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14degrees off the beaten track
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Day 269 - ITALY: From Milano to Serengo
April 18th, 2007 | categorizilation: 全カテゴリー

I left early again from my sleep spot in the field after a very good deep sleep.

Sleeping spot in freshly cultivated field 10km south of Milano, Italy

And then the joys of not having a guide book struck again. I had no idea that this existed until I rounded the corner. I let out an “ooof” kind of sound as I entered the Piazza Duomo.

Il Duomo di Milano, Milano, Italy

I mean, this thing is incredible. The spikey bits look as though you could throw a stone at them, and they would fall off their stools. Amazing that it has survived.

Inside of Il Duomo di Milano, Milano, Italy

The interior is breathtaking. How long it must have taken to carve just the floor pieces I can’t imagine. The whole interior and exterior of the Il Duomo di Milano is under refurbishing, but wow. Just wow.

Restoration work inside Il Duomo di Milano, Milano, Italy

Stained glass windows, embalmed bodies of dead priests, what a place.

Stained glass windows in Il Duomo di Milano, Milano, Italy

The wonder did not end once outside of the church. The galleria to the north of the Piazza Duomo is like walking though a time machine. If not for all the tourists, you’d think you had walked back in time. The glass roof is enchanting.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II roof, Milano, Italy

Earlier in the week, I had received an email from an old aquaitance from my time in Japan. Shirley was doing the same job as me in another small town in southern Japan, as Coordinator for International Relations. She and her husband, Yuri, now live in Serengo, about 20km north of Milano. We arranged to meet up when I passed through the area, and I stayed the night with them tonight.

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Day 268 - ITALY: Piacenza to Milano
April 17th, 2007 | categorizilation: 全カテゴリー

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 110.23km
Average speed / 平均速度: 15.5km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 7h 05m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 1751.9km (plus 9700km)

I got up early. Just after daybreak. My bike had left tracks in the freshly planted field. It was dark last night when I had wheeled the bike to where I slept, so I hadn’t noticed the newly planted grass. Dumb.

I finally found my way out of Piacenza and onto some small roads leading out of the city along the banks of the Po River.

1912 bridge crossing the Po River near Pavia, Italy

The small roads lasted until this bridge, which crossed the Po River and headed into Pavia, another beautiful Italian city. The city reminded me of Dunedin, a student city in New Zealand. Students everywhere. Graffiti everywhere.

Through Pavia, I saw my most beautiful sight ever.

Bike lane into Milano along the Pavia-Milano canal, just out of Pavia, Italy

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a bike lane. With its very own distance signs. Oh the joy and jubilation.

The bike lane runs all the way from Pavia, right into the guts of the sprawling city of Milano, along the Pavia-Milano canal. No traffic, just beautiful flat cycle path.

I didn’t make it right into Milano today. I slept in a freshly cultivated field, and decided to make a dawn attempt into the big city tomorrow morning.

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Day 267 - ITALY: Cremona to Piecenza
April 16th, 2007 | categorizilation: 全カテゴリー

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 68.62km
Average speed / 平均速度: 15.0km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 4h 33m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 1641.6km (plus 9700km)

Was it the bad sleep last night near a small row of batches on the banks of the Po River? Or perhaps I had cycled too hard yesterday.

Or perhaps I had just had my fill of beautiful Italian towns with beautiful Italian couples enjoying the beautiful Italian spring weather. Europe can be a lonely place for a guy alone on a bicycle. I yearned for the adventure of Asia.

Whatever it was, today was a generally blue day. No energy. Went to a supermarket to buy food and didn’t know what to buy. Just wandered around for half an hour. I finally bought some sandwiches.

And my SD memory card for my camera finally gave up the ghost and stopped working. I bought a replacement. A 2GB SD card for 22 Euros. The 1GB one was 18 Euros. Twice the memory for not twice the price.

Evidence of carnage in Piacenza, Italy

A tap outside a small playground in Piacenza reminded me however that fun was still being had in the world.

I chose a spot in an open field to sleep and only dozed for most of the night.

