Archive for the ‘Italy, France, and Spain’ Category

The great thing about never truly planning a trip is that if you need to change your schedule, it is really easy.

Originally I was going to cycle from Milan to Barcelona, but after seeing the amazing scenery, I decided I would spend an extra day at each of my stops.  My first stop on the coast was Albisola Superior.  The decision to spend an extra day at each of the locations paid off immediately.  I spent the day laying out at the beach trying to recover from all of the cycling.  Since I fell asleep immediately while on the beach, I didn’t get to see much of Albisola.

The next day I spent the day walking around the different shops, seeing all of the unique buildings, and watching people eat (I’m not a creep, I just wanted to see what everyone was eating).  The narrow streets were mesmerizing because around every corner there was something new to see.  Down one street there was an old church.  Around the corner there was an old fashion art studio.  In front of the studio there was a restaurant with a giant window to watch pizzas being tossed.

The next day I cycled to Albenga.  It was fun to ride along the coast because I had to cycle up a large hill and follow the road as it curved around the cliff.  As I began the descent, the city of Albenga came more and more into view.  The coolest part about the ride was seeing an old castle on top of a mountain overlooking the coast.  When I arrived I found a cheap hotel, but unfortunately no one spoke English.  I guess not a lot of tourist outside of Italy visit Albenga.  It was a difficult situation because I usually ask locals where I should visit and which restaurants to try.   To overcome this challenge, I would ask a question in English and get a bunch of blank stares.  Then I would ask it in Spanish.  People would reply in Italian and after a bunch of hand signals we would finally be able to understand one another…I think.

The next day I rode from Alessandria to Aqui Terme.  Italians come from all over to relax and vacation in the thermal waters of Aqui Terme.  I am not a frequent spa visitor, but I thought, “when in Aqui Terme…” (“Yes, please continue.” That’s from Anchorman Kyle, you should probably see it!).  Since I wanted to save money and get the local experience, I went to the community spa.  If you plan to go to a spa in Italy, be careful of the strict dress code.  No sandals, towel, or bathing cap, no service!

Going to the spa was the best idea ever!  It was so relaxing and helped relieve my aching muscles.  I swam in their thermal pools, chilled in the sauna, and took a nap in their nature room.  The best part about the spa was their shower.  They had a shower with a bunch of different settings.  You could set it to a jungle rain, orange scent spray.  The cool spray reminded me of a light drizzle in Singapore.  Of course, since I’m a man, my favorite part of the shower was the barbaric setting, you just pull a cord and a giant bucket of cold water would dump on your head (the warm flower scent was an excellent combo with the bucket…I mean…).  I must have spent 30 minutes in the shower trying out every possible combination.  It was awesome!

When I woke up the next day, I felt rejuvenated.  I guess the spa did the trick.  As I began the 40 mile bike ride to the coast, I realized that my  body was adjusting to the heavy cycling.  My legs didn’t hurt as much, I could peddle longer, and cycle faster.  Just as I was getting in a groove (and images of cycling in the Tour De France with my buddy Lance was playing in my head), the landscape changed.  All of a sudden the relatively flat land turned into steep hills and mountains.  Every time I slowly summited a hill, coasting downhill barely gave me enough time to catch my breath to begin a new ascent.

After riding up and coasting down for what seemed like forever, I made it to the top of the last hill.  At the top of the hill I could see a valley covered in clouds.  A rainstorm was headed my way.  Before I could begin my descent, it started to rain.  I quickly found shelter under some trees and decided it was time for a lunch break.  Without a doubt, I must have looked like a crazy person, sitting in the forest eating a peanut butter sandwich in the rain.  Luckily the storm quickly passed.

Since the road was slick, I was worried to descend too fast, so initially, I took my time.  Each time I braked, my bike did not want to comply with my cautious attitude.  My bike was right.  The steepest downhill section of my ride wasn’t meant for caution, but for speed.  I let go of the brakes and went flying down the hill.  Never in my life have I gone that fast on a bike.  The more my speed increased, the more unstable my bike became.  My grip tightened on the handlebars and the adrenaline ran through my veins.  The speed almost became too much as my bike started to wobble.  Just when I was about to apply the brakes, the road flattened out.

I coasted around a long bend and then out of nowhere the ocean appeared.  It was an incredible sight!  Three days of cycling, a near death experience, and exhaustion made my goal of making it to the coast of Italy seem impossible.  There, in front of me, was a seemingly impossible goal accomplished.  I can’t explain the joy and satisfaction I felt.  It was crazy that the simple sight of the ocean could bring about so many emotions.

After riding over 50 miles to Vigevano, it was tough to wake up the next day.  My legs were so sore that I was waddling around like a penguin the entire morning.  As I sat back down on the bike seat, I had no idea how I was going to make it all the way to Alessandria.  When I finally got up the courage to begin riding again, my depleted level of motivation for cycling decreased even more as I attempted to pedal with cement-like legs (don’t worry they weren’t cement, I checked).

