For a while now I've been contemplating writing about the last holiday I went on to Tuscany, Italy. It was the last trip my ex-girlfriend (Manon) and I took. Almost directly afterwards, we ended our relationship, much to our mutual grief, but both realizing it just wasn't working anymore.
I'm in doubt about the exact reason I want to write now, it's just been in my head for a long time. Maybe it's part of getting over a broken heart, writing down your history together and with that giving it a place in your life. All I know is that I thoroughly enjoyed the two week trip we went on in June of this year, and safely came back from early July. We did 3500km on my motorbike, a Ducati 999!
Since I had done the exact same trip by car earlier this year alone in one day, I was hoping we could do the same thing on the bike: 1500km sounded more than doable enough for me. To Manon it didn't sound doable one bit, but she agreed to just give it a try. We left on an early Friday morning, with only a small amount of luggage: I had a tank mounted bag with my clothes, and our travel documents. Manon had a back pack with all of her clothes. It must have been a fun sight for the neighbours, seeing us leaving packed like that.
The weather predictions that day for Germany were bleak. After 200km we had the first set back: it started to drizzle. Not that this is a real problem on a bike - you just keep a bit more distance and lower your speed, the real problem were our leather suits. They absorb water like crazy, and it didn't take long before we had to stop to try and dry a bit at a gas station, somewhere along a German highway. Luckily, we were both still in a good mood, looking forward to two weeks of great weather in Tuscany.
However, the second setback was a heavy one, and it tainted the rest of the trip. After we did about 500km, we were once again stopping at a gas station, both to dry up, and to get gas. The bike only has a 15 liter tank, so at about 15km per liter, you can only do about 200km. All seemed fine, until Manon stepped down from the bike and walked off to search for a dry spot. To my great dismay, I all of sudden noticed that her backpack was half open! Apparently, during the trip the two zippers had been forced open by the force of wind! Half of her luggage was simply gone! I shouted at Manon, and she saw in my eyes that something was horribly wrong. She yelled "Oh no, is the bag open??" and almost instantly started to cry. It turned out that she had put most of her favorite clothing on top.
Absolutely devastated we walked into the gas station. I tried to comfort Manon, but knew my words were in vain. To most women, clothes are priceless posessions, and she almost seemed insulted when I said we could simply buy new clothes for her in Italy. Since I have traveller's insurance, I called the company only to quickly learn that neither Manon, nor her belongings, were covered under the policy. Not that it would have helped us much right away if it had been, but it would have made shopping later slightly less painful.
After Manon had calmed down, which to my surprise only took about half an hour or so, we decided to go on. We had decided not to go back and look for the clothes. We had just done a stint of about 200km, and if the backpack had ripped open on the left most lane of the road, by then tons of cars would have driven over them anyway. We both realized there was nothing to it, we just had to accept it and go on. So we did. But the weather just didn't want to improve. The further we drove into Germany, the more the rain became heavier. It was extremely frustrating, and after about 750 km I realized it just wasn't going to be done in one day. By then I was completely soaking in my suit, and Manon was extremely cold. And I had already learned years before that fighting a "chilly woman" is not a smart idea ;-)
So at last we decided to just leave the highway, and search for the nearest hotel. At the end of the shoulder I took a right. After 1km we came to a village, where I took another right, and only 200 meters down the road there was an hotel. Absolutely thrilled with the prospect of a hot shower we knocked on the door. After a while a friendly woman opened the door to what turned out to be a small family-run hotel. I only know a few basic words in German, yet luckily I was able to explain we were looking for a room for the night, and a meal. We paid 60 euro and were taking a much earned shower minutes later.
