They wear the latest strappy numbers with matching sandals, and perhaps even a headband to catch their perfectly formed beads of sweat.
Well, that doesn’t happen in my world … here it is dominated by form follows function! Sure, I’ve got a pair of fabulous Italian strappy sandals. They’re an outrageous lime green that I can somehow pull off with most of what’s lurking in my summer wardrobe.
By now, they’re about 5 or 6 years old. I’ve needed to call upon my husband to caringly glue the leather upper back onto the sole. Why? Because I’m too stingy to buy another pair? Not at all. I have done … but they’re not as comfortable, or as wearable.
What’s this got to do with cycling, you might ask? As much as I adore these happy green shoes, they don’t cut the mustard when I need to be active. Like cycling around Garda Lake. Instead, I opt for my even older and trustier pair of Rockies; my first birthday present from Marcel :-). Back then, a far cry from the stilletos and over-styled, impractical gear my feet were forced to bear. These Rockies are ready for any terrain and don’t slip off bicycle pedals. I fondly describe them as “stoer” [Dutch for tough …].
Not impervious to looking presentable, however, I do try to match my outfit as best I can. For my cycling-in-Italy attire, the choice fell onto a sensible tee and shorts to go with the shoes. I felt comfortable and confident and could mingle with the fashionable without feeling like a flea.
We set off from Cisano di Bardolino where we were sharing one of those “static” mobile homes (why call them mobile?) with Simon, Mikki and nieces Jaidinn and Khiana. The cycling bug hadn’t bitten them yet, so they opted for an autoroute to Manerba. Fair enough – we wouldn’t have made it that far. Okay, Marcel maybe … but not yours truly.
Especially with a saddle cast out granite that clasped its frame rigidly with every single jolt. I missed my Giant’s suspension that softens each blow between cycle and saddle, and the way my seat breathes in the middle. Gel cushioning that prevents chafing and undue bothersomeness. I can travel far and wide on that bike. My personal best in one day is a 52-km ride in Osnabruck … complete with steep hills!
However, by the time we reached Mattarana (not even 9km’s!) I was feeling every single bump. Pebbles were boulders shattering my spine. There was no cushioning or comfort factor.
The rental bike’s single saving grace was the child seat. We could store a camera, our costumes and bottled aqua. Gee, I was even missing my saddlebags … Isn’t it weird how we want to travel and experience new things, but then complain (even if just to ourselves) that it’s not the same? Hello!
It was nearing midday. My garments clung to my body betraying my overheatedness. Marcel’s shoulders demanded relief from the relentless olive sun. So we did what Westerners do on holiday, we went shopping. Time to get the proverbial Tee. Even if it donned an “I’m a tourist, look at me” or some other marketing blurb, as long as it was sun-resistant and had some sleeves.
Reaching Peschiera del Garda, we stumbled across the tail-end of a market. Marcel gets lucky with a white T that has Italia emblazoned in stylish pale blue. I find a delightful (read cooler, lighter and easy-to-wear) dress that’s also quite pleasing to the eye. Just a minor detail … One little snag. How do I pull it off with my tire tracks? Hmmm.
Sirmione is about 22 or 23 km’s away from Cisano. Peschiera’s about halfway. At this stage, the ferry was looking VERY good. Gasp! There’s no ferry to or from Sirmione. How badly do we want to go there? C’mon kiddo, dig deep – you can do it!
Swimming in the lake
Delaying the inevitable, we welcomed the chance for a refreshing swim. Using the distraction method, the pebbles eased the pain in my derriere by doing battle with my tender footsies. A free tip: if you’re heading to the lake, don’t forget the ol’ aqua shoes.
Then I decided. Call the fashion police if you must. I contravened my summery blue dress with inappropriate sandals. Feeling bold and full of grit, I adopted an air of ‘Je ne sais quoi’ and cycled on.
We reached our destination and were instantly disposed of our bikes. Armani-suits barked orders: pedestrians only! Once inside Sirmione, we could understand why. People, people and more people. With Gelati ice-cream parlours to match. Man, that lemon sorbet was good!! We walked around a couple of hours and were pleasantly surprised to discover a sculpture park in honour of Maria Callas, who had an apartment there during her later years.
The boardwalk is lovely, with a gorgeous beach on the right and olive groves to the left. The afternoon sun suggested a prudent retreat. Collecting our bikes we weighed up the options: cycle 10 km’s back to Peschiera to catch the ferry, or another 22 back to Cisano. Hmmm. The decision was quickly made.
The peschiera ferry
The sidewalk café offered relief and refreshment as the ferry chugged into port. We stowed our bicycles up front and enjoyed what has to be the most relaxing form of public transport ever invented.
Watching passengers embark and disembark, I was impressed by the local understanding of Italian law: FORM = FUNCTION that I’m guessing they were spoon-fed style and fashion. They grew up with it and it oozes from every pore. The rest of us are just (trying to) playing catch-up.
However, what I have learned in the last ten years, is to be true to myself. I wear what I do because of my day’s needs and then how the clothes make me feel and/or look. I believe that however fashionable an item is, it’s less important than enjoying the freedom of being me.