Orson’s Travel Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Italy

2010 Central Italy

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After a long layoff, a plan was hatched for a team orson reunion tour. While Greece was originally considered as a focal point, with team orson still recovering from their injuries and, with the Goose having been in mothballs for almost two years, it was decided to play it safe and stay close to home in an attempt to rediscover sport touring. The team was reunited at team orson world headquarters in Parma, Italy and was soon on the road heading southwards.

Tuscany

The first day would end with team orson in the Chianti region of Tuscany. The long layoff had affected team orson’s endurance and they were feeling mighty sore. In the past, team orson plowed ahead, staying in a new locale every night. A decision was made to stay at one place for a few days, making day trips before moving on.

Panzano in Chianti

Panzano in Chianti

Heading southwest from Siena

Southwest from Siena

Someone’s Tuscan weekend bungalow

Weekend Bungalow

Approaching the castle in Rocca d’ Orcia

Rocca d' Orcia

Narrow, cobblestone streets of Rocca d’ Orcia

Cobblestones

Heading south from Rocca d’ Orcia, Monti Amiati, the highest peak in Southern Tuscany looms in the distance

Monti Amiati

Castel del Piano

Castel del Piano

Tuscan autumnal landscapes

Harvest

Returning to Rocca d’ Orcia

Return

An elderly gentleman makes his way up the streets of Rocca d’ Orcia. Team orson had been recommended a nice room nearby with an excellent restaurant

Elderly Gent

Tasty twisties were also sampled

Twisties

We stopped to have lunch in this town whose name now escapes me.

Lunch

Team orson was becoming all too familiar with the pleasures of Italian cuisine where, one course simply will not do. Meals were consumed with no concern given to bulging waistlines. At one lunch stop, an Italian waiter chided team orson for ordering a coke rather than wine with lunch. The fact that I was operating a motor vehicle failed to dissuade him from his stance. It was simply un-Italian. Within a week, team orson had to cut out all desserts.

Something was amiss with team orson’s itinerary. Whereas in the past, an innate sense of wanderlust had propelled us onward, now, wandering aimlessly had caused a feeling of disorientation to set in. A chance meeting with a leather shop owner in Siena changed things. After learning that we were both motorcyclists, a conversation about trips and roads ensued. He mentioned the Isle of Elba and how great the roads were there. A seed had been planted and by the next morning, team orson was heading towards the Tuscan coast.

Approaching the coast through groves of olive trees

Olive Trees

I had planned to stay overnight at the ferry port of Piombino but, arriving by 3:00 P.M., I found that a ferry was leaving in 20 minutes. I purchased a ticket and was soon directed to the front of the line. I had barely enough time to get off the bike and snap this picture of the ferry before the load master was hollering at me to get my butt onboard

Ferry

Elba lies 18 kilometers off the coast of Tuscany so, it was a relatively quick 1 hour crossing. The island is about 40 kilometers long and roughly 10 kilometers wide. As with many islands, time seems to slow down a bit and life is carried out at a more relaxed pace than on the mainland. We found a hotel on a beach and made plans to explore the island the following day.

The cove where the hotel was located

Cove

The next morning we head west from the main city of Portoferraio, following the coastal highway, Monti Capanne, the highest peak on Elba in the distance

Monti Capanne

Approaching the town of Marciana Marina on the north coast

Marciana Marina

The roads of Elba are extremely twisty but, with the heavy traffic, traveling at a sporty pace proved difficult. It seemed that a moped with flip flops and a bathing suit to sample the passing beaches might be the proper choice. After Marciana Marina however, the traffic density was reduced significantly and things began to look up.

When the road broke out of the forest onto the cliffs overlooking the west coast, I was impressed by the view. If you squinted, you might think that you were riding the Pacific Coast Highway in California

West Coast

Cue Tommy Chong voice: Oh wow man! That’s California!

Like California

I stopped in the town of Pomonte for lunch. The primi platti of frutti de mari was absolutely delicious

Frutti di Mare

Unfortunately, the Highway 1 similarity only lasted about 20 kilometers. Heading back east along the south coast

South Coast

The next day would be spent exploring the east side of the island.

Overlooking the main city of Portoferraio across the bay

Bay

Approaching the town of Innamorata

Innamorata

Looking back west along the southern coast from the town of Innamorata

Southern Coast

After two days on the island, we boarded a ferry back to the mainland. Heading across Southern Tuscany, the landscape reminded team orson of Spain

Tuscany

It was on this day that team orson would rediscover sport touring. From the coast, the Strada Statale 322 climbs up into the Appenines with a mix of fast, sweeping bends followed by tighter, more technical twisties. Team orson meshed into a single, strada-strafing unit, dispatching what little traffic they encountered to turn the knob to eleven. The day would end along the shores of Lago di Bolsena which, when viewed on a topographical map, is revealed to be the crater of a giant, extinct volcano.

The town of Bolsena is one of those places, lined with trees and cafes and gelaterias filled with Italians enjoying life, that make one think, “Dang, it sure would be nice to retire here”.

Lago di Bolsena

Leaving Bolsena the next morning, it’s just a short hop to the hill town of Orvieto

Orvieto

Meandering through the narrow streets of Orvieto

Narrow

The mighty, mighty Goose patrols the rampart walls for any signs of approaching Honda hordes

Ramparts

Moto Guzzi V11 Le Mans

Guzzi

Lazio

Leaving Tuscany, team orson enters Lazio. While not as famous as Tuscany or Umbria, Lazio still has some wonderful natural beauty.

Heading into the Grand Sasso National Park north of L’Aquila

Gran Sasso

Team orson was surprised at the quality of the twisties on the eastern fringe of the Appenine mountains. Wonderfully traffic-free, twisty roads that rivaled anything the Alps have to offer. It remains a mystery to team orson why so many focus on the Alps while leaving other fantastic roads untouched but, we are grateful for the lack of traffic

Vast wide open spaces on the northern fringe of Monti Sibillini National Park

Monti Sibillini

The town of Civitella (I think)

Civitella

Umbria

Approaching Spoletto from the south

Spoletto

Tuscany

After almost two weeks of unflinching, sunny blue skies, a day of rain set in. With time running out, we began to head north towards home base. In Northern Tuscany, the mountains become steeper and the terrain becomes almost alpine-like.

The Northern Tuscan spa town of Bagni di Lucca where team orson found a nice little hotel overlooking the river

Bagni di Lucca

Sunny skies returned allowing for a beautiful ride through the Apuan Alps of Northern Tuscany

Apuan Alps

Resistance is futile. If you see the sign of a scorpion in your mirrors, surrender to your fate at the hands of an Abarth-equipped Fiat 500

Fiat

More views of the Apuan Alps

Apuan

Popping out on the Ligurian coast near Portofino

Liguria

Emilia-Romagna

After a rest day in Portofino, team orson begins the final leg of the trip from the coast back to Parma. Team orson was a bit surprised to find some of the best roads on the trip were within a day’s ride from Parma.

Impressive mountain views in the Emilia-Romagna

Emilia-Romagna

The castle overlooking the town of Bardi

Bardi

One final meal

Ravioli

Route Map:

Route Map

Mileage: a paltry 3200 kilometers
Riding Days: 17.5
Rest Days: 1.5
Carabinieri encounters: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Ferry crossings: 2
Bee stings: 1

2005 Eastern Europe

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The loosely knit plan was to go from northern Italy over to Romania, hit the Carpathian mountains and follow them back into Slovakia and the Czech Republic, then continue to the UK. Unfortunately, The Alps were between me & Romania. It’s a tough job but, someone had to do it. From Parma, I headed north to the south shore of Lake Garda.

Garda

My route took me along the west bank of Lake Garda. Quite an impressive road as it is dug out of a sheer cliff face. About half the time was spent diving into tunnels dug in the cliffside then darting back out into the bright sunshine.

Gards Road

Continuing north towards Madonna Di Campiglio, I traversed the northern Italian wine growing regions. If there were ever an Olympics for scenery, Italy would be on the podium every time — my favorite European country.

