The Sahara and Us Morocco 2011

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Last Days in Europe for 2014

The Back Valley of Levanto from Livaggiorossa
So as we began focusing on packing our belongings back into the panniers after nearly 2 weeks in Levanto we found ourselves feeling a bit sad that our trip for 2014 was ending, while looking forward to seeing family and friends back in Canada. Quite the conundrum!

We’ve been coming to Levanto for as long as we’ve been riding over here and in 2011 we’ve been staying at Chris and Sabrina’s B&B. Now with our 5th stay at their place we feel very much at home, and, appreciative of how great Chris is as a host. This year was no exception, when we arrived he had the ‘nutmeg’ a source of a fun translation exercise a few years ago, already on the table in the apartment, as well as his olive oil for cooking and a ” gift” olive oil to take home. We had to laugh as soon as we saw it!

Tomatoes Peaches Lemons Nectarines 
Our time here saw us mix making a number of favorite meals in our apt. including having access to the Orvieto Classico wines that we first tasted in Orvieto, fresh focaccia (hugely better than I make)and fresh fruits in particular peaches and nectarines as well as tomatoes. Sandra loves the Mortadella meat from the local market, and Wednesday’s the weekly market has a truck that comes in and fire roasts chickens in the square. They are so good especially when Sandra roasts potatoes and carrots in olive oil to go with them. I am able to buy fresh salmon there and we poached salmon a couple of times in olive oil and lemon. Most of the days saw us at our favorite beach cove swimming and snorkelling, (I even dove for and retrieved a natural sponge)
Natural Sea Sponge
and every evening walking back into town to have gelato. Of course we went out for mussels in white wine sauce and pizza several times. Italy loves its food and all its residents know how to eat and prepare food.

Unfortunately with most of the trails closed on the Cinque Terre we got our hiking in by exploring several mountain villages that have small trails leading to them. Lizza
Lizza backstreet high up in the mtns.
and Laviggiorossa are two that we spent an afternoon hiking to. This was done on the only cloudy/rainy day we had while there.

Sandra and I had talked before coming that we wanted to take Chris and Sabrina out for supper to his favorite pizza place that he knows about. After one failed attempt on the Friday evening due to one of his hot water boilers failing and he had to wait for a repairman, we re-scheduled for Tuesday, only to have guests arriving late that he had to wait for, so our invite out ended up they inviting us to their penthouse apartment above the B&B for supper. This little suite has a balcony that overlooks the back Levanto valley and is spectacular. The meal, and wine were simply superb, need I remind myself that Chris has been in the hospitality industry for many years in his family restaurant in Levanto. His father-in-law-to- be makes a white wine that is bottled and sold locally in a boutique wine shop and it is fantastic!
Us with Terese and Chris from Sweden
Then we had the good fortune to meet Chris and Terese from Sweden, a young couple about to be married July 10th in Lucca, Italy. A destination wedding for 30 family and friends. They both spoke excellent English and had ridden motorcycles in Sweden and did a bit of touring. We enjoyed quite a few evenings with them, Chris is a magician as a hobby, and can make a bottle of Havana Club rum disappear before your very eyes. We never did see where the contents went! LOL! On our final night out we all went for supper at our favorite restaurant in Levanto. 
We want to wish them the very best for their upcoming nuptials! We will likely see them next year in Sweden when we go next.

We used up all the good weather in Levanto as our departure was met by cloudy skies and a bit of spitting rain. No worries though, we took the autostrada to Genoa where most of your time is in tunnels so you don’t get wet, and then onto Milan and finally Lake Como where we stayed in Chiavenna again. Yes the same wonderful B&B and same type breakfast as photographed in our last entry last year. This time however we booked an extra day there and rode up to San Moritz Switzerland,
San Moritz
an upscale rich
Ducks at San Moritz
and famous resort town situated high up in the Swiss Alps. The day up there was very beautiful and we stopped and had lunch back near Chiavenna 
 at the base of an amazing waterfall.
Swiss Chalet

