A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

From Avignon to Salzburg

all seasons in one day

After a relaxing stay of good food and swimming, it's with heavy legs that my friend and I pull onto to the road, bound for the Med. Chilled has joined me for a 2 week cycle to Salzburg in Austria, traveling along the Mediterranean coastal road until Genoa, where we turn North, through the Alps and towards the finish line.

The first day is spent meandering through a quiet French road. In the heat of the day we settle down on the verge, next to a church. The midday heat is so intense, and there is little breeze to provide even the slightest relief, so we rely on heavy perspiration, shade, and naturally - Tea! Putting the heavily contested 'tea cools you down' argument to the test, we boil up a roadside brew. Certainly failing to convince the bemused locals, no doubt wondering why on earth these two wierdos are making a hot drink in 40 degrees, Chilled and I resolve on the perhaps stubborn belief that tea does cool you down, whilst also providing an excuse to knock back half a packet of biscuits.

The passing of the shade awakes us from an afternoon snooze, and we struggle back onto the hot French lane, further meandering through the arid but splendid countryside. Great precipices of rock shoot out of from the top of the dense Oak woodland, and the relentless buzz of the Cicadas surrounds us.

A irritating clicking sound slowly develops from my front wheel. We stop and borrow some tools from a local garage. After taking it apart we learn that the bearing cone inside the hub has cracked, essentially mangling the inside. Already on my second major mechanical failure, I wheel it into the next town. After trying every bike shop I finally source a cheap second hand wheel from a very friendly and helpful bike mechanic. Lovely! Wheel see how long it lasts.

With a fantastic tail wind providing an almost effortless leg to the coast, it is with a strong sense of relief that we escape the still inland heat, and reach the Med. A nice brew of Earl Gray and a swim. The agreeable water temperature permits a run and dive - no awkward, arms in the air looking like a monkey getting into the water. Though I admit the painful stony beach reduces the elegance slightly.

We spend the next 3 to 4 days traveling East along the coastal road. We share our views with mania a yacht, of every size and extent of extravagance you can imagine (including the largest of them all - the Russian owned 'A') - quite the contrast to our bikes, beards and token plastic bags rattling off the back in the passing breeze. Such is the wealth and popularity of this region that after not very long we notice a trend. We'd enter a town, our path lined with hotels on the left and an extensive army of beach goers on the right. As this subsides the road would then climb, traveling out towards the edge of the bay. When Chilled and I finally breached the top, drenched in sweat but excited by what was to follow, the road would then descend into the next bay, faced with another larger town, much like the one before.

Enjoyable for a while, but then enduring to escape this pattern we pushed hard for the Italian boarder, only to find that there is little difference. A rather nasty tunnel entrance leads us into Genoa. Pushing through we head North and inland. Knowing what's coming we charge ourselves with a hearty lunch of fruit, cheese and of course, bread, and head off at a slow and cautious pace. As the valley walls close in the road begins to climb. We stop and briefly talk to a local who tells us with a beaming smile that we are at the foot of a 16k climb. Aware that this is Chilled's first pass on bike, we begin slowly. Climbing together, we pass the second grave of a professional cyclist that I've come across. We bear down to it, and as time passes so does the tarmac. Many minutes and sweat drops later, the hill tops appear to be nearing, and the valley floor reluctantly vanishes behind the ridge of the road bellow. The sun is going down and the air cools as we get higher. Finally we slowly peddle to the top, and enjoy a camp amongst a pine forest, where the cool air provides a refreshing change from the heat of the Med. We rest our heads with the enjoyable thought that we start the day tomorrow with a long decent, down into Parma.

Well, not quite. The downhill is very gradual, and a frustrating headwind picks up with the heat, so we are faced with the disappointing task of having to cycle downhill - something I stubbornly believe I shouldn't have to do on a bike, especially considering the climb which was necessary to get us there. Exhausted we roll into the seemingly peaceful and picturesque town of Parma, stopping at Lidl's to refresh with a cooking tin of tea and a large packet of biscuits - I eat so many that I feel sick. Bluh ......

