Time to be on the road again…

Spring is struggling to begin this year in the UK, particularly in Scotland, where it is still snowing in early April. We’re due to leave on our next tour in less than two weeks and I’m wondering if we should review our decision not to buy new sleeping bags for our next trip.

A lot has happened in the last 11 months since we arrived back in the UK for Jerry to get a hernia sustained on the slopes of Etna, Sicily, repaired. I was lucky enough to be offered work almost immediately delivering parcels for a friend around Auchterarder, a small, Scottish town about 15 miles (24km) from my home city of Perth. My friend also generously lent me his car, a brave action as I had not driven one for two years and was used to driving on the righthandside of roads. However, it did mean he could take his first holiday for two years. Jerry got a part-time job a couple of months later in an outdoor shop in Perth. The owner gave him time off for his hernia operation and a few weeks recovery time in July and August. We both gave up work at the end of February to concentrate of bike touring preparation.

Johanna delivering parcels

We have been staying with old friends in Perth, sharing in meals and chores and paying our rent by undertaking various tasks about their home including installing some vintage washing poles in the garden; cleaning and coating their decking and sheds; and redecorating their living room. We have got on well and we are extremely grateful for their generosity and warm welcome. I’ve been able to bake cakes and bread to my heart’s content and have an appreciative audience who give honest feedback.

Yummy Pistachio Cake

Having a hernia has dramatically changed Jerry’s view of himself and affected him at a deep level. He has always felt physically robust, strong and capable. The rupture has brought home that he is aging and ‘it is all downhill from here’. He shows more concern about his health these days and feels more vulnerable. He is noticing that it is taking him longer to heal from small injuries and illnesses and he has lost a lot of confidence in his physical abilities, not helped by comfort eating and limited exercise. My dreams of cycling Perth to Perth are, consequently, once more put on hold. Instead, we are planning a six month trip starting in Scotland with a tour around the Northern Islands, then flying to Iceland for a mid-summer exploration of hot springs, glaciers and lava fields. We’ll take the ferry to the green and dramatic Faroe Islands and then on to Denmark where I am keen to visit the eastern islands and Copenhagen. If we are still island hungry at the end of all that, we’ll take in the Frisian Islands on the way home. We hope to create our very own Viking Odyssey.

Summer tour 2018

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Brief update

Jerry continues to recuperate. Today he passed a major milestone, watch his first post op bike ride:

https://youtu.be/3u9bk7ZYWhA

How is Jerry?

Seven long weeks have passed since Jerry visited the operating theatre at our local hospital to have his inguinal hernia repaired. It’s a strange process to be fairly healthy one day, able to live life normally except for lifting heavy objects, and then to go into to hospital to be made ‘better’, only to come home in agony and unable to walk more than a few metres. Jerry found the first week of recovery pretty painful despite being drugged up on painkillers. He bore it very well, lying on the sofa watching first the finals of Wimbledon and then the concluding stages of the Tour de France. Luckily our friends were away on holiday and we had the house to ourselves other than for Bobby the dog. Jerry slept downstairs on a sofa bed and waddled through to the lounge in the morning and back to bed in the evening. After a week he tackled the steep stairs and from then on was back sleeping upstairs in our bedroom.

All went well, though slowly for three weeks. He started to venture outside for short walks to the local shop, took siestas on a lounger in the sunshine on the decking and began sitting for short periods on upright chairs to eat dinner. Then one day he got up from a chair and his leg caught fire. Not literally, of course, but he had a very sharp burning pain down the inside of his right thigh. It didn’t disappear and painkillers made little impact. We both held our breath for a few days waiting to see whether it would clear up or not. Nerve pain is a common side affect of an inguinal hernia repair, but for ten percent of men having the operation this pain becomes chronic and lasts their lifetime. We were both very low, our dream of continuing our world cycle tour hanging in the balance. Jerry was back to hobbling, avoiding stairs, and getting up very gingerly.

It was over a week before he began to see some improvement, the burning sensation lessening and his movements becoming for freeflowing. There was hope…

Another three weeks further on and he is back working, walking the two kilometres in and out of Perth to Craigdon Mountain Sports. His stride is a little shorter and he feels some discomfort occasionally from the mesh that was inserted between the muscles to fill the hole. Otherwise, his recovery is heading in the right direction and our hopes are growing for more touring. He’s yet to straddle a bike and I think that will be his next milestone celebration. Jerry wants to have the best chance of a full recovery and so we are delaying starting our next adventure until the Spring and better weather. Our very kind friends, Andy, Rachel and Shona are letting us stay on in their house in Perth in exchange for doing a share of the the cooking, washing up and chores, as well as using our DIY skills on various projects they have planned.

Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and get well wishes. Jerry has been very touched by so many people holding him in mind.

 

 

All cut up

Just a quick brief update on Jerry and his inguinal hernia.

He saw his GP(local doctor) back at the beginning of May and was referred immediately to a consultant at our local hospital here in Perth who we saw in mid-June. He recommended surgery and placed Jerry on the waiting list for an operation. Jerry was lucky enough to be offered a cancelled appointment (being fit and healthy has some benefits) and so on Thursday this week we walked down the road to Perth Royal Infirmary and checked into Ward 1.

Four hours later, Jerry returned from the operating theatre with a ten centimetre scar in his right groin and the bulging intestines no longer visible beneath his skin. A small mesh has been placed over the split in his stomach muscles that will, hopefully, keep everything in its correct place. Having passed all the required tests post-operation, I was able to bring home to our friends’ home to recuperate. He is pretty sore, but in good spirits, and I am getting lots of practice at looking after him. He’s delighted that he has an excuse to lie on the sofa and watch the tennis at Wimbledon, and Formula one.

Now he just wants to get better for our next cycling adventure…….

Sour Dough update

One of the interesting things about blogging about activities I am learning, is that I discover friends who are already experts in that field. This had been the case with sour dough baking and have been lapping up advice and suggestions from across Europe. Yesterday, I used a Paul Hollywood recipe to make my first loaf, but I now have several other versions to try to see which suits me and the kitchen here at our friends’ house in Perth best.

The dough was a mixture of the flour and water ‘starter’ that has harvested ‘wild’ yeast and bacteria from the atmosphere, strong white flour, water, and a little sugar and salt. Very wet and gooey, kneading it on the oiled work surface proved tricky as it kept on sticking. In the end, I used a combination of olive oil and flour (used alternatively) to keep the dough separated from the marble. After ten mins of stretching (the dough not me) and folding the dough was ready to rest and I had to wait an hour before I could tell whether the magic starter had worked and the dough was rising. I was thrilled to discover that the dough was ballooning up the bowl and four hours later, having doubled in size, it was ready for a quick knead and to be placed in floured cloth lined bowl to contain it in a loaf shape whilst it stood to rise a second time.

Second rise about to commence

I made use of the time by heading out for a walk around the nearby fields and footpaths surrounding Perth with Bobby the dog (we were dog sitting for the weekend), Jerry and some friends visiting for the weekend to look for some cup marked stones.

Back in the kitchen three hours later, the dough had again risen and I tipped it out on to a baking tin, placed it in a hot oven with steam wafting up from a water filled tray in the base and waited. And this is the result …..

The finished bread

The evening tasting session proved popular and comments mostly positive. The bread was full of air, tasted a little sour (this is apparently from the ‘wild’ bacteria in the starter), though could do with being a little less rubbery. My experience from making bread with dried yeast tells me that this may be due to over kneading, so I will be a little less enthusiastic with this next time.

What amazes me, is that it is possible to make a loaf of leavened bread without using brewer’s fresh yeast or dried yeast. It seems like pure magic to me. Apparently, this method of bread making was used up to the middle ages in Europe and is still used to make rye bread in northern Europe today.

I’m not sure that it will translate to being able to use on a bike tour. We don’t have an oven and maintaining the starter in the varying climatic conditions we encounter, and on bumpy roads would be too much of a challenge. So far, we have mostly bought bread, and occasionally I have made Chapatis that don’t require a rising agent. Perhaps I will investigate other unleavened bread that we could make on our next adventure.

​A new journey has begun…..


Not on a bike, but into the mysterious world of sourdough baking. I learnt from our cycle journey that if I want to do something, the best way to do it is to get the support I need and just get on with it.

