Europe Day 7

Another day, another series of journal entries. This is Day 7 [though they were written on day 9 and 10], the second day on the bikes. In retrospect, this was one of my favorite days, both of the trip, and of my life. We drove through the mountains, and Maryrose and I cheated death once again. I’ve got pictures up for this day as well. Thanks much to Jay for helping set up http://europe.ronveenstra.com, a site I can feel safe directing my relatives and others who think I’m a decent person to.

Day 7

we just got back from visiting the giant cathedral in the city center (the baptistery and the duomo, I believe they’re called.) To call them impressive would be a horrible understatement. but hopefully I’ll get to that eventually.

When last I left off, we had fallen asleep in the 3 star Hotel. we woke up somewhat early the next morning, and had a free breakfast (we had kinda given up on the whole “there’s only two of us here” thing) After that, we loaded up the bikes, and got on our way again. Maryrose had all the major cities we were supposed to pass through written on her hand. including alternate routes depending on how far we decided to go during the day, and how well it was going. Mindy had the same list written on a piece of paper that Becky was holding on to (i think).

Okay, so we got going, and after we got out of that city (passing a few million hotels on the way, I might add.. it was really dark the night before. Man that sucked.) we started getting into smaller towns, and started into more mountainous roads. having successfully made it through that journey, I’ve got a different appreciating for the trip than I had during the experience, so I’ll describe both sensations:

during the trip

“This is insane, we’re going to die.” I occupied my mind with reporting to Maryrose every time we were going to get passed by a car or truck. She had mirrors, mind you, and I was probably annoying the hell out of her, but it was either do that, or focus on my fear of death. As the trip went on, the ride became a bit more stable, but there were still those moments when we would lose balance or control, and that ice cold chill that spreads from your stomach through the rest of your body, and makes your entire body tense up (and consequently crush Maryrose between your legs.) that made the trip unpleasant. Well that, plus the complete and utter certainty that if we were not currently lost, we soon would be…. that didn’t help either.

after the trip was done

“That was one of the most beautiful, exhilarating experiences of my life… a period of time I will hold with me until the day I die. It has become my new ‘happy place’.”

Anyway, the trip contines… no major problems. Maryrose and I were behind, and going slightly slower than Mindy and Becky, so much of the time was spent with just her and I and a wide open rode, and I’ll admit that the entire experience at that point was amazing. Shortly before we stopped for lunch, we passed by the Ferrari factory, and I scrambled to take a picture with Maryrose’s camera, nearly killing both of us in the process. Later that day, we were passed by a yellow Ferrari GTO, and I almost soiled myself right then and there.

[and aside: the vehicles in Italy are noticeably larger, on average, than the ones in Paris. I don’t know if it’s because the roads are larger (which they don’t seem to be), or if things are just kinda cheaper here, so people can afford it, or if wealthier people live here. A combination of that stuff, I’d imagine But there have been a TON of Mercedes and BMWs (we saw a BMW pulling a trailer up the mountain. that’s not something you see every day.) Then there was the Ferrari, the wicked looking Lotus we saw parked, and a handful of Porsches, and alpha Romeos. there have been quite a few SUVs here as well… There was only one in Paris, and it stuck out like a sore thumb.]

we stopped for lunch at the top of one of the hills, and ate at this pizza place. When we got the bill there was a charge for 4 “cuperrto”. we didn’t know what that was, so Maryrose went inside and asked the lady what it was. the lady said something like “1,2,3,4 person”. Maryrose must’ve said something about how we didn’t order that or something, anyway, the lady knocked the price of that down a few bucks, (prolly chopped in in half, about), and we called it good. we paid, and got going again. [Remember that cuperrto thing…]

