Le clocher de Pomponesco "BELLO !"

[TRAVEL BOOK #3] – From the Po Valley to the Adriatic Sea, Italy by bicycle

D+38, 1571 km

Ciao Italia! After more than 1,100 km and almost a month in the heart of northern Italy, we have crossed the second border of the trip: Slovenia!

More and more improbable bivouacs, fantastic people with their hearts in their hands, varied landscapes and an incredibly rich architecture. In short, we didn’t get bored in Italy! Italy by bicycle was incredible !

To see more photos of our cycling trip in Italy, click here!

We let you discover some of the stories that punctuated this Italian crossing!

Santo Stefano. After a 5 day break in the peaceful village of Vittorio, we finally hit the road again with the sun and it feels great! It’s almost like a new start. Full of energy and with a new look at the Po valley that we found monotonous until now. The sun really changes everything. After barely 2 km of cycling, we are already flying the drone. Everything becomes an excuse to take a picture! Finally, the fields of poplars and crops as far as the eye can see are charming, and so is the Fiume Pô.

Champ de peupliers vu du ciel sur la Plaine du Pô, amusement graphique
Field of poplars seen from the sky on the Po Plain.

Cizzolo. After a night’s bivouac in a “field” of tidy and very graphic poplars, we hit the road again and wander through the streets of the first village in quest of water. Two men greet us and ask us about our journey, one on his lawnmower, the other on his bicycle. A happy team! When we explain that we are French and that we come from a village near Avignon, the first one has stars in his eyes! Giovanni. (The second one leaves!)

He then warmly invites us to enter his house just across the street and have a coffee.

In fact, he speaks French. His parents spent a good part of their lives in France to escape fascism and he knows the Vaucluse quite well.

While his wife Laura prepares a coffee for us, he offers to share his passion with us! We then follow him into a sort of vast garage next to the house. We were really light years away from imagining what this space contained. Cars? Wooden creations? A craft brewery? Not at all.

At first, Giovanni explains that he is very fond of “old things”. He has a collection of giant Betty Boop and Simpson figurines and a whole lot of antiques. In fact, he is an antiquities dealer. But that’s not all.

He then takes us upstairs. We discover a hundred scales: to weigh salt, drugs, flour, babies, letters… Multiple scales of all sizes, from all continents and all eras. We had never seen such a collection of scales! He starts to present each of them with passion while his crazy dog jumps on us and takes pleasure in sniffing our butts.

At the back of the room, a collection of farming tools from another century and brooms are on the walls. Lots of brooms. In fact, this building was the first broom factory in Italy! We are offered two small miniature brooms!

We then meet Laura to share a coffee. They argue nicely in Italian about the best route to Venice. Giovanni is clearly a car fan, for him it’s unthinkable to make detours : following the Po river is too long, what an idea ! They tell us about a nice fortified village 7km away. To avoid going there by bike, Giovanni offers to take us by car.

Just before we leave, Giovanni runs out to our bicycles, shouting. We discover the mad dog, overjoyed, surrounded by rubbish. He has just destroyed our bin attached to our bicycles. Giovanni, very embarrassed, picks up our used toilet paper and all our rubbish with his hands. Yum. Quite a funny scene when you think about it! Once the incident is solved, we get in the car! We drove around Sabionneta, just to say that it was done!

On the way to Pomponesco. Here we follow the signs for bicycles. As we were riding more or less along the Po, a sign directs us to the left. Suspicious, we decide to turn right. At the end of the road, there is no more asphalt. Only two old men, sitting on a bench. One of them, with a voice worn out by cigarettes, life and alcohol, tells us “Pomponesco Bello Dreto”. He confirms that we can continue on this dirt road. He adds other indications, but despite our efforts: we haven’t understood anything! So we set off at full speed on this dirt track that runs alongside the Po, bordered by fields of freshly planted young poplars. The path quickly turns into muddy puddles. For more than 6 km, we struggle to pedal in the mud and try not to fall! “Pomponesco Bello… My a.. !! ” We don’t move forward, but we have a good laugh. Well, it’s funny because the sun is with us and we are not in a hurry. We follow fresh wild boar tracks, until we see a bell tower! And Pomponesco: Bello for real. Time for a well-deserved cappuccino!

La pista pas du tout ciclabilé
Lost !

In the same day, we can’t resist a shot of the Po with the drone and the golden light of the end of the day. We don’t know if we have the right to do so in this area but never mind! We stop on the side of the road. GG launches the drone. A car stops in the distance, we say to ourselves, in our paranoia, that it is necessarily linked to the drone. But it’s not! The car leaves. 2 minutes later, it passes again in the other direction. Anai is already in the distance, taking pictures. She comes back. GG lands the drone immediately. The car passes again and this time stops next to us. He spouts a stream of incomprehensible Italian (the drone?) and then starts to make what we interpret as an obscene gesture: repeatedly, he puts his finger in the circle/hole he forms with his thumb and forefinger, with his other hand. He starts saying incomprehensible things again and repeats his gesture. He doesn’t look malicious but we are not comfortable. After 3 long minutes we finally understand… he asks us if we have a flat tire!

