Category Archives: Italy

Days 48 -54 – to Milano and the Italian Lakes

Arriving at around 9am at Bari left us some time to explore the city a little before catching our train to Milan due to depart at 12.45. Having stopped to enjoy some coffee and fruit juice, we meandered around the old town exploring its narrow streets,  cool in the hot morning sunshine for a little while. We were struck by the profusion of little shrines lovingly decorated and dedicated  to a variety of saints related to the area.

Heading slowly into the newer parts of the city which grew up nearer the station we were struck by the handsome wide boulevards lined by palm trees, giving welcome shade in the heat.

On our way we looked out for fruit & veg shops and ‘alimentari’to buy provisions for our long train journey to Milan, covering almost the entire length of Italy. A journey that was to take around 9 hours!

We reached Milan in the evening but in time to check in to our airbnb host, Stephania, who welcomed us to her beautifully presented home around 30 minutes walk from Milano Centrale station.

A little time in Milan then up to Lago di Como

For a long time I have wanted to see some innovative buildings in Milan called ‘Il Bosco Verticale’ (vertical forest) situated a short distance from Porta Garibaldi station. Since our train to Como departed from that same station it was an ideal time for an explore.

These two blocks of flats, completed in 2014 were designed as a template for sustainable high density city living. Their defining feature were a series of balconies on each floor especially strengthened to take the weight of fully grown trees. These are watered by an irrigation  system utilising rainwater collected in huge undergound tanks. Solar pv panels supply power to the buildings and at the base of each building a large secure compound for bicycles of those living in the building.

The trees not only have a significant cooling effect on the apartments in the building, but they have been found to significantly improve air quality in the immediate surroundings. As reported in a number of archtectural publications, the residents love living there. You can read further about the buildings from this link to the RIBA international awards website

The whole area is very attractive with lots of trees and specially planted areas managed as wildflower meadows.

Not far from this oasis of greenery was the amazing area around the Garibaldi station which is also worth exploring, including an artwork installation that incorporated trumpets and corresponding listening tubes installed down the sides of an atrium area going down some 5 floors. We first saw this on a previous trip in 2009 when we passed through Garibaldi station so we were able to say hello again.

Also there, was the first ever “Eataly” store to be set up, featuring a huge variety of  the glorious food available from Italy over three floors. This now international chain celebrates all the best ‘slow food’ that Italy has to offer and apparently there is now a branch in London.

Catching one of the many local trains running to Como was very simple, especially since the TrenItalia app we use generated virtual tickets to use on the train on our mobile phone.

However, Abi & Guy had located a campsite for their mobile home at Dongo some 30km up the lake from Como itself, so we needed to catch a bus to get there. Normally this would be no problem since on weekdays there is an hourly service and frequent ferry boats ply up and down the lake.

We discovered that the online ticket site for the lake ferryboats  had sold out on tickets for the day, so a bus it had to be. We then discovered on Sundays that the bus frequency drops down to one bus every 2 hours. And there were an awful lot of people who were gathered in a melée outside the station.

Once the bus arrived there was a real scrum to board, but Molly’s crowd-weaving skills came to the fore and she managed to get in to the bus to claim our two seats. Being a little less assertive I was some way behind in the crowd, but just managed to climb aboard before the last few standing places were taken.

I pitied the poor bus driver who had to manage all of this as well as turning a bit of a blind eye to the supposed maximum capacity of the bus. Off we went, passing lots of frustrated potential passengers as the bus whizzed by,  filled to the gunwales and unable to squeeze anybody else in.

A few days on the shore of Lago di Como and Lago d’Orta

We arrived at Dongo approximately on schedule and got off at the road that led to the campsite where Abi and Guy had booked 3 days with their motorhome. The campsite led directly into the Lake Como and it was lovely to be able to swim in the clear water of the lake, being able to float and gaze upon the mountains surrounding the lake.

Lake Como has a reputation of beauty and it didn’t disappoint. One can understand why it is such a tourist honeypot. Fortunately, this time of year was not considered high season and it didn’t seem over crowded at all.

