[YEAR 7!] Quit our jobs, sold our home, gone riding...

Watching the boats float down the Rhine, the ruins of Burg Rheinfels on the other banks of the river

A few leisurely hours later, we arrive in Karlsruhe and ring the doorbell of our friends Simon and Anne. Like most of our European friends, we also met them on the Stahlratte. You may remember them from when we hung out with them while in Colombia when Simon got dengue fever. They were on their honeymoon and backpacking around the world the last time we saw them (two years ago!) and now they're back in Germany: new apartment, new jobs and... new kid!!!

Hanging out with Simon and Anne and brand new person, Selma

We've met a lot of backpackers on this trip, we seem to have a lot in common with them because of how slow we travel. Normally when we meet other motorcycle travelers, it's a very quick hello and goodbye since they're always on the move. But backpackers seem to stay a bit longer in each place which is exactly the way we do things as well. I guess we're motorcycle backpackers!

Among our many topics of conversation, I had to ask them if they missed traveling. The answer, even with a new baby, was... of course.

Neda and I are at a point where we've pretty much stopped touring and sightseeing for the last month and a half now and we're in no rush to get back to it. But still... I don't want us to call it quits, get a home, get a job, be sitting on our couch staring at the TV after work and suddenly realize that I miss being on the road. I want us to be sure that we're done and not just travel fatigued.

But it's been so long since we felt really enthusiastic about seeing new places...

The next morning, we bid farewell to Simon, Anne and Selma

Time to hit the road again!

The plan is... keep on doing what's made us happy over the last week: See more friends!
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Karlsruhe is at the northern edge of the region called the Black Forest. The trees aren't really black here. It's called the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) because of the canopy of dense evergreen trees that block out the sunlight. The roads here gently wind around the contours of the many mountains in the area. Fun!

Stopping to take off our rain jackets. The weather is nice and warm today! Double Fun!

The Black Forest is also home to many picturesque villages

Village of Triberg

All the buildings in the small villages here look as if they came straight out of a Brother's Grimm fairy tale (which makes sense, since most of the tales are set in the Schwarzwald). It feels like there's a big bad wolf or gingerbread-baking witch lurking behind every shop door. Speaking of shops, this is really popular in the area:

Handmade cuckoo clocks!

Apparently people from all over the world visit the Black Forest to buy a German-made cuckoo clock. The number on the price tags were crazy high! Thousands of Euros for a wooden clock. Dare I say, the prices were a bit... cuckoo.

This one goes out to my buddy, Jeff.

Passing by alpine-style houses in the Black Forest

Here's a video of more picturesque villages and winding roads of the Black Forest

If you can't see the video, try the one on our blog: http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/261.html

We emerge from the southern edge of the Black Forest and settle into a campground in the town of Kandern, which is within spitting distance of the Swiss border. Because we are so close to Basel, we've contacted our friends Colleen and Dan to see if they are free for dinner. Even though it's threatening rain, they offer to come across the border to meet us here! So while they ride over (only about half an hour away), we set up our tent while the ground is still dry.

Good food and great company!

We last saw them in Dijon, France, six months ago! Yay! Hanging out with more friends. We're starting to get a bit of a social life again!

Colleen and Dan head back to Switzerland after dinner! Roads are drying somewhat...

We're very comfortable in Europe since we know so many people here! We could probably continue doing what we're doing for a while longer if the impending winter weren't pushing us to warmer climates. Good thing we have more friends to the south that we can visit... Hi Ho!
Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/262.html

The day starts off with a bit of sunshine. The rains from last night have mostly dried up as we pack our tent and head towards the Swiss border. Last night, Colleen and Dan shared with us some last-minute information on riding through Switzerland, given our agenda of passing through and not really focusing on touring anymore.

Packing up, getting ready to leave Germany

We were warned beforehand that there is a "vignette" system in Switzerland, which is a pre-paid toll scheme that permits you to drive on the main motorways in the country. Unfortunately, this toll covers an entire year - you can't just purchase it for a short period of time, and all we really wanted was a single day pass. The cost is 40CHF, which is about $40USD. Unfortunately, over the last few months, we've watched the value of our Canadian dollar plummet like a rock so a $40USD toll is quite a big deal for a single day of riding.

