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OPWT2 DIARY - DAYS 61 - 65

OPWT2 DIARY - DAYS 61 - 65

04 June DAY 61 Radda in Chianti – Greve – Borgo o Mazzano

By the next morning we’d almost forgotten the rain of the day before – all until I put my foot in it by putting my boots on. Still squelchy. However, we weren’t going to let that dampen our spirits for we were off for another 250km day of twisty, smooth and quiet roads that, from the look of the map, promised to allow us to soak up the scenery and, besides that, the weather really was blessedly warm and sunny.

Our sodden boots gradually dried out, which is a blessing to all concerned as the stench of wet leather, socks and old feet is not very nice to subject anyone else to. You know it’s bad if you’re 6 feet tall and can smell your feet whilst standing up. I am and could. You know it’s way worse than that if you can smell them while sitting on your bike in the open air. I could. They definitely needed a good airing before our next meeting. Nothing worse for all parties if you are aware of your feet, know your host is as well but no one says anything out of politeness. Instead, they pointedly open a window and sit by it. It’s difficult to know quite how to tackle this other than blaming it on someone else and, being brazen about the whole thing, saying something like,

“I am so sorry about the appalling smell. It’s just that Annie has developed a dreadful fetish for eating my socks and has contracted the most awful halitosis as a result. Sorry and all that. Do you mind if I open the window?”

Fortunately, we haven’t had to resort to this just yet as we’ve both been able to dry out and air everything before arriving at sensitive destinations for any of our work related sessions. Only time it came close was in a Greek olive grove but since our hosts were largely off their faces on Tsipouro I don’t think they noticed, or if they did, assumed it was the scrofulous dog doing that thing that dogs do when they have an itchy bum.

The ride was glorious as Chianti revealed herself to us like Salome doing a scenic dance of seven veils – just without anyone’s head on a platter at the end of it all. Instead, we were treated to one spectacular sight after another and the last stretch was so perfectly scenic it could have been Dorset. Chianti-shire was putting on a show for us and it was so good we almost went back out for an encore. Which we almost did but the sheer loveliness of where we’d arrived sort of put a stop to that and gawped at the view instead.

The ride from Radda in Chianti to Greve in Chianti passed in silence the following morning as, for the 30 minutes it took us to ride the 25km or so, we were both dumbstruck by the scenery, smells, vistas, vines, olives, roads and lack of enemy that the road unrolled in front of us. We passed through villages and hamlets of such impossible prettiness – Lucarelli with the most photogenic trattoria we’ve ever managed to not take a picture of, San Leolino where we swept around a bend to be confronted with a vista of such awesomeness that I promptly rode into a ditch and swooned – the road fell away to our left giving way to countless fields of vines and olives to rise up on the far side topped with terracotta hilltop villas and houses jumbled together to create a perfect picture postcard chocolate box view.

This was definitely Dorset – no way any other place on the planet could be quite so perfectly beautiful. We had to get off and stare at it for a while – almost to make sure it wasn’t a mirage or Truman Show style backdrop. But no. It was real. After we had pinched and slapped ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming, we slapped a passing Italian for good measure, simply because he was Italian and living in such beauty which really shouldn’t be allowed. At least, not for Italians.

We rode on through Il Ferruzzi and onto Panzano in Chianti both of which just pissed us off and we wanted to do a lot more slapping but everyone was enjoying themselves and we didn’t want to let on how jealous we were. Instead, we stopped for a coffee and I took my boots off and waggled my feet about – just to air them, you understand. Right next to a crowded table of self-congratulating Italians telling each other how lucky they were to live here enjoying La Dolce Vita and how much the presence of tourists annoyed them.

As they were nowhere near a window there was no way the delicate fragrance of my feet could escape and it hung, heavily, like a cloud of eggy doggy farts gradually permeating the room.

They looked a bit stunned so I smiled, shrugged and pointed at Annie. They left shortly after,

“Auf Wiedersehen…!” I said – just so they knew which nationality to blame.

Fortunately, Greve in Chianti was simply pretty so I didn’t need to visit a ditch or swoon again. Instead, we met with an Agronomist from one of the oldest and most prestigious wine and olive estates in all of Chianti. He shared his experiences of over 40 years on the same estate and suddenly the beauty of the area didn’t seem quite so rosy. You can read his answers to the 5 Questions elsewhere.

