Whoever invented Tuscany was a genius. Whoever invented the bicycle was a genius too. The two together make for a pretty groovy combination.
On my second full day in Florence I took an all-day bike tour through the Chianti region of Tuscany, just outside the Florence city limits. It was the best bang for my buck, I mean, “yang for my Euro” that I had spent thus far on this trip.
My group, consisting of about 7 others and myself, was lead by Australian guide who was a Chianti Classico encyclopedia on wheels (“Encyclobike” for short). Chianti Classico is the wine that is made in the region that we biked through, and as we pedaled up, down, and around Tuscany’s hills we made pit stops in our day-long crash course in the production of Chianti Classico. It was gorgeous and the clouds were gracious enough stand guard in front of the sun most of the day, leaving us with temperatures hovering between 75 and 85 for our entire ride.
An Italian villa from the 16th century marked our halfway point where we sat down to a three course italian meal where our guide insisted that we drizzle everything we eat in the villa’s fresh-pressed olive oil. Comparing the olive oil I consumed at the villa to my usual go-to brand in the States is like comparing a live broadway musical to it’s recorded album. It’s miles, I mean, kilometers (It’s all metric system over here, gets me every time) beyond anything on the shelves in Arkansas. We also got to try two different types of wine that the villa makes on site, with mid-sip descriptions from our handy Encyclobike.
Encyclobike then lead us on a very informative tour of the winery, walking us through the different rooms that make up the simple yet precise and difficult process of making world-class vino.
After the tour, we forced our full-bellied selves back on our bikes and cruised through the mostly-downhill route back to our home base, but not without stopping for a cup of authentic Italian gelato at some local holeinthewall place.
Upon arrival back at my swankified hostel, I met two new friends from Cali who I joined for dinner later that evening at a restaurant famous in the Aguren household, “Acqua al 2.” My body said “no,” but my mind said “yes” to the balsamic steak. My sister had gotten the same thing a few years ago at the same restaurant, and the heavenly balsamic glaze continues to be a topic of conversation among the foodie Aguren family. Honestly, more than once have we eaten something with any top of fancy sauce on it, and the conversation was as follows:
“Wow, this sauce is to die for.”
“Yea, looks like it. But remember that one in Florence?”
“Of course! I mean, this one’s good, but that one in Florence…”
“But I mean, yea, this one’s good too. But that one in Florence…”
So I ate the steak that my usually meat-free stomach hated me for, but you better believe I slurped that balsamic sauce like it was from the fountain of youth. I’m convinced that that magical concoction was stirred and sizzled by the angels of Heaven (Gabriel is the Head Chef. Michael is his Sous-Chef) and drizzled onto my plate as it was being delivered to my table.
You reading this: “Did Carlyle really just spend, like, two paragraphs describing, of all things, a sauce?”
After dinner we hunted for an infamous gelato joint raved about in our Let’s Go books. We found the place, tucked into a small, dimly-lit street, with a line curling out of the door. And thus, the age-old debate between who had the best gelato – Rome or Florence – was decided. Hey Rome, you’re still great. Keep your chin up.
The next morning I caught my train for Lucca. I arrived at my hostel, joined my new friend from Perth , Mark, on a walk to the local grocery store and spent the evening munching at a park bench and watching the sun set behind the city’s medieval walls.
Then I woke up and felt bad. Real bad. I tried to walk around town, but didn’t have the energy. To be honest, I was pretty miserable. I had caught some Italian bug that was eating away at my energy levels and immune system.
So I did what I could to sleep it off, and it took two full days and 27 hours of sleep for my body to reboot and flush the bug out of me. I alternated between sleeping in my room and napping a few of the many parks along Lucca’s beautiful walls. On a good note, I was able to spend a lot of time in my new book about St. Francis of Assisi and in my subscription to World Magazine.
I’d love to go back to Lucca one day and really experience the town. I would consider it to be the Fayetteville of Italy. The town loved their art, and had large sculptures made by local artists in nearly every piazza in town. There was also plenty of live music throughout the entire day, and events at night throughout the week that celebrated how much the local population loved their town.
So I don’t end on a note of nausea, I’ll give you a brief glimpse into my next blog post. It will consist of singing “House of the Rising Sun” with a group of Italian girl scouts. Badda-bing-badda-boom.
Next post: Chillin’ in the Cinque Terre
Alive and well, back on my feet and traveling,