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Côte d’Azur & Les Alpes-Maritimes

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Team orson embarks on a quickie, one-week venture across the border to the motorcycling playground that is the south of France.

Departing from team orson’s world headquarters in Parma, we stick to the backroads as we make our way across the Apennine mountains to the coast. The early fall temperatures combined with the altitude serve to feed the mighty, mighty goose with a horsepower boost in the form of cool, mountain air. We reach the coast by late afternoon and get a hotel room near Portofino. I didn’t take any pictures, so I’ll cheat and use a picture from a previous trip.

Portofino

In a bid to save time, the next day’s route will be a blast up the Ligurian coast along the autostrada, the same stretch used by Richard Hammond to race James May in a cigarette boat. The road features dozens and dozens of tunnels cutting thru the mountains that line the coast. I can’t even begin to imagine how long the trip must have taken before the autostrada was constructed.

Just after crossing the French border, we leave the highway and head up into the hills in search of twisties. As you approach Monaco, you begin to notice an increase in the amount of auto exotica. In a matter of a few hours, I must have seen four or five Bentleys and a couple of Ferraris. Porsches and Mercedes seemed downright pedestrian in these environs. This is the closest they will allow you to get to Monaco on a Guzzi.

Monaco

With the purchase of an iPad, this would be the first trip where team orson traveled with any electronic devices besides a digital camera. Perhaps lured by the flashing lights and whirring noises of this strange device, the team orson navigator threw caution to the wind and drunkenly decided to make a hotel reservation with the contraption. His reckless action would very soon come back to haunt team orson.

A tip that the ride along the coast to Cap d’Antibes was enjoyable proved to be wrong, as we encountered lots of traffic and very little scenery. With the skies beginning to darken forbiddingly, the decision was made to turn inland at Cannes and hit La Route Napoleon. A few years ago, BIKE magazine declared La Route Napoleon to be the “Best road in Europe.” While that would be a subjective opinion for sure, in my opinion they weren’t far off the mark.

Napoleon

Fast and flowing, La Route Napoleon may be short on photographic charms, but is top shelf stuff for releasing your inner Mike Hailwood 😀 For about sixty blissful kilometers, there are almost no towns or side roads to slow your progress. The mostly open nature of the terrain means that four-wheeled chicanes are easily dispatched.

Route

Approaching Castellane, the dark skies begin to release their moisture with a vengeance. In the past, team orson would have retired to the nearest warm and dry hotel room. But now armed with a newfangled i-Pad, team orson felt compelled to continue onto their reserved hotel room, some 100 kilometers distant. Harsh words were exchanged between the team orson photographer and navigator, as the benefits of modern technology were called into question.

The last fifty kilometers were a slow, wet slog along the road that hugs the northern edge of the Canyon du Verdun. Although it was raining heavily, brief glimpses of its grandeur occasionally revealed themselves. Thankfully, the rain began to taper off later in the afternoon, allowing for a few photographs thru the mist.

Canyon

Verdun

The following morning dawned with an improved weather forecast, and I spent the day meandering back along the northern edge of the canyon before returning along the southern edge.

Verdun1

Verdun2

Coming into a small village, I saw a large group of about 20 motorcycles leaving a gas station. My initial reaction was, “Oh great. I’m going to have to work my way thru the slow pokes.” Not to worry though. This was France and these weren’t a Harley parade. Within a minute, the group had blasted away. France has a fantastic moto-culture. Despite having roughly the same population as the UK, they have twice as many registered motorcycles.

Verdun3

Verdun4

I stayed the night in the picturesque town of Moustieres-Sainte-Marie on the western edge of the canyon. The hotel’s restaurant was fantastic and I left thoroughly bloated after a six-course meal. Even the dessert had a dessert.

Moustieres-Sainte-Marie in the morning light.
Moustireres

We headed north towards les Alpes Maritimes. The south of France is chock full of lazily, twisting two-lane roads.

Alps

I was amazed at how little traffic there was on these roads. I stopped to take this picture, and not a single car came by during the entire five minutes that I was stopped.

Alsp1

The mountains begin to grow as you approach Barcelonnette.

