Other reflections on our Italian adventure

There are lots of things that you remember when you get home and start telling the little stories to family and friends. That’s what this blog’s about. The stuff that we have reflected upon, laughed at, or, for that matter, gasped at the memories. After all, some things we did were downright scary.

The one thing that occurred to me very recently, was that I have covered over 10,000 miles on the Continent this year alone. The first 3 years of owning Smoggy, I only covered 9,000 miles. It seems he gets well and truly put through his paces on a regular basis. What a faithful wee bike. He’s such a star and we have learned so
much together and there’s plenty more to learn.

It’s time though for Smoggy to get some much deserved TLC. Upon leaving for Italy, I was at the BMW garage in Dalkeith before we headed south. At that point it was well and truly established that I had no more adjustment left in my suspension. Oops. There were one or two moments on holiday that it was noticeable. A bitty squashy, and there was evidence of the mudguard hitting the tyre at some points. No wonder, carting me and 3 fully laden panniers round mountain passes and through rather challenging (steep) settlements on top of hills. I would be objecting too if I had to cart all that around. So, time to start working out what we can do to upgrade a few essential things on Smoggy.

On that note, the first thing to share is all the stuff I took with me that I didn’t use. Swimming costume, 4 unused t-shirts, emergency triangle, hi-vis vest, (the latter two items are essential stuff that can’t be left at home) some emergency chocolate, two sun tops (eternally optimistic) and oddly enough, sun glasses. I took my flip-front helmet which has an internal sun visor and I found I didn’t need my sun glasses at all off the bike. No surprise really, I was hardly off the poor thing! Too many pairs of knickers and not enough pairs of thin (summer weight) socks. In all honesty, I could’ve saved half a pannier of space with all that unnecessary clobber. I also took my sat nav which never got connected. I didn’t even use it for listening to music. It needs to go with me though, I can’t leave that behind; I might get lost or lose Ed! No comment.

Two essential bits of kit that we took that didn’t get used: puncture repair kit and a pump. Thank goodness for that. Given the condition of the roads we were riding, I’m amazed that we didn’t get at least one puncture. Essential kit we did use? Scotoiler oil and spanners for my chain. The mega essential bit of kit that I left behind and wished I had packed? My fleecy / thermal top – the very snuggly, thin variety with a zipped neck. I searched high and low for it, convinced I’d packed it. I pulled virtually everything out of my panniers. I found it. Where? In my cupboard when I got home. Handy there. Particularly when I was riding through Belgium, heading home, I felt the coldest I had ever felt on a bike. Brrrrr.

So, Weather; we have to talk about the weather.

Most of the time, we were very lucky. Considering what we could have got! We rode through yuck on the way from Switzerland down to Italy and then on a daily basis planned our route around where the good weather was. I still wasn’t used to my new Klim trousers. They are basically a shell and need ‘undergarments’ worn such as thermals and in colder parts, Gerbing heated trousers. And knickers. Don’t forget the knickers. That’s ok though, I packed loads of them. I had so many with me I could have worn multiple layers.

Travelling through (and up and down) the National Parks, the weather varied from warm, about 20 degrees to bloody cold, with wind chill at about 5 degrees. Then just for good measure, we would be at the top of a National Park and it would rain. Oh joy. The leaves and pine needles on the roads became very slimy indeed. That’s when the benefits of having your heated gear handy became very apparent! One time, I got caught with my vented summer gloves on. Not good. Not good at all. What’s even worse, I knew I was about to get very, very cold. Do I just stop? No. I seem to have a slight learning deficiency where that’s concerned.

I did however; make good use out of my ‘two in one’ gloves that I bought from BMW. Waiting on my service to be completed earlier in the year, I had a wee browse at the gloves and loved the idea of having a pair for grip, (with a vented palm) and a pair for rain; all in one glove. I now appreciate what I bought. I still haven’t told Ed how much I paid for them, however, when you consider what you would pay for a vented pair and a separate pair of waterproof gloves, I think they are jolly good value. They work and are also very comfy. Great for touring. Even better if you can be arsed stopping and swapping over from ‘grip’ to ‘waterproof’.

