Italy

To Greece We Go! Oops, detour.

Leaving Horizon’s Unlimited we decided to ride around Tuscany and then head to Greece. We had already had enough of the big cities and thought we can do Rome and the Amalfi coast another time. Some friends that we would see in a couple days were there and hating all the tourists.

The riding toward San Marino was fantastic as the roads leaving HU were perfect motorbike roads. Perfect tarmac with endless curves and elevation changes always led to a pass. As it was Sunday, at the pass there was always a large group of motorcycles with riders in full gear. Parked at the top of the pass at a small cafe, they grouped around the bikes, sipping Espressos and Cappuccinos. and watching as other bikes zoomed around the corners at the top. It’s so great being a motorcycle rider.

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We stopped in San Marino briefly, camped, and got out the next morning. Nothing excited me, even the campground and the rude people there. BYE.

The next day we rode toward the coast where we would be catching up with Australian friends. We stopped at a place we had seen on their FB page called La Casdade Saturnia in southern Tuscany. This is a series of thermal pools cascading down the hills into other pools. It was a fun thing to see and do but the popularity led to way too many tourists all with the same idea. Saturnia is a spa town in Tuscany in north-central Italy that has been inhabited since ancient times. Near the village, 800 L/s of sulphurous water at 37 °C gushes over a waterfall and down into a cascade of natural pools formed by the deposition of calcareous rock from evaporation of the water. It was a cool place but the popularity of this FREE attraction made it overcrowded with tourists.

Springs

After a quick dip and a change behind the bike, it’s Italy, we headed to the coast to meet up with Paul Knibbs and Maryna Matthew, a couple on a RTW trip from Australia. They have been on the road for about 18 months. We arrived at Australia/USA Glamp and had a fantastic evening. We cooked up a fitting meal together, drank too much beer and wine (hangover), and told brilliant lies about friends and time on the road. All too quickly, as it is on the road, our time together was up. We will meet again somewhere in the world. Ride safe, our friends.

After leaving in the morning we headed to the ferry port in Bari, two days away. We chose to ride through back roads along the edge of a couple National Forests on the east side of the country, across from Rome. The riding was fantastic and we were surprised by several places that we came across.

Riding through the national parks there was very little traffic and great roads. As we rounded a corner there was this beautiful lake, Lago del Salto. Above the lake and terraced into the mountain was the village of Borgo San Pietro. It was breathtaking! We stopped at a local cafe overlooking the lake and, of course, ordered a cappuccino. Such is the way of wandering on a motorcycle, great surprises when least expected.

That night we came across a McDonalds and stopped in. It was raining and we needed a place to get internet. After ordering a beer off the menu (yep!) with my cheeseburger we found a place to stay at the base of a ski resort. We got an second floor suite with wood beamed ceilings. There was an inner courtyard so I was able to pull our bike in and lock it at the base of our stairs, covered and secure.

 

The next day we hightailed it to Bari, Italy to catch the ferry to Igoumenitsa, Greece. We found out we had some more friends from OZ that we could catch up with in Macedonia.

First we had to go to Albania again. We missed a sight the last time through that we were very near now. A friend of ours, Carla King, had told us not to miss it this time. This is the triangle fortress of Butrint. This area has been inhabited for over 50,000 years up to the 19th century. Riding to the complex you first see the triangular fortress standing guard over the narrow water passage. Not very impressive, one is almost tempted to turn around and go back, but an interesting wooden platform ferry ride, drawn by cables, beckons.

Once across, the entrance to Butrint is hidden, just across the river. From 800 BC until the Romans it was influenced by Greek culture. For almost 2000 years it has been controlled by several distinct cultures, all adding to the different styles of construction. The most interesting ancient Greek monument is the theatre which is well preserved.

After exploring we decided to head just a bit further into Albania and find a nice place on the beach to relax. We were exhausted after the overnight ferry ride with not much sleep. We found a great place overlooking the crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea and Monastery Beach. Not exceeding our budget we had access to the beach, a nice restaurant on the cliff and great hosts. The young host had many questions about travel, motorcycles and the world. After talking for an hour the original glint in his eye was fully engulfed in flames. The stories we pass and the lives we influence. The journey is not always about you as a traveler, but of the people you meet.IMG_20180920_134347871

The next morning we headed to Macedonia. But first we would detour back into Greece. We wanted to see the Vikos Gorge.

“The Vikos Gorge is a gorge in the Pindis Mountains of northern Greece. It lies on the southern slopes of Mount Tymfi , with a length of about 20 km, depth ranging from 120 to 490 m, and a width ranging from 400 m to only a few meters at its narrowest part.

