Have you ever dreamed to travel in Italy by Vespa?
It was a morning of sudden storms interspersed with glimpses of the sun as I was strolling in Piazza Unità, Trieste, an idea stopped me in my tracks: Italy by Vespa! An unexpected light-ray passed through the clouds and made me think about the deep bond between the light and the famous Cistercian abbeys, shaped and coloured by reflections of fire at the magic hours. I consulted an old monastic map, sliding the black pen across the paper and joining the most important centres as one would in a game of riddles. I suddenly realised that those holy places had something special in common; the majority of them stand out in the midst of great valleys and are protected by sharp mountain reliefs. Therefore I decided to plan my journey using only mountain roads, ideally connecting all the abbeys, to the monastery of Santo Stefano in Agrigento, the last guardian of the Cistercians territories. I did not yet know that the rain storm in that day in Trieste would pursue me for a long time.
From Trieste to Milan, and the Central-Eastern Alps
Knock on the door of an ancient abbey; learn the secrets of plants from the gardener-monk, travel, never touching the zero-elevation. These are the main objectives of my trip “Italy by Vespa” with “her.” I named her “Negra“, a 1981 Vespa P125x. When I picked her up she had been locked up in an old shed, entirely spray-painted in black.
I decide to start on the eve of Easter, leaving behind sugar-doves and outdoor parties. I head to the Dolomites, hoping to arrive in Milan in a couple of days. The “thrill of departure” pulls me in the wrong direction two times, forcing a five-hour delay at the first stage. Among the silence of the first Alpine passes, the Pordoi pass and Costalunga welcome me with plenty of falling and transparent snow. One meter ice walls line the edges of the road. A couple of shepherds from Alto Adige, awaiting the first thaws, welcome me near warm fireplaces. Their faces drawn with curiosity, they invite me for a “friendly” drink. The inside of their home smells of pine wood. The wax-yellow jacket has become my second skin. I refuel and go west.
Lake Como and Lenno
When I arrive in the Como area I finally leave the cold behind and “Italy by Vespa” is not a mere dream anymore. The loneliness of the switchbacks and the winding roads of the previous days are replaced with gentle ups and downs that caress the lake; snow becomes rain. A right turn at the Morbegno’s junction and about ten kilometres later Lake Como appears.
Perched on a ridge of hills at the bottom of Mount Narro, wrapped in silence, The “Acquafredda” Abbey in Lenno shows itself, my first Cistercian destination. I knock on the large wooden door that protects the inner courtyard. Surprisingly, and contradictory to what my sources told me, there is are no monks at the front door, only a guy with an I-pod, headphones in the ears, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, asking me if I’m up for the barbecue. It appears that there is no longer any trace of the Cistercian monastic community; in fact, the abbey has been for sale for about half a decade.
Milano the crazy city
I leave behind the lakes and mountains following a seven hour ride and arrive in Milan, the only flat road stage in my religious journey. The capital of fashion incites a diabolical effect, the chaotic traffic chokes me and after a few hours of excitement I stop to photograph. The resurface of a smile comes while meeting Giorgio Càeran, a myth among the Vespa travellers who left Italy August 21, 1977 to go in India with his Vespa Rally 200. I pick him up on the Negra and go for a ride in the city. We talk about travel, Vespa’s, motorcycle racing and his latest book on the road to Santiago. We consult the 70’s road map that accompanies me on this adventure. Giorgio gets a kick out of looking at the stretch he travelled years before in an East-bound direction. I have a feeling that his adventures will resume one day.
Northern and Central Appennini
Father Stephen, Prior of Chiaravalle Milanese, greets me with a hug, a strong handshake and gives me access to the library of the abbey. He will prove a great help, thanks to the treasure trove of information he will provide.
– “Nothing better than getting your hands dirty and doing research in the field to build an adventure,” he says.
In this sacred place I live a day with the smell of incense, dazzled by the sun’s force, watching its rays draw circular shapes on the hazy smoke from the censer.
– “The light enters and exits the church every day, and we observe the chase with the Gregorian chants accompanied by the organ” as described by the Cook-Father.
The next day I depart again in search of mountains, following the possible routes taken by the monks hundreds years ago. After being immersed in the nature of the Apennines between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, I am propelled to Pisa and the Alps named Apuane. “Nuda” and “Prato” mountains flank Garfagnana where, due to mud and puddles traps, my ride turns in to theatre of adventurous trapeze artist manoeuvres. The rain never stops chasing me and heavy downpours alternate with moments of quiet.
A thief from Pisa
The arrival in Pisa finds me exhausted and soaked to the bone. I park the scooter and retire to a hostel for a refreshing shower where, after one hour, I pass out in bed. At dawn, a surprise awaited me. The lock that protected the second fuel tank of the Vespa had been cut and the container removed from the Vespa platform. On the ground, I find the steel ring lock. Annoyed and vexed by this latest complication I snub Pisa and its wonders. Saving time and shots for me. I immerse myself, to forget, in the “Metalliferous Hills” and then fly to the East. After three hours of endless curves I make a stop near Pomarance.
As I observe the intense green of the landscape, a carpenter stops at the roadside and, with a proud look, asks “Do you know what you’re looking at boy? You’re in the ancient Etruria’s feud; here, they extracted iron to forge swords and create lances, therefore, War was the perpetual topic in these lands. As a matter of fact just as medieval traps, uexpected puddles wet my shoes and Negra’s ignition points. My travel in Italy by Vespa continues as we are stuck a couple of times in mud ruses, seemingly light, but in fact they have their own demonic properties, sticking to my soles with vengeance.