Whenever I travel, whether its to a local park or to Europe, I try to formulate a shot list in my head. I’ll research a location online, read the travel guides, look at great photographs of the area and try to formulate a few ideas about capturing the essence of a place in the short time I’m there.
It’s not always the great, well known landmarks, those draw in the tourists and travelers, but what makes the place special to the locals, What makes people come back to a location for a second, third or lifetime of visits. Is it the sidewalk cafes, the people strolling the avenues, the smells, the sights, the sound, the tastes?
One of the things that caught my eye in Italy was how people got around the cities. Small cars, motor-scooters and bicycles with baskets on the front for holding a bit of fresh made pasta and a bottle of wine for dinner.
On the ancient cobblestone streets of Rome, the perfect way to get around the busy streets is a city bike with a basket on front.
In the walled city of Lucca, Italy a bike with a basket is perfect for shopping or riding around the top of the ancient walls that circle the old city center.
We were on the Rick Steves “Heart of Italy Tour” which began with the “must see” sights of the Eternal City of Rome and went on to the Tuscan hill town ambiance of Volterra, the pedestrian-friendly streets of Lucca, harbor-hugging villages of the Cinque Terre, and the amazing art of Renaissance Florence.
On a bicycle
There is the possibility to hire any kind of bike in Rome: from tandem, road bikes, children bikes to trekking bikes. Some shops are even specialised only on high quality ones while street stands will hire you cheaper and heavy ones. Bicycling alone can be stressful because of the traffic: the best way to discover how to move around and avoid it first is with a guide, thanks to the tours offered by almost all rental shops. There are different itineraries offered from the basic city centre, panoramic Rome tour to the Ancient Parks (€29 for 4h). The experience is well worth it and you would reduce also your impact on the city’s environment.
Even moderately experienced cyclists, however, may find that cycling through Rome’s streets offers an unparalleled way to learn the city intimately and get around very cheaply and efficiently. While traffic in the city centre is certainly chaotic to someone from a country with more regimented and enforced rules of the road, Roman drivers are – generally speaking – used to seeing bicycles as well as motorcycles and one may move throughout the city relatively easily. Should you find yourself in a car’s way, they will generally let you know with a quick beep of the horn and wait for you to move.
A particularly spectacular, and relaxing, cycle trip is to pedal out along the via Appia Antica, the original Appian Way that linked much of Italy to Rome. Some of the original cobblestones, now worn by over two millenia of traffic, are still in place. With exceptionally light traffic in most sections, you can casually meander your bike over kilometres of incredible scenery and pass ancient relics and active archaeological sites throughout the journey.