January 12

Another great night’s sleep in Olive Tree, and a massive breakfast in the morning.  Once I’d filled up on nutella and orange juice, got all our stuff packed and headed over to a camping shop in town.  We’ve been hoping to get an attachment for the stove that will allow us to burn butane gas, but everywhere we’ve gone so far hasn’t had one.  Well, this place was no different, but I was able to pick up a knife thankfully, as I’ve not had one since we left the UK.

So since stage 1 of the plan hadn’t gone well, we decided screw it and head off on the bikes.  I’d decided not to follow the coast this time, as there were supposed to be some beautiful little towns on the way to Brindisi – Conversano and Alberobello especially.  Conversano was supposed to have a beautiful Swabian castle built by the Hohenstaufen’s, and Alberobello was full of these small hut like things so it seemed like a nice way to spend a day, cruising between the two. 

Well, Conversano and the castle was a disappointment.  The castle had been turned into restaurants and shops, and we couldn’t even go in the castle proper.  We spent a little while taking some photos and cruising about town, then decided that it was actually a bit shit, and we should make a move towards Alberobello.  About an hour later, and lots of hills, we made it into town.  The entire countryside around about was full of these small, circular, stone huts.  They were all built to the same plan, and were all made of stone with slate roofs.  They were quite odd.  Well, Alberobello was beautiful, and as we were about to leave we noticed there were some massive storm clouds behind us that were coming on fast.  Both Ryan and I were not keen on getting soaked, so we high tailed it out of town as fast as possible.  Through luck, speed, good wind direction or a combination of all three, we were able to get through the clouds with only the lightest smattering of rain.  As it was coming up to 5pm, and we were only halfway to Brindisi, we cycled to Fasano and jumped on a train heading south-east – missing our ferry was really not an option.

It was dark when we arrived in Brindisi, and in my attempts to find the ferry port, ended up going to the old port proper.  It was very nice and touristy, but not where we’d find a ferry, so we got back on the bikes and went through some crazy traffic to arrive at the ferry terminal proper.  Well, as to be expected, they told us on arrival that we could only buy tickets from the port – the very place we’d just come from.  No, that wasn’t annoying in the slightest.  One return trip, two pizzas and a couple of beers later, we checked in for our ferry and waited.  Although it was supposed to board at 2130, we ended up getting on at half ten, and within minutes were both asleep.  Next stop Albania.

January 11

Had an incredibly lazy Sunday today and it was brilliant.  Didn’t get out of bed until 1pm, and only then to wander into Bari to have a spot of lunch and check out the old town.  Came back quite quickly as I realised I actually need to make a fairly big decision – Greece or Albania.

From Bari, we can take a ferry straight to Igoumenitsa in Greece, a great starting place to move through Greece.  From Brindisi – the port that, historically, pilgrims would leave from to go to Jerusalem – we can take a ferry to either Vlore in Albania, or Igoumenitsa.  Now, I’m not political about this trip at all.  I am more than willing to take a train if need be, or jump on a bus or a ferry.  Political no.  Romantic, absolutely.  So I’m definitely partial to leaving from Brindisi. 

We’ve made good time through Italy, getting here as fast as I hoped for – especially good considering by day 3 we hadn’t even gone a hundred kilometres.  I was worried.  Albania has a bad reputation, and the reputation of the roads as especially bad for Europe.  But the route we would be taking, from Vlore south to Sarande, and then to Igou, goes along well made, asphalt roads.  Vlore and Sarande are supposedly beautiful cities as well, unlike some of the other Albanian towns I’ve read about.  And the crowning glory of Albania, for me at least, is the Llogara pass – a 1000m high pass, rising from sea level and then descending to sea level pretty much immediately.  It would be a hell of an accomplishment to bag it within our first two weeks of cycling.  As soon as I read about it I knew I wanted to do it, and considering Tuesday is supposed to be warm, clear and without a breath of wind, there can’t be any doubt.  We’re going to Albania.  Two days of fast riding will take us to Igoumenitsa, and from there, we’ll follow the E92 east to Larisa.  I’m anticipating some snow, cold temperatures and almost definitely some big scary Greek sheepdogs.  Very much not looking forward to them.  It should take us two days to get through Albania, a week to get to Thessaloniki, and then perhaps another week to cruise through to Istanbul, so if all goes well we’ll be in Istanbul by the end of January. 

January 10

Woke up bright and early this morning after a warm night.  When I popped my head outside the tent to take a look around there was already a woman picking cabbages in the field opposite, so I hid underneath a tree and watched her as I ate my pineapple.  Ryan was ready to go in a half hour, so we jumped on the bikes and within a few hours we’d rolled through Barletta and Trani.  Both were very southern Italian towns, with traffic mainly consisting of beeping and hand signs out the windows, which I enjoyed immensely.  I think one teenager may have called me a very rude word when I told him I couldn’t speak Italian, but I don’t think his father loves him, so it’s all okay. 

Cruising through Bisceglie, Ryan shouted to show me that there was a 3 store open, which was great, as my phone has not been working since we arrived in Italy.  Obviously, the right time to solve this problem would have been twelve days ago, but better late than never eh.  As I settled in for what turned out to the long haul, Ryan went off to get a few slices of pizza and a sit in the sun.  Emerging victorious an hour later with my now internet-enabled phone, we discussed some of the dogs about town, then got back on the bikes and finished off the ride to Bari. 

Thankfully, as opposed to Ancona, I had taken a good look at the map, and figured out a very quiet way to enter Bari.  It took us along some quiet back roads through the industrial zone and the airport, but we arrived at the port about 1pm to a beautiful, warm city.  I found a great looking hostel, Olive Tree, and we cycled off to find it.  Now Bari is probably the city I’ve liked best in Italy so far.  It’s clean, and the Murat district is beautiful – grid aligned and full of lovely old buildings – and the old city is all higgledy piggledy like old cities should be.  The hostel, in typical Italian fashion, was closed from 1230 until 5, so we took ourselves off to a nearby park to eat ice cream and use the internet until it opened.  At 5, on the dot, we rang the buzzer, got ourselves into the hostel, locked our bikes, dumped our bags and finally took a shower.  I think I was probably under the water for at least ten minutes before I realised I needed to start thinking about washing my hair.  You really forget how truly luxurious it is to have hot water piped to you so that you can have a hot shower whenever you feel like it.  Stop and just think about that right now.  The modern world is brilliant. 

Well, ablutions complete, we heaved ourselves off the mattresses and wandered down to the old town for some pizza, pausing frequently to wonder what the explosions were all about.  None of the locals seemed to pay any attention, so we ignored them, in typical British fashion, and pretended to feel it was totally normal there were very loud explosions that did not result in fireworks less than 50 metres away.  Italy.  An hour of pizza, beer and people watching later, we were both knackered and are now about to pass out.

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. 

January 8

MY LEGS ARE BACK!  Well, sort of.  And, touch wood, my stomach has been absolutely fine today!  Still sniffling, coughing and sneezing and have an enormous bruise on my arm from my fall, but apart from that everything is looking great!

Great ride today, headed out of Francaville al Mare at about 830 and by about 1030 we’d come 40k, which is brilliant speed.  Realising we hadn’t eaten, we had a sit down by the side of the road and munched on some cookies and took some photos for fifteen minutes, then got on our way again towards Vasto.  About 5k outside Vasto, a nice man cycled with Ryan and told us that there was a good shop we could get lunch at, and that there’d been a terrorist attack on Paris.  I hope it wasn’t anything awful, but it does feel at least a little nice to be absolutely out of the loop of things.  Vasto didn’t turn out to be anything special and we blasted through pretty quickly, not stopping again until about 1230, where we found a nice spot of long grass and lay down for half an hour, listening to some music from my phone and talking about jazz, the Gorillaz and the Harlem Renaissance.  Clever people stuff. 

We hopped back on our bikes, and by 2pm we had arrived in Termolli.  It took us a little while to get there, as we’d spotted it a few kilometres back, but it, like some mystical land, never seemed to draw any closer.  Finally we got there, and everything was absolutely shut.  I was starving, and dying for some pizza, and Ryan, having had a slice at a gas station an hour before, was quite keen for a gelato.  We tootled around town for twenty minutes until we found a chicken place, who told us they had no chicken.  We went back to the station, on the directions of the chicken lady, and were able to find a kebab shop run by a lovely Pakistani man.  I had a great big plate of kebab, and Ryan had a kebab wrap and we all had a lively discussion about how I would get killed if I ever went to Pakistan or Afghanistan.  Scratch those two off the bucket list then. 

Refuelled and revitalised, we headed out of Termolli, which seemed to be permanently closed for business, and found a lovely straight road heading along the coast.  With a slow burn of a sunset as a backdrop, we covered another twenty kilometres and as it started to get dark, found a nice patch of grass by the side of the road.  Apparently we’ve done a good 120 kilometres today, Ryan’s faithful bike computer tells us, which is bloody great by my book.  We should be near Bari by tomorrow night, and could be in Brindisi by Sunday, which was my original estimate.  I thought we were going to be miles off, considering it took us three days to do the first hundred kilometres, but luckily it’s all worked out!  Tomorrow, we head through Foggia, which – based purely on the name along – sounds a bit crap, and then along the road to Bari.  Might have a rest day in Bari on Saturday then press on to Brindisi for Sunday, which would be great.  Left knee causing me a little bit of trouble today, but think it will be fine by time we get to Istanbul.  Looks to be a cold one tonight. 

January 7

After the stress of last night, today went quite well.  Had a few bathroom visits during the night, that still hasn’t cleared itself up, and Ryan had to go and relieve himself once this morning as well, so there’s a fear he might have got the bug I have.  Fingers crossed not.  Ended up being very pleased with our campsite, except the fact that it was across a slight incline, so Ryan slowly slid into the wall, and I slowly slid into Ryan over the course of the night. It was on the inside corner of a hairpin bend, so traffic would never notice us during the night, as their beams would never pass us – pretty cunning if I say so myself.  I was up by about 6am and the sun was rising, so I gently nudged Ryan into consciousness until he decided that it was a good idea to make a move.  We ended up getting on our bikes about 730 which I think is earliest so far.  Glorious sunrise, days are starting noticeably earlier now – nights are fair drawing in eh dad?

Even though we were both feeling quite poorly, and there was a fairly consistent headwind (grrrrrr) we made good time and by about 1130 we’d made it over halfway to Pescara.  After about three near misses with finding a Decathlon, we were finally able to do it and spent an hour getting Ryan’s bike tuned up, buying a few extra things and talking to the bike staff.  Glad we were finally able to make it to one.  Annoyingly, within 100m of us leaving the place that does bike repair, Hobbes started making an irritating clicking noise, which I am yet to get to the bottom of.  After another hour of cycling, we had a quick lunch and jumped back on the bikes to get on our way.  One lovely piece of the day was the whitebearded Italian cyclist, clad in lycra of course, who gave us loads of thumbs up and very vocal encouragement (in Italian), which was nice.  Didn’t understand a word, but the thought was appreciated. 

Made it into Pescara around 4, and I’ve never seen worse driving in Italy so far.  People parked in the road, no-one using their signals, people pulling out right in front of us.  I got quite stressed about it and called a half before we took a turn off to Foggia so I could have some ice tea and discovered there was some free wifi nearby.  Although my phone doesn’t pick up any signal (EVEN THOUGH IT SHOULD 3!) Ryan was able to catch it and check some messages from home.  Potential for one of his friend in Milan to meet us in Foggia but highly doubtful. 

After we moved through Pescara as quickly as possible, we came to Francavilla al Mare, where there was a lovely pier, and naughty boys that we are we rode our bikes along the pier to take some photos.  Rolling out of town we were beset by great places for a wild camp, and have settled down in one evenly spaced about 20 metres between the sea and the road.  Wildflowers all around, lots of lush grass to lie on and I think some kind of wild herbs – perhaps best wild camp yet.   Not too hungry so dinner will probably be a miss.  Tomorrow aiming for somewhere past Termoli.  Not sure about where we’re going to go once we arrive to Brindisi, we have the option to go to Vlore in Albania or Igoumentina in Greece.  We’d be cycling from Vlore to Igou anyway, so way just make Albania a miss, as there’s a pretty enormous pass – Mt Cika 1000m – that we’d have to crawl over to get to Greece.  No rush to decide though.  Weather is beautiful and warm.  Well, during the day, when we’re cycling hard, we can get down to our base layers, which is bloody warm for January if you ask me. 

January 6

Waking at 6am, I spent some time making sure my devices were charged, then around 9am we fell upon the free breakfast with vigour.  Well, I tried to at least, but I felt pretty awful after having one sickly chocolate donut and some milk that I passed on pretty much else.  We were on our way by 930, along the via Giro, and passed through some beautiful hills.  My body was absolutely spent and I found the hills really tough, I started the day with the bonk and it didn’t get better.  We managed to make it through the other side happily tho, and once back on the flat stuff I was able to get up a decent speed until we hit a pretty fierce headwind.  It threw itself at us pretty much all day, at least until it got dark.  Had my first encounter with being chased by dogs as well – some yappy little thing ran out in front of me and tried to scare me away, so naturally I jumped on the pedals and got out of there with some vigour.  Nothing significantly eventful happened for the rest of the day until 6pm or so, when I took a crash.  Coming along the road I misjudged the kerb as smaller than it was and ended up going into a metal barrier.  Bruised my right arm, chest and leg but am sure it will be fine tomorrow.  Still having recurring issues with stomach, but able to keep proper food down now.  Wild camping spots very difficult to find here – this stretch has a motorway, train tracks, towns and another main road all sandwiched in between the hills and sea, so there’s not a lot of space for two cheap cyclists, but we got a place in the end.  Tomorrow looking to head into Decathlon to pick up some new trousers, as current ones ripped all the way through the crotch, and also buy some waterproof trousers and/or a hat.  Then off to Pescara.