Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cinque Terre

Jane: We left the safe confines of Piacenza and headed for the hills. Our ultimate aim was the coast and it took us 3 days to get there. Three very eventful days. The first day was a gentle climb into some stunning alpine country. We kept going around corners and getting more amazing views of green, green fields and churches nestled into hillsides - ridiculously pretty really. Much more attractive alpine scenery than I was expecting.

We camped for the first time and put some of our new kit through its paces. We used our new camping seats (thanks Mum and Dad - they're brilliant!) and folding plastic plates (nice one Marion - they've saved us heaps of room and work really well). It was pretty cool up in the hills and it rained the following morning so we set off really late. We only had about 60kms that day so weren't fazed about the late start. The beginning of the day was an 8km switchback climb. As Geoff said, these are very old roads made for low powered vehicles so the gradient is gentle. I just put it into granny gear and just pootled up. My bike computer said 8 degrees celcius at the top of the mountain but I swear it was colder than that. We heard later that it had snowed in the hills above us that day. Our kit was not warm enough and we nearly froze. We came across a beautiful little town that we decided to stay in but all the accommodation places were shut because it was Monday..... We got chatting to a lovely bus driver who said he ran a B&B in a town we hadn't heard of. After looking at a map, we realised it was a better option than where we were headed to camp. So after another 500m climb and a lovely (but cold) whizz down the other side, we arrived at the B&B in the most beautiful building in Bedonia.

The following day was another gentle 15km climb to a 1,055m pass. We descended into yet another stunning valley. We arrived at our destination quite easily only to find that the duelling banjo like locals had no idea where the campsite on our map was. So we pushed on to the next stop -that was the coast. A 1km tunnel brought us out onto the top of a mountain with the ocean in view, the start of the Cinque Terre.

We are camping with a large portion of Germany. It's doing my language brain in - I'm trying very hard to speak and listen to Italian, but now my school German keeps popping up. We are dressed like Euro tourists and so people keep speaking German to me....

The Cinque Terre is every bit as stunning as it is reputed to be. We've walked the sea side trails between the five towns in two days in beautiful weather. Very old towns set on rocky coast lines - just breath taking. It's also very busy - god forbid it gets busier than this. You hear every accent under the sun along the way - lots of Italians, Germans, Americans, Poms and loads of Aussies as well. I know that we're tourists but I hope we behave better than some of the tourists we're seeing here. It's been a bit of a shock to the system being amongst so many of them all at once. We're looking forward to hiding in some more remote villages and inflicting our dreadful Italian on them..

I'd put a photo here but can't use the USB port on the 'puter...

But now I have one:

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Jane: We spent our first day of cycling heading to Piacenza. My cousin Amanda, her husband Sean and their two kids (Claire 2 and Nina 12 weeks - so cute!) are there for a year while Sean learns a base of skull surgical specialisation. It was another hot day but we arrived by 14:00 and so avoided the worst of it. Mostly the navigation was pretty easy but it will take a while to get used to Italian maps and roads and directions given quickly in Italian. We cycled through some really beautiful country side - very picturesque old farm houses and buildings. And lots of water - I don't think you don't realise how much a drought affects your physche until you go to a country that has no water issues. At one stage we saw two little canals crossing each other at right angles - on above the other.

The city of Piacenza is delightful - but not a touristy city at all. Population only about 100,000. It has an amazing old 12th century cathedral half built of marble and the rest of ordinary brick because they ran out of money (or something, never let the truth get in the way of a good story). The shopping seems really good, not my specialty, but another cousin Stacey (who was also staying here with her husband David and their little Olivia 2 and my Aunt Dell as part of a little holiday from London) vouched for it.

We've spent a really lovely couple of days here just stuffing around, enjoying a convergence of family. They all ran away to the Cinque Terra for the weekend and very kindly let us stay in their lovely 3 storey apartment close to the centre of town. Sean said there was a swimming pool here so we set off on our bikes and were delighted to find a very well maintained 25 metre pool mainly used for water polo (a very popular sport here). We had a good swim but only after we were both given swimming caps by the very kind pool staff as we didn't have our own and they are mandatory - "sorry, we're Australians...." we seemed to get away with it.

More great food - we've actually cooked for ourselves for the first time here. The produce is fantastic, we bought skewers of meat (we think it was chicken and sausage, might have been rabbit?) for one meal and trout for another - all very good.

The weather finally changed and it was much cooler, it even rained a bit - very welcome.


Jane: We got an unexpected view of the Alps on the flight into Milan. If we'd thought about it, we would have realised that we had to fly over them but looking out the window seeing lovely white pointy mountains was a real treat! It was 33 degrees when we got off the plane. I'd put on a thermal at Heathrow to keep warm and thought I was going to expire. We had a very pleasant interaction with the staff at the airport when our third piece of luggage didn't appear on the carousel. We were informed that it had decided to stay in London and that it would be delivered to our hotel tonight.

We spent two days in Milan getting ready for the trip. We picked up bikes from the Italian Trek dealer in the beautiful town of Bergamo, just north of Milan. We did the touristy things – the Duomo (stunning pink marble that I’m sure was black when I saw it in 1990), the Leonardo di Vinci science museum and just pootling around a beautiful Italian city.

The weather stayed very hot. It was cool until about 11:00 and then would really heat up. I know we’re Australians and should be able to stand this heat but it was really knocking us around. I was very pleasantly surprised that people actually said things and asked questions in phrases that I’d learnt. I can do this language thing! We had a very funny episode in a fruit shop were I did my usual mispronunciation of ‘sch’ and asked for fish instead of nectarines…. The fruit vendor laughed and we explained we were Australians. The conversation then turned (in Italian) to kangaroos putting bread and marmalade into their pouches (???!!!) – I get the feeling there will be many kangaroo conversations. I’m very glad I learnt some Italian for the trip. I’m not proficient by any stretch of the imagination but I can do the basics and it’s quite satisfying to be able to do that.

The food – maybe I just ate rubbish food when I was here last but we’ve both been blown away by how good everything is. The fruit is amazing – the grapefruits are so juicy and sweet, the strawberries are so tasty, the nectarines are perfect at the moment – it’s heaven! We’ve eaten out a lot and every meal has been great – just little restaurants with simple menus.

Our first experiences of riding the bikes have been fine. We’ve both ridden on the wrong side of the road before so that bit wasn’t a problem. It was the reputation of the Italian drivers that we were a bit nervous about. I have to say that our experience so far is that they are infinitely more courteous towards to bikes than in Australia (not hard really…). The traffic just seems to flow, not always obeying the road rules - traffic lights seem to be more of a guide than a restriction.

Monday, May 21, 2007

We're nearly there - Italy that is

Jane: We're sitting in the BA lounge at Heathrow waiting for the final leg of the flight to Milan. I feel like we've joined at least eleven queues since Sydney airport - probably because we have. Gotta love all the new airport security procedures. The flights so far have been uneventful, which is as they should be.

I can't believe we're finally about to get to Italy. I have visions of not being able to speak any Italian as I'll just be giggling - not sure I can take myself seriously trying to tell someone I have a reservation... ah well. The challenge will be to stay awake and get into local time. The sun sets at about 9pm in Milan at the moment, so there will be lovely twilight which I don't plan to see tonight.