Things were slow going for the first 30 minutes, I guess my legs had to warm up (or they just had to go numb so I couldn’t feel the pain anymore).  The ride along the countryside was amazing.  I couldn’t believe how much open space there was.  It was so different from Rome, Vatican, Venice, and Milan, where the streets are crowded and open space is rare.  Farms, forests, mountains, rivers, and old towns ran along the country road leading to Alessandria.

The previous day’s stress and exhaustion instantly fled away as I enjoyed a cool breeze and the beautiful surroundings.  At that moment I had a feeling of accomplishment.  I was doing something that few people have done and I was enjoying scenery that few people get to see.  Life was good!

Lucky for me that my life was good because it almost ended!  Country roads in Italy are narrow and don’t have a shoulder.  A cyclist’s life expectancy drastically decreases when you add a large truck to a narrow road with no shoulder.  I was blissfully riding along when all of a sudden a semi truck went flying by, only centimeters from my handlebars.  Immediately I went into panic mode.  Being that close to a truck is never good, but things were made worse by the force of the wind from the semi, which caused my bike to wobble.  The wobbling made me scared that I was going to lose my balance and fall underneath the semi.  It was hard to cycle in a straight line while the bike was wobbling back and forth.  Even though I might have been able to do some move portrayed in Hollywood to avoid getting run over, I chose to do everything in my power not to fall (I have seen too many episodes of Mythbusters to put my faith in the accuracy of Hollywood’s survival skills).

After the truck passed, and the wind from the truck stopped, I was able to relax.  I could literally feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins.  For some reason, even though I had almost fallen to my death, I felt excited and happy.  Cycling with death taught me one thing, fear and excitement go hand in hand.  No wonder why people jump out of planes, surf on 30 foot waves, and cycle on a country road in Italy.  Each of these equally scary and equally exciting.

The ride of a lifetime, quickly turned into the pain of a lifetime.  Since I’m no cyclist, my legs felt like shards of glass Jello (my favorite flavor) after riding 4 hours in Milan, an estimated 35 miles, and four hours toward Alessandria.  Several times I thought about stopping for the night, but because I was behind schedule, I decided to push through the pain (that’s the kind of man I am) until Vigevano.

During this ride, the only thing keeping me from falling off my bike from exhaustion was the beautiful scenery and my rippling muscles.  As I got  further south from Milan, the more beautiful the scenery became.  For me, the highlight of the day was making it to a river just outside of Vigevano (I believe it’s the Ticino River).  I threw my stuff down on the rocky shore and jumped into the water.  The water was cold, but it felt great after almost nine hours of riding.  After I finished cooling off, I decided that it would be cool to camp along the river instead of staying at a hostel.  For dinner, I had some peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, and a granola bar (whenever I travel, I bring peanut butter to cut down on food cost).  When I finished my gourmet Italian dinner, I threw my sleeping bag on the ground and tried to relax.  As I was getting eaten alive by insects, I decided that it would be better to get a good night’s sleep at a cheap hostel.

Little did I know that I would have been better off with the bugs.  With no fan and 1 small window, the summer heat turned the room into a sauna.  I barely slept that night because I was constantly taking cold showers to cool down and rinse off all the sweat (this reminded me of camping in Southeast Asia, the heat made it impossible to sleep).  As expected, the next morning I woke up sore and tired with a 50 mile bike ride to Alessandria in front of me.  The one bright side was that my padded biker shorts made it somewhat bearable to sit down on the bike seat.

I took some more pictures on my ride to Alessandria that I wanted to post.  By no means am I an amazing photographer, but I really liked some of these.  You can click on them to enlarge the photo.

I seem to always take on more than I should.  Things always just seem easier in my head, and I don’t realize my mistake until I’m in the middle of it.  Right before my trip to Europe, I decided that I wanted to travel unlike I had ever traveled before.  I thought it would be awesome to cycle from Italy to France.  I told myself, “I have ridden a bike before, how hard could it be?”  Little did I know that my three weeks of riding 20 miles a day as training would not prepare me for what I was about to experience.

Originally I was going to ride through Switzerland, but luckily an avid cyclist convinced me that I should ride along the Tuscany Coast.  I was lucky, because I would have died trying to cycle through the mountains of Switzerland.

When I arrived in Milan, I bought the cheapest bike I could find and strapped on my sleeping bag and two water bottles.  Unfortunately, I approached this trip like most of my other trips and did not make any plans.  This resulted in me spending most of the day riding around trying to figure out how to get out of Milan.  I felt like I was in a maze, and I am terrible at mazes.  At one point, I ended up on the highway.  People were honking and yelling at me.  It was in Italian so the closest interpretation I can give was, “hey, guy on the bike, you’re awesome!

After riding all over Milan, I found an internet cafe and printed out some maps.  Four hours later than I expected, I was on the right road headed south.  By the time I got out of Milan, I was exhausted, my legs were about to fall off, and I hadn’t even begun my journey.  Not a good start.