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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 ๐Ÿ˜ฎ
Carabinieri encounters- 0
Deer sightings- 1
Bee stings- 0
National Parks ridden- 7

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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 โ€˜Tuscany without the touristsโ€™, 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 Sรผd-Tyrol region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before WW I when it was ceded over to the Italians. Lots of blonde Italians here. Another mountain village.

Mountain

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

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

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

Hungarian plains.

Plains

Sign

The best Hungarian goulash I’ve ever tasted.

Goulash

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

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

Bridge

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

Buda

Overlooking the Danube.

Danube

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

Dancers

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

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

Bikers

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

Entering Romania.

Romania

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

Church

Uhmm…I think I’ll keep moving on.

Dracula

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

Carpathians

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

Rough

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

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

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

A Romanian lake.

Lake

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

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

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

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

Slovakia

The High Tatras.

Tatras

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

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

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

Czech

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

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

Prague

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

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

Germany

Picturesque German town.

Town

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

Scenic village in the Alsace-Lorraine.

Alsace

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

Dark

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

Cochem on the Mosel

Cochem

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

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

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

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

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

Ardennes

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

The White Cliffs of Dover.

Dover

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

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

Wales

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

Trip Summary:

May 31 to June 22.

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

Rest days: 4

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

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

Bee stings: 0

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

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

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

Map

Tuscany I

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November ’04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quite possibly the bike industy’s most beautiful sport tourer, the Le Mans stops to take in the view near the village of Radda in Chianti. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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

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

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

Mileage: 1100 km in 3.5 days

Italian Lake District

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Fall 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I found a hotel room for the night and returned to the Guzzi shop the next morning. As they weren’t making any headway, they offered to let me take a new Moto Guzzi V7 for a ride. never one to turn down a free test ride, I jumped on it before they had any second thoughts. I headed southeast from Rovereto on SS46 thru the Passo Piani di Fugazzi. This is quite a spectacular pass with freshly paved tarmac and the little Guzzi performed admirably. Unfortunately, it had no place for my camera, so no pictures ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Returning to Rovereto, they were still having no luck diagnosing the Guzzi’s electrical problem. With the weekend looming, I didn’t want to be stranded, so I called Mr. Guareschi to come rescue me, since I was only 2 hours from Parma. For those who haven’t heard of him, Papa Guareschi is to Moto Guzzi as Pops Yoshimura was to Suzuki ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Not willing to lose any more precious time, I blasted north to Lake Como via la autostrada. Lake Como is the spiritual home to Guzzisti the world over. Every Guzzisti is required by his faith to make the pilgrimage to Lake Como at least once in his lifetime ๐Ÿ™‚

Heading north to Bellagio

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

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

An Aston Martin Vantage V-12 is like honey to a bear for Italians ๐Ÿ™‚

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

I follow the old road north along the lake.

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

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

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

Tiny villages cling to mountainsides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narrow shopping street in Bellagio.

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

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

A quiet lakeside cafe

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

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

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

Sunset over Lake Como from the hotel balcony.

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

Crossing Lake Maggiore looking towards Verbania on the opposite shore.

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

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

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

Approaching Genoa on the coast, I find myself tiring of the autostrada and beat a quick exit for a road following the coastline in the hills above Genoa. It turns out to be a fortuitous decision as the road turns out to be a freshly paved supermotard track. Unfortunately it’s a track that contains four-wheeled competitors so care must be taken on blind curves ๐Ÿ™‚

I have to say…Gawd, I love Italian riding. Motorcycles can get away with anything short of murder and cops just look the other way ๐Ÿ™‚ You pass where you want, when you want and nobody honks at you. Solid white lines are meaningless. There were times when I would fall back into American riding, trundling along behind slower traffic, only to be buzzed by a sweet young thing on her moped.

I’m old enough now where my manhood isn’t threatened by such things. In one town a young thang zipped by me, while waving to a friend she saw. At least she wasn’t texting and waving. I stayed behind her on the narrow road to Portofino. Coming around one corner, we met a bus that took up most of the road, leaving a three foot gap between the bus and a wall of granite. Miss moped didn’t bat an eyelash, kept the throttle pinned and shot the gap between the bus and the wall. I stayed in her mirrors just to preserve my masculinity ๐Ÿ™‚

Approaching the coast overlooking the town of Santa Margherita.

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

The road leading to Portofino.

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

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

I came away very impressed with the hills around Genoa. I must make it a point to explore this region with more thoroughness ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Trip route:

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

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

Italy’s Appenine Mountains

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Fall 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

One nice thing about riding in Italy, you’re toodling along, minding your own business when you round a corner and…whoa dude! Nice house! ๐Ÿ™‚

The castle dominating the town of Baldi

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

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

Stopping at Maranello to snoop around a bit for Ron Dennis ๐Ÿ˜Ž

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

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

A mountain village, lies in seclusion deep in the Appenines

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

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

As I approached the town of Pescia, I began to notice small throngs of people lining the route. Many of them were dressed as bicycle racers. I began to suspect something was up. Sure enough, as I rounded a bend, a police bike coming the opposite way, dismissively waved me off the road. Right after that came the usual sights seen at the Tour de France. The team cars, officials, camera bikes, followed by the peloton. I didn’t get my camera out in time and missed a shot of the peloton so you’ll have to settle for a shot of more team cars ๐Ÿ™‚

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

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

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

Those of you who have been to the Napa and Sonoma valleys will notice the resemblance with this wine growing region. Naturally, team orson would be in dereliction of their duties if they failed to sample some of the local product. ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Climbing towards San Clemente

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

The mighty mighty goose waits patiently while I stop to take a picture of a castle. Unable to decide whether to focus on the castle or the Guzzi, the camera chooses the traffic sign ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Approaching the walled city of Cortona

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

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

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

First sighting of Todi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet another castle!

The final pass over the Apuan Alps

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

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

Route: