Ahhh...cycling in Tuscany. It sounds so romantic, so much like a dream. Even saying it now, I can almost believe it, and yes, it was like a dream, only it’s the kind where you sit bolt upright and scream.
It is the last day of our Tuscany cycling trip and screaming is exactly what I want to do as we navigate the traffic circle out of Florence. Ten days before, we had traveled by train with our bikes to start our Tuscan tour. I imagined picnics in fields, rolling hills, romantic dinners in fine hotels and fabulous red wine flowing like a river. We even purchased new panniers and little bells for our handlebars that went ting-ting.
But right now, I am wishing for a hammer so I can bash that bell right off my bike and replace it with an air horn. Maybe then we have a chance.
Cycling in Italy is like one giant skill-testing question. The only problem is, if you don’t get it right, you’re going to be annihilated by some cigarette-smoking, lipstick-applying, gear-shifting, all-while-talking-on-the-inevitable-cell phone-driving-gorgeous- woman at one zillion assertive miles per hour.
Did I mention the heat wave? At 39 degrees Celsius, the headlines in the papers told of seniors dying in apartments. They failed to report the story of two stupid Canadians cycling their final 90 km from Florence to Pisa.
At 40 kms, we stop for our roadside picnic. Like so many of the previous lunches, there are indeed, lovely meats, cheeses and great bread. But like the previous lunches, we find ourselves sitting speechless from the heat and exertion while we stuff food and water into our faces. And then, silently, we stagger back onto our bikes.
Early on in the trip, we realized why all these quaint little Tuscan towns survived; it is because each one is at the top of a Hooville-like pinnacle so the townspeople could toss rocks and hot oil on the heads of their enemies. We seem doomed to repeat history.
But really, this last day is the worst. Our clothes are crusted with salt-lines as we grind up the final hill to Pisa. Like most people, I have seen a lot of pictures of the leaning tower. I’m not expecting much. It seems to me, it’s one of those “must-do” places.
We wheel up to a tower that is about to topple over onto a huge expanse of green lawn and I am speechless for a different reason. It defies all notions of what stays up and what should come down.
That night, over beer and pizza, we reminisce about the best meal of our lives; only two nights previous in a tiny graveled courtyard behind an 800 year old inn, where we ate course after course of scented perfection. We remember the white truffle-sauced vegetables and velvety wines, the surprise of an air-conditioned room and billowing curtains off the balcony.
It was a dream date made perfect by the wheeling exertion it took to discover it. We toast and agree. We’d do it all again in a second.