Part 4 : Europe Escapade

Article by Ina Adham / Photo by Hisham

It is wonderful to be surrounded by the ‘Ducati’s’. Excitement rises as we see the bike that we will be riding for the rest of our escapade in this simply ‘bellissimo’ land on this ‘molto bello’ bike.

MUGELLO CIRCUIT

Ducati have been kind to loan us their Multistrada S for our ride in Tuscany. It was almost past noon when we left Bologna heading towards Sham childhood dream places to be, The Mugello Circuit.

Mugello Circuit history went way back as road circuit in 1920’s. Only in 1974, the owner Ferrari construct it becomes a modern racetrack. Circuit that been used by Ferrari all the year is also famous for the amazing motor race which also famous for the fast curves and incredible slopes.

The circuit is divided equally between straights and curves of total length 5245m. The curves itself takes up 48.5% of total length, it have 15 turns, 9 to the right and 6 to the left. Situated at 292 meters above sea level and has total variance in altitude of 41.19 meters. It is because of the 50 meters of altitude difference along the track, Mugello is used as testing circuit offering a comprehensive stressing test for the main car and motorbike team.

Barberino Mugello (15km from circuit) is the exit, if travelling on the Motorway A1 between Bologna and Firenze. From Bologna exit in Pian del Voglio follow the road sign for ‘Antodromo Internazionale Del Mugello’. Even though we did missed the correct turn we made it to the famous classic Mugello Circuit.

We met Mr. Riccardo Benvenuti whom took us and explained to us what Mugello all about. The Italians are passionate. It shows when Livio tells about Ducati Museum and now when Riccardo tells us about Mugello.

The Mugello is the most scenic it runs over 5,000m through beautiful hills of Tuscany forest and green areas equip with leading technology and safe racing facilities. This is where you witness the balance between technology and environment.

Once again we felt so important when we were being taken to visit places that you will not normally get to go if you are there to watch race. Ad to much our delight when we are being told we are the first 2 Malaysian journalists they have ever received as guests. I might sound as though I am gloating, forgive me but I am just feeling so overwhelm by everything that have been set for us.

Mr. Riccardo present to us souvenir which to much our embarrassment we did not prepare any to give back. I shall cherish it and sham can one day tell a story to his grandchildren. Dreams do come true gals and boys. We bid goodbye to Riccardo and perhaps one day we could be there to watch the race.

Monteriggioni…The classic ancient.

Weather is starting to get cold with hard wind as we continue our next destination Sienna. Due to time constrained, weather not to mention sky are getting dark we didn’t get to take pictures of those magical curvy mountain road to Sienna (this means we have to go back again one of these days, perhaps). What we also missed is Chianti known as ‘heart of Tuscany’ is where the internationally acclaimed Chianti wine is produced. Now, what we didn’t miss is riding around town walls of Monteriggioni. The moment you set your eyes it takes you back to middle age.

Monteriggioni is a preserved medieval fortified village that is built on a hillock which managed to retain its ancient roots and look over centuries. Beautiful classic walled town dating from the 13C, rose since 1213 until 1219 is 570 meters of length has 14 towers and 2 gates.

It was almost 7pm when we ride around the castle wall once again the evening wind and darken sky gives me the chill. It feels like I am in Camelot to meet Prince Arthur and Merlin. Even though they are not from here but with the ambience and the walled tower you just cannot help but to associate with what you see on TV.

Last issue I didn’t mention about one of the most important fact, food. Unlike German and its oversized kebab, in Italy for Muslim you will find it a bit difficult to find halal food. Famous with its pizza and pasta most of the Pizzeria here serve pork. Our main meal here, McDonald especially fries and only once did we get to have kebab that is on our first night in Milan.

Siena…the serene Gothic architecture

Upon arriving Siena first stop McDonald. I would also like to share with you another fact, sauce. You have to pay for every ketchup and mayonnaise that you take and folks there are no chili sauce but they have curry.

Our stay in Siena has been sponsored by Chiusarelli Hotel. Toscana in this case Siena doesn’t cease to amaze me. I keep going back in time to different age the moment I arrive my destinations. Tonight we are staying in a neoclassical villa which was built around 1860s which became one of the first hotels in Siena.