We rode on in a slightly more sombre mood but determined to enjoy the scenery, telling ourselves we needed to enjoy it while it still looks this good. The roads continued to delight and reminded us of various places back home,

“Oh Look! That’s the back road to Bulbarrow.”

“Oooh - this is like Purbeck.”

“Ah humph. New Forest.”

“Bodmin Moor.”

And so on for the next 100km until we reached Borgo o Mazzano and I made Annie squeak.

It’s the cobbles that do it.

Especially narrow, steep cobbled streets that go round sharp bends, going uphill. Like I’ve said before, our Nav System is a vicious, vindictive, malicious bastard sometimes, and decides, seemingly on a whim, to take you up an unforgiving back alley even when there is a perfectly serviceable nice flat, wide and even road that runs directly where you want to be. This was one of those occasions. Annie tends to get vocal and I always learn new words when this happens.

We survived but it required wine and a damp rub down with an oily rag to stop the squeaking.

 

05 June DAY 62 Borgo o Mazzano – Uscio

We are fortunate enough to know a very nice man who used to design some very nice labels for us but now makes very nice watches and has a bunch of very nice people working alongside him. We’ve been wearing our Elliott Brown watches on the trip and they have done their job magnificently, politely and cooperatively which is more than can be said for the Nav System. One of the very lovely people at EB is a lady called Gem who, once upon a time, was unwise enough to tell us that her parents now lived in Italy and had a few olive trees.

“You must go and visit when you’re passing – they’d love to see you.” She insisted.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to visit olive trees and lovely people we of course said we’d be delighted to. Very often when such suggestions are made, those making them often might think that the people they make them to will never actually go through with it. A bit like those really deep and meaningful holiday friendships that are struck up over a bucket of Sangria and forgotten at the baggage carousel while you search for your car keys and try to remember where you left it and how to recover it.  Gem was not like that at all. She even went as far as setting up a WhatsApp group so we could all be in touch and find the address when we finally got as far as where her parents, Penny and Keith, had chosen to come and make a life in amongst the olives and vines.

Today was that day – the impossibly narrow cobbled and squeaky streets had delivered us to a car park above their house and, whilst we waited for them to come and find us, the bikes ticked and cooled in the late afternoon sun and we stood there, sweating gently and wondered what might happen next.

Endurance Riding is how we describe what we are doing. It’s not a term we’ve seen elsewhere so it has no precise definition apart from our own. Yes, this trip is work related – we are researching the changing climate as we go and we have chosen to travel on the same motorcycles that we have owned since the early 90’s. They were originally designed to compete in the Paris Dakar Rally and are immensely strong, incredibly robust and very simple. As such, they are the perfect foil for us who don’t quite match up on either of the first two qualities even if we do ace the third. They are far more likely to get us to where we need to get to on routes and roads, that are often the less travelled, than we, with just our bodies, would be. We don’t choose to ride them every day or go for the odd weekend here and there. Instead, we choose to do long distance, extended duration trips that do, indeed, require a degree of endurance. Our first trip, some 32 years ago, was a 12 month, 20,000 mile affair which was, and is still, the inspiration for the business we have been involved with ever since.

This trip is a kind of reprise for that original one but requires no less stamina or effort to do. Our bikes are 32 years older as are our bodies. The bikes have no modern form of electronics and are very analogue. They are, possibly, a couple of the toughest models of motorcycle ever made and have a rightly earned a loyal following amongst bike aficionados. They attract interest wherever we stop and, when other motorcyclists on more modern versions of similar bikes spot us, we are almost always engaged in conversation and a certain amount of reminiscing. When asked,

“Any problems with the bikes?” and “How long have you been on the road?”

We answer simply, “Almost none – a small electrical fault, some rotten fuel pipe but, after 60 plus days and over 6000 miles, they’re still going strong.”

This normally elicits a longer chat about our route, where’s good to go, what to avoid, state of other drivers and so on. Mostly, other folk are out for a week or two – it is our luxury and choice to be spending so long living out of a bag and doing such endurance miles and time. We share our Mantra: Ride, Rest, Go Again, Stay Upright, Avoid The Enemy which always earns a smile, knowing nod and, often, a fist bump.

Annie and I often chat, either as we are riding or over a glass or two in the evenings, about what our next trip should be and whether we will still do it on these bikes.

