See the section for Europe of the Trento Bike Pages.

London to Rome, Part 3: Italy

By Wayne Wakeman (wakeman@lamar.ColoState.EDU), September 1995
This is part 3 of the report of a tour Wayne Wakeman did in the summer of '95.

You may see the one-file version which is big (53k), although you may want to load it for printing. You may want to browse the other sections:

or see the Index.

28 July 95

Got up early and rode the 35? km to Montpellier. The hostel was full and the camping was back at the beach so I found a fairly cheap hotel room (3me etage) and went to the gare. They wanted to ship my bike separately by way of Paris. It would be at least 5 days before it caught up with me. No. I broke it down and wrapped it in the space blanket with lots of tape. I hope it works. I am Very nervous about it. -Didn't do much in Montpellier because I was stressing over and preparing the bike. At night I finally went out again. As it happens, I was in town for the Petanque tournament. Wow! They are worse than golfers, always checking their lie and replacing their divots. That was in the Place de la Comedie, a huge square where everything was going on. It was great and my hotel is just down the street. Had a gruyere crepe. Wonderful, and I had almost gone to McDonalds for a cheeseburger.

My train leaves at 2:00 heading for Nice. At Nice I change to a train for Milan. Then at 1:30 in the morning, I get a train to Florence. If everything goes right, I arrive at 5:30 Saturday morning. I am so nervous about it. Odo = 1439 or so Today = ~40 km

Montpellier - Nice 1:55 - 6:12 Nice - Milan 6:25 - 11:00 Milan - Florence 1:35 - 5:14

29 July 95

It seems to be working so far. I managed to load my bike on and find my way to my seat. It was really crowded. I had to kick someone out of my seat. I sat with my big shopping bag on my lap to Marseilles. Just out of Marseilles now (I looked for Le Corbusier's apartments but couldn't see them). The guy next to me got off so now I have some room. I think the hardest is over but I do have a 13 minute connection in Nice.

-Part two was a little more adventurous. At Nice I ran to make the connection - barely. It looked like people were standing anyway so there probably wasn't room in the compartments. No problem. I stood near the door, keeping out of people's way. People got by, the conductor punched my ticket, no problems. Then 3&1/2 hours into the 4&1/2 hour ride, some guy starts giving me shit for having a bike. He is talking about kicking me off at the next station. I just keep telling him that is not possible; I can't do that. He finally gets around to it that it is OK if I put my bike in one of the compartments. Well, why didn't you say so? It is less crowded now and I find some space in one. In Milan now, and worrying about the final leg. I can't believe it will be a problem. The train leaves at 1:30 in the morning. Who will be on it? -Extra notes: -You could tell when we crossed into Italy. Everything looked a little dirtier and poorer(Of course, this coming directly from the Cote d'Azur). -Either I'm getting used to paying alot or money does go further here. I just bought a ham & cheese on Focaccia at the station and didn't feel like I got ripped off.[NOTE: I was getting used to paying more; Italy wasn't that cheap.] -Ever since I've gotten to the more touristy places, I have felt a little less safe (not for me as much as my luggage and fanny pack).

I DID IT! I am at the Piazza Michelangelo on a hill overlooking Florence. It is near the campground. Check-in starts at 10:00. It is 6:30 now. Train arrived at 5:00. As everyone warned me the streets are bizarre. Mild cobblestones and all one way, only never the way I wanted to go. Sunday morning is the best and worst time to arrive. No one on the roads but everything is closed. [Nonsense, everything opened later.] I still don't know if I got away with something on the train or if I was just another guy with a taped-up bike. I haven't really slept since yesterday morning and I am kind of hungry. I bought some food for yesterday and today but can't really eat or sleep right now.

30 July 95

It happened. I was taking a picture of the Duomo. A gypsy girl holding her baby runs into me. (It wasn't that crowded.) My first reaction was to get her away from me, then I checked my fanny pack. Nothing missing. I was totally dazed though. I just started walking and checked my bag alot. A guy came up to me right after and told me. I said that I knew and she hadn't gotten anything. He had been watching her and said that she just ran into me and the baby stuck his hand in my pack. I have to admit she picked a good target. My hands and eyes were occupied and my pack was open. The thing is it was just the section where I keep my camera and plane ticket, not the compartment with money and cards. What would she have done with a ticket to Portland?

