First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

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Raybo
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First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by Raybo » Tue May 14, 2019 11:51 pm

I’m sitting at an outdoor table in Corniglia, the middle of the 5 Cinque Terre villages, sipping a thick hot chocolate and taking my first day off off the bike. It is a cool, clear day with blue sky and sea views all around. My plan for the day is to walk 2 villages north to Monterosso and then take a train back to Chiavari, my night’s stop.

The bike ride started last Friday, May 10, from Florence, Italy. I’m headed to Bern, Switzerland through the French Alps.

I rode separated bike paths all the way out of Florence and along the brown, churning Arno toward the Tuscan hills to the northwest. The day was heavily overcast and the views across the valley whose edge I was skirting were obscured. I passed Etruscan sites dug into the hills and eventually up the hills in the first sustained climb of the trip. I was passed by many bike riders (I never pass anyone), two of whom were sandwiched between two cars and driving a very hard pace. A bit further up the hill I would learn the reason: the Giro d’Italia would come by this way on Sunday (it would start on Saturday). About halfway up I started seeing the pink bows and banners welcoming the riders. Like last year, I’ll be dodging the Giro as I make my way north.

I discovered on the climb that I can’t ride a bike and talk Italian at the same time when a friendly guy started talking to me as he rode past. In English, he told me he was going to ride in Israel soon.

My stop for the night was Porciano, a tiny hamlet of 200 people a bit past the top of the climb. I remember thinking how nice it is to end a ride coasting downhill. I was staying above the only store in the area and Monica was the consummate hostess, in both English and Italian.

My plans for the next day we’re upended when Lawrence, my couchsurfing host south of Lucca, had to cancel my stay due to his ex-wife’s unannounced visit. Since I wasn’t too tired, I decided to extend my day by riding another 25 miles all the way to the coast at Viareggio.

The next day was also overcast and rain had been predicted. The 5 miles of downhill from Porciano allowed my spirit to coast along with my bike as the abundant red poppies winked at me as I went by. Once in the flats, I was engulfed in traffic as I mazed my way through towns. An intervening wetland provided a nice respite from both the traffic and housing.

As I approached Lucca on a very busy road, I saw a sign for the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrimage route from England to Turkey. I met 2 bikers who said it went to Lucca and was well marked. They were half right as I quickly lost the trail but did make it to Lucca. I rode the length of Lucca, an attractive, walled town with an old historic center full of narrow streets and high end shops. After a quick gelato, I rode out of town.

The 20 extra miles to the coast involved getting around Lago di Massacuiccoli and it’s broad wetlands. Along the way, I passed an excavated Roman villa and was told some of the area’s history. As I neared Viareggio, the traffic became heavy and the road narrow. I pulled off the road often to let car clumps pass.

Once in town, the traffic and the road were worse. Then, it started to rain. I navigated away from the main road and found my place for the night. I went for pizza and found, what must be, the worst pizzeria in Italy. The crust was soggy and the toppings tasteless. Not something one expects in Italy!

Viareggio is the southern part of a 15 mile long beach with a bike route along its entire length. Oddly, there is almost no view of the beach as there are motels, restaurants and clubs lining the shore. It was a breezy, partly cloudy/sunny day and people were out. I saw as many bikers, often in long pelatons, as cars.

Once I left the beach, I headed directly into a loud, stiff wind. I was flagged down by Luca, a local biker who likes to bike on mountain bike paths. We talked biking, where we lived, and the local area for about 30 minutes. Our conversation was limited as it took place entirely in Italian. It was a nice human connection.

I had searched for something interesting to eat and discovered an Indian place not far away. Lunch was well spiced and tasty, putting the soggy pizza out of my mind. My place that night was in St. Stefano di Magra, just across from a mall (centro commmerciale) whose huge supermarket and several store were open on Sunday. I walked over and there was a band fronted by an active accordionist playing to a couple hundred people.

Yesterday was my first day of real climbing as I headed over the coastal hills separating northern Tuscany from southern Liguria. The road was deserted as the parallel autostrada took all the traffic. The first top came quickly. On the way down, I met Rick and Rob, two North Carolinians out touring. It was Rob’s first ride and he wasn’t all that impressed. Rick was an old hand and since his last name is Steeves (not the travel guy with only one s in his name), I now get to say I met Rick Steeves! We talked for about 45 minutes. Another fond roadside memory.

As Rick and Rob said, the climb up the Passo de Bracco was 6 miles of grinding up. There was virtually no traffic and it was a like a dream to make my way up all by myself. Vistas were green hills undulating up the hazy, distant mountains impossible to photograph.

Once past the top, the views changed to the sea. Unfortunately, the roadside foliage was such that clear views weren’t possible. It was pretty from the seat of my bike but photos won’t show this.

