Monday, April 15, 2013

Italy - Florence and The Accident

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Photo taken from Plaza Michelangelo. Plaza Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore's
 red dome) in the distance.
10 - miles, Wednesday, October 12

I hit a parked car this morning.

I looked up and the vehicle was dangerously close. My right front pannier caught first, jerking it off the rack. Then the bar end scraped across the trunk top. My leg slammed into the bumper. I jolted to a stop, catching myself from falling into the heavy traffic. Egads. My heart thumped in my chest. I couldn't believe what just happened. In a second my leg began throbbing. I grabbed the dislodged pannier and somehow hobbled to the sidewalk.

I'd been following Andy through morning traffic along narrow streets. Andy said he'd heard the crash and had doubled back. Thankfully, I can walk. My leg doesn't seem too bad, but bruised for sure. The low-rider rack is warped, now listing left of center, but nonetheless, functional. The pannier is fine; it had unhooked and the hardware is still intact.

We discreetly checked the damaged vehicle. I had scratched the black paint. Immediately I was inclined to contact the owner, but there was the language barrier, time, and money. I could only imagine the hassle. The pannier and my leg took the brunt of impact. It really was just a scratch. Fortunately we hadn't attracted any attention. Probably not a huge deal in the scope of Italian driving. Andy and I decided to leave. I was still shaking though, and regained the road with caution.

Privately, I think this is Anne's guerrilla tactic of hitting the enemy when their defenses are down-unmanned parked cars. We feel vulnerable on the road. Cars cut our margin of safety. In cities, add parked car doors opening in front of us and our stress climaxes. After the accident, Anne was shaky, giving parked vehicles 8 feet of clearance. -Andy

Not long after, Andy suggested we stop for pastry. We nursed my confidence over a couple apple strudels, relaxing until I could rejoin the wits-about-you harried traffic. Then it was off to the rail station, and after shuffling through 3 lines we bought tickets for tomorrow evening's train to Rome. Rail travel with bicycles is reasonable, which is a good sign as we'll need another connection in southern Italy.

Florence is similar to other Italian cities: bustling, congested, noisy, designed on a narrow street plan it accommodates – just barely – all the traffic. A frenzy of cars, buses, trucks, mopeds, scooters, and bikes all vie for limited asphalt space, which must drive anyone negotiating the streets, a little crazy. Though I was still leery of traffic, by the time we navigated to the campground, I had shed any reluctance at leaving the scene of the accident.

We left the bikes double-locked at the campsite, a pleasing place with olive trees, conveniently on a hillside overlooking the heart of Florence. There were red-tiled roofs and white stucco walls as far as the eye could see. It was good to be on foot.

Florence is situated on the Arno River. First, we wandered along the ridge to Plaza Michelangelo to orient ourselves with the map and views of the city below. Then descended stairs and curved roads to Pont Vecchio, the only bridge Hitler's army didn't bomb upon retreat. It's a multistory stone structure with goldsmith shops at street level. Sculling crews ply the waterway as we entered the heart of Florence, wandering the promenade.

Replica of Michelangelo's David.
Streets are very narrow. It's a profusion of 4-5 story buildings. Top floors are homes, often with laundry hung from special racks beneath windows. There are old churches, palaces, and museums. Many overlook their own plazas; this space allows us to grasp the magnitude and charm of the lovely marble structures. I spy Michelangelo's replica of David outside a museum, but we bypass the chance to visit the real statue and art gallery inside. There are so many alleys to drift through that I don't want to be stuck inside for too long.

Plaza Duomo. We climbed to the top of the red dome.
The Plaza Duomo is the highlight of our day. We explore the 800 year old Baptistery of Saint John church then discover we can ascend Santa Maria del Fiore's enormous red dome. For 5,000 Lira each we duck into a short passageway and climb 463 worn stone steps, spiraling up the “exterior” of the dome. It's a bit claustrophobic, yet somehow the coolness of the stone is inviting. At the top we exit to a balcony for sweeping views. Giotto's Bell Tower, a square edifice with numerous windows and statues, is marvelously close - an enchanting vantage from this height.

Andy at the top of the dome.

Special view of Giotto's Bell Tower. My favorite picture of Florence.
Descending the worn stairway inside the dome.
Other insights by Andy:
Interesting Italian feature: two machine gun guards stand outside bank entrances. Apparently, mafia problems are dealt with seriously. I don't want to be around when those guns go off.
    Our Italian meal plan:
  • 6 a.m. Breakfast of polenta or oatmeal with fruit, coffee, maybe bread.
  • Mid-morning – bread and jam or margarine, yogurt and/or fruit
  • 11 -12 Lunch – bread, jam, cheese. Fruit and/or yogurt
  • Mid-afternoon – bread or cookies
  • 5-6 p.m. Dinner – pasta with tomato or pesto sauce, vegetables (onion,garlic, spinach) tea or coffee 
  • Late evening – snack, if still hungry.
Picked up the Herald Tribune today for our dose of international news. There's a major news story of renewed U.S.-Iraq sword rattling. During the Gulf War I recall U.S. launched airstrikes from Turkey too. That's of growing concern. We hope to travel to Turkey in a few weeks. -Andy

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