Monday, June 26, 2006

Day 7 - San Quirico D'Orcia - Lake Bolsena

We rode out of town with the religious group which turned out well because without the we'd have gone the wrong way. They had a Transit van carrying all their stuff, all the way from Monza. They stopped and we went past them but we could soon hear them singing hymns behind us. They all had matching yellow and white papal cycling gear and the lead rider had a papal flag.

The chain tends to come off when I change into the lowest gear and I've lost the upper gears - 22-24 and 13-16 which isn't helping.

After some rolling up and down hills with plenty of cheeriness from Sunday morning cycling blokes we began a very slow incline. There was a fierce headwind and my legs felt like pudding. It didn't look like much of a climb but I was really struggling. My peach and apricot breakfast was not enough and Betty's potion wasn't doing its stuff. Luckily it was overcast or it would have been too awful. My determination and strength were sapping away. I stopped at a petrol station hoping for chocolate but it was closed so I ate my last tomato and we carried slowly on, blown back by the wind. We were in arable country now, no sangiovese vineyards but some evil sunflowers.

After what seemed like hours we reached a tunnel. On the upside it meant we'd missed the giant climb, but on the downside it was 875m long and to avoid it we'd need a major, full day detour. We put our lights on. I took my sunglasses off, slurped a half bottle of potion and went hell for leather. It was a very slight decline, which was good and we maintained a 20mph average throughout. Fortunately what traffic there was was headed the other way and we were safe.

We stopped at the first bar we saw. It was grim. We had coffee and grotesque chocolate croissants in sealed packages. They had 26 ingredients - 26!- but even with all of them it was still horrid. I was convinced that the woman running the bar was the wife of a mafiosi in jail, stationed there to keep quiet and out of the way.

From there we descended for a while and cruised along, much easier riding, although much warmer in the valley. It was fine until a steep climb into Aquapendente. I stopped and scavenged for blackberries - the best blackberries in the world. I spotted a scary sleeping sheep. I thought it was dead, but it moved. The blackberries almost gave us the strength we needed to continue. Lycra boys shouted to check we were OK, which was sweet.

In town we searched for the convent and after asking help from several people, including a man who went to find his daughter to give us directions in English, and then said "Auf Weidesein", and proudly congratulated himself "Bravo per me!". The convent was in a beautiful spot, on top of the hill with fabulous views. However, they no longer accept pilgrims so we could not stay. Our 'back-up hostel' said "no" and so did the hotel Toscana. There was not a room to be found in town.

I was painfully hungry and my brain wasn't responding well so we stopped for lunch. Two Italian blokes were there, in matching yellow cycle tops. We talked to them. They had a week to get to a town whose name I can't remember but it's the last one before the sea and Sicily. They had team shirts with their destination and dates on which they were very proud of. There were supposed to be four on the tour but two dropped out. They had five more hours cycling to do as they had to cover 1000km in the week.

We ordered the same food as them. Lou had bacon pasta and I had rigatoni with ricotta, dried herbs, tinned tomatoes and plenty of olive oil. Lovely. We laughed and chatted with the chaps and they reminded me of Stuart and Cass. They advised us of all sorts of things and they had the tiniest luggage to last them the week. They were worried about the traffic, but we told them it hadn't been too bad outside the cities. They'd struggled with the signs outside Sienna too. They set off and after locking myself in the loo for a moment, so did we.

I was concerned we wouldn't find anywhere to stay, but it was still early and Bolsena looked big enough. We spotted a few campsite signs which were of no use to us but at San Lorenzo Nuovo there were Albergo signs. The places looked grotty and the town less than Nuovo, but everywhere was full. Eventually we saws a totem pole type sign promising bars, restaurants and hotels off to the right. We followed the sign, watching happy holiday makers sun themselves and eat ice cream by the lake. It didn't look hopeful. Lou went into the first and only Albergo on the street and after some confusion about bed numbers and sleeping arrangements we secured a double room. With a balcony - cool!

We sat out for a while looking at the lake, which had breaking waves all over it from the wind. I was hot so went in to lie down and was soon asleep listening to the waves outside. After getting cleaned up we walked up to Super Mario Camping' and got cards, Chianti, Gorgonzola and Ritz crackers, then mooched back for dinner in our hotel's restaurant. I had scampi gnocchi, but the gnocci looked like it had been extruded through a pasta machine and cut into mean lozenges, rather than lovingly crafted into pillows of potato heaven. Baked giant prwns and roast vegetables made up for it.

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