Final thoughts

2 10 2017

Our trip home did not start well.  We chose to take a limo to the airport, our large bicycle case can be very awkward on public transit and having to walk a long way with it is no fun. Our b&b host was happy to arrange this for us.   The driver was early,  but when he saw the bicycle case said,  “this is not possible”. We managed to get the case in the trunk but our second bag had to be in the back seat.  This set him off in another fit of pique,  along with all the exaggerated emotion of a stereotypical Italian.  I thought people only did that in the movies.  (To be fair to the driver,  he told us that luggage is not allowed in the cab of the vehicle and he could get fined or lose his license if he was caught, personally,  I think he should get a car with better trunk space! )

He spent the entire ride on the phone,  berating our  b&b host,  and complaining to others.  When we arrived at the airport,  he was very careful to inspect his car for damage (there was none) and dust off the seat where we had been sitting.  He didn’t speak to us. 

This was extreme, but in many places we felt the people in Rome barely tolerated the tourists. In many restaurants the food was indifferent and the servers hardly looked at you.  I suppose if you see thousands of people every week,  all eating pizza and pasta you get a little jaded.  We did find some good restaurants with excellent food,  but it was a bit hit and miss. 

I think we’re happy we did Tuscany first.  Even with all of the challenges of cycling the hills,  the place is gorgeous and we felt we were in a special place. 

After dealing with the crowds in Rome,  we’re happy to be heading home. 



2 10 2017

I’m writing this while traveling home,  stuck in a large tube with a great number of other people. After travelling,  by train,  from Arezzo to Rome,  we spent 2 1/2 days exploring the city. 

We managed to see the Coliseum,  the Vatican,  the Trevi Fountain and a few old churches.  Well,  sort of. The crowds of people were larger than I’d ever seen. 

Sunday afternoon,  we managed to buy ourselves tickets for a hop on,  hop off  bus,  as well as “skip the line” vouchers for both the Coliseum and the Vatican.  We thought we were set for sightseeing! We did one loop of the city,  found a place for supper and called it a day. 

The next morning,  we had a relaxed breakfast and chatted with a young couple from. ….no fixed address.  Did you know that if you are born in Dubai, you are not a citizen?  This young woman carries an Indian passport,  but was born and had lived most of her life in Dubai.  She’s never lived in India and is not fluent in the language of her parents (also Indian citizens,  living in Dubai). She feels rootless. 

We chose to walk to the Coliseum where we had a rude awakening. In order to enter the Coliseum,  we had to stand (30 minutes) in line to exchange our “skip the line” vouchers for tickets.  Tickets that did not allow us entry until 2:30–nearly 3 hours later. We were encouraged to visit the archaeological ruins nearby, so we waited in line for another 45 minutes to get through security into the ruins.  When we finally got there,  I have to say they were amazing.

At 2:15 we lined up again,  went through another security line and into the Coliseum.  It’s an amazing place,  made better by the audio tour we downloaded to our phones. We even managed a few views at the front of the crowd. 

We had a late lunch,  and continued walking,  up a famous shopping street–I bought nothing–to the Trevi Fountain.  Here the crush of people was so thick,  we could not get a good look,  by that time we were tired and caught the bus back to our b&b.

The next day,  we were ready to tackle the Vatican. Again,  we had “skip the line” vouchers and an audio tour downloaded to our phones.  We were directed to a tour office where the pleasant woman working the desk tried to upsell us to a guided tour,  we declined.  But in order to get in,  without waiting in line,  we had to stay with an official tour.  A 20 minute wait for the tour to start,  a 20 minute,  very boring talk by the guide,  which we think was simply a ploy to have more people join the group, a 20 minute walk to the entrance, and through another security line, we were finally given our tickets. 

And then we joined the masses.  There was only one direction to go,  only one speed,  and if you wanted to stop and look at something,  you were out of luck.  Wanted to take a picture?  There would be a crowd in it.  We shuffled our way through the museum and we’re funneled into the Sistene Chapel.  Here we managed to find a seat at the edge and spent about 1/2 hour listening to the audio tour explaining what we were seeing.  If you could ignore the solid mass of people and tune out the almost constant refrain of “silence, no pictures, no video” in both Italian and English,  it was a truly remarkable work of art to spend some time looking at.  

We pretended to be part of a tour and managed to get into St. Peter’s Basilica without standing in line again. This place was huge and even with several hundred (maybe thousands) of people it did not feel as crowded.  They tell us 4000 people work at the Vatican.  I think many of them are there simply to tell us we’re going the wrong way,  don’t sit there,  or to the men “remove your hat”.

We were grateful to catch our bus again,  did a bit of shopping,  including snacks for the trip home and had a rest before heading out for supper and our last taste of Italian gelato.

Sansepolcro to Arezzo

2 10 2017

We made it! 

We ended the trip with a short ride,  but it wouldn’t be a bike ride in Tuscany without a hill,  two of them,  in fact.  The first one was to bypass a town.  I’m having some difficulty in understanding why a road which bypasses a town goes above the town rather than below it.  The second one was just a hill,  about 12 km long and worthy of a category 3, according to mapmyride. 

We’ve certainly become better at climbing hills,  but I admit, I still find long,  steep, downhills terrifying. I’m so grateful Ken realizes how I’m feeling and is super careful.

We arrived safely in Arezzo,  found our hotel and all of our luggage.  It took us an hour to pack away the bike.  Suddenly,  we are no longer cycle tourists,  but just tourists. 

It’s a strange feeling. 

The back room, most people don’t get to see this part of hotels.

Cortana to Sansepolcro 

24 09 2017

Sansepolcro is not on a hill! So unusual in this country! 

It was a very good thing for us as our day started with a 10 km hill and a downhill which obviously did not require any peddling but was extremely nerve racking. Neither Ken nor I had any feeling in our fingers by the time we reached the level.  Ken because he was braking so hard,  and me because I was hanging on for dear life,  praying for a safe descent. 

When I think of Italy,  I think of many things.  Good food,  wine,  the Catholic church,  some pretty good agricultural equipment,  and now I’ve added to the list–hills.  But I never thought of Italy as a tobacco producing country.  Clearly I was wrong.  Today, the flat part of our ride was through tobacco country, and harvest is happening. I guess the thriving tobacco industry and the many smokers,  go hand-in-hand. 

Acres and acres of tobacco.

We reach Sansepolcro, early in the afternoon,  again needing to make a phone call so the hotel manager can let us in. This city is much less touristy,  but still very old and interesting.  Sophia,  the hotel manager calls it a hidden gem. A few things stand out about our visit to Sansepolcro.  First was a conversation with Sophia.  She was born in Egypt,  but has lived in Italy most of her life, she had a daughter about the same age as our oldest granddaughter.  Somehow the conversation turned to Barbie dolls. Many North Americans are unhappy with Barbie because of her unrealistic body proportions.  In the Muslim world,  Barbie is unappreciated and mostly irrelevant because she is emancipated, she can do whatever and be whomever she wants to be. This is not the way it is for women in the Muslim world. Sophia is making the choice to raise her family in Italy,  where her daughter will have choices.  A light bulb moment for me. 

Bobbin lace making.

The second thing I will remember is the “missing American”. One of the few guests in the hotel was missing at breakfast time, unusual because he and a co-worker were not on vacation but we’re actually working in the town.  He was not answering his phone,  his room was empty,  and he could not be found in any of the empty,  unlocked rooks in the hotel.  Finally,  a call was made to the local hospital,  where he was found.  Turns out he had too much to drink,  fell,  hit his head and knocked himself out.  Although he is fine, I could see the stress in our host,  it was so unfair and made me realize,  again,  that when we travel,  we are guests.  Behave! 

The town market made the central square a busy place as we left.

The third thing: a really good meal,  in a nice restaurant.  Complete with a traditional dessert of cantussi with Vin Santo. Biscotti and a sweet wine,  you eat the biscotti after dipping it in the wine, quite tasty,  but probably not something I would have often. 

Vin Santo

Montepulciano to Cortana 

24 09 2017

Today’s ride can be described in three words.  Down,  flat, up. 

If you look at the elevation map of today’s ride,  that exactly what we did,  rode down the hill,  away from the city of Montepulciano, across some flat country,  and halfway up a hill to the city of Cortana. 

Today’s ride was shorter,  so on the recommendation of the woman at the hotel,  we had some pasta for lunch.  It was excellent! We spent the afternoon wandering the city,  even found a group of American cyclists to talk to.  The group leader is an Italian chef,  living and working in Boulder,  CO. He’s planning on leading a Italian culinary,  bicycle tour,  using e-bikes,  next year.   Interesting.  Our conversation included the growing popularity of e-bikes and the lack of women we’ve seen on bicycles in this country.  I think the tough climbs have something to do with it,  but there is also something in this culture that does not encourage women from riding.  It’s rather strange,  since the Italian women’s cycling team does very well. 

Later in the afternoon,  we came across (free) wine and cheese tasting in the central piazza.  I found a wine I quite liked, but at a shipping cost of €95 for 12 bottles plus unknown amount of duties and taxes when it arrives on our doorstep,  I’ll continue to drink my favourite Canadian wines.  The cheese was good, too.  I may look for some, later in the trip, to take home with us.  Especially since at supper,  we shared a cheese plate as an appetizer.  No bread or crackers,  just cheeses served with marmalade,  honey and poached,  spiced pear. Tasty! 

I’m not so sure the cheese man appreciated having his picture taken, but all I really wanted was a picture of the cheese!


24 09 2017

We had a rest day in Montepulciano,  after yesterday’s climb our bodies needed it. 

We took advantage of the “time off” to do a load of laundry.  After paying €30 at the last hotel,  I was determined to find a self service laundromat and with the help of the people in the tourist information place,  we found one. It was a bit of a challenge figuring out how to use it.  Unlike any laundromat I’ve ever used,  this one has a central payment centre built into the wall,  and automatic dispensing of detergent.  Do NOT add your own! The forced down time was appreciated,  even without Internet,  but it was not inexpensive.  €11 to wash and dry, one load of clothes.  That’s about $16 in currency I understand! 

We spent the rest of the day tromping through the city.  Medieval old,  full of tourists (many of them speaking English),  fascinating hidden alleys,  lots of cafés to choose from.  We even met some Canadian cyclists. 

Italy is known for good food but tonight’s supper was a disappointment.  I originally wanted the lamb–no lamb.  So I ordered beef.  It arrived,  far more pink than I usually prefer,  lots of gristle,  and a knife so dull,  I could hardly manage to cut it.  In fact,  one mouthful was not chewable and ended up in my napkin.  I hope I was discreet. 

The table next to us was pleased though,  we gave them the rest of our bottle of wine. 

The next morning’s breakfast was not much better.  I ordered a boiled egg,  hoping to avoid the greasiness I’ve noticed in scrambled eggs (I think they use a lot of olive oil), when I cracked the egg,  the yolk was so runny it covered my plate. I like eggs,  even soft ones,  but I could not eat this one. 

Massa Maritime to Monticiano

20 09 2017

Over the last several years,  through our adventures,  Ken and I have been quite proud of the fact that we travel “unsupported “. This means we are responsible for not only getting ourselves from place to place,  but all of our stuff,  too.  It’s taught us how to travel light,  it’s forced us to find laundromats along the way,  it’s given us a real sense of what things are important and what are not.  Along the way,  it’s caused some suffering too.  I’ll never forget carrying my backpack along the Camino,  feet unbelievably blistered,  or sorting through stuff on Vancouver Island and sending a package home,  or even choosing to take a chance on missing out on some hot meals and leaving all the cooking equipment behind on part 2 of our cross Canada journey. 

This journey is different.  We’ve chosen to accept help and our luggage,  two pannier bags and one small extra bag are now being transported for us,  arriving at our hotel for the night before we do.  It’s a strange feeling for us,  leaving treasured possessions in the care of others,  but it makes climbing the hills of Tuscany, so much easier. 

We explore an old barn we discovered at the side of the road.

Today was a shorter day,  and our first day without luggage.  Even though it was classed as moderate,  it felt almost easy.  We felt we had time and energy to stop and explore along the way, even having lunch in a restaurant.  Life is different here in Italy.  At lunch time,  at the table beside us,  we’re 3 construction workers (we managed to read their t-shirts), lunch for them included a bottle wine and no signs of rushing.  Quite different from the lunch pail and Tim Hortons coffee we see at home. 

We arrived in Monticiano, a very small village to find our accommodation locked up tight! After walking around the building twice we noticed a sign on the door with a phone number and our name on it.  For the first time,  I took my phone off of airplane mode,  accepted the Bell ROAM feature and made the call.  10 minutes later or host arrived and we settled into our room.  Eventually two other couples arrived to spend the night,  but the restaurant,  normally closed on a Monday evening was opened just for us. 

Ken and I both choose rabbit stew for supper,  it was quite tasty but you had to be really careful eating it as the bones were quite small and very splintery. We called it the revenge of the rabbit! 

The Albergo Vestro in Monticiano