Go Dad Go!

A self-important blog about riding bikes, raising kids and the all-too-rare nexus of these two pursuits.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From Greve-in-Chianti -- Day 3

Today we rented bikes from Marco at Ramuzzi and rode from Greve to Siena and back, a popular Tuscan ride. I'd heard much about cycling these roads, and I wasn't disappointed.

We arrived at Ramuzzi at 9:00 a.m., opening time, and Marco's assistant was opening the shop. He wore coveralls, as did Marco when he arrived five minutes later. (I'm definitely passing along to the guys at Cycle Sports back home that they need to go auto mechanic-style; no more ironic t-shirts and jeans.) I told him that my brother Dave, Karen and I needed three road bikes -- two 60 cms and a 50, and he looked at me a bit puzzled, as if to say, "Hmmm...not sure about that." Remember: I'd emailed him twice, called once and stopped by the day before.

But as I've learned in the few days I've been here, if you're willing to trade some solidity of planning for graciousness and hospitality -- to loosen up any rigid plans you've made -- Tuscany is a great place to spend a week.

Marco found bikes for us, all Carreros, a brand I'd never heard of. Karen's looked a few years old, while Dave's was quite new and mine was -- wait for it -- still in the box. We waited in the shop, finding classic Italian frames crowded by new mountain bikes on the shop floor, as Marco's assistant assembled my bike. Once together, it looked like a more-than-serviceable bike to ride for a couple of days: all aluminum with Xenon components, which I've learned rest at the bottom of the Campy hierarchy, but which worked smoothly the entire ride.

We left the shop after Marco waved off my attempt to give him ID or a credit card. From Greve we climbed to Panzano, the hilltop town I wrote about earlier, and then on to Castellina, where a little castle indeed sat atop another picturesque, verdant Tuscan hill. The roads were much as I'd heard, and better than I'd hoped: sweeping, smooth and well-maintained (hmm...maybe there's something to be said for a more prominent role of the state and even higher taxes...); earlier I'd noticed the very narrow shoulder and worried, but found that tiny Smart Cars and Fiats whose drivers give a wide berth around a slim strip of pavement are far less threatening than the SUVs that bear down on us when riding the wide roads of, say, Danville.

In all, the ride was glorious. Vistas of churches, vineyards and castles; cresting steady climbs in classic villages where Strega Nona lookalikes carried baskets of bread or flowers; careening around curves down the backside of those climbs, pretending to be il Falco -- it all amounted to the kind of ride that Backroads promotes as classically Tuscan, only we were guiding ourselves, making our own way to our destination in Siena.

Sitting at the foot of Chianti, Siena was spectacular, and archetypically old-Europe, but it also felt like every tourist in the area had funneled down through the region and collected in its narrow, cobbled streets. We had to walk our bikes through the crowds to the central piazza, where we met the rest of our group. After a very pleasant lunch in a very warm sun, we decided not to negotiate crowds for long, and rode those same serpentine streets back out of town.

Soon it became clear that the trip home would be a very warm one. We plodded up a never-steep, but seemingly endless climb back to Castellina (as I thought, "No wonder the ride this morning seemed like such a breeze!), taking a moment to catch a spectacular view of Siena in the southern distance. From Castellina, after a couple of three-Euro Gatorades and some gelato, we descended, and then climbed back up to Panzano (stopping to take another photo), and again on to Greve, where Marco was waiting for us and our bikes. He seemed very pleased that we'd enjoyed the ride; it must have been very clear that we had.


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