Orson’s Travel Blog


Posts Tagged ‘Amalfi

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.


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.


Sunrise over the Monte Argentario peninsula.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


Looking back east


A secluded grotto viewed from the road


Heading back towards the hotel


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


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.


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


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.




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.



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.


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


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



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


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.


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.


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


A small castle stands sentry over a mountain pass


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.


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.


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


Not for sale, a Benelli 500-4


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.


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


picture post card roads



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.


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


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.


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


Southern loop


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

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.


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 😀 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 😀

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.





Southern Italy

Central Italy