“Something smells like fireworks,” said Tiffany as we cruised up the valley towards Dovadola (doh-vah-doh-la, Dave). “Reminds me of a celebration.” Not out of the question, since Independence Day in Italy doesn’t necessarily demand fireworks, but every other day of the year is fair game.
“Every day is a celebration,” I said, sounding both Hallmark and miraculously on the mark. Because every day since we got here last Thursday has felt a bit celebratory.
And not that Tyler breaking his foot was a good thing (“are you the guy with one foot?” said French tour leader Gwyndal a couple of days ago) – but traveling with the one footed wonder definitely was. Priority boarding on the flight from Denver to Chicago transitioned nicely into a pit stop in the United Lounge (free, unlimited wine, grub and cappuccini. Pretty fun except everybody else was there, too). I played the “boys are babies when they get hurt” card (true story, people) with the booking agent lady in the Lounge and she found us some roomy seats behind the bulkhead (a civilized way to say “airplane shitter”).
Onboard our spacious 777 to Frankfurt, we kicked back and closed our eyes, sighing contentedly… until the devil banshee child behind us turned on the volume – and this one goes to 11. Halfway through “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” a wayward empty Coke bottle found its way to our row and my lap, propelled by the slimy little hands of the devil banshee child. Several more hours in the devil banshee child actually pulled my hair. Additionally, the devil banshee child resided directly behind me, resulting in irregular, well-placed devil kicks to my mid and lower back. And the devil banshee child wailed continuously as if attempting to try out for an opera. Halfway through “The Great Gatsby,” just as I rose swiftly from my seat with a used plastic butter knife, ready to enact revenge, the devil banshee child finally fell asleep and I got exactly seven minutes of sleep.
Then the cheerful bilingual lady came on the mic again and we sailed onto Frankfurt tarmac. In my sleep deprived, devil banshee child addled state, I thought the sun was setting when in fact it was just 5:30 a.m. Ouch.
Whisked away on one of those sweet electric carts by a fiery little Italian lady, we arrived directly in the Gimp Lounge – where us and a handful of other lucky gimps got to wait for our flights in luxury. We sipped on surprisingly delicious machine-made cappuccini and a variety of teas with names like “Team Spirit.” Carl – a genuinely friendly, endlessly chatty, almost entirely deaf gentleman of 88 years – treated us to a string of true-to-life Carl-isms, including:
On what time it might be in Frankfurt: “You have the right time? Oh never mind, it’s just time. Sometime in the morning, that’s fine.”
On life these days: “Love, life, laughter — doesn’t come without somebody somewhere killing somebody.”
On heading back to Prague: “I feel like a bird returning to the nest.”
On travel-stiff legs: “Exercise, move, I have to walk around.”
Upon finding his own beverage (again) and noticing Tyler’s: “So bottoms up! What is that? Beer? Oh what do you have, tea?”
On getting old: “My family calls me (something like “Kyle”), like a baby name. Because when you turn 80 you are like a baby again, you know what I mean?”
On technology: “I had a little hearing aid, I had to take 2 hours of class just to learn how to use it. Technology — it’s not bad, it just takes time.”
And after some length: “I’ll sit here and shut up. If not, you kick my ass.” Of course, he didn’t, but how could I care?
Gradually, the moon sunk down and the fog rose up with the sun. We parted fondly with our new friend Carl (born in Prague, now living in San Francisco, probably always sporting a battered chapeau and red suspenders), spirited away VIP style on a large bus that wound through the maze of Frankfurt tarmac like an air-conditioned Pac-Man. The bus driver – cheerfully transporting his two passengers – joked and laughed in German with a co-worker over the radio. After about four years of crisscrossing the airport, we waited in the bus for our Lufthansa puddle jumper’s doors to open. Up the ramp into the cabin, a male flight attendant with an immaculately coiffed shark fin of blond hair presented us with a welcome handful of hazelnut chocolate bars! We settled in, the first two on the plane by a long shot.
