DAY 1: Pisa loop

Bicycling (South Africa) - - Stories -

39.5km 9.3km/h 183m el­e­va­tion

We awoke to a blan­ket of thick mist shroud­ing the ho­tel. That and a sharp nip in the air ne­ces­si­tated longsleeved vests, wind­break­ers and buffs.

Our route took us through farm­lands and along the Ac­que­dotto Mediceo, a brick and mor­tar aque­duct built be­tween 1596 and 1611, to­wards the vil­lage of Caprona. With all views ob­scured by the mist, we rode in the hope that our nav­i­ga­tors (Dun­can and Grimbo, self-ap­pointed) would lead us safely through the eerie land­scape.

As we ap­proached Caprona, the mist sud­denly lifted like a theatre cur­tain to re­veal

– in quite dra­matic style – the im­pos­ing Upezzinghi Tower, lo­cated atop a rocky spur over­look­ing the slopes of Mount Pisano. We pulled over at the Bar Ge­lataria – not to buy ice cream, mind you, but to get some cof­fee and ease the chill on our fingers [above]. Ital­ians drink their cof­fee espresso-style: black, in a small cup, and strong enough to run a diesel en­gine.

With caf­feine flow­ing through our veins we moved on, the route tak­ing us along a tree-lined canal to the Cer­tosa di Calci Monastery, a former Carthu­sian monastery but now home to the Univer­sity of Pisa’s Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory, which houses one of the largest col­lec­tions of ce­tacean skele­tons (whales,

dol­phins and por­poises) in Europe [op­po­site page, be­low]. Af­ter­wards we back­tracked to the ho­tel, branch­ing off at Ghez­zano to wan­der through cen­tral Pisa and visit its fa­mous Lean­ing Tower.

The Lean­ing Tower is lo­cated within the Pi­azza del Duomo (Cathe­dral Square), en­cased by an­cient city walls. And we were treated to the most beau­ti­ful spec­ta­cle: the bril­liant white of the mar­ble struc­tures, ris­ing from emer­ald green lawns and set against the bluest Tus­can sky, a most breath­tak­ing scene.

The in­stantly recog­nis­able Tower is the free­stand­ing bell tower of the Cathe­dral of Pisa, known world­wide for its un­in­tended tilt. And it re­ally does tilt! No moon­land­ing-filmed-in-a-base­ment con­spir­acy here [right].

Af­ter a take­away lunch of pizza slices, cia­bat­tas and ice cream, we made our way through Pisa’s nar­row, cob­ble­stoned maze of streets. We basked in the warm af­ter­noon sun on the Ponte Conte Ugolino span­ning the Arno River, soak­ing in the views and count­ing the fish in the clear wa­ter be­low [left].

I’d had my reser­va­tions about rid­ing a bi­cy­cle through Europe; I couldn’t get cer­tain scenes from the orig­i­nal The Ital­ian Job movie out of my head. But I must say that Ital­ian mo­torists are ex­tremely tol­er­ant of cy­clists – giv­ing way is the norm, rather than a cour­tesy.

So, a good day’s cy­cling – a nice-and-easy start to the tour, and it left us look­ing for­ward to more.

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