Saturday, September 19, 2015

l'Eroica and the travel to and from

In a few weeks, it'll be a year since Tamar and I flew to Italy for l'Eroica, the famous mostly dirt-road bicycle ride in Tuscany. I'll tell you about the trip today and then tomorrow about l'Eroica.

We flew to Chicago, Munich and finally Pisa. We spent the entire two weeks in Tuscany, a week in a hotel in Colle val d'Elsa, and a week in Florence, in a hotel maybe two blocks from the celebrated "old bridge," the Ponte Vecchio.

In the days after l'Eroica, we tried to ride out of Colle but found that our years of riding in the States made us afraid on the narrow Tuscan roads. If you haven't visited there, I will say that we never saw any straight or flat roads in Tuscany, except perhaps the motorways. We never saw any road shoulders.

We were sharing a narrow lane with cars, trucks and those huge European buses. We have learned over the years not to trust drivers. We know that European drivers are better able to deal with cyclists on the road, but I especially could not get over being afraid. We tried to ride twice and both times cut the rides short.

Tamar, on her rented bike, would be riding behind me. I'd get further ahead of her on the grades than I wanted to be. I could not look back for fear of weaving even a bit and being hit by a gigantic tour bus. I hated it.

On our first ride, my Gios was still dusty from the "white roads" as they're called, the unpaved country roads of l'Eroica. We passed by a gas station and I saw that they had a water hose outside. We stopped and in our halting Italian, tried to ask the guys if we could rinse the dust off the bike.

They uncoiled the hose and rinsed my bike for me. When they heard that I'd ridden l'Eroica, they were excited and thrilled to be able to wash actual l'Eroica dirt off my bicycle.

We found the people to be lovely, but the riding was too scary. After the second abortive attempt, I packed my Gios back into its soft travel case. Enough was enough.

The rest of our stay in Colle was fun and restful. We went for walks and for two or three trips on local buses. We visited Sienna and Volterra, an old Roman mountain town. We ate great food and even discovered a vegetarian restaurant in Colle that Tamar says is her favorite ever.

We took a cab to Florence, direct to our hotel. If you are traveling with a bicycle as we were, you have to find a taxi with room to carry the travel-cased bike. Our transportation costs within Italy were daunting...but what could you do?

Florence was so dense with people, people from all over the world, that it was a bit intimidating, at least for the first few days. You could not open the door of our hotel and just step out onto the sidewalk; you'd step into someone. You had to peek out and time your escape.

Both of us felt ill with sinus or cold-type problems. Tamar was off every day to museums and galleries, but I felt crummy and ill-at-ease. I was in Florence, where thousands had paid big money to visit, but I really wanted to go home. I would've rather been riding on some bike path in Denver.

After a few days in Florence, we found areas away from the tourists that we enjoyed. I began to like being there, but I still yearned to be home. I know how that sounds, but it's the truth.

One afternoon we rented a vintage Fiat 500, a Cinquecento, and I drove it from central Florence to the country near town. Another Cinquecento followed us with our guide driving. Driving a 17-horsepower car with unsynchronized gears and tiny pedals was big fun, if a bit frightening in downtown Florence traffic. If you like old cars even a little bit, please rent an old Fiat when you're in Italy.

The trip home, when it finally came, was nightmarish. We flew from Pisa to Munich and almost missed our flight to Chicago. In Chicago, tired and feeling as if we'd been beaten in our coach seats, we had to reclaim our luggage, including the bike case, and re-check it all, then stand in line to go through security again.

It's been a year, as I said, but neither of us has contemplated another overseas flight. I used to be able to tolerate those journeys, but maybe I can no longer do it. I seldom wish we had more money, but if we could have flown business might have been more like a trip and less like a mugging.

Tomorrow - the event!

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