July 2010

part 4: Switzerland - Austria

Beginning of July, time to say goodbye to Tobias and Arianne super thankful for hosting me in the best way possible at the South West end of Switzerland. On this nice day I have to ride across the whole country to make it to Austria. I ask Tobias about the best route to follow on (as usual) non toll roads and his reply describes Switzerland in one sentence:

Then you are obliged to pass through fantastic places

We ride together for a few km, for totally different reasons though as he was just commuting to his daily work routine and we split as I make my way North East leaving behind this top guy. In the tender hands of Swiss countryside beauty is never a rarity and Col de la Croix which is right before Les Diablerets at 1778m confirms it:

The only mediocre thing around there is (as you may noticed on the right image above) the quality of tarmac, considering I am riding in Switzerland. Normally they really pay attention to road repairs hence the latter can last long. I saw workers pouring tarmac on cracks with a jar literally adapting the precision of a top pastry chef.

Right after Les Diablerets heading East, Col du Pillon welcomes me at 1546m:

I love riding on the 11 later. a route that passes through Weissenbach, gets even better around Boltigen but what really touched me more was the city of Thun. It is a medieval city built right by the Thunersee lake:

It really worth spending some time there even if you don't have much available to walk around this gorgeous city and tour around the lake. Especially the route on the North side of this lake is amazing crossing tunnels dug in the rock while the water of the lake is right beside you. The Brienzersee lake right at the east of Thunersee is as beautiful. The whole area there is very attractive and offers countless chances for pleasant pit stops.

I make a mistake later at Innertkitchen and instead of continuing east on 11 I take the 6 going South east. As I told you before though you can't go wrong at Switzerland - wherever you go you'll expose your eyes at wonderful views. This “mistake” of mine first leads me to lake Raterichsbodensee:

And then to Grimselsee:

Both of them offer perfect tarmac and nice bends for driving pleasure. Obviously the Grimsellpass is my next stop with the lake Totesee beautifying this special place.

Guaranteed attraction for the (sometimes quite funny) tourist buses:

At the end of the deviation this “mistake” caused, I do the Furkapass which has a unique wild beauty, lies at 2436m with a lot of snow and cold, while the weather is about to rain limiting my joy a little bit:

The left picture of me above is a kind offer by two cyclists who were more than happy to make it up there. They looked so excited that I offered to picture them so they did back the same to me. I am almost too hungry already to skip this foodie on the right picture but it is kinda too cold up there to enjoy eating so I decide to do so later in more human friendly conditions.

Heading for Austria I cross Lichtenstein which once more didn't impressed me that much (I was there a year ago November of 2009) and the main road that crosses it has a lot of traffic. Here I am at Austria and as I enter Hohenems, a mediocre town, I look for a place to stay for one night since my next host isn't available today. A cyclist out of nowhere offers to help me on that before I even step off my bike - probably attracted by a loaded motorbike with a Greek number plate. Greece is already often on the news worldwide for all the wrong reasons so maybe except from him being a super kind guy anyway there was a bit of mercy involved too. He shows me that by coincidence I have stopped only a few steps away from the local hotel and as I see no reception he escorts me to show what is what. This was my first experience with a fully automated hotel check in so I'm glad I got a helping hand. Since he was such a giving person I ask him where I can park my bike as the only space available around looked like the front space of a pizza house. He then tells me this also belongs to the hotel, pizza house is over and they serve their breakfast there instead. "Wow - I really wanna try that breakfast then" I thought, he assures me the bike will be more than safe during the night and I super thank this cyclist sent by the God of travellers (I case there is one...).

As I enter my room I am really glad it will offer me a nice rest after 400 km on non toll roads crossing all Switzerland at once. I also have the sound of a river which I can control its volume by inclining the window. Sweet. I go out for dinner and I find a good looking restaurant. The world football championship is still on, the German team does great and since I am solo, non German and indifferent to watching the match live I am offered an isolated table behind a tree. German wins Argentina, cars carry German flags and smiley passengers and I just walk back to drop dead on my bed.

