Category Archives: san gimignano

Day 4: San Gimignano

Note: we are staggering our posts as we have been finding the internet to be slow and spotty coverage. All our posts are behind a few days.

June 4 was our first true riding day, where we were tested by the Italian hills and our fully loaded bicycles. The weather cooperated with us for the most part, but we did have to stop around 2pm for about 45 minutes to avoid a down-pour. We found refuge under the overhang of the roof of San Andrea, a tiny country church, about a third of the way between Florence and San Gimignano.

We were certainly expecting hills – but I think we (*Ryan*) somewhat underestimated the actual magnitude of the climbs. Here are some stats for our Florence-San Gimignano trek:

Total Distance: 60.5 km

Average (Moving) Speed: 9.98 km/h

Max Speed: 49.3 km/h (gotta love the ride down, after the long climb up!)

Min Elevation: 81 m

Max Elevation: 443 m

Total Elevation Gain: 2087 m

We found that our unlocked Galaxy Nexus phone was invaluable for guiding us out of the maze of one-way streets that make up Florence. Whenever we got lost (which happened often), the built-in GPS and maps on the phone made getting on track an easy(er) process. We picked up a SIM card for the phone in Florence, on the ride in from the airport, at Telefonia Italia Mobile, affectionately known as ‘TIM’ locally. €20 got us a €15 credit for calls and texts, plus one month of free unlimited data/internet, which suits us wells since we are here for 18 days. More details on the phone and SIM cards will come in a future post. Based on our experience so far, we would call it the best €20 investment to date.

As it is a hill town, one can see San Gimignano from the distance, giving a spirit-lifting boost of energy for the final tough hills into the city gates. We thought its imposing spires and towers made for an interesting contrast with the Tuscan countryside:

We made it!

We rented a small apartment for the night; affitacamere (rooms for rent) were actually pretty common in San Gimignano. Ours came with an expansive view of the fields below the town from its windows.

We met up with some friends who were also staying in town at the same time. They rented an apartment in one of the towers in the main piazza, across from the town church. A shout-out to Jeff, Juliet, Charlotte and Maxine! Hope you are enjoying the rest of your trip!

Jeff, Juliet and family stayed in this medieval tower.

The town’s main square.

When we arrived in town, the day tourist crowds were all gone and it was very quite. It was nice to have the town all to ourselves, and see the locals. We would say that the nicest time to visit San Gimignano would be late afternoon, with a late dinner and evening walk, and a stay overnight. The next morning came with a quiet breakfast and stroll for some nice views and pictures. We managed to pack up and escape around 11AM, just as the surge of day-tourists started again.

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).