Tour of Tuscany 2017


Day 1 12/05/17 Friday Liverpool to Pisa

On arrival at Liverpool airport courtesy of our very own transfer specialists Lin and Karen, we unloaded our bikes from the van. What, no bubble wrap!! No, in this year's tour the famous five had invested or borrowed brand new shiny bike bags and boxes which we proudly wheeled into the check in area. As we were early, there was no queue and check in was fairly painless - a surprise to everyone familiar with our bike flying exploits of previous trips. Except that one of our trusty steeds encassed in its sturdy and massive bike box weighed in at 32.5kg - half a kg above the limit. Whose bike you ask? Let's just call him Baz. So there was a hasty bit of tool bag extraction to bring the weight under the limit. When done , we wheeled the bikes to the oversize check in desk along with Bas's hold bag - now containing his tool bag - so they could x ray his plastic tyre leavers. On hearing that all hold bags containing bike tools should be x rayed in this way, Roger (because he's that sort of decent rule following chap), asked for his hold bag to be retrieved from the normal luggage conveyor to be duly x rayed. Noticeable shrugs from Dave, Rob and Glenn who clearly could be bothered. By the way, the auto correct turns 'x rayed' into 'x rated'!!

Unfortunately the oversized check in desk was not staffed by an over sized airport security operative or even someone with an over sized airport security operative's ego. Either would have been poetic.

At security Roger was stopped because the man wanted to look at his famed tog rated collection of waterproofs. Ditto Baz for his famed collection of Lance rated drugs. Once through security we ran the gauntlet of expensive smelly stuff with French names, the famous five inspected the departure screen and were told to relax and enjoy. So we adjourned to an Italian coffee bar to practice our Italian language skills starting with the name of the establishment: 'Frankie and Bennies'!

Whilst waiting for coffees to arrive Rob was looking at his phone saying 'shit' a lot. Glenn wondered if he was looking at his to do list. In fact he'd forgotten to book any travel insurance. Because we are living in the future, a mere half hour phone call sorted it out.

Time was spent in jocular joshing of the beginning-to-be-infamous 'Barry's Box' when it was time to make our way to the gate. A quick check we'd got everything - passports, boarding passes, hand luggage, camera, notebook etc. In times gone by this would entail 'Spectacles, testicles, watch and wallet'. Now it's 'iPhone - yep that covers everything'

The boarding gate was number 42 which we took to be a good sign. Surely the answer to life, the universe and everything would be there.

The fight was pleasant enough given this was Ryan Air in Spanish. As is frequently the case the pilot for reasons best know to him or herself decided to park nowhere near the airport so we endured the pleasure of a standing only bus journey to the terminal where we all practiced for our brexshit future by queuing in the non eu line.

After the shock of realising that our bikes had arrived in the same flight and also that a really friendly airport bicycle unloading operative was happy in his allotted task, we made our way to the exit and decided that the 30 minute walk to the hotel - according to Arabella - was about 29 minutes too long so we headed for the taxi rank. The taxi drivers had a bit of a con flab either about getting the bikes into the taxi's, or whether his son could marry the other ones daughter. For a mere €10 we were at the hotel where the very nice receptionist had a little joke about the accommodation cost going up to €1000. How we laughed. A bit of hectic negotiation and Glenn's pathetic attempt at flattery got three of the bikes in the left luggage cupboard and two in the rooms.

After a stroll to the train station to sus out storage for the bike boxes for the next two weeks, we were off to the leaning tower which on closer examination and with the help of a TV documentary Rob had watched till he fell asleep, we all agreed it should be renamed the bendy tower of Pisa. After that it was down one of the pedestrian streets for beers and a meal. Pizza for Glenn, Dave and Rob, something fishy for Roger and veal for Baz. The local house red was particularly good and the wine wasn't bad either.

In spite of it being saints day, Baz plumped for seasonal desert of the day. When the waiter brought it he apologised for forgetting the cutlery. I'll just get you a fork n knife. He said To which we replied there's no need to swear!!

A lovely amble back to the hotel followed - 9:00 o'clock and still warm. Loads of people out on the streets eating ice cream. As you do. As Dave and Rob did.

Buona notte.


Sing for the day: 'Above the Clouds there is always a blue sky' by Turin Breaks. Who aren't Italian.


Day 2 13/05/17 Saturday Pisa to Voltera


80km, 580m of ascent ish.

Breakfast was a mixture of muesli, very strong coffee and cold boiled eggs. The conversation centred around Russian dolls. Make of that what you will. In fact it referred to the task ahead of squeezing three bike bags into two bike boxes once we had removed and reconstructed the bikes. It didn't. After paying the hotel bill we lugged our bikes (still bagged and boxed) to the railway station and began the task of reassembling the bikes. This all went worryingly smoothly with some encouraging comments from the passers by on the station forecourt.

After checking in the bike bags into the left luggage office Glenn was escorted into the Police station - so he could wash his hands!

As this was the first day, this was the inaugural run of Glenn's yet to be named Garmin. Just to be on the safe side he recruited the wonderful Arabella to provide a comparison route. Within 50m they disagreed so one of them had to go. In the spirit of adventure he was later to regret, Glenn plumped for the Garmin.

Garmin took us scenic route past the tower and out of Pisa to the next town where it said turn left which we did then it said u turn which we did then it said straight on which we did then it said u turn which brought us back to the same point we were at 20 minutes ago. Then it said turn right and pointed us back along the cycle path we had taken directing us back to Pisa cos it had had enough. Later on Glenn realised the nature of the problem : the Current Location box didn't automatically update from this morning's start point. So here we have a GPS devise that doesn't know where it is!! Clearly the Garmin thought that wanting to get to this evening's destination from the point your currently at would obviously be sensible to go via the place you left three hours ago. Glenn said - amongst other things - that he had heard more consistent and non contradictory dialogue from a Tory. Rob though that was going a bit far. At this point Glenn had had enough and said Garmin was turned off.

Later on we caught up with a fellow cyclist who told us where to go. Garmin was restarted to assist and now had a new trick to entertain us with. Given it was in Navigation Mode,it showed a map for a while and then replaced the screen with a load of statistics like how many calories you'd burnt off since breakfast and how many likes your last Facebook post had scored. But then on approaching a junction it gave a tiny beep - inaudible in traffic - and brought the map back on the screen. Just in time for you to realise you're in the wrong lane. This happened .... sometimes. At other junctions he/it/she just couldn't be bothered and the screen stayed fixed with its plethora of pointless data. And this is on navigation mode where not unreasonably we might want to look at a map rather than a screen full of non navigationally useful data. It doesn't even tell you how far you've still got to go. This is reminiscent of Eddie the lift in Hitch Hiker's guide who found going up and down desperately tedious and wanted to go sideways. Other comparisons spring to mind including people who do your thinking for you, accountants, and our Supreme leader who clearly knows what's best for us because we clearly don't.

