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Week 3 - Austria, Italy
Day 15 Thursday 6 August Innsbruck to Matrei 20 Haaard Kms Cum 935
We spent the morning buying a new camera, posting some things home and wandering the town.
Each turn of the corner found something more interesting.
A discussion with a very well informed man a tourist information about cycling routes to Italy, combined with some weather info from the lady at the camera store and we changed our route to avoid the rain during our climb. So we would take the Brennerpass!
We started riding out of Innsbruck after lunch and immedeately started to climb.
It was constant and steep.
We were in our second lowest gear meaning between 8 and 10 percent all the way.
We were on a main road but constantly passed by cyclists.
A peleton of roadies in lycra and the good bikes (Colnago,Cervello, Bianchi ect) passed us chatted for a moment and loved that we were doing Brennerpass on a tandem - Suuuppper - they shouted.
After 2 hours and 20 Kms of climbing, we had had enough, there was a flat spot so we checked into a lovely Zimmer at Matrei.
The view from our room at Matrei was worth the climb
We would do the pass in the cool of tomorow morning.
Day 16 Friday 7th Matrei to Bressnone (Brixen) 68 Km Cum 1003
We set off in the shadows of the Tirol Alps and had a few flat KMs till Steinach, and then the climbing started.
We were psyched for a hard workout after yesterdays taste and just got into a steady rhythm
and worked away.
We stopped for a break at a small clearing where other tourers had stopped and looked at the freeway high above us.
Although this is the main road from Austria to Italy there were probably more cyclists using the road.
There were lots of hard core cyclists in the lycra and good bikes, there were tourers with
panniers like us (but certainly no tandems) and there were all manner of commuters in sandals and casual clothes.
We set off from the clearing and dropped to our lowest gear so gradient about 12 - 14 % and thought of nice things.
Before we knew it we were level with the freeway and rolling into the town of Brenner.
The first thing we saw was a discount cycle clothing shop and we went in and bought some gloves.
We asked the friendly guy how far from the border checkpoint and he walked us outside and
showed us a metal plate in the road and told us in Italian that we were on the border.
He proceded to do a small jig jumping form one side of the plate to the
other (With Ralph Levy - like grin on his face) saying Italy / Austria at each jump.
The town of Brenner was lovely and we walked through and cooled down as much as you can cool down in 34 C heat and prepared for the descent.
We stopped at Vipiterno (Sterzing) for coffee and cake and when we left, the bike felt really strange.
We couldnt back pedal. The deraileur would kick up.
This is really bad for a tandem as you always need to move the pedal back a half turn to mount up.
On inspection we found the problem.
Somehow a massive gob of bubble gum had gotten into the lower jockey wheel.
It had mixed with the oil and become this insidious goo that we couldnt remove.
We pulled out as much as we could and rode on to Bressanone and bedded down for the night.
Bressanone - Ora (Aver) 63 km Cum total 1066
Woke up early worried about the bike and removed the jockey wheel.
Walked out of town to a petrol station and couldnt communicate with the attendant.
I tried speaking German to him, and he said he didnt speak English.
This station was an Agip specialising in all sorts of additives.
I showed him the jockey wheel and he said they had nothing.
I put a bit of the goo on my finger and went to the petrol bowser and dribbled some fuel on my finger and the goo dissolved instantly.
I had my solution.
We posted some bits back to Melbourne and were still on the road in good time.
What came next was completely unexpected.
The nicest bike path you could find.
Spectacular mountains on either side, a flowing river next to us, a great surface, well signed and just enough cyclists
to keep saying Gut Morgen to, as they passed.
Best of all - it was downhill !
Day 17 Ora to Trento (Trient) 52 Km, Cum 1118
Special Note 1: You may have noticed I have been posting 2 names for the towns since we crossed the border
This is because until 1917 the region was Austrian. When the dust settled after WWi, it was Italy.
The people have held on to their culture, speak Austrian (their version of German)
and as one local explained -theres not much resentment.
We set out from Ora and continued down this lovely path to a city I have always wanted to visit - Trento.
The town is magnificent and since we got in early we booked in for a tour of the Castle.
For an extra Euro, we got to see the set of Frescoes in a special room. It included full explanations of each panel.
The Frescoes were done in around 1270 and were a bold statement of the new order that the ruler Fredrick of Lichtenstein was trying to impose.
This goes down as the best Euro spent on our tour:
It also goes down as a far more successful Sunday than last week as our rule is to get in early on Sunday.
Day 18 Monday August 10 Trento to Rivalta 65 Km Cum 1183
Special Note 2: For the benefit of Joe Mel and other wine enthusiasts,
While we were on the Danube we drank the local house wines and found them light and fruity and very easy to drink.
The region we rode through is known for its wines and the bottles we bought were from Krems which is the centre of the region.
Coming into Northern Italy we have also found the wines excellent but a bit heavier - more Cab Sav. like.
We woke to heavy rain and were unsure of what to do but as I had said earlier we were not planning on riding in heavy rain.