Next morning it's finally time for that breakfast and wow - it really delivers! With a happy stomach and great weather I ride up to the nearby town of Dornbirn. This is where I would meet my friend Luna. Among other things in her life she has done a tour around South America for a year and a half alone on an Enfield. She changed around 5 pistons by herself on that trip. Now I am at her hometown she is away for the weekend so I would meet her sister Marianne first instead. I am early on our appointment so I decide to go at the local river where I find a place in the shade to sit for a while as the day turned quite like Greek summer. Funny how the locals are attracted to these paddles - sea spoiled enough coming from Greece I wouldn't even put my foot there while they even try to swim:

I find myself a bench and park my bike in the shade so we're both square:

I was looking at the families passing by with their bicycles, often exchanging nodding and smiles with me and I find the perfect soundtrack for the whole view listening to “Ready for drowning” from Manic Street Preachers on my netbook though I was not “Ready for drowning” in the river at all. Unexpectedly I feel my eyes wet. I guess a significant amount of travelling emotions just found the right time and place to overflow triggered by the music. Impressive...

I couldn't have a better guide than Marianne in Dornbirn. She took me to Luna's place where I'd stay and as soon as I leave my luggage in her prestinely clean and tasty apartment she drives me to the Bodensee lake where we swim for a little while. It's too hot to say no to the lake's water though the latter is too dirtish green for my (as I said sea spoiled) taste. Funny that my first ever swim in a lake was meant to take place so far from home (did I mention sea spoiled enough already?) We then jump to her little sailing boat for a tour around the rather crowded lake. The crowd was no surprise on a Saturday that felt quite Greek and not much Austrian weather wise.

Ladies and Gents, Lake Kostanz/Bodensee:

Marianne keeps on leading me to all the interesting places around the lake:

as well as in the beautiful old centre of Dornbirn:

There, I am lucky enough to watch a great band from Rimini Italy playing for the local festival. Later in the evening together we visit her father's project exposed in public: A fully restored steam engine from Stuttgart, the oldest one around as it was manufactured on 1858 and used to work for a textile industry:

It is placed inside a glass frame and if you put one euro you can see it working for a while. For some reason my euro made it work for a lot more than a while, really don't know why...maybe the Gstoehl family's products where generous to me like the Gstoehls themselves! This lovely family invites me for launch next day and since the weather was nice Marianne also proposes me to go for hiking at the local canyon (Rappenlochschlucht). Betcha I didn't say no. It's actually a triple canyon, impressively narrow at some points and you also have to walk inside a dark tunnel:

Since I showed you before how thirsty for swimming locals are in the absence of coastline you can imagine how happy they are for spots like this there:

Click image to see that guy I caught in the air clearer

Here's one of the most narrow passes - you gotta walk in the rock via a tunnel on the right:

This hiking leads as to the artificial lake of Staufensee which was made for the second oldest hydroelectric plant (Ebensand) that was built there about a century ago:

After a lot of hours hiking in the dense forest with the rich vegetation and the extra tall trees we arrived at the cable car station which made our way back.

As you can imagine descending from this point just below 1000m above sea level gives you a wonderful overview of Dornbirn and the surrounding area, a great payback for walking hard all day:

Another worth doing thing is visiting the well known Rolls Royce museum which is located before the canyon and has the richest collection of cars. The whole area is very nice and even if you are lazy enough to not hike you can just drive up to Ebnit and have an easy but beautiful route on the way.

Later on the same day as I walk back home a Police van stop me. 3 officers come out including a gorgeous policewoman. They are all very kind and almost apologising tell me it's just a routine control. I just believe it's because I looked nothing but local to them. Fortunately they speak English and combined with their totally decent behaviour the whole procedure turned out to be a nice chat with me having the funny view of them trying to pronounce my name reading my Greek id card. We all laughed about it and at the end they offer to give me a lift up to my house. I kindly deny as I am just a few steps away and then they ask me if I need anything else in general. My second encounter with the police abroad just finished, both of them in Austria though! Later at Luna's place she arrives and the day ends with the two of us drinking and chatting about her upcoming trip to Mongolia at her balcony.

I am thinking about heading East next morning leaving from Dornbirn, though the forecast was expecting rain. What I had in my mind was not how much rain I would face the next day but the fact that I had just crossed Switzerland a couple of days ago, a biker's heaven country, and I just had a remarkable weekend at Dornbirn where except visiting some of the must see places there I feel lucky that I managed to meet the whole Gstoehl family (almost) and I want to thank every single one of them so much for everything they done for me while I stayed close to them. Great people.

Click below to continue: