Greg and Kate Bike in Italy

So this year we decided to ride in Italy. We wanted to see Rome and Florence and possibly further. In the end we didn't get much further. Here is the map, the trip is in blue, the places we stayed generally underlined in red:-

Map of Trip

Here is a link to our previous trip. That was to France in 2005.

One of the problems we have had is the long flights, with awkward connections to get to Europe. This time was much easier. We flew KLM to Amsterdam, and after a short wait we got a good flight to Fiumicino near Rome. Here is Kate in Schiphol (Amsterdam's airport).

Kate in Schiphol

We had booked a room in a small hotel near the old forum -- the Rosetta (one star) -- which was the kind of hotel we like, a friendly and accommodating dive. I wanted to be near the Pantheon, but those places were booked months in advance. The Rosetta was in a pretty good location to see the sights of Rome. If you walk to the end of the block you were accross from the ancient forum, and this was the view down the road:-

View from the end of our street

After settling in, the next day started with a tour of the Collosseum; we hired a guide for this, not so much because we wanted a guide, but because guided tours got in immediately, bypassing the line. You can see that the collosseum is in pretty bad shape, only the brickwork remains (it used to be plated in marble). Here you can see the area below the arena that was used to keep gladiators and wild animals. They have rebuilt a small section of the arena on top of it, so you could see how it was supposed to work.

Plebs eye view of the Collosseum

After seeing the Collosseum we went up to the Palatine hill, which has very little to see of the imperial palaces that were the last occupants there. However you can look down on the old republican forum:-

The Ancient Republican Forum

The garden in front is the garden of the Vestal Vergins with the remains of their temple. The square brown building at the back with the church behind it is a rebuilding of the ancient Curia. The meeting house of the Senate of Rome. For a century or two, two millenia ago, probably the most important building in the world.

The Palatine had housing in Republican times. But Diocletian took it over to build his imperial palace -- this is actually the origin of the term "palace". There is almost nothing left of the palace, as after Rome fell, the whole hill was left to go brush. It was not until the 15th or 16th centuries that the Farnese's came and built their gardens and palace. This is the view from the Imperial Palace over the remains of the Circus Maximus -- of which almost nothing is left.

Remains of the Imperial Palace overlooking the Circus Maximus

This is a Rome city access cover. The SPQR which marked the buildings of the Roman Empire from Britain to Egypt, is still the insignia of the city of Rome, as it always has been. Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and People of Rome.

Roman Manhole Cover

I wanted to get another look at Trajan's Column. When Trajan built his forum he needed to cut through the col between the Capitoline and the Quirinal Hills of Rome. The column was intended to show how much earth he had removed, as its top was at the previous ground level. He then decorated it, almost as an afterthought, with his exploits in the Dacian wars. Of course, it has become one of our main sources for information about the Roman army of the time, as well as the Dacian wars themselves.

Trajan's Column

On our last trip to Italy (we touched Aosta going over the Great Saint Bernard and the Lesser Saint Bernard Passes), Kate had not had a good gelato. So across from our hotel there was a good gelato place, and Kate finally had a decent gelato:-

Kate gets her gelato

This is the entrance to the courtyard of our hotel, where we assembled and disassembled our bikes. It looks a lot fancier than it was...

Entrance to our hotel

We found that we had arrived just before "notte bianco" in Rome. This is a night where they shut down the centre of Rome to vehicles and put shows on pretty much all night. Kate was intrigued by a description of some "Red Flower-eating Giraffes" that were supposed to come down our street at 0100 in the morning. So we waited up and they came down at 0200:-

Red Flower-eating Giraffes

Kate found the best place to see them and take pictures was up on some dumpsters. Here is Kate where she was taking the pics:-

Kate during notte bianco

Day 2 in Rome:

I wanted to show Kate the Pantheon. I've always had a high regard for this building. It is still the largest masonry dome in the world, although the superdomes of modern materials of current times are much bigger of course.

Here is the Portico:-

The Portico of the Pantheon

And here is the interior, you can just see the bottom of the dome, 43m across, the 'oculus' at the top is 43m high, so it is designed as a sphere. It is the National Church of Italy, the Kings since unification are buried here, as is Raphael. The cathedral of St. Peter's is actually not in Italy as it is part of the Vatican, and so wouldn't be used.

The Interior of the Pantheon

Next we went to the Castel San Angelo. This was the historical citadel of medieval Rome, and the refuge of the popes in time of crisis. It is a remarkable building because it represents the periods of Rome's history.

It is built on Hadrian's Mausoleum. The round bottom and interior entrance were where Hadrian's ashes were. On top of that was build a medieval fort, and later, the residence of the popes was added, and decorated by Renaissance masters.

The statues on the bridge approaching the entrance are by Bernini. He referred to them as his "cheerful maniacs".

Castel San Angelo


Our first day's bike ride took us about 40km to Tivoli. We wanted to get out of Rome, and see the Villa d'Este, with its gardens and fountains, and Hadrian's Villa.

These are some of the fountains in the gardens of the Villa d'Este:-

Fountains in the Villa d'Este

This is Kate at another fountain:-

Kate throwing a coin.

Next we rode down to Hadrian's Villa. Tivoli is up on a hill but Hadrian had put his villa down on the flat, probably to get more room. It is one of the largest Roman Villas known. These Roman Villas were large country estates.

This is the pool, looking back at the ruins of the baths and palace complex. As you can see, it is really hard to imagine what it must have been like, except you can see that it must have been big.

The pool and Hadrian's Villa

The 'Canopus' section, which is a copy of a similar reflecting pool that Hadrian saw in Canopus in Egypt, looks like this:-



Canopus from above

This is what remains of Hadrian's private "island". He would retire here in this room surrounded by water, and there was a drawbridge he would pull up to be left alone.

Hadrian's Private Study

North from Tivoli

The next day we set off North from Tivoli. We were heading through the Sabine Mountains. This area was reached by the old Via Salaria -- the Salt road and the centre of the area is still called 'Salaria'. We stopped at one hotel on the new Via Salaria, and then headed through the hills. The whole area looks like this:-

Kate Resting in the Sabine Hills

The region is pretty, hilly, and all the towns are on hilltops.

We biked through Rieti -- where a helpful traffic cop directed me up a one-way street (the wrong way) to the tourist office. We never found city traffic to be a problem. Italians view bicycles as pedestrians; unlike in North America where they are expected to behave like vehicles. Mind you there is not much similarity between the way Italian vehicles behave and North American ones. Traffic in Italian cities is also slower because of a permanent state of gridlock, and this helps bikes.

We finally made Terni, where we had a hotel. Almost all our time in Umbria (which starts just north of Salaria) was spent riding in the rain. In Terni I had made the mistake of going over a marble curb at too small an angle; and marble gets very slick in the rain. So I went down and got a bloody leg. This is our hero at the hotel:-

Our Hero at the Hotel in Terni

The next day, it wasn't raining too much, and we headed out from Terni. We were heading for the Marsciano area, but we hadn't been able to find a hotel there, because I could not get my computer on-line, and so we had no phone numbers. The guides give this area pretty short shift, so there is not much information there either.

I was carrying my computer, to back up the camera, take notes, and be in touch with work, because I was gone longer than two weeks. I also had my cell phone, which worked fine in Italy (it's a GSM phone from Rogers), and was very useful.

The first place we hit was San Gemini. A little town with a fountain in its central square. This is Kate making "Katerade" (Sangria) at the fountain:-

Kate mixing Sangria

Most of the water in Italy tastes bad to Vancouver taste. At the very least, it doesn't seem to quench the thirst. We noticed, though that this water tasted pretty good, for Italy. The tourist office person saw us in the square and came out and gave us each a bottle of their water which they actually bottle and sell throughout Italy (called, curiously enough, Acqua Sangemini), which we saw in stores ocasionally.

We spent the night in a reasonable place in Marsciano, and then headed off in gathering clouds to the North. I wanted to see Lake Trasimene, and so we were heading for the North End of the Lake where the battle took place. However it started to rain heavily, so we called some placed around Magione, and found one that, it turned out, was near where we were, in Agello.

As we were biking in the direction of the town I looked ahead and joked to Kate "I bet the top of that pointy hill is where our hotel is". Unfortunately I was dead on. This is Kate pushing her bike up the last bit of road to our hotel in Agello:-

Kate getting to our hotel in Agello

This is the view out our window. We decided that it would be a good idea from now on to ask over the phone if the hotel has a good view. If the proprietor say "Yes, we have a wonderful view", try some other place.

View from our window in Agello

The next day we headed off in on-and-off rain and rounded the north end of Lago Trasimeno. As far as I could tell, if I remember my Livy, the battle took place from within sight of where this picture of the lake was taken.

Lake Trasimene from the north

Within a few kilometers we then entered Tuscany. Amusingly, the rain had stopped as we neared the border, and the weather started to clear.

Entering Tuscany

We stayed at a nice hotel in Foiana della Chiana. In fact it was a pretty good restaurant that also rented rooms. Kate had a meal she liked, and we also had a great breakfast there, then we headed off for Siena.

This road took us through the "Sunny hills of Tuscany". In other words, if you are biking, its going to be hard and hot. This is what our road and the scenery looked like:-

The sunny hills of Tuscany

Finally, after a short section of kamikaze highway, which wasn't as much fun as it sounds, we were in Siena. We liked Siena, and stayed three nights there -- partially so I could get some work done, but also because it was a pleasant town. It is centred around the "Campo" with its tall tower:-

The duomo turned out to be quite remarkable, not so much for its design although it was certainly pretty (it was shrouded in cloth for restoration work when we were there):-

Duomo in Siena

But the floors are famous. They are only uncovered for about two months of the year, and we lucked out in seeing them:-

Part of the floor in the duomo


Floor in the duomo

Siena to Florence

This is our hotel in Siena, the picture also gives a good feel for the type of small medieval streets you find in the centre of the city.

Hotel in Siena

In Florence there were three things I wanted Kate to see: the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, and Michelangelo's David. Here is the Duomo, it is the fourth largest Cathedral in Europe; the outside is quite remarkable, but inside it is empty.

The Duomo in Florence

and the campanile:-

The Campanile of the Duomo

The Ponte Vecchio is a crowd scene:-

Ponte Vecchio

And from down the river:-

Ponte Vecchio

Michelangelo's David is one of the most impressive statues there are. I took this picture before I found out that you couldn't take pictures:-

Michelangelo's David

This is us leaving our hotel in Florence. The hotel was fine, except they could not store our bikes. We had to store them in a garage nearby, but it cost. So the hotel gave us breakfast for free.

The Tina Hotel in Florence

Florence to Livorno

We decided to bike down the Arno to see Pisa and then to Livorno. This was not the pleasant biking we had expected. We managed to get out of Florence by simply using every one-way street we found and going the wrong way. The biking is uninteresting and semi-urban. We stayed at a pleasant hotel in Santa Croce -- the San Carlo, and then made Pisa early the next afternoon.

Pisa only has one thing for the tourist, that is the tower. But it is worth it to see. I thought it was hilarious, this is our first view of it:-

The leaning tower of Pisa

Having seen that, we headed off for Livorno. We got in and got a hotel room. That night Kate had the local delicacy a cacchiucco, which is basically the local bouillabaisse. This time it was good.

The next day we caught the bike train to Rome. And we spent the next two days finishing up our tourism in Rome. This is the Trevi Fountain:-

The Trevi Fountain

Kate also wanted to see the Church of Gesu. She wanted to see it because it has the largest known chunk of lapis lazuli in it. I did not know that it is the World HQ of the Jesuits. I might not have gone. The ceiling is spectacular though:-

Ceiling of the Church of Gesu

The day before we flew out, we had to see the Vatican. This turned out to be a Wednesday. Never go to the Vatican on a Wednesday! Wednesday is the day the Pope gives his public audiences. The place was packed. We never did get into the Vatican museum, but we did see St. Peter's.

This is Michelangelo's Pieta. It is now surrounded by glass because of some idiot back in the 80's. When I saw it in 1980, you could go right up to it, they did ask you not to touch, though.

Michelangelo's Pieta

And this is the main altar. Evidently only the Pope is supposed to use it. The thing about this is that the bronze for the canopy was stolen from the roof of the Pantheon. Personally I think they should have left it.

St. Peter's Altar

The next day we flew out to Amsterdam, then Vancouver. It was a good flight, but we were still sick the next week.

Greg and Kate