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Online Mrs. DantesDame

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Tuscany!
« on: August 20, 2019, 01:44:56 PM »
Ok, going to move this over from my website because I like you guys. Well, most of you  :bigsmile:

Links won't be included, as they are on my website and can be found there if you're really interested.


May 25 - June 2, 2019 - Day 1

Saturday

The rolling hills of Tuscany had been pretty high on my bucket list for a few years now, but I had resisted heading in that direction because of the summer heat. Usually when we had time to go, it was the height of summer. But this time it was perfect: the last week of May was chock full of holidays so with minimal vacation time, we  booked ourselves for a week's holiday in the Italian hills.

Our first day was a short day. We slipped south into the Alps and to the tiny town of Kandersteg. It wasn't yet June, so not all of the mountain passes were open. Instead of riding around the mountains, I chose a route that would take us through them - literally.

Riding into the Alps
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I had scoped out the auto train between the villages of Kandersteg and Goppenstein, a route that would cut directly through sixteen kilometers of ancient granite. The disappointment of riding over the pass would be replaced by the novelty of the train ride. I had never been on an auto train before, but I assumed that it would be a lot like putting the bike on a ferry.

Waiting for the train
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The train has arrived and is about to unload
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Tesla, first in line!
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It hadn't been a long wait at all - we had timed it really well. I'd take the credit for that, but it was really just luck. We watched the cars unload and then we were directed to "board" the train. There were a couple of other bikes behind us, and to be honest it would have been nice to follow someone who had done this before, but instead, I directed Dan to go first.

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We traveled for quite a few empty carriages before we came to the motorcycle carriage. It was fully enclosed and had tie down points, and at the far end was a separate sitting area. While the car drivers had to sit in their cars for the journey, we would ride in style!

A few more bikes had joined us
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There were more bikes than tie down points, so Dan and I just wedged our bikes into place and hoped for a smooth ride. The other riders were friendly but generally kept to themselves for the duration. I sat back to enjoy the view - just kidding. It was fifteen minutes of external blackness and no wi-fi. It was a nice bit of "forced relaxation".

Map of the train connections in the seating carriage
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Because we had wedged our bikes in so tightly getting into the carriage, it was a bit of Tetris to get the bikes back out. The other riders were helpful in juggling the space, and Dan made sure to help direct the riders as they came out of the carriage, as the angle of exit was a little tight for some of the wider bikes.

No problems for this bike to exit!
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Our bikes reflected in the seating carriage window
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Welcome to the southern side of the Alps
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We zipped down one side of the valley and up the other. A light drizzle was falling but it felt so good, I didn't mind. We were heading for Simplon Pass - and Italy!

Looking up the valley from above Brig
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Still a bit of snow on Simplon Pass
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Simplon Hospice, built in 1801 on the orders of Napoleon
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Prepare for the descent!
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That light drizzle? Yeah, it became a steady rain
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The southern side of Simplon Pass is quite dramatic
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Crossing into Italy!
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The rain lets up south of Domodossola
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The road south of Simplon was slow with rain and traffic, but once we hit the main motorway the clouds lifted and the traffic thinned. We were on the home stretch for our first holiday stop.

My faithful companion
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A quick stop in Baveno to check directions
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I had arranged to stay in the town of Stresa, Italy, on the shores of Lake Maggiore. This was another "bucket list" location that I had heard great things about and was excited to finally see. We parked the bikes at the waterfront while we looked for our hotel - I had reserved rooms at Hotel Elena, in the heart of the pedestrian zone.

Hotel Elena on Piazza Cadorna, Stresa
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I was checking out the area in Street View before we left home and found this:
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Our hotel was about as central as you could get, yet it was still quiet and comfortable - and affordable. We were able to park our motorcycles just behind the building and hauled our gear into the tiny elevator. Our room had a view over the piazza and one of the local churches. It was perfect for our needs.

Chiming bells from our hotel room: short video

View from our room
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We changed and went out to explore the town for the few hours we had left in the day. It isn't a big place by any stretch of the imagination so we poked our heads down every street and alley we came across. It was a lively, albeit touristy, place. I haven't heard so many American accents since my last trip to the U.S.!

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It really is "the White Store"
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Market stalls near the lake's edge
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An overcast lake view
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The damp evening didn't lend well to much exploration along the waterfront, so we found something to eat and made our preparations for tomorrow: Isola Bella.

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Online Vulcanbill

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2019, 01:55:44 PM »
Nice RR, Orson.
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Online Mrs. DantesDame

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2019, 01:57:11 PM »
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Online Mrs. DantesDame

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2019, 01:57:36 PM »
Sunday

I had planned a full day of relaxation and exploration of Stresa and the nearby sights. I had done some research about the "two islands" just off the shore: one was known for its castle and formal gardens, and the other for a plethora of restaurants. The previous evening, we went down to the water's edge and bought a ticket that gave us access not only to these two islands, but a third on as well. Now anticipating our 10:15 departure, we returned to the waterside and were set to explore!