The next hour or two was excellent. Before eating I had prayed my prayer, and mentioned that if God could keep us from dying on the next part of the trip on these bikes, I’d really appreciate it. I didn’t really feel a response at all, but assumed God was kewl with my idea. well, when we got going again, not 5 minutes from the restaurant we hit this straightaway that wasn’t blocked by trees at all, and you could see out across the mountains for miles, and you could see all the cities we had passed through, and all the cities we were headed towards, and the beauty of that scene was beyond description.. and I couldn’t help but feel like God was saying “dude, you’re biking through the hills of Europe, and you’re still complaining about stuff? Just shut up and enjoy it for a while.” yes, in my mind God says “dude” a good bit. So for the next couple of hours I was having a good time.. nix that.. I was having a spectacular time.. I took a number of videos as we zipped (and putted, the corners still proved a bit tricky) around the hills of Italy. We zoomed through breathtaking forests, and by scenic overlooks that put postcards to shame. that section of the trip [for some] made the motorbikes worthwhile… I can say having survived the process that that part of the trick was definitely worth it… and if that was the only experience I had with those bikes, they would have been the most worthwhile investment of the entire trip. I can’t really describe how amazing it was.. Just imagine a tourist video of the hills of Italy, with a helicopter flying around and over these small villages on the sides of mountains, then add to that the thrill of zipping around on small mountain roads with the cool air whizzing by you.. and that’s what you’ve got. Spectacular. Again I say, Spectacular.

So we get out of the mountains, and we’re headed towards these two towns [Abetone and Lucca] and every time Maryrose and I saw the signs for Lucca we [at first in our head, then later out loud] sang “my name is Luca”. On the mountains, around tight corners, there were these big round mirrors to help you see around the other side. I thought that was pretty clever. Mindy said they had them in the states too. I didn’t think that made them any less clever, but they seemed unimpressed. [Oh well… Becky seemed to appreciate it, anyway]

We were headed to Florence, and we got out of the mountain roads, and started hitting a bit busier areas of the road.. and then there was a split. By this time Mindy and Becky were a good ways ahead of us again, so we didn’t see them. Maryrose and I took the path to Florence, and it turned into a somewhat major highway, which neither of us wanted… [but which turned out to be the right way]… we didn’t see Becky or Mindy anywhere, so we pulled off, hoping to head back to the split, and take the other way.. at this point Maryrose informed me that she couldn’t drive and navigate at the same time, so I was going to have to tell her where to go… keep in mind I was not at all involved in the planning process [which didn’t really exist, near as I can tell], and I had no idea where we were going. So I got her back to the exit we took.. and after that I was pretty much lost. She told me to look out for signs.. so I’d tell her what the signs said… that wasn’t what she wanted. .. She told me that we were headed to Florence.. but I never saw Florence on the map…


we’re currently in a car (a FIAT), driving to Rome. It ought to take us about 3 hours, the rental guy said.. We’ve gotten lost once since getting in the car, but it was very minor. I have faith in Maryrose’s ability to get us there without having to deal with the stress of the whole Motorbike situation.

When last I let off, Maryrose and I were lost, couldn’t find Mindy or Becky, and didn’t know exactly where we were going. We had planned on heading to the train station, in the hopes of meeting up with the other girls.. so after a few minutes. (somewhere between 5 and 30 minutes. the decision was somewhat fluid for a while, I think) Maryrose and I decided to just head to the train station and meet Becky and Mindy there.

Like I said before, Maryrose wanted me to tell her where to go, and I had no clue, and couldn’t find Florence on the street signs at all. well, after reading off another sign to her, I noted Fiorenze, and remembered that I’m pretty retarded, and that we were in Italy. So I put those pieces together, and realized that Fiorenze is Florence. So now that we both knew that, we got turned around, and ended up back on that highway-like road [the one that was the right road, but we thought was wrong.. that one]. we rode that for a little while.

Aside: They don’t censor the music on the radio here. we’re listening to some rap, and the f-bomb is flying frequently.

Okay, so we’re on this road, and there are signs for Fiorenze, and were following them, and all is good for a while. Now there were two road numbers associated with Florance, the A11, and something like ss337..

just got back from Burger King. it was really good.. They seem to love the mayo out here though.

Okay, so Maryrose and I are headed to Florence, and we’re following the signs, and all is going well, though the roads are still a bit too busy for our tastes (2 lanes going in both directions.. not horrible, but I was fan of the one lane each direction mountain roads we had had before. So eventually we get a sign that points to the right for Florence, and we take it, and BOOM, about 10-15 lanes across, with a giant Toll station.

