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 BICYCLE TOURING - The Italian Adventure

 

Tuscany Ride Journal

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Lucca to San Gimignano

San Gimignano to Florence

Cortone to Siena

Cycling on Elba Island

Portoferraio to Porto Azzurro

the western loop

 

trip experiences

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 ..dinner in Siena...

 

.stowing the bikes on the ferry to Elba Island...

Bicycling in Tuscany 

car free adventure __________________________

 

 

 ...some bridge in Florence....

We would bicycle through Cinque Terre and then onto Lucca.  We would bicycle from Lucca to San Gimignano.  Then we would bicycle to Florence.  We would spend a day in Florence and the following day bicycle to Cortona.  From Cortona we would bicycle to Siena.  Then bicycle from Siena to We had completed bicycle tours in France and Spain.  Italy was on our “to do list.” We had visited Rome and Venice on a non-bicycling trip.  Everyone told us the best scenery in Italy was in Tuscany.  Tuscany was the logical choice for a bicycle ride.  We added two “must tour” locations in Tuscany; Cinque Terre and Florence.

 

A bike buddy from work, KT, agreed to bicycle with us.  He had been to Italy twice before.  He planned to bicycle on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica before we arrived in Italy.  We would meet at an agritourimo near Cinque Terre. 

 

I planned 14 days for our adventure. “How do we work everything in was a concern. There would not be enough time to bicycle to the agra turismo in Vezzano Ligure.  We would have to rent a car at the airport and drive to meet KT there, dump the car and start our ride. 

 

Piombino and take the ferry to Elba.  We would bicycle around the island of Elba and take the ferry back to the mainland.  We complete our trip by returning to the airport in Fiumicino on our bicycles.   

 

We flew on British Airways from LA to London where we would transfer to a second British Airways flight to Fiumicino Airport.  It was the last British Airways flight from London that day and when we went to the luggage area to collect our bags they were still in London. The next British Airways flight would arrive at noon the next day. 

 

Our plan had been to build our bikes at the airport, leave the bike boxes in “left luggage” and drive overnight to Pisa.  It was on to Plan B!  We found a hotel for the night.

 

The next day we waited through 3 flights from London and on the last flight our bikes arrived. We built our bikes leaving the bike boxes at the door to “lost luggage” hoping they would be saved.  We went with our bikes to pickup the rental car, load our bikes and gear and exited the airport. 

 

We exited the airport onto the expressway toward Rome and took the exit north to Florence.  It was 2 AM. 

 

We drove north to Florence and then west to the coast. We located the exit to the agritourismo in Vezzano Ligure where we were to meet KT.  We located the agritourismo, said hi to KT and went to bed.  

 

We had lost 2 days on our schedule. We would tour Cinque Terre in the car the afternoon of the day we arrived and drive to Lucca for the evening.  Our bike adventure would start from Lucca to San Gimignano the following day.

 

 ..with the family at the agritourismo in Vezzano Ligure....

 

 ..assembling the bikes in the airport luggage area...

 

  ..outside the hotel where we spend the night in Lucca

 

 ..home on the road...

 

 ..view of San Gimignano from the breakfast patio of our agritourismo

 

 ...relaxing on the ferry to Elba Island...



 RIDE DAY 1 -  Lucca to San Gimignano - 65 miles 

       

...English was spoken everywhere in Tuscany which helped when ordering food or when lost...

 ..the traffic in Italy was very courteous to cyclist..

 ..we started to climb several miles north of Volterra and it was up and down all the way to San Gimignano

 ..we made it just before dark to San Gimignano...

Plan for the day – The ride would begin from the hotel in Lucca.  We would exit the city and locate SS439 and bicycle south 46 miles to Volterra.  In Volterra at the intersection of SS439 and SS68 we would turn left (west) onto SS68 and ride 19 miles to San Gimignano.  The total mileage for the day would be about 65 miles.  It would be a good riding day with some interesting climbing.  

We decided to keep the “rental car” until we reached Florence.  The driving would be shared between the three of us.  The plan would be that each rider would ride for a certain number of miles and drive one shift.  Today I would drive first, followed by my bike buddy and finally KT would drive. 

Getting started - We awoke in our Lucca “hotel room” a bit later than I would have liked on a bicycle riding day.  I had a good nights sleep even with KT’s  bed slats percussion entertainment during the night.  Our room did not have a bathroom so I went down the hall to the bathroom to take a shower.  I showered, shaved and put on the bike uniform for the day. 

KT had gone to a bakery near by and brought some croissants to eat while I performed my grooming activity.  We ate the croissants for breakfast.  Afterward we got our gear together, lugged everything down the steps from our room making two trips.  The bikes were carried down first and then our gear while my bike buddy watched the bikes.  We loaded the gear onto our bikes and after KT settled the bill with the landlady we bicycled to the car in the parking garage.  We loaded the luggage into the car along with my bike. 

 

Today’s adventure - There is an ancient wall which runs completely around the city of Lucca.  This is one of the sights that the web describes as a must see in Lucca.  Our airport “bike delivery” adventure having put us behind in an already tight schedule coupled with a good riding distance scheduled for the day did not give us much time to visit the wall as tourists.  KT suggested that they leave the city riding along the top of the wall.  KT had been to Lucca on a previous trip and was aware that it was possible to walk or bicycle along the top of the wall.  They rode away to find access to the top of the wall.

 

No wall experience for me as my task was to get the car out of Lucca and onto the planned cycling route SS439. Thus began the “Lucca exit adventure” for me which began exiting the hotel parking lot and continued until I hooked up with them again on SS439. 

 

They were cranking when I found them.  I honked the horn and passed stopping about a mile ahead.  My bike buddy rode up and said, “This is my first time riding in Europe!”  In France she had driven the support van for my son and I, and in Spain she had suffered a broken arm on a training ride before we left for Europe.  She was stoked!  They stopped briefly to talk and then were off again. 

 

I passed them found a place to pull off the road and take pictures as they rode past.  Across the road a woman was standing behind a counter in a trailer which was open on the side.  She was selling sandwiches, drinks and other goodies to workers who were stopping in their cars and trucks.   I took pictures of the bicyclists as they rode up. KT saw the food and stopped to buy food from the lady. 

 

I decided to get a sandwich.  When I got closer I discovered she was cutting slices of meat for the sandwiches from a large ham and a large side of beef.  We made our orders.  My bike buddy and I bought a ham sandwich and I am not sure what KT bought. 

 

To me the sandwich tasted horrible.  I had thought with the business she was getting that the food must be special and I am sure that the local population thought it was.  The meat was very salty and I don’t like salt.  The meat was also very dry.  I took my half of the sandwich with me to the car and disposed of it down the road. 

 

The bicyclists continued and I drove on to find our next rendezvous point. 

I parked and waited on the North side of a town named Pontedera.  We were about half way to Volterra.  Kt and my bike buddy rode past me.   I got into the car and drove through a small community and somehow got on the wrong road.  When I did not see them I got in the car and drove to Volterra looking for them.  No luck.

 

As I returned I called them and they said they had passed a sign indicating they were on the SS439.  Returning along the road, I assume the SS439 I drove past them riding in the opposite direction.  I turned around and again drove pass them.  I parked the car in a roadside park area about three miles ahead of them.  I got my bike out of the car and put it together.  It was my  turn to ride.

 

When the cyclist reached me, my wife broke her bike down and I loaded it into the car.  KT and I rode off and my wife passed us in the car and was gone.  The road from Lucca to Volterra had been rather flat thus far.  We settled into a steady pace and just cranked along. I did not see anything of great interest along the road. 

 

We reached an intersection which had about eight signs on it with the names of various towns.  On one of the signs with an arrow that pointed east was another version of the 439, SR 439 dir.  The SR439 road we were riding on ran due north and south and ran through the city of Volterra. 

 

I told KT that my investigations in the States indicated that the route directly into Volterra had several climbs of 8 to 10 percent grade.  I suggested we take the alternate route which indicated that the road had only two climbs before arriving a half mile west of Volterra. 

 

KT consulted his map and said he agreed.  We should turn east because he agreed that continuing on the road we were on would prove to be more difficult judging by the “chevrons” which indicated climbing on the map.  

 

I called my bike buddy on my cell phone and described the signs on the corner and told her we were turning.  She said ok and KT and I were off.  We took the road east for a short distance, crossed a bridge and then turned south onto the road marked SR439 dir.  The road was flat for about 5 kilometers and then began to climb for the next 5 kilometers. 

 

As we rode we were in communication with the driver of our support car and she was having difficulty finding the road we were on.  I am not sure but I think she drove to Volterra and then back to the intersection.  She took the intersection but missed the immediate turn onto SR439 dir which occurs immediately after a small bridge.  She drove to the end of the road and turned around and drove back again.   

 

We climbed the last 3 mile grade (I think these climbs were 9%) to the intersection where the SR439 dir intersected with SS68.  At the intersection we were 1 kilometer east of Volterra.  We called my bike buddy who had turned around by that time and was heading back along the road which intersected with SR439 dir.  It was her turn to ride so waited for her at the intersection. 

 

When she finally found us at the intersection she was not a happy camper.  After a few choice words about men giving directions, she calmed down sufficiently to put her bike together for the last leg into San Gimignano.  