Alps

The pic below shows where I will build my house. That will be my driveway and those will be my grapevines and that will be the view that I will wake up to every morning and *pop*…and then I wake up and realize I was dreaming. Especially when I find out a tiny little two bedroom bungalow around here goes for about 800,000 Euros.

Vineyards

I encountered these Germans aboard Italian Aermacchi-Harley Davidsons at a roadside cafe near Cortina. They were just returning from the Giro d’Italia, held the previous week.

Aermacchi

Can you imagine pounding the Alps into submission aboard 175cc bikes? YEEHAW! They told me that their top speed was 130 kph… fast enough to make you see gawd when you went to grab a handful of those drum brakes.

On the second day of my vacation, I proceeded to fight my way through the Italian Alps, bypassing the Passo Di Stelvio because I think that 500 hairpins in 11 kilometers is a wee bit much. Passing Bozeno, I made my way to the chi chi Italian ski resort of Cortina D’Ampezzo. I think Giacomo Agostini has a home here.

I got lost, and when I turned around I saw this view. Sometimes it pays to get lost.

Dolomites

No matter how many times you see them, the Dolomites never fail to impress. They shoot out of the earth like giant T-Rex teeth ripping the sky to shreds.

Did I mention I loved Italy? You could spend years between the Alps and the Appenines and never run out of roads to ride. Here’s a typically beautiful Alpine village near the Italo-Austrian frontier.

Tyrol

The Süd-Tyrol region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before WW I when it was ceded over to the Italians. Lots of blonde Italians here. Another mountain village.

Mountain

Austria is like some strange other-world where gas station attendants resemble doctoral candidates back in the U.S. Motorists don flourescent orange vests just to change a flat tire. Every valley offers a picture postcard alpine view. It seems almost too good to be true. It makes you wonder what craziness lies beneath the surface of all this perfection. I often wonder if I’d want to live someplace as perfect as this or some chaotic place like Mexico where you can do pretty much what you want… must strike a balance. Coming from the chaos of an Arab country, it’s a bit disconcerting to encounter such orderliness.

When I arrived in Graz I saw an information kiosk. I stopped and looked it over. On a wall was a map of the city with little lights denoting the locations of different hotels. When you selected a hotel on a touch screen, a light on the map lit up for the corresponding hotel, and a picture with a description of the hotel showed up on the touch screen. It was almost a bit too much for me to take in. In spite of all this orderliness, I managed to make my way to the Hungarian border relatively unruffled.

After Graz, the terrain gradually dissolved into rolling hills… not much to write home about sport-touring wise. From the Alps, the terrain generally settled into rolling hills and then into a lumpy carpet sorta terrain. After you’ve ridden through the Alps for a couple of days, everything else sorta pales… still interesting in that never-been-there sorta way.

Hungarian plains.

Plains

Sign

The best Hungarian goulash I’ve ever tasted.

Goulash

It never ceases to amaze me… the scope of the Roman Empire. From Portugal on the Atlantic to Romania on the Black Sea, someone who speaks one of the romance languages can essentially get by. All the languages are that similar. Truly a legacy of the power and influence of the Roman Empire. Quite a heavy police presence, though. They’re mostly parked on the side of the road. I was lucky and avoided detection… hehehehe

Budapest is amazingly beautiful. The architechture is flabergasting. This place must have survived WW II relatively unscathed. Budapest’s famous Chain Bridge.

Bridge

The architecture is truly mind boggling. So much is lost on modern architecture, though. In reality, nowadays, I don’t think they could afford the craftsmanship that went into these old buildings… sigh.

Buda

Overlooking the Danube.

Danube

Children prepare to take part in a folkloric dance show in central Budapest.

Dancers

Hungary is truly in a state of transition. You’ll see the latest Porsche pulled up alongside a thirty year old Trabant at a stop light. They seem to be doing quite well for themselves since the fall of Communism. The only bad thing is… EVERYONE seems to smoke! I guess it’s a carryover from the bad old days of communism when things were so bleak that just a hit of nicotine gave someone something to look forward to.

While I was in Budapest, there seemed to be some sort of biker rally going on. Hundreds of bikers escorted by police, made their way through downtown Budapest, honking and waving as they went. I wish I could have joined in, but my bike was back at the hotel.

Bikers

One day from Budapest and I was at the Romanian border. I was a bit apprehensive as I didn’t really know what to expect or even whether I needed a visa. I pulled in behind a Swiss couple in a station wagon who were bringing in aid for an orphanage or something. The customs guy was going through their stuff with a fine-toothed comb. I gulped and waited my turn, trying not to think about the movie Midnight Express. He shot me a gruff look as if to say, What da heck do YOU want? He walked behind my bike and saw the Italian plates and told me to go on. OH! thankyouthankyouthankyou! Yes sir! Vroooom! I was in.

Entering Romania.

Romania

I’ve never been anywhere that had such beautifully crafted houses of worship, whether churches or mosques. For such a poor country, the amount of workmanship and labor that went into their churches was impressive.

Church

Uhmm…I think I’ll keep moving on.

Dracula

The terrain was beginning to have more hills. The Carpathians couldn’t be too far off. Approaching the city of Brasov, I saw my first glimpse of the Carpathian mountains. Not as impressive as the Alps or even the Pyrennes, but still impressive, nevertheless.

Carpathians

Romanian roads started out ok, and then steadily deteriorated. My last day in Romania I must have averaged 20 kph. Potholes just waiting to strike. Then it started to rain. Oh woe is me. A double whammy. Oncoming cars in your lane weren’t trying to run you off the road… they were just dodging and weaving around potholes. I was dreading a flat or a bent rim, but the mighty Guzzi escaped unscathed.

Rough

I could just imagine bending a rim then having to hole up someplace while waiting for a new one. Relaaaax…stay another night…it wont hurt a bite…errr…a BIT…it wont hurt a bit. Yeah… uh huh.

Actually, the hotels in Romania were easily on par with those in western Europe. I was pleasantly surprised. However, their coffee sucked. If there’s a special hell for coffee lovers, it must be something like Romania. I guess it depends on what you’re used to. Romanians may go to Italy and grimace when they drink Italian coffee. Their orange juice, on the other hand, was excellent… freshly squeezed.

The terrain was gorgeous, reminding me a lot of the Pacific Northwest. I’d say Romania is 40 to 50 years behind western Europe… probably on the same level as Latin America. Once they get their roads fixed it’ll be a great place to tour.

A Romanian lake.

Lake

I couldn’t follow the Carpathians into the Ukraine because of visa requirements, so I dodged back into Hungary, then made a quick lunge to the north into Slovakia to rejoin the Carpathians. The High Tatras are the highest peaks in the Carpathian range. This part of the Carpathians is a national park in Slovakia, as well as in neighboring Poland. Unfortunately, the weather still hadn’t improved much, so I didn’t have the opportunity to take any good pictures of the High Tatras.

I had one little incident with a Slovakian bus and a mud hole. There was a section of road that had been flooded by recent rains. Off to the side they had constructed a makeshift bypass. The bypass was also muddy from the rains. I had just about finished negotiating my way across the bypass when a bus appeared on the other side. Rather than waiting for me to exit, the “roads” scholar behind the wheel of this juggernaut decided to proceed. In doing so, he cut off my exit line, leaving me only a huge mud puddle to go through. I wasn’t about to risk seeing how deep that puddle was, so I came to a stop. As he came around me, his rear wheels started coming closer and closer. The sides of the bus started to rub against my left saddlebag.

I tried to hold the bike up, but I was no match for the bus. Over into the mud went the Guzzi. I managed to not join it in the mud. The bus driver is looking at me in his rearview mirrors as if to say, “wtf are you doing in the mud?” While I was looking at him as if to say, “wtf are you doing driving a bus?” I struggled to lift the Goose and finally managed to extricate it onto dry land. Nobody in the following cars came to my aid. I guess they didn’t want to join the fun in the mud. I was fearing a broken turn signal or a cracked fairing, but I was lucky. Nothing more than a liberal coating of mud. The bike now looked appropriately battle-tested.

In all my travels, Slovakia more closely resembled Northern California than any other place I’ve been to. The only thing is, the roads aren’t in quite as good shape. On the plus side, there is less traffic than California. Winding roads going through rugged mountains and following alpine streams make for great motorcycling.

Slovakia

The High Tatras.

Tatras

From Slovakia I took a last minute detour into southwestern Poland just to say I’ve been to another country. I only travelled for about 100 miles in Poland, but it was nice hilly terrain, making for an enjoyable ride.

I entered the Czech Republic from Poland. I don’t know what it is, but my Canadian passport freaked out the border guards. They had to take it into the main office and confer with their colleagues. I guess they don’t get many Canadians. Fortunately, I haven’t had any troubles. After a few moments, the passport gets stamped and I’m on my way. Unfortunately, I haven’t been as successful in my money management. I have currencies from five different countries in my wallet. I never seem to spend it all before I’m into another country. It reminds me of the days before the Euro.

The Carpathian Mountains are but mere foothills by the time they reach the Czech Republic. They still make for some wonderful motorcycling roads, though. The Czech roads are the best I’ve encountered in the former Eastern Bloc countries. Fast sweeping roads through open hills then darting into dark forests with some occassional tight twisties thrown in… good stuff.

Czech

I met an elderly Czech gentleman at my bed & breakfast. He told me that he was 15 years old in 1945 when the Russians came and occupied his country. He fled with his family to West Germany where he lived in Cologne. When Communism fell, 40 years later, he returned to his old home town. He went to his old house and knocked on the door. The man who answered the door recognised him and gave him a hug saying, “this is still your house”. It was wonderful talking to this old man. I reminded me of the old John Prine song, “Hello In There”. I’m sure that same story was repeated all over Eastern Europe.

I made my way to Prague, which is similar to Budapest. Both cities straddle a river… both have enchanting architecture. Prague had a few more tourists, though. I took another rest day in Prague.

Prague

After a couple of days in Prague, I continued westward. I pulled up to the German border entry and received a doleful look. I said, “Hi. I’m Canadian.” The border guard said, “Bye. Go away.” Didn’t even ask to see my passport. I guess they’re not too worried about people on sport touring bikes. I laughed and went on my way. It surprised me a bit. I thought that would be the toughest border to cross.

I made my way across Germany to the southwestern town of Freiburg, near the Black Forest. A lot of great riding there. I got lost several times, but didn’t care as the roads were so good. It’s right next to the Swiss border, so it’s in the foothills of the Alps.

Germany

Picturesque German town.

Town

Right across the French border I noticed all these squiggly lines on the map, so I figured that’s the place I needed to be. Dang, those French not only know how to cook, but they sure do make some hellacious biking roads. The Germans aren’t too far behind.

Scenic village in the Alsace-Lorraine.

Alsace

After working my way north thru Alsace-Lorraine, I re-entered Germany near Kaiserslautern. I must have hit the local biking road because there were bikes all over the place. Excellent roads through darkened forests.

Dark

From there I worked my way up the Rhine. Great weather on a Sunday… there were a bazillion bikes out. Great views of castles all the way up to Koblenz. There I hung a left and wandered down the Mosel River Valley, famous for its wines. Every tour of Europe should include a ride along the Rhine. There are roads on each side of the river. You can see the castles on the other side easier, but you can’t go wrong on either side.

Cochem on the Mosel

Cochem

Everyone talks about the Alps, but there’s so much more to Europe than just the Alps. Don’t get me wrong, the Alps are spectacular, but don’t limit yourself to just one area.

I finally found a carwash. The Guzzi looked semi-respectable now. I was drinking a soda outside a convenience store…this woman gets out of her car…takes one look at me and my bike…thinks about it for a moment…then clicks on the burglar alarm on her key chain. I kinda liked that.

I followed the Mosel River into the tiny nation of Luxembourg. I ended up staying an extra day in Luxembourg. I usually blast through the tiny country on my way to something more interesting. This time I decided to spend a day touring within its borders. What a great choice! Wonderful roads along the Mosel River… other roads wandering through forests so thick that no sunlight penetrated the canopy in spite of it being a scorching day. I’ll defintely have to pay Luxembourg more mind in the future!

From Luxembourg I entered Belgium through the Ardennes, passing through many towns whose names recalled the Battle of the Bulge.

The Ardennes Forest, haunted by the ghosts of World War II.

Ardennes

From France to the English Channel the terrain devolves into rolling farmland. Not too interesting on a motorbike, so I got on the autoroute, blasted to the Channel, and hopped on the 5pm ferry to Dover, where I got a hotel room for the night. Met an old timer on a KTM 900 v-twin modified with a sidecar. He was on his way to an enduro event in Wales.

The White Cliffs of Dover.

Dover

The last day of my trip… and I wanted to make it count. I blasted west on the motorway all the way to Bristol near south Wales. This took up half a day, so I had another half day to enjoy as much of Wales as I could. At first it didn’t seem all that special, but the deeper I got into Wales the more I was captivated by its beauty and its GREAT motorcycling roads. I may have stopped to take more pictures on the last half day than at any other time on the trip. Maybe it was the realization that the trip was coming to an end and that stopping to take pictures might prolong it indefinitely.

Alas, I reached my friend’s house in Shropshire a little after 6pm, bringing the trip to an end. Here is a shot of the mighty, mighty Goose in the Welsh countryside on the last day of the trip.

Wales

I can’t say enough about my mount. As a city bike or an every day ride, yes, it may have shortcomings, but as a dedicated sport tourer it’s hard to beat. The sound of an Italian v-twin in song as it blasts through a series a curves is one of those things in life that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and make you glad to be alive. If you haven’t made plans to sell your current bike and purchase a Le Mans, please proceed to do so immediately.

Trip Summary:

May 31 to June 22.

7500 km / 4800 miles (it seemed like a lot longer with all the bad roads)

Rest days: 4

Traffic citations: 1, in Romania. I managed to negotiate it from 10 Euros up to 100 Euros. (I should explain. As the policeman was writing the ticket he asked how much my helmet cost. I said it cost 200 Euros. He said he makes 100 Euros a month. We continued talking. It turned out he was a biker himself and asked about getting a helmet from western Europe. I felt sorry for him after hearing what his monthly salary was, so I offered to send him one at no charge. He ripped up the ticket.)

Countries: 12. Italy, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, England, & Wales.

Bee stings: 0

Pucker moments: Many, many minor ones. 0 major.

Best T shirt seen: In Budapest, a picture of Che with a joint in his mouth with the caption: “fook the revolution”.

Best store name: In Romania I saw a shoe store named Al Bundy Shoes (they get a lot of American TV there).

Map

Tuscany I

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November ’04

I had scheduled the first week in November to get one last ride in before the onset of winter in Italy. My intention was to take it easy, take some pictures of some picturesque Tuscan villages & generally putter about with no general sense of urgency. As the trip grew nearer, I kept checking the weather on the internet in hopes that there might be some glimmer of fall left. My hopes kept getting dashed upon the rocky shore of reality as, each time I checked, all I could see was a line of icons showing gray clouds with little rain drops eminating. I kept checking again and again in hopes that the weatherman had made a mistake or the weather had taken a turn for the better but, alas, nothing but rain clouds appeared for the entire week. As I already had purchased a plane ticket, I decided to go ahead and try to make the best of a damp situation. I flew into Milano, hopped onto a train to Parma & checked into my hotel. Parma is a nice city with many sights to see including a fantastic rennaisance era theater. However, that wasn’t what I was here for. Things looked grim as I woke up the next morning and heard a thunderclap which was followed by a rain shower.

I headed for the bike shop like a man headed to the firing squad. As I prepared the bike, the rain had stopped but, the skies were still gray. It was almost 12 noon before I was ready to get under way so, I made the decision to slab it down to Florence on the autostrada (interstate). This decision was also due in part to the fact that BIKE magazine had rated the autostrada between Bologna & Florence as one of the best rides in Europe.

