July 20, 2019


Arrivederci, Baveno—we're on our way to Burgdorf (Switzerland).

The logistics were ... complicated. Four vehicles, one dog, 26 people and their luggage. And, of course, many bicycles. Our host mapped it out the night before: which bags and bikes to load in which vehicle; the people would travel (mostly) by train. A few of us would rendezvous with the van in Thun, set up our bikes and pedal on to Burgdorf.

Loading was a matter of fitting the puzzle pieces together. A layer of luggage on the bottom, bikes separated by cardboard barriers stacked above. We'd removed pedals, turned handlebars, and lowered saddles to flatten the bikes.

From prior experience, I had every expectation that something would go sideways with a plan this complex, and I was part of the Thun-to-Burgdorf contingent. Rather than load a bag with my loose parts (pedals, saddle+seatpost, shoes, helmet, water bottles) into a vehicle, I wore the shoes and carried the rest onto the train in a drawstring bag.

An imposing building high on a hillside caught our eye, but it was just a clever facade.

In Thun, a passerby recognized my bike jersey (!) and stopped, incredulous to find me (a member of the same Bay Area bike club) sitting on a bench in Switzerland. [These things happen.] I was too distracted to get a photo together, as I was focused on whether I would have enough time to continue our journey by bicycle, or would need to re-board a train (with regret). One of the cars had swung by and let us know that the van would likely arrive later than planned.

This route, I had thought, would likely be one of the most scenic of the trip.

And, I was right!

There was some drama when the van arrived and one rider's bag of loose parts was not in it. [See what I mean?] I found a shady spot to put my bike back together, and it wasn't long before two of us were on our way, following an actual GPS-plotted route through the Swiss countryside.

That is, until we were encouraged to divert to the main road. No more rolling hills, but no more charming farmhouses, either.

The center of Schwarzenegg was a bit confusing, so perhaps the main road was a better choice; the planned side road ended up there, anyway.

We climbed the Schallenberg Pass, and the views were lovely.

The road was smooth and inviting. Too inviting. Don't bike this road on a weekend, as we did.

Motorcyclists in full body gear flew past us at excessive speeds, rounding the corners with their knees inches from the pavement, as if it were track day. There was no shoulder on the road, as you can see, and they slowed for no one.

It was terrifying. (And I'm accustomed to sharing the fun roads with motorcycles back home.)

We regrouped at a restaurant at the summit, where we found folks in two of our vehicles waiting to greet us. Along with a horde of motorcyclists.

I was eager to move along, unsure of what I'd find on the road ahead. [An Aeromotor-style windmill, as it turned out!]

Fields of wheat. And, mercifully, no more motorcycle madness.

Off the back and on my own, I was content to roll at my own pace, confidently following the GPS track. After crossing this bridge, it was not entirely clear whether I was meant to continue on the (now-dirt) path or take the road. [I chose the road.]

On the outskirts of town, I met another cyclist from our group who had been circling around, uncertain of the route to our hotel. With an assist from Google Maps, I sorted it out and led the way. Feeling spent from a moderately stressful day, it was less than helpful when I asked where I needed to park my bicycle and got “in the garage” as an answer. “Let me show you” was what I needed after a trying 39 miles and 2,300 feet of climbing.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

July 19, 2019


The best laid plans ...

We were to have lunch in Domodossola, and return by train.

We set off in two groups, passing through the now-familiar town of Mergozzo along the lake. We continued north on a lovely side road, until ... we could continue no more. The road was under repair, and closed. Now, it would have been helpful to have posted a sign at the first intersection ... or maybe we missed it.

The second group was heading up as we backtracked. “The road is closed!” we shouted. They kept riding, and so did we (in the opposite direction). After we turned off the road, our leader stopped to study the map and re-route us. We expected the second group to catch up. [They didn't.] Meanwhile, we'd lost one of our riders, who'd kept looking toward the Toce River and his Garmin, and had stopped. [We expected him to catch up, too. He didn't.]

