Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 58 Abbadia San Salvatore - Bolsena - 59km

An excellent start and finish for an excellent day. As we leave the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, just what we need after yesterday's soaking. Then we have easy downhill riding for the best part of the morning, also just what we need. Better still, the roads are quiet and the large off-road section takes us through breathtaking countryside that we can appreciate all the more because the cycling is so good. Today after an initial section where we have to find our way out of Abbadia San Salvatore independently, we find the cross country Pisoni route a great improvement over the Via Cassia hugging AIVF route, while the local VF-signers have searched out some alternatives that only enhance the route even more.

By the time we reach Acquapendente, a place we only slogged through in the rain last year, we have sufficient faith in the brown VF signs to follow them into the centre (something we definitely could not have dared to do last year) and are rewarded with a very pleasant Piazza that we would otherwise have missed. We stop here for lunch.

And so the story goes on - brief, but very brief encounters with the dreaded Via Cassia, though only on short and quiet sections, and then more off-road tracks with only a few hills that warrant getting off to push. Then Bolsena.

Last year we opted for the lakeside route because it was flatter and, we thought, better signed - a big mistake as we can now see. Much of our route had been along the via Cassia and even where it was not the roads were busy and the drivers horse unfriendly. For all these reasons Bolsena appeared as an unappealing tower high up on a ridge that we passed by without a pause. Now we know that it is in fact a hidden treasure that no one in their right mind would want to miss.

Bolsena's ancient centre is charming, the huge basilica is imposing and the people are perhaps the most welcoming we have encountered yet - an atmosphere further enhanced by a local triathlon competition and the inevitable celebrations. As far as we can tell, Italian is in permanent party mode.

But the best is yet to come. Brothers you should see how your Sisters of the Suore San Sacramento deal with pilgrims and their dogs. The convent door is opened by a tiny nun who makes me feel like Goliath. In response to my pathetically phrased question about a bed for the night, she smiles sweetly and pulls me inside, but I hold back and point at Vasco. She shakes her head and tells me that she is sorry - "Cane (dog) no."

Expecting as much, but pleased that the situation is made clear at the outset, I thank her and turn to go away, but my arm is held again and now another, equally tiny nun (Paul describes them as dormice) joins us and indicates that I should follow her inside.

I am taken to a large room with an exquisitely tended garden visible through a large a window at one end. The nun points to it - "Cane." They could not try harder for us and our problematic dog, but they do not know Vasco. He will howl and bring various houses down if we leave him outside for the night and through a variety of ludicrous gestures I tell them so, while also ensuring that they understand I appreciate their efforts. Now the two nuns have a rapid fire conversation between themselves and their next move is to grab an arm each and practically drag me up to room with two spotless white beds and a bathroom. "Le chien et vous." One of them tries her limited French out on me and suddenly everything becomes easier. I thank and thank them, saying how much I appreciate their dog dispensation and add that we will visit the basilica at 6.00 when I have gathered they will be saying Mass - if only they really knew what this means in terms of self-sacrifice. Enough said! I eat my words about ALL religious communities and reserve them for just SOME.

PP There are many routes around Abbadia San Salvadore and its twin mountain top partner Radicofani. Last year we stuck close by the SS2 (Via Cassia) which lead us between industrial complexes and seemingly unfriendly roadside café's, not helped by days of continuous rain. The route we travel today is so much better with freedom from traffic, gorgeous immense landscapes all enhanced by clear blue skies.

I, and I am sure the bank manager, are grateful to the dormice for saving us from another hotel bill. Unlike the fee demanding Benedictine monks the dormice need prompting on the subject of money and apologetically suggest 8 euros per head, they get more of course.

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