Getting going today was harder than we’d hoped. We spent the morning trying to work out how we’d get to the Saint Bernard Pass on the border of Italy and Suisse (Switzerland) in time to meet Sev and Francois.
We had no luck with the buses and trains, and so we worked out a separate route where we’d go to one of Italy’s most famous island mafia strongholds. But first, our destination was Potenza, a city in the Italian foothills at over 800 meters in elevation, we hoped it would be a little colder.
By the time we cycled out of Bari it was almost 2pm, and almost 35 degrees. We didn’t figure on not being able to find water, so we left with our bottles half full without realizing what was ahead of us.
All afternoon we pedalled hard and seemed to cover little ground. The service stations were all closed. At one service station, which was open, the shop was locked so the attendant gave us some water he had in his car. It was a simple act but improved our mood dramatically.
In the evening we stopped in the city of Altamura and found a supermarket. The altimeter on Sam's watch said 420m - we had been climbing all day. That partly explained why it had seemed so hard.
The sun was setting and we rode furiously to get away from the city and find somewhere to camp. Sam located the perfect spot - under a bridge next to a rail line. There were no houses around and we were looking forward to a quiet night.
Waking to a beautiful panorama of Dubrovnik bay and its capital we wondered just why it was we were leaving this place. But we'd already bought our tickets and it was too late to turn back now.
That and we were now in a hurry to get to Switzerland, where our friends Sev and Francois are waiting for us to meet them at the Saint Bernard hospice, at 2480 meters in allevation, one of the highest motorable passes in Europe and the highest point in last year's Tour De France. But first we had to get there.
We made it to the bottom of the mountain in five minutes and stocked up on food for the eight hour journey to Bari, Italy. We had originally planned to cycle to Split and catch a ferry to Ancona, but the traffic in Croatia pursuaded us to leave earlier than planned. Once we arrived in Bari we would catch a ferry or train or bus further north, closer to Switzerland.
The ferry was filled with Italian pilgrims who would spontaneously break into a chorus of gospel singing and were frequently fingering their rosary beads. They even took over the inside salon for an hour an held an impromtu worship service. We wondered where they had been...
Arriving in Bari as the sun was getting low (why do we always arrive in new countries when it is getting dark?!) we went to the train station to see about catching the night train to Ancona. There were a few trains running - but we couldn't take our bikes. We were referred to the information desk where a little English was spoken. They had the same answer. No bikes. But Italians love bikes?! Apparently you can only take bikes on some regional (country) trains not inter-city, and even then only on certain trains marked with a bike on the timetable. The office staff were not helpful and just wanted us gone. They had no timetable for me to check if there were any trains we could catch. And provided no options for us to consider. So the train was out.
We tried to find the bus ticket office. But again, no one was interested in helping us and it seemed the office would be closed by now anyway. It was dark - too dark to find a campsite - and we were stuck in this city. We searched for a cheap hotel, and the cheapest we could find was 60 euro - our most expensive one for the whole trip, and a dump compared to most places we'd stayed. We needed internet to look at our options for getting out of this city, so we cycled around the Bari in the evening dusk, until we found, in a dimly lit alley way, a small internet cafe with four big black guys standing outside. Can we go in, we wondered...
Dejectedly we spent hours looking up ferries, trying to find out about buses and trains... without really finding any economically viable options. How do people with bikes get around in Italy?!
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia