Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

And then there were two

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

(James) Having picked up a few provisions in the morning including a map of Italy (we had originally planned to come down through Slovenia and Croatia) Jack and Charlie helped us  lump our bags and panniers down from Charlie’s flat to the bikes parked down in the street below and started to load them up for the journey south and our first part of the trip alone. After saying goodbye we headed  towards the bridge to cross the Tiber and then down towards the Coliseum. We had no Rome map but noticed that is was the most southern of the famous landmarks so reasoned that if we headed towards it and then continued in a south easterly direction it would take us out of Rome and towards the towns we’d marked as our first waypoints of the day.  It was quickly apparent to me as we rode through Rome that Em’s confidence on the bike had taken another giant leap forward. We both adopted the general rule for driving in Rome that you just worry about what’s in front of you and that you assume that the person behind you is doing the same! So if somebody in front of you just start moving across into your path it’s up to you slow and give them room, as they’re going to keep coming anyway. On the morning we left, with me at the front, it was Em’s voice I could hear, not worrying about what was coming behind her but confidently calling out warnings to me to let me know what someone was doing in my blindspot. She sounded like she’d riding in cities for years!

True to our plan we rode past the Coliseum and headed south east entering the countryside on the road we’d wanted to get to and soon we were riding south with the port city of Bari and a ferry to Croatia our final destination.

We’d hope to find a campsite that was marked on our map near Cassino (site of a large battle in WWII) but upon our arrival that evening it turned out the site had been closed for some time. This meant we had a decision to make as we were determined to camp and make up for the fact that Italy had put us over our planned budget and Italy doesn’t seem to cater for camping to any great extent. The decision was made to head 40km west (the opposite direction to Bari) towards the coast north of Naples as the map indicated that there  were 3 campsites there. We eventually found one in Formia just after dark (never ideal), and could have easily missed it as it looked closed. We were guided to an area and told we could set up wherever we liked which we promptly did, making dinner and going straight to sleep. With daylight we were finally able to gauge our surroundings – we were indeed the only ones there, and our inspection of the facilities didn’t exactly win us over. Suffice to say, if you’re looking for a camping experience with clean, secure facilities look elsewhere. If, however, you prefer your campsites dingy, unsecure, mosquito ridden and with no flushing toilets you’d do well to put the delights of Formia somewhere near the top of your list. Still, at least it was cheap!…

After packing up we hit the road and spent a fairly uneventful day heading east towards the Adriatic coast (there were no campsites apparently anywhere in between) and by early evening we were passing through the olive orchards that cover this part of Italy. However, despite everything, Italy once again failed to come through on the camping front and the campsite we’d aimed for failed to materialise. We decided to follow the coast road towards Bari in the hope of coming across another one and did eventually find one but once again, it was closed. This was a blow as it was now after dark and we’d put in a big effort to get across the country that day so were very tired. Em felt that her tiredness was starting to lead to mistakes on the bike so the decision was quickly made to find the next available place to stay, campsite or no campsite. The ‘next’ place turned out to be a 5-star hotel and we weren’t quite that desperate; we did, however, find something less grand further up the road and despite it clearly be a hotel aimed towards the corporate market, we turned in. Our room stank of cigarette smoke and the bizarre ‘restaurant’ was reminiscent of a conference room: not the best money we’ve ever spent, but safety must come first.

In the morning, we headed into Bari to enquire about ferries and were told that the next sailing wasn’t until the following night, meaning another day in the dump that is Bari. The lady at the information centre told us there was another campsite to the south of the city along the coast that would definitely be open and that it was very nice. We promptly rode off towards the village where she had indicated it was (passing numerous gypsy ‘dwellings’ on the way) and were grateful to see that it was indeed open. However, it quickly became apparent that the lady at the tourist information office had never actually been to this campsite as ‘very nice’ it was not!! Once again, we were the only ones there, other than builders who were still constructing it for the summer season, wild dogs running in packs across the waterway, and the local prostitutes plying their trade 200 yards away under a bypass!! Still, beggars can’t be choosers and we took advantage of being able to relax together, do some laundry, catch up on some reading and sleep.