In having these chats, sooner or later, one of us will look at the other, point a fist at an imaginary vehicle with fingers vertical, thumb on top and say, “Plip” whilst raising and lowering the thumb.

“Plip.” Such a simple sound but it is what separates four wheels from two. Climb out of 4 wheels, in a smart suit or shorts, T Shirt and espadrilles. Close the door, point and press the button on the keys. “Plip.” Doors locked, done. Walk away and forget.

Us? Try to find a spot that is reasonably level and from which is will be easy enough to ride away from – not on gravel or loose earth but stable ground that can take the weight of a 400kg bike, come to a halt making sure both feet can reach the ground, engine off and listen – risk check for hostile reception or un-friendlies. If all good, stretch out the side stand, lean the bike gently onto it, unfold the limbs, elbows, joints and fingers that have been clasped into, onto and around your machine. It’s 32+ degrees. You are in Kevlar lined trousers wearing heavy boots, your jacket has pads at elbows, spine and shoulders and weighs the best part of 6kg, your helmet adds another couple of kilogrammes to your neck and you are sweating. A lot. Ignition Off – keys left in. Climb off – gently and slowly, all the while assessing where you are and what sort of a welcome you are about to receive. Helmet off. Gloves off and into helmet. Jacket off. Assess again. Safe to leave jacket and helmet on bike or carry with? Welcome OK? Feel Safe? If not – quick mount up and move on. Swiftly. No jacket, gloves or helmet – just get away and regroup somewhere down the road.

If all OK, keys out and then, only then, can you move away and have a coffee. Always looking back.

“Plip.”

Has a lot to be said for it and, we are, on occasion, just a little bit envious of a decent Plip.

Although, I suspect, our sense of risk, place, self and others along with needing to make some form of contact in unfamiliar places is heightened and, as a result, nets us a better overall experience so, on balance, and weighing up the pros and cons, we’ll carry on as we are and leave the plipping to others – for now.

So, not having met our hosts before, we had no idea of the actual welcome we were about to receive which meant all senses on high alert lest they looked like axe murderers and we needed to make a hasty retreat. We positioned the bikes and waited.

A small, sturdy jeep pulled up, and out climbed a tall, slim gentleman who shook us warmly by the hand, said he was Keith and didn’t look anything like an axe murderer so we relaxed. Penny joined us and also didn’t look as if axes were her thing at all either so we relaxed even more and decided on the spot they were good eggs and very olivey people. They helped us unload the bags and led us down the track to one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit.

Although Penny and Keith described how the place had been when they found it – ramshackle, overgrown, tumbledown and in need of much restoration – there were no signs of any of that. It was beautiful and the effort and pains taken were all but invisible but it was clear that this had been a labour of love. One of the most peaceful and relaxing of places one could ever wish to find and our hosts, Penny and Keith were every bit as beautiful as the landscape they were surrounded by – they swept us up, mopped us down, fed us, watered and wined us and regaled us with stories of the build and renovation and how the climate was moving around them.

Once again, we were struck by the hospitality and warmth of strangers who only knew of us vicariously but had generously opened their home to us and taken us in.

06 June DAY 63 Uscio – Taggia – Mandeloui la Napole

The following morning, after one of the most wonderfully peaceful nights of deep sleep, we headed back up the track and headed North. Keith had asked us which route we were taking, our choice is, as far as possible, to avoid both toll roads and highways so we were taking the smaller country roads.  Keith told us we were in for a treat and my goodness, how right he was.

Once again, Italy showed us her best and the days ride was both exhilarating and rejuvenating. The sun was warm, the drivers polite, the roads smooth and the scenery epic. The last part of the route up to our destination for the night was steep and twisty in beautifully bendy way that gently revealed view after view as we swung the bikes upwards.

Trying to stay on the coast of Liguria had proved prohibitively and needlessly expensive and we’d been forced by budget to come some way inland. Online booking platforms have taken us to some very varied accommodations and Uscio was no exception. Nestled into a series of valleys and crevices the whole town appears to be clinging to the hillsides – vertiginous houses of 5 or 6 stories with views that the faint hearted would not appreciate. Our chosen place for the night was a tall, elegant looking townhouse that looked out over the valleys and countless rooftops below. The town itself was strung out along one main street that wound its way around the contours of the hillside with smaller offshoots that rose steeply behind the houses to allow access to the various levels. Ours was on level six of six and, on entering and throwing the window open we both had one of those vertigo inducing shocks that makes your heart go funny for a moment as we realised we were so high the birds of prey were circling beneath us.

