Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Epic Bicyclette Hunt Part 1

For two and a half months we are living near the very center of the medieval part of a small city. If we had a car, traffic restrictions are such that we would have to park at least 5 or 6 blocks away. Only taxis, local traffic, handicapped, and emergency vehicles are allowed to drive in our area, and there is virtually no parking available. We decided even before arriving to forgo living with a car, and rely solely on public transit, our own locomotion and the occasional taxi.

When we arrived and got oriented enough, we realized that we needed a bit of something more than our own feet and the bus and train, at least for the little ones who weren't so used to walking so much. At the merest mention by some of our friends of a bike shop nearby that sold inexpensive used bicycles, we decided that would be the best way for us to get around in our new (short-term) home. Okay, so then we just buy some bikes, right?

Well........not quite. The bike shop was reputed to be adjacent to the train station, an easy landmark we all new. My Man had a quick look for it on the way to or from work one day and didn't locate it. So the girls and I had a quick little look for it on the way to Esselunga (the grocery supermarket here) which is nearby the train station as well. We didn't find it either, but again, not really a serious look. So after I got home, later that night I looked it up on Google Maps, pinpointed the location and set out armed with a map and my adventuresome girls a few days later, determined to find it.

We left at about 11:30 AM, usually a disasterous time to depart for anywhere for us, due to a slightly hypo-glycemic disposition that everyone in our little family shares. We were on a mission, so we went anyway. Bravely going where no hypo-glycemic Canadian has gone before! We walked for about twenty five minutes to the pinpoint on the google map. Nothing. It was a faceless, windowless office building. No shops there. Okay well maybe the pin point isn't that accurate, so lets walk around the block, along the narrow medieval road just behind the office building and see if its over there. Definitely more likely. Again, nothing. Although there was a middle-school getting out for the midday siesta break, and the road was crowded with boisterous Italian kids all wearing the same backpack in different colours.

Bracing myself for the imminent disappointment combined with hunger I thought would be coming from the girls, I gently suggested we head home for lunch and try again another day. I was impressed to notice their cheerful, relaxed and flexible moods; and tried to give them every possible positive affirmation for how great it was to explore with children who were so cheery. I think it was them that saved me from having a sense of failure about the bikes; and it was probably because of that that as a family we decided to spend our oh-so-precious Saturday time together acquiring bicycles.

My Man and I had written off the train station bike shop as mythical, and instead he looked up a couple others, wrote down their names, hours and addresses, marked them on our map and again we set out. This time we hopped on a bus bound for an area East of town that wasn't even on our map. We happened upon a bike repair shop within the first few blocks of our journey (before we even got on the bus), hoping they also sold the occasional bike. We asked if they sold any, but the fellow there spoke no English and in our very limited Italian, we understood that we should come back a different day (for someone who did speak English or for available used bikes?). We then walked for about twenty minutes (crossing the lovely canal below on the way) before we even found the bus stop, but find it we did. Victory number one! After waiting for fifteen minutes, and assuming the bus very late or not running for some reason, we had victory number two, we got on it!

Between the two of us we looked after the children and simultaneously followed what map we had and the numbered addresses and street names quickly flashing by. My man figured out that we were at the right spot, so we quickly hopped off the bus. Victory number three, there is a bike shop across the busy street! We scan ahead for a cross walk (it is scary enough crossing Italian streets with them, I would definitely avoid trying without!) and see one quite close by. We skip up to it, cross over and skip down to the shop. It is closed. There are two men outside it, one of whom looks a bit proprietary. So we ask, "aperto?" The other man, noticing our inadequate Italian, starts speaking to us in English (what a relief!) and assures us that his friend is indeed the shopkeeper. He translates for us and his friend the shopkeeper reopens the door (it is still within his opening hours), and discusses what we are looking for with us.

Unfortunately he only carries high-end new mountain bikes, and hundreds of Euros seems a lot for a bike we won't take home with us when we go. He does have one pretty shiny pink used women's city bike for 70 Euros, but that is a bit more than what we were hoping to pay and there are no children's bikes at all. My eldest is confident on a bicycle, and there really is no point in me getting a bike until we can find one for her, and a bike seat for her little sister. The guys are both really helpful and go so far as to point out another shop on the other end of town we should try. They give us the name and directions and even write out a note saying what we want (in Italian) for us to take with us, knowing they speak no English over at the other shop. So we say 'grazia' and head out to go back home via bus. Then they go above and beyond, and our kind translator offers us a ride to the covered bridge (near where we live and the gateway to where the other shop is).

It is so generous and we are tired and he seems respectable, so we gratefully accept the ride. We get to know him a bit better on the way and find out that he runs a business manufacturing bra parts, and earns a living at it despite the stiff competition from the Chinese. He learns we are Canadian and has actually been to Canada, but not to BC. He hopes to go to our beautiful home of Vancouver Island one day for all the good mountain biking. At the end of the ride we thank him profusely again and walk away for a gelato before we go for another long walk, one friend richer.

Gelati in hand (at dinner time, prior to eating) and tired Sparkle on my back we cross the bridge feeling ever hopeful.......

Next instalment coming soon! And I am looking for pictures for this one too.

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