Source :Travel Times, New Straits Times,3 May 2012
WE have just spent a few days in Germany, meeting with riders from all over the world at BMW Motorrad Days festival, one of the biggest bike gatherings in Germany.
Now, our group of 22 Malaysian riders are heading for the Swiss Alps en route to Austria.
It feels good to be back in the saddle and out on the open road. My bike is pretty much loaded up. I have two aluminium side panniers and a rear box filled with luggage.
The BMW GS1200 Adventure is in its element - its boxer engine pulling the load up the mountain with ease. One of my friends who is into Japanese sports bikes, says the classic boxer layout feels like agricultural machinery.
Riding on these roads though, it´s just perfect. I can actually feel the pendulum movement of the pistons working like clockwork as it hauls me around.
Making our way out of the city of Munich, we are finally able to stretch the "legs" of our bikes. Every rider worth his salt knows that the best roads are usually in the country - away from those dreadful traffic lights and gridlocks.
While Germany has fantastic highways and a beautiful countryside, Austria has gorgeous mountain roads dotted with quaint villages.
We ride until late afternoon and finally arrive at the Gasthof Tschuppbach inn after dusk. It is a good thing that the summer days are long. The sun is still up at 8.30pm.
Entering the 600-year-old inn, we huddle together in the restaurant on the ground floor while a tiny, industrious Austrian woman serves dinner for all 22 of us, single-handedly. We marvel at how she works.
The interior of the inn looks like it has been carved out of a cave. Very charming. Sitting on the balcony of my room, I can see a blanket of stars overhead.
The following day, we regroup and move on again. From Austria, we start gaining elevation, riding through the Albula Pass in Switzerland.
The scenery is breathtaking. There are many switchbacks and as we climb higher, the houses in villages below us become mere specks. The crystal clear air grants us a picturesque view of the majestic Alps against a brilliantly blue summer sky.
As we climb up the Albula Pass, the terrain becomes more barren. We overtake cyclists huffing and puffing their way up the mountain. Some of the cyclists are well into their 70s, but can still ride up the steep inclines. The route is a favourite with cyclists, motorcyclists and sports car drivers alike.
We reach Albula Gasthaus in time for lunch. Located at an elevation of 2,315m, the Gasthaus is more than a hundred years old. Inside are pictures of people riding horse-drawn carriages in the 19th Century up the Albula Pass, parked in front of the guesthouse.
Walking outside, the scenery is exactly the same except it is now the 21st Century and there are brightly coloured motorcycles parked outside.
We finally reach Galenstock by dusk. I am one of the first to arrive. As I am far ahead, I wait for the rest. I park my bike on the side of the road and sit on a bench perched precariously on the edge of the cliff.
Down below, the road snakes like an endless serpent through towns and villages. It is beginning to get cold with the increasing altitude and it is quite serene except for the sound of cow bells from a farm nearby.
Far away, I can see the rest of the convoy cornering through the switchbacks - just little specks in the distance. To the north and south, barren rocky mountaintops can be seen. What a sight!
That night, we sleep at Hotel Galenstock. Located high up in the mountains and built in 1890, the hotel is famous because it once appeared in one of the chase scenes in the James Bond film, Goldfinger. It´s a beautiful wooden building. The interior smells of pine.
The temperature is about 15 Degree Celsius during the day but by the time we reach the hotel, it dips significantly due to the thin air. Exhausted, I curl up in the blankets and fall into a deep sleep.
WHIZZING TO LUZERN
From the Swiss Alps, we whizz down into Luzern, a metropolitan city with a rich history. It´s located on the banks of Lake Lucerne, in the shadow of Mount Pilatus which is part of the Swiss Alps.
One of the city´s famous landmarks is the Chapel Bridge, a wooden bridge built in the 14th Century.
There are many good restaurants in the area, including the occasional Turkish kebab joint.
We spend a night in the city, before going up Mount Pilatus the next day by cable car. From high up on Pilatus, we can see for hundreds of miles.
The convoy continues to Strasbourg, France on the same day. We travel through the original French Colmar town which was the inspiration for Colmar Tropicale back home in Bukit Tinggi, Pahang.
We arrive in Strasbourg in the evening, just in time to visit the Cathedral Of Our Lady Of Strasbourg and are awed by the Gothic architecture of the nearly 1,000-year-old site.
The old churches of Europe are truly amazing. The beautiful Gothic cathedral, which is the centrepiece of the city of Strasbourg, was originally built in 1176 and was the world´s tallest for over 200 years between the years 1647 and 1874.
It is 142m tall or roughly the height of a 40-storey modern skyscraper. It is probably one of the grandest pieces of architecture I have ever seen. My lens isn´t able to capture the tower in its entirety.
The thing about these old churches is that it is just amazing that such structures exist and were built for belief in one´s God.
It takes a huge amount of economic resources to build one and I find it beautiful that people once devoted such great efforts to worship God.
BACK TO GERMANY
Our final destination is Hiedelberg, Germany, a beautiful city of universities and colleges located on the banks of the River Neckar. There is a large student population here. This city has a fair bit of history for me personally because both my father and grandfather studied here. My father went to school here in the 1960s while his father went to college here at the turn of the century.
I visit my father´s old school which faces the river. Then I cross the Old Bridge and climb Konigstuhl hill, riding the old railway until I reach Heidelberg castle, a beautiful medieval structure from the 14th Century.
From the top of the hill, I watch the sun slowly go down over the city. It´s a beautiful sight, most romantic, but I feel a little sad as I know the next morning, we will be handing our bikes back to the shipper and bidding each other goodbye.
Still, it has been a truly epic ride.
There are no border stops as you enter Austria from Germany. Austria and Germany are part of the Schengen Area of Europe. The Schengen Area is like a single state for international travel with no internal border stops.