Italy

Northeast, quiet roads and walled cities

Avoiding traffic where possible and cities while still keeping a packed itinerary is the aim of this leg. Skirting south of Verona and then following the flats north east as far as possible without hitting the mountains.
Intensive agriculture is what happens here. Lots of small well equipped farms pepper the countryside growing mostly maize corn and occasionally grape. Every few 100 meters another farm passes and judging by the property and array of vehicles its quite a profitable business. One downside is that there is rarely a patch of land not used for growing and lots of houses and keep out signs.

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Typicalof the many towns passed through

One particular day I was being chased by storm clouds and found refuge in a marquee next to a sports field in the grounds of a castle. Under cover I ate, planned, exercised, sorted photos and other odd jobs. Then around 7pm someone turns up to fix some outdoor plumbing and I get chatting about my trip. “Where will you stay?” he asks. I look around and point to field next door. “Camping Maize”. He laughs and gestures me to follow. He produces a set of keys and opens up the spotless sports changing rooms. Showers, fridge toilets. He then says goodbye and disappears. I didn’t expect that.

Cittadella
Some places I instinctively know I want to stay. After one look at the high defensive wall that rings the city I couldn’t leave without completing a circuit. The archeology museum of the city told me nothing about who built the wall, when and why. I asked at the museum shop, but concluded wikipedia would be far more helpful.

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Asked at the tourist information about campsites near by. “You can stay opposite the library. You are allowed to pitch your tent there”. I went there and it was like any other town centre car park. Not tempted to leave my belongings unattended and sleep would also be difficult with the usual late night comings and goings I went back the the tourist office on the off chance they had other options.
They found a B&B for 25 Euros. Worth a treat I thought.
I was made to feel one of the family in this spacious and spotless household. I was given some good advice on what to visit over wine and beers at the dinner table. Its not going to be an early start.

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The owner of the B&B, Anna is a professional costume designer and maker

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One of the collection of machines takes 4 reels, finishes, stitches and cuts all in one go

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Her portfolio showed LED strips and panels incorporated into the costume. Very professional.

Marostica
Imagine a large hill with a small town at its foot and a wall that surrounds one side of the hill and the town below. It makes for an impressive backdrop. Famed nationally for the giant chess board in the square where chess is played with real life chess pieces on the second week of September.

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Famous chess board

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Built in the 1370s the town was for a long time part of the Republic of Venice

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Lower town with the usual procession of cars

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Nearby lime kiln used for making cement, once a very common sight in the area

Bassano
This area saw some heavy fighting in the first world war. The small museum had some fascinating artefacts and photos.

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Bridge build be Palladian, the famous architect

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First world war, I didn't know donkeys could smell so bad!

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Trench mockup

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Bullet holes?

Asolo
This pretty hillside village had some great views across the flatlands I had cycled through.

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Finished for the day. Eat, plan, review, sort photos, listen to radio, top up batteries and wait for the sun to set before pitching at sunset.

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Camped up next to the fort at the top of a hill. What a view!

Ponte di Pinzano
A famous WW1 battle site. Now filled with sun worshipper dotting the riverbed. I gave up the idea of joining them when I realised the water is icy cold.

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Defensive gates (shown) gun emplacements and foxholes are still there

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Nearby river with equally stunning views

Categories: Europe, Italy | 1 Comment

If the Italian lakes are good enough for George Clooney..

Italians have a love affair with the car, but since some of the best cars designs are Italian, its hardly surprising. They are also big consumers and goods are transported around the country to meet demand. The countryside has a far greater density of housing, large working farms and industrial units  in the countryside than the UK and on surface I can see no economic doom here in the north.
So, the inevitable outcome of this is lots of traffic on the country lanes. The yellow roads on the map get their fair share of speeding cars and trucks towing trailers. The said, Italian drivers, especially truck drivers are the most considerate as a nation by a large margin.

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Common sight, racers out for a ride.. Notice how much room drivers give

Lago d’Orta
Crystal clear warm water. No need for a shower after bathing here. San Giulio is a delightful village on a peninsular that has many treasures to seek out. The high street is not wide enough to take cars and is scattered with eateries that spill into the small piazza. This is all a stones throw away from the waters edge. That night I found a bit of green by the lake, made food, swam, did some jobs and pitched as the sun when down. Due to it being such a nice place I found a small campsite the next day and remained there the whole day and next morning chatting to fellow campers, swimming, eating and shopping for more things to eat!

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Evening view of Orta St Giulio

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Wild camping next to the lake in a little park

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Piazza in St Giulio

Lago Maggiore
Varbania, the main town is large and busy with the lakeside reserved for marinas and ferries. The roads bordering the lakes are a bit to risky to cycle so using the ferry is a sensible option. Its a fast crossing and from Verbania to Lavino made even faster by chatting to a Dutch cyclist while scoffing a chocolate desert pick-me-up.

