Home the long way

Today, I give you a peek into my journal.

Bologna, Saturday, 25 February 2017

It has been a glorious spring-like day, with uncharacteristically low humidity and high visibility. After the rain last week, the air smells fresh. With the main thoroughfares blocked off to cars, downtown Bologna is as clean as it once was. Yesterday I made easy train connections (four of them) all the way from Formia. In Prato, I learned that the digital ticket on my phone is good for four hours after the train leaves. That is a change from last summer, when a stiff fine threatened those who did not catch the exact train on the ticket. Now the fine only applies if one tries to travel early. I guess someone noticed that trains don’t always make their connections. Indeed, I had to catch the next train to Bologna, when the one from Firenze to Prato was ten minutes late.

The Camplus Bononia is as clean, pleasant and as comfortable as I remember. I could easily live here, but I would have to register at the University to do that. Supper last night was filling and hot. Breakfast this morning included eggs, bacon and the usual muesli. Oh, joy!

The Translators in Italy Get ToGether was worth the trip. Not only was the food at the Sartoria Gastronomica restaurant delicious, but I was surrounded by more than a dozen of the most attractive, intelligent and interesting women in Italy. What can be more interesting for me than a smart, independent, good-looking, multilingual woman? A couple have already friended me on Facebook. After the meeting, I walked the Florence contingent to the train station, then rode back to the hostel.

Dinner was small, in the cafeteria again. I am all packed up and ready to roll to Forlì tomorrow.

And so to bed…

Forlì, Sunday 26 February 2016.

Some days, I push headwinds into cold rain; others are not so bad. This day definitely fell in the latter camp. Not just a sunny day, but smooth roads and tailwinds all the way down the Via Emilia to Forlì. On either side of me, rich, brown fields laid a patchwork across the floodplain. It being Sunday, no trucks were blowing down the road, and the stacks of the factories upwind of Bologna rose empty into the sky. I breathed deeply as I rolled down the highway at an average of 20 kph all day.

Imola, Forlì and the other towns on the Via Emilia are easy to navigate. Each one has a ring road for the SS No. 9 to take the cars around town, but the old consular road (dating back to 192 B.C.) ploughs straight through the historic centre. This gave me a chance to enjoy the places featured in The Tigress of Forlì the gripping biography of Caterina Sforza de’ Medici, which had me wanting to visit Forlì ever since I read it.

I was not disappointed. I could picture the armies of her enemies storming down the Via Emilia to the palace in the centre of town, breaching the Rocca in the city walls. There is a town called Selva between Imola and Forlì, so I knew that there was forest between the two towns when Caterina was making her fast escapes between them. I could picture a far different land than the open horizons beyond the patchwork blanket of brown and green fields today.

Forlì is the capital of the relatively new province of Forlì-Cesena (FC). My host, Francesco, lives across the square from the Provincial Palace in the historic centre. He is a City employee, and manages the rent on the incredibly spacious and well-equipped apartment by sharing it with roommates, usually students at the local University or the State School of Translating and Interpreting. Francesco studies at the latter, hoping to become a translator of Spanish, German and English. Sedu is studying for his final examinations in Chemistry at the University of Forlì. All three men were personable and interesting. We talked about travel, our home countries, and the language mediation business. It was the first time that I had found a Warmshowers or Couchsurfing (co-)host in my own field.

Before dinner, Francesco took me on a guided tour of the historic centre, then drove me to Berinoro, a castle town overlooking the floodplain. As we climbed, the sun plunged behind the fields in a blaze of glorious reds, promising more good weather tomorrow. The lights across the plain looked like a reflection of the clear, starry sky, something unique for that place and that night.

Francesco moved to an extra bedroom and gave me the lower bunk in his room. The room is perfectly dark, which surprises me, considering that we are downtown.

And so to bed…

Pesaro, Monday, 27 February 2017

When I set out this morning, it was clear that I could ride all the way to Pesaro. Rimini was just too close. In fact, the Via Emilia bent south, so that I did not even reach the town before turning onto the SS16 to Pesaro. I learned that the SS16 is not the Via Adriatica this far north. At Fano, the Via Flaminia, coming from the interior, takes over and changes from SS 3 to SS 16. Makes sense, but I never knew that the ancient consular roads ever gave up their special numbers (1 through 7).

