Across Tuscany & Umbria, Heading East

May 2-8, 2023

When I was in eighth or ninth grade, I had to read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. That was the first time I encountered names that I couldn’t pronounce, so I just made up names that I could relate.

In the past several years I’ve found myself doing the same with city and village names on signs as we ride into town. I did this a lot in Thailand and Vietnam, mostly just for my own amusement. My eyes sees the name, and my brain immediately mis-translates it into something else. This first happened not long after entering Mexico heading south in 2015, when I passed a sign warning about driving while tired. The sign had the word “desvelado”, which means “without sleep”. For the rest of the day I was singing to the Eagles: “Desvelado, why don’t you come to your senses, you’ve been our riding fences. Open the gate.”

A couple of days ago we were riding towards Siena when we passed an exit for Acqualunga, and it happened again. Immediately I heard Jethro Tull:
“In the thundering madness
Of the Locomotive Breath
Runs the all-time loser
Headlong to his death”

Which of course are the lyrics to Locomotive Breath, and not Aqualung. Same album, different song. But hey, it’s been nearly fifty years. I can’t keep them all straight.

After a little bike maintenance in northern Italy (an oil change and chain replacement), we continued south to Tuscany in the rain. It’s been raining every day lately. Most days we only have to endure an hour or less of riding in it. Some days we make it to our destination before the heavy stuff starts. So far we haven’t had to pack up in the rain, which is never fun.

While we agreed to move quickly across Italy as well, we did have a couple of stops to make. The first was in Tuscany. We’ve been here before, but even though that was more than a dozen years ago, we’re still talking about it. Not for the scenery, which is pretty spectacular, with the centuries-old villages on top of hills surrounded by vineyards. No, we’re here for the food. One particular food actually.


And not any pasta, but a particular pasta that originated in Siena, and is found throughout this part of Italy, but not elsewhere. I’m talking about pici, which is kind of a fat spaghetti. It’s about two to three millimeters in diameter, and incredibly tasty. Years ago, we stopped in Sinalunga and were introduced to pici. Unfortunately, the restaurant we enjoyed so much then, is closed on this day, so our hosts recommend another place. It’s good, but not quite as spectacular as we remembered. Maybe it’s the distant memory of our first time, but I think the sauce was better before.

Regional favorite pici.

It won’t be our last chance to compare pici though. We move an hour or so east the next day, to Cortona, the town made most famous by Frances Mayes and her books “Under The Tuscan Sun”, “Every Day in Tuscany”, and more. She still lives here, and as we pass by her house, there she is, standing in the garden.

We were riding past Bramasole, Frances Mayes’ beautiful estate in Cortona, and over the intercom I told Diana to look up. There was Mayes, standing in her garden.

We spent a couple of days just hanging out in Cortona. It is without doubt a tourist destination, in no small part thanks to Frances Mayes, but it still has a nice old-world feel to it.

Looking up at the village of Cortona on the way up the hill.

The cemetery below the town.

Church of San Francisco.

Inside the church above the altar is the Reliquary of the Holy Cross.

Inside the gold filigree cross is a piece of the cross on which Jesus Christ died.

Looking out the small window at the top of the stairs of our apartment at the Teatro Signorelli .

Our apartment overlooks Piazza Luca Signorelli. This is where the “fountain scene” in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed. You might notice that there is no fountain here. That’s because the fountain in the movie was a prop, made out of styrofoam.

I liked this entrance. In between all of the three story buildings was this single-story entrance. I wish I knew what was on the other side.

Another opportunity, and perhaps our last chance, to enjoy pici.

Hanni (from Finland) and Gabriel (from Romania) served us pici in Cortona. We loved talking with them and hearing their stories of how and why they ended up in Cortona.

This Fantic Caballero 500 was parked next to the Tenere in Cortona.

After a couple of day here, we headed northeast, as we had an appointment to visit The Doctor’s office in Tavullia.