Around mid-afternoon I began to see vague shadows appear. The skies were getting brighter though, they were still gray but, hey, the roads were drying up & I was riding my bike. Things could be worse. As for the autostrada’s great rating? I was less than impressed. It was still an interstate to me though, it did have some curves thrown in. I guess the interstates west of Denver would be comparable. The view was quite different though. Pure Tuscany. Italian pines dotted the landscape looking for all the world like the backdrop to a Leonardo Da Vinci painting.

By late afternoon, patches of blue began to appear. Hey! What is this? Maybe I’ll get lucky. After missing my exit and going 50 km before stopping to check the map (eyeroll) I managed to find my way to the villa I would be staying at in San Casciano, just south of Florence.

Here is a photo of the Villa Il Poggialo. This would be my home for the next 2 nights. Kinda looks like what a Tuscan villa should look like, huh. It’s a family run place & me and my Guzzi were made to feel more than welcome. It felt like I was staying at someone’s house. Well, it did used to be the family’s house.

I woke up the next morning to a vibrant blue sky. Bonus! The weatherman was obviously still asleep. After breakfast, I loaded up & headed south through the Chianti foothills towards Siena, the smell of harvested grapes heavy in the air. Since I was sticking to the backroads & the towns I would be going through were centuries old, I expected that the roads would also be centuries old. WOW! Was I ever wrong! The roads were fantastic! Imagine two parts Napa Valley, one part Deal’s Gap, set the blender to “liquify”. Enjoy! I did just that! The roads dipped and weaved through breathtaking scenery & this time of year there was hardly any traffic.

Picture of a Tuscan farm house. I’d love to live here but, the Brits have bought up all the property driving the prices sky high.

Quite possibly the bike industy’s most beautiful sport tourer, the Le Mans stops to take in the view near the village of Radda in Chianti. :)

stopped for lunch in the scenic village of Monte San Savino. I ate at the little bar / gelateria across the street. It’s against my religion to eat at a McDonalds in Italy. It’s impossible have a quick meal here. If you try to get by with just one course, they look at you kinda funny. Count on spending 1 hour to have a nice meal. Well worth it!

The view from the other side of the portal. Itty bitty Italian cars were zipping through the portal at a frightening clip (frightening for me at least).

After lunch, I turned back, going through Siena, then north thru Colle di Val d’Elsa. Here is a picture from outside the city walls.

The mighty Goose pauses near the town of San Gimignano. San Gimignano is a tourist hot spot as it is reknown for its famous towers. I was cruising the back streets when I came into the main “pedestrian only” throughfare. Imagine their surprise when a Guzzi mounted hoodlum hurtled into their midst. Realizing my mistake, I did a quick U-ey, leaving the dazed tourists to wonder,”who was that masked man”?

I ended the day back at the villa. What a gorgeous day it turned out to be! 70 degree temperatures and fabulous roads too! I sat on the veranda with a glass of port wine watching the sunset go from pale blue & hot pink to pale blue & crimson over the Tuscan hills.

I was to be blessed with more blue skies on my third day! On this day, I headed to northern Tuscany where the Appenine mountains lie. The roads got tighter and slower but, the scenery was more of the same. The Appenines climb as high as 6000′ making for cooler riding but, at least it wasn’t raining, causing me to tip toe thru the curves so, I wasn’t complaining. Temperatures hovered in the high 60’s low 70’s.

Here near another picturesque village called Cutigliano, the exotic Goose pauses for a breather. :)

I’m sorry I couldn’t take pictures of almost half the beautiful sights I saw. Most of the time the road was just too narrow to safely pull over and snap a picture. Y’all are just gonna have to go there & ride it yourself :)

In northern Tuscany, the Guzzi overlooks the town of Barga with the Apuan Alps in the background.

Last one. This one’s called,”take the long way home”.

Descending from the Appeniness down to the plains of Parma, the roads opened up & became faster & sweepier. Good stuff! A good way to end the trip. Unfortunately, all trips have to come to an end. This one was much too short but, I cheated the weatherman by getting 3 days of glorious blue skies so, I can’t complain. Tip toeing thru wet curves sucks.

Mileage: 1100 km in 3.5 days

Italian Lake District

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Fall 2008

team orson managed to get one last ride in before winter’s icey tendrils gripped the Italian landscape. We decided to stay close to home and explore the Italian Lake district in the foothills of the Alps. After retrieving my Guzzi from Moto Guareschi in Parma, we made our way north via the backroads under sunny blue skies.

The first lake encountered would be Lake Garda. The southern end of the lake is a bit touristy, including the kitschy Gardaland, an italian takeoff on Disneyland. However, once you head north along the lake shore, you encounter many quaint villages, some with their own medievel castles.

Stopping for a leisurely lunch at the town of Garda on the east side of the lake.

Climbing up into the hills that surround the lake provide a better view.

At the north end of the lake, in the town of Arco, stands the imposing 12th century Castello di Arco.

Heading south on the western shore of Lake Garda, the road spends half the time cutting thru tunnels due to the steep cliffs.

The plan had been to head west towards Lake Como. However, at a gas stop in the town of Storo, just west of Lake Garda, the Goose began running on one cylinder. Fortunately, there was a car/motorcycle garage right across the street. The mechanic couldn’t do anything for me, but offered to load up the bike in his truck and take me to the Guzzi dealer in Rovereto.

I found a hotel room for the night and returned to the Guzzi shop the next morning. As they weren’t making any headway, they offered to let me take a new Moto Guzzi V7 for a ride. never one to turn down a free test ride, I jumped on it before they had any second thoughts. I headed southeast from Rovereto on SS46 thru the Passo Piani di Fugazzi. This is quite a spectacular pass with freshly paved tarmac and the little Guzzi performed admirably. Unfortunately, it had no place for my camera, so no pictures :(

Returning to Rovereto, they were still having no luck diagnosing the Guzzi’s electrical problem. With the weekend looming, I didn’t want to be stranded, so I called Mr. Guareschi to come rescue me, since I was only 2 hours from Parma. For those who haven’t heard of him, Papa Guareschi is to Moto Guzzi as Pops Yoshimura was to Suzuki :)

Returning me and my Guzzi to Parma in his van, and seeing the next day was a Sunday, he kindly offered me the use of his new Moto Guzzi Stelvio. Top bloke. I stayed in Parma the night before continuing my vacation the following day.

Not willing to lose any more precious time, I blasted north to Lake Como via la autostrada. Lake Como is the spiritual home to Guzzisti the world over. Every Guzzisti is required by his faith to make the pilgrimage to Lake Como at least once in his lifetime :)

Heading north to Bellagio

Lake Como is shaped like an upside down Y with the idyllic town of Bellagio at the tip of a peninsula where the Y comes together. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and Bellagio was bustling wth day trippers from Milan, including a wide assortment of bikers.

I also saw quite a noticeable contingent of Harley riders. Not the wannabe badasses seen in North America. These were the style with the wide beach bars. I call them George Clooney clones, as Mr. Clooney has been known to partake on the Lake Como roads on his Harley from his nearby villa.

An Aston Martin Vantage V-12 is like honey to a bear for Italians :)

The following morning, I hop on one of the numerous ferries to Menaggio on the western shore. Looking back at Bellagio off the ferry stern, the good weather was still staying with me.

I follow the old road north along the lake.

From Menaggio, I continue west to Lake Lugano. Italy shares Lake Lugano with Switzerland, however, wanting to avoid border crossing delays and snooty Swiss border guards, I decide to stay in Italy. I trace the southern shore of Lake Lugano before heading south into the hills between Lake Lugano & Lake Como.

October is a wonderful time to visit Italy. Most of the tourists have gone home, leaving the roads and the sites relatively traffic free. A soft, autumnal light caresses the landscape giving everything a portrait quality.

Climbing the road into the hills with Lake Lugano in the background.

Tiny villages cling to mountainsides.

The further I got into the hills, the narrower, the road became. It was probably a good thing I was on the Stelvio, as the road became a veritable goat path.

