This article originally appeared in the November 15, 2000 edition of The Granville Sentinel
They, you know, Lanette & Kenny, said that I couldn't go with them this time something about being frozen in the baggage compartment, what ever that is. So, God help us, Lanette is writing this. (My name is Winnie; I go with Kenny and Lanette in the RV. They usually let me write the stories.)
Many months and weeks of preparation went into this trip; this has been Kenny's dream trip for twenty years. We first made reservations with Beach Motorcycle Adventures Ltd., then airlines and last but not least the sitter for the motel.
OK, everything is all set, clothes packed -airline tickets, pass ports in hand and money or I should say Travelers Checks and credit cards are in pockets.
We arrive in Munich, Germany on Sunday, September 10, 2000. After going through customs, we are meet by Donna Beker. She tells us that we will be waiting for a few more people to come in and if we want we can go down stairs and get some of our money changed to Marks. This procedure was less painful then we expected. A gentleman took our money and gave us "play money". Bright color full paper that we would be using for the next few days or so we thought. The rest of the people arrived Kathy and Lee Muschott (Lee is better know as Pete), attorney, Florida and Robert Bodenhamer, Georgia. Introductions all around, we also meet Donna's husband Graham. Donna and Graham are from New Zealand. Donna and Graham move all the luggage in the van from one hotel to the next. Graham also checks for damage and oil and tire pressure every night among other things. According to "The Book" most of the people are from USA: the one exception is Fracois Roy, Quebec, Canada. I will identify the other people as we meet them - most are from California.
The ride from the airport to the first hotel in Olching, Germany took about forty-five minutes through flat land not many trees, in fact it looked a lot like Italy. Some of the people were already at the Landhotel Am Muhlbach. We were told after checking in that we could go to our rooms, unpack, rest, come down to the bar-dinning room, go for a walk, or take a train into Munchen. We chose to rest for a while, as we had not slept very well on a very noisy plane ride. Dinner was at seven PM, as it would be for the rest of the trip. We went down stairs early and after going for a walk, we joined some of the people in the bar-dinning room. There we meet Donald Biondich, a retired Air force, CA, Charla and Chris Gallop, CA. She has some of her very short hair dyed purple, and he seems to be very quiet. We later learned that she writes for a motorcycle magazine and test motorcycle products. She was testing an Aerostitch suit.
I never did find out what he did for a living. Steve Laychak, 12th tour, New Hampshire, Joe Lespron, CA and his friend Donald Stucin, CA. They will be staying another two weeks in Europe after the tour to tour with their wives in a car. Dr. Eduardo Mancini, an anesthesiologist in MA, 5th tour, a very funny man. The rest of the people we were introduced to at dinner by Rob Beach, John Jay, retired engineer, MI, Charles and Gaard Logan, baggage handler for United Airlines, WA, Mike Peterson (he looks and acts like Garison Keller) and his friend Donna Jepsen both from CA, Curtis Spier, TX, who is also a Doctor, but for some reason did not want most people to know and Paul Snyder, CA. I have not mentioned Patrice, Rob's girl friend and Kimitaka Jomoto, NV by way of Japan and Canada, very interesting man. He had a goal to see certain things and he accomplished it. And last, but not least, Robert Helm, seventy-five years old, CA joined the group on Monday. In all there were twenty-six of us.
Boy, this is only the introduction! Wait `till she gets going!
The next day we were assigned bikes. We were asked to inspect the bike for damage and mark down any damage on a form, if there is any additional damage we would be responsible. We are also expected to bring them back with a full tank. Kenny, I and some of the others went for a ride with Rob as a leader. I don't remember exactly where we were. Every time we were with Rob we were never sure where we were, because he took roads that were either not on the route or it was a combination of routes. We always saw more than we expected faster than we expected. But always interesting, and sometimes we were the last to get in, which was a rush to get ready for dinner.
I am not going to try to go day by day. I did not keep a log, because to be honest I was much to tired to do any thing but take a shower and go to bed. Remember they didn't let me go along. I will however tell you some of the interesting things we saw and did.