The next evening, we headed down to the port and were directed to the ‘ferry’ that was to take us across to Croatia at 10pm. Having ensured the bikes were tied up, we climbed up to the top deck to cool down and say goodbye to Italy (not Bari, which is about as un-Italian as is possible to be – unstylish, far from cosmopolitan and full of fast-food joints; think Dagenham with sun!) We quickly made friends on the deck with some of the multi-national passengers that were aboard, including a friendly Ukranian man and his wife who after talking to us for a while, offered to take a picture of both of us on our camera, uttering the line (cue Ukranian accent), “Smile like the cheeses” which we found absolutely hilarious and has now become something of a catchphrase for us! We also befriended a young lone motorcyclist from Germany, called Marco, who was riding to his father’s house in Croatia and spent the evening chatting and drinking beer with him before we each found a nook on the warm deck floor (we think we were above the engine room!) and tried to get some sleep as the forecast rain began to fall…

When in Rome…

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

(James) By the time we awoke at a not indecent hour Charlie was long gone, in fact whilst planning our day – Em and I sightseeing and Jack to finally purchase a decent replacement helmet – Charlie came home from having done a ‘day’s work’ (Cyprus and back). Em and I headed out to see the sights on what was already a beautiful day, crossing the Tiber into the city’s heart. Our itinery won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s been to Rome – and won’t surprise anyone who hasn’t – and so we took in the wonders of the Coliseum, not named, it turns out, because of its sheer size despite having a capacity of 50,000 people (it was small compared to the nearby Circus Maximus – think Ben Hurr chariot races – that had a capacity of 250,000!!) but because of the colossal statue of the Emperor Nero that once stood outside the front entrance. The Coliseum itself is still staggering even when compared to modern stadia – it’s hard to imagine that 2000 years ago they could build such a building, one that came (like any modern stadium) with kitchens etc for food sellers in the crowd, that had numerous trapdoors in the arena floor underneath which existed a complicated system of lifts and pulleys that would bring new gladiators and animals into the fray, that could be flooded (that’s right, despite all this the arena floor could be made water tight!) so that naval battles could also be recreated.

We spent time seeing the Palantine, the Roman Forum , Trevi fountain and relaxing in Piazza Rotunda starring in wonder at the Pantheon with its enormous  unsupported domed ceiling – whose construction, even to this day baffles architects and engineers who admit that any attempt to construct something similar today would result in a building with a very short shelf life and certainly wouldn’t still be standing and still be in use as a church without any real problems after 2000 years!

Despite all of this, Em’s favourite place was Piazza Argentina, a square that as well as containing the ruins of 4 Roman temples is home to about 200 abandoned cats who are cared for by a local charity (we ended up going there twice!), where she able to wander round, stroke cats and take way too many photos!

What really amazed me in particular about Rome (I, unlike Em had never been there before) was the sheer scale and amount of Roman architecture that survives to this day. I guess I sort of expected it to be in certain areas of the city sealed off to protect it, but what you can’t prepare yourself for is the fact it is quite literally everywhere you look, in almost every street you can see Roman columns standing alone or in pairs, columns that once supported arches and ceilings now long gone, that anywhere else in the world would find them screened off from the public but not in Rome where they stand next to houses, cafes and gelaterias. There are even Roman buildings, some three or four storeys high that have simply been ‘extended’ and now have more modern fifth and sixth floor containing flats or offices sitting atop of them. Seeing this, it’s sometimes hard to decide whether this is some sort of historical/culture sacrilege or whether it’s Romans ‘embracing’ their history by using these buildings and ‘adding’ to them just have they over the last 20 centuries, either way Rome is an incredible city that oozes character and charm and I instantly felt at home there.

