A Ride in the Dolomites and Alps

In November of 2011 I made a trip to Salzburg and Venice. I spent the last three days of this trip in Munich.  I was enjoying the architecture of the old town, and tasting the local fare.  I knew there was a BMW factory in Munich and I wanted to go see what they had in the way of an exhibit.  The factory and adjacent BMW exposition, “BMW World,” are located in Olympic Park in the north end of town.  They have a good subway system in Munich, and getting there from my hotel was simple.

Although the Munich plant is all automobile production, and all BMW motorcycles are manufactured in Berlin, the exposition has an extensive motorcycle section with all the latest production models displayed.  I spoke with a very pleasant young woman who works as a guide and spokesperson.  She was a very enthusiastic and effervescent representative.  We spent some time discussing various topics, from favorite places to ride, to different riding positions.  I finally got around to what I really wanted to ask her.  Where would be a good place to inquire about renting a motorcycle?

At her recommendation, I went to a BMW motorcycle dealership that was one subway stop down the line.  It was November, and  the rentals desk was not open. However, the man who administered the rental side of the business was in attendance.  The ensuing question-and-answer session I had with him was enough to tip the scales.  I learned how easy it would be to rent a motorcycle from them.  I’m pretty sure it was at this point that I was hooked on the idea of planning a ride.

I spent a year thinking about it.  The idea of such a ride was on a low simmer in the back of my mind throughout the 2011 riding season.

Then, in November of 2011, I took a trip to Rome and Naples.  It was good weather, a great visit, and everywhere I looked I saw motorcycles and scooters.  I came home with a fresh determination and vigor to make a ride in Italy.  I still had all the maps and information I had gathered while on the visit to the Dolomites and Munich in 2010.  I offered it up to the PNWST group’s web-site to see if I could attract any of the guys there to making the ride. I cooked up a spreadsheet so I could come up with a way to calculate the costs of such a trip. I spent a week plugging in formulas to account for all the variables, from air fare, to exchange rates, to gasoline prices.

I formed the outline of the trip in just a few weeks.  I then sat back and started considering the details.  Minding the budget of the trip is a high priority.  I hope I will be able to attract a couple of my riding friends to make the trip at some point, so I’m going to cut corners everywhere I can to get the cost down.  Although it’s no small matter to achieve, my goal is to get the cost as low as possible.  That’s my big challenge in the planning phase.  I’ll have no problem getting the cost lower than that of the organized motorcycling guided tour companies.  The largest costs are the air fare and motorcycle rental.  Just below that are the costs of gasoline and lodgings.

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

When I first started monitoring air fares, round-trip costs were in the neighborhood of  $1400.  That was in November and December of 2011.  I looked again in late March, and found the air fares about $400 lower.  That was surprising, because fuel prices have risen steadily since then.  I booked my flight Monday April 2nd.  I’ll leave Seattle ~ 8 am on Friday, August 24th, and arrive in Munich at 9 a.m. Saturday morning.  There is a 9-hour time change between Seattle and Munich.  My flight east has a 1 hour 50 minute plane change in Philadelphia.  That’s just about the right amount of time.  It’s never any fun to be rushed through an airport.

I’m starting to think about how I’ll get my helmet and riding suit into the overhead bin.  I may have to check a bag, which would cost me a bit extra.  In all the times I’ve flown, I’ve had only one occasion in which my bag did not arrive at my destination.  On that occasion, the airline found my bag and delivered it the next day to a local hotel where I recovered it.   Granted, I don’t often check a bag when I travel, but I have a hunch that the stories of airlines losing luggage are a bit out of proportion to the numbers of bags that arrive with their owners the way they should.  If I have to check a bag it won’t be a big concern to me. One downside to checking a bag is that, when I arrive back in the US in Philadelphia on my return flight, I will have to recover my bag, clear customs, and then recheck it for the flight back to Seattle.  It’s not that much work, but it can be time-consuming. I’ll have a little over two hours in Philadelphia on the return, so it won’t put me in a time crunch.  It means standing in a few lines I would be able to avoid if I find a way to do the trip without checking a bag.

Monday, June 11th, 2012

I have booked the Hotel Aster in Merano for six nights. Merano is about 20 miles northwest of Bolzano. I decided that Merano is central enough to hit the roads that I have planned; east to the Dolomites, and west to Stelvio Pass and a foray into Switzerland. The cost for the lodgings is € 763.80 ($ 954.87) for six nights. That rate includes breakfast. There are cheaper hotels, and I could have gone down-market but the Euro has been dropping and I am riding alone, so I decided to go a step up. I am going to get my spread sheet updated so the cost of the trip can be accurately calculated.

