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!


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