Thursday, October 8
Sometimes the mundane gets in the way of the interesting. Today’s ride was held up slightly by the Code Orange laundry situation. We’d been having some trouble finding a lavandaria, so when we located one that was on our route out of Rovigo, we decided to take the opportunity while it presented itself. Consequently, we were pedalling out of the hotel carpark at 8:30 but then spent the next two hours sitting and waiting for our laundry to wash and dry. Not the most interesting or enjoyable way to start the day, but certainly necessary.
Once the supply of clean tops, bottoms and smalls were again replenished, we hit the road and pedalled out of town. The sun was beginning to overcome its shyness and looked like it might make an appearance today as we wheeled along a cycle path, along some roads and then into a town with a small square, beside a war memorial that looked like a nice spot for elevenses. Oh joy…the sun had decided to join us and it was marvellous! We sat in the sunshine, snacked and readied ourselves for the onward pedal.
I was again riding in a t-shirt! Yay! It must be warm if sooky me shows any length of leg or arm, so there I was in bare arms again, feeling that magnificent sunshine and its wonderful warmth. Thank you! We had another cycle path to ride on, which was great and then just quiet country roads. We were away from busy traffic and just had that flat farmland beside us. Something we’ve noticed as we’ve been riding through Italy, is the absence of natural environments or habitats. From where we’ve ridden in the north west, across the Po Delta in the north, down the east coast and now heading inland, west again, we haven’t really seen any forests, bush or animals, apart from the occasional hedgehog road kill. All the environments have been human made, either built or agricultural, nothing that appears natural. It just occurred to us today, that we’ve ridden past lots of farmland, or vineyards but nothing that we could call natural, as in original or indigenous. So that’s what we had again today, lots of farmland, ploughed soil, old barns and buildings and the canal. It was a nice ride though, in the sunshine, along the quiet roads and cruising along the flat path.
All was well until we came across something that we’ve met before…road closed! Another fence blocking the cycle path, with another sign that, despite the Italian words, was quite obviously saying DO NOT GO THIS WAY! NO ENTRY! Oh no, I just know we’re about to break the rules here, I just know we’re going to ignore that sign. Without an alternate route, other than to go kilometres and kilometres back the way we’d come, we walked the bikes into the grass, up the embankment, around the fence and onto the road on the other side. Done. Until…we came to the fence blocking the road from the other direction. Off we get, push the bikes up another embankment, all the time glad for whatever reason had taken the road workers away from their job so there was no one around. Done. We were on the other side. Until…we got to the top of the road and found the intersection with another fence blocking traffic from coming down the road that would lead to the blocked road we had just dodged. Something was telling me, by the third fence, that they really didn’t want anyone down on that section of road, including foreign, Tasmanian, sign ignoring, fence jumping cyclists! Still, we pushed the bikes into the grass and skirted around that fence too and thankfully it proved to be the final barrier. We were on the road again. Then…almost as a sign that we had done the wrong thing, a long snake slithered across the road in front of us. It was like a sign of foreboding…“Beware all ye who ignore bright orange signs on fences and blocked roads. Karma is watching!” The snake glided across the road and slid into the undergrowth. But still…they’re out there! It’s actually not the first snake we’ve seen, we’ve seen the tail end of a couple sliding into the grass, but this is the first full length one that went right across our path. We must behave in future and follow the rules!
We found ourselves back on a really nice bike path, along the top of a levee and beside a canal. There were heaps and heaps of other cyclists, solo and in groups, all ages, shapes and sizes. We exchanged many “Ciao’s” and happily pedalled on amongst the various pelotons. The path then delivered a top spot for lunch, a small shelter with a table, beside the path and looking down on a river. Perfect. We paused for some sustenance, again exchanging greetings and waves to the many two wheelers that whizzed past, including a three wheeler in the form of a cyclist on a recumbent and it was a most pleasant stop in the sun.
