In terms of my European cycle adventures to date, Italy does not have the cycling infrastructure of the more developed members of the European Community, for example Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France and even the Czech Republic. My only Spanish adventure was the Camino and that was mostly a dedicated trail at times challenging even on a mountain bike. So it’s rather unique as a cycle route and I can’t compare it.
In Piedmontese the route was on minor roads, occasional busy roads and at times gravel roads or tracks. The smooth well maintained sealed dedicated cycle roads of the countries mentioned above, do not exist in this part of Italy. What this meant was that no matter how narrow, bumpy or seemingly impassable the track presented, there would appear at the most inconvenient times some form of motor vehicle. It could be a Fiat or a spluttering farmer’s truck, or tractor. Such confrontations were often potentially more hazardous than on those roads where cars were supposed to be!
These minor roads in Italy were for the most part poorly maintained with potholes and uneven surfaces especially on the shoulders. Be that as it may, Italian drivers for the most part are cycle aware and hence considerate. The poor quality road surface combined with the more common smaller cars, dictated that the average speed was no more than 60 to 80 km/hour. Drivers faced with a cyclist travelling in the same direction would obviously slow down, give you a wide berth, indeed, if possible moving across into the opposite lane! If by chance the situation arose when added to the mix was an oncoming vehicle, rather than in typical Australian reaction, accelerating to try and overtake, the car would actually slow down considerably to allow the oncoming car to pass safely, then pull out. Most reassuring.
In retrospect, choosing the month of August to travel in Europe has the benefit of summer and more enjoyable weather. The down side is that it is the peak holiday season, the equivalent of our end of year December/January holidays. Consequently many restaurants especially are closed as well as other stores. Add this to the mix of the regular siesta from noon to 4 pm and Italy grinds to a stuporous state. These comments I suspect apply mainly to the smaller regional towns and villages rather than the state capitals.
Should one pass through a village before noon, chances are there will be a local market in the piazza. These do not differ in anyway from the local markets in Australia in that there is an abundance of extremely cheap, poorly made and what can only be characterised as tacky, merchandise. Over represented is clothing, underwear, especially bras, and lingerie as well as shoes. However the food market is certainly not matched in Australia – due in part I suspect to our strict occupational health and hygiene regulations. There is a wonderful choice of fresh fruit and vegetables, stone fruit at this time, and exotic vegetables. All of this is crowned by the ubiquitous tomato. Tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, all beautifully naturally ripened on the vine and tasting superb. To even market an anaemic tasteless tomato is anathema to every Italian.