Views from a short walk before our boat tour
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No sunshine this morning
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The boats go out....
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The boats come back...
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We were not the only ones heading out this morning
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I found it surprising - and a little disconcerting - that the boats did not so much as "dock", as they "ran aground". This wouldn't be so shocking, if the shore wasn't lined with stone. The boats had thick metal prows, which seemed to protect the boats well enough, and left their mark on the stones.

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We climbed into our boat and watched the shore fall away. Our first port of call would be Isola Madre. I knew nothing about this particular island. Everything I had read about regarding the islands near Stresa concerned only Isola Pescatori and Isola Bella. What lay in wait for us on Isola Madre?

A white pea hen
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Formal gardens
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Looking across to Pallanza
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Isola Madre was packed full of formal gardens, lushly tended plants, exotic birds and a large building called Palazzo Borromeo. It made for a delightful setting to explore on this cool morning.

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In 2006, a tornado roared through the island, wrecking havoc on the vast collection of trees and shrubs. One in particular, a cypress that was planted in 1862 and the largest one in all of Europe, was toppled. Through some amazing engineering and care, the tree is once again upright and thriving.

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From the sign (also showing what the tree used to look like)
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Palazzo Borromeo
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The Palazzo was started in the 15th century and opened to the public in 1978. Full of beautiful murals, family furniture and - much to my surprise - marionettes!

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The Marionette collection was amazing, as well as surprising to see. Sure, people collect "things", but those collections are usually not housed in historic buildings. And this was an extensive collection of not just the marionettes themselves, but the massive stages and scenes that were created to display them on.

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After exploring the rest of building, we returned the gardens, and eventually back to the dock to wait for a ride to the next island. They actually had a pretty nice system: our boat had a set schedule to come to each island at a certain time. You could catch whichever one you wanted, meaning that you could spend as much (or as little) time on each island as you needed.

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These islands took a lot of photos, so I'm going to split it into two entries...off we go to Island Number Two!
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Online Max Wedge

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2019, 10:00:47 AM »
It's all too perfect. Thanks for sharing it.
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Online Mrs. DantesDame

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2019, 10:54:27 AM »
Here's a bit more:

Sunday, continued

Our next stop was for lunch, which wasn't so much "our" idea, as it was the planned tour's idea. The Isole Pescatori was known for its plethora of shops and restaurants, and we had arrived at the perfect time.

Most of the boats used the same "dock", so getting off and on had to be quick
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Isole Pescatori used to be a small fishing village and, to some extent, it still was. But now it was predominantly overrun by tourists, and only about twenty five people now live there year around.

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Looking back to Isola Madre
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We had found lunch at Chez Marvel, which was surprisingly difficult. Neither of us really knew what we wanted to eat, and so many of the restaurants had people standing outside to entice us in (which usually puts us off), that we just kept walking around and around, until we finally gave up and just took a table. Despite the sign at the door, there was no view from our seats, and the food was "ok". But at least the service was nice.

We decided to hurry up and catch the next boat instead of waiting an hour. We had seen pretty much all that we had wanted to see here, and I knew that we'd just get bored if we had to wait unnecessarily.

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Farewell, Isolo Pesactori!
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The main draw to the Borromean Islands (as these three islands are referred to) is Isola Bella. Here, the star of the show was the Palazzo, an immense Baroque structure, and its impressive Italiante gardens. Of course, I only knew that "one island was full of restaurants, and the other has nice formal gardens". Let's see just how much more there was to see!

As soon as we got off the ferry we headed for the Palazzo. We were excited to see the pinnacle attraction of this region!

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Because we bought the fully comprehensive ticket, everything was included, meaning all the ferry boats and the entrance fees to the various establishments. This made things very relaxing, as we never had to consider if it was "worth it" when it came to entrance fees. It was also nice to just waltz right through the front door and enjoy the wonders on the other side.

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So many paintings! In such big frames!
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Detail along the top of the portraiture room
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The rooms in the palace were scrumptious. Each one was lavishly decorated, with rich materials, colors and textures.

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I would love to have more details about what I was looking at and what it all "meant", but the little informational plaques were only on the walls, and not something I could take with me to reference later. So instead, I will "borrow" some information from the wiki page:

"The palace was built in the 13th century for the House of Borromeo. At the time, the Borromeo (originally from Florence) were quickly consolidating their influence in Milan and Northern Italy. The palace eventually became the centre of a sort of "Borromeo citadel" within the city proper. The Borromeo used the area for celebrations and events such as chivalrous tournaments. The palace was also renowned for housing a prestigious art collection.

The palace has a late Gothic architecture, which has nevertheless undergone several major modifications through the centuries (and most notably after being damaged by bombings in World War II).

The main feature of the facade is the large doorway, decorated with white and red marble. The inner courtyard is the part of the palace that is best preserved; some of the original frescoes are still visible, some representing the tourneys held by the Borromeo are found in one of the rooms of the palace, known as the "architecture study"; they are credited to painter Michelino da Besozzo. The palace is still the property of the Borromeo family."


