Italy Part 1 – Mainland

All roads lead to Rome

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October 2017

After spending time with Lucy’s family we caught a flight to Venice on a Tuesday evening and arrived in dark, foggy Italy. The visibility was so poor we only could see the massive buses seconds before they overtook us. The only route took us along a big A-road, which seemed rather suicidal in these conditions and so we decided to try our luck down a dirt track between some fields. After pushing and staggering through the darkness, we gave up on reaching the city and set up camp at 2am.

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The next morning the weather hadn’t changed and we continued cycling in the fog. We reached a campsite outside Venice and spent the rest of the day exploring the city.

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We set off towards Bologna under a grey sky. Somewhat unexpectedly, autumn had also descended in Italy, the falling leaves turning golden and the sun setting in the late afternoon.

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We reached Bologna in the evening and found, against expectations, a spot to camp in an inner city park. Next to an abandoned building this spot seemed a bit conspicous. It got dark and while we were munching our pasta a light appeared in the abandoned building. Like a deer in a headlights we froze, listening carefully. Suddenly a shadow emerged from the bushes and a person walked straight towards our tent…

The alleged axe murderer turned out to be about 18, skinny, wearing a tracksuit and baseball cap. Seeing our heads poking out of the tent he was as surprised as we were. After a quick nod, he disappeared into the night, probably worrying we’d find out what he was hiding in the ruins of the building.

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After a gourmet breakfast, we left Bologna the next morning and with it we left the week of clammy fog behind. Climbing up the hills towards Florence the sky opened up, timed perfectly for us to enjoy the beautiful landscape.

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Finally the sun had broken through the clouds and warmed us during the day. It was only during the nights in the higher altitudes that we were reminded of the season, discovering frozen condensed water in our tent.

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After reaching the highest point, around 1000m, we dropped down into Tuscany, reaching Florence in the late afternoon.

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For our rest days in the renaissance capital, we had booked a hostel. We rolled into the front garden and were welcomed by another cycle tourer munching on bread and cheese.

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Jens has been on the road for 21 months cycling from his home town in Germany to Singapore and now was on his way back. He had cycled through East Europe, Turkey, all the -stans, China and Southeast Asia in company and solo, carrying endless stories and helpful tricks and tips.

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The next morning, we also met Ornella, who was walking the pilgrim path Via Francigena. With a heavy backpack and walking 25–35km a day she was looking forward to some rest as much as we were.

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Hidden community garden, growing herbs with fruity flavours. You could pick them to create your own herbal tea.

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Florence was delightful and we spent many hours wandering through the city, enjoying the off season with less tourists around. We also completed our checklist of stuff we needed, only failing to find gas for our stove. Luckily Jens, the experienced cycle tourer, had the perfect solution and showed us how to build a entirely new alcohol stove, using only two beer cans.

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A few beers and some instructions later, our new stove was burning bright!

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We left Florence in the afternoon after waving our two new friends goodbye and followed the windy roads south towards Siena. It had drizzled a little and the roads were slippy. On a steep downwards curve it happened: Boom – Crash! Lucy lost control of the heavy rear of the bike and went head over heels down the road.

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One leg down, we took our time through Tuscany, enjoying local wine and Pici-Pasta, and were visited by wild boar in the night.

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We had no trouble taking our time. Despite the challenging hilly landscape, we could have spent weeks exploring the region. Every climb rewarded us with stunning views and every evening we set up camp in awe of the colourful sunsets.

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Following the pilgrim path Via Francigena, we cycled through Siena and visited the natural hot springs of Bagno San Filippo and Saturnia. Between the muddy sulphur smelling pools, big limestone formations looked like frozen waterfalls, making the landscape surreal and unique.

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Floating in the hot pools and enjoying nature, we decided to change plans. We had both heard fantastic things about cycling in Sardinia, so instead of continuing all the way to busy Rome, we hit the west coast just north of it in Civitavecchia to catch a ferry.

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Still smelling like hot spring, celebrating our last night on Italian main land in a wine bar

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The detour via Sardinia offered to be a far quieter option, with empty roads twisting through stunning landscapes. Oh and have I mentioned the white sand beaches, DIY cellar wine and illegal maggot cheese. More about that in Italy Pt. 2…

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