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accidents

At the Foot of the Alps

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At the Foot of the Alps

So I spent a few days cycling at night with the plan to stop when I reached an interesting area. My hopes were high for Lake Garda, which people had recommended. When I got there, I was severely disappointed.

Perhaps for Italian standards it’s a nice nature holiday destination, but what I experienced was a purgatory of excessive tourism. Almost the entire lake was surrounded by nothing but shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, ice-cream shops, bakeries, night clubs, hotels, trinket stalls, and all the things that tourism attracts. Finding a nice quiet beach for a swim was hopeless. And high season hadn't even begun yet.

The lake itself was quite nice (except for the water smelling bad), and the surrounding mountains were pretty (except for the air pollution that blocked visibility). Once upon a time it must’ve been a great area to visit. Now however, I found very little I liked. Even the 140km “floating bicycle path” above the lake that I had been hearing about didn’t exist yet. “Partially finished” apparently referred to one 200m stretch, with another 1km about to be opened next month.

Overall, the whole place really served as a warning for what happens when construction and development is left unchecked. I shuddered at the thought of Finnish Lapland being equally ruined some day. Even if tourism brings jobs and economic benefits, it might end up destroying everything that’s beautiful on the planet.

At least on the hillier northwest side there was still a bit of nature left. The ground was so uneven I still had to sleep on the old road that had been blocked from cars when they built a new tunnel through the hill.

I do like these old roads, and how calm they are compared to the traffic and noise going through the mountain.

On the north side of the lake there were a couple positive experiences. Outside the grocery store I chatted with a nice lady who had the kind of smile that instantly tells you this is someone with a kind heart and warm attitude. And in Torbole I stopped in a bar and got advice from a friendly local who convinced me to change my route away from Trento. He said a detour further west would be much more beautiful. No problem, I have time. With the lake behind me and some nice mountains and bicycle paths ahead, I wanted to slow down anyway and actually enjoy the views.

This is more like it.

The next day started with a disaster. In a town called Dro I went to get a pizza for breakfast. It was a small bakery with no place to sit, so I started off to look for a bench to eat on. But just as I left I was almost floored by a huge crash a couple meters behind me. A car that had just passed me drove into a stone gate and fell over!

A very confused-looking old man was at the wheel, trying to sit sideways among shattered glass. The pizza maker came in, calmed down the driver and told him to turn off the engine and stay where he is, called 112, made sure none of the gathering crowd would try to do anything stupid like tilt the car back on their own, and then went back to make pizza. Almost like he had to deal with this kind of thing every week.

The fateful pizza.

The ambulance and fire truck were there within minutes to do their thing. The old man seemed outwardly okay as they dug him out, but of course that’s no guarantee that serious injuries were avoided.

I felt vaguely guilty afterwards. The alley was plenty wide for both of us, but maybe my presence as an interesting bicycle traveller was enough to cause a distraction. When everything was over, I ducked into a nearby church just to have a dark quiet place to relax for a moment.

What will be in store next?

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The Corsican Coast Road

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The Corsican Coast Road

Before finding our cabin for the month's rest we cycled along one of the most beautiful roads I've ever seen. The D81 road from Calvi was full of twists and turns. A narrow paved road between a rising mountain and a straight drop down to the sea. Peeking over the edge you could see seagulls and kites gliding below, with waves of salt water patiently grinding away at the rocks.

During the low season of winter this road was practically unused. However, far too frequently old remains of crashed cars reminded me of the dangers of roads like these. In Corsica it seems to be common to simply leave any destroyed car on the site of an accident. I've already seen more of these tragic remains than I can remember.

This didn't end well.

Despite these solemn reminders of the transience of life, I was having a great time. Isabelle and I had decided to split up for a couple days, to enjoy our separate adventures and get some important solitude. The first afternoon I discovered the ruins of a castle. It turned out to have been the home of Pierre Bonaparte, Napoleon's cousin. It was built only 150 years ago, despite looking like it had been abandoned for twice as long.

I happily spent the night there, in one of the most exotic camping places so far. Bright moonlight washed over the landscape. I peered through the holes that used to be windows, listening for any sounds of wild pigs in the fields below. My stay was undisturbed. The roof had collapsed long ago, so I fell asleep looking at the stars above.

Château du Prince Pierre Bonaparte

The views got even better further south around Piana. The light wasn't so good for photography while we were there, but I plan to return soon for another try, so I'll hopefully talk about that area more in a future update.

This road and Corsica in general has been some of the best that cycle touring can offer. Quiet roads, long distances between villages, plentiful nature, and gorgeous views enjoyed with a generous amount of time and freedom. That's all I ever wanted, so there's no need to hurry eastwards from here yet.

There's only a couple more days of resting left before it's time to return to the road. It has been great to recover and take my mind off the trip for a while, but I imagine getting back on the saddle will feel amazing as well.

A lot Corsican nature is just dry thorny bushes, but in some areas they actually have trees and forests as well.
If you can look at this photo and not get the desire to go on a bicycle adventure, there may be something wrong with you.
When I decide to settle down somewhere, I would like to have a view of both mountains and the sea.

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