COPENHAGEN - ROME (1998)
My name is Louis Tousignant, a Canadian in his mid-fifties, living in Nova Scotia, on the Atlantic shore. I am always on the look out for riding partners, as I plan one major trip every year, up till now in Europe, but New Zealand and South East Asia are in the wings. All my recent trips have included the following parameters:
If you are O.K. with these criteria and interested in joining me and possibly others in a shared adventure, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
This was my first major trip without time constraints. My last touring experience dated back to the mid-80's. In this context, I did not plan properly, beyond defining the broad outline of the itinerary: Denmark, shortest possible time in Germany therefore Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Northern Italy to Rome. I had no maps for long stretches of the trip, except for France and Italy (Michelin 1:200,000 or 400,000), and no computer on my bike. For a variety of business reasons, I had not trained to any significant degree before the trip, in fact I was green. Finally, I wrote sketchy notes as I went along and here I am, writing a trip report 4 years after the fact...
So reader beware! Distances are educated guesses and sometimes the narrative will be fuzzy.
I cycled 3,516 km in 43 riding days for an average of 83 km/day. I spent 17 days as a tourist, resting. The trip was interrupted for a bit more than 2 weeks, as I had to return to Canada. The trip started in mid-July and finished in early October.
I arrived in Kobenhavn mid-afternoon on the 14th of July. Took a taxi from the airport with my boxed bike and the box with my panniers and asked the driver to help me find a reasonably priced hotel ! He did precisely that, but I found the price fairly steep... I put my bike together in the room and went out for photography and, eventually, dinner. It was very cold, with a heavy rain pouring on the city. My initial impression of the city and the country was: cold. expensive and wet... not a particularly positive vibe. I decided to leave Copenhagen the following morning, without further ado!
Morale of the story: reserve a room before arrival to avoid hassles/surprises and don`t leave Copenhagen after only one night simply because of negative first impressions... If you act as stupidly as I did, you are shortchanging a beautiful city and depriving yourself of the pleasure of discovering it.
Day 1 - Kobenhavn - Ringsted (66 km)
I went from Copenhagen to Koge (#151) and from there to Ringsted on the small road (#150) paralleling the E20. I used a 1:510,000 map provided by a local car rental agency. This was good enough for my purposes.
Denmark is a very bike friendly country and you always ride on well maintained bicycle paths isolated from traffic or alongside it, on wide and clean shoulders, with a clear painted separation between bike and car ways.
I fought the wind the whole day. The lady at the tourism office in Ringsted, through which I found a first rate B&B, told me: "In Danmark, the wind is our mountains"... Very appropriate indeed.
Day 2 - Ringsted - Odense (70 km)
After a substantial breakfast, carried on to Slagelse and Korsor. A ferry/train brings you to Nyborg and from there you take #160 to Odense. Rested 1 day in Odense and visited Den Fynske Landsby (the Funen village), a village created with the reconstruction of historical country buildings - mainly farm houses - with people in traditional costumes providing information and comment. This touristic attraction is a must see and helps to understand the agricultural traditions and history of Denmark. Great photography.
Day 3 - Odense - Fredericia (60 km)
You follow the #161 to Fredericia via Middelfart and a bridge to the Jutland Peninsula, where the former town is situated. An uneventful ride in very nice scenery. Fredericia is a typical small town, very similar to many others of the same size across the country.
The people are very friendly.
Day 4 - Fredericia - Haderslev (75 km)
Took the #161 to Kolding. This is a very nice city where I thought I had lost my clear glasses for about 1 hour. I retraced my steps in the city with great trepidation (as this would have been disastrous without the prescription) and finally found out, going through my panniers, that I had simply misplaced them...
I arrived early in Haderslev, using the #170, and quickly found a B&B. My host recommended a bike tour in the national forest nearby, which I did, adding 15 km to the intercity ride. Had lunch in the forest in beautiful scenery, sighting the occasional elk and a number of hikers and picnicking people. I highly recommend this side ride.
Day 5 - Haderslev - Flensburg (Germany) ( 60 km)
The ride on the #170 to the German border was scenic as usual, with no annoyance whatsoever from cars and motorists. Many sex shops in Dane territory near the border, as Danes have much more relaxed policies than their neighbors in such matters.
Rode in Flensburg with 2 Dutch students. They were looking forward to crossing Germany asap, as they found the place non bike friendly. We parted as I was entering the city to find a room. They were looking for a camping past it. Did not find a room, and tourism office folks found me a place in a pension in the suburbs.
