We landed in Bari with nine days to get ourselves to Rome, to meet friends on the tail end of their own European vacation. Awoken to the chatter of Italian passengers observing me snoring on the ship floor, I knew we had arrived.
Without delay we rode off from the ship to knock off the first 100km. Joining the car queue again we breezed through customs. Heading north along the coast we passed though some beautiful seaside towns with colourful buildings.
Sadly this was not a sign of what was to follow.
Soon the roads were heavily lined with rubbish and graffiti. Despite being forewarned of the southern Italy landscape we were still shocked at the scale of the rubbish. Discarded mattresses, rotting restaurant waste and bags of trash lined the motorway along with more roadkill than we had seen on the trip to date. At one point we rode past a trash-fueled fire, complete with discarded furniture.
The landscape changed again, to wheat fields and wind farms, as we cut west towards Naples. Campsites non-existent, we ended our first night wild camping in a corner of an olive grove. Awaking early at 5.30am to avoid a farmer we jumped on the bikes, spurred to ride at a faster pace by local farm dogs chasing us (luckily the more vicious ones were all tied up).
Occasionally the farms would be broken up by small towns perched on top of mountains like ancient fortresses. Great to look at, horrendous to ride up into with almost vertical roads. And rarely any shops which made the celebration of the climb quite subdued with no relief of a cold drink or an ice cream.
We wild camped again on our second night, this time on an old disused track complete with lightning bugs.
Our biggest enemy in Italy was the heat, ranging from 35-40° Celsius on most days. We carried around 8 litres of water and took advantage of many ancient deep spring water fountains to refill at least 3 times a day.
Some were simply a horse trough, originally one of their past uses, while others were more elaborate. But the water was always crystal clear and ice-cold.
As we neared the famous pizza town of Naples, Suyin was chased by one last fierce dog…who just wanted a belly rub.
When we entered Naples we were suddenly back to rubbish and graffiti along with bumpy cobblestones and wall-to-wall traffic. We had originally planned to spend two nights in Naples but 5 minutes was enough for us to decide to ride on. The waste issue is so dire in Naples that one shipload is taken to the Netherlands once a week to be incinerated. To give a sense of scale, in June 2011 it was calculated that 2,500 tons of rubbish sat uncollected in the streets of Naples.
We finally reached our first real campsite where we had our first shower in 3 days. This campsite is known for being at the base of an old volcano which we dutifully checked out, replacing our new clean smell with egg sulphur. Genius.
We made friends with two British bike tourers who warned us about tunnels coming up north towards Rome. After the first 50kms of riding along a main highway, lined with prostitutes and migrant workers from Africa, we made it to the first of the tunnels.
Most of the tunnels were quite long, with one over 2.5kms, which was exciting but scary as there was no shoulder. Thankfully they were dual carriageway and single direction. Surviving the tunnels we were rewarded with the first of many, sand!, beaches.
The campsites along the west coast were the most expensive of the trip, one being €40/$59 AUD a night for a patch of grass. The sites were also geared towards families/summer camp for kids with camp activities, karaoke and dance discos blaring until 2am. Every. Night. What the campsites did have though was very late checkout times, usually around 4pm, which allowed for more beach time, and very slow starts to our days.
We took our time completing the last 150kms to take advantage of the huge choice of sandy beaches. Our final ride into Rome took us past an ancient viaduct bisecting through several farms which was so interesting to see.
With one last stop at a watermelon stand for refreshment we found ourselves on the outskirts of Rome.
Riding through the cobblestone streets, past ruins and crowds of tourists, we rounded the last corner to the full spectacular view of the Colosseum, completing our 570km ride.
Daily Costs for 8 Days:
Bed and Breakfast Motel: €50
Camping fees: €161
Wild Camping for two nights: €0
Average per day: €50.70/$75.11AUS