El Presidente, sheep and the universal necessity of causation

November 30, 2009 20:55 by Ben

And so to the last stage of our trip. Tunisia – a land dominated by President Ben Ali who was fresh from winning a recent election with 90% of the vote. His picture features in every cafe and car and on every street corner. We arrived at the ferry terminal in Tunis under his gaze and got a little worried when Sam was taken away by a dozen Police to get a visa (Sam is the only one of us travelling on his Australian passport I’m embarrassed to admit!). There seemed to be thousands of different sorts of Police and border guards wandering about and we all became a little concerned as to what sort of freedoms the people of Tunisia enjoyed. But then the representative from the Ministry of Culture who met us at customs quoted Kant at us – “free will is inherently unknowable - even a free person could not possibly have knowledge of their own freedom. So we cannot use our failure to find a proof for freedom as evidence for a lack of it.” So I asked if he thought Ben Ali considered the universal necessity of causation, the synthetic nature of mathematics and the Newtonian absoluteness of space and time in his rulings? Luckily Sam arrived intact with his visa at this moment so he couldn’t answer. And seeing as it was getting late, he had filled in my visitor’s card for me and got me through customs without the border guards even looking at me we continued on into Tunisia without an argument.

Typical Tunis skyline

Top Gun

Our first day here was a rest day which we always seem to spend searching for bike shops to restock. We’d got some dodgy inner tubes in southern Italy – the valves would fall out shortly after pumping them up! Unfortunately our new Tunisians ones weren’t much better and a couple of days later we were cursing them as we spent a tense 50kms in the middle of nowhere with no spares praying we didn’t get a puncture. Tunis has a great atmosphere though and the people are very open and friendly. We visited Hannibal’s home town of Carthage most of which is covered in Roman rather than Carthaginian ruins. It also seems to be one of the wealthier suburbs of Tunis. Nice big modern houses ring the ancient Punic twin ports and President Ben Ali’s palace is just to the north. We weren’t allowed to film in that direction and if we strayed too close a bloke with a machine gun would come and tell us off.

Antonine Baths at Carthage

Turkeys in Carthage and some strange birds in the foreground too

We had lunch in a cafe called Uranium – we assumed they named it that as it took the half life of uranium (4.5 billion years) for your order to arrive. So after quite a long wait camera man John endeared himself to the waitress by demanding tomato sauce. She was also about the 4.5 billionth waiter/waitress he had aggravated on our trip so far. After some more filming and riding we had dinner in an amazing restaurant (we are eating a lot) that used to be a sultan’s palace – the resident sitar player asked where we were from and then started playing the Australian national anthem! Impressive, but it is one of the worst national anthems in the world don’t you think??

View from the Byrsa Hill over Carthage

Anyway after a few days of travel, a rest day and some filming days in Carthage and Tunis we were wondering if we would be capable of riding 120kms inland towards Zama – the site of the last battle of the Second Punic War. We had no idea really what the roads where like or whether Tunisian drivers would run us over without a second thought. But after some navigational issues getting out of Tunis and a quick stop at a bike shop where Mehdi, a former cyclo-cross champion of Tunisia sold us some new water bottles – the old ones had gone irretrievably mouldy, we found that Tunisian drivers were actually really good. Not as respectful as Spanish drivers perhaps but certainly better than Italians.

Mehdi Thameur outside his shop kindly greasing our chains

It turned out to be a very long day but completely different riding to anything we had done previously. Riding through dirt poor towns on a bike that would probably feed the entire village for a year if they sold it wasn’t the best feeling. But the kids would scream at you – usually in a friendly way we thought until a rock bounced between me and Danny and then we started to wonder! No really everyone seemed very friendly and lunch was at a roadside restaurant. A kilogram of barbeque sheep and a very spicy mixture of tomato and chilli was on the menu. The next sheep in line was tethered to the bbq – waiting for his turn while his brother cooked!

We passed an amazing ruined Roman aqueduct that seemed to go for miles in either direction and the last 10km of the day were really very hard work...but only a few days of riding left...

