6am I’m up with the sun in a campground south of Bologna. It’s the day after I cycled over the Ponte Vecchio and north out of Florence. Campground was cheap for these parts at 10 euros but it is right beside a highway, a railway line and another highway under construction. Lovely!
6.45am After a bit of kit packing I’m eating breakfast – corn flakes with sliced banana and dried fruit and nuts mixed through, followed by a fruit smoothie made with the rest of the milk and handy little sachets of fruit puree that you get in the shops, followed by coffee.
7.30am Fully packed, on my bike and on the road, joining a stream of rush hour traffic heading into Bologna. Shortly after, my secondary road merges without warning onto a stretch of Italy’s A1 motorway. Ooops! I’m off again in under a mile, before the “polizia” pick me up and choose another road towards the city.
9.15am After an array of junctions and highway flyovers, I’ve found the right road west and I’m pleased I’ve navigated successfully across the outer urban sprawl of Bologna. I reward myself with coffee and a mini meringue at a “pasticceria”. I have to join one queue to get my meringue, a second queue to get my coffee and a third queue to pay for it all. Italian efficiency!
10.45am I stop for my second breakfast of a banana and rice cakes with Nutella and pick up things for lunch at a little supermarket in Anzola in case I don’t pass another one before everything closes for siesta. A local cyclist, a mature lady in full hair, make-up and designer outfit, chats to me. She thinks I’m very brave to cycle alone. People have said this to me throughout the trip and they say I must be very strong to which I reply “no, just very slow”.
1.30pm I pull over into a village park in Ravarino for lunch - a stack of rice cakes with cheese and tomato, dried fruit and nuts, some rather expensive cherries, a 100g chocolate bar and an apple. I’ve enjoyed the morning’s cycle as I’m now rolling easily across Italy’s plains, a welcome relief from the never-ending, steep climbs of the mountains. The towns here may not be as spectacular but they are pleasant, homely, full of cyclists and empty of tourists. There is always a little treasure to find when you cycle onto a beautiful piazza or across a gorgeous old bridge. I lay out my laundry that I handwashed last night to dry in the sun.
2.45pm I’m stopped on the outskirts of the large town I have to cross today, Carpi, trying to figure how the roads in front of me relate to the map – they don’t really. A local cyclist, Luca, pulls up beside me and offers to cycle with me across town to show me the way and I get a little tour into the bargain as we weave our way through the network of bike paths which are such a feature of towns in this part of Italy. Carpi was another little treasure with its enormous piazza overlooked by the castle and church, and its trendy pavement cafes tucked under the colonnades. It’s a stinking hot day now - I drink a cold can of coke in the piazza.
5pm After crossing more flat miles of farmyards, orchards and flooded fields of rice, I arrive in Guastalla and buy groceries from the Co-op for supper and tomorrow morning’s breakfast. I only buy a few things to add to what I’m already carrying but it comes to 10 euros. I’ve been amazed throughout the trip how expensive groceries are everywhere and I didn’t budget for that or for eating as I much as I have. I also get as much water as I can carry on the bike as I don’t know where I’ll be camping tonight or if I’ll have a water supply.
6pm No campgrounds on my route today so I’m starting to look for a spot to camp off to the sides of the quiet back road that I’ve chosen for this reason. I see a bike path heading into the trees and turn off onto it. It joins the banks of a huge river, the Po. I’m sure I’ll get a spot along here but cycle further to make sure I’m well away from the road access. I find a picnic table with a bit of mown grass beside it and decide this will do for a camp spot. I cook supper at the picnic table – a delicious medley of rice, green beans, tuna and tomatoes followed by fruit, rice cakes with Nutella, coffee and some sultanas. I have enough water left to wash off the worst of the day’s suncream, sweat and dust.
8pm A local cyclist stops for a chat. I ask him if its OK to camp here. He says there are lots of “serpentis” and there is a better place a mile further on. I don’t need much persuasion to follow him! It’s getting dark but we cycle to a restaurant on the banks of the river, its bright lights reflecting in the water. Next to it there is a sort of watersports club with an area for informal and free camping. There is a motorhome already there. I thank my second “road angel” of the day and with a shake of hands he disappears into the night. I pitch the tent as the sun sets over the Po, chuck everything inside and lock the bike to an adjacent tree.
9pm Write up my journal on the netbook and add up the distance I’ve cycled today (123km or 76 miles). Quick look at the map to note the route for tomorrow then lights out and I get off to sleep.
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