W is for ‘well done’ boys
Yes, this stage has seen us hit the 8,000 km mark – WOW! Just to celebrate, I’ll start with a photo of the ‘boys’ having a well-earned rest in a rather nice B&B in Puglia and us having a bevvy or two in a beach bar soon after!
W is for winding roads…
After a quite boring coast road from Ravenna to Rimini, we decided to take a detour and visit San Marino in what is claimed to be the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world. With a population of around 32,000, its not so much of a surprise that it has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, no national debt and is, apparently, the only country with more vehicles than people! Well, enough about that, what was more interesting to us were the very winding roads that led up to it as its highest point stands at 2.457 feet – quite a few hairpins to contend with and some very satisfying views from the top. This was only the start though and the surrounding countryside provided some fantastic views as we rode along the ridges of the hills. The roads left alot to be desired – many had large cracks and pot holes, and others were just so eroded we had to convert to ‘off-road’ mode at times. Thank goodness for the adventure bikes and the new tyres.
Other gorgeous roads – and possibly the best to date – were to be found in Abruzzo – between Numanna on the coast travelling inland to L’Aquila as we passed through the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso – amazing views and lovely sweeping bends. Then between L’Aquila and Montefalcone as we continued through the mountain ranges and the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo – both days were stunning and we both felt that they were far more enjoyable than the Stelvio and other tighter passes as these roads were still testing – a great range of corners – but not so tight that you were constantly up and down the gears and not able to actually lift your head (well mine) to admire the views.
A quick mention of L’Aquilia. This was the city where, in 2009, they suffered a dreadful earthquake. I remember it happening but had forgotten about it as we arrived. It was only when we went out to find some food that evening that we noticed how dark everywhere was, how many cranes were in evidence, and then, at close quarters, how many buildings were literally being held together by massive timbers and copious amounts of metal work. Clearly still largely empty of people and business even 6 years down the line, what space could be used was and where it wasn’t able to be used, bars, restaurants etc just happened on the pavement. A great example of ‘life goes on’. There was also a very busy festival on – which at first we assumed was to mark an anniversary of the earthquake – but was actually to celebrate a pope who originated from L’Aquilia but who had renounced his office due to the high corruption in the church. It was 700 years ago, but any excuse for a party…
W is also for wildly enthusiastic Italian bikers
As we have largely been off the main tourist routes, it is been quite noticeable that there haven’t been so many bikers around – distinct lack of nodding, waving, etc – compared to previously. Mind you, that’s not to say that the enthusiasm is lacking:
Exhibit A. We are winding our way up day 2 of the lovely 2-day winding-road extravaganza and up behind us comes a smart Yamaha Fazer 1000 that after a while overtakes us only to be, a few more corners later, waiting and waving frantically. Eduardo was very excited indeed to meet two bikers from the far away land that is England and although we don’t speak much Italian, and he doesn’t speak much English, we still manage to have a good old catch up about anything biking. His insight into form v function was best. He had a Ducatti but now has the Japanese bike – the latter only needs him to watch his oil and water, the former involved a whole load of spanner work!
Exhibit B. In a very out of the way place not far from Bari we needed fuel. Into a small fuel station we go to find, not for the first time, that it is cash only. Then we have the benefit of two young blokes filling the tanks for us. Then it transpires that the second is a very keen biker – short tour of the ‘office’ to see a photo of him on his bike at a track day in Bari, and then a quick detour to the garage to see the autograph of Italian ex World Superbike god Giancarlo Falappa that he has on his bike tank. Again, not a lot of language skills between us, but the enthusiasm and cammaraderie is there by the bucket full.
Exhibits C and D. Two very nice men – both professionals from Rome on a short break (one to see his mother in Opi and the other just on an overnight break in Montefalcone) – who have considerable command of English and who are keen to discuss their bikes. The latter because he, too, has a KTM. He was staying at the lovely hotel we had found in the middle of a vineyard (dangerous) where we also met Neil and Chris from Sheffield with who we spent a lovely evening eating, drinking and chatting the night away. The former because he discovered that Tim had competed in the TT and so was absolutely all ears – his poor mother had to just leave him to it but she was clearly happy in his happiness. He also had the most beautiful Fiat 500 which was in mint condition and which he’d had since his father bought it for him when it was 17 – he was 57.
W is also for washing lines and winning tables
Two rather amusing pastimes (well, for us anyway) that are worth a mention I think. One is that, due to the length of tour and limited amount of baggage, I have been adopting a Widow Twanky persona on occasions with the old travel wash when we have a rest day (very glamorous – not- but at least you know we have clean ‘smalls’. Now, Tim discovered a very neat washing line before we left home and delights in finding appropriate spaces to hang it in order for me to get the old washing dry. Two fine examples below.
The second is winning at tables which isn’t gambling but instead do a rather fine job of getting tables in restaurants – in which we are clearly the only non-natives – over people who clearly are natives. First case in point was in Trondheim – very disgruntled man who was refused the rather lovely table in the window as we had been promised it and had waited patiently for it. I mean, we had to sit and drink at the bar whilst we waited, it was awful. His wife was so put out that she asked to be moved to another table from that provided as it was too close to the preferred table and proved too much to see us in situ. The restaurant was a right rip off in terms of cost but we had to stick to our guns and hold the line in face of our victory. The second occasion was in Manfredonia where we had got a table reserved at a pizzeria on the harbour side. Good job as it was very busy (it was a Saturday night) and lots of people piling off very expensive boats were dismayed to find that there were no tables available….shame. We felt very smug and I know it sounds childish but it was amusing all the same.
W is for the Wild West (well East(coast) actually but that wouldn’t have worked)
Now, similar to the experience in Germany when we hit the agricultural heartland and the vast expanse of arable farms and giant combine harvesters, after the mountains in Abruzzo comes the plains that are host to miles and miles of vines and olive plantations. With it naturally comes an enormous number of migrant workers and some very strange customs it seems. Along a very straight, busy and boring main road, I noticed a random chair at the side of the road and innocently thought it must be for a poor old pensioner when waiting for a bus. Then I began to notice young ‘ladies’ sitting on said chairs and again, thought they must be waiting for a bus or similar. Then the penny dropped. Not waiting for a bus, more likely a truck or a car (no Tim, not a bike). The penny dropped as far as my jaw when on one occasion, the ‘ladies’ not only were at the side of the road but they were naked from the waste down – not much imagination or explanation needed now Turner – and I think they were trying to attract peoples attention….. We thankfully soon left that road as the ensuing stop for a coffee at a petrol station similarly proved interesting, but strangely, we seemed to find ourselves back on that road the next day. I need to have a quick look at Tim’s navigation I think… He also managed to take a photo or two (nice) and so ADVANCED WARNING, the following photo is of a very indecent nature. Only people over 18 with a strong constitution and low morales should attempt the zoom function. You have been warned.