Last year we biked from Rome to Florence, through Umbria and Tuscany, see here. That went well, so we decided that this time we would check out Northern Italy.
The idea behind this trip was that we would see Venice and Milan and get to bike another alpine pass, this time the Stelvio.
We got a KLM flight to Amsterdam and then to Venice-Marco Polo (Venice's Airport). When we got there they had lost the bikes. The advantage of this (the disadvantage was obvious) was that we could get into town on a cheap bus, rather than having to find a large taxi to carry the bike boxes. We found our hotel, in Mestre, without problem and checked in. The people in the hotel (a 1-star, the kind we like) were very friendly, but had zero English, we had to rely on my limited Italian here.
We were staying in Mestre, which is the city on the mainland opposite Venice for two reasons. The first was that it was cheaper -- by a lot -- than paying for a hotel in Venice itself. It's about 15 minutes by bus, and the bus stop was a block away, so getting to Venice was not a problem. The second was that bikes are not allowed in Venice, and it was a whole lot easier to bike out of Mestre that to try it from Venice itself. As usual the hotel had agreed to store our bike boxes while we were gone.
So we started to see Venice while the airlines sorted out our bikes. The first thing to do was the boat trip down the Grand Canal. This is one of the worlds great boat rides. Because although Venice is now just an ordinary Italian City, it was a world power in itself for half a dozen centuries in the middle ages, and arguably was responsible for the fall of Byzantium, six centuries ago.
These are some pictures taken heading down the grand canal, today:-
A Mansion on the Grand Canal
Looking down the canal with workboats and water taxis
A traghetto. These are two man gondolas used for ferrying passengers accross the Grand Canal
The Rialto bridge is the oldest bridge accross the Grand Canal, built in the sixteenth century.
These are the "bus stops" of Venice. The vaporetto stops that make travelling around Venice so easy.
This is a side canal with gondolas and gondoliers waiting for trade.
Finally we are in the Piazza San Marco. This is the historical heart of Venice. Now it is a throng of tourists and pigeons. Still one of the finer looking Piazzas in Italy though.
And this is the view out to the Venice Lagoon from the Basilica. The two columns are topped by the Lion of St. Mark, and Saint Theodore, the patron saint of Venice in Byzantine times. You'll recognize this area from just about any Canaletto. The building on the left is the Palazzo Ducale -- the Doge's Palace. The tour we took through this (no pics, sadly) was called the "Secret Itineraries" and was a tour of the back rooms and dungeons of the palace. Much more interesting than the formal main area, although the art isn't as good.
This is technically an illegal picture, as no photographs are allowed in the Basilica itself, but this is the view from the balcony back into the Basilica. The walls are mosaics, and the gold colour does indeed come from real gold.
This is a picture of the front (fane?) of the Basilica. While not large, the Basilica is pretty:
This is the famous "Bridge of Sighs" that leads from the Palazzo Ducale to the prisons.
At the Arsenale, the Venetian Navy Yard that gave us the noun, was the Delian Lion. The lion on the left, above, was supposed to have been stolen ("liberated?") from the Island of Delos by the Venetians during the late Middle Ages. Here is a picture of the remaining Lions of Delos we took almost ten years ago on a sailing trip to Delos:-
As you can see, the body is the same, but someone has popped a new head on it. Seeing as the lion was more than 2000 years old when it was taken, it was probably showing some wear and tear that might have needed fixing. I don't know where the statue on the right of the Delian Lion came from, but you can see that they slapped a new head on it, too.
We had to start by assembling our bikes. This we did in our hotel room, as there
was plenty of room, and a terrazzo floor that we couldn't hurt. This is Kate
exhausted after a day of touristing and finally assembling the bikes:-
and this is us in front of our hotel, ready to go:-
The first day was a 65km ride through the Valley of the Po from Mestre to Vicenza. This is a pretty heavily trafficed area and we really found that the lack of shoulders in Italy was a bit of a hassle. Italian drivers were courteous and tolerant of bikes, but not having shoulders in heavy traffic is wearing. In the whole trip this time, I don't think we saw any cycle tourists. The area isn't good for it.
We stayed in a nice place in Vicenza, but a bit out of town so we didn't get any touristing in. Much of the time in the town itself was spent at an internet cafe trying to line up accommodation in our next town: Rovereto. This turned out to be a general problem. I wasn't carrying my laptop because of the pass we had to get over, so we spent a lot of prime tourist time in internet cafes looking for tomorrow or the next day's hotel room.
The next day we had to get over what I thought, and what looked on the map to be a small pass to get into the valley of the Adige, where we would start our trip through the Southern Alps. As it turns out this small pass, the Pian delle Fugazze(1160m) was probably the hardest of the trip; not so much because of its altitude, but its grade. There were large sections of 15% grade on it, and that kills.
It was on the way up that we found out that this pass is part of the "Giro d'Italia",
the Italian equivalent of the Tour de France. This is a parade float that tipped
You can just see Kate playing on it. I was pretending to take a picture while actually resting.
And this is the trophy shot.
From here it was mostly downhill for another 40km to Rovereto. Just as we were starting the final descent into Rovereto we found this strange church, the Eremo di San Colombano, it presumably started as a hermitage, but San Colombano is now evidently the Patron Saint of motorcyclists.
and then we were in Rovereto.
We stayed overnight in Rovereto, and the next day, when I went to ask about
some part of the road ahead at the Tourist Office, the lady there asked me
why we didn't just take the bike path. (the answer was because I was using
a car map, and I didn't know about it). She gave us a map that showed
where it was and we headed off.
What happens here in the Alto Adige, is that the Adige River is diked almost its entire length. In order to get bikes off the shoulderless Italian roads, they have put a bike path along pretty much the entire river dike. Here is a picture of a rest stop on the bike path. It shows the path and the countryside we were biking through:
This meant easy biking. It was also really boring. Still, we got in our kilometres, and only occasionally needed to leave it, as we went up the Adige.
This is a scenery shot of the country we were biking through. I think we saw more orchards and vineyards close up than I have ever wanted to see in my life:
One of the things that quickly became apparent here was that we were now actually in German Italy. The Alto Adige is the official Italian name of the province of Austria that used to be called Sudtirol. It was handed over to Italy in 1918 for being on the right side in the first world war. The Italians tried to ethnically cleanse the place for most of the last century; but, being Italians, failed; so it is mostly German speaking. Fortunately Kate speaks German, and we needed it here; much of the time, my Italian didn't cut it; and you can forget English.
We stayed at Salurn (Salerno in Italian), and Meran (Merano), and finally made it to Prado alla Stelvio. This is the town at the start of the road up the Passo del Stelvio (Stilfserjoch). We stayed here two nights, as I thought I needed the rest. Here is a shot from just outside our hotel:
Here is a standard postcard shot taken about a quarter of the way up to the Pass:
Here we are at the Grande Albergo about 2/3rds of the way up. We can see the road ahead from here. The altitude gain is about like climbing Mt Seymour from here, but steeper:
And here we are at the top:
This is Kate and the road we had come up:
We stayed the night at a hotel at the top, had a good meal and a good rest. This is Kate relaxing with a beer in the sun at our hotel at the top. A week before we were told they had had a metre of snow fall at the top of the pass.
The next day we started down the other side. As you can see it is much mellower on this side:
At the start of the trip down, I was going really fast and spun out on one of the corners due to my rear tire being worn down to the kevlar. I bashed up my hands when I hit the guard rail, and cracked the cover of my cell phone. I slowed down from then on.
We then biked down the Valley of the Adda (that's the river you can just see beginning in the above photo). This is a pleasant bike ride, but we didn't get any memorable pictures. The Stelvio is the border between German and Italian Italy as well, so we were back using my bad Italian. We stayed in the only one star hotel in Bormio, which was fine, then headed down to Sondrio. By the time we hit Tirano, we were back on a bike path along the Adda River. This took us a fair way along, but after Sondrio we ended up on normal roads all the way to Lake Como. We had a hotel room in Menaggio on the west side of the lake.
We liked Menaggio although the guide books don't seem to. They rave about places like Varenna being the most pleasant town on the lake. Here is a picture of a street in Varenna. The place is really steep, and while perhaps unique we didn't think it was raving great:
Lake Como is undeniably nice. The weather was very pleasant, and the scenery pretty. We took the ferry over to Bellagio (rated by the guide books as the "most beautiful town in Italy") and biked along the lake to the town of Como. This is a rest stop along the way, looking over the lake. The haze is pollution from Milan, less than 100kms away:
After staying in a B and B 30kms from Milan, we then biked into the town centre. The biking from Como to Milan is unpleasant, semi-urban, and semi-industrial. Milan is a big city, and spreads a long way.
Finally, after leaving La Scala on our right, we were in the centre:
I had seen the outside of the Duomo many years ago, but hadn't time to go in, this time I wanted to see the inside. We also wanted to see da Vinci's Last Supper, which is in a church in Milan. The guide books say it is so busy you'd better reserve a ticket several days in advance. Well we tried to do that several days in advance. They said it was booked up until the middle of October. So no Last Supper.
Inside the Duomo is huge. It is actually a "triple", a gothic cathedral with two side-aisles on each side of the nave. I don't think I've seen another one like it:
One of the features of the Duomo in Milan is the roof. You can go up and see it and the view. It is a famous place, for good reason:
The building is plastered in statues:
Here is a picture of some of the detail of the carving; it also shows the pink marble that is used everywhere outside:
and here you can see how it uses these pink marble plates for shingles:
and looking up at the rear of the duomo. The tracery in the windows is the finest I have seen:
We took the bike train back to Mestre from Milan, and had one more day of relaxed touristing in Venice. This is our final goodbye shot of the Grand Canal:
The only problem we had on the flight home was that Kate had let her passport expire while we were there. We nearly didn't get let on the flight from Schipol to Vancouver because of that.
But finally we made it home and Joanie picked us up at the airport.
Greg and Kate