Switzerland 2016

So the plan was for us to take the Triumph Sprint GT for a two-up trip to the Alps with a couple of our friends this summer. But for various work-related reasons, that all fell through which just left Alison and me going alone. I found a lovely-looking hotel in Gstaad that looked the part, booked it and asked them to reserve a place for the bike in their garage.

And then Alison said, “Why don’t we take the MX-5? We could then even chat whilst we’re driving!” And so we changed plans and booked a Eurotunnel fare that was “Flexiplus” coming back for the MX-5. We’d have packed the Sprint’s top box and panniers relatively lightly, but the MX-5’s boot space gave us a little more space to play with; this is our luggage for a week away, comprising two holdalls, one wheeled bag and two running rucksacks with our running gear in:

Gstaad Luggage

Gstaad Luggage

London to Gstaad is quite a schlep so I found somewhere near Dijon to stay on the way down and the way back and booked those too and on the appointed day off we went with the roof up as it was an ‘oh-dark-hundred’ start.  Once we got to Folkestone, the roof came down and for the rest of the day’s drive it stayed down until we got to Gevrey-Chambertain and the Hotel Arts et Terroirs.  The hotel was quaint and comfortable but didn’t serve Dinner on a Sunday, so we walked into the town centre for a lovely meal at Chez Guy.

Monday morning after a lovely breakfast, we packed and set off towards Gstaad, making full use of the Sanef Tolling “Liber-t” tag e’d ordered in the UK and which allowed us to approach some péage toll booths at up to 30kph (the rest having to slow right down) and just drive through with no need to collect tickets or fumble for cards or cash.  Use this link to receive €5 off yours!

On arrival at the Hotel Gstaaderhof we drove into their underground car park and made our way to our lovely room with a hell of a view!

Hotel Gstaaderhof Balcony View

Hotel Gstaaderhof Balcony View

Tuesday saw us heading up the other side of the valley for a BBQ lunch laid on for us by the hotel which was a lovely gesture, followed by a rest day wandering around Gstaad. The plan was to go for a run in the late afternoon – I’d plotted out a couple of routes before we left – but a thunderstorm put paid to that.

Wednesday’s afternoon weather forecast was looking a little dodgy so after breakfast we borrowed a couple of mountain bikes from the hotel – at no charge! – and headed off for a shortish 20km ride:

Great fun!

Thursday was to be our drive up into the Alps with a plan to drive for a couple of hours to Innertkirchen and then start a figure of eight drive through the Five Passes. We hadn’t really left enough time for this and by the time we’d been stuck in some roadworks leading towards one of them, we decided that time wasn’t on our side, so we made do with just the Susken Pass, Furka Pass and Grimsel Pass.  Great fun, although the smell from the MX-5’s brakes showed we’d been pushing it quite hard…

Wave!

Wave!

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Twisties

Twisties

Friday was another rest day. Well … if you count riding 42½km on mountain bikes as rest! But the day started with an invitation up to the top of the Höhi Wispily for breakfast cooked by our hotel’s owners. Fabulous views and a lovely breakfast.

Cheese!

Cheese!

Berghaus Wispile

Berghaus Wispile

After breakfast, we walked back to the hotel, changed and then hired mountain bikes from the hotel. We ended up doing some laps of Gstaad and out towards Saanen, stopping on each lap for a drink and a rest at one of the town’s restaurants. Sadly my Garmin fenix 3 has a habit of resetting itself when it’s paused for longer than 25 minutes (originally 5 minutes) and that’s just about as long as it takes to lock up a bike, find a table, order and drink a coke, a water and an espresso and then get the bill. So this ride got logged as four separate rides:

Saturday and we headed away from Gstaad. We’d decided to change our plans and rather than returning via Gevrey-Chambertain as originally booked, we’d earlier cancelled the booking and instead decided to go home via Strasbourg and the rather nice Château de l’Ile & Spa which had a pool. Very useful as temperatures had hit 33°C on the autobahns in Germany (where the MX-5 had hit 125mph and rising (with the roof down) before traffic built up and slowed us down).

