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1,000 miles through Italy

By Bill Fitzgerald with Roberta Grapperhaus, Wed, 23 Dec 1998 18:27:05 EST
This 1996 trip through Italy was our second 1,000 mile bicycle tour. Our first 1,000 mile cycling trip was in Ireland the summer before. Italy proved to be a delightful challenge. We accomplished one goal, which was to crack the myth that Southern Italy was not a good place to travel, especially by bicycle, something we repeatedly heard in California. Our second goal was more nebulous. We knew we would ride 1,000 miles, but we weren't positive which route we would take. As you will see, the route evolved as we went along. Our experiences were all positive, and the people we met were extremely helpful and hospitable. One important feature of our trip was that I took the time to learn some basic Italian (including grammar) beyond phrasebook dialogue. It made all the difference in the world, because people knew we were trying to speak their language and they appreciated and respected that very much.

Getting There

Bikes we used

We flew our bikes from Los Angeles to Rome on USAir for no additional charge. We each own inexpensive Trek hybrids - Roberta has a Trek 700 which she bought in 1994. I bought a 730 in 1995 which is basically the same bike but $150 more and quite a bit lighter. These bikes were perfect for touring Italy.

Tuesday, June 11 Los Angeles - Rome

The sight of me pushing the two six-foot bike boxes horizontally through the Rome airport was memorable. The boxes were pretty beat up and the condition of bikes still unknown. (Later when we looked at bikes, we were once again fortunate that they were fine). That night we walked through the city. Loved it! There is so much tradition. The capitol, strikingly lit throughout the night, and the surrounding area, can't help but immerse you in the 2,000 years of history.

Rome is gorgeous, but on the other hand, tourists beware. One tiny sandwich, one lasagna, and two cokes plus jet lag equals 40,000 lire ($27). Only time that happened, but we were to find throughout the trip that restaurants were always a source of concern when it came to establishing the correct price and paying the bill.

Forgot the aspirin, and more importantly - the prescription allergy drug Seldane. Airplane decompression blew up my sinuses, and we were to find that getting the simplest over-the- counter medications were not as easy as in the US. We never saw a hint of drug store chains like you have in the United States; instead we had to find pharmacies then go through long explanations before a pharmacist finally pulled out 10 "aspirini" which is a combination aspirin/antacid product. 10 aspirin = $5 U.S. Make sure you bring whatever medicines or products that you feel you may need.

Wednesday, June 12 - Roma

First full day in Italy and already I'm beginning to speak on consistent basis. Very important. For example, RLG asked for directions from a city employee in English. He ignored her, but when I asked in Italian he brightened up and gave us the information. The interesting thing is the way he watched me as I spoke. How hard was I going to try? You could really sense the evaluation as it occurred. He responded with gusto once he saw I was trying.

Took the bus to the Vatican. Had no change. Went to give money to the driver. He never noticed us and no one took our money. We got off and I thought since it was the Vatican they probably bring people free, anticipating the money they will earn from their visit. Wrong. We found out later that, "Nobody pays!" (even though they are supposed to??!!)

Late afternoon totally exhausted - have to meet our "Internet friend" Diego at 9:00 p.m. in one of Rome's many piazzas. Diego is proof of how easy it is to make friends through the Internet. He and his lovely cousin Diana showed us way out of Rome and their favorite places in Italy.

The Ride

1st Riding Day, Thursday, June 13 - Sheraton Roma - Lago di Bracciano (Trevignano Romano)

DIST - 38.4...ODO - 38.4...ATM (time on bicycle) - 4 hrs. 22 min...AVS (Average speed) - 8.7

It was an exceptional high point riding through Rome. At the Sheraton Roma we spent two great days (the enormous buffet breakfast was, we were to find, an anomaly in Italy). We rode straight north through the center of the city and loved it.

The American notion of "crazy Italian drivers" seemed incorrect. People were "in sync" when they drove. We were never honked at and there was a good deal of cooperation. Wake up America! All around us were mopeds, driven by every kind of person imaginable - young girls, old men, whole families - and very few helmets.

We reached Via Cassia S-2. Not exactly the scenic route, but the most direct route. Just kept riding. Very hot day. After three hours we found a restaurant and met a lovely waitress named Nadia whom we still keep in touch with. But the food took us a couple of hours to eat, because we were almost sick from the heat. Our ride ended an hour later in a thunderstorm and found a very unusual place called Hotel Valentina. Slept from 7:00 p.m. til morning.

