Wednesday, 8 May 2013

oh we do like to ride beside the seaside

Heading out of Pompeii we hit cobbles again - whatever happened to those fabulous Roman roads? - and continue around the bay and up into Sorrento.  Now we know where all the tourists are staying.  We have our picnic lunch in a piazza.  Across Italy you'll struggle to find a public toilet.  We realised that you can just go into any bar and use theirs.  They're usually okay, but it's rare to find the full combination of toilet paper, toilet seat, soap and hot water.  We now play Toilet Bingo whenever we pull up to a bar to fill our water bottles and use the facilities.  No-one seems to mind that we don't actually buy anything.  But in Sorrento the sign on the toilet door says "for the use of customers only" in four languages.  It's a shame we can't read.

We continue up and around the headland to turn onto the infamous Amalfi Coast ("one of the most beautiful in Europe" : discuss) and camp in a vineyard behind a cemetery.   The next day we get the Amalfi Experience - a dramatic emerald green coast that tips steeply into the sea and a road that dips and rolls and swings outwards and bends inwards this way and that.  The road is narrow, it's a Saturday, there's quite a few cars, but there's also loads of cyclists.  We meet Pina and Gennaro from Salerno who want to cycle to the Nord Cap in Norway.  But the big cycling clubs that ride past aren't the 'stop and chat' types.  Somewhere a lone rider passes us in the Sky cycling team colours and matching bike.  Was that Bradley Wiggins?  I try to catch up but fail to get close - and then only later do I remember that the Giro d'Italia has begun today with a hundred laps of Napoli.  I then discover that my back wheel has a bulge on the rim at a seam - the rim is bust after 8000km - must be all these sodding cobbles.

private beach / public beach

In the little coastal villages it's slightly chaotic with the traffic and daytrippers.  We stop for a long lunch to fix a puncture that Gayle has on the inside of her tyre and ride on in the late afternoon to find an unlikely camp spot.  We have read of one English cyclist sleeping on the ledge on the outside of one of the tunnels built into the cliffs.  Thankfully we find an unfinished building wedged in a narrow shallow bend with a ledge just wide enough for our tent.  It's perfect, despite the two flights of stairs.

Our Sunday ride begins all hot and flustered in the heat of the morning sun, trying to salvage Gayle's repaired puncture.  I must confess - I just cannot repair a flat tyre.  Throughout the day's ride we are cursed with the tyre deflating repeatedly.  However, the scenic ride continues to thrill and we pass through Amalfi, where Gayle has a lunchtime swim, and a couple of smaller more peaceful villages without any crowds.  It's in one of these that the flat tyre problem overwhelms us.  We carry two spare inner tubes.  But both of these have had punctures, also on the inside, and the repairs keep failing.  We spend a couple of hours trying to fix three inner tubes to no avail.  It's about six when a woman walks past and then stops to ask if we're taking part in this cycling thingummyjig tomorrow.  Lisa is an English freelance journalist staying here for a while.  She knows nothing about the Giro d'Italia but she does know a woman who knows a man who might just fix our puncture.  She smiles beseechingly and the man opens up his garage and gets his car tyre puncture stuff out and does an industrial-sized repair on our tyre.  Splendid.  I have come without any money but Lisa can give him 5 euros - it is a Sunday afternoon after all.  She won't take the money from us but insists, instead, that we treat ourselves to cakes from the pasticceria across the road.  "They supply the Pope!"  Lisa won't ever read this, so I can confess we couldn't face the fancy cakes.  And in any case the repair only lasts until the next town, around the headland.  We surrender.  Take a hotel room, take the day off, get a new inner tube on Monday and see the Giro d'Italia in the flesh along this wonderful coastal road. It's worth it.  We have a good wash, launder, rest and the tyre is fixed.   We then walk out of town up the road to a quiet spot to watch the Giro circus roll on by.  The road has been closed, there are lots of police cars, tour cars, and then, in less than a minute, all the cyclists flash past, the only sound the hiss of tyres on asphalt.

On our ride along to Salerno the next day we are passed by lots of cyclists out for a morning ride.  One of them, Mario, says hello to us and asks where we are going.  We immediately say we're looking for a bike shop - does he know one? Very generously he offers to show us the way.  It turns out he has led bike touring groups and it shows.  He knows the shortcuts through towns to avoid losing height unnecessarily and at one point takes us down a one-way street the wrong way.  We're happy to know we're not the only ones.  The first shop Mario takes us to is no use, but he knows another, smaller one.  The man there has spare rims and offers to rebuild the wheel there and then.  Thank you very much Mario - this might have taken us more than a day to sort out without you.  

Two hours later, Craig Bellamy (for it is he) has rebuilt the wheel for less than what we paid for it in Norway last July and away we go. In such a short space of time we have been blessed with two Spontaneous Acts of Kindness.  Mario has warned us the road south of Salerno is not so nice.  We know there's a strip of pine forest along the coast where we could camp, but we haven't allowed for all the prostitutes working the access roads to the beach or the groups of young men hanging around at intermittent stages.  The good news is that we have a recommendation for a campsite further on which turns up to be perfect - small, quiet and right on the sea.  We go to sleep with the sound of the waves in our ears.

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