Friday, 24 May 2013

Chasing the Sunshine Away

On Sunday, we took a trip to Rotterdam to see Ronald and Manon. We had a rare sunny day, and I have to say we were both pleasantly surprised with the city. It had been years since I last ventured into Rotterdam, and there really has been a lot of work put in to  its regeneration. Ronald and Manon took us out for a wander over the river and to the older part of the city, and we saw some old ships being painstakingly restored in the dock.

We left the Robson house on Monday morning. It had been a brilliant weekend and we were very lucky to be so well looked after. Saying goodbye was hard, but we got on the bike and confidently rode off waving... and then set off on the wrong side of the road! Mistake hastily corrected, we made our way down to Aachen in Germany. Sadly we didn't have much time in the city itself, as we were staying outside Monschau (Venngasthof Zur Buche), but the old part of the town was well worth a visit, particularly the beautiful cathedral.
Here is Aachen: IMGP0492
After filling up on a mega breakfast on Tuesday, we hit the road again. We had decided the night before that we needed to get some miles in. We also decided that unless it was lashing it down, we would definitely camp. Luckily the rain held off, and we got the tent set up and dinner cooked with minimal fuss, and went to bed feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.

The smug feeling evaporated fairly quickly when we woke up to yet more rain in the morning. There are few things more wretched than trying to pack up camp in the rain, and it was definitely a morale killer. Simple tasks just take twice as long once you factor in trying to keep everything dry...

Eventually we managed to get everything packed away and ourselves on the road. Once again, the weather was truly dire, but we both got a second wind when we arrived at the Austrian border and the edge of the alps. After a brief detour to Neuschwanstein to see the castle from the outside, we headed to the village of Oetz. The weather may not have been brilliant, but we had a hell of a view of the mountains from our balcony, which definitely cheered us up.

Today, we woke up to sunshine, which was a very pleasant surprise. We briefly considered staying in Oetz for a second night, then checked the weather and saw that snow was predicted for tonight and tomorrow! Not fancying dealing with mountain passes in such weather, we took off for the Dolomites.

The sunshine held up for most of the day, and we have ridden some absolutely stunning roads. The Austrian alps were truly beautiful; the stuff of postcards with soaring mountains and wildflower filled Alpine meadows. We had decided to ride a couple of passes through the Dolomites, and the best way I can sum it up is “just don't look down”. Some of the roads were absolutely terrifying with hairpin bends and sheer drops, but Oli handled the bike incredibly well and despite my minor fear of heights, I managed to relax enough to really enjoy myself. We had both ridden some alpine passes before this trip (Stelvio, Furka, Grimsel etc.) , but this felt a lot more extreme, especially given that the roads in Italy were not quite up to Swiss standards!
As it was getting late when we arrived in Cortina, we decided to stop for the night. We have managed to arrive after the end of the ski season, but before the summer tourism picks up, so pretty much everything is closed! We wandered into the first open hotel we managed to find, and have ended up with a room for 140 euros, bargained down from 160 (ouch!). It was a sellers market and we were buying. Luckily, the hotel is beautiful and we are seeing it as an unplanned treat.

We have just arrived back from an excellent pizza meal washed down with good red wine. Tomorrow, we are aiming for Ljubljana!
Oli's Part
We have been bickering about who is going to write this blogpost.. I had started it and when I fell asleep Charli took over and wrote the bit above in her much better in English. Anyways, this section has more interesting information. As mentioned above the Western/Northern Europe part of the trip feels like we're chasing the sunshine away. We have been rained on almost everyday.. even today. (Thursday).

Anyway following the Keukenhof outing we had a lovely evening BBQing, eating Fiona's lovely food (accompanied by some vino) ow and watching the once a year comedy, Eurovision. The following day we spent an afternoon in Rotterdam with Charli's relations Ronald & Manon, who showed us around the southern part of the city (filled old dockland / new developments etc) and walked with us back to the main train station through some of the older parts (forgot the camera so no photos :(  )

The Gasthof Zur Buche has amazing breakfast, all kinds of scrambled egg, all kinds of meat all kinds of German goodness.

Autobahns are very fast and very very spray-ey in the wet, but let you make progress. Although we stopped enough times to dry up before the point of no return soak-age so we could carry on. Also the Autobahn services have very very flashy toilets.. 70 cents for a piddle, but you get a 50 cent voucher to spend in the cafe.. sort of win-win from a business perspective.

Yesterday we had another long autobahn stint, which allowed us to arrive in Austria.. well I think I like it more than Switzerland. It seems more real, and a bit harsher in terms of scenery (ow and cheaper). We were heading for Timmelsjoch pass but it was already 5.30pm and it started to drizzle so we stopped in Oetz (lovely place). Our host told us that Timmelsjoch is still closed due to snow and was due to open Friday but it might not as they're expecting more snow up there. So we were given a map of recommended biker roads (win) and went up Kühtai (the road is not even on my Michelin map... and it was a tad icy in places but not much to worry about). Basically go to Oetz, get to the only round about and hang a left where you eventually end up in Gries im Sellrain. We wanted to do Jaufenpass but didn't know whether it was open (+ it was in the wrong direction of travel). So we went down Brenner road (which very fast and sweepy (lots and lots of bikes) until the Sr48 (Italy) up to Sellajoch and passo di Falzarego which took us right through the heart of the Dolomites. On the way down to Cortina it was rather warm and we toyed with camping, but then the clouds in the distance came over and started wetting us so we found an expensive hotel as all the cheap ones have been shut down due to being too cheap to be open during low season. Glad we didn't camp as right now it is pretty dismal outside. Keeping the Europe leg of the trip campy-and-cheap is proving to be hard. There is also more rain forecasted in the Med regions (where we are heading next... hopefully this lot will be the last of the rain and end of May-June heat will welcome us into the Adriatic coast).

So good biker roads... from Reutte to Imst (Fernpass), then Oetz to Kühtai, then the Brenner Road, then the above mentioned passes. Hopefully tomorrow will be nice and sunny so we can enjoy some more twisties.



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