I saw much today, though. Lots of churches and tombs and such. The two big galleries had short days and long lines. I might not get to see them. As far as the cathedrals go, it is nice to see a different twist on the same idea, but I like the big grey gothic ones better. These are green and white with domes and a slightly different layout.

The Ponte Vecchio was interesting. It is a very old bridge line with shops. Lots of expensive jewelry. Of course the gelato is great. Between that and all the pasta, I could spend alot on food here.

As I was walking back, I happened upon another huge, more gothic church. It turns out this is where the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli are. Dante's tomb is also here but he isn't. This was the Santa Croce.

There are at least four statues of the David here. I know the real one is here but I'm not sure where it is.

31 July 95

The day I didn't do anything. I got up, cashed some travelers checks, had an Italian lunch -spaghetti, bad ham, good mozzeralla, good wine, and walked by all the closed museums, came back to camp, slept & sweated in the heat. Got up, rode downtown, got water & breakfast for tomorrow, went to dinner. Wonderful dinner L35,000! Excellent Lasagne, Veal, Wine, Gelati. Try for Siena tomorrow. Odo = 1454.6 Today = 15.6 Tired all day today. Hope I can make it to Rome. Camping = L29,000 for 2 nights.

1 August 95

Once again I turned a short day into long. I had an easy route planned for Siena but the signs to Siena took me on another route. No matter, I did okay. Had to ride on the freeway once until the polizia reminded me I couldn't. I wanted to get off anyway and the exit was 300 metres away. One major hill with a closed snack bar at the top to tease those who were about out of water. Actually ended up at Slovicille, SW 13km of Siena. Three more good days like today and I will be right outside Roma. Odo = 1557.0 Today = 102.4

2 August 95

I can't believe I actually made it. There were several times I was sure I wouldn't. Today was the day I didn't think I could find a camping or hostel in one day's range. But looking through a camping guide at last night's terrain de camping, I found one that might work. The only problem was getting there early enough to beat the reservation game. Got up (yesterday also) at 5:30. On the road at 6:30. Had ~7km of steep, rocky dirt road early. No problem, got through. About midday, the chain started acting up again. I've two more days of riding. I'm not going to get a new one. That and the hills started. The kind that go on and on. A couple times I was probably more bored that tired. Anyway I started making my goal the next town (10km to Montalchino) and eating away at the last 30-40 km. Got here before 1:00. Plenty of space. Also, three pools, meaning expensive. (L27,000) Everything in this town is closed: closed till 4 or closed because it is Wednesday, whyever that is. Had a great dinner of spaghetti and pizza that would have been cheap had I not ordered two Cokes also. It is so hard (or expensive) to get a cold drink here. Two more good days and 1 short day into Rome. Not long now. Odo = 1673.5 Today = 116.5 -They must take a nap from 2-4pm. The camp 'directions' prohibit any traffic and noise at this time as well as at night.

3 August 95

WOW! This has been such a great day. I don't even believe a day like this could exist after yesterday. I got up at 5, on the road at 6. Started mild, then hit the usual long, slow, painful, boring climb. But it was early, and cool still, and my attitude was good. After that hill or two things leveled off. Towns on the map started coming quickly. Stopped in Aquapendante for breakfast. Had to wait 40 min for them to open but I didn't have to go much further so I dozed (and let my legs get cold) until they opened. Got some pastry/cookie things, almonds, yogurt, water. Back on the road at 9:30. Made it to the campsite just after 11:00 (L12,500). Lots more forest today and this campsite is in a forest on a huge lake - Lago di Bolsena. Odo = 1756.6 Today = 83.1 km

