Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bike fuel

On any cycle pilgrimage food matters. Italy understands this well as pasta is perfect for topping up and restocking carbs. They also give you enough tomatoes and veggies to keep your vitamin levels high, your blood clean and happy, and your bottom on top form.

As a non meat eater Italy is perfect, they don't eat meat all the time, and do fabulous things with spinach. Spain does pretty well, with plenty of veg and fish choices, but France proved more difficult with menu du jour seemingly rotating between steak (horse) and veal. I've never eaten so many omellettes in my life, and that can have terrible digestive consequences.

Wherever I'm cycling I make sure to top up on fruit and carry some with me when I see it. It really makes a difference to how I feel.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Cycling realities

The reality of long distance unsupported cycling trips is that you have to carry eveything with you, and you have to wash clothes everynight so you have something to wear the next day. I've looked at some of the finest scenery in Europe through a veil of drying Lycra.

One top tip for women cyclists - bikini tops are better than bras, there's no nipple rub from lace, the material dries quickly and copes well with constant washing in shampoo, and you don't need to bring a separate swimsuit.

Bravissimo does a good range of underwired ones in the sort of sizes you need underwired ones in. They aren't cheap, but they last well without, well, there's no other word for it, sagging. Even if you don't!

Start the pilgrimage

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ash tray apparition

Cycling in the sun can send you a little squiffy.

I was tempted to take this ashtray from the hostel in Siena as I thought it had an image of the face of Jesus in it! I couldn't steal it, that has to be bad kharma (mixing my religious references for a moment), and didn't have one to exchange it for, so if you're in Siena at the Donzella, then look out for it.

Start the pilgrimage

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What's next?

So what's next after the Via Francigena? I've cycled to Santiago already.

A pilgrimage to Jerusalem would complete the trio, but it's not a very practical option. Two chubby women travelling alone and in Lycra are more likely to cause an international incident in Syria than find a nice hostel for the night.

Our next trip was to follow 'The Way of Saint Martin' along the Loire to Tours. I've yet to dream up a new adventure, and would welcome your suggestions for mediaeval pilgrimage routes, in Europe or beyond.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Day 10 Sutri to Rome

We set off down and out of town onto good old SS2. It wasn’t too bad at first but there was quite a bit of traffic. We took a slight detour into Monterosi as the road ran parallel but was quieter. It was also quite a climb. We stopped for cash and for a mad old guy to shout at us and wave his walking stick at me.

We rejoined the road as it got busier and hillier. We stopped for coffee and a bun at a roadside place to take a break from traffic but were soon on a dual carriageway with crumbling road and limited hard shoulder. There was quite a steep climb ahead, but luckily for us there was a traffic jam so we slowly went past the cars on the inside, our 5mph looking pretty speedy to them. There had been a fairly unpleasant accident with a road sweeping truck, a Renault and a motorbike.

The descent was fast and long, but I had to keep breaking because the road quality was so poor. The after effects of the accident helped us out as the cars were only coming through one by one cutting the flow and giving us room, but soon it was back to normal, squidged against the barrier and hanging on tight.

Another climb and another descent, on which I got whacked by a plant which left quite a few scratches and a large lump. I felt a bit bad as I think I ran over a lizard’s tail but Lou said he looked back and ran off so he should be OK.

We reached La Storta, our proposed stop, but it was only 10:15 and we’d only done 20 miles so we carried on to Rome. It was good when the SS2 split into two, we took the old road and left the dual carriageway behind. It wasn’t pretty – we went through retail parks and slightly dodgy looking suburbs on barely navigable tarmac. One right turn over a railway was almost impossible because of crap tarmac on a steep bend, but on the other side we entered Rome. Go us!

We still had a long way to go but now it was downhill. We went past some impressive villas , including Villa Stuart. We rolled into what seemed like town. It had a one way system but we couldn’t find the streets in my Rome book. We just carried on. After a while we spotted the Tiber and so tried to navigate in from there, but some of the buildings didn’t appear in the guide and so it was hard.

We decided to abandon the book and go with gut instinct and soon picked up signs to St Peter’s. The traffic was horrid and we dodged as best we could until we turned the corner and saw St Peter’s. I figured the traffic could dodge us from now on.

