Kozina, Slovenia, to The Great Saint Bernard Pass, Italian-Swiss border.
Number of Kilometers: 13,975
Number of Countries Crossed: 13 (China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy)
The followers of Roadofsmiles.com will remember our feeling of “Europe!!!” when we crossed the border into Turkey from Iran. If Turkey represented the entry then Italy was the true signal we had arrived in Europe proper. For all the incredible places we had seen thus far, pedalling past mountain-top medieval castles, through ancient cobbled streets and through the magnificent architecture that is commonplace in every single small town we were reminded why this is and will always be justifiably one of the greatest places in the world.
From the Slovenian border close to Trieste we traversed the northern plain with the peaks of the Italian Alps towering above us somewhere to our right. We say somewhere because for the first few days we were hit with the most vicious downpours of the entire trip. We were relishing our first bowl of pasta cooked by Mamma Di Marco or equivalent but rather fittingly our incredible Spaghetti Puttanesca and Rigatoni ai Porcini were delicately served by Mrs Wong who had moved to Italy from Suzhou in China 15 years previously.
As we approached Cervignano del Friuli for our second night the rain was so heavy we could barely see the road in front of us but this was to be the last day of rain until we hit France 10 days later.
Travelling on the back roads as much as possible we zipped through the Italian countryside past Castlefranco and Verona, before arriving on our fifth morning at the spectacular shores of Lake Garda. Over a double espresso on the banks of the lake we had a moment’s reflection. We couldn’t help but think that the immaculate scene we had in front of us would not exist in any of the other countries we had been through so far on the trip. The water was crystal clear; there was no plastic bottles or other detritus anywhere to be seen; there were not millions of tourists ruining the view. It was just peaceful and beautiful, like it had been for hundreds of years.
The weather held as we powered on towards Milan, meeting an old friend called Carlo di Crema and meeting up with Oli’s sister Alex and her partner Simon in Milan itself.
The Milan route was not the quickest or easiest home but represented part two of our commitment to Operation Smile. If you didn’t see the first instalment you can watch the video below where we followed Jin Hao through the procedure to have his cleft lip fixed up in Zhengzhou, China.
Whereas in Zhengzhou where Operation Smile were running a temporary mission, the site in Milan is a permanent facility that is always in use. We had the pleasure of meeting the surgeons and had a few hours meeting the kids who were in recovery. It is so scary to think that 1 in every 300 kids are born with a mouth that hasn’t developed as it should. It is such a small imperfection but one that has big implications on how the kid develops physically, emotionally, socially. We are proud to have lent a small hand to help raise funds for such a great charity that allows kids to smile for the first time. If you are interested to, and haven’t already, do join our support by donating to keep these guys doing their incredible work: