Malta and Devizes
Monday 6th July.
Déjà vu 4:30am Monday. Alarm goes off, switch it off, get up and dress without disturbing herself too much.
One nicehotcuppatea, then outside to attach the stuff to the 900.
Front door closed as silently as I can.
Odometer shows 68331 miles.
Helmet on, gloves on, engine on, reverberating off the limestone, gently pull away to roll down Crucifix Hill into the dawn light. Turn the 900 right along the waterfront to Pinto Wharf and the ferry terminal where the catamaran Maria Dolores is waiting to be loaded for the Monday morning sailing to Sicily.
Enter Ferry Terminal Building.
Far fewer people milling about, queuing for this post weekend 7am Monday morning sailing to Sicily.
Approach the security glazing of the ticket counter that keeps the hoi-polloi at bay, at a decent, respectful distance away from the Official Presence.
When summoned, approach closer to the Official Presence and hand over for scrutiny by the Official Presence the ticket for the 900 and I, the 900’s Maltese registration document and my passport. All documents thoroughly scrutinized and various details laboriously, bureaucratically-tippy-tapped-and-duely-noted into an official computer file before my documents are handed back, approved and accompanied by The All Important Boarding Pass.
Once dismissed from the Official Presence, I’m allowed to proceed on my way, fire up the not leaking 900 and ride around to the Maria Dolores dock, then, after 900 number plate checked against boarding list, waved on, up the wide, side aluminum ramp aboard the aluminum catamaran, wherein the 900 is soon tethered safe and secure by efficient, friendly Asian sailor types.
Made it to and onto the ferry … at last!
Up steep steps to the passenger compartment and find a comfortable recliner by an aft starboard window.
Seats nearby enough for my ears to notice are taken by an assortment of passengers sounding Maltease, Sicilian, French, Dutch and English. I get comfortable in my recliner as the Maria Dolores casts-off and glides away from Pinto Wharf, gradually increasing speed heading out of Grand Harbour. Rising son shinning peachily over and reflected from a flat, mirror-calm sea, as the catamaran rapidly picks up speed. Harmonious, soothing engine thruuum and I’m soon lulled into snoozing, until awoken 75 minutes later by the change in thrum tempo of the Maria Dolores slowing for her entry into the south-eastern Sicilian harbour of the port of Pozzalo.
Yawning, staring down from the window of the Maria Dolores at a glassy calm clear aqua marine sea, choc-a-bloc full of pulsating jellyfish as large as dustbin-lids, washed aside and bobbing about as the ferry slides by.
Sicilian Port Officials assiduously checking all documents, in an effort to prevent any undesirables gaining entry to Italy and then making their disruptive way to the forthcoming G8 summit of world leaders, converging on the Italian city of L'Aquila.
Without question or more than a glance at my passport and the helmeted me, I’m allowed to pass … and so continue unhindered my plans for World Domination ! … ahem … to make progress along the major roads, S115-E45 to A18-E45 to Syracusa and thence carry on to the Catania ring road, continue on along A18-E45 autostrada straight to Messina, across the Straights of Messina by ferry to Regio Calabri, then see how far north I can get into Italy by the time I need to find an Hotel for the night.
Set off towards Syracusa, and already it’s getting uncomfortably hot when conditions dictate going too slow. But 900 cooling system seems completely un-flustered, fan comes on at the right time … no leaks or puddles from the overflow when forced to a halt …
But only until the odometer shows 68379 miles, a total of 48 riding miles from the Floriana front door and time for ( because I’ve no idea about filling station frequency along this highway) a 12.3L fuel top up, costing €16.
My intention had been to start the Malta Devizes jaunt with a completely full tank, and it had been full to the very brim, on Sunday morning at the Ferry terminal … but then … Life.
While stationary, also take the opportunity to replenish my fluid levels with a litre of cold water.
Sicilian roads are generally sooo much smoother and grippier than their Maltese equivalents, and after a year of pussy-footing about on treacherously pot-holed and polished Maltese tarmac, it is an absolute delight to be abroad and able to confidently dive into bends again … Hurrrah!
Miles fly by as I reacquaint myself with how much fun the 900 can be when ridden in the right conditions.
You understand all of this. Clear’ish roads, sun shinning, no worries, making progress, then look up ahead, approaching some Catania area road works, get bullied by an up-my-arse-Ferrari-driver who squeezes past into a merging, decreasing, stationary space that I then casually filter through what little gap remains and without so much as a weave or a wobble or a pause for a single dab, smoothly proceeded onward, leaving frustrated Ferrari driver well and truly stuck in at least an hours long traffic jam (and in my limited experience, it seems that Italian traffic jams can get very long and very time consuming, very quick).
By 11:30am the odometer reads 68443 miles. The 900 and I are now 112 road miles from the Floriana front door and safely past that ominously big dark lump of smoking, sulphurous smelling volcano, Mt.Etna.