And so after ditching the digital we relented to looking at an actual map. A paper one. Where the place you want to look at is always on the folded bit. With coffee cup stains on it. And after deciding our route, we pedalled on through glorious Tuscany countryside wherein it was difficult not to notice that non of the various road signs or advertising hoardings was either upright of level. This is clearly something to do with the gravitational pull of Pisa - also responsible for its leaning tower no doubt.

We cycled onto Perigani where one of its furniture shops advertised something called 'Shabby Style ' - probably something lost in translation.

A little further on Rob lost an Allen bolt from his cleats which will need replacing soon.

For our first full day on Italian roads it was impossible not to form a judgment regarding its car drivers. In general their overtaking of cyclists mostly fell well short of the 1.5m rule but perhaps they feel this doesn't apply for cyclists from Poundland where said distance is better understood as 3/32 of a furlong. And on that theme, now we're going to get our Sovereignty back no doubt we will go back to shillings and pence but with the £5 denomination renamed the Churchill and the pound replaced by the new one May coin - after the soon to be supreme leader. Unless of course we all make sure that June puts an end to May.

With about 17km to go, we saw a sign that gave us a choice of two routes to Volterra. Later Rob realised that one meant it was not salted in winter. But before then we had decided on the salted route and rode nervously on past road signs pointing out the need for snow chains! Sure enough, an inevitable hill climb followed. A 12km climb up to the 'charming hilltop village of Volterra'. The clue is in the adjective. 800m of climb.

At the top, we gratefully arrived at the Albergo Villa Nencini, our stop for the next two nights. Enjoying wonderful views and a few welcome beers on the terrace the famous five soaked up the late afternoon sun reminiscing about rides gone by.

After showers and a bit of washing we walked uphill into the village centre. By this time we are all starving. In the square there were fifty or so classic Italian cars belonging to members of Volterra car club who were obviously having some sort of do. In the adjacent hall there was an awards ceremony going on with special prizes for all the old bangers who had made it up the hill.

At the restaurant in the square we finally managed to prize Dave and Bas away from their car fest and we sat down to eat. Starters were bruchette for Dave, Roger and Baz. Glenn had minestrone soup. Rob had an enourmous plate of cold meat which he photographed so he could annoy his friend. He justified this by the rather questionable assertion that the pigs died happy knowing they would taste deliciously.

And so back to the hotel and a final beer before bed. Bet you didn't have yours whilst watching a TV programme about the shooting of wild boar!

Song for the day has to be Carole King's 'Where you lead I will follow'. Not.


Day 3 14/05/17 Sunday in  Voltera 

After a pleasant nights sleep the famous five came down to breakfast in the vaulted ceilinged cellar of the hotel. Again it was meusli, strong coffee and cold eggs. But Rob continued last nights theme by having a plate full of various cold bits of pig.

The discussion centred around what each of us had spent so far and the establishment of a kitty. This all went swimmingly well and we all decided to put €50 each - except Dave hadn't got his wallet with him.

This is the first day where we depart from previous famous five schedules. We're going to have a rest day. So when we said we were going on a cycling holiday, the second of those words is now being taken seriously. We walked up into the walled town and ambled down a badly Graffiti covered corridor which led to no where at all so we ambled back again. In the main square - the Piazza del Priori - the Volterra Auto Club cars had just started leaving the square creating a phenomenal noise from the vintage Fiats, Lancia's and Maserati's. According to Baz

After then we mooched round the town walls and found a point which was the finish of the hill time trial for the vintage cars. Making as much noise as possible, the cars screeched and skidded round a hairpin bend into the finish straight - some more screech and skid than others, including a little Fiat which ended up going backwards towards a very anxious looking crowd protected by little more than a couple of hay bales.

On our way back up the hill for a coffee, we saw one of the drivers coming down who was wearing what looked like an Andy Pandy suit.

We walked into the Piazza XX September. We forgo the attractions of the torture museum in favour of a coffee stop. On Facebook there will be a good photo of Baz drooling over the vast array of diabetic pastries on offer. Rob ordered our coffees 'five cappuccinos please' or as we say in Tuscany, 'five cappuccinos please'.

At the Picture Gallery and Civic Museum Baz decided that it's content might be a tad too religious for his atheistic disposition and goes off to drool over the vintage cars. Again. The rest of us wander round impressed by the 16th century artworks including such highlights as The Madonna with the Long Neck and Fiorentino's wonderful and to our eyes, very modern looking Deposition from the Cross. In another room there is a 14th century painting of Saint Bernardo of Sienna holding a book. For all the world he looked like a late medieval Eamonn Andrews announcing 'This is your Life. "And so. Jesus of Galilee, you haven't seen him for 14 centuries but we've flown him in tonight especially from the Middle East - a warm welcome please for John the Baptist!" Thank you for that Rob.

After such high culture, we wandered back to the hotel to meet Bas for lunch. Who wasn't there. And neither was lunch. Dave decided to practice his extreme relaxation skills whilst the rest of us walked back into town for something to eat. At a restaurant in a quiet side street, we were welcomed with a complimentary glass of Prosecco. Cheers Dave.

We sat on benches reminiscent of a narrow gauge railway carriage - with seats just as uncomfortable.

Lunch for Bas was fish based. Roger's was chicken based. Glenn's was salad based. Strangely, Rob didn't include any pig based items and plumped for pasta instead. We then chatted about a pig butchery course he and a friend had been on for a laugh. Glenn was concerned about academic rigour - did the course include elements of pig killing through the ages, famous pig killers of the 18th century, social psychology of pig killing?? Apparently not. It didn't even include killing a pig.

After such hilarity we adjourned back to the hotel and the outdoor pool. Rob took about three light years getting in and then tried to convince the rest of us it was really warm. Glenn then took the plunge but the rest stayed warm, dry and smug on the poolside.

At one point Dave asked why do birds come up here to the top of a hill. Why would they fly all the way up here when they don't have to? Well dear reader, what can you say?

After showers we headed back to the square next to the torture museum and had a lovely meal sitting in the late evening sunshine.

Instead of our oft employed Poem of the Day, here is a Poem of the place: Volterra


Day 4 15/05/17 Monday Voltera to Massa Marittima

70 km 1258m climb.

After a good nights sleep, breakfast and packing we headed up the short steep hill from the hotel towards the town and then waited for a while for Vermin and Arabella to decide which route we should take. I say Vermin because so far, the newly acquired top of the range Garmin has performed to a level more like bottom of a very deep barrel. Glenn is exceedingly unimpressed. When we agreed on the correct route out of Volterra we enjoyed a wonderful hair pinned descent with wonderful views on either side to the town of Saline Volterra in the valley. And then climbed out of said valley on yet more hair pinned roads. Before long though Rob had a problem. A problem of the The take the panniers off, turn the bike upside down, find the toolkit, puncture related variety. Normally associated with Dave of course but now it seems that getting punctures is hereditary.

