At ease in Italy
Siena, Bettolle, St Martino, Assisi, Foligno, Ascoli, St Benedetto, Pescara, Termoli, Foggia, Bari, Brindisi, Lecce. Total Kms3014
It was a very tough ride from the city of Siena to the Adriatic coast. The mountains in the East of the country are not high and I stayed as far north as possible but I was still very cold and at one point it started to snow quite heavily. This route has taken me slightly further North than I had hoped but it was a choice between missing out the mountains and having bad weather for a couple of days or staying further south and having better weather but climbing much higher mountains. I was advised by one of the guys who worked in the hotel and was a keen cyclist that that the route I had chosen was probably the best as most of the villages in the mountains to the south were small and there would be very few if any hotels or places to stay.
It was a comfort to finally reach the sea and once again the weather became much warmer making it easier for me to start adding up the Kms riding just over a 100Kms each day. It’s a comfortable distance to ride with stops for lunch, photographs and I still have time to sit and talk to anyone I might meet on the road. It also gives me enough time in the evening after checking into the hotel to have a walk, get to know the town a little and have dinner. This is a very rural and poor part of Italy, I don’t think this part of the coast from Pescara to Bari sees many tourist, it’s been hard to find hotels in any of the towns I get to, most of the tourist stay on the highway and head straight for the ports of Bari or Brindisi to catch fast ferries onto Greece. This area also has a dark heart as I found out one afternoon. I had stopped at a truck stop for something to eat and as I rode up to the restaurant I could see the people inside looking out at me, I wasn’t surprised as it happens all the time because I must look very strange with a scarf round my face to stop the wind and sun plus my alien looking bike helmet. I went inside and ordered a pizza and a beer and took a seat to eat my food, the drivers and other customers looked over at me every now and then. I don’t speak Italian so some of the customers would have heard me make my order in English and having to point to what I wanted would make me a little more interesting. It wasn’t until I got up to pay that I noticed the place was covered in Mussolini paraphernalia the walls had posters and photographs all over them and cabinets around the restaurant where full of medals, badges, mugs and anything you could get a photo of Mussolini on. The day before a farmer had invited me into his house as I was passing for a glass of homemade wine he had told me to be very careful in Bari because of drugs and fascism, I thought he was talking about the war but he was trying to tell me that it was still happening today.
The town of Foggia was the usual nightmare. I arrived late and it already dark, I saw one or two odd characters wandering around the streets and at one point I had to stop at a large group of young guys standing at a set of traffic lights, I was going to jump the lights so I wouldn’t have to stop but the guy in the car in front wasn’t sure what he was doing and I couldn’t get around him in time, they guys didn’t even look at me, a boy on a bike is no threat and if I had money I would have been in a car not on a bike. I hope this philosophy works in all the tight spots or odd places I find myself in. I stopped a man in the street in the middle of the town to ask about a hotel he told me most were on the outskirts of the town but he said it was too dangerous to ride through on my bike at night, I told him I had just come that way and he said that I was very lucky, he had lived in the city all his life but would never go to that area at night. Ignorance really is bliss, I had no idea.
The next day on the ride to the port of Bari was interesting; I stopped for water and a snack in a small village that was crawling with police in cars or on bikes. Riding along I saw lines of men and women walking up the road towards me, I stopped a guy and asked him where they were all going; he said that they had just come off a ship and arrived illegally none of them had papers so they would not be able to stay in Italy. The police were waiting to arrest them and take them to a huge tented camp, as I went on I saw the camp, it was as if there had been a natural disaster like an earthquake and the authorities had quickly put up a makeshift town, I suppose the illegal immigrants might stay there for years while the Italians try to work out what to do with them. Italy has been a fantastic country to ride through; Tuscany is a place I would love to spend more time. The countryside was just stunning, with great food and lovely people .The countryside in the South was not as interesting but I still enjoyed riding most of it although I don’t think I will go back to some of the towns down there in a hurry.
I rode south of Brindisi to a small town called Leece and its here that Italians go in the summer to escape the tourists who flock to Italy. I stayed in a small hotel in the centre of the town, very private and quiet and had my walk with the locals through the main streets in the evening. The Christmas fair was starting the day I arrived so the city was all lit up and a concert took place in the main square. It was a fantastic rest from the bike and travelling, almost a little within my holiday before the next part of the journey. Then it was back up to Brindisi for the ferry to Greece a 17 hour crossing that I wasn’t looking forward to as I’m not the best of sailors. I had a cabin so at least I could get a bit of sleep and forget that I was on a ferry. I almost missed the ferry even though I was at the port 2 hours early as it stated on my ticket. When I arrived I had no idea where to go so I asked a policeman working at the port, he told me to wait in the car park and I would eventually be called, at about 1.15pm after waiting for over an hour I went over to the office to find out what was going on as the ferry left at 2.00pm. The man who had told me to wait had gone home and the guy I spoke to didn’t know I was waiting, he told me to ride like mad towards to the check-in desk on the other side of the port, all the cars had been loaded and they were loading the trucks when I arrived, so me and my little bike had to wait in line with trucks to get on.
I have never been to Greece, the roads won’t be as good as they have been in France and Italy, tough on me and on the bike; I will make my way along the coast to Athens. Then I’m not sure what route to take, I could go to one of the Greek Islands from Athens and from there a boat to Syria, cross Syria back into Turkey then on to Tehran, or I could head north to Istanbul, get my visa for Iran and head south through Turkey to Iran. I think it depends on the weather, staying south should be warmer; I will see how things are when I get to Athens and make a decision then. Whatever route I take it’s going to be an interesting part of the journey.
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