BBC History Magazine - Zama

November 28, 2009 09:02 by Ben

Our final instalment for the BBC History Magazine is here:


Sunset over the modern village of Jama believed to be near where the battle of Zama took place (thanks Andrea Illescas for the photo)

The Bodyguard

November 25, 2009 07:37 by Ben

On a long trip like this interpersonal relationships become very important and are often the cause of the most interesting bits of the journey. I imagine it might make a pretty good documentary following a crew making a documentary? A bit like the new show we are thinking of pitching to the BBC: "Entertainment Tonight Entertainment Tonight" - as the presenters of Entertainment Tonight have become celebrities in their own right they surely need another show just to follow them? It will be an endless supply of new shows - after a few years there will presumably be "Entertainment Tonight Entertainment Tonight Entertainment Tonight"??

Anyway us three have had some good arguments - the best one when riding through the northern suburbs of Naples on slippery black basalt cobble stones, hungry, in pouring rain and mad Neapolitan traffic. Luckily most of the things we screamed at each other were inaudible! The crew also have their moments but there are also times when everyone works together, sacrificing themselves for the team...harmony, symphony, mellifluousness, rappaport etc. One such heart warming moment was in Trani. We were filming in the port and a grumpy looking bloke was sitting at a stall ironically selling friendship bands. He yelled something at us when we arrived - his wild eyes betraying something we couldn't quite pin down. My first guess was evangelical christian so we ignored him and kept riding. A minute later there was a commotion behind us and we turned to see him attacking John! He was grabbing for the camera and lashing out and did actually manage to kick John in the bum!! I must admit we laughed and secretly thought he deserved it (he does) but Francesco had other ideas. He threw himself into the line of fire - separating our cameraman from the rabid friendship band stall holder. He was very calm and professional and pleaded with the attacker to calm down. After multiple "cazzos" and "va fancullos" the (as it turns out) recently released convict and drug addict also kicked Francesco. By this time a crowd had gathered but Francesco the bodyguard had the situation under control.

We overheard this exchange between Francesco and John soon afterwards:

Rachel(John): And you're ready to die for me?

Frank: It's the job.

Rachel(John): And you'd do it? Why?

Frank: I can't sing.

The Way it is Baby

November 24, 2009 05:21 by Danny

When you cycle day after day the rhythm naturally brings music to your mind.  At the beginning of the trip I tended to hum fairly epic stuff as the wheels turned – tunes from the film The Dark Knight  for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfO3szikvnI&feature=related or some of those ponderous but very catchy Michael Nyman movie sound tracks, like, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZG_-iTyQdog

They all seeemed to help with the peddling.  As the trip became never ending, and getting on the bike a little harder, the melodies got worse (arguably) but adjusted appropriately, and we even started to vocalise them. I cringe a bit to admit it, but Ben started this one and Sam sang snippets of it too: That´s Just the Way it is Baby by the Rembrandts, was hard to shift from my head as getting into the saddle just one more time started to feel like that Bill Murray film, Ground Hog Day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_yDWQsrajA

Silly as it may seem, the on camera side of things and the desperate search for conversation topics made us fantasize about who would be appropriate to play us in a Hollywood version of our BBC epic.  We had this conversation with the help of Andrea our Director and it was in no way a serious one, just to pass the time!  We brothers thought Sam should be played by David Wenham, Ben by Jim Carrey and me by Joaquin Phoenix.  Andrea thought Ben should be played by Keanu Reeves, me by Tom Cruise and from what I recall, Sam by Russell Crowe!  We are contacting their agents…

This part of Hannibal's Trail was about discovering the parts of Italy the tourist brochures have generally forgotten.  Trani, is on the Adriatic coast of Italy and near Cannae where Hannibal won his greatest victory against the Romans.  Trani is a beautiful, old stone town where the main street is paved with large, slipperly slabs and the port area is like a mini-Marseille.  If you think you have read about Trani before, you are right – this leg of our Italian trip is a a return to the locations we had already cycled, in order to do the filming.  This time in Trani we had a lot of fun in a local barber run by a friendly Italian called Frank.  He and his two middle aged male assistants gave us all the sort of old fashioned shave you only thought possible in spaghetti westerns.

After our clean shaves..

After Trani, we headed to the deep south of Italy.  It´s a curious place, in some ways reminiscent of our cycling in the south of Spain where rubbish and ugly buildings can predominate a little too much.  For western Europe, southern Italy has surprising poverty and neglect.  In the port city of Taranto, for example, the old town centre is literally rotting and collapsing. Rows of abandoned buildings and others that look difficult to inhabit, but are lived in by people whose looks and gestures remind you of those black an white pictures of sufffering Italians in rubble strewn streets post World War II.  But this is 2009!

