Devizes - Malta
Monday 27th July.
Gone midnight. Heat of the day long gone.
Stop somewhere sensible to root around in luggage for warmer togs to put on. Over the top of it all goes the Weise over-suit.
Now, comfortable and snug as the proverbial bug … carry on carrying on for as long as I can remain warm and dry, enjoying the pleasure of riding a motorcycle down the headlight beam through the tunnel of night. The only limit, endurance.
Ride on through the darkness to the next services.
Look around at the other late night road refugees hanging about this transit camp.
Well. Over there, sitting in a BMW, there’ s the dodgy looking man and his pair of tarty-party dressed girls, waiting for some late-night, Monday-morning business. They look so bored. Must have been a slow night followed by an unhurried early morning. Potential patrons at present would seem to be just me and the male members of a camper van full of family also taking advantage of these services.
Into the snack & coffee shop. One watchful eye remaining aimed at the 900. The rest of me, feeling a tad’s pooped, requesting “Red Bull, e doppio espresso per piacere.”
Down the espresso. Return to the motorcycle and glug, glug the Red Bull. Rest a bit, wait for the caffeine to kick in …
Dodgy looking BMW man and his pair of tarty-party dressed girls are now appearing to have a wee party of their own. The Beemer’s stereo is booming and the girls are into their groove, wiggling and swaying, passing from one to another a bottle and a lengthy looking roll-up, the peculiar whiff of which is strong enough to waft its pungent way across through the still night air to get right up my nose.
Make my excuses and leave.
Ride on through the darkness to the next services.
Park as close as possible to the snack & coffee shop.
With one wary eye keeping watch on the 900, enter, order more reviving “Red Bull, doppio espresso per piacere.” Down the espresso. Glug, glug at the Red Bull. Consume some sustaining, Italian style hot, fast-food nosh.
Back out to the 900 to rest a bit, wait for the caffeine to kick in … Look about … the bleak way-station place where I’m at, is full of tachograph monitored trucks parked up, cabin windows curtained, occupant waiting for the driver rest period to be over.
The noise from the reefers is pervasive and oppressive. Prepare to leave.
Four cylinder four stroke sound approaching. Out of the night towards the petrol pumps comes a rider mounted upon a golden Bandit that bears an Italian plate. I’m certain that somewhere on the autostrada after Genova I’d passed the Bandit … and then the Bandit had passed me. Mutual casual acknowledgement nod.
Ear-plugs in, helmet on, ignition on, engine on, lights on, clutch in, first (ouch) gear engaged, let clutch out and accelerate away out of the harsh sodium light, flying into the soft, enveloping shadows.
Ride on through the darkness to the next services.
Odometer 72543. 4,212 road miles from Floriana. 11.7L of fuel. €15.01c.
Check oil level. After a blast along the autostrada, it’s appears to be down somewhat. 200ml’ish top-up completed with minimum spillage messiness.
Into the snack & coffee shop for the “Red Bull, doppio espresso per piacere.” Consume.
Back to the 900. Ear-plugs in, helmet on, ignition on, engine on …
Golden Bandit rider pulls up and parks nearby. Another exchange of casual acknowledgement nods in passing.
I carry on, lights on, clutch in, first (ouch) gear engaged, let clutch out and accelerate away from the noisy reefers to make some wailing 900 nuisance noise of my own, flying through the soft, enveloping shadows.
Romance of the long dark road comes to an abrupt halt.
Autostrada toll of €33.60c. Yikes … now I’m awake.
Sunrise approaching. Pass inland, through the hinterland of Grosseto. The 900, firing ultra reliably on all four, receives an appreciative squeeze.
Carry on carrying on.
The cloudless eastern horizon is brightening. Another wave of poopedness passes over, signifying that it’s more Red Bull and espresso time for me.
Open visor a bit more for the blast of revitalising cool air.
Pull over at the first welcomingly illuminated place I see.
In the middle of the parking area, a helmeted figure, fast asleep, slumped across the handle-bars of a modern scooter resting on its centre stand.
Cut the 900 engine and glide quietly past to roll to a halt near the next source for a fix of “Red Bull, doppio espresso per piacere.” Consume fix.
After the night Sunrise … clear and fresh and bright, bright, bright.
Raybans on, carry on carrying on south as more and more cars come join me on what had earlier been an almost deserted autostrada. With increasing numbers of dangerous drivers about me, poopedness decreases as adrenaline increases. Soon I’m so wide awake and seemingly on the ball that time seems to slow as concentration and perception are heightened, while negotiating the thickening traffic becomes almost akin to a digital, virtual world game … ‘cept that here and now, Game Over is for keeps.
Damn. Same mistake as last time heading south, totally distracted by traffic, miss seeing the signs and end up taking that misleading right fork on the autostrada and whizzing past the repressive looking Italian prison and on towards the coast and the port of Civitivecchia.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
I should be on the road to Rome … All roads lead to Rome. Bah … yeah, the-bollox-do-they.
End up in the ferry port parking area and have to be issued a Permesso Di Accesso to vacate Customs Land to get back out into the real world. This pilgrim passing again the salutary reminder of The Prison, in his quest to find the right road to Rome.
Rome. Another wrong turn and I’m suddenly penetrating the outskirts of the city … rough old road and aggressive drivers. Bide my time. Quick U-turn and I’m away out of it.
€1.80c toll to get onto the A90. "Grande Raccordo Anulare," The Great Ring Road around Rome.
07.52am. Odometer 72713. 4,382 road miles from Floriana. 15.54L of fuel. €19.97c.
At the pumps meet gold Bandit man again. He’s Carmine from Salerno, travelling home after a weekend away. We talk the motorcyclist talk.
Back onto the relentless Rome ring road, fierce tailback tribulation. Infiltration of 900 betwixt and between six parallel lanes of frantic, yet slow moving traffic, my fingers poised nervously, expectantly over clutch and front brake levers. Left hand thumb hovering at the ready over the Loud Hooter Button. Few of the rules and courtesies we might use get employed on the ring road around Rome … but nevertheless Gentle Reader, I manage to safely navigate my way through the mayhem and find the exit for the south bound A1 to Napoli.
Incurring another €1.80c toll fee.
Molto Caldo = Very Hot.
A1 progress south unimpeded. Morning getting hotter and hotter, necessitating frequent stops for water.
Despite the ambient Molto Caldo, the 900 cooling system seems to be coping very well. Temperature gauge behaving and fan automatically coming on only for a wee while to cool things down when we come to a halt.
Like here … autostrada drowsiness almost overpowering whilst going slowly through road-works … saw the shadow under the bridge and pulled in. Spent a happy fifteen minutes in the shade, sipping luke-warm water and chatting to an Italian road-works man, also sheltering from the merciless heat of the sun.
Back to work for him, and for me back to Blah, blah, blablah, blah … Carrying On.
Phewww but it’s hot.
Temperature that has me more than a tads hot & bothered, still not at all troubling to the 900’s cooling system. Temperature gauge still nonchalantly hanging about the ‘Ok zone,’ whilst we remain in motion.
Coming to a halt and losing the cooling effect of air flow, for me … instant sweatiness.
Switch off the engine and hear the reassuring whirring of the muzzy fan operating, pushing air through the radiator for a reasonable while (Thank You Mr.WW).
So, all’s well with the 900 … and so all’s well with my world.
Continue heading due south into the sun along this autostrada. The day really heating up, getting particularly Molto’effin Caldo. I’m a pale northern European of partly Celtic ancestry … this degree of heat is akin to being placed in an oven for me, and it’s making me sleepy This Heat, and the fact that I’ve been riding, carrying on non-stop so long. Now no point in going faster or opening up the visor for more cool air to blow refreshingly over my face, cos the air is so hot.
All around the heat releasing to air the distinctive scent of the land I’m passing through. The aromas of this Italian countryside seem to be predominantly those of dustiness, wood-smoke and wild thyme, with a hint of freshly baked pizza, randomly juxtaposed with the stench of decaying fly-tipped roadside rubbish.
Odometer 72855. 4,524 road miles from Floriana. 13.26L of fuel. €18.01c.