At our last fuel stop before heading into Cattolica, we pulled up to the pumps behind a white Mazda Miata. The top was down, and I could see in the car’s rear view mirror, the reflection of the driver, a woman wearing a baseball cap that said “Texas” on it. I pulled up beside her and pointed at her cap. She smiled. Then I pulled up a little further and pointed to the rear of the bike, and the Texas license plate. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head. “Oh my God!”

She jumped out of the car and we stood there and had a conversation. Diana asked her about the hat, and she said that Texas was a place she dreamed about going one day. I handed her one of our 2RideTheGlobe stickers, and told her that when she got to Texas, she had a place to stay. I’m not sure how many people we’ve made that offer take us seriously, but as we’ve said before, it’s karma: people everywhere have been so friendly to us, and we’re happy to reciprocate.

“It’s my dream to someday go to Texas”.

Before leaving the gas station, she asked, “Why are you here in Cattolica?”

“To visit The Doctor”, I said.

She knew immediately. “Ah, Vale”.

Yep. Everyone here knows the Doctor.

Tavullia, Italy: Visiting The Doctor

May 8, 2023

Mention Tavullia, Italy to just about anyone in Europe, and you will likely get a two-word response:

Either “Il Dottore” (“The Doctor”), or “Valentino Rossi”.

Rossi, for those Americans who may not follow motorsport like Europeans do, is the nine time World Champion MotoGP racer. His fans are, well, fanatical, and so loyal that even though he retired from racing three years ago, and MotoGP retired his career-long Number 46, there is still a huge section at each race wearing all yellow, and likely waving yellow flags with a large, black “46” on them. Rossi has done more for the sport than any other racer in modern history, and is one of the most loved Italian athletes, due not only to his skill on the motorcycle, but his fun-loving style and his ability to captivate an audience.

Rossi grew up in the tiny village of Tavullia, near Pesaro, and just a few miles inland from the Adriatic Sea. Over the past twenty-something years, the town has become synonymous with Valentino. Everywhere you look are buildings painted in his color of yellow, flags with his number 46 on them, murals of his face and him on the bike. A small children’s park has a concrete path through it in the shape of a race track, and where other parks might have small cast or plastic horses on a large spring for the kids to sit and play on, this one has small roadrace motorbikes. Since his retirement in 2021, there are large signs and banners saying “Grazie Vale!” as a tribute to all he has done, not just for Tavullia but for Italy as a whole.

Rossi is so popular in Europe (and worldwide), that his VR46 brand of clothing and other gear still outsells that of current riders. In his later years, he formed the VR46 Riders Academy in order to bring talented younger riders up through the ranks of Moto3 and Moto2, including riders like current World MotoGP Champion Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia, Marco Bezzecchi, Franco Morbidelli, and Rossi’s half-brother Luca Marini, among many others. VR46 Racing now also has its own MotoGP race team, backed by Ducati.

Thanks to a former colleague at Yamaha, we had been invited for a tour of Rossi’s company headquarters in Tavullia.

VR46 HQ houses the Riders Academy, the Moto2 and Moto3 race team shop, and the apparel company.

Since The Doctor wasn’t in, I parked in his space.

Several of Rossi’s toys are on display in the lobby.

Bodywork from one of the Moto2 Kalexes during Rossi’s retirement.

Similar to the wall at Yamaha USA, VR46 has a Wall of Fame, listing their Academy riders that have won championships and major events. They’re going to need a bigger wall.

A small selection of the VR46 trophies.

The Doctor’s actual office. The bike on the left inside his office is the bike he won his last MotoGP championship on.

We used to race YSR50s and modified 80cc bikes on kart tracks and small roadrace circuits like the Streets of Willow at Willow Springs Raceway in California. Unlike those bikes, these small race bikes are purpose-built and a serious component of bringing youth into roadracing. It takes not just talent, but a serious commitment of time, effort, and money on the part of the parents before a rider can be accepted into the VR46 Riders Academy.