Had the opportunity to visit Flensburg with Stefan, a motorized German library employee who had a room where I stayed. Nice city, but similar to most Danish towns I had seen to date.
Conclusion - Danmark
I took my time in Denmark, not only to get in shape (which was sorely needed), but because I liked the country and its people. Like most Canadians, the Danes are polite, friendly, open minded, serene and helpful. In retrospect, I should not only have spent time in Copenhagen but also visited a good chunk of Jutland, North of Fredericia and on the West coast.
Because I was on a long trip to Italy, I felt compelled to move too fast, in my slowness.
I did not buy or use a road map of Northern Germany. I intended to and did follow largely the Green Coast Road (Grune Kustenstrasse) which starts at the tip of Jutland, crosses Northern Germany along or close to the North Sea and finishes in the Netherlands. You can obtain a folding map of this road in tourism offices along the way. In retrospect, as I had to consult maps in many places along the way, I should have obtained a detailed road map. But hey! I was on vacation!
Day 6 - Flensburg - Lunden (70 km)
From Flensburg, you join the Green Coast Road in Husum situated 41 km away. I could have stopped in Friedrichstadt - a picturesque town and popular tourist stop - but there were no rooms available for these very reasons. Walked the town with the camera and had a productive session.
The Friedrichstadt tourism office phoned ahead to the inn in Lunden (probably the only one) and reserved me a room. My stay there was the high point of the ride in Germany.
The room was spotless, spacious and very affordable. The inn keepers were very hospitable, and very classy. The service was superb This particular inn was the social center of the place, with the trophies of football and hunting clubs, as well as the map of the world on one of the walls. I could actually pin point to my host the specific area of Nova Scotia where I come from... The food, wine and dinner were first class and the prices extremely low for Germany.
Had a long conversation with George, a WWII Messerschmit pilot and prisoner of war in England. Had a fierce chess encounter with Kurt Kring (one game each) as the inn is also the home of the local chess club...
A fabulous little town with incredibly nice and proud people.
Day 7 - Lunden - Gluckstadt - Freiburgh (75 km)
I found out the following day that Kurt, of chess fame, is a government surveyor. He stopped in his truck, accompanied by colleagues, on the road between Marne and Brunsbuttel. Guess he was checking out my story about the trip...
After taking the ferry to Wischhafen, I was tired and it was mid-afternoon, the time to begin to look for a room. Had extreme difficulty finding a hotel. Got a room in a deserted hotel at an outlandish price all things considered. Never take a room just because you're tired. I should have carried on, there was lots of daylight left.
Day 8 - Freiburgh - Neumoors - Oserholz - Schwarnewede (75 km)
The distance here again is a guesstimate. My major objective for that leg was to avoid Bremen. Had help to find my way to land in Schwarnemede where I found an excellent hotel with hospitable people, the Blenderman (55 Dmarks) and an extraordinary dinner at a restaurant close by (50 DM). That was about $105 Cdn, cheaper than the previous days. More importantly, the people I met were all friendly and helpful.
Since the start, I was riding on flat terrain against a strong wing.
Day 9 - Schwarnemede - Leer (110 km)
Nice folks helped me find my way through Oldenburgh. I was ending the passage through Germany and I reconciled myself with 2 realities. The cost of living is high, so forget about money and live like a German. Accept the reality that there are sob's in all countries, although for some reason, Germans with a chip on their shoulder seem to be a little more insupportable than elsewhere...
Stumbled on a great country fair in Detern.
I did not cover enough ground in Germany to form an informed opinion about the country. But I don't think I will ever plan a long trip there.
Day 10 - Leer - Groningen (70 km)
From Leer you quickly move from roads to bike paths. The signage on the paths as you reach the Netherlands is as good as on highways. The cycling path system in the entire country is probably the best in the world. Austria probably ranks a close second (the scenery is definitely better there however), followed by Denmark.
The difference in atmosphere is palpable in Holland. People are decidedly more relaxed. Arrived fairly early in Groningen and found a room at the Weeva Hotel. I highly recommend it as it is probably the least expensive among good hotels.
Met Ziflstra (a well to do lady) and Martin (a Dutch tourist guide working with tour groups outside the country) and we had dinner together on a terrasse. They gave a guided visit of the city afterwards... fine people.
Rested one full day in Groningen, a wonderfully reconstructed city. Lots of photo opps.
Day 11 - Groningen - Den Oever (125 km)
Was on the bike from 8:00 to 1900 h. Stopped in Leeuwarden under the rain. A picturesque city worth a stop but it did not work for me as I wanted to get to Amsterdam quickly.
