First Steps 2012

  • September 21, 2012 – Heidelberg, Germany

    This was a day of firsts for us.

    • First full day in Germany.
    • First time riding my new-to-me BMW R1100RSL.
    • First time doing 80 in the middle lane and wondering if maybe I should have been to the right one more.
    • First time sending a “Greetings” message from so many time zones away from home. Yay!


    Our first coffee in Europe

    Our first coffee in Europe

    I slept until 10 this morning. I guess the time change and long flight finally caught up with me. Rumor has it jet-lag is worse going west. I wasn’t really out of it, just more tired from not much sleep on the plane. But this morning I felt terrific.

    "Phi's BMW in Germany"

    This is my new-to-me BMW R1100RSL

    I was awakened by the sound of a BMW running and it turned out to be mine. Stefan, our host here, had fired it up and was letting it get warm. This bike was stored here by the previous owner and it has been awhile since it has run. A freshly charged battery and it came to life like it had been ridden yesterday, according to Stefan. He also found us helmets, jackets and gloves and before you know it there we were in downtown Heidelberg traffic looking for a bridge. Yow!

    On the secondary roads it was like riding from one Leavenworth to another. One thing I really liked was no stop signs through the little towns. Slower speed limits and the occasional roundabout, but no stopping. How cool is that? And everywhere you look, everything as neat as a pin.

    Our first stop was in Eberbach for coffee at a place called Olive Garten. Two coffees with cream turned out to be two double espresso shots in a nice cup with one creamer each along with two little tubular packets of sugar. Strong stuff! When I went inside to pay the bill I saw some really nice looking Mediterranean food being prepared. It certainly looked worthy of a return trip. We don’t really remember where lunch was, but Bakerie Danzer served us a nice cheese sandwich and two tasty pastries. Six older ladies came in just before us and I swear they were all talking all the while we sat there for lunch. In America that’s called a Talk Show.

    This is the first BMW I have owned and only the third I have ridden. This afternoon when I filled up, I noticed the odometer at 60,004. After a couple of stops and lunch at Bakerie Danzer, I put the seat in the top position and said “Ahhh, that’s the spot.” In small towns and traffic this is a first, or maybe second gear bike. Taller gearing then the WeeStrom I’ve been on so much lately.

    We rode along the north side of the river east and then south of Heidelberg, with some detours for twisty roads to the north. One of those roads Stefan called “our version of The Dragon”. Well, not really but it certainly was a nice twisty road up and over the hill. Always fun learning new road signs. One was a bike and rider sideways with some exhortation printed at the bottom, but I think I got the idea. At the top was a large group of bikes and riders and they all waved back at us, but seemed startled that we had waved. Heh.

    Somethng in a country estate, perhaps?

    One of many beautiful country houses around Heidelberg, Germany.

    On our way back we took a short section of freeway called the A6 and I thought to myself, “You’re not in Washington any more!” Three lanes of traffic; all the trucks in the slow lane, a few cars and me in the middle, the big touring cars in the fast lane. I was doing 80 and not really making any headway in my lane. The folks on my left were coming by at a brisk pace! You must watch your mirrors! A couple of quick passes saw 90mph+ and the bike never whimpered. Nor Debb. I did see a 120 speed sign, but folks here gave that the same consideration we do for the 55mph signs back home.

    Debb and the GPS got us safely back to 78 Hardtstrasse and we are in for the night. This place is across the street from a set of train tracks that are slightly below grade. There is a slight rhythm of mechanical noise as they go by, but mostly just a whoosh. You can’t feel anything at all. The express trains go by like they are in the fast lane of the A6. Zoom!

    All in all, an excellent day of firsts.


  • September 22, 2012 – Heidelberg, Germany

    It is cooler here today. Nice when the sun is out, chilly when it goes behind a cloud, or in the shade of a big building.

    Afternoon shoppers in Heidelberg

    A few afternoon shoppers and lots of bicycles in Heidelberg

    We were in that shade for a few hours today. It was Full Tourist Mode this afternoon. Well, maybe not full, but close. No tour groups or bus rides. We rode downtown and wandered through a huge shopping area with no auto traffic. Lots of gift shops, clothing stores, smartphone stores, coffee and ice cream shops, and on and on. A fun place to people watch. Lots of gals and a few guys in very tight pants. Sometimes jeans of some sort, sometimes leggings for the ladies. Of course, some who wore that outfit were a bit optimistic about their figures, but there it is. Also, lots of ladies with scarves of all kinds. Some very decorative, many quite functional and it lots of styles and materials. This is a very casual place and the scarves served to dress it up a bit. I approve. Lots of nationalities, too. Quite cosmopolitan.

