Italy October 2003: Pisa, Florence, Siena, Assisi, Spoleto, Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, Anzio

Background

In 2003 I did a non stop "blitzkreig" tour of Italy. The idea was an introduction to Italy and  to try see some of the sights that my late father had seen back in June of 1952. He rode his 1950 BSA 650 Golden Flash from England to France, Italy and Switzerland and then back across France to England. Of course the ultimate would have been to do exactly the same trip on the same or similar motorcycle. I do own a Golden Flash but seeing as my Flash is currently and for the foreseeable future still in pieces in the garage this was not a possiblilty. Maybe one day....after all that is what dreams are made of. So for now my high mileage1989 BMW R100GS it was to be.

 

Day one: October 12th 2003

I leave Coursan around five thirty on one chilly October morning. It is still dark when I head out. I cheat, as I need to cover much ground early on as quickly as possible, and so take the auto route from Beziers all the way to Pisa in Italy arriving around 1.00pm. (Nimes, Arles, Aix, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, Menton, San Remo, Genova, Pisa). Not the most fun route but the quickest.

Pisa*****

The weather is sunny and warm(ish). 18įc .

The leaning towerÖone of the true wonders of the world and one everybody should try to see at least once in their lives. I am amazed at how white it is  and even more so by how much it leans. Recently a large operation has been completed to bring back the tower to a safe angle of lean close to that displayed in the 1200ís. Even so the angle of lean is pretty acute and it doesnít take a genius to calculate that a slight bit of an earth tremor and the thing would collapse like a pack of cards. Another thing new to me is the quality of the Italian workmanship. The stone masons of their day were far more advanced than we give credit for. I take some comparative photos as the old black and whites of the 50ís taken by my father for my album, then head back to the motorcycle. I have a lot of ground still to cover! Well worth a visitÖI will be back!! Definately one of the wonders of the world!

      

The leaning Tower of Pisa June 1952 and October 2003

From Pisa it is on to Florence. I take the back roads and cut through the Chianti countryside. Olive trees and vines everywhere, interspersed with cedars and cyprus. What stunning countryside. Not dissimilar to our own in the Corbieres or Minervois. Thousands of years of civilisation and culture all immediately visible in the landscape. Breathtaking. I enjoy every second of it. I am in heaven. The BMW performs impeccably, bearing in mind that she has way  in excess of one hundred thousand kilometres on the clock...actually closer to two. All the servicing beforehand was done by yours truly to the best of my ability. Preventative maintenanceÖ..the way to go.....just like in flying. Why wait until something breaks to fix it? Every component has a given shelf life, a certain amount of riding hours before it will need replacing. I rather wish that the manufacturers would quote serviceable items in terms of hour life; it would make life far easier. Although these days they prefer you to take the motorcycle back to the dealer for servicing; thus rewarding the manufacturer and their appointed dealer once again. Soon us motorcyclists will have no choice but to vist their assigned dealer. Sad. Keep those old carb bikes on the road!

 

Florence*****

Arriving in Florence I park the motorcycle up in the Roman Piazza della Calza and head on foot through the old Roman city gates towards the Ponte Vecchio. The weather has been just right for riding the motorcycle. Warm and not too hot. It is now early evening. People are everywhere. Mostly young people in their early twenties, students gathered in groups laughing and talking. In the Piazza and on the steps of the Pitti Palace are hundreds of them. What a wonderful atmosphere.

I arrive at the bridge. It is a strange feeling seeing things and visiting places  that my father saw and visited some fifty years before.  I really wish that he were here by my side enjoying this with me and reminising about old times. I feel his presence in spirit and I know that he would be very touched by my making this pilgrimage to him and to Italy.

      

Ponte Vecchio, Firenze (Florence) June 1952 and October 2003

I cross the bridge;  tourists everywhere and I almost have to fight my way across, it really is shoulder to shoulder. Finally I make my way to the Northern side and turn right trying to find the same spot to photograph the bridge as my father did in 52. I get it close enough.  I sit beside the bridge and relax for a few minutes before heading back towards the motorcycle. I have not even scratched the surface of this old town, but it is one place I will visit again.

Back on with all my kit. I am feeling tired and really should look for a hotel here in Florence.. In the beginning the idea was to camp but I have yet to see a campground and to be really honest I think I have left it a little late both timewise and seasonwise. There are a couple of hours of daylight left so I continue on South.

I must have ridden for a hour or there abouts. I come into a large town and see a tall campanile and Duomo. I pull over to the side of the road to take a closer look. Again like Florence tourists everywhere. I am not really too sure just what town this is or where I am. It must be the fatigue starting to get to me....I really could do with a hotel.... I take a few photogrpahs as the sun is starting to set and back on the motorcycle. (Later that evening I will find that this was in fact Siena! How could a person possibly miss Siena one of the most beautiful towns in Italy if not the world?)

