Cooking in Como

This morning in Bormio the sun didn’t rise, no, it parked itself amongst the Alfas, Maserati’s, Ferrari’s and Harley Davidson’s in the hotel car park.

At nine thirty the temperature was already 27 degrees Celsius!

Our ride today was only 140 miles, but as it was all on “normal” main roads I’d figured on about four hours. You need to understand a few things about a “normal” Italian main-road. Maximum speed will be in the region of 80-90kph so sometimes if you are lucky, there’ll be limited or no overtaking opportunities, loads of road works, spot checks by the police and probably an accident or two just to hold things up further!

Yeah, we got just about all the above. It took four and a half hours and by the time we arrived in Como the temperature had hit 35 Celsius; or 95 Fahrenheit if you prefer.

Both Baby and I were hot, dirty and dusty; wearing black leather riding gear certainly didn’t help either. . . and that was just Baby!
Anyway, before you take pity on us, just look at some of the scenery we had to put up with!

It’s fair to say it’s all a bit, well, – “Lakey!”

Domaso, Lago di Como.

Domaso, Lago di Como.


Monte Erbea

Monte Erbea


Lago di Como, looking South.

Lago di Como, looking South.

Monte Legnone

Monte Legnone


Dongo - honestly!

Dongo – honestly!

Once in Como I had a rush of blood to the head, blame it on the heat, I wanted to get petrol so naturally I turned North into Switzerland! Actually it wasn’t so crazy, petrol is a tad cheaper in the land of the magic franc, but oh dear – The canton of Ticino must qualify as the original plastic “Barbie Land!” It’s all so feckin’ false, covered in sprinkles and wrapped in plastic! I grabbed some motion lotion and ran away!

Now the major plus side is that we are now “square wheeled” in Como for four nights and Mrs Dookes has flown out to join me!

Fear not dear blogonaughts! I’ve loads more talks to tell and no doubt will get up to something nefarious whilst I’m here, so long as Mrs D doesn’t catch or stop me!

“Spread out the oil, the gasoline
I walk smooth ride in a mean, mean machine
Start it up”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Round, Like a Circle in a Spiral.

After the long days of mile munching and yesterday’s exertions on the high passes, I needed a bit of a breather today!

Unusually for one of my trips I decided to spend two nights in one place and I’m glad that I did because it took off the pressure to move on, this is supposed to be a holiday after all. . . OK and a multi-post blog reportage!

Over a leisurely Italian breakfast I pondered how to use my day. Looking at the map, I could see a nice circular ride; Bormio – Livigno – Bernina Pass(Switzerland) – Tirano – Bormio. About 90 miles, four passes and enough bends to keep things interesting without making it hard work! Oh yes and all day to do it, so loads or time to stop for photos and other things. Let’s go!

With light traffic and no particular rush to get anywhere, we paused at Passo di Foscagno. It’s not often that a view takes my breath away, but this was one, as the Italians say, “bellissimo!”

Passo di Foscagno, looking east.

Passo di Foscagno, looking east.

I particularly like the duck house in the middle of the lake!

Passing through the customs post and into Livigno I was struck how the air suddenly took on a distinct aroma of honey, rounding the next bend I could see that the pasture was full of bright yellow dandelion flowers and obviously the source of the smell. It was just like taking the lid off afresh jar of honey, heavenly sweet and quite bewitching!image
We skirted the main town of Livigno and started to climb up to the pass of Forcola di Livigno and the Swiss border. Strangely there was no sign of the customs rigmarole that we had seen yesterday at the internal customs post, we were just ignored!

Valle di Livigno from the pass.

Valle di Livigno from the pass.

With time to spare we pulled over for photos a lot!

The first bend in Switzerland.

The first bend in Swtzerland.

Val Laguné

Val Laguné

Once we hit the main road we hung a right and headed up the Passo del Bernina. At 2328metres this is no baby, but with a major road across it, not to bad to ride at all! Well actually it’s better than that, with new tunnels re-routing most of the heavy North-South traffic the pass is now pretty quiet, but with a stonking great well-engineered black-top to enjoy it’s a shame not to take advantage!

