Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Italy Cycling Trip - Warmup Ride and Monopoli

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.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Leaf Peeping in Lancaster New Hampshire

Really if you’ve never done it, you’ve gotta come to New England in the Fall at least once in your life. It is so breathtakingly gorgeous. Its beautiful around our house too, but in northern New Hampshire and Vermont the mountainsides are blanketed in color.

Lee finds an RV park still open the week after Columbus day in Lancaster, along the Vermont border. The RV makes it so pleasant, and easy to bring the dogs. Our camping spot overlooks a little lake. There are very few campers, its late, and its getting cold up here, or it should be. Its actually unseasonably warm for our trip, that means 50’s and 60’s. I play with my camera.

The RV has a heater that works great, but its not set up for freezing conditions. When we get back Lee will have to winterize it. We’re thinking of taking it down to Florida with us this year. We can stop in Hilton Head, extend our vacation a bit that way. But we won’t be able to actually use it until we get pretty far south.

Back in Lancaster, on the second day of our little trip we take the dogs and climb Mt Prospect, just a mile up the road from our camping spot. The views are amazing, and the dogs are gung ho, trotting merrily up the hill. At the top there is a nice green space so we let them off leash to run a little bit, then head back down.

In the afternoon we leave the dogs napping in the RV and grab our bikes. We go for a ride along the Connecticut River, about 22 miles. In spots its very hilly, but we ride through a covered bridge, and admire the river. We even cross into Vermont for a bit on the way back.

That night we build a fire in the fire pit. 

The next morning I go for a 4 mile run. 2 miles up the mountain and 2 miles back down! Guess which way my times were better… 

On the drive home the leaves were even more spectacular. I love NH.

Italy Cycling Trip - Matera and Ostuni

Friday Oct 21st-Saturday Oct 22nd

Here we go on our cycling trip to Italy. The car service picks us up at 8 PM, and we drive to Boston in a thunderous rainstorm, the hardest rain we've had all summer. In spite of the rain our flight is only 30 minutes late by some miracle. The spoiled Nill's are sitting in Premium Economy. I drink some wine, take some melatonin, throw the blanket over my head and try hard to sleep. I don't do too bad a job, sleeping and dozing until 7 am est. They wake me for coffee, bread, yogurt. On the ground in Rome, and suddenly it's 12:30 PM Roman time. We have 2 hours to catch our flight to Bari and we need every minute to wind our way across this massive airport, in and out of passport control, grab a bite to eat and stand in line to board our next flight.

The flight to Bari is short, only an hour. We gather our luggage, go through customs and our driver finds us immediately. We meet some of the people doing the pre-trip part of this vacation. Two couples, long time friends, that have done many cycling trips in the past. We are the newbies, but they don't look at all hardcore so I'm reassured. We've signed up for a trip that’s rated “easy” so I think we will be fine.

Its a one hour van ride from Bari to Matera. Outside the window of the van I see clouds, olive trees, and lots of road construction. Matera seems nondescript until we turn a corner, and then wow! A massive ancient city comes into view. Its called the Sassi, where people lived in dwellings cut out of the sides of a mountain until the 1960's. They lived in extreme poverty and very unsanitary conditions so the government moved them out. But in the 1980's people began to realize that the Sassi was a national treasure. It has been restored with modern plumbing, heating and people have moved back. There are houses, hotels, shops, restaurants, all built into the side of a hill, overlooking a gorge. It is absolutely breathtaking.

It's late afternoon by the time we arrive. I'm really really tired so I take a bath and change before going to the meeting with our guide for the walking tour tomorrow. Our hotel room is also dug out of the side of a hill. It's beautiful but dimly lit and only a bathtub, no shower. But it's comfortable and quiet, besides how often do you get to stay in a cave?

We eat dinner at the hotel restaurant. It's beautiful, and the food is very good. We try a bottle of Puglia Primativo red. It's light, very nice. The food is good and I'm starving. By the time we fall into bed around 10 pm I'm exhausted and sleep until 7 the next morning.

Sunday Oct 23. Matera. I wake up feeling groggy but do my usual routine and get dressed so I can go get coffee and breakfast in the hotel lobby. The breakfast is generous and soon it's time to meet our guide for this morning’s walking tour. Anne-Marie is from Matera and her grandmother grew up in the Sassi. She is very knowledgeable about the town and her English is excellent. We visit a church carved out of the hillside, a house that has been made into a museum, various plazas, winding narrow paths, beautiful vistas. 

After the tour Lee and I stop for lunch at a cafe; pizza and a couple of cokes. We then visit the other side of the Sassi and do a little walking tour on own, more views and a couple more churches. We stop for a cappuccino afterwards. I buy a bread stamp with my initials, a useful souvenir even if I don't need to identify my loaves of bread in a communal oven!

That evening we have dinner at Francesca, right across the street. Local appetizers, pasta, wine, lemoncello.

Monday Oct 24

Lee wakes me from a hard sleep at 9 am. We'd better get going if we want breakfast! I'm soooo groggy, jet lag. But I stagger up, get dressed. After breakfast our plan is to hike to the other side of the gorge and see Matera from another view. Once I've had enough coffee this seems like a good plan. 

Its 10 min down one side of the gorge, across a cable bridge, and then up up up the other side. It's not as hard as it looks. The view from the other side gives you a much better idea of the extent of Matera, the new, the old, and the very very old. Then its back we go ending up all sweaty, eating a panini in an outdoor cafe. 

At 2 pm we clamber into the van to ride to Ostuni, another whitewashed Italian village. It's a bumpy ride through olive trees to this small city on the Adriatic. At sunset we take an incomprehensible tour of the old city. We see winding stone streets, lights twinkling in the distance, but have no idea what the guide is saying in her heavily accented English, nor can we barely keep up with her in her high heels!

After a drink at the hotel bar we decide to stay there for dinner. It's a good choice, fried fresh anchovies for my appetizer, mussels and spaghetti for my main, another bottle of Primativo, mascarpone with chocolate and caramel for dessert. I better keep expending those calories because they certainly are coming in!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Getting the Boat to Newburyport for the Winter

We like keeping our boat at Hawthorne Cove Marina in Salem Harbor during the summer. Its a nicely sheltered harbor, the town of Salem is a fun place to hang out, and its centrally located on the north shore, meaning that its easy to get to a variety of nearby cruising destinations. But we have had some problems with the yard while our boat is stored there during the winter, so this year we are trying something different. Lee found a boat yard he thought he would like across the Merrimack River from Newburyport, in Salisbury, Massachusetts.

Our initial plan is to take the boat up on a Monday and Tuesday. We’ll sail to Rockport, spend the night, and then make it the rest of the way. But weather, as usual, puts a crimp in this plan. I’m running the Smuttynose Half Marathon on Sunday. There’s bad weather coming on Tuesday, and Hurricane Mathew is meandering up the coast after that. If we don’t get the boat up to Newburyport now we might not have a chance until we come back from Italy, and then it will be COLD. Gotta get it done. 

Lee says lets go to the boat Sunday afternoon, spend the night and go to Newburyport really early on Monday. I’m reluctant. I’d rather spend the afternoon after a race soaking in epsom salts, propping up my legs and snacking, but I know he’s right. And I ran Smuttynose as a training run so I’m not really that depleted.  I didn’t want to race full out as I’m training for the Dopey Challenge, and riding my bike a lot as training for Italy. So I say okay.

After the race, a really nice mostly flat half along the coast, I meet Lee at the marina in Salisbury in order to drop off my car so we’ll have some way to get home after leaving the boat. Then its home for a little food, a shower and to pack my bag. By 4 pm we are in Salem hanging out on the boat. We go into town for dinner at the yummy pizza place, Bambolina’s. We take the dogs in for a walk when we get back. This will be their last chance to go potty until we get to Newburyport.

Lee is up by 3 AM, starting the engine and getting ready to go. I try to fall back asleep but the engine is right next to my bed, and I’m anxious too. I don’t like the thought of Lee up in the cockpit all by himself in the dark, making his way out of Salem Harbor. We are very familiar with it by now but still…

I put on some layers, make myself a cup of coffee, and clamber out into the predawn air, leaving the sleeping dogs behind in the cabin. We are out of the harbor, into the sound, approaching Mass Bay. We can see the lights of Gloucester glowing on the horizon. There are fisherman here and there. We have the radio and AIS on. Its peaceful, in spite of the rumble of the motor.

Slowly the sun comes up. We round the point toward Rockport. We are making good time. We pass the twin lighthouses, Halibut State Park. 

We see a whale! And a seal or two as well. I go down into the cabin, fix the dogs their breakfast but tell them they can’t come up into the cockpit until it is fully light. They don’t seem to care too much. We eat some cereal and hunker down.

By 10 AM we are at the mouth of the Merrimack. We have never been here before but we have heard a lot about it. During rough weather, or at maximum tide strength this can be a very dangerous passage. Lee has researched our timing and 11 AM is mid tide so we should be good. 

And in fact we have no trouble making our way through the mouth of the river. Its calm, and although there is definitely a current its nothing our motor can’t handle. Before noon we are safely on our mooring at Rings Island Marina in Salisbury, MA, right across the river from Newburyport. 