Gorgeous Waterfall excellent on hot days
On leaving, we headed back over Splugen pass again and to the canyon at Thusis, Switzerland. This is the kind of riding day that causes you to say WOW a lot.
Thusis Canyon
The Swiss
 Alps are SO scenic to ride in. We took a few more and different pictures at our favorite canyon. outside Thusis. 
See the Hikers in the Canyon?
Now you can with aid of zoom 

Then onto Bregenz where we spent the night. We were both exhausted though from the riding effort required. You see, the climb out of Chiavenna to Splugen has you going on roads that have been upgraded from goat trails, but barely, and switchback roads, some that the switchbacks occur inside the tunnels, which have no lighting. And God forbid you meet a bus coming in one of them. Actually smaller cars had to wait for us to exit before they would enter the tunnel going the other way. My Splugen pass helmet cam video will show this once I get it done.

So after a minor service at Stefan’s shop in the bike is being ‘winterized’, and stored until next season of riding. We are so pleased with the bike, it truly has brought us many Vstrom Adventures.

2006 Suzuki VStrom in Thusis Canyon
Finally, we get to finish off our trip this year celebrating our 42nd anniversary again on the road for the 4th year in a row, Turkey, Italy, and Germany twice. Hope the next 42 will be as good to us as the last have been. If I look under the weather it's because I seem to have been really hit by allergies on this ride back to Frankfurt.
42 yrs today, Where's Heiko? Meeting his landlord!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day

Happy Canada Day from Levanto Italy 2014!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Civita Bagnoregio and Orvieto

Civita Bagnoregio
This a couple of those days where you believe you have died and gone to ‘your’ heaven, that heaven for me is motorcycle heaven where every road has sweeping turns, lots of scenery, warm first thing in the morning so you can ride in only a T shirt, little traffic, smooth handling, and along the way amazing historical sites such as old necropolis’ castles and forts that towns have grown up around them, outright World Heritage sites, and other motorcyclists that are in tune with you and there is karma. We live for these days!

Well Sunday was one of those days. We headed back into the GRA  (Ring Road) in Rome to connect with Highway SS2bis direction Viterbo. The road to Viterbo was 4 lane divided, but with nice sweeping turns and with little traffic on it early for a Sunday. The weather, easily 24-25C first thing, breakfast out on the veranda of our B&B, a quick rinse of the bike to get rid of some sand that had blown in during a light sand storm the day of our arrival in Rome.
About 15 kms before Viterbo the road reduces to a two lane snaky piece of tarmac in amongst the trees and following a stream for a ways. The next things along the stream to the left are some necropolis type excavations in the stone cliffs immediately off the road. Then another turn and we are in a small town with a Basilica and fortified wall structure along side out of the 14th century.
This repeats itself for the next several towns spaced about 6-8 kms apart, though traffic continues to move smoothly as we get to Viterbo. There we select the road to Siena since it takes us on SR2 until we turn off to Bagnoregio. Now the Civita was featured all the All-star edition of Amazing Race that aired this spring. We were stunned by its remoteness 
Civita Entrance
 both at the time of the show and when we arrived. It is also due to the roads in this area that it is a favorite moto route and again we had a lot of thumbs up from other riders who walked by the bike and saw the Canadian plate.
In Bagnoregio we head to the Civita which is separate from the town and only accessible by a small walkway across and valley. To say this place is magnificent is an understatement. It is a super well maintained village that has been kept up and while some of it has been turned over to tourism it still has all of its original charm. After an hour of wandering its small corridor streets we head to Orvieto just 13 kms away.