2nd Day - Friday, June 14 - Lago di Bracciano (Trevignano Romano) - Montifiascone (Hotel Alta Villa)

DIST - 51.2 ...ODO - 89.6...ATM - 5 hrs, 32 min...AVS - 9.4

Left hotel and got back on Cassia Route SS2, which became scenic about 40 miles out of Rome. Saw archeological site of Sitro. We carried our bikes up the steps of Sutri, a medieval city on a hill. Wonderful. Most houses were 1,000 years old. Spoke to people in village. Five kilometers up the road was Capranica, another medieval village. They're renovating the residences' interiors. Wish I'd gone inside to check it out.

Explorations really made the day. We kept seeing this giant cuppola in the distance perched on top of an equally giant hill. Thought it had to be Orvieto. So high. "Glad I don't have to go there today -- Orvieto was our next day's destination." Turns out we did have to go there today. It was Montefiascone - our destination this evening. We were to find that most towns in Italy were built on top of hills, and it seemed like every day ended with a steep climb.

Found a nice 3-star hotel run by a young couple. That evening we walked up to the "giant cuppola" which was the church Santa Margherita. Met some delightful people who lived next door...they offered us wine and expresso and we had a delightful evening trying to speak Italian and English and laughing all the while.

3rd Day - Saturday, June 15 - - Montefiascone - Orvieto - Montefiascone

DIST - 46.1 ...ODO - 135.7...ATM - 5 hrs, 10 min...AVS - 8.9...MXS (maximum speed) - 31.5

This going to be an easy day on the Orvieto "loop" without our panniers. Getting to Orvieto was fine (of course Orvieto is on top of a hill too), and we rode on every street in town. Having bikes was great. Everyone else walked. Orvieto is really well-preserved and interesting, but also very touristy. One touristy couple sneered at us, "don't tell me you don't miss your car," and we assured them we didn't. However, the "scenic route" back turned out to be a nightmare, and RLG did miss her car. It wasn't all that steep, but seemed like it would never end. Finally got back to the hotel. RLG is hot, sweaty, mad, and was greeted by our host Daniel with, "We have a problem. No water."

4th Day - Sunday, June 16 - - Montefiascone - Bagno Vignoni (Hotel Alterme)

DIST - 49.4 ...ODO - 185.1...ATM - 4 hrs, 22 min...AVS - 11.3...MXS - 34.6

Shortly after leaving hotel we were cruising along at 15 mph when we noticed cars passing with red banners from drivers' side, moving traffic off the street. Heard bullhorns and people shouting, and thought the tanks were coming, which is what happened a few days earlier. At about 17 mph, coming up on a long decline, a car pulls up alongside, and a fellow yells in Italian, smiles and passes me a green hat. At 20 mph, a swarm of bikes descend on us. Bicyclists everywhere. 25 mph. Camera in left hand. People shouting encouragement. Manage to get off three blurry frames. 30 mph - struggling to get camera back in sack. Still manage to stay with the group, even when carrying 30 pounds. At 35 mph, feeling glorious - then a hill. My 30 pounds brings me to an immediate stop. But the excitement lasts all day. A truly exciting moment.

Otherwise, a basic day, lots of rolling hills. We ate at a pretty fancy and found that heat and rich Tuscany food don't mix well. Passed a little village around 7:00. RLG is tired and angry and wants to stop in little hotel. Mileage doesn't figure to me. We're writing this because this became a common occurrence as trip went on. Both of us would be stressed to the limit at the end of the day, but when we pressed on, we were usually rewarded. Plus winds were now in our favor, and we were rewarded by going that extra distance.

The hotel Al Terme at Bagno Vignoni was a highlight of the entire trip. Very classy little village and the hotel was beautiful. Lots of people with shoes off soaking their feet in the natural running hot springs. Everyone was happy, including RLG who was much happier with her feet in the water than on the pedals.

5th Day - Monday, June 17 -- Bagno Vignoni - Siena

DIST - 32.6...ODO - 217.7...ATM - 3 hrs, 28 min...AVS - 9.4...MXS - 32

Next morning we got up late, as usual. Once again we're starving. Two pastries and coffee for breakfast. Can't get the schedule down for food - there really is no breakfast in Italy. Just caffeine and sugar. This is bothering me...the problem of not having or being able to find food was a major issue (particularly after being spoiled during our cycle trip through Ireland, where every morning we were served the unmatchable Irish breakfast.) It was an uneventful ride to Siena. But! We've never seen anything like this! The Piazza...double wow! The streets ditto. The women -- style! A photographic paradise. A place we both hope to go back to for a much longer stay. Delightful dinner on the piazza. Getting a hotel room wasn't easy -- most were booked, and finally I spotted a tiny sign on the door. Got the last room. We walked all over the city. Exterior of buildings obviously very very old, cobblestone streets, can't escape idea of antiquity wherever you turn. How do you combine antiquity with modern Italy? This was fascinating....the architecture of the city still dictated the conduct of every day life. Couldn't have big cars...had to have motorscooter even with noise it brought with it, ricocheting off the walls and narrow streets.