All roads lead to Rome…

Friday, May 7th, 2010

(Emily) Having changed her flight to depart from Rome instead of Dubrovnik as originally planned, Jessie had to be at the airport for about 7pm on Friday evening giving us the day to make the 150+ km there from the agriturismo. Plenty of time… so Jack had used his trusty satnav to rustle up a 300 km route that would take us round the top of Lake Bolsana and west towards the coast where there was an island/peninsula to explore and then the coast road down to Rome! Sounded do-able, and the weather wasn’t too bad so off we went. No problem as we went past Pitigliano, a small town impossibly perched on a rocky ridge, and down through Manciano on fantastic sweeping roads. James and I picked up some provisions on the way (the KTM speeding off ahead of us) and we all enjoyed a picnic lunch from a great viewpoint on the island peninsula. That’s when it all started to get a bit hairy…

We should have started to suspect something as the roads started to deteriorate and narrow, and although my Italian is rudimentary, I’m sure there was a sign saying something to the effect of ‘private land, access only’ but Jack had spoken to a local who said that yes, it was possible to circumnavigate the whole island. The question was, were we on the right road? Seeing as the satnav abruptly stopped showing any trace of road whatsoever, I’m guessing no!! The cars that kept coming past us for the second time having done a u-turn should have been another clue! For Jack and his adventurous spirit, this was all a walk in the park, but I have to say that once the tarmac disappeared for good and there was only rocks and gravel, I wasn’t sure I could continue. Hence, the next hour was a painfully slow palaver of me going about 10 miles per hour on what I felt I could do (and all the while muttering expletives into my mike) and then James having to come back on foot and rescue me to do the steep bits I just didn’t have the confidence to tackle. James was a hero; unerringly patient and encouraging, despite getting increasingly sweaty and tired from walking back to me in the heat on the uneven terrain. Jess and Jack, meanwhile, were at the end and being entertained by a crazy 68 year old local jogger performing cartwheels!! Surreal!

(James)  The result of our little off road session was that we had taken 2 hours longer than had originally been intended and so, with Jessie’s flight being that evening, we were suddenly a little pushed for time and were going to have to make up for it by taking the Autostrada for the 130kms down to Rome – something not pleasant at the best of times but when combined with Italian drivers and the fact fully loaded our bikes top cruising speed is about 65mph, makes it pretty tedious. Eventually, however we pulled off the autostrada and parked up at the airport where we were able to sit down and spend half an hour with Jessie before she went through to her gate. It was another sad moment for us and one I know that Em and Jess in particular had both been dreading as it meant saying good bye to another family member.

Having seen Jess off we headed back to the bikes and got ready to ride into Rome itself – a scary enough prospect at the best of times, but this was late rush hour on a Friday night! Still, at least, I assured Em through our intercom system I could talk her through it, that was until as we were leaving the airport Em’s voice suddenly cut out and we were faced with the oh-so-slightly inconvenient realisation that the batteries on the head set had died!…

Throughout our trip to date, Matthew and I had taken turns leading or keeping up the rear with Em in the middle so she would feel less vulnerable (me generally at the rear unless we were in mountains or on very technical roads  or steep hairpins at which point I would go to the front and show her the correct line to follow and advise her on what to expect next, gear choice, oncoming traffic etc.) This allowed me to talk her through what she was doing, respond to her concerns and generally slowly build her confidence. It was a system that had worked well thus far, but here suddenly there was no Matthew and no chance for communication. As we got to some traffic lights in the Rome suburbs, and with cars coming up either side of us (there didn’t ‘have’ to be a space for them!) we were able to agree a system which Em was happy with. Em stayed close to Jack, who was leading with the satnav (a difficult task in itself to concentrate on this while negotiating the crazy traffic but we would have been lost without it), and I was to act as a ‘blocker’ at the rear to ensure no cars got to close to her and clearing lanes for her when we needed to change lanes or make a turn.

