Italy on the bike

Here’s an account of my tour of New Zealand in 2010.

Day 26 Amelia to Orte, then Rome

Today is the last day of cycling here in Italy. Next is a few days touring Rome. On foot. I understand cycling in the eternal city to be suicidal.

The final ride to Orte was perfect. All downhill with dozens of garishly clad Italian cyclists and hardly any traffic on a beautiful country lane.

After arriving at the Orte scalo train stazione I shut down the cycle computer for the last time and it reported that since pedaling away from the airport 26 days ago I’ve done

1010.58 kilometers

11993 meters of ascent

72.48.32 hours total ride time


The route today:


http://maps.google.com/?q=http://share.abvio.com/c754/181b/4f60/38aa/Cyclemeter-Cycle-20120527-0957.kml


Oh, more fun on the train. When I arrived in Orte the ticket office at the train stazione was closed. (it was Sunday after all) The ticket machine taking cash did not work. Miraculously the functioning one taking only credit cards accepted my debit card and pin. When the train arrived the promised bicycle car was missing. Fortunately the nice conductor allowed me to store the bike in the driver’s car at the end of the train. Unfortunately he locked the door, a rather disheartening fact i discovered when we arrived at the Tiburtina stazione. I mentioned the bike was locked in the very back of the train in the unoccupied driver car. By the time I made my way to the front and found said conductor chating up the driver in the very open driver car the train had arrived at Roma termini. We then both made our way back to the back where he unlocked the door and, somewhat chagrined released my bike.

Turns out that very train was the next one departing so I waited a half an hour in what was now the front of the train for the journey back to Tiburtina. Kindly they did not require I purchase another ticket for the trip (back) to Tiburtina.

One more thing my overall excellent guide book got right: some trains in Italy take bikes, others do not. Those that do sometimes don’t and those that don’t sometimes do.

I think I’ll take a taxi to the airport.

Day 25 Piedicolle to Amelia

I was a bit disappointed to leave the Parco nelle Norci this morning. Another night of Pepe’s cooking would have been most welcome. I guess I could have sat around the stream and admired its yummy trout while waiting for dinner, but it was a beautiful day and time to be off.

However, the second day in Piedicolle, together with the extra day in Orvieto have force a change of plans. Assuming no further delays following the book’s route into Umbria will get me into Rome on Wednesday. As with Florence it seems my long bike ride will be incomplete somehow if I don’t spend time wandering about the eternal city. So, the guide book goes to the bottom of the panniers and I head out with only the map. A little iffy as my proposed route toAmelia has me going through two largish towns, Terni and Narni. Who knows what sort of traffic I might find myself in. And there is some sort of climb leading away from Narni. The map shows a very squiggly road.

Fortunately the road down to Terni wasn’t too bad traffic wise. The one that had me more worried, the ten kilometers to Narni was just fine. The climb from Narni was as difficult as the squiggles suggested, but I made it. The final few kilometers once upand out f the valley were very pleasant. Amelia itself was amazing. It is, as the guide book said one of the most dramatic hill towns in the entire region.

I decided I just had to climb up there. Once again I managed, as I later discovered, to enter the old city through a secondary porta. This donkey path had nothing on the one in Todi. I’m not sure the donkey could have made it. I actually sat at the bottom and thought about it. Of course to get to the walls themselves had been quite the uphill trek, and the duomo perched at the top was quite appealing. Finally I decided the path couldn’t be too much steeper than some of worst slick rock has to offer and I can get up them so I pushed off. Sideways of course as pushing off going directly up would have been impossible.

I got the shoes locked in and turned up. Only then did I think that at slick rock I’m on the mountain bike, which weighs about 18 pounds. My fully loaded touring bike masses nearly one hundred. Too late because just like slick rock, stopping when the bike is pointing up a 25% grade isn’t really an option. I’m not sure I could have stopped the hundred pound bike from going backwards had i stopped. So I went forward.

