Getting ready for a rest…

 

Nothing to see here. Just a sunday bike ride.

To make sure we arrived at our Christmas work-stay fresh, energetic and ready for labour we smashed out a few sightseeing days in Rome, exhausting ourselves walking for miles looking at awesome fancy old stuff. There is so much to see in Rome and I would highly recommend it for a city break, though probably don’t arrive by bike, there was a few crazy big roads until we could get on the Tiber route. If you do arrive by bike, make it a Sunday, as then you can ride right past the forum and up to the Colosseum traffic-free, except for pedestrians. Two of my favourite things were 2000 year old dice in the colosseum, just the same as modern ones, and a 2000 year old door that still opened and closed with fully functional lock and key in the Forum. The Romans were chuffing smart. There were loads of churches, artworks, ruins, musters of starlings and great Christmas lights. Total winner.

Life size nativity and rainbow baubles at St Peter’s

We had to cheat and get the train to Florence to be on time for our Christmas break, gaining an afternoon and evening to walk even further around the sights of Florence. This was aided by the best sandwich I have ever eaten. A few weeks later someone from Florence asked me what I liked about the city. They seemed slightly offended by my focusOn the sandwich. They really shouldn’t have been. Go try for yourself. Confident that it was a short ride out of Florence to our Tuscan Christmas residence we rode up an extra hill to Michaelangelo’s tomb and a great view of the city. It proved to be a good warm-up, the 35km ride was absolutely brutal, lots of very steep climbs and not so many twisty descents.

 

‘I think i can see the sandwich place from here’

We arrived at a hill top outside the village just as the sun was setting, and Tuscany did a great job of looking exactly like Tuscany should. Soft light, layers of steep hills, farms dotted around. It seemed our decision was a good one.

 

Tuscany: Does exactly what it says on the tin.

The family were lovely and we learned lots quickly about donkeys, dog treats, olive oils and (most importantly) food. This is no light matter.

“I do not trust an English woman to cook pasta. I will teach you once, and maybe once you will get it wrong. This is ok. A second time wrong, this is not ok”.

Ditto polenta.
As we were in charge of things for a week alone, we spent a lot of time with this motley crew…

The Donkeys

Judy (middle)

Likes: big fringes, apple pieces, suddenly diving into vines when walking

Sofia (left)

Likes: being pretty, a controlled hairstyle

 

Not sure what the donkey on the right is called.

 

Guarina

Likes: trying to get out, stealing food, being noisy.

 

Guarina checking out the exit routes

 

The Cats

Luna

Likes: Antagonising Vesper, tagging along with dog walks, cuddles with Jo, thieving the dog food. (Caught out one day by loud crunching).

Dislikes: the pink labelled cat food tin, the nativity scene, the hiding of the dog food bag.

 

Nap buddies

Vesper

Likes: James Bond, pretending Luna starts the crazy chases, cuddles with debs, sitting on the dining chairs right before dinner, the English Premier League.

Dislikes: Moving too much, the pink labelled tin, being tipped off the dining chairs so people can sit in them.

 

Come on the foxes

 

The Dogs

Phoenix

Likes: Collecting sticks, food, playing with sticks, doing her own thing, walking slowly, going in the truck, teasing Oliver with sticks.

Dislikes: Responding to commands in any language, walking quickly, walking far, being on a diet.

 

Phoenix probably going the wrong way

 

Oliver

Likes: Being super cute and friendly, long walks, escaping, cuddles, sticks.

Dislikes: Walking at Phoenix speed, smelling nice, the donkeys, the barking dog at Lucardo.

 

Such a cutie but so much trouble…

There are more Oliver stories for another time. The countryside was lovely and we ate lots of awesome food in between feeding the animals and walking the dogs. When the family returned there was more food (including a jabugo ham from Spain) and time for cycling – to San Gimignano and other pretty towns. We also enjoyed the village new year party.
Thanks to everyone in Tuscany who made our Christmas break fab, especially those at Fattoria Barberinuzzo.

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What did we do in December again? Southern Italy

It’s time to catch up, so here are some facts to cover our trip from Bari to Rome…
– If you ride 80km NW from Bari, then get persuaded to go Matera (if an Italian host tells you you must visit somewhere back the way you came, you ride back the next day the way you came) you will pass a lot of signs for Bari with distressingly low distances. (25km?!)

 

Trani, up the coast from Bari, before we rode back down to Matera…
 
– Dogs are not so chilled here as Albania. It is scary when there are a pack of about 8 growling and chasing. One was possibly crossed with a polar bear.

– Old men sit around playing cards and drinking beer (am) or stand in the street chatting (pm).

– In Matera in December there is the World’s biggest Nativity. I am not sure how this is qualified, but this was actors and scenery spread out over a long and very scenic walk with many candles. 

– Matera has cave houses and an amazing gorge. It was used for the filming of ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ This does not translate well back from Italian so people mainly said ‘The Passion of Mel Gibson.’ I think this would be a very different film.

 

Matera. Nice place. Worth the detour.
 
– The motorway across the south of Italy is quite a work of engineering with huge bridges and tunnels. This is so cars can easily cross the mountain range. Bicycles are not allowed on this road, so go up and down the many hills. 

– Road signs here are very unreliable. We saw them in this order: POTENZA 85; POTENZA 95; POTENZA 87; POTENZA 49; POTENZA 63. This is quite disheartening when you are trying to ride a bike to Potenza. Up and down the aforementioned hills.

– Towns are built on the top of hills, and look like they might fall off at any time. This looks impressive, but may well have been designed to wear out cyclists. (Ok maybe for defensive purposes too, but this was probably secondary).

 

Hill top towns. nice for photos, not nice for the legs.
 
– If you camp at 700m+ in December there will be frost on your tent.

 

Packing up after camping in the frost. #not helpful
 
– The Amalfi Coast is exactly like it should be. Lovely. Great on a bike.

  
– December 8th is a public holiday in Italy. There will be fireworks.

 

Fireworks and christmas lights on the Amalfi coast…. you’re spoiling us
 
– The Napoli area is not pleasant for cycling, but like many aspects of this trip would make a good computer game; dodge the car doors/reversing cars/motorbikes/wing mirrors, ask the right local for directions, avoid the small streets that end in stairs, unlucky – your tyre went in a tram line, lose a continue and go back to Sorrento.

– Pompeii and Ercolano are very extensive. Walking around them is not a rest day. The details are the best bits, bar signs, shelves in the shops still there.

 

The ruined city of Ercolano
  
You had to beware of dogs in the South of Italy 2000 years ago as well… (Pompeii)
 – People in Pozzuoli are very friendly and the amphitheatre is well worth a visit. Some of the areas along the coast north of here were a little unsettling. We knew we had crossed a divide for the better when road cyclists started to outnumber by-the-hour hotels again.

– There are many Italian road cycling clubs in the area between Formia and Rome. It was great cycling along the coast with their encouragement and one day a great draft! We also enjoyed meeting the biciroma.it team in the centre of Rome, and still have the stickers to prove it!

 

Hanging out with some real cyclists for a change, south of Rome
 
Thanks to: Daniela and Nico; Princess Merida of Matera; Enzo and his dog; Lucio, Katia, Nico and friends; Alessandro, Elisa and the best Sengalese chef we have met; the many road cyclists of Rome who made our last weekend cycling so much fun!