The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
Gear Up! is a 2-DVD set, 6 hours! Which bike is right for me? How do I prepare the bike? What stuff do I need - riding gear, clothing, camping gear, first aid kit, tires, maps and GPS? What don't I need? How do I pack it all in? Lots of opinions from over 150 travellers! "This DVD will save you a fortune!"See the trailer here!
So you've done it - got inspired, planned your trip, packed your stuff and you're on the road! This section is about staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure. And crossing borders, war zones or oceans!
On the Road! is 5.5 hours of the tips and advice you need to cross borders, break down language barriers, overcome culture shock, ship the bike and deal with breakdowns and emergencies."Just makes me want to pack up and go!" See the trailer here!
Tire Changing!Grant demystifies the black art of Tire Changing and Repair to help you STAY on the road! "Very informative and practical." See the trailer here!
Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
"It has me all fired up to go out on my own adventure!" See the trailer here!
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Ride TalesAn easy way to post your ride reports, whether it's a weekend ride or around the world.
Please make the first words of the title WHERE the ride is.
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You may remember me. Quite a few people have asked if they could read my scribblings from the last trip I did. I never managed to get them together into a coherent book, but I have found a USB stick of rough chapter outlines, so I thought I would start posting to give some entertainment for all the people out there like me who are currently stuck at home and wanting not to be!
Apologies for not continuing last time, I had a childish strop and didn't do any more. I am a bit of an arse like that. Also, it is quite rough, and I look back at the writing now and cringe a bit, but hey ho, we live and we learn. Next time I'll do it better.
Hope somebody gets something out of it, it's got to be better than them languishing on a memory stick.
Our jobs are done, gone, behind us. Nothing left now but the leaving.
We are committed. People keep telling us that it is a bad time to quit a job, as we are unlikely to find another. Seems like the perfect time to me, especially if you aren’t looking for another. The country is going to the dogs, nobody has any money, savings that people have worked all their life for have disappeared, half the tax paying nation is propping up the other half, who are threatening to outweigh them any day, influenza outbreak is prompting panic buying of respirators, the government is extricating itself from one unwinnable war to focus more extensively on another, we have too many Chiefs and not enough Indians and the top stories for several weeks have concerned a reality TV ‘star’ dying of cancer, and some MPs saying nasty things behind each others backs. The house is burning down and Britons are making sure the cutlery is nicely arranged on the dining room table.
The other thing people insist on sharing is that this trip is ‘dangerous,’ and ‘expensive.’ Of course it is, no shit. Life is dangerous, it will kill you. Life is also for living, is it not better to face that danger, and attack it head on, rather than pretend it isn’t there? Death is always going to be sitting on your shoulder, lurking and rubbing his hands while you pretend he doesn’t exist and expand your portfolio, or close that deal. I for one would rather spend my money doing something that I can remember until the day I die, rather than concentrate on accumulating more for some theoretical day when you can spend it.
Cancer doesn’t care that you own four city centre properties, heart disease won’t give you any sympathy for working thirty years for the same company, car crashes happen to the rich as well as the poor, influenza doesn’t discriminate and that ulcer growing in your stomach gives no quarter for savings. Get out there and do, before it’s too late. If one good thing comes from the over saturation news of the very real reality death, it will be that a lot of people who hadn’t considered the possibility of dying young with no power to prevent it, will think about that now. The hordes of mourners and the outpouring of grief wasn’t all for her, it was the wailing of a generation who had forgot they were mortal animals, destined to live and die, not just read Heat and dance at the weekend. Jade could be a martyr, a catalyst to get people out from in front of Jeremy Kyle, burning politicians, tearing down office blocks and planting seeds of the future to grow in the ruins, ripping the calendar up and waking up every day a little younger, more powerful and uninhibited, more capable of love and free of Monday morning ache. Maybe not, but it’s a nice thought. Live a little; if you don’t like it, quit it, regret nothing, don’t wait until tomorrow.
I think that is my way of saying I am excited about leaving. Hannah is too - she’s having a loose perm right now, as we have been reliably informed that it is the best way to insure against RTW hairmairs. Not particularly revolutionary, but each nut and bolt is as important as the bridge itself
On a slightly less positive note, we have a split crank case gasket, and are waiting for one to come by special delivery today. If it doesn’t come, I am not entirely sure what the solution is.