 

First Beer of the Day

First Beer of the Day

After breakfast on the Sunday, we headed off for Calais and the Eurotunnel, still with the roof down. We almost managed a full continental trip with the roof down until an hour or so off our destination there was a torrential downpour. In the MX-5 we can keep above 80mph in rain and only get flicked with drops off the side window, but this rain was so heavy we couldn’t see far enough ahead to keep speed up and once we’d backed off sufficiently to be safe, we were getting very wet! Still, after half an hour or so, the sky lightened up and we dropped the roof for our return into Calais.

Having paid extra for Flexiplus, we were relatively quick through Border Agency and onto the next train, so well worth the extra money.

So, how did we fair? The MX-5 was lovely but – even with our 2.0 litre engine – it could have down with a little more oomph and possibly more fanfare? Ours puts out 160hp but that’s less than my RX-8 R3 at 230hp. The RX-8 has roughly the same power to  weight ratio as the new 170hp Abarth 124 Spider which is based on the Fiat 124 Spider which is in turn based on the Mazda MX-5…

So that got me thinking: I’d loved the open-top motoring of the MX-5 but wanted more pace and noise and we’d managed quite well with the limited luggage space in the MX-5, so as my RX-8 R3 is getting long in the tooth – 87,000 miles and 6½ years old – maybe it’s time to make the switch? So I’ve placed an order for one subject to a test drive on Sunday at Silverstone race circuit. Maybe next year, we’ll take the Abarth to the Pyrenees?

Eurothrash 2014: How Many Countries?

This year’s Eurothrash took us from England to France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy and we almost ended up in Lichtenstein too! 2,361 miles in a week, with two rest days.

I mentioned in the last blog entry that I’d fettled the Sprint ready for the journey. As it turned out, we did a quick pack on the Friday night and found we could fill the two panniers and then put the 30 litre roll bag in the top case along with Alison’s heated inner jacket and our liners. Gloves and bits and bobs went into the Kriega US-20 strapped onto the tank.

And so it was that we were up at 3.00am to shower, pack and hit the road around 4.15am to meet up with Mark (Purge), Martin (Yox) and Josie at the Stop24 services on the M20 near the Eurotunnel at 5.30am. Despite horrific weather being forecast for the journey, the only wetness we saw was a bit of spray on the A2 out of London.  We were first to arrive and grabbed coffee and croissants at the Shell garage. Yox and Josie arrived a few minutes later on his Kawasaki Versys and we then received a message from Purge saying he’d woken up to torrential rain and would get a later crossing and meet us there!

Early start at Eurotunnel

Early start at Eurotunnel

I reset my dials and the satnav to kilometres for the rest of the trip to make it easier to work out fuel and rest stops.

Once boarded, we were told there would be a delay due to a train fault in the tunnel, so we were around 45 minutes late getting off in France. These delays continued and worsened, apparently, so that Purge had to wait hours for an eventual 1.50pm crossing and a blast down by Autoroutes to join us in Germany for our first night.

On the way down through France, we stopped off near Reims to stretch our legs at the old Formula One pit buildings of the Reims-Gueux Circuit:

Reims Grand Prix Pit Buildings

Reims Grand Prix Pit Buildings

Reims Grand Prix Pit Buildings

Reims Grand Prix Pit Buildings

We finally reached the Hotel-Landgasthof Hirsch in Neu-Ulm (mid-way between Stuttgart and Munich) at tea-time, so we showered and changed and hit the beers before dinner. Purge joined us around 9.30pm.

After a really nice breakfast on the Sunday morning we set off for Austria despite a light shower at one point, though nothing like what was forecast. Germany meant Autobahns so on one section I decided to wind the Sprint open and we hit 147mph – two-up and fully laden, don’t forget – before I backed it off down to 100mph. I wonder how fast it would have gone (especially solo and without all the gear)…

A coffee and a Snickers as we approached Austria and we were on our way.

DSCF0287 DSCF0288 DSCF0289

Into Austria and we headed down to Hall in Tirol and the Gasthof Badl.  Purge and Yox had stayed there before, but I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. I was grateful to be proven completely wrong: a well-presented and large double room with a huge and very modern bathroom and a balcony with a wonderful view of the Alps.