We cycled up to the barrier outside the piazza but a chap warned us that although we could take our bikes in we couldn’t leave them unattended. We stood in awe for a while then went to find a convent to stay in around the back. Neither of the ones we tried would let us, one only had reserved places, the other didn’t answer the door or the phone.

We walked back around, got some ‘pope water’ from a water fountain and I asked the tourist information guy for help. He wouldn’t find us a place to stay but could point us towards the station where all the hotels were. We set off, part cycling, part walking depending on one way systems. We were stopped by a policeman who said the road was closed but agreed we could go “at your own personal risk” on foot. We did. We carried on towards the station through scary traffic and Roman ruins until we reached Albergo Romano .

We had to manoeuvre our bikes down a flight of stairs with a dog leg to store them in a crappy underground room full of timber. When we got back up the bloke said the room was €100 including €10 for bike storage. Dream on! I refused and he tried to push it. I said we’d agreed €90 and we would pay that. He stuck his ground for a minute or two, but Lou thought he was scared of me and he backed down. I was perfectly willing to go back down and get the bikes and call the police. I was sweaty and dressed in Lycra. I was scared of me.

We got cleaned up and went downstairs – there were rip off tourist food places outside and I had pizza and Frascati. We strolled down to the Coliseum for a walk around and then into town and the Trevi Fountain. We ate at a fly ridden place where I had ravioli and squid. As we walked back we happened upon the Spanish Steps but the building above was covered up with a giant Puma ad. Back to the Albergo and time for bed.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Day 9 – Viterbo to Sutri

We woke up, again assisted by Lou’s wind, although I’ve grown used to it now. Lou put the panniers in the lift whilst I ran down the two flights of stairs to meet them at the bottom. I didn’t want to get into the lift as it struck me as a small ready meal container, just ready to go into the oven to bake. After paying the receptionist pointed to a breakfast room so we went in. It was juice, croissant and packaged toast. Lou ate the pack of Nutella with a spoon whilst I ate carbs galore.

We set off out of town in morning traffic with a short decline and then rolling hills, no flat at all as we pedalled across ancient lava flows now covered in forest, farmland and retail parks. After a few miles we stopped for Lou to pee at a bar which had ‘bar’ written in beer caps on is mat. We bought Pringles and I got another juice – trying to compensate for yesterday’s vitamin free day.

From there it was a climb, and another and then a really long one. We climbed for the best part of 8 miles. It was getting hot and the road was new so black and sticky. I was glad I’d eaten breakfast. After two map chevrons worth of climbs it was over. We began a fabulous descent, again 8-10 miles but with barely any pedalling. It was windy but not so bad we needed to slow below 20 mph for corners. It was beautiful, through forests and we arrived at Sutri in no time.

We could easily have carried on but decided to stay. We wheeled into town and found the tourist office which was closed, not just for lunch, but the week. It was only open Friday – Sunday. Instead we walked back to the sign for the Hotel Sutri, where we are now.

Lou got showered and went to sleep. I did the same, but woke up after an hour – frozen by over enthusiastic air conditioning. Lou is still asleep and snoring, three hours on. I’m watching MTV and airing the cyclists ‘nappy rash’ on my bum. It’s really sore and is my main impediment to cycling. Overall I’m pretty uninjured. I have blisters on three toes, but don’t feel them. My insect bites are just itchy spots, some of which bleed now and again. I have a few bruises on my shins and calves. My left ankle is sore, I think because I over compensated when I ‘surprised’ my right one. My leg muscles area little achy but not painful, my skin is fine, except for my nose which is still cherry red and starting to peel. I put a lens back in my right eye today, with no problems. My wrists are a little swollen and that’s it. I’m injury free!

We got up and went for a mooch about. Sutri is beautiful, with some excellent churches. The cathedral is quite spectacular with lovely frescoes on the ceiling. We went to another church which was clearly old and had not been restored. The frescoes had crumbled off but I really liked it.

We sat in the central piazza drinking Peroni, eating home made ice cream and watching the world go by for a couple of hours. Kids were playing on bikes and scooters and the local policeman was attending his station. It was really relaxed. We went for dinner at Ristorante “Il Vescovado” but it wasn’t open. A bloke sitting on the doorstep further down the road shouted at us to come back in ten minutes and it’d be open. We sat down the road then walked back using baby-steps to kill time. Despite having stopped back at the room to get my credit card, the restaurant didn’t take credit cards. Boo. We ordered carefully as the cashpoint didn’t accept our cards. I had porcini pasta – big super fat spaghetti with porcini and truffle oil topped with herbs and more oil. Scrummy. I thought I’d ordered baked cheese, but meat on a stick arrived. Jack Nicholson, our waiter/cook agreed to give me a big plate of cheese and bread instead. He seemed to be greeter, cook and waiter despite having four hangers on who just brought bread.

