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The Solo Scooterist

Documenting my travels on a Vespa

Category: Italy (page 2 of 2)

Tuscan Treasures

With Victoria serviced it was time to leave Pisa and do some exploring . People speak so fondly of touring Tuscany , so I thought not to be influenced by others I would do the same but on a Vespa .  I could not let the opportunity pass , to have your own ride to tour Tuscany  was just too good to be true , so into the world of sunshine and wine  we rode , heading  South again  , we set our sights on Siena with a few stops on the way .

 

Tuscan tunnel riding .

Tuscan tunnel riding .

I had set no specific destination , I thought that Siena could be a good start , we took the country roads , with the clean autumn air putting some life back into these riding limbs , we toured , passing through the famous San Gimignano , San Gimi  in short for  those who have lost their pronunciation ability due to much of that Tuscan red that  so robes many a tourist of their newly acquired Italian phrases , anesthetising tongue  and mind . Although San Gimignano ,  is the trap that trumps all tourist traps , still it is a delight to walk and absorb this charming well preserved piece of Tuscany . You can see I have not succumbed to the temptation of the Tuscan sangiovese grape,  espresso for me , two wheels and wine put you in the vines . I left around lunch time to make my way to Siena to try and find a place for the night as well as early enough to explore .

 

Vic hanging out in San Gimignano.

Vic hanging out in San Gimignano.

 

A million reasons to love Italy.

A million reasons to love Italy.

 

Life on the square.

Life on the square.

As I rode out of San Gimignano I noticed rows and rows of what I would refer to as the men in black .  Very well dressed drivers sitting or standing close to their equally pristine black luxury cars , waiting for their tipsy Tuscan tourists to emerge from lunch , belly’ s satisfied to the point of an ache and rosy red cheeks the colour of the vine that helped them pass Tuscan time . Tuscany as I would realise while riding is full of these black cars , driven by smooth Armani styled suits , with  the rear seat full of smiles or a head slumped to the side as the passenger dreams of Tuscany while being ferried home.

 

Back in the bush.

Back in the bush.

 

Lost in time . No cars allowed.

Lost in time . No cars allowed.

I passed through small villages , most of which seemed to have been removed from the map in the figurative sense , forgotten in time , but not by the tourists seeking a piece of Tuscan  life , be it only momentarily with the photographs being the proof  as the fly through .

 

Siena so distant.

Siena so distant.

We arrived in Siena , quickly found a place for the night , and off  I set to  walk the streets with what remained of the afternoon . As the afternoon passed so did the strength in my walking legs and my ability to hustle the bustle . I had seen a fantastic deli while touring , so I made my way back to stock up on some dinner items and some fresh produce for breakfast and took a hour walk through the streets back to camp Victoria.

 

zooming the city.

zooming the city.

 

Posing Vic .

Posing Vic .

 

Il Campo , without the crowds and horses racing.

Il Campo , without the crowds and horses racing.

 

Duomo , yes another one.

Duomo , yes another one.

 

Same Duomo different angle , yes this phase will pass.

Same Duomo different angle , yes this phase will pass.

 

Camper life.

Camper life.

After a fantastic home made dinner and some laundry it was off to bed , tomorrow we would tour a little deeper and further into rural Tuscany . My sleep disturbed by a French couple arriving in the middle of the night , these camper homes  don’t allow for much to go un noticed or heard . The  French are known for their passion and flair and tonight was going to be no exception ,  true to form they kept the camper in motion , with passion leaving them deaf and uninhibited to the world around them . Then the rain came in , I rushed out to save the clothing , no luck though . The next morning my alarm clock  the French rockers again  , so I packed , had breakfast while I put my now wet clothes in the drier .  fed with warm dry clothes packed we left , while the French slept , exhausted or sea sick from all the motion , I could not tell for all was quiet on the western front . You might wonder how I knew they were French , like I said , the divide in the single trailer we shared allowed the deaf to hear , every word heard .

 

Farewell Siena.

Farewell Siena.

 

Siena line in the sky.

Siena line in the sky.

 

Back in the country .

Back in the country .

 

Back to dust and dirt , exploring rural Tuscany.

Back to dust and dirt , exploring rural Tuscany.

The ride down to Montalcino was ravishingly beautiful with more than half the ride being off road in and amongst the vines , it was an incredible experience . I have always been a fan of the wines produced in this area , but not having my man in black , Vic and I just enjoyed the open road , the beautiful vines and the colours of autumn , stopping for the odd coffee and a stretch .  My mind saying , to this place I must return , with purpose , a man in black and my tasting palate primed .

