Biking in Umbria
Revised June 28, 2004
Weekend In Umbria (June 28,2004)
This weekend we decided to head off to the area (county, province) called Umbria. We again were going without reservations and we hoped that this would be a little better than last weekend's attempt to go to Ponza (see Anzio/Ponza). It turned out to be a fantastic weekend. When most people talk about areas of Italy they like the one you most often hear about is Tuscany. Umbria is everything Tuscany is minus Florence. It has beautiful landscape and incredible hilltop medieval villages/towns. We visited four this weekend (Spoleto, Montefalco, Bevegna and Trevi). The biking was incredible. A lot of the biking was flat until we reached a town and then it was all uphill for a mile or so. Most of it was very manageable.
On Friday night we went to the train station to buy tickets for the train and our bikes. You need a separate ticket for the bikes. It only costs 5E for the bike and you can take it from one end of Italy to the other. The easiest way to buy train tickets in Italy is at the computerized kiosks which are all over the train station. The lines at the ticket counters are long all day and we cannot imagine what it will be like once the tourists start arriving in July. (If you are doing Italy - June is the month - there are no tourists.) You cannot buy bicycle tickets at the kiosks so we decided to go on Friday night to buy our tickets for Saturday morning. We went at 10:30PM just before the windows close at 10:55PM. (Strange ending time - but that is what is posted!!) There are 27 windows and most are open all day. At night there were only 3 windows open and we had to wait in line for about 30 minutes.
On Saturday we arrived at the train station about one hour before the train was to leave. Since this was our first time on a train with bicycles we wanted to make sure that we were not late. The station was mobbed and we watched the board to see which track our train would be on. The listed track was 7 on the printed schedule and there was a train there and the LED sign said that it was going to our destination. Our train was due to leave at 11:17AM and at 11:15AM they put up a different track and off we ran. The trains that accept bicycles have one car - either the first or last - that will take the bicycles. Our train had the first car for bikes so we had to run the length of the train which was quite long. There is no handicap ramp and you have to lift the bike up into the train. The picture below shows Hynda on the train with one of our bikes. The cars are marked with a bicycle symbol so you know exactly where to go. As you can tell it is quite a step up plus we had the bikes loaded with a weekends worth of clothing.. not much for us.. but still some weight. The setup for the bikes is quite good. You wheel the bike into a separate part of the car and there are slots for five or six bikes. You stand your bike in one of the slots.
We Are Fined!!
Before you board a train in Italy you are supposed to validate your ticket by placing it in a machine that stamps the date and time. The ticket is not valid without this stamp. In all the time we have traveled on the trains (and the buses) we have never encountered a person who checks for a ticket. There is a fine if you are caught without a stamped ticket. In our rush to get on the train we did not remember to stamp our tickets. On this train there was a conductor who came around to see if you had a ticket and we were fined because we did not stamp the tickets. She actually could have fined us a total for 80E - 20E for each ticket including the bike tickets!! She took pity on the dumb Americans and only fined us a total of 5E and gave me a receipt for the fine. Hynda and I have decided in situations like this we would pretend that we just arrived and do not speak a word of Italian. I guess it worked here.
This was our first stop. We had two minutes to get off the train with our bikes - they do not stop very long at each stop. We managed to just get off as the train started to pull out. This is a picture of Hynda at the Spoleto train station before we went off in search of a hotel. We biked around for awhile and then found a hotel. Spoleto was incredible - very clean with a Roman amphitheater, beautiful old churches (what else in Italy) and tiny narrow little streets. When we arrived it was about 3PM, siesta time, but we found one little bar open and had an iced tea and pastry. There was absolutely not one single person out in this town.
We then set off for Castle Ritaldi, about 7 miles away - a distance we felt we could do and return comfortably to Spoleto.. We wanted to experiment and see how we did. The road was very flat and very well maintained with virtually no traffic. Castle Ritaldi is actually an entire little town with a 13th century castle at an altitude of 900 feet. This was our first climb (about 1 mile) and it was not very difficult. The following are some pictures from the town.
