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Italy’s Appenine Mountains

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Fall 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The castle dominating the town of Baldi

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

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

Stopping at Maranello to snoop around a bit for Ron Dennis 😎

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

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

A mountain village, lies in seclusion deep in the Appenines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climbing towards San Clemente

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

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

Approaching the walled city of Cortona

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

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

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

First sighting of Todi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet another castle!

The final pass over the Apuan Alps

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

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

Route:

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Wandering Wales

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I had some free time so I decided to escape from the summer heat in Saudi for some cooler British climes. As I had never been to southwestern Wales, I decided to make that my destination. I picked up my trusty Trumpet in Nottingham and made tracks towards the southwest, splitting Birmingham & Manchester.

Crossing the Welsh frontier near Newton at midday, I immediately headed south on the fantastic A483. I’ve raved about this road in the past, slicing north to south through Wales, it’s a fun-filled festival of high speed sweepers.

I continue in a southwesterly direction on the A483 under sunny skies, skirting the Brecon Beacons National Park, arriving at Haverfordwest around 4 P.M. After securing a hotel for the night, I decided to make the most of the sunny weather, as the next day’s weather forecast called for rain. I continued west to St. David’s Head, a headland in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Near Solva, I catch a glimpse of St. Brides Bay.

After negotiating several miles of goat trails, I finally make it to St. David’s Head. Looking south along the rugged coastline.

From this point, I turn and head northeast, following a small, single track lane along the northern edge of the peninsula.

a bustling seaport near Abereiddy….ok ok, a sleepy fishing village then…

The Pembrokshire coastline, is the only part of the British coast dedicated as a national park and I can see why. I thought it was nicer than even the rugged Cornish coastline. Another shot of the coast.

From the coast, I began to make my way inland through the Preseli Hills. The Preseli Hills are often referred to as mysterious, haunting or atmospheric. A place where strange things have occurred and where the waters are reputed to have healing effects.

The bluestones used at Stonehenge, have been traced to the Preseli Hills. The stones, weighing up to four tons, were somehow transported some 250 miles to the plains of Salisbury.

An ancient dolmen, Pentre Ifan is also located here, overlooking the Irish Sea. Dating from 3500 BC, this was supposedly a communal burial ground. Originally a small mound surrounded the stones, explaining how the massive capstone was put in place.

It was now getting late in the day, so I began to make my way down the Preselis to the hotel near the coast.

The next day was raining as per the forecast. It’s never good when the weatherman uses words like Biblical and flooding. This was supposed to be fun, so I made a command decision that watching STNG and eating Cornish pastys out of a paper bag was more enjoyable than riding all day in the rain. The rain was supposedly going to taper off late in the afternoon, so I decided to go visit the home of Dylan Thomas nearby.

A bit of a bohemian, by many accounts, Thomas was a bum, a filcher and a drunkard. His only redeeming feature was his booming voice and his writing, and boy could he write. He apparently made an impression on the New York beatnic scene, so much so that rock stars appropriated his name. In 1953, after another drinking bout, he slipped into a coma and died. He was 39 years old.

While in the UK, he lived in the coastal village of Laugharne in a house overlooking as estuary where he wrote most of his poetry. A darkened view of Thomas’ writing shed.

The view from the workshop overlooking the estuary.

Thomas was buried in the village churchyard in an unpretentious grave.

A picture of Laugharne Castle built by the Normans. Wales is dotted with the ruins of many castles, recalling a history etched in violence.

The weatherman lied and the rain continued to come down, giving me a good soaking on the way back to the hotel.

So you want to ride in the UK, Exhibit A:

Day three began with the weatherman calling for “improving” conditions, whatever that means. As I left the hotel, it was still raining but I sought consolation by telling myself “it’s gonna improve”. Three hours later, I was still muttering “it’s gonna improve” as the rain continued to pelt down.

So you want to ride in the UK, Exhibit B:

I was headed back northwards along the western flank of the Cambrian Mountains. A multi-hued Welsh village.

At the village of Cwmystwyth, I cross over the Cambrians along a narrow single track.

Finally, at around 3 PM I get a respite, as the sun peeks through. The motorcycle gods are merely taunting me as an ominous darkness lurks on the horizon.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Thruxton is a bit of a poser’s bike, the Triumph struggling to keep up with faster, more powerful competitors on the open roads, yet when the roads become tight and narrow like this, the little twin mill really enters its own element. The engine’s healthy torque is accompanied by what has to be one of the most enjoyable soundtracks in all of motorcycledom. The twin’s snarling bark never lets you forget you’re on a proper motorbike.

Triumph country:

There’s just something intrinsically right about riding British iron on British roads. The two seem to be perfectly compatible with one another. When you’re out by yourself on a lonely backroad, listening to that lovely rumble, it’s all to easy to imagine that you’re back in the 1960s when the British motorcycle industry ruled the world. It’s a shame the engine doesn’t have about 20 more horsepower.

Fortunately, I play dodge’em with the rain clouds for the rest of the afternoon, only getting a few sprinkles here and there.

At around 4 PM, I pull up and take stock in my situation. I’m soaking wet and right now would be a nice place for a hotel to materialize before my eyes. While staring at the map, I notice a lake with the word “Hotel” written next to it. Strange. It must be nice if it appears on the map. I head towards the lake and, sure enough, there’s a hotel overlooking Lake Vyrnwy. Quite a nice one too. It turns out the Lake Vyrnwy hotel is a former hunting lodge for the city leaders of Liverpool. I get a nice room with a view of the lake. More importantly, the room has a hair dryer so that I can dry out some of my soaked gear.

The Beatles drank from these waters, as the lake serves as the reservoir for Liverpool’s drinking water. Gerry & the Pacemakers also drank from these waters, so make of that what you will.

Day four, my final day on the road, began the same as day three, with the promise of improving, but unsettled conditions, meaning “a roll of the dice”. I head north from the lake taking another scenic single track.

A typical Welsh predator lurks by the roadside. Usually, a blast from the mighty Triumph’s exhaust pipes were enough to send them scurrying for cover.

The single track continued climbing out of the valley…

up and over the top and down the otherside. Somehow, the misty weather in this photo perfectly captures the mystical Welsh countryside. A sunny picture just woudn’t convey the same feeling.

Early morning puttering through a small village as smoke rises from a farmhouse chimney.

I find the B4391 and it takes me towards home. What a nice farewell to Wales!

Wales lives up to all its accolades and more. From stunning, fast sweeping bends, to narrow single tracks, the Welsh terrain encompasses all types of motorcycling pleasure with its majestic natural beauty added as a bonus. The people are extremely warm and welcoming, especially after they hear an American accent.

On the way back to Nottingham, I make a small detour to explore some interesting roads in the Shropshire Hills. Mercifully, I was fortunate and managed to escape any major drenchings on the last day. the motorcycle gods must have had their fill of entertainment.

Fun for the entire family…that is if mom rides a GSXR.

Route map:

Days: 4
Miles: 800 (would have been more if not for the day 2 washout)
Police interaction: 0
Bee stings: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Sheep encounters: about 2 brazillian
Bike problems: 0