The Dedegol Mountains, Isparta, Turkey. This year’s challenge?

8th to 15th December 2007
1st Cycling Week Salerno to Castellaneta Marina

Salerno from the sea

Days 10 and 11 Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th December - Salerno

Tugs brought the Grande Anversa into the harbour in the lovely location just to the north of Salerno in the mountains. It was lunchtime so we took our last meal on board and said our final farewells. By the time we had assembled our panniers it had started to rain hard. We took advantage of a short break in the weather and found a hotel in the town centre. We needed to do a fair bit of sorting out ready for the start of the cycle ride. Wanting to look at mail and send the diary we visited a shambolic internet facility. After climbing over parcels for sending and fat ladies waiting to make payphone calls we found broken computers and gave up, emailing Stuart instead by phone. It had to be Italy.

On Sunday we visited Pompeii by train. It is too far to go by bike with time to visit the ruins. We also have a parcel to post on Monday. The stoker did an interesting job at ticket purchase. On the way we paid almost 20 euros to travel by Eurostar. On the way back we paid less than four euros. The management preferred the journey back but would not dream of criticising when somebody else takes on jobs he does not like doing. The stoker blames the work ethic of Italian station staff coupled with the start of a new timetable and Sunday at that.

Visiting Pompeii was a great experience. No doubt it is packed in the summer but this time of the year there were few visitors. We went in via a side entrance and were soon walking almost alone through streets and streets of ruins. The feeling of catastrophe was unavoidable. The lava from Mount Vesuvius which inundated it had been cleared away in recent centuries, leaving empty streets of roofless houses. Little restoration or reconstruction seem to have been done away from the main tourist gate. It was not unlike pictures of Dresden after Churchill. Walking on paved roads through a large town with all the services we have today was familiar. Yet the occupants of Great Britain at that time were living in rudimentary dwellings with few facilities.

On both nights we ate in a superb pizza house. We will get fed up with pizzas before long but nothing we get in the UK tastes like these. Mind you it would be nice to get something better than lukewarm frothy coffee.

Day 12 Monday 10th December – Salerno to Eboli

For the first day of cycling proper the management planned a short gentle ride over flat terrain. He is as ever mindful of the stoker’s needs. Also, neither of us has done anything more energetic than eat pasta for nearly two weeks.

Before we could get going we needed to go to the post office to send the laptop to Cyprus. It was very useful on the ship out and we also hope to have it for the ship home. Laptops are neither robust nor light enough to take on a cycle tour. Sending it was not nearly as difficult as we expected and took only two men and both of us about 45 minutes. It was all very good natured but UK post offices are more efficient.

Getting out of town took longer than expected and one way streets did not help. Salerno is a large town and straggles down the coast a long way. We chose the coast road which was busier than we would have liked. The sea was rough and it was pleasant cycling beside the crashing waves.

We were surprised at how rundown the coastal strip appeared to be. There were many touristy type things which looked as if they had had no customers for several years. Furthermore there was not a crane in sight.

We eventually turned inland. The management was already deviating from the planned route. We cycled through an area full of polytunnel hot houses. It was like the West Sussex coastal area of cultivation and just as busy.

We passed a motel on the outskirts of Eboli in an area like Paris, Texas. It did not appeal so we cycled into the town looking for somewhere better without success. We returned to an excellent room in the motel with a good place to use the trangia. As we checked in the skies opened. We had been wearing waterproofs and overheating for an hour or so. We were however pleased to avoid the real downpour.

 The grotto at Pertoza

Day 13 Tuesday 11th December – Eboli to Muraglione near Pertoza

We had torrential rain with thunder and lightning during the night. We had a torch on standby for an electricity failure but didn’t need it. By the time we awoke the rain had stopped but nevertheless the stoker decided that if it started again she was staying put.

We rolled out onto very wet roads. Fortunately the sometimes over exuberant Italian drivers seemed used to it. The plan today was to follow the old main road bypassed by an autostrada. This is not always a good idea where motorways are toll roads. Those who do not want to pay or risk dodgy vehicles on the motorway can make the old road busy. UK motorists often conveniently forget about tolls when comparing UK motoring costs with those in mainland Europe.

