Making a Pass or Two

Hubby and I chose Italy as a vacation destination for two reasons. One, it was within driving distance for Annelies and Yves, our Belgian friends and traveling companions. And two, it would be a cool place to ride motorcycles. Since Annelies agreed that Italy would be a good place to meet, it seemed like a good plan.

Yves does have a motorcycle, but Annelies isn’t fond of riding on it with him. In fact, she’s not fond of him riding it solo. So we spent the first few days mostly alone.

I leveraged some of my pal Fuzzy’s prior travel experience and used Rent-a-Dream, the same company she used when she went to Italy. Rent-a-Dream works with the Italian BMW dealer Due Ruote on the outskirts of Milan.

Motorcycle Rental Facility

Reasonably priced, very friendly, and quite accommodating, it was a great experience. Except for the location, which meant we had to drive through some crazy-busy traffic to start and end our journey. And what an experience the end was. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It took a little while for Diego, pictured with Hubby, to get the proper GPS mount set up, but he did it for us without complaint. Which was awesome. Diego was also nice enough to store our luggage for us. We took what clothes and stuff we needed for the first few days with us, but left our luggage with the rest of our stuff behind.

I hadn’t done much planning beyond labeling the major passes we’d like to hit and booking overnight accommodations. I would have planned routes right before we left, but things got a bit crazy. So Hubby did it. He then saved the routes into his computer and GPS. He led. I followed. I didn’t have to do much hard thinking at all, which was a good thing.

Those of you who don’t ride may think that left my mind free to wander. That’s somewhat true. But it couldn’t wander too much. Riding a motorcycle requires thought. Focus. There’s not much time left for thinking about other stuff. Especially when you are riding in a foreign country, through beautiful terrain, and a gazillion roundabouts (traffic circles). Man, does Italy ever have a lot of roundabouts!

Our first few days were all about riding. Sure, we’d enjoy the scenery along the way. But riding was the main focus.

Which is why we  only made a VERY brief stop at Lake Como, one of Italy’s most famous lakes.

Parking Lot on Shore of Lake Como

The day was a bit overcast. But it was still a pretty sight.

Lake Como ("Lago di Como" in Italian)

As you can see, the lake is surrounded by mountains. It’s not all that far from the Alps, after all. The mountains surrounding the very large lake are sprinkled with towns of vary sizes along with a number of palaces and villas. Lake Como, in and of itself, would be a great place to spend a couple of weeks. But, since we were in Italy to RIDE, we spent about 15 minutes there.

Lake Como ("Lago di Como" in Italian)

No, we didn’t see George Clooney, Lake Como’s most well-known resident. To Americans, anyway.


It wasn’t long after leaving Lake Como that we started our climb into the mountains. It was a slow, but picturesque ascent through a variety of small towns and villages. After Lake Como, traffic thinned dramatically. To the point that we often had the road to ourselves.

Our first major pass of the day was San Bernardino. We took the old road across the pass, of course. A tunnel (4.1 miles long) was built in 1967, which diverted traffic from the old road.

Hubby and I Atop Switzerland's San Bernardino Pass

We didn’t stop much along the way. Our first stop was sort of funny. We pulled into the parking lot of a gas station/convenience store to rest a bit and get something to drink. Hubby, with Euros in hand, went inside only to encounter a woman demanding that he pay in Swiss Francs. We forgot that we’d entered Switzerland. I don’t remember seeing a sign, but then we were on the back roads. She did accept Euros in payment, but gave him Francs for change.

Anyway, since we didn’t stop much, I’ll have to share a few helmet cam pictures with you.

Riding Up the San Bernardino Pass

Now, I’ve told people the roads are pretty curvy. And there are lots of switchbacks, which are 180 degree turns, zig-zagging up the side of the mountains. There are few, if any, roads in America quite like these roads that criss-cross the Alps. Note the road in the above picture trailing off to the right.

Lake at San Bernardino Pass

It was sort of odd to see a lake at the pass. Not close to the pass, at the pass.

Rest Stop

Just about all of the major mountain passes have restaurants. Some of the more-popular ones have gift shops, snack bars, etc. Remember, this used to be a major route across the mountains.

After a short break, it was on to our next pass.

The road down was just as curvy and pretty as the ride up had been. Splugen Pass wasn’t too far from San Bernardino. Much to my delight, as we neared the top of Splugen Pass, I saw cows.

