9 - 11 May 2017
From my layover forest outside Zernez, I rode 170k southwest past St. Moritz to Silvaplana and from there north past Chur to Liechtenstein.
Until Silvaplana it was an easy ride through a lovely valley with stunning views of towns, rivers, fields and snow-capped mountains. From Silvaplana, I was going west over Julierpass, however first I did a 13k detour past two lakes and back to get the most out of beautiful weather, I had waited to days for. It was a tough 500m elevation climb up to Julierpass due to the combination of steep climb and strong headwind. However, I was ecstatic because it was so beautiful and quiet with metres of snow and hardly any traffic. It was probably not more than 7-8 degrees, but the sun and uphill made it easy to stay warm and riding in shorts was no problem. From the pass, it was downhill on seemingly endless switchbacks though I had to go slow having little feeling with the bike because of the damaged handlebar stem bearings. I rode through another gorgeous valley to Tiefencastel, where I navigated another big mountain to Chur before finishing with a flattish stretch to Liechtenstein. While the mountains offered pleasant riding temperatures, it was suddenly very hot down here in 5-600m elevation.
As I crossed the border to Liechtenstein, I rode into a storm that almost pushed me over. For 5 minutes, it was too strong to continue and to avoid being pushed over, I turned the bike towards the wind, pulled both brakes and braced myself over the handlebar - still the strongest gusts were close to pushing me over/backwards. When the wind slowed down to 50-60 k/h, I quickly continued, hoping the worst storm gusts were limited to a certain area because of the mountains. I was right, and although it was still very windy (blowing a gale), I could ride without being pushed over. I had no particular business or interest in Liechtenstein, but now that I was here, I rode past Vaduz (the capital) before turning west into Switzerland. With a strong tailwind, it was an easy ride north but I knew it would be a strong headwind coming back through Switzerland. With less than 3 hours, I think it's my shortest stay in any country in the world (not counting airport transit) - it was clean and nice but nothing special (e.g. very similar to Switzerland).
Swiss people love biking (including the biggest number of electric bikes, I have seen anywhere in the world) – some for transportation and even more for recreation. The latter often go fast, but nobody has a bell, so instead they shout, which seldom works in the wind or on noisy roads. Switzerland has endless bike trails and paths but often it didn’t work well. The biggest problem was the extensive signposting being inconsistent – constantly changing towns or just using numbers as if I already knew the whole number system including local, regional and national paths. Along the way, I asked a number of locals but nobody could explain it to me. Other bike path challenges were constantly having to cross the road without the right of way, two-way traffic shared with pedestrians, endless sewer covers and poor quality pavement/gravel. So like many locals, I often biked on the roads entailing a lot of honking and shouting out the windows. Interesting, because many Swiss drivers don’t follow the rules themselves, especially when it comes to speeding, which was confirmed by the endless traffic behaviour signs. Speeding was prevalent in the countryside but less so in towns, which is probably in line with fine sizes and detection risk. I think part of the problems is the huge number of luxury cars/motorbikes (I don’t recall having seen so many anywhere in the world including The Middle East) where people often feel they have paid for the right to drive as they please as well having a need to exploit the excessive engine power. Which leads to another interesting observation – Switzerland currently has a heated debate whether to exchange nuclear power for renewable energy. Why not begin by taxing the heavily polluting luxury vehicles?
The only sign more prevalent that traffic behaviour, was “verboten” (prohibited) - everything and everywhere seemed to be illegal as it is common in e.g. North America and Australia. It is so extensive that even the Swiss themselves often seem to make an assessment if it’s relevant for them. A bit surprising to me as I thought they lived by the German expression “ordnung muss sein” (there must be order). “Verboten” signs was also what made camping difficult for me, which meant finding good hiding places instead of nicer open but obvious camp spots. The first two evenings in the mountains, it got very cold when the sun disappeared behind the mountains (3-5C) while the last evening was warm and I pleasantly stayed outside after dark.
Switzerland is beautiful but everything is incredibly expensive. I bought a few things in a supermarket in St Moritz – shocked that the prices were about three times those in Italy! I also skipped changing 20 euro, because all banks had poor exchange rates plus a 5 CHF fee (as did the ATMs besides my Danish 4 euro fee) – no wonder the Swiss banks make a lot of money. I hoped to manage with my creditcard and though it shortly after felt strange to buy petrol for 2 CHF, nobody seemed to mind.