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Day 266 - ITALY: From Torre de Oglio to Cremona
April 15th, 2007 | categorizilation: 全カテゴリー

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 112.26km
Average speed / 平均速度: 19.0km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 5h 54m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 1573.0km (plus 9700km)
Ascent / 上り: +105m
Descent / 下り: -110m

Central hall in Mantova, Italy

Smooth riding with a good tailwind today. More of the same great architecture.

Church in center of Cremona, Italy

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Day 265 - ITALY: Peschiera to Torre de Oglio
April 14th, 2007 | categorizilation: 全カテゴリー

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 76.40km
Average speed / 平均速度: 16.2km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 4h 42m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 1460.7km (plus 9700km)

It was kinda tough to leave Steve and Jutta’s. What a wonderful couple.

I headed back to the Mincio River where Rhiner and I had cycled the day before. Rhiner reccommended that I head down the Mincio river along the cycle paths, down to the Po River. The Po River is the most significant river in northern Italy.

It was amazing weather again today. A mild tailwind helped me along the cycle path, and I got stares from other cyclists, many of them overweight men with bellies hanging, their lycra cycling tights straining to hold it all in.

I arrived in the historic town of Mantova just after lunch. It was a weekend day, and there were many stalls set up in the central square. A large marque caught my eye. It was for Grana Padano parmesan cheese. Next door was a competitor tent showing their cheese also.

Big chunk of parmisan cheese, Mantova, Italy

That’s a big block of cheese. 35kg to be exact.

I asked if I could buy 200g. That request was met with strained faces. It’s a little too little, I’m sorry, their faces said.

I wandered out of the tent a little disponded, and started towards the competitor’s tent. i heard hurried steps behind me and one of the Grana Padano staff members tapped me on the shoulder. She indicated that I should come back.

They handed me a handful of small off-cuts. Enough for a cook up of pasta, so I was happy.

I was about to leave on my bike when another Grana Padano cheese master strolled over and we began talking about my trip.

You’re from where? You came on that? For how many kms?!

Suitably impressed, I was herded into the tent once again and given a big 400g slice of parmesan cheese, a small grater to grate it with, and some brochures for Grana Padano cheese.

That stuff is gooooood. I put way too much of it on my pasta, but I can’t help it. I had eaten the 400g slice within two days.

The rest of the day was again on good cycle paths along the Po River flood banks. I arrived at Torre de Oglio late, just before dark. This is where a floating bridge crosses the Oglio River, just before it joins with the Po River.

Bridge over the Oglio River, Torre de Oglio, Italy

I found a small side road that lead downstream towards the Po River and slept in the grass to the side of the road.

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Days 261 to Day 264 - ITALY: Verona to Peschiera (Part I)
April 13th, 2007 | categorizilation: 全カテゴリー

I got woken up on the cycle path on the morning of Day 261 by the sound of bicycles rolling past. What the rider must have been thinking, I can’t imagine. He would have seen a guy wrapped up in a sleeping bag, curled up beside his strange looking bike. Perhaps he thought I had had a few too many and had fallen off my bike and slept where I lay…

I got up and headed along the cycle path towards Lake Garda.

The intention was to cycle past Lake Garda and head on towards Brecia. The travel fairy had other plans, and I have now been on the shores of Lake Garda for the last four days.

Old city walls and moat in Peschiera, Italy

The excitement began with a chance meeting with an Ghanian guy called Pa Pa Yaw. He was sitting despondent on the side of the busy road with his head in his hands and a mountian bike beside him.

I stopped and pulled my bike off the road and sat beside him. He offered a limp handshake as I introduced myself. He seemed glad to hear that I was not Italian.

A quick look at his bike showed that the rear mech (the thing that hangs down on the back wheel) had got caught in the spokes of the wheel, and had been wrenched up backwards. Not too unlike this episode in my own experience. The mech hanger was bent, but with the tools I had, I knew I could fix it.

“Italy no good country! Italians no good people!” Pa Pa Yaw would say over and over as I proceeded to take his bike to bits.

“No Italian stop. Many bike pass, no Italian stop. And, me no document, no work.” From this I figured he was here on a tourist visa. I also figured he was either high or mildly drunk. He asked me at least three times how old I was.

I had the bike fixed and rolling again in about 20 minutes of fiddling. Pa Pa Yaw was happy. Happy at me.

I told him that I was going on to Lake Garda, and seeming to have nothing else to do, Pa Pa Yaw decided on a whim that he would come too. We shared a banana and went on our way, Pa Pa Yaw seeming happy to be on his bike and content with cycling rather than sitting and feeling sorry for himself.

Apart from a quick stop at a supermarket to get pasta for lunch, we cycled direct to the lake.

Once at the lake, we set up my cooker to cook the pasta I had bought. While the water was boiling, Pa Pa Yaw pulled out 0.70 Euro in coins.

“An old lady give me dis outside supermarket” he said contemplatively.

While in the supermarket buying the pasta earlier, Pa Pa Yaw had stayed outside to keep an eye on the bicycles. Apparently, an old Italian woman came up to him and handed him the coins, with no solicitation from Pa Pa Yaw at all.

I poured the tomato sauce on the pasta, and we dug in. Me using a pair of makeshift chopsticks cut from a nearby tree, and Pa Pa Yaw using my fork.

I asked him how he got to Italy from Ghana.

“Seventeen days in the desert. No wata. No food” he said in a loud, thin voice. He had one of those accents that you’d expect from a guy from Africa.

“From Lybia, I come by boot” he continued. He pointed a skinny, calloused finger at a fast-speed passenger boat on the lake, speeding towards its destination.

“No boot like dat! Nooooo. Noooooo way. Slow boot. People died. Up to here the wata was.” He held his hand up to his chin.

“Had to walk in the wata to the boot. Tirty six hours on the boot to Sardegna. Noooooo wata, only what you carry.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. I had no reason to doubt him.

How much did it cost to get from Lybia to Italy?

“One tousand five hundred Euros!” he scoffed.

“I will go with you to Switzerland. You can help me cross border. Switzerland good country. Italy baaaad, bad country.”

It was tough work convicing him that there was little I could do to help. He had explained that his brothers lived in Verona.

Finally I convinced him to go back to Verona.

He cycled a little way with me along the lake. After a while, I heard a weak voice.

“I go back now.” He stood over his bike looking down.

I offered a hand, and he shook it weakly.




“Pa Pa Yaw.”

He talked in a serious and meanful tone, as if to make sure that the Italian authorities that denied him his documents heard it and understood.

We went our separate ways. Pa Pa Yaw from Ghana to the east, and me on to the west.

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Day 260 - ITALY: Belfiore to fair Verona
April 9th, 2007 | categorizilation: 全カテゴリー

Fair Verona. Fairly crowded.

I got up early this morning. By 6:30am I was on the road. I figured it was less hassle not to be found sleeping in the big tunnel house that I had bedded in last night.

It was still cold. I oculdn’t be bothered to get my gloves out of deep within my panniers. I just alternated hands on the handlebar. One in my pocket warming up, one on the handlebar.

I stopped at a delicatessen - the only shop open before 8am - and bought some cheese, ham, yoghurt and dried mushrooms. The yoghurt went well with my polenta for breakfast. The other items I saved for lunch.

From Belfiore to Verona, it was just a short blat along mostly quiet country roads and a great cycle path along the Adije River. At one point I got a hearty round of applause from a group of young picnikers waking up from a night camping out on the banks of the river.

Italians resting near Verona, Italy

The path becomes a little more exciting the closer you get to Verona. In the end I was on single track. I go crazy on single track. All thoughts of saving my energy for a long day on the bike go out of the window, and it becomes all about how hard and fast I can ride, keeping to that little line of clear ground. Dodging horses and joggers, I finally made it to Verona in one piece.

Singletrack cycle path into Verona, Italy

Verona was worse than Venice in terms of hoardes of humans. Granted, it was a public holiday, but any notion of cycling through the old part of the city was quickly done away with. I locked the bike to a rail and wandered into the fray.

