Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Welcome Aboard

Friday, February 13th, 2009

We arrived at the container port in La Spezia without any surprises and were required to place our bikes inside a van – which meant one bike at a time and removing all the gear from the bikes. A bit inconvenient, but much safer than riding our bikes through the port, so probably for the best.

Our big surprise for the day was to be welcomed on board by Joern, the First Mate on the MSC Alessia when we were aboard. The chances of this are pretty slim, since NSB (the company operating the ship) has over 100 ships, and the officers can be assigned to any one of them. He had two months off over the winter, then decided to take a 2-month deployment so that he would have 4 or 5 months off in the summer to spend with his family. It was nice to see a familiar friendly face and hear a little bit about the MSC Alessia after our departure. Joern showed us how to use a sextant while aboard the last ship, so we’ll see if we can actually take a celestial fix or two while we’re crossing the Indian Ocean. Last time we were too slow – there’s only a short period where both the horizon and the stars are visible, so we clearly need more practice.

The Hanjin Brussels had originally been scheduled for Monday Feb 9, but was delayed by weather off Naples. We were first told Feb 10 for boarding, then on Feb 10 were told that a further delay to Feb 11 would ensue due to another ship (MSC Sarah) holding the berth our ship was to use. On the morning of Feb 10 we got another update from the agent that the ship would be berthing on the afternoon of Feb 10, and wondered what had happened this time. As we later found out from the Chief Mate, Hanjin Brussels had left Naples two hours after MSC Sarah, but pushed the engines to full power, and was able to pull ahead before La Spezia. This meant we got the berth originally allocated to MSC Sarah, and she had to wait for another berth to clear. It’s nice being aboard a fast ship! Amusingly enough, MSC Sarah spent less time in La Spezia and is berthed in-front of us in Barcelona .

We were very impressed by Umberto, the port agent for Hanjin in La Spezia. He knew exactly what was happening with our ship, spoke perfect English (better than the agents in Miami, Florida), and was happy to provide updates even on the weekend.

On this voyage there will be two other passengers. Peter, a Brit who has lived in Italy for 20 years, joined us in La Spezia. A second passenger will join us in Barcelona. So far, we have enjoyed being the “experts”, since this Peter’s first voyage on a container ship.

So far, the food on board has been excellent. We think it has been a step up from our last trip, which was also excellent. That being said, it is very different from Italian or Turkish food, we could just be enjoying the honeymoon period, where we are enjoying the change and familiarity of it all.

Last night we experienced our first bout of rough weather. It never got rough while we were on the MSC Alessia, so we had no idea what to expect. We had been warned that at about midnight things would get rough. We even enjoyed watching a storm in the distance while the sun was setting. However, when we went to the bridge after supper, the storm had passed and the skies were clear. At about midnight we experienced rough seas for 4-6 hours while we entered a patch of open sea with Force 10-11 winds (around 50-60 knot or 90-120 kph winds with 6-8 meter waves). It definitely did get rough, and we awoke to things getting tossed off of the table tops in the cabin. Foolishly, we did not clean up the room before going to sleep. So, eventually, Becky got up and did some clean up and moved the computer to a safe position on the floor. Then it got rougher again, and both of us got up to clear up anything that might fall down or break. After another 10 minutes of clinking glasses and crashes (projectile fruit that had been on the sitting room table), Becky remembered the glass bottles of water in the fridge. She placed some plastic bottles between the glass bottles and collected the apples and oranges from the floor and placed them in the fridge. She also added some toilet paper to the door clamp so that it would stop creaking. It is amazing all the noises in the night when the ship is rolling and pitching.

In the morning we awoke to a bright sunny day, with papers, water bottles, fruit, and other random things spread across the floor in our cabin (oops). We were both a little tired for not getting a great night’s sleep, but otherwise we were doing well – happy to have survived our first rough weather event. When going outside, we notice that all the hand railings are caked in salt and we can barely see through the windows. We guess that the high winds and waves sprayed water over the superstructure throughout the night.

On a ship to Singapore

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

We’re on the Hanjin Brussels on our way to Singapore, so you won’t see much from us until the end of February, but if you’re feeling like you’re missing your fix, we’ve uploaded photos from December, January and part of February for your browsing pleasure. Enjoy!

