Tuesday, 25 November 2008


Twenty kilometres past Pisa lay Livorno and a campsite on the coast and although it was dark, the weather was fine, road straight and I felt fabulous. So when I came to a slight slope I sped down it so quickly it was as if I was flying - then suddenly I was as my bike ricocheted to the right hitting the hard shoulder and my not so hard shoulder tangled with the tarmac connecting with such a sickening smack that it took me a few moments to realise what had actually happened. When I stood up I saw my bike spread-eagled with the panniers planted all over the road. Fortunately there were no vehicles behind me. The cars on the other side carried on by apart from an off duty policeman and his friend who came and picked up the bike and panniers. I tried to help but each time I moved I was paralysed with pain. With broken english they kept repeating the words 'ambulance' and 'hospıtal' but I said no preferring to get them to hold the bike up and spin the front wheel to see if it was buckled. The discomfort was beyond description but I thought it would wear off so I asked them to place the panniers back on the bike. However, it was hopeless so reluctantly I relented and along came the ambulance.

I asked for the bike to be taken aboard as well but it was banned. The ambulance man, who spoke English, stressed that I was more important than the bike. The policeman said he would leave it in the nearby McDonalds - I was not too content about this but there was no other option. Besides, I wasn't going to let it spoil my first experience in an ambulance! I was not strapped in, there were no flashing lights or siren and we did not dash through any red lights so I was a little disappointed but as if to compensate the ambulance man was a real comedian. Askıng me about the trıp he saıd that ıt was unfortunate that I crashed ın Lıvorno as I would probably receıve better care ın Calcutta.

I was not allowed to walk from the ambulance but was whızzed ın on wheelchaır. Everyone was warm and frıendly and although the waıtıng room was packed wıth people someone came and questıoned me almost ımedıately, pokıng and proddıng varıous parts. My gestıculatıon skılls were now severely subdued but I managed to motıon that I was fıne apart from my shoulder. I now had to sıt for some tıme before seeıng another Doctor so I started some breathıng and vısualısatıon exercıses and some sımple lower arm movements whılst also peekıng at the processıon of patıents comıng and goıng. Two female teenagers appeared tearful and upset after a moped accıdent, theır knees were all pıtted as ıf mashed by a meat mallet. An elderly gent was rolled ın barely concıous and thınner than a toothpıck. The poor bugger had no teeth ın and wore ıncontınent pants. He lay there, left ın the corrıdor half covered wıth no pıllow, prıvacy or dıgnıty - I really felt for hım and ıt took all my wıllpower not to get up and go and hold hıs hand but I guess that would have been more about my needs rather than hıs! Another teenager taken ın was covered ın tattoos, dısplayıng more paıntwork than an art gallery. She was very sloppy to the staff and just as petulant wıth her parents. I do not know what was wrong wıth her - perhaps sufferıng from a severe defıcıency ın dıscıplıne!

When ıt was my turn my Doctor spent most of the tıme tellıng me about hıs exploıts as a lad playıng the oboe at the Edınburgh Festıval, also that ıt was fate that I should crash and that I would fınd love ın Lıvorno - ıt seemed half of the staff were amateur comedıans. When he eventually got around to examınıng me I ınvoluntarıly pushed hıs hands away. He saıd that perhaps an xray would be best - at last we were ın agreement. A cracked clavıcle was dıagnosed, I was ıssued wıth a support brace and banned from the bıke, wherever ıt was, for a month. It was now two am and as I had to make an appoıntment at eıght for another xray a week later I collapsed ınto the comfıest seat I could fınd - a wheelchaır and sat and sıpped coffee for sıx hours! I had no where to go, dıd not know where my bıke was and each tıme I moved I felt lıke a pın cushıon but I was smılıng and chucklıng. I wanted adventure and thıs was ıt so I was dammed sure I was goıng to enjoy ıt!

After bookıng my appoıntment I arranged for a taxı to take me back to where I crashed. I wrapped on the door of McDonalds - ın fact I wrapped on all the doors as ıt was stıll closed but I was determıned to fınd the bıke. Eventually someone arrıved and poınted to the hotel a hundred yards away. Apparently McDonalds refused to take the bıke - they must have known I was a vegetarıan! I eventually stumbled upon ıt ın the storeroom of the hotel - ıt looked so forlorn wıth ıts buckled wheel, flat tyre, torn handlebar tape and wıth the pannıers dısplayıng more holes than a dartboard. I needed a lıttle tıme to thınk and consıder my optıons so explaınıng my sıtuatıon, I asked the hotel manager ıf he had a very cheap room I could have for one nıght. He reacted as ıf I had asked to sleep wıth hıs wıfe, then tossed a scrumpled scrap pıece of paper over the counter wıth one hundred wrıtten on ıt! Even the taxı drıver took exceptıon to thıs and argued my case. Once I had calmed the drıver down we managed to squeeze the bıke ınto hıs cab and I got hım to take me to the nearest campsıte on the coast where I was fortunate enough to barter a better deal!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Propositioned On Road To Pise

Entering Italy induced an instant change in driving style. In France drivers gave respect and right of way where as the Italians just wanted me to get out of the bloody way! The rugged coastline was stunning as the road crept around every crag but I was too busy hugging the kerb as the vehicles hugged me, passing so close that I was almost tattooed by the trucks sign writing. Cycling through the first wee town I was absolutely amazed at the mayhem as cars, trucks, motorbikes and buses battled it out for supremacy with road markings, traffic lights and signs seeming superficial.

