A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: meIan3

Rome - Colle di Val d´Elsa - Lake Como

Roman Road Rules - Dead Whale - Locals - Support the Lake

Via Cassia carries us out of the Tuscan Provence towards Rome. I´m assured it´s the oldest Roman byway in Italy. Pass Etruscan (civilization before the Romans) ruins, the cypress trees we´ve grown used to are replaced by hardwoods, there are fewer vineyards and more commercial buildings as we float closer to the capital city. In Sutri, 40km from the city center, we decide to stretch out and fuel up, figure within the hour we´ll be standing in the middle of it all. The Italian attendant speaks English with an Irish accent, a result of a college stint on the island. He kills our enthusiasm. Traffic, roadwork, we should arrive in the city center no earlier than two and a half hours. Step outside and two young attendants from Bangladesh are looking Bonnie up and down from a comfortable distance, I say simply "New York" and they open up. When a small pick-up truck with an airbrushed American flag on the side pulls in, they go crazy...pointing and shouting, "USA, USA."

We arrive in Rome in two hours but that´s only because of Bonnie´s slim figure. We learned in Rome that if you want to get along safely on the streets you have to go with the flow. This method involves breaking all the rules. On the highway belt loop there were three lanes for cars, and three unmarked lanes for two wheelers, the shoulder is the forth and acts like the motorcycle fast lane. We skirt the traffic without a single honk, we blend in just fine.

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Roman Ruins in the center of town

At 9am the next morning I took a guided tour of the Vatican. We were an All-American group, two couples from Texas whose town North of Austen is recovering from a violent windstorm, two men (a couple?) from New York who spent the tour critiquing our guide instead of the art, and a pleasant couple from Sayville, Long Island NY, small world. Maria, our Italian leader, brought up some interesting points. I never realized Michelangelo was a sculptor at heart and in 1508 only agreed to paint the Sistine Chapel because Pope Julius II himself demanded it. St. Peters Basilica was a museum itself...can´t describe it in words. Walked down to the Coliseum, traffic whizzes 30 feet away from its ancient walls. I think about the gallons of adrenaline that have flowed through the bodies of the men that fought there. To see a man fight a lion... Last "hunt" was in 523 AD, "arena" means "sand" in Latin - fighting surface was sand to cover the blood. One year in the Coliseum’s heyday a whale washed up on the shore of Italy near Rome - the occurrence was the talk of the town. According to the audio guide, a wealthy family erected a fake whale in the middle of the arena and out of its mouth came 50 bears, that day's challengers to the gladiators...

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Bonnie and I waiting for a challenger

Leaving Rome, I realized I lost my compass which is usually slipped on top of my tank bag next to the map for that day's travels. It's a great double-checking device and it always gets use when navigating out of the city - usually just pick a bearing out of the center towards the loop highways that circle most big towns in Europe. I was in a little pickle but decided just to start driving - I would follow my gut - It let me down though, Rome's filled with old ruins and monuments that make a practical road layout impossible - I tell myself this is the only reason why I couldn't do it. So Bonnie and I are waiting at a light (and everyone else is too for a change). I turn around to a biker behind me and yell out "Autostrada?" (Italian highway) - The guy is in business attire. He looks confused, the light turns green and I forget him and just drive. Seconds later he's rolling along side me riding the yellow line...he says "follow me" or something like that. I broke more traffic laws in those 20 minutes out of the city than I have in my whole driving life...for the sake of my mother I'll leave it at that. Before the Autostrada he pulled over and talked for a while about his old job in Pisa and how old the road, "Via Aurelia," is the best route along the coast from Rome to Pisa. Bonnie and I leave Rome driving into the sunset towards the coast. That night we sleep under the stars on the fridge of a rolling field of freshly harvested hay...classic.

Off Aurelia we dip back into Tuscany to see if we can suck anymore out of its rich countryside. Settle in at Colle di Val d'Elsa, hoping it's small enough to be foreigner-friendly (I've learned that the small towns that don't see tourists are much more interested in foreigners). The town footprint would fit inside a running track - It's perched on a hill (typical) overlooking barren valleys (typical). I meet the owners of the bar/cafe that's got a surprisingly hip inside. We talk about the corrupt Mafia in Naples, everyone's "labore" - job. The old guy in the chair is on pension but does sculpture for money on the side, one kid they joke is the brains of the town - he's a bank lawyer, Emiliano is the chef at the hotel I'm staying in at the bottom of town - gives me a ride home - the next morning I visit his kitchen to see him. He's in the middle of adding ingredients to a huge pot of sauce - I see the same passion I saw at the restaurant in Florence. Emiliano has been a chef at the restaurant for 8 years but he's 23...cooking is his life.

