Day 24: Popolano – Fiesole

Distance: 61.95 km

Time: 4 hours 9 minutes

Average speed: 14.9 kph

Cumulative distance: 1324.94 km

Cumulative time: 63 hours 22 minutes

Word of the day: ‘ripido‘ (ree-pea-doh) – steep

Our barbecue last night was in an idyllic setting, and the food tasted all the better for it. We ate sausages, grilled zucchini and aubergines, together with some delicious focaccia sourced from the local supermarket. A bottle of Barbera helped to wash it all down. Our apartment in the agriturismo was the biggest yet, with stone steps seemingly heading in all directions from a central hall. What a great place to stay, and it was run by Gian Martino and Veronica, who couldn’t do enough for us, including taking a picture before we left.

When we threw open the shutters this morning it was with some relief that we saw that the weather was overcast. Much of today’s pedalling was going to be uphill, and the slightly cooler weather was most welcome. We wheeled the tandem down the coarse gravel track to the main road, and set off to ascend the first of today’s two big climbs.

For the first twelve kilometres the gradient was relatively gentle. We were pedalling into a headwind, though, so we concentrated on achieving a good rhythm. We were soon virtually surrounded by forests, and the traffic on the road gradually diminished as we rose higher.

Gian Martino had warned us that there were a few steeper kilometres around the town of Crespino, and sure enough the Captain was soon reaching for the lower gears. We’d lost the headwind by now, and gained some rain, which was light and refreshing, at least to start with. As we worked our way up through the steeper section the rain grew in intensity and we heard some prolonged thunder, which reverberated around the steep sides valley for at least twenty seconds.

After about four kilometres the gradient eased off, leaving us with only another three hundred metres of ascent in order to reach the summit of today’s first climb. We stopped at the top to enjoy a cool drink, but all hopes of a fine view were dashed by the weather and the thick forest.

The Captain has spent some time yesterday evening checking that we had viable brake pads for our front and rear disk brakes. The verdict was that they were fine, but would probably need changing quite soon. We set off downhill quite cautiously, because the roads were wet. For the first eight kilometres of the descent we encountered hairpin after hairpin – it was a good job that we had checked the brakes.

The best technique with disk brakes, apparently, is to allow the tandem to run along the ‘straight’ parts and then brake hard immediately before each hairpin. This worked well, but it was a relief when the road straightened out and we could let the tandem run down to our lunch destination at Borgo San Lorenzo.

It took us a while to find a café in the town which, unusually for this trip, seemed a down-at-heel sort of place. We had a good lunch, though, while watching the pouring rain hitting the umbrellas outside.

So, lunch eaten, all we had to do was achieve the second big climb of the day. It continued to rain as we ascended, initially gently. Given the choice of beating sun or rain today, though, we’d have chosen the rain – climbing in the heat can be really debilitating. Once again we settled into a good rhythm, and though it felt slow after the flat cycling in the Po Valley we soon climbed to five hundred metres and began our descent towards Fiesole.

The views to the south were tantalising – for most of the descent we enjoyed spectacular scenery and hints that Florence was just around the corner.

It wasn’t really until we reached the lovely town of Fiesole that we could see the city centre and Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

Fiesole occupies a ridge above the city, and our hotel here makes the most of the view.

We’re not planning to visit Florence itself for two reasons – firstly we’ve already done so, and secondly we plan to stay there for a couple of nights when we drive back to Cervinia at the end of our trip. We’re going to content ourselves with enjoying the beautiful surroundings here at Fiesole.

As we’re well up on our schedule, and as a reward for conquering the Apennines (!) we’ve awarded ourselves two whole days of leisure here, so there will be no more posts until Monday, when we set off in a westerly direction for a destination yet to be decided!

Here’s today’s track.

Day 23: Forlì – Popolano

Distance: 51.8 km

Time: 2 hours 47 minutes

Average speed: 18.57 kph

Cumulative distance: 1262.99 km

Cumulative time: 59 hours 13 minutes

Word of the day: ‘colline‘ (coll-een-eh) – hills

After a relaxing evening in Forlì we turned in and set the alarm for a reasonably early start. We were out, breakfasted and on the road by 9:45, which seemed like an achievement. We rode first to the Rocca di Ravaldino, the fortress where Caterina Sforza so memorably thwarted her family’s enemies. It’s also known as the Rocca di Caterina Sforza, in fact as we stood taking some pictures this morning a local stopped to chat and described it thus. Given that women did not own property in those times, and that it had been given to her husband and then inherited by her son (for whom she was regent), it’s a testament to her fortitude that it’s her name which it bears now. It’s quite a thing, inside a larger set of walls which now also enclose a modern prison.

It’s sort of inside a roundabout, so we rode around it in one complete circuit, and then headed off.

The first part of the route today was familiar from yesterday, albeit in the opposite direction, so we re-passed yesterday’s fruit salad of crops, enjoying all the little quiet roads for a second time. After Faenza the road began to turn upwards, just very slightly, but enough to feel the tension in the legs, as we properly propelled the tandem rather than just nudging the pedals to keep momentum as we’ve been doing on the flat for so many days.

It was impossible to ignore the Apennines today. We’ve been cycling along them for a couple of days. Admiring them from afar. Or possibly pretending they’re not in our way. Today, though, we knew we had to point the tandem in their direction, finally, and start our crossing. Tomorrow’s the big day, but today would be a good early workout for the climbing legs.

We stopped for a drink, and then requested water refills from a local green grocery shop – on such a hot day with some climbing to do we were determined to remember to drink regularly. With just 20km to go, the ascent started properly, it was only a gradient of three percent or so, but we knew we’d be climbing gently to the end of the day. It was too early for lunch, so we decided to do another 10km and then find somewhere to eat.

Short of our target we saw a bar serving a ‘fixed menu’, but carried on, possibly a mistake, in hindsight. We pushed on, it was very hot, and there was no shade, and no sign of habitation coming up. We drank more water whilst we pedalled along, and eventually, hurrah, San Cassiano, and a bar.

We sat inside, rather pink and leaking from every pore!

We munched some focaccia and drank gallons of water, while a group of cheerful and friendly older gentlemen gathered at one of the other tables. They were intrigued as to our climbing ability on the tandem, and when we countered with our greater velocity downhill, they were keen to advise us to watch out for each ‘curva’. Which of course we do. They were playing ‘Sette Bello’, a whist-like card game our Italian teacher Carla taught us many years ago. It was provoking much vigorous debate!

After lunch, and feeling both much restored and a little foolish for not having stopped at the first bar, we set off with just 7km to go to tonight’s lodgings, an apartment at an agriturismo. The scenery was spectacular on all sides, and even with the mildly scary view to the proper mountains ahead, it was a fabulous final leg.

We checked in, took care of some bike maintenance and laundry obligations, showered, and hit the pool.