 

Siena

I continue on South and eventually after getting totally lost end up at the Albergo Hotel hotel just off of the autostrada. Seventy Euros per night for a single room....a bit expensive.....but by now I am totally shattered and would pay any price. My motorcycle gear is hot and sticky and I want a shower more than anything. I am wearing a pair of Motomod cordura trousers with all the body armour and a liner. They apparently do not breathe. Ok as long as you are moving and as long as the weather is not too hot. It has been borderline. It is the first time I have owned any motorcycle toursers of man made material and I cannot say that I am overy impressed. I am sure from a protection point of view they are very good but they need some ventilation zips for this part of Europe. Much more of the same weatherwise and they will find themselves strapped to the back of the motorcycle.

I check in and am shown to my room, a really nice large modern room. It looks inviting, but at this stage I think that anything would appeal. I strip off and into the shower. Loads of hot water. Brilliant. I use as much of the hotels hot water as possible and by the time I step out I am squeaky clean, toes and fingers wrinkled. Boy did that ever feel good. It is too late to eat in the restaurant so I pull a chocolate bar from my tankbag and a half empty bottle of too sweet and warm Coca Cola. It will have to do. I check my maps to find just where I am. Seems I have almost ridden around in a large circle....well to be more correct a 180 would be more like it. I seem to be rather more to the North and rather more to the East than I had thought! Apparently I am just outside of Montepulciano...after having passed through Siena!! Still no problem. Tomorrow I will visit Assisi and then head South down towards Rome and Naples if I am lucky. It has been a hard days ride. It was only this morning when I left Coursan but seems like days ago! As soon as my head has hit the pillow I am in dreamland.

 

Day two: October 13th 2003

I awake bright and early. The sun us shining and there is not a sore bone in my body. Quite amazing and a credit to that old BMW. Remember she is not the latest plastic conception but a fourteen year old machine with a great deal of mileage under her belt. She has behaved so far impeccably. Sheís not fast, she doesnít handle fantastically it just that she seems to take everything in her stride and do it all well. A good all rounder I guess the motorcycle press would say.

I get dressed and head down for breakfast. Itís pretty quiet today by the look of it. They must have been glad to have my business last night. There is only one other couple at the tables. A Swiss couple. Outside through the window I can see their transport. One of those ďpeople carriersĒ as they call them; basically a large van. There is a trailer attatched with two large chromed cruiser style motorcycles well strapped down, both with Swiss plates. There you go. Put the motorcycles on the trailer, get down into Italy, stay at a fancy hotel and ride the bikes on sunny days. A different way of doing things but who am I to argue? I am in my full motorcycle garb...I donít have any other choice...I travel light, or as light as I can get away with. They smile and pleasant ďBonjoursĒ are exchanged. A little strange. We are in Italy....land of "Buon Giorno's". They must have been looking at the BMW in the car park with its French plates.

I finish up go back to my room and pack my scrubbing up kit. At the front desk the young girl wishes me a good day...or I assume she does. My Italian is limited to my 1960ís second hand phrase book which is stashed deep inside a jacket pocket somewhere. Itís probably out of date anyway. She may well have said ďbugger off weíre glad to get rid of you sirĒ...Either way it was said politely and with a smile, so weíll go with the first interpretation.

The bike is packed and I fire her up and let her warm up. She is much more agreeable this way. Otherwise she is liable to be unresponsive and jerky to throttle movements. Not nice....or who knows...maybe itís just me. Apparently I am just South of Florence....for the second time. Seems I somehow rode to Sienna continued South, then headed back North. What the heck. I wanted to take a look at Assisi today so I am headed in the right direction.

The BM is all nicely warmed up. I hop on and having decided to take the smaller back roads I head out. I much prefer these roads to the larger faster routes. Iím here to see the scenery and experience Italy first hand and not from some Autostrada at 130kmph.

 

Assisi**

Assisi looms in the distance. I have another old black and white photo to identify it by. Quite amazing and quite unmistakable. Again tourists everywhere, something that Italy did not probably have too many of just after the war. Tour buses and white haired old ladies with American and German accents are everywhere, but not necessarily together. I decide to save the visit itself to the Basilica for another occassion. I have a lot to see and not being a devout Roman Catholic feel that I will not be condemmed to eternal hell for missing it....this time.

I take out the map and decide to start heading South. The basic plan is to head down towards Monte Cassino and then hopefully to bypass Rome (who wants to ride in a big city, there is no pleasure to be had from such an exercise...although there is much I want to see in Rome.....Bernini etc) heading towards Naples and Sorrento.

From Assisi  I take the route to Spoleto and on to Terni. What a beautiful road (S3). The weather is perfect. The scenery is breathtaking and all that I hoped it would be. I could ride this road forever. At Terni  I turn South on the S79 towards Rieti. Again a beautiful road through the hills. Magnificent scenery and plenty of good fresh air.  Then itís on to the smaller S578 as we wind along to Borgorose. Simply heaven. My idea of paradise. When I am gone I hope that in the next world I have a motorcycle (or at leat access to one) a continually full tank of gas and all the time in the world to ride such glorious routes. That really would be heaven. 

Iíve decided. My definition of Valhalla is riding an aircooled twin preferably a vintage Italian, Brit or German,  through the Tuscan countryside, an eternal summer and autumn and an unlimited supply of leaded petrol. It has to be.....it simply canít get much better than that! Iíll put in my request early....there just has to be a backlog. I can just imagine a nice Moto Guzzi 850.......