Pass out. Beverage service? Too sleepy. Pass out again. Shades up. Bouncing off the Italian tarmac passes for an alarm clock. Off the plane. Shuffled into the modest Bologna airport to a soundtrack of drills and saws (under construction, per usual). Bags finally lurching out on the carousel. One, two, three on a rickety cart (which ate our Euro). Find the bus, wait for the next, I throw all the bags on and we sink into seats. Into Bologna; around Bologna; endless porticos crammed with people, gelaterias, scooters zipping everywhere, parked everywhere, bikes, music. E…ven…tu…a…lly (oh good, we’re not lost) we arrive at the Bologna train station. Buy tickets from an electronic kiosk. Drag our bags and tired selves on the train and 45 minutes later, we are in Faenza. Barely alive. Finally, Tiffany pulls up in a turbo diesel Toyota which darts up the chaotic two lane (plus the invisible third lane when anyone wants to pass) Via Emilia to the Farm.
Severely jet-lagged, groggy and under-rested, it made perfect sense for us to drag ourselves out of bed at 7 a.m. on Friday to go for a bike ride with Tiffany, Dave and Michele (pronounced Me-kay-lay). Our target: Trebbio, its visible top crowned by a halo of radio towers. Cars, people, bikes, children – there are plenty to dodge in Castrocaro after we ride on ancient cobbles under the old city wall in Terra del Sole. Castrocaro, where Tyler bailed, is swarmed with people during the morning workday scramble. Up the main road through tree-lined Dovadola to a right turn. It climbs immediately and vigorously as an Italian will honk at an obstacle.
Up is the word: switchbacks through green forest, past idle stucco farm houses whose tenants in the humid heat on plows and in fields are never idle. Trebbio saves the steepest shot for last and we all arrive on the rolling spine glistening like a bag of glitter. At once, the prickly hairs of Trebbio’s cell towers spin into view and we are going down.
And we go down fast. Italian roads are not for the faint of heart: they twist mightily and without warning, diving down narrow roads like river otters, sending a rider into a patch of potholes or a wreck of uprooted pavement. Or a great buckled wave of cracked asphalt that ends either in a steep drop-off to the left or right, a swatch of gravel to swivel the tires or a bridge of dirt unto another world of curbside conundrums.
Trebbio’s road is a myriad of devilish switchbacks past various farms whose very existence is a slanted one. By the bottom, brakes hiss hotly, the face plastered generously by a healthy late summer crop of Italian insects and the heart races like a Lamborghini on the Autostrada.
No reason not to press repeat on Saturday; Tiffany and I arise a bit later and take on the more modest, closer San Mamante ride (or “The Castle Loop,” aptly named because it twists in barely paved glory past the former fortress Oriolo dei Fichi and the medieval husk of Petrignone). Glorious it was, underneath skies bluer than a bucket of Smurfs (or the gelato named after them which is eerily similar in color). Glorious, that is, until my sternum collided with a volatile little creature called a wasp, which stung me like a medieval leather glove to the face. The duel was over before I knew it; sharp pain radiated immediately and later, an itch the likes of which a swimming pool of Hydrocortisone could not stave. And then, I developed peppermint candy stripes of equally itchy hives around my midsection. Last year, I got stung inside my bottom lip by a bee (while talking) on day two of the Venice to Pisa bicycle tour. This year, I got nailed by a wasp on day two of vacation. Goody.
All that remains now is a little bump on my chest that reminds me of how much I hate bugs. My bug bite and I (future album name?) are on a train heading north – 350 plus kilometers to Bressanone Brixen, where perhaps the wasps are colder and less pissed off. Tomorrow we ride up apple-lined roads to Breener Pass. Then we ride/train down into Innsbruck, Austria to meet our Colorado friend Dean for two nights, after which I will have a beer-soaked yarn to unravel. Until then – arrividerchi ragazzi.
A few more pics to tide you over until then…