The coast down was lovely as the distant towns slowly came closer. The ride along the coast was during rush hour and a bit hairy. But I eventually found my room in Chiavari and discovered another Indian place just down the way, my second Indian meal in 3 days. So far on this bike ride, I’ve had more Indian food than Italian!

Today, I’m spending a needed day off the bike. Since Chiavari is just north of the Cinque Terre world heritage area, I have taken an early train down the Corniglia to spend the day walking along the coast. Now that I’ve finished this message, I’ll pay for the long gone hit chocolate and be on my way.
No matter how long the hill, if you keep pedaling you'll eventually get up to the top.

Thesaints
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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by Thesaints » Tue May 14, 2019 11:55 pm

Are you going to cross the Alps on your bike ? Which pass are you planning to use ?

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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by Raybo » Wed May 15, 2019 12:29 am

Thesaints wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 11:55 pm
Are you going to cross the Alps on your bike ? Which pass are you planning to use ?
That is my current plan. I’ll know more in 10 days. The hard work will start Monday if all goes well.

I don’t camp so I have arranged to go via Sestriere, Briancon, Bourg d’Oisens, Grenoble, Albertville, Chamonix as it is possible to find lodging every night on this route. There is more than one pass and I don’t know all their names.
No matter how long the hill, if you keep pedaling you'll eventually get up to the top.

desiderium
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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by desiderium » Wed May 15, 2019 7:00 am

Looking forward as always to updates
Along the way please comment on which bicycle you are riding and any gear you find is necessary for this trip

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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by MastersChampion » Wed May 15, 2019 8:19 am

Raybo wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 12:29 am

I don’t camp so I have arranged to go via Sestriere, Briancon, Bourg d’Oisens, Grenoble, Albertville, Chamonix as it is possible to find lodging every night on this route. There is more than one pass and I don’t know all their names.
Bourg d'Oisans! Are you going to try Alpe d'Huez?
Thanks for the trip report so far.

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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by Raybo » Wed May 15, 2019 9:24 am

desiderium wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 7:00 am
Looking forward as always to updates
Along the way please comment on which bicycle you are riding and any gear you find is necessary for this trip
I’m riding the Bike Friday folder again (World Tourist), the Bike I ride in Europe.

I don’t camp so I have no camping gear. Mostly, I have biking clothes (3 shorts, 2 jerseys), repair stuff, and some off bike clothes. Much of the kit is wool to reduce odor problems.

I navigate by phone and see Pocket Earth as a necessity, which allows me to upload routes and follow them.
No matter how long the hill, if you keep pedaling you'll eventually get up to the top.

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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by Raybo » Wed May 15, 2019 9:27 am

MastersChampion wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 8:19 am
Raybo wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 12:29 am

I don’t camp so I have arranged to go via Sestriere, Briancon, Bourg d’Oisens, Grenoble, Albertville, Chamonix as it is possible to find lodging every night on this route. There is more than one pass and I don’t know all their names.
Bourg d'Oisans! Are you going to try Alpe d'Huez?
Thanks for the trip report so far.
Unlikely I’ll challenge Alpe d’Huez and certainly not on my loaded touring bike! It is off my route. If everything lines up, maybe I ride over and chover ca it out. No plans to do the ascent, though.
No matter how long the hill, if you keep pedaling you'll eventually get up to the top.

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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by jhfenton » Wed May 15, 2019 9:36 am

Grazie mille! Non vedo l'ora di leggere il tuo racconto! (Sto imparando l'italiano adesso.)

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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by Hockey10 » Wed May 15, 2019 3:19 pm

Raybo - have a safe trip. I always enjoy viewing your photos once you finish.

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imbogled
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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by imbogled » Wed May 15, 2019 6:50 pm

Le cose belle arrivano quando non le cerchi. Buon viaggio !
(Beautiful things come when you're not looking.)
Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. | Warren Buffett

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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by SkierMom » Thu May 16, 2019 2:00 pm

Raybo!

I love your travel posts - Do you have a blog?

The Frugal Bike Traveler........

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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by Raybo » Thu May 16, 2019 2:12 pm

SkierMom wrote:
Thu May 16, 2019 2:00 pm
Raybo!

I love your travel posts - Do you have a blog?

The Frugal Bike Traveler........
Thank you! My website is www.biketouringtips.com .
No matter how long the hill, if you keep pedaling you'll eventually get up to the top.

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Re: First few days of my bicycle ride from Florence, Italy to Bern, Switzerland

Post by Grt2bOutdoors » Thu May 16, 2019 8:04 pm

Thanks for the update! Too bad about the pizza.
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