It’s a stunning place, 300m up in the hills, near Marradi which, we are told by our friendly and engaging host, is famous for its chestnuts. He told us that although the area around Forlì, where we were last night, is known for its fruit, especially its peaches, the kiwi fruit growing is a relatively recent activity, perhaps just in the last twenty years or so. It seemed to be on the increase too, we saw several new plantings along the route yesterday and today.

The agriturismo has a barbecue, so our plan tonight is to grill something delicious. We have been given carte blanche (carta bianca?) to raid the vegetable garden too.

We’ll need to include plenty of carbs, to fuel for tomorrow’s climbing. It’s two big mountains to get over, basically. So one might also say that fifty percent of the day will be going downhill.

This is where it gets serious!

Here’s today’s track.

Day 22: Castel San Pietro Terme – Forlì

Distance: 63.96 km

Time: 3 hours 5 minutes

Average speed: 20.7 kph

Cumulative distance: 1211.19 km

Cumulative time: 56 hours 26 minutes

Word of the day: ‘piacere‘ (pea-a-chair-ay) – pleasure

Our giorno di riposo was a very relaxing affair. We strolled through a park into the centre of Castel San Pietro Terme for lunch, admired the porticoes and Piazza XX Settembre, ate some piadine and panini and then returned to our hotel, via the park, for an afternoon in and by the pool. The hotel was clearly aimed at business people working in nearby Bologna, but it was fine, the pool was deliciously cool and in the evening we had a fine meal at the restaurant opposite.

Back to the cycling, then. Today the cycling was an absolute pleasure – it was our last day on the flat, at least for some time. Again we were cycling through crops – vines, maize, wheat, potatoes, plums, cherries, apples and, for the first time, kiwi fruit.

We had plotted a route through the back lanes, avoiding town centres, so the traffic was sparse. It was thoroughly relaxing, and brought smiles to our faces as we pedalled along. There was a hint of a hill or two – just a hint, mind. Looking to the right, though, we saw the ever-present foothills of the Apennines – a reminder that tomorrow we leave the Po Valley and head uphill. Oh, and the day after tomorrow we have about twelve hundred vertical metres of climbing.

We did need to find a bike shop. This was mainly because one of the Captain’s pairs of cycling shorts was becoming somewhat disreputable. We managed to locate one, in the interestingly named Piazzale Ayrton Senna de Silva. This made more sense when we looked on the map, to find that it was in the town of Imola.

So, after passing through the centre of Imola we attempted to find the shop. It seemed to be placed at the start line of the Formula 1 track. After approaching it from several directions and being denied entry by closed gates, we had cycled right around the perimeter of the track before we finally gained access. It was indeed at the start line.

We purchased shorts, energy gels for the big hills, electrolytes for our water bottles – the shop had everything we needed, and they were very helpful and friendly. Better still, now we can discard the tatty old shorts!

Off we pedalled, then, for another hour or so before lunch, which we took in the attractive town of Faenza. The café/birreria was the sort of place where they reeled off a list of available dishes, but we both stopped listening when we heard him say Tortelli con burro e salvia! Two plates, please, and lots of acqua gassata. It was very good, of course.

After lunch it was more of the same – quiet lanes, distant church towers and looming hills.

The temperature was creeping ever upwards – thirty degrees Celsius seems to be the daily average high at the moment. It doesn’t feel too hot when we’re cycling along and generating a breeze, but when we stop at traffic lights or wait at a junction then we immediately become aware of just how hot it is. It has already been necessary to increase the amount of water we’re drinking each day, and on arrival at our destination we invariably down a few glasses more.

Our arrival into the town of Forlì was serene.

Nearer the centre we had to cope with a laggy GPS device, which led to a little confusion. Soon enough, though, we turned into Piazza Aurelio Saffi, and then into an adjacent street where our B&B host was waiting.

The Piazza is large, open, and surrounded by lovely architecture.

We popped into the Abbazia di San Mercuriale, a simple building, senza frescoes. It also had the merit of being delightfully cool inside.

One of the main attractions here is the Raveldino Fortress. This is the place from which Caterina Sforza allegedly fought off the forces of the Orsi family who had killed her husband Giacomo. This she did by means of a strikingly feminine display!

The fortress is on our way out tomorrow, so we’ll take a look at it then. Tonight we’re having a quiet night, eating in and building up our strength for the challenges immediately ahead. Tomorrow’s destination is the town of Popolano – firstly we must retrace our tracks to Faenza, before turning south-west and heading up into the hills.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 21: Modena – Castel San Pietro Terme

Distance: 84.66 km

Time: 3 hours 47 minutes

Average speed: 22.5 kph

Cumulative distance: 1147.23 km

Cumulative time: 53 hours 21 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘strada privata‘ (strah-da pree-vah-ta) – private road

Modena was really beautiful, little cobbled streets, often with colonnades…

… and several piazzas of different sizes. Its duomo was breathtakingly lovely, white and rose stone, it looked incredible in the evening sunlight. The pictures really don’t do it justice, but here’s one anyway.

More gummy lions, we’ve seen a few of these. Or is it a griffin?

It being Sunday, many of the restaurants on our host’s list of recommendations were closed, but we found one we liked the look of, and it was fantastic. A burrata to share, then steak for the Captain, one of the best he’s ever had, he said, and rabbit for the Stoker. And a bottle of Sangiovese from the ‘local wines’ list, although on closer inspection it came from Rimini. We strolled back, rescued the clean, dry washing from the balcony, where it had been slightly at the mercy of the local pigeons, and turned in.

This morning dawned cloudy, which was unexpected. We’d aimed for an early start, given that it was to be a long day, but what with the Captain having to collect the tandem from the other apartment, and then our deciding to have breakfast in Piazza Roma which entailed some on the fly navigating out, it was well after half past ten before we properly got going.

It had been a bit tricky planning the route for today, mainly because of the need to avoid Bologna, now that we’d decided that we weren’t going there. The first attempt had far too many SS roads and big SP roads, both of which we try to avoid if possible. The second attempt was, well, wiggly. Lots of tiny roads, lots of turns and twists. And it involved a river crossing, which, according to Google maps, was marked as a ‘strada privata’. There looked to be gates at either end, but when the Google Streetview car drove past they were open. What to do? The detour which would be necessary if we couldn’t get through would be around 20km, and involve a nasty big road.

We decided to give it a go.

Once we got onto the wiggly bit it was lovely. Tiny roads, no traffic, just winding serenely through the fields of various crops. The sunflowers were a bit confused by the lack of sun.

Some of the roads were a bit dissestata, like yesterday, but when there’s no traffic it’s easy enough to work around it. It was very relaxing, and actually a pleasant change to be cycling in cooler temperatures. The kilometres rolled by, we’d almost forgotten about the river crossing, then suddenly there we were, at the gates.

The gates were open, hurrah!

The track was a bit rough, but there were signs about a ‘nature reserve’ area, which looked promising. A man in a day-glo tabard was just leaving on foot as we went in, and he didn’t stop us or say anything, so our hopes were very high.

We rode down the track, and there was the river. The crossing was some sort of barrage, like a disorganised dump of concrete, very lumpy, and really noisy where the water was gushing out of the lower part. It was perfectly crossable, though, on foot, so we wheeled the tandem across and along to where the better surface started.

We decided not to officially congratulate ourselves for getting across until we were out onto the road at the other side. Just in case.

We rode along, all fine, and then round the corner and … disaster. A huge road stone depository place, with proper lifting barriers to prevent entry, like in a car park. Buildings, fences, signs.

It was very frustrating – we could see the road, only about fifty metres away.

Our secret weapon was that we had arrived at lunchtime. Lunch is very important in Italy. ‘Pranzo di lavoro’ is offered everywhere, a worker’s lunch, usually three fixed courses at a very reasonable price, and there are always lots of workers enjoying it.

So of course the whole place was deserted!

We sneaked the tandem under the barrier, mounted up, and quickly rode the fifty metres to the road, out the open gates and we were gone.

Phew! Officially phew!

We rode on for another half hour or so, had a bit of lunch, and then completed the day in increasingly sunny conditions, with the Apennines looming ever larger.

We finally arrived in Castel San Pietro Terme where we will have our rest day tomorrow. We’re in a fairly nondescript hotel, not quite Barolo or Sirmione, but it has a pool, and Castel San Pietro Terme looks worth a visit tomorrow. Or we could try the thermal baths just opposite if we so feel inclined. Either way, no blog tomorrow.

P.S. After all our intentions not to, we did accidentally go to Bologna. Twice. After the river crossing, we suddenly encountered a city sign indicating we were entering Bologna. Three minutes later, one indicating we’d left. And then a second indicating we were going back in. It wasn’t exactly ‘La Rossa’. It was a waste sorting and recycling plant, and various other industrial stuff. But at least we have actually, officially been to Bologna on this trip.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 20: Ferrara – Modena

Distance: 73.69 km

Time: 3 hours 17 minutes

Average speed: 22.5 kph

Cumulative distance: 1062.57 km

Cumulative time: 49 hours 34 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘strada dissestata‘ (strah-da dees-ess-taat-a) – rough road

It was hot last night – we sat out in the courtyard after dinner, making plans for the next few days. While the Stoker was writing yesterday’s blog entry, the Captain was trying to find accommodation in Bologna, and finding it difficult. We wanted to have a rest day there, but finding an hotel was a trial, and he found himself becoming unusually grumpy!

After a glass of wine or two, he worked out the source of this – essentially we had planned a succession of cities for our next few days – Ferrara, Modena, Bologna, Forlì. Though these are all magnificent places, cycling in cities is not great fun. Let’s take Ferrara as an example. It calls itself the city of cycling and, sure enough, there are cycle lanes everywhere. However, they are often rutted, potholed and narrow. The odd pothole may not be a problem on a mountain-bike, but on a heavily laden tandem each one is a serious hazard. If we hit one I wince at the potential damage to our spokes. What’s more, the fact that there are cycle lanes everywhere means that drivers become irritated if you don’t use them, just as they do in the U.K. Okay, well try it for yourself, first!

Wine always solves everything, though. We decided, con riluttanza, to bypass Bologna. We’ll save it for another trip, when we’re not on the tandem, and perhaps combine it with visits to Parma and Reggio Emilia, which were also on our itinerary before we decided to head up to Sirmione instead.

Back to today! Much renewed by a good night’s sleep we set off through the centro storico di Ferrara, using cycle lanes wherever possible (😉). Today being Sunday, the roads were very quiet, and we soon found ourselves on peaceful rural roads, surrounded by huge tomato fields.

It’s obviously some sort of tradition here, after church on a Sunday, to go to a bar and drink an Aperol Spritz. We noticed this phenomenon last Sunday, and today was no exception – all the roadside bars were full of smartly dressed Italians quaffing orange-coloured drinks. The unmistakable smell of barbecue fuel, too, filled the senses!

We really enjoyed our rural cycling – there were a few sections where we saw the dreaded road sign saying Strada dissestata. This indicates a section of rough road, and they’re not usually joking:

With the traffic being so light, though, we could weave around obstacles more easily. Before we knew it, we’d achieved two-thirds of our day’s kilometrage, so we stopped for lunch in the town of Camposanto. We tried three different bars before we found one serving food – perhaps it’s Aperol Spritz or nothing on a Sunday. Still, the third one was excellent, and very friendly.

After lunch we could just make out the Apennines in the distance. This was a reminder that our days of cycling in the flat Po valley are numbered!

We have two more days in the valley, before we must cross the Apennines into Tuscany. Thankfully our remaining journey into Modena was flat and easy, and marked by the presence of Lambrusco vines on either side of the road. Incidentally, if you think Lambrusco is just the cheap and nasty red fizz stocked by our supermarkets in the 1980s, then we suggest you try the quality version!

To Modena, then, where we soon found Santino, our B&B host, who showed us into his lovely apartment, only a few steps from the Duomo. He and the Captain then walked through central Modena with the tandem, in order to store it securely overnight in a second apartment. In the main piazza a classic car rally was underway – there must have been at least two dozen Ferraris and Lamborghinis there!

Today we completed our first thousand kilometres – we only need to do that two-and-a-half more times and our journey will be complete! We have a long day tomorrow, as a consequence of our decision to bypass Bologna. Our destination is the hillside town of Castel San Pietro Terme, where we’ve booked a hotel with a pool for our next rest day.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 19: Crespino – Ferrara

Distance: 36.53 km

Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

Average speed: 22.7 kph

Cumulative distance: 988.88 km

Cumulative time: 46 hours 18 minutes

Word of the day: ‘arriverderci‘ (a-ree-vair-dare-chee) – until we meet again

Our night in Crespino was fantastic. The tiniest of villages, hardly a hundred metres from the argine, it seemed like some kind of beautiful service area to us, knowing that we’d be straight back on the argine this morning. Our hosts were warm and friendly, and the apartment tiny but wonderfully well organised, with a little patio area where we could sit out. The sweet house cat, Micifu, was a frequent visitor, especially when we sat out to eat the sausages we’d bought for dinner at the butcher, along with the vegetables our hosts gifted us from their garden.

This morning a delicious breakfast feast was delivered to the patio, including four slices of walnut cake, still warm from the oven, some fabulous fresh croissants with home-made strawberry jam, yoghurt, juice. It was difficult to justify eating it all given that we had a scant 35km to ride today, but we managed, somehow!

We left around eleven, it had been a wonderful, tranquil and relaxing stay, very different to being in the cities and towns we’ve landed in so far, and a lovely contrast. The owners are building two new apartments for visitors next to the one we used, we hope very much that they will be successful, they certainly deserve to be.