6th Day - Tuesday, June 18 -- Siena - Passignano Trasimeno (Hotel Lido)

DIST - 53.9...ODO - 271.6...ATM - 4 hrs, 39 min...AVS - 11.6...MXS - 27.5

Woke up to screeching woman. Wanted us out of the room. Then "credit card machine isn't working." We were finding out that everyone's machine was "broken" and they all wanted cash, even when they advertised credit cards on the door. Our solution was to make it very clear from the start that we were only paying by credit card. Then, when hit with "the machine isn't working," we would leave our card with them and come back a few hours later...and each time the machine was miraculously fixed.

Siena is like a labyrinth and it was a little difficult getting out. Once we got going we had a great ride east. The wind was at our backs, and we made good distance to Passignano Trasimeno, a lovely little resort town.. Nice lake, beautiful room with balcony overlooking the water. Had dinner in town. RLG loved it. Host was very charming. It was becoming apparent to us that there was a style that Italian restaurateurs had cultivated over generations.

7th Day - Wednesday, June 19 -- Passignano Trasimeno - Assisi (Hotel Posta Panorama) )

DIST - 35.3 ...ODO - 306.9..ATM - 3 hrs, 43 min...AVS -9.5...MXS - 31.1

Anticipated a nice soft 30 miles to "romantic" Assisi today. Right! Four tunnels, one fight. "We can't go this way." The tunnels of Perugia were dangerous. Apparently, we were on the Autostrata. However, there were no signs when we left the lake. Couldn't figure out why cars were passing us at 80 - 100 mph. The tunnels. Cars still pass at 50 - 60 mph. Portions were black. You can't see your hands. Orientation and balance are affected. Then there were the horns. People were mad. We weren't supposed to be there. The best you can do is try not to pay attention to them. The blare of the horns echoed in every direction. The sound was bigger than the car. The suddenness and length of the sound was frightening and distracting. You knew a very large piece of metal was right on us. Multiply that by hundreds of cars. We were in a "metal asylum." RLG didn't know if we were going to come out alive. The proximity of the vehicles so close. Keep head down and watch the line. Fall and you were dead -- no exaggeration. RLG walked her bike through one tunnel and wanted to walk the other but could not cross the railing and had to ride. Scared and unhappy. Thankfully we made it to Assisi in one piece. This was good because Assisi was quite high and the climb required all of our strength. We were mentally and physically drained. Somehow we met a padre, decked out in Fransiscan brown. Caught Padre's eye as he looked at my bike. I believe I spoke first and after the usual conversation of where we rode from, I said we were looking for a hotel. Padre took us under his wing, finding us a hotel and negotiating the price. After scouting out all the other rooms in the hotel, which were open, we found a small but beautiful room with a balcony and a heavenly view, and all these acrobatic blackbirds. They would fly way out beyond your vision until they were tiny black right into the sun, then directly back at you. Hundreds and hundreds of birds throughout the valley. These little blackbirds doing their aerial dances could keep you entertained for hours.

8th Day - Thursday June 20 -- Assisi)


Stayed an extra day. Rested and roamed Assisi, and bumped into Padre a few more times (and we still keep in touch.) Saw inside of St. Clare's and St. Francis. This of course was before the major earthquake hit Assisi.

9th Day - Friday June 21 -- Assisi - San Severino

DIST - 54.8 ...ODO - 361.7..ATM - 5 hrs, 19 min...AVS - 10.3...MXS - 32.3

Only two things of significance happened this day. We had a typical couples' fight -- RLG wanted to stay a while by a little river, and I wanted to move on; meanwhile she was mad because she felt I had spent too much time talking to an adorable village girl and her mother. It looks a little silly in retrospect, but on these kind of trips, these are the kinds of issues that suddenly become arguments. Anyway, that ate up a few more hours. During our ride from Assisi to San Severino, which was hilly but very pretty, we met two American bicyclists -- the only cycling Americans we saw during the whole trip (in fact we hardly saw any touring cyclists the entire month). They were from Colorado and not real happy with Italy. Turns out they didn't speak a word of Italian and didn't want to try which I believe led to their dissatisfaction. Once again, we had to climb to the top of a hill in at the end of the day. As tortuous as this is, it was always worth it. All the great medieval towns we visited -- Siena, Assisi, Orvieto -- were built on hills, and we wouldn't have wanted to miss any of them.

10th Day - Saturday June 22 -- San Severino - Numana )

DIST - 42.4 ...ODO - 404.1..ATM - 3 hrs, 54 min...AVS - 10.8...MXS - 27.2

After San Severino, we continued downhill for several more miles. There was a major storm happening behind us in Tuscany and the wind literally blew us eastward for miles. We climbed another hill to Laredo, but it was late and we couldn't find the tourist office; nor did we ever find out what happened with the Virgin Mary there. We left Laredo and rode straight down the hill to the Adriatic coast. The Adriatic coast was an important event. We'd seen Rome, the medieval towns, and we had actually crossed the country. Having a couple of cappuccinos by the water was one of those moments in life that you can't duplicate. It was moments like that that make this type of traveling habit-forming. I felt very good there, so did RLG. Rode a few miles north, hoping to find nice hotel in Numana -- and ended up finding the best room of the entire trip. It was 140,000 lire (about $90) per night and worth every cent. It was a really classy room in a posh hotel, right on the beach. The only thing that kept me going at that point was the single parameter...1,000 miles -- otherwise I could have stayed there the rest of my life.

11th Day - Sunday June 23 -- Numana )

DIST - 20.5 ...ODO - 424.6...ATM - 2 hrs, 9 min...AVS - 9.5...MXS - 33.8

Loved it so much, we stayed extra day. Took a day ride. We both expected to find more beach towns like Numana, instead we ended inland going up more hills, before road finally cut back to coast. Turned back at that point. Spent the rest day enjoying the town and the people, who were exceptionally nice.

12th Day - Monday June 24 -- Numana - Tortoreto Lido (Hotel Costa Verde) )

DIST - 60 ...ODO - 484.6..ATM - 4 hrs, 45 min...AVS - 11.8...MXS - 21.4

The ride down the coast was a complete change in scenery and atmosphere. At first we hit some kind of a working class area with a worn-out look, large old apartment buildings and retail/industrial shops lining the road. We ate in an Italian restaurant run by Chinese from Paris. We'd say, "we need a few minutes to decide" and the waiter came back three times within the minute. The owner seemed like an upscale Parisian, but one of the waiters said it was difficult being Chinese in Italy... "the Italians think we're all involved in illegal activities like drugs." Several miles later reached the German tourist area. Mile after mile of hotels and German tourists on protracted holidays. It seemed like we were in the suburb of a large German city. Tried following the beach road, but got continually cut off by inlets. Got back on SS16 -- very busy. Beach towns and raining and even more German tourists. Turned down at three hotels...most people had rented the rooms for the season and for the full breakfast/lunch/dinner package. Then we met Olindo - nice guy, hotel was okay...he said he wished more Americans would stay there.

13th Day - Tuesday June 25 -- Tortoreto Lido - Scafa)

DIST - 51.5...ODO -536.1..ATM - 5 hrs, 3 min...AVS - 10.2...MXS - 23.1

In the morning, Olindo was gracious enough to supply us with maps of Abruzzi and Molise and told us "go through the hills instead of the sea." He said it would all be the same along the coast -- resorts, broken beach roads and lots of traffic. Rode 20 miles down the SS16 where we had lunch in small Italian cafe run by Ernesto, a distinguished, formal gentleman. We immediately ordered cappuccino, upon which he responded, "no, no, cappuccino before lunch." At that point, we put everything in Ernesto's hands....and asked him questions about tipping protocol and cover charges (cuperto) in Italy. He was enthusiastic about helping us and very gracious. Before we left, he and his whole family posed for pictures for us. This was our first turn south and already we were cracking the myth (at least in Los Angeles) that Southern Italy would not be a pleasant place to ride our bikes through. We were to find people like Ernesto and his family throughout the trip towards Sicily. After Ernesto's, we headed toward Pescara, ended up on the autostrada again and another one-mile tunnel. Cars were honking, people were waving angrily at us, and we were pulled over by the Italian police, "carabinieri," who told us to get off the highway. What saved us from getting fined and made them more understanding was the fact that there were no signs indicating it was an autostrada. So we were forced to ride through the town which was confusing, as it always is in any mid-sized town. It's easy to get in, but hard to work through the maze to the right road out. Met a great guy with a map and all he kept saying was "Popoli, Popoli, Popoli." We headed up the mountain towards Popoli, but it was raining and getting dark, so we settled for a small concrete manufacturing town called Scafa. The highlight of the town was a half-star hotel across the street from a small cafe/bar/restaurant run by a character named Benito. His son made us an excellent home- cooked meal. No menu, no prices, probably paid more than should have, but food was great.

