Monday, May 31, 2010

Of fish and cherries...

We hadn't made any real plans for a trip today, so decided to set off in the afternoon into the Apennines and have a look around Sestola and take it from there. We like to go through Spilamberto and Vignola, and at this time of year it's the height of the cherry season. This is the cherry capital of Italy, no less. Every few hundred metres there were makeshift stalls selling cherries and to a lesser extent, strawberries and plums. It looks like it's a bumper crop this year. The orchards of cherry trees certainly look very pretty with the contrast of red against green.

We carried on up towards Sestola. Sestola is quite a small town and there aren't any visitor attractions as such, but it is quite pretty and the narrow lanes of the upper town are worth a look. I spent a few minutes watching a pair of tiny coal tits in a hedge taking advantage of the aphid explosion there had been around this area today. This old part of town is protected by a high cliff on which stands an ancient fortress, reconstructed towards the middle of the 16th century, but with much older origins. The castle houses the museum of musical instruments with more than 120 mechanical musical instruments, and also a mountain museum documenting the history and development of the whole region. We didn't go up, but it might be worth a visit next time!

The town was a bit deserted when we got there during what would still be lunch time. It looked like we might have missed some sort of event in the morning, involving what looked like sprigs of broom flowers. Some houses had bunches of them outside and there were a few squashed flowers in the road. I haven't been able to find out what all that was about. Still, we had a look around the town and then headed up towards the Lago della Ninfa, a small, natural, tectonic lake at 1500m above sea level. In the winter this area is popular with skiers. In the summer it offers a fresh retreat from the muggy lowlands of the Po Basin. On this particular day, we had arrived at the end of a fishing competition. I never would have thought there'd be so many fish in such a small lake (well there were, I think there are rather fewer now...). There were piles of plastic bags full of fish, going to anyone who was interested. We didn't think fish in the top case was a good idea, so passed. We left them to it before the presentation of the trophies. Quite bizarre.

Since it was fresh but not cold, we decided to head a little further up the road to the winter ski resort of Passo del Lupo. There were only a couple of other people up here and it reminded me of the old Scooby Doo cartoons where they always seemed to find themselves in deserted fairgrounds (those meddling kids!). All the ski lifts and cable cars looked really strange surrounded by all that greenery. Above us loomed Monte Cimone which at 2165m, is the highest peak in Emilia-Romagna. Its interior houses a military structure (erm, Thunderbirds moment here...) and for this reason, during the Cold War, access to the peak was forbidden. You can walk up from Lago della Ninfa now, apparently.
Time to head home. It got very much warmer as we descended, making me glad again we'd opted out of taking some fish home. We stopped off in Modena to get some bread on the way home. Hmmmm, what if we had got some fish...

I've noticed on the last couple of trips that my rear end has been a bit achy and numb after a couple of hours on the bike. After some research on the Internet, I've decided to get myself a sheepskin seat cover. I'll review it once it arrives and let you know my thoughts!

Km 171

Monday, May 24, 2010

Great Lake Circuit

We missed out  on our trip last week as we were being visited by a dear friend from university days, so were chomping at the bit to get back in the saddle this weekend.

As the weather forecast was for sun and high temperatures, we decided to head off up north to Lake Garda. We've been there a few times before but decided to go up to Riva del Garda, right up at the top end. We set off after breakfast and as usual avoided the motorways. On the way up we passed a vintage car rally that we somehow ended up being in the middle of. I was amazed to see a De Lorean amongst the usual Ferraris, Alfas and Fiat 500s.
The ride up was fabulous, through the villages, past the house with the red washing, over the mighty Po and heading towards the south end of the lake. The southern end is the most heavily developed and the traffic was really heavy, particularly around the theme parks. Still, we were fortunately on the bike and able to wend our way through and continue with our journey up the eastern side of the lake. The views were amazing and the crowds thinned out as we headed further north. Eventually we arrived just in time to find a sunny spot to settle down to eat our panini we had prepared at home. After our chow down we had a look around the town. The scenery is really dramatic at the far end of the lake with snow still visible on the highest peaks and soaring mountains on both sides.

We'd earlier spotted a restaurant that served ice-cream sundaes, and as the afternoon wore on we really fancied one. We settled in and I enjoyed an iced coffee with whipped cream and ice-cream and Claudio had an amarena cherry sundae. It brought back memories of knickerbocker glories as a kid. Yum!

All the way up and in Riva del Garda we spotted loads of bikers. We decided to complete our circuit of the lake by heading home via the western side. We'd been told that this was a decent trip. As it happened it was nothing of the sort. For much of the top end, the road was enclosed in airless claustrophobic tunnels that amplified the roar of the street bikes that roared by, to an unbearable cacophony. Really unpleasant. By the time the road had opened out, we were back down near the south end and the traffic was heading home. It was really busy and we feared we wouldn't get home until midnight. Once again however, the convenience of being on a motorbike became plain as we managed to wriggle through and out the other side and onto the road home.
We had a bit of a convoluted trip home, thanks to the road signs sending us backwards and forwards. We by-passed Montichiari that has an amazing white basilica with a green roof and a castle, visible from the road. We made quite good time, in spite of the traffic and made it home in about three hours.
I think we rated this as one of our favourite trips so far this season. It was fab.

Km: 373

Monday, May 10, 2010

We'll pass on the Pass and go down to the hollow...

After checking the weather forecast the night before, it looked like a safe bet for a trip down into Tuscany to the Grotta del Vento, a series of caves near Lucca. We decided to get up early and head out, up and over the Apennines and Alpi Apuane, hopefully to arrive some time before 11 o'clock.
The morning weather looked mixed, not helped with spots of rain falling from a seemingly cloudless sky overhead. Very strange. Still, after Bruno had checked the bike over, we set off. Armed with a Google Maps printout, the route looked fairly straightforward, but as seems to be normal with Google Maps, the minute you take to the road, it all gets a bit confusing. We knew we had to head up and over Passo delle Radici, but Google Maps seemed to have us twisting and turning all over the place. We decided to stop at a petrol station at a particularly confusing junction to check on whether we were going the right way. The guy in there's eyes nearly popped out of his head when Claudio explained where we wanted to go, and with some concern on his face asked if we had snow chains. That didn't bode too well in my opinion. Never mind, onwards and upwards, literally. The higher we climbed, the more the weather seemed to be closing in, and was really quite scary when an icy wind with spots of rain also whipped up. With the real threat of snow at this altitude, the decision was made to abandon this trip for another day a bit closer to the summer, and head down again.
We headed towards Pavullo, via Lama Mocogno where we had a warming cappuccino, then off again. On the way down we saw a lovely black cat that had just been knocked down and killed. I felt sick and so upset. From that point, what with the overcast sky yet again, in this so-called crap Spring we're having and an unusual feeling of unease on the bike, I'd had enough. The curves and hairpins that we go round that are normally so much fun, were just an uncomfortable inconvenience, as were the cars constantly driving right up our rear end. I just wanted to go home and curl up in the warm with the cats.
Luckily, Claudio had a cunning plan that I was unaware of, and we were in fact heading to a fabulous "agriturismo" he'd had a tip-off about that was near Pavullo. We arrived down a narrow, winding lane that eventually led to a small collection of stone buildings making up "Agriturismo Due Papaveri". We hadn't booked but fortunately the lovely owners, William and Charlotte were able to accommodate us. William is Italian and did most of the renovations on the buildings himself. His wife, Charlotte is from Denmark and is an absolutely fabulous cook. After a look around at the rooms where you can stay, and the beautiful swimming pool, we went inside to one of the small, intimate dining rooms to find a table prepared for just the two of us and a wood-burning stove blazing cosily away in the corner. We settled ourselves in for a delicious home-cooked three course meal, prepared with local ingredients. Just wonderful!

After lunch we went to sit outside in the sun which had now made an appearance and was pleasantly warm. Relaxing outside, we could hear a cuckoo in the nearby woods and watched great tits flying backwards and forwards to one of the many nesting boxes William and Charlotte have put up on the trees. The location is truly beautiful, set in a sunny hollow, surrounded by woodland and meadows, and the place itself decorated in a clean Scandinavian style, with other ethnic touches here and there, such as two magnificent African masks in the dining room.
After chatting with William and Charlotte, promising to return to sample the rhubarb they have growing, we headed home. Thanks to Claudio for saving the day!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Saturday ride around

We actually managed to get up early enough to reach our destination at a reasonable time on Saturday, only to find we'd arrived too early. Never mind. We were attending an event in San Prospero sulla Secchia to commemorate the 4th anniversary of the death of Fabrizio Provasi, a young biker from Medolla who lost his life in a biking accident.
There were various stalls and exhibitions of weird and wonderful cars and a few bikes. The main event was an exhibition of the daredevil antics of a trio of motorcycle stunt riders.
The best bit for me however, was a group ride out around the neighbouring villages. We had a police escort and they held up the traffic for us. I could just imagine this in the UK... Not... The other motorists and villagers smiled and some waved. Enough said...

A trip to an amazing local museum had also been arranged. On show over three floors was a vast array of historical farming and industrial equipment. It is owned and curated by two bothers who will open up and show visitors around through prior arrangement.

This brought us roughly up to lunch time and trying to decide where to go and eat. It was a Bank Holiday for Labour Day and unlike in the UK, pretty much everywhere was closed, including the first choice of restaurant on our list. We decided to head over to Fiorano where Claudio knew there was a really nice restaurant. A yummy seafood lunch was eaten and enjoyed.
After lunch, with it being such a lovely day, attention turned to where we'd go next. I remembered that one of my favourite natural attractions was nearby in the shape of Salse di Nirano. In rolling hills and beautiful countryside is a natural park with mini mud volcanoes. There is loads of underground methane in this part of Italy and in places it bubbles to the surface.
After a brief visit, we set off again in the direction of Pavullo to check out a sign pointing to a "Parco Faunistico". We eventually found where it lead to, but Longleat it wasn't... A place to return to by car with a picnic perhaps. It was more of a do-it-yourself nature trail. Running low on petrol, it was time to head home.
It was nice just riding around in the sun for a change and looking for places to return to at a later date.