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

16th to 22nd December 2007
2nd Cycling Week Castellaneta to Oria

Our Italian Christmas Star

Days 18 and 19 Sunday and Monday 16th and 17th December Castellaneta Marina to Taranto

We were very grateful indeed to arrive at this roadside hotel and had a very pleasant dinner. We had planned to move on but when we awoke it was snowing hard. This came as a surprise because we are now at sea level. Moving on seemed silly so we settled in for the day.

We are going to sound thoroughly ungrateful. We needed this place last night but now we are looking at comfort. Like many things in Italy function comes after form. This four star hotel looks nice from the outside. Unfortunately only one or two of its four stars work. Food is not bad but the room is cold with only a dribble of hot water and no comfortable public rooms. The swimming pool.....

The management took to planning the escape route using the gps. The gps is new following our recent burglary and has the latest software. With nothing better to do the management pressed a few buttons. Up came every hotel in the area. He could show them on the map and even display the phone numbers and addresses. With another press of the button Garmin will take you there though the stoker is very doubtful about Garmin’s ability to pedal.

Last night with a couple of button presses we could have been rolling into a warm hotel. Garmin says there is one less than 5km away from where the chain broke.

Having spent Sunday catching up on emails and sending to the web site, on Monday we were keen to be on the move. Waking late we raised the blinds to continuous rain with no wind to move it on. We were however unanimous about the need to escape.

As you would expect our bags are very good. Even so careful packing is required to ensure no wet can get in. Clothing is another matter. The Scandinavians say that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. They are wrong, there is no clothing which will keep you completely dry and still allow pedalling. We knew we would get wet to a greater or lesser extent.

At first it was fun going through the deep puddles. Road drainage here is not up to much. It did not feel particularly cold and it was great to be going. The management was even heard to sing.

We had planned a route on minor roads directed by Garmin. All went well and we were not directed to do any u turns. The novelty of the rain, which continued without let up, did wear off and we both felt cold.

Unfortunately no one told Garmin that the Italians had let our road collapse and closed it. We investigated but there was no way through, even for us who usually ignore ‘road closed’ signs in any language. We did a rapid 5kms on one of those nasty narrow A roads before finding a quiet alternative.

With cameras packed to keep them dry the big impassable holes in the road could not be photographed and neither could the superb rainbow. When the rain finally slowed we had one of the brightest coloured rainbows we have ever seen. It made a perfect half circle and had a secondary rainbow above it.

Reaching Taranto requires breaking through the stinking industrial outskirts. It is apparently a major steel works but there also seems to be an oil refinery. We did this as quickly as we could on the dual carriageway. The management was unable to find a minor route into the ancient old town.

 We saw this bird on a shallow lagoon near the sea. Can anyone identify it?

Day 20 Tuesday 18th December in Taranto

All human life is here. Our hotel is in the centre of modern downtown. Turn right out of the door and we could shop till we drop. That is if we could carry anything. Turn left and we have beggars, Africans selling lighters and wild dogs.

After breakfast we have a mission, buying a new chain. The Italians, lovely people, don’t seem to have the right genes to give directions. Waving arms in the air and generally pointing is not helpful when one is trying to find a bike shop. The management sussed it. He got hold of yellow pages and keyed the address into his wonderful new gps program.

The bike shop man was lovely. He had a drool cabinet but only one upmarket chain. His main job after all is to mend working bikes. Due to being a long vehicle we need two chains preferably the same, so we bought two cheapos. After all the management can still remember how to join them the old fashioned way. He also doubts whether painting them gold or silver makes them any stronger. We left shaking hands, British men don’t kiss.

Yesterday’s rain had done for the stoker’s beloved and allegedly waterproof SmartyPants. The town was full of fashionable clothes, handbag and shoe shops but nowhere to buy walking gear which would be the most likely place to find a replacement.

Taranto is at the narrow entrance to an estuary. The inside bit is called the Mare Piccolo. Right across the entrance is an island and on this island is the old town. It is absolutely wonderful. Street after street of decaying houses with washing hanging out. Kids playing football. Couples getting married. Cars getting stuck and mopeds and bikes noisily scraping by. There is even a posh bit where wifi works. The rough guide calls it ballsy and we agree. We left just before dark.

Day 21 Wednesday 19th December Taranto to S.Pietro in Bevagna

It is nice to be on the move again and pedalling out of town. It was busy to start with. We are beginning to work out the Italian drivers and as far as we can see there is no more harm in them than drivers anywhere.

The first part of the ride was through suburbs and the presence of the Italian navy is obvious. If you have to have armies the navy seems to have some advantages. At least they have to be clever enough to drive ships. Also spending time driving ships and challenging the sea has to limit the destruction they can cause.

