Friday, September 16, 2011

Sept. 14-16, 2011 The Biking Tour of Tuscany Begins!

We left our wonderful B & B in Florence at 7 am on Wednesday and arrived by train to the tour shuttle meeting point outside of Perugia a few hours early. The train station was less than hospitable for hanging around, so Peter scouted town and we found a very sweet and friendly cafe to spend an hour or two - plus they had free Wi-Fi!

The biking group and guide were finally united, bikes and people were fitted and we did a test ride from our hotel in Torgiano to a small town 8k away. It was a good opportunity to figure out needed adjustments on our bikes and Peter also got to change my flat tire. What a guy!

Had a fabulous intro dinner Wed. evening with our group of 9 travelers and 2 guides. It's a very good group - Jill from New Zealand, Cliff and Deb from Tennessee, David and Sharon from Oregon and Wally and Lois from Ontario. Our guides are both Italian and we had toured with one - Stefania- in 2003 in Ireland. She's been with Experience Plus for 12 years. Our other guide is Michele and he has been working with EP for 6 years. They are a good team! To add, Jill and Sharon both speak Italian very well so we are in good hands.

Our first full biking day was to Assisi, the shrine of St. Francis - he is the national patron saint of Italy. It was a beautiful ride and we had a guided tour and lunch together. I must admit being a bit let down by just how commercial and overly-touristed Assisi is - quite a contrast to the saint who took a vow of poverty, chastity and service to others. It is hard to find that spiritual force among the t-shirts and knick-nacks.

After leaving Assisi at 2:30 pm we had a nifty ride to Spello, a wonderful little medieval town. The heat was pretty intense so we slowly made our way back to our Torgiano hotel. We did about 60k, not a difficult ride except for the heat. After a long (very long) late dinner with our new biking friends we packed to leave for Cortona in the morning.

A great day of biking to Cortona - another warm day but we finished the 67k by 2:00 pm and had lots of time to hike around this incredible hill town. Peter sketched and I organized pictures for the blog. We'll be meeting for a group dinner at 7:30 pm and everyone is excited to sample the wine of the region - the gelato was great so we have high hopes!

Day 2 -On the road to Assisi - getting ready to climb

We loved this statue of St. Francis renouncing his warrior status to adopt
a life of poverty and service

Assisi's back streets ooze with charm (as opposed to the main streets which ooze with tourists)

A welcome water fountain outside of Spello - it was over 90 deg. F during our afternoon return ride.

Making friends with an English Cocker Spaniel in Spello - can you tell I miss my ECS Bess?

The wonderful view from our hotel room in Torgiano - the Umbrian countryside is breathtaking.

Day 3 - one of many climbs on our way to Cortona, a 67K ride with continued hot, dry weather. We left early enough to avoid the most intense heat of the day.

Great views of Lake Trasimeno at the halfway point of the ride. It is the site of Hannibal's decisive defeat of Roman troops in 217 B.C. We biked right through the area the battle was fought.

A candid shot of some of our fellow bikers - from left June, Wally, Cliff and Deb as we start our long climb to Cortona.

The road upwards with Cortona looming above. The climb was about 4k of steady up which I admit I did at about a 7 mph pace - but I did it!

After showering and eating gelato, we mustered the energy to hike up to the highest point in Cortona - the city streets are STEEP! Peter and I decided this one would qualify as a black diamond run at any ski resort.

June gets cozy with a local - too cute to resist.

The reward for hiking up 110 meters - a breathtaking view of the Tuscany countryside from the fortress.

Peter's sketch of the Piazza della Repubblica in Cortona - we sat high on the church steps and watched the theater of people.

The locals also take their favorite seats to watch the same theater of humanity - they are so charming to observe!

June (in bright green shirt) stands near the entrance to our Cortona hotel. It is charming beyond description!

Thanks so much for traveling along - more adventures will be posted on Sunday!

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