Alps2

Alps3

At Jausiers, I turn south and head up la Col de la Bonette. The road signs claim that it is the highest paved road in Europe, but Wikipedia disputes this, claiming that it is only the third highest road. As I begin the climb, the skies begin to darken once more. As I reach the summit and begin the descent, I catch a glimpse of the rain waiting for me in the valley below.

Col de la Bonnette

Fortunately, by the time I make it to the valley floor, the rain has dissipated and I scamper off to find a hotel room. I awaken the next morning to a blazingly blue sky and turn back north. I’m not sure if this is a castle of maybe a monastery high above the valley floor.

Castle

The D-2202 between Annot and Guillaumes…oh my, my :drool: Such a wonderful stretch of tarmac is the stuff of dreams. the pictures can’t begin to do it any justice. I rate the French highway system among the best, if not the best in the world. Most of the main roads a paved with smooth, well marked asphalt.

D-2201

A close up of the church in the distance.

Close up

Looking back at the D-2202 show it snaking its way alongside a riverbed.

River

After Guillaumes, the road narrows as it begins to climb la Col de la Cayolle. this climb seemed to go on forever.

Cayolle

About 10 kilometers short of Barcelonnette, I came upon this road works. D’oh! Merde Alors! I would have to backtrack almost an hour if I couldn’t get by.

Road Works

Using my high school French, I found out that they would open the road in one hour, so i decided to cool my heels and wait.

After topping up the gas tank in Barcelonnette, I turned south once more and headed up la Col de Maure. While the fall colors aren’t as spectacular as New England, there were a few spots of vibrant color.

Fall

After a long day slaying mountain passes, the mighty, mighty goose stops to absorb some of the scenery.

Scenic

The D-6202 is another wonderfully enjoyable road on a motorbike, fast and flowing, with hardly any traffic or pesky switchbacks to slow your pace. This trip to Provence has only served to solidify my belief that, the south of France has some of the best motorcycling roads anywhere on the planet. Wales & Scotland come close, but get knocked down a notch because of their infamously, soggy weather. Northern California and the south of France are the top of the pops in my book.

Once again I awaken to bright, blue skies, but alas, my time is running short. I point the goose back towards Italy for the homeward leg. I take a small detour off the autostrada in Italy to the bridge at Dolceacqua that was painted by Claude Monet.

Dolceacqua

Further up the road is the picturesque town of Apricale, perched precariously on a hilltop.

Apricale

Once again, I use the autostrade to blast down the Ligurian coast. Looking back north along the coastline.

Liguria

I spend the last night in Portofino. The view of Portofino harbor from the hotel room balcony.

Balcony

In an effort to blend in with the local populace, team orson purchased some spiffy, Italian loafers. Whereas team orson was treated as a furriner before, now people mistake us for locals and stop to ask us for directions.

Loafers

The next morning, we begin our final leg across the Appenines back to Parma. The scenic road leaving Portofino.

Guzzi

I stop for lunch in a small town and take a final photograph of possibly the most beautiful sport touring bike on the planet. Ten years on and the bike never missed a beat, still going strong after 80,000 km.

Guzzi1

Route Map:

Route

Trip stats:

Distance- 2,000 kilometers
Travel days- 8
Rest days- 0
Carabinieri sightings- 3
Gendarmerie sightings- 0
Deer sightings- 0
Bee stings- 2

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Written by orsonstravels

October 27, 2012 at 4:15 am

2012 Southern Italy

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My 2012 vacation would mark the tenth anniversary since the inception of team orson. One would think that a grand tour would be called for to celebrate the occassion however, as I left Saudi Arabia for team orson’s palatial world headquarters, I didn’t have a clue where I wuz going. Befuddled and confused, I packed maps for both France (north) or Italy (south).

A late start meant that it was 4 P.M. before I left Parma and headed over the Appenines via the Passo della Cisa towards the coast, still without a clue which direction I wuz headed. I stopped for the night in Portovenere, exhausted after a little over 100 km. Portovenere isn’t as famous as its Cinque Terre neighbors or as posh as Portofino, but has a pleasant enough waterfront.

Portovenere

I usually sleep 6 hours a night, but that first night I slept 10 hours! Holy kwap! Wuz I becoming a lightweight in my old age? Watching the TV news, the decision on which direction to go was made by the weather report. Rain in France while southern Italy basked under sunny skies.