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Emiliano takes a minute away from his sauce

Driving rain, long stops in Italy's gourmet autostrada rest stops, push to Milan, a stay in a run-down hippy hostel, we make it to Lake Como, my stopover before our push over the Alps. At least 10 small towns line the west coast of the lake. Green cliffs plunge into the lake, mist is looming left and right, you can make Bellagio, the ritzy town where the casino in Vegas got its name, on the peninsula across the lake. I stumble upon Cernobbio mid-set-up for a weekend festival. Explore the Villa del Balbianello, an estate on the most prominent peninsula on Como, a famous movie set (Star Wars Episode II and James Bond Casino Royale). At night I return to Cernobbio's special event called "Missoltino Days," a sign in front of the big white tent in the park beside the lake reads "Sapori di Terra, Sapori Di Lago." I'm moved to spend almost 20 Euros on food...there's a line stretching out of the tent, not ordering enough was too risky, plus the lake needed my support. While on the line I gave in and rudely interrupted some locals to ask what the creamy spinach pasta dish they were eating was called. The "Pizzoccherri" is ordered along with Polenta (sticky grainy grain) and a sausage patty.

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typical town on Lake Como

Plop down at a long table move some old plates (the event organizer forgot about garbage cans but no one thought it was a big deal) and began my attack on my two dishes, tables are packed, with a combination of locals and ritzy out-of-town Italians. The family to my right keeps looking over at me, curious I guess. The teenage girl breaks the ice, pointing out that my leather jacket was laying on the ground, fine with me but I picked it up to humor her - guess it was a little strange anyway. We got talking in an Italian/English/Sign language dialect - what brought me to Como?, why I was traveling alone?, my brother is a lefty baseball pitcher, my sister is a teacher in the Bronx, where is the Bronx? The father just spoke straight up Italian almost hoping I'd magically learn the language. Elisa, the teenage daughter, wants to travel the world learning languages. A comedy skit got the crowd up from the feast, a rock concert with bagpipes and accordions kept them on their feet. I got a kick out of standing there surrounded by locals, my adopted family on my side, everyone laughing at the comedian's impressions of soccer announcers and Italian politicians.

Posted by meIan3 10:59 Archived in Italy Tagged motorcycle Comments (0)

Siena - Cortona - Montepulciano

Gamble - Angry Nun - Lucky Oil - Club Feast -Tuscan Light Speed - Guido Hospitality - Fattoria Tour

0 °F

Tuscany is thick with Spring, nose on smell overload. The scenery is so beautiful it makes me laugh as Bonnie and I flow through the serpentine roads. We opt for S222, the alternative to the motorway. 70km straight south from Florence is Siena. Upon arrival, weave through tourists buses in line to park along the city walls. There's a swarm of people inside, 80 percent have cameras and city maps. I pick Siena's Gothic Cathedral which holds a bronze statue of St. John the Baptist by Donatello, on its ceiling is a painted starry sky over a deep blue. Lunched at La Chiacchera while sitting outside on the steep narrow street, two of the four legs on tables and chairs longer to compensate for slope. Feeling adventurous, asked my Polish waitress to bring me her favorite first and second courses, insisting a blind order. A simple but flawless penne with ragu sauce was followed by a hearty four stewed beef ribs and potatoes. The gamble paid off.

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To Siena

In Trequanta, 30 km east of Siena, a local who spoke English with a perfect British accent gave Bonnie a compliment. Told him I was headed to Cortona, another 30km east. "Most beautiful town in Tuscany" he assures me. In route a speedy front comes through and Bonnie and I duck under an abandoned gas station to get out of the HAIL. Ten minutes later we're climbing the switchback, (every town I've seen in Tuscany is up high above a valley) pushing through the wall into the town's tight stone streets. Cortona is known for its staggered, irregularly shaped squares, the view of Lake Trasimeno, and for its publicity from Frances Mayes' book, "Under the Tuscan Sun". In the local theater I happen to catch a "Best of Famous Opera Songs" concert, starring a chubby Italian woman with an animated face and a bald-headed tenor who you could tell loved his job. I found it interesting how the older Italian men sitting in front of me only applauded after certain songs. I take it that they clapped only when they were impressed - a very genuine method. Stayed in a convent that night, being the cheapest accommodation. Next morning had to explain to a nun that I couldn't pay at the moment due to local Bancomat problems. Based on the "Nun Scale" she was pretty angry. When I returned with the money she perked up showing her true nun side. In a strange mix of Italian and Spanish we somehow spoke for twenty minutes about adventure, movies, how fast she learned Italian after she came over from Brazil, and other convent lodging spots.

