Orson’s Travel Blog

Moto-travels

Posts Tagged ‘Motorcycle riding

Being George Orwell

with 3 comments

Based on the film Being John Malkovich

In the aftermath of the Second World War, author George Orwell secluded himself on the bleak, outpost of Jura in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. It was here in the splendid isolation of the western isles that he wrote his opus, 1984. This is a journey to retrace his steps.

I departed from Nottingham in the East Midlands, traveling north through the Yorkshire Dales. If you’ve seen my previous trip reports, you know that the Yorkshire Dales are a bucolic setting worthy of being a destination in itself. It was on the narrow roads of West Yorkshire where TT champion David Jefferies honed his craft. Yorkshire is also home to the Lampkin motorcycle trials dynasty and it is not unusual to spot a number of trials bikes using public roads to link their trials areas. By chance, I come upon the The Yorke Arms hotel in a tiny village in the Nidderdale Valley that featured a Michelin starred restaurant. Sometimes I just get lucky.

The second day would be a short jaunt to the English Lake District, where I procured a room overlooking Lake Windermere

Windermere

I spent the following day touring the Lake District passes in splendid October sunshine

Lake District 1

Lake District 2

Lake District 3

After an overnight stay near Glasgow, I head north along the scenic Loch Lomond with the splendid weather still holding firm

Loch Lomond

A left turn at Tarbert takes me on the A85 along the Loch Fyne

Loch Fyne

I reach the ferry port of Kennacraig at midday, and by some miracle, the ferry to Islay is loading. It’s as if it were meant to be. After about a 3 hour sail, we reach Port Askaig on Islay. I ride across the island to Bowmore where I secure a room right next to the Bowmore Distillery. The next morning, I catch the small ferry across the Sound of Islay to the Isle of Jura

Jura Ferry 1

Tourism is light at this time of year. I’m the only vehicle making the crossing. I guess the adventure riders went elsewhere

Jura Ferry 2

My only link to civilization disappears over the horizon (possible embellishment)

Jura Ferry 3

Looking across the Sound of Islay towards Islay

Islay Sound

The only road on the island heads up the east coast from the ferry port

Jura Road

A farm house with a million dollar view across the Sound of Islay

Farm House

Looking southwards

Southwards

The splendid isolation and wild beauty of Jura, virtually unchanged in the sixty some years since Orwell travelled this same road

Wild

Orwell spent approximately three years writing 1984 in between jaunts with his son, hiking and exploring the island

Beauty

Clusters of farm houses dot the coast

Cluster

As you continue northwards, the road begins to deteriorate

Road 2

An unexpected patch of forest and pasture

Forest[/IMG][/URL]

Before the scenery opens up once more

Scenery

I spotted numerous stags in the grasslands who exhibited no fear of human contact

Stag

Close up

Close Up

Four miles short of Orwell’s farmhouse in Barnhill, the ride comes to an abrupt end

End

Curses!

Curses

Nothing left to do but turn around and head south on the same single track

Single Track

An old barn overlooks the coast, the Scottish mainland in the distance

Barn

Although Orwell’s writing thrived on the island, his health took a turn for the worse. In 1947 he was diagnosed with TB. At the time, there was no cure for the disease. He managed to finish 1984 in November 1948, and died early in 1950.

The only hotel on the island is the Jura Hotel in the village of Craighouse, where I stop for a lunch of tomato pepper soup and fresh crab

Soup

Soup 2

After a late lunch, I catch the four o’clock ferry back to Islay. Back on Islay, I ride along the narrow sound between Islay and Jura.

Looking across the sound to the Paps of Jura

Paps of Jura

A quick stop for refreshment at the Bunnahabhain Distillery

Distillery

Another view across the Sound of Islay towards Jura. The natural light at these northern latitudes can sometimes provide some spectacular displays, especially when rain showers simultaneously compete alongside bright sunshine to produce some mesmerizing lighting effects which in turn compete with the beauty of the natural surroundings. Something of a reward for being out in inclement weather

Light

Islay lacks a bit of the rugged isolation of Jura, but has its own special charm

Islay

Two friends along Loch Indall in southwestern Islay

Friends

The village of Portnahaven with the Orsay Lighthouse in the distance

Portnahaven

Hairy Scottish cattle give me the once over

Cattle

The 7 o’clock ferry was the only available crossing back to the mainland. UGH!

