Northern Tuscany Gastro-Biking Weekend

Pisa, Lucca: 28 Sep - 1 Oct, 2007 

Two weeks before our tuscan gastro-biking trip, Daniel's beloved mountain bike disappeared from our courtyard without a trace except for the broken lock.  Still mourning his loss, Daniel borrowed his brother's trek bike for the trip.  However when we arrived at the airport, we discovered that 1) our bike had to be dismantled and placed in boxes, 2) the tools we had brought were inadequate for the task, and 3) check in was closing in five minutes.  

Not the most promising start, but thanks to sms technology and O2 Concierge (care of Joyce), we managed to relax on the plane knowing that someone would somehow reserve rental bikes of some form for us in Pisa... 

 Day 2 scenic detour on hiking trail 00 somewhere between Lucca and Pisa 

 

Tuscan Gastronomy

Apart from our Wilson's Prom lighthouse Valentine's weekend hiking trip in 2004 (?) (due to a rationing underestimation we ended up sharing a packet of chicken soup between 10 and made damper from someone else's leftover flour), travelling with Huy and/or Joyce is driven by the belief that "life is too short to eat badly".  So naturally, two months before our trip I received a shortlist of the best restaurants in Pisa and Lucca, with a preference ranking and side note from Joyce - let's make a booking.  Just as well we had a reservation because the oldest restaurant in Lucca was completely booked out on the Saturday night we were there.

Buca di Santa Antonio, Lucca's oldest and apparently one of the best restaurants
(left to right: Daniel, Ev, Michael (aka Swino), Joyce Tim, Huy)

As in most places where one is a tourist, (except in Tokyo where everything tastes good), our gastronomic encounters were a little hit-and-miss.  If the words "deep-fried lamb chops" don't immediately sound warnings bells, then the description "an unusual regional dish" should probably be enough of a disclaimer against disgruntled customers.  The zuppa iglesa, described as "typical lucchenese trifle", came sitting in a scallop shaped chocolate shell, which I struggle to imagine is at all typical in land-locked Lucca. 

While there is arguably better gelati to be found in Hong Kong and Berlin, and I think porcini mushrooms are over-hyped, the bakeries, confectionary shops, and delicatessens in Lucca were irresistible and the pizza and tiramisu at Salle Scudedie in Pisa really hit the spot (especially for post-cycling carb cravings).  

 

 

Copper pots hanging from the ceiling of Buca di Santa Antonio,
worth a small fortune given the current global copper shortage
 

 

Death by chocolate?  

 

Panforte (literally strong bread)

 

"PORCINI €20.00 per kg, NON TOCCARE DON'T TOUCH"

Tuscan Biking

The plan was to ride from Pisa to Lucca on Day 1, passing through the village of Calci and over the Monte Pisani mountain ranges.  Armed with a hiking map, and the mountain ranges close in sight, we had little trouble finding the road which climbed to an elevation of 500m.  It was more of a challenge getting our city bikes of steel up to the summit, however we managed one way or another, even if the process was described by Huy as "the seventh level of hell" (or something along those lines).  On Day 2 after strolling along part of the city walls and fitting in three scoops of gelati each, Daniel and I biked back to Pisa, while Swinno, Huy, Joyce and Tim opted to give their bikes and their butts a day off by training back to Pisa.  In hindsight this was probably a friendship-saving decision given that Dan and I unintentionally found ourselves on narrow, off-road, uphill trails for a significant part of the way, requiring us to carry our bikes which weighed a tonne! 

 

Huy and Tim test out the equipment before hitting the road 

 

Pack leaders Swino, Ev and Daniel take a short breather

 

Picnic lunch after reaching the highest point of our route -
black olives had never tasted so good before

 

On Day 2 Dan and I find ourselves on a hiking trail
numbered incorrectly on our map

 

An Italian family out for a hike looks at us incredulously
when we ask if we were going the right way to Pisa
 

 

Pisa and the Tower  

Needless to say, the main attraction of Pisa is the leaning tower, and at first sight it looks like a toy model.  The architecture in the rest of Pisa is less than inspiring, as most of the city was destroyed during the war due to the close proximity of its airport.

 

Hanging out by the tower

 

Too pretty to eat

 

The bridge separating the old town from the new

 

Lucca Images

Lucca is surrounded by a wall and, while better preserved than Pisa, I personally think the tuscan towns of San Gimignano and Sienna are more impressive. 

 

Lucca from the tower with a roof top garden

 

 

Sharing the rooftop garden with a German school group  

 

The guys are out reading the Sunday morning paper

 

Art installation that was described as a commentary on racism - we couldn't figure it out

 

What the others said about our trip...