About halfway up I hear this Italian yelling. At me. Uh oh, I must be breaking some inscrutable rule about death defying feats of foolishness in old Italian hill towns. Perhaps it was simply that I was going the wrong way on a barely wide enough one way. In retrospect given the similar scenario in Todi i should hav guess there was a more reasonable main road into town. Anyway, stopping at that moment wouldve been death defying so I cranked the pedals over a few more times and pulled into a little, flat, driveway. (apparently though unbelievable people do drive down this street). I looked around and sure enough there’s this guy in a tiny yellow fiat coming up the street waving his arm out the window and yelling. Sure enough at me.

Actually he’s cheering. He pulls into a drive a bit below me, hops out of his car and comes running up to pat me on the back. ‘Very good! Very good! You keep going all the way to the Duomo!’ Well okay, that was sort of my plan anyway. So I hop on, he gives me a good shove and follows me up, running beside me and pumping his fists like its the final climb of the giro d’italia.

I get to the summit, well a summit at least where the road forks and start up the less inclined path. Martin, who has run down to his car and is now following me like he’s driving the support car at the giro calls out ‘no! To the duomo!’. Of course he’s point to the right fork in the road. which of course continues up at the same crazy incline. Well I guess I’m committed now. So I turned the bike towards the impossible donkey path. Somehow I managed the last few hundred meters which thankfully ended flat and at the duomo.

When I finally get to the top there is Martin, running after me again. Looks like he just left his yellow fiat on the street ( it better have an awesome parking brake) to cheer me on the last little bit.

I really enjoyed talking with Martin once I got my breath back. He is one of the, if not the most fit 60+ year old man I’ve ever met. Apparently a retired professional tennis player, Martin has lived all over the world but lives in central Italy and Amelia in particular because of the art, culture and natural beauty of the place. After seeing the inside of the Duomo (while Martin stood guard over my bike) then enjoying the incredible view I think he has indeed found about a perfect place to live. May I one day be as fit and have as refined an outlook on life as Martin.


http://maps.google.com/?q=http://share.abvio.com/c754/181b/4f60/38aa/Cyclemeter-Cycle-20120526-1023.kml

Day 24 Piedicolle to Rieti ( and back)

After yesterday’s adventure, though more because of Pepe’s outstanding cooking I decided to spend another night at the Pepe Parco nelle Norci Albergo. Good thing too as the very flat ride to Reiti. Even with no panniers hanging from the bike it was about all I was up for today. Given the last two days the planned 70 k into the mountains of Umbria would not have been all that fun. And who knows how accurate the route description in my erstwhile guide book would be.

I did however go up to Poggio Bustone on the way back from Rieti. Lovely little town. All the more pleasant given that Reiti didnt have a lot to recommend. After the comparatively small climb uo to Poggio I was ready for dinner.

By the way the ristorante does not have a menu. The menu apparently is whatever Pepe’s happens to cooking at the time. The primi was of course pasta, and I refrained from asking for a second helping only because I knew whatever was next would be equally delicious. Turns out the secondi was trout caught by Pepe’s son that afternoon in the local stream. Far and away the best trout I’ve ever had.

I will say this about the guide book: for all its faults it is right on calling the Pepe Parco nelle Norci Albergo Ristorante the best in Italy. Certainly the best I’ve encountered.

http://maps.google.com/?q=http://share.abvio.com/c754/181b/4f60/38aa/Cyclemeter-Cycle-20120525-1058.kml

Day 23 Spoleto to Piedicolle

I spent a bit of time in Spoleto this morning. The medieval section was quite pleasant. After a few photos and cappuccinos it was time to get going. Today’s route like yesterday’s also has two big climbs. The first and most challenging apoarently starts right at the beginning. I thought that sounded  much nicer than the long one yesterday that started  late in the day. I was rested, feeling good and after a nice  ’continental’ breakfast was off.

And I spent two and half hours and 25 kilometers doing circles around Spoleto looking for the N395 to Norcia. 

Finally at nearly  1:00 I found myself 300 meters from the albergo were I’d started the day having lunch and consulting my map and gps computer. My map clearly showed he N395 leading toward Norcia. Sadly not the small bit leading from Spoleto, which was just beyond the edge of the map. Without  Internet access  the cycle computer wouldn’t resolve down the the street level in Spoleto. So I was left with the guide book which said something like ‘head out of town, past the intersection with the via flaminia and take the N395’. Sounded simple enough yesterday.

