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 five kilometers – were deafening with the rumble of truck engines, and I had to pick my way around countless mice that call the darkness home.
Back in the daylight, and on the open road, I came to 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 I was completely alone. A rain shower 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 knock off a pile of kilometers without much effort. It’s a good thing, too, because I needed every bit of energy I had.
Venice has to be the most difficult place to ride a bicycle in all of the world. Canals and a few hundred 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, never finding the plaza but having one hell of a time 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 . . .