That night, we decided to go down to the main dining hall, and see if we could get something to drink. Before I continue, you have to know that back then, Manon didn't drink alcohol. She always ordered alcohol free beer. Now when we came into the dining hall, three people from the hotel - the owner, his wife and a waitress - were happily talking and drinking at a table in the corner. We sat down too, and one of the women came up to us to take our order. Since we wanted to smoke, Manon said, in one of the most broken German lines I ever heard, "Ich durfte ein asbak" ("Asbak" is the dutch word for ashtray), which she intended to mean "I would like an ashtray". She then also ordered an alcohol free beer, which was returned by a weird look on the face of the waitress. I ordered a regular beer. To our surprise 2 minutes later the waitress returned without an ashtray, but with a glass of brandy for Manon :-D Turns out "Asbach" is a German brandy brand, and the waitress had just figured that Manon had slightly mispronounced the name. It at least explained why she gave Manon a weird look: to the waitress, she ordered brandy and a alcohol free beer at the same time :-D
The next day, before we left, we got reminded of the events the night before. The hotel owner asked Manon if she had slept well on her "ashtray" :-D Walking outside to the bike, we quickly stopped laughing though: the weather hadn't improved. We were close to the Austrian border, and exactly halfway through our trip, but if the second day was going to be like the first one, then it wouldn't be a happy one. We jumped on the bike and continued our trip. We took the Fern pass in Austria, which normally is supposed to be a very nice trip on a motorbike. For us, it was a wet, slippery mountain trip enclosed by many caravans. We weren't happy. All of this was worsened by the fact that just like the day before, the rain got heavier as the day progressed. When we finally made it to the Brenner pass, about 200km further from where we started and 4 hours later, we were both very pissed off. Again we were completely wet, and at some point Manon asked me to stop again. I was reluctant, as we had just driven 20km since our last stop, and for some weird reason I had a feeling that at the end of the Brenner pass, where Italy starts, it would be better. So I suggested trying to get into Italy first, and then stop, and Manon agreed. But lo' and behold, as we passed the Italian border behind the mountains rays of sunlight appeared! We were absolutely delighted. 5km into Italy the rain had finally stopped!!
What happened next was just fun. We drove on, drying our suits in the fine weather, and after about 1,5 hours Manon asked me to stop.... it had become too warm in her suit... :D Within an hour she turned from complaining about the cold and rain, to complaining about the heat. Yet it didn't matter much to me! I happily stopped, and we lost a bunch of extra clothes we were wearing under our suits. We had clothed ourselves for a day of rain and cold, but Italy, sweet Italy, had brought us unexpected warmth. The rest of the trip through Italy was just plain repetition. Stopping for fuel, allowing Manon to walk around to ease her muscles, and enjoying the Italian highways in the mountains, which are a blast to drive on a motorbike.
We arrived in Cortona, Tuscany around five o'clock in the afternoon. Through my dear friend Luca we had rented a house for two weeks. We expected a simple, modest, only partly cleaned typical touristic little house. What we got was quite the opposite though! It was huge, 6 people could have easily stayed there for two weeks without feeling cramped in too small a place, and it was very luxurious! All new interior, very, very decent kitchen and even a dish washer. Manon and I were completely, positively astonished as we first walked through the house. It was so much more than we expected.
As Manon had lost about half of her clothes on the first day of travel, the first thing we did was look for a place to shop. We were in luck, as only about 20km away from Cortona there's an entire village of outlet stores. Seeing Manon walk around there was like seeing a kid walk around in an amusement park. She happily dartled from store to store, with me trailing her and reminding her that money was unfortunately limited. After about an hour or 4, she had all she needed again, and we went back home.
Now although the weather in Italy had been fine during the trip, during the two weeks that followed it wasn't that great. Every morning there would be an almost complete gray overcast. During the day, the weather would get somewhat better, but in the evening rain and thunderstorms arrived almost every single day. That was a little disappointing. However, when you're young and alone in a house, there's plenty of "fun" things to do ;-) But even from that you eventually need a break. So we went to Luca, who provided us with a very neat computer hard drive. It had a SCART connector, so it could be plugged into the simple TV we had in the house, and it was able to play movies from itself! Luca had filled it with movies and TV series. That gave us the ability to - during bad weather - watch something else than the 33 italian channels on the TV :D A very nice invention indeed, that particular hard drive.
