Tuscany 2012

  • October 10, 2012 – Porto Santo Stefano, Italy

    If it’s good enough for Alpen it’s good enough for us.

    We are sitting on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean.

    "The Mediterranean from Porto Santo Stefano"

    The Mediterranean from Porto Santo Stefano

    Neeners.

     

  • October 10, 2012 – Porto Santo Stefano, Italy

    Short note tonite. On my Kindle.

    Due south of Florence on Monte Argentario. We are about 150 feet above the water and maybe one city block from the shore. Our room is on the top of the building with a private terrace. Very nice view.

    Phil and Debb in Porto Santo Stefano

    Phil and Debb in Porto Santo Stefano

    The magic hour

    The magic hour

    Made even better with Debb and a glass of wine.

    Made even better with Debb and a glass of wine.

    Dinner tonight was wine and munchies at the Sparkling American Bar just below us on the waterfront. Lots of beautiful young men and women having a drink and socializing. Two of the young ladies were stunning, and Debb says a couple of the guys were definitely “sponge worthy”. I have no idea what that means.

    Beautiful sunset, I took pictures.

    More when I have WiFi.

    We are waving at Mark.

    Life is good!

     

  • October 12, 2012 – Porto Santo Stefano, Italy

    Having a great time! Wish you were here!

    Clouds over Porto Santo Stefano

    Clouds over Porto Santo Stefano

    The event of note yesterday was lunch. We were walking around and decided to get a bite to eat. Ha! We walked in to this place that we could see people sitting at tables eating, so we knew we could get something. As we walked in, a guy saw us and waved us in and showed us to a table. We sat. He said, “We are serving fish.” (Basically, he was speaking the local, we caught a few words.) Water? Naturale. Wine? Yes. Off he goes, singing to the music, which is in Italian for a change. Sounded sort of like Tony Bennett or one of those crooners from back in the day.

    We never saw a menu, at our table or anywhere. The guy came back and told us he was the Chef. “You like!”. We did.

    A bottle of local white wine and then the food started. The appetizers were deep fried fish in an egg batter that looked sort of like it had exploded, sardines, and what I think was very salty, very thinly sliced ham in olive oil. Then a big plate of mussels. Very good mussels. Then the first plate was pasta and crab. Not the very best I’ve ever had, but still very good. Finally, a two big grilled white fish for the second plate. Wonderful.

    Our dolce was a lemony custard that was tart and sweet. Our chef had been carrying a big yellow bottle around to different tables and finally he brought it to ours. A lemon liquor that was very unusual tasting. And good. 28% was printed on the label.

    We finally took our leave. Definitely not the cheapest lunch I’ve ever bought but it will be one I won’t soon forget.

    The waterfront

    The waterfront

    A bit cooler today with some rain last night. Our pavers are gone and the street is full of traffic so we will go for a ride around the island today.

    View from the road around Mount Argentario

    View from the road around Mount Argentario

    Debb enjoying a coffee in Porto Ercole

    Debb enjoying a coffee in Porto Ercole

    Having a coffee and reading the paper

    Having a coffee and reading the paper

    Our balcony is just visible in the center of the photo

    Our balcony is just visible in the center of the photo

    Youngsters on the promenade

    Youngsters on the promenade

    A bit older

    A bit older

    There are two big yachts parked at the dock this morning. I thought Alpen might have driven over to see us, but I don’t see him anywhere.

    The next day:

    Up to now I have been concerned about my lodging bill. From now on it will be my dinner bill. We had another great meal this evening. Fish, of course.

    Aqua first, of course. then white wine and a discusion on the various merits of baked vs grilled seafood. We chose grilled Sea Bass and Fruita de Mare for an appetizer. That was cuddlefish, clams, prawns, oysters, and mussels. The mussels are very good here. Then a perfectly prepared fish.

    Dessert was apple cake and ice cream with chocolate drizzles. The after dinner liquor was Zibibbo from Sicily. And a shot of Grappa.

