Italy. Pretty fucking great, in a nutshell. Well, except for that hostel.
The latest mission was a flight into Bergamo, Italy on Friday after work. Catch the bus for an hour trip into Milan and walk to the hotel I had booked, about 3 miles from the station. The flight and bus went according to plan for the most part. The trip to the hostel, and the hostel itself for that matter were really freecking shady. Like sleep in your clothes and keep your wallet in your pocket shady. Otherwise, Italy delivered the goods.
Got off the bus about 11:30 PM and should have accepted a taxi, but I thought a great way to experience the city would be to walk through it… Turns out my hostel was in the shity part of Milan. But frankly, outside of what truly is a beautiful city center, I get the feeling a lot of Milan is the shity part of town. The streets were all dark and smelled of piss and exhaust. I kept my head down to avoid the hookers and pretended my gps was a cell phone so as not to draw attention to myself. By the way, my Garmin Edge has saved me several times now plus I can walk around a foreign city without obviously staring at a map and it’s shaped a lot like a phone, so it isn’t quite as obvious as some other GPS systems. That’s a handy trait in the dark alleys of Milano at midnight…
I got past the hookers and made the right onto a dark, dank ally and then finally my hostel and then crawl into the scrappy cot. I was wondering if my plans hadn’t gone a bit foul before even getting off the ground.
The morning walk into the city center was much better. Not much worry of trouble at 6 in the AM. Some caffe and pastry was getting me back on track.
“I’m drinking Italian coffee in Italy…”
That was a sweet realization.
There is as much discrepancy in coffee quality in Italy as there is in the states. Shops are usually called “bar” and not “coffee shop” over here and you can get beer or coffee. They are often tucked away in little back alleys and on almost every street corner. But here’s a quick comparison:
Mind blowing cappuccino and pastry from small store in alley: $3
So-so cappuccino and a water con gas near the Duomo: $12
There is definitely more flair in Italy compared to the UK, a bit more gloss and flash. Even the cops were stylish. The commuter bikes were nicer than in the UK, too. Most of the commuter bikes I’ve seen in Cambridge look like they’ve been pulled from the river (some have) and are covered in grease and the tires are flat and the colors are drab.
In Italy, the bikes are ornate and lugged and colorful. It’s almost an addition to the wardrobe as much as a tool for transportation.
Hmmm, fantastic cappuccino, friendly people, nice bikes. I think I could live here. Oh yeah, the Alps, too. But that’s next weekend…
This weekend is all about watching a bike race. Even though I like to race personally, I usually consider watching a race to be a bit boring. But this was special. It’s been a bit of a dream to watch a stage of a Grand Tour for a good ten years now, and I think the tour of Italy is probably my top choice out of the three to watch. With the drama, history, and fanfair you’d expect, but just a bit grittier, perhaps than the French example, like it’s still a working man’s way out of hard labor in the mines or something. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to see if my assessment is accurate later this summer.
Even with the riders protest in Milan (which I didn’t even know about until the next day since I was on a different part of the course and the announcements were in Italian), the race absolutely lived up to my expectations. It’s not just about the racing. If it were, I would have stayed home and watched it on TV where I could see every move. No, the goal was to be a participant in the crowed, to be part of the drama that makes the race what it is, a big circus. To be on the sides with the massive crowds, catching the goofy Giro swag that’s thrown, drinking Italian beer in the grass as the riders go by, the smell of the city and the heat of the sun all around you. Everyone sweaty and hot and cheering. Old men, families, shop keepers. Everyone coming out to see the big race. That was what I wanted to experience and the Giro delivered in spades.
That evening, I jumped back on the plane for the UK. I got in bed around 2AM and then work the next morning at 8… dead tired but very satisfied.