Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Into Austria

Today started with the alarm waking us at 6:30am so we could pack, eat breakfast, and be ready to leave by 8:30. Breakfast featured warm Brötchen, and Mike was in heaven to enjoy his favorite German breakfast.
We successfully fit all the essentials into our two side bags, a tail bag, and Mike’s tank bag. Essentials on a motorcycle tour mean warm liners for jackets and pants, rain gear, and basically one change of clothing. When you’re on the bike all day, that’s all you need!
We rode through mountain valleys and up and down two fun mountain roads into Walchsee where we stopped for a morning snack after 2 hours of riding. Apfelstrudel and hot chocolate enjoyed in an outdoor Konditorei hit the spot.

After a half hour break, we wound in and out of Germany and Austria on side roads lined with wide open fields bookended on both sides by the Alps. The mountains are so tall, I had to crane my neck back to see the tops. It’s a good thing I wasn’t driving, because I spent all my time looking from side to side, and often backwards to catch all of the farmhouses, small towns, and mountain views.

Lunch was in an outdoor cafe in Salzburg, followed by a walking tour of the city known as the birthplace of Mozart, the gorgeous Mirabell Castle and gardens, and the Hohensalzburg fortress high on a mountain on the outskirts of the city. References to the Sound of Music were interspersed throughout the tour, since the story takes place and the movie was largely filmed in and around Salzburg.

Everything looks very familiar in this part of Austria because Stratton ski area near our home was founded by Austrians who copied brought their architecture to Vermont, and the von Trapp family settled in northern Vermont.

The afternoon was spent twisting back and forth up and down mountain roads into Tramsweg, our stop for the next two nights. Hot, sunny weather finally gave in to clouds and a misting rain as we scaled the last mountain, and by the time we pulled into the parking lot at the Hotel Gambswirt, it started to thunder. Video:
Our first full day of riding lasted 10 ½ hours, but the time passed really quickly. It was fun to catch sight of the other bikes in front of us as we negotiated the hairpin turns in the mountains. The R1200GS is really comfortable for both Mike and I, but I definitely would prefer a different tailbag as this one digs into my back. It’s a small price to pay for incredible views, the fresh smell of pine forests, and time spent with Mike on the road.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Time to get on the bikes! The 5-country trip begins.

Excitement was high as we met for breakfast:  we’re getting on the road today! We packed up from the Hotel Concorde in Munich, and loaded on a bus for a visit to the BMW museum, followed by a trip up the Olympic tower. The tower itself is 950' to the very top, but we only took the elevator to the viewing platform at 630'. It was a fun morning, but everyone was ready to pick up their bike and start riding.

The trip started in Lenggriss 38 miles south of Munich, in the foothills of the Alps. Our home for the night was the Lenggrisser Hof, a beautiful, traditional Bavarian hotel complete with flowers hanging over window boxes.

 Martin BMW provided a range of motorcycles to fit single riders and 4 other couples riding two-up. We’re on a R1200GS, 400cc bigger than our bike at home.

After everyone picked up the bikes, we headed out for a 2-hour shakedown ride toward Hinterriss on narrow rural roads through the mountains. What looked like wide gravel plains dotted with isolated, stunted trees were actually river beds that are swollen with spring run-off, but this time of year contain only a trickle of water. Watch today's video here: We had a small taste of the mountainous roads to come this week, and we’re ready for more!

Tomorrow we head into Austria!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A great day for a walking tour

10 hours of sleep after a full day of traveling and adjusting to a 6-hour time difference was exactly what we needed to recharge our energy levels. After a quick breakfast in the hotel, we set out to explore Munich. First stop:  the Neues Rathaus, an imposing Gothic structure built between 1867 and 1909 to house the city government, topped with the much-loved 260’ tower that contains a carillion. We caught the 11am show when the 43 bells chime for almost 15 minutes, while 32 life-size statues rotate to the music. First, the top half of the carillion rotates in a circle, telling the story of the marriage of a local duke, complete with a joust. The crowd roared in approval when the Bavarian knight won the joust, tipping the Lothringen knight off his horse.

