Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Mantua to Pagnano

It's been raining off and on most of the day so I thought I might as well do another blog post.

Getting on with it

The journey from Mantua to our accommodation here in Pagnano was fairly unremarkable except for one thing: our stop off in the gorgeous fortified town of Citadella. We didn't know anything about this little gem of a medieval village but were due for a coffee stop when it presented itself. Here's a glimpse of its ancient walls ...

After a coffee and a little wander we made our way back to the car, passing this great sculpture just inside one of the four gates ...

What's going on here?
What a treat it was to stumble across this charming city, whose walls date back to the 13th century. It was pretty quiet, not swarming with tourists and seemed to function like a regular sort of town with locals going about their business.

We are in northeastern Italy, where we spending a week just on the edge of the Dolomites, before heading a little further south for another week before joining our bike tour. It was a short drive from Mantua. Here's what the journey looks like on the map ...

Mantua to Pagnano via Citadella

And here's an overview of where we are at ...

Hello out there ...

Settling in and getting oriented

Thankfully we found our accommodation relatively easily. We've got a cosy little apartment, which is part of a large family home in the countryside. We're up at the end of a very narrow laneway. Woods and fields surround us. Cow bells sound softly from time to time in the background. It's clear why the Cuckoo Clock was invented in this part of the world: each morning we are woken with the distinctive sound of cuckoos calling
Putting the bikes together was a little bit fraught at first. The rear dropouts had become disengaged from their moorings in transit and I was a little worried that the rear derailleur hanger might have become damaged. Although I've brought a spare, it's not something I wanted to replace first thing on our journey! As it turned out, everything was sweet with both bikes. We probably could have set out for a short ride but decided to get some shopping done, chill out a bit and have our first ride in the morning.

And now we ride!

It was with a great deal of excitement that we mounted our bikes for our first ride the day before yesterday. I'd researched riding in the area and found some routes that looked good. After a bit of faffing around trying to work out how to get on the first route we'd chosen we found ourselves rolling along through wonderful countryside surrounded by grape vines. We are in Prosecco country and it's clear why this wine is readily available around the world: there seem to be vines everywhere, and they are well advanced with the grapes already starting to form.

Vines near Montebelluna
Our ride took us up over two nice hills. Here's an image showing the route with elevation profile:

Montebelluna loop
 And here's a photo of Di coming up to the top of the first hill. She's wearing a big grin because she beat the guy behind her up the climb!

Nona Batten blazes to the top of Montebelluna
Just along a little way is this attractive edifice ...

A shrine of some sort?
Down the other side of the hill we found a good little cafe for a short stop. Here's Di checking Strava to see what friends back home and abroad have been up to on their bikes ...

Who's been doing what, Di?
This part of our route was festooned with all things pink: the Giro d'Italia had passed through a couple of days ago ...

There was pink everywhere
After another good climb over a range of hills we dropped down the very twisty other side at a restrained pace. We were rolling moderately along the flats when a group of professional women cyclists in their team kit came streaming by with a bunch of blokes in tow behind. We jumped on the back and enjoyed an exhilarating ride for somewhere between five and ten kilometres before the team car came by and the ladies accelerated to get on the back of it. Only a few of the blokes  - all younger than us by a considerable margin! - were able to go with them. 

From there we rolled home easily. When we paused momentarily not far from home Di took this photo of me ..

More vines in the background - with roses on the end of the rows

A day to remember: ticking off an objective and avoiding disaster

When we got the itinerary for the bike tour we're joining at the end of next week, we started to check out some of the significant stages. The third day of the tour rides up into the Dolomites via the famous Passo San Boldo, which Dianne and I were scheduled to descend when we rode from London to Rome back in 2016. That descent was aborted because of the thunderstorms forecast for the day. When we saw that we were quite close by, we thought it would be great to ride down the pass. I found a route on Strava that would work well for us. It looks like this:

Pagnano Passo San Boldo loop
We'd planned a nice early start but I had a little glitch with an inner tube that set us back. Once we got on the road - still fairly early - we found ourselves pedalling into a cool, light headwind with the odd stronger gust. At 26 kilometres we found a cafe that looked like a good place for our first coffee of the day. A great choice: the best coffee we've had since being in Italy and a tasty little pastry to go with it:

Just the tonic after an hour of slogging into a cool wind

Not only was it the best coffee so far, the price was right too: only 4 Euros for two beverages and a couple of chocolate cream-filled pastries.

Back on the bikes and recharged, it didn't seem much longer before we were heading east towards the pass. But before we did, the real mountains appeared to our north. Here's one of the first glimpses we got ...

The Dolomites come into view
We will be riding up into those mountains in just on two weeks!

It was good to turn up towards the pass. I paused and looked back over my shoulder just a little way into the climb and took another photo back across the valley below towards the mountains ...

Another view of the Dolomites in the distance
  After mostly up and a bit of down and some more up this understated sign eventually appeared ...

Here we are then ...
I waited at the very quiet summit, where the tourist season has obviously not yet started ...

No coffees to be had here!
Before very long Di arrived ...

Here she is! 😀
We ate half a banana each, had a drink and set off for the start of the tunnels. When we arrived at the entrance to the first tunnel the lights were red ...