The cute young blonde at the hotel said it would unfortunatly rain all day.
Rules were made to be broken so out came the jackets and vaseline and we had shiny legs!
We set out from town and the rain stopped immediately. Minutes later we were too hot and the jackets came off.
The start was late but the path was great again and we made reasonably
good time till it got just too hot each time we cimbed and we pulled into the smallest town possible.
Along the bike path there were tables, benches rubbish bins and occasional water.
There was also a series of art works and as if the mountains and growing Adige River were'nt enough, we were well entertained.
What drew us to the place we chose was the atmosphere.
There was a wide verandah in front of the hotel and people were joknig around.
They continued just being happy all night and into the next day.
It was really a small town -How small I hear you ask?
Not only is it not on my map, It is not on the map in the centre of it's own town yard.
They dont have anything as flash as a town square.
People just know it as the town across the river from Peri.
About 40-50 people came to our Hotel/Restaraunt for dinner that night and it was all good fun.
Vitorio looked after us and everyone was happy to wait till his Mum got there because she was a good cook.
We walked up the road to the Wine Co-op and bought some of the local Cab Sav in a bottle.
The set up there was you could go the bottle way of use one of the row of stainless steel bowzers
- just like petrol bowzers only you had a choice of 8 wine varietals.
While we were there one of the local police picked up 45 litres for the members.
Day 19 Rivalta Mantova 85Km Cum 1258 We Change Our Course
We had a quick ride to Verona along our well marked bike path on the Adige River.
There were still benches, lots of other riders and great signage.
We rode into Verona and found it too commercial, packed with tourists and disjointed.
There was a permanent market in the centre full of tacky trinkets.
Apparently Pinochio comes from Verona and there are a great variety of ways you can buy him.
There was no influence we could find of Bill Shakespear and we rolled out of town after a light lunch and a new map.
Special Note 3 : This marked the second deviation in our course.
We first followed the Danube through 3 countries, Then the Adige River and now we would get ot on the roads towards Genova and The Mediteranean.
The road we took was a busy main road full of trucks, cars, rarely a bike and lots of advertising signage.
We Rode into Mantova, checked into the Mantova Hotel - based on an earlier rule of mine that its good to stay at the hotel named after the city, and found that either the rule is flawed or this place was the exception. It isnt even in Mantova. We walked the 2km into town, explored and walked back to our crappy room to see how crappy breakfast would be.
Day 20 Mantova to Cremona, 71 Km, Cum 1349 Highlight
Breakfast was the crappiest for the entire tour. Mantova is probably a really nice place but we will never find out.
Rode off early and got a few kms in before the heat hit.
We rode in to a small towncalled Castellucchio, there was a shopping market for the locals.
Hilary bought some lovely shoes, I bought some really nice fruit and the locals came to look at the tandem.
A little boy was fascinated by the bike and when I offered him a ride he got all shy and all the women encouraged him there was a lovely atmosphere. This town restored our enthusiasm and we rode on.
The road was still boring but we slid in to Cremona after some steady work in the 35 C heat and got a room in the centre of town.
For the last few nights in Italy, each night had been warm and still.
This was the same.
What was different in Cremona is that all motorised vehicles are banned from the central area.
There is only walkers and bikes.
This makes it very quiet,
We sat in the main square having what everyone else was - spritz and savories.
There were groups of friends meeting and chatting, young couples rubbing shoulders, a wamth and sensual atmosphere
I had not experienced.
If Romeo and Juliet were to have a forbidden meeting, this is where it would have happened - perhaps Verona was like this 500 years ago.
We sat for a couple of hours in the evening heat and watched the dynamics of the meetings unfold. It was a magic evening.
Another dimension to Cremona is that you ever need someone to make you a Violin, this is the place to come.
There were signs everywhere to violin makers workshops. We chatted with an Argentinian girl who had followed his boyfriend there
because he wanted to come to the best place to learn his craft.
The photo above is of an earlier violin maker named Stradaveri who lived and worked here a few hundred years ago.
This was the best city we visited in Italy and we left feeling that we had discovered a secret.
Day 21 Cremona to Genova 4Km, Cum 1253 - Test Italian Rail System
As the road had been boring for the last 2 days and looked worse ahead, there seemed no good reason to keep
riding for the sake of it so we rode to the station to see how Italy would deal with a tandem.
The ticket to Genova was half the price of our ticket in Austria and covered about the same distance.
It involved a change in Milan and would be fun getting up and down te stairs between platforms.
Hilary took the paniers and I got some weight training carying thetandem up and down but it all went fine.
We got into Genova, got a hotel overlooking the bay and explored the town.
The bike had its own cabin on the train. - above
The old area has palace after palace, all magnificent, many privately owned and all pushed hard up against each other.
The harbour is massive, spectaclar boats, - we had a chance to buy one for an undisclosed sum - and mix of old and new.
A great week, we have really enjoyed the bike path on the Adige river and Cremona was a highlight.
We are getting stronger on the bike and still enjoying each others company