Time to move on, so move on we did, in the direction of our pit stop at Ferarra. Riding towards the city was even terrific, with cycle paths all the way in. We had actually found a campsite that was open and the cycle path ran right alongside it, so we pedalled on in, checked in with another very friendly lady at reception and then went looking for a spot to pitch the tent. That’s when the horror movie began…
Aaaah, get off!!!! They’re everywhere!!!! Stop!!!! Go away!!!! The black swarm had arrived. Mosquitos! By the thousand! I think we’re in a Hitchcock movie! We aren’t being attacked by birds, but we’re under attack! I just needed to be wearing a white, 50’s A-line dress, ballet pumps and have blonde hair and be running away with a terror stricken look, arms outstretched and looking fearfully over my shoulder, as I tried to escape the approaching swarm! I may not have looked like that, but that was the image these vicious and persistent beasts conjured up. They immediately went into attack formation and within seconds, and I mean that quite literally, SECONDS of getting off the bikes I was covered in red lumps on my legs and arms. I’d been bitten over and over again already. They’d even sunk their fangs into Steve and he usually manages to avoid being bitten. For a moment there, we contemplated not staying, just because the swarms were so thick and so aggressive and refused to do anything but bite, relentlessly, and me in particular. I was scratching and already red, the length of my uncovered lower legs, partly from bites and partly from my savage scratching.
“Do you want to stay or go?” asked Steve.
“I want to stay, but not get bitten!” I replied from my upside down position, with my head down, bending to scratch at my lower legs. It was like being back amongst the Scottish midges, only these mozzies were bigger, more vicious and more of them!
As soon as the tent was up, I dressed in layers of long arms and legs and sprayed myself with insect repellant. I must say, that herbal repellant was a miracle lotion, because it had an instantaneous effect on the mozzie monsters, as they continued to buzz and whine around us, but stopped landing and biting. Ah, some relief. We then rode to the supermarket, picked up some supplies and cleared them out of fly spray, more insect repellant and some post-bite relief gel. We were prepared!
It’s a nice campsite, the Nylon Palace has a spot on grass under trees and it’s great to be back in our own space again. There’s even a special little lock up garage where we can store the bikes. We have some interesting features to contend with, such as the circling black swarm and its constant aerial surveillance, just waiting for the layer of repellant to wear off enough for them to move in and strike. The showers are also interesting, with the cubicle having a window that faces out onto both the path and the pitches of other campers and the window is so low that anyone walking past can just look in. The women’s and men’s showers are in the same building and the cubicles don’t have locks on them, just little swinging doors, like those from a Western saloon bar. All in all, some curious design decisions. But, apart from the vicious mozzie mob and the absence of shower privacy, it’s a nice spot and at least it’s clean, which immediately puts it so many stars above Camp Dodgy and Camp Feral, so we’re happy. We haven’t been able to connect to wifi as yet though.
It was a great day in the sunshine. The ride didn’t have too much scenery to look at, but the path was tops and we had some nice little places for our pedalling pauses. Plus, it was fantastic to end the day in a nice campsite, back in the Nylon Palace and we cooked up a scrumptious supper on our dear little Trangia stove. The simple pleasures! I have spent the evening sitting in the thin line of smoke drifting from the mozzie coil we’ve lit, just for some added repellant to top up the many layers of spray I have coated myself with. Now, it’s time to get ready for bed, time to layer up the mozzie repellant, spray the bedroom in the South Wing of the Nylon Palace with as much spray as possible to create an anti-mozzie fog, while keeping the air at a survivable level of breathability for the human inhabitants. Time for some final scratching to bring some relief from the itchy red lumps, slather on some bite gel and then batten down the hatches and hope the mozzies have either been fumigated or sufficiently deterred by our defences. We will prevail! We will win the battle if not the war! The Hitchcock experience will be gone and we will have a night worthy of the Waltons! Goodnight John Boy.
Friday, October 9
I was up early and strolled across in the dark, to have my shower. It did a occur to me, as I stood under my tepid dribble of water, with the light on in my shower cubicle and it being dark outside, that my morning ablutions were probably lit up for all the camp to see. Hopefully there weren’t any other early bird campers out there to suffer from a shock or temporary vision impairment from the sight of me soaping and sudsing.
I returned to the tent, sprayed on my first layer of mozzie repellant for the day, put the kettle on and waited for Steve to emerge from his slumber. When he appeared from the zip of the South Wing, we had a leisurely breakfast in the fragrant smoke of the mozzie coil, then prepared for our day. We decided to spend a day roaming Ferrara, after reading it described as one of Italy’s hidden gems. We hopped on the bikes and pedalled along the path into the city.
