Monday, February 09, 2009

Italy Day 8: Part 1:: Biking from Perugia to Castiglione del Lago

This is one of a series of entries from my travel diary of our Italy trip last fall. This entry is from Day 8, September 22, 2009, our second day of cycling:

9/22/08: Perugia to Castiglione del Lago: 25 Miles
I just got out of one of the best showers of my life. I think the shower alone was worth the hotel room. Tons of hot water, big fluffy towels (which are not that common in Italy, where thinner non-fluffy towels are more common). After 25 miles of hill country biking and all afternoon exploring around town and climbing the castle with the kids, I was really ready for a good shower.

This was a terrifically beautiful day - fair and warm with big puffy clouds and a nice breeze. We left a little late after situating all of the gear for the first time in the trailers. Going down off the big hill of Perugia was fun and a little scary, especially when we rocketed into a tunnel, still wearing our sunglasses! Back down at the train station, we stopped for groceries at the Coop (pronounced Co-ope) store. The bikes attracted the first of many onlookers, and older gentleman who only spoke Italian and French. This was a bonus for me, since French was the first foreign language I learned, it's often the case that the first word that pops into my head when I'm reaching for the Italian word is French anyways. Between the two languages we managed to have quite a conversation about the bikes and our route to Firenze (Florence).

Despite the fact that drivers here are fast and zip in and out of lanes like crazy while using their horns profusely, they have been everything from polite to incredibly enthusiastic to us. Even when we are totally in the way, no one has honked at us except in a friendly "beep beep" way with a wave or a thumbs-up. One family pulled up by us and enthused in rapid Italian saying "Complimento" over and over. I have not felt nervous or afraid on the bikes here, despite no bike lanes and the closeness of cars, trucks, and buses. I find myself wishing that American drivers could all take a crash course in Italian cycling hospitality!

Our route from Perugia to Castiglione del Lago went southwest over some rolling hills. The sign for hills here looks like, well, a pair of breasts, and quickly earned the knickname "Boobs Ahead" from the Biking Clevenger Family. Soon there were familiar groans when we spotted another Boobs Ahead sign, knowing that meant another hill to climb. Most of them have been mild and rolling hills though, nothing too serious yet. We turned north toward a small town called Mugnano, and off of the main road.

We stopped for a picnic lunch in the shade of some olive trees by the side of the road. After lunch we set off again, went past Mugnano and some fields with grains and sunflowers, then up and over a small pass. From the top of the pass, we could see Lake Trasimeno below us. There was also a small shrine with the Madonna and Jesus at the top of the pass. We have seen several of these soo far, usually at the summit of a pass or hill. Maybe she watches over cyclists offering up their prayers to make it up the hills.

We descended to the road along the shore and followed it along the south and western ends of the lake, stopping to take some photos at a small park along the way. A nice person offered to take a family photo of us, which shows how pretty this spot was. From the park, we could see the town of Castiglione del Lago to the north, jutting out into the lake on a promontory of rock, with the castle at the very tip standing over the lake. It looked a long ways off in the distance, but that's our destination for today.

On the way into town, we passed this place:
and I assured the family that I had not booked us into "Casa del Mutilato" for our night's stay. We reached the old walled part of the city, and the bells of the church began to toll solemnly over and over. As I walked up the main street into the Centro to find our hotel, people in dark clothing began to file out of the church bearing flowers and then a casket. We waited until the funeral procession wound away down the street before we walked the bikes up to our hotel.

Our hotel, La Torre, looks wonderful. It is very close to the castle which has the kids excited of course. The owner (Signore Lucarelli, here in this photo with Wayne and the kids) has been extremely helpful and friendly, especially considering that the hotel is on many floors with not much room to store such large bicycles and trailer/suitcases. As Wayne did some maintenance on the squeaky trailer wheels, a small crowd again grew around the bikes, including a family from Germany who asked a lot of questions about the bikes and our itinerary. Signore Lucarelli found us a place in a courtyard across the street to safely store our bikes and trailers, so we are all settled in and ready to see the town and castle. Castiglione Del Lago literally means "castle of the lake", and one reason we wanted to come here is the beautifully picturesque castle at the end of town here. The kids are very excited to go explore!
Continued in part 2...

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