The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Starter Problems

Hello to everyone back in the Corn Belt back home in Illinois:

I wanted to see the big museum in Naples where they have all the artifacts they took out of Pompeii as they were uncovering the ruins there. The museum comes highly recommended and it was something I really wanted to see. I had been warned by everyone to stay out of Naples because the drivers and the traffic there  are both horrible, but will I ever listen to advice? No.

There are thousands of riders in Naples, every one of them on a little motor scooter, and every one of them absolutely crazy (at least to a shy country boy like me from Illinois). They cut in and out of traffic, run the few red lights that exist there, make 8 lanes out of a two lane street, and zip past your shoulder with no warning that they are there at all. And, the car drivers are exactly the same way. It was quite an experience. That, plus a GPS that always wants to take me down the strangest, most insane streets, caused me to never find that museum. And, even if I could have found it, I could never have found a place to park where I would have felt safe leaving my bike and gear unattended.

Here is a video of the traffic in Naples. It will show you what I mean Crazy Naples Video

So, After a fruitless three hours of city riding, I decided to come back to Pompeii and do something safe: Climb Mt. Vesuvius

I thought I could get almost to the top of the mountain. Not so (Although I think you once could).

It is a beautiful National Park up there.

I got as far as I was allowed to go, and then I had to take a special four wheel drive safari bus on up. That was okay though.

The bus went way up on a narrow, bumpy road. It was quite a ride, but when we got to the top the view was incredible.

Away down there is the modern city of Pompeii. The ruins of Pompeii are there too, but hard to spot. The people in 79 AD only had seconds before the hot ashes and gases from Vesuvius killed them all.

Here is a picture of the crater. Not much to see, huh?

Is this better if a human is in the picture? Nah, probably not.

There are sensors like this one all over the mountain. They say it is the most watched volcano on Earth.

Here is Naples and Naples Bay. It is all city around the volcano. I was told that they think they can predict three days in advance before the mountain erupts again, but that there is no way they could get the two million people that live around it out of harms way.

So, that was my final day at Pompeii. Early the next morning, a storm blew in at about 4:30. The thunder and rain jarred me awake in my little tent. I hate having to pack up a wet tent. Had to do it though, because I had plans made to ride the Almafi coast. It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful rides in Italy (Too many cars for my taste though)

The road twists around like a wiggle worm, and it hangs off the rocks like a shelf on a wall. It took a lot of engineering and labor to build it, I bet.

I stopped at an overlook to buy a lemonade. I watched him squeeze four lemons into a tiny cup, but he had no sugar. It was really sour, but I was dry so it was good. There was an elderly man who pulled in on his Harley. He had Parkinson's disease, and shook like a leaf, but he really likes to ride. He is from Milan, and he wants me to call him when I get up that way so that we can ride the Swiss Alps together some.

I really enjoyed that incredible road.

Why do you suppose someone went to all the trouble and expense to build this stairway to nowhere down there? There is a swimming pool there, I think, but it hasn't had water in it for ages.

But, that road ended, and I headed up into the mountains that run down through the center of Italy. It is a National Park in there, and it is beautiful. But, it started to sprinkle, then to rain, and finally to pour. I thought I wanted to find a hotel (no setting up a wet tent tonight for me). I stopped to ask directions, and then my motorcycle would not start. I worked and worked on it, and soon had about 10 men and boys trying to help me. Everyone I had met earlier warned me that the people of Southern Italy were rude and would steal anything they could get their hands on. I have found that not to be true at all. I had all my stuff off the bike, and those guys were all friendly, helpful, and absolutely honest. We tried a lot of things (jumper cables, tracing wires, checking fuses) and finally got it started by running it down an incredibly steep driveway and popping the clutch.

I wish I had thought to take a picture of all those guys.

I didn't dare turn the machine off again, and I headed back to the coast. It was a Saturday and there was no hope for a mechanic until Monday. I wanted to be close to a large city by then.

I tapped in "campground" on my GPS, and it took me to this marvelous little place on the Mediterranean Sea.

On a whim, I asked if maybe they had a cabana or a cabin I would have. The wonderfully friendly lady who runs the campground and her husband gave me a cabana with a shower and TV and electricity for 20 Euros a night. I couldn't believe it. What a deal. And, it comes with breakfast.

They also had a fast internet. I am using it now to post this blog. I got on it right away and contacted Stromtroopers (the VStrom club back home) to ask them what they thought the problem might be with my bike. (Their answer: a switch on the clutch lever).

I've been working on the bike a big part of the day, and I think it is all fixed. Thanks again, Stromtroopers.  And every once in a while I walk down to the crowded beach and work on my dose of sunshine Vitamin D.

This is a funky little resort community I stumbled onto. Here at the campground they have tons on 6th, 7th and 8th graders dancing to a DJ. They are fun to watch. They remind me a lot of my students back home.

The weather has been a perfect 70 degrees all day. I hope it is like this tomorrow when I head back up into the mountains and aim Odysseus, my VStrom, for Sicily.  It is a long way yet. Italy is a very long country.

More later,

Thursday, June 27, 2013

From Pompeii

Hi again:
 The overnight ferry from Sardinia to Rome was just the same as I have told you about before -- kind of long, a little expensive, and not the most exciting thing to do.

I got to the port just south of Rome early in the morning. I was rested and ready to ride. As always, my GPS takes me on the most confusing routes down little side streets and up tiny lanes; navigation is probably my biggest challenge.

I finally made it to Anzio just south of Rome. The trip was interesting because all along the route women were sitting in chairs waiting for men to pull up and talk with them. It was kind of early in the morning for this kind of activity, I thought, but they did seem to have some customers pulled over to ask prices. I found all this to be a great mystery -- I mean, do they pick up their chair and get into the man's car, or head off into the bushes, or what. Maybe I am jumping to conclusions; maybe these scantily clad women had fruit stands there just off the road -- you think?? Nah!!

I was surprised at the amount of trash piled up everywhere. Apparently Italy does not have the strict anti-littering laws the rest of Europe does. I remember the women along the road from my previous trips, but I don't remember all this trash. Perhaps there is a strike going on. I say that because Italians are very hard workers in all other regards, with construction jarring me awake starting at about 5:30 a.m.

I wanted to see Anzio because one of the biggest Allied Invasions of Europe took place there just about two days before I was born.  I couldn't find much about the invasion, but I did have a nice campsite right on the Mediterranean Sea. It was terribly windy, and just as my camera took this picture its tripod blew over into the sand. I had a terrible time getting it to work again. It was quite the unhappy little thing.

There was a great museum up in the hills above Anzio. It took a lot of effort to find it, but it was well worth the effort. It was filled with old toys and farm machinery which brought back a lot of memories of my childhood of many years ago, and with a lot of information about how the farmers cleared the swamps there early in the last century. They certainly had a hard life.

I remember a hay baler almost exactly like this one that came and did some work on our tiny farm in southern Missouri when I was a kid. I got to ride around on it and watch the workmen tie up the hay bales. I loved riding around on that thing.

Among the other displays in the museum were lots of exhibits on WWII. They had tons of them, almost all of them explaining the war in Italy. It was very interesting, I thought.

I didn't take any pictures of the war exhibits, but they did make me want to go see Monte Casino because it was one of the biggest battle sites of the war in Italy during WWII. The road there goes up through the Apennine Mountains which stretch like a hog's back down through the middle of Italy from the Alps to the tip of the boot.
As I was getting close to the town of Casino it started to rain. I didn't want to set up my tent in the rain, so I asked a campground owner in Casino if he had a cabin to rent. He gave me a caravan (what we call a camping trailer) at just 10 Euros more than camping would have been. I thought that was a good deal.
The only other people at that campground were Michael and Debbie who had driven down from England in their Volkswagen camping van. They were nice people and fun to talk with, and we entertained ourselves telling stories and swapping ideas for places to visit.
This picture above is Monte Casino (the mountain) with the Abbey of Monte Casino (the white building) on top. I took it from my campsite. Try to imagine the Americans, British and Poles trying to take that mountain away from the Germans during World War Two.  The bombs and artillery absolutely destroyed the beautiful Abbey, which was a shame because the Germans were not in it -- they were all around that hill, but not in the Abbey. Debbie's guidebook says that something like 30,000 men lost their lives in that battle.

