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The Solo Scooterist

Documenting my travels on a Vespa

Month: December 2014

Not so Hip while hopping Milano

The tips of  my fingers still holding the tingle of cold in their ends , I went down to breakfast well rested and ready for my time in Milano , a time to sort out logistics , a time to unwind , a time to culturally explore , a time to practice city life.

My hotel was just steps away from Chinatown which would provide a wonderful distraction from all things European and give me a break from all that is Italy. I spent my days walking Milano , popping in and out of bars for a shot of espresso to warm and invigorate this traveller as he explored. It would be a interesting week for me ,  with time to think , observe and find my balance in a big city.

 

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Arco della Pace

My days simple yet charming , the lift down to breakfast , the same faces greeting me with a morning cappuccino and a smile , the buffet selection unchanging , my routine of nutella laden rice cakes , followed by drinking yogurt bursting with probiotics that claimed a host of health benefits , eggs thick and scrambled , some swine and more coffee to launch. The western life crept back in a simple buffet , the city offering all conveniently packed and prepped .

 

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Every morning after breakfast I would take to the streets , my short cut through Chinatown up to the Arco della Pace , through the park to Triennale around Castello Sforzesco , back down past Arena and then home for a shower . I would then either work on getting Victoria home or take a walk back up to the Duomo to enjoy the hive of activity that surrounded this part of the city. My afternoons spent in galleries and my nights on foot stealing glances into the lives that filled the  apartments while I searched for dinner .One city would allow me to sample cross country cuisines  from  the fresh local produce  of Italy , the delicious heat and fragrance of  Thailand and of course  the dim and sum of China . All was to be found on my doorstep. Yum !

 

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Castello Sforzesco

I found Milano to be a fascinating city , rich in culture , fashion and faces that took to the streets and parks daily , with me jumping on their coat tails letting myself follow the flow on foot , train and  tram , so I spent a wondrous week in this city famed for so much , yet known to many as the city of industry . For me it was about the people and the place .

I loved the  natural elegance and style of the men  both young and old , how they seemingly with no effort took cloth and cut to emerge chic and polished , how sneakers showed playfulness , the exquisitely cut blazer gave him form and hinted at his success without any pretence  , his jeans a dark blue , slightly washed , the crisp shirt not fully tucked in , gave him his style as those sneakers found their way to the tram. He stepped up , washed his bag into place with a single movement , flipped out his phone , adjusted his sun glasses as the tram took off with this natural fashion that is Milano .

The women oh so turned out , be it on foot or straddling a scooter , they bounced off the pages of vogue with such ease that I found myself suffering from fashion envy . She came at me tall and full of grace , the houndstooth slacks moving perfectly with her feline frame , the designer hand bag swinging in unison with her walk , her Napoleon style jacket , tailored  and fitted accentuating her form  , large buttons and belt finishing her bold show , she passed , her skin like milk given life by mac , her hair shiny like polished coal , into the crowd she took her beauty and elegance . I watched for a while longer , then she was gone .

I sat the observer , the overlander severely lacking in style and elegance , being kept warm by my cape storm , my longs that could be shorts with one swift  movement , that dried in the shortest time and could not be ironed . I stood to go , a smile came to me , then it broadened as I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a storefront window , had Milano ever suffered such a fashion blow ? Maybe it was not my beard that attracted the glances of passers by , could it be that first assent and Solomon upset the fashion cart . Imagine if I wore crocs ?

 

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Duomo

My days  lost in rapture exploring  the  halls  and corridors of the  Palazzo Reale , afternoons spent with Van Gogh , Segantini and Chagall as my companions , their words , brush strokes and lives giving colour to my eyes , setting my imagination a blaze , my mind rushed back to my Africa  , how I wished their canvass , paint and genius had captured some of what I had seen . They drew me into their worlds , my mind taken to Paris , the south of France , rural Italy , into the homes of peasants , across the Alpes and into the lives of family , friends and total strangers that ignited their imagination and inspiration.   So humbled by these greats I stood in awe .

Amongst these men I realised that it takes everything , all and more , the pain , the suffering , the joy , the beauty , the inner conflict , the love , the loss , life lived to create such art  and only  then in our humanity  are we able to capture the world as we live it . Some capture it with music , others in lyrics ,  some using brush and oil , others the web of words , in architecture and some just capture it in their mind . We all have our conduit to creativity and the meaning to our lives , you just have to find that hidden key , oh that elusive camouflaged key.

 

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How do you just pass by?

I packed up Victoria for our last ride before we set our sights South and home , our final ride would take us through farming country to the town of Parma  where I was to meet Ken and his wonderful wife Vicki . These lands perfectly tilled by a man upon a Massey ferguson his connection to earth through metal and machine , how different to Africa where earth , skin and soul touch .

