Saturday, 7 July 2007

And to prove it...

Above, triumphant proof that Roger (or his bike, at least) has indeed reached Rome and has not, as one wag suggested, been hiding in the garden shed for a month. And on the left, Etruscan tombs at Sori on Albert's route this morning. He's now staying with the SpanglyPrincess, or would be, were she not in England at the moment, so in practice he's staying with her flatmates who may well think him quite mad.

His passport, after a lot of faffing with the web sites of large and well-known international delivery companies (and the Royal Mail's site, which offered to deliver it amazingly cheaply in 48 hours to 28 countries none of which was Italy) which told me my postcode didn't exist, or that they couldn't even collect it until Monday, finally caught this evening's flight from East Midlands airport. So a big thank you to the incredibly helpful staff at Easypost UK, who did just what it says on the tin, charged me less than the other companies wanted for a slower service, and will be delivering the passport to Roger in Rome on Monday.

And congratulations, that Herring, on your achievement, despite snow, persistently evil winds and a disintegrating rear wheel. Pats and I are dead proud of you.

Friday, 6 July 2007


2119 km, Old Market Square to Piazza Navona in 101 h 40 m spread thinly over 26 days. Better be getting home then.

Days 22 and 23 - Siena to Viterbo

Rolling down the long descent out of Siena was a reminder, as if I needed one, that Tuscan hills are both longer and steeper than they look. With Rome on the signposts I took the easy navigation option and decided to follow the Via Cassia all the way home. The tailwind of the previous day had turned into a gusty crosswind, and with the harvest under way and temperatures pushing 30 degrees, it was something like sitting in a fan oven full of chaff, with the added joys of heavy lorries passing close on my lee side and the added lateral movement of the bike bringing on my usual 4pm saddlesoreness some hours early. So I was pretty shattered by the time I got to San Quirico d'Orcia for a late lunch, and predictably didn't get much further, holing up for the night in rooms in the hamlet of Gallina, where I basically slept the clock round. Might have been a smart move to check the opening times of the village pizzeria, though, but fortunately it had been a very good lunch.
Stopping there turned out to have been a wise move, since there was pretty much nowhere else to stay for the next 30km. However, the next day the wind had dropped and I was miraculously fitter, a coincidence previously noted. I left Tuscany and entered Lazio, climbing to the rim of the ancient volcanic caldera that contains the lake of Bolsena and then dropping down into it. Then, in the space of a few short km:
- I passed the 2000 km point of my journey
- One flange of my rear hub started to crack up, leaving me with a couple of spokes dangling free and a bit of a weave on the wheel.
- I visited yet another war cemetery
- I reached the 100 km marker on the Via Cassia.
I was a bit wary of the weakened wheel on the descent towards Viterbo, where I am now, but it didn't seem to get any worse. So I am now about to set out to ride the final 90 km on it, hoping for a reasonably uneventful and probably anticlimactic entry into the eternal city this evening. Which will be a bit weird. But there you go.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Days 18-21 - Alessandria to Siena

I'm still going, despite the silence; I've worn the letters off the number pad of my phone and run up a huge phone bill, but most of all posting anything of any length from a phone is extremely time consuming, usually at times when I ought to be out on my bike.

So: from Alessandria I headed south towards Genoa and over the Turchino, as pictured below. Made reasonable time on the flat bits and when the road started to rise shortly after Ovada I fell in with a local cicloamatore who wasn't carrying any luggage but did have a sprinters build and had been out all day and was a bit knackered, so I was able to keep pace and chat a bit as the road rose. He stopped for a break at Masone, just before the pass, but caught me again as I stopped at the summit for the ritual photo (which is actually facing back the way I had come, for the record) & coffee, and led me down the descent, which would be a little less hairy if every Saturday afternoon biker in north-western Italy hadn't been coming up the other way and trying to find the same racing line round the corners as me. He also led me into the fairly grotty western end of Genova and finally left me shortly before the city centre, which looks worth a visit, but it was not the day for it for me, and I headed out to the eastern end of town onto the beginnings of the Riviera di Levante and found a hotel within spitting distance of the sea in Nervi, after a brief crisis. 103 km I think.

The next day was a matter of hacking straight down the Via Aurelia, now demoted to Strada Provinciale 1, where "straight" and "down" are not very accurately descriptive terms. Like coast roads often do, it twists and turns and rises and falls. The Portofino peninsula and the Passo di Brasco inland from the Cinque Terre provide more substantial climbs, the latter with several frustrating false summits, and although I was climbing fairly comfortably I was a riding blind in a gap between maps, so panicked a little earlier than I probably needed to, and got De Vertalerin to find me a B&B in the village of Borghetto di Vara, where I slept to a chorus of frogs. Very Aristophanes and all that. My average speed for the day was about the same as the day I went over the St Bernard; I reckon I probably climbed about 1200 metres in all over the 80km or so I covered.

Lucca seemed a fairly ambitious target the next day, especially after I had left the wooded valleys of Liguria (bypassing La Spezia down the Vara and Magra valleys) and emerged onto the flat coastal plane of Northern Tuscany, where a brisk onshore cross-headwind was blowing. Fortunately, every local bike rider seemed to be out, and I shared the headwind for a couple of longish stretches with helpful locals, before getting annoyingly lost - after about 40 km the landmark-free coastal strip development, which I don't like much at the best of times merged into a blur, and my attempts to find my way inland were frustrated by a (permanently) closed level crossing. However, I eventually managed to find the Camaiore road, and with the wind now comfortably behind me, I stormed the little climb with a very modest amount of panache, and then hammered happily at a steady 30-35 kph down the valley into Lucca, which is a town I have a lot of time for. The tourist office found me a central B&B and I could happily have stayed a week or two. Another 105 km.

My target for today was Siena, but that looked a bit too ambitious, especially with a not particualrly early start. However, once again I had the wind behind me, and I sped comfortably across the Arno valley and up the Val d'Elsa as far as Poggibonsi, although realising that it was the day after the first Palio of the summer, I was a little concerned about accommodation. The Vertalerin sorted it out again, though when the terrain got a little more undulating on the final stretch I started feeling the miles in my legs rather abruptly. Got here though, another 106 km or something like that (these numbers are all made up, of course, as my bike computer is locked in a garage). And so to bed.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

And one I forgot earlier

I don't know how I missed this one. Today's journey included the Turchino, which is probably familiar to lots of our readers from Milan-San Remo. For me, it's the race I have to watch because it goes through so much familiar territory and it usually leaves me a bit weepy and homesick; not that it was ever actually home, but I spent an awful of time in Liguria at one stage in my life.

So it's been a bit hard today, receiving these photos - the one of the densely wooded hills almost made me cry - and helping Roger find a hotel (Saturday night, end of June, Ligurian coast just up from Portofino - not entirely straightforward) which entailed trawling through web sites showing plates of traditional Ligurian antipasti and getting all lyrical, justifiably, about their focaccia. I can close my eyes and think of proper, Ligurian focaccia, soft and oozing olive oil, and see my elder children tiny again, playing on the beach or yawning over endless dinners at little rustic places up in the hills.

Anyway, it's inland again tomorrow in the general direction of Lucca, which is 200 km from Genova so he'll not get there tomorrow. I shall feel better once he's riding into Tuscany.

Alessandria to Genova

A bit of a learning experience, this image posting lark. These pictures come from Albert's ride from Alessandria to the sea - which you can just about pick out in the gap in the hills in that image of the glorious wooded Ligurian landscape. The third is in Genova, a classic 'gone for a pee' photo.