Hmmm. That was a lot of words, but not a lot of information. Let's look at more pictures!

The Main Hall
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Looking north, back towards Isolo Pesactori
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Detail of Trompe-l'œil on the ceiling
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A number of the lower rooms were dedicated "grottos". I couldn't imagine what one would do with all of these rooms but hey! Those people partied in a whole different way hundreds of years ago!

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So many little stones!
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Yet another room
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Carriage horse trappings perfectly preserved in one of the grottos
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Awesome stair construction (we weren't allowed up them)
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We eventually resurfaced from the grottos and returned to the opulent ground floor rooms - namely, the Tapestry Hall.

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Tapestry details:
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We were suddenly outside. We had reached the famous gardens that the island was really known for. By now, the sun had started to shine and the day was looking bright.

The first thing we saw when we came outside
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And this is what was behind it
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It was grand! The scale of it was beyond anything I had expected. We scrambled up and around the pathways, taking in the views from various angles. It had turned into a glorious day for sightseeing.

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White peacocks graced the grounds
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The Palazzo is behind those trees
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Flowers of early summer
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It had been a day well-spent. We had toured the palace and the grounds, and made a quick tour of the rest of the island while we waited for the next ferry to come and whisk us back to Stresa.

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It was fairly late in the day, but not late enough to just pop out to dinner and finish off the evening. We still had some energy so decided to do some more local exploration.

Water safety day!
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People on their bikes, enjoying the day on two wheels instead of two feet
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"Abandoned" houses with amazing views
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The road that we followed up the hill from town
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Coming back down the hill through a nice neighborhood
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We came out to the main road along the lake, almost two kilometers south of town. The lakeside road was not set up for pedestrians, so we carefully made our way back, keeping back as buses and cars whizzed by.

Tomorrow's photo, showing the stretch of road that we had walked up
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We had a nice meal at Ristorante Trattoria "Stornello" (good food!) before returning to our room to pack in preparation for tomorrow's departure. We still have a ways to go to reach Tuscany!
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Online Mrs. DantesDame

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2019, 10:57:04 AM »
And leaving you with a "day on the bikes" for now. I hope to finish this tonight, because I'm leaving in the morning for London  8)

Monday

We left Stresa in the morning, the streets quiet after most of the weekend tourists had gone home, or at least gone somewhere else. Our early morning route followed the western short of Lake Maggiore, passing through small towns along the way, and offering plenty of views of the lake.

Morning streets of Stresa
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Low clouds across the lake
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Another picture of the "unwalkable road"
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After we left the lake behind we continued to stay on the secondary roads, hoping to see more interesting things along our way. And we did see a few interesting things. But it was very few.

<Rice paddies in Italy!
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I had no idea....
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Poppies!
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One of the reasons that I wanted to travel to Tuscany in June was to avoid the heat of summer. Of course, the challenge is to also avoid the spring rains. While I thought I had found the sweet spot in between the seasons, today's weather had other ideas.

It poured.
All day.

While we had intended on taking some more scenic roads to Tuscany, the monotonous rain and heavy traffic pushed us to the Autostrade. Tolls be damned, we'd get to Tuscany before we drowned.

The motorway was fast and, for the most part, boring. There wasn't much to see from our perspective and with the constant rain, the clouds hid anything in the distance. The tolls were, as usual, a pain in the butt to pay from the back of a motorcycle. Wet gloves didn't help the situation at all, and I was only too happy to finally reach our destination for the next three nights: the little town of Fiesole, on the outskirts of Florence.

A wet rest stop
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Soggy
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Finally entering the hills of Tuscany - at least the rain had let up
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My thoughts in choosing a quiet place outside of the city was twofold. First of all, it would be quiet. Our time in Napolireally made me aware of just how noisy the narrow Italian streets could be late at night. Secondly, I hoped to spend more time exploring the Tuscan countryside than the actual city of Florence. Being located just outside of the city meant that an escape into the countryside would be that much easier. It turns out that my thought process didn't work quite how I had hoped: our apartment was almost too quiet. There was no nearby town to walk to or restaurants to visit. Everything we wanted to do would require a bike or a bus. And the weather squashed the plan of spending a couple of days under the Tuscan sun, soaking in the sights and smells of the Italian landscape. Instead, we were left soaking in a steady rain. But I am getting ahead of myself...

We worked our way through the Florence traffic and out the other side, shortly making the turn from the main road and up a steep hill. Our residence for the next three nights was in sight!

The driveway
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Our apartment
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The main house on the grounds
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This would do nicely
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Our hostess was pleasant and we were soon settled in to our new accommodations. The grounds were her family's olive plantation and we took a walk around to see what was nearby. As I mentioned just a bit ago, there wasn't much nearby.

