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Knight and Day - The Amalfi Run

By Jallani Qureshi -

Touring & travel

 25 November 2011 10:23

Inspired by the Tom Cruise film ‘Knight and Day’, I casually suggested a ride along the Amalfi Coast in Italy to a mate one Sunday evening. Within seconds, I got a text back saying ‘the wife has said yes’ and the trip was on!

Before we knew it, our over excitement had extended the trip to include the Alps, Croatia, Bologna, Lake Como, the N85, the Blackforest and the Ardennes – perhaps over-ambitious for a 7 day vacation break on cramped sport bikes.

Nav’s weapon of choice was the ultra exotic MV August F4 and mine the cross-plane 2009 R1 with twin Akropovics (baffles removed off course!) The trip commenced with a gentle ride down to Ashford International with two heavily loaded sports bikes all shiny and singing sweetly.

With no dramas, we took the next available shuttle onto the Eurotunnel out to Calais. So far uneventful but probably quite comforting for Nav who was about to lose his touring virginity on this trip.

We quickly departed the French railway station overtaking several cars enthusiastically on the way out to join the A16 eastbound. My R1 accelerated to 130 KPH with ease - the twin Akropovics coupled with the big-bang engine generating some attention as we passed various coaches and cars along the route.

I looked back to see another motorcycle drawing closer and prepared to give him the ‘euro-biker’ salute when I noticed it was a French rozza.

He positioned his Yamaha FJR1300 alongside my R1 and seemed to run parallel as if he was looking to fault my bike. I was nervous! I was over the national speed limit and had heard a myriad of stories of French police taking a zero tolerance stance on British sports bikers.

To my relief, Mr Plod pointed to his speedo to slow-down then fell-back and left the motorway. I looked back at Nav riding at a ginger 70 KPH not sure whether I was going to spend my first night in a French cell with just bread and water.

Within an hour, we had arrived at our first hotel for short night stop. Nav was shocked to find his vision of a 5 star Hilton replaced with the hostel like Formula One in Dunkerque. I treated Nav to a Kit Kat from the vending machine in the foyer to lift his spirits.

The next morning saw us leave the F1 hotel at 6am and hit the French motorway network to ensure we kept to our schedule.

We covered approximately 500 miles during day 2 taking us down through Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. We decided to stop-off at the unusually expensive Ibis hotel in Bregenz (Austria) for a well deserved rest. Décor was standard; food was average and wifi only accessible in the main reception area - outrageous!

However, my faith in the popular Ibis chain was restored with the availability of underground secure parking for both bikes. We parked-up, offloaded and checked-over the bikes. Nav wiped his MV over with his travel chamois (something I became accustom to on the trip).

Determined to maximise the trip, we decided to get another early start leaving at 7am. The beautiful Lake Constance at dawn caused some distraction resulting in me temporarily riding onto the wrong side (right side to us Brits) to the frustration of some locals!

After annoying the locals, we quickly left Breganz and hit the Austrian motorways towards Slovenia. Managing to average 140 KPH we made good progress. Lunch was a salad sandwich and coke. We refuelled and soldiered onwards.

Several toilet and fuel stops later we entered Slovenia and were immediately impressed by the change of landscape. The day was drawing-in and we needed somewhere to stop for the night. Nav was on the hunt for a Hilton or equivalent complex – I had other ideas. I had provisionally booked a night at the Ljubljana Camping Complex on the outskirts of the city. It is fair to say Nav was disappointed.

We decided to rent a chalet type room rather than camp – I wasn’t sure that I would make the night alive if I shared a tent with Nav (he wanted blood for staying here). We unloaded, got changed and headed out for food. The receptionist was a young lad who was excited with seeing the bikes. He pointed out that my Akros were made in Slovenia but no locals could afford them.

Dinner was an authentic stone baked Pizza made fresh with an ice coke (zero for me!). We walked back to the camp site ready to knock-out. I watched some strange Slovenian game show before nodding-off. We had covered over 400 miles in 12 hours – I looked forward to tomorrow and riding the famous coast rode of Croatia. The sun was shining as we woke to prepare for Day 4.

