Well, we made it to the toe and I am on the poop deck waiting to set sail for Sicily. Full report when we get into Messina and have found a hotel and a cold beer. But first…that poop.
To the people of Italy who conceived, funded and built SS18……we salute you.
Until today the roads have been servant to the geography of the coast line resulting in all that climbing. Today the civil engineers put an end to all that and threw serious money at the problem. For miles and miles the road was almost entirely tunnels and bridges – and gloriously flat. The longest tunnel was 1.25km and some of the bridges crossed hundreds of feet above the ravines.
All of this was VERY welcome because we were totally knackered this morning. Last night we were too tired to even find a restaurant so we had self-assembly sandwiches and tried to work out if we could swing a small kitten by moving the wardrobe. The answer was no. We slept like the dead but woke not really refreshed and as we started riding even the slightest slope slowed us almost to a standstill.
We perked up a bit later in the day and did our 80 with only a little snivelling. We are now about at the bottom of the lace holes and tomorrow we aim to get to the end of the big toe where we will stay before catching the ferry to Sicily and the last leg (well, the last BIT of the leg).
My face is very brown but my eye sockets are very white. I look like Chi Chi in negative.
No not us, the hills. Today was VERY hard work. Apart from the first 5 miles we have been on hills all day. This part of the coast is very pretty but a bonkers place for old men on heavy bikes to try and cycle.
The completely mad vertical climb this morning (see previous blog) was the 'high spot'. As already mentioned, this was easily the hardest half mile climb I have ever done and, although I didn't walk, it was a close run thing. If you have never tried to ride a bike with 35lbs of crap strapped to the back up a 26% slope you haven't lived.
After that it was just up and down all day, including a 7 mile climb in the afternoon sun which, by the way, has found an even bigger hat.
We ended the day on 85 miles and fell into the first place offering a bed for the night. Cat lovers will be pleased to know that there will be no swinging of cats tonight! We are in Praia A Mare, about where the sock would disappear into the shoe. It is very weird to be riding in weather that is better than the best of British but for everywhere to be closed or closing for winter. We even see people wearing coats…. Today was probably around 90f!!!
The photo is of Alan demolishing a gelato with about 17 miles to go. Guess what? They were hilly.
After the dangers of cycling in Naples, today I led my family over the mountains to safety. If anyone can be bothered to look they will see that from Pompeii the coast does a bloody great loop out west to Sorrento. It was either spend 50 miles doing this or sneak over the mountains to Amalfi.
Since we are fearless kings (ok Alan is more of a queen) of the mountains we headed uphill. 9 miles and 2500 feet later we snuck through the last bit of mountain in a 1km tunnel. It was hot and the climb was tough but I thoroughly enjoyed it. We were even entertained by fireworks as part of some sort of village festival. The trick to fireworks at 10am is to go exclusively for ones that go bang.
The run down into Amalfi must be one of the most stunning in the world. About 7 miles of hairpins which actually only carry you forward about 1 mile. As you drop you can see 4 or 5 loops below you with picture postcard houses clinging to the hill on either side. Far below is Amalfi with cruise liners in the harbour and the wakes of powerboats. It was fantastic.
We had a quick gelato in Amalfi then realised it was 11:30 and we still had 55 to do. So we did them. Actually rather well!
We are in Santa Maria Di Castellabate, a pretty little town, staying in a small hotel we found on the interweb. We were having trouble finding the place so stopped to ask an elderly wop who was watching the world go by. Despite our bi-linguality there was a bit of confusion so he hobbled on his crutches to his car and led us the 1km to the hotel door. The fact that this was 100 yards down the pedestrianised high street didn't seem to phase him in the least.
We like the wops. They are friendly but not in the American in-your-face way and happy to work with us on the whole language issue. Few speak much English but they willingly use what they know and don't play the stupid French game. No shoulder shrugging here. Occasionally we meet someone who speaks 'leeetle bit eeenglaise' and they are always keen to chat. If I was considering leaving England for better weather I would certainly favour Italy.
We are the only guests in the hotel and in, the morning, the owner is away so we must let ourselves out and get brekkie in the bar across the street. Hopefully he will not bugger off without releasing our bikes from the room he stored them in.
Tomorrow we leave the shin and start working our way along the top of the foot. Hope the Easterly wind continues!
To bring you up to date on my physical and mental well being (I KNOW you don't care but I do):
My left eye was nicely swollen but is improving. I have abandoned Elephant Man as movie de jour.