    There were even two Starbucks in that area and not too far apart. Debb bought us a couple of drinks and they were indistinguishable from what we get in Seattle. Lunch today was a small sandwich and drink from a bakery. Our server instantly switched to English when we made our feeble attempt at making known what we wanted. I didn’t catch our tab total and so laid a bill on the counter and held out my palm with a bunch of change in it. I got back another coin and another bill. Usually, when I review my purchases here I am sure it is an expensive place. Our lunch today was the exception. Very reasonable.

    Waiting for the main course.

    A nice beer while we wait for dinner.

    For dinner this evening we made our way back to Eberbach and the Mediterranean place we visited yesterday. Took us a couple of tries to find it, but we did finally. We grabbed a table and I went up to the counter to look at the menu boards overhead. I told the guy behind the counter “No German” and he yelled across the bar at a young mom with her youngster in a stroller to come over. She spoke better English than I do and I placed our order. We talked a bit with our waitress who was working on her English. When she brought the bill, I asked her what was normal for a tip. She didn’t understand what I was talking about. All the server people have a wallet and they make change for you right on the spot. I wondered if maybe they were a little profit center all their own, ‘buying’ our food at ‘wholesale’ and selling it to us at the listed price. The waitress at the restaurant near here seemed overjoyed at my ten percent. Dunno.

    In a Greek place near our house in Lake City is a big piece of meat held vertically in front of a heating element. Can’t think what it is called. Slices are used to make Giro sandwiches. The meat is quite dark in color. Where we ate this evening was the same except the meat was very light in color. More pork based, perhaps? In this place, they use an electric cutter/shaver to cut off pieces as opposed to a knife I usually see in Seattle. The electric tool makes a little whirring sound sort of like Debb’s battery operated gadget to get fuzz off sweaters. It was on and off a lot while we had our dinner, so business was good. A generous portion of that sliced meat, a big salad including some unusual veggies, and french fries. Two dark beers to wash it all down. The beer here is quite good.

    Being downtown today I got to see lots of cars I haven’t seen before. Renault and Fiat aren’t currently sold in the US, I think. Lots of smaller Mercedes and Audi models they don’t export to the states. I realized on the way back through town this evening that I have not seen a Honda car since we’ve been here. Nada, zip, nothing. I have seen the occasional Toyota, but not many. More Fords about than I expected and lots of VWs, of course, and lots of models I don’t recognize. One thing that really seems out of place is the S class Mercedes that are taxis. Not all of them, of course, but more than you would expect. I would not expect any.

    A scooter trying very hard to be something else.

    A scooter trying very hard to be something else.

    Nothing real special with motorcycles, so far. Lots of scooters and occasionally a nice one or an unusual one, but by far they are just cheap transportation. Lots of 50cc models because they hold up traffic and get out of the way when they can. A Harley now and then, lots of smaller sport bikes like 250 twins, but out on the road, more serious hardware. Triumphs, Ducatis, the occasional liter Japanese bike. Here at Stefan’s there are lots of BMWs of course, but also a late model Triumph with California plates, a KLR, and an older Ducati bevel head. Washington, California and Idaho plates are well represented. Haven’t seen anything from Oregon. Virginia is the only other state plate I’ve seen on a bike here.

    Super Plus, which is premium is 1.70E per liter. 1 Euro is $1.30. Gas is not cheap here.

    After three times, we can find our way back here without any detours. Just to the east of us, across the tracks and over a couple of blocks is a big US Army facility. The George S Patton US Army Europe Headquarters, I think. It covers many city blocks with lots of fences and big uniform buildings. Another guest here said they met someone who was a contractor here and that the Army presence is shrinking. It looked to me like a big section is not being used. More weeds than vehicles in the parking areas. I mention it because that facility has caused us to make some big detours until I realized I had to go around it to get where I wanted. Now I got it.

    Stefan is still convinced our bike and gear will be here Tuesday morning, so we continue to make lemonade. Frustrating, but sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.


  • September 25, 2012 – Andermatt, Switzerland

    At last we are on the road!


    The container arrived at 8AM this morning, It took the Customs guy a bit to get there and it took a couple of guys a bit to unload the three bikes in the container. Only three bikes was part of the delay problem. Originally, I am led to believe, there were 12 bikes scheduled. One after another they canceled and the shipment was delayed in an effort to get more customers. So it goes.

