Colours of Tuscany

Riding east across Tuscany to the border with Umbria, we’ve seen the fabled landscape tinted with the traditional palette of sienna, ochre, and umber. We’ve found the peaceful backroads through vineyards and past hilltop castles, as shown in advertisements for guided cycling holidays. We’ve tried to dodge most of the rain by riding shorter days and stopping to sightsee.

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We’ve also seen local reality, as one does travelling independently. We put our rear view mirrors onto our helmets to deal with heavier traffic on some roads, and we’re still reeling at a profoundly disturbing sight we saw just this morning shortly after leaving Arezzo, which highlighted some of Europe’s social issues.

2014/11/11: to Volterra
We rode a fairly direct route in increasing rain to this hilltop town, and found a hotel with welcome hot shower. After restoring ourselves, donning warm dry layers and good rain gear, we walked the cobbled streets and under archways, and treated ourselves to a dinner worthy of us now both having reached a new age milestone.

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2014/11/12-13: Siena
We rode a direct route, arriving on the outskirts in a downpour. As we conferred outside a pizzeria, drenched and shivering, a waiter offered us covered and secure parking for our bikes. We happily accepted and went in to eat a large late lunch.

View from our terrace

View from our terrace

In a large hotel that was all but empty, where we given a room with a fabulous tiled terrace, which might have been an asset in better weather. We spent the next day walking the streets and piazzas of Siena, making our dutiful visit to El Campo, the large trapezoidal square where the annual Palio horse race is run before large crowds in August. Ten horses, each representing one of Siena’s neighbourhoods, are ridden bareback at full tilt for three circuits. Under the rules, a riderless horse can still be a winner. There are often riderless horses by the end of the race.

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We looked at churches, watched tour groups, and eavesdropped on them. The Chinese group won for modernity. It was led by a woman holding aloft a red glove, and the group members all wore headsets so the leader did not need to raise her voice.

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2014/11/14: to Arezzo
This was the day we found a satisfying backroad route with steep hills and unpaved surfaces. We pulled out the stove and cooked a hot lunch of gnocchi. It’s dark by 5 here, and camping doesn’t hold much appeal, but something hot at midday is appreciated.

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The day ended riding across flats into Arezzo, and we fell to chatting with a local mountain biker as we entered town. He called his wife as we rode, and she met us at a cafe, where we were treated to espresso and cream-filled profiteroles. Despite limited common language, we successfully gleaned route advice to Ancona by pulling out a map. We found a tiny suite in a residence, and bought ravioli to cook for supper.

2014/11/15: to Citta di Castello
We set out up a back road with a steep grunt of a climb. Reaching the top and starting the descent, we passed a scantily clad African woman standing beside the road …then another …then another ….and yet another. There were at least ten. In case there was any doubt about their reason for standing there, one of them directed explicit gestures at Chris. In all our travels, we have never seen such open prostitution.

Each woman stood by a pathway into the woods, hair carefully coiffed and cleavage displayed. Each had a few accoutrements such as an umbrella, basic for this climate, and ratty blankets or even bathmats on which one assumes services are provided.

Google reveals they are likely from Nigeria, that prostitution is rampant in Italy, and that it is all tied up with human trafficking and organized crime. There are no easy answers ….just desperation and sadness in an unfair world.

We stopped for coffee as the road levelled out, and realized to our dismay that our passports were still in Arezzo at the residence. A call to the friendly manager had him kindly driving them to us, much to our relief. He refused offers of payment. He said he felt responsible for not having returned them; we felt responsible for forgetting to ask for them.

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View from our window in Citta di Castello

We stuck to our plan of stopping early in Citta di Castello to sit out more rain. It’s market day, so we bought prosciutto and parmesan for picnic lunch. There was even a market stall selling cycling gear. Tomorrow is a good climb over the last range of the Appenines, then all downhill to the Adriatic.

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The terrain and the old hilltop cities have been a photographer’s dream, although we have not had the clear sky’s to truly show off Tuscany. So I give below a small selection of our photographs to give you a taste of the Tuscany we rode through.

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The soil is heavy in iron giving this strong colour

The soil is heavy in iron giving this strong colour

Siena's wide curved streets.

Siena’s wide curved streets.

I prefer the narrow alleys of Siena to the vast El Campo piazza for which it is famous

I prefer the narrow alleys of Siena to the vast El Campo piazza for which it is famous

In case you were wondering, this is what that Chinese tour group in Siena were looking up at...

In case you were wondering, this is what that Chinese tour group in Siena were looking up at…

2 responses to “Colours of Tuscany

  1. Superbe Toscane malgré la pluie ….
    Bravo pour votre ténacité !
    Nos encouragements pour la suite du voyage !
    Bernadette et Hans

  2. Sorry I’m late looking at this, but you did pick a gorgeous route. I see you passed near Anghiari, but stopped in Castello instead. Bill Sperry, who was a postdoc at UVic in the 60’s and taught in Ellensberg, Washington, settled there after retiring a few years ago. (He said they were looking for a small town that suited them.) George and I visited them years ago, and it is a very liveable area.
    On your route there should have been more than the Nigerian women by the roadside, there should have tartuffi nero, black truffles. Fresh they are absolutely amazing, and I expect you would have mentioned them if you had tried them. Perhaps the season was earlier in the fall?

    I think an excellent choice to take the Ancona ferry. It’s a long slog to Brindisi with a limited amount to see.

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