Thoughts and tales from the saddle - on my own in Europe.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Day 141 - Foligno - Central Italy

I hit a bit of a low on the West coast of Italy. I did like it - the food, the scenery, the sea - just something didn't feel quite right. For the first time on this trip I really felt like an outsider, looking on but not interacting, a bit of a spare part.

Maybe it was all the Italians on holiday together, maybe it was just me having a five-month low, I don't know. It all came to a head in a little dead-end port of a town about halfway down the Tuscan coast. I don't even know why I rode there - I hate cycling back over roads I've already been on, especially when I arrive going downhill, and it was a proper dead-end. The only way out was back up the hill or over to Sardinia on the ferry. I felt desperate. My rough plan for Italy had fallen apart in my mind - sticking to the West coast all the way then crossing to the East for a ferry to Greece would take me ages and I couldn't handle any more of this coast. Plus, crossing the country seemed like an impossibility - all those mountains and hills in this heat? No way!

I checked to see if I could get a ferry from Sardinia to Greece, or even just the East coast of Italy. I couldn't. I felt lost. I found myself waiting for a car rental place in the port to open after lunch. If I could, I was going to hire a car for two days and drive over to the port on the East coast. That was decided in my mind. I'd 'done' Italy. I needed to get to Greece, to get on with the rest of this trip, give myself a chance of getting up to Scandinavia before Winter.

Thankfully, they didn't have any cars. I went back to town, found somewhere to stay and went out and walked the streets aimlessly. Passing a bookshop, I instinctively went in - maps, always need maps. They had the two that I needed for the rest of Italy and I figured, riding it or driving it, I would need them, so I bought them. I walked some more, went and looked at the sea for a while, then went to a bar for a beer.

Marco, the owner, was the only other person in there. I sat at the bar and looked around - nice place, a bit like a pub, Irish stout on tap - I liked it. Marco and I started talking. He was interested in my trip and particularly keen to show me where to go in Tuscany. We got my new maps out and I explained that I was a bit lost for a plan, didn't know what I was doing, where I was going. Marco's friend, Antonio, came in and looked over the maps with us, putting in his Euros worth of places to visit. Half an hour later I had a pretty decent and, more importantly, realistic-looking, route across Italy to Ancona, from where I could get a ferry to Greece. My dream of cycling from the Portuguese Atlantic to the Adriatic, hatched at 'Decision Beach', was still alive. I had another pint, then some dinner and went back to the hotel - I had to ride the next day. I had a plan now.

I rode the next day with feelings of freedom and enjoyment that had been missing for previous week or so. I couldn't believe how close I'd come to copping out, cheating, taking the easy route. 'Hire a car?' I thought to myself, 'Are you mad? You're so close! You have the opportunity here, right now, to achieve something! Get on with it!'

I am currently about two days ride from Ancona, and the Adriatic. I have to take a boat there, to get to Greece, but I will have made it all the way from the Atlantic, from Decision Beach, on two wheels, powered only by my two legs and a bit of gravity.

Friday, July 27, 2007


I dream of the soles of my feet on the cool kitchen floor,
Of the look on your face as you open the door.
I dream of sofas and films and cheese in the fridge,
Of cycling to town, over troll bridge.

I dream of England, of clouds and cool air,
Of people and pubs, the slight air of despair.
I dream of packing my things for the very last time,
Of not having to worry about thieves and their crimes.

I dream of talking to people who know who I am,
Of visiting friends, just because I can.
I dream of hearing conversations that I understand,
Of not having calluses on the palms of my hands.

I dream of good newspapers and Radio Two,
That hopefully one day I can read this for you.
I dream of a time when I won't have to move on,
Of sitting at your table, hearing your song.

I dream of cooking fresh food whilst sipping chilled wine,
Of the knowledge that I have lived dreams of mine.
I dream of the day when it will become clear,
Just exactly what it is that I'm learning here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


I can hear you, you know, your cries in the night,
You laughter that floats on the breeze, out of sight.
Your singing and chanting, and shouting sometimes,
Those are a few of your most common crimes.