My post-traumatic stress is also improving. You probably think I exaggerated Naples but 'you don't know man because you weren't there!'
Alan is fit as a flea, not that his well-being matters in the slightest.
I think there was a movie spin-off but anyway, you can't not use this one when you are camped at the base of Vesuvius.
There are times when I am amazed to have come through 52 years alive and more or less in one piece but surviving the couple of hours it took to get through Naples today is a whole different ball different ball game. Completely bonkers – no traffic rules, mad italians and roads that are badly maintained, cobbled or often both. Bomb disposal experts could cycle in Naples for an extra adrenalin rush.
Our original plan was to follow the coast road but cutting through the centre of the city saved 7 or 8 miles……but cost us 7 or 8 years, my nerves have never been so jangled. 6 hours later my hands have mostly stopped shaking but my left eye still twitches a bit.
Pompeii is as you would expect: busy, over-priced and very touristy but our campsite is OK and we found a supermarket where we assembled the means to make a tasty spag bol and persuaded the nice wop on the fish counter to give us a bag of ice so we could chill our beer. We are now practically bi-lingual.
Apart from all the excitement in Naples it was an easy day. The weather for the last two days has been overcast, still warm but without the strong sun beating down. Alan is happy!
We are getting the hang of the closed campsite business and phoned ahead for tomorrow. No answer so this evening we researched and booked a hotel room using the interweb. I was all for a double room but Alan insisted on a twin. Prude.
Time for beddy byes.
I was happily cycling along when some sort of insect, about the size of an albatross, found it's way inside my sunglasses. It didn't like being there and decided to sting it's way out. This hurt. A lot. I was a big brave boy and didn't cry but as well as hurting like a hurty thing it made me feel very odd for a couple of hours – very light-headed and woozy.
Anyway, back to our journey.
We had a leisurely get-up as the campsite office didn't open until 9. This was no bad thing because I may have had 20 or 30 cents more wine that was good for me yesterday evening. We followed the coast road all day and it was mostly flat with a slight wind-assist. The scenery is changing, less Southern French and more Greek now that we are a full 350 miles south of our starting point. The last few miles today were on a spectacular cliff top road with tunnels and galleries taking us through the worst of the hills and the camera got a good work out.
We are in Formia and guess what? Yup, the campsite is closed. We knew we were travelling at the very end of the season but this one has a website that claims it stays open to September 30th. Clearly the wops don't feel any obligation to actually remain open. After a bit of a kerfuffle we got ourselves booked into a nice hotel for a better price than we feared and we will make the most of the unscheduled luxury. We THINK we will be OK tomorrow night as there are 2 campsites that claim to stay open all year but after that who knows?
We encounter very few English speakers but are somehow making ourselves understood. We manage a few words from the phrase book and fill in with mime. We will be bloody good at charades when we get home!
Off now to make the bath filthy and steal the loo paper.
The streets of London may be paved with gold but the streets of Rome are lined with whores. These Ladies of the Night don't operate at night and, actually, sitting in a chair in an underpass in your undercrackers isn't very ladylike.
On previous days we have spotted the odd one or two but today as we skirted Rome there were lots. They seem to operate from the most obscure places, often in the middle of nowhere and we assume they get dropped off and collected by a 'friend'. At least in this sun they won't catch a chill!
After yesterday this was an easy peasy day. We had 65 to do and the going was very flat. Alan did his best to slow us down by breaking a spoke but even with this we made good progress. The roads were quite busy at times and we were glad to reach our lunch stop, just before we returned to the quieter coast road.
Mid-afternoon we stopped for a gelato (look it up, we had to) and met an 'English' couple. She turned out to be a Belgian smart-arse who speaks 7 languages and very kindly phoned ahead to our planned campsite. No answer came the stern reply. She then 'phoned a friend' and found us a campsite on our planned route from which this blog is written.
We were done by 4pm and had a leisurely meal with tasty wine – in the supermarket we found a cheeky red, sold from a chuffing great tank at 80 cents/litre.
The campsite is great but has some rules. These are enshrined in English in a handy leaflet and the photo is of the back page – entitled Remember Well. Sound advice in my opinion. Another cracking example aimed at cyclists:
"TO THE OF OUTTSIDE SUCH TIME IS FORBiDDEN THE CIRCULATION OF EVERY VEHICLE, ALSO OF BIKE.
(Remember it to the your sons and remembers they that the bike must go plan, for the really and other people's safety).
I feel SO much better about my efforts to buy 6 sausages earlier!
