Home To Rome 2010

Jack and Jimmy travel 2085km from London to Rome by bike — with only rubble filled roads, late lake crossings and curious hoteliers in their way. Oh, and the Alps.

Preface

This is a copy of the blog that my dear friends Jack and James put together for their trip to the Coliseum in Rome, from the London eye.

They rode for the British Heart Foundation and The Stroke Association — raising £2600.

The old site was on a tumblr, and a bit janky — as well as relatively expensive for something no one visits. I've moved it here so it can be a bit sexier — and so we don’t have to keep renewing the domain.

The trip took place in 2010, and there’s a lot of nice pictures to look at. My involvement was only that I set up the blog, bought the domain, and spread the work on a couple of social communities I had set up or ran professionally.

I’ll add a few editorial comments in italics throughout to provide a bit of connective tissue.

Here’s the thing, from the beginning:

Training, Preparation & T-Shirt Printing Fails

The ride was sponsored by The AnswerBank and its members, and CH Project Services Ltd as well as many generous individuals.

Today we thrashed out 85km in 3 hours 30 minutes, a good start but we’ll need to get faster to allow for the odd mishap which will surely occur on the open road.

The Stroke Association have been very helpful getting back to us straight away after we contacted them. We’ve not been able to get hold of the British Heart Foundation yet, but we’ll catch up with them shortly.

We’ve got a new web address, you’re on it! (home2rome.co.uk)

We also popped out to fix up our nice shirts (with the logos of The Stroke Association, British Heart Foundation and The AnswerBank) — yet, sadly, both prospective T-Shirt printers were closed. T-Shirt Printing Fail.

Much Love,

The Home2Rome Team

Modelling the rather fetching Stroke Association T-shirts

There was some in the field training beforehand…

Good short morning ride to the top of Les Deux Alpes. Glorious weather-hopefully we’ll have some of this on the little adventure! Tomorrow up Alpe-d’Huez. Good times!

View from the top of Les Deux Alps
Chilling out at the Col De’Serenne. 1999m high!

Killer climb to the top of Alpe D’Huez following by the climb to Col De’Sarenne on not so smooth roads and 30+ degree heat! Over 1200m of climb non stop! Well worth it for the incredible decent back down! See you made it the Brighton Jimmy? Good stuff! :)

… and more T shirts:

Our model demonstrates how to wear a fetching and sexy Home2Rome2010 cycling top. Hopefully we’ll see pictures of these shirts across the continent as they go on their Home2Rome2010 adventure!

While Jack is training hard in the Alps Jimmy prefers a gentle stroll down to Brighton. Check out the new BHF t-shirts! The shirt collection is now complete!

And soon…

They’re Off! — The Journey Begins

The first day was mostly escaping London.

Day 1: London to Dunkirk

First stop in Gravesend — Jack Is thrilled to have survived London
Day one — hanging out in Canterbury

Made good time to Canterbury, tail wind the whole way! Stopped for coffee and cake before making the final few miles to Dover to catch the ferry! Arrived at Dunkirk port just after 9pm local time, dark but the weather was good. Soon into the 15 miles into the ride to the hostel the heavens open in biblical proportions! Put some what of a dampener on the mood! We eventually found what must be the worst hostel in history around 11:30 that night. Not ideal, but the day was done and it’s all laughs now! Photos and further descriptions to follow…

Jimmy in Canterbury

Little update for you folks, we've made it to Dover in good time! Waiting for the ferry now on a lovely piece of English Tarmac! Thanks for all the support today people!

Leaving from the London Eye

(We have arrived in Mons! 2 days and 330km in the bag! Arrived too late, wet, cold, tired, angry and underwhelmed with the hostel to post day one report yesterday but will upload later tonight. )

Skanky Hostel

Jimmy was quite upset by the skanky hostel — until they performed a great kindness…

Skanky Hostel
Our room in skanky hostel
More of skanky hostel. The receptionist sent us to three different locations while we were trying to locate the place none of which were in sight of the hostel. She then slammed the phone down on us and when we arrived she didn't know which key opened which room. The Savoy can rest easy.