Pause for the past the volcano pic and some more water, then carry on, carry on. Ear plugs in and I’m in the meditate-on-the-vanishing-point-zone, bowling along well maintained roads, making good progress through the heat of the day … except for when confused by Sicilian road signs. I dunno, maybe it’s just me.
Sun high in the big blue sky, sharp dark shadow of 900 preceding me, reaching forward to the road ahead. Hot wafts of air through open visor, blown from parched, tinder dry land on either side of the autostrada,
Gosh but it’s hot.
900 continues, unperturbed.
All instruments functional and nowt amiss with anything.
Road of long relaxed curvy bits interspersed with straights that gradually rises up above the coast into foothills of Sicilian north-east mountains, and with a wee bit more altitude, things are a tads cooler, though not that much.
On the A18, approaching Messina, encounter the first autostrada toll-booth; €3.30.
By now the road is back close to the coast and Italy can clearly be seen, rising up out of the sea over on the other side of the straights of Messina.
Off of the autostrada and straight into the thick of lunchtime Messina, cars, coaches, trucks, vans and all manner of two wheeled riders hurtling about every which way. V.Important to concentrate on the ever changing traffic and not get too distracted by following the confusing Sicilian road signs … I mean, how hard can it be, just head towards the seashore then turn north and go along the edge until you find the ferry, any informative signs seen along the way, a welcome aide to zen navigation.
Soon find ferry port alright, er, but this’un turns out to be strictly for the likes of Poshcletus at work, and I’m politely advised to try going further north.
Soon find a conglomeration of ferry ports, that ain’t so choosy and appear to be competitively eager to embark all comers in and on all sorts of vehicles.
Messina to Villa San Giovanni Ferry ticket €10.
Odometer at 68484 miles, a total of 153 miles ridden since departing the Floriana front door.
Just time before the 1:30pm sailing for a Messina dockside baked-bread-cheese-ham-mushroom-tomato-olive delicious thing to be eaten and washed down with molto freddo lemonade.
Aboard the ferry, mighty hot in the direct sunlight, phewww, seek shade and Thank Goodness for the cooling sea breezes. Masses of movement to be seen on the water during the crossing, ferries ferrying hither and thither small ships and craft darting about and looming great F’off Big Freighters going about their business.
Ferry takes just about half an hour for voyage. Riding down the ramp at Villa San Giovanni, Italy by 2:00pm.
The combination of frantic-just-off-the-ferry, merging with lunchtime and some distractingly scantily clad traffic, coupled with the vagaries of Italian road signs conspire to confuse, but soon enough, distractions disappear and I manage to find my way outta town and onto the northbound A3-E45.
Up and away into the hills we go, long, smooth sweeping bends, over bridges and through the occasional tunnel that ejects you out from within to another fabulously distracting scenic view.
Odometer at 68497 miles (166 road miles from the Floriana front door),12.3L fuel, €16.35.
Fuel for me, a €3.00 Foccachia Rusticana, yummmy.
Roads I’m on are really jolly good for making progress through mountainous regions, but as ever, Italian drivers can be challenging.
Especially close up’yer arse challenging when it comes to being slow moving stuck behind a truck in a contra-flow. Beware death wish drivers!
Odometer at 68629 miles (298 road miles from the Floriana front door), 14.3L fuel, €19.01.
Can of Red Bull and a bottle of water for me.
An alarming autostrada moment at 68761 miles, as the 900 engine stutters during an 130kp/h’ish overtake … eeek, especially with impatient Italians up my arse … instant zen diagnosis: hot plastic of tank bag has sagged and blocked air vent of petrol cap … lift the tank bag off the petrol cap … wooosh, normal service resumed and accelerate out of harms way.
Get confused around about Salerno, trying to find the right junction for the road to Rome.
‘All roads lead to Rome.’
Bollox do they.
Odometer at 68770 miles (439 road miles from the Floriana front door), 15.03L fuel, €20.00.
Can of Red Bull and a bottle of water for me.
Excitement of the night, being pursued by Death Wish Drivers flashing their Road Rage lights through the dark … accelerate away and eventually find the right turn for the road to Rome (admittedly more by luck than navigational good judgment), continue along it until 11:00pm’ish, when it’s find a Hotel for the night time.
Exit autostrada at San Cesareo for a €6.50 toll fee.
Almost immediately I find the hotel for me, pay €40 for the night, and the Hotel staff insist that the 900 (after sterling, faultless service, transporting me 543 miles in one day) gets secured in the inner compound of the Hotel, protected by Genuine Guard Dogs.
Hotel staff also insist in their hospitable Italian way that (seeing me lugging heavy luggage from motorcycle up to first floor room) I get a freshly prepared light snack, accompanied by a refreshing Litre of birra Moretti, which though tasted, appreciated and enjoyed, remained unfinished, as that that I did manage to imbibe, rapidly sped me off to sleep.