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wrong turn leaving Cortona

Throughout the Euro-Moto-Expedition, navigation strategy has been based around major waypoints: Beaches of Normandy, Madrid Co-Pilot Pick-up, Barcelona etc. The fill in-between this simple structure is manipulated by local advice and last minute decisions. I owe providence and this "spontaneous fill" method for three special days in the Tuscan town of Montepulciano.

This is how it came about: Storm front coming through while pushing west from Castiglione d. Lago, maybe I should find a campground in this next town, don't want to be driving in the rain, this gas station has a canopy...perfect, oh wow they have Mobil One motorcycle oil on display, hmm maybe I can change my oil here instead of in crazy Rome as planned, go inside ask Alex at the counter - no sorry can't change it here, minutes pass and the buzz is out - I'm from NY, Sure you can change it here is that alright Paulo?, Sure..., During change ask Paulo about local camping - throw in the word discotheque (european dance club) to show I'm looking to get into some culture. Paulo says no but...HIS MOTORCYCLE CLUB IS HAVING A DINNER TONIGHT...YOU COME? I hold back my excitement worried I could change his mind if I acted strange at all. He's not direct with "the plan" (I've found Italians always wing it) tells me to "Esperta," wait.

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garage life, Montepulciano

So it begins because of oil and good timing. While I'm hanging out at the station, Bonnie draws attention. A clean-cut older mafia man in a grey suit comes into the garage and stares her down for a few minutes before I spur him to say something. I was mistaken, he's a banker, wife is an English teacher, he takes interest because he once drove his car from Italy north to the Arctic Circle in Sweden. A kid in a bucketed forklift drives up to get his tire changed. This is Italian garage life. Some locals gather around a plastic table behind the pumps. We snap a group photo before I leave. Paulo tells me to meet back in two hours. He has to clean up before we go to the dinner.

Paulo arrives. We pick up Mierco who lives in a house on a soft ridge overlooking two valleys, front and back yard, views on both sides. Green fields, vineyards, cypress trees all in sight...impressive real estate. Dinner is held in a recreational building adjacent to soccer fields. Four guys in mid 20's are outside lounging in lawn chairs around the huge pot boiling for the pasta. The club members flow in. Mingling, introduction, name exchange, smiling faces. When we're settled at the four long tables to dine I realize I'm smack in the middle of the "cool," "happening" group. The girl to my right speaks the best English but everyone is giving it a shot. Friends translate adjacent conversations for me. From another table a new acquaintance shouts to me in twisted English: "James...Are you O.K.?" (His version of "how's it going") The hospitality and interest warms me up, the wine just adds to the fire...bottles of local red are all over the table, when they run out there's jugs of red from a club member's vineyard. It's loud - conversations are voice battling. There's fights over the fresh parmaagione, one table is hogging. First plate is the thick spaghetti (local type) with ragu meat sauce. I'm reprimanded for cutting the pasta - "are you crazy?"- only twirling allowed. Italian echoes off the concrete walls. Second plate, Venison chops which seem to have been born in olive oil. The kid across from me left only two large bones on his plate. "Did he eat the small bones?" I think to myself - "this is the most local thing I'll ever do." I don't have room for the third course, a block of cheese being passed around. The dinner turns into a party. I'm introduced to "Grappa" a liquor made from the skin of the grapes. It's got a bite comparable to the Polish liquor my coworkers from back home dub "rocket fuel." The group splits towards a late night cafe/bar. Espressos are downed, then more Grappa. Henry, who apparently loves Grappa, wants me to love it just as much. Head back to the Moto Club Nico Martinelli headquarters, regroup, and assemble a tailored crew for the late night. Up a stone street leading to the top of town is our new hangout. There's a clock tower and a ledge, the gathering place of the region's younger population. The almost full moon lights up the lower part of town and the valley below. Not allowed to open my wallet. I sleep for free in Paulo's extra family apartment. My good fortune in Montepulciano is just beginning.

