Wednesday 10 June: I catch up, then I fall behind, I catch up, then I fall behind. I’m struggling to find the right balance of riding, seeing the places I’m visiting, writing about them/organising my photographs of them and sharing stuff.
I’m here to ride and to see but the writing consolidates the experience and if I don’t stay on top of the photos then at the end I’ll have thousands of images of stuff that I don’t really remember, where it was, or what was interesting about it. So doing the work is important to me it’s just a matter of finding a schedule that works. So far I haven’t. I’ve been writing but haven’t published any blog posts.
It’s been so hot. The records will say mid 30s but on the road, with the reflected heat from the bitumen it’s surely more like 40+. A reason, too, why I haven’t been getting work done in the evenings because I’m just freaking wrecked.
I ride out of Genoa on a blinding, hot, Sunday morning. When I reach the sea I am reminded of Bondi and Sydney’s eastern beaches … an undulating road full of traffic next to the sea. As an Australian I don’t find these pebbly Riviera beaches tempting or appealing but the locals are flocking to them.
While I’ve found Italian motorists polite and respectful (waiting patiently to pass and then doing so with a good margin) I am growing weary of sharing the road with so many of them, sucking in their exhaust, and being exposed to their added heat. I found myself singing “Drivers to the left of me, parkers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle …”
The sea is pretty, though, and the little old villages are cute and, you know, Italian. Eventually I get beyond the Genovese Sunday beach goers and the traffic thins. I stop for a coffee at the top of a hill and notice my shins are sweating. Seriously … that’s some hot and humid when I find beads of sweat coursing down my shins.
At the bottom of that hill I find Recco – looking exactly as a Riviera beach should … identical umbrellas in perfect formations, a pebbly beach, all the boys and men in speedo-type suits, and the water a really beautiful blue.
From there I begin the serious ascent of the day – switchbacks and steadily climbing roads. There is little shade. When I find some, I stop to catch my breath. I would stop for lunch but there are no bars unless I want to lose elevation to descend into a village and that’s simply out of the question. Around 1 pm I find some shade near some buildings and a set of stairs where I stop and spend an hour relaxing and eating what food I had.
Did I mention it was fucking hot?
My legs, having gone cold, complained vehemently when I started again but I kept climbing – thinking about what equipment I could do without so to lighten my load. I stop in every patch of shade. Catching my breath, drinking the nearly hot water in my bottles.
There is less traffic here allowing me more opportunities to appreciate the trestles of purple flowers (bougainvillea perhaps) as well as the scent of jasmine.
So how hard was it? It wasn’t as hard as either Crawney Pass or the Moonbis. It was very hot and it was hard but I was carrying less gear than on those days; it was dry, and the traffic was accommodating. And, of course, I was looking at the Ligurian Sea.
About three hours after I left the seaside I reach a village on the main road where I find a caffe from which I could look down … way, way down on to that town with the perfect umbrellas.
I feel … tired, hot and hungry, but glad to be here, glad to have made the climb. It was what it was – I arrived knowing Italy isn’t flat. As I had no elevation profile for the ride and my map didn’t make it clear, I didn’t know how much more climbing I had to do. I pedalled away expecting more.
What joy, then, when as I leave the village and ride through a short tunnel that on the other side I find the road rolls downward. All the way down, down, down. I laugh with glee. The climb is over – pale stucco houses with terracotta roofs fill lower slopes, the sea sparkles and winks with some sort of reminder that this sea, this coast – or at least that of the broader Mediterranean – informs all western ideas of the Beach and Sea.
I can see Australia everywhere, which is to say I can see the way these Mediterranean cultures have transported themselves to Australia and become ingrained in Australian culture – the terracotta, the plants in the gardens, something in the style of the buildings.
And just like that I pulled up to a gelataria in Rapallo.
I know it’s wrong to complain both of Americans not travelling overseas enough AND of encountering them when they do but sometimes you meet an American whose attitude is so disappointing as to really piss you … me … off (admittedly this could happen with people of any nationality but, you know where I’m coming from – and I should note for readers who don’t know me personally, that I am American-born and a very happy immigrant to Australia).
