We left Varazze in fresh and clean gear after a visit to the launderette the night before. Riding in clean gear is such a luxury as travel wash only does so much to hide the terrible cyclist smell. We followed the beautiful coastal road for 69 miles and as expected there were several big climbs however nothing out of the ordinary. Since our trip is drawing to a close we decided to treat ourselves to a restaurant lunch rather than a supermarket special. We had a starter AND a main course and enjoyed our meal by the waters edge at a small hotel restaurant which was delightful. We also managed to join a bicycle path for 10 miles leading into San Remo. The bike path had previously been a train line and so the path was completey flat, well maintained and very wide. Riding into San Remo was very pleasant indeed. The smell of cheese and fresh bread looms closer and we are extremely eager to reach the French coast. As much as our affection for Italy remains as strong as ever, the time has come to leave the haven of pasta and pizza. Tomorrow we say cioa to Italy and bonjour to France.
Where do I begin… Today was the best and worst day of the trip so far. We awoke from our sauna like room and left the ugly outskirts of Piacenza as soon as we could. A quick 30 miles followed before the temperatures reached the high 30’s. After the 30 miles, there were no signs of a shop let alone a supermarket and so we stopped off at a small cafeteria for a sandwich. What followed next was very unexpected. Our old friend and arch enemy had returned – the mountain. We climbed and climbed and climbed for hours and hours and hours. Up and up we went for miles. The scenery was beautiful however the mountain road less so. I found it particularly tough as the road was relentless and the heat unbearable. We climbed to over 1100m even passing an Italian ski school! After a three hour climb, my first puncture, and being pooed on by a bird, we made it to the top. By this time it was 6pm and we still had 30 miles to go. We admired the beautiful view that had taken so so long to achieve and set off on our descent down the mountain. From what had been an extremely long ascent had only shaven off 4 miles from our end destination and it was looking as if we were going to arrive by sunset. We triple checked garmy just to be sure we did in fact have so many more miles to cover and unfortunately we did. They were also all over more hills! Garmy chuckled to himself. It was getting late and so a supermarket special was on the dinner menu for tonight. Tasteless and inexpensive are our two favourite ingredients. After some extremely scenic cycling, passing beautiful vineyards we finally arrived at 9pm! We were staying in a lovely little bnb and were warmly greeted by an old Italian lady who didn’t speak a word of English. Luckily with my Spanish, we managed to understand each other enough to be shown to our rooms and more importantly get the WiFi code.
A quick snack, shower and off to bed!
WARNING: Blogpost by Sasha Bruml We awoke from an uninterrupted sleep in our old-fashioned hotel room with the air conditioning unit blowing cool air into the room. Reluctantly, we rolled out of bed and drowsely made our way down for breakfast. We were met by a lucky dip of croissants, each with a different surprise filling. After having our fill of chocolate, apricot and custard we clambered back upstairs to prepare for the day. Feeling refreshed and ready for another sunny day in the saddle we made our way down to check out. There we were met with some unwelcome news.. Overnight the temperature had never fallen below 28 degrees! The Sicilian receptionist seemed desperate to get the message through to us that we would be mad to cycle in the heat. However, she eventually wished us farewell, but not before she had insisted we contact her at the end of the day, just to be sure we were alive!
We sped off at race speed to cover as much distance as possible before the temperature rose to unbearable. It wasn’t long before we were riding on open road over the pancake flat landscape. By the time the sun sat above our heads and our bellies began to rumble the temperature had crept into the high 30’s. Having seen no sign of shade nor supermarket we put our faith in garmy once more. After mere minutes we rolled into a small seemingly empty town where we were spoilt for choice. The enormous supermarket was spookily empty but we stocked up nonetheless. After scoffing down the usual chicken and cheese baguette I noticed a pair of discarded plastic gloves used for handling the food in the supermarket. An idea sprang to mind that would for sure make this day one to remember. For those of you unfamiliar with the game of odds, let me explain. Odds is a game of probability, stupidity and a certain lack of dignity leaving both players at risk of carrying out the set dare. This time the dare was to complete the rest of the days cycling, another 30 miles, wearing the plastic gloves. Now this may not sound too bad, however in the 40 degrees heat the plastic gloves become miniature microwaves. I am proud to say that I was victorious and left Toby to suffer the torture of cooked hands. Toby kept to his word and stupidly kept the gloves on for the mere amusement of change.
After lunch the heat hit us hard and our pace slowed to a crawl. We slumped over our handlebars watching our wheels roll over the cracks in tarmac. Silently, we listened to the monotonous tick of our pedals and prayed for shade. After several agonising hours the horizon changed from shimmering road to the outskirts of an industrial looking city. We had made it to Piacenza! We were relieved to have made it to our grotty hostel. After hydrating and snapping out of our daze we realised that we were 30 minutes from the city centre in a room without air-conditioning or a light. We made the most of it however and managed to find cheap pizza and a delicious gelataria! After being brutally destroyed by Toby over two rounds of table tennis we climbed into our beds.
