We are half way through our holiday 😦 but on the plus side we still have quite a few adventures left!
We arrived in Sirmione on Friday and quickly explored the area; found food, climbed up the tower of Rocca Scaligera for some amazing views of the lake and the peninsula and visited the tourist information for any up to date information which we may not have picked up on. It was at the tourist information that we picked up a leaflet for the Mantova bike festival. Mantova, just happens to be the village which our previous host had recommended that we visit (the one which ended up in us going to the wrong village, climbing an unnecessary hill or two and getting bitten to bits – I am still scratching); it seemed too good an opportunity to miss really – an Italian bike festival in a town which we had been recommended to visit. So, knowing that we were pushing our luck time wise we power walked and ran to the bike shop which we knew were able to rent 10 Speed, carbon road bikes. The opening hours on their website stated that they would be open until 1900, we arrived at 1852, all was dark, no one was around but the door was open. We went in and called “hello” and “Buongiorno” a few times with no reply; eventually a grumpy old guy appeared, and didn’t seem at all happy to see us. We persisted though and although he spoke no English and we spoke no Italian we were able to book bikes for the following three days (including asking for a Giant bike, preferably). Following a visit to the supermarket to buy the essentials for a picnic we mapped out our route on STRAVA and uploaded them on the the Garmins.
The following morning we traipsed out of our accommodation, in lycra and flip flops with our helmets hanging from our rucksacks, along the high-street for a mile or so to the bike shop where we had a slightly more sensible conversation with the lady of the shop. Mr Bike Shop did however remember us and pointed at me and said “Giant” which was reassuring; there’s no need for me to have a height complex any more.
Our first ride, down to the bike festival and back, was just under 60 miles – great fun, lovely scenery and fantastic bikes (mine was the Giant TCR 2.0, a bike which is now on my wish list). The bike festival wasn’t really anything to write home about, but it gave us the impetus for a fairly long ride, to visit the city and I achieved three QOM’s (Queen of the Mountains – fastest female on specific STRAVA segments). Half of the route was along a canal path, picturesque and traffic free; though the drivers here really are extremely respectful of cyclists it was nice to have the peace and quiet. We stopped in a park, to eat some of our picnic on the way but apart from that kept a decent pace throughout; though it was on the way back that I really started to feel under the weather, however at this point I couldn’t tell why.
When we committed to having the bikes for three days we had planned that we would do the 60 mile ride on the first day, a short ride on the second day and a long ride to finish up. During the evening on the first day my brother sent us a message suggesting that we should visit a bar, not too far away, which had a loo with a view. So we planned Sunday’s ride to include this.
You’ll never have a better view while having a wee.
Unfortunately it was overnight that I really started to feel poorly with my previously mentioned cold/ear/nose/throat type infection and didn’t get much sleep due to worrying about the wasted investment in the bike hire, and a potentially ruined holiday from illness (though I would like to stress that the holiday hasn’t been ruined, the pace has simply been moderated and I have had to make slightly more sensible decisions about what I can manage – oh and a whole lot more Gelato has been consumed due to its throat cooling effects). So the ride was slow, averaging about 13.5 mph, and cut out a huge climb but the view was a good one and having completed another 40 miles I began to feel a little happier about my bike hire expenditure.
On Saturday evening, Ollie stated his desire for us to cycle the entire coast of the lake, but was understanding that I might not be up to it. There were several options and in the end we decided that we would cycle to the North of the lake, take a ferry to the South West and finish the last 15/20 miles by bike – cutting 90 miles down to a more reasonable 60 or so, with a ferry ride in the middle. However overnight (another not particularly restful night) I made the disappointing and frustrating decision that I would be stupid to cycle with such a heavy cold. I did similar last winter and ended up with a chest infection, or certainly made myself a lot worse and prolonged the illness. In the morning I sent Ollie off and I spent the day relaxing and scaring the cleaner. Somewhat stubbornly though I told Ollie that I would meet him at the South Westerly port and cycle the final bit with him; it turned out to be a 43 mile round trip for me, which is more than I should have done really, but at least I can’t say that I wasted my money on hiring a bike. Ollie, without me slowing him down, managed to cycle to entire lake in an amazingly fast time, and got his first KOM. I am slightly jealous, but of course very proud!