Verona street in Verona, Italy

However, as it was with Venice, Verona was very nice once you got off the tourist routes. I wandered around for close to a whole day, and watched as the city dipped into darkness, the grand colloseum looking all the more impressive with the subdued lighting.

Colloseum in Verona, Italy

Once again I left the city only once it became dark. The west was calling, and I made my way out of the city at around 8pm, along the banks of the Adije. Spots to sleep were thin pickings, so I finally set up my sleeping mat and sleeping bag directly on the cycle path, hoping noone would run me over during the night…

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Day 259 - ITALY: Vicenza to a tunnel-house near Belfiore
April 8th, 2007 | categorizilation: 全カテゴリー

I spent a lazy day in Vicenza, sitting for almost four hours in the central square, watching Italians.

Red bike in Vicenza, Italy

They’re a funny bunch, these Italians. Wonderfully friendly, and oh so stylish.

Girls with bike (Vicenza, Italy)

They wear well cut clothing, and ride classy, often single-speed city bikes. I felt out of place in my dirty, damaged travel clothes.

The city itself is a very pretty city with quiet cobbled streets and the same narrow alleys that I have become accustomed to here in the old Italian cities.

Towards the end of the day, I was sick of watching. So I got on my bike and cycled west towards Verona. I knew I wouldn’t make it (I left at about 5pm), but I needed to be on the bike.

I cycled on into the night, something I rarely do. A flashing light at the back, and my puny LED headlight on the front of the bike. It wasn’t until around 10pm that I stopped for the night. Towards the side of a seculded road I spied a quiet tunnelhouse with some farm machinery in it. It was obviously private property, but there were no fences. I figured if I was found sleeping there in the morning that the owners would understand my plight.

Poor lost New Zealand cycle-adventurer needed a dry place to lay his head…

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Day 257 - ITALY: Venice (Venezia)
April 6th, 2007 | categorizilation: 全カテゴリー

Ended up sleeping near a small marina last night. I slept unusually well.

Sleep spot in Venice, Italy

Now you see, I never intended to go to a really famous place when I first set out from Japan 8 months ago. The name of the game was off the beaten track. Venice is about as beaten as you can get, but it does not disappoint.

First impressions were ‘yikes, I took a wrong turn and ended up in Disneyland’.

Traffic jam in Venice, Italy

People everywhere. The entrance to the city is amass with busses and parking buildings. In the center of the city is a huge square, with people lining up in droves to get into the best attractions. Ugh. First impressions were not good.

Morning cargo rush in Venice, Italy

However after a nap in the early afternoon, I began to feel more at home, noticing the smaller things as I wandered the almost completely deserted side alleys.

In a hurry in Venice, Italy

Walking in the unassuming alleyways, you get more of a feeling of a normal city.

Telephones in Venice, Italy

Meeting the locals is always fun.

Knobs in Venice, Italy Knobs in Venice, Italy Knobs in Venice, Italy

Streets so quiet, you could sit there for hours, just watching the shadows.

Entrance in Venice, Italy

I took more video of Venice than I did photos. When time permits, I will do something with it and upload. Until then we’ll have to be content with stills.

Washing in Venice, Italy

If only I had a big block of polystyrene or a lilo…

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Day 256 - ITALY: Cervignano to Venice (Venezia)
April 5th, 2007 | categorizilation: 全カテゴリー

Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 140.03km
Average speed / 平均速度: 18.0km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 7h 46m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 1067.08km (plus 9700km)
Ascent / 上り: +200m
Descent / 下り: -200m

Mmmmm. Tailwinds.

Mmmmm. Flat roads.

Flat roads in Italy near Cernignano

I felt the excitement growing in me as I neared Venice.

Venice. Am I really going to be in Venice?

That’s where the streets are made of water, right?

I’ve never been so excited about a city in my whole life.

Welcome to Venice (Venezia), Italy

I arrived late, at around 6pm. I had made the mistake of only emailing one potential host. His email told me that his house was full. I decided to leave the Venice sightseeing till tomorrow, and search for a place to sleep. It was great weather, and promised to be a fair night.

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