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small club outing

Meet the club at the cafe the next day for what seems an easy Saturday afternoon motorcycle tour. Bonnie's not expecting the workout - I didn't see it coming either but thinking back i should have known. Six Italians +spaceship - like sport bikes + club turf + their rules =... My blood circulates in 30min as much as it has the whole morning. When we stopped at a cafe 40km from where we started, I am the last to show up as I have refused to pass cars on the 8 back to back blind curves. I don't think they could comprehend the fact that someone couldn't keep up. I blamed it on Bonnie and they humored me.

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Guido and his sweet song

Guido, a consultant for wine corking and bottling machinery, is one of the veterans of the club. He drives a mid-eighties red Ducati two stroke that is the best sounding machine I've ever heard. I managed to see a few of many heads that turned at it during the Saturday time trial. Guido feels bad I missed the scenery. On Sunday, his 45th birthday, he takes me driving the same route in his Jeep. Our friendship grows exponentially regardless of his flakey English. When he mixes up "he" and "she" he takes his palm and slaps it against his head a few times. I eat three separate occasions in his home. His wife, Nela, cooks with classic Italian ingredients with a slight Sardinian flair. A week later, I can still recall the dishes from memory: ragu with bacon, tuna steaks in olive oil, Minestrone, broad beans and ham local spices, meatloaf w/ bits of sausage. The fresh "braid" of Mozzarella always caps the two plates before the dessert.

A vineyard/olive grove/cantina (wine cellar) tour presents itself on Sunday. Giacamo, another friendly club member, invites me to check out his "Fattoria," a local word for farm (but I think It means more - family farm without specialization or major commercial purpose). He explains his family's been tied to Tuscany for ages. You wouldn't doubt it if you saw him. He speaks English well, in a gentle tone but with confidence so that he is able to explain in detail the why's and how's. With the help of two translating dictionaries, no details are lost. Some notes to highlight: Optimally you want to grow 8 bunches of grapes per root - any more, quality bad - any less, not economical; Parasite proof American roots are seamed with Italian branches in his vineyard; rows are run east to west so the sun doesn't favor one side of the vine; best wine is produced around 400m altitude, bottle older than 4 years needs to sit open for 3-4 hours before drinking; wine breaths in oak barrels but "sleeps" when in capped bottle but still "lives" with a cork; Vin Santo "Saint Wine" is a fortified white that gets its name from the providing reward during the hard times in Italy - Its made from jelly left at the bottom of the first press of wine; Olive oil once bottled has 3 years shelf time; Greener the oil the better for taste and for having "healthy grease"; Extra Virgin status is achieved with an acidity level less than .4%.

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Giacomo and his cantina

I learn that a Medici law dating back to the 1400's required Tuscan land owners to plant a set number of olive trees, cypresses, oaks, vines. Giacamo says simply "You see the country, you see a garden." I experience a true, "Mama Mia" when he describes the richness of an early 1970's frattoria wine he opened on a recent New Years Day. He explains modesty is the key ingredient in the farming profession. "Just walk straight, don't stop" as we skirt down the path, five feet away from the run of his honey bees. He takes me to the largest oak on his property (Medici probably) growing almost perpendicularly out of a small hill, removes some ivy, revealing a small stone well filled with water - builder unknown. His mother used to fetch drinking water from here when she was a kid. She was born in the old stone house in the middle of the olive grove. Inside, Giacamo shows me an old stone seal he found when digging the foundation for his new eco-tourist B&B. The date reads 1588. In his pickup truck we head to the family's "Cantina," or wine cellar. I'm surprised to learn it's in the center of the old town. A "first door ever made" old oak double door opens, we walk through a stone wall thick, maybe three feet. The temperature fluctuates throughout the year 3 degrees celsius at most. The pressing and fermentation processes are explained in detail, a wine tasting session with a siphon and dusty cup replace the luxuries of a typical wine tasting - napkin covered bottle, crystal wine glass, the fancy done up host. Giacamo shows a passion for his work and his life, both tightly knit. He's a self proclaimed "Utopian Man", stuck on using what the Earth has given him naturally, simple rain water collection system, organic fertilizer, the words chemical and pesticides aren't in his vocabulary. "As soon as you taste the oil you can taste the chemicals." Money corrupts other vineyards. In his cool, easy voice (a metaphor for his character), I catch a statement worth noting "If we go on this way...I think we are at the end." The words come from a man who's tied to the land. The view deserves more attention now.