At this point I’d taken what seemed to be every route out town. I’d even gotten myself onto the ‘via flaminia’ following the signs for Norcia. Yikes! By the time I’d decided this couldnt possibly be the right way a nice carbinieri pulled over to tell me ‘no’. Apparently I was not too far from a four kilometer long tunnel! I showed him my inadequate map, pointing to the N395. He did some pointing and waving eventually making it clear I needed to go back to Spoleto. 

Eventually I found the N395 and can make a few editorial suggestions for my ‘guide book’. The intersection with the via flaminia I question is the one on the north end of town, not the south. After passing over the main road  which of course you don’t actually get on, one should turn left, not right and do not follow the signs for Norcia. With these minor but important adjustments I was finally on my way. 

And very late. The route to Piedicolle from Spoleto was supposed to be about 70 kilometers. Now it was going to be about 100. The suspect guide book raved about the albergo, but warned as it was the only one in town there was some danger in depending on it without a reservation. Not to worry it said. If full one could always cycle an additional 15 k to Reiti. I was a bit worried.

When I arrived at Arrone, which marked the beginning of the second big climb of the day it was 5:00.  Hmm.. One hour for a 9 kilometer climb, 90 minutes or so for the remaining 25k, assuming the topomap was correct and it was mostly downhill, I’d make it to Peidicolle with enough light to go on to Reiti if necessary. So up I went.

My timing was about right and it was nearly 7:30 when I came to the turn towards Leonessa after which the guide book said  ’3 kilometers to the albergo’. It did not say the last three kilometers was a monstrous up hill. Now cursing the guide book, and certain the Pepe al Norci Albergo Ristorante could not be worth all this effort,  there I was ‘stuck’ if you will in the middle of a scenic nowhere. So up I went. 

And up, and up. 

At this point I was conserving water and watching the cycle computer very closely. At exactly three kilometers I came around yet another switchback, looked up and…nothing. There is no albergo ‘nestled in a quite park like setting’.  Dreading the thought of 15 kilometers to Rieti with no water I consulted my nice, detailed map. It had no details concerning my current location. I compared my gps generate topo map with the one in the guide book. Looked pretty similar except for the ghastly spike at the end of mine. I wondered if the wholw thing was some  horrible joke.

I turned around, cursing the foul guide book and went flying down the hill, past the horrible turnoff towards Leonessa and, 250 meters later came to the INTERSECTION with sign for Leonessa. Sure enough the book said intersection, not turn off. Argh.. Sure enough 3 flat kilometers later appeared the lovely Pepe Parco nelle Norci Albergo Ristorante.

There was indeed room at the inn. Thank god. In fact I was the only patron. And the place was indeed as wonderful as advertised. Without a doubt th best meal I’ve had so far.

BTW at kilometer 35 where you see my path cross the main road to Norcia I am on top of the mountain. The main road I was unfortunately on earlier is at that point in the dread tunnel some 300 meters below.


http://maps.google.com/?q=http://share.abvio.com/c754/181b/4f60/38aa/Cyclemeter-Cycle-20120524-0943.kml

Day 22 Orvieto to Spoleto

After two days on trains and navigating my way around hordes of tourists I was glad to be back out in the countryside. To be sure a bit of rest had been nice and I left Orvieto ready  for a long day. Good thing too as today’s route looked to be around 100 kilometers and included two big climbs. 

I was somewhat dreading the first few kilometers which my guide book called ‘rideable’. And it was indeed a rather busy road leading out of Orvieto. Fortunately there was a fairly wide shoulder and it was all downhill. At least until  the turn off for the quiet country lane leading to Todi. Which of course went uphill. 

The grade actually wasn’t too bad and there were as promised hardly any cars. I decided to use up a bit of iPhone batty juice and listened to Led Zepplin’s physical graffiti i. Just as the album ended the view of Todi opened up.