More uphill followed. Baz leading the way. This morning he is really on form. Or on something.

More uphill and into the hilltop town of Pomerance. Not as hilltop as Volterra. But getting there. We made our way to the town square for cold drinks and a rest.

The day was heating up and after finding our way out of the town there was a nice downhill run followed by quite a grind up. Bas and Glenn nearly taken out on a by a lorry driver coming the other way cutting the corner. We spent the next five minutes questioning his driving skills and parentage.

Moving on we passed loads of stainless steel pipes zig zagging across the hillsides serving some form of geothermal power station. Then we cycled up a real slog of a hill in 33.6 degrees of heat to the edge of Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina. At this point three of us waited in some much appreciated shade for the other two. Let's call them Rob and Dave.

Opposite was an amazing cemetery walled with marble shrines complete with flowers and photos of the deceased. In the centre, neat rows of marble graves were strewn with cut or artificial flowers.

Onwards we cycled into the town proper for lunch. There wasn't any. Three bars were open each selling a very small selection of stale looking croissants and cakes of indeterminable origin. We settled on the third bar which at least sold crisps. They do make good crisps. We shared three packets - chilli flavour, lime flavour - which were really nice - and potato flavour. All the while the three other occupants and the bar owner were arguing loudly - probably about the falling standards of customer service - whilst pretending to run a business. At least we could fill up on fluids, carbohydrates and lime flavoured salt. It was a nice place but rubbish at the same time. Ash trays were chained to the tables so that customers wouldn't pinch the tables.

After lunch there were lots of hills up and some hills downs then more hills up. You never knew what was coming. Not like in France when a hill had a proper top to it with a black and white sign and a place to take photographs. With a predictable and lengthy downhill section to follow. No, here you never know what was coming next and as well as being unpredictable, some of the climbs were bloody hard work, especially in the heat, and especially as we'd had no lunch. Big thank you to Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina for that one.

At one point a cyclist overtook us and Baz must of though he was Robin Guy for a moment and shot off to try to keep up with him. Which he didn't.

On the approach to Massa Marittima, our stop for the night, there was no 3G signal but did tell us the name of the hotel, - the Albergo Il Girifalco - even if it couldn't link us to google maps to enable Arabella to provide directions. After yet another uphill slog, Baz spotted the hotel and Glenn went inside to check in. Again there was no internet or 3G so the app was exactly bloody useless at this point, almost as useless as Glenn's Italian skills. But finally he understood that the man in reception was saying that he didn't have any booking made for us. On further consulting the app which had now suddenly woken up, told him the reservation was at a completely different hotel. So after apologising profusely, we made our way to said hotel - uphill of course - only to be told there was no reservation there for us either. At which point the app had a sudden change of heart and said the reservation was indeed at the hotel we had just come from. Glenn had an itsy bitsy hissy fit of the how hard can it possibly be variety. And so back to the original hotel only to find the booking had been made in Bazs name not Glenn's. I mean, that's perfectly understandable isn't it. With a user name on the account of Dr Glenn and an email address totally lacking the word Baz in it but very full off the words like Glenn and MacDonald and Jones. Muppets.

Having checked in and stored our bikes in the hotel garage, we all enjoyed showers a few zzzz's and then sat under the hotel Veranda to eat sandwiches, drink beer and watch it rain.

Whilst waiting for it to stop we all looked on as Rob exercised infinite patience with Dave explaining how to use his phone.

Soon after the rain departed leaving a lovely warm sunny evening in its place. Just like in England. We walked up into the lovely old town of Massa Marittame. Where we found a really nice place off the incredibly achitectured square for our evening meal. It's only 7:00 and we're all knackered. The restaurant. was wonderful, the highlights of which were tastefully interior design, speedy, attentive service, a really good litre of vino di la cassa for €8:50. And everything else. Buona notte.


Day 5 16/05/17 Tuesday in Massa Marittima

The sunny morning began with breakfast, a bit of washing, and testing the sun loungers and hammocks by the pool. There had been an extensive discussion about maybe cycling to the coast - for all of about five seconds. Reason prevailed - we're on holiday!

By mid morning we were ready to explore the town but waited while Rob set up whatsapp up on Rogers phone. This was so we could all live in the future. This of course took rather longer than you might reasonably expect.

We walked into the town and looked round the cathedral after taking about a million photos of the Garibaldi Piazza with its cathedral, and various Romanesque palazzo's. We then explored the detail of the 'unexpected subject matter' of the Tree of Fertility fresco in the adjacent Fonte dell Abbondanza which had seen life as a wash house and then as a grain store in times of famine or war.

We walked up to the 'new' town - the Cittanova - so called because it was constructed after the Sienese invasion in 1335 and took another gazillion photos this time of the fortress, church, clock tower and its bridge to the defensive wall. Which weirdly has a greenhouse at one end.

In the clock tower - or candle tower as it looks like a candle stick (a bit), we

paid €3 each to climb the narrow and sometimes near vertical staircase probably better described as a ladder. The views from the top were spectacular and yet more photos were taken including a view of the sea in the distance. So if Massa Marittima was ever a port, then either the sea level has lowered dramatically, or it was built in the wrong place.

We then walked down through the Porta alle Silici towards the old town and hopefully lunch. As we did so we were assailed by the overwhelming smell of fish, emanating from a small delivery van parked outside a shop selling perfumed soaps and lavender. Or trying to.

Lunch was under the wooden roofed Bar le Logge just off the Piazza Garibaldi

We chose to eat there because we were ambushed whilst reading the menu by a waiter who had the skill of cracking jokes in pigeon English and we all laughed along probably out of embarrassment. Some sort of vague rapport was thus established. The waiter looked rather like a cartoon character and to Glenn's eyes at least was not to be trusted. When taking the order for desserts. Glenn said he didn't want anything and the waiter said 'you're fool' when quite probably he meant 'you're full'. He was quite lucky because Glenn realised the mistake before the waiter did.


The lunchtime discussion centred around the similarities between smokers and brexit supporters - both persist in habits they know will not be good for them.

On the side wall was the famous fresco of Madonna and Pigeon.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed a pleasant time by the pool. The late afternoon passed into early evening as we reminisced about the Lands End to John O'Groats ride - worryingly seven years ago. Where does the time go?

Dinner was lovely - Tomato soup tasting absolutely nothing like Heinz; Swordfish; Octopus with strawberries; and Crostini verdure. Followed by Monkfish; Porchetta; Wild Boar and Gnocchi. There followed a discussion about bones and fish. Rob informed us that

Swordfish do not have bones as they are a member of the shark family. But he is from Kings Heath you know.


Song for the day: The Walker Brothers 'Make it Easy in Yourself' Which we gladly did.   Poem of the Place: Massa Marittima


Day 6 17/05/17 Wednesday Massa Marittima to Sienna

99km 1059m ascent.

