Wednesday 17th June
Today we left Florence and began the journey south to Rome. We have given ourselves a very generous 6 days to get there so that we can enjoy some of the lakes on the way.
It was an easy-going start. A few hills, but not bad. We stopped at a Decathlon and treated ourselves to some additional light warm-weather clothing and some shiny new tent pegs, after our current ones were destroyed when they were caught between some rocky ground and an Eric that refused to quit.
We finished the day at 3 o’clock and I even got to have a little nap before dinner.
Today’s best views:
Thursday 18th June
Lovely weather – sunny but not too hot. We spent the morning cycling through quiet winding roads surrounded by vineyards, olive trees and Tuscany’s rolling hills. It was good cycling.
We had another 3 o’clock finish, reaching the first of many lakes, the Lake Trasimeno. We had an icecream sitting by the lake, watching the waves rolling in and feeling at peace with the world.
During the evening we bumped into one of the cycle tourists we had spoken with in Florence – the guy from Holland (we still don’t know his name and it is most certainly too late now). He’s also heading to Rome so who knows, maybe we’ll see him there too.
Friday 19th June
The day’s cycling began with a long, straight road, which we sailed along until lunchtime.
After lunch we hit the hills. We took what looked like a flatter road on our map, but turned out to be the opposite, with some of the steepest inclines we’ve encountered. We pedalled up painfully slowly.
The view on the way up (by a war memorial):
A mile or two into descending the problems began. The back wheel brake stopped working – part of it snapped off. Because of this Eric could only use the front wheel brake. Within a couple of miles the excess pressure, plus the potholed roads caused the front wheel to puncture. Then, just to make things more complicated, when detaching the trailer so that we could turn the bike over, the trailer attachment broke.
Eric fixed the puncture, taped the back wheel brake together and replaced the trailer attachment. Go Eric! (I provided bike stabilisation, equipment sourcing and emotional support.)
The front tyre had a scratch along its side. We weren’t too convinced that it would take the pressure of the descent, especially as the back wheel brake wasn’t working fully. We decided to walk the bike down the hill; something that we felt a little bitter about – we wanted our nice easy downhill after putting the work in to get up there.
After a while the hill levelled out, so we decided to risk getting on the bike. We got on and started pedalling. Two minutes later the front wheel punctured again. Oh dear.
As we fixed this puncture, we heard the crack of thunder and the rain began.
We walked through the storm for the rest of the afternoon, which wasn’t really too bad as the rain was quite cooling. The most frustrating thing was that we might have been fine getting back on the bike, but it wasn’t worth the risk of getting another puncture (with only one spare second-hand inner tube left). What was also frustrating is that the front tyre has pretty much died on us three days before we planned to replace it – we are getting a new tyre delivered to our accommodation in Rome.
We weren’t going to make it to our campsite in time, so we kept an eye out for a place to stay, and spotted a hotel in the little village of Ciconia.
The price was 80 euros per night, but after telling the owner that this was too expensive for us, she offered us the room at 60. This seems to be a good tactic when rocking up to places! I guess from their point of view they can either have an empty room and no money, or a full room and slightly less money than usual.
This is a really nice hotel. Look how posh it is!
In contrast, we must have been uncommonly filthy-looking guests. I was in a luminous orange tank top that had been soaked in sweat all day, and cycle shorts which showed off my mosquito-bitten legs, and Eric had a palm-sized black oil smudge on his face after fixing up the bike (which I didn’t have the heart to tell him about). I won’t even describe the helmet hair.
Our room has a four poster bed, fancy furniture and toilet paper with patterns on it. We were both a little in awe.
We’re travelling on a budget here, but it’s nice that we have enough money in the bank to chuck some cash at our problems when things don’t go to plan!
Saturday 20th June
A new day, time to tackle the problems with the bike.
After an extremely hearty breakfast (the buffet included four types of cake) we found out from the hotel receptionist that there was a bike shop just a mile away on the outskirts of Orvieto. Even though we’re in laid back Italy, we felt fairly confident that it would be open on a Saturday morning, so with a surge of optimism we got back on the bike and chanced the integrity of the front wheel. I don’t know how you cycle “gingerly”, but you can, and we did.
The inner tube held. Yes!
After a bit of searching we found the bike shop. We drew up to the door and saw this sign:
The shop owner was off at a meeting of some kind. How unlucky is that?
With a basically non-functional back wheel brake, and a front tyre which we couldn’t trust, we acknowledged that cycling the rest of the way would not be wise, or most likely possible, for that matter.
Plan B was now go. Eric guarded the bike while I went to find the train station. It wasn’t too far, and I was soon clumsily requesting “Due billeta… er… pour… Roma. On…” point to date on iPad screen “avec bici per favour.”
I was anticipating some kind of problem because… well… they seem to have a habit of cropping up at the moment, but the guy just said “OK, what time?” Tickets were all sorted for Tuesday morning (to coincide with when our accommodation is booked). Hooray!
It was disappointing not to be cycling the rest of the way. Our route was easy-going and would have taken us from lake to lake – we had been looking forward to it. But nevermind, instead we would be taking a mini-break, which should at least leave us feeling fresh for Rome.
