Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I decided to get one more ride in before packing up tomorrow.  I thought I'd try riding north of Pisa to San Giuliano Terme.  So I rode through Pisa (there are some great pedestrian/bike only streets in the old quarter) and then headed north toward Gello, the only Italian town named for a fun-filled fruity dessert.  From there San Giuliano is a quick jaunt.  Too quick it seems, because I felt like I was just getting started.  On a whim I decided to climb over the pass to Lucca.  

It's a beautiful easy climb with long, wide switchbacks.  At the top is a tunnel a few hundred meters long, but it's lit and most of the traffic uses the autostrada instead.  After the tunnel is a very long, slightly-downhill run to Lucca.  Makes you feel like you're flying, even if only going 35 kph.  At Lucca's modern periphery you have some traffic and busy junctions to contend with but before long you reach the wonderful walls around the old quarter.  

I rode through the fortified gate into the 16th century.  On my right I noticed a paved ramp to the top of the walls and on impulse rode up.  To my surprise instead of a narrow wall it was a park, raised maybe 15 meters above the surrounding countryside, and about 30 meters wide.  It's so wide there is a walking/biking road down the middle, lined with large trees, monuments, some houses and other buildings for several kilometers encircling the town.  Unless you go near the edge you have no sensation of height whatsoever.  On another impulse I wanted to circumnavigate the city on this wall, and so I did.  Many people out walking, running, biking, enjoying the weather.  From the inside edge you can look down into the city at peoples' gardens, schoolyards, churches, palazzi.  It was fun.  

Eventually I reached the giant gate again and rode away.  I returned via the same route, enjoying the passo switchbacks going downhill now.  When the road from Gello entered Pisa's old quarter I got lost, eventually crossing the Arno far west of the city and returning home via San Piero di Grado.  This was an excellent conclusion to our Toscana visit and made me want to come back soon.

One of the fortified corners; note the height compared to the walkers

Lovely bell tower

Bell tower with cathedral

A round fortified corner; note size of oaks growing atop the walls 

Palazzo with elegant gardens

The neighbors opted for shade trees

Bell tower from the other end

Dandelion thriving in a fortress crack;
I think the sloped areas are cannon positions

Open meadows around the walls provide
a clear shot at assailing enemies

Monday, June 29, 2015

Via di Montenero

Beautiful ride today.  After traversing the city of Livorno I found Via di Montenero and began climbing.  It's a beautiful winding road up the hill to Castellaccio.  From here I began a long, forested descent on Via Quercianella to the junction with SS-1, the coastal highway.  It resembles California Highway 1, spectacular twisty road on cliffs above the sea.  Unfortunately like Highway 1 it's also very busy, so I opted out of riding it today.  Maybe very early on a Sunday morning I'll try it, when no 18-wheelers are on the road and sightseers are still enjoying their complimentary breakfasts.

Today instead I headed back up the climb to Castellaccio.  A castle tower was visible in the distance, I saw a side road, I thought I'd explore.  Alas the narrow lane deteriorated, then became dirt, then steeply-descending rough gravel, small boulders.  Being stubborn I kept going.  Plus a guy (even older than me!) was climbing this on his MTB in the opposite direction.  Anyway, I avoided crashing and finally arrived at rough pavement.  At a T-intersection I went steeply down to the right and ended up in La Vedetta and then my goal: Santuario di Montenero.  Nice church here.  Then I continued down Viale del Tirreno, which  has some gorgeous long, looping switchbacks suitable for fleets of tour buses bringing pilgrims to the santuario.  I followed the same route through busy Livorno and made it home unscathed.

Note:  I have no GPS track because my Garmin battery died yesterday.  Inexplicably, I have a USB charger at home but opted not to bring it.  Also I've omitted a blog entry for yesterday's ride on Via Popogna.  It's a nice climb but joins the same road (Via del Valle Benedetta) I already wrote about, so seemed redundant.   Also I lost my iPhone on the gravel road home (Via dell'Uliveta) but a very kind Italian jogger had found it and helped me beyond the call of duty to recover it.  Such a kind person!  VV Italia!