So this week, after some internet research and a chat with a friend, I created a sour dough starter with just flour and water, and airborne natural yeast. After three days it started bubbling (very exciting) and I’ve fed it each morning with more flour and water. Tomorrow I will make my first ever sour dough loaf.
Well, I have to do something while I’m waiting for my adventure buddy to have an operation!

Back in Perth

We’re  pleased to report that two bikes and a tent (along with a lot of other kit) have arrived safely in Perth from Rome. 

Thank you to everyone who has helped us out along the way, and offered us accommodation and other support. We have been very touched by your generosity, warmth and openheartness. 
Now it’s time to arrange medical treatment for Jerry and plan our next journey. Oh, and Johanna has to find some paid work for a few months.

Journeying North

We left Rome on a warm and sunny evening, the red and black Frecciarossa train speeding us northwards across the Italian countryside to Milan. Looking out of the window at the passing landscape, I was reminded of one of the reasons that I love cycle touring so much. On a bike I get to really experience the environment around me using all my senses. I feel the shape of the land through my body and legs on every turn of my pedals and the gears I choose. My nose picks up the nuances of the aromas and odours of the places we travel through, I hear the wind, the animals, the passing traffic, my wheels rolling on the tarmac, and my eyes are alive with the colours and ever changing world around. On the train, I travel more less on the level, and other than seeing the landscape, I sense only the environment of the train compartment. I am left with only a vague sense of the terrain through which I have travelled. On a bike, I am left with a rich, internal memory map of the world around. I miss my bike. Travelling home without it feels like I have a bit of me missing. It was tough leaving our bikes at the Courier Office in Rome. We had wrapped them up in lots of bubble wrap ready to be boxed for the journey back to Scotland. Now we are just keeping our fingers crossed they arrive safely and we can be reunited.

A sad bon voyage to our faithful steads

Jerry is well. He is finding it a challenge to let me do all the heavy carrying. He has been given a limit of 10kg by the Italian hernia consultant, so coming home he packed just his clothes into one of my large panniers and I carried the rest in the other large pannier and our backpack.

Loaded up and ready to travel

I have the opportunity to repay him for the extra lifting he had to do when my back was sore through the Baltic States in Autumn 2015.

We had looked at various more interesting options to get back to the UK that didn’t involve flying(we try not take planes for environmental reasons), such as travelling through Switzerland on the Bernese Oberland Train, but in the end we decided to opt for simple and as cheap as possible. I discovered a sleeper train that ran from Milan to Paris and we booked two berths in a six berth couchette. Tight and cosy would be my description. We squeezed in with four rather large french guys and spent most of the time lying down. We were woken at the Swiss border for a visit by a dog searching for drugs, and at the French border by Border Police checking our passports. I’m never my best at 5am but managed to squint around the door post for a facial comparison with my passport photo and seemed to pass the test. A guy in the next compartment was not so lucky and gathered up his luggage before being taken off the train for further investigation.

Passing through Paris gave us the opportunity to catch up with our friend Aurelia and her two children, and enjoy so great home French cooking, as well as French Easter Eggs, for a few days. From Paris we took the Eurolines coach to Dover, England, having discovered that it was cheaper to go the whole way by coach, including the ferry voyage, than to pay just the ferry fare from Calais to Dover.

We have arrived in Kent at the perfect time for bluebell filled woods and blossom filled apple orchards. It’s been fun getting out on foot to explore the footpaths with my sister and her two English Springer Spaniels. Jasper is now over fifteen years old, which, my nephew has informed me, is the equivalent of 105 in human years. He still loves getting out and about, but is limited to a few hundred yards.

A short woodland walk with Jasper,

Kester, his younger play mate, is up for five or six mile romps and is still wagging his tail ready for more. Today we walked down around the outer Thames Estuary near Faversham and bumped into a group of birdwatchers carrying giant telescopes and tripods. They were hanging around some brackish ponds behind the high flood bank hoping to see the returning migrants, and they weren’t disappointed. Their spotters’ list included Bearded Tit, Swallows, Sedge warblers as well as a large group of Black tailed Godwits and a marsh harrier. I marvelled at how easy it is to have conversations with people here as I don’t have to translate everything.