Well, we’ve left. We are on a boat. That is a bit real. After settling into our ferry life, after Hannah had done 15 laps of every deck we retired to the bar to check out the free entertainment. 'Free entertainment,' even it isn't particularly entertaining, is still free - plus we were on a cruise ship, would it not be downright rude not to partake in some cruise ship entertainment? Thanks to shows such as X-Factor, 'Cruise ship singer' has become an insult, but to their credit the P&O performers performed like, well, cruise ship performers. In the most complimentary possible way of course.
We had heard that there was going to be cabaret in the bar, and as there are limited options for night time fun when you're stuck in the middle of the Channel, we went along. Yes, we would drink and spend money, but we would also have a better time than we would staying in our cabin. You can eek £5000 out into a two year trip if you have the penitence of a saint, but how much fun is that? Blaze of glory, brightly burning spark, all that stuff.
‘Magic of the Musicals’ was the theme and the first thing we saw when we walked in was six grown men dressed in head-to-toe lycra pretending to be cats. ‘Magic’ and ‘musical.’ It takes a special kind of person to show a packed audience of middle aged drunkards the definite outline of their testicles - for minimum wage. To be fair, the cat impressions were worth the non-existent admission fee alone. But the following montage of all the Broadway classics that you never wanted to hear, sang by people you really don't want to hear, more than justified it. The highlight for me was a rendition of 'Big Spender'. Scantily clad and high kicking young women is a simple formula. I managed to miss the most gratuitous flash but it's ok because Han didn't miss a thing and reliably informed me that, "she had a lovely bum".
The performers put everything into the song, after all it was the finale, of one night out of a thousand that they would go through the same routine.
I almost felt guilty sat with Han staring at women wearing little more than their underwear until she asked me, "don't you think that she has big calves for a woman?" She had a point, big calves, shoulders, biceps, a really big Adam's apple and worst of all a big bulge where there really shouldn't have been one. I think I was perving on a man. Maybe I'm a gay? I stand by my initial statement to Han, when they originally came on, that s/he did have "hot legs".
After the cabaret, the night disintergrated a little. A DJ replaced the cabaret and pint replaced pint. My memories are sketchy but I definitely remember a middle aged woman pulling me to the floor and slitting my throat with a plastic cutlass. She told us she wasn't even going anywhere. Her and her best mate were simply taking the ferry to Bilbao and back as a mini-cruise. I remember watching teenage-try-hard dancing, the Pussycat Doll without the bandmates. She thought she was the coolest thing in the room. She probably was but it was a P&O ferry bar - not a great accolade. I remember watching the 14 year-olds dancing (not in a sex offender's register way.) I remember thinking how painfully young and naive the boys looked dancing awkwardly and laughing childishly next to girls their own age who were practically women, and thinking how little time it seemed since Han and I were that age. I remember dancing to Ricky Martin, swinging Han around like a ragdoll, alone on the dancefloor, with everyone watching.
I barely remember waking, we just got off the boat as the last call went for it leaving. We rode into a foggy wet Spain that was as misty and indistinct as the soggy fragments of what used to be my brain. After 20 minutes riding, we got out of the city, and decided the day was a write-off, and set up camp for the first inauspicious time, at the back of a picnic area secluded by some trees.
"Can you hear that?" Hannah's voice whispered at me from the cocoons of her sleeping bag. "No" I monotoned back through folds of sleep. In truth I thought I had heard something, but was too sleepy to care that we were about to be eaten alive by foreign beasties. "Don't go back to sleep Joel, there's definitely something out there." That time I definitely heard it too, a wet and warm snuffle and a series of twangs as something large and furry walked into the barbed wire fence, just feet from our tent's door. I could hear the footfalls of a large mammal separated from us only by the paper thin walls of our tent. Over the last few hours camped out at the back of the picnic area we had been able to hear what sounded like the chiming of a very loud cowbell. We hadn't been woken by its ominous sound recently, but that noise now ambled towards us in the misty night.