Since we were on vacation, we decided that (other than we were used to back home) to cook for ourselves almost daily. The trip down to the store in Camucia was made plenty of times. Every now and then Luca came with us, to help us get the better bread, cheese and meat. One time, it started raining cats and dogs when we arrived at the store, by motorbike. We were happy to have made it in a dry state just in time, but it turned out that we weren't out of trouble yet. Inside the supermarket, it started raining inside the building itself :D Due to some construction error, the cola isle had a very wet day that particular day... luckily all we needed was food ;-)
On another occasion, I wanted to drive my bike downtown to get cigarettes. It was a sunny day, and I had planned on making a quick tour on my motorbike around Cortona. But my Ducati didn't agree. The engine started and ran just fine, but all the displays were out, and i had no speedometer. So in stead of taking a tour, I called Luca who took me down into Camucia, to a scooter/moped repair shop. Since it was not a regular motorbike shop or Ducati dealer, I was kinda worried at first. Luckily, the guys knew what they were doing, and seemed to have fun to be allowed to handle a real motorbike instead of a scooter for a change. They charged me nothing - whether or not that was because of the aforementioned fact, or because they knew Luca, I'll never know - but fixed it just right. Turned out the fuse had simply shaken loose. One simple push, and it firmly stuck into its socket again... I could have done that had I known it was that simple :-D That day, I learned that Italian bikes are not like Japanese. Okay, they're far more beautiful, but also way less reliable. Something I also learned on the way back, but I'll get to that...
After about a week or so, the weather turned hot for two days. Manon and I drove out to the nearby lake, where it seemed to be almost 45 degrees Celsius. Manon quickly shopped for a short skirt as we hadn't brought any such clothes with us (not enough room on the bike). It was much fun to watch her change out of her leather suit and into that skirt among the clothing racks. Much Italians were watching her, and seemed to be thinking... "tourists" :D On the way back, we had to stop due to some very unexpected traffic digestion. Turned out a very weird accident had happened, where someone apparently had lost control over their car, and had driven into the ditch to the right of the road. A few policemen were measuring the breaktracks, probably to see how fast the driver had been going before the accident. That day we learned that bikers are not supposed to stop for such a thing :) We were about the fourth or fifth vehicle in line, and were passed plenty of times by motorbikers, who happily ignored (and were ignored by) the police men at the scene of the accident. Apparently bikers have a special status or something... ;-)
A few days before we went back, I asked Manon if she wanted to take a long tour through the hills on the Ducati. A little reluctant she agreed, as she is afraid of heights, something I kinda forgot in all my enthousiasm about the trip. We drove up into the hills behind Cortona. It's a road full of sharp turns, but with very bad asfalt. So I was having loads of fun driving it, but couldn't really concentrate on Manon in the meantime. After about an hour of much fun for me, it turned out that Manon had had all the fun she could swallow, and was becoming horribly afraid of the heights. A little disapointed the fun was over, but ofcourse willing to lessen the horror for Manon we turned back. If I ever get the chance to go to Cortona again, I'm surely going to make that same trip again, and then complete it.
We went back about two days earlier than originally planned. The weather was absolutely excellent. Again we did the trip in two days, and had rain for only 2 kms. But now I'm skipping over many fun things. The trip back was also filled with plenty of stuff worth mentioning ;-)
First of all we decided that we were probably not going to make it in one day again, but wanted to try anyway. So after a good night sleep, we left around 6 o'clock in the afternoon. We wanted to drive all night, and see if we could make it in one go. However, the bike quickly decided that that wasn't going to happen. We were only gone for about 3 hours when an icon appeared on the bike's display: a small wrench. So I became slightly worried, and pondered what it could mean while I was driving. Could it be that something very important was wrong with the bike, and it was telling me about it? Or was it just indicating that I was supposed to take it back for maintenance to a dealer? A little worried I decided to stop at a gas station and investigate. Pretty soon I found out that the oil level in the bike was so very low that I couldn't even see it anymore through the little looking glass, even when I tilted the bike to the right as far as was possible. Very happy that I had found about this (in the worst scenario low oil can even cause a crash!) I decided to change oil (or what was left of it...) But that turned out to be harder than expected. All my previous Japanese bikes had their valves on a very accessible location. Not so with the Ducati. I even had to buy a special screwdriver to remove the bodywork, in order to access the valve... All in all it took us about 2,5 hours to find the problem, determine the correct oil type, try to explain to the Italians working the gas station what we needed, and actually fixing everything. Luckily Manon wasn't too worried about all of it. I think she trusted (or rather, hoped) I would be able to fix everything so we could continue our journey.