Shit!

We quick pull off to the side, and wrap around behind the service building (where all the toll workers park, I’d imagine.) We stop, share less than amused looks, and then ask this old man that happened to be standing back there a few questions:

“Do you speak English?”
[makes hand signal indicating either that he speaks a little bit of English, or that he has Parkinsons disease]
“Is there a way to Florence that is on a smaller road?”
“Is no problem, just take ticket, and go.” [points at the toll station]
“Are there smaller roads we can take?”
“Yes, ticket, then [makes hand signal for proceeding quickly forward, or that his hand is attempting to free itself from the rest of his arm.]. No problem.”
“Okay, thanks!”

As there was no way to get off of this thing without either taking the toll way, or riving the wrong way on a multi-lane highway, we knew what was coming.

We headed off, got the ticket in the booth, then gunned it. the speed limit varied between 80 and 100 kph, and we were averaging close to 80.. Traffic was averaging at least 120+, I’m assuming a lot more. I can’t think off words to describe it. If you could take that feeling and bottle it, extreme thrill seekers would get high off of it. Pure fear pushed aside by a flood of adrenaline. It was like I was watching myself in a movie, as our bike was zipping along, overburdened with weight, sitting [I’m not exaggerating] about 12 inches in front of a semi determined to teach us never again to visit Italy. I could have reached back and placed my hand on his grill. I quickly turned around, and said very calmly [I thought] “Okay.. we’ve got a truck behind us”. The truck then laid on his horn, zipped around us (still in the same lane as us.. we eased over to the shoulder a bit), and then cut us off rather tight. Trucks get the finger. We stayed on that tollway for about 20-25 minutes. After we got off, we just kinda sat there, thinking “well… there’s no reason at all why we’re not dead. So.. yeah…” God is good.

We pulled off onto this little parking lot, and a guy driving by looked over,so Maryrose asked “do you speak English?”

“yeah. hold on”.
he hopped out.
“Can you tell us how to get to the train station?”
“Oh.. you are very far away. You’ll need to head down this road [pointed to the road near us] for a ways, then you’ll hit this road [points to our map] then just head straight to the Fortezza, and from there, the station is right there [points to the station, circled in pen on our map. ] But you are very far, 2, maybe 3 kilometers.”

We somehow managed not to laugh when he said 2 or 3 kilometers was “very far” having just spent the past 2 days driving hundreds. We thanked him, and headed on our way.. smack into a traffic jam. We got stuck on the wrong side of a fork, and got forced onto what we first feared would be the expressway/tollway again. [it wasn’t, though it was another highway.] But in a traffic jam, all the motorcycles and scooters just go forward, in between cars and trucks, on the shoulder, wherever they fit, so we’re moving forward as well, though not as daring as some of the locals, who were more skilled at such maneuvers or hated life a lot more than can even be measured. A few scary moments there as well as we’ve got cars on either side of us zipping along while we are trying to maneuver. Once again, Maryrose managed to make it through without any casualties.we got onto the highway [it was a smaller highway, but it was a highway] and it was a standstill. Following the other bikers, we made it over to the shoulder, then gunned it… We easily cut an hour or two of waiting out of that part of the trip by doing 60 down the shoulder. We then took the next exit, which had signs for the city center (“centriono” . We had made it into Florence by taking the Tollway) We continued following signs heading towards the center until construction pushed us off course.

We were stopped at a red light alongside a small truck, so I turned to the driver, and the windows was open, so I said “Scussi, Fortezza?” he pointed forward, [speaking Italian] then pointed to the right… then paused, then speaking more Italian, pointed at himself, and we figured he meant to just follow him, which was kewl. so we followed him, including a few weaves around other cars to stay up with him, which I was pretty impressed with. [Those of you keeping notes might also notice that by asking directions, and doing so again as soon as we got off course, we managed to continue to get closer to our destination, rather than farther away, or just circling it for long stretches of time. there’s a lesson in there for some of you.] So we follow this guy, and after a number of turns and traffic circles, he pulls to the side (obviously at his stop, and points out the window as we pass to the left, and sure enough [see that Maryrose? “sure enough” try mocking me now…] there were signs for the Fortezza (a large structure right near the train station). I wave back and scream “Grazie!” as we we drive around it (it was kinda like a small enclosed city wall, with a park and a building inside it, I think), and I’m looking at the map (I’d had it in my hand since we got off the highway, when Maryrose told me to direct her again.), and after we made it around the side of the Fortezza, we hit more construction. Since we were somewhat near, we decided to just park (I was elated.. if you didn’t remember, I was not the biggest fan of the bikes.).

So we park, and just left our stuff on the bikes, and started walking. (Since I’m a complete and utter moron, I left my passport in my bag.) As we were walking, we saw parked a b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l Lotus. We just kinda looked at it for a while. then headed onward. About a block later, not seeing the station, we asked again, [see, again with the asking… it’s a good thing.] and a guy pointed us down one block… we headed that way, and there was the train station. Sweet. We walked over to it, and Maryrose told me to stay put at the entrance in case someone we knew (Mindy and Becky or the girls) showed up, and she’d go looking around.

so I sat in at the entrance to the train station for quite a while… people watching is fun. it’s also fun to try to create your own conversations for people who are speaking a foreign language near you. A little while later Maryrose reappeared.. left again, and soon reappeared with Mindy and Becky. They had taken back roads and made it to the station a little while before us.

We went to an Internet cafe, and Mindy and Maryrose checked their email to see if we’d heard from the girls, and Becky and I waited outside. Once they were done, Maryrose and I headed back to the bike, and our stuff was still there.. and there was much rejoicing. We hopped back on the bikes, and Maryrose told me to direct her back to the station. Crap. We managed to find it relatively soon.. but all the one way roads made it a bit more tricky than I had hoped. We followed Mindy and Becky, and eventually made it to the site where we’d be camping. We got our spot taken care of, brought the bikes down there… tipped them over a few times trying to set them on their kickstands, then finally got that all set up. Next was setting up the tent, which went just fine. We met a kindly old man camping right next to us from Holland. He spoke really good English, and explained that his wife likes 4 star hotels, and he likes camping, so every other year, they take separate vacations, and the opposite year, they vacation together. This year, he got to camp, an his wife was off somewhere else in fancy hotels. He seemed so friendly and almost cartoon-like in his appearance, that he didn’t seem real, and Maryrose and I seemed to find it funny whenever we saw him… [especially when he was sitting near us talking to the guy who was trying to score some pot].

So we got out tent set up, and our gear stowed, and headed off to a restaurant just down the street that gave s 10% discounts if we stayed at the camp. We got there, and the place seemed kinda fancy. Just beyond us, and still part of the restaurant I believe, was a fenced in soccer field where a bunch of guys were playing. that was kinda neat.

we ordered a bottle of wine, they all got big salads, I got a bowl of vegetable soup [it was amazingly good], then Mindy and Becky split a pizza, while Maryrose and I each had tortelli. It was quite filling. Afterwords, the 3 girls split 2 Tiramisu, and I had a coke. See, I don’t even like coke, but here, a cold coke is about equal to what I hope and pray sex is like. (And if sex isn’t as good as that coke, me and someone up there are going to have words…) We got the bill, and it had that cuperrto on it again.. so we asked what it was, and the guy said it was the service charge.. so essentially, it was the tip. So Maryrose had complained/talked the woman at lunch out of about half her tip. We found that funny. After that, it was late, and the wine was working its way through all of us [including Becky, who was becoming more corrupted by us every day], so we started to walk back. We took a roundabout way, and walked to this scenic overlook (our camp was at the top of this hill, next to this overlook that had a copy of a sculpture by Michaelangelo, I believe) So we looked out over Florence at night, and it was beautiful. After some time, we headed back, took showers (they have facilities at the camp site, thankfully) then headed to sleep. I’m not a huge fan of sleeping on the ground, mainly because I’d like to really enjoy sleep, and the ground is uncomfortable, and there wasn’t much room in the tent with 4 people and all our packs., and I couldn’t bend my right leg or left wrist… anyway, I didn’t sleep all that great, but I was just jazzed we wouldn’t be biking all day the next day.

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