back south into Slovenia again.
Surprisingly, the heavy BM is veery easy on juice, about 4.5l/100km being a bit less than the 5l/100k for the 800 Honda.
By now the passports stay in the pockets of the riding-jackets, not worth getting them out and packing them away, time and again. The Austrian side is an easy, widish road with great scenery, few hairpins and right up the foothills of those mountains glimpsed yesterday….crossing the saddle (and border); the Slovenian side is more challenging, tighter, narrower but still good to ride.
MAN, I’d love a sporty (or better: the Peg) right here and now, what a blast that’d be…(a cry that’ll go on for the next few weeks, I’m sure).
Getting onto the flats south of the range, we turn west towards Jesenice and the scenic resort-town of Bled. Entering town, one is greeted by a lake with a small island which is crowned by a white-washed church complete with onion-dome, the opposite shore dominated by a high, rocky outcrop with an old castle glued to it, very picturesque, since all of it is framed by high, bare-rock mountains, making a not-too-distant backdrop.
Above all that, the blue skies and a few puffy, white clouds. A STUNNER !!
AND there’s a local guy on a blue Peg zipping past as well !
We follow the shoreline road, tight and twisty, partially hewn out of the rock halfway around the lake, finishing up at the local Caravan Park, which also seems to be the starting point for boat trips, gondola-style, around the shallow lake.
The operators are hustling for business as a tourist-coach pulls in, the ensuing German/ Slovenian banter and barter is hilarious and worth sticking around for.
Finally 2 boats get off with the operators standing in the stern and staking away, real gondoliers and hustlers at their best.
Despite only being 30km south of the Austrian border, the girl in the shop doesn’t understand a word of German, English though is no problem at all….strange.
After snacks we’re off turning west again, to Kransjka Gora, the former Slovenian Olympic Ski Resort being the next target.
A short stretch of freeway, then country road, gets us there in 30 mins.
Not being able to read any of the Slovenian signs, we turn south in the centre of town; towards the close-by high mountains, stark, bare-rocked and steep.
Impressively big lodges abound, after a few klicks the road narrows to about 1.5 narrow lanes. About to turn back and give it up as a local road leading nowhere, we hit the first hairpin.
It’s steep and cobblestoned through the bend, followed by asphalt, then another cobblestoned hairpin, even steeper. It’s obviously an old road, leading seemingly into the sky, it’s tight, bloody tight, all hairpins (52 of ‘em) sealed with cobbles, some of them got roadworks mid-bend or are broken up badly and are half lane width only, the rest covered by sand and gravel…and steep.
The cobbles have also settled into peaks and troughs after decades (centuries?) of use….we’re shitting ourselves.
This is too-bloody-much that early in the game, but there’s no space to turn around the 2 barges, everything is too narrow and/or steep, the hairpins are built out-of-the-hillside, going up there is only the road leading into the bend, a handful of squarely-hewn rocks marking the edge leading into the blue sky beyond.
We keep wrestling the combined 65 grand worth of Jap-Bavarian plastic-works uphill, despite the rapidly gained height and dropping temperatures it’s getting hotter and hotter.
Stop and you drop, don’t stop and the drop will be bloody long….
Finally reaching the top, we realize that this is a Pass going somewhere and that we don’t HAVE to go back down THAT road. It’s the Vrsic-Saddle.
A German couple on a VTR/CB750 combo tell us about a great round-trip from here and despite the lack of maps we’re soon swooping downhill a fantastic piece of road, still narrow but continuous bitumen leading us further south into Slovenia.
What a hoot.
After a 1200m drop (elevation) through endless bends and the ever present stands of alpine pine-trees, laced with waterfalls and culverts we hit the only 25m wide valley-floor and turn west to follow the small river for 30km, after which it’s off to the north again towards first the Austrian, then the Italian border.
The 25km up the Predil-Pass are a walk-in-the-park, 3km into Austria (after another passport check: side stand, gloves off, hand over the paper, helmet off, grin for the man in uniform, take the papers, find the right pocket, skidlid back on, gloves back on, ride off….engine dies, ahhhh, bloody side stand) and we turn west into Italy, up another little Pass, the Sella Nevea.
