A new country – San Marino

We have been fortunate enough to visit over 100 countries during our travels and while we do not make a point of adding to that number,  when a relative whose total is in the high 90’s chooses to close on us by one, firm action needs to be taken.

Being in Tuscany, I realised that we were not too distant from San Marino.  One of five, what I would call, micro countries in mainland western Europe, the others being Andorra, Liechtenstein Vatican City and Monaco, has always been intriguing to me in being able to remain independent for hundreds of years including avoiding being absorbed during the unification of Italy in the 19th century and remaining neutral during WW2. 

The Republic of San Marino has a history dating back to the 4th century AD. It is believed that the first settlement was founded by Saint Marinus and other christians who were trying to escape religious persecution. Over the following centuries San Marino developed its own form of government based in part on the Roman model and by the 15th century AD was republic ruled by a Grand Council of 60. San Merino in part due its remote location and fortress mountain top was able to stay independant.  When Napoleon invaded Italy, he respected the independence of San Marino, in part it is believed that the republican form of government appealed to Napoleon due similarities with the direction that France had moved in. Napoleon also offered San Marino more territory, which they wisely declined.  The Congress of Vienna in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic wars recognised San Marino’s independence.   During the 19th century unification of Italy, San Marino offered asylum to revolutionaries including Guiseppe Garibaldi.  After the initial unification of Italy took place, a series of treaties with Italy starting in 1862 confirmed San Marino’s independence.  I think that there must also have been an element of wise leadership over the centuries in maintaining independence.  Today, San Marino’s two leaders, the Captains Regent, are elected every six months by the Grand and General Council, the legislative body.  Unlike  some other countries where politicians seem to be in office for decades. 

As usual Anne has done the research and since we only have one night here has booked a hotel in the centre of town. As we cross the border I am struck by the size of Mt. Titano that forms the core of San Marino soaring some 2,424 ft / 739 m above sea level and towering above us. The road to the top twists and turns as we cling to the side of the mountain ever upwards, past full carparks, multitudes of pedestrians. Tourism is a big industry here and on one of the last warm days of the year, it seems everyone from the Rimini area has come to the mountain today.

After stealing the hotel owners’ parking spot, we only found out later as we checked in, we  take a walk between the three fortifications that sit atop Mt. Titano. I cannot go too close to the edge as it just seems to fall away. Heights are not my thing, but Anne gets some great photos not only of the castles but also views to the Adriatic sea and beyond. Quite amazing.

The Guaita Fortress, San Marino city.
Drinks below the Guaita fortress. Not all photos and blogs here.
Blowing huge bubbles in Piazza Della Libertà San Marino.
Looking south along the cliff in San Marino city.
Close to the edge, for me anyway, in San Marino city.
“Right a bit” or the Italian equivalent. The streets are narrow here.

As night falls we relocate the car to an empty parking spot as the day trippers leave.  Dinner and an early night follow.  We rise early to get the sunrise spots and find we have the place to ourselves. So different from the previous night. Sunrise was worth getting up for.

Rooftop view in San Marino city.
What a view.
Looking west at sunrise in San Marino.
Anyone for an outdoor job? Morning check on the cablecar cable from top to bottom.

We found in our morning walk an area dedicated to those who use touch as a primary sense. What a great idea and also centrally located on a square off the Via Eugippo next to the cable car station. Not just an afterthought in an out of the way location.

A tactile area for those who cannot visually see what is here
A tactile model of the peaks of San Marino city.
3D model of a San Marino castle.

I do not imagine we will return here but it was worth taking the time to visit San Marino.  Oh yes it is another UNESCO World Heritage site for us to add to the collection.

– Anthony 

Tuscany my beauty

As we walk through the archway of Rochester castle in Kent to hear the local proclamation of the accent to the throne of King Charles III, we are struck by the thought that for hundreds of years this was how locals would have learned about such an important event.  No TV, instagram internet messaging or other forms of modern instant communication were available.  It was nice to feel that we have been a small part of what will evolve over the coming week.

Proclamation of King Charles at Rochester castle, Kent

As someone in their 60’s who has only known of and had Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state in three countries Anthony has lived in, the feeling, as for many others I assume, is a mixture of sadness for the Royal families loss and our own loss of continuity in a world where so much changes so quickly in the 21st Century.  

