Thursday, April 17, 2014

Our long climb towards heaven on the island of Elba worth the effort

Monday, April 14
For our sole train-trip “vacation within a vacation” during this year’s stay in Italy, we lifted our bicycles aboard in San Salvatore at 9 a.m. for the first stage of a three-day, two-night trip to the isola di Elba, Toscana’s main island. We transferred at Lucca and Pisa—stopping for a two-hour bike ride and stroll in Pisa—before arriving at Piombino Marittima, taking all regional trains—a real bargain at only 12 euro (about $16.60) per person one-way for three hours of train travel, with an extra 2.50 euro for a bike. By comparison, a one-way ticket from Tacoma to Portland on Amtrak would cost from $35-48 for a three-hour trip. We then took a one-hour ride on a ferry to Portoferraio, Elba’s main city, arriving at 4 p.m.

Relaxing moments after arriving at our bed & breakfast.
The bed and breakfast I had booked, Tra Cielo e Mare, should have been only three kilometers from the ferry landing, according to the directions I had printed from Google Maps—but alas, Google failed us miserably this time. Several of the reviews had warned about not following the map given on the Venere website, but I had used Google instead and thought I would be OK. I only remembered that the reviews complained about the road being rough, which I figured wouldn’t be an issue for bikes, but there were other issues I had overlooked. We arrived at the location marked on the map and saw no sign, but luckily we found a man weeding his garden and asked for help. With a knowing smile, he nodded his head and glanced skyward. He has been asked for this information countless times, he said, even from people with GPS-directed cars. His house is Via Colle Reciso 1, but the bed and breakfast is Via Colle Reciso 80, which is another five kilometers further, up and over the top of a Mount Orello on a rough dirt road. We would be much better off going around the mountain and hitting Via Colle Reciso from the other end. It will still be quite a climb for bicyclists, he said, but we had the distinct impression that starting from this end would be a mistake.

Having already erred by not reading the reviews more carefully, we decided to follow his advice. Even with the proper directions, it was about five kilometers further, but we didn’t have to go over the top of the mountain. The first three-kilometer leg took us on a busy arterial that climbed slowly around the perimeter of the hills, so we were able to ride up the incline on our single-speed bikes. When we hit the other end of Via Colle Reciso, though, we did face a two-kilometer walk up a steep hillside, pushing bikes and carrying backpacks. Altogether, what I had mapped out as a 20-minute bike ride took us two hours, and we badly needed showers and a change of clothes when we arrived. The name of the bed and breakfast means “between sea and heaven,” and as it was about two-thirds of the way up the mountain, we were closer to heaven than the sea. On the positive side, though, we had a spectacular view of Portoferraio and the surrounding hills. Also, since one of the activities we had considered doing on Elba was to hike up a mountain, we were already almost there.

The circle indicates where Venere and Google think the B&B is located. The X marks where it actually is. The arrow shows a gap in the trees where we would have come down Mount Orello had we continued on Via Colle Reciso starting at address 1 and looping around the right side of the hills.

After cleaning up, we faced the question of where and how to eat dinner. Noting that we had arrived on bicycles, our hosts Elisabetta and Sergio offered to provide us bowls of pasta with meat sauce, and we should have accepted. But we didn’t want to impose on their hospitality, and besides, we had passed a hotel with a restaurant about a mile back. Sergio called the restaurant to make sure it was open and then drove us to Le Picchaiae, which was hosting a group of Germans who had arrived on a tour bus. The restaurant had just re-opened for the season and did not yet have printed menus, but Luca, our waiter, listed the possibilities. We chose to share single orders of cream of carrot soup and a seafood risotto for our first courses and a single order of a seafood platter for the secondo. We should have stopped with the primi, both of which were excellent and ample, and then we could have split a dessert dolce. Instead, Luca delivered a generous platter of seafood, including shrimp, lobster, prawns, scallops and swordfish. That’s a lot for a single serving, Lucy remarked, and Luca didn’t respond directly. Indeed, we couldn’t quite finish off the plate and told him we would skip dessert.

Tramonto, or sunset, from Tra Cielo e Mare.
We couldn’t find Luca when it was time to ask for the bill, but another server told us we could go directly to the cashier and the bill would be delivered there. That’s when we received the shock of finding that our total bill amounted to 80 euro, or $110. I asked to see the itemization and found that the bottle of water cost 5 euro, the soup and riso 25 euro, and we had been charged for two servings of fish at 25 euro each. When I mentioned that I was not happy with the total, the manager came and confirmed it was correct. I really couldn’t deny that we had received two servings worth of seafood, even though it came on one plate, so I paid the bill without further comment. As we walked back to our rooms in the light of a full moon, we vowed that we would not eat there the next night and that I would mention my displeasure in an online review. We kept both promises.

1 comment:

  1. This was an adventure! Glad you didn't have to scale the whole mtn! Hope that meal was beyond delicious!


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