Tuesday Oct 25
In the morning it's a short drive to the Masseria where we will be staying for the next three days. It's a beautiful resort created from a former farm estate. There is a pool, golf, an excellent restaurant, the beach a short drive away. Lee and I opt for a cooking class. I have kind of mixed feelings about this. It really was a demonstration, instead of a true class. The chef/demonstrator didn't speak English, so the class included an interpreter. The chef would demonstrate how to do something, and he would let us try to do it, but then he would take over and not use our attempts in the final product. I must admit my feelings were a bit hurt when he scrapped my pasta making efforts! We made stuffed bread pockets, pasta - three kinds - and a fish stew. The most fun was making the pasta. We used something called a Chitarra Pasta Cutter, or Pasta Guitar, to cut the pasta. Its a sort of wooden box with wire strung along the top. The space between the wires dictates the size of the noodles. Its very easy to use, much better than the old fashioned pasta maker. They also showed us how to make cavatelli using a knife to curl it, and orochetta using our thumbs. I didn't think the stew was that great, it was a little fishy. We watched him make a ricotta cheese pie for dessert. His crust was excellent, says the crust expert here.
Then later we came back and ate everything for lunch. They made us eat it as a real Italian lunch. That means there were many courses, and wine, all at a leisurely pace. This American felt very restless by the end of that two hour meal. And stuffed as well.
At 3 PM we met our wonderful guides for the next 6 days of cycling, Sondro (short for Alexandro, so a boy) and Debora. They are local, with very good English, friendly, enthusiastic, helpful. We learn about the VBT way of doing things, get fitted on our bikes, adjust our seats. We have bike carriers that turn into satchels we can carry with us when we are on foot. We have waterproof plastic folders on the front of our handlebars for our directions. It's all very well organized!
We go on a short warmup ride to see some ruins. This is a good chance to learn to follow the directions correctly! Between Lee and I we catch each other's mistakes so it generally works out.
The ruins are small but fascinating. Those Romans sure like their bathes! Once back at the resort we have time to rest, shower and get ready for dinner. There's a welcome reception with mimosas and appetizers, and then dinner. We are getting to know some of the other people on the tour. It's a wide variety, all Americans, and because this tour is rated easy, we seem to be in some of the best shape of anyone on this tour. Since we're not experienced cyclists at all this seems a little strange. And we were a little worried that we wouldn't be able to keep up! There are a few husbands that are very good riders, but they are staying with their wives for the most part. Fortunately Lee and I are pretty evenly balanced. I have more endurance, and he is stronger.
Wednesday Oct 26
We meet for our first big day of riding at 8:30 am. We listen to a brief Italian history lesson, and soon we’re off. We ride to the Adriatic, and then head north, into a fairly stiff headwind. The wind is a bit chilly but we are soon pretty warm. After about an hour of riding, Sondro appears with the van along the side of the road. He has set up a table with snacks. Nice!
The problem is I'm just not hungry, after all the food we had yesterday. I managed to handle a few cookies in spite of myself. When it's time to continue on our way I make a tactical error. We are on an incline and I attempt to swing my leg over my seat and go crashing hard onto the ground. I bash up my knee pretty bad, and temporarily get the wind knocked out of me as well. But after a minute or two I'm back on my feet. My knee looks like it belongs to a five year old, and my pride is a little hurt, but otherwise I'm unscathed. I did learn something important however. It's better to get on your bike on a flat surface!
We cycle on the rest of the way to Monopoli, an ancient city. We make a beeline to the gelato store where we enjoy something new to me, affrogatto, ice cream and espresso. Chocolate gelato with espresso poured over it. Mmmmm! Then we wander through the old city, admire the beautiful baroque cathedral, the white twisty streets. We opt for sandwiches from a little shop, lighter than a big lunch. We manage to order what we want with very little Italian on our end, or English on hers.
After lunch we cycle back to the resort, stopping to pick a mushroom (Lee), and take photos of olive trees (Lynn). We've thoroughly enjoyed our first day of biking. 25 miles was easy, and we have plenty of time to go take a walk along the ocean and maybe get a coffee before it's time to get ready for dinner this evening.