As I had ridden thru the Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany on previous trips, I headed south along the coast towards the Marrema region of southern Tuscany, off the beaten tourist trail, but gradually becoming discovered. After only 6 hours, I was already toast, and decided to stop at a very chi-chi resort on the Monte Argentario peninsula. This place was so quiet and relaxing that team orson made an uncharacteristic decision to stay another night.

The next day, we sallied forth and rode around the peninsula on a blazingly hot spring day. The road was scenic, but a bit too congested for serious shredding.

Monte Argentario

I circumnavigated the peninsula in about two hours and was back at my hotel just after lunch. The high temperatures and the lure of a refreshing swim was too hard to resist, and I parked the bike for the day. The leg that had I injured in South Africa was giving me a lot of pain that I didn’t have when I rode last year. Swinging my leg on and off the bike was accompanied by excruciating pain. Once I was under way, there was no pain, but stopping for photos now was an ordeal. I developed a system where I grabbed my stitch by the ankle, and slowly lifted my leg on & off the bike. I’m sure people watching this thought I wuz nuts.

A view of the cement pond that lured team orson off the roads. Wheeee dawgie! team orson’s gonna hafta buy something other than t-shirts to blend in with this crowd.

Pool

Sunrise over the Monte Argentario peninsula.

Sunrise

After three days of whiling away the hours with the glitterati under crystal blue skies, team orson felt refreshed enough to finally hit the road. I continued south along the coast until turning inland at Civitavecchia.

A rugged looking hill town somewhere north of Rome.

Rugged

After skirting around Rome and its heavy traffic, I continued making my way south along the spine of the Appenine mountains through the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo.

Abruzzo

Even this far south, there was still a dusting of snow covering the peaks.

Snow

The following day, I reached the scenic Amalfi Coast, and found another, all too comfortable hotel. Team orson was rapidly becoming spoiled.

A view of the town of Amalfi from the hotel balcony.

Amalfi

The Amalfi Coast road has acquired a fearsome reputation as one of the scariest roads in Europe, although it’s not too bad on a motorbike. I think most of the reputation comes from tourists being driven by locals. It’s always scarier when someone else is driving. A good definition of Hell might be having to drive a bus on that road on a daily basis.

Heading west on the Amalfi Road

Road

Looking back east

East

A secluded grotto viewed from the road

Grotto

Heading back towards the hotel

Back

Southern Italy is known for limoncello, and this time of year, lemons are bursting off the trees. Two glasses of this stuff will put you down for the count. That might explain the crooked horizon in the picture

Limoncello

Another view of Amalfi from the hotel.

Amalfi Hotel

After leaving the Amalfi coast, I continued south into the region of Campania. I stopped briefly to view the impressive Greek ruins in Paestum.

Paestum

Venturing deeper into Campania, the terrain began to resemble the California coast. I had no idea of what lie ahead of me.

Campania

Campania Road

At Praia a Mare, the mountains rise straight from the sea, as the road clings to the cliffs in a perfect mirror image of California’s Big Sur.

Sur1

Sur2

Sur3

In all my travels and all my reading, I had never heard of this stretch of road. Discovering a hidden gem of a road is worth massive bonus points.

Sur4

Sur5

The spectacular stretch of road ended all too quickly after only 30 kilometers, much the same as the Pacific Coast Highway does as it approaches L.A. It marked a fine ending to my longest day in the saddle, a good eight hours.

The next day, I travel inland across a small mountain pass. I had the road blissfully to myself, seeing only a couple of other cars before lunch time.

Calabria1

The farther south you get, the fewer the hordes of German & Dutch bikers who plague the Alps like locusts.

Calabria2

After crossing the mountains, I reach the southern coast of Italy, the sole on the boot if you will. It’s too early in the season for most of the coastal hotels to open and I have to ride all the way to the port city of Taranto before I find a hotel room.

From Taranto, I turn around and start heading north. The terrain of the Basilicata region is a pleasant vista of rolling hills which provide mostly straight, but throwing in enough high speed sweepers to keep things entertaining. Stopping for lunch in Italy is a bit of a conundrum. Most Italians eat lunch at about 1:30 before going home for a mid-afternoon break. If you don’t find a restaurant by 2:30, you’re out of luck as all the restaurants close and won’t open until 7 or 8 that night. This is the way they’ve done it for centuries and they’re not about to change Coming from the land of 24 hour breakfasts, this is hard to adjust to. It’s a bit maddening at times, but when it comes down to it, I’m glad Italians preserve their way of doing things. I still haven’t been bold enough to order wine at lunch, as nearly all the locals do.

