Northern Italy - Mid August, 2005
Departed Hard, Austria for Torino Italy on August 15
Aug 30: So much has happened since we last wrote an update that it is hard to know where to begin. We have not had much access to email so when we finally had the chance to get on line today it was a treat to hear from so many friends and family.
When we left Hard Austria on 15 August, we had enjoyed yet another wonderful Warm Showers experience. We were lucky to get 2 or 3 kilometers under our belt before it started raining. The rains that day were some of the hardest we experienced so when the day was heading to a close we decided to stay at a youth hostel in Schaan Lichtenstein. Not only was it a great place to dry out (which it did by later in the afternoon), but unbeknownst to us it was also this tiniest of country's National Day. Now one would think that with only 30,000 people in the entire country that this might not be such a big deal. Nothing could be further from the truth. The celebration in Vaduz, the capital, was incredible. Street parties, bands, food galore, and on and on. To top it off the fireworks
display was by far the best we had ever seen. The choreography of the explosions was incredible as was seeing them from 8 different sites on the mountain side including from right in front of the castle. Amazing.
Two days later on a crystal clear day we crossed the Swiss and Italian Alps via Splugen Pass, a maximum 11% grade with the summit being the border between the two countries. We thought the Swiss side was incredible with about 10 switchbacks at the start of the 9 kilometer climb (keep in mind that we had been climbing more gradually for the previous 30 km) and 16 switchbacks over the last 4 km. However, it was the 31 km descent on a 13% grade that was truly eye popping. Going down we lost count of the switchbacks, but we later got a detailed map in which we counted 88!! There were times that the combination of the intensity of the descent, going through dark tunnels, and the traffic felt pretty scary.
After a day off the bike to hike in the region we headed to the Lake District. We spent the next week circumnavigating a number of different lakes, one seemingly more beautiful than the next. Classic Northern Italian architecture within the beautiful villages. How and where they build boggles the mind. Exceptionally steep hillsides with buildings that have been there hundreds of years. One night we came back into Switzerland and stayed at a campground there. There was a TV with a newscast showing the flooding in central Switzerland. One image even showed a campground with two touring bikes that had water between the top of the chain ring and the top tube. While we had a couple of days of light to moderate rain that week, it was nothing compared to what the Swiss had received. We got several emails from friends who were aware of the flooding asking if we had been caught in it. We continue to feel very fortunate that we left at just the right time. In fact we got an email from our friend Greg in Biel, who we stayed with for a few nights and went sailing with on Lake Biel, who said that the lake had risen more than 5 feet since we were there!
Following our time in the relative flats of the Lake District we headed back into the Italian Alps. Our goal was to tour the areas that will host the 20th Winter Olympics with Tourino being the host city. We had two hard days of climbing, and fortunately had very favourable weather conditions. Our first day took us over Col Sangiovani and Col de Lys. Then the next day we had over 5000 feet of elevation gain in about 55km as we summited Colle Sestriere at 2035 meters. It is hard to think of the village of Sestriere as being at almost exactly the same elevation as where we live in Colorado Springs because it is more analogous to a village being at the top of one of Colorado's highest passes. Sestriere will host nearly all of the alpine skiing events. In addition, it has a long history of being used as one of the more significant mountain stages in the Giro de Italia. As we headed down the 10 kilometers to our campsite in Pragelato we passed the ski jump site and were aware that this region will also host the Nordic ski events. If we get to see some of the Olympics in mid February when we are targeted to be in Australia and New Zealand it will no doubt bring back tremendous memories of our time cycling through this region.
Because of the Olympics, nearly all of the roads that we have been on were recently repaved so the road surface was excellent. That was particularly nice as we descended off of Sestriere to Pinorolo dropping 1600 meters in 30 kilometers. It was a great time under superior weather conditions. It is likely that bugs are still stuck to my teeth as I couldn't stop smiling. I suppose that is one advantage Janet has as the tandem stoker is that she has a bug shield in front of her!
At present we are staying with another Warm Showers host, Valter and Anna Paola who live in Carignano, about 15 km south of Tourino. Yet again, wonderful people and wonderful hosts. Last night Valter took us on a tour of Carignola and gave us a wonderfully detailed history of the city which, in its early years, was a much more important town politically and strategically than Tourino. I won't attempt to reiterate what he told us as I wouldn't be able to do it justice, but it was wonderfully fascinating. Today we took a bus into Tourino and walked the city for hours. We passed by newly excavated ancient roman walls, and "new" buildings that are only umpteen hundred years old!! The main information center has been transformed to provide details about the upcoming Olympic Games. They have done a wonderful job. It is clear that the city is excited and actively preparing for the games. The venues are being designed with the ability to be utilized in a variety of ways following the games. Very innovative thinking that will be a longterm benefit to this city, region, and country (although this concept has been used for several of the most recent host cities for both the summer and winter Olympics.)
Our immediate future brings us toward some of Italy's wine making region (Italy produces 20% of the world's wines) and then over smaller passes to the Mediterranean. It will likely be a few weeks before we will have the opportunity to provide another update. So until then, we send our best to all of you.