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Day 12 – Riola to Rocca di Vignola …the DOG

BEWARE of the dog watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Waiting in the pitch dark my ears tuned in for the slightest sound. But there was silence apart from a twitter of a night bird. I lay awake for a long time wondering if I should go and see if Giuseppe was ok, but he had locked the door when he left and I didn’t have a key. There was no phone connection and nobody else on the farm. The inner voice said it was probably just a ghost and it’s time to go to sleep now.

In the morning the sun was shining and there was no sign of blood. Only a majestic view of the mountains. Giuseppe had vanished but breakfast was waiting on the table. I ate it all before loading my panniers and riding down the mountain to the main road at Riola.

500 kms.


Believe it or not but that terribly steep road I went up to yesterday to the ill-fated Il mio Refugio, is to be mine again today. It’s necessary to cross over through Montese on the crest, and down into the parallel valley.

The area is famous for nine mineral springs, some of them salty. According to the information poster in town, the area was considered sacred since the bronze-age. Cattle farmers would come from all around to perform rituals at an ancient lake which has disappeared now.

Goats and sheep munched at the edge of the road as I slogged up the switchbacks. A big green snake slithered along next to my wheel. Cherry trees dripped with fruit. Roosters crowed.

It took all morning to traverse the mountain. A bit like a game of snakes and ladders. Going down the other side was beautiful and quick, and I felt thrilled to have made it across the Apennines and into the catchment of the Po Valley.

Farmers were selling fresh cherries along the roadside. There are two types Duroni are scarlet and a bit tart, compared to Ciliegie, the sweet dark red juicy type. I stopped and bought a celebratory bagful of ciliegie from a lady and her daughter at my grand total of 500 kilometers mark. They took my picture.

Lunch on the banks of the wide stoney river Panaro at ‘Antica Osteria Ponte Samone’ was excellent. That’s where I met a travelling man called Carlo. He had a tiny black puppy in a backpack and told me to go to Rocca di Vignola. So I did.

The road there was overrun with speeding trucks. Some rumbled dangerously close to my shoulder. At the medieval village of Vignola there is a fascinating castle (Rocca) and a lovely posh bed & breakfast & dinner & lunch at Civico 7. A cyclone was passing over so I stayed safely home in the solid stone house. Happily spent the rainy day painting and eating wonderful homemade food with my generous and attentive hosts Cristina and Valta.

The room bragged a fancy spa shower which took me a while to figure out. When you’re an older person and slightly blind like me, those showers with levers, taps and switches can leave you feeling quite exposed. I felt like a Caravaggio character lounging around on the artfully arranged antique furniture picking at bowls of fat juicy cherries and sweets.

Valter was born in this house. It is immaculately renovated and maintained. In the dark attic stands a row of twelve wooden barrels full of wine becoming balsamic vinegar. Every year the contents of each are moved to the following barrel, and the first barrel is filled with fresh wine, until by the time it reaches barrel twelve it has become a glossy black syrup. It is then bottled. Some of the bottles are way more than one hundred years old, made by the ancestors. It is sweet and utterly delicious. I was treated to their balsamico on slabs of Grana Padano cheese.

The farmers made a lot of noise blasting projectiles into the clouds to ‘open’ them so it doesn’t hail on the ripening cherries. Boom, boom all day and night.

Then something unexpected happened. I went downstairs to the garage to fetch something from the bike bag, when a monstrous black Doberman charged at me. He made no sound except for his ghastly nails scratching the cement driveway. Valter who happened to be sweeping nearby, shot over to intercept him, taking the full force of the hugely muscular body with the broom handle planted diagonally across his chest. I made a really fast dash up the steps to the safety of my room.

Some deep survival instinct tells you when an animal is about to kill or simply scare you off… this dog was not trying to scare me off.

I found out later that he usually lives in a cage behind a hedge. He has never been out on a street because he’s too big and vicious to handle. So if you go and stay with Valter and Christina, make sure you don’t wander around unexpectedly.

See the route.

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Ready steady

Ready steady - Madonna de 'u Sassu

Ready steady….Good news! Simon has changed his plans so he can ride with me for the first week of the tour. At great cost to his reputation. Usually at this time he goes bike riding for a week with his ‘men only’ group (every year for 20 years). They are all horribly cross that he’s chosen to ride with his wife instead. Proof of marital love if there was ever one!

We have decided to leave on Saturday 26th May 2018. Simon will ride with me as far as Florence. From there I will go on towards Oslo by myself. The route begins to show up on the map with a smudge of magic marker. We spend hours at the dinner table discussing plans and options. Tyrone sends me a google-suggested route that measures about 2500 kms. I baulk at the thought!

But it looks super easy doesn’t it – simply follow the compass directly north all the way to Norway.

