We reached Colle, the town we'd be staying in for the first week in Italy, on Friday evening. The big day was Sunday, but we'd be driving to Gaiole on Saturday to register, see the swap meet and get together with our Bay Area friends John and Tena.
Our connection in Italy was our friends Larry and Heather from CycleItalia. I met them years ago when they worked for another tour outfit, and we've stayed friends all along. I edit their CycleItalia newsletter. They're professional tour leaders, and Heather is a university philosophy professor. Larry and Heather took us in the CycleItalia van to Gaiole, an hour or so away on Saturday.
Registration was easy. You didn't need to speak Italian. By the way, there's a lottery for entry -- unless you are over 65 or you are female. If you fit either of those categories, you're in!
At registration, you could see and hear that there were riders and their friends there from all over the world. There was a sort of museum of old Italian bikes; Roger deVlaeminck's Gios was there, gorgeous, his name on the top tube and engraved on the sides of the stem. The swap booths were nearly unbelievable. You could buy just ANYthing. Want an old Euro jersey from a team or club you've never heard of? A like-new set of Campagnolo Delta brakes? Any bicycle part, lots of complete old bicycles...
If the swap had been a few days earlier, I feel sure you could have bought an old bike, spent a few hours and a few Euros renewing it, and ridden your swap meet bike in l'Eroica. The bikes ridden in l'Eroica were by no means all gleaming 30-year-old Colnagos and Bianchis. Lotsa rats for sure. Lotsa everything!
I had a lovely feeling at that swap meet. Once in a great while, you feel mysteriously that you are where you belong, just exactly where you belong. I got that feeling walking around the old cranks and wheels and bits of this and that. Did we buy anything? I bought a sporty stingy-brim straw hat, a hipster hat maybe. Tamar and I did not buy much at all in Italy, although walking past the shops in Florence was tempting every day.
Knowing what I know now, I think that if we did l'Eroica again, I'd try to: 1. rent a bike from a rental outfit or from l'Eroica, 2. buy a good old bike and try to sell it after the event or give it away, 3. find a way, any way, not to travel with a bicycle, especially if you plan to move around within Italy with (but not ON) the bicycle.
We used a soft case, an Italian-made Sci-Con, to transport the Gios. You took off the brake cables (exposed you'll remember), turned the bars to one side. You could leave the seat in place. You removed pedals and stashed the wheels, minus quick-release skewers, in pockets in the sides of the case. You could roll the case on its wheels.Great case, borrowed from CycleItalia Larry.
If we'd had one of those huge, black plastic cases...or two bicycles.... I don't want to think about it.
If you rented a car and kept the car for the duration of your stay, you could put the bike in the back and not think about it. We wanted to use public transportation as much as possible. Except for the ancient Fiat we rented in Florence, we did not drive at all, car, scooter or motorcycle. We walked and took buses.
Tamar rented a bike, thinking that we would go for rides around Colle, but the rides were not pleasant and the logistics of bike rental were complex. Had we stayed in just one place, had we not gone to Florence for the second week, life would have been far easier. Or had we immediately gotten out of touristy Tuscany and headed, say, for somewhere with quieter roads, we could have done lots of rides.
All this is easy to say, a year later. We did not understand how exhausting the flying would be. We certainly did not imagine that the roads of Tuscany would be so endlessly hilly. If you are not really fit, I'd suggest you ride elsewhere in Italy. And because we looked at maps and saw that Colle was in the "country," we thought that traffic would be minimal. We didn't imagine that Florence would be so dense with tourists and shoppers and who knows who else. A week there, sneezing and wheezing? Too long.
I thought that today I would describe the l'Eroica ride but there's just too much about our trip to tell you. I'll write a post about the event tomorrow. I'm sorry....