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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Working on the Road

Friday, March 16
Oftentimes the most difficult parts of the ride were the finding our way out of town in the morning then locating the hotel in the next town in the afternoon. Once out on the open roads, there were fewer choices as to turns and it was easier to get a sense of direction. We had GPS units, but sometimes these got a little confused in the narrow streets. We did get out of Matera without much difficulty though and were FINALLY riding on the rural roads of southern Italy.

That was until we weren't riding. Seems as if it was road work season and the narrow road we found ourselves on was blocked by men and machinery as a portion of the road had been excavated. Off to the left was a field with tall grass - just the ticket for getting around the obstruction. Except for the mud. Good grief, the ground was soft, wet clay and the short off road excursion left shoes and bike parts coated with a sticky goo that was almost impossible to get off with the sticks and various items of road detritus available to us. A rather inauspicious start.

Roadside cleaning station as we try and get the mud off

Only 19 km to lunch!

Gioia del Colle was the first stop, this being for lunch. One of the treats of these rides is the chance to check out bakeries and butcher shops to get bread, cheese and drinks for the on the road midday meal. It is almost always good. But glamorous it is not. On this day I found a place around the corner from the square. Sitting outside. On the stone steps. It was a notable lunch.

Typical lunch on the road. You can still see a bit of the mud from the morning's off road excursion on my shoes.

Bob had a flat as he rolled into Gioia and set about getting the tire back in shape after lunch. We had looked at the route to Alberobello and decided against the somewhat more direct highway. Instead, Bill and I set out to find hopefully quieter roads by riding a bit farther north, skirting Putignano then heading back in the direction of our day's destination.

The decision was the right one. There was little traffic and the road was in fine shape. We rode through olive groves for a good portion of the time, the fields being segmented by low stone walls. As we rode on, we also began to see some of the conical-roofed buildings that were responsible, in part, for Alberobello being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, our second such destination in a row.

Before we get to Alberobello, let's go back a few miles. We are out in the country, olive groves, stone walls and the occasional farm house go by as we pedal along. Pastoral is what I think you might call it. And then... up ahead sitting on a chair drawn up nearly to the edge of the asphalt, is this woman. Dressed shall we say, rather immodestly, with RED lipstick visible from 100 meters. Behind her about 6 meters sits an upholstered sofa, looking as if it was not brought in during rain showers. Riding by, I remember thinking, "What is THAT all about?" The thought had no sooner made a lap around my brain (yes, I know - it's a short trip) when it was clear I knew exactly what it was about. Sheese...

The buildings in Alberobello were special. They were generally square and made of brightly whitewashed stone. But the roofs were round at the eaves and made up of rather smaller gray stones, stacked neatly to form a cone atop the home or shop. And what was most unique, was that the entire building was built without any mortar. This "drywall" technique was adopted early on in the history of the town as a way to avoid taxes on permanent dwellings. Homes could actually be deconstructed into a pile of rocks then built up again rather quickly. Make a tax rule and someone will find a way around it!

In Alberobello

After a day on the road and an afternoon walking around the town, it was time to settle back and start the process of re-hydrating. This bicycle touring is tough all right.

Hydration station

You are wondering about Sassi and Trulli, I know you are. Well, you have actually met them already. Sassi means stones in Italian and this is the name given to the stone homes in Matera. And, as I am sure you can now guess, Trulli are the conical-roofed buildings in Alberobello. Two World Heritage Sites in two days made for a great start to the tour.

Ride totals      Today      Tour
Distance:           47.5     56.7 miles
Total Ascent    1,729   2,789 feet

Today's ride:

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