Tuesday, 28 May 2013

down at the heel

typical road sign
After pushing our bikes around the cobbled streets of Gallipoli's old town we set off along the coastal road down to the point at the bottom: Santa Maria di Leuca.  This coastline seems quite odd to us.  There are some hidden away beaches in between bare rocky stretches, but the access roads sometimes have heaps of rubbish tipped at them.  Now and again we come to a village that is closed up, empty.  A holiday village which will only come to life in the high season July and August.  The sun is bleaching the colour out of everything and after the lovely old towns we've recently passed through this all seems a bit desolate and bleak.  We stop for lunch at one of these little villages and get chatting to a friendly Frenchman from a group of campervans parked up.  He tells us that they are part of an Italo-French posse of forty campervans cruising the south of Italy.  It brings on an involuntary shudder.  He thinks it's too many.  We concur.  However, we do discover where the next open campsite is, which is useful for us.  After four or five days of sweaty cycling followed by the evening ritual wet-wipe, we're ready for a shower and a bit of laundry.  

Santa Maria di Leuca turns out to be a pleasant little holiday town on the tip of the heel of Italy.  Nothing special, but the gelato is welcome at the end of the day.  The campsite is nearby so we take a look.  When Gayle spots the swimming pool I know we're staying.  Incredibly, despite the army of campervans that have also arrived the same day, we find a tranquil little corner far from the mad crowd.  The site is shaded with pine trees. We bathe, we feast, and we get chatting to Mayann and Paul, who are in a little old VW campervan.  We end up staying and relaxing along with them for a few days.  It's a pleasant lazy interlude and it's great to meet friendly folk.
with Mayann and Paul for a sunset drink
The ride up the Adriatic coast is much more enjoyable and scenic.  And popular - there are lots of tourists on cycling holidays riding the roads, but without having to take their own luggage.  We race along, swooping down into little coastal villages, rumbling the rumble strips, sweeping up over a headland onto the next.  At the end of the day we reach Otranto, a town with a castle and a cathedral mentioned in our guidebook. But what we want is ice-cream.  Ricotta with figs and vanilla with crystallised orange.  That's what I will remember of Otranto.  Just a little further on we camp in some pinewoods and the next day continue towards Lecce. And then Gayle remembers the church in Otranto.  Something about the whole floor covered in a mosaic.  We stop.  We turn around.  We go back to Otranto to see the floor of this church.  What fools we were last night - only thinking of ice-cream! The church is open but disappointingly the pews are set out across this unusual flooring.  The mosaic is not particularly fine, but is quite bizarre - with Greek mythological figures appearing, along with all kinds of beasts.  We're not really convinced it was worth the return.  There's another cycle tourist in the church taking photos.  He starts chatting to Gayle when we get outside.  Oddly, we know who he is and where he has been although we have never met before.  In fact, we owe this man a thank you for providing us with information on our first cyle trip through south-west China.  For this man is Bill Weir, a crazy guy on a bike.  Crazy Guy On A Bike is a great website full of cycling blogs from around the world from a huge variety of people.  On our first cycle journey and in researching this one, we have enjoyed reading and using many of the blogs.  Gayle had noticed that Bill was cycling in Sicily and heading this way, but we didn't really think we'd meet him.  And so our turning around and coming back to Otranto proves to be quite serendipitous.


  1. I love that you are both taking it easy and in no rush to be anywhere - though I know (from Chris Pountney's blog) that you can zoom when you're actually cycling.

    1. I'd take most of what Chris writes with a pinch of salt, although he really is slower than a Japanese nonagenarian on a mamachari