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Lago de Varese
The cycle path around the lake is a welcome change. Quiet and laid back. While using someone’s WiFi connection in a village backstreet, I was engaged in conversation and soon had a small collection of well wishers bidding me good luck on the journey ahead. Italians know their bikes its always a good conversation starter.
Stopped for the night at a bypassed section of the old road. it was an old roundabout, with signs and old street lighting. all over grown now. It must have been a hive of activity in its time but now all eerily silent. The enterance is blocked with large stones to prevent cars and motorbikes getting in. The nearby new junction is now all flyovers and slip roads. What I like about these sites is the smoothness of the ground. Campsites usually have gravel or sunbaked dust to pitch your tent on, where as here its perfectally smooth asphalt. Its  cleaner and much more comfortable. There are many more advantages over wild camping if all you need to do is eat, sleep and get up early the next day.

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Group I collected in a village backstreet while using a WiFi connection.

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Not so wild camp.. Old disused roundabout, bypassed a number of years ago

Lagi di Como, Lagio Lecco
Finding the quiet backstreet route thanks to my phone, I avoided some of the traffic, but not all. Arriving at the city centre of Como it was like entering an Oasis of Calm. People who say how can you cycle around these cities have no idea of what the roads leading in and out of these places are like to cycle on.. In Como centre, shoppers clutching bags of designer stelletos are the greatest danger on the back streets. There is a regular ferry service from Como to Bellagio, another town 25km away so it seemed the sensible option. Chatted to a retired German couple while watching the scenery drift by. There was a flurry of activity when we passed George Clooneys modest abode. The ferry picks up and drops off at a number of town and villages and every time the numerous crew come out to carry out their assigned tasks. Bellagio is a bit touristy an other than the baker where sweet treats can be purchased, theres not much there for me so I carried on by bike my last lake.

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Como

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Lake Anone
At 21 Euro for one night, its the most I’ve paid in both France and Italy.. but not the UK.. for a small square of ground and the use of a tap.
The swim in the lake, which is compulsary is notable for its views. Swim out and you can see for miles, the distant ‘toy towns’, backdrop of the mountains and the dropping sun casting its long shadows. The water was so still that evening I felt like I was swimming on a mirror.
Getting ready for bed, two friendly motorbikers turned up and soon we were finishing off wine and beers. They were doing a test run for a trip to Africa.. Sounded great fun.
I convinced them another swim in the morning was a must so off we went.. All laked out I decided to skip Garda and search out the quiet countryside.

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Motorbike drinking buddies

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Thankfully, after 500m I didn't see a car explode. What does this sign mean? I've seen it on a number of occations

Categories: Europe, Italy | 1 Comment

Piemonte region and Turin

The first town on the cold and wet descent into Italy is Vinadio. A day off was called for. The campsite is next to a sizable fort and defendable wall that runs across the valley. Built in the 1800s to prevent armies advancing over the border and up the valley. With plenty of time on my hands the fort was good for a visit. Here is the age old question, what do you fill such an immense number of rooms and corridors with? In this case an elaborate multimedia art project, obviously at great expense. All being in Italian its message was somewhat lost on me but even if I could understand, I rarely find poetry very inspiring due to nature of the subject matter.

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multimedia experience

The lush green valley finishes near the city of Cuneo, a great place to buy some nibbles and have a break. From here maze, Kiwi fruit and grass grow on the heavily irrigated flatlands. The back roads roads are long straight and generally very quiet. Picked up a disused railway cycle route that made a great camp spot.

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The routine is to make food and prep for the next day, then as dusk falls I pitch the tent. I’m generally packed and gone by 7am.
What is very surprising is the number of prostitutes so blatantly touting for business. Even is fairly rural locations, they are African and all rather scary. Being the innocent type I didn’t really notice, it was only when I stopped to check the GPS did a girl leap out the bushes shouting what sounded like “penny penny..”, I asked if she spoke English or French. “Blowjob”. Then penny dropped. I politely declined and moved on. Creepy.
Turin
The next showing of the shroud is an 2025, so not worth handing around for. Sunday is a good day to navigate into or out of a city as its very quiet on the roads. Once in the city centre its easy to tour on a bike as all sights are easily visited by bike. Of interest was the Moroccan area, where old ladies they were selling spiced flat breads. A large secondhand market has just finished and people were picking through the remaining unsold items. The campsite hosted a rock and roll concert which was exceptionally good and I chatted the a well traveled New Zealand couple who had purchased a motorhome in the UK and were on a seeming endless tour of Europe.

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Palace there I was propositioned

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Saw this advert peculiar advert on a church

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View over Turing from the campsite

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