Myross Island to Malta.
Whilst awaiting the sale of my house in Ireland during the early part of 2008, I spent a thoroughly satisfying time restoring my 1984 Kawasaki Gpz900r.
The plan hatched was to ensure that the 24 year old motorcycle would be ready to transport me across the continent to Malta upon completion of the house sale.
Naturally, various spare and replacement parts were required to return the machine to tip-top condition.
Fortunately, during the 1990's, Craig Davies created 'The Gpz Zone,' an enterprise dedicated to supplying Gpz900r owners with all that they might need to keep their machines operational, long after Kawasaki had ceased production of the innovative, iconic 1980's classic, motorcycling design.
Unsurprisingly, Craig is a Gpz900r enthusiast as well, and so, in March 1996, established The Gpz900r Owners Club.
Since early 2006, the club became an on-line, internet entity, enabling Gpz900r owners to share hard to find replacement parts and their accumulated experience and knowledge of riding, maintaining and living with The Beloved.
After reassembling my A1 with the parts supply and good advice of you lot, I'm about to set off on the 900 from West Cork to the ferry port, then Pembroke, Coate, Dover, Calais and away across europe to another island.
Thank you all.
Myross to Malta Day One.
15.55 Hours. Miles travelled 000.
Complete loss of clutch fluid pressure. Investigation of causes, followed subsequently by bleating down the ‘phone at His White Wheeledness in Coate, realise that even after the remedy, there’s no sane and responsible public spirited way I'm gonna be able to get 900 and myself from West Cork to Rosslare in time to catch the 21.00 hours ferry to Pembroke.
Write apologetically re delay explanatory e-mail to patient Maltese Half-Italienne destination (regret to say no sympathetic response from her, so far).
Meanwhile - Praise God(dess) for tolerant Myross Island chums that are quite happy to extend their hospitality for a few days more.
Resume travel training regime with big plate of penne, followed by a couple of toasted crumpets, a glass of V.Good for the heart Merlot, then a nightcaps worth of Powers.
Looking forward with renewed enthusiasm to Day Two of the ‘Myross to Malta Adventure’ ... to reaching the gate post at the end of the garden … and possibly even beyond!
Myross to Malta Day One again.
The 2nd Attempt A stunning 375 miles by Gpz!
In tune with Ride'TilYaDrop stylee, finally fled from the West Cork Island on Monday.
Made steady progress eastwards all afternoon, circumnavigating potholes, nursing 900’s failing clutch slave cylinder seal, loosening floppy gear lever, leaking cooling system bits along the 180'ish miles from Myross Island to Rosslare for the catching of the 9pm Pembroke ferry.
Golly - How the highways have changed in the land that recently said a resounding ‘NO’ to daLisbonTreaty long gone all of those challenging twisty bits of road and former fab hairpin bends of yesteryear, that the 900 & I used to know - all now replaced by smoooth new health & safety approved, EU funded Bypasses - all of which are damnably difficult to keep to the legal 100kph limit upon.
Once arrived and boarded at Rosslare, Irish Ferries car deck hand tried the old dirty rope trick on me - but my vast amount of bungee’d on the back seat ‘just in case luggage,’ of course proved to be every bit as essential as anticipated, including a particularly suitable ratchet strap and special soft thing to pad the interface between seat and strap, thus securing 900 for the crossing, whilst I snoozed peacefully above, pooped by the unaccustomed mileage, sprawled quite comfortably along a sofa in a public lounge area of an upper deck.
Dark 1.30am docking in Pembroke. Let the cars go hurtling off into the cold clear night whilst I dressed warmly in oversuit for middle of the night Wales. Set off on the next ride, punctuated at 4am for a pausing beneath a sodium light at a services to bleed the worseningly spongy clutch slave cylinder. Then carry on along the boring and chilly M4 towards the glow in the east heralding sun rise and sun glasses time.
By 8am, 375 road miles travelled from Myross, to arrive at Coate, outside the Wiltshire HQ of the Gpz Zone.
Despite gorging myself upon a Full English, washed down with a bucket of coffee, aware that my Poopedness precluded safe working practice - High praise for welcome and assistance received from ‘yer Man Craig.D & the Affable Nanook at the Zone workshop, taking it upon themselves to fit the new cooling system and clutch slave cylinder requisites to my motorcycle.
And for later hospitality too - Thank You!
Stay tooned for Devizes to Dover via Old London Town … or by the scenic across country & coastal route?
Myross Island to Malta Day Two.
Coate to Dover - and Beyond …
Little known fact: It was Mrs.Craig who instigated the purchase of the first family 900r, and hence... So, we owe her.
A leisurely breakfast in Coate and appreciation of Mr&Mrs Craig’s generosity, especially so after me having persuaded our parts postal maestro, Mr.D., to accept the forwarding of my too many pairs of trousers, socks, undergarments, jumpers etc., excess baggage’s and other surplus accessories, in a safely secured Gpz Zone box to my Half-Italienne destination, thus enabling the 900 and I to recommence the jaunt altogether comfortably leaner & lighter.
By midday’ish, Wiltshire morning drizzle had ceased and the road to Dover was showing a drying line, so, with Coate & Craig business concluded and a manly handshake and best wishes from Mr.White-wheels to speed me on my way,
24 year old motorcycle and I set off south eastwards across country, the anti-dives doing their thing (Thanks Guys), me enjoying some old enough to know better hooligan fun along deserted undulating roads that twisted and turned, threading their way between the sorta left alone land set aside for HM Forces tank drivers off-road fun & games.
Back to reality encountering the sobering sight of a minor biff between A.N. Other biker and car at a slip road onto the A3. Rider was standing, looked mighty peeved, signalled he was Ok, I carried on, sense & sensibility restored as I mingled with the incessant flow of 80 - 90mph+ vehicles on the A3 - Wha…? Blatant disregard for the wise restrictions placed upon excess velocity by the rulers of the nation! I'd got the impression all of England was speed camera’d into some sort of 70mph at the very max submission. Not from my experience of one day in June it ain’t,
After the Myross to Malta Day One setting off delay (and others before the failed first), I'd decided to traverse the UK and France as quickly as possible, so, A3, M3 You Know the rest, crowded motorway boring, boring, boring joining the M25 conveyor belt of cars and vans and lorries and coaches all going south around to the M20 to Dover.
But oh, not at all boring that first goose pimply realization sight of the sea -There it is - The English Channel - with Me heading towards it and the ferry to carry the 900 & I across it - the long planned for leaving of Ireland and England for a new life on an island off the coast of the south of the continent.
Dover - 575 road miles from Myross. 42 of your English pounds handed over to P&O for a place on the 5pm to Calais.
Amongst the mix of coaches, commercials and assorted cars, the Gpz is the only motorcycle queuing for the crossing, looking all black and stainless steel good, attracting quite a few onlookers, until a flash git joins the queue in an expensive looking Maserati, with an equally expensive looking blonde in the passenger seat.
Once on the ferry, I'm in the cheap seats, trying to get comfortable for a snooze, spot Mr.Maserati & Expensive Blonde heading up the steps to the reserved for toffs area.
An hour’ish later, riding away from Calais ferry port, a bunch of French Cops in a car pull up alongside, keeping pace with me Oh no, here we go But Oh No indeed instead of the expected pull over signal, the French Cops are grinning and waving, pointing at the 900 and giving me the Thumbs Up!
Continental 7.30pm. I realise that the French evening ‘rush hour’ must have been & gone, as it's just me and a few artics and some cars from the ferry heading south on the A26 autoroute. The trucks trundle on at their tachometer dictated pace, providing some moving chicane distraction from the autoroute boredom and the necessity of keeping an eye on the mirrors for the rapid approach of French registered cars moving at high velocities.
As dusk began to deepen into evening, the night air scent of flowers growing along the central reservation becomes pleasurably noticeable, though noticeable by absence, the lack of the lights either side of the road indicating any human habitation. The emptiness of the French farmland I'm passing through sets me thinking about where I'll most likely be finding accommodation for the night. Decide to carry on along the autoroute to Reims, in the town centre of which the motorcycle owning manager of the Hotel Port Mars takes me in, has his night porter keep an eye on the 900, while I sleep in comfort, 743 road miles from Myross.
Myross to Malta Day Three.
Reims to Aosta.
Awaken in chambre a3, Hotel Port Mars, Reims.
Turn on TV to see smiling French weather girl gesticulating prettily at roughly where I am on the map, but she's not poutingly mouthing ‘Scorchio,’ instead she’s showing that there’s a band of wetness blowing in from the North West …
I look outta the window and there indeed appears to be an approaching along the horizon appearance of some ‘Irish’ weather following me. Better get a move on before it catches up.
Croissant & black coffee breakfast, then shit, shower and out to find 900 not nicked during the night, but still parked right outside, ready for business.
Spend relieved half hour disassembling electric fence, feeding guard dogs, de-arming alarms, unlocking disc locks, u-locks, disentangling chains etc.
Pack and attach accoutrements.
Key in ignition and Gpz fires up enthusiastically, drawing the attention of passers-by, who, attracted by the seductive sound of four cylinders on song, must also have noticed and admired my agile high swinging of a leg over the bulge of luggage and folded oversuit, machine mounting style.
Gawd but, once astride and off of the centre stand, paddling it backwards, manoeuvring it off of the pavement with the tank bag full in front and the bulging, bungee’d luggage and folded oversuit mountain behind me, it all feels a tad’s precariously top heavy. But once powered forward motion attained, all is well and my attention turns to finding the way outta town and back onto the A26 autoroute south.
My two previous jaunts into France by 900 had been far less frantic, altogether more casual affairs that required only going as far one time as the Champagne region and getting somewhat intoxicated, and Le Mans another time during the Terry Rymer/WSB years. Aaah, way back then, when the Gpz and I were young(er), time was not a problem and local roads were taken and enjoyed to the fullest. But today, I must say that for me, being in need of crossing France towards the Half-Italienne as quickly as possible, the A26 seemed to be well worth every cent of toll that was charged for the distance travelled across the seemingly endless, undulating French farmland.
Autoroute service area facilities are Ok as well. After a couple of hours of steady progress, I pulled into one, refuelled and then found a pleasant spot to stop and visually check all was in order. Good job I did too, cos the jubilee clip on the thermostat end of the newly fitted hose to filler cap pipe work was just loose enough for drips of coolant to be escaping. Tools out, heavily full of fuel tank off, fiddle, fiddle, fiddle, tighten jubilee clip … but watts this? … The wee upside down bolt, securing thermostat body to the Rear Cooling Manifold, had almost vibrated itself loose to the point of falling out!
Grrr. Not easy re-tightening that‘un within the limited working area confines of a hot engine (Nb. Replace with longer bolt with nyloc atop).
Whilst I was mutteringly cursing under my breath at the inequity of it, a Luxembourg registered camper van pulled up alongside. Out came the driver, asking in faltering English if I needed help? Then telling me that he was a motorcyclist too and kinda wistfully apologising for being on holiday with his wife and dog, both of whom then soon appeared from the camper, the dog looking mad-eyed and ferocious and the wife looking charming and generous, in her hands a pair of freshly percolated cups of coffee, one for her man, and the other offered to me.
The Kindness of Strangers, eh? Gives you hope for Humanity.
The wee upside down bolt securing thermostat body to the Rear Cooling Manifold was tightened up, and then, for good measure, red tape wound about it to keep it in place should the upside down bolt attempt to vibrate loose again.
Delicious black coffee drunk and kind Luxembourg’ers and ferocious, mad-eyed dog departed.
900 returned to proper rolling order re-started - nary a displaced drip of coolant to be seen - so, off again we go, steadily southward on the autoroute across the seemingly endless French farmland. French cars continue whizzing by over the 80 to 90 that the 900 is happy at.
Under a clear blue-skied day, summer sunshine means that the Gpz and I are getting a little hotter. My just right for the temperate ambience of West Cork full-face helmet, leather boots, jacket and gloves are now proving to be a tads on the hot and sweaty side for the southern half of France.
Unsure as to whether our French cousins do a nice hot cuppa roadside tea, decided that it was high time I break the habit of a life-time and stop, not for tea, but instead, a refreshing drink of exorbitantly over priced bottled water … pull into next A31 autoroute service area, peel off sweaty gloves and purchase petrol for the 900 and a couple of litres of water for me, come to rest in the shade of a tree in the parking area, pull off sweaty helmet, peel off sticky sweaty jacket, administer cold water … aaah - bliss! Casually wave pale exposed arms about to cool’em off, turning to face the breeze and catch the most crushingly disdainful look from The Expensive Blonde, sitting ever so coolly within the Mr.Maserati car as she's driven away, doubtless off to St.Tropez, or other equally exclusive parts of the Cote de Expensive.
I turn left before Lyon for the A40 autoroute towards Geneva. After half an hour or so of trundling along, arrive at the crest of an incline, in the distance ahead the hazy sight of what at first appear to be mighty great big creamy clouds looming over the horizon, but no, not clouds it's the Feckking Alps! And if they look this big from this far away, why, then up close they must be abso-bally-lutely, monumentally Massive!
Gentle Reader, please excuse my use of the vernacular. For in my sheltered life, I've only ever flown over the Alps with malt whiskey in one hand, nose hard-pressed against plexiglass, staring down from way up 35,000 foot high in the sky, thus never before getting to see from a worms eye-view the truly magnificent proportion of the mountains and their remorseless it'll put it all and oneself into perspective view of life, the universe and everything.
Approaching Geneva, the mountains just kept appearing to get awesomely bigger and bigger before me. Also getting bigger before me, at about Swiss rush hour, a precise autoroute tailback at a standstill, to be threaded through in cautious, former dispatch rider stylee. Naturally the GpZeds temperature gauge started to do its wiggle upward as I slowly filtered through the hot air gaps between the stationary traffic. Extra Fan Button pressed. Temperature gauge continued to wiggle alarmingly … yikes, has ' The wee upside down bolt securing thermostat body to the Rear Cooling Manifold' vibrated loose again … and maybe even fallen out?! Time to check - but first, get the hell outta the stationary Swiss-choc-a-bloc, which happily, almost instantly, melted away as the toll-booths for the Mont Blanc tunnel road appeared. Got through the toll for 1.00 euro, then pulled over to the side to see what was what down below with The wee upside down bolt securing thermostat body to the Rear Cooling Manifold. Hmmmn, not so good, V.loose again - but not fallen out and lost and gone forever, kept in check by the earlier application of some Red Tape (Yeah, yeah, yeah - I can hear 'yer all sagely saying, I really, really should have bought a little tube of Loctite along for the ride). You know the drill. 900 on centre stand, helmet off, jacket off, pissed off, luggage off, tools out, seat off, tank off, even more pissed off trying to tighten that bloody little awkward to get at wee upside down bolt securing thermostat body to the Rear Cooling Manifold, surrounded by hot bits and obstructions.
But it could be worse … I can see mountains ahead that I'll soon be riding up to and literally through. And meanwhile, waiting for the engine to cool, I watch the informal drag-strip antics of the rush hour flow of big bike riders and sports car drivers trying to out drag each other away from the toll-booths, even a red & gunmetal A1 fires off the line in a respectable style. Some of the drag bike racers ain't got the total tunnel vision, spot me off to the side and slow down, I wave and sign Ok, they carry on, accelerate away.
Near Geneva … Tightening the wee upside down bolt, securing thermostat body to the Rear Cooling Manifold
After an entertaining half-hour, the Swiss rush hour tails off to a trickle. The wee upside down bolt securing thermostat body to the Rear Cooling Manifold is tightened to the point of I'm sure it's about to strip its thread - and there's also some fresh red tape applied about it (And Yes. I really, really, really should have bought a little tube of Loctite along for the ride).
Ok. Gpz tank, seat, luggage and self re-attached … and we're off to Mont Blanc and the tunnel beneath it.
The road to the Mont Blanc tunnel gets better and better fun to ride along. And I would've carried on along it having great fun, if it weren't for hurtling around one bend and glimpsing before me the awesome mountainous scale of it all.
Needed to halt right there and then and pay silent, respectful homage to the sight of the summit of that fekking Great Big Mont Blanc Mountain Towering way above all of the slightly less fekking Great Big Mountains around it.
That Great Big Mont Blanc Mountain Towering way above all of the slightly less Great Big Mountains around it - WOW!
900 about to be ridden through it - WOW!
I Say, Chums, I do heartily recommend an off-peak spin through this particular pass toward the Mont Blanc tunnel. Very well worth The Effort.
Recovering from the thorough visual boggling, carried on to discover then that the road gets steeper and even better, becomes even more fun, until suddenly the hairpin bends are all done and the mouth of The Tunnel is there, entrance gaping. As is the empty hand of the Toll-Booth Attendant, asking in his polite Swiss way for the 21.40euro right of passage fee.
Dosh handed over and an accelerating across the frame four-cylinder wail plunges into the dark heart of the mass of mountain, reverberating along the long, empty tunnel. And this tunnel is long, alrighty, seven and a quarter miles long, and was very empty, save for me and my echo. Blimey.
Eventually we emerge into the fading light of dusk at the Italian other end, to plunge down through more, seemingly endless twists and turns, through tunnel after tunnel, to the point where I'm wondering where all this is leading to?
In the mirrors I can still see glimpses of a rosy red sunset above the mountains.
The road calms down a bit and suddenly I'm in Aosta, and there's a Holiday Inn and I wanna shower and a birra and a bed for the night, now that I'm 1,200 road miles from Myross - phewww!
Myross to Malta Day Four.
Aosta to Grosseto.
One Jolly Good thing about the Aosta euro 51 per night Holiday Inn was the generously proportioned shower cubicle. Well, it was more a sorta azzurri tiled recreational water sports area, that had me wishing for my Half-Italienne to recreate with innit ... but doubtless, you don't need to hear about that.
After curtain opening burst of the North Italian morning light, the view from my hotel room came as a bit of a surprise. Outside, (after the previous evenings receptionist had straight facedly told me that they'd only had a couple of moto's stolen recently) the 900 was still parked exactly where I'd left it! And the view beyond the reassuring sight of my beloved motorbike added even more to my sense of well being - a steep, tree covered valley side that rose all the way up to a 'I had to tilt my head to see' peaks with snow clinging to 'em. Golly! And a fair weather blue sky up there too - so, not likely to be an oversuit day.
Breakfasted in the company of hotel guests wearing Italian Goldwing Owners Club member regalia, who, it transpired, were having some sort of Italian Goldwing Owners Club grand do at a site a couple of kilometers away. Strange, but no sign of any Goldwing's parked outside the hotel … ah, those continentals and their continental ways.
The still parked outside Gpz locks and alarms dealt with and my stuff re-attached to the motorcycle.
Hot morning sun means that black helmet and gloves are hot and sweaty to be in almost instantly they are put on, therefore necessitating swift progress south along A5 to pleasurably wind chill cool things down a few degrees ... other motorcyclists whizzz by along the way. One might assume that they also have hit upon the same motorcycle physics remain in motion solution to overheating.
Aosta valley is the route since way back ancient when for dour northerners and excitable southerners to travel to each other via the Mont Blanc Pass. Along the steep valley sides can be seen evidence of the ancient route that those pilgrims took, struggling as they must have, along an uncertain path through the unknown, from fortified hill-top hostel to fortified hostel on the next hill-top. Each precariously perched hill-top hostel looking to me to be more cliché outta the dark ages than the one before - and my head ain't watching the road ahead - and so I stop at a spot to be stationary and get all goose-pimply and properly appreciative at the thought of all of those intrepid souls passing through the past on foot, past where I have just parked my Kawasaki.
It dawns on me that I too, in my own modest modern way, am on a pilgrimage, travelling from the old, cold life in the north, to the new Hotstuff in the south … oooer - I wonder what my ancestors would make of that? Certainly, if they were at all of the adventurous motorcycling persuasion, then I'm sure their advice would be - 'Return to this valley someday aboard a TransAlp or suchlike equipment. Explore the many twisty turny tiny mountain roads that the map shows winding up towards the high passes between even higher peaks between parallel Alpine valleys.'
Kwaksam says it's in the blood. I reckon it's in the Genes.
Once out of the Italian Alps, the road gets very flat traversing the plains of Piedmont, with some remarkably long straight sections that quite lend themselves to an increased cooling effect. Naturally, 900 and I progress comfortably across the wide plain, with just the trucks to weave by, whilst keeping a watchful eye on the OE Specchio Sinistra for the odd, ever so fast Italian coming up behind.
Stop for the first tank top up of the day (The first tank full way back in West Cork was euro1.20 per litre. By now, what with the international demand for oil pushing the price of a barrel of crude ever upward, the Italian pump price is euro1.60 per litre. I've not concerned myself with miles per gallon, cos if I get too rational about the cost of my jaunt … Well, flying & freighting would have been more prudent options. But then I'd've missed out on the 'Once in a life-time, if I don't do it now, I probably never will,' experience. Suffice to say that the fuel gauge needle usually started its descent after 50'ish miles).
Turn right onto the A7 at Alessandria - Tum de dum de dum straight on and on goes the road towards Genoa then into Liguria it gradually it starts to climb - then all of a sudden gets twisty and fast and lots of fun (andprobablyeversoillegalbutI'mnottheonlyone), with dashes through hot harsh daylight between cool dark tunnels. Forza Italia! … and all of a sudden there's the Mediterranean … and I'd made myself a preflight promise that as soon as I could see it, I go and swim in it … but to hell with that - cos right now I'm having too much fun playing in the traffic and continuing twisting turning dashes through hot harsh daylight between cool dark tunnels - doppio Forza Italia! - past Genoa and happily away to the south east we go along the A12 until it gets somewhat calmer and straighter and there's more traffic.
1,457 miles from Myross. I'm trundling along wondering if I'm imagining it - is the engine really sounding just a tad's rough around the three thousand revs mark? - the 900 seems to continue to ably accelerate away into the higher revs Ok. Hmmn.
Stop for the second tank full of fuel of the day. Pay. Buy cold water to top up sweaty self.
Do a visual check of the 900, nothing missing, oil level alright, and, as far as I can tell, everything about the engine appears to be in order.
Check where I am on the map. Decide to carry on along the A12, avoiding Pisa & Firenze, to get to the sea at Livorno.
Set off again - roughness around three thousand getting rougher and maybe even spreading broader in the rev band!
A fee of euro35 gets me off of the toll road at Livorno, on the coast, where I'm gonna swim in the mediterranean.
The 900 is really getting much rougher at low revs and I'm beginning to think ohFeck, ohFeck, ohFeck what exactly is going so worryingly wrong with the one I love?
4.00pm: Come to a halt by the mediterranean beach - the engine sounding dire, not at all the smooth tick over rumble I'm accustomed to.
Dare I switch the engine off?
If I do, will I ever get it restarted?
Distracted from my mechanical quandary by the first distracting sight of what becomes a torrent of attractively bronzed and scantily clad young Italian women arriving at the beach upon all manner of bicycles, mopeds, scooters and motorbikes - Golly! It must be the after school rush hour of the local college kids to the beach. Eyes on stalks as I ogle at moto nymphets passing by - phewww! Steamy visor time.
Quickly realise that this ain't the beach scene for a pale skinned, hot and bothered 54 year-old to be landed in, so, clutch lever, first gear and chug, chug, chug away from there. Get overtaken by one Moped Nymphet whilst she's texting!
Gradually the 900 manages to pick up speed, keeping pace with the local traffic. But the sound of it just ain't right and I must forget about cooling off swimming and find a less distracting, sensible spot to stop and discover what's amiss with the engine.
Eeek! - the engine starts to die … pull in to a coast road lay-by overlooking the mediterranean and some distant island looming up outta the surface sea mist.
Helmet & gloves off - ouch but the sun is hot - bike on centre stand - it's V.hot too - spit test on two and three headers indicates they ain't so hot.
What to do?
Drink some water.
Find some shade, sit and think.
Cicadas rasping away around me in the undergrowth. Scuttling, rustling wildlife disturbed in a storm drain nearby.
Wild Italy lurking unseen, a feeble stones throw from the motorway.
Hot sun beating down - air at pizza baking oven temperature …
Must conserve meagre water supply.
Rationed to one glug an hour, should last until half past tea-time … owh, anicehotcuppatea - ain't had one since Craigland, way back in dear old Blighty.
Cicadas continue tirelessly rasping away - don't those insects ever give it a rest!
I'm marooned in a sea of heat and damnably noisy cicadas.
Marooned where? Check map … orient it north south, take a sight over it to nearest recognisable geological feature, that distant island. C'mon. Get a Grip. That distant island looming up outta the surface sea-mist a mere 182 words ago, is the Isle of Elba.
Able was I ere I saw Elba.
Ok. This is no place to hang about. I need to find shade enough for me and the 900 in which to sort out what's wrong with 2&3.
Map shows a service area some kilometers further on, that's if the engine will work to get me there.
Optimistically press the button, and with a bit of choke wiggling the engine runs roughly enough to enable us to leave the cicadas rasping ceaselessly to themselves.
With just 1&4 firing the Gpz gradually, gamely accelerates up to a heady speed of 70 or so, enough to keep pace with the early evening Italian traffic, but without enough ooompf innit to attempt any overtaking.
Engine backfires on over-run as down through the gears onto service station forecourt, then splutters and falls silent as we free wheel glide towards the shadow cast by the service station building.
Enveloped by the cool shadow, it's not long before luggage, seat and tank are detached and I'm pondering the black art of sparks.
Seems to me that there's nothing usefully electrical exiting the 2&3 ignition coil to enable the plugs of 2&3 cylinders do their thing.
Swap coils and leads - Logical diagnosis - all, except the dead 2&3 ignition coil, are working perfectly.
There's no spare 2&3 ignition coil aboard.
Ah sure now so, it could be worse.
Check map again. Nearest sizeable town is Grosseto, Tuscany.
Ask service station staff "Mi scusi, per favore. Dov'e Kawasaki concessionario in Grosseto?"
They ain't got a clue, looking bemused, probably not understanding my dodgy Italian pronunciation.
Then a kindly soul arrives to translate. Grosseto is about 40Km away and no one knows if there is any sorta Moto concessionario, let alone a specifically Kawasaki concessionario.
Mobile blower to The Zone time. But Curses … Foiled Again! An Italian voice telling me I can't 'phone the Coate Spiritual Gpz Home … grrr!
Plan B. - text the Half-Italienne in Malta. Ask her to 'phone Craig and request he post a 2&3 coil to me in Grosseto, rather asap please.
Sweetie gets the message through just before the Zone Friday afternoon closing for the weekend time - phewww!
An we all know that once Craig closes shop, blimey, there's no telling where he might uncontactably be, and the least said the better about what might be occurring there … But I digress.
Right. The plan is now to get to Grosseto. Find a reasonable hotel and enjoy a spontaneous weekend of cultural appreciation, whilst, with any luck, Mr.Davies will have a new 2&3 ignition coil, wrapped snugly in one of his purple packages and addressed to me and speeding on its way to Grosseto Post Office for a Monday delivery.
Ah sure now so, it could be worse, indeed.
Refit coils and leads, tank, seat, re-attach luggage, drink more water.
Re-apply sweatily sticky jacket, helmet and gloves to self.
Press Ninja Go stud.
900 obligingly chugs back into a tenacious half-life and we set off on the road to Grosseto, and with fewer cars about as evening darkens, the ever impressive, well worth every penny spent on it Gpz, on only the two cylinders mind, gradually builds up to speeds in excess of 80(!) before we eventually slow to enter the outskirts of Grosseto.
Peering about, can't see any signs for hotels, but soon spot a likely looking pair of lads and a girlie standing besides a large modern V.Rossi- look-alike-Yamaha. Chug up to them and stop, engine backfires and stops as well. The trio look bemused at the sight of auld fella me and the older than they are 900.