Would have stopped in Harlingen, a nice touristic/beach city on the North Sea but everything was booked. The tourism office folks found me a room in a B&B, on the other side of the great dike, 30 km away. Don't forget to do a photo of the statue of the little boy who saved the country with his finger in the dike wall...
From there, I was well positioned for an early arrival in Amsterdam.
Day 12 - Den Oever - Amsterdam (50km)
A wet and very windy day... Thank God I crossed the dyke yesterday. The cycling paths to Amsterdam bring you to a ferry besides the main central station. There is a hotel reservation service in the building. Use it. Don't even bother trying to find a room by yourself if you are, like I was, in peak season. Secured my bike near the door and they found me a reasonably priced room (95 Guilders) for 2 days at the Lancaster Hotel.
On the afternoon of arrival, I did both the bus and boat tours of the city. The boat tour is an absolute must.
The Red Light District is a fascinating place to visit, way above my expectations. The Van Gogh museum was not as great an experience, but is also a landmark to visit. Did not do the Jamaican smoking bars... A great city. From a photo point of view, I found 1 day was enough, but there's lots to do in a longer stay...
Day 13 - Amsterdam - Genderen (115 km)
Can't overemphasize the convenience of cycling on the path network of Holland. Getting out of Amsterdam was very easy and absolutely safe. In the outskirts, as I was taking a photo, I was passed by 2 cyclists. Wanting company, I joined them. Margot and Nicole, a couple on the way back home from a camping vacation. They guided me through 115 km of beautiful countryside, taking the fiets paths (very little roads) to their home in Genderen. Sometimes, we literally passed in backyards. There were 3 ferry crossings.
I missed the opportunity to visit Utrecht, as we simply passed through this beautiful medieval city, but the opportunity of simply riding without having to worry about directions, was simply too good to miss.
Day 14 - Genderen - Maastricht (125 km)
I left early the following morning, with an itinerary to Maastricht they provided me with before retiring. I went to Den Bosch, then Eindhoven and rather than continuing in the Netherlands, I cut to the Belgium border and just outside Sint Huibrechts-Lille followed the Zuid Willems-vaart, a canal leading to Maastricht.
It was obviously flat as a pancake all the way. Arrived at 18:30 and had to settle for a rather expensive room at Hotel de la Bourse. Found a great pub owned by Peter Benson just around the corner and a fantastic Italian restaurant "Il jiardino della mama", a superlatively good place in terms of food and hospitality. Rested 1 day in the city where a lot of Belgians come to spend the week end to have a good time.
Conclusion the Netherlands
The culture, the people and the sights are monochromatic, but this is definitely one of the friendliest countries for cyclists in the world. A grand country to go through!
Day 15 - Maastricht - Malmedi (70 km)
Took the main road East out of Maastricht, turned South on the 648 to Henri Chapelle and from there to Eupen, where the flat country ends for a while. I had reached the Ardennes.
The climb from Eupen lasts until Baraque Michel, 14 km away up to 634 meters above sea level, but it is slow and does not require major effort. Just patience and determination. The coast down to Malmedy is lots of fun and the countryside is beautiful. You sort of expect a tank with Donald Sutherland, accompanied by Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas, to appear all of a sudden... The road winds and the grade is pretty steep as you approach Malmedy. Garlic mussels with frites, at the restaurant "Au vieux Malmedy" are de rigueur as this is the national dish. Great photo opps in Malmedy.
Day 16 - Malmedy - Diekirch - Ernsdorf (77 km)
The highway to Ligneuville, Sankt Vyth goes on to Weismampach, which is technically the end of the Ardennes. Carried on the E421 to Diekirch where I arrived late afternoon. The tourism office informed me there were no rooms to be found in town - regrettably because it seemed a nice place to visit - and booked me at Hotel Neumuhle in Ernsdorf, which you reach on small roads via Girsdorf. I arrived at 20:10, after a 8 km climb out of Girsdorf, which was rather steep at the start.
Stopped at a pub in Ernsdorf to ask directions and a group of Dutchmen, who were camping on the hotel grounds gave me directions... The hotel room was fine and at dinner, I saw the same tourists. I had stumbled on a Dutch summer village of campers and had an incredible night... A great bunch of friendly people, much drinking, lots of fun!
Day 17 - Ernsdorf - Luxembourg (45 km)
Out of Ernsdorf and going to reach highway 11, you are in "Kelly's Heroes" country... Beautiful scenery. On highway 11 I was in the rain and the transition from Belgium to Luxembourg was starkly visible... wide and clean shoulders appeared on each side of the road and the pavement was like new. Similarly, as you enter the city, it seems that everybody on the streets is wearing a suit and working for a bank.
I arrived early and had ample opportunity to visit and take photos. The city is beautiful, the scenery awesome with the city being buit on the crest of valleys, and everything is spotless. There are lots of affordable hotels!
Conclusion - Belgium/Luxembourg
I did not cover enough of Belgium to form an idea but I would go there in August. Luxembourg is a very interesting place to visit.
Day 18 - Luxembourg - Metz (110 km)
Finally got good maps. Yellow Michelin's (1:200,000)
Used small roads all the way to Metz. Started in Hesperangue to Bettembourg, Dudelange, Hettange-Grande, Thionville (France) and on to Guénange. Just before Ennery, I caught up with another cyclist, Guy Brouet, a retired teacher who was glad to meet a Québec "cousin". He made me enter Metz through 8 to 10 km of small bike paths...a great ride.
I had sufficient daylight left to do a photo tour of the city so I did not feel compelled to stay another day.
Day 19 - Metz - Nancy (63 km)
Took the West side of the Moselle to go to Ars (renowned for it's parish priest way back when) and stayed West all along. You should definitely cross East from Ars and stay on that side until Pont-À-Mousson, as the road is much more scenic according to the map. The West side is blah but gets better after the latter town.
Nancy is a beautiful city with lots of touristic attractions. But I had other things in mind on arrival. My mother was in her last moments and I arranged to return to Canada, leaving my bike and baggage at the hotel.
Day 20 - Nancy - Joinville (100 km)
Returned from Canada 15 days later and resumed the trip.
Got out of Nancy through Villers, on the D92 to Maron, then on the D909 to Toul. From there took the D11 to Blénod and the D960 to Vaucouleurs, the town where Joan of Arc became a warrior... It was mid day and through the tourism office in Vaucouleurs, I made a reservation in Joinville, about 50 km away. This is reallly the way to go when possible, as you do not worry about finding a room later on in the day...
The D960 from then on is dreary. The Haute Marne region is not particularly appealing and I would recommend going to Neufchâteau from Toul. It's probably a more interesting area to visit on the way to Troyes.
Joinville is of no touristic interest, although l'Hôtel du Nord, where I stayed is fine, inexpensive and the food is great.
Day 21 - Joinville - Brienne-le-Château (54 km)
A bit of rolling hills on D960 and, more particularly, very strong head winds, made for a short day on the bike. Brienne is where Napoleon went to the military academy as a youth. But there is only one reason to go to this small town: La Toque Blanche. This relatively inexpensive restaurant is one of the best I have ever been to in all of France. The portions are very generous, the food and the service superb!!!
From a biking point of view, I should have carried on to Troyes that very day.
Day 22 - Brienne - Troyes (45 km)
In fact continuing would have been very easy, as the ride though La Forêt d'Orient is not only peaceful but sheltered from the elements by the trees. Turning on D43 towards Géraudot as you reach La Loge aux Chèvres, enables you to enter Troyes by the D48.
Rested 1 day in Troyes as it is very attractive from a touristic and photo points of view. I suggest a guided tour of the city through the Tourism office.
Day 23 - Troyes - Auxerre (100 km)
Took the 109 to Roncenay, then turned on the D25 to St Jean de Bonneval and St Phal, crossed le Bois du Perchois to Les Granges and on the D443 to Vanlay and Bernon, and then Lignières. From there, rode to Flogny-la-Chapelle, took the D8 to Ligny, the D91 to Maligny and the D124 straight into Auxerre.
Although this description appears somewhat complicated, I simply went from Troyes to Auxerre by taking a line between parallel national (red) roads, in order to see the countryside and avoid traffic. The beauty of France is that there are 50 ways to get anywhere and lots of places where you own the road!
This was Chablis wine countryside and a slow roll all the way. Met Hatty and Martin, Brit cyclists, and rode the last few kms with them. We spent a very agreable evening together in Auxerre. A very nice town, but not as much as Troyes.
I decided to ride to the Loire and then straight line it to Lyon, without visiting 'les châteaux de la Loire'. This would be for another trip.
Day 24 - Auxerrre - Pouilly (95 km)
As on the previous day, took a line between 'routes nationales' to get to Cosne on the Loire, taking the D1 to Saints, the D85 to St Sauveur, the D955 to St Amand, then turning to St Loup further down the road to take the D114 into Cosne. >From there, I followed the Loire on D243 to Pouilly of wine fame...
Met 2 young German riders and we cycled together for a while. Hit a bump in a small village and one of my back panniers fell on the road. A bolt had let go and they helped me knock on doors to find a replacement unit... not easy, particularly during the noon siesta period. But a nut and bolt was found by a bar owner... You might throw a few spares in your tool kit before leaving (which I now do).
I strongly recommend L'Écu de France in Pouilly, a 2 star hotel/restaurant. The food is superb...
Day 25 - Pouilly - Nevers - Cronat (120 km)
Took the West side of the Loire all the way. Nevers is a jewel of a town and a must stop if your thing is tourism, photography. I walked Nevers for a couple of hours. Otherwise, that leg of the trip was atrociously boring...
Day 26 - Cronat - Charolles - Clermain (110 km)
Took the small road to Bourbon - Lancy, then the D192 to Perrigny, followed by the D979 - a nationale road - to Digoin. Afetr lunch, went to Neuzy, then to Paray-le-Monial on D248. The Nationale N 19 landed me in Charolles at 17:30.
Still had lots of energy and got a room in Clermain - about 40 km away - through the tourism office. Had the foresight to stock up on wine and food for dinner, as Clermain is a small village.
The D25 to Ozolles, D168 to Dompierre, D289 to la Ferdière and the D213 to Clermain was a superb ride through spectacular countryside. From Villard, it climbs rather steeply to Dompierre then you coast down to a valley. Le Colombier - the B&B - was on top of a very steep hill (2km) just outside Clermain.
Has dinner by myself, reflecting that the Bourgogne region - with places like Auxerre, Pouilly, Nevers, Paray and Charolles (all places that I had seen) and other great locations I had not seen such as Dijon, Cluny, Macon and Fonteney - is fantastic touring country.
Day 27 - Clermain - Avenas - Morgon - Lyon (105 km)
Another fantastic ride in picture perfect country. Part one of the day was crossing the Beaujolais wine region, a 764 meter climb, followed by a long descent to Belleville on the Saône.
Part 2 was a breeze along the Saône on D933, from Guérins to Lyon.
Rested 1 day in Lyon, the Capital of French gastronomy and the second city of France. If you ever pass through there, plan on 2 days rest. There is a medieval city crowned by the Cathedral on the West side of the city and an historic 16th Century center town. The restaurants are of course out of this world. The museum is a must! Discover and enjoy!
Day 28 - Lyon - Moirans (112 km)
Got out of Lyon on the D518 to Hevrieux, then the smaller D53 to St Jean de Bournay, followed by a stretch of Nationale - D518 again - to Côte Saint André. From there, the D73 brought me to Voiron, Saint Jean de Moirans and, finally, a motel on N85...
Finally, from the parking lot, I could see the Alps! The beginning of the mountain chain, but the Alps nevertheless...
A nice long day, finished by a good dinner at a nearby restaurant with a chemist from Rhône-Poulenc and his wife...
Day 29 - Moirans - Aspres sur Buesch (Sisteron) (105 km)
The ride into Grenoble on N75 is a breeze and I passed though the city in a flash, stopping only to buy groceries for a road side lunch later on... I started into the mountains still on N75 ... "La route Napoléon"... the route the Emperor took on his triumphal return from Elba, before his fall to Wellington at Waterloo a while later...
From Vif to Monastier de Clermont, it climbs pretty much all the way. In the countryside, the road is wide with nice shoulders and you don't really notice the traffic. But it narrows down in each village. Lots of folks have put signs on their homes pleading for a by-pass...
Phoned my uncle who lives down the road in Sisteron to pick me up with his car when he feels like it... Looking forward to finally see their Provence "cabanon".
Le col de la Croix Haute is not a problem... I arrived in Buesch and phoned again to find out what was happening... Little did I know that it was downhill from there. We connected in Aspres and I loaded my bike and baggage in his car. A pity, I could have coasted to Sisteron and clocked in lots more kms!
Day 30 - Sisteron - Barcelonnette (110 km)
Spent 2 days with my relatives, visiting the area surrounding Sisteron. If you like hills, picturesque villages and people and spectacular vistas... you're in the right place. I was yet uncertain on how to attack Italy but friends suggested the Pau valley, as going down to the Italian Riviera would not only mean hills but lots of traffic and little history compared to the Via Emilia. In retrospect, that was a great suggestion...