 

KT told us that this ride belongs to you guys because he had heard the story about the reports from my wife’s colleagues.  We were to ride the final leg because of the Northridge Challenge!  The ride from Volterre to San Gimignano had been ridden by some of my wife’s colleagues and it was reported to be very difficult (the Northridge Challenge).

 

Kevin put his bike into the car.  While we rode, he headed off to look for the agritourismo just outside San Gimignano to unload our gear and to notify them that we were on our way.  We were late for the dinner they were preparing for us!

 

We began the ride a 7:15.  It was June.  The ride was 20 plus miles. Could we do it before dark?   KT had told us that after he located the agritourismo, he would drive back to pick us up along the road.  He said if you cannot go anymore because it is dark, just stop by the road and I will find you and bring you to the hotel.  He drove away. 

 

We headed down the hill from Volterra and after about two miles we began to climb.  The road had many bends but we let it rip!  It was Sunday but the traffic was heavy along the road.     

 

Before KT left to find the hotel he told me that the turn off to San Gimignano was 14 miles along SS68.  I set my distance to zero on my odometer before we started.  I had learned that mapping using distance works.  When we reached 13 plus miles I saw a sign which pointed to San Gimignano   I told my bike buddy that we were to turn north. 

 

We turned north and cranked on. We began the accent of the last hill into San Gimignano and my phone range.  It was KT.  He asked “where are you.”  

I said “We are about a mile outside San Gimignano.”  He said how did I miss you I am here at the turn off and don’t know how I could have missed two bicyclists on the road. 

 

I said well “I turned at 14 miles and we are just about to San Gimignano.”  He said “14 miles, you were supposed to turn at 14 kilometers!”  I told him that the signs we were passing said we were almost to San Gimignano and I would call him back when we reached the top of the hill we were currently on. 

 

The phone went dead and we cranked on and passed a sign that indicated we had entered San Gimignano.  I congratulated my bike buddy and we rode on to the crest of the hill.  At the top of the hill we found a roundabout and we stopped. 

 

KT called and said he had located the road we were on and would be there in a matter of minutes.  We took a couple of pictures of San Gimignano from the roundabout.  The sun had set by the time we reached the roundabout and it was getting dark.  KT arrived and we put the bikes in the car and drove to the agritourismo. 

 

Today’s landscape - The scenery from Lucca to San Gimignano had been beautiful.  Trees stood very near the road in some locations forming a canopy which made the road very cool and pleasant. We rode through beautiful old towns with dark, brown stone buildings covered with tile roofs.  It brought back memories of our ride in France accept the stone was a different color.  As we headed down the hill from Volterra the countryside was very lush green with olive groves, stands of trees and fields. 

 

Bicycling notes The road surface between Lucca and San Gimignano was very good for bicycling.  There were no bugs.  The road was flat until we got to about 3 miles north of Volterra.  I would guess that the inclination was 5 to 9 percent.  It was slow but doable.  I never felt that I was in stress on any of the climbs. 

 

The weather was beautiful.  The temperature was moderate but not hot or humid.  The temperature had been perfect during the climbing from Volterre to San Gimignano.  Just cool enough to keep your body temperature perfect with the exertion.  I would guess it was in the low eights. It had been rumored in the morning that it might rain but we did not experience any moisture. 

  

In places there was very little shoulder on the roads but traffic was light. I do not remember any trucks.  Traffic picked up when we turned onto SS68.  It was Sunday and later in the day.  The traffic may have been returning from an outing. 

 

On SS68 we would enter a turn with cars in front and back and coming towards us in the opposite lane. The cars would hesitate and wait behind us through the curves then at the slightest opening roar past us.  If a car was passing, cars coming in the opposite direction would pull onto the shoulder to allow car passing us to get by and then everyone would get organized on the road again just before we reached the next turn.  I never felt threatened.

 

The driver of the support car had been in more grief during the day than the cyclist.  The support crew had experienced similar stress during the cycling in France.  The cyclists have plenty of time to read road signs as they approach an intersection and select a route.  The driver of the car does not have a lot of time to read a sign but has the advantage that errors can be corrected without the physical difficulty of riding a lot of miles.  I have ridden a few miles in the wrong direction when car support was not available and there is “no joy.”

 

A cell phone is an absolute necessity for a bike ride with or without car support.  I ride with the cell phone in my shirt pocket and the ear plug in my ear. The phone automatically picks up after two rings which allows me to continue to ride and chew gum at the same time.      

 

Post ride activity As we drove to the agritourismo, KT asked; “What are the odds that you can find a road to San Gimignano at 14 kilometers and 14 miles?”  Our luck was discussed even after we returned to the States.     

 

When we arrived at the agriturismo we parked the car along with several others parked in a small graveled area at the side of the house.  The road up to the house was gravel.  The drive way must have been a 15 plus percent climb.  I told KT that the daily cost of the car was worth not having to finish the day climbing up from San Gimignano to the agritourismo. 

 

When we arrived at the agritourmiso we were told to go to the dining room for our dinner.  We were still in our riding clothes.  We were the only guests!  We were treated to a five course meal which included 2 types of wine from agritourismo’s vineyard which was served with two of the courses.  The food was excellent and very welcome to three people who had just gotten off a bicycle.

 

The agritourismo accommodations were excellent, unique and the service was very good.   The rooms were large, clean and pleasant.  KT had suggested we stay at this location since he had enjoyed a stay here once before.  It was very pleasant.  We retired to our room, showered and went to bed. 

 

We had survived our first day of riding.  We were pleased with ourselves.  The British Airways experience was gone.  We were bicycling in Tuscany!

 

return



  RIDE DAY 2 - San Gimignano to Florence - 50 miles 

       

 ..breakfast view from the agritourismo...

 ..the tourist in San Gimignano..

 ..the rain painted the landscape of our route through Tuscany...

 ...flowers were in bloom everywhere...

Plan for the day – Today we would ride from San Gimignano to Florence.  The distance would be 50 miles and change.  We would exit San Gimignano on SP1 and ride east to the town of Poggibonsi located next to the freeway (autostrade) we had taken to Florence when we drove to the agra tourismo in Vezzano Ligure. 

 

The distance to Poggibonsi is 8 miles.   From Poggibonsi we would take SS429 to the intersection of SR222 at Castellina Chianti.  We would turn north on the SR222 and ride to the E36 freeway just south of Florence where we would “find our way” into the city.     

 

My wife had trouble with the gears on her bike on the ride from Voterrra the day before.  We looked at the shifting mechanism the following morning but I do not have the knowledge or the skill necessary to attempt the necessary repairs.  KT said that he thought there would be a bike shop in a town on the way to Florence so my wife planned to take the car and locate a bike shop. We would stay in touch by phone if we had a problem on the road. 

 

Getting started - We got up to a beautiful day.  Breakfast was served outside on a patio.  Our patio table provided us with a beautiful view of the adjoining green hillside with the roof tops of San Gimignano in the distance.

 

Breakfast consisted of coffee, juice, meat, bread, hardboiled eggs and jelly.  The location was very pleasant, the weather was perfect and we were still enjoying the fact that we had captured Volterre to San Gimignano the day before.  Everything was down hill so to speak from here on!

 

Today’s adventure - KT and I began our ride from the agritourismo.  We rode down the very steep entrance road to the house and entered the walled city of San Gimignano. After a brief tour we found our exit route and began our ride to Florence.    

 

We rode for about 5 miles when KT had a flat.  He had picked up a large thorn some place along the road.  It was hard as a nail.  We looked for more thorns in the tire but found none.  I was concerned he would have a second flat because the tube had several holes in it.  KT believed that the tube had been cut by the rim as the tire went down. 

 

After fixing the flat we set out again.  We came to part of the road which ran under the freeway my wife and I had taken from Rome (Fucimino Airport) to Florence in the car.  We were standing at the entrance of several roads and it was not apparent which should be taken.   KT had brought a GPS which was programmed for some of the route.  This particular part of our trek was in the computer.  He consulted it and it directed us to the street we should take and we were off. 

 

We passed under the autostrade and entered a small town.  We rode through the town, made a right hand turn to the east at the direction of the GPS and exited the town.  About 10 miles further down the road we began to climb.  The road seemed to go up forever and never went down. 

 

The constant uphill broke the rule to my son Jack’s established theory that every uphill is followed by a downhill.  Maybe the theory has to be amended to read every uphill does not necessarily have to be followed by a downhill! 

 

KT noted that the road we were riding on had two chevrons marked on it on the map at what we assumed to be the highest point of the road.  Two chevrons imply the hill is 10 percent are more.  I did not think we were riding on a road that was 10%.  I was not in good enough shape to have ignored a 10% grade.    

 

We were making good time. We came to a hill which was marked as 10%.  I asked Kevin to take a picture of me riding up the hill with the sign in the picture.  As I was riding up to the sign I accidentally wobbled on my bike making the perfect picture. 

 

We cranked on toward Florence.  The terrain continued to be stunning but I had entered my ride baby ride mode so I ignored the countryside and peddled.   We had trained hard and we did not encounter anything that put us in difficulty.  KT had told me his friends had bicycled the same route and had described the hills as “rollers.”  This is an elite bicyclist term for just small hills. To me they were tolerable.    

 

The road we attempted to enter Florence on became an on ramp to the autostrade.  We investigated a couple of roads but both entered the freeway.  We consulted the map and surveyed our surroundings for a bicycle friendly way into the city but could not find one. 