Rome wasn’t seen in a day

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Just like Rome was not built in a day, there was no way to see Rome in a day. There is just too much to see. We spent four and a half days exploring Rome, and barely scratched the surface.

While in Rome, we did the requisite visits of Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, the Coliseum, and Castel Sant’Angelo. In addition, we saw many public sculptures, piazzas and fountains and visited many beautiful churches. The Roman Catholics (specifically those in Rome) have amazingly beautiful churches with impressive frescoed ceilings and domes.

Saint Peter’s Basilica was impressive, but did not feel overly spiritual. We suspect that the grand size and the large number of tourists takes away from the spiritual feeling of it all. Fortunately at least two naves were set aside for prayer, so tourists were prevented from entering and snapping pictures. The decoration was so spectacular that Scott forgot to look for Michaelangelo’s Pieta, the prize of the Saint Peter’s collection.

In the Vatican Museums, we both enjoyed the architecture and decoration of the rooms themselves more than most of the exhibits. The Raphael rooms were particularly fascinating, but the frescoed ceilings everywhere were spectacular.

The Sistine Chapel was rather busy but amazing to see. The crowds and associated noise definitely took away from the spiritual nature of the chapel – it felt like a museum exhibit rather than a place of prayer. The frescos were truly amazing, and it was interesting to eavesdrop on some of the school groups. It would have been fascinating to come to Rome as a history or art student, although we wonder how much we would have taken from it. Many of the students looked rather bored.

    Things Scott learned from the Vatican Museum:

  • A legend that there was once a giant pinecone atop the Pantheon, and when Christ was crucified, all the pagan statues in the Pantheon began whirling with such vigor that the top blew off the Pantheon, leaving the oculus as seen today, and sending the pinecone flying off into the distance, to be lost until the 15th century when it was brought to the Vatican and installed as part of a staircase by Michelangelo. (From a schoolteacher in the courtyard of the pinecone).
  • Many of the Vatican treasures were carried off to Paris by Napoleon, and to compensate the Pope at the time sent out a request for ancient treasures held in various villas. The response was so overwhelming that new wings had to be constructed to house everything.
  • Pope Julius II spent more time at war on back of a horse than in anything vaguely religious, as he tried to restore the Church’s secular power.
  • An important cardinal criticized Michelangelo for all his naked saints in “The Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel, saying it was “more suited to a tavern than a papal chapel”. In response, Michelangelo painted the face of the cardinal on a devil in the underworld, with a serpent wrapping him and biting his groin. (According to Wikipedia, it was Biagio da Cesena, the Pope’s Master of Ceremonies, and the devil was Minos, judge of the underworld.)
  • After Michaelangelo’s death, another painter was hired to cover the saints in the Last Judgement with loinclothes. He is now remembered almost entirely for this, and has the nickname “The underwear artist” (Wikipedia again – Daniele Ricciarelli, nickname “Il Braghettone”)

We were staying very close to the Pantheon, which is a fascinating building. The dome is the best remaining example of Roman use of concrete, and is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Pretty impressive for a 2000 year old building! It has been a church since 609, and is still used for worship services today. Since Rome was so wet while we were there, we can confirm that the story about the oculus in the roof not admitting rain is false. It definitely rains inside, and there is a dedicated drain in the middle of the floor to let the water escape.

The Coliseum was a must see, but was expensive (12 Euro each) and the audio guide (another 4 Euro) was verbose but did not say much. The architecture is very impressive, but there is little left of the original decoration or seating.

At the Coliseum there was a special museum exhibit about the importance of conservation and the world ownership of ancient art. Italy has passed laws that make all items found in the ground to be owned by the public (that is the government) regardless of who owns the property. The exhibit was neat because it gave the history of various pieces of art that were stolen and then reclaimed. This wasn’t a regular exhibit, just a temporary one for early 2009, so we were glad get the chance to see it. Scott wonders if the negotiations between Italy and museums and collectors around the world for return of Italian antiquities will cause Italy to return any of the antiquities it has acquired over the millennia from Egypt and the Middle East? We saw a lot of columns and tablets covered in hieroglyphics. We also saw busts from Palmyra in the Vatican museum.

Given the wet weather, we decided to skip the Roman Forum, since much of it would have been outside too – another time.