Civita Walls and Buildings

I turn on the Helmet cam as we near Orvieto and capture the Cliff hung hill town
that it is as we drive in from the south. It’s a Wow reaction right away, and I decide to keep the cam on and drive to the Duomo since we incorrectly believe this is Flower Sunday. It was two weeks ago. Regardless the helmet video illustrates just how narrow the streets are and finally you are met with this huge magnificent Duomo in front of you there that rivals that of Florence. It is pure stunning!
 Orvieto -View from our restaurant
We decide that we want to get settled first and eat, since we’ve been riding on pent-up energy and now are hungry, so we arrive at our Agritourismo Ciocollata, a little ways out of Orvieto with a full sweeping view of the town. Our bedroom window overlooks the town. The owners Angela and Alex are gracious and phone a local high quality restaurant to make sure they will still serve us. Most days including Sunday lunch is served till 2:30 pm and then everything closes until 7:30 or 8:00 pm. Fortunately we head to a place that overlooks the town on another hill and have a great meal. Life just doesn’t get better than a day like today.
After a great meal and a quiet evening  and overnight at the agritourismo we are prepared for seeing Orvieto in detail.
Room View - sorry screen adds some noise to picture

Orvieto Duomo
Tapestry depicting display of Miracle linen
The Duomo built in 1364, the largest building and seen for miles was commissioned by Pope Paul V,  as a direct result of what is called a Eucharistic miracle which occurred in 1263 in nearby Bolseno. The explanation can be read here. . Apparently Pope Urban IV resided in Orvieto at the time, (1263) and that is why the Host, and linens that were spotted in blood now reside in the Duomo after it was investigated and determined to be a miracle. A number of tapestries are hung in the church which depicts certain events, one being the miracle. Each year, 60 days after Easter is a feast day here called Corpus Christi.
Detail of Duomo exterior

The church is one of the finest outside Rome and can be enjoyed much more easily than the Vatican can simply because there is not the crush of people there all the time. The most impressive areas are two side wings, one absolutely magnificent with ceiling mosaics that depict God’s final judgement day. A strict rule of no photos presides over both this and the Corporal chapel where the Host and linens are on display.

Look at the people off in the distance
 to get a sense of size
We were allowed to take a photo of the main altar area which will give you a sense of the enormous dimensions of this Duomo  and of the organ which is elevated above the Corporal Chapel.

Equally impressive is the façade of the church and the ornate detail work that has been done on it. Arcitecture is something both Sandra and I love and this is a place of beauty.The remainder of the old town is beautiful to look around as well, and the artistry in some of the ceramics is stunning. For several thousand dollars we could have a plate and large floor vase for our house. The side streets are nicely decorated and as you will see when our video is prepared we entered Orvieto on flag day, a tradition in the region of Umbria which we are now in.

Pipe Organ Loft

Orvieto is also famous for its white wine  Orvieto Classico and Sandra had a glass at lunch today, and it is very nice indeed. The agritourismo we are at offered last night for us to sample their wine but we had already had a red wine as an apertivi, so tonight we try theirs and will likely purchase a bottle to take with us. This town, only 13 kms from Bagnoregio is affected by the volcanic soil and therefore the grapes/wines benefit from this soil.
Flag Day in Umbria

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Hmmm, where are we now?
We’ve been to Rome a few times now, but Sandra found some new things she wanted to see. One specifically is San Pietro in Chains,

St Peters Chains
a cathedral that has an altar created by Michaelangelo of Moses that is stunning, plus a cabinet under the main altar holds the chains that bound Saint Peter in Jerusalem and Rome after Christ’s death 

Moses by Michaelangelo
and while he was being persecuted by the Romans.

I on the other hand wanted to see the Trevi Fountain,
The Pantheon
lit at sunset, but my hopes were dashed when we learned while travelling that it is under refurbishment.  Actually much of the ancient sites are going through refurb, right now, and some things just aren’t being maintained due to the austerity measures in Italy.
The oculous in the Dome of the Pantheon -open air
The Spanish steps are under refurb as well as the Coliseum.
Spanish Steps
Fabulous street performers
Pantheon Street Performers
at the Pantheon performed a jazz number while we were and another of them previously doing Stairway to Heaven at the Pantheon

And as we walked through Circus Maximus we noticed a huge stage being set-up for June 22, when the Rolling Stones perform in Rome. 