4 August 95

Although I expected the worst, today was exactly like yesterday. A few more hills but once again up a 5, on the road at 6, wait for supermercado to open until 8:30. Make campsite in forest by big lake just after 11:00. Only today I am only 35km from ROME! (camping = L15,000) ODO = 1847.7 Today = 91.1 km

-Kind of weird. I speak French to these people. I always say Oui instead of Si, and other phrases just come out French. I don't know if I'm just used to it from being in France or if I don't want to sound like a unilingual Americano. -Last night a lady asked if I was German. That happened once in France too. I wonder if it is because I am off the American vacation path. Most non- Italians here are German, Dutch, Danish, etc. -I've quit shaving, partly because I am almost out of cream (They only sell huge cans), partly because it reflects my attitude - I am ready to get out of here and come home. -In Italy, they mostly drink this bottled, carbonated water. I've gotten to the point I don't mind paying for water, but I hate this gassy stuff. It is just Hooper water, and I never did like that.

5 August 95

Rode into Rome, found the youth hostel w/o too much problem. Decided to hit the hostel instead of camping after a not-so-good night. Lack of air mattress and perhaps a little food poisoning. Felt much better today. 2 hours and 38 km to get here. Check-in isn't until 12 but I will wait. Sounds like they have room if you are here at noon. -Got a room but I don't know where my hostel card went. Had to pay L25,000 per night. Oh well, I am now set up until I leave.

-There is so much to see here. But I got a start and a plan today. I took the bus and metro to the Spanish Steps (disappointing, they were all blocked off) because that is where the AMEX office is. Cashed the rest of my cheques. Should last me. Wandered around until I found Trevi fountain. It was spectacular. The play of the water over the sculpture is perfect. Walked to the Pantheon. Wow, it is so incredible. Just huge. Impossible to get a good perspective of camera angle. I had to stop by again later and make sure I had inspected it properly. 1900 years old. The big surprise of the day was a church around the corner. Looks absolutely dull on the outside but inside it was delightfully gothic. The ceiling was a heavenly blue/stars motif with the usual assortment of characters painted against it. Had some nice paintings and Micheangelo's statue of Christ bearing the cross. Also had tombs of some famous? saints and what-not, but it had some tombs with skulls and crossbones on them. I don't know if they were real or sculpted, but it looked great. These churches are so nice because they are dark and quiet and cool, often have pews to sit on, relax, check the guidebook. Only I would loved to have taken some photos but it seemed inappropriate. Headed to Piazza Navone. A huge square where they used to hold contests and such. Now it has three big fountains. The middle one was great (Bernini, I think). A tall obelisk surrounded by four figures representing the major river of each (4?) continent. The head of the African one was under a shroud because they didn't know where the Nile began. Followed some famous street to the Ponte de Saint Angelo and the Palazzo de Saint Angelo across the river. Cool bridge lined with angel statues. The Palace has Saint Angelo sheathing his sword, which some guy saw as a vision and caused the Black Death to end. (Tell that to the bacteria) Anyway, I'm crossing the bridge and some kid walks up to me with a newspaper. I say 'No thanks' and keep walking. He keeps up with me and, like a sucker, I eventually look down at the paper. He holds it up against me to block my view as he reaches for my fanny pack. If it hadn't been so pathetic, I really would have lost it. Anyway, there was a period when they turned this Saint Angelo place into a fortress and in looking for a way to get on my way away from it I ended up walking along the very tall wall of this deep trench eventually only ending up where I started. The palace/church whatever is right near the Vatican and is connected by a long, huge wall. Cool. Since I was close, I headed towards the Vatican, even though that will be my Monday trek. I caught the Poste right before it closed and stamped my postcards so I can get a Vatican postmark. It really is a separate country. I paid in Lira but my change had the Pope on it. Their stamps were different, too. Caught the bus back to the hostel. The hostel itself is pretty cool. 350 beds and so different than those tiny French ones in the middle of nowhere. It is huge and full of cool young people. The girl behind me in registration was from Portland. Downstairs is a big cafeteria and bar. Dinner was great. L10,000 for pasta, meat, and roll and then big Tuborg beers for L2800. The guy running the cafeteria is zany. He just blew a whistle and threatened a girl with a soccer yellow card for something. Planning on Colosseum & Forum area tomorrow, Vatican on Monday, home on Tuesday.