The Castel Sant’Angelo is impressive from the outside but not that exciting on the inside. Again, it was an overpriced attraction (11 Euro each). There were many museums inside, but they were rather random – one of the museums focused on brand names that were from Italy, another contained various pieces of armor and swords from the Papal Guards over the years. There was also a small exhibit of paintings of important church figures, but none were particularly fascinating. We were expecting some sort of a history of the castles use through the centuries, and perhaps of the Papal Guard.

Overall, the most interesting places we found were the free ones – churches, piazzas, fountains, and just random bits of history and architecture we discovered as we wandered. The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel was the one attraction well worth the 14 Euros per person.


What is it Romans do?

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Since we were travelling to Rome, we decided to take the saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, to heart. Unfortunately, we realized we didn’t know what Romans do, so we decided to meet some Romans. With our sample size of two, we discovered that Romans go to Patagonia on cycling vacations! Our sample was based on Alessia and Gabriele, whom we met through Warm Showers. They are heading off for a cycling adventure in Patagonia (Chile) and Argentina next week, but took time from their preparations to host us. Gabriele is going for 3 months and Alessia is going for 3 weeks. If you are in the area and see two Italians on mountain bikes, say hi!

Gabriele, Becky and Alessia

Gabriele, Becky and Alessia

We had several long discussions with them and others about Italy, Rome and life here, and feel much more connected to Italian culture than we did during our travels in the south of Italy last year.

In our discussions about Rome, we learned that building subways for public transit is a real challenge. The city is so old, that anytime someone tries to dig a hole for the subway they run into archeological ruins that require investigation and often re-routing of the planned transit line. As a result, there are currently only two subways lines and we found they don’t really go anywhere useful for us. Surprisingly, they don’t go near the interesting historical sights!

We also learned that the Vatican and the popular opinion on issues don’t always agree (gay marriage, abortion, birth control, etc). Also we were told that only a small percentage of Italians are regular church-goers, so the Vatican doesn’t wield the same moral force it once did. However, the Vatican owns about 25% of the buildings in Italy and is a huge economic force. The government needs to balance the requests of the Vatican with public opinion. Right now there is a battle about the right to terminate life support. Eluana Englaro has been in a coma and on life support for 17 years, since a near-fatal car crash. Her father wants to stop the life support, in line with her wishes, but it currently is not legal to do so in Italy. The Vatican is trying to influence the creation of legislation that is specific to this girl that would prevent any removal of life support including not allowing her to be moved outside of Italy where it is possible to terminate the life support.

A falling tower

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

The Leaning Tower - yep, it's not just an optical illusion

The Leaning Tower - yep, it's not just an optical illusion

Despite the heavy rain forecast throughout the north of Italy for the next week, we decided to head to Rome and play tourist for a few days, while waiting for our boat to arrive. The train from La Spezia to Rome goes through Pisa, so we had to get off the train and see the most famous tower in the world. Here are a couple of the requisite pictures.

We didn’t see much else in Pisa, since the weather was quite miserable. (We did buy two cheap umbrellas though – not much use on a bike, but great while we’re touristing!)

Becky doing her part to keep the tower upright

Becky doing her part to keep the tower upright

Bikes, trains, and La Spezia

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Our goal for the day was to take a train from Trieste to La Spezia (about 500 km). Since we are traveling with bicycles, we could only take regional trains that have a special car for bicycles. We received several options from the folks at Trenitalia, and opted for the one that involved the fewest number of trains, three.

The first train gave us a false sense of security. The train was departing from Trieste, so we had lots of time to find the appropriate car and load our bikes. We learned that the bike car is either the first or last car on the train (in this case the first), and it is just a car with a room set aside for cargo and bikes. It still involved lifting the bike up three steep steps then turning 90 degrees and maneuvering it through a narrow door into the special room. The bike racks were of the hanging fashion – that is, you hung your bike from the roof. It is clear they were not intended for loaded touring bikes, and definitely not intended for recumbents. That being said, the staff on the train were helpful, providing a bungee cord to hold one of the bikes in place, and upon departure, opening a side door so we did not need to move the bikes through the twists and turns necessary to exit through the main doors.