Abi and Guy had a paddleboard with them, packed away in the ‘garage’ of their motorhome. Once inflated, it meant we could all enjoy the sensation of precariously balancing on a floating platform whilst paddling on the lake. Abi and Guy had both acquired the skills so were quite proficient at stand up paddling, but I never got above paddling whilst kneeling. Molly, after a few practices learnt how to stand whilst paddling without falling off!

Patriotic bales of forage near our campsite

We had a lovely two days at Dongo, before  moving on to another lake  not far away, that had been recommended to us by friends of Liz (from Rezzo) whom we stayed with a few weeks before.

Lago d’Orta is smaller than Como, and is much less well known, although arguably more attractive. We stayed at Petanasco, a small village approximately half way along the lake to spend a couple more enjoyable days exploring the area.

Orta, nearby, is a beautiful old town, situated on an isthmus jutting, thumblike into the lake. It is also the major terminus for the various ferryboat routes that serve the towns and villages up and down the lake. We spent a happy day exploring its old narrow streets and walking up to the top of the hill that lay behind and above the town.

We also managed to take advantage of the ferryboat that serves Orta, as well as calling in to Isiola San Giulio a tiny island that boasts a nunnery, a school a few homes and a small souvenir shop all linked by a single street that circles the island.

After three relaxing days at Lago d’Orta it was time to head off northwards and make our way in the motorhome northwards through Switzerland and to France.

Days 36 and 37 – To Ancona, and then to Albania

It was a very early start to catch the 6.30am Regionale train from Albenga to Genova… it arrived bang on time which enabled us to catch the Intercity to Milano Centrale which then connected with the speedy ‘Freccerosso’ to Ancona, the ferry port for Durres in Albania and other destinations.

We thought we would walk the 3km to the port from the station, since we had arrived in plenty of time for check in for the ferry, rather than find a tabachi to buy local bus tickets.

We arrived at the ferry terminal ok….. but we found out that the check-in place was back 2km almost where we had come from! Fortunately we discovered that there was a free shuttle bus that ran every 15  mins between the check- in, the port terminal and the station! Frustratingly, there was nowhere on ticketing, or email confirmations that gave any indications as to the separation of check-in, passports and boarding.

Ferry ready and waiting to take us to Albania

Having checked in, passports duly checked and stamped to say we were leaving the EU we then boarded our  ferry to Durres, one of the port cities in Albania.

We had booked a cabin for the overnight journey to Durres, so that we would arrive rested to deal with a new country , new language and different ways of doing things.

Leaving Ancona

We sailed on time for a smooth crossing of the Adriatic Sea saying farewell to Ancona and temporarily to Italy.

On board, the majority of foot passengers were Albanian, who knew the score about occupying potential sleeping areas in the saloons with bags, airbeds…even a mattress! The other foot/cycle passengers were a mixture of nationalities, including Dutch, Swiss, British and German – there was apparently, another couple who had a tandem with them, although we never met them! All were puzzled by the fact we had cycle panniers with us, but no cycle!

Durres Port

At 8am the next morning, after a good sleep, we had our first sight of Albania, a sunny Durres Port.

Disembarcation was straightforward and soon we were outside the terminal to be greeted by a barrage of friendly, but insistent taxi drivers. “Where are you from?”, “where do you want to go”, “I can give you a good price”.

We were focussed, however on three main things to start with:

1) to purchase an Albanian data sim card for our stay to avoid steep roaming charges out of the EU so that we could continue to blog, use maps and send emails and messages

2) to get some Lek, the local currency, from a “Bancomat”

3) to find a market to buy our lunch.

Having achieved all 3 things we then found a convenient bar to have a coffee and fruit juice, to get the Sim card set up, and then decide where to spend the first night in Albania.

We decided to go to Berat, to the South of the country, since it had been recommended as one of the “must visits” of Albania, known for its unique Ottoman era houses, it’s imposing Ottoman  castle and its scenic setting.

But how to get there! There was a sort of bus terminal near the port entrance with many coaches and minibuses each with signs in their windows giving their destinations.. but not Berat!.

