DAY 1: Pisa loop
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.