Ferarra is most definitely a cycling town and the bike is clearly a common mode of transport because there were cycle paths, hundreds of bikes and public racks full to the brim with parked bikes. After locking up our steeds, we began our roaming. We strolled the cobbled streets, walked into San Giorgio Cathedral, which was probably one of the most ornate we’d seen anywhere and joined the other people at the back, gate crashing morning Mass. We left as the congregation were about to take Communion and merged into the daylight to wander the back streets. This is a really nice city. It has all the charm of Verona without the crowds and it also seemed to have largely avoided the menace of the spray can, which made it much nicer to look at.
We passed a small bakery, so I went in to use a mixture of broken Italian and hand gestures to select our elevenses, then we ambled along the narrows cobbled lanes, to a park, where we enjoyed our nice crusty rolls.
Our roaming continued and we found Via delle Volte, a medieval street from the 13th century. It was like stepping back in time, walking along the cobbles, under the arches and I could imagine it bustling with residents and stalls, centuries ago.
We decided to pick up some lunch and find a spot to sit, so we walked a bit out of the city centre to a small vegan deli, which we eventually located tucked away in a housing estate. The girl serving spoke very good English and explained the delicious looking choices sitting behind glass. She said they also had some Cappellacci di Zucca, a traditional dish from Ferrarra, so we said we would try that. As she prepared it, we chatted and she said they had only been open a month. I said I hoped they thrived and did very well.
“It’s hard,” she said, “because meat is such a big thing here.”
“Yes,” I said and nodded with complete understanding.
Meat and dairy certainly seem to be staples of the Italian diet, because they fill the supermarkets and they take centre stage on every menu. I thanked her and again wished the business well.
We walked up the street, found a bench to sit on and opened up our containers to see what this traditional dish was. It was a little like pumpkin filled tortellini, with a ragout style sauce, made with seitan instead of meat. It was divine! It was one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten on this trip and once again a little vegan eatery came up trumps.
Sufficiently filled with deliciousness, we walked back into the centre and went to take a look at Castello Estense, part castle, part fortress, surrounded by a moat and sitting grandly in the centre of town.
After seeing the many charming and interesting sights of Ferrara, we hopped back on the bikes for the ride back to camp. Our return ride took us along a path that ran on top of the ancient city walls and it was lovely, with a tree lined avenue and peaceful surroundings.
After returning to camp, we went through our routine of spraying mozzie repellant on every inch of ourselves and the tent, before lighting a coil to try and smoke the little blighters into oblivion. We had a terrific day and both really liked Ferrara. For a city, it had enough pedestrian areas, palazzos and quiet back streets, to feel like a small town. It was a city of locals and hadn’t been overrun with tourists, so we enjoyed seeing it with all its authentic charm. Tonight we again man the barricades against the mozzie mob and then prepare to ride on tomorrow.
Right, I’m off, time to layer up and coat myself in enough mozzie repellant to feel like I’ve been swum through a Broken Hill sheep dip! Begone mozzies! Baaaaaaa!
Saturday, October 10
Our accompaniment to breakfast at the Nylon Palace this morning was the sound of rain pattering on our roof and mosquitos whining around our ears! The campers’ symphony! So it seemed the sunshine was short lived and we again packed up a wet tent and pedalled off into the precipitation. As we rode out of the campsite, a friendly “grey nomad” couple wished us well. I had spoken to the lady earlier when she asked where we were heading today. As we rode past their motorhome, this friendly French couple wished us well.
“Heavy!” the lady said, looking at the load on the bikes.
“Yes,” I said, “we hope for no hills and only flat!”
“Good trip,” she said.
“Bon voyage,” the man added.
We thanked them several times over and wheeled down the driveway.
At least the rain wasn’t too heavy to begin with, and it wasn’t too cold, so we pedalled back through the streets of Ferrara and then out to the open road.
We had cycle lanes beside the main road, so we were able to escape the traffic most of the time, although being Saturday, the traffic was pretty thin anyway. With the rain not too heavy, we stopped at a bench, beside a small market, for a hurried elevenses while the break in the rain held.