We woke to the sound of a cuckoo! After showers, bag packing and breakfast we retrieved the bikes from the garage. We checked our tyres and lubricated the important bits and then we did the same for the bikes.

Passing gardens where the courgette plants were in flower, fields where the hay was being cut and vineyards galore. Just like Brosley really.

Wild roses, tall buttercups and lemon yellow dandelion type flowers dotted the roadside as well as a pinky red flower we don't know the name for.

After a few km, Vermin indicated we should turn left along a gravel path. This would be the 'unpaved roads' option Glenn had turned off before we set out. So ignoring the turn we carried on along the quiet undulating and rather pleasant road thinking Vermin would recalibrate as per the option chosen. No. It said do a U turn. When it asked if it should recalibrate and Glenn pressed yes, it made a show of doing so before again requesting we U turn. This happened eight times. Most of these requests were to make the U turn some distance ahead, like at a road junction or roundabout. Why? The road is wide enough and we're on bloody bikes. We can U turn where we bloody well like. Clearly the software is copied from something produced for car drivers and not thought through for cyclists. On a devise meant for cyclists. Sold in bike shops. With mounts to fix on bikes. Shame on you Garmin. Rubbish.

We passed through what seemed like a long, thin town called Ribolia which reminded Glenn of a science pupil of his who thought that oxygen is a long thin gas so it can get through the plastic tube.

We cycled along some very long straights with little in the way of shade and the sun beating down. Thirty degrees by now. At one point Baz's water bottle came loose from its cage and fell onto the road. In an attempt to avoid hitting it, Rob came loose from his bike and fell into the ditch. Luckily unharmed. The water bottle that is.

After a longish climb we turned a corner by a sign that said our coffee stop at Roccastrade was 7km ahead. Looking up we could see a hilltop town, very high up ooh about 7km ahead. That would be it then. And so it was. After a 10% sod of a hill we reached a roundabout where we could go straight on for the Siena or turn left and go 1km uphill to the town. It's only a km somebody said but it was a hell of a 1km climb. Roccastrade means 'streets on a rock' in Italian or 'town at the top of a bugger of a hill' as far as we were concerned.

We stopped for cold drink and then more cold drinks.

Glenn tried three times to enter the unnecessarily long password at the restaurant and failed. A minor hissy fit ensued - he was too knackered for a full scale episode.

Heading off again it was really hard going in the sun and headwind. Either we are not as fit as we were in France or the heat is getting to us. Or both. Perhaps. Along a nice undulating ridge road to we arrived in Torniella and stopped at a pizzeria that didn't do pizzas at lunch time. However the non pizza based food items were wonderful and most welcome. And way better than a bag of lime flavoured crisps. Surprisingly non of us we're in a particular hurry to leave.

At this point, Vermin arbitrarily decided to replace the map with a screen full of helpful options such as 'is the screen bright enough'. As if I give a water biscuit. So far Vermin has wanted to send us down three gravel tracks even though I'm sure I went into settings this morning to tell it not to. So can I now temporarily leave navigation and go back into settings to check? Answers on a postcard please. It's as if the designers have looked at every feature people come to expect from a decent smart phone and ignored them. Like swapping between modes/apps or google maps for instance. At this point the scene from Easy rider came to mind where Dennis Hopper throws his wrist watch in a long arching curve into the distance. Very, very nearly, Vermin was featured in a reprise of that iconic cinematic moment.

We passed Montifciano, a hill top town we fortunately didn't have to go up to.

Not long after at Montebello we stopped at a bar where the TV was showing cyclists in the Giro d'Italia - carbon frames, di gears, no panniers. Whimps . We sat outside in the welcome shade listening to the dulcet tones of a petrol strimmer on the opposite verge. Like a moped on a stick.

After cokes and ice creams we headed of for the last 10km or so into Siena. Hitting the outskirts of the city in the rush hour was a bit of a nightmare and one or two words were exchanged with a couple of drivers whose pressing need to keep going far outweighed any thoughts regarding the safety of us cyclists. After stopping three times to get a good enough 3G signal, we followed the route to the hotel courtesy of Arabella on Google Maps. Brilliant. Clear, responsive, unambiguous. Absolutely brilliant. The map on the Vermin is utter, utter pants in comparison and in any case, the screen froze at the last drinks stop either because the claimed 15 hour battery life lasted less than 8, or it just couldn't be bothered anymore.

After getting to the hotel the very nice young man on reception showed us where we could leave our bikes and after showers and a bit of nodding off, went next door to eat. It was closed, but the waiter said we could come in and have a drink whilst we waited. Which we did. Wait that is. It took another half hour to get the drinks.

That said, Roger and Baz's calamari and prawns came very quickly along with a side plate of grilled vegetables, bread, and a plate of chips. So whilst he waiting for his meal to arrive, Rob had a chip butty. Kings Heath eh. The pizzas arrived with a pair of scissors! By now the restaurant had filled up, mostly local people we guessed. A really great, buzzing atmosphere. Coffee were ordered and consumed and by nine o'clock we were all ready for bed. Knackered. Thanks for reading and buona notte.

Song of the day: The Byrds 'Wasn't Born to Follow'


Day 7 18/05/17 Thursday in Siena

After a good nights rest, breakfast was served in yet another vaulted cellar. There were some interesting peculiarities like a jam dispenser Dave wanted to take home and a coffee machine that thought caffee longi was an expresso with a tiny bit more hot water. It should have said caffee shorto very strongo. There wasn't any egg based items so Baz, Glenn and Rob had to eat cake.

We walked into the old town along the Via Brancia di Sopra - a vaguely pedestrianised street and home to the oldest bank in the world. At the top end we found a proper bike shop so Rob could get a bolt for his cleats. Glenn went into another shop to buy a guidebook but had to wait while five people in the queue bought various forms of lotto cards.

At the end of the Via Brancia di Sopra we walked down a fe stone steps to be met with the incomparable

Piazza del Campo. Created by draining a swampy field in the thirteen hundreds it later become the site of the Torre del Mangia and Palazzo Pubblico - said to be the best gothic architecture in Italy. All subsequent building around the shell shaped square had to be built in a less impressive style - apparently the first example of town planning in the world - a concept that has sadly yet to reach Telford.

We stopped for coffee overlooking the square - home twice a year to the Il Palio horse race where apparently the first horse home doesn't have the suffer the encumberance of a rider to be declared winner. And then we went to look at the Museo Civico. Well four of us did. Baz waited outside to watch one or two things. Beside, he said he's seen enough old relics on this holiday already.

The museum housed some interesting pre-enlightenment paintings and frescos including Lorenzetti's allegorical frescos of good and bad governance - maybe something the modern world could learn from the medieval.

