Monday, May 30, 2011

Into The Hills Again

We left Legnago this morning and continued through flat farm land and small farm towns. Some new crops observed were peaches, tobacco, and radicchio. We began to see more and more of these wood plantations.

They are crops just like the others. They are planted in rows and are even age. Someday they will be harvested for wood or fiber and replanted.

Bicycles are such an important part of the Italian culture that every town has bike lanes next to the important thoroughfares. There are people from all walks in life on bikes, businessmen in suits, grandmas, construction workers, and of course, kids. But in one town we passed through today we saw something we have never seen before, a bicycle dedicated signal light!

The sign at the top means that the bike path is ending, not no bikes allowed. A point of some confusion for us the first time we saw one.

Towards the end of our day we began to wind our way into the hills, gently at first more steeply later. Hills and mountains really make more interesting scenery.

A combination of a poor nights sleep and perhaps a bit of dehydration began to wear us down short of our goal, Lago Garda. So when we saw a sign for an Agriturismo Bed and Breakfast 'Colombarola' we decided to see what it was all about. What a great decision! It is run by two brothers, Luca and Marco.

Marco runs the B&B, while Luca tends the vineyard ands makes some very fine wines. Their hospitality was unrivaled. They gave us a wine tasting and put up with all our questions about grape growing and the wines. Their web site is We are assured of a quiet country night sleep, and tomorrow we will get to the Lago Garda early and will have the energy to find a good campground. We are very pleased that fate put 'Colombarola' in our path.

Ferrara to Legnago

We rode out of Ferrara on Sunday with a determination to return and really spend some time seeing all the sights, going to the museums (14), and seeing one of the medieval festival events. There was going to be a footrace and a donkey race in the afternoon in medieval costume in the historic race park. We're pushing on in order to get to the lakes before the crowds. On the way out of Ferrara we did cruise by some of the other palazzos. The facade on this one had quite unusual diamond shaped stones.

As we searched for the right road out of town, we asked a jogger on the bike path and she said the bike path went exactly where we were headed. We had 30 kilometers of bike path along a canal before we crossed the Po river.

One thing we noticed in Ferrara was the lean in some of the bell towers. The whole area is built on the old floodplain of the Po and here is one of those leaning towers.

Near the end of the day we passed through Villa D'Adige which claims to be the home of polenta; made there for the first time in 1554. We ended the day in Legnago where Antonio Salieri was born; he was a teacher of Schubert, Beethoven, and Lizst. The town was bombarded during WW II and has a very modern center, but this old tower and part of the church containing a special Madonna survived.

Today we ride on to Lago Garda hoping that the weather holds for some nice camping.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Agriculture, And Then Ferrara

On Saturday, we left Ravenna on a road north edging along a huge wetland area that is part of the River Po delta. At one point we had to take a small ferry to cross a very big canal. Shortly after that we spotted a large flock of flamingoes! A first for both our bird sighting lists, and never expected in Italy.

The picture is not that great, but if you click on it to enlarge it, you can just make out that they are flamingoes. Once we turned more west we rode mostly small roads on canal banks. This is a rich agricultural area irrigated by canals off the Po river with crops much like those in the big Central Valley of California. We saw tomatoes, squashes, and corn. Also big fields of wheat and barley. Olives have disappeared and have been replaced by apricot, cherry, and pear orchards.

This picture was taken 'on the fly' and that is how it came to be so tilted, we were not going downhill. The road was flat and the riding would have been ideal if not for a nagging head wind. Closer to Ferrara the roads were lined with old sycamore trees giving welcome shade.

Ferrara was the seat of power for the D'Este family. There are many huge palazzos (palaces) of other wealthy families and even the city hall is a palazzo/castello.

The cathedral has an amazing facade and the square in front of it was filled with hoards of locals at 7:00 pm going out for the evening on foot and bicycle. We saw many young people talking on their cell phones while bicycling as well as people dressed up to go to the theatre on bicycles.

There was a row of gourmet food booths with wine tasting and we saw the biggest loaves of bread there.

Here is the front of the Castello Estense. It would be an interesting piece of real estate to own, but you would need a moat maintenance man.

We finished the day with salad, pizza, and sausages at a local pizzeria that had some Coca Cola memorabilia in Italian; the text reads "a lunch with a family who enjoys Coke." The pizza in northern Italy seems to have a slightly thicker crust and is made with drier cheeses than in southern Italy.

This change of route to Ferrara has been wonderful so far and today, Sunday, we head towards the outskirts of Verona.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sightseeing in Ravenna

Ravenna is world renowned for it's early Christian churches. They were built around 550 A.D. They have gorgeous mosaics from that period and frescoes and other ornamentations from later periods. The most famous one is the basilica of St. Vitale.

Here are some of the mosaics and frescoes we saw.

