Sunday, June 21, 2009

Florence, Italy

Friends: The weather has been very kind to me, no rain since the third day of Cannes over a month ago, until this weekend. This rain couldn't have come at a more inopportune time, depriving me of the company of all the weekend warriors. I had been looking forward to them all week. And there would have been legions of them, as I was within range of the large cities of Bologna and Modena on Saturday and then Florence today. The rain started early Saturday morning and was forecast for all day, so no one risked going out for their weekend ride.

The rain also greatly diminished my enjoyment of the Apennines mountain range, forcing me to ride hard on the brakes on the long steep descents and depriving me of the views. At least it cooled off dramatically. The day before I had been sweltering in temperatures in the 90s. I never expected to be seeing my breath the next day as I rode past lingering fields of snow. On the descents I had to put on a long sleeve shirt for the first time in a month, as well as a vest and sweater, under by Gore-Tex jacket.

I camped at 2,500 feet elevation 35 miles from Florence last night and needed to zip up my sleeping bag for the first time since arriving in Italy. I had rain on my tent both nights and in the morning, somewhat delaying my departure. Friday night I slept in a recently harvested cherry orchard with a few stray cherries still to be found. I was careful not to leave any pits around my tent, so I couldn't be accused of pilfering.

The rain let up today for my Florence sight-seeing, but the winds were quite severe on my descent to the valley and into Florence buffeting me about and slowing me considerably. I also suffered another bout of autostrada hell. There was no signage for the secondary roads for the final 25 miles into Florence. All signs led to the autostrada. I've risked riding the superhighway several times this past month and gotten away with it, but I didn't care to risk it unnecessarily, especially when I couldn't fly along as I was able to on a 15 mile stretch leading to Assisi and the morning to Pompeii.

I didn't make it to Florence until after noon. I struggled to get my initial bearings, stymied by the many narrow, one-way streets and lack of signs to the town center or the city's grand cathedral. Once I got to the Arno River and could spot the Ponte Vecchio across it, all was well. Florence is considerably smaller than Rome with only 350,000 people, fewer even than Bologna. Rome had tourist kiosks all over. I was too late for the lone tourist office here. The only information I needed was a map showing the way to the small village of Vitolini, about 30 miles to the west. The mother of a friend from Chicago lives there. With luck I'll make it by tonight relying on the directions David emailed.

There were long lines at Florence's prime tourists attractions--the cathedral and the museum that contains David. There were swarms of tourists, too, at the two David replicas, one in a plaza overlooking the city and the other in a downtown plaza.

Later, George

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