Before we begin, each post has an author, visible above. Although travelling together, our experiences, impressions and emotions are unique and independent of one another, and we hope to reflect this in our blog.
What a varied leg of the trip. A country abundant in history, food and culture. The drivers are bat shit crazy, the dogs are angry and the roads occasionally disappear without notice. It’s landscapes vary from the Alps to inland lakes to islands to orchards, past active volcanos and mafia clans. It makes for curious cycling.
After crossing Splügen Pass we descended 1900m elevation to Lake Como and over the course of three days spun quickly to Milan through along the Adda river and Naviglio Martesana (canal). We followed a route called the Leonardo trail which Da Vinci frequently travelled and lived alongside. Before this section we had no idea of the genius contributions he made in fields other than art.
We’re always hesitant to visit big cities on the bikes as we have first-hand experience cycling in London. A car vs bike city. Every day for four years I spun to work, and as a paramedic often personally attended to or heard about a colleague treating a cyclist under a lorry or bus, or hit off their bike by a car. Then I would cycle back home and try to forget about it.
One patient that often comes to mind was a woman in east London who cycled on the inside of a 22t lorry as it was turning, a classic mistake. I noticed her bike intertwined in the trucks wheels. The first thing she said to me was “Can you please untwist me…?”. Her spine was fractured in several places and her torso was facing a different way to her pelvis. She fortunately survived. I’m not one for senseless gore though, this description is just part of the daily imagery of one of us being hit by a vehicle.
It’s a real threat for any cyclist. The text below is a message from a host and lifetime cyclist we contacted a few weeks prior to Italy.
“Sorry, but I just lost yesterday my friend who died in my hands on a bike ride. We were hit by a driver. It would have been nice to meet you, but I’m too shocked. Continue your journey with happiness and pay attention. Cordially, Hervé”
Hervé may have taken us for a locals ride if we arrived a day earlier. As he says, the importance of paying attention just can’t be underestimated…
They say the road provides, but it’s the people along the road who really provide. We had our first thanksgiving, in Milan with Alex & Mike from New Hampshire, USA. The preparation of food with travel friends has been one of the most rewarding endeavours of our trip. It allows trust to build and friendships to grow really quickly, and thanksgiving in Milan was a fine example. Legends!
Enough of big city life though! We cycled south to the Po river along a cold and foggy route, meeting some very warm people. For example in Pavia Stefan cooked us carbonara. He’s a German grad medicine student whose life goal is to cure cancer through research. Legend!
In Cremona we shared pizza with Shai and Shani, an Israeli muso couple who call their duo ‘Nabbia’ (fog in Italian, for obvious reasons). They described their own style of cycle touring with a ukulele and a violin, performing in the streets. Shai told us “When we are planing for a cycle tour, we don’t plan routes, we just start rehearsing”. We heard a sneak peak of their unreleased EP and had the privilege of witnessing Shani work her magic carving a violin.
She’s a luthier and along with some of the best violin makers in the world (likes of Stradivari), she schools and perfects her art in Cremona. Legend!
It was too cold, foggy and populated on the mainland though. Instead of the original plan cycling the Adriatic coast through Croatia, Montenegro and Albania, we cut south. The decisions of direction during our journey are based on weather and seasons. It’s calming to sense nature in this wild way. Due to globalisation and availability of heating/air-con, foodstuffs, Amazon, IKEA etc., I find myself disconnected from seasons and nature.
We never really need to feel the cold anymore, we spend more time looking at the expert weather predictions at our phones and leaving nothing to chance, choosing to watch Netflix on rainy days instead… It’s comfy and warm yes, but we don’t FEEL anything that way and I want to experience mother nature’s world in a raw way. Without this sense of the outside world, how can we know how it works, and hence be able to take care of it?
So south to the Islands of the Mediterranean we pedalled. Over a few cold and wet days we cycled across the Apennine mountain range, through beautiful Tuscan cities, villages, farms, a pit stop at the leaning tower of Pisa and straight onto the ferry to Sardinia, to find some warmth and peace.
We unexpectedly discovered some friends in the north of Sardinia. Andrea, Marta and their three boys hosted us in a traditional and seamlessly renovated shepherd’s cottage. It didn’t take long to realise that they live a wholesome lifestyle and live and learn from the land around them. As well as living their full on family life, they accommodate and teach Italian to a guy called Musa, a Senegal refugee seeking a more prosperous life in Italy. He had a very long journey across deserts and seas to get to Italy and find this opportunity, without doubt longer, more dangerous and less comfortable than our cycle journey. Marta also teaches language, culture, geography and history to local refugees in a nearby village.
Yana plays a big part in the family’s lives. She is a big friendly Maremma sheepdog who likes to think she’s got the farm under control but gets incredibly distracted by belly rubs and modelling for budding astro photographers.
One night while in the north we camped at a WWII battery on the wild national park island of Caprera, part of the Maddalena Archipelago off the north coast. Until you’re about 30m away, there’s no clue of the warren of underground tunnels, ammunition stores and massive gun mounts artfully disguised as natural rock formations which were used to protect Sardinia from war ships and air attacks over the world wars. At dusk we nervously stashed our bikes and bags in some spiky bushes and hiked in with only the bare essentials, local handmade tortellini and spinach spaetzle and enjoyed one of the brightest starry nights we’ve had on the tour, from a very strategic position.
Our host, Andrea is a national park guide and gave us a tour of Isola Spargi, a wild island that’s part of the Maddalena Archipelago north of Sardinina. Andrea grew up around Rome and mentioned as a child he always wanted to live on a desert island.
His dream came true on Spargi where he was the sole inhabitant for ten years, working alone on the island. Over these years he hiked ten tonne of material to the top of the island, to build a house where he, his wife Marta and his eldest boy lived for their earliest years together. He moved back to the Sardinian mainland after deciding that in order to grow, children should always be around other children.
Andrea told us his senses sharpened over ten years. He could smell when a wild boar had crossed his path, he expertly understood the weather, tides, flora and fauna, his physical form changed to accommodate living on a desert island including negating the need for shoes and building old man strength to hike his house to the top.
In recent years he swum from Sardinia to Corsica and now curates an ultra-endurance multi-sport race around the Archipelago by kayaking, trail running, swimming and cycling. What a legend!
We agreed with many of his views, that foremost that humans are inherently nomadic, that we’re meant to be travelling and without travel we go crazy, using other means to escape on trips like MDMA, cocaine, alcohol, netflix etc. in which ill health arises.
Our experience with the family without doubt enriched our time on this wild island – Joey.
Part II of @cyclicle in Italy coming soon….
* For information regarding park tours of the Maddalena Archipelago or accommodation in the north of Sardinia, drop us a line and we will get you in contact with Marta & Andrea
** Speaking of legends, thanks to Rocco & Patricia, Elisa & Family, Barbara & Maurice; Roberto & Anna; Antonia; Gloria & Gianni; Alex & Gaia; Claudia & Colin; Antonella & Giovanni & Maurizio for their assistance, warm showers and delicious food on this section. Cultural exchange is an imperative part of our travels and without hosting platforms like WarmShowers.com and Couchsurfing.com we wouldn’t have the local knowledge, history and opinions which make these areas special. We could easily camp or get a hostel but perspective is what we’re after, if you haven’t tried why not give it a go?
For those that we missed a dinner selfie with, it’s because we were having too much fun, obviously!