Click here for the Introduction.
|A Tuscan vineyard. Photo Credit: Tuscan Vineyard, Lillem Stone.|
5 - miles, Thursday, October 13
All packed, we tootle through congested Florence, a bit frazzled when we arrive at the train station well ahead of departure time. Unlike the clear signage in Magenta, the Florence schedule lacks the symbol designating which trains allow baggage – or bicycles, in this instance – and we inquire with a conductor. We understood enough of his response to pick up “no trains”. Andy and I look at each other. We've already bought tickets. We must get on a train bound for Rome. We bug the man several more times – it's clear he's looking for a bribe, and we'd been warned that it's prevalent in southern Italy – but we're determined not to pay a penny. The official finally relents and we roll bikes on board, red-faced and exhausted, but relieved.
Despite the hassle, the train leaves on schedule. The rolling Tuscan countryside is idyllic. Vineyards, the hills, the chateaus, the dry climate - these are the perfect companions for a two week holiday by bike, the kind tour companies advertise. The three-hour ride was less than relaxing though. Traveling through numerous tunnels, we constantly yawn to alleviate pressure in our ears. Just when I think it's safe to close my eyes, my heart leaps when the roar of an oncoming train blasts by, sucking curtains out open windows. It's a noisy journey. By the time the train stops at the Roma Termini rail station we've arrived into a much drier and flatter climate, full of sandy soil. Conifers are a thing of the past. But, hopefully, so is the rainy season too.
|The Tiber River at night. Photo credit: David Ever, Wikitravel.org|
It's 5:30 by the time we assemble the bikes on the platform and walk through crowds in the station. It's rush hour in a new city. I take a deep breath, place the accident in Florence in the far corners of my mind, and try not to be intimidated. It's growing dark. Honking traffic is snarled, one way streets abound, and we need our wits to navigate 6k to a hostel.
With directions from pedestrians we work our way across old Rome to the Tiber River. Riding at night without lights is scary and takes a lack of brains, but we now fit in with the local traffic. -Andy
There is a certain mystique about entering a huge city for the first time. Despite the frightening circumstances, I catch glimpses of Roman ruins, spectacular fountains, buildings with amphitheater-like steps cascading to street level. Much like Paris, antiquities are amplified by darkness, lit with spotlights, emphasizing their ethereal presence. Among all this beauty there are several accidents, one involving a moped. And suddenly there are thousands of people with placards, yelling, apparently on strike. Police in armored vehicles, or standing with riot gear and machine guns, control the crowds and divert traffic. It's a crazy introduction to Rome, loud and hectic, yet exciting too, even if I feel vulnerable on two wheels.
I have this test of “the system” and pushing the edge sometimes. I like going up to armed military and policemen to ask questions and/or directions. Maybe it makes me feel, in a minor way, like it breaks down the wall a bit between the average citizen and the guys who keep the bad elements in check. Yesterday in Florence I talked with the police guarding the US Consulate office. They carried machine guns and wore bullet proof vests. At the strikers' rally in Rome, I asked if we could pass through their police barricade or if we had to follow the auto detour.-Andy
Two hours later we reach the hostel, which is near the Olympic Stadium. We settle in, take a shower. Afterward, I'm keyed up. Florence in the morning; Rome at nightfall. Andy and I pour over maps and ready ourselves for exploring more of this ancient city.