2017 spring voyage

From the hills to the mountains

Saturday, 20 May 2017

There is still a lot of instability and humidity in the air this morning. And it is easily five degrees cooler than at the same time yesterday. There are clear indicators that the low pressure area has moved eastwards much slower than expected by myself and the meteorological community. But, as Caesar said when crossing the Rubicon, "Alea iacta est".
My Rubicon is the main piazza in Palazzuelo sul Senio this morning at 0930 hours. Shall I head north into the lowland or shall I chance the weather and head deeper into the mountains? I decide to follow in Caesar's footsteps and throw caution to the wind; into the mountains then, more of the same as yesterday, please.
The decision is right, as soon I am rewarded with one great view after another:

A view near Castiglione dei Pepoli

As yesterday I make hardly 40 kilometres per hour due to the winding, narrow roads I am biking. I could probably bike for three weeks in these mountains and still be within 400 km from here. So it's no wonder that it takes until 1400 hours to cover my first 200 km for today - and by that time the sky ahead looks like this:

My meteorological failure; it's raining ahead...

That is Monte Cusna in the Appennino Reggiano National Park ahead in those rainclouds. I bought a new set of raingear last month, but I am in no mood to try that new kit out today in that deluge. So I finally turn north into the flatlands of the Emilia Romagna. As a bonus my average speed increases dramatically in the lowlands, but my new destination of Parma is again hidden behind more rain clouds, so I call it a day at Sant'Ilario d'Enza.
It takes a bit of time to find a hotel with a garage for the bike, but by 1930 I am on my way to a pizza place 200 yards away from the hotel - and it rains. How funny that the only rain that got me all day was as a pedestrian, with Tigger safely tucked away under a roof.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

There is no cloud in sight this morning, and visibility is infinite. The low pressure area has finally done what it was supposed to do (i. e. park itself over the Balkans) and for the next few days we can expect the best weather possible.
So no time to waste and I'm off before 0900 hours. It's not worth going back into the Apennine mountains again, as there is only about 100 km left of them. So I stay in the flat land and head north-west via Parma and Piacenza. Just outside Parma I am suddenly engulfed by a vintage car rally. The participants appear to have come from all over Europe. While the Italians drive as Italians usually drive (i. e. like utter nutters) these rally people prove that having the money to drive a million pound classic car does not mean that the driver necessarily shouted "HERE" twice when the gods threw brains from the heavens - most of them drive even more irresponsible than the Italians!
The Highway Code in Italy diverges somewhat from the Highway Code in other countries. To assist my readers in adapting to driving in Italy, I have compiled a list with the main road signs and their meaning:

Highway Code, Italian version

Road sign: Usage in Italy:
Italian minimum speed sign Minimum speed 50 kph
Overtaking here is highly encouraged Overtaking here is highly encouraged
You are now entering the Apennine road system You are now entering the Apennine road system
You will be fined if you undercut these speed minimums You will be fined if you undercut these speed minimums
Close both eyes, then slam the pedal to the metal... Close both eyes, then slam the pedal to the metal...
Two-way traffic Two-way traffic
Give way to Mafia convoys Give way to Mafia convoys
Free parking everywhere for everyone Free parking everywhere for everyone
Switch off all remaining brain functionality Switch off all remaining brain functionality

This table is satire, please do NOT apply these interpretations in real traffic!

From Piacenza I continue due west via Voghera to Alessandria. The miles are piling up on these fast roads, and by 1500 hours I am reaching Cuneo. I ride on the E74 parallel to the main motorway, but just before reaching Fossano that road is blocked without prior warning. These Italians obviously don't want to let me out of their country. By the time I have bypassed the blockade by riding on dirt tracks, through rear gardens and a bit along a railway line Tigger looks even dustier than before:

My Tigger, battered, but not beaten...

Next I need to find petrol in Cuneo - I won't make it over the mountains into France without topping up the tank. On this Sunday however no petrol station is manned in this papist paradise - all there is are automated pumps. The first two I try do not accept foreign credit cards. This is a medium sized town, but still they treat foreigners here like Caesar did the the Barbarian Gauls 2000 years ago. The third pump accepts my card and I can continue up the Colle della Maddalena up towards France.

On the Colle della Maddalena

On the far side I continue until I reach Embrun on the northern shore of the Serre-Ponçon lake. After nearly 500 km and nine hours on the road I find a cosy hotel at the lakeside. The ability to talk to the locals in their own lingo also makes a difference to Italy.

Monday, 22 May 2017

I went to bed before 2200 hours last night and was awoken by the alarm at 0730 this morning - motorbiking should be considered by doctors for patients with sleep disorders, I suppose. I haven't even plotted a route for today into the GPS or greased Tiggers drivechain yet. Having to do all these things this morning means that I am off rather late at 1000 hours. Most really high French alpine passes are still closed this early in the season (like the Bonette, Galibier, Iseran or Madeleine), but the Col du Lautaret is open. Here is a view of it:

On the Col du Lautaret

The next destination is the town of Grenoble - and what a rathole that is: you know that the Eco-terrorists have conquered the town hall when the widest lane is the pushbike lane, roundabouts have been banned and each traffic light is expertly configured to cause the maximum amount of congestion imaginable. Though there isn't much traffic, these artificial obstacles mean that it takes over 30 minutes to pass through the city.
Chambéry and Annecy, the next two towns on my route, are obviously not (yet) in the hands of the Eco-terrorists and can be traversed with significantly less frustration than Grenoble. By 1730 hours I have reached Oyonnax, and it's high time to find an abode for tonight. At the local Intermarche I refuel the bike and opposite of me is a local cab driver doing the same to his Ford Mondeo cab. How convenient. I enquire about the nicest hotel in town. "Le Nouvel Hotel" I am told. Ten minutes later I am there. No one at the reception. I look into the receptionists office. 35 room keys still resting on the board, but still no receptionist. Then some kid appears (well, he's probably 25, but that's still a kid for me). "Sorry, we're fully booked tonight". I look at him. I know that he is lying and he knows that I know. They clearly don't want any grubby motorbiker occupying their fine rooms just for one night only. At least the kid feels guilty enough to make a reservation for me at the Inter Parc hotel instead.
That place is only 100 yards away, so by 1800 hours I am set for the night, Tigger is in the hotel garage and I am on my way to a nearby Mexican Taco place to have my supper. Quite a nice day that was, though due to the late start I have covered only 360 km today.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

By 0900 I am on the road heading for the Jura Mountains. The French Jura is extremely thinly populated, but the roads are excellent. This makes this area a highly underrated motorbike destination. There are also the usual French distractions:

A coffee break at Foncine-le-Haut

All too soon those 240 km I have plotted through this biker paradise are all done and I am back in Switzerland at Bienne, from where I take the motorway and find myself back home by 1600 hours. What a lovely little journey that was.

Below is the usual map with my GPS tracklog.

Previous page - Index - Home - Next page