Day 2: Dunkirk to Mons (The Great Mousse Robbery)

After being served a bowl of coffee and a stale baguette we raced out of Dunkirk at the fastest pace we made so far, with the city’s stock of pudding in our pannier bags. With the crime committed we headed for the border and were quickly into Belgium, making the first 100km in just under 4 hours.

Skanky hostel redeemed themselves by letting us take all their chocolate mousse!

Since we were living on the run we couldn't show our faces in respectable establishments so dined on tuc biscuits and lay’s sensations. After a couple more border crossings we strolled into Mons in good time only to find the military patrolling the market square in anticipation of our arrival! We dodged three tanks and took refuge in a much more pleasant hostel, in time for steak and chicken fajitas!

In all a pretty event free day, good weather and tail wind helped us make a swift getaway. After two days of steady sunshine the cycle-wear tan-lines are increasingly pronounced. By Rome we should be ready to take on our new identities!

Calf

P.s. We later saw an officer driving a tank and carrying a pink umbrella — I'm guessing that’s not standard issue…

The army arrive in Mons city centre
Freaky paintings in Mons hostel
Mons city centre

Day 3: Mons to Bouillon (Racing Rainclouds)

We are greeted by monsoon rain after a good nights kip, followed by the disappointment of the buffet breakfast not being open at the advertised 7:30 time! Jimmy took immediate dislike to this way of events, so once breakfast could commence, took his time to consume, 3 bowls of chocolate flakes, 4 pieces of toast and honey, 2 sandwiches containing cheddar, Brie, and ham, a hard boiled egg, 3 pieces of fruit, 4 fruit juices and 3 mugs of coffee!

Breakfast was demolished soon after 8 and was followed by a trip to the local shop (the city now clear of military occupation) to stock up on the essentials of a continental cycle trip — snickers bars and waffles! Magic!

Enjoying a cheeky waffle with storms on the horizon

The monsoon rain had eased by 9:30 so we headed for our next stop at Bouillon. We made fairly slow and steady but respectable pace for the the first 100km considering the atrocious conditions we were riding in! Stopped in a sleepy town to take cover from the driving rain at one point and twice powered through the rain to accidentally join a busy dual carriageway which were not cycle friendly. having braes the conditions we reached the picturesque hilltop town of Bouillon before 6pm.

Making light of the rain, and the mucky view from our shelter

Walked into the sleepy to town to find dinner in the form of a Croque-mosier and frites served by a lady who couldn't speak English! Is that possible??

3 days down and 465km in the bag!

Next stop Metz, Francais. C’est Super Fontastique!

Day 4: Boullion to Metz (Windfarms and wilderness)

We were sad to leave the small town of Boullion and even more so that we have to find our way out of the Ardenne after the trouble we’d had finding the hostel the night before! We took our chances and found ourselves on a winding riverside road that had road blocks every 50 metres because apparently one un-scalable road block is insufficient!

Border crossing number 6! Jimmy just didn't want to leave Belgium behind!
Jimmy was quickly stopped in his tracks at the beginning of day 4 by a small amount of debris falling from the cliff top!

After successfully completed the obstacle course we were finally greeted with the downhill reward for the previous night’s climb. The winding footpath out of the hill range got Captain Jack the record speed of the trip — an eye watering 79.3 km/h!

Sun’s Out Guns Out

The rest of the day comprised of just two N-roads taking us directly to Metz. Passing little civilisation, the sweeping roads provided an ideal stage to rack up a rapid pace. Belgian countryside blended into French farmland with only a few graceful wind farms as passing landmarks.

Open road to Metz

Frustratingly all food French food outlets close for lunch, which I’ll never understand. So we survived on the few supplies we had and kept rolling for the 155km trip, pausing for fun photo ops along the way.

Goodbye Boullion

We arrives in Metz a little before 6pm, in time to hit the town for a buffet dinner at Flunch and returned for a late night internet catch up. Thanks for all the words of support on Facebook, we are still a long way off our respective targets though so please, be kind and donate!

Calf

Day 5: Metz — Strasbourg (Inclines and Tramlines)

Our earliest get away yet!

