The Italian Job 2
Continued from the previous issue.
We decided to visit Venice and I suggested we might take a boat rather than ride round. On enquiring at the tourist office we were told it was a regular service by boat and bus at 300 lire apiece, 20p.
We walked over the sea bridge into Chioggia - a kind of smelly small Venice - and after a gelati (ice-cream) we caught the boat. After about three miles we caught a very crowded bus for five miles, then onto a ferry for three miles, then onto a bus for 5 miles, then on another ferry for 2 miles into St Marks square, Venice. All that for 20p.
The city is just incredible. The art in the churches is beyond comprehension, it just couldn't be repeated today. Unfortunately it's sinking slowly into the marshes it's built on. St Marks Basilica is very unevenly floored and from the upper gallery the sloping walls look dangerous. By the time we got back to camp that night we were very footsore. We hadn't travelled by gondola at all because it was very expensive.
While we were camped on the coast Phil, Scriv and Dave went to a big endurance race meeting at Rimini. Pity Scriv didn't borrow one; at least their lights would have worked for the midnight ride home. They came back looking more grey than black clothed from the local clay banks they leaned on.
After five or six days we decided to move on to the Dolomite mountain region. This took us past Braganze where Laverdas are made. Some of us visited the factory some days earlier and met a local bloke there who'd been to Salford University - he'd a Laverda SF.
On the way Scriv's head gasket blew. Then he told us the Triumph had a warped head. We found a suitable site to strip it down, shade from the scorching sun and a bar nearby. While we were working some local kids brought us a 2 litre bottle of vino and insisted we empty it. We did. After a few miles it became apparent we'd trapped an O-ring and it was pouring oil out. So we followed from a safe distance. We'd planned top stop at Canazei but the site was closed. The sign said 'Gesslossen', so we did. We found a pleasant site in the next village. At about 1500 metres above sea level it was quite cool at night and the scenery was terrific with snow-capped peaks all around.
Scriv's bike was rebuilt the next day with two head gaskets and thicker O-rings to compensate. After that it ran like a tractor but got him home over 1000 miles at speeds up to 70mph. Strange how he always went faster uphill.
We spent a day pass-storming, going down to Belluno (Devido country) where they have a strange 1½ bridge system over the river. Seems a bridge was half built when a new council was elected so, rather than carry on, they built another 50 yards away. The heat was terrific and I had a nasty slide on melted tar in a mountain village.
One of the passes was 2,360 metres high. At the top there was a chair lift to 2,900 metres. I was relieved that the last cabin had just gone up. There were about 40 cobbled hairpin bends to the bottom again, and then two more passes back to camp.
We had great difficulty ordering meals up there. The area used to be part of Austria and they never knew whether to speak Austrian, Italian or German. Sharing the campsite were a crowd of German lads on BMWs and a TX750 Yam.
They got drunk late one night and lost a bloke. he was found in the road, asleep. They made so much noise that we were glad when they left the next day. The site owner became more friendly when he realised we were not of the same type. On the day that we left he brought us a beautiful pot of tea to drink with our breakfast because we only had coffee. When I took the pot back he said "regards to the funny British lads" - poor old Chris!
We set off to go over the Brenner Pass; the roads to it were terrible and we went over the Europa Bridge instead. By the time we'd gone through Austria and to our site in Germany we were delighted to find a swimming pool to jump into, out of the scorching sun. There was also an automatic ice-cream dispenser.
During the night there was the most violent thunderstorm and we thought we'd lose the tents but our weight kept them down.
The weather was cool again for the ride to Luxembourg. After we crossed the frontier we found the banks closed. So we walked back over the bridge to Germany (where it was an hour earlier) to change our money. The Customs gave us some funny looks when we came back again.
Once again we had trouble ordering food. The official language is French which I tried with no luck. Did the waitress speak English? "Nein" she replied so we invented a mixture of German, French, English and even Italian and got what we wanted. This included pork steaks and local Mosel wine, wonderful.
The next day we rode through Luxembourg into Belgium where it started raining. It didn't stop again until Dunkirk, about 250 miles continuous heavy downpour. We were soaked.
At the end of one motorway, near Mons, there were police cars and ambulances waiting at the side of the road, and several gendarmes with sub-machine guns. We just kept going. Dunkirk is a very small place with the German army pill-boxes still on the sand dunes. A tank was being excavated from a dike and the local church yard had a ships deck house looking down at the mass of graves.
We were very glad to use the loos to change into dry clothes, although Scriv did look silly in racing leathers and slip-on shoes. Luckily the boat tickets could be exchanged for a boat in 4 hours time instead of 3 days later. So we sat and played cards and emptied the vending machines of cobs and soup. Scriv jammed his machine of course, but a chap freed it again.
We arrived at Dover at 9pm and set off home. Coming through the Blackwell Tunnel Phil took a wrong turn and it took us a couple of miles to catch him. We had to go back through the tunnel and back again to regain the route the Daves' were following, so we didn't catch them up until Luton services where we were delighted to find hot air dryers in the loos, to put our clothes in.
We arrived home at about 1.30am on Thursday after a really good but exhausting holiday.
P & C Vines