While people in the UK and especially those in London will be more intimately involved with events leading up to the funeral on the 19th of September, we will be in Tuscany, exploring a part of Italy that has drawn us with its muted colours, fortified towns perched on hilltops looking down over olive groves and wheat fields.

We are off to Tuscany, well almost……Flight cancelled, without any fanfare the email arrived from EasyJet cancelling our flight from London Gatwick to Bologna two days hence.  The first step for us for a week long surjourn exploring the backroads of Tuscany.

In these days of low cost flights, there is no airline rebooking or making alternative arrangements on your behalf, they are long gone. Make your own new booking at no cost or get a refund are the options available. After a brief flirtation with rival Ryanair’s timetable, who have had the least percentage of cancellations over the summer, we decide that we will rebook with EasyJet to Milan and take a train to Bologna airport to collect our rental car.  Change as little as possible seems the best way forward.

Flying over the Alps into Milan


The only drawback, apart from the extra travel is the 3am alarm as our flight now leaves at 7am not 11am. The journey to Bologna airport sees us use a hire car, plane, two busses, express train and a monorail, quite a variety of forms of transportation all because of a cancellation.

The airport seems as full as I remember last month when we flew from Gatwick, full of holidaymakers, tourists and businesspeople.  The only change appears to be that all the tv advertising is showing a black and white image of the queen as a sign of respect.  Many of the shops also have signs of condolence, all of which must have been printed in double quick time. 

We now know that the cheapest way to Milan Central Railway station from Linate Airport is by Number 73 bus then number 60 bus.  All because we bought a couple of €2 tickets which were only for the local busses that run quite frequently compared with the dedicated “Airport Busses”.

Milano Centrale Railway Station is a marvel to behold, built in the 1930s in the era of  Mussolini, it displays a mixture of Art Déco and Art Nouveau styles. Approaching from the park opposite gives one a chance to see the grandeur of the structure from a distance, not possible in many other impressive big city railway stations.  Worth arriving a little early for your train to explore a little.  As we walked through the entrance it felt like I was entering a series of anti chambers in a Roman temple.

 

Milan train station

Inside Milan train station

Inside Milan train station

We finally made it happen – while we have been to Florence and Sienna before,  and seen most of the stunning historical marvels there, I had dreamed of spending time in deep rural Tuscany.  After the last couple months of being thoroughly spoilt by friends and family, it was time for us to retreat and get some quiet time. That is how we came to spend time in a cottage, a good 40’ from the nearest town of Volterra. 

Of all the places in Tuscany, how did we chose that part of Tuscany?  For its proximity to some villages I wanted to visit but also just as importantly we wanted the ability to enjoy the scenery in all its splendour and changing light and make our own meals in the evenings. 

Our AirBnB host had warned us many times prior to our arrival to make sure we stopped at supermarkets on the way to buy food as there was no store nearby.  She also mentioned that Italy was very coeliac aware which was a great surprise and she was not wrong.  The first counter as we enter the Coop has a huge sign “senza glutine” near gluten free pizza bases.  We stock up on all sorts of vegetables and meats for our pizza bases and everything we’d need for our stay. 

We arrive at our cottage just before dusk and the lighting is turning gloriously golden. Just like in the photos.  Anthony wastes no time and starts a fire in the outdoor pizza oven.  We hadn’t expected to start our Tuscan experience so soon!  The pizza turned out delicious.  And our second one a few days later of course was even better!

Fiew from our AirBnB when we arrived

Time to prepare the pizza oven

Our first gluten free wood fired pizza

Cheers!

The first thing that struck us while driving in Italy is the number of Formula 1 wannabes.   Nearly everyone drives as if the road is a one way system, going their way of course and every bend is cut to save time.  Having driven in Italy before, I was familiar with their driving style and was glad the hire car company had upgraded our car to a more powerful one as opposed to a physically larger one!  Small is good there, especially on narrow twisty roads.  We did laugh at the Italians’ total disregard for no parking (all around the airport roundabouts), no overtaking (on bends, hills or blind spots) and no speeding!! We think our riding in places like India got us prepared for the exciting situations we come across!