Leaving Metz at 9:10 on a crisp September morning we soon picked up our first sign to Strasbourg — a mere 158km ahead! The first 3 hours ride were swift and in glorious sunshine, the scenery wasn't bad either — more rolling French countryside, much like the previous day’s ride.

The girls after a good nights rest — today France, Germany and Switzerland!

A slight headwind and tough terrain slowed our progress for the next couple of hours before stopping for coffee and a snack at the not so picturesque town of Phalsbourg, but it was a welcome and much needed break as food and water supplies were beginning to run low!

The final 55km into Strasbourg were steady if a little slow, with the exception of the decent into Saverne from the top of the col there at a mere 410m. Nevertheless it provided Jimmy with his first experience of what an Alpine decent will feel like. It took us a couple of hours to reach the centre before managing to find no signs to the park in which our hostel was located. We eventually found it some 45mins later but saw much of the city en-route and managed to avoid getting run over by any trams! Following the days events and the 165km covered there was no great disappointment at reaching the hostel late in the day.

Hostel was a good one, best shower yet and good views over the Rhine into Deutschland where we located our dinner in the form of a pizza, and some sort of folded pizza/sandwich/pie dish each followed by a good sweet caramel and baileys crepe! All for an incredible 28€

Tomorrow we make our way out of France to the Swiss city of Basel for the first of our 3 nights in Switzerland.

Jack

… Halfway …

We have made it to the half way point. We are 1000km from home and 1000km from Rome!

Thanks for everyone’s support so far, we’re heading south towards the Alps for two tough days, so please be kind and donate to the British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association on the link below. Thank you!

Today The Alps. Gravity, be kind…
Top of the alps by 2pm. Easy.

Day 6: Strasbourg to Basel (Never Doubt the Wisdom of Google Maps)

After demolishing the free breakfast and internet we felt we’d got our moneys worth from the Strasbourg hostel and hit the road. The route for the day was very simple, follow the French/German border south to Switzerland, where Basel straddles all three.

Google maps suggested we head back to the city before going south, but we thought we knew better and immediately headed fro the Rhine to follow it down. The Rhine stinks, if you don’t think we have worked for sponsorship money by cycling 2000km, you should be convinced that we've endured enough pain by spending two hours next to the most foul smelling rotten river you will ever encounter.

Our route also took us down a tire destroying gravel path which slowed the pace right down. Google also sent a wasp to sting Captain Jack in a further act of spite. We soon admitted our mistake and rejoined Google suggested route. For the next three hours we enjoyed blistering pace on incredibly flat roads with minimal traffic, no delays at junctions. The god of maps was clearly pleased with us again.

We veered off once more when we spotted a cheeky short-cut and I was immediately struck down with an ankle injury. After a sincere apology and a lot of pills we rejoined the previous route and raced through small towns with increasingly Germanic names and stunning fairytale village architecture.

After a splendid coffee and cake the village of Ottersheim we obeyed the orders of Google maps to the border for photos in Basel. The road system through the city is chaotic, with trams, cars, bikes and pedestrians all doing as they pleased around huge junctions with no signals. However the people are kind and helpful and we soon found our way and picked up some great suggestions for places to eat.

We graciously ignored all of these and headed out for a carbo-loading feast with our room-mate for the night Alex, who has heroically made the same trip, London to Basel by bike, in a week all for the sake of buying a watch! That’s commitment!

Calf

Open road to Switzerland

Day 7: Basel — Gersau ((Buochs) The Curse of the Keo Cleat)

Another beautiful morning greets us on our grand adventure, this time in the tram happy city of Basel. We make our way down to the best breakfast of the trip soon after 7 in the hope of an early start as we had a couple of things to sort out before we could get going.

First on the agenda was Calf’s left cleat had decided enough was enough and didn't want to play any more, so we set off in search of a bike shop. We were directed to one by the very helpful lady at reception from the hostel that turned out to be a guy who only did repairs. Despite this he pointed us in the right direction of a bike shop that should be able to solve the issue. First signs were promising and new cleats were soon bought and fitted. Job done!

They don’t clip in!