 

Heading to Brunello country .

Heading to Brunello country .

 

As far as the eye can see.

As far as the eye can see.

 

In Brunello country.

In Brunello country.

From here it was down to Pienza , another magical town , not as infested as the others by the Tuscan tours , quaint and cool . Here we filled up and headed down to Montepulciano , wishing for another dust cut through the vineyards , like the better part of our day had been .

 

Tuscan Life in Pienza .

Tuscan Life in Pienza .

 

Montepulciano.

Montepulciano.

We settled for the night in the town of Arezzo , for the next day I had to trace the ride back through Florence , Pisa and then on to the Italian “Rivera” , the coastal road that would take me all the way to Cannes , Grasse and the up to Lyon. It was going to be long days in the saddle , we had 5 days to get across into the South of France and then up to Lyon , where I was meeting a good friend for a trans Africa celebratory lunch and our annual catch up .

 

The Barber shop.

The Barber shop.

After breakfast we took on the road to the coast , while riding  I came across this barber shop in the middle of a very small town , I thought it a great idea to enjoy the precision of an Italian barber , so we spent an hour together not understanding each other at all ,  while I watched as his scissors , clippers and arms ran my hair to the ground . My only distraction from the flamboyant movement and discussion that filled the shop were the numerous nudes that decorated his establishment in the form of calendar’s , no longer current in terms of day or year , but current in terms of the breasts and bodies that helped take your mind off the day , the cutting and the slowness of life here in the country  . Shorn , shaken and smoothed out , we shook hands , exchanged currency and smiles and Vic and I  rode once more  , my mind full of days , dates and of years long  gone .

 

Farewell Florence .

Farewell Florence .

 

Could this be the Duomo.

Could this be the Duomo.

 

What a view , from up here .

What a view , from up here .

 

Parting shot before we ride for the coast.

Parting shot before we ride for the coast.

The riding slow , but a wonderful way to impose your eyes on Italian life , the rain would stop the ride an hour or two before I had planned . Tomorrow was another day , time to stay dry . We just made it under cover before the ocean brought the clouds laden with a down pour that would have left us drowned if we had been caught with no place to hide , the strong ocean wind lashing the sheets of water like a rag doll , I watched from my hotel room as the rain bucketed down , dry warm and thankful.

Tomorrow we ride for France .

Until we meet again.

 

 

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Rivera , Cote d Azur & following Napoleon

 

Weather from my window.

Weather from my window.

The previous days rain had run to the mountains , so packed up we took the coastal road heading to Genoa through the mountains , I was really enjoying the riding especially since banning the GPS from toll roads and highways. Alas it was not long before I caught up with the rain that had hit the coast the previous day . Within one hour we had gone from a sun filled coastline with cyclists of all shapes and sizes dominating the roads , pedestrians and dogs enjoying the promenade to the misty mountains and a deep slow wet seeping rain .

 

Towards the mountains.

Towards the mountains.

 

In the thick of it .

In the thick of it .

The roads got wetter and windier , I got soaked by the rain and moist mist that engulfed us for two hours . The ride got colder and colder as we climbed up  into the mountains . It took over three hours to crest and to find the sun that would follow us all the way to France .

I felt that I was caught up in  the land that inspired  Bram Stoker , the tall alpine firs packed thick and dense along the mountains steep sides , standing perfectly straight on 45 degree slopes , line after line. My vision limited not only by the dense mist  , but the sharp curves and bends that slowly stepped us to the top . The place perfectly still but for the motor climbing , the mist hiding all from sight not only on the road but all who lurked and lived in the misty mountains . Riding solo does let your mind run wild and free , so I enjoyed my land of Dracula high up in the mountains .

 

On the way to Genoa .

On the way to Genoa .

The sun saved us from the wet and cold and started to thaw me out as we came out of the pass and down to Genoa  , from here is was the Italian Rivera , full of spectacular riding roads and then France arrived at our wheels full of sunshine , opulence and dramatic coastline . Another border crossing , but not really , just a sign to tell you that the registration plates on cars now said F not I , bongiorno was replaced with bonjour , the architecture upped a gear and the amount of  posing people  exploded . Vic loved it here , the coastal road that took us into Monaco and beyond , just a great ride.

 

Another country .

Another country .

I think Vic and I really looked the part on the streets of this principality , amongst those prancing horses that would creep ever so slowly to the tunnel entrance , those LED lights low and ready to pounce , once the rear left the light , the ever proud owner would apply all of his will and force to the accelerator ,  the sound of that finely tuned motor would transform the tunnel from a path through a mountain to a place of pilgrimage for the owner . The car responds to his will , answering through the pipes sending a mechanical  wail of readiness , the launch and then brakes as the bonnet finds the rear of a slower car , down to a burble until the next tunnel.

The  badge of Bentley flying its spurs , the owner wrapped  in leather and wood , stitched and stern his face as he joins the peak hour jam , only his comfort can calm him . So many marques on display in this land , some bearing performance , others luxury and others  just A to B .

Vic and I had the usual advantage of two wheels and no jam , we stitched our way through , on to Nice , down to Cannes , enjoying this life on display , stopping to take in the cliff views , the deep blue and the people of the south.

 

Victoria en route  to the Principality of Monaco.

Victoria en route to the Principality of Monaco.

 

South of France Nice hey.

South of France Nice hey.

Arriving in Grasse we found accommodation , exhausted from a extremely long day on the roads of two countries , is was off to bed after a quick dinner , tomorrow more back roads as we make our way up to Lyon .

 

Grasse and scented streets.

Grasse and scented streets.

 

Autumn glory .

Autumn glory .

 

Alpine life .

Alpine life .

Todays ride was something I have not experienced before , we ended up on a road or a route that takes you out of Grasse and through the back , rural countryside of France , almost as high as Lyon . The road  referred to as route Napoleon. If ever you are in this part of the world , ride , drive or cycle it , what a spectacular two days of riding it would be .

Route Napoleon is very popular amongst bikers and being a sunny Sunday Vic and I had company and a lot at that . When we stopped people would pop out their phones , pictures and questions would follow , with a whole lot of disbelief .

The route is very challenging from a concentration point of view , with very steep descents , accents joined by curve after curve  , the going is slow and the distance travelled resembled Africa in many ways  , long hours to distance travelled. Damn it was fun.  Words fail , photo’s offer a little more .

 

 

 

Country and cottage.

Country and cottage.

 

land and lake .

land and lake .

 

Mountain Paradise

Mountain Paradise

 

True glacier blue.

True glacier blue.

 

Open country .

Open country .

 

Vic on high .

Vic on high .

 

Sun on snow .

Sun on snow .

 

Winter is coming .

Winter is coming .

 

Jet streams .

Jet streams .

The mountains full of families truffle hunting , for it is truffle season here in France and that black gold of the culinary kind is in very high demand , as we ride I see people setting off , back packs and baskets hoping to find their truffle at the end of the rainbow , just beautiful. We rode the Alpine roads all day found refuge in the mountains surrounded by the magnificence of this land turning rich with autumn . I sat outside watching the sunset , the twinkle off the first snows high up on mountain tops , the clean beautiful sky crisscrossed with the hand of the jet stream , what an incredible ride .

 

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streets paved with beauty .

streets paved with beauty .

The next morning after a delicious breakfast , French style , of fresh baguette , cheeses , cuts , that thick  lumpy  farm fresh yogurt and freshly brewed coffee , prepared me for the mountains and a eight hour ride to Lyon on roads that would even trump the day before as we rode higher and higher , Alpine style .

Just waiting for the snow .

Just waiting for the snow .

The ride took us through dramatically  beautiful Alpine scenery , with the colours of autumn in the sunlight  adding to this rich landscape . From the  delicate greens , the  golden yellows , the reds , browns and the magnificence of the blood rusted leaves , their colour so beautiful . It is like mother nature punished them for trying to hold on to their green for to long , when they well knew the new season was upon them , they  ignored her , held on so tight , in a vain attempt to elude her . She gave them no option to go from green to gold , her punishment so harsh she bled them to their death , leaving a colour indescribable in its beauty and the pain of its demise .

 

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A day long , beautiful and cold , with coffee stops , vistas  and views that left your body fresh with the air , your mind clear with the light  , so cleansed by nature we rode into  Lyon in the late afternoon , with the briefest of light left on the city , we found the hotel , settled in , tried to wash the cold out and after persisting with that hot shower  the chill left my bones fleeing back into the night where it belonged .

Until we meet again.

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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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