Bernina Pass, the old track.

Bernina Pass, the old track.


The wide sweeping hairpins of Bernina were a treat to ride on Baby, her long-wheelbase not being challenged like on tighter bends. I really enjoyed flinging her around and nearly went back to do it again!

We then trundled in a leisurely manner down the Poschiavo Valley towards Italy.

Somewhere down the road I had a bit of an epiphany, I realised that I really liked this part of Switzerland; it’s so Italian and not just the language! Here everything isn’t neatly manicured like a pastiche of the novel “Heidi,” here people work manually and are proud to do so; the cars are not all brand new Mercedes-Benz, more likely beaten up used Fiats. There’s an inherent honesty about the place and the people; they don’t talk to you with their hand out waiting to grab your cash. They are less Swiss, more Poschiavois, the valley is more important to them than the “suits” of Zürich and Geneva, long may it remain so!

Soon we passed back into Italy and ran into the picturesque town of Tirano, famous for being the southern terminus of the metre gauge Bernina Railway and the famous Bernina Express. Yes, you’ve guessed, I had to drop into the station.

We were just in time to see the 14:03 Bernina Express loading with countless German tourists. Time to grab a couple of photos and get moving again, the temperature was 30 degrees Celsius in the shade!

Bernina Express ready to depart Tirano.

Bernina Express ready to depart Tirano.


In the adjacent Italian State Railways station I found this rather tatty old steam locomotive looking very sorry for itself.image

All that remained then was a 25 mile cruise back to Bormio to complete our circle half of which seemed to be tunnels which I would normally hate, but these were well-lit, good surface and best of all. . .cool!

“As the images unwind,
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Changing Down a Gear.

The more I travel, the more I have my faith in the inherent goodness of human nature restored.

Sure there are some crap things going on in the world at the moment and yes there are some truly twisted and evil people about, but they are the minority. That is why their perverse ways will never win against the greater majority.

Why am I being so philosophical? Well it’s probably got a lot to do with being in Italy!

What other country would come up with the idea of Cafe Corretto? It’s simple genius, espresso coffee is full of caffeine and wires you up, alcohol chills you out and makes you mellow; so the Italians figure if you put coffee and grappa, a fire-water made from distilled grape skins, together in the same cup, you won’t get wired or drunk! What a brilliant idea! I’ll have two, thank you!

I bowled into Livigno yesterday evening, with eyes like radar scanners having battled the crazy Swiss on autobahn and mountain roads and suddenly everything changed. Life became, just. . . chilled. At the customs post the duty officer just gave me a friendly wave and a thumbs-up whilst pointing at Baby Blue!image

Livigno is a funny place, it has “Duty Free” status and although not exactly a tax haven, it’s a near to one that you can get! The economy is based on tourism, skiing and shopping. . . Mrs Dookes is gonna want to come here I think!

Next I had to find my hotel, but the one way traffic system was baffling me so I stopped to ask help from a policeman or Carabiniere as they are called here. First thing he said to me was, “Bella moto/Nice bike!” Now that’s always a good start. When I told him which hotel I wanted he just waved me up a street that had “All traffic Prohibited” signs! Next, I pulled up in a small square just to get my bearings and a chap, who turned out to be the barman in a street side restaurant, appeared out of nowhere offering assistance; he’s now officially my new best Italian mate! We talked bikes, roads, mountains and watches…yeah that’s another story!

There’s not many places on the planet where I feel at home really quickly, but Livigno has hit the spot for me and I really can’t explain it, because normally it’s not the sort of town I’d choose at all…it’s those Italian laid back vibes I think! What’s more, just about everyone has a smile on their face! It’s probably those duty-free prices; petrol at €0.92/litre, it’s €1.40 in France for example.

I think the mountain air must have something to do with it as well!

Dinner of local air-dried beef with olive oil to start followed by venison ravioli in white truffle sauce rounded off the day beautifully, bellissimo!

