Saturday, 5 November 2011


Hi from Alan & Mary

As we begin to think of our next challenge, Mary and I would like to take the opportunity to say a big THANK YOU.
First of all our heartfelt thanks to those who supported our charity “Doctors Without Borders” (Médecins Sans Frontières). With so many natural and man-made disasters on our planet, their medical expertise and your money are badly needed. MSF, with your help, is truly changing the lives of millions of people around the world. For those of you who would still like to donate (and every pound counts) – just click the “VirginGivingMoney” icon on the right of this page.

Then there are the many who have helped us complete our journey down the length of Europe:-
Dean and Anne who still don’t know how they volunteered to drive our car all the way to the UK from Nordkapp. Without them we would never have got there or back.
Deborah and Brendan and John and Elizabeth  for their encouragement before the trip and keeping our real lives in good order while we were away.
Ev and Sophie and Kate and Tony for taking such good care of the house
All our family who offered words of encouragement, kept the phone topped up and especially those who thought we had lost the plot.
To Kate’s colleagues in the Assembly  (you owe us two Welsh flags).
The grandchildren who collected our postcards and enlightened their friends with tales of Mamgu and Grumps
Those who contacted us on the blog, by email and on the phone.  It was always a boost to hear from you.
Wendy for her valiant efforts to post a comment  and her baggage allowance on the return flight.
Ben and the guys at Up and Under for their advice on kit
All those who made the effort to put their cycling experiences in Europe on the net.
All those from around the world who took the time to read our blog and share our experiences
All the wonderful people that we met on the way who went to extraordinary lengths to help us out of trouble and encourage us to achieve our goal.
 “Merci” to all those talented and dedicated people in our local medical team who “fixed” Mary after her fall from the bike while in training.
To all of you, we are so grateful to have met and known such wonderfully friendly, kind and generous people.

Alan's Boring Bits - The Kit

Comments on the Equipment- For those planning a similar journey

A great part of the fun in preparing for any big trip is researching the kit and convincing yourself that you really must have all the gizmos and latest gear that you’ve secretly been longing for. Listed below is the heavy load that we dragged  from one end of Europe to the other. Most did the job. Where it was particularly good or bad, I’ve made comment.

Specialized Vita Sport
Specialized Sirrus Elite  (Both bikes not necessarily designed for the pounding that we gave them but they stood up well to the test)
Shimano A530 Pedals (spd one side and flat on the other)
Schwalbe marathon plus 700 x28   (No punctures in 7000Km!!!)
2 Crud Race Guards mudguards
2 Smart Lunar 35 Lux Front Light  
2 Blackburn Mars 3.0 Rear 7 LED-3 Mode
Trailer rear lights
2 Sigma Cycle computers
1 Garmin 750. (told us exactly where we were lost)
1  bottle cage and bottle. 
Trailer flags (required guy ropes fixed to the trailer to stop them taking a swipe a passing cars. Snapped in 1st week and held together with Gaffa tape for rest of journey)

Trailers and bags
2 Carry Freedom - Freedom City Trailers (excellent kit which we gave a real hammering with a heavy load sometimes over difficult terrain. 1 polymer hitch failed after 4000km and the second showed wear. No big worry but need to check daily and carry  a spare. They are easy to replace)
2 x Palm River Trek 50 dry bags  (Robust but heavy. Also right size for hand luggage on plane)
Plastic sheeting and elastics to hold it all together (cheapest bit of kit -worked well, keeping kit clean, dry and protected from abrasion)
4 x Exped Fold Dry Bag XL (22l)
2 x Exped Fold Dry Bag M (8l)
1 x Ortlieb A3 map case (Useless – sticks to itself and tore easily -  changed to a clear document wallet at 1/10 of price))
1 x Lowe Alpine Mesa Runner bumbag. (In constant use – on and off the bike)

Total Personal Kit (for both of us)
2 Cycle helmets
2 prs Padded cycling - shorts / longs .
2 x2 Helly Hansen Stripe Crew base layer
Marmot driclime windshirt
2 xRab Vapour-Rise Lite Jacket
Rab women's microlight vest
2 xBuffalo fibre pile shirts (Used  buffalo kit for 20 years: sailing, mountaineering skiing, canoeing and now cycling. Best winter kit ever.)
2 Rab goosedown duvet jackets
1 Montane Velo H2O Jacket  (Useless – wet through in 10 minutes)
1 Montane Quattro DT Womens Jacket
2 x Buff s (very versatile protecting neck, ears or head)
2 pr Endura Gridlock waterproof over trousers.( heavy but very functional)
2pr Waterproof cycling enduro overshoes. (Mary wore hers, I preferred wet feet)
1 Pertex top (Callange).
1 x Seal Skinz Mountain Bike Gloves - pair Small
1 x SealSkinz Ultra Grip High Viz Winter Gloves
1 pair fingerless sailing gloves
2 karrimoor  reflective jackets
2 welsh cycling jerseys
4 prs Cycling socks and 2 pairs of thick wooly socks
2 pr Cycling shoes. Shimano & MTB SPD (MTB stank like cat’s pee, very little traction on steep ramps and soles wore through. Shimanos just stank)
Trainers & sandals
 Rab Downpour shell jacket (This long mountain jacket with full wired hood proved invaluable on and off the bike)
1 Endura FS260 Pro Womens Shorts  
1 Endura Firefly SS Ladies Jersey
1 Endura Hummvee Baggy Shorts inc Liner
2 x short sleeve shirts.
Rohan Expedition shirt (built in anti midge!)
2 prs expedition long trousers
Wooly Hats
1 pr Cycling sun glasses. (lost and replaced!)
Underwear (Guess you know what works for you)
Swimming costume
Wash kit
Aids /batteries/glasses/sun glasses
1 x Life Systems Expedition 50 100ml Deet Spray (Dissolves plastic and leaks)
2 x Life Systems Mosquito Head Net
1 x Life Venture All Purpose Soap 200ml
2 x Life Venture Soft Fibre Trek Towel Large (Brilliant)
1 x Life Venture Soft Fibre Trek Towel Small
1 Deuter Compact EXP 6 SL Backpack

Bike Repair & Maintenance Kit
Schwalbe durano folding tyre
2 Spare inner tubes.
Puncture repair kit
2 Rubena Angled Valve Tube – for trailer
2 Schwalbe city freedom tyres  for trailer
Topeak Alin 3 Multi (Excellent kit)
Gerber suspension multi tool (Essential and excellent))
Adjustable spanner
Spanner to fit trailer wheel and pedals
Topeak Morph turbo mini pump with gauge  (good kit although fold down plastic bits are fragile)
Small plastic bottle of general lube.
Selection of cable ties .
A 3m length of thin strong cord.
1 Clarks Pre-Lube Universal Brake Kit (Remember you need wire cutters)
1 Clarks Gold Pre-Lube Universal Gear Kit
A small selection of nuts and bolts
Gaffa tape

Other kit carried
Kindles loaded with manuals, country guides and good fiction (one of our best buys)
Sony Netbook
Smartphone with skype (rarely used outside Fr –cost!)
cheap mobile phone payg on UK card with Europe travel option activated (Not cheapest option but saved messing about buying sim cards)
Digital Cameras + memory cards and battery charger.
A bag of wires for above (Why can’t we have 1 universal charging wire and 1 connecting wire?)
Small "hotel" type sewing kit.
Notepad and pen.
Passport, travel insurance documents, E111, ATM and credit cards
2 bike cables and locks.
1 First aid kit (plasters, paracetamol, etc.).
 Sudacrem  bum cream (soothes, smooths and ……..)
Panty Liners (I used them for extra padding on the really sore bits)
1 Large lightweight nylon bike cover. (never used)
2 CamelBak Unbottle 2009 - 1.5L (Too fiddly to fill on the road)
1 Stainless Steel 0.5 litre vacuum flask

Camping Equipment
1 x Wild Country Duolite Tourer tent (Fit for purpose and it took the trailers)
1 x Grounsheet protector (footprint ) for above
1 x Primus EtaPower EF (heavy but v efficient)
2 x Petzl Tikka Plus 2 head torches
1 x Snugpak Travelpak Xtreme SB (I hate nylon bags and this one also has a built in self strangulation net.)
1 xRab Ascent SB
1 xExped SynMat Pump 7cm DLX
1 x Exped SynMat Pump 7cm standard (v comfortable but you work up a good sweat pumping them up)
Exped chair kits to fit the Exped Synmat  (innovative and surprisingly comfortable)
1 x Ortlieb Waterbag 4L
2 Plastic plates.
2 Plastic mugs.
1 Small sharp knife.
Washing up liquid and sponge.
Matches and gas lighter. 
1 x McNett Tenacious Tape

Total weight between two trailers (with food liquid and fuel) was around 55 - 60kilos.

Monday, 26 September 2011

More Route Notes

Alan's Boring Bits
Through Denmark, Germany, Czech Rep, most of Austria, and northern Italy we followed the EV7. A route full of interest and variety with some dramatic scenery and spectacular towns and cities. From a purely technical point of view, anyone who is looking to cycle this route and has read the criteria for a cycle track to be included in the Eurovelo 7 scheme will be expecting asphalt surfaces, no steep hills and continuous signposting. They will be disappointed. All countries had sections that conformed and all countries had sections that were almost uncyclable when laden with kit. Germany and Czech Rep were very fond of cobbles in all sizes. Gravel surfaces varied from dust to 5cm rocks but in the main were good. In Czech Rep. one section of a signed national route had a notice (on leaving) to say that the track was very dangerous and you used it at your own risk. Yet, in the same country, we also came across a 5km section of baby’s bum smooth asphalt with shaded stopping places, taps with drinking water and the only Eurovelo 7 maps we saw in 7000 kms. In Northern Italy, we cycled on one of the best tracks of the journey. A converted railway line where, at the entrance to all the tunnels, they had put sensors that activated the lights. This was immediately followed by the most undulating section of the ride with most of the ups and downs well in excess of 10%. Spotting shortcuts became an art but on this occasion we missed the quiet road that gently followed the valley floor below us.
It was impossible to rely on the signs throughout this part of the journey. Again inconsistency is the key word. It was not unusual to have no signs at one junction and, at the next, more signs than there were exits. Good maps /guides were essential but these were not always readily available and often could only be found in bookshops in the larger towns or cities. On the more popular sections of the route, a lot of touring cyclists had very detailed and voluminous guides.
In Northern Italy, we had to decide whether to follow the EV7 down the west coast or to follow the east coast down to Sicily. We chose the east and, in the main, it was flat and relatively easy cycling but with very few cycle tracks. Some sections in Northern Italy are worth repeating whole some in the poorer areas of Southern Italy are definitely worth missing (see blog). I suspect that the western side of Italy may have a lot more of interest. I look forward to reading about what we missed when Neil Gander gets round to completing the sequel to his book “Kök and Tvät” (Still the funniest book I have read in a long time and an inspiration to get on your bike and “just do it”).
Navigating the roads on the tip of Italy and Sicily proved more difficult than expected. On several occasions roads suddenly became motorways forcing us to take long, complex and unsigned diversions which invariably took us back to the same road only a couple of kms further on. In one instance there were no warning signs, only a diversion sign and a ramp onto the motorway with no way of going back! In Sicily, diversion signs for missing bridges and road works almost always took us back to the motorway.
When on the roads, drivers were generally courteous and, despite comments to the contrary, the Italian drivers were brilliant to the point of giving us so much clearance that they would drive vehicles coming the opposite way off the road.
Accommodation was not a problem down to Rimini and when we decided to stop for the day, we rarely had to pedal for more than 20km to find something suitable. Those looking to rely on campsites and budget accommodation will need to do a lot more forward planning than we did. Arriving in Rimini on the busiest holiday week end in Italy was a mistake. Every hotel, guest house and campsite prided themselves on being full for the fortnight. Further south and away from the coast many of the smaller hotels and b&b’s were closed for the holidays but the chain hotels were never far away. Every establishment made an effort to secure our bikes and trailers for the night to the point of one hotel giving the bikes their own room free of charge.
Malta was a disappointment as it does little to cater for cyclists. The road surfaces are in a very poor state and drivers in the main, are not cycle aware. Despite our flags, fluorescent jackets and flashing lights, we had more near misses in the 12kms from the ferry to the hotel than at any other point in the journey. The grating across the drive to our hotel was designed to swallow cycle tyres. So alien were cyclists that we were threatened with security as we approached the hotel entrance even though we had booked and arranged for our bikes to be stored. As with the rest of our journey, the majority of the people that we met were friendly and helpful but the only other positive I can find to say about Malta is the flight home. Excellent service from Air Malta and only £12 per bike. No fancy bike boxes were required. We simply had to remove the pedals, turn handlebars round and deflate the tyres.
Hope this helps if you’re planning a similar journey. Remember I’m a grumpy old wrinkly and many of the moans above proved really memorable highlights to our journey.  There were no major insurmountable traumas and when we needed help it was provided in abundance. We made business cards with a map of our journey and these proved invaluable in changing the perplexed look of the many people that we met into a smile and gushing words of encouragement.
Post a comment with your email address if you have any specific queries. I’ll do my best to help.
Overall a wonderful, wonderful journey.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The End (Part II)

Alan’s Boring Bits
It’s been a memorable journey. While travelling across a range of landscapes from the frozen tundra above the arctic circle, through Scandinavia and central Europe, over the Alps and down to the arid mountains of the South, we have been provided with a fascinating insight into the cultural differences that still exist across Europe despite “globalisation". In world where only negatives make the news, the one constant has been the many wonderful people that we have met along the way who have been friendly, supportive and generous. We have never felt threatened and whenever we have needed assistance people have gone to extraordinary lengths to help. The hundreds of cyclists, bikers, motorists and lorry drivers who tooted, flashed their lights, waved or yelled words of encouragement, provided constant motivation to grind out the miles while on the road.  The 5000 plus hits on the blog and a constant stream of emails and texts lifted our spirits. To all who have been so supportive and to those who have donated so generously to “Medecins sans Frontieres” (just click the “Virgin Money Giving” icon on the blog)  – many, many thanks.
A very special thanks I reserve for Mary who, at the end of each (often very tiring) day, sat down, made notes and completed this blog. I am very lucky to share my life with such an incredibly talented and determined lady.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Pozzallo – Malta  (mostly by boat)

Well, the ferry did leave at 0930 and we were in good time. There were a few moments of nervousness when the ticket office was still closed at 0745. But this was Sicily! Our tickets were purchased and now we had to wait for the ferry to arrive. During this interval, we had a long conversation with an Italian, who spoke only Italian, about the virtues of some parts of Italy and Sicily and a conversation in English with a gentleman who had secured a job in Malta and was with his family in two cars. We learned, in detail, of the various mishaps which had befallen them on the way from Cowbridge. We wonder now if those continued on his arrival in Malta! I will explain.
We thought we had travelled some pretty hairy roads, but our introduction to Malta was as scary as it was unexpected. We had planned to avoid the major peripherique but it seemed we were left with little choice. Unsympathetic traffic, driving on the left, tunnels and hills all conspired to leave us pretty tense and drained on our eventual arrival at our hotel. Now, we had been extravagant in our choice of final hotel as a prize for completing our journey, so we were somewhat taken aback by our reception; an irate man in a suit waving his arms energetically and shouting that we could not leave our bikes there. At this point Mr. Angry lost it, marched into the foyer, confronted the management and succinctly explained that after more than 6500 kms and numerous stops at everything from campsites to posh hotels, this had been an unforgettable welcome for all the wrong reasons. Much boot licking and apologies followed but the damage had been done. A shame but it is still a very nice hotel!
So we end our adventure after 100 days of cycling and I will miss talking to you all. It has been a comfort to know that we have not been alone. So here is to the next time?!!!!!!

Last Full Day

Augusto – Pozzallo      105.3kms              1160’ascent (which I think is understated!)
This was to be our last day of cycling. As a result of all the excitement and fatigue of yesterday, we had completed fewer kilometres than planned, so we knew that today would require a good effort –just how good, we were soon to discover. A second deviation resulted in another 20 or so extra kilometres in order to avoid the MOTORWAY! Temperatures had not diminished and our route, while safe, took us through huge industrial areas (not very beautiful but, I guess, jolly useful for the well- being of the country). Mr. Master Navigator performed faultlessly and it wasn’t his fault that the last 30 kilometres of a 100 kms ride were uphill! We passed through towns which deserved more observation than we had time to give; Noto and Ispica both of which had ancient citadels perched on rocky bluffs. Our schedule allowed little time for anything except pedalling and refuelling with fluids.
We reached Pozzallo eventually, in the early evening, and thought it prudent to check on the actual whereabouts of the port. (Pozzallo was just a little dot on the map but in reality was a huge muddle of buildings which stretched for miles.) As we were still in Italy mode, we had little expectation of large, well defined signs for Porto, but none at all was an achievement even for Italy. After several sets of directions provided by the local populace, several more kilometres, and a few well-chosen expletives, we did eventually discover the embarkation point. In the knowledge that we had to return by 0800 the following morning, accommodation nearby was going to be useful. There was still some doubt as to sailing times as a member of the dock staff said, “Tomorrow at 0930.”  Another said, “At 1500.” We made the decision to be there for the 0930 and hope.
A sign, at last a sign, this time for an albergo just 500 metres up the road. A fee was negotiated, a room allocated and we performed our end of day routine – wash the clothes and then ourselves. I had asked the signora if there was any wine or beer to be had but she shook her head and generously gave us two bottles of very cold water which was magic. At a point when I was halfway through our routine and thus totally naked, there came a knock on the door. Throwing a towel over my nakedness, I pulled open the door and there, the signora presented us with a nearly full bottle of local wine. No charge. There are so many kind people in this world. This must include all those of you who have been good enough to take an interest in our undertaking. We thank you for your comments, emails and phone calls which have often provided encouragement when things have been tough.
Tomorrow should see us at journeys end – fingers crossed.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Fire in the Sky

Reggio  -  San Leonardello (on the slopes of Mt. Etna)  74.8kms     1460’ ascent.
Nobody mentioned just how mountainous Sicily is. Very beautiful but not the easiest of cycling country. On one particularly steep climb, Alan suddenly stopped. On the roadside was something which resembled a small snake  -  his chain! He pushed to the summit, a space and a little shade and Mr. Fixit appeared and did just that.
As it was Sunday, the ferry ran a reduced service and so it was almost lunch time before we dropped anchor in Sicily. Surprisingly, Messina was not difficult to traverse but it did mean that by the time we began our hunt for the night’s accommodation, it was quite late and, as ever, the hotels which had been so prolific, disappeared. A little desperate, we spotted a large gate with Agriturismo on sign and a bed diagram, so I pushed the bell. A voice answered the call, said something in Italian and  the gates slowly swung open. In for a penny, we pushed the bikes over very rocky (lava stone) and were met by a gentleman who spoke a lot, but none of it in English. After a little confusion we managed to convey our requirements. Referring to a little book, he informed us that there was a room available. Great. It was. An old property with many interesting features and a cracking view of Etna. Our arrival coincided with a French registered car being driven along the drive and a voice shouted, “Have you cycled all the way from Wales?” “No, Nordkapp.”  “I’ll catch you later,” was the response. So much later, we enjoyed the company of two very good English speaking Parisians.
You would suppose that with all this exercise, we would sleep soundly but my night was disturbed by a bout of cramp. Needing to stretch my legs, I thought to view Etna at night. What a sight! It was really a fire in the sky. Magnificent! 

Police to the Rescue

San Leonardello  -  Augusto   74.7                   1372’ascent.
The down side of Etna firing so spectacularly was that the following morning (today) the air was full of fine black ash. In a very short while we were very mucky and all the cars were the same colour – grey. The other downside of a volcanic environment is that the street are paved with square lava cobbles! Very bad for the trailers.
However, today’s highlight has to be the manner in which two policemen sympathetically and sensibly dealt with two old age pensioners who found themselves on the motorway! The story goes like this; we were trying to follow the ss114 through Catania. We did follow the signs. What we didn’t realise was that the ss114 had lost a strategic bridge and the road signs were following a deviation. We climbed out of the town and finally up a steep ramp onto, what we mistakenly thought was the ss114. After about 1km, we were flagged down by a man in a van with a blue light! The penny dropped; we were on the motorway! Sh…..t. After much arm waving, and a call to the police, the man in his van escorted us to a nearby service station. Here we waited in some trepidation, for the police to arrive. We explained in our best English that it was a genuine mistake and that we were trying to get to Siracrusa. Having established that we were just a couple of rather stupid, old English, they instructed us to follow the car with the blue lights flashing. We did - at speed for about 10 kilometres! Not only did they see us safely off the motorway, they ensured that we were put onto the right road which we would never have found ourselves. Finally, as our strength gave out, they stopped, we thanked them profusely and after much hand shaking we were on our way, absolutely exhausted. Until that point, we hadn’t been sure whether we were to be booked or fined and the adrenaline was pumping along with hearts and lungs. Many thanks to the Sicilian Police force.

Three Sides of The Runway

Brancaleone  -  Reggio di Calabria    69.3kms        557’ascent
If I never see the words Reggio di C again it will be too soon! It has been urging us on now for over 400 kms of hard graft. The cycling today has retained all the characterisitcs of the previous few days so I won’t gripe on any more about how challenging it has been. However, as always, the Italians have inspired comment.
We reached Reggio in good time as the journey wasn’t that long but then began our search for the port from which we planned to take the ferry for Sicily. Tootling along quite happily, our road suddenly and unexpectedly became a motorway and we were obliged to exit. Hm…. The sensible thing to do was to make for the sea and follow the coastline. After all a sea ferry must, by definition, require some sea. Downhill we went following narrow and winding streets until Alan stopped, “GPS says that the airport is ahead and there is no way through!” Bother and other such words sprang to mind. Back uphill we went to attempt to get around the airport. Hoorah; breathless, and exceedingly hot, we located our road. On track again (maybe). We stopped to buy drinks and asked the staff the way to the port. “ Keep on this road for thirteen kms.” Wrong port! We did keep on, and guess what?  the road turned into a motorway again and we had to exit stage left. Down the hill again. This time we were past the airport. GPS had given up hope, but Mr. Master Navigator kept his head and we eventually found the coast road and a sign for the port! We were, by now, a little jaded and decided to stay in Italy and take the ferry the next day. As we pushed the bikes and trailers into their own allocated bedroom, a very loud hiss emanated from Alan’s trailer wheel. A flat!  Mr. Fixit got to work and a little while later all was well.
We rounded off the day with a meal on the sea front. It was just like being on holiday! Lovely views, a soft warm wind and excellent fare. Here’s to tomorrow.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

"But This Is Italy"

Crotone  - Badolato                 95.7kms                 863’ascent
Badolato  -  Brancaleone         91.8kms                487’ ascent
These two days definitely belong together. They have just been f……… hard work on a road whose characterisitcs vary from wide and smooth to narrow and bumpy; through towns which are bustling with the usual amount of casual interaction with bikes, cars, lorries and pedestrians.
It had been my intention to say little more, but I feel bound to comment on our search for accommodation last night. I received a less than cordial welcome from the first hotel I visited; all white sofas and swanky mats. The thought of accommodating two smelly cyclists was obviously more than the owner could bear. However, he did make a ‘phone call to a camp site and found us a cabin. The welcome we received there was, in every way, the opposite. The signora was effusive (in Italian) and the site and cabin spotlessly clean. We headed for the bar and two large beers. There then ensued a conversation in four languages between ourselves, the barman and two locals. Having downed I know not how many grappas the two young men wished us well and went to do whatever young men do in the evening. Having nearly finished our drinks, I was curious as to the nature of some foodstuffs in a hot cabinet. Peering in, I looked up to find the barman offering me what looked like a large doughnut. Alan received one as well and I can vouch for the fact that they were delicious, full of ham and cheese. The same barman then produced a brochure for the area which looks to be rich in history. We shall return to this part of Italy with a small car and explore the mountains and the villages.
The second event worthy of mention occurred today in one of the towns. At the narrow entrance to a bridge, a cycle track with a big blue cycle sign appeared (the first we have seen in this part of Italy). Very excited, we followed it over the bridge and then…………… went through a right angle and stopped. There was no access to any road and the only way to regain the tarmac was to lift the bikes and trailers over, not just a two foot concrete wall, but a crash barrier as well! With the help of a young man on a Vespa, who spotting our dilemma drove down to assist with the lifting, the bikes and trailers were returned to the road.  Another nice young man. A less useful motorist drove by, waved, and shouted, ‘But this is Italy!!’ 

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

So Much Potential

Rossana  -  Crotone          96.1kms     335’ ascent
Today has been a day of traffic, tarmac and temperatures which remain in the high 30’s and possibly more. What is worthy of comment though, is the state of this south eastern part of Italy. It is a forlorn area dotted with the skeletal remnants of ambitious projects where the buildings have never been finished. The impression created is that of a plan which either ran out of funding or enthusiasm. This is not to say that there are no new initiatives, but in general, the aspect is one of slow dereliction.
It is this lack of care which is represented by the vast amounts of garbage which accumulates along the roadsides. The very large bins which are provided in the towns, are overflowing and, in the heat, the decay and smells are overwhelming. There seems to be no body that has the direction or inclination to clear up. And yet the countryside, the beaches and the towns could have much to offer.
Alan has been impressed with the level of consideration we have received from the Italian motorist. They show less consideration for other drivers. It is difficult to travel more than several kilometres without passing a religious and flora tribute to, mostly young men, who have met their demise.
The kerbside is also the graveyard of many and different mammals some of which are unidentifiable. Again there seems no system in place to remove carcasses so, while some are obviously recent, others have been subsumed into the tarmac. Not even scavenging birds have feasted on the dead.
It is a bleak, but accurate picture I paint. Nonetheless, folk still holiday in the area and the cars they drive are not old bangers, but expensive vehicles even if most of them have a dent or two!  But, as ever, the people remain friendly and helpful although it is often difficult to understand whether they are shouting in anger or just shouting! Not a soft spoken race.

Long Way to Butlin's

Policoro  -  Rossano    85.8 kms     347’ascent

These next few days promise to be somewhat tedious as we are left with little choice but to follow the main road for the most part. Mr. Master Navigator has done his best to take our route onto quieter stretches of road when it has been possible, but the relief has been short lived. However, we are getting used to the extra traffic and besides, we have not long to go.
We have been confused by signs for Reggio which have had a discrepancy of 100kms. (354kms or 254kms). Sadly ours is the greater distance as we are following the coast, and the shorter route rushes off into the mountains and onto the motorway neither of which we are keen undertake. The mountains do look magnificent but not an area to be explored by two pensioners on bikes! The coast road may not be the most exciting place to be, but it does have the significant advantage of being a much flatter alternative. After three months, and quite a few mountains, our legs really appreciate the concern we have for them! Not to mention the heart and lungs and the cooling system!  (Temperatures are not dropping)
This is not the heartland for Italian holiday makers and hotels less prolific. We congratulated ourselves on finding one but were slightly less enthusiastic when we realised that it is actually just a bit like a posh Butlins. Our room is fine and we are only here for one night. Heads down again tomorrow. 

Monday, 22 August 2011

Too Hot to Handle

Gioia del Colle  -  Policoro    77.8kms        329’ ascent
A fabulous start to the day. A very quiet road winding its way over a plain of karst. Everthing was much greener than nearer the coast and we saw the first cows we have seen since reaching this part of Italy. The sun was hot but not at its zenith as the hour was still quite early. For an hour or so we pedalled gently enjoying the rolling countryside. Without much warning, we found ourselves leaving the plateau and descending rapidly back down to the coastal flats where the temperature soared and there was a great temptation to run among the vines which were being irrigated from suspended hoses. It was only the unknown source of the water that prevented the taking of a shower.
Our onward route left us with no choice except to take to the main road. The white heat was building and this was a road for vehicles with no shade and interminable tarmac. The steel roadside barriers were radiating heat and even the metal of our bikes was too hot to touch. Never have overhead bridges been quite so welcome and, although in short supply, they provided sufficient shade for a short rest and a drink. We visited every service station to take on fluids and collapse onto benches where we provided some amusement for the locals who viewed our antics with some incredulity. This section of our journey may well require a heads down and think of ‘not a lot’ as the heat is apparently set to continue and our route improves only in short sections. Nevermind, we will battle on and continue to enjoy and recover in the air conditioned hotels we have, so far, managed to find. Don’t even think of a tent!

Carabinieri Without a Handbag

Trani  -  Gioia del Colle     87.3kms        1408’ ascent.
We knew that today would require some determination as our flat land had run out and we must climb some 1000’ in temperatures which are still rising. I think it is probably best that we don’t know how many degrees we are cycling in. Between us, we are consuming 6 to 8 litres of fluid during our day’s journey and much of this we are purchasing at greatly inflated prices from the garages, as the weight of all that water is more than we want to add to Herman or Sherman. Not only that, the drinks we buy en route are COLD. The water that we carry (still several litres) is warm in 30 minutes and hot in 45 and is not something I shall ever develop a taste for. Ugh. Needs must.
I digress. Apart from dodging cars, bikes and Vespas in the towns, our start was a gentle warm up. Then……..we had to take the ring road around Bari (a very large town) and start dodging more cars, Vespas, trucks but no bikes. (No other bikers were that daft) Some considerable time later and bathed in sweat (it’s no longer perspiration) we were relieved to find that our chosen road showed a considerable decline in the volume of traffic. As we moved further from Bari, it was altogether quite manageable but by now the road was a constant incline. To assist us though, whizzy wind had found us and so we plodded our way up to Gioia.
Now, yesterday, we had a lady with a car to chase; today we had two carabinieri! I will explain. Having done our usual exploration of the town and failed to find anywhere to stay, I approached two scary policemen, who were busy booking a sad looking motorist, and asked in my best English if they could help us find a hotel. In his best Italian, the driver told us to wait by the roadside and then they would lead us to a hotel! This was the fastest chase yet with feet flying on the pedals and wheels bumping on the potholes. However, not only did they fulfil their promise, the one carabineiri insisted on accompanying me into the hotel lobby to explain my case. With many thankyous they left us to it. For the first time since arriving in Italy, we were not the only English in the place – it was full of the RAF who were using an aerodrome close by to engage in activities in Libya. This history of use went back to the early 1990’s. (must have been a lot of wars in that time.) We were joined later by a bus load of men who sat down, very noisily, for a meal. We still have no idea who they were or what their purpose but Alan has speculated that they were mercenaries!  Such a fertile imagination.

Lady with a Handbag and a Car

Foggia  -  Trani                    82.4 kms           108’ascent
I paid the bill. Alan picked me up off the floor and we went to retrieve the bikes. He had found, on the map, what looked to be a suitable alternative to the main road to return to the coast. It was much less busy but the surface was often cracked and bumpy and the amount of rubbish on the roadside was deplorable. I am convinced that one of the Italian pastimes, is to throw from a moving vehicle, anything which is made of glass! Points being awarded for the greatest number of shards! And maybe extra points for a mixed colour collection.
We did find our way back to the coast but this was not the tidy townships of further north. The entry into the towns was dirty and depressing and it was not until the centre was reached, that its appearance improved.
Nostril wind returned in the afternoon and made the ride into Trani something of a challenge. We then proceeded to tour Trani looking for accommodation. Scratching our heads at the roadside (you’ve guessed!) a lady in a car pulled up. “Follow me” came the now customary cry. Following a car, driven at some speed, over cobbles (Yup, they have appeared again) after a day in the saddle was exhausting. And all for nothing, as it turned out. The pension, which favoured cyclists, was full. We thanked our angel profusely but she was not beaten yet. There followed a second town dash back into the square and an information tent. This produced directions to the station hotel which provided us with a much cheaper option than the night before!
We have been impressed by the general amiability of the Italians. In the case of our angel, it turned out that she was a keen camper (as in camping car) and she had recently written a book on the subject of visiting Scandinavia and Nordkapp. This information we gleaned from a combination her being able to speak a little French and assistance from another Italian passerby who spoke fluent English and worked in Ireland. Otherwise cars at traffic lights have asked us where and what and many have waved and tooted. Mind you they do a lot of waving and tooting but some of it has been for our benefit and mostly supportive rather than derisory. (There is a definite difference between the toots!)

Friday, 19 August 2011

Standing Ovation

Vasto  -  Foggia     113.8kms             568’ascent.
We left our hotel this morning to a round of applause which was a first and rather embarrassing but we gave a queeny wave and hit the road for all of fifty metres before stopping to replenish food stocks. The heat is increasing daily and it is impossible to stand without shade so Alan held the bikes under a tree where a curious Italian inspected the trailer hitches and then proclaimed that his really bad limp was the result of a broken hip sustained when he fell off his bike. Just what you need before a long day!
We knew today was likely to be a long ride and so Mr. Master Navigator made a  point of saying that we must go through Termoli to avoid the long detour made by the main road. Where did we go? On the main road! Never mind, we enjoyed the shade provided by two tunnels and enjoyed slightly less the several hill climbs involved. The road then crossed inland and we had been made aware by reading other blogs written by those who had gone before, that this was not going to be the most pleasant part of Italy. They were proved right. It was by now around midday and the sun was at its most aggressive. I have never crossed a desert, but this was a good simulation. Temperatures were somewhere in the late thirties and the road continued, apparently forever, without shade or even the relief of a bend. It was the road that Italy has forgotten – neglected with the detritus of years lying at the roadside. Unimaginable amounts of glass, car parts, clothing, plastic bottles and general household waste. On the dusty paths on either side of the road, the prostitutes displayed their wares and were doing a reasonable trade. Without the intermittent garages selling cold drinks, we would have been in serious trouble. It was a sad reflection on those responsible for the upkeep of the highway. Those vehicles using the road sensed the lack of responsibility and treated it as some sort of race track.
After ninety kilometres of riding is not the time to encounter a nostril wind – but we did. The sun had lost a tiddly bit of its fury so the wind chipped in just to ensure that we didn’t take things easy. We finally made it into the outskirts of Foggia and the poverty continued. It was not until we found the centre, that there was some evidence of civilisation as we had come to expect it. Exhausted, we found a hotel which would accept our incredibly smelly bodies and our bikes. Tomorrow? Who knows?

Tax Evasion

Pineto  -  Vasto   89.3kms      687’ascent (Whew!)
While Alan went to retrieve the bikes, I went to pay the bill. The card machine wouldn’t work! Mmm…methinks this is the way to relieve the tax man of his share. From my point of view, it required a kilometre ride to the nearest cash point which nearly gave me a heart attack by saying half way through the transaction – ‘card captured, contact your bank’ – then in true Italian style carrying on with my request as normal, returned my card and gave me some money. I paid the bill and received a bottle of wine from the patron in recognition of our bravery or stupidity – not sure which as my grasp of Italian is non-existent.
We had to traverse Pescara which turned out to be somewhat larger than we had expected and it was the usual tussle with bikes, buses and cars and roads full of potholes. It was a relief to achieve the outskirts and return to the road along the coast. This changed quite significantly and the sea became much less accessible as the coastline became steeper and rockier which needless to say involved a deal of upping and downing again – always good to practice! There was no change in the level of heat, so by the late afternoon we began our search for accommodation. After several ‘no’s’, we got a result. A quick shower and a foray into the street and a convenient supermarket provided sufficient  nourishment for our evening meal, which we took sitting on our balcony washed down with the free wine (not the balcony!)

Very Italian

Civitanova Marche   -  Pineto     90.3 kms     135’ ascent (hardly worth mentioning)
Before I describe the journey today, I must just mention one significant event which took place yesterday. Alan has been looking increasingly like the wild man of Borneo but no longer! He is now sporting only a few millimetres of hair all over his head; a number 2 ,3 or 4 I know not which. A much more sensible hairdo for this increasingly hot weather.
Having adjusted his helmet to fit his nice new hair style, we set off early to avoid some of the morning heat. Not a chance, by nine o’clock it was over 30degrees and still climbing. Otherwise, the ride was uneventful. We bumped and sweated our way over the 90kms stopping only for fluid intake and food. (I have drunk more bad for you, sugary fizzy drinks in the last fortnight than I have drunk in my entire life!) Thirst is just constant.
The ride may have been without incident but our choice of hotel for the night was anything but. We received the friendliest reception of the journey so far. Two young lads really who fed us beer, showed us a room for the bikes and then explained that the reason they needed so many signatures was for plod who apparently calls each day to find out which aliens have been lurking in their town. Having had no time to buy any food for dinner, we decided to eat in the hotel dining room. A quiet romantic meal it was not  --  but very Italian. The noise level rose as each family sat down to eat. Many were in large family groups with papa at the head of the table surveying benevolently the fruits of his labours; children, partners and grandchildren. The room was in a state of constant bustle as waitresses whizzed around making sure everyone was served. As infiltrators, we had been allocated our own special helper who spoke perfect English, as you would expect as she was Dutch! We enjoyed a splendid meal of local dishes and wine in a friendly and lively atmosphere. Great.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Cigarettes and Condoms

Falconara  -  Civitanova  Marche         76.1 kms           761’ ascent
No chance of a lie-in on this site as, despite the late hour finish of the karaoke, the site was alive by seven and me along with it. Sitting with our bowls of muesli and cups of tea, we were visited by some neighbouring campers and presented with fresh melon. How thoughtful people are. This was an Italian family who lived nearby. Both parents were young, obviously well- educated and spoke excellent English. He had a cycle repair business and they had cycled the relatively short distance to the camp site with two small children and another on the way. And we thought we were doing well.
Fed and watered, we were not sorry to leave the noise and bustle and looked forward to a good day’s cycling now that the dreaded hill was done with. I should remember my own adage; ‘just when you think all is going well, something disrupts the harmony.’ It was very hot but our road was wide and easy to follow until…………….. just about to cross a bridge, there appeared a ‘no entry ‘sign for bikes and low powered Vespas! We had only one other road available and that went very, very uphill. Bathed in sweat, we reached the top and turned to GPS for a miracle. None was forthcoming so we took a gamble. We followed road signs for a village which we hoped would eventually lead us back onto the correct path. It did, indeed, go in the right direction but the map hadn’t made clear the gain and loss of height! (Or of how steep the climbing would be)
Did I already mention it was VERY hot? We had filled every container we had with fluid, but we were using it at an alarming rate. It wouldn’t have been alarming had this been a normal day when all the cafes, bars and garages were open but today they were SHUT – every last one. By the beginning of the afternoon, we stopped at a closed garage which mercifully had a tap and a loo. We dined on the remains of some coconut cakes and shared an apple as we had been unable to top up supplies. (Remember next time you visit Italy that on August 15th, everything is closed. Oh, except for the cigarette and condom machines, neither of which make much of a meal.)
Rehydrated and cooler, we relocated our route and thought a short day might be in order and so began our search for R & R. Nothing! We were running parallel with the railway line beyond which lay the sea. As it was not readily accessed, places to stay were not a general requirement.  Nevertheless we were buoyed up by the thought that the holiday weekend finished today and many folk would have returned to their homes and generously, left some space for us. Civilisation eventually appeared and a room was procured not for one night but for two. It is the first rest day for a couple of weeks and my legs are really looking forward to this treat. (It is still very HOT)

Bang Crash Whallop

Miramare  -  Falconara    79.7 kms      250’ ascent
Today got off to a relaxed start for a short while. As we left our costalot hotel, I realised that in all the to-ing and fro-ing I had lost my gloves; not that I need them for warmth, but they do/did stop the sweat from making the handlebars slippery. However, I soon forgot that small discomfort as I was knocked off my bike by a passing motorist on a roundabout. Unhurt, but a bit shaken I rapidly got to my feet before any other driver thought to join the fray. The offending car had stopped and the lady driver was mightily relieved to discover that I was okay. I remounted my, thankfully undamaged bike, and set off in pursuit of Alan. “I thought I had lost you already,” was his welcome. All frivolity disappeared when he became aware of my misadventure. I really was alright, so off we set again.
Away from the immediate coast, the main road was wider and surprisingly quiet. I guess everyone was roasting themselves on the beach. For several days we had enjoyed a flat riding experience but today saw the first hill of any real significance. It did go on rather in a temperature of around 30 and unremitting sunshine. The top revealed a bar with cold drinks and a chance to cool off. The downhill on the other side completed the cooling off and we found ourselves once more on the sea front. That is to say, we knew it was the seafront because of the crowds but of the sea there was no sign, hidden as it was behind hotels or umbrellas! Finally, the crowds thinned as the area became less attractive and the hunt was on for some shade to eat lunch. Shade is not a priority it seems, so we found a large tree next to a roundabout. We know how to do things in style!
Just when you think you might have a handle on the Italians, they come up with something new. Happily pedalling away and minding my own business, I was aware of a motor bike on my left. There then ensued a conversation between the two of us (still cycling) while the traffic waited (mostly patiently) to overtake the obstruction we were causing. Having established our origins, the purpose of our journey, he wished us well and headed off waving to Alan as he passed.
In view of the experiences of the last evening in trying to find a place to stay, we thought it prudent to start searching at an earlier hour than previously. The plan was flawless, except for one tiny element  -  we suddenly ran out of hotels!  All that filled the roadside were thousands of cars and the 2011 versions of the Vespa. I exaggerate not. The occupants of said vehicles were laying claim to their 2 square metres of beach. After many kilometres, the hotels reappeared but with the usual response of ‘NO’ often softened with a ‘sorry’. Doggedly determined not to sleep on the beach, we kept trying. Our reward was a campsite with a smidgeon of space for a small tent. Contending with tree roots and ground like concrete, the tent was finally erected. (Did I mention the bity things which found Alan’s legs within seconds of our arrival?!) A restless night followed accompanied, as it was, by the karaoke, the TV next door and the motorway and railway on either side; just grateful Alan doesn’t snore! 

