Time to catch up on yesterday’s events along the road to Portugal. Sometimes I arrive either too late in a place to muster up the necessary energy and concentration to write. In other places when I am staying with someone it would be rude to take myself off for half and hour to update the blog. Last night it was both. More of my hosts last night in a few moments.
Cycling day 25 starts in Verona. When I arrived in Venice a few days ago, Simone kindly offered me two nights of accommodation and it was too much of a good offer to turn down coming immediately after those last few gruelling days of Croatia. However, I should have been a little more patient. About ten years ago I visited Venice for a three days and had a good old rummage around the place. It was interesting to go back but did it actually merit one of my precious rest days? In retrospect, probably not. What would have merited an entire day was Verona but alas it didn’t get one, just a couple of hours of morning strolling around its nooks and crannies.
Verona is a beautiful, unspoilt and extremely well-tended city. Putting aside the annoying and entirely fictional association with Romeo & Juliet that seems to have the tourists thronging to some obscure balcony in the city centre (the only connection I hear it has with the story is that Zepherelli decided to shoot his version of the balcony scene there and I’m not sure that this is even true), it a sumptuous feast for the eyes. Every street, square, corner, alley or building seems to have something interesting to give and it was a delight to soak it all up in the few hours I was able to spend there during the morning. Some of the photos I took are in the previous post. Although a busy place it doesn’t seem to have yet attracted the hoards of tourists that gravitate to Venice and its inland position puts it out of the reach of probably most cruise tours. Long may that continue. I even managed to squeeze in my overdue haircut courtesy of champion runner Camillo at the “salone all’Arena” just a few metres from the famous Roman venue now used for spectacular opera shows. His shop was adorned with his trophies which he quickly explained were for his athletic rather than his barber skills. That said he did a fine job and earned every cent of the 20€ I paid. It was a traditional outfit;
“Anything for the weekend sir?” he didn’t ask.
“A couple of opera tickets for the arena would be nice” I didn’t reply.
It was nearly lunchtime by the time I started to make my way out of town and continue west. I was heading for Cremona and my fist WarmShowers host who lived just to west of the town. From Verona to Cremona was just over 100km which was an entirely doable amount of cycling. So I decided, perhaps a little rashly, to extend it somewhat by choosing a more cycling-friendly route. Firstly I headed towards Lake Garda & Peschiera del Garda, the resort that finds itself at the south-eastern corner of the lake. Nice spot to chose if you are looking for somewhere to put your town or village and I was happy to munch through a few high-class sandwiches (i.e. they were tiny and cost double the price of normal ones) while sipping a cold drink and gazing out across the lake. I seemed to be forgetting that I still had all those kilometres to pedal.
My Michelin map showed a road lined in green heading due south from Peschiera so I followed it and, as the green line indicated, it was indeed a pretty route. Just not a very direct one so when I arrived at the end of the green line in a nondescript place called Goito and looked at my watch, I was a little concerned that it was already 3pm and the signs were telling me that I had another 64km to cycle before I arrived in e town of Cremona. It was time to put sightseeing to one side and begin the hard grind of putting some kilometres on the clock. It involved some very straight roads, a fair number of impatient lorries, an at-times head-on wind and a good few opportunities for me to stop and munch upon something either covered in salt or chocolate. The one thing I have taken on board from the advice I received online following my bout of fictional dehydration (it was a bug, I’m now sure) was that I should increase my salt intake. I could do this by adding salt directly to my water. I don’t find this particularly appealing especially when there is an alternative. Eat crips. It’s the savoury equivalent of a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down (try say that without the song coming into your head!) and I’m doing it every day. My salt levels and wonderful I imagine. I will have to enrol on some kind of detoxification programme on my return from the UK.
I had set myself a time of 6pm to get to Cremona and I nearly made it. I had actually run out of water a few kilometres from the city and was desperate for a drink so I pulled into a deserted branch of McDonalds just outside the town and ordered the largest Diet Coke they could offer me (without ice which never goes down well with the employees…) along with a small can of Peroni beer to celebrate my success at aching the town by only ten past six.
My WarmShowers contact was Diego and he had sent clear instructions as to how to get from Cremona to his house in the countryside. The first thing I had to do was to follow the signs for Pavia. No problem there. I joined the ring road and could gradually feel the sun move along the side of my face as I made my journey around the town. A couple of drivers sounded their horns and I responded it a suitably belligerent way. Idiots. After about ten minutes on the ring road I was passed by a police car and two policemen who seemed to be concerned with something that I was doing. Was it the tunnel incident from the previous day? Was it the can of Peroni from the McDonald’s? Had Reggie infringed the Italian laws on what a bike must or mustn’t have about its person? The police car didn’t stop immediately but continued. However, a couple of hundred metres further along the road, Cremona’s finest had indeed pulled to halt and it was clear that I was the one they needed to speak to…
I would now love to recount how the two officers pounced out of their high-speed Alfa, crouched behind their open car doors, pulled their weapons and shouted lots of imperative Italian in my direction along the line of “on the floor and spread ’em buddy.” But they didn’t. I didn’t even get a flash from the lights on top of their green and white Fiat Panda. Their style wasn’t so much Bodie and Doyle. Think more Laurel & Hardy. They were called Alberto and Fabio and it was the former who got out to speak to me. It was clearly a minor telling off for being where I shouldn’t have been – on the ring road – but before he could get to reading my rights I had metaphorically held my hands up the crime;
“Mi scusi… Sono inglese… Non parlo molto italiano…” At which point Alberto started speaking English and he asked me where I need to go. I explained some of the directions that Diego had emailed me and after a quick consultation with Starsky, sorry Fabio who was still in the car, it was decided to escort me to the correct road. So, although I don’t have a tale to tell of being thrown into an Italian jail for the night, I do have a minor one of having had a police escort. Albeit one behind a Fiat Panda.
We parted company on very friendly terms, me shaking their hands and them posing for a photograph. They could go back happy and report to their sergeant back at base that yet another potential crime wave on the bypass had been averted by their quick-thinking and decisive action. And, once embellished, I would have a little story for me book.
It was still another 20km of cycling before I arrived at the house that Diego shares with his Argentine partner Luciana and their very cute two-year-old son Tiago. But it was worth the time and effort required to get there. The family were beyond welcoming and the rest of the evening was spent chatting over a simple but delicious pasta meal that was just what I needed at the end of my 146km of cycling. Diego is an engineer working on 4th generation mobile communications for Italia Telecom and Luciana is a very talented artist and graphic designer. You can see the kind of stuff that she designs and makes at her website lucianatorre.com . I wonder if she does book covers…
I’m typing all this is in a café just off the main Square in Piacenza which is a very symbolic place for this trip. But that’s all part of the unfolding story of cycling day 26, of which more, later…