The second train was much more challenging. First we had to get our bikes from one platform to the other – are stairs the only option? Fortunately at Venezia Mestre there are also paths across the tracks at each end of the platform, perhaps for wheelchairs. We used them – ignoring the “use stairs, do not cross the tracks” signs. Fortunately we had lots of time to get ready for our next train. Unfortunately, the train was late and it was a short station stop. The train turned out to be very long, and the bike car was at the back. To add to the confusion, the platforms were very busy. We had positioned ourselves in the middle of the track, so we could move to whichever side was necessary when the train arrived. Once we discovered which way we needed to go, we made a dash for the car (which was a challenge with all the people in the way). Scott got to the car first and started to load his bike on his own – which also proved to be an issue, as he couldn’t quite get it up all the steps. Becky, leaned her bike against a bench and went to help Scott. As we were just finishing up with the first bike, the train doors started to close. Scott held the doors open and tried to tell them to wait. Becky then grabbed the doors, while Scott jumped out to grab Becky’s bike. A passerby then helped hold the doors open while we loaded the second bike. The entire time, they kept trying to get the doors closed. Clearly the person who was supposed to be watching for people loading and unloading were not looking at the final car! With the help of a stranger, we managed to get everything on the car for the longest single ride of our trip (3-hours).

The third train was easy, but was almost a complete failure. We got off the train in Bologna in a rush as we were advised by the train attendant that the train would not be there for long. It turned out the train stopped there and we could have taken our time to disembark. Scott looked up the track for our next train on the paper schedule – track 3 – so we hopped over to that track, again using the pathways. Becky went in search of a beverage and bathroom, and fortunately checked the schedule again. She noticed that the track listed on the large schedule was 3w, not 3. She soon realized that there were several track threes (central, east – est, and west – ovest). (Why the abbreviation for ovest is “w”, we don’t know). We asked a train attendant who confirmed that we were at 3 central and needed to be at 3 west. Fortunately, there are large freight elevators at Bologna, so we called one. The elevator arrived with an escort – which was good for us. She took us through the bowels of the station, and up another elevator. Unfortunately that one jammed trying to open the doors, so baack down we go, and try a third elevator. Our escort ensured that we found the correct track (yay), and we still had lots of time. Boarding the third train was painless, as we had developed a system and this was the first stop, so we had plenty of time.

Travelling through the mountains to La Spezia, we were very glad we were on a train and not on our bikes. In several places there was 30-40 cm of snow, which would have been a challenge to get through.

Upon arrival in La Spezia, we were met by Mirco, our CouchSurfing host. Having the extra set of hands made disembarkation much easier. We also learned that our bikes are the right height to lean against the train. Leaning one on the train while dealing with the other ensures that the train staff can see that the train is not clear for departure! If only we had figured that out before our second train.

Unfortunately, La Spezia station only has stairs between the platforms, no pathways. Fortunately, Mirco helped us get the bikes out of the station, and in the pouring rain (do you sense a trend here?), he guided us to his apartment. Lucky for him, he stayed dry in his car while we rode our bikes. Lucky for us, it was less than a 2 km ride. After a quick dish of pasta and a warm cup of tea, we were all ready for bed.

The next morning (Tuesday), rather than jump up on too little sleep and immediately go someplace, we decided to spend an extra day in La Spezia. Micro graciously allowed us to spend the day in his apartment while he headed off to work. With fast Internet access, and a warm dry place, we were set for the day!

After work, Mirco returned home, and drove us around to see some of the sights around La Spezia. We discovered just how large the navy base in La Spezia is. It takes up almost the entire waterfront. So, there is very little public beach space in La Spezia (about 200 m), the rest is either military or commercial. Fortunately there are other beaches and waterfronts further up the coast, toward the Cinque Terre park. We walked around the beautiful old town Porto Venere, and saw the cave where Lord Byron sat as he wrote during his time here. It continues to amaze us just how much history there is, even in the smallest places. We’re glad we weren’t here in the summer though, since this is a very popular tourist destination, and the waterfront would have been packed!


Couch surfin’ in Trieste

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Becky enjoying the heavenly taste of a prosciutto-wrapped apple

Becky enjoying the heavenly taste of a prosciutto-wrapped apple

Our first night in Trieste was spent in a hotel because we arrived too late to find Internet, and had no other way to contact Elena, who had offered to host us. Once we did make contact, we made a new friend and had a place to stay, which was wonderful. Elena is studying natural history in Trieste. She was able to obtain a couple of grants that allowed her to do field work in behavioral biology in South Africa and Australia over the summers – we thought that was pretty cool.