 

KT said the old part of town is over there pointing over a hill.  We started to drift that way on our bikes riding along a route which was not marked as an entrance to Florence but had heavy traffic going somewhere.  We assumed the only somewhere must be Florence.  The road however ran perpendicular to the direction we thought we should be traveling.  We were riding along the side of the hill over which KT suspected Florence to be located. 

 

As we continued along the road we spotted a bicyclist ahead of us.  KT accelerated and caught up with him and asked if the road we were on took us into Florence.  The response was positive.  He dropped back to give me the news and we began to follow him.  We were being escorted into Florence by a cyclist on a “wonker bike.”

 

After a half a mile or so the road turned in the direction we had predicted one would find Florence.  We had ridden some difficult hills (rollers) but nothing extreme on the trip to Florence.  We had assumed once we reached Florence we had finished climbing for the day.  But just before we reached the river Arno and crossed into the city of Florence we begin to climb. 

 

I would estimate the climb to be 5 to 7 percent.  It lasted for about three fourths of a mile and was a little brutal when you are expecting nothing but flat for the remainder of the day.  I had also saved nothing in the last five miles in anticipation of reaching the hotel.

 

When we finally broke into the city after the surprise uphill grade, our path entered a bridge over the Arno River. We stopped on the bridge.   KT pointed to the next bridge that crossed the Arno and said there is the Pointevecchio.  I asked what is the Pointevecchio?   KT just laughed!   He had gotten used to my lack of knowledge or interest in history.  I sat on the bridge railing with my bicycle in front of me so KT could take picture with the Pointevecchio behind me. 

 

My wife called on the cell phone.  She said she had tried to call me before but my phone was off.  I had accidentally turned my phone off during the 10 percent grade picture set up.  I discovered about 3 o’clock that I had turned my phone off and switched it on.  I asked if she could direct us to the hotel and she said she was on her bike looking at the sights. We were on our own.

 

KT asked if I knew the name of the hotel.  I gave him a rough, southern spelling for the hotel, "Oragna." I told him the hotel had the same name as the street on which it was located.  I also related that the street ran North and South, perpendicular to the river.  It was just east of the old part of the city. 

 

KT was not impressed but we located a street that would take us east. We rode east and quickly located the street "Orcagna."  As luck would have it, (my luck) the hotel was located about half a block North of where we intersected the street.   Our riding day was complete.

 

Today’s landscape – At breakfast on the patio of the agritourismo we had a beautiful view.  The agritourismo sat atop one hill and across a valley of green dotted with flowers sat San Gimignano on a second hill. The towers and church steeple could be seen rising above the surrounding buildings of the city.  The morning sky had a beautiful hue of blue.  It was a beautiful scene. 

 

When we left the agritourmiso KT insisted we ride through the square of the town.  He wanted to show me all of the sites he found of interest in Italy.  I was fighting my typical touring style of getting up, riding, going to bed and replicating the same each day.  The joke on the bike ride in France in 2000 was I had seen nothing but the back of Jack’s bicycle shorts for 750 miles!

 

We stopped riding at the church located in the square in the center of San Gimignano.  We took photos and walked through the town pushing our bikes.  After our very quick tour, we got on our bikes and rode away from the square and began our trek to Florence.

 

SR 429, the road we exited San Gimignano on was marked on the map as a scenic route and it was very scenic.  We bicycled along roads that were cut into the side of the hills and overlooked a very large, green, beautiful valley.  The valley had fields of olive trees, stands of trees and green grass.  All of the scenery was located along rolling hills just below us as we rode along the road.  

 

Bicycling notesThe road surface was good.  In places there was no shoulder.  Traffic was moderate but there are a large number of cyclists in Italy.  The drivers support the sport.  There was no wind.  No insects.  There was significant climbing.  The sun was out all day, but it was not hot or humid.

 

I use “mapquest” maps to support my bicycle trips and I printed maps in the States to support the exit from San Gimignano to the road I planned to use on the ride to Florence.  Using these maps the exit from San Gimignano proved to be straight forward. 

 

The pliers I carry in my tool kit were very useful removing the thorn from KT’s tire.  The pliers were added to my tool kit as the result of a road side problem in Hawaii which made the “lessons learned” list.  The “Lessons Learned” list is used to correct problems before the next bicycle adventure. 

 

The tube in the flat had several holes in it and we looked for more thorns in the tire but found none.  I was concerned he would experience a second flat because a thorn we had missed.  KT believed that the additional holes in the tube were cut by the rim as the tire went down.  He did not experience a second flat that day.

 

The GPS KT brought with him worked well throughout our journey in Italy.  The device saved us on occasion and supported our route selections throughout the trip.  The GPS memory did not have the complete map of Tuscany stored in it but the areas we had available to us served us very well.

 

My wife had been able to locate a bike shop on the drive to Florence in one of the small towns but it was “closed.”  Note that Italy takes Monday’s off which means all stores are closed.  We had shifted the tour day for Florence to Tuesday because of the day off.  The original plan had us arriving in Florence on Monday but fortunately I found out about the day off in a casual conversation and changed the date we were to ride into Florence.   

 

From the map of Italy I had been studying in the States I assumed that Florence was located in a flat valley which ran from Lucca past Florence.  Driving the rental car west from Florence I confirmed the road does follow a valley but the terrain is not flat. There is some climbing involved.  The valley is very pretty however and should be a considered for a bicycle ride. 

 

North of Florence there is serious climbing.  I made an error on our car trip to meet KT in Vezzano Ligure and drove through Florence by mistake and then on north of the city.  We were immediately surrounded by large hills driving out of the city and on the road north to Bologna it gets very high very quickly. 

 

It should also be noted that we were told that it had rained for most of the month of May before we arrived and began to ride.  The reason we rode through such beautiful green valleys with lush flowers may be the result of the rain in May.  Tuscany may not be as beautiful as we found it during other months of the year, and the month of May could be very wet and should be avoided.  

 

Note we saw signs on every ride in Tuscany that warned that the road was slippery when it snowed!  I assume in the winter months!

 

Post ride activity - We were tired as usual when we reached the hotel which is what bicycling is all about.  The exercise relaxes a type “A” personality. 

 

The lady at the reception desk of the hotel was ready for us.  My wife must have told her we would be arriving on bicycles.  She immediately told us where to leave the bikes in a small patio at the rear of the hotel.  We followed instructions and chained up our bikes on the patio.

 

My wife arrived at the hotel on her bike from her tour.  We purchased a large bottle of agua con gas at the hotel.  My wife and I sat in the pleasant patio area at the rear of the hotel and drank our water. 

 

This post ride tradition had begun on the France adventure with my son Jack. We would arrive at the hotel, check in and drink a bottle of aqua con gas on the patio.  When I was riding by myself in Spain I followed tradition.  I would order agua con gas at the hotel, set on the patio and write in my journal. 

 

We discussed the day’s events and what we planned to do the following day.  My wife had not found a bike shop open on her drive to Florence.  We would look for a bike shop the next day, Tuesday, and have the bike repaired during our tour day of Florence.

 

We would tour the Uffizi museum to see the paintings by the Italian Masters, visit the plaza where the museum is located to see the statue of David.  KT, ever trying to interest the boy from Kentucky in the art and history all around him, had taken me into the plaza where the statue of David was located on the way to the hotel.  My wife said that on her bike ride she had looked for it but somehow had missed it. 

 

Our hotel was good.  Nothing fancy just good. The rooms were nice too.  Not the Marriott but we are bicycling for gosh sakes!!!

 

I think our stay was enjoyable because the lady who was running the place was a little eccentric in a good way.  No complaining about keeping the bikes or running them through the lobby.  It made for a very relaxing and pleasant experience.  If you asked for a recommendation for place to eat dinner, she had one.  How do I get to the Plaza, she had a map.  She was a people person and wanted her guests to enjoy themselves.

 

We asked the desk for a suggestion as to where to eat.  A restaurant a short walk from the hotel was recommended.  At the restaurant we had salata mista, two pizzas, a couple of pasta plates, wine and agua con gas.

 

I was hungry, as I always am after a ride, and the food was good.  We stopped on the way back to the hotel for ice cream, or gilata, at a place we had seen as we walked to the restaurant.  After desert, we returned to the hotel, went to our rooms and crashed.  Another great cycling day!

 

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 RIDE DAY 3 - Cortona to Siena - 62 miles

     

...the poppies were beautiful and everywhere..

 ...a lot of climbing in Tuscany, note the road does not have a shoulder but the traffic was bike friendly... 

 ..the weather was beautiful, no wind, no humidity..

Plan for the day – The hotel we stayed in was located about three miles outside of Cortona.  The distance from Camucia where our hotel was located to Siena was 62 miles. 

 

The first major town on the route was Montepulciano.  From Montepulciano we would ride to Pienza followed by a round about route to Astiglion d’Orcia.  The route then took us through Monte Amiata, Montalcino, Buonconvento and finally into Siena. 

 

We planned to trade off driving and riding every 20 miles.  My bike buddy and I would ride the first leg.  Then KT and I would ride the second.  My bike buddy and KT would ride the third which should take us into Siena.

 

Getting started - We were still not getting up and leaving the hotel before 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning.  This would be the longest ride of the trip and with a late start and climbing we may not have sufficient daylight to make it all the way. 