Early

Watching the sunrise over Jura from aboard the ferry

Jura Sunrise

This description of an Islay malt made laugh. I had never seen spirits described in military terms

Islay Malt

After reaching the mainland, I take a short jaunt across the Kintyre Peninsula and catch another ferry to the Isle of Arran. The weather began to take a turn for the worse and I was holed up for two days waiting out the rain. Fortunately, I stayed in a comfortable country home with an excellent restaurant. Eventually, the rain tapered off, and I caught yet another ferry across the Firth of Clyde to the town of Ardrossan on the mainland.

Looking back at Arran from the ferry

Arran

After 5 days in Scotland, I head south back into England, where I make my way to visit an old friend in Shropshire. The next day would be a short hop across the Peak District back to Nottingham.

I stopped at the famous Cat & Fiddle Pub. As it is a sunny Sunday afternoon, the place is hopping with bikes

Cat & Fiddle

Not just bikes, but even some Lotuses (Loti?)

Lotus

Even the Smart cars were out in force, cheekily making three parking spaces out of two

Smart

About an hour before reaching Nottingham, I pass thru the town of Matlock Bath, the East Midland’s answer to L.A.’s Rock Store. The town is bursting at the seams with hundreds of bikers enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon. Almost looks like the main drag of Sturgis

Matlock Bath

Trip Stats:

Distance- +/- 1300 miles
Travel days- 9
Rest days- 3
Police sightings- 0
Deer sightings- 3
Bee stings- 0

Route maps:

Scotland leg

Scotland

England leg

England

Advertisements

Written by orsonstravels

November 6, 2013 at 4:22 am

Côte d’Azur & Les Alpes-Maritimes

with one comment

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

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

Portofino

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

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

Monaco

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

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

Napoleon

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

Route

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

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

Canyon

Verdun

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

Verdun1

Verdun2

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

Verdun3

Verdun4

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

Moustieres-Sainte-Marie in the morning light.
Moustireres

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

Alps

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

Alsp1

The mountains begin to grow as you approach Barcelonnette.

Alps2

Alps3

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

Col de la Bonnette

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

Castle

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

D-2201

A close up of the church in the distance.

Close up

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

River

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

Cayolle

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

Road Works

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

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

Fall

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

Scenic

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

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

Dolceacqua

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

Apricale

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

Liguria

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

Balcony

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

Loafers

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

Guzzi

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

Guzzi1

Route Map:

Route

Trip stats:

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

Written by orsonstravels

October 27, 2012 at 4:15 am

2012 Southern Italy

with one comment

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

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

Portovenere

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

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

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

Monte Argentario

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

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

Pool

Sunrise over the Monte Argentario peninsula.

Sunrise

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

A rugged looking hill town somewhere north of Rome.

Rugged

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

Abruzzo

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

Snow

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

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

Amalfi

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

Heading west on the Amalfi Road

Road

Looking back east

East

A secluded grotto viewed from the road

Grotto

Heading back towards the hotel

Back

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

Limoncello

Another view of Amalfi from the hotel.

Amalfi Hotel

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

Paestum

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

Campania

Campania Road

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

Sur1

Sur2

Sur3

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

Sur4

Sur5

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

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

Calabria1

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

Calabria2

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

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

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

La costa Pugliense

Puglia1

Puglia2

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

Town

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

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

Piano1

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

Piano2

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

Piano3

A small castle stands sentry over a mountain pass

Castle

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

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

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

Guaro1

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

KR250

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

RG500

Not for sale, a Benelli 500-4

Benelli

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

Guaro2

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

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

Tuscan hill towns

Town2

picture post card roads

Road2

Road3

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

Monte Amiata

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

Poppies

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

Wine

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

Abetone

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

Route maps:

Central loop

Map1

Southern loop

Map2

Trip stats:

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

Written by orsonstravels

June 21, 2012 at 7:16 am

Italy’s Piedmont Region

with 5 comments

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

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

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

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

Ferry

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

Guzzi

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

Varenna

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

Guzzi Factory

Sport touring as it once was

Old Guzzi

By Saturday morning, the place was really filling up

Mandello Park

Italian fast food

Fast Food

Somehow, a Benelli managed to infiltrate the event

Benelli

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

Lake Como

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

Alpine

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

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

Monte Rosa

Heading back down into the lowlands of the Po Valley

Valley

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

Plains

A small village with the snow peaked Alps in the distance

Village

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

Piedmont

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

Vineyards

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

Food

Langhe

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

Castle

Wine

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

Road

Italy

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

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

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

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

Route Map:

Map

Written by orsonstravels

October 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm

South Wales

with 91 comments

During my recent visit to the U.K., they were experiencing unseasonably warm weather for this time of year. In the U.S., they would call it an Indian Summer. I dunno what they would call it in Wales. A Druid Summer?

I arrived in Nottingham and reunited with my Triumph Thruxton after a two year absence. The Trumpet fired right up as if it were only yesterday. We set off towards Wales under cement gray skies but, with an improving forecast. When I say cement gray skies, I don’t mean cement-colored but that, it actually looks like the sky is filled with cement. A thick pea soup mixture that dulls everything it touches. The grayness persisted for the entire first day of the trip so, not many pictures.

After overnighting in Brecon, Wales, day two dawned under similarly gray skies but, the weatherman was calling for patches of sun as I headed south across the Black Mountains. As I crossed over the top of the mountains, the fog was so thick that, I had to slow down considerably and had to allow a car towing a caravan (camper) to pass 😮

By 10:30 A.M., I was beginning to detect some brightness through the mist

Mist

Fall colours

Fall

Welsh backroads tend to be a tad narrow, down to one lane wide in places with pullouts to allow other traffic to get by

Backroad

By noon, the sun was out in full force as I approached Swansea on the south coast

Sun

After getting through Swansea (a lovely looking city), I made my way to the Gower Peninsula. I stopped at the seaside village of Port Eynon for a lunch of fish & chips. I talked to a couple of local riders, one on a Harley and the other on a beautifully maintained, 30 year old Kawasaki Z900. I continued on to the town of Rhossili where, I found lodgings at a hotel overlooking Worm’s Head

Worm

Looking north from Worm’s Head to the wide expanse of beach. The little black specks in the water are surfers. Yes, surfers in Wales…in October

Surf

Sunset over Worm’s Head

Sunset

The next morning, I was so taken by the beauty of the locale that I had to snap a few more pictures

Morning

Exploring the narrow roads along the coast. In the U.S. this would either be a bicycle or golf cart path. It’s hard to make out due to the brightness of the sun but, that’s the Bristol Channel on the horizon

Path

On my third day, I left the Gower Peninsula and made my way around the Loughor Estuary, following the coast towards the Pembrokeshire National Seashore. The rugged Pembokeshire coast near the town of Bosherston

Bosherston

Continuing westward, there were many other people out enjoying the fine autumn weather

Westward

Looking back eastward along the narrow, coastal road

Eastward

I spent the third night in Haverfordwest before continuing the next day towards St. Brides Head in far Western Wales

St Bridehead

The village of St. Brides is as peaceful and idylic as they come. Location, location, location

St Brides

Nearby, two fishermen were setting their pots

Fishing

I continued north along the coast, trying to stay as close to the shore as possible by following the narrow, one-lane roads. Less sport and more touring really. Looking back south along the coast

Coast

Approaching the town of Broad Haven

Broadhaven

Coastal farms were in abundance

Farm

A solitary stroller enjoying the fine day along one of the broad, Welsh beaches near the town of Newgale

Beach

Time was beginning to run out and I had to begin to make my way northeast towards Nottingham. The mysterious Preseli Hills from which the bluestones of Stonehenge eminate, hove into view

Preseli

I rejoin the coast at Cardigan and follow the coastal road northwards past retirement and vacation homes. Near Aberystwyth, I find a nice country hotel with a splendid view and a fine restaurant. I enjoy a nice meal with accompanying adult beverages for my last night on the road. Wales is the closest place I’ve found that matches the beauty of Northern California. Sonoma County or Wales?