When we disembarked, our second priority after securing a place to sleep, was to find some Prosciutto. Becky has been craving ham and pork products since we entered Turkey, especially Italian Prosciutto Crudo. Everyone talks about alcohol restrictions in Muslim countries, but we had no trouble with alcohol in Turkey, Syria or Jordan. We did have trouble finding pork products though. Fortunately for Scott’s sanity, we were quickly able to find some Prosciutto, and Becky was happy again.

Since the weather was rather wet, we spent the afternoon in her home. She cooked us up a yummy pasta with zucchini for lunch and we inflicted a whole pile of our photos on her (at least a thousand – scary, but she said she enjoyed the experience!). Later, we went out for a nice pizza dinner and Elena dropped us off at home – too tired to spend the night at the local pub with her. Apparently we didn’t sleep as well aboard ship as we normally do, and Scott has come down with a nasty cold, which is sapping his energy.

Elena, Becky and Scott

Elena, Becky and Scott

We have found the people we meet through CouchSurfing, Warm Showers and Servas to be uniformly interesting and friendly, and among the highlights of our trip so far. Even if you’re not a traveler, but like the idea of meeting interesting people who are travelling, we encourage you to think about becoming a host for one or more of these organizations – we have met both hosts and travelers between age 20 and 60, so there is a wide variety of interesting people using these services. If you don’t feel like offering a bed to someone, there’s the opportunity to meet for coffee or a tour of the city instead. If you’d like more information about any of these great organizations, we’re happy to share what we know. Drop us a note, or leave a comment.

Another day another freighter!

Friday, January 30th, 2009

One of our new Izmir friends, Mustafa, works for the government and is somehow associated with Ulusoy Freighters. He was able to get us passage on a small (180m) roll-on-roll-off freighter from Cesme Turkey to Trieste Italy. This has been a huge help, and meant that we could spend an extra week in the Middle East and Turkey.

We arrived at the boat without any difficulty – looking into the harbor in Cesme, they are pretty hard to miss. We entered the Ulusoy office and the staff there processed our tickets. While we waited, we asked if anyone wanted to try out the bikes. One of the guys from the office was brave enough to give it a try, much to the amusement of everyone else in the office and the customs police too.

Several of the customs police in Cesme remembered us from our arrival in Turkey back in November. We guess our funny looking bikes provide a pretty good memory aid!

After clearing customs, we were escorted onto our ship, the Ulusoy 10. The ship had not started loading yet, so boarding was easy. One of the crew helped carry our gear up to the crew lounge while our cabin was being prepared. Originally they were going to give us two cabins, as the bed is only a single bed. Upon seeing the cabin (the 3rd mates cabin), which had a sitting room with a couch and a separate bedroom, we decided that we did not need a second cabin – there is plenty of room in this one for the two of us.

We have since learned that the Ulusoy 5 is better outfitted to take passengers, as it has extra cabin space for 10 additional people. The Ulusoy 10 only has 1 passenger cabin with 3 bunks. Given the economic downturn the ship is running with a skeleton crew of 19. Her normal crew compliment is 30. As a result, there is no 3rd mate, which is why we were given the spacious 3rd mate’s cabin rather than the smaller passenger cabin.

The ship did not start loading until after dinner. At 2 am, while we were fast asleep, it left the port of Cesme – so we missed a ceremonious departure from Turkey.

When we awoke, the ship was loaded and under way, with semi trailers filling about half of the main deck and fire trucks in the covered deck aft keeping our bikes company. The lower deck and the bilge deck are apparently full, but we haven’t been down to check.

By the afternoon of our first full day at sea (Thursday) the waves picked up. We passed through a few storms (wind, rain, hail) early in the afternoon and the waves continued on into the wee hours of the night. Both of us spent most of the afternoon reading and relaxing. We do wonder if we would have noticed the waves as much if we were still on the MSC Alessia – it is 300m long compared to the 200m of the Ulusoy-10. It reminded us of how lucky we had been on our Atlantic crossing with such beautiful weather. We can only hope our trip from Italy to Singapore will be so calm!

One of the biggest joys with being on the freighter is the ability to take a long hot shower. It may sound trivial, but after staying in so many budget hotels where the water may be solar heated or the heat only turned on for selected hours during the day, hot water is nice. Also, the shower head is not clogged or damaged and is affixed to the wall at a height that allows each of us to stand up straight and enjoy the hot water pouring over us. It is quite a luxury. There is no shower curtain, but we have become so accustomed to this that it isn’t a big issue. We just lift the toilet seat so it stays dry, and sweep the water off the floor into the shower basin when finished.