Turns out Calf has bought amazing new ‘Look Keo’ cleats (for your future reference) — this bike shop doesn't stock these. So back to the old worn out cleats we are. The guys at the shop mark on the map two additional bike shops to try, which we do. Both were very professional but neither stocked the part! After this royal waste of time we decided to call it a day and head to the tourist office to pick up a map of the Swiss cycle route 3 which we would be following for the next 370km or so to the Italian border, but apparently tourist information offices don’t stock these and you have to go to book shops to purchase these!

So much for Swiss efficiency!

By now we had wasted enough time and had nothing we needed so decided to head south to the Alps and our destination; Gersau in the hope of seeing a bike shop and/or place to purchase map on route. Before we had made our way out the city we stumbled on a bike shop that did happen to stock the part we were looking for! Smiles all round, bikes were given the once over during this time and tyres nicely pumped and we were eventually on our way into our 140km ride at midday. This was going to be a late one!

We were soon on the Swiss cycle route 3 which was pleasant enough as it made it’s way out of Basel on quiet roads and cycle paths. Soon it presented us with the first real climb of the trip up over the ridge surrounding the city. The views were of spectacular rolling hills for miles around with clear blue skies providing a perfect temperature for riding. It doesn't get much better than this!

We continued at good pace for the next couple of hours, covering almost 60km before stopping at a mini supermarket to get some lunch. It was here Calf got talking to a Swiss guy and his son who were not phased by our efforts of cycling to Rome — as he had cycled to Bangkok! Soon after this conversation I bought to our attention the problem that may become a slight issue at the end of the day. We had to get a ferry across lake Luzern from Beckenried to Gersau (in which our hostel was located) We soon discovered it stopped running at 7pm, it was now half 3 and we had approximately 75–80km to do, we could only estimate our distance to travel as we were following the cycle route so could not rely on distances from road signs. And this also turned out to be partly a bit off road so have the bikes a bit more to suffer than was anticipated!DeAns you know we love a challenge, so decided to go for it!

Despite our best efforts of not dropping below 25kmph for the final hour and keeping our cruising speed around 30kmph or more we missed the last ferry by 20 mins! A possible night on the streets lay ahead, but we had a massive 190km to do the following day so started the hunt for a reasonable hotel. (Is this possible in Switzerland?)

We found a Starbucks and an Irish pub in every town we stayed. Jack demonstrates examples of each.
Hefty beverage reward

We settled on a hotel in the town back where we came from and haggled the price down to 130sf for the night from 150sf, the owners were not prepared to go any lower! They were however incredibly friendly and made us feel very welcome, cooked up a meal that wasn't on the menu for a very reasonable price for us and offered to open breakfast 30mins early the following day so we could get the first ferry crossing that morning to continue out journey over the Alps…

Bugs

Day 8: Ferry crossing on lake Luzern

Day 8: Bouches to Figino (205km of Extraordinary Experiences)

It started by a lake. After staying at the Sternen Landgasthof hotel, Bouches, and enjoying their excellent breakfast buffet we finally took the anticipates ferry ride across lake Luzern. It was well worth the wait, the scenery was stunning and the mountain air and water was incredibly pure.

This would be the toughest day so far — 200km through the Alps, reaching 2180m above sea level along the way.
Ferry Selfie

As soon as we arrived in Gersau across the lake we began the climb. It was a gradual gradient at first, passing sleepy mountain towns. Then we turned onto the main road, where the road sign informed us of the 1500 metre climb ahead over the next 34km.

The slope was manageable until around 10km shy of the town of Hospental (home of the worlds largest medical facility for people with speech impediments), where the St Ghottard pass began proper. The road snaked up at an ever increasing angle, it was a struggle to maintain a speed above 10km/h and the passing bikers and day-tripping motorists seemed to lack concern regarding the sheer drop the other side of the barrier.

After 20km and 2.5 hours of this ordeal, including an excruciating last 8km on cobbled track we reached the top of the pass. We celebrated with onesy photos and chocolate sundaes however, the party was short lived as it was now 3pm and we had 130km to the hostel!

We wrapped up warm in preparation for the chilling winds on the descent. This for me involved both cycling onesy and tights, two items of clothing with crotch padding, which was sensational experience — I urge any reader to try this!