At 9pm I dine with Giacamo and his parents. The lasagna is perfect, Mama was rolling the pasta dough out this morning. I compliment with words and by the number of times I accept another slab. I don't doubt the fact that Lasagna takes the place of two plates. I'm wrong. Pork chops follow, the classic potato omelets, pears and cheese (eaten in the same bite) finish the courses before the two cakes. I am - unbutton the pants - full.

As Bonnie and I head out from whatever town we've been, we usually pullover right outside for a quick check to make sure things are strapped down and nothing is left behind. The way out of Montepulciano was no different. As we're running through the motions a town bus pulls up alongside. The driver is leaning over the steering wheel looking down on us, waving with a big smile. I recognize his long curly hair. I don't know his name and vaguely remembered meeting him. I take it as if the town of Montepulciano was herself wishing us goodbye.

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A road out of Montepulciano

Posted by meIan3 10:16 Comments (0)

Florence

Mecato - Santa Coroce - The Rock - R and A's

rain

Florence is known for its history and art. Supposedly Emperor Julius Caesar founded the city in 59BC. The Medici Family, who first acquired wealth as the Pope's bankers thus gaining rule, is stamped for bringing riches into its boundaries during the 15th and 16th centuries. Michelangelo's "David" resides in a museum down the road from the massive Duomo Cathedral, its famous facade covered in pastel colored marble facade.

My sister Dana spent a semester of study in Florence a few years ago. She tipped me off on what to seek out and what to avoid. The Mercato Centrale was one. On her recommendation I picked up some dried strawberries. Half hour of mingling and I've got wild boar sausage, another ball of mozz, fresh basil and homemade olive oil and pesto. Bonnie will have to make room. The place is two floors, meat and cheese on the first, fruit on the top...simple.

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Santa Croce

Among other targeted activities, is the Basilica di Santa Croce. Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Dante have their tombs inside although the rebellious poet Dante is actually buried in another town. The Ponte Vecchio Bridge is the smile on the face of the city (Duomo being the nose). It's a trademark, and deserved a late night hang out session. I was surrounded by a healthy mixture of young locals to young travelers to old travelers...6:3:1...all there to hang out and be classic.

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Michealangelo Tomb

Met a Brazilian guy in a laundry mat. Junior's been traveling for almost 10 years. He left home at 22 when he was still recovering from 40 meter fall off of a Rio De Janeiro cliff. He explains an airlift was involved so i don't have to question the severity of the incident. Today he's healthy as ever. To give you a visual his face resembles the wrestler turned movie star, The Rock. London, Amsterdam, Paris, St. Petersburg, South Africa are places he's spent chunks of his life. Rock's got a good head on his shoulders, has done everything with student visas as he studies the language of the country wherever he goes. Picks up odd jobs in each city and uses work time to practice the local language. He's been in Florence since November working in the market selling t-shirts and scarves. Mario is one of his coworkers, an Italian from Palermo, Sicily. Three out of our five minute conversation is about the women strolling around the market, one about the physical effects of drinking too much wine, one about how he makes his Martini.

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Sparkling Duomo

A semi-local, Junior feeds me glimpses into Italian culture. Italians won't hesitate to splurge on anything edible. They take pride in their meals, typically three plates, in sequence; a pasta, meat, and salad or vegetable. He tells me they're lax with civil law. Now I notice it. Huge signs are spread around Florence's street forbid the selling of counterfeit items. But there,s guys lining the street selling fake Coach bags and Gucci glasses. What,s the point of the huge sign? I've seen few cops patrolling the motorways in Italy. When someone says Italian Cop I think of a congenial guy laid back in uniform downing espresso, smoking a cigarette chatting with friends.

The Rock takes me to his favorite restaurant - run by Roger the chef and Antonio the waiter. I visualize two of my buddies from Huntington running the same joint. First meal, Antonio walked over with the menu board, I tried to pronounce a dish that I thought sounded good in a questioning tone - I wanted to know more about it. Roger, cooking behind glass alongside our table, turned the ingrediental question into an order placed. He insists I'll like it, gesturing with his upwards turned curved hand to his lips. The Rock explains we'll get more pasta that usual. Because of him, I've achieved a quasi-"Regular" status. By the time Bonnie and I head out of Florence South into Tuscany, I have dined at R and A's pasta joint three times.

