Alps

Papal Palace and Southern France

DSCF1548Our ride this morning passed through fields of lavender running in all directions. The roads were narrow, line-less asphalt stretching out in front of us with a canopy of old trees lining our route with manicured hedges finishing the perfect picture. I wondered why these trees were planted with such perfect precision, mile after mile cooling the air around us from the sun as it heated up the fields of lavender, grapes and other crops in the French countryside. Later in the day our questions were answered. The Emperor Napoleon is credited with originating the policy of lining French roads with trees, to enable his soldiers to march in the shade.

DSCF1546Flowers were everywhere as we entered the center square of Forcalquier and the Monday farmers market. There were a vast variety of vendor selling everything from garlic and more varieties of olives than I have ever seen to flowers and leathers and cloth goods. Melanie spent her souvenir bike space on a small hand-made leather change purse. Kidding.

Church in the square

Church in the square

1235: To the memory of Eleanor De Prouvenco Fourcauquie, the wife of Henry the Third, King of England

1235: To the memory of Eleanor De Prouvenco Fourcauquie, the wife of Henry the Third, King of England

We parked on the corner in front of the monument and wandered around, watching the people of the village checking out the bike and licence plate, talking to each other and wondering where we were from.
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Veggies

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Garlic booth

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Fresh seafood booth

On our way out-of-town we decided to make a detour to the city of Orange and see the Roman Theater of Orange built-in the first century A.D. to seat 10,000 people. The Roman Theater of Orange is, without doubt, one of the finest remains of the Roman Empire and, as such, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is, in fact, the best preserved theatre in the whole of Europe. The theater was closed for renovations when we were there but we got a couple of pictures. The second picture is from their website.

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Back on the bike and on our way to Avignon we passed a winery that we had to turn around to see. In front of the beautiful building with some very unique sculpture were several old cars in wonderful shape sitting in the weeds and dirt.IMG_20150608_120516415 IMG_20150608_120203557Avignon, set on the Rhône River. From 1309 to 1377, was the seat of the Catholic popes, and remained under papal rule until becoming part of France in 1791. Its center, surrounded by medieval stone ramparts, contains the massive Palais des Papes and remains of the Saint-Bénezet bridge, also known as Pont d’Avignon.  DSCF1558We rode through the gates of this walled city and down the cobblestone street taking in the history surrounding us. It was a very hot day and we were sweating profusely in our gear so finding a parking spot and getting this helmet and jacket off and finding a bottle of water were first on the list. The street was lined with ancient building housing shop and cafes with all the cafe having tables, chairs and umbrellas set up in the streets among the trees. We took off walking, still with boots and riding pants, and went to the Papal Palace and got in line to take a tour. The stone walls of this 900 year-old palace are very thick, keeping in the cool air and repelling the stifling heat on the streets.DSCF1559 IMG_20150608_151001468

(From Wikipedia). The Avignon Papacy was the period from 1309 to 1377, during which seven successive popes resided in Avignon (in today’s France) rather than in Rome. This situation arose from the conflict between the Papacy and the French crown.

Following the strife between Phillip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII, and the death of his successor Benedict XI after only eight months in office, a deadlocked conclave finally elected Clement V, a Frenchman, as Pope in 1305. Clement declined to move to Rome, remaining in France, and in 1309 moved his court to the papal enclave at Avignon, where it remained for the next 67 years. This absence from Rome is sometimes referred to as the “Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy”. A total of seven popes reigned at Avignon; all were French, and they increasingly fell under the influence of the French Crown. Finally, on September 13, 1376, Gregory Xi abandoned Avignon and moved his court to Rome (arriving on January 17, 1377), officially ending the Avignon Papacy.

IMG_20150608_155211255_HDR DSCF1562 DSCF1572The Palace of the Popes is the biggest Gothic palace in the world. There are 15,000 square meters of living space, which is the equivalent of 4 Gothic cathedrals. The Palace of the Popes, part of UNESCO World Heritage, stands as the symbol of the church’s way over the western Christian world in the 14th century.

