Thursday, May 20, 1999

My Cycletour of Italian Lake area Corsica and beyond 1999

My Cycle-tour of Italian Lake area  Corsica and beyond 1999
6'4" Aussie Carl Hemmings has been riding a Bike Friday for more than ten years in Europe, Czech Republic and beyond. A skilled toolmaker, he's even been known to make his own chainrings! Submitted for the 2007 Cycle Oregon BF Homecoming Story Contest.

The past 15 days I have spent cycling around the Italian Lake area.
I started of by getting a bus from Prague to Romeo and Juliet town Verona Italy. I wanted to see a bit of the Giro de Italia bike race. I camped in the gardens of the Youth hostel, the cheapest so far L8000 ($7 Australia) including breakfast and a cellar toilet/shower room which when the sun shone through the stained class window gave an appearance of a holy shrine.

I met an American cyclist who had ridden from Napoli; Joseph was his name we ended up hanging out together. We planned to make a early start to ride to the top of Lago di Garda (80 km) to watch the Giro come past, but it was such a glorious day, when we saw a vacant table in the piazza, we called it ours, and sat back and watched the world pass by. We did see some of the Giro, from a cafe TV!
I enjoyed Verona, the city has a good feel to it, and I cruised around the narrow streets on my small-wheeled Bike Friday getting many curious looks from the well-dressed Italians. Most Italians cheer when they see me, they call out "BELLA BICICLETTA!" (beautiful bicycle).
I made my way to Lago di Garda the next day, as I was passing a small village cafe, the owner called out "where you from? As soon as I told him I was from Australia he came out with a free pineapple juice. Later in the day an Italian couple on a Harley Davidson motto bike, came over and were so impressed with the bike they took a photo of it.

Cycling around Lake Garda was a like a little bit like riding around Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay with mountains as extra scenery. There were a lot of people out just as to be looked at, and lots of traffic. At one stage a group of 100 Vesper motto scooters came past me, there horns beeping me for encouragement.
I continued to Lago di Tenno, then the Madonna di Campiglio 1600m, it's the mountain finish of a Giro stage won by Pantanni, as I climbed I had awesome views of the Brenta Gruppo Dolomites. In the last 3 days or so I cycled Lago di Iseo, Lago di Garlate, and now Lago di Como

I rode up to the Madonna di Ghisallo; the chapel dedicated to the sufferings of cyclists. I needed a bit of a breather before I went in the chapel, I felt a little light headed from trying to keep up with a Italian racer out on a training run, my legs felt like jelly as well. I entered the holy shrine, mounted on the chapel walls, were bicycles from the 1920 Giro di Italia, bicycles from the Italian champions Coppi and Bartalli; Francesco Mosers hour record bike; the Belgian "cannibal" Eddy Merkx orange machine, and a tragic reminder of how dangerous professional bike racing is: the twisted bicycle of young 22 year old Fabio Castelli. He passed away on a descent of the Pyrenees mountains in the 1995 Giro race. All so on display were jerseys from cycling legends, Migel Indurain, Greg Lemond, Merkx, Gimondi, Bartalli, and Coppi, to name a few. It was all overwhelming.

There have been plenty of little hard hills, the humid weather making them extra hard. I am a little disappointed with the amount of industry around the lake area. But I have met plenty of friendly/helpful people along my way, and must decide in what direction to ride next.
From LAKE COMO I decided to head South towards GENOVA, I didn't leave the city till 3pm! I paid for my indecision on which direction to take - I had to combat large truck traffic and a gust of wind that nearly made me come to a stand-still, so I got of the main road into the small villages. I got lost in the spaghetti like roads which followed the steepest hill they could find.
I made it to camp at 9.30pm totally stuffed.

On the way to PAVIA (35km Sth. of Milano), I took a side trip to village called Morimondo for a shot of espresso to pep me up. It was a nice surprise to be greeted by a monastery & open trattoria. That's where David & Cristina from Milano invited me over for drinks.
I had a wonderful afternoon eating gelato, sipping vino, espresso & enjoying "la Dolce vita" - the sweet life! I bid farewell, hopped back onto my bike feeling "happy", for the 20km ride to PAVIA. I couldn't feel my legs, there wasn't the usual discomfort in the groin area, I find when I have a little alcohol in my system it makes me ride harder. So when a old man buzzed past me on his moped, I accelerated & jumped onto his wheel. I was on "the big ring & the rivet", to try to catch him! Once I was in his slip stream, we cruised along at 35 - 40km/hr, it was great to do some motor-pacing.
Josepy said, "You have made it into the outskirts of PAVIA in half an hour!"

PAVIA has a university, so it's a lively city with a great old town centre. I explored Pavia city on foot, I have sore right knee the result from pushing it yesterday, sitting behind that moped. The Province of PAVIA is a beautiful area made up of small sandstone mountains (1500m) ;there are many wine types to choose from.
Local vino of Pavia/Oltrepo:
*Bonarda* (sparkling red, nice),
*Buttafuoco* (dry sparkling red, OK),
*Sangue di Giuda* (sweet sparking red, taste like fizzy cordial),
Pinot Nero,
Pinot Grigio,
Riesling Italico,
Barbera, Cortese, Moscato,  Malvasia.
(*) The vino I tried.

I'm now 60km East of Geneva at Levanto. It's the last camping place before "Cinque Terre", 5 separate coastal villages perched on rocky ledges overlooking the sea. To get here, I had to go through 4 x 3km "Black as Black" one lane tunnels, my dyno-light hardly making an imprint in the ink like soup.

Tomorrow I will catch a train to "Cinque Terre" and maybe walk back along the coastal walking-track back to the camp ...