Wednesday, April 21:  Bellagio to CinqueTerre

Breakfast was outside, owing to the nice weather. It was about 20 degrees out later in the afternoon. We walked the high road into Bellagio, directly to the point where the east and west arms of the lake split. The point there is known as Pointe Spartivento -- the point that splits the wind. The view up towards the Swiss Alps was fantastic. (Photo 55) (Photo 80) We returned through town on the low road along the lakeshore, only to find the tourist information office closed, but the maps taped to the windows were still of some help.  (Photo 56) We rolled out of the hotel about 11 AM, in search of Madonna della Ghisallo Chapel, a small church in the hills, dedicated to professional cyclists and their patron saint.

The first turn we were to make was impossible, due to a road closure for market day. We quickly recovered and began a series of tight switchbacks up the hill, with the occasional cyclist descending. It would be a tough bike ride up, though no more difficult than some of the climbs we do around Mt. Rainier, and not as long. After some spectacular views across the eastern arm of the lake, we crested the ridge, and found the right town, and the Chapel was impossible to miss. (Photo 57)

Inside the very small chapel, on the walls about 4 meters above ground were bikes such as one belonging to Fausto Coppi, and the one used by Moser to set the Hour Record in Mexico City. There was a bike belonging to Fabio Casterelli, who died in a crash in the 1995 Tour de France. It was his memory that inspired Lance Armstrong’s heaven-ward victory salute on one of his early Tour de France stage victories. The remainder of the wall space had an assortment of photographs and plaques, but mostly was covered by jerseys from famous riders and famous victories. Mario Cipollini’s world champion jersey was mounted next to a jersey from Alfredo Binda (Cipollini surpassed Binda’s 65-year-old career victories record for the Giro d’Italia just a year ago). Nothing from Lance Armstrong, yet. Pat and the boys seemed to enjoy the stop, also. I had my photo taken inbetween statues of Bartoli and Coppi outside. Across the way, work is in-progress on a new cycling museum.

Cyclists came and went as we visited, and I was impressed by how many older gentleman had climbed their way up the hills. I approached one group of four, each of whom must have been over sixty, all dressed in full cycling apparel, and asked about taking their photo. (Photo 59) At first, they thought I wanted them to take my photo, but eventually we got it straight. Afterwards, I explained that I was a cyclist, but without my bike. They spoke no English, so I mentioned that I was “americano,” in hopes of explaining my interest and why I wasn’t on a bike. Then one of them said, “Armstrong!” And we all nodded our heads together and said “Aaah, Armstrong!” in unison. To return the favor, I said “Cipollini!” And we all nodded our heads together and said “Aaah, Cipollini!” in unison. Then one of them said mournfully “Aaah, Pantani.” And we all shook our heads and respectfully said “Aaah, Pantani.” (Pantani was a Tour de France winner and subsequent Armstrong challenger who died under mysterious drug-related circumstances a few months ago.) And that was our conversation.

We headed down out of the hills, seeing even more cyclists in the triangular area bounded by Como, Lecco and Bellagio. In Erba, we blew a turn, but realized it quite quickly. Approaching the autostrada on-ramps outside Como, I couldn’t remember my destination, but we pulled over before it was too late. Then around industrial Milan with all the trucks, a lunch stop at Spizzico and some long flat roads back in the Po River valley. Then the road headed up into the hills, and it twisted and turned when it didn’t pass through tunnels. Once around Genova, we left the autostrada and hit successively smaller and smaller roads as we made our way to Vernazza in the CinqueTerre. The final twenty kilometers were on a one lane road with periodic widespots twisting back and forth along the steep hillside, but I only had to back up once.

We reached Vernazza and were quizzed at the gate about our reservations and parking plans, and then enthusiastically allowed entry. (Photo 62) We parked by the post office and called Martina, who was renting us a room. Her uncle Guiseppe came to meet us and lead us to our parking. He directed me up a small lane that I had assumed was a pedestrian path, and we barely fit. Up a long chute, and he directed me into a corner, where the road constricted even further. Fortunately, he only wanted me to turn around in the corner. At this time, a small, three-wheeled utility truck wanted by through the corner also, and somehow he made it around me. Back a ways down the chute and my destination became obvious -- a small pull-out was to be the Peugeot’s resting spot. We worked it back and forth to get the rear wheel out of the roadway. While trying to reverse at one point, I didn’t engage the clutch fast enough and rolled the front bumper into the wall. The damage appears minor, but I haven’t given it a full inspection yet.

Guiseppe grabbed Pat’s bag and charged up the hill, then down a very long stairway. We popped out at the small central, seaside square, then entered the first door on our right to go up about six floors worth of steep stairs. Robert had about all he could handle negotiating his luggage all that way. Our room is pleasant, with a divider separating us from the boy’s two beds. And we have a refrigerator. (Photo 60)

Photo 57  Cycling Chapel
Photo 58  Cycling Memorial

Photo 59  Italian Cyclists
The boys were game to play on the small beach, so off they went. Very quickly Pat decided they should save their shoes for hiking tomorrow and change into their sandals, which of course then permitted them wading in the Mediterranean. Guiseppe tracked me down sitting on a bench in the square and summoned Martina over. They eventually explained to me that they didn’t want the boys tracking wet sand all the way up the long tile staircase. “No problem,” I said. A few minutes later, on the other side of the square, Guissepe found Pat and offered her a towel for the boys to use.

We left the boys to play and wade, and had a very relaxing drink in the bar in the fort above the breakwater. The view from the balcony was superb. Once the boys concluded swimming, we walked them over to the door at the base of the stairway and had them wait. I’d go upstairs, get some towels and they could strip off their sandals and wet pants, using the towels for cover as they climbed up to the room. But before I could enact this plan, an unidentified gentleman from a nearby group of lounging seniors came over and requested that we be sure to keep the stairway clear of wet sand. Enough, already.

Once the boys were stripped, I grabbed their sandals and pants and carried them over to the mystery gentleman, and asked “Va bene?” (Its good? i.e. OK?) It took a few repetitions to get his attention, as he tried to ignore me and look the other way, but I was persistent. Eventually he explained, in decent English, “I am not the manager, but I live in the building. I have seen it before. Please keep the stairway clean.” As I dropped back into the building, I heard a loud chuckle come up from his cronies, and I wondered if it was for him or for me?

We had dinner outdoors, just on the central square, ten meters from our building. The first thing the proprietor said to me was, “That man this afternoon is Guiseppe’s brother. The two of them it is war. (Jamming fingers of opposite hands together for effect.) Not war with you, but you rent room from Martina, they use you for war.” A satisfactory explanation, and I indicated that I was not the least bit upset by it all. And I was intrigued at how quickly the incident had been reported.

Dinner was good, but on the expensive side. Once the family had retired to leave me looking for the check, Guiseppe strolled by. “My brother, he is crazy,” he said, pointing to his own head for effect. I kept smiling and saying “No problemo.”