week 9: bicycle touring the mediterranean

Having the pleasure of Florent’s company for five days on the road was a welcome change to my solitary travelling. His experience with cycling, patience, and support made the time memorable as his GPS took us through scenic quiet country roads that I doubt I would have seen unless I was lost. We weathered storms, mountains, heat and rain, sharing chocolate and oranges, conversations and comfortable silences. Travelling by bicycle is like meditation, and it seems that many longer-term cyclists have that cheerful unruffled energy that comes with hours spent in quiet contemplation. Florent certainly does!

I said I wouldn’t revisit Rome on this trip and now I’m eating my words. I ended up back there for a third day visit, this time Florent and I wandered through the streets, ending up at the Colosseum. The surrounding area is quieter than the rest of Rome, free of cars and spacious enough that the number of tourists doesn’t even seem to detract from the silence of the grand old ruins. Entry to the Colosseum is eleven euros, and I’m on a budget so I let Florent go in alone while I enjoyed watching the people pass by. I figure that after all these years it’ll probably still be standing when I return to Italy.

We rode over mountains to Civitavecchia. When Florent looked up the route on his GPS and saw the elevation and winding roads that we were facing he quietly said in his French accent, “Probably you will die…”. I didn’t die, but I still don’t like mountains. At the top we stopped in for a pastry as good pastry is a very important thing to the French. Then we rode down to the portside town, through forest so lush it almost seemed tropical, into the sun setting over the water. It was spectacular, I wish I had one of those gadgety GoPro cameras strapped to my helmet to record it!

Bicycle touring the Mediterranean - Meanderbug

Bicycle Touring the Mediterranean

Saying goodbye was difficult, it’s the beautiful painful paradox of travel that you meet and discover people and places that you connect with and then have to part ways, but had you not been traveling you wouldn’t have made that connection at all. My front tyre had just gone flat and Florent saw me off at the entry to the port, me pushing my bicycle to the ferry. I was exhausted by the time I boarded the boat and secured my bike, going up into the main part armed just with a bag of essentials, my sleeping bag and water. I’d only bought a deck-passenger ticket which entitled me to move about the public spaces on the ship; the bars and restaurants serving overpriced junk food and that didn’t like loitering scruffy cyclists taking up residence on their couches, the cold windy decks, and thankfully a room filled with aeroplane-like seating complete with bony armrests where we cheapskates could take refuge. Following the example of other passengers, after securing my shoes and bag to a footrest, I stretched out in my sleeping bag on the floor and slept soundly with my valuables tucked inside. I was feeling forlorn at that point, and certainly looked the part.

My day on the ferry was spent finding quiet places to sit, and meditating or reading. I arrived at Barcelona feeling far more refreshed than when I boarded the boat, fixed my flat tyre in no time at all (this is the third now, I’m getting good at it!), and rode to my warmshowers host Adela’s apartment. Adela and I clicked instantly, she’s a Romanian woman with a big smile and fluent English. Having spent most of my time over the past two months communicating with varying levels of language barriers, being able to speak naturally with her was a gift. She’s also fluent in Spanish and Romanian, and speaks Hungarian and French. I find that so impressive!

Adela made me feel completely at home in her bright apartment, fed me ripe rockmelon and gave me a map of Barcelona with some suggested places to see. We then went out to meet her friends for some excellent fresh local pizza. After only a few hours in the city Barcelona was becoming one of my favourite places in the world, and it only got better from there. But that’s a story for my next post!

See more on bicycle touring the Balkans including tracks and routes.

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