Italy east 05/07/2010Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: border, castle, italy, mountains, san marino, slovenia, tunnels, venice
With nothing but tailwinds and sunshine, the ride from Rome was less difficult and a whole lot more interesting than I ever expected.
Crossing the mountains that run like a spine down the middle of Italy was a cinch, though my love-hate relationship with tunnels is once again on the rocks.
The big tunnels – some as long as 5 km – were crawling with mice, and the scream of engines rang in my ears long after I came out the other side. But they save time.
One of the greatest experiences of the trip was visiting San Marino, a tiny republic not far from the Adriatic Sea.
All day I climbed a steep, twisting road to the border, and when I crossed over, sunburned and exhausted, I realized I still wasn’t there. I was somewhere near the bottom of there. San Marino proper is quite literally a mountain on a hill, but the ride to the top was worth ever single drop of sweat.
Perched on a sheer cliff, the historic centre is a walled castle with a jaw-dropping view of the surrounding countryside. I fell in love with the place from the moment I stepped onto its cobblestone streets.
I spent half the afternoon grinning at the horizon, watching the clouds roll by, and when I finally turned around I discovered that I was alone. A bit of rain had sent the tour bus crowd scurrying, so I was free to roam the city and explore the castle in peace.
It was incredible to be in such a spot, fulfilling a dream I had ever since I was a kid. You can keep your churches and statues – I’ll always be a castle man.
The ride north to Venice was flat, so I was able to tick off a pile of kilometres without much effort. It’s a good thing, too, because I needed every bit of energy I had.
Venice is hands down the least bicycle-friendly place I’ve ever seen in my life. Canals and hundreds of foot bridges will do that to a city.
At first I tried dragging my bike around, but after six or seven bridges my knees went wobbly and I gave up, ditching my gear at a cheap hotel.
I spent the rest of the night full of wine, mingling at a bizarre patio lantern party and trying in vain to get to Piazza San Marco. I walked the narrow streets until 4 o’clock in the morning – I never did find the plaza, but I sure had fun trying.
This morning I felt like death, though I still decided to hit the road because the day was too beautiful to waste.
I cycled for a few hours, not far, but far enough that I should be able to cross the Slovenian border sometime tomorrow.
East, east, east . . .
After Rome 04/29/2010Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: colloseum, italy, ponte milvio, rome, sistine chapel, trevi fountain, vatican
Rome has been one of the best stops of the entire journey thus far, but after a week in the city it’s time to get back on the road and make my way north.
But I’m going to miss this place. Sarah and her partner Armando were incredible hosts, guiding me as I gawked at the Colloseum, Pyramid of Cestius, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.
There was also a stop at Ponte Milvio, a tiny bridge where thousands of lovers hang padlocks as a symbol of their bond. Little things like that, sights off the beaten path, made me truly appreciate how lucky I was to experience the city with people who live it every day.
The Vatican I toured on my own, at least as much as anyone can be on their own in a sea of hundreds of people.
Together we crammed ourselves into the museums, ooh’d in some hallways, ahh’d in others and, after leaving, wondered why a place as holy as the Sistine Chapel smelled so much like us.
If anything, craning my neck at Michelangelo’s work made me realize that I’d rather be outside.
As beautiful as the chapel was, my memory of it has already faded, squeezing itself into a bite-size cliche to pass around the dinner table.
How strange, then, that I remember exactly how the road felt under my tires in the Yukon, the colour of dawn as it broke over the English channel and the sound of rain cascading over my tent in Belgium.
I can still smell the olive groves of Spain, still see my afternoons floating by in the blue skies over the Mediterranean.
And what lingers, I think, aren’t these experiences but the thread that ties them together. True beauty is the freedom to explore.
There will be plenty of time for just that in the coming months.
I’m setting out from Rome today, leaving for Budapest where I’ll cut east to Turkey. There are a few thousand kilometres between here and there, and I haven’t a clue how they’ll look. It’s perfect.
Avanti! 04/20/2010Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: border, genova, italy, monaco, mountains, pisa, rome, traffic
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Italy! It may be scorching hot with climbs that go on forever, but this place is beautiful beyond compare and I’m enjoying every moment of my time here.
I crossed the border after touring Monaco, a mecca for fancy cars and private beaches, where a drink without an umbrella is as close as anyone will ever come to roughing it.
I hated the place – it assaulted my senses, encircled me with horns and brakes and ugly cranes, and all I could do was retreat between the slow-moving tour buses.
The commotion seemed to pursue me across the border, but the pitch changed on the way to San Remo. As I entered the city I realized that Italy is the land of motorbikes. Mopeds. Scooters. You name it.
Everyone, from grandmothers to peach-fuzz teenagers, drives on two wheels, usually like a maniac, and the streaking vehicles make city travel an adventure.
At first I tried to pull over to let the congestion subside, but in Italian cities, that never happens. It’s all traffic, all the time. There is nothing to do but join the flow and zig-zag between buses and trucks like some kind of demented bicycle courier.
It’s a heart-pounding, sweat-in-your-eyes rush, and it’s about as far as I’ve ever felt from the plodding tracks of Albert Street in Regina.
With the craziness of the cities and the steep, wincing summits of the mountains, my rhythm was set, and I darted from Genova to La Spézia to Pisa without incident.
As for Pisa, what a difference a tower makes. The structure is interesting to be sure, but the rest of the city is industry and brown-brick buildings crumbling along the shores of a stinking river.
Glad I went, glad I left.
Now it’s onward to Rome, where I hope to meet my friend Sarah. She hosted me in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, last summer, so to see her again, almost a full year later, will be exciting.
Then . . . I’ve been thinking about what comes next and I still haven’t made up my mind. Rome will likely be my most southern point in Italy. From there I hope to tour Slovenia and Croatia with a possible stop in Hungary. So many ideas, and all I know for certain is that it’s going to be a great summer. Onward!