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Archive for July, 2010

Leaving Terracina

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Terracina roughly translates into “little piece of land” but it’s hard to understand where they got this title from. Everything here seems big, towering, rocky to the extreme.  The craggy top of the place once housed a fortress called Anxur, and the temple to Jupiter/Zeus/Jove is called the temple of Jove in Anxur.

The top of the city is a sheer delight for an amateur history buff like me. The original Appian Way is clear and obviously marked in the main piazza of the town, running right between the venerable duomo and an excellent bar where the espresso will do wonders for an exhausted bike tourist.

The walls of the duomo are made of building materials filched from other, far older structures. So you see all kinds of tiles with latin inscriptions, chunks of marble, bits of bas-relief and artwork. These 3-dimensional collages are actually fairly common all over Italy, and they’re one of my favorite things to look at.

But when you reach the Piazza dei Paladini and the Temple of Jove in Anxur, you’re in for a sight. The fortress town of Terracina is dwarfed by the mountainous cliffs, the rolling countryside far below, and the shimmering Mediterranean rippling off into the distance.

Most of all, you see the via Appia clearly marked in both directions. The original road has been preserved as a park going out of Rome, and when this gives way to Strada Statale 7 (SS7) it still runs through the Pontine Marshes in a straight line, flanked by umbrella pines. From Jove’s lofty perch you have a dark green line showing you the way.

In fact, the umbrella pines are almost always a reliable marker. Throughout my trip, whenever I was unsure of the way, I would get somewhere high up and look for the pines. Even in the most dry and dusty sections of Puglia and Basilicata, it wasn’t that unusual to pass a lonely umbrella pine marking the remnants of Rome’s most famous road.

As you leave Terracina heading south, you’ll see the famous cut through the rock that eliminated the need to take the steep slope over the mountain and saved hasty Romans an entire day of travel.via Appia remains outside Terracina

The road leaving Terracina takes you along some of my favorite parts of the journey. As you weave up the switchbacks towards Fundi and Itri, you’ll come across some well-preserved ruins of the Appian Way.

On my last tour a farmer was selling olives from a wooden cart on the side of the road. I munched on these as I walked along the old via Appia, and wondered where I would find myself next.

What we’re riding for

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

I’d love to see a world where things like the current mess in the Gulf of Mexico didn’t happen. Where the oceans and mountains and forests and their inhabitants could just coexist with us crazy bike-riding, car-driving apes and all living beings could at least count on breathable air and drinkable water.

I don’t ride my bike because I feel this way. I think I feel this way because I ride my bike.

My sweetie and I just spent a few days riding through the mists of the California Coast. Lots of great scenery and wildlife and some wonderful food, hikes, and all the other good things you’d expect on a bike tour.

But we also spent a lot of time picking up trash. There are so many people, it seems, who “enjoy nature” by driving to a beautiful spot, feasting and drinking, and then getting back into their cars to go home. Nothing wrong with the first two, but the last is inexcusable. Especially where there’s a trash can just a few yards away.

In the end, Johana and I had to set limits on how much trash we could clean up. We set up a sort of triage, focusing on plastic and other dangerous litter, and leaving the worst messes that were beyond hope.

It seems like the worst perpetrators drink Budweiser Lite.

Maybe if you rode your bike to the party, really earned your way there with sweat and possibly blood, you’d appreciate the remoteness and not always trash the place.