Our destination was Jack’s friend and fellow EasyJet pilot, Charlie’s apartment in the Trastevere area of Rome. Charlie had very kindly agreed to put the three of us (plus all of our luggage!) up for a couple of nights and even gave up his bed, despite the fact that he was having to get up at 4.30 am the next morning for work! Having found his place in the myriad of tiny packed back streets, we lugged our stuff up to his flat (naturally, on the fourth floor), had a quick change and went straight out for something to eat and a much needed drink in Trastevere, an area it turns out famous for all its bars and good restaurants and very popular with the locals. Bizarrely, as we sat there at a restaurant, Em received a text from her friend Lauren, who had spent a year living in Rome, suggesting that if we had the chance we should go to this vey area for a night out! Charlie is one of life’s real characters and has clearly already made an impression on the locals who all seem to know him. We weren’t in for a dull time!!

Ah, Tuscany

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

(Emily) Can’t say we sorry to leave the hostel in Siena – it had served its purpose but was pretty dire! Left in fog (here we go again) but it lifted enough for us to admire the absolutely stunning Tuscan hills we were riding through. Even the inevitable rain didn’t put us off, though it probably helped to know that we were on our way to an Agriturismo (farm based accommodation with local produce) for a couple of nights, courtesy of Jack for our wedding present!!

It was just drying up went we stopped in at Montepulciano (a town I had heard of – we often get that wine at Pizza Express!!!) which, despite me having a few hairy moments on the wet cobbles, was a gorgeously characterful maze of steep winding streets culminating in a faded grand square (that looked quite wild west – think Butch Cassidy, or so James thought.) Turns out they had done some filming of the Twilight movie here so Jessica was suitably excited! We took a lot of photos from the church tower (if there’s a tower, Jack’s going up it!) – there were dramatic scenes as sun lit up the building facades whilst ominous black clouds loomed overhead.

Inexplicably, the storm clouds disappeared that afternoon and we wound our way through the hills to the Agriturismo in sunshine – quite a novelty for Jess! We turned up in time to have a glass of wine on the terrace in the glow of the setting sun (much needed after negotiating the steep gravel drive to the house). The place was owned and run by the charming Caterina, a beautiful young Italian woman, whose capabilities also stretched to the kitchen – she cooked us up an absolute treat that evening, accompanied with fantastic wine they produced themselves. Thank you, Jackson!!!

On Thursday we just made a short trip to the small town of Orvieto (often cited in Italy guidebooks as a must-see) which boasted a stunning cathedral, outside of which Jack demanded the obligatory jumping photo; quite a spectacle for onlookers as it took about ten attempts on the self-timer… Jack had ambitious ideas to go further afield but the forecast wasn’t great (and let’s face it, the agriturismo was not a bad place to hang out) so we headed home in the rain to cosy up, play more whist (something of an addiction developing there!) and enjoy another fantastic meal. Hard times!

Arrivederci Matthew, buongiorno Siena!

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

(Emily) Having been out for a morning recce, Jackson greeted us with the ominous words: “The good news is the bikes are still there….” The bad news was that in all the palaver of walking the bikes around town then finding a side street not too far away to park them up, Jack had left his helmet on his bike and it was subsequently no longer.  He took it remarkably well, despite the inconvenience, cost and the fact that all his auto-communications stuff was still attached inside, and promptly went off to seek out a new one. Returning with a stop-gap open face number (only 30 euros), Jack (“I always look for something to climb”) convinced us that we’d have plenty of time to ascend the tower of the Duomo before check out so off we went – seeing as it was only a hundred metres from the hotel, we could hardly miss it out (well, Matthew could; he’s not a heights man)! The sun was shining, hurrah, and the view from the top of the tower was awesome. Well worth the calf-killing 450+ steps!

Turns out we didn’t have quite so much time and it was a bit of a sweaty stress bringing the bikes back round to the hotel and lugging all our stuff back down the stairs. Although a bit a annoyed with our tardiness, the hotel proprietor took pity on us and even brought out some free cold drinks. The carabinieri, meanwhile, were not impressed!

