Ch ch ch ch changes, turn and face the strange……. Wise words Mr Bowie! I really, really hope that you all have that stuck on repeat now! You are welcome 😊
This past week has been exactly that, a week of changes. Every time I think I have a plan coming together, it changes. Mostly, because of poor weather. We all know there is nothing you can do about crap weather, no matter how much it ticks us off.
Last week I posted the blog from the most stunning campsite in the Dourbie Valley in France. Surrounded by towering limestone cliffs with views to historic villages and the valley, it was supposed to be a highlight stop. Then it rained and rained and rained some more. Apparently very uncharacteristic for this time of the year but there was not much I could do about it. It was a good excuse to get washing done and catch up on some sleep.
The weather had no intentions of improving so my plan to ride the Grand Alps Route was changed for a cruise along the Cote D’Azur in the south of France. Not before a quick overnight stop at a lovely little French town, Aix-en-Provence.
I decided last week with Sara that I couldn’t say definitively what I thought made a good city or town, it was more about the general vibe as you wandered the streets. The vibe in Provence was wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed riding Yogi through the middle of small cobblestone streets right into the centre, where he stood guard over the city for the night.
After yet another huge thunderstorm overnight and the rain continuing to teem down all morning, any mountain ride plans were abandoned and to the coast we went. Stopping off for fuel and seeing what appeared to be a cheap supermarket café I headed in for a quick bite. What a fortuitous decision that was. See below….. No words needed!
Lingering a little longer than I had planned over lunch, but do you blame me?! I went back to suit up for the second half of the days ride when an almighty storm rolled in. At least I was able to get rain gear on before setting off into nothing short of torrential rain. I was very thankful to the truck driver who had rescued my rain jacket the week before. Within minutes, the roads had flooded, and Yogi and I practised river crossings together. Hopefully we will see some real ones in Mongolia?! Drying out and cruising along the French Riveria was spectacular. Endless coastal views, it reminded me in parts, of Sydney’s eastern beaches with grand mansions and cliff face drop offs.
By-passing the tourist heaving meccas of Nice and Monaco we parked up for our last night in France in the smaller yet much more beautiful port of Menton. Again, what a lovely vibe. With a balcony overlooking the old town and port it was a perfect end to my time there and practice a little bit with the camera before changing countries once more.
For reasons not even known to myself, I have felt strangely guilty for being a somewhat ‘bad’ tourist so far on the trip. Not always seeing everything I am ‘meant’ to, not going to attractions or tourist tick box places. It has taken me the past 6 weeks to get it through my own head that, although I am grateful for the things I see along the way, it is the journey that I have set myself to accomplish not the tourist trail that matters. I hope I can remember that and give myself a break! With that realisation finally coming to me I made the decision the next morning to head straight for Lake Como and park up for the weekend and really take in the area. I don`t need to see every lake, mountain pass or old town, I just need to enjoy what I do choose to see and do. (seems simple right?!)……..
Crossing into Italy we felt a change immediately. Yogi and I were on high alert for the ever-present danger of being cut off by an impatient Italian driver. That aside however, of all the places we have been so far, Italy is without doubt the friendliest. At every petrol stop, restaurant, camping or even just walking in the street, people are happy to talk and learn of our journey.
Over-looking the Mediterranean sea at a service station for lunch, two friendly Italian salesmen, Marco and Massimo, struck up a conversation with me. They were very interested in my trip and we had a lovely chat with the offer of any help should I need it whilst I am here. Thanks Marco and Max!
As I rode for the afternoon along the highway, the interaction made me reflect upon myself. I have often commented that I struggle with the gregarious nature of Italian people, however I think it is my own shyness which is more likely the cause of my discomfort. Those of you who know me, may find it hard to believe that I am in fact, quite shy. It can be very hard to constantly be in a position of having to talk to strangers. Thankfully the experience of feeling isolated in Spain has made me much more appreciative of the openness with which Italians receive new people, and something I hope to be more mindful of moving forward, both on the trip and back home.
Reaching the lake was a relief after heavy traffic through the outskirts of Milan, and what a reward when we rolled into the very quaint and picturesque campsite. Perched on the shores of Lake Como (no Clooney sightings yet!), I feel incredibly lucky to have missed some of my ‘plans’ from last week. It has allowed me the time to stop and really soak in the amazing atmosphere and natural beauty of this place. The water is clear and cool, the mountains hug the shore and at night you can hear the waves gently lapping at the stone covered beach. It can be a tough thing to do, embrace change, but if we don’t we stand to miss out on so much potential good we are not prepared to be open to. I thought I was pretty good at it, I have certainly been through my fair share of embracing change, but clearly, I need to keep working on it. Feel free to remind me along the way 😉
Within a few hundred meters walk of the camp I was able to take to the lake aboard the slow and gentle ferry to the famous Bellagio. Known around the world as the Italian playground for the rich and famous, I can see the appeal of the lake itself and surrounding authentic villages. Bellagio on the other hand reminded me of Venice, crawling with tourists and tacky souvenir shops. The village I have stayed in is so small that it does not even have a store to purchase groceries, and being too lazy to ride the 60km round trip to Lecco, I have succumbed to eating pizza and gelato for every meal, is that such a bad thing? 😊
Although very noisy here, the fellow campers have been incredibly friendly, many of whom are also bikers riding on their summer breaks through Europe. It has been great to speak with like minded people and share stories of adventure and get valuable local advice. One rider, Stefan, from Switzerland, has completed my next big dream trip, Alaska to Patagonia. Although he did it some years ago without the conveniences of abundant free wifi and sat nav. I don’t think I would fair so well without those luxuries! On his advice, I will travel across the south east of Switzerland tomorrow to reach the famous Stelvio Pass in Italy, in time for a hopefully a quiet ride down on Monday when all of the weekend joy riders have gone.
Chatting and meeting new people has been one of the highlights of the past few days here by the lake. The conversation usually starts the same way, where are you from? Where are you going? And when my answer is a casual, oh just riding my motorbike to Mongolia, the look on peoples faces as that registers is quite funny. THE common response which I have begun to find amusing (not only from Italians) is, “really, all that way, on your own?”
Yes, on my own! In the sense that there is no one riding next to me. I sometimes get lonely wishing there was someone to share the spectacular view with, or to help pack down the camp, however I am not ‘on my own’. I feel so grateful for everyone who has been sharing this journey with me. The friends that check in daily and chat as though I am just on my way home from work, the much-needed travel advice and tips I receive, the new friends I am making along the way whether that be in person or online. So, perhaps next time someone asks me that I shall say, oh no not on my own, there are hundreds of us on this trip!!
Next week will feature totally new territory as I move into Slovenia, hope you all find time to get out and explore somewhere, even if it is just the next suburb, you never know what you might find.