Full disclosure time here. Most of the photographs on todays blog do not show it raining, and give a false impression of the Italy that we have been cycling through because of that. We are near Bologna at the moment and went in by train this morning. We bought two umbrellas, and spent our time dashing from cafe to cafe through cobbled streets flowing deep with water. It is still raining, and I can not find the courage to trawl the WWW. for encouraging forecasts.
As a consequence, we have spent much of the last week or so in churches, somber cathedrals, caffes and museums arty and otherwise. We have seen religious paintings from great masters and iconography by the square metre and lavish beyond words. Much of it features angels. I have a problem with angels and I am not sure where I got it from now. Physiologically, they do not work, and I will share with you just why.
If you remember back to the last time you were asked to carve a bird. That will probably be a chicken or Turkey, and you will recal the huge size of the breast bone. Well, problem is, winged flight is impossible without a massive breast bone. The powerful flight muscles need some big anchor to pull against. Angels are built wrong for flight, and would probably not even manage to glide. In the last week I have seen hundreds of depictions of angels. Cherubs share the same problem and I have seen lots of them too.
Saturday morning, and we join Trieste’s lycra warriors on a bike along the coast and away from the city. The road surface is rubbish, requiring concentration to keep you swerving around wheel pretzaling holes. There are a couple of lumpy climbs before it settles into what for the next week will be ironing board flat roads. The days ahead would be for the sprinters in the peloton. The roads before Venice are flat. I had not thought about it before, but for Venice to have a hope of working, it needs to be pan flat. It is, and in a way that I had no idea that Italy had so much flat land. If Italy is thought of as a boot, we are biking on the calf.
We link together, causeways, islands and canal front. Much of the time the gps screen is more blue than anything else. There are wading birds and the sound of gunshot from fields. It is hunting season and it is applied with passion and often little discrimination. Beyond the town of Grado, there is an industrial sized campground and it is the last but one day before season’s end. Overnight the wind gets up, and by morning there are banks of dark cloud and distant rumbles of thunder. We ride to the World Heritage Site of Aquileia to the sound of Sunday morning bells and gunfire. In every direction is the promise of an appallingly heavy downpour. We get there dry, but minutes later it is biblical rain and the first of many incorrect weather forecasts for Italy.
We take a hotel and walk around Roman ruins in the rain. It is vast, and has so much archeology that ornate stone is reused on many houses or sits in gardens as ornament. The church bell tower is unusual in being quite vertical. You are under the impression that Pisa is a one-off engineering blunder. Not so my friend. About 20% of the bell towers we have seen so far are leaning. Italy really did not get the hang of foundations and structural engineering despite the overwhelming evidence that they were getting it wrong.
Sunday mass and the church bells ring. It is all about volume. You forget how complicated and beautiful English church bell ringing is. The peel of bells, the hobby of a dozen worthy souls forever embarrassed to cal themselves campanologists when asked at parties.
Monday morning and Italy is flooded. Vineyards are deep in water and canals brimming. It is horrid cycling recorded with just the single photo. Deep holes in the road are now hidden as the rain water cascades across the roads. It is dangerous biking and one of the worst of our journey so far. Stand in a cold shower in waterproofs for 6 hours doing the occasional star jump. Keep your arms up as well to make sure that cold water trickles down your arms towards your elbows. It is just 12’c.
We take a hotel in Latisana, just beyond the point when we have had enough. We are trying to work out a plan to see Venice, a city that bans bicycles. I have already had a bit of a surprise about Venice. Everyone goes on about how small the Mona Lisa is when you actually get to reach the front of the que and stand in front of it. No one tells you about Venice so I am going to now. It is in effect a medium sized village sitting on an island in a lagoon and threatened in all directions by the rising tides of global warming. A causeway leads out to it and a ring of island protects most of it from being submerged in a strong wind. Our plan is to ride the train along the causeway and our bikes along the islands of the lagoon after seeing the city.
Morning dawns with unfamiliar clarity and strong shadows. Well hello Mr Blue Sky, how lucky are we, Venice in the sun. What a bit of planning. Venice is off season, Venice is amazingly busy, Venice is being photographed a thousand times a minute. It must be the most photographed place in the world. The place is full of Australians.
Tuesday morning, and at 6.45 the church bells ring. It owes more to the beat of techno than anything choral or calming. I can only imagine the effect it has on the house prices. We pick up the SP42, a minor road that takes us towards the ringing islands of the Venice lagoon. The weather is fine enough and more importantly, there is no wind at all. Every field drain and canal has a scum line 1m higher than where the water has dropped back to now. Not surprisingly, the altimeter on the bar never creeps higher than 2m all day.
The first small town. It is simple, utilitarian perhaps and definitely market day. Sturdy bikes of great vintage are piloted by grey haired somber coated women. They ride just fast enough to remain upright and get there eventually. We coast by them often without needing to turn a pedal stroke.The campground at Panta Sabbioni, we are near the ferry terminal from where you can continue along the lagoon or head into Venice. We continue the next day and leave the bars and nightclubs behind. This is a fishing community. Pellestrina is often little more than a couple of hundred metres wide. Much like other sea going places, it deals with weather, fish, uncertainty and God. The sea has a cold blue light as we bike by the fishing boats. It is quite a magical place. So quiet, so different to the tourism honeypots. Much of the housing has faded FOR SALE signs.
A final ferry and we start to head away from the coast and turn inland. It has been expensive since we hit the coast at the start of Italy, and we hope for some cheaper days ahead. The gps finds quiet roads and the right bridges to bring us to the town of Cavarzere. We need to wild camp, a thing illegal in Italy. One other benefit of the gps is picking out the quiet places for wild camping. It is now dark by 7.30 and we are tucked up and listening to Owls and asleep by 9.
Many of the houses are grey here. We ride along river dykes above them the next morning. It needs the light of summer and the warmth of a backing sun. We are picking the small roads having found even the medium sized roads a bit of a nightmare with heavy traffic and little room or patience. We pass another two leaning bell towers. There is always a church, now far too large to maintain and it sits in a prominent position on the square. We see a road cyclist dismount and enter a cafe. This will be the best for at least a 20Km radius, so we follow. The old men sit in their positions and argue about politics or football. Today it is politics in gravel tones Each sounds more like Tom Waits than the next.
We climb back up onto the banks of the Po. In the fields, the last of the beans and maze is being harvested. Faded by the strong light of summer and now battered by rain it looks to be a relief to end the long year and bring in the plough to freshen things up a bit. We stop at another grey village for another perfect coffee. We pitch the tent on a municipal campground at yet another World Heritage Sites, the town of Ferrara. It starts to rain. There are much worse places to be. So, it is up to town to look at the art, angels and drink coffee. It really starts to rain and now it is of vengeful intensity. We take a second day at the campground, pinned down by the weather. There are more angels.
We have to move, but it is Sunday morning and still it rains. There are gaps now, and we get breakfast done and then pick a gap to take down the tent. The the gaps stop, and it is full on rain as we pull away. This is not fun at all. We pick our way through half flooded streets following a gps path to friends a friends home that Google says is just 32Km away. There are twists and turns to avoid main roads. The there are twists and turns to get out of the maze of fruit crops and dead-end roads. The best waterproofs that money can buy are giving in to the weather. A Sunday morning cafe is open and we go in with a pool of water soon under our table. There are smiles and apologies for the weather and the world. ” We will be with you about midday ” and at 3pm we are.
It keeps on raining and then rains with little pause through the night and next day. I do not think that many of the angels have enough wing surface, and now they are going to be waterlogged. Not a hope of flying. We go into Bologna by train, and splash from coffee shop to coffee shop. It is said that bees should not be able to fly, and yet they do.