Italy

Chapter Ten: Wild Thing

Thankfully the card worked in the morning and I was back on form, buying twenty Euros worth of recommended herbal remedies for bronchitis from the next door pharmacy. With some available cash and still feeling like shit I booked another night at the hostel to recover and drove to Monaco for the day.

Preparations for the Grand Prix were underway a fortnight in advance. Flags were up, barriers assembled and seating being built. I did about three laps of the circuit (or most of the circuit) with varying degrees of success, traffic and mis-navigation before heading back to Nice to cook myself some food. Cooking turned into a couple of beers and before you know it 10 of us were on the pebble beach playing Cards against Humanity. I was drunk, so a quick skinny dip in the ocean seemed like a good idea.

‘Not a good idea’ I thought as I spluttered into life the next day, coughed all through breakfast and got back on the bike. This herbal medicine bullshit was bullshit. Today I’d pass back through Monaco and into Italy for the first time, following the sun kissed and beautiful coast.

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Even without a destination in mind I was conscious of time. When I passed through Italy (again disappointed with the lack of ceremony) I took a gamble on their toll motorways, the Autostrade. After following signs for 5 minutes down a confusing array of filter lanes I was at the ticket booth, destination GENOA.

Italy can put up motorways. You wouldn’t think it took much, but England has a lot to learn..
No painfully long straights eeking out into the distance, no traffic jams and no middle lane hogging. Italy has just 2 lane motorways for the 130km/h traffic. They wind around coastal cliff ridges in huge sweeping bends. Huge sweeping bends on tall bridges, huge sweeping bends through long dark tunnels. Outside dark tunnels the vista to the right was crowded with tiny hamlets bolted to the rocks by the sea. The left was a rolling expanse of lush green micro mountains. And so it went on and on in blissful mile munching until Genoa/Genova. When things changed.

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It was madness, it was magnificent. Built up, dirty, crowded and fast paced. That’s what the streets were like.  Regrettably I saw nothing of the city apart from the inside of a pizza shop, a garage and a motorcycle part shop (where I picked up a new oil filter with surprising ease, PROUD OF MYSELF BADGE), because I was revelling in the chaos on the roads a bit too whole heartedly. The fun originates with the scooter riders who hover, like bees, behind two cars until the narrowest of openings manifests itself. Then its gas on, scrape through and loose all progress to a red light. But I don’t reckon they’re doing it for progress, they’re just gunning gaps because they like to. They are mad, and its sort of contagious. With 2 extra feet in pannier width I was still managing to keep up, gunning gaps faster to make up for it and cutting up enough cars to leave Genoa with my head held high.

I flicked on the phones GPS to nav out of there before I lost an eye. I’d settled on reaching La Spezia, further down the coast, because it had a big Marco Polo star on it in my Marco Polo guidebook. Marco Polo.

I’d made good time on the Autostrade and it had only not cost me €17 because the machine didn’t take my money. I’ve got a receipt to pay online but there’s nothing on it to tie it to my bike, and since then its got wetmand dissolved… Regardless I had plenty of daylight to explore the coastal road to La Spezia rather than the motorway.

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The SS1 tracks through a number of little villages by the coast, each with their own distinct character to offset them from the others, but all stunningly quaint. Trundling through one village centre I was struck by bright colours and intricate detailing on each house before a rolling perspective change showed everything was painted on. The next village, grand 4 story buildings with all the trimmings lining the road for blocks and blocks.
I had to stop stopping, taking photos at each place would extend my journey by an hour if not more. Besides the photos didn’t seem to do justice to the places. You’ll have to take my word for the marbling of blues out at sea and the mists rising off the hills.

At Sestri Levante the SS1 takes on a different character as it leads up into the mountains. Wide lazy hairpins  up and down valleys turn into sharp pinpoint right angles and blind bends, occluded by large trees and fleshy green shrubs. The road was good, technical and sticky from the sun beating down on it all day – so I wasn’t surprised to see fellow bikers up there. I was laying out maybe 70% racing speed to begin with until a little grub on a Yamaha R6 gained size and substance in my mirrors. I let him past my fully loaded Candy Indy soon after. But after watching his riding style from behind I got tempted into pinning my own throttle, so we hugged his rear tyre for the next 4 or so miles. He was easy to chase, too much braking through the corners and no speed coming out. Nonetheless I was saddened when he pulled into a lay by and left only the lonely road ahead.

Streaming out of the mountains I was in built up urbania before I knew it. On my drive I’d decided to wild camp tonight as the forests were beautiful and respectably secluded, so I picked up some supplies and followed a winding road out of La Spezia. Learning already, I asked a Hotel owner where would be good to pitch my tent and get given a map with a big circled area to try. So up I went, into the mountains.

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I checked out a number of different spots before settling on one where I could get my bike off road and risk minimal chances of Hepatitis. Clearly each of the spots had been used by junkies for drunk orgies but virgin woodland was all too steep to pitch on. I swept the floor of the abandoned quarry with the sole of my boot, kicking away used baby wipes and glass. Not all that luxurious really, wild camping.. But with my free hotel, I settled down for the night warm and fed…

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..and woke up cold, hungry and tired. Half the night had been playing guess that retarded animal noise as they’d call every 10 seconds while wandering through my clearing. Worse, as the hotel man had warned me, the wee hours bought a stiff chill with them. Having been thrown in the sea the night before, my bronchitis was tired of my shit and I had officially lost my voice. I lit a cigarette to warm up.

Disgruntled and grumpy I rode through La Spezia without seeing the sights (something I’m well accustomed to by now, no FOMO for me!) and decided to trundle South to Pisa. Luckily for my bronchitis it was for two hours in the kind of rain that you can feel running down the inside of your bones… And these bullshit herbal remedies were really proving to be bullshit.

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