Category Archives: hill towns

Arrival in Italy: Days 1-3 in Florence

On Friday we flew in to Florence, after a 7-hour flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, and then a short 2 hour commuter jet brought us into the Gallileo Gallilei airport of Florence. Understandably we were slighty worried about how well our bicycles fared in the flight – or if they even followed us to Italy in the cargo hold of the plane. However, everything went smoothly and our bicycles survived undamaged – likely due to our “leave them no chances to break something” approach to packing them. It took us a little over and hour and a half to unpack the bikes again and move all our equipment from the duffel bags to our panniers, and then off we went. But very slowly, due to the narrower italian roads and zippy cars scooting about haphazardly.

Our babies – they are ok!

All packed and loaded on the way from the airport to the hotel.

Although initially scary and seemingly devoid of order, we have come to find that Florentine roads have polite and highly skilled drivers, always willing to give bicycles the right of way, if only by a smaller margin than we are used to. Our hotel took a while to find, but has been a great home base. We were allowed to store our bikes in our hotel room, and since we are only on the 2nd floor, we consider ourselves lucky in terms of bike-hauling. The compact city is easily walkable, but its tall stone buildings and narrow cobblestone roads opening into piazzas made it a metropolis for us. People fill many streets, and nearly as many mopeds and scooters buzz along the vias as well. Cycling isn’t difficult, but we had to go slowly on many roads, as people on a stroll didn’t jump out of our way as North Americans do.

Almost everywhere here we have been able to find english-speakers in stores and restaurants. The only exception to this is in the smaller churches and in the local food market, where little old nuns, priests and the local fruitvendors understand little to no English. These less “touristy” locations have a more authentic Italian feel to them, and we have made use of hand gestures and our limited Italian vocabulary to get by, and enjoy ourselves nevertheless. We did, however, see all the standard attractions Florence had to offer, and were not disapointed. It is an amazing city. The duomo and its huge dome is a spectacle that was well worth visiting. We climbed over 500ft upwards through small rock staircases in the walls to enjoy an unparalleled view of the cathedral floor from a catwalk, and then outside to see the entirety of Florence from the dome’s top.

From duomo’s roof.

We also visited the Accademia Gallery, where we saw Michelangelo’s David (which you really cannot appreciate until you have seen the original up close), and enjoyed a large collection of late medievel and renaissance paintings. Seeing how art evolved in this time period, how the artists influenced/imitated one another, and the effects this had on religious artwork was interesting. On Sunday after an all-Italian mass in the small but beautiful Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, we managed to enjoy the city simply by cycling around. We saw the street life (and bought some apricots in a local market), crossed the Arno river to ride to the hilltop San Miniato monastery outside the city for a good view, and finished off the day by grabbing a gelatto.

NOT the real David, but a David none-the-less

View from San Miniato

San Miniato monastery exterior

The food is also wonderful here, from a simple, fresh Pizza a Pomodoro as you walk the streets at lunch, to the full, 3 course meals at one of the trattori that line the many piazzas. It gives us a better appreciation of the phrase, La Dolce Vita!

Enjoying the good life.

 We will leave you with a few more pictures from the trip. Ciao for Niao!

Drinking from a nasone – the proper way.

Duomo roof relief, the centre ‘eye’ is the oculus.

Duomo floor and hall – view from catwalk.

Campanile or belltower, from the roof of the cathedral’s dome.