Italian Holiday

Lugo   -  Miramare        100.1(Mustn’t forget the .1)kms      219’ascent
Having spent some time discussing between ourselves the merits or otherwise of various routes and been unable to come to any sensible conclusion as we had insufficient information. The hotel owner was much better informed and marked out a  route avoiding all the busy roads. It worked a treat and we soon found ourselves in Cervia. Now we could start our journey down the coast. We did!
The coastal belt in this part of Italy is particularly narrow, thus the streets follow the same pattern. They are made even narrower by rows of parked cars, people on bikes and pedestrians.  To be fair, the cars do abide by a highway code of sorts, but the same cannot be said for either bikers or pedestrians. Pavements –pah!  One way streets- pah! Traffic lights – pah! In addition to weaving our way around wobbling cyclists and strolling pedestrians, the road itself followed a meandering route in, over and around the railway line. By 4.30 our concentration levels were beginning to wither so we thought to seek accommodation for the night. Ha,ha,ha. We were, until then, blissfully unaware of the fact that this weekend, as well as being August, was also a very special holiday weekend when every good Italian was out to strut his stuff. For three hours we tried to find a place to lay our increasingly weary heads. For three hours we continued along the coast so far that we ran out of map but by keeping the sea to our left we just followed the endless line of full hotels! By now we were using lights on the bikes and envisaging, without much enthusiasm, a night on the beach.  One last try of a very expensive looking hotel and bingo (well sort of). Not a room in a hotel, but a suite at a price I am not prepared to disclose. Suffice to say, we enjoyed a Jacuzzi and a four poster bed! By midnight we were washed and fed and just about rehydrated and exhausted. This holiday goes on for another two days! Soldier on.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Another Man on a Bike

San Giovanni -  Lugo    73.2 kms      134’ascent! (so nearly flat)
Breakfast this morning was a vast improvement on yesterday in terms of food offered, but not nearly so entertaining. It was one of those buffets where you wish you had a huge appetite. We do make an effort but it is a fairly feeble one, even though we are aware of the extra calories we are using.
We did have a route in mind but after ten minutes of pedalling, we realised that we weren’t on it!  Undaunted, we made a u turn. A bit of intelligent guess work and we were on track again. It has to be said this is not a particularly beautiful part of Italy but it does have the advantage of being flat and the disadvantage of being almost without shade. The Italians don’t seem to go in for parking spots or picnic tables.
 We had made the decision yesterday, to just go ‘head down’ for the coast, which on a bike is easier said than done it being important to avoid the very busy main roads. With Master Navigator in charge there was never a problem. We made reasonable speed, even in the heat, and arrived in Lugo in the late afternoon. The town was something of a surprise, in that it had many old buildings and a massive castle in the centre. While in the process of taking a photograph of said castle, we were accosted by a man on a bike. “You are English?!” “Yes.” And then followed the questions of where we had come from etc. Happy to oblige, we answered the questions and our new friend then took us on a bike tour of the town, explaining as he went, the history of the monuments. ( All the while, he exhibited a total disregard for other traffic, which seemed resigned to remain behind the bikes!)

  By this time it was getting latish and we asked if he knew of any hotels locally. Inevitably, he had a friend who owned a very nice hotel and here we are. As we have not had a day off in two weeks an early night will be much appreciated.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Topping Up

Quistello   -  San Giovanni     81.87kms     129’ ascent
This morning Julie Walters serve our breakfast! The food was somewhat meagre, but watching its delivery was highly entertaining. It promised to be another very hot day, as by nine o’clock we were already glowing with perspiration. We knew where the route commenced today and we found the start with no problem. Armed with maps, compasses and a GPS we still managed to misplace ourselves after two hours or so. While standing in a village square looking perplexed we caught the eye of a young man who had recognised our Welsh flag. He introduced himself as a fan of the city of Cardiff where he had watched the rugby in the Millenium Stadium. Much more useful to us was his local knowledge. So, off we went again.
Now our planners are in for more criticism.  That the track had down-graded from tarmac to gravel was something we had come to accept, but a track with no shelter from rain or sun for miles was uncomfortable and inhospitable. The light coloured gravel didn’t help as it reflected the heat, which today was quite hot! On the positive side, there was no nostril wind and the track was flat. On all sides we were surrounded by vines and maize and not much else. (the odd barking dog)
We are getting better at maintaining our fluid levels now but today was still something of a challenge on that front as I had to make a number of small diversions to obtain liquids. And we still only had one wee each! Not together, I might add.
Some fifteen kilometres short of Bologne we called a halt. We need to be cool headed and fresh to negotiate the vagaries of another big town/city. BUT today we passed the 5000 kms mark, so only another 2000 to go!

Can you really resist making a "Comment"?

Two to Tango

Verona  -  Quistello      77.8 kms   155’ ascent
Once we had retrieved our bikes and trailers from the depths of the garage and explained our route and the vagaries of our trailers to an interested hotel employee, we were off and away with our newly acquired maps. Getting out of the city was infinitely easier than getting in. Despite there being no route signs, we were in a position to take to the roads and know where we were going (well nearly). Mr. Master Navigator played a stormer and we followed a combination of bike route and road with some success. (Each day we have been helicopter spotted and it has been our way of assuming that HTV is following our progress!) Today the helicopter took off within a few metres of our path so Alan waved enthusiastically and the pilot returned the gesture much like the train driver of two days ago who tooted in response to a similar wave. We just need a canal barge to complete the picture.
We have, in general, been impressed by the drivers in Italy.  We had expected to receive a blatant disregard for cyclist, instead of which, we have been treated with generosity. Only one incident has marred this record. A large blue truck saw Alan a little late in the day and left half the rubber off his back tyres on the road ,but he did avoid wiping out the Navigator.
Quistello is a small village and it was here that we decided to call it a day. The landlady spoke no English and so it was time to resort to all those gestures. We got a room and, having washed off the day’s smells, we went in search of sustenance. Our landlady, with great excitement, led us into a garden, cool with trees and plants - and a stage with a DJ. We winced, thinking that we were to be subjected to a karaoke night but no, by nine o’clock the place was full and the dancers took to the floor. Quickstep, foxtrot, cha cha cha, Vienese waltz, line dancing and the tango were all part of the evening’s fun for the clients. We remained firmly in our seats but thoroughly enjoyed watching the local townsfolk, of all ages, tripping the light fantastic. Fabulous end to the day.