 

Since we had the car we were getting a little lazy about the start!  KT had ridden on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia before we met him in Vezzano Ligure.  He could have been a bit tired before we began our ride.  I think he appreciated the late days and keeping the car. 

 

The hotel provided coffee, bread and jam for breakfast.  The hotel was located on the outskirts of a “very” small community and the choices for breakfast other than the hotel were not available.  I added a power bar after my breakfast just to make sure I did not bonk after a few miles.

 

Today’s adventure We began our ride in front of the hotel and rode southwest from Camucia where the hotel was located.  When we got closer to Montepulciano we began to climb.  We climbed the hill into the city and KT was waiting with his bike to start his ride. We broke my wife’s bike down and put it in the car and KT joined me on the road. 

 

The exit from Montepulciano was down.  We zipped down the hill holding our speed at 30 miles an hour.  The down hill lasted for about 5 miles and it was straight.  If one (me) had not been afraid to leave it all on a turn of this downhill one could have gotten to 50 miles an hour on our bikes.

 

My wife was perplexed because it always seemed that she had to ride the uphill on her legs of the ride and someone else got to ride the decent.  I think it is part of that custom developed over the centuries where the women carry the water from the well while the guys relax!  

 

KT and I cranked on toward Pienza which was, you guessed it, on a hill.  We cranked through Pienza sticking to my tour guide of “keep on truck’in no matter what the history book says.”

 

Our next destination was Castiglione d’ Orcia.  KT and I were in a valley approaching Castiglione d’Orcia and far above us you could see a couple of Towers sticking up above the tree line.  The road we were riding on almost took us even with the town.  The towers were on my left shoulder.  I assumed we had passed the town and it was not our destination.  I yelled forward to KT to tell him I was glad we did not have to ride up there.  He yelled back to inform me that we were riding up there.  I thought he must be kidding.

 

A short distance further we turned back and went through 3 miles of switch backs until we were at the top.  My bike buddy drove pass us to the top of the grade.  She returned rolled down the window as she drove pass and asked if we were tired because she said it does not get any easier the rest of the way. 

 

I would guess that the grade was 9% and it was 9% all the way.  The turns may have popped up a little higher but 9% was the norm!  KT stopped to take a picture but I kept cranking.  When I get into a rhythm on a hill I want to keep turning them over.  I reached the top and waited for KT.

 

We discussed handing off the driving (to me) during our minute 30 second stop in Castiglione d’Orcia and I said I would drive after I reached the 100 kilometer point.  Kevin and I exited the town and rode down a long hill again.  At the end of the hill (one cannot be expected to stop when doing 30 miles an hour) I took my wife’s place driving the support car. 

 

My wife said later that she had been 508’ed again referring the ride across Death Valley in California where every time my wife’s turn to ride came she had to ride up hill.  My son Jack and I caught most of the downhill. 

 

After the handoff to my wife the road begin to climb toward the next town, Monte Amiate.  We rolled through Monte Amiate and on toward Montalcino.  After Montalcino the hills were not as imposing.

 

In bicycle jargon the hills were described as “rollers.”  They would drop down for half a mile and then climb the same distance again.  Typically the grade would not exceed 5%.  I continued to drive in front of the cyclists, parking the car and taking pictures.   

 

I pulled into a driveway at the top of one small hill which had a sign indicating it was an agritourismo.  The main building was about 50 feet from the highway. 

 

Two children were playing in the yard while their parents worked on a project near by.  The kids came over, I would guess they were 6 and 8 and I said hello.  They responded in Italian.  While they looked on my bike buddy and KT rode up and stopped. 

 

I asked if anyone was ready to stop.  My wife said she wanted to continue.   She told us that if she could make it up the next hill she would continue to ride.  The hill again was about half a mile down and about the same distance up again.  It looked like it was about 10 percent at the top!  KT and I watched as my wife rode away. 

 

She hit the bottom traveling at a fast clip and slowly lost momentum but reached the top and disappeared.  As KT watched her disappear over the crest of the hill he said “I think the woman is on steroids!”   

 

We chased my wife down the road.  I stopped at a turn out again and waited.  When the two reached me I again asked if anyone was tired.  KT said he did not think we had sufficient daylight to bicycle to Siena and suggested that we would have to give up soon.  I said I would like to get in 50 miles for the day and needed to ride a few more miles to do so.  My wife declined to allow me to make my goal but KT said he would drive.  I got my bike out of the car assembled it and chased my wife down. 

 

My wife and I were riding “hell bent for leather” because we wanted to get as close to Siena as possible before KT, the adult of the group, insisted we stop.  We cranked into Buonconvento and promptly missed a turn.  There are multiple ways to get into Siena and we took the obvious route or the one best marked.

 

The traffic picked up significantly.  KT had gone off to grab a snack so we rolled out about 5 miles before he discovered we were lost.  He had turned onto the road we were to take, not finding us, he called.  We said we were on our way to Siena.  He said well you are not on the correct route!   I thought to myself not miles vs kilometers again!

 

He came back and drove along the road we were on.  We decided we should return to the correct route.  My wife said she did not have the strength to correct mistakes so KT and I did a time trial back to the correct turn off. 

 

When we regrouped at the correct intersection with the car, I decided that the time trial back to the intersection was sufficient to complete my riding for the day.  My wife got her bike out of the car and she and KT headed down the correct route. 

 

KT and my wife rode to Asciano where we decided to call it a day and drive the remainder of the way into Siena.  We packed the bikes into the car and set off down SS438 to Siena.

 

Today’s landscape -The road was flat when we started from the hotel.  The landscape reminded me of the San Joaquin Valley in California.  Unlike California red poppies were in bloom everywhere.

 

As we rode toward Montepulciano we saw red poppies everywhere.  They grew in the fields, along the highway and they were even growing with some crops we saw in the fields.  We passed a grape vineyard and poppies were growing in the rows between the grape vines. 

 

We attempted to capture the scene using our digital cameras.  My wife and I stopped often to capture ourselves and the poppies in a picture.  After each picture we would ride up on another scene which was more beautiful than the last.  We were stopping so much that KT who was driving the car got a little nervous about our progress and came zooming back along the road to find us to make sure we were ok.

 

We had purchased a picture of a farm house with a field of red poppies in front of it and an individual poppy while touring Florence to frame when we returned to California.

 

KT stopped just outside Montepulciano to take a picture of the city setting on the hill above us.  I took a picture as well.  I do not trust my judgment about picture scenes so I got into the habit when KT stopped to take a picture I stopped and took a picture.  My wife commented in LA that I had taken some great pictures!   It worked.  The scenes in Tuscany made it difficult to take a poor picture.  I will go with skill however! 

 

There was a large wall running along the edge of the city as we entered Castiglione d’Orcia.  The wall may have surrounded the city but I could only see the one imposing section. It appeared to go for miles. 

 

The road we were riding our bikes on ran adjacent to the wall.  It was possible to see for miles over the valley from over the wall. Obviously the wall was used for defense and the view from the wall supported the occupants.  All of the towns we entered had walls.  Some of which appeared to still circle the town.  In others the structure was fractured in places.  

 

I was driving when we climbed into Monte Amiate  I drove ahead of KT and my bike buddy, parked the car and took pictures as they climbed into the city. 

 

It was very pretty, much like the ride from San Gimignano to Florence.  The road was cut into the side of hill which looked out over a huge valley.  You could look out over the valley for miles and it was a beautiful green.  The road in places was lined with trees and of course there were the red poppies everywhere.  There were also yellow and purple flowers in abundance. 

 

I forgot to mention that I also saw Queen Anne’s lace which grows in my native state of Kentucky when we were riding from Lucca to San Gimignano. 

 

The terrain along SS438 was very pretty.  We must have caught Italy at the best time of year because the landscape was very beautiful.    

 

Bicycling notes We were treated to another beautiful, sunny day. It did not get hot and there was no wind. There were no insects.  The climbing continued into the towns along the route and the grades were difficult.   

 

The route selected to bicycle from Cortona to Siena had been recommended in a bicycle touring book published by Lonely Planet.  I use publications such as Lonely Planet to support my trip planning because I know they have ridden the route and provide information about what to expect. 

 

The author had taken three days to complete this particular route.  We rode the route in one!  There was little time to sightsee along the route because of our time schedule. The route deserves more time.  

 

We had been concerned during the planning in California about the climbing in Italy.  We discovered that all of the cities in Italy, much like Spain, are on hills.  A town on the map will require climbing to get into it. The grade is always above 5 percent and reached 10 occasionally. 

 

The climb into San Gimignano had been difficult and two chevrons on the road on our map into Montepulciano indicated a 10% climb. The climbs did not feel like 10%.  I do not know if our pre-trip training or the euphoria of being in Europe reduced the stress of the climbing, but I did not find the climbs exhausting. 

 

When KT lost us riding through Buonconvento the sign indicating the route was obscured from view which happens often on a bike trip.  Watching for directional signs is in conflict with watching for traffic and enjoying the sights when cycling.  Poor attention to detail while riding can be blamed, but in a city environment a host of distractions make it very easy to miss the turn.

 

Maps are heavy, clumsy to carry and difficult to use on a bike.  A map cannot have the detail that is required to navigate in rural areas or cities.  Cue sheets or a GPS is the cyclist best friend.  There is no guess work in distance versus an odometer.  I have passed the turn off or I have 2 miles to ride.  I have constant feed back on my bicycle of my location. It is fool proof.  

