A stark history lesson in Italy, Spain and France…and some amazing riding

On the south coast of Sicily, which I was corrected in pronunciation by the locals who call it ‘See-chill-ya’, we headed to the most important town in Greece…what!!!

Yes we are still in Italy but if you know your history a lot of this part of the world at one time or another was Greek, we headed to Agrigento or as it was also known – Akragas, Acragas, Ἀκράγας in Greek, Agrigentum in Latin and Kirkent or Jirjent in Arabic, one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia during the golden age of Ancient Greece with population estimates in the range of 200,000 to 800,000 before 406 BC.

We stayed in the new city which is a maze of little streets

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…but the old city is a little further down the hillside and looked on by the new city

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It is so clean it almost looks like a movie set

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large structures in various state of repair dot the hillside

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the ruins are in very good shape and guarded very well, only a few years back this was not a tourist location and the ruins were open to anyone, luckily no damage has happened

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just some small/ life size statue right? Wrong!

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We ride on where the modern world is elevated with Italian style above the ancient world

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We decided not to head to the city (Palermo) and instead chose Marsala, a small town with a distinctly Arab/ North African feel, again with tight little streets and distressed buildings

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Of course as expected beautiful buildings and town square abound which is surprising as this town was all but wiped off the map during world war 2

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Into the harbor in Palermo and THE LAST vehicle we see could not be more iconic to Sicily, well the name is anyway…wonder if it was full of Teflon :jack Some of you might need a little google help to get the joke :hmmmmm

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We head for Sardinia, its an island I knew absolutly nothing about, we know we have a very short time there we are literally riding end to end to catch a ferry to Spain, @EvergreenE has to fly back to Lithuania in about a week to finalize her South American book deal with editors, publishers and printers.

As soon as we docked we knew we were going to regret not having enough time here. We spent a very short, few days riding some of the most amazing (empty) roads we had seen throughout the whole of Europe and we had to race along.

We stopped on one road for a break and looked down and there is this bridge and it looked like something out of fairytale…so I really gave it that look to just to enhance the feeling. Can you imagine being on a dirt bike and following that deserted rail track?

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The island is lush, green, mountainous and scattered with dirt tracks as far as the eye can see…a return trip here on a dirt bike is an absolute must and a few months could easily be spent in the mountains, but for now we are stuck with pavement.

Looking down on valleys paved roads are few and far between but there is dirt down there…loads of it.

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When we arrived to Sardinia our ferry was late and we arrived in the dark = one day missed, when we are leaving we have an early ferry and we were told to be at the dock at 4.30am = another day missed…but that ferry was two hours late arriving!!!

We were stuck with boring roads like this…

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If you are heading to Europe or in Europe and have never been to Sardinia from what we saw I can tell you it’s amazing and not to be missed, just slightly smaller than Vermont for reference

The last day we went for an evening ride from Porto Torres (where the ferry leaves from) to what was described as Sardinias best tourist attraction – Grotta di Nettuno or Neptunes Cave. It was abandonded, and looked to have been for years…guess I read an old magazine. :fpalm

Anyhow when life gives you lemons…blah, blah, blah…you find this to look at

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and this…

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and a sunset on a cliff so windy you need to keep your helmet on

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Looking towards Spain, just 14 short hours away on a ferry at 4.30am :snore

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The ferry arrived very late into Barcelona, Spain due to high winds and rough seas. As mentioned earlier Egle had a flight to catch to go home to finalize a book so we only literally had 36 hours in Spain together.

As we aren’t big city people and also traveled a lot in Spain we decided to take a ride to see something unique. Heading due west out of Barcelona a few miles south of Zaragosa is a little town of Belchite.

To get there its all good riding thru Catalan

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I’d heard about Belchite from a member on the XT660.com forum that I used to frequent when I was riding one. He shared photos of his bike riding down the main street and it looked like a good photo opportunity and a chance to get away from Barcelona for the night.

Why Belchite???

Between August 24 and September 7, 1937, loyalist Spanish Republican and rebel General Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War fought the Battle of Belchite in and around the town. After 1939 a new village of Belchite was built adjacent to the ruins of the old, which remain a ghost town as a memorial to the war.

The remains of the old village have been used as filming locations in films including Terry Gilliam’s 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

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The town was fenced off which went against the photos I’d seen years earlier, eventually, we found the big door leading into the old village. Just as we got there a group was leaving and the ‘only guide’ told us it was now closed, but it would be open at 9pm, but there is no lighting at all, photographers are advised to bring their own flood lights…fail!!!

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Otherwise he told us to come back the next day, but just in case also let me walk in a few steps to take a few photos…

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Sadly the next day it was torrential rain, so photography was a no go so we headed back to Barcelona almost the whole way in the rain.

After dropping Egle at Barcelona airport early in the morning while it was still dark I head off north in the direction of England, I have a few days to get there and arrive before my sister leaves for her vacation, to get amongst other things the keys for her house.

I pick a reasonably direct route with a few stopovers at two friends houses for overnighters, and an Airbnb in the middle

I have never been really bothered by the weather, hot or cold I usually wear about the same amount of gear, so I head for the easiest way and I leave the metropolis of Barcelona in the dark behind me. My route takes me into the Pyrenees Mountains dividing Spain and France, and as its early in the morning as the sun is rising the skiers are appearing and surprised to see a motorcycle riding past.