I packed the bike, took some photos then pushed my bike away from the buildings before firing her up. I sat on the bike not looking back in case of any angry residents ready to batter me for disturbing their sleep with the low pitch growling of my bike in the court yard.

The Ljubljana campsite was a pleasant location and I could imagine the buzz during the summer months when families from across Europe would come here for a relaxing retreat (although it remained reasonably quiet throughout our stay).

We rumbled out of town searching for the nearest motorway. Nav had wired-up his Car Sat Nav to the bike, which had all but packed-up by now. I had my 4 year old trusted TomTom Rider 2, which proved invaluable on this trip.

Before the trip, I had loaded in a number of additional ‘Points of Interest’ to ensure that in the worst case scenario we could navigate to the nearest McDonalds for warmth, shelter and subsistence. After purchasing the compulsory motorway toll sticker, we headed south.

The temperature was getting warmer, the sunshine brighter. Before we knew it, we had arrived at the Croatian border checkpoint. Nav ushered me in-front either because I had a friendlier face or to give him some time to turn back and escape if the border guards kicked-off.

The guard waved furiously at me to approach his booth, I lifted my Shoei Multi-tec helmet, smiled and prepared to handover my passport: Croatian border guard: “Where you from? Jallani: UK Croatian border guard: Ukraine Jallani: No, UK. United Kingdom. England, Londres, Nav what’s Croatian for England Nav (over the Scala G4 intercom): Tell him we’re Italian Croatian border guard: ah ok. Where you going? Jallani: Dubronovik then to Bari Croatian border guard: ok – you go nowhere else. Bye.

Before he could change his mind, I accelerated across to the Tourist office car park (passport in mouth, glove on tank). After confirming that Nav was with me the guard shut his booth window and went back to reading the sports section of his tabloid newspaper.

I took the opportunity to take some photos of the road signs and change of landscape. Everything felt slightly different but familiar (in a non European standard kind of way). The scenery felt very different in Croatia.

The roads seemed empty and it felt like perhaps we were heading the wrong way given there wasn’t a soul in sight. We stopped at a motorway service station to take a break to soak in the new landscape. I decided to shed some layers and we headed-on.

We followed the E65 and then the coastal road (the ‘8’) along the beautiful Croatian coast towards Zadar. Rather than ride the full run we diverted down to Prizna to catch the ferry for a short cut.

Unfortunately, after just missing the hourly crossing we were forced to work on our tan until the ferry returned. The short journey across the waters to Zigljen brought us out onto the ‘106’ and we blasted through corner-after-corner of heavenly twisties until we reached our destination of Zadar.

We had decided not to book any accommodation so navigated to the hotel district to find somewhere suitable to rest-up.

Unfortunately, most of the hotels appeared to be booked or were slightly too expensive for our liking (wasted on two smelly bikers anyway). One of the hotel receptionist suggested we head across town to the other side of the harbour where we would likely find something ‘more in our price range’.

I spotted a nice looking hotel near the see front and promptly agreed the price with the receptionist. We parked up the bikes and reluctantly dismounted. “I’m not sure on this place Nav”, “whatever man” was the reply. We left our bikes in the hotel car park and walked out to the sea front to think through the options when I spotted a villa with a sign “Rooms available”.

The villa was a family run place and the landlady was very welcoming. She allowed us to push our bikes up through the garden inside the villa complex and gave us a fantastic room with a sea view. All this at half the price of the nearby hotel. Breakfast included, free wifi and satellite TV – result!

All the rooms were named after the owners children – we were sleeping in Mariah’s room that night (however, we soon developed our suspicions that perhaps Mariah was not the fantasy lady we imagined!) We unloaded the bikes got changed and headed for a pizza.

We found a local Lidl type store and stocked-up on Coke, water and snacks. Nav posed for a few shots in the water with a banana(?!) before we returned to the room. We had covered 330 miles over 6 hours and were starting to find the last few days of riding all catching-up creating fatigue. After a shower and quick call back home we decided to call it a night.

I awoke at 7am to hear the waves crashing against the shore and rays of light shining through the balcony shutters. I walked out onto the balcony to take in the moment. We headed down for a home cooked breakfast – eggs, hash browns, toast, beans, yogurt, juice, coffee and fruit.