And so, it was back up to the argine in the sunshine, and soon up to cruising speed. Today we continued along the Sinistra Po, but after around 10km we took a bridge, crossing over the Po for the last time and picking up the Destra Po argine on the other side. It was lucky that we’d spotted last night that the next bridge along, closer to our destination of Ferrara, will be closed until October – if we’d gone all the way on the Sinistra side expecting to cross there, we’d have had to retrace our pedal strokes, a detour of at least 20km. In any event, it was good to see the river from the other side.

There were lots of cyclists out today, it being Saturday, including a lady in a teeny tiny bikini (not in this picture)!

All too soon we reached the turn-off for Ferrara, waved goodbye to the Po for the last time, rode down off the argine and onwards towards the city.

It felt like a significant thing – we’ve spent a lot of time with the Po as we’ve travelled east, crossing and recrossing, including once accidentally! We’ve seen it in its narrower form, and then marvelled at its huge width closer to its delta. We’ve really enjoyed riding along it these last couple of days.

We were soon into the centre of Ferrara, and checking in to today’s Airbnb apartment. A quick shower and we headed in to town for lunch.

We chose a place in Piazza Savonarola serving piadine, as recommended by our host. Savonarola was born in Ferrara, he was a great thorn in the side of the Borgia pope Alexander VI, a great orator and a little ‘imaginative’ in his visions, it is said. He was executed in Florence.

We had a walk round the handsome red brick Castello Estense, it looked absolutely impregnable. It even had a moat with water and everything, which always pleases the Captain.

The duomo is undergoing some restoration at the moment, but we popped in there too. There’s often a thick curtain at the entrance, and you never know when you step inside it whether it will be a beautiful plain marble interior, or highly decorated with frescos and trompe l’oeil. This one was somewhere in between.

There’s a nice little peaceful courtyard outside our apartment, we’ll probably sit out there for dinner. The Stoker has had a craving for ‘spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino’ for a few days, and as we found a ‘mix’ for it at the supermarket today, it’s on the menu tonight. The mix is garlic and chilli flakes, this one goes by the delightful name ‘Spagghy’.

Tomorrow we head for Modena.

Here’s today’s track.

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2778482691

Day 18: Chioggia – Crespino

Distance: 58.6 km

Time: 2 hours 36 minutes

Average speed: 22.6 kph

Cumulative distance: 952.35 km

Cumulative time: 44 hours 42 minutes

Word of the day: ‘tranquillo‘ (tran-kweel-oh) – peaceful

So, how to describe Chioggia. In many ways it shares characteristics with Venice – there are no gondolas, but there are small canals and Venetian style bridges, there’s some fine architecture and there’s a strong smell of fresh fish (in a good way!). It’s more of a real working place, though – tourists, while present, are fewer in number, and there are plenty of Italians.

We strolled out, yesterday evening, to find the place where we moored on our boating trip, years ago. Then, it was almost full, and we had a difficult forty-five minutes trying to wedge our large boat between sets of briccole. Yesterday, it was empty, and we could have moored in five minutes!

Chioggia, though, was unchanged, a charming, bustling place where preparations were underway for a mediaeval festival. We dined between Corso del Popolo and the Canale Vena, and after a good meal, followed up with a visit to the gelateria. After yesterday’s experience, we were determined to make sure that we were well-fed for today’s cycling. It was a struggle, of course, but needs must.

We awoke to clear blue skies and searing heat. It took us a while to leave Chioggia, because of the heavy traffic, rather than navigational difficulties. We were in for a treat, though, a glorious day on riverside roads, almost bereft of traffic. Firstly we headed due south, towards the Po delta, across the fast-flowing Adige river. A feature of the last couple of days has been the presence of cicadas, for the first time this trip. We’ve also seen countless white herons, standing stock-still in the fields until we cycled past. Today’s only new crop, we think, was carrots. For the most part we had a soft tail-wind, which made the process of pedalling seem serene.

After little more than an hour we arrived at the banks of the Po, and joined the “Sinistra Po” cycle way along the argine. The surface was fully metalled, if a little rough in places, and we relaxed into a steady tempo, with the wide blue/brown waters of the river on our left, and to our right an arable landscape, separated by attractive villages, each with a church spire.

After a while the Euganean hills came back into view, to the north-west. It already seems a long time since we were climbing the hills – in fact it was only yesterday.

We stopped for a simple lunch in the town of Papozze, taking our time over it as we were going to be very early for our check-in at our destination.

Back to the argine, then, and a very enjoyable cruise alongside the river, until the town of Crespino hove into view. Still early, we descended from the argine into town and stopped at a bar for a well-deserved beer. Well, the Captain did – the Stoker was more virtuous and drank fizzy water!

Tomorrow we have an easy day planned, to the city of Ferrara. Here’s a picture of some cheerful cyclists:

Here’s today’s track.

Day 17: Este – Chioggia

Distance: 67.56 km

Time: 3 hours 33 minutes

Average speed: 19 kph

Cumulative distance: 893.75 km

Cumulative time: 42 hours 6 minutes

Word of the day: ‘argine‘ (ah-gin-eh) – embankment

We had a very relaxed evening in Este, a bit of pasta, a bottle of the local Colli Euganei red wine, some forward planning, and a good night’s sleep. The tandem spent the night at the local cinema! There was no way to get it into our third floor apartment, but our host had kindly arranged with her friend who owned the cinema in Este that it could be stored there.

After a small breakfast in the little cafe next door we set off, knowing that our first hill (in days!) would be coming up very early on. I’d like to say that it was great to be climbing again, that we sprinted up it, that we felt good, but actually… It turned out we were both a bit underpowered for some reason, a ‘jour sans’ as the pro-cyclists call it. The breakfast had perhaps been a little too small, and we’d not eaten all that much last night. Or maybe we’d just pushed it a bit hard yesterday. Who knows why it happens, but when it does, all you can do is ride within yourself, take it steadily, and conserve what energy you have.

That said, we made it up all the hills without stopping, and the views were lovely.

We enjoyed a short break in Acquà Petrarca, a lovely little town known for having been the chosen home of Petrarch, a scholar and poet, discoverer of a collection of Cicero’s letters, and generally considered to have been the founder of Humanism. He also climbed Mont Ventoux, apparently, just because he wanted to.

A bit more up and down, and then we were back on the valley floor, and suddenly on our first ‘argine’, an embankment usually next to a canal, on which there was a cycle path. We’d heard of the Po cycle paths which are all on the argine (one on each side, known as sinistra and destra), we hope to find them tomorrow, but hadn’t expected to get any argine practice in today!

It was pretty idyllic and just what we needed, traffic-free, easy cycling, opportunities to spot herons and a couple more crops to tick off in the I-Spy book of food sources we’ve cycled past. It was mostly tarmac, with just the odd stretch of hard-packed gravel, so not too much moaning from the back.

At Pontelongo we stopped for a quick lunch, scoffed some panini, and then headed back up onto the argine for the last section to Chioggia.

