Bike Across Italy - Day 0 - Gear and Getting There

A Bike Friday, a regular bike, or a Ciclismo Classico bike - Dave Pruitt and the Gal choose different ways to Bike Across Italy
Some notes on the gear and getting to/from for Ciclismo Classico's Bike Across Italy trip, as experienced by former Bike Friday Customer Evangelist, Lynette Chiang, who did the trip in the May 2007.

FLIGHTS and CONNECTIONS
The Ciclismo Classico staff, Erika and Jewel, were able to both arrange all travel and give me detailed advice on the connections. Because Bike Friday folks tend to be independent, I wanted to know if it was necessary to bring the Bike Friday Travel Trailer.

My connections were as follows:

NYC -> (London, 6 hour flight)
-> Rome (4 hour wait, 2 hour flight)
-> Rome Airport Train Station (has elevator)
-> Roma Termini Train Station (30 mins, 11 euro)
-> Overnight in Hotel San Remo, Rome (20 minute walk from station with bags, tired) -> next morning, Roma Termini Train Station (10 min walk with bags, having slept)
-> Train to Fano (4 hours)
-> Fano Hotel (10 euro cab fare).

As you can see from the above set of movements, you could bring the Bike Friday Travel Trailer and hook it up the moment you get off the plane and take it on the train, ride it to the hotel and back to the train etc, but it's hardly worth it. I was utterly beat after the flight, the train ride to Rome and the bag drag.

For least hassle you could get a cab from Rome Airport direct to the hotel for a princely 50 euro.

NYC-Rome flight: My British Airways flight to Rome was scheduled for 10.30pm. SuperShuttle collected me at 6.30pm and took me to JFK for $19. With tip this comes to around $23. Apparently Supershuttle guarantees you'll make it onto the plane, so they allow a generous window. They even called me at 6pm to update me on the driver's ETA, 6.35pm. Good service!

The British Airways flight went smoothly, although I was not able to sleep much, a rather unfortunate thing with a red eye. I notice that First and Business class had a new kind of seat completely secluded in its own private U-shaped corral and facing the opposite direction to your immediate neighbor - nice if you can afford it!

The first carriage on the Train into Roma Termini has a nice low entry for dragging the suitcase onto. The Train to Fano, however, has a diabolical high step that you have to hoist the suitcase up into, then an extremely narrow door to get it into the baggage compartment. So there's a bit of wrestling to do, but not impossible. I was just glad I didn't have one of those giant bike cases (ah, what's not to love about a Bike Friday).

I managed to catch some kind of stomach bug on the BA flight. It knocked me about for the first two days of the trip. Take charcoal tablets, Tums, eat pineapple, the works!

The San Remo Hotel in Fano was tiny and fairly basic, and included a boxed continental breakfast for those departing before 7am. Remember that European hotels are expensive compared to what you get in all but the most expensive cities in the USA - this would have been a $100++ a night hotel, about the same standard as one similarly priced in NYC.

At the end of the trip, in Porto Ecole, one could share a $200+ ($35/head) van for a two hour door to door van back to Rome, or take the train. Easy


DOCUMENTS and TRAVEL ACCESSORIES
Documentation: CC give you a hefty packet of information consisting of a spiral bound book containing everything you'd want to know about Italy and bike touring in general, plus a Berlitz Italy guide, a fold-out Italian Language quick reference guide, bag tags, and another set of notes that repeated some of the material in the book in case you forgot.
The list of clothing to pack is a very good guide.

Luggage: I had a Victorinox E-motion lightweight rolling duffle for clothes, my Bike Friday in its TravelCase, and a small Brookstone Express Touring computer daypack containing my laptop. =Three things. This means you can walk along pulling the suitcase and the duffel (which you can also push in front), with your daypack on your back. That's about all I can handle without needing a concierge expecting a tip.

The duffle squeezes into the empty Travel Case in case I ever have to tow it, as it must of you are to travel the Bike Friday way.

The $100 Brookstone computer daypack looked like it was made of tough stuff, but the webbing handle immediately started pulling away from the main bag after a couple of days, due to the cheaper kind of webbing used - luckily I paid an extra $15 for a 3 year guarantee. Otherwise it's a fairly good design for business use - it doesn't make you look like you've got a skateboard inside it.

Travel Adaptors: To charge up your camera battery, laptop, Blackberry etc you will need to purchase two kinds of adaptor just to be safe - one with two round thin prongs, and one with two thicker prongs. Radio Shack sold me the latter and it only worked in Rome. It was meant for Germany. I also bought a Samsonite all-countries adaptor but it refused to work at all. Subsequent hotels in Italy had outlets with two or three skinny prongs. Some hotels had adaptors under the counter to borrow that could turn a USA or EU thick pronged plug into something that fit, but don't count on it.

Phone: these notes will be of interest to telecoms gadget freaks: In order to stay in top of my Bike Friday email I had Cingular switch my Blackberry data plan to international roaming for ten days, charged at 2 cents per kilobyte. (Within the USA you can send and receive unlimited emails for $29.95 a month, voice plan separate). Attachments are not charged unless you open them, thank goodness - those wonderful What Do You Do shots could really blow out my usage!

Based on my previous month's stream of email (5000 kb/month) Cingular projected I'd rack up an extra $30 or so for the time I was away. Not too bad, as long as I could convince some customers to stop sending me reams of jokes. The final bill ended up beig just $15 over my additional usage. I just made sure to turn the phone off whenever I was not checking it.

I also paid for international roaming on the PHONE part of my Blackberry, $5.99 a month pro-rated, which would reduce my $1.29 a minute call rate to 99 cents if I ever had to use the phone. Hardly a saving in this day and age of Skype, but I did it just in case.

Clothing notes: Three jerseys, including two pairs of DeFeet CoolMax ArmSkins that I like to use in lieu of a long sleeve jersey to keep the sun off my skin. They are not exactly sun proof, so you still need sunscreen. My Chuck Harris/Austin Cycling Club helmet mirror, made from spokes and recycled parts, proved invaluable.

Hotels: You have to understand what four star means in Europe. It refers to amenities offered, and does not necessarily mean the hotel is 'nicer' than a 3-star in ambience, although swankness and amenities offered tend to go hand in hand. It requires the hotel to charge a minimum price to uphold the standard. I was told many hotels outside major city areas try to stay 3 star - no matter how lustrous their marble balustrades - where most of the market is.

Money: I asked CC if I'd be better off changing money closer to the USA or closer to Italy. They said the latter, however it turned out to be not the case. At JFK Travelex were offering to change $500 to $345 Euros, no commission. Thinking I could better that, I waited til I got to London but it had dropped to $325. By the time I got to Rome they offered me a dismal $308, which was a 7 percent commission. Agh! For an additional 4 Euros they offered to buy back any unused Euros at no commission.

Moral: Change money closer to home, or better still, just use the ATM and your debit card. You will be hit for some exchange rate and courtesy fees.

If you use your USA credit card to buy items, you might be hit for even more over and above the exchange rate 'just because'. In fact there's a class action suit against credit card companies asserting they added unfair loadings to purchases for everyone using a credit card over the past 10 years ...

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