From one lake to the next…Today we left Lake Garda and cycled 50 miles west to Lake Iseo (just as beautiful as Garda however with zero tourists). We also passed through the sister town (Desenzano del Garda) of Wiener Neudstadt, the first town we passed through after Vienna, which was very exciting. We had our first lie in today, which is strange considering we were staying in an 8 bed dormitory with glacial air conditioning. However, due to our early starts and rather long and tiresome days of cycling, we managed to sleep undisturbed until 9am. We left at 11:30 am just at the moment when the sun had risen and was ready to burn the senseless topless cyclists who dared ride the scorching tarmac roads. We took it very easy, due to the heat, and arrived at 5:30pm after various much needed water stops. The lake was beautiful, and so we walked to the nearest swimming spot and jumped in. It was glorious. We swam in the lake for a while and cleansed our worn down bodies before a delicious pizza and gelato dinner. Tomorrow we start our journey towards the Italian coast , which we should reach in two and a half days.
As the morning sun rose above the beautiful city of Verona, we were up and about in the middle of our daily routine of applying chammy cream to our battered and bruised derrières. After a croissant stop for breakfast, we were off. It was only 20 miles to Lake Garda and so we were there in no time at all. We checked into the hostel and ran to the lake where we jumped, flipped and dove about in the cooling lake water. It was the perfect remedy. Lake Garda is absolutely stunning albeit extremely hot (38 degrees) and soon after emerging from the lake, we were bone dry.During the afternoon, Sasha and I had quite different itineraries. One was sane, the other completely bonkers. Sasha decided to cycle around the whole of the lake!! Soon after lunch, he stripped the bike down to its skeleton removing the cumbersome pannier bags and turned race mode to ON. As he set off on his ride, I also set off however on a more touristic route cycling only 30 miles visiting some beautiful little towns along the coast of the lake. I also swam twice more, somehow managing to elude paying the 7€ fee for the private beach I had ended up on. Whilst there I ought to mention that I had one of the best ice creams I have ever had! Worth returning to Lake Garda just to feel that sweet sensation once more. Sasha returned from his 90 mile round tour at 7pm and after a much needed shower, we descended to the hostel lobby where there was 5€ all you can eat pizza. On this occasion we went for quantity not quality.
Venice, Venice, Venice. What a magical place. Four years ago, whilst in Valencia doing an intensive Spanish course, I met two lovely Italian girls who studied in Venice. We kept in contact over the years and yesterday, we spent the whole day with one of them. Venice is extremely busy, especially at this time of the year and so being with a local was brilliant. We walked around, visiting various different plazas, churches and bridges and had a delicious lunch altogether. Sadly, we said goodbye in the late afternoon and wandered slowly back to our hostel. Venice truly was wonderful however we felt ready to leave the overcrowded, narrow streets and head deeper into Italy, to Verona! We set off the next day, walking and carrying our heavy bikes over the numerous little bridges upsetting many locals. We eventually re-traced our steps and made our way out. Our day was very long and very hot. It reached 40 degrees at one point and remained around 38 for most of the day. It really was tough cycling in the heat and so we arrived in Verona at 6pm after a 90 mile day. Unfortunately we did not get to visit Verona as much as we would have liked however, what we did see was beautiful. After a difficult choice of pasta or pizza, we settled on a restaurant and enjoyed what Italy does best; the food.
Our time in Trieste was wonderful. I have a classmate who is from there and funnily enough she flew into the city the day we arrived. So after our night in the hostel (with two very weird guys), we cycled to her apartment and spent the day with her and her friends. Visiting a city with a local is always far better than aimlessly wandering around trying to spot all the main sights. Ilaria was a great host and after briefly showing us around, we went to her friends swimming pool that overlooks the entire city. It was the perfect way to relax after a long day of cycling. After a delicious pizza, Sasha and I cuddled up on our comfy sofa bed. No sheets, no pillows, no problem. We awoke at 7am for our biggest day yet. Over 100 miles to Venice!! We cycled extremely fast for the first sixty miles averaging around 20mph, however the temperature only got hotter and around lunchtime we were cycling in 37 degrees. It was far too hot and we had to stop. We made good time however reaching Venice by 6pm and we couldn’t hold our excitement. We were ecstatic about being in Venice and couldn’t believe we were actually here. We tried cycling on the tiny venetian streets and were told twice by the angry Italian police to get off our bikes. Garmy was also totally lost, in complete bewilderment at the labyrinth that is Venice. Today we cycled a grand total of 105 miles!! And so after a much needed wash, we went out into the wilderness and ambled around, hoping to see some nice buildings and squares. Venice is absolutely beautiful, however swarming with tourists. Rarely do you hear Italian, which is very sad considering the local population has drastically decreased in the past decade due to this influx. Regardless, we are over the moon to be here and can’t wait to explore more tomorrow.