After about 20 kilometers of this, I finally made it over the ridgeline and began decending with Lake Como stretching out below me. Typical narrow streets encountered in the small mountain villages. Yes, trucks and busses pass this way.

With the sun sinking in the west, I tried to capture an image of the steep Lake Como hillside near the town of Pigra. Apologies for the poor lighting.

This was the best shot I could get of the road that clings to the lake shore near the town of Argegno.

Making my way back to Menaggio, it’s late afternoon by the time I hop on a ferry back to my hotel in Bellagio. Approaching Bellagio on the ferry.

You’d be hardpressed to find a lovlier village than Bellagio…

Narrow shopping street in Bellagio.

A park and a weir at the tip of the Bellagio peninsula looking west towards Menaggio.

Another narrow alleyway opens up onto a view of the lake.

A quiet lakeside cafe

I head south towards Lecco at dusk to capture the image of the road carved from rock. Apologies for the poor lighting. The ever-suffering team orson photographer continues to whine that he can’t work with inferior equipment.

Another ferry approaches Bellagio. The ferry service is quite efficient as I never had to wait more than 15 minutes to catch one. The Italians love for speed is evident in the super cool hydrofoils that ply the lakes.

Disclaimer: team orson regrets having to post these images of rampant hedonism. It is hoped that by publishing these images, we can better understand the mindset of the hedonist.

Sunset over Lake Como from the hotel balcony.

Watching the news, it is evident that an imminent cold front is approaching from northern Europe and bringing rain with it. team orson is forced to make an executive decision and drop down south to a defensive line along the Ligurian coast. The next morning still has blue skies, so we make time for a quick dash eastward via Varese, skirting Lake Varese to the Lake Maggiore ferry crossing at Laveno.

Crossing Lake Maggiore looking towards Verbania on the opposite shore.

Staying ahead of the cold front, we follow the western shore of the lake heading southwards to Arona, before jumping onto la autostrada for a quick 3 hour dash to the Ligurian coast.

The Isola Borromee are a trio of islands that have ornate gardens and palaces built by the Borromee family since the 1650s.

Regarding the Lake District as a motorcycling destination, in all honesty, the roads aren’t conducive to sport riding. The roads are very twisty with lots of traffic and few places to pass, even for a motorcycle. There are few roads inland from the lakes, as the mountain terrain is so steep. Mr. Clooney’s idea of cruising around on a Harley make more sense. If you can’t go fast, you may as well go slow and enjoy the lush views.

Approaching Genoa on the coast, I find myself tiring of the autostrada and beat a quick exit for a road following the coastline in the hills above Genoa. It turns out to be a fortuitous decision as the road turns out to be a freshly paved supermotard track. Unfortunately it’s a track that contains four-wheeled competitors so care must be taken on blind curves :)

I have to say…Gawd, I love Italian riding. Motorcycles can get away with anything short of murder and cops just look the other way :) You pass where you want, when you want and nobody honks at you. Solid white lines are meaningless. There were times when I would fall back into American riding, trundling along behind slower traffic, only to be buzzed by a sweet young thing on her moped.

I’m old enough now where my manhood isn’t threatened by such things. In one town a young thang zipped by me, while waving to a friend she saw. At least she wasn’t texting and waving. I stayed behind her on the narrow road to Portofino. Coming around one corner, we met a bus that took up most of the road, leaving a three foot gap between the bus and a wall of granite. Miss moped didn’t bat an eyelash, kept the throttle pinned and shot the gap between the bus and the wall. I stayed in her mirrors just to preserve my masculinity :)

Approaching the coast overlooking the town of Santa Margherita.

I decide to head for the quaint, if touristy village of Portofino and find a hotel that can make a martini. I strike paydirt, scoring a nice hotel near the mouth of the harbor.

The road leading to Portofino.

Last time I visited Portofino was in May of 2002 and I had gotten a bad vibe from the place from the rampant tourism. In October, it was a different story. With the throngs of tourists gone, you could almost squint and imagine what a lovely place it once was.

My plan to escape the rain had worked, as I had awoken to overcast skies, but no rain. After the funfilled supermotard track of the previous day, I decided to head up into the Ligurian hills and explore. I was finally encountering some motorbike worthy roads.

I came away very impressed with the hills around Genoa. I must make it a point to explore this region with more thoroughness :)

The final day on the road dawned with cloudy skies yet again, but the clouds had yet to unleash their damp revenge. After a leisurely breakfast with one last dossage of Italian cappuccinos, I head towards Parma across the autumn-hued Appenine range.

Trip route:

[IMG]http://i19.photobucket.com/albums/b173/Orsoni/image_map-7.gif[/IMG]

Mileage: uhmmm…I lost track. Maybe close to 2000 km in 8 days.
Carabinieri encounters: 1
Puckers: 1 (sand in curve)
Bee stings: 0

Italy’s Appenine Mountains

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Fall 2007

team orson manages to escape for one last fling before winter’s icey tendrils take hold. Being allergic to cold weather, I decided to head southwards along the Appenine mountain range which runs along the entire length of the Italian peninsula.

For the first day of my trip, I decided to put off heading south for a day and explore the province of Parma. While the Emilia Romagna isn’t as popular as Tuscany, it doesn’t lack in natural beauty and doesn’t suffer from bus loads of Japanese and American tourists. I headed west into the foothills of the Appenines on a route suggested by the bike shop’s owner.

I encountered the first castle of the trip. It would be the first of many.

The sun was shining and the roads were twisty as I headed deeper into the mountains. I encountered local riders along the way. You know you’re on the right road when you see the locals.

Near the higher elevations of the Passo di Mercatello, I encounter some fall foilage. While Europe doesn’t seem to have the volcanic fall colors seen in North America, they still provide a nice display

Later in the day, the skies begin to darken and threaten to rain, but the threat does little to dampen the beauty of the Italian countryside. Hang a hard right, give it a little throttle before easing off for the small village dominated by the church spire.

One nice thing about riding in Italy, you’re toodling along, minding your own business when you round a corner and…whoa dude! Nice house! :)

The castle dominating the town of Baldi

On our way back to Parma, the mighty mighty goose cools its heels as “night arrives with her purple legions” to descend upon the Appenines, signaling the end of another day.

After a night’s sleep and a proper dosage of cappuccinos, I began to make my way south along the fertile plains that run along the eastern slope of the Appenines along the area so famous for its racing heritage. Home to names such as Ducati, Ferrari and Maseratti.

Stopping at Maranello to snoop around a bit for Ron Dennis :cool:

From Maranello, I turn southwest and begin the serpentine climb up into the mountains and into Tuscany

As I climb further and further, the other traffic decreases. Soon, it seems I have the mountains to myself. Again, the fall colors become more prevalent at the higher altitudes.

A mountain village, lies in seclusion deep in the Appenines

A tree lined country lane winds its way through the mountains. In the states, a traffic safety engineer may have deemed these trees unsafe and ordered them to be cut down. In Italy, they remain…just because

Sleepy villages line my route where time seems to stand still, in spite of what the clock tower says

As I approached the town of Pescia, I began to notice small throngs of people lining the route. Many of them were dressed as bicycle racers. I began to suspect something was up. Sure enough, as I rounded a bend, a police bike coming the opposite way, dismissively waved me off the road. Right after that came the usual sights seen at the Tour de France. The team cars, officials, camera bikes, followed by the peloton. I didn’t get my camera out in time and missed a shot of the peloton so you’ll have to settle for a shot of more team cars :)

South of Empoli, I was getting into the heart of Tuscany with its picturesque countryside and its romantic villas

I found my way back to a nice villa near San Casciano that I had stayed at a few years earlier. The following morning, I made my way into town to look for a map of Tuscany. If it’s Monday, it must be market day. Everyone comes down to the square to load up their supplies for the week

Armed with a new map, I leave San Casciano headed east into the Chianti foothills. I have no pictures, so you’ll just have to take my word for it, but the roads in this part of Tuscany are exquisite. Fine twisties amongst hillsides dotted by centuries old villages.

