No joke, this really happened…
“Per favore. E possible agua de robinet?” “Can I have some tap water please?“. One of the most important things I try to learn to say in each country I am cycling through.
I’ve just walked into a bar in Gaiano, a small town outside Parma. It’s 4pm. Progress has been decent but slow today. Headwinds, a 25km detour due to a broken bridge and it’s been raining on and off since lunch time.
The barmaid kindly fills my water bottles for me and I head outside to sit in the local town square to have some food to keep me going for the final shift on the bike ’til sunset.
I have to hurry to finish my sandwich as it starts to rain again…and hard this time. I decide to go back to the bar that gave me water, get some shelter, ask if I can charge my gadgets and grab a coffee while the shower passes over.
But the shower doesn’t pass. A local guy tells me it hasn’t rained for 48 days so they are due some rain. And boy do they get some. Someone checks the forecast on their phone and it’s due to rain nonstop til midnight. The forecast turns out to be pretty accurate.
I ask if it’s OK if I take over a table, use their WiFi, electricity and do some work on my laptop. The bar staff seem super friendly and say it’s no problem for me to stay.
After a couple of hours it’s still pouring down and I feel like I should buy another drink as a kind of payment for staying.
Whilst giving me a coffee, the barmaid casually mentions that she thinks she has found somewhere I can stay inside for the night. WOW!
I say I’d be happy to sleep anywhere, even on the floor in the bar as I don’t think sleeping out in the heavy rain would be much fun.
The barmaid says there are still some details to be sorted out but she thinks she has found a good solution.
“Come with me in the car. I show you where we think you can stay.” So after two brief conversations at the bar, I am now being driven around by two complete strangers, super friendly ones at that, and I have no clue where I am going. I feel like I’ve been kidnapped! Or as a friend called Anna McNuff who experienced this kind of incredible kindness on her cross New Zealand run, “kindnapped” seems a more appropriate word in this case.
I am taken to a football ground and am shown the changing rooms which is where I’ll be staying the night. It has a shower, 4 showers in fact, electricity, a toilet, it’s flat and most importantly it’s DRY! I tell my 2 bar staff kindnappers, who I now know as Faby and Alfredo, that this is 5 star accommodation for me and thank them as much as I can.
We drive back to the bar. I pack up the 6 bags on my bike, slowly as a group of locals insist on buying a couple of rounds of drinks whilst I pack up. Someone also insists on giving me a prosciutto sandwich to take away with me. No is not an option.
I eventually ride back to the football ground followed again by the kindnappers in the car. They leave me to make myself at home in my new accommodation and we arrange to meet back at the bar in an hour. The least I can do is buy them a drink to say thank you.
I reckon a week has passed since I last had a shower, a shave and had something more substantial than a tent as a roof over my head. After a good scrub and shave I left the changing room to go back to the bar feeling like a totally new person.
Back in the bar I tried to buy my kindnappers a thank you drink but they were having none of it. “You are our guest.”
We drank, laughed, they gave me a Tshirt with “100% Gaiano” on it which they all signed. One guy who worked at the local football club (Parma FC) gave me two complete football kits from the team. This almost broke me as there comes a time when people are being so kind that “thank you” is just not enough and it becomes a bit overwhelming. In a good way. I let them know if felt like Christmas had come early.
The Molinari zambuca may not have helped much with my cycling the following day but their help of a warm, dry place to stay and all their ridiculously kind gifts really did inspire me to keep going up and over the next day’s mountains. There must be something in the water in Parma as a couple of hours into the next day’s ride I was treated to a massive tub of ice cream and an early morning glass of local sparkling wine by a group of super friendly people in a bar I went past. I had to refuse a 2nd glass as that really wouldn’t have helped me cycle in 36 degree heat!!
I had to get a picture of me close to 1000 metres up at the top of one mountain pass (The Passo del Bretelli) with my 100%Gaiano Tshirt. It had helped me to get up there after all.
Insane levels of human kindness from the people in Gaiano. Am proud that one of them also wrote “100%Gaiano” on one of my bags to take with me round the world, to inspire me and to remind me there are kind people everywhere. These will hopefully be the kind of people I meet over the course of the next 5 years.