If my Italian is as good as I think it is (which it isn’t) then “inhospitaly” means “inhospitable” in Italian (it doesn’t).
As you know, when I write about our trip, cycling from Vietnam to Amsterdam, I like to bang on about how nice people have been in ever country. When we cycled through Vietnam we just thought it was a strange country where everyone was nice, but it turned out that it was the same in every country in Asia. We used to think that it would all change when we left Asia but it didn’t. We thought once we got to Europe we’d be brought back home to Earth but Greece was just as welcoming. Yes, the hospitality we’ve received from every country has been the mind blowing highlight of our journey so far. Every country has welcomed us with open arms. We have always been made to feel extremely welcome. That was until we arrived in Italy.
Never before have we been greeted so violently. Never have we had to endure unprovoked attacks. Attacks which mainly occur in the evening and at night when we are at our most vulnerable. Blood has been drawn. Literally. Drawn through the proboscis of the Tiger mosquitoes who now control most of Northern Italy. We first encountered them in Florence and as we traveled further north into the heartland of their kingdom we realised Italy belonged to them now. Once, just before the sunset, we foolishly ventured into a forest to find a place to camp. A few minutes later we were set upon by an army of these insect demons. They were all over us, biting us everywhere. Not just on our arms and legs but on our faces too. I called for Superman to help us but even he knew he was powerless here. Just as the mosquitoes started to try and bite me in the eyeballs we ran out of the forest with our bikes as the proverbial tails between our legs. Yep, the Italian mosquitoes have made us very unwelcome here. The Italian humans on the other hand have been absolutely amazing.
While in Asia accomodation was very cheap so it was easy to stay in cheap hostels and guest houses almost everyday. When we got to Central Asia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, accomodation became much more expensive but wild camping was allowed, even encouraged, so there was never a problem in finding a place to pitch our tent. Once we arrived in Europe where the accomodation is expensive and wild camping is not allowed things got a bit trickier. It mainly involves sneaking around trying to find a nice place to put your tent without being spotted or without being on someones land. Sometimes you’ll need to wait until its dark before you put your tent up and leave early in the morning to avoid being spotted. There are fines in Europe too if caught. It’s easier in the coutryside of course but in towns and cities it can be hard. So, when we arrived in Italy from Greece, at the port of Ancona, we were a bit worried about finding a place to sleep. We needn’t have worried though. After cyling around for about 10 minutes an Italian couple stopped us and started asking us who we were and what we were doing. After the usual introductions we told them we were looking for a place to put our tent where we didnt have to pay. They had a small chat together then told us to follow them. They led us down a few streets, then behind a small gap in a fence which led to a small flat space where we could put our tent. It even had a gorgeous view of the port and the sunset. It was incredible.
Since then, almost every day Italians in cities, towns and small villages have given us warm welcomes and helped us out whenever they could. We’ve been fed, watered and shown some beautiful locations to place our tent. We were even allowed to camp under a church which was part of a castle! We’ve also used Warmshowers (Couchsurfing for cyclists) where we’ve been invited into many homes. Some big, some small, but all beautiful. Once we arrived at a house and introduced ourselves to the owner. He immediately handed us two wicker baskets and told us to pick 150 beans from his garden. They would be our dinner that evening. I enjoyed it so much that I didnt mind that I was being eaten by about 50 tiger mosquitos while doing it.
One of the last towns we visited in Italy was Casale Montferato. We thought it would be a small village or town but when we arrived we realised it was pretty big. There didn’t seems to be anywhere obvious to camp and we didnt want to risk be killed by mosquitos in the forests outside the town. We decided to ignore the problem and get some ice cream at a gelato place which seemed to be popular. While we were there we started talking with some of the locals sitting outside and we soon brought up the subject of us looking for a place to camp. As would usually be the case the Italians would all get together and start chatting away with each other trying to find a solution for us. There were about 5 or 6 of them including the lady serving the gelatos. At some point an old man joined in and the other Italians listened intently. He stopped talking and the gelato lady started to translate what he said.
“He thinks that you should go to the airport. Its about 1km away and he thinks he sometimes sees camper vans there.”
She didn’t seem convinced and neither did we. Usually airports dont let you inside, never mind let you camp there. The old man said some more stuff in Italian and the gelato lady pretty much repeated the same thing to us. We had no other options at that moment and the airport wasn’t far so we diecided to cycle there. We thanked all the people who had tried to help us then left.
After a short cycle we arrived at the airport. It was pretty small and didn’t look much like an airport although there was a big field with a plane in it so I guess we were in the right place. We went inside to try and find someone to talk to. At some point Frouke started a conversation with someone. This can be quite easy at times because you always look a bit weird when you are on a fully loaded touring bike, so people are usually ok to start a chat and find out what you are doing. The lady went to get someone who was in charge. A few moments a later a cool, sporty looking man in shades turned up and started asking us what we were doing. We told him about our trip but when we said we were told we could camp here he paused.
Sporty guy: “Who told you you could camp here?”
Frouke: “Errr…. an old man outside the gelato shop….”
Sporty guy: “Hmmm I see…. In the past people used to be allowed to camp here but some years ago a corporation bought the airport and now it is not allowed”
Frouke and Kiran “oh…”
Sporty guy: “..but we don’t care about that come with me”
Frouke and Kiran “Yay!”
The sporty guy took us through a gate to a small clearing which had a number of camper vans there and he showed us where we could camp. He then showed us where the toilets and showers were. Then he showed us where they jump out of planes…
This small airport was now used for skydiving and it seemed that there was a small community who were half living here and who were working as instructors or learning to skydive. We met a few of them that evening and many of them had done well over 1000 jumps. The instructors were doing about 9 jumps everyday. We had a few chats where we told some of these people about the trip we were doing, cycling from Vietnam to Amsterdam. It was weird how many of them told us we were crazy. They are jumping out of perfectly good aeroplanes 9 times a day and we are the crazy ones…. right…. They invited us to stay in their little camp for the night and to have a drink in their skydivers bar. It was amazing to sit and have a beer just a few metres from people falling (safely) out of planes. It was one of the most weird places that we have camped on our whole trip but once again it was the friendliness of the people that made the experience complete. We still got devoured by mosquitos though. Inhospitable bastards.
Right now we have already left Italy and we are now in France. That means we only have the UK and Netherlands left before we are home. We are still trying to raise €7000 so that 26 Burmese refugee children can go to school, have a place to stay and food to eat. We only need to raise and extra €600 to reach our goal so if you like to help us please donate some money!