14th Day - Wednesday June 26 -- Scafa - Rocca Pia)

DIST - 45...ODO 581.1 -..ATM - 6 hrs, 17 min...AVS - 7.8...MXS 33.8

Woke up and prepared for our "photo shoot" with our host. Benito was dressed in basic black. He told us this was his Mussolini look. Couldn't wait to have his photo taken with an American blonde. "Photokino, photokino," he repeatedly exclaimed. Left Scafa, and did go through Popoli that morning -- a quaint little town known for its natural spring water, which people there claim is the best drinking water in Italy. But, always being concerned about the water situation, we continued to drink our own bottled water. All day was up. But it really went up right after our cappuccino at 4 p.m. in Sulmona. The day surprised me. Didn't expect this many mountains. We were definitely in the heart of them. The scenery was beautiful, but the climb was grueling and even higher mountains loomed before us. Hadn't eaten enough and was getting grouchy. RLG told me to ride ahead. Didn't blame her, I don't usually get that way. Mileage was light, about 35 miles. Wanted a minimum of 50 -- frustrated. My timeline is not set --1,000 miles is the goal and we're hoping to get to Sicily by trip's end. We were intent on getting to Rocca Rosa that evening, but it was getting dark and we saw a little tiny road with the sign "Rocca Pia," and took the chance of heading down that road hoping we'd find an inn for night. And we did -- then decided to haggle about price. Real bright idea, late, dark, all mountains and the next hotel is 20 kilometers away. This is what happens when you're that tired, you really aren't thinking straight. The place was homey cozy, and warm with bunk beds and quilts. Our host called up the only restaurant and not only did they keep it open for us, they called their visiting American uncle, Armando, to join us. What a pleasure. Turns out Armando grew up in this tiny mountain village and he said his parents were killed when a bomb was dropped. Momentarily we thought an aircraft had dropped a bomb on Rocca Pia. We were surprised. Who would bomb Rocca Pia? He said `no, it was an accident. Someone was carrying a bomb and accidentally dropped it in the village.' He told us this story as we walked down the cobblestone road back to the inn, then without even a real good-bye, he mysteriously disappeared into the night.

15th Day - Thursday June 27 -- Rocca Pia - Castle di Pietro)

(DIST - 49.5...ODO 630.6 -..ATM - 6 hrs, 17 min...AVS - 7.8...MXS 33.8)

Mountains, mountains and more mountains. How do we get out of here? There must be flat land somewhere. But where? Which coast? We are in the thick of the Appenines trying to find the best way to pass through this 6000 ft. range. We were near some of the range's highest peaks, like Mt. Petroso at 2247 meters in the Nationale Abruzzo. This time...we walked...through a dark tunnel. Didn't want to take any chances. Not as many cars around here. In fact, not much of anything except sweeping panoramas of the surrounding mountains. It made us realize how many large hills and valleys we had gone through. This was the first time RLG had to get off and walk her bike, and I hadn't spent any time out of the lowest gear. We could see all the previous hills and bridges. Still couldn't believe we traveled this.

This is the point where two things occurred -- which coast we were going to go to -- Bari on the east coast, or head southwest to below Naples. We hadn't made up our minds, yet. Then at about 6:00 in the evening we ran into an Italian bicyclist, all decked in his Italian racing outfit. He slowed down next to us and as I asked him questions about possible hotels and which coast might have the flattest ground, he began to pick up speed. Not wanting to miss any of the much needed information and having to take time to translate all this out of Italian, I decided to try to keep up. Had to leave RLG behind, which did not make her too happy after more than 30 miles of mountains, then whoshh I'm gone. He was very clear -- stay out of Bari and go the other way. We talked for about five miles at an average speed of 16 miles an hour -- fully loaded.

He also told me where the nearest hotel was. He mentioned a hotel with a view and a big hill. I got this mixed up in the translation and although we saw a hotel, a huge hotel by Italian standards (with a big sign saying `hotel' , not albergo, but `hotel') I assumed he meant the hotel on top of the hill with a grand view. Plus, the hotel had a huge parking lot around it, with no cars in it. There were no lights outside of the sign either, and dusk was setting in.

So up the hill we charged. Not really. We'd been riding for over 6 hours and RLG was unhappy, to say the least. At the top of hill, there was no hotel, but a whole bunch of very friendly people offering me homemade wine and cookies. I was having a great time and RLG wasn't. The people were great. Told us the hotel was back down the hill, brought out more cookies, and talked and laughed for a half hour.

It was pitch black by time we got to hotel. We were very glad to settle down for the night.

16th Day - Friday June 28 -- Castle di Pietro - Avillino)

(DIST - 71.8...ODO 702.4 -..ATM - 7 hrs, 11 min...AVS - 10...MXS 33.4

Great downhill out of hotel. Went downhill for at least 30 miles. Got lost in Benevento, and decided to continue on. We figured we would find a hotel within an hour. However, there was no hotel, and soon it was dark. The road was closed to automobile traffic and there were no lights other than the moon. It was close to midnight when we arrived in Avillino , where we learned there were two hotels -- a four-star; and a five-star. We had been riding all day and night and looked like it. The chain had fallen off RLG's bike and by now she was covered with grease and bugspray. Who knows why, but we turned down the four-star hotel to check out the five star one -- and by now it's midnight! The people at the five-star did not want to see us pulling up on bikes and RLG felt about an inch high as Mercedes and well-dressed people passed by her.

