Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Italy Motorcycle Diary: 14. Tuscany and Pisa

For breakfast I cut up fresh strawberries in the room and put them in yogurt, having gone to a grocery store after dinner. There was no dryer, and I’d splayed my clothes out over chairs and near the bathroom window. It was mostly dried by morning. I got an early start and was soon cruising through the Colle di Valle of Elsa and classic Tuscany scenery of farmhouses and Cyprus trees. Many farms were yellowed squares, and I assumed the drought had made everything appear drier than normal. But overall I had the impression of driving through a movie set or painting.
My new destination was Volterra. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure. Florence and the end of the R1200RS and the joys of the road were growing closer. I should have planned the last day better. Volterra was a treat, but I was concerned about the time and wanted to eke out a few more miles, so I didn’t enter the town’s interior. I bought a few souvenirs in an onyx shop and hit the road again.
In Volterra, I saw a multitude of well-dressed motorcyclists, and by that I mean expensive, cool-looking leather-wear. I’d seen a few other motorcycle tourists on the road the day before. Most of the smart ones were staying well north, I thought. Dusty had seen packs of motorcycles in Switzerland, where the weather was reasonable, (mentioning, however, that, they seemed “harried” on the twisties when the rain began falling.) One neat thing about seeing any fellow bikers, though, was that they often waved. They even held out two fingers to one side, just like they do in Arizona.
I chose smaller, slower roads out of Volterra, deciding to go through the small town of Il Castagno on the way to Florence. Forests and farms, twisting roads, not too much traffic. Pleasant, but I no longer felt like I had a purpose. I was simply killing time. Not that this leg of the journey was without a few surprises. A few miles out of Volterra, for instance, I came around one corner to find a small car stopped in front of me, in the middle of my lane. I slowed and went over the centerline to his left, peering into the driver’s-side window, which was rolled down. The senior citizen driver was looking at a paper map on his steering wheel, oblivious to me as I passed.
Desperate to maximize these last few hours, I took another look at my phone map — while safely pulled over, of course — and inspiration struck. Pisa was roughly equidistant from Florence now, each being slightly more than an hour away. And it was only eleven. It was even getting cooler, or rather, slightly less hot. I zoomed there, watching the estimated time of the arrival on the GPS roll backward as I exceeded the posted speed limit for mile after mile.
The GPS guided me right in, and I made no wrong turns for once. I had gotten much better at navigation by the last day on the bike. As I drew closer to the Piazza del Duomo, I saw people parking a mile out. I had no worries. Sure enough, I pulled through one of the gates of the old wall and found the scooter and moto parking on Via Rainierino. I put on my sneakers, walked around a corner, and there it was — the Leaning Tower of Pisa, just like in the small souvenir ash tray my dad had brought back from his time in the Navy stationed in Naples in 1962. The tower was more magnificent than I had realized. Yet my greatest momentary joy upon getting there was the sublime snack stand with cold water — a bottle of actual, freezing-cold, thirst-quenching water, quite unlike every other bottle I’d purchased in Italy up to that time.
Inside the Duomo complex, I heard a strangely familiar language. It took me a second to realize it was a girl speaking American English, I had heard so little of it in the last few days. Virtually all the other tourists Paul and I had seen in southern Italy were European.
Unfortunately, it was too late to climb the stairs to the top of tower. I got in a long line, but an American man told me I needed an advance ticket and that they had bought theirs hours ago. I went into the office past the Fallen Angel sculpture on the lawn and saw that the next available slot was 4:30 p.m. It was 12:30 p.m., so I abandoned the idea of the tower climb and walked around the piazza. I got a cup of chocolate gelato, sat in a thin patch of shade next to a building, and read about the history of the tower on my iPhone. The place was crowded, and at any given moment I could see five or more people posing for photos while putting their hand out to give the illusion they were preventing the leaning tower from falling. I couldn’t help but snap a selfie version.
I didn’t want the moto trip to end, but I felt great as I sped to Florence, excited that I had a few more days ahead and would soon be seeing Dusty and Paul.
                Scooter-and-car-mania began again the second I got off the freeway. My stress level shot up as I tried to keep one eye on the GPS screen and two or three eyes on the road. The intersections were wide, the streets were wide, with multiple medians, and traffic was heavy. At the slightest sign of hesitation or weakness on my part brought scooters all around me, filling in the spots between cars that I wanted to take. Like in Naples, I had to focus more on the driving and less on the navigation, resulting in a couple of quick stops for new bearings, utilizing my iPhone maps as well as the GPS, and making a couple of u-turns.
                Still, it wasn’t long before I found the address for CIMT. I coasted down a ramp into an open courtyard near a large, open garage door. CIMT rented part of a larger garage operation here, as in Rome. A man who appeared to be in his 70s shuffled out, asking me Italian what I needed, (or so I gathered.) He wore dress slacks and shoes, and a polo shirt. He spoke little English and communication was difficult, especially since I thought he would understand right away why I was there. Finally, he smiled and said, “Chee-mat, chee-mat!” No one from CIMT was there, but I called the company’s Rome office and Riccardo picked up the phone. He said to leave the bike there, as scheduled. Two other garage employees showed up and asked me where I was staying, then offered to give me a ride to the hotel, saving me an Uber trip.
                I changed into shorts and a fresh T-shirt, unpacked the Givis for the last time, stowed my motorcycle gear in my bags with the rest of my stuff, and took one last look at the R1200RS. Soon I was in the lobby of the FH Hotel Calzaiuoli, which Dusty had booked. The clerk was speaking perfect English to an irritating, middle-aged American in a Hawaiian shirt who was giving the clerk crap over the size of his room and demanding a new one. The guy looked over at me and, pegging me as another American, winked at me as if to say, “This is how you do it.” The clerk, stealing the chance to ignore the man for a moment, turned and politely asked me what I needed. I told him in my best Italian that my friends had made a reservation and I needed the key to Room 405. I glanced over at the white dude and to my satisfaction he brow furrowed in confusion, thinking maybe I wasn’t his paisano after all. The clerk beamed at me and handed me the correct key.

Next: Kayaking in Venice

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