We spent a wonderful two nights in Ljubljana and grew very fond of the small city. We spent our ‘free’ day doing a walking tour and spending the afternoon with a lovely Canadian couple that were staying in our hostel. After wondering what to do with our last few hours in the city, we finally decided on one rather odd activity; a mind maze (a seemingly regular thing to do in Ljubljana). You are placed in a room with various objects, and the aim of the game is to escape the room in under an hour, piecing together the clues you find. We ended up leaving the room with 10 seconds to spare and we had such fun doing it. We were skeptical beforehand and we could hardly stop talking about it for the few hours after. Sadly, we left pretty little Ljubljana and set off for the caves and Castle of Postojna (which is between the Italian coast and Ljubljana). We cycled quickly and arrived at 12:15. At this point we pondered whether it might be best to see the caves and then head onwards to Trieste today instead of tomorrow. We spent an hour and a half in the caves and it was just indescribable. The caves were overwhelming beautiful and so enchanting. There was even a train inside the cave that drove around for 5 kilometres in a cave system that spans 21 kilometres! We left the caves in utter astonishment and cycled 10 kilometres onwards to the castle of Predjama. The castle was built into the cliff face and it was just as beautiful and impressive. Hidden away in the rock is the most amazingly intricate and well-maintained castle, and we felt so lucky to have been able to witness such astounding creations in one day. It was 15:30 now and we had two choices. Number 1: stay the night in the unexciting town of Postojna (which was what we had originally planned). Or, number 2: cycle 30 more miles to Italy!! We went with the latter and cycled straight to Trieste. The ride was fairly easy and we were bursting with excitement as we had our first glimpse of the Mediterranean. Making our way into Trieste was more challenging than we had expected, as we dodged the crazed Italian drivers and struggled to keep our balance on the cobbled roads which somehow always seemed to be going downhill. We had no accommodation booked here, and so frantically went in search of a cheap place to stay. Luckily, we found a small hotel near the centre of the city for only 20€ a night and dumped our bags in the room. All we could think about was delicious Italian food. In fact, we had been dreaming about it all day, and that was what had motivated us to carry on and reach Italy. After a day of 70 miles, up and down the hilly countryside, we treated ourselves to a delicious pizza and pasta dinner. ITALY, we love you already.
The alarm clock sounded, and after dreaming of a palm beach with mojitos in both hands, I quickly realised that I was not in fact in paradise, however, was in a peculiar hotel in the middle of Slovenia, and that another day of cycling followed. We had our daily stop at the supermarket and were on our bikes by 11am. We cycled very fast for about 20 miles with beautiful countryside all around us. However, the flat roads soon turned to hills and as we slowly ascended, we pictured beautiful Slovenian girls awaiting us at the very top. This was not the case, although we did enjoy a lovely descent. We stopped for lunch about 15 miles outside of Ljubljana and feasted on our sandwiches. Just as we sat down, it started to rain; typical. After taking some photos of the beautiful countryside and mountains that we had just climbed, we slowly made our way into the city. With a population of only 300 000, Ljubljana was a lot smaller than we had previously imagined and we arrived soon after at our hostel. We were in a 6 bed dorm with Mexicans, Irish and a Taiwanese girl. That is the great thing about hostels, meeting so many different people from all backgrounds. We tasted Mexican chili sweets and spoke about Taiwanese politics before going to visit the Ljubljana castle (2nd castle in two days). We enjoyed a lovely dinner on the riverfront and Sasha found out that he had passed his university year so we went for a celebratory drink and walk, when it then started to rain; again!
We had another short day today, cycling only 43 miles. After having a buffet breakfast and stocking up on bananas and jaffa cakes, we set off. We had travelled south up until now, but today we turned the compass on our bikes and started heading westward towards the centre of Slovenia, however not before one last breakfast stop at the famous maribor ice cream shop. Full up of ice cream, we left the city and turned on our trusted friend garmy. Sasha had in fact downloaded some maps onto his phone so we decided to follow that instead of garmy. This ended up being a foolish foolish mistake as we followed a path up a huge hill only to be faced with a dead end at the very top. I was extremely unhappy and this successfully put me into a grump. I rue the day that I went against garmy as he sneered and chuckled at us for our obstinate disobedience. Never again! Unfortunately we followed a main road for most of the day and so stopped for lunch at a roadside petrol station. Our usual ham and cheese sandwich followed. After a long downhill descent, we arrived in Celje, a city inbetween Maribor and Ljubljana. The city was very industrial and we were staying in a hotel that seemed like THE place to be in Celje. The hotel had a terrace bar, a sports pub, a nightclub and a marriage was taking place as we were checking in. Quite bizarre. Since we arrived fairly early in the day, we went to visit the Celje castle above the city which was fantastic. The castle was extremely impressive however after about 15 minutes, it started to pour with rain. We arrived back at the hotel absolutely soaked. Luckily a Slovenian pub dinner awaited us, and so feeling re-fuelled, we headed up to bed.