We walked to the Duomo and find a very nice restaurant off a side street where Dave and Rob have pasta with hare, a local specialty but not for the hare. The wine was a Chianti - surprisingly - and the conversation turned to the

Fiasco -the raffia encased bottles very popular in the 70's as very dangerous candle holders. A guide to Tuscan wine said that "the fiasco bottle has almost disappeared, this being the fault of the many dealers who, in the past few decades, thought they could profit with impunity from the sales of popular fiasco bottles notwithstanding the quality of the wine therein"

Couldn't possibly talking about the English could they?


After lunch we bought tickets for the Duomo which we will leave till tomorrow and the Santa Maria della Scala - a museum housed in a maze of rooms of various architectural styles which we will look at today. All except Baz who wanted to look at some different architectural styles. During his sojourn he managed to locate some coffee and a diabetic cake. Amazing.

The museum had been a hospital since at least the 13th century and possibly the tenth. It only closed in 1995 and only then were a lot of the vaulted cellars and underground chapels were discovered. That's a thousand years of bad food, bed sores and cancelled operations. Inside there were amazing frescos depicting scenes of life in the hospital as well as some frescos and statues rescued from the 2016 earthquake, and other contemporary exhibitions.

After that we met up with Bas and wandered back to the hotel. On the way we stopped at a pharmacy where Roger bought some suntan spray and Glenn bought the most expensive tube of antiseptic cream in Italy.

Back at the hotel we relaxed and pretended we didn't fall asleep before decamping to the adjacent restaurant for dinner.

Apart from us, everyone else in the restaurant was Italian except for the couple on the next table who weren't talking to each other and kept their arms still. The rather lovely waitress had a t shirt that said 'wilder than you think' but should have said 'wilder than you're ever likely to find out'.

More chat about wine ensued and Rob said something knowledgable about chianti to which Dave responded "Are you sure you're my son?" "Yes" Rob replied "but I'm not entirely sure you are my father!!"

Song for the day: Stars "Ageless Beauty".


Day 8 19/05/17 Friday in Siena


Breakfast was again taken in the vaulted cellar with the smallest tables possible. The bread rolls were so hard they could be used as weapons. Captain Carrot would be impressed.

The morning was partly cloudy and cooler than yesterday as we made our way into the old town once again. We pass a man dressing up as a statue, and the worlds oldest bank - the Monte dei Paschi du Siena, banca dal 1472

We pass the piazza Di Campo again - an example of draining the swamp that actually made sense. We stop for a coffee and head for the Caffe A. Nannini where we watched videos of the Il Palio bear back horse race. Just like the Newport Nocturn thought Rob. The winner is mobbed by a crowd of cheering men who leap from behind the safety barriers to congratulate the rider, showing typical Italian restraint in the process. Mental.

After coffee we headed to the Duomo but Baz went of in search of more earthly attractions. Probably cake.

The Duomo museum housed various artifacts. Literally articles of faith. The Duccio room housed bright and bold frescos and alter pieces. Dave loved it, after spending years telling people about it but never having seen it. In another room the original Pisano sculptures removed from the cathedral exterior were displayed for safe keeping. The original Duccio stained glass window was also there, removed to prevent war damage in 1943. There are of course other ways of preventing war damage.


Then we climbed the tower of what was going to be a massive extension to the already massive cathedral until the Black Death reminded everyone there were perhaps more pressing priorities. The views from the top were amazing.

After that we entered the Duomo proper. Jesus. The idea that less is more really hasn't caught on here. Amazing architecture and adornment but hard to escape the feeling it is all rather a lot over the top. Religion without restraint.

We met up with Baz and walked up a side street to ground ourselves in more temporal affairs like beer and lunch. After that we walked through the Piazza Mercato- now used as a car park, sadly - and past the Via dei Malcontente where condemned prisoners were led to their deaths. Nice. Then we walked down the Via di Porta Giustzia into the Orto dei Pecci, the green lungs of the city where they're recreating a medieval kitchen garden.


The National art gallery is in either one of the most elegant late gothic buildings in Siena, or a once grand now sadly disheveled 14th Century Palazzo depending on whether you believe the guidebook or the hotel's information sheet. Either way, we'd been frescoe'd and madonna'd enough so we didn't bother going.

Wandering through the side streets we had coffees just off the Via dei Montanini before making our way back to the hotel. Dave went to the nearby opticians to use his charm to get his glasses fixed. Surprisingly it worked.

Dinner was again at the restaurant next door - the next nearest being not exactly close by. The conversation centred around the infamous St Helen's rugby league team. As it would. The coffee once ordered was quite late arriving but when the waitress apologised there was absolutely no chance of her not being forgiven.


Poem for the place: Sienna


Day 9 20/05/17 Saturday Siena to Arrezo 72km 941m ascent


The day started in a bit of a subdued mood as Dave wasn't feeling too good. Taking our time to get the bikes sorted, we set eventually off through the Saturday morning Sienese traffic. There have been some comments from one or two of our more sceptical readers that all we seem to do on this holiday is eat, drink and take photographs - not a lot of actual cycling. Well today is a cycling day! Although it may well also involve activities of the eat and drink variety as well. And photographs - hopefully this evenings Facebook pages will be awash with cycling related pictures. So there oh ye sceptics.


To find our way onto the correct road out of Siena, we were following the Vermin's instructions. For once, it excelled itself and soon we were making good progress through lovely countryside of endless vines, olive trees with the skyline punctuated by the pencil-tall, dark green cypress trees in ones or twos, or sometimes in lines accentuating the lie of the land or the boundary of a field.

The road was undulating and a pretty good surface - although as we have come to expect, there can be fairly large cracks and badly repaired sections which we some how hadn't thought we'd find here. At one point an open topped Alpha Romeo spend past much to Dave's delight although it wasn't clear if he was attracted by the car or its passenger.

The morning was warming up although a cooling breeze stopped us from overheating . Before long, Vermin descended into its 'unpaved road' obsession and kept insisting we turn off the road onto gravel paths, or to U turn if we ignored the instruction. Despite claiming to be recalibrating, it never got the hint that after passing and ignoring a whole series of instructions to follow gravel paths, that we would really, really like to stay on the road if it didn't mind. Clearly it did mind as it spent all day beseeching us to U turn rather than help us find the actual route. Another blistering success. The Denis hoper treatment awaits!

We stopped to take photos of the country side with Siena 17km away - the Duomo and Mangia towers could clearly be seen. We stopped for drinks and second breakfast in Castelnuovo Berargenga, a nice town built on a ridge with lots of new housing developments really nicely done. We followed downhill past amazing fields full of poppies and dropped down into the valley taken up by the A1 motorway. There was then a very long steady slog for the next 12km mercifully shaded by trees and cloud.

Near the top we stopped in Pallazzuolo Alto for lunch. The restaurant was run by a nice lady who spoke English, German as well as Italian. From the comprehensive menu, Rob and Baz had pork. Strange that. Roger had wild boar and Glenn and Dave had Ribollita soup so thick it was served on a plate. Rob went to the loo but couldn't get back and walked into a mirror instead of the door. Such an easy mistake to make.


