My impressions of Bologna were tainted by our failure to find a host on Couchsurfing or Warm Showers. However, Bologna is a great city. It is filled with people doing things and going places. The central plaza was scattered with university students sitting on the flat pavement. One girl was napping sprawled on the concrete, and nobody seemed to think anything of it. I kept thinking it was the type of city you would want to do a semester abroad in. It fulfilled all of my criteria: young, hip, lots of patios, and really good mascarpone-fig gelato.
The next day, we cycled out of Bologna and across the plains. Whoppee! It was flat cycling! We wanted to make it near Mantova were we were fairly sure there was a paved cycle path that would take us to Lake Garda.
We camped 30km outside of Mantova on a small residential road in a bird sanctuary along a beautiful river. We found a sheltered spot and had the luxury of setting up camp in the daylight with no worry of intruding in anybody’s business. We relaxed, played cards – I won at Cribbage twice! – and we drifted off to sleep to the sound of birds.
So far we have made many attempts to follow cycle paths. This guy (http://italy-cycling-guide.info/cycleways-cycle-routes/) has some really great resources in English about routes and paths all across Italy. Easy, right? Wrong. Without GPS or mobile data, it has turned out to be incredibly hard to find/follow/know where the cycle routes are and whether they are cycle paths or roads.
The cycle path out of Mantova was our first cycle path success! Linking Mantova to the rather famous Lake Garda, the path attracts large crowds in summer. Apparently rainy weekdays do not attract crowds, and we could cruise side by side for kilometres. We were shocked that the path was easy to find and well-maintained, something that would be unthinkable in Southern Italy.
Alex and I crawled into our tents along the Mincio river just as the rain started to fall. I was cosy in my sleeping bag, happy to have beaten the rain, when… well… the rain started to fall in the tent. Here begins the first chapter of the tent saga.
I inherited our Mountain Hardware tent from my dad in a mutually beneficial arrangement: I get a tent, and my dad feels no guilt in buying himself a new tent. Unfortunately the seams are not what they once were, and they leak along the roof of the fly. With a few strategic plastic bags, we stayed dry.
The next morning the sun had managed to poke her head out between the clouds, and we cycled a mere 150 Metres before running into our perfect cafe. The cafe’s business was solely fuelled from the traffic on the cycle path. No road, no cars, just an open air cafe on an island oasis in the middle of the river. There is something wonderful about pulling up to a cafe with a line up of bikes resting against trees, and ordering “due capaccini e cornetti” next to a few greying Italian men in their brightly coloured cycling get-up.
We spent some time later that day on the banks of Lake Garda. This beautiful lake sits at the foothills of the Alps. We had emerged from the planes, and got our first glimpse of the mountains across the water. By the time we were ready to leave, gloomy rain clouds were once again closing in on us.
We cycled towards Brescia. It was dark and miserable. We rode into Brescia in the early evening. We found ourselves in a busy city hungry, tired, and surrounded by dark threatening clouds. Riding out of the city was a challenge; suburban sprawl is not conducive to wild camping. Finally, we camped across in a field across from an apartment block in the pouring rain, praying our plastic-bag-tent-repair manoeuvre would hold.