 

One other cycling point when we did miss the turn and KT caught up to inform us that we were riding on the wrong route, we discussed continuing along the “mistaken route” because it went to Siena and we were already ridden five miles. We decided to return and take the planned route. Cycling experience has shown this is the correct choice.  On the planned route the traffic was light and the scenery was beautiful.  It was very pleasant and we knew what to expect from our planning. The other route was an unknown and could have become a problem.

 

Note that KT said that “SS” with the road number meant “super strata.”  But the road could have only two lanes with little or no shoulder.  Super implies to me something a bit special and these roads were well paved but not wide. 

 

When cycling the hotel becomes my home.  Most hotels can and will provide a wide variety of help to their customers.  If we make a reservation before we leave on a trip the information about the hotel, name, phone number, address, etc. are carried in a phone “and” the information is also left with a person in the States to call if required. The phone number of the hotel we are staying at is with us when we are wondering in the city where the hotel is located.    

 

During our taxi search in Siena I used a brochure I had picked up from the hotel which provided instructions to locate the restaurant they had suggested. The hotel phone number was on it.  We used this information to call the hotel and inform them of our taxi problem which they took care of for us.  Being familiar with sources of local help is one of the perks provided by a good hotel when cycling. 

 

Our hotel experience in Cortona had not been the best but bicycling accommodations sometimes produce surprises. My problem with this hotel was that it was not cheap.  My experience has been that cost equates to good accommodations and services.  I had gotten the hotel from the web.  The website typically provides a hint of the service to expect and the places to avoid.  The room did provide a place to shower and sleep after a day’s ride and since we did not need any other support that evening we escaped unharmed.    

 

Post ride activity We entered Siena in the car and began to look for the hotel.  We knew it was near the train station so we located the train station and turned onto an adjacent street and quickly located the hotel.  There was a bit of luck involved because the hotel was located back off the street we were traveling on but KT, it must be his youth, saw it and pulled in. 

 

The hotel was nice especially after we had camped in Cortona the night before.  We were on the first floor which is always a plus because we could roll the bikes right into the room.  The room was large.  The bathroom was large and clean. 

 

We took our shower and went down to the reception desk and asked for a suggestion for a restaurant.  They suggested a place and we asked them to call us a cab.  The taxi arrived and KT communicated our destination to the driver in Italian and we were driven to the restaurant.   

 

The restaurant was small.  The walls were made of brick and plaster and the ceiling was curved.  The shape made me feel we were in the basement of an old factory.  Something like the old buildings in Denver that have been restored and made into restaurants, but it was not as large. 

 

The floors were marble.  Every floor in Italy seemed to be made of marble.  The cheapest places have marble floors!  Even the hotel in Cortona had marble floors. 

 

Ours was the only table open.  The hotel had called to make a reservation for us but we assumed since it was Thursday the place would be empty. There were two large groups sitting at tables that had been pushed together.  They were celebrating some occasion and periodically broke into laughter or singing. The atmosphere was very pleasant and comfortable. 

 

The food was yummy.  Everything had great presentation and the food was cooked very special.  We had salad because number one, I love salads and our experience in Spain had been one never knows when you can get a salad. 

 

My wife and KT had beef which they described as very special.  They had spinach that had been cooked, seasoned and pressed into balls.  I am sure there is a culinary term for spinach pressed into balls but my knowledge stops at knowing it was spinach.  KT and my wife loved it.  I tasted both their meals and they were excellent.  I had chicken.  It was good, but it was chicken.

 

For desert we searched for and found an ice cream shop and did the usual.  I think I was hooked into peach by this time on the trip.

 

After the ice cream KT took us to the plaza where the horse competition between the district towns is held each year.  He described the race and the crowd as we walked through the square.  We also stopped at the church in the square and KT told us of its history.

 

After our history lesson from the Professor we began looking for a cab to take us back to the hotel.  There were none to be found and I mean none.  It was midnight which had become our ritual since we always arrived late at our hotel and then went to eat dinner followed by a tour to catch a few sites in our destination town. 

 

The locals directed us to another plaza where we were told to wait at a taxi stand.  We located a taxi stand and waited.  A taxi did not appear.  There had been a concert of some sort a few hours before in the plaza and they were cleaning up debris left by the crowd around the bandstand. 

 

Still no taxi appeared.  We called our hotel for help.  A taxi appeared within minutes and took us back to the hotel.  When we got to our room we crashed and went to bed.  It had been another great riding day!

 

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 RIDE DAY 4 - Siena to Elba Island by car & ferry - 20 mile bicycle ride

       

..exiting the ferry at Portoferraio on Elba Island...

...climbing above Port Azzurro on southeastern side of Elba Island... 

...at the top above Port Azzurro...

...view of the Mediterranean above Port Azzurro...

Plan for the day – The plan for the day was to ride from Siena to Piombino on the west coast of Italy, park the car and take the ferry to Elba.  Our bike ride would begin in Siena heading south on SP73 through the towns of Volte Basse, Ampugnano and Rosia.  We would continue south on SS73 to the intersection of the SS541 turning right toward Forsini.  We would turn right at the intersection with SS441 to Ghirlanda.  We would continue south on the SS441 until it intersected with the SS439.  We would turn right onto SS439 and ride to the Mediterranean Coast at Follonica.  We would turn onto SP39 along the coast turning left on “casa Vignarca” which will take us to Fiorentina and then south on SP23 to Piombino our destination.

 

We were getting a very late start again having gotten to bed after midnight.  We had discussed the ride to Piombino on the coast from Siena.  KT did not think we had enough time to ride to the coast and catch the last ferry to Elba.  We discussed riding the scenic part of the route which was the first 30 miles and then taking the car the rest of the way.  It did not take a lot of persuasion to agree not to ride at all and drive to coast.  Such is the luxury of having a car.

 

Getting started - We got up dressed in our “street clothes,” packed our bike bags for our exit and went down to breakfast.  One of the advantages of staying at a nice hotel is being treated in the morning to a full breakfast.  The breakfast spread consisted of sweet rolls, coffee, three types of juice, ham, salami, baguettes, cereal, and on and on.  Since we had made the decision to drive to the ferry we relaxed and enjoyed the start to our day.  

 

Afterward we loaded our bicycles and gear, paid our bill and were off.  KT navigated for us.  After one false start caused by road construction we found our “proposed bike route” and headed south.      

 

Today’s adventure - We arrived in Piombino about two o’clock in the afternoon.  That is how late we were getting out of Siena.  We found a place to park and leave the car which was close to the dock. 

 

I was sure the car would be stripped.  The attendants looked like homeless people.  Three guys helped us locate a parking place.  Business was slow.  I predicted that we should allow time to buy tires on our return.  But, what the hell we had left $500 worth of bike boxes out in the open at the baggage area at the Fuimicino airport.  We are in Italy so enjoy!

 

We put the wheels on our bikes, loaded our gear on them (locked the car) and headed for the dock on our bicycles.  We had purchased the tickets for the ferry at the parking lot.  The cost was 24 dollars for the two of us. We rode down to the dock and waited to load onto the ferry with the cars. 

 

Once onboard we went to the sun deck.  The weather was holding.  There was not a cloud in the sky.  The crossing was very smooth and took about an hour.  We laid back and took in the view while watching the passengers feed the birds accompanying our crossing. 

 

When the announcement was made that the ferry was about to dock, the door to the car bay was opened.  We hauled our gear back down the steps to the bicycles and loaded it on.  The ferry docked and we played mongoose and snake with the cars as we exited in the first wave. 

 

KT consulted his map for the location of the hotel.  I noticed a group of bicyclists waiting to board the ferry.  One of the ladies waved and said you will love it.  I think they were Americans but I discovered on the trip that many Europeans spoke perfect English.  It made it easy for me to get around.   

 

We got on our bikes and rode off looking for the hotel.  On my maps enquiry in the States the hotel looked like it was on a hill some distance from the dock.  Actually, it was about a mile ride along the bay and then about 200 yards inland. 

 

The 200 yards began after entering through a gate in a wall which opened to narrow streets along which shops and restaurants were located.  At the end of one of the small streets was a flight of cement steps which pedestrians used to climb up to terraces cut into the hill side.  At the top of each set of steps there were buildings located along the terrace. 

 

After climbing two flights of steps we turned right onto the porch of our hotel.  The porch or patio ran the length of the front of the hotel.  Tables were located along the patio and we found later that they were part of the dining area.

 

We had hauled our bicycles and gear to the landing and went into the receptionist and checked in.  They showed us to a small courtyard in the rear of the building where we left our bicycles.  We went up to our rooms, dumped our stuff and returned to the patio! 

 

KT had convinced us on the ferry ride that since we had skipped the ride from Siena to the coast that we should ride across the southeastern part of the island to the town of Porto Azzurro.  We reconvened on the patio of the hotel to ride across the island.

 

We carried our bikes back to the street and began the trek across the island.  The distance to Port Azzurro was about 10 miles.  The first six or so miles were “rollers” and then of course there was another backbreaking hill approach into the town. 

 

The view of the Mediterranean from the top was quit spectacular.  But, it was late in the day and we decided that we should not dilly dally! 

 

We decided to make a short tour as we exited from the city.  We turned down a tight street which had several of the locals standing along the curb.  We were riding single file with KT first, followed by my wife.  I was last following my wife by about 15 feet. 

