I was going to call this blog "Seventh Level of Hell" but that really would have been doing Tuscany an injustice. I mean, I had a really good time in Tuscany last weekend. But then, I've never been a particularly harsh critic, unlike Huy who came out with the Seventh Level quote in the middle of the 14th (of around 53) hair-pin turn on the (scenic) route from Calci to Lucca.
You see, a group of 6 of us had set out on hired bikes from Pisa on Saturday morning in search of rural scenes, (gentle) adventure and gastronomic fulfillment. Only, in hindsight, we should probably not have left the navigation to the hard-core fitness freak German residents in our party. If the indolent Londoners in the group had been in charge, we probably wouldn't have chosen the longest and steepest route to Lucca. But then, if the indolent Londoners in the group had been in charge, we probably wouldn't have gotten much further than the first pizzeria in Pisa. Anyway, as things turned out, we spent a fairly large (and grim) part of Saturday struggling up a series of mountain passes trying to remember what it was like to have a sense of humour.
Needless to say, there was a fair amount of pushing mixed in with the cycling. In fairness, the conditions weren't exactly in our favour. For one thing, the bikes we hired were perfectly decent town bikes, but not exactly made for climbing up mountains. Joyce's was a particular stubborn beast that refused to change below third gear and kept on dropping it's chain at the most inopportune moments. And the paniers and front baskets may have been useful for carrying things, but they did make it a little more difficult to balance and made us look faintly ridiculous next to the multitudes of serious cyclists powering up the mountain in their fluoro-pink lycra and carbon-fibre racers. They may have been going quicker than us, but at least we were keeping it real.
Fortunately, once we'd crossed the peak and had a well-deserved picnic of bread, cheese and salami, we were able to roll all the way down to Lucca. While the cycling got a little easier, our troubles weren't quite over, as a small break-away developed near to Lucca and managed to leave the peloton far enough behind to cause some navigating confusion. Search parties were duly dispatched, tasked with locating the peloton somewhere "near a church with a green roof". Given the number of churches in Italy, this wasn't the most helpful of clues. But the combined deductive reasoning of 6 university educated minds overcame this small problem and we were soon ensconced in Lucca's oldest restaurant, admiring the copper pots and sinking Tuscan red late into the night, well, at until at least 10pm at least, at which point we were all dead on our feet. For all you insomniacs out there, a hard day in the Tuscan mountains followed by a bottle of red should fix you right up because I can't remember ever sleeping as well as I did on Saturday night.
I cleverly managed to forget my camera at home, so I didn't take any photos. But Tim had the trust SLR to hand and took some great shots, a sample of which I am pleased to present below.