Coming from the sanctuary of our quiet cottage in the country, arriving in San Gimignamo to the throngs of tourists was a shock – maybe arriving after schools returned from their summer holiday, just one week later, would have been better.  

As you reach the town’s fortified walls and walk through the gate, you immediately feel wrapped in medieval times but also see what life was like in the 1700s, long after the town’s decline in importance but centuries before its regeneration and UNESCO acclaim.  San Gimignamo is famed for its cluster of towers.   The two Torri Salvucci are said to have been built to bypass the communal statutes of 1255 that limited towers to the height of the Posesta towers.  But to show their superiority and annoy their rivals, the Salvuccis supposedly built these whose combined height surpassed the Ardinghelli family’s Podesta tower.  

Plazza del Duomo, San Gimignamo

1340 bible

Marble cherub from 1475

An early lunch on an outside terrace meant that we were able to wonder and admire this town streets with fewer people.

Duomo San Gimignamo

Duomo San Gimignamo

Duomo San Gimignamo

One can easily spend a few days here, visiting all the towers and old palaces, Duomo and churches and museums.  

After San Gimignamo, we went to Pieve di Cellole also known as Santa Maria Assunta – a romanesque church dating back to the 11th century.  The parish buildings nearby were once used as a leprosarium but now house a monastery.  A wonderfully calm setting overlooking across the Tuscan countryside towards San Gimignamo.

Pieve di Santa Maria Assunto a Cellole

View from Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta

The nearest town to our litle country cottage was Volterra.  It sits atop a hill, surrounded by impressive ramparts.  It is not as well known as its neighbours San Gimignamo or Sienna, but with the Palazzo dei Priori, the oldest civic building in Tuscany dating back to the 13th century on the Piazza di Priori and its gorgeous narrow stone paved streets, an impressive Roman ampitheatre, it is well worth a visit.  It is now a thriving little town – there are very few shops selling touristy Tuscan linen and pottery unlike the other better known centres.  

From Volterra wall

Roman ampitheatre, Volterra

When the heavens opened up, we looked for somewhere for lunch.  We could not have picked a better place.  Porgi l’Altra Pancia is a tiny restaurant, that serves not only delicious home made Italian pasta, but now make their pasta upstairs so that they don’t contaminate the restaurant for their coeliac customers.  I had pici pasta for the first time – it is like a thick hand rolled spagetti, lovely and chewy.  

Time for lunch at Porgi l’altra Pancia

Pici with grated truffle

Volterra

Visiting the many villages in Tuscany, I was constantly reminded that we were in an earthquake prone part of the world.  How some of the houses were still standing and safe is truly remarkable!

House in Monteriggioni

Fixing walls in Monteriggioni

Castle of Monteriggioni

Colle di Val d’Elsa

Colle di Val d’Elsa

You have to embrace accidental photobombing!

The curvy cypress lined Tuscan country lanes were as photogenic as I imagined. Anthony was so patient with me, chasing one more photo, just one more country lane, before the next! We arrived a week after early plowing thanks to an unusually hot European summer so the fields were no longer golden. It would have been interesting seeing the ploughing: how they managed to do that on such steep hills had us baffled.

Tuscany near Volterra

Tuscany near Volterra

Tuscan countryside after ploughing is over

Pienza

On our way to our next country, (can you guess where?!) I chose some stunning parts of Tuscanny to drive through. Thank you Tuscany, you were beautiful!

– Anne

Cornwall for a couple of days

While the country lanes of Cornwall seemed manageable for Streak and Storm, it seems to us it would be a different matter in a motorcar.  Even though Pat and Andy have chosen appropriately sized vehicles for the narrow lanes, there appear to be few places to pass. Thankfully we meet no oncoming traffic and finally arrive at their new home.  As we ride down their long driveway, I am reminded that we used to do this, on different motorbikes back at their old home in Maleny in Queensland, a sort of déja-vu?

As they welcome us, with yes you have guested it, Champagne, we easily slip back into conversation as if we had not seen each other for only a few weeks, not two years. As we enjoy their company as the sun sets over the Cornish landscape, we are told an interesting two days of local sightseeing have been lined up for us.  Pat and Andy and their choices did not disappoint. So much to see in a short distance of their home.