I woke up early otherwise I will not be able to see the town. After breakfast at the hotel I make my way to town which is only walking distance from the hotel. 5 minutes’ walk you will reach the central square the unique Piazza del Campo which shaped like a shell with scalloped edges and its Town Hall building, Palazzo Pubblico. The redbrick cam pile rises up to 320 feet and it is the city medieval centerpiece. Strolling in Siena is an absolute joy. Up alleys and staircases brought me to the centre of town with rows of shops. Souvenir is also important, if in Florence you need to pay cheapest Euro 10 for 3 fridge magnets here you can get Euro 2 each.

“Romeo, Romeo where fore art thou Romeo”. It was told the earliest version of Romeo and Juliet was set in Siena which later the action was shift to Verona. “O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die. O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die. For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo…”

SAN GALGANO ABBEY

Here is the place where you will find ‘sword in the stone’ that have been thrust into a rock by a medieval knight. Is that the magical Excalibur? King Arthur comes from Italy? Ponder…

San Galgano Abbey greeted us with beautiful arch of trees. From afar you could see the ruined Abbey which was built to honor St. Galgano Guidotti a 12th century Tuscan nobleman. This Tuscan first Gothic Church was abandoned in 1789 after the built in 1224 but fortunately it has been restored from beginning of 20C.

Today the ruins of Saint Galgano become one of the most popular places to visit in Tuscany. I have just got to see for myself the ‘sword in the stone’ that I didn’t mind climbing up the hill to witness it. The sword was thrust by Saint Galgano in a stone that emerge on the top of the hill which miraculously ‘parted like butter’ to symbolize his rejection of war. Well from facts received I could only guess the sword is not the mystical Excalibur even though studies made showed it is of 12th Century made and the knight is not the legendary King Arthur but still it was an amazing exploration and an incredible place to be.

LE’ MACINAIE… ski lodge/biker’s hotel

The journey will not be complete if you do not go to the mountain Albergo Le’ Macinaie. Located near the summit of Monte Amiata, elevation 5,700 feet. So you know Monte Amiata is an extinct volcano. It was getting dark when we ride up the mountain. Obviously it is my first time but it is first time for Sham too riding up a mountain at this hour, what an adventure. I thought I heard the sound of the wolf but evidently I was the only one hearing. Sham said I watched too much of TV and I imagine too much…

Also called a biker’s hotel, the Le’ Macinaie lodge reminds you of ski lodge. Le’ Macinaie sponsored our stay for the night and we are utterly thankful.

Run by family, Chef Romano one of the brothers is the founder of Le’ Macinaie Ristorante. One of the best chef in Italy, we had the privileged to taste his exquisite cooking. I don’t usually like plain spaghetti bolognaise but this one taste absolutely ‘fantastico’. I have never tasted tomato so fresh. Even the sliced bread and salad served with only olive oil, ‘mama mia’, tasty and don’t forget the lasagna, ultimately delicious.

I had the most amazing view of the white snow slop of the mountain from my room. Apparently this lodge located in part of the Monte Amiata Wildlife Park; do wonder if that was really wolf I heard. Whatever it is here I get absolutely gorgeous view of nature, peace of mind and peace of heart. Then the air, you inhale such clean smooth air. Once again it is hard to explain, you just have to make your way here.

Before we leave peaceful Mount Amiata, we made our way to the top of the mountain. Captivating, something strange happened on our way down. Even though GPS has been set instead of going down the mountain we kept arriving at the same place…freaky right but after we reset it we found our way down.

CASTIGLIONE… welcome to La Rombaia

Ok, we stayed in hundreds of years old church, villa and lodge on a mountain but on our 5th night in Tuscany land we spend the night in a ranch. Sponsored by La Rombaia which name was taken from the pioneer family from that area, the Rombai family who built their first farm in the 18th century grows olive, vines, fruit trees, vegetables and cereal. Also called the holiday farm, what interesting here is you get to stay in rooms and apartment in Tuscany authentic style which takes you way back to rural civilization.

Every house has its own name represent different dedication e.g. Casa di Caccia takes you back to hunting days with collections of hunting tools decorate the house. La Cuccia, you see pictures of dog of every breed. If you think all the rooms are fascinating wait till you see their museum.

