Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Italy Motorcycle Diary: 1. Arriving at CIMT

                On Friday, August 4th, 2017, I said “ciao” to my friend Paul and dragged my duffel bag to the taxi stand next to the Pantheon, ready for the solo part of my Italy trip.
                Thirty minutes later, I was on Via Eusebio Chini in front of a ramp that led down to an underground garage. I had never been to this neighborhood in Rome before – and it was all so familiar.
                The taxi driver hesitated and motioned for me to wait. He studied the map on his phone, unsure if we had arrived at the destination. I looked at the ramp again -- took in the bushes on the curved ramp’s concrete walls, the apartment buildings up and down the street. Just like I remembered from Google Streetview.
                “This is it,” I said, opening the car door. A minute later I was walking down the ramp with my luggage.
                Central Italy Motorcycle Tour’s Rome office is tucked at the back of the garage, a Plexiglas, sectioned-off part of the underground structure. Parked outside the office, resting on its kickstand, was the amazing black-and-silver beast I’d soon be riding. But first things’ first.
I could see a large man seated behind a counter. I opened the door.
Ciao! Francesco?”
                Sono Ray Stern. Piacere di conoscerla. I have a reservation for a motorcycle rental.”
                “It’s good to meet you,” he said, and we shook hands.
                I chose CIMT because it was the first motorcycle rental place I found on the Internet. It looked very professional from its website and Facebook page, and it had excellent, authentic-looking testimonials and reviews. I contacted them in December 2016 and began corresponding with Francesco, who runs the place. For a few weeks he was out sick and I emailed back and forth with one of his partners, Riccardo.
                I signed a bunch of papers and charged a $2,000 deposit to a credit card, plus a $544 initial fee. I also agreed to pay a per-mile fee that would kick in after a few hundred kilometers. The deposit covered the deductible on the mandatory insurance I had to buy. If the bike got stolen, which I heard was very possible, or I totaled it, I’d be out that $2,000! Sure, it’s only money, but I would remain nervous about hurting or losing the bike for the whole trip.
I brought my own helmet, armored mesh jacket, and boots. I spent an extra 10 euros a day on one of CIMT’s handlebar-mounted Garmin GPS units.
The ramp down to CIMT's Rome office.
                Francesco spoke English very well. His face often held a serious look, as if he’d seen one too many motorcycle crashes, I thought. But his good humor offset his gruffness. He smiled a lot, too, and seemed to share my excitement – until I told him I was going to Naples.
                “Why are you going to Naples?” he asked in a dead-serious voice.
                “To see the sights and drive the Amalfi Coast.”
                “The Amalfi Coast is fine, but Naples is crazy. Even we Italians think driving is nuts there. Please tell me you’re staying on the coast.”
                I had decided months before to avoid hotels in the maze of narrow streets in central Naples, one of the most densely populated places on Earth. I had booked at the Rex, right off the waterfront near the Castel dell’ Ovo. Francesco was relieved to hear it.
                As Francesco and I stood outside the office in the dim light of the parking garage, checking over my rental, an American came in to rent a bike. He was a young guy, in great shape, and looked to be in his early 30s. He and his friend were renting Ducatis for a longer and no doubt much faster trip than I was going on. He’d lived in Naples for two months.
                “The drivers there, they don’t give a shit about you,” he said. “If they’re looking at you, you have the right of way. If they’re not looking at you, they have the right of way.”
                I told him I’d read the greatest danger could be scooters ramming me from behind, their drivers surprised to find me stopping at stoplights or stop signs.
                “Treat stop signs like yield signs,” he said, which is advice I’d seen on a blog somewhere. “But stop for stoplights.”
                I asked Francesco about the Italian speed demons I expected to see on the road. He said yes, some people drive fast – and suggested that I keep a good clip, since others would be expecting that.
                Motorcyclists should go fast, he explained, but they should never be in hurry.
                Even the taxi driver on the ride over to CIMT, when I pantomimed and abused the Italian language to explain that I would be renting a moto, gave me his own Naples driving advice.
                Attento, attento,” he said solemnly.
                Be careful.
                I felt sufficiently forewarned.
                But I was more excited for the challenge than worried. I knew from my research that I needed to be prepared to react at all times, and that other drivers would expect me to react to them. At the same time, I knew that speeds are generally much slower than on the streets of Phoenix, and the Italian population trained since birth to deal with what often seems like a citywide scooter race.
                Just before I left the hotel and Paul, we chatted with two bellhops who were excited to learn of my adventure. They said they wished they were going with me.
                “You’re going to have a blast!”

Next: The Most Selfish Flounderfest


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