The next morning was one of those times the Navigation System decided to behave like a complete and utter, utter bastard. It took us straight up a steep hill then right down an even steeper hill directly towards an alley that was so narrow we wouldn’t have needed a side stand to support the bike – the walls would have prevented any possibility of falling over and we both had to come to a stop on a greasy, cobbly street and try and find a way of turning around.

Now I know perfectly well that the Navigation System is not a sentient being capable of thought and only does what I tell it to do but sometimes, just sometimes it really does seem to display a level of bloody mindedness in directing us towards impossible routes that it makes me think it would have a fine career designing call centre option menus.

“Your call is important to us.” No, it chuffing isn’t, otherwise you would have answered it with a proper human being. Wouldn’t you?

“Press 1 to be placed on hold for the next hour before being cut off. Press 2 to be ignored. Press 3 to stab yourself with a pencil.”

I managed to prop my bike up and hop off, and, leaving it firmly wedged, helped Annie to get off, get her bike turned around and pointed back up the hill. She shot off up the hill and disappeared from sight – I think in abject disgust at my inability to even find our way out of a town with only one street. This presented me with something of a problem. My bike was wedged upright further down the hill with no possibility of being able to turn it around fully loaded. I won’t fully explain the actions I had to take but it left me very, very sweaty and I’d completely run out of swear words – even the really inventively portmanteau ones I’m so very proud of. Forgetting, of course, that my helmet comms were still on so Annie was able to hear every grunt and syllable.  When I finally managed to get everything back on the bike, now pointing uphill, mount up and locate her, waiting by the junction for the correct way out of town, she simply said,

“Your language really is deplorable.”

With that, she rode off imperiously leading the way out of town down the only road clearly demonstrating that there was absolutely no need for a Navigation System as it was plain to see the way we should have gone.

I spent the next 30 miles or so contemplating a suitable option menu for the customer call centre of the Navigation System company.

Eventually, Annie deigned to talk to me again.

“You are such a cock.”

Which is probably fair.

Then she said, “Can you teach me some of those words?” And we spent a happy day exchanging words to delight and engage with an audience of anyone with an equally puerile and vulgar sense of humour as us.

As it was, this was probably a good thing as we were having to use the highways and toll roads to get us west past Genoa and on to Taggia.  This is a section of amazing engineering that goes to show that some European countries really have mastered the art of significant infrastructure projects. The route is bridge, tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge, tunnel with almost no part of it on flat, level ground. It is all high up with bridges that tower hundreds of feet above the landscape then plunge into tunnels that are kilometres long and emerge directly onto yet another bridge. It made us think about HS2 or the Stonehenge Tunnel and wonder why we are a bit crap in the UK at getting this sort of stuff done on a sensible budget and timely manner.

The wondrous road system, that had definitely earned the description of highway, spat us out at the appropriate exit and we plunged down the valley to the town of Taggia where the company that makes our Pesto is based. It took us almost 18 years to find a company that makes Pesto taste just the way it should if you made it yourself. Fortunately, they still make it the same and it really does taste properly Ligurian. The families involved in the business are all into motorsport in a big way and the bikes cause much interest and questioning. We’ve worked with these folk for some time but don’t often get the chance to visit so it’s good sit and chat, talk about the weather and find out about what is happening with the climate. It’s not as bad here as in the south and centre of Italy but changes are clear and we chew this over for a while. Danielle is in the process of handing the business onto the next generation and it’s good to see this process taking shape.

We need to head on as we have to be in Marseille the next day and still have a way to go. The next generation, Alessandro and Lucca, take us for lunch before seeing us off and back onto the roads again. Once more, the hospitality and warmth of welcome touches us both and we set off in good heart knowing there we are working with some really wonderful people and we count ourselves very lucky indeed.

 

07/08 June DAY 64 - 65 Mandeloui la Napole - Arles

This is what Annie wrote about where we ended up for the night:

Stayed in a Bar Tabac with rooms on a street that looked like Bournemouth. Run by Lebanese family – friendly and welcoming to bikers. Room smelt of cooking fat. Couldn’t find anywhere to eat so raided supermarket and had prawns.