Eventually we managed to find out that the bus system in Albania operates on the basis of bus hubs at various points on the outskirts, each one specialising in the routes related to its geographic position. You reach these bus hubs, often located anything up to 5km away from the centre, by a local bus.. 40 Lek…. equivalent to approx 35p, so not expensive.

At the end of the route there we saw the bus stands.. and a minibus with a sign “Berat”. On we got, with the ‘furgon’ only half full. I had read that longer distance transport in Albania doesn’t operate to a timetable.. Buses only leave when full!

Fortunately it wasn’t long before a group of young Dutch people turned up, and with plank seats fitted across the aisle of the minibus we set off.

Whilst travelling to Berat we had a look at what Airbnb could offer for a 2 night stay, making use of our newly aquired Albanian Sim card.

Came up trumps… a room in a family home in the Ottoman era old quarter was available at a very reasonable price. So we booked it for two nights ready for our arrival.

The way to find our accommodation,once we had arrived in Berat, was surprisingly easy, especially when you consider the Ottoman old quarter was a maze of narrow alleyways and cobbled streets.

We were greeted by our Albanian host who spoke no English but some Italian, as well as, of course , Albanian. Nevertheless, as one usually does, we were able to communicate the necessay details of where everything was in her home, and we soon got sorted out. Our room was beautufully presented and had a fabulous view of tye river and town through Ottoman style corner windows.

Days 34 and 35 – two days near the Maritime Alps

We arrived at Albenga just a few minutes later than scheduled to be met by Liz, Molly’s friend from training days all those years ago.

After doing a grocery shop for our stay we wended our way up tiny twisty roads in Liz’s and Shane’s Landrover to arrive at Rezzo, their home for the past 15 years or so.

Once installed in a nice little apartment that Liz had booked for us just down the attractive stone-paved street from where they were living we started to drink in the peace and the fabulous views down the valley, with little hamlets dotted about the wooded hillsides with church steeples here and there.

Because Liz and Shane have lived in the village for such a long time they knew a good percentage of the regular population, as well as the ‘swallows’ who typically live and work on the coast, but own a holiday property in the village.

It also meant they knew most of the tracks and footpaths in the vicinity for rural hill walking.

On our first day Liz drove us to a start point high up in the foothills for a superb upland walk she knew.

On the way we stopped to admire some secret rocky pools fed by the stream running down the mountainside which, in warm summer weather, provided a great cooling wild swimming spot.   Too chilly today with temperatures only around 17 or 18!

We started our mountain walk up to a local peak that had a magnificent panoramic view right across the Maritime Alps and down to the Mediterranean sea some 35km away.

On the way we passed a profusion of wildflowers and in the distance heard the tinkling sound of sheep bells on sheep grazing on distant hillsides. Lovely!

On the second day Liz took us on a lovely peaceful circular walk down the valley following the stream to another of their favourite rock pools. Passing ancient stone bridges crossing the river from time to time we then walked up on the other side of the valley up to Rezzo again.

Shane, meanwhile, was working hard on the refurbishment/rebuilding of a traditional stone built house which, in due course was to be their new home.

To finish off our stay we had been invited to a barbeque held by some good friends down the valley.

We spent a very sociable evening with them on their patio under the branches of some very old kiwi fruit trees. We had interesting conversations running far and wide, accompanied by delicious food and wine – and I even finished off the meal with a small helping of some rather pleasant  grappa!

An early bedtime ready for our 5.30am start to catch our train from Albenga meant we didn’t stay too late!

Days 32 and 33 – two days in Torino

Catching the direct FrecceRosso train to Torino was straightforward, and the helpful TrenItalia app on which I had purchased and stored the tickets showed the appropriate train number and platform to head for.

For those readers who are cyclists, you may be wondering how we managed our luggage for our onward journey. Our two larger rear panniers had a special backpack attachment so that they could easily be used as small rucksacks…. and our two small front panniers had an easily attached shoulder strap for ease of carrying.

Our arrival in Torino coincided with lunchtime, so we headed for a convenient park near the Porta Sousa station to enjoy our picnic in the sun.