Stop for to take on more water and Red Bull. Blah, blah, blablah, blah. Gibber gibber.
Molto Caldo. Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
€12.50 toll to get off the autostrada to go find the road to around the wiggly coast from Castellammare to Sorrento to Salerno.
Yeah, I know. A route that will take me uncomfortably close to Vesuvius. Passing signs directing ‘Pompei This Way.’
As soon as you’re off the autostrada, never mind worrying about potential eruptions, worry about Neapolitan driving … Sheeesh … Mad traffic !
Suddenly everyone is going everywhere all at the same time … and fast.
Careering around a corner in-a-rush, cutting across in front of me, a 21st century Fiat 500, its windscreen crazed, cracked, smashed. Driver’s head poking way outta the open side window, intent only on seeing where he’s going, right hand jerking the steering wheel about, left hand clamped over mobile phone over ear, mouth bellowing his side of the conversation loud and clear.
On the coast road S145, a great road with fab views, but nightmare crazy 2-way car traffic, compounded by any number of horse-transporter trucks, and coaches, and in between the nose to tail traffic, virtually any space available is soon filled with a death wish moped or scooter driver (regardless of age or gender), all zipping about hither and thither, seemingly oblivious to any notion of Rules of the Road. I get whizzed by, passed by perilously close by on either side, witness outrageous on coming overtakes around blind bends by young riders. Some of them are natural star riders, some of them are potential roadside shrines, surviving thus far more by luck than judgment.
It’s all too much for me.
It can’t be this crazy all of the time … can it?
So, stop and admire the view for awhile until they all go away and the madness abates a bit.
Odometer 73008. 4,677 road miles from Floriana. 17.28L of fuel. €24.00c.
Carry on along the wiggly coastal road towards Sorrento. It’s probably great riding, and I’m sure it would be a lot of fun, if it weren’t completely choc-a-bloc with cars and coaches and vans and mopeds and scooters.
At this point in my Malta Devizes Malta journey is where I realised how really, truly awful it would be if everybody abandoned four wheels for two ... !
Dark thoughts indeed.
Past Sorrento, traffic thins and for a brief moment or two the road at the tip of the peninsula could almost be as un-travelled tranquil and summer far away as a road in distant west cork. Ahhh, Ireland, I remember space and time and peace and quiet being there.
Ever since I was a little lad I’ve known the name ‘Positano.’ Had heard my aunt speak of it often, as a place she had shared happy times in with her man.
Now, the nephew, riding a twenty-five year old motorcycle through a known for fifty years name.
It is what it is. Densely populated. Every bit of it owned and available for hire … but what must have it been like fifty years ago?
S163. Positano to Salerno.
Forty-two relentless miles of rocky coast hugging hairpin bends … blimey !
Despite signals of increasing gear-changing pain from left-foot-big-toe, a Fabulous ride, marred only by baulking white lining cars and the exasperatingly reckless, adolescent local riders on their mopeds and scooters, with their local knowledge, going past me on the outside on some of the tightest of hairpin bends … and at least one of ‘em was a girl … Oh Masculinity Calamity.
Go there and give it a go … if your ego can take it.
Complete the forty-two miles of coastal hairpin bends from Positano to Salerno by 18.30. Oh my poor protesting, hard done by left-foot-big-toe.
Back onto the big main road towards the south. Left-foot-big-toe gets a rest on the autostrada.
After all of the higgledy-piggledy of forty-two miles of hairpin bends, speeding along in a straight line disorientation boredom soon sets in, and on a whim, I take a turn off to the left that takes me around in a great left-hand loop along superseded by autostrada almost empty old main roads. Back onto the autostrada and déjà vu southbound, until way past where I turned off. Arrive at the single-lane road-works contra-flows through the mountains. Now I remember these tedious bits from the journey north. Remember that it’s best not to get stuck behind a slow moving truck. But, curse my luck, I do.
Seems like an eternity of following a slow moving box on wheels along a narrow strip of tarmac besides road-works or traffic blasting past in the opposite direction.