Expecting a train to Sestri Levante I pedal the last 600 metres to the station and as I am heading for the ticket office another solo female cyclist approaches me and says, in English, “they won’t let bicycles on”. To which I reply, “But it’s a regional train.” And she says “You’re American!” like this is the greatest discovery one can make on an overseas holiday.
In short, she was wrong – but there had been a strike earlier in the day and there won’t be a train we can take our bicycles on for another hour and a bit. I used my tiny bit of Italian to learn this and buy a ticket. I invite her to get a beer – because that’s what you do, right? I thought I’d been a bit short with her already and should try to be nicer.
She’s about my age, maybe a little older, from outside of Milwaukee and a seasoned bicycle tourist. Maybe I expect more from such a person and that is part of my disappointment. First she has a whinge about shops closing in the afternoon and asserting its bad for their economy. And Italians don’t like it either – she says – where she got this information remains a mystery – given she doesn’t speak “the lingo” – as she noted I did when I spoke with the ticket office.
Every native-English speaking country in the world does a shit job teaching their young second and third languages – it’s a terrible, arrogant failing. Fine. And, yes, I’ve spent real time studying Italian to get to the very basic, mediocre level I have achieved. However, as a guest it’s really on you to at least be able to apologise for not speaking the local language and asking, in that language, if they speak English. Even if you just ask “Inglese?” But this woman couldn’t be bothered with even that much. She would just ruck up to people and start speaking English.
At the bar when she goes back for the second round, she says she won’t know what to ask for, I suggest “due birre” – she says she won’t be able to remember that for the two metre walk to the barman.
If this was not enough to make me not like her several of her stories involve her arguing with people while overseas to the point of threats to ring the police – a sure sign that she had been argumentative and aggressive in a situation where understanding and calm probably would have served her better. One story was of her first night at an Italian campground where – as is the norm here – she was charged for herself and for her tent. That’s just the way they do it here. She said what if I don’t put up my tent? Seriously, what an asshole.
Okay … so she couldn’t be bothered learning even a few polite words and faced with things being done differently than at home has argued about it … two strikes. Lastly she said “I often wild camp at cemeteries. There’s usually no one around and there’s always water.” Look, I’m all for wild camping and I’m all for asking locally for a quiet place to pitch one’s tent. And if they send you to the cemetery, fine. But for a middle aged woman on a three week holiday to assume it’s okay to camp in local cemeteries? Firstly, I would think that almost anywhere in the world people would find it disrespectful to find you camping next to their parents’ grave. Secondly, you’re on a short holiday in a part of the world with ample accommodation options, including loads of campgrounds which are, I think, pretty reasonably priced. If you can’t afford not to sleep in the graveyard maybe you should just stay home.
To top it all off, she too had ridden the road I had just ridden but had, on the basis of looking at a map, expected the road to follow the sea, at sea level. Because she doesn’t do research and was utterly ignorant of the area she was riding through. So not surprisingly she was taking a train right past Cinque Terre but not stopping … probably in part because she didn’t know about Cinque Terre.
Okay … so she put me in a pretty bad mood about the ignorance and arrogance of some travellers and I was glad to be rid of her – though every time I’ve passed a cemetery since I think of her and growl.
I arrive at Sestri Levante and ride to the campground at nearby Tiva Rigoso. It is up on a hill (yippie) with a view of a shipyard and the sea – which I kind of really like – the view that is. I need my bit of Italian to get though the transaction with reception and imagine how unpleasant it would be if I had just bowled in with English and aggression.
This is my first camping experience in Europe and its good. I have a nice little terraced space in the area of the campground with on-site vans and tent sites (the RVs were elsewhere). The ablution block is good, although I nearly lock myself in a toilet stall – all part of the adventure.
There is a restaurant on site and I gorge myself on a mushroom pizza. And that is about me for the day … I am completely wrecked. My quads and hamstrings argue against the walk back up to the campsite. I fall asleep in a space where’d I’d last slept in Urunga – but under a northern sky. Tomorrow: Cinque Terre. Cinque fucking Terre.