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Day 35 – Thursday 1st September – Barcelona (6,2km)

Barcelona is a relatively small city in extension, its growth limited by two rivers on either side, a range of hills behind and the sea in front, but that is one of the many things that make it such a great place – it has size that makes it friendly to citizens and visitors alike, if you do not mind walking you can get to most places on foot within an hour. The other positive side effect of its size is that, for travellers, is one of the most beautiful cities to approach.

When you fly to other cities your plane usually overflies nondescript fields, industrial areas and satellite towns before landing at an airport several miles away from the city. It is impossible to identify your destination from the air, and you only realise you have reached it after travelling through (usually) grey suburbs. For those cities you reach by boat, the story is similar. Ports are not the greatest sights, and the beauty city you want to visit is behind a long expanse of oil and gas tanks, shipping container yards and railroads.

Barcelona is a completely different story. The approach flight path to its airport is along the coast, right in front of the city, and those who are sitting on the starboard side of the plane are rewarded with one of the best views of the city skyline that makes it easy to spot the most important landmarks they are so eager to visit. Coming from the sea, the experience is similar, and the port for passenger ships is right in the city, so when you drive off you are already practically in the centre, no ugly transition through industrial areas.

I had never arrived in my city by sea, and when the crew announced that we were an hour away from port I got to the top deck to try to spot land and see the approach. It wasn’t long before I saw a faint line of mountains appear over the horizon, and sooner than I thought I was able to identify the unmistakeable silhouette of the mountains of Montserrat a few miles inland.

img_1373The second thing that became recognisable against the sky was the Collserola television tower, and then the mountain of Montjuïc, the Montseny range in the distance and finally the first tall buildings of Barcelona right by the sea.

img_1376Little by little the buildings became more recognisable, and I saw the Mapfre tower and Arts hotel, the Agbar tower… an Italian kid visiting the city for the first time squealed with excitement when his father pointed at the Sagrada Familia, and much faster than I expected, we were docking at the port terminal.

img_1387I got the bike off the ferry and rode straight into the afternoon rush hour traffic of the city. After so many kilometres in places where there seem to be no traffic rules, I had to do my best to control myself and not start overtaking cars and riding on the wrong side of the road to get home faster.

img_1396I once saw this little sign on a hostel in Sweden, and as I lay my head on my pillow I thought what a great truth it was.

Autostrada

Day 34 – Wednesday 31st August – From Brindisi to Civitavecchia (660km)

The ferry reached Brindisi at 6:00, just as the sun was rising behind the huge cranes of the dock. I rolled out of its belly, parked by the exit and offered everyone who was driving off the ferry a strip-tease show as I took off the clothes I had worn for the voyage and put on the riding gear.

img_1370I had to be in Civitavecchia by 20:00 at the latest in order to get the tickets and board the 22:00 ferry to Barcelona, but after my experience in the Igoumenitsa port terminal I preferred to get there earlier than that, so I had decided that for the first and only time in the whole trip, today was going to be an all motorway day.

img_1369I rode out of the dock, quickly left behind the always ugly area around a port and soon was on the motorway. I was starting the day already tired – had not slept much on the ferry, it was too hot and noisy, so I decided to stop often and take it easy.

Compared to the roads and motorways I had used in Greece, this autostrada made Italy look like Switzerland – perfect tarmac, civilised drivers (yes, in the south of Italy), free Wi-Fi in all petrol stations and rest areas… The landscape was not bad either, particularly in the central part of my journey, when the motorway crossed between two natural parks, the Parco Regionale di Monti Picentini and the Parco Nazionale di Cilento Vallo di Diano. From there it went down to Naples, around it and all the way to Rome.