We talked last night with Colleen and Dan about how likely we were to get caught if we didn't buy a vignette. It's not an electronic system, just a sticker on your windshield, so as long as we didn't run into any traffic stops we should be okay. I checked the fine online, it's about 200CHF ($200USD). Hmmmm... What is that, like $1,000 CDN today?! Hard to believe it was par when we first left on our trip.

They told us that since these annual vignettes are issued at the beginning of the calendar year, the enforcement might not be as strict now at the end of the year. So we all decided that if we get caught and fined, we would send the bill to Colleen and Dan. Actually, we didn't all decide that, just Neda and I. Actually, not Neda and I. Just me.

So for the next few hours, we just have to avoid the Polizei, which means not calling attention to ourselves, which means not speeding, which means I am leading the ride since Neda believes she is invisible to radar.

A tunnel in Switzerland. Normally in this picture there would be a Neda and her motorcycle in front of me, but...

As you can see from the map above, the scenery doesn't really get interesting until you get to the southern part of Switzerland, closer to the Alps. So we spent most of the first part of the ride on boring highways made just a little more exciting because we were wary and paranoid of every police car in sight.
On the way, we saw a sign for Lucerne and I tapped on the communicator, "Hey do you want to stop in for a quick ride-by?". Neda knew what I was thinking: "Sure!"

We have fond memories of Lucerne. We got engaged here in 2002.

We had to fight a bit of traffic in the middle of a weekday. We were searching for a very specific place

It was a foggy ride through the downtown of the city, the lake is almost entirely shrouded in mist and you can't see the opposite shore. I don't remember the name of the hotel where we stayed back in 2002, but I recall that it was right on the water, so we rode up and down the shoreline road until we passed a familiar building:

Ah, The Palace Hotel! Right! See the green dome overlooking the lake? That's where I proposed to Neda

I remember it being a very fancy place. We got the rooftop suite and it was so luxurious! It overlooked the lake and that's when I knew it was the perfect spot to ask her to marry me. Spoiler: She said yes.

Riding by this swanky hotel really highlighted the huge change between our old lifestyle back then and the way we live our life now. It's 13 years later and we're in the exact same place except that this morning, we woke up in a tent. What a contrast! LOL! Hobos for life!
Well, enough of the nostalgia ride, back on the highway southbound!

Mountains ahead of us, it's going to get a bit more interesting now

The landscape rises up and envelops the highway around us the further south we ride

The road takes us to Andermatt, a town in the valley of the Adula Alps that's become quite popular with tourists lately

Andermatt is at the base of two adjoining mountains, the Nätschen to the North-East and the Gemsstock to the South

Based on Collen and Dan's recommendation, we are deviating from our southbound route and heading east, up an over Nätschen to ride some of the famous Swiss alpine passes.

Lots of hotels in town.

Andermatt has undergone a resurgence in popularity because the other Swiss resorts like St Moritz have become too expensive. Of course, expensive is a relative term, because Switzerland *is* the most expensive country not only in Europe but in the entire world. More expensive than Norway, which is #3 (behind Singapore). Thankfully, we were spared this knowledge first-hand because Bettina invited us to stay with her the last time we were in Switzerland.

Some German bikers riding through

Deserted streets during the middle of the weekday

This is the off-season for the Swiss Alps, too warm for skiing and too cold for hiking. But that doesn't halt the parade of motorcyclists riding through town on their way to and from all the great twisty passes in the area. Hard to believe that in a few weeks from now, all of this is going to be blanketed in snow and the near empty streets of Andermatt will be bustling with ski tourists.

Neda is window shopping

Eating a falafel at Collen and Dan's recommendation.

It was the cheapest thing on the menu, but still quite pricey! Yummy and worth it though. We're sitting outside because it costs extra to sit inside the restaurant. While we were munching on our falafels, we saw the German riders from before park near us and a couple of them were checking out our bikes. So we walked over to say hi to them and chat motorcycles for a while. They left Germany this morning and were going to do the Swiss Alps then ride back home the same day! I remember when we used to ride hardcore like that!
We headed out of Andermatt, eastwards up to Nätschen mountain

As we got further up, the grass turns brown

Great fun taking the switchbacks up and down! And it wasn't raining, so yay!