Todi  is spectacular hill town. And it sits  upon a very, very big hill. A mountain you might say. In fact today  marks the day when I transition  from the hills of Tuscany the mountains of Umbria. Todi looks to sit on the first mountain. 

The climb up to Todi from the river valley was pretty steep and after  navigating  the many switchbacks l arrived at the gate ready for lunch. Then I saw how steep the  path up to the town square was. For the first time I thought about getting off and pushing. I considered parking the bike and going up the escalator.  Yes, there was an escalator. I’d passed it a way back as I circled around to the ‘porta’. I’d dismissed  the option in light of the tourist buses disgorging a mass of camera wielding Asians. Well, in part because of the tourists, mostly I didn’t want to park the bike where I couldn’t see it.

After getting a look at the cobblestone  donkey path-that no donkey pulling a cart could possibly go up- the thought of getting shoved about on the escalator didn’t seem like such a bad idea. On the other hand  pushing wouldn’t have been too bad as the middle of the street actually had steps carved into. But I hopped on and started pedaling thinking I’d come across a restorante soon enough.

Of course the first trattoria was all the way up in the town square. My cycle computer suggested I’d climbed 60 meters in little under 400 meters: a grade of 15% yikes. 

Lunch was good, though again the ‘carni’ in the spaghetti appeared to be rabbit: not bad but lots of little bones like fish. While eating I kept an eye on the sky which had threatened rain all day. If it started raining the trip down the cobblestone street was going to be rather adventurous. Fortunately the street remained dry and I made it down without incident, but I wondered if perhaps the residents don’t venture out when it rains.

At the gates of the city I consulted my guide book which said ‘bear left at the roundabout below the main gate. Ok. I did so and made a circuit around the walls back to the escalator. Hmmm. Retracing my path I returned to the ‘roundabout below the gates of the city’ and considered my options. Which were few: Go forward or go back. I went forward and eventually found myself at the ‘main’ gate. Looks like I’d entered through a secondary gate. Of course the path leading up to the town square from the ‘orvieto porta’ was at a much more reasonable grade than the one from the ‘perugia porta’. Oh well.

From the Orvieto porta the directions spelled out inthe guide book worked just  fine and I was on my way to Spoleto. Before Spoleto however I had to climb over a mountain pass. It wouldn’t have been too bad except for starting at kilometer 68 of today’s journey. Usually I like to stop at around kilometer 68 but the town at the base of the climb, Aquasparta didn’t look all that appealing and, given my extra day in Orvieto my planned route didn’t allow for an extra day.

By the time I came down the other side I was ready to be done. Of course  when  I finally got a look at Spoleto it was both very impressive and on a nice, big hill. Where else?

Once inside the old city I stopped at the first albergo, which also had a restorante. Good because I didn’t really want to go even ten meters further.

http://maps.google.com/?q=http://share.abvio.com/c754/181b/4f60/38aa/Cyclemeter-Cycle-20120523-0955.kml

Day 21 Firenza

I got up having decided if it was raining I’d go to Firenze, else get on the road. I was happy to find it raining. To be this close to the place where science began and not visit would have been a disappointment. So after several cappuccinos and a puffy pastry, breakfast as the Italians call it, I was off to the train station.

I couldn’t help but think watching the countryside whizz by at an unnatural speed that most tourist probably think they’re seeing the Italian outback when riding the train from one city to the next.

Speaking of tourists Firenza was overrun by them. Apparently like everyone else I exited the train and headed straight to the Uffizi thinking I’d see Michelangelo’s ‘David’. Then I saw the que waiting to get in. Jeez! Hours of standing in line did not sound very fun at all. So I headed to the Duomo thinking I’d see the interior. Ah, no. Another enormous line of people!

Looks like I’ll be enjoying the art of Firenze from the outside..

Speaking of tourists. I find the Asians, particularly the Chinese quite entertaining. They’re invariably in large groups. Hordes if you will. They come adorned with all the latest technology; huge cameras, iPads, wireless headsets. Who knows, probably infrared night vision goggles. And they move with great speed and deliberateness from one attraction to the next. En mass. You really don’t want to get in their way. I’ve had enough tiny asians shove me aside in the last few weeks that I’ve learned to just get out of the way.

