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Circumnavigating a Tourist Hell

The 30-foot painted wooden statue of Pinocchio was a clue that we had stumbled into tourist hell.

The second was hundreds of cars and campers parked by the side of the road as we headed down the mountain to the town of Collodi.

We had seen the town from a distance the next ridge over.  I had joined three others to cycle east out of Lucca and to explore the town of Collodi – the birthplace of Carlo Collodi who wrote the children’s classic Pinocchio.

The town looked beautiful from a distance as we biked across the ridge to the west and looked across the olive groves and vineyards.  Collodi stretched down the mountain in a winding narrow trail with a castle on top and an villa at the bottom and homes clinging to the hillside in between.  From the ridge, Collodi looked like an ideal destination that would be fun to explore … It looked like a fantasy village stretched out below us like a three dimensional map.

But at eye-level it was tempting to grimace and ride on … the clutter of stands and signs competing for attention at the base of the mountain screamed Tourist Trap.  Restaurants with overpriced food and tourist shops lined the crowded streets hawking Pinocchio key chains and pointy-nosed face masks and made in China plastic Pinocchio stuff and T-shirts.  Some poor guy was walking around in pantaloons and a pointed hat.

But one travel truth you can count on is that the majority of people don’t venture further off the beaten path than they absolutely must, and generally a little bit of effort will get you away from the masses.

So after fortifying on an overpriced pannini we get on our bikes and climb the hot switchbacks up the back road to the top of the village.

As expected, very few of the masses below had made it to the top.  And as the view from the opposite ridge had promised, the village was beautiful.  And beautifully empty. 

Steep cobblestone streets cut sharply down the mountain winding through centuries-old homes.  Flowers lined the walkways.  An 11th century church was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen … small and intimate and present with spirituality.

The castle tower reflects in the window of the hillside home in Collodi.

The path down was so steep we took off our hard-souled bike shoes and walked in sock feet to keep from skiing down on the slick stones.

The climb back up and bike ride back down the mountain was satisfying … nothing feels better than a little self-righteous self-congratulation as you blow past those still looking up from the valley floor.

Part of the beauty of traveling by bike is that you have the tools already to make your experience special.

Not only is the journey in itself interesting and a big part of the fun.  Not only are you traveling at such a slow speed you can really see what is around you.  But the bike gives you access to places where others won’t or can’t venture.  It propels you into imaginations of many who you meet along the way who will do the double-take as you pass by or stop to say hello or give you a thumbs-up.

And most importantly the bike reminds that you have the power navigate the various versions of life’s tourist hell that frequently to clutter the way.

Leigh Pate
Leigh Pate is a writer, former political consultant and two time cancer patient and cancer research advocate living in Seattle, WA