BY BRENDAN BOYLE
‘Poggio?’, we asked with an interrogative lilt and hands pointing along the path we were following.
‘Poggio!’, said the farmer with emphasis and a hand in the same direction as he looked down on us from his horse.
We had taken an exit on one of the S66′s many roundabouts and ended up on a twisting track wide enough only for one car at a time. It snaked unfenced through fields of wild flowers, corn, lavender and lucerne as though someone had dropped a string of thin tar and left it lying as it fell.
We found Poggio, which was just one of the names on our route for the trip from Florence, but certainly not by the most efficient route. It was the prettiest, though.
Navigation is as quirky as anything else in Italy. It is complex, but has its own logic and rules and it gets easier as you learn them.
Sunday’s ride from Florence to Bagni di Lucca was such a learning experience.
The first thing to realize is that a route that looks like a steady line on a map may involve many twists and unlikely loops and a road that appears fairly major on a map may squeeze between two factory yards and then open into a fast two lane dash – all within a kilometre or two.
The road numbers are useful, but you need to learn where to look for them and should not expect that they will always be indicated on overhead direction signs. And then, as in most countries, don’t assume that because your destination has been mentioned once it will be in the list at every intersection.
We find it best to write down all the names of places along the route we want to follow and a few of those we absolutely don’t want and to keep that handy. With that information, it is usually, though still not always possible to decide which turn to take when confronted with lists of options.
We had hoped that the roads would be clear on Sunday, but apart from families on the move and bikers apparently in training for the next Grand Prix, there were hundreds of cyclists in bright colours riding with the same disdain for cars as they do in Cape Town.
No one minded the four Vespas buzzing along their roads, but they cut us no slack. Buses squeezed past in impossible spaces and cars took more chances with our safety than with their own.
The defence we have developed is to ride far enough apart to allow for unexpected behavior and to brake hard when something big goes by to reduce the amount of time side by side with the threat.
We rode for nearly six hours on Sunday – not counting stops – covering only 120km and agreed that no one wanting to have a fun tour through Italy on scooters should aim to do more in one day.
Follow Brendan Boyle’s journey by Vespa across Italy on Twitter at Twitter at @VespaVenture.
All pictures: Brendan Boyle