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  • Jamie Shannon

Bologna, finding Mario and onto Perugia

After another lovely night camping under the stars and with hardly any humidity to speak of, I had some breakfast and made my way back into Bologna.

When I arrived, I found a small and comfortable café with wi-fi but having already bought a coffee, I was told that there was nowhere to charge my laptop. I then decided to locate a McDonalds, and although they had electricity outlets, I needed an Italian number in order to access their wi-fi. This was getting stupid now.

I then located the main tourist office and was able to use their w-if and electricity, with no cost at all and so this was my kind of thing. I found a reply from Mario in which he gave me the address of where he was working but that he wouldn’t be finished until six. Even so, I was so happy that I actually had an address I could find him at that I didn’t mind waiting around for five hours.

I found a café/bar and relaxed there for a few hours, eating some food and generally using their internet to the fullest of my capability. I walked around a little and at five, I cycled to the address Mario had gave me and there he was, painting a door! I shouted, “buongiorno senor!” He was like" what the hell, where were you”?

In the end it turns out that he did give me the wrong number. Man alive.

Anyway it was of course amazing to see him after three years and ended up staying for two days, I met his parents, brother and friends. We enjoyed some real good Italian food and gelato and he gave me a tour of the city that included a wall with four corners where you can stand on opposite sides, five metre's apart and talk to each other in private. Bologna is an absolutely beautiful city but this actually blew my mind.

My next stop would be in Perugia, three days away and across the Appenines again in order to visit another friend, Francesca, whom I know from The Netherlands. I had also booked a ferry to Croatia for the 4th and so I didn’t have a great deal of time left in Italy. For this reason and to enable me to see Francesca properly, I decided a train would be a better option for at least part of the way. I chose to take it from Bologna to Pesaro, about halfway along the coast. As this was all flat I was confident that the scenery wouldn't be too interesting anyway.

Italy is a strange country. It does seem a little chaotic and disorganised. When we were having a discussion about it with one of Mario’s friends, he retorted that “no, anarchy would be heaven when compared to what we have here now”! Mario guided me through the process of buying my ticket and getting my bike on the train with minimal fuss and, in the end, it all went pretty smoothly..

I departed on the train, said goodbye to Mario and looked forward to two hour’s relaxation aboard. I do love trains. Next to a bicycle, it’s the best way to travel I think.

As I neared my destination, I began to realise that getting my bike off the train was going to be rather difficult but as I was about to make my attempt at departing, a kind man gave me a lift and so the struggle wasn’t too bad in the end.

The town of Pesaro didn’t fill me with too much excitement and so I was on my way south again pretty much as soon as I had got my bearings but not of course before I had checked the extortionately priced food in a local supermarket. It really is extraordinary to note that, in a country where the salaries are a little below that of comparable countries, their supermarket prices are actually substantially higher. I can’t quite figure this out, but it does have the compensating effect of heightening the possibility of my eating out more and that, in a country that takes such pride in its food, can only be a positive.

I cycled through positively flat countryside during the first half of the day, but as it approached five, the road grew increasingly steep. I wouldn’t say the terrain was mountainous like it had been in the north but rather very, very hilly with hardly a scrap of flat land or any town’s to be seen. Indeed when I did see a town, it was always perched high atop a mighty hill and thus would require me to rouse some kind of energy and determination if I actually wanted to see it and do it some justice. Mostly I rejected this though instantly but I did cycle up to Urbania in order to have a look around and found the prettiest little medieval town I’m ever likely to see.

A little after this, I received a little gift from the gods in the form of a puncture. I was distraught and couldn’t fathom why this was happening so much recently. I had travelled from Amsterdam to Manchester and back before heading all the way through The Netherlands, Belgium and France without getting a single one. Then again, I had extremely good tyres on my bike then but the one I was now using was a relatively cheap one purchased way back just before entering Portugal. The front hadn’t had a puncture since entering Portugal and this one was also an expensive type. It does go to show though that you do get what you pay for.

Anyway, with this fixed and a paddy thrown, I set off again with the realization that I wouldn’t be making it to Perugia at the time I had told Francesca. It was just far too hilly and hot.

I found myself on very small and incredibly pot holed roads, passing through small villages and beautiful rolling and interestingly shaped hills. As the light began to fade, and after climbing for what seemed like forever, I came to the top before spending the next forty minutes flying down the other side. It didn’t feel like I had climbed that high but I descended for what seemed like an eternity. It was thrilling and I was very happy to have not caught the train like Mario had suggested.

The area I found myself in when I began to look for somewhere to sleep consisted of a winding road cutting through the giant, sheer mountains which enveloped the road completely thus it was rather difficult to find a suitable place. I did find a patch of grass but this completely in the open and thus in full view of all the passing traffic. I then decided to hike a little up the cliff face to see if I could camp on the rocky outcrop above but it was impossible to plug in my tent pegs and thus sleeping at the bottom it was and right next to the road. Not perfect but at least I would have an alarm clock by way of the cars for an early start in the morning.

After an early start, I carried on, on what seemed like the bottom of a valley before climbing steadily for the latter part of the morning. From ten however, I began to glide very nicely downhill for what seemed like an eternity again. I mean it just went on forever and I remember thinking “did I really climb for so long”? But I was enjoying it immensely so this thought evaporated soon after.

Such is life though, well at least my life, that I felt the scrape of metal again. It was becoming such a regular occurrence now that I didn’t even bother worrying about it and pulled over to fix the problem again with a new inner tube.

When I finally arrived at the bottom a little later in the town of Citta di Castello, I found a mall containing a supermarket and so wheeled my bicycle inside. Upon emerging later and wheeling it back out, perhaps a group of five people just stared at me intently, so much so that I felt the need to put my sunglasses on and I actually said to them “please don’t stare at me, if you’re going to do it, at least say hello”. From their bemused looks though, I don’t think they understood.

I stopped in Umbertide a little later, and upon seeing it was already noon and thus realising that I wouldn’t make it to Perugia before four, I had a quick look at the station to see if could catch a train. Francesca had said it would be better if I arrived early and so I wanted to keep to that promise. There was absolutely no one about though and no machines with which to use and so I had to just keep on going.

I left the main road and began to cycle instead on the smaller country roads, not really 100% sure if I was heading in the correct direction at times.

I did make it to Perugia though, and to celebrate the fact, I bought a cold beer from a supermarket before beginning to tackle the last stretch of road because of course; the city sits 500 metres up on a hill.

Just as I was beginning the climb though the inevitable happened. Another puncture, f**king pot holed Italian roads!

I was perhaps 2km’s from the top and so I simply pumped the tyre up enough in order at least just to get me there. I couldn’t be bothered messing around with it now. After a good hour of climbing and plenty of stops to re charge my tyre, I made it to the outskirts and couldn’t have been more relieved. I found a guy who kindly let me use his phone and managed to get a hold of Francesca whom had no idea where I was. I had to hang up rather quickly to as the guy needed to catch his bus and so I managed to tell Francesca that I would be in touch soon.

I sat down on a bench and just stared at my crooked wheel for a while realising that it was a problem that needed to be fixed because this was just getting silly. I managed to pump it up just enough to get me around the city to a suitable place where I could use the wi fi and within a half an hour I was staring at Francesca walking down the street towards me. What a day.

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