Velonotte: turning the wheels of imagination

An interview with cycling event founder Sergey Nikitin

Michelle Davis
April 20, 2017 - 11:55

Florence Bike Festival is taking the city on a two-wheeled joy ride. Tackling all things bicycle, from April 21 to April 23, 2017 the Renaissance capital's cobblestones will rattle to the sound of marathons, tours and spinning pedals. Among the special events featured in the program, Velonotte stands out for its international approach and original mission: to show children and their parents a different side of Florence.

 

From Michelangelo's David to David Bowie's wedding in the St. James' American Episcopal Church, Velonotte founder Sergey Nikitin and his team will lead you on a special journey through Florence's little-known history, evoking ancient times, forgotten gardens and hidden sights. The children will be able to enjoy their town as never before, with on-site theatrical performances, color-in postcards (bring markers and pencils!) and a very unique audioguide (available in Russian, Italian and English). We met up with Nikitin, university professor turned bicycle guru, who is readying himself to put Velonotte into gear on April 21.

 

 

We see this Velonotte in Florence as a kind of “legal form of misbehaviour” for kids – like when on New Year's Eve you're allowed to go to bed after your usual curfew.
Velonotte founder Sergey Nikitin Velonotte founder Sergey Nikitin

 

 

Michelle Davis: From Moscow to Florence, tell us a bit about how you came up with Velonotte and the history of this itinerant event on saddle.

Sergey Nikitin: I love telling stories and I believe in the magic of visiting the places where it “all” happened—it is also inspiring to share these cities and findings with other people, as it is certainly more productive than teaching classes in a school room, which is my profession. We chose to cycle after dusk as night is especially good for education, with less noise and traffic and neon lights you can truly embrace the city. After a Velonotte event—and I consider this the biggest compliment—people often say “you made us feel that this is our city”. It is stimulating for the imagination.

 

MD: For the first Florentine edition, which places will you be riding through and why did you choose these specific locations?

SN: We will be travelling through space and time. We tried to choose both famous and secret sights that explain a facet of Florence's rich personality. It is unique that the city has chosen to maintain certain strange historical names like Via Malcontenti (Street of the Unhappy), which paradoxically sits not far away from Borgo Allegri (Street of the Glad). Both have an intricate etymology we would love to explain and play with. I studied Florentine street names for my book about the streets of Rome. The ride is quite relaxing and short—only 7 km that we plan to ride in 3 hours. The itinerary starts in piazza della Signoria and ends in piazza Santo Spirito, where we will enjoy dessert offered by our friends at InFlorence Academy.

 

 

One of the color-in postcards that will be handed to the children during Velonotte One of the color-in postcards that will be handed to children during Velonotte

 

 

MD: From the Medici to David Bowie—that’s a lot of time to cover on two wheels! 

SN: Well, yes! Actually we don’t start with the Medici but with the Caesars, Julius and Hadrian. So we will be riding through 21 centuries of history... or are they already 22?

 


MD: Very interesting... Why did you want to focus on the Thin White Duke though?
SN: Well firstly, Florence is an Anglophile city and has a very deep-rooted international tradition—we will talk about it during the ride. I believe that David Bowie represents an epoch and reference point here in Italy as much as in the UK. We love him and it's no coincidence that he planned and celebrated his wedding with Iman right here, in Florence.


During Velonotte we will be talking about the great moments of this city. In the 18th century Florence began its development as a romantic capital. People came here eager to feel, to breathe in its uniqueness, take in the art, language, food and music. In Victorian times, Robert Browning whisked Elizabeth Barrett-Browning away from West London and brought her here. Two greatest poets chose this place as their home. We talked about this emotional episode in our London Velonotte chapter three years ago and it sure is lovely to return with it here on the Arno's banks.

 

MD: How did you find out about the “long-lost” San Marco gardens?

SN: This peculiar stop of Velonotte Florence comes from a childhood memory of mine. My parents were fond of Irving Stone, so growing up I read The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo, in which he wrote about this magical Medici garden where the little genius artist we all know and admire first reached understanding and appreciation. It is not easy to raise a genius, but it seems to have worked quite well here. So I decided to call Mariella Zoppi, an author who has often written about Florence's gardens, and invited her to come along to tell us more about what plants that were there, the trees and flowers... I also involved theater director Marianna Galloni, who invented an immersive theatre performance for this specific stop.

 

MD: Why was it so important for you to involve the younger cyclists in this ride through history and the city?

SN: We have been doing Velonotte for 10 years now and we love hearing that people have met thanks to us and created families after Velonotte. This is how my sister met her husband and I am now a happy uncle with two nephews. Also we have recently observed many kids riding with their parents on quite difficult routes in Kazan on the Volga river. So we thought to dedicate the Florence edition to parents with kids. One of the other reasons behind this decision is that this is the best way you can learn as a kid – you learn doing something with your loved ones and with other people. We see this Velonotte in Florence as a kind of “legal form of misbehaviour” for kids, like on New Year's Eve when you are allowed to go to bed after your usual curfew. In a nutshell, we see it as an unforgettable experience.

 

 

Book your spot now for Velonotte's first edition. Departure on April 21 scheduled for 7.30 pm from Piazza della Signoria.

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