From Rome to Home

From Rome to Home

By Caitlin Pollock

Our Customer Support Heroes are inundated with wonderful stories from our customers about their adventures. We never, ever tire of hearing them. Caitlin sent us a lovely one about her trip from Rome to Home. Here's Caitlin's write-up.

In recent years, we’ve been inspired by the epic adventures of Jenny Graham cycling around the world, Shaun Conway swimming Lands End to John O’Groats, and the travels of our good friend Josh Reid, but what can you do with only 3 weeks of holiday?!

Just like that, the daydreams started: Google Maps, blogs and YouTube fuelled the mounting excitement. In the end, an adaptation of the Via Francigena pilgrimage route captured our imagination, and so our “Rome to Home” was born.

The first 4 days in Italy were HOT! A mini heatwave intensified the expectedly high temperatures and we soon learnt that 4am alarms were essential to complete the majority of the cycling (130kms on average) before the midday heat. Tuscany was amazing. The famous white gravel roads of the “Strada Bianche” lived up to their reputation, with incredible scenery, delicious food, and welcoming people. Campsites were rare along the Italian section of the route, as sensible Italian holidaymakers go to the coast or the mountains in the summer to escape the heat. Instead we stayed in a pilgrims' accommodation (free/discounted hostels for those travelling on the Via Francigena), which provided a unique experience and the opportunity to meet fellow travellers.

After 6 days of heat and dust we arrived at Lerici, an old coastal town on the Ligurian coast. We spent a rest day cooling off in the sea, exploring the history and refuelling. We didn't want to leave! Heading north towards the Alps we had just one obstacle to tackle first… the Apennines. The landscape in Italy was everchanging and absorbing: from the rolling hills of Lazio and Tuscany, to serene sea views, across the flatlands of the river Po basin, and through the soaring peaks of the Apennines and Alps.

We crossed the Alps at St Bernard’s Pass, cutting between Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa, following in the footsteps of Napolean himself and maybe even Hannibal’s elephants (let’s leave that debate for the historians). Having successfully “conquered” the Alps we enjoyed a ‘rest day' of 50km to meet my family on the banks of Lake Geneva, a happy coincidence! Whilst food shopping, disaster struck… Ben’s gear cable failed (and we had made the rookie mistake of not bringing a spare cable). We sprinted to the nearest bike shop for a replacement before the imminent 3-day Swiss bank holiday. A stressful (and tearful on my part) evening was spent replacing our first gear cable as the sunset over the Alps.

With Italy and the mountains behind us, the borders became more fluid, and we began ticking off countries: Switzerland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Thankfully campsites were more frequent in Northern Europe, and we got to test our latest Alpkit investments, including the Ordos 2, Cloud Base sleeping mats, titanium pots and personal favourite, the Lhfoon (long-handled fork spoon, if you don’t know…get to know).

In France, we joined the Eurovelo 5 route and the weather turned. Bus shelters became our saviours as we dodged the passing thunderstorms. The flat terrain of the ‘Canal de la Marne au Rhine’, a 313km canal network through France and Germany, made a welcome change to the hard-earned kilometres of the Alps.

Next we traversed Luxembourg in a single day, weaving our way along an impressive network of cycle paths through gorgeous countryside. Our highlight was the Strava heat-mapped elevator that took you to the top of Luxembourg (city).

Belgium treated us to fries, waffles and more ‘proper’ gravel over the undulating Ardenne region. We were also lucky enough to stay with two Warmshowers families, who educated us on Belgium and its history. Brussels and Antwerp were epic cities full of bikes and we discovered the key was to move with purpose…even if it’s in the wrong direction. As well as our navigation, Belgium really tested our linguistic skills, as we transitioned through French, German, and Dutch speaking regions.

We finally made it to the Netherlands. The top-quality cycle paths and chips/croquets with mayo/mustard revitalised us for the final days of our trip. We passed through Rotterdam (singing the well-known tune on loop) and spent our final night in The Hague, before meandering through the sand dunes on the lush, tarmacked paths of the coast route. We made it to the ferry terminal in Ijmuiden (near Amsterdam) with plenty of time for the overnight ferry to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a firm favourite as it’s a super easy (and affordable) way to get bikes to/from Europe.

We feel incredibly lucky to have had the time and opportunity to explore so much of Europe. Now the question is, where next?

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