Friday, September 13, 2013

Riding The Dolomites

The first thing you have to understand when you take off on a motorcycling trip with Giovanni is that coffee breaks are de rigeur.

The second thing is that with Giovanni tourism is secondary to riding. The ride is the thing. We stopped for a cigarette break for him and I said that World War One cemetary looks interesting. No he said not at all.

"Your sacrifice is never forgotten" the sign said in Italian and German as fighters from both sides in the war are buried here, Italian and Austro-Hungarian. This corner of Italy is a place that has changed hands over the centuries and Teutonic, Slavic and Italian names are liberally mixed up.

Giovanni smoked and I got thoughtful. Are you tired he asked? I should have been considering the miles we had ridden me hunched over the ridiculously narrow handlebars of the 170 horsepower BMW sport bike...

I have a plan, Giovanni said as we gathered Thursday morning in Terni to puzzle over a map and figure out our ride. Oil levels checked and tire pressure measured on his six cylinder 1600 cc BMW GTL, we took off or the Dolomite mountains in German speaking Italy.

Naturally the rain caught us a short distance out of Terni and we stopped, us and a few other impovident motorcyclists to regroup have lunch and hope for the best. When we get over the mountain pass, another half hour it will be sunny again Giovanni insisted. Easy for him with his big windshield and heated seat... My buddy the cardiologist lit a cigarette to help think things over.

The sun came out and we rode gas station to gas station averaging an astonishing 150 km/hr, (90mph). I have to say that zipping along on Italian freeways is a lot more fun than riding among dreary American drivers who seem to resent anyone riding faster than they dare drive. Italian drivers pulled aside for us. The K1200S is steady as a cruise missile at high speed. 170kph/105mph shows 6,000rpm on a tach that redlines at 11,000rpm. I maxed out at 200kph/125mph where the machine is perfectly stable but I feel unable to concentrate hard enough for such sustained speeds. 150kph was comfortable for me with bursts to 180/110(mph).

It wasn't really dark by the time we got the autonomous Alto Adige region of Italy, a weird throw back to World War One, inside the high mountain ranges it just seemed to get dark and cold early. Italy was on the winning side in that war (where Hemingway participated driving ambulances) and took over the Austrian province of South Tyrol to put its border on the geographically suitable Brenner Pass at the top of the mountains. which created a natural and lasting border between Italy and the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire, soon to become the Austrian republic.

As a result a whole bunch of German speakers on the south slopes of the mountain range have been Italian citizens for almost a century, yet they still get tax breaks and Austria offers scholarships for them to study in Vienna and signage is in German (first) and then Italian:

Alto Adige in Italian means "the upper reaches of the Adige (ah-dee-jay) River" where in German the province is called Süd Tirol and though most people speak Italian they mangle it with a thick German accent. As neither Giovanni nor I speak German we went with the Italian nomenclature. We stayed in Oristei, not Saint Ulrich, and we ate dumplings and spice-free soup for dinner in our alpine hotel. After dinner a group of tourists sat around and sang German folk songs, and though Giovanni, no mean guitarist tried to join in he retreated muttering "they don't speak a lick of Italian," and we drank grappa instead by way of consolation.

I felt a bit like Basil Fawlty who when entertaining German guests in his hotel went around reminding himself (and failing) to "not mention the War." I was not at ease in bilingual Alto Adige and was glad when we set our sights on Cortina d'Ampezzo in neighboring Belluno province as our base of riding operations for the weekend. Cortina is off the map to the right:

Giovanni does not travel light, carrying all conceivable clothes, a hurricane force hair dryer and a complete electric espresso set I am sure my wife would adore.

Eventually we got packed and we left.

It was a glorious ride up to Passo Sella:






The only thing was, when we got there just before noon it was 36 degrees, windy and snowing lightly. I could see my breath. I turned the handle bar warmer onto high.

The ride down the other side was a series of hairpins (tornanti) and I lost count somewhere around 23.

At the bottom of the hill we found lots of signage:


And all these hairpins can pose a problem...

...for drivers of cages who get stuck behind slow moving trucks and RVs. 170 horsepower sometimes is very useful... get ahead of the line and enjoy the views.


BMWs are by far the most popular touring bikes in Italy. Every parking lot resembled a dealership convention.

Giovanni was riding the only six cylinder BMW we saw and he was called upon to discuss its merits by more or less rapt crowds.


As we got close to Cortina we found ourselves in a long line of German BMW riders who kept up us in order with no rash passing maneuvers allowed.

Cortina is a fashionable winter ski resort and it is a pretty enough alpine town. We parked as required outside most Italian city centers and walked into the town.




Hiking is a big deal in summer. We didn't fit in on any count, not hikers not skiers not fashionable.

But we had our usual substantial lunch, this time in Italian speaking Italy and I got pasta, not dumplings:

Pappardelle ai funghi -wide pasta with delicious local mushrooms which I enjoyed so much I had some more funghi in my second course with sausage and polenta.

Travel and exploration notwithstanding I love my Italian food when in Italy.

And the afternoon ride was just as good to Dobbiaco and back on winding mountain roads.



All in Italian, too.




Great stuff, great vacation.


Vacation Day 8

It occurs to me that if I die on vacation this bloody blog will outlive me by a matter of days!

Creepy, huh? I'd better ride carefully in those Italian mountains.