We returned the bikes (this time in proper lycra attire rather than the maxi dress of earlier in the week) and will now be having at least a week off of pedalling! In fact, since returning the bikes we have done absolutely nothing! Yesterday a visit to the beach, and today it rained so I studied on the veranda.
So having concluded our Italian Cycling adventure, it’s about time I commented on a few of the differences between British and, Italian or more specifically, Lomardian (of Lombardy?) cycling:
- Squirrels vs. Hedgehogs- Some weeks ago I posted about Squirrels and the unenviable position that they find themselves in on the British roads. In Lombardy it is Hedgehogs that find themselves in this unpleasant situation – though I feel that they have a better case than Squirrels. a. They can’t climb b. They are slow c. They have bad eyesight. However in terms of animals running in front of cyclists as they descend a hill, no longer are squirrels the bad guys; Lizards are far more common culprits in this part of the world. A collision would be messy I guess but far less damaging to the cyclist.
- Large vs. Small – I am talking bottle cages. Bottle cages in Italy are too small. Never before has my bottle popped out of the cage as I am moving, nor have I ever dropped my bottle instead of securely returning it to its cage. Whilst over here, the bottle cage on one occasion squished my bottle so much that it fell out of the cage and on two occasions I have failed to secure the bottle and it has rolled into the road. Which leads me to point three.
- Road Rage vs. Respect – Drivers and pedestrians in Italy have the utmost respect for cyclists. On the second occasion that my bottle rolled into the road there was a car coming; the driver immediately stopped, waited for me to get off of my bike to fetch the bottle and get back on safely. The likelihood of that happening in Britain; slim to none. In Britain the driver would more than likely have blared his horn, shouted abuse and crushed my bottle while I watched on. Road rage Italy: Drivers vs. Cyclists is a programme which will never air (American Readers – Road Rage Britain did air this very subject recently).
- Roundabouts vs. Traffic Lights – In Britain we love roundabouts; in Italy they haven’t gotten them quite right. There’s the old system and the new system and then there is a mix of them both. Does anyone actually know what the roundabout rules are? The Old Rule: Traffic on roundabouts always has to give way to traffic entering it (crazy!) The New Rule: Traffic on the roundabout has right of way and traffic entering it must give way. The Problem/Mix of them both: Many Italians learnt to drive when the law was different – many haven’t caught up – thus they enter roundabouts without pausing. Furthermore, some of the road signage hasn’t been updated and therefore instructs drivers on the roundabout to give way. Add into the mix the typical Italian driving style and you can see why Italy doesn’t have roundabouts totally sewn up. Traffic lights on the other hand; the right on red rule, which is applicable in many US states, appears to be in use here (or they simply ignore red lights) and is a rule I like a lot – it doesn’t cause a hazard and it keeps the traffic moving nicely. Very sensible.
- Any old kit vs. Team kit – Generally in Britain we wear some decent jerseys, there’s a nice selection, we don’t tend to limit ourselves to a specific colour scheme to match our bike or a certain team kit; we mix and match. In Italy they seem to wear team kit, or at a push a generic kit as long as it perfectly matches the colour scheme of the bike. Fashionistas to the extreme. I felt like a scruff with my pink and red clash and my supermarket knee supports!
To finish, I don’t have a British comparison for the guy we saw drafting a moped. Was he desperately trying for some KOM’s (Outrageous!) or was he, as my brother suggested, a pro doing a motor pacing session? With all the team kit out here it was impossible to tell, so we will never know – but I wouldn’t mind trying it myself!