I knew I had the best wife in the world when she bought me a Vespa LX for Christmas the first year we were married. I knew I married into the right family when her dad also started riding shortly thereafter. Fast forward a few years and my father-in-law, Mark, and I are diehard Vespa aficionados with a total of six bikes between us. What follows is our tour through Italy by Vespa in the summer of 2015.
I’ve done this before. I’ve rented Vespas in both Roma and Firenze. The shop I like in Roma is an outfit called Bici & Baci. I was in communication with them months beforehand so they knew how to tune and accessorize the bikes to align with our trip distance and preferences. We would be renting matching Dragon Red Vespa GTS-300s.
Flying on the redeye out of O’Hare, I only slept a couple hours, but it didn’t matter. We were ready to ride. After picking up the bikes near Termini Station, we did a couple laps around Roma then headed straight to Firenze via Highway A1, AKA “Autostrada del Sole”, which translates to English as “Motorway of the Sun.” The name is fitting. While actually 95 degrees that day, on the asphalt it felt like 120+ in the blistering heat.
We weren’t 100 Km north of Roma before being pulled over by the local Polizia. Why did they pull us over? I’m still not quite sure. They scoured our paperwork for close to an hour while we were melting in the heat. Finally, they wrote us each a ticket for having photocopied signatures on our titles.
We stayed the night in Firenze then departed for the birthplace of Vespa, Pontedera. The town is much smaller than I expected. It was also challenging to find the Piaggio Museum. Once there, we were in vintage Vespa and Ape heaven. I’m not really one for museums, but this place is cool and a must-see for any true scooter lover. One of the most impressive items was a bike driven by the late Giorgio Bettinelli in his 4-year, 144,000 Km world tour.
We ate lunch and swam in the beautiful seaside town of Cecina, then blazed down the coast through Grosseto, Orbetello, Latina, and Gaeta, before arriving in Napoli at the end of the Day three. The overnight ferry to Palermo — akin to a no-frills cruise ship — was a blast. We met a Jesuit priest who boarded after us on a Kawasaki. Over some brews and G&Ts, he offered to take us on a “back stage” tour of Palermo in the morning. We disembarked with him at 6:30 AM and tore up the town before heading toward Corleone. Corleone is well off the beaten path and actually required some dirt road riding. There were no tourists there and we stood out on our bright red bikes. To commemorate the visit, we purchased two bottles of Amaro Don Corleone liquor.
On our way east to the popular holiday destination of Taormina, we passed through Selinunte and Agrigento while taking in the beautiful Sicilian countryside and coastline. The next morning we boarded a 15-minute ferry back to the toe of the boot. At the end of day five we made our way to Maratea, arguably the most authentic Italian town on our journey. A much-needed pool awaited us at the hotel after the long day’s ride.
While most of the trip was high-speed highway, country and mountain road riding, day six in the Almafi Coast presented a different type of terrain. Almafi consists of five sea-side towns just south of Napoli. The narrow and winding roads run right along the cliff and are comprised of one blind turn after another. It took us almost two hours to drive the 50 Km from Salerno to Positano. We’re pretty accomplished riders, but I must admit that we were passed at one point by a family of four and a lady applying her makeup (yes, both on scooters). We couldn’t be too embarrassed about it. They knew the roads, and we didn’t.
Our last full day in Italy took us back to Roma where we hit up all the obligatory sites: Coliseum, Panthenon, Saint Peter’s Square, and Trevi Fountain. All in, we rocked 2,440 kilometers in seven days, carrying only what fit in our top cases.
The usual reaction I receive when sharing this trip with family and friends is, “You did what!? Italians are the craziest drivers on the planet.” Not exactly true. The driving is aggressive, but safe. There are fewer traffic signs and signals and virtually no enforcement of traffic laws. Yet, I only saw one accident. Granted, getting buzzed by a few inches while going 120 Kph on A1 took some getting used to, but once I realized that’s just how the Italians passed, I felt right at home. It will only be a matter of time before the Chicago Police Department has to remind me, again, that I can’t create my own lane on the way home from work. Clearly, they haven’t been to Italy.