We are currently having a ‘holiday’ from our ‘year off’. We have found that not working is jolly hard work with barely a moment to relax! Our days are busy busy busy with decamping and recamping, finding food and eating it, cycling and exploring … and truth be told, it’s very tiring (I can feel your sympathy from here :-). So we have holed up on a campsite in Stari Grad on the island of Hvar where it seems to be 28 degrees and sunny every day with warm clear water and plenty of fresh mediterranean food and excellent local wines … and we are doing as little as possible for a few days. We are not sure where we are going next and have been putting off making a plan but the smart money’s on taking a ferry to Split and then making our way north up the Croatian coast. I’ll keep you posted. However, wifi is only available at the local cafe so apologies if communication has been a little sparse lately.
I’ll back track now and pick up the story where I left off in my last post.
We arrived in Italy, in Milan, and battled our way through the city to find our Airbnb accommodation without a map (as usual). We never seem to be very well prepared for arriving in places and often just sort of follow our noses and the compass, and then ask people. Surprisingly, this is usually quite successful but I’m sure we’ll come unstuck one of these days. Anyway, we weren’t really very impressed with Milan – it seems very run down with lots of graphite and our accommodation was in a very insalubrious area so it didn’t look very promising. We arrived at the gate and looked through into what seemed like a scruffy piece of wasteland with cars parked on it. The address tallied with our instructions so we went in. What we found was amazing … through a very old wooden door at the back of the lot we discovered an absolute gem. We entered into the beautiful courtyard of an old convent … the convent had been sensitively converted into apartments that retained the original features. It had a lovely feel and there were mature trees in the centre providing shade to communal chairs and tables. Our ‘loft’ was fabulous and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay and the company of the other residents … we were only through the door 10 minutes before someone invited us over for a glass of Prosecco!
We stayed there a few days and then headed out south along the Navigli Pavia canal and then east along the Po river. Italy, being Italy, had very little in the way of dedicated cycling routes and the signage was patchy to non-existent and confusing, but the scenery was lovely and as long as we stuck to the very small roads, cycling was good. Unfortunately, we had to take some busy roads at times because there was no alternative and that wasn’t a lot of fun. However, on the whole the Italian drivers were courteous, in contrast to what we had been told, even though we witnessed some very hairy manoeuvres! The most common seemed to be overtaking a vehicle that was already overtaking another vehicle, resulting in three side-by-side cars driving down a two way street towards oncoming traffic :-0
When we were in Milan, we were told that Italian drivers were awful and that cycling in Italy was very dangerous … but the Italians we spoke to had obviously not driven in Auckland, is all I can say! In Italy, not once did anyone drive directly at us, speeding up in in the time honoured game of chicken NZ motorists play with cyclists, not once did anyone yell abuse out of their car window and not once did anyone throw anything at us … a little dodgy driving is nothing. In fact, we received ‘thumbs up’ signals, lots of smiles and several inquiries about the bikes and what we were doing.
Italy was really nice with beautiful historic architecture, lovely food … although, truth be told, I couldn’t eat another pizza or bowl of pasta if you paid me and I have certainly put on some weight … and very attractive scenery, the not least of which is the attractive and well dressed Italian men 🙂 However, I should also mention that these Italian men are very fond of cycling in white cycle shorts, which is a bit of a downer … but on the up-side, they are all very fit and streamlined unlike the MAMILS we have back home who proudly display the number of beers they have consumed.
One of the strange things we noticed was, that in contrast to the other countries we have visited (particularly the Germans), Italians don’t seem to mow their grass. All of the parks and public spaces we saw were massively overgrown. We couldn’t figure out if Italians never ‘mowed’ or whether it was just that all the municipal mowers had gone on holiday like all the other Italians. Even in the centre of Milan, many of the businesses and shops were shut with signs saying they’d be back in September. It seemed very strange but obviously very European as France also seemed to be mostly closed and deserted. To be honest, this started to become a bit life threatening (I’m exaggerating of course) because when we were traveling across country we simply couldn’t find anything open to buy food and we thought we might actually starve to death. On one day, things got very dire indeed … breakfast consisted of a couple of biscuits, lunch was a beer and a very dry croissant the bar had displayed in a cabinet on the counter followed by an ice-cream, and afternoon tea was an apple … it’s quite hard to cycle 60km on that, I can tell you, and we were both in very poor spirits at the end of the day. The day ended arriving at a campsite that turned out to be closed but there wasn’t another for 30km so we just set up camp and hoped nobody told us to move … luckily nobody did because I think the Husband would probably be in prison for grievous bodily harm by now rather than relaxing on the island of Hvar.
The high point of our Italian experience was meeting up with my sister (Sister No.1). She is also very keen on bikes, but the kind that has a motor. It was quite a feet of organisation as she was hurtling across Europe from north to south doing 600km a day and we were meandering across Italy from west to east at 60km a day. In the end we slightly overshot the mark as they had a puncture (and apparently you can’t just flip it over and change the inner tube like we can) and we ended up having to stay two nights in Mantua to make the intercept and then taking a train to make up the distance so that we could catch our ferry to Croatia. It was very cool meeting up in Italy. We arrived at the campsite first and set up the tent while listening out for the rumble that heralded the arrival of the Ducati Monster (yes, that really is the name of her bike … I have since changed the name of my bike to a Brompton Monster). They arrived and set up camp and we had a lovely time chatting, eating pizza and drinking wine. It was over too soon and the next day we headed off on our respective trajectories.
We then headed off to Croatia taking the ferry from Ancona to Stari Grad (on the island of Hvar) and met up with some old friends from the UK. They have the most amazing holiday ‘donkey shed’ with stunning views and we spent a fabulous few days sailing on their boat, eating the local cuisine and catching up over very ‘moorish’ wine, which was available in a ‘take your own bottle’ system from a road side stall just down the road. Obviously, we decided not to rush off from this paradise so have stayed on a while longer as I mentioned in the beginning of this post.
- Our invaluable custom made (small) wooden spoon parted company with us on the ferry over to Croatia (this is code for ‘the Husband left it on the ferry’) so he has had to rustle us up another one and I have to say that, with only the aid of a penknife and a rock, he has done a very fine job.
- I broke one of our yogurt pot wine glasses by dropping it on unforgiving ground so am now relegated to drinking wine from my tin mug until I find a replacement.
- The Husband snapped the end the brush we use to sweep out the tent in a classic ‘oops! It just came off in my hands’ moment.
- The piece of plastic (it’s a thin silver sun protector for a car, much like one of those emergency blankets but larger) has so far been successful at stopping the moisture come through the ground sheet. It has been mostly sunny but yesterday we had a really big thunderstorm and rain for most of the day and night and we were still dry this morning so thumbs up to that equipment addition.
- The aluminium wind shields for our stove are tearing quite badly now …. does anyone know how many times you can fold an aluminium wind shield before it dies completely?
‘D’ = distance & ’T’ = time
15th August Milan to Pavia: D 38Km / T 2:35 mins
16th August Pavia to Piacenza : D 74Km / T 5:00 mins
17th August Piacenza to Cremona: D 47Km / T 3:05 mins
18th August Cremona to Gazzuolo: D 58Km / T 4:11 mins
19th August Gazzuolo to Mantua: D 39Km / T 2:51 mins
21st August Mantua to Bologne by train
22nd August Bologne to Ancona by train
23rd August overnight ferry to Stari Grad, Croatia
Total ‘Trip’ distance so far: 3760km
Check out the map