Had we inadvertently made a bedfellow of some horny bull? What if he took a dislike to our presence? What if he really liked our presence? I'm not sure it is as easy as saying "no" to a ten foot torro who finds you laying naked in his bedroom. When the hooved footsteps faded away a little and the bell had quietened I lay in half sleep, and I heard Hannah whisper again. "Can we get up?" "What would we do if we got up?" I hissed back, feeling her heart beat as fast as a mouses against my back. No answer to that one.
As we were both fully awake, was there any harm in getting up? We slid out of our vastly inadequate one season sleeping bags and began to slither in to the soggy clothes of the miserable previous day. "I feel like the couple at the start of 'Dog Soliders'" said Hannah as she struggled into her jacket. Great Hannah, thanks, I was only worried about being raped by an animal with testicles as big as your head, now I'm worried about angry man-dogs too. By now I was fully kitted up, helmet on, ready to face man-eating were-bulls.
I unzipped the tent, the zip obnoxiously loud in the drizzly night. Hannah followed, always brave from the rear. My Converse were too horribly wet from a day of continuous soaking to even consider putting on so I flip-flopped my way through the ghostly thicket, with the ringing of the bell growing louder in my ears. We eased ourselves in turn over the wooden barbed wire fence into the recreation ground. Sat on a slimy wooden picnic bench at ten-past-midnight, clad in flip-flops, leather jacket and an open-faced twat-hat is a fairly easy position to find oneself in. Everyone has been there, haven't they?
The moon wasn't even three-quarters full, so the excitement of the were-beast was out of the picture. There was only one thing for it, have a cigarette for thought. Han half rolled a floppy fag using the half soaked rizlas that I'd left in the outside pocket of my jacket all day. As we sat listening to the jangling of our unseen beast in the moon shadowed trees we came to wondering what comes next. I was happy to sit in stalemate with our tormentor, but angry little Han wanted to investigate. She just didn't want to do the investigating herself.
We tiptoed (as best as you can in flip-flops in long grass) up to the edge of the thicket. That's where Han stayed while I was sent forward as the sacrificial lamb. Ripe for the slaughter, I crept towards the ball and chain rattle. What beast, sent from hell, would I find? A shape darker than the shadows loomed before me out of the night and the bell tolled so loudly it seemed as if in my head. Then I heard a "hgrumph" to my right. Gadzooks, there were more of the creatures.
As the silvery moon slipped out from behind a cloud, our nemesis was silhouetted before me. Taller than me, and twice as broad. I still didn't know what it was though. Four legs? A head? A wall of muscle? I skipped back to Han, mission accomplished-ish and relayed the findings of my reconnaissance - which wasn't much.
Buoyed by the fact that I hadn't been ripped limb from limb, Hannah came with me on a second recon. stood at the edge of the paddock we snapped away trying to immortalise the apparition on camera. Despite all our efforts, the only thing we could capture was a pair of ghostly shining eyes.
We returned to bed, our fears slightly allayed by the beasts apparent lack of aggression.
When we woke the nest morning there was only a tiny foal and its mother, both with beautifully braided manes.
After passing the perma-tanned packed beaches of St. Tropez and Cannes, the first campsite we found was practically on a building site. Either side of it for mile upon mile was nothing but a cheap casino and swathes of harsh pebble beach. After cooking our dinner of tomato and potato stew, washed down with ten of Lidl's cheapest s, we went out to sample the night life. The night life happened to consist of sitting on a rough built rubble pier, listening to a coach load of Young Americans. Sat in the middle of Europe thousands of miles from home the most fascinating thing they could find in common was how, like, incredibly different their own accents were, "I do not, like, sound like that," "You, like, so totally do," "I do not, like, totally sound like that." Regional variation aside they did reach mutual agreement that it was, like, totally a good thing to be an American. "Whatever, at least we can go back home and get cellphone coverage, like, everywhere."
In between eavesdropping on our transatlantic cousins there was time to enjoy our backdrop of moon dappled mountains sinking into the darkness. As the night chased the sun
from our beach and the sea slapped at our stony seats the lights along the coast to Nice blinked into existence. Dirty graffiti flecked seaside towns turned into one long flickering sea snake. Two fishermen cast their rods off of the end of the outcrop, and a lone ferry winked way out to sea, a full moon shone and the Americans decided that Canada, "was, like, practically a different continent."