Matthew was due to leave for home that morning but we had convinced him to ride with us for just a while longer, up until lunchtime. Something he may have started to regret once Jack led us down multiple twisties, steeper than steep hills and tried to get us to go up a gravelly dirt track… All was forgotten though, over lunch at a fantastically rustic taverna in a pretty Tuscan hill top village (whenever we commented on how good something tasted – the wine, the olives, the meat etc – the owner pointed out the window to indicate it came from ‘just over there’). Jack certainly does know how to seek out the best places. All too soon, the time came for Matthew to go his separate way and make the long ride home back to the UK, via Antwerp where he was meeting up with a friend. We’d had an amazing week with Matt and it was all far more emotional to say goodbye than anyone had expected. Having watched Matthew ride off, we continued on our way but it was very strange not to see him in my mirrors (it had always been very reassuring to have such a careful and accomplished motorcyclist with us) and we were all a little sombre to have lost one of ‘the fellowship’.

That evening, we arrived in Sienna at about 5.30pm on what looked like was going to be a beautiful evening. True to form, Jack led us right into the pedestrianised heart of the city where we parked up. James guarded the bikes, Jack went off to the tourist information and Jessie and I went in search of icecream. We eventually settled on a youth hostel on the outskirts of town and once sorted there, took a bus straight back into Sienna as the sun went down. We sat in the piazza soaking up the atmosphere of a balmy evening in a beautiful city before finding somewhere to eat. Turned out to be a funny place – the owner was a complete oddball who wouldn’t look women in the eye and refused to serve anything he didn’t deem suitable (i.e. Jess and I weren’t allowed tonic with our Martini/Amaretto; in fact, when he thought we were going to have them with food, he wasn’t going to serve us spirits at all!) He warmed to us by the end though and he told us all about the Paleo.

(by James – anorak moment!) The Paleo is a bi-annual horse race, consisting of three laps of the piazza and is totally unique to Sienna. The race itself only lasts little more than a minute and has only one rule: you cannot take the reins from another jockey’s hands. Other than that, anything goes, including hitting each other with your whips and running other riders into the walls on the sharp turns (and thus into the crowd!) Each rider represents one of ten city wards within the town and historically was used to avoid bloodshed between feuding factions. The riders themselves are paid for by the communities of each participating ward, and true to form for a politically charged, no holds barred race, each ward can pay the riders what they like to ensure they get the man they want, and are also known to pay off other jockeys to not win. That said, the jockeys, despite wearing the ward colours, are fairly irrelevant and are viewed as ‘prostitutes’ by the Sienese; it is the horses who are the true heroes, and a riderless horse can achieve victory as long as it still bears the ward colours on its head. Every person born in Sienna is automatically a member of one the district, which district depends on where in the town they are born so often the husband, wife and children of a family will each belong to a different district and remains loyal to it for life. So seriously is this taken, a boss who has employees belonging to the winning district will all too likely take the week off in order to avoid the ruthless ribbing he will receive from his workers. Each district has its own cathedral-like church decorated throughout with its colours and emblems and dedicated to its own saint, and upon victory, its members flock to the church for a thanks-giving mass before organising countless festivities for the following couple of weeks (members only!!)

On Tuesday we took advantage of a full day on foot to explore the city, having lucked out when a passing tourist gave us four passes to local attractions that they didn’t have time to use. Went into the Duomo, and saw some frescoes from the 14th and 15th centuries in what used to be the hospital. Some fantastic architecture and historial art work on show but we were all a bit ‘churched out’ in the end, and getting fed up of walking round in drizzle, so settled in to a bar for the night to play whist and drink wine. Very cultured!!

Riding in the clouds

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

(Emily) Weather didn’t look too bad when we got up… then we saw a motorcyclist at our first petrol stop who was absolutely drenched and he had come from the direction we were heading in. He didn’t speak much English but ‘tanti dell’aqua’ said it all! We were soon riding in thick fog, which we then realised was actually the cloud! At times, I could hardly see James who was riding just a few feet in front of me. In the end, we opted for the autostrada in an attempt to lose some altitude, come out of the clouds and make progress (it was also probably not the safest riding environment when visibility was so poor…), such a shame, as Jack had spent time planning a route down scenic green roads. Made it into Florence by mid-afternoon – still drizzling, but what a beautiful city. Jack went off to source some accommodation (as the Italian speaker with the iphone and satnav, it was a no-brainer!) and managed to get us rooms in a cute little apartment-style hotel right near the Duomo. A great location with one small drawback – it was in a pedestrianised area!! The only solution was to walk our bikes: pure comedy as we struggled down the cobbled lanes and across the piazza in front of the Dumo through hordes of tourists, Matt cursing as he inched his beast (a third of a ton!) along, in order to unload our heavy baggage at the hotel, and even then the Carabinieri were none too pleased and kept coming over to move us on.

