Friday 28.9 2018 – Paola to Taranto (327 km)
Because we only had three full days on the road, we woke early, keen to press onwards. In the kitchen of the house, which was directly above our room up an external staircase draped with climbing flowers, we found a delicious breakfast awaiting us. A very Italian mixture of savouries and sweets which, ironically, suited both our preferences. Coffee was there, of course – and an excellent brew according to my favourite cafficianado (Thank you, KenCo coffee adverts, for that term !) – and tea bags (Thank you, God, for tea !) but no easy way to boil the water to make it. In the end I found a saucepan in a drawer and was able to start my day the proper way.
The girls appeared as we were leaving and seemed genuinely sorry to see us go ! It was a nice place, with everything you could need – but we needed to be on our way !
I got a very pleasant surprise when I stopped to fill the tank. It was not empty, nor, according to the fuel gauge, in any urgent need of replenishment – but I like to be sure. I knew that, the previous day, we had travelled in excess of 350 km (Yes, I am the kind of Saddo who writes stuff like that down) so I was agreeably surprised by how little petrol it required. By my estimate the tank was smaller than on our FatBoy and yet we had travelled farther than we could ever hope to have done on a tank of gas at home. A rough mental calculation put our consumption at close to 4.5l/100km (the European way) or near enough 60 miles to a gallon (in old money). I would love to think that was solely down to a smooth riding style and not thrashing it, but I guess the unseen technology helped too. I was impressed.
Our plan for that day was to go a little further along the coast towards the south, before cutting back across country to what is, in figurative terms, the “sole“ of Italy’s “boot“. Then we planned to ride to the port of Taranto (at the top of the “heel“) where we had found what looked like a lovely place to stay.
The road was a bit twisty, as it hugged the coast quite closely, but it was well surfaced, so the going was varied enough to be interesting but never too challenging. The sun was out and the sky and the sea were each a lovely blue of their own, distinctive, shade. The comparatively easy going allowed me, as the driver, the opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery and Lucie, as the passenger, to snap a few lovely photographs from the saddle.
Again it was sad to see so much rubbish just dumped beside the road.
At Cartolano, just north of Lamazia Terme, we left the coast and headed inland. The Harley made easy work of the twisty but gentle climb up to the town of Cosenza and before long we were able to enjoy a brief rest and yet more coffee in that town’s central square.
At the time we travelled, the whole of Italy was in a state of agitation over the hundreds of illegal immigrants that were flooding in from North Africa. We had not seen any in Paola, we did not see any in Cosenza. Indeed we did not see any at all, anywhere. That is not to say there were none – but we did not see any.
Refreshed, we set off again and were soon cruising easily along the E45 which, as it descended, wound sinuously through the low hills and occasionally gave us a spectacular vista over the Gulf of Taranto. The countryside was a lot less green here, being, in the main, dry and seemingly quite arid. The long grass, often stretching as far as we could see, was like a sea of golden hay.
After reaching Sibari, we made a conscious decision to leave the highway, which there becomes the E90, choosing instead to ride on the less busy national road that parallels the course of the former around the gulf. This not only allowed us to ride at a more leisurely pace, considerably so when we occasionally met bunches of local traffic, but also gave us the chance to look for somewhere interesting for our lunch as we were, by then, both quite hungry. As is ever the case, once we began to look, there were not any places to be seen.
Eventually, I spotted a sign that was so faded as to be practically invisible and turned down a small road. There was a restaurant (Ristaronte Villa Costa, Via Bruscate Piccola, 87011 Sibari), but there were no signs of life at all. Had it not been for a few cars being parked there, we might well of presumed it was closed. Luckily, trying a few doors eventually gained us entry to what turned out to be a fairly amazing place. The decor was from another time and the furnishings seemed quite disproportionately fancy – but the seafood lunch was of an extremely high quality and we left pleased that our perseverance had paid off.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in a leisurely cruise around the fringe of the gulf. We even found a place where I could put my toe in the sea. This is another of my strange little habits. The sun was bright, the sea was blue, but the wind was fierce !
The sea, to my right was a pristine and sparkling blue – the countryside, to my left, a drab, dry, golden brown, interspersed here and there by stunted trees, mainly the ubiquitous olive. It was a pleasant ride, but not, in truth, really an interesting one.
Eventually, the national road more or less petered out and we needed to rejoin the E90. It would be truer to say the national road just continued and was called the E90. It was certainly little more than a fairly good road, it was not a highway and ran slowly through countless small towns
Our stay for the night was to be on the southern outskirts of Taranto, which is a large port and a naval base. We managed to navigate through the town, which was far larger, by a huge order of magnitude, than any other place we had seen, or were to see, on our trip. I think it is fair to say that Taranto had seen better days. Many buildings were in a sad condition and a high number appeared derelict, but there was also a lot of traffic, all of which drove in that apparently homicidal Italian manner. Even coming from Prague, where driving standards are simply appalling, we found it scary – but after a while you just get used to it. Anyway, we made it through unscathed and to be honest, without even any scary moments once we accepted that they probably would not hit us – it only looked like they would.
We were booked to stay the night in a B&B (Bed and Breakfast Sun and Wine, Viale Ionio 397, Taranto), which we had selected primarily because the listing on Booking.com looked so intriguing. We found the right road, but we did have quite a task to find the place and drove past it about 4 times ! When we did finally locate it, there was a small, but clear, sign and we were slightly red-faced !
What a place it was ! Intriguing did not, in reality, come close to summing it up. If you had asked me to describe the decor, I would probably have said it was a huge and confusing mishmash of disparate stuff, casually thrown together by an Italian with a very good sense of style. It was odd – but it totally worked.
The proprietor was charming but his English was a sketchy as our Italian. However, by using a translation program on his mobile that instantly translated a spoken sentence, in either tongue, to an audio rendition in the other, we communicated excellently.
For our evening meal, we rode a few kilometres down the coast to restaurant recommended by the guy in the hotel. It was a real “local“ kind of place, bottle glass windows, dark wood decor and a few typically local guys drinking at its small bar. It was also a tiny bit surreal as the staff there, whilst no doubt charming, in Italian, lacked an ability to communicate in any other known language. The menu was only in Italian and, even Google translate (which is usually able to provide a hint, however vague, in moments of desperation) was confounded by most of the words it found there. Maybe is was in some local patois, or something, we never found out. In the end we did manage to get some fish, which whilst delicious and nicely cooked, could have done with some accompaniment. No side dishes were, however offered, nor even suggested. We left a little mystified and returned to our lovely room still a little hungry. Maybe those Italian guys that were drinking at the bar are still discussing the strange dietary preferences of “those outsiders“ …