New money has appeared in our absence, the one pound coin is no longer round and the five pound notes are now plastic. I’m slowly adapting back to driving on the left of the road and walking on the right. And after a year and a half of spending Euros,  I occasionally convert a pound price to Euros to get a sense of the price of an item. We are so used to carrying our passports and health cards with us everywhere, that it is weird to not have to pick them up every time we leave the house.

I wonder how many other things have changed and how we will get on settling back into ‘every day life’, at least for a while.

 

Kentish Bluebells

 

All Roads lead to Rome

Great excitement in the two bikes and a tent ‘household’, we had discovered an open Italian campsite! We had not stayed on a campsite since the beginning of December on the east coast of Spain. Every campsite on Sardinia and Sicily that we passed was well and truly closed with padlocked gates. Now we were homing in on some of the top Italian attractions, like the Amalfi coast, Vesuvius, Pompeii and Naples. Here, several campsites stay open all year round to accommodate tourists, mostly in campervans, and when we were there, mostly German and British. Anyway, our great excitement was the prospect of a shower and a clothes wash. We’d been on the road for over a week since leaving the slopes of Etna and were becoming a bit ‘jumbo-wiffie’. Planning our stay to coincide with a warm, sunny day to best enable clothes drying, we managed to check in at 9.30am which gave us all day for chores.

Do washing. Tick.

Our tent pitched, and with our hand washed clothes weighing heavy on the makeshift washing line, we showered and returned to the tent for a sunny cup of tea. At this point, Jerry let on that he had discovered a lump where his right thigh meets his groin. He’d first noticed it when he showered just before leaving our host on Etna and 600 kilometres later it was still there. He suspected he had developed a hernia whilst doing some heavy, awkward lifting in our final couple of days there, though he had felt nothing at the time. Sure enough, there was a flattish bulge, about 3cm by 5cm under his skin at the top of his groin that wasn’t matched by anything similar on his lefthand side. Getting the code for the campsite wifi, Jerry googled for more information. He was not in any pain, and had no discomfort until after we’d proded about, of course. A inguinal hernia seemed the most likely diagnosis, where intestines or bowel protrude through a split in the muscle wall. He also discovered that there was a possibility of it becoming ‘strangulated’, a serious complication of the gut becoming blocked. This would be a medical emergency and require immediate surgery.

We each had our different responses. I was a bit disbelieving and found myself minimising the issue and being rather unsympathetic. Jerry became very sensitive to every twinge and gurgle, imagining the worst. His immediate desire was to get on a plane home.

Despite all this, we ended the day standing on the nearby sandy beach watching the largest sun I have ever seen set behind the crenulated Amalfi coastline, before heading back to our tent for a giant portion of pasta, beans and sauce.

Sunset over the Amalfi coast

The next day, putting my scepticism to one side, I tried to concentrate on soothing Jerry. I suggested we might talk with one of our medical friends back home to get a professional view. Never one to immediately accept support, Jerry was keen to have the day to think about it.

Smelling sweetly of our purple shampoo gel, that also doubles as a clothes washing agent, we set off for Salerno, the nearest town, to buy food and a road map of mainland Italy. We’d been managing just with my phone app since leaving Sicily but we both missed having a map on my handlebar bag to examine. The road was flat and straight with fast traffic and as we entered the city and the volume of vehicles increased, I started a list of Italian ‘rules’ of the road tinged with a hint of sarcasm based on the activities of drivers around us and shouted them.out to Jerry as we rode along:

1. If someone calls, speak to them immediately whilst driving.
2. Texting is allowable on a straight piece of road even if it means you are not looking where you are going.
3. Children may stand in the footwell of the front passenger seat.
4. Always reverse out of a parking space into the stream of traffic.
5. Open your door then check to see if anything is coming.
6. If the parking space is not big enough to parallel park, drive in facing the kerb.
7. If there is no parking space, double park.
8. Hoot your horn if the car in front does not start moving within a quarter of a second of the traffic lights changing.
9. Hoot your horn if there is a cyclist in front of you.
10. Decide where you want to go, go there, then see if anyone hoots at you.
11. Remonstrate loudly, with arm movements if someone impedes your free passage.
12. Give someone an indignant and very hard stare if they remonstrate at you.