That sums it up better than anything I would have written so we’ll leave it at that. I won’t give you the location as you’re not going to go there and if you did, avoid Room 1.  It really does honk of cooking fat until breakfast when it honks of croissants and cooking fat.

We left it sharpish and tanked it down to Marseille to meet Gilles at an olive factory we use. Located it easily enough as the yard is overflowing with olive barrels and makes our place in the UK look like a toy. Gilles is pleased to see us and bounds out to take pictures of us and the bikes before whisking us around the place in double quick time. Regretfully, we have no time for pleasantries such as lunch, despite Gilles insistence, as the factory is about to close for the weekend and we need to make distance before it rains. We are focussing on weather forecasts now as the weather in this part of France has suddenly developed a wetness and chill that is unseasonal and has the locals a bit worried.

This means we are determining our route based on rain maps in a bid to stay dry and avoid squelchy boots. We look at the rainy bits and stick a pin in a bit with no rain and decide to head for it. Annie chooses the route in preference to letting me and Nav Sys cock it up again. She has decided that the route should take us across the Camargue as it’s in her head as being a Place To Go and remarkable for being flat with wide open spaces, huge sky, lots of water and somewhere she had always read about as being a Place To Go.

We follow her dream and head into the flatlands only to be passed in both directions by massive container lorries and soon realise there is a very large container port that dominates the landscape along with some other heavy industry that ruins the whole Wide Open Spaces, Huge Sky, Lots Of Water majestic romance of it all.  We do, though, pass rice fields and see pink tinged flamingos poking about but it really didn’t live up to expectations and I somewhat smugly suggest we follow Nav Sys once more.

I get an enthusiastic, but not positive, response and hear some of those words she’s just learned come back towards me.

We soldier onwards, Annie leading the way and me trundling behind watching the Nav Sys go into cardiac arrest because we’re ignoring it and end up where the pin got stuck in. Arles.

Despite knowing all about the Carmargue, Annie had never heard of Arles and nor had I so it was a very pleasant surprise. We pass an old wooden lifting bridge like the one you see in some of Van Goghs paintings. We discover it is the Pont Van Gogh in those paintings and we feel a little stupid and ignorant.

Not quite as much as going round a corner in the middle of Arles after crossing a bridge carrying us over a very wide and sumptuous river which we later discover is the Rhone (how ignorant can we be?) and discover a mahusive Roman Amphitheatre plumped bang slap in the town centre – why on earth did they build it here surrounded by all these houses? In answer to my previous question, turns out we really are ignorant. It is, by all accounts, the 20th most important Roman Amphitheatre.

We dump our bags and go for an early evening beer. We stroll over the Rhone and spot a little bar on the bank that looks typically French and Lovely.

Settling in after a typically French Welcome consisting of a gallic shrug with fuck off eyebrows from the bored barman we ask for the Wi Fi password.

“Non.”

“Non?” I mean, Wi Fi is a kind of basic human right along with being able to buy fresh bread 24/7 in France. What on earth?

“Non. You cannot 'ave it.”

What? We can see others tip tapping away and scrolling so are you sure?

“Non. You cannot ‘ave. Is slow and broken. Does not work.”

Much like you, then.

I find the Wi Fi network with the same name as the bar and use the name of the bar as the password. Bang. Straight in. Connected. Not so ignorant after all. We drink our beer, take the glasses back to the bar (to save him having to do anything lest his legs fall off) say a very polite thank you and leave them to it. It was, in all honesty, the only duff welcome we received and the only reason for writing about it is that was so very much out of the norm for everything else we experienced. So, Bar L'Entrevue, Place Nina Berberova, 13200 Arles, France – sort yourself out and get someone who gives a shit and understands the significance of where your bar is located.

There is a certain irony in the fact that the most unfriendly place we have been to should be located in a square named after Nina Berberova - a Russian-born writer, biographer, editor, and translator known for her examination of the plight of exiles.

The rest of our time in Arles was lovely – from the oysters and seafood in the main square to thrashing Annie at scrabble on the roof terrace and all points in between including visiting the Van Gogh exhibition – all very unexpected. So much so, we spent another day here waiting for the rain to pass.

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