The pass started on the way down the way it finished on the way up, with bone shaking cobbles, which denied any chance of gaining proper speed and would shook problems into the bikes, which would be discovered later. Following this first 20km was the fast descent through the towns which helped make up some time.

As the sun went down in southern Switzerland, the previously reliable Nor-Sud cycling route, decided to take us on a half hour loop around the fields of Lugano, adding sufficient time and distance to the days ride that we were surely unable to arrive at the hostel before closing. After consulting the wisdom of Google maps we took to the highways and powered out a final 300m climb before rushing through the southern towns to the coast.

Lake Lugano

It ended by a lake. Finally we raced around the coast of lake Lugano, it was truly disappointing that we couldn't fully appreciate the scenery by this time but the fresh air was a friendly throwback to the morning ferry. Fortunately the staff at Figino had left our key and after 13.5 hours and 205km we could rest easy and prepare for the final border crossing into Italy.

Just another day at the office
I don’t understand, but I think there may be some kind of peril // Scenes from the decent

Day 9: Figino to Milan (Failure on Five Fronts)

The day begins with a mammoth breakfast sat outside in the Sunday morning sun! A perfect morning some may say. We were however, feeling the effects of the previous days 205km ride, both mentally and physically. 10am soon came around and we were on the road to our last border crossing of the trip into Italia and our destination for the day, Milan!

The first few km’s of the day were a joyous warm-up following lake Lugano around to the town of Melide to where the only crossing was to take us into the last few kilometres of the pleasant Swiss cycle route 3 to the town of Chiasso where we would make our crossing into Italy and the town of Como.

Como proved to be an immediate change to the clean and efficient Swiss towns we had left behind. Traffic was heavy and a little chaotic with the route out to Milan not entirely clear!

Failure 1: We ended up loosing each other somehow on the route out of Como and I was running very low on battery and as neither of us could exactly locate the other decided to ride solo (like Jason DeRulo) to Milan and meet at the hostel. Hopefully around the same time!

The temperature was slowly rising and by mid afternoon was up in the high twenties, which along with the humidity made the cycling a little tough at times, especially with the busy and confusing Italian road system!

In England we have a very simple system, M roads, A roads and B roads? In Italy however, you have E roads (motorways) simple enough, but then SS roads which seem quiet and then become hideously busy and did at one point effectively turn into a motorway! And then SP roads, SR roads and a million other abbreviations of these S roads! Anyway, we shall have to investigate these more for our journey to Rome! Bring back the beautiful Belgian and French roads from earlier on in the week! Did I think I’d ever say that before the start of the trip?

I’ll leave Jim to add anything necessary from his journey but shall continue with my nightmare of a ride to Milan. Following the encounter of almost joining a motorway I was forced to backtrack and change my route slightly but this was to be with some difficulty as;

Failure 2: My phone was now dead, so no googlemaps for me and;

Failure 3: The map we had bought from Como proved to be inadequate as it didn't state road names or towns, just the distances between them! So the rest of the journey was to be done on instinct.

Failure 4: Being a Sunday in Italy everywhere was shut and petrol stations are all un-manned so there was nowhere to look at a map and my Italian is non existant along with the majority of Italians English, so it pretty much ruled out asking someone for directions! Nevertheless, I soon found suitable cycling roads and signs to Milan (or settlements I had written down along the route originally planned) but then encountered a bigger and slightly more worrying problem.

Failure 5: Something had broken on my bike, I was unable to get any drive from the gears. After a quick look at it there was clearly a problem with either the bottom bracket or the rear hub. Not the easiest of problems to resolve but something was due to go wrong! The bike was still ridable if a little unpredictable at times so I continued on route to Milan, deciding to inspect it more thoroughly after the days ride. Making sure I took extra care not to damage the bike any further. I soon stumbled on a cafe that was open to my surprise, got myself a coke and the owner was kind enough to put my phone on charge. A quick phone call to the Calf and things were looking up. The hostel was only 15km away now and a pretty straight route to follow! I soon reached the hostel where Calf boy hadn't been waiting too long, we were soon checked in, showered and ready to refuel after a quick wonder of the city. It certainly wasn't the most scenic of routes into Milan but it was more of a relief to make it to the end of the day than anything after all that had been endured in what was meant to be our ‘rest day’ of only 80km!