Onwards north through Italy, and we breach the Alpine boarder along the lovely lapping shores of Lake Garde, a huge fresh water basin that plays host to windsurfing, kitesurfing (getting itchy already), sailing, and a whole manner of activities. Sights of family's enjoying some summer time together; feeding ducks, relaxing in restaurants and trying to appease their screaming children with molten ice creams. As we are blown north by another tail wind, the bare faced, almost vertical slopes of the surrounding rock increase in scale, suggesting the onset of some nasty mountain passes - Clearly, a trip to lidl's is required. Post sugar binge, we peal ourselves off the wall from our heavy slump, head north, and are surprised, as much as we are delighted to find that a bike path, built along an old railway, provides us with an easy and traffic free route through the mountains.

Through Trento and Bolzano, we follow the valley East, and come across a charming little cottage, with a friendly old lady who hands us a bar of chocolate. There's a flat patch of grass, a picnic bench, a water fountain and well rounded pine tree to complete the scene. The ideal camping spot, we set up the kitchen and get going. Then we a joined by another cyclist, who is middle aged, drunk, and very annoying. He sits down and pours out some whiskey from his water bottle, clearly stating his intention to stay with us for at least a while. He shouts to us from across the picnic bench tales of his life, elaborating with gestures and acting. I realise that as my wine goes down I start to enjoy his lively and animated company. But our consumption is disproportionate, and we are soon back to our original difference, and he is annoying again. After stories of things stolen, we bunk down with bikes locked, and Chilled struggles to relax into a deep sleep.

A swift exit the next morning, we push on to the alpine town of Lienz. The day is warm, with blue skies filling the deep valley, contrasting with the lush green hills that climb up from both sides. A brief stop in Lienz, we head straight North to Salzburg, and an easy valley accent quickly turns a little more fraught. An approaching thunder storm chases us up the valley, with flashes of lightening and rumbles of thunder poking a big stick at us. The thought of riding a steel bicycle through a thunder storm adds to the sense of urgency to get to the top. The storm is winning the race, hiding the view of the valley behind it's thick veil of rain. We get to the top just in time, trundling into the top village where we await a lift through a 5k tunnel.

In the van, the sense of moving uphill faster than 3k an hour, with no effort required is a delightful novelty, where I watch the switch backs disappear behind land and rain. Delusional with visions of a clear weather valley on the other side, it is with sad realisation that we get out of the van into to the same storm that we left in the previous valley. We bed down on a tarmacked wind break, provided by a snack shack near the exit of the tunnel.

Awakening to another descent, we puff up with layers of t shirts and waterproofs and make a steep descent into a misty valley. Chilled is in Tour De France mode, as he races past me, head down and clenching the drops of his handle bars. I choose to enjoy the effortless sensation, freewheeling into the next town with a more upright posture, still feeling half asleep. Salzburg is an easy ride down a valley, so we spend a gloriously sunny day following the river and the railway downwards, reviewing the last two weeks with 'best and worsts'.

The last night is terrifying. What starts as another usual camp, descends into stormy chaos. Lying in my tent, my fingers are stuck in my ears as I can hear a thunderstorm approaching from over the ridge. The lightening illuminates everything, and I can feel the thunder ripple up the valley, rumbling the ground beneath me. I lye in my tent, wondering if I'm going to die, and I later learn that Chilled is doing the same. The sense of doom is aided by our foolish choice of campsite - directly under some electrical pylons. Just when it seems the storm has passed...........FLASH!! and CRACK!! A bolt lands no further than a few 100 meters away, followed by the most ear piercing crackle of thunder.... Convinced that that must be all the lightening in the universe spent, I collapse into a deep sleep, frail, aged and emotionally exhausted.

Happy to awake the next day we cycle out of the northern perimeter of the Alps, and finally into Salzburg. We are welcomed by a many great buildings, plenty of parks and novelty puppets of Mozart displayed in shop windows.

Here I say goodbye to Chilled, who has made the most fantastic cycling pirate I've ever had the fortune to spend two weeks with. Chilled's girlfriend Ellie has come to meet us, and we enjoy an evening in a restaurant together, telling tales of the road.

YAAARRRRRRRRRRR!!!

Posted by Banana Spokes 12:14 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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