It was a fun road getting to the top, steep and with a lot of switchbacks. I enjoyed it, but I expect Debbie and Michael had to baby their camper to the top.
Since the war, the Abbey has been restored. They have had to do that several times in its two thousand year history, because it has been destroyed by earthquakes and barbarians, but never as completely as by the Allied bombs.

But it is beautiful now, and here is the neat thing: it was began by Saint Benedict who spent his entire life there, he and his sister, and they are entombed there now. It has been visited by bishops and cardinals and popes and head of state. It is really famous, and some people say it is the second most important site in the Christian religion. I don't know about that myself, but it is certainly worth a visit.
Not many Benedictine Monks left these days, I guess. But once upon a time they numbered in the thousands.
I was told that the ashes of Saint Benedict and his twin sister, Saint Scholastica, are in urns just behind the altar of this beautiful church. That kind of seems to be up in the air-- I certainly could not find the urns myself.
But here is an ironic thing-- an Allied bomb landed right on the altar steps, not more than ten feet away from the urns with the ashes of the two Saints, but it didn't explode. God works in wondrous ways, I guess. Pretty cool, huh?
Here is a picture of Michael, the Volkswagen camper from England. I wish Debbie could have been in the picture too. Michael loves motorcycles himself, and has five of them back home. If you read this blog, Michael and Debbie, thanks again for the good times at Monte Casino.
Today I am in Pompeii. There are two parts to Pompeii, the new, bustling city, and the ruins that were dug up from the ashes of Mt. Vesuvius. I don't care much for the modern city, but the ruins are always interesting.
I've been walking around and exploring all day. And back there in the background, not all that far away, is the thing that caused all the damage about 35 years after Christ died. You can't tell from this picture, but people have built homes on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. The scientists say that it is the most dangerous mountain in Europe because it will erupt again. It is just a matter of time.

It is possible to ride almost to the top of Mt. Vesuvius, and hike up the rest of the way. I might do that if there is a day before I leave when the mountain is not shrouded in clouds.

Those Roman villas in Pompeii were very nice, by the way. Some of them were absolutely huge, covering an entire city block. They had indoor toilets, running water, and lots of shops to go to out on the city streets. Sometimes we think Romans were all warriors and politicians, but most of them were hard working plumbers, farmers, butchers, firemen, Etc.
Tomorrow, I think I will go into Naples to see the museum filled with all they things archaeologists removed from Pompeii. I have only been to Naples once before, and found it to be not a very nice place back then. But, I am willing to give it another chance.

There is a great internet connection at this campground, and I just used it to talk live with Patrice, my wife, back home in Illinois. It is only 8 a.m. there, but I am getting hungry for supper so it is time for me to go to the restaurant up on the hill. Some pasta sounds good.

More later,

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sardinia is a fun place to ride a motorcycle

O look -- another ferry. This one from Corsica to Sardinia. No sleeping on this one because it is only about an hour trip.

But first, got to ride my motorcycle into that dark gullet and tie him down. Brrr.
I really liked Corsica and kind of hate to leave, but it isn't all that big an island. I think I saw about all there was to see there. Time for a new scene.
This is the harbor the ferry is going to be leaving from. If you look way back in the background you can see some multi-milllion dollar yachts back there (the ones in the foreground are only a mere million -- chicken feed).  I've seen some expensive yachts like those other places in Europe, and they all seem to be registered in the Canary Islands; don't know why.