I see an old abandoned farm house. It is painted a beautiful terracota colour but is all overgrown and abandoned.  I decide to photograph the GS in front of it so pull in off of the main route. I park the BM in front of the house and get the camera out and click off a round. I have bought one of the new digital cameras just for this trip. As yet  I have no idea how it works. Although simple enough I hope it is as reliable and sturdy as my old 35mm Minox. Time will tell, but just to be on the safe side I take a double with the 35mm. As I am getting back in the  saddle the front door of this abandoned hovel creaks open and an old man appears. He says something to which I just smile and show him the camera and gesture at the motorcycle and his house nodding the international OK? He understand  nods back and smiles a near toothless smile and waves as I ride off. Bloody strange tourists...he is probably  thinking to himself.

 

Avezzano is the next stop and now we are on a much faster road with tunnels and bridges everywhere. I have never seen so many tunnels and bridges as I have seen in Italy. Never....anywhere. From the North where you cross the border from France to down here. A veritable nation of moles these Italians. Quite a feat of engineering and very impressive. Still I canít help but wonder just how many of thee bridges and tunnels were here back in 1952. The alternative looks very slow work indeed. This road takes us into Cassino.

Cassino*

I arrive in Cassino in the late afternoon. The town is very crowded and busy with traffic everywhere. Maybe itís always like this, maybe its just being close to the main Rome Naples autostrada. Who knows? I look up on the mountain. There it is high above. The Abbazia di Montecassino. Above it tall in the sky stands a crane. The finishing touches are being made to the Abbazia. Itís resurection is almost complete. Very apt I think to myself (being a bit of a cynic). This edifice has been completely reconstructed, after being bombed and shelled during world war two by the advancing allied armies at a very great cost of life.

The Battle of Monte Cassino

This was a costly series of battles fought by the allies intent on taking Rome and linking up with Allied forces contained within the Anzio pocket..

The first battle started on January 4th 1944 and the monastry itself was subsequently totally destroyed by Allied bombing on February 15th. Allied aircraft heavily bombed the ruins of the monastery and an assault was staged on March 15th.

During three failed attempts to take the heavily-guarded monastery of Monte Cassino from January through March 1944, the allied forces (USA, UK, India, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand lost approximately 54,000 men. Losses on the German side were approx 20,000 men.

The Fourth Battle for Monte Cassino was fought by the 2nd Polish Corps between May 11 and May 19. Indian divisions helped capture the main Gunnery, a member of the Indian armed forces was awarded the Victoria Cross for this action.  During the first assault (May 11ĖMay 12) heavy losseswere inflicted but this action allowed the British Eighth Army to break through German lines in the valley below the monastery. A second assault (May 17ĖMay 19), was carried out by Polish troops at great cost and the out-flanking in the mountains by Moroccan soldiers of  the French Expeditionary Corps CEF, ousted the German Parachute Division from its positions in the surrounding hills  finally by the morning of May 18 a Polish reconnaissance group had occupied the ruins of the monastery after surviving Germans retreated.

The capture of Monte Cassino allowed the British and American divisions to begin the advance on Rome, which fell on June 4, 1944 just two days before the Normandy invasion.

In the course of these battles the Abbey was entirely destroyed. Eveyone blames the Americans today, but they were sure glad to see them here in their hours of need. How easily we forget our gratitude. A lesson for today. Freedom is anything but free.....Freedom comes with a very expensive pricetag! I donít care what those politically correct bleeding heart liberals will have you believe today. It would be nice agreeed but this is the real world people.

A bit of a side note here: The Abbey housed a famous and irreplaceable library. This had been carefully removed by  the occupying German forces and delivered to the Vatican for safekeeping before the start of the Battle.

I personally am not sure if it is a good idea to rebuild in such a way. Is it not an attempt at re writing history? How can we be expected to learn from our mistakes if our mistakes are hidden from us? To my mind it should have been left as it was, as a prime example of mans ignorance, not to mention as a memorial to all those who paid the ultimate price and were spread all over the hillside so that you and I have the freedom we enjoy so much today. Enough of the lecture.

It is now early afternoon. I decide to head on towards Naples following the ancient Via Casilina. How the countryside has changed in appearance. Tuscany was a rich countryside full of beauty . The further South I head the poorer the country appears to become. It is as if Italy is two separate countries. I cross a pontoon style bridge that still shows signs of a war that ended almost some sixty years before. Bullet and schrapnel holes are all through its structure...itís a wonder itís safe and hasnít collapsed into the river below years ago.

I come to a set of traffic lights in the absolute middle of nowhere. Nothing to be seen anywhere. Why are they here? At the side of the road are some urchins panhandling  change from the few passing motorists. I used the word urchins. I describe only what I see and can hardly believe my eyes. Am I not in a modern Europe? Surely this type of abject poverty no longer exists in our countries? We are in the twenty first century. Europe is rich by world standards. No? The children are in ages from five to ten. None of them wears any footwear and only the barest of rags clothe (if you can call it that)  their skinny frames. They really do need the money. They need a lot of things. There are three cars in front of me at the light and I dig into my jacket looking for change. I gesture at the kids to approach but they seem to be scared of me. One of them shakes his head refusing to approach. I gesture again. Still no; Finally as the lights turn and the cars roll forward I slowly let my change ( a couple of euros and some other pieces) drop to the floor by the side of the road as they watch.  I continue onward. Looking in the rearview mirrors I see the children run and scrabble to pick up the loose change I dropped as if it will disappear before their eyes and be forever lost if they donít hurry.

