January 9

Well holy shit, what a day.  Hookers in the morning, dogs in the afternoon, with a lovely pasta break in Foggia in between.

Cold night last night, with some frost on the tent this morning.  Up by about 7am and were all packed up by 8am.  I was sitting by the side of the road brushing my teeth when Ryan joined me, and literally a minute later, the farmer (or so I presume) to whom the field belonged turned up and stood and had a chat with some farmer buddies.  We felt like spies sneaking away in the nick of time.  We jumped on our bikes, and as we quickly wound our way to Foggia I started to notice something very odd.  Firstly, there was a significant amount of trucks on the road in comparison to all other traffic – not something I enjoyed – and there also seemed to be women dotted along the side of the road.  By the third woman I’d realised they were of course prostitutes (the high heels and short skirts made it pretty clear) and so I began to wave at them as I rolled past.  They didn’t seem the happiest bunch, but I guess neither would I be if I was doing what they were doing.

We stopped at a gas station to try and re-fill our water bottles and muse on the day, where I realised what this area of Italy most reminded me of.  It’s a very odd thing to say, but the stretch between Termolli and Foggia, along that particular road at least, seemed like something straight out of the Deep South.  There were industrial works pumping out white smoke, deserted gas stations nestled beside a crumbling old church and all surrounded by flat, flat agricultural land that was dry as a bone.  It was a very odd feeling sitting there in the 15 degree heat in January in Italy, and feeling like I could be in somewhere straight of out True Detective.  There was an eeriness about the landscape that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. 

Well, eerie or not, we made good time to Foggia, getting there about noon, and finally it seemed like we’d found proper Italian traffic.  People were weaving back and forth, beeping all over the place and it didn’t seem like anyone was paying attention to the traffic lights.  I loved it.  I weaved and dodged my way through Foggia, trying to get somewhere close to the centre of town and after I stopped to check Ryan was still with me (he was), spotted a small shop selling fresh pasta.  Considering yesterday’s attempt to find italian food had failed so miserably, we rolled our bikes over, parked up outside and I went in to take a look.  Well, holy shit – it was like the pasta mecca.  There was stuffed octopus with roast potatoes, seafood risotto, parmigiana, ravioli and everything else you can think of.  I, being the quietly awkward British person I am, waited nervously until everyone else had left the shop before moving over and asking for three large portions of what looked good, and after everyone had had a good laugh at the ‘Inglese’ (grrr) making a tit of himself, a lovely lady grabbed me, gave me a fork and knife, sat me down with a placemat and bid me eat.  Upon explaining my adventure to the ladies behind the counter, the motherly attitude took over them, and they were soon asking me if I was cold, why I was doing it, was I writing a book, was I a student, why was I doing it, was I really going to China, why was I doing it by bike and so on and so on.  As this was all in Italian, I found myself a little unable to explain any of the reasons, and to be honest probably couldn’t do it in English anyway.  Luckily, the mothering lady from before rescued me and, sorting out all the food, told me in no uncertain terms I was to sit eat and enjoy myself.  And so I did.  Within about two minutes of sitting down to eat however (and Ryan entering the shop) I was told by no less than three people to keep an eye on the bike otherwise it would be stolen tout suite.  So, with a zealous eye on the bike, and another one on my italian feast I set to work.

Approximately forty five seconds later, once I’d finished, I pulled up my phone to see if, holiest of holies, there was any WiFi, a lovely little network called icasa appeared.  45 minutes and 64 push notifications later, I’d communicated with my family, boasted of my pasta finding skills and made angry noises at my phone network.  Saying gratuitous thanks to the pasta ladies, and getting some acqua montagne from a lovely man who kept saying ‘good water’ over and over while smiling, we headed east out of Foggia along the quietest road I could find.

Well what a terrible mistake.  Within ten minutes, we’d had five encounters with a number of dogs.  As we cycled down this quiet country road, I spotted what looked like a bull mastiff standing in the grass outside of a house.  It seemed very relaxed so I cycled past, and after 100m Ryan informed me, like something out of Top Gun, that we had a ‘Dog on our tail, pick up the speed’ and I looked back to see a glimpse of something dark and rapid chasing us.  Well, the adrenaline hit me and I did as I was bid, quite enjoying the rush of the whole thing.  Within seconds of distancing myself from the first dog, there was a bark from a field to our left and two dogs started running towards us from about 200m away.  Well, no problem these pooches, and I stepped on it again, with them giving up the chase within seconds.  Well, the third encounter was much less enjoyable.  Up ahead, on the right hand side of the road, there’s a horse. I smile.  I like horses.  But what are those small things just behind the horse.  Oh fuck those are Alsatians. 

I can outpace a small yappy thing.  I can outpace a dog 200m away.  I cannot outpace three Alsatians that are in front of me.  They are fast, strong dogs.  By the time this has all been processed by my brain the first dog barks and all three of them spring towards me.  With a heavy heart, and heavier legs, I kick my legs down and start to push away as fast as I can, not even looking to see the dogs.  Just as I begin to gain speed, I hear a shout of ‘EY’ from over the wall, and the first dog stops, ten metres away and staring intently at me.  All adrenaline has now left my system.  I am drained. 

After these three times, I decided to put into practice something I’ve read.  As soon as I heard the next dog bark, I unclipped from my bike, jumped to one side and stopped.  The dog, now presented with a stationary target that was significantly bigger than it, decided to chase the other moving target, aka Ryan, and left me well enough alone.  I walked quietly along the road, jumped back on my bike and cycled off.  This tactic proved very effective, even if sometimes the dogs get a little close, and is now almost automatic once we hear a bark.

Knowing how to deal with the dogs didn’t stop me from being on high alert the entire afternoon though, and by the time we got in to Trinitapoli, I was exhausted from the stress of constantly looking out for more dogs.  I think we had about twenty encounters with dogs over the course of a few hours, and having to be prepared for it at all times is so tiring.  Entering Trinitapoli, we went to a supermarket to pick up some breakfast for the next day and after I packed up all the food, the cashier and the guard came out to talk to us about where we were going.  The look on the cashier’s face when we said ‘Venezia a Cina’ was unforgettable – just pure incredulity.  We chatted a little more about the trip, and she informed that we were truly pazzo.  As with the pasta ladies, they asked me if I was a student or if I was writing a book.  I think I’ll tell people I’m just writing a book. 

After cycling through Trinitapoli, which was a beautiful little village, we were able to find a nice patch of trees and slung the tent underneath.  As soon as this is finished, I’m going to polish off some of the risotto I kept from lunch, eat a pineapple then fall deeply asleep.  120km today.  Tomorrow, we should be in Bari by about 1pm, and we intend to find a hostel or a cheap hotel and I intend to try and have a bath.  Well, a shower first, then a bath.  Ryan might have a friend coming down from Milan for the weekend, which would be a nice treat, and from Bari we’re less than a days ride to Brindisi and the end of the Italian leg of our adventure. 

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