Parcels, Rainstorms And Green Green Hills
29 April 2000
Written by Kevin
Subject: Italy (Genoa - Sienna)

We have found ourselves working at the laptop in a number of strange locations but this is the first time from the middle of a toilet block. We are staying in a campsite on the outskirts of Siena - the romantic and medieval walled city in Tuscany. The only power point on the entire site is a razor point in the men's toilets. We had hoped by now to be charging all the equipment using our wonderful solar panels but things in Genoa didn't go quite as planned.

The parcel from the UK was meant to arrive within 24 hours, so when the clock ticked round to 72 we knew something wasn't going quite as planned. We contacted TNT who confirmed the package had actually been delivered to the wrong address - but not to panic as they were on their way there now to pick it up.

Two days later we called again and by this point their story had changed. They now told us they had never received the parcel in the first place and didn't have a clue where it was. We spoke to TNT UK who confirmed that the solar equipment / chargers / sandals and other bits and pieces had definitely left the UK and the problem was with TNT Italy. After another two days of phone tennis we got completely fed up and went to visit TNT Genoa.

After an hourful of excuses they realised we were not going to leave until they actually made some efforts to track down the goods. Finally things started to move. We got the local media involved and were interviewed for the local paper and for the nightly TV news. Great coverage of the reasons behind our journey by bike but this still didn't bring our parcel back to us.

After two weeks in Genoa (and a huge thanks to Antonietta and Paulo for giving us somewhere to stay and helping us out with all the translations) we realised that our beloved panels were actually lost forever. It was time to leave.

As soon as we left Genoa the heavens opened once more and for the next three days it didn't stop raining. Soaked to the bone (and then out the other side!) we finally arrived in Parma. The road surface in Italy is, to put it politely, more bumpy that that anywhere else in Europe. When it is dry the holes are big enough to spot at one hundred yards and you then have enough time to either swing around them or slow down until a gap in the traffic. When it is raining the whole road disappears under water and you have no chance!

But while in Parma the rain finally abated and the sun reminded us what it looked like. With full stomachs and renewed energy we turned south towards the mountains and Florence. We arrived after three days of cycling through some of the lushest, greenest, rolling hills we have ever seen. We followed back roads through the mountains, and although they were hillier than the bigger roads that filled the valleys, the views (and lack of crazy Italian drivers) more than made up for the aching muscles.

As soon as we arrived in Florence we headed straight for the Youth Hostel. Set in the hills just outside the city it is a beautiful building. Flowers cover the walls and the voices of a thousand nationalities echo through the arches. The city itself was incredible. Not only full of amazing buildings and a huge number of museums, it also manages to squeeze in more tourists than we thought existed in the entire world. Every building had queues of thousands wrapped around the walls. The price of food had shot through the roof and the pollution was visible.

We thought we would spend our day looking at beautiful works of art but instead remained transfixed on the steps of the Duomo, fascinated by the site of a million people attempting to consume as many sights (and sites) as possible in as little time as possible. It looked like a world gone mad. People queued up to have their photo taken in the best spots. Five seconds of smiles, the flash of the camera and then running to tick the next one off the list.

After nearly three months of feeling virtually alone it came as a huge culture shock to find ourselves thrust into the middle of hardcore tourist central. Overnight the weather had changed from 6 degrees to 30 degrees. We went from being the only cycle tourists on the road to eating and cycling with people from the UK, Canada and France on the same day. From being the only ones in the hostels to sharing them with 350 others. But also amazing to meet people from a thousand countries, speaking with other people who have English as their first language and realising that we have forgotten how to construct sentences without looking for the easiest words.

But from the Rennaisance chaos that is Florence we moved south once more. After a day of hilly cycling with Clayton (a Canadian racing cyclist trying his hand touring) we arrived in Siena. As I write to you it is once again pouring with rain. But we can watch it from the security of our tent (or in my case, the toilet block) and dream of sunny days ahead…