Us with a view of Rome in the Background

Tomb of Unknown Soldier

St. Peters Basilica

Ostia Antica

Famous Embrace from Ostia Antica
The drive off the Amalfi coast is difficult as you come down through Sorrento and it will take you about 1hr. 20 mins to travel 60 kms. Yeah, that’s brutal. Once on the outskirts of Pompeii and Naples you can take the Autostrada and in 172 kms and 1 ½ hrs you are in Rome.
When we planned this trip we didn’t really consider going to Rome again, but it was a good half way stop on our way to Levanto. So what originally was an overnighter turned into 3 nights and a very full two days, because you can’t go by Rome without going in, now can you!

We selected a good B&B in Ostia Antica so that we could access the old World Heritage Site
A mudcaked pillar
by walking, which we did. A word of warning if you go to this site, make sure you wear rugged hiking/walking shoes since the cobblestones are rough and far between. Ostia Antica (OA) is considered by many as a good alternative to Pompeii especially if you don’t want the day’s drive there from Rome. Both have their merits, OA is a more pleasant site to visit if it’s hot since there is shade, and the ruins were covered in mud for centuries leaving them in good ‘sealed’ shape. Pompeii resulted from a 1 time eruption of Mt Vesuvius where everything was frozen in time, including people. Both have great artifacts. Pompeii is the more known and we have been there so OA was a good alternative to see. We really liked OA since it wasn’t as dirty a site.
The Theatre - notice to the top right small stalls for commercial sales

Stalls had tile work that indicated what their business was

A Millstone from the Mill

Cafe - in its day
Public Bath Houses and Latreens seats 20
Regarding the latreen you see here. They had flowing water. There are two water sources, one that flushes the effluent away from under each toilet and another, notice in the picture that had water flowing near the foot of where the person would sit, they would scoop water up by hand or sponge  hence the keyhole opening and clean themselves. There was no such thing as toilet paper.
Lots of Statues

Amalfi Coast

Stunning Outcroppings at Marina del Cantone, Amalfi Coast
After leaving Alberobello we headed to the Amalfi coast to a small hotel we have stayed at in the past and have fond memories of. The drive was a long day from both a distance and traffic perspective since once you reach Salerno you begin driving the Amalfi coastline and it is bumper to bumper traffic and tourists. A couple of the key towns Amalfi
and Positano were over-run with tourism , to be expected, but the scenery was still beautiful and we captured much of the drive on helmet cam video. Our hotel is in the village of Nerano on Marina del Cantone and has a beautiful set of Gibraltor type rock outcroppings, the second has a 14th century tower built on it. We spent a relaxing day right on the beach where our hotel was located.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Hidden Italy

Calabria Coastline

Calabria- The Tyrrhenian Coast
After leaving Sicily we travelled north through a region called Calabria to the town of Amantea. The German folks we met in Palermo were headed for 2 weeks to Tropea which is more south on this coast, but we had set our sights on getting some R&R in, if the place we had scoped out worked. And it did! Big time so we stayed here 4 nights,
View from our room
rested up since Sicily was riding every day, got likely too much sun, and had some fine meals at both the hotel restaurant and from local places in Amantea. Weather has been in the 30’s each day, and we even got the chance to snorkel. Bonus! The coastline from southern Calabria to Diamante is very sand beaches with a high forested mountain range behind them. It makes for very scenic views and daytime heating can generate late afternoon clouds which form thunderheads.
Our Pool view
We weren’t bothered by these except for one afternoon.