Except for olives
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Cozy on the inside!
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It had been all day on the bikes, and now it was time to relax. We had picked up some food at the market on the way in, and Dan set about making us a wonderful meal as the daylight faded.
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Online Papa Lazarou

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2019, 11:08:11 AM »
beautiful, thanks. The Italians really overdid Baroque-but they did invent it.
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Online Mrs. DantesDame

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2019, 11:47:59 AM »
beautiful, thanks. The Italians really overdid Baroque-but they did invent it.

You know what the Italians say: If ain't Baroque, don't fix it!
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Online Mrs. DantesDame

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2019, 11:48:09 AM »
Tuesday

We had looked at the weather forecast and it didn't look good for riding.

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We delayed our tour of the countryside and instead focused on exploring Florence. We had scoped out the bus into the city and it would be easy: a quick walk down the hill to the main road and then a bus would take us straight into the heart of the historic city. It took an hour to get there, what with the walk to the stop, the wait for the bus, and then the thirty minute ride in. But hey! It was just 1.50€ and we got to see a bit of the suburbs on the way, not to mention the high number of students that crammed their way into the bus. The ride into the city was anything but quiet, but everyone was polite, and usually tried to make room when the bus stopped to gather more people.

"End of the Line" bus stop
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I had cleverly taken an old map of the city center and highlighted key features that I was interested in seeing. It made it a lot easier to organize things so we weren't traipsing back and forth all of the time! Dan expressed interest in the Medici Palace but suggested that we look around the area before committing to going into an attraction. We had only just gotten off the bus, so that seemed like a fair approach.

And off we went, exploring this ancient and historic city. Here is a smattering of our first impressions.

So. Many. People.
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The queue to get into the cathedral wrapped around the cathedral
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Still a light drizzle
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In my pre-trip research, one of the "do not miss!" things to do was to climb to the top of Cupola di Brunelleschi (the "Dome") in the Cattedrale di Santa Maria (the "big cathedral" in Florence). I read that this could sell out, so as soon as we could find the ticket office - not an easy thing to do - we made reservations for the next day. Ok, now it was time to go back out and continue exploring!

While our tickets weren't good for the Dome until tomorrow, they DID include some things that we could take advantage of today. Like climbing the bell tower.

Four hundred stairs! It will be a good warm up for tomorrow
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A sneak peek at tomorrow's adventure
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View of Basilica of Santa Croce
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Downtown "modern" Florence
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We ascended and we descended. The views were great from the bell tower, and the narrow steps were tricky to navigate with two-way traffic, but it was definitely a good opportunity to see the architecture up close.

We meandered the narrow streets, considering something for lunch, when a sudden rain burst sent everyone scurrying for cover. We had talked about buying an umbrella, but stood under an eave instead. It was pleasant to feel the cool air and see the light reflected off the paving stones. When it wasn't a downpour, of course.

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We found a nice little shop for lunch, and relaxed with our sandwiches while the rain did its thing. Post lunch, Dan suggested the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum. We are both fans of this engineering wizard and looked forward to visiting the museum.

There were a lot of interactive exhibits and some really nice builds based on his designs. That being said, Dan and I both felt...underwhelmed. The museum space was rather small, the exhibits "nice" but not "amazing", and it seemed like it really wasn't worth the cost of entry.

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The original Iron Man
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At this point, we just gave up on the museums and wandered around some more.

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We found Mercato Centrale (an indoor market)
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The river Arno
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Did you ever see something "famous" but not really know much about it, let alone where it was, and then suddenly find yourself there? Well, that's what happened to me. We were crossing over the Arno river and when I looked up stream, there it was: Ponte Vecchio.

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The bridge, spanning the Arno river since the Romans settled the area, has been rebuilt a couple of times in its 1,000 year history. In 1593 the Medici Grand Dukes prohibited butchers from selling on the bridge. And if you can't sell meat, what is the next logical material to sell? Apparently gold, for the butchers' empty stalls were immediately taken by several gold merchants. Even today, this decree is still valid, and the bridge supports a surprising number of jewellery shops.

A slightly closer view
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Shops (and people!) on the bridge
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Small car convention; Dan for scale
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"Get off my nose! That tickles!"
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Our wanderings had brought us to Piazza della Signoria, apparently the home of wayward statues. There was an amazing array of statues gathered here and it gave the Piazza an almost "flea market" feeling. "Get your statues here! Statues! Best selection anywhere!"

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We had run out of steam. We found a place that sold fresh ingredients and Dan picked out some nice things so that he could make dinner for us again. We found our a bus stop that would get us "home" and called it a day. We had walked 12 kilometers, and tomorrow would be another big city day!

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2019, 12:03:31 PM »
Wednesday

We had gone to bed early, as the TV channels had nothing interesting to watch, and the Internet was slow and intermittent. Without much "external" distractions, it was just as well to get a good night's sleep. I wish I had slept well, but apparently Tuscany has mosquitos and no way of keeping them out of the bedroom. I spent a good portion of the night slapping at them and trying my best to hide under the sheets. Judging by the number of mosquito bites I had on my forehead the next day, I failed.

Our reservations for The Dome weren't until 5 o'clock, so we still had plenty of time to do other things. Dan renewed his interest in the Medici Museum, and mentioned also seeing Galleria dell'Accademia, where the famous statue of David is located. In addition, there were some great parks across the river that my research (ie, the Internet) said were great for views of the city. We'd not run out of things to do, that's for sure!

Our morning was leisurely and by the time we reached the Medici museum we thought it might be a good idea to grab something quick to eat, so that we wouldn't be distracted by our stomachs once we were inside.  Right across the street was a little shop, Godi Fiorenza, where we took a seat and had a light meal.

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And now to the home of the famous House of Medici. "The Medici Bank, from when it was created in 1397 to its fall in 1494, was one of the most prosperous and respected institutions in Europe, and the Medici family was considered the wealthiest in Europe for a time." I mean, with a family that can boast this kind of background, it has to be interesting!

The museum was closed.

For some reason, the idea of a museum being closed on a Wednesday just seemed...weird. But it was closed. We had missed our chance yesterday and now we wouldn't be able to see the wonders of wealth behind these closed doors. In addition, the Galleria dell'Accademia was fully booked for the next couple of days. With two strikes against us, we launched ourselves back into the streets of Florence.

Closed on Wednesdays!
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Back to the bell tower! Well, just around the base of it, anyway
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Why hello there, Señor Rossi!
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We crossed the river and made our way up to Piazzale Michelangelo. It was a leisurely walk to the park, and then a less-leisurely walk to the top of it.

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Nice view of the Dome
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Camera super-zoom to the top of the Dome - we'd be there in a couple of hours
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We descended down from the park, re-crossed the river and looked for things that we hadn't seen yet.

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A very interesting shop with an attached book bindery. They did some very nice work inside.

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Torch (?) holder on a building
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Ancient murals
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Our five thirty Dome tour time was nearing. We weren't sure how the line worked, other than only those with the correct ticket would be let in at their proper time. We stood in line early, on the off chance that an early arrival would allow an early entrance. It was not to be.

Detail as we wait for entry to the Dome
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So many details!
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At our appointed time (five minutes late, actually), we were ushered through a low doorway and directed down a narrow, dark hallway.

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And the up some stairs. Lots of stairs
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Then the doorway opened to a larger room. We were high up on a catwalk that circumnavigated the interior of the dome. It was magnificent.

Note the person in the doorway for scale
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Looking down
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Some of the ceiling murals
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Details of the mural
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After passing halfway around the opening, the path veered back into the hidden, behind-the-scenes, construction area. More narrow passageways awaited us, as well as some more stairs and low, overhanging walls.

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Note the smoothed brick area from thousands of brushing hands
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It was a very convoluted passage
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We started passing people coming down the passage - it was a one way in / out, and we were nearing the point where the previous group was trickling back down. The passageway also took a sharp turn: up. It was time to actually get to the top of the dome.

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Florence!
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Looking down
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Yesterday's bell tower
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Cozy gardens visible from above
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Photographing the spot in the park where I took the "super zoom" picture of the Dome yesterday
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After walking around the entirety of the Dome walkway, taking way too many photos and generally enjoying the view, it was time to descend. Now we were the ones trying to squeeze our way by the new tour group, waiting at wide spots until they passed. It was a lot quicker doing down than it had been coming up.

The church nave from the ground level, with the murals visible above
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At this point, Dan decided that there was "a really great panini" place and that we should go there for dinner. I was fine with this, but since Dan wasn't really sure where this place was, it was not a quick trip to dinner.

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But we did eventually find it (and I admit that it was good), but now I was done. After a quick stop at the store to pick up some grocery items, it was time to find our bus back to our apartment. Tomorrow we'd do something on the motorcycles and I had some planning to do!

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« Last Edit: August 21, 2019, 01:07:12 PM by Mrs. DantesDame »
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2019, 12:06:47 PM »
Just going to keep plowing through these, so as not to leave you hanging until next week...

Maybe I should build the tension?  :popcorn:   After all, tomorrow is a Bike Day  :smiley_thumb:
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #12 on: August 21, 2019, 12:36:39 PM »
(ok, giving up and just posting day after day after day  :smiley_thumb:  )


Thursday

The sun shone brightly on our rain-washed bikes - it was time to explore! I had looked at a map of the region and, with a couple of recommendations of places to see, I made a general route for the day. I knew nothing about what we'd encounter, nor what kind of riding conditions we could expect. It would be an adventure!

We headed east along the Arno river - which appeared to be running very high. I suspect that Italy had had a lot of rain recently
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I admit that I did a little bit of snooping on the internet and found a village (Saltino, pop. 32) on a mountainside that looked like it would give a wonderful view across the valley. I always enjoy the perspective that being up high gives you, so I lead us up through a forest, the road curving tightly through the dark trees. We were in Riserva Naturale Statale Biogenetica di Vallombrosa, a large natural park. The temperatures dropped as we ascended - and we ascended for quite some time! Still, i was looking forward to surprising Dan with the overlook and we rode on through an increasing layer of mist.

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The view was not to be found. We had ridden high enough that we were now in the a layer of clouds the hid everything but the nearby trees from view. I could see, through thin pockets, that there was great potential for a view, but it wasn't happening now. We got back on the bikes and rode back down the mountain.

The overlook
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Almost a view...
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A couple of recommendations of "must-see!" towns were on our list, but because we wanted to be sure to have time to spend exploring, I had made a route that would not overload our time. We were heading for San Gimignano, after a slight detour through Greve in Chianti. Having no real idea what we'd find, I was sure that we would not be disappointed.

Vineyards and olive trees were the dominant sight for the next couple of hours. Large clusters of ancient stone buildings periodically graced the top of green hills. The road passed through sparse villages and the roads were mostly empty.

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We took a saunter around Greve's square
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The roads after Greve became much more interesting, and the light rains we had encountered eventually cleared up to leave behind just a layer of clouds.

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The ubiquitous road construction queue
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At San Gimignano, we found a place to park the bikes and headed into the ancient hilltop town to see what there was to see. It is known for its 13th century walls, and fourteen towers, and it was recommended by a friend that the best gelato was sold here, and we were ready to put this boast to the test.

One of the fourteen towers in the city - and many other tourists as well
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Passing through one of the city's gates
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Fresh local products vied for our attention
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Standing in line for our gelato
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Enjoying the tasty ice - and yes, it was good!
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View from the city's wall
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We had eaten our gelato, picked up some fresh products for tonight's dinner extravaganza, and headed back to the bikes. It had been a relaxing day and now we were going to meander our way back to the apartment for our last night in Fiesole.

A quick stop to get a photo of San Gimignano from the distance
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And the blue skies were appearing!
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The roads back to Fiesole were nice, and by the time we reached our apartment it was fairly late in the day. It was nice to relax while Dan made another fine meal, and the sun lit up the remaining clouds.

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For as enjoyable as the hills of Tuscany were, they weren't quite as I had imagined them. I can't put my finger on what I thought I would see, but what I did see did not fit in with my preconceived ideas. Perhaps more rolling hills? More golden colors (autumn)? Clearly I'll have to go back some day and try to figure this out!
« Last Edit: August 21, 2019, 01:11:01 PM by Mrs. DantesDame »
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #13 on: August 21, 2019, 12:45:38 PM »
Friday

I had planned for four days in Tuscany, but based on the weather, what we had seen and how long it would take to get home, we decided to bail out a day early. This would give us the option to take a more leisurely route home - although still not as leisurely as I would have liked it!

We had learned a valuable lesson in our ride to Florence: the pleasant side roads were often too slow to really make any distance. If we wanted to get anywhere, and get their early enough to enjoy the place were were staying, we had to take the autostrada. Boring - and with those painful tolls - but it was a trade-off that we were willing to make. 

Good houseguests, taking out the recycling on the way out of town
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Just getting out of the Florence municipal area took us almost an hour. We had to ride through the city and had caught the tail end of morning commute traffic. But of course even this was interesting, as we got to see some areas of Florence that weren't hundreds of years old. Every city has at least two sides, and it was nice to see another side of Florence.

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Even outside of the city we ran into traffic
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It was a long, fairly uneventful ride west towards Lucca and the Mediterranean beyond. We had agreed to take the autostrada today, as we were anticipating spending some time exploring the coastal town that we would stay in tonight. So highways and high speeds it was!

Looking forward to getting into the mountains
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So much marble!
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Shipping containers and railyard
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We had left the plains of Piedmont Italy behind and were now making our way through the mountains where they meet the Mediterranean Sea. It was a really nice area to ride through, and Italy did a pretty good job with their tunnels.

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My plan was to take the autostrade to Genoa and then secondary roads to our final destination of Varazze, just forty five minutes further along the coast. The problem was, Genoa was in the way. I had incorrectly marked Genoa as a waypoint on the GPS, and the GPS insisted on taking me to the dead center of the city. I didn't realize this until it was too late, and by then my GPS could not function on the spaghetti roads that we found ourselves on.

Welcome to Genoa
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About three layers of road - the GPS didn't know what to do!
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After a series of backtracking and frustrating tours of the busy city streets we finally escaped and were on the road to salvation. Or at least the road to the coast. It felt good to be "almost there".

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Our hotel room for the night, at Hotel Milton
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View from our room
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It was only mid-afternoon, so after unpacking the bikes and changing into sunny-weather clothes, we explored our new location. Our hotel was right across the street from the beach, so we first went there, but then quickly got distracted by the line of buildings that made up the rest of this town.

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I think that this building could use a good dome...
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1759
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The relatively empty streets were enjoyable, after being immersed in the crowds of Florence
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Verezze is tiny, and we reached the end of the central area in just a matter of minutes. So we turned around and this time went to the coast and checked out the large marina at the other end of town.