Sunday, July 15th

I’m making arrangements to UPS one of my suits and helmets to Munich. I plan to send them ahead to the motorcycle shop.  After contemplating how to get them there and not pay for baggage, and not try to squeeze it into my carry-on, I struck upon a great idea.  I’ll ship the motorcycle gear.

I have the hotels in Munich nailed down as well.  Upon arrival I will stay at Hotel am Schlosspark Zum Kurfürst.  There is some sort of festival in Munich that week and rooms in the center of town were pretty scarce.  All of the moderately priced places were booked, and all that was left was the flea-bags.  This place is on the way from the airport so I grabbed it.  The rates are reasonable at $176 for two nights.  It’s in a green area with open spaces.  It’s a good choice to catch up with the time change.  I always sleep the first 1.5 days after a big time shift.

My first day’s route will look pretty close to this:  Day 1

‘A’ is the bike rental.  ’B’ is Grossglockner Pass.  ’C’ is the Hotel Aster in Merano.  The route north of Merano looks pretty nice.  Some of this route is viewable on ‘Street View’ and some is not.  My research shows it to be pretty good roads.  I’m bypassing a lot of good roads so I can ride Glossglockner.  I hope it’s worth it.  I suspect I will want to keep the first day somewhat short.  When riding alone I can ride long distances because I don’t break very often.  Mostly because there’s no one to talk with if I stop.

I’m staying at King’s Hotel Centre in Munich on Labor Day.  I return home the next day.

Thursday, August 16th

I sent an email to the dealer where I’m renting the bike, and (for liability I suppose) they told me they would not be able to accept a package if I were to ship my riding gear. I figured out a way to get all of my gear into one bag. I’ll carry my helmet separately.

I did a dry-run packing my Nelson-Rigg bag. I am going to take my Rev-It riding suit. It packs tighter than any other suit. I own. If I take the armor out of it, it rolls small and tightly. I’ll put the back pad at the bottom of the bag. If I nest the elbow, knee, hip, and shoulder pads together, they fit inside my helmet. I’ll wear my ankle-length riding shoes on the plane, and pack my thin street shoes. My computer, cameras, shaving kit, and tech-junk are taking the lion’s share of the available space. I’ll keep clothing to a minimum. It’s only twelve days.

I am going to revise my proposed route from Munich to Merano and, instead, ride north on Grossglockner during my return from Merano to Munich. I would prefer to ride that route north with the sun at my back after I’ve recovered from jet-lag.

I’m scheduled to work Thursday night before departing Friday morning. I was going to try one of the hotels at Sea-Tac for an overnight and parking package. They offered a single night, with secured parking for $164. I got a much better offer from my buddy Marv.  He offered to let me stay over Thursday night and shuttle me to the airport Friday morning. He’ll then pick me up at Sea-Tac upon my return. I’ll leave my truck at his house for the duration.

I am currently working on routes for the first three days. It’s strange to have so many options. There are hundreds of roads my riding friends and I would consider ‘great’ roads. There are thousands of miles of paved, twisty, small, two-lanes in the Tirol region, and interesting things around them all.

In Flight – Seattle to Philadelphia

I worked on Wednesday, August 22nd for the 17th straight day. Man, was I ever glad to get to the end of that day! I had been watching the comings-and-goings of the guys in my riding group on our web site, and wondering why, of all the times of the year to end up working overtime, did I get talked into doing it in August. Granted, this month has been hot, to the point that riding in full gear can be mildly uncomfortable if you get stuck in traffic. But still, I don’t like to work overtime regardless of the weather. A co-worker once said to me that he might as well work the weekend. There was rain in the forecast, and he thought he’d might as well work. I tried to imagine enough rain to make me want to work, and decided if it ever rained that much, I’d be working on arks, not airplanes. 

My flight to Munich was on Friday morning, (matter of fact, I’m somewhere between Seattle and Philadelphia as I write this). I decided to take Thursday off as well, as a day to get caught up around the house and figure out an efficient way to get packed for my trip. 

A couple of weeks ago I was corresponding with my friend Marv, and asked him if he had ever availed himself of one of the stay-and-fly deals with any of the hotels at the airport in Seattle. I was expecting to book a hotel in Sea-Tac for the night before my flight, and get a break on extended parking from them. Marv offered up a suggestion to stay over at their place, and he’d drive me to the airport the next morning. (Really? Get up at four in the morning to drive me down to the airport?) Well, that was a great way to save myself $160, for a hotel and parking. 

Tuesday, I was telling him I want to do concealed installations of my radar detectors on my bikes. That means I need two detectors, so I nudged him to look around and find me a good deal on one. He has a knack for sniffing out bargains for such things. Sure enough, he sent me a Craigslist ad for an 8500 X50 detector for $190. It was a pretty good bargain. I arranged for the seller to meet us Thursday afternoon at the Kirkland Costco for the transaction. That would dovetail into my stay at Marv’s. 

My brand new/used radar detector will be waiting for me when I get home. I’ll install the high-tech one on the BMW, and the low-tech unit on the ZX-14. The only significant difference between the two is that the high-tech one has a subscription for the red-light-camera database. You can connect it to the internet periodically, and download the latest database of red light camera locations. You can then be alerted if you’re approaching one, and be sure not to take advantage of the tail end of a yellow light. After giving it some consideration, I decided that is a feature I would be more likely to use on the commuting BMW, than on the sport-touring ZX-14. 

After picking up the radar detector, I had finally completed all of my pre-trip tasks. My to-do list was a long set of lined-out chores. We got back to Marv’s, had a very nice dinner, and I sat down for some internet chess games. 

Earlier in the day whilst packing, I was studying ways to get everything I needed to take into my Nelson-Rigg tail bag. I still had some room left over. It was full, but it wasn’t yet about to blossom  into an explosion of motorcycle gear with the loss of a single seam’s stitch; I could get more in it. When I travel to Europe, I like to have dress clothes, rather than my usual variations on jeans and t-shirts. On this trip, I was taking mainly riding gear, after deciding I wouldn’t be spending much time in street clothes anyway. Why not lighten the load and leave the extra stuff behind? Well, that was my plan, but I had a few cubic inches of space left over. Why not take a pair of slacks, in case I wanted to go someplace up-market for dinner, or perhaps take in a musical performance? After all, there is a classical music festival in Merano in August and September. I looked at their calendar, and there are three performances that I would like to attend. One in particular is a baroque cello and violin performance. So, Yeah! I’ve got room for a pair of slacks, dress shirt and dress shoes. 

While playing chess at Marv’s, I was stewing over how much I was bringing with me. I had planned such a lean, efficient trip, and now my bag was sitting upstairs, bloated with things I wouldn’t need. It finally got to me. I went up, got my bag, and emptied it onto the family room floor. Marv looked on skeptically as I did an item-by-item inventory, and reduced my haberdashery by about a third. Dress shoes, dress slacks, dress shirt and socks were all extricated from my bag. 

Before leaving, I put all of the things I had jettisoned in my truck. They’ll be there when it’s time to go home. I was still mildly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get my bag in the overhead bin on the plane, but I felt liberated from the burden of too many things

We are now beginning our descent into Philadelphia. I’ve feasted on two peanut butter and jelly muffins, had a couple of cups of coffee, and I’m anxious to get to the terminal.

In Flight – Philadelphia to Munich

I’m about an hour from landing in Munich. The flight from Philadelphia was seven and a half hours. I was pretty comfortable for most of the trip. I had seat 17B. One of the few empty seats on the flight was seat 17A. That was a real luxury.

While I was at the boarding gate, I  didn’t see very many people. I thought the area seemed a bit void of people for an international flight on an A330. It seemed people came out of the woodwork when they made the PA announcement to board. I was beginning to worry that it would be a full flight, and bin space would run short. I was given a boarding pass with a big 6 on it; which means I get to board in the last group. Fortunately, I had a chair right next to the velvet ropes so, when “6” was called, I was the first in the group to get aboard.

As I boarded the airplane I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find enough space for my bag and my helmet in the overhead bin. I didn’t relish the idea of checking it, nor of putting my helmet on the floor, under the seat in front of me. After elbowing my way past Sonny Bono trying to hold his brief case from being jostled and get to his window seat, I got to my seat and found there was plenty of room in the bins.

Let me start with the meal. It was unremarkable. There was a small salad with a single slice of cucumber, a single cherry tomato, and some small pieces of lettuce. It was served with a tiny cup of French vinaigrette. The main  course was a small tray of penne in marinara. There were three slices of black olive in the sauce. It was served with a soggy whole wheat roll, a paper packet of salt, and a paper packet of pepper. There was a small cup of soft-spread margarine for the soggy roll. The packet of pepper turned out to be quite useful, but it turned out I didn’t need the packet of salt, The dessert was a chocolate chip cookie.

About three hours into the flight it was night time. The cabin lights were dimmed, and people were busying themselves with movies, games, and all manner of distractions. I curled myself up as tightly as I could in my spacious two seats, and dozed. At one point, I remember two of the flight attendants explaining to the German guy across the aisle from me that they were not going to give him any more bottles of Merlot. They told him that six were enough, and they were cutting him off. He got a little belligerent with them, and told them he wanted to see in writing that they could cut him off. I’ll give due credit to the flight attendants for handling him well. They stated simply that they are in charge, and they get to make the rules. It didn’t escalate to an air-marshal moment, but my vote was for pitching him out the door anyway. No one is less deserving of a ‘break’ than a belligerent inebriate on an airplane.

They have just called for me to secure my electronic devices. I am about to land in Munich. So begins the adventure.

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