Today we were on a journey of great importance. We’d located The Irishman pub and booked a hotel nearby. We watched Ireland play Scotland in Paris. At stake was a place in the quarterfinals of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Ireland dispatched Scotland and both of us were delighted. Each of us wondered what explained the presence of the other Irish jerseyed people. They couldn’t all be following Archbishop Sigeric on Our Francigena?
The hotel was outrageously expensive and it turned out to be relatively poor. We’ve stayed in places that cost a quarter of the price and were four times better. But the price of this one is based the view of Siena and the demand of unbelievable numbers of tourists due to the same weather that’s killing us cyclegrims. Conversely, the hotel had a bike garage with equipment that enabled me to tweak my gears and brakes.
Which reminds me of the cyclists we saw out and about today, enjoying Saturday in the October sun. They were .generally five or six tiers more capable than the cyclegrims. Most weigh less than me: 65 kg body perhaps, 1 kg clothes, 2 kg water on a 9 kg bike is still less than my 78 kg body. Some groups went so fast they were overtaking cars. Which is doubly amazing when you factor in the shockingly bad road surfaces throughout Tuscany. The EuroVelo 5 in this region is best tackled on a mountain bike.
We visited Montereggioni, a hilltop castle that ‘crowns itself with hilltop towers’ according to Dante. We pushed our bikes up a 14% gravel track that is the last kilometre. I’m not sure I’ve ever sweated so much. A considerate Italian biker saw our effort and told us not to go down the way we came up. Our mapping technology was wrong – we should have followed the road signs that we saw (on descent) by the asphalt route to the car park. Tiredness has a way of making you take the cruelest of options.
Later, I was on the phone having a parental crisis discussion at the top, in the shade of olive trees, listening intently but aware of eight feral pigeons drinking from an overflowing tap beside me. Seven suddenly flew off and a domestic cat walked off with the eighth.
Montereggioni wasn’t worth the visit. We got our ‘credential’ stamped and we stayed for nearly three hours enjoying our short day ride to Siena by sitting in the shade. I walked the ramparts but that was a waste of my time. Except I met someone who lives in Dublin and we talked, as you do if you live in Dublin, about the outrageous cost of accommodation there.
You won’t be surprised when I admit that we are tiring after 1750 km in 25 days on the road. What’s hard is the combination of heat and unpredictable, uneven road surfaces. No wind of any significance and no rain, I suppose we should be happy.
And then there was the gift of Siena. Such gates attest to wealth from textiles, trading and banking 700 years ago. We are better than Firenze they roar. The Sienese also recorded 50% mortality from The Great Plague.
I walked around for 90 minutes (the steep steps hurt). Tourists everywhere and why not? Some of the 17 urban wards or contrade (a model for Harry Potter?) had processions at dusk with drums and neckerchiefs and flags and song – positively operatic. We saw Giraffa and Oca. I could and would go on but this blog is about a cycle trip. If it was about tourism, I’d be earning not spending. Which reminds me of the dinner in a tourist trap in Piazza della Campo. Brilliantly done, hideously overpriced but it’s a lifetime experience. Except I’d like to come back please.