Today the Toscana sun got really busy. It sweated the grapes, changing angles throughout the day- it broke down the complex sugars to fructose, adding a touch of rogue to the golden green hue. And it also worked upon us- breaking down our salt, melting our skin into water underneath the thick motorbiking gear- until the sweat trickled in small rivulets down the chest and along my back. I blinked the sweat away from my eyelashes- at a steady 123kmph you do not want to have distractions- particularly in the volatile highway traffic that is Italy. I must admit that the northern countries seemed school-boyish in comparison to the southern European nations- and the Italian interpretation of road rules comes fairly close to our Indian standards. “Perhaps this explains why the performance machines- Ferrari, Ducati, Lamborgini and many others have their home in Italy: because these guys love the red line of the tachometer”… I thought to myself as another car flashed past me. It is hard- not to give in to the temptation and throttle it out under these circumstances- but I had Anu riding pillion and a serious lot of luggage strapped on the motorbike.
That particular highway travel was rather uninspiring for me. The hot sun, the rolling fleids and the hills, the vineyards and the traffic were constants in the driving experience. And as the wheels of the scrambler kept churning, my mind drifted.
Journeys for me are times of togetherness. Not just with Anu but with myself. More so, motorbike journeys. When for hours upon hours you are alone- the road and the motorbike becomes an extension of yourself… one can almost study oneself as a third person- and on that journey, I could almost hear and see myself thinking. The road brings its own plethora of visuals, smells and experiences- and many of these led me down memory lane. It was over a month since we were on the road. And this month has not been easy. We battled, rain, cold, heat and extreme fatigue. We have slept in weird as well as wonderful homes and had so many people experiences. And through the midst of many memories, the white dots of the road continued endlessly as I chased the disappearing horizon and the few puffs of cloud in the otherwise blue sky.
It was still daylight when we reached Ponte a Egola, small village in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, our destination for the night. Almost equidistant from Florence and Pisa, we entered a row-house where Graziella our new host, waited for us at our home for the night. A quick shower, a hasty dinner at the neighbourhood pizzeria and we called it a day.
The next day we travelled to Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo Da Vinci. Of course the renaissance man, the “master of all trades”! There was something special about the drive. There was anticipation, a sense of adventure and when we saw the board announcing Vinci, it gave me a tingle to think that this very soil, this very air, this very scenery was experienced by Leonardo some 250 years back. We took our time at Vinsi. We walked the small alleys, browsed through the Leonardo museum and travelled to the nearby hill-cabin where Leonardo was supposedly born. And I also thought that if he were alive today, he too would have been happy seeing so many people coming to appreciate his work and idolize him. We also spent an evening at Florence. The first sighting of Pisa was strangely disappointing. Partly due to the hoardes of tourists and secondly because- umm- I really wasn’t impressed. In my simplistic thinking it would be more an architect’s biggest blunder than a miracule. Wait till the angle increases to maybe 65 degrees from the current fifteen or so to really claim it a miracle. It was late when we returned. But as we neared the gates, we found that Graziela and her husband were both awake worrying about us. They were unsure if we were ok with the motorbike etc.
We stayed with Graziella, her husband Robert and her mother for a couple of days. The village Ponte a agola was the picture postcard of a Tuscan village: surrounded by hills, vineyards and beautiful nature except that navigating the traffic was more instinct guided rather than road rules guided. And in the village people too, you had the typical mix: the bawdies, the pretentious, the families and the munch your own food types. Our experiences throughout the trip, at the local restaurants and filling stations pointed towards that.
With Pisa and Florence both covered from the same point, our logistics became simpler and we also saved a couple of days to partially offset the delayed start due to paperwork issues. Our next stop was Rome, the so called cradle of civilization.