I also stopped at the McDonalds on Spanish Steps (1st in Italy, 1986) just to spite my guidebook. It was full of sculptures and stuff, pretty nice actually. Had two expensive cheeseburgers (L5600). I don't know how to say 'Hold the pickles and onions' so I had to pick them off. The tray liner had an ad for an art exhibit. Can you imagine that in the States? -I'm glad I changed my mind at the last minute and went to the hostel. That bed felt so good after sleeping on the ground for the last week. ODO = ~1886 Today = 38 km

6 August 95

Got up at 7. Had the included breakfast - a roll and cup of hot milk. Took the metro to piazza del popolo at the base of the Villa Borghese (Central Park). Another big obelisk (3200 yrs old) surrounded by statues of Rome and Neptune. Walked down Via del Corso, which is lined with bands and nice clothes stores to the Piazza Venezia. Huge monument to Vittorio Emanuele (?). Climbed up the stairs around the side to the famous Campigdolio (Capitol Hill). The palace and steps designed by Michelangelo were under scaffolding and the museums up there didn't have change for a L50,000 bill, so I didn't see much. Also the famous equestrian statue was removed because of the pollution. Italians need a bill somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000. They also need a L1,000 coin instead of so many little bills. Around the corner from this, I got the first site of the Roman Forum. It was ruined! Paid the L12,000 to get in. (Had to get change from the guy selling L5,000 Pepsi's). It was worth it. I can't believe that they totally let people loose inside there. Of course, many things are blocked off but you can still just walk around and climb over all these old, old buildings & monuments. I thought the ruins just included the Forum but I just kept walking and exploring lots of different directions. I walked for a long time checking out every little nook & cranny. Ended up on Palatine Hill. Some good views. Eventually found my way out near the Colosseum. I was stoked for this. This was truly one of the biggest reasons I wanted to see Rome. It is big and it really is just a colosseum. Once again, it was great the way they let you wander in and around it. The ground floor is free and then I paid L8000 to get to the next level. I saw one sign saying they gave guided tours of the basement (There's no basement in the Alamo!), but I couldn't figure out when or where. Too bad they pillaged the whole thing so bad, but it is still big and spectacular. It actually is kind of good that the floor is gone so you can see the maze underneath. Wandered a little more, came back to the hostel for lunch and took a wonderful nap. Odo = 1886 Today = Zero

