Postcard from Ferrara, Italy: Bicyclists rule both streets and sidewalks

How stereotypical to post photos of bicycles in Italy.

But Ferrara is different. It seems almost as though everyone has a bicycle, whether young or old. In contrast to many Italian cities, there were few motorcycles and Vespas zipping around.

The bike traffic is constant, and pedestrians, particularly distracted tourists gazing at the architecture, need to be wary. If automobile traffic laws apply to bicyclists, no one seems to have notified them in Ferrara. While cars yield to “walk” lights, bicyclists rarely do.

There are riders crisscrossing plazas running errands to pick up groceries, flowers or laundry. Parents ride to collect children from school or daycare, the children perched on seats attached to the front, back or both. A young adult talks her mother into sitting on the crossbar after lunch. Silver-haired gangs of retirees pedal to gather in the squares. Suits ride to work on bikes tricked out with handsome leather seats and matching saddlebags, and women dressed to the nines wearing spiked heels somehow manage to maneuver astride bikes as well.

From a pedestrian point of view, bicyclists reading texts were particularly scary. And, observing one ancient woman (meaning even older than this blogger who once had some kid start humming the Wicked Witch of the East theme song when I pedaled through downtown San Antonio) weaving obliviously in the middle of several lanes of traffic, I wondered: Do children in Italy struggle with the dilemma of at what age do you take away your parents’ bicycles?

Self-driving automobiles appear to be arriving in time to offer many in my generation an opportunity to remain behind the wheel a few extra years, but is anyone developing a self-driving bike for Italian seniors?

À vous de jouer: Random snapshots and superficial observations of Montréal

You fly in and plop into a setting without any logical geographical approach; obviously your impressions are superficial. So I do not pretend to delve into the distinctions between North American neighbors, Canada and the United States. This is a quick take from someone who has lived in Texas, a long way from that border, for all her adult life.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

1. How ignorant am I? Up until I climbed Mont Royal, I was clueless that was the derivation of the name of the city I was visiting.

2. Staying in the Mont Royal Plateau area, we were plunged into a land where everyone was youthful. Frequenting Southtown San Antonio, we’re accustomed to being the oldest one in a restaurant.

3. Montrealers are fit. They walk; they ride bikes; they climb stairs. While we were there, the marathon ended a few blocks from our house. We walked a lot. We were staying  in a Bermuda Triangle of metro stations, in the exact center of three stations, each probably a little more than a mile from our flat.

4. I bike-share in San Antonio all the time and threatened to make the Mister do so in Montréal. Stations are everywhere and highly used. I read the more people riding, the safer they are. It’s true car drivers are extremely alert and diligent about yielding to both pedestrians and cyclists in Montréal, but, be careful what you wish for. Although numerous, the bike lanes are crowded, particularly during rush hour. Someone like me riding would have tailgating traffic piled up behind. These people are serious commuters; they are not riding leisurely.

4. Canadians are incredibly calm and orderly drivers. No squealing brakes; no cursing; no birds shot; no screeching starts. Once in a great while, you might hear someone give an extremely slight tap to their horn.

5. Canadians have longer attention spans than I. In museums, they stop and read all the accompanying text in exhibits. They patiently sit through all related documentaries. They stay in their museums a long time. While I found the Samurai exhibit at Pointe-à-Callière interesting, I felt an unappreciative, uneducated bumpkin breezing through in contrast to the Montrealers devouring the detailed description of each warrior’s outfit.

6. The housing stock in Montréal is amazing. Miles of three-story, sturdy structures all being refurbished for young urbanites.

7. Living in a loft, I’m accustomed to hauling groceries up a floor to the kitchen. Staying in a second floor apartment in Montréal was fine. Loved the space. But my stairs are inside. Most of their stairs are wrought-iron and outside. How in the world do they manage maneuvering them when iced over in winter? Thank goodness this Texan did not have to try.

8. While I did not witness hoards attending mass, Catholicism is emphasized, if only to remind everyone this is not turf conquered by the Church of England.

9. Quebec is amazingly stubborn. French is dominant, but it has been hanging in there for a long time. The French were expelled by England more than two centuries ago.

10. My belated apologies to Dr. Wayne Reilly. I was pretty all-knowing while I was at Hollins College. Or at least I thought I was. I preferred the laid-back, liberal air of Dr. Henry Nash. I concentrated on important, real world issues; my thesis surely would resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Brought up provincially in then-little Virginia Beach, I totally dismissed Dr. Reilly’s focus on separatists in Canada. What a waste of time. When the secession vote came squeakily close in recent years, I felt my face redden in embarrassment for my attitude 40 years prior. Mea culpa.

11. You have to love a city where a piano sits on the sidewalk inviting people to play. Someone always seems to be playing, and an appreciative audience is always nearby.

To view more snapshots taken during our vacation in Montreal, visit shutterfly. The Mister shares photo credits. If a photo is taken at some wild angle, it definitely is mine. It really bothers some people, but I have this theory. People don’t always look at things geometrically straight on, so why should photos have a level point of view?

Or maybe, that’s just me. I’m the only one not pausing to see things squarely.

Maybe that explains a lot….