The road signs are very confusing. There is no such thing as route numbers. If you want to get from town A to town B and Geneva is 20 k away from town B, you have to look for signs to Geneva until you pass through town B. If you are confused, imagine how confused I was on the back of the bike trying to read a map in a language I did not understand going at speeds that were 10 k over the speed limit and the wind trying to blow the map out of my hands. We were in villages where almost no English was spoken. So asking where you are so that you can get help to get to where you want to be was a matter of pointing. All of the people that we talked to were very helpful. I guess they understand "point".
The weather was warm for September, although their seasons, in the valleys are pretty much like ours. We had one day of rain. It came down hard and fast. Another day it misted most of the day that was a free day, so we took a boat tour of some islands. We saw a beautiful island with lots of flowers and some very colorful birds and had lunch at a fishing island.
Now for some of the beautiful things we saw. There is no way to describe the mountains. You must go and see for yourself. However I will give it a try. They go straight up, most of them are jagged and rough. Some of the mountains are snow covered - a few have glaciers. The roads in the Alps do not go around or take the easy way to get over a mountain they go straight up via a series of hairpin turns. What goes up must come down. When you are on the back of a motorcycle this becomes a lot more interesting. You can be at the top of a pass looking down and the road looks a lot like a silver or black snake. The roads are continuous hairpin turns until you are up and then down. One of these roads looking over the edge, which by the way, do not have any guard rails, was about two thousand feet down. I am now over my fear of heights! One of the passes that we had to go through was mist when we started up changed to sleet and then to snow. Going down was tricky, but Kenny stayed in the tracks left by the cars and buses. Waterfalls every where, even coming out of the side of the mountain. Some times we would follow a stream of crystal clear water which would turn into a clear blue/green river. Every day we rode through at least three or more passes to get from one hotel to the next.
The roads were narrow most of the time and very narrow some of the time. Wide roads are not in their vocabulary except for the Autobahn and that's another story. We would be going up a narrow road only to meet a bus coming down and he would be over the centerline. You give him the right of way not because he is bigger, but because it is the courteous thing to do. If a motorcycle is on the highway and the other traffic is slower, the slower cars or buses will pull to the right to let you pass. If you should you meet a south bound and a northbound vehicle, they will both pull to their right so that you can pass between them. This is called lane splitting. Kenny had a lot of trouble with this maneuver at first, but he was much better before we left. Rob told us that most Europeans have driven motorcycles, so they just want you to be on your way. At a stoplight it is not uncommon for motorcycles to pull to the front of the line. One time there were four of us, two by two, at a light. I mentioned to one-of the people that in the States we would be in big trouble if we did this and he's reply was "Trouble! We would have been lynched by now." The Autobahn is a three lane SUPER highway with no speed limit. You can go as fast as you like. However the outside lane is for passing only and if you see flashing lights - get out of the way they're coming through. Kenny was out in the passing lane once and someone flashed him - the black BMW was a blur as it whizzed by.
Many of the roads went through tunnels. Some of the tunnels were quite long and a few had cattle or goats in them, on rainy days. There was one that not only had an S curve, but it was going up-hill. Lots of the tunnels had S curves or hairpin turns in side of them. Some were not completely enclosed and water cascades over the top. Some were well lit and others were not. Every tunnel was an adventure. There was one that was not wide enough for two cars to pass, it had "pull-off's every so often to allow for passing.
Bicycles everywhere. Many people peddling through these beautiful mountains. We even saw a race. This I am sure is another great way to see this wonderful country. Many of the city and villages had bike paths. There was a wooded path in back of the first hotel that we stayed at. We did not see any of the bikers at any of the hotels were we stayed. I would guess that they were staying at hostels. I even saw a bus that was outfitted with a compartment on the back, which housed bikes. Arabba, Italy was the town where we saw biggest collection of bikers.