Spirits were high once we were showered and dry, and we went off for a little walk around Florence with our tour guide, Jack (armed with the Lonely Planet). However, you can only walk around in the pouring rain for so long, even in a city as beautiful as Florence, so we retired to the hotel where James fixed us up an amazing risotto which we enjoyed with Prosecco and red wine. Rounded off the evening with a game of Whist; a revelation to Jessica and me who had never played it.  Perfetto!

The Fellowship sets out…

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

(Emily) After much debate, a decision was made to ride south to avoid the bad weather front that was about to sweep across northern Italy and Croatia; the plan being to go down the west coast via Florence, Sienna and possibly Rome, cutting across to Bari in the south-east from which point we could get a ferry to Croatia. This meant that Matthew could ride with us for a few more days and Jack would have the option of coming across to Dubrovnik with us or riding back up Italy to get home. We also hoped it would give Jessie some dry riding experience…

Progress down towards Bologna was slower than anticipated, so we ended up burning it on the autostrada for a while. Some great roads south from Bologna though; Jack and (by default) Jessie went tearing off, waiting for us when they got to junctions, whereas we took a more leisurely pace. Poor Jessie was all too soon experiencing the ‘numb bum’ situation so it was suggested she go with Matt for a while (far comfier, and frankly, a more sedate experience!) We were all well aware of the ominous dark clouds gathering but being camping ‘veterans’ by now, Matthew, James and I were not to be deterred from finding a site for the night. Jack’s map was great, showing scenic routes in green and also the locations of campsites so his “my sat nav is showing lots of hotels in this area…” didn’t wash. (I have to admit though, as it started to get dark and there was still no sign of the alleged campsite we were heading for, resolve did start to weaken). Nevertheless, we came upon salvation in the nick of time and of course it just had to involve a dirt track and steep grassy knoll up to where we could pitch. Not ideal for me and Matt (him because his bike is very heavy and not suited to rough terrain, me because I’m still a novice and thus still a wuss!!) Cue bike drop number two for me, from stationary though so no biggie.

It’s debatable whether this campsite was ever considered for tents (it seemed to be at the top of a mountain and had lots of permenant set up caravans, though all were abandoned at this time). Pitching up in the dark and wind was interesting, especially as for Jessie it was the first time with her Tesco value £7 jobbie, and Jack had only ever used his at a festival thus has never seen it erected sober! Good thing James and I had four torches between us so could lend them our head torches… Matt’s mallet also came in handy as the ground was rock solid and we didn’t want to risk not using pegs for fear of blowing away in the middle of the night (there was a storm brewing to be sure)!!! By 9.45 pm we were all set up but hadn’t had anything to eat since our service station stop at lunchtime. And we were in the middle of nowhere. I was not up for tackling the dirt track in the now pitch black, and Matt was worried that if he took his bike off our knoll, he wouldn’t get it back up again, so we mixed it up a bit: Jack on his bike with Jessie as pillion; Matt on James’ bike; James on mine with me as pillion. Found a great little trattoria, still in full swing despite the late hour, and enjoyed a feast of antipasti, pasta and grilled meat.

