My favourite moments on my epic Vespa ride through the sunny parts of Italy
A little while ago I posted my top 5 experiences from my book, The Wrong Way Home.
You guys seemed to like it so I thought I’d do the same with all my other books, starting with Vroom By The Sea.
Vroom By The Sea was my second Vespa book, a sequel, of sorts, to Vroom With A View.
My original plan was to do another trip on Sophia, my Vespa from Vroom With A View. But things didn’t quite work out the way I’d expected. Sophia had been de-registered so I had to find another Vespa.
Luckily Marco had one in his workshop that was just the ticket – a bright orange Rally 200.
I christened it Marcello, after the Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni.
Marcello proved to be the perfect guide to Sardinia, Sicily and the sunny parts of Italy, turning heads and taking the longer and more difficult roads in his stride.
These are just a sample of the good times we had together.
#1: Leaving Livorno
This was the moment when I realised that Marcello was EXACTLY the right Vespa for my journey through Sardinia, Sicily and the sunny parts of Italy.
It was taken down at the port in Livorno, next to the ship that would take me and Marcello across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Sardinia and where our adventure would truly begin.
While Sophia’s demure bearing and pale coffee colour was perfect for the muted tones of Tuscany, Marcello was brash and confident – a hairy-chested, medallion-wearing Rally 200 better suited to the beaches and mountains of Italy’s biggest islands.
Parked beside the garishly-painted Moby ship I realised that where my journey from Milan to Rome with Sophia in Vroom With A View had been in sepia tones, this one was going to be in Technicolour.
I couldn’t wait.
#2: A very Sicilian roadblock
I came across ‘road block’ in the dry hills around Poggioreale in western Sicily.
What you can’t see is a guy called Francesco sitting behind me with a bale of wild oregano under each arm.
We’d just had a bit of wobble coming around the bend – courtesy of fresh dung scattered across the road – and the sheep came close to finishing us off.
Francesco was the local eccentric in Poggioreale and the locals indulged him by paying over the odds for bunches of wild oregano that he picked from the dry hills around the town.
Francesco loved Marcello from the moment he clapped eyes on him, dancing a jig and insisting I take him for a ride.
In return, he promised to show me where his secret patch of oregano – a great honour, the locals told me.
Thanks to these sheep, that secret nearly died with the both of us.
#3: Caught by the fuzz in Sardinia
This photo was taken high in the mountains in central Sardinia.
The weather was so lovely and the roads so bereft of traffic that I had decided to ditch the helmet and wear my straw hat instead.
I was convinced the hat lent me a rakish charm. It also meant my trip suddenly had a soundtrack.
The crunch of gravel. The murmur of mountain streams. The cry of a sparrow hawk.
It was so magical I decided that I would ride as much of the way to Cagliari without a helmet as I could.
I got as far as Meano Sardo, a small village 14 kilometres south of Sorgono.
The local carabinieri had set up a roadblock on the edge of town. Two policemen – one big, one small – leant against their car, parked in the shade.
I pulled over about 300 metres before I reached them and pretended I had mechanical problems.
I put on quite the show. I pulled off the cowl, pretended to clean my spark plug and tinkered with the carburettor. By the time I put the cowl back on and packed away my tools a good 15 minutes had passed.
I’d also replaced the hat with my helmet.
It didn’t work. When I went to ride past the carabinieri the biggest one shook his head wearily and pulled me over.
There was talk of questura (police headquarters), multa (fine) and confiscato (confiscated). But when they spotted my passport and saw that I was Australiano the mood changed.
The big guy had an uncle in Griffith and decided to let me off with a warning.
Before I rode off I cheekily asked to take this photo of them beside my Vespa.
It was the big guy’s idea to point at the helmet as a sort of public health warning.
His smile kind of undermined his message.
#4: The miracle of Marsala
This is Mr and Mrs Casano standing out front of their winery in Marsala in Sicily.
I stumbled across it quite by chance, instantly recognising their logo from childhood memories as I rode by.
My dad was first introduced to their family’s sweet fortified wine by the Sicilian tradesmen he worked with when he was an apprentice plumber.
My mum would use it in her famous peach slice and kept the bottle hidden in a cupboard above our very 70s wall oven.
Dad would occasionally sneak a swig, so my mum started marking the level on the label after she finished cooking to catch him out. When she confronted him, he’d say it had evaporated and that she shouldn’t keep it above the oven.
Mr Casano said his father had been the first to export Marsala to Australia. And that they still made Ambra Semisecco.
He showed me a bottle and the label was still exactly the same, 30 years later.
Buone memorie, I replied.
As I was about to leave, his wife emerged from the office with a bottle of Casano Ambra Semisecco in a special gift box.
What’s more, if was exactly the right size to hang from the hook on my Vespa and wedge tightly against the floorboard.
An important consideration when I still had 1,500 kilometres of my journey to go.
#5: Making friends in Bolgheri
I took this pic just before I set off to Sardinia, Sicily and beyond.
I know it’s strange to end my selection of favourite moments at the beginning of the trip, but hear me out.
Marco took me to Bolgheri to meet his friend, Simone, who ran a little winery and olive farm, just outside of town. Simone showed us his olive groves and barrels while his dog, Giosué, ran around our feet, chewing on a pine cone.
Giosué was named after a famous Italian poet who wrote ‘Davanti a San Guido’, a poem about the famous avenue of pines that leads up to the walled town of Bolgheri.
I love the colours of this photo, the light and how it captures such a relaxed moment. It was also the moment I decided I needed to get me a straw hat. I remember thinking Simone looked so cool in his.
I was back in Bolgheri, just before COVID hit and got to catch up with Simone again. He’s still rocking the straw hat, but sadly Giosué has gone to the great pine grove in the sky.
Simone has started up a great little enoteca and cellar in Montescudaio where he creates one of Italy’s best orange wines.
If you’re ever in that neck of the woods you should drop in and say hi. Just look for the sign saying ‘Simone Setti Cantina.’
That’s why I wanted to end with this pic. Simone was the first of many friends I made on that trip, most of whom I am still in touch with.
Such is the power of riding a bright orange Vespa through the sunny parts of Italy.