Saturday 13 June – Firenze to Verona

I could take the train from Firenze to Verona with changes in Prato and Bologna, but manoeuvring the bicycle and the bags on and off trains and through stations is a pain best avoided when possible. I haven’t ridden in days. I’m keen to get back on the bicycle and just ride. So I set out to cover the 20 or so kilometres to Prato and skip one transfer.

I won’t say it’s a mistake – because I am glad to be back in the saddle – but it’s a pretty shitty ride. Not the suburban and light industrial areas I pass through to leave Florence but the 15 kilometres on an ugly, hot, heavily trafficked state highway. Motorists are, as usual, respectful but it is not a nice place to ride. Once on the train, however, the journey is smooth and easy.

I was in Verona with my then-husband in 2011. We were on our way to Bolzano and a walking holiday in the Dolomites. We had flown to Milan and arrived at this train station to begin that adventure. Ah, there’s the bar where we had coffees and, now, where is the city centre? Right out of the station and then a left. Ah, yes, just as I remember. It is strange revisiting a place we’d only visited together.

The Primavera B&B is run by a stooped older woman who speaks no English at all and tries to make up for it with an endless stream of rapidly spoken Italian. If she would just slow down and use only the key words I’m sure I would understand more of what she is saying, I’m sure of it.

She shows me a handwritten note explaining that from 9 am to midday the following morning all of central Verona is to be vacated while the authorities deal with undetonated World War II ordinance. “Bomba, bomba” she says and that much I understand.

Europe I think, where history isn’t just a story.

Sunday 14 June – Verona to Rovereto

There’s nothing like the anxiety of a small 80+ year old woman dashing about her B&B saying “bomba, bomba” to see me get on the road early. But there are two young guests who have barely stirred 20 minutes before we are all meant to be out of the city centre. When her increasingly frantic encouragement fails to register with them our hostess simply gathers her bag and leaves. I expect she is old enough to have some memories of le bombe falling on Italy – she isn’t prepared to fuck around.

I pedal through very quiet emptying streets and past emergency personnel manning blockades at the perimeter. And then, just like that, Verona, and her bombe, are behind me and I find myself on the pista ciclabile (or cycleway) I will follow for days to come.

If my ride to Prato yesterday was a reminder of how bad it can be, this is a reminder of how good it can be: a fully separated cycle/walking path which follows a canal. It is clean and busy with Sunday morning walkers, joggers and cyclists. It’s fantastic – I smile and feel a rising joy.

The day is overcast, warm, and humid; the riding is easy. I climb into a village, stop for coffee in the piazza and pop a couple of postcards in a letter box. This is just the sort of riding I imagined when I planned this trip.

I stand at a roundabout waiting for Google maps to tell me where I am when an old man on a Vespa approaches and offers help – in Italian, though he suggests German as an alternative. We muddle through in Italian but it’s a sign I have entered the German/Italian linguistic border zone and that the next few days will be particularly challenging. From here to Austria most people – while they favour one or the other – speak both German and Italian but not a lot of English.

Following his directions I rejoin the cycleway to find it even better than before – I am winding through vineyards, the walls of the valley fill my peripheral vision, the Adige River gushes – it looks icy cold and full of sediment, a sort of whitish green.

I stop for lunch in a village bar where the only other customers are two local men. They are drinking glasses of white wine and having an animated conversation which might be an argument. Some rain begins to fall as I ride on. It gets heavier and I pull on my jacket. Just as it switches from steady to heavy I come to a Bici Grill – a café situated right on the cycleway. They have WiFi, coffee and a selection of cakes – I stay a while and watch the rain fall.

All day I have been going back and forth with a possible Warm Showers host in Rovereto. The actual host is away but her flatmate will look after me although he’s out of town until 9 pm. As the sun doesn’t set until then and I still have plenty of riding to do this suits me fine.

Rovereto is a pretty place with a fantastic old town area which seemed, in my 13 hours there, under-touristed. In the gloaming I push my bicycle through the meandering cobblestone streets as a nearby church bell strikes nine.

Fahmi, the host’s flatmate, is helpful and pleasant if, I think, a little unsure what this hosting thing involves. He is one of several flatmates – they seem to be a group of students. He greets me, helps with the bags, shows me a room, gives me sheets, asks where I am from and assures me if I need anything at all to simply ask. And, with that, I am left alone.

I have ridden about 83 kilometres and have a similar day tomorrow so I’m happy to not have to socialise. I shower, make the bed, and fall asleep.

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