The list grew rather long before we located a bookshop, supermarket and bank, acquired our purchase and fresh supply of cash, and headed back out of town towards the Amalfi coast.

Steep to and rugged, the 50 kilometre long Amalfi coast is famous for its picturesque, cliff hugging villages and winding, scenic road. It is arguably one of the most beautiful and thrilling driving routes in the world. Consequently, it is also rather busy. Luckily for us, the Italians consider March to be the off season and so the road was only moderately busy. We tootled along climbing and descending, following the road around curves and tight switchbacks. The Tyrrhenian sea glistened beneath us and the lemon grove covered, terraced slopes rose steeply above us. Pulling into a layby, we stopped to admire the peaks high rising up from the terraces.

The Amalfi coast road

Several speedy, sporty cyclists passed us coming in the opposite direction and we shared enthusiastic waves and received many encouraging thumbs up. Coming around a lefthand bend we came across a queue of parked cars and, after passing a couple, it dawned on us that they had not stopped to admire the view but were waiting for a signal to pass some hidden blockage up ahead on the road. We tucked in behind a black Fiat Panda and took the opportunity to rehydrate and snack on a biscuit. Ten minutes later we were still waiting. Eventually, a stream of motorscooters appeared around the bend ahead leading a long line of buses and cars. A guy up ahead in a fluorescent jacket chatted into a handheld radio and then reversed his hand held paddle from red to green and we were off. Some 300 metres further down the road, we passed the aftermath of a road traffic accident. A car wrapped in a grey cover, a scooter looking rather the worse for wear, and police and rescue crews staring into a ravine on the landward side of the road with concerned looks. It was the first of three accidents we saw that day. All of them involving cars and scooters. Luckily, we didn’t become a fourth.

Whilst most of the road rises and falls in short sections, there is one long and steady climb up past the village of Positano. We set our speed to ‘nice and steady’ and plodded away for thirty minutes climbing up twisting roads past pastel coloured houses. Starting to sweat and pant a little, we stopped by a small waterfall for a drink. In a pool at its base, a small group of Mallard duck chatted away to each other as they paddled around in the shallows. We stood and watched for a while before recommencing our upward grind. Actually, for the most part, the gradient was one on which we could turn our pedals without having to really push our bikes up hill. Round the next corner, we arrived at the summit viewpoint and a layby full of a coach party of excited, young, Chinese tourists. Vendors with small stalls were doing good business selling souvenirs, lemon granita (sorbet), and fresh orange juice. We leant our bikes against a wall and soaked in the vista down across Positano and back along the coast we had cycled.

Looking back along the Amalfi coast beyond Positano

The Amalfi road held one more delight for us as we climbed up another short rise into the centre of the peninsula, our first view of the bay of Naples and one of the most deadly volcanoes in the world, Vesuvius.

View across the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius

Unlike Etna, if this one started erupting, we would cycle away as fast as possible.

The next four days were a whirlwind of sightseeing and hernia contemplation. Jerry celebrated his birthday with a visit to the summit crater of Vesuvius and a trip to the local Carrefour for ‘goodies’: asparagus, cake, strawberries, beer, wine and hazelnut cream filled Easter eggs. At birth, both of us managed to avoid the fasting of Lent. I arrived the day before, Shrove Tuesday where traditionally in the UK we gorge ourselves with pancakes. Jerry arrived on Easter Sunday and consequently loves Easter egg chocolate. After the excitement of an erupting Etna, with red, hot lava and old craters to explore, the Vesuvius crater was a bit of a let down. Just a few very small steaming fumaroles. Having paid €10 each to walk the short trail to the summit, we took advantage of the opportunity to have a guide to tell us about the history, geology and geomorphology of this infamous volcano. The last eruption was in 1944 and prior to then Vesuvius had erupted roughly every twenty years. The longer it goes without erupting, the bigger the next eruption will be. In 79AD the volcano had not erupted for 800 years and the residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum were unaware that they were living in the shadow of an active volcano.

We called my GP friend, M. She was very helpful and Jerry felt much calmer and reassured by their conversation. We discussed other possible causes of such a lump, the main one being an inflamed lymph node, and whether cycling was likely to aggravate the situation. M recommended that we arrange to see a doctor in Italy to confirm our diagnosis. Jerry slept well that night, while I mused on how we might arrange a consultation with a doctor.

Pompeii, Herculaneum and the small farming Villa Regina with its onsite museum provided a stunning insight into Roman life. I was amazed by the size of Pompeii, I had never imagined that the whole city was available to visit. To wander around the streets and ruined buildings (shops, houses, villas, temples, theatres, amphitheatre) of a city that had died in just 24 hours, was fascinating. It was like a 3D map. Some houses are named after their last owners or residents, others after items, mosaics or frescos found in the property at the time of excavation. The city was looted of anything easily excavated from the ten metres of volcanic ash that fell here. In the last two hundred years, more systematic excavation has taken place. I am curious about what the archaeologists did with all the ash they excavated but, despite internet searches in English and Italian, I have yet to find the answer. Most poignant at the site, are the plaster molds of some of human and animal victims of the eruption. People who died, either from suffocation or from the intense heat, upward of 300°C, as the volcanic ash column collapsed on to the city. The heat caused the tendons to rapidly contract giving the bodies a contorted and pained appearance. In reality, and thankfully, death would have been instantaneous.

Villa Regina dog

We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the out of town farmhouse and museum at Villa Regina. The interpretation was almost exclusively in Italian, but with our increasing familiarity with the language and a bit of help from Google Translate, we muddled our way through, discovering about vineyards, crops, olive groves and life in a Roman farming villa. New vines have been planted in the burnt out root holes left by the vines that had been growing at the time of the disaster. One room of the villa was dedicated to the storage of wine in huge amphora sunk up to their necks in soil.

Herculaneum was spared from the ash of the first phase of the eruption by the prevailing wind blowing the last column away from the city. It bought the residents valuable time to evacuate. However, the collapsing ash column set off a mud and pyroclast avalanche that thundered down on the city covering it in 26 metres of debris that set solid like concrete. It lay forgotten for sixteen centuries before a chance discovery of a marble floor by a man digging a new well. In the 18th century, the site was accessed by tunnels and many of the most appealing and valuable items removed. Less than a quarter of the ancient city has now been fully excavated. The rest lies under the modern city of Ercolano. The ruins here are taller and more complete. Some buildings are two stories, still with their tiles on the roof. Some mosaic floors and wet plaster painted murals remain in situ and, at times,  give the impression that the owner has just popped out for a loaf of bread.

Herculaneum street

Many of the treasures discovered at the two cities, and other excavated sites, have made their way to the National Archeological Museum in Naples. Leaving our tent and bikes at the campsite in Pompeii, we took the Circumvesuviana train into the heart of Naples, and took advantage of the first Sunday of the month free opening to visit. Mosaics, frescos, and everyday pots, pans and glasswear are on display along with a rich collection of marble sculptures. But for me, the most striking image was of a shy, young couple. Terentius Neo, a baker and his wife, lived and worked in Pompeii and had their image painted into a fresco at their villa. It is the only known portrait of residents of the city.

The Pompeii bakers

Back on Sicily, we had heard that the only Italian city to rival Palermo for its dangerous drivers was Naples. We were headed for Rome and our route lay across this very city. I poured over the map looking at various options. The easiest, from a navigation perspective, was to follow the coast. The roads would be busy, but then they would be busy anywhere, this is a densely populated area.

We set off into the Pompeii traffic shortly after rush hour. We knew it was likely to be an exhausting day watching the movements of all the vehicles around us and gave ourselves just the task of safely reaching the other side of Naples. Today, the most alarming drivers on the road, particularly in queues of traffic, were the scooter drivers. They weave their way through traffic, overtaking and undertaking, appearing suddenly on our shoulders then swerving across in front of us to take another line. To me, they seem to have a death wish driving up the inside of lorries, but that day, thankfully, we saw no more accidents. The roads into Naples were mostly tarmac with small sections of bumpy cobbles and, luckily for us, there were roadworks on the one fast road we had to take that slowed everything down to a crawl. We arrived in the centre of the city and the impressive port side castle around lunchtime and ate our lunch overlooking a small marina of expensive looking yachts. I mused on how many amazing places there must be to sail into in the Mediterranean.

After lunch, the roads were generally quieter, but were mostly cobbles. Bumpy, bumpy riding and by evening Jerry reported that his lump had become much harder.

