GL004: Bella Autostrada Italiana

June 4th, 2016

Zurich we have lift-off

We leave on June 4th, eventually. Two days earlier than the original plan, before I figured out that in order to cross the Himalayas in time, we should leave earlier. Like April… We’ll see how we make up for some of the lost time, either by riding more distance per day, skipping some intermediate destinations or changing the ‘final destination’ altogether. There is no real final destination, actually. We have a desired route that takes us to Nepal and South-East Asia but the main goal is to enjoy ourselves, to see the world as it is beyond the compressed misery of the evening news and to return in one piece (each).

We’ve departed and I’m really happy about that. Also because it is too warm and humid to stand around in motorcycle gear. We did a little test ride a few days ago with the entire luggage and Stiff Spring’s new spring and it was successful. Petra will need to get used to the extra weight, but it’s much easier to handle than the ‘luggage’ she had during some of her riding lessons: as a preparation for her exam I would sit on the back of her Ducati Monster while she rode it. It is probably easier to ride to South-East Asia with 47kg of luggage.

As much fun as back road riding in Switzerland is, we take the motorway for the first leg of our journey. We’ve seen a lot of Switzerland already and we can easily see more when we return. Our cruising speed on the motorway is 100-110km/h (60-68mph). Beyond that, the Black Camel is getting a bit out of breath going uphill with the load and the non-standard but washable air filter.

It’s always good to make it across the Alps on the first day, so we ride through the Gotthard tunnel and stay on the motorway until Lugano, from where we continue eastwards to the Lake of Como. The few hairpin turns down to the lake are a next stage in Petra’s challenge to master the laden BMW. She passes.

We know the lake from an earlier visit and were sure there will be plenty of hotels to host us for a night. We find a nice one called ‘La Darsena’ at the shore and partly above the Lake of Como.

Because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bring a lot of clothing on a trip like ours, I have one pair of white running shoes that I use for everyday walking and running. Combine these with practical outdoor clothing and you’ll understand that I am barred from the Italian Bella Figura Contest for life, as I’ve noticed while entering the hotel’s fancy restaurant. At least I have a good excuse.

Random observations from the saddle: BMW makes the world go ’round. The small foam-filled globe mascot behind the BMW’s windscreen rotates due to the vibration caused by the engine.

June 5th, 2016

“Don’t call us, we kill you”

At breakfast, we’re asked where we’re going by a German couple. They’ve noticed the bikes and are curious because they don’t look standard anymore and neither does the luggage. Conversations like these always take longer if the first answer is “South-East Asia”.

We still have to get used to the soft luggage. The main disadvantage of this kind of luggage is that it takes much longer to pack in the morning than aluminium or plastic cases. That’s all relative after the first time you’ve seriously fallen off your bike in the dirt and an aluminium case is ripped off or a plastic case shattered. Good luck strapping it back on and finding an aluminium welder in the sticks.

By the time we’ve finished packing the bike I’m sweating like a pig and welcome the airstream once we’re moving. I’m irritated by the fact that my navigation system refuses to show any next turn. It now simply says “Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II in 800m”. A master reset of the device solves that (and erases the first GPS track of our route).

After Como we decide to take more motorway to make up for some lost time. Petra is my shining star, especially when she switches on her 15 Watt LED-bar so I can see her better in my rear view mirror. And it’s good in bad weather too, as we notice soon enough when a thunderstorm rolls in from the south. It is accompanied by a heavy downpour. Many Italian drivers and motorcycle riders take refuge under overpasses, but there are too many of them so they also park before and after the overpasses. One of them even thinks it is a good idea to park on the rightmost lane of the motorway. This allows me to try out my — ironically Italian-made — extra loud horn. Now he knows what 139dB of concentrated anger sounds like. Horn test completed.

The rain stops soon but the motorway ride is tiring enough for us to stop at Desenzano del Garda. We’ve also been here before and take a cozy room in a nice hotel. We’re starting to figure out what could become a daily arrival routine: oiling our chains, plugging chargers into every available power outlet, doing some exercise and washing some clothing if necessary.

Random quote of the day. The genuinely nice lady at the hotel reception seems to sense our appreciation of irony and says “Here is my number, but if you call me I will kill you”. At least I hope it was irony.

June 6th, 2016

Radio Silence

Packing the bikes after a good breakfast works much better. Not because of the breakfast but because I pass the luggage to Petra at the other side of the hedge in our back garden, saving us a few detours. But by the time everything is securely fastened to the bikes I’m wet with sweat again.

The intercom that allows me to talk to Petra is not working properly. On day 3 of a 300-day trip, go figure… I do manage to connect it with the GPS to play some music on another long stretch of motorway but I witness it slowly dying until I can’t get it to work at all anymore. No communication and no music makes this ride quite boring. The buffeting headwind and many slow overtaking trucks don’t make it more pleasant.

We decide to stay in Trieste, partly also because Markus R has told me it is a nice city. And he is right. The view from the winding road that takes us from the motorway down to the center is very promising: Trieste has many nice buildings with 19th century architecture. My navigation system copes well with its one-way-street puzzle. I manage to reach the hotel without detours and without losing Petra.

The street of our hotel has many parking spots for scooters and motorcycles. But because everyone in Trieste seems to have a scooter, the first vacant spots are three blocks away. I must have mentioned that we have 110kg of luggage. And that it’s hot. And that I’m sweating already from the slow ride through town. Once we’ve finished moving everything from the bikes to the hotel I need a full half hour to cool down.

I opened the intercom and it’s officially dead. There is a crack in the plastic, probably from dropping it once. Yesterday’s heavy rain has leaked in and slowly destroyed it. It is sorely missed. It’s not only a luxury to be able to talk to each other while riding but can be very useful to point out safety hazards and discuss when we’ll have lunch or a visit to the loo. Now we need to stop every time and shout to communicate simple things and this costs a lot of time and energy.

Today’s restaurant tip: Restaurant Champagneria close to the Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia in Trieste.

June 7th, 2016

Construction Work

At breakfast we decide to stay another day in Trieste to experience the city, to start arranging our visa for Iran and Uzbekistan and do some route planning. And to solve the next problem: why my external hard drive has stopped working. Why is everything breaking? Now we won’t have any backup solution anymore other than uploading it when we have a good internet connection. And my music collection has been reduced to what was already on my phone. This is probably to make us used to a life without luxury.

The route planning reveals that we need to drop Georgia and Armenia and ride directly from Turkey to Iran, otherwise it’s going to be too stressful to reach China by the end of September. I was really looking forward to those two countries but we just can’t have it all. They’re ‘close enough’ to Central Europe to visit some day, perhaps even with a ferry from Bulgaria.

The lady at the hotel reception suggests that we park our bikes closer to the hotel! That’s great because another reason for staying one more day was that I really didn’t feel like walking 3 blocks 3 times — back and forth and in motorcycle gear — to get all our luggage on the bikes again. Apparently there is some reconstruction work going on at the ground floor of the building and she’s told the workers to leave some space for two bikes. Very nice and very helpful. While riding the streets of Trieste to get Stiff Spring to our new garage I get quizzical looks from scooter riders. And it’s not because I ignore the ‘no entry’ signs like they all do.