    So once the bikes and our big box of gear was cleared, we set to work. I had to wire up a power lead for my GPS and one for my heated jacket. On a R1100RS, that means the left side body work has to come off. More new adventures. Fortunately, Dave from Calgary owned a R1150RT that arrived with our bike, knew his way around these bikes and we had it wired up in no time. Unfortunately, I will have to do it again because the heated jacket wire didn’t come with a fuse installed and I can’t reach it. Fail. Debb’s also didn’t work but her fuse is under the seat so it was 2 minutes to get her warm and toasty. I’ll get mine tomorrow or the next day as we have several bike tasks still in front of us.

    Debb's VStrom is ready for adventure

    Debb’s VStrom is ready for adventure

    Both Dave’s RT and Debb’s DL had the battery disconnected. Again, a 2 minute job on the DL, left side body work on the RT. Debb’s bike fired right up. Dave’s battery was dead. An hour of charging still wasn’t enough to start it. A closer look revealed a low water level. Left side body work again for some battery maintenance and a jump from Stefan’s car. Started right up.

    So we rolled out at 12:15PM. We rolled back in at 12:20PM. Dave had a red fault light that he had never seen. Turning it off meant another jump – no body work, just a metal screwdriver to reach the plus terminal of the battery. We rolled out for good at 12:30. Dave promptly turned north on the A5 rather than south, so we took a few minutes to get headed the right direction, and then another few minutes to put gas in the container bikes since they send them empty. Finally we are headed the correct direction on the correct road.

    And the skies opened up. For the first 150 miles, it was Dave in the lead, then me, then Debb. A couple of times Dave changed lanes to pass a truck and he would disappear in the spray. It was a dark, gray, and cold ride. We intended to take a break and get some coffee when we got gas, but Dave wasn’t going to turn off his bike so we geared up and headed south again.

    It wasn’t long before the landscape changed. Instead of riding between the trees we were in open farm country along the Rhine River. As we neared the Swiss border, that open farm land gave way to industry. Lots of industry in this corner of the world. One tidbit; the sound wall along the freeway was glass for several miles, so you got to see the scenery while keeping the noise down. Cool. And lots of traffic, since this is a corner common to Germany, Switzerland and France.

    The Swiss love their tunnels! In the short run from the border to here in Andermatt, we passed through a dozen, at least. The longest was 9.8k. There were several in the multi kilometer category. In the tighter sections, the parts of the highway outside the tunnel were covered like snow sheds in the northwest with one side open. You could see the edges of the grass growing on the tops.

    But the real treat heading south in this part of the world is the mountains that lie in front of you for a little while and then surround you for hours on end. Spectacular, steep, snow-covered on very high peaks, the Alps are just a delight to ride through. We finally got off the freeway and rode up the steep switchbacks, and through more tunnels to arrive in the winter town of Andermatt. Those of you with John Hermann’s Moto Touring in the Alps book know it is featured page 1, chapter 1. Recommended. There are 4 or 5 passes that all can be ridden from here. We intend to. Just not tomorrow, darn it.

    I thought my 1100RS had a top box. There is a Givi mounting plate and a key on the ring, but Stefan could find no box. So one of our motorcycle tasks tomorrow is to find a top box in the greater Milan area. Maybe Jon will know of a place to start. Then we will stop by Mototouring and get rid of the ugly airplane suitcases we have strapped on the back of each of our bikes. We flew in to one place but are flying out another so we had to bring them with us. We look just a bit ghetto on the road.

    When Dave told us he had reservations at the Alpen Hotel here, we could not stay anywhere else. Nice place and I have no idea what the bill will be other than Dave is pretty sure the web site said 65E. It is a very modern room with a beautiful tile bath and two twin beds. One bottom sheet, a big comforter in a giant pillow case, and a big fluffy pillow. The outlets are funny looking over here.

    That R100GS I mentioned earlier is being offered for $4500. A lot, but Ohlins on the back, rebuilt forks, PIAA driving lights, side bags, top box, tank bag, custom seat, new tires, and lots of care. Bright red paint. I can hook you up. Write a check, get on a plane, go ride the Alps.

    Dinner was just up the street. A little pricey, but we are in Andermatt. Excellent food and Dave is an excellent dinner companion.

    So it is 11PM here and I’m tired. Some of our gear got a bit damp so we have stuff laid out all over. Most every hotel room we ever stay in looks like a luggage explosion. This one is no exception.

    Did I mention we are in Andermatt?

    The view of Andermatt looking west from our hotel.

    The view of Andermatt looking west from our hotel.

    When you see this sign you are having fun.

    When you see this sign you are having fun.