Now, jotting this down over the most incredible breakfast; fruit, cereals, bread, dried meats, salami, cheese, pastries, cake, biscotti and of course more strong coffee, plus a view out over the mountains, life is still good and people are, well, just people who mostly want the same things from life….and despite what we in the western world hear from the media, it’s normally the simple things that make us most happy. In Italy that seems to revolve around a cup of incredibly strong espresso!

Talking of which, I was offered and accepted an “Espresso colazione,” that’s breakfast espresso. When it arrived, I estimate it was the size of at least four normal espressos and as strong as a nuclear reactor; I’m floating above the floor now!

With that, it’s time to get into my riding gear and go find some more of the most fantastic creatures on this planet; some more interesting people!

Ciao!

Dookes

Feelin’ like a Road-Trip

OK it’s getting near time to hit the road again, I’m getting jittery to start rolling and Baby Blue is nearly ready as well.

First up, I got her booked in for a slightly early 10,000 mile service. Now normally I like to service my bikes myself, but as Baby is still under warranty it’s only sensible to let the dealership do the work and stamp the service record. At the same time I had a new set of Dunlop tyres fitted; the old ones were in surprisingly good condition, but don’t like to push rubber right to the limit, so new ones it was. image

It’s a funny thing with new tyres on a motorbike, they always feel lovely and “round.”

Yes I know tyres are circular; wheels aren’t normally square unless you have a special set that won’t roll away downhill!

By round I mean that they are round in cross-section, a worn tyre “squares off” because most of the time you ride your bike upright and so naturally it wears the centre section of the tyre more than the outside. In time this means that you can actually feel a shoulder forming in the rubber, leaning the bike into corners becomes hard work and at worse a bit “interesting!” A new set are just roundly lovely and roll into bends beautifully.

The only downside with new tyres is that they need to be gently broken in, there is always have a slight residue of release agent on the surface which for about a hundred miles can make them a bit slippery and it’s also a good thing to get them bedded in on the wheel rim too; so it’s gently-gently to start with and 100 miles after leaving the dealership, I had a big stupid grin across my face!

The next job was to change the exhaust pipes for touring mode. Normally I ride Baby with a set of Vance and Hines Round Slash slip-on pipes, they sound lovely, but for long distance travel play hell with my tinnitus, even with ear plugs and a super quiet Schuberth helmet! So off came the V&H’s and on went the standard silencers, not as cool, but not as tiring either! It only takes about thirty minutes to make the swap, but I recon for long days in the saddle it’s well worth the hassle!

Standard muffler fitted, Vance and Hines on the ground.

Standard muffler fitted, Vance and Hines on the ground.

Ok, you got me now…..where am I going?

I’m going to sound a bit boring, but I fancy heading back to Italy again – can you actually be boring wanting to return to Italy???? Baby and I have some unfinished business in the mountains up near the Swiss border and I honestly have fallen quite in love with the country. So we’ll jump on a ferry next Friday, have a trundle across France; visit Switzerland, then drop into Italy and see what happens from then on!

If you fancy joining in for the trip, we’ll be happy to have you ride along with us!

“Get your motor running, out along the highway….”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

PS
As I type this post I find myself trying to make sense of another tragedy, this time in Orlando USA. The inhumanity we, as a human race, continue to demonstrate to our fellow beings never ceases to amaze me; what is so bloody difficult about respect and tolerance?
image
“Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?”

Return to Italy

This retirement game is pretty OK, particularly with such a fantastic summer of sport going on all around.

First there was the splendour and power of Le Tour de France, then the cricket test matches between England and Australia have enthralled and are now being followed by the first warm up games for the rapidly approaching Rugby Union World Cup. If only the weather in the UK was quite as predictable!

Time to slip back to Italy for a top up of coffee, fine wine and sunshine!

It’s true to say that I have fallen hopelessly in love with everything I have seen so far in Italy. The country is a place where passion is worn on one’s sleeve and wow, do the Italians get passionate about things! On top of which, everyone I have met have been friendly, happy and super welcoming. Note to self; learn to speak the language better this winter!