I gently squeezed into my riding gear and we began to load the bikes. Leaving Zadar was difficult, we should have stayed another night to enjoy the sites and take a proper break from the bike. I was blinded by the schedule and insisted with moving-on.

We followed the one-way system out of town heading south towards Split. We needed to be in Dubrovnik by 10pm to get the overnight ferry to Italy. Since we hadn’t bought the tickets, I was slightly nervous about turning-up late into Dubronovik.

The ferry ran every 24 hours so we would need to stay here another whole day if we didn’t make it onto the ferry, which felt like a waste. We decided to split the journey into two parts; the first half would be a non-motorway run through the back roads until we hit the half-way mark (or got bored) at which point we would navigate to the nearest motorway junction and blast towards Dubronovik.

This worked extremely well and we found some amazing roads with fantastic scenery. There was even one point where local school kids stop class and came running out to wave at us passing by (they must have heard the bikes coming a mile back). We eventually rolled into Dubronovik at 6.30pm and after a few enquiries parked up near the ticket office which we eventually realised wasn’t open until 8pm.

This gave us an opportunity to grab dinner and get comfortable before boarding the ferry. Nav’s bike got the usual attention from locals and tourists curious to see a shiny red Italian sports bike fully loaded with luggage – I could see his head getting bigger and bigger as the trip went on imagining he would eventually outgrow his helmet. The ticket office opened on time and we bought the tickets without a fuss.

We proceeded to join the ferry. Being motorcyclists, we were ushered to the front of the boarding queue to the annoyance of many of the car drivers who had been waiting patiently for hours. We went through the usual security checks by the Italian border guards (on the Croatian side) who asked some strange questions about whether I liked to ‘smoke’ and if I was carrying ‘anything’ in my luggage.

I wasn’t too sure what first impression I had given them and was tempted to pop a joke. However, with awkward previous experience with US customs officers, I decided not to make light of their comment and replied with a sharp ‘No’.

Without any further grief, we rode onto the ferry and scrambled to find a nice comfortable corner area on the ship to kip for the night. We laid out our gear to avoid having to share with any strangers and knuckled down for some rest.

This proved to be one of the worst nights of sleep that I had ever had - I wished we’d paid the extra for a cabin! Any sense of adventure and toughness had been lost – I longed for my luxurious memory foam mattress back at home. I gave up on getting any more sleep around 5am and went above deck to get some fresh air and take some snaps of dawn breaking.

We sailed into Bari around 6.30am but were unable to disembark until 7am since the border crossing didn’t open until 7am and the guards weren’t in any particular hurry to let us off.

At 7.30am we disembarked and were on our way – officially now in Italy! I had a rude awakening when we hit the first main junction with cars swarming everywhere without any regard for us or other traffic. It was completely manic and for the first time in my biking life, I was sure that someone was going to knock me off at any moment. We pulled into a fuel station to take stock and evaluate the situation.

After a swig of Red Bull and a vigorous shakedown, we continued this time with a plan to ride more aggressively and rev our engines to get ourselves noticed – we needed to think like the Italians to ride here and survive! Things calmed down as we left Bari and out onto the country roads towards Amalfi. We took the direct route to Amalfi via the E842.

It wasn’t a particularly memorable journey with the highlight being a Magnum ice cream at one of the fuel stops! We reached Amalfi within 3 hours and suddenly the landscape and roads all changed. We ended-up on small windy roads hugging the cliff edge with the Tyrrhenian Sea on our left hand side. It was a fantastic road and seemed to go on forever.

Amazingly, we were tailgated and overtaken by scooters who seemed to have memorised every bend and pot-hole. We also noticed the rich and famous had replaced their prestige German vehicles for small Fiat 500’s that could easily navigate these roads.

We stopped at several hotels to enquire about rates/availability but nothing took our fancy or was suitable (for us or the bikes). As we rolled through Maiori on the Amalfi coast, we were stopped by a police checkpoint. We were definitely not speeding so was slightly nervous about how this was going to turn out since I had heard stories of Italian police marching bikers to cash points and demanding money.