Pat and Anne catching up for the first time in three years.

Plymouth Dockyard was our first port of call, forgive the pun. Established in 1690, it is one of three major Royal Navy ship bases in the UK.  As the size of the Royal Navy diminished, so did the need for real estate. Royal William Victualling Yard which was built between 1826 and 1835, became surplus to requirements for the Royal Navy in the early 1990’s.  Today it is a mixture of housing, offices and restaurants in the restored old buildings. A great place for lunch sitting outdoors and admiring the impressive and imposing architecture.

Dock at Prince William Victualling Yard
Looking west at Price William Victualling Yard.

Cotehele, sited high above the Tamar river near Calstock was the ancestral home of the Edgecumbe family.  Now run by the National Trust, this Tudor era house reflects the Edgecumbe’s desire some 200 years ago to maintain its then historic Tudor interiors. Lavishly decorated with tapestries, arms and armour and a great deal of oak furniture for others to see. It shows that preservation of historical buildings interiors was not just a recent occurrence.   

Tudor interior at Cotehele house.
Cotehele house

Restormel castle was built in the late 13th century. Its unusual circular construction may have been more for its aesthetics rather than defensive properties as it was believed to have been built as more of  a luxury retreat than a fortification. The ruins still give a sense of the grandeur of the place with large fireplaces and high windows. A visit to the castle wall via a stone staircase allows one to walk almost a full circle and gives superb views across the valley of river Fowey.

Castle wall
Enjoying the Cornish weather at Restormel castle.
Anne’s first real Cornish Pastie, surprisingly good Anne says.

Our final night in Cornwall was rounded off with dinner in Looe. Drinks then dinner watching the sun set across the river mouth was the perfect way to end our three day visit. We will be back to Cornwall. Thank you Pat & Andy.

Looe harbour at sunset.

I have been told that travelling in Devon or Cornwall north to south is much easier than east to west which is direction of the busy main roads.  I have carefully plotted a route that will take us slowly east but travelling some of the secondary roads via Okehampton, Tiverton and Langport. It turns out that the route is not only very scenic and motorcycle friendly but has light traffic, the perfect combination.

Cornwall in all its riding glory.

Our route takes us through Somerset north of Yeovil past the Royal Navy station at Yeovilton.  This is home to the Royal Navy’s aviation wing, the Fleet Air Arm, Museum.  An opportunity not to be missed for an aviation enthusiast like me. Increasing my interest is the fact that both my father and step father had a naval connection.  My father did his national service in the South African Navy on HMSAS Jan Van Reibeik, formally HMS Wessex, and my step father made his career as an engineering officer the Fleet Air Arm.

Spread across four halls, the aircraft range from early years of naval aviation through WW2 to the to the recent Afghanistan conflict.   Hanger 3 has been cleverly modelled on a carrier deck from HMS Ark Royal from the 1960’s .  A McDonnall Douglas Phantom FG1, Blackburn Buccaneer S1, de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW2 are amongst others are on displayed on carrier deck. Access is via a simulated helicopter flight to the carrier deck. The aircraft carrier’s “Island” on one side of the hall contains three levels of compartments showing aspects of life on 1960’s aircraft carrier.  Quite illuminating as the narration is by videos made by modern day sailors looking back on their predecessors.

Contemplating hanger carrier deck replica.
Concorde 002, what a superb shape!

Also there, is Concorde 002, the second test aircraft – not sure what the connection is there or how even the most ardent naval aviation enthusiast could have considered it for the Fleet Air Arm. As we walked through the interior I recalled a tenuous connection to this aircraft. I saw it in Johannesburg at Jan Smuts airport in 1973 while they were doing hot and high testing and even got the chief pilot’s Brian Trubshaw’s autograph.  Anne remembers the excitement of seeing both Concorde 001 and 002 when they were first presented to the public at the Paris Air Show in 1969 at Le Bourget airport. A bit of nostalgia…

Cockpit of Concorde 002, so analogue.

The remainder of the afternoon is spent riding back to Dorset on the back roads enjoying a last few hours riding Streak and Storm before sadly returning them to slumber for another year. Streak needs new chain and sprockets and for a longer trip new tyres and batteries would probably be a good idea for both bikes. They performed flawlessly and like us there are a few miles / kilometres left yet in them. We will be thinking of what to do in the coming months for 2023.

