Posted by: paulgilders | October 28, 2012

Tuscany

After picking up our transit van from Bergamo airport, we headed south towards central Tuscany. We had intended to stop in Florence on the way down, but after getting lost and frustrated on the ring road, we ended heading further south to the less congested town of Siena. I visited Siena over 20 years ago and though it a wonderful place. The town is just the same, but the number of tourists has multiplied by 10!

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We enjoyed Siena, but we were also glad to get out into the Tuscan countryside. We had found accommodation in a self-contained barn next a farmhouse. The farm makes peccorino and ricotta cheese and there is a magnificent view over the valley to the small town of Radicondoli.

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The farm has about 6 working maremma dogs to look after the sheep.

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Cycling in Tuscany isn’t easy. Even a couple of hours without luggage was hard work. Most towns are perched on hilltops – great views, but you have to work for them!

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We now have only 2 more days in Tuscany before heading north again to prepare for our flight out of Zurich. Our original plan was to stop in Japan, Vietnam and New Zealand before heading home, however, we have simplified our plans to reduce the number of stops. As a result, we will be flying from Zurich to Hong Kong where we will only be stopping for 2 nights. After Hong Kong, we will fly straight to Auckland, NZ.

Posted by: paulgilders | October 28, 2012

Italian Alps

Our first day in Como was a complete washout. We were ejected from our hostel at 10am and spent the day shuffling between cafés and shops to avoid getting too wet. Fortunately, the next day we woke to clear skies and decided to ride around the southern shore of lake Como.

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We reached the glitzy and touristy Bellagio – avoiding the restaurants and having lunch on a bench in the smallest public lakeside sitting area in the town. The views to the north were stunning.

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We continued around the lake reaching the very pleasant town of Lecco. Here we eventually found some cheap camping – after getting lost in town.

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The following day we progressed along the edge of the Alps to the city of Bergamo. The road was very busy and the riding stressful – particularly navigating across town to the youth hostel. However, the high town in Bergamo is beautiful and a great place to spend a couple of days.

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Ah pizza! Even the reheated version is wonderful!
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Our experience with cycling northern Italy had not been ideal. Many of the roads (even the smaller ones) we found congested and dangerous. We were also realising that we only had a 2 weeks to cycle south to Tuscany and back. In short, it wouldn’t be fun. Additionally, we were finding most campsites were now closed for the season (15th October) and finding reasonable inexpensive accommodation at short notice was proving more challenging. We therefore decided to cheat – no we didn’t take EPO. Instead we hired another van to express us down to Tuscany, where we could rent an apartment for a week for less than youth hostelling.

Posted by: paulgilders | October 16, 2012

Express to Italy

After the UK our general plan was to head rapidly south. Poppy had a desire to see Italy and with the autumn well under way, we were all keen for warmer weather.

Our ferry from Harwich took us to the Hook of Holland. We had intended to get the overnight ferry, but unfortunately the sailing was cancelled. This disrupted our plans to cycle all the way to Utrecht, so we caught a train from the port. Incredibly, we were able to wheel the tandem and the trailer straight on and off the train without any dissassembly. Unfortunately, getting the bikes off the platform wasn’t so simple – the lift wasn’t big enough for the tandem, so we lugged up and down stairs.

We camped for the night in the town of Wöerden – arriving after dark. However, the following morning was bright and we were pleased to find a very pleasant town. After lunch we cycled the short, flat distance to Utrecht, where we were scheduled to catch the overnight train to Zurich.

On the way to Utrecht we stopped next to a massive greenhouse growing tomatoes.

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The town of Utrecht was a cycling experience. A third of all journeys are undertaken by bike and 90 percent of children ride their bikes to school. There are bikepaths everywhere and more parked bicycles than you can imagine. This is the scene outside the station.

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Of course, for us it was far from easy. We had difficulty navigating the tight bends along the bike paths and the relative instability of the tandem at slow speeds surrounded by other confident riders was extremely challenging. Lastly, the bike paths are not well signed and do not follow intuitive routes. We frequently took wrong turnings and had difficulty turning round. My advice would be to have a single bike in the towns of the Netherlands.

Despite our problems, it was wonderful to see so many bikes used as practical transport. We were frequently the subject to humour for the locals, since nobody else wore cycle clothing or helmets – we were truly wierd foreigners.

The old city of Utrecht was beautiful, with cobbled paths built along a main canal.

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Here are some of the great bikes.

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There were many cargo bikes (or bakfiets) – many taking children to and from school.

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That train from Utrecht to Zurich was also well equiped to take bikes. We even had a ticket for a tandem and parked in the tandem bike bay.

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Early the following morning we arrived in Zurich. After paying 46 Swiss Franks for three coffees and sandwiches, we decided to move rapidly towards Italy and caught yet another train to the town of Bellinzona. Here is a picture through the train window.

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At Bellinzona, there was little camping, so we stayed for a night at the local youth hostel, preparing for a bigger ride the following day. Bellinzona has two major castles used in the past to protect the town.
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We found a cycling map and decided to follow route 3 towards Como. We were expecting typically Swiss rural landscape, but found the ride south to be very industrial. The signposting of the route was also hit and miss – we frequently resorted to basic map reading after losing the trail.

We stayed for a couple of nights at Agno alongside lake Lugano waiting for better weather. Eventually, we progressed further south around lake Lugano and over a ridge to Como.

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Unfortunately, the weather here has again turned sour – a complete day of rain today. The ducks have left the wild lake and instead are enjoying the puddles in the park.

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The tourists aren’t happy, but tomorrow will be better!

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