"Mi scusi, per favore. Moto Roto. Dov'e Kawasaki concessionario in Grosseto?"
Again the look of 'What the feck's he on about?' (But of course, gentle reader; imagine it thought by them in the mental comic Italian accent).
Fortunately, the Girlie can speak some english, and she soon has her lads understanding my predicament as she translates to them my request for knowledge of a hotel for the night and a Kawasaki dealer for the morning.
Seems that there's no Kawasaki dealer open in town, but the Yamaha owner offers to lead me to a cheap hotel.
So, a "Molto Grazzie!" to the other Guy and the bilingual Girlie, then the 900 is re-started stutteringly to splutter and backfire off in the wake of the wheelieing con bravura Yamaha Ragazzo.
After keeping up with a mad young Italian for five minutes, we come to a halt, 1,550 miles from Myross, outside an Hotel of Character, tucked away down what we might indulgently describe as an ‘alley.’ After parking and alarming and locking the 900 in a secluded shady spot, there follows a lengthy pantomime explanation of my predicament to the humourless miniature poodle-wielding manageress of the 40.00 euro a night cheap hotel. Cash up front, I’m eventually entrusted with the key to a room that retains the faint whiff of its previous tenants downward spiral dodgy doings.
After the door locked securely behind me, a shower to cool off from the heat, then, totally pooped from the excitement of the day, I fall asleep, unsuspectingly a perfect meal target for a marauding squadron of mean Tuscan Mosquitoes ...
Day Five - Myross Island to Malta.
Grosseto on two cylinders a day.
Saturday 21st June, 2008.
Awake to the excitable sound of an aerial dawn chorus of Swifts and/or Swallows hurtling about outside the shutters of the hotel window.
Insect-eating birds. Never there when ya' need 'em.
Cold shower to attempt partial anaesthesia of the many itchy mozzie bites I suffered during the night.
Dry & dress in the lightest togs I have, but soon molto caldo and in need of a second cold shower.
Exit hotel in search of some sorta breakfast.
Discover an open café for uno doppio espresso and custard filled croissants(!).
From a public, street ‘phone booth, attempt calling the Half-Italienne, but paucity of small change and passing traffic soon put paid to that.
Wander about the early morning town and find an excellent looking hotel in the Piazza Marconi - Make enquiries and explain my predicament to the english-speaking management -
"Certo, Mr.,Graaahm, I offer you a speciale bed & breakfast rate of 34 euro per notte untila youra theeenga coma tru de posta … Si?"
I Say … Jolly Good Show! Hand over passport and enough euro dosh to pay for me to stay until the morning of Tuesday. Y’know, I mean, Like, 2008. Instant communication and real-time response with rapid transit of goods within the European community … so, purple package containing 2&3 ignition coil could arrive Tuesday, hopefully?
Move 900, possessions and self to the far better appointed and a special rate for me Hotel Nuova Grosseto (1,550.2 road miles from Myross Island), to settle in and get comfy for the few days wait for the arrival of the special delivery from The Gpz Zone.
From my new hotel room (Camera Ottocento) ‘phone Half-Italienne to tell her where I’m at. She bashfully owns up to yesterday having not been wearing the ‘lucky’ Gpz earrings when the coil went wacko. But to make up for that oversight, she’s already contacted The International Rescue Section at Zone Central with my ‘to post to’ details.
'Phone Mr.,Tracey, er, Mr.,Davies, to confirm Hotel Nuova Grosseto address. Despite being a day-off-with-the-wife-and-kid Saturday, the customer-comes-first Craig is already in the queue at the post office, purple package of 2&3 ignition coil in his hand, literally on the verge of consigning it off and away to Tuscany.
I Say … Double Jolly Good Show! And How about That for Customer Care Hurrah - and bless him and his white wheels!
Content all in order and as under way as possible, decide that it must be just about mediterranean beach time.
Map shows that Grosseto is near the sea. However, being somewhat out of practice at it all, and having travelled 1,550.2 miles by road in the waking hours of the previous four days, and being an old fart 54 an’all, I’m really pooped, so, go back to sleep for most of the rest of the day instead, waking only to squint bleary eyed at the hotel room TV to see all three MotoGP classes doing their Donnington qualification stuff.
(The Half-Italienne comments: Oh yeah? Hmmm… How very convenient to find a hotel with TV in room to show MotoGP biz, especially as I don’t have a telly! Very Timely, eh! )
Myross Island to Malta - Day Six.
Getting used to Grosseto.
Sunday 22nd June, 2008.
1,550.2 road miles from Myross Island.
Map still shows that Grosseto is near the sea. But having just travelled half-way across a continent (admittedly, one of the shorter dimensions of one of the smaller continents), I’ve kinda underestimated the distance to the wet-stuff so, with the Gpz chugging along on two cylinders, it seems to take ages to travel the twelve and a half’ish miles to the beach but once arrived, the 900 patted respectfully on the tank, parked considerately in some shade, then locked and alarmed and left, I’m merrily skipping off onto the beach and that long anticipated First Swim in the Mediterranean!
Still an Italian early morning time of day, so just about getting too hot to walk bare-foot on not so crowded sands that display just the bare minimum of ahem - scantily clad distraction.
(The Half-Italienne comments: Grosseto begins to sound molto interessante un ‘bel’ incidente…)
Seawater swimming is cool and calming.
Later - Emerge from the med, towel my pale torso dry and cover it up quickly away from the fierce heat of the sun.
Chug back to Camera Ottocento in time to watch all three races from Donnington.
Awake with a yearning for some Food.
Go out into the relative cool of the Tuscan evening in search of authentic Tuscan Pizza and thirst quenching libation. Find both in Pizzeria Rusticana. Wherein I’m served a completely made-before-my-eyes and way-too-huge for my belly Quattro Formaggio on a perfect crispy base, all washed down with a litre or so (I’m a pints man, whaddahellIknow about metric) of the admirably cool and refreshing Morretti birra … hic … an up on the wall a telly tuned into the Euro’08 quarter final that has Italy innit. But after a few good glugs of the Morretti, hic, ha, ha, what do I care ... the Pizzeria Rusticana people are ooo’ing and aaah’ing, and I can tell that they are also grumbling at the tedious, Forza-less ebb and flow of the opening half hour of the match.
Stomach full almost to bursting, I pay for the delicious pizza, express my thanks and leave.
Walk-wander back to the hotel through empty streets, between apartment blocks where darkened windows all show within the same, synchronised glowing flickering of the same TV channel coverage of Spain versus Italy.
Pass a bar where the despondent looking clientele have spilled out onto the street for some half-time night air.
Check that 900 is still securely where it should be? … Yes … Good.
Ensconced again within Camera Ottocento, my hotel room TV casts the same, synchronised glowing flickering of the same coverage of Spain versus Italy.
Cheers reverberate from adjoining hotel rooms and resound about the town in response to an Italian goooal!
Then, Italy defeated by Spain at the conclusion of the penalty shoot-out, all about Grosseto, a deafening silence.
Myross Island to Malta - Day Seven.
Another day in the life of a guy in Grosseto.
Monday 23rd June, 2008.
Wildly over optimistic, then depressed at nowt electrical for me in the morning post.
Still, there’s always Domani!
To the wet-stuff the Gpz backfiring as it continues chugging along on two cylinders. Suddenly dies completely … oooer, I’ve gone and done it now. But after a fraught fifteen minutes, Gpz coughs back into half-life and we continue to the beach that’s much the same as yesterday - just about too hot to walk bare-foot upon not so crowded sands that continue to display scantily clad distraction.
I Say … phwaaa.
Me, I could be Benny Hill.
Seawater swimming thankfully continues to be cool and calming.
Later Re-emerge from the med, towel my a-tads-less pale torso dry and cover it up quickly away from the continuing fierce heat of the sun (and, lets be honest here, looks of ridicule from those few attractively tanned Italians lounging about nearby).
I may be a pale northern european, stuck temporarily in Grosseto by the failure of things beyond my control, forced to spend some of my time in mediterranean waters … but life really could be a lot worse.
(The Half-Italienne comments: Che belle vacanze per un povero sfortunato! Stronzo!!! Pilgrim my ass)
We chug back into town, where I set about absorbing some local supermarket culture and wine, followed by some relaxed, consumer-at-a-loose-end in Tuscany, clothes shopping therapy (cos it’s still V.’effin’ hot and my few travelling togs are beginning to get a wee bit whiffy about the armpits).
Day Eight of Myross Island to Malta.
Tuesday 24th June 2008.
Awake 7am early.
If wishes were breakfast, it’d be morning time … and it is.
8.00am: Will the purple package arrive today?
8.30am: Learnt and putting to practical use a new Italian phrase - “ Quando posta arrivera oggi?”
“Posta nove a dieci oggi - it coming between nine and tena theeesa morninga, Mr.,Graaahm.”
8.45am: Bag packed and tools at the ready in anticipation of tank off and 2&3 ignition coil replacement.
9am: Imagine my fingers drumming impatiently on tubular steel balcony railing of Camera Ottocento, as I search intently for any sign of approaching Postino, Uomo, or Donna, entering the Piazza Marconi below me …
9.30am: … There She is!
Rush down to reception …
“Sorry, Mr.,Graaahm. No thinga for you.”
Oh well … Domani.
Stoic, stuttering two cylinders, 454cc worth of engine still capable of transporting me to the by now usual beach.