San Giocomo. Today we cycled a lot. In the afternoon, we stopped in a café, a very funny lady passed by and asked us where we were going. Then 15 minutes later she came back and advised us to go to San Benedetto Po because there is a beautiful “antico monasterio”. We decided to follow her advice, and it was well worth the diversions.

San Benedetto Po
San Benedetto Po

Time flyes, it’s time to find a bivouac spot before the night falls. We cross a rather creepy farm where we hear muffled animal cries that are quite indefinable. We continue, pursued by a smell of droppings that stings our nostrils. After a bit of a struggle, we decide to pitch the tent under a small hill. From where we are, the cars that pass higher up can’t see us. Clever.

Bien cachées sous la butte
Hidden !

Night has fallen. Wrapped up in our sleeping bags, we are about to spend a night of intense sleep. But soon, we are disturbed. We hear a car arriving on the path perpendicular (bumpy and difficult to walk on) to the road under which we are hidden. It moves forward at a very low speed before stopping in the middle of the road. After a slamming of the door, a shrill noise is heard. Then nothing. Not a sound, but we know there is a presence. For 30 minutes, we keep our eyes (and ears) wide open, clearly ready to pounce, to go out on one side of the tent or the other. (Thank God we have two doors!) All our senses are on the lookout for the slightest clue. A sound just outside the tent. A rabbit. Okay. All is well. Then we hear a woman’s voice, all the doors slam. The engine starts again and the headlights come on before we turn back. Each one of us, in silence, made all the possible films: she/he/she/they were smoking a joint before going home? Were they making love? Were they watching the animals? Were they poaching? Were they hiding a body? Or were they coming to eat us? Or worse, to steal our bicycles? The mystery remains (and it’s a bit frustrating)! They are gone, we breathe. We prepare to fall asleep like babies.

But that’s not the case. Around 11.40pm, we hear high-pitched screams. A repetitive shrill sound (a bit scary) that seems to move not far from us. Is there a link with the car? An animal? A human? No idea! The sound stops. We finally fall asleep.

Lago Di Fimon. End of the day. As with any carefully prepared itinerary, we end with some nice climbs. We’re already exhausted, so we’re having a particularly hard time. We have a beautiful view of the vineyards, but there is no flat place to rest. The plain suddenly gives way to the forest. After a quick look at the map, Anai sees a lake. The Lago Di Fimo. Ok, bingo. Lake = nature, we will surely find a place to sleep. It’s very beautiful, a bit mystical with the light of the end of the day and a light mist. Fishermen’s spot, small bar, the lake is quite frequented and rightly so: the setting is magnificent. We push a little and end up stopping on the southern point. There are picnic tables. Our motto is “the bigger the better”.

Le lac de Fimon
Lake Fimon

We settle down quietly. A man on a bicycle welcomes us and says a lot of things in Italian that we don’t really understand. He comes to put petals at the foot of 3 bamboo crosses, just in front of us. He is nice and benevolent, we just understand that “it’s been 8 months since …. Something?” and that he is going to the church to pray for us and our trip tonight. We eat at ease on the table before going to bed tired of our 69km. We slip serenely into our duvets and begin to fall asleep, lulled by the sound of nature and some distant music. Suddenly, we hear a herd that seems to be heading straight for us accompanied by a voice on a loudspeaker. They stop right there. Some children shout “la tenta, la tenta!”, the parents just seem to say “shh”. The voice announces the end of the religious gathering and the crowd repeats the priest’s prayers. An unlikely bivouac situation. What were the odds that our spot would be the final prayer site for the procession of a good fifty people? In any case, the words of the man on the bicycle made (almost) perfect sense! And he was probably in that crowd praying for us!

Piazzolo sul Brenta. This morning, the sun is shining. Surely one of the hottest days of the trip! We meet a guy who tells us it’s going to rain. Hard to believe. So we ignore this information and set off. We pass by country roads and villages. It’s not easy to find your way around, until you stumble upon a cycle track. Great. Suddenly, the sun goes down, the sky turns black and the wind picks up. The return from the plain allows us to read the future: a big storm is about to fall on our faces. The wind pushes us so hard that we have to hold the handlebars with all our strength not to get blown into the ditch. We leave the track to go to the nearest village and find a place to take shelter. Bevadoro. Problem, it’s siesta time. Everything is closed and not a bit of roof sticking out. So we think we’ll go to the cemetery: at least it will be open and we’ll find a place to stay dry. Besides, they are rather welcoming there! So we settle there, sheltered from the wind (at the end of a corridor of graves), Anai draws and GG looks for a place where we could spend the night. About twenty minutes go by before two men show up. They don’t look very happy. We understand that someone has alerted them to a suspicious presence in the cemetery (something like “polizia” has tipped us off). It’s us! They emphatically inform us that we can’t sleep here: the gates close at 8pm. Shame. It was really very tempting! We try to explain in Franglitalian that we just want to take shelter until the storm passes, and that, obviously, as soon as we can, we’ll leave. They leave reassured: we are not grave robbers! (one of them gives us a kind of thumbs up with his stump: we decide to take it as a peace sign). In parallel, Mattia and Elena answered us on Warmshower and offered to put us up for the night. This storm fell at the right time! Otherwise, we would not have made this meeting and we would not have spent the evening with Mattia, Elena, Renato and his family! Life is good!