However, on this occasion Mr Carabinieri simply wanted to checkout Nav’s MV Augusta. After a good look around the bike he let us go. Phew! We found a fantastic hotel with a post-card view and enjoyed the rest of the evening wondering around the old town area. We debated staying around Amalfi for another day as we really liked the atmosphere but decided to move on towards Bologna and the Ducati factory (a day earlier than arranged with the Ducati tour office).

The next day we turned back on ourselves to find the nearest motorway junction and blasted straight up to Bologna. We arrived late afternoon and stayed at a business type hotel, which was empty since it was the weekend.

The next morning we had a short ride to the Ducati Factory and completed the tour. I was mildly irritated by the fact that only Ducati motorcycles were allowed into the factory car park, which meant our bikes had to be left on the street throughout the tour. We got to see various bikes being ‘hand-assembled’ including Street Fighters, 1198’s and Diavel’s.

You could see the passion for biking and the tour group were real enthusiasts most travelling from around the world to get an insider view of the factory. We were disappointed not to see Vale or Nicky – Nav consoled himself by buying a baby grow from the official Ducati store onsite. We decided to skip the museum part of the tour and beat the rush-hour traffic out of town.

We had seen enough! The trip was starting to peak for Nav. He was missing home and his kid so we decided to head directly home via the N85.

We checked the forecast and it appeared that the French Riviera was going to be wet and Nav wasn’t interested in riding his beautiful MV around the mountain roads in those conditions. The trip felt over and we diverted towards Grenoble and home.

The plan was to stay in a cheap F1 hotel and then getup early for Calais. We had now perfected our hotel stop-off routine with a regimented pattern for charging our phones, Sat Navs and intercoms. We both lay in bed watching a French version of the Simpsons. “Shall we do a mad one and head home now?” I half-heartedly shouted to Nav. “not bothered” was the reply.

We then convinced ourselves that it would be more sensible to travel overnight and miss the traffic – we could be at Calais for 6am and on the first Eurotunnel shuttle home.

We re-packed, got dressed and left. The hotel receptionist was probably thinking we were balmy since we had only just checked-in, paid and were now leaving. I hoped he didn’t think anything seedy had just gone on! The direct route back to Calais was approximately 450 miles and would take 6 hours via the French motorway toll roads (including fuel breaks).

We averaged 140 KPH all the way back to Calais that night on one of the most gruelling bikes rides I had ever done. We were both exhausted and the night ride (which seemed like a good idea at the time) was even more stressful with the lack of light. We had to stop 5 times for fuel and caffeine breaks - each time being overtaken by the various trucks and buses we had previously overtaken.

During the last leg to the tunnel Nav almost ran out of fuel. We were short 10 miles and Nav was running on fumes. We diverted off the motorway to find the TomTom indicated fuel stop didn’t actually exist. I was convinced that Nav was going to run dry and was feeling pretty low (tired, exhausted and losing my patience).

We should have stopped to refuel at the last Services but decided to push on to make the first train departure at 6am. I could tell Nav’s bike was starting to splutter and he had slowed right down to conserve fuel. “Thank god” I shouted inside my helmet as I saw a 24 hour supermarket fuel pump. This felt like one of those occasions when you’re desperate for the loo and suddenly find a toilet – I felt relieved to say the least.

We fuelled to the max and rejoined the carriageway back to the train terminal. Without any further drama, we sailed through customs and parked-up ready to join the train. There was a sombre mood and Nav didn’t speak much for the remainder of the journey home.

We arrived back at Ashford and hit the motorway heading North. It was 6am (UK time) and the roads were empty – we pinned it and got home in record time. Exhausted and a little light-headed I changed into my PJ’s and into bed – knockout (I can’t recall whether I had even locked-up my bike).

What did we learn from this trip? Sports bikes are fine for touring but you need to have a clear fuelling strategy! Croatia is a friendly place and is a must for any serious biker – but avoid the main motorways as much as possible. Overnight riding is not always a good idea especially when you deprive yourself of sleep.

Finally, it’s the journey not the destination that’s important. Would we do this trip again on the same bikes – a definite yes!