Day 34 Wednesday July 4
Villa Rey, Turin, Italy
Col de Mt Genevre 1854. 110km.. Total 2007km
Before breakfast in cold air we are climbing away from Briancon. The road hairpins sharply, so that when you look back down after an hour, it seems that you have made no progress. We pass road works and dust that flies into the eyes and sticks to the sweat on the body.
I am very tired at the top, but invigorated by the greeting of two French cyclists who come up to us to shake our hands, having seen us yesterday on the col d’Izoard. At the summit we find a café to eat breakfast. The border is just after this, so we have to spend our remaining money, as we aren’t planning to return to France. This turns out to be just over one franc. All that could be found to buy with it is one small wafer biscuit. Friendly customs men, bursting out of their uniforms wave us over the border.
The new views of high Italian Alps, some higher than 9,000 feet greet us as we emerge from cool tunnels built with archways all along to frame the view flying past outside. Its downhill all the way now. We are on an N road, which is very busy with lorries. One long tunnel is over a mile long, and full of fumes and foggy, orange air.
Coming down into Susa, the hairpins are choked with lorries full of trees and other heavy things, going very carefully, and we are able to overtake long lines of lorries and cars. In Susa we explore the strange Italian ways and feel very disoriented, not knowing the language, and what the prices mean, or what foods there were. At a pasticeria, we bought two pieces we thought were croissants, and 2 we thought were cheese rolls. The croissants were filled with apricot confection, and the rolls with creamy sweet custard with crispy caramel on the outside.
It is hard to find a pleasant camp site so we carry on to Rivoli, where in a big square full of people an old man approaches, saying ‘Grand Bretagne, Grand Bretagne aaah’ I ask him. Quickly a group of men gathers, vying with each other to tell what they know. A campsite in Turin? A pizzeria? – follow this man. He leads us quietly to a place, which is closed, then another, goes in to tell the owners we are Inglesi, whereon they come out to greet us, put our bikes round the back and sit us down to a delicious meal. So we continue to Turin.
We search for a camp site for a long time starting to get weary and despondent. We follow signs, they lead us left – nothing, Carry on to the centre of the city. A man stands in door, I go and ask his advice. He leads me to the bar owner who speaks excellent English. He looks in the phone directory, and phones the camps site, tells us how to get there.
Meanwhile his wife fills my bottles with ice cold water. We shake hands and I leave. We still get lost and it’s coming dark now. Cycle lights on, we fly uncaring for the wheels through the darkening Turin pave roads, young people everywhere shouting to us. Some shout from their cars, friendly greetings, Ah Inglesi, and clap or cheer. One man jumps from his car at traffic lights to ask if we have cycled from England. When we say yes and tell him we are going to Greece he steps back, grinning with astonishment.
Later again, I run to ask an old man where the camp site is. He doesn’t know, but he stops a car full of young people and tell them we are English. They know where it is and a graceful girl gets out to explain carefully in good English where to go. So we arrive, up a killing steep hill, nearly dark It’s the Villa Rey, an old villa and grounds. We put up the tent and drop to our beds.