After our brief stays in Rome and Venice, the time has finally come for us to do what we came to do. After all we ARE a cycling group so it’s only fair that we do get on our bikes at some stage in our trip. Although we had been hoping for cooler conditions in which to start pedaling, the long spell of hot, humid and still weather continues unabated. The earliest forecast for some relief is for the day after tomorrow.
We were all keen to actually get on the bikes but we were not looking forward to the navigational and other challenges that we knew we would face on our first day. First we had to start early, checkout of the Santa Margherita Guest House, catch a Vaporetto (Water bus) to the bus depot and then catch another bus from Venice to Mestre and finally find our way to the hotel where we were to collect our bikes.
The first couple of stages went smoothly, perhaps too smoothly because we soon became a little smug and thought that we would be arriving far too early. You know what they say about pride going before a fall ? It would have been much easier if all the bus stops weren’t apparently given the same name. When we saw the name of the stop that we were looking for we jumped to our feet, but obviously not fast enough, because the doors shut and the bus moved away from the stop. We resigned ourselves to getting off at the next stop and then catching another bus back again. When the next stop came we all charged at the door and cascaded out into the bus stop. We looked about at the drab industrial surroundings and tried to work out exactly where the hell we were. After group head scratching and consultation of maps, GPSs and adverts in the bus shelter, we finally realised that we had got out of the bud too early! We had no alternative other than wait for the next bus, reload all our luggage and finally get to the stop we were looking for.
We then had about a kilometre of suitcase pulling before we got to the hotel (with about 15 mins to spare). It was not an auspicious start to our navigational prowess. The sight of a van unloading a row of bikes indicated that we were at the correct spot and a eager young man answering to the very unItalian name of Josef introduced himself as our bike supplier and luggage man.
After a short briefing we went outside to try out our bikes and get them ready for the ride. By around 11.30 am we were ready for the obligatory group photo before heading off into the traffic. This was the section we were not looking forward to as we first had to navigate back through Mestre and then over the long causeway back onto Venice Island. The traffic was busy, fast and very close and the island seemed to take a long time to get any closer.
Today’s ride was going to involve no less than 3 extended ferry crossings and Josef had supplied us with the necessary tickets. Since we had already witnessed the dire consequences of not validating the ticket before boarding, we all took extreme care to make sure this was done before getting on the first huge ferry. After parking the bikes we caught a lift up to the on board cafetaria. I felt in my pocket for the ticket to make sure it was ready for the ticket inspector. I felt in the other pocket. I looked in my pannier, I looked in my bag. No ticket !
I thought that maybe I had left it in the front pannier on the bike and rushed down the lift and back to the bike – no ticket. Although I was trying not to panic, the thought of a 300 Euro fine and the loss of my passport and birthright was enough to start alarm bells ringing. I went back up the lift again and, when I walked back into the cafetaria, I noticed the missing ticket lying on the floor. Apparently it must have fallen out of my pocket when I pulled out my wallet. As it turned out, we never saw a ticket inspector on any of the three ferries, so I could have just forgotten about it.
When the ferry arrived at Lido it was after 1 pm and some of us were ready for a break and something to eat. We found a likely looking collection of restaurants so I proceeded to lock my bike to Lionel’s using the combination lock provided by Josef. He had told us that all the combinations were the same however when the time came to separate the bikes, the combination did not work. For a while it looked like we might be spending the rest of the day trying out the hundreds of combinations, however a call to Josef revealed the truth. Not all the combinations were the same after all. Apparently the black locks had a different combination. Armed with that information the conjoint bikes were separated and we continued on our way.
The rest of the day was spent riding along quiet waterfront backroads. In many places the waterfront was lined with dozens of fishing boats. Without a breath of wind to stir the water, it was about as peaceful a scene as you could imagine. Although the total distance travelled on this first day was quite modest, the late start, the ferry crossings and the difficult navigation meant that we did not arrive at our hotel in Chioggia until nearly 5 pm. Fortunately our luggage was there waiting for us. Day 1 of the ride successfully completed.