We got the metro into town that evening with the intent of finding a bike shop for the morning and possibly some shades for Calf boy. We found neither so decided to wander to the centre to have a look at the pretty impressive cathedral and grabbed the most refreshing ice-creams ever! Our taste buds were now tingling and made our way back to the hostel where we’d been recommended a pizzeria nearby to eat in! Healthy portions and relatively cheap prices went down well, along with some interesting company from a Polish gentleman called Jan who resided in Switzerland but was in Milan for a cheap flight back to Poland!

By now it was certainly time for rest and a quick look at the route to Parma the following day that would certainly begin with a broken bike…

Bugs

SS9

Day 10 Milan to Parma (SS9 Vol. I)

The route from Milan to Bologna (via Parma) appeared too good to be true: exit Milan and take one straight road for 250km. It was too good to be true and immediately after exiting the hostel and joining the outer ring-road we encountered Italy’s horn happy commuter chaos. The ordeal was made worse by the worry of how long Bugs’ bike would last.

This was merely a preview of the terrifying day that lay ahead on, what we later found out was Italy’s main service road. The brief sections of cycle path sanctity never lasted long and usually had a coating of broken glass for good measures, so the thin highway was the only option.

There was no time for photos today as our hands were firmly glued to the handlebars and head forward in fierce concentration, as lorries and buses roared passed providing no room for error. There was no time either to snigger at the multiple meows signs which read ‘Anas Spa’ (either they have a lot of cyclists in the area, or they cater for a different audience) or signs which implied not to play the French horn.

Without warning the SS9 became a huge dual carriageway with slip-roads and junctions to match and the traffic was increasingly threatening. Then, in Piacenzza, the volume dropped right down as we approached major road works at the bridge.

We were informed it wasn't safe for bikes, but with the next river crossing 30km, the officer at the gate gave a ‘you haven’t seen me, right?’ signal and sent us down anyway. The crossing was the type of rickety bridge which definitely has a troll living under it and shook as tho it could barely take the weight of a bicycle, let alone the trucks that followed.

We took a breather for our first coffee break in Italy, it made it all worth while, and soon after found a bike shop. Unfortunately the mechanic could neither fix nor communicate the problem, but did point us in the direction of the foremost fixer in Parma.

For a further 40km we hugged the hard-shoulder into a hefty headwind until Parma, where we enjoyed a massive pizza and had a feeling that things could only get better for SS9 Vol. II.

Calf

The wonderful cycle path on the SS9 to Modena that provided brief protection from the constant threat of death from the heavy traffic!

Day 11: Parma to Bologna (SS9 Vol.II)

The day starts with a very dry and un-filling breakfast provided by the hostel with the constant thought of the broken bike on my mind. A quick look on the internet after breakfast and I was able to locate this bike shop Del Sante I had been recommended.

Soon after 9 I was on my way into the centre of Parma with the hope of getting the bike fixed. Calf used this time productively to get supplies for the day and chase up a few of the bits that had fallen behind over the past couple of days.

I found the bike shop within ten mins of leaving the hostel and showed the guy there what was wrong with my bike. He nodded and gestured to put the bike on the work stand. He quickly removed the cassette from the hub and seemed to of established the problem! He did have some what of a confused look on his face though and disappeared out the back with the wheel, soon returned and began looking for a washer which he failed to find. An elder gentleman had walked in by this point, he seemed pretty clued up on the subject and pointed to an old gear cable. By now the fault had attracted quite a crowd with two other gentlemen standing around who had also bought bits of bike in to be fixed or new parts to be fitted. It was clearly a well established a highly regarded shop, as the photos and mementos on the wall seemed to suggest with old signed tour jerseys and good will messages to Guiseppe, presumably the owner? Who looked like he must of been a good racer himself! The gentlemen were asking in broken English what bought me to Parma, I explained and they all seemed suitably impressed. The mechanic (who I now had established must be Guiseppe himself) then returned with just one of the wire strands from the gear cable. He began to slowly bend this to the right shape to fit inside the hub. After a bit of poking and positioning he seemed happy and put the gear cassette back on, tightened everything up and spun the wheel. It now made that beautiful ticking sound as it spun! He smiled and gave me the thumbs up. Smiles all round! He gave the bike a quick once over and charged me €25 for the labour, which I thought was a bargain for his expertise. I left a €5 tip which he acknowledged with a handshake, after which the other gentlemen followed suit. I said my goodbyes and set off back to the hostel to meet Calf and begin the days ride to Bologna.