There is only so much earwigging a person can or should do, so we went for a walk along the beach. We walked through vacant lots and building sites, private beaches unoccupied and lonely, passed disused factories with boarded up cataracts of windows and down to a broken down jetty. Looking back towards the land, with not a sole in sight, it was as if we were the only survivors in a decaying world. The natural world already seemed to be reclaiming ours as its own. The waves were inexorably eating away at our concrete jetty, the salt had turned the bare metal of the factories to rusty earth brown, weeds fought the cracked up pavements and choked the dilapidated machinery in the alleyways. From the buildings' blind eyes bats and birds flew freely and sand billowed in. Looking forward, sat twenty metres out to sea, the crystal waters shook with azure hues and a mighty jut of an island punched out of the sea several miles to our front. On the end of our skinny jetty, looking out at the unknown island it felt as if we were escaping the drowned world on a raft, just the two of us, making out to some brave new one.
--------------- Big Gap down France into Iraly.
Sorry for the lack of updates. To sum up the blank space; amazing roads, crazy semi-clad sports bike pilots, Han getting bitten to shreds by local wildlife, perfect sun, less than perfect bike, expensive camping and language barriers. There you go, you may as well have been there.
We take up the story on the shoulder of Italy.
There's nothing quite like waking up under a foreign sun and stretching that first morning stretch in unfamiliar rays, secure in the knowledge you have a hangover and there is nothing to do that day except find another angle to bask and another way to ensure a fresh hangover for the next sunrise. I write this on the grass beside our tent, soundtracked by the tiny mammal noises of a sleepy Han and the flip-flopping of snakey hipped senoritas sashaying to and from the showers. Hot showers cost more, so their walk there is a lazy half asleep shuffle but the walk back is a goosepimpled skip. It says 'Douche frio' on the door, and they don't lie. If I felt a little fusty before turning the faucet, thirty seconds under that arctic torrent soon woke me up. I swear there was a penguin shivering in the corner of my cubicle. Maybe I just drink too much coffee.
The bike sits patiently by our tent waiting for some much needed attention. The chain hangs slackly from her sockets and her tyres sag sadly. Overnight she has become part of the scenery. Tiny birds sit on her seat and dance on her bars, and a gossamer thread of spiders silk ties her mirror to a tree. I lie on the ground with her, and have become part of that scenery too. Ants crawl on my jacket and the inquisitive birds trip around me, chirping cheery "Bonjournos".
After several more cups of coffee and a couple of Marlboros I finally worked up the enthusiasm to sort the beleagured Honda's issues. First on the list, stick some air in some rubber tubes that roll. Hopefully that will cure the crazy weaving that has been developing for a few days. Sounds easy enough. Until you realise you don't know one end of the pump from the other. The shrink wrap that still contained the five quid Halfords jobby was disposed of with easy panache
but my rhythm was interrupted by the discovery of not one, but two, brightly coloured little attachments. Pinky thin and patterned like tiny disco snakes, which one did I have to plug into the pump to facilitate the whole compressed air thingy? Oh well, trial and error. I took the prettiest one, a red and black nylon ribbed viper, I should have heeded its dangerous colours. I screwed it onto the valve and it hissed angrily and my front tyre wilted. Must be the other one then.
The orange and blue snake went on without fuss. No hissing. Although mainly because there was no air in the front tube. Minutes later, and two gallons of sweat lighter, I had two rock hard tyres. Success number one.
Now to deal with the second problem. Fuel dribbling like old man's piss from the fuel line. Our hose was floppy and cracked, letting a steady trickle of fuel drip onto the engine casing. Fix number one; try taping it up with electrical tape. Still dribbled. Fix number two; try fixing it up with black and nasty. Still dribbled. Fix number three; more b and n. Still dribbled. Then I reached an
epiphany, sent straight from the Lord Bodge himself. Cut the daggy bit off and join the tube earlier on a supple bit of rubber. I don't like cutting things, it's so much more permanent than tape and zip ties.
Knife out, cut and shut, hey presto, alakahzam, no more dribble. Another result.
