Ancient walls flanked us as we rolled out of Rome and then into Acquedotti Park. Here we passed along the remains of Aqua Claudia, an aqueduct commissioned by the Emperor Gaius in 38 A.D. Gaius is also known as Caligula. He is infamous, among many things, for ordering his guards to throw an entire coliseum section of the crowd into the arena during intermission to be eaten by animals because he was bored.
After a leisurely reel past the remains of the engineering marvel, we headed to the train station at Capanelle. Thirty minutes on the train took us up nearly 5,000 feet to the town of Castel Gandolfo on the shore of Lake Albano.
Here, no pope was to be found and the trail proved elusive as well. As we rode along the street by the shore we made several probes towards the water with no luck. On the edge of town, however, we finally found a single track parallel to the shore. A mile later we came across a five-foot tall chain link fence clearly marked “keep out.”
“This is the way,” Emanuele declared, and he suggested I climb the fence so he could hand the bikes over to me. I currently weigh 225 pounds and am built, like my northern European ancestors, for toting and shoveling but not climbing. At the top of the fence, with one foot on either side, I was one slip away from impalement. I thought of Caligula and worse ways to die. Once I was over we made short order of handing bikes and bags over, except when I discovered Emanuele had 40 pounds of reference books in his panniers to look up answers to unexpected questions. That’s a dedicated guide. With gear over, Sabra and Emanuele squeezed their skinny frames through a crack in the fence.
The rockslide was no problem, Emanuele assured us, because it wasn’t raining, and I probed the sky for dark clouds. To get out of the slide zone we had to get over one more fence but it was well worth it. On the other side we came across a remote restaurant with shore-side seating, good food and cold beer.
After lunch, we finished circling the lake and headed out by highway on a 15-mile descent into Rome. I was glad our Ghost bikes had disc brakes as we coasted at speeds nearing 40 mph.
On the outskirts of Rome, we turned off a busy highway onto a side street and picked up a one track atop the Appia Antica, or Appian Way.
Built with oversized cobblestones more than 2,300 years earlier, the ruts of two millennia of cart travel can still be clearly seen in the stone. As we got nearer to the city, the trail widened to two track and then into an open, if rocky, road. The last mile, cars were driving on the road even though it was clearly marked as off limits.
After a day off from cycling to view the Vatican, we started our longest and most difficult ride of the week on the last day of our visit. We began at the train station in Rome where we caught a train to Alviano. Staying mostly on rural but paved roads, we made our way through the rolling hills. A three-kilometer, 1,600-foot climb brought us to Civita di Bagnoregio. First inhabited 2,500 years ago, the city rests atop a plateau of highly erodible tuff overlooking the Tiber River. Over the years, the edges of the town have crumbled away, leaving an island of medieval city in the sky and the nickname, the dying town.
After lunch and a rest we rewarded ourselves with a 10-mile downhill glide to Orvieto, a town that traces its origins to about 700 B.C. As we approached, we could see yet another butte and grimaced at the thought of another hard climb. Luckily, for a couple of Euros we took a tram with bikes up into the old city. Unfortunately, the time was getting late so we had to limit our sightseeing to the cathedral, which was spectacular. Someday, I hope to return with more time to enjoy this beautiful city.
We finished off the day with dinner and wine at the Cantina Foresi. Emanuele knew the proprietor, who served us with great care and even took us into the cellar of the establishment where wine had been made for generations.
A sleepy train ride took us back to Rome.