Unfortunately no-one had told our route planning system of choice that this bit of the cycle path was not really finished! It had a name and everything, the ‘I2’, part of the Itinerario del Sale system of cycle paths, but when it split into two directions we took the cycle path less travelled, clearly!

It started as gravel, which was reasonably OK, but then we got to a stretch of about two kilometres of much rougher surface, with tufts of grass. By this stage we were fairly committed, we could have gone back and found a route round, probably, but it was a straight line, the Captain was pretty confident we could ride it safely, and we could see it was leading to where we would have to rejoin the road in any case. Here’s the Captain, looking confident, as we decide to keep going.

And he was right, it was fine. Eventually it became tarmac, and then the main road into Chioggia, and we knew it would all work out. We detoured slightly to Sottomarina, and found the public beach so we could dip our toes into the Adriatic.

And then we crossed onto Chioggia, fondly remembered from a boating holiday in this area, quite a few years ago now.

It feels like the end of the first phase, arriving here at the east coast. Effectively we’ve crossed Italy from west to east at this widest part. Tomorrow we’ll turn south, and find the Po Sinistra cycle path to a tiny place called Crespino.

Tonight, though, we’ve earned an ice-cream, I reckon.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 16: Verona – Este

Distance: 72.3 km

Time: 2 hours 50 minutes

Average speed: 25.51 kph

Cumulative distance: 826.19 km

Cumulative time: 38 hours 33 minutes

Word of the day: ‘mele‘ (may-lay) – apples

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the Captain should have listened to the Stoker, who suggested we should take rain jackets with us when we left for our evening meal in Verona last night! While we very much enjoyed our meal in Piazzetta Navona, we couldn’t help noticing the rain growing in intensity throughout. As it turned out we walked most of the way back in a lull in the downpour, and it was really only in the last three hundred yards or so that we became thoroughly drenched.

Everything had dried by this morning, though, and after a swift cappuccino and cornetto at a nearby café we pedalled off into the inevitable morning traffic. It’s never much fun getting out of a city – the infrastructure (unless you live in Belgium or The Netherlands) favours the driver over the cyclist, and the drivers are significantly more impatient. So the first ten kilometres or so were to be endured, rather than to be enjoyed. We did spot Porta Nuova, whilst whizzing past!

Gradually, though, the traffic tailed off, and we managed to find quieter roads. Our speed increased, our shoulders relaxed, and we started to enjoy the day. We seem to be rather strong, now. The cumulative effect of all the cycling we’ve done so far is really starting to show, and, while we’ve not tackled many hills lately, our speed on the flat has surprised us.

Again we were cycling amongst arable crops. Today we added potatoes, asparagus and apples to the list of items we’ve seen growing by the roadside. There were apple orchards everywhere around the town of Zevio. Often, though, it’s still maize. The Po Valley is often described as the bread basket of Italy, but to us it seems more like a polenta pot.

Later on we started to see the Euganean hills rising from the valley floor. We’ve seen them before, from the treno notte between Paris and Venice. They are very striking, as they occupy the only high ground in the Po Valley, at least in this area.

The conical shapes of the hills hint at their volcanic origin. The Stoker, in particular, was very taken with the view, and I could hear her taking multiple videos of the view from the back of the tandem.

We stopped for a lunch – panini and gallons of cold water – at Poiana Maggiore, then tackled the last few kilometres to our destination, Este, which sits at the foot of the Euganean hills, at their southern extremity. What a gorgeous place though – from the window of our rented apartment we have a magnificent view of Castello Carrarese.

We wandered into the grounds to take a closer look:

Just around the corner is Este’s main piazza, surrounded by colonnades, which provide a cool place to walk on a scorching hot day – thirty-three degrees according to one illuminated sign.

After the huge crowds of visitors yesterday in Verona, it was very pleasant to be wandering the quiet streets of this delightful place.

We’ve now completed our first five hundred miles! Tomorrow we’re cycling up into the Euganean hills, so that we can check that our climbing legs still work after all of this cycling on the flat. We hope to have fine views over to the east, towards tomorrow’s destination: Chioggia. This will be our first and only exposure to the Adriatic Sea, before we turn southwards and back inland.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 15: Sirmione – Verona

Distance: 39.45 km

Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

Average speed: 18.7 kph

Cumulative distance: 753.89 km

Cumulative time: 35 hours 43 minutes

Word of the day: ‘temporale‘ (tem-pore-ah-lay) – thunderstorm

Our rest day was fabulous, the sun shone, we enjoyed a lie-in and then a wander round Catulla’s Roman villa, right next to our hotel. It must have been quite the place in its day, beautiful views, baths, olive groves. Much of it is still standing, which is a testament to the strength of Roman concrete. Apparently no-one knows the formula for it, but it’s way stronger than anything modern.

A small lunch in a shady restaurant near the port, an afternoon by and in the pool, a lovely dinner in the main part of Sirmione and we were restored.

This morning we shared breakfast with the many sparrows of Lake Garda. Very cheerful little birds. Very fond of croissant!

The clouds were dark and foreboding, and as we loaded up the first clap of thunder sounded. We rode to the peninsular gate behind a couple of cars, and then out along the lake road, quite quiet, maybe because of the weather.

We’d tried to adjust the route today, just forty kilometres to Verona, to avoid larger roads and use the local roads wherever possible. That worked well to start with, pretty villages and a little up and down, but then we turned onto a very gravelly track. There was some whimpering from the rear motive unit, who is really not keen on those kinds of surfaces!

On the plus side, it was traffic-free, winding through vines and cherry trees. One set of vines had actual bunches of tiny grapes forming, and the leaves were much darker green than most of the others we’ve seen.

After a scant few kilometres (phew), we rejoined the tarmac, and began a 16km descent into Verona. We joined the Verona cycle way, along the canal, which was an excellent way to enter the city. The canal could not have been described as attractive in any sense, but the cycle path was smooth and fast. The last five kilometres were proper city roads, not very busy, but we were glad to turn into the road where tonight’s apartment is located, just along from Castelvecchio and its bridge over the Adige.

We showered and got the first load of washing on (it’s such a joy not to be hand-washing!), and then walked into Verona centre for lunch, in Piazza Erbe. Whilst we were having coffee afterwards the heavens opened and there was more thunder. Everyone scuttled inside, but it was quickly over. We’re not doing the tourist sights this time, as we’ve been to Verona a couple of times, but it’s impossible not to marvel at the arena.

Tomorrow we’re going to Este, which is pretty tiny – it’ll be nice to be away from crowds after these last days in the throng of such popular places.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 14: Cremona – Sirmione

Distance: 81.61 km

Time: 3 hours 42 minutes

Average speed: 22.0 kph

Cumulative distance: 714.44 km

Cumulative time: 33 hours 36 minutes

Word of the day: ‘chiacchierare‘ (kee-ack-ee-air-ah-ray) – to chatter

It’s probably becoming a little unbelievable, gentle reader, the extent to which we extol the virtues of each and every town in which we’ve stayed. Nevertheless, we mean every word, and Cremona was a particularly fine place – incredible architecture, green spaces, an air of calm, and of course its history in the world of musical instruments.

