Random observations in Italy

Today was another beautiful ride day, with sun most of the day and a little bit of drizzle to cool us off around 5 pm.

The view from our B&B.
The view from our B&B.

Our ride began with a climb into Pizzo. The ride through Pizzo was quite spectacular. It is a old town, and the road goes right through the middle. Twice we passed through a castle gate. The houses that lined the narrow streets where clearly hundreds of years old. It was like stepping back in time and felt uniquely European.

After Pizzo, the rest of the days riding was mostly unspectacular. Some of the navigation was challenging though, since the main road we’re following doesn’t permit bicycles. It also doesn’t permit pedestrians, horses, scooters under 150cc or motorcycles under 250cc, but we aren’t too concerned about that. Andrea told us the service road alongside is called the Complanare, which was a big help. After we turned off the S.S. 18, Scott worked up the courage to ask for directions to the Complanare, and we actually found it. Unfortunately, it seemed to appear and disappear at different times, or sometimes there were two – one on the North and the other on the South of the main highway. Finally, it disappeared just as the main highway was crossing the river. We decided to jump on an alternate route (19 Dir) which was steeper, but quite pretty and had very few other vehicles.

At one point on a side road we passed a herd of sheep. The only thing we saw watching the sheep were two sheep dogs. They appeared to be doing a good job of keeping all the sheep together, as there were no strays in the flock. All the sheep here wear bells. We found the music made by the sheep to be very peaceful. Here is a sample.

So far we have found the drivers to be very good. Becky thinks this is partly because the cars here are so much smaller than those at home. Smaller cars certainly make it easier for them to pass at a safe distance. Scott thinks that having a funny bike with a large orange sign and large bags causes people to be confused, and not know what to make of us, so they slow down until they can figure out what we are. This ensures they pass at a safe distance and speed. We have had a couple people ask to take photos while we ride, and a couple have pulled over to talk to us. Unfortunately, the conversation is usually very short and involves a lot of miming.

Both of us have travelled in Europe before, so the street signs are familiar, even though many are quite different from the ones back home. One thing we have noticed is that all the road signs are different, except the stop sign. The stop sign actually says STOP, which we found strange – we’re used to bilingual stop signs in Ontario and Quebec. We asked Andrea about it, and he said that about 20 years ago all the Alt signs were replaced with stop signs. There are a few we aren’t familiar with – one that looks like a speed bump and appears to indicate the top of a hill. We have also seen the inverse which indicated the bottom the hill. These are usually in conjunction with windy road signs (which look more like lightning bolts than windy roads). Anyways, we recommend that any North American thinking of riding in Europe do a little bit of research into what the road signs mean. There are a number of signs which are quite different – no parking signs, dead-end signs among others. Becky was reminded of the time she drove her rental car onto the Fusgangerzone (the pedestrian zone) in Germany because she didn’t realize the parent holding child’s hand sign meant pedestrian area!

The scenery is quite pretty, but often marred by trash at the side of the road, or piled up beside the on-street garbage bins. We have seen a small amount of roadside garbage in North America, but here the garbage is much more obvious. Almost all pull-outs have piles of junk scattered around. There does not seem to be any organization that takes on the responsibility to clean up the roadside.

Trash by the roadside
Trash by the roadside

We have almost crossed over the toe to the bottom of the foot. For the next few days we will be following the coast along the arch. (Becky thinks it’s really cool to be able to describe geographic location using anatomy – only in Italy!)

At 4 pm, conveniently as Becky was getting hungry, a café appeared. We decided to make a short stop for a snack. One thing we are finding challenging is that the cafés and bars (which are just snack places) do not carry any juice. Our drink choices are usually coffee or coke! Becky was feeling a little chilly after the climb, so decided to ask for a hot chocolate. She watched as the waitress mixed up coco powder and milk and used the steam outlet on the cappuccino machine. The hot chocolate turned out to be a delicious cup of a think chocolate sauce that was easier to eat with a spoon than the cup.

Shortly before dark, as we were contemplating places to camp, a hotel appeared. This was only the second hotel we had seen since turning towards Catenzaro, so we figured we might as well go check it out. The cost turned out to be reasonable (50 Euro), and we appear to be among the only guests tonight. It’s a two-star hotel, but clean and quiet – probably quite busy during the week, since a number of industries are nearby, including a Telecom Italia administration centre next door.

The hotel also provides us with yet a different type of accommodation. So far in Italy we have stayed in Residenti, Albergo, couch surfing, Bed and Breakfast, and now a Hotel. Too bad we aren’t playing Italian Accommodation Bingo.

We went downstairs in the hotel and negotiated a good rate for dinner. Primo and Frutte for 10 Euro for both of us. Primo was a nice fresh pasta with a simple tomato sauce. The fruit for dessert appeared to have been picked from someone’s garden (apples, oranges, and a tropical fruit we don’t know the name of). Dinner also included a bottle of local house wine (from Palmi) and a bottle of water. Not a bad deal! During dinner we were entertained by an Italian game show on the TV. It was a little surreal, watching Italian TV as the only customers in the restaurant.

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