Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yikes! We Rent Bikes!

Mike on his bike

 “Adventure, yeah. I guess that's what you 
call it when everybody comes back alive.”
― Mercedes Lackey

 If you read the blog regularly, you may remember that I mentioned that the bicyclists in northern Italy are rather aggressive drivers, and I felt I was lucky to get out of Bologna without having a literal run-in with one. I have a love-hate relationship with bikes.  I wanted to ride one in Bologna, but since I was afraid of even walking near other riders, I thought maybe I should keep my feet on the ground rather than on pedals.

Bike lane

I love bikes, to tell the truth.  I had a blue Schwinn when I was a kid, and I loved it. Like every other kid, I used to pin playing cards to the spokes to punch up the sound. I used to weave ribbons or yarn through the spokes to colorize it. I used to ride without holding on. I tried to stand on the seat or do other stupid stunts that gave me nicely skinned knees and elbows, hands and shins every summer. Road surfing is a rite of passage for kids. It is not one for adults.

I don't want to mislead you and make you think I broke skin today, but I came close....more than once...

 The ancient people of Lucca build walls to protect that city.  There are actually four layers of walls, the last of which date to the late 1500s.  Architects planted trees within the  outer two circles, and in the 19th century, Duchess Maria Luisa ordered that that area be a public walkway.  The four-kilometer path is a favorite walking, picnicking, and cycling place for the city.  When Mike and I were here four years ago, we walked part of it, but we decided that maybe we'd ride a bike this time.

Bikes. Bikes. Bikes. Bike parking in Bologna.

 We rented from Cuore (Heart) of Tuscany, a nice place that it took us 45 minutes to find even though it is about 10 minutes from our apartment. Since it's off of a side street, finding it was an adventure in itself.  Let's just say that I wish these places would put street names up so people can actually use them.

Matteo, the owner, got our three-speed bikes out and fixed the seat height for me.  I got on and pushed off only to discover that the seat was too high. I tried to stop but noticed pedestrians walking right in front of me. I jumped off of the seat, lost my balance, and ended up about two seconds from landing on the pavement.

"Fix your seat," Mike laughed.  I couldn't, so he adjusted his and came to fix mine.  "It won't go down much more."

"I'll try," I said.  We took off, and everything was going well until a car whizzed by me.  "HOLY CRAP."

Dapper Dude in Bologna
"Calm down," Mike said. "You're fine."

I was sure I wasn't fine. "I forgot about cars."  A few people were walking in the middle of the street. Ding. Ding. Ding. I rang the bell (It was pink!), and they moved out of the way.

"Was that you?" Mike wanted to know.

"I'm being polite and warning people," I replied.  "People in Bologna could have done that for me."  He wasn't behind me, but I'm sure he probably rolled his eyes.

Now, I love bells, and I love the little tinkling bells on bikes.  I was thrilled to have a pink one I could use. I could cause that thing to make such a happy sound. Besides, since I was not good at stopping with the handbrake, I thought warning them that I was coming was fair.

We got to the wall, and he rode his bike up.  I got about halfway, stopped, almost fell over again, and walked the rest of the way up.

A close pass
 The path on the wall is four kilometers and takes about 20 minutes to complete.  It is a paved path and is relatively flat, so people of all ages stroll or ride along it at all times of the day.  Noon is particularly popular because the Lucchese like to take lunch up there to enjoy.

They also like to stop right in the middle of the path to talk to neighbors and friends.  Luckily, I had my trusty little pink bell to warn them that I was approaching.

"Are you going to ring that thing every time you pass someone?" I heard Mike ask me.

"Yes." I didn't need to say anything else, but even if I should have, at that point I looked up to noticed two bikers riding on our side of the path coming directly at me.  One passed me on my right, and the one who was on my left, was heading right for me. Maybe I was heading right for him, but he wasn't turning, and I panicked. I hit the handbrake and immediately started falling over. I landed on the toes of my left foot, scraped my shoe (better than skin) along the path, skidded across the path, and landed in the grass at the top of the hill.

"Are you okay?" Mike asked me.

"He was headed right for me," I said to him.

"You'll be fine," Mike said, and we continued on.

I saw this guy all the time in Bologna
The rest of the ride around the wall was relatively easy. Anytime anyone was within 20 feet of me, I rang my little bell, much to my husband's chagrin.

"I'm going to take that thing off of you," he said.  I was in front of him, though, so he'd have to catch me.

I tried to take a selfie while we were riding, but let's just say that I wasn't feeling in control using two hands on that thing. I just gave up the idea and rode to the place where we started. We sat and rested for a few minutes. 

"I'm not riding that thing down that hill," I said.  "I can't stop on a flat surface let alone on a hill."

"You can do it. Practice," Mike insisted.  "Just press the handbrake gradually."

"I fall off because the seat's too high," I whined. "I can't touch the ground with my feet while I'm on the seat."  Still, I tried because I'm a super trooper (HA!).  I did okay on the flat surface, so I rode down the hill using the brake the entire way.  At the bottom, we had to stop at the street, and I almost toppled over into a restaurant's outside cafe.  

Always happy to provide entertainment for those around me, I looked at Mike and said, "Just go."

"Which way?" he asked me.

"Turn right," I said and watched as he crossed the street and went straight.  Eye roll.  I followed and eventually caught up.  "Let me go in front."  I had no idea where we were because he had gone straight which was not the way we'd started.  I turned right at the next street and almost ran into a car that had run a stop sign.  "GEEZ. Does anyone pay attention to traffic signs here?"  Mike didn't answer either because he didn't hear me or because he was ignoring me.

Definitely not me on a bike

We ended up in an area that was full of pedestrians and other cyclists.  I was ringing that bell constantly, and every time I did, I heard someone behind me (Guess who.)  snort.  "Maybe you should walk through here," he said.  I wasn't going to argue, and I slowed down and jumped off, losing control yet again and almost landing on top of a cigarette-smoking dude.  Mike kept riding and passed me. He did not use his bell (He probably belongs in Bologna.) to  let people know he was going to pass, and he ended up running into a little old man.  "Sorry.  Oops."  He kept going, and the old guy just looked at Mike and kept walking himself.

We got back to the bike shop, and I managed to stop without falling off.

"I made it back alive," I told Matteo.  He laughed.

"We're not so sure about a few of the tourists," Mike said.  "There may be a few lying in the street along the way." 

"Especially a little old man," I laughed.  I'm not sure Matteo understood why we were laughing.

"The old guy was going too darn slow," Mike later told me. "It was his fault."

"You could have used your bell," I insisted.  I don't think he agreed.

"You're looking at this all wrong," he said. "You need to look at it from my perspective. If he had been walking faster, I wouldn't have hit him."

Fair warning: If you see either one of us on a bike, you might want to run for cover, preferably indoors and away from any cafes, markets, parking lots, streets, paths, or hills.

No comments:

Post a Comment