Once out of the suburbs we were on an almost deserted coast road. This area is low lying and it was easy cycling. The contrast with coastal areas of Spain and France is striking. There is no high rise and what development there is is rather run down. The villas are in the main small and the closed tourist places tiny. It was cold today and we guess the summer here is very hot indeed. We suppose that means that only locals come here.

Using the gps database we found Hotel Charlie. The central heating was off but we built up an immediate rapport with the landlady who welcomed us by getting the gas heater to work. We were the only guests to dinner but our individually cooked meal was not only nice but we were given even more than hungry cyclists should normally eat.

Day 22 Thursday 20th December S.Pietro in Bevagna to Gallipoli

As promised by Janet who sends us regular weather forecasts it dawned a lovely sunny day. We were in a leisurely mood and back on the almost deserted coast road.

As we cycled further south the houses became smarter and the beaches more private. Navigation by Garmin is working fine though we are glad he can’t talk. The squeaking bleeps are bad enough when the management decides to go his own way.

In this low lying area there are several small lakes just inland of the beach. They vaguely resemble mini versions of the Fleet. Venturing on the seaward side of one of these gave us a little off road on a track and the sighting of a strange stork like bird.

It was quite a surprise after seeing so few people about to come into the beautiful little town of Porto Cesareo and find it packed. It was market day and the whole noisy world was here. We immediately planned to visit again and the stoker enquired at the quayside hotel.

As we neared Gallipoli the flat land gave way to very minor bumps. We enjoyed our picnic lunch high above the sea by a closed café. The whole area here is full of trulli houses. These are the original stone dwellings, round in shape and constructed to be warm in winter and cool in summer. In this area they are mainly ruins but some have been incorporated into houses.

We arrived just before dark having again enjoyed an easy cycling day.

These three wheeled trucks are everywhere

Day 23 Friday 21st December Gallipoli to Porto Cesareo

Another lovely sunny day and we spent the morning exploring Gallipoli. The town is on a peninsular and we were staying in the new town. We walked through the main shopping street to an island at the end on which the old town is built.

At this time of the year it is not touristy. There were fishermen mending nets and kids playing football. We walked along the town walls on the sunny side before cutting back through the town centre.

It is not nearly as run down as Taranto old town. There are pleasant shops and most of the ancient houses are in good repair. There were lots of children about and Christmas excitement was in the air.

We set off north up the coast at around midday. It would have been a retrace of yesterday except that the management kept putting in twiddly bits. Most off these were on the less well maintained roads and the stoker voiced some mild objections.

We took our picnic lunch at the same deserted café as yesterday and pedalled on to Porto Cesareo. This is a really lovely spot and we were in the nicest room in the best hotel beside the sea. We watched the sun quickly disappear into the sea before going to dinner. The stoker was, as is often the case here, the only woman in the dining room. She tried to find out how the wives of the groups of men eating spent their evening but without success.

Day 24 Saturday 22nd December Porto Cesareo to Oria

When we awoke the sun was just creeping onto the balcony. Below were groups of pensioners welcoming the returning fishing boats. Several had arrived on decrepid old bikes going so slowly it was hard to see how they stayed upright. It is hard to believe that we are in the homeland of Pantani and Campagnolo.

Porto Cesareo is by a shallow lagoon with a narrow entrance to the sea. This morning the reflection on the still water and the relaxed atmosphere made it difficult to leave. When we did get underway we headed north along the coast before heading inland.

On the map we came across the most unusual, absolutely circular road layout. It turned out to be a proving track for cars and tandems were not permitted. Actually the tandem does not think it needs proving. We did however wonder whether our nephew Gavin has spent any time here as he does that sort of thing for a living.

The land around here looks fertile and is Holland flat. Most of the crop is olives and there are lots of men about bringing in the harvest. They each seem to have the tiny ubiquitous three wheeled trucks used here for every task.

As we neared Oria it was getting on to siesta time. The road was abuzz with these little trucks returning from the fields. Many towed a machine that had helped with the harvest and most had containers of olives in the back. They are in stark contrast to the huge machines used by Dorset farmers to bring in the harvest. They hardly go much faster than we do and the management did think of hanging on for a lift. He was only put off by the prospect of bring the poor little things to a complete standstill.

Oria is built on the only hill we had seen all day. We met Wanda at the Kenya café in the main plaza as agreed. We were guided onwards through the gates of the old town on foot to our Christmas house. Here the streets are cobbled and many are too narrow for cars. We were soon settled in for our Christmas holiday.

Home      Route and Navigation      Voyage Out 1      Voyage Out 2      Week 1      Week 2     
Week 3      Week 4      Week 5      Week 6      Week 7      Week 8      Week 9      Week 10     
Week 11      Return Voyage      Cargo Ship Travel      Stoker’s Leg      Bike and Gear      Transporting Bikes      Photos      Links and Downloads