Following lunch, we got back on the bikes thinking we we at the top of the hill. But there was yet more up to come. Finally, there was a great descent into Monte San Savino, with the occasional omg moments due to rather crappy tarmac.

As we left the town we missed a left turn and Arabella hastily re-routed and sent us up the slip road of a motorway. We decided this wasn't a great idea and retraced our steps back to the missed turning and the non-motorway route to Arezzo, our stop for the night. But as we sped through its outskirts, the crappy tarmac theme really warmed up - atrocious and pretty dangerous. As we approached Arezzo, Arabella kindly took us on a tour of the ring road - with its very own selection of very crappy tarmac - and finally into the town centre to the Hotel Continentale. Just a bit posh. But they were quite ok about us wheeling the bikes though the hotel lobby and helping us park them up in an underground room. There followed a bit of feigned malarkey about which rooms we had or hadn't booked but somehow Rob's inimitable presence managed to persuade the reception blokey that with a tiny wheeny lemon squeeze bit of effort he could sort it for us. Which he did. The power if rugby league.


After showers and a rest we congregated in the lobby to watch it raining. We googled local restaurants within a 100m radius and miraculously found one 937 yards away which boasted some good reviews so off we trotted. Just in time as by the time we sat at our table, it was hailing outside.

We noticed that since Siena, the cuisin had changed. For a start, the soup here came in a bowl and had to be eaten with a spoon. Also, fish seems a bit of a rarity but instead, there's loads of haricot beans.

After a really nice meal, Roger gave his apologies and headed off for an early night. The rest of us ate cheesecake and drank more vin rosso della cassa and reminisced about jumping out of airplanes - at least Dave and Rob did. By now it had stopped raining and we headed back to the hotel for a posh nights sleep. Hope you do too.


Day 10 21/05/17 Sunday in Arrezo


The day began with a seismic sound reverberating round the room. No, not an earthquake, just Rob snoring in the next bedroom. Sad to say Dave was still not feeling so great so he stayed in bed whilst Rob ate his breakfast for him.

After calling in to check on Dave, the four wandered into town along the via Guido Monoco, a son of Arezzo who made his name by codifying musical notation. We had a look around the Museum of History Collecting which was an interesting ensemble of posters, music, booklets and even record sleeves salvaged from Italy's glorious and not so glorious past.

A little further on we pass a statue of a local worthy who Rob thought looked like Eddie Izzard. But then, he is from Kings Heath. Rob that is. We went into the

Duomo famed for its frescoed ceiling where the Sunday service was in full swing - although that's probably not the right way of putting it. The reverberated responses from the small congregation was pretty impressive.


Outside on the lovely green with wonderful panoramic views over the surrounding countryside, there was a dressage competition going on. But in the short time it took Rob to take a pano shot on his iPhone - as he is very won't to do, the horses all disappeared. We know not where.


We wandered downhill to the Piazza Grande past restaurant tables set out for baptism celebrations. We drank coffee listening to the sound of bells being rung in the various churches in the city. Bizzarly, there was also the sound of Beatles music coming from one of the museums in the square. We couldn't find out why this was happening and thought it best not to ask.

After that we had a quick look around some antique shops and saw various signs that told us which scenes from the 2011 Roberto Benigni film "Life is beautiful" were filmed in each location.

Roger, Rob and Glenn went into the Basilica of San Francesco to look at the {perp della Francesca frescos which were amazing and very different from others we had seen as well as the fact that here they were in situ and hadn't had to be removed for safe keeping in some museum or other. We also watched a short 3D film of photographs taken on various grand tours in the 19th century - the real grand tours, not something spoilt Tory-boy Clarkson knocked up.


Meanwhile Baz fails in his exhaustive search for Italian diabetic cakes but did find two pints of Guinness instead. After meeting up with Baz in the Piazza Francesco there was a choice of places for lunch but no hairdressers.

Lunch turned out to be beer and insalate although Baz had pizza. Five Americans sat next to us which really made Baz's day. They proceeded to talk just that little bit too loudly about whether, if they all wanted Prosecco with their meal then maybe they should get a bottle? If only Americans put as much deliberation into whether or not to vote a mysogenistic, racist bankruptee as president.

After lunch we wandered our separate ways to take on the sights, art galleries or possibly more Guiness. By the evening Dave was feeling much better but not up to eating so he stayed in his room in the vain hope we'd feel sorry for him. Instead, we walked back into town and had a really nice if slightly pricey meal that Dave would have hated. On the way we saw a Nun wearing Reeboks. As you do. Back in the hotel - slightly posh as we've mentioned before - we waited at the bar whilst the far too self important bloke at reception pointedly ignored us until finally calling for a minion to come and serve us. Said minion gave said reception bloke a look of thunder we'd have paid good money to see. Life is beautiful.


Song of the day: "Gaudete" by Steeleye Spam.   Poem of the day Arezzo


Day 11 22/05/17 Monday in Arezo


We congregated for breakfast all kitted up ready for the cycle to Chiusi della Verna but Dave was still feeling unwell so we agreed to have another day in Arezzo. We arranged with reception to stay another night which at first seemed problematic but turned out to be fine in the end. That done, we had a leisurely breakfast enjoying the luxury of drinking our fruit juice from a wine glass. Told you it was posh.

After changing out of our cycling gear, we wandered into Arezzo centre and visited the house, now museum, once belonging to Giorgio Vasari, who was a bit of a polymath: the author of a 14th century book on the great painters, an accomplished Mannerist painter, was one of the earliest town planners, and was commissioned by Cosimo Medici to redesign Arezzo, doing away with some of the buildings and creating a long Romanesque vaulted frontage facing out onto the palazzo Grande. He also designed a chair for a bishop. As you do.


From the museum, we wandered into the Duomo which Dave had missed seeing yesterday. Baz waited outside as he's already been in one church this holiday so that'll do for this year. Once outside again, Roger practiced taking photographs with his phone using the zoom feature that he hadn't known was there until Baz had shown him. We stopped for coffee and sugar free biscuits in the Piazza Grande and watched the world and its assorted tourists go by. There was a discussion of what sort of sun hat to get for Dave - something like a French foreign legion hat with the fabric hanging at the back to protect his neck from the sun. Then a man walked by who had a pony tail which achieved much the same thing but Rob said he would rather Dave have sunstroke than a father with a pony tail.


We had a quick look around the church of Santa Maria before a nun - not the Reebok one as far as we could tell - informed us that it closed at 12:30. That would be lunchtime then, so we adjourned to a small pizzeria and examined the workings of a home made cork extractor fastened to the wall. Then the conversation turned to cycling across America and other bonkers races and so we knew Dave must be feeling a bit better.

Back at the hotel we whiled away the afternoon reading, blogging - dreadful word - napping or sitting on the sun terrace on the hotel roof.