It wasn't turning out to be the sort of day for picture-taking. Without a route plan, I had to ensure that I stayed with the group. We paused next to a display of some armaments, but didn't venture into the park to learn more.

It was the sort of day for stormy weather. There would be thundershowers in the mountains, certainly. I was happy when we found our way to a scenic, less traveled road. One of the women in our group commented on my riding style. “You're such a smooth rider, it's like following a Lincoln!” [High praise, indeed.]

Much to our surprise, as we cycled along the main road, we found the rest of our group. They had spoken to the construction crew, who'd routed them to a nearby bridge over the river (for bikes and pedestrians). The same bridge that our missing rider had seen on his Garmin, and also taken.

Our journey was taking longer than expected, so we stopped for lunch in Villadossola. All we saw of Domodossola was the train station.

There was time, however, for some gelato. I chose Bésame Mucho, because ... why not? It was clearly a popular flavor, and it caused the concessionaire to break into song.

Some chose to ride back, into a stiff headwind. I was content to board the train. Our “short” outing to Domodossola was 36 miles, but only 721 feet of climbing. [Flat.]

July 18, 2019


While most of the people in our group are from the US, six are European. One of those had researched an interesting region nearby and invited a few of us to join him for a hike.

It's all so scenic. Even the drinking water..

We did see the occasional cyclist on the climb to the town of Macugnaga, but the drive from our home base took more than an hour. We skirted the town, heading straight for the cable car (La Regina dei Ghiacci, the Ice Queen) that would carry us almost to the top of the ridge.

Almost. It drops you off at an elevation of 9,465 feet. The Madonna delle Nevi (Madonna of the Snows) sits higher on the ridge at the Passo del Monte Moro.

We traversed a few snow fields before making our way up the rock.

It helps to be sure-footed. I was glad I'd brought my gloves, not just for the cold but to protect my hands as I gripped a chain to pull myself upward. The logs (held in place by iron rods driven into the rock) played more of a role on the way back down.

At these heights, the weather is always a factor. Would we see anything when we made it to the top, or would we be wrapped in a cloud?

The ridge is, more or less, the Italian/Swiss border. For a time, we had a clear view of the reservoir at the Mattmark Dam, and we chatted with a hiker who climbed up from the Swiss side.

And, of course, we got a close look at the golden statue.

As the clouds descended above our heads, it was prudent to head back down.

The summit of Monte Rosa was obscured, but we could see the base of the Belvedere glacier at the foot of the mountain. A few mountain goats were studying the view, too.

We had time for more exploring, so we headed toward Monte Rosa. An expeditious pair of chairlifts carried us partway up the mountain.

We hiked through the forest, and popped out on a narrow trail.

Stretched below us was the vast field of scree deposited by the Belvedere glacier.

As tempting as it was to hike down, it seemed dicey.

The trail was steep, and the surface was loose rock. We watched a pair of hikers (with poles) climb up, but it was our descent (without poles) that worried me.

We turned back and enjoyed an afternoon treat with a view, instead.

July 17, 2019


The plan for today was a special excursion to Milano, where we would take a city tour that included admission to view a very famous work of art.

At some point on these trips, something tends to go awry. When a Swiss train pulled into the station at Stresa at the appointed time this morning and our host ushered us aboard, I was puzzled. Our tickets were for Trenitalia, not SBB. [And indeed, we were in the wrong.] A testy exchange (in German) ensued between the ticket-taker and our host, but fortunately we were permitted to continue our journey.

After wandering in vain through the main station in Milan (in search of the tourist office and paper maps), I was increasingly worried that we would be late. We needed to be at a particular place at a particular time, and the clock was ticking. I pulled out my phone and suggested that we allow Google Maps to show us the way.

Several people wanted to see the Duomo first, but I suggested that it was likely to be part of our tour later (which turned out to be correct). I was keen to go directly to our destination, the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie.

The Castello Sforzesco, however, was on the way; we traversed the grounds and learned more, later, during our tour. The castle is situated at the center (more or less) of Milan, which is not surprising given how cities have historically grown.