One day, adventuring into a National Park, I had a slight *ahem* altercation with a woman in a car; which involved Smoggy and the car being in very, very close contact with each other. So close, I could have poked the woman in the eye. It was tempting, you know. She was on my side of the road. How I didn’t fall over, I’ll never know. What I do know, by the time I got to the top of the mountain (well, what I thought was the top), I was sweating. This was probably more to do with the close call and not the temperature. Even though there were loads of houses and flats at the top, there was no-one in sight. All closed for the winter. It was only us and a bit of tumble weed (never seen tumble weed in real life until this holiday). It’s not often you would see a biker removing boots, trousers, thermals; back on with trousers and boots right in the middle of a village square. Yep, I did. Sodding typical, I needed those thermals a couple of hours later. Sigh.

Roads in general.

I’ve decided that the Italians build-a-road with sand. It’s like build-a-bear but marginally more dangerous. They just don’t seem to build the roads at all well. It’s as if there’s an outlook of, “Oh well, we’ll just fire some tarmac down, there’ll be another earthquake along in a minute.” Each day, we would set off not knowing what was ahead of us.

So, into the bargain, the roads in southern Italy and Sicily are slightly challenging and downright dangerous. Some just disappear altogether. There was one road that only cars and motorbikes could access. They made sure of that by putting concrete blocks in the way. I wish now there had been some way of taking a photograph of that road. The feeling of trepidation and image of it will never leave me. When we stopped and looked back at the road, our jaws hit our tanks. I don’t think I would have been keen to ride back over it, that’s for sure.

Some roads were just cracking. There were breathtaking views, making it all worthwhile avoiding all the main roads. This picture for me summed it up; just looking over vineyards and hills with a twisty road through the middle of it.

There was one motorway stretch we were on and we were going over a flyover / spur which was quite a tight bend. After some miles on a boring motorway, there was always that moment of ‘weeeeeeee!!’ as we get to ‘do’ a bend for a change. Bring it on…..This one wasn’t so pretty. On the bend, every 5m or so there were metal expansion joints which made our back tyres take a good shimmy, I’m talking about a serious shift side-ways! The first time it happened, I know there were minor expletives uttered in our helmets. The second one at least we were prepared. There were lots of them, one after another. Sometimes though, you have to just go with it and ride over it. This was one of those occasions.

The worst had to be in towns and villages where the road surfaces were like greasy marble. That’s tough stuff when you are fully laden. It wasn’t the kind of surface that you could tell yourself to ‘just relax; you’re good at this slow manoeuvring stuff’. Oh, that went out the window on some occasions. Some routes all we could do was to paddle our bikes to negotiate corners safely. Not nice and neat and tidy, just safe. Relax? Not for a minute.

Toll roads on a bike are a pain in the arse; unless of course, you ride a GS Adventure, (new model) where you actually have a use for the wee hatch on top of the tank. I think it’s meant to be a ‘coin holder’. You’d be lucky to get a couple of Euros and a pair of ear plugs in it. All slagging aside, it’s really handy for motorway tolls. Me? I have to negotiate a ticket into my front pocket without a gust of wind blowing it down the road.

We have generally been quite successful through the years paying for both bikes together at tolls. Italy it wasn’t quite so successful. One toll barrier for some reason wouldn’t give Ed a ticket. The barrier was still up though, so we thought that we would deal with the consequences later. Later on, it might result in a big fat fine. Just like riding motorways in Switzerland without a Vignette (no comment). We got to the toll booth and it was a stick-it-in-the-slot and pay your money. Press button if you have an issue.

We had an issue; we only had one ticket. Our Italian language skills are not good enough to explain to the voice on the other end of the speaker that we only got issued with one ticket for the two bikes. After lots of chat, they officially gave up, letting both bikes through. We were still given a receipt though. We saved 52 Euros. Obviously they couldn’t work out how to charge us. I don’t recommend trying to dodge paying, not that we were trying to dodge it. The police (in their various forms) spent a lot of time at toll barriers. Not that they did much, other than text. See other blog.

3 comments on “Other reflections on our Italian adventure”

  1. George says:

    This blog is another full of information which will be enjoyed by the enlightened. It makes those of us not so well gifted in the arts of motor cycling now appreciate that there is a lot more to it than just sitting on the bike and going.

  2. George says:

    Just had a second thought. Shouldn’t this excellent blog be distributed to a wider audience . ? Motor cyclists planning a trip to Europe would certainly benefit from the many tips and bits of advice written here

  3. Fiona says:

    I do ‘put it out there’ and post on Facebook on my page and the Scottish IAM page. That reminds me that tags are so important for the success of a blog!

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