So, back to the four-star Jolley Hotel. Pervasively, the lobby had been empty. However, upon our re-arrival we were joined by opera singers and an orchestra all decked out in evening wear and tie and tails. RLG is grease covered and embarrassed, especially when she drops her booklight and it breaks all over the floor, scattered among the various expensive shoes. Quite a sight and the last straw. She wisely decided the hotel lobby was not the place to be and ran out the door. I meanwhile had struck a conversation with a violist in German. Fortunately, we got a great room, a huge buffet breakfast, and a checkout time of 3:00 p.m..

17th Day - Saturday June 29 -- Avellina - Maoria (Amalfi Coast) )

(DIST - 38.9...ODO 741.3 -..ATM - 4 hrs, 36 min...AVS - 8.4...MXS 25.5 The ride from Avellina was pretty uneventful until we got to Salerno. The city was empty because it was Saturday, which made the ride through to the coast very nice and we stopped on seafront walk for awhile.

The last five miles out of Salerno and up the Amalfi Coast was grueling. Bad enough, but then we had to go downhill the final five kilometers, which meant a steep climb in the morning. The coast was very crowded with cars and motorcycles and Maoria was packed -- stopped at a couple of hotels and they were booked. The best we could do was get two small rooms, one above the other. It was fun talking to each other through the windows. Felt like a date when I went downstairs and knocked on RLG's door for dinner. After dinner, we were overcharged and challenged the waiter on the check -- no problem, immediately reduced from 30,00 to 22,000 - he knocked off 8,000 lire without blinking. You learn to pay close attention to the bill in restaurants, and if it's wrong, you learn to stand up for yourself. It's always interesting though, even when you know what you're doing, suddenly the restaurant check issue will reappear.

18th Day - Sunday June 30 -- Maoria - Agropoli)

(DIST - 40.3...ODO 781.6 -..ATM - 4 hrs, 33 min...AVS - 8.8...MXS 26.6

Climbed out of Maoria up the hills of the Amalfi coast now heading south after our brief detour. Never did get to Capri or Amalfi -- on our trips, we never know what we're going to miss because we're going for a final destination -- in this case Reggio di Calabria -- and distance -- at least 1,000 miles. Went back through Salerno and again stopped at waterfront to look at the ships and enjoy the breeze. The next 30 miles were an easy ride along the Golfo di Salerno. We were heading toward Paestum, which features doric ruins. Met a really nice, fun couple who owned a small store along the way...they had their English dictionary and we had our Italian dictionary, and she asked us to explain the concept of "Ms." to them. No matter how hard we tried, she couldn't understand how a woman could not be either a Miss or Mrs. Around 5 or 6:00 we reached Paestum, and caught glimpses of these doric temples we kept reading about, yet somehow rode right past the whole area, then after a little discussion, decided to keep heading south. Stopped to check out a trailer campground. It was more of a family area and not for us. Once we got to Agropoli, we knew it was a good place to spend the night. Stayed at a modest hotel with a great 2nd floor room & balcony overlooking the sea. Our host, Vicenzo, made us feel very welcome, in fact the whole town did. We ate at a local place, reasonable prices; panini, pizza, pasta; such liveliness, very peaceful, a lot of families walking arm in arm along the seaside walkway. We didn't want to leave.

19th Day - Monday July 1 -- Agropoli - Ascea)

DIST - 42.4...ODO - 824.0 -..ATM - 4 hrs, 52 min...AVS - 8.7...MXS 28.5

Before we left Agropoli, we still had second thoughts of going back to Paestum to see the temple, but decided to stay our course and keep heading south. But when we left Agropoli we missed one sign and made a 6.5 mile error -- unfortunately all uphill. Naturally that led to one of our biggest arguments of the trip. Who was to blame? We still argue about that wrong turn to this day. Once back on track, there were more hills, all along beautiful coastline, but between the heat and the anger it was hard to enjoy. When RLG took out the map at one point, I got so mad, I grabbed it from her and threw it over the cliff. We kept riding into the dark, and around 9:00 p.m. ended up Ascea. The town was one long street and very active. It seemed the whole town was out shopping and eating. We were the only tourists there -- it didn't feel like it was tainted by any outside influences at all. There were two hotels. We stayed at very old hotel with our hostess Carmen, an older Italian woman who decided to help me with my Italian conjugations like a school teacher. She had a beautiful full-length portrait of herself at age 23. She was beautiful then and she said everyone told her she was more beautiful than Sophia Loren. It was true -- the portrait was magnificent.

