DISCLAIMER: if you are an Italian fuel station attendant, a Greek god, a ferry restaurant cashier, a Harley rider, Napoleon Bonaparte, a talkative Bavarian woman, a cyclist, the receptionist of hotel Le Maquis, a serial killer, a granny, the hunchback of the Notre Dame, a BMW GS rider, a carabiniero, McGyver, a member of the Sardinian mafia, a garbage collector from Orgósolo, an obese German, a helmetless Floridan, the former Italian prime minister, disabled or dead, the following story could be offending to you.
Corsica and Sardinia, April 27th – May 5th, 2012
Day 1, Friday, April 27th
Today’s the day! We’re leaving for another motorcycle trip! I’d brought up the idea to ride Corsica and Sardinia last year, and didn’t need to convince Markus at all. We didn’t realize then, that this adventure already started last fall, when his Ducati 900 Supersport ripped a timing belt. For him, winter consisted of ordering parts, waiting for their delivery and letting our trusted motorcycle whisperer reanimate the engine. Markus expected the work to be finished in spring, but backlogged orders and complications made April arrive faster than desired.
All looked good by mid April, until the news was brought that the engine wasn’t perfect yet, and the bike probably wouldn’t be ready for the big trip. Contingency plans had been discussed in length over a snowy winter and one of them was put into action a week ago. It was a good-looking 18 year old Ducati Monster that Markus had had on his radar for a while. To add to the excitement of this short-term planning, the registration papers were delayed in the mail and it was uncertain whether the bike needed to get its obligatory periodic check-up from the Zurich traffic administration, which probably would have taken weeks rather than days. Fortunately the check-up could be postponed.
The registration papers came on Thursday evening. Today is Friday. Oh, and the Monster is showing signs of incontinence. An old fuel line is leaking and it needs to be replaced if we don’t want to appear on national television after a baptism of fire in the middle of the Gotthard tunnel. We agree to meet around 9 o’clock at the motorcycle doctor’s office. One hose replacement later, we’re on the road.
There’s no reason for stress today. Our amibitious goals of riding the curves of northern Italy have been reduced to making it from Zurich to the ferry in Savona on the Mediterranean coast. That’s nearly 550km (340mi) and shouldn’t be a problem on motorways. The first stretch is rather uneventful, with a bit of traffic queueing in front of the Gotthard Tunnel. We split lanes a bit and soon find ourselves in the perpetual heat of the tunnel. We decide to avoid the greater Milano area and cross Varese, which looks mostly industrial and not very appealing, to be honest.
After Varese, we take the toll road to Alessandria which is almost entirely devoid of traffic. We agree to stick to a constant pace of 120km/h so Markus can get a feel for the drinking habits of the Monster. It’s still an unfamiliar bike to him and it has a rather small tank. It turns out that a 230km (145mi) range is a safe distance to start looking for fuel. And fuel we find at a motorway station with two attendants, who can serve both of us in parallel because there’s simply nobody else to use their dozen pumps. After paying almost 2 Euros per liter (nearly $10/USgallon) we philosophize about cause and effect of fuel prices and traffic density on this particular road.
We continue through the valley of the river Po, which is really very flat. This area is apparently ideal to grow rice for an all-Italian risotto. We leave the motorway beyond Alessandia, where we hope to see some more curves in the Parco Nationale Capanne Di Marcarolo before we reach the ferry port at Savona. At the automated toll booth we notice something peculiar. Altough Markus and I have ridden exactly the same stretch in the same amount of time, I have to pay a bit more than he does. Perhaps he got a discount for every time he had to press the button to get the entry ticket in the first place. The barrier is actually so short we could easily have passed it without paying at all. I should have invented a retractable license plate over winter.
From the motorway we ride straight into the dolce vita and abundant street life of Liguria. We cross some really quaint villages, such as Voltaggio, with playing children and curious pensioners, through alleys that are as historic as they are narrow. The national park is pretty and, apart from the few villages, mostly empty too. The road is a bit slippery because of some loose gravel. Markus’ Monster doesn’t have a rear wheel hugger which is an advantage in this case. The gravel is pelted against the bottom of his seat, which serves as an early warning system. The road meanders through the woods and gets better, which makes it a very enjoyable ride down to the city of Genova.
At Genova we make a large U-turn before the last bit of motorway to Savona. And what a ride it is! Three lanes wide, with lots of curves and tunnels. Where the Swiss would have posted a sensible 60km/h (40mph) limit, the Italians believe that 130km/h (80mph) will do just fine. That’s brilliant! I’ve never known that motorways could be this much fun! I shed some speed before each tunnel so I can accelerate through it with the sound of Zeus farting and a big smile on my face. The sea view and the sunshine between tunnels complement the thrilling ride. It’s almost sad that we reach Savona so quickly, but it’s not a big surprise at this speed.
Boarding the ferry is no hassle. Show your reservation and ride in. To my surprise, I qualify for pole position tomorrow morning! The bikes will be tied down by the ferry personnel, so we quickly remove all our luggage and go up the narrow staircase to find our cabin for the night. After a perceived 5-story climb to the Amethyst Deck, I conclude that I should have left my 5kg (11 lbs) chain lock in the bike pannier instead of in my luggage.
After having a laugh about the confusing instructions on how (not) to disturb captain Francesca Schettina’s navigation by (not) leaving the cabin curtains open after dark, solving the riddle of the foldable bunk bed ladder, which is neither a rescue utensil, nor a projection screen, and having some fun with the open air animal urinal on the top deck, we head for the restaurant. The food is much better than the cashier’s affinity with the principles of mathematics.
The ferry leaves on time and after a few drinks and poring over maps of Corsica, we head back to our cabin for a short but good night’s sleep.