Posted by meIan3 10:48 Archived in Italy Tagged motorcycle Comments (0)

Pisa - Lucca

Seaside Alps Highway - Super Supermarket - Walled City - Italian Pickle

overcast

A seaside stretch from Nice to Genoa - blue seas taking shotgun. The Alps spill out into the Mediterainian here and at least 50 tunnels duck under its ridges. A half hour out of France to my right is Monacco. I can make out huge hotel buildings cupped around a harbor of white yahts. My trip, nor my clothes are tailored for a visit and I just drive by cringing at what I'd passed up. I begin to notice hundreds of ugly metal pre-fab buildings dotting the hills aside the motorway. They are 'hot houses' for growing all types of botique flowers. The locals farm on the mountains too. It's amazing how they can work a crop at such a steep pitch.

A morning in Pisa, a dirty university town with a tourist jammed square in the middle, was enough. The tower's increasing lean was finally corrected in 1998. It was built in the 1300s.

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Lucca from atop the Torre Delle Ore

On a reccomendation headed for the walled city of Lucca but not before a stop at an Italian Chain Supermarket. The cheeses and meats pulled the weight of the place. The cheeses were displayed in a 50 foot row at waist height, double sided, a different cheese every foot or so. There was six feet of fresh mozzerela (the buffalo mozz being the most expensive) marked different producers and in all shapes and sizes. Meats displayed in an oval about the size of a highschool baskeball court. I walked out with sliced procuitto, fresh tomatos still on the vine, and a ball of Mozzerela, which upon tasting I thought I had swallowed a spoonful of ice cream. The trio, indended roadside lunches, felt more like a dessert. Italian food has the crown so far. I really thought I got the wrong cheese. It had to be meant for a cake or something.

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a garden to shade the ancient watch guards atop Torre Guinigi, Lucca

Upon arriving at Lucca I was confused by the giant mossy wall surrounding the old city. I turned off the loop road headed for the opening in the wall but had to pull over for fear I was breaking the law passing in. There's no roadsigns. I peak in and see a little vehicular action then drive through the 12 meter high 8 meter thick wall under a narrow archway. The wall was built around the city over the 16th and 17th centuries and for the most part, never had to serve its purpose. Today, the top of the wall serves the town as a 3.5km walking track where exercising locals and tourists with rental bikes mingle.

Lucca was a Roman colony dating back to 180 BC. In the 12th century it became a self-governing state and flourished as the center of the western silk trade. The huge Romanesque churches and existing family owned towers inside the center attest to the city's former prosperity. The Cathedral di San Martino is home to "Volto Santo," a wooden statue of Christ discovered in the 11th century randomly in a port town on the west coast of Italy. Legend has it that it was carved by Nicodemus, who knew Christ before the crucifixion. In the center of town, the Piazza Antiteatro's oval space provides relief from Lucca's 12ft streets. My audio tour device explains that I'm standing on an old Roman ampitheater where gladiators, many of them slaves and felons, used to slash with lions brought up from the cells below. Chills down the spine...

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a hopeful gladiator poses in front of his arena, Piazza Antiteatro

Onto Florence. It's a Saturday and gas stations are self serve only taking European chipped credit cards. Bonnie doesn't have a fuel gauge. She's so simple I love her. Instead you watch the mileage and if needed flip the switch when she sputters a little bit. At this point she's breathing on one gallon. I leave Lucca already on reserve and figure I'll find an open station on the road to Florence.

When we run out of gas we're on the motorway but an exit's in sight. We coast to the exit - no sign of a station. I ask around a few shops in the town without luck. Find a guy in headed for his Audi hatchback. He's got long hair and I hope for the best. "Si, prego, you come," he says. When we get to the station, he treats me to the liter. I feel jipped of a challenge.

Then the Italian realizes he has locked his keys in the car along with my tank pack filled with my valuables. Our fortunes are knit. He's shouting things in Italian, pacing around the station literally pulling his hair. Apparently he did this the other day and had to break the window to get in. I'm smiling but try to look sorry when he turns to me each time for my reaction.

The problem is solved in this order: I reveal that with friction the rear window can be pulled down a quarter inch, a flat rock recovers another full inch, a long rod with a hook at the end appears from the cafe next door. The Italian (i missed his name) is a paper manufacturing machine mechanic. He was catching a flight the next morning to Romania for a job. Heading back to Bonnie, I make a joke that we'd make a great team of theives. He gets it by the time he drops me off. Thanks man.

Posted by meIan3 02:37 Archived in Italy Tagged motorcycle Comments (0)

Pyrenees - Carcassone - Provence - Nice

Hungry - Lamb Pastery - Campsite Socializing - Nice Nice Family

sunny

Bonnie and I opted for the mountain route out of Spain, straight North through the Pyrenees. Five hours through tunnels, along rivers and mountain ledges transported me out of dry Spain and back into verdant France. It didn't take me long discover that the inhabitants of Southern France speak less English than those in the North (due to the fact that the North interacts in business more with Britain). This fact worked against my advantage immediately after crossing the border when I tried to dine shortly after my successful mountain pass. I believed a celebration was in order and settled down for a feast in Limoux, a small town 50km from Spanish territory. Long story short I left with only a salad in my stomach, embarrassed that I couldn't communicate to the waitress that I was hungry for some meat of some sort. I don't know why I retreated so easily, I was surrounded by locals and I guess my pride took a hit. My new goal was to set up camp before i burned the calories from the salad. I settled for a grassy plot on the river bank outside of town, semi-legitiment, but comfortable. I was awakened early in the morning by a shouting French Fly Fisherman. I was on his turf. Content for an early start, I hit the road for the walled village of Carcassonne with hopes of a hardy breakfast. Four small crepes at a local cafe only proved that no one breakfasts like the Americans. I dream of IHOP Pancakes.

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Bonnie at rest after a push over the Pyrenees

Carcassonne has Roman history dating back to 100BC. Ramparts are scattered around the town and the giant fortress hovers on the hill above. The settlement changed hands countless times first between the Romans and Moors later the French and Spanish.

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Typical Provence at dusk

An push east through out of the foothills and through the wetland Bouches - Du - Rhone region brought us to the area of Southeastern France known as Provence. The region is known for a few things: first Provence of Italy -hence the name; Prehistoric, Greek, and Roman history; the romantic landscape; fields of Lavender; temporary headquarters of painters Cezanne, Van Gogh and Renoir. A small campsite occupying a wooded plot wedged between two fields served as my home base for three days. When i was ready to leave, I paid the retired farmers the balance of my campsite plus the amount of baguettes and croissants that i consumed each morning for breakfast. I have started a retirement wish list this week. Camping Bois De Sibourg is at the top of the list.

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Clock tower above the market in Reilianne

Provence was one old town followed by another older town, most of them atop hills overlooking rolling hills, from some the snow capped Alps trick your eye into thinking the peaks distant clouds. One morning I stumbled upon a market passing through a town called Reillanne - Got a nice peppered 'dry sausage.' I went to buy one tomato to compliment the meat. I gestured to the guy that I wanted it but he wouldn't take the money: 'Bon Appetite' he says. 'What a classic thing to happen' I think to myself.

A few more things to spit out from my time in Provence:

I was a return customer at the same restaurant Cereste, the small town closest to the campsite. The Plat de Jour - a lamb pastry, scalloped potatoes and a vegetable quiche sold me on attending dinner a second time where upon this occasion i was treated to dinner by four sophisticated Australian travelers. I had reccomended the resturant to them earlier in the day over a wine picnic not knowing that I would reap the rewards of my suggestion by chance later that evening.

William and Thea, respectively a surgeon's assistant and a self practicing lawyer, both from Holland, were my unofficial happy hour mates at the campsite - wine, cheese, and talk of surrounding hikes, motorcycles, and baseball were all ingredients. Also met an English harmonica player/tv commercial music producer from Hong Kong. He retreated to France after the Bird Flu hit his former city apparently thinning out the population quite a bit. He lives in Provence now and is pretty up on the surrounding historical sites. He explained to me the tower that I saw everyday on the drive up to the campsite was built by the Romans over 1000 years ago as a lookout to protect its military camp which was stationed in the very valley we were standing in.

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Using old fashioned navigation around Provence

This entry is being written from Nice, where I have spent the last two nights in the comforts of the Bracco house. Patrick and Veronique and their daughter Marie and son Antoine are friends of the Gentils, my host family in Paris. Both families have convinced me that that French hospitality gives Southern hospitality a pretty good fight. Meals began with an apertief of orange flavored red wine and finished with a homemade lemom liquor. Bonnie and I are leaving for the Italian border now, but thanks to Marie's private tudoring I will not leave France deprived of the basics of French grammer.

Posted by meIan3 02:46 Archived in France Tagged motorcycle Comments (0)

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