A sad sad sight and deeply moving. I will never forget this sight. Everyone and every traveller has seen beggars by the side of the road. This was something far more touching and far more real. This was real and abject poverty on our doorstep. These kids had nothing.

Naples**

I continue onwards. Forty minutes later I am in Naples. A city of 3,000,000 people situated right next to the mighty Vesuvius. So close in fact that you can smell the sulphorous odour in the air North of Sorrento and East of Naples. Very interesting. When Vesuvius decides to reawaken,......a city immediately in its path.....just a matter of time...a disaster just waiting to happen.

How different Naples is from Florence. Night and day. A large large city jam packed with people and traffic everywhere. It is hot really hot and the traffic is so tightly packed that there is no way that I can weave the BMW through the traffic. I am stuck. I gain a place or two whenever the opportunity lends itself but it is a hard slog. Horns are blaring, car drives yelling at each other and pedestrians yelling at the car drivers. Total chaos. All I want to do is to be out of here and that looks like it might be easier said than done. To top it all off, I hear people shouting and a horn blaring. There on the wide sidewalk a motorcyclist is literally forcing his Hayabusa through the crowds pushing them out of the way with his machine, thumb glued to the horn and revving the engine and slipping the clutch. Desperation or idiocy? Maybe a desperate idiot. Everybody should experience driving in Naples at least once in their lifetime (but preferably not in rush hour!). Total anarchy reigns on the streets of Naples.

An hour and a half later I am out of it. At this point I donít care what treasures Naples has to offer the tourist, to me it was pure hell. The motorcycle is overheated and I wouldnít dream of leaving the motorcycle unattended in this city for one moment. I am quite sure it has its nice areas but .....

I take the coast road to Sorrento. A welcome change from the hell that I found Naples.  Sorrento is so much different from the old hand coloured postcard that my father sent back to England to my grandmother, probably taken in its heyday long before WWII. How times have changed.Can this really be the same place? A now sprawling commercial container port hides much of the old town. I find a restaurant along the frontage road and stop for a bite to eat. I have been so busy travelling that I have forgotten to eat lunch. Thankfully the food is good. Very good. I eat up my folded pizza and order another. I even go as far as to treat myelf to a cold beer. Then itís back to the motorcycle. Darkness is upon us and as usual I have waited too long to find a hotel. Here they are all full! I decide to ride along the coast road back towards Naples and see what I can find on this side of the city. I stop off on the coast road to take a nightime shot of Sorrento.

      

Sorrento by night 2003 & postcard of the Panorama da capodimonte from 1940/50's

On the outskirts of Naples I find a hotel. The majestic Hotel Ponteverdi. It looks rather like a hotel out of a 1950ís American movie set. How strange. They have room available and even better a secure garage for the motorcycle. Nothing fancy but a large large room decorated in the latest 1960ís deco. However, very clean, a high priority on my list. Not bad for 50 Euros a night including breakfast. It will do nicely. It is a small family business and I head down to the bar/restaurant for something else to eat! Shame that I do not speak Italian and they do not speak English. Conversation limited....very limited but very nice genuine hard working people all the same. Much better than staying at a large, consortium owned, indifferent, designer packaged, non genuine, money making institution where the fake smiles are switched on when the employee walks into the building and off when they leave. These people love what they do and it shows. I would far rather give them my money than some group of get rich quick shareholders.

I take a long hot shower and then turn in for the night. I sleep good, very good, but then again, I am tired and have overdone it...again.

 

Day three: October 14th 2003

I get up early, get showered...again....good for the aching bones.(knew theyíd start to ache at some point!)...must come with age...or too many accidents...or both...and head down to the restaurant. Breakfast is self service and the coffee is excellent and strong. You think that French coffee is strong...just wait until you try Italian.  To order a normal weak type coffee is a ďCafť AmericanoĒ.....otherwise itís the expresso....which I love but which gives you a bit of a caffeine jolt if youíre not used to it.

Back in my room I pack my shower kit and take the insides out of my motorcycle trousers and jacket. Far too hot down south for all that. I strap them to the back of the motorcycle and we head out.

Today is going to be Pompeii. Easier said that done. I follow the signs....but they end....and not at Pompeii. I find myself in an extremely impoverished neighbourhood and feel just a little vulnerable. Finally I find a new sign and follow it. It leads me out of town but suddenly the new road ends in a car park that has had lava flow across it in the last few years! Not a car in sight. I continue on the lava track...being on the BM and being invincible. Just as I am thinking that I would not like to break down in this forlorn spot I drop the motorcycle. How did it happen? I have not a clue. Apart from the obvious that I wasnít paying attention to what I was doing and the lava is like soft but very dense sand. Luckily I was just rolling along but the impact rips off my tent and my backbox is ripped from the frame breaking open and strewing my camping gear and clothing everywhere. Me? Iím fine. Just fine. I pick up the motorcycle and wheel it to a hard spot where I can put it on the main stand. Then itís back to pick up the rest of my gear. Fortunately I have some large nylon cable ties which I am able to use to put the box back onto the rack and then I strap everything else back on. My spare oil can has ruptured and mixed clean engine oil with lava sand. Nice. What a mess. I use an old pair of socks to wipe this from the motorcycle and good as I can, then everything loaded I thumb the starter. She starts, clunks into first and onwards we continue.

