There are always a few nerves when you venture out on the bicycle somewhere new, that tinge of doubt over what I should expect; will the hills be too many and too steep, will there be places to stop for a drink and a bite to eat and what if I break down. Add that to cycling in a foreign country where I don't speak the language, they ride on the other side of the road and the temperatures were really starting to concern me.
Well after the doubts came the excitement and that was it off I went to Italy, Sorrento and the Amalfi coast in fact. This is a country I have wanted to ride in for a number of years, the Giro d'Italia captures the imagination more so than the other grand tours in my opinion. Why do you think my company colour is pink!
So I packed the bike up in one of our Velovault Bike boxes and headed off to Gatwick to catch a flight. Now this was my first experience of travelling abroad with my bike, other than trying to maneuver a bright orange box the size of a mini grand piano around an airport the experience was quite uneventful.
When we arrived at the hotel in Castellammare our taxi driver had negotiated what can only be described as a chaotic road network with mopeds and scooters darting between the many Fiats and Lancias. My stomach churned a little. But this is my territory, congested city streets I thought.
So my first day of cycling took me up Monte Faito, once a route on the Giro and a windy road climbing 1000m as I climbed and stopped to take in the amazing views of the bay of Naples a local out walking stopped and started telling me in Italian about watching the great Eddie Merckz tackle the mountain. He then told me not to waste my time going any further as the road was impassable due to a landslide, a common problem in an area where the biggest landmark is a volcano. So I decided instead to take the road to Sorrento. Now the roads are windy and get narrow at times. They aren't the smoothest either. But if there is anything that makes the Italian roads better than British roads is the attitude of the drivers. A quick hoot on the horn just before they pass, patiently waiting behind you as you climb the steepest inclines and giving way at junctions.
My friends had all warned me about the crazy driving and busy roads and yes it was busy at times and to the untrained eye it must have looked chaotic but my passage on my bicycle was never maliciously hindered by any driver. This made for a pleasurable ride along the coast.
The scenery is the spectacular, the cliffs are shear and the brightly coloured towns look like jewels strung precariously along the coast line with grey sandy beaches it really is an amazing place to see and ride.
Now being a northerner I'm not so used to temperatures above 15C and so I packed my lightest kit to keep me cool as I rode, it did well I was comfortable. For the locals it was autumn and this was evident by the local riders wearing windproof gillets, long sleeves and in a couple of cases skull caps. The bikes were a mixture of classic steel framed Bianchis to top of the range full suspension mountain bikes and regardless of the discipline if you pedalled on two wheels you were in the club.
You'll find, if you ride along this coast, that every town has a number of public drinking water fountains, usually located in public squares or near to locally famous monuments, these a re incredibly handy for topping up your water bottle along the route especially, if like me, you are not made for the heat. There is one such fountain located in Vico Equense next to the war monument and looks out over the ragged rough coastline; a beautiful place to stop for a break. On sundays many of the towns close off their main shopping streets to traffic giving pedestrians and cyclists free reign, its quite amazing how pleasant it can make a town.
Italy is a wonderful country to cycle in, the scenery, the careful drivers and just the whole attitude would make me recommend a cycling holiday there anytime, even doing it yourself, its not as scary as you might think.