Leaving the palace after the tour we went out a door on the opposite side of where we entered and because of my keen sense of direction, (I was completely lost), Melanie was able to guide her front pillion back to the bike. On the was we passed this beautiful carousel. Not as nice as the one located one the Santa Monica pier, but beautiful non the less.

imageDriving a little further looking for a place to camp and eat we passes through the town of Uzès with its narrow, tree-shaded lanes and a quaint downtown area with cafe overflowing into the street. We found a nice little cafe next to a fabulous wine shop owned by a couple Brits. We chatted about each others lives and I ended up buying a bottle of wine, I splurged tonight, while I threatened to come back and open a wine shop next to his, the town was so nice. Next to us at dinner were a couple with a little baby from Colorado, I believe. We talked until almost dark and exchanged Facebook names and promised to keep in touch.

Hurrying out of town we found a nice little, closed campground. After two choices that ended up being occupied, we found a nice campsite looking out over a field and mountain. First thing, riding pants off, bottle of wine opened and camp set up.IMG_20150607_205237437

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Alps, BMW, Europe, France, Horizons Unlimited, Italy, motorcycle travel, Triumph, Trophy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Monaco and the Grand Canyon du Verdon

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As the sun woke us up we realized there was a town nearby so our hunger got us walking in search of a couple croissants and coffee. Every town has a bakery, right. WRONG. Not this one.

Packing up the bike we decided to head back to Forte di Exilles to see if we could walk around the castle. That meant we had to ride that pass two more times, like that is a bad thing. We passed through the ski town of Montgenevre again and grabbed a breakfast for way too much money, but it is a ski/golf town.

When we arrived at the castle we found out that it had been closed down again and there was no way in. We headed back, riding some great roads and headed toward Barcelonnette, which I had heard was a great town to see but I didn’t think it was anything special, except for the gas stop. As we were getting gas, three Lotus’s pulled in with young couples from Monaco. We had a good time chatting with the kids and sharing stories.

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As we chased the ribbon of asphalt across the next pass, the highest pass in Europe at 2715 meters, the Col de la Bonette, we realized we should probably stop short of the coast so we didn’t end up in Monaco at night. The choices were slim to none as we followed the river Le Var toward Nice.

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Col de la Bonette

So another cheap hotel tonight with brats, cheese, peanuts and wine for supper, since there wasn’t a restaurants nearby and the butcher shop had enough to get us by for the night. As we progressed further south the temperatures had increased again. If it had been cooler, the sleeping bag would have been used on the bed, the place was that bad. Oh well, welcome to France, and the manager decided today was his non-English day.

Bonne nuit

The views of the Mediterranean coming into Monaco were fantastic with orange tiled roofs on the hills looking out over the blue waters of the French Riviera. Following the coast the road stayed at elevation with views all the way to Monte Carlo.

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Monte Carlo, Monaco

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Monte Carlo, Monaco

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Happy faces. Monte Carlo, Monaco

Turning south we made our way to the coastal road and onto the course of the Monaco Grand Prix through Monaco. It’s such a thrill to follow this course and being able to divert to the marina or other neat little areas that would be unreachable if not on the bike. I know several times I was in areas that were off-limits but I was in exploring mode.

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Monte Carlo, Monaco

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Famous turn from Monaco Grand Prix. Monte Carlo, Monaco

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Marina near palace

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My little skiff

As the time moved toward noon the temperature started to soar and the traffic started to get crazy, so it was time to leave Monaco and the coast and head back to some elevation. The problem was I couldn’t find my way out-of-town. Twisting and turning, one way streets, tunnels and we ended up back at the marina, two different routes with the same results. Frustrated, I headed west along the coast with the traffic and finally got out and headed toward the Grand Canyon of Europe, the Grand Canyon du Verdon.

