Saturday, 30 November 2013

Along the road to Rome

Bullet Points

-After catching a ferry from Patras in Greece, we’ve spent ten days in Italy cycling from Bari on the East coast to Rome on the West.

-We're actually now in...North Africa! A blog of our Spanish experiences will be coming soon but for now Morocco is just outside our door and begging exploration!


I have to admit that I expected the open and often spontaneous welcomes we’ve so often received along our journey to come to an end upon arriving in Europe. Our experience in Italy was a far from it.

There was the farming family, who took us in on our first night. To them we must have been a bizarre sight arriving out of the darkness, dressed in our high-viz vests and flashing lights, but despite this their welcome was warm.

In the hill top village of Accadia we arrived on a cold dusk, the rain setting in. Out of the local store emerged Antonia. Perhaps we looked a bit bedraggled I don’t know, but whatever our appearance Antonio perceived we needed a bed, some warm shelter and a meal, and all of these things he proceeded to gift us enthusiastically. 

Antonio: The king of the Kitchen and all round top guy.

Half way along the journey, in the city of Benevento, we spent two days and three nights with Massimo Mazzone and his wonderful extended family, dossing down on their office floor. Massimo is a transport planner and involved in the development of the EuroVelo cycling routes. His wealth of knowledge assured that our route through Italy was anything but straight and flat, yet so extremely interesting and rewarding.

Massimo and family

With the shortening daylight hours we found ourselves often being caught out by the early Italian darkness. One night, again dressed up in high-viz gear and with flashing lights, I knocked upon the door of Eugene and Sabina to ask if we could camp on their lawn. As it panned out I had chosen the most wonderful home on which to door knock. Camping on the lawn evolved to sleeping inside, which then lead to coffee, then beers, and before long we sharing a wonderful meal together with their friends in a lounge overflowing with laughter and singing and even toasts to us!

Eugene and Sabina: An incredible welcome in Castelliri after being caught in the dark...again!

And finally in Rome, I could not believe our good fortune, hosted by Paolo and Giusi and their two girls Greta and Yola, in the heart of the old city, in fact on the same street that Julius Caesar was born on! Paolo, a journalist and cycling activist, is planning his own cycle expedition around the world, his 50th birthday celebration. An incredibly creative and adventurous character, he builds his own bikes from scratch, right from the welding of the frame, and we loved getting to see the local ‘bike kitchen’ that he’s involved in as a volunteer.
Paolo. He'd visited NZ in1995 and ever since has mourned the Diamond Pasta recipe for 'Good Italian Cooking'. He even kept this momento framed on the wall of his home to serve as a reminder of how badly we misrepresented his home country's fine cuisine.

 Along the way this little part of Italy has been a unique cycling experience. Unlike many parts of our journey the land has been inhabited almost constantly, the rolling green hills dotted with houses and mini farms, often clustered into classicly cute villages. To weave and wind our way through this style of civilization was a playful cycling experience. Every hill top would have a village, often hemmed in by ancient city walls. Again and again we would wind our way up through the lanes and then whizz down the other side. I will remember fondly any time we stopped to ask for instructions and true to their reputation yet another friendly Italian would exuberantly and dramatically wave their arms wildly and give us a long list of instructions, all in Italian of course. Our lack of understanding and dumbfounded looks did nothing to stop their eloquent and detailed descriptions. Repeatedly we would emerge none the wiser but very entertained! 

Belmonte Castello. Winding our way up to another grand village on a hill top.

Classic Italian beauty.

Weaving through the lanes of Veroli.

Anna looking out over the sprawling civilisation.

On a more serious note, our route to Rome also lead us to the town of Cassino, site of the famous World War Two ‘Battle of Monte Cassino’ in 1944. My Grandpa Yeoman, now aged 91, was a conscientious objector at the time of the war, he was willing however to serve as a medic and served for some time at Cassino. We found our way to the cemetery for Commonwealth soldiers, and wandered amongst the graves, of which many were young New Zealanders. The experience was moving. I was left reflecting on how many people all over the world never got to farewell their lost loved ones. I was also filled with a huge respect for my Grandpa, and for all those who witnessed such atrocities and yet have managed to retain their sanity and return home to build good lives.

Cassino Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Arriving in Rome was awesome!! To ride through the arches of the old city walls and down the ‘Via Labicana’ to the Colosseum was absolutely brilliant.  Everything was so big and so grand and for us such a culmination of a great Italian experience. 

Needs no introduction. AWESOME!!!

Riding Rome.
Rome does things BIG. Ollie at the Pantheon.

Over looking Rome from Piazza del Popolo. The Vatican most prominent on the skyline.

Fontana de Trevi.


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