We were on the road by midday which wasn't so bad considering and made good progress to Modena on a cycle path that ran alongside the SS9 which lifted our spirits and drastically decreased the chance of death on that stretch of our journey! We stopped in the city for espresso and rolls. Seemed like a pleasant enough city, would of liked a wonder but we were eager to reach Bologna so the dreaded SS9 route was over.

We were soon back onto our favourite road of the trip for was a quick blast into Bologna past the Ferrari factory on our exit from Modena. The final stretch was without cycle-path with the traffic getting heavier as we approached Bologna and the many prostitutes stood on the road side becoming more and more obvious!

Ferrari factory in Modena, Burgin in the way

We made it to the centre which seemed pleasant enough after a bone shaking ride on the cobbled streets, before making our way through the characterful back streets to the north of the city where our hostel was situated. It really was out in the sticks and lacking a bit of tlc. We asked about food, apparently there was only one place-a pizzeria, surprise surprise! Which, to our disappointment was terrible! But it had to do, Calf ordered a speciality pizza which was a pizza with sausage chopped up (pretty normal) and then chips chucked ontop! And that was the standard…

With another day over and the wonderful SS9 eventually behind us we looked forward to the next days ride to Firenze and hopefully the first enjoyable days cycling in Italy!

Bugs

Day 12: Bologna to Florence (Lessons in Italian Culture)

I can’t say we weren't keen to leave Bologna, after the previous two days ride and scenery we were optimistic regarding the trip to vineyards of the west. However after three days of flat we were headed immediately for the hills, and a storm was headed immediately for us. No sooner had we exited Bologna’s suburban settlements than light rain turned to heavy hail, visibility fell to a minimum and there was some thunder and lightening thrown in for good measure.

With no sign of a break in the cloud we dived in the first cafe refuge we could find. While we sipped coffee and let our clothes dry, we soon came to realised that the establishment offered extracurricular activities, but the only additional pleasure we enjoyed was a free piece of watermelon from the ‘waitress’. Soon the skies cleared, the road dried and we made a swift getaway, still a bit damp and feeling rather dirty.

Calf seemed happy enough with his free watermelon where as others in the establishment may of been hoping for a little more….

We had been reliably informed that the hills in Italy never surpassed 600m on this particular route. After 25km of incline in miserable conditions we reached the top of a 903m climb and realised our source was unreliable. But what followed was everything we had hoped for in cycling Italy. Passing signs for Imola the roads became like a race track as we glided down hairpin hillside bends set to stunning scenery.

As a side note it appears the numberings for distances on road signs in Italy are assigned at random. You can follow directions for a town and 500m down the road find it has moved 4km further away?!?

We races to the edge of Florence where we would have to endure another 513m climb, made more manageable by the setting and the now clear blue skies. Finally we dropped into the bowl of the city and set out to soak up the culture surrounding he cathedral (which is ruined by all the Western tourists, but we can’t complain about that).

Massive dome

The harsh days ride left us fatigued and anxious for the final stretch. Made worse by the 5km walk home, caused by an unhelpful hostel attendant. A rethink of the route and long needed lie-in was in order if we were to make in to Rome on schedule.

Calf

Day 13: Firenze to Siena (From the Sublime to the Spectacular)

Glorious sunshine and a spectacular setting at the youth hostel (which must be an old country residence of some sort) greet us on the thirteenth morning of our trip. We had decided the night before on treating the day as a rest and recovery period before the final 2 days push into Roma. So enjoyed a leisurely breakfast outside and studied the maps for what we hoped would be a pleasant ride into the Chianti vineyards.