By late afternoon I enter Puglia and reconnect with the coastline at the Manfredonia. The Parco Nazionale del Gargano takes up the bump protruding from the back of the Italian boot.

La costa Pugliense

Puglia1

Puglia2

The towns in this region are whitewashed giving you the impression that you might be in Andalusia or Morocco.

Town

From Puglia, I blast north along the autostrada before heading inland in Abruzzo, just south of Pescara. I was mighty impressed by the size of the mountains in Abruzzo. Not quite the Alps, but beautiful nevertheless.

Near the Umbrian town of Norcia, in the Parco Nazionale dei Monte Sibilini, lies the vast open plain known as Piano Grande.

Piano1

In the springtime, the plain is covered with yellow rapeseed and red poppies. Unfortunately, there were no poppies when I rode thru, but lots of rapeseed. The village of Castelluccio in the distance is the highest settlement in the Appenines at 1,452 meters.

Piano2

The mighty, mighty Goose waits impatiently as the team orson photographer dawdles

Piano3

A small castle stands sentry over a mountain pass

Castle

From Norcia, I travel the breadth of Umbria in one day to reach the Autodromo dell’Umbria near Perugia, where the following day, I get to attend a classic bike race.

Gianfranco Guareschi, champion to Guzzisti faithful everywhere for his slaying of the NCR Ducati at the 2007 Daytona was in attendance on a V7 Cafe Sport. A loyal fan base keeps applying to have him anointed a saint, but the Vatican insists on raising the technicality of people being dead before attaining sainthood.

Here, team Guareschi fends off rabid fans. Gianfranco in the grey shirt with Papa Guareschi in red.

Guaro1

There were a lotta neat bikes at the meet. These Kawasaki KR250s, ruled the world championships in the 1980s. This was the first time I’d seen one up close, and couldn’t believe how small they are.

KR250

FOR SALE- Franco Uncini’s 1982 world championship winning RG500 Suzuki

RG500

Not for sale, a Benelli 500-4

Benelli

The riders take the grid, with Gianfranco having qualified fourth in a field comprised of about 80% Guzzis and 20% Ducatis. A Ducati 996 was on pole.

Guaro2

The flag dropped and Guareschi entered the first turn in fourth place. By the exit of the first turn, he was in front with about a 50 foot lead. The Ducati’s horsepower closed the gap on the back straight, but once they reached the twisties, Guareschi wuz gone, leading every lap.

After the races, I headed back into Tuscany on the final leg of my journey. This was the first time I had been to Tuscany during the springtime, and I must say I wuz impressed. everything was green with a vast carpet of red poppies. The roads don’t fail to impress either.

Tuscan hill towns

Town2

picture post card roads

Road2

Road3

Monte Amiata, the highest peak in southern Tuscany watches over the Val d’Orcia

Monte Amiata

There haven’t been many pictures of the Goose in this report due to the pain in my leg while mounting and dismounting, so I thought I better take one last shot in front of a carpet of poppies.

Poppies

I stopped for the final night at the same little hotel I stayed in two years ago with a lovely view of the town of Bagni di Lucca. This time I came prepared with a bottle of Tuscany’s finest

Wine

The last day, I crossed the Appenines one last time via the Passo Abetone. There’s a small church up in the hills, but it’s hard to see in the picture.

Abetone

I arrived in Parma at around 3 P.M. then unpacked the bike and bade my farewells. After 10 years, the mighty, mighty Guzzi had performed flawlessly, devouring every road put before it. Che macchina!

Route maps:

Central loop

Map1

Southern loop

Map2

Trip stats:

Distance- 4,100 kilometers
Travel days- 21
Rest days-5 😮
Carabinieri encounters- 0
Deer sightings- 1
Bee stings- 0
National Parks ridden- 7

Written by orsonstravels

June 21, 2012 at 7:16 am

Italy’s Piedmont Region

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Just a quickie one week trip report in Northern Italy for the Guzzi gathering and a trip to the Piedmont Region…

team orson arrived in Italy just in time for Moto Guzzi’s 90th anniversary party in Mandello del Lario on the shores of idyllic Lake Como. From Parma to the Italian Lake District is but a mere three hour jaunt via la autostrada. Usually, seeing another Guzzi on the road is a rare event however, as I approached Lake Como almost all the bikes seen on the road were other Guzzis, which was rather a strange experience.

