Friday, May 30, 2014

Tuscan Loop - San Gimignano

The way to San Gimignano was as twisted, narrow and convoluted as any I have travelled. Susan and I, Andrew and Anuschka, Lauren, Jonathan and Vicky, had travelled in these parts just a few days before to get to Siena.

My skills were improving, but there was still little joy and much concentration to be found in those left hand sweepers.

The road began rising once more, twisting as it rose.

Roland spotted a secondary road veering left off the main road. We were in no hurry, and exploring was the order of the day. Off we went.

A fellow rider on a sport bike who had overtaken us impatiently, and in my estimation to his peril, fifteen or twenty minutes earlier, now swept by us in the opposite direction. I imagined he must be a courier and had made his delivery somewhere up the road. It turned out to be a clue and its significance was entirely lost on us until a little later on.

The sun shone brightly high overhead leaving few shadows and flattening the landscape. We rode at a moderate pace, swooping up, then down, left then right, with the road all to ourselves. Fields undulated with the road interspersed with olive groves and vineyards, farmhouses and isolated woodlots. The cypress trees stood like sentries here and there punctuating the landscape and making sure we didn't mistake the surroundings for anything but Tuscan countryside.

And then the dream ended. Rather the road ended. Well, it didn't actually end. We could have easily by-passed the unmanned road block and continued along. But for how long? Would we come to an eventual impasse? We confered on the intercom. We left it up to Roland. He thought about it out loud, weighing the explorer's thirst for adventure against the potential annoyance of having to undo the digression even more than would be the case if we turned around now.

With the slightest tinge of regret that drifted momentarily across his face, Roland made the U-turn and we headed back to the main road. The failed serendipity of the alternate bucolic route was well tempered, in fact entirely mitigated, by the obvious conclusion that the road was every bit as much fun to ride in reverse as it was on the way in. Somewhere along the way it dawned on me that Mr. Sportbiker had regretfully come to the same conclusion. We never crossed paths again. As I mentioned earlier, he was a clue, and we were clueless.

Somewhere between the roadblock and our return to the main road a snake made a mad squiggly dash across the road, about fifteen feet ahead of Roland's Vespa. That was a first for me, and I think a first for Roland. Certainly something you don't see every day. Roland came through on the intercom "did you see the snake??".

I'd say that snake was a good three-and-a-half or four feet long, and as black as the Ace of Spades. Skinny too. I'm guessing it was a nasty character with a mean disposition and irritable to boot. It made me think twice about how casually I had lain back in the tall grass to snap that shot outside of Volterra.

All thought of that incident melted away as we approached San Gimignano. I fear that words will fail to convey the wonder of that town. Don't bother heading to Google street view. Sure you'll find it allright, and yes you can stroll its street to your heart's content in the virtual world. I know, because I did that very thing in the weeks before our trip. But that experience pales beside the actual experience.

Once more we found the moto parking and stabled the bikes.

Sonja took charge of storming the town and led us up, and up, and up, until we found a path into the fortress. I'm not sure who was huffing and puffing most, but it wasn't Sonja. I believe that Roland and I were tied in the out-of-breath department.  The reward for the exertion was a terrace with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.
We continued to explore the town, following our noses as tourists are wont to do.
One of the remarkable things about this ancient walled city, is that it is very much alive and lived in.

Along its narrow streets are doors.  Some of those doors allowed tantalizing glimpses of beautiful gardens, and of the residence beyond.  I can't even imagine what it would be like to live here.
Not too long after taking the citadel by storm, and roaming its streets we stumbled on the world's best (if self-proclaimed) gelateria, serving what could be the world's best gelato. As fate would have it, we three were ripe for gelato. It was sorely needed to replace all the calories lost in the climb.
Copyright Sonja Mager
Copyright Sonja Mager
Copyright Sonja Mager
And so it was that we parked our butts on a convenient bench and watched the never-ending stream of tourists coming and going, parading to and fro in the early afternoon sun.

Gelato only lasts so long. Once you're done, you're done. Time to move on.

We made our way to the centre of town. Roland explained that San Gimignano is a town of towers. Competing families expressed their lofty positions of power in the citadel's hierarchy by building massive towers, that, well, towered over the city, more or less the way the family towered over the town in the social and political sense. A crude message yet no doubt an effective one in the days hundreds of years before social media.
Copyright Sonja Mager
Copyright Sonja Mager
While we busied ourselves trying to fit the towers into the viewfinders of our cameras, I spotted a truck perched at the top of a flight of stairs. It lurched forward. No... you're kidding... you can't get here from there I thought. But no, in Italy I guess you can drive a truck down a flight of stairs.
Actually, technically, it wasn't a flight of stairs, more of a ramp with stone ridges, but let me tell you, it sure looked strange.

Having explored San Gimignano as thoroughly as we were enclined to do, having seen its treasure trove of baubles and do-dads for tourists, it was time to head for the bikes.

Thankfully we didn't need to climb up to the bikes. The law of averages is kind that way. We had gone up, strolled down, so that was it. It was a pleasant walk to the motorcycle parking.

On the way out of town, we climbed a hill and Roland pulled over for the quintessential Tuscan photo op: riders with the town of San Gimignano in the distance as a backdrop.  It doesn't get much better than that.
Copyright Roland Mager
Copyright Sonja Mager
And so we moved on. We had strayed as far from Pontedera as our agenda allowed. We had a date with the Museo Piaggio. The holy grail for Vespa owners the world over.

Stay tuned. There's more of the Tuscan Loop to come.


Unknown said...


I don't think I could go up and down all those stairs but I certainly could sit there and devour a gelato. Ancient cities aren't kind to old people with handicaps. Many times in China, Mrs Skoot couldn't go because she couldn't so I went ahead and tried to snap photos to show her but after a while I just decided not to go either. It's not that fun having to wait by yourself. So just keep snapping away because that's the only way I could see where you were

I don't think I've been anywhere, where you have so much history and the weather looked nice too. You were lucky to have such good tour guides, wouldn't have been the same going solo

Riding the Wet Coast

RichardM said...

The colors in your photos are fantastic. The area is beautiful and "on the list" (as if such a list exists). Thank you for posting your trip. I can't wait to see what's next...

SonjaM said...

Ah, David. There is definitely writer's blood in your veins, that... or you are in love... with Tuscany. It happens, you know. Some people visit, some people revisit, and some people return to stay. That's what this scenery eventually does to you, it is addictive.

And reading this, I am left with the desire to do it all over again (I bet, you do, too).

Thanks again for the inspiration and the company. We had a blast!!!

Trobairitz said...

Love those last pictures. The perfect Tuscany photo opp.

David Masse said...

Bob, I know what you mean. Susan sprained her ankle just before we got to Florence. She was a real trooper, but there things she just couldn't manage. So I went snd climbed the towers and hiked way up the hills and brought back the photos.

David Masse said...

Richard, as all bloggers know, it's a labour of love. It definitely takes time and effort. I've still got about three posts to go to complete the series. Definitely worth it though.

David Masse said...

Thanks Sonja, the feelings are mutual.

Actually there is some writer's blood in my veins. My paternal grandfather was an author. He published in French in Quebec. He wrote five or six novels of which I've only read one. I should read the others.

David Masse said...

Thanks Brandy! I see you and Brad have had your own adventure on Vancouver Island.

VStar Lady said...

An excellent adventure with Sonja and Roland - What fun.

David Masse said...

Karen it was truly a gift. I only wish I had started riding and blogging earlier. Never did I suspect when I set out just how much fun it was going to be. Each adventure is its own gem as you well know.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.