Finally I find some ruins that look like Pompeii. Iím here! I get off the motorcycle only to find that this is not Pompeii but some other historic site. However the overall manager of these historic sites comes over introduces himself and offers to show me the way. What luck. I am to follow him. Impecably dressed as only a well dressed Italian can be, he gets into his shiny new Audi and takes off at the speed of sound through the back streets. I am hard pushed to follow. God forbid a car or van pull out in front......we will both be like the people of Pompeii......history. Finally he pulls up at the main gates of Pompeii, gets out walks up to me and after I lock up the motorcycle accompanies me through the main gates. A big shot indeed as I go to straight to the front of the queue in front of all the tourists that have waited for goodness knows how long. Feel bad? Not really. He shakes my hand and I thank him for his generosity and he is off.

 

Pompeii *****

 

      

                      Vesuvius as seen from the autostrada in June of 1952                                      Return ticket for autostrada Naples Pompei from 1952

Pompeii....there is only one.....and you really should see it. Everybody should see it. It covers an area far larger than I had imagined and from what I understand only a fraction of the city has been excavated to date. Far more still lies many meters under the rumble & dust. Not a single photograph I have ever seen can give the visitor any idea as to the size and the magnitude of this disaster.

I have with me the old black & white guide that my father bought here in 52. It serves me well. I am surprised that many of the exhibits seem to have fallen into a state of neglect between times. I would have expected quite the reverse. As an example; there is a photo of a dog frozen forever in itís death throes in my black and white guide. It is in a glass case and part of an exhibit in a reconstructed building of the period. I find same dog in same glass case in a sealed off (but visible through the bars) open to the elements storehouse. The glass is filthy and it is covered with layers of dust. So dusty you can barely make out the dog! A shame, but it would appear that many of the treasures of Pompeii were in a better state of conservation in the early nineteen hundreds than at present.  

The city was destroyed during a catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The volcano buried the city under many feet of ash and it remained lost for over 1,600 years before its accidental rediscovery. Vesuvius could erupt catastrophically again....and is still classified as ACTIVE!!. Since then, its excavation has provided an extremely detailed insight into  life in a Roman city at the height of the Roman Empire.It is one of Italy's leading tourist attractions and pretty much goes without saying is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

    

     

     

I am hungry ...being a tourist gives me a great appetite so stop at a restaurant just outside of the main gates of Pompeii. The owner prides himself on his use of English and apparently on his Lasagna. I explain that I do not like Lasagna...to which he asks looking at me dubiously if I have ever eaten Italian Lasagna. The honest answer is no. Then obviously this is why I do not like Lasagna. If I had ever eaten Italian pasta I would love it. He snorts and apparently I am booked in for a Lasagna....oh yes and a cold beer to go with that please.  

I kick back in my chair watching the tourists and trying to guess what country they are from. The easiest to pick out are of course the Americans. The stereotypical American tourist is out in force today. The elderly gentleman with the two Nikons hanging around his neck (digital now of course...but he still finds he needs two?!), an Hawaiian shirt (that probably glows in the dark), the neatly ironed and creased safari shorts, white skinny legs and socks with loafers. When he has something to say........and he seems to have always something to say and always of importance if volume is an indicator, he talks at the same volume as that shirt he is wearing with an annoying grating nasal accent. His wife, infinately better dressed but ruined by a set of pearls hanging around her neck the size of golf balls. Lady, for your sake I hope those are fake.....or well insured.

The modern day English tourist is easy to spot. Oh yes. Theyíre the badly dressed (and I mean badly dressed) ones, both male and female, with the totally uncontollable horrid horrid offspring. To call them children would be to do children the world over a disservice. As if on cue..a shrill womans voice screams out...ďPut that back.........Get over here....and...If you do that again.Ē. Ruins it for everyone. Give that child a slap and be done with it. Youíre not in namby pamby England now lady, here youíd probably get a round of applause. Do something or someone else is going to give your kid a slap for you on everyones behalf. I can see an Italian postcard seller sorely tempted. Go on ...you know you want to! He catches my eye and gestures a slow strangulation by the looks of it. Wouldnít have had such bad behavior and the blatant filching of his postcards in ďIL DuceísĒ time you can bet.

My Lasagna arrives. Mine host hangs around whilst I taste it..several mouthfuls worth..to prove his point. And guess what, heís right. I give it the thumbs up and a smile (I am rather relieved myself). He shakes his head as if to say I told you so, smiles and moves onto the next table. The lasagna is really good. No, I mean really. I normally cannot stand the stuff but he is right. I find myself enjoying my meal in the sun. I stretch it out as long as I can but it is still over way too soon.

              

The time has come to depart. Where shall I go? I walk back to the motorcycle and decide that in order to avoid the hell that is Naples I will take the autostrada to Cassino where I will exit and head towards the coast road.