Panniers are side bags

I wander down the giant aisles of a huge sports equipment store gaping at all the bicycle paraphernalia. Shelves are loaded with confusing metallic and rubbery things that make up a bicycle. Compounded by a variation of each piece according to brand name. I need panniers (side bags) and tools. The sporty young male shop assistants take no notice of me. I guess they are thinking this woman must have wandered out of the pilates area into the bike zone by mistake.

According to the lists from the cycling-gurus websites, clothing needs to be light and durable. Italian cycling sportswear is not at all modest. The racks are filled with flashy lycra tops and tights that look tiny until you stretch them onto your body. These padded tights feel like you’re wearing a big nappy. Strappy push-up brassieres come in luminous green, pink or orange, which gives the impression of paradisal fruits hanging off your chest. For the bust-conscious Italian woman this is exactly the look she wants.

My fruits are more subtropical than paradisal, even so wearing a bright colour could attract the attention of robbers and rapists along the roadside. One should look like a paradox on wheels – blend into the scenery but be visible to drivers. Noticeably unattractive.

Packing

The packing pile grows steadily bigger on the spare-room bed. A watercolour paint box and brushes, camera and lenses, a laptop computer on which to write a blog and edit photographs (under the kind instruction of Sian Owen), a leather-bound journal of hand-made paper to fill with paintings, an old smartphone with charging cable, waterproofs, energy snacks and a mysterious multi-tool gadget.

Two large e-bicycle manuals full of technically instructive information lie on my bedside table unopened. Some of you cyclists will pick on me for riding an electric bike. In defense all I can say is a glad YAY. Simon will be riding his ‘normal’ bike….let’s see how that compares.

Finally all the goodies are neatly packed into zip-lock bags and carefully inserted into the two panniers. A squirt of adrenaline sends my heart flipping like a fish. To calm it down, I go for a tentative practice ride around Marino. At the caffè near the central piazza our friend Roberto who sells porchetta at street-food stand waves me over to ask why I’m riding a bicycle. I tell him and the other characters sitting around under the umbrellas they all laugh and say “che follia” (what craziness).

At the corner next to the post office, is a stone bust of the “Madonna de’u Sassu“. Painted all around in a lovely tropical melon colour. She has been there since 1596 blessing travellers in transit between Rome and Naples.

She gives me a stoney look and asks – “What are you doing Leanne?”

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The good – the bad and the ugly.

Front door - Leanne Talbot Nowell

We have two entrances, one front and one back. You may think it normal, but in this neighbourhood people usually manage with just one. The flip side of an extra door is a bigger portion of any condominium bill.

You won’t believe me but when we first moved in fourteen years ago there was an open drain carrying the neighbourhood black water down the street. There was a grid over it, but you could see the floaters making their way to who knows where! However, after a plumbing leakage under the communal steps at our back entrance a new pipe was installed. It mercifully extended to the street and put an end to that rat infested drain.

To settle the blame equally and fairly on all contributors, Simon and our Plumber made an investigative tour of the adjoining apartments. A dose of blue dye was flushed down each loo, while someone watched to see if it appeared in the broken pipe at the other end – signifying a connection. Eleven apartments were thus accounted for. We have a loo, like everyone else, but because we have two doors we had to pay half of the total bill. The other ten apartment owners divided the remainder between them.

Simon is referred to as “il Tedesco” and considered good at billing. Nobody keeps track of numbers like he does. People discuss, argue, blame but he writes everything down and makes them sign it before we begin a communal project.

Going up the front steps now – to the door (on the right, in case you come to visit). There are four types of people sharing our walls. Anna who always does the right thing no matter what. Then there are some who do the right thing so long as everyone else is doing it. There are of course, the egoists who don’t feel they must comply because they know better. When Simon says pay up, they generally do but only after threats, fines and long delays. The fourth type are the operette – the dramatic women who make it their business to stir up trouble. Having a punishment complex so severe they are willing to get themselves into trouble rather than let someone else get away breaking the rules.

Actually, there is also the fifth type, the unreasonable person who just realised her chimney doesn’t exist anymore, after the roof was redone about thirty years ago. She doesn’t actually have a fireplace, but now she is demanding to have the chimney reopened at Simon’s expense. She often sends her husband to argue for it.

Our neighbours are probably similar to yours. The four types, plus that special one, have the same attitude towards the quarantine regulations. Going up those steps now – to Government level (they’re also neighbours of someone) – which of the five types is yours?

The painting is boring – like our entrance. Megan said I should paint it anyway, to complete the picture.

Marino covid-19 numbers are 87 positive, one more than yesterday, and 13 deaths altogether. Italian numbers are worse again! 3370 new infections and 437 deaths according to Worldometer. We are trekking down a mountain range, not skiing down a peak.