On we went and before too long, what were we confronted with? This is becoming an all too common occurrence. It seems these are the open road equivalents of train station stairs! We saw before us…road closed! Another big fence with an all too clear message that traffic was to detour and not advance! So what did we do? Yep, we advanced! Around the fence we went, up the bank and dodged the signs and barricades to make our way to the other side. See, that’s the difference between detouring in a car and being on a bike. When we see a detour sign, we don’t know if that’s going to be another 5km or 10km, or how much longer it will be to go the alternate route. In a car, this is nothing, on a bike, it could mean a whole lot more pedalling. I really don’t like it when we come across these blocked roads, because I feel so self conscious going through them when we really shouldn’t. We got through and didn’t see any snakes this time, to warn us of the consequences of our misdeeds. The rain did get heavier though, so maybe that was our punishment.
More pedalling along roads, bike paths and cycle lanes and the rain came down and down and down. We saw a road sign that included many places we’ve ridden to in Italy. It feels like we’ve travelled so far to ride from Castel Maggiore, Modena, Padova and Ferrara, but there they all were together, so close together that they shared a sign. We’ve ridden up and down and in a big loop, as we rode through each of those places and they didn’t feel close together at all!
We began looking for a place for lunch and with the rain now quite heavy, the air much cooler and with us being completely soaked, we were searching for somewhere to give us some shelter. We rode into a nice little town, with a park and one picnic table under a shelter. Unfortunately, two people had decided that a day of cold and pouring rain was the perfect time to sit with their shopping and dine alfresco in the damp! No luck there then, our one option was taken. As we stood under a tree, booking our accommodation and waiting to see if the table became available, an older man walked past with his umbrella and spoke to me. I apologised for not speaking Italian.
“German? Deutsche?” he asked.
“Inglese,” I replied, “Australian.”
“Australian!” he exclaimed with some amazement, “Australian?!”
“Si,” I said.
He chuckled and waved and strolled off. I don’t think he was expecting to meet an Australian today!
We decided to just keep going. We got wetter, but the scenery got better. We passed through some more farmland, but the old buildings were interesting, we saw some more trees than usual and passed through some quiet little towns. It was now after 2:00 and we were feeling quite peckish, as well as very wet, and still no shelter options presented themselves. We rode over a road and through a pedestrian underpass to a train station, where we spotted a bush shelter. That will do! We stopped, had a quick lunch under a little bit of shelter, feeling really quite cold now, then pedalled on.
The wind decided to play some games too now and started blowing quite strongly, side on. So as well as being wet all over, we now rode along getting our earholes flushed out too, with the rain driving into us from the side. We finally reached Bologna, our pitstop for the day and rode through to the other side of the city to find our hotel. We had ridden 68km in the rain, which meant yet another soggy, scruffy, squelching “walk of shame” through a hotel lobby. We walked the bikes in, parked them in their spot behind the lobby, then dragged our panniers back to the nice surroundings of the hotel entrance, lowering the tone of the place by several levels, then scuttled into the elevator to get to our room and try and regain some degree of feeling like a civilised person again. As soon as I got into the room, I couldn’t dive into that shower fast enough! It was so nice to thaw out and feel less scruffy!
The day was a wet one from start to finish, but it had its fun moments, such as free wheeling down a long hill with the rain pouring down and gliding through puddles. It had its less fun moments, such as being cold. Despite the weather, we saw some nice places, talked to some nice people and arrived at a nice hotel, which was warm and dry and had a hot shower, just what we needed in our soggy state. It was also great to get some decent miles in the wheels today, after some shorter days recently.
As much as I like being in our own space in the Nylon Palace, there is one thing I’m quite enjoying in the hotel room at the moment…so far we have a mozzie free zone! I’m sure they’re looking for us, I’m sure they’re missing my tasty flesh, they’ll be winging their way to me soon enough I have no doubt! Until they find me again and add to the pattern of spots that I’m already wearing, I’ll make the most of breathing clean air that isn’t filled with mozzie coil smoke or insect spray and just scratch the spots I have, rather than dividing my scratching time between them and the new acquisitions. I am now grateful for small pleasures! All joy to the simple life!