It’s raining again. Packing a wet tent is not a good idea if you plan to use it in the long run. Things take a moment to get soaked, but hours to dry. Rain means waiting. But waiting means writing. So it’s not too bad.
I’m now in a campground a few kilometers shy of Cannes. There are two German GS riders in the tent next to me. They’re also held back by the rain.
I tried to fix the GPS mount couple of times. Last time, I managed to think about the fuse… And yes, it was blown. Apparently I caused a short circuit trying to hold the pins with a needle-nose pliers. I replaced that one and the home-made pin seems to work. For now that is…
The reason I’d like to keep this piece of equipment working, is not just my habit of usage. France has a large web of highways that enable ‘clients’ travel long distances without really stopping anywhere except the toll booths. I’ve been told that a traveller crossing the country can end up paying nearly 100 Euros using these roads. They pierce through mountains, fly above rivers like a projectile without even bothering with all the small villages scattered on the countryside. GPS is very efficient if you don’t want to travel this way. I just click “Avoid toll roads”, and it takes me through the real France.
Feeling convinced that I could take the less popular mountain roads out of Chambery, I left towards noon. This city used to be known as ‘the capital of the Alps’ for a reason. Within a few hours, I started climbing the winding mountain roads and was presented with all sorts of Alpine cliches I could imagine. Snowy mountain tops, pointy church towers, well fed cows, small villages which appear to sit very close to each other when viewed from above, ingenious usage of sloped hills, big dogs, dark horses with light manes…
Somewhere between these mountains lies Grenoble, an unexpectedly large town on the banks of a mountain river. One of the most interesting things about this place was the usage of teleferic as a means of public transportation.
I continued south towards Provence through the Alps. The road kept winding through the mountains with short drizzles in between.
One of the things I noticed on this journey is the lack of children. I carry a dozen of balloons to give them. Blue, with the world continents imprinted in green so it looks like a globe when inflated… More than a month into the trip and I’ve only been able to give one. She was riding a bicycle in the gas station operated by her father. I said “Le Monde” as I held it forth in a safe distance. She looked at me in amazement and took it. I’ll never forget the expression on her face.
‘Olivier’ is a common name in Provence. I camped under an olive tree in a campground named as such. Next morning I arrived in Marseille. The people here are much different than what I’ve seen so far. There are women in veils and some people speak arabic. I’m not that far from Algiers. It’s just the other side of the water. And this indeed is a harbor town. There may be more ships anchored in the marina than the houses built around it. Streets are narrow and everything is built out of a yellowish lime stone. The distinct scent of seaweed and diesel engine surrounds the bay. I feel confused. The people and the overall color of this town is very familiar to me. I know it from other Turkish cities bordering Syria. And I’ve also seen similar harbors near Istanbul. But I’ve never seen the two mixed together.
I have slightly altered my route based on my brother Emrah’s suggestion. He had travelled around this area before when he visited Cannes for the famous film festival last year. He seemed well convinced that the route between Marseille and Monte-Carlo was one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Without doubt, he was right… So far, what I’ve seen was definitely the best ride I’ve ever done in my life. If I say ‘breathtaking’ it may be taken as an analogy. So let me put it this way; I had difficulty breathing because of the excitement and beauty hidden between these curves. The excitement part is hard to understand for someone who doesn’t ride a motorcycle. But I’ll try to explain.
A motorcycle is very similar to a musical instrument. Although the sound it produces is not very pleasing to most people, the usage is based on a series of precise responses to a previously defined timeline, which in this case is the road. A rider has 6 basic control mechanisms that need to be operated simultaneously in a well coordinated way. On the right wrist is the amount of air blown into the engine (falsely known as the ‘gas’), in the left hand is the distance between the clutch plates, in the right one is the friction of the front brake pads and disc, under the right foot is the rear one, and on the left is the gear mechanism composed of 5 levels not including the neutral state. On top of these, is the turn of the handlebar which defines the change of direction, lean angle and thus the balance…
Every road is a unique composition. Each one requires a specific series and combinations of responses. Once the controls become second nature, you can start hearing the music. Your body sees the road, processes it, and each part does what it’s supposed to, in the right time and simultaneously. The road flows through you. In a way, you become the road, the road becomes you. Your body, is now the translation of the road in the language of motorcycle.
