Today Leif and I went for a leisurely Sunday ride together. Sort of like all the farmers do in Minnesota, drive to church at 40 miles and hour looking at everyone else's fields and generally seeing what there is to see. Except that we did it on bikes...and didn't look at any fields...and didn't end up in church. But other than that I swear, it was exactly the same.
We rode 37k. I would love to tell you all about the scenery and every single town that we went through. But I can't. The tangled maze of one way streets is impossible to untangle in my mind. One would think the signs would help, but no. A sign that states senza unico translates literally into "without only", google translate gives me "no one" but according to Leif it means "one way." It seems like such a simple principle to adhere to. Traffic goes in only one direction. Here however I think the translation ends up being "YOU will only travel in one direction at a time when you are forced by extreme circumstances to drive against the traffic" because inevitably either a bike (yes, guilty) or a scooter or even a car will do just that. Other signs are less helpful, relying on pictograms rather than words.
But today, except for a little part of the ride where we momentarily went off the grid and rode through some bushes and a park, then the wrong way only because there were no right way streets, we pretty much followed the most important rules of the road. I just read that last sentence and realized that I'm well on my way to becoming Italian...no streets were going the way I needed to go so naturally I had to go the wrong way. Wow.
It's a nice ride that's pretty much flat but peppered with roundabouts. They're fun but also a little dangerous on a bike. When there's little traffic like today it's easy to ride normally and swing around to your turnoff, but in heavy traffic roundabouts become...let's try this another way. Imagine Hwy 36 (or any major two lane highway), take out the interchange and make it a roundabout. Now take those four possible exits (and entrances) and add one or two more. Now, just for fun, in your imagination make it rush hour. Now ride your bike into the center of that vortex and make it out alive. Repeat every mile or so. I'm not bragging, OK, maybe I am. I can do it. If you're feeling really lucky you can even gaze admiringly at the sculpture displayed in the center of each roundabout, just keep one eye on the traffic.
I do remember two of the towns. We stopped in Sesto Fiorentino for a coffee. A truly amazing coffee and pastry. They make their own pastry there. I know because I could see into the door next to the shop and there were all the little pastry chefs having their own coffee break. Yes, pastry chefs. Sparkling kitchen, gleaming stainless and un-fingerprinted glass surrounded men in tall white hats and bleached white shirts with Chinese buttons and stiffly pressed black pants. Their shoes were unblemished by flour or eggs or, ahem, mystery liquids. I had a momentary flash of jealousy, then realized that the shirt probably wouldn't go with my motorcycle boots.
It was here, at the Neri Cafe and Pasticceria, that I had a pastry that must somehow find it's way to the May Day Cafe where I used to work. Those guys may overdress for their work but they know what the hell they're doing. It was flaky like a croissant but folded instead of rolled, creme filled and baked just long enough to caramelize the creme that oozed out in the oven. Soft, flaky and creamy with a crunchy brown sugar flavor on the bottom. (I'm kinda swooning just writing about it. Heavens.) If it sounds like I'm in love with a pastry, I am. I will ride the 10k every Sunday for this pastry. Only on Sunday because the rest of the week the traffic is killer and I wouldn't survive to enjoy my brioche.
Long ago in Minnesota, even when I was young, Sundays were the day you drove around and "just dropped in" on people and it was socially acceptable. We have a (naturally Swedish) friend who lives here so I told Leif we should call her, then stopped and asked just how Italian he thought she had become because in Italy you never stop without planning it in advance. Then asked if it was acceptable in Sweden to just drop in on people. Then said forget it, this has become a cultural morass that I can't get my mind around on a Sunday. And he whipped his phone out and called her. She wasn't home so any cultural crisis was averted but it was sweet that he called.
We headed out to the next town I remember which was Calenzano. I'm sure it's famous for many things, but for us only that we have yet another Swedish friend who lives there. This time, without my asking, Leif called this friend and asked if she was home. She was out of town but I would like here and now to give Leif all sorts of credit for going outside his cultural comfort zone and attempting a spontaneous social visit.
We were 0 for 0 on visiting people, but the rest of the ride and the pastries were a resounding success. With just 80 meters of climbing we didn't have to work hard at all. Just enough kilometers to stretch our legs a bit and work off that pastry and get plenty of fresh air. I can't wait for next Sunday...