Although not as warm and sunny as yesterday, today’s ride was pleasant enough. I had the wind on my starboard side more often than not, which is better than a headwind. After stopping for a snack, I booked a room at the Hotel Figaro, which was right on the Ciclovia Adriatica where it goes past downtown Pesaro. By the time I rolled down the lane reserved for “two-wheeled velocipedes” it was turning cold. I felt very grateful for the heat in the room.

Being Monday, most restaurants were closed, but I found the One China restaurant only a couple of hundred metres from the hotel. A shrimp omelet and Szechuan fish replaced my protein supplies.

Back in the room, I did my laundry and hung it on the drying radiator in the bathroom. Tomorrow I will ride to the train station to take the train to Civitanova Marche. Giancarlo is ready for me as early as 1600. Using my phone, I bought a ticket from Pesaro to Civitanova Marche. A Trenitalia Cartafreccia account tied to PayPal is a serious convenience for intermodal travel like this.

And so to bed…

Piane d’Archi, Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Tuesday morning, I decided not to board the train in Pesaro, but to ride the Ciclovia Adriatica to its end in Fano, only 12.5 km. The bike path was as pleasant and intermittently sandy as I remembered. It took very little time to get to Fano, so I had time to have breakfast at the station bar and try to use the ATM (broken).

Civitanova Marche, only six km from my friend Giancarlo’s house, is a modern town of 20th-century buildings. I found myself riding with the Adriatic on my right for several blocks before I realized that I had turned the wrong way coming away from the station. I resolved that quickly and turned south on the Via Adriatica to Porto Sant’Elpidio. Giancarlo owns a lovely orchard at the top of a very steep hill. He paved the road himself, or I might not have been able to make the last 50 metres to the gate. Son Riccardo and the 11-month old puppy Wilson entertained me until Fabrizia came home at six. It was a great pleasure to hang out with them again. They are such a beautiful family. They being dual Canadian-Italians, I hope to see them again sooner than my other Italian friends.

This morning, I rode to the station at Porto Sant’Elipidio, because the same train stops there and I did not feel like backtracking to Civitanova Marche. I had to change trains in Ancona, but at least I did not have to put up with the thick truck traffic of the port area. While I was waiting, Maria sent an SMS to let me know that her plans for tonight fell through, so we would have dinner tonight. I immediately told her that I would be there by 1700. I booked a ticket to Fossacesia and switched trains in Pescara, rather than riding from Pescara as I had planned.

It felt good to ride the 23 km from Fossacesia to Piana d’Archi. The Sangro River Valley delighted my eye with its colourful vineyards and olive groves, its quaint medieval towns atop the ridges on either side, and the majestic snow-covered Majella, shining in the afternoon sun ahead of me. I arrived early.

Maria took me out to Vittore’s house in Sant’Eusanio del Sangro, where I borrowed a pair of boots for a fossil-hunt. Vittore took us (in Maria’s car) to a set of gullies where the running water has exposed the Pleistocene sediment underneath. We came back at sunset with a small collection of fossils – and considerable mud on our shoes and clothes. We got stuck in quicksand-like sucking mud crossing a stream, and I fell into it twice trying to pull loose. Good for many laughs and no danger, because there was ample brush around to use for a foothold. I would not have wanted to be stuck alone, however.

Vittore will clean the fossils, repair the broken ones, and add them to his collection. The display is called “The Little Museum of the Last Beach,” because the Sangro River Valley was a seabed during the Pleistocene.

Dinner was a potluck, with the twins jumping on the sofa, and the whole family joining us. It was as pleasant a reunion as I could hope for. I really enjoyed seeing Maria again. She makes me smile (inside) every time I see her. Something cheery about her, I guess.

The boiler in my apartment had ruptured during the winter, but the flat was still warmer than the one in Formia. The bed was warmer, and the air was dry.

