Why Cycling in Tuscany Will Make You a Nicer Person
There’s nothing that agitates me more than lines-ups. Any line-up that consists of: waiting. I hate waiting. Waiting for the bus or a train, standing in line at a ticket counter or boarding a plane, and traffic jams; please, make it stop!
Now, insert a person who cuts the line, and my agitation escalates to anger. You know, at a buffet, a person puts their tray in front of yours. So you’ve got to stand shoulder to shoulder otherwise a gap opens welcoming somebody to swoop right in. It’s those people who act as if you’re not standing right there that awaken this desire in me to pulverize them like the final 5km of a pro cycling race. Oh, serenity now!
But, wanting to pulverize somebody in a buffet line can’t be a good thing.
In Italy, I had to start waiting around a whole lot and making peace with it quickly. I'll call it the “Poste Italiane State of Self-Awareness Test.” It’s a simple process that evaluates the level of how aware you are of your thoughts and emotions.
All you need to do is go to any Italian post office, pull a ticket from the dispenser, wait your turn, speak (in your best Italian) to a usually unfriendly and monotone employee to find out you picked the wrong ticket and you must get a new ticket then wait another hour. No negotiation. No exceptions.
If you’re continuously angry and fueled with rage, you’re failing. Even when you learn how to pull the right ticket, there’ll always be a problem like wrapping your package incorrectly, filling in the address form wrong, missing some kind of “necessary” document, or showing up with a delivery notice a day too early, etc. They'll abuse their post office power in every way possible. Including the time when I walked in still wearing my Vespa helmet, which was problematic because I could have been mistaken for a burglar.
After four to five times of flailing frustration, I slowly came to embrace the challenge of a mindful post office experience. In fact, I credit increased mindfulness to cycling in Tuscany. Why? You learn how to be more joyful, patient and kind, starting with yourself.
Lucca: Let the Mountains Sweep You off Your Feet
Lucca is an area of Tuscany that has a lot of variety. From vineyards and olive groves to mountains and the sea. It’s a town where Italians live and work in industries outside of tourism.
Seaside is west, and two magnificent mountain ranges are north and east. An hours worth of pedaling brings you in confrontation with a selection of 15-kilometer climbs. You won't need to wait or take a ticket from a dispenser.
You'll have kilometer after kilometer of pavement to plow through and burn off any pent-up frustration. Let it all out, then start counting your blessings. Like the beauty that surrounds you.
No amount of anger, past or future should overshadow natures glorious beauty. Beauty is everywhere in abundant proportions. We select what we see. What we appreciate, appreciates.
Chianti: A Playground for Grown-Ups
"Whenever I encountered a grown-up who seemed to me at all enlightened, I would experiment on him with my drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I wanted to see if he really understood anything. But he would always answer, "That's a hat." Then I wouldn't talk about boa constrictors or jungles or stars. I would put myself on his level and talk about bridge and golf and politics and neckties. And my grown-up was glad to know such a reasonable person."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The trick is not to grow up and lucky for you, you don't have to when you're in Chianti! It's an amusement park with wine tasting rides, Vespa rides, and "torpedo" jumps into swimming pools. There are even roller coaster rides where instead of a cart, you sit on a bike! You'll be too busy having fun that you'll forget how tiring riding these roads can be.
Roller coaster tracks are in fact famous white roads or strade bianche: Tuscany's version of The Yellow Brick Road. You'll discover many things like the excitement of possibility, what to eat next, and, of course, how to not grow up. To find out what's at the end of the road, you must take the journey. It's entirely yours to discover.
Val d'Orcia: Stumbling upon Magic
Val d'Orcia, added to the UNESCO world heritage sites in 2004 is truly an escape into serenity now. Blankets of bright greens or browns drape the Terre di Siena unlike any other land of the earth.
Whether or not you take the pilgrimage route, Via Francigena, an inner journey through the Orcia Valley draws out feelings and emotions. It moves one to grow and expand.
Introverted quests such as 1934 Nobel Prize writer, Luigi Pirandello, and painters at the Siena School of Art have brought forth timeless literature and works of art.
Spend your days meditatively pedaling and your afternoons at natural thermals spas like the ancient Roman baths in Bagno Vignoni or Bagni San Filippo and Vivo d'Orcia. Whatever it is that you do, find your magic.
Finding joy in doing what we like can only promote finding joy in mundane, tedious tasks. Joy teaches us how to be nicer, kinder and more patient with ourselves, and in turn others.
A way to test this theory would be cycling in one of the areas mentioned above, purchasing a postcard, mailing it by hand at any Italian post office and taking notice of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Something will undoubtedly go wrong. If you still experience joy, you may return home. If you experience frustration and annoyance, then you may not.