From my paddling about position at head-just-above-water level, I can see along the shoreline to the north, backed by dunes and trees, expanses of sand that appear to me to be more like a familiar West Cork, Long Strand’ish Irish coastline, and also almost as familiarly totally free of any sign of humanity an’all, or of any of those blocks of Italian beach pay-per-lay loungers, laid out in regimented rows below shady canopies.
I must explore.
Exit water and stride as manfully as I can manage with stomach held in, past the usual pick’n’mix of scantily clads, to towel myself off.
900 engine still warm from earlier, coughs obligingly back into action and off we go to see what’s what.
Mad dogs and Englishmen, and I’m motorcycling in the Midday Sun in sandals, wet shorts and new from yesterday lightweight, long-sleeved red cotton top protecting pale arms from the rays.
I imagine the stern, disapproving tut-tut-ting if those old RAC/ACU instructors of mine could see me now, bowling along an Italian back-road, sans sensible full body kit of protective leather-ware. My guilty conscience has me sweating like a pig inside the full-face, while the rest of me is air-cooled to perfection ... but Ouch, the engine is a very hot, hot thing to brush a naked, slightly sun-burnt knee against … so, serves me right.
Carry on, trundle along what becomes a very long straight road under a canopy of trees, the forest either side of the highway full of cicadas doing their thing loud enough to be heard above the engine.
Stop at the side of the road where there are a couple of parked cars and a TransAlp next to a sandy path leading through the trees to the sea.
Secure the 900 in the shade, then follow the dusty path that winds as wiggly a way through the dunes as the occasional snake track that crosses the fresh footprints in it … oooer! If there were any warning hiss, you’d never hear it for the incessant racket of the cicadas all ratcheting away in the undergrowth, or those clicking themselves silly, clambering about the stout trunks leading up to their equally noisy chums cavorting in the high canopy of the pine trees.
The trek through the noisy forest to this long beach between Grosseto Marina and Castiglione Della Pescaia is very well worth your consideration as the destination for an excursion. Just remember to take an absorbent towel, plenty of factor fifty, a couple of bottles of drinking water, some sandwiches, anti-cicada-din ear-plugs and possibly even some snake bite serum (pardon my paranoia - nasty experience with an Adder in the Kentish bracken when I was a lad … then in the teens, whilst out to lunch camping amongst bracken at Lands End … could have been a reason why subsequently I found Ireland such an attractive, snake free place to make home … now choosing poisonous viper-free Malta, courtesy of St. Paul, as a place to be … but I digress again, and you, gentle reader, are patient to the point of over-indulgence).
Where was I?
Time for a glass of red wine and an appreciation of the statue found in the foyer of the Main Post Office in Grosseto.
And for those of the head-banging persuasion among you:
Day Nine of Myross Island to Malta.
Wednesday 25th June, 2008.
6.30am: Awake extra early.
7.00am: Will the purple package arrive today?
7.30am: The purple package must arrive today!
8.00am: Will the purple package really arrive today?
8.30am: Oh Pleeeze let the purple package arrive today!
8.45am: Bag packed again and tools once more at the ready in anticipation of taking the tank off and doing a rapid 2&3 ignition coil replacement.
9am: Imagine once more my fingers drumming impatiently on tubular steel balcony railing of Camera Ottocento, as I search intently again for any sign of approaching Postino, Uomo, or Donna, entering the Piazza Marconi below me …
9.15am: … Oh Great Joy - Here She Comes!
Rush down to reception …
“Sorry, Mr.,Graaahm. No thinga for you oggi.”
Oh well … Domani.
10.00am: Spend the next few hours sulking.
N-o-o-o … !
Wednesday 25th June, 2008 ... The Afternoon hours.
Eventually stop sulking in darkened hotel room.
Start pondering Doom and Gloom of situation I’m in.
What to do next?
Hotel cat has hidden itself beyond booting range.
Outside in the piazza the 900 still waits patiently for a replacement part.
Surely The Purple Package from Craig must arrive soon … won’t it?
But When, When, When?
Time to go for a walk in the sun to retrieve my patience.
Stroll past the local car hire shop today they have a motorcycle in the window.
Does this mean that today they may hire out a motorcycle?
Walk into the car hire shop and commence my dodgy Italian speech …
Young Italian Fella behind the counter interrupts and says he speaks English, used to work at BAT in South London, and how can he help?
Well! Blah, blah, Kawasaki Gpz900, blah, blah, blah, 2&3 ignition coil buggered, blah, blah, blah, replacement part posted from England, blah, blah, blah, days waiting for the replacement part that ain’t yet arrived, blah, blah, blah, lost in the post, blah, blah.
The Young Italian Fella asks me - “D’ya’know that there’s a Kawasaki dealer in Grosseto …?”
“No … ! … Where?”
“Less than a kilometre from here, easy walking distance away.”
“D’oh … !”
The Young Italian Fella gives me directions. I thank him, and, after ten minutes walk I’m at Gianni Giallini, 4-Tempi-Moto-Store, Concessionario Kawasaki …
There all the time, no more than a ten minute walk away, a genuine, fully equipped Kawasaki Dealership that looks as though its been doing well enough in business there for at least a few years.
The Friday night likely looking pair of lads and a girlie (remember ‘em, standing besides that large modern V.Rossi-look-alike-Yamaha) seemed to know nothing of a Kawasaki shop in their own town … ?
The Hotel Manager had to of no avail checked in his ‘phone book for to find some form of Grosseto moto-dealer help for me.
And there all the time, no more than a ten minute walk away … Gianni Giallini. Concessionario Kawasaki.
Enter the Grosseto 4-Tempi-Moto-Store Sales Emporium and see lots of strange shaped motorcycles in either the familiar fluorescent green or a satisfyingly sombre black.
I kinda toyed with the idea of leaving the 900 with them in Grosseto, come back for it later, meanwhile carry on to Malta aboard a brand new Kawasaki whatever took my fancy But Gordon Bloody Bennet … these modern motorcycles look just s-o-o-o ugly, as though designed by a desperate to be different committee of demented Yes Men & Women, the spawn of the quick-change Transformer & Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle generation (ahem, a couple of the very same generation I’ve spent my time parenting during the last 18 years so, no wonder I’m clueless about what’s stylistically Hot, or not).
Leave the 900 to its fate? Nah Mate! Just like RobRoy will sensibly come to decide, I cannot abandon the motorcycle that has supplied me with so much pleasure and independence and freedom and all sorts of fun & games.
We carry on together.
Even if it means waiting ever longer for the Purple Package from the Zone.
Next time in Myross Island to Malta Will Craig’s Purple package eventually put in an appearance?
Day Ten - Myross Island to Malta.
Check in, but can one ever leave the Hotel Nuova Grosseto?
Thursday 26th July 2008
Until drained by Count Wazzisnamio in whenever, this part of the eye-talian coast once was the mysterious-people-disappear-in-there-forever, swampy, malarial badlands of Tuscany.
6.00am: a degree of maybe-I'll-disappear-here-for-ever-an-all perturbation is gnawing at me.
6.10am: Admittedly I've done a few dodgy, penance-worthy deeds in my time, maybe even exceeded the odd speed limit … But Please, Big Fella (or Woman:•), I hope Your Wrathfulness ain't seriously thinking of having me paying for my sins by consigning me indefinitely to this waiting for a purple package purgatory.
6.30am: Is the small shower cubicle I'm in shrinking?
6.45am: Pack bag. Ready ignition coil replacing tools.
6.52am: Fate tempted, un-pack bag, put tools away.
7.00am: Italian Hotel breakfast of croissant & marmalade, a small white bun & small white cheese, washed down with one healthy, pink fruit drink and a caffeine laden doppio espresso.
7.15am: Sudden urge to rush out and buy postcards and stamps from the kiosk in the piazza.
7.25am: to 8am: Write jaunty, having fun, wish you were here (instead of me) messages on postcards.
Bah, another hour at least before the post is due …
8.05am: From the balcony of camera cent'otto (The Half-Italienne comments: He’s learning), watch the bustling comings and goings in the Piazza Marconi A pink scooter weaves through the rush hour traffic and glides to a halt: pink helmeted Mother, with matching pink helmeted nipper standing on the footboards, body safe between mothers outstretched arms, nippers hands hanging on to the ‘bars between Mummy's hands at the controls. Child dismounts, hands pink helmet to mummy, then skips off to join assembling tangle of diminutive chums awaiting the school bus.
This mornings Tuscan sky is clear, clear blue from skyline to skyline. Up above innit, an Italian Air-Force Mirage goes after-burner-roaring-soaring from 10,000 to 30,000+ feet overhead.
It’s a gonna be another Scorchio in Grosseto and the passing nymphettes below know it, comfortably, coolly scantily clad … pheeew!
8.15am: Cold shower.
8.20am: Take scissors to bristles and trim back wild-man style facial growth that’s been ignored for the last few listless days.
8.45am: Look in the mirror - eeek - start hacking away at unruly head hair.
8.55am: Brrringa-brrring “Buongiorno Mr.,Graaahm. Your thinga, it hasa come!”
Scene of pale, naked englishman joyfully cavorting about small hotel room in Italy at news of purple package arrival.
8.56.30am: Quickly clothed englishman runs down stairs and, eager to get at it, almost snatches The Purple Package from the hotel receptionists hands … “Mi a Scusi Signorina.”