Today was 93 tough hilly miles!
The Sun had got a particularly big hat on today, possibly the sombrero it brought back from Benidorm together with a raffia donkey and one of those crappy jug things that pours sangria on your shoes. It was several degrees hotter than yesterday and a cloudless sky. If things go on like this we will have to stop filling our bottles with cheap Italian wine and use water 🙁
The morning was easy and we lucked into the only town with an open shop we saw all day. We had a tasty lunch on the bench outside the shop and they even laid on entertainment in the form of people in funny clothes riding horses (see photo).
The afternoon was somewhat less funny. We still had 50 to do and it seemed like every hill was longer and steeper on the up than the down. The sun shone, we both sweated and Alan cursed. The other photo is of him having a quick bath in village fountain.
The scenery has been fantastic and the wops are proving to be much to our liking (maybe more on this another day). Against every expectation the drivers are very considerate of cyclists and we haven't yet had an angry horn or close overtaking manoeuvre.
We didn't get to our campsite until around 6:30. Astonishingly, this one was open so we quickly settled down to cook some food. The pasta with italian sausage and tomato sauce was delicious, especially after we got the worst of the glass and hotel carpet out of the sauce ;-). (Don't worry girls, we really bought some new sauce).
We are at Lago Di Bracciano – a big lake to the north of Rome which is a weekend holiday retreat for the Romans (when they are not building an empire I suppose) as well as for tourists. Tomorrow we will skirt past Rome, not sure how the 'all roads lead to Rome ' nonsense will cope with THAT.
Though sadly not Alan. It isn't Nevada hot but plenty warm enough – probably high 80's in the shade – but very humid. I am still solar powered so very happy but Alan finds the heat difficult.
As you will see from the photo, our waiter (giovani) was a very friendly chap and I got on with him like a house on fire. We had great pizza and six euros worth of red wine and were tucked up in our tents by 9pm.
This morning we got a reasonably early start but lost time sorting out a problem with my bike – the chain was slipping and after a visit to a bike shop and then some independent fiddling we diagnosed a twisted chain link which we fixed with brute force. We also stopped to buy fuel for camping stoves at a petrol station. We got some in our bottles and poured the rest over the forecourt which the nice italian man cleared up with good grace.
Today we had nice but very long straights roads (any would think the Romans had built them) and a few lumpy bits. For the last 20 miles we took the minor country roads through the real Tuscany – more olive trees, vines and hilltop villages than you could shake a stick at. Very pretty.
We arrived at our planned campsite to find it closed, possibly for the season or possibly forever. "Bugger" we said. We headed into the village and I rehearsed my Italian and strode up to the desk of the first hotel we came to. "Eh up chuck" said the receptionist, or something much like it. She was British but also spoke good wop and although she had no spare rooms she phoned around and got us a room in the old town which could even offer secure parking for the bikes.
It is horribly expensive and the secure parking turned out to be leaning them against the wall in full view but we are here, washed and reasonably happy. Alan has greatly enhanced the room by pouring the tomato sauce we had bought for our evening meal all over the carpet.
Tomorrow we head for Rome. As any schoolboy will tell you, this means we can take any road,. We are going to try the main North/South highway but heading North just to prove that it is a load of b******s!
1/ I have never heard of the film and
2/ The picture hardly fits
My excuse for the first is that you can't get a much better title for our first, gloriously sunny day in Tuscany. My excuse for the second is that I took all today's pictures on the camera, forgetting that I have no means of uploading them. So this one was hastily taken on the phone at dinner.
Our flight was bang on time and it was wonderful to step off the plane and feel the heat of the sun. It may be late September but in London today would make 'phew what a scorcher' headlines in the Sun.
We popped to the Tower for a photo opportunity and I was a bit gob smacked. Maybe I am a bit of a rube but I was really surprised at how leany it was. Leanier than a leany thing. Although not main tourist season there were lots of people about – though admittedly most wanted to sell us a fake Rolex.
The first 20 miles of our ride were on pretty busy roads but once we hit the coast things quietened down and the scenery was great – lots of pretty bays and houses built mostly on faith clinging to the cliffs.
We did a lazy 40 miles and we are in Cecina, a smallish place but a chuffing big campsite with all amenities. We have a nice shady pitch, power, free showers and all for 4 euros each. We are now in the campsite restaurant where the photo was taken. Quite apart from choosing food we had to choose a drink. 4 euros for a beer or 6 for a bottle of wine….hmmmm, tricky.
Tomorrow we start work.