Trips & Tales

Tuscany Once Over Lightly

by Arthur "Living Legend" Einstein • October 15, 2001

On a clear September morning, 9/27 to be exact, we gathered at the fabled Hotel Adam in Milano Napped briefly. Then sent a search party to the city center to a) explore the Duomo or b) shop in the giant glass-roofed arcade. The party split into two pods according to its priorities. A sign of things to come.

At about 5PM we car-pooled over to the motorcycle shoppe. That means we all climbed into the back of the van and tried hard not to kick one another in the privates. Once there we completed paperwork in order to get away at a reasonable time on Friday. Good plan.

That evening, at “The Restaurant Which is in Walking Distance” we discovered that Kaz, Burt’s associate from Turkey, had returned for a second Flyer Fling. Took this as a compliment.

Met the non-fliers over pizza and bad wine. Mike from New York ( a young securities trader ), Dave Searle and his brother Don, both from California. Dave is editor of Motorcycle Consumer News and lives in LA. Don is an IP lawyer from Oakland who commutes to the Valley daily on some kind of sport bike. Both delightful guys. Both seriously fast.

Friday we rode to Lucca. This was one of Burt’s 2 hour rides that took all day. The man has absolutely no sense of time. Of course we had distractions. Along the way Bob put his bike and his wife on the pavement in the passing maneuver from hell. He was following a van, which was passing in the true Italian manner. Van braked. Bob did too. Jean bounced. Both went to the hospital that evening. Jean spent the balance of the trip serenely perched at the wheel of a Renault Espace. Two days later Bob was back on the fire-engine red BMS R100 RS

Everyone got lost in his or her own special way riding to Lucca. Got separated. Rode through the wall into town. Puttered carefully through the narrow streets. And still arrived at the hotel first. La Princiappase (sp?) outside Lucca is another one of those lush places Lotus specializes in. Fresh fruit in the room. 20 foot ceilings. Walls covered with printed damask. Small wonder that Lotus costs twice what Edelweiss charges for their 10 day Tuscany run.

On Saturday we headed west to Pienza, another walled town, where we parked the bikes in the hotel courtyard after getting permission to ride them through the pedestrians-only streets as quietly as possible. After only 2 days on the road everyone had pretty much agreed they preferred Tuscan riding over Provence. Not so craggy. Roads a bit better, though far from New Zealand standards. Plenty of 1st and 2nd gear switch backs. And an altogether more flexible view of road manners. Pass where you can. Jump to the front of the line at traffic lights. As long as you use the turn signal you’re forgiven.

On Sunday we went to Gaiole in Chianti where we stayed for two days in another castle on the top of another hill. Actually I think it was a convent. Had its own church attached. And a swimming pool. Rode loops out of here and actually became familiar with the roads. I think it was at this point that Jean discovered the Prada outlet store. It was maybe 12 inscrutable miles from our hotel, hidden in the back of an industrial park. She had a hell of a time finding it and so did we. Young Japanese women buzzed around the entrance like bees around the entrance to a hive. (You have to take a number and wait your turn to be admitted) Most of us did our duty.

The riding was wonderful and challenging. Not a straight stretch of road in sight. Making cuts through the hills is unheard of. Most of what we were riding had been cart tracks for hundred of years and were paved only after WWII. They wind up and down through vineyards and groves of olive trees, which are heavy with fruit right now. They cut through villages which didn’t even show up on the Michelin #248 map Burt supplied. The fields are rimmed with poplar trees, just like in the picture post cards. Breathtaking, if it weren’t for the big FIAT bus coming ‘round the blind corner on a road somewhat narrower that your driveway.

Didn’t take us long to split into groups or pods… though most of us rode with different folks on different days. Andy developed a severe case of ‘pod-pride’ and herded his group like General Patton. He, I, Steve Larsen, and Chicago-Bob Golant rode together a lot. Mike and Seattle Bob rode together much of the time. The California brothers went exploring on their own, wringing out a yet-to-be-introduced in the USA Ducati 620 Monster. Kirby soloed a lot. He was off the bike for a couple of days because of the fall and really got serious about making up for lost time.