    I noticed our host was wearing a KTM shirt. I mentioned we were riding and he immediately brought a notebook of photos of him and his wife on their bikes when younger. Very fun.

    We finished our evening out with a glass of wine at our usual spot. Our waitress is so cute! She wished us good travels, in Italian of course. So cute!

    On the road again tomorrow.

     

  • October 13, 2012 – Riccio, Italy

    We are in a B & B on SS71 between Riccio and Vallone. I had hoped to stay in Cortona, but it is a city on top of a hill and finding a place to stay that doesn’t involve hauling your luggage up and down hills is tricky. We finally gave that up and after a couple of false leads, found this place. It is two large rooms plus a bath and has a kitchen and a washing machine. It is beautifully decorated and spotless.

    Beautiful hilltop villages, always with a castle

    Beautiful hilltop villages, always with a castle

    I have an ADAC map of Tuscany (www.adac.de/motorrad) that has good motorcycle roads highlighted in green. We rode the green line all day today. If you are not on the freeway here, in the first hour you will have gone through 5 small towns, 25 sets of switchbacks, uncountable roundabouts, stopped for a coffee at least once and if you are really on your game you will have covered 30 miles. We rode from 9:30 this morning until 4:30 this afternoon and did 130.

    Porto Santo Stefano to Orbetello to Marsiliana to Manciano to Pitigliano to Sorano to Castell’ Azzara to Saragiolo to Radicofani to Sarteano to Chianciano to Montepulciano to Vallano to Camucia to here. The folks who drew the green lines on this map knew what they were doing. Excellent riding and great views of the towns and the countryside all day long. Pitigliano is a town built on top of a rock. Look out the back window of most of the houses and you look down 100 feet to the ground. At least there isn’t any yard work! Chianciano and Montepulciano are beautiful towns with wide streets, lots of trees, and modern buildings surrounded by vineyards. All of them on hilltops with a view of the surrounding countryside.

    Our first look at Pitigliano

    Our first look at Pitigliano

    Debb being a tourist

    Debb being a tourist

    Beautiful ironwork here and all over Italy

    Beautiful ironwork here and all over Italy

    Every house has a view!

    Every house has a view!

    Several times today the GPS went nuts. I think even on the hilltops it was in the shadow of so many tall buildings it could not get a good position fix. I’m sure my tracks are bizarre. Of course, Murphy made sure it was doing that when I needed to figure out how to get to the next town. We survived.

    We had an excellent stay in Porto Santo Stefano. It rained once, but at night. We took a ride around the island two-up on Debb’s Strom. Some postcard views of islands in the Med. We got about two-thirds of the way around and the pavement ended. No problem for a bike with a 19″ front wheel and we made it past the 4km of rock and mud with no problem. When I got back to the room, I noticed on the map that the green highlight does not go all the way around the island. Now I know why.

    Two really excellent meals there. One lunch and the other dinner. We decided the dinner was the best of the two, but a close call. Maybe we just appreciated a fellow rider. The place we stayed was the first of our trip to not have any meat or cheese on the breakfast menu. We each got an enormous warm croissant, several mini rolls and lots of butter
    and jams. And coffee, of course.

    Occasionally, you will see a lady in a dress or a young girl in a mini skirt, but by far, most men and women wear denim pants. Many, many women of all ages wear scarves. Sometimes as a shawl, sometimes both at once. Quite an elegant accessory. Is that common back home? I don’t remember seeing it so much. Here and in Germany it is very popular. Even young men have them, now and then. Definitely not a gay thing as a couple of men had girls on their arms.

    I am making a list of things that need attention before our next trip. There are several things I need for the bikes like a tire guage, a small voltmeter,  a complete set of spare fuses and like that. I also have been thinking about my riding gear. I love my boots, but I am not in love with my jacket. I keep remembering the old software saying that goes, “No matter how good your user interface is, your users wish there was less of it.” I feel that way about my jacket. It is too feature laden by half. So many little bits of velcro that are always sticking to each other and have to be yanked apart to continue getting in or out of it. Three well-designed pockets would be far better than the 7 difficult ones I have. My pants are okay, probably because I don’t get in and out of them so often. Still too much velcro that gets caught too often. One annoying thing about the pants is the opening to let you get to your inside pants pocket is nowhere near my inside pants pocket. I’d rather not have that than have it useless. Moan, moan. moan. 🙂

    We are probably in for some weather for the next few days. Our intent is to continue north and west on the green roads heading toward Mugello. Subject to change as the weather dictates.

    Lunch today was in Catell’ Azzara. We accidentally rode about two miles the wrong way down a one way street, but only one guy wagged his finger at us and indicated we should go slow. No harm, no foul. We ate at a cafe that was full of old guys. The one nearest us had a bare amount of English and we ‘talked’ a bit during our sandwiches. He asked “Obama or Romney?” I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. He laughed. I think these guys were all on their second glass of wine.

    Dinner tonight was at a bar/cafe in Camucia. We ordered wine and they had lots of appetizer plates set out. Cold meats, prosciutto, cheeses, pickles, breads and humus. Really good. Debb ordered us coffee and she actually got a hot cappuccino! While we were enjoying our cheap dinner the skies opened up in a deluge. Fifteen minutes later it was over and we rode back here hardly getting damp from the highway.

    A good day of riding.

     

  • October 14, 2012 – Borgo San Lorenzo, Italy

    Another nice day of riding the twisties in Tuscany. It was a day of highs and lows.

    Breakfast at our B&B in Ricci

    Breakfast at our B&B in Ricci

    We travelled north from Ricci back through Camucia to Castiglion, Palazzo del Pero, San Severo, San Polo, Arezzo, Ponte alta Chiassa, Anghiara, Caprese, Pieve Santo Stefano, Bagno di Rom., over Paso di Mandrioli (again) to Badia, Poppi, Stia, Londa, Dicomano and here to Borgo San Lorenzo. We are about 3 miles from the Mugello race track, where we will go first thing tomorrow.

    We did Mandrioli about a week ago. Gary, Debb, and I stayed at the first of our Agro Tourist farmhouses – the one with the so-so wine and food – and came south to ride west over the pass. We came to the east side of the pass from the south today. We stopped in Badia at the same place as before and had a bite to eat there. The low point of our day
    came just after the high point of the pass.

    When we pulled up in Badia there were two guys on big liter-class sport bikes just getting ready to leave. Fully geared, including good leathers, boots and gloves. I was two feet from their rear tires and they were worn to the edges. We sat behind them for maybe 30 seconds pulling off helmets and gloves before they left. We parked and had our lunch. We left not 20 minutes after they did. Not far down the hill traffic was stopped. An ambulance and a fire truck were parked in the road at a sharp outside curve and a fireman was directing traffic. As we came around the ambulance there was one of the bikes laying on its side, jammed against the outside railing. The other bike was parked facing uphill just beyond it. There were a lot of people looking over the guardrail. I fear the two of them may have paid a high price for their Sunday ride. At first I thought, Wow, one of them may have paid the ultimate price. But then I realized the other one has to go back and tell his wife or family what happened. I wish them both strength.

    Tuscany!

    Tuscany!

    The hotel clerk here is a super guy. He is a big guy with a great smile and when he talks English, he sounds exactly like the guy in the TV sitcoms who just came over from the old country. Makes me smile. He recommended a trattoria just a few minutes walk and we enjoyed an excellent pizza and another very good tiramisu. That’s another week of juicing when we return. 🙂 A great meal at a reasonable price. Does it get any better?

    My half of dinner in Borgo San Lorenzo

    My half of dinner in Borgo San Lorenzo

    I have to take a few points away from the folks with the green highlighter today. They chose a couple of sections that were pretty bad. The worst was a section of old road that paralleled the freeway. The old road was in bad shape and down in the canyon where you could see nothing. The freeway was up high and out in the middle of space and the views would have been excellent. And the section of old road around Verghereo was horrible. Lots of broken pavement and sluffs off the hillside and bushes growing out of the road. It would have been dicey getting even a small car through a couple of those places. I have to take some points off for that.