I was in shape now and the ride to Barcelonnette was a breeze. Did my first col, the col Saint Jean, and was proud of myself even though it's not very difficult as col's go... Arrived mid-afternoon and found a comfy cheap room at l'Hotel de Provence. Had an excellent dinner in a family restaurant a couple of streets away from the center. You may already know that in France (and Europe), if you eat on a terrasse on the main drag, or in the historic center, you pay more than two streets back where normal folks eat, the prices are lower and the quality higher!
Conclusion - France
France is the pits when it comes to cycling paths... but it's the best country in the world for small roads where a cyclist literally owns the road. Should have avoided Haute Marne and gone to Lyon via Strasbourg-Dijon. But I don't regret a thing. Vive la France!
Day 31 - Barcelonette - Demonte (76 km)
Followed the Ubaye River out of Barcelonette, on the D900, where I met a team of German pro cyclists coming the other way. I then climbed le Col de Larche/ Colle della Maddalena to the top of the Alps and to Italy. Phoned my wife from the summit of the Maddalena, my first real climb. The coast down to Damonte was exhilirating. Had to use the breaks a lot.
Needless to say this was a great day, in spectacular scenery, and under blue skies to boot.
Could have gone to Cuneo, a larger town, but there was a huge fair according to a group of Italian students in Demonte and probably no rooms... I stayed in Hotel Moderno (60,000 lire or $60Cdn) and discovered marble bathrooms, a significant and very positive change from most places I had stayed in France, where plumbing does not seem to be a priority. The view of the mountains was breathtaking, the dinner was great and the little Piedmont town quite picturesque.
Day 32 - Demonte - Alba (93 km)
Took the S21 to Borgo and the S20 to Cuneo. This is a very nice typical Italian town which would have made a more interesting stop over than Demonte, all things considered. As predicted, the place was busy...
Rode on the S22 to Dogliani, where I had a wine cheese and bread lunch on the Piazza Belvedere where the view is awesome. Discussed the Padania (Northern Italy) separation movement with a student, but even though feelings are strong in the North about Southerners, partition of the country is not about to happen.
You go through the Barolo wine country, from Monforte d'Alba to Casiglione Falletto and the ride to Alba - a must stop over - is very interesting indeed. Found a very inexpensive and comfortable room at the Leon Doro. The city, with its medieval streets and ancient architecture, is a gem.
The people are remarkably friendly and I was tempted to spend one more day. I should have.
Day 33 - Alba - Alessandria (84 km)
Outside Alba on the S231, turned right to Barbaresco, then to Bogliato, Calamandrana and Nizza Monferrato. This is Asti and Broglio wine country. I mistakenly turned towards Castel Rocherro and Alice Bel Colle, but that stretch is absolutely breathtaking both in terms of the scenery and the hills you have to climb. The climb to Alice is particularly demanding.
I was relieved to join the S30 at Cassine to Alessandria, where it is flat all the way, but that little adventure away from the valley was just super!
Alessandria is not particularly interesting. It is the home of Borsalino hats which were the rage in men's fashion between the great wars...
Day 34 - Alessandria - Piacenza (113 km)
The evening before leaving the city, I had planned an itinerary to Piacenza that paralleled the S10 - the Via Emilia that runs in the plain - from Tortona. This worked fine until I reached Rivanazzano. But from there to Rocca Susella a mere 15 kms away, the climb was twice as hard as in the Alps (where admittedly the major roads are designed for truck traffic) and the descent on very poor asphalt with lots of gravel, hairy to say the least.
At the crossroads, I could have followed through to Stephanago, Nibbiano and Val Tidone - my original plan - but I chickened out, in the interest of time I must say, because I wanted to be in Piacenza before sundown. I returned to the Via Emilia via Casteggio.
In the circumstances, it probably was the good decision as I did make better time, but the planned route was the way to go!
Piacenza is a boring modern town (as far as I could see...). A center town room at the Hotel Ovest was 135,000 lire... I settled for the K2, right at the town limits, for 65,000 lire! Had my first ever Quattro Frommagio Pizza which really tasted real cheese... Sure beats Pizza Delight!!!
Day 35 - Piacenza - Parma (50 km)
This was a quick stroll (on a quiet Sunday morning) on the Via Emilia. There was no traffic to speak of...
In Cadeo, I stumbled on a country fair where many good photos were taken... And I arrived in Parma before lunch. Of course, a stop to this city rich in history was indicated.
I found a great (read cheap and clean) hotel room with a fabulous restaurant - L'Oca Nera - just down the street. Had an incredibly good and cheap lunch (salad, fried sea food, and great house red wine for 20,000lire) in this trattoria that seats very few clients. After lunch, I set out with an empty roll of 36 shots to visit the city...