I built a couple of YZ80- and YZ85-based roadracers back in 1996, and had a blast racing them in my 30s. These are used to help train younger riders as well.

Rossi’s image is everywhere in Tavullia.

VR46 has a store in Tavullia selling their merchandise.

There are also several nice displays of Rossi’s history in the store.

We didn’t get to visit Rossi Motor Ranch or the private collection of his career artifacts, but nonetheless we thoroughly enjoyed our time spent at VR46 HQ, and we hope to meet up with Giorgia and Gianluca again in the future, either in Tavullia or at a MotoGP race.

And with that, it was time to head south and catch a ferry to a new country.

Country Number 56: Albania

May 9-13, 2023

We caught the overnight ferry from Bari, Italy to Durres, Albania. The ferry ride is about eight hours, so we spent most of the ride sleeping. In the queue before boarding we net a couple from Serbia on a BMW who were heading home on a different ferry (there are a few that all make this overnight run). We spent a while chatting with them, and afterwards I realized I once again forgot to take a photo.

Waiting to board the ferry in Bari, Italy.

On board and strapping the bike down.

Our room for the night crossing.

The ferry arrived in Durres at 8am and we disembarked and headed into town to find an ATM and some breakfast. Albania prefers cash just about everywhere, including restaurants and hotels. Credit cards are nearly worthless here. Fortunately the ATM didn’t mind giving me Albanian Lek. Although the exchange rate means we’re carrying some big notes: USD$100 is nearly 10,000 Lek.

We found our way out of town and headed east, across the entire country, which, as the crow flies is about fifty miles. On the eastern border with North Macedonia is Lake Ohrid. The country border goes north to south straight through the middle of the lake. Lake Ohrid is an amazing place: it is one of the oldest lakes on earth, being somewhere between 3 million and 5 million years old. Its maximum depth is 945 feet, and it has more than 200 endemic species.

Albania is a beautiful country, with plenty of scenery. I would love to return and spend some time riding off-road here.

Working our way down out of the hills to Lake Ohrid.

Looking across Lake Ohrid from the balcony of our hotel room to North Macedonia.

We spent a couple of nights at the Hotel Victoria, just outside of Pogradec. This hotel is a short way down a dirt road, past derelict buildings. The initial approach might make you re-think your choices, but make no mistake, it’s worth it. The hotel itself sits right on the shore of the lake and is a very peaceful, restful place. At least it was when we were there, as it was before the prime tourist season. I’m sure it’s much busier beginning about mid-June.

Hotel Victoria. Highly recommended.

Looking south from the hotel to the city of Pogradec.

The bar/lounge/dining area of the hotel. As usual (and as we planned it), we were mostly the only guests as we arrived before the high season.

We were over-spending our budget at $46 a night, but the included breakfast made it worth the price.

The hotel has an interesting history, as told to us by the owners and hosts. The building belonged to the government and the land belonged to an individual farmer. After the fall of communism in 1991, the building sat vacant for years, until the current family was able to purchase it and the land. The father’s intent was to divide the building into two large apartment homes, one for each of his sons. The renovation work including adding a third floor. While the renovation was a livable space, it was closer to the old communist lifestyle than anything modern, so the sons convinced the father to remodel the building once again into a hotel, upgrading to ensuite rooms and making the ground floor into a large restaurant. The current place is very nice, and the hosts (the son and his wife) are extremely friendly and welcoming (and speak great english).

From Pogradec, we intended to head back to the west coast and follow it south to Greece. However, the weather forecast was telling us otherwise. It was looking like a 95% chance of rain for the next several days along the west coast. As much as we wanted to explore Albania further, the thought of doing so in the rain (which would also eliminate our ability to ride off-road in the mountains) convinced us to shortcut instead. So we left Pogradec and headed south towards the east coast of Greece.