In the evening, we went to the local restaurant that we had gone to on the first night. The lady seemed pleased to see us back, but then had to borrow Roger's glasses to write down our order.

Whilst waiting we talked about apostrophes. If there is no precision in language, there can be no precision in thought. Which is something you'll have already given up to be reading this.

The restaurant had a local, rustic feel, complete with tumblers instead of wine glasses - perhaps they could do a swap with our hotel. A guy came in looking like Jesus. Possibly. With a companion who, as Baz noted, had legs which were long at both ends and wore quite a wide belt. Dormire bene e buona notte.


Day 12 23/05/17 Tuesday Arezzo to Firenze 109.56km 606m


We rose early and packed, had breakfast and sorted the bikes out. It took an hour to programme the route into Vermin but it's instructions got us quickly out of Arezzo and onto the road towards Firenze.

Dave was wearing his French foreign legion handkerchief hanging down from the back of his helmet. Nobody laughed obviously.

We made good progress despite the growing heat and passed the Arezzo commonwealth war graves - poignant on this sad day when twenty two people had died and many more injured in the dreadful bombing in Manchester, many of them children. You can't begin to understand either the motivation, or, more importantly, the grief such wanton acts of violence leave behind.

We stopped to check the route and for Rob to adjust his handlebars. In Ponticino Vermin decided to direct us down a 'Track' which we ignored so it spent the next dozen kilometres telling us to U turn. Until Glenn turned it off. The roads through some of the towns on the way we're in pretty poor condition and perhaps the same thing could be said for some of the drivers who often passed too close or peeped their horn when one of us had to veer into the centre of the road to avoid the cracked and broken Tarmac. One or two comments were made by the famous five as you might be able to imagine - not Roger of course as he is far too polite for that sort of thing.

We stopped for coffee and second breakfast in Levane and then continued along a passable cycle path alongside the SP 69 as it dipped and climbed above the A1 and river Arno in the valley.


At Incisa we crossed both autoroute and river and climbed steeply up the other side to, of all places, a village called Leccio turned into an outlet mall. Very Hugo Boss. Quite disturbing in its own way. Nevertheless, we stopped for designer sandwiches which were nice and very welcome.

More ups and downs followed. We crossed back onto the south side of the Arno Crossed on a busy road but with some nice views down to the river on our right. The busy road into Florence was followed parallel to the river until they'd dug it up just by the Ponte Vecchio. A bit of manoeuvring up one way streets got us back on the riverside road and then we stopped for a cold drink by the river in what looked like a posh, prime location bar which wasn't.


The final 12 or so kilometres to our hotel for the night was a bit of a nightmare. Vermin had packed up and Arabella seemed determined to take us on the 'no bikes allowed' autoroute. In the end, Dave asked a policemen and in the time taken to do that, Vermin was recharged and reprogrammed to get us into the vicinity of Signa, and then Arabella guided us the rest of the way to the hotel, right by the railway station.


The man at the hotel was very helpful getting our bikes into a safe room although he did look a bit roughly dressed for an Italian - and he was the hotel owner. There was a bit of a wait while the rooms were got ready so we waited in the bar where it was already beer o'clock.

After showers, we walked into the older part of the town and found a restaurant where the waitress showed us to a table in a room the back. Food and service was probably the worst we've ever had on any of the famous five trips. They brought out some of the main courses before we'd finished our starters and the wine was dreadful. Smiling at the customers definitely not allowed.

Least of worries I know. There are families in utter trauma out there. On a day when a 22 year old young man killed 22 young people in Manchester.


Day 13 24/05/17 Wednesday in Firenze


After an interesting breakfast the highlight of which was watching a lady pour hot chocolate onto her cereal, we caught the train into Firenze past suburban flats, playing fields, trailer and motor home parks, factories, roads and shops.

After arriving, we walked round the Duoma square and then walked over the Ponte Vecchio to meet our friend Michela, a resident of Firenze, in the Piazza di Santo Spirito. Over coffee we talked about our journey so far and it's various highlights. We wondered where would be good to eat this evening and then Michela told us about the rise, fall and rise of wild boar in Tuscan cuisine, much to Robs delight.

Leaving Michela to see to her guest house arrivals, we walked round the amazing Duomo and then to the Mercator Centrale for lunch. Inside, there are lots of little cafes selling local fresh food. Glenn asked for zucchini but pronounced the ch soft instead of hard which led to the waitress not understanding until Rob pointed out his error. He is from Kings Heath after all. There followed a general discussion of pronunciation. When the food came we'd got it wrong so resorted to the universal language of pointing.


After lunch we made our way to the Uffizi art gallery to collect our pre-paid tickets. Even with them it took a while to get in. We arranged to meet up in two hours time and proceeded to navigate our way around the quite confusing gallery layout. Some incredible artwork, many of which had been in the same building for hundreds of years. There were perhaps too many people, especially in the rooms with the more popular pieces, a problem made worse by the guided tours and the insatiable habit of some people to have a selfy in front of a Botticelli. Come the revolution...... After we had regrouped at the exit - through the gift shop of course - we walked next door to the Palazzo Vecchio and looked around the courtyard and the Vasari frescoes. We exited into the Piazza Vecchio which afforded a good view of Davids bottom - the statue, not our Dave, the copy not the original.


Making our way to the Palazzo Strossi, we stopped for a drink and then coffee before meeting up with Michela again. Glenn and Michela went for a walk around some of the streets and wonders of Firenze off the main tourist route. Meanwhile, the others went in to see the Bill Viola exhibition which met with mixed reviews from our expert critics.


Michela then took us for an aperitif - in an Irish bar! The juke box was playing the Cream classic "White Room". Genius.

After that we thanked Michela for her time, company and insights into Fiorenti life, and headed for our evening meal at the Za Za restaurant just off the Mercato Centrale. For starters Baz had a curry - a curried risotto with shrimps! Between courses we had a discussion about the highlight artwork seen on the trip. Amazingly opinions differed! Once starters were over, we poured the wine from a raffia encased candle holder - the infamous Fiasco of chianti.


On the next table there were six Taiwanese being ever so western by wearing smart shoes with no socks and committing slow suicide by smoking. At another table some of their compatriots - we assume - were doing their best to end it all by cholesterol poisoning by ordering steaks the size of an asteroid. Which they hardly touched. Strange to say we had an opinion about that.


Our meal was fantastic - many thanks to Michela for her recommendation. Even though feeling very full, one or four of us had to have a dessert and amazingly for Baz, there was a diabetic option.

As dusk fell, we made our way to the railway station. After purchasing tickets hassle free at the machine, we had half an hour to wait and strolled into the station's enormous bookshop which sold coffee and played jazz music. Nice.

