Thursday, December 20, 2012

Retrobike Retrospective

Ah. Ummmmm....oops. Bit of an epic fail there I'm afraid. I had fully intended to put in at least 3 or 4 entries for this trip, but it turns out there are fewer internet access points for the traveler travelling without their own personal computer than there are in South America. This being the case, and Ed being a bit tight with the offers to use his own machine (well who can blame him? He was a slave to it every night, trying to keep his own fancy blog + movies up to date. Did you know that each movie worked out to about an hours worth of editing for every minute of movie? I'm amazed he found time to see anything on his trip at all...), I was unable to find a means to up-date on the road and, once I got back, have been kind of distracted with stuff and things, making this the first chance I've had to try and tell my side of the story (some of you may have already read Ed's version at Riding in the Tracks of Giants. Click the link on this page if not...). Also, having read his version, I've had to give myself time to forget what he wrote so I don't end up being unduly influenced by his content!

So, back to Florence! Ed arrived and shepherded his bike into the 'free' (ahem. More about that later) garage parking, where I went to meet him and introduce him to the Bavarian Grandmother I was riding (oh please. Stop with the Benny Hill humour). He was a little startled - I think he had imagined that I'd bought a second hand XT or somesuch - but I think he appreciated the style. I was looking forward to starting it up in a day or two and letting him hear the power...

We quickly dumped his gear in the room and went for a wander in the town. We would be staying for a couple of nights, giving us a full day to explore the historic nooks and crannies, so this first evening gave us a chance to stroll through the narrow streets and see the main plaza with its impressively huge cathedral lit up and displayed in a totally different way than it can be seen by day. It is a truly huge building, and seemed even bigger the next day when we went back in daylight to climb the stairs to the viewing platform on the roof of its large dome. I can appreciate the architectural achievement of such an intricate edifice, but once again struggle to equate the church's message of 'blessed are the meek' and what not, with the vast expense and extravagance of such a temple. It seems to me that 'the people' are told to live on a shoestring while the church collects their dosh and spends it on gold candlesticks and elaborately painted ceilings. A case in point was the inside of the dome, which was extraordinary in its complexity, and slightly shocking in what it depicted. The centre of the dome was a wonderous vision of angels and all things super, smashing and great, graduating down the dome to the scene around the lowest section which was real, old-school fire and brimstone Hell, with Satan and all his little minions shoving (and I kid you not!) red hot pokers up the backsides of the naughty people cast down, and tearing them in half. Again, my understanding is lacking here....I am puzzled that an organisation should need to use such threats and fear as a means of encouraging people to toe the line. Being 'good' out of fear of damnation is surely coercion, versus people who are just nice to each other because its the right thing to do. Perhaps I'm just a little naive, or should educate myself more...
Well, you can't say you weren't warned...

Regardless of who paid what to whom in order to build the cathedral, the view from the top of the dome was  fantastic, made more so by the crystal clear day. Terracotta tiled roofs spread out in all directions from the square below, the river sparkled in the distance, and the maze of streets left both Ed and I keen to descend the long, long flights of stairs back to ground level so we could explore a little more.                                            

The Duomo casts its shadow over the city of Florence

We followed the directions kindly scribbled on our tourist map by the hotel receptionist this morning, which took us to some of the top spots in town. Piazzas (town squares, not the food) containing both replica and genuine statues from roman times, a replica of David in all his large-handed glory (the hands are deliberately too large so the perspectives look right when viewed from the ground. True story.), long queues in the street waiting to pay through the nose to see the real thing (didn't seem worth it to us. We'd not have been able to tell them apart anyway), street markets selling leather goods for which Florence is renowned, the bridge over the river...all beautiful and worth the look. Ed had already confessed in his own blog that he was becoming a bit jaded and worn out from all the remarkable things he'd seen on his trip, but we were taking things at a relaxed pace and perhaps having some company made it more tolerable.

