This is our second time in Italy, the first trip being in the Spring of 2009. That short vacation wasn’t on bicycle and it centered on all the touristy things that you must see and do the first (and maybe even the second) time you visit. One visit is never enough to see all the things you need to see! This time around though we need to make up for some lost time and miles/ kilometers because we are due to meet some friends in Sarajevo in a little over 2 weeks. That doesn’t give us much time to do the meandering and sight seeing that I believe Italy requires and at times demands! Forcefully, sometimes.
Our journey thus far into Italy has kept us far away from throngs of tourists and big cities. We have only managed to enter both Torino and Venice, two cities vastly different from each other and separated by almost all pancake flat agricultural land and a river that runs west to east. Which is also why we chose to follow this river the “Po” through Italy, flat equals fast. Brian used the Bicitalia website to do almost all of the route planning and it keep us almost always on safe, calm, and a majority of the roads well paved. This web site was an invaluable tool for us. We had only read horror stories about Italian roads and their insanely fast drivers. That site helped keep us off the main trafficked route and safe. The only down side to that is that flat isn’t always interesting to look at and wild camping was about impossible. Every stich of land along the way was owned, fenced, used for growing food, or lumber. There were not many regions with natural forests or even good places to push the bikes off the road into areas that couldn’t be seen by people. We spent most of our nights Couchsurfing and more then a few nights in hotels. Though we did manage to pitch the tent once in Este at an Agriturismo establishment and next time we will be on the look out for these sorts of hotels. While not that common they do seem to be around more then proper camping sites and you can talk down the price to pitch your tent. Italians don’t really camp (I’ve heard it’s more common on the coasts) and the actual camp sites are expensive! (20 to 30 Euros)
Rain was also a factor that kept us inside and not in the outdoors for sleeping anyway. About half of the time we have spent in Italy this far it has rained. There were 3 solid days of rain and all of which we rode in. Our mantra quickly became ” Rule # 9 “ All of our cyclist friends back home would appreciate this. As they were getting record snow fall while we were getting rained on!
Our experience so far has been trying to eat our way through Italy. Italians really do have the best food. There seem to be only 3 types of restaurants here Sushi, (which I dare not try) Kebab (which has saved our lives more then once) and of course the overwhelming majority of the restaurants here are Italian. We are told the average Italian will only eat Italian food, even when dining out! I say this in a very loving way, “They are food snobs!” There is only one problem with always eating Italian, all the restaurants are closed on Mondays,(sometimes Sundays, aren’t open early in the morning, or midday, only serve food after 7 and sometimes just won’t serve you at all, I never got a clear explanation on that one) The Kebab shops are always open, always serving food, (not the case with some places), are cheap, good, and don’t charge table fees! All Italian run establishments charge a fee if you choose to sit down to eat or even drink. Which is why we usually eat “Al Fresco”. For some reason there is never a shortage of good places to sit outside that is if it’s not raining. So I don’t quite understand the table fee system?
Besides trying to eat our way through the countryside we have had some great experiences with the people in some of these smaller towns. All of who ask us “ What are you doing here? “ Not in a bad way, but in more curious fashion. They seriously want to know how we have come to their tiny village. With all the things to see and do in Italy, why there? Once they see the bicycles and we explain about the way to travel Italy is on the small safe roads, most people will smile and welcome us in, and wish us a safe journey onward. The funny thing though is they only seem to talk to us as we are about to jump on the bikes and pedal away. Like if they don’t flag us down now they know they will never again have the chance to talk to these strange people again. And I love seeing the look of approval on their faces once they realize that we have come all this way by bicycle alone.
It’s something we say over and over again to our friends and other people who ask us why we travel by bicycle, “ It’s not the place, it’s the people.” If you don’t have good people then you don’t have a good place. That is why we enjoyed Torino over Venice and that wasn’t just because you can’t ride your bicycle in Venice. That had a lot to do with it albeit, but more so that Venice isn’t really a working city. People don’t live there they only visit. Brian likens it to Disney World but less amusing. Not recommended for bicycle tourists, unless you are here in November or like being stuffed in a cattle car (with actual cattle) with no bathroom.
Italy has been nice, we really have enjoyed the countryside, watching spring unfold from the very beginning and in the countryside is rejuvenating. Not only for the body but for the mind as well. We spent so much time so far being cold and wet that it’s nice to be warm. (and wet) My favorite part is being able to sleep in the tent without the rainfly on. Something about that is just priceless.