Descending down the Apennines Mountains to Florence we had overused the brakes on our bikes. To the point that I burned a good patch of skin off my knuckles when adjusting the panniers on my bike rack. The disc brakes had heated up and seared burning flesh like a hot plate. Yelping like a dog in pain, I emptied my water bottle onto the burn and continued with the descent.
Arriving first in Prato, Tam went into a large supermarket to look for some food. As I now had WiFi, I was happy to wait outside and get eaten by the large mosquitos of Northern Italy. After what seemed an hour, Tam finally emerged, her shop taking much longer than normal. Italian supermarkets have about 7 different varieties of aubergine, 20 different types of flour, 15 different types of tomatoes (not including the canned variety) and no rolled oats.
It was now dark. We were in the middle of an industrial estate and needed to find a campsite. A quick inspection of Google Maps showed farmland to the East. We turned on the bike lights and raced to the area. What looked as promising from above looked quite different from the road. All roads and houses were highly raised around what appeared to be water logged paddocks. To make matters worse, every time we found a suitable spot, a dog would start up barking. Dogs are particularly fierce in Italy, big and small. Their ability to guard their patch of land from cyclists is astounding.
Our first pitch was interrupted by not only the mosquitos, but a loud local pacing back and forth talking to someone on his mobile. It sounded as though he was telling us off! After another km of riding back towards the bush in search of a spot, we came across an olive grove. This grove was adjacent to a public footpath and joined onto a vineyard. We set up in the rows of grapes. The ground wasn’t great, a very soft clay with a lot of stones in it, but it was best we could get now it was pitch black.
Not before long a car pulled into the adjacent driveway. Shit! We shifted our gear and lay flat – narrowly avoiding the cars headlights and any chance of capture. The occupants unloaded the car over the next 10 minutes, appeared to scan the vineyard with a torch (we had retreated back to the olive grove) then departed.
As we started getting settled again, getting out the cooker before another car pulled into the olive grove! Again? What was it this time? The occupants didn’t get out of the car and they didn’t appear to notice us. The speed at which they turned off their lights probably meant they too didn’t want to be noticed. After about 20 minutes, this car too departed. Was it an Italian lover and his mistress, a couple of teenagers? We weren’t really too sure and we started debating if we wanted to stay in this seemingly busy olive grove.
Tam cleared away all the stones and we set up the tent. Tonight, we wouldn’t cook dinner as we were already had two close calls. We had cheap wine and cheese and finally got to bed around 10pm – the wine helping to ease the nerves.
Then it started. The barking. It was loud, very close and persistent. Crap! Where was it coming from? The field beside had not one, but possibly 3 dogs all barking in our direction. They didn’t seem to get any quieter either, determined to reveal our location to anyone who cared. What time was it? 2am? Shit! I used the torch, which seemed to scare them away. In the light I could make out that they were the white dogs, famed as sheep guards in Italy. These dogs of lore must also have amazing pipes to bark at such length. Tam grizzled that she should have kept the rocks that she cleared from under the tent. After half an hour they finally stopped.
Then there was the rain. A short dousing. About an hour of it. This was all that the clay ground needed to turn to mush.
To make matters worse, the dog started again. At 4am one began to bark at us and soon a whole cacophony of stray mongrels began to terrorize. Now they were starting to get the locals attention. We again moved to chase them away, but by now we had enough of this place. We packed the dirty tent and evacuated – our earliest start to the day yet.
Riding for a couple hours before the sun came up, reaching Florence about 5 hours earlier than expected and quite irate. Most of the tourists hadn’t yet woken as we jarred the cobble streets in a half daze. “Tonight we are going to book accommodation!”.