Arriving late at San Bartolommeo al Mare I was happy to come upon camping but not with the price, twenty five euro's - the manager politely suggested that the site six hundred yards away may be better for my budget - nine euro's. I didn't pitch my tent but positioned myself under a tree partaking in a pastis from my pannier before lights out. I awoke a few hours later to find the campsites K9 standing staring at me, his peering pupils shining in the half light.

That day I continued along the coast passing through San Remo stopping only to check my emails and to escape from the searing sun. The rest of the day I dipped down to the waters edge as much as possible finding a beauty bounty in each bay. It was a long lazy day with plenty of pit stops so when night fall drew near I was keen to continue. Approaching Genoa in the early hours it started to shower so I sheltered in the forecourt of a filling station. With the smooth, flat concrete floor proving too temping I lay down for forty winks. I woke up with a start, saturated, as the shower had matured into a monsoon flooding the forecourt. I changed my clothes, put on my waterproofs - better late than never, then promptly fell back to sleep propped up against a petrol pump. I resurfaced at seven to find the station fully functional - the only exception being my bunk for the night! I nodded to the attendant, moved my bike, bought a coffee then cycled the twenty miles south of Genoa to Bogliasco. Booking into the campsite I met a German couple on honeymoon - the guy seemed more impressed with the BMW wedding gift from his grandfather than his new partner. As they were just packing up, I waited then placed my hoose on the honeymoon suite, figuring it would still be nice and warm. I nodded off for nine hours only bothering to open my eyes and my mouth long enough to bolt down some bread and cheese before slipping back into another twelve hour slumber - I love sleeping!

It was a rest day but there is always something to do. I shaved, stood in the shower for ever, washed my clothes then cooked a massive pan of porridge, raisins, nuts, bananas and honey. Full of beans and porridge I then bounced down to the bay and lay on the beach until the sun stopped smiling! It was a long slog back up to the site and as I was catching my breath I bumped into Kathy from Switzerland. We ended up sharing a couple of relaxing days, pizzas and picnics whilst watching the waves. During one picnic Kathy took a bunch of grapes to the waters edge to wash them in the salt water - I thought this was some secret Swiss solution to rid them of their chemical content -apparently not. It was hardly surprising that they then tasted of salt so had to be washed again with the bottle of water that we had bought. This left us both in stitches which reminded me that was exactly what my mangled shorts required. Kathy then managed to regain some lost pride by using her veterinary surgical skills to patch up my pants.

Pressing on to Pisa I was approached by a good looking guy who was obviously a serious cyclist - he had a great bike, all the gear and looked as fit as a butchers dog. He spoke perfect English, was well educated and keen to discuss anything about cycling and fitness. When he discovered my job was massage and relaxation techniques he offered to share his knowledge on such matters and suggested we cycle a few hundred yards along the beach to a public area where other people exercised. I readily agreed thinking I may learn something. After a few hundrded yards we took a left away from the beach front, then a right and a few other turns until we started to leave the houses behind. As the lanes began to narrow and the thatch became thicker my mind suddenly became broader as I realised what his relaxation technique was. When I suggested that perhaps there may have been a wee misunderstanding he stressed that his technique was very simple and that it required he use only one hand - that comment clarrified everything! I stopped, about turned and started to cycle back. We chatted amiably along the way and he said he was a decent person, I am sure he was but it wasn't his decency that he wanted to share with me! I cycled off along the beach front chuckling and smiling wondering what his success rate was. I started to look for a quiet place to sit and make my sandwiches but it was all bars and bistro's which require that you buy something before sitting on their section of sand. However, I spotted a sign saying, 'free beach' so I parked my bike and my bum, which was a little uncomfortable after many miles but of course it could have been a lot worse!

The sexual theme continued when about twelve miles from Pisa the roadside prostitutes reappeared beckoning me with their bared bosoms each time I stopped for a pee - one lady came marching towards me with such zest that I almost caught my manhood in my zipper in my haste to hurry things along! I stopped at a roadside cafe to write up my diary and reflect on the day. There was a constant stream of beautiful 'ladies' coming and going from the cafe but with voices as deep as the ocean. Paying the bill the owner informed me that it was a transsexual tavern. I pedalled the few remaining miles into Pisa and as the tourists were trickling away and the souvenir shops closing up I sat eating my sandwiches whilst taking in the tower. I thought it fitting that I should end my day by staring at a massive phallic symbol!