Those of you who have been to the Napa and Sonoma valleys will notice the resemblance with this wine growing region. Naturally, team orson would be in dereliction of their duties if they failed to sample some of the local product. :)

Lost again. After Montevarchi, I began climbing into the mountains again. Many times in Italy, the maps say one thing, and the road signs say something else. I came across the tiny village of San Clemente who’s “main street” was about 3 feet across. You really have to get along with your neighbors to live in a village like that.

Climbing towards San Clemente

Finally regaining my bearings, I found a main road and started heading south towards Arezzo and Cortona.

The mighty mighty goose waits patiently while I stop to take a picture of a castle. Unable to decide whether to focus on the castle or the Guzzi, the camera chooses the traffic sign :(

Approaching the walled city of Cortona

I entered the city and puttered around exploring for a bit. Notice the 10 kph speed limit sign. I don’t think they have to worry about enforcing that one

As the sun begins to set, the Guzzi overlooks a small chapel just outside the city walls

I find a B&B near Cortona and rest for the night. The fourth day would find me still heading south under now cloudy skies but no rain into Umbria. I skirt around Lago Trasimeno and make my way towards Todi.

First sighting of Todi.

Between Todi and Orvieto, I encountered a real bit of twisty tarmac. It started a bit rough and bumpy but finished off real nicely. I think the asphalt might have still been smoking the next morning. Here’s a shot of the visually stunning city of Orvieto. I really wished the sun had been shining for this one. It reminded me of an Imperial battle cruiser from Star Wars.

The end of the fourth day found me on the shores of Lago di Bolsena where I found a nice hotel to take me in for the night. Now, time is running out on my journey and I need to begin heading back north towards Parma. I depart Bolsena under still cloudy skies.

The roads leading north back into Tuscany are pleasingly twisty, just as most of the roads have been since my journey began.

The Tuscan roads wind their way past hilltop villages, too numerous to keep track of

The sun begins to make an appearance as the mighty mighty goose cuts a handsome profie with the Tuscan landscape as a backdrop

At Pontedera, near Pisa, I decide to call it a night. Tomorrow will sadly be the last day of the journey. I take the autostrada and cut north along the coast to La Spezia before I cut inland towards Parma. I climb into the Appenines one last time under brilliant skies

Yet another castle!

The final pass over the Apuan Alps

I descended the final few kilometers into Parma before handing my bike over to its caretakers. All in all, it was probably one of my best trips in Italy. I kept to the backroads for most of the time and really enjoyed some fine motorcycling roads as well as the awesome countryside.

Distance: 1700 km / 1056 miles in 6 days
Carabinieri interaction: 0
Puckers: 1
Deer encounters: 0
Bee stings: 0

Route:

Tuscanny, Spring 2007

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Spring 2007

I flew into Milan and grabbed a cab for the Estacione Centrale to catch a train to Parma. Cue picture of Milan’s cavernous train station…

Arriving in Parma after about 2 hours, I grab another quick cab ride to Moto Guareschi. Home base for my Gootsi where they lovingly fondle it and whisper sweet nuthins into its ears to get it to purr contentedly.

After paying my bill and renewing my insurance, I’m ready to hit the road. I didn’t really have a route planned other than to try to loop south through Tuscany. I hadn’t made it 5 kilometers before I realized I forgot to put my ear plugs in. While stopped, a guy comes running up to me gushing about the Guzzi and wanting to take a picture with his cell phone. The fame of Guzzi ownership is something you never get used to. If only it had this effect on young women!

Making my way westward out of Parma, I soon came upon the beautiful Torrechiara Castle, built over 500 years ago in the Parma Valley.

About 30 minutes later I came upon the ruins of another castle whose name escapes me.

Continuing westward in the Province of Parma…a medeivel farming village in the foothills of the Apuan Alps…

I continue climbing up over the Apuan Alps and into Tuscany. I’m surprised to see there’s still quite a bit of snow on the ground. Unfortunately, the day is overcast so I didn’t think to take any pictures. The sky turns menacingly dark in spots and for a few moments I worry that I’m about to get drenched but alas, my fears are unfounded and I’m spared.

While studying the map, I notice the Cinque Terre region on the Ligurian coast. Hmmmm. In an instant, a change in plans. Tuscany would have to wait a day. I’m this close to the Ligurian coast, why not? This is one of the reasons I don’t book hotels in advance…I never know where I’ll end up! I grabbed a hotel room in the seaside resort of Portvenere and enjoyed a nice seafood meal.

The Cinque Terre region is named after five villages precariously perched on the rocky shores of eastern Liguria. Kinda has a California Highway 1 vibe going…

The village of Riomaggiore.

more coastline…

I think this is looking down on the village of Manarola. They have toll booths set up before you get into each town. I can’t say that I blame them or otherwise they’d be swamped by tourist traffic in the summertime.

I think this is a picture of the village of Vernazza with the village of Corniglia in the distance.

It was midday by the time I reached the last village of Monterosso so, I turned around and headed back south towards Tuscany and the Apuan Alps. The Apuan Alps are impressive indeed. While they don’t reach the same heigths as their more famous namesake, they seem impressive enough just the same and the roads are no less a challenge. The northern part of Tuscany is more rugged and mountainous than the south.

An abandoned farmhouse in northern Tuscany

Where’s that confounded bridge? The last time I was in Tuscany, I spent a few hours trying to find this bridge. It was right here the whole time! The Ponte di Maddalena near the town of Lucca. It was built over 700 years ago. It was one of the few bridges not blown up by the Germans during World War II because they didn’t think the Allies could get Sherman tanks across it.

I stopped for the night in the beautiful town of Bagni di Lucca. Before I left Parma, Vitto Guareschi had invited me to a track day at Mugello. Not being no fool, I quickly took him up on his offer. It might be the closest I ever get to a GP!

Leaving Bagni di Lucca for Mugello, I came across another ancient looking bridge.

Determined not to use the Autostrada, I forced myself into downtown Florence, determined to make my way north. I’m a Luddite who refuses to use such aids as GPS so I plowed ahead. Unfortunately, I ended up getting lost big time. Each time I decided to retreat to the relative safety of the Autostrada, I’d spy another sign that would only lure me deeper into its clutches. I finally gave up after about an hour and made my way north along the Autostrada to Mugello….

When they aren’t working at Papa Guareschi’s Guzzi shop, Vitto Guareschi is Ducati’s Moto GP test pilot. Nice work if you can get it. Gianfranco Guareschi races the MGS-01 for the Guzzi factory. On this day, Vitto was testing tires on a pair of new 1098s

I left Mugello at 3 p.m. as it was a gorgeous day and I wanted to get some more riding in. The hills around Mugello offer some great roads, including the famous Paso di Futa, where Ducati test riders ride from nearby Bologna. The Paso di Futa was also part of the famous Mille Miglia road race.

The sun was getting down to that golden hour time and yet, I didn’t want to stop riding. I pressed on through the golden sunlight

This isn’t a side street. This is the main road through this small town…beautiful

A sunny day in Tuscany on a motorcycle…does not suck.

Tuscan twisties

Finally, around 6 p.m., I called it quits and found a hotel near the racetrack. The next day would be my last and I would have to make my way back to Parma. But I still had time to enjoy the Tuscan roads until heading north at midday. I made my way through the hilly terrain to the beautiful town of Stia. Stia has a wonderful medeival town square.

I finally ran out of time and began heading north. Unfortunately, I had to use the Autostrada to make time but, you have to take the good with the bad. I left the bike with the Guareschi boys, bade my farewells and made my way back to Milan.

Total distance- 1450 kilometers / 900 miles in 4 days
Pucker moments- 0
Cop sightings- 1. I saw two policeman standing on the side of the road with their lollypops ready but they seemed involved in an animated discussion about soccer or women and ignored passing traffic.

One more for the road.

