Full circle

It’s going to be weird not eating lunch in a different world heritage site every day.

That’s been the story of our lives the last two weeks. Swanning round Northern Italy from one beautiful city to another.

North Italy is full of UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Italy in fact has more than any other country. (China has the second most).

It seems with every corner you turn there’s an immaculate ancient ruin, or a natural wonder to be marvelled at.

The first city we encountered after entering Italy was no different, and we left Trieste after getting a picture outside this fancy building.

One day around lunchtime we bought food in the Lidl by the roadside.

We were hungry and it was hot, so we were debating whether we should eat our picnic in the Lidl car park – or crack on to the next city and see what it had to offer.

We decided to press on and check out Vicenza.

A good job we did… it turned out (predictably) to be a World Heritage Site due to the architecture, so instead of the Lidl car park we ate our lunch in the cool shadow of centuries old buildings.

Perhaps the most famous of the tourist spots on the Italian north coast is Venice.

The city of Venice was for 11 centuries the capital of the independent Republic of Venice – a great Mediterranean and maritime power. It was one of Europe’s main trading centres and was home to explorer Marco Polo.

Today it is one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world – according to CNN there are over 30 million visitors in a single year. That’s more than New York and Paris combined, in a tiny city that takes about an hour to walk across.

We had arranged to meet some friends in Venice.

Three Germans – Leo, Marcus and Marie – who we had a brilliant night with in New Zealand, had got back in touch and said that they were planning to drive from Munich all the way to Venice to meet us.

We managed to coordinate, and so we arrived and met the guys in a park on one of the Venice Islands.

Here we are in New Zealand (after a few beers…) and then meeting up again seven months later on the other side of the world in Venice.

It’s an incredible place – build across 118 islands in the middle of the sea. There are no trucks, cars or even bikes allowed in the city as it’s built on a system of canals – there are no roads. The only way to get around is to walk over the many bridges, or get a boat.

We wandered round the city and headed back to our apartment to cook dinner and drink some of the finest Bavarian beer the guys had brought with them.

Next stop on our cultural tour of Italy was Verona. A city famed for many things, one of which is that it was the setting for the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet.

A house in the centre of town is supposedly where the family that inspired the Capulet’s once lived. There is the famous “Juliet’s balcony”, and a statue of Juliet.

It is meant to be good fortune for those unlucky in love to rub the right breast of the statue, although we stayed away as apparently it didn’t end brilliantly for Romeo and Juliet so not sure what qualifies her to be dishing out the good luck…

We did however take an abnormally cultural detour from our usual activity of non-stop cycling – a trip to the opera.

Verona is famed for its open air opera, performed in the third largest Roman amphitheater in the world.

In it’s day it could hold 30,000 people and although it wasn’t quite full on the evening we attended, it was undeniably brilliant to sit on the same stone steps that the Romans had done, and listen to some decent singers in a 2,000 year old stadium.

Lake Garda was a short ride from Verona. It’s Italy’s largest lake, the colours so vivid it looked like a painting as we relaxed on its shores.

Milan was one day’s ride away and we took a few days off to sort out our admin, and check out the Milan Cathedral.

It took 600 years to finish… but is an impressive sight.

Well done guys you got there in the end!

We were excited to reach Milan as we’d planned to meet two of our good friends from home here to cycle a week with us from Milan to Nice.

Will and Christina flew out from London and joined us with bikes and paniers they’d rented in Italy.

It was mostly glorious cycling through the Italian countryside, and up into the hills before hitting the coast again.

It wasn’t all beautiful fields and forests. Although the last few days have been cooler, this summer has been brutally hot for Southern Europe.

A sad sight was seeing fields and fields of usually happy smiling sunflowers, looking scorched and dead. Killed from thirst in the lack of rain and intense heat.

You know it’s been hot when it’s too sunny even for the sunflowers.

One night we stayed at Filessea’s house on Air BnB which was situated on a winery. She complained that the late frost in spring, the intense heat and the lack of rains all summer had meant she wouldn’t be able to make wine this year as many of her grapes had died.

We hit the coast and made our way to Sanremo.

Milan to Sanremo is a famous one day bike race over 298km – it took us three days…

Sanremo is a nice sea side town, famous for the race, but also for the Sanremo conference held in 1920 after WW1 where the prime ministers of Britain, France, Italy and Japan met to decide who got what from the recently defeated Ottoman Empire territories in the middle east, including Palestine.

Sanremo was the final stop in Italy, and we span a quick 20km to the French border to enter the last country on our world tour. We had a celebratory photo on the seaside, a quick croissant and coffee break and proceeded to Monaco to have lunch.

Monte Carlo is the major city in the Principality of Monaco – an independent country although only 2.02 square kilometres in size.

Monaco has a population of 37,000 people, and is famous for the Grand Prix that is held through the city streets each year.

Other interesting facts about Monaco is that it has the smallest coastline of any country in the world – and also the highest GDP per capita of any country in the world.

We met a Scottish guy cycling as were coming into the city. He’d lived in Monaco for 13 years and said:

“The only thing you need to be in Monaco is cash. There’s no coincidence that the first three letters of Monaco and Money are the same!”

The wealth on show is staggering, the super yachts, cars, shops and hotels…

It’s funny to imagine a more different city in the world, to some of the places we’ve stayed in Bangladesh or India, wracked by poverty.

I wonder if some of the street kids from Varanasi in India have heard of Monaco, and what they would think if you dropped them there for a day.

They’d probably think they were on another planet – or on a film set.

In the town centre, crowds of tourists flock to take pictures.

Outside the Monte Carlo Casino in the parking spaces there are some incredible vehicles.

Machines that are the pinnacle of innovation and design – aesthetically beautiful yet at the same time ergonomically perfect. Capable of transporting their passengers for miles across countries and even continents in perfect comfort yet at the same time looking effortlessly stylish.

There are also a load of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maserati’s…

After lunch we headed back to France towards Nice.

Way back in Texas, almost nine months ago we’d met a fellow cyclist called Albert who was coming to the end of a world trip similar to ours although heading in the other direction.

We shared a great lunch and as we were leaving he said: “If you’re planning on heading to the South Coast of France make sure you let me know, my dad has a B and B there.”

Sure enough, we took him up on his offer, and had arranged to stay with Phillipe.

It was a brutal 500m climb out of Monaco up the small town of Eze, but so worth it.

Phillipe and his wife were absolutely fantastic hosts and let us sleep in their stunning B and B, overlooking the sea, the Eze castle and their two swimming pools…

It’s great when these things come full circle – here we are in Texas with Albert in November, and here with his father ten months later in the French Riviera.

We said goodbye to Christina and Will after a lovely week, and now have eight days of cycling on our own again to get across France and back to Paris via Lyon.

We only have little over two weeks now of our world cycle remaining!

Like anything, times flies when you’re having fun – and we’re certainly been having fun.

If anyone in normal life gave us two weeks off work to cycle a bike from Nice to London we’d be delighted.

We’re both looking forward to coming home, and instead of being down that there’s only two weeks left, we’re treating it as a two week cycle holiday which we’re very excited for!