Saturday, 2 April 2016

Bicycles and Cooking - Day 11

Our last day in Florence..

Wow, what a day of total Italian sensory immersion for Sharon, Paul and myself. The day started slowly as we didn't have to be out until 10am (For Paul and Sharon's cooking class) and 11am for my bicycle ride throughout Florence. As is the norm, I started my day with my coffee, something I would struggle to get through the day without, either at home of on holidays. A bit of a warning, reading over this, this could be my biggest blog post to date, and there are a heap of pictures.

It was a very warm day today, I still wore a jumper when cycling, but was happy for the rest of the day in shorts and t-shirt. Sharon and Paul headed out at about 9.45. I left at 10am quickly to pick up some lunch for Sue and Emma, as unfortunately the key to the apartment is super difficult to operate and they would have locked themselves out if they left the apartment. Sue and Emma had a quiet day, Emma did a bit of homework and Sue did a bit of washing. I left at 10.30, and lucky I did, as the address they gave me for the tour wasn't correct, it was at their second office which was a further 10 minute walk away.  I was the first to arrive anyway so had a bit of time to look at all the bikes.

There was only 6 of us on the tour, the tour leader (native from Florence, Firizian... ?), myself the lone Aussie, a British couple from East London and two ladies from Mexico. First experience was getting accustomed to the bike, I was riding an electric "moon bike"  or "fat bike" with mega wide tyres that are normally used for snow or beach cruising. Can be difficult to push along with the extra road resistance, but with the electric engine this wasn't an issue. I've always wanted to try one of these bikes anyway.

I've never ridden a bike outside Australia before, let alone ride anywhere that drives on the right, so this was going to be a major challenge, and I also discovered that in right side road driving countries, they put the bell on the other side and the brakes around the wrong way, it was going to be an effort just to stop suddenly without putting myself over the handlebars. In Italy, you legally don't have to wear a helmet, but given all the above, I thought it would be silly not to take the precaution since they offered me the helmet. Thankfully Italian drivers, whilst they are in their own way totally batshit insane, they are very careful of cyclists and much more forgiving than Australian drivers.

From the first few minutes I knew this was going to be an interesting ride, as it was quickly apparent the Mexican girls probably hadn't every ridden bicycles let alone electric ones, and as it turned out they were a greater danger to our safety than any Italian drivers.

During the course of the ride :-
  • One fell off her bike in the first 50m
  • One ran into the British guy and nearly cut his ear off with her handlebars
  • One sailed through a red light (that the brits and I had already stopped at), narrowly being missed by a merc going across the intersection
  • One rode into a modped rider going the other way, luckily at slow speed.

The British couple and I quickly learned that it was best to be following the Mexican girls than letting them ride behind us. Most of the riding turned out to be pretty easy, however it was a freaky experience turning left through one major traffic intersection with mopeds, cars, pedestrians, tourists, dogs and selfie stick sellers all around you. Yes, someone tried to sell me a selfie stick as I was riding past on a bike. The audacity / chutzpah of these guys never ceases to amaze me.

I have an electric bike at home, so I knew what to expect from the bike, however this one was slightly different to mine. My one has an motor near the pedals, and senses the force you push on the pedals and gives assistance based on how much effort you put in. Put a little bit of effort in, you get a little bit of assistance, put in heaps (like stand on the pedal) and it gives you heaps of assistance. It stops assistance the instance you stop peddling. Its very natural, it feels like you are riding a tandem with someone helping. You also need to be in the correct gear for the assistance to work correctly.

These bikes were a little different, they just sense you peddling and if you turn the pedals, the motor comes on full speed. Also, it takes a fraction of a second before it starts, and about half a second once you stop peddling for the motor to cut out. Where my bike is like having a second rider (albeit a tour de France rider) on the bike, this is more like having a rocket attached. It was a ton of fun and kind of more like riding a small motorbike than a bicycle. You could go from 0 to 25km/h in a few seconds.

This was a great experience, great value at €40 for 3 hours. We rode to the top of Piazzale Michalangelo which had a great look over the city, only pity was that it wasn't a clear day. The ride down the steep windy road was fantastic. I tracked the second half of the ride on Strava, we covered about 10km in total.

After completing the ride, I walked back to the apartment via the Apple store in Florence where I picked up a couple of gadgets and then went past our favourite panini shop where I grabbed some lunch. After lunch I went out to the post office to send some post cards, and I survived navigating the Italian postal bureaucracy. At first it seemed logical and straight forward, take a ticket and wait to be served. First hick-up with the machine, I was presented with no english option, three letters "R", "F" and "P". R was the first option, so I took that. I already had google translate prepped with the note that I'd like to buy stamps to send post cards to Australia, so waited my turn.

I was called up, and the lady explained in Italian that I had pushed the wrong button and needed to push the "P" option. In hindsight it seems rather obvious, P for "Poste" but there was no "Poste" on within the writing, so I pushed "P" and queued again. The next nice lady who served me then explained in English, that if I just wanted stamps, there was a queue in the corner for that and I didnt need a ticket at all, so I headed over there. Here I was amazed at first that the Italian postal system seemed logical, but it turned out not quite that way. I bought stamps, stuck on cards and put them in the post box (probably never to be seen again!)

By this time, Sharon and Paul had finished their cooking class, so we did some last minute leather shopping, Sharon bought some Jewellry on the Ponte Vecchio and we came back to start packing and blogging. They had a wonderful day cooking, they made the following :-

  • Bruchetta
  • Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta and parmesan with sage and butter sauce
  • Tagliatelle with meat ragu (beef/pork)
  • Tiramisu

They also visited the central markets and did a truffle tasting, balsamic vinegar tasting, as well as looking over all the various produce on offer. Sharon mentioned that these were the yellowest eggs she had ever cooked with. 

After some packing we headed out for dinner to the local restaurant we like thats only a few metres away. Paul had another Fiorentina Steak, Sharon had scaloppine fungi porcini, Sue and Emma had a grilled chicken and I had the most divine steak with green peppercorn and cognac sauce. yum yum yum.  

It was a great way to end our last full day in Florence. Tomorrow we catch another high speed train to Venice, I'll admit I'm approaching Venice with some apprehension, just about everyone I know had told me about some horror story to do with the island and criminals. I'm wondering if its really worth it, we could have spent more time here in Florence, somewhere nice and quiet in the south of France or a quick visit into Switzerland on our way to Paris.

I'm not sure if the right side of my brain will win and I'll see it as a fantastic, romantic, historical and beautiful city that has aged gracefully and fought against time to keep some of its medieval features, or will the left side of my brain win and see it as an island of crumbling buildings, infested with beggars and criminals floating in a river of shit. The only way to find out it to try it for myself.

Here are some of the photos from today, with various comments.

The bike I had for a few hours

The second half of the ride from the recording I did on Strava.

Stopped along the bride looking back to the Ponte Vecchio

Me on the bike.

View from the hill

View from the hill including me

A few more lessons in the history of Florence

The handlebar setup. Bell and back brake on the right. Eek !

Even with level "3" assist I had heaps of power. Level "5" was super fun....

Heading off after a small stop

All of the bikes.

View back to Ponte Vecchio

Our favourite panini shop

Surviving the Italian Postal System

Waiting for my ticket to be called

An electric street cleaner in Florence

Some pictures from Sharon & Paul's cooking lesson. Note the price on the well aged balsamic vinegar.

Photos from Dinner :-

Water and Wine. The wine is a local speciality.

Pauls steak and my steak. Umm, Nom Nom Nom Nom.

Sharon, Emma's and Sue's meal (Sue and Emma had the same dish)

At the table, and Emma with our waiter.