A bust of Benvenuto Cellini and my blue bike with its blue bags with a newer bridge in the background
Visual alliteration at the middle of the Old Bridge in Florence < grin>

A city that puts a bust of one of its great artists at the most prominent place in the city while having busts and statues of its leaders at lesser places obviously is special. Florence (which is really Firenza, so why do we call it Florence?) is special. It was my routing focus in Italy because it is so special. Well worth the trip and all that.

I rode SS325 from Prato, through Campi Besenzio to Florence

It wasn't a bad ride, although there was too much traffic

Quite a bit of construction

And way too much smog

Riding a bike in Florence was not as bad as riding in Prato, but still required faith that the other drivers and riders would behave. There were other bicyclists, but almost all of the other riders were on motor scooters. Most of them were women and my closest encounters of the day were all with women on scooters. It wasn't scary, but some of those scooters were only a few inches away from my bags as they passed.

Scooter and bikes were everywhere, even in those places that were designated pedestrians only

It took a while to ride into the center of the city and, as usual, it was complicated by (and made safer by) one way streets. The center of the old city of Florence is obvious. There is an incredible church sticking up above everything else. The dome of this church is an architectural marvel. The church under the dome is simply huge and beautiful, almost beyond comprehension and certainly beyond my ability to photograph it.

The front doors

The smaller, but almost equally famous, bapistry in front
Note the bicyclists

The dome seen from across the river

The rear of the church with its smaller, much lower, dome

Part of the side of the church - it is big

The side door, with a tourist couple looking up at it

When I got into the old part of town, I had to remove my camera from its handlebar mount. Pictures taken while riding on cobblestones are just a blur. I spent as much of my time in Florence pushing the bike as I did riding it. I could ride it pretty much everywhere except into the building, but I couldn't ride and take pictures. Note: I've seen Italians riding bikes in heavy traffic doing about everything: smoking, eating , holding hands, talking on cell phones, etc. This morning there was a lady riding with one hand, on cobblestones, eating with the other while her young daughter, sitting in front of her on a special seat was eating with both hands. If I could have taken a picture of them while I was riding, I would have.

There are many plazas, each with its own church, as well as lots of churches without plazas
See that monument to the right? There are turtles holding it up.

I walked and rode around the old city for quite a while. I wasn't willing to leave my bike unattended for any lenght of time and there were long lines for many things, so I did not go into the church or several museums that I would liked to have visited. Eventually, I ended up at the river, rode along it, and rode over it on several bridges. There are seven bridges in the old part of town and I crossed the river on three of them, including the central one; the old Bridge. The Old Bridge is reminiscent of Venice with stores and vendors on the bridge, as well as Cellini's bust.

On the Old Bridge, looking a lot like Venice, except that the street is wider
but that is the bottom part of the main churches dome at the top of this image

About noon, my wanderings took me to the road to Sienna, so I headed out of Florence. I stopped just before the city limits for a big snack at a cafe. Breakfast this morning was definitely four star, but I hadn't had supper the night before so I was running on empty by noon.

Leaving town on SS2
Notice the spelling of the city name

I planned to ride SS2 out of Florence to Poggibonsi, about 30 miles away, then take SS68 to Volterra. SS2 was pretty busy getting out of town - but again no problem because drivers treat bicyclists with respect - and got less busy after it was paralleling an autoroute.

No shoulders, moderate traffic, no problem.

I just missed getting a bicyclist in this image - see the left edge

I did see half a dozen riders, including one loaded tourist, all of whom were heading the other way. That was sensible of them. Doing this ride out into the hill country on a hot afternoon was not fun.

This country is beautiful, but hard riding

Riding out from Florence meant climbing a hill, then going down the other side to a height a little higher. Riding to Volterra means doing that over and over again. Some of those hills are over 500 feet high. Many of them have slopes approaching ten percent. With the temperature the the 90s and high humidity, it was hot, hard, riding. I had a diversion before the first hard climb when I reached the US WWII Military Cemetery and Memorial.

This is most of one half of the cemetry part

I was surprised by how strong my reaction was to this place. Much stronger than to Arlington National Cemetery. Part of that may be due to the fact that all of the countries I have been riding through were strongly impacted by WWII. For whatever reason, this beautiful place brought tears to my eyes.

This beautiful view, at the top of a hot climb, brought a smile to my face

I made a serious mistake when I stopped for lunch about 1:30. I knew everything would be shutting down for the afternoon soon, and I wanted a good lunch before that happened. I had gone over several hills, each with a town at the top, and the road had settled down to rolling hills. There was a three star hotel and restaurant where the road crossed the autoroute for the nth time, so I stopped and ordered a good lunch. I got more than I ordered, due to communication difficulties, and some of it was heavier than I expected, but it was all good, so I ate it all. Burp! Then I rode on, only to discover, that I was at the bottom of steep 600 foot climb in the maximum heat of the day. It was hard getting up that hill, and my digestive system, already overloaded by the large heavy meal, wasn't helped by the big climb. I was really struggling from then on.

What coasts down, must ride up again
I'm coasting at 35mph and I can see the road ahead
climbing out of the valley on the other side

After repeating that climb and descend pattern for too many times in the heat and with a digestive system that is still, as I write this, upset, I decide I wasn't going to make it to Volterra today. Instead, I stopped at a hilltop town 10 miles before Volterra. It is called Castel San Gimignano, and is smaller and more peaceful than Volterra.

Castel San Gimignano, as seen from the hilltop before this one

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