In the valleys, the grass is green again

Beautiful scenery as well too, can't complain too much about the day

Passing through small towns in the Swiss countryside

Swiss cheese production line

As we got closer to Lugano, there was a noticeable change in architecture in the buildings of the towns we were passing through. We didn't notice it the first time we rode here because we came from Italy and just dipped into the Italian canton of Ticino. But now, traveling through the entire country in a day, we saw the progression from the Germanic influences in the north to the Mediterranean style in the south. Very interesting.

Bettina was waiting for us in Lugano with a big smile and a warm dinner. It's so nice to be able to spend time with her like this, bonding over motorycles. We've hung out with her so often lately and we feel so comfortable around her that it feels like we've known her for such a long time.

Bettina got a new bike! Showing off the Monster! It's a beauty!

Relaxing on the couch while Bettina is helping us plan out a route for tomorrow

We've traversed the whole length of Switzerland in a day! Great company, great roads! Life is simple, but it's good.

Oh yeah, and here's a video:




Read your thread cover to cover and still following along. Fascinating!

Merry Christmas to you two.

Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/263.html

We've got one eye on the southbound road ahead of us and another eye on the calendar, trying to stay ahead of the winter looming just over the horizon behind us. The weather has been pretty variable lately, with warm and sunny days alternating with wet and gloomy days, signalling the close of another fall season in Europe. We're in pretty good spirits. All the company that we've surrounded ourselves with has lifted our mood, so we're not going to fix what's not broken and we're on our way to see more people that we know.

Riding around the Swiss part of Lake Lugano

Morcote is one of the most popular tourist spots in Ticino

Bettina and Stefano took us here the last time we were in Switzerland, and now we're just riding through on our way to Italy. The pretty village and the lake-side scenery is complemented by the beautiful weather we're having. I can't believe it's so nice this late in the season!

And then suddenly we're in Italy once again! Ciao, Bella!

Now I can let Neda take over the reins of communication and just relax and be a "passenger" through Italy. Neda is the more extroverted of the two of us, and whenever we're in a country where I speak the language better than she does (basically only France, Morocco and Walloon Belgium), she ends up feeling a bit disconnected from the trip. I'm totally different. If I don't have to perform negotiation and translation duties, I'm much more happier just to sit back and enjoy the ride. Just part of my lazy personality.

It's been exactly a year since we've been here and right away, when we crossed the border we saw swarms of scooters parked on the side of the road and zipping through the streets. And all the women were dressed up to the nines as well. It's funny how much you forget about a place until you come back to it and then everything's like, "Oh yeah, I remember that!"

Trying to find our way out of Como

We're not spending any time in the big city, instead zig-zagging our way back north on the Italian side of Lake Como to explore the roads around the triangular peninsula called Triangolo Lariano. Yesterday, Bettina pointed out some great twisty roads up and down the mountain right on the peninsula.

Riding around Lake Como in perfect weather

The narrow roads around Lake Como are lined with steep roads that traverse the interior of the triangular peninsula

We take one such road up into the interior. Grigna Mountains across the lake in the distance

Turns out it wasn't just any road. This was the world famous Passo del Ghisallo. Famous if you're a cyclist, which we're not, so we didn't know what we stumbled upon. It's one of the roads that they race on in the Tour of Lombardy. Over a distance of 10 kms, the road climbs over 500m high. What makes it so challenging for cyclists is that the switchbacks are non-stop one after the other... I dunno, sounds kinda fun if you have a motor strapped onto your cycle...!

Museo del Ciclismo in Magreglio

At the top of a road is a chapel dedicated to the Madonna del Ghisallo, the patron saint of cyclists. I'm not making this up. The chapel also doubles as a museum dedicated to cycling, with lots of memorabilia, jerseys, bicycles and old photographs of famous cyclists over the years. Cyclists from all over the world come to ride this road and pay homage in the chapel/museum.

Here's a short video of our ride into Bellagio, down the Passo Del Ghisallo. No cyclists were harmed in the making of this video.

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