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


Monticiano to Montepulciano 

20 09 2017

We left Monticiano in good time,  facing the most challenging day of the trip.  80 km to Montepulciano,  a ride classed as difficult.  Difficult! We think moderate is difficult,  what would this day be like! ?

We had stocked up on some snacks of fruit and cookies the day before,  when we’re riding hard,  trying to eat a meal in the middle of it is not a good idea. We set off,  an emergency phone number to call near at hand,  determined to conquer the day,  one km at a time.  

Our lunch time view

The other side of our lunch time view. The cleanest manure spreader I’ve ever seen!

Overall,  we did well and we’re pleased with ourselves when we arrived in the city.  After 7 hours of riding and 85 km of travelling,  we only got lost once,  pushed our bike up 3 hills with a 16% grade–it should have been 2, but getting lost,  back tracking,  and realizing we were right the first time, included one of those steep hills. We also walked an extra km when the road maintenance crew decided the road needed to be graded at the same time we were travelling on it! 

A good part of our day was on gravel roads,  gravel thrown on top of ancient cobblestones, full of washouts and potholes,  with cobblestones peeking through.  Thankfully,  very little traffic, the vehicles we did see were clearly locals,  probably all wondering just what guess two crazy people on a tandem bicycle were doing in the middle of absolutely no where. 

The view from our hotel room.

The views were spectacular,  my phone camera can not do it justice. 

Wine–a Sidebar

18 09 2017

Italy is known for wine, good wine. 

I’ve been drinking some of it.  OK, I’ll admit I’m drinking more wine than I do at home.  To be clear,  at home,  I limit myself to one or maybe 2 glasses on the weekend.  I could be called a moderate,  or even an occasional drinker.  But in this country where good wine is so available,  at such a reasonable price,  it’s easy to drink more.  Besides,  we are on holiday! 

In the San Gimignano area of Italy they grow a grape which makes a very nice wine.  Sadly,  a search of the LCBO failed to find either wine from the San Gimignano area or that particular grape.  I guess that means it will be easy to get back to occasional drinking when I get home. 

Biodola to Massa Marittima

17 09 2017

Yesterday we did virtually nothing.  After making our way to the Hotel Casa Rosa, in the village of Biodola , on the Isle of Elba,  we kind of collapsed.  The climb was difficult,  the descent a little scary and no matter how we sliced it,  a loop ride that included over 1200 m of climbing,  was not an easy ride.  So we took a rest day. Slept a little longer,  lingered over breakfast,  walked on the beach, had a nap,  a lovely day. We even had the hotel do a load of laundry for us.  The clean clothes were very much appreciated!  ( the 20€ charge,  not so much,  but let’s forget that part! )

This was an absolutely lovely place to hang out for the day.

Today started out in the best possible way.  One of the employees of the hotel gave us a ride up the hill. There was only one seat in the front,  I sat beside the driver, Ken got to ride in the back.  I did learn that the population of the village of Biodola, in the wintertime is 10. Not a typo,  10!

Hunkered down in the back of the truck, sure beats starting the day with a climb!

The ferry ride back to the mainland was the usual miserable time for me,  I forgot my gravol,  but managed to get back on the mainland without either throwing up our even feeling too terribly ill.  Good thing, too, as we had something over 50 km to pedal. 

I managed to take a “not too bad selfie” of the 2 of us, before the ferry left port.

The ride to our destination was very nice,  just what we were hoping for on this adventure.  After negotiating our way through the city, we were on very quiet roads,  vineyards,  olive groves,  manageable hills and gentler down grades. 

So pretty!

Until the end.  In the last 2 km,  we climbed almost 200 m. By my calculations that’s a 2 km hill with a 10% grade.  

Do you see the town in the distance? It’s 5 km away and up high!

We made it and spent a couple of hours exploring another medieval town. 

Siena to San Gimignano, Day 2

13 09 2017

We made it through our first day of cycling!

According to the plan,  we thought it would be an easy day,  after all 40 km is not far,  we’ve done much further distances.  Both of us are grateful we chose the easiest option available to us.

First,  we got lost in the city of Siena, it probably took us 30 minutes to go the 2.5 km to the edge of the city.  Add to that, our first time packing the bike in awhile, difficulty sleeping at times our bodies don’t recognize as night time and getting up at what feels like the middle of the night,  we did not have a great start.

We were grateful to find the city gate of Siena!

Our next challenge was figuring out the route notes,  we never did make a wrong turn but stopped several times to make sure we were heading in the right direction.

A certain amount of gobbledygook.

We were warned before we left, this is not a flat country.  I think we used every one of the gears on the bike, all 30 of them. Oh, I lied, there was one easy gear left! I’m not sure whether the biggest issue is lack of training or advancing age, but I think we’ll go with lack of training,  there was a local man who passed us going up a hill and he was obviously much older than we are!

