Saturday, August 20, 2011

Two Weeks of Hell in Heaven, Part II

As I drank, I started recuperating, and realized that I was walking the streets of the most beautiful medieval town that I have ever been to. The views from San Marino were breathtaking, especially given that it was sunset. What was perhaps even more breathtaking, though, was the atmosphere in the town. Without knowing it, we were in San Marino during one of the four days of its Medieval Festival. People dressed in medieval costumes were walking down the streets, playing songs, making performances, and eating together at long, wooden tables to celebrate the end of a long day. I finally found the guys on the top of San Marino's first tower, and we all agreed that this place was the best so far. Even better was the fact that the prices in San Marino were cheaper than in Prague. A delicious pizza dinner on top of the castle, with breathtaking views of the surrounding fields, hills, and the Adriatic sea, cost only six euros per person! We had no choice but to eat pizza on top of San Marino, our second and last warm meal of the trip. We then bought three bottles of good Italian wine for only five euros (!) and found a nice park in the middle of the city where we first drank the wine and then slept. There is no doubt that the night in San Marino was the best part of our trip.

The view of the second Castle Tower from the First Castle Tower in San Marino.

Us seven in San Marino.

A group playing medieval songs in San Marino.

Six Euros for a delicious pizza and a view like this. That's San Marino.

Medieval festivities in San Marino.

The day we left San Marino we had only one target left: Rome. Because we had a lot of time, we took the next few days easy, resting a lot, and biking less than a hundred kilometers a day on average. We had to cross the Apennines once again, this time at Paso di Viamaggio at 1050m. We spent the night in a muddy field north of the enormous Lake of Trasimene where Hannibal beat the Romans in one of world's most famous battles in 217BC. The next day we went to the lake, where we did not even end up bathing because it was quite dirty. Luckily, there were cold showers available next to it for free. The next night we spent in Citta della Pieve, south of the great lake. We found an old, abandoned shack with a roofed terrace to which lead a set of stairs. When we woke up in the morning, one of us unfortunately stepped on a rotten step on the way down, hurting his leg. We were slowed down a bit due to his injury, and took a break in Orvieto the next day, about 50km south of Citta della Pieve. Our plan was to bike another fifty kilometers to Viterbo, and take a train to Rome from there the next day, but we found out that the connection from Orvieto was much better and decided to stay there. This virtually marked the end of our trip. We toured Orvieto, and found out that it had a beautiful historic center on top of a mountain, much like San Marino but smaller in size. We enjoyed our tour, and then crashed in a park next to Orvieto's elementary school.

Our accommodation the day after San Marino was not so good. We slept in a field next to the road, and woke up in mud and dew because we started looking for a place to stay when it was too late already. 

We slept on the terrace of that house near Citta della Pieve. In the morning, one of us stepped on one of the stairs on the picture and fell through it, hurting his leg.  

The Cathedral in Orvieto. Though only about two centuries old, it was quite monumental and its design full of detail.

The next day we took an early (though again delayed) train to Rome, and spent the rest of the day and the night there. We saw all that there was to see in the city: The Colosseum, the Forum Romanum, Circus Maximus, and of course Vatican City, the final micro state on our list. From there, we sent a postcard to the nice padre who let us sleep next to his church in Marina di Massa. As we found out, it was only allowed to enter the Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican with pants which cover one's knees: one of us had to change after being refused entry. When the sun went down, we biked to the outskirts of the city and spent an almost sleepless night on a concrete sidewalk there. We biked to the Fiumicino Airport the next day, where we had a bad experience with the airline company, whose employees refused to check in our bikes unless they were "professionally wrapped". This included two slow men walking around our bikes with a roll of plastic wrap, and putting an official sticker on it, eighteen euros a piece. A true rip-off, especially given that we wrapped the bikes ourselves with our own wrap at the airport, that the wrapping they did was useless as some of our bikes got scratched, and that we almost missed our flight because of it.

Us in front of the Colosseum, Rome.

Vatican City, the final destination of our trip.

Nevertheless, an hour and thirty minutes later, we landed in Prague and our bike trip was officially over. I learned and/or confirmed a few things along the way. First, I could do it. Second, it hurt. It hurt a lot. Since day one your leg muscles start hurting, then your back joins, then your crouch gets all red because of the saddle, then your knees join the symphony, and finally you start losing feeling in your hands as the carpal tunnel syndrome emerges because of holding  the handles all day. Third, the bike trip was a true hardship given our sleeping conditions, the food we ate, and the conditions we ate it in. Fourth, all this lasts for two long weeks. Two. Long. Weeks. Despite these hardships, though, you get stronger and more resistant every day, realizing that hundred and fifty kilometers on a bike is really not that long a distance.

Perhaps most importantly, however, you will realize that you have become a humbler person, one who appreciates every little thing which makes life comfortable. Last year, while hiking in the desert of Utah, I wrote the following sentences in my diary. "Going into the backcountry is always a humbling experience. All the 'necessities' that one can barely imagine a life without, such as a bed, a roof, toilets, artificial light, a shower, clean, accessible tap water, electricity, beer, all the comforts that human civilization brings with it, suddenly become non-existent. One must sleep on the cold ground in all clothes available, without a decent pillow, in cold and sometimes wet conditions. The only source of light is a headlamp and sometimes fire when allowed and possible...Showering is impossible in the desert and so is any kind of bathing because all the water that survives the heat of the day must be conserved for other hikers to drink. Toilets are yet another story: digging a cat hole is necessary in order to Leave No Trace™. One also has to pump their own water in the backcountry. We used water filters, though iodine and UV are more reliable. I somehow do not trust these filters. For example, how do they get rid of dangerous bacteria? I guess that they are more of a placebo which helps us drink the water rather than actually being a working device for treating it. In any case, they always break or get stuffed with dirt and the omnipresent red desert sand, which renders them even more useless. Listing all of these things, no wonder that living in the backcountry has a humbling effect."

Despite certain technical differences between hiking in Utah's desert and biking across Europe, I believe that no words can better describe my feelings after a job well done. I am proud I did it, and I am glad to be back.


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