topics: focaccia (food), bikes on trains in Italy, rain, Appian Way, the road to Roma; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: May 16-17, 1998

Food of the Day: focaccia

A sort of more-or-less-but-not-exactly pizza bread is the only way to describe focaccia. It can be served plain or with toppings, and with or without sauce, and one way to distinguish focaccia from "regular" pizza is that it can be served cold (deliciously so), and is never crunchy, like most pizza crusts are. It can also be cooked with different ingredients in the dough. We tried some focaccia in Terracina at a focaccia pizza place, and it tasted like particularly wonderful pizza crust, served hot, right out of the wood oven. Other focaccia is thicker and has some toppings or at least yummy garlic-olive oil.

Word of the Day: Alle-alle click to hear an audio clip

"Alle-alle" is a special bicyclists' greeting that probably comes from the French "Allez" meaning "Go!" as in "Keep on going!" A phrase that we often hear on the road from fellow cyclists, we've just now gotten one possible explanation. While we always correctly too "Aye-Alay!" or "Alay-Alay!" to be a friendly hello greeting, there was always some confusion about what was actually being said. While Ethan had thought it might be just the repetition of what he has heard from other cyclists - "Salve" - now we have confirmation that "Alle" has no real meaning but can be translated as "Hey!" It turns out this is the cheering-on chant used by spectators at bike races to root for the cyclists. Now we get it...

Person of the Day: Andrea Di Napoli click to view a photograph

Our immense thanks go out to our friend in Napoli, Mr. Andrea Di Napoli. click to view a photograph Andrea helped the BikeAbout team by showing us around, introducing us to people, and keeping our evenings entertaining. We met Andrea by calling him out of the blue. His name was on a list of people connected with the AEGEE network we first encountered in Athens. While a few emails had already been sent to the AEGEE folk in Napoli, Andrea knew very little about us at first. He was, however, happy to help.

After a little telephone introduction from "Corinne, the telefonista," Andrea offered his assistance. We were frantically looking for an Internet café from which to do that night's live chat 'n' debate. He pointed us in the right direction and then, when he later met us at the café, he gave Corinne the title of "telefonista," the Italian word for the person who does all the calling when looking for ransom after a kidnapping! While we enjoyed being kidnapped by Andrea for a few late nights out on the town, we are mostly grateful to have made a new friend.

Andrea participated in the live chat 'n' debate the night we met, and helped us send dispatches and receive e-mail from the Board of European Students of Technology or B.E.S.T. office at the School of Engineering at the University of Napoli. A student network of 46 universities in 20 countries, BEST offers opportunities for technical students to take free courses in many different countries throughout Europe, thus inspiring intercultural communication. The most impressive aspect about B.E.S.T. is that it is entirely student-run, in cooperation with their universities and an impressive list of sponsor corporations.

Andrea is also in the process of building a fine foods sales company. They will specialize in products from Italy (in particular from the region around Napoli). They hope to develop a Web site through which to advertise and market their products. [Update: You can find their Web site at

We want to thank Andrea for his friendship and generosity, for having gone out of his way to use the Internet and his extended network of interested folks in Europe to further our outreach effort and to help us find additional contacts in remaining countries. Wow! A little kidnapping goes a long way in Napoli!

Place of the Day: Via Appia (Appian Way) click to view a photograph

The "Via Appia" or Appian Way click to view a photograph, a direct route from Roma to the south of Italy (going as far as the Apulia region on the Adriatic Sea) was one of the first roads built in Italy. Begun in 312 BC by the Romans, the Via Appia was composed of stone and basalt, and was wider and lengthier than most roads of the time. This "regina viarum" or "queen of roads" is also heralded as the first "straight" highway, which made it important as a military avenue and may have sparked the comment that "All roads lead to Rome." Indeed, along the Via Appia, there were signs for as many as three other roads headed toward Roma. It could get awfully confusing.