The last hill getting to San Gimignano was really tough,  we stopped twice on our way up to catch our breath,  the gate of the city was a welcome sight!

San Gimignano is a UNESCO site,  a well preserved medieval city.  From what I can gather,  1/2 of the population died during the black plague.  The city lost its oomph and nothing changed for 500 years. The result is a beautiful place,  but crawling with tourists.

The communal city well in days gone by. Now it is blocked off and people throw coins and bits of garbage in it.

We have found an oasis. The balcony off our room has a fantastic view, it’s  so nice, we’ve decided a supper of bread, olive oil, cheese, sausage and local wine would be perfect.

The view from our balcony!

Travelling Again

12 09 2017

Ken and I are travelling again,  this time to Italy and yes, we have our tandem with us! 

After finishing our cross country bicycle tour last year,  both of us felt more than a little lost,  wondering if we had reached the pinnacle of our lives.  Would everything,  truly,  be all down hill from there? To overcome that rather depressing thought,  we decided we needed to do something!  The something we decided on was a cycling trip to the Tuscany area of Italy and here we are! 

Packed and ready to go.

We left Canada Sunday evening for an overnight flight to Rome. Checking in with our large,  heavy bicycle case is always a bit tense.  How much will it cost us,  overweight and oversized,  would they insist it be weighed and then refuse to take it at all because it weighs 2 lbs over the max? This time we won!  A bicycle?  Flat rate of $50! We were prepared for anything up to $300!

Sleeping while sitting up in a cramped airplane seat is not a great way to start an adventure but I can not bring myself to pay for first class,  so,  suck it up and don’t complain. Managing to navigate your way through a foreign country and arriving at your hotel is both a relief and an accomplishment.  All of it went relatively smoothly and is too boring to write about,  just the way you want it to be. 

A simple supper of pizza and wine.

We have spent the day in Siena, about a 3 1/2 hour bus ride from Rome.  We had a long sleep,  put our bike together,  and had an interesting walking tour of this city.  We arrived back at the hotel just in time to meet with our tour representative and get our maps and other helpful bits of information. 

Success! None of the pieces were left behind!

A gorgeous city, but very tourist-y!

Ken and I are now lounging on our bed,  papers spread out,  anticipating our first day of cycling, a little anxious but eager to begin. 

The fun and challenge of travelling. This is tomato bread soup. I thought the English part of the menu was a poor translation of bread and soup, I was wrong. The soup is made very thick with bread, it tasted good, but not what I was expecting!

Life Changes

18 12 2016

This week,  Huron County got hammered by a major snow storm. Typical of the area,  roads were closed,  school buses did not run,  events of all kinds were cancelled,  Facebook was full of winter scenes and stories of harrowing drives. 

Ken and I missed it all. 

This week we made a major move,  400 km, the other side of Toronto,  to Picton,  ON. The move went relatively smoothly,  thanks in large part to Oneida Movers, their careful packing and totally amazing ability to back up a truck into tight places.  We managed to sneak the move in between snow squalls, the truck did not get stuck in our lane way, we did not run out of boxes. 

The first day, while stronger people than me were carrying stuff,  I managed to unpack a couple dozen boxes.  By evening,  we were sitting in a put together living room,  managed to have a supper of pancakes in an almost organized kitchen and slept in a comfy bed with clean sheets. 

When I look around,  there’s lots of work left to do.  Both the garage and the basement have stuff piled to the ceiling.  We’re building a shed to accommodate various  hobbies,  and the basement is getting finished (we want lots of room for guests). We’re also noticing various places that were not quite finished when the house was built.

But,  life gets even more interesting. 

Ken has accepted a call to the Fruitland CRC. Another interim position,  2 years,  75% starting Feb. 1. Which means we’ll  be living in two places again. So after spending 2 nights in our new home,  we traveled to Stoney Creek,  spent a day with a realtor,  and purchased a condo.  

I’ve been focused on looking ahead,  and admit to being extremely busy.  Changing your life is exciting.  And even though,  sometimes,  I think my head might explode with having to make too many decisions,  all at once, hugs and snuggles with grand kids makes it all worth it. 

But let’s be honest,  we’ve both left something precious behind.  A church community we’ve been part of for so many years. I won’t forget our last Sunday,  both the official send off in the morning and the casual get together at our house in the evening. 

A group of cycling friends,  whether we cycled that day or not.  A group of women who’ve supported each other for over 30 years.  A small town where it always took an hour longer to run errands than it should have. 

I know it won’t be the same,  but I’m confident the bonds of friendship will remain. We’re looking forward to having many people choose to vacation in “the County” and spending some time with us. 

In the meantime,  I miss the excitement of a Huron County snowstorm.