Gondola rides and old friends


As I sit here in the woods somewhere in Hungary trying to remember what happened in Italy, it feels like a year ago even though it’s been maybe a month. We’ve been seeing and doing so much that I haven’t had the time to write. I guess that is a good thing, we have been so busy living that I don’t have the time to document it… What a problem to have.

Riding through Northern Italy became somewhat of a routine and did not offer a lot of opporunities for true bikepacking. We rode dirt roads and we camped when we could, but usually it was just cutting through farms and setting up a tent in an acre of trees, then leaving early in the morning before anyone knew we were there. It was a lot of cornfields and we joked that it felt surprisingly a lot like Kansas. We remembered how excited Lauren was when we saw the first cornfield in Italy as we rode out of the mountains, little did we know we’d have a solid two weeks of nothing but them.

We eventually made it to the coast of the Adriatic. As we rolled into the outskirts of a small coastal town called Chioggia, we were exhausted and still had a few kilometers to the coast. We needed calories and did the unthinkable. We ate McDonalds! It was delicious until literally the last bite, then we both immediately regretted it. We got our calories though and struggled on to the hotel with burps of regret all the way there. The town was nice enough, it was the kind of small beach town where the locals went for the weekend.  It reminded me of the Jersey shore a little bit. I’m talking about the place of course and not that awful TV show! We spent a rest day there then caught the ferry to the chain of small islands that led North to Venice. We leap-frogged ferrys and riding until we got to Lido then as we were purchasing our tickets for the ferry to Venice we found out that bicycles are not allowed in Venice… AT ALL! My frustration and disbelief did not amuse the ticket lady, so we set off to figure out a plan B. We tried leaving the bikes at a bike shop in Lido but none of the shop owners were having it. We considered wild camping in the forest or stashing the bikes in the woods but they are not cheap bicycles and our whole lives are strapped to them. Eventually we settled on a little campground North of town and decided to just do a day trip to Venice.  What a day it was!

We arrived in the morning and after spending 30 minutes looking for a bathroom that didn’t cost money to use, we inadvertantly found ourselves exactly where we were trying to get. St. Barnabus Cathedral is a small relatively unremarkable church as far as Venice goes, but it also happens to be the site that acted as the Library from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. You know the scene where he smashes a hole in the floor while the librarian is stamping books?  It was the only thing I wanted to see in Venice.

We sat down and had a prosecco in the square out front. We considered going to see some other sights but instead the glass turned into a bottle. Then we figured, “Well this place is really nice so maybe we should just have another bottle since they’ll be serving lunch in 30 minutes.” It was a lovely morning.

We eventually got off our asses and onto our not so stable legs and decided to wander a bit. We crossed bridges, went down alleys and explored Venice aimlessly. We decided to stay away from the big attractions and never regretted our decision for a minute. Everyone told us how busy Venice was with all the tourists, but we learned a valuable lesson. Stay away from the big ticket attractions and you can have a nice quiet afternoon in any city.

We debated on the gondola ride for most of the day, especially considering the ridiculous 80 Euro price tag. However the prosecco and the charming gondoleer convinced us. Also, there is no way I’m going to be in Venice with my beautiful wife and not take her on a gondola ride, price be damned! We were happy we did, as we popped the cork on the third bottle we were serenaded and treated to a quiet romantic cruise down the canals that were built so long ago. It sounds corny, but it was incredibly romantic and we were so happy we went.

As we arrived back at the dock it was nearing dinner time so we did what you do in Venice. We ate Ethiopian food! It was delicious to say the least and we had our last wine of the eveneing. Afterwards, we caught the ferry back to our island campground and slept soundly with a new destination in the morning, Aviano Air Force Base.

The base was definately out of the way but the few days we spent there were absolutely worth it. As we left Venice we were greeted with more cornfields for about half a day then the vineyards started again. With mountains on the horizon and a meeting with some old friends to look forward to, we were ready to ride.  The first afternoon, we were cruising along a country road and passed a driveway next to a vineyard with two bicycles that were made into signs. We saw “restaurant” and “winery” so we turned in. At first it was a little weird, we couldn’t tell who the employees were and who were customers. Eventually a woman came up to us and we asked for menus. She said she didn’t have menus but she’d bring us food and wine. We had one of the best bottles of wine either of us had ever had and were treated to a four course meal. There was fresh tomatoes and mozerella, pasta, a ribeye steak and a myriad of other tasters that were all phenomenal. Our lunch stop turned into a two hour smorgasboard and we indulged in every aspect of it. When we left we commented to the proprietor how much we loved the wine and left with three bottles strapped to our handlebars! It was an afternoon to remember. 

We had some phenomenal lodging that evening that turned into two nights because Lauren had a bad wheel bearing and a hub that was destroyed. Romano at the Bike Air in Pordenone was awesome, he actually machined a new axel at his house on a lathe and refitted new bearings in less than 12 hours. We ate pizza delivery for every meal because that’s all there was and we relaxed and enjoyed a nice cozy bed for 2 days.

After departing in the morning, we kept on a Northerly heading and camped out in the forest near the town where our friends Danny and Betsy live. We had our first campfire of the trip and revelled in the primal glory of staring at a fire in the woods with your best friend at your side. 

The next day we went to their house and had an amazing weekend full of laughs, drinks, and fond memories from our old squadron in the Air Force. They took us to all the local shops in Polcenego and we even hit up the farmer’s market. It was really refreshing to see them fully embrace the Italian lifestyle for their assignment. Betsy helped us out by driving us into town (in a car!!!) so we could get some supplies from a sporting goods store. On the way we stopped at the end of the runway and got to watch several Vipers (F-16s) that we thought were Danny takeoff right over our heads. It was an awesome experience and although I miss flying jets, I’m not sure I would change anything if I could. There are definately aspects of my previous life that I miss… Mostly the flying, and comraderie but this new gig suits me much better.

We met up with a few other friends from our old squadron, Brent and Leah and there little guy. The six and a half of us went to dinner, rode into the mountains for a hike and had an incredible weekend that we will never forget. There was homemade gin from the bar across the street, and a festival in the villiage complete with performers hanging from harnesses and dancing on the side of a building! We had gelato and espresso and lived it up in Polcenego. Our hosts were incredible and we can’t thank them enough. By the way we did all this while Betsy was 8 months pregnant! What a trooper.

Unfortunately we had to get back ont the road, so we said our goodbyes on Sunday morning and started towards what would end up being a true bikepacking adventure.

Categories: Bikepacking, Europe, ItalyTags: , , , , , , , , ,

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