So it was with some reluctance that we left this morning, though as a final favour to us Cremona provided the best cycle paths we’ve encountered thus far on this trip, enabling a smooth and enjoyable exit. Today we had eighty-one kilometres to achieve, our longest day so far. When you convert to miles, though, it’s just over fifty miles, a distance we routinely cycle on our long trips.

We had originally planned to strike south to Mantova, then further south still to Parma, but finding a suitable hotel for our rest day in Mantova was proving difficult, and we wanted to eliminate some of the zig-zagging across the eastern end of the Po valley. In an inspired moment, we chose Sirmione instead, which occupies a spectacular peninsula, pointing, nay thrusting northwards into Lake Garda.

More of that in a moment, though. Our morning’s cycling was serene. It being a Sunday, the roads were quiet, or perhaps we had happened upon quieter roads. Whichever, it was gloriously peaceful, and once we’d left the cycle lanes of Cremona we accelerated to cruising speed and stayed there, surrounded by maize and wheat fields, with blue skies overhead and a fierce summer sun.

It was so peaceful that my mind wandered to the subject of what the collective noun for a group of Italians should be. After some deliberation I decided that, given the noise levels in the average bar or restaurant here, it should be a chiacchierata di Italiani – a chatter of Italians.

On entering the town of Scandolara (yes, really!) we spotted a striking castle in a moat, almost in the middle of nowhere, so we called a drinks halt and stopped to admire the view.

Once or twice this morning we became aware of a strong smell of cheese in the air. There were a few milk tankers around, so perhaps we unwittingly passed a centre of cheese production. It wasn’t unpleasant, just unusual!

All of a sudden we became aware that Alps were emerging, mirage-like, in the distance – we’ve not seen those for a few days! In the foreground, too, a ridge, probably an Alpine outlier, with a strikingly pretty town, Montichiari sitting atop.

Time, then, for a lunch break. We ate piadini and admired the ecclesiastical architecture.

With only twenty-four kilometres remaining we set off for the afternoon, on a long, gentle climb, mountains in the distance. Our initial waypoint was the town of Lonato del Garda, which sits on high ground looking over the lake. Then we enjoyed a downhill stretch to Desenzano, a familiar spot, as from here the boats leave on day-trips to Riva del Garda. We stayed in a villa quite near here with Jenny, Chris and Robert a few years ago – it was a very happy holiday in a beautiful place.

Today, though, we turned right, anti-clockwise around the lake shore, in busier traffic, until we reached the start of the Sirmione peninsula. Thereafter we pedalled when we could, and at other times pushed the tandem through the crowds of visitors in the historic part of the town. No doubt we’ll take a look ourselves tomorrow, but today the hotel pool was calling.

We seem to have the best view on the peninsula! To the west, from our corner room balcony, we can look over to Manerba and Moniga; to the north is the end of the peninsula and the ruins of the Grotto of Catullus. Pictures to follow later.

Tomorrow, the tandem is staying in the hotel garage! There will be no blog until Tuesday, when we intend to stay in Verona.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 13: Piacenza – Cremona

Distance: 40.14 km

Time: 1 hours 50 minutes

Average speed: 22.0 kph

 

Cumulative distance: 632.83 km

Cumulative time: 29 hours 54 minutes

 

Word of the day: ‘girare’ (jeer-ah-ray) – to turn around

 

We had a good dinner last night at the Ristorante del Duco – a plate to share of the local meats for which Piacenza is known, and then steak and fish for Captain and Stoker respectively. A gelato on the way home, and a discussion about our next destination, then we turned in, knowing we had an early start today.

Only 34km to Cremona, pan flat, but we’d arranged with today’s lovely Airbnb hosts, Francesca and Gabriele, that we could check in early, at 11:30, so as to be able to shower and change before lunch and a visit to the violin museum. The alarm went off like a klaxon at 8 and we leapt into action. Well, more or less. We were packed and out on the planned dot of 9:30, though.

If there was ever a day when we needed to get it right, it was today. Two hours to do 34km, that seemed very achievable, but not much contingency. So of course we missed the first turning, carried on, accidentally crossed the Po (which is very wide, as previously noted!), turned round, crossed back, spotted a useful cycle track back up towards the route, discovered that the road to our route was no entry, briefly cycled the wrong way up what we think might have been an exit ramp of a dual carriageway (there was no traffic on it, but…), turned around again, tried the other direction on the cycle path, eventually found the roundabout at the original missed turning and rejoined the planned route. By this time we’d cycled an extra 6km and wasted nearly half an hour.

And it was really hot!

Once on the route, though, we gradually built up to cruising speed on a straight road with a good surface, and breezed along at 30kph for quite some kilometres, catching up. As the kilometres ticked down, we became more confident we weren’t going to let Francesca and Gabriele down, and relaxed a bit.

There was also a lovely section on the Via Po, a dedicated traffic-free cycle route in the Po valley, it’s been hellish difficult to find, for some reason, but it was well worth it.

Before long it was time to give our hosts a ‘half-hour’ warning of our arrival, a last blast along the SP10, over the Po again…

… and into Cremona centre, and there they were. Such a lovely couple, they showed us in and around this gorgeous apartment, it has a grand piano and a bath tub! Not in the same room… We chatted a bit, it turned out that they were both Sicilian, and in fact he was born in Cefalù, our intended final destination. They’re going to be in Sicily in August on holiday. Maybe they’ll spot us on the road!

After they left we popped out on the bike to Spaccabici, a bike shop about 1km away, and bought the Captain some more robust gloves and a very cool new pair of cycling glasses. He’s been experiencing an issue of losing contact lenses in the wind, and general advice was to use more wrap-around glasses, so that’s what he’s bought. Pictures to follow tomorrow.

A shower and a change of clothes, and we walked out to the Piazza del Comune, where we had lunch looking out to the incredible duomo, including (the restaurant’s placemats informed us) the highest bell-tower in Europe. With over 500 steps to climb it, we weren’t tempted!

After lunch we visited the Violin Museum, Cremona being the origin, really, of violin making in Europe and beyond.

It was very well put together, lots of informative technology alongside ancient instruments. Many of the violins from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had individual names, including this Stradivarius, ‘il Cremonese’.

A quick supermarket stop, then back to the apartment. We’re off to Sirmione on Lake Garda tomorrow for an indulgent day off the day after. We’re still trying to nail down the subsequent route. There’s been much head-scratching and changing of minds. That’s what this trip was supposed to be about though. Making it up as we go along.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 12: Pavia – Piacenza

Distance: 53.66 km

Time: 2 hours 24 minutes

Average speed: 22.4 kph

 

Cumulative distance: 592.69 km

Cumulative time: 28 hours 4 minutes

 

Word of the day: ‘pranzo’ (pran-tso) – lunch

 

Dinner last night was a simple affair, some ravioli stuffed with porcini mushrooms, and a bottle of slightly sparking red wine, which seems to be prevalent in this area, eaten back in our rented apartment.

