Part II – Italy to Greece

Day 12

On day 8 (06/09/15) our plan was to make a reasonably early start and cover a few miles to Bologna and south towards Florence on the motorway. It didn’t start too well as the automatic ticket machine didn’t want to set me loose on the highway and refused to dispense a ticket. I, and the campervan behind, reversed until we could get into the next lane and tried again – same thing! Fortunately Mr Campervan was a very understanding Frenchman who responded with a typically Gallic shrug and waited patiently while I was rescued by a dashing Italian motorcyclists in a one piece gold leather suit!

As far as is possible, the motorway south of Bologna was a lovely ride; a flowing series of curves that threaded their way through the steeply wooded slopes, one moment on a highwire, the next, plunging into the hillside. A detour to Mugello, home circuit for Valentino Rossi (surely no one is going to ask “who”?!) was called for where we were entertained with a little club car racing and watched a Brit land up second on the podium.

Finally into the minor roads and, judging by the number of bikes sharing them with us, obviously a motorcyclist’s playground – many of them too hot for us but fortunately all of them going in the opposite direction. Wonder why? Our second pass was less popular and more open – but harder to ride as the views were too distracting!

We decided to aim for Urbino for the night, a beautiful old university town, but made the mistake of not changing plans when time seemed to make quicker progress than us. We arrived there fairly late in the day and couldn’t find a room in the old part of town so headed into the newer area where we struck lucky with a retro hotel – but no restaurant. It was heading on for 9.00pm and way past my feeding time! The charming and very helpful receptionist recommended the nearby Giardino. This turned out to be a fabulous place and our ‘host’, an aging Egyptian named Gill (no offence intended!), was a real character.

The next day we had an easy run into Ancona, bought our tickets and headed into town to relax for a few hours before sailing. The Piazza Plebiscito was a haven away from the crowds and the heat whilst still being within easy reach of the port. As instructed, we made our way to the dock an hour or so before boarding and baked in the merciless heat for another three! Got chatting to Sigi, an Austrian olive farmer in Greece with a MKI Versys (Bob’s bike), and Maurizio, an Italian from Lake Como on an old Guzzi.

Watching our boat disgorge its contents onto the dock was quite a spectacle: in Italy RORO stands for ‘Roll On, Reverse Off”! Considering the complete chaos it was surprisingly gesture and horn free!

It was pretty expensive on board, €7 for two coffees and a baklava, but managed to get to the restaurant too late (at 8.30pm) so didn’t give them the opportunity to fleece us too much! Another mill pond crossing, with a stop at Igoumenitsa where Sigi left, and a surprisingly easy disembark, three hours late, at Patras.

As it happened, an evening ride along the coast road was probably the best time of day to see it anyway – the colours were just wonderful, mostly yellows/greens/silver and blue apart from a quarry where the rocks, and everything else in sight, were a dark rusty red.

Delphi was surprisingly busy with coachloads of tourists blocking the street and filling all the ‘high street’ hotels. We found the Hotel Acropli on a lower road and good choice it was too as it was much quieter and had somewhere to leave the bikes. Supper was on a terrace overlooking the gorge with lightning flashing in the mountaintops – and 7 hour baked goat – polynoshtimo!

We walked down to old Delphi the next day, exploring it at our pace; a gentle six hour amble allowing the coach parties to flow past us, and a pint of fresh orange and an ice cream in a small café between the Sacred Precinct and the Temple of Athena. Without boring you with details you can read elsewhere it was a truly impressive site and justifiably known as the “centre of the ancient world”. (Rather than add to the thousands of pictures of Delphi available on the internet these few are predominantly New Delphi and from a more personal perspective)

The previous night’s lightning bore fruit and the heavens opened late in the afternoon although it didn’t do much to dissipate the heat – and fortunately we were home and dry!

The severe rains that flooded Granada were set to appear in the southern Balkans today so a judicious change of plan was called for, deciding to explore the area south of Delphi to avoid the worst. We meandered over to the Byzantine monastery of Hosios Loukas; a wonderfully tranquil place with very few visitors and incredible craftwork in the architecture and building as much as the art.

Back to base via the ‘white’ coast road and a far more rugged landscape of rocks and stunted pines with the smell of eucalyptus and rosemary in the air. Lovely.

PART III ….

(All images are copyright to Noeline Smith)

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