Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Planning the route

From hostel to hostel
It turned out to be fairly easy to plan my route down the peninsula - just follow the hostels. There are enough of them across Italy to provide overnight stops just about everywhere (see map below). I planned where I wanted to be on each day of the month and then contacted each hostel online and made the necessary booking. Simple. A few hostels don't support online booking so I contacted them by email. I got an immediate response from the French hostels although not from the Italian ones. I fancy I'm going to have to telephone directly to book these.

Youth hostels in Italy

Sea crossings
Four sea crossings will be needed for my tour:
  • Dover - Calais (both ways)
  • Palermo - Cagliari (Sardinia)
  • Porto Torres (Sardinia) - Genoa
Dover - Calais - Dover
The channel tunnel proved to be the fastest and cheapest option (£60 return). I was surprised by this having always found this route expensive - but travelling by bike turns out to be significantly cheaper than doing so by car. Great.

Palermo - Cagliari
Limited number of services on this route in June so I'd to time my arrival to match a departure. It's an overnight trip and together with a reserved sofa-seat the cost was €117. I expect I'll be a bit stiff when I arrive at Cagliari in the morning but it's only about a 40 minute ride to Marilena's village, so that should cause little discomfort.

Porto Torres - Genoa
Since I planned to travel up the centre of France on my return journey I opted to take the Genoa ferry from Sardinia. For me, the bike and a seat on the deck, this overnight trip cost €98. Again, I'd likely to be stiff on arrival in Genoa but my next stop was Nice (only 125 miles away) and I would be following - what I hoped would be a pleasant coast road through Liguria - so I'd no worries about this.

Since I want to wind my way lazily through Italy, I felt I needed maps which show topographical features, so I opted for the 1:200,000 Michelin Regional maps. These are splendid maps showing lots of detail which would permit me to wander through villages and small towns without getting lost - even national park trails too.

I'm not bothering to purchase maps for France since I'm just 'travelling through', so shall print off the sections I need from Google Maps and carry them with me.

GPS navigation aids are available for bikes now of course and they are an attractive option when one is touring. However, I couldn't see much use for a GPS when I got back home since the furthest I'm likely to ride is down to Brighton to the seaside or off to Bristol to tend the family grave. Since I know the way to both places I fancy a GPS device would be superfluous.

However, I'll need to get myself a waterproof map holder for the bike to house my maps. Some of the prices asked for these appear to me to be somewhat excessive, so I've put a bid in for a Heine Gericke one on Ebay. Hopefully I'll be successful.

Motorcycle touring - ways and means

Just spent some pleasant hours on the web reading advice about touring by motorbike. There's certainly lots of it. However, what emerges immediately is that different authors understand 'touring' to be different things. For certain writers, touring is about covering high mileages over short periods; for others it's about going off with your mates for a meet or holiday of some kind; for yet others it's an adventure. Only a very few envisage a solo tour of the kind I have in mind. My idea of touring was more 'meandering, than anything else. I love to wander down lanes and minor roads admiring the countryside and stopping off at cafes and pubs in small villages.

My backpacking experience (limited as it is) has persuaded me of the importance of carrying as little stuff a possible. A light backpack enables one to move swiftly and allows for comfortable stops and strolls around interesting places along the way. I wanted to adopt a similar minimalist approach to my tour of Italy, yet I could find few examples of this touring style on the web. Many of the tour set-ups I saw were bikes heavily laden with camping, cooking and clothing to face all weathers.
A not-untypical tour set-up.

It seemed to me that much of the loads bikers were carrying on tour related to camping and cooking needs. I could therefore dispense with this if I stayed at hotels (expensive if I intended to be away for a month). An alternative choice might be youth hostels - in the UK these provided low cost dormitory accommodation along with washing and cooking facilities. And, as a bonus for a lone traveller, company to chat with in the evenings.

I searched for Italian youth hostels on the web and indeed it turned out that they existed. The Hostelling International web site provides details and booking facilities. Now I could lose the camping and cooking gear - cool! However, it would mean plotting my route taking into account the location of hostels. This didn't seem to be too much of a problem since there seemed to be plenty of them; but it would call for advance planning.

I reckoned I could put together a small pack of luggage that would see me through my month's tour and yet leave me free to wander around the towns and villages as the urge took me.

Decision made - but what bike to buy?

So I could ride a bike - albeit in a rather wobbly fashion. It was time to select an appropriate make and model. One or two of my contemporaries had gone for a cruiser type of bike, i.e. the Harley. I was quite taken with this idea at first and spend a considerable amount of time happily reading the reviews online. A cruiser that really took my fancy was the Yamaha Virago 535. It looked great and was reviewed well and I fancied myself riding into work on one of these.

Yamaha XV535 (Virago)

But the Virago has some drawbacks; it has a limited touring range (100 miles) before refuelling is required and all that chrome needs regular polishing to keep it shining. These ruled it out as a realistic tourer. So back to the research again (more fun - I was loving this).

Finally, I lighted on the Honda CB500. Not a shiny bike like the Virago, but a solid, dependable and economic one with a fuelling range of over 200 miles. By good luck a yellow paint version was advertised on the CB500 owners forum and I was able to secure first option to view it. Its location was up in North Yorks near Harrogate - up by the Dales.

Countryside up beyond Keighley

I took the coach up to Keighley (cost a mere £15 from London) and spent the night with old friends Jimmy & Margaret Coffey and their family. Next day they drove me to Dacre where I met with Ben & Diane South, the bike owners. The bike was gorgeous and I snapped it up immediately. Now all I had to do was ride it 250 miles home! What a journey that proved to be - with a wobble here and a wobble there, the odd stall in the motorway services and the constant roar of rushing air in my ears on the motorway I finally arrived home 8 hours later. What a marathon. But the bike (and myself) were now safely installed at home.

My very own Honda CB500.