I’ve always been drawn to the majestic landscapes of Tuscany. During my first visit there in 2003, I toured the surrounding towns from Siena to San Gimignano and instantly, was attracted to its beauty like bees to the honeypot. During that visit, we’d hop from winery to winery and despite still suffering from a large night on the tequilas two nights prior, we still sampled the bounty, glasses filled to the brim with each pour and devoured without hesitation the local produce that was sourced within a ten mile radius.
Take a look at any postcard of Tuscany and it would be difficult to visit Florence and not make a side trip to the surrounding towns. This time around, when I was on the train leaving Florence for Atrani on the Amalfi coast, I knew that I had to return to explore this countryside further.
From my research, it seemed like Greve in the Chianti region was the most convenient place to base myself. Upon doing the math, not only was it one of the best, but also one of the most expensive places to stay as well. Without any means of transport though, it was still my best bet where I could rent a scooter and go off exploring from there.
Wineries. Good for visiting but not for photography.
For my first morning there, I decided to do a loop on the scooter of the Chianti region, whilst checking out a few wineries along the way. I was hoping that it would yield some great photo opportunities, but no matter how hard I tried to find a great scene, I wasn’t getting the results that I had hoped for. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty and all but from a photography point of view it wasn’t the best lighting conditions, with plenty of contrasting shadows amongst the grape vines that just came up black in my photos. I had a great time though riding through the mountain terrain, giving the the scooter a workout around the sharp corners in the Chianti hills.
Eventually, instead of finding nice landscapes to photograph, I changed my focus to exploring some of the smaller towns along the loop. Some were out of the way and required going off road on the gravel surface but my experience riding on Asian roads put me in good stead in order to stay upright. Little time is required to peruse through these small villages; mostly constructed from stone and fully restored. It’s like walking back hundreds of years in time along the long narrow alley ways, lined with potted herb plants and flowers and beautifully designed arches; all complete with with friendly locals saying hello everywhere I went.
I ended up driving for the entire day, going from town to town and pretty much covering about 80% of the Chianti area; something I had planned to do over a few days. As I was there to also see the rolling hills of Tuscany, I decided that the following day I’d scoot along and explore further south, past Siena and along the hills bordering the Umbria region. Also, the mosquitos of Chianti had extracted their fair share of blood from me, so I was keen to get out of there. Like on most other occasions, I didn’t have a plan but decided to head in that direction and see where it took me.
Lesson number 1. Wear appropriate clothing when riding.
Despite it being the middle of summer, there is still a chill in the air at 7am in the morning. I while I reminded myself the previous night to rug up, I still took off the following morning; kitted out only in a pair of shorts and a long sleeved shirt. This ensured that the following couple of hours of riding would be as though I had a permanent ice cream headache. The constant change in elevation coming out of Chianti region would take me through areas bathed in sunlight for a short period of time, followed by bone chilling shadows deep in the valleys. It wasn’t until I reached Siena where the terrain flattened out that I thawed whilst munching on a supermarket pizza for breakfast.
Lesson number 2. Motorways are not ideal for scooters.
After a quick check online for what would be a realistic destination for the day, I decided to set my heading to the town of Montepulciano. It was only 100km away from Greve and would require another hour of driving if I stuck to around 50km/h. At this point, when I left Siena, the cable measuring my speed and distance decided to detach itself from the front wheel. Now with no way of calculating how fast and how far I was travelling, I somehow thought it would be a great idea to get onto the autostrada – HUGE mistake. It felt like I was going at 70km/h, but the cars passing by would have been going at least double my speed. With the pass of each vehicle, I could feel my little scooter wobbling caused by the draft.
With my brow scrunched up like a pug from the intense concentration, I was hanging on for dear life onto my little scooter. My helmet was strapped was on tight, on the verge of choking and the the face guard down where bugs would meet their doom as they splattered against my face as I sped along death road. It was the first time where I genuinely felt unsafe on a scooter so decided it was time to find a safer alternate route.
Going off the path sometimes isn’t a bad thing.
Eventually, a two hour trip ended up taking five to complete due to the detour and several wrong turns. It wasn’t all bad though as the alternate route took me past countless sunflower fields and picturesque pastures and meadows that could be framed and hung onto a wall. It’s cliched the saying that “it’s all about the journey, not the destination”, but in this case it couldn’t have been truer. Montepulciano itself is nice but I didn’t spend too much time there and ended up staying about ten kilometres away. If I hadn’t gotten off the autostrada then I would have had a miserable old time getting there and quite possibly have been squashed against the highway barriers by a passing truck. By taking a chance on the longer and scenic route, I passed some amazing scenery and tiny and charming towns.
Chasing the Super Moon.
If you look at my images on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll notice that there is no shortage in sunset photos. However, I’ve never had great timing when it comes to capturing night time images of either the moon or milky way. Usually it’s either clouded over or lack of interesting subjects to compose the moon up against. It turned out that the supermoon would be at its largest and brightest while I was in Montepulcia, so I was determined to capture the best images that I could of it.
I cheated a bit and downloaded an app The Photographer’s Ephemeris that is used to calculate the sunset time as well as the direction of the moonrise based on my GPS position. Armed with the app, I rode around for an hour, exploring the the backroads behind Montepulciano in order to locate the best composition based on where the moon would rise. I was a little paranoid about time so allowed plenty of it to get set up which included a packed picnic of wine and snacks.
Packing snacks and wine has become a bit of an ongoing theme on this European trip because I don’t eat dinner if I’m out taking photos of the sunsets. At times, conditions will just tell me not to bother but most of the time, nature will dish up the best of both sunsets and the moon rising, which turned out to be on this occasion.
Future Scooter Adventures.
I’ve always been a fan of renting scooters and didn’t realise how much I’d enjoy it especially this time around. Over those three days in Tuscany, I would have travelled over three hundred kilometres without even thinking twice about it. I think my “fuck it” attitude this time around suited the style of exploration required in order to take advantage of the freedom that most of my two wheeler friends talk about; but I never understood it until now.
Being on the bike I felt closer to the action; more aware of the life in the towns that I passed through and the people who I was asking directions from. There are no physical barriers such as a car doors windows, resulting in waves, hellos and goodbyes. You decide your own route, coming and going as you please – something you can’t do on a tour and to a lesser extent, in a car. A car will still get you from A to B and perhaps quicker but with a scooter, you’ll still get you there eventually but perhaps with better stories adventures to tell.
Despite having several near misses, I made a promise to myself that where ever possible, I’m going to include more two wheel adventures in my future travels. Luckily in in Asia it’s a lot more feasible to do so and here in Hanoi, you can lease them as cheap as $1 per day – if you can brave the traffic that is.
Do you enjoy scooter or motorbiking adventures or have thought about going on one?
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