We visited about 10 of the historical monuments in Ravenna. One of the interesting ones is Dante's tomb. Dante died in Ravenna in 1351, but about 200 years later the Florentines wanted Dante's body and a monk in Ravenna hid the body. In 1677 a father placed the body in a casket and when the Napoleonic laws were enacted the monks left the monastery and Dante's body was buried underneath a gate near the monastery. Then in 1865 the casket was found and Dante's remains were finally placed in an urn in this building built in 1780.

Ravenna became something of a backwater after it's port silted in around the year 751. The city has undergone a revival only since World War II. Today it is a bustling city with many ethnic groups. We had some Italian tacos for lunch and they are called piadina. They are a flat bread filled with meat and cheese (and sometimes vegetables). We really enjoyed ours.

Next we deviate from our master plan by riding to Ferrara, and then it's on towards the Lake District.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hotel row and then Ravenna

Wednesday May 25 we continued up the coast with a rather monotonous landscape. We rode along the beachfront and the corridor of hotels stretched unbroken for 38 km north of Rimini. Dave commented on how he had heard that Rimini was a major tourist destination, but that may be a British understatement. Here was the starting vista for the day.

We stayed at a nice campground recommended by a young woman in a bar. It was really a full service Italian campground with tent sites, cabins for rent, full bathroom and washing facilities, pool, gourmet restaurant and hotel. From our campsite, we noticed an interesting architectural note on the hotel building.

On Thursday we finally left the hotel corridor behind and found some interesting antique boats being restored in Cesenatico.

When we entered Ravenna we saw that our friend Diana owned a local business.

We found a hotel near the train station and the historical district, cleaned up and headed out into the area. It was a warm evening and the light was just right.

We finished the evening with a spicy meal (yes, spicy) at an Indian/Sri Lankan restaurant next to the hotel. It was great to have chicken and fish curries, mulligatawny stew, papadums, and basmati rice. Tomorrow we go sight seeing in Ravenna.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cupra Maritima to Misano Adriatico

Monday and Tuesday we had a variety of terrain, flat stretches of beachfront with bike paths and limestone headlands with oak and pine forests. On the beachfront there are legions of umbrellas awaiting the summer throngs.

The two headlands we climbed were the Parco de Conero and the Monte de San Bartolo. The roads had relatively gentle grades and we had spectacular views. There were beaches that could be reached by hiking, by boat, and even by tunnel.

We had to pass through Ancona, a huge port city that is very old. On the waterfront is an arch that the emperor of Rome presented to Ancona in 115 B.C.

On Tuesday we were passed by lots of cyclists on the climb over Monte de San Bartolo. The open areas on the tops of these headlands are intensively farmed.

We are now in Northern Italy and we can tell by the wine. The menus now have prosecco which is a local sparkling white wine that we had on our honeymoon in northeastern Italy. Another food note is on the pizza we've had in southern Italy. The crust is extremely thin and fresh buffalo mozzarella is used. Pizza is served mainly for dinner and we were frustrated several times when we wanted it for lunch.
The curiosity factor has been high the last couple of days. Everyone seems to want to know where we have come from and where we are going. Our attempts at Italian seem to foster this interest. We are mainly mistaken for English or German tourists and everyone seems surprised that we are Americans.
Today, Wednesday, we will pass Rimini, staying on smaller roads along the coast. We are glad to stay off crowded and fast SS16. Tomorrow we will get to Ravenna, where we will take a day off the bikes and do some sightseeing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Beaches, bicycles and camping

Saturday and Sunday we travelled through beach town after beach town. We are in the region of Abruzzo now which has a very large mountain range including the Gran Sasso, a peak over 2000 meters. However, most of the population lives on the coast and the traffic is heavy. The towns meld one into another in one big urban sprawl. Here was one of the more scenic and quiet moments on the road.

During the last few days, we have begun to see differences in the culture of this part of Italy in comparison to Puglia. First, the drivers are used to seeing a lot of bikes on the road and do not give a warning honk like in Puglia. In fact, we saw hundreds of bicyclists on the road today for the traditional Sunday morning ride. The pace of life seems to be more hectic in the coastal area of Abruzzo; the roads are never quiet even between 12:00 and 2:00. The young adults have more tattoos and there is more foreign influence. We are seeing Chinese restaurants, sushi restaurants, and Turkish kebabs for fast food.

We have been traveling along the Adriatic Highway, SS16. It travels all the way up the Adriatic coast. SS16 is a large two lane road, usually with good shoulders,and fairly constant traffic. It is well graded and fast to bicycle. In many places it is our only choice, but once in a while we can get off 16 and ride along a beach road.

We finally have the weather to camp. Camping in Italy is similar and yet different. Families come and set up group areas and we felt nostalgic for the annual Big Sur campout with the Dyck-Aronowitz and Faus clans. However, we were a little surprised when we saw a refridgerator being carefully removed from a car via the window. There was already two folding beds unloaded at the campsite and the further evolution of the campsite was amazing. A second refridgerator and cupboards appeared on the scene. The Italians are comfortable with close camping quarters as illustrated below.

