Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Beauty of Back Roads in Italy

Of course it happens to be that just when I start feeling like I know a country’s road system, it is time to enter a new country! That is another added element of adventure on this trip.  So far, in the ranking, the Italians are the worst drivers, behind France and Spain.  I’m partially bias to Spain where I’ve done the majority of my riding.  I find Spanish drivers to make an effort to respect the 1,5 meter distance between a car and a cyclist.  In fact, now, the police will dock points off your license if you don’t leave that distance.  However, in Italy, it is as if you earn points on your license the closer you ride to the cyclists.  Cyclists are target practice for them!

I’ve tried hard in this country to find the smallest possible roads on the maps. I look for the ones that hardly appear as a solid line, aren’t too squiggly, and have other major road alternatives close by, thinking no one will be on these roads.  Unfortunately, it seems the trucks drivers are consulting the same maps too!  There are green signs for pay “autostrades” and then a network of blue signage for the freeway system, either SS, SP, or SR.  I haven’t figured out where the SS, or “Strade Statale” roads fall in the network, but the SP stands for Strade Provinciale or “Strade Picolos” as I call them, to distinguish them from their larger alternatives, the “Strade Regionales”. 

Even better than my “piccolo” roads are the tiny little back roads that look like a faint cobweb on the map.  They shoot out in all different directions on the outskirts of towns and cities and usually are headed in just the perfect direction to connect two small towns together that eventually take you around a major metropolis areas.  However, they can be confusing because some of the towns on these roads are so small they don’t even show up on the map I’m using (which has an enormous scale) and so navigating your way from one small town to the next can be difficult, to say the least.  But there is always somebody out on the road for a morning and afternoon stroll who is helpful with directions. 

Yesterday I had some “time to kill” before arriving at my host’s house and I saw that there was a green line next to the highway which means it is a scenic road.  To tell you the truth, if I made these maps, you’d probably see green lines everywhere because it is all so beautiful and it’s hard to classify and determine which is worthy of a green line!  But this green line looked enticing, because it didn’t squiggle a lot so I figured it would be flat,…..another false assumption.  They must have run out of asphalt to get over the hills on this road because instead of switchbacks, they just brought you straight over them.  I went from a flat smooth road with wind at my back to hills with 9 and 10% grades.  I guess I deserved it if I went looking for the scenic route.

I absolutely love the Italian word “avanti”.  Aavanti in my vocabulary, is a verb, adjective, preposition, and noun!  Avanti added on to the name of a town, like “Treviso avanti” and raising your voice at the end is usually enough to get directions, so you don’t stay lost for long.  If not, I add “sinestre” or “driestre” and that is a great conversation starter.  If you really want to get the Italians talking, you start undulating your hand, up and down, pointing to your bike or helmet, to ask them if it is hilly! Lots of times if you do make a wrong turn, at the following intersection, magically the town you were looking for at the last intersection is there, starring you in the face on a sign.

After an afternoon on these small roads, however, you’ve done enough sightseeing to satisfy your “touristy- self” for a few days!  You roll upon abandoned medieval castles, tiny canals, endless vineyards, pristine villas, churches with bell towns, and  deserted piazzas.  When you ride and discover these authentic places you feel like you’ve gone back in time to Italy 50 years ago!  It also wets your appetite for sightseeing enough that when you arrive at your destination for the day, you don’t have the urge to race around and sight-see because you’ve just experienced amazing scenery all day long while you ride your bike. 

Italy has been an adventure! It is an amazing country for it’s landscape and food.  There is gelateria in almost any town, the coffee is to die for even in the middle of nowhere, and you never get tired of seeing Piazzas and Duomos, not even corn fields and apple orchards.  The people are so animated, sometimes I like to stop and ask them for directions just to hear them talk, even if I know where I’m going!  And thanks to my Spanish and Catalan, I think we understand each other pretty well.  Today I visit the Udine International School and tomorrow I’m off to Slovenia, a country I haven’t visited for 6 years.  I can’t wait to see what awaits me there!       

1 comment:

  1. I loved your blog and everything you told in it about my favorite country Italy. Italy has many roads which may sometimes confuse tourists. It is suggested to carry Italy Road Maps along with you so that you may not get confused and reach your destination easily.