Next, the figures on the bottom half of the carillion perform the coopers’ dance, based on a story from the 14th century. In order to entertain and boost the spirits of people ravaged by the Plague, the coopers danced through the streets. The story and dance today symbolize perseverance and loyalty through difficult times. At the very end of the show, a small golden bird at the top of the carillion chirps three times, and the crowds dispersed.
Lured by even more church bells chiming, we walked around the various cobblestone-lined plazas to St. Peter's Church, the oldest parish church in Munich. It was dedicated in 1368, built on the site of an 8th century church. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to climb the 360 stairs to the 14th story of the church tower, said to provide the best view of Munich. Munich prohibits construction higher than 358’ in the old part of the city, which means that the church towers and steeples reach higher into the skyline than any other structures.
View of the Frauenkirche from St. Peter's tower
While I climbed the tower, Mike figured out how to get to the Frauenkirche, a gothic church dating from the 15th century that is a Munich landmark. Even with the cost savings by building out of brick instead of stone, money ran out and the domes at the top of the two towers weren’t finished until 1525. Putting Byzantine-style round domes on top of a Gothic cathedral doesn’t make much sense, but it worked financially and today it’s a symbol of Munich.
King Ludwig I's crypt inside the Frauenkirche

View of the Neues Rathaus from St. Peter's tower

Looking toward the new city center

We wandered down a side street, and ended up on the huge, open plaza in front of the Residenz, the home and  seat of government by Bavarian dukes and kings for 500 years. Begun in 1385, wings were added through the 1880's as various rulers wanted to put their own stamp on the complex. We didn’t go inside, but walked through several courtyards and admired the architecture.
Just past the Residenz we walked through several smaller plazas lined with imposing buildings, including statues and fountains memorializing several dukes and kings. Mike couldn’t resist stopping by  a Mercedes showroom to see the 2010 F1 race car.

We peeked briefly inside the Theatinerkirche, built in the late 1600's, because Sunday morning services were being conducted. The outside is unassuming, but the inside is filled with stucco decorations in the Italian high-Baroque style, covering every surface of the walls.
Mike loved the Siegestor, or "Victor Gate" with 3 huge arches large enough to drive through, built in 1852 in the style of the Arch d’Triumph in Paris to glorify the Bavarian army. In fact, a large statue of a Bavarian king, driving a chariot with four lions. Normally chariots are powered by horses, but since the lion is the symbol of Bavaria, it makes sense to see chariots with lions in this part of Germany.  The inscription along the top reads:  Dem Sieg geweiht, vom Krieg zerstört, zum Frieden mahnend, which translates to:  "Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, reminding of peace" and today instead of glorifying war, commemorates peace.
Our eventual goal was the Englischergarten, a 1000 acre park created in 1787 in the center of the city that reminded us of Central Park in NYC because of the winding paths for bicycles, folks on rollerblades, walkers, and horses. We followed the sound of a Bavarian oom-pah band to the Chinese Tower, home of a large outdoor beer garden packed with people enjoying the warm late summer day. 

We enjoyed lunch outdoors in a sea of picnic tables. Mike opted for Weisswurst, but I was sausaged-out and chose a salad and cheese plate with crusty bread.
Then it was time for more walking:  through the park to the Isar river which winds through Munich. We followed a shaded walking and bike path along the river, emerging street-side at the Luitpold bridge.  Throngs of locals were out with kids and dogs, sunbathing on the rocky banks of the river, and even wading across the more shallow parts of the river to claim a spot on the rocks in the middle of the river itself.
By this time, it was mid-afternoon and time for a nap, so we headed back to the hotel. We thoroughly enjoyed wandering around Munich without a definite plan or destination, admiring the architecture, turning down interesting-looking side streets, and window-shopping. This was our last full day before meeting up with the motorcycle group tomorrow afternoon, and we’re ready to get on the bike!

Beer and Wurst!

Our hotel is right on the edge of the Altstadt, or old city of Munich which means narrow, winding cobblestone streets, historical buildings, and Gasthäuser - restaurants that offer beer and Wurst (sausage) every couple of blocks.  We had lunch at Zum Dürnbräu, a small place tucked into a tiny side street.  Established in 1482, it’s one of the oldest Gasthäuser in Munich. I celebrated our return to Germany with Käsespätzle (noodles with melted Emmental cheese and crispy onions), while Mike enjoyed Schnitzel.

We wandered around the streets of the Altstadt in the afternoon, and met Eric and Catherine for dinner at the Weisses Brauhaus where we enjoyed Wiener Schnitzel and  Reibedaitschl (traditional potato pancakes) served by a waitress in a dirndl, the traditional Bavarian dress, at large wooden communal tables.

After dinner, we walked around the Altstadt, enjoying the throngs of people out for the evening, and finally stopping in the Ratskeller in the basement of the Neues Rathaus, for a glass of wine to end the evening.
At this point, we’d been awake for over 24 hours and were feeling the 6-hour time difference. Beds topped with feather comforters were very welcome!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Willkommen in Deutschland!