  • September 26, 2012 – Milan, Italy

    We rode down out of the mountains and into the big city. Freeways, massive traffic, toll booths, one-way streets, suicidal scooter riders and buses. No one is more amazed than me that we are still alive. The GPS did us very well today, including getting us right to our

    There was a mini traffic jam this morning leaving Andermatt. We had to back-track to the north to get to A5 and the Gotthart tunnel southbound. Because of the traffic, there was just no way for me to get a photo of the road going down that canyon. That road is at least a 10% grade with a dozen switchbacks, several snow sheds, and enough water falling off the mountain to keep Seattle going for a month. No sooner were we at the bottom and a big U-turn took us over the highway and immediately into the tunnel. My perception of these things is not good, but I think we were going uphill the entire length of that tunnel. Someone can look it up. 9.8K long and for the first 7K, it was hot! Finally, you get close enough to the end that you begin to feel some cool air. What a relief! I can not imagine going through in hot weather.

    Not long after the tunnel we passed the mother of all waterfalls. Because of the rain there is a lot of water coming off the mountains, but this one looked bigger than all the rest combined. Just a huge amount of water rolling off the edge onto a massive rock face just
    below which sent the water out in a huge cascade. I dubbed it The Shower of the Gods.

    Down, down, down, warmer and warmer. Eventually we came out of a tunnel into the sunshine. I spotted a McDonalds sign so we came off the highway for a break. We stopped  at a gas station to stretch our legs. No, I’m not eating at McDs in Italy. A display of quart-size oil containers caught my eye. 1 liter of top-of-the-line Mobil synthetic was E35.90. Yow. Even the garden variety 10W40 was E8.00. We eventually navigated the maze of one-way streets and overpasses to get back onto the highway headed south. There are so many road signs I have no clue about. Soon we passed through the Swiss checkpoint and were in Italy. Not sure what the Swiss guys were looking for but everyone around us was waved through without a glance. We bought the ‘required’ Switzerland driving vignette for E35, but no one has shown any interest in it yet.

    We did ride past some beautiful lakes surrounded by large houses, apartments and hotels. Some of the allure is lost with so many cranes in view.

    The GPS directed us right to MotoTouring but no one was home. We hung around for a bit and then decided it was time for lunch. We rode one bike back to the nearest main street, parked right in front of a little coffee bar (Doris Day lives in Italy) and had a small toasted ham and cheese sandwich with two cappuccino. Excellent. Amazing what you can get with pointing and a smile. We parked the bike angled into the end of the open spot in typical Seattle style. While I was standing there waiting for our order, a driver pulled up, saw the bike and raised his hand in a universal sign of disgust. But soon there were two scooters and several bicyclists all parked there, so it all evens out.

    Back to MotoTouring and soon after we arrived, two young ladies arrived in a truly ugly little car. Sure enough, they worked there and were expecting us. They called a moto shop not far away and were told they had over 400 Givi bags and boxes in stock. Off we went and once again the GPS took us right to them. We waited a couple of minutes to be helped by a young man that could have been the twin of Marco Simoncelli, big hair and all. He looked at the bike and showed me 8 top boxes that would fit. I picked one and we were on our way. Back at MotoTouring, we found our friends gear and made our plans for tomorrow. Then the nice ladies made us hotel reserevations just over here on Via Palmanova and we were done with busy work and back on vacation.

    We walked a few blocks over to Via Padova and wandered west several blocks window shopping and people watching. Dinner was at a Chinese place. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was forgettable. That area seemed to be very international, with lots of middle-eastern and oriental shops. Of course, lots of clothes stores, phone shops, bakeries, coffee bars, and places to wire money internationally. Soda and drinks of all kinds are packaged in 6-packs but are all shrink wrapped, rather than in a paper or cardboard holder. And grocery stores often don’t sell any that are cold. You have to find a little shop for that. I did. After dinner we stopped at a gelato and coffee bar. The two more cappuccinos were excellent as was the apple cake we shared. Our server sprinkled a line of bitter chocolate and one of cinnamon on the plate next to the slice. Yum.

    Walking gave us a chance to really check out the bikes and cars. Almost every scooter you see has some road rash. There are lots of big ones, I’m guessing 250 and up. Many are Silver Wing size. The occasional 2-stroke catches your attention with the characteristic wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. I saw a Honda bike today. Lots more Moto Guzzis around now that we are here. There are some interesting little cars here. A small Fiat or Alfa Romeo would look just fine in my driveway. I saw the Civic fastback Dave remarked about but it didn’t do a thing for me. All the Carabinieri that I have seen have all been in Alfas. One went flying down the street with lights and sirens blasting. Now there is an E ticket ride!