Vikos is listed as the deepest gorge in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.” Wikipedia  

 

It was an incredible sight. We rode down to the bottom of the gorge where people were white water rafting. Back at the top of the gorge, we sat at an old structure/coffee shop and enjoyed the views. An old man saw our bike from the USA and kept yelling out the different cities he had visited during his long life. “New York” he would yell from across the street, “New Orleans”, “Philadelphia”, and on and on. A father and his two children from Israel were seated next to us and the kids were very curious about our travels and what were in the dry bags on the motorcycle. Dad spoke great English and the kids were just learning in school, so they practiced with questions. In the end, both wanted to sit on the bike and get a picture taken.

The young boy had that gleam…

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Europe, Greece, Horizons Unlimited, Italy, VStrom | Leave a comment

Headed to HU Italia

A quick flight from Iceland to Frankfurt and we were at Stefan’s to pick up our bike.

What do you say, Stefan? NO CLUTCH!!!!

No worries. A leak in the slave cylinder resulted in the fluid draining out and no pressure. A quick replacement and brake line flush, followed by an oil change, and we were ready to go.

A few other riders were also getting their own bikes ready to ride. That night we all went out to eat and to drink a few beers while telling traveler stories.

A couple German riders, Frank and Klaus, that we had met on the road were home and came over to say hi. We have met them on two and three continents, respectively. It was great seeing them and getting to spend some time with them in Heidelberg.

 

We left the following morning and headed to France, bypassing the expense of riding through Switzerland. In the mountains it was cold but we found great campsites and fantastic roads to ride.

The next day we stopped for the night at an AirBNB. They were travelers that are still in the midst of their RTW trip in a custom-built fire truck and are home recharging and saving again. We had a fun night talking about where we have been and where we all wanted to go. They even had a yurt in their backyard for guests to stay in that had come back with them from Mongolia, even the door.

Based on their recommendations we detoured to a site that was amazing, Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace. This man spent 30 years of his life building this amazingly hideous palace. One day in 1879 while out walking, he tripped on a stone that had an inspiring shape to it. While out on his daily 20 mile route through very rough terrain he would empty his wheelbarrow of mail and fill it on the return trip with rocks. Quite a labour of love, or just crazy?

That night we stopped in to see Ted Simon. He rode a motorcycle around the world in 1973 he rode his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 , “Jupiter”, RTW over four years and returned to write “Jupiter’s Travels”.  He has written many books including another about his second RTW trip 25 years later, “Return to Jupiter”. Many adventure seeking motorcycle travelers, including myself, throughout the world look up to him and consider him their inspiration for adventure motorcycling and international travel. img_20180907_202223832408845126.jpg

He has now moved from California to the south of France and has his home there. It is also a writer retreat and backed by the Friends of Aspiran. We feel very fortunate to be able to call Ted a friend and enjoyed our night out on the town at his favorite restaurant in the village, just around the corner. His journalistic nature and questions always have a way of making you look just a little deeper for your answer.

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From Ted’s we cut across southern France and into Italy and stopped for an espresso in the port city of Genoa.  We also wanted to see Florence while we riding around Tuscany. We found a great AirBNB with a super great couple on the bus route about an hour outside of the city. The next day we rode the bus and train into the city and did the Hop-on/hop-off bus tour and it was great. Those tours are always an inexpensive way to see big cities.  We next hit Pisa and did the leaning tower thing then headed to HU Italia.

Camping along the Mediterranean

Genoa

Florence

Pisa

We finally made it to the HU Travellers meeting Italy, held in the Tuscany region. The meeting was held in a fantastic area with the roads all around some of the best we have ever ridden, ALL directions. The facilities were once the home of a monastery and was now a beautiful equestrian center. The meeting was very well run and the hosts did a great job for their first meeting.

We met many fellow travelers and made some bonds with people who I hope will last many years and through many meetings on the road.

On to Greece…

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Europe, France, Horizons Unlimited, Italy, Ted Simon, VStrom | Leave a comment

Papal Palace and Southern France

DSCF1548Our ride this morning passed through fields of lavender running in all directions. The roads were narrow, line-less asphalt stretching out in front of us with a canopy of old trees lining our route with manicured hedges finishing the perfect picture. I wondered why these trees were planted with such perfect precision, mile after mile cooling the air around us from the sun as it heated up the fields of lavender, grapes and other crops in the French countryside. Later in the day our questions were answered. The Emperor Napoleon is credited with originating the policy of lining French roads with trees, to enable his soldiers to march in the shade.

DSCF1546Flowers were everywhere as we entered the center square of Forcalquier and the Monday farmers market. There were a vast variety of vendor selling everything from garlic and more varieties of olives than I have ever seen to flowers and leathers and cloth goods. Melanie spent her souvenir bike space on a small hand-made leather change purse. Kidding.

Church in the square

Church in the square

1235: To the memory of Eleanor De Prouvenco Fourcauquie, the wife of Henry the Third, King of England

1235: To the memory of Eleanor De Prouvenco Fourcauquie, the wife of Henry the Third, King of England

We parked on the corner in front of the monument and wandered around, watching the people of the village checking out the bike and licence plate, talking to each other and wondering where we were from.
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Veggies

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Garlic booth

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Fresh seafood booth

On our way out-of-town we decided to make a detour to the city of Orange and see the Roman Theater of Orange built-in the first century A.D. to seat 10,000 people. The Roman Theater of Orange is, without doubt, one of the finest remains of the Roman Empire and, as such, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is, in fact, the best preserved theatre in the whole of Europe. The theater was closed for renovations when we were there but we got a couple of pictures. The second picture is from their website.

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Back on the bike and on our way to Avignon we passed a winery that we had to turn around to see. In front of the beautiful building with some very unique sculpture were several old cars in wonderful shape sitting in the weeds and dirt.IMG_20150608_120516415 IMG_20150608_120203557Avignon, set on the Rhône River. From 1309 to 1377, was the seat of the Catholic popes, and remained under papal rule until becoming part of France in 1791. Its center, surrounded by medieval stone ramparts, contains the massive Palais des Papes and remains of the Saint-Bénezet bridge, also known as Pont d’Avignon.  DSCF1558We rode through the gates of this walled city and down the cobblestone street taking in the history surrounding us. It was a very hot day and we were sweating profusely in our gear so finding a parking spot and getting this helmet and jacket off and finding a bottle of water were first on the list. The street was lined with ancient building housing shop and cafes with all the cafe having tables, chairs and umbrellas set up in the streets among the trees. We took off walking, still with boots and riding pants, and went to the Papal Palace and got in line to take a tour. The stone walls of this 900 year-old palace are very thick, keeping in the cool air and repelling the stifling heat on the streets.DSCF1559 IMG_20150608_151001468

(From Wikipedia). The Avignon Papacy was the period from 1309 to 1377, during which seven successive popes resided in Avignon (in today’s France) rather than in Rome. This situation arose from the conflict between the Papacy and the French crown.

Following the strife between Phillip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII, and the death of his successor Benedict XI after only eight months in office, a deadlocked conclave finally elected Clement V, a Frenchman, as Pope in 1305. Clement declined to move to Rome, remaining in France, and in 1309 moved his court to the papal enclave at Avignon, where it remained for the next 67 years. This absence from Rome is sometimes referred to as the “Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy”. A total of seven popes reigned at Avignon; all were French, and they increasingly fell under the influence of the French Crown. Finally, on September 13, 1376, Gregory Xi abandoned Avignon and moved his court to Rome (arriving on January 17, 1377), officially ending the Avignon Papacy.

IMG_20150608_155211255_HDR DSCF1562 DSCF1572The Palace of the Popes is the biggest Gothic palace in the world. There are 15,000 square meters of living space, which is the equivalent of 4 Gothic cathedrals. The Palace of the Popes, part of UNESCO World Heritage, stands as the symbol of the church’s way over the western Christian world in the 14th century.

Leaving the palace after the tour we went out a door on the opposite side of where we entered and because of my keen sense of direction, (I was completely lost), Melanie was able to guide her front pillion back to the bike. On the was we passed this beautiful carousel. Not as nice as the one located one the Santa Monica pier, but beautiful non the less.

imageDriving a little further looking for a place to camp and eat we passes through the town of Uzès with its narrow, tree-shaded lanes and a quaint downtown area with cafe overflowing into the street. We found a nice little cafe next to a fabulous wine shop owned by a couple Brits. We chatted about each others lives and I ended up buying a bottle of wine, I splurged tonight, while I threatened to come back and open a wine shop next to his, the town was so nice. Next to us at dinner were a couple with a little baby from Colorado, I believe. We talked until almost dark and exchanged Facebook names and promised to keep in touch.

Hurrying out of town we found a nice little, closed campground. After two choices that ended up being occupied, we found a nice campsite looking out over a field and mountain. First thing, riding pants off, bottle of wine opened and camp set up.IMG_20150607_205237437

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Alps, BMW, Europe, France, Horizons Unlimited, Italy, motorcycle travel, Triumph, Trophy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

French Alps

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Brienzersee

Waking up to the pinks of a beautiful sunrise over Brienzersee is the way to start any day. We parked up and headed to Interlaken looking for a place to have breakfast. All the places we saw didn’t have parking except for somewhere down the street somewhere. We kept on riding since Interlaken was too touristy and ended up in Thun, at a wonderful on street Cafe called McDonalds.

It’s always fun to watch the double takes when people walk up to look over the bike and gear, make their way to the back to see where the bike is from, and BAM, they don’t have a clue. Our license plates from the United States just show the state, not the country on origin. The plates most non American people are used to are large and name the country of origin. After a couple confused moments we walked over to talk to them and most times the confusion grows. “You ride a motorbike from America?” and “Where are you going?”. It seems to always be an ice breaker.

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Filling water bottle in Thun

Riding down through the countryside was fantastic we farms of fresh-cut wheat, cows, grape vineyards and back up and over a small pass in another National Park until, coming around a corner, we see in the distance a fabulous castle on a hill in the middle of a small town surrounded by perfectly terraced vineyards. At the same time we both exclaimed “Lets go explore”, so into town we rode, up a one-way street the wrong direction again, and parked at the front door. It’s great riding a bike and finding these close up parking spots.

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Aigle Castle

The Château d’Aigle has a 800 year old history with the two fortified tower being built in the early 1300’s. The Château d’Aigle throne since the late 12th century, in the heart of a renowned vineyard, has been a former residence of the Knights of Aigle, the Compey-Thorens and noble Bernese Governors and is now a wine museum. We took a self-guided tour to check this place out and thoroughly enjoyed our time spent here.

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Several hundred year old wine press.

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Old and New. Down next to the stairs is a beer and water machine.

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The day has really warmed up and our gear has been setting in the blazing sun the entire time we were exploring.  We follow the road toward the French border and Monte Blanc and more passes. As we pass thru town and head toward the mountain passes the skies start to turn dark and menacing and it starts to rain a little, prompting us to rethink crossing the pass as we don’t want to be slowed down with the bad weather and caught on the mountain at night, maybe in snow. Since it’s already late afternoon we turn back and find a nice inn with views of Monte Blanc, with a bar and Italian restaurant. We hang up our gear to dry, get a drink and wander around town before the restaurants open at eight.

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Our room with restaurant below

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Monte Blanc

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Expresso break

The rain had stopped during the night and the day started with some blue skies peeking through non-threatening puffy clouds. We started out the wrong way and didn’t realize this until we got over the first pass. I was completely disoriented with my directions and didn’t want to believe the maps so we went a different way and ended up riding another pass, the Cormet de Roselend, with very few vehicles on it, just a bunch of bicycles.

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In my confusion we ended driving by the of the passes that I really wanted to ride, the Col du Petit St Bernard. Oh well, how many stickers do you need anyway. The next pass that we rode ended up being the biggest treat, the Col dr L’Iseran. When we started on this road the clouds had come in a little and the wind had picked up and the road was in fair condition with wide open exposure on the edge of the road. After a few miles up past a mine and an deserted ski area we still had not seen one vehicle making me feel this might dead end somewhere up on the top of the mountain. It was exciting so we decided to continue on and see what was at the top. After about 45kms we got to the pass sign on top of the pass, still having not seen one vehicle, but the weather had improved, so we snapped a picture and continued on.

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Rounding the corner and about 200 meters up the road the pass was blocked because the snow had not been removed yet. A snow wall about 5 meters tall and 50 meters long blocked the only way back down the mountain. Today was the day that the pass was opening, so if we could wait for 2 hours, it might be cleared. We ended up waiting with several bikes on our side and there were several bikes and RVs waiting on the other side of the snow.IMG_20150605_155524454 DSCF1494 DSCF1493 IMG_20150605_150054942 IMG_20150605_150029980

After having a little party at the top with the other bikers they finally cleared the road but left a strip of only about 0.5 meters ice free. Some of the RVs coming up had a difficult time coming up the hill due to the ice. The ride down was just as deserted and we passed thru a couple towns that looked as if they had just been abandoned. A 2-up couple on a           Moto Guzzi chased us down the hill as the shadows began to increase signaling the coming of the end of another great riding day. DSCF1527