Both mine and Sham jaw just drop when the huge warehouse door open to greet us. Oh My God…there in front of us a huge collection of military vehicles, from small tank, jeeps, motor bikes. There are uniforms, flags, weapons of all kinds and photographs.

All are collectibles pieces of history from Second World War passion of Adriano and Renzo Menoni who gathered and research all these items patiently over the years. I lost count how many military BMW motor bikes they have. Sham asked if they have anything that belongs to Hitler, apparently there is only one, a piece of tiles from Hitler bathroom. Both of us were like kids who just found a hidden treasure went through the whole warehouse to see and touch pieces of history. I told Sham if Fazli of BMW Malaysia were to be here he will definitely freak out.

PISA…where the famous tower stood

The leaning tower of Pisa leaned at 3.97 degree angle, have 7 bells which are tuned to musical scale and 294 steps. The Tower was designed as bell tower but main purpose is to promote the town of Pisa.

Build on unstable soil with series of war that interrupted the construction caused the soil to settle. Upon the continuance of building builders add extra height to upper stories of one side by which due to the extra weight the upper part of the Tower lean to the opposite direction. It was close at some point however it was reopen in 2001 after they are assured that it is safe.

We always wanted to go to Pisa because of the leaning tower but there are more to just the tower. As I arrived, graciously upon the immense green lawn stood in gleaming white marble 4 grand looking building Duomo build almost 1000 years ago, the Leaning Tower, the circular Battistero the largest in Italy and the Camposanto know as Holy Field the cemeteries. This whole area is called Campo dei Miracoli that means Fields of Miracles. Each one are amazing Tuscan building which combine the architectural feature of Moorish, Gothic and Romanesque, absolute breath taker.

This will also be the best place to buy souvenirs. From the entrance till the whole stretch with prices from 1euro to hundreds of euro just make sure you bargain.

LUCCA…intact wall

Our hotel in Lucca has been sponsored by Toscana Promozione at Hotel San Marco Lucca. Before adjourned to the Hotel we stop at Lucca Town when we saw the still intact renaissance wall. I walked through it and sense the similarity with Florence town. Rows of shops in well preserved old buildings, narrow streets and café.

ANCIENT LAND OF ITALY, TUSCANY ROAD…a respect, an absolute trill

Whenever you are in foreign land you seek places that you don’t normally see or be in places you only seen on TV. For us places we been and passed throughout our journey so far has been incredible. As bikers and travellers, the road we passed has been ridiculously captivating. Trust me the curvy, mountain even straight road just blow our mind.

Breathtaking landscape ancient historic town that seems to emerge from the hilltop, the red bricks, Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque Italian architecture identity, the narrow streets of their town and cities, café and shops that seems to be in hundreds of years old building, hundreds of years old building and castle compliments the journey so perfectly it overwhelm us entirely. Every road, every town we passed and the passionate people of Italy are exquisitely remarkable. I have a total respect to Italy for preserving their history for everyone in the world to share. This is what Italy is all about, we understood and we feel it.

OUR GRACIOUS THANKS TO ALL OUR FRIENDS AND SPONSORS

MALAYSIA

  • MALAYSIA TOURISM PROMOTION BOARD
  • BMW MOTORRAD MALAYSIA
  • NAZA NEXT BIKE SDN BHD (DUCATI MALAYSIA)

GERMAN

  • BMW MOTORRAD, MUNICH for the Plant Tour and BMW RT1200R
  • BMW MOTORRAD PLANT, BERLIN

ITALY

  • TOMASSO PINI
  • FRANCESCA CERRI
  • DUCATI MOTOR HOLDING for the museum and plant tour. The test ride on Diavel and Multistrada
  • TOSCANA PROMOZIONE
  • MUGELLO CIRCUIT
  • CONVITTO DELLA CALZA HOTEL, FLORENCE
  • CHIUSARELLI HOTEL, SIENA
  • LE MACINAIE, CASTEL DEL PIANO
  • LA ROMBAIA, CASTIGLIONE
  • HOTEL SAN MARCO, LUCCA

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