Barbers, Bikes and the Road Home - Part two
At last the Right Hand Man is homeward bound, hurling defiance to the wind as he swings by barbershops across the magnificence of Europe. Fuelled by the rhythm of rebellion he rides, the road beneath his wheels singing the song of freedom. So strap in tight and hold on for dear life, we’re riding shotgun on the Last Leg of Captain Fawcett’s Great Expedition 2023. Blighty here he comes - tally ho!
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
To Bosnia, so tired I could sleep on the side of the road. Stop at the Dominion Barber Shop in Bijeljina. Saša is a Captain Fawcett stockist with lovely crew including Jelena, his wife, and Uros, their adorable toddler. We go onto a local restaurant for a light lunch. Light… are you kidding? Blimey this country knows how to eat good food. In truth Serbian cuisine is the best I have encountered to date on the trip! Just delicious. Jelena, CF's Bosnian distributor, is doing a stellar job in tough conditions. Kudos and thanks!
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Split, Croatia
On the way to Alen’s Barbershop in Sarajevo, I accidentally drop into the wrong shop. Say hi anyway, and it transpires that Peljto Barbershop is next door but one to Alen’s. Splendid! I speed on to Croatia. Frapporti Vintage Barbers (FVB) is hard to find, but so worth it - beautiful old school Barbershop est 1938 by Flavia’s Grandfather. Onwards to hip Mankaze, chatted to Klara who knew about my expedition via a post from Karlo in Belgrade. News travels fast! End the day dining by the Adriatic, under a full moon. Fabulous.
Grad Opatija, Croatia
Squeeze in visit to Barba Frane, recommended by Klara who said to ask for Bald Guy. I open the door and ask for Bald Guy. A bald guy responds in the affirmative. Seems I’ve got the right chap. After a chat, I leg onto that fabled road, the great Adriatic Highway. 150 miles and over four hours of unadulterated twisty bliss. The road hugs the coast as it winds its way north. Concentration is paramount! Impressed by my welcome at the Hotel in Opatija where Zina the warrior Princess is on reception. So pleased to have a sea view and a bath. One calming for the soul, the other for aching limbs. A handwritten welcome note and small box of delicious chocolates I later discover are made in the hotel’s very own chocolate factory. A veritable golden ticket!
Programmed twisties to Zagreb, rode through Rijeka, lovely old buildings down by the port. I climbed higher and higher and into cooler Alpine temperatures, when you looked back you could see the coastline far below. Just stunning. Stumble up a mushroom festival, where fellow bikers Davor & Eka share a pumpkin dessert. Pass romantic but melancholy derelict castle in the village of Bosiljevo, crumbling dream with a hint of nightmare. Or were the shrooms repeating on me?
Kristina & Mark at Feš & Nobl CENTAR, holding the fort for owner Joe. Great store with local regulars and cool barbering antiques. Then ARTÙ Barbershop. Meet another Kristina heading up a team of 6 predominantly female barbers. Light, bright shop above a bar. Superb. On to meet Željka at Fulir Barbershop, named after a famous Croatian movie about a hapless smooth operator who thinks every woman loves him. Funky vibes! Pleased to meet Lovro who’s followed the Captain’s adventures for years! And further excitement to visit Marco, aka Polyboy, at his way cool Polyboy Barbershop in a Biker Bar with workshop, motorcycle clothing outlet and Brutal Ink Tattoo parlour. Cool shop crew, Maja & Sasha. Their motto is ‘No School like the Old School’. This place rocks!
At Cookie Professional Barbershop, meet Sandra, kind shop manager who initially thinks I’m some kind of nutter (she’s not wrong). Lovely relaxing space to be pampered by one of five female hairdressers. Just wish I’d had more time to sample the delight. Kerfuffle at border. Am I becoming Mr Bean? Exhausted. Extract an ancient ham sandwich from my trousers for dinner.
Benji, manager of Brivec Barbershop comes in especially. Brilliant. Ask a customer in the chair being looked after by Nejc if he minds my taking some photos? He prefers not. Is he a wanted man? I too am wanted in some countries (mostly for driving offences). In others, I’m definitely not wanted at all. Hey ho! I’m in Venice. Captain Fawcett Ambassador Extraordinaire Fabrizio Bottos appears, who incidentally happens to be the reigning World Beard Champion. AHTH. We’re met by totally loveable, irreverent Barber Mattia Palazzi who takes us through labyrinthine passages, down dark alleys and across bridges (blimey, should have left a trail of beans!) to his brilliant ole skool Ca’ Bubi Barbershop. Then on to exquisite Barbería Amato, reportedly Venice’s oldest Barbershop, est. 1924. Met Alberto & Lucy the Dachshund. Also delightful is Pitzalis Barbershop, owned by the same family for four generations since 1957 (year I was born), now run by charming, yet formidable Irene. Simply superb. I love it all, especially the fish tank with the Barber’s Chair.