 

One of the locals was setting on a scooter next to the curb with several others talking to him.  After KT had passed him, without looking behind him he started to turn into the street just as my wife got along side and knocked her down.  Fortunately she was shaken but unhurt.  The locals were very concerned but after a brief pause we continued on our ride back to the hotel.   

 

After exiting the city we returned along the same route we had taken to cross the island.  Since it was downhill much of the way and we were a little tired we let them roll.  We quickly made the crossing back to Portoferraio.

 

As we were riding along the street which circles the harbor we spotted Gelata.  We stopped and I had my peach.  We sat on benches that were along the street and ate our ice cream looking out over the harbor. 

 

We finished our treat and continued along the harbor road until we reached our entry location though the wall.  We entered and carried our bikes up the steps to the hotel.   

 

Today’s landscape – The landscape was beautiful on the drive from Siena to Piombino.  The landscape was not as spectacular as we approached the coast but it would have been a beautiful ride.  

 

The top deck of the ferry to Elba offered passengers a beautiful view of the sea.  It was a clear sunshiny day with blue skies.  The view of the Mediterranean was quit spectacular and the sea was very calm.

 

On the ferry ride to Elba we were escorted by sea gulls all the way.  They would drift just off to the side of the ferry. People would toss food up in the air at different trajectories and the gulls would dart away and grab them before they hit the Sea.   Some would toss food directly at the gulls floating along at the same speed as the ferry and they would simply adjust slightly to gather in the food.  It was great entertainment.

 

Bicycle notes – The ferry we had three levels.  There was a lower deck where the cars were parked, an enclosed center deck for passengers and an open deck with chairs on top. 

 

The ferry could be loaded from bow or stern, front or back.  We boarded from one side at the dock in Piombino and exited from the opposite side when we reached Elba. 

 

Before we boarded the ferry KT told us that we wanted to get our bikes up front so we would be positioned to be first off when we arrived.  We moved our bikes in front of the cars and when the boarding began we rode onto the ferry stopping at the opposite entrance. 

 

We locked our bicycles to the side, took our gear and looked for the exit that would take us topside. The car bay was locked to passengers during the trip across to Elba but we thought it prudent to chain up the bikes when we were absent.  

 

We were told before leaving the States to expect the traffic to be heavy on Elba and we were not disappointed.  That afternoon we bicycled to Port Azzurro.  On the flat after about three miles the road narrowed to just about two car widths and we began to block traffic.  The Italians were patient, no horns. The tight road lasted for about three quarters of a mile and after that the road had a paved shoulder or was wide enough that both cars and bikes could coexist. 

 

On our tour of Port Azzurro as we were leaving we had a mishap.  On one of the streets one of the locals was setting on a scooter next to the curb talking with several others.  KT rode past him and without looking behind him he started to turn into the street just as my wife got along side.  He just kissed her bike but a kiss is enough on a bike.  After a heroic attempt by my wife to stay up she fell pretty hard. 

 

The locals rushed to her side.  She got up and sat down next to one of the houses lining the street.  Someone went into one of the houses and brought bandages and something to put on the cuts. They were all talking excitedly and they were very concerned. 

 

My wife was shaken but did not have any obvious ugly wounds.  The memory of her fall on the coast ride in California was on my mind and I am sure my wife must have been having similar thoughts.  That one required hospitalization.

 

I picked up my wife’s bike to see if it had been damaged and could not be ridden. The guy on the scooter noticed me looking at the bike and came over and began talking in Italian.  He was motioning toward the bike and I realized he was attempting to convince me that there was no damage.  I assured him it was ok and I leaned it against one of the building and went back to my wife.

 

My wife passed on the first aid.  After resting for a few more minutes, she thanked her audience and went to her bike.  She climbed aboard, waved at the locals and we continued our brief tour.  What a trooper!

  

Post ride activity - When we reached the hotel after our ride I put my bike away and we had our celebratory “agua con gas” sitting on the patio in front of the hotel.  KT and my wife joined me and we drained the bottle. 

 

We discussed dinner and KT had a list of the best places to eat on Elba.  They were ranked and we selected the best and adjourned to cleanup.  My wife and I joined KT again and we walked to the restaurant which was along the harbor outside the gate to the hotel. 

 

We walked about half a mile and found the restaurant.  We were told they  had a table inside.  We asked to sit outside but were told you needed a reservation to sit outside!

 

We were seated and began looking at the menu we were given.  It was in Italian so we went through this means fish with whatever, this is chicken cooked in stuff, this is those little round pastas that you fill with, etc. KT was interpreting the menu for us. 

 

Our waitress was a bit of a firecracker, not a bitch but butch!  She had stopped by once before we felt secure with a selection and we had asked for more time.  On her second appearance we asked for advice.  My wife ordered for both me and herself since I have difficulty with English and thus no hope with Italian. 

 

She wrote down the orders and then looked and KT and said “and the boy.”  That cracked me up and I began to laugh.  She became embarrassed and started talking in that fast Italian way explaining that he looked young to her. 

 

KT didn’t even know what she had said he was so into the menu.  She asked him how old he was and he said 33.  She said she was 32.  KT gave her his order.  After she left with our order KT said he would have to tell his girlfriend about this.

 

The food was great.  It was another excellent choice of restaurants.  We had mussels that were great.  We had a delicious salad.   KT and my wife had tuna that had been lightly cooked on each side and left very pink in the middle.  I had swordfish with vegetables that the waitress recommended.  Good but not the tuna.  The tuna was to die for.  My wife let me taste hers. 

 

We finished and retired to the hotel, stopping along the way to have gelata.  I stayed with the peach. We got to the hotel and crashed.  No excuses tomorrow.  It would be a full on ride day!

 

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 RIDE DAY 5 - Elba Island - the western loop - 41 miles 

       

 ..end of the climb up from Portoferraino ... the route would be flat to the west along the northern side of the Island...

 ..the restaurant on the north side of the island where we enjoyed mussels..it was very pleasant and one of only a few... 

 ...a view of the terrain along the southern side of the Island.... 

 ..view of the Mediterranean Sea on the southern side of the Island... 

Plan for the day The plan for the day was to ride from the hotel around the western part of the island of Elba.  The route would take us around the western end of Elba and back a distance of 41 miles.  Our hotel was located in the town of Portoferraino in the northeast corner of the island.  With the car on the mainland all three of us would be on our bikes.  There would be no support car with us today if the ride became too difficult.

 

We would ride counterclockwise around the island.  We would begin our ride along the harbor from the hotel and then take a more westerly route, SP24, from the city.  At the intersection with SP25 we would turn north (right) and continue along the north side of the island.  SP25 would take us around the western edge of the island.  We would loop around the western edge of the island returning to the east on SP25 along the southern edge back to the city.  

 

Getting started We got up to a beautiful day.  I took a shower and went down to breakfast.  Breakfast consisted of bread, rolls, juice and coffee.  No meat today.  It would be power bars again.  KT went to the store and purchased bottled water.  I created my CamelBak drink mix on his return and we went down and got our bikes from the hotel patio area.   

 

Today’s adventure We began to climb almost immediately after leaving town.  Above me I could see two sets of building at different levels above the tree line on the hill we were facing.  I knew from riding through Tuscany our route would take us up past those buildings. It did. 

 

We climbed back and forth for at least 5 miles on a 5 to 9 percent grade.  As we approached the top I saw another group of buildings that were at the top of the hill and I had reconciled myself to the fact we had to climb to those buildings as well.    

 

When we reached these buildings I could see there were no more trees above the foliage we were riding through.  We must be near the top but we continued to climb.  The grade was about 5 percent but we still were going up. We finally reached the top and began our ride along the coast.  The road was relatively flat for the next twenty five miles. 

 

At the western most point of the island, we stopped at a small restaurant for lunch.  We selected a table on the patio overlooking the Mediterranean. My wife and I treated ourselves to mussels one of our favorite foods. They were very good and we were hungry.  As we ate lunch my wife asked KT if we had anymore long climbs left on the route.  He thought we had experienced the worst. 

 

The waitress spoke perfect English.  She asked were we were from.  She said that few Americans came to this part of the island.  I thought that was strange but I am sure the tourist companies in the States have prearranged locations that they have learned people enjoy most.  The bicycling here was great but to someone not on a bike it may not be a place where they want to spend time.

 

After our meal we continued and the route became more difficult but tolerable.  The road had been very flat.  We began to climb long 5 plus percent grades followed by downhill stretches of equal distance.  Rollers!  This continued for about ten miles as we rode around the western end of the island and began our return to Portoferraino along the southern side.   

 

We entered a small town and stopped to take pictures.  We stopped behind a line of cars parked perpendicular to the road.  The area was one car length wide with a stone wall along one side and the road along the other.  It was very crowded.  It must be a popular spot judging by the number of people.  The most we had seen on our ride.  They must have come up from the southern side because we had not experienced any traffic on our ride thus far. 

 

I left my bike leaning against a small tree under KT’s care while I went to look over the wall.  It was a very pleasant view.  When I returned KT was in a conversation with a young man.  The conversation involved a request to use the bike pump which I carry on my bike to fill up the tires on a baby stroller.  We helped him to pump up the tires on the stroller.