After Gaiole in Chianti came Montereggione. Yet another walled town on top of a hill. There is much talk about how picturesque San Gmiano is. As a consequence it’s full of tourists. Montereggione is smaller and less crowded. It’s built around a big paved square rimmed with shops and homes. Built in around 1206 and but for the plumbing, electricity and such it passes very well for a medieval town. Again the hotel was delightful. And we dined at an excellent restaurant across the street, Pozzo, which has a couple of stars in one of the guides. One way to measure the charm and beauty of the place is that as we rode out, a dozen or so new Mercedes SL’s drove in and parked in the square. They’ll be introduced at the auto shows this fall. This was obviously a photo shoot or press event of some kind.

We had good grub everywhere. We’d stop for lunch along the way at a place Burt knew. Or pop into a local café when we were on our own. On the day it rained, Rich, Jean, Bob, Steve, Andy and I went on ahead of the group and found the Osteria Castellano, which was the lunch rendezvous. Everyone was soaked so we weren’t surprised to learn later that the others had gone directly to the hotel. We, actually Rich whose herding instinct rivals a sheep dog’s and who was in the lead, stuck to the plan. And we ended up in a handsome establishment and had an excellent lunch. Perfect counterpoint to a rainy day of riding. Jean recognized the dinnerware as coming from a place where she’d bought about $5k worth on one of her bicycle trips. Beautiful stuff and we stopped in their place riding through Raddi in Chianti. Open on Sunday, they were!

Two days riding out of Montereggione was terrific. The two-day stay thing was something we dreamed up after Provence, and Burt has now incorporated it into some of his other trips. Works very well.

After Montereggione came Sestre Levante and another castle, this one set on a small cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. Rich had left on Monday to meet Stacey and spend the week in Porto Fino. They wheeled over in their rented Alfa for dinner with the group. Good to see them both. Rich of course is a founding Flyer and adds a certain spice and authenticity to the stew when he appears. Stacey doesn’t miss a beat.

Next day it was back to Milano. But the first stop for coffee was Porto Fino. On the way Andy’s BMW died at a stoplight. After 5 minutes of consternation it was agreed that Kaz would wait for Burt and the van. Andy would take the Ducati ST2 to Porto Fino with the rest of us. Burt and Kaz would join us there. Sounds dicey but it worked. We wheeled into town and found Rich, Stacey and the Kirbys lounging over coffee in the square.

Trip back to Milano was another one of those you’ll-be-there-in-a-couple-of-hours-even-if-you-have-a-flat-tire-to-change trips. Given the route we could have spent the better part of the day doing it. But we dawdled over coffee. Then we dawdled over lunch. Then, on a road that was red on the map and was supposed to be a straight shot up the Po valley, we encountered one tight corner after another. Plus plenty of 20 mph Fiats to be passed in the corners. At 5:15 Mike, Burt, the California brothers and I found ourselves in a café still 60 miles from the autostrada rendezvous point. I rode the next stretch hitting 75-80 mph and more at points and they had to wait for me!

The final indignity was re-entry into Milano. Good weather but a horrendous traffic on the autostrada on the outskirts of town. We were all together following Burt in the van. Burt and Kaz conferred and agreed that should just motor on through the traffic, lane splitting all the way. Now it’s fine on a Ducati without bags. But I was riding a R1100S with bags, which make the bike a bit wider than the bars. And Chicago Bob was riding an Aprillia Cap du Nord ( a BMW GS competitor ) that looks from behind like the fat lady at the circus. I rode it and liked it a lot. But this was something else. We did it, but both of us left a little plastic behind us and curses ringing in our ears. And this manuver caused a lot of us to get separated. The leaders made the garage in a group. The rest of us straggled in in ones and twos. But good humor prevailed.

We’d had had a final dinner in Sestre Levante and had another at a very nice restaurant, also within walking distance of the Adam. And Saturday everyone split for home, except for Bob and Jean who left for Paris and a weekend with Peter and his girl friend.

It was wonderful getting together with the folks we don’t see that often. And we met terrific new people who may ride with us again. We had spirited talk of wine, geography, and the marketing of Cattle Drive Chili. Even had an hour’s lecture on suspension set-ups from Dave who writes about this stuff. Jean and Bob got bruised. And two riders, Bob Golant and I, each dropped the same bike. He while riding it in a tight uphill switchback when the car in front of him stopped mid-curve. I going down a steep gravel path at a walking pace. I guess we’ll share the repair bill. We barely scratched Tuscany and I’d go back without hesitation. It was another great trip. But you, Frank, Walt, and Sandy were missed. You’d have liked it a lot.

Va bene


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