We then were able to check in with our airbnb hosts at their flat to sort ourselves out and plan how we were best going to use our time in Torino. This included purchasing a €4 euro daily travel card at a nearby  ‘tabacchi’ for bus, metro and tram.

Our hosts were lovely and gave us some good advice about where to go and what to look at.

We had a lovely riverside walk down the Po, not far from our apartment, and there we encountered a recreation of a rural medieval village that had been built as an educational and tourist resource. Although it was a 19th century construction it was nevertheless quite atmospheric.

Afterwards we walked up to a good vantage point at a museum up one of the hills overlooking the city as suggested by our airbnb hosts.

Walking back down, we headed for the striking building that is now the Turin photographic and film museum ‘Il Mole   Antonelliana’.

Bizarrely, it was originally conceived as a synagogue when building commenced in 1863 but just 70 years later it was acquired by the city and used as the ‘Museo di Risorgimento’ telling the story of the creation of the Modern Italian state . In the early 2000’s it was refurbished again and then turned into the Museum of Cinema and Photography.

We then headed off to the Central Makets to buy our lunch provsions. Our objective was a to buy a large tomato, some cheese and possibly some fruit.

Little did we know that the traders  expected you to buy somewhat larger quantities than we wanted. So, we ended up with 2 smallish cucumbers for €1 (starting off with 4!), 2 bunches of spring onions for 50 cents (starting off at 4 bunches), 4 tomatoes for €1.50 (starting off with 1kg!) and 500g of strawberies for €2 and half a local cheese (we wanted just 200g and got 500g!) for just €4.50. Amazing prices for such good quality fresh produce but it produced a bit of a logistical challenge for carrying.

Then off to the Roman Gardens, with some of the remains of structures from Roman times still visible to have our lunch in the shade. Molly then had to travel back to the apartment to deliver her workshop (arranged whilst we were on the ferry to Bilbao!). Meanwhile I went to the Museo di Risorgimento, now housed in another grand building not far from the Royal Palace.

After delivering her workshop we arranged to meet at the Royal Palace, a very grand collection of buildings that are perhaps the Crown Jewels of Turin. It included the Royal Palace buildings, chapel of the Shroud of Turin as well as the Armoury and some very pleasant gardens to the rear. Although it was closing at 7pm and we thought that it may just be worth the €15 entrance fee from 5.45pm.

Well, one could call the Royal  Palace the Palace of Bling, since there were huge amounts of ornate gold gilded woodwork and plaster, tapestries and huge paintings in a long series of galleries and rooms. We walked swiftly through the Armoury with its large and historic  collection of suits of armour for horses and humans, together with early examples of pistols, muskets and rifles and then to the Chapel. The Chapel of the shroud was fabulous and well worth the visit… and then we were able to briefly explore the formal gardens before the sirens were sounded, announcing closing time.

Once out of the Palace complex we bimbled through the streets and came upon a straightforward pizza restaurant, that was, fortunately, able to oblige with a delicious gluten free pizza for me and a splendid gluten full version for Molly.  After the complimentary Limoncello we then just had to find a gelateria to finish the meal off in true Italian style!

Tomorrow, onwards to Liguria by train, to visit Molly’s friends Liz and Shane who live in a lovely little village called Rezzo some 650mtrs up above sea level, nestling attractively amongst the hills and forests of the Maritime Alps.

The Journey home from Taranto

Well – having spent a few days in Taranto we finally headed for home in the UK.

Our tandem conveniently dismantles and can be packed into two bags which can bre considered as luggage for rail journeys. We loaded our tandem (in bags) plus panniers and assorted other bags which were attached to our tandem  onto the direct train to Milan from Taranto. We travelled all the way up the Eastern coast of Italy to reach Milan in time to catch the night train to Munich.

From Munich we travelled by train to Cologne to meet up with Brian Jones, Diana’s brother-in-law who lives in the Netherlands. At Cologne we timed our rendevous so precisely that when we emerged from Cologne station Brian had just parked his mini (!) in the drop off car park outside the station.