Last task in sight, a hat trick of minor victories within grasp. All I had to do was tension the chain. Six months ago I wouldn't have had the foggiest idea which way to wave a spanner if you'd asked me to tension a chain. That lack of knowledge left me stuck with a chainless Cub in the middle of the Mauritanian Sahara, as I did and undid every bolt on the rear end until I finally worked it out. Now, as an old pro, at the 'old chain tensioning game' I knew exactly what to do.
Down on the knees. 10mm spanner. Half turn on the left hand bolt. Feels a little odd. Half turn on the right hand bolt. Feels fine, carry on. Another half turn on the left hand bolt. Then half the chain tensioner fell off in my hand. Apparently
the best part of two decades of neglect had rotted it practically all the way through. Une petite probleme as they don't say in Italy, but pidgin French was our best Italian. Never mind, we still had one chain tensioner, how many could you need? I tightened the chain then clamped the wheel spindle down as hard as I dared, sprayed the bike with a quick spritz of An Sha Allah, and we were ready to go.
Pulling out of the campsite, I turned back to Han and said, "Doesn't that sound better now the chain is tight?" As we pulled out onto the main road into the death or glory craziness of Italian traffic, the bike bucked like a circus bronco. No power. I waddled out of the madness as kamikazes braked and weaved to avoid the stupid Englisher and parked up beside a cafe. Apparently the wheel spindle couldn't hold on its own. So what, I was wrong. Don't get at me.
The wheel had slipped right forward to the front of its adjustment, leaving the chain dangling free. Fortunately, as usual, there was a guardian angel to rescue me from my ineptitude. A kindly old gent informed us that there was a bike garage just 1km down the road. A sweaty bike pushing kilometre, and one stop for medicinal cigarettes later, and we were at said bike garage. Which didn't open until three, "as it was a Monday." How does that work? Maybe Italy is more foreign than we realised.
That brings me right to here. Sat sunbathing in a service station outside a Yamaha garage in Northern Italy, waiting for the magical hour of three to roll around. Total mileage today: 0.3. Total walked: 1.0. Total predicted mileage: Not much more
We've missed a bit. We visited Pisa, saw a tower what was leaning, that's about the summation of our Northern Italy jaunt.
After Pisa we made a beeline for Rome. We arrived late afternoon and found, surprisingly, the cheapest campsite yet in Italy. Camping Roma, it had excellent facilities and a great, if expensive, bar. As we set up the tent a guy introduced himself to us, Alex Duke, what an awesome name. He was Australian and greeted us by passing me a . He sat with us for a while and told us how awkward it was to travel in Rome by public transport. So, the next day we set off early on the bike, all our luggage in tow to see the sights of Rome.
We liked the Vatican. The map we had was in Italian so we actually visited another very pretty church/square that we thought was the Vatican, but just couldn't recognise any of the landmark. Looking up at the grandiose towers Han said, "they don't look much like the ones I expected." I had to agree, we were blatantly in the wrong place.
We liked the actual Vatican. Not that much though. Actually the statues are beautiful, but after sitting for a few minutes outside there is very little left to take in. We imagined that somebody was moving in the top left window but it may have been wishful thinking. Han asked me, "What does the Pope do all day?" I had to admit that I didn't know. What does the Pope actually do? When he's not actually being all Papal and that how does he spend his time? Does he sit in the Vatican watching re-runs of Sharpe? Does he wank? Does he have a huge library of Joan Collins novels? He can't be making epoch changing decisions each second of every day.
The next step on our tourist trail was the Colosseum. It was proper awesome, old sense of the word, awe-some. To walk around a building so full of assimilated fear, excitement, pain, elation, drunkenness and sheer human hubris and not feel a shiver down your spine, you would have to be stonier than the grand columns that reach above you. It's a folly, no doubt about it. A grand structure built for
the spectacle alone. A mighty spectacle itself, built to entertain the mightiest spectacles, granted to the plebs by the Emperor Gods.
Dry statistics hold wet visceral facts. Three hundred ostriches decapitated by archers in one show. Nine thousand men killed in one great orgy or gore. Simple objects whisper of so much more than their material worth. Hair pins intimate of girls prettying their trusses, drinking vessels remember long gone revelry - mighty celebrations, festivals, parties, Jews burnt at the stake, Christians fed to the lions, rebels eviscerated. Men reduced to meat. Men reduced to the very lowest, the most base level of being. Just a man fighting for survival. All for the enjoyment of the masses.