It was September 13 and I had stumbled on the Paleo, an annual event since 1200A.D. where town folk in medieval costumes celebrate their city and its traditions. When I ran out of film, I wanted to kill as I missed the end of the celebrations. This was my best roll of film ever... and ever since. I went back to my hotel room and reloaded, but the event was over. There's lots more to photograph.
At the time of my visit, in the very early fall of 1998, the Palacio Piletta was in renovation and the National Gallery and the Museum were closed. Very sad...
If I were to plan another tour of Northern Italy, Alba and Parma would definitely be focal points.
Dinner at L'Oca Nera (the black swan) was out of this world.
Day 36 - Parma - Modena (52 km)
Another short stroll on the Via Emilia... but an eventful one.
The gastronomical discovery of the day was Lambrusco del Emilia, a sparkling red... yes red... wine! Refreshing with a lunch of ham, bread and, of course, Parma cheese.
The traffic was heavy on this Monday morning and a semi trailer sort of nudged me off the road and the pavement... I had my first puncture (a pinch of course) and a fall. But I was clear of traffic. I changed the tube, replaced the front wheel, pumped the tube up and left... But I forgot 2 essential things: insufficient pressure... and I did not reclip the front brake line...
M y stupidity freaked me out... I left the road in a panic and of course, pinched the tube again and fell for the second time. This time, I was hurting. Quietly went off the main highway on a small side road and began the repair. Three guys, looking very sinister, appeared from nowhere. One was near me, the second one 50 meters away with a cell phone and a third was in a car further away... I was hurt and in a sudden hurry to get out of there. Which I finally did, not a moment too soon. My guess is that I stumbled on a drug deal. It was the only time I was scared in the entire trip.
Stopped in Modena, the home of Pavarotti and Ferrari, because of the city's reputation. I wanted to get a massage, so I spent an extra day. The off center hotel I found - Moderno again - was spotlessly clean, had marble floors and was incredibly cheap (35,000 lire) for the quality of lodgings.
Modena is disappointing from a tourism point of view... Wanted to have lunch at trattoria Lauro - probably the best restaurant in town and not expensive - but they were closed to the public, hosting a lunch for the victorious Ferrari team, a rare event that particular year...
Did not have the greatest of times but I had to rest my bones... I figured out the itinerary to Rome, to pass the time away.
Day 37 - Modena - Bologna (40 km)
Another quick day on the Via Emilia but I had no choice but to stop in Bologna, which is an incredibly fascinating city. In fact, if you redo my journey, simply skip Modena and spend an extra day in Bologna... I did not notice much by way of museums and like attractions but it's a bustling university city. As everywhere in Italy, you know you're in town when your bike is surrounded by scooters...
Day 38 - Bologna - Ronta (102 km)
The S65, leading to Passo della Raticosa and Passo della Futa is spectacular. The climbing to close to 1,000 meters is quite manageable and you ride through beautiful country. Between these 2 cols, I passed by a huge truck loaded with steel beams that had flipped in the ditch. Thank God nobody was beside it...
I could have reached Florence that day but a recurring leg cramp forced me to stop for the night. Could not find a room in Borgo San Lorenzo and ended up cycling North to Ronta, a small touristic village 10 kms off trajectory.
The first hotel I tried was booked... The second, the Tri Fiumi, had a room available but I had to swear on the Bible it was only for 1 night. They were expecting a group for the weekend. That hotel was straight out of a movie set. Quaint, romantic and the personnel treated me like royalty. The area is also very picturesque. A nice end to a fabulous day on the road.
Day 39 - Ronta - Firenze (40 km)
The S302 out of Ronta is probably the most scenic route to take to enter Florence. Everything you see - from olive groves, to Roman structures, to yew trees - cries out Tuscany!
The descent in Florence from Fiesole is absolutely spectacular. It's as if you gradually discover the city as you approach. So much so that if you ever come from Bologna, leave the S65 at the Borgo San Lorenzo level and take this road. Unbelievably beautiful...
In the final analysis, the stop in Ronta was providential as I arrived in Florence early that Saturday morning. It took me 3 hours to find a room. According to the hotel owner where I finally landed (145,000 lire for a single room and I gratefully took it!), sept. - oct. is the peak of the season and weekends are always busy.
Spent the week end in the city and managed to visit most of the sights... the Cathedral, the Uffizi, the Academia, the Pritti, the Boboli gardens and of course, Ponte del Vecchio. One can stay much longer to do this marvelous city justice. Hope you have the opportunity to experience it!
