The flight to Italy is less than two hours. I always look forward to my visits and the excitement really starts to build from the departure airport. Check-in and mandatory searches completed, now I can really start dreaming of the journey to come…
It normally takes a few months to organise – with a small group we need to ensure everyone is organised and knows what to expect…flights, taxis, hotels, food requirements, room requirements, bicycle arrangements. Everyone has their own considerations but for myself I also have to consider the Italian side of the organisation. I continually ‘prep’ my travellers: It is a different culture and there are cultural ‘norms’ that you have to become accustomed to – for example, our event tickets and bicycles have not been confirmed yet however experience tells me everything will be fine. To the new-comer, unaccustomed to this ‘process’, it is disturbing if you are expecting all the ‘i’s’ dotted and all the ‘t’s’ crossed. For me this is part of the fun – letting go of what I am accustomed to and simply having ‘to go with the flow’.
This trip we are heading to Padova in the North East of Italy, just outside of Venice. We are spending a few days looking around Padova and also participating in the GranFondo Padova / Fondriest. This is what we would call a ‘sportive’ event. Open to the general public, it is a sporting race – you ride at your own pace against ‘yourself’ really. Take it as seriously as you like. There are three courses (40km, 90km and 140km). The event will start and finish in the historic town square with the routes taking a path through the countryside. At this time of year (end of June) it will be the start of the hot season so you need to be prepared.
This year I am definitely under-prepared in terms of cycling preparation. Due to work commitments I haven’t managed to ride my bike at all this year so I’ll definitely be taking my time and enjoying the scenery (this seems to typify my life philosophy where I have always taken the ‘scenic’ route rather than the most expedient). Whatever is coming, I’ll work it out.
Flights generally seem relentless…any flight more than an hour is too long. I can cope – I’m not a bad traveller but let’s just say I’m far happier when I’m not confined to an airline seat. This year we have flights at a reasonable time – we can afford the luxury as we are staying for four days and there’s no need to catch super early flights in order to make the ‘most’ out of a short stay. The extra day will give us breathing space. That said, the general weariness of the day’s exertions are catching up. I find my eyes are slowly closing…
Touchdown! The plane engines rumble as it de-accelerates with reverse throttle and air brakes to a gentle taxi speed and navigates its way to the parking berth. A silent sigh of relief. The airport, the language, the smells, the light, the signage – it all feels different. It’s a new adventure.
The car journey to our hotel in Abano was smooth. Our driver was at his designated spot and happily chatted (in English as he needed to practice his English!) to us on the merits and short comings of popular culture, the economy and politics. I have a feeling these are ‘hot’ subjects everywhere you go. Abano is on the outskirts of Padova. It is a thermal spa region so the hotels in the area have treatment facilities and luxurious bathing facilities with heated, natural pools. It is a region that Italians themselves will use for their holidays. Certainly as you stand on the balcony from your bedroom apartment you feel like you have the authentic Italy…the hills of the region shimmer in the late afternoon heat. There’s a sultry intensity to the air and light as evening approaches.
Dining in Italy is generally very easy – certainly in an area like Abano, the quality is very good (it has to be) and authentic. All of the regions have their local specialities that utilise the local, fresh, natural ingredients – be prepared to try something new. Needless to say portions are also generous and relatively less expensive than London prices. Whether we tried the back street cafes in Padova or the evening restaurants in Abano, expect a starter, salad, fragrant olive oils, bread and pasta or meat / fish main courses. Beers, wines, sparkling water are normal and have fun trying to pronounce the names to your waiter. On this trip I discovered spritzer, Aperol and lemon – it’s very Italian if you fancy a bitter/sweet beverage and beer isn’t your favourite.
Places like Abano maintain the romantic view that people have of Italy. The town bustles with its own type of entertainment in the warm evenings – the hotels provide evening soirees, cocktail drinks, singers performing classical Italian songs accompanied by piano. In the town square the painters set up stalls and hawk their works, the shops remain open with fine clothing and jewellery – in the main square you can join the couples on the outdoor dance floor who are strutting their way through a range of classical dance routines. Evening entertainment reminds me a little of my holidays as a child at Margate or Eastbourne. This is a quieter, relaxed, slow paced form of entertainment where you savour a lick of your double scoop gelato as you watch the world pass by.
Ride day is an early start. Breakfast. Load the car and get to the start line. Even for a fondo / sportive event the anxiety builds a little. As usual I’m last to get into place – I can never seem to do ‘urgency’ well. There is the usual event preliminaries before the organisation turn up the music to full blast, there’s a volley of confetti and we’re off! In true Italian fondo style it’s a frenzy of colours, bodies, bicycles streaming through the ‘bleeps’ of the chip timer as everyone looks to make their way towards the front of the group. You’d think it was a race.
So I’ll give it as much as I can but realistically I’m here to enjoy the day. The weather is perfect – hot! 29 celcius and no cloud cover – I like the heat. This year I’ll ride the medium route (last year I did the long route) so this will be a new path for me. The early stages of the ride are busy as everyone finds their ‘place’ in the pecking order – riders bunched together, navigating the street route of the suburbs before we start the quieter routes in the countryside. Realistically, the ‘climbs’ are when the real sorting out starts to happen. I vaguely remember last year as being quite tough however this year the climbs on the medium route are STEEP! Anyone would find them a challenge and many riders are happy to walk up certain sections. I’m feeling a bit of cramp in my legs which isn’t a great sign but I know how to manage my pace and I’m not one for getting off and walking. There’s plenty of food/drinks stops available en-route so plenty of assistance is available. All I really have to do is manage my expectations, endurance and enjoy the day…