It was about 2 o'clock in the middle of the night when we reached the Austrian border. It's a pretty empty and desolate highway at night, which was convenient. But still there was something very weird about crossing the country at night at 170km/h. Townlights down in valleys, or high up in mountains, flying by without ever really seeing what's around you. Just myself, Manon, the bike, and the highway. It was pretty cold though, and Manon wanted to stop pretty often to get warm coffee. I didn't mind about it at all, as I was pretty cold as well all the time. Around 6 o'clock that morning we entered Germany, which didn't agree with us. First two hours there was a slight mist. It didn't limit our vision that much, but it was chilling cold as well. Only around 11 o'clock that morning did the temperature finally go up. But at that time I was getting drowsy. I had been driving for more than 12 hours straight (more or less), but we still had about 500km to go. Finally, around 1 o'clock in the afternoon, we decided to give up. We were only about 300km from home (out of 1500km in total), but we were both simply exhausted. So if it hadn't been for that stupid oil drinking Ducati of mine that thwarted our plans, we would have been able to do the trip in one go. But, so it seems in retrospect, there was a last adventure for us to undertake...
It took a while before we found a hotel. Eventually we ended up in a small town named Eppstein. After a considerable - and quite frustrating - bit of searching we found a hotel. As we unmounted the bike, a foreign looking fellow was watching us. He was bold, and had a tattoo on his right temple. He turned out to be the owner of the hotel. He let us into the hotel, which was completely empty, no guests were there. We were slightly worried by that fact, but figured it was a small hotel in a small town, so it was probably logical that it was empty. The owner asked us to pay in advance if we wanted to pay using a credit card (which we wanted), as, so he said, the next morning someone else would be working, and she apparently didn't understand how to work with the credit card paying apparatus/thingy. That kind of worried us as well, but we decided that getting into a bed for some much earned sleep was more important. Around half past five that afternoon we woke up again to the sound of screaming kids, and decided to scope the place for some dinner. The owner said that since we were the only guests, he hadn't opened the kitchen. That was weird as well, for we thought, why not open it for us then? In stead, he asked us if we would care to eat in one of his restaurants. He also owned a taxi company together with a relative, and offered to drive us there for free (he drove the only taxi he said). As we stepped into the taxi, the first thing we noticed was that the front window had a huge crack in it. Second, although the guy had told us that it was very nearby, after 30 minutes of driving we still weren't at the restaurant yet. I asked him what was wrong, and he answered it was because of some roadblocks for scheduled maitenance to an important local road. He had to take a major detour to get us to the restaurant. Satisfied with that explanation I took Manon's hand and smiled at her, feeling happy and content. Everything was fine for me. Manon gave me a weird look I didn't understand, but I ignored it. Eventually, we got to the restaurant. The hotel owner parked the taxi in a major parking lot, and asked us to follow him. Finally we had arrived at the restaurant.
Now at this point I probably have to mention that I myself was slightly in a state of awareness because of all the weird things that had been happening, but I wasn't really worried. For Manon this was completely different. As soon as we sat down at a table, she unloaded. Turned out she had been terrified during the trip. She thought the guy was abducting us. And to make things worse, my asking during the trip why it was taking so long, had apparently been a signal to her that I was afraid as well :D We had a major laugh about it in the end, but were soon feeling content again because the food was absolutely delicious. Later on we paid for dinner, and were taken back to the hotel by the owner again, who had been patiently waiting for us to finish dinner. I think Manon eventually thought better of him, but was probably also happy to leave for home the next day ;-)
The next day was a quick 300km journey. While Manon still hadn't recuperated fully of the the trip and the experiences from the day before, it was an easy trip for her in the end. We arrived back home around noon. It was a beautiful holiday with adventures of various sizes ^_^ But we had a great time, and have driven 3500km on the Ducati safely. Good times for sure :-)
Manon, I'll miss you...