Statues at Altamura

Riccardo Chiaradia, a local Archaeologist who helped us find the hotspots of Taranto

Mussolini's doors at Taranto

One other difference – I always expected Italian restaurants to be chatty places, and they generally are in the centre and north.  Here, in the deep south, everywhere we ate – whether it was lunch or dinner - had at least one big television screen blaring out banal chat shows.  No-one who was eating seemed to talk as much as you hoped they would, instead their attentions were distracted by the box.    This drove Francesco our Italian producer bonkers and at least once he saved our sanity by asking restaurants to turn off the tv.   

Our main ancient literary source, Polybius, writes that Hannibal recorded his achievements on a tablet that was fixed to a column on the Temple of Hera art Crotone.   On a streatch of green coastline there is an archaeological site and a column belonging to this temple still standing.  Unfortunately this lone column was surrounded by a wire fence – but it was still an atmospheric spot where we were encouraged by our Director Andrea to mimic Hannibal and reflect on our achievements.  This made a lot of sense but at the time seemed like a potentially egotistical and difficult thing to do with the cameras rolling.  Sam and I were both impressed with how Ben got around that by saying that our biggest achievement was getting on so well with each other most of the time during our weeks together on the road.   On an unusual, intensive trip like this one, I think we would all agree, that just saying nice things, even if they may not be entirely true, helps them to come true.   I certainly felt that after Ben’s statement.

The remaining column of the Temple of Hera at Crotone


Early morning filming near Crotone

We dashed across Sicily – it is not part of Hannibal's trail.  After a night in Trapani, on Sicily's southern side, we boarded another ferry to head for our final destination – Tunisia, once the home of Hannibal's Carthaginian civilization.  While we were boarding we met Cristof, a Belgian, who was about to start an astonishing, solo bike ride that would begin in Tunisia and take him all the way to India!  He said he was going to take a year and a half to do it!  We wished him luck!

It's always exciting arriving at a port city by boat.  At sunset our ferry cruised in towards the port of Tunis.  To the right we could easily make out the peninsular of pretty white buildings that is Sidi Bou Said.  Just below that we knew there was what remained of the old Punic port and beyond that, Carthage itself, now a wealthy suburb of this bustling city.  The final leg of Hannibal´s Trail and lots left to explore!

Cuirassnapper Heads

November 16, 2009 17:33 by Sam

Our journey with the film crew continued to Lake Trasimene, where as described in a previous blog, Hannibal won a major battle against the Romans.....

For us it was much less dramatic - a dodgy highway hotel in Tuoro where we hung out our wet shoes and clothes soaked from our journey into the swamps and then a revisit to the 'Ciao Ciao' bar.  This time we were there to film the sunrise over Lake Trasimene rather than have a night out, like we did last time with our guest riders Perry and Will.  On that first occasion we got stuck in a square dancing, country music, over 50's night! The fact that we came back means this was obviously excellent recceeing!

Dancing Ciao Ciao

Sunrise at Lake Trasimene

Hannibal didn't get into Rome but it was a must stop for filming, especially as we planned to visit the Quirinale which is the president's palace.  Here they have the most famous likeness of Hannibal.


Hannibal keeping an eye on John..

The Quirinale is a very security conscious place - We were first checked out by the police as we filmed in the piazza out the front, then met by the Cuirassiers. The Cuirassiers are the presidents personal guard - to qualify for this, the application says, you have to be over 190cm tall and extremely good looking - only Italians would come up with these prerequisites - nothing about being able to protect the president or be intelligent or capable - as long as you are big and handsome that is all the president needs!

Italians love uniforms too so you can imagine these guys... dressed up poncing about trying to look as big and beautiful as possible. They seemed constantly amazed at their own beauty while we struggled to take them seriously especially when they told us that we were not dressed appropriately, of course this being the prime issue with a security force - no shorts allowed in the president's residence! Luckily they let us off after we promised to tell everyone about them - and the reality is that we have never taken our shorts off in 10 weeks of cycling so to do so, even for the president of Italy was highly unlikely!