Anyway, bye bye Corsica
Hey dude! You're going the wrong way!

And just like that -- Wham, Bam, Sardinia, here I am!
Can you tell from this last picture that Sardinia is not nearly as mountainous as Corsica? It makes up for it with absolutely beautiful beaches. They say that Sardinia was a favorite with Princess Di because of the beaches. Hmmm. Okay, if you say so.
There were a lot of topless ladies on this beach. I wonder if Princess Di went around topless in Sardinia. Nah, it would have made the London scandal sheets.

There was supposed to be a trail from this beach to a cave. I tried mighty hard to follow it, but when I got to the worn out, weather ropes I decided it was time to do like everyone else and take a boat to the cave. 
And it was well worth the price. I thought ocean caves were supposed to be tiny and dank. Not this beauty.
Just kidding with this last picture. It just shows the entrance. The cave really was pretty once inside.
I wasn't supposed to take any pictures. Don't tell anyone. Okay?
What do you think of these bushes. They grow all along the roads in both Corsica and Sardinia. I'm not sure if they are planted on purpose, but I think they are. They come in Red, Pink and White; and there is also a yellow bush but it is a different species. They sure make the roads pretty. They grow sort of like hedges in the front of houses also.
One thing I noticed right away was that they have honest to goodness guard rails in Sardinia, unlike Corsica. Sardinia is Italian; Corsica is French. I will let you draw your own conclusion.

Although Sardinia is not mountainous, it still has roads that twist around like a pig's tail. Fun to ride, but kind of slow.

A big part of Sardinia is a national forest -- not with huge trees however, so I assume it was all logged over in the not too distant past.
My GPS was really proud of taking Odysseus and me down the road in this last picture. It is always doing that sort of thing to us, but it really outdid itself this time because this road was absolutely terrible: rutted, broken up, chuck-holed. Odysseus and I had it all to ourselves; not another vehicle anywhere.

Pretty though.  Check out these weeds along the road.
I have talked a little about how crowded European campgrounds are. There are no campground like we have in our State and National Parks; instead, they are all private. They like to cram the tents in -- there is always room for one more.
I thought it was a little ironic that a French woman made me move my tent farther away in another campground when I was setting up about thirty feet away from her. But you know, I have met rude, overbearing people like that in the United States. Mostly, though, everywhere you go people are nice as can be.

One thing they have in Sardinia, but not in Corsica, are absolutely ancient ruins. This one dates back to the Phoenicians at about the time Moses was parting the Red Sea so the Children of Israel could escape their Egyptian Captivity.
What a lot of work it must have been to build these things. But can you imagine the house the guide is in front of with a wooden roof. Got to do that or none of it makes any sense.
Time to do some exploring inside the tower.
Pretty dark in there. Not to worry though if there is a good flash on the camera.
Finally made it to the top. 
As you can see in this picture from the top of the tower, a lot of Sardinia is gently rolling hills given over to hay fields.
Here is another ruin. This one Roman. Don't worry-- I promise not to show many such things on this blogs. Ruins get old. (Ha! Ha!)
My last night in Sardinia was in a campground with flamingos in a salt water marsh. It wasn't easy getting a picture with my cheap camera, but here you go---
 Time to head on south to Sicily. But first, gotta find the ferry, which is always a chore. I hunted around a long time for it. I tried asking directions, but the people around there were very cranky, even with each other.   They speak their Italian very, very fast and get mad if you don't understand. It sounds like they are always mad when they are talking, and not just to me but also to each other. It must have been something about that particular town the ferry leaves from, because I have found Italians to be soft spoken, friendly, and helpful everywhere else. Hmmm. Don't know. Maybe they all woke up that day in that town and decided the Grinch stole their Christmas.

Anyway, time to go on to Italy itself. I wanted to go to Sicily, but the ferry to there only runs once a week. Can't wait around for that one. So, I am off to Rome on an overnight boat. I will head down to Sicily a different way than I had planned.