Gasthof Badl (by Purge)

Gasthof Badl (by Purge)

Gasthof Badl and Bikes

Gasthof Badl and Bikes

The view from our balcony

The view from our balcony

A shower and off we went into the old town to a restaurant in the castle for the largest Weiner Schnitzel you could imagine (pork, not veal, of course).

That was our restaurant for the evening

That was our restaurant for the evening

After a huge breakfast on Monday morning, we set off into the Alps to visit the Grossglockner glacier. Some great twisty roads and stunning views on our way, too.

Panoramic View

Panoramic View

Grinning at the Grossglockner Glacier

Grinning at the Grossglockner Glacier

It had been very cold on one of the earlier passes, enough for me to switch on my heated grips and for Alison to plug in her heated inner jacket which kept her toasty warm.

Tuesday was supposed to be wet, so we planned our rest day. It wasn’t at all wet as we walked into town for coffees and then back to the hotel for beers before dinner.

Photo Opportunity

Photo Opportunity

Quick Chat

Quick Chat

Coffee Break

Coffee Break

Wednesday and we headed into Italy and Switzerland for the Jaufenpass and Stelvio Pass. Very impressive passes both, if a little cold as we passed through the snowline up to Stelvio for big hotdogs and wine just as the snow began falling. Epic twisty roads too after the light dusting dried out in the warm summer sun…

Stelvio Pass (photo by Yox)

Stelvio Pass (photo by Yox)

Stelvio Scoff (thanks Purge)

Stelvio Scoff (thanks Purge)

Jaufenpass (photo by Yox)

Jaufenpass (photo by Yox)

Stelvio Pass

Stelvio Pass

Sprint and Stelvio

Sprint and Stelvio

Sprint and Stelvio

Sprint and Stelvio

Stelvio Smiles

Stelvio Smiles

The Hills Are Alive

The Hills Are Alive

Thursday was Josie’s 50th birthday. Our plan for the day was to head to the Kehlsteinhaus or Eagle’s Nest, which was given to Hitler for his 50th birthday (which was ironic as he had a fear of heights…). Yet more stunning scenery and very twisty roads on our way to the visitor centre. On arrival in the car park, the rain started falling heavily for around 10 minutes so we stood in our waterproofs before it stopped and we boarded the truly scary convoy of buses to take us up to the retreat itself, where we stopped for lunch and the views.

Lunch at the Eagle's Nest

Lunch at the Eagle’s Nest

Too bright!

Too bright!

Stunning Views

Stunning Views

Celebratory fizz and birthday cake back at the hotel before heading up to bed.

Friday was another rest day with one or two light showers but after two days in the mountains on hairpin bends, we could all do with the rest!

Espressos and Iced Tea

Espressos and Iced Tea

Breakfast on Saturday morning was massive as usual. We then checked out – why was our bar bill so excessive again? Oops! – then it was off to Mulhouse. Purge wasn’t quite ready when we were going to head off and said he was going to go the quicker rather than the scenic route, so Yox and I headed off. A fab journey it was too through Austria and Germany (the Black Forest, mainly). We stopped at one point in Germany at Schluchsee in the mid-afternoon for drinks and ice creams by the huge lake. Purge had already reached Mulhouse and was sitting by the pool drinking beers (as per).

It's tough, this travelling

It’s tough, this travelling

Sprint at the Schluchsee

Sprint at the Schluchsee

Schluchsee

Schluchsee

We rolled into Mulhouse after another day of scenery, hairpins and hot sun and ate outside by the pool at the Golden Tulip Mulhouse Basel at Sausheim.

Sunday morning and it was up early for breakfast before heading out for our long journey back. Purge opted for the “splash and dash” whereas we opted for more Alpine scenery and a less frenetic if longer route, with me leading us into the Eurotunnel in plenty of time for the ridiculously long (and hot) wait for the UK Border Agency to let us onto the trains. Our border control is frankly pathetic compared with every other country I travel to. Such long delays coming back home.

Once back in the UK, Alison and I waved Yox and Josie off and we stopped to eat and refuel before heading home mid-evening, 2,361 miles down:

Trip Mileage

Trip Mileage

And finally, a little bit of video:

Planning for next year’s Eurothrash has already started: maybe the Italian Riviera? Accessed via Bilbao and Northern Spain, Andorra and the French Riviera?