Ken  had found me on the modern Vespa forum and we had been in contact via email as I rode North , it was also Ken who had introduced me to David in Jerusalem . I was to ride down and Ken to make the four hour drive up to Parma our rendezvous point. So I say again my journey made so special by the people that would touch my life as I rode.

First things first , I was off to one of the Piaggio dealers in Milano namely Premuda moto to see if they could prepare Vic for shipping . If the shipping agent could not do it , I needed A plan B as the scooter needed to sail dry and disconnected , all fuel and oil drained . By this stage Vic was still ship less . They could help and if necessary  would even store the scooter for me until suitable passage could be secured for Victoria . One less hoop .

While at the fuel station I decided to check tyre pressure and with horror realised that my rear was treadless , so I decided to go back to Premuda to swop out rims , they could not help  as the workshop was fully booked , but sent me down the road to the tyre shop . Here I met Vita the Russian who was a fellow bike  and scooter enthusiast  as well as the only guy in the shop who could vaguely understand or speak English . We made a great team . The exchange took  longer than expected , the months of abuse on those roads less travelled had fused everything to something , so it took sweat , a hammer and tears , to  finally sever the metal on metal relationship . Suddenly it was off and new one  on and I was gone . Parma here we come.

 

Not a test ride just posing .

Not a test ride just posing .

I scootered into Parma around mid afternoon , Ken and Vicki had arrived , we finally all met in the flesh , it was to be a wonderful afternoon and evening with the three of us walking aimlessly in Parma  talking .  Vicki wisely recommended a coffee and conversation cafe, we sat sharing stories until we left to find a restaurant for dinner .

Our friendship forged in our love of scootering , those long solo rides that take you miles from home , showing you new and unexplored parts of our world . We lived on different continents divided by  air and oceans , yet one in our love for travel , adventure and Vespa .

 

Ken and I in Parma

Ken and I in Parma

Our dinner fantastic the food spectacular , plates of Parma ham , tender and moist osso bucco , washed down with a fine red all  topped up and rounded off  with  friendship . We spoke past the pumpkin hour and found ourselves heading for home on desolate streets , only the headlights to direct us through the night  . Thank you both , one for the books.

 

Parma and friends .

Parma and friends .

We shared breakfast and then it was time for me to get back , to try and finalise the shipping and packing . Farewells said I was back on the road for my last 130 kilometre ride on Italian soil. I rode  slowly thinking how  amazing it was that here  David , Myself and Ken shared our life experiences with the scooters offering us our freedom and solitude , David’s iron butt ride around Israel , his 200 kilometre daily commute . Ken riding the back roads of the mighty US of A and completing his second tour of  Egypt challenge . We all got to meet during one journey in different countries spanning a continent or two , just incredible. I so hope that in the not so distent future our worlds converge some how and we can ride together.

Until we ride .

 

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Back in Milan

 

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So I can remember how many kilometres it is from JHB to Milano.

 

The last ride on the continent.

The last ride on the continent.

Back in the city it was late Friday before I got confirmation that Victoria would be collected on Monday morning and the shipping agents would prepare her for the voyage , all that was left for me to do was to ensure she was bare bones .  I went down into the basement armed with my leatherman and a tool or two , looked upon my sole and trusted companion for so many months .

My eyes ran  through the flags attached to her chassis , glued to her with memories of joy , loneliness , difficulty , anxiety , euphoria and the amazing faces that touched me as I rode each of these incredible countries , I recalled how I came to gather each one , when and how I stuck them to her body , each the catalyst to a bank of  memories . I stood alone just her and I in a basement of an almost deserted car park , overwhelmed by all , so much ran from synapse to synapse , my mind travelling in flashes in and out of my journey , my eyes full of tears for too many reasons , suddenly then the basement door flew open with two kitchen staff coming out for a smoke break , jolted  back to the present ,  their voices closing  the doors that took me back to the roads I had travelled . My eyelids cleared the moisture of emotion , I made the final adjustments , turned the ignition key , fired her up just to hear that comforting sound as she purred to life , the sound that used to loosen the knot that lived in my stomach on most mornings , the sound of her engine alive would loosen it a little , for a good start meant a good ride , No ?  Back to the room for a shower and back on to the streets of the city

 

Bare bones

Bare bones

I was four nights , a few good meals , a short taxi ride followed by an express train and a connecting flight from home , it was time to relax and enjoy my last days , now passing so rapidly . All the logistics done , no more riding , just me the traveller in the city of the  fashionista boasting brands not known to these parts.