Our guide in Vesuvius had told us about the volcano that most threatened Naples and that has a lot of thermal and sulphur activity. She’d also mentioned that it had an all year campsite in the crater. It sounded a great place to hang out and explore. Unfortunately, due to me losing two screws on the bumpy roads out of the clips on a front panier and needing to stop to replace them, it started raining heavily just after we checked in and we before we had the tent up. I went off to the loo while Jerry sheltered in a nearby building. Eventually, after about an hour, the rain eased off and we were able to get pitched and sorted out. A faint sulphurous odour wafted through the tent. With our newly acquired, bright pink umbrella deployed (we found it in a bin at Paestum Greek temples) we set off to explore the steam and mud. Whilst the campsite side of the crater is grassy and green with tall trees, the other side is a large, creamy, white moonscape. Nothing grews there other than sulphur crystals and a strange green bacteria that can cope with temperatures up to 90°C.

Johanna and grewing sulphur crystals

In the centre of the moonscape, hot mud bubbles away and the ground sounds hollow when you jump on it. A group of teenage French school kids gave us plenty of opportunity to experience this phenomenon. Most spectacular are the jets of sulphurous steam that shoot upwards out of small holes in the crust. This short video gives you a flavour.

Volcana Solfatara video

The road to Rome over the next few days was fairly dull from a cycling perspective, lots of long straight roads with ribbon development and traffic. We amused ourselves with trying spot interesting things to share with each other. We saw our first Italian buffalo and signs announcing our arrival in Buffalo Mozzarella country. There were a few picturesque towns, one Gaeta, claiming to be the birthplace of Giovanni (John) Cabot, the first European to find Nova Scotia.

I also was in touch with our soon to be hosts in Rome, Stephen, and his italian wife, Antonella. Stephen, a cousin of our Scottish friend Rachel, had offered us a place to stay from which to explore the city. Now we had an even bigger ask. Could they arrange a doctor’s appointment for Jerry? They pulled out all the stops and, in a typically Italian way, arranged an appointment with a hernia consultant through a friend of a friend. He agreed to fit Jerry in before another patient on the day after we arrived.

Via Appia Antica

We chose an old Roman Road, the Via Appia Antica to enter the city and passed our 19,000km just as we started on the route. Despite being off our food with a tummy bug, we enjoyed the traffic free route and the sense of following in the footsteps of over two thousand years of other travellers. We followed Stephen’s instructions for getting across the city, through the city walls, along the length of the old Roman jousting circus, crossing the Tiber and arriving in Vatican City with St Peter’s Basilica. From there it was an easy ride along one of the few cycle paths to their apartment.

The next afternoon, Stephen drove us out past the 1960 Olympic Stadium to Ospedale San Filippo Neri. After locating the entrance to the clinic, and paying the consultation fee, we didn’t have to wait long to be led through to Dr Luca Lepre. A few coughs and prods later he diagnosed Jerry with a large inguinal hernia.

Jerry’s Italian diagnosis

The ‘good’ news is, that because of its size it is unlikely to become strangulated. The ‘bad’ news is that it is likely to become bigger. In Italy, Dr Lepre would have put Jerry straight on to his operating list. He advised Jerry to not do any heavy lifting or high impact exercise. No lifting bikes and paniers and no riding on cobbles. By the evening, we had pretty much accepted that Jerry’s cycle tour was over until he got the hole fixed. After another day’s deliberation, some discussion with friends back home, and Jerry agreeing to continue our cycle tour once he is better, I decided to return to the UK with him rather than cycling back there on my own and meeting up again in Scotland. We are both heart broken.

This week has been spent throwing out kit that has reached the end of its useful life; packing up our bikes and heavy kit to be couriered back to Scotland; arranging our own travel back via trains and buses; sightseeing in Rome; and, most importantly of all, eating loads of gelati (ice cream).

Delicious Gelati

We’ll see those of you who stay in Perth around the end of April and one or two of you en route.

Gallery

Etna etcetera….

This gallery contains 10 photos.

You know the feeling, you get behind with something, and the more you get behind, the harder it becomes to catch up. This is exactly where I am with our blog. So to catch up to our current position just … Continue reading