Thanks to JJ for contributing this story of his ride yesterday, January 15th, from Siena to Grosseto.
A Short Morning Ride to the Sea
"Today I took a ride to the sea with Riccardo. The plan was very simple - meet in Siena with our bikes, take a gentle stroll downhill from Siena to Grosseto. Siena being about 300 m above sea level and Grosseto on the coast it should be a gentle downhill trot for about 60 miles, taking in the old Siena-Grosseto road. There is a new Siena-Grosseto road which is a superstrada (motorway) but the old road was built many moons ago, well I think somewhere around 30 years ago and in some places is excellent. In other places it is terrible and single carriageway, there are places where work carries on slowly and my Riccardo tells me that this work seems to have been going on for 25 years or so with great promises that one day all will be dualed. However, after taking in this old road I now appreciate the benefit of this road, also for some of it you can see the Siena-Grosseto superstrada from below, pinned up in the air some 200 metres up and now I see the majesty of it.
It certainly started very well, we met at 09:00 with the sun shining, despite plenty of frost on the ground and temperatures around freezing.Overnight I had changed my wheels. My Scott Addict SL, full carbon with Dura Ace and carbon Mavic SSC wheels was starting to feel really unstable in the wet/cold. I changed the front wheel for a Shimano RS-10, changed tyres on both the front and the back, and instantly the bike feels much much more stable. Go figure - I changed a pair of 800 GBP wheels for a pair of 80 GBP wheels and instantly they feel better - I think I need some work and testing on my set up!
It certainly started very well, we met at 09:00 with the sun shining, despite plenty of frost on the ground and temperatures around freezing. Overnight I had changed my wheels. My Scott Addict SL, full carbon with Dura Ace and carbon Mavic SSC wheels was starting to feel really unstable in the wet/cold. I changed the front wheel for a Shimano RS-10, changed tyres on both the front and the back, and instantly the bike feels much much more stable. Go figure - I changed a pair of 800 GBP wheels for a pair of 80 GBP wheels and instantly they feel better - I think I need some work and testing on my set up!
So, with new tyres and front wheel, plus ice and road water (guazze!) I was taking it slowly. The route started well, taking in some beautiful countryside over towards Casciano di Murlo and where I took my massive spill on my second trip on my Scott.
Further down the road we found some trees that had been stripped for cork - presumably the cork oak. Apparently they strip the bark off the trees and process it. You can see the trees with the brown bits showing above. Apparently it doesn't damage the trees and grows back quickly. I had never seen it before.
Corks here in Italy are almost exactly the reverse of the UK. In the UK, the better wines have swapped to either plastic corks or screw caps, and the only ones that you find with "real" cork seem to be the cheaper wines. Apparently, there is a high risk of tainting or spoiling from cork, and this is much reduced with screw caps or plastics. I guess this is an example of not increasing the mean, but reducing the standard deviation. Here in Italy, the reverse is still true. All decent wines have cork and the only ones that have screw caps or plastic corks are the very cheapest available. I guess this is reflective of both the traditional methods that are preferred by the Italians and the trend. I know full well that expensive Italian wines in the UK can be supplied with plastic corks, so maybe it is just a trend and that the importer or purchaser can define to the vinery which material can be used.
Further on we stumbled across Bagni di Petriolo. I had heard about it many times, there is a big hotel spa which I have absolutely no interest in, but I had heard that there were places where you can just sit in the river and enjoy it. We had looked for it when we were on the superstrada to Grosseto but never succeeded, and here it is - on the old Grosseto road. As we were approaching we starting to smell the familiar egginess and then it really hit us. Of course we had to get off and have a look.
So, I'm very happy to have found this - and only 23 miles from Siena too. I prefer them at this time of year. Last year I was in one in January for a management course and it was excellent - swimming and paddling with a view of the snow on Mont Amiata. Plus about 10 years ago I was in one of the famous ones in Budapest (where Bobby Fisher used to play chess) in February, and it was great to be there outside in the warmth with snow falling on your face!
Climbing out of Bagni di Petriolo we hit some brutal climbs, and we hit them hard! The signs were saying 20% climb, and we hoped it would be 500 m or so, but it carried on and on for about 5 km before calming down a little. It was icy too, and a little wet so it was tough. Really tough. I would say that these were the toughest climbs that I have ever ridden and that includes the full L'Eroica and Mount Etna. My Italian swearing was coming to the fore!
I think I learned something along the route too. When you bomb in the UK we normally say "I'm toast" and during these tough climbs Riccardo told me that the Italians say "dura" or "toste" - so now I am wondering if "toast" comes from "toste" - I shall claim that it does, even if it doesn't!
We carried on as the road slowing winds it's way towards Grosseto, after a while it runs parallel to the main road, but still climbs and descends hard. Finally we arrived into Grosetto feeling pretty pooped, with a very poor average pace. We wanted to sit by the sea, enjoy some spaghetti with sea food, and get on the train back. Then we found out that Grosseto requires a further 10 km to get to the sea, which we just could not face. Then we sauntered over to the train station only to find that there are limited trains on Sundays, so had a 2 hour wait till the next train. Bugger.
We cycled around Grosseto trying to find somewhere nice to eat. But this was 3 pm on a Sunday afternoon and everywhere was shut. I still find it hard to believe that restaurants in Italy close when there are paying customers desperate to eat. Again it is the yin and yang of Italian life that has good and bad points - it can be hard to get things, but then you do not get battered by the relentless commercialism of other places. Yin and yang - there's a balance in there somewhere.
When I have been to Grosseto before I have been going there on the way back from the coast or from the Maremma national parks. We have never stopped long as we cannot find anything nice there, it is quite spectacularly ugly compared to other major Tuscan cities. We found a nice small cathedral and only one cafe that was open, and that was not serving any hot food, except for sandwiches. Anyway, we polished off some toasted (!! I was toast/toste) sandwiches, a hot chocolate and a great pasta for dolcino - almost a creamy choux pastry - happy creamy choux days.
Eventually we got on the train, which pretty much went back the same route we came in on. And it was slow, took over 90 minutes to do the 56 miles we had done. And we had a small run in with the ticket inspector as apparently the kiosk woman in Grosseto had sold us the wrong bike tickets - in Italy you have to buy a bike ticket to take the bike on a train, and then stay in the bike wagon. We had some that were €1.20 but they should have been €3.80 - and we were not in the bike wagon - maybe he was having a bad day?
Anyhow, a great day's riding, but next day we will plan better for the trains, less hills, and look for somewhere a little more populous so that we can eat properly when we arrive - the trip we did on the old road from Florence to Bologna was amazing.
Ciao for now!"
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Monday, January 16, 2012
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
This story comes from Andy Levine of DuVine Adventures (http://www.duvine.com/); DuVine Adventures is rated by National Geographic ADVENTURE as one of the Best Outfitters for 2009.
Monte Oliveto di Maggiore to Arbia
My favorite bike ride in Italy runs along the clay hills of Siena from the medieval abbey of Monte Oliveto di Maggiore to the town of Arbia. I stumbled across this road on my first bike trip in Italy while on a brief break from my studies in Rome. It was the middle of February and I had suffered for the first couple of days of riding after foolishly requesting a ridiculously large 64 cm frame from the bike shop in Florence. The combination of hard seat, awkward position and cold rain had me questioning my stubborn refusal to join my classmates who had decided to spend the break in Sicily.
However, on the third morning, the skies cleared and the pair of windpants I had wrapped around the seat started to do their work. Following the recommendation of my guidebook, I set out from Siena for the Abbey of Monte Oliveto. The maps in Italy often show a green line running along scenic roads, but no marker could have prepared me for what I found as I began the first climb out of Arbia. The landscape here is known as the "Crete Senesi" or "Sienese badlands" (loosely translated). The region was once at the bottom of an inland sea, and the clay-like soil looks like it is bubbling out of the wheat fields like giant scoops of gelato. The winter is the wet season here in Tuscany, and the wheat that has been planted in the late fall covers the treeless hills with a bright green blanket. Hardy purple wildflowers that have resisted the farmers' eternal struggle to destroy them are scattered amongst the wheat giving a royal glow to the whole scene.
In every direction, the green hills and clear blue winter skies are the only colors broken up by the occasional hilltop villa and cypress-lined drive. As I climbed, I found myself stopping for more and more pictures, convinced that I had discovered the most beautiful place on earth. Through countless adventures since then in many beautiful places all over the world, one picture of the Crete Senesi has remained on my computer desktop.
Now as DuVine's senior Italian guide, I get to ride this road on the fourth day of every Tuscany tour. As the seasons change, I get to see the green hills of April and May turn to gold in June and enjoy the brief brilliance of the sunflowers in July before giving way to the rugged, barren, brown beauty of August and September and October. Every winter, I sit in front of my computer staring at the picture on my desktop, waiting for April to once again pedal through paradise.
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