When I needed a name for my website I used Wobbly Wheel as a metaphor – but I have now EARNED the name! I came to Parma for one thing – Parmigiano-Reggiano! Upon arrival I discover that all of the dairies are outside of town and you must have a car or go through a tour – and all the tours were booked! Except for one – the Bicycle Tour!
Well, I didn’t come all this way not to see the Parmigiano-Reggiano wheels! I arrived bright and early worried about how I was going to fit in with the other riders only to find out – I’m the only one that booked the tour! So off we go – my amazing tour guide Davido (left home at 19 which is not normal in Italy to go to school and study gastronomy and pursue his dream of having a bike food tour). We ride 8 miles outside of Parma to the dairy where I saw, smelled and learned everything there was to know about Parmigiano-Reggiano – and because I needed energy to ride back to town – tasted several amazing ages of cheese!
I’ll shift gears (I actually tried once on the bike and had to stop and have him help me!) and say that when I arrived in Parma I was not impressed. It’s a city – not a quaint town like Venice and Aosta. I could not find ‘the charm’ and was starting to rethink my decision to spend two nights here. After the dairy – we peddled through town and he stopped and showed me the sights: an amazing octagonal Battistero made of pink Verona marble outside and covered in frescoes and paintings inside; the Cattedrale di Parma with it’s basic, boring exterior but extraordinary painted inside; the Farnese Teatro – a theater built completely of wood and plaster painted to look like marble and the Palazzo dell Piloutta – the housing for the help of the royal family that was never finished and they changed the intended use. Many of the structures were constructed beginning in 1000, however most of them were never completed as originally conceived. There is not a lot of literature, plaques or information about them, and since they’re all very plain on the outside, you would pass them by and never give it a thought. By the end of our 17 mile bike ride learned that ‘the charm’ of Parma is the simplicity. We stopped by a ‘food lab’ owned by a good friend of his and tried different cold cuts (pigs throat!) and local foods. The good thing about menus not being in English is that you don’t know what you’re eating until it’s too late and you already like it!
I will report – no tourists were harmed during the ride – although I did owe apologies to a couple of locals – and I am now literally the wobbly wheel traveler!
Yesterday morning – two trains – and I’m in Cinque Terre!! Cinque Terre (meaning five lands) on the Northwest coast of Italy has hiking trails linking each of the towns, some running right along the cliffs of the towns. The towns have small paths through them, but no roads and are connected by train. I arrived after lunch and spent the afternoon in the little town of Vernazza, enjoying the amazing food, the sun and the gorgeous scenery. I assumed I was staying just a short distance from town as my host had told me to catch the shuttle. I would share photographs of the ride, but I was too scared to look out! I’m still not certain that putting a concrete barrier on top of the road that has washed out constitutes road repair, but the bus driver didn’t seem the least bit worried! I can honestly say I did not take the words ‘room with a view’ seriously enough!
This morning I woke up optimistic that the skies were going to clear and I would get to spend the day hiking to the other four towns. I had hoped to hike all five towns, however, some of the trails are closed due to the horrific floods/landslides of 2011 that still have not been repaired. But – never fear – the path with the 382 steps to the top was open! I was beginning to get a little down because I had looked so forward to this part of my trip and the weather was not cooperating – and then – I found my sunshine!
My lesson today was enjoy what you have when you have it. Don’t think you’ll see it tomorrow, talk to them tomorrow, relax in the sun tomorrow – enjoy it at that moment. Take the time to just stop – find your sunshine – find out the story of the person sitting next to you – because two hours later? A hail storm, some of the hardest rain ever, and hundreds of wet, mad tourist trying to get on a train in the pouring rain! At that point – I’d already found my sunshine so I just had to stop and laugh!
Enjoying my night in – the skies are starting to clear – and hopefully it will be clear skies as I pack up and head to FLORENCE!