I thought it time to follow the tourist route , stroll the shops , the cafes , the bars that formed the hub of Milan’s tourist life , the city was dressing up for the expo  , the streets full of those chic locals going about their daily lives , full of I phones on poles capturing the posed selfie , soon to be posted on the web to prove providence and place , the veneered happiness , the larger than usual smile staring down the lens .

The Duomo , Palazzo Reale and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele full to the brim with tour groups capturing their experiences through varied manner of lens , the youth poles and smart phones , the old school SLR , tow rope strap that holds the Nikon to chest ,the camera bag weighty enough ensure he leans slightly to the left as he walks , here we all stood  finding ways to remember our time here .

I found myself in Galleria Vittorio a shrine to the worlds luxury brands where people come from far and wide to pose and kneel before Prada , LV . and Versace , couples embrace while a stranger captures them at the elaborate  entrances to one of these shrines , I watch in amazement as this brand machine  captivates its disciples , all around me cameras flash like the smiles . It is probably the only place on earth where Prada and Mc Donalds share the same line of sight , the Prada sign leading to the  golden arches ,  that been said not to many people posing under those arches though.

As I leave back out on to the square , I am offered a variety of fakes under the same roof as these originals , the purveyors keeping a keen eye out for the law so they can ensure a speedy exit . It is then I am struck by a  man on his knees , cap in hand begging , behind him a halo of cartier , rolex and the rest , this man so slight of frame , tiny and his back drop a million euro watch display courting the privileged , the rose gold ,  rich velvet and window dressed opulence  just a pane of glass away ,  His  sad face  and frayed cap requesting a coin or two . The warmth and colour of the jewellery store a stark reminder to his difficult circumstances.

 

 

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Travel safe Vic , see you on the other side.

The weekend gone ,I was to meet Trevor and his wife Tracy for dinner on Monday evening , we met outside the Duomo and caught a tram to a restaurant famed for its Mozzarella di Bufala , we shared a wonderful evening in each others company talking all things Vespa , as we said our farewells in the rain and I turned to walk home , the realisation dawned , tomorrow Iam going home .  I am truly solo , Victoria taken , all that was left was to sleep ,  to wake , to gather up the 50 kilograms that represented my entire life for the last six odd months and get to the airport .

On that morning sitting in the express train en route to the airport , the city and her suburbs flashing past  I felt the ink in my mind begin to dry , it would be weeks before I would be able to blog again . I did not want it to end , there was nothing to be done or said , the train carried me closer to home .

Until we meet again

 

 

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Silly stats of man and machine

For those thinking of going from Johannesburg to Milan , your options are many and varied . Here are three .

Fly , it will take you 13 hours and 15 minutes .

Drive the most direct route , you will drive for 171 hours and cover 12 475 kilometres.

Jump on your Vespa , it will take you 189 days or 27 weeks , you will cover 23 530 kilometres and you will never be the same person again.

Distance covered while the scooter stood still void  of terra firma .  3007 kilometres or for you sailors 1625 NM .

Time spent in a basket floating , one hundred and twenty odd minutes .

Punctures , ZERO , my tyres had that green stuff that sealed those holes.

Mechanical issues , ONE , disintegrated ball bearing , repaired by two non English speaking  men under the influence of Sunday and celebration , total time taken 3 hours including sourcing the bearing , excluding the test ride .

My entire life weighed 50 kilograms and fitted onto a scooter .

Cheapest fuel Sudan most expensive Europe or Israel , cant recall which one though .

Haircuts  4 , beard trims 4 , shaves 2 . Italy was the first time in more than two decades that I had a haircut off African soil .

Best coffee , Ethiopia by Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa RRRR.

Cheapest coffee three rand most expensive 74 rand.

Drank  wine from a box , no less than three times no more than 8.

Cheapest bottle of wine around twelve rand , most expensive , still in therapy.

Rear tyre took 15030 kilometres to go from grip to slip .

Front tyre still going .

Oil filter changed three times ,  engine oil changed four times , transmission oil once , air filter cleaned too many times to count . Transmission belt three times although not necessary , spark plug twice , rollers once .

Cold showers hardly ever , deodorant present  every day although some applications lasted two or three days , aftershave twice , cologne only in Europe and teeth brushed twice a day morning and before bed.

Man cant live on goat alone .

Most challenging road , every country had one except Israel.

Longest day on the scooter , Namibia , the whole day and into the night .

13 border crossings , 12 if you believe in the EU , shortest time from entry to exit around twelve minuets , the longest 7 hours .

Life threatened by a human NONE . By lion once I think , I only remember the words don’t run above the roar and the comfort of the  canvass  as I dived into the dining tent.

Under normal urban cycle driving conditions a Vespa clutch should last 50 000 kilometres mine lasted 20 000 kilometres. Times the clutch smoked and stank of burning agony , fewer than 5 .

To be continued ……….

Until we meet again.

 

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