Category Archives: Italy

Cycling in Tuscany

The day after I had arrived in Pieve Santo Stefano was a Sunday. When I woke up it rained and it kept raining till noon. When I finally cycled down to the village I found the local supermarket had just closed its doors. On the way back I noticed an apple tree and I stopped to pick up some ripe fruit that lay underneath it. That eveningI cooked the apples and made a stew together with a package of instant mashed potatoes that I often keep as an emergency ration. It was delicious. Living from the land, I thought.

This part of Tuscany was great for cycling and I made some daytrips in the surrounding countryside. In Caprese Michelangelo I took some pictures of the church where Michelangelo was baptised and, a bit further uphill, the house where he was born in 1475. In my previous post I wrote that he was born in Chiusi della Verna, but this is not true.
In his day it was thought to be the year 1474 because according to the Florentine calendar the new year started on March 25th. It wasn’t until 1582 that they found out they were wrong and converted to the Gregorian calendar: October 4, 1582 was followed by October 15, 1582. This must clearly have left a lot of people unsure of when exactly they were born and how old they were…

House where Michelangelo was born.

House where Michelangelo was born.

From Caprese Michelangelo I rode to Chiusi della Verna along a beatiful scenic road, which was hard work but worth it. In Chiusi della Verna I parked my bicycle by the main road and hiked up the hill to the monastery which is known as the Sanctuary of La Verna. When I arrived I could see a line of chanting monks entering the church and tourists thronging after them to see what they were up to,. Inside the church the friars stopped chanting and just stood together before they left the church again. The crowd dispersed.

This sanctuary is known as the place where Saint Francis of Assisi received his stigmata. I don’t know the theological significance of these stigmata , but I am sure you can find them on Facebook.

I really don’t like Italians.
But then there was the big mother of the family with the screaming children and she came over to my tent and gave me a plate of tagliatelle calamari.
You eat, she said.
And so I did.
Or the old man who helped me push the bike when he saw me wrestling it steep uphill. He just smiled serenely when I tried to thank him.
Or the young man who invited me for coffee and when his children came, lovingly sighed: Now it’s no more quiet.
Which was so true….
Or all the drivers and cyclists who put up their thumbs when they saw me struggling up a moutain pass and who were shouting: Bravo!!
But I hate the rest of them. All of them…

Anghiari is a beautiful mediëval town. It has a walkway the ancient walls where one can look out over the field where the famous battle of Anghiari was fought. Thousands of soldiers gave battle here on 29 june 1440, but luckily there was, according to Machiavelli, only one casualty: [who] fallen from his horse, was trampled to death… Another source mentions the unfortunate soldier drowned in a swamp.
Inside the city there were old towers, crumbling walls and cobble stones. Apart from a few tourists strolling the streets, it was eerily quiet. At the Gate of the Catorcio there was a sign that read: “… In a space on one side of the gateway, which in the past would have been used as a urinal, there is an arrow slit from the old walls”. Of course I had a look inside the niche and from the smell in there I could tell that local men had taken up the old habit again.




Dog days

From Florence I cycled into the Apennine Mountains. The thing with mountains is that they are beautiful from either a distance or from the top. Everything in between is just hard work. The first challenge was the so called Cosuma pass which goes straight uphill and is very steep. The pass is at 1060 m on my Michelin map (whereas Florence is at roughly 50 m) and due to poor planning I only found out about the pass when I arrived at the hilly part. As a result of more poor planning I had only eaten some muesli for breakfast and had brought very little food along the way. At an altitude of some 280 metres I decided to have a look at the map and only then did I notice the pass. The road was going up and at parts I could only do a few hundred metres before I had to stop to cool down and regain my breath. I wasn’t feeling very well, my stomach was upset, maybe because of the meagre breakfast I had enjoiyed, and I was seriously contemplating to get back to my hostel and have a lie down on the bed before going any further. At some point I had actually turned around my bicycle, but then I thought I’d better had a look around the next curve to see if perhaps the slope might be tapering off to a more acceptable level. When I reached the curve I found a  little village and I bought some food and fruit juice. After having eaten I felt better and decided to go on. The slope didn’t taper off and sweat was dripping from my head on my knees and my shirt  was drenched while temperatures sored well above thirty degrees. At the top it was a bit cooler and thankfully I sat down in the shade to celebrate my achievement.

From Poppi I made an excursion to Pratovecchio to visit the nearby  Castello di Romena. One of the towers of this ancient castle served to keep prisoners and was divided in different levels of desiribility where prisoners were kept according to the severity of their crimes. It is thought to have inspired Dante, when he was writing his Inferno, to split up the underworld in his famous Circles of Hell.

In the toilet block at the campsite I was checking my phone that I had left there to charge. An Italian girl came in and said something to me.
No parlo Itialiano, I said apologetically.
She looked at my phone and said “Telephone”, then she put up her thumb and said: “Good!”.
It seemed to me that we had a communication problem. Did she approve of me having a phone? Or did she think it was a particularly nice phone? Or was it simply because she thought it a marvellous idea to charge it in the toilet blocks? Giving up on the idea of having a meaningful conversation, I smiled and said: “Yes, beautiful telephone. I like it very much myself”. And left it there.

From Poppi I cycled to Pieve Santo Stephano which involved another pass. This time it was La Verna and some people had warned me that it was harder than the Consuma pass, but it wasn’t. It was long and winding, but not as steep and it was just steady going. It was a beautiful day and if the going was slow and it was still hard work, at least it was manageable. That meant I could keep going and I didn’t had to stop and gasp for air with throbbing veins in my head from overheating in the blistering sun.

Close to the pass is a stony outcrop which is called “Adams Rock” which is not to be confused with Adams Rocks in Antartica, though you could probably tell because of the temperature. Adam’s Rock lies next to the house where Michelangelo was born and was later used by the artist in his work “Adam’s Creation” that can now be seen in the SIistine Chapel in Rome. Apparently, it is meticulously copied which filled me with wonder: why would Michelangelo copy this rock in detail where obviously poetic license would allow him to choose any estheticly pleasing form to let Adam rest upon while being given the sparkle of life… Something for Dan Brown to find out….

August in Italy is still hot, but it comes with more rain than July. This morning I was lying in my tent and listening to the rain which, after so many hot days, is still a welcome and exciting phenomenon. Because I have wifi I spent some time on the internet which, most of the time, is a fruitless excercise where I end up checking lists like: Nine ways to fold your pyjamas.


From Pisa I cycled along the Arno to Florence, which was easy going apart from the last bit where there were some hills that simply didn’t make any sense. But they were there nevertheless..

The reason that so many young Americans come to Italy is that they serve American food. Pizzas can be found on every street corner and high caloric icecream is readily available as well. Only too bad the Italians speak the worst American in the world…

In this cradle of the Renaissance I spent endless hours on the Piazza della Signoria to sketch Michelangelo’s statue of David. It’s not actually Michelangelo’s, but a copy that is positioned outside the Palazzo Vecchio where it originally stood before it was moved inside the Academia, where you have to pay money to see it. The outside location can be seen for free and it has the advantage that one can observe the amazing details as the revolving  sun (revolving earth, I know) slowly projects shadows and in this way shows subtle curves, that you don’t see when it’s illuminated by a constant light source.


Perseus, same ‘legs too short’ problem as my Davids, but nice enough to upload to this blog. It’s a bronze by Cellini and I liked doing it in black.

For some reason I couldn’t make a satisfactory sketch of David and it almost became an obsession, but in the end I had to admit failure. I couldn’t do David. Every time there was something wrong. In the beginning I drew the legs too short and it took a while to figure that out. Then the left arm that holds the sling was the problem. The right size and angle in relation to the torso. It drove me mad. A girl that was sitting next to me for a while, made me a compliment. It really looks good, she said. She must have been suffering form river blindness or some other affliction of the eye, because she was looking at poor David where  Picasso had contorted the face and twisted the legs and Modigliani had elongated the torso.

Me and Michelangelo. Somebody told me that the scribble on the back is Michelangelo's.

Me and Michelangelo. Somebody told me that the scribble on the back is Michelangelo’s.

Entrance to the Uffizi was free on the first Sunday of the month, so I had to wailt a while to admire the famous works of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Boticelli, Titian and Caravaggio. There were a few Rembrandts but they were dull and dark.

I found out that the selfie camera on my smartphone made mirror images of me. So I made this picture of the Gucci store with the normal camera so you can read 'Gucci', but then still see me in a mirror image. If you want to see the real me, you have to read this blog with a mirror...

I found out that the selfie camera on my smartphone makes mirror images of me. So I made this picture of the Gucci store with the normal camera so you can read ‘Gucci’, but then still see me in a mirror image. If you want to see the real me, you have to read this blog with a mirror…


My most boring blog post so far

Genoa is the city where the word jeans comes from. The French spelling of Genoa is Gênes and it was this word that was borrowed and became jean in English. It refers to the jean fabric which, used as in legged denim garment, became jeans, short for ‘a pair of jeans’. The word denim, interestingly, is from de Nîmes, after the city where the French tried to copy the manufacturing of this product. This was all long before it became stonewash, skinny jeans etc.

Genoa itself got its name from ‘knee’, because it’s located in the knee of the Ligurian Sea. Its etymology is similar to that of Geneva which has a comparable location at the Lake of that same name.

After Genoa I cycled along the coast to La Spezia ever following the Via Aurelia, it had quite a few climbs and it was hard work in the unrelenting heat. To keep my mind off this oppresive condition I tried to do some math to see how the sun was getting less powerful every day because of its declining position at the sky. A month had passed since the summer solstice after all.

You can skip this part as it is really boring….

So how did that work: during the summer solstice, the sun has its highest position and at the Tropic of Capricorn (23,5 degrees North) it stands at its zenith, that is at 90 degrees. For positions further north that is obviously lower. Genoa was at roughly 44,5 degrees latitude, so the sun’s highest point in that city was 90 + 23,5 – 44,5 = 69 degrees during the summer solstice. During the winter solstice that figure is 90 – 23,5 – 44,5 = 22 degrees. Thirty days after the summer solstice it would be: 45,5 + 23,5 cos (30 / 365 * 2 * pi). This amounts to 66 degrees which meant the sun stood already 3 degrees lower in the sky at noon that day than during the summer solstice. And yes, I had to get down from the bike to do the cosine thing on my calculator. I can’t do that in my head… And no, it didn’t help anything knowing this, because I still had no idea how the angle of the sun determines its strength.
The above calculation is with a few simplifications and doesn’t allow for the fact that the orbit of the earth around the sun is an ellips rather than a circle. According to Kepler’s Second Law the earth moves slower around the sun as it stands further from the sun, which means that summer on the Northern Hemisphere is slightly longer than summer on the Southern Hemisphere. People in Australia might not like this…

After two days I arrived in La Spezia and the road flattened out. It was still hot and the coast was very developed and ugly.


I don’t like children. Hell is other people, Sartre said, but I’d like to improve on that maxim and change it into: Hell is other people’s chldren. I came to that conclusion on a campsite near La Spezia where children were running and screaming around my tent while I was trying to recuperate from another day of cycling under the glaring sun.

Pisa at times seemed to be merely the medieaval decor for African migrants selling sunglasses to Chinese tourists. The first day I made some sketches in the Palazza Blu. The second day I decided to stay another day in that city because of violent thunderstorms. After that the heat returned, so I got back on my two wheels.

No photos as I didn’t make any. Boring…


Still in Genoa because it’s too hot to ride a bicycle.

In the morning I sat for my tent and watched two Italian wall lizards dazing in the sunshine on a tree trunk. Next I saw how a lilttle green grashopper jumped audaciously some thirty centimetres in the direction of the lizards. The smaller lizard moved swiftly and next it had the little insect in its mouth. The other one circled it jealously but to no avail: reptiles are not well known for their empathy.  With my mug of morning coffee in my hand, I enjoyed this little scene immensely and I only missed the elegant commentary of Sir David Attenborough.

It wasn’t too hot for swimming and so I descended the long flight of stairs once more to swim in the Ligurian Sea. When, after some vigorous breast  crawl, I took a shower I noticed how the lifeguard, who was sitting nearby, was softly singing in Italian. For some reason it seemed very appropriate.

From a photo

From a photo

Sketching makes me understand why photography is so widely popular: proportions and likeness are so much easier achieved by means of a camera. And so much faster.

I Pittori

I Pittori

My little sketch of ‘I Pittori’ was based on a painting in the Museum of Modern Art in Genoa which, in it’s original, is much bigger, but I was pleased with the abstract I was able to make.

Portraits are very difficult because as humans we are evolutionary adept in recognising each other. It’s much harder, however, to recognise individual pinguïns as there is little evolutionary advantage in being able to do so. For that reason it seems evident that sketching pinguïns is much easier even though it never really caught on.

Sketches from sculptures in the Wolfsonia:


Wolfsonia 1

Wolfsonia 2

Wolfsonia 2


Wolfsonia 3












There are about 60 million Italians, but they sound like so many more when you are in Italy.

They are a loud people.

In Savona I cycled around to find a supermarket and I stopped  to ask questions of an Italian with a speech disorder. Hair was growing out of his face at unexpected places. He looked like he might actually work in a supermarket: shabby clothed and knowledgable about where I could find the sugar. He spoke good Italian so I didn’t understand a word of what he said, but he repeated quatro, ‘four’, and because it was a Sunday, I assumed it was only open till four o’clock. That was alright, it was only half past two… When I got at the supermarket it found it closed and a sign that said it would open from 16.00 to 20.00.

To get back to the campsite I cycled along the beach. It was a pebble beach, but that was okay, because it was covered with bodies of people being stone grilled. Thinking it over I concluded that this was a good thing: I’d rather have Italians in the water than on the road…

The following day I followed the coast to Genua on the so called Via Aurelia or, less poetical, the ss1. Navigating in Genoa was only marginally less frightening (and exasperating) than it was in Lisbon.

On my first day I visited two museums in Nervi: The Raccolte Frugone Museum and The Museum of Modern Art. The first had some fine art and I asked to make some sketches which was alright. It was nice and cool. When I was nearly finished with a portrait I stood up and no sooner had I packed my bag or some woman took my chair and put it back where I had taken it. When some time later I left the building she stood outside smoking a cigarette. ”Buongiorno’, I said and smiled. She exhaled. ”Buongiorno’, she said and looked at me in a way that could only be describe as in an unsmiling manner.

raccolte frugone

Nice view from the Raccolte Frugone Museum. I liked the ‘special effect’ in this photo caused by the window gauze…

The Museum of Modern Art, housed in another monumental villa, was much nicer. The lady who sold me the ticket smiled and said I could sit and sketch anywhere I want and stay as long as I like. She also showed me the toilet.
I was the only one in the Museum and I enjoyed it thoroughly, it was fantastic. I loved the work of Rubaldo Merello with its abundant colours.

I forgot who this was...

I forgot who this was…

The day after I bought campingaz and read in Jules Verne in the original French. I had beans for dinner.

The third day I took the train to Genoa. The old city had narrow alleys which were dark and cool, even in the midday heat. There were many little groceries and I bought some delicious plums for little money. I walked through the monumental Via Garibaldi which was on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It was deemed to be ‘of outstanding value to humanity’ . It was also very hot.

To Italy

Because I wanted to ride the Grand Corniche to Italy, I decided to visit Monaco as a separate daytrip and so I  took a train to the principality, which was built by the French to transport guests to the newly built casino. For that it was necessary to change the name of the locality. It was called Les Spelegures, which meant ‘The den of Thieves’.  Approriate but  hardly flattering for the expected guests. So it was renamed to Monte Carlo, a much nicer name most people felt.

Monegasque train

Monegasque train, Always wanted to use that word: Monegasque…

The gambling house was a huge success and the prince decided to abolish income tax as it was no longer needed. The rich came as ants to a bowl of sugar.

When I arrived at the train station I had problems finding my way to the waterfront, which is remarkable because the city state is only 4 kilometres long and less than a kilomtre wide. But it is a maze of tunnels for cars and elevators for pedestrians. Luckily, there are enough people to ask the way as it is the most densely populated country in the world.

Eventually I made my way to the marina which was full of toys for the ultra-rich.

[foto here, I’ll do that later, it’s dark now and I can’t find my camera]

It was very hot and I spent most of the rest of my time in Monaco, sitting in a shady corner of the park of the Casino. After all,  I was here merely to tick of another country.

The train back to Cagne-sur-Mer was uneventful.

The day after that I got up early to get the most of the morning cool and cycled to Nice. From here it was a steep climb up to the Grand Corniche. It was only 8.30 when I got there but even then sweat was dripping from my head on my knees when I was working like a pack horse to crawl up the moutain at a speed of around 7 km / hr.

The views from Monaco were wonderful. Much nicer than from the city self.

In Latte, just across the border in Italy, I found a campsite and put up my tent. That evening I drank Lambrusco.