Speed can be considered as the volume. It’s an increase in the sensation. The quality of sensation however, is in the relation of the road and the bike. Some roads require a motorcycle to be conducted properly. The road called Corniche, between St. Tropez and Cannes is definitely one of these.
There are two types of excitement. One is caused by the G-force and adrenaline. This is a very basic but powerful feeling. Your mind reacts to something it instinctively perceives to be dangerous. It’s the same effect you get when you ride a roller-coaster. No need to explain this.
The other one is a bit more interesting. It arrives suddenly in an unexpected way just when you think the adrenaline in your blood has reached a saturation point. In other words, you’ve gotten used to the first effect and started riding the curves in a calm and masterful way. In a brief moment, you become self-conscious and realize how your body responds fluently to the road without you necessarily being in control. This, is riding. At that moment, what you ride is not just a motorcycle, but a combination of the road, the machine and your self…
It’s almost not a coincidence that the roads stimulating this ‘high’ feeling, run through some of the most beautiful landscapes. Or maybe it’s the other way round! Maybe riding enables an alternative way of sensing geography and landscape. Using your body, instead of just your eyes…
I had started writing this post in Cannes. Now I’m in Croatia. The two days in between are also worth a few paragraphs… I’m lucky to have seen Cannes during the festival. Apart from the awards and screenings, this event is also a meeting point for film studios and distributors. Studios and production companies reserve hotel suits and convert them into showrooms to market movies to international buyers. The whole city feels like a sophisticated farmers market. The main street was reduced to one lane and due to the increased traffic, I had many opportunities to take photographs on the bike. It looks like the majority of the population is from Los Angeles, so I didn’t really feel out of place. Even the palm trees seemed too familiar.
At one point I found myself thinking what the common thing between palm trees and film industry is. Then I found it. Both need light to develop!
Crossing into Italy was easy. I expected to see a physical border but there was none other than the line on my GPS screen. The only significant border crossing experience I’ve so far had on this trip is the change of language between two stops. Everyone suddenly switches languages although there isn’t any apparent reason.
My ‘through the little towns’ attempt didn’t work in Italy. I travelled only 150 kilometers in 4 hours the first day. Traffic is so dense. I camped in the backyard of a vacation village which looked like the Italian version of an American trailer park. It was clean, the people were friendly, and I managed to do some laundry and cooking. What an adventure!
Next day, I accepted failure and took the freeway. In just half a day, I crossed almost the entire width of northern Italy and found myself in Venice by the afternoon. And 30€ poorer…
Venice is connected to the mainland by a long bridge. Vehicles are naturally not allowed so everyone has to park before entering the streets. Parking is 25€ flat. It’s probably one of the most expensive places to park in the world. I lucked out and found a perfect free spot among the local scooters.
The city is an amazing labyrinth. Actually it’s two of them intertwined. One is the canals, and the other is the alleys. The two intersect and cross each other hundreds of times. Everybody (that means the tourists) was trying to find their way around. No one seemed to know what they were doing. I figured that the best thing to do was to dump my sense of direction and let the city surprise me. I wondered around with a big motorcycle jacket, a helmet and two cameras in my hands. By the time I was back to the parking spot, I was exhausted. I got on the bike and felt relieved as if it was my bed.
I started riding east looking for the next camping spot thinking it would be an hour at most, but that was a terribly wrong estimation. By the time I gave up, I had arrived at the last eastern city of Italy, Trieste… This was a very long day. Having ridden about 450 miles on road and a few more walking on the streets of Venice, I did not want to do a border crossing into Slovenia. I lucked out again and found a youth hostel in Trieste.
Trieste’s recent history is interesting. Since the 50’s, the city had been claimed by three different countries. Italy, Slovenia and -hold tight, New Zealand! I slept very well without even remembering which country I was in.
Next morning, I started the Adriatic descend. After a brief ride through Serbia, I left the European Union and entered Croatia. It’s very nice and quiet here. The touristic season hasn’t started yet. I’m slowly getting into the mediterranean mindset. The Adriatic coast is very rocky and barren on most areas, but it has a beauty of its own. The coastline looks as if it was all created yesterday. In either case, if this is indeed the creation of a god, he definitely had motorcycles in mind.