The final MSF cycling update

(Originally posted Thursday 28 June, 2007)

Voila our Tour de Force, this is the final post about our ride, vividly encapturing the last stages of our journey from Rotterdam to Rome. If you haven’t been on the site for a while you should read the post below before this one in order to keep chronological continuity.

Day 51 to Day 58

Day 51, Sun 10 June – Sienna surrounds

[Michael on the job again, with Billy typing!]

With so many people coming and going to so many places [Alex even arrived for a day to do her washing]; it is hard to record the week in the villa! What is easy to note is the villa itself. Quite isolated down a gravel road, about 10km from Sienna, it is part of a rustic, complex of buildings constituting an estate from the late 1700’s. The Griccioli family, owners since the early 1900’s, live in the main villa – a mansion used initially as a holiday house for the wealthy landlord’s hunting trips to the country. There is an attached garden and a view across the hilltops to Sienna. Our digs, 100m away, were part of perhaps an older farmhouse that may have housed the workers? Renovated inside to a comfortable though not oppulent state, it provided a spacious, homely atmosphere with the magnificent swimming pool secluded amongst the olive tree plantation giving the distinct feel of luxury to plebians like us.

Day 52, Mon 11 June – Sienna surrounds

The morning began with an interesting tour of the family’s olive oil and wine-making facilities. Son Alessandro is in charge having done his apprenticeship in Bordeaux. He makes the regional red according to traditional appellation methods. His experiment with a French-style rosé was a curiosity to his local peers but tasted good to us! The olive oil was fantastic and he matter-of-factly said that while his wine may not be the best in the region, their oil was and had won prizes to prove it. In some way he attributed this to more modern pressing methods. We made suitable purchases and proceeded to try the wares with one of Lisa’s trademark Tuscan style dinners which became a highlight of the week preceded by antipasto and drinks by the pool most evenings.

Day 53, Tues 12 June – Sienna surrounds

Journeyed into town with Elly, Grandma, Billy and Jordy. Billy tried to work on the net but had nothing going right for him. It was the first day I could walk comfortably, thanks to Monica’s massages and Nigel’s anti-inflammatories, after being doubled over for three days. Wandered through another amazing cathedral with attached library housing centuries old, massive, velum hymnbooks inticately handpainted by monks from an era past. Stunning.

Day 54, Wed 13 June – Sienna surrounds

Short sightseeing tour in afternoon to neighbouring villages and wineries – a carload and me on the bike. I was back, cured, cycling freely and relishing it. Marja was amazed I could turn up at places at the same time as them, but in undulating country you can cover a short distance quickly with the momentum from the down hill runs.

Day 55, Thurs 14 June – Montechiaro to Poggio Rosa, 79km

Really hoped for good things out of this day – the renowned Tuscan countryside south of Sienna, a couple of fortified hilltop towns of equal reputation, and a rare cultural highlight thrown in. It delivered the goods. La Crete is a rather bare stretch of agricultural clay hills and valleys, and for those who like their decorations minimalist it would have great appeal. Wheat crops and round hay bales replaced vineyards and olive groves, and pencil pines, a symbol of Tuscany, were sparse. The tough up-and-down work combined with 30 degree heat convinced us to ride no-shirts. The towns of Asciano & San Giovanni d’Asso were typical unplastered stone-walled buildings and had ‘area pedonale’ throughout. Met the car gang of Poodge, Ken, Monica, Marja, Maggie and Jordy [yes, six in the five seater car again] in Montalcino for lunch, just before the supermarket closed; all were impressed with our long, hot climb up to the old picturesque city. Did the essential Cathedral/Castle visit, neither stand-outs of the holiday. Cycled on to San Antimo Abbey to hear the monks chant Gregorian, but unfortunately they had gone AWOL for the afternoon; Billy was singing his own praises though because on a short section of road going to the abbey he set the land speed record for our entire trip – 73.8kph! The Colley car met us having heard the monks earlier in the day and recommended we hang around for the evening Vespers. The 8kms afterwards were short and sweet downhill, followed by the same distance climbing in 33 degree heat to Poggio Rosa. Billy’s back had suffered in the sun; lucky I had put my shirt on earlier than him! Ken, Monica, Marja, Poodge and us stayed for an afternoon supper in Poggio Rosa; drinking in the vista and the local beverages. Returned to the abbey and sat in silent reverie as the monks did their thing. The drive home was squashy but fun all the same. A grand day out!

Day 56, Fri 15 June – Sienna surrounds

A split day; Nigel and I taking a drive to the market at Monticiano, a look at the ruined Abbey San Galgano used now periodically for opera and concerts and an extremely relaxing soak in the hot springs of Bagni Petriolo. Pity the rest had to stay home and pack! I exaggerate….another carload went north to San Gimignano and Colle di Val d’Elsa and also enjoyed their sightseeing. Tea induced mixed feelings; another lovely spread coupled with the bitter-sweet taste of it being our last meal at the Villa.