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So much money sitting on the water here
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Boat bath time
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We were ahead of the high season - thank goodness!
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Heading out to sea
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We played with the idea of what it would be like to have a mega yacht and cruise the Mediterranean and other coastal areas. What boat would we want? What would want in our boat? Where would we go? Where would be store the bikes? This would take some consideration, but not now. Now it was dinner time.

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Dan found "the best restaurant" in Verreze but by the time we got there, there were no more available tables. Then we ran into one of the problems of staying in a small town in the shoulder season: the choice of restaurants was limited. We ended up going back to our hotel and eating in the restaurant there. The pizza I had was good (very good, even) and Dan enjoyed his meal as well. After our meal we retired to our room, happy to finally have a good internet connection so I could make more preparations for tomorrow's ride.
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #14 on: August 21, 2019, 12:51:54 PM »
I see that somehow some of the photos are larger than others :headscratch:   I'll see about correcting that later.... I promise!
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #15 on: August 21, 2019, 12:55:38 PM »
Saturday

Today would be mountain pass day! I was so excited about today's ride: we would be crossing over the Great Saint Bernard Pass. I haven't been on this pass before, and there was even some question as to whether the end of the day would change that: the pass was due to open today (June 1st), but I could not find anything conclusive online that the road was indeed open. Oh well - we'd head in that direction and make some last-minute changes if needed. Let's go!

Leaving town
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Fortunately not much traffic on the narrow roads
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Mountain towns
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This was nice riding
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Mountain riding is where its at. I enjoyed our morning's trek into the mountains and north towards home.

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We crossed the "basin" around Turin and then re-entered the mountains. It felt good to know that the rest of the day would be on curvy roads and with beautiful scenery.

Bye bye, autostrada!
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Still fast roads in the valley floor
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This area (near Aosta, Italy) requires a return visit!
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We had turned off the main road (E25) and were heading for the Great Saint Bernard Pass. The road got narrower and threaded its way through mountain villages.

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We decided to stop for gas before actually getting to the pass, but by the time we found a station, we were at the place where the road would cross over the pass - or not. I had seen signs just a few meters before that gave me the distinct impression that the pass itself was closed. The "Road Closed" sign was a big indicator. Much to my surprise, though, I realized that there is also a tunnel that goes under the pass. At least we would not have to find another way around the mountain.

Not willing to give in so easily, I approached a couple of motorcyclists and asked what they knew of the pass closure. They confirmed that it was indeed closed, but "they heard" that there "might" be a way through anyway. It sounded sketchy, but like a fun adventure to find out if this was true! I went back to Dan and relayed the information. "Nah, let's just take the tunnel". Fine Mr Fun Bags, we'll do it your way. But if it had been just me, I think I would have joined the other riders and checked out the conditions myself.

We finished filling up Dan's bike and headed for the tunnel.

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There was a massive space underground at the ticket booth.
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Not a bad idea to keep an ambulance up here
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The tunnel was short and unimpressive. Apparently we lucked out by only having one car in line in front of us, as I understand that the wait times to get through the tunnel can be quite long. Bah - tunnels. I still wanted to know what the pass was like! I will just make plans to come back some day.

The other side - Switzerland!
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There is something special about Swiss roads and scenery
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I had Dan lead for a while
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We descended to Martigny and found our hotel. We could have easily made it all the way back to Basel tonight, but why push it when we have the time? This way we could have a nice night's sleep and a casual ride home, getting back to Basel early in the day to have time to unwind and prepare for the work week.

Hotel Forum (there is a Roman forum nearby)
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A quiet Martigny city center
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Dan just can't get enough of motorcycle riding!
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We walked around the center of Martigny for a bit, checking out our restaurant options for dinner and getting  a sense of what the town is like. I had only been here - briefly - once before, I remember it only as being "hot" and not a place I would want to linger. Tonight it was much more pleasant.

During the search for a restaurant, I saw the same motorcyclists I'd seen at the start of the pass. I walked over to them and asked how their adventure went. They confirmed that the pass is not only closed, but impassible. They had to turn around and come back and take the tunnel as well. Ok Dan - you win this time!

We had really good burgers at Beefore Burgersand were brought abruptly back to reality with the Swiss prices that went along with those burgers. Oh well - that is the price for living in such a wonderful place.

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Modern Swiss construction
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We returned to our hotel via some back streets and enjoyed our last night on the road.
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #16 on: August 21, 2019, 12:56:20 PM »
One more day.... can you even stand the suspense???  :o
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #17 on: August 21, 2019, 12:57:54 PM »
Sunday

Homeward bound.

I supposed I could have just included this information with the previous day's, as there isn't that much to add. We took the motorway home, reaching Basel around 11:30. We decided to go directly to the car wash and remove some of the bugs that we had collected on our journey. Besides, it had been a while since the bikes has such attention.

Tunnel through the Jura mountains - a sure sign of "almost home!"
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Washing the bikes - but why is there a horse there?
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Oh! It is an Indian wedding
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What is rather disturbing is that to the right is a massive recycling drop off point, and to the left is a concrete plant. Not the most scenic places for a wedding carriage ride.

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Back to the business at hand
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"Someone" wants to make sure that we don't pack up again for a while!
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Our trip to Tuscany was a success. Maybe not the most successful of trips, but it was enjoyable and interesting and educational. I have a lot more exploring to do, but every trip I take arms me with more knowledge on how to make the next trip even better. Thanks for reading!



Oh, and I thought this was pretty funny:
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End
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #18 on: August 21, 2019, 01:12:49 PM »
Ok, that's all! I hope that you enjoyed the trip.

I'm off for a while, but if there are any problems with the posting, I'll take care of it when I'm back online next Wednesday  :bigok:
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #19 on: August 21, 2019, 01:15:51 PM »
Wowza!!   

Funny -- pics went away for a bit and suddenly came back. I must have been looking while you were resizing. Anyway, the main point is they're all there now. And what pics they are...     :bigok:
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Offline Virginian

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #20 on: August 21, 2019, 03:45:36 PM »
Absolutely stunning photography, I for one really appreciate your hard work posting this ride report. Love it!

Eric
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Online st2sam

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #21 on: August 21, 2019, 04:29:48 PM »
Absolutely stunning photography, I for one really appreciate your hard work posting this ride report. Love it!

Eric

A big +1 for me too DD.  :inlove:
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Online viffergyrl

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #22 on: August 22, 2019, 12:08:02 AM »
Fabulous! Brings back memories.

There used to be a ristorante in Fiesole...l'Polpa (?) Family run - mama did the contorni, daughter did the steaks, and the daughter's husband did the front of the house.... it was really good! So good, we almost missed the bus to go back down the hill to Florence!

We stayed near the Medici Chapel at the Hotel Palazzo Benci. I hope you are able to return to visit the chapel... it is stunning. The sarcophagus carved by Michelangelo is particularly stunning. You are about 6 inches away from it (unless they have changed things in this day). The marble and semi-precious stones and the scale are also amazing and jaw-dropping.

We stayed in a villa in the Chianti Classico region which was also fun and memorable. Good times. Good times.

Thank you for the amazing pictures and narrative.  :inlove:
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #23 on: August 22, 2019, 08:10:39 PM »
What a mega-post!  Thanks for that, I love travelling vicariously with you :)

We did the moto Furka train on a previous trip - figuring out what to do was pretty stressful, and the automatic doors were a big PITA lol.

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Online Eh2zed

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #24 on: August 23, 2019, 09:27:05 PM »
Wow!
My GPS just told me to turn left, then turn left, then turn left, then turn left.
So if I go too far left do I end up right?

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #25 on: August 27, 2019, 05:23:50 PM »
Thanks for the positive comments! I *just* got home from 6 days in London (no bikes, but plenty of heat and poorly organized public transit  :rolleyes: ) so it was nice to see that the massive post had been seen.

Ok, time to get some sleep - I warned work that I'd be late tomorrow, but I still need to get up in the morning  :yawn:
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Online maddjack

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #26 on: August 30, 2019, 06:23:43 PM »
Great pictures and a great narrative of the adventure. Thank you for sharing. And I wish they had trains like that in the US. We are too tied to car driving and air travel here.
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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #27 on: August 31, 2019, 02:38:33 AM »
excellent, as usual.
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Online Andrew

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #28 on: August 31, 2019, 09:10:43 PM »
Wonderful pics, as always.
Looks like you and Dan have a few places to return to, start planning

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #29 on: September 04, 2019, 11:44:52 AM »
I'm still not through the entire report, but I'm enjoying it thus far.  It's a nice little break while eating lunch at my desk.

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Online Mrs. DantesDame

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #30 on: September 04, 2019, 01:34:45 PM »
I'm still not through the entire report, but I'm enjoying it thus far.  It's a nice little break while eating lunch at my desk.

Oh, what a perfectly mindless thing to do while eating lunch at work  ;D
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Offline Patmo

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #31 on: September 04, 2019, 06:26:39 PM »
Wonderful write up and absolutely stunning pictures.

 Was in Florence in April for a few days and stayed right downtown within a block of the Dome, so looking at the pictures of Florence,  I kept saying “hey, I was just there!” 😁.  Good memories.  But then looking at the pictures of the mountains, and the bikes, I was reminded that I wasn’t on a bike.  ☹️   Italian cities are certainly an art lovers paradise, but man are they crowded!

Always enjoy reading and viewing your travel reports!

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Re: Tuscany!
« Reply #32 on: September 04, 2019, 06:27:34 PM »
I'm still not through the entire report, but I'm enjoying it thus far.  It's a nice little break while eating lunch at my desk.

Oh, what a perfectly mindless thing to do while eating lunch at work  ;D

I wasn't paying that much attention to my food today while reading this and splashed some sort of champaign salad dressing on my dress shirt.  D'oh!
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