9.00am: Outside Hotel Nuova Grosseto, with tools at the ready, off comes the 900’s seat, off goes the 900’s ear-piercing alarm … ooops! Passing Italian rush-hour-isti frown at me.
Back to business. Tank off. Purple package ripped open … the new 2&3 ignition coil fitted, connected and the engine fires up on the first push of the button … aaah! Sweetly firing on all four indeed - “purrs like a thing that purrs for a living ...”
Now so, I’m gonna be properly mobile again. Hooray!
‘Phone The Half-Italienne to let her know I’m about to be under way. She promises to keep wearing the ‘lucky’ earrings.
The Gpz earrings, designed by ©, handcrafted by Michael Duerden, Worn by Half-Italienne.
(The Half-Italienne comments: after all, they do keep him on the road, away from those allurements…)
Then on the blower to Gpz Zone Central. Thank You, Craig … Tanti Baci Signore Ruote Bianche!
Then hotel bill paid, the bags packed and it’s Bye-Bye Grosseto as the 900 and I get back on the road south.
It's jolly hot and sweaty and I don't care that there's an appallingly putrid, malodorous air from the convoy of ten stinking garbage trucks trundling along nose to tail ahead of the Gpz and me. Y'see I have a fully restored, 900r instant response ignition system wired to the lightly held twisty thing within the palm of my right hand.
A prudent mirror-signal-manoeuvre, a couple of flicks of the left foot, and a firm twist of the right wrist and a nod towards Our Blessed Lady of Acceleration … wahoooooo Maximum Velocity! Ten-nose-to-tail-Trucks passed in as many seconds and woooah there … just a wee bit … as at such momentum, there's rather more fresh air blasting past me than I can comfortably cope with. Though tank bag and pillion position bungee'd luggage do seem to smooth airflow somewhat - lessening that head wobble inducing turbulence that one may be familiar with from high speed spurts along 'race-track straights' (ah, indicated 155, 2-up, 1987’ish).
The 900 behaves impeccably as progress continues south into that Mad Dogs & Englishmen heat of the midday sun. The only cause for deceleration from the air-cooling comfort zone pace being the need to refuel the motorcycle and top myself up with a litre or two of cold water.
On the move again. After a while, and 1,877'ish road miles from Myross Island, see a hulking, ferking great blue grey cone shape appearing through the heat haze ahead … so assume 'It' must be the About-Due-To-Erupt-At-Any-Moment (in Geological timescale) Vesuvius - which means I must also be approaching the scary rumoured They'll-Nick-That-Beloved-Motorcycle-Right -Out-From -Under-'Ya-Arse Naples.
Now, Gentle Reader, think me foolish and jeopardy assessment topsy-turvy, but in terms of potential peril for a man on an already somewhat behind schedule mission to Malta, which is the riskiest worse of the dodgy two to get too close to?
The Potential Rip-off, or the maybe about to be Blown-off?
Best steer a rapid, straight-between-'em course.
Soon find cause again for a Thank Heavens for the 900's fan override switch. This Thanksgiving given while negotiating a mighty-slow-moving-tail-back. The cause of which being a north-eastern european truck that's succumbed to the heat, boiled over and stalled, stationary in the centre lane of the autostrada that bypasses Naples. The poor driver guy, marooned in his un-air-conditioned cab, in a strange land, stuck between a Lotto rock an'a well'ard place, with irate at the delay Italians hurtling by on either side.
These Italians … irate and driving and potentially deadly and very much to be kept a wary eye on and accelerated away from.
Once past Salerno, the road gets rather jolly good for the appreciation of other aspects of the Gpz. As ever, the 900 is at home, faultless, on rails around an absorbing variety of bends that flow smoothly from straight to straight, wailing echoing through tunnels, bursting out into the open over bridges above valleys between steep hills.
Can I Please have another go Mister?
9.00pm: The 900 is parked almost at the end of a concrete path leading from the coast road to the waters edge of a deserted sandy beach, 2,000 road miles from Myross Island.
Ten yards off shore I'm stripped off and swimming appreciatively about, savouring the moment in the mirror calm, sunset pink sea at a place called Sapari.
Here, look -
Towelled dry and at arms length in a 1/15th of a second exposure through a 24mm Nikkor at f4 on Fujicolour 400.
Gawd, I look a miserable git. But I was actually very happy - concentrating on keeping the camera steady.
Naturally, after a long hot day, culminating in such a pleasantly refreshing aquatic interlude, my thoughts turned to the seeking of the further gratification of wine, food and a soft bed to sleep in peacefully. The indulgences sought were soon found on offer, just a couple of miles or so south along the coast road, at the four star Santa Maria Le Piane Hotel. A tastefully modern establishment with discrete off road parking and a fine, mosquito excluding air conditioning system. My room had a jolly spacious en-suite shower, with just the right temperature water and plenty of dry white towels. The sleeping compartment was equally spacious, including a well stocked mini bar, double bed, BBC showing satellite TV and an easy to operate bedside telephone for reporting progress to the Half-Italienne destination … plus, in the morning, an interesting buffet breakfast with spot on espresso - and all for 55 euro. But that's in the morning, at just the start of Day Eleven of - Myross Island to Malta.
Day Eleven - Myross Island to Malta.
Friday 27th June
Awoken early, sleep disturbed by a tremor deep rumble … leapt immediately out of comfortable bed dozy consciousness convinced this was It - The Earthquake - or The Volcanic Eruption or The Cataclysmic Act Of God(dess) that would come between Me And My Half-Italienne Destiny! … but, er, uh-hu, it was just a ponderously long freight train travelling slowly south on the nearby coastal railway line, beyond the road adjacent to the hotel and beneath the steep, tree covered foothills rising into the high mist above.
On my feet now, first thing I do, open shutters and look down from the balcony, check to see the 900 still where I secured it last night.
Aw, c’mon - Bet you’d do the same, standing there, out on the balcony, just as bleary-eyed and anxious as I, and as naked too.
All around outside the early day looking ominously cloudy, air feeling heavy, muggy. Listless lizards lounging about in open ground between the bushes, waiting for some warming morning sunshine.
Feeling a tad’s listless and lizard-like myself, take a refreshing shower.
Click. Boil hotel room kettle for anicehotcuppaItalianHotelteabagtea … mmmn … not Barry’s, but not bad.
Click. Italian TV Weather Girl ain’t saying anything even remotely ‘Scorchio’ this morning, but pointing seriously at clouds and lightning symbols at about where I am on her map.
Oooer … will today be the real wet test for the oversuit?
Better get a move on.
Drip. Just re-packing the black bag gets me sweaty. Shower again.
Pay the 55euro bill plus call charge for Half-Italienne communication.
Load the 900 and we’re off Hoping it won’t start raining, cos it really is so humid that, within an oversuit, I’d soon be as dripping with sweat wet as if I’d not bothered putting it on in the first place.
Continue south on the coastline holiday resort SS18 route.
After Sapri, the road starts a curvaceously tempting fast climb up to just beneath the misty hilltops, whereupon, after a rapid deceleration for negotiating a blind bend, I encountered a couple of parked-up Polizia pointing their radar at me but cos I’m such a cautious old codger, and already very well aware of the ‘freestyle,’ straddling the white line nature of Italian drivers, was actually negotiating the blind bend rather sensibly slowly.
Exchange of ‘Better Luck Next Time gestures,’ then accelerate away up on the elevated coast road sections, where all is refreshingly cool, but the roller coaster is soon dropping down to sea level again, where ‘It,’ me and the 900, all get fan override switch on effin’ Hot (in Italiano - Molto Caldo! How’s that for necessity teaching an old dog new tricks).
This after Sapri going south section of the SS18 is a fabulous route to ride a motorcycle. The vertiginous, half way up the coastal cliff hugging road provides the going-for-it-rider with plenty of opportunity for heavy braking (both planned & panic) into an interesting variety of rising or descending tight turns, to be followed by the right hand twisting bellowing, echoing, hang on tight acceleration up or downhill, sounds bouncing off of the rock face on the other side of the road as ya hurtle along toward the next blind left … but just you be careful if you do, cos there are all sorts of travelling hazards to spoil your fun. Number One among’em being those ‘freestyle’ Italian drivers.
I thought I was progressing along in a quite respectably rapid hooligan fashion, until suddenly, unexpectedly caught and passed by a less-than-cautious, he’ll-die-young-Italian-lad … (or was it VR in training?) hustling a modern scooter thingy around the bends at impressively maximum angles of lean (yeah, I know … I should be ashamed - not keeping up. But honest, Gentle Reader, I was on unfamiliar roads, with distractingly stunning, precipitous views being revealed to me at almost every turn … and almost each turn revealing at least one oncoming Italian driver bowling along in the middle of the road, seemingly intent upon biffing me off course and over the low parapet, to fall slow motion, tumbling end-over-end-far-far-far-splash-down into the blue mediterranean sea below).
Hot and bothered by such alarming excitement, this auld fella soon had to stop for his heart pills, some water, and a convenient photo-op for you lot … see -
Carry on, carry on over substantial bridges spanning the there since before time, boulder strewn channels that lead flash-flood-waters safely down from the mountains to the sea.
Descending to the flat coastal plain, mountain cloud and misty weather gives way to sea level clear blue skies and lots of ‘Gosh but the sun is just so hot!’
Auuugh too hot and dripping with sweat sticky for wearing my northern european leather gloves. So, ride along bare knuckled for half an hour … start to notice feelings of back of me hands beginning to get a tads sun burnt.