Along one shore we observed a modern variant of the fishing machines, trabucco. A single steel girder extends a net which is raised and lowered by a hand winch (not wench). There were quite a few of the machines lined up, but we did not see anyone catch anything while we were there.

Tonight we are in Numana, a major beach resort area south of Ancona, and camping. Tomorrow we celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary in the country where we honeymooned. Ciao!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On Up The Coast

We got a late start out Vieste today. We stopped at a bike shop for more inner tubes and patch kits due to Belinda's flats. Then we stopped at a super market to renew our food supplies. We try to maintain a healthy balance of all the important food groups.

So THAT'S what's in those water bottles! Actually one of our bottles has always been designated to some form of aqua vita. In Greece it was ouzo. We like ouzo. In Italia we have been drinking grappa, but when we saw the Four Roses Bourbon in the store nostalgia for home hit and we just had to get some. Salute!

The riding was easy, mostly pleasantly rolling to flat terrain. Along the coast we saw many trabucco.

We also saw this tower, and adjacent tavern. The tower is currently a private residence. How cool would it be to live in a medieval tower?

As we rode along we began to notice an abundance of other bicyclists on racing bikes. More cars than usual were honking and giving us thumbs up. When we saw the Goodyear blimp hovering, we began to suspect that the Giro di Italia (one of the most important bicycle races in world) was in the neighborhood. Sure enough it was confirmed by our host that the race had passed our B&B the day before and was still nearby.

We stopped just south of Ortona at a very nice B&B on a cliff overlooking a pretty beach and two trabucco. We had wanted to camp, but most campgrounds are still closed this early in the year. We lucked out finding this B&B. The setting is beautiful and our host prepared us a delectable meal of fresh fish.

Tomorrow our goal is to get past the big city of Pescara. Buona notte.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Leaving Gargano

Leaving Vieste on Tuesday May 17 it was raining. It rained pretty much all day. As we rode along we came to Texas. We stopped to see if Belinda's sister Bron was there, but she wasn't in.

The coast was less rugged on the north side of the Gargano peninsula and we saw many trabucco on small outcroppings. Trabucco were fishing machines invented in this area of Italy. The nets are dropped down to intercept schools of fish swimming around the points in the current. It was a way to fish no matter how bad the weather.

We were pretty wet by lunchtime and stopped just outside Peschici to eat and warmup in a small restaurant. Down the road, a nature call was necessary and we came upon this marvelous spot. Does this look like a porta potty to you? It did to us.

In fact we passed many caves like this. A sign at one said they were formed when the area was under water and the rock was 7- 20 million years old. We left the pines and cliffs behind at Rodi al Garganico. After spending the night in Foce San Varano we continued up the coast. We have seen some very rocky fields in southern Italy and this onion field is a good example.

In contrast to the area south of Bari, the masseria in the north of Puglia are in total decay. A masseria was a large farm run by a massoro for the wealthy owner. They were often walled and in south Puglia they were still in occupation or had been converted to fancy restaurants or inns. Here is an example of the decaying version present in the very rich farmland south of Tremoli.

After a long day on Wednesday May 18 with good conditions, but two flats for Belinda, we ended the day in Tremoli. We have a saying now, "when you got a port, you got a fort", but the one in Tremoli was built by a Norman conqueror.

Thursday we will replace our inner tube supply in Tremoli and then head up the coast and into new provinces.

A Day Off The Bikes In Vieste

We slept in a bit and then after breakfast we ventured out to do some shopping and run a few errands. After dropping our purchases off at our room we set out to explore the centro storico. We crossed the entrance to Via Monte Grappa. Nineteen years ago we climbed the real Monte Grappa in Northern Italia on bikes. The two share one feature, they are steep as heck!

The old time Italians built their towns on high places that were difficult to attack. Here is the way you would have to go to get to church on Sunday.

Here is a view from the old town looking at the limestone pinnacle in front of our hotel.

There is a local artist, Crisciello, who is fascinated with archaeology. He has taken symbols and shapes from neolithic art and used modern materials and colors. Many of his pieces decorate our hotel. Here is a mural of his in town.

For dinner we went to a restaurant we had seen the night before. It had a wonderful bruschetta of toasted bread with gorgonzola, with anchovies, and with grilled vegetables. We also ordered one of our favorite antipasti dishes, prosciutto and melon which is a wonderful blend of flavors.

As we ate a large party entered the restaurant and we recognized one of the women was a local politician pictured on many posters in Vieste. It was election day and the group was celebrating an election win. It was fascinating to watch the comings and goings of the politicos and the reactions of the other diners in the restaurant.

Vieste is a lovely town and we wandered through the old town, the new town and the harbor area. Tomorrow we leave the Gargano peninsula, one of the national treasures of Italy.