Eric wanted to stay in a hotel for a few days, as this would have allowed us to stay right by the train station, but after investigating another hotel’s prices I was mean and said ‘No’. Splashing out after a bad day was one thing, 3 nights in a hotel was another – for that we could probably get two weeks’ worth of campsites!
So we stocked up on enough food for 3 days (a lot of food) and then did some more ginger pedalling out of town. According to our map there was a campsite by a reservoir roughly 10KM away. The road was of fairly decent quality and not too hilly.
‘I didn’t see a campsite, did you?’ I said.
‘No… maybe it was there. I think we would have seen it, though,’ said Eric.
We consulted the map, and here was our choice:
- Option A: cycle back a few kilometres and see if we could find the first campsite.
- Option B: cycle on up a hill, where there was a second campsite.
There is something very off putting about going back the way you came, especially if you quite strongly suspect that it will be a useless journey. On the other hand, we shouldn’t really be going uphill, as it would probably mean walking back down again as we don’t think that we can work the brake without our tyre puncturing.
Our gut overruled our heads. We went with Option B.
We cycled up the hill. At the beginning Eric was complaining about our bad luck etc., and I was saying things like ‘Look on the bright side…’. Forty minutes in I was savagely joining in calling the hill a few names. This was some hill. By the time we realised that this hill was going to be a mega-pain to walk back down, we were halfway up it and had well and truly committed ourselves to this plan (imagine if we went all the way back down and found that, as we had suspected, the first campsite didn’t exist? We would have to cycle back up a second time!).
On the way up I saw a little village perched far above us, looking very picturesque on the hilltop. ‘How pretty’, I thought.
Some time later I realised to my horror that this was where we were heading! I know that we’ve all experienced those moments where we wish that we could replace real time with a montage. Well, this was one of those moments: I wanted some upbeat music, a closeup of our legs pedalling fading into a shot of me wiping my brow, pan to Eric swigging some water before cutting to several static shots of us cycling past. Some final closeup shots of eyes grimacing and beads of sweat before cutting to us high-fiving overlooking a magnificent view, and then laughing “Ha! Ha! Ha!” when I reveal that I sneaked a bottle of champagne into one of the panniers.
As a famous montage said: there’s no easy way out. But we got there. Eventually. And once pain is relegated from present to past it immediately doesn’t seem so bad.
We arrived in the aptly named Camping il Falcone which sat above the tiny village of Civitella del Lago. It seems to be a pretty nice place. We can hole up here for a few days.
We put up the tent in the sunshine and had lunch. Then there was a thunderstorm. We hid in the tent. Then the sun came out. We went in the swimming pool. Then there was another thunderstorm. We went back into the tent.
Sunday 21st June and Monday 22nd June
Enforced rest days
We had no choice but to relax. Luckily, we are made of stern stuff and took this situation in our stride. These two days passed in a happy blur of sunbathing, gentle strolls, reading, icecream and occasional dips in the swimming pool.
The little village of Civitella del Lago turned out to be bigger than I had thought. It’s of Roman origin, and had a very pretty old town.
Miles on a non-fully functioning bike: 15
Miles on a train: approx 60
Back to business.
We knew the train to Rome that we wanted to take was at around 11.20AM, so being overly cautious we were out the door of the campsite by 7AM – giving ourselves time to sort out any bike problems which might occur on the way.
The first job was to walk the bike 6KM down the hill. We had anticipated that this was going to be very annoying, but actually it was fine, and even quite pleasant at that time in the morning.
It all went smoothly (hooray!) and we were at the station by 9AM, where an old Italian man said ‘Mama mia!’ when he saw our bike, making me feel very happy.
Eric at the station (he has good posture don’t you think?):
Onto the train we went. We stuck the bike in a special carriage and it was as easy as that! I then proceeded to make us pitta bread sandwiches with a filling of mascarpone cheese, pickles and rocket… all on a high-speed train with no table. I didn’t think that one through at the supermarket!
Then… we were in Rome! We disembarked at around 1 at Rome Termini. This place holds some vivid memories for Eric, as this was the location where his last cycle tour came to a very abrupt end when he and Steve were robbed as they slept. As we left the station Eric pointed out the spot where they had their things stolen as they snoozed on the pavement. He later on showed me the place where they had afterwards found a homeless man wearing Steve’s leather jacket. Eric has told me that if we get robbed in Rome this time he is never coming back! Fair enough.
We had quite a nice time cycling through a bit of Rome. The traffic is interesting, to say the least.
Cycling past some statues:
We arrived without much trouble at our AirBnb accommodation, and once we had settled in, found out that we had missed the delivery of our new tyres. We then had the joyful task of ringing up numbers/being transferred to the wrong departments/sending several emails in order to arrange another delivery.
We also took the poor old bike to get its brake fixed, where lucky for us we found a bike shop where there was a bloke from Chester called Geoffrey who we could communicate with.
Then it was just dinner, relaxing, planning what to visit and enjoying not being in a tent!