I stopped very often to rest, eat, read a bit of the book I was carrying and at first at least, refuel. But petrol is rather expensive in Italy, so I decided to test how far I could get with one tank on this new motorbike. Theoretically, it should be able to reach 400km, but I had never seen such good fuel consumption figures in real life. I was riding on mostly flat motorway, however, and was in no particular hurry. I was about 380km from the port in Civitavecchia the second time I filled the tank, so I set myself the challenge to refuel next in Barcelona. I filled the tank to the brim and set off for the reminder of the journey trying to apply everything I knew about economy driving. I say ‘driving’ because I learnt that in the car, I have never applied such style to the motorbike…

img_1371I kept a steady 100km/h, without accelerating hard to overtake slower vehicles, letting the bike coast downhill with very small throttle openings, anticipating other driver’s manoeuvers to avoid braking, etc.

It was boring as hell, but riding on the motorway always is, so going faster or riding more aggressively was not going to make much of a difference. Anyway, at about 19:00 I was just two kilometres away from Civitavecchia when the reserve warning light came on. On normal use this usually happened between 270 and 300km. This time it was at 383km. I had achieved an indicated 4.4l/100km average consumption, and according to the on board computer estimate, I could still go on another 66km, although that number tends to be rather optimistic.

The terminal building in Civitavecchia was much quieter than in Igoumenitsa, there were no queues, the Grimaldi offices were clearly indicated, there were seats everywhere, and there was free Wi-Fi. Well, for the first 15 minute. I got the tickets and waited around for about an hour, when boarding began.

Again, the motorbikes where first to get on board, so I managed to get a good spot with a power socket and settled down to watch a film and spend the night. Tomorrow afternoon I would see Barcelona again.

Across the Mediterranean

Day 2 – Saturday 30th July – More ferry and Civitavecchia to Terni (113km)

Grimaldi Ferries could be considered the Ryanair of the Mediterranean – the cheapest way to get yourself and your vehicle to your holiday destination from Barcelona, and it shows. You get what you pay for, and the advantage of this is that if what you want to pay for are your holidays on the Balkans and not a cabin on a cruise across the Med, you can board with a deck ticket and just find a quiet spot to lay down your camping matress to spend the night and no one will look at you twice. Everybody does it. So we found ourselves a “luxury” corner (one with a power outlet) and settled down for the night.

20160730113443The following day was a lot quieter than first impressions had led me to expect, and time was mostly spent writing this blog, playing cards and reading between the top deck and a small deserted shaded side deck two levels down with a nice sea breeze. The journey felt a lot shorter than it really was, and despite the initial two-hour delay, we were in Civitavecchia at about 19:30.

20160730132754We had a bit over 100km to get to Terni, a town more or less halfway across Italy where we were going to spend the night, and Italy welcomed us with a great country road gently sweeping across fields and low hills with the sun glowing red as it set in the background.

Balkan Adventure 2016

Day 1 – Friday 29th July – Ferry from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (0km)

I had had the new bike for more than three months; it had dutifully fulfilled its role as my daily transport to and from work and had had its occasional outing at the weekend, but day after day I had been feeling that it needed, longed for a proper trip, the beast wanted to be unleashed away from the city. So when the holiday have finally came, it was time to take it on its first long trip. Where? The Balkans.

The plan was to take a ferry to Italy, cross the country, take another ferry and start from Croatia, then ride south to Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece and back to Italy via another ferry.

20160730132925I started my holidays at the very end of July. This had an instant impact on the beginning of my holidays in two notable ways.

One, I got a reminder of how hot and damp the city is this time of year as I dragged about 40kg of luggage from my flat to the garage where the bike sleeps, one piece at a time. After a lot of sweating, pulling straps and tying knots, the game of Tetris was complete and the bike loaded.

Second, I got a taste of the joys of starting my holiday at the same time as millions of other people in the shape of a neverending queue at the ferry terminal.

IMG-20160729-WA0019Once on board, the ferry was choke full of loud people, screaming kids and dodgy-looking Eastern European truck driveres, one of whom tried to start a fight at the top deck bar. At least the two-hour delay before we set sail was made much more enjoyable by the company of an Argentinian couple who have been travelling around the world on their motorbike for over two years, and who had a lot of stories to share. You can find out more about them here and here.