Italy and Spain, why are they feeling so similar. The football style is similar, with lots of signs of the cross if they score, and an awful lot of theatrics on the pitch and in the dugout. Riders will make the sign of the cross if they win a stage in a grand tour and both like it when the road goes into the mountains. On a more basic level, you can expect the toilet seat to be missing in both countries.
Having had problems with things being closed in Spain, we had already planned a bit. Italy has siesta. We asked a friend, ” do you have siesta here? ” He looked at us with the look of a man who had just been asked to explain jazz.
Italy has shops that close for up to 4 hours just when you need them. But they do not have siesta. Apparently. In both countries, the church is fundamental in people’s lives and luckily for us, so is cycling.
There is heavy rain overnight in Assisi. In our hostel, we are oblivious to rivers filling and turning mud coloured as they brim. The forecast however, for many days ahead is good. It is a morning of busy roads and testing navigation. It has the redeeming feature of being flat for the first 15Km.
So many drivers in Italy have their mobiles to their ears as the drive. What, with applying make-up and lighting cigarets, there is not much faculties left for steering. There are snaking lines of road cyclists. Pink is the predominant colour in the little peloton, and what we would call ‘ winter weight clothing’ back in Scotland. It is 23’c now.
The road runs through fields of heavy-headed sun flowers that are days from harvest. I am feeling weary today, dreadfully so. We get to Lake Trasimeno, and run around it counter-clockwise. We get to the delightful village of San Feliciano and start dithering about wild camping. As we leave, we spot a great pitch for the tent. Back to the village to wait for the shop to open at the end of siesta.
A wild camp under our favorite tree for the job, an Olive tree. We are next to the ruins of a castle and have a view back down the lake. Fantastic. There is the morning sound of shots being fired. It is the heaviest dew I have ever experienced. It manages to get the tent more wet than a day in heavy rain. Every surface is wet even with both doors open.
At the village shop we have picked up some tea. The Twinings Classic range, and there is my new best tea in the world, Agrumance. Classic? how come I have never heard of it. The day begins perfectly and a roady chain gang of cyclists go by chatting as we push down the track to the lakeside road.
A coffee at 5Km, how bad is that? and a second at 7Km. We are taking it easy, as you can tell. At the end of the lake we leave Umbria and enter Tuscany. We wiggle around to pick up the minor roads to head west away from the lake. We may be the firs touring cyclists to pass through these roads, it feels that way.
Through some of the large gates and beyond the tall walls, there are big houses, very big. The smell of wine is in the air, and it is not just a faint whiff. It is a lung filling, bronchial blast of wine being made. A wild camp that set an even higher record for most dew. We are along a field margin track and very exposed to passing traffic. We sleep under a full moon, to the sound of distant dogs and not so distant gun fire.
A 15% climb to Sinalunga, one of the many hill top towns here. It is a landscape of sinuous moulded hill and valley. Every vantage point has a castle or village sitting behind tall and strongly built walls. It has more castles than the Scottish borders, and must have been a bad place for a restful nights sleep at some point in history. The village square is still half in cold dawn shadow and the old guys are moving like flowers to track the rising sun. Cafes in shade have no customers yet.
25’c and we drop down through rolling wine country. For every down there is an up that the bike just about manages to gain without dropping into crawl gear if you power down the downs with courage in between the pot holes.
There you go,, just as I am about to tell you there is not a square metre of reasonably surfaced road in Italy, along comes a stretch. It will not last, and does not. This road to Monteroni D’Arbia is perfect and would be a joy indeed on a road bike.
We get to Siena late in the day and the route to the campground is torturous and full of Italian drivers in a hurry to get home to fine wines and pasta. We pass the city walls and get a glimpse of splendour inside. In the morning it is time to walk around the town.
It is headspinngly amazing. We go up to the cathedral. Not too many angels and the work of craftsmen over hundreds of years. The floor took two hundred years to complete. Nothing, but nothing is done on this scale now. Not the human genome, not the WWW. nothing. Of course the time limit for the job is the end of creation when you are building a cathedral and judgement day the final day on the build schedule.