More Lakes and Rivers: Franciacorta to Verona

On Wednesday, the 19th of April, I rode out from the Locanda della Franciacorta to Giovanna’s house, 13 km away. Giovanna then led me on a pastoral ride on the Paratico bike path to Lake Iseo. The path was mostly gravel and dirt, but the only tough grades were downhill. We cheated on the return from the lakeside town of Clusane by taking the road to skip the uphill climbs in the loose gravel. I noticed that my rear rack was crooked. It was broken. The Thule panniers had been hammering the rack at the magnetic attachment point, bending the stays of the rack until the welds cracked. I had already written to the Thule company about the terrible design of the attachment system, but the rough roads and bumpy dirt tracks of Italy only made it worse. Until Thule redesigns the attachment system, they are definitely not touring panniers, regardless of the write-ups on the websites.

That night I treated Giovanna and her daughter Irene to dinner at the German restaurant in downtown Brescia. After supper, we did a walking tour of the historic center of Brescia before Giovanna drove me home with Irene sleeping in the back. Brescia has the only surviving round Romanesque Duomo in Italy, an architectural curiosity, especially seeing it next to the much larger new Duomo. The old Duomo may be paleo-Christian, but documentary proof establishes it as dating back before the 11th Century. Construction began on the new Duomo in 1604.

On Thursday morning, I found a new rack at Cicli Gotti, only 750 m from hotel. It is the same model as the one that broke. I installed it without the magnetic pickups, which did not hold the bags anyway. Lying flat against the stays, the bags should not repeat the damage. I am carrying less than the 25-kg rating of the rack, but I may look for a heavier-duty rack in Germany or the Netherlands. I worked in the afternoon and went to bed early.

On Friday, I checked out and rode to Peschiera del Garda on Provincial Route 11. It being a workday, I had more truck traffic, but a wide road with well-paved shoulders kept me safe. I was no longer in the mood for gravel cycle tracks, no matter how scenic. Three tunnels took the work out of going past the hills below Lake Garda. After 45 km, I was checking in by 1600. The Meet Hostel was clean and well-equipped, with spacious dormitory rooms. I was the first person in my room, and only one other person showed up after me. The English hiker and I had a ten-person suite with shower to ourselves. The staff made supper for everyone (complimentary). The cook made two cakes for her birthday, which added to the celebration.

Saturday morning, I visited Peschiera before heading to Verona. This counts as another river, because the Mincio River, which runs through Mantova before reaching the Po, starts out in Peschiera. Peschiera’s Roman name is Arilica, and the people are called Aricilese even today. The city has long been a garrison town. The Romans and later masters engaged in elaborate engineering projects to make the city defensible. One trick was to create three paths for the swift-running Mincio to follow leaving Lake Como. This created a fine network of moats which could not be forded. I was impressed by the pearlescent blue-green colour of the water, as well as the speed of the current.

The ride to Verona was like the one from Franciacorta, but there were fewer trucks on the Saturday of the long weekend. The families in cars rushing to their holiday destinations more than made up for it. I have been lucky considering the pollution levels of the industrial north. I have stayed away from Milano, a gentle breeze has kept me upwind on most roads, and the vehicles in the north of Italy generally receive better maintenance. Only four smoking tailpipes have passed me since Bologna on 7 April.

I was unable to go directly into Verona, which is protected from attacking bicycles by a limited-access beltway all around the city, an experience that I already had trying to leave Modena. These tangenziali are the 21st Century equivalent of the medieval wall: they cut all the smaller roads leaving the city, creating a barrier for bicycles, pedestrians and horses. I turned south toward Mantova, and, using the sun, steered east until I found the Inland Port where the long-haul OTR trucks deliver goods from all over Europe. From there, I made my way through the industrial area south of town until I reached the historic center, where my hosts lived. I arrived much earlier than expected, which pleased my hosts, because they had a sudden change of plans and needed to leave early to visit grandma. Gloria, Gianni and their friend Gigi, greeted me warmly, and showed me the apartment. They also whipped up a primo for my lunch while they chatted and briefed me on where things were in Verona. Then they left me the keys and a beautiful apartment to use. I checked my mail, changed and walked to the main sights of Verona. First, I went to the Basilica of Saint Zeno, Verona’s patron saint. A true Romanesque basilica built in the 8th Century, it has not been plastered over with later artistic fashions, although it has undergone additions over the years. The original Abbey was destroyed in the 18th Century when religious orders were suppressed by Napoleon and Venice, but the beautiful cloister survived. The walls of the basilica have late medieval frescoes that show clearly how artists were moving away from the flat stylized faces of the Byzantine era and heading toward the Renaissance. San Zeno is still on site, his body preserved in the Crypt downstairs, also in classic Romanesque form. Probably the biggest tourist draw is the triptych by Andrea Mantegna behind the main altar, but I was drawn to the frescoes.

After the Basilica, I walked along the Adige River, which meets the Po Delta in Chioggia across from Venice. Verona, Peschiera, Legnago and Mantova formed a “Quadrilateral” in Renaissance times, protecting the Venetian Republic’s hinterland from neighbors on all sides. The fortifications in those cities are remarkable, even today. The old castle (Castelvecchio) is one of these. The bridge that it guards across the Adige and the double moat made it hard to conquer. The bridge at that spot dates back to Roman times (1st Century BCE), and leads directly from the main road (decumanus) of the Roman garrison.

The Arena is a classic Roman amphitheatre, built in the 1st Century AD and considered a major step in the design leading up to the Coliseum in Rome. It held 30,000 spectators until modern times; for security reasons, the crowd is limited to 15,000, still a big house for an opera. It is a major entertainment venue for concerts of all types.

After supper on the pedestrian decumanus, I walked back to the apartment, took a shower, and read in bed until my hosts returned. I think that they were as happy as I that I don’t need to be entertained. Warmshower.org rocks.

I have had Mantova recommended to me by so many people that I really wish that I had more time. But I will need to pedal hard and long to stay on track for my arrival in Budapest in May.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan.

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