Day 1, Saturday, 1st october

The alps to the Alpi apuane and Tuscany

We find ourselves now in the evocative region of Tuscany and the stunning mountain range of the Alpi and really what a change from Switzerland. The landscape went through such dramatic variations as we passed from the valley of the Rhone over the Alps then in the northern plains of Italy which are so hot and dry. Our route eminated the route that my parents took 30 years ago, almost day for day. It’s not the first time we will cover the tracks of my parents on this voyage of discovery through north Africa. But we leave them now as they took the boat from Genova and our trip now takes us deep into the tuscan hillside. We arrived at the Mediterranean sea just at the height of Livorno, following the autoroute until Aulla the gateway into the Alpi Apuane and northern Tuscany. We meandered our way to Bagni di Lucca and up to our pre-booked B&B at Cocciglia. Our hosts were waiting for us with big smiles at the entry to town, it was a good feeling to have arrived after what was a long eleven hour day and 648kms. The town was picutersque but tiny and our hosts insisted that we park Francois up the narrow laneway and in front of the house, with some careful manouvering he was tucked away for the night.

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Day 2, Sunday 2nd Oct

We rose for an early morning walk before breakfast to explore the tiny village and surrounds of Cocciglia, with only 14 inhabitants year long. The walk certainly brought on our appetite and the home made bread at our B&B was delicious. We left Cocciglia in the direction of Pistoia. By mid morning the Sunday traffic was already quite heavy and we knew it would be slow going to Firenze. Luckily we were going in the opposite direction to the Italian weekenders leaving the city life and heading for the hills. We used our newest gadgets, a GPS equiped Google Android tablet and 3G WIFI dongle to navigate into Firenze with unexpected ease. Our setup is also tracking our every move as we wander and meander our way through Southern Europe to North Africa.

In the center of Firenze we parked just a stones throw from Piazza del Duomo and locked up or helmets and the front tank panniers with the bicycle lock taking our valuables with us as we continued our tourism by foot. There would seem to be almost no ugly or uninteresting part to Italy, everywhere you look is one amazing sight after another buildings full of history and character. Without a doubt the Ponte Vecchio is the most famous bridge in Italy and rightly so.

Firenze to Chianti wine region, Greve in Chianti, Montevarchi, Arezzo, to the Parco di Livarno.

Campsite was closed so we headed to the top of the park where therwas some flat ground more suited to camping. Although the wild pigs and hooligans in their cars perturbed our tranquility which otherwise was a superb location with a crescent moon and a clear night and a sky filled with stars.

Day 3, Monday 3rd October

We woke to the gentle rustle of wind in the trees and a lot of relief knowing that dawn had come after a restless nights sleep. The morning on top of parco national di Livarno was fresh but with the promise of hot and dry day ahead. The telling factor was not just the bright orange sun but the lack of dew and especially the lack of condensation on the inside of our tent.

We decided to break camp and head straight into town and look for breakfast and coffee. Down the hillside we stopped for a picture of the Church we passed on the day before, a church  on the pillgrimage route of St Jacques de Compstelle.

We stopped in Castiglion Fiorentina at a busy little patisserie where locals were having their morning coffee standing at the counter. Our breakfast of coffee and pasteries was enough to get us going, we hopped back on Francois and headed for Cortona. Admittedly the whole region of which we know very little, and especially the less visited parts of Tuscany are amazing. Towns like Cortona, Gubbio and Greve in Chianti certainly warrant a less rushed visit, however our goal is to make our ferry for Greece and ultimately the Sahara.

We kept on whilst the going was good and as there was a lot less traffic on the minor roads the riding was most pleasurable.

At the checkin for our ferry to Igoumenista we met Dave, from UK on a BMW 1150GS, Mark from Switzerland on an Africa Twin and Lori also from the UK on a Yamaha Tenere all on their way to South Africa. On the boat we caught up with the trio and shared some of our experiences and talked through their travel plans. It is always nice to meet like minded souls on the road, it’s a kinship or brotherhood, not to be sexist but there is a kind of mateship even if we are complete strangers otherwise, brought together by a common interest.

The first thing we did onboard the ferry was get our 4 berth dorm and have a shower. The heat below deck coming from the engine room created a sauna like parking and we were both dripping with sweat.

Day 4, Tuesday 4 October

We disembarked at Igoumenitsa to the dawn of yet another beautiful day, greeted by a deep red sky over the Ionian coastline. Exiting the international port we said goodbye to our acquaintance, Stefan from St Gallen in Switzerland who was riding a Honda Firestorm equiped with an enormous rear one-piece saddle bag. The short ride to the domestic port of Igoumenitsa was already hot, making our riding gear stick to our skin.

We headed straight for the old town of Corfu and parked next to the fort towering over the city and a local food market selling fruit, vegetables and that mornings catch of fresh fish. I feel the true way to meet locals and gain a sense of a town or village is at the markets where they shop. The most marking thing so far of Greece are that almost no one wears a helmet. And even fewer are wearing any kind of protective clothing, perhaps understandable given the heat and inconvenience of it but this just demonstrates the lack of policing in Greece.

My first impressions of Corfu are much like any Mediterranean fortified town, the old town isn’t especially interesting but has a certain holiday feel about it, what with all the tourist shops and scooters. Leaving Corfu I was surprised to see eucalyptus trees along the roadside, the smell of the gums made me immediately homesick and all I felt like doing was sitting under the shade of the glorious trees chewing on their leaves like a Koala.

We left the island’s metropolis for the peace and quiet of the north-west. Barely out of town several motorcyclists overtook us at speed on the mountain roads, none of them had any helmet and not so much as a pair of sunglasses to protect their eyes.

Our swim in the sea at agios georgios beach was divine providing the much needed respite from the heat and humidity. After our bathing in the salty waters we went in search of a supermarket and a camping spot. Instead we found a sensatioal sunset on top of the hill in Afionas. Where we decided to spend the night.

To save a little we cooked our own dinner of Pork marinated Corfu style and a salmon steak to accompany our Greek salad and tzatsiki.

Wednesday 5th October

Beautiful breakfast of fruit salad and thick creamy yoghurt with honey and some unannounced intruders that decided to take a bath in Arja’s honey. The youghurt, which was more like the french fromage blanc, had a scoop of honey in the middle and looked a bit like a minature bird bath, or perhaps thought the wasp. The inscense brought out by the owner helped but these wasps (not wogs) were not to be deterred.

On our morning stroll through the Town of Afionas we noticed a high proportion of foreign land owners, which seems to be very much the trend and often they are the ones bringing in money that helps to restore old delapidated buildings and towns. On our way back to our accommodation at Porto Timoni we decided to have a rest day and stay a second night to relax, do our washing and go swimming. Of course the location and scenery had a lot to do with the decision but mostly we wanted to have a romantic and intimate weekend, just us and no riding, afterall we are in sorts turning a page, what with Arja having left her job, it’s a time to celebrate.

Walk down to the beach of Porto Timoni followed by a siesta and later some detailed route planning up into Albania.

Quite naturally a beer on the terrace restaurant led to a delicious meal from the family run restaurant of the same name as our accommodation.

Day 6, Thursday 6th October

Breakfast consisted of freshly squeezed orange juice, assorted fresh fruits, filtered coffee, honey youghurt and of course the annoying wasps… On our way out of Alfionas we headed to the north coast and the mountain village of Perithia. From there we took a dirt road that joined Petalia.

Hilltop lookout of Pantokratos which dominated the whole island with its telecommunications towers and baren brown hillside dotted with the odd shrub. Keen to make Albania we decided to skip the rest of Corfu and make straight for the port to catch our ferry back to mainland Greece.

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