As usual when free-camping, we awoke early and began packing while it was still dark out. Though everything was wet, we didn't mind too much since we had only 20 kilometers to cover before we would be in the lap of luxury with the comfort of showers, shelter, and loving family. Last night, cooking in the downpour was out of the question. Instead we had subsisted on a meager two slices of salami and a small ball of fresh mozzarella. As a result we were starving this morning but dragging out the cook-set was too overwhelming to consider. Instead we decided to stop at the nearest bakery or restaurant for breakfast.
After a half hour of climbing slowly up a mountain pass which was billed as "rolling hills" in our Lonely Planet Cycling Italy guide we decided it was imperative that we stop for breakfast. Normally we prepare for climbing, packing lots of snacks and the right attitude for going very slowly. Expecting slightly undulating countryside, we were very unprepared for ride ahead and soon found ourselves ravenously hungry.
We've been eating through our food in the hopes that we would arrive in Siena for our vacation with nothing left. Making breakfast was a little tricky. What do you do with four eggs when you can't seem to stomach them scrambled, fried, or poached? For us, the answer is almost always: crepes! As I mixed the batter I realized we didn't have nearly enough flour so I threw in a bunch of baking powder. I knew full well this would probably result in a strong bitter taste, but at least they would seem bigger and maybe be a bit more filling.
Batter prepared, we cooked some foul tasting crepes that looked as though they were the offspring of a regrettable one night stand between a blob and a pancake. As we poured and flipped the ever-expanding batter, we laughed about how "romantic" Tuscany has been for us. Sitting on the side of the road in soaking wet clothing under impending clouds with our disgusting breakfast, we joked deliriously in our hungry fervor about how some people were probably envious of our current state. Here we were, cycling in Tuscany… it's the stuff many people dream of! To be fair, in spite of all this, we were happy to be there.
Masking the horrible taste of the crepes with huge spoonfuls of strawberry jam, we managed to consume our breakfast and regain our sanity. We cycled off, slowly upwards, surrounded by beautiful misty scenery that looked like a Bob Ross painting. Happy little storm clouds hung overhead, and the changing colors of autumn grape leaves swathed the hillsides with muted greens and blotches of yellow ocher and burnt sienna. Tall, skinny pines stuck out of the vineyards like single palette knife strokes in forest green.
Finally we made it to the top of the "hill" we were climbing and were able to give our legs a break with a speedy descent down the 400 meters we had just climbed. After what turned out to be about 40 kilometers we were exhausted, arriving in the small town of Uopini around noon. Just past the small village, we followed hand-made wooden signs towards Agriturismo Mezzapiaggia.
We were excited to be nearing the end of our riding day, and even more excited to be meeting up with my family for a hopefully relaxing vacation. We didn't really know what to expect, my parents were organizing the whole thing and we just had to show up. All we knew was that Tuscany is filled with "agriturismos", working farms who rent rooms or apartments for vacationers looking for a cozy holiday in the country. Guests are encouraged to join in the farm's activities, from cheese-making to olive-oil pressing. This was one such place.
What we found when we turned down the gravel, olive tree lined road was simple and lovely, and immediately welcoming. Rosemary and lavender lined the crumbling stone walls, hammocks were strung between trees, and best of all, two adorable kitties lay nestled in the long-disused brick barbecue. Seeing them all snuggled up, entwined in each others' limbs, it was all we could do to lean our bikes up properly instead of letting them fall to the ground before running over and scooping these little creatures in our arms.
As we watched, completely enraptured with the kittens, the farmer's daughter found us. Lidia, a kind young woman in a colorful peasant shirt and long skirt showed us our apartment (two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, and dining room) and introduced us to the rest of the farm's animals. A sweet little dog, three turtles, a cat, and our two kitten friends made up the little menagerie. A lizard scuttled across the stone patio as if making it known that he, too, was also part of the community.
After thanking Lidia and snuggling the kitties one more time, we set about organizing all of our things. Everything had to be unloaded and hung out to dry. Our sleeping bag we unfurled and lay draped across a hammock. Tyler set up the tent to dry and he even pumped up our sleeping mats to help speed the drying process. Then we emptied our panniers, cleaning and preparing for the whole suitcase of supplies my parents would be bringing us in only a few hours. When we were finally done, we headed up to our apartment and made ourselves at home.
Nearly the first thing we did was cook. Ecstatic to be in a REAL kitchen again, and suddenly finding ourselves famished since our early roadside breakfast, we both started cooking. Tyler focused on making us lunch, (his current famous dish of cheesy pasta with a roasted garlic and olive oil sauce) while I started making a soup for my parents and brother in case they were hungry when they got here. While the soup simmered away and Tyler cooked lunch, I took a shower and felt infinitely refreshed. After an incredibly delicious meal, I did dishes and Tyler got his turn under the steaming water. Every few minutes I would run to the window to see if my family was here, thinking each and every noise in the driveway might be them.
Finally the crunching gravel was my family arriving in their rental car. I could hear their voices talking to Lidia downstairs. Tyler and I ran down the steps, interrupting their registration process, and fell into huge, long-awaited hugs. Since we can't go home whenever we want to, we really felt like little kids on Christmas morning having home come to us. After we finished checking in we immediately began re-hugging and talking non stop about their flight, our bike ride and everything under the (Tuscan) sun.
Lidia smiled and left us alone to be together. When she returned, she came bearing gifts of fresh ricotta cheese made by her father, homemade apricot jam made with fruit from their trees, a bottle of rich, green olive oil from their own olive grove, and a bottle of wine from their vineyard. As we settled in for the evening, rich with the bounty of food, love, and family, we counted our blessings and suddenly the difficulties of the past few days were washed away.