By about the 15th hotel I’m starting to understand what Mary and Joseph went through, except I don’t have a pregnant missus bending my ear about not booking a hotel in advance, I’ve got a 21kg (verified by Easyjet’s scales) kit bag dragging behind me.
“How do you fancy a weekend in Tuscany?” Cantlie said. “There’s a KTM waiting in Florence, just get yourself over, pick up the keys and have a nice weekend away.” Fantastic, I thought. Yes it was only 24-hours notice but a quick scan on the internet and I had a flight to Pisa sorted. It couldn’t be that hard to get the 30-odd miles to Florence, and it wasn’t. A bus was waiting outside the airport and eight Euros later I was in the centre of Florence. Then I found out what John had omitted to mention: this particular weekend was a holiday in Italy, and you know how much the Italians like their breaks. And what do all the Italians do on Bank Holidays? Go to Florence. Except they book their hotels in advance.
Eventually I found one with a room. Well actually I found two, but the first one wanted to charge me nearly £200 for a night’s accommodation. I promptly told them to vaffanculo and headed over the road where I got one for a much more reasonable £60. Only a few more metres of dragging my massive bag, up two flights of stairs and the porter opens the door. It was like a moment out of a movie, I could almost hear the angels singing, rest was at hand. Until he quickly shut the door, looked at me, pulled out his mobile and started speaking very rapid Italian into it. I caught one word, “disastro.” This sounded serious. What could be up?
As it turned out the maid hadn’t cleaned the room. I was about to explain I didn’t give a toss and would have happily slept on the floor but the old boy behind reception found me another room and all was well. That was one problem overcome. As I sat in one of Florence’s many open air cafés waiting for my pizza to arrive, sipping on a Nastro, I wondered what tribulations the next days would bring.
I didn’t actually know what bike I would be hiring when I arrived at Stradanova to pick it up. I was told a KTM but when I got to the office I was given a choice: would I like a 990 Adventure, or a 990 Super Duke? Twisty passes, sunshine and a temperature of 22 degrees. Pass the Duke’s keys, please.
The ever helpful Erika gave me a fairly detailed map showing the best roads and told me that north of Florence in the Mugello region is best for twisty mountain roads while south in Chianti is better for wine. Can you get two more names synominous with their locations? She then added “if you go north be careful of the other bikers. They have not ridden all winter so might be a bit, how you say? Dangerous?”
Heading out of Florence I got instantly lost. The city is a maze of narrow one-way streets that all seem to lead in circles. Also the Italian signpost hobbits have an infuriating habit of putting up a sign, then simply abandoning any other references to the place until you actually reach it. Elation at thinking you are on track is quickly replaced by frustration and yet another U-turn. But, as in everywhere in Europe except the UK, being a biker opens many doors and locals generally speak enough English to get you back on course. But around Florence it doesn’t really matter; simply look for the hills and head for them, it is as easy as that, you can’t go wrong as all the roads are superb.
Continue the trip around Tuscany