While the road has NO shoulder for bicyclists, it was certainly the shortest road to Rome, and mostly flat as well, shooting first across a broad plain and then through a valley between two sets of hills. click to view a photograph Tree-lined most of the way, the Via was a forest of Joshua Pines click to view a photograph and garden-variety trees. They sure came in handy since they provided important shelter, first from the sun and then from the rain showers as we dodged both throughout the day.

Tech Fact of the Day: putting bikes on trains in Italy click to view a photograph

The Italian campaign to get more trains to allow for bike transport is called Bici+Treno ("bici piu treno" or "bike plus train").

Six years ago a campaign was launched to put pressure on the Italian state train system to tolerate the concept - and long-forgotten habit - of encouraging people to bring their bikes onto trains. It is, however, only within the last 3 years that "Bici+Treno" has succeeded in getting the train company to start advertising this service. The service is only available on certain trains and for the moderate fee of 5,000 lire. Trains allowing passengers to travel with their bikes are identified by tiny bike symbols on the posted schedules and by a painted bicycle symbol on the side of the train car on which they will make the trip. click to view a photograph

For the most part, the "Bici+Treno" practice is uniform throughout Italy. For 5,000 lire, your bike can travel for 24 hours on any authorized trains. Unfortunately, there are still not that many trains that take bikes. Hence, not all bike trains make convenient connections. (Getting to your ultimate destination may require clever planning.) While bike advocates are trying to broaden the program, the obstacles continue to be the privately owned train companies, which are run differently in every region of Italy. Plus, the recently for-profit privatized interests may discontinue any such programs if more people don't taking their bikes on trains in the future.

Group Dispatch, May 16-17
photograph of Corinne

This was the morning we knew we finally had to leave Napoli. A sad day indeed. But we were not yet leaving the company of our incredible hosts click to view a photograph. Today would be another biking adventure with Gino, as he and Peppe would accompany us most of the way to Terracina, a city about halfway between Napoli and Roma.

So, after Ethan's sock-finding expedition in the garden click to view a photograph (he had lost a sock to the winds and the neighbors garden), and saying "mille grazie" (a thousand thanks) and "ciao" (goodbye) to half of our hosts, Rosanna and Barbara, we were ready to go.

Following Gino, we met Peppe on the street and made our way to the Napoli train station.

Why the train station? Well, Gino, an expert on the roads and wrangles of the area, had decided that we should put our bikes on a train for the first 30 or so kilometers out of Napoli. The road conditions and city traffic were just not worth the time and effort it would take to tackle. Besides, with the useful Italian "Bici+Treno" (see the Tech Fact of the Day) taking advantage of the trains was easy.

It was a scenic and mostly downhill ride click to view a photograph to the train station. (Along the way, we suffered the first flat tire of this dispatch. After having had refreshingly few flats during the last 8 months of travel, we had no idea that we were about to be showered with 'em...)

In the train station, the reality of having to leave Napoli struck us. Once again, as with so many of the places we have been, it was a heart-wrenching departure. The chaos, traffic, noise, dirt, and beauty of the old city of Napoli had grown on us, become endearing, and the times we had had... It would be hard to put it all behind us. Especially the people like our hosts, Peppe, Andrea Di Napoli (today's Person of the Day), and many others. Leaving all our new friends wasn't easy, but away we went.

On the train, Ethan, Corinne, and Gino fixed Corinne's flat, and everyone enjoyed a short rest. Thanks to a series of late nights in Napoli (with Andrea and others), we had not caught up on our sleep; every minute counted.

After disembarking from the train click to view a photograph, a quick and strong coffee (ahhhh Italy) propelled us on to the road with a smile. click to view a photograph

While it had rained a bit the night before, and the morning skies over Napoli had threatened more of the same, once beyond the urban sprawl, we were happy to find a beautiful rural landscape and many flashes of sunshine. However, as usual, we had a headwind. And a tough one at that.

In the surrounding farm areas, the water buffalo (yes, water buffalo!) click to view a photograph weren't nearly as interested in us as we were in them. You see, it is the milk from water buffalo (and not cows) that makes real mozzarella.

After the first 20 kilometers (12 mi), we stopped in the small village of Carinola to look at ruins of a 15th century palace click to view a photograph that had belonged to the Spanish Martsano family. You can see the "Povodoro di San Martsano" or "coat of arms" design on the shields click to view a photograph that are part of the quickly deteriorating decorations. click to view a photograph

Shortly after this visit, one of Gino's tires also went flat click to view a photograph (but is not counted in the BikeAbout official flat tire count, nor in the additional four to come in this dispatch). Everyone once again waited in the shade and caught a few more deserved moments of rest. click to view a photograph

Back on the road for a little more than an hour (this time) we again stopped (with Gino we were following a very different pace from our usual longer stretches of riding), but this time for lunch. click to view a photograph Special mozzarella vendors that dot the roads in this area make available the freshest and tastiest possible mozzarella on terrific sourdough bread. click to view a photograph

Our lunch break was also perfectly timed for map consultation and contemplation. click to view a photograph Since Gino and Peppe would not be joining us for the ride all the way to Terracina, we needed to know how to proceed. We were also curious about the cycle the next day that would take us all the way to Roma. We tried to absorb as much as we could from Gino's detailed maps but also figured that all would be well since, as the saying goes, "All roads lead to Rome."

As we finished our sandwiches, we were told by some locals that Terracina was still another 80-90 km (50-56 mi) away. Frankly, we didn't think that this was true, but, since it was already after 2pm, we hit the road, determined to continue biking even when the drizzly rain started. We paused only long enough in the dimming light and cool winds to don our jackets, drape plastic bags over items in need of protection. We also found ourselves back on a major road. It turned out to be the best route anyway... at least until the actual rain started.

After it started, it never really stopped. But we could not know that this would be the case. So, at the time, we thought it would be the best opportunity for another coffee. Sure enough, as the java warmed our insides, outside the rain began to come down in buckets. We hoped it would stop, but took off when it had only subsided. We still had 50 km (31 mi) to go. But, another 15 km (9 mi) down the road, just before a big uphill tunnel, the hard rain began again. So, once again, we pulled off into a café and attempted to wait it out. As it turned out, this was also the departure point for Peppe and Gino who would have to turn back to the last town we had passed through. They would catch a train back to Napoli and there are few non-regional trains (that will accept bikes) going straight from Terracina to Napoli! You can double-check today's Tech Fact for more information...

So, altogether, we huddled under an awning and we waited and waited... and waited. The air got colder as the clouds grew thicker and the light began to fade. Our soaked clothes only got wetter. And the rain showed little sign of letting up.

At around 5:30 p.m. we decided to move on even though the rain was as fierce as ever. We did not want to get caught on the road after dark in such bad weather. And there were still 40 km (25 mi) to go. Of course, since we were precisely at the point where the road hugs the coast, we knew we would be faced with more hills than we'd had yet today. click to view a photograph

When the signs to Terracina brought us into the center of town, we realized we had no clues about where we were or where to stay. Ethan's fact-finding mission revealed that we would have to comb the seaside for open hotels. The rough waters were far from inviting, though. click to view a photograph We were so wet and cold that sitting on a damp sidewalk bench while the drizzle continued almost felt natural. It just didn't matter anymore. (There we met John, an American living in Munich, Germany, who was biking for a week from Roma to Napoli on a recumbent bike. He found the BikeAbout journey fascinating, but could not understand our waterlogged lack of enthusiasm after 8 months on the road. He was still only on day 6 of his trip, enjoying his second day of rain...)

By the time we found the hotel district on the seashore, a slow leak in Ethan's tire left him moving at a snail's pace. But it seemed like shelter was finally at hand when we rolled right up to a sign saying "Hotel For YOU" with a flashing neon arrow. Unfortunately, Corinne was told by the woman at the desk - who shook her head and made negative motions with her hands - that the hotel was "OPEN." Because Corinne can empathize with someone who has zero grasp of another language, she took this to mean that the hotel was actually closed, despite the evocative name and the flashing neon sign. But she confirmed: "Chiuso?" she asked, which is Italian for "Closed?" "Si," the woman replied, obviously glad to see that Corinne could understand her. She nodded her head and smiled, "Open!"