And so to bed…

Piane d’Archi, Thursday, 2 March 2017

This morning I boiled water to shave, so the lack of hot water was not a problem. I had breakfast at the Tre Archi bar across from the bus station, where Vittore picked me up to go to the University of Chieti. He drove around town hopelessly looking for a parking place downtown, before giving up and going to his office. I did not mind, having already visited downtown Chieti three times. In his office, we worked on his submission to the Journal of High-Altitude Medicine and got it sent off. He clearly was delighted to have that done in such an easy sweep. He bought me lunch at Il Volante trattoria, the truck stop we both like with great seafood. I bought the caffé back at the University.

He took the long way home, so we could see the medieval village of Petroro, tucked up under the Majella. Vittore introduced to the master wood-turner Antonio Filoso, who was making a reproduction of Ulysses’s ship for Vittore. Petroro will be on world television this May when the Giro d’Italia comes through town. That means that the roads in and out of town will get fresh asphalt! I am looking forward to seeing that stage wherever I am.

In Piane d’Archi, I asked to be dropped off at the pharmacy, so that I could buy some cough syrup at the pharmacy. I have been waking up with a sore throat every morning since Sunday, figuring that it was just the warm, dry air. Instead, I have a proper cold, mild, but a cold nonetheless, and I don’t want it progressing past the mild coughing phase.

I met my friend and colleague Denise at the Point Café to catch up. She was going to go home for dinner, but the family pressed on without her, so we had dinner at the Ghiottone pizzeria, another memory check-off for me.

Vittore has invited me to supper at his house tomorrow, and Maria has OK’s my staying another night. I think that I might take the train home on Saturday.

And so to bed…

Formia, Saturday, 4 March 2017

Yesterday, I got up late. Maria had already left. I rode out the superstrada to the 20-km point and back, a pleasant ride 1.5 hours up and 20 minutes back. The morning sun did not reflect off the snow on the Majella with the dramatic impact that it had on Wednesday riding from the east, but the views pleased me anyway. I was also impressed by the new asphalt on the road, even in the tunnels. Even the trucks could not spoil my mood, although one trucker tried to by leaning on his horn long and loud in a tunnel. I don’t know whether he was being funny or whether I startled him, but it was the first rude trucker ever to pass me in this country.

I had expected to dine with Vittore and his partner Ginevra, but he had invited Sandro and Sandra, too. Sandro and Vittore suffered through medical school together. Sandro is an orthopaedic surgeon; Vittore is a urologist. He won a spot in the hospital as a surgeon, but opted to pursue research full time. Vittore picked me up, and Sandro dropped me off.

This morning, I was up early, not to catch the train, but so that I would not miss Maria. She was still in pajamas and slippers when I rang on the door. A hug and farewell, and I was on my way. I rode to the Bon Bon pasticceria for breakfast, remembering to pack a couple of their specialties for the road.

This time, I took four trains on the north route through Pescara and Avellino instead of the run through Campobasso. It was an uneventful set of switches and by 1800, I was fixing supper in my own apartment. I walked down to Tempo Prezioso for the WiFi and the company.

It feels good to be back, not so much for this moldy apartment (I forgot to leave the transom windows open), but because now I can begin focussing on my departure preparations.

And so to bed …

Formia, Saturday, 11 March 2017

As I hoped, I have been preparing to leave. I have been to Rome to pick up my new passport, to Gricignano d’Aversa to pick up my prescriptions, and to Gaeta to do the laundry and pick up my mail. Last night, I reviewed all outstanding mail orders. The only things still in the pipeline are maps and guidebooks for the Rhine River and a little Swiss Army knife, which should be here by Tuesday. Amazon Prime in Italy costs one-third what it does in North America, and it is so worth it.

Only one day has not been sunny and spring-like, and that included a fierce storm Tuesday night. I could have ridden more, but I am having some success combining errands on the bike with walking to Tempo Prezioso, and eating before I go there. Until this week, I was eating supper very late, because the literary café closes at 2030, and I would get home starving. By switching to American supper hours, I may have begun shedding the extra weight that I do not want to carry all over Europe.

Until next time,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan

2 thoughts on “Home the long way

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