We’ll stay on this mooring for the next couple of weeks, until we have time to get the sails down and winterize the boat. Then the marina will haul us out of the water. We are hoping that this marina will be more accommodating to us than Brewer has been so far. Eventually we hope to find a marina to stay in farther north so that we can explore Maine before our sailing days are over, but that’s still a few years down the line. We’ll go back to our mooring in Salem in the spring, ready to explore points south for another summer.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Aretha Franklin and Brian Wilson

No not at the same time, but close! We went to see Aretha in Boston at the Blue Hills Pavilion overlooking Boston Harbor back in August. The concert was on a Friday. Lee used points to get us a reservation at the Marriott Residence Inn at the Seaport, so we were only a short 15 minute walk away from the concert. We brought the the dogs with us and they were super good. We had a suite, so we brought the the large, soft-sided collapsible crate with us and put them all in it while we went to dinner and then to the concert. They were so good, we didn't hear them barking, and Cosmo wore his belly band so we didn't need to worry about him marking either.

We went to dinner at Sportello's, right next to the hotel. It's a Boston restaurant that I've wanted to try for awhile. It has a modern diner feel; much of the seating is at a long winding counter, so you can see all the kitchen action right in front of you. The food was really good. We ordered a bunch of things to share. My only complaint is that the waiter was attentive but he knew the people sitting next to us and spent a lot of time chatting with them. And even though they came in after us he took their order before ours! 

Aretha was magnificent. She is 72 years old, and she looks it, but her voice is still spellbinding. I actually cried through half the concert. 

I'm actually puzzing a little over why I was so moved by her concert. Part of it is nostalgia I know. My mind drifted back to my sophomore year in college. The dorm I was in was fairly diverse and there were a few African American girls on my floor. We got to be friendly and they introduced us to some of their favorite music. Besides some of the classic R&B groups, like The Temptations and Wilson Pickett, there was Marvin Gaye's album "What's Goin On", and Aretha Franklin. Songs like Respect and Natural Woman moved me back then, and move me still.

She is a treasure and I'm so grateful that we got to see her. If you ever ever get a chance, do not hesitate, do it.  You won't be sorry.

The following weekend we went up to Gilford, New Hampshire to the Meadowlands concert venue to see Brian Wilson and the Pet Sounds Tour. This was a very interesting experience.

Lee found a campground very close by where we could take the RV. The only drawback was no dogs allowed. But we decided since we would be leaving them alone most of the evening it wasn't going to be that fun for them anyway, so off they went to Freedog for the weekend.

Meadowlands is a big country western venue but they also seem to be big on comeback tours. We could have seen Rod Stewart there the next weekend. It's not huge but it has a big outdoor food court and there's beer and other alcohol for sale too.

Brian Wilson did not sell out by a long shot. I felt a little sad about that, but he probably doesn't need the money. He came with a huge band, 11 people, all very accomplished musicians. Like Aretha, Brian Wilson is old, but unlike her he is damaged. He came shuffling out and sat down at the piano. Lee and I both had the same thought; Brian Wilson walked just like my dad did in his later years. If someone that is mentally ill stays on their medication for many years, one of the many side effects is a shuffling walk.

For the first half of the show the band played a bunch of Beach Boy oldies. Surfing songs, cars songs, motorcycle songs. This is the Beach era before I was conscious of Rock 'n roll, before the Beatles, before Sargent Pepper. There was a short intermission and then they played songs from the Pet Sounds Album. This was an odd concept for a concert. They actually played the album. Brian even said, "now we're  going to turn the album over and play the other side!" 

Interestingly enough, they left the stage before playing Good Vibrations, and came back and played it as an encore. They saved some of the biggest Beach Boys hits for a final jam session; Barbara Ann, Help Me Rhonda. 

The band was mostly good session musicians, but did include Al Jardine, one of the original Beach Boys, and his son, Mathew, who had a wonderful falsetto.

Brian Wilson is an extraordinary song writer, but he's no Paul Simon. Everything they played was from 30 and 40 years ago. He has suffered, and survived, but lost so much in the process. 

Really the two concerts were a study in contrasts, in what could happen to a person over the course of a creative lifetime. Aretha was dignified, proud of her accomplishments, polished, passionate. Brian was a physical wreck, his voice gone, but at peace with himself and what life has thrown at him. They are both survivors, but in very different ways. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sailing Buzzard’s Bay and Vineyard Sound - Part IV

Friday July 29th - Edgartown to Onset.

To beat the rain we get up at 3:30 AM. The boat is out of the harbor by 4. It's dark, and its foggy too. The hardest part is getting out of the harbor. Once we are in the channel we see other boats, the lights on shore, the flashing lights of cans and buoys. The rain starts around 8, and by 9 it's raining hard. We go through Woods Hole, a complicated passage, without mishap. We know how to check the currents and tides, and by 10:30 AM we are in Onset Harbor. 

We wait out the rain; it stops around 2 PM, as predicted. We go ashore to do a little laundry, take showers. Later we go to Ella's Wood Oven for dinner. This is the best meal of the trip, cod, lobster, mashed potatoes.

