Sunday, January 29, 2017

Italy Cycling - Post Trip - Lecce and Rome

Monday Oct 31

We said goodbye to Sondro and Debora last night at the farewell dinner. I was especially sad to say goodbye to Debora. What an amazing young woman! Smart, caring, funny, enthusiastic. I'm going to miss her, and I’ve only known her for a week!

It's a short quiet bus ride to our next stop, Lecce. The largest town in this part of Italy, Lecce has a very old city center, full of churches and palaces. We follow a short self-guided walking tour of the area, have a cappuccino, walk a little more, eat salad and pizza for lunch. We are pretty tired today, no big adventures on the agenda. We did a little souvenir shopping and are resting now. Found the wine we tasted at the wine tasting back in the first Masseria in a wine shop here. We bought 6 bottles and are going to check them as another bag to get them home.

Tuesday Nov 1

We leave for the airport at 9:30 AM, but earlier I go for my first run in over a week. It feels a little strange to run, mostly because my body is so sore from biking. My knees and my sore leg hurt going up and down curbs, but running feels okay. I'm supposed to do 4 miles but settle for 3.4. I was going to run in a nearby park but it doesn't open until 9 so I run in circles outside it. There are a few other runner's up, and cyclists too of course. Always cyclists in Italy!

It's only a one hour flight to Rome. We are at our hotel by 1, and starving, so once we're checked in we walk down the street for a panino. Then a gelato too! We go back and get unpacked. Around 5 we take off again, to see the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon by night and get dinner. The fountain is beautiful, the pantheon is huge. We are hungry so it's restaurant time.

Santa Ana. Lots of Italian movie stars on the walls. A Barolo to drink, a good salad, fish. The dessert is really the best part of the meal. Lemon ice cream with vodka. Delish! A lemoncello too. Homemade.  I ask for the recipe and they tell me: 1 liter 100% alcohol. 1 liter water. Zest of 20 lemons. Put it in a container and let it sit for a month, shaking every few days. I'm tempted to try it! And actually we do and it came out great. We researched it a bit on the internet. In the US you can use something called Everclear for the alcohol. Its like a zillion proof so its the right stuff. The instructions say to be careful to remove all the white stuff (the pith) from the lemon zest because it will make your Limoncello bitter. And the recipes I found said to add simple syrup to taste once you remove the zest at the end of the month. Ours came out really good. We still have a big bottle in the freezer. Its lasts a long time!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March January 21 2017

I was on the fence about marching for weeks. "I'm not a marcher," I would say, which sounds kind of precious, but really, I'm not. The last time I remember marching for a cause was the Vietnam moratorium in 1969. I told my mother I wanted to go down to Washington University in St. Louis for the protest. She was worried. For one thing she knew my dad would have a fit if he found out that I had gone. She called my school, Parkway Central in the St. Louis suburbs and asked the principal why they didn't have some kind of program at the high school that day so students wouldn't have to go to down to dangerous scary Wash U in the city to protest. He basically called us all a bunch of draft-dodging hippies and that pissed her off. So she told me I could go. I had to make two promises, a) help her keep this secret from my father, since we would all be in big trouble if he found out, and b) I had to be home before 5 pm so that promise "a" could be kept and so that I would be home well before dark.

I promised and my friend Fran and I spent the day at Washington University. I mostly remember sunshine and walking around a college campus trying to look like we belonged there. I don't remember speakers, and I don't think I actually marched, but we were home in plenty of time, and I don't think my dad ever found out.

But that's the last and maybe the only time I ever marched for a cause, until now. This time there was no one to ask permission except my own little self. And my self was arguing with me. I could come up with a long litany of reasons why this would be a bad idea. The crowd would be huge, it would be a hassle to get into the city, I'm not in agreement with every single little thing the marchers might yell, what if there was rioting, what if someone started shooting, what if there was a bomb, etc. etc. I also felt like I needed to have a definite idea WHY I was marching, and I just didn't. What I had was an almost inchoate longing to DO SOMETHING. I'm deathly afraid of what Trump might do as president. I'm worried for people that depend on the ACA for healthcare (like us!). I'm worried about abortion rights. I'm worried about the rats nest of hatred and bigotry his campaign unleashed.

But I needed to have some reason that was positive to march. I had to march FOR something, not just against. I could march for women's rights. I could march for human rights. I could march for kindness, for decency, for my country. So okay, I've got my reasons. But I was still hesitant.

I finally said that I would make up my mind on Friday, inauguration day. Either march in Boston, march in Concord, or stay home and march in my heart. The indecision went away gradually, so when I woke up Friday morning I knew what I was going to do. I was going to Boston and I was going to march!

On Friday I boycotted the inauguration. No TV, no radio, minimal social media. I do think Putin tried to influence our election. I don't think there was any fraud in the vote itself, people made their decisions and voted as they saw fit. But the email hacking surely influenced enough people to make a difference. And I know enough decent people that voted for Trump because they had decided that Clinton was not to be trusted to feel like the Russians stole the election for Trump.

Well anyway. I bought my ticket on the Boston Express bus online on Friday. I decided to ride the 10:05 AM bus, which would get me into South Station in Boston by 10:40. I would walk from South Station to The Commons and then see how things went.

I got to the bus station about 20 minutes early. There were at least 25 women in the Salem bus terminal waiting when I got there. Many of them were wearing pink "pussy hats", knit hats with little cat ears in reference to Trump's pussy grabbing nastiness. I didn't wear anything special and didn't carry a sign. All I had was me, and snacks.

When the bus arrived the driver announced that he had 17 spaces left and would take anyone going to the airport first. They also announced that they were adding another bus to the schedule so even if this one filled up there would still be plenty of seats. Soon there were only two seats left. The women in front of me were traveling together in a large group so they let me get on ahead of them. One more woman got on after me and then we were off.

The bus, which originated in Manchester and stopped in Londonderry too, was full of women going to the march. The ride was uneventful and even the traffic wasn't that bad. The organizers had begged everyone to take public transportation and I think people listened. It would have been madness to try to drive to Boston on that Saturday.

When we got off at South Station I didn't really know which way to go but it didn't matter. All I needed to do was follow the large groups of women carrying signs and wearing pussy hats!

A teaming mass of people were entering The Commons from all directions