At last it was October and the grand tour of Rome was just around the corner. On the 5th a team of elite, slightly overweight 40+ (not counting Fenton) handsome but balding men were to set out on a historical cycling challenge the likes of which had never been contemplated before. If you discount the last 5 years that is.
Wind back 8 months to my kitchen and a coffee with Malachy to decide on destinations because Portugal was deemed too far to drive the bikes. An emergency summit of the brains behind the operation resulted in the choice of Rome, Monte Cassino and the Anzio landings. Since then backed up by a team of highly motivated accountants (Jim H), Transport authorities (Jamie D), Historical artisans (Rufus), Logistics (Steve D) and many others we began to plan.
This year was different for many reasons, the most obvious being the distance the van would have to travel to just start and of course to return after the event. Luckily volunteers were in no short supply, the Druce, Gardener and Badger combination putting in a manful stint to arrive after two days in time for an early afternoon beer in Rome. The return drivers being hastily volunteered by Simon C were him and the Landlord. As we know Simon then folded and left it to the general to fill the space, Simon I think you owe the landlord and myself a few jars.
So, on to the trip itself. Due to so many unknown unknowns it was thought necessary to perform a recce. Thanks to the patience of Mrs C for coming with me to explore the deep south of the Latina province. We set off 3 days in advance to find unbooked hotels and a plethora of other mistakes that had got lost in translation. Luckily though we stumbled on some of the finest eateries and accommodation for the group and were able to confirm arrangements in person.
The drivers arrived on time and with a little flight delay and some liquid consumption, Ben and the Landlord finally joined us. A quick tour of the hostelries of Trastavere resulted in the purchase of a plastic monk with a dancing cock and the landlord gaining hair from a magician. I made the mistake of trying to show the group some of central Rome only to be turned down because there wasn’t enough noise and beer. So the heathens returned to across the river on the search for more fun and it was found. Badger needed a grandparent to escort him home as his legs seemed to shrivel before our eyes and the rest of us carried on for a few hours more of giggles and more giggles.
An early morning wake up for the cyclists was in the offing and led to their arrival at Heathrow for the 7am flight to Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinchi Airport. Jamie’s Sven Hassel book putting off most of the other passengers due its similarity to tripe. In due course the recce team arrived to circumnavigate the airport several times before confirming suicide to be on the agenda if we were to launch the trip from there. The general’s opinion of Google maps had dived somewhat and his ears became silent to the ongoing criticism about the madness of starting at the terminal. “These Italians admire cyclists, it will be fine” he thought.
So, the Grand tour begins from Ostia, what used to be the largest port in the Empire. Feeding the wanton lusts and endless appetites of the rich in Rome. Water was fetched from the supermarket to fill the bottles. The usually heroic Steve D managed to buy 10 bottles of Sparkling water which went down a storm with the riders. Having not indulged in an early morning beer on the flight, I think they deserved what they got.
Off we stormed, down the beach road to discovery. It became evident that the Romans really don’t give a shit about their roads, or their driving for that matter and even less of one for cyclists. Did they know we were English, did they think yet more immigrants had appeared by plane to be mown down on the roads south of the eternal city?
The first stop had been chosen by Mrs C, the American Cemetery at Nettuno, site of the Anzio landings and home to 12,000 graves plus 3,00 more unknowns engraved on the walls. Wow do the Americans take care of their dead in a better way than they take care of their living or what. In a similar vein to Omaha the pale was immaculate.
The first 30 miles only took 1.5 hours but lunch was called for and the van arrived just in time to deliver the one and only picnic lunch of the trip. Ham and Salami with cheese and baguettes gave us enough fuel to see us on to the final destination of the day. Prossedi, is a beautiful hilltop village perched above the main road to Monte Cassino. This was the location of our next stop, the aptly named Sunny Palace Hotel were our beds lay. Sorry to say but the ride was less than exciting because of the endless straight roads through the Pontine marshes. However as the end approached the mountains started to rise and features in the landscape became a little more exciting. The groups split into 3 and we all managed to navigate our way to the hotel without too much loss of face. Apart from Donald and Hepburn trying to be cleverer than the general and crossing a bridge made for cables, only to reappear some time later looking at their laces. The landlord nearly came a cropper on the A1 as he tumbled to the ground trying to outrun an HGV.
The Sunny Palace
The pool was a welcome relief and allowed us all time to soak and then grab a beer and chill in the gardens. The hotel proved to be a delightful place, with welcoming hosts and huge clean rooms. The next step was dinner that had been booked by me only on the Monday for the Wednesday, luckily, I sobered up a bit and remembered we were coming Thursday.
Dinner in Prossedi
The Osteria Persei was I think one of our finest meals yet on these trips. Hats off to the walled garden of course but we had the run of a delightfully converted Olive oil mill for the evening. With a balcony overlooking the valley so romantic even Mr Radley felt the need to Kiss Mr Druce. The starter was a pasta dish with Buffalo mince and cheese sauce followed by buffalo fillet shredded onto a bed of disk potatoes.
A massive thank you to our hostess Daniella who even gave me a peck on the cheek as we left. In typical Italian fashion she turned up 10 minutes late. John had to take the wine out of the fridge and open it for her due to the thirsty buggers downstairs. It seemed there were two tiers of tables, one got served first and one got served second. You know who you are 2nd tablers, Daniella thought you looked a bit dodgy so we agreed to
The landlord did a fine job in selecting the vino and the local vintage really is something to sing about. We had white we had red, we had beer, we had it all my dear. Lest we forget the driving too and from this fine establishment. Badger kindly volunteered to shove us all in the van. That’s 18 in a six-seater and he drove like a gent. Well not really, he drove like a C##t which resulted in a grown up pillow fight on return to the hotel. Of course, we all know why he agreed to drive, he couldn’t even look a beer in the eye let alone swallow it.
End of Day 1.