While cycling (yep, uphill!) to the Italian boarder, we meet a gorgeous couple, Lusiella and Luca and their 4-year old son Matteo. They invite us into their home for a very generous lunch, an espresso and a shot of home-made limoncello. Just what we need to get to the camping site! What a great feeling to have arrived in Italia! Now all we have to do is organize the rest of the trip. Wonder what that's going to be like...
As we are not exacly great planners and the Italian roads do not take cyclists into account, we have a hard time finding fun, peaceful routs. All our hope is set on Milan. Being one of the first big cities we cross, we hope to find some good information for cycling down South. We did read something about the Via Francigena on the internet, which is a pilgrimage route from Canterbury all the way to Rome, but to our disappointment the people at the tourist office cannot help us. They do give us the address of a Touring Shop. That is where we find a few good maps of the departments we will be travelling through. One of them is even the Via Francigena of the Tuscany region! They don't have any others though.
From Milano we make our way to Piacenza, where we unexpectedy get all the information we need concerning the Via Francigena. It is actually the priest of the church we are admiring that asks us if we are pilgrims and sends us to the tourist office. The girl there is so nice and helpful and even prints us a list with convents and accomodation on our route. She gives us a booklet which we have to present at each arrival in order to get our stamp...how exciting!
The weather is beautiful and we pass through some amazing scenery which makes up for the busy roads. Some of our highlights are the small, historical town of Castell'arquato, Parma (which surprisingly has cycle paths all around the city) and riding over the Passo de la Cisa, the pass into Tuscany.
The first city in Tuscany is Pontremoli where we stay at the local convent. We are welcomed by the Padre with freshly picked grapes and shown our seperate rooms...of course! We enjoy the town, the food and the wine and head back to the convent for a good night's sleep. The great weather doesn't last and as we leave the convent the next morning, dark clouds hang over us dauntingly.
We manage to have a quick breakfast along the way when suddenly the rain hits us hard! And it doesn't stop for the next 6 hours. We stop 20 kms before Lucca in Camaiore where we find free accomodation once again thanks to the Via Francigena. Even though we are drenched and have cycled 80 kms, we are content!
We get news from our friends Gauthier and Fredou that they will be meeting us in Rome around the 27th of September. Great! We have been hoping people would meet up with us at some time, but we really want to see the treasures of Tuscany. We decide to cycle to Lucca and take a train to Pisa to visit what there is to visit and an hour later we are back on the train to Florence from where we take yet another train to Sienna a few days later. This gives us the opportunity to see those extraordinary places and to cycle though some striking Tuscan scenery to Rome in order to get there just in time to have 3 lovely days in great company!
Our pilgrimage trail to Rome has come to an end and before leaving the city we set off to the Vatican to attain our last stamp. Unfortunately something is going on in the Vatican and we are not able to get our stamp but the Garde Suisse is kind enough to give us a shoulder patch with the shield as a consolation prize. Valentin is honoured!
After Rome we head to the coast and cycle all the way down to Napoli. The coastal stretch is quite disappointing with a few exceptions. Finding campings or cheap accomodation is difficult but as it turns out Valentin has a good nose for sniffing out wild camping spots and we even spend te night in an ancient Roman port 65 kms before Napoli.
With Greece and Turkey coming up and seasons changing slowly but surely, we take a fast train across Italy to the Eastern coast. Unprepared as usual, not knowing where we are going and with a ferry leaving 30 minutes after our arrival by train in Bari, we rush through the city and are just in time to get our ticket and hop on the overnight boat to Igoumenitsa... New adventures await!