7 August 95

Last full day in Europe. Walked to St. Peter's. It is just a BIG church. Even after seeing big churches all through Europe, this one impresses with it's size. It has all the usual paintings and sculpture in and around it. Michelangelo's Pieta behind bullet-proof glass. A cool and weird altar by Bernini that only the Pope can use. It is supported by four pillars that are wavering spirals. Lots of little bees on it. That was the symbol of the family in power at the time.. This is right under the massive dome. No stained glass but some windows letting enough light in in beams as if from heaven. A sculpture I liked was some monument to Alexander VII. It had him and some angels or something, then underneath was a silky brown marble 'cloth'. A skeleton was reaching out from under it holding an hourglass. It looked really cool. As I walked around, occasionally, I would step over little 'sewer covers' where you could see below. The basement? I found where to go below. It is where they keep lots of dead popes. It was short and a little eerie. More artifacts, then up to the entrance to the dome. I saved L1000 by using the stairs which went on and on in a circle. At the top, the base of the dome, you can look down and see from up top where you just were in the church. I was ready to go higher though. This is where the stairs got weird. They were tiny and near the top you had to start leaning sideways. The view at the top was worth it, except that Rome is very hazy. Took it all in for a while, then headed down just as many stairs to get down. At least here everything was senso unico (one way) so people weren't climbing over each other to get around (like at Notre Dame). Got down and headed to the Vatican Museum. Huge line. Saved L5000 with student card. (I think I might have broke even with it, but it was nice to have an extra piece of international ID anyway.) You have to pick a tour route: 'A' being the Sistine Chapel only; 'D' being everything. I followed 'C'. I probably ran through everything too fast but I know what I like to see. Started with lots of Egyptian stuff. Sarcophagi, scarabs, trinkets. They even had two mummies - one exposed. This was a really old, very well preserved dead person. It was black and withered. Gross but fascinating. There was just so much here, I'm trying to pick out what truly caught my attention. There was a long, long room with a wonderfully intricate ceiling and old painted maps all along it's sides. I like maps. My favorite was a really old one of Tuscany where I could pick out all the tiny cities I had been through to get here. I know we passed some famous Raphael rooms but I really don't know which they were. Saw what must have been the Borgia apartments. They were some immaculately decorated rooms that looked fit for royalty. Had to flounder through a bunch of religious modern art, which was bad. I like modern stuff, but the religious theme, and having the truly great art doors away, made this stuff pale. Eventually got to the Capella Sistina. Packed so full with people. A guard that kept 'Shh'ing everyone and clapping to move along. The paintings really were great though. I like the one covering the whole wall above the altar. It was Michelangelo's vision of the last days. It was very busy but you could just stand there for a while and pick out each part of the scene. The side walls had a cycle of Moses and Jesus on each side and then the ceiling recounted the Genesis stories. It really was cool, but it was hard to really focus on each panel and give it the time it deserved. It was a relief (bas) to get out of there. I think that was the climax for all four tours. After that were rooms of modern papal trinkets - silver hammers, jewels, wardrobes. The library was neat. These huge old Latin books amazed me. I was tired and ready to be done though. Bought my souvenir L5000 t-shirt and trekked home for the traditional pasta, meat, roll lunch for L10500. Each day when I come back, there is a huge line of travellers waiting to get in. Nice to be done with that. There is a lockout till 2pm. Then I go to my room and nap till 5.

Last night after dinner, I hiked up the hill next door to the Astronomical Observatory. It was nice. I found out the name of the bird that has been taunting me at campsites all through Italy. Of course, I forgot it already, but it has this awful call. This shrill, quick 'CAA' that it repeats over and over and over and over and over and over...

I tried to call Delta several times today about confirmation & bike boxes but never got anything.

8 August 95

I'm in America! That was a long flight. Watched two movies and part of a documentary on the space shuttle. Outbreak and The Englishman who climbed a hill... Outbreak was probably the most I've studied microbiology in five weeks.

I certainly took my time getting to the airport from Rome. I had a flat at 25 km, changed it quick (probably carelessly) and had a blowout right outside the airport. I walked it the rest of the way. Got to the counter with only 1 1/2 hrs left. As I walked my bike inside the concourse I was immediately intercepted by security guys. I even saw one with a bullet-proof vest and submachine gun. They asked for my plane ticket and passport and decided I was just some American with a bike. They showed me to the Delta counter. The Delta people were really good about getting me a box. I think they realized how close I was cutting it and wanted to get me on the plane. They also asked if I would put on something besides a tanktop and bike shorts. I had brought along fresh clothes to wear on the plane so I wouldn't stink too bad. I tore the bike apart and just threw it in the box. They gave me some tape to tape it quickly. Everytime I turned around someone asked me what I was carrying, had I left my luggage at all, had anyone given me anything, etc... Eventually I made the plane with only minutes to spare.

I had to take the bike through customs in New York. The box was a little beat up, but I figured it would make it. By the time I got to Portland, however, they brought my luggage out piece by piece. Mark and I got it together and headed to Canby. The only permanent damage was to the cyclecomputer mount that I bought in London. Someday I will get around to buying another one. ODO = ~1950km

Addendum - 3 September 95

Last weekend I drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Absolutely amazing. I liked a sign near the visitor's center.

The elevation at this spot is 12,005 feet, higher than Oregon's famed Mt. Hood.

Wow, that is really high. The park was as astounding as any single thing I saw in Europe...and it is right in my backyard.