I’ve ridden my motorbike in Italy before, it was in 2009 and I was left with the opinion that the people of Italy didn’t want me there. This time I was determined to change that. I learnt enough words to be polite and I had instructed myself to be super nice to everyone even when things went wrong. The first day, Brindisi to just north of Rome was okay, even their driving was a bit better than I remembered. I did my level best and the people responded. On top of that, the campsite where I stayed last night served up a truly top class dinner and desert. It was beef in tagliatelle for starters, pork wrapped in bacon in a beautiful red wine sauce followed up by crime caramel with some kind of chocolate drizzle on top. At this point the Italians could do no wrong!
My second day in Italy; however, was more of a challenge. I was hoping to get another excellent nights sleep but unfortunately I’d put my tent on an ants nest. After my delicious meal I returned to my tent and hit the sack. After a few instances of itching and scratching I decided to switch on my torch. I was confronted with a horrific sight of the inside of my tent literally crawling alive with hundreds of huge ants. The zip that normally closes the door to things like ants broke at the beginning of my trip so I had no defence against the little blighters so I filled the tent with the anti-bite spray I had and waited half an hour for them to die. I the shook the tent out and finally got to sleep around three.
As you can imagine, after that little episode sleeping in the tent wasn’t easy and I kept on switching on the torch and checking, and my imagination was running wild. Luckily the new location I’d chosen seemed to be ant free. I woke at around seven, had some coffee and departed. A severely crap nights sleep was not the best way to start a new day, especially one that could well include moments of ‘heightened anxiety’ combined with the need to hold ones tongue (just like every other Georgiou day abroad)
Now, let me just explain that I’m extremely keen to get back home as I need to sort out some stock problems I’m about to have with my business, as such I don’t have the time to nancy my way through Italy as I’d like. That said, I was obviously going to be stopping at petrol stations for fuel and food so was hoping that the experiences were going to be good ones. I was also going to be experiencing some more of the Italian driving.
After about fifty uneventful miles on the motorway I decided to stop for petrol. I filled my trusty steed up with fuel, approached the payment chap with a big smile and said ‘Buongiorno!’. This worked perfectly. He smiled back, took my payment and said ‘Chow’ which I then repeated. I know that’s a long way from being Facebook mates for life but I was very happy with how that went. Another few successes like that and Italy may well slip into my top ten.
Two hundred miles later, and still with no bad incidents, I pulled into another petrol station and filled up. The payment chap seemed like a nice enough bloke and reciprocated my few words of Italian with a smile. With a new confidence in my ability to get on with Italians I decided to brave the petrol station shop and get some food. When it was my turn I opened with another ‘Buongiorno!’ and a smile then pointed to a thing that looked like a large scotch egg. He picked it up out of the display cabinet and said something in Italian. Unfortunately as he spoke, a large lump of spittle flew from his mouth and onto the thing that looked like a scotch egg. He noticed this and attempted to wipe it off with his dirty apron. Wanting to be polite but not wanting to chow down on another mans spit I shook my head and pointed to one that hadn’t been spat on in the display cabinet. The man then frowned, became very loud and showed me that he had wiped his spittle from my food with his apron. He then put it on the counter in front of me and tried to charge me three Euros. I smiled, about turned and walked towards the shop exit. At this point he started shouting. My normal response would have been to return and do some shouting of my own but I was trying hard to not have bad experiences so I kept my mouth closed and walked away. By the time I’d got on my bike he was back behind the counter, probably spitting on everyone else’s food. I reminded myself that every country has a man like that.
I accelerated up to speed and rejoined the motorway.
“It was but one incident Richard, and it would be wrong to judge all Italians on just one bad incident. Don’t forget that good things have happened too.”
I continued nattering away to myself in the middle of the slow lane when a car went zooming past me not an inch away from my handle bar, unfortunately he was going so bloody fast that the wind from his car blew me all over the place. I regained control and reminded myself that that was but a single incident.
“I know he was going too fast and he was in my lane but that doesn’t make all Italians bad drivers, just that one.”
As I continued on a lorry came into view. I waited until I got a little closer, checked my mirrors, looked over my shoulder and indicated out. After checking again that it was clear I pulled out and started overtaking the lorry. Before I’d finished overtaking a car came zooming up behind me and sat no more than about a foot and a half from my back tyre. That was the closest anyone has ever got to my backside and I have to say, on motorcycle it make you feel incredibly vulnerable. I didn’t respond, I just put it down as another terrible individual.
A few miles up the road I found another lorry, this one was behind a coach which was behind another lorry. I did all the looking and signalling and pulled out to overtake. The moment I got beside the lorry I checked my mirror and saw a car approaching very quickly. As it came hurtling closer I noticed it was a beautiful, black Ferrari 599. It slowed down in good time from God only knows what speed and waited patiently some way back for me to finish overtaking. When I pulled in he pulled up along side me, pointed at the bike, gave me a big smile and a thumbs up, then floored it. The sound was incredible and the thing shot off like a bat out of hell. He was having some serious fun! Good man!
Obviously I didn’t get to see much of Italy but from what I saw from the road the coast looked very nice as did the central mountainous regions; however, it was the approach to the Alps that did it for me. I turned left and whizzed into France before I got there but riding along and seeing those majestic mountains come into view is quite spectacular.
So, my opinion of Italians? Nice, they’re like normal Humans but with passion. I like that. I will say though that the cost of the toll roads seems a bit steep. The first day hit me for around 45 Euros in tolls, the second about 90 Euros which did include a very long tunnel as I entered France.
The moment I entered France the the sun started getting lower in the sky, the road meandered through the edge of the Alps and everything seemed like it had been painted British racing green. I’ve always had a soft spot for France and last nights riding just confirmed its number one placing. Even with my knees and bum shouting merry hell when it came to picking a camp site I chose one 50 miles away just so I could continue on those beautiful French roads for a little longer.
By the time I reach the camp site (about twenty kilometres south west of Grenoble) I’d done 821 kilometres, or 510 miles if you prefer that, and I had a raging headache. That’s when I remembered to make sure I had regular coffees. The last coffee I’d had was a little espresso first thing in the morning. I asked at reception but they had no coffee whatsoever, all they could muster was a beer (that wouldn’t have happened in Italy!)
I returned to my bike and raided my panniers. Luckily I found a half flat bottle of Coke Zero from the ferry trip into France at the beginning of my trip. I downed that with 2 paracetamol and 2 ibuprofen and a couple of litres of water. It definitely eased but refused to go completely. As I sit here typing my blog in the morning I can still feel the headache in the background. My first stop today will be a mega-coffee stop.
I’ve decided to enjoy today and to stop for coffee and cake at every opportunity. I’m not going to race home on the motorways but meander through the French countryside and do lots of smiling, lots or waving at other bikes and lots of being happy.
That’s all folks!