Our route took us into Eboli town centre which was busy, and the busy traffic stayed with us for some time. The road surface however was good and we made good progress.

Then we started a steady climb. It is our policy, based on laziness, to get fit for these rides during the first week or two. It is a bit like training on the job. Climbing in a lowish gear is easy and pleasant when one is fit. So we were finding it hard work.

Somehow we were suddenly in the mountains. The scenery is lovely with high north faces already powdered by snow. To make things even harder it started to rain though putting waterproofs on stopped it.

We had our first picnic lunch on the summit of our climb at 488 metres. It was too cold to sit for long but we felt we were cycle touring at last.

On the descent, which was not devoid of the odd climb, the management got away with over 60kph without the stoker noticing. Unfortunately there are few smooth roads like this left in the UK which are pleasant by bike.

Just before reaching what was planned as the final 5km climb of the day the stoker spotted a very pleasant roadside albergo. We checked in, showered and crashed out.

The hotel phoned us for dinner. There are only seven rooms and a huge dining room. When we went down it was full of men working on the A3 autostrada. It was all very noisy, friendly and Italian. Before the meal ended we, yes we, were singing White Christmas with the owners’ grandchildren. They learn languages here at primary school.

Day 14 Wednesday 12th December – at Muraglione near Pertoza

We won Connect2 today. It calls for a special bottle of wine for us and lots of thankyous to all those who voted.

We like it here and there are caves to explore nearby so we decided to stay another night. After a late breakfast we walked to the entrance to the grotto. The car and coach park were completely empty but the ticket office was open. We paid and had our own private guide for our 11am tour.

It is a long time since either of us have been to the caves in Cheddar Gorge but these are similar as far as we remember. The public can go 800 metres into the mountain and there are concrete paths and lots of coloured lights. Unlike Cheddar the access is by boat and it is a great surprise to come out of an exit high above the entrance. It was altogether a very enjoyable experience, all the better for there being just the two of us.

In the afternoon we went for a walk on the very minor roads in the mountains. As we got higher the views were only spoilt by the autostrada under construction. A latter day Brunel must be enjoying the challenge of tunnels and bridges. Shame that the rest of the EC is most likely paying and the mountains are being ruined. We are also confused but may never know the answer. The A3 autostrada is shown as completed on our 1999 map but it clearly has some way to go.

Day 15 Thursday 13th December – Muraglione near Pertoza to Tusciano

Having experienced at first hand the gradients of the minor roads hereabouts we abandoned the planned route. This would have taken us cross country and looked fine on Google Earth before we left Weymouth. There is a limit to the gradients even the management is prepared to tackle with the loaded tandem.

We think we may have solved two mysteries. We could not understand the Italian answers even on the assumption that they could understand our questions. The mysteries were both related to the motorway. Why was it apparently still being built and why did the workers not come to dinner last night?

Once we were high enough we could see that there was traffic flowing on the motorway. It would seem that work had stopped and traffic was allowed. This would probably benefit us. The main road we were using, busy yesterday, was very quiet today. We presume that the motorway, or at least some of it, did exist in 1999 and that our fellow diners had just finished some roadworks.

Soon we turned off onto an old main road near to the west east motorway. There was hardly any traffic at all though neither has there been much road maintenance for several years. Bumps and cracks have to be watched for or the stoker gives the management what for.

The mountain scenery is again spectacular though this early in the trip we are not ready for the rigours of mountain riding. There are hilltop towns perched on peaks that look totally inaccessible. Some of the old ones are exactly the same colour as the mountainside. We drew them to each other’s attention, getting to them would require a day long raid of which we are probably incapable.

We also feel that we should say something about the cold though we expect no sympathy. It is strange, we are both cycling in fleeces and yet our hands are not cold. We eat picnic lunches though could have been warmer. In the evenings the hotels feel very cold and are just not properly equipped for winter by our standards. In future we will try not to venture high up, staying in warmer lower places.

