Back in October (yes, nearly a year ago), we went on a cycling tour through Tuscany. We took about 400000000000000000 pictures of the trip, which is one of the reasons it took so long to route through them, select some favourites, and upload them, but I had a few days off the other week, and now we’re there.

The trip was absolutely wonderful. We woke up early and started cycling at about 8:30 every day, spent most of the day on our bikes exploring the Tuscan countryside, arrived at our next destination in the afternoon, showered, and headed out for some sightseeing and dinner, only to come home, sleep, and start over again. We went on a self-guided tour, which meant that the tour operator gave us directions at the beginning of the trip and sent us on our way. We had a quick introductory session at the first hotel, at which we were given a pack of information, a glass of champagne, and an extraordinarily ugly black hat with EUROBIKE written on the front in red.

That’s when we met the other self-guided tourists, who we later began to think of in an Amazing Race-type way. We imagined them cycling along with their names and a label on the screen beneath them, but since we didn’t know most of their names, we tended to stick with the labels:

French Canadian Foursome
Rather Bland Canadian Couple
Perky Australian Couple
Montana Man and his Swiss Wife
The Swiss Lesbians
. . . and us, who we later discovered (when the tour operator slipped and called us by our label) were known as “The Tall Americans.” Good to know we weren’t the only ones labeling people!

The cycling was actually pretty tough. Tuscany is beautiful, and it is also very hilly. We went about 30-35 miles each day, which is far on a flat surface and really far up and down hills. We tended to be the first ones out in the morning and the last ones to arrive in the afternoon. We didn’t cycle slowly – in fact we often passed people – but we managed to spend enough time cycling up and down side streets (mostly looking for wineries, olive groves, or any other consumable goods) that we lost that much time. One day we lost even more time:

At km 34.2, we went past a turn that would have been 0.5 km too early. We went another 1.5 km downhill, decided that it must have been our turn and went 1.5 km back UP the hill, only it turns out that it wasn’t our turn. We eventually discovered that we went wrong back at km 28.7 when “straight” meant “straighty-right,” and we took the wrong road. Using the map, we (we = Andy) found a shortcut, which was VERY steep, and we went back and forth up and down hills a bit, trying to figure out if the shortcut would get us to the right road or not. When we finally made it to the correct road (thanks to Andy’s skill and willingness to run down and back up hills to double-check), we learned that we lost about 12-15 km behind. We saw the tour organizer driving by shortly thereafter, and he stopped to ask if we were OK – good sign that we were WAY behind schedule. When we finally arrived at our destination (Greve), we found our fellow guided tourists enjoying a pint at the pub and laughing heartily at our rather long excursion. We had some gelato and suddenly felt all better. (Andy: Melone y Cappucino, Tiff: Caffe y Mousse di Chocolatta)

We actually ate an impressive amount of gelato while we were in Tuscany. That was our tenth gelato break, and we still had another day left. Here are a few more trip details, listed in relation to the gelato we consumed along the way:

1 – Day 1 – Montecatini – On the way from the train to our first hotel – Andy: Chocolate & Vanilla Cherry, Tiff: Chocolate

2 – Day 1 – Montecatini – After dinner – Andy: Frutti di Busco & Cookies, Tiff: Mint & Chocolate Chip (Straciatelli)

3 – Day 2 – Montecatini – After cycle to Vinci (as in Leonardo da) and a trip to the terme, where we “drinka dee water,” which is so cleansing that they have several hundred available toilets. Feeling suitably cleansed . . . – Andy: Strawberry & Chocolate, Tiff: Chocolate & Penna Cotta

4 – Day 3 – Pisa – After a stop in Lucca where we visited the tower with trees on top, between visiting the Cathedral in Pisa and walking along the river, we took lots of pictures of people doing Tai Chi, and we stopped for gelato – Andy: Chocolate & Caramel, Tiff: Chocolate & Coffee

5 – Day 3 – Pisa – After dinner, Andy realized he had ordered chocolate in some form every time and became determined to prove that he was not in a rut, and soooo. . . . – Andy: Pistachio & Licorice (EW!), Tiff: Fruitti di Busco & Straciatelli

6 – Day 4 – Casciana Terme – After a strenuous uphill battle and some time in the thermal pool, also good for healing, . . . Andy: Hazelnut & Teramisu, Tiff: Biscuttino & Cupido Chazelinutti (cookies and different cookies)

7 – Day 5 – San Gimignano – As soon as we arrived, because this was listed in our guidebook as a “world-renowned” gelateria – Andy: Orange chocolate & Tiramisu, Tiff: Chocolate & Tutto Frusco

8 – Day 5 – San Gimignano – Yes, it was THAT good – Andy: Mango & Strawberry & Vanilla Crème (3 scoops!), Tiff: Mint & Special random creamy flavor

9 – Day 6 – Siena – After a visit to the church of San Domenico and before the Palazzo Publico – Andy: Chocolatta & Caffe, Tiff: Kiwi & Vanilla

10 – Day 7 – Greve – You already know about 10.

11 – Day 8 – Florence – After the duomo and before the Iffuzi gallery, where we decided that churches and piazzas were better than art and a 90-minute wait, which were our two options – Andy: Biscotto & Cherry Vanilla, Tiff: Straciatella & Crème Caramel

12 – Day 8 – Florence – After we stumbled upon a random wine-tasting which was even more randomly showcasing Californian wines – We shared: Chocolatto, Stracciatella & Hazelnut and walked back along the river after a wonderful trip.

Here’s a quick taste of some of our funny experiences along the way:

We went to a concert in Montecatini – our first day in Italy. We arrived at about 4:30 for a 4:45 concert. The man looked at us like we were nuts and eventually said, “cinque, cinque media” – that’s 5, 5:30. So in Italy, concerts that start at 4:45 actually start ‘round about 5:30. The concert ended up being almost solely intended for people over the age of 70, several of whom were there looking at us like we were crazy. There was a fella playing piano and another fella singing – mostly Frank Sinatra – and then after about 45 minutes they invited a guy from the audience up. He looked like yoda, but MAN the old fella had pipes. He did some very impressive arias – especially for a random guy in the audience who we decided was perhaps not so random after all when – after much “oh no I couldn’t – it’s YOUR concert,” he brought his own sheet music up with him.

On one of our many side-trips to find wineries, we cycled into the back yard of a house / factory, where we found three old Italian men making wine! We took some pictures of them, which they found absolutely hilarious and perhaps a smidge embarrassing. The fat one held up a big plastic tube which was pouring wine into an enormous jug, and he said, “DA VINNNOOOO!!!!” which we loved because it just sounded so ITALIAN! Then they kept saying “AgritourISSMMMOOOOOoooooo,” which was also funny and obviously so strange to them.

One day we stopped in a random little restaurant for lunch, but we got there at about 11:45. We thought we would be too early, because lunch tended to start after noon and end at 2:00 in Tuscany (incidentally not all that convenient when one is – say – cycling through hills of farmland for most of the day). When we walked in, the young lady there started to explain to us in Italian that they didn’t have any hot food yet, when a voice from another room shouted “PASTA!” Our lady said, “y pasta? Pasta.” We said, “Pasta! OK!” and the deal was done. We also had some excellent wine, which was served in a big ceramic bowl with a ladle.

Looking back through my travel journal, I’m amazed at how much adventure we found along our way and at how much fun we always have. Here are some pictures – see for yourself!