The only hotel I could find was across the lake in Bellagio, but this really wasn’t a problem as Lake Como ferries run regular routes across the lake. After checking in to the hotel, I boarded the ferry for the 15 minute ride across the lake to Varenna.

Taking in the views and the cool lake breezes on the crossing

Ferry

Nuthin but Guzzis on the ferry. I met some Dutch riders who had ridden from Holland to Mandello in one day.

Guzzi

Approaching ferry port of Varenna on the eastern shore of Lake Como.

Varenna

From Varenna to Mandello was a quick 15 minute hop. Many businesses along the road to Mandello had Guzzi banners hung out to welcome the hordes. I arrived late Friday afternoon and the place was already brimming with Guzzisti. As I walked around taking in the sights, Guzzisti from all over Europe continued to roll into town.

Guzzi Factory

Sport touring as it once was

Old Guzzi

By Saturday morning, the place was really filling up

Mandello Park

Italian fast food

Fast Food

Somehow, a Benelli managed to infiltrate the event

Benelli

After two days spent ogling the bikes, it was time to move on. Leaving Lake Como, an early snowfall had dusted the alpine foothills

Lake Como

I headed west along the base of the Alps. The roads on the southern side of the lakes are clogged with traffic and it’s not until you get past the western most lake, Lake Orta, that I begin to get a respite.

Alpine

I spot a road on the map that heads up into the mountains before dead ending at the ski resort of Alagna Valsesia. I’m always intrigued by those end-of-the-road places and decided to make that my stop for the night. The town seems a veritable ghost town with most hotels closed for the season, but I luck out and manage to find a hotel that has remained open.

The following morning dawns with clear blue skies providing a clear view of the largest mountain in the area, La Monte Rosa.

Monte Rosa

Heading back down into the lowlands of the Po Valley

Valley

There’s a rather abrupt transition from the mountains to the plains

Plains

A small village with the snow peaked Alps in the distance

Village

As I continue southwards, the terrain begins to turn to undulating hills as I reach the Langhe area of Piedmont.

Piedmont

The Lonely Planet refers to Piedmont as ‘Tuscany without the tourists’, as its hills lined with vineyards bears a resemblance to its southern counterpart.

Vineyards

The area is famous for its wines as well as its white truffles. I stay at the Hotel Castello di Sinio run by an American woman with a super friendly staff and a great ambiance. I manage to arrive right during the white truffle season and get an opportunity to sample truffles in the local cuisine. The Piedmont Region has become known as the seat of the Slow Food movement in Italy. I’ve stated before that it’s almost impossible to get a bad meal in Italy.

Food

Langhe

Piedmont has an undiscovered air about it, as the vast hordes of tourists and tourist buses seen in Tuscany are absent, making you feel as if you have the whole place to yourself.

Castle

Wine

The area around Asti and Alba is crisscrossed with roads snaking their way through farms and vineyards. As it was harvest time, I often encountered farm tractors on the road but they moved slowly so it was fairly easy to pass them.

Road

Italy

After two days in Piedmont, it was time to make my way back to home base in Parma. I think that one of the reasons there are so few visitors to the Langhe area is that it is difficult to traverse from east to west. Most of the main roads run perpendicular to the coast, leaving paved goat trails running east to west. This might be why most people stay on the autostrada and continue on down to Tuscany.

Still, I was determined not to take the autostrada to Parma and forged ahead, stringing together a series of backroads. Just south of Tortona, I decided to stop for the night. I continued forging my way eastward by sticking to the backroads. The terrain was still hilly, but less picturesque than the Langhe, so I didn’t stop for any pictures. Sometimes I took a wrong fork in the road and would end up on a remote goat trail before my instincts kicked in and told me that this didn’t seem like a major artery.

Finally, at around two in the afternoon, I reached the town of Bardi with a main highway leading to Parma. The road from Bardi to Parma is a stellar motorcycling road with fast, sweeping curves seemingly custom made for the Goose. The Guzzi’s massive torque, like an avalanche sweeping away everything before it, easily overtook any cars in its path. Before long, we were back in Parma bringing a great week of riding to an end.