The next morning we were continuing on our way, beginning the return leg of my journey and the final push of Ed's. It was Saturday, and we were planning on taking a partially scenic route to Milan, where we would take a day on Sunday to visit the huge and famous Milan Motorbike Show - a big sales exhibition of all the latest and greatest bikes and riding gear from the major manufacturers. I think all either of us really wanted to see was what they had in the way of adventure bikes, but I think Ed had hopes of picking up a last-day-of-the-show clothing bargain of some kind.

After an interesting episode in which Ed and the hotel manager/owner disagreed about the "free parking" which Ed had carefully confirmed was available in his booking emails (apparently it wasn't free at all, despite the email, but Ed was more immovable on the matter than the hotel rep, and a lawyer, and was standing in the reception area near the breakfast room full of other guests and, apparently, more than happy to make a bit of a scene - which he didn't do, he remained very calm!), he then appeared slightly anxious when my trusty steed seemed reluctant to struggle back to life but, after the couple of days it took to get down to Florence, I wasn't too phased. A bit of gentle coaxing soon had her fired up, and I left her clearing her pipes while I got dressed in my riding gear, and by the time we set off she was quite literally firing on all cylinders. After my arrival into town a couple of days earlier, when I had been forced to precariously wedge my new and expensive smart phone between the top of the speedometer and the windscreen so I could use the sat-nav to guide me to the hotel, dreading every bump in the road in case the device was dislodged at speed only to be dashed to pieces as I crashed while desperately grabbing for it as it fell to the ground while I rode along (and the cobbles really didn't help, let me tell you!), it was very relaxing to be able to rely on following Ed, who was being guided by his proper on-board flight system. Unfortunately, he hadn't fully realised the restrictions I faced as I battled with my bike through the busy Florencian traffic. My ancient bike had some good pick up, so keeping up with him as he shot off from traffic lights etc was no problem at all. Its newly acquired desire to stall while idling didn't help though, and the slowing down suddenly to change lanes/stop began to cause me problems. I kept up though, and figured all would be well, and if not, I'd make sure Ed got a go on my bike so that he'd better understand the situation, It was a few days before that would happen though, so in the meantime, he rode on oblivious to the effort it took me to keep up!

We spent the morning following smaller b-roads that took us up and over some hills and valleys, feeling spoiled again by the cracking good weather. I was cautious in the hairpin turns - more so than even I would normally be - as the braking on the aged BMW was proving to be a bit more dodgy than I'd been led to believe from the dead straight autoroute dash of the first 3 days. This had not revealed the full extent of the short-comings in the old brake discs and pads, and it was with some alarm that I came to learn that there was a definite tendency for the brakes to behave as though fitted with a very slow reacting ABS system, i.e. in a repetitive, snatching action that pogo-ed me to a halt. Coupled with the narrow tyres furnished with what looked like an old-fashioned tread pattern and the threat of damp leaves or frost in the corners, I was understandably reluctant to try and keep up with Ed, on his finely tuned, computerised invalid car. I mean motorbike.

The scenery was beautifully autumnal though, the skiing villages quiet and patient, waiting just a few more weeks for the annual influx of snow-bunnies, and eventually we had to admit that time had beaten us and we'd have to hit the autoroute to make up some time and get to Milan before dark. We were temporarily held up as we encountered a weekend bikers rendez-vous parked up in a local country pub. A large number of fancy sports bikes were parked up and, even though we'd only just begun our high-tailing, it would have been rude not to stop and say hi, or at least for Ed to allow his bike to be admired. It certainly stood out from the others, as it was the only road-weary adventure bike there, and it got its share of appropriately admiring glances for sure. Somewhat surprisingly, though, so did my bike, as it was the oldest by far of the gathering. Once we'd taken our bows, we tried again and, once again, Ed's on-board computer guided us without fail. The failure had been in letting Ed program the destination, and it was a surprise to both of us when we arrived exactly at where we wanted to be the next day - at the Motorbike show! I still marvel at the fact he made it round the world pretty much by himself. A brief adjustment later and we were weaving through the heavy traffic to go the short distance to the campsite we'd be using. They had cabins with electric heating, and even en suite showers, so we took one of them and bunked down. Which is what I will do now, before attempting another installment much sooner than this one appeared!

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