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Fields of Lavender

Stopping for fuel seemed to be an issue today as most of the stations were unmanned and the code on my chipped MasterCard had stopped working. We finally had to stop at a grocery store with an unmanned fuel pump and nothing would work, including the non-English speaking French people working in the store. Are you kidding me, none of you speak English. I guess the rumors about the rudeness of the French is true in this area.

After sitting at the pump for about 90 minutes trying to get some help, a couple English-speaking Germans on bikes stopped in. After explaining my predicament to them they immediately filled my tank with fuel. They refused to take any money for the fuel, but I insisted, and they finally said OK. Thanks guys!

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A couple miles later, as we climbed toward the Grand Canyon du Verdon the clouds started to build to a fullness that rewarded us with rain. It was lasted just long enough to make the roads slick, so much care had to be taken.

The Gorges Du Verdon in south-eastern France is a river canyon that is often considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful. It is about 25 kilometers long and up to 700 meters deep. It was formed by the Verdon River, which is named for its startling turquoise-green color, one of the location’s distinguishing characteristics. The most impressive part lies between the towns of  Castellane and Moustiers-Saint-Marie, where the river has cut a ravine to a depth of 700 meters through the limestone.

Bridge over the Verdon River

Bridge over the Verdon River

Riding around a bend back toward the gorge, this bridge came into view spanning the gorge, some 700 meters above the river. There was a tent set up in the middle of the bridge with people bungee jumping off the bridge into the gorge. What a site. I have a video posted on YouTube showing the jump.

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After they were done jumping we hopped on the bike and started to climb some more leaving the gorge and we got some hail, but just the tail end of what was a bad storm. As we were riding I was noticing leaves and branches all over the road and was expecting to see a road crew trimming trees. Then the unmelted hail/ice started showing up on the side of the road. We felt pretty happy that we got distracted at the bridge by the bungee nuts.

The river empties into a lake, the Lac de Ste Croix, that had the same turquoise water as was in the river. We found another full-service campsite on the lake, set up camp, and had a great pizza and a bottle of wine for less than $10. Just so happens as it was happy hour so plenty of friendly French folks were around, nice. We took a walk and played some cards and had just a fun evening.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Alps, Austria, BMW, Europe, Horizons Unlimited, motorcycle travel, Switzerland, Triumph, Trophy | Leave a comment

French Alps

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Brienzersee

Waking up to the pinks of a beautiful sunrise over Brienzersee is the way to start any day. We parked up and headed to Interlaken looking for a place to have breakfast. All the places we saw didn’t have parking except for somewhere down the street somewhere. We kept on riding since Interlaken was too touristy and ended up in Thun, at a wonderful on street Cafe called McDonalds.

It’s always fun to watch the double takes when people walk up to look over the bike and gear, make their way to the back to see where the bike is from, and BAM, they don’t have a clue. Our license plates from the United States just show the state, not the country on origin. The plates most non American people are used to are large and name the country of origin. After a couple confused moments we walked over to talk to them and most times the confusion grows. “You ride a motorbike from America?” and “Where are you going?”. It seems to always be an ice breaker.

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Filling water bottle in Thun

Riding down through the countryside was fantastic we farms of fresh-cut wheat, cows, grape vineyards and back up and over a small pass in another National Park until, coming around a corner, we see in the distance a fabulous castle on a hill in the middle of a small town surrounded by perfectly terraced vineyards. At the same time we both exclaimed “Lets go explore”, so into town we rode, up a one-way street the wrong direction again, and parked at the front door. It’s great riding a bike and finding these close up parking spots.

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Aigle Castle

The Château d’Aigle has a 800 year old history with the two fortified tower being built in the early 1300’s. The Château d’Aigle throne since the late 12th century, in the heart of a renowned vineyard, has been a former residence of the Knights of Aigle, the Compey-Thorens and noble Bernese Governors and is now a wine museum. We took a self-guided tour to check this place out and thoroughly enjoyed our time spent here.

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Several hundred year old wine press.

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Old and New. Down next to the stairs is a beer and water machine.

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The day has really warmed up and our gear has been setting in the blazing sun the entire time we were exploring.  We follow the road toward the French border and Monte Blanc and more passes. As we pass thru town and head toward the mountain passes the skies start to turn dark and menacing and it starts to rain a little, prompting us to rethink crossing the pass as we don’t want to be slowed down with the bad weather and caught on the mountain at night, maybe in snow. Since it’s already late afternoon we turn back and find a nice inn with views of Monte Blanc, with a bar and Italian restaurant. We hang up our gear to dry, get a drink and wander around town before the restaurants open at eight.

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Our room with restaurant below

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Monte Blanc

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Expresso break

The rain had stopped during the night and the day started with some blue skies peeking through non-threatening puffy clouds. We started out the wrong way and didn’t realize this until we got over the first pass. I was completely disoriented with my directions and didn’t want to believe the maps so we went a different way and ended up riding another pass, the Cormet de Roselend, with very few vehicles on it, just a bunch of bicycles.

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In my confusion we ended driving by the of the passes that I really wanted to ride, the Col du Petit St Bernard. Oh well, how many stickers do you need anyway. The next pass that we rode ended up being the biggest treat, the Col dr L’Iseran. When we started on this road the clouds had come in a little and the wind had picked up and the road was in fair condition with wide open exposure on the edge of the road. After a few miles up past a mine and an deserted ski area we still had not seen one vehicle making me feel this might dead end somewhere up on the top of the mountain. It was exciting so we decided to continue on and see what was at the top. After about 45kms we got to the pass sign on top of the pass, still having not seen one vehicle, but the weather had improved, so we snapped a picture and continued on.

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Rounding the corner and about 200 meters up the road the pass was blocked because the snow had not been removed yet. A snow wall about 5 meters tall and 50 meters long blocked the only way back down the mountain. Today was the day that the pass was opening, so if we could wait for 2 hours, it might be cleared. We ended up waiting with several bikes on our side and there were several bikes and RVs waiting on the other side of the snow.IMG_20150605_155524454 DSCF1494 DSCF1493 IMG_20150605_150054942 IMG_20150605_150029980

After having a little party at the top with the other bikers they finally cleared the road but left a strip of only about 0.5 meters ice free. Some of the RVs coming up had a difficult time coming up the hill due to the ice. The ride down was just as deserted and we passed thru a couple towns that looked as if they had just been abandoned. A 2-up couple on a           Moto Guzzi chased us down the hill as the shadows began to increase signaling the coming of the end of another great riding day. DSCF1527

As we raced down the roads looking for a place to camp, we couldn’t find one. Traveling without a plan is so great because no never know what you are going to see. Coming around a corner we saw up on the hill a ENORMOUS castle. There wasn’t any information on it and it was closed, but we researched it later that night. It is called forte di Exilles and was built in the 1100’s as a military road protecting access through this valley.DSCF1516

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It was time to find food for supper and a campground and we were tired and hot. Passing through Montgenevre we found a Pizza place and ordered way too much food. It was just two single orders but the portions were huge. We both ate Melanie’s pizza and took my Calzone to go. Up ahead are some great twisty pass road getting us back up to some cooler temps and finding a small campground sign on the side of the road we turn off in search of a place to set our tent. Pulling into the rustic campground everything is locked up and as we get off the bike a guy shows up and, after I plead our case and quickly arriving darkness, decides we are worthy of a place to stay. We set camp away from the only other tent campers who were a couple Brits and super nice guys, which ended up with my Calzone since they hadn’t eaten tonight.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Alps, BMW, Europe, Horizons Unlimited, Italy, motorcycle travel, Switzerland, Triumph, Trophy | Leave a comment

Epic Swiss Passes

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Furkapass

Such a great night of crisp, clear skies and temps in the 40’s. With the bags pulled up around our heads and the buff over my head and eyes we slept great and woke to a beautiful morning waiting for the sun to make its way over the mountain and give some warmth to the little valley we were camped in. Hungry this morning and wanting a cup of coffee from a little bakery was a top priority this morning, as was finding a bike shop for a much-needed rear tire. I knew when we left Heidelberg that we would need a new tire, but an extra couple thousand miles is worth the wait.IMG_20150602_194503155

We headed toward Chur, Switzerland hoping to find a cafe or bakery and a bike shop. Passing through a little town we found a market with a cafe, stopped and had a filled pastry and a chocolate croissant, with a great coffee, not American, and an orange juice.DSCF1442 DSCF1438

 Just on the outside of Chur we passed a Ducati racing shop, Grisoni Racing. I figured I would give them a try, doubting they would have a tire for my bike. Pulling up and parking my dirty, fully packed Triumph next to the Ducati Red, amazing looking bikes was great. Guys in one piece, leather racing suits were milling around checking out the race bikes inside the store. besides Melanie and I, there was no English spoken in the store, even the way I massacre the language. Using sign language and two languages with the service manager I finally got the point across that I needed a rear tire. Great, they had one, a Michelin, radial street racing tire. OK, I’ll give it a go since I need one really bad. More on this mistake later. The shop was great and took a bike off the rack to get mine worked on right away, plus an oil change. The price was surprisingly low also, not normal American BMW prices which was a welcome surprise.

Grisoni Racing

Grisoni Racing

It was past 1200hrs when they finished with the bike and soon as I paid for the work they closed the doors and all left for lunch. They wouldn’t be opening up again until 1500hrs, long lunch, and would remain open until 2000hrs. Crazy!

We were hungry by now but all of the restaurants and stores were also closed for lunch, they all went home to eat. We pulled over for fuel, grabbed a sandwich and took off looking for a quite lunch spot in the woods away from the busy world. Riding between freshly cut, golden wheat fields being hand turned by a farmer and his wife, and the forests we found a perfect place with a small picnic table and fresh, cold mountain water coming out of a pipe. Sometimes fresh, mountain water just tastes so good.

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We finished eating and filled our water container with more of the cold water and continued north toward Liechtenstein. We stopped over the border in the small town of Balzers and visit Winzergenossenschaft Balzers-Mals, a castle in the middle of town on the hill surrounded by carefully terraced vineyards.DSCF1432

Everything was closed for lunch so we headed back into Switzerland following the Vorderrhein River toward the town of Andermatt, a bike riders paradise. Andermatt is a beautiful town in the middle of the Alps surrounded by mountains, and of some of the best passes in Europe. We rode into town across the Oberalppass at 2044 meters, and rode through the Furkapass, at 2431 meters (my favorite), and the Grimselpass at 2165 meters. Enjoy the pictures we took of these epic passes.IMG_20150603_170421381DSCF1451 DSCF1452 DSCF1454 DSCF1456 IMG_20150603_170555290 IMG_20150603_170521779 DSCF1457 IMG_20150603_170606147_HDR IMG_20150603_170653822_HDR IMG_20150603_171807498_HDR

Leaving the passes proved difficult, not because of the riding, but because of having to leave views and a beauty that we had never seen before. At the top of Furkapass we stood in awe with it being a moment we didn’t want to end. Melanie had to get us going by ending my moment with a snowball.IMG_20150603_170542084Heading toward Brienzersee on the north side of Interlaken we decided to stay on the north side of the lake with its smaller towns and roads and find a campsite for the night. We pulled into an overpriced campground on the lake in the small touristy town of Brienz around 1900 hrs, just as their restaurant was closing. No worries, we just figured we would head to town a grab a bite. After setting up camp beside a couple of rude female campers from France we walked to town to find severely overpriced food so tonight we had a noodle salad, bag of peanuts and an inexpensive bottle of wine from the gas station. Sitting on the edge of the lake as the sun was setting, snacking and drinking wine seemed a great way to end such  a fantastic day as the swans swim by looking for handouts.