Like the MSC Alessia (and virtually all other large ocean-going vessels), waste heat from the main engine is used to run an evaporator, creating fresh water from sea water. It typically isn’t used for drinking, but provides virtually unlimited (18 tonnes per day) hot and cold fresh water for personal use. Large volumes of fresh water are use for cleaning, especially when pressure-washing the decks and other exposed surfaces.

On Friday with some calmer weather, we explored a little more. We were quickly invited onto the bridge and subjected to Turkish hospitality – coffee, tea, and interesting conversation. In the afternoon, the steward knocked on our door to let us know that cake was being served. Unsure where to go (the message involved the words Captain and cake), we went to the bridge where the steward brought us tea and some delicious banana, nut, carrot cake – yummy!

We also got a chance to see the campaign brochure from the AK Party candidate for mayor of Cesme. One of the crew had brought it on board, and it was quite interesting. The AK Party is the Islamic party in Turkey, and currently holds both the presidency and a majority of parliament. Municipal elections are coming up, and they are pushing hard to win in many places where they are not yet in power, especially in the coastal areas like Izmir and Cesme. The mayoral candidate for Cesme is a wealthy local architect, and has produced a 40 page glossy brochure with his vision for Cesme in 2015. It is filled with fanciful high rise buildings, glorious monuments and floating holiday islands – like Dubai on steroids, all up and running 6 years from now! We had a good laugh about this with the crew, but later Scott wondered how a candidate for a mainstream party could produce something so off-the-wall, and whether it would help or hurt his chances of election.

On Saturday, we arrived at 1330, but did not clear customs and immigration until 1500. This did not mean much, as our bikes were blocked by the fire trucks being shipped to Italy, so they needed to be unloaded before we could depart. By 1730 boat time (1630 local time) the upper deck was clear and we could proceed into Trieste. With darkness soon approaching and no Internet in sight , we found an inexpensive 2 star hotel for the night – it was quite the luxury to have heat, two sheets, unlimited hot water, and an enclosed shower stall all in the same hotel room! We were surprised at the comforts that we had become accustomed to doing without over the past several months.

Gloomy beginnings, warm endings

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

The day has been gloomy and wet. This is the first real rain (beyond the 30 minutes our first night tenting) that we have seen since arriving in Italy. We awoke to thunderstorms, heavy rain, and strong winds. Fortunately, it did clear up for a little while in the afternoon, such that we did not need wet weather gear to get to the ferry.

After hearing about the loss of our mascot, Maurizio gave us a Canadian Moose. He figured it was time that the moose returned home. We have adopted the new mascot and named him Moe (Moe the Moose).

Purchasing the ferry tickets was pretty painless. We went to one of the many travel agents in town that advertise the Greece ferries. It was not open when we first arrived at 3:25 pm, but by 3:40 siesta time was over and the agent returned. We considered getting a cabin, but the 110 Euro premium was a fair bit more than we were willing to pay. After the ship departed, we asked about cabins and were given a 4-birth cabin for a grand total of 26 Euro! A much better deal than reserving the cabin in advance. We are certain that would not have been an option during the busy summer months, but at the moment, the ship has mostly truck drivers and a few backpackers.

Becky reflects on the events of yesterday:

When I think of my stolen bag, I think of the waste. The person who took it likely just grabbed the wallet and camera and threw the rest of the stuff away. It is that “rest of the stuff” that I want back the most. I am sad thinking of Puffie all alone in a dark alley somewhere. Replacing the bag itself will be a challenge, as it was one of a two piece set. A replacement is guaranteed not to match – which breaks the symmetry of the bike. It won’t actually affect the way the bike rides, it is more a visual thing than anything else. Again, it is most annoying because the person who took it has most likely just thrown it away.

In Italy, everyone lives behind a fence. The fences are more about claiming your space then they are about security. In many cases, people leave the gates open all day, but the gates are always there. In many cases, the fences are solid walls. Add to this, that garbage is often strewn everywhere. There does not seem to be an organization that cleans the streets and people do not usually clean the areas outside of their fences. Land that is commercial is often much more cluttered than residential land. It seems that no one cares enough to clean the mess. A bag could easily be thrown over a fence into a pile of garbage, never to noticed again. A part of me hopes a good Samaritan will find the bag and think to return it somewhere, but from what I have seen of Southern Italy I do not have any faith of that actually occurring. People just don’t appear to care enough about others such that the concept of returning a lost item would not even be considered.

