Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Europe Tour 2016 Part 4 - Take the high roads.

Continued from Part 3

Even though I had waited till the last minute to pull my bike kit on I was still sweating like a pregnant nun as we geared up to leave Lake Como. We said our goodbyes to Faithir and Maw; they were heading north after we'd recommended Livigno so highly. I fired the bike up and plugged in the charger to recharge all my eleccy gear in the tankbag only to discover the plug had fallen apart and all the guts were rolling around in the socket. The parts were fished out with sweaty digits, luckily it was easy to reassemble the plug, and we were off. A sweaty commute to a petrol station was followed by the familiar motorway blast, the 130kph keeping us cool.
"The fucks going on here?" My GPS which we were relying on to guide us the correct route into the Alps was saying it was nearly out of charge. No good. I remembered the guts of that chargers falling into the auxiliary socket so at the next fuel stop I checked all the fuses. I was sure that the GPS was wired into the same circuit as the aux socket, but all the fuses under the seat were fine. Once the map had been studied and we were fuelled and rehydrated, we set off again. As we rode along I came up with the plan of phoning my Honda breakdown cover at the next fuel stop and asking them if there was a fuse for the aux/GPS circuit anywhere else. Unfortunately, the people who take the calls for Honda's breakdown are as much use as a chocolate fucking fireguard. I explained that I hadn't broken down but I needed some information regarding fuses. The operator wasn't interested so I hung up and gave Two Wheels Edinburgh, my local Honda dealer back in Scotland a call. They let me speak to Andy in the workshop who informed me there was a fuse for the aux/GPS circuit under the left hand fairing. He told me how to get the panels off. Sorted. We managed to get Aidan's temperamental GPS working and with as much as the route memorised from the map as possible, we set off for Pontechianale, high in the Italian Alps.
Once we were off the motorway we followed the relatively straight road through the gently rising wine country, before joining the bottom of Col d'Agnel, another awesome pass where Pontechianale sits halfway up on the Italian side on the banks of Lago di Castello. At the campsite I got our tent up and quickly set about stripping the plastics off the bike. Andy's instructions were spot on and sure enough, we found a blown fuse as I expected. Fuse replaced the bike was reassembled. All sorted in 45 minutes or so, will a wee help from Joe.





Pontechianale is a wee place, so there was only a few places to eat. We chose a nice pizzeria before heading out to find a bar. Down on the bank of the lake we found Aury's Bar. Aury's was a crazy place with a big fuck off sound system that seemed to play the same song over and over again. We had a great night, it was only us, a few locals plus Aury and his staff, one of whom was obsessed with taking selfies with us down by the jetty. We had planned to only stay the one night in Pontechianale, but there was something about the place that made us stay another night. The next day was spent chilling out once more. Aidan and Jamie fished the lake and were so successful Wojtek and Joe bought a rod too. While they fished HB and I went up the chairlift. I'm usually fine with chairlifts but I was shitting my breeks on this one, my keys for the bike were in my pocket and for some reason I was paranoid they were going to fall out and get lost. We got a coffee and a bite to eat at the top where the view, like so many views in the Alps, was stunning. I was much more relaxed on the way back down with my bike key's zipped up in HB's bag and I managed to get a few photos of the Marmots that were scurrying around the hill side.


wojtek grappa
Wojtek samples Grappa.


Aury's Bar.


phone pics from euro tour





pontechianale pano


phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour

Euan went up the chairlift after us, just managing to avoid a downpour on the way back. The rain didn't top the rest of the lads from fishing though, they pulled a good few fish out of Lago di Castello. There's a catch and kill rule on the lake, so our fish were donated to the folk who ran the campsite as way of an apology after we'd disturbed them coming back from Aury's the night before. Euan wandered about the village with HB and I before we all met up again that evening in Aury's. This time the bar was packed out; Italy were playing Germany. Aury was well pissed up, wandering about with an Italian flag as a cape and giving us free "Aury's Bar" prosecco. Itally got gubbed by the Germans so most of the crowd went home. Aury didn't seem to give two fucks though, within seconds of the game "Sofia" by Alvaro Soler was back on repeat and Aury was bouncing about the place. Jamie, Joe and Wojtek also told us that they were having to go home early, Joe had stuff to sort for his business, Jamie had really bad toothache and Wojtek was a riding in Joe's car. This would mean nearly a 1300 mile journey but that didn't seem to curtail the evening fun.
We packed up the following morning, hitting the road around 11. Col d'Agnel was quite busy with loads of big maxi scooters heading up the same way as us showing us some alternative overtaking methods. We stopped at the top for some photos and to say bye to Jamie, Joe and Wojtek. The views from the top are breathtaking. Col d'Agnel is the third highest in the Alps and the border between Italy and France is right at the top. There's even a line in the tarmac where the road changes countries.




