Working and Living in Switzerland 2010...
Riding the famous Route Napolean
A three day weekend and the last public holiday of the year offered the perfect opportunity to ride the legedendary Route Napolean. After reading reports of the road in the British motorcycle press for years I was keen to see if the road lived up to the hype. The plan was to ride to Grenoble on the first day taking in the Col de la Forclaz, Col de Montets and Mt Blanc along the way, then to ride Route Napolean (N85) on the second day and finally to ride back to Zurich on the third. Each days ride was around three hundred miles, which is about my comfort limit.
Great roads, spectacular scenery along Route 11 south of Interlaken, Switzerland
This was my first trip to the French part of Switzerland, and I was not surprised to learn that the French Swiss like their neighbours don't speak or at least claim not to speak a word of english. This made it a bit frustrating when it came to asking directions every time I got lost. On my travels around the USA I found a map worked well as the routes were clearly marked with the route number and the road signs all told you which you the direction in which you were travelling. In Europe most road signs feature the name of the next tiny town so you never really know where you are going, I spent a lot of time just using my gut feeling and the position of the sun to navigate. I guess that's all part of the fun!
Looking up at the Col de la Forclaz, I've got to find a way over that
The ride over Col de la Forclaz and Col de Montets was great fun, really narrow roads with a lot of hairpins to navigate. Unfortunately, in common with most of the mountain passes, there were not a lot of places to stop and take pictures so it was a case of hang on and have fun! You really do not need a border sign to tell you that you are leaving Switzerland and entering France, the road surface will do it for you. It was a case of smooth, fast tarmac suddenly becoming rutted and broken gravel covered road. It had me wishing I was riding a supermoto. The local French don't seem to mind though, they just seem to open the throttle and pray. The French bikers are crazy, riding at 95% all of the time, maybe that is why there don't seem to many French bikers between the ages of twenty and fourty!
Seeing Mt Blanc was a highlight of the first day! A few years ago I read an account of the first accents the highest mountain in Europe, apparently now there are thousands that climb it each summer.
Mt Blanc on a sunny day
I had been to Grenoble before, however this time I was looking forward to seeing the city rather than lying in a hospital bed for a week with a bunch of new metalwork in my arm. First up was to find a cheap hotel with some secure parking, I lucked out on finding the rather splendidly named Splendid Hotel. It wasn't exactly what you would call five star, but it was cheap and central.
The splendidly named Splendid Hotel, Grenoble, France
It was a sweltering hot day so every piece of grass in every park was occupied by sunbathing locals, the cafe's were full and everyone was warming up for August holidays (France comes to a standstill in August).
A couple of boom boxes and huge speakers belt out (c)rap music from the USA, the statue hangs his head in shame. Grenoble, France.
The city centre was quite a surprise! I had only ever seen the outskirts of Grenoble from the back of an ambulance and back then it did not look so nice with a lot of strip malls and industry.
Another beautiful old town, Grenoble, France
Wonderful architecture that lifts the spirit, I wish they built like this now. Grenoble, France
A beer in a cafe after a great days ride, Grenoble, France
Grenoble seems to be the destination of choice for French stag and hen parties, there were five that I counted on the way to a beer in the square. The girls seem to take a more playful approach to costumes, either dressing up as old married maids, fairies or angels but the blokes take a blunter approach.
No prizes for guessing what he is dressed as. Grenoble, France
The next day I set off on Route Napolean (N85) to Cannes. The ride can be broken into three sections. The first from Grenoble to Gap is through stunning Rhone Alpes scenery with some fantastic corners, however the road surface was terrible and there were a lot of police patrolling this section.
Rhone Alpes scenery from Route Napolean, France
Great corners, but a terrible road surface and heavy police presence keep speeds down.
Stopping at a high altitude lake for a breather, Route Napolean
After Gap the road flattens out and runs long and straight through vineyards with the occasional old fortified village perched high up on a hill. It was along here that I realised that Clio and Saxo must be new French words for danger, if you see one of these little hot hatches pull to the side and let them past. It doesn't matter how young or old the driver of these little rockets are, they all think they are Alan Prost. I was doing 70mph in a 50mph zone and these guys were comming past me like I was standing still. There are a lot of speed cameras along this section of Route Napolean but the French helpfully put a massive sign up about 1000 yards before the sign warning you of it. It didnt stop me from being flashed by one, but I think it was a forward facing one so hopefully there wont be any trouble.
One of the highlights along this section was the little ramshackle village of Sisteron, a old fortified village of stone perched on the side of a steep hill. I spent an hour or two wandering the streets and having lunch.
