Hospitality and Italian Paradoxes
It was windy as all hell as we came out of the Pyrenees and
drove along the southern coast of France. It had been a long day of riding up
and over mountains, on twisty roads, and I was hoping that the coast of France would be a
peaceful, calm and beautiful place to stop for the night. Well, it was beautiful
with many vineyards, but, the coast from the border of Spain to about where St. Tropez
starts was not as attractive as I had hoped. It looked very marshy and I saw no sand
beaches. And that wind!! Suffice it to say that we did not sleep well in our
tent that first night in France.
The next day we got up with the sun and
immediately broke camp to head for the hills above St. Tropez to visit our new friends,
Christian and Joelle and their two daughters. We first met Christian on the internet
after he sent us an email message about
our journey. We found a nice little campground nestled in the woods and surrounded
by vineyards. I was so thankful to be out of the wind near the coast that I almost
did not notice the blanket of black ants that had descended on our tent that night.
Ants have been the only problem camping so far on this trip, but they drive me absolutely
bonkers. Anyway, we managed to solve this little problem by moving our tent to a new
location. The proprietor of the campground was also kind enough to buy some bug
killing solution and put a ring of it on the grass around our tent. Ah, finally some
peace and rest.
The next day we met our friend Christian and his oldest
daughter, Margot (9 years old). Christian was riding his BMW R100S that he was
in the process of restoring. He took us on a fabulous ride into the mountains and to the Grand Canyon du Verdon, which we
had heard so much about from other riders. It is true that it resembles the Grand
Canyon in the States and we had a great time riding the twisties and seeing the small
towns that dot the mountainside. We were also entertained for some time by the
bungee jumping off an extremely tall bridge. As much as I keep saying that I want
to bungee jump, I'm not sure I have the nerve to actually do it after watching them.
The next morning, Christian's neighbor, Ursula (a
transplanted German) took us to see her favorite vineyard and to refill her containers of
wine. After watching in awe as her big wine containers were filled directly from big
oak barrels and wandering around the showroom, the kind worker gave us a bottle of red
wine with his compliments. I really like this region of France!!! Chris and I
then decided to kill some time during the middle of the day by going to St. Maxim (just
down the road from St. Tropez and almost as glitzy) and walk along the beach. It was
truly beautiful and is just what you would expect to see on the French Riviera.
Later that afternoon, we met up with Christian and he took
us to a special vineyard of one of his clients, a very wealthy guy who likes horses and
making wine. We never met the owner, but we did meet the head wine-maker and his
girlfriend who both gave us a special lesson in making and tasting wines. We sampled
the red, rosť and white wines, saw the machines that press the grapes and bottle the
wine, and toured the cellar which was truly spectacular.
In the evening, Christian's wife Joelle made us a wonderful
meal, complete with wine from the vineyard where she works and a selection of cheeses for
dessert. Yummmmmm! I didn't want to leave, but we needed to get back on the
road the next day to head towards Germany. We had to get to Germany for our weekend
training at BMW's Enduro Park.
On June 22 we left Christian's home and headed east along
the coast towards Italy. We wanted to get to Lake Como to spend the night. We
had been to Lake Como twice before and have wonderful memories of it. Along the way
we passed through Monaco which is a very beautiful and extravagant looking little
principality. We didn't stop to gamble but enjoyed the view of Monte Carlo from a
rest area off the motorway high up on the hillside.
The drive into Italy was breathtaking as the mountains seem
to fall down right into the sea and little quaint towns line the mountain sides. We
must have passed through 20 or so very long tunnels and before we knew it we were in the
countryside of Italy. As luck went against us that night, Chris' back tire finally
gave out because of a 2 inch tear and we could not repair it. So as we inspected the
tire on the side of the Autostrada just outside of Milan, an SOS vehicle pulled up and
offered to help us. We thought "Wow, this is pretty
cool!" They called the towing company for us and stayed with us until it
came. We were told by the guys in the tow truck that it was too late to get a new
tire and we would have to leave the bike in their garage until the morning. Thank
goodness we have 2 bikes! We took what we needed off Chris' bike and mounted mine to
hunt out a cheap hotel to stay for the night.
Well, bad luck followed us and we could not find a hotel for
under $90! The next morning, Chris went on my bike to go to get another tire for his
bike and also get a new back tire for my bike since my tread was low anyway. After
this task was accomplished with relative ease in both effort and money, he returned to the
towing garage to put his new back tire on. When he finished and got the bill from
the women in the office of the garage, he nearly hit the roof! They charged us
$165 to take the bike 4 miles in the back of a van. Chris argued the cost
with them for about an hour before finally giving in because we needed to get back on the
road. Here's a lesson to anyone having car trouble on the Autostrada in Italy:
Don't let the SOS vehicle call a towing company for you! Ask them to take you
to the nearest phone to make arrangements yourself.
We headed out of town quickly and wanted to make up as much
distance as possible. We passed through a beautiful town called Lecco on the
south-east side of Lake Como and took some great photos. Because of the morning's
delay, we spent the night in a little pensione in a town called Bormio. Bormio is
the last big town before you drive up and over the Dolomites and the famous Passo del
Thursday morning we got on the road early as we wanted to
beat the (car) traffic over the mountain pass. Chris and I had driven over Passo del
Stelvio 2 years ago, riding 2-up on a motorcycle we had rented in Heidelberg, Germany.
Now we wanted to do it on our own bikes! The road to the pass has 39
switchbacks on one side and 47 on the other. We took some great photos on the ride
up, at the top (where people were still skiing!) and on the way down. It is truly a
motorcyclists dream road. It is thrilling but also pretty dangerous.
Thankfully we did it without any mishaps!
After riding through the Dolomites we passed into Austria,
very briefly, and then into Germany. This region where the Alps meet the Dolomites
with it's quaint Italian and Bavarian towns will always be one of my absolute favorites!