Chianti Ridge Ride (May 16, 2007)

We awoke about the usual time (7 AM) and wandered out for sustenance. Of course, in Italia this is futile at breakfast time. Stopped into the first bar inside of the piazza and ordered coffee, pastries and small meat sandwiches. It was a pleasant enough place for breakfast, but not economical. Tony’s Fanta (aka “bibette grande”) was several euros, which was even more shocking when translated into dollars.

Got general directions from the waitress and located the Coop (supermarket) on the main road bypass just a block or two off the main piazza. Breakfast items, water, fruit, snacks and scotch (Lagavulin!) were procured. Our only faux pas was forgetting to weigh and label our produce. The checker suggested we do it, we all missed the cue, and she ran off to do it for us. The first in line accepted my apology with a smile, the second was not amused. ’Slang was smitten with the one euro deposit on the shopping cart.

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48. Via Roma, Greve
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49. The Arch, Greve
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50. Via dell’Arco, Greve
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51. Alimentari, San Casciano
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52. Lunch, San Casciano
Next stop — the bike shop. We found it directly, just a few hundred meters further distant from the center of town. They also work on motorcycles and scooters, and were just putting out the display models in the parking lot. After some discussion, a xeroxed map was produced, and we had two new suggestions for rides, and confirmation on a third we had been contemplating over breakfast. David was smitten with a bright blue Colnago frameset, with exquisite chrome lugs on the steerer tube. He went so far as to investigate pricing, and options for forks, until the mechanic told him it had already been purchased for another customer and was waiting to be built-up.

Back to the Pasta Factory and we unloaded bicycles and wheels and prepared for the day’s ride. Our route is south out of Greve on the main road for the climb up to Panzano. From there we will cut back northwards on a ridge road, heading towards Firenze on the backroads. A return to Greve will complete a skinny loop with a north-south major axis. We departed about 11 AM.

The climb out of Greve was at a steady 5% with adequate room and generally careful motor traffic. We gained several hundred feet in a few miles. We cruised to the historical center of Panzano, visiting the relatively new church at the highest point of the town. Leaving Panzano, we headed north on a very small road with little traffic. The road crept upwards in sections, with a few dips downwards, eventually cresting at 450 meters on a named Poggio that I cannot remember. Somewhere on the ridge, we hit a 16% grade, and 13% was not uncommon. Downwards we flew into Mercatale, where our search for lunch was not sufficiently successful to keep us from pressing on to the next town. All along our route, David noted famous Chianti wine producers, many of which he had drunk.

In San Casciano, we found several narrow streets in the center of town and settled on a pasticerria/alimenteria/forno, in hopes of getting Rick some pasta. It turned out to be more of a delicatessin, but Rick and Ken arranged five large ham, salami, cheese, and tomato sandwiches. Along with waters and Cokes, Tony procured some oranges and apples, and David added some fresh olives. The tomatoes may been the star of the show, but everything was delicious and satisfying, and the cost may have snuck in beneath that of breakfast. At 2 PM the shops were all closing, but we moved over one storefront to have quick coffees at the bar.

A delightful descent out of San Casciano dropped us into the valley and within twenty kilometers of Firenze. Here we headed back south to Greve with 500 feet of elevation to gain back. Traffic was again back with us but even an overtaking truck, confronted with a wide-turning truck entering the road ahead, followed quickly by an oncoming ambulance on a call, did not engender any panic. Soon we passed an older gentleman on a road bike, wearing a full kit, and he latched onto the back of our train. We held a steady 18–20 mph for six or seven miles, picking up yet another rider towards the end. At a turn within two kilometers of home, Rick dropped a bottle and our new companions deserted us rather than waiting. Shortly, we saw the older man riding back the other way with a very young rider. The 500 feet of elevation came back almost imperceptibly. 32 miles, 2600 feet. More elevation gained than on the San Marino climb.

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53. David and Rob, Chianti
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54. Tony, Rick and Ken, Chianti
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55. Climbing out of Greve
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56. David, Rick and Tony, Giotto’s Tower
We arranged to take part in a dinner hosted at the hotel, which will be served at 8 PM. With five spare hours Rick arranged a drive to San Gimignano, which evolved into a drive to Florence since it is closer and time is tight. Rob chose to stay back to do errands and get caught up on the journal. A huge thunderstorm rolled in, dropping heavy rain and a bit of hail onto Greve. Tourists were pinned under the arcades of the two long sides of Greve’s square with water pouring off the awnings of the cafes and the porches of the hotels. It is the only spot of inclement weather we have seen yet.

Rick et. al. did Florence in four hours, driving up to the walls of the old city and walking into the heart of the historic district, and even summitting Giotto’s Tower. They were allowed into the Duomo on the condition that they were really intent on attending the mass that was being conducted at that time. Tony wasn’t buying it.

Dinner was advertised as local Tuscan cuisine, catered in the hotel. Since our accommodations are “self-catering,” it is not really a hotel and there are no real facilities for preparing food. So everything was brought in, and warmed in microwaves. The setting (the common rooms in the bottom of the building next to us, where we store our bikes and their boxes) was nice enough, but the lukewarm food and paper plates were not consonant with the price we paid. Our group showed up at exactly the last minute, so we were split across the two tables. Tony, David and Rick found their dinner companions good company, while Rob (and maybe Ken) had the opposite experience. They dined with a British family, he an insufferably pompous Brit who began the conversation by lambasting US politics. She was Swedish by birth, and only perked up when her husband took a break from US-bashing to say something derogatory about Sweden. A woman I assumed to be his mother seemed mute, but did force a simple, sweet perfunctory smile at a few points in the evening. The college-age son seemed to alternate between being embarrassed by his father, and trying to initiate a more relaxed conversation of his own with us.

Excusing ourselves at the earliest opportunity, and breaking open the scotch back in the room, was the only salvation of the evening.