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Five Sites not to miss in the Dolomites

Five Sites not to miss in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are surely one of the most picturesque and exciting mountain ranges of the European Alps. Set in north east Italy, squeezed between the border with Austria (to the north), the Sugana valley (south), the river Adige (east) and the Piave valley (west), the Dolomites offer some of the most inspiring mountain vistas in Europe and heaps of outdoor fun.  There are jagged rocky peaks over three thousand meters high to conquer, refreshing pine forests to explore, turquoise lakes to swim in and some exhilarating switchback roads to ride with stunning mountain passes to rest at. Furthermore, the region’s unique South Tirol culture produces some excellent cuisine and there’s plenty of beer not to mention wine to taste too. With all of this and more going for it, it’s no wonder the Dolomites have long been a favorite with bikers and holiday makers alike from all over the continent.

What are the hot spots you should not on a bike tour in the Dolomites? Here are five attractions that should be on everyone’s list:

1. The Three Peaks of Lavaredo (Tre Cime di Lavaredo)

Placed at the northern most section of the Sexten Dolomite complex, just south of Val Pusteria, the Peaks of Lavaredo consist three stout craggy pinnacles, towering at three thousand meters each, set in a stark, rocky, barren landscape. The area is a haven for rock climbers and there are plenty of easy hiking trails in the area to explore.

On route to the Cimone di LAvaredo
On the way to the Tre Cime

The foot of western most peak (Cima Ovest) is reachable by bus, car or motorbike from Lake Misurina along the “strada panoramica” (toll road). Rifugio Auronzo next to the car park serves hot meals and provides lodging for overnight stays, as well. Rifugio Auronzo serves as a starting point for steady stream of hikers that explore the trails around the Lavaredo peaks almost all the year round. It can get crowded here, especially during the warmer months of the year. However, the views around the Lavaredo peaks are amazing and the photo opportunities are not to be missed.

2. Lake Braies 

If you’ve browsed any length of time on Instagram looking at landscape photography then Lake Braies is probably an all too familiar site. This idyllic little lake is in fact one of the best known tarn of the Dolomites and Hundreds of keen photography enthusiasts flock to lake Braies every year to capture some its scenic alure. The lake’s bright green water creates a stunning contrast with the surrounding grey dolomite outcrops and on a clear day with blue skies beautiful pictures are easy top take.

Lake Braies
Placid and green waters of Lake Braies

At dusk the cliffs around the lake bounce the sunlight from the horizon in soft tonalities of crimson, pink and yellow. The warm light is perfect for a little romance or perhaps a little meditation by the water’s edge. There are old style wooden rowing boats available for hire for those in the mood for some exercise and there’s also an interesting lake side walk, that takes the better part of two hours to complete. Lake Braies is a definite must.

3. The Gardena and Sella Passes

The Sella and Gardena passes are within a short ride of each other and are extremely popular extremely popular with bikers and cyclists alike. Jaw dropping views, steep inclines and challenging twisty roads to reach them offer heaps of riding entertainment. Of course there’s always great food at the pass rifugios and plenty of hiking on offer for those equipped and fit for the task.  

Stunning Dolomite Scenery
Scenery around the Gardena Pass

At the peak of the tourist season, between July and August, there are traffic restrictions to Passo Sella. On some week days only a couple of hundred vehicles per hour are allowed beyond the road side check points. However, the curb on traffic isn’t enforced on weekends and the restrictions are unpopular with locals who thrive on tourism. It’s unclear for how long traffic limitations will hold. As of 2018, access to the pass involves an online pass that can be purchased here.

4. Passo Giau (Giau Pass)

Passo Giau
Passo Giau is definitely a favourite with bikers and day trippers alike. Occasionally hard to find a space to park a bike.

Possibly the most inspiring of all Dolomite passes, Passo Giau has it all. There are awesome views of mountain massifs and valleys near and far to admire. A stop at the local rifugio is usually a memorable experience as well with good food and bikers from all over Europe to chat to. Perched on the hills around the pass it’s not unusual to see photographers with cameras and tripods on a mission to capture some landscape bliss, especially at dusk. These days, there’s the occasional drone humming around as well. 

5. Lake Levico 

Lake Levico is on the southern most fringes of the Dolomites in Val Sugana, just a few kilometers from Trento. On a hot summer’s day the banks of the small lake offer highly sought after shade. Well manicured lawns provide perfect bedding for a beach towel and the mountain scenery around the lake offers plenty to admire.

Lake Levico
Lake Levico

The lake’s water is fresh all the year round and ideal to cool off from beneath the Italian sun. Camping is available for an overnight stay and of course restaurants are abundant in the area with Levico Terme, the local village, at a twenty minute walk from the water’s edge.