Wales

The next morning dawns bright and shiney and after a full Welsh Breakfast, I point the bike eastwards back towards England but, not before getting a few final pictures of the stunning Welsh countryside

Welsh

Welshh

Valley

The roads open up as the terrain begins to change. The Triumph falls into a relaxed pace as if trying to delay the journey’s end. It seems happiest when just puttering along at 65 to 70 mph on a lazily sweeping two-laned roads. A steady, unhurried beat like a Miles Davis composition 🙂

Home

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for better weather. To expect 4 days of continuous sunshine in October is to be tempting fate but, somehow it was as if I flew through the eye of a needle. I get the feeling I may have to pay on a later journey.

Route map:

Map

Trip stats:

Riding Days: 5
Rest Days: 0
Mileage: 800
Police encounters: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Sheep encounters: 1,000,019
Bee stings: 0

2010 Central Italy

with one comment

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

Sri Lanka’s Hill Country

with one comment

In December 2008, I had my worst accident in over 30 years of riding. It’s been a long, slow climb back to something that resembles normalcy. In almost a year and a half, I’ve experienced more hospital stays and doctor’s appointments to than I care to remember. Now, with the healing almost complete, I was itching to get back out there and enjoy life.

I had originally hoped to fly to Italy to rejoin team orson for a long overdue reunion, but alas, the Icelandic volcano had other plans. I had to come up with Plan B in a hurry. I decided that it was best to get as far away from the volcano as possible, lest I get stranded in some airport. I cast my eyes eastward to the island nation of Sri Lanka. The Tamil rebels had recently given up their decades old separatist struggle, so now seemed like a good time to visit. post haste, I purchased air fare and made bike hire arrangements over the internet.

After a 5 hour flight, I landed at Colombo, the capital city on the west coast of the island. The bike hire guy arranged to have a driver waiting for me, and before long I was at the bike shop. The air was thick with humidity along with the corresponding tropical temperatures. There must still be some tension, as I spotted pairs of armed soldiers at most intersections in Colombo. As the island’s roads are mostly two-laned with lots of traffic, a Honda XR-250 was deemed sufficient for my needs.

After taking care of the pleasantries and paperwork, I was soon on my way, heading north armed with only a map and a camera. Within the first few kilometers, I had missed my turn, so business as usual 😀 A few stops for directions and I was back on the righteous path.

Even luke warm, coconut juice hits the spot on a hot day.
Coconut milk

A word about the traffic. I have experienced riding in Goa, so I assumed I knew what riding in South Asia was all about. I didn’t know Jack. Sri Lankan traffic “goes to 11”. As in India, might makes right, with trucks and buses ruling the roads with iron fisted authority. Motorcycles are somewhat lower in the pecking order, somewhere down there with the rikshaws and pedestrians. Drivers had no qualms about pulling out to pass, even with oncoming traffic bearing down. It was the wildest game of chicken I’d ever seen. As such, I occupied the 6 inches of tarmac closest to the shoulder, and at least on one occasion, I took to the dirt apron to avoid becoming a hood ornament :crazy: No one batted an eyelash at such shenanigans as it was just the way things are done.

The tuk-tuks were the worst. Little, three-wheeled vespa taxi cabs. These guys were insane, making U-turns without looking or pulling out into oncoming traffic. Besides that, they were so slow, they always had a string of cars waiting to pass, leading to impatient drivers to make dangerous passes.

May is the beginning of the wet season, and by mid-afternoon, the skies had begun to darken. Before long, the showers came. I sought refuge in a roadside Buddhist mini-shrine with a few other local bikers.

