Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 56 - Siena - San Quirico d'Orcia - 56km

Out through Siena's streets and into a normal Italian workday - party forgotten and chaotic traffic packing the formerly car free streets. Paul and I battle our way through and try to withdraw from the throng long enough to take a photo. As we dither and fiddle, the group of students we had met the day before stop to ask us where we are heading today - I have no idea but Paul gives a passable answer.
We exchange news and views with their lecturer, with whom we had not managed to speak to the day before, promising also to send him a copy of our guide book. In return he offers to give us copies of reports by his students who have walked the St James Way and the Via Francigena - I sense this could be a mutually useful relationship.
Then it is out into the 'boonies' (where does that word come from?) as Paul calls them. I remember not liking this part of Tuscany last year and not just because it was raining. Unfortunately the natural landscape has nothing to do with the barren desert we are confronted with now. The rolling hills are still there (too many) as is the uniquely Tuscan blue haze on the horizon, but the earth has been stripped bare. Hectare after hectare of ploughed, decimated land, interspersed with the occasional large farmhouse and line of conifers along a no doubt impressive driveway, but nothing else. Then, just to add to the desolation, a crosswind blows across the tops of the ridges where we are riding, slicing off yet another layer of soil and threatening to lay us horizontal - bikes and all. Perhaps this is why real exhaustion sets in for me about two thirds of the way through. We have just had a lunch break and the sugar levels should be high, but I find myself breathless, thirsty and nearly paralysed by leaden legs.
Still, the VF signers have not let us down and tracing the route on and off-road is relatively easy. Our only concern is that some of it may be too much on the busy roads for horse riders and we will look for an alternative when we have access to more detailed maps.

As a child I always had dreams of travel and discovery and you would think after all these years and the increasing sameness of the world, I should have grown out of it, but Italy still has some very special things for me and Siena is one of them. Every street is beautiful not only with those tall ocre painted houses squeezed together, but how, why do they make the streets curve and swoop? The spontaneous warmth of the Italians remains present despite the stresses of city life and just everything has that extra ounce of style.

Our walking and riding day is physically hard with heat and nearly 1000 metres of climbing with much fewer descents. The hill top farms and fortified villages are still picture book as is the sunset we have just witnessed.
In San Quirico d'Orcia we are too tired to comparison shop for the cheapest hotel and having followed a sign for a 2 star, which inexplicably earns an extra star as we wind our way up the last hill and so I wait for the surprise of the 3 star bill in the morning.

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