More info on touring the Dolomites here.

Travellingstrangetr 2018 ©️. All rights reserved

Five essentials for a bike tour

Five essentials for a bike tour

Helmet, jacket, trousers and boots are ready to wear. Your bike is clean, full of fuel, serviced and fitted with bulging panniers, navigation gizmos and action cam technology. Everything is sorted with insurance, road side assistance and itinerary.  You just need to fire up your beloved motorbike, lock your front door and ride off to that far away destination of your dreams. But hang on, wait a minute. There are some less obvious accessories to take along that should not be overlooked. Consider the following for your SAFETY and the long term ENJOYMENT of your road trip.

1. Ear Plugs

As per research published on the Journal of Fundamental and Applied Sciences (March 2018), it’s proved that riding a motorcycle at even moderate speeds (60km/h) with an open face helmet, exposes a rider to wind noise levels of over 90 dBA which, if repeated and prolonged in time, is more than enough to cause hearing loss at any age. It goes without saying that higher riding speeds induce greater wind noise and  potentially greater damage to our hearing as well.

Although there is some controversy over how sound levels can be accurately measured beneath a helmet, motorcycle audiometry tests agree that helmet induced noise is a real threat and one that should not be taken lightly. What to do to protect ourselves from this hazard?

Motorcycle fairing and more expensive helmet designs claim to target this issue but for now perhaps the safest option to lessen the menace of wind noise on a bike is to use a set of good quality ear plugs.

There are a variety of designs available but possibly the safest and most comfortable option is a set of personal custom moulded ear plugs Taylor made to each of our ear canals. Many companies specialise in this sort of product and although a set of custom plugs can cost around £100 (GBP) they are generally durable products that last years and can be worn comfortably for hours. I guess they’re cheaper than hearing aids for sure.

Custom made ear plugs
Custom made ear plugs

2. Sun Block

The sun, especially in warmer countries, is a biker’s fiercest yet most underrated foe. Exposure to the sun causes dehydration, sweat, exhaustion and UV radiation is responsible for lasting damage to the skin and eyes.

The face, neck and nasal bridge in particular are parts of our bodies that are exposed to the sun the most while we’re on the road and protecting  these areas is essential for our well being.

A few drops of high factor sun block on nose, cheeks, forehead and at the back of the neck should be part of a biker’s daily routine before climbing onto his/her machine and hitting the road. It goes a long way in avoiding unsightly and painful sun burn, peeling skin and chronic blemishes. 

3. Gloves

As remarkable as it might seem, not everyone wears motorcycle gloves whilst riding a bike. Some find them cumbersome, others claim that gloves are too easily lost or are that they simply cannot be bothered with them.

There are  plenty of reasons why you should use of gloves on a bike. Falls, for example, are unpredictable and scraping unprotected hands on any length of hard tar is always a sorry experience.  Gloves permit a better grip on the handlebars especially when riding off road and they also help lessen the numbing effect of engine vibration when travelling at motorway speeds.

I would argue however, that gloves are essential most of the time just to protect our hands from the elements and the sun, once again, most of all. 

Falls don’t happen every day and neither do we always need the firmest of grips on the bars of our bikes but the sun works relentlessly all the time, every time we ride, it’s rays beaming down on us mercilessly. Covering up the back of our hands is the best way to lessen the damage from the UV rays on our skin.

I always pack a pair of spare gloves (the cheapest ones are fine) in my panniers and will not get caught riding without wearing gloves for any appreciable length of time.

Light weight motorcycle gloves.
Motorcycle gloves, essential to protect your hands from the sun.

4. Safety Specs

Visors on helmets do a great job in protecting a biker’s face from sun, rain, dust and colliding insects. Occasionally though, especially when it’s warm, we all like to keep visors open to enjoy some cooler air. Our eyes, need constant protection and a good pair of quality sun glasses is advisable. But sun glasses can be excessively expensive and some designs frankly aren’t suited for motorcycle travel at all. A cheaper option to costly eye wear is making use of safety specs, readily available in most hardware stores in any town, anywhere in the world.

Safety specs come in a variety of shades, from tinted to clear. What’s more, they’re tough, easily replaceable and usually come with adjustable temples which makes them ideal for use under a motorcycle helmet. 

Safety Specs with adjustable temples are ideal riding companions
Safety Specs with adjustable temples are ideal riding companions

A tinted or mirrored pair of safety specs are just fine for riding in the sun and clear ones are great for protecting  eyes when riding after dark or on a cloudy day. I personally wouldn’t travel anywhere without them any more and often have more than a pair as back up.