    The classic Italian moment happened as we were heading for our hotel. We were stopped in traffic and a very attractive young woman was walking past us along the sidewalk, making her jeans and t-shirt look exactly like the designers wished they all looked. A line of scooter riders came by and as they passed they turned their heads to the right, checked her out, then returned to the traffic. One after another, three or four in a row, then a car, then more scooters. They couldn’t have been more synchronized if they had been in a drill team. Classic. She was bellisima!

    Debb and I are not fond of big cities so we’ll be happy to get out of this one alive. We are hoping the GPS streak continues.

  • September 27, 2012 – Monza, Italy

    Another day in the big city. After a leisurely breakfast, we went back to MotoTouring and rearranged our luggage so we would have room for Gary and his gear. Only one missed exit on the run to Bergamo and one on the way back. So many signs!

    On some toll roads, they want money. Debb and I have been going through the toll points together and sometimes it only takes one swipe of the credit card to get the gate to swing up. Other times it takes two swipes. Once a male voice came over the speaker saying, “Due!” (doo-ay, two) He seemed grumpy so I slid my card in again. Another 1.80E and the gate was open. Other times you get a paper ticket that you slide back in when you get off. Usually one charge, but not always. Getting into Milan and running to the airport in Bergamo and back has probably put my toll total around E30. It’s not like our bikes are wearing out their roads!

    Lots more creative sound barriers today. Many were steel and glass and on the way to Bergamo there were big stretches of concrete planters with plants growing in every level. Not that pretty but maybe they bloom in certain times of the year. Overall, very creative barriers.

    Bergamo is a small airport. Easy to get in and out of and only one charge for two bikes. 🙂 Lots of buses to Milan and only E5 per ticket.

    When we got back to MotoTouring, the work began. I had a simple fix to get done; installing the missing fuse in my heated jacket wiring harness. I had to pull the side panel off because the fuse holder was just out of reach. Gary had much more to do. He brought a rebuilt shock for his bike with him and I shipped a new Lithium battery for it with our riding gear. I just did both shocks on our WeeStroms, so I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. Gary’s bike is an ABS model and the ABS hardware is right in the way of getting the remote reservoir out of the bike. We finally got enough fasteners removed to be able to pry stuff just enough to get it out. Getting the new one back in is more prying, but when we held our mouths just right it fell through the hole we needed to get it through.

    Gary had a couple issues with fasteners getting everything back together and while he did that I added enough foam padding to make the new Lithium battery be the same size as the old battery. It is so light when you pick up the box you think it is empty. His old battery was going on 4 years old and over two years of that has been sitting disconnected. The voltmeter read 12.1v. The Shorai battery was brand new in mid July and the battery voltage was 13.5v. We hooked it up and his bike fired to life. A couple of stops on the way here and it started without hesitation. Stay tuned for a report from a year from now to see how it holds up. The recommendation is to disconnect them when the bike is stored. Supposedly, only 8-10% loss over 12 months. We’ll see. If it works as advertised, I will be getting one or two for my bikes.

    We finally got out of Milan around 7PM. Rather than the freeway and more tolls, I decided to use surface streets. At first it is a bit intimidating, but after 30 minutes of being in it, you get a feel for how it works and pretty soon you’re going native. Filtering up at red lights, passing stopped traffic in the oncoming lane, riding the shoulders, making your own lanes, just about anything you would do if you knew there was no chance of ever getting a ticket. Just watch your mirrors!

    Lots of scooters, big and small, and lots of sport bikes, but I have yet to see a motard bike. Just before we left, the MotoTouring guy came back with his bike trailer hauling two nearly new BMW C600 scooters. Very nice looking machines. We have seen several of the BMW scooters with roofs. Not for me.

    We pulled in to our hotel here in Monza and they had no record of our reservation. I finally got my laptop out and showed them my reservation and receipt email. All good then and we made the long trek from the lobby to the ‘residence’ building where our room is. Nice place – 2 bedrooms, 2 baths and wired internet. Even a kitchen. The clerk that was helping us asked that I forward the reservation email so he could understand how it got lost.

    We are next to a big shopping and cinema mall, but it is all fast food there so we ate in the hotel restaurant. We had the ‘daily special’ and it was fine. Wine, desert and coffee included, and we spent an hour catching up on our respective weeks on the road.

    A good scrub in the shower tonight after all the wrenching and then we will head for the mountains tomorrow. Look up Dolomites and imagine you are riding along.


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