Amazing views with the rain finally clearing.

The ride began with a fairly sharp rise out of the city with the slight disappointment of not being able to catch a glimpse of the stunning cathedral below. The ride itself became a continuous repetition of climb and decent in the most amazing vineyard countryside which was accompanied with sweltering heat! This was the Italy we wanted to see and quickly became the best few kilometres ride of the trip so far! The painful climbs were worth every ounce of energy for the views and speedy descents back down! A close shave with a car pulling out in front of me was the only notable event to disrupt the glorious ride!

The Calf enjoying the sweeping descent down from the 903m climb.

Meanwhile Calf has got talking to a South African, Josh who had set off from Zurich with the destination of Cape Town a mere 6–12 months away!

We stopped for a long coffee break in a pleasant Cafe in Castillina in Chianti to refuel on well deserved espresso and pastries!

The final 20km to Siena were mostly downhill and of more stunning scenery taking less than an hour to reach our average hostel for the night. After the usual shower and chill out, we made our way into town to see what Siena had to offer.

With a pleasant wonder, good grub and morale high, we made our way back to the hostel for a good nights kip via an amazing gelateria before the final long days ride of the trip to the city of Tuscania.

Bugs

Tuscania twilight

Day 14: Blog Sienna to Tuscany (The Penultimate Push)

The day starts slow with the difficulty of manoeuvring through the Sienna streets but soon we were into the hilly wilderness of the Tuscany region as the signs for Roma decreased in value.

Stopping only for a midday panini and to wrap up bright for the occasional km long tunnel we made blistering pace to Tuscania. Opening up after each climb the roads were a dream, however a biscuits cross wind genuinely threatened to knock us off the road.

As the wind turned It began to push us to our destination and staggeringly we made the 140 to the town before 4.30pm. The town and hostel were the most quaint we had stayed in, in a beautiful rural setting.

We sampled the offerings of the family businesses in the centre; sweets, Perroni, massive three course meal, then headed for bed (with proper bedding for the first time in a fortnight!) This would provide the perfect night’s rest for the home straight!

Calf

FINALLY…

Day 15: Tuscania to Roma (Champagne Supernova)

Following the best nights sleep for 2 weeks and on real beds with proper bedding we were ready for the final assault into Rome! The only drawback to this was the hostel didn't provide breakfast so we quickly packed our bags and set off! We only made it around 100m down the road before the smell of coffee beans and fresh pastries lured us in!

The first 25km of the days ride were on the worst conditioned roads we had rode on for the last 2 weeks, which together with the strong crosswind continuing from yesterday made for slow going.

A brief stop for some fruit after overshooting a left turn was followed by a much quicker 25km, thanks to the crosswind briefly becoming a gorgeous tailwind!

Following this quick 25km we stopped at a supermarket to refuel and purchase some bubbly for the celebrations in Rome that were to follow and set off on the final leg soon after 1pm.

Roads were busy and motorists horn happy along this stretch but we made quick time and were soon cycling through the suburbs to the centre. An amazing view of the city greeted us for a few seconds through a gap in the trees on the final fast downhill stretch and it was here we both realised we were within touching distance of the historic city! The journey to the start of the Via Del Corso (what would be the final road to take us to our finishing point, the Piazza Venezia) were quick and painless with the exception of a few red traffic lights! The Via Del Corso was however a little slower, imagine cycling down Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon, yes…slow! But nevertheless, we were there and were able to get some speed up over the final 100m to the roundabout at the Piazza Venevia where Joel was waiting to greet us at the end of our entertaining 2085km ride!

It would be an understatement to say we were pleased to of completed the ride, and we were soon occupied with our champagne celebrations at the Colosseum. (Well cheap bubbly celebrations anyway!)

Further celebrations were to take place over the course of the evening in the way of a good meal, beers at the Piazza Navona, and a great night out in the city followed thanks to Joel. 4am soon came around and it was certainly time to call it a night. Tomorrow the pack up begins with but both of us looking forward to the flight home and the comfort of our own beds!

… and that was that!

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