Categories: 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Alps, BMW, Europe, furkapass, Grimselpass, motorcycle travel, Oberalppass, Triumph, Trophy | Leave a comment

Stelvio

IMG_20150602_133415054Yesterday was great, but today will be a top 10 checklist day, the Stelvio. The Passo di Stelvio is one of those passes that you see and read about in any article that mentions the passes of the Alps of Northern Italy.

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Alpengasthof Tibet Albergo Rifugio Alpino

 After another great breakfast of Chocolate Croissants and good coffee we took off with building anticipation, and increasing altitude, toward the passes.IMG_20150602_080550803 Riding through a couple towns we enjoyed the churches and architecture of the old buildings.DSCF1372DSCF1375DSCF1376First up is Passa di Gavia which was a beautiful gradual climb followed by the tight back and forth, twists and turns of the perfectly aligned asphalt leading to the top of the Passo di Stelvia at 2757 meters.IMG_20150602_130835143_HDR IMG_20150602_125050195 This pass isn’t terribly high by most standards but, the views are incredible. The curves are very predictable as this road was built as a military road with a predictable grade and curves. The curves are tight requiring, on the inside turn, a handlebar stop turn while climbing through the corner. This is a little unnerving at first as before the start of the turn you need to look all the way through the corner to see what may be taking up your lane as you are part way through. This definitely got us ready for the crazy passes that were to follow.

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We made it, baby!

At the top of Passo di Stelvio it was teaming with people that rode all kinds of motorcycles, bicycles and 4 wheels vehicles to this iconic location. This was made for tourists as there were many shops with everything Stelvio. Melanie and I both bought a souvenir, a Stelvio buff, as space was very limited. Our grandson Caleb also scored his very own Stelvio shirt. An Italian man had a little kiosk and was making kraut and brat sandwiches as fast as he could turn them out. I don’t know why, maybe the atmosphere, those sandwiches were as good as any I had ever had. I am happy.

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Riding back down, thrilling

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It was time to leave and Melanie almost had to kick me off the mountain, but we had places to go and people that we hadn’t met yet somewhere out there, back down the hill. Riding down the road we came across a funky piece of land filled with bone, metal and rock art. This person had quite an imagination as you can see from the pictures.

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Rock Tree

Melanie with her new friend. She will talk to anybody.

Melanie with her new friend. She will talk to anybody.

Bone Art

Bone Art

Metal Man

Metal Man

A few kilometers later the arched entryways of a walled city came into view. Turning off the road we entered one of the arches and rode around exploring the old cobbled streets of this ancient city.DSCF1411DSCF1414DSCF1413

Leaving the city the Swiss border was just a few more miles. Out of the 14 countries in the European Union that we visited, Switzerland was the only country that had a manned border crossing. They are not a part of the EU and do not use the Euro, but use their own currency, the Swiss Franc.

Swiss border crossing.

Swiss border crossing.

Time to start looking for a place for our tent tonight in Switzerland. With snow capped mountains surrounding us and beautiful green trees and flowers we found a small campground on a stream with an area with no one around. Everything was good but we had forgot to get food that day, so peanuts and wine are going to be supper tonight. We both said that we better lose weight this trip. It was easy to forget about food though as we were camped in a field of yellow flowers close enough to hear the shallow, crystal clear, cold water of the stream cascading over the rocks as it melted from the surrounding mountains on its journey to some distant river or sea. So peaceful. Tonight, I will sleep well.IMG_20150602_191451467IMG_20150602_191617955IMG_20150602_193346716_HDRIMG_20150602_194503155 Cheers.

Greg and Melanie

Categories: 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Alps, BMW, Europe, Italy, motorcycle travel, Stelvio, Triumph, Trophy | Leave a comment

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