Hello friends and family, just wanted to send a quick note to let you know that we arrived home safely after adventuring around Italy. And relatively intact, too, though one of us may have sore muscles and a few bruises after an amateurish attempt at some serious biking. Lessons learned: Florence is still lovely but entirely full of tourists rather than Italians. Rome should be avoided completely, unless you MUST see the historical sights and don’t mind other people’s selfie sticks in your face and all your photos. Both of these cities would be better visited in the off-season. They say winter is nice. I’ve never been to Venice but I hear it’s just as touristy. Unfortunately, all three of these amazing cities may have become too popular for their own good.
The bright side is, Italy is full of beautiful surprises if you just get off the beaten path a little bit. My mom taught me this sixteen years ago when she booked us at a rural Tuscan “agriturismo” — a working farm that offers rooms to visitors, kind of like a B&B but often you can have lunch or dinner as well (and you definitely should). My brother taught me this too when he took us to see the small Tuscan towns he became familiar with during his semester abroad. These are the spots where you start to “get” Italy. And the food is better, too. Trust me, there is no bigger waste than having a bad meal while in Italy.
Plus, it’s easy to get away, and there’s no need to rent a car. Trains go practically everywhere, and where they don’t, buses do. We traveled by train six different times on this trip and found it could not be simpler. Clean and efficient, too. Somebody we met along the way told us their travel agent discouraged them from traveling by train, saying security would be so tight they’d be standing in line way too long and would risk missing their train. What??? This could not be further from the truth. Every station had its group of well-armed military men keeping an eye on the crowd, but otherwise there was zero security to pass through, and zero lines to stand in. I remember lots of gypsies and beggars last time I was there, but this has been majorly improved, too. We kept expecting to see signs of Europe’s immigration/refugee crisis, but did not, other than noticing that the typical selfie-stick seller tended to be African.
Our six-day bike-and-hike trip through the Val d’Orcia, Valle Niccone, and Val di Chiana did not disappoint in terms of beauty, food, and culture. In fact, we were spoiled rotten. (It was maybe even worth the pain and suffering I endured trying to get my bike up those ridiculous hills. Seb, meanwhile, seemingly whipped right up them.) Often I caught myself thinking it’s just not fair that people actually get to live in the middle of these impossibly beautiful scenes.
A quick plug for the company we biked and hiked with, Backroads. They took care of every last detail and spared no expense. Often I find that packaged tours can nickel and dime you, or put you in lesser-quality hotels or restaurants, but not these guys. They were worth every penny, and I hope we get a chance to travel with them again.
As for our next trip, your guess is as good as mine. Seb is in charge of the next four before he gets even with me for the Congo River! Any suggestions we should toss his direction???