Having thoroughly enjoyed our walk around Pavia yesterday we decided to re-visit Piazza della Vittoria, close to the Duomo, for our pre-departure breakfast of cappuccino and cornetti (probably better known as croissants) – in Italy they usually contain some sort of filling, perhaps pastry cream or some apricot jam, so if you want the French style you have to ask for cornetti vuoti, which means “empty croissants”. Never tell me this blog is less than educational!

It had rained overnight, and more was threatened for this morning, but we set out senza rainwear, striking out in an easterly, then southerly direction, towards the River Po. We crossed it over the old bridge just as it was joined by the Ticino, which flows through Pavia.

At this point the river seemed enormous – it took us quite a while to cycle across the bridge. When we consider, though, just how many tributary rivers we crossed when cycling around the foot of the Alps, all of which drain into the Po, it is hardly surprising that it so dominates the area.

We continued south towards Broni, which occupies a position at the foot of the same range of hills as Salice Terme. This meant an all-too-brief re-introduction to the world of beautiful vineyards, before we turned eastwards towards Piacenza. Thereafter, until we reached town, the journey would best be described as unremarkable – fairly busy roads, very gentle rolling hills and arable crops. We stopped for lunch in a roadside café – even here the food was splendid.

We’d promised our B&B host that we’d arrived at 2pm, and we had forty minutes in which to cycle sixteen kilometres. This we just about managed, despite a nasty headwind. The last couple of kilometres took us along Piacenza’s Roman wall.

Our accommodation is on the north-west edge of the centro storico (historical centre) of Piacenza. After a quick shower we wandered into the centre, initially in search of a bike shop, which turned out to have closed. The gloves, purchased for the Captain in Ivrea, have turned out to be too fragile, and a more robust pair is required! No luck there though, so we went to have a look at Piacenza’s Duomo, and then on to Piazza Cavalli, where there is a most impressive town hall, topped with the style of crenellations we’ve seen before in this region, at Verona and Mantova.

Now we’re back in our accommodation, plotting our route for the next few days, and researching restaurant options for this evening. Piacenza is famous for the quality of its salumi, so we must consider that when choosing. Tomorrow we are leaving early so that we can spend time in Cremona visiting the Museo del Violino – Cremona, of course, was the home of Antonio Stradivari.

Here’s today’s track.

 

 

Day 11: Salice Terme – Pavia

Distance: 35.33 km

Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

Average speed: 23.9 kph

 

Cumulative distance: 539.03 km

Cumulative time: 25 hours 40 minutes

 

Word of the day: ‘foratura’ (for-ah-tour-ah) – puncture

 

It was a peaceful spot, Salice Terme, the apartment was very comfortable and had a great view of the hilltop town of Nazzano from the lounge. We had bought some ingredients for dinner from a local shop, and a bottle of the local, slightly fizzy red wine. The cyclists we met yesterday lunchtime had mentioned it, it was really good, especially slightly chilled.

This morning dawned sunny, with beautiful blue skies, and after breakfast and the usual paranoid twenty-five visual inspections to make sure we hadn’t left anything important behind, we set off. In completely the wrong direction.

Well, not entirely true, it was the right direction, but the wrong way to get to the potentially lovely cycle path along the river through the park. Soon sorted, though, and we started through the park, enjoying the breeze and the view of the water.

Then…. BANG! psssssssssss…. A puncture, damn. We hadn’t even gone two kilometres! Good job it was a short day.

We found a shady spot under a tree and inspected the damage – a tyre wall failure, the inner tube had poked through and burst. The Captain had noted only last night that we were approaching our usual danger mileage for tyre wall issues taking into consideration our laden miles here, plus all the miles we did on these tyres in training. We packed away the eminently repairable inner tube for later work, dug out the folding tyre and a new inner tube and put everything together. Several people walking by in the park stopped to commiserate with us, and chat about where we were going, which was nice. “Calme, calme”, said one woman, rather concerned about the Captain’s rather damp appearance after the exertion of pumping up the tyre in the heat!

Once we were off and running properly, we hit cruising speed quickly on the cycle path out of Salice Terme, towards Pavia, which we know now from yesterday’s cyclists is pronounced Pah-vee-ah. The path was quiet, smooth, it was great to cycle with no traffic and just the occasional pedestrian to ‘ciao’ with as we whizzed past.

It was no great distance that we had to cover, and so even with our late start and even later restart, we were making good time.

We hit an unavoidable SS road, which are always busy, but this was extremely so, a lot of traffic, quite a few lorries, all patient with us but not very pleasant. Eventually, we discovered why, when the bridge crossing a huge river appeared. The Po! At last! It was enormous, really wide, and so the concentration of traffic suddenly made sense – there are only two places where traffic can cross the river in this area, and this was one of them.

After the crossing, we left the busy road for a smaller one for a while, which was a relief. Pavia seemed to come up really fast, in no time we were crossing the Ticino, parallel to Pavia’s famous covered bridge.

Our lodging tonight is very close to the duomo, so we headed there and had some delicious lunch under the arches in the shade of the duomo. After a rather chaotic check in to our Airbnb apartment, we hit the bike shops of Pavia, coming back with a successfully re-shod back wheel, albeit with a slightly wider tyre.

Pavia is gorgeous, bigger than perhaps expected, but full of little streets in the pedestrianised centre. The duomo is the opposite of the sanctuary at Vicoforte, in that it’s definitely bigger on the inside. Outside, it’s a striking brick construction. Inside it’s beautifully plain, letting the marble and the architecture speak for itself. The dome itself is gigantic.

It’s quiet now, just house-martins and swifts calling, and the sounds of people nearby making and eating dinner, chatting as they do. Must be time for us to do the same.

Here’s today’s track.

 

 

Day 10: Acqui Terme – Salice Terme

Distance: 76.73 km

Time: 3 hours 17 minutes

Average speed: 23.3 kph

Cumulative distance: 503.7 km

Cumulative time: 24 hours 12 minutes

Word of the day: ‘fragole’ (frah-goal-ay) – strawberries

Dinner last night was a relaxed affair, a simple pizza in a beautiful location – the first floor of what was formerly Acqui Terme’s abbey.

Our eyelids were already drooping, to be perfectly honest, but we managed to keep them open for a post-dinner gelato – our first of the trip. The stoker’s favourite flavour too, salted caramel. Then it was back to our “cell” for some sleep.

We knew today’s journey would be longer (by the standards of this trip), so we ate a fairly early breakfast, packed up, pumped up the tyres and pedalled away, having very much enjoyed Acqui Terme. Almost immediately, while crossing the main town bridge, we saw further evidence of its Roman past – a small portion of the former aqueduct.