Made it back (we were all quite concerned we wouldn’t remember the way) and fell into tents, exhausted. Didn’t sleep well though – I was so convinced rain was on its way, I found myself listening out for it all night…

Casa di Jackson

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

(by Emily) Arrived at Jack’s, my brother, at 7.45 on Thursday evening – dinner booked for 8.30 pm: perfect timing!! Had a great meal out with the MotoVarese guys (see links) in Jackson’s new hometown, Lisanza, on the east coast of Lake Maggiore, and spent most of Friday in Varese trying, and failing, to do some admin at an internet cafe. Alex and Massimo at MotoVarese were absolute stars and sorted out a problem with my bike I didn’t even know I had!!

We arrived back at Jack’s just in time to meet Jessie, my sister, who had flown in from Gatwick. Despite our original plans to head out of Italy pronto and spend time in Croatia, an incoming weather front got us thinking… soon, a new plan was devised, and as a result we have decided to head south to warmer climes… (hopefully!)

Italy bound!

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

(by James) The only worry we’d had on the weather front before leaving the UK was that no matter how nice the weather was forecasted to be (vital for Em to get as much practice and confidence!) the Alps can be unpredictable so to say we were relieved to awake to a perfect alpine morning with not a cloud in the sky is an understatement! We spent the morning heading south-east and getting ever closer to the first alpine passes… something that Em was getting increasingly nervous about, although she was slightly distracted by the fact that we were passing through Gruyere country (her cheese obsession knows no bounds!!) At lunchtime, we finally turned up towards the Juan Pass and via the intercom (bought at the last minute following generous wedding gift from my dad and clear instructions for what it should go towards!!) I was able to talk a very nervous Em through her first tight alpine hairpins. It wasn’t long before she was executing perfect lines out of every corner and looked for all the world like someone who had been doing it all her life (although her true thoughts were coming through loud and clear on my earpiece!!) Matthew, meanwhile, was loving putting his ‘bus’ through its paces, something that became clear when we stopped at the top with snow on the side of the road when, wide-eyed and grinning, his first words were, “You could ride your entire life and not come across roads like that!”

After dropping off the other side of the pass, we headed east towards Interlaken along the shores of Lakes Thuner and Brienzer (the latter the result of a slight navigational mishap by Matthew,(aka ‘the bloodhound’!) As we got to southern Switzerland, we discovered that sadly the vast majority of the high alpine passes were still closed for winter… a sadness that was not shared by Emily! This meant that our route to Italy (and country number four) would be via the 11 mile long Gotthard Tunnel. At our last petrol stop before the tunnel at around 5pm, we contacted Jack (Em’s brother) who informed us that we were booked for dinner with friends for 8.30 pm in Lisanza (the village he lives in) on the shore of Lake Maggiore) so we had to hit the road. Our joy at reaching the Gotthard tunnel was short lived as it quickly became apparent that no matter how much effort is put into ventilation you simply cannot aerate  an 16 km tunnel sufficiently, something you can only really vouch for on a motorbike – as the temperature quickly rose to what a car river later told us was 37 degrees of fume-filled road! Suffice to say we were very happy to reach the south end of the tunnel after a seemingly endless, but in reality 20 sweaty minutes of real discomfort, our only consolation being that we were just 30 kms from the Locarno and the northern shores of Lake Maggiore. Although the northern shores of Lake Maggiore are technically in Switzerland, culturally you are to all intents and purposes in Italy, and we all felt a great sense of relief and satisfaction as we ambled through the stunning villages and villas that hug the shores of the Italian lakes breathing in a warm evening air and an unmistakeable smell of Bourgainvilla that told us all that we had arrived in southern Europe. We arrived at Jack’s at 7:45 having covered 909 miles (it’s worth bearing in mind Em had ridden for less than 100 miles before we left!) in 4 brilliant days – just in time for a much needed shower before dinner – and then straight to Jack’s local (and very good!) restaurant where we met up with our friends Alessandro and Massimo from the local KTM garage (Moto Varese) who had brought along their mechanic Ivan and Russell – the team racer who is currently competing (very successfully) in the Italian superstock racing series in order to get himself back into the world championship series (ie. he’s very fast!) and Jack’s old flat mate, Chris.  Anyway, to cut a long story short – a great time was had by all and we all woke the next morning feeling a little delicate!