Sunday, September 29, 2013

Montefiascone. 64 miles from Rome.


After a great meal in a redone, to the nine's, restaurant and hotel, Hotel Toscano, we headed out in the light rain.  We stopped at the tourist office for our Pilgrim stamp. La Via Francigena is becoming more noticeable as we get closerbto Rome, there are different signs around giving the history of the VF or catering to the pilgrims needs. 

The view out the bedroom window this morning.

It was a quick ride on the Via Cassia, an ancient road, like the Francigena, from Rome up to Florence, to Bolsena and a view of the Lago Bolsena, which is a crater lake.  The country side has changed noticeably from large farms to smaller ortos, although I did see the best fields of corn outside of Kansas.  After Bolsena it was all up hill, 12km, Barbara's legs are screaming after who knows how many meters we have climbed, Scott is still hanging in there with his strong legs. 

We arrived in Montefiascone just in time for a late lunch, and did we have one.  We ordered a platter of pecoroni cheese with honey and fig jam, the most delicious cheese plate ever, who would have guessed there where so many different types of one cheese.  Barbara, staying true to her love of corn meal, ordered a polenta dish with bits of sausage, funghi and cream all served on a wooded trough, out of this world.


Bells chime on the quarter hour. On the hour, the time. At fifteen past the hour followed by one second bell. Thirty minuets past, the hour and two second bells. Quarter of, three bells. All night long. Not loud, but enough to be heard. Nice.

We are two days on the bike from Rome. It looks like tomorrow is going to be wet as well. The guide book warns cyclists from riding on the trail when it's wet. The clay surface becomes very sticky and will stop the wheels from spinning. We will see what the weather brings before we head out. 

Expect the worst and hope for the best. It's all one can do on the road to Rome.


Our day started as every day so far on this adventure. Breakfast! Pack the bags and dress for the road. 
We headed out around 10:15 and with a little tour through town, found our way onto the Via Francigena car route that always leads to the walkers route or the trail. Sometimes they are the same and dirt or gravel surface.
After the first mile we realized that the "Hill Top" town was actually not at the top of the hill! Soon we were looking down at the little town and on our way.
This part of Tuscany has many castles, family owned, they served as fortication as safety from being attacked bu the Sienese.
As we traveled today we saw five different hamlets that had their own small village.

The road has remained rocky and loose. Never flat, we were climbing and descending all morning long. Climbs of over 200' and more with warning of 15% grade going down, assuming that means up as well.  There were times when it looked as if we were riding down hill, but we're actually ascending about a foot every 20'. It was slow going so checking the altimeter woul let me know things were okay and in fact we were climbing.

Open, sunny and hot. Shade at times was hard to find. 

The trail has you not always going in a straight line to Rome, it will send you up to some town, making the journey intresting with opportunity for food and lodging. After awhile and when we became tired, looking at the map we'll skip a town to keep moving in the direction of Rome.

We have our GPS set for our final destanation and after 2 1/2 hours of being on the trail and only having advanced 2 miles closer, as the crow flies, and in all cases this trip, Mr. Crow lies!

We reached a point around 1:15 that it was time for lunch. We came to a fork in the road that if we went with the car route, it looked like some buildings far off and way below might have a place for lunch.
We headed down the dirt car route. About 2 miles and at the bottom of the hill we found a lovely, local restaurant and bar. It was then 1:25 and getting close to when most restaurants close until dinner. The bar stays open, but if you want more then a slice of pizza or a ham sandwich, in most cases you need to be there before two. There was setting outside and this day being a nice fall Saturday it was filled with hunters. We've seen lots of hunters out in different areas and pheasants to match. 
Lunch was great, home made pasta and mushrooms., Barbara had Bruscetta with tomatoes.

We returned to the bike and stayed on the street for the rest of the afternoon. We climbed south 1200' up on an open highway with very little traffic and no shade.

At what seemed to be the top of the hill we came to a tunnel that we could see on the map and pulled over to put our tail lights on.

The inside of the tunnel was lit and sloped down hill. It also was about 15 degrees cooler. A very pleasant break in the hottest part of the day.

The tunnel was just under a half mile long. We were only passed by one car.

At the end of the tunnel it was all down hill for over 2 miles. 

We finished today's ride to the top of the hill town we are now staying. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

San Quirico d'Orcia

Our ride started out trying to get out of town. It seems that the larger the town, the larger the problem. In most cases, the Pilgrim route starts at he church or in this case, the Cathedral.

We went back to where we recieved the stamp for our Pilgrim Passports and asked the grump behind the counter where the route started. She wasn't happier this morning than she was when we got the stamp.
She pointed away and said " You need to buy the ticket over there!"
having to pay for everything in this town I really wasn't sure if she knew exactly what I was talking about, but prety sure she didnt.

That's when I called in Barbara to handle the matter.

We of course, headed out the wrong way. We did however pick up the trail after about 6k and were now back in the gravel trail, what Barbara calls "Loosey Goosey" and sliding along happyly.

Flat for the most part, riding in a post harvarst world of greys and browns.
The trail is very dry and dusty. just when you think that you are surely free of cars, one passes at seed followed by a huge cloud of dust. You try not to breath it, but you do. The breeze clears the air after a while but never soon enough.

We were lucky to have a trail following railroad tracks today for quite a while. As I think you know, most tracks are flat and so was the trail. For the first time off road we were able to make time speeding along at about 15 mph. Not fast by most riders stardards, but understand we need to be constantly looking for the mark of the Pilgrim's way. If you miss one, it can cause you to loose as much as an hour and sometime cause you to climb more then you needed.

We found a nice bar/cafe rest stop after about 25 miles. Lunch of pizza and beer. Filled the bottle cages with fresh bottles and headed on our way.

The rest of the afternoon was all up hill. just when we thought it was over, it would start up again. We stayed off road till the end with a 800 foot climb into town and then more uphill looking for the hotel.

The hotel is very nice. They were hosting about 40 hikers of retirement age. They looked tired but having a good time together.

As tough as the riding sounds, we really are having a good time. Our pace is slow because of following the mark and avoiding crashing the bike. We hop off and walk if there is any question.

Our ride Saturday, today, is over 60km with over 3,000 feet to climb, most of it in the first 30km. Our ride yesterday was over 65km, with just under 3,000 feet climb, in the hot sun and walking in the dust with rocks of all sizes, it takes an active imagination not to loose it. We start late and finish late, so we are sure to be out in the heat of the day. It's interesting how the day starts out cool and then by noon we can feel the heat rising and then viola we are the warrior riders in the sun. The unkown always makes our adventure pleasent and fun.

Meeting Pilgrims on the trail is always nice. We stop and chat when we can, making a nice rest stop to share stories of the road. Many people are as passionate as we are about the long trails, following the mark of the Pilgrim, visiting churches, eating the local fun and passing through the countryside that is only known to the locals. The locals see us and give us a big smile, point us along the road, make sure we are alright, the Italians are an open hearted people and we are grateful to them for their warm welcome and support.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Out of Siena on to San Quirico d'Orica

Here we are in the paradise of Montalcino, a lovely part of the world in southern Tuscany and they produce a lovely wine. People are coming here on these dusty trails by the bus loads, sorry we don't have time to enjoy the products.

Siena, part two

What could be better than a day off in a European city with history that dates back over two thousand years? Not much.

We headed into the center of town by cab. Wow, that could have been a blog of its own, " Cab rides in Siena ."  if you ever want to see tourists get out of your way, use a speeding cab. Our driver was incredible! I'm sure he took the long route, but it was worth it!

We were dropped off in the Piazza del Campo. The plaza was what Boston's City hall plaza was fashioned after. Other than being built on a slope and being made of brick, there wasn't much resemblance.

The first plan was to find the stamp for the pilgrim passports. That took 5 attempts. 

The city is overrun by tourists, so many of the locals working seemed grumpy. You need to pay for everything so tourists on a budget would have made them that way I'm sure, expecting things for free.

After we got the stamp we headed back to the Piazza to Il Palazzo del Comune, the civic/city museum, loaded with art from Siena's past. Cameras were not allowed, but before I found that out, I did managed to get a few shots.

Thousands of years of touch.

Our next stop was lunch. As seen in the last posting, this little spot was recommended by The New York Times "36 Hours" Thank You.  

Way off the beaten path but still in the center, this little gem of Siena was one of the nicest restaurants we have ever had the pleasure to enjoy!

Well lubed, but still walking in a straight line, we headed back to Il Duomo to go inside.
Thirteen euro each, it was worth every cent. Truly the most exquisite sights we have ever visited!

Some of the pipe organ pipes were no larger then a bick pen!

And some of the pipes were 15" round!

Kind of looks like a bicycle.

After the Cathedral, we went our own ways to do what each of us wanted to do on our own.

I went around and shot photos.

Maybe Italy's greatest beauty, is her people, especially this one on her big day. 

Our evening ended early, still full from lunch, Barbara stayed in the room while I crossed the street for Pizza and Beer.

Siena is a must see. We have been to many famous Cathedral's but Il Duomo di Siena is truly the most spectacular we have seen to date!