Rain delay
Rain delay

Maybe it was because I hadn’t ridden in so long, but the XR’s saddle felt like a rock. If the XR was the last bike left in the world, I would give up riding. It wuz that hard.

Fortunately, the showers didn’t last long and I was back on the road to Kurunegala. There was a giant, golden Buddha on a hill top, but I couldn’t get close enough to get a good picture. I continued on to Habarana, my stop for the night. I found my hotel just before dark and enjoyed a hot shower along with adult beverages and dinner.

The next day, I would begin the climb into the hill country. Along the way, I passed several elephant safaris.
Elephant safari

When I stopped to snap this picture, a tout ran out and insisted that I must ride the elephants. I was equally insistent, that I must reach Kandy before the afternoon rains 😀 Most Sri Lankans I encountered were gracious hosts. As in India, if you flash them a big smile, you are almost always repaid in kind. I passed several police checkpoints, but they seemed uninterested in foreign tourists.

I made my way to Sigiriya, a World Heritage site. Sigiriya holds the ruins of an ancient fortress built atop a rock of hardened magma.
Sigiriya

Another giant Buddha near Sigiriya
Giant Buddha

Many people don’t realize that South Asian culture is even older than that of ancient Egypt. With my bad hip, I was unable to make the climb to the top of Sigiriya, and was back on the road, climbing towards Kandy, the capital city of the hill country.

Numerous roadside stalls sold all manner of coconuts, bananas, mangos, papayas and other fruit I didn’t recognise.
Fruit stall

Giant trees stretched outwards in all directions offering copious amounts of shade
Shade tree

I didn’t quite make it to Kandy in time before the afternoon rains, so once again, I sought shelter, this time in a bus stop. After about an hour delay, I continued towards Kandy, with traffic getting progressively worse. By the time I made it to the city limits, traffic was pandemonium. I just wanted to get to my hotel and take a hot shower. Looking down, I happen to notice the key was missing from the ignition 😮 Now I had to be extra careful not to stall the bike before I reached the hotel.

After some searching, I finally located my hotel and called the bike shop. Amazingly, someone had already found the keys and called his number on the key fob. As I was too tired to backtrack, I made arrangements for a driver to go retrieve the keys for me.

The view from the hotel room overlooking the river
Kandy

They tell me that the film “Bridge Over The River Kwai” was filmed somewhere in the Sri Lankan hill country.

The following morning, I headed out towards the town of Nuwara Eliya, a former British colonial enclave surrounded by tea plantations. The traffic in Kandy was still terrible, and it took me 45 minutes just to negotiate my way out of town. Once I got away from town, traffic lightened up considerably and I was actuall able to strafe some twisties. The thought of a bus passing on a blind corner kept me from getting too frisky.

The road to Nuwara Eliya
Road to Nuwara Eliya

I decided to take a different way back to Kandy
Backroad

Seeing an elderly man walking on the scorching hot pavement in his barefeet reminded me of what a soft piece of milquetoast I am.
Backroads

More giant shade trees
Giant shade trees

Hill country views. Some trees were blooming fiery, red flowers
Red flowers

Terraces and drying laundry
Terraces

Another hill country vista. Even on these narrow backroads, you would still encounter the malevolent buses
Hill country vista

Another river crossing
River crossing

Back in Kandy. Kandy had a nice town lake with a walkway and park benches. Families were out enjoying the weekend.
Town lake

After 2 nights in Kandy, it was time to return the bike to Colombo. I left Kandy and made my way down towards the coast.

Low country images
Low country

I came upon a woman with 2 porcupines. I asked if they were good eating, but she said no. They seemed docile enough, but I wasn’t gonna stick my hand in front of their faces to see what would happen.
Porcupines

Leaving the hill country, the terrain changed from terraced tea plants to rice paddies
Rice paddies

One of the dreaded tuk-tuks approaches in the distance, searching to create some form of mayhem
Tuk tuk

After getting lost one more time, I ended up having to call the bike shop, and he came and rescued me. All in all, I managed to survive the crazy traffic and rainshowers to have an enjoyable time.