Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Saturday 26th July - Airolo to Como

After the torturous combination of heat and height yesterday, today's ride has a cool and thankfully downhill start. I decided on a route that allowed me to skirt two of the Swiss-Italian lakes and on the shores of the third at Como. It was again a glorious ride, but I definitely got the impression that the landscape of the Italian side of Switzerland was less sacred than that of the French or German, pitted as it is with quarries, log piles and industrial developments.

I was also greeted by a veritable concertina of car horns and the fabled...ahem...'style' of Italian driving made itself quickly apparent. The only thing that will keep me sane throughout this peninsula is knowing that for all of their crazy on-road stunts, the Greeks are still worse drivers than the Italians (although there's a pretty good chance that either will be the end of me and I have no idea what mental motivation I will use once in Greece!)

The ride was a long one, perhaps the longest yet, but I felt surprisingly fit today after yesterdays trouble and guess it must have been the extremity of the climb that did it, rather than the distance.

Of all the languages I don't know on this trip, Italian seems certainly the least daunting and I'm hoping to have mastered the basics in a few days like I did with German. I also managed to meet my third astrophysicist so far (not counting Toby, the potential astrophysicist that started the trip with me.) He also happened to be a Dutch cycle nut; no shortage of them on this trip either. Until now however, I have not met a single other Brit. I don't know whether this is testament to the fact that my countrymen and women a) don't travel outside of package holidays, b) don't cycle, c) all know something I don't or d) all speak the language of their host country fluently and seamlessly integrate whilst I struggle along as the hopeless cyclist ignorant of both Italian and German. I rather doubt it is d), but the other three may well have something going for them. Indeed, I discover the answer today, for they are all in Como!

It's a crowded, starstruck place, host to a bunch of celebrities and their adoring, 'Hello!'-reading real-world analogues, decked as though for a space outing in Prada suits and enormous, wraparound glasses. They totter from boutique to salon to boutique, clutching their designer wallets stuffed full of their husband's credit cards in between lurid false fingernails. From this herd rises a cacaphony of accents, from Essex to East Yorkshire, Manchester to Gloucester and amongst them dart dark, crumpled-looking old ladies on bicycles, moving with the pace and certainty of London bike messengers. Watching this circus are the young Italian men, swaggering with the tide of the evening, clutching their phones and cigarette packets tightly in one hand and swinging their keys methodically with the right. Then there is me, hot, sweaty and dressed in lycra with 50 kgs of bike and luggage, looking on in bewilderment and utterly out of place. The scene says 'Bienvenuti in Italia!', the parentheses say 'Terra di caotico'...

Av. 22.5kph, Max. 59.5kph, Dist. 158.36 kms, Time 07.02.04

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