Trip statistics:
Riding Days: 7
Rest Days: 1
Mileage: 2500 km
Police encounters: 0
Bee stings: 0

Route Map:

Map

Written by orsonstravels

October 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm

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

2004 Portugal To Croatia

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Starting out at my friend’s house near Porto, Portugal where my bike spent the winter months, I traversed southern Europe to reach the fortress city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Whatta trip! 5600 miles / 9000 kilometers. 26 riding days, 3 rest days. I left Porto & headed east following the Duoro River. The road hugs the river & meanders through Portugal’s famous port wine growing region. It reminds me a lot of the road along the Mossel River in Germany. It definitely merits mentioning as one of the most scenic drives in Europe. I followed the river as far east as possible, almost to the Spanish border before turning south to check out the Sierra de Gredo. A smallish mountain range near Madrid.

Along the Duoro…

Duoro

From the Sierra de Gredos, I turned north, towards los Picos De Europa. Across the Principality of Leon, the land turns flat & featureless. This terrain along the Duero was where the border between the Moors & the Christians stabilized for about 100 years. As such, the region is chock full of castles & fortresses as both sides sought to fortify their positions. After passing through the city of Leon, the terrain started getting interesting again as I approached los Picos De Europa. I enjoyed Los Picos so much, I ended up staying a couple days in Riano.

Approaching Riano

Riano

Another shot of the tasty asphalt in the Picos De Europa

Picos de Europa

Whereas last year, I enjoyed picture perfect weather, this year was spent under the threat of rain. While I probably actually rode in the rain less than 10% of the trip, the ominous presence of dark clouds cast it’s shadow over the first 2 weeks. Here is another shot of threatening skies in los Picos.

Rain

Rainy

From Los Picos De Europa, I hugged the coastline along the Costa Verde towards the Pyrennes. I see what they mean by Costa Verde. I saw some spots greener than green. Every tree, shrub, bush & blade of grass was the exact same hue of green creating a “green out” effect. I crossed the Pyrennes at the Col du Somport. The weather was damp & foggy so…sorry, no pictures of the Pyrennes this time

I crossed the south of France using all the back roads. I saw one road on the map that followed a river so, it seemed like a good choice. It ran between Montauban & Rodez. I’ve mentioned before that I believe the French have some of the best motorcycling roads around. This road had some sweepers like I’ve never seen before. Lean right for 20 seconds, lean left for 20 seconds & on & on. It seemed surreal. I exited that section just shaking my head.

The French road engineers are true artisans. Here is another picture from the south of France. Mind blowing billiard table smooth constant radius 3rd & 4th gear sweepers. Just take this picture & multiply it by miles & miles. You get the idea.

French Roads

Continuing to work my way across southern France was hard work!

Work

Approaching the Maritime Alps on the French Italian border

Alps

When I got near Italy, I felt I had to choose between the Alps or Croatia. I sat at the fork in the road for about 20 minutes studying the map, pondering my options & arguing with myself I finally chose Croatia. Years ago, I had read an article in a car magazine that likened the coastal road in Croatia to California’s Highway 1. Seeing that Highway 1 is my all time favorite road, I was keen to sample the comparison. I blasted across northern Italy via the Autostrada in a bid to save some time but, after a half day of droning, I’d had enough. I veered north towards the Dolomites. In Merano, I took a well deserved day off to plan my attack of the Balkans.

I crossed over into Austria briefly before entering Slovenia via the Wurzenpass through the Julian Alps. Slovenia is a wonderful little country totally covered with mountains & with friendly people. The women seem to be an exquisite blend of German & Italian. The men…well, they looked like men to me 😀

The Wurzenpass.

Alp

The Julian Alps near the town of Bovec, Slovenia

Julien Alps

I entered Croatia after a cursory passport check. No problems getting in. Croatia lies but 15 hours from Germany so, they are used to German bikers vacationing there. I had to make do with a cell phone advertisement for my “Welcome To Croatia” sign 😀

Welcome

Making my way down the coast, the clouds seemed to be following me so, this clouded my perception of any comparisons with Highway 1. Here is a shot of the town of Rogoznica, totally covering a tiny peninsula. Lots of towns with strange sounding names like Zog seem to be places that might be ruled by Ming the Merciless.

Oh yah, the Goose sits in the foreground impatiently sitting through another photo session. Does this look like a bike that likes to sit around all day? No siree, Bob. She’s straining at the bit, raring to get going :naughty:

Coast

Right after this picture was taken, I suffered my biggest scare of the trip. A baseball sized rock materialized before me as I was waiting to pass a car. It glanced off my front tire & whacked my oil pan. I pulled over to check the damage. To my horror, the oil pan had a big chunk knocked out of it & it was dripping oil on the ground. I had remembered seeing an Aprilia sign a few miles back so, I turned around & headed back. The Aprilia shop couldn’t help me but, they knew a mechanic who could. I left the bike with him & took a hotel room. The next morning, he came & picked me up & took me back to the shop. He’d done a good job & patched the Tenni back up. Total lost time- 24 hours. Not bad. The roads in Croatia were pretty rough & uneven. My arm/shoulder sockets ached so bad by the time I got to Dubrovnik, I had trouble sleeping one night. All in all though, I’m glad I went.

I thought it would take about 5 days to reach Dubrovnik. It only took 2. Ooops…so much for good planning. Oh well, this provided me with more time to explore the coastal island chain.

Dubrovnik was shelled by the Serbians during the recent war but, the Croatians have done a great job repairing the damage. The place was full of vacationing Europeans. I saw buses from Poland, Hungary, Estonia and about a bazillion Germans. It seems the Croatia is the next south of Spain. The coastline is still wonderfully undeveloped. The Croatians are sitting on a gold mine. I just hope they plan well & don’t end up ruining it as they have the south of Spain.

The mighty mighty goose surveys the fortress city of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Fortress

An abandoned section of the old Adriatic coast highway just south of Dubrovnik

Coast Highway

Heading back north, I began island hopping along the chain of coastal islands. The coastal islands are served by a whole fleet of ferrys making it easy to go from one island to the next. My favorite was the Island of Brac. A little gem of a rock full of sleepy little fishing villages. Oh…and great twisty roads made it seem like my own little Isle of Man…uhm until the local gendarme flashed his blue lights at me. oopsie

Here is a pic from Brac overlooking the little village of Povlja.

Povlja

Overlooking another village on the Isle of Brac.

Brac

The fishing village of Milsa on Brac where I had a nice lunch of risotto dyed blue with octopus ink

Milsa

Turquoise blue Adriatic off the southern end of the Isle of Cres

Cres

From Cres, I rejoined the mainland on the Istrian Peninsula, prized by the Romans for the quality of their olive oil. On the southern tip of the peninsula lies the town of Pula. The Roman amphitheatre at Pula is the sixth largest surviving Roman arena.

Pula

Heading north from Pula along the west side of the peninsula, I ran into tourist trap hell & the traffic that goes with it. I gave up on following the coast & headed inland. Much nicer. This is a fertile peninsula and was dotted with scenic farms.

I re-entered Slovenia, spent a couple days in the Julian Alps. I found that I still had 4 days left so, that left me a few days to play in the Italian Dolomites. I couldn’t believe how many bikes I saw in the Dolomites considering it was the middle of the week. The place was crawling with German & Austrian bikers.

On my second to last day, I spent rampaging through the passes around Cortina de Ampezzo. At around 4 P.M. I was passing through the town of Corvara when I felt a sudden shudder from the rear end. My first thought was that I had a rear flat. Upon dismounting, I found the tire to be fine. Hmmm. Seems the rampaging through all the passes had wasted my rear wheel bearing I made a call to my bike shop in Parma & we devised a plan. I would leave my bike at one of his friend’s house nearby then catch a train to Milan to catch my flight to Saudi. He would drive up later & pick it up. soooo, I wuz robbed of my last day of riding. I really can’t complain though. After a month on the road, I was well & truly spent. I was extremely fortunate the bearings gave out while I was going thru a town. It would have sucked to have broken down high up a mountain pass as the sun was going down.

This was my second rear wheel bearing failure. Both going out at about the 17,000 kilometer mark. Other than that, the Guzzi performed like an Abrahams M1 tank. Never missing a beat during the whole adventure.

Here’s a shot from the last day in the Dolomites.

Dolomiten

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