On to Juliette's Balcony

Rivalta  -  Verona     48kms        656’ascent
We left Rivalta following very clear bicycle route signs. In a very short time, there appeared ahead of us, a very large rock face. At its base was an illustration showing the cross section of the route which (yup) went right up to the top, up slopes of 10%. And we thought we were finished with hills! However, this one proved to be worth the effort of push and ride as the views on the way up were spectacular. At the point where you are out of breath and boiling hot, staring down at an almost flat road going in your direction, can be just a tad frustrating. In a calmer and cooler moment, the magnificence can be appreciated. The descent required a good deal of concentration with bikes coming in the opposite direction and the speedy guys trying to overtake these old folk with their flippin’ trailers.
The signs continued and we followed then diligently, as we still had no maps. We rode alongside a canal and over bridges until, on reaching a road, we ran out of any directional help. We stood for some time hoping the GPS would come up with an answer or another angel would appear. Neither event happened, so we vaguely followed the sun in the hope that we would find clear direction to Verona. On our wanderings we passed a bike shop. I needed new glasses and we thought they might, just might have a map. The glasses purchase was easy and although they had no maps, the very nice lady did give us directions which did take us right into the heart of Verona. Not quite what we had planned!
It had been quite a stressful few hours and Verona presented itself in all its glory. A quick visit to the information centre to find a place to stay, a short ride to the hotel, a shower and we were out revelling with the rest of the tourists. Our major aim was to find MAPS and did we find maps? Oh, yes. That done, we strolled around with our heads up, as at ground level everything was either a designer shop or a restaurant and all the wonderful architecture was above. Having neither the room nor the financial resources for designer wear, we enjoyed a meal in a small, but perfectly formed café, while Alan admired the elegance of the Veronese women.
The grand finale was a marvellous display of nature in the form of a massive thunderstorm which only added to the splendour of this city. (As long as you weren’t wearing your latest designer shoes!)

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Nice Young Men

Chiusa  -  Trento   101.8kms      396’ ascent
Trento – Rivalta      63.2kms       232’ ascent
I’ve put these two days together because of their similarity in all but distance. Having profoundly rubbished the Italian cycle route, I now find I must eat humble pie. Having left the hostel yesterday in good time, and having decided that we would venture no more onto wiggly routes, we/Alan chanced upon a cycle way which ran between the river and the road. We conjectured that as long as we crossed neither, the route could not take off into the mountains. The logic worked so well, that for two days we have been following an impeccable track! It has taken us along gorges, through tunnels, and above rivers but its most favourable feature is that, for the most part, it has been downhill, even if only slightly.
I had never thought of Italy as a great grower of apples, but yesterday we spent much of our journey passing by apple orchards – apples of all shapes and colours and not quite ripe for picking. Today has been the turn of the vine (but we have thought of Italy as a wine producer). We have actually cycled through the vineyards lush with grapes, also not quite ready for harvesting, but smelling gorgeous.
We are still on our continuing search for maps and this morning we thought to venture into Trento and try to find some. Instead, we found another guiding angel – this one male. He had originally signalled to Alan that he should be on the cycle track so, being a good citizen , Alan did as he was bid. This is turn led to a conversation between the two during which the need for maps was mentioned. The magic words, “Follow me” were spoken and with little fuss we found ourselves outside a bookshop; that they had nothing useful was beside the point. We bought a map anyway which at least gives us an overview of the whole of Italy so scale is not helpful for locating small roads etc. Yet another nice young man.
As is often the case in the mountains, they attract their unique weather systems. These are no exception. For two days now, starting around midday, the old nostril wind has palled up with his brother, the mistral. So we now have a ‘minestrone ‘wind of some force, certainly gusts of eight. The temperatures have also risen significantly so that a cold shower of rain is a positive pleasure. Hopefully smelling a little sweeter now, we shall seek sustenance and gird our loins for another day on the tracks.

Where's My Trailer

Gries – Chiusa     68 kms              1390’ ascent
Well, what a day! The good news is that we have made it into Italy although not as far as we would have wished for a number of reasons which I shall outline. We left Gries in good time minus the rain of the day before but with a flippin’ nostril wind, which didn’t help my climbing ability one little bit. Nevertheless a few kilometres later and around a 600’ foot ascent, we crossed the border. Not an exciting or pretty border town and we hastened through it.
We had been reliably informed, or so we thought, that we would find an excellent cycle route to take us down the other side of the Brenner. We did find it and for ten kilometres or so it lived up to expectations. Then it set off with a mind of it’s own which seemed to focus on crossing contours, and which bore little resemblance to the direction in which we wanted to go  -  down! However, we were prisoners of the route as there was no way onto any useful road. Admittedly, the ups were not long, but on several occasions they were 17 %. Now, I think I am quite a dogged soul, but I could barely PUSH my load up these inclines and old Herman got heavier with each hill.  Then Sherman really stuffed up. It broke away from Alan’s bike and just lay in the road (fortunately a very quiet road traffic wise BUT right outside a restaurant). It caused some amusement amongst the clientele but not a lot for us. It transpired that the link had snapped entirely so leaving no method of attaching bike and trailer. BUT, Mr. Organised had a spare if only we could remember where it was packed. Thankfully our audience lost interest when they could see the problem being so astutely solved and in less than half an hour, we were on our way again. Two hills later Alan asked, ”Where is your helmet, Mary?” Sh..t, back at the breakdown spot. Minus trailer, I went back and found it and restored faith in hill climbing ability by managing 15% without the trailer. (I have to own up at this point that my helmet was not the only this to go missing. I dropped my sunglasses while having a wee, but they will still be there – too far before I realised they were gone! That’s the second pair!)
After two hours of rubbish route, during which we had climbed another 700’ when we should have been going downhill, there appeared an access onto the road. Traffic, yes, but gentle downhill along the valley. Quite tired now and a little disappointed that we managed so few kilometres but heigh- ho tomorrow is another day. Probably won’t be quite as exciting, I hope.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Crossing the Alps (Part I)

Schwatz – Gries (still just in Austria!)     64.7 kms      1250’ ascent.
Yesterday’s cycle track proved to be just as effective this morning as it was the day before. It is true that it took us all around Innsbruck and then into the centre but with never a moments anxiety about being lost; that we covered some 30 plus kms when half that might have been sufficient was small price to pay. Anyway, the centre of Innsbruck is very attractive and it was a long time since we had visited the city. Armed with a map of the town, courtesy of the Tourist Information, (well, not exactly courtesy, as I had to cough up the princely sum of 1 Euro for a very small piece of paper) we headed for the bottom of the Brenner Pass. We shared the first few kilometres with the traffic accessing the motorway but by the time we had passed the Olympic ski jump the volume of traffic had reduced considerably. (From the top of the ski jump you look directly into a grave yard miles below! We didn’t view it this time but from memory it looks absolutely terrifying!).
The hill climbing up the Brenner was manageable and, by the time we stopped for lunch, confidence levels had increased. Looking up we could see the motorway which at that point was crossing a very long and high viaduct. Looking again with incredulity, we could see the brave or stupid, depending on your point of view, bungie jumping in an obviously well organised operation! Accompanied, as it was by howls and shrieks, it made for a very entertaining lunch break.
We had hoped to reach Italy this evening but with all the deviations around Innsbruck, time ran out; very fortuitously as it happened in view of the torrential rain which began falling as we put our bikes in the garage before hurrying up to our room for the night. A few more kilometres and a few more hundred feet and we will make the top of the pass and Italy tomorrow torrential rain or not!