In the end, I am very glad I had removed much of the stuff that was normally in the bag in anticipation of the ferry trip. I am also glad that we are finally leaving Italy – two and a half weeks has been enough. I have found that in general the people of Italy have been reserved to the point of unfriendliness. People often stare at us while riding our bikes, but would not return a smile. There are always exceptions, and it is the exceptions that have made riding in Italy pleasant – that and the friendly drivers. At least once an hour, someone would honk, wave or give us a thumbs-up from a passing car. In reflection, we note that the reaction is opposite that of what we found in North America, where people on foot always shared a smile but people in cars were often reserved. We have met some friendly people in our time in Italy, but we did not find the culture in Italy welcoming. We are looking forward to some famous Middle Eastern hospitality.

A Puffie Memoir

A Puffie Memoir

Robbed in Brindisi

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Eve having fun on Becky\'s bike

Eve having fun on Becky's bike

Our day started out well, with both of us waking up and feeling well rested. We had wifi access, so got caught up on email and blog posts, then packed up our stuff and moved out of our spacious double room. We were the only guests for the night, so sat down for a coffee and breakfast with the staff (Maurizio, Eve and Dannii). After breakfast, we moved all of our bags down to the back patio of the hostel, since it was a quiet area.

In hindsight, it was foolish to leave the bags unattended, but with no-one around except staff and the two big dogs, we figured they would be safe for 30 minutes. Maurizio, Eve and Dannii were very interested in our bikes, so we set them up for test rides, then Scott sat down to do some bike maintenance while Becky did some more work on the computer. It wasn’t until an hour later that she discovered one of her bags was missing.

All five of us looked everywhere in the hostel, but found no sign of the bag (one of Becky’s bright yellow front panniers). After an hour of searching, we resigned ourselves to the fact that the bag had been stolen.

The bad news was that this bag contained Becky’s wallet (including driver’s license, health card, credit and bank cards), camera and most traumatically our mascot Puffie (Becky is most traumatized by where Puffie might be and the loss of the pannier itself). On the bright side, it only contained a small amount of cash as we had not successfully gone to a bank machine in several days. In packing for the ferry, Becky had removed some key maps (Greece and Turkey) and her passport, so those thankfully were not in the bag. We lost maps of Italy and Syria, a couple of books, and some small clothing items (touque, gloves), which will likely be hard to replace. We are sure as the days go by we will discover a few other items that were in the bag.

Once we were certain that the bag was not misplaced, we cancelled the two credit cards. Fortunately, the joint credit card has different numbers for Scott and Becky, so Scott’s card still works. We then headed out for a visit to the local police station. We were first directed to the Carabinieri – which are the national police similar to the RCMP in Canada. They sent us to the Polizia Statale which are the local police. They are located in a Questura (police station). Once there, we found someone who spoke enough English to allow us to file our report. She felt it necessary to offer us a snack / coffee from the Bar. Reminded of advice from Friedel and Andrew , we took her up on the offer and we each enjoyed an Italian coffee before returning to the Hostel.

Since the wallet contained both Becky’s driver’s license and her passport photocopy, we are concerned about identity theft. In addition to cancelling all the cards, we will put a fraud alert on her credit reports. In Canada there doesn’t appear to be a way to do a “credit freeze” like in the U.S.

Instead, we need to file a “fraud alert” with the credit bureaus. All this means is a note is put in our credit report. It is up to the companies accessing the report what they do with it, so doesn’t seem very effective to us.

Annoyingly enough, the Lonely Planet guide did warn us about petty theft in Brindisi, we just did not expect it here. We are both very annoyed and frustrated, both with ourselves for being careless, and that someone would actually sneak into the hostel compound (which is fenced and gated) and steal a bag. It is common practice for staff to leave their laptops and cameras out – often forgetting where they last put them. We think if the hostel had been more populated, we definitely would have been more careful.

With passports in hand, we will continue with our journey to Greece on tomorrow’s ferry. We will likely plan to replace the pannier and some of its contents in Istanbul, as we know of a good bike shop there. We are again without a Mascot.