The ground itself must still be soaked with the blood spilt over centuries there. The stones remember it, the dust remembers it, but the organisers don't seem to. The whole experience is subdued by the sanitisations of modern safety regulations and sensibilities. Sections are fenced off for 'your own safety', large swathes of the halls are brightly lit with electric lights covered in 'informative' display boards.
This house of rowdy hedonism and wanton carnage is produced to the austerity of
a museum. It's not a museum. Yes, maybe it's important to impose rules and regulations and impose hefty entrance fees to preserve it for another generation, but would it not be better to leave it as was intended?
I want to see it like I imagine it once was. I want to see it dirty, grafitti flecked, stinking of debauchery and intrigue, urine and vomit. It wasn't built as a museum, let it grow old as it was young, let the vines grow on it and the drunks loiter in its arches, let the wondering dogs find solace in its shade, let another generation of plebs scratch their names on the columns into brief eternity.
I stuck my head out to the left, in an effort to find some gap through the gridlock of Napolian traffic. I quickly whipped it back in to avoid having it ripped off by the Bandit borne crazy. He was filtering at warp speed on just one wheel, straight down the centre of the clogged lanes. For as far as I could see him receeding in my mirrors, his sketchy speed wheelie scribbled a scratchy black scrawl on the slick wet cobbles.
I was having enough trouble on two wheels. I don't think I've seen worse roads this side of Basra. Cracked up crazy paving, which makes the poor Honda buck like a square wheeled clown bike. Road manners start at an indignantly raised hand and finish in a balled fist. Almost every car wears the scars of previous combat. Scooters weave in and out of the cratered tarmac, horns blare and pedestrians use the road, cars use the path. This is Europe. Do we still have this chaos in Europe?
To make things worse the bike is not behaving well. It has developed a severe shudder. Under power the whole front end wobbles as if my tyre was flat. It makes a difficult task almost impossible. I'll sort it out when we get to Pompeii. Maybe.
We had been warned of Naples when we were in Rome. A very drunken Italian had told us how corrupt the city was. After boring a pair of Australian girls away from him, he had stumbled up, and imposed himself upon us. Through his tripping, wobbling and slurring the one thing that stays with me is just how dangerous Napoli was. "Tis bad place. You see mafia films? It's like that place. If people try to stop you, no stop, you no stop."
With that in mind, we left for Naples. The traffic was indeed suicidal/murderous. But I never really saw Naples, so I can't vouch much for his advice. I did however see the numerous posters for the various candidates for election; and each one to me looked as corrupt as the next - though each one was probably as honest as the next. My opinion may have been tainted by our Italian friend, or too much watching the Sopranos. Respectable looking Italian = gangster.
I say I never really saw Naples, I saw a little, I saw snatches inbetween the ****ed up roads and ****ed off drivers. I saw a city that is stuck in the past, but shoved into the future. The houses don't seem to have changed since before the war, and the roads since the Romans built them. On top of this antique town, this monument, people attempt to traverse it with modern vehicles. The whole thing doesn't work. You can't give the Mona Lisa a microphone or one of Constables' farmers a tractor. The old and the new just don't quite gel. That's the way Napoli's traffic works. Oil and water.
Of course, you get used to anything, after a while it almost feels like driving in a regular British city. You just have to ignore a few things; ignore the guy on a 50cc scooter driving with one hand on the throttle, the other hand cradling his baby while his obese wife weighs the back of the scooter down, ignore the teenage girl on her phone as she weaves through traffic in a bikini, ignore the pimp reversing his way the wrong direction down the street arguing with his whore. Ignore the pedestrians strolling amongst the cruising cars and slamming bonnets in righteous indignation. Ignore the cut up cats and beat down dogs lying in the gutters, and the lane changers trying to squeeze you off the face of the Earth, the holes in the road that slam the whole bike down in a clang of angry metal. Practically England.
If you ignore all that, and a whole lot more, they're really quite civilised roads. I'll tell you one thing though, they make you feel properly, actually, alive. As long as they don't kill you that is.
Bollocks to your bungee jumping, two fingers up to your pot holing, this is proper adrenaline, not some ersatz fix, some epinephrine make believe. I think I understand the one wheel Bandit. He was alive.