Day 57, Sat 16 June – Poggio Rosa to Borghetto, 79km

The morning was a hectic mess of 9 people packing; Ken, Monica and Marja left for the train station at the crack of dawn. Everything was in order by 10, when the nonnas arrived, keen to clean, ready for the next batch of tourists. The two fully-laden vehicles departed for Poggio Rosa, ready for us to pick up Thursday’s trail. There was a short detour to San Quirico d’Orcia, a beautiful medieval town that was in full preparations for its annual festival; each Contrada (town ward) had its colours on show, ready to face off in archery and flag-waving competitions. Shame to miss it, but we had places to be! We picnicked with the Colleys for the last time prior to their return home. Our mountain climbing efforts weren’t over and it was straight into the hard work towards Campiglia d’Orcia. The Carabinieri sent us down the steepest, roughest track we’d ventured on all trip, sealed in spots but with pot-holes that could swallow bike and rider whole. Safely on the SR2 highway we bumped helmets with an old, intrepid German cyclist cycling from Stuttgart to Rome in 10 days. His english was difficult to understand but he chatted happily nonetheless. He had purchased his untried racer just 2 days before departing, had only one drink bottle, zig-zagged all over the road and was toting an 8.5 kilo pack on his back; and we thought we were crazy! We took a photo next to the ‘Rome 160km’ sign and waved him good-bye as we turned off the river-bed road and headed uphill to Radicofani. The road jagged up to the crubling fortress reminiscent of the Weissenstein; tough work. For the effort I thought we deserved, and got, a discounted entry. The view from the renovated tower was spectacular, but time was short. A quick archery comp: closest to the target after 2 shots gets the fifth arrow. Billy won the right and smacked the bulls-eye with the final shot. The SR2 was a tad busy as we pushed uphill to Acquapendente, stopped for a bananna and marveled at the mass of people in the Piazza at dusk. San Lorenzo Nuovo was dead by comparison, and our last town before reaching our lakeside Caravan Park. Dinner with just the original squad of 6 who had left Rotterdam was a surreal celebration. 1 day to go!

Day 58, Sun 17 June – Borghetto to Rome, 128km


OK…the last day. Didn’t really have that in mind though as we chatted with a couple of Canadian touring cyclists early in the morning at the caravan park about places in the north we’d been and they were heading to. Pleasant conditions and little traffic on the SR2 Via Cassia towards Rome, so a downhill feel about things as we whistled through Bolsena towards Montefiascone. Our progress was noted at the Roma 100km stone marker. Took in the great view over the Lake and visited the cathedral just before Mass started. Had to hurry out so couldn’t pay for the postcard of the interior. [Well that’s dad’s excuse!] On the downhill out of town we caught up with our German mate, gave him a tow to Viterbo and waved goodbye again. Perhaps we should’ve followed him on the main drag for our deviation to Ronciglione was via an unexpected 11km, 500m climb. Worst of all, it was Motorcyle Sunday again. Lunch with the crew was welcome. Dad had what he thought ranked with the best cakes of our holiday and didn’t share a morsel. Down the track we caught up with our ancient road to Rome, the now upgraded SS2, it was a horrible, but not unexpected 14km stretch from entry to exit. It was a freeway in all but name and shoulder width. We were happy to split, but found ourselves in the unappealing outer suburbs of Rome. We met with the crew at 3pm and decided to find accomodation; fast. The heat, noise and traffic had everyone a bit tetchy. Luckily the nearest Caravan Park happened to be something of an oasis. We booked a bungalow, had a shower, some time to unpack and then relax. We waited until 6:30pm before donning our fresh Cycling Across Borders / MSF shirts and left to complete our Path. Aunty Poodge was happy when the car -decorated for the occasion- caught up to us in the streets of Rome; she just whacked on the hazard lights and followed at our pace. The traffic was realtively peaceful, that is to say, there were only dozens of cars at each intersection rather than hundreds. Such an arrival at St Peter’s Square would not have been seen for some time, Poodge was merciless on the horn (Italian style), it took onlookers a few seconds to understand that she wasn’t angry at the world, just delighted. To see the square as it is, Sunday night is the best time. We had no worries about parking nearby and the golden, evening light seemed fit for the occasion. A bottle of warm bubbly was uncorked and forced down, never mind, it’s all about the occasion! The camera ran hot and we were euphoric; cutting a lap around the obelisk, hoisting the bikes above our heads and yelling in Italian “due mille tre cento kilometro!!!!!!”. Back at backpacker park central a belly-full of pizzas, more toasts, a long review of the inumerable highs of our trip and delight in each other’s company capped off our day, our jouney.

So here are the statistics: 2377km covered in an unbroken line in 27 days of cycling over 58 days, at an average of 88.06km/day. Longest day’s ride of 176.40km; shortest day of 32.08km. Fastest speed reached 73.8kph. Highest altitude reached 2431m; longest continuous climb 1581m, longest continuous descent 1214m.

Thanks to Medecins Sans Frontieres for allowing us to raise public awareness about their work during this ride, all the people and organisations at home who have donated money to MSF Australia following our Mount Gambier to Melbourne trip, encouraging friends and neighbours at home for assisting Nic and Jacinta on the farm, Phil the builder who continued renovating the house while we were away [sorry we haven’t got any money to pay you with now Phil!], the Greenham and Colley relatives and friends from Australia who journeyed to Europe and accompanied us at various times, the Dickmann family for their support and holiday company, the Gallois and Magnat families who gave us welcome rest in their homes and a much appreciated taste of French Life, the Australian Embassies in Netherlands, Belgium, France and Italy for assisting us with special contacts and occasions at Ypres, Villers-Brettenoux, Varese and Rome [where we delivered a letter from Ambassador Brady in Holland to Ambassador Woolcott in Rome], Stuart and Stan at ABC Radio Mt Gambier who perservered with live crosses to us en route, the businesses who supported us especially Netti Australia for the cycling gear, Paestan Canoe Hire for their involvement and ANZSS Shipping Services who will freight our bikes back home from Rotterdam for nothing [thanks Arno!], all the wonderful people we met along the way who may never know how their waves, chat & directions helped us, you the readers, and finally the support crew – Poodge, Elly, Maggie and Jordy – who did a sterling job putting up with us, and we hope they had the experience of a lifetime –


Now, where to next for this great cause?

Michael and Billy Greenham.

P.S. The book will/might/probably won’t be available in all good book stores by Christmas!!!???


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Filed under 2007, Rotterdam to Rome

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