Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Making sharp turns along the Amalfi Coast

Taking a break on a quiet side street in Naples
It was nighttime in Naples as I leaned against a stone wall outside the pizzeria waiting for, you guessed it, a pizza. Across the street I watched as a fat rat appeared from a crack in a building. It stared at me for a moment, then quickly pinched its large belly back into the crack.

I smiled, having spent the last several days touring some of the most famous/beautiful/touristic coastline in the world the raw and gritty feel of Naples was refreshing. The city has a scruffy charm. You get hard looks here you dont get anywhere else in Italy. Riding the streets by bike I could sense how little people care about human powered transit in a city that is famous for its "anything goes" approach to driving.

A quick lap (by boat) around the island of Capri had me remembering the last time I was on this island shortly after 9/11. It was a weekend trip with the Gonzaga study abroad program. A large group of us hiked to the top of the island and set up camp. I selected a place far from the others on the flat roof of an old monastery. At dawn gunshots rang out all around me. Taking cover as best I could I was certain that terrorists were targeting our (American) program. After a few very tense moments alone on the rooftop I began to wonder why no one else was panicked. I shouted over to another student who informed me the terrorists were bird hunters.

Lyudmila and I took the challenge of riding the crazy roads along the Amalfi coast. Blind corners, narrow streets, dark tunnels, and blazing heat were only justified by unbelievable views, breezy descents, and beautiful little towns. I could recap what it was like to spend a few days in Positano or I could pass you to John Steinbeck, who wrote a great piece about his time in Positano in 1953.

If the Amalfi coast is a playground then Mount Vesuvius, with its destructive personality, is the school bully. It's hard to imagine Vesuvius blowing its top in 79 AD. Walking around what remains of Pompeii is a powerful experience. Seeing the plaster casts of victims from the eruption, their arms forever frozen over their mouths, searching for breath in the toxic fumes from the volcano.

As luck would have it I found myself pedaling along side my friend Paul if only for a few days. We traded the yellow jersey up steep climbs and down curvy descents, taking a break for Granita every chance we could get. Now Lyudmila and I find ourselves taking on the unknown again with an all night ferry from Naples to Cagliari. Arriving on the (Italian) island of Sardinia, we will start from the south, pedaling up and around the coast.Editor's note: Guido stopped pedaling after we left the island of Elba, returning to Torino to continue his work as an architect. His problem solving skills and loud laugh will be missed in Sardinia.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Photo Essay: Last days in Tuscany

Like a bottle of Brunello my bike trip through Tuscany was something to be savored. A blend of flat tires, friendly faces, long laughs, old friends, incredible scenery and food that felt as though I was tasting flavors for the first time.
Passing through small villages for a quick water stop often led to a community conference about our two-wheeled journey.

Meeting up with a few of Guido's friends along the coast we traded sweat for sand. Known in Italian as a Spiaggiata we made a bbq on the beach that lasted all night. It seems the Italian language has a specific word for every kind of social activity.
Guido and I found our old friend Mimmi, Laura and little Viola after a short ferry ride to the island of Elba. 
Adapting to our surroundings, the longest bike ride was a few blocks to the beach.

Easy Rider(s) in Elba
Morning rush hour on the island.

Searching for our spot to take an aperitivo, the drink before dinner. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Photo Essay: More from Tuscany

Sunrise over San Gimignano

We made a lap around the fresh track in Siena. The city is preparing for the Palio dell'Assunta  (horse race)
What goes up must come down.

Taking a (pizza) break
The iconic Mediterranean Cypress lining the roads in Tuscany

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Photo Essay: riding through Tuscany

Riding around the wall surrounding the beautiful town of Lucca was a perfect way to start the bike trip through Tuscany. Such a great way to view a city.

A ride through the center of Lucca to take a quick look before heading south 
Fitting accommodation considering we are riding through the center of world's connection to Chianti

Taking a break after making the long climb up to the Etruscan town of Volterra

After a long set of hills this was a welcomed view of San Gimignano

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pedaling through Piedmont

Every great cycling tour begins with a visit to grandma’s house. Ours was no exception. Guido and I decided that before taking on Tuscany we would spend a few days pedaling around Piedmont, a region in northwestern Italy, near Torino.

We started off from Guido’s hometown of Asti and made a loop that included pedaling past picturesque hilltop villages, passing rows and rows of grapes, resting on the steps of beautiful old churches overlooking the valley below, finally stopping off at his family’s vineyard for a cold glass of water, a glass of wine, and of course lunch.

At 90 years old, Guido’s nonna lives essentially alone high up in the countryside where the family has created wine for several generations. She has a thick head of hair that glows pearl white. Her frame is small and thin but very mobile and full of productivity. Her voice now scratches with age yet sparks with excitement when speaking with her grandson. Her tone coming alive about how disappointed she was that she took a 20 minute nap today, as that is “a good way to waste the life.”

Time slows over our lunch as we speak about WWII, life before and after Mussolini, and what she needs from the market. When you least expect it she cracks a smile that paints a perfect image of when she was a child. In that moment there exists a feeling of innocence so rare you want to freeze it forever. But you can’t, you just smile back and pedal on.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Training for Tuscany

Lance used the Madone as a test before each Tour de France. Seeing as I was rapidly approaching my own Tour de Tuscany I thought I needed a similar test. The Basilica of Superga sits atop a high hill above Torino, its dome like a watchful eye overlooking the city.

My alarm is set an hour before the rush of morning traffic. Climbing up and up, cranking the pedals, rising above the city I remember the burn that comes with big hills. A moment to bask in reaching the top I bomb back down, the breezy descent allows temporary reprieve from the hot, muggy air that defines summers in Torino.

Later that afternoon I meet my friend Fabio at the Palace Reale to see the photography exhibit by the legendary Henri Cartier Bresson. My good friend and former photography professor Pat Bognar would often reference Bresson in her lectures, speaking of him with great admiration for his ability to capture the complexities of life in seemingly ordinary settings.

Search This Blog