col du agnel pano

Jamie, Joe and Wojtek split off heading for home while Aidan, Euan, HB and I joined the Route Des Grandes Alps, a tourist route that heads over the highest paved roads in Europe. This was the part of the trip I'd been looking forwards to the most. Forget what Top Gear said about Stelvio, these are the best driving roads in the Alps. We went over Col d'Izoard, stopping for lunch near the top as we went down the north side of the pass. The French high roads are really popular with the usual bikes, cars and pushbikes. The roads are a pleasure to ride and the scenery the standard alpine stunning. We took in the views over lunch while we watched some mad bastards skate down the pass on longboards. Col du Lautaret followed then it was Col du Galibier. I had ridden all these roads before and memories of flying about on my 1150 GS, scraping everything on the corners came flooding back. I must have also have been a mad bastard back then. As we rode up the Galibier I was acutely aware of just how steep and far the drops were off the side of the road. Villages looked like models with ants scurrying about far below. The Africa Twin was performing well, the superb Continental Trail Attack 2's gripped the road nearly as well as my arsehole was trying to grip the seat. The bike even decked out a few times but I was far more aware of our mortality than when I had been in flying solo in my mid twenties. My fear of heights didn't take away from the fun of the passes though. So many people from back home don't appreciate that two longish days ride could have you on these absolutely stunning roads. They have to be among the best driving roads in the world and photographs don't do the scenery justice. There's glaciers, snow capped mountains, blue lakes and rivers, landscapes that look like another planet and that awesome Alpine Fresh air, that really does smell like alpine fresh air freshner, but without the chemicals.








galibier pano

We pitched out tents in the excellent campsite in the town of Valloire. It was still roasting so we hid in the shade while drinking beers cooled in Euan's water filled pannier. Another great night was spent eating good food and having a laugh.We got a message that night from Jamie, Joe and Wojtek who were getting close to the Calais ferry, they were just passed half way home.
More stunning roads were ridden the following day. Col du Telegraphe ridden up and over before I made an arse of the navigation taking a left when I should have went right resulting in a 14 mile ride up a toll road. We pulled over at a picnic stop and had a heated discussion about which way we should have gone. I was getting called an arsehole for going the wrong way (Euan had a valid point, when you're going north and wat to head east, its right) while I was saying everyone else was arseholes for relying on my to lead the way all the time. Once everyone had been labelled an arsehole we studied the map, deciding the best thing to do was just go back the way we'd came. We stopped for lunch in Modane which lightened the dark mood. When you're travelling with a group it's pretty normal to get a bit frustrated with each other at times. It's also important that you don't hold a grudge or take anything personally, especially when everyone is is and hot and dehydrated as you are.
We continued north on the Route Des Grandes Alps, stopping for the occasional water, photo or fuel stop before we started climbing Col de l'Iseran. Col del'Iseran is the highest paved pass in Europe at 2764 metres, the weather takes its toll on the roads surface seemingly far more than the other passes. While the works to repair the road interrupted our ride it gave us some good opportunities for photos. There was still a fair bit of snow and ice near the top and the climb felt like it lasted for ages. Despite the rough road surfaces it is a cracking pass to ride, possibly not as much fun as Galibier but still stunning ride.















At the top of Col de l'Iseran we had a brief discussion on where we'd stay. We quickly agreed that Val d'Isere, the next town after we got down off the pass was where we'd stay. As we snaked our way through the walls of permafrost and wee alpine lakes we caught glimpses of Val D'Isere far below. Once in the town we headed straight for Tourist Information. We were going to push the boat out. Tonight we were staying in a hotel!
We checked into Hotel Altitude. Pristine rooms were filled with smelly bike kit. Euan and Aidan hit the swimming pool while I sat and read my book for a bit. Whatsapp let us know that Jamie, Joe and Wojtek had made it safely home to Scotland around 11.30 that morning after an epic 1300 mile journey.
After a while we headed out for a wander, looking at the various huge wooden sculptures that are in Val d'Isere, before ending up at a great restaurant up a side street. Euan and I went halfers on a fondue and a rake of red wine. I'd never tried a fondue before, its like a cheese sauce that's served in a pot over a wee burner. it comes with a load of bread which you dip in the cheese and it's all accompanied with some cold meats and salad. It was nice enough, but even I found it to be a bit of a cheese overdose. Full of cheese and wine we headed out to a pub for the rest of the evening where we had a laugh and spoke to the locals. They didn't seem too friendly until they realised we were "Ecosse". The barman had lived in Edinburgh for a couple of years. Val d'Isere was as good as I had remembered it to be.



Looking down on Val d'Isere

phone pics from euro tour

phone pics from euro tour




More to come in Part 5


  1. Nice alpine scenery shots....perhaps a bit more paragraphing? :)

  2. Awesome photos! I am heading to Europe for my first trip out to of the USA in June. I will rent and ride the Alps as part of my trip. I will use some of your info as I prepare for the trip.

  3. Yer a big red faced wanker but I love you....... Good blog Bawjaws....

  4. Excellent blog post mate. Stunning photos as usual, did you pee that writing into the snow lol?

    1. Cheers for that.
      I had to use my finger to write in the snow. I'm not too skilled in the piss art area.