Oddly we were the only diners for quite a while then two blokes arrived, another who ate alone then five men who ate together. It was boys’ night out.

Back to the hotel to apply more cream to my cyclists bum. My bott has appreciated the short days, it has been really sore and seems to have bursting spots.

There was blood all over my left sock when I took it off. I’d caught my leg on a pedal earlier, so I suppose the scab came off. I’m watching Juventus play Roma then it’s bed time.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Day 8 – San Lorenzo Nuovo – Viterbo

We had a lie in til 7:45 as Lou’s bottom didn’t wake us. After a good breakfast of cheese, bread, yogurt, honey and an unpleasant croissant with hot marmalade in the middle we packed the bikes. A Swiss chap came to tell us what our route should be. He explained that all the Etruscan men and boys in the neighbourhood had been slaughtered and the women and girls had been rounded up and shipped off, so we should cycle up a nearby volcano which was too steep for cars, then go to the coast to see some nice Etruscan tombs. We listened politely and thanked him. Another old bloke came along to boast about his wines being made from original Etruscan grapes. It was time to leave.

There was a strong side wind, I didn’t mind though, it wasn’t so bad that stability was a problem and there wasn’t much traffic. There was a fabulous view of the lake. We passed the German couple who we’d seen at San Quirico on the hill. They’d stopped for a chat. It was a long slow climb for ten miles or so before we reached the last steeper climb into Montefiascone. We could see the dome of the church for some distance.

The traffic in town was manic and the signage poor. We abandoned our bikes by the tourist office and took a look at the Church. It had plenty of art and was perfectly round with little altars all around, but like a lot of the churches here it lacked warmth or character and felt more like a gallery.

We stopped for Est! Est!! Est!!! . It wasn’t very good, but at least I’d had some here. We braved the traffic to set out of town. It was a glorious ride out downhill for five straight miles and gently downhill or flat for another five. Just a short climb from here to Viterbo.

We headed straight to Santa Rosa and the convent. Lou had a fag outside whilst I went in to ask if we could stay. There was no-one about but the door was open so I ventured in looking for an office – I found Santa Rosa! – preserved in a glass box with silver and gold angels all around. I scurried out as fast as my legs would carry me. I went back in with Lou – a bonus body, but still no room. We could hear the nuns singing and the sign said open at 3 so we went for an ice cream and waited.

At 3 we went back and pressed the buzzer. I couldn’t make myself understood in Italian so they found a nun who spoke English as well as I spoke Italian. They called us through and enthusiastically showed us the body, very proudly, gave us our prayer cards, and sent us on our way.

We set off to find somewhere else to stay. The tourist office found us a room at the Leon d’Oro which claims 3 stars at €57. It’s grim but had cycle racing on TV so we watched the rain in BeNeLux. After getting cleaned up we set out into town. The internet point on our map was closed so back to the tourist office. We found one, eventually, and Lou blogged. What we couldn’t find was a place to eat. There were occasional pizza and hot dog type places, but no restaurants or even bars serving actual food. We walked and walked but found nothing. Eventually we stopped at the BlueAngel cafĂ©. Lou had a curious prawn and ham sandwich and I had a courgette, cheese and aubergine panini that got stuck on the grill – stuck in the bacon fat. It was foul but I was so hungry I ate ¾ of it just to get some sugar to my brain so we could find something real to eat.

We went back to the place we’d had ice cream earlier and I had a tuna and artichoke sandwich. It was clean in there but I didn’t like it so we mooched up to the take away pizzeria where I had cherry tomato and mozzarella pizza, sold by weight and warmed up, served with beer. It was the most vegetable I had had all day. We picked up a couple of beers and juices to take back to the room, and we walked back, past two perfectly good restaurants which would have sold us good food. Boo.

The ‘orange’ juice turned out to be orange, carrot and lemon – a mix that sounds terrible but was lovely. I drank it and watched some of the athletics in Helsinki whilst writing postcards and chatting.