(written by Nancy)
The youth of Florence were out in full force last night – it seemed like most of them sauntered down our street at some point during the night, usually singing or at least talking very loudly. So, not a great night’s sleep unfortunately. The hotel was really nice but I would really recommend a room facing the inner courtyard and not one of the ones facing the street.
We had cereal with fresh milk (yeah!) for breakfast in our room and had the bikes loaded and ready to roll at 8:30. A bit of wandering to get us out of the city but we eventually made our way to scenic route 222 which runs all the way from Florence to Siena. It wasn’t long before we left Florence that we headed into a more rural area and started climbing and we seemed to go up and down all day.
The whole ride today was through very pretty countryside with lots of olive trees and vineyards. Lots of great vistas for photos, with grand old stone houses sitting up on the hilltops. There were tons of bicycle riders out too – this is obviously a well worn path for the local cyclists and it’s easy to see why. We got lots of words of encouragement as they flew by us on the hills, which is always nice.
We stopped for morning tea in the town square at Greve in Chianti. A good coffee and croissant while we sat in the sun out of the wind. A couple of cyclists stopped to ask where we were going and said it was pretty hilly between there and Siena, which we kind of knew. After we left Greve we started climbing a pretty serious hill up to the village of Campana. Along the way we started seeing quite a few cycling team cars go by as well as what looked like team mechanics vans. Several of them leaned out their windows and yelled ‘Allez allez allez’ at us, though we were obviously going as fast as we could! There was some sort of race that started or finished in Campana – Dave never could figure out which one it was but some of the bigger teams were there and lots of little ones (plus team LWOP of course).
The climbing wasn’t too bad – pretty steady but not terribly steep though we were both in our easiest gears for most of the day. While the wind was still blowing it was fortunately blowing from behind us so was not so much of a bother. We had another big climb into Castellina – about 8k of climbing. We stopped in the village to get some lunch so that we wouldn’t attempt the task of finding somewhere to stay Siena on an empty stomach.
We had a great downhill, almost 10k, and then a bit of up and down until we got to Siena. We knew there was a campground about 3k out of town but with the wind still blowing and temperatures forecast down to 3 tonight we decided to go the hotel option. We had several hotels noted down – the first on our list was the Hotel Alma Domus, a former convent that is now a hotel run by the Catholic diocese and home to some Dominican nuns who act as guardians at the Casa Santuario di Santa Caterina. It sounded very interesting so we made our way there. We weren’t sure if we could get a room, as there does not seem to be many budget hotels in this city but luck held out for us and we did get a nice room with a great little balcony with a view. There are probably not too many times when we will have a chance to stay in a convent!
We cleaned up and headed out to see a bit of the city and get something to eat. We stumbled upon the Piazza Duomo, Siena’s version of the ‘big church’ – impressive as the big churches always are. We headed toward the Piazza del Campo, the main square where we knew there would be cafes and other places to eat. There were tons of people in the square and what looked like booths set up. Turns out today was the last day of the big chocolate festival, the CiocoSi. Tables and tables and tables filled with any kind of chocolate you can imagine. We wandered around drooling for a bit and finally made our way up to one of the tables and bought some to nibble on later.
We looked around a bit at some of the restaurants and conscious of the budget we opted for a pizza by the slice spot that seemed very busy. Big huge slices of pizza were going for €2.50 so we splurged and got one each with one to share.
Then came the big challenge of the day – finding our way back to the hotel. It was dark by now and Dave mysteriously lost his sense of direction as we wandered the lanes of the old city. We walked for quite a ways before we realized we had no idea where we were at! We pulled up google maps on the phone and it turned out we had gone the wrong way and were walking away from the direction of the hotel. So we changed directions and kept walking but didn’t’ seem to be getting any closer to anything that looked familiar.
At that point, as luck would have it, the phone ran out of battery so no more google maps. A slight bit of panic crept in. We did have a map that the hotel had given us but it was a bit too big of scale and we couldn’t really figure out where we were at. We stopped in a gelato store to see if they could help but they didn’t really know where the hotel was. We continued walking and came upon another hotel and went it to ask for help. Thankfully the fellow at the front desk knew exactly where our hotel was and had a much more detailed map so we were saved! We turned back around and walked down the street that we had been on twice already and finally made our way back to the hotel. It took us about 15 minutes to walk to the Piazza del Campo and well over an hour to find our way back. If today’s ride wasn’t enough to tire us out the walking up and down the village streets certainly did.
We are now back in the room having a cup of tea to relax and trying to plan the next couple of days to get us to Ancona, where we catch the ferry to Greece. And of course, eating a few of those well-earned chocolates.
Oh yeah, we saw of those Fiat 500s out on the road today (mentioned yesterday in a comment by Mary Jo). If there ever was an “oompa loompa” car, this is it. Seems that a lot of folks hire them to drive around Tuscany. You can’t help smile when they pass. Sort of like the Italian police helmets – hard to believe that someone is not taking the mickey out of you…