Drifting back to the hills of Piedmont, in the North West of Italy, on a Harley Davidson is no hardship at all! The name Piedmont apparently comes from latin, meaning “at the foot of the mountains,” though if you speak French it is also easy to see the link and as the area is bounded on three sides by the Alps it’s also pretty obvious too!

Piedmont is an important industrial region, it is home to FIAT the automobile manufacturer, but for me more importantly is one of the greatest wine-producing regions in Italy. Here they do not make “old rot gut” stuff, oh no, this is the home of top end prestigious wines such as Barbaresco, Moscato d’Asti and most revered of all, Barolo. P1040478

Situated about 30 miles southeast of Turin, yet light years away in time, lies the small town of Barolo, population 750, which gives it’s name to this most majestic of wines. On my last trip I slightly slipped up, I didn’t buy enough, so hence my return!DSCF3864

We rolled into the compact town square just after midday. The town was quiet, actually it was more than that, it was dead. The hot air was still and the scorching sun reflected back off the terracotta roof tiles making the sky above shimmer. It’s an unassuming little place, really only attractive from a distance when the red tiles stand out against the verdant vineyards that run right up to the edge of town. From a small bar came muffled voices and the alluring scent of strong Italian coffee.
P1040477
Baby Harley’s engine ticked as she cooled gently in the heat of the narrow streets. A large truck with French registration plates rumbled past, stirring dusty clouds up off the parched road.

I walked through the open door into the shady interior of the bar and ordered a double espresso and lunch. The sunlight penetrated in shards of light that captured a million dust particles hanging like shimmering diamonds in the still air. I settled in a corner chair, rubbed my eyes and realised how much the ride had taken out of me. The lady working behind the bar smiled and delivered my coffee accompanied with a carafe of water and a glass; the Italians know much about coffee and the obligatory water was certainly welcome.

My ears were singing a high-pitched wail as a dumped my riding jacket on the tiled floor. Riding motorbikes plays hell with my tinnitus, even with ear protection and a quiet helmet; it’s the legacy of years working with noisy railway locomotives!

I sipped the strong, excellent coffee and pondered the sanity of riding to Barolo just for some wine. Yep, definitely a good idea!

La Signora reappeared and placed a plate of heaven on the table in front of me. Filetto Baciato, made from pork fillet marinated in white wine then coated with a paste made from salami and packed into a sausage casing to age for six months, wood roasted artichoke hearts and fresh asparagus spears, a small jug of olive oil, some crisp bitter salad leaves and of course Grissini, the Turin breadstick now common all over Italy. Piedmont is rightly famous for it’s simple cuisine, at its gamey best in the autumn, but hey this is summer so go with what’s available, I’m not complaining! I contemplated a cold beer, but no, I’m riding, so stick to water.

The other patrons of the bar are seemingly locals, it’s not the sort of establishment that really attracts tourists and that suits me fine. There are probably about a dozen other people as well as me, cutlery chinks against plain solid crockery as we all eat, enjoy our lunches and for those with companions, talk. My Italian language skill is not great, but I catch snatches of conversation and smile at the animated way that views are exchanged, deals made and the food discussed, yes this food deserves to be discussed it’s simple and very good.

You know, just about everywhere I go it’s always about the food and sadly mine is now finished.

I catch La Signora’s eye and order another coffee. Well, why not, I don’t intend to sleep for hours yet! She returns with a fresh cup and offers a bottle of grappa. It’s another Italian tradition that I love, whereby the spirit is supposed to take the edge off the caffeine or the caffeine off the alcohol, I get the logic, but either way I politely decline!

Coffee gone, I settle up and step outside back into the furnace of this scorching summer. It’s nearly two in the afternoon and the glass is reading 34 degrees Celsius. Time to hunt down this small town’s most famous product and ride on!P1040712
Guess that’s mission accomplished!

“I love wine, women an’ song.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes