Well, here we are back safe and sound in Perth, luggage and bikes all arrived in the right place and in one piece. I must put in a vote for Emirates 30kg luggage allowance - a real bonus when carrying the bikes (and Sharons shoe purchases). This will be the penultimate blog for this trip and I will summarise the week our travels before we hit Rome. I last left you in Tuscany at our villa in val d orcia. The rest of our week there went much as it had previously - cycling, relaxing, eating, sightseeing, eating, shopping, eating and eating. The landscape around here really was pretty special and a drive, walk or ride in any direction was usually quite spectacular. Some of the scenes were so perfect or stereotypical that they looked fake. A number of times people commented that a photo taken didnt look real - but they were. Many of the hill villages in the area were very popular with tourists - especially Americans. Some of them were also very "touristy" with every second shop being a shoe shop, leather shop or ceramic shop. It gave some of them the appearance of being a bit like "toy towns" rather than places that Itaians really lived. This was very different from many of the places we had already been. These villages were very pretty and it was good to see them but I prefrered the towns where you could see how people lived and at least to a small degree "join in" with daily life. Time at the villa with friends was fantastic and very relaxing. The food continued to be wonderful and it took some great effort to attempt to balance the calorie input/output. Our cook Christina continued to produce gorgeous meals using seasonal produce - ususally a course or two more than we needed. Christina and our breakfast cook Leolina (?), didint speak much english and none of us spoke much Italian but we managed.......with the exception of our attempt to request poached eggs one morning. Mike managed to request poached venison which drew a surprised look and delivered six boiled eggs. Another highlight in Tuscany was a visit and lunch at a local vinyard/winery that was recommended by our Villa contacts. Marchesi Frescobaldi near Montalcino. We arrived after a longish dive and series of lefts and right into the countryside. We rocked up to the winery and a vineyard worker asked us what were were there for. He then disappeared. After 15-20 mins of us wondering if they were expecting us, our guide appeared and gave us a tour of the working winery. She the asked us to follow her to "the castle" for lunch. What a surprise. We were told to expect a "light lunch". What unfolded was an exclusive four course lunch for just the eight of us, accompanied by Frescobaldi wine and grappa. It turned out the Frescobaldi's are an aristocratic family and the vineyard and label were very well known and important. The whole shebang was arranged just for us and was a great way to finsh our time together in Tuscany.
The time to leave Palazzolacchio came too quickly and we all headed off in different directions to continue our adventures. Sharon and I headed for Sorano, not far down the road in Tuscany. After a weeks harmony together, a few minutes navigation saw some serious disagreement and after few wrong turns I pronouced that I could drive and navigate much better. As it turned out I could, as immediately after our "disagreement" there were excellent signs all the way to our destination.
Sorano was yet another hill town in Tuscany, this time however it was not very developed and still very residential. We stayed at the Hotel de Fortezza - the Sorano Castle at the top of town and previously one of the Orsini strongholds. It was a very beautiful town on the edge of a huge river valley. The whole area was Tufa (a type of rock) and full of Estruscian sites and Necropili (burial sites and temples). We visited one of these sites at Sovana, just up the road. The more than 2000 year old temples, roads etc were very impressive - but the interpretation and facilities were crap - WA does it much better. After our Estruscian adventures we headed off to another public Terme (hot bath). It was quite wonderful and packed with Tuscans out for a weekend dip. The next day we were headed for Rome but before we left had our last ride before the bikes were packed away. We did a nice short ride from Sorano to Pitigliano, which was yet another pretty town on the same river valley as Sorano. After a quick spin around town we packed up and headed to rome where we had to hand over the Tornate King.