18 October 2005

Ah ha, Italy

Looking at the traffic, and some of the roads here in Italy, I thought that it was going to be an experience closer to riding in Auckland than anywhere else I had seen in the last few months. Some of the streets here are so small you wondered how two cars were going to pass each other let alone a truck or two. Well, I’m very surprised after riding around for a while how much care and attention they take of cyclists here. Not one single time have I felt unsafe or in a position that I may have had to take action to save my ass. Riding through small mountain roads in a bunch of ten or so the trucks just seem to sit and wait to pass, sometimes it takes them ten minutes to find the right place, then they make sure they leave you a few meters between you and themselves. Most of these guys are sitting about t a bike or two away from the edge of the road to start with. Not once did I hear a horn, person yelling ‘get off the road’ or even an angry accelerator as they passed us finally. It makes me wonder why we have to put up with it at home every single day on the road. I would not have a single day where there wasn’t a horn beeping in anger or a path I had to take to stop me getting hit again. Where did we go so wrong… why does it have to be this way, don’t they realise we are saving the world from pollution and are one less car on the road, hey the rest of the world knows this..

Riding on the right side of the road has been an easy transformation for me, must have something to do with being left handed or something, because it feels normal. I have more trouble when I’m walking across the street than when I’m riding for hours on end. I get a bit freaked out when I look up and see a car heading straight for me on my side of the road, I hesitate for a split second thinking I’m wrong to see that it is only passing a slower car coming into my lane for a few seconds. This one has got me about twenty times so far, but it keeps you thinking, and keeps your heart rate up to max.

Italian bike shops don’t exist from what I can see, they are a myth. I’ve looked and searched all over the place and can’t seem to find anything that resembles anything even close. After a week of looking I found one, in the oldest city, it’s been there since 1934, and by the looks its got the same bikes that it opened with. It did have some cool photos on the wall that’s about it. It makes Adventure Cycles in the bottom of town look like a Megastore in comparison. For the population of the cities and the bikes that I’ve seen on the road, I can only guess that they buy over the Internet or though some underground network of Mafia owned stores that aren’t visible to the common tourist.

Riding with a helmet made me look like the mental kid at school with the stack hat his mum made him wear. It has been quite refreshing not having to wear one for a change (sorry kids), at least I blend in with all the pro’s now and don’t look like the new kid on the block. As much as I like wearing a helmet, there’s nothing like peer pressure to change a good habit. There is also nothing like descending a mountain pass at 80km/hr with the breeze blowing through what’s left of your hair, knowing that if you crash at that speed, the damage that results is not going to be as bad as the earbashing I will get from Jesse when I finally get back to the shop.

For once in my life I have found a new sense of respect for the Police force. There nothing like a couple of huge machine guns hanging off their shoulders for me to sit up and take notice. Just ask me once to get off my bike and walk through the street instead of riding, and I did it, instead of giving them lip and riding off. When they are standing on the side of the road for a random check, machine gun in hand, I would also stop, just in case they were waving me down and I didn’t hear. And no they don’t like their photos taken on those roadblocks, even if you think they are cool and said yes…

As much as you think English will get you by most places in the world, think again. It’s all the tourist spots you may be thinking of, because as soon as you get to the smaller cities away from the main areas, they don’t know what the hell you are talking about, even if you thought you had some understanding of the language, you don’t.

Yeah the older parts of Italy are pretty cool, but there is also a lot of rubbish around as well. Some of the streets have the most dilapidated houses and sections I have seen throughout the whole of Europe. It’s easy to forget about the bad when you see so much good, but it’s there if you look around. Like the rest of the world, they have the tourist spots looking good, but shift out of town a little and you will see the real world, with its underbelly exposed.

Being in a country that loves cycling so much is a nice change, especially when you get a choice of three channels with cycling on at any one time. Soccer is still number one, but cycling is right up there, even some of the smallest local races are featured once or twice a night on TV. The best thing is that I have not seen a single mention of Rugby anywhere, newspaper, TV, etc, maybe that’s a sign of a well-cultured country, I live in hope.

Any more resting and I’m going to get really cynical, lets hope the ride tomorrow is more successful.

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