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The Wrap

Good-bye Florence!
Good-bye Florence!

We traded our bikes for walking shoes and spent the rest of our time prowling the streets of Florence. In a day, we chalked up 8 miles. We were on a mission to buy the things we wanted but didn’t want to carry on our bikes. Plus, we had the chore of packing our bikes.

We returned to the olive oil shop we visited on the Foodie’s Tour. It is located in the tiny Piazza del Limbo, where there’s a plaque marking the water level (about 13 feet), when in November 1966, the rising waters of the Arno River flooded Florence.

Piazza del Limbo, Florence

We spent 45 minutes in hardware store waiting to be served; you take a ticket, like in a deli, and wait until it’s your turn. There, we had a found a “chitarra” to make pasta and so, we waited.

We spent another 45 minutes waiting in line at the famous sandwich shop, All’Antico Vinaio, and like most everyone else found a patch of curb to sit on and eat our sandwich (well, half — they are huge!). Could something like this work at Deerfields Cafe in Buffalo Grove, we wondered?

We met Adriano who stored our bag in his garage for the month of May and graciously brought it to our current digs. His place was the first Airbnb we stayed.

We walked a mile to get our bike boxes and another mile carrying them back “home.” We had really lucked out staying at an Airbnb, where the hosts were fellow cyclists. Flavio had gone to a bike shop, picked up bike boxes and stored them for us in his garage. He also gave us a phone number for a local company, CapCosi, in Florence where y0u can reserve a van for transport to the airport (info@capcosi.it). CapCosi and our driver, Massimo, were excellent. For 55 euros, we and our bikes were transported to the airport. These are the details that can make or break a cycling adventure. For us, it all worked out perfectly.

In total, we biked 22 days. We had zero flat tires, one fall each, two soaking wet rides, three rest days (San Casino del Bagni, Montalcino and Radda in Chianti), and too many pizzas (pizza) and liters of wine to count!

We toasted Tuscany, its storybook towns and reminisced about our experiences.

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Day 22: Montelupo to Florence … A Triumphant Return

Early morning serious grade workout. Coffee hasn't even kicked in!
Early morning serious grade workout in Montelupo Fiorentina. Caffeine hasn’t even kicked in!

 

Train or rain? Of course, we chose rain for our final ride back to Florence. It was our last day of riding after all, a short 16-mile ride. Plus, with a little luck, we might beat the forecasted storms.

Getting out of Montelupo Fiorentina proved as tricky as getting into it. Out the gate, we hit a steep hill. The 17% grade scrambled our legs and the following 19% grade had us hoofing it up the hill.

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The route, SP 73, wound its way through small towns and was a beautiful ride until the clouds darkened and the rain began … lightly at first and by the time we hit the edge of Florence, the rain became insistent.

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Skies began to darken on the scenic two-lane road to Florence.

We weren’t the only cyclists on the road, though. Being Sunday, there were handfuls of riders out for the day, rain or shine.

Soaking wet, we took refuge in a small bar in Florence, drinking cappuccinos and eating Pane del Pescatore (bread of the fisherman), a slightly sweet mound filled with raisins and almonds, spiced with fennel and orange zest. It tastes like soft-baked biscotti with just the right level of sweetness.

Pane del Pescatore is a slightly sweet mound of almonds, raisins and spiced with fennel and orange zest.
Pane del Pescatore is a slightly sweet mound of almonds, raisins, It’s spiced with fennel and orange zest and tastes like soft-baked biscotti.

 

When the rain lulled, we biked closer to our destination for the next two nights and tucked in for a lunch at a nearby trattoria. We lucked out and found a local’s favorite in Trattoria Cesarina. The food was so good and the service friendly that we went there the next night for our final evening in Florence. We weren’t disappointed! Both times, the restaurant was lively and crowded with locals.

Radicchio flan, spaghetti with clams, salad with thinly sliced mushrooms and shaved parmesan, the inside of the radicchio flan
Radicchio flan; spaghetti with clams, simple salad with sliced mushrooms; the inside of the radicchio flan (ridiculously delicious!).
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Day 21: Lucca to Montelupo Fiorentina

Lucca
Lucca

Could we stay another day in Lucca? That was the question of the morning as we tried to rearrange our itinerary. Unfortunately, our room was booked for Saturday night so all dreams of an extra’s night stay in Lucca dissolved. The promise of a return to explore Lucca was enough to forge ahead.

Pan fortr
Pan forte

Yesterday, we had purchased a slice of Italy’s famed pan forte, a gooey mass of almond paste, almonds and spices, at the noted bakery Taddeucci. We were sticker shocked to pay 8 euros for such a small piece, so it must be good. One bite and we groaned. It tasted like the spice cabinet fell into the dough. Kurt pointed to the garbage can but I tucked it into the back pocket of my pannier, not so willing to give up on it.

Pan forte ... So goo'd!
Pan forte … So goo’d!

Twenty miles into our 43-mile ride, I felt my energy plummet and called for a stop. I pulled out yesterdays’s pan forte and we shared a bite of the sugary goo. This tastes much better, Kurt said. Even the spices taste good, I replied. Ah, perspective! We had found our new “goo,” instant, delicious energy chock full of almonds and sugar; now we just had to do something about the price.

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Tree-lined roads

 

The ride was easy and pleasant, so much so we took a 6-mile detour to Vinci to see the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci and eat lunch.

Pretty Vinci
Pretty Vinci

It was a good thing we ate as we got turned around in the next town of Empoli, just a few miles from our rest point for the night. We switched from Google Maps to Garmin navigation and in no time, we were cutting through the town and found ourselves on the sweetest country road of the day.

Taking the scenic route from Empoli to Montelupo Fiorentina
Taking the scenic route from Empoli to Montelupo Fiorentina

Abruptly, the route took a turn decidedly uphill, on a crooked, crumbled lane of serious grades. I thought about the suffer factor, something I chuckled about on Strava but now was fully in tune. At the top (almost top), I collapsed on my handlebars, heart thumping, to rest and wait for the man.

Garmin had pulled a cruel trick on us. With a clear view, I could see our destination down below but Garmin had taken us on a roundabout scenic route.

Uh, thank you Garmin, but where we want to go is over there!
Uh, thank you Garmin, but where we want to go is over there!

We regrouped and headed back down the crooked lane and found a much easier route to our night’s lodgings.

Dinner in Montelupo Fiorentina was a true local’s experience. Our first stop at a local pizzeria had the hostess hemming and hawing. The place at 7:39 pm was practically empty but she reluctantly gave us a reservation for 8:00 pm. We left shaking our heads in search of a drink.

We found the Antica Osteria della Sole and spent the rest of the evening enjoying a spectacular feast along with streams of locals out for Saturday night fun. It was one of our best meals of the trip and also the best Tiramisu!

Antica Osteria della Sole in Montelupo Fiorentina ... A mushroom bruschetta, Cantucci and Vin Santo and the best Tiramisu of the trip, according to Kurt.
Antica Osteria della Sole in Montelupo Fiorentina … A mushroom bruschetta, Cantucci and Vin Santo and the best Tiramisu of the trip, according to Kurt.

 

 

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Day 20: Volterra to Lucca

Finally, a lovely stretch of road!
Finally, a lovely stretch of road!

We tumbled briefly out of the storybook pages. The state road cut a swath from Volterra north to Lucca. It was busy and no shoulder for the most part, but it was flat. It was also fast and we decided a direct route would be best to cover 42 miles and still give us ample time to explore Lucca.

Suddenly, urban development appeared out of nowhere … businesses, store fronts, light industry lined the state road, like “normal” towns. It was a bit of a shock to see urban sprawl after 19 days of storybook bliss.

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Ten miles from Lucca, the road quieted and the land regained its character, the houses were colorful and jasmine perfumed the air in the small villages. Ahead, I could see the Apuan Mountains towering over the green foothills.

From the start, Lucca charmed me. Lucca is a beautiful walled city, dating back to Roman times, and inhabited for more than two thousand years. Today, it bustles with shops, cafes and restaurants in a friendly, inviting atmosphere.

Lucca ... Vintage bike; walking the walled town, lots of bikes in the piazza; on the way to Lucca
Lucca … Vintage bike; walking the walled town, lots of bikes in the piazza; charm on the way to Lucca

 

 

The magic of Lucca erased our tiredness and we walked the perimeter of the wall and through the streets and alleys, delighted at every turn. The town emanates warmth and its local colors stole our hearts.

 

 

 

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Day 19: San Gimignano to Volterra

 

The road to Volterra
The road to Volterra

Westward 21 miles, Volterra sits atop a hilly cliff and is considerably quieter than San Gimignano. Quite frankly, it’s another Medevial village of Estrucan origins that doesn’t rank in our top picks.

No longer was every inch of land manicured and cultivated; instead the vegetation was overgrown and hugged the roadside. It was woodsy and wilder.

The morning consisted of dreamy descents that stretched my imagination and rested my legs. When I commented to Kurt about the  idyllic descents, he replied, now we have to pay. It was three miles uphill to our farmhouse lodgings and another three miles to Volterra where we had a lunch of pizza and ravioli.

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Sunset at our lodgings three miles from the center of Volterra

 

Volterra sits at 1770 feet above sea level, but the road we took gradually wends it way uphill and there were none of the impossibly steep grades that an English couple, also bike touring, forewarned. Still, it was enough to deter us from returning to Volterra to dinner!

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The land surrounding Volterra is more rugged than the manicured lands of Chianti.