I went to Italy for three weeks to shoot stock and take a little break. The idea was to cycle through Tuscany and Umbria and capture all the scenic backroads, farms, bridges and ancient Roman odds and ends incorporated into medieval buildings or structures that still lay abandoned. No car.
So, with Vicki (my significant other) as initiator, organizer, travel and booking agent, navigator and companion, the challenge was on…
A working vacation, that’s a good idea. Right?
This wasn’t a group tour. There would be no van in the rear picking us up if it rained (and it rained with thunder and lightning), if we got tired (and we got tired), if we got lost (I am directionally challenged), or if the water ran out (yup, did that, too).
For a long time in Italy, your closest neighbor was often your mortal enemy and to see them coming was critical, because it wasn’t usually for dinner. So most medieval towns are built on serious hills that are hard to walk up. They are even harder to cycle up. But if you drive up them in a car you’ll have it easy, missing all the good scenery. It was the reasoning behind cycling.
However, riding to Montepulciano, we found ourselves attempting to pedal up a steep elevation that abruptly rose from 900 feet to 1800 feet. We gave up and walked it – each pushing fifty pounds of bike with loaded panniers (I’m not proud). It’s Tour de France stuff. With an average 6% uphill grade, that easily cut our speed in half and depleted more than 80% of our energy. No wonder the town was used by the ancient Romans to protect the main roads; it was impossible for anyone to get there quickly. And, it’s probably the reason they make such great wine. After a climb like that you need a good drink and a nap. As it was, I was so exhausted, all I shot was a misogynistic wine display perched on a ancient window sill; I forgot to shoot the town. We had another 25 miles to go, it was late in the day, I shouldn’t have had that glass of wine, blah, blah, blah.
Overall I got to shoot quite a bit, but regrettably, too many times, we had to decide between shooting and cycling, since frequent stops added hours to each ride and riding in the dark on the backroads in a unfamiliar places seemed like a bad idea. Don’t get me wrong, we both loved this trip and we’ll do it again, but now I know why the national Italian cycling squad won 6 gold metals in the Rome Olympics.
It was the hills.
(And, yes, I also photographed fruits and veggies…)