This first picture is of Hynda seated at a little square in the town. The men to the left are all Italian sitting around doing nothing at it seems a lot of men do here in the middle of the day. The man (and his daughter) to the left is from Chicago. He and his wife have rented a place in Caste Rinaldi for two weeks with his three daughters aged 21,20,19. Those girls must be bored out of their heads!!!
We are biking on one of the roads near the top of the city.
This is a cemetery that we passed on the road. The structures are masoleums.
Upon our return to Spoleto, the same little square where not one person was present now was teeming with young (teenaged) Spoletans. In fact we had noticed that along the bike route back to Spoleto there appeared to be a number of young people all dressed up and waiting for the bus. They were all obviously headed for this one square. Hynda and I got back and found the same bar and sat and had a beer. We sat for about one and 1/2 hours and the kids just walked up and down this one street. - the usual - two or three girls together or two or three boys together. We had names for all of them based upon their clothes or appearance.. you can imagine the names. .. but some of them walked by us at least ten times - back and forth - in the hour or so we were there.
We checked out the hotel in Spoleto and headed for Montefalco about 15 miles away. Montefalco is known as the `Balcony of Umbria' and is located about 1500 feet above the valley floor that we would be biking on. This was going to be our first challenge.
The ride was very flat until we got to within 5 miles of Montefalco. It was probably approaching 80 degrees when we started the climb but we made it to the top with only one stop for water. This first picture is Hynda in the main square. She is sitting on the church steps in the far corner. The next picture was taken about ten minutes later. There was an antique car show and they just kept coming into the square and parking. When we left the cars were still coming in.
Hynda in Montefalco
Nolan in Montefalco
Bevegna was our next stop. Bevegna is a smaller city, also walled and was at about 600 feet so that we had a net drop in altitude form Montefalco although we did have some uphill portions along the way. We were using a map with a scale of 1:200,000 that I had bought in Rome and we were able to pick out some smaller roads that avoided some traffic. We had been told that were having a festival and that we might want to stay for the night. We arrived at about 3PM and the festival was taking a small siesta. We wandered around for about an hour and had a bite to eat at one of the many stands. The kids were all dresses in costume and they looked like they were about to die of heatstroke. We decided not to stay and push on to our next stop.
Trevi was our last stop. It was about 10 miles from Bevagna but it was very high up (1400 feet) on the side of a mountain. We made a couple of wrong turns on the way. The map was not perfect and when we got on one rode we ran into a Polish couple who could not speak Italian or English but they did help us some and we found this incredible flat road with no traffic along a river. The pictures show Hynda and I on the rode with the city of Trevi in the background. The problem with Trevi was that you did not start going up until you were almost at the base of the mountain. We had 2 solid miles of switchbacks with hairpin turns. We came close to giving up at one point when we were only half way up. Trevi turned out to be worth the effort - another gem of a city. The following are pictures from Trevi. the first is of Hynda on the road to Trevi. Trevi is the town on the hilltop in teh distance.
We are getting closer.
Having a much deserved beer in the main square in Trevi.
In the morning we got up and went to the TABACHI store in Trevi to buy train and bike tickets. They did not have bike tickets - only train tickets. We biked down the hill - a lot more fun than going up but a little more nerve racking. We arrived at the train station and it only had an automated ticket machine that did not dispense bike tickets. We went to a local store and asked about bike tickets and they were nice enough to call the train information number and were told that we would have to bike to another train station ten miles away.. although you can get on with a bike at Trevi they do not sell bike tickets here. It is an unmanned station.
We did find a cleaning person at the station who said we could buy the ticket on the train but we would have to pay extra - a fine - because we got on the train without a bike ticket. There was no way we were biking anymore this weekend - we were still exhausted from yesterday so we decided to get on the train and talk our way out of a fine and volunteer to pay for the tickets immediately. The bike car was the last car and we got on and never saw a conductor the whole trip!!!
Trevi from the train station.