27th April 2011 Berceto to Sarzana.
We start off with a basic hotel breakfast, which is donated by the apparently rough owner, and then we head as instructed to the AIVF route but miss the obscure route. We go a few hundred yards in the wrong direction and return uphill to find the invited off-road stretch. A concerned delivery driver, has stopped to help. Italy is fundamentally showing us kindness over and over again. The AIVF? New caveat. If it is the official route, be suspicious. Sometimes official routes are not the best one to take us where we are going. Essentially, we are all making our own way, and need to be aware of our own path.
The official route turns out to be a sharp uphill drag on a rubble strewn track. Not for bikes…or dare I say anything or anyone else. Has anyone from the official route makers ever been here or looked at this?
(It is unhelpful to be too condemnatory of official efforts, but we have found in the last couple of days that some of the signage is hidden away and would only be useful for someone going backward on the official route! Has it been specified or checked or is it obtuse or just silly? After discussion we decide that the presence of the AIVF or its signage should only be indicative that the original route is somewhere in the area! But Giovanni Casselli’s original route gives us that anyway, so the bundles of Euros have been for what exactly? )
After the rubble drag to the SS62 we will refuse any invitation (of the many) to leave the tarmac.
There is a designated and very closed VF hostel, with real potential and the old 1818 built hostelries on the route at regular intervals, which would have been vital and warm in the winters. It is surprisingly cold at these elevations, and we are in mist and storm clouds, which however never quite lose their tempers with us. The inclines are less severe today and we make good progress, getting to the Cissa Pass and zooming at some fairly uncontrolled speeds down to Pontremoli. Freezing though….
I like Pontreoli. It is a warm and friendly place. Lunch and looking at the official walking route away from the busy SS62, the climbs and off roads are less appealing that the dangerous narrow road and we head for Aula with the cars and trucks, which are avoiding the motorway tolls. Very busy…
Governments need to remember that in profit based society, charges can be used to protect rather than raise funds for further development. Charge the artics. more to use the small roads and to go through villages than to use the motorways? Another fairly safe rule of thumb is that government economists are generally incompetent in understanding nature, society and indeed the economy (and themselves!). They need to be listened to only with filters of common sense and other more proper advice. Wilde had the description – they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The enchanting Spring in the Magra valley is decidedly wrecked by the old main road, the railway, the motorway and the ribbon development…..all in a narrow valley space.
Aula is more modern but still…an old cyclist with great English comes to us and tells us how he is missing his cycling. 78 years old, and the last hernia and heart operation have taken him off the roads. He will sell his new bike. After Regula talks to him in this developing mixture of Spanish, Italian and English, I think we have convinced him to wait and see how it works out! Such a very nice man.
As we leave him, this classic sportsman warns us about the road to Sarzana, which is indeed narrow, busy and dangerous. However, it is quick in the warm spring air, and the climbs and off-road sections of the official walking routes so indirect, inauthentic and unappealing by now that we do the 20km to Sarzana very quickly in the fast traffic! I can understand that no one would or should walk that road though. Please think about it carefully.
Sarzana in warm spring sun – I like. It is full of character and friendliness. Warm colours and piazzas. The Italians are still finding the mid 20’s C cold and wearing dark coats and winter shoes! A waiter who as lived in the UK gives us free food, and the Vittoria is so friendly. Food and sleep.