The other force we met in Rome was the 12th legion - Caesar's own soldiers, a re-inactment group who paraded around the Roman forum and were great to talk to - no pretensions and seemingly much more capable than their pretty and giant compatriots, they would have made a much more apt guard for the president!

Authentic Romans...

We beat him up after this photo...

We continued to Pozzuoli where we slept in a campsite in the crater of a volcano. It really stank - considering our shoes were still wet from the swamps many days before and we only own 3 coloured t-shirts each, it must have been very bad to overcome our dull senses! We did manage to cycle through the steam it produces and cook an egg on one of the geysers - I wouldn't recommend it - Egg cooked on volcanic sulphur gas makes basically, its pretty horrible to imagine, let alone taste like we had to for the camera - fart flavoured eggs! The reason we stayed here is because Lake Averno is around the corner - the entrance to the Roman underworld. Hannibal came here to make an offering to the dead to try and see his future - we too made a offering - water, wine, milk, honey and barley as he may have but we just thanked the Gods for not being run over so far - Italians drivers are not the greatest with cyclists!

Solfatarna at Pozzouli

The steam was frizzing my hair it was a bit worrying!

Our days off we look forward too and with Naples so close we decided to go in for the night - John the cameraman took us to a local restaurant he knew which was excellent and we also shopped for Italian fashions.... Each year it seems the locals choose a colour and everyone wears it religiously, especially at passagiata - when everyone comes out for their evening walk. This year the colour is Purple so Ben and I got some quality purchases - multiple purple tracksuits, shirts, vests, jackets, gloves and belts... the shop assistant was fairly confused as we continually insisted we only buy in purple but happy as we bought half of their shop! We have tested these fashions since and the Italians in the passagiatas are always impressed by our kit! The only problem we have now is shoes - Since Ben and Danny lost their flip flops at the Rhone crossing they have been wearing white slippers out most nights - the sort escapees from a physc ward might wear so no matter the clothes we are still looked down upon by the fashionatas of Italy!

Italian Fashions at their very best!

Barcelona Metropolitan Article

November 16, 2009 13:31 by Sam

An article in the Barcelona Metropolitan about our journey:


BBC History Magazine latest - Cannae

November 14, 2009 13:35 by Sam

Cannae, for warmongers, to this day the biggest loss of life in a single day of battle:


The Guest Blog...

November 11, 2009 17:35 by Sam

When Will and I arrived in Florence a shattered, slim and sunburnt Sam and a 5k ride greeted us. This was fun at the time because by this time we had packed our trip full of beers already. Will was particularly excited because on the corner of every street stood prostitutes in their underwear.  The distractions almost forced him to crash on day one, he had some “close shaves” I tell you. Such incidents were labelled “the prostitute wheel wobbles” and later became a feature in our riding as we hit the relentless and steep rolling hills of the punishing Tuscan, or should I say Spartan challenge that lay ahead. The ‘prostitute wheel wobble’ would begin with a quick shimmy of the handlebars as Will’s ogling eyes would lead his head away from the road in front, around his curb side shoulder to take in the pre-Raphaelite bouncing bevy of beauties that lured motorists to deviate from their routes. A warning parp of a passing horn would snap Will from his reverie, causing him to hastily correct his trajectory that would release latent kinetic energy into his bulging panniers that would set the read end of his velocipede waddling like a duck. The flexing of Will’s rear end was often our salvation as we several times reached what we thought was the limits of our endurance.  A quick waggle-dance of Will’s wheeled wonder was all we needed to fill our harrowed lungs with fresh gusts from our twentieth wind and speed our way onwards to Rome. By the way, contrary to popular myth, all roads do not lead to Rome. In fact, I suspect some one at the BBC has a most mischievous sense of humour as each of the Wood Bros.’ GPS told a different story about which route we should take.  I doff my hat to Mr and Mrs Wood for breeding such even-tempered offspring.

The way out of Florence..

The way out of Florence II..

So after a late night, we began our 1st days riding around Florence taking in the views as we rode. Fresh off the boat I was nearly killed by a fast moving ambulance, an enthusiastic and daring tourist and a suicidal city pigeon. Will took photos and Wood brothers watched, laughed and relished the injection of new and entertaining blood.
Our initial (Will and I) experience of sampling what Sam, Ben and Danny have been faced with over the past 6 weeks truly gave us an insight of how difficult their adventure has actually been. We have three modest brothers here who never really tell the full story to add credit to their efforts. Will and I faced the first 2K’s of our exit out of Florence up some seriously steep hills; so steep that Hannibal’s elephants would have refused to take on and gone on strike had they been French elephants.  Nothing new to the Woods and I sensed they had done much steeper. It was fair to say we were in pieces when we finally reached the top. Will was overtaken by a  veteran in his olive delivery bike (may have been a relative of Hannibal) within the first 500 metres.  Will also had this phantom gear changing issue, which forced him to stop. He would somehow make his chain slip off and grind our climb to a halt. I was personally all over it but I sensed the Wood brother’s anger because they lost the momentum gathered on their 4-ton tour bikes. Later in the ride Will’s derailleur issue became more and more of a happy event as it forced us all to stop and wait for him. A very much-needed call after a flat out ride of 50K’s!
We were finally rewarded with a downhill roll leaving Florence behind us. The views were incredible. The quiet road (quiet because Will and I couldn’t speak) led us past vineyards and farmhouses as we headed to our lunchtime destination (5 hours of mainly uphill climbs) at a small town called Chianti. The Woods pulled out a mini camp stove from their bottomless panniers and knocked up a nut, raisin and rhubarb cous cous number while Will and leant on each other sharing my asthma inhaler. It became very apparent that these boys are true touring professionals and carried an item for every need. They even have team coloured plates, cutlery (double ended with a folk at one end and a spoon at the other, oh and of course one edge of the folk was serrated) and bowls. Will and I used their multi-purpose Leathermans which practically had everything less an oxygen tank).
After lunch and once Will had completed his yoga session, we struggled back to our bikes.

Will's Yoga

The next 5K’s were free. A downhill that led us away from the hills in which I took the opportunity to stand up all the way and give my ass cheeks a break from my solid bike seat made of  wood. Will had unfortunately forgot to bring the Elizabeth Arden 48hour cream that he had promised was Lance Armstrong’s secret weapon. I realised in that moment that the reason the world’s best cyclists are so small and light is because they grate off most of their pelvic girdle like cheese on their saddles as they weave and wind their way through the strenuous hill climbs.

Sore Perry

8 hours later, 90 pints of water lost, 1 inhaler used and 100 kilometres of mainly uphill riding, we reached our destination, Arezzo.  Little did we know and one thing that the Wood brothers satnavs never picked up was that Arezzo’s annual Veterinary and Gastro Festival happened to be this weekend. The population of 5 thousands rises to 50 thousand for 2 days only. We were forced out and further to a town called Cortona 20km away. Not great news while the temperature had now reached 5 degrees.  Cortona was a beautiful place which sat at the TOP of a 3K steep climb. So steep in fact that Will and I walked it, while still managing to keep up with the Wood brothers who remained in their saddles as their mind boggling gear ratios enabled them to scale all but a vertical wall like mountain goats.  Danny insisted on repeating “just 1.5k’s left” every 500 meters which drove us mental. The wind was now 80 knots per hour, the temperature was -20 degrees and it was 9pm. After Will and I checked into what seemed like the warmest hotel on the planet, we finally ate dinner and paid tribute to the fitness levels of the Wood brothers. Will insisted to pay for dinner (I think it’s because we had heckled them for losing so much weight over the past 6 weeks since their journey began. it was Will’s way of ensuring that they eat a good meal). All jokes a side (I will come onto jokes), these boys really do work so hard behind the scenes and it’s incredible. The Wood Brothers are the antithesis of Gordon Ramsay; no swearing, no finger pointing, no grandstanding; just an unerring focus on the objective and the best way of achieving it. In the House of Wood, teamwork makes the dream work.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Hannibal the Carthaginian would have had Hannibal the Cannibal for dinner! The drivers of a man that led an army composed of such disparate factions across hostile and untamed lands to pit its wits and mite against one of the world’s most experienced, wise and formidable adversaries (Rome) boggle the mind. So far from home and hearth, from the touch of a loved one, yet so strong and deliberate in his actions. Few of us could imagine this level of commitment and pro patria amore. The Woods were moved by this tale and rallied to it far too many moons ago to count. We have been fortunate enough to enjoy the fruits of their concept and we are proud to be part of history in the unveiling. Hannibal, those who were just almost about to die salute you. (Classical allusion for all you oiks that went to comprehensive schools!)