I guess it’s a necessity in their preposterously over populated mega cities.

Has me thinking about Smale’s paper on bird flocking. I wonder if the same ideas could be applied to Asian tourists?

After a few hours dodging the hordes and getting some nice pictures I was ready to leave the birthplace of the renaissence. I wonder what Galileo would think of what’s become of his hometown.

Day 20 Chiusi to Orvieto

Not the best plan to stay in Chiusi. I’d thought to take the train to Orvieto, check in to a hotel then take the train to Firenze. There was no internet at the Albergo so I couldn’t check trail schedules. (btw not knowing what the word ‘wifi’ means is a generational, not a language thing. ) Anyway, upon arriving at the Chiusi train station I learned the next train to Orvieto wouldn’t arrive for another 90 minutes. A bit tight given my plans but ok. When I finally disembarked in Orvieto I found the next trail to Firenze wouldn’t be leaving for another two hours. Not only that but once on its way it would take two hours to get to Firenze. Bummer! That would have me in Firenze around 4:00. Much too late. Thus began something of a wasted day in a town, albeit quit beautiful, that I’d already visited.

More train adventures: I had to wait in Chiusiin part for the arrival of a regional train towing a bike car. Being the (now) well informed passenger there I was in the middle of the station when the train arrived. Seeing no bike car at the front I made my way to the back, found the bike car, pressed the ‘open’ button and… Nothing.

The bike car was completely empty and completely inaccessible for mysterious reasons known only to Trentalia. Given the next regional train with (maybe?) a bike car wasnt scheduled to arrive for another two hours I just hoisted the biccecleta into a passenger car. Fortunately the was no conductor to stop me. Well aware given my previous misadventures that Orvieto was the second stop, I just stood there next to, but not actually in the bike car and hoped for the best.

Fortunately i made it all the way to Orvieto completely blocking the exit with my overloaded bike without incident. Ah, More adventures on the train with the bike. And only two more such adventures to go.

Day 19 Chiaciano Terme to Chiusi

I got up late, then had a long ‘breakfast’ in the Albergo. I final understand why ‘continental breakfast’ means ‘meager breakfast’: on the continent, at least this part of the continent meager breakfast is just how it is. After lots of cappuccino and something akin to corn flakes I was off.

500 meters down the road I came across a laundry: finally! While there a nice retired professor of biophysics also arrived and we talked shop for a while. When the drier finallyceased spinning I packed up, rode maybe 500 meters, smelled a delicious lunch cooking and stopped for several hours.

By the time I made it to Chiusi it was nearly 4:00pm, so I decided to call it a day. I checked into a somewhat dicey looking one star Albergo and took a nap while awaiting the dinner hour to arrive.

Around seven ventured I out to look for a Ristorante. Apparently down in Chiusi Scalo there aren’t a lot of dinner options. No doubt in the old city, way up on the hill there were many fine dining possibilities. Down by the train station not so much. Unwilling to cycle up to the old city for dinner I went back to the ‘ristorante’ at the hotel.

I was the only patron and there was no menu. The food selection apparently consisted of whatever the nice, old proprietress (old enough to have no idea what wifi means) happened to be cooking.

So, spaghetti it was.

Later an even older lady (I’m certain she also had no idea what wifi means ) hobbled in and was treated to a very appetizing looking three course meal. Watching the various dishes appear while I stirred my spaghetti apparently I looked a bit forlorn. The hotel proprietor with zero English stopped by and asked ‘carni’? I know what carni is-at least the general principle- and gave an enthusiastic ‘Grazier’.

I don’t really know what kind of carni eventually appeared. Perhaps it was rabbit, maybe wild boar. At least i recognized the peas. It was good in a mysterious sort of way.

