Planning? What planning?
Well, perhaps not quite such a cavalier approach, but
it is surprising how after one successful self-contained bike tour abroad, you feel so
much more confident. The first one certainly had the adrenalin going, even when we
were sat at home just thinking about it. Thoughts like "what if they won't let
us on the plane, what if we can't get accommodation, what if my frame snaps....!"
I think what last years tour did was to set a few ground rules. Basically,
we're in Europe. We're not in the High Andes, where we're unlikely to meet anyone
from one week to the next. There are shops, telephones, banks, road signs etc.
We might get lost, but not irretrievably so.
The difficulty now was, where do we go next? We
had thought that we wouldn't be able to afford another tour of Tuscany and Umbria this
year, and were looking at cheap flights to Spain with EasyJet and the like, but, during a
night out with our wives at a local Italian restaurant and after probably too much red
wine, we'd decided that we just had to go back. To say we enjoyed last years tour was a
massive understatement, and there were places we wanted to re-visit, as well as others we
wanted to visit for the first time.
So this year, planning was a much less organised
affair. We knew what happened at the airports, we had the maps we'd need, we had a
list of places that we'd like to visit, and, through a great stroke of luck, we had 'an
insider' available to help us.
Through putting the report of last years tour on the
Web, I started conversing with a chap who lives in Pisa, Sergio Servadio. He'd read
about our ride over Monte Serra - one of his favourite rides, and right on his doorstep.
We asked him for suggestions as to where we might go, and he came up with some
crackers. Some places we'd have gone to anyway, but others we almost certainly would
have missed like Vallombrosa, Poppi, Suvereto, Sassetta. He and his family also
kindly offered us accommodation on our arrival in Pisa. As we would be landing
around 7pm, that was most welcome.
|He did have one
strange (to us) request. He asked if we could bring him some PG-Tips tea out -
proper tea, not tea-bags, for which he'd gladly reimburse us. No problem we
said. Then he told us how much he wanted... 3 kg's. Now I'd never seen 3kg's
of tea, but I imagined it was quite bulky, and I wasn't wrong. I took a quick trip
down to the local Tesco and sized up the problem. I reckoned a pannier full. I had
visions of us going through Customs, being stopped and asked what this was? 3 kg's
of tea we'd reply. Of course it is Sir. Mind if we open it up? In the
end, I managed to get 6 x 500g containers. Much easier than the squillions of little
packets I'd envisaged. We just carried 3 each on the plane as part of our hand
luggage - and no-one asked to look at it. A bit disappointing really.
|Once again, we used the Touring Club Italiano (TCI)
1:200,000 maps of 'Toscana' and 'Umbria e Marche'. I have to say I've not found
anything better. As with last year, we put places we wanted to visit into Microsoft's
"Autoroute Express - Europe", and with a little gentle persuasion came up
with 12 days of touring. For those who've read last years report, you may recall I
left our Rough Guide to Tuscany and Umbria under a hotel bed in Siena. I found this
so useful I just had to buy it again.
After that, it was
just a case of cutting it up into rideable chunks. As far as Tuscany and Umbria are
concerned, I think you'd be pretty unlucky to end up somewhere where you'd "wished
you'd rather not." We'd made a conscious decision this year to spend a little
more time in some of the places.
Although we never booked any accomodation in advance,
if you're doing this sort of trip in 'high season', you may want to for peace of mind.
See below for a few Web sites I found where you can do this. The Umbria site
(www.umbria.org) looks particularly useful as it lists a lot of the 'smaller' towns.
I'd be interested to hear of other sites which might
be useful to others. Just drop me a line and I'll include them here.
Touring Club Italiano (1:200,000) Toscana
Touring Club Italiano (1:200,000) Umbria e Marche
The Rough Guide to Tuscany and Umbria
www.itwg.com (Accomodation, travel etc. Loads of links
to other useful sites)
www.umbria.org (Lots of
information on Umbria, including hotel lists, events, history etc.)