Mike channeled his Irish heritage on the Aer Lingus flight. It was fun to hear the Irish accents of the crew, and they spoke Gaelic for some of their greetings and security instructions. The flight was packed, but it was only 5.5 hours. We left Logan at 6:40pm and arrived in Dublin at 5:20am Irish time (5 hours time difference).
It’s not surprising that it was raining in Dublin, but the sun peeked out long enough for a large rainbow to form over the runway. Airport security involved a long line, but the Irish security were friendly and efficient. We had a lot of fun reading the signs in both Gaelic and English. One of our favorites:  cheadaítear grianghrafadóireacht which means "no photography allowed". Of course I wanted to take a picture, but settled for one of the plane instead: 
We then walked through what seemed to be a big shopping mall to get to our connecting flight to Munich. At times we felt like we were back in Disney World, where to exit every attraction you’re forced to walk through shopping area.
We flew out of the Munich airport several times when we lived in Germany, and were always impressed with the amount of security from armed police, often with dogs in tow. Today security was minimal:  a friendly policewoman checked our passports, we picked up our luggage, and that was it!
It’s raining and cool in Munich, but that didn’t stop us from taking the 35-minute S-Bahn train from the airport to within 2 blocks of our hotel.
Imagine our surprise when we got off the S-bahn and met a couple carrying the same helmet bags as us! Eric and Catherine are from Ottowa, and this is their first motorcycle tour as well.
We’re staying for 3 nights at the Hotel Concorde, a small family-run hotel on a winding and narrow side street, close to the Isartor, one of the remnants of the original city walls built between 1285 and 1347. The room is just as we remember hotel rooms in Germany:  small yet very clean with friendly and helpful staff.
It’s time to unpack our bags and explore!

Friday, August 26, 2011

First trip to Europe in 26 years!

Mike and I lived in Germany for the first three years of our marriage. I was stationed in Augsburg as part of the Army military intelligence service, and Mike worked for Sony in the PX system. We loved living in Bavaria and the opportunity to travel throughout western Europe. We always planned on returning to Europe, but life, kids, and work got in the way.
Today we’re head back to Germany! We’re flying Aer Lingus through Dublin, and then transferring on to Munich. The reason for the trip? We’re celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary with a 12-day, 5-country motorcycle tour through the Alps with RoadRUNNER Magazine, followed by a week-long barge/bicycle trip in the Netherlands.
We started figuring out what to pack – and what to leave home – earlier this summer. We have to carry everything with us on the motorcycle, and the barge has very little space for suitcases and luggage. Our goal is to bring only the essentials – motorcycle gear (including helmets and raingear), bicycle gear (including another helmet) and a minimum amount of extra clothing. Thank goodness RoadRunner sent us very cool bags for our motorcycle helmets, since we’re using them as our carry-on luggage. A camera and paperback book fit nicely inside the helmet! Check out one of our suitcases, full of motorcycle gear:

There always seems to be some sort of malfunction when traveling, and we had two today.
First, our dishwasher started leaking about 45 minutes before we planned to head out the door. Mike pulled out his tools and worked his magic, but if we had left while the dishwasher was still running we could have had some serious water problems in the house.
Second, I took out my contact lenses and put on my glasses when we got to Logan Airport in Boston, and the promptly forgot to put the contact lens solutions in the checked baggage. When my carry-on was identified for extra scrutiny, I knew immediately what I had done. The contact lens solution bottles are too big to pass airport security, so I’ll be looking for alternative solutions once we get to Germany. At least I have my glasses!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lynde Motorsports

Sometimes an unplanned trip on the BMW is the most fun.

Mike and I both finished work early, the sun was shining, and it was Friday afternoon. Time for a ride! Mike read an article in BMW ON about Lynde Motorsports in Brattleboro, VT. We live about 45 miles from Brattleboro, and it's a beautiful ride through the mountains. The shop was holding an open house during Brattleboro's Gallery Walk and it sounded like fun - and it was!

The ride over to Brattleboro takes us up Bromley Mountain on Routes 11/30, then on Route 30 by Stratton Mountain and through the lovely mountain towns of Jamaica and Newfane. Route 30 is a gem on a bike!

As we headed into Brattleboro along the Connecticut River, it started to sprinkle. My new high-vis yellow jacket was up to the rain, even without the waterproof lining. The sun came out, and we rode directly toward a rainbow that lit up the sky across the mountains.

Brattleboro always has a lot of activity and something interesting going on. We weren't disappointed on this trip:  the streets were packed with people visiting the shops and galleries. When we pulled onto Flat Street near Lynde Motorsports, we were met by a sea of bikes.

