Wednesday, August 10, 2016

North out of Rome

Exiting north of Rome we expected the worst in traffic but were pleasantly surprised… the most annoying part was Italians trying to use round-abouts. They stop in the middle of the round-about to let cars in… ??? We don’t stop for no-one!

Our first stop was only 25kms away from the centre of Rome and was an idyllic crater lake. We spent the afternoon swimming and sitting in a shady beach (our first in Italy). A litre of delicious ice-cream and we sped north further that afternoon. Passing some more roman ruins – these ones were cutting into the rock cliffs and great that the amphitheatre is still being used! Then onto another lake for the night.

The next day we went hunting for some thermal springs that we had been told about… not sure why as it was 40degrees! We managed to find them – they were cold not hot, but we passed on swimming anyway as they wreaked of sulphur! We moved on to find a respite out of the sun… Italy is in Europe but it rivalled some of Alice Springs January days… bloody hot enough to become soggy with sweat while we sat in the shade. Fortunately we moved on that evening to another campsite beside a lake.

Not to break the pattern of our trip north we rode quite speedily (a 100km before lunch!)… and ended up camping beside another lake! We then woke up to some lightning strikes that hit so close that we huddled in the tent and Tim pondered the electrical conductivity of titanium tent poles compared to the nearby trees. The rain paused briefly and we packed up in record speed to ride on. 

Arezzo was a pleasant surprise – lots of old buildings and a restored fortress. We were worried when told that the old town was steep hills… not for us! Explored the town with no problem. North up a lovely farming valley looking for a lake but had to settle for a river to camp near (behind an abandoned bowling alley)

Up over a mountain pass and whoosh down 20km of lovely winding downhill… swerving to miss a friendly serpent as it played chicken. A butcher for lunch meat and then a long ride looking a suitable fireplace… where do the picnic sites go when you actually need one! We washed our sweaty riding shirts with the goal of resting while they dried… no such luck as a thunder cloud developed immediately after washing to generously give us and the shirts another rinse. We were amazed at locals riding in the rain… we never ride in rain at home… in Alice we just wait until the next day and it will be sunny!

We decided to avoid Pisa to stay in the mountains and a more interesting route. Our first big fail!! After 6km of 10+% gradient in 35deg with humidity and a promise of 10km more… fluid loss and exhaustion fortunately didn’t cloud our choice to turn around and find icecream and an alternate route… these mountain backroads weren’t cycling friendly! Hence we made our way anyway to Pisa.

Pisa = Funny angled tower… nice restoration job and some impressive marble rocks. Annoying tourists taking photographs pushing it upright and bloody cyclists getting in the way wheeling our overloaded bikes through. We actually liked Lucca better (20km away) with a big wall around the city with quaint buildings and city streets.

Cinque Terre drew us as it has the reputation of being one of the world’s great coastal walks. We road into Levanto and took a x1 day National Park and Train pass to explore the 5 coastal towns that make up the Cinque Terre. It is an amazing place, beautiful sea views and cliffs that have had terraces for farming built up the sides. Despite all the signs telling us to respect the farmers’ land either side of the track, we were disappointed to find that in parts, the farmers themselves had not pruned their olive trees or maintained the terraces. Some of the worst farming we have seen in Europe likely because there is more money in tourism. Also a pity that the terraces had become overgrown with blackberries… enough that the sea view was blocked completely. Another disappointment was that the ‘world famous’ trail was half closed, reading the guide books it has been like this since 2001. That said, the views we did managed to see were spectacular. Most impressive was the coast north of Cinque Terre where national park policy hadn’t got in the way of building walking tracks and bike paths.

We decided to head straight north. This involved a fair climb up over the mountain range into the Po river valley. We had an enjoyable WarmShower stay with Giovanni in Pavia who gave us great advice to head north along bike paths that followed the canals up to the ‘Lakes District’. This was the flattest, smoothest riding we had done in a long time. We waited for a tourist info office to open and decided on a route past three small lakes before Lake Como.

After experiencing near bushfire disaster in Sardinia, it was time for another ‘almost’ natural disaster. We set up the tent in sunny blue sky weather beside an idyllic creek in the cover of trees. As we settled down to sleep we thought we heard rain but the tree cover protected us from getting wet. Fortunately we put the tent fly on as 2 hours later it was bucketing down some of the heaviest rain we had experienced. Soon our idyllic campsite had been flooded and the tent became a waterbed. We thought this was the worst however after Tim finished digging drainage trenches, he then noticed the creek had risen dramatically! We quickly prepared for a quick escape should the creek burst its banks. Thankfully it didn’t and we got some sleep despite being slightly wet.

The ride into Como showed the extent of the storm. The ride north along Lake Como became sunny and more spectacular as we went. We found a hostel to wash/dry tent and sleeping gear. The next day was ‘Postcard Perfect’.

We then rode north around the lake to Colico and met Fulvio, another WarmShower host. He wasted no time organising for us to join him and his friends for drinks. This turned out to be a very late night – especially the 18km ride home at 2am. Next morning we were up to experience the river. As Tim and Fulvio kayaked down the rapids, Emily decided never to kayak a river again. Lunch was spectacular! At a restaurant that had 2 dishes on the menu: Pizzoccheri (black-grain pasta in garlic, oil cheese base sauce) and Sciatt (deep fried cheese balls)… We didn’t feel like dinner.

After much study and debate over which pass to cross we headed north into Switzerland.

1 comment: