First things first.
1. Minor revision to the claim that “this camping thing is crazy-good”. (We make this revision in the interest of accuracy, knowing full well that you will use this information against us for many years to come.) Start by deleting “good”. It would seem that there are drawbacks to being the first civilization to invent indoor plumbing, the most obvious of which is that most of the plumbing is as ancient as its cathedrals. Those interested in green power might explore the possibility of capturing the methane that is off-gassing from city sewer vents. Especially near camping areas. Where we are trying to sleep. And hoping we will wake up in the morning.
Really, the problem is not everywhere, and is mostly a problem if you locate yourself downwind of the source, but is common enough that at least two campgrounds have earned the title “bog of eternal stench”.
Not that we want to dissuade you from considering camping as an option for your next tour of Europe. The in-city locations are great, the price is a quarter of the cost of a cheap hotel, your fellow campers are quiet as mice, and your campground will often have a great panoramic view and a bar and cafe to enjoy it from. And your tent is guaranteed to be nicer than most hotels in the budget category.
2. On to Florence, where we parked the bikes for a bit, and spent three days. Some highlights:
Finocchiona (fennel salami) and goat cheese panini at I Due Fratellini, where the brothers serve up twenty types of sandwiches and wine from an 10 x 4 foot storefront. Leave your wine glass on the curbside shelf when you are done.
After stumbling across it in a cafe near the Uffizi, I become positively obsessed with Schiaciatta de l’uva. We trekked all over the old part of the city to sample versions of this florentine tart, which is sort of like a sweet fennel spiced focaccia with red grapes, seeds and all.
We climbed the endless spiral staircases into the famous dome of the city’s duomo, which deposited us at eye level with the ‘hell’ section of the dome’s huge frescoes, the writhing bodies of 20 foot tall demons and sinners right in our faces. Then, back into the maze of shoulder-width stone staircases that delivered us to its cupola through a hatch door, for sweeping views of the city at sunset.
Each course is presented from the open kitchen by its chef in a booming, Wizard of Oz man-behind-the-curtain yell – Attenzione! Attenzione! It is lucky, but by no means necessary, if your table mates are bilingual italians, and happy to translate.
No translation needed for the performance, which was bilingual – italian and physical comedy, which thankfully, we do speak. If you’re in Florence on a tight schedule, skip the Uffizi and spend an evening here. Boticelli’s Birth of Venus aside, the great works of the italian masters left us, more than anything, with aching backs and feet and wishing for more context and fewer iterations. I mean, really: How much Pietà can two athiest lesbians take?
3. Leaving Florence, we pedal up into the hills of the Chianti region, its geography made architecture by rows of grapevines that recede like an art class exercise in three point perspective. Despite the beautiful landscape, our Chianti karma is a little bit off. After a near vertical climb up to the winery at Castello Verazzano, we discover that we have missed the last cellar tour of the day. We taste the winery’s excellent wines standing at the bar, without food, even though, as everyone knows, Chianti is meant to be enjoyed with food.
We splurge that night and stay at a vineyard outside Greve-in-Chianti (which was having its annual Chianti festival one day after we would depart). Laden with enough antipasti for an italian extended family, we grunt up the huge hill to our wine country lodging. On a terrace overlooking a classic Tuscan landscape, we lay out the picnic, and open a bottle of wine gifted to us by acquaintances in Florence, and … it is corked. Horrors! Kathy runs to buy a bottle of wine from our host vintner and … they are closed. Nobody home.
With legs too tired to go down and up that hill again, we resign to our fate of being the only two people in Chianti eating dinner without wine that night.
Since the Chianti region, we have been to Sienna, and then on a four day tour through San Gimignano, Volterra, Massa Marittima, and the surrounding medieval hilltowns of Sassafortino and Roccatederighi. We write this from Sienna, where we have just spent the day immersed in gothic art and architecture. Tomorrow we’re off to more wine country – Montalcino and Montepulciano.
Until the next update, arrivederci, ciao.