 

After successfully completing the task we were off again.  We continued along the 5 percent up and down grades.  The view continued to be beautiful.  KT was found to be wrong about his declaration that we had experienced the last of the grinding climbs.  As we turned at the southeast end of the island we encountered a major climb back toward the northeast coast.  It was more difficult than the climb leaving the coast at the beginning of the ride.  The climb went back and forth from 5 to 9 percent for about three to four miles until we got the top.  We were gassed so we took a few picture breaks along the way. 

 

We finally reached the top, and started our decent.  At the bottom we retraced our route of the night before back to the Port.  We covered the distance rapidly and found ourselves at the restaurant where we had eaten the night before.  KT asked if we were going to make reservations so we could eat outside.  The vote was to be adventurous and select a new place to eat.  We rode on to the hotel. 

 

Today’s landscape - The view from the top of the first climb out of Portoferraino was beautiful and my favorite of the day.  Once at the top we were looking out over the Mediterranean all the way around the Island.  The color of the water and the coastline created a beautiful view.   Riding high above the coast looking out over the water reminded me of one bicycling day on Maui in Hawaii.   

 

As we had been our experience throughout Tuscany the valleys were filled with flowers.  On Elba we had the added color and beauty of the sea as a backdrop to the flower filled valleys.  The flowers along our route were of many different colors.  I am sure the rain before we arrived in Italy had accelerated their growth. 

 

Bicycling notes The ride had a significant amount of climbing.  We began to climb immediately at the outskirts of the city of Portoferraio and the initial climb continued until we were well above the coastal valley the city was located in.  As we rode along the western edge of the island the road began to dip up and down over small hills leveling out again along the southern edge.  As we approached the central part of the island the road would drop significantly and then climb back up again.  This happened several times and the climbs were significant.    

 

The sun was out but it was not hot accept on the difficult grades.  There was no wind.  There were no insects.  The road surface was good.  There was no shoulder but there was also no traffic after the initial climb.  The traffic we did encounter pulled into the other lane to pass.   

 

Note that we drank bottled water everywhere in Italy to avoid any possibility of illness. 

 

There were “some” places to stop and get something to eat along the route. This was especially true on the north side of the island.  I do not remember as many on the south side. 

 

SP means Provisional Road.  SR means Regional Roads.  What the definition of a Provisional or Regional area is in Italy is left as an exercise.  I would guess county and state?

 

At the conclusion of the first climb in the morning, KT stopped to take a picture and I felt water running down my back.  The water bag in my CamelBak failed or so I thought.  I pulled my CamelBak off, pulled the water bag out of it as water ran out in a stream.  The hose that feeds the water from the bag to the mouth piece had pulled away at the bottom of the bag.  I stopped the loss of fluid, put the bag back into the CamelBak and put it on.  I had lost about half of the contents and my legs and shorts were sticky.  We rode on.  Stuff happens.  Enjoy Italy.  If this happens in Los Angeles get angry.  In Italy get over it!

 

Post ride activity - At the end of the ride we were exhausted.  We stopped on the hotel patio to drink agua con gas and select a restaurant.  There was a restaurant close to the hotel which had been selected as a good place to eat so before we broke up we said we would eat there.  We went to our rooms cleaned up and rested then met for dinner.  We went to the restaurant we had selected down the street, looked at the menu and decided to try the hotel.  We returned and ate at the hotel, it was basic but we ate it.  After dinner we went to our rooms and crashed.  Our bicycling adventure in Tuscany was complete.  Cycling is a great way to see an area.   

 

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Italy

car-free adventure _____________________________________________________________

 

Experiences from the bicycle trip to Italy 

No matter how good or long the planning phase for a bicycle adventure is there are always unexpected situations on the road that require some thought and attention for future trips.  Most trip experiences add to the enjoyment of bicycling but a few reinforce the need for the detailed planning effort.  I catalog our trip experiences and modify my trip planning "to do list" to include both the unexpected successes and the unexpected failures. 

 

British Airways – Cheap & convenient but unreliable

I am frugal and British Airways typically offers the best price on airfares to Europe. British Airways also flies through London which has become a great way to end a European bicycle adventure with a relaxing visit to the theater and other attractions, the British Museum for example, on the way back to the States. Many of the other flights to Europe go to places like Frankfurt, Germany which forces one to be a bit more creative to be entertained. 

But, every time we have flown on British Airways our bikes have not arrived with us at our destination airport. I mean every time. 

Our bicycle adventure in Italy began the same way. I bought tickets with British Airways to London and our bikes did not arrive for 36 hours after we did. I had not prepared for such a failure and we had to scramble to reorganize our trip to compensate for the loss of one day. My trip plan was unable to recover from the loss of one plus days.

All British Airways flights go through Heathrow airport where a change of planes occurs to other airports in Europe. Heathrow Airport for Passengers is a zoo. Moving people from one flight to another is interesting so moving luggage from one airplane to another must be difficult if not impossible.

Our luggage problem is complicated by the fact that the bike boxes are large and I would guess do not fit into the cargo area of a plane easily. I would assume that they are loaded last onto the flight leaving London and the decision to leave them because the plane is full or the bike boxes have not been moved to the planes airport location is an easy choice to make.

I am looking for a solution to my dilemma. First, I have changed my trip planning to allow a day after I reach the start location of an adventure before we start to ride. Even if the bikes do arrive with us on our flight the "acclimation day" will allow us to relax and acclimate before the adventure begins.

As for the Heathrow transfer problem, I have considering collecting our luggage when I arrive in London and then checking it again for my flight to my destination. This will take time and the time between flights must support this activity. I am assuming two hours to collect and recheck the luggage is sufficient. 

This theory is supported by the fact that when we stop in London for our three day stopover on our return the bikes make it to the plane when we depart and arrive home with us.  

While in London, the bike boxes are left at the "airport luggage check." When we exit London we collect the bike boxes at Heathrow and check then in for the flight home. They have always arrived home with us. This demonstrates that collecting the luggage works and rechecking it on the connecting flight will work.

Note that I made a claim to British Airways to be compensated for my trip interruption. They honored the claim which put a bit of salve on the wound but I still do not want to delay the start of my trip or to truncate part of it because my bike is being stored at Heathrow Airport.

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Bike Box Storage – If all else fails try "Lost Luggage"        

While waiting for our bike boxes which contained our bicycles to support our bicycle adventure in Tuscany to be flown to Rome from London we gained a lot of knowledge about "lost luggage." Our education started after we sat exacerbated watching the carousel go round and round after the passengers had collected all of their luggage from the last British Airways flight for the day from London. 

As we sat staring at the carousel a door opened in the wall opposite the three carousels used to off load luggage from British Airways flights. A fellow appeared pushing a cart and he proceeded to collect the luggage moving around on the carousel and placed each piece on the cart. After he had collected the luggage from the Carousel he returned to the door and disappeared inside closing the door behind him.  

We had arrived on the first of three flights from London. We enquired at the British Airways desk in the airport and they assured us that they would be on the next plane from London. After the last flight British Airways assured us they would be on the first flight the next day. We scrambled and found a room for the night, called our friend to tell him of our problem and the next morning returned to the airport to collect the bikes.

When the bikes did not appear on the first flight from London we again sat and watched the collection of the bags from the luggage carousel. We struck up a conversation with him as he did his work and I asked; "What happened to the luggage he collected?"  

He told us the luggage was taken to “Lost Luggage” which was located in the area he had entered through the door. The luggage is kept there assuming someone would contact them looking for their luggage. If no one claimed the luggage, after a month it was moved to another storage location and finally sold after another period of time went by.

The next British Airways flight arrived at 7 o’clock in the evening. Our bikes arrived on the 7 o'clock flight and we got our hands on them about 7:30. We decided to build our bikes in the luggage area and then take our bike boxes to "Left Luggage" where we would pay to have the bike boxes stored for us until we returned from our bicycle adventure. (I had read about leaving the bikes in the Left Luggage" area during the planning for a bike trip in England and decided to give it a try in Italy.)    

We completed the assembly and took the bike boxes to the "Left Luggage" but it had just closed. It was after 8 o’clock and they close at 8. We pulled the bike boxes back to the “Lost Luggage" area and it was closed. We asked at a counter near by if we could leave the bike boxes with them so they could check them in for us the next morning. The answer was “no.”     

Having run out of options we took our bike boxes back to the "Lost Luggage" door and left them standing against the wall. We left with our bikes and luggage to get our rental car for the trip north.   

Even with the poor start we had a great time bicycling in Tuscany and forgot about the bike boxes. Driving back to the airport in Rome after our last riding day the bike boxes returned to the top of our thoughts. We drove to the airport and went to the "Lost Luggage" door.

We walked through the door into the area and the fellow we had met and talked with recognized us. He walked away and came back pulling the bike boxes. There was no charge and the boxes had been there for over a week. We tipped him, thanked him and went off to dismantle our bikes and put them in the bike boxes for the flight home, and of course a stop over in London along the way.

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Rental Car - “Car Adventures”  

Before we left the States I rented a car from Eurocar to take us to Pisa. I had reserved the car for the day we arrived in Italy. We were to collect our luggage, build our bikes and leave the bike boxes in Left Luggage. With no bikes that did not happen. 

We were stuck for at least one day and I did not need the car. I called Eurocar and told them my problem and would they move my reservation to the following day. They said no problem. 

After the second British Airlines flight arrived and we still did not have our bikes we decided we had better make our reservation. They closed shortly after the arrival of the last flight and we did not want to spend another night in Rome if the bikes arrived as we had been assured they would by the British Airways desk.