After about 15 minutes’ jigsaw puzzling we all fitted in plus our tandem and luggage and travelled  to the Netherlands. 13912338_10210103763215775_6241334538256762620_n

A couple of days later we followed motorways in the mini (loaded to capacity) through Belgium to reach Calais to catch the ferry to Dover.

Reaching Chester in late afternoon we unpacked the car and set everything out to marvel how much we had fitted in! 13920721_10210103772416005_3380521615732523205_n

After 4 1/2 months travelling we were home again and reflecting on what a fantastic experience we both had.

We intend to update various parts of this website to show the equipment we used and also some usefu information to anyone who may be reading our blog who may be considering something similar, with tandem or solo bike. Hopefully the Christmas holiday will give us the time!

Thank you for following us and reading our blogs – we hope you enjoyed the journey as much as we have done!

A couple of days in Taranto

06/08/16 to 09/08/16

20160806_145759_001We have spent time in Taranto, much of which is quite run down. It has several museums and a  castle. The Ethnographic Museum and Castle had free guides to show us round, but as it was all in Italian we struggled to understand much of what was clearly very interesting.

We used the train to get out to see the trullie houses in Alberobello and Locorotondo, at least that was the plan. But the journey to Alberobello took four and a half hours, it’s a long explanation ….. replacement bus was involved! So the time we had was limited and we just saw Alberobello.20160809_151322

Santa Maria de Leuca to Taranto

4/8/16 – 6/8/16

Following the coast from Santa Maria de Leuca northwards towards Taranto where we will be catching our train to Milano in northern Italy we passed the holiday coast of Puglia in high season…… very few foreign tourists apart from a few Swiss and Belgian  families but packed out with Italian families.

Our campsites in Gallipoli and Porta Pirrone were both extremely busy, but fortunately had plenty of camping spaces under the shade of pine trees….. however the ground was really hard requiring the use of gathered stones to hold our tent vaguely into shape….. luckily there was very little wind! Ants proved a problem though, and we discovered that they had nibbled lots of small holes in our footprint groundsheet and living area groundsheet!

The coastline was low lying with lots of long sandy beaches full of bathers and sun worshippers. The roads were busy with cars going to or from the beach. We saw quite a bit of creative parking as we peddled past.

20160804_162955Our stop at Gallipoli gave us the opportunity to explore this historic town.

We looked round the extensive   “Arroganaise” Castle and some interesting small museums telling about the production of lamp oil from pressed olives in underground workshops which had been carved out from the stone underneath the city to provide the constant temperatures required for the process. The introduction of petroleum oils in the mid 19th century put paid to what was a source of considerable wealth to Gallipoli….20160804_102734

Our last night under canvas was at Porta Pirrone, just 12km from Taranto…. we had planned to camp a bit further from Taranto but the campsite marked on the electronic map appeared not to exist….

We celebrated our last night camping by cooking our supper beside the sea which was just outside the campsite.20160806_200527


Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca


20160731_113322We managed to make a reasonably early start, for us, at 9.30 and headed south. Initially taking an inland route, but soon turning towards the sea and following the coast road. This was beautiful with many gorgeous views. The road undulated through a rocky limestone landscape but we never went higher than about 120 metres. However we dropped down and climbed up again several times which, in the heat, made for sweaty progress.

An olive grove made a good stopping point for lunch in the shade with a wonderful view along the coast.20160731_154010

On getting to Santa Maria di Leuca, we followed the road, down hill, into the town. Finding the tourist information office closed, it is Sunday…. so restocking with cold water, we then headed out of town towards the campsite we have found on the map. This was again up hill and at the end of the day we were both tired, hot and sweaty ….and we also had a head wind.

The campsite is a busy site, with almost all Italian families. Tent pitched we discovered the site has a restaurant and shop. The latter selling cold beer, so once again it was beer o’clock!.