Gnochetti of the Superhero

November 10, 2009 02:09 by Ben

We were reunited once again with the film crew in Milan. Andrea is directing the final two episodes of the documentary - amongst her many attractive attributes she laughs at all our jokes - which is very rare as they aren't ever funny. Francesco the fixer is full of concerned advice for us. His best so far being in response to impersonal staccato questioning by a bloke in Rome dressed in a long green felt jacket - the sort of thing you'd expect an Austrian Pfalzgraf in the Sound of Music to be wearing. He approached us very directly walking his two labradors (with purple leads) and said without introduction "what are you doing?" and before we had time to acknowledge or answer "where are you from?" and then "is this for television?". This seems to be a very common method of attack once a film camera is out and being naive n00bs to the industry we are slowly being worn down by cold-blooded public cross examination. I was on the verge of tears and tried to convene with the friendly labradors - I suddenly thought goodness, compassion, fidelity and altruism remain impenetrable mysteries contained however within the limited space of the corporeal exterior of a dog? Or do they?? Poor Danny was nervously fiddling with his handlebar tape and Sam was twitching and muttering under his breath but Francesco came to the rescue with some excellent advice. We follow the Pfalzgraf to his office and once he had sat down and was comfortable with his coffee we start asking "what are you doing? who are you writing that email to? why are you looking at that website?". It was much funnier at the time...and its actually always nice when random people come up to talk to us but its strange that no one ever says hello first. Anyway the crew have a driver for this leg too - Sergio - who is lovely but because our Italian is so bad we unfortunately can't order him around as much as we would like to. And John has returned for the final two episodes - he still is the same - extremely capable and very funny when he is complaining about something which fortunately for us happens quite a lot. Yesterday he was giving it to Bono and Sting "I'm sorry, I'm sorry but if you come up with the lyrics a De do do do, de da da da Is all I want to say to you you have to be a f*cking idiot - who the f*ck says a De do do do, de da da da".



First day back filming we visited a wine maker called Hannibal. He grows wine near the Trebbia river where his predecessor Hannibal had his first big victory over the Romans. I'm not sure about Danny and Sam but I was completely drunk at 11am after one glass of wine as we attempted to interview him. But because I am a professional I didn't get him in a headlock or smash up his winery instead I made a dumb joke about his focaccia bread. He didn't get it - but I think mainly because his deaf mother kept screaming at us in a strange Italian dialect and offering us massive hunks of speck (cured horse meat).

Filming in the Trebbia Valley

Focaccia bread at Hannibal's winery

Trebbia Valley

The rest of the day was a little hazy but I remember Danny's pedal falling off - our first significant mechanical problem. We also had dinner in a strange place that offered amongst other dishes Gnochetti of the Superhero. I asked for a banana fritter but the waiter refused and said the only possible dish he could serve me was Gnochetti of the Superhero - the kitchen staff and toilet attendant agreed - and so I was served Gnochetti of the Superhero. It was pasta with bits of sausage meat so I have no idea why it was called Gnochetti of the Superhero or why they insisted I have it but I thought perhaps that a prolonged belief in a manifestly absent divine entity provoked in them this display of idiocy incompatible with the long term maintenance of civilisation? What do you think?? Danny had Risotto of the Artist which looked and tasted disgusting but at least it was purple in colour which is in fashion here in Italy at the moment.

Next day we were at the Trebbia river. Its nowhere near as high as it was when Hannibal defeated a Roman army here which is lucky as I had cross it. Its only thigh deep but still very cold. We had a very productive day filming there and then we were off to Tuscany and an amazing old Monastery where they filmed parts of the English Patient. John pointed out that the English Patient was actually German so we wondered why it was ever called the English Patient in the first place? We got there quite late and the staff very kindly waited up for us and made us a massive dinner.