Getting latish in the afternoon we have a break at Chiusaforte; trying 3 words Italian and paying with Austrian Shillings for some apples, smoked ham and a carton of milk.
The first real break and a chance to talk showed us both with grins as wide as our 2 barges and soon the bullshit started: long live heroes like us and all that…. little did we know….
A wide highway took care of the next 12km due north to Pontebba, the turn off to the Nassfeld-Pass on the way back into Austria.
Just having overtaken a few trucks I saw the sign at the last second, hitting the brakes and turning across 2 other lanes…. only to be nearly T-boned by Goodie who was still busy passing the last truck, the turn off looked like a local single-laner disappearing between the corners of 2 houses and underneath the balconies overflowing with the usual parade of geraniums.
It was close, but we finished up lucky and wound our way through the little town and up a narrow road looking like a sealed, local track.
The few tight and tricky turn-offs in Pontebba and the obscured exit out of town should’ve been a warning, what followed was a ripper and heart-stopper all in one.
Tight, without Armco’s, the road climbs it’s way along the hillside of a very narrow valley, partially hewn out of the rock face, exploding into very steep grassed slopes, across old, single lane bridges spanning a gorge and then came the first tunnel….
The sun hanging low, wearing sunnies, wrestling the bikes up the narrow black strip, we come around a bend and the tunnel entrance is like a black hole immediately after, juuust enough to kick down a gear before the realization that the road has changed to cobblestones, there’s water dripping off the rough-rock ceiling everywhere, it’s pitch-dark, in a flash the visor is up and the sunnies slide down the nose… and it’s still pitch-black…what the $%^&%$# is THAT? ROCK, jee^%$#, ROCK, where the hell is the road gone?
The bike is just pushing, gentle on the brakes, the wet cobbles get you down anytime...
A glimpse to the left shows some room to play with, crank her over geeeently, no other choice, then….it seems like forever, waiting for some impact, there’s some light, 5 secs later I’m out of there, still wondering what the heck happened and how I got away with it….shit, nooooo, GOODIE…??!!! Christ, please…!!! I stop right away, off the bike in a flash, running back towards the tunnel, which is just as pitch-dark from this end.
Another few secs later and I see the headlight of the Honda wobbling all over the tunnel-walls, seconds seem like hours, I’m waiting for the screech of metal but finally she emerges out of the black hole… thaaaaanks….
She also gets off the bike, shaking all over, realizing that the road did a ¾ hairpin inside the tunnel, no lights, no signs, no warning.
If we’d had the Pegs instead (going faster than with the barges), at least one of us (most probably, me) would be a smear on the tunnel wall right now…
We’re shaken to the core: so much for the hero- bit, eh?
…and which bag has the fresh jocks in it now?
It takes a while to calm down, the road keeps winding uphill, often single-laned, more tunnels (most dead-straight now) and galleries (half open tunnels constructed as protection against snow-and-rock avalanches, open arches on the valley-side) we cross the border into Austria at the Nassfeld Skifields. Guards have gone home; booms are up, we trundle down the mountain into Troepolach finding one of those plentiful biker-stays/ guesthouse/ BnB’s.
Watching the local farmers driving their dairy cows through town at the end of the day makes us stop and gawk. Afterwards we knew better, in future we’ll go ahead of the cows, the resulting slalom-around-the-cow pies-on-the-road must’ve looked hilarious to the locals.
Again being the only guests for the night we get all the care and attention by the owners, bikers themselves, making us feel very welcome. Good stuff !!
Undercover and secure parking is standard at such places; the walk through town produced a small Internet-Café. After checking up on email we’re off to bed (but only via another ½ litre pot with the hosts and some culture-swapping).
A day that’ll stick for a long, long time….
For the next instalment
|22-03-2006, 04:50 PM||#2|
<-- now went that way
Join Date: Mar 2006
I will actually take the time to read some of this Pete
but the pictures.. WOW
when are we going again?