Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Day 24 - Fornovo-di-Taro to Pontremoli (Wednesday 19th September) - UPDATED

1533 kms from Canterbury
541kms to Rome
Garmin Record:

First let me tell you about my stay at the Giardino del Gusto (The Garden of Pleasure).
Pauli and his wife Erica are a friendly, welcoming couple. I discovered that they were not in the kitchen making supper just for me, they run a busy restaurant at night. Erica in particular really took me to her heart and went out of her way to make my stay special. This morning for breakfast I saw that they ate a fairly standard fare of coffee and bread with Nutella. For my breakfast, Erica brought me the exactly the same, then she added in a slice of chocolate brownie tart and a slice of really delicious cherry pie. Then I think the Italian mama in her came out and she offered me eggs as well. Erica fried me a fresh farm egg in fresh farm butter and then added in several slices of melon. Clearly I need mothering and being fed well for my day. I thoroughly enjoyed staying there.  See the picture below of Erica and me just before I  left today. Grazie Mille Erica.

So about today's ride. It was a day of ups and downs. In the Appenines for real and they demanded respect today. The guide book made it clear that this was not a day for trying to follow the off-road trail with a bicycle as there are steep slopes, rivers to ford and crags to climb. Gratefully I accepted the offer of an alternate route - basically stay on the tar all the way. I like it when it's their suggestion then I do not feel guilty. I've discovered though, that when it comes to mountain passes it's the safest to stay on the road. The first section says 17 kilometres to Cassio. Nice and easy I think to myself, for the start of the day with a full tummy. But I was forgetting Ms V Francigena who hates it when I get too comfortable. By the time I reached Cassio I had cycled uphill all the way changing altitude from 148 metres at the start to 910 metres just before Cassio. But it was a good uphill ride, never too steep but plenty to get the heart pumping and the legs warm. A downhill took me into Cassio at 756  metres where I stopped for a drink and a refill of waterbottles. Onward and upward to Berceto reaching 960 metres before descending to 850 metres in Berceto. The following picture is for the Grand Prix fans out there;

At this altitude it's cold, an icy wind is blowing, thick clouds are threatening rain and a mist is starting to roll down the mountain, sound familiar? Too familiar for my liking. I stopped to pull on my fleecy top then headed for the Cisa Pass that I knew is the highest point on my ride. After 44kms since starting the day I arrive at the top of the Cisa Pass, 1041 metres altitude. Then despite the cold I enjoy a lovely gentle 30 km descent to Pontremoli on a beautiful road with very little traffic.

The cycling today was just fantastic, much better than the flat plains. I love the challenge of the uphills and the reward of the downhills. Life is just awesome and I am so grateful to have this incredible experience. I stopped in the main Piazza for a hot cup of coffee and met with and chatted to an American couple, Jesse and Joy, from near Palm Springs. Happy holiday!

I managed to locate a restaurant, Trattoria Norina, that was recommended in Sylvia Nillsen's blog from when she and four other crazy Durban ladies walked from Lausanne to Rome. So that's where I will be dining tonight.  The convent where I am staying is very nice and it is close to town. How lucky am I?
All in all, I would say that was a very satisfying day. Tomorrow I will stop in Massa not Pietrasanta as originally planned. Then from there I'll be able to reach Lucca in the early afternoon. In time to get settled and plan to meet Keith at Pisa Airport on Saturday when flies in to cycle the last eight days with me to Rome. I am so looking forward to sharing some of these experiences with him.


Having done all the good stuff, shower, shave, shampoo etc I head out for a pint and a good dinner. I choose a popular pub, have a dark Belgian ale and off to Trattoria Norina. Since Sylvia wrote the blog, Norina has retired but her daughter runs the establishment. As I walk in I am greeted like an old friend by three other pilgrims, one, a Frenchman,  whom I met and chatted to at the Tourist office and the other two, Italians, who checked into the convent at the same time as me.  The Frenchman spoke a little English and was used as a part time translator but mostly the conversation was multi-lingual with most of us understanding some of what was being said. What an enjoyable evening, we shared a meal, some wine, coffee and good Grappa. I had the best meal so far. I started with Testaroli, which sounds a lot worse than it is. It's a regional speciality where they make a crepe from a special flour mix and (I think) let it ferment a bit. Then they cover it in a delicious pesto. It really is a superb dish. I followed that with Osso Bucco, one of my favourite dishes. Unknown to me the two Italians had negotiated an all in price of 15 Euros for the entire meal. So not only was it good but it was cheap.

What a satisfying end to a satisfying day.

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