The ride was of course almost all up and our total ascent was 816 metres. It was hard and we only stopped here because we came across a hotel. It came out of nowhere, we had had enough and so we checked in. The stoker, after a warm bath, was heard to say that her calf muscles were sore. Most of the management was sore and he was glad that we have all the time in world.

We brought down the emails and couldn’t wait to get all the great comments about Connect2. It is so nice to be positive when campaigning for better cycle facilities. It will keep us going for sometime.

Snow on roofs at Potenza

Day 16 Friday 14th December – Tusciano to Potenza

Not very far today but still a lot of climbs. Looking out before we started we were discouraged by a few flakes of snow. As we made our way we came across signs suggesting we should use chains if it snowed. We do not carry chains for the tandem tyres.

As we approached Potenza it felt more like cycling across the Siberian steppes than southern Italy. We were naturally pleased to arrive and proceeded to find the tourist office. The stoker abandoned the tandem and was directed to a lift. This is such a vertical town that lifts and escalators are a form of public transport.

The management was left in the cold wondering where she had gone. She eventually returned looking very pleased with herself. Tourists are not common in Potenza and she was given a huge amount of help in planning the next few days. She also had directions to a good hotel.

The hotel turned out to be a seminary. Due to our lack of advanced Italian we never really got to the bottom of what it was. We did however get a very large and, more importantly, warm room in this huge building, the courtyard of which is a football pitch. The stoker did wonder whether girls were allowed, especially if unmarried and sharing a ‘camera matrimonial’.

Unfortunately the Rough Guide proved to be right. It said to avoid staying in Potenza. It is unbearably cold in winter and unbearably hot in summer. During the afternoon it came on to snow and was extremely cold. The only way out without using very busy motorway type roads is to climb to over 1000 metres.

It was clear that very poor management decisions had been made. Had an alternative been available sacking would have been in order. After much deliberation it was put to the work force that climbing to 1000 metres was not viable or safe. We could stay where we were or get the train out, hopefully to warmer climbs.

We trudged in the snow down to the station to get train times and on the way back bought pizza to eat in our nice warm room.

Day 17 Saturday 15th December – Potenza to Castellaneta Marina

We awoke to a Chistmassy scene with snow making this town look almost acceptable. The train to the coast which takes bikes leaves at 14h16. We had late breakfast and time to do the internet. It was not a café as such but a very friendly laundrette. Like almost every Italian we have met on this trip they could not have been more helpful. Five of us were looking at the pic Hils sent us of the grandchildren which is now on the photos page.

We retrieved the tandem from the seminary. It was not allowed under the holy cross but had a very nice place next door. It may be a heathen object but still entitled to be out of the snow.

Time was getting on and we had a careful ride down to the station. The stoker bought tickets to Metaponto, at a fraction of the price of a similar trip in the UK, and saw to sustenance. The management took the front off the tandem and loaded it onto the waiting train.

It was very pleasant looking out on the snowy mountain scenery eating our late lunch. The trains are old and we did have to pay for the bike. On the other hand it ran exactly to time and after helping the management load the tandem the guard upgraded us without charge to first class.

At Metaponto we made for the seaside. The hotel list promised an open hotel at this summer resort. When we arrived everything was closed and it was getting dark. The stoker was directed back the way we had come.

Back in a large village near the station we made enquiries, none of which were much help. As we pulled away the tandem’s chain broke. Tools are divided between everyday on top and major on the bottom. This was major and everything had to come out. Fixing chains in the dark and cold did not improve the management’s temper. He was however lucky enough to make a good repair in the dark.

At this stage we had two choices. Whether to go east or west along the main coast road. We went east but with hindsight should have gone west. We went over 20km and made two enquiries before finding a hotel. We were on a main road with unpleasant road works and as Dylan said no direction home. It was quite enough of an adventure and with great relief we found a hotel at 7pm.

By the way, the reason the management deserved sacking will be obvious to cyclists. We had just spent over two days getting high in the mountains. No cyclists in their right minds would do the climb and descend by train. The management should never have put us in this ludicrous position.

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