Packing List – Italy 2012

This is the [very long] packing list of all the items that we are going to be bringing with us to Italy for our trip (other than our two bicycles, of course). All the items on the list are the totals for both of us combined, unless otherwise noted as per person (p.p.). Extra heavy or bulky equipment like the chain to lock up our bikes, will be bought in Italy once we arrive.
  • Clothing (p.p.)
    • 1 pair light cotton trousers
    • 1 pair cotton shorts
    • 2 pairs cycling shorts
    • 3 pairs underwear
    • 2 cycling jerseys
    • 2 T-shirts
    • 3 pairs socks
    • 1 botton-up/nice long sleeved shirt
    • 1 waterproof riding jacket
    • 1 cycling cap
    • 1 helmet
    • 1 pair cycling gloves – only for Dad
    • 1 pair light pajamas
    • 1 pair running shoes
    • 1 pair walking shoes – Dad buying his overseas
  • Personals/Toiletries
    • Toothbrushes
    • 1 tube toothpaste
    • Contact lenses
    • Lens cases and solution
    • 2 pairs sunglasses – and regular glasses
    • 1 bottle sunscreen
    • 1 small bottle shampoo
    • Razors and shaving cream
    • 1 Comb
    • Deodorant
    • Facecloth and towel – will be bought overseas
  • Electronics
    • 1 unlocked Galaxy Nexus smartphone
    • 1 rooted Nook tablet
    • 1 power adaptor & plug divider
    • 1 compact Canon camera
  • Miscellaneous Goodies
    • 1 small first aid kit
    • Keys on keychains
    • 1 Snow Peak butane stove
    • 1 butane refill adaptor
    • 2 Guyot squishy cup/bowl sets
    • 2 GSI utensil sets
    • 1 small Sigg Inoxal cookset – w/ two pot lids as plates
    • 1 salt + pepper shaker
    • 1 small cooking knife
    • 5 650mL Filzer Stainless water bottles
    • 2 1L Filzer Stainless water bottles
    • 1 swiss army knife
    • 1 camera monopod
  • Tools & Bike Parts
    • 2 cable bike locks – will be buying lock-up chain in Italy
    • 2 pad locks
    • 2 bicycle multi-tools
    • 2 sets flat repair kit
    • 2 sets tire levers
    • 1 spare chain
    • 2 spare inner tubes + 1 extra to cover lock-up chain
    • 2 bicycle-mounted pumps
    • 1 small adjustable spanner
    • 1 set pliers
    • 1 small bottle oil/lube – will be bought overseas
    • Zip ties – to repair anything
    • Duct tape – also for repairs
  • Packing and Bags
    • 2 large MEC duffel bags
    • 2 sets 56L MEC “World Tour” panniers
    • 1 set 20L MEC panniers
    • 1 set 40L MEC “World Tour” panniers
    • 2 MEC Bull Deluxe handlebar bags
    • 2 Micro Wedgie seat bags
    • 1 Eddie Bauer sling bay (daypack/carry on)
    • 1 Hip pouch (camera/phone/wallet daypack)

Revised Italian Itinerary

*Watch for updates on this page.

The Italian cycling trip has changed quite significantly in the second rendition. Now, we will be avoiding the western oceanfront and heading through the heartland of Italy: Central Tuscany. The stops include  Firenze (Florence), where we’ll be flying in, followed by cycling through the great Italian hill towns of San Gimignano,  Volterra, Siena, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Orvieto and Viterbo. From Viterbo, the rest of the inter-city transit will be done by train; we head to Rome through the Ferrovie Regionale (regional railway), then Pompei and Napoli (Naples).

Some Sights:

Map

View Cycling Italy in a larger map

Itinerary

May:
     31. Depart from Toronto, Flight to Firenze (Florence)
June

  1. Arrive Firenze –> A few sights, then sleep off the jet-lag
  2. All Day Firenze
  3. More Firenze
  4. To San Gimignano (47km)
  5. To Volterra (27.5km)
  6. To Siena (48.5km)
  7. All Day Siena 
  8. To Montalcino (36km)
  9. To Montepulciano (37km)
  10. To Orvieto (64.6km)
  11. To Viterbo (42km)
  12. To Roma (Morning Train)
  13. Roma
  14. Roma
  15. To Pompei (Morning Train)
  16. Pompei
  17. To Napoli (Afternoon Train)
  18. Napoli, Flight to Toronto

More Trip Deliberations

It looks as if the entire itinerary  of the Italy Trip may be changed. I’m one who loves the countryside, but a trip with few sights won’t be that exciting. The cycling portion of the trip I had planned skirts the seaside of Tuscany and a bit of Lazio, hitting the small towns and countryside. No big sights to see, aside from San Gimignano, and Pisa, in the first 150km of the trip. It would have been primarily about enjoying the Italian countryside – which is admittedly far more beautiful, hilly and varied than most of Southern Ontario.

My fears of less-than-optimal trip planning were confirmed when I pulled some Rick Steves guidebooks off the shelves of my local library.

I was expecting the small towns to at least have a few sights, but apart from 2 or 3 Etruscan tomb museums, there aren`t too many impressive sights to see. I’m sad at learning that my many hours of meticulous kilometer-by-kilometer trip planning hadn’t taken into account the other sights of Tuscany; Hill towns of Tuscany are apparently overlooked often enough, but are beautiful, and seem to have more than enough enchanting history and architecture to be great places to visit. The only hill town currently on the itinerary is the medieval fortified settlement of San Gimignano. Maybe a few more towns will make their way on to the trip list, as I re-route the planned trip. But although I may be making changes, it all comes down to elevation – if the hills are too steep, the route may remain the same, and skip over these areas (sadly).