3.30pm: Stop in next town for fuel.
Spot a nearby motorcycle shop.
Mime hot hands to staff … they laugh.
Yes, of course they have light and airy summer gloves …
I hand over dosh. Gloves over hands … ride off, cool-hand-happily.
Head and body still somewhat distractingly hot as the 900 transports me smoothly, effortlessly, ever southwards through the heat hazy bright light.
Concentrate, I try to, on the early warning spotting of those ‘freestyle’ Italian drivers; the seeing and understanding of signposts; the staying awake and attuned to the rhythm of the road and the making of progress along heat shimmering, simmering straights, twisty roads through old towns that lay siesta sleepily under wide curving Highways mounted on concrete stilts wafting away up in the air … to Reggio Calabria and a ferry to Sicily.
7.00pm: Gpz discretely into Reggio Calabria. 900 around busy town long enough to get cut up in traffic and beaten to a between a car and a coach gap by a blonde girlie on a moped. Thistles. To prevent further embarrassment within sight of strangers, search for and find the dock, then the dock-side ticket office. Purchase for just nine euro a ticket for both the 900 & I on the 9pm ferry to Sicily.
Then rested. Waiting.
That sinking feeling.
9.30pm: Midpoint of the crossing from Reggio Calabria. After 2,210 road miles of being in charge, it’s like being a helpless participant aboard during a gargantuan game of nautical dodgems in the dark. Your Out of Control, Concerned Old Fart, watching from the top deck of the ferry, seeing the navigation light motion of an oncoming dark leviathan. Steadily closer and closer, then gone from view blended deceptively and disappeared into background ribbon of coastal illumination strung along the Sicilian side of the constantly busy straights of Messina … random Act Of God(dess) leaving me bobbing about in a life-raft, my motorcycle commencing the rusting away beneath the waves, the sunken victim of a collision … but no alarms sound … and ships that do, pass in the night.
10.00pm: Safely docked and ashore on Sicilian concrete … headlights on, set off south on SS114, soon discover local drivers are an altogether dangerous bunch of fellows to be amongst, all careering about as they do in a most disorderly Friday night fashion.
After 16 miles or so of cars up my arse much too up close and personal dodgems with anonymous Sicilians in the dark, decided it prudent to call a halt to my travels at the Hotel Nizza, in the centre of Nizza di Sicilia.
35 euro per night and 900 securely locked and alarmed in the shadowy recesses of the hotel garage. The manager’s black limo then parked protectively between the Gpz and any prying eyes passing by on the street. Yeah Ok, I’m maybe a touch paranoid … but that doesn’t mean that Plot Central ain’t real!
Hotel Nizza, for a safe and secure night - plus great take-away nosh from the other side of the street.
My nervousness assuaged across the road from the Hotel Nizza by the efficacious calming of a litre of ice-cool Morretti birra applied to self in process of washing down a most delicious and generously proportioned slab of hot bread containing layers of cheese-an’ham-an’onion-an’mushroom-an’tomato-an’spinach cartocciata like comestible, scoffed in its entirety at the counter of the cartocciata/focaccia take-away. Now, Gentle Reader, I really, really, really seriously recommend you stop at this particular Sicilian fast food outlet and sample their cartocciata/focaccia … mmmn, mmmn - Five Star Yum-Yum!
Hotel room has an Ok-it’ll-do shower, a comfortable double bed for instant flopping out on, a tiny TV set to stare-squinty-eyed-at, a remote to operate the noisy AC and heavy, armour plated shutters in place over the windows …? Ponder possibility of un-provable mutual execution of favours link between Plot Central and The Mafia. Especially as Slightly Intoxicated plan of telephonically whispering of the sweet nothings into far off ear of the Maltese Half-Italienne is complicated by a dodgy looking phone that won’t let me do any dialling outta da room … Slightly intoxicated plan also baulked by receptionist’s “no-eh-spicka-dai-inglezi …” and then totally thwarted by my woefully ignorant of Italian beer befuddled english brain and cartocciata/focaccia’s sake bloated beer-belly distracting attenzione from my Numbskulls speech translation centre …
zzz … 2,226 road miles from Myross Island.
Day Twelve of Myross Island to Malta
Nizza to Isa.
Saturday 28th June 2008.
Awake and blurry eye-sighted dimly aware of early morning sunlight shining through holes in the heavy metal shutters, horizontal shafts of neon brightness piercing the gloom of the room, casting glowing sunspots onto the wall beside me.
Roll off the bed.
Hmmmn, I appear to remain ‘fully’ clothed from the previous evening.
Yeah, that works.
Now, just a few steps to the window …
yup, still have the use of my legs Thank You God(dess).
Operate the device that raises the shutters clunk clatter, clatter aaaaaagh … blast of bright light from the newly risen just-above-the-horizon-sun!
Intense reflection bouncing off shimmering sea has blinded me … an’ I can’t see, temporarily.
Conceptual continuity gradually restored, revealing a view from hotel room balcony of a startlingly clear blue sky topped panorama, encompassing the far away across the sea silhouetted mountainous grandeur of hazy blue Italy, distant geology dwarfing assorted sizeable shipping underway making passage through the Straights of Messina.
Attention drawn to early morning activity of a Sicilian seaside town; joggers pounding along the promenade; early swimmers teetering over pebbles to the brink of the plunge; watchful fishermen in small boats, bobbing about patiently; immigrant dustbin lorry personnel servicing seafront litter bins; wasp-waisted Sicilian matron in black, hips swinging, sweeping some steps.
Right, that’s your establishing where the feck I am in the world bit dealt with.
Now. First things first Find the Bathroom. Last night’s litre of Morretti is impatient to continue its journey.
Aaah - That’s better.
Remove ‘nightgown’ step into shower. Double Aaah.
A cleansed, refreshed and clothed Human emerges from hotel room, intent upon Sicilian Breakfast … which is soon found, self-service style, waiting for me on a terrace overlooking The View.
A couple of croissants and a “Doppio Espresso per piacere.”
Then back in the hotel room, with Italian phrase book in hand, it’s too early in the morning for comic conversation time, trying to make myself understood over the ‘phone to the receptionist.
“I wanna ‘phone I mean …”
(sfx of rapid phrase book page rustling)
“Ho bisogno di fare una telefonata Isola di Malta.”
(sfx of more rapid phrase book page rustling)
Imagine how long it takes me to translate the Half-Italienne’s thirteen digit home ‘phone number into phonetically meaningful sounds to a patient, Full-Italian …
“errr, dze-roh, dze-roh,
errr, kwat-troh …” etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.
Gordon Bennett, Chaps! It really is worth the effort to learn some of the lingo, rather than as I seem to, always depending on the kindness (and appreciable tolerance) of strangers.
Brrring-brrring, brrring-brrring - She never picks up until after the third ring - brrring-brrring, brrring-brrring, brrring-brrring, brrring-brrring … hmmmn. Too early in the morning for the Half-Italienne too … Herself answers, still in bed and sleepy, just being awoken by me on the ‘phone.
(The Half-Italienne comments: early morning pest…)
(© comments: Girlies, eh!)
Prepare for the day, pack stuff, hand over dosh to pay the bill, get handed back me passport.
Load the 900 while The Manager moves his limo out of the way so that I can wheel the luggage laden top-heavy, Gpz towards one of his pumps, where I can fill’er up, to make my 900 even more wobbly-tank-full-top-heavy.
Approaching rough rumbling hacking coughing sound comes into view … a properly Red, Open-Top Ferrari. The Italian Stallion nonchalantly piloted by a heads-turningly, devilishly handsome Italian - Reflected in petrol pump glass, glimpse myself, a properly red-faced englishman abroad, nonchalantly sweaty and grey-haired on top.
Ferrari pops bangs & coughs past a couple more times whilst I’m getting togged up. The devilishly handsome Italian is obviously having a bit of bother with the temperamental thoroughbred.
Press the Gpz go stud, the 900 bursts into harmonious four cylinder song, eager for Sicilian roads to be travelled along.
Set off south along the Nizza seafront, it’s thick with weekend cars and mopeds and swarthy types on motorbikes.
Progress in convoy behind a slow coach, squeezing along narrow roads and streets, as one after another small seaside town seems to join seamlessly with the next.
Fan switch on, creeping along behind the coach, jockeying for an opportunity for an overtaking position with a Girlie riding a slim scooter. Natch, with Local Knowledge, she gets it first and is fast on her way. Another minor humiliation for Yours Truly, still stuck in the wake of coach diesel smoke and engine heat.
Gentle Reader, should you be in a southern hurry in this part of Sicily, take the E-45/A-18 main autoroute. That way you’ll avoid the stretches of very old flagstone paved Sicilian streets, all charmingly rustic and historic no doubt, but no matter what degree of retarded velocity they are negotiated at, felt as though they were surely about to vibrate the beloved 900 to bits.
The out of town stretches of SS114 coast road would have been much better and Really Jolly Good 900 Fun, with enjoyable changes in elevation, scenery and road speed and flow, and all of those exploring new roads excitements we crave … had it not been for the heavy Saturday traffic getting in the way on nearly every interesting bit of it that wasn’t being made dangerous by some of the most consistently dodgy drivers I have ever had the misfortune to try and avoid sharing the same piece of tarmac with at one and the same time!
Sicilian freestyle, liberty-taking driving or what … and usually at edge of control speeds, careering around blind bends, straddling the white line and aimed straight at me.
