Florence - Signa - Touring Tuscany - CycleBlaze

April 24, 2009

Florence - Signa

As I already mentioned, Florence has bike paths, but not many, and not many good ones. They might keep you out of the way of cars, but pedestrians don't seem to feel that the bike paths are exclusively for cyclists.

It's true, in Germany we cyclists feel very indignant when people walk on our paths. You wouldn't walk down the middle of a street and expect the cars to stop, would you? In Munich usually it is tourists from other countries who don't realize German bike paths are to be taken seriously. The poor Japanese tourists, unwittingly strolling on a bike path, jump out of their skin when a cyclist comes racing towards them, clanging his bell.

But back to Florence. The paths are narrow and ridden in both directions. In other words, be alert and don't rely on rigid rules to make things work. The main arteries follow the River Arno, with a few interruptions in the center of the old part of the city. We have a map, some knowledge of Florence's one way streets from the previous days and are now familiar with the bike paths. Exiting Florence is easy. First we ride through Parco Crescine on the western edge of the city. The park follows the banks of the Arno and we have a wide promenade at first, and later an excellent path of hard packed dirt all the way to Signa.

Leaving Florence along the Arno: the bike path has a red, somewhat crumbly surface
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Further out of town we pass through the Parco Crescine with a wide boulevard for cyclists and people out for a stroll
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Out of town now: the dirt path is hard packed and good for cycling
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The trail passes through Parco dei Renai, which looks newly created with plaques along the way giving information on whatever is noteworthy: plants, animals, historical buildings across the river
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We stop to read about the castle in view on the other side of the river
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Today is market day in Signa. Traffic has been rerouted and stands line the road leading up to the old part of town. We stop at the butcher's to buy food for our picnic in the park. I chat with him and his wife while he prepares sandwiches for us with delicious, fresh mortadella.

The usual questions, where do we come from, where are we going? I add 'siamo in bici', we are travelling by bike, as if they couldn't tell by our dress. And do we know the Parco dei Renai? Si, molto bello. They are pleased when we tell them we rode along the path in Parco dei Renai to Signa, and obviously proud of their park. We also get directions on the road to the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano where we are now headed. I am happy that I still have a working knowledge of Italian. As time goes by it doesn't seem to get any better but it doesn't get any worse, either.

View as we leave the valley
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Charmaine RuppoltGreat picture of the vineyards and mountains!
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3 months ago
Olive trees and fields of wild flowers as we climb
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We find no signs showing us they way to Poggio a Caiano and ask several times to make sure we find the secondary and not the main road leading there.

Finally, a Medici villa! I was not at all successful in seeing the villas near Florence I had hoped to visit. All the villas I had on my list were either temporarily closed, or only open for groups with reservation, or only open Saturday afternoons, or only open starting in June - very frustrating but there was nothing I could do.

The villa medicea at Poggio a Caiano, designed by Giuliano da Sangallo for Lorenzo the Magnificent and built around 1480, is one of the best known of the Medici villas and the first example of Italian Renaissance architecture founded on classical models.

Preceded by a garden redesigned in the nintheenth century, the villa stands on a porticoed base. A loggia with columns and a broad pediment with a glazed terra-cotta frieze is situated at the center of the facade. The curving stairs were built a few centuries later to replace the original which extended straight and perpendicular from the Villa.
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Detail: The glazed terra-cotta frieze by Andrea Sansovino (the original is in a room inside) situated at the center of the facade
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At the center of the facade: The Medici family emblem. A number of balls on a shield is displayed on buildings all over Florence and Tuscany which have Medicean connections or which were financed with Medici money
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You aren't allowed to take pictures inside. This one I took through the window while waiting for villa to open in the afternoon.
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Back view: The villa is set among orchards and gardens, and served in summer as an outdoor respite to the heat in Florence.
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One more villa for the day, Artimino, is not too far away, or so we thought, but out of reach nevertheless. After pushing our bikes some distance up a 16% gradient, we see that the road ahead continues relentlessly into the hills. No, we aren't that desparate to visit Artimino. We turn back and ride a pretty and only moderately hilly road back to Signa.

Pretty roads on our way back to Signa
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We are now back on the banks of the Arno. The road is incredibly loud as the traffics roars by and we decide to settle for the next hotel we find which is fortunately not far. What a relief to get off the main road to the peaceful square where Hotel Europa is located. From our room we have a view of the hills, cypress trees and parasol pines.

Today's ride: 38 km (24 miles)
Total: 38 km (24 miles)

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