The village of Sisteron, France
Ramshackle houses built of stone and Renault 4 vans, what could be more French. Sisteron, France
Spot the climber (hint just above the second arch of the bridge), Sisteron, France
Narrow streets, no cars, great cafes and backeries. Sisteron, France
Is there anything sadder than a little girl cycling in the bottom of a dry swiming pool on a hot day? Sisteron, France
The final section of the Route starts from Dignes les Bains, where suddenly the road starts to climb and curl into some great corners. On one I just held the throttle at 70mph and leant and leant and the road just kept on turning almost 180 degrees in a wide sweeping curve. I could have ridden that corner ten times and still had fun. It is also on this section where the road goes down to a single lane and clings to the side of a cliff, with no barriers to stop you sliding off into the abyss. Unfortunately there is no where to stop along this section, so I have no pictures of it.
Great corners, no cops, hardly any traffic or towns! Route Napolean, France
An abandoned hotel at the top of the pass. Looks almost western! Route Napolean, France
Nothing for miles around, Route Napolean, France
Getting busy again, lots of those crazy French bikers. Route Napolean, France
Eventually I arrived in Cannes, in the middle of the film festival! What a dump, Cannes could be any beach town in any country in the world. It was full of old age lemmings who seemed determined to end their existance by stepping out into my path as I rode through the town. I just do not understand this culture of celebrity worship and rediculous display of wealth. Not even the topless girls on the beach could change my dislike of the place. I had an icecream and beat a hasty retreat, never to return. I should have stuck inland and looked for a quieter route through the mountains but ended up riding the A8 motorway all the way along the coast to Serano for the night.
Not even the topless girls can save this place. Cannes, France
The A8 was very busy, and an accident up ahead meant twenty miles of the ride consisted of weaving between the traffic at speed. By the time I reached Serrano I was dead tired and so I stayed in a bungalow at the camp site, it was only after checking in that I realised there was a train track about 3 metres behind the shack and a four lane highway about 100 metres in front it! There was also no toilet paper and no towels so in hindsight may not have been the bargin I thought it was. However I was already 70EUR down after being fined for not having a toll ticket on the A8, halfway along the A8 I felt something fly out of my tank bag and it turned out it was my toll ticket.
A bungalow for the night, Serano, Italy
One problem with living in Switzerland, is that everywhere else in the world seems incredibly filthy in comparison. Italy is particularly bad, and I do not recomend using any of the facilities in the service stations. What I would like to know is what the guy who steals all the toilet seats in Italy does with them?
Lake shore, Locarno, Switzerland
Day three and time to get back to Zurich for work, I jumped on the A26 and just held the throttle open at around 85mph. This part of Italy is quite strange, it is mile upon mile of flat rice paddies. Blink twice and it looks like you are riding through China or Vietnam, not that I have been there (yet)! There is not a lot too see, which is good as I was trying to get back to Zurich by mid afternoon. It didn't take long before I saw the Alps in the distance, I decided to take the SS34 through Locarno in the Italian part of Switzerland and then ride up the A2 to Zurich. It turned out to be a good choice, the ride along the lake was beautiful but very slow and Locarno was a great town, a mix between Mediterranean palm trees and Alpine scenery. I almost got a ticket from a policeman for having the audacity to park in a car palking spot rather than parking on the pavement with the other bikers. In mainland Europe bikes are people to, where pedestrians go bikes can go as well and no one seems to mind!
Curves but only 60kph allowed, Locarno, Switzerland
As I approached the Gotthard tunnel I saw that the Gotthard pass was open, it had been closed just two days before so I couldn't believe my luck. I would get the chance to ride the pass on the first weekend before summer madness hits! Although I was tired, I really enjoyed the ride up the pass, through 10ft banks of snow and down the other side in brilliant sunshine and down the other side. It was already very busy, so it must be hell in mid summer with all the camper vans and cars.
On the famous Gotthard Pass, Switzerland
Almost like Artic Tundra up here, Gotthard, Switzerland
This is going to be fun, going down the Gotthard, Switzerland
Watching the bikers doing it with style, Gotthard, Switzerland
Klausen Pass, Switzerland
After a weekend off from riding, it was time to go looking for another pass. I decided on a short day ride to Klausen Pass which had been closed the last time I had tried. It is not very far away from Zurich so I did not expect too much, but was I in for a big surprise. The Pass is close to 2000m high, on some steep, narrow, winding roads, complete with some wet cobble stone hairpins thrown in. The road surface was very bumpy and I was being overtaken all the time by faster bikers and the odd sports car but I didn't care, the scenery was just spectacular!
Sitting in a cafe with this as a view, Klausen Pass, Switzerland
There is a paraglider up there somewhere, Klausenpass, Switzerland
View from (almost) the top looking back down the glacial valley, Klausenpass, Switzerland
Amazing cliffs and waterfalls, Klausenpass, Switzerland
I may have been the slowest on the road but at least I got here, Klausenpass, Switzerland
Now I have to get down the other side, Klausenpass, Switzerland
Bikers are welcome in mainland Europe, Klausenpass, Switzerland