Make No Mistake.
These 'Drivers' Will Kill Ya!
The melancholy reminder of so many road-side shrines attests to that dead centre of the road Fact.
Coast road leads me to a temporary pause for rest, reflection and re-hydration at Capo Taromina, surely an almost picture perfect cliché image of Sicilian coastline.
Paused for more posing for you, at Capo Taormina, Sicily.
Click on poser to remove him (here's yer interactive bit, kids).
Coaches, cars and camper vans all slowly enjoying the coastline too.
Hot, Hot, Hot.
Carry on, carry on.
Around about Giarre, the sulphurous stench of Mount Etna wafts within my helmet.
There’s no ignoring it.
The Presence of That Ferking Great Big Volcano.
It is there, ahead and to the right, looming menacingly over me.
Yeah, Ok, it’s ten and a half miles away.
But I’ve seen the films, and ten and a half miles away ain’t but jack-shee-it to a full on pyroplastic flow or a mighty, hot rocks ejaculatin’ eruption.
Best increase velocity smart’ish and pass on way beyond this potential threat coming between me and the completion of my Half-Italienne mission. And besides, after all of the planning and work an’all, neither would I want to run the risk of singeing the paintwork of my recently restored, charcol black 900.
So - Enough of the impeded progress.
Need cooling speed and room to out manoeuvre the homicidal four-wheelers and any possible danger from the Volcano (yeah … you can laugh).
Search for find and accelerate onto the A18/E-45, riding swiftly south, by-passing the centre of Catania.
Masses of Saturday traffic moving with me … but thankfully not at me.
Not sure where I’m going exactly.
Eventually see signposts to the Airport and Ferries.
Peel off at next exit to Catania docklands.
2.00pm: 2,289.5 road miles from Myross, arrive at Catania dock to see the Maria Delores catamaran fast ferry to Malta moored at the quay, main stern ramp shut tight, smaller, side ramp still down, looking as though loading has finished ...
See the ferry ticket office staff shutting up shop ... Panic!
“Mi Scusi! Sono inglese, non parlo Italiano … Can I buy a ticket, how much for a ticket for a motorcycle to Malta?”
‘Yus,” says english speaking Maltese Manager of the ferry ticket office, “€65, but not now, you come back when we re-open at 6 O’clock for 8 O’clock sailing, arrive Valletta 11 O’clock.”
Ok. The ferry has only recently arrived, no need to panic, just be patient and wait.
€65 ain’t bad one way for a catamaran crossing over seventy miles of sea.
Gawd but it’s hot here.
Park the 900 in available shade, strip off as far as decency in the docks will bear, then guzzle the last of my water.
There’s an about to close bar next to the ferry ticket office, with plentiful supplies of cool, cool water. A couple of litres purchasing opportunity not to be missed.
Gawd but it is so, so hot here.
Daringly dash out into the hot sun to snap a compositional pic.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
No point in zipping off anywhere, exploring V.large metropolitan Catania, just to kill time or be killed by the Sicilians.
Probably safer staying stationary, where I am … though there are some very Bravado Catanian Dockers in specialised trucks racing hither and thither about me, reversing, bumping and hitching onto and towing, loading heavily laden trailers upon RoRo ferries berthed nearby.
Gawd but it really is so, very hot here.
There’s not even a bit of a hint of a breeze to bring a wee bit of relief.
Seen through the hot air heat haze to the north, the twenty-three miles away mass of Mount Etna looms menacingly over Catania. I’m convinced I can see signs of smoke billowing upwards from the far off top of the volcano … or is it just cloud created by moist sea level air being blown up the slopes to the summit and, y’know, all that high up the mountain, warm air, cold air condensation weather system so on & so on … Was that a flash of lightning I saw in the rising column of broiling smoke above where the crater must be … ? Physics, Geology, Vulcanology … eruptions spew dust and rocks high into the sky, creating massive static electric charges … releasing massive bolts of lightning … blimey, The God(desses)s Must Be Angry!
The Racing Dockers have loaded aboard trailers enough to clear a space, revealing a view through to the far end of the docks, where, it appears to me that, an open snack-bar is still doing good business.
I must mount my rumbling, empty tummy aboard the 900 and go investigate.
Now, Gentle Reader, if you should ever find yourself at a hungry, loose end in the Catania docks, then do check-out this particular snack-bar near the beginning of the harbour wall. In it I scoffed one most delicious savoury pastry envelope, constructed in traditional Sicilian style, a triangular cone shape, containing spinach and tomatoes and mushrooms and cheese and stuff - oooh, I could’ve easily eaten two, but, y’know how it is, middle aged man on a mission, fighting middle age spread, with just seventy or so miles of sea crossing separating him from The Woman.
Wiping the last few crumbs from me whiskers, draining the last of a cool drink, from the snack-bar I see the very long harbour wall, the ‘Molo Di Levante,’ looking like easy 900r access to all areas along it up to the Very Big Crane at the far end (maybe a mile and a half away, maybe two … I mean, sure, I zero the trip meter often enough but then, in all the excitement of going and arriving, almost always forget to check what the total mileage is when I get to wherever it is I wanted to measure the distance to).
Back at the waiting at the ticket office, a Maltese/Australian arrives on foot. He looks like he’s been a boxer, has that rangy, light on his feet, loose limbness about him. Plus the boxers broken nose is a dead giveaway. But he ain’t no punch drunk bruiser, telling me lucidly he’s come back to give his birthplace, Malta, one last look before returning to Oz for good. He talks the remaining waiting time away with entertaining tales of life in the Antipodes.
Catania Dock. 2,289.5 road miles from Myross.
6.00pm: Ticket office opens and Tourists, Maltese and other assorted travellers all mill about, elbows out trying to push past me to be first in the queue … such unruly fellows! But being an englishman abroad, I grit my teeth determinedly and with a tight, polite “Excuse Me” elbow ‘em back outta my way to request -
“A Ticket to Malta, One Way, Please.”
Passport, bike reg., etc., etc., tippy-tapping of booking computer terminal keys, buzzzing of printer and ...
“That will be €160.00 Please, Mr.Cooper.”
“Hold on a mo … you said it would be €65 one way!”
“Yes Mr.Cooper, €65.00 one way for your motorcycle, plus €70.00 one way for you, plus €25 in taxes. Total €160.00.”
“Oh … Sicily … €9 to arrive €160 to leave.”
“Shut Up and Pay the Man.” says the Maltese/Australian, and walks off.
Dosh handed over.
Up the ramp and into the aluminum car deck of the cat. I’m directed over towards a section of aluminum wall that has hinged, purpose built aluminum padded brackets, that are lowered over the seat of the in position motorcycle, then ratchet belted securely to the aluminum deck. Jolly Good!
Helmet stashed safely in tank-bag.
Make my way up the aluminum steps to the front row of the comfy chaired saloon, get comfy, looking out of the picture window ‘port-hole’ keep a wary eye on the still smokin’ Etna, beyond the bunch of out on deck last gasp smokers.
Marine engines increase revs, vibrating the aluminum ship as she gets underway, the catamaran hull rising up smoothly out of the water gaining speed, The Maria Delores leaves Catania in her wake.
I thumb my nose at Etna
Tourists, Maltese and other assorted travellers all mill about the passenger compartments in the usual confusion of whose sitting with whom and where, and I want a drink and when I get it, the coffee is crap, and served sulkily by a surly yoof who’d much rather not be disturbed by the likes of a Grumpy Old Fart like me whilst He’s busy texting his Girlie … which reminds me … sms an “Underway from Sicily” to her Half-Italienne-ness. “Buon Viaggio” her reply.
Dump the rest of the yukkk ‘coffee’ and do some sulking of my own, snuggled up against the chill of the Cat’s AC, within the baggy leather jacket you may have noticed about me. Comfy’ish, snooze for most of the three-hour crossing.
Sleepily sensing that subtle sinking sensation that accompanies the catamarans decrease in speed, awaken to see in the darkness ahead the burgeoning higgledy-piggledy confusion of illumination along the Maltese coastline as Valletta comes closer and the Grand Harbour entrance gapes welcomingly.
“Put The Kettle On” texted to Half-Italienne.
Would all vehicle drivers please report now to the car deck, go to their vehicles, immediately start their engines and proceed to choke on the noxious exhaust fumes produced and confined therein for the next fifteen minutes until we dock and then have to wait a further ten minutes for the car deck exit doors to be opened and the vehicle ramp to be lowered … Thank Yeeew!
The Captain And Crew Of The Maria Delores Do Hope You Enjoyed Your Voyage With Us And Have A Safe Onward Journey And The Captain And Crew Of The Maria Delores Look Forward To Seeing You Again Soon Aboard The Maria Delores.
Down below, 900 released from bondage.
Helmet on, engine on, engage first gear and gently down the ramp off the ferry.
Maltese customs guys scrutinize the black, quite legal Irish ’84 C plate, then grudgingly wave me through.
Out of the terminal gate and turn right, along Pinto Wharf, left up Crucifix Hill, past the appreciative pavement audience assembled outside The Tom Bar.
Ride into Floriana, 900 exhaust note echoing off tall limestone buildings along deep canyon streets. Another left and 2,290 road miles from Myross, calmly cruise to a halt outside the Half-Italienne’s half-open door.
Inside, the tea is brewing and there’s an equally warm welcome.
Now, if you’d be so kind, just talk among yourselves ...