20th Day - Tuesday July 2 -- Aseca - Sapri

DIST - 48.2...ODO - 872.2 - ATM - 5 hrs, 38 min...AVS - 8.5...MXS 28.5

The next morning Carmen gave us all kinds of extra panini and cappuccino without extra charge and assured us our ride south would be "piano," meaning flat. Don't think she realized how far we go. The first two miles were flat. This is a day I will not forget. Coast road, up, up, up and more up...and heat, heat and more heat. Approximately 30 miles....and we were not much closer to Reggio. As we'd go up each switchback, we'd see the exact same spot on the coast. No forward movement at all. It was a very frustrating day. As we headed up one lengthy hill, we could see a gold dome in the middle of the small village called Camerota. RLG was sure that would be the top. But we passed that village and still kept going straight up, at least another 1,000 feet. Finally the top! It felt great to coast down the hill...coasted into the village of San Giovanni...cappuccino to celebrate. Just as we jumped off our bikes, exhausted, this band across the street struck up a marching tune. It was as if it were in our honor. We started to laugh and suddenly were filled with a feeling of accomplishment and sense of joy. It had been worth it. From there it was all down hill to Sapri, where we found an adequate, but very noisy hotel room on the main drag by the water.

21st Day - Wednesday July 3 -- Sapri - Cirella)

DIST - 35.7...ODO - 907.9 ..ATM - 4 hrs, 16 min...AVS - 8.3...MXS 29.6

Morning. The legs are rubber, the brains are mush - put them together we still have to push. Still rough going. Heat! We had to pause every 3/4 mile to keep cool and drink water -- what turned out to be one of our most expensive items for this trip. RLG looked bleak, and sure I wasn't any better. Had made only 25 to 26 miles by late afternoon. The coast is beautiful and has a lot to offer. Two statements made at lunch and dinner gave us a new outlook on Southern Italian feelings. We were getting a sandwich in a local store along the way, and the girl behind the counter said the bad public relations that Southern Italy receives is an "Italian thing." She, and other Southern Italians we met along the way, said the reason there are fewer tourists in Southern Italy was because the state-run tourist agency received most of their funds from Northern businesses. We went to Southern Italy to crack the myth of an unfriendly place with pickpockets and thievery, with less than modern facilities, and on and on. None of this was true, based on our experiences. We enjoyed Southern Italian hospitality wherever we went. Just by trying to speak a few words in Italian, people warmed up to us instantly. After dinner, rode another 10 miles to a beautiful modern hotel. The woman there spoke perfect English and we were hoping she would help us with the train situation. Our plane reservations from Rome to Los Angeles were set for Tuesday, July 9, and we still had no idea how we were getting back to Rome, whether we could get the bikes on the trains, where they stopped, etc. That evening we enjoyed a beautiful sunset by the pool. Still don't know where trip will end. But no matter how rough the ride is or how doubtful our destination, the beauty of Italy seems to emerge at every stopping place. It seems there's always a wonderful view, hospitable people and to quote RLG, "I hate to leave this place."

22nd Day - Thursday July 4 -- Cirella - Amantea)

DIST - 48.3 ...ODO - 956.2 -..ATM - 4 hrs, 47 min...AVS - 9.8...MXS 28.2

At this point, I'm finding each hour critical. I wanted to end trip with some sort of a climatic statement, such as "we made it to the toe of the boot" -- an actual ending. By now, Sicily was definitely out. We were still working on train situation with no results. Seems like something keeps slowing us down -- trip to the bank, deciding on lunch, then had to walk through another tunnel - 1 more wasted hour. SS18 took us on a nice coastal was hilly, it was hot, and there were long coastal upgrades but there was nothing too severe. Just when we were thinking of getting ready to quit for the day, had two cappuccinos then hit a stretch of flat land with the wind at our backs and made 15 miles in less than an hour. That was a good break. As we were riding we met an Italian bicycle rider in full race regalia. Pulled along side of us and decided to talk, and when we said we needed a hotel he said he knew just the spot. He was great friends with the owner, which we thought was terrific.."we'd be treated like relatives".. unfortunately that turned out to be true. We were introduced to everyone, and while I was unpacking bikes, they brought RLG to a room that was totally unsatisfactory. Uh oh. We were in of a noisy, industrial, unattractive town, but they were so solicitous, it was hard to turn them down. When they showed RLG last room, we made sure she left her stuff by bikes, so I could repack and leave the moment she said no, this hotel wouldn't be satisfactory. Even as we were leaving, they were beckoning us to return. But we rode out of town. And, within 5 miles, we found a beautiful hotel (and at the same price!) overlooking a huge swimming pool and facing hills where we could see several bonfires in the distance. It was very picturesque. In both of our bicycle tours -- Ireland and Italy -- we learned that we could find a good hotel as easily as we could find a bad hotel. All you had to do, in just about every case, is set a standard and not settle for too much less.