Luckily, two doors down there was another hotel, and Ethan was close on hand to speak Italian with the proprietor. We were glad finally to get out of the rain. Of course, as we were locking the bikes and bringing our luggage inside, the rain finally stopped.

After showers and a hunt for mostly-dry clothes, we all donned extra layers and ventured out for a chilly and damp jaunt through the town. We all had EVERY intention of getting something to eat that was quick and close by. After all, it was already past 9 p.m. and we were exhausted. Plus there would be over 100 km (62 mi) to bike on the next day.

A 2-km walk and 45 minute wait outside a busy restaurant finally brought us to the dinner table. All of Terracina was out on this hoppin' Saturday night, and we, like zombies, wandered the streets wondering where these Italians get their energy. After a fabulous (if slow) meal at La Foccacia - focaccia being the pizza-like Food of the Day - and some "tech talk" regarding dispatches and the next day's route to Roma, we had a well-deserved gelato, walked all the way back to our hotel and then passed out.

The next morning saw a late start as we were still behind on sleep from the fun-filled nights in Napoli. But the sun was up as early as it always is, despite the mid-morning clouds that had moved in. As usual, Corinne needed to get a jump on the guys so they wouldn't have to wait for her at the end of - and throughout - the day. She got some "breakfast money" and was gone. A quick fix of Ethan's flat (from last night), though, and the boys were ready, too. The problem was that the gentlemen were under the impression that Corinne would be returning with breakfast for them. Whoops. The guys ended up waiting an hour at the hotel, then biked around for another half-hour looking for her - and their breakfast. It seems like fate had made them wait today, regardless of Corinne's efforts.

The straightest road from Terracina to Roma is the Via Appia, known in English as the Appian Way. This is our Place of the Day for several reasons. First, the Via Appia is tree lined and serene and, on this Sunday when so many Italians are at the seaside, the lack of shoulder was not a problem. click to view a photograph (Well, except for the two, simultaneous flats that Ethan got when he hit an "invisible" water-filled pothole hard in the midst of a downpour. That wasn't very friendly at all.) Second, this road follows the highway initially built by the ancient Romans. Finally, we were approaching the famous city at the center of an ancient empire whose impact on life in the Mediterranean is still felt today.

One of the curiosities about today was the revelation that, in fact, when near to Roma, all roads do lead to it. Hilariously, in each town we rode through, there were a number of signs indicating that Roma could be reached by any of a number of choices - take your pick! (Although some road signs might take you to places you don't want to go, like this one leading to the "X Files". click to view a photograph It was truly an X-Files kind of day, as Anthony also mysteriously had a flat. There must have been evil forces at work.)

The boys actually caught up with Corinne about 10 km (6 mi) outside of Roma. Of course she was under the impression that they had simply taken a different route from the one she had, especially given such a plethora of choices. She thought that their meeting was simply a serendipitous coming together at the crossroads that lead directly into town. Whoops. Regardless, we knew that we were all finally getting close to Roma when we passed alongside these ruins of an aqueduct near an apartment complex in the suburbs. click to view a photograph

As we breached the city limits, the rain was back and with a vengeance. Pulling over just outside the city walls click to view a photograph and just as the temperature was beginning to drop, we waited for a break and to get a better bearing of where we were headed. About an hour later, we were ready to head toward the meeting place with our host in Roma. He had said to head for the Coliseum, and we did. click to view a photograph

After a short introduction to Giovanni, our host in Roma (and tomorrow's Person of the Day) and another quick ride through the back streets of the city to the apartment we will be using during our stay, Padraic also got a flat, not 50 meters from our new home.

It was so late and we were so tired from having ridden in the rain (and eaten a late lunch snack) that we skipped dinner altogether. Besides, we had all of Roma to explore starting tomorrow. We wanted to be rested and ready.

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