Category — Italy
today’s distance: 116km
total distance: 1323km
riding time: 5.25h
The day started out pleasantly - the sun came up and dried my tent out somewhat from the moisture that was in the ground (it could do a bit better in that regard) and soon enough I was on the road towards Slovenia.
Beating the Italian police state by using a store owner’s internet connection, I was able to figure out my initial route in Slovenia. It was also the last flat sections before Slovenia showed its face with gorgeous mountains as a backdrop. Crossing the border was a no-brainer … there isn’t one to speak of. I tried to come up with some kind of stamp, but that was not to be - and rather unsurprising. Maybe an exit stamp when crossing into Croatia. Before entering Slovenia I met Petra (pronounced with a German R) and her parents - her mother being Slovenian, her father Italian. We had a good conversation about the trip and about the Slovenian minority in northeastern Italy. Already on the way in, signs had been posted bilingually - both in Italian and Slovenian. There was also a noticeable increase in Slavonic names on store fronts and houses.
They also told me about a race that had just finished on the Piazza della Transalpina and arriving there I was given pasta, drinks and some munchies for the way by Tamara. It was also the last easy border crossing as you can see.
Headed on to the largest stone bridge in the world, destroyed twice - rebuilt twice. Impressive structure.
I’m also pretty sure I know what this sign says …
On into Slovenia I went and the wind that was pushing me before started to turn against me quite a bit. All things considered it wasn’t bad though. Flying blindly because I was devoid of any guidebook and relied on a map only and without any planning I asked a biker whether there was a youth hostel around that he knew of. He pointed me to Ajdovscina. So I changed course and after crossing a few ridges finally arrived there. But there was no youth hostel to be had and I was about to give up after the first internet connection failed constantly … The idea was to move on a bit further and camp there as I was sure I would find a spot. I was then directed to a bar called B52 and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Tea (pronounce Te-A) is the owner of this place in the middle of Ajdovscina and she helped me in more ways than I could have hoped for. She made a good number of calls trying to find out whether there was anything close that would be good for me … she finally called a friend of hers who said that the communal grounds would be good and the city government would have no problem. Had that not worked out, she would have offered the couch in her bar, figuring that she had gone through the same problems as a traveler many times. Perfect spot the communal grounds, I must say. Protected from the wind and out of sight pretty much I set up camp and then returned to B52. Once there, Tea treated me to a Coke (it was her b-day the day before) and though I had eaten plenty I was given some pizza, potatoes and fried calamari. Thank you very much Tea for setting everything up!!! It was a perfect ending for a roughish day … with the rain coming down, I eventually fell asleep soundly.
April 6, 2008 No Comments
today’s distance: 104km
total distance: 1207km
riding time: 5h and some pushing in Venice
The day started easy enough. Got rolling early and headed into Venice. Turned out that I had slept not far from a cemetery and when the warden came to open up at 8am, he eyed me with suspicion. The first person to visit turned around 100m before reaching the cemetery, I must have seemed like a resurrected as I was packing my things.
Getting into Venice was bad … there are no clear signs for cyclists whatsoever, cycle lanes disappear into nothingness, when they exist they are bumpy, and given that you have no choice you have to take highway traffic a couple of feet next to you. After reaching the city I discovered that none of my couchsurfing hosts were available, leaving me with the bike for which there is no place to park it safely. This meant that I had to push the bike through the streets and up and down the bridges.
Too many to count. Standing at one I encountered Alessandro, a Venetian who works in the Urubamba Valley near Cusco/Peru. We struck up a conversation for a while and eventually parted ways. It also seems to me that there are two faces of Venice, the one that you see on the main tracks and the other that you discover when you enter the little sideroads.
I was heading for the famous St. Marco Square, which was filled to the gills with people. Apparently it was quite empty though. Don’t want to know what this place looks like in the summer. Hung around for a while, saw a Chinese couple taking their wedding pictures and saw them again having their wedding film taken. The whole thing was quite amusing.
I was just sitting down to have a bite to eat from what I had in my bags still (you’re not allowed to sit down or eat in the square itself, so I hung out by the waterside), and all of sudden the whole entourage was right behind me - cameraman I, cameraman II, assistant I and assistant II.
Venice is nice, don’t get me wrong. It’s a cute city and has magnificent buildings and wonderful architecture. It is also a forbidding city (needless to say I had to sit down to take this picture):
I was glad to leave Venice.
Hoisted the bike over three more bridges to reach the ferry to Punta Sabione and pedaled on for another 60km aided a bit by a nice tailwind over the last 30km.
As always, there are more pictures on the flickr site - just go here.
April 5, 2008 No Comments
today’s distance: 113km
total distance: 1103km
riding time: 5h
The day was pretty much bridging the areas of Verona and Venice. I was up early to head back to Verona with Andrea and Cristina, had morning coffee (tea in my case) at Giovanni’s, who is Chinese, took on an Italian name and taught me a couple of words in Chinese after overcoming the usual astonishment. We had taken a slight detour to Verona - Andrea living some 20km away from the city in an old and beautifully refurbished farmhouse. The views were amazing, the foothills with their lush green in the morning sun and the cherry trees blossoming. The area is ideal for any kind of biking I’m sure.