"Which way do you think the train is going to come?" Han asked me the question in a very tired voice. "Left" I resolutely decided. I don't know why I chose left, but I'd had that feeling since the barriers came down. We were stood outside our far too expensive Bari hotel, just watching the traffic when the klaxon sounded and the barriers rolled down, announcing an impending train. Even as the red and white chevrons lowered, cars were dodging under them with typical Italian dedication to destination. The sirens continued and the red hazard lights carried on flashing while cars and scooters piled up behind them.
Then the barriers lifted and the chaos continued. We were all waiting for a make believe train. Pretty much summed up our day.
We began in Pompeii in the cheapest campsite we'd found in Italy (A still expensive 17 Euros). We woke early and said goodbye to the Dutch couple opposite us who were on a tour of Europe on a 1200 GS, carrying enough luggage for a tour of the universe. Their collection of chairs, kitchenware, multiple sleeping bags for different temperatures, warm weather bike kit, cold weather bike kit, wet weather bike kit, even - not joking - a kitchen sink, made our ragtag assemble look decidedly second rate.
They left us with a warning about the difficulty of climbing Versuvius on a bike, "Very glistening and less than gear three all way oop." If they were less than third gear, I thought, we'd be lucky to see the end of first.
The ruins of Pompeii were everything we had expected, and probably a lot more. Plus they were cheap; 5.50 for EU citizens between 18 and 25 years old. We just hadn't expected the sheer scale of the ruins; how far they stretched and the plain enormity of the catastrophe that befell this town.
Some of the villas are obviously little more than piles of stones, barely recognisable as dwellings, but others feel almost complete, as if the occupants had just popped out for a few minutes. Walking through peoples kitchens, over intricate mosaics and past ornate frescos - you feel just like Goldilocks. Then you realise that the three bears aren't coming home. They've fled in fear or suffocated, their lungs burning with hot ash, or they've been crushed under toppling buildings.
The giant communal areas, the vine coated temples and crumbling ampitheatres still echo with forgotten voices. We went early enough to avoid the crowds, so we sat alone in the public spaces. It felt as if we were the fist explorers to stumble on such silent tombs. Our only company were fat pigeons, who squatted under guilded niches and carved columns, displaying the lack of reverence that only pigeons can master so well.
The mundanity of what was left; hair trinkets, amphorae by the score, waterless basins, crumbling drinking vessels emphasises the poignancy. Their ruined state only exacerbates it; the fissures in wine jars, ruts erroded by wheels over rough cobbled streets, pillars tumbled from their plinths, where people once sat, chattered, drank, smoked. These thousands of people died thousands of individual deaths. It's surreal, as if you're a real life tomb raider. Push that column and the door will open under the fresco, slide that lever and you can jump into the sea.
I said that none of the ruins felt quite real in the last blog. Han agreed with me. When faced with the stone hard corpses of people permanently preserved in their pain, she said "I find it hard to see them as people." By this time we had plenty of company, coach after coach had spewed Americans into the city during the hours we had been exploring. Most of them walked around with cameras glued to their faces, seeing the world second hand through a viewfinder. Why not stay at home and watch a film? When confronted by the victims of Versuvius they continued clicking away, barely commenting on them. The contorted cadavers made no more influence on them than the rocks they walked on. It is difficult to see those sculptures of misfortune as human, people who once walked the same streets as we walked now, it is far easier to dismiss them as artefacts, photograph them and put thoughts of fragile mortality on the back burner.
We followed up the city by riding the volcano which caused its petrification in time. Third gear? It was a huffing puffing first gear slog fightıng between burning the clutch out and losing power on the steep, slick igneous hairpins. The Honda didn't like it and I didn't like doing it to the Honda. We could have caught the train but we already felt guilty about exploring Pompeii without her, a bit like having to leave your favourite pet at home to go on holiday.
We finally had the summit ın sight, fifty metres left. And then she died. The bike, not Han that is. Too hard, too hot, too steep, just too tired to go one inch further. We left her resting and walked to look at the view. Miles and miles of azure coastline, behind the grotty motorway and dirty city outlines of Napoli was nothing but the sea as far as a human can imagine, stretching until it became the sky. No wonder the Ancient Greeks thought God lived on a mountain top.
There always has to be a down after an up, the ride down was an anti-climax. I coasted the majority, clutch in, letting the mountain air cool our abused motor. I only stopped the lazy left right coasting to twist around gridlocked buses angrily fighting in both directions up and down the mountain.
We now had an even bigger down - a 200 mile motorway trip to the other side of the country. We wanted to be ın Bari before the next day to get a ferry to Greece. Italy was good, but expensive. Every one day spent in Italy was five days somewhere less exotic.
After leavıng Pompeii we spent two hours looking for a direction to travel in, preferring instead to drive circles around Italian one-way systems and the corkscrew sliproads. If I had to make one certain statement about Italy I would say they have the worst motorway system in Europe (but the best B-roads).
Eventually finding the way, we headed for Eastern Italy via central. Almost immediately after leaving the coast we entered a new Italy. That's another incredibly beautiful Italy, which has so many pretty faces, a veritable Mona Lisa of expression, changing her mood constantly. From alpine slopes to St. Tropez beaches, cosmopolitan city centres to gentle rural slopes - Italy has everything. This Italy we were entering was full of rolling hills, almost Yorkshire Dales but not quite. Home with a twist, toad in the hole with salami. The bucolic scenes felt like home but were far enough different to hold the excitement of being away. The carefully manicured crops and red tiled farm houses passed endlessly beside us, wrapped over undulating mounds. Homely but exciting like rising bread dough covered with novelty tea towels.
The bike cruised happily, free of slopes and head winds, passing the distance in thirty degree sunshine. The flies pinged off of my knuckles and flattened themselves on my face. Hannah says that I am an evil killer while she wipes bugs from my beard, but I claim they heard me comıng so only have themselves to blame.
We arrived in Bari and attempted to find a ferry and finding nothing available, we attempted to find a hotel. Attempted, attempted through an hour of Italian traffıc - **** you, **** me, get with the plan, I made the plan, who's got the plan, mia Dia, moma mia Italian traffic. Our light was dead and we had to find somewhere before dark to avoid a similar fate. We eventually stumbled on a back street three star after seemıngly trying every road in Bari. Seventy fıve Euros?! But we had no other option. We quit our kit and left to find somewhere to eat.
We found a pizza place within just a few minutes, maybe life isn't always difficult. Then again, maybe it is - we were promptly gifted the local idiot as a waiter. Within seconds of seating us he returned to ask for our order. Feeling English and impotent, but spying a Peroni on a nearby table I thought it safe to order a pair. He looked at me confused before saying "Nevermind, I get you ." We expected him to get our surprise , but he continued to stand staring at us, with a vacant grin he asked us "Antipasti?" After ten days in Italy we understood enough but bereft of a menu what do you say? To fill the gap, while he looked at us expectantly, I said "Pızza?" He answered in one hundred mile an hour Italian something that obviously meant "What type you paır of crazies?!" He obviously thought that although we didn't have menus or much Italian, we may have some kind of ESP. "Margherita?" I tentatively asked. "No," he flatly denied us, "we have manys varys pizzas. I recommend them you." With that he was gone.
While we waited for the crazy's return, and Italian couple were seated next to us. He was so non-descript that twelve hours later I have already forgotten his face. She was pretty in a high-maintenance manner, but wıth petty eyes and a spoilt girls smile. She couldn't reach the coat pegs without asking to move Han's jacket, which she wouldn't lower herself to do. Han moved it for her but she just glared back at her. Yes we were dirty, I'm half coated in grease, Han's hair is helmet mental, but we are always polite and courteous. She wasn't. I will say one thing for her though - she ate olives lıke a mother****er. Whilst her partner was in the toilet she must have packed away two dozen, stuffing them in like a hungry chipmunk, and spitting them out like a fat horse.
While we were watchıng her skills in amazement our pizzas arrived. Burnt on the edges, soggy in the middle, non descript meat on one, non descript salad on the other. Day school boy had done us well.
We ate, paid and left, to walk and reflect on a crazy packed day. A day that saw
us walking ancient ruins and riding volcanoes, trapped in modern motorway meltdown and sat in restaurants without menus, found us stood waiting for trains that don't exist.
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