Ponza to Gaeta, a change in plans

Anzio

Anzio

(Saturday, 21 June) Finding the port of Anzio from the train station was easy: just coast downhill. The shadows were getting long when we reached the ferry port in Anzio on our bicycles.The hydrofoil crew carried the bikes aboard, and we shoved off with about a ¾ passenger load. 

IMG20150622 pinterestEven in the dark, we could tell that this island was a charming location. The hotel was about as far from the hydrofoil landing as it could be and still be in the town of Ponza. Clearing the port area involved bumping on cobblestones, then travelling through throngs of tourist

Palmarola, west of Ponza

Palmarola, west of Ponza

s. The crowd near the port had finally thinned out when we had our only mishap of the tour. A drunk stepped into the street and walked directly into Cheryl, knocking her down. I could tell by his vacant expression that he was totally unaware of her presence and seemed confused as to why his forward progress had been interrupted. Apparently, he could not even hear anyone talking to him. He simply continued across the street and into the crowd.

IMG_20150622_134111Cheryl remounted, looking looking more angry than hurt. We made our way through a tunnel carved out by the ancient Romans and followed some steep narrow roads with few markings. When we finally arrived, we had to ask to learn that we were in front of the hotel.

The restaurant at the hotel proved to be exceptionally good, and well frequented by the local population. As expected, everything these two seafood lovers ordered had been swimming nearby that same afternoon.

Zannone from Punta Incenso Natural Park

Zannone from Punta Incenso Natural Park

The next day (Sunday), we mounted our bicycles and rode a giro di Ponza. The whole island is only 20 km long. The roads were well paved. Visibility was good, and we found that the only really steep climb was getting out of town. We rode as far as we could to the North, parked the bikes, and hiked into the Punta Incenso Natural Park. Lots of sharp underbrush, and no markings on the almost invisible trails. We navigated by keeping track of where the top of the park was (almost 200 m high). Riding back towards Ponza, we looped around the south end of the town.

Chiara di Luna

Chiaia di Luna

Ponza has some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere, but the nicest ones are only accessible by boat. The most famous one, Chaia di Luna, has a road, which has been closed for years, unrepaired since a landslide. I suspect that the boat rental and water taxi guilds are happy to keep it that way. When we returned to town, we took the water bus to the “town beach”. Taking a swim during or after a ride would become a regular routine.IMG_20150622_143047

We had overhauled our planned itinerary in Rome. Instead of heading north, we were going south first. The idea was to visit the southern part of Italy in June, before the serious heat of July and August. By then it would be nice in the mountains. We also decided to include as many things that neither of us had seen. IMG_20150622_140337That was a tall order, because Cheryl had visited almost all the really great destinations in Italy. However, she had not ridden on Ponza. I had been there with the Sixth Fleet flagship on a dependents’ cruise, but I was on watch, and did not get to go ashore.

IMG_20150622_160711This being a very unstructured tour, we booked reservations only one day ahead, often picking the place to stop in the morning, then going online after lunch. If you can stand the uncertainty factor, this is not a bad way to go. After noon, prices drop on sites like booking.com, hostelworld.com, and others, because a room rented at a loss is better than an empty one. We found that this worked even in the most crowded tourist destinations. The money saved in the less expensive locations, kept the more expensive locations from breaking the budget.

Terracina

Terracina

Because I proved inept at this sort of on-the-fly booking, Cheryl took charge of accommodations, while I tried to focus on mapping and route selection. It took me months to get the hang of that, too, because I started out choosing straight, boring roads without much scenery and too much traffic. Cheryl had to teach me to look for the scenic routes. She could pick them out easily, thanks to her many more years of experience riding like this. Fortunately for my learning curve, the west coast of Italy is a no-brainer, just find the little coast road and take it. Going south, we had clear, blue ocean on one side, and stunning mountains on the other. Not to mention the excitement of narrow roads clinging to rocky cliffs between postcard-perfect towns.

Jupiter Anxur

Jupiter Anxur

On Monday, we rode to the port, and caught the first hydrofoil to Anzio. Cheryl had what seemed to be a bruised rib from being knocked over on Saturday. It did not slow her down, but she did let me carry her bicycle up the stairs in train stations for a while.

From Anzio, we had an easy ride along the coast, skirting what used to be the Pontine marshes. Mussolini had them drained, and today the provinces of Latina and Rome boast some of the most fertile, flat agricultural land in the country. There was an enormous naval base between the road and the sea for the first 30 km. It turned out to be a recreation facility for the Italian military. While the wall cut our view of the sea, for much of the ride we were surrounded by the pine trees of a national park and quiet farm roads. We camped in the Monte Circeo National Park. Circe’s Island, made famous in The Odyssey, is now a promontory.

Serapo beach, Gaeta

Serapo beach, Gaeta

Tuesday should have been riding down memory lane for me, but there had been many changes in the years since I lived in this part of Italy.

For one thing, Latina and Terracina both featured beautiful protected bicycle paths along almost their entire seafronts. The Temple of Jupiter Anxur and the medieval town of Sperlonga were as impressive as ever. Sperlonga has built a multilevel parking garage for its residents, so keeping motor traffic out of the historic center is not a problem.

Formia and the Monti Aurunci

Formia and the Monti Aurunci

Gaeta had a sailing regatta going on, so in addition to the colorful collection of fishing craft, yachts and Finance Guard vessels that decorate the city’s wharves, an international fleet of ocean racing yachts was tied up between the Navy fuel pier and the Finance Guard base. I recognized Stella Polare, and the flags of the Italian Naval Academy sailing squadron.

Gaeta

Gaeta

The Angevin Castle dominating the historic center gave us our bearings as we pushed up wrong way streets to our hotel. Soon my friends Ron and Maria Lamkin were joining us in the square. It would be a reunion in addition to a chance to show Cheryl a place that had been home for three years.

The journey continues next week. Until then,

Smooth roads & tailwinds,

Jonathan

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