When I think of Italy I have visions of Audrey Hepburn sitting on the back of Gregory Peck’s scooter zooming through the streets of Rome. I see fast racecars stuck in traffic in Florence. Most of all I see bicycles, an endless stream of bicycles.
Long before the motorcar the bicycle was getting the citizens of Italy around their villages, towns, and cities. As modern technology invaded, automobiles gained popularity and bike sales dropped. However, according to a BBC report, bike sales surpassed car sales in 2011 for the first time in decades thanks to rising petrol prices and a weakened economy.
The bike was having a comeback. I needed to know what this phenomenon was all about. The kids were more than happy to tag along. Ferrara, Italy was the perfect place to see what all the fuss was about.
As we entered the city walls of Ferrara in Mid-October 2012, I noticed bikes and cars sharing the roads. There were no bike lanes. These were simply alternative vehicles to get locals around their city. Larger cities in Italy might not be as bike friendly, but Ferrara seemed to have made room for transportation of a different kind.
Mothers whizzed by with school children on the back as they headed home from school. Couples lounged on the grass around the Piazza Ariostea with their bikes at their feet, enjoying a gelato as the sun set over the city. Others had baskets on the front of their bikes filled to the brim with the ingredients for their evening meal.
Bikes just seemed to be the way to go.
A few days after our arrival we finally mounted our own two-wheeled steeds to head into town and explore like locals. The friend I was visiting had enough bikes and kid seats for her two daughters and my two boys. Helmets for the kids were passed around and snapped on.
Helmets are still a bit of a novelty for the Italian locals. My American friend considers them a must for her kids, as do we. She did inform me that the government was trying to promote children wearing helmets; it just hadn’t quite caught on yet. Whether adults would ever don a helmet is another story. With the Italian fashion sense I doubt it would ever be brought up for public debate.
Exploring the city on two wheels was an entirely new experience for my family. We normally walked or drove everywhere. We have one bike at home that we have never even used. We’ve just been waiting for Dek to be old enough to go out with us. Silly I know.
My friend and I raced the kids through the streets of Ferrara, past the cathedral and Castello Estense, through city hall and down the back streets. Dek held onto my back and giggled with pure joy as the wind rushed past his face. Ty at 5 months old wasn’t so sure about the whole outing, but put up with it all the same.
The beauty of discovering the city by bike was that we were not hindered by traffic, or delayed while trying to find a parking spot. Yes, there are rules to the road for bikes and where you can park them, but bicycles also have many of the same rights as pedestrians. They can even travel down pedestrian only roads and lanes.
Once Mike joined our escapades we snagged a babysitter so we could double date with our friends. There was no talk of driving into town. We were going to bike. Apparently so was everyone else in Ferrara. Friday night was packed with bicycles in front of wine bars and friends enjoying the start of the weekend. After drinks we pulled our bikes right up to the restaurant where we had reservations; no valet needed. We just locked the bikes together and strolled on in.
Quick trips to grab an afternoon gelato, pizza take-out, and even a trip to the weekly market to grab fresh produce, buffalo mozzarella cheese, and prosciutto would fill the rest of our time as we continued to enjoy all that Ferrara had to offer. We may have been beginners when it came to exploring a city by bike, but Italy has a way of seeping into your soul. Biking as a means of transportation had wiggled its way into our lives, just as it has done with local Italians for generations. Will oil prices continue to lead Italians towards two-wheeled vehicles? I don’t know, but I think it will still remain a symbol of Italy for a few more generations.
To read more about our foray into to the world of biking as a family read my guest post over at Family Ramblings.
walking on travels: keep traveling, keep moving forward;
take your kids walking on life’s path to adventure