Side Note: Albania is Country Number 56 for me, and 37 for Diana, although I’ve recently been told that if you’re on a connecting flight and it lands in a country, that counts. So I could potentially add two countries: the UAE (Abu Dhabi) when I flew from Buenos Aires to Cape Town while shipping the bike in 2016, and Ethiopia (Addis Ababa) when I flew from Nairobi to London, also during my 2016 ride around the world. I’m not sure I agree with this “count”, as I prefer to count countries I actually rode through, so I’ll try to keep track of it both ways.


May 13-22, 2023

As we’ve traveled through five dozen countries, we’ve made it a habit to always try to learn a few basic words in the local language, whether Spanish, Swahili, French, Portuguese, Polish, Italian, etc. Being able to say “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, and “Toilet” are all important, and you can almost see the appreciation on the locals’ faces just for trying.

Maybe we’re getting tired, or burning out. When we got to Albania, I used Google Translate to look up a few basic words in Albanian. No doubt, with a little practice, it wouldn’t be difficult, but it wasn’t as easy as “Bom dia” or “Gracias” (or Diana’s “Avocado” in Portuguese). The added benefit (“easy way out”) that our hosts at the Hotel Victoria spoke excellent english made me acquiesce. And from Albania to Greece, and beyond, we just sort of gave up and became “those Americans” who don’t even try but just force english on the locals. Although we did still use Google Translate to read menus and signs, thus not forcing the staff to read the menu to us.

When most foreigners or tourists think of Greece, I believe one of two images come to mind: the Greek Isles, with their beautiful beaches, or the Acropolis, with the Parthenon and other structures from the fifth century BC.

Unfortunately we wouldn’t have time (or dollars) to tour the islands this trip, as we had already made plans to return home in June, but we had time to see the Parthenon, and we also managed to arrange a house sit in Greece for a few days to help our budget. As we rode south towards Athens with the intent of seeing the Parthenon, the difference between mainland Greece and the islands became more clear, and another thought from years ago came to mind.

Back in 2015, when I was just starting my ride south from Texas to the bottom of South America, I was camped near Oaxaca, Mexico when I overheard two couples discussing their travels. One couple had driven their truck and camper all the way to Patagonia, and were now on their way home to California. They made a comment about their anxiety over returning home and for the future: “You see and do all of this incredible stuff and you get to the point where amazing becomes the norm.”

Riding along through Greece, we discussed this. We are often asked, “What is your favorite place?” That’s a tough question to answer, as nearly every place we’ve been has been great, whether it’s a scenic vista, a food experience, or meeting locals. But one place definitely stands out: Norway. The natural beauty is mind-blowing. For good or bad, Norway has set the bar very high, and after all of the sights we’ve seen around the world, we often find ourselves passing by places now that we would have spent more time admiring before. Whereas I began my travels years ago with the thought that I should take a photo of anything that turns my head or catches my attention, now we found ourselves without any photos at the end of a day’s ride, having dismissed sights as “just another mountain”, “just another waterfall”, or “just another church”. We were feeling guilty about this. We had the opportunity that many people will never have, to travel the world, and we weren’t in awe of it at this point.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from Greece. There were a number of places on the mainland that I wanted to visit, but the weather was forcing us to head south instead. The photos you see in travel guides of Mykonos, Santorini, and Crete are beautiful, with turquoise water and white sand beaches. But we weren’t headed there.

Heading south along the coast we ran across this DC3 that had made a perfect landing atop a building near the town of Methone. The owner of the coffee bar was then forced to change the name to Cafe DC3.

Actually, I think the sign says “Cafe Club Airplane”.

We spent a night at Paralia Beach, a tourist resort area. Keep reading for more about our wonderful encounter with a hotel owner here.

We arrived in Athens and checked into our downtown hotel. From here — just slightly outside the normal tourist spots — we got a view of Athens. It looked a lot like the center of downtown of many large cities: dirty, with tons of homeless people. In order to walk from our hotel to the restaurant that we ate at multiple times, it was necessary to navigate around pools of urine and sidewalks lined with dozens and dozens of homeless. We were never approached by or accosted by anyone; they just live here. This was, if nothing else, real. I don’t know if it’s always been like this, or if this was a result of the economic hardships of a decade ago, or some combination.

