I have yet to decide whether I like cycling on Italian roads. Don’t get me wrong. I love Italy!
Never before I ate so much ice cream; even twice a day and sometimes at eleven at night, every single scoop delicious. The gluten of the daily pasta, grissini and panini slowly clogs up my system in a very pleasurable way. How could one feel guilty about carbo-loading?
Our living arrangements changed on arrival in Italy. Our bikes no longer live on the bike rack outside but moved into our lounge room. With already limited space, it got quite crammed in our Castello di Hymer. I don’t want to offend any Italians but sound sleep is a good pay off for this temporary nuisance. I started fantasising about a one bedroom apartment, which will feel like a palazzo by the time we return to Brisbane. The Italians themselves thought it was crazy to leave the bikes outside, even when secured with two locks and a cover. Then again, we haven’t felt unsafe at any stage, yet, and a German traveller assured us that the times of theft and robbery are over and Italy is now one of the safest countries in Europe.
Safe or not, Italy is incredibly beautiful. Lake Como was just stunning with it’s narrow roads, lake views from far up the mountains, flowers and colourful villas, and the snow capped Alps in the distance.
A few weeks ago, whenever Alberto asked whether I was happy, I started replying with “If I was any happier, I’d have to scream!” because that’s exactly how I felt. In Como and Bellagio and then again in Genova and Nervi and Sestri Levante and now the Cinque Terre I don’t even need to finish the sentence anymore. The beauty around us is almost unbearable. Maybe this is why Italians are yelling and screaming all day? The frequent outcries for “Tranquillo, tranquillo!” are necessary to offsets all the prettiness around here? Any happier… you know?! Adding a couple of words to my vocabulary daily, I just wished I learnt the language a little quicker.
And what should I say about the riding? The best I’ve ever done? From Como to Bellagio, just a tick over 30km, the narrow road, clinging to the rocky cliff, takes you along the lake’s edge. Every few kilometres, you coast through a tiny village with a church tower and a bell as old as Italy itself. A few blind corners, a tunnel, and your heart rate goes up, if it isn’t up already by the sheer incredibility of the road. When then a bus or sporty Italian driver eliminates the already limited road space even further, getting off appears to be a good life-saving option. But you mustn’t be afraid. Italians respect other road users and watch out for cyclists. As long as the traffic flows… that’s all there is to the chaos. No one is out to be nasty or hit you. And they are attentive and good drivers… in general. Like the guy who almost lost control over his car around a narrow bend on top of the Muro di Sormano. I don’t know how he managed to gain control again but if he hadn’t, I mightn’t be sitting here writing this. Accidents happen.
And once you leave the busy lake road and start any of the climbs, and particularly the one up to the Madonna di Ghisallo, riding becomes as tranquil as any Italian could call for. At the Madonna di Ghisallo chapel Alberto asked me whether they were wearing underpants when a group of older Italians arrived. I preferred not to look too closely. For Italians, white is the preferred colour of riding apparel and in particular bibs. There are the occasional celeste green knicks or some other undefinable colour variety but black knicks seem as rare to find as a straight Aussie bloke wearing white. Now, it is debatable whether white bibs are a sign of style.
But unquestionable style is when the white bibbed Italian cyclist manoeuvers hands-free the inbound traffic on the Genovese equivalent of Beach Road on a busy Saturday afternoon, while having an animated conversation on his mobile phone. I was too scared to even grab my water bottle in fear of missing that crazy Italian driver pulling out in front of me. Twenty kilometres later, when my body slowed down the production of adrenalin and cortisol because it simply couldn’t keep up with the stress response, I got the hang of it. A few rides later and it feels reasonably natural to float in and out of Italian traffic, but relaxed I will never be.
Oh, and then there was the ride from Sestri Levante to Camogli. If this all sounds to weird and wonderful to you – and that’s exactly what it is to me – no problem. Just save your riding for Sunday lunch time. The roads are almost eerily quiet.
And what about the Giro d’Italia, you may ask? Well, we have been watching most stages on TV and there is a distinct advantage, watching it in real time, and not one o’clock in the morning. The Italian commentary on RAI Sport certainly adds a certain authenticity. As for watching the peloton from the road side… we spent a bit more time at Lake Como, and who could blame us, and then had a long hard look at the map of Italy and the course of the Giro. And we decided, rather than chasing behind the peloton and missing out on a lot of places we want to enjoy, we drive around Italy anti-clockwise towards the peloton and meet them in Assisi. Maybe watch the finish of one stage and then the start of the next before making up our own Giro d’Italia on the other side of the boot and our high altitude training camp in Bormio.
But then again, this plan may just fall to pieces tomorrow. Cinque Terre has a lot more to offer than anticipated and we may as well just stay another day or two. It’s a perfect spot for long walks. For the past week or so I wondered why I felt fatigued, until I realised that I did 12-14h weeks on the bike, more than my body is used to handle. Therefore I forced myself into a rest week this week. It’s tough to leave la bici in the motorhome when all this amazing roads are right at your feet. Another pistachio gelato may have to console me…