The night before - after visiting a local wine bar - Cristina and Andrea had treated me to homemade tomato sauce with olives. Not a big fan of olives generally, these were exceptional. Made from their own olives in the garden, they were dehydrated by putting salt over them, put in a jar and then “just forget about them. When you remember, they’re good!” And good they were, really good. Thank you Andrea and Cristina for everything!!!!
In Andrea’s shop, some more organizing for the day, figuring out which route would be better. Knowing what SR 11 had looked like coming into Verona I was happy to avoid it as best as I could. Steering clear of SR 11, 20km outside of Verona, there was less traffic, making the ride quite enjoyable. No major hills, a slight wind from the front (which neither hurt nor helped all day long), I made good progress towards Padova. Lush green countryside abounded, spring has definitely set in.
Padova struck me as a nice place - not as overrun by tourists and quite relaxed. It also has some of the shortest bike paths I have seen …
After a tour of town, I hunted down an internet cafe, updated the website and took off to make some more mileage. After getting lost in the maze that is Padova East (the IKEA sign giving me rough directions), I got lost again following the advice of an elderly biker. Could have been me and my lack of Italian though. Ended up in a dead end street and saw a family sitting outside their house and stopped to ask the way. The sun was already setting. The look on their faces was priceless. They drew up a map, the grandfather telling me all about his days as a truckdriver between Italy and Germany and grandmother stuffing me packs with ham, cheese and bread. I couldn’t do anything but say thank you and went off to head towards Venice. On the way I met Fabio, a local mountainbiker who confirmed the way I was heading. Slept on some farmland tonight after asking permiission from a farmer.
April 4, 2008 No Comments
today’s distance: a few km
total distance: 990km
riding time: –
An early start into the day … I wandered around Verona without the usual tourist crowd at around 7 am. It was a relief from the day before and what was ahead.
Wandering around town, I encountered three police men ganging up on Pinocchio. At first I thought it was all staged for the tourists, but then they started giving the guy a hard time. The usual paperwork was brought in and he was told in no uncertain terms that he should be taking a hike.
When snapping the pictures, the police guy in the middle all of a sudden started to move in on me. He said I couldn’t take any pictures. I asked why - I was just taking a picture of a police person and Pinocchio. He was not amused. Next thing I knew he asked for my ID, what I was doing and took everything - with an overly important face - to his colleague. With an even more important face he then proceeded to make a phone call, apparently to check on my credentials. It was good fun … he looked sternly at me and all I could do was to stand and smile at him. There was nothing wrong with my papers, I had every right to be there and didn’t feel that I had done anything wrong. After about 10 minutes of fussing he asked again what I was doing. I told him that I was a student traveling at the moment and that I didn’t know that it was forbidden to take a picture. He said that I would have to ask him first. I looked puzzled. He looked angry. I thought - better get out of here. Stupid me asked: “What have I done?” He pretended to not speak English any more. When I answered his Italian remark in English/Italian, he said that he was checking whether I was Russian. Airport face = extreme astonishment face came up. We parted ways …
I need to stop doing this kind of stuff soon. Italian police men are easy enough to handle for the most part, but similar situations might not go down all that well in other countries. I just can’t keep my mouth shut …
Next up … Julia’s house - lots of fun graffiti going on here. Afterwards I couldn’t get the aptly named Dire Straits song out of my head: “Romeo & Juliet”.
I then hooked up with Andrea - my couchsurfing host for that night and an all around wonderful person. More to come tomorrow, suffice it to say that he’s about as passionate about biking as you can be (think 24 hour mountainbike races with a single speed), has a wonderful partner (Cristina), two great dogs (one blind on his right eye), a cool father, a beautiful house …
April 3, 2008 1 Comment
today’s distance: 76km
total distance: 982km
riding time: 3.5h
Breakfast with Guido was a pleasure - I had asaked him about his job as a social worker and though he should have been in the office he still hung out with me. The night before he had told me that his co-workers were talking about the crazy biker heading to China and the cashier in his office apparently said: “What do I have to tell my nieces and nephews? At least when they ask him he can say that he’s biked to China!” Well, I’m not there yet and it’s still a long way to go.
After heading out I went uphill for a bit only to discover that caterpillars too commit communl suicide. This group of guys was heading down a tree and across the street.
Needless to say, none of them made it. As soon as the one (or a few more) in the front had been squashed by a car, the next one tried to move ahead only to enoucnter the same fate.
Too bad - there was nothing I could do. I saw these lines of caterpillars a few more times today, none of them seemed to make it across these busy roads.
Under overcast skies I moved to Verona with a brief stop in Sirmione, a touristy quaint village on a spit of land jutting into Lake Garda. It’s good fun to distinguish the different tourist groups - Germans are easy enough to spot, as were Russians. A good number of Chinese groups as well as Japanese as well.
A good tailwind drove me into Verona along busy roads and just as I reached the home of Romeo and Juliet the sky turned into a massive blue. Great day!
April 2, 2008 No Comments