Oddly, we caught the subway just a few blocks from our hotel, and found the subway system to be extremely clean, graffiti-free, and easy to navigate. The underground was much cleaner than street-level. Within twenty minutes we arrived at the Acropolis. Once again, we were thankful that we had arrived before the high season. The lines for tickets and to get in were short, and while the place was crowded, it was much less so than it would be in another month.

Busy, but nothing like a few weeks later when tourist season officially starts. This hermit can handle crowds of this size; just don’t ask me to deal with any more people than this.

The remains of the Parthenon. It is continually under restoration/preservation. Unfortunately, much of the current restoration has to do with correcting improper prior restorations, when rusting rebar and improper concrete were used.

Some parts actually were taken down to be restored, then reinstalled.

On a personal note, I had somehow imagined the Acropolis to be a much larger area with many more ancient structures (it is, actually, but many of the buildings are spread out; I would definitely recommend hiring a knowledgeable guide). And I don’t know why, but I always perceived it as being on the edge of town or outside of town. Nope, it’s literally on a hill smack in the middle of Athens.

Looking southeast from the Parthenon down to the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

Detail from the remains of the Erechtheion, near the Parthenon.

Looking northwest, to the Temple of Hephaestus.

Wishing we had more time and could jump a ferry to the islands, we instead headed north again, back to Larissa, where we met our hosts for our house-sit.

Meet Tupac ShaCorgi. This guy was always happy and smiling.

Out of a couple of dozen house sits, I think this little guy is our new favorite pup. Just don’t tell Hank the Pit Bull in Austin. We still love him too.

Maybe I’ve been a bit too harsh on Greece. We enjoyed our house sit, and we had some other great interactions with locals. The two that stand out:

First, as we arrived at our hotel in Paralia, we were greeted by the owner and his wife. She spoke very little english, but we managed to have a conversation in our normal way of mime and a few simple words. In the process, I caught the term “POS”, which I quickly figured out was not her description of the local beach, but rather the fact that their Point of Sale software (odd how POS has been adopted even in Greek) was not working. She insisted that because they couldn’t process our credit card, we could stay for free.

Wow. Let me know when you run into that in the States.

I told her that we were going to walk to dinner, and I would find an ATM and get cash to pay for the room. She insisted that it wasn’t necessary, and we could stay for free.

We did find an ATM, and the next morning I paid her in cash. As we were loading up the bike, she walked up and pointed up at the rain clouds. It was supposed to rain all day. Through our mime game, she told us that it was going to rain, and we should just stay another night. For free, of course. Amazing.

The second memorable experience we had with a local business was in Athens, at Delicious Souvlaki, where we ate dinner three times. The first night I mis-read the menu and ordered a Number 8 and a Number 9 meal. I wasn’t sure how their system worked, so at one point I got up from our table to check on our order. I think this might have been a mistake, and was perceived as me questioning their abilities. When it arrived, it wasn’t what I thought we had ordered, but we ate it anyway (we aren’t ones to send food back unless it’s REALLY bad, and this was good, it just wasn’t what we intended to order).

The next night, when I ordered at the counter, I ordered a Number 8 and a Number 10 meal, which is what I should have ordered the previous night. When the guy at the register turned around and shouted the order to the cook, the cook responded, “Are you sure? Not a Number 9?”

Smart ass. My kind of sarcasm. I loved it.

When we came back a third night, the guy at the register, who was clearly either the owner or the manager, immediately recognized us and shook my hand. “You are my new best friends.”

Good people. Good food.

Delicious Souvlaki. Yes, it is. I recommend it.

Good food, good value.

So, yeah, Greece wasn’t all bad. It just wasn’t as amazing for us as our new norm.