Sun 28th July.
Trouble in Modena.
A beautiful sunrise filled the streets and alleyways of Parma. Yoav and I had toast and coffee finishing up the hummus he had made a few days ago, easily the best hummus I’ve ever had. I asked him his secret and he said it was all in the tahini, which he got from home. I had tried to make the paste before, but the consistency was strange and it was too hot.
I packed up my clothes from his rooftop and took in his unique workplace and home. I said thanks and to look me up if he came to London to further his violin making career.
I cycled to the other parts of the city that I didn’t see the day before. There was a square and a small network of streets, with shops spreading outwards, all surrounded by beautiful classical and neo-classical buildings that dated back hundreds–if not thousands–of years. It had a real vibrancy and atmosphere, also it was busy given it was a Sunday.
It was a fantastic place and completely mesmerising. I’d always wanted to come and live in a place like this, to absorb the atmosphere of the place over a long period of time. I daydreamed about living here and working, perhaps owning a bike-shop. Nothing but bikes in an Italian setting, good food, beautiful people and long evenings.
I had another host in Modena, 36 miles (58km) to the east, famous around the world for its balsamic vinegar. The road between cities were very similar. There wasn’t much to see apart from the occasional shop or bar and there was rarely an expanse of distant countryside that broke up the mundanity of surroundings.
I passed a ‘Bimbo store’ which made me laugh. Bimbo translating as baby, no implications that it might be a store devoted to ditsy women.
I got to Modena and I had a quick scout around the city to get to know the surroundings and look at the popular monuments of all cities. No-one was out and few shops were open, making eating difficult. I found was a small fast-food place that did pizza and a number of other greasy treats. Behold my first bad Italian meal. It wasn’t too bad, but lacked the magic and surprise of the pizza in Modena. I’d heard it was quite hard to find a bad Italian meal in Italy, here was number one.
Finding guests was always fairly difficult and time consuming, based on how much preparation you’d done beforehand. Securing a place to stay through Warmshowers (the hosting website for cyclists) usually happened in about five transactions of communication, usually something like this:
Me – “Hello, I’m on a large cycling trip and it would be a huge help if I could stay with you next Monday”
Host – “Hi Alex. Great to be hearing from you, we’ll be in then and glad to show you round.”
Me – “Thank you so much. This will be amazing, you’re amazing. What’s your address exactly, in case the pin on the map is inaccurate?” (which is frequently was, something I learned many times over).
Host – “Hey, our address is xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. See you soon. P.s. We have a dog”
Me – “Excellent, you’re amazing, thanks again, did I say your amazing? See you soon. P.s. I love dogs.”
That’s the ideal scenario, usually with a few phone numbers and more detailed descriptions of how to find them thrown in for good measure. Naturally each part of the correspondence happens once per day, sometimes slower, depending on how frequent an internet checker your host is.
If it’s slow you can arrive with very little information relying solely on a point on the map which is rarely accurate (look up your favourite bar or pub on Google maps and see where it pitches it, same thing).
In this instance I was at stage three and waiting for an accurate address, which I didn’t have. I went on a plot on a map with no house number and hope for the best. Not surprisingly, I wasted a few hours and had to flee to a McDonald’s in panic and use their wi-fi. Thankfully, Luca had come through in my hour of need. It was in the polar opposite part of the city. The pin was northwest, Luca was southeast. Hence the importance of preparation.
When I got to Luca’s house it was getting late. Thankful to have a place to stay by the skin of my teeth, I took in what would’ve been a near-camping situation (the heat) and rang the bell.
Luca’s parents was home with his grandparents and sister, who were eating dinner. He greeted me warmly, let me in the back and returned to dinner, after showing me where things were. I had a shower and settled in before he returned.
Luca had just finished a degree in architecture and was the same age as me. He was very enthusiastic and was an avid cyclist too. Another friend of his would be staying that night too, a German friend who was on his way to see his girlfriend in Rome. He arrived around 9 after having driven all day. He was called Lasse Limbach.
We settled in and had a few beers to celebrate the fortunate timings that brought us all together. Luca’s grandparents came down to meet us before bed. His grandfather didn’t know any english, but spoke a bit of German with Lasse, which astonished me. I naively assumed that most people’s second tongue would be a bit of english and here he was speaking german. I assumed it was largely due to the connection between Italy and Germany from World War II.