Almost as soon as we left town we were on one of the quietest roads we’ve encountered so far – gently rolling hills, with a slight overall downhill gradient. For the first hour we averaged more than fifteen miles per hour. We’re really enjoying this new tandem. It has a steel frame, which makes it heavier than our previous aluminium ones, but despite this, and despite our carrying four panniers, a back bag, a small saddle bag, a tool container and three full water bottles, we seem to be faster than we used to be! Admittedly, we have trained for this trip, completing several hundred miles between Christmas and our departure. Nevertheless, it’s been a surprising feature of our journey so far – long may it continue, and complimenti to everyone at JD Tandems in Gargrave for producing such a fabulous tandem.

Soon we were down on the plain, and the Alps were almost invisible behind us. Vines gave way to arable crops, with a particular emphasis on aromatics – there was a pungent smell of onions in the air! Our previously quiet road had given way to a much busier one, and we were making more measured, cautious progress in the traffic. For a while we turned off onto a cycle path. We were initially enthusiastic about this, until we realised that we were also cycling into a block head-wind, so it was with some relief that we turned back onto the road. By now the onions had given way to strawberries, which proved much less smelly. The verges were still well-populated with poppies.

So it continued through the morning – busy phases through the towns, and where we were close to junctions of the autostrade, followed by longer quiet sections. We passed over one large torrente, somewhat quieter than the ones we saw in the Alps.

Almost all of this was flat, or nearly flat, and by the time we were feeling hungry we’d completed fifty-two kilometres of a planned seventy-seven. So in Villalvernia we pulled into a roadside café for a simple lunch: agnolotti con ragù for the Captain and focaccia con prosciutto e formaggio for the Stoker.

Soon after we arrived we were joined by half-a-dozen touring cyclists, flying Sardinian flags from their bikes – we enjoyed a lengthy conversation with them. One of them pointed out that we were close to the house of Faustino Coppi, a cyclist much revered in Italy. Apparently he grew up and trained in the hills around here. On this occasion we chose not to add the Casa di Coppi to our itinerary, as it would have added a lengthy climb to our day.

Remounting, we headed off, to cries of buon viaggio from the cyclists. Only twenty-four more kilometres to go, and we kept up a cracking pace, at least when the road surfaces permitted it. Again, the perimeters of the road were rough and potholed, so we had to occupy the median. The drivers were patient with us, though, and soon we were pulling into our second spa town of the day, and our destination: Salice Terme.

…where the terme has recently closed, unfortunately, so no swim in thermally heated waters for us, today. Never mind, the town is lovely.

Tomorrow we have a much shorter day planned, to the city of Pavia. Once there we will be firmly in the valley of the Po, where we will remain for some days to come.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 9: Alba – Acqui Terme

Distance: 56.94 km

Time: 2 hours 48 minutes

Average speed: 20.3 kph

 

Cumulative distance: 426.97 km

Cumulative time: 20 hours 55 minutes

 

Word of the day: ‘salire’ (sah-leer-ay) – to ascend, to climb

 

We had a quick trot out to look around Alba yesterday afternoon, but it was still raining, and it was a cursory effort, to be honest. We saw the square where the Slow Food movement began, and some interesting Roman remains under glass in a square, and popped into a wine and truffle shop to buy some of each for tea. A little supermarket provided everything else we needed, and we headed back to the apartment for a relaxing evening.

Our host, Rossella, delivered as promised fresh croissants to our little outside table this morning (while we were still asleep!), so it was breakfast in for a change. Today’s route was to take us over three climbs, the last of which looked like a challenge.

We left Alba flawlessly, despite the navigation being a little complex, there was lots of traffic, not scary or aggressive, just lots to cope with. The Giro must have come through here, they were just getting around to unwinding the pink ribbons from some of the trees.

Eventually we crossed under the autostrada, and left most of it behind as we started up the first climb. It was a sunny morning and it was warm work, not steep, but a slog. We stopped in Neive for a drink, but for some reason there was a horrible ‘dead animal’ smell throughout, so we didn’t tarry long.

The second climb appeared all too soon, again not too demanding and great views over the vineyards. The descent, after a very sharp right turn, was lovely, and the serenity only spoiled (according to the Captain) by the Stoker yelling at the GoPro, which was pretending to be deaf in the wind of the descent. “GoPro, start recording… GOPRO START RECORDING… GOPRO START (expletive) RECORDING…”, and so on.

As well as the vineyards there were areas planted with rows of what looked like hazel trees, for the nuts, presumably. It’s been a feature of the last few days, maybe this is the centre of ‘gianduia’ production, that delicious hazelnut creme stuff that turns up in desserts, ice-cream and so on. Not that we’ve actually had a gelato yet, strangely, despite having been in Italy for nearly two weeks.

We raced along the flat towards Nizza Monferrato, the base of the fearsome last climb and our lunch destination. The road surface was pretty awful, the right-hand side where bicycles might be expected to be was full of potholes and cracks. We’ve developed a strategy of riding on the smooth bit until traffic comes up behind, to minimise the bumpy ride, which involves a lot of Captain/Stoker communication, but works fine. The roads are often so straight that there’s plenty of time for drivers to work around us, and Italy being a nation of cyclists, there’s plenty of give and take.

Nizza Monferrato was lovely, the usual central pedestrian ‘centro storico’, and a little restaurant under the arches in a big square.

We had ‘ravioli dal plin’, the ‘plin’ part apparently referring to the pinch which closes the parcel. It’s a traditional dish of this Piemonte region, so since we will cross into Lombardia later this week, it was a good time to have it.

By the time we left, the restaurant was absolutely full, with people waiting, obviously a popular lunch spot for locals and deservedly so. Everything people were eating looked delicious. After a bit of photographic procrastinating, we rode off.

The third and final climb today looked a bit vicious on the map, a proper cone shape on the elevation graph, over 200m of ascent over about 8km. It turned out to be pretty gentle, though, and we made slow but determined progress. The views were spectacular, and of course today we could actually see them. It was mostly vines, a few workers in the fields today tying bits of vine to support structures. At the top we stopped and enjoyed the views, rehydrated a bit and took some pictures. In the far distance there were mountains, the Ligurian Alps, the south western extremity of the Alpine mountains.

The reward for the climbing, of course, was a downhill finish, and we barely pedalled all the way into Acqui Terme.

Finding the hotel was a little tricky, it’s in a fabulous location in the old part of town, very close to the duomo. It’s actually what was once a seminary, so the rooms are small and simple, off corridors of austere wooden doors.

After a quick shower and a rest, we had a wander around town, including a visit to the hot spring itself, in a beautiful square.

There’s a fountain from which the spring gushes, and the water is so hot it’s actually steaming, even though it’s such a hot day. It’s over 75 degrees Celsius, and there’s quite a whiff of sulphur!

A long day in prospect tomorrow, to another ‘spa’ town, Salice Terme.

Here’s today’s track.