We made the reservation and paid for the car with a credit card but asked that they keep the car so we would not have to pay parking until our plane arrived. They said no problem. The plane arrives we build the bikes so we can put the bikes in "left Luggage" followed by the "what to do with bike box trauma" and the car rental is closing.  

My wife heads for the car rental while I am dragging our luggage along with two bikes to the car rental. When I get there she tells me she arrived after closing but one guy who was left finishing paperwork at first said no but after a bit of pleading gave her the keys to the car and a description of the general location where it was located and went home. We located the car loaded our stuff, figured out how to open the exit from the rental car lot and were off to Vezzano Ligure where the agratourismo was located we had rented a room form for that night.  

When I made the reservation in the States I was driving the car to Piza and returning it there. With the British Airways 36 hour "bicycle no show" episode at the Fuimicino Airport we decided to keep the car to site see in Cinque Terre. Then we decided to keep the car until we reached Florence. We had not fully recovered from the loss of sleep during our vigil at the airport. 

I called Eurocar and told them I wanted to return the car in Florence. They said fine. We asked that the three of us be added as drivers and they said they could do it over the phone. My experience had been with rental cars in the States that you had to show them your license to be added as a driver. But what the hey! This is Europe. It helped us out a lot. 

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“Agritourismo” – Sleeping on the farm

At the suggestion of my friend who joined us on the ride in Tuscany we stayed in an "agritourismo." He told me that an argitourismo is a farm or agricultural endeavor of some sort that offers travelers a place to stay for the night on the farm. It may be the equivalent of an Italian bed and breakfast. The Italian government supports this activity by providing tax breaks to the farm owners who provide such facilities.  

We added two reservations to agratourismos to our bicycle adventure in Tuscany. One was north of Pisa and the second was in San Gimignano.  

The agratoursimo in Vezzano Ligure was our first destination after arriving in Italy and looked to be the vacation home of a family who owned a bakery in town. The property was covered with fruit trees which I would assume was the farm crop. 

We arrived at the agratourismo in the early morning from our ordeal at the Fuimicino Airport waiting for our bikes. We had been driving all night so we said a quick hello to my friend who was there and went to bed. 

The room was upstairs and part of the house nothing special and not separate. Maybe a quest room in someone's house. There were two beds, they were clean and comfortable. The room was pleasant.     

I awoke to the sound of talking down stairs and went down to see what was happening. There was a group of people setting around a large dinner table eating. They were the owners of the property. They asked us to join them.

They spoke a bit of English and we spoke a bit of Italian so we were able to communicate. We had a very good conversation that covered the gambit from Politics to the economy. It was the noon meal and they had to get back to their shop in town and we were off to make a quick drive through of Cinque Terre before heading for Lucca.    

They did not want to be paid for the stay because we had been there for only a short time but we insisted. We saw them again when we returned to pick up our bikes and gear and head for Lucca. It had been a very interesting and enjoyable experience.  

In San Gimignano the agratourismo was more sophisticated. The rooms were excellent, breakfast was served on a patio in the morning with a waiter. The farm crop was not apparent to me looking at the fields around the house where we stayed.   

We had emailed the folks at the agratourismo in San Gimignano to inform them that we planned to eat in San Gimignano after we arrived. Since we had not planned to have a car, we assumed that we would have to ride our bicycles back into town. They emailed back and said not to worry that they would cook a meal for us.    

When we reached San Gimignano our friend was driving the car and had taken our gear to the agratourismo. When he caught up with us at the roundabout at the edge of town he told us the agritourismo folks were cooking. As soon as we reached the agritourismo we went to the dinning room in our riding clothes and sat down.  

The meal was terrific. It was a four course meal. The meal began with salad, followed by pasta, then pork and finally a fruit and cake dessert. We ate every bite. It was delicious. 

The fellow cooking the meal asked before the first course arrived if we wanted wine. My friend told him that I did not drink alcohol and he said that is unfortunate because we make the best wines.   

He continued to tell us that the wine was made from the grapes grown on the farm. My friend and my wife tried the red wine which he recommended. I had my usual "agua con gas" with the main meal. He opened a bottle of dessert wine which he poured with the desert. The meal was very relaxed and the food was excellent. 

We met a couple in Florence while standing inline for the Museum who had rented an agritourismo near a train station in the Italian countryside and were taking day trips on the train to Rome, Florence, etc. That sounded like a great idea for a bike trip to stay in an agratourismo and make loop rides.  

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Tuscany - Allow the off-bike experiences to determines the on-bike route

My son planned my first bicycle adventure in France. It was my introduction to "bicycling" and "touring." He overcame my reluctance to join him on a "bike ride" by including the opportunity to check in on the Tour de France which would be in progress and to visit an interest of mine, World War I and II battle sites along our route. 

My French "bicycle touring experience" provided me with a different prospective on what bicycle touring could become. The planning process quickly evolved to selection of a country to ride in followed by determining the locations where the art, history, and culture of the region were located. From that data a daily route was selected which allowed us to ride to or through what we wanted to visit and experience. 

After Italy had been selected for our bicycle adventure, we began the search for the region of the country where we should ride. Our goal being "how much of the country's art, culture and history can we experience while enjoying a bicycle ride?" We had visited Rome on another non-cycling trip. It was our belief that a bike tour should avoid big cities when possible anyway so we selected 'Tuscany." 

The web is a good place to start an investigation of what was possible in an area selected for a bicycle ride. A good way to get an immediate heads-up on where to ride in a region is to check out what the Bike Tour Companies are sponsoring in the area where I want to ride. They can be expected to have already done the research. The route they have selected will have demonstrated by experience what their customers enjoy most.

Note that we typically can ride further each day than a typical tour posted on the web. As a result we typically plan our route to include "two" tours posted on the web. If they are too far apart to incorporate into a continuous ride we use the excellent European train system to transport us to the next leg of the ride. 

To verify what the tour company is telling us is a good route we look for bike stories on the web about cyclist experiences riding in the same area we are interested in. We inquire among our bicycle and non-bicycle friends about their experiences travelling in Italy and what they enjoyed most. We add books on travelling in Italy which discuss the art, history, and culture as well as food to determine what to expect.

From this research we develop a list of what to see and what cities and locations we want to visit. Our travelling companion who joined us on the ride wanted to add Cinque Terra and Elba Island to our Tuscany route. My wife wanted to visit Florence and a free day was added in Florence to explore the city. Lucca and San Gimignano were recommended from our research. Cortona was selected to insure we did not duplicate our north south route from San Gimignano to Florence on our return to Siena.

Our Tuscany adventure was planned.

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Physical Training - The climbing in Italy is significant 

As my son Jack has often told me on a bike ride as we were enjoying a long down  hill run, “every downhill must be followed by an uphill.” This was especially true in Tuscany. After a few kilometers of decent we would begin to climb again.

Our research during the planning phase for our Italian bicycle adventure through Tuscany warned us that we should expect significant climbing along our route. 

The climbs in Tuscany had been described to us in the States by cyclist who had ridden this area "as rollers." That may be the correct term to describe the terrain but some of the "rollers" had 10% ascents! Most of the climbs along our route were 5% to 7% and there were many of them.

We trained for Tuscany in "Latigo Canyon.” Litigo Canyon is a stretch of road along the Pacific Coast Highway near Los Angeles which is used by local cyclist for training. The road has 7 miles of long continuous stretches of 7, 8, and 9% grades. We climbed through the canyon often before leaving for our Italian adventure. 

The terrain we encountered in Tuscany did not disappoint us. Our training regimen saved us. We were able to maintain an acceptable pace over the hills and most of all we did not "bonk." 

Note that if there is a town on the map then it can be expected there will be a climb to get into it. All or at least most of the towns in Italy are built on hills. Our assumption is that the location was selected for defense.

Also note that "hills" are a bad description because the climbs into the cities and towns require a significant climb to reach them. The grades on the road up to the towns along our route averaged 7% and were typically several miles in length. 

British Airways lost my bike in Heathrow for 24 hours which cost us our first day of riding. We had planned to ride through Cinque Terre. After my bike arrived we spent two hours touring Cinque Terra by car before heading to Lucca to start what had been originally been planned as our second ride day.  

After driving through Cinque Terra I am not sure we could have climbed from the coast, were the towns were located, back to access highway. The Cinque Terra towns are on the ocean. The main road runs about a mile above the towns. To get back to the main road from the coast it would have been necessary to bicycle up the very steep access road from the town. The grade must have been at least 10% or more. There would have been 5 of these climbs if we had toured the area on our bikes as planned. Maybe British Airways saved us!

On our route from Lucca to Volterra we climbed a long winding road up to Volterra which was 7% or more. The climbing we encountered between Volterra and San Gimignano was difficult and long, and of course the climb into San Gimignano was memorable. There were several steep climbs on our route from San Gimignano to Florence. Florence is built along a river valley which eliminated most of the climbing. Every town along our route to Siena had significant climbs up to it.  The climbing on Elba Island was difficult and in places seemed continuous.

Riding in a foreign country is motivating. Tuscany was no exception. The countryside we rode through was beautiful. But motivation cannot overcome poor training. If we had not trained well we could not physically have ridden through Tuscany and enjoyed our surroundings. That would have been unfortunate!

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"car free adventure"