– Anthony

PS. apologies for the tardiness in delivering blogs recently. We are looking to recruit additional staff or motivate the existing team to write faster and be back on track by the end of ???

Streak and Storm ride again?

After languishing in a dark, temperature and humidity controlled environment on trickle charge for almost three years, Streak and Storm are wheeled out into the preparation area. Excitement mounts with the possibility that the 2slowspeeds will ride again. Where to and for how long?

Meanwhile, a short distance away in the village of Verwood, two very dead Senna S20 headsets (for rider to rider communication) are being encouraged to take a charge. They have not been fed a meal of electricity for three weeks since they came with us from Brisbane and have not taken kindly to this.  We sometimes forget that many of the items that we use while motorcycling have been with us for up to eight years and, like us, can show signs of their age. One Sena S20 is revived but with an uncertain life expectancy, the other sadly did not make it out of the emergency room. Since they are an integral part of our riding, we pondered what to do next.

Contingency plans developed as we headed to pick up Streak and Storm included buying a new one today, costing some 250 UK pounds, or extending our car hire and not riding at all.  After deciding to take the hire car option and rebooking over the phone, success!!!, Anne finds a spare set of Sena S20’s she was sure had been left behind amongst a plethora of spares including brake pads, clutch cables and fuel pumps. Anne had found the spare Sena’s while removing extraneous parts from a pannier. Those spares we really do not need to carry on what will be the shortest trip taken by Streak and Storm, no more than 500 miles, and the first that does not involve a ferry, plane or train as part of the journey and is wholly in the UK.

After a nervous departure through the loose gravel path and as we get used to the feel of the bikes again navigating through the New Forest, I feel a mixture of pleasure, elation and slight nervousness as I become accustomed again to the handling of Storm again. Having been used to riding only the Triumph Thunderbird for so long, I have to get used to changing gears to gain power, not just a simple twist the throttle!  

A quick fuel stop to dilute the old stabilised petrol with Esso 99, which we have been told is the best fuel to use after such a long storage period, and we are ready to leave the quiet backroads of the New Forest. As wend our way through the traffic on the A31 west of Ringwood, we realise that being on Streak and Storm brings back all the positive feelings we have enjoyed over the last four trips. 2Slowspeeds are back!

We have no plans as to how far we might get on the first day, not departing till around 2:45 pm it might be the campsite a couple of miles beyond where we have been staying with Tansy.  Luckily traffic is fairly light and we are able to make good progress towards the western borders of Dorset.

A split second decision at a roundabout sees us descending towards the coast at Lyme Regis. Ignoring capacious “Park and Ride” facilities, we arrive in the centre of town, having navigated narrow streets without a sign of parking, an open gate and motorbikes are neatly parked along the sea wall in the centre of town. Perfect – we stop for tea. We will stop here for the night having covered only 65 ml / 102 km since 3pm.

Perfect waterfront parking in Lyme Regis

A campsite at Uplyme, which is over the border in Devon, provides us with a private location to set up the tent and we enjoy our first night on the road. An easy downhill walk to town for dinner and nice meal then sadly a long walk back to the campsite uphill! 

Our own private campsite

Anne had identified a couple of locations on Dartmoor National Park where we could see ancient forests, so this is our next destination. We have to cover a huge 50 ml. / 80 km in a day. Start slowly they say but this is ridiculous.  We do not even leave till 11:00 am.

For navigation, I am using what by now must be obsolete Garmin Montana GPS.  I was lucky enough to find that it contained the maps of the south west of England as I have long forgotten how to download the free maps from the internet and then upload them onto the GPS.

After a fast transit down the M5 and A38, we stop at Bovey Tracey, a quaint town on the eastern edge of Dartmoor.  This is a name Anne has difficulty remembering and I probably do not help by providing alternate names whenever asked so Anne would come up with Bony Tracy, Stinky Tracy etc.  Tourist Information provides us with useful local knowledge on where to camp and sells us an ordinance survey map of Dartmoor.  The size unfolded makes me think that it may be close to 1:1 scale, but it does contain an enormous amount of detail which could prove useful as we search for a campsite for the night.