It's important for cyclists to obey the traffic signals! 🤓
We headed off together, but I got a bit ahead. For some reason I still can't work out, Di decided it would be a good idea to stop for a photo between a couple of the tunnels. She did get an interesting shot looking down at the next one ...

You can see how steeply the tunnels descend
... but almost with catastrophic consequences. While she was stopped the upwards lights turned green and she encountered a couple of upcoming cars just as she was exiting the last tunnel. She managed to avoid a head-on collision but grated her arm on the rough wall of the tunnel. The great thing is that she managed to stay upright. I'll take that as evidence that her bike handling skills continue to improve.

Of course, I did not know any of this until she caught up with me at the bottom of the hill sometime later. (There is a video that I put together of the descent through the tunnels and down the hill that you can access here if you're interested. And yes: the action has been sped up somewhat.) Di was still a little shaken up when she arrived, so we proceeded sedately to the first cafe we could find.

After a sugar and coffee hit followed by some real nutrition we both felt better. Riding on, I remembered a palatial residence we'd passed the day before when we'd scouted the route. This is it ...

Quite the retreat

Here's another view with a little architectural ornamentation at the gate ...

Just oozing with style and grace

There was some sort of temple just back along the road that Di had taken a picture of while I was photographing the country house ...

Grandeur left, right and centre
She had a little sit down to enjoy the ambience and sunshine ...

Two classic heroes share a moment 😉

... before we got back on the bikes for the final 20 kilometres back to our apartment. A little wound cleaning and a shower followed by a beer and a good feed and her grace was back to her best. Which is a good thing. We've another grand adventure planned for tomorrow!

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Falling in love with Mantua

Why Mantua?

After touching down in Milan yesterday Dianne and I drove about two hours east to our first real destination of this trip. We'd decided on Mantua when we saw it is about halfway to Asolo in the foothills of the Dolomites, where we're going to spend a week in rented accommodation. We recognised the name of the town because we are both Shakespeare fans. Mantua is where Romeo is banished to after killing Tybalt. We did a bit of research and discovered that the town is quite historical and not too big, so it seemed perfect for us. Also, in 2016 Mantua was named the Italian Capital of Culture so it has a pretty good pedigree.

We've spent a few hours today walking around the largely cobbled streets close to our hotel in the old part of town. We've admired the architecture and appreciated the moderate pace of life that seems to exist here. One of our stops was Piazza Sordello, which was built in 1330. There were masses of high school students wandering around with their teachers, which suggested to us that perhaps they might have come from a school somewhere in the outer suburbs for a day of history and culture.

As we wandered, Dianne and I took a bunch of fairly random photos to illustrate our walk. There was no real rhyme or reason about them: we just wanted to impart a feel for the place. Here they are in no particular order ...



Basilica Santa Barnaba

Classic and stylish

Piazza Sordello grandeur

Gorgeous old style bike

The cobbles of Piazza Sordello

Another beautiful piazza adjacent to Piazza Sordello

Statue in a public garden

Attractive architectural features

Interesting installation

A river runs through

Piazza Sordello

Cool boulevard

Door knocker

Later in the day ...

... we wandered around the immediate area, including a stroll around the Ducal Palace, which is a very extensive and impressive group of interconnected buildings. Quite something, really. The facade of the palace is on Piazza Sordello ...

... and the back side faces out onto the lake and is seen in the foreground of the image that opens this post. Quite the place, actually. As you'd expect, there is a moat. You certainly wouldn't want to fall in, Although we saw fish swimming in it - probably carp - by the look of the water you'd come out with serious health issues. It looked pretty darn murky, with lots of the sort of nutrients you wouldn't want to ingest.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Being Part of Something Bigger

Protecting kunanyi

One of kunanyi's many marvellous moods
Today was May Day for magnificent kunanyi/Mt Wellington. A rally was held to protect the mountain from the odious spectre of a cable car construction on its southeast face. Adrian Bold, a would-be developer, entrenched in the power structure of southern Tasmania and crony of a number of Liberal Parliamentarians, has been spruiking his plans for a cable car on the mountain for a number of years.

Unfortunately, at present, due political process in Tasmania is no more than a rumour, a mere chimera. The current Liberal government has pushed through legislation compulsorily acquiring land to allow Adrian Bold to site the top terminus for his development between the Organ Pipes and the top of the mountain.

Mr Bold wants to destroy this wonderful vista ...

kunanyi under snow

... merely to line his own pockets.

The good news is that there were thousands at the Cascade Gardens on this cool autumn day in solidarity with Tasmania's Aboriginal community, who are strongly against the construction of a cable car.

The mood was buoyant ...

Speakers who addressed the masses include, in order of appearance, new-wave Hobart Councillor Anna Reynolds, Member of the House of Representatives Andrew Wilkie, conservation messiah Bob Brown and Man Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan (Flan the Man!).
Check out some of what Brown and Flanagan had to say.

Kunanyi is a such a wonderful place, situated as it is on Hobart's doorstep. The half of Tasmania's population who can view kunanyi from their homes feel connected to her and find her presence infinitely comforting. They refer to her simply as "the mountain". She's there and we love her.

Another gorgeous vista that would be lost to a cable car

Home to hikers, climbers, mountain bikers. Not to mention black cockatoos, currawongs, pademelons and possums. It's special and truly unique. Many of us think it exemplifies what increasingly brings visitors to Tasmania: unspoilt nature. Let's work together to keep it that way.