23rd Day - Friday July 5 -- Amantea - Melito)

DIST - 50.8 ...ODO 1,0007.0 -..ATM - 5 hrs, 23 min...AVS - 9.4...MXS 27.3

Me - "Alright, a thousand miles!" RLG - "Yechh, what a town!" Had to admit, this wasn't a festive town at which to reach our milestone. We had a good flat 27-mile run in the morning then another hill!! All morning rode through farmland then we swung back towards sea and up, up up until we got to Vibo Valentia, where we had an early dinner. It was late when we hit the thousand mile mark in a tiny, one-road town that seemed more desolate then most. It was getting dark and the only place to stay was a "half-star" pensione...just a room with 3 beds thrown in it that led out onto roof. RLG was very upset after so many nice hotel rooms. All I cared was that were beds and we could sleep. My main concern was: How are we going to negotiate our way back?

24th Day - Saturday July 6 -- Melito - Reggio di Calabria)

DIST - 54.6 ...ODO - 1061.6 -..ATM - 5 hrs, 59 min...AVS - 9.2...MXS 26.2

What a day...what a night. Still no satisfaction on the train story. Every Italian we've met has assured us there is a special car that carries mopeds, scooters and bicycles. However, "it may not stop at this station." Then they say, "just go check the next station." We not only needed a train or some way to get back to Rome for our flight back to the U.S. Tuesday morning, but we also needed to book a room in Rome. RLG had called the Sheraton the day before -- price much higher than what we paid in June. So she tried again, today...miraculously the price dropped over $ we reserved it for Sunday and Monday nights, hoping we'd be back by Sunday. (It was important for us to get back to hotel we were familiar with, where we knew they had a shuttle service that would take us and our bikes back to the airport.) The ride today was still hilly but quite spectacular, particularly around Villa San Giovanni, at least RLG says. I was too fixated on how we were going to get back. We had to get to Reggio by the evening to find out if we could get on train by next morning. By the time we got to Reggio it was dark and very lively, being a warm Saturday night. We met many people by a coffee house, and we got a lot of conflicting stories. Some said there was a train, some said there wasn't, and on and on. But they all agreed that we should backtrack a few miles and go to large train station on northern outskirts of Reggio. So we rode back. The ticket master said trains don't have baggage cars for the bicycles. I thought maybe I didn't understand correctly, so I rehearsed my Italian for a few more minutes and went back and asked again. This time I was certain he told me you can't take the bikes on the train. So now what? Find a hotel room, it was 11:00 at night. And here we were on fleabag row by the train station. We went in one hotel that was obviously empty. The proprietor showed RLG an absolutely awful room for an equivalent of $90 -- outrageous -- when she said, can we see another room, he kicked us out!! RLG was glad...she would rather ride another 20 miles than stay there. And we almost did -- it took seven more miles up the coast before we found a suitable place. Got a nice comfortable clean room for a good price, but the day still wasn't over. Had dinner next door -- an experience in itself. This time we were ready for it! Even after long conversations and charm from the owner, they still tried to tack extra money on the bill. Acted like the desserts were on the house, which they weren't, and then added an extra 20,000 lire to the bill. However, a month of negotiating through the country left us comfortable to contest the amount, and get our meal at the right price. Yes, we had finally met the Italian dinner challenge and it was fun!

25th Day - Sunday July 7 -- Reggio di Calabria (north) - Reggio di Calabria (airport) )

DIST - 21.1 ...ODO 1082.7 -..ATM - 2 hrs, 08 min...AVS - 10.9...MXS ?

The man at our hotel desk was extremely helpful. After he made many phone calls to train stations, we knew trains were out. Cars were 386,000 lire to get to Rome. There was only one alternative. A plane, and one that would take the bikes. Fortunately RLG had picked up an Alitalia plane schedule back in Amantea, and it appeared there was a plane to Rome around 2:00 that afternoon. We asked the desk clerk how far the airport was, and he said about 14 miles. So we hightailed it through Reggio, which was eerily empty, being a Sunday morning. If it hadn't been empty we wouldn't have made it. The airport was all the way south and turned out to be over 20 miles from where we started. Got to airport at 1:45. I ran right up, told the ticket giver our plight and prayed we could get our bikes on. With a smile and a wink, he asked us to take the air out of the tires, and within 2 minutes attendants came, rolled the bikes away, and we were on our way to Rome! Unbelievable how easy it was and how nice everyone at Alitalia was to us. A far cry from what we would experience two days later when we were leaving Rome for the United States on USAir...but that's another story.