As we raced down the roads looking for a place to camp, we couldn’t find one. Traveling without a plan is so great because no never know what you are going to see. Coming around a corner we saw up on the hill a ENORMOUS castle. There wasn’t any information on it and it was closed, but we researched it later that night. It is called forte di Exilles and was built in the 1100’s as a military road protecting access through this valley.DSCF1516

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It was time to find food for supper and a campground and we were tired and hot. Passing through Montgenevre we found a Pizza place and ordered way too much food. It was just two single orders but the portions were huge. We both ate Melanie’s pizza and took my Calzone to go. Up ahead are some great twisty pass road getting us back up to some cooler temps and finding a small campground sign on the side of the road we turn off in search of a place to set our tent. Pulling into the rustic campground everything is locked up and as we get off the bike a guy shows up and, after I plead our case and quickly arriving darkness, decides we are worthy of a place to stay. We set camp away from the only other tent campers who were a couple Brits and super nice guys, which ended up with my Calzone since they hadn’t eaten tonight.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Alps, BMW, Europe, Horizons Unlimited, Italy, motorcycle travel, Switzerland, Triumph, Trophy | Leave a comment

Stelvio

IMG_20150602_133415054Yesterday was great, but today will be a top 10 checklist day, the Stelvio. The Passo di Stelvio is one of those passes that you see and read about in any article that mentions the passes of the Alps of Northern Italy.

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Alpengasthof Tibet Albergo Rifugio Alpino

 After another great breakfast of Chocolate Croissants and good coffee we took off with building anticipation, and increasing altitude, toward the passes.IMG_20150602_080550803 Riding through a couple towns we enjoyed the churches and architecture of the old buildings.DSCF1372DSCF1375DSCF1376First up is Passa di Gavia which was a beautiful gradual climb followed by the tight back and forth, twists and turns of the perfectly aligned asphalt leading to the top of the Passo di Stelvia at 2757 meters.IMG_20150602_130835143_HDR IMG_20150602_125050195 This pass isn’t terribly high by most standards but, the views are incredible. The curves are very predictable as this road was built as a military road with a predictable grade and curves. The curves are tight requiring, on the inside turn, a handlebar stop turn while climbing through the corner. This is a little unnerving at first as before the start of the turn you need to look all the way through the corner to see what may be taking up your lane as you are part way through. This definitely got us ready for the crazy passes that were to follow.

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We made it, baby!

At the top of Passo di Stelvio it was teaming with people that rode all kinds of motorcycles, bicycles and 4 wheels vehicles to this iconic location. This was made for tourists as there were many shops with everything Stelvio. Melanie and I both bought a souvenir, a Stelvio buff, as space was very limited. Our grandson Caleb also scored his very own Stelvio shirt. An Italian man had a little kiosk and was making kraut and brat sandwiches as fast as he could turn them out. I don’t know why, maybe the atmosphere, those sandwiches were as good as any I had ever had. I am happy.

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Riding back down, thrilling

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It was time to leave and Melanie almost had to kick me off the mountain, but we had places to go and people that we hadn’t met yet somewhere out there, back down the hill. Riding down the road we came across a funky piece of land filled with bone, metal and rock art. This person had quite an imagination as you can see from the pictures.

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Rock Tree

Melanie with her new friend. She will talk to anybody.

Melanie with her new friend. She will talk to anybody.

Bone Art

Bone Art

Metal Man

Metal Man

A few kilometers later the arched entryways of a walled city came into view. Turning off the road we entered one of the arches and rode around exploring the old cobbled streets of this ancient city.DSCF1411DSCF1414DSCF1413

Leaving the city the Swiss border was just a few more miles. Out of the 14 countries in the European Union that we visited, Switzerland was the only country that had a manned border crossing. They are not a part of the EU and do not use the Euro, but use their own currency, the Swiss Franc.

Swiss border crossing.

Swiss border crossing.

Time to start looking for a place for our tent tonight in Switzerland. With snow capped mountains surrounding us and beautiful green trees and flowers we found a small campground on a stream with an area with no one around. Everything was good but we had forgot to get food that day, so peanuts and wine are going to be supper tonight. We both said that we better lose weight this trip. It was easy to forget about food though as we were camped in a field of yellow flowers close enough to hear the shallow, crystal clear, cold water of the stream cascading over the rocks as it melted from the surrounding mountains on its journey to some distant river or sea. So peaceful. Tonight, I will sleep well.IMG_20150602_191451467IMG_20150602_191617955IMG_20150602_193346716_HDRIMG_20150602_194503155 Cheers.

Greg and Melanie

Categories: 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Alps, BMW, Europe, Italy, motorcycle travel, Stelvio, Triumph, Trophy | Leave a comment

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