Christ the Redeemer Maratea

From there we headed up the coast to Diamante and then Maratea. Diamante had a reputation for having murals on its walls similar to Chemanius, but it doesn’t hold a candle to our bedroom community on the island. From there up to Maratea the drive is beautiful and has the 5th largest in the world, Christ the Redeemer statue perched high atop a mountain just outside town.
Maratea - from the Statue
The drive up was an experience to remember and one we will with it captured all on video, and the views from up top spectacular. But the best thing about the place was our B&B, the Maratea Garden House located just outside Maratea in Acquafredda.  The kindest people we have ever met in the world. And our restaurant out there La Pepe, was great food and a superb waitress! Then to top it off  Maiteus , the owner of the garden house told us about another World Heritage Site, the monastery at Padula, and gave us great direction to it and improved ones to 

Castel Mezzano and Pietropetrosa, these are all in the region known as Basilicata.
Yesterday as we rode the drive was magnificent!
Castel Mezzano Yes this is real!
Videos to prove it and the scenery breathtaking, for the most part mountains and we ended our day in Matera a prehistoric city and you guessed it a World Heritage Site and to this point no Rick Steves!

Mezzano to Pietropetrosa - Check the road tunnel lower right corner -yeah kind of unbelievable

Known as "la Città Sotterranea" (the Subterranean City), Matera is well known for its historical center called "Sassi", considered World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993.
Matera by Night

It has much in common with areas we covered in 2011 in Turkey, see Nevsehri to Derinkuyu to Goreme, July 2011.While here we have stayed in the Sassi in a 17th century Noble home at the top of the canyon. The city is the connection of two ravines that intersect with what they consider their grand canyon and it is very scenic. This dates from  Palaeolithic period times.
Caveosa - Matera -subterannean homes

Mans Best Friend
While known to Italians specifically, as it was referred to us by our friends Mauro, Betty, Massimo and Elisa it is not well known outside Europe. Matter of fact we did not see any other North American or Asian tourists here in our time. It’s part of why I call this “Hidden Italy”. I saw recently that Rick Steve’s may be coming here soon to cover this area but to date we struggled finding current relevant information in planning this part.  And like elsewhere, we spend time each day explaining our travels to others who question the presence of a Canadian couple/motorcycle here.
Matera Fountain

Castellana Grotto

Puglia (Pull –ee-a)
Puglia is the third region or province that we enter in the south of Italy.  Castellana de Grotte and Alberobello are our two destinations here plus another we didn’t realize. Natuzzi farms are present everywhere in this region, yes THAT Natuzzi that makes the leather as in our couch and loveseat in our living room. These people obviously are in the business from wellhead to pump ( if you were in the energy industry). Huge farms, plants etc. and it seems beef prices are depressed in this area. A restaurant we were at had fabulous looking steaks for very inexpensive prices.
Tour of Grotto
Castellano de Grotte is a world class grotto located only about 60 kms from Matera and 17 kms from Alberobello. The grotto was discovered in the 30’s and is the largest in Italy. Photos are permitted in the first chamber only, but the 3 kms of underground caverns are very beautiful. Since we visit caverns seldomly you tend to compare them, and yet they are all each unique. This one likely has the most impressive chambers of pure white calcium carbonate stalactites we’ve seen, while having a very large opening chamber and other unique features. The first of these kind that I went to was in Kentucky (Boones Caverns) and it was special, the Lewis and Clark caverns in Montana are neat and much more intimate but not as flashy, Sokjen caves in Slovenia were definitely the largest with an active river running through it, and the largest highest volume dome, but this first chamber must be pretty close. I’d rate these highest for color variations.

Alberobello is unfortunately a place you have to see, but also a “Banff” from a tourism perspective, complete with all the trinket shops. Alberobello is home to the “Trulli” a hut that resembles the Neolithic era ‘beehive huts’ we found in France back in 2004. Same dry stack build of the roof, only these have rock block walls and are circular in nature, while the French versions were dry stack slate rock walls and roof, and could take more rectangular shapes as well.
Typical real ones
The Trulli is considered World Heritage worthy as well and is also known for its very hot peppers as can be judge by the picture.

Hot Peppers Anyone?