Saturday July 30th - Onset to Sandwich.

In the morning I run 7 miles. Its hot, but I find a shady sandy back road so its a nice run. Its time to say goodbye to Sally and Doug. They've been great sailors, helpful, easygoing, up for whatever. We'd do it with them again, but we really should try to not do it in an election year! Just too stressful for me and Doug, with our wildly differing political opinions.

We take the dinghy to town for a lobster roll for Lee, a hotdog and a stuffed quahog for me. Then off we go to Sandwich through the canal. This time we time it better and fly through in an hour, making over 8 knots with the current.

Back in our slip in Sandwich we go on another walk to the ice cream place and then to the grocery store. We eat supper on the boat and plan our final day.

Sunday July 31st - Sandwich to Salem

The next day we decide we're ready to be home and the wind is cooperative so we sail directly across Massachusetts Bay and get home in about 8 hours. It's almost 50 miles, our longest sail ever. The dogs just sleep and time passes quickly.

I light a yarzteit candle for my mother this morning. Its been two years since she passed away, and its her birthday too. 

Before we embarked upon this trip I had a lot of questions about how I would tolerate two straight weeks on the boat. As it turns out I had a good time. The improvements that Lee has made make it easier for high maintenance me, and the addition of a bimini next year will make it easier to tolerate the heat. We handled passages in the dark, the rain, the wind, we handled long sails, and short brisk ones. We have more places we want to go down south and more confidence that we can do them too. We'll be looking for sailing partners soon, just let us know if you think you might like to try it!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sailing Buzzard's Bay and Vineyard Sound - Part III

Monday July 25th - Cuttyhunk to Vineyard Haven. We sail downwind across Vineyard Sound. With Doug’s help trimming the sails and adjusting the traveler we end up making over 12 knots under sail, a new record for us and our boat. I enjoy it because sailing downwind you don't heel.

Its amazingly hot. We go into town for dinner at The Beach Road Restaurant. We have oysters (so-so), lobsters (pricey), clams (not bad), and  an amazing German chocolate  cake for dessert. The rose is good, and so is the port, from what I hear.

Tuesday July 26th - Vineyard Haven. In the morning I go for a run. Martha’s Vineyard outside of Vineyard Haven is pretty, shady, surprisingly hilly. I run two miles to a lighthouse and back, then take a shower. The Harbormaster's facilities are pretty disgusting, old, no benches, high traffic, dirty.

For lunch we eat more lobster rolls at the Net Effect. This is a fish market with outside seating. These rolls are much better than last night, and cheaper too. We get ice cream on the way back to the boat. It is So Hot. The others go to the beach, but I stay on the boat, getting in the water to cool off. Then it's pleasant to sit on the boat, write, read. Dinner is halibut steaks grilled on the boat.

Wednesday July 27th - Vineyard Haven to Edgartown. Still very hot and no wind, but its only a short motor sail from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown. Edgartown is a very pretty old New England town. I wear my new Hillary tee shirt and get lots of positive feedback on the island, might get things thrown at me at home....lunch, then back to the boat to hang out for the afternoon. I rig up a sheet as a Bimini; the resulting shade makes a huge difference in the temps. 

We go into town for dinner at The Port Hunter. The bluefish cake appetizer is really good. For dinner Sally and I share a whole fish - fluke. The food is great but we have a long wait for a table. The people at the table that will eventually become ours are just sitting there hanging out long after their food is gone and the check has been paid. I have an urge to perform an Asian maneuver and go stand behind their chairs staring pointedly until they leave. Although if this really was Asia, it wouldn’t have much effect. 

When we get back Heather has pooped in the boat. Oh Heather. Poor thing, I guess her latent anxiety got the better of her. If there was a way to crate her on the boat we would but the space is just too cramped. The others take the dogs in to go potty and Harper gets away from Lee and finds a skunk. Its not a direct hit but traumatic nonetheless. We scrub her with “the cure” (1 quart hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda, 1 tsp Dawn. Rub this mixture into dry fur, rinse and wash as normal).  Even after deskunking the poor thing a slight oder wafts through the boat and reappears periodically throughout the rest of the summer.

Its very very humid. When we wake in the morning everything is damp.

Thursday July 28th - Last day in Edgartown. I go for a run and then get a breakfast sandwich. Then we rent bikes. Its fun, there are bike paths all over this end of the island so we don’t have to share the road with cars. We ride to one beach on the Atlantic side, stick our feet in the water, then ride to another beach on the Vineyard Sound side. Some of us (not me) jump off the “jaws” bridge, an icon from the famous movie. 

Then its back to the boat. I get in the water and then take a shower. The marine forecast is predicting rain and wind tomorrow. We debate the best course of action while eating dinner on the boat. Stay tuned!


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