Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 18 - Pont Saint Martin to Vercelli - 73km

Leaving the mountains behind us now it was still a now gradual roll for the morning into the valley below. Pont Saint Martin was a nice little village, but not too much going on. We thought we had a great little hotel right in the centre, with sensational views to the roman bridge and up into the mountains. On closer inspection it was a little bit ratty, the power outlets (all 2 of them) were some sort of ancient things that wouldn't accept a European plug, so we had to charge our devices one at a time in the single outlet that did work. Then we laid on the bed, the base wrapped in green carpet gave it an air of dated elegance, but in the end it was a solid wood block with a thin sliver of foam on top, not the best nights sleep. Rishi tried putting additional towels and blankets under her to no respite. Looking at the bright side the morning views were still amazing.

Pilgrim beard is coming along nicely
Calzone, Italy's pie!
So good, freshly sliced procusitto

Not many options in town for dinner, with everything closed after a festival the week before, we doubled up on pizza for the day. A delicious combo of procusitto and a sausage calzone.

Still getting used to the Italian way of life, we enjoyed our included breakfast of OJ, coffee and chocolate cornetto (crosiants).

We started the day with a cracking tailwind and a slightly downwards road, still with steep villages on either side we stuck to the minor main roads to avoid the climbs to Ivrea. We clicked along at close to 30kph and got a small group of 5 touring bikes in our sights ahead, like a rabbit up the road we clicked it up a few gears and flew past to a suprised group with a "ciao!!" Settling back into our rhythm we stopped at market just outside Ivrea for some delicious strawberries and loaded up on some bananas.

Rabbit about to be caught
Ivera old town

Arriving into Ivrea we navigated into the old town which was a really nice little spot, and found a nice looking cafe for another coffee hit. The espressos are tiny and more like what we would deem a ristretto. So we tried the Cafe doppio, which is basically a double espresso with a tiny bit of hot water. That sure got us going, Rishi actually went into a bit of cafeen overload!

Getting back into the proper offroad trails out of Ivrea was a nice change, our first chance in Italy as so far it has only been steep mostly unrideable sections. We navigated through farmroads and tiny villages not much unlike France without the giant chateaus and with tiny little Piaggio 3 wheel cars everywhere. We soon turned off into the forrest tracks which would take us past lake Viverone. It was now quite overcast, and rain clouds loomed. The lake was impressive with hill side villages all around, it was a stupidly steep climb away from the lake up a rocky trail which we had to dismount, then the mosquitos sensing the moment attacked, instantly we were both covered, with 20-30 of them all over us, knowing this area was bad we had some bushmans 80% deet handy applying it to all exposed skin, we watched in horror as they preceded to try and bite us through our kit! So we chugged up the hill doing a weird shimmy to evade the buggers as it took two hands to haul the bikes up the 20% incline!

Italian country roads
Back in the forrest
Lake Viverone
Gotta love a steep hill town!

With the clouds above looking more ominous we decided to stick to the Tarmac for the next few sections avoiding the rice paddies. A good choice as we climbed up into the village a massive headwind faced us, pushing through we still made good time and we made it into Santhia just after 12pm for lunch.

With the pizza overload for day 1 in Italy, we tried and osteria, which is basically a wine bar restaurant that usually just does specials. The hard part is that there is no menu, the waiter just reads the specials out. Out of the 8 or so things she read out we understood 1 or 2 so we went with the pasta one. It was just a basic fresh pasta in sugo with basil and cherry tomatoes, delicious!

Italy, a cyclists heaven

After lunch we only had about 25k remaining a good amount, with more rice paddies and the wind increasing we decided to stick to the roads again. Shortly out of town, the wind just got worse. On the dead flat roads in the morning we were easily holding 28kph with no real effort, now I was pushing hard to hold 23kph. The dead flat roads were now dead straight as well open with a canal up one side. Looking at the k's ticking off we just put the heads down and pushed through, 17ks in and about 8ks to go I had to stop for a breather, and Rishi was concerntrating so much to just hold the wheel that she hadnt been drinking for the last 30mins. Inhaling a banana was enough to see us through to the outskirts of town, where luckily enough we came across a decathlon store, which is like a giant cross between anaconda and rebel sport. We had been trying to buy some more chain lube for days, everywhere we found was closed for siesta or had terrible wet weather lube that you may as well apply engine oil instead. What an awesome store, huge with cheap and high end stuff galore.

My headwind face, Rishi even offered a roll, I gave her a go and she didn't like it!
So straight, so windy!
Employing RCL powers
Decathlon, massive this is about 1/3

Arriving into town without a hotel booking for the first time in quite a while, we navigated to the turismo office who were super helpful, everything was super expensive around 100euros for something that looked average. Luckily she negotiated a good price with one hotel just outside the centre for 70euro which we were happy with. After a tough day in the wind we had a nice walk through the old town, scoping out dinner places on the way, we had an awesome gelato near the main square and settled down for a beer, wondering about the apertivo hour and if it applied in this area our beers arrived with a ridiculous platter. Half worried to eat it if we were going to be charged extra we picked at it and eventually demolished most of it! Fixing up the bill I was happy to find the apertivo hour exists, 2 x 400ml beers 7euros, food free!!

Vercelli old town
Vercelli main square
Complimentary beer snacks, apertivo time

Now almost full, we didn't need a full meal. We managed to find a fancy deli on the way back to the hotel and picked a delicious hotel picnic and bottle of barbera. A bit pricey, but still a cheaper night than going out for dinner. We have to try some rissotto tomorrow night though, as this Piedmonte region is know for its rice.

Another flat day tomorrow to Pavia, and then we will spend the weekend with a restday in Piacenza staying in a lovely b&b. we may even catch a train into Milan for the day depending on how we feel, as it's only 50mins away by train.


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