20160801_163049We stayed a couple of nights to explore the area and took advantage of a boat trip round the coast to explore the caves both on the Adriatic and Ionian sides of the peninsula.20160801_182657


Lecce to Otranto

26th to 30th July

The road to Otranto from Lecce followed two very straight roads via Martano. We stopped in Martano for coffee and to have a little look around. Initially it seemed an ordinary town, then we turned into the historic area.  A small, but perfect network of narrow streets. Again balconies, doors and carvings abound.20160727_125418

Onwards to Otranto and we arrived at a campsite during the siesta, so nothing was going to happen in a hurry! This gave us time to look at the price list and we decided that €28.50 per night for the two of us in a small tent, plus tokens required for a hot shower, was expensive. So we peddled on and found another site, some 5k outside Otranto on an ‘Agriturismo’ farm. Having pitched and then explored the area a bit, we decided to stay just one night here and move to an alternative campsite, also in an Agriturismo farm nearer Otranto the following day.

20160729_094703Move made, we pitched our tent in the shade of an extensive olive grove and then went in to explore Otranto for the afternoon.

Another town with an attractive historic area of narrow streets.

20160728_153132We had lunch dangling our feet in the sea, in the shadow of the castle battlements – very pleasant.

Among the gems the town had to offer was a delightful cathedral with a beautiful ceiling, a floor completely covered by a series of 11th century mosaics telling bible stories and a lovely crypt.20160728_174314

But it also had some glass cases in a side chapel containing the skeletons of some 800 men, women and children massacred by the Turks alledgedly for refusing to convert to Islam.

Makes a change this time for it not to be the Crusaders responsible for the slaughter; why does humanity never learn!20160728_175218


The following day we took the tandem inland for a 30 mile spin down quiet roads through olive growing country to visit a couple of towns that had been recommended to us to visit 20160729_140153–  Castrigano de Greci and Corigliano D’Otranto, both in an area populated by the Greeks in 600 to 400 BC and still with some people speaking in a Greek dialect.

Corigliano  D’Otranto had an unusual “Aragonaise” Castle in the centre of the town, dating from the times when the area was ruled by Aragon in Spain.

20160729_132730Built as protection from the Turks, expanded, then adorned and used as a residence in the 16th century when it was considered the Turks were no longer a threat.

Returning to Otranto we decided to find the ‘Lagho Alimini’ , an old flooded quarry that used to be a source of Bauxite. Some 4km outside of the town we came across an interesting lunar landscape with multicoloured layers from the different minerals present.


Because Diana decided to try scuba diving, we stayed at the campsite an extra night. Another new experience for Diana, who enjoyed the underwater adventure very much. Seeing lots of fish of attractive bright colours. Touching some of the underwater plant life, big black cushions and seeing the fronds of anemones wafting in the water. Her guide found this shell on the seabed, a little token to keep.




Brindisi to Lecce

Feeling refreshed and ready to ride, we found our way out of Brindisi towards Lecce. This proved more tricky than expected, seems here you are expected to be in a car. We came to a junction where every option was fast dual carriageways with no bikes allowed. We retraced our steps and (eventually) found our way on a minor road to head south.

A stop by the sea to buy provisions and then eat them was a pleasant lunchtime. A pleasant change from the extensive industrial area we had passed. Power plant and desalination plant seemed to be what it was.

20160726_150555_005Arriving in Lecce we found a cafe with wifi and set about finding accommodation for the night. came up with a place not too expensive and fairly close to the centre.

Once we were settled in and went out to explore, we soon realised Lecce had a lot to see, so we decided to stay another night.

This gave us a full day in Lecce; however our plans to do a sight seeing tour were not straight forward. We wanted to hire an audio guide, but when we requested this, we were told there were no maps available to accompany it. An English tour in the afternoon was our next option, but this did not go ahead due to insufficient people.

20160726_125746So in the end, we managed to get a place on the little sight seeing train, which trundled through the narrow streets and was very popular. This was only accomplished by finding out how the system worked at 3pm and failing to get a place. Then at 4pm, Diana used her small stature to ensure being at the front of the queue for tickets on this ride and off we went.

Lecce is very photogenic and dripping with Baroque architecture, cherubs abound.20160726_181034

There are also many narrow streets, each with fascinating balconies, doors and windows.

Lots of tourists and busy with shops offering souvenirs of all types. A lovely place to look around, we felt we could have stayed longer.20160726_18062020160726_113346