I first visited Milan about 30 years ago, and we made a pilgrimage to see this painting. I remember being very surprised to find that it was simply painted on the wall of the friars' dining hall. It was under restoration at the time, with very little discernible through the scaffolding.

Now, after 21 years of chipping away at many layers of paint from prior restorations, The Last Supper can be seen again. The latest restoration took great care to expose what remains of Da Vinci's 15th-century original, filling in the gaps with watercolors. There is much to observe in the details of this well-known work—gestures, lighting, positioning—that I never before knew, or appreciated. You might wonder why Leonardo would not position the work above that doorway. Well, there was no doorway; it was unceremoniously cut through the wall (and the painting) during the 17th century.

We did breeze past the Duomo, but did not enter. Our guide explained how the exterior changes color over the course of a day, from gray to white to pink, as the light shifts.

We moved on to visit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, where we admired the architecture without being tempted by the boutiques.

Our tour concluded across from Milan's famous opera house, La Scala, the interior of which is apparently worth seeing. The exterior? Not so much. One of the folks in our group made our guide laugh when she asked if we could see the front of the building ...

July 16, 2019

Laveno Loop

The other side of Lago di Maggiore was alluring, so we decided to cross from Piedmont to Lombardy. Some folks boarded a boat next to the hotel; I joined the group that cycled first, to a ferry at Verbania.

The air was clear enough to see the distant snow-capped peaks of the Alps.

We headed south, passing a campground with banners advertising charging stations ... for bicycles! (Electric bikes are popular in Europe.) Someday I will appreciate that assistance, but today food still fuels my motor.

We took a detour to see the hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso, but were not sufficiently enticed to pay the entrance fee.

On the other hand, when we caught sight of the Rocca di Angera, high on a hill, we goaded our leader into doing the climb. [At its steepest, a 12% grade.]

We paid the entrance fee. [It was worth it.]

We wandered around the fortress on our own, but didn't linger long enough to explore it fully. One of the first rooms we found was devoted to wine-making, and I can say that I had never before seen such a humongous press.

It's a challenge to walk on cobblestones in bike shoes—even more so when the walkway is inclined. But the stone arches of a fortress often frame lovely views. [It was worth it.]

The grounds have been restored with period gardens and grapevines, and oh ... the views!

The fortress dates back to the 13th century, and I wish we'd had enough time to explore the historic rooms, but we were mindful that our ride leader was keeping watch over our bikes so we could be tourists.

We made our way around the southern end of the lake, to the town of Arona (where, evidently, the locals have a sense of humor).

Here we found, not umbrellas, but colorful pinwheels suspended overhead.

And, a view of the Rocca di Angera across the lake. [Yes, indeedy, we climbed that hill.] Overall, though, a flat day by the time we returned to Baveno: 48 miles with only 1,001 feet of climbing.

After dinner (which, by the way, is a multi-course meal every night), I was rewarded with this view of a rosy moon rising above the lake. Molto bella!

July 15, 2019


The agenda for today was a hike, which turned out to be more of a  meandering stroll through the nearby lakeside town of Mergozzo.

We visited the parish church, which has a lovely vaulted ceiling that we could not see (but Night Sight could). Sources seem to vary, but much of the building dates back to the 17th century.

We walked down a street adorned with translucent pastel umbrellas that made me think of jellyfish. Seems like it would be particularly drippy on a rainy day.

Of course we found a café where we could enjoy a snack and a view of the lake.

A few of us embarked on another stroll after returning to our home base in Baveno.

That stained-glass dome overhead in the lobby ... is not the only one in our hotel. [Wow.]

We wandered through a residential neighborhood on the hillside above the lake. Would I ever tire of that view? [No.]

The needles on this tree are so tightly packed that the branches look bare, from a distance.

Do the locals appreciate the stunning beauty that surrounds them? [I hope so.]

Watching the evening light fade at the water's edge was totally worth all the mosquito bites I collected.

From my balcony, I watched the full moon rise above the clouds. I can't think of a better place to be, right now.