10 October 2011

Trouble in Paradise

SEPTEMBER 30, 2011
Because of the trips to Yakutsk and Magadan during the spring and summer, I hadn't ridden my GS in Italy since March, so I definitely wanted to get in one more trip to Italy before the season ended.  So I decided to fly down to Milan on September 30, have my bike dropped off at the airport, and then ride to the Cinque Terre area on the coast, where I could do some hiking, etc.  I was pretty excited, as I've been wanting to visit this area for some time.
Everything went fine, I landed on time, got the shuttle bus to the lot where the bike is parked, and as usual, they could not find my bag and key for a while but finally sorted it out.  I got things packed up and set out after checking the oil, although I forgot to check the tire pressure before leaving, and after going a few hundred meters I had to stop to put more air in the tires. 
Anyway, after a few kilometers on the highway I exited onto a smaller road that would eventually lead to Cinque Terre.  I'd only about about ten kilometers from the airport and was cruising along at about 60 kilometers an hour when I heard a horrible gnashing  noise (imagine marbles in a blender) coming from the engine, and the bike coasted to a stop.  No warning lights, no symptoms, just a sudden horrible noise…  I tried to start the engine again, but the starter would just thunk, and then nothing.  If not for the horrible noise that I heard from the engine, I would have thought that the starter had gone out.  In any event, after a few minutes it was obvious I was not going anywhere, so I pulled out the phone.  The woman at Eligio's office gave me the number for a bike recovery service, and after some adventures explaining to them where I was (just outside of Abbiategrasso) and waiting about 45 minutes, a truck came and picked me up.  There was then some discussion about where to take the bike, and they told me they would take it to a BMW dealer nearby (in Trecate, near Novara), so off we went.
At the BMW dealer, their initial diagnosis was also a bad starter, but after a bit more tinkering they gave me the bad news, which I was already expecting:  the engine was blown.  Here are the pictures of the engine that they sent me a few weeks later (don't look if you are squeamish!):
As you can imagine, I was pretty pissed off at this point; I had really been looking forward to this weekend, and now not only was the weekend shot, but I had to replace my bike's engine, which would be hugely expensive. BMW Boxer engines are supposedly rock-solid, and are not supposed to simply implode.  I have always been attentive about oil, etc., and was immediately, and remain, very suspicious about the Milan BMW dealer which had done the service, which included changing the oil and adjusting the valves. 
So first I had to figure out what to do with the remnants of the weekend; at this point I would not have time to go to Cinque Terre and hike, so I thought about just going back to Milan for a few days to sulk, but I really don't like Milan and that prospect was just too depressing.  Luckily the BMW shop in Trecate also rents bikes, so I decided I would take one of theirs and go somewhere else, not sure where…  They only had two bikes available, a huge BMW touring bike and an R1200R with no luggage. I took the R1200R and spent about an hour repacking everything I needed to fit on my packpack, which I strapped to the luggage rack.
I decided to spend the night in Novara, which was nearby, and the guys at the BMW dealer were nice enough to make a reservation for me.  One bad thing about taking the R1200R is that it did not have a GPS mount, so I had to navigate the old fashioned way.  After stopping a bunch of times for directions and violating numerous traffic rules, I found the hotel, which was just outside the old city.  I had a nice dinner with my maps spread out, and decided that I would head to Santa Margherita Legure or Portofino, which are next door to each other, a bit south of Genoa.

OCTOBER 1, 2011
After the restful evening in Novara, I left pretty early the next morning or the coast.  I took a bunch of smallish roads and without the GPS got lost a few times, but still reached Santa Margharita by early afternoon. I had not yet decided whether to stay in Santa Margherita or Portofino, but when I checked out a couple of hotels in Santa Margherita, it turns out they were full because of a big yacht show in Genoa.  That meant I would take the first hotel I found, and I soon found a nice hotel with a room with a balcony overlooking the harbor, so I snapped it up.  Here is the view from my balcony, nice!
Portofino is actually very close to Santa Margherita, only a couple of miles, so I decided I would take a walk and check it out.  Portofino has some kind of 1950's Hollywood glam, as apparently a bunch of movie stars "discovered" it back then, when it was a poor fishing village.  Anyway, the town now is nice enough, and fairly quaint.  Here are some pix:
As you can see, Portofino is pretty enough, but like many pretty things, much of it is fake; as you can see in this picture, all of buildings accents (window frames, etc.) are just painted on:
I hung out in Portofino for a couple of hours people-watching, and then caught a ferry back to Santa Margherita.  It got dark pretty soon, and as usual I had some wine and a cigar on the balcony. 
Here are some views from early morning:
OCTOBER 2, 2011
I had to go back to Milan today, as I was flying out tomorrow.  I had reserved a hotel in Milan; I've started doing this because otherwise it can be difficult to find a room there.  And I still have not found a hotel there that I really like.  Anyway, I wanted to go back via a different route, and found what looked like a nice road on my map, going through Bobbio (see squiggly purple line on map above).  Indeed, the road was fantastic, lots of curves and beautiful scenery.  And I have never seen so many motorcycles—hundreds, many thousands of them.  I didn't get any pix other this one of the R1200R:
The R1200R is an OK bike, but pretty blah. I don't understand who would want one, as it is not particularly sporty or good for touring.  I will stick with my GSA, thank you very much!
I got back to Milan OK, found the hotel with some difficulty, and as usual sort of wandered around the city during the evening. 

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