We weren't entirely sure if the train at platform 5 was the one we wanted but hoped it was. Man U 1-0 up courtesy of Pogba on 18 minutes in the Europa League final in Stockholm. We shared the carriage with a bunch of drunk Italians in suits who could say aaaaaaaaHhhh a lot in loud voices. Three minutes into second half Mkhitaryan scores so 2-0 to Man U. The video screen on the excellent Trenitalia train says the train's speed, the temperature inside and out, times to the next stations and whether the toilet is free. Amazing.


Back in the hotel, we retire to our rooms after a great day in Firenze. Man U win 2-0 so Glenn is happy.

Song for the day. "White Room" Cream.


Poem for the day:


Firenze, Firenze

Let's not pretende

There are not many words

That rhyme with Firenze


GMJ May 2017. Ok. I'd had a drink.



Day 14 25/05/17 Thursday Firenze to Pisa 78km


We breakfasted as usual although the frothy orange juice put everyone off, especially as it wasn't even served in wine glass. We do have our standards after all. After cereal, eggs, cheese and ham etc, there was the cake course. As you do. Roger's looked like it tasted better than it did and he was right. Along one wall, there was a fresco - style painting of the Firenze skyline that miraculously failed to include the duomo, baptistery or campanile. It was probably a Muriel.


We finished packing quickly as we are getting quite slick at this - just in time for our last cycling day. We got the bikes sorted and then there was a bit of brake related faffing which Baz thought was the cause of why he had been going so slowly. That fixed, there was a bit of a rack related faffing as one of the support bolts had come off Bazs bike. Again. Problem solved, we headed away from Hotel Weird and waited about ten minutes at a T junction for absolutely no one to let us out. Thanks Italy. So we got off and walked to the zebra crossing and crossed there.


After finding our way out of the town and over the bridge to the main road, we turned right and headed on our way. A passing motorist gave us a surprise friendly wave. Using all five fingers! Not what we're used to. A little later on, a cyclist overtook us and began chatting to Glenn. After a prolonged period of incomprehension on Glenn's part, the man finally realised we were English and shrugged his shoulders. He then kept on saying 'one hundred' a lot by which he could have meant his age, how far he had already cycled that day, or the number of years it will take an English football team to beat Italy.


Traffic on the road was frequently heavy and fast and at roundabouts, it was impossible not to notice that hardly any of the Italian cars had had indicators fitted, probably going for the extra loud horn option instead.

Soon we were in open country side and the road hugged the river Arno and we made good progress on the well surfaced road. Clearly that couldn't go on for long. We stopped for a short while for Roger to take some photos of bike sculptures on a roundabout. Shortly after, we turned down what we thought would be a quieter road into Empoli which it wasn't. For some reason, there was also a lot of litter. Of all the nice places we've ever stopped for coffee Empoli didn't look like being one of them until we found the semi pedestrianised streets and had a nice cappuccino whilst watching this bit of the world go by.


On leaving the town over the bridge to the north side of the river, the nice well surfaced road stopped being both of those things. Utterly dreadful and in many places very unsafe. There was some lovely rural scenery all around but you couldn't take your eyes off the road for a minute. Adding to this delight, a long red lorry and trailer passed us and clearly thought that the 1.5m passing distance really didn't apply to him and about 15 cm would do nicely. Glenn let it be known that he disagreed quite strongly with that assumption.


By this time, the Vermin had as usual been calling for a 12 km U turn and so had been switched off. So we were stopping quite frequently to consult Roger's paper map and check out the signposts. Which, as ever are about as consistent as a contradictory thing on inconsistency day. We arrived at a T junction where there was a statue of Mary but no signpost. What do we do, guess or pray? At Montecalvoli we stopped for lunch at a snack bar and watched with some degree of amusement at the car drivers parking absolutely anywhere they liked. Moving on we passed a couple of guys jump starting one of those tiny flat bed, three wheel trucks built around a moped. Like a strimmer on wheels. We stopped to check the route outside a bike shop and so Dave, Rob and Baz had a bit of a drool.


By now, Glenn at least had had enough of bad roads, bad signs and bad drivers. Cycling in 36 degrees C  didn't help. Fortunately the S2 and S5 roads didn't cause much trouble and we were soon approaching the outskirts of Pisa. One thing to note, nowhere on the trip in Tuscany have we seen a town twinned with anywhere in England. Either there is a historical reason for this or maybe they've already de-twinned us after the nonsense of the brexit shoot yourself in the foot vote nearly a year ago. Omg, what have we bloody well done.


Pressing on into Pisa, we followed signs for the station where hopefully, we would be reunited with our bike bags and boxes left there two weeks ago. Fortunately they were there and so we deconstructed the bikes and tried to squeeze them into the space they must have fitted into two weeks ago. There wasn't a competition to see who could pack their bike away first but Glenn and Baz won.


After showers and a bit of packing in readiness for the flight early tomorrow morning, we wandered into the town past the famous Peaning tower of Lisa and went to the really good restaurant we had gone to at the start of our Tuscany adventure. We chatted about paradigm shifts and their applicability to changes in art genre. Or something like that. The waiter recognised us from our previous visit and perhaps as a sort of loyalty reward, brought us glasses of an aniseed based liqueur called M74. Which was wonderful.


We wandered back to the hotel using Dave's well known sense of direction which we ignored. Tired but also feeling pretty good about our famous five Tuscany tour, we laid our weary heads to rest.


Song for the day: "Where the streets have no name" U2.


Day 15 26/05/17 Friday Pisa to Liverpool


We were down to breakfast at 7:00 and asked the receptionist to book taxis for us at 8:00. For whatever reason, the Chuckle sister receptionist was keen to get us out of the hotel as soon as possible and so the first taxi arrived half way through breakfast. Roger hadn't even reached the cake course yet.

The receptionist announced that the next taxi would arrive in three minutes time in a voice that wouldn't even reach the group stages of the friendly voice of Pisa completion, should such a thing exist. The other taxis arrived and apart from the odd grumble from one of the drivers, we got to the airport without incident. Unless of course you count the cat that was nearly run over by the taxi Rob and Glenn were in.


We checked in the bags and bikes without a problem and the passage through security was all ok. We had a very nice coffee in cardboard cups and began the mammoth task of sorting the money out - who had paid for what and how much everyone owed everyone else. Sounds simple enough but still took about an hour! After that, we wandered around the shops and various presents and souvenirs bought. Passport control was next but the blokey seemed very reluctant to let Rob out of the country for some reason and took rather too long than is comfortable to check the passport, look at Rob, check the passport again.


Once through, we were met with the sound of a male voice choir from Firenze on their way to a competition in Dublin entertaining everyone with a song evidently about a steam train, complete with sound effects. Very impressive. Rob and Dave read a report of last night's rugby league game which St. Helen's won. Apparently a rare event these days. The flight was on time and all ok, and happily the bikes and luggage came through really quickly. We met up with Lin and Karen and loaded up the bikes and headed out into the nightmare of Friday afternoon uk traffic. But at least indicators are almost always employed.



Song for the day: "You can go your own way" by Fleetwood Mac. Which we did.