The sun rose and the time came to set off alone. Malo gave me a gift of rescue drops and some good breakfast this morning. She looked so pretty amongst her roses and blossoming olives. She waved me up the gritty road.
Yesterday evening she had kindly driven me some way along my chosen route in her car, to make sure I could get out of there without silly confusion.
I felt rather exhilarated, and tried hard not to think of anything more than the air in my nostrils. The tiny winding roads drew me along, downhill most of the way to Bagno Ripoli. The day was just beginning, but how would it end?
At a sharp curve, I rang my white-whale bell and a farmer turned and waved. Then riding onto the little bridge over the great 6 lane highway, I waved at the traffic below and a truck driver hooted. “This isn’t so bad after all”… I thought.
Brilliant views unfolded as I went along. The sun still shone, and the rescue drops did their work. Everything seemed to be going well.
The Arno, like any big famous river, gives one direction, a geographic marker to show the way. We rolled through Florence together.
I glimpsed Brunelleschi’s dome but did not stop to see Michelangelo’s David. Crossed over the Ponte Vecchio (Golden Bridge) between a mass of tourists and turned left.
The map said to follow the white path along the river, under the bridges. I pedalled furiously along. There were some male individuals skulking along the way. Being my first day alone, I wasn’t yet sure if people under highway bridges , train bridges and on quiet paths were trustworthy types.
The rest of the afternoon was a hot ride through a general blur of asking for directions along the little higgledy-piggledy streets of San Donnino, San Piero di Ponti, Campo Bizenzio, Confini. etc. Sorry there are no photos, but I was concentrating.
By some miracle I reached Prato, where a nice cycle track took me along the river and into town. Made a change to the roaring of huge trucks. A bunch of old men sitting outside a bar said they would watch my bike for me. They asked a lot of questions and couldn’t understand the part ‘da sola’… was I really biking all the way to Oslo alone ? “Accidenti” is the usual retort..which doesn’t translate well.
My phone needed charging, it was getting late and I had no idea where to stay, so I checked on Booking.com and called up the B&B lady…in Montale.
She said it wasn’t far from Prato, and I would be there very shortly. The ‘arriving by bike’ part obviously was lost in translation.
At some point I stopped at another bar to charge the phone a bit. The old men pointed me in the right direction, happening to mention that there was a ‘sotto passaggio” (under passage)… thank goodness, otherwise I would have just sat down and cried when I saw the highway crossing my path.
Lesson 1. Always talk to people.
Mondale is a small place at the foot of a big mountain at the end of the Apennine range.
Lina and Michele Bocchicpchio own the house Belvedere, which had no view at all. What it did have was mosquitoes and a very interested couple who had some trouble believing I intended to go over the mountain tomorrow.
The warnings began with the state of the road, it was “very very bad, Signora, very steep, way too steep for a bicycle, and there are naughty boys who do naughty things up there. Then there are the hunters, who shoot moving things and drive fast jeeps.
And there are wolves.
My knees were jelly from the ride today, but I managed to get myself down to a pizza restaurant. It was closed to the public on opening night, but when they heard my little story they rushed for a chair and offered me a free ‘very special pizza’ which the invited guests all admired. It was a margherita with four basil leaves perfectly arranged. The genuine ingredients have been sourced from all over the country.
I was invited to spend the evening, but my eyes were closing so they put the beautiful pizza in a box and I wobbled back to Belvedere where I scoffed it down in solitude.
My room was huge and spotless. I was told to use the single bed, not the double one, although I was paying the double price. Mosquitoes dotted the ceiling, and I stood on the bed and whacked them with my pillow. Unfortunately, a blood-streak stained the whitest of white ceilings, and in all that pure cleanliness they will notice it first thing. No way could I reach it to wash it off. I feel very sorry about that.
Sleeping wasnt that easy, after all. Maybe I should have taken more rescue drops.
Here is Lina, who made me cake for breakfast. Michele had gone off to do errands.