Day 3 - Kitzbuhel to Belluno, Italy
Fair warning, no sarcastic jokes and nothing went wrong today, but lots and lots of overly enthusiastic prose about how utterly brilliant, if knackering, the journey was, along with loads of photos. It wasn't a long day distance-wise, about 200 miles, but took around eight hours to do as it was all done on tiny Alpine roads, with everything from 22 degree sun to near-freezing snow and hail. Easily the most fun day I've had on the bike yet.
The starting point was Kitzbuhel which on 1st July is not quite in-season yet so is very sleepy and kind of preparing itself for the summer season, but unlike the arrival yesterday it was sunny and warm. From there is was up to a town called Zell am See, a ski resort by a lake, then from there turn right towards the Grosglockner and the High Alpine Road.
A quick mid-morning coffee-stop at the cafe in this photo, and then off towards the High Alpine Road itself. The road is a toll road billed as the highest road in Austria, but at 25 Euro is easily the best £20 anyone on two wheels will ever spend. It is about 45km of narrow twisting road which winds its way up and up and up, passing through layers of cloud, up to around 2,600 meters, about 8,500 feet. The views are spectacular from start to finish and bikers of every type abound everywhere on it.
The route started out nice and sunny, twisting it's way up towards the snow line, with patches of cloud occasionally rolling in. The photo here of the mountain poking through the cloud layer is around this point where it was still about 19 degrees and sunny. Then at roughly 7500 feet high you cross over a ridge... Oh boy did the weather change. Within about half a mile it had gone from 19 degrees and sunny, to 9 degrees and absolutely chucking it down, then to 3 degrees and sleet and snow and hail and rain, rain rain like I've never seen. I'd swear it was coming upwards from the valley below as well as down from above! This probably sounds like crazy talk, but it was absolutely brilliant! Invigorating and fun and thoroughly enjoyable, especially under a decent coat and I'd stopped on the ridge to put waterproof trousers and gloves on as the weather had looked heavy ahead.
The road has very occasional cafes dotted along it so as the rain was just beginning to penetrate the gloves I pulled off for a warming coffee, emergency chocolate cake and a change of gloves to a nice dry pair. Chocolate cake fixes most problems in life. Changing gloves is one of the benefits of having brought no less than four pairs of gloves with me - perhaps a touch obsessive I admit! I should also sacrifice a goat or something in eternal thanks for the Burgman’s heated seat and heated grips.
From the cafe it is still another 20km or so to the Grosglockner glacier itself, and about 7km from the glacier itself another road joins coming up from Lienz and is where coaches visiting the glacier come up from. The road is so small and twisty though that the coaches never get over about 10kph so overtaking is no problem at all. The Burgman has a 'Power Mode' which makes it stay in a higher rev range and be more responsive so I left it in that and the coaches were no issue at all as I darted past. I'd swear I hadn't stopped grinning for about two hours.
The glacier itself was a little shocking in an eco-beardy kind of way. I have been there before but it must have been when I was about 12 or 13 or something and we went by coach. Back then you got out of the coach and either got onto this little funicular thing that took you down from the main car park or just went down some steps and walked out onto the ice itself. Now some 30 or so years later the coach park sits a long long way from the glacier, with the visitor centre still being a good kilometre or more from the end of it and the funicular lift jobby and steps are now just running down to the rocky base where the glacier used to be. Seeing such a retreat for myself was really surprising - very different from reading about it or seeing it on TV.
From there you double back on yourself for 7km to the junction with the road from Lienz, then turn onto that to start the long slow winding route down and towards Italy.
I did get a salutary reminder on the way down of the need to take it carefully on the exceptionally tight hairpins when one sports biker heading the other way over-cooked it completely coming around the corner, ran wide onto my side of the road and was mere inches from running out of road completely. He was lucky to have got away with that. Very lucky. The corner was unusually wide with a bit of run-off, I was a long way back and could give him a flash to let him know I'd seen him and he had time to get himself sorted again, and there was no car or coach coming up.
As you descend you finally exit the High Alpine Road toll route, and after some thick thick fog back into the sun and warm again. All this way has been tiny and very quiet roads - absolutely fantastic. However from here to Belluno didn't exactly get busy, just onto what we could call B roads and an occasional A road to trundle happily along through this part of the Alps, or the Dolomites.
You can tell you are in Italy now rather then Austria by the road users. The Alpine road was full of Germans on big powerful sports bikes or touring bikes, clad in enough leather to survive a plane crash. As I got close to Belluno I couldn't help grinning at the sight of the chap coming the other way - an open-faced helmet, in shorts, flip flops, t-shirt, on an old red Vespa, with a fag hanging casually out of his mouth. Pure Italian!
Belluno itself was somewhere I just chose at random as a place that looked about in the right spot for an overnight stay but turned out to be a lovely large town. The hotel's restaurant looked a bit poncey and over-priced so I jumped back on the scooter to head into town and being on a scooter in Italy has one major benefit - park wherever you like! There was a food fair thing on in the main square and the car parking was all packed but scooters? Just drive into the pedestrianised square itself and abandon it on a corner somewhere among dozens of other scooters of all shapes and sizes, perfect!
The hotel is up on a hill overlooking the town and surrounding mountains at during the night a huge thunderstorm rolled through just adding to the drama of the day, a great end to a great day.