Can’t see the road ahead, concentration wanders away from staring at the back of the truck, off to the side see mountains poking out of forests, new road tunnels being constructed through those mountains … oh-fer-gawds-sake can’t this lorry in front of me go any faster! But no, of course it can’t. Spy in the cab. Tachometer Rules.
Trundle on, trundle on, trundle on, trundle on, trundle on. Suddenly … the single-lane-contra-flow comes to an end and I get to accelerate impatiently past the lumbering great artic … just in time to see the last marker sign for the turn off to the coast … quick-change-of-plan-swerve-and-down-the-off-ramp … hard braking before the tight turn to the right that Finally! … with the sun setting and twilight descending, leads to unimpeded twisty fun and games away down the S585 road, along the side of the valley that takes me towards Sapri.
Come up behind a slow moving convoy of cars, overtake them all in one smooth, appropriately safe and responsible manner (Really). Excellent Gpz900r mirrors show that one car breaks from the bunch and chases after me. Catches up and soon becomes crazy-mad-car-right-up-my-arse. No sirens or blue flashing lights … must be a machismo thing … There’s petrol station lights up ahead. Indicators on well in advance of me pulling in and crazy-mad-car goes hurtling by.
Odometer 73098. 4,767 road miles from Floriana. 8.4L of fuel. €11.00c … and an entertaining chat with a knowledgeable, English speaking petrol station attendant, who recognises exactly what the black motorcycle is. Asks where I’m from, where I’m going? Then makes me feel awww shucks bashful, complimenting me on the epic nature of the journey undertaken on the 25-year-old machine.
Catch up behind the slow moving convoy of cars again, overtake them all in one smooth, appropriately safe and responsible manner again (again, Really). Carry on.
Slow at the outskirts of Sapri, into the suburbs and filter towards red lights alongside, then past crazy-mad-car to the head of the queue. Lights go green and 900 and I go. Impotent reving and tyre squealing of crazy-mad-car left behind in a traffic jam. Pootle off into the town centre, to the seafront and then along cost road to the north to find the Hotel I stayed in last year.
The four star Le Piane Hotel is right where I left it last year, the lights are on and the place looks open for business.
Park the 900, go inside and, in my dodgy, phrase-book Italian, ask if there are any vacancies …?
Yes. I get room 205, exactly the same room as I got last year … but for less than last year.
Whilst the manager prepares me a large G&T and something to eat, I ascend to the second floor with the luggage in the lift, no struggling up stairs with cumbersome Big Black Bag here.
Dump stuff. Go back down to collect refreshments and food.
Manager has prepared for me a substantial platter of cheeses, bread, ham and salami. Then he places a large, very large looking G&T on the counter before me, saying that he hadn’t made an English style gin and tonic in quite a while, hoped that he’d put enough gin and dry martini in with the tonic, ice and lemon … would I take a sip and tell him if it was Ok?
Raise glass to lips … sip … wow, delicious strong stuff!
“Si, si, molto grazie!”
Manager looks relived and proud at my obviously sincere satisfaction with his Inglese libation creation.
Carefully carry platter and potent cocktail back to room 205.
Munch on bread and cheese and ham and salami.
Now so, parked below my hotel window, the 900’s odometer reads 73116. 4,785 road miles from Floriana.
It has taken me thirty-six’ish hours to travel the 1,022 road miles from Peone in France, to Le Piane Hotel, Sapri.
Gawd knows how many hairpin bends and upwards gear changes along the way.
Big Slurp of the enormous G&T & Dry Martini …
21.50. send a message to The half-Italienne, let her know I’ve arrived in Sapri safely and have a large G&T for company.
Big Slurp of the enormous G&T & Dry Martini … mmmn … Boots off … ouch … one big, red raw burst blister on dutiful left-foot-big-toe.
Another Big Slurp of the enormous G&T & Dry Martini … mmmn … spreading sensation of partial anaesthetization and inebriation.
Time to treat left-foot-big-toe to some well deserved TLC.
Long hot shower and then lots of clean white towels.
Phone home and speak sweet nothings into the ear of the Half-Italienne.
Finish off the food and drain the last of the drink.
Time for bed.
Deep asleep within seconds.