This is our bike on the end. Even though it rained on and off, everyone was in great spirits. A band was setting up, adding to the festive atmosphere. Of course I was hungry, and Rigani wood-fired pizza came to our rescue.

They brought their portable wood-fired pizza oven and baked pizzas to order. Delicious! We followed the pizza with fantastic ice cream from the Newfane Cafe and Creamery. We've passed by the Creamery often, but never stopped. It's now on my 'must stop for ice cream' list.

While we enjoyed the pizza and ice cream, we talked bikes with the folks wandering around and saw another rainbow, this one right over downtown Brattleboro. Two rainbows in one evening has to mean something special.

I haven't been on the bike at dusk yet this summer, and the ride home reminded me how beautiful this time of day can be. We kept an eye out for deer who might want to cross the road in front of us, and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. An impromptu decision to go for a ride turned into rainbows, very cool bikes, a friendly and helpful bike shop, excellent food, and the opportunity to experience local art. Perfect!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Home from the Adirondacks

It's not often that we  have two sunny, warm, beautiful weekend days, but the weather was smiling on us for day 2 of our Adirondack trip. We were greeted with fog when we woke up, but by the time we walked into town and enjoyed another delicious breakfast at Jane and Cathy's restaurant (check out the Elron breakfast sandwich on a hard roll) and strolled back to the motel, the sun was shining and all the fog had burned off.

Wayne and Colleen headed north toward home, and Mike and decided on another circular route before we turned toward Vermont. We started out going west on Route 28, and turned north on 28N in Blue Lake. This is a wonderful spot:  small, friendly town on a large lake ringed by the mountains. We didn't have time to stop at the Adirondack Museum, which is another reason for us to head back to this area.

We followed 28N east until it joined back to Route 28. We rode about 2 hours in a large circle, ending up just 18 miles east of our starting point. It was a gorgeous 2 hour ride with forests as far as we could see, lots of steep climbs and downhills, and again almost no traffic.

Home was calling us, so we set a more direct course back to southwestern Vermont. I never get tired of riding east, seeing the Green Mountains in the distance. The Mettowee Valley runs from Granville, NY through Pawlet, VT with mountains bordering dairy farms on both sides of Route 30. Some favorite stops on this route include Mach's General Store in Pawlet where you can sit outside and enjoy the scenery with a snack, the Dorset Union Store on the green in Dorset (don't miss their fresh-baked treats), and the Dorset quarry (an old marble quarry that supplied stone for the New York City public library building and now is a favorite swimming spot).

We rode 145 miles, starting in the middle of the Adirondacks and ending up back home in the Green Mountains. That's one of the great things about riding in the northeast:  there are always mountains to explore!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Adirondack trip

What an awesome trip! We drove up to Indian Lake, in the  middle of the Adirondack State Forest in the rain on Friday afternoon, and Saturday morning we had clear blue skies and temperatures in the 70's - perfect for a long ride!

Check out the map of our route here. We basically rode in a big circle, with a couple of little jaunts to the side when something was interesting - like the Great Sacandaga Lake, which is actually a reservoir developed to reduce spring-time flooding from the Hudson and Sacadaga rivers. The roads along the lake are perfect for riding - and watching all the various types of boats on the lake. Don't miss Northville, a great little town with a fabulous spot for mid-ride stop:  Java John's coffee shop. We stopped mid-morning, sat outside and enjoyed cold beverages, scones and muffins.

After lunch, we were riding through farmland, and all of a sudden came across huge windmills marching across the ridgeline. Later on we found out it's the Hardscrabble Windfarm in Herkimer, NY with 37 windmills! Check out our video of the trip, and you'll see how huge these windmills are.

The Adirondacks is a huge area, over 6 million acres. Designated as a park in 1892, it's actually larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite parks combined - and doubled! There are only 100,000 fulltime residents in the entire park, which means if you stay outside the major tourist towns you have the pavement all to yourself. Camping, hiking, kayaking, and snowmobiling opportunities are everywhere. Some of the thousands of lakes are quiet and undeveloped, while a few are major tourist attractions. In between you'll find lots of small lakes ringed by summer cottages with a small town anchoring the shoreline. One of my favorites is Inlet, on a chain of lakes that are numbered (First through Eighth) rather than named.

We finished the day back in Indian Lakes, right on time for dinner reservations at 6:30pm. There aren't a lot of restaurants, and on a busy summer weekend reservations are definitely in order. It was a perfect day:  sunshine, warm but not-too-hot weather, twisty roads up and down through the mountains, very little traffic, and good company. I'm ready to go back!