Here is the very short distance I traveled today. By the way the weird 10 kilometer u-turn is what happens when one follows signs to the trene stazione designed for cars:

http://maps.google.com/?q=http://share.abvio.com/c754/181b/4f60/38aa/Cyclemeter-Cycle-20120520-1152.kml

Day 18 Montalcino to Chianciano Terme

The guide book I’ve been using called today’s ride THE cycling route in Tuscany (one of the reasons I came this way). It also in a sort of an off handed way mentiond it probably wouldn’t be enjoyable for the ‘out of shape rider’. I was feeling pretty good so…

It started off as the most perfect day of riding so far. I was glad to be away from the rather snooty and ridiculously overpriced Albergo Ristorante Giglio and was up and away nice and early. The sun was out, it was an ideal 75degrees and I started off with 15 kilometers of lovely downhill away from Montalcino. I might have enjoyed the downhill even more had I not stopped even kilometer or so to take yet another photo. The 1300 year old Sant Antimo Abbey at the bottom was particularly photo worthy. 

From there the scenery over the endless wine fields was even better, but it was up, and up. Good thing I’m (sort of) in shape. After nearly a kilometer of ascent I reached the top of what turned out to be the first hill of the day where I found yet another lovely family run trattoria. As I have come to expect, once again the further away from the tourist towns the better the food. Here they even had spaghetti with ragu, which I’ve learned means tomato sauce. A fact I did not share with the American couple in Siena. I opted instead for the ‘regional sauce’ and spent quite some time looking out across the remarkable vistas from this quaint little roadside caffe. 

It was getting a bit overcast, and the weather report called for rain later in the day, so I managd to rouse myself and get back on the road, for one more very nice steep but all too brief downhill.

After crossing a broad agricultural valley festooned with wild roses I came to an intersection: I could continue on the flat plain, or turn left for a ‘scenic detour’. I of course chose the later and began to climb. Had I realized at the time I would be going to the top of the mountain in the distance I might have stayed in the valley. By the time I reached the lovely town on Monticchielo it was raining. And the rain was somewhat obscuring what my guide book called the ‘postcard photo spot in Tuscany’. I snapped a quick postcard worthy photo, decided I’d come too far to give up and after getting out the raincoat continued up, and up. To be sure the view once at top was quite impressive. Far down in the valley I could see the alternate route, lazily making its way along the river. But there I was way up above what also looked to be an adequately scenic road.

The forest preserve, way up on the mountain was lovely, but I was getting tired and hungry. A few kilometers later I came to a fork in the road. Up two kilometers or down (presumably) ten to Chianciano Terme. Up lead to Montalpulciano. I’d started my tour of Tuscany there two weeks ago and, given that it was getting rather late on a Saturday night there was a good chance I wouldn’t find a room in such a popular tourist destination. My guide book claimed that Chianciano had ‘dozens of hotels’ so down it was. 

And it actually was down. I stopped at th first sign of an Albergo, shut down the cycle computer and started thinking about a hot shower and dinner, only to be informed ther was no garage for biccecleta, hmmm. Looked a bit too expensive anyway so, with little choice I got back on the bike and continued some distance to the next Albergo sign only to find there was no room at the inn. Hmmm…  Somewhat alarmed I continued on only to find myself back in the wilderness. Consulting my new, very detailed map I found I’d taken a bit of a wrong turn. Of course the route to Chianciano was back and up.

Eventual as the sun was beginning to set I saw Chianciano. Of course perched way up high on its hill. Grumbling the whole way up I finally passed through the gates of yet another lovely medieval hilltop town to find…not one Albergo. 

Zero is quite a great deal less than ‘dozens’.

Looking out over the high walls, back down to where I’d started the  latest climb I could see the big round about I’d passed through. I had been following th signs to the ‘storico centre’ and could clearly see that exit from the roundabout I’d not taken leading to a well developed, modern town down in the valley that, as it turned out really does have dozens upon dozens of hotels. Some sort of Italian Las Vegas apparently.

After a final push (downhill thank god), but a push nonetheless I stopped at the very first Albergo-Ristorante sign, checked in, ate whatever and went to bed.

Here’s where I went before prematurely shutting down the gps computer thinking I was done for the day:

http://maps.google.com/?q=http://share.abvio.com/c754/181b/4f60/38aa/Cyclemeter-Cycle-20120519-1022.kml