Thursday, July 20, 2006

July 20th, 2006 - Interlaken, Switzerland to Andermatt, Switzerland

I had gotten the recommendation to ride over Glaubenbulen Pass, also known as the "Panorama Strasse" from my Irish bar “American Iron” enthusiast the night before. I opted for the "there and back" approach to Glaubenbuelen heading over Breunig Pass to Giswil then left at an intersection in town. The road soon became one lane through farm houses with nice views down towards a town and a lake. It climbed up into cow pastures and eventually opened up onto green hills. The tour book described it as "Heidi Country...” With my ass hurting only slightly less than my back, I gave it a solid "eh" although I'll acknowledge that by this point, I was becoming a bit of an Alp view snob if you can imagine that.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

Retracing the road to Meringgen and then passing the Susten Pass road I had taken on the way in, I found the signs for Grimsel Pass and Gletsch. Grimsel was a great road through more and more bare granite that felt a lot like Tuolumne Meadows in the high country above the Yosemite Valley. Makes sense given the Lauterbrunnen/Yosemite comparisons. The top has a few man-made lakes and a gasthaus with a nice patio with an almost 360 degree view. I took some video on the bike during the ride up to try to give people an idea of what it was like.

Well, turns out, when I wrote the above, I had no idea what I was about to find. Descending from the Grimsel Pass, I came around a corner and was presented not only with a view of the twisting hairpins to the valley below but with an expansive vista of the Rhone Glacier and the Furka Road literally hung in Z's leading up to it. Hairpin after hairpin zigzagged their way up the mountain to a gasthaus just short of the top.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

Inside the shop, a turnstyle and 5 francs got me out onto a trail leading right down to the glacier. The granite path took a sharp turn across a slope and was replaced with a shifting wooden plank walkway bolted (occasionally) into the rock. As I followed the planks traversing the slope down towards the glacier, they amazingly continued directly through an 8 foot high passageway cut into the wall of ice. Upon entering, the blue light of the ice surrounded me and the occasional drip from the ceiling of the tunnel could be felt but the planks led deeper into the belly of the glacier. After a minute or so, the hallway expanded into a circular room with illuminated ice sculptures, but was I was really interested in was the group of four nuns in full black and white habits that had followed me into the passage. Whether it was the bizarre concept of tourist nuns or their visual similarity to a flock of penguins waddling across the ice, I became obsessed with capturing a picture of them. I lurked in the icy shadows fiddling with camera settings until I saw them make their way back out the hallway and I could slither in behind them to get the shot.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

On the other side of the Furka Road, I wound down into the little Swiss ski town of Andermatt, my destination for the night. After a couple laps through the classic gingerbread house wooden buildings with flowers overflowing from every window, I found a reasonable hotel near the center and settled in at a picnic table out front for some food and drink, to update my journal on my wireless keyboard and Palm device, and to watch the people. A little burnt out on fried food, I ordered something that seemed remotely healthy on the menu.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

Soon after, I noticed a very cosmopolitan couple walk by looking for a table out front of the hotel then continue inside when they were all taken, even if only by a single sweaty American at an eight-top. When they reappeared from inside a few moments later, I clumsily stood up and with a combination of gestures and a legitimate German word, “frei,” communicated that they were welcome to share the table with me. They sat down just as my wurst salad was delivered by the waitress. It turns out that in addition to being descriptively named (“worst salad” indeed), it’s something that’s just not ordered by anyone who actually lives within 1000 km of here (or realizes it’s just cut up cold sausage on lettuce with ranch dressing on it). Between my order and the fact that I only looked over and smiled when the German family at the table next to us all laughed loudly after the father responded to a question from their 5 year old, my table partners assumed I was not German and finally asked me in English, “Did you understand what the father just said to his child?” I said I didn’t and they explained that the boy had asked his father, “Why does that man have such a small computer?” and the father had responded “That man is so poor he can't afford a bigger computer!” I’m fairly confident he meant it as a joke, but it must have been funnier in German.

Oddly enough, after we got to talking, it turned out that this put-together couple arrived this afternoon on a BMW R1150GS and were considering options to avoid a couple days of rain they’ve heard was heading towards the mountains. They ordered a few more bottles of wine for the table and the three of us sat there talking about motorcycles, German cars, and technology for hours. The conversation only faltered briefly when they asked how I ended up with a German last name, and I responded that my grandparents were Jews from Russia. I hadn’t really realized that shame from World War II was still so present in modern day Germans. We talked a little about the hesitance of the German people to show any nationalism, the affect of the World Cup in Germany only a few weeks earlier, and the preference of German school children to watch TV shows in English. By the end of the night, I’d been invited and had accepted to ride with them the next day South out of the Alps to a lake region just North of the Italian border.

Around 280 km

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