Furka Pass Closed -- what to do but
hole up in Montreux
Martigny, Switzerland - Chamoson - Montreux
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Montreux, Switzerland Wednesday Oct. 4th
Am writing this on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Helvetie in Montreux Switzerland, at the eastern edge of Lac Leman. This reminds me of some place I would retire to (and a lot of folks do just that). A gracious old hotel a block from the casino. It's completely deserted up here except for me -- a nice place to write.
Montreux is the site of the famous jazz festival which, unfortunately for us, is held in July.
Eric and I are taking a "get-away-from-each-other day." He's gone out riding somewhere, with camera (and cell phone just in case); has cash, knows where we're staying. I am taking a no-motorcycling day to catch up on my correspondence, read the International Herald Tribune and Newsweek.
When you ask in Switzerland for a hotel room with two beds, you find them side by side. This has been no problem, as Eric and I are both fairly quiet sleepers, but last night he rolled over, stretched, and poked me in the face. OWWWWWW! He woke up and I woke up. It was kind of funny, actually.
In a way, this was a good thing to happen because I had wanted to wake up at 2:00 a.m. to watch the live broadcast of the presidential debates. But this was not the way I had wanted to wake up!
There's a great book which I purchased before the trip called Motorcycling Through the Alps. It has all these great routes in Switzerland, France, and Italy, the ones without much traffic, over fantastic roads.
The route from Annecy into Switzerland was taken from the book; we found some delightful deserted roads, up and over the Col (Pass) du Colombier near the little town of Abondance right near the French/Swiss border.
From there we crossed the border into Monthey Switzerland, and then south to Martigny.
The border crossing was interesting. We didn't know what to expect, now that the European Union has relaxed the barriers among member nations. Switzerland has NOT joined the EU, however, so we weren't sure what was going to happen.
As we got the the border, expecting who-knows-what, we saw a guy in uniform standing to the left, talking with someone else. He glanced at us briefly, then nodded his head -- "Go on." No stopping, no search, no bar to raise or lower, just a guy nodding his head. Cool!
Found a hotel in Martigny, the Trans-Alpin, just as it started raining. Our first rain of the trip. Not too bad for three weeks.
It poured the whole next day, Saturday. A good day to stay in. Unfortunately, the hotel could only let us stay for one night, but there was another hotel across the street, La Porte d'Octodure, a Best Western (!), which was more than we needed, but we took it anyway. Hey, it had a sauna and jacuzzi! Although my nose was getting a completely stuffed up by now, I couldn't pass this up.
We rode down into the center of Martigny in the rain, found a restaurant. As we were parking the bikes, we heard a marching band! What? It turned out the whole month was "La Foire de Valais" (Festival of Valais, the local canton or province) and this Saturday it was the marching band's turn to do their thing. Too bad for them it was raining, but they were decked out in plastic wrap over their rather bright blue and silver uniforms. Most of the tunes they were playing were American rock 'n' roll numbers.
At dinner (yet another pizza and salade verte), we were entertained by a little 2 1/2 year old next to us, Leonie, who took an immediate liking to Eric. Not shy, she wished us "Bon Appetit" as our food was delivered, then thought she might as well extend the good wishes to everybody in the restaurant and said, "Bon Appetit, tout le monde!" Everybody cracked up.
SUNDAY - Visit to the Dixence Dam
On Sunday the rain had stopped. We took a ride east to Chamoson about 15 miles to see where the Ducati dealer was that we were going to visit the next day. Never found the place (until the next day). Rode down to Sion. Got separated again as Eric was stuck several cars behind me and didn't know which way I had turned.
After waiting for him a bit, and backtracking, I decided to push on about 15 miles back up into the mountains to view the Dixence Dam (Barrure du Dixence), the highest dam in the world. Bigger than the Great Pyramid of Cheops, it was too hard to resist not seeing (have I mentioned I'm a dam-o-phile?).
MONDAY - Motorcycle Maintenance Day in Chamoson
TUESDAY - East to the Furka Pass
We had headed east from Martigny and Sion through the Rhone River valley toward the town of Brig. From Brig you continue on up over the legendary Furka Pass down into the town of Andermatt. One of the meccas for bikers, Andermatt is pretty much in the middle of the country (straight south of Zurich for you map-o-philes).
Just the thought of riding over the Furka Pass was a bit intimidating. But then I realized that I have been riding mountain roads and hairpin turns for the last three weeks and doing just fine.
As we rode eastward, we could see a huge snow-cover peak rising in front of us. The road does go AROUND that, I reassure myself.
We rode through the town of Brig and saw some motorcylists going the other way. After the obligatory wave, we passed the last biker, who did a strange kind of frantic waving of his left arm. Uh, oh, what could that mean?
We found out soon enough. Although all the previous road signs describing the various Alpine passes had listed the Furka Pass (along with Grimsel, St. Gothard) as "open", we saw a sign which had a red "Closed" symbol next to it.
We stopped and asked a man on the road. He said, "Oh, there's been a 'chute de pierres' and the road up to the pass was closed last Friday. It will be closed for four more days." A rockslide. Damn! How come the roadsigns didn't reflect this?
The only way around would be to go over the Simplon Pass down into Italy and up and around through Locarno. A long way. Then we stopped at the Tourist Office in Brig and found out that the Simplon Pass was snowed in, and closed. You could put your motorcycle on a train and go through a tunnel, but that seemed like too much of a hassle.
Eric was deeply disappointed at not being able to get to Andermatt.
We turned around, backtracked to Martigny, then pushed on another 30 miles to Montreux.
2:00 pm Wednesday -- Eric has returned from his ride. Off to Internet cafe to send this.
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