23 & 24 August 2015 – Po River and Lake Garda

Onwards, ever onwards. I was reflecting today upon how long I’ve been pedalling for. Longer than my Bike around Britain tour, by nearly a month, and still just over 2 months to go. I’m starting to feel it now, so whilst I’m still very much enjoying it, and looking forward to the route ahead, there are things I’m starting to miss more; friends and family, curry, roast dinner, a pint of ale, absence of mosquitoes…

However I know I’ll be back before I know it, so am trying to focus on the now and to keep on having a great time. I should have enough time to cycle to Istanbul, then pedal back to the UK  via the Danube, unless something unforeseen happens, and even if it does I can always get a train to speed things up a bit. I think I’ve got about 3,300 miles to go, in total, so it might be a bit tight, however the Norwich Beer Festival is still a possibility, as is Halloween, then back to work I suppose. When I get back I must set some time aside to try writing this all up into a book, and not just dive straight back into long working days; work life balance and all that!

Enough rambling, here are my routes and stats for the 23 & 24:

–> 23 August – a whistle-stop tour of Genoa, then on to the Po River
My longest day for a while, covering 139km after a very slow start due to pedalling around Genoa, then heavy rain delaying play. I had a bit of a lie in after a slightly broken night’s sleep because of enthusiastic neighbours, and it was Sunday after all, so I reckoned an extra 30 minutes in bed, or lying on the ground as it were, was worth it.

I made a spur of the moment decision to have a cycle around Genoa, rather than miss it by cutting North immediately; the campsite staff recommended it, claiming Genoa is the second oldest city in Europe, which I’m slightly dubious about. It is very old, the Greeks having been present in the 5th and 6th centuries BC, and the Etruscans before that. It was an independent state or republic for a long time, along with several other Italian states such as Venice. It was also a Crusader base, and the Genoese crusaders brought back what they thought was the Holy Grail from the Levant. Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, and the Bank of St George, one of the oldest in the world, was founded in Genoa in 1407; this explains the St George and the Dragon paintings on some of the buildings. France annexed the city in 1805, before a revolt in 1815 brought it into Piedmont (kingdom of Sardinia). In 1860, General Giuseppe Garibaldi embarked on the conquest of southern Italy from Genoa. So an interesting place, with loads of history, and definitely a powerful industrial and economic centre dating back a long time.

Anyway, my detour was probably a mistake, as it added several miles on to an already long day, and it was raining so not really sight-seeing weather. I took some photos, but they’re not especially good as I was avoiding getting wet, and also trying to avoid Vampires; reckon there are loads of them in Genoa, and it was a dark cloudy day – or maybe I’ve just read too many Anne Rice books. I did manage to grab some breakfast on the way in; two chocolate filled croissants and a slice of pizza did very nicely, and the croissants counted for my ‘Tarte du Jour’ entry.

My handy tourist map of Genoa got soaked on the way round the city, so I have no idea what most of these buildings/sights are; bit of random commentary instead.

After my whistle-stop tour of Genova I headed North on the SS35, crossing the Ligurian Apennines on the Passo dei Giovi; a reasonably long ascent in the rain, which at times forced me to take shelter under bridges or bushes. The water was flowing down the mountain road in streams, leading to quite damp feet. I also opted to forego my waterproof, as it was hot and humid, so whilst the rain was refreshing I got quite damp.

The descent down the other side was fun, and quite exciting due to my brakes not being quite as good when wet, or since the shop change them to Shimano blocks rather than the longer Aztec pads I’m used to (still got my old mounts and I’ll swap them back at some point). The rain stopped on the way to Tortona, with the sun threatening to come out, and my clothes drying off.

The rain, as well as my tour of Genoa, had delayed me, and I still had a long way to go if I wanted to make the Po River, and hopefully a good wild camping spot; I couldn’t find any campsites in this part of Italy. After Tortona I started pedalling through miles of farmland, enjoying flat terrain for a change. Voghera came and went, as did a McDonald’s stop as I tried to link to some free wifi (didn’t work). I passed through many towns and villages as I rode West, finally turning off the main road at Stradella, and very happy to leave the traffic behind.

The Po River arrived, as did a little track alongside it, which I followed passing a few fishing huts and little else. I think the rain and threat of storms were keeping everyone else away, and besides, it was late on a Sunday evening. I found a great little spot to camp, next to the river, at about 19.30. My wild campsite was actually better than most of the designated campsites I’ve stayed at for the last couple of months, with soft ground, shade, and peace and quiet; the only drawback was the mosquitoes, however my repellent seemed to be working okay.

After setting up and a quick dinner of bread, cheese, salami and fruit, it started to get dark, so I decided to have an early night. My slow drift into a deep sleep was accompanied by the rhythmic noise of ribbeting frogs, and thankfully no whining drone of mosquito wings. Another long day expected tomorrow, as I pedal on to Lake Garda.

–> 24 August 2015 0- to Lake Garda (San Benedetto di Lugana)
I must have slept for solid 8 hours, completely undisturbed, in my wild camping spot next to the  Po River. I was awakened by my alarm going off at 06.15, about 30 minutes before it was officially dawn, however it’s always best to be up and away early when wild camping, leaving no trace of your passing, so as not to annoy anyone, and out of general respect.

It must have rained pretty hard overnight, as it was a very damp morning, and the outside of my tent was very wet. Thankfully, it had mostly stopped by the time I got up, however I did have to pack my tent up damp which is never pleasant. No additional mosquito bites to report though, which is a win.

After a swift breakfast of bread, cheese and fruit, as well as some yoghurt, I pedalled off under grey skies, with the occasional light shower keeping me company. I had to backtrack briefly when my route ended in a road closure, which hadn’t been signposted (I blame Gremlins), before I joined the main road and made it to Piacenza. My next target was Cremona, and after negotiating a few confusing roads and quite a bit of traffic I made good time, covering nearly 80km by midday.

Cremona is a picturesque city, with some nice buildings, and was the home of the violin maker Antonio Stradivari (born 1644, or thereabouts).

The riding was fairly flat for much of the day, through farmland with lots of sweetcorn being grown. The route from Cremona took me North East, through a succession of smaller towns, and eventually leaving the busy main road as I crept over a few small hills, and through vineyards to Lake Garda.

I tried to find a bakery in Asola for lunch, but everywhere was shut for siestas, so ate some fruit and carried on, covering 139km by the time I reached the campsite; same distance as yesterday, and putting me well on the way to Slovenia and Croatia.

The heavens opened in San Benedetto di Lugana, on the shores of Lake Garda, just as I finished putting up my tent.  The rain was torrential for about 15 minutes, with streams of water running down to the lake. Thankfully my tent stayed dry, however I think I might invest in some waterproofing spray before much longer, just to be on the safe side.

During a pause in the rain I nipped to the local supermarket for supplies, also acquiring a ‘Tarte du Jour’; a pleasant little number, with fruit and chantilly cream, but not beating anything from France. I grabbed  takeaway pizza from the campsite restaurant, then relaxed, updating my blog and reading a book for a bit; an e-book that is, proper books a bit to bulky and heavy, but I do miss them.

I also did a bit of route planning, plotting a short ride to Verona, then on to a campsite near Vicenza tomorrow, with hopefully an early-ish stop. I need to have a proper think about my route to Istanbul, as it’s still over 1,300 miles away if I go via Albania, Macedonia and Greece. I still think that’s going to be the best route, but it leaves me a bit tight on time for the return leg to the UK.

With any luck it’ll stop raining tomorrow!

P.S. Don’t go camping in tourist hotspots in high season unless you’re happy to pay €30 a night for relatively little, with wifi often costing extra. I expected it to be the case but it still grates.

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