Italy part 2: Cities and cobbles

Bergamo was the start of a ten day tour of cities and towns in north east Italy. Strange really as cities are never our first choice place to visit when travelling by bike – busy traffic, lots of people, large areas to cover – and we had not really planned on visiting any until Venice. But somehow we ended up going to several.

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2000kms!

With panniers full of clean clothes and feeling slightly refreshed (fully refreshed is just a pipe dream) after a day off, Brescia was our first stop. We had our lunch picnic by Lake Iseo in Clusane, where well dressed retired pensioners stroll (we looked very out of place and got the usual mixture of staring and intense questioning in Italian). From the lake we followed a rare and lovely Italian bike path through vineyards and small villages, which was very well signed until it wasn’t and we lost it. Ah well. With the days so short we invariably arrive places in dusk/dark, combined with rush hour traffic this isn’t too pleasant but we were happy to pass the 2000km mark in the centre of Brescia next to an impressive 11th Century duomo.

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Arriving in Verona at night (well 5.30pm…)

From Brescia the next city stop was Verona, ‘home’ of Romeo and Juliet and a Roman arena still used for summer opera. We rode via Lake Garda, usually a busy tourist hot spot but weirdly desolate in October – strange to us at it was still so warm but the holiday season is very much over now which makes touristy places very strange places to ride through. As above we arrived in Verona in the dark which at least meant we saw the centre lit up with the arena looking particularly spectacular. It also rained for the first time in a while which was a bit of a shock to the system and made the cobbled Italian streets even more frightening on a bike, especially when our host for the evening told us a story about falling off her bike and breaking both elbows after slipping on a wet cobble…

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Montagnana – you should go there…

On the look out for a small town to relax for a day before reaching Venice, we turned south and rode along flat roads (this part of Italy is particularly level so we hadn’t ridden up a hill in a while) to Montagnana, a small town with well preserved medieval walls the whole way around. Now who doesn’t love a good walled town, and as the youth hostel there had a garden for camping we had found our ideal rest stop. The Italians who ran the place thought we were mental for wanting to camp and their tone implied that we were bound to die from hypothermia, despite it hovering around 7-8 degrees at night. After assuring them that as English people we were confident of our survival we cooked a gourmet meal (it included meat and no pasta), slept warmly in the tent and had a relaxing day wandering the city walls and drinking coffee in the sunshine. It would be easy to miss Montagnana while speeding through the more famous Italian cities in the area but we would highly recommend a visit.

Made it to Venice!
Made it to Venice!

And so on to Venice, the destination we have always had in mind as the end of leg one of the trip. Yet as you can’t take bikes into the city, leg one actually ended with a train journey into the centre to explore on foot. The weather was perfect, the crowds not too busy, and strolling around St Marks square it was a strange thought that we had pedalled (almost) all the way there from Leicestershire. We also saw the most selfie sticks per square metre of the trip so far, perhaps not surprising, but the average age of a selfie stick user in Venice seems to be around 57. Took them ages to get the shots lined up. The next couple of days we rode through miles of farmland with mountains always over our left shoulder to Aquileia, a town with a lot of Roman ruins (many still unexcavated) and once the second biggest Roman city. The ruins are very impressive, well worth a closer look when you are in the area visiting Montagnana…

Our final Italian stop was Trieste, the biggest city we had ridden in yet and a place where cyclists are massively outnumbered by mopeds. It has a very fancy square with buildings on three sides and the sea on the other, but it’s not a place recommended for cycling. Somehow we escaped the city after eventually finding the bike route that would take us through Slovenia and into Croatia.

Next stop Slovenia!
Next stop Slovenia!

So after two weeks it was time to leave Italy, a country that exceeded our high expectations, bathed us in the sunshine we were desperate for during those cold days in France/Germany and re-introduced us to partially complete cycle routes that take you off busy roads only to divert you back onto them a few hundred metres later. Made us feel much less homesick, so thanks.

Huge thanks for this stretch to Aldo and family, Donatella and Luciano, Alberto Sabrina and Agata, Francesco and Elena, Francesco and Giulia, and all the retired Italians who have marvelled at our journey so far…

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