With Valentino from Bottega Della Barba, Captain Fawcett’s esteemed Italian distributor I visit the Ferrari Museum. Enzo was ‘a ferocious advocate of the religion of work and an insatiable pursuer of new goals’. Familiar? Back to Bottega Della Barba’s flagship shop La Barbieria di Milano, met by Captain Fawcett ‘Signature Series’ Collaborator and Ambassador Extraordinaire Alessandro Manfredini for a double date beard trim!
Later, there is an ‘Aperitivo con Barbuti’ party, brilliantly planned by Valentino's crew at stunning El Milagro venue. Owner Paolo is restoring a rare '51 Ferrari 225s with parts from all over the world - a ‘Boys’ Own’ dream! I tell Captain Fawcett's tale. ‘Vaffanculo’, means encouragement, no? Alessandro dives into 'Beard Season’, so we call Allie Astell, who sparked our collaboration way back when. Marco from Modena, who I met at Scapicchio’s Shaving Academy in Puglia, spills secrets of our world renowned Fig & Olive Shaving soap, linked to Al Capone. Leaving the crew to Barbara’s fabulous birthday bash, I catch a ride with Alessandro back to my castle. What a day!
Covered in insect repellent to fend off attack and smelling like a lemon I have breakfast. Valentino & Matteo arrive with creams and antihistamines. Set off on little itty bitty lovely motorcycling roads that only a local would know, past beautiful derelict farm houses and vineyards. Medieval Castles, lost to long forgotten causes, heading to Lake Garda via Mantova. Met by Andrea at KAIROS LA BARBERIA, CF stockist, with his friends Nicola & Alessandro, the chap behind Guilty Beard. Super! Fantastic lunch on the banks of Lake Garda courtesy of Andrea where i committed the cardinal sin of adding tomato ketchup to my Lasagne. Eek! Then to Romano da Brida’s Bullfrog, a sleek flagship amid gleaming skyscrapers. Attempt to keep pace with Romano’s Harley, navigating Milano's madness to Deus ex Machina, once an Aussie brand, now Italian. This is where Romano placed his very first Captain Fawcett order back in 2013. Romano's empire now encompasses 14 global shops. Incredibly cool.
My bike is burgled! Devastated! Meanwhile, my dear friend Francesco, the perfume maestro, is racing overnight from Sicily for a rendezvous. He drives like an ‘Italian Job’ stuntman, phone teetering on one knee, taking me traditional perfumery Scarazzini di Bagarotti A. & C.S.N.C, where Andrea hails Fawcett Shower Gels as being the best on the market! Bike theft blues lifted! Now to Romano’s private Man Cave, a wonderland of metal magic. At dinner with his wife, Anna Maria, and son Leonardo, we share 80s London nightlife tales. Turns out, we may have grooved in the same clubs, maybe even on the same nights. We bond not only over our grooming brands, but petrol and shared lust for life. Epic evening!
Navigating stress, still upset by theft I need to ride and get the wind back in my face. Feel better having left the city. I’m not a city person. Up through the Mountain passes bike running like a Swiss watch. It loves the cooler air. As do I!
I arrive in Lichtenstein a country of only 62 sq miles smaller than Washington DC and with a population of just 39,000 it’s the 6th smallest country in the world with the highest GDP per capita. At Pako’s Barbershop, BDA Bantam in the window, Nicholas makes coffee. He’s off to a party in Milan. Freedom of Barber life equivalent to Bikers. Back over the bridge to Switzerland and BARBERSHOP BUCHS to see Fabian and pals. Lovely old school shop, like a Gentleman’s club. All the best for his planned 2024 expansion!
Saw woman cycling with a horse. Have the mushrooms kicked in again?
Rush to Schaan and Musti’s Barbershop. Mustafa’s pal Sammy is in the chair, translating from Turkish whilst having the full treatment, hair wash, cut, shave and eyebrow pluck along with an ear & nose wax. Wow! Mustafa’s dexterity is magnificent!
I meet the Steam Punk Ladies of Liechtenstein (who I know from Lincoln) for a mountain tour. Anna, her daughter Angela and little son Nico arrive with Tetley’s English Tea and real fresh milk, unbelievably kind! We take a chairlift to the top. Stunning views over the high passes once used by smugglers trading with Austrians in WW2 trading fabrics & cigarettes for butter, bread & vegetables. After a splendid lunch, I leave, crossing into Austria and over the Rhine into Switzerland, riding through four countries in just 4 hours. My hotel, is a lovely old water mill with river flowing under the floor. Bliss.
