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Europe 2004

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Journal for 10-September-2004 : Chivasso (Turin)

The quiet back road to nowhere (according to our map) on which our camp ground was situated hummed and squealed with heavy traffic all night. It was only ever quiet when a truck easing slowly down the steep winding hill held up the other traffic for a few minutes.

Dry morning for a change. The only wet patch on the fly was where a dog had claimed it. It was sunny too, well sort of. The sky was enveloped by the shroud of Turin.

Busy road leaving the camp ground, then a very busy road to Trana where we turned off onto a narrow back road. This road was narrow, but hardly less busy, and in 5ks we were cycling in heavy traffic again.

After spending half an hour dodging Purgoet's, street markets and destructive Italian roadworks, we found our road out of Rivoli. Now this was more like it. A nice little *quiet* rural road. After 3ks we found why it was so quiet. It ended abruptly at a new dual carriage way (not on our maps) and it's continued route to Turin was blocked off and now strewn with abandoned stolen cars.

The new road had an adjacent bike path – which in both directions lead to a superhighway with a “No Bikes” sign.

We took a combination of footpath (which doubles as the garbage truck road) and industrial roads through the burgeoning factory developments of Turin, till we reached the boulevards. After a a few hairy moments, we seemed to get the hang of riding these ultra busy roads. It's a bit like traffic in New York, but not quite so well organised.

Made it all of 30km to the centre of Turin (the old Goal actually) by noon. There we met Robbie, who heard us speaking in English and asked about our trip. It turns out he was both a keen cyclist (hard to tell by his one speed clunker bike) and had lived for a while in Australia. He certainly knew one of my favourite Aussie-isms: “have a good one!”. He also warned us that our choice of route might not be the best, as the Italian drivers in southern Italy are not as gracious and courteous as they are up here. Robbie offered to lead us across the city, and the route he picked for us made me appreciate his choice of equipment. We managed every cobbled and slated road through the centre of Turin, which his flat tired clunker floated over with ease, before we were left by the tram tracks and the Poe River.

We followed the unpaved bike path and equally unpaved riverside boulevards till we found what we thought was our bridge. A quick sprint followed, as what we had actually found was the major dual carriage way out of town.

Fantastic lunch of fresh Italian bread and Parmesan cheese by the River Poe.

An unsuccessful attempt to find a desperately needed public toilet meant another stop at a cafe. We purchased an equally desperately needed campground guide – shrink wrapped to prevent inspection prior to purchase. It revealed next camp ground only 80ks away.

Found a sign detailing a bike route next to the river for the first 10ks out of the city. It was nice for the first 500m, but then became unsealed, then rocky and sandy, then a ridiculous goat track. At the point it improved enough to ride on, it became a dump truck haul road. Nearly an hour later we'd found a way back onto the paved roads, having covered all of 4km.

Back on our real road the traffic was just incredible. Apart from being manic, the volumes were just astonishing. We got lots of practice riding down 3 inch wide white line that marks the start and end of the bike area on Italian roads. I got a lot of (much needed it must be said) practice at holding a very straight line, while avoiding by the slimmest of margins the traffic hurtling up from behind us, and all too often straight towards us.

What is so amazing is how many road cyclists are negotiating this nightmare. Cycling is the national sport of Italy, and cyclists are treated with respect on the roads. At least that's what I've heard. Respect yes. Space no. There are certainly plenty of other cyclists about, either training at serious speed on their beautiful Italian road bikes, or granny's plonking along up the edge of the road at 5km/hr. Either way, none of them seemed to any doubts that the throngs of traffic would miss them, even though the goal seemed to be to do this by as small a margin as possible.

After an hour of this type of cycling the traffic seemed to get heavier, and we seemed no closer to the nearest camp ground. We gave up and headed to the nearest large satellite village in the hope of finding either a hotel or better yet, a railway station. Even negotiating this was a nightmare of one way, dead end, traffic soaked rough cobbled streets. Now, in some jurisdictions it is not permitted to use a mobile phone while driving. However in Italy the use of one appears to mandatory, at least at intersections with traffic lights.

Over a delicious dinner of pasta and pizza we both arrived at the same conclusion. We know it takes us a while to adapt to a new country. But we are both agreed that – if we survive – this sort of traffic is not something we are likely to get used to. Now, perhaps we aren't giving Italy a fair go, we have been here for all of 28 hours after all, and maybe we just picked an ordinary route, but we think we've seen enough already. The culture shock we know we can recover from, so long as we are enjoying the cycling. But we are definitely not enjoying the cycling!

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