L'orage laisse place à la chaîne de montagne italienne
The storm gives way to the Italian mountain chain

Venezia. We don’t really know why, but it was a bit of a step in the journey, like a mental cap in terms of distance. Thanks to Mattia’s many tips, we reached the Serenissima via pleasant cycle paths through Padova. We pedal along a canal lined with large Palazio. We arrive in Mestre (a dormitory town next to Venice) by roads dotted with industry. We offer ourselves the luxury of a campsite (well, more like a car park for motorhomes with motorway toilets), so that we can take the time to discover this city that is so much talked about. At 10 km from Venice, we say to ourselves that we’ll go there by bicycle to avoid paying for the bus – that kind of moment when you feel like you’re fucking up the system. Of course, when we got to Venice, the obligatory bicycle parking turned out to be expensive. Well, it’s not JUST parking, it’s literally bicycle lockers. 20 euros for the two bicycles, finally, the bus was a good option! But that’s ok, it was more pleasant with bikes.

Les gondoles attendent les touristes
The gondolas are waiting for tourists

First impression: it’s a Monday in April, but it’s too crowded to enjoy. The city is labyrinthine, we get carried away by a flow of people in the streets and we let our eyes catch little bits of Venizia. It is beautiful. But it’s obviously far from the authenticity we’ve felt in recent weeks. We are at the height of mass tourism, all these people (of which we are part), in the same place. Long queues to visit museums, a crowd that we had kept away from since the beginning of the trip. We continue to get lost in small streets. We only start to appreciate, a little far from the crowd. Taxis, ambulances, garbage trucks are boats. The buildings have their feet in the water and in the mud. It’s completely crazy when you think about it and you understand why this incredible place became Disneyland.

Venise et la place San Marco
Venice and San Marco square (a bit crowded…!)

Conclusion: we prefer wide open spaces, nature and less crowded places!

Isonzo. We cycle on a road where the traffic is quite heavy, determined to reach Trieste this evening. It’s 3pm, we pass over a large bridge that overlooks an emerald blue river. The Isonzo. Anai’s eyes are shining. It’s really very tempting to stop there. So we decide to leave the big noisy road and turn off onto a small path that runs alongside the river. It’s 3.30 pm, we settle down. One of our most beautiful bivouac spots since our departure. We will arrive in Trieste tomorrow!

Stop when you want and take your time: that’s what travelling by bicycle is all about!

Coucher de soleil sur le fleuve Isonzo
Sunset on the Isonzo river

Trieste. After about 20 km on a forest road in the middle of a green fauna and flora, we end up back on our big noisy road and a charming industrial port area towards Monfalcone. The transition is intense! That’s it, we see the Adriatic Sea, we arrive in Trieste. This evening we are hosted by Massimo, our Warmshower host. We arrive in front of his building. No one is there. We wait a few minutes, two French people call us, Coco and Hypo. 2 other guests of Massimo. We introduce ourselves and talk for a few minutes, when Greg arrives in turn! A fifth guest! Ok so we are 5 to sleep here on the sofa ! We spend a very nice and friendly evening under the sign of international pizza (with two other travellers, from Germany and Venezuela (who lives in Sweden) and Massimo’s Italian and Iraqi friends) and Limoncello. We also meet Magoo and his partner, Massimo’s two parrots! Unlikely birds with a frightening intelligence! Magoo is able to open his own cage and that of his mate! We all go to bed in staggered rows with the idea of spending a great night of recuperation! But our two new friends have decided otherwise. “MAGICAL MAGICAL MAGICAL MAGICAL PAPAGAI MOUAHHAHAHAHA”, Magoo repeats over and over again, looking completely possessed, while the second bird reproduces the high-pitched, shrill sound of an oven timer – every five minutes. Two majestic birds against five humans, we really were no match.

And just before our border crossing, we had lunch with… Mathia and Elena! <3 They came to spend the Di Pasquala weekend in Trieste: fantastic! We note in passing (and with amusement) that it took them 2h30 to complete our week-long journey. We didn’t think we’d see them again anytime soon! Leaving like that, we should have dinner with them next week in Slovenia!

Drapeaux de prières

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