It was exactly the kind of day in Florence that I had hoped for. Though still early and dewy, the sun had that kind of powerful and undisturbed warmth that holds so much promise.
I began to walk, smiling at the ache in my feet, which I must have been too distracted to notice as I toured Milan the day before. I made my way into the center, and after devouring an entire pizza for the nutrients I knew I would need for the day (or so I convinced myself) I had a brilliant idea. Today I will see Florence by bike.
I shivered with my first strides on the bike, wearing only the thin vintage coat I’d purchased the day before in Milan, which was marked obscurely with Made in Italy and was made of the softest fabric that rendered my instant adoration. A light pink scarf that hung from a vendor’s stand in the street was an answered prayer, its soft cashmere making up for my thin outerwear.
Once warm, I found peace on this bike. Unlike London, I didn’t ever fear a fatal collision with a car was in my near future, so I rode on with ease, up and down the river, through parts of the city I hadn’t seen yet, over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and around lovely gardens and parks.
I found myself by chance at the bottom of the Piazzale Michelangelo, a beautiful square that’s set atop a giant hill, offering the best panoramic view of Florence. I was tired but I climbed up anyways, stopping at the various landing points to snap some timed photos of myself without too much embarrassment. (I’m a huge fan of travelling solo, as you may have noticed, but getting photos – with yourself in them – sadly isn’t one of the benefits).
As I reached the four-hour deadline of my pre-paid bike rental, I was just minutes from the shop. I propped my bike up against the side of the building, and pushed on the handle. The door was locked. Through the glass I could see that the shop was empty.
I stood aimlessly for a few moments, wondering if bike rental returns were handled differently in this country. Should I just leave it here on the stoop? I thought to myself. I decided against it, fearing my recorded credit card number would be compromised, and rode towards the vintage store I intended on reaching later by foot.
I rode, and I rode, and I rode some more. I rode in circles for a while in search of the vintage store I had seen only hours before. I knew exactly where it was and yet, when I thought I was close, I realized I didn’t recognize any of the streets that surrounded me. I was lost in Florence, by bike.
I began to panic, riding faster down a street that was entirely new to me, silently criticizing myself for my stupidity and lack of direction. A slight ruffling noise interrupted my thoughts, though its subtle nature didn’t seem threatening, so I rode on for a while ignoring it.
Finally I looked down to see what it was, nearly falling off my bike at the realization. The lovely light blue, delicate fabric of my beloved vintage jacket was caught in the vicious wheel of my bike rental. Shocked and perturbed, I brought my bike to a halt, and stood defiantly in the street, clutching the fabric to assess the damage. The image of the black grease marks that smothered and scuffed the lower parts of the jacket in soot-like filth marked my first Italian moment of rage.
I was cussing on an unknown street in Florence.
It was a miracle to discover that this unknown street led directly to my hotel, though. I all but threw my bike to the ground, struggling with the key of the bike lock, and ran up to my room to scrub frantically with a toothbrush and a bar of soap. I let out a sigh of relief, the damage more or less repaired, and folded the jacket neatly in the basket of my bike, leaving the wet parts exposed for the sun to dry. By this point I was too tired and stressed to shop, so I threw out the idea of the vintage store. I must get this god forsaken bike back, I thought, relieved to find that the shop owner had returned, and the front door opened with ease.I waited for my confirmation to leave.
Okay, so I’ll just need the key to the lock, she said to me. My stomach sank. Even before I looked in my purse, I knew it would be lost, and my efforts to find it only confirmed my instinctual reaction. So after ultimately doubling the cost of the bike rental due to my irresponsible loss of that tiny key, I figured I’d make the most of the situation. I left the shop with three recommendations for dinner, which the shop owner promised would offer the best pasta ever. And when I sat down at the chosen one, after a day that came with the negativity of three, I figured I could solve it with the positivity of three in sustenance form.
And it worked perfectly. A half-liter of wine, a plate of pasta, and another plate of pasta erased all of my earlier bike-ride misfortunes. And she was right. It was the best pasta ever. When I got home that night ready for nothing more than sleep, I could only laugh – half drunk – at what I saw in the mirror. My left ear was barren of a pearl earring, the backing still stuck to back of my lobe.
I went to bed smiling that night, belly stuffed full, deciding that though it perhaps wasn’t exactly the day in Florence I had hoped for, it was certainly close enough.