I think having my wife alongside me for this, the final leg of my three-year bike journey through three continents and down one aisle, is going to be a really good thing.
As a guy on your own, it seems you very quickly slip into a target-oriented kind of stupor. Sure, this equals large distances covered and formidable challenges overcome. Man’s indomitable spirit, and all that. But this time – for this last, enviable stretch of footloose freedom between here and the finish line – I’m determined to slow it all down as much as possible.
Many times I’ve often found myself daydreaming about what it would be like to ride home through Europe. Now Tenny and I find ourselves at the port of Bari in southern Italy, Europe’s giant open-air museum.
I must admit I was surprised to find that summer is still very much in full swing here – so much so that many of the residents are escaping the heat and humidity in other parts of Italy or abroad. Today’s a sticky 36-degree day, and the narrow streets are hot and quiet, shutters drawn, parking spaces empty.
Tenny’s not used to the random, intense kind of experience that travel can become. She’s still a bit wobbly on the bike. She would honestly rather wander, eat and appreciate life’s simple pleasures than spend all day in the saddle. Conversely I often take things too seriously, over-plan and try to squeeze every last drop of worth out of the place and occasion. I need to be reminded to not let the actual enjoyment be muffled by the pursuit of progress. And my years away from home have made me somewhat complacent in new cultures.
So this combination of minds, I’m hoping, should result in a style of travel that is spontaneous, fun and relaxed, whilst at the same time moving, educational and varied, and without the kind of desperate penny-pinching that resulted in the four-Euro-per-day average expenditure on my first jaunt through Europe in 2007. We worked hard and endured much stress to save money over the last winter, and there is really no need to be constantly whining about costs as long as they remain reasonable.
Our host here in Bari has plied us with plenty of pizza and ice-cream and suggestions of worthwhile places to string together on our way southwards. Because it looks like that’s the way we’re headed; to explore the heel of Italy’s boot. Then, for the next two months, it’s truly a blank slate.