Running Through Countries, Part II: Spain to France to Italy

April 29 – May 1, 2023

Having started two prior motorcycle trips through Europe from Barcelona, we had previously spent a few days touring the city. It had been about seventeen years since Diana had seen La Sagrada Familia, the amazing basilica designed by Antoni Gaudi and still under construction (since 1882!). We agreed that we would ride directly through Barcelona and pass by the building so she could get a photo of it before heading out of Spain and into France.

La Sagrada Familia. Yep, still under construction.

The plan this time was to avoid the major toll road along the Cote d’Azur and hopefully avoid the tourist traffic along the French Riviera and the Cinque Terre area of Italy (again, we’ve been there. It’s beautiful. I highly recommend it if you haven’t been. But our goal was to slow the bleeding of cash (this is an expensive area) and get to new horizons. So we took a large loop, north to Valence, France, then east to Piacenza, Italy before heading into Tuscany and on to new explorations.

By the way, the toll roads usually have Service Centers every 25 miles or so, which offer fuel and food. The last time we were in France, we stopped at several of these Service Centers on our way west to the UK. We began to notice then how badly people parked, and Diana started taking photos. During our brief ride on the toll road in southern France, we encountered more examples. Here are two to add this year’s collection:

A new take on not parking in the handicap spot…just park behind it. That way you’re not violating the rule, right? These two guys in their Porsches pulled right up behind the handicap parking spots — but not IN them — totally blocking access. It’s not like they were just running in to grab a drink; they parked there for quite a while. Side note: pretty sure that’s a Swiss license plate on the red one, so it’s not just the French.

This guy managed to take two spots in his not-too-big, not-too-expensive Nissan. His wife caught Diana taking the photo, and appeared to give him her thoughts (either about his parking, or about Diana taking the photo, or both).

We stopped that evening in Valence, France, and took a hotel as it was forecast to rain overnight and into the next day. We managed to beat the rain to the hotel. In the parking lot, there were three other bikes, one from the UK, and two from Germany, all parked into locking wheel chocks. There were four of these chocks, but the empty one sat between a loaded BMW K-bike and a BMW GS. It seemed like a tight squeeze with our large boxes on the bike, so I parked in the car parking area. I also noticed that the chain needed to be adjusted, so this gave me more room to work.

While adjusting the chain, the owner of one of the German BMWs walked up.

“Put your bike in the locking stands”, he said.
I explained that it was a tight fit, and I thought I would be okay out here with the disc lock on it overnight.
That’s when he explained that a couple of years earlier, at this same hotel, his prior BMW was stolen out of the parking lot “in less than a minute”.
Ok. I’m convinced. Into the chock it goes. We should thank the hotel for investing in these motorcycle security items. It would be nice if they were more common. Somehow I couldn’t help thinking we had gone from Morocco, where we were constantly told the bike was safe on the street or in an open parking lot, to France, where…

These locking wheel chocks were securely bolted into the ground. They are designed in such a way that you can’t get to the mounting bolts, the lock, the locking bar, or the bike’s axle. A well-thought-out piece of security equipment.

The next morning was overcast, but still not raining as we headed towards the border with Italy. Following the GPS, we turned off the main road and began climbing into the French Alps.

Then it started to rain. The temperature began to drop. We continued to climb. We passed a lighted road sign in French announcing that one of the two passes was still closed due to snow. I wasn’t sure which pass we were going over, but we continued on, hoping for the best. I turned the heated grips on, but my fingers were still going numb from the temperature.

First of May…too early to be riding in the Alps.

We rode along in the clouds and rain for what seemed like at least two hours, before finally dropping down to lower elevation and warmer temperatures. The rain stopped shortly before reaching our destination of Piacenza, Italy. I had discovered the night before that the chain on the bike was on its’ last miles, so we decided to take an extra day in Piacenza due to the bank holiday (it’s Labor Day in Italy) in order to search for a new chain.

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