I Think I Just Found Italy

Oh what a beautiful moooooorniiing, oh what a beautiful daaaaaay…

When we set off riding this morning, it was into one of those splendid, clear, crisp autumn mornings. I’ll put the emphasis on ‘crisp’ because it was cold and I had to dust off the gloves for the first time in months. It was a beautiful morning though and a glorious ride through the clear, still air, with no wind and just the lovely countryside and autumn colours around us. Beautiful.

Leaving Terranuova Braccioloni
Leaving Terranuova Braccioloni

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As we rode out of Terranuova Bracciolioni, what did we see in front of us? Surpise, surprise…a hill! Yep, right when the legs were still cold and hadn’t had a chance to warm up or get into the swing of things, we were presented with a hill that went up and up, long and winding and up we climbed. The air might have been cold, but we were soon pretty warm, slogging up that hill! In fact, that was just the first of many hills today, so it was just the bread basket, before the appetiser before the entree, before the soup, before the salad, before the main course, before the dessert on this feast of hills that we had today.

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The hills took us up and through some lovely scenery though, under trees and with rolling hills and beautiful countryside around us. It was gorgeous.

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Up we go...
Up we go…
...and up
We had beautiful surroundings

We have a kind of system when we ride hills and it’s our version of a track pursuit team! Steve is usually in the lead because he has the GPS, but when we get to a hill, I usually pass him and take the lead, then when we get to the top, I stop and wait for him to take over the lead, so he can get his roller coaster, downhill thrill ride on the descent and not be held back by my scaredy cat braking. So that’s how we ride the hills and that was our team strategy all day today. When we were climbing one hill, a big group of road cyclists came down the other way. They passed me first and gave a chorus of “Buongiorno!” “Ciao” “Bella” and waved and whistled.  It put a smile on my dial! Any encouragement helps on a hilly day!

We pass a lot of road side religious shrines, that have statues or icons or mosaic images in them. Today I saw something that looked lovely. I saw one of these shrines up ahead, then I noticed an elderly lady walking across the road in her dress, cardigan and slippers. She walked up to the shrine and bent to kiss one of the images, then she reached up on her tip toes and kissed the statue. In the time it took me to ride past, she still had her lips planted on the figure, with her eyes closed, kissing whatever religious figure it was, (I couldn’t see). It just looked lovely to see this old lady, waking across the road to do that. A sweet image.

We pulled over into a small park and sat on a bench for elevenses, looking up at the houses and tower and steeple on the hill. “That’s awesome.” declared Steve of the view.

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Elevenses
Elevenses

As we pedalled on we had more lovely scenery, but the nice clear, still morning had given way to a strong headwind and grey sky. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. As we reached the outskirts of Arezzo, we passed some really interesting sculptures. They were made from stones and tree trunks and the carvings were so clever. There were a lot of them, stretching along the side of the path and was another terrific sight to add to the things we had seen all day.

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We had planned to stay in Arezzo, even though it was only a short ride of just 36km, but with the hills of yesterday and the hills of today, we decided to treat ourselves to a shorter distance. We sat in the cold and waited for the lady from our B&B to arrive and check us in. It was definitely getting colder! When she arrived, we were given a very nice room at ground level and the bikes fitted inside too, so we were all set to settle in. I took a look at the shower and just commented to Steve, “I think you’re going to like the shower,” because it reminded me of another shower that has become quite famous on this trip.

Steve decided to give it a test run and freshen up. The water started running and then I heard Steve call out, “Just letting you know, I might never come out!” 

When he eventually emerged, it was with a grin and he said, “I’m going to go out on a limb here, I’m going to say it, that was a better shower than Capendu! That was awesome. Sensational!” 

The Capendu shower has been the officially declared “Awesome Shower”, since the day we rode into that small town in France after a cold and windy ride. We lugged our gear up the hotel stairs and hit the shower. That shower at the top of the stairs was Awesome and we haven’t experienced anything like it since…until today. After today’s cold, windy and hilly ride, we discovered a new winner and the award for Officially Awesome Shower now goes to Arezzo and its steaming water, huge shower space and a head the size of a chess board that ran a fabulous waterfall of awesomeness and warmed me up beautifully. Winners all round!

Time to roam and see what Arezzo had to offer. What did it deliver? One of the top places we have seen anywhere in Italy, that’s what! It was an absolutely lovely city that didn’t feel like a city at all. It was quiet and peaceful, with steep, cobbled streets, wide piazzas and that beautiful, sepia colour palette that seemed to bathe the town and buildings in an earthy glow.

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We strolled through the streets and into town and I just loved it. It had a really nice feel and atmosphere. It felt quite artsy, which I loved, with women wearing cloche hats and men in long coats and winkle pickers. There were dozens of antique shops and the whole place just felt a little left of centre and it was fabulous. It beat Venice and Verona and all the celebrity cities hands down. I love finding places like this, places that fly under the radar but surprise you with how beautiful they are. As we strolled around the streets I said to Steve, “I think I’ve just found the Italy I’ve been waiting to see. This is lovely, this is what I’ve been wanting.” The city was beautiful, the streets quiet, with old lamps, sepia coloured houses, with washing hanging across the street or out of shuttered windows.

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There was a big park in the middle of the city, at the top of a hill, with a spectacular view. It was all just delightful. Arezzo gave me the Italy I’d wanted to find! It’s now one of three places that have left their mark, alongside Florence and Vigevano. So despite having been to quite a few places in Italy, including some biggies like Venice, Verona, Modena, Reggio Emilia and many places in between, it has been some “quiet achievers” like Arezzo and Vigevano that have been the stand out stars of locations. I loved walking around Arezzo and when the sun came out for a while, it was a super end to the day, exploring this utterly enchanting city.

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The view from the walled park

Another terrific day in the bag. It had some tough moments on those pesky hills and in that rascally wind, but we had some gorgeous scenery and saw some memorable sights. It finished with the discovery of a wonderful city, that I felt a nice connection with, so it ticked the boxes for another terrific day. Oh, but with that shower, I think I’d better increase the superlative to an “awesome day”! It is another indication of the things we now enjoy and the small things that can mean huge things to us…we actually remember showers! They become famous to us and we still remember and talk about them when they are that good! Capendu held the prize, but now we will have Arezzo as our benchmark. Now, we will score showers as, “It’s not as good as Arezzo. It’s pretty good, but it’s not as good as Arezzo.” Until now, that had been Capendu, but it’s been relegated. Aren’t we bumpkins! We live such straightforward lives these days, that a day can become awesome, just with the appearance of a top shower! There’s something to be said for simple though. Simple has its place.

Simple pleasures.

Simple needs.

Simple lives.

Just…living simply.

It’s not bad y’know. It’s not bad at all!

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