Often when we don't have a specific idea of where we are headed next, we choose a city located somewhere in the general direction we're traveling and use it as a waypoint in our GPS. Once the route is calculated, we can meander towards our "destination" as we please, knowing that the quickest route is always displayed if we need or want it. Packing up camp and loosely planning our day, this was the method by which we chose to cycle towards the coastal city of Piombino.
Today was exactly what we needed: a casual day of luxuriously flat riding, interspersed with quick swims in the sparkling sea, gelato sampling, and delicious meals as we wound our way south. Around midday, after one of our swims, we were consulting our Lonely Planet guide and discovered there was island off the west coast of Italy called Elba. To our pleasant surprise it appeared that the only way to get there was by a short ferry ride from Piombino. After assessing our budgetary situation we decided to go for it.
Thanks to completely flat roads and a leisurely pace we weren't tired at all as we approached the bustling, traffic filled, coastal city of Piombino. Every so often we'll encounter something that makes me feel like we're in a movie, and this definitely fit the bill. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones film as we cruised through the port town filled with seedy street merchants and weathered old shops on our way to a tiny Mediterranean island! (sadly upon writing this I realized that I didn't take any pictures of the town!)
We easily located the port and purchased two tickets to the island on a ferry leaving immediately. Total cost for two people and two bicycles: 29. As we made our way to the dock number 7, I was giddy with excitement. One of my favorite parts about our trip is the first few hours in a new country; I am unfailingly enthralled by how swiftly the scenery and ways of life can change when we cross invisible, seemingly arbitrary lines in the ground (or in this case, very real ones like the sea). Even though we weren't technically leaving Italy, I was filled with the same sense of excitement as we boarded the ferry to Elba.
With our bikes safely strapped in the bowels of the ship, we climbed the blue stairs to the open-air upper deck. With the wind in our faces and the sea before us, we took our seats to enjoy the view. Very shortly after the ferry pulled away from Piombino, we could see Elba, our volcanic island destination jutting out of the ocean in the distance. Now I felt like we were on our way to Jurassic Park! For an hour we watched excitedly as the jungly-looking island grew ever larger as we slowly approached our destination.
When we finally docked on Elba, we were relieved to see that the island seemed just as rugged as it had from afar. All ferries to Elba (except one!) arrive in the large, busy town of Portoferraio. I'd unintentionally purchased a ride to the much smaller port of Rio Marina on the eastern coast of the island.
Rolling our bikes out of the ferry into the tiny, almost deserted port was a perfect introduction to Elba. The run down village was full of crumbling outbuildings, old construction vehicles and a general feeling of quiet disrepair. Leaving town on a tree-lined road that wound up into the deserted, craggy landscape only served to intensify the feeling that dinosaurs could come rushing out of the forest at any time. It was great!
Just as the sun was setting, we located a free-camp in the woods off the road and set up our things, excited to explore the rugged island in the morning.