Sea oats (?) along the mountain road 

SS-1 (AKA California Highway 1)

Ventana Highway in the sunshine

Santuario di Montenero

Il Papa visited here, I'm guessing

These are tombs I believe

View from terrazzo of Livorno and the sea

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Colline Livornese: Parrana San Martino e Valle Benedetta

I'd never heard of Colline Livornese before today;  I was riding south and was afraid to ride through the busy city of Livorno.  So when I saw a turnoff on the edge of town marked Via delle Sorgenti I randomly chose it to avoid the traffic downtown.  It meandered eastward through the countryside, then branched off onto Via Parrana San Martino.  I began climbing up through forest, then into a landscape of rolling hills, fields, orchards, olive trees, vineyards.  

After San Martino I descended to busy SS206 but escaped before long onto another country road,  
Via della Valle Benedetta.  This was a pretty steep climb with the sun beating down.  It winds up through Colognole to Valle Benedetta.  While I was climbing I'd seen an enormous white geodesic radome on the mountaintop and found the access road here, Via del Radar.  This was a kilometer averaging 10% gradient up to a chain link fence topped with concertina wire.  The radome was hidden by the trees, so I descended.

Now I switchbacked down to Limoncino and into Salviano on the periphery of Livorno.  I wandered through town generally heading north and eventually reached Stagno and the road home.  I'd had a taste of this delicious countryside and knew I had to return. 

Aquedotto Leopoldini, built in 1800

Stone and brick arches

Parrana San Martino

Steep Via del Radar above Valle Benedetta

Hazy view of Mar Tirreno, Livorno 

Geodesic radome

Friday, June 26, 2015

Torre pendente di Pisa

I've been to Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa a couple of times before but never on a bike.  Turns out it's very easy- a nice uncrowded road until you get downtown,  and it's even a shorter ride from Camp Darby than Marina di Pisa.  There are lots of tourists of course but I don't blame them for wanting to see the place- it's gorgeous.  I walked the bike around because of the crowd and everyone seemed cool with it.  Fun morning outing.

San Piero a Grado is on the road to town.  It's where Saint Peter arrived in Italy in 44 AD.
There are some ancient remnants of an older church inside from 100-300 AD,
but this Romanesque basilica dates from 1200-1300

Liked this statue near the leaning tower 

The campanile 

The baptistry

The beautiful duomo: if you go, must see Pisano's pulpit inside

The cittadella, part of Pisa's renaissance fortifications along the Arno

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Monte Serra

Driving from Firenze to Pisa I noticed some nice mountains not far from the coast.  I thought I'd ride back east till I reached them.  I rode down to Stagno and headed east on SS67 bis "Arnaccio."  Eventually I reached some foothill towns and the road to Calci, whose signs showed a climb  to Monte Serra at 880 meters.  I headed upward fairly steeply along a cascading stream through the village until eventually the houses stopped and there were only big trees.  This is a beautiful shady climb that reminded me of Friuli.  At a saddle you can start descending down the other side toward Buti or continue up to the RAI antenna farm.  I headed upward, finally on a narrow shady lane to the top.   Couldn't see much here because of all the trees, but a bit lower down are great views to the south and west.

After I rejoined the pedemontane I got lost a bit and rode maybe 10 or 20 km out of the way back down to SS67bis.  Not bad, though I was tired when I reached our lodging.  If you visit the area don't miss this climb.

Sea of sunflowers along SS67bis

Hay rolls; Monte Serra in background

River Arno meandering along the pedemontane

The antenna farm high above

A very tall tower

The pianura to west

Close up of Calci; island in distance is Elba

View south of conch valley with olive groves and vineyards

Metrics of the climb 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Marina di Pisa

A week on the Tirrenian Sea coast, near Pisa.  We stayed at Camp Darby on the edge of an umbrella pine forest.  It's a sort of wildlife preserve with dark brown deer and wild boar.  Good views of them at dusk coming to feed at the edge of their shady wood.

Today I rode up the coast to Marina di Pisa, at the mouth of River Arno.  This road is a bit over-commercialized with dozens of beach entrances, eateries, etc.  Still nice if you focus on the natural flora and fauna preserves separating beach from road.  

Ex-American Beach at Tirrenia; the new owner calls it Kokito

Beautiful marble facade of Marina di Pisa church

A net fishing shack at mouth of River Arno

Another, slightly larger with two nets

Attractive project at Molo Nord jetty, Marina di Pisa.  
They're making a dune flora park atop this concrete seawall

The yacht harbor

The mouth of the harbor

A park built on a disused railway or tram
through the pines along the coast