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I stay off the toll roads and this takes me thru lots of little towns, villages, and backroads once I have left the mountains

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After spending the night at MrPopples I leave in the strongest wind I have ridden in since Patagonia in 2011, I’m getting blown from one side of the road to the other for the whole day.

Taking a break at a little village I was advised as a must see Saint-Cirq Lapopie. Sitting 300 feet up on a high cliff face above the Lot River doesn’t seem real as it comes into view. It was recently voted the best village in France and because of this it gets around 400,000 visitors a year (mainly French) but today I was the only person there. In 1199 Richard the Lionheart tried to siege the village and couldn’t get in…today the Super Tenere conquered the village and got in straight away.

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As I said earlier not the best day weather wise and very small streets from Medieval times are not made for vehicles so I had a walk around its tiny streets and alleyways

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If you are wondering why these shots are so edited? This next shot will show you why, it was taken in nearly total darkness as were most of the others in the village (original unedited is first) and moments later the torrential rain that had been threatening happened

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I took off and headed further along high above the river and eventually outran the rain

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I carry on riding north and the History of France gets a little deeper, I’m keeping to back roads and the occasional short hit of dirt

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@Yannick had pm’d me and said that as I was heading north maybe I should stop by D’Oardour-Sur-Glane and take in a little World War 2 history.

I did a little research and found this line, so now you know as much as me – “On 10 June 1944, the village of Oradour-Sur-Glane in Haute-Vienne in then Nazi-occupied France was destroyed, when 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children, were massacred by a Nazi Waffen-SS company. A new village was built nearby after the war, but French president Charles de Gaulle ordered the original maintained as a permanent memorial and museum.” – If you want to read more a brief history is HERE

I arrived at 4.30 (16.30) and according to the sign it should be open but the gates were closed. A lady came out and in broken English told me they were still open but closing soon, I could come in and she would leave the main gate slightly open so I could stay as long as I wanted and walk around have the place to myself to take some photos, just close the gate when you leave. She asked if I would like her to point out some areas that maybe I wouldn’t know about if I was by myself. I nodded in agreement and we walked.

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As we walked up the main street of the village it seemed like a movie set and I just let her speak…”did you notice the date, it was 4 days after D Day, 6th June 1944?” She went on, it was strange because this village had never seen a Geman soldier until 1942 even though Limoge just 14 miles south was overrun with the German army and then visits were very rare and village life carried on as normal.” As she walked she pointed out building and was saying “this is Mr. xxx house, this was the bakery, this was the butcher…” the way she spoke it felt like she knew them personally but not possible as she was in her forties.

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The photo above is the main intersection of the village, “all the inhabitants were brought here, women and children were sent to one side and men to the other”, she explained. “The women and children were marched just down the road to the church and 452 were forced inside”

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There were only a few shots fired in the church but no-one was killed, they were locked inside.

The men were split into four groups and made to go inside buildings a good distance from each other, she pointed at a sign on the remains of the building. “This is where one group of men were massacred.

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She pointed up the street, “and there, there and there were the other three places the massacre took place”.

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We went back to the church and I was speechless, literally, my throat was dry and she knew it. She made it a very real experience but it was going to get a little more real. We reentered the church, “can you imagine you are inside one of 452 women and children and just heard lots of shouting then gunfire, then nothing, as a women, inside here you know that your husband, father, brother, uncle or son was now dead and you were trapped”

We stood inside the church and she said, “you are in here, terrified and then gunfire and windows smash and hand grenades and incendiary devices come flying in, the inside of the church becomes an inferno in a matter of seconds and you are trapped with no chance of escape.” Look here, she points to the wall, “do you see the color pink in the granite?”

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“You see near the roof line where the granite has a natural color, well for granite to turn pink…” she walks to a wall, “it needs to be heated up to”. She puts her finger on the wall and draws 1100. “This is hard to imagine, but we know this as it has been tested, and we know exactly what happened that day because amazingly two women and one child escaped. The only survivor was 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche. She escaped through a rear sacristy window, followed by a young woman and child. All three were shot, two of them fatally. Rouffanche crawled to some pea bushes and remained hidden overnight until she was found and rescued the next morning.”

She went on to say, “after the massacre, the village was razed to the ground and is now left in almost the exact same condition it was that day back in 1944.”

We walked out the church and she locked the door behind us. “Make sure you get a photograph of that car, people think it’s Dr. Jacques Desourteaux car…but it actually isn’t, a lot of people are mistaken. When Dr. Desourteaux arrived at the entrance to the town, soldiers forced him to drive up the main street and stop across from the marketplace, where he joined the assembled townspeople. He died with the others that afternoon. A few weeks later, the doctor’s brother and his nephew moved the Desourteaux car to the family property, where it still lies inside the garden wall. The car on the marketplace actually belonged to the wine merchant…I’ll leave you with your thoughts” and she walked away.

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I walked around a little more taking it all in, over the years I have traveled thru a lot of countries and history is everywhere, in Europe it is in your face a lot and well preserved and you can become a little blazé about it all as it doesn’t quite often seem real. If I was here alone it would have felt like a movie set with no depth, but with a local showing me around and explaining all the intricate details, made this, without doubt, one of the most humbling places I have ever experienced.

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