Yarner Wood purchased in 1952 by nature conservancy becomes England’s first National Nature Reserve. We only take a short walk as the riding gear does impose some weight and heat limitations on our activities, which we had forgotten about, although I would not swap the blue skies for clouds while riding. We meet a local Ranger who suggests a better camping location than the one we already had. Thank you!

Yarner Wood walk

Dartmoor National park allows wild camping in certain areas as long as you camp away from the road and car parks to avoid use by campervans, for a maximum of two nights in any one location. With the directions provided by the ranger at Yarner Wood we come out of woodland with spectacular views in both directions – this will be the area to camp tonight.

Leafy Lanes on Dartmoor contrast with the open spaces.
“Storm” looking over Dartmoor.
Breathtaking view eastwards from campsite.

We lug, tent, sleeping bags, mats and camping chairs the prerequisite distance from the road. As advertised our location has stunning views eastwards over Yarner wood, Bovey Tracey and we can see as far as the sea some 20 miles/ 32 km away. This is perfect. No one else is camping near, we have the place to ourselves and the long summer evening to enjoy. Pure bliss, this is why we do what we do, for experiences like this.

All set for the evening, high on Dartmoor
Wild camping at its best

After a leisurely breakfast in Bovey Tracey, given the current dry conditions, we did not want to be known as the couple who started the great fire of Dartmoor in 2022 from using our camping stove.  Across the moor, yes video will follow, we wend our way towards Two Bridges in the centre of Dartmoor to visit Wistman’s Wood, another special woodland area. The roads are perfect for motorcycles: undulating, open vistas, steep climbs and descents, up to 25% in one case and yes Anne could smell my brake pads at the end of that one. 

Two Bridges is just that, two bridges and a hotel, nothing else added expect for the police radar van up the hill.  The speed limit on Dartmoor is just 40mph or 65kph which I would forget from time to time due to the beauty of the place.  “Honest officer I was just a little over”.  Will I have to check the mail for any offical “notice”?

The “old” bridge at Two Bridges

Having morning coffee, we meet a lovely gentleman who has just returned to motorcycling after many decades who we learn is on his first longer distance day outing. Great to see someone return to riding after such a long break.

First time out in Devon and enjoying it, good on ya

As I make a lunch booking at the hotel and I am mentally preparing for the fast walk to Wistman’s Wood, lunch and then ride to select a campsite when Anne, not wanting to rush her Wiseman’s Wood experience, suggests staying at the Two Bridges Hotel, appropriate for the Two Slow Speeds I suppose.  Her argument is very sound:  we had an un-repeatable experience last night, let us do something different tonight. 

At lunch we learn more about the local area from a member of staff who does guiding on the moors and suggests a route that will not only encompass Wistman’s Wood but three of the over 150 “Tors” on Dartmoor and a “stone throne” that locals like to say was the inspiration for “Game of Thrones”.  I asked about the interesting apparent overlap of “wild camping” areas and the military training ranges.  Yes they do and if you do not check before entering them you could have an unexpected interaction with the British Royal Marines.

The “Game of Thrones” chair?

Wistman’s Wood is made up of mostly “Quercus robur” or common oak, a bit of Latin for culture, in a granite bolder filled South West facing valley.  Here they grow to no more than 4.5m /15 ft. tall. What also makes it so interesting apart from the fact the trees survived being turned into firewood or fence posts is the variety, up to 120 species, of lichens that cover the trees giving Wistman’s Wood an almost mystical appearance. Visitors are asked not to enter as some of these lichens are slow growing and hundreds of years old. Our enthusiasm to explore and enjoy needs to be tempered with the damage we can cause just by our presence, no matter how well meaning. 

Anne with Wistman’s wood in the background
The lichen covering in Wistman’s wood
One of the inhabitants of Wistman’s wood
Closeup of lichens in Wistman’s wood

After a long and enjoyable walk and restful night’s sleep, we prepare for another long day in the saddle.  We are meeting friends Pat and Andy at the “Jamaica Inn” made famous by the book of the same name by author Daphne Du Maurier . Our adventures will continue in Cornwall about 20 ml / 32 km away.

– Anthony