When this trip was being put together I had no idea of which hotels to select in the various towns along the way. I had never traveled in this part of the world and decided to just go along with the recommendations that UTRACKS had put together for us. It was therefore something of a surprise when we arrived at the beautiful seaside town of Chioggia and found ourselves in what was unquestionably the finest hotel in the town.
Situated right on the waterfront the Grande Hotel Italia certainly lived up to the first part of its name. With its marble floors and impressive staircase, we felt like we must have accidentally got someone else’s booking by mistake. The rooms were equally as impressive, featuring huge beds and every modern convenience. I guess this was a bit like how Bronwyn Bishop must do all her travels, but for me it was a real novelty.
In the evening we had dinner in a nearby restaurant in a quiet side alley, off the main street. Chioggia is basically one large main street leading directly alongside the canal and ending at the water’s edge. Since our hotel was right at the end of the canal, it would have been impossible for even the most directionally challenged walker to get lost. As I walked back in the warm evening I noticed that the flags near the waterside were slightly fluttering – the first small signs of wind that we had seen since arriving in Italy over a week ago. Perhaps it was the first indication that the weather pattern might be about to break.
The next morning we celebrated breakfast (“ate” would simply just not be sufficient to describe the act of breakfasting in the most wonderful breakfast room you could imagine) overlooking the marina and the water beyond. There was a huge array of food to choose from and it would have been tempting to just sit and eat and enjoy the fabulous view. They even served cappucino coffee if you asked one of the attentive waitresses for it. However we had a ride to do and had to keep an eye on the time.
It turned out that we had arrived in Chioggia on market day. When I went out on my early morning walk I was astounded at the army of stall holders that managed to transform the main street within the matter of 15 minutes. The setup was achieved with military precision with each stall holder knowing exactly where their allocated territory was. The stalls themselves carried an impressive array of goods, everything from the cheap Chinese clothing copies and $2 screwdrivers to shoes, kitchenware, food, handicrafts, leathergoods and even bicycle parts.
The start of our ride actually took us up the main street, which meant that we had to walk the gauntlet of thousands of bargain hunting shoppers. It took us about 30 minutes to walk the avenue of stalls before we could actually mount our bikes. Somewhere along the way, I found myself the proud owner of a new leather wallet. It reminded me of the chaos at the start of every “Around the Bay in a Day” mass bike ride. Eventually we broke free of the masses and found ourselves on a quiet rural road running alongside a canal. This was the type of riding we had come so far to experience and it was a glorious feeling to just turn the pedals over and see the kilometres pass by.
It was about this time that a couple of small irritations arose to detract slightly from the perfect nature of the morning. The first was a meteorological matter. The wind that had begun the previous evening was now a steady, but gentle breeze. Unfortunately it blew directly into our faces most of the day. Headwinds are an inescapable part of cycling, but the second annoyance was something else entirely different.
Before coming to Europe we had been warned to keep an eye out for ticks, as they can cause all manner of illnesses. I had not ridden far before I became aware of a tick at very close quarters. Actually it was NOT the small parasitic insect, it was a persistent tick, tick, tick from the bottom bracket region of my bike. Every time I turned the pedals over, there it was – TICK, TICK, TICK. I tried kicking the pedals TICK, TICK, TICK. I tried changing gears TICK, TICK TICK. I even tried standing up on the pedals TICK, TICK, TICK, bloody TICK. it was obvious that it was going to follow me for the entire ride.
When confronted with an annoying repetitious noise like that, there are only two alternatives. The first option is to let it drive you insane. The second option is to find a tune that has the same rhythm and then just hum along with it. I adopted the second approach. And thus occupied, I hummed my way through the day’s ride.
The end of the day’s ride was in a lovely small town called Adria and it was a lovely surprise to find the hotel’s staff waiting to welcome us with a delightful jug of iced orange juice with ginger. We sat in the shady gardens, drinking juice and listening to the operatic singing wafting through the trees. Although I told the group that the music was part of the welcome that I had organised, in truth it was because we are located right next door to the Conservatory of Music and it was the students practising their talents in the late afternoon. The soprano worked her way up and down the scales while the pianist battled with some complex symphony. I wondered what the poor triangle player would add to the occasion. Did they also have to practise for hundreds of hours having to perfect the ever elusive perfect “ding” ?
A young female student came out the front door with an enormous double bass dragging behind her. I bet she wished she had chosen the piccolo instead.
It was a magical end to a great day.
PS The hotel is also VERY impressive. It looks like we must have selected the deluxe accommodation option.
As a footnote I would also like to take a little time to introduce the members of our 2015 Italy Ride. Although I have already mentioned a number of them in passing, it is probably a good time to introduce them all and provide you a brief background on each one.
John Rundell – has completed a number of previous overseas adventures including the 2011 Danube Ride, The 2011 Elbe Ride, the 2013 Thailand Ride as well as our 2014 rides in Finland, Sweden and the UK. When he is not enjoying himself on the bike he spends most of his time counting his vast collection of classic cars. If our team were the cast of Gilligan’s Island, John would be the perfect candidate to play Thurston Howell. John will also be leading Group 2 of our 2015 France ride.
Gonny Rundell – is also a very experienced rider, having participated in the same rides as John, as well as our unforgettable 2013 Bhutan Ride. For the past couple of years Gonny has suffered with a serious back problem and, late last year underwent a spinal fusion. This has proven very successful, although she has not been able to ride seriously for a long time. This trip represents her return to extended cycling.
Lionel Rex – Lionel is also a very capable and experienced rider who took part in our 2011 Danube and Elbe rides. In keeping with his regal surname, Lionel has extremely high expectations for hotel rooms and probably would not even find Buckingham Palace up to his standard. Lionel loves long, early morning walks where he can take pictures of himself with his newly acquired selfie stick. Lionel also likes navigating and his map skills have already proven useful.
We also have two members of our team who have never completed any previous overseas rides.
Mary Jonas – is a capable rider but not so capable navigator. She is inclined to get a little lost at times and to forget her room number when staying in a hotel. In the evenings, Mary always looks like a distinguished lady of the calibre of Helen Mirren. I have also found her very interesting to chat with.
Irena Blonder – when Irena first expressed an interest in this trip, she went on to explain that she does have a particular distinction in that she is rather short of stature. Personally I would not say that she was extraordinarily short, however if she was any smaller, her legs would not reach the ground. When trying to locate a suitably sized bike for her, UTRACKS explored numerous options (including fitting pedals to a roller skate) but fortunately they finally located a bike of the right size. Although Irena sometimes looks like she is wrestling an elephant more than riding a bike, I have been very impressed with her riding ability. On a couple of occasions during today’s ride, she actually bolted away into the distance, leaving the rest of us languishing in her wake. I have been especially pleased to see how much Irena has obviously been enjoying the ride so far. A couple of days ago I actually asked her if she has always been short, and she explained that she used to be very tall, but has been progressively shrinking.
Dennis Dawson – the only normal member of the group.