All of the houses had flowers in window boxes. Most were a weeping Geranium with Ivy trailing half way down to the next story. The houses were chalet style, some wood and some stucco and sometimes a combination. At the edges of most villages were the farmhouses, these homes were half house, half barn all under one roof, unlike the ones in New England, which is a barn attached to a house. I am sure that they are built that way for the same reason, so that you do not have to go out in the snow to tend to the animals. Many of the houses high in the mountains had stone roofs. Not slate, but one and one half inch to two-inch stone. In some villages the stucco was painted with scenes or flowers and ribbons and some times people.
Everything was incredibly clean. I never saw a bottle, can or a paper for that matter. The lawns were always mowed; flowers weeded and vegetable gardens were as neat as pin. There were many farms in the mountains as well as the towns or villages. The cows, goats and sheep roam free in most cases. So you were apt to find them near the road as well as on the road, we actually saw one "dancing" toward us. Where the cattle could not get to water they had small tank trailers with a trough so that they could drink. They roll their hay in the same manner as the farmers do here. Kenny said that it sheds rain thus you can leave it outside all winter. The farms that were way up in the mountains, and there were lots, had little "barns" for the cows to get into when it snows. Some of their grazing land was shared with the ski trails. All of the barns that we saw were also neat, including the manure piles. We assumed that the farmers lived off of the land. The cows did not have large utters as they do around here. We noticed that the farmers cut every bit of grass or hay, often with a Gravely or a scythe. Everyone uses every bit of everything, nothing left hanging around. One village that we were in there were some men working on the outside of a building, before they went home they washed the street of the stucco and other debris.
The accommodations were the best - all top shelf. The food for the most part was great. Occasionally we would be served something that we were not familiar with. Kenny had a hard time with the smoked salmon (raw). We went to one of those out-of-the-way restaurants with Rob and Patty on very foggy day. The eight of us walked in, Rob explained that the owner would serve what he wanted and when we were full we should let him know. The owner didn't speak any English, but Patrice spoke Italian, so we figured we were safe. He first brought a cold bean salad - delicious. Then a cheese pie - ok. Tongue with pesto, I liked it, Kenny and a few others would not try it because it was cows tongue. Some other cheeses. And then something that I can't remember what they called it, but it was melted cheese with corn meal dumplings. It smelled like someone's three-day old socks. Once you got it past your nose, it was quite good. The meal was topped off with Grappa, the best I have ever had. Grappa is a dry colorless brandy distilled from fermented grape pomace, very sweet, very strong liqueur. Breakfast was continental, always good. Sometimes there were eggs, hard-boiled, warm or cold once we had scrambled. Beer was always served with dinner. Their beer is different, not as bitter.
The rooms all had private baths. Showers are very small. If they had a tub there was no shower curtain. I figured that was so the maids had to wash the floors, because there was so much water on it. The beds were comfortably hard. All had comforters with pillow like sheets on them, no top sheet. Quite comfortable and warm, sometimes too warm.
Once we were back in Olching, we had tickets to go to the Oktoberfest. Most of us took the train into Munich. The Oktoberfest is a large beer-drinking carnival. We were in one of many beer tents, 100 ft. x 100 ft., I would guess. They have tables set up end to end, you almost can't move. The band is up on a platform in the center of the tent high above everyone. They played a lot of forte's music, as well as drinking songs. We were served one half chicken and a two liters glass of beer. Kenny and I eat the chicken and drank most of the beer. We had to get outside it was getting hot. We walked around the grounds. Rides the likes of which I have never seen. The people were strapped in turning up side down and around at the same time. There was one that was like a roller coaster only on a rail, so that it could go upside down and right side up. I am glad I wasn't standing under some of these rides after all those beers.
One of the highlights of the trip was a guided tour of Salzburg, Germany. We saw were Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart was born and the music academy where he preformed. We visited the cathedral in which Mozart's father was the organist. We also saw the graveyard where many famous people were buried. We walked in the gardens and viewed the houses that were in the film "Sound of Music".
The people that were in the group were wonderful, and I hope that we can keep in contact with them. The people of the Alps are very friendly and very helpful. All in all we had a wonderful time and would advice any one who is thinking about doing the Alps. To GO FOR it! Bike, Hike, Auto, Bus or Motorcycle. We traveled 3,600km.
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