Yes, cows. On top of the mountain.

There are Cows on This Here Mountain

I yelled to Hubby through our helmet-to-helmet communicators, “There are COWS on this here mountain!”

I barely heard him say, “Oh boy,” before I screeched to a halt for some pictures. How could I pass up THAT photo op?


Of course, they came over to say hello. And they spoke English! So I said “moo” right back.

Swiss Cows

What a pretty setting for cows.

Me and the Cows

Hubby hadn’t realized I had stopped until he was a few hundred yards up the road. So I had to take a self-portrait. You can sort of see the helmet cam, which is mounted on my helmet (imagine that!).

It’s easy to tell which of these pics were taken with the helmet cam by the bug or dirt splat in the upper right-hand corner. Sorry, but I didn’t feel like Photoshopping them all out.


I didn’t linger too long. We still hadn’t reached the top of the pass.

My Favorite Mountaintop Cow Shot

I was quite surprised to discover that Splugen Pass was actually on the border between Italy and Switzerland. Now, had I been thinking, I would have stopped for a shot of the Switzerland sign.

Oh well.

Splugen Pass

I really like the next shot, too. If you look closely, you can see the road off to the right. That’s where we were headed. More curves!


See the thick whiteness in the pic? At first, I wasn’t sure if that was snow or fog. But, as we got closer, I could tell it was fog. I just had no idea why it was hanging there like that.

Town of Splugen (aka Spluga)

Northern Italy was once part of Austria. Most people don’t realize a large part of the Italian population speak German. Many of the towns have two names. Splugen is the German and Spluga is the Italian version. I had a German paper map, which I referred to on occasion, but the GPS was using the Italian names. Talk about confusing!


I was tickled to see that Splugen had cows, too. Sort of hazardous keeping your cows on the road, though.

Not long after that shot, the Go Pro (helmet cam) battery died. But we were riding through fog anyway.

We thought we were close to our destination, which was Annelies and Yves’ rental apartment at Lago di Iseo. Unfortunately, we underestimated. We didn’t arrive till something like 10:30 PM.

It was dark. And their apartment was perched on the side of a mountain. Which meant switchbacks in the dark.

THAT was interesting. I was just glad we knew how to ride on those roads. It’s not as straightforward as you might think.


By the time we arrived, we needed that beer. Lucky for us, Annelies and Yves were kind enough to stop in Austria for us specifically to buy our favorite Edelweiss Hefeweizen (wheat beer).

And that ended day one.

We’d ridden something like 400 kilometers or around 250 miles. That might not sound like a lot, but they were some tough miles. You don’t just coast through turns like that, you have to work it. Trust me.

We were exhausted, but very happy to see our pals, who not only bought our favorite beer, but also delayed dinner for us.

Did I mention what great friends they are?

NEXT: On to Castelrotto (Kastelruth)

9 Replies to “Making a Pass or Two”

  1. Those roads look AMAZING. I am in awe every time I see the switchbacks. I can see why you were so tired after.

    Loving the alpine cows too. I think my most favorite picture is your self portrait with the cows….why? – because I can see how gloriously happy you were to find the critters up there.

  2. Yay, glad to finally get to hear more about your trip.

    In the pic labeled go pro 1 day 1, is Dad’s foot touching the road as he takes that curve? Kinda looks like it, but I could only zoom in so far.

    In the pic labeled go pro 2 day 1, I was thinking “dang, those cows are awfully close to the road!” Then, a few shots later, a cow actually in the road. Road hazard is right!

  3. Brandy, I was most definitely tickled to see the mountaintop cows!

    Trace, it was definitely amazing.

    Shan, very observant. Yes, his foot was on the ground. He wasn’t taking the curve. He stopped because he saw a big-ass bus in the curve coming toward us. With little if any wiggle room. It’s crazy to encounter buses, trucks, tractors, etc. on those roads. Oh, and more bicyclists than I could ever count.

  4. Welcome back. The pictures are great. The roads look like fun. 250 miles of these is an exhausting day. You made me laugh when you said the cows speak English!

  5. Oooh, what a great post! 🙂 LOVE the cow photo (well, actually I love both of them)! I was also on the lookout for George, but no luck. There really were a lot of cyclists in Italy!

  6. Love the cows 🙂 It is rather startling to come around a corner and find them in the road though.

    It’s really good to see you looking happy in your self -portrait 🙂

Comments are closed.