I hop onto the Autostrada take a ticket and start heading out of town. Pompeii was the greatest. I will definately be back for a better look, although I already spent the best part of four hours walking around the site. I could spend days.

As I grow closer to Monte Cassino I am surprised by how visible it is from the main autostrada. Now I think I understand more as to why the Italians decided to rebuild it. For millions of Italians to drive by the ruins for every day since 1944 could not have done the moral of this country any good at all. A constant reminder of its troubled past?

I am surprised in a different way, as something whips by my face and disappears forever. My ticket for the autostrada! Brilliant, now what do I do? Being a calm collected (sort of ) person (sometimes), I try not to panic. I can see what is going to happen here. I am going to have some Italian at the strada toll booth, yell, jump up and down and gesticulate as I try to explain. I seem to remember from my previous visits to the autostrada thinking that the gap was rather large between barrier and the booth. Large enough to have thought on several occasions that it would be in fact possible to ride a motorcycle through the right side of the barrier without stopping. I arrive at the toll both ten minutes later. My alter ego takes over I swear. I slow down, check the width of the gap....after all I didnít want to find this one to be any different.....and continue. Yes!!! Done it!!! But no!!!  All hell breaks loose and from such a small toll booth. Bells and sirens clang and hoot. Anyone would have thought this a war ship being summoned to action stations. I continue on for all of 400 meters maybe before an Italian Carabinieri motorcycle shows up from nowhere behind me, lights and siren. Oh damm. I stop and get off the old BMW. The motorcycle policeman gets off his machine walks over and starts yelling jumping up and down and gesticulating! I might just as well have stopped at the booth. I am a little worried....well truthfully more than a little worried. I have heard all kinds of nice stories about Italian police and how shall we say...their misinterpretation of human rights from time to time. Damm. I try to explain. I point to my tank bag and make gestures of my ticket flying out and disappearing into the bright blue Italien sky. He continues to jump uo and down, yell and gesticulate. He stops, motions for me to stay with my motorcycle, walks back to the toll booth where the toll booth attendant is jumping up and down, yelling and gesticulating inside his booth. Must be the national past time or a stressed nation. Finally he marches back over towards me. By this time I am starting to wonder just where I will be spending tonight....my hopes are not too high ....and visions of being in a cramped Italian prison cell somewhere go through my mind. The Carabinieri asks for the papers for the motorcycle. He goes through each one writing detailed  information onto a long form he has with him. Then when he is satisfied he motions for me to stay with the bike and back off to the booth he goes. I wouldnít dream of running officer. Serious pistol on his holster and probably a nice semi automatic rifle in the panniers. Iíll stay right here thank you. When he gets back he hands me a long piece of paper, part of the form he was writing. I look at it and to my horror see that it is a ticket for non payment of the toll fee. the amount? A fine of 149 Euros. A bit steep.....and all my petrol money gone!  As he starts to put his gloves and helmet on I ask what I am supposed to do with the ticket (as in france we have to pay immediately on the spot).  He takes it from me and removes the counterfoil which he then rolls into a ball and throws down by the side of the road. He motions for me to do the same. Whilst I am still standing there gobsmacked he gets back on his machine fires it up and disappears up the road. Who am I to argue with the Italian police. I look back at the booth. The chap there has obviously seen the outcome and is none too happy, arms waving & pointing at me.... I think heíd have prefered a nice public hanging or some such. I shrug my shoulders, pocket the evidence, put my gear on and head on out, thankful that itís all over and tonight Iím a free man.

I take the S630 some 40 kilometers down to Formia and to be greeted by the sun reflecting off a shimmering coastline. Brilliant. Scenic and hot. Perfect and so relaxing after the autostrada saga. Some of the buildings here on the sea front are still riddled with bullet holes from WWII. Uncanny, youíd have thought that they would have patched them up. Iím so impressed by the amount of holes in one house that I turn around and pull over to take a photo. There are so many that Iím sure this house must leak in rainy weather. Quite amazing that itís still standing. Reminds me of Bonny and Clydes car. 

    

  I follow the coastal route down to Gaeta and then Sperlonga and Terracina. A beautiful bit of coast road winding around the cliffs with their sandy beaches below. Offshore and visible is the obviously volcanic island of Ponza. It looks to me just like a large volcano with the crater blown out. It is starting to get late once again so I decide to stop in Anzio and pay my respects to the men who landed on the beaches there many years ago.

 

Anzio**

The Commonwealth Anzio War Cemetery and Beach Head War Cemetery are located In Anzio.

Anzio has the air of a 1930ís seaside resort. I ride through the town and find my way to the British war cemetery. What can I possibly say or add that has not been said tens of millions of times. I hope that Europe & the world has learnt from all of this death and destruction but I fear not. The further we get away timewise from these tragic events that took so many lives, the more likely it is to happen again. The old generation is dead and dying, the young generation knows only what they read about in books or see in films. They do not understand or have not heard first hand of the pain and suffering, therefore they cannot know. They are too far removed. Pessimistic? Realistic.