    As you can probably tell, we aren’t much for big cities. We have been thinking we might spend a few days riding some of the local trains just for something different. Stay tuned.

    And take a moment to send a good thought for the fallen rider and his friend.

     

  • October 15, 2012 – Borgo San Lorenzo, Italy

    Wet!

    It was dry enough this morning to get us out on the road to go see the Mugello track. What a fine facility – at least the parts I could see. I pulled up under the archway and told the guy we were from America, but he wouldn’t raise the gate and repeated they were closed. So it
    goes. It is a beautiful setting here in the hills and what struck me was how small the roads were leading to the track. There must be a massive traffic jam on race days.

    That red thing is a big helmet

    That red thing is a big helmet

    A beautiful facility in a beautiful setting

    A beautiful facility in a beautiful setting

    Autodromo del Mugello

    Autodromo del Mugello

    One interesting feature is that a railroad tunnel goes directly underneath the entry arch from just across the two-lane road in front of the track.  In fact the track has just emerged from another tunnel only two hundred yards away. Quite the bit of hidden engineering.

    Carni

    Carni

    This was the sign outside

    This was the sign outside

    Next we went to Scarperia and wandered around there for a bit. It is a town famous for its cutlery. Several shops had big displays of various cutting utensils, some very elegant and some quite whimsical. There is a set of folding knives that have animal outlines on the top edge of the blade. When closed it looks like a dog or car or owl is peeking out. Cute. Debb noticed a salmon knife that was very thin and 18 inches long at least.

    The side of the chapel

    The side of the chapel

    Debb stands by the little door in the big door.

    Debb stands by the little door in the big door.

    Scarperia is known for its cutlery. Maybe not this cutlery.

    Scarperia is known for its cutlery. Maybe not this cutlery.

    We had a coffee at the Cafe Centrale. Every small town has a Cafe Centrale or Bar Centrale right at the center of town, it seems. We perused a 2004 Ducati yearbook while we had our coffee. There is lots of race memorabilia all over around here. Our hotel lobby has a number of Ferrari photos that have been signed by drivers and others on the teams. One of the photos is the entire hotel parking lot filled with red Ferraris. I’m sure this place must be a madhouse during a big race weekend.

    Stay out!

    Stay out!

    As we walked back to the bike the skies opened up. We quickly donned our gear and came back to the hotel – only a couple of miles. We thought we would wait out the weather and head back out when it cleared again. It didn’t clear. In fact, it hasn’t stopped raining yet, as of 9:30PM local time.

    Our comedic moment was shopping at the big store across the street. We got a veggie bag to put all the stuff we bought in to carry back. Unknown to us, it was slowly tearing at the bottom. It finally tore enough that everything fell out. In the middle of the street, of
    course. When we picked it all up we realized we didn’t have most of what we had bought. We retraced our steps and found all our shopping along the sidewalk and in the bushes and by the store front door. Doh! Lunch today was fruit and cookies and a little chocolate. Yum.

    We walked down to the local trattoria again and had another excellent pizza. And a nice bottle of local Chianti and another dessert. Really good and quite inexpensive – as these things go. Our waitress this evening spoke no English but we managed to get what we wanted.

    Dessert

    Dessert

    The internet connection in this hotel is very bad. I have a connection to gmail at the moment, but it could go away any second. I’m saving often. Of the dozen or so tabs I have in Chrome, gmail is the only one that doesn’t time out or get a DNS error. They need help, badly.

    If I can see a weather report I may decide which direction to head in the morning. If not, we will just have to trust our luck. Part of the equation when you travel in October, I think. Wish us luck!

     

  • October 17, 2012 – Massa Marittima, Italy

    Massa ‘with a view of the sea’, or ‘near the sea’. In any event, I can see it from my hotel room.

    Sun and clouds over Tuscany

    Sun and clouds over Tuscany

    More Tuscany

    More Tuscany

    We took the toll road past Florence and then just headed south where there seemed to be lots of sunshine and some green roads on our map. It worked! The best road of the day, and certainly in our top 5 for the trip is between Poggibonsi to here in Massa Marittima. Wonderful road through the Tuscany countryside. Lots of ups and downs over the hills and through the little towns. We were smiling all day. I’ll post pictures when I get a good connection.

    Follonica at sunset from our room in Massa Marittima

    Follonica at sunset from our room in Massa Marittima

    Last night we climbed up the hill to the old town and walked the ancient alleyways looking in the shops and admiring the old stone work. There is a big church constructed of stone with lots of holes and swirls in it. Very striking. I got a night shot of it that looks pretty good. I have no idea how old the church is but someone must have a full time job on their hands keeping it in good repair.

    This church was built between 1200 and 1300 AD

    This church was built between 1200 and 1300 AD

    Debb and wine in Tuscany

    Debb and wine in Tuscany

    We lingered over a glass of wine people watching and then found a small ristorante for a light dinner before heading back down the hill to our room.

    Aperitif

    Aperitif

    Debb's pasta

    Debb’s pasta

    My pasta

    My pasta

    Bonus! In the breakfast room this morning was a do-it-yourself coffee machine. A button for Espresso Long and a button for Latte and we had a hot coffee and milk that was quite to our taste. Yesterday at breakfast in B S L, a businessman came in the breakfast area and picked up a croissant and ordered a double espresso from the attendant. He ate the croissant and added two full sugar packets to his coffee. A quick sip for taste and then he downed it in one go. Sat the cup down, stood up, grabbed his case and away he went. Three minutes, tops.

    Thanks for following along.

     

  • October 17, 2012 – Isola d’Elba, Italy

    Quick note…

    Sunshine, a ferry ride, a nice shower and good WiFi. Our life does not suck.

    Our boat to Elba

    Our boat to Elba

    We rolled up to the ferry ticket window at 14:05. The ferry left at 14:30 for the one-hour ride to Portoferraio. We will be here for a few days. Enough time to get some pictures sorted.

    More later.

     

  • October 17, 2012 – Portoferraio, Isola d’Elba, Italy

    Yup, where Napoleon was exiled – and escaped.

    We left Massa Marittima this morning and headed north. Lots of sunshine, but still cool enough to wear the heated jacket for the first leg. That leg took us along highway 439 to Castelnuovo for our first break. We walked around a bit and then discovered it was market day so we stopped and walked around in the market. They are an interesting mix of goods. There is almost always a fish truck, a vegetable truck, a flower truck, and a bread truck.

    Certainly, these items are local or pretty close to local. Most of the rest of the market is stalls and trucks full of inexpensive Chinese made goods. Clothes, shoes, housewares, electronics, toys, and jewelry. This particular market had lots of women customers with their heads covered and some were wearing a burqa-like covering. Completely covered except for their face. There were lots of variations in the dress. Some all in black, some in
    normal clothes but with a scarf over their head and tucked into their coat. One of the younger women was wearing sandals and her feet were “henna’d”. I’ve not seen that before.

    No sooner did we leave there than we started seeing cooling towers. Lots of them, and very close to the road and houses. Certainly not a nuclear facility. Then I saw some huge pipes coming up out of the ground and thought it must be a geothermal facility. A bit of googling this evening confirms that. GTFS ‘geothermal Larderello’.

    Between Massa Marittima and Saline di Volterra the road is nearly as good as the one coming south was yesterday. Not quite, but close. This section was much more rural, and in some spots quite mountain-like. Lots of pine trees and no sign of a farm or a cleared piece of land or even a house for long stretches. As yesterday, there were lots of folks out hunting mushrooms. When we turned west at Saline, that all changed and quickly we were out of the mountains and down to the sea at Cecina.

    By that time we had decided to return south. The weather seems better down here and we have to make one final run to the north to Milan on our way home. So we blasted south on the freeway to Piombino. I followed the signs to the port and eventually found the ticket building. No schedules, no timetables, not even a clock anywhere in sight. I stood in line for the Elba ferry and at 2:05PM bought two tickets for the 2:30 ferry. What timing!

    Promptly, at 2:30 we departed and an hour later we were here in Portoferraio. Once again, the gps did well by us and the first hotel on the list was both close by and in my price range. Our room is on the second floor overlooking the sea to the north and our bikes on the street below. Our room has a lovely terrace out the back door.

    We got unpacked, showered, and then walked around the port before dinner. Lots of boats here, more than in Porto Santo Stefano. At least more big pleasure craft, including two power yachts well over 100 feet long. Big ‘uns, as they say. We saw quite a number of boats registered in Hamburg and a few from the Caymen Islands.

    Pretty and old but obsolete

    Pretty and old but obsolete

    After looking at a lot of places for dinner, we finally settled for a pizzeria not far from the hotel. I ordered Debb a pepperoni pizza, but she got a roasted pepper and sun-dried tomato pizza. It was excellent. Debb was hungry and ate all of it but the slice I shared. I ordered a Calzone and got one filled with ham and cheese and something else we
    couldn’t identify. Some herb, we think. Also very good. I couldn’t eat it all so I have a late night snack, if needed.

    Fishing boats in the harbor at Portoferraio

    Fishing boats in the harbor at Portoferraio

    A sign over the Bar Royale, just around the corner from the hotel, showed +22 degrees as we returned to our room. Shirt sleeve weather, if not for the breeze. No rain in the forecast.

    There is a scooter rental place just across the street. Hmm…

     

  • October 19, 2012 – Portoferraio, Isola d’Elba, Italy

    We have had two very pleasant days here in the sunshine. Life is good.

    Yesterday we walked. It is quite a hike up the hill to Napoleon’s residence. And quite a disappointment when you arrive to a big Do Not Enter sign because the whole compound is undergoing a huge restoration. No signs to that effect at the bottom of the hill!
    Napoleon had quite a view in his time here. His place is right at the top of a steep cliff overlooking the sea to the north.

    Sunset

    Sunset

    Sunset in Portoferraio

    Sunset in Portoferraio

    So we walked up the hill and we walked down the hill and we walked all over the port area. We need the exercise, given our dessert habits of late. Later, we had a glass of wine at our favorite corner bar and then a really nice dinner across from all the sailboats parked at the waterfront. The octopus was quite good. It is a very dense meat and we couldn’t finish it all, but there was tuna and quite a lot of pasta and bread and wine. Dessert was biscotti and some other hard cake and two shot glasses of wine-liquor. We dunked to our hearts content. Good thing we weren’t driving.

    Today we rode around the western end of the island. Mostly you are way up high, but occasionally you drop down to the sea, only to climb back up again. My gps showed a big mass of yellow road for the switchbacks up one of the hills. Great views of the ocean in all directions. Quite a few sailboats out today, very picturesque. Around on the south side
    of the island it is very rocky and arid.  Very few trees apart from those that have been planted around homes. The north side is dense vegetation from the shore to the tops of the mountains. We stopped for a break near Marino del Campo and enjoyed a beverage in the warm sunshine. Very nice and very quiet. We did our best to digest the local paper. I had better luck in the sport section.

    Tonight’s dinner was at a trattoria only 100 feet from our hotel door. We got there before they were open but they served me a beer while we waited and eventually we had a nice dinner. It seemed to me that everyone who came there was on a first name basis with all of the help. There was a big party of 20 or more in the big room opposite us. Good times.

    It really is a treat to sit and watch the people and the traffic. Sometimes I am amazed I don’t see any accidents and sometimes the traffic seems so organic that there couldn’t possible be any accidents. Very different than traffic in a US city, big or small. One thing that stands out – people get “cut off” all the time. It is normal here and no one gets the slightest upset by it. It is how you get in and out of traffic. Fun to watch, a bit of a challenge when you are driving in it.

    My fabvorite scooter pilot ever!

    My fabvorite scooter pilot ever!

    Tomorrow we will ride some more of the island and then on Sunday morning we will catch a ferry to begin our trip back toward Milan.

    Wish you were here!

     

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