If there is one lesson I have learned this summer, it is that extended bicycle touring does not lend itself to blogging the way I was doing it. I had to make a choice: either I could focus on writing and uploading my articles , or I could focus on the trip itself. Opting for the latter, I took notes and pictures like a traditional travel writer, with an eye to writing it up afterward. Not being able to work has been compensated by the incredible beauty and stunning impact of the places that we have seen. I hope to share some of that with you over the next few weeks.
At the time of the last post, the plan for this article was to provide a list of useful resources concerning bicycle touring: websites, books, ebooks, etc. Instead, I will provide a brief update of my travels, because that is what most of you seem to want to read. The touring resource list will come out later, with a helpful link now and again as we move through this extended travelogue.
On 7 June 2014, I arrived in Rome from Copenhagen on SAS after a very smooth and uneventful trip. SAS offered me an upgrade the night before, so I slept nicely across the Atlantic in the larger chair and enjoyed supper and breakfast. The bicycle arrived in excellent shape. Packing it in a translucent mattress bag (2.0 mil thick) from U-Haul helped, because the baggage handlers could not help seeing that it was a bicycle. They treated it with respect.
Brilliant sunshine bathed the terminal at Leonardo da Vinci airport, the first of a string of such days. The mercury was going to be close to 30 all week, but the gentle breezes kept it feeling pleasant. Every afternoon near the end of the day, the massive heat island that was Rome would generate a thunderstorm that would darken the sky, then crash across the city on a rampage, rinsing the streets and taking the energy from the air. An hour later, the skies would clear, and the sun would come out.
I went straight to the charming Airbnb flat that I had reserved for the week, arriving hours before my expected time. While standing outside the building, I found that when my smartphone detected Vodaphone WiFi, Vodaphone offered me a limited plan, so I was able to sign up for 24 hours of city-wide WiFi. That allowed me to Skype and look up things. It also allowed me to use my Skype account to make phone calls, until I could get a local phone plan and a new SIM card. Andrea, our host, came as soon as I called.
After settling in, I went to the supermarket across the street, then came back in for a nice nap.
The flat was in Trastevere, a proudly working-class neighbourhood across the river from downtown. Tourists know it mainly for its typical Roman restaurants, but I liked it for its proximity to the Trastevere train station, tram connections all over town, and affordable stores. The flat itself was a one-room studio with a sauna in the corner. It had everything we would need and nothing that we would not. Viale Marconi around the corner from the flat is a major shopping street, with all the major brands found downtown, but at reasonable prices.
Monday, I bought a SIM card for my phone. I chose Wind, and it has been working well, but since then I have found that TIM (run by the national phone company, Telecom) has more extensive and stronger coverage, because TIM operates the backbone for the others. After putting in the new SIM card, I went to the post office to apply for my sojourner’s permit. The national visa only gives me unlimited entry and exit to the country. I still need a permit from the police to stay in the country. The process has been greatly simplified, so that, instead of travelling to the city of residence, I could apply by mail, and set up my incoming interview by phone. I had plenty of time to go exploring after those two errands.
The first thing that I discovered was a wonderful bicycle path running along the west bank of the Tiber River. It stretches 33 km from the north end of town to the southern end of the Grande Raccordo Annulare (beltway) in the country. Using the ramps located every few hundred metres, one can reach anywhere on the west side of Rome quickly and conveniently. I was very excited about this development. I met another cyclist, who rode to the end of the path with me. Morgan was a goldsmith on his way home, and he brought me up to date on many things affecting bicyclists in Rome. The day was cool and sunny, which made the miles go quickly beneath our wheels. Soon, he had to turn off to go home to EUR, and I headed back to the flat myself.
Tuesday dawned sunny and mild. It stayed that way as I caught the local train to the
airport to meet Cheryl. We spent the next four days riding around the city on bicycles, trams, and buses.
The Galleria Borghese had a two-week waiting list for tickets, but we went into the City Gallery and Palazzo Barberini, which I had never seen. Cheryl likes to photograph open-air markets, so we spent a day doing that, too. Showing her a mix of my childhood haunts and lesser-known sights was fun for me, and allowed her to see new things in a city that she had visited often.
We both were impressed by the changes since our respective last visits.
The Trastevere flat would serve as the standard against which all accommodations this summer would be judged.
Sunday, we packed up and rode to the Hotel delle Nazioni near the Trevi Fountain, site of the 50th Anniversary Reunion of the Class of 1965 from Notre Dame International School. A hotel room was different, almost a step down, but it was an incredible experience to see my closest friends in the world again.
Most had attended the past reunions (20th, 25th, 30th and 40th), but this was the best-attended of all. Most special for me were Walter and Luca, whom I had not seen for the full 50 years, although we had kept in touch.
A word of explanation: high school reunions are commonplace in the United States, where most graduates can return easily for them, but they were unheard of for our high school. We had 45 different countries and 15 religions at Notre Dame. Upon graduation, we scattered to the seven winds.
Twenty years later, two classmates happened to be having a beer in Georgetown, DC, USA. They wrote down on paper napkins the names of those classmates for whom they had addresses (this was before the internet). They had half of us. George and Kevin wrote to us, and we responded with the addresses that we had. The twentieth anniversary reunion was held in Washington DC at Elkyn’s apartment, attended by most of the class. To my knowledge, NDI 1965 is the only international school class to hold reunions like this, although alumni from Notre Dame International and its sister school in Rome, Marymount International, gather periodically in the US and UK, for school-wide reunions. .
Emotions and events crammed into each other intensely as we caught up with each other, but also toured the usual sights,
because this was the first visit to Italy for almost half of those present (known in bureaucracy as the distaff).
We enjoyed group access to the Vatican Museum, which was incredibly crowded. Cheryl and I had seen all the sights on the itinerary, but it was still fun to share them with those who had not. We spent Sunday through Wednesday morning in Rome.
After lunch Wednesday on the Via Appia and a visit to the Catacombs, we rode our charter bus to Tuscany, where we checked into a resort in Asciano called Casa Bianca (White House). We spent the next three days visiting hill towns famous for their vintages and historic centers: Montalcino, Montepulciano, San Gimignano, Piezze, Siena. Much wine was tasted and some new favourites were discovered, like the nobile of Montepulciano, which is aged five years instead of 18 months.
Cheryl and I passed on the trip to Firenze (Florence) on Friday, and relaxed around the Casa Bianca instead.
On Saturday, 21 June, the bus took us back to Rome. It was bittersweet to say goodbye.
I will be forever indebted to Arturo Bolliger for organizing the Reunion and for bringing us all together for an unforgettable week. And to George Deyman, Kevin Sullivan, and Mike O’Higgins for making the other Reunions happen.
The hotel had our bikes safely locked up. We changed into our bicycle kits, packed up the street clothes that we would no longer need, and left them with a friend for the summer. By mid-afternoon, we were on the train to Anzio. The adventure was beginning…