After visiting I ride back into Anzio and find the Hotel Lido Garde. From the front it is a rather modern hotel but on entering you cannot help but notice that the interior is far older than the exterior. Far older and in a completely different style. Strange. Thankfully they have a room, although this does look a rather up market place and I do look rather grubby and tired. Fifty five Euros and I am shown to my room. Again I have missed the restaurant but the manager who is the owner and who is also impeccably dressed, gold rolex and all, shows me on a map where there are several good restaurants. I thank him go to my room, shower and scrub up before heading out to get a bite. On my return the manager motions me to wheel the motorcycle off of the street and onto the front terrace which I am only too glad to do. Then itís up to my room and I am asleep before my head has hit the pillow! Another long hard days ride....but never a dull moment.

 

Day four: October 15th 2003

This morning is bright and sunny so I decide on a pre breakfast stroll on the infamous beach at Anzio. I decend the steps onto the beach and there are still the signs of a battle fought a longtime ago if you look closely. Bits of buildings still hanging from the cliffs. Vacant lots where houses once stood. Bits of bricks and floor tiles or what more correctly were once the floortiles in someones house litter the cliff bottoms. The beach is sandy and  I go for a walk along the whole length and try to imagine the events recorded by history.  

The beach at Anzio

Anzio: Possibly the allies greatest military blunder of WWII.

The Germans were taken totally by surprise and as a result the initial landings on Jan 22nd 1944  went pretty smoothly and good progress was made. There was the occasional straffing by the Luftwaffe but by midnight of the same day, some 36,000 soldiers and 3,200 vehicles had landed on the beaches and a total of 13 Allied troops killed, with 97 wounded; and some 200 enemy prisoners taken. This first stage was a success but it was not to last. 

The opportunity was totally missed when US General Lucas did not issue immediate orders for the troops under his command to attack and push further inland. Initially Kesselring, the German commander, did not have access to the forces he needed available to drive off such an attack. However the Germans reacted quickly and their 88mm mobile anti aircraft guns were relocated to the beachead and employed as anti tank guns. In addition German battle toughened units including the 3rd Panzergrenadier and Hermann Goering Panzer divisions were recalled from action on the Gustave Line.  The delay caused by General Lucas lack of decision making was the direct cause of heavy allied casualties. By the time he had finally made up his mind to attack allied  troops faced  massive German defenses. This led directly to the failure of this operation. 

Finally by January 30  Lucas had decided on an all out  attack. Both the American Rangers who attempted an assault at Cisterna di Latina and the British forces who intended to take Campo Leone failed.  The allied forces who had pushed inland were pushed back to defensive positions. A few days later on the 3rd of February the Germans launched a massive artillery bombardment on the British sector, following it up by a ground assault cutting off some of the british units. Some of these units were able to escape under cover of darkness but during this battle the British lost 1400 men. From February 7th  to February 9 the Germans attacked and took the city of Aprilia forcing the now heavily decimated Britsh units to withdraw.  On February 11 and 12th  american divisions launched two attacks to recapture Aprilia . Both failed totally.

The German counterattack began on February 16th (Operation Fischfang). The allies were forced to withdraw and suffered  heavy casualties. By February 17 the situtation was so critical that all allied air forces available in Italy were ordered to launch attacks on the Anzio zone to stop the German advance. The allied beachead itself was now threatened. In desperate hope of weakening the inevitable final German assault that would have destroyed the allied forces totally, massive air strikes and an attack on Cassino were ordered in the hopes of forcing German units from the Anzio zone to support Cassino. The Germans reply was to bring forward reinforcements concentrated in the area of Aprilia for the attack.  The following days, February 18 and 19 saw the continued German advance and it seemed  that the landings  would end in total failure and the total destruction of the allied armies . A counterattack by British forces at this time amazingly abruptly halted the German advance. From February 20th until May 1944 with both sides completely exhausted it was a case of stalemate. The Germans sustained 5,400 casualties, the Allies 3,500 at the end of Operation Fischfang. However, both had suffered more than 20,000 casualties each since the initial landings. This stalemate was finally broken in May of 44 when the allies launched an offensive effectively breaking the Gustav line and ending eventually with the capture of Rome on June 4th 1944.

 

As I am walking back towards the hotel something in the sand near the waters edge shimmers in the sunlight. I go over bend down and pick it up. It is a jagged piece of alloy worn smooth by the action of the sea but unmistakeably the head of an exploded mortar round. The graduation numbers are still visible stamped onto the side. A fitting souvenir. I put it in my pocket and head back for breakfast. Breakfast is a really good affair, good quality orange juice and coffee and fresh bagels. Breakfast over itís time to hit the road again. (Later back in France this round will be identified as a 7.63mm mortar of German origin by a visiting guest a serving UK army munitions expert!)

