22nd October (Day 14)
It all started off ok, and well pleased to leave the ‘cave hotel’. We left the UK in such a rush, that we had loads of unwanted leads/ plugs, so found a post office to send a package back to the UK, with a couple of letters too. My French is so pony, that even a simple task like this is a misson, but we got it done eventually.
About mid morning it started spitting as we made our way through windy roads, and after a brief stop for lunch the sky went black. For the next 4 hours it rained constantly, along with a bruising headwind, so by the time we arrived in Draguignan we were absolutely soaking to much amusement of the locals. Sadly no hotel blagging tonight, but did get a great pizza next door, which set up a good movie night of Casino Royale.
At last, a sunny day – hurrah. And the roads all looked pretty flat too. We headed off towards Grasse, and it just got warmer and warmer. Beautiful warm day, but slow progress around the windy mountain roads which didn’t actually matter we were just happy to have a dry day and beautiful scenary.
3 english guys who overtook us yesterday, went flying passed again, and funnily enough we met them at the intermarche for lunch. They were cycling from Barcelona to Nice. Stuff the patio furniture for sale outside – it all made perfect picnic beneches for us all.
After lunch we reached Grasse – a stupid town which went on for ages – we actually entered it 3 times! but it was worth it – in the distance we caught our first glimst of the med – sparkling in the afternoon sun it was like we’d found the treasure we’d been looking for for the past two weeks- great sense of achievement. The best cycling followed, apex, hairpin downhills all the way into Nice.
One scary moment, when Jon and I took a wrong turn and ended up on a single lane motorway flyover in Nice rush hour traffic. The French were not amused – in fact our best traffic hold up yet – so many beeps we found highly amusing but left the motorway pretty sharpesh!
As the sun was setting, we decided to push onto Menton (on the Italian border), rather than set down in Beaulieu sur Mer. This meant going through Monaco at night – very glizy and sparkly, with as much boat porn as you’d ever need. Sadly no time to stop at the casinos, but did have fun upsetting more traffic – Jon did a Porsche 911 C4 off the lights, and I managed to annoy a Z3 driver. A budget 1 star hostel meant we had to carry our bikes upto the first floor and keep them in the room over night!!
With our planned rest day in Menton, we had a chilled one, although still admin stuff to do! We enjoyed a lie in, although seriously upset the cleaner as we hadn’t left our room at 11am. Key jangling, foot stamping and lots of huffing and puffing, she was rather upset! Anyway, we then made our way to the laundrette, and finally managed to enjoy some sun by the med for a couple of hours. We laid all our clothes out to dry along the promenard wall, and everyone who walked past thought we were selling things! We decided to do a short 20km ride later that afternoon across the Italian border, and found a campsite soon after. A serious lack of grass made for an uncomfortable bed, but we chilled out watching a funny yank talking about the 9/11 conspiracy, and telling us all the things “…you never thought you’d know!”
Didn’t realise the clocks had gone back in Italy too, so later that day we found out we had left the campsite at 8.30am (our best, non mincing time yet!) As well as being religious, it also seems that Sunday is the day of cycling in northern Italy, and never before have I seen such posing cyclists, all in their white lycra – not something I really want to see again! We were making good ground today, passing through beautiful Italian seaside towns, but lots of cycling up and down in between. We pushed onto Savona, but the light was starting to go when looking for the youth hostel. We couldn’t find a hotel for directions for love nor money, but just when we were about to give up, we found a plush 4* hotel in the docks (much more Dom’s cup of tea!) We realised that the youth hostel was miles away, and as the hotel manager took pity on us, she offered us a half price stay including buffet breakfast – touch – that was definitely getting nailed the next day! The massive power shower also sorted out the last few days of sweat!!
After a 5 course breakfast of bacon, eggs, cereal, chocolate croissants, chocolate muffins, fruit, yogurt, bread and cold meat, some more internet mincing meant we didn’t leave until midday. But the weather was beautiful, and soon we were battling traffic (and potholes) in our first Italian city, Genova. We were starting to realise how bad Italian roads are compared to France, so avoiding potholes became our next challenge! We cycled 55 miles today, a bit less than we wanted, but we pounced on the first campsite we saw, and luckily it was open and right by the sea. Another pitch on gravel rather than grass wasn’t brilliant, but at least they had warm showers, and we finished watching our 9/11 conspiracy.
A hard, hard day cycling today, rising over 800m into the hills above the med. The views were stunning, but it was at the detriment of our milage, only managing 20 miles before lunch. However, there aren’t many places as beautiful to enjoy a sandwich, far reaching views across the hills to the sea. We must have looked like a couple of sweaty aliens, as a few of the locals tried to come over one by one and speak to us (and we didn’t have a clue what they were going on about – we think that one Italian farmer used to like cycling before a nasty accident with a tomato cutting machine, but to be honest, it was anyones guess! After lunch followed some sweaping downhill which we had earnt!, and apparently was flat all the way to La Spezia. But it was still tough gradual gradient, finished off with a 2.5km tunnel – not fun at all! Beaten by the light again, we found a 2 star family hotel, which had a massive room for us.
After some admin, and Jon finding a supermarket eventually for lunch we started off heading towards Pisa. We utilised Mc Donalds outside benches for lunch & then you can’t beat a smartie mcflurry (universal language) for desert. Good news for Jon too – Holly confirmed her correct flights to Rome, landing on 31st and leaving on 4th Nov. So a few days for admin catch up, washing, bike maintanence etc. After lunch we saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa from the main road – as one of Jon’s mates rather obviously said “…its just a tower!”, we carried on towards Livorno, passing hissing prossies on the way – actually more like ugly grissly bears! We found a nice 3* campsite by the sea, and our stable diet of wieners, pasta and bolognese sauce accompanied the glowing sunset over the med.
A big day today – we now have added pressure of needing to get to Rome to meet Holly by 31st, so set ourselves the target of reaching Grosseto (120km). Another warm day, and the stripey tans are coming on a treat! Strange goings on at the supermarket we stopped at – someone tried to sell Jon a dustpan and brush, and I was not happy getting overtaken by a grandad on an electric bicycle!! Realised today that we are not allowed to cycle along dual carriageways, so I have a habit of stopping on very bad junctions just to make sure!! Luckily we managed to find an ‘A’ road which followed the motorway all the way down. Calorie intake now is upto 4,500, so we are now eating 3 kitkats a day as well as breakfast, lunch, dinner, apples, bananas, crisps, yogurt and a bag of sweets! Found a cheap hotel in Grosseto, which included another buffet breakfast, which is now almost mandatory for us!
We knew today was going to hurt! Without being able to travel on the SP1, we had to head for the hills of tuscany. Beautiful scenery, but the rolling landscape made for tough cycling. And man, the Italian roads are terrible. It feels like you have punctures, but in fact it is the sound of cycling over lose, rubbly tarmac. And this is a main A road! The bikes were being battered (probably a test for when we hit India), luckily they held up, and after an hour of nightime cycling we reached as far as we could, to a town called Vetralla. We started panicking a bit when we couldn’t find the hotel, but a restaurant helped with directions (which we later found out owned it!) We headed for that restaurant for some pasta energy, but didn’t have a clue what anything was! We managed to get a pasta starter right, but my main course was palma ham & mozzerella and Jon’s was lamb chops with a slice of lemon!