Day 40 - Firenze - Siena (75 km)
In the outskirts of Florence, a "friendly" police woman led me to believe that I could ride on the autostrada... and I was stupid enough to believe her. The first 8 km of my day, before I finally could get out at San Casciano, was absolute hell. It was safe all right, with a wide, clean and perfectly surfaced shoulder, but every single car and truck - both ways - blew its horn at me. Should of course have taken the S2 from Tavarnuzze...
The road climbs pretty much all the way to San Pancrazio and then you ride a crest to Tavarnelle... Breathtaking, in Chianti country. The ride to Siena, always on the S2, was marvelous.
There being a convention, Siena was full. Literally got the last room in town from the tourism office... Siena is also very beautiful... I'm at a loss for adjectives!
It is a pity I could not stay one more day because of the hotel occupancy situation. The place deserves one more day. I very strongly recommend La Taverna de San Giuseppe, a restaurant in a medieval building.. The wine cellar dates back to 1050 AD. Superb eating at a reasonable price.
Day 41 - Siena - Seggiano (80 km)
The hotel owner in Bologna, a cyclist, had recommended sightseeing in Montalcino after the required stop in Siena. So I left the S2 (the Via Cassia, another ancient Roman road) just after Buonconvento and climbed to Montalcino. A nice climb and the medieval village - where I had lunch - is definitely worth the stop. The wines from this area are among the best in Italy and I can vouch for that having brought 2 bottles back. I of course got them in Rome. Expensive stuff, even in Italy.
I then coasted to Castellnuevo in enchanting country and proceeded to climb Mount Amiata. Stopped just before Seggiano in a country inn, the "Al Cacciatore" where the room and a country dinner cost me 91,000 lire. The hostess threw in a real breakfast - a rarity - the following morning.
I strongly recommend that ride.
Day 42 - Seggiano - Viterbo (110 km)
The first 3 hours to Castel del Piano, Santa Fiora, Piancastagnaio and down to Via Cassia at Ponte del Rigo are a roller coaster around Mount Amiata, concluding with a descent to the plain. A fantastic ride.
I left the Via Cassia to take the West side of Lago di Bolsena but it is mostly a gravel road. A nice ride nevertheless but the S2 on the East side is as scenic according to the map and the going is certainly smoother. Once you have passed the lake, it is downhill all the way to Viterbo.
Viterbo is an ordinary town where I found cheap accommodation quite easily.
Day 43 - Viterbo - Roma (90 km)
Took a side road via Tobia where I rejoined the Via Cassia at Cura. >From there I stayed on the Via Cassia literally to its end, Rome. A nice coast pretty much all the way.
Gradually, the road becomes busier and busier and becomes a city boulevard way before entering Rome. The flotilla of scooters becomes denser a you approach and finally, you're there... the pavement turns into cobbles and you are in the old city.
It took me forever to find the Central Train Station where I knew I would find help to get a room. The experience of riding in Rome in an unending flow of traffic is exhilarating. I did not find it dangerous. Drivers treat you like a scooter, which is with respect if you are clear about your intentions.
The central station scene is something else. The tourism folks don't find you a room...they give you a list of hotels and pensions with hundreds of names! But there's lots of "scalpers" around to help you find lodgings. I was skeptical figuring they would rip me off, but as it turns out, they give you a fair deal; they work on a commission, like everybody else... Being at the height of the season, in October, I could only find a room for 1 night. I found more permanent affordable lodgings near the Station (70,000 lire/night, with a shared shower/bathroom). Not great... but a bargain. Spent 4 days as a tourist in Rome after dealing with packing my bike and my gear (an experience, but I will spare you the details) and changing my plane ticket (an ordeal as the Italians wanted to rip me off.. but there again I will spare you the details).
A guided tour of ancient Rome (on foot) is a must, as is a guided tour of the Vatican to beat the crowd, access places like the Sistine chapel knowledgeably and understand what you are actually seeing. I won't say more. Rome is an extraordinary city. Have a great time...
Conclusion - Italy
In terms of scenery, diversity of regions and roads, and overall quality of the experience, North Eastern Italy to Rome was clearly the most satisfying part of my trip in all categories, with the possible exception of food in France. I don't care what people say about traffic in Italy... I think they are only talking about the dangers to appear knowledgeable or experienced. I did many stretches in heavy traffic, but there are lots... and I mean lots of country roads where a cyclist is the king, pretty much most of the time.
Hope this report will stimulate your thought process! Blue skies and tail winds!