My planned route for today is to follow the coastal route towards Rome then bypass Rome once again, this time to the West, rejoin the coast route and follow it Northwards. So far so good. I finally get around Rome and avoid all the signs for the Vatican....must be big business, then itís onto the Via Aurelia and weíre free. Itís turned hot again so I decide to strap the liner of my jacket to the motorcycle. I do this only to notice an hour or so later when I am pulling into a service station smoke pouring from the motorcycle. Alarmed I pull over way away from the petrol pumps and get off.... quickly. Relief...of sorts. My motorcycle is not on fire. However the liner of my jacket is....well and truly....flames and all! I unstrap the jacket and pull it from the motorcycle throwing it onto the ground. After several frantic hops up and down on it with my thick soled motorcycle boots all seems under control ....all this to the delight of an impromptu crowd. A somewhat large hole in the lining of my motorcycle jacket, a burnt spot on the exhaust but apart from that nothing.  I wheel the machine over to the pump and fill her up, buy a pastry and a cup of expresso before taking to the road once again.

I make it past Civitiavecchia before deciding that the scenery has become so boring I would rather turn inland and ride back through the Chianti and Tuscan countryside once again which is what I do. I cut across on a small market road from Montalto di Castro, Manciano, Scansano, Roccalbegna to S.Quirico díOrcia. Amazing scenery and off the beaten track. My idea of heaven once more. The scenery has slowly changed back to that of the Chianti/Tuscany region. Perfect. Whilst riding along in the middle of nowhere I enter a small oak forrest. The sheep are grazing on the hillsides and the whole scene looks something of a 17th century oil of an Italian landscape, nothing has changed. Here on the edge of the woods and just in the shade I come upon an elderly German motorcyclist long white beard with his BMW leant up against a tree, sitting on a fence eating a sandwich and enjoying life. I smile and think to myself that this is what I would like to be like when I grow old. He raises a hand in salutation, I do likewise and continue onwards a large grin on both our faces as if he has read my mind.  

      

Then its onto the S2 towards Siena. Itís obviously chestnut gathering season. They are everywhere and I have to be care where I ride to avoid the motorcycle slipping on the husks. There really are that many. People are parked wherever they can and are everywhere gathering chestnuts. Quite dangerous. When I come across a quiet spot I decide to pull over stretch my legs and gather a few myself. When in Rome....etc and so forth. Then itís on to Siena. I donít stop but I will be back I promise. I follow the S2 Northwards to Poggibonsi and then head towards S Gimignano and its famous towers. Apparently the nobles of the middle ages built towers as a way of flaunting their wealth and social status. You werenít anyone if you didnít have a tower...so a little village like S. Gimignano has thirteen or so of these towers all within the city walls. Quite impressive. As usual and as with most things it has become a tourist resort. I have no desire to mingle with all the tourists today and decide to do a rolling tour as I ride through and promise myself that on a subsequent tour of Italy I will visit S Gimingnano in more depth. The scenery in this region is simply breaktaking. We are on the fringes of the famous Chianti producing region so I promise myself that I will pick up a bottle next chance I get, preferably one just like my dads straw covered one from 52. As luck would have it the next petrol station I pull up at has Chianti for sale. I pick up a bottle. Itís not the straw covered bottle but i am assured by the owner that this is ď vairly goodĒ. I assumes he means very good as opposed to fairly good. Maybe heís just covering himself. Maybe heís just trying to flog a bottle of plonk to an unsuspecting tourist who will be a thousand kilometers away before he finally breaks open the bottle. I will find out....eventually...but not now.  

    

              San Gimignano and the Tuscan countryside

Its starting to get into late afternoon and I mentally calculate that if I ride until eleven or twelve I will be in Nice. Further extrapulations on this say that if I can get to Nice then I am close to home so why stop there.....I might as well just ride on in.......By ten I am just leaving Pisa. I am shattered. I should stop but do I? No. Like the idiot I am I keep on riding, getting onto the autostrada and riding into France during the night. I arrive at the French toll gate early in the morning hours. Being France the young man asks me if the wine strapped to my tank bag is a good bottle of Chianti or not. I tell him Iíll let him know when iíve opened it...but that it had better be. He smiles and laughs. Just outside of Nice I stop for fuel. Hopefully it will be my last stop and I can make it into Coursan on this tank. The weather is now bitterly cold, maybe itís just that Iím so tired. Maybe itís both. I decide to take a short break and lay out on one of the tables in the parking area with my tank bag as my pillow. I must have nodded off, the next thing I remember is waking up and seeing white flakes falling onto my face. Snowflakes? October? Surely not? But yes indeed. I decide to continue onwards. I warm my hands on the still warm engine covers, load up the motorcycle and set off, direction Coursan. Heated motorcycle grips could be of benefit here, although for the past twenty plus years I have always derided people with heated grips as being a bit soft. I must be getting old, but I make a mental note to keep my eyes out for some on my return.

The kilometers slowly roll by, so slowly it seems almost painful. Finally I pass Beziers and then itís off the autoroute and onto the old N9 into Coursan. For once Iím quite glad to see this old town. As I pull into the drive the sun is coming up and I am completely shattered. Straight to bed. What an adventure. Next time I promise myself that I will give myself more time to do the journey and definately not push myself as hard. After all it was supposed to be a holiday. The BMW behaved itself . I could not fault it. It did everything asked of it and did not make a single fuss. The only slight issue was a mild cramp in my left foot. I think probably from all the constant viabration of the big twin, although since changing my boots I have not had the same problem even on long hauls.This annoying cramp stayed with me for several months. Now itís back to planning the next trip to Italy, a country that i have fallen in love with.  

Total 3,456km