Meeting dear friend Andreas today, who heads Hair Pomades in Ottobrun and is Captain Fawcett’s esteemed German Distributor. At The Pomade Shop flagship store my old chum Stan Soldan, founder and company owner is unable to join me (damn Covid!) So Alex, shop manager, shows me their brilliant showroom where antique pomades are displayed alongside huge range of Captain Fawcett products. Next door is The Goat Barbershop where I say hello to Yasir and Husam, from Odessa in Ukraine, originally from Iraq. Barber nomads all. American Ted is in the chair, his dad a WW2 USAF pilot based in Germany. We are all migrants, one way or another. Andy suggests Captain Fawcett should make an oil based Pomade, medium hold. Noted!
Film an interview at The Pomade Shop. Chew the fat and a packet of chocolate biscuits. At Andy’s home, meet Karo his lovely wife. Back in town, riot police everywhere, tension in the streets due to world events. In a bar, I ring a bell hanging innocuously on the wall and discover this means I must now buy beer for all and sundry! Blimey they weren’t taking any prisoners! 35 euros down, but in truth a simply super day.
Wake to church bells at ungodly hour. Realise my wedding ring is missing! Panic stations! Sediq, the night porter, and I turn the room upside down. Ring found. Inside my shower hat. Ooops! Marriage saved, but room like a war zone. Exit, stage right, to peaceful Switzerland.
A 200-mile ride at nutter pace to meet old mate Andre, a Portuguese barber who once worked at Savills in Sheffield. Following Barber Angel Tina's tip, I venture into Finest Barbers, ruled by Engels Rodriguez, a suave character from the Dominican Republic and Turkey. The shop, a superb relic from the 1950s, reputedly Zurich’s first barbershop, is a hive of activity. Luigi, the maestro, miraculously squeezes me in for a facial transformation - cheek shave, face massage, and beard tidy. They have another Barbershop at the Ace Cafe in Lucerne - do visit!
As darkness descends, I traverse the city to meet Eddine, pal of Sid Sottung, at The Barber. He has three Zurich shops including an Aveda Salon, all with a timeless sophistication - scotch on the rocks, discussions about global stock markets, and chat about classic cars. I love it! Bid adieu, dine on ramen and chocolate & caramel ice cream. Superb!
As I leave the city, am intrigued by a Triumph Motorcycle Shop, Ernes Euromotors Zurich, with Barber pole outside. I nip in. Dealer Tobias takes me downstairs to cool Café Razor Barbershop by Der Haarmetzger with images of Vlad the Impaler & Johnny BaBa, suggesting the owner is Romanian & possibly trained in Manchester? Alas, I never find out, he’s not here and with no time to lose I must press on. It’s a goddamn tight routine, only possible if journeying alone.
Arriving in Bern (one pretty city!) I head to the Pompadour Barbershop in a delightful ‘Jugendstil’ building next to the River Are. Greeted by Ermina & Guen who have prepared a perfect cup of tea (second one of the trip!) with fresh milk accompanied by Bärnerbär, bear shaped cakes. Lovely! It’s their head Barber’s birthday. Michel hails from Valencia and we have friends in common, not least Ivan from Galicia who used to work at the New York Barber Shop in yes you’ve guessed it…ruddy Rotterdam! The light and ambience in the Pompadour Barbershop ranks it among the very best I’ve ever visited.
To Besançon and Alois at Barber & Blake. Great drawings on wall created by artist Billy Blake, hence the shop’s name. The sun sets, as I thunder down picturesque country roads, mocked by a winking fuel light. Coast to a gas station in nick of time, bike and I running only on fumes. Tomorrow, Paris.
Sat Nav rebellion turns early departure into an 85-mile loop. Balls! Eventually I hit Paris. The Eiffel Tower greets me against a leaden sky. Meet Camille and Ludo from CF’s French distributors, O Barbershop.
We visit Gentlemen 1919, a vintage oasis exuding fantastic 'Goodwood' sophistication. Possible future Captain Fawcett stockists, fits like a glove! At the back, a 1920s 'Speakeasy' and ‘private’ cigar bar await. Cocktails flow before a cab to Le Bon Marche, the world's tip top, oldest department store. Rodolphe, owner of in-store Barbologie, a Captain Fawcett stockist, tends to me in his bustling 7-chair setup. After a stellar beard treatment, meet his wife Swanny & son Ezechiel - cool names for cool folks.
Cab ride to Le Bistro d’Henri, a must-book gem, and the Sunday tradition of Camille's 90-year-old Grandmère for two decades. Joined by marketing maestro Nelson from OBHQ. Delightful food, great company. Exhausted yet exhilarated. Tomorrow I set course for home.
Paris, France to Blighty
It’s been a ride on the veritable edge of insanity. A massive shoutout to Jenna for orchestrating this wild journey, and to all Ambassadors, Customers, and Distributors who added such flavour. Pure magic. I have had the journey of a lifetime, and this weary old cowboy feels complete. Simply magnificent. Thank you.