The ferry docked in Bari on a sunny Tuesday morning, the 25th of August, 2015. The ride to the gate in the middle of the port area had become familiar. Soon we were riding straight across town to the train station. Like many Italian cities, Bari has turned two of its main boulevards into pedestrian zones, with upscale shops, benches and fountains. In other cities, merchants who blindly oppose change cannot accept the hard data that increasing pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and eliminating parking in front of their stores and restaurants, dramatically increases traffic into their establishments.
We caught a train all the way to Ancona, which was where we would have landed, had the ferry to that city not been discontinued. We changed trains in Foggia, where we saw a Regional Ferrovie del Gargano train on the next track. Italy has small railroads run by every region, which seem to be increasing in importance as Trenitalia chases its infatuation with fewer and fewer trains that look good on advertising posters. Puglia has at least three of these smaller railroads, running clean, quick trains on frequent schedules. Most important, they all take bicycles, often in special cars with bike racks. I resolved to come back to the Gargano, because that rocky peninsula had been on our list.
Riding north from Foggia, I was glued to the window, trying to pick out the places that we had wanted to ride to, and others that I would see later. It felt strange to ride past the little whistle-stop of Fossacesia-Torino di Sangro. If I read the map correctly, that was where I would leave the coast to ride to my new flat next month. Not much to see, as we flew past a tiny building and punched into a series of tunnels under the towns of San Vito Marina and Ortona. Pescara held memories of beach trips during summer holidays when I was 9 and 10 years old. I could not see much from the station, but when we could see the coast, a blanket of colorful beach umbrellas covered the sand to the water’s edge. Cheryl booked us into the Hotel Fortuna right across the square from the train station in Ancona. We pulled in early enough to ride around. Ancona is not a bicycle-friendly town, but we made our way safely enough along the waterfront to look for the historic center. Over dinner, we mapped out our ride north along the coast.
The next day, we followed the ancient Via Flaminia to pick up the SS16, Via Adriatica, where it came back to the coast north of Ancona. The road from the port and train station complex to Falconara Marittima was an 8-km nightmare of broken asphalt: three lanes in our direction carrying 18-m tractor-trailers hurtling side by side from the port to the autostrada turnoff at Falconara Marittima. It was almost comical after their insane race to the turnoff to watch them all grind to a halt, for the single lane to the autostrada itself. We continued past the massive ENI refinery to the relative sanity of the Via Adriatica at Marina di Rocca Priora. At the next town, Marina di Montemarciano, we ducked under the railroad and found a lungomare along the coast. Lots of bathers and beach bicycles, no parking spaces, and light traffic. We made our way to Senigallia, which I remembered as a go-to destination, its dolce vita glory now faded, but still a bustling summer vacation spot. We stopped for lunch.
The riding was easy, the weather pleasant, and soon we were through Fano and heading along a fantastic bike path alongside the Via Adriatica. It seemed to end abruptly, so we rode the last 6 km into Pesaro on the highway. Not as much fun, but we had the company of racing cyclists out training (and a guy who looked like a hobo, with his dog in a crate on the rear rack). Besides, the road was much better than near Ancona.
Pesaro bills itself as the City of Music and the City of the Bicycle. Indeed, the city has bike lanes and paths organized in a rational pattern from the suburbs to the beach, the only city I have seen outside the Netherlands that has achieved full connectivity in its bicycle facilities. We took a wrong turn, but after asking at a bar, we learned that we could follow Bike Route No. 2 all the way to the beach, where we had a reservation in a nice hotel. The route numbers were painted in the lane, at each intersection. I knew right away that I was going to like Pesaro.
Pesaro is also the hometown of Rossini, Sabbatini, Ortani, Zacconi, and Albertini, all renowned Italian composers. Cultural event posters papered many vertical surfaces: something was happening every day. At the Tourist Information Office, I loaded up on maps of Le Marche, and an 8-piece collection of bicycle itineraries through the Province of Pesaro and Urbino. I also found out that the bike path did not end six km outside town. We had missed the turnoff to the path that was part of the city system. I would have to come back and check that out.
On Thursday, we rode to the train station. We locked up our bicycles, and took the bus to Urbino. I had wanted to visit Urbino since reading Inheritance, a novel by my friend and colleague Natalie Danford. It was everything that the travel books describe, and more. The whole city is like an interactive museum. I was fascinated by the design features of the Ducal Palace, such as the storeroom, underground stables and dependencies, and a secret passage from the palace to the cathedral, so that the Duke would not have to mingle with the common folk (or expose himself to assassination attempts).
The bus got us back to Pesaro in time to catch the train to Rimini, where Cheryl had booked us into the Villa Adriatica near the waterfront. By now, we were picking up the pace, using the train to avoid the less interesting stretches of the Adriatic Highway, so that we could concentrate on the towns themselves. We allowed ourselves only one day in each town up the Adriatic Coast, as we headed for Ravenna on our way to Venice and Milano. I had always wanted to see the mosaics in Ravenna. Cheryl had seen them, and we had both been to Venice. She had seen the World’s Fairs in Vancouver and Montreal, so we could not miss Expo 2015.
Friday, we left the country. Heading west, we climbed to the Republic of San Marino. Like Urbino, this fascinating medieval city was everything I had daydreamed, and more. It is a tax haven for shopping: I picked up a pair of Zero+Rh sunglasses and a Skagen wristwatch. We watched the changing of the guard, and visited all six museums on our citywide tourist ticket. The history of the place is amazing, and the views are stunning. We caught a sort of rush-hour negotiating the curves on the way back, which was less fun than I felt I had earned on the climb. But it was all downhill, so we made it back in plenty of time to shower, change, and treat ourselves to dinner at the five-star Grand Hotel in Rimini, which was near our hotel.
As we enjoyed legendary service and cuisine, we watched the well-heeled guests around us. Little did we know that our plans were about to change dramatically.
Until next week,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,
I’m so jealous Jonathan, you cannot imagine. I am hoping to follow in your “bike trail” through Italy one day.