I had a goat called ‘ Whisper ‘. Just some advice before we go on, never call a goat Whisper nor a dog ‘ Moss ‘ . It is a widely held truism that goats eat everything, which is far from true. There is also a rather comprehensive list of things that goats should not eat, but do. Rhododendron leaves are on this list, and of course it was in the nature of a goat called Whisper to eat lots of them in one binging go. They form an alkaloid or such thing in the goat stomach, which spells disaster. Now imagine you are one who abstains from the fruits of the grape or grain, preferring a mineral water or such. In an evening of madness you drink 8 pints of ‘ Old Sodbuster ‘ and now want the ground to open up and swallow you, or a quick and painless death to end the suffering. At the very least, throwing up as much as possible will bring some relief.
Goats can not vomit. Bit of a problem if you have gorged on Rhododendron. She remains to this day, the most miserable looking creature I have ever stood in front of. She should have died. But it was in her nature to bring upon me the most colossal of vets bills through an agonising, but full recovery that took weeks.
In the last couple of weeks I have had the flu. I have done the fullest impersonation possible of that goat, and have certainly looked miserable and worse. By great good fortune I have timed my incapacity with our time at Enrico’s cottage. In yet another classic example of waiting for your holidays to be ill and never during work time, I was bad.
Two weeks to recover when all we did were short day rides that just proved how ill I was. The thought of a heavy touring bike and the hills of Italy, just made me weaker. But the day did come when things began to feel good. Not great, but good enough to start again.
Enrico’s house sits at 650m above sea level. In late October that sort of height can bring days of sun warm enough to encourage you to dig out the factor 30, with hundreds of young spiders taking to the air on parachutes of spun gossamer thread. The next moment, there is horizontal rain and you have the fire roaring in the hearth. It is warm enough for the grass to grow and mushrooms to be the major topic of conversation. We are, without doubt, on the cusp of winter at this hight.
Thursday November 7th. A fine enough morning to dispel any negative thoughts and nerves about getting back on the road. Sunscreen applied to the nose, more for the thrill of needing it in November than for anything else and away we go. Within the first metre I almost crash, not expecting the full weight of the bike to need so much counter balance. What happened to the skittish unladen bike of a couple of days ago? Bike and rider have both aged.
Mercifully, the first 20Km are mostly downward. But, at the village of Pitigliano there is a horrid uphill that tests the legs for the first time. I get a cheer from the driver of one of the three-wheeled vans. 21Km and we need a ‘ first coffee ‘. It is 22’c as we sit drinking, the sun warm enough to heat my back and dry the sweat from my shirt. This feels good. It is great to feel well again and to turn the pedals.
After 33Km and over 500m of climbing, we leave Tuscany and enter Lazio. There have been more British plated campervans here than anywhere else we have been. Tuscany and France, we conclude are the two destinations of choice for the recently retired owner of a camper.
A stiff climb to just over 600m, and then we drop down to pick up a minor road along the shore of Lake Bolsena. We are now under 300m and there is a different climate as we pull clear of the mountains. Farming here is often done according to phases of the moon. Today, it appears that the heavens are in alignment for harvesting Olives. We had been wondering when they get harvested and now every field has a family, a dog and a ladder and is shaking the fruits off the branch. Nets are laid out to catch the Olives and bags are filled and put into trailers or lent against the dusty wheels of Fiats. We wave and shout greetings.
It is just after 4.00, but now that the clocks have changed we need to start thinking about a pitch for the night. We pick up stuff for camping at the town of Marta and head on. There are many more big gates, fences and barking dogs than we have been used to. With this being day one of the Olive harvest, our usual quiet field retreats are full of people. We find a spot, but we have needed to push the bikes across two fields. Just as we set up, there is a shot. It is close by, in woodland and it is followed by two more shots. We are quite near a farmyard and conclude that we are safe enough unless they are pissed and phenomenally bad shots. This is still a possibility, so it is good to hear them pull away in a car and the evening fall silent.
We sit and watch stars, satellites and one big neon streak of a shooting star. It gets cool and then quite damp and we turn in for the night. We have camped under an Oak Tree and within minutes we are bolt upright as an Acorn falls and hits the taut skin of the tent. How can it make such a noise? It sounds as if someone is practicing teeing off and has hit the tent with a golf ball. Soon there are Owls and then sleep.
In the morning, we pack and push the bikes out onto the road and wave at early Olive harvesters. 20Km and we are in the town of Tuscania and looking for a bar and early coffee. We walk around the cobbled streets for half an hour trying to find somewhere open. It all feels rather strange and so it should. It is not long since the place was levelled by an earthquake. It was built again, exactly as it was. It is rather beautiful, but this morning is empty.
Beyond the walls, the town is more alive and we sit to take in the activity with yet another perfect cup of coffee. We pick up the coast road and head south towards Rome. The land is flat here and very fertile and for the first time in ages there are properly big tractors at work turning the soil. It is as red as a sunset and smells of summer heat as we ride by. This being coastal biking, we are going into a headwind. We ride into Civitavecchia where we are going to pick up the commuter train into Rome. It is a port town and has that oil smell of all ferry towns. There are cruise ships parked up. The size of two office blocks and the colour of fridge freezers they dominate the towns sea front. You could follow the coast into Rome, but that would be stupid when you consider the widely held belief that the drivers here are amongst the worst in the world.
It is all very civilized arriving by train into the heart of the city. An hour on the train and there we have the walls of the old town in front of us as we push the bikes out of the station. We are going to do a bit of tourism in the city of tourism. Finding a cheap place is difficult. Finding a quiet place at any price proves even harder. We move from a hotel to a campground after one night without much sleep. The campground should be quite, and it would be if it was not the venue for a hundred 20 year olds who are out of their heads on a heady mix of alcohol and hormones.
We do get to do the tourism a bit. Vatican City, an independent state becomes our 37th and statistically most crime ridden country. 397 civil offences ( Mostly purse snatching ) works out at 0.87 crimes per person, making the Vatican City the most crime ridden country in the world. It is the smallest country in the world, but like Lichtenstein, it still counts on our list.