Crossing the Trebbia

A beautiful place to stay and we have all arranged to come back and visit as we were up early to film around the Tuscan countryside and then onto the Arno Marshes which no longer exist. Pietro our expert contributor met us there for a chat and then we attempted to traverse part of a swamp with our bikes. Pietro and his friends watched in bemusement from the pier as we got covered in reeds and mud doing pieces to camera in the freezing cold marsh. It was actually lots of fun until we had to clean ourselves off in the motor home toilet emptying area of a campsite. Our shoes have never quite recovered - they are dry now but the stench from them is inexorable.


Pietro the swamp expert



Thanks Simone for the bike boxes!

In the Navy

November 8, 2009 02:26 by Danny

We're back with the crew again at a campsite near Naples.  I've had one beer and a swig on a bottle of wine and dinner should be soon but there could be time to write about Taranto, a strange place but well worth a visit.  Taranto was one of many southern Italian cities where the people were split between supporting Rome or Carthage. Today the people there still seem a bit split, almost schizophrenic. We rode in from Altamura, about eighty kilometres away, through an industrial area and crossed a bridge into what looked a bit like a deserted cowboy town on a bad day.  There was a steady flow of traffic that circled around the outer rim of this old part of town that forms an island connected to the mainland by bridges at either end.  This was originally the citidadel area where the Roman garrison managed to hold out against Hannibal even when he had won over the rest of the town.  There's a squat castle on the site of the Roman citadel that is still in use by the Italian navy.  You do see a lot of sailors wandering about town - one of them came across the three of us having breakfast in a cafe.  He strolled in and he got so close to me I thought he was going to put his white hat on my head, but instead he put it down on the sideboard next to me without diverting his disapproving glare.  His reason for not liking us probably had something to do with our dress sense. In this more conservative part of Italy what you wear seems to be the most important thing on earth to a lot of people. It was pretty cold but we were all wearing our baggy, cycling shorts, an assortment of dirty T-shirts, and Ben and I had white slippers on that we picked up earlier in the trip. To him, we probably looked like eastern European labourers about to go to work on a building site. We couldn't help laughing at our predicament - in the mind of this Captain, there we were, not only insulting the local fashions but taking Tarantine jobs too! Ben suggested we ask him why Italian tanks have more gears in reverse than forwards, but in the end we let him to have his coffee in peace. Peace man! If only more people had the same attitude.

Ben hunts Danny and Sam at a WWII pillbox near Tarento

This old part of Taranto had plenty of atmosphere with its narrow alley ways and Naples like conglomeration of low-rise appartments.  Quite a number of the buildings had signs on them indicating they were former palaces so you couldnt help but wonder why the glory days had faded. That's something we are yet to find out.  In spite of its ruined state, the old town was very lived in.


A pause in the sun with a view towards the castle in Tarento

The pizzas we had for dinner on the corner opposite us were very good, but the restaurant where we ate the next night gave us a shock. The hostess in this family run place was so friendly when we entered that we readily accepted her immediate offer of antipasto as we sat down.   When our hostess didnt present us with menus and instead gave us a verbal rundown of a limited number of dishes, we assumed we were getting the fourteen euro fixed menu that we had been recommended. The undrinkable wine seemed to confirm that we were getting a bargain basement dinner.  We had to laugh when the bill came to ninety-five euros.

Hannibal would have seen this Doric style Greek temple in the old quarter of Tarento

Taranto's surprises kept coming. When we ventured into the newer part of town across the bridge, we found a swanky, pedestrianised promenade lined with smart shops and busy with relatively wealthy looking locals promenading around. A pretty place with well kept buildings, plazas with palm trees and only across a small bridge from the neglected old town.  There is even rare archaeological evidence of Hannibal's presence: difficult to see under a fogged-up, perspex covering alongside a cafe, there's a section of what is thought to be part of a wall built by Hannibal's forces when they occupied the place.  There is also a good archaeological museum with lots of quality Roman remains including armour, jewellry and mosaics.

Under perspex in the main square in Tarento, the remains of a fortess wall possibly built by Hannibal

A mysterious, ghostly face appears in a photo taken in the archaeology museum in Tarento

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About the authors

Danny, Ben and Sam Wood are three brothers who followed in the footsteps of three ancient Carthaginian brothers Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago. They cycled from Cartagena, Spain to Zama, Tunisia - the route that Hannibal and his army took over 2200 years ago. Along the way they filmed a documentary to be aired on the BBC in July 2010.


  • Nabonidus Archaeology
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