5. Neck scarf/warmer

Neck warmers are a versatile piece of kit that can serve different purposes well. Most of all they provide an extra layer of warmth at the top of our jackets and protect our faces and the back of our necks from the sting of the sun during hot days. Equally, neck scarfs help filter the dust and fumes from the road traffic air we breath. They can also be used as bandanas and a bright colour increases a biker’s visibility on the road for sure. 

Interesting geology in Nubra Valley, Ladakh, India
Interesting geology in Nubra Valley, Ladakh, India. Bright neck scarf as well.

Travellingstranger, Copyright 2018, all rights reserved.

Guide to military check points.

Guide to military check points.

An unfamiliar motorbike with a foreign number plate always raises interest from the locals of countries left out of the trodden path of mainstream tourism. Often, it’s the youth that quickly spot unusual vehicles and riders from beyond their nation’s borders and the attention that comes from being recognised as an alien can prove to be a bit of a challenge for the unsuspecting traveller.  

The scrutiny and interest from the locals, although friendly and well intended, can be overwhelming. People congregate around you at any road side stop with smiles or inquisitive frowns. Some offer hospitality, food, water, coffee, tea and inevitably ask the same questions, endlessly time and time again: “Where are you from?  Where are you going? Why are you here? How old are you? Are you married? Can I take a selfie?”. You are treated like like a fish out of water, like someone who has somehow gone incredibly astray and needs assistance.

Sometimes however, interest can also come from those in a position of authority: the police, zealous border officials, traffic cops and of course the military, who to me are the most unpredictable of all uniformed officials.

From the eastern borders of Europe all the way to Thailand, soldiers play a bigger role in society than we are used to in the West. Soldiers can be found at borders between neighbouring districts, counties or municipalities and towns. There are soldiers in areas of political tension or affected by terrorism. There are soldiers in places of strategic interest such as mountain passes (even the remotest in the Himalayas), sea ports, railway stations, banks not to mention airports and govermnet buildings of various description. Men in green or kaki coloured fatigues are never too far away in southern Asia to the point that it’s not unusual to find yourself  escorted by the same for sections of your itinerary, just like a minor dignitary might be (in Pakistan and Iran most of all).

Picture taking with the boys in green
Picture taking with the boys in green

Clearly, the biggest worry for any traveller is the risk of being harassed by gun bearing conscripts feeling bored at a road side check point in the middle of nowhere. Truth is, this kind of thing hardly ever happens, at least not in South Asia. I found the soldiery in this part of the world to be professional and respectful. However, that’s not to say that dealing with the  guys in green is always straight forward. 

There are two types of soldiers: subordinates and superiors. Dealing with superiors (the ones in charge) is generally less time consuming than the subordinates. Nevertheless, I discovered that there are plenty of assholes in both of the above categories, the sort of guys you occasionally come across who love to throw their weight around and make your life harder for longer than necessary, just for a laugh. 

The motorbike is a strategic asset that always helps when dealing with road side check points and soldiers most of all. Every young or youngish fella has an interest in cars, bikes, pick up trucks so an “exotic” motorcycle from far away is something of a welcome distraction from the routine of flagging down scooters or Chinese made lorries for inspection. Stop at a military block on anything bigger than a 150cc bike and smart phones appear, poses are struck and selfies are taken by soldiers to send to girlfriends, wives and pals. The way I see it is that I’d rather soldiers take pictures of themselves sitting on or standing around my bike than deal with the inconvenience of being ordered to open my bags for a rummage of their contents. A little empathy goes a long way and generally helps to engage with the individuals wearing the uniforms rather than trigger they authority that the uniforms represent.

So, whenever flagged down by the army guys I found it best to literally prop the bike up on centre stand, take the keys from the ignition, bury them in a pocket and watch the picture taking routine unfold. Smile, be courteous, answer questions, perhaps use some local language, enquire about where to find good local food, water, fuel, women (always a good one) or a place to spend the night. I found that more often than not a sergent or a coporal would take control, answer my queries, sometimes even offer me tea or coffee and then dispatch me on my way whilst the rest of the crew were still checking out the pictures on their smart phones.

Check point in Pakistan
Check point in Pakistan

Only once, close to the Russian border did I come across a man in green who demanded I let him ride my bike. In cases like this an outright refusal is the only possible way to safeguard trip and motorbike. Make sure the keys are away from the ignition. Humour always helps and I found that comparing my motorcycle to a girlfriend or a wife, something no man would want to share with another,  was enough to brake the impasse with laughter and send me back on my route without further adoo. 

A huge thank you to the military and border guards of Iran and Pakistan who escorted me on my ride through the troubled areas of Baluchistan close to the border with Afghanistan. Their professionl attitude and timely organisation left me in awe of their good will and abilities. Thank You once again!

Travellingstranger, Copyright 2018, all rights reserved.