I see you each day, together, by the shore,
Or buying the things you, for some reason, adore.
You don't see me, I'm happy to say,
Sitting, observing, staying out of your way.

I want you to know that I see what you have,
The chinks of your glasses, your sun tanned backs.
I envy you this, wish I could see,
Just for a moment, those same things for me.

The time when you notice is during the day,
I'm alone then too, in a different way.
You stare at me strangely, like I'm an alien thing,
As if I am crazy, not living a dream.

I need you, you know, sometimes, by my side,
Watching my footsteps, matching my stride.
Helping me see the ways I've gone wrong,
Singing with me my favourite song.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A few things

-I have a new phone now but I have lost all the numbers, so if you do text me let me know who you are. I have had a few already. (Can someone tell Floppy when you see him, please? Ta.)

-Browsing my funky Clustermaps thing on the right there, I note that there are people who regularly read this in Norway, Italy, Eatern USA...somewhere in the Far East. Just out of curiosity, say hello sometime, eh? I know who some of the big dots in strange places are, but not others.

-err...that's it actually. I'll fill this up with some random thoughts: Italian ice cream is nice - I had banana sorbet last night. I haven't seen a cloud for about two weeks. The rear hub on my bike has a crack in it and needs replacing - I hope I can get that done before it collapses. I swam in the sea earlier today, it was nice but I cut my foot on a rock getting out. I have a square of sunburn in the middle of my back, where I can't reach with the cream. I've stopped using a sleeping bag at night. I found a cool beach bar last night - they were playing Bob, which is always a good sign. I watched the sun set behind the mountains. I have seven mosquito bites at the moment. Camping in this heat isn't that much fun. I'm getting free food in bars around here - something I haven't had since Spain. I'm going for some now.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Day 126 - Rapallo - North-West Italy

The day I crossed the border into Italy was exactly four months from the day I rolled off the ferry in St Malo. It feels like a lifetime ago. Quite a lot has happened...

-I've cycled over 3000 miles in seven countries (including England and classing Monaco as one), over mountains, around lakes, over and along rivers, down gorges, through tunnels, towns, villages and hamlets, as well as vast areas where no one lived, and along many hundreds of miles of coast;

-I've stayed in countless campsites, hotels, hostels and people's sofas;

-I've used four bottles of sun cream, and the same of aftersun, and have the deepest tan I've ever had, but it stops at two dark brown semi-circles on my shoulder blades where my cycling vest sits, contrasting wildly with my milky-white back;

-I've shared food, drinks and laughs with people from France, Spain, Denmark, Holland, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Canada, America, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Wales...and England;

-I've had drinks bought for me by barmen, bar managers, random people I didn't even speak to, an Englishman looking for a cat and a German looking for the meaning of life;

-I've seen dogs, cats, ferrets, squirrells, birds of prey, pine martins, snakes, lizards, badgers, sheep, cows, wild boar, a wolf and a bear, all dead at the side of the road. I've also seen living versions of many of those;

-My French is now good enough to hold conversations with people, understand everything and be understood - my Spanish is adequate enough for me to live and make some small talk. I'm working on the Italian;

-I've been happy, sad, elated, depresed, amazed, lonely, surprised, annoyed, excited, frustrated, drunk, high, hungover, exhausted, dehydrated...and pretty much everything in between;

-I've been, or probably am, the fittest I've ever been in my life - endurance wise;

-I'll mention them as everyone seems to ask about them - my legs are bigger, certainly stronger, but they're not of cartoon proportions as everyone thinks they should be. All you sports scientists will know that prolonged, relatively low-intensity exercise does not really build muscle, only strengthens and tones;

-I don't really crave anything in particular, not material things anyway;

-Right now, I feel like I want to live like this forever, but I know that won't last and I know that I can't. I'm just trying to enjoy it as much as I can, hopefully for another four months.

p.s. And it's...Jonny Herbert, coming through the tunnel...


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nice - 4am

I knew I didn't like him the minute I saw him. He had a cocky swagger that I detested immediately, although I knew it was just that - swagger, no substance.

'We play for drinks,' he said to Jense, my Norweigan friend who had politely asserted our desire to play. Jense nodded and shrugged at the same time. 'Whatever'.

Jense lost. The victor came immediately over to where we were standing and demanded his prize. 'Double vodka Red Bull,' he said, with a wry smile directed at his friends across the room. Jense shrugged again and went off to the bar, returning a few minutes later looking deflated. 'Twenty euros that cost me,' he complained, 'I bet he knew that too.' Expensive, even for a Norweigan.

'I'm playing the winner,' I announced, stepping up to the table and racking the balls before anyone could argue. 'We still play for drinks,' my now even cockier opponent said. 'Of course,' I replied.

By the time I was lining up the black, with most of his balls still on the table, I had a gallery of Nordic support behind me. 'Go on Percy!' they urged, keen to see me win but keener to see our new friend's face when I did. I slotted the black in easily to rapturous applause from the Norweigans. My opponent turned immediately and headed for the bustle of the club. 'Oi!' I called after him, demonstrating my finely honed European language skills, 'You owe me a drink.' He mumbled something about his drink having been knocked over, which cancelled it out. I wouldn't normally be too bothered about such things. I have actually, in the past, turned pints down when offered them after giving some lads a thorough beating. Victory was my prize and I was happy with that. This was different though. 'That was nothing to do with me,' I said (it was in fact Jense), 'You owe me a drink,' I repeated. 'Ok,' he conceded, 'What do you want?' 'Double vodka Red Bull,' I replied, seeing Jense smirking behind him.

I gave most of it to Jense who said, as we chinked glasses, 'Thank you Percy, that was cool. I thought he was trying to make a fool out of me, asking for a twenty euro drink. I don't like people like that. He's a...' he struggled to think of the English translation for what he was thinking. I finished his sentence for him. 'Wanker.'

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Public Service Announcement

Due to an unfortunate incident at 3 o'clock this morning involving five Norweigans, eight pints of Guinness, some shots of something black and a fountain, I appear to have drowned my phone.

If you text me can you identify yourself, please - I think I might have lost numbers from the phone that weren't 'saved to SIM' or whatever nonsense way those things work. In fact, if you're reading this and you think I might need your phone number at some point in the future, can you email it to me or something, please? Ta.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Day 117 - Agay - South-East France

Channel to Med is quite a popular cycling challenge, a bit like Lands End to John O'Groats. I completed it yesterday, in a round about sort of way, arriving in St Raphael and seeing the sea for the first time since Portugal, about two months ago. I like the sea - I like its size, its colour, its power. I like its breeze too. It's hot here. People are on holiday - the beaches are full and the bars and restaurants are buzzing with life. It feels a bit strange seeing people on holiday, thinking that they chose this place carefully for their two weeks off and it's just another nice place for me to stop off, relax a little, then move on.

St Raphael was a bit too busy for me, plus there were no obvious campsites, so I carried on to here - Agay - a small town in a neat little bay. I'm camped on the beach, literally, in a nice campsite overlooking the whole bay. It's an amazing spot, I can hardly bring myself to leave. Tonight will be my second night here. It'd be silly to leave on a Sunday, right?

I arrived here via the Verdon gorge, which I have to mention because it was magnificent. I cycled the Southern side - the Corniche Sublime they call it - from the lake (where I camped) all the way along, rising up to around 1100 metres or so. Some serious climbing, not dissimilar to the Pyrenees experience, but well worth it. There were quite a few touristy types around and not one - not even those with expensive road bikes strapped to the back of their grotesque mobile homes - gave me a toot or wave of encouragement as I slogged my way up the 10% gradients. Miserable bastards.

I had hoped to put some photos up of the gorge and this coast but I'm currently standing at a counter in a shop, paying about 8 euros an hour for this slow internet connection, and I don't feel like getting my camera and cables and all that crap out, so you'll have to wait, or use Google in the meantime.

I can also see the sea, the beach and the nice bar on the beach through the window, so I'm off.