2007 Mediterranean Island Hop

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As I had never been to southern Italy, I decided to remedy that situation by sending team orson on an all-encompassing trip of Italy. Originally, I had planned on heading south through the boot of Italy then across to Sicily and up through Sardinia. However, I began to think that I might get caught out by convoluted ferry schedules so I decided to take the islands first.

I arrived in Parma, collected my trusty steed and loaded up the luggage. Heading out, I made my way south along the autostrada to Modena before turning southwest across the Appenines. I stopped for a quick picture in the pretty spa town of Bagni di Lucca.

Reaching Livorno on the coast, I purchased a ticket for the next mornings ferry to Corsica then found myself a hotel room. The sea was calm and the crossing to Corsica was uneventful, arriving in Bastia at around lunchtime. I headed west along the northern coast along the Gulf de St. Florent.

Corsica is nothing but a huge mountain range jutting out of the Mediterranean. As you can imagine, this means there are some excellent, twisty two-lanes for two-wheeled entertainment. Northern European riders flood into Corsica in droves to enjoy the great twisties. Mostly Germans & Austrians with a smattering of Swiss & Dutch riders. In all my years of touring, I’ve never felt like a sheeple but that changed on Corsica. Where normally I might see 1 or 2 other touring riders in a day, on Corsica I saw maybe 30 to 40 riders a day! There were armadas of touring riders travelling in packs of up to 10. Very seldom did I see anyone else travelling alone. The Honda Trans-Alp, Beemer GS has a sizeable following with almost as many riding sport bikes. Full dressers and Harleys were rare on this trip.

If you planted Big Bend National Park in the middle of the Mediterranean, you’d have Corsica. That’s the best way I can describe it. Here’s a couple of pictures of the impressive central mountain range.

My plan was to find a hotel up in the mountains where the temperatures were nice and cool. That plan didn’t work out as every hotel I stopped at was full! I continued southwards, dropping down from the mountains to the capital city of Ajaccio. I thought for sure that I would find a room in such a large city but, alas, everything was full. I found out that I had arrived on Corsica on a Friday in the midst of a three day French holiday weekend…D’oh! I was finally able to grab the last room at an upscale resort south of Ajaccio.

Here is the view from my room. I had been hoping for the cool mountains but, if I had to settle for the coast, I guess this would do!

Since I had been to Corsica a couple years ago, I decided not to fight the French crowds and make tracks for Sardinia. The next morning, I made my way south along the twisty, coastal road to the port of Bonaficio for the 1 hour ferry to Sardinia.

Parked up and waiting to board for the 3 P.M. sailing.

The impressive coastal fortifications around Bonaficio.

We disembarked at Santa Teresa on the northern tip of Sardinia just after 4 P.M. so, I made my way down the eastern coast of the island in search of a hotel room. After yesterday’s foibles in Corsica, I was relieved to find a vacancy at the first hotel I stopped at near Olbia. The next day, I set off exploring in a southerly direction. My immediate impression of Sardinia was that it was a little more arid than Corsica. In some places it resembled the Texas Hill Country or New Mexico and in other places it reminded me of Arizona or Southern California.

I couldn’t get over how little traffic there was! It was if someone had set off a neutron bomb. I might encounter 1 car every 15 minutes. Quite a change from the chaotic traffic on the Italian mainland! Roads didn’t seem to last for very long before they merged into other roads. It seemed like I had to stop every 5 km to check the map. Lots of head scratching.

The roads on Sardinia were generally in good to excellent condition. I had been expecting Corsica to have better roads what with the French government’s penchant for building excellent roads but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sardinia was no slouch in the asphalt department.

The twisties seemed to go on forever! Entire tanks of gas were ridden in third gear, that magical, catch all gear that seems a perfect combination of speed and torque. Every now and then I’d have to engage 4th gear to punctuate a short straight or dab down into 2nd for a tight switchback. The rest of the time, 3rd gear was more than willing to take on the brunt of the load. Two-lane twisties for as far as you could see. Hard left followed by hard right and on and on…

Now, I love twisties as much as the next guy but, I began to wonder if a few straights every now and then might bring some relief! The curves came literally one right after the other, mile after mile. With the temperatures reaching the upper 80’s, I began to feel the fatigue of the endless curves…a predicament I had never faced before. I guess I must be aging disgracefully.

For such an arid land, there were lots of things growing as my sinuses began to inform me. The air was flush with fragrant scents of mint leaves and other flora.

There were cacti growing everywhere further adding to that American southwest feeling.

At a gas stop in the town of Aritzo in the mountainous Monti del Gennargentu region, tragedy struck my tank bag. As I was filling up, the tank bag fell off to the side of the bike, snapping off one of the straps :( I managed to rig the remaining strap so that I could continue to ride, but it would be better if I could get it fixed. At that night’s hotel, I asked if there was a cobbler in town. After getting directions through a labrynth of streets (asking two more times) I finally managed to find a tiny shop the size of a small closet.

I showed the old man the problem and he immediately set about fixing it. Within 5 minutes, he had expertly stitched the strap back on. Good as new! What had looked like a dire situation 12 hours earlier, evaporated in the clear morning sunlight! He suggested 1 Euro as compensation. I gave him 10 Euros. I almost had to force him to take it. I probably doubled his weekly income.

Old world craftmanship…

In just about every small town I passed through, I would notice murals depicting everyday life. They were quite well drawn and evocative.

I finally began to encounter some straight-ish roads the farther south I got. Relief!

By the time I had reached the southern portion of the island, its endlessly curvey roads had done a number on my rear tire. There are those people who suggest that a Moto Guzzi is simply incapable of shredding roads. Those people might be wrong :)

That’s one rear tire seen off by Sardinia :)

After 5 days on Sardinia, I reached the capital city of Cagliari at the south end of the island. Kudos to the Kawasaki ZX-10R riding local who showed me where I could get a new tire fitted. Within one hour, I had a fresh, new rear tire. I wish things always worked out so smoothly.

I came away extremely impressed with Sardinia. While the roads in Corsica might have been tighter, Sardinia’s roads were no pushovers. I reckon Corsica would be Deal’s Gap to Sardinia’s Cherahola Skyway. All that with hardly any traffic!

With a new tire, I had a few hours to kill before the overnight ferry to Sicily so I explored Cagliari’s harbor.

This shot looks like the LP cover of some 70’s crooner :) An elderly woman looking out over the harbor.

I arrived at the dock at 6 P.M. for the 7 P.M. sailing. I saw an orderly line waiting to board a ferry and fell in. When I got to the ticket taker he informed me that this was the wrong ferry. My ferry was further down the dock. I rode down the dock and into utter bedlam. What had been a nice orderly scene at the first ferry, degenerated into unrestrained chaos. There seemed to be about 10 different people in charge, all shouting out instructions. By some miracle, everything was loaded in time and the ferry departed exactly as it was scheduled. Italy is funny that way :)

Bedlam unfolds before boarding the ferry to Sicily…

I made my way to my cabin and after watching Sardinia slip off the boat’s stern, I had a small supper and settled into bed. When I awoke the next morning, we would be approaching the island of Sicily.

I awoke the next morning about 1 hour from Palermo. I made my way to the coffee shop & received my daily dosage of capuccinos before preparing to disembark. The weather had turned to overcast skies. While the clouds offered some relief from the heat, it also made photo opportunities a bit more difficult. After getting off the ferry, my first mission was to buy a map of Sicily. Easier said than done it seems. The first 6 gas stations I stopped at had no maps. At each stop, I was given a look that said,”This is a gas station. Why would we sell maps?” I was finally able to find a book store that had a map of Sicily.

Palermo.

Riding in Italy is a study of patience. Where as in the U.S. everything is based on fast, speedy service, fast food, quick bank loans, instant gratification, in Italy, time ceases to have meaning. Stopping for a meal, takes at least one hour as your meals are usually 3 course affairs followed by an espresso, all consumed at a relaxed rate. Whereas in the states, you can make a stop at a convenience store, fill up your tank, grab a cold drink or a bite to eat, that’s not the way things work in Italy. In Italy, you go to the gas station for gas. There won’t even be a coke machine in sight. If you want to have a drink, you have to go to the bar/tabacceria, order a drink, then have a seat. If you want to eat, you go to a restaurant.

At first, this can be a bit frustrating for someone used to the conveniences of the states, but after a short time, you begin to be assimilated into the ways of Italian life. Everything must be slowed down so that each moment can be savored. Meals are consumed at a languid pace with sips of wine between each bite of food. There is nowhere to go and no hurry to get there.

Sicily holds a central location in the Mediterranean and therefore has seen many conquerors come and go from the Greeks, the Carthiginians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Spanish and even the Germans. Because of this, Sicily has many influences in its architecture and culture. The western part of Sicily sees more Arabic influences, while the eastern half sees a lot of influence from the Greeks. There are even a few Albanian villages in the mountains where the secluded inhabitants still speak Albanian. Arabic influences are seen in the delectable variety of sweets in Sicily. Sicilians have a real sweet tooth with sweets made from ricotta and sugar and almond pastes.

With newly purchased map in hand, I head out from Palermo towards the west coast, passing by San Vito lo Capo.

The roads seemed tighter and less maintained than those on Sardinia so, the quality of riding deteriorated. Still, it was nice to see all the ancient history. Sicily seemed a lot more hardscrabble and rugged than Sardinia.

I followed the coast southward until it turned towards the east.

If you’re a history buff, Sicily is a treasure trove with history seemingly at every turn. I’d be rolling along when suddenly, ancient Greek temples appeared off in the distance, standing as they have since the 5th century BC

The Temple of Concord near Agrigento.

These bad boys were seen all over southern Italy. The Fiat 500 is a classic known as a fun drive. It’s said that former world champion Michael Schumaker even owns one.

In Vittoria, I stopped at a Ducati dealer to have a new front tire mounted. They had a Hypermotard on display. I hadn’t even realized they were out on the market yet. Here you can see its compact size in comparison to a Multistrada.

Heading inland, I Had to watch my gas gauge and my watch as there didn’t seem to be many hotels inland. I had to try to time it to be near the coast at night. The backroads were tight and more conducive to touring than to sport touring.

Approaching Mount Etna, she remained cloaked in a veil of clouds perhaps intimidated by the rumble of the mighty Guzzi’s v twin. Finally, around 10 A.M. she made her grand entrance. On the slopes of Mount Etna, I had to put on my fleece for the first time since leaving the mainland to ward off the high altitude chill.

It wasn’t long though before the clouds descended again…

Everywhere I went in southern Italy, I saw abandoned homes, perhaps people who left for America or people who gave up on a plot of land, whatever the reasons it seemed a testament to a hard life.

I must have passed through a thousand small towns with narrow winding streets. Sometimes I’d arrive at a 5 way intersection with no sign as to which way I was supposed to go. Nothing to do but pick one and see where it took me.

Rule # 98 of travelling in Italy. Ask directions from old men. They seemed grateful that someone values their opinion. So much so that sometimes they wouldn’t stop talking! :)

After 5 days in Sicily, I made it to the port city of Messina to catch a ferry back to the mainland. There’s talk of building a bridge across the Straights of Messina. As you can see from the photograph, you can almost throw a stone across it.

After a short 20 minute ferry ride, I was back on the Italian mainland in the boot tip. I rode through the Aspromonte National Park with its dark forest roads that reminded me a bit of Northern California. I later found out that this is where the Mafia goes to dispose of their dirty business.

The road signs in this part of Italy are terrible and with me being a card carrying Luddite without a GPS, I was left to fend for myself. Eventually, I found my way and made it across the central mountain range to the souther side of the “toe”.

The town of Stilo, like many Italian towns occupies a strategic spot atop a hill with a church usually occupying the highest place.

After pottering about in the south, I became concious of time running out on my vacation so I made the decision to put in some miles on the autostrada. Normally, freeways are meant to make time and not very scenic however, that’s not the case with the A3. Cutting through beautiful mountains, the A3 offers visual delights with enough sweeping bends to keep things interesting. As freeways go, you could do a lot worse than the A3.

After a day on the autostrada, I had reached the famed Amalfi coast. I had an interest in Amalfi since my father spent time there during World War II. My father fought in the war as a member of the Royal Canadian Artillery that was involved in the forgotten Italian campaign. After being wounded, he was sent to recover in Amalfi at a convent that had been converted into a military hospital. I remember my father waxing nostalgic about the beautiful town.

While in Amalfi, I took the time to visit the nearby ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii is said to have an effect on some people. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them. Although I’m a history buff, the ruins didn’t really overwhelm me in that way but it was an interesting stop all the same. One exception were the plaster casts of the victims who died in the eruption. Some seemed to have sat down and surrendered to their inevitable fate. It was very dramatic to see them as they were in their last moments alive.

Fresco in a Roman noble’s home.

All the while, Mount Vesuvius watched over the proceedings

From Pompeii, I returned to Amalfi along the famous Amalfi Coast road, said by some to be the most beautiful road in the world. As it was a weekend, the road was clogged with four-wheeled tourist traffic. This isn’t a problem in Italy on a motorcycle as you simply straddle the center line, select the appropriate gear…and motivate :D I must have passed a thousand cars stuck in traffic…two wheels are the only way to go!

While the road is undoubtedly beautiful, I still regard California’s Pacific Coast Highway as the top motorcycle road in the universe.

Private homes dot the landscape nestled on precarious perchs above the sea.

The city of Salerno, south of Naples clings to the side of a cliff like no city its size I’ve ever seen.

Back in Amalfi, I took the time walking the town’s streets, trying to imagine the places my father had been. It must have been a special place back then before tourism transformed it. I believe this structure on the hillside may have been the convent where my father convalesced.

A shot of the hotel where I stayed while on the Amalfi coast.

There was one more place I wanted to see while here. Like many veterans of the war, my father seldom spoke of his wartime experiences. One of the few times he did was to mention the destruction of the abbey atop Monte Cassino during the Battle of Monte Cassino. The Germans were reportedly using the abbey as an observation post and Allied command ordered it to be bombed. He spoke ruefully of the destruction of the beautiful abbey. I’m sure my father would be pleased to learn that the abbey has since been rebuilt to its former glory with its fantastic views.

The Abbey on Monte Cassino.

Unlike Pompeii, this place did move me…perhaps because of my personal connection or perhaps reflecting on the lives that were lost in this bloody chapter of the war.

Unfortunately, this would be my last picture as my camera’s battery bit the dust three days from the end of the trip. Unfortunate also because the Umbria and Tuscany regions I passed through are perhaps the most beautiful regions of Italy.

North of Rome, the roads started improving and I was able to resume sport touring as opposed to just touring. Afterall, that’s the reason we are here :D

I spent the last three days zig-zagging through Umbria and Tuscany. These places really live up to their billing with picturesque hilltop towns and countryside. In my opinion, Tuscany and Umbria should rank alongside the Alps as prime motorcycling destinations. They may not have the majestic mountains of the Alps but the region is dotted with great places to stay, wonderful places to eat and great motorcycling roads.

The last three days was also a study in rain avoidance as I somehow managed to skirt around thunderstorms with only an occasional sprinkle. On the last day of the trip, I cut up the coast to La Spezia before cutting across the Appenines to Parma over the Paso de Cisa. Ironically, this was the first road I travelled after purchasing my Guzzi in 2002 so it seemed a fitting way to complete a circle and reaching 60,000 kilometers on the Guzzi’s clock.

Distance: 6300 km / 3915 miles
Days: 21 travel days / 2 rest days
Puckers: 1
Police interaction: 1
Deer encounters: 1
Bee stings: 1

Second guessings: I may have gone along the more mountainous northern coast of Sicily rather than the south coast. I should have dove in to Napoli for a taste of real Neopolitan pizza. I probably bit off more than I could chew. Sardinia itself could have taken 3 weeks to explore. I covered a lot of ground but didn’t get to see everything such as the “heel” of Italy.

Maps:

Corsica

Sardinia

Sicily

Southern Italy

Central Italy

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