Catherine Bruzzone is the author of My Book of Bike Activities, a fun activity book for 6-11 year olds which features in our ‘100 Brilliant Non-Fiction Books for Children and Young People‘. She has two daughters and one, new, granddaughter and lives in Twickenham. Having cycled from Wales to London, London to Venice and London to Northern Spain, in today’s guest post Cath describes another of the epic bike rides that inspired her to write a bike book for kids.
Puglia to Rome – Two pedalling pensioners and lots of prickly pears
“At the end of August, my partner and I cycled from Lecce in Puglia, in the heel of Italy, to Rome airport, 855 km. We had cycled in Italy before but in the north; what would we find in the ‘deep south’?
Country road near Lecce, Puglia
We found prickly pears, olive trees, windmills and loads of tomatoes! Also, small roads, little traffic and beautiful Baroque buildings. We discovered that owing to earthquakes and extreme poverty, especially after World War II, many people had emigrated all over the world – to Germany, Switzerland, France, Australia and the US. But they come back in the summer to visit ‘the old country’. We had a beer in the home village of the mayor of New York’s ‘nonno’ (grandpa). We also chatted to African workers harvesting tomatoes who were from Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Burkino Faso.
Old town of Accadía, Puglia – destroyed by an earthquake in the 1930s
It took us fifteen days including one day off and we averaged about 65 km/day. The longest day – the first – was a punishing 81.6 km. We were out for six to ten hours but actually cycling for about five hours. We did no training…but were pretty fit by the end.
It was searingly hot, over 35°C and we were out on the open road, no shelter. After the first day, we changed our normal leisurely routine. We set our alarm for 5.45 am and were on the road at 6.30 am. Then we cycled in the cool and stopped around 9am for a second breakfast: two coffees, four croissants for under €4!
Second breakfast in Apice new town, Campania (old one destroyed by earthquake)
Following our planned GPS route, we went north-west through the Apennine Mountains on the small ‘Strade Provinciali’. Puglia and Basilicata are very remote regions and once we cycled all day without passing a village or bar. We survived on energy bars and delicious roadside figs.
For centuries the population of Southern Italy was attacked from the sea by Greeks, Normans and Saracens. So the people took to living in hill villages and towns, away from the coast, where they could defend themselves. Hill villages look really beautiful but not to cyclists.
Pietravairanda, Campania – old town only inhabited in summer
There are no campsites away from the coast and we didn’t fancy wild camping with no shower after a very sweaty day. So we stayed in hotels, B&Bs and ‘agriturismi’ or farm stays that offer meals using their own or locally sourced produce. Normally we don’t book as we’re never sure how far we’ll cycle each day but we did call ahead in the remoter regions to avoid pedalling extra miles to find a bed.
Antipasto di salumi locali (starters of local cold meats)
We carried everything in two rear panniers and a ‘bar bag’, fixed to the handlebars that can be lifted off and carried around like a handbag. We took very few clothes and every night we washed our (padded) cycle shorts, t-shirts and socks, so even the smarter bedrooms looked more like a laundry.
Road surfaces were often atrocious, on large or small roads: no whooshing downhill in case you ended up in a pothole.
Typical road surface
Best of all were the friendly people and the food.
Cassino market, Campania. Cassino had fierce fighting in World War II
In a small village, an old man stopped us to ask where we were from. He had lived and worked in Geneva before returning home. He declared that he was a citizen of the world. When a baby is born, he said, we say ‘un bambino è venuto nel mondo’, a baby has come into the world, not to Italy or England or Switzerland. Yes, indeed!
My wise friend, Campania (his wife keeping an eye!)
Il Colosseo (the Colosseum)…journey’s end”
That sounds like some dedication to researching a book, even if it also had plenty of plus sides! Our thanks to Catherine, and her publishers b small.