Thurs 25th July.
Leaving Como, visiting Milan and the Italian heat.
I had breakfast with Sileno and made plans. At this point I wasn’t entirely sure what route to take through Italy. I would either stay in the north, going to Verona, or go to Milan then southeast to Parma and Bologna before heading north, or go further south to Florence and possibly Rome. Timing was a discerning factor as I didn’t have as much as I hoped. The element that dictated my route was the heat.
All I knew for now is that I should head to Milan for now. Then there was the question of what to do after Italy. I originally planned to go north through Austria, but started feeding the idea to go east and see Slovenia and some of the Balkan countries in a tight timeframe.
I discussed going to Milan with Sileno and he told me the road there was straight-forward once you were on it. He offered to cycle with me about half way, which I gladly accepted.
It was hot today and as we set out it only got hotter. On the way to Milan, I knew I would struggle with the heat for too long and I might have to leave Italy sooner than I’d hoped because of the high temperatures.
I felt a strong connection to Como and the people here. I would loved to have stayed for some more time to unwind and enjoy the place, swimming in the lake and seeing more of the areas around it. But here I was on the road to Milan and across Italy.
The path was flat with a small hill at the start. I was in good shape and was able to push ahead. Sileno jokingly said to me ‘Chris Froome!’ as I overtook him on the hill.
The cars and traffic were as had been predicted, but not awful. Sileno was always calm, considerate and took his time moving carefully at roundabouts.
About halfway there we stopped for an espresso and Sileno said this was his halfway point. Once again, Sileno picked up the tab refusing any payment and I thanked him for being such a kind host and taking me. We hugged and then he gave me double cheek kiss I hadn’t expected. He was an amazing host and a very kind and good man. I thought that if religion could do this for someone, maybe it wasn’t as bad as some atheists claim. I was glad to have met him, Rita and his daughter, and felt better off as a person for having done so.
Milan often had a lot negative reviews from friends I knew that had been. An Italian friend told me I would hate it perhaps on the basis that its a fashion capital of Europe and perhaps the people are quite snappy or materialistic. I didn’t have high expectations.
The same applied to the north of Italy. It had been described as being industrial and not beautiful, unlike the south with is the image people tend to have in their mind when they think of Italy. I discovered that like Catalonia is to Spain and London to England, the north is the primary engine in the Italian economy, where the south is considered to be a desirable place to live and take holidays.
The the outskirts of the city were nice, old style cobbled street tiles and the original trams moving around. I enjoyed what I saw and didn’t understand were all the negativity came from. Without surprise it was a difficult place to be with the bike.
I went through the shopping areas, under archways and corridors, saw the famous Cathedral and ate the chefs special in a small deli. Maxibon’s were available so that was a no-brainer, then I took a break from the outdoor heat, magnified by the city. I checked used the internet for ideas and decided to visit the canals my sister recommended had from her visit here.
I had another ice cream from a shop on the canal, looked around the canals and popped into a boutique shop picking up a cap and a rather loud jersey, forever having the excuse that it was from Milan. For better or worse.
I had to get moving to put some distance between me and the city and break into a rural area suitable for camping. Within half an hour, I was out and had a few more hours of cycling ahead of me. I had made the distance and started looking for a spot.
The heat was still very stuffy, making it difficult to think. The humidity and temperature created an atmosphere that would take a lot of getting used to. I had been to hot places, but never cycled through them and wasn’t sure if I could handle this. I planned my days so I would cycle in the morning, take a break during peak hours, then get back on the bike around five and cycle till dark. The temperature on the GPS was reading 35ºC.
I found a river and thought that it would be the best place to camp, once I was some distance from the road. I went a few hundred metres down the river and setup. Mosquitoes were out in force (as they bred by the river I later found out). Peak times for mosquitoes were at dusk while the sun slipping out of view and the temperature dropped to a point where you could feel a breeze in the air. I got the tent up and got in before too long.
With the heat still in around 30ºC outside, inside the tent was hotter as it stored and maintained its own heat. I lay down thinking about what to do. I had been to India before and used to sleep with wet towels as blankets to cool me down through the night. I thought about doing that, but couldn’t use river water and couldn’t spare the drinking water.
I lay down sweating profusely, trying to think as darkness came down. I had no option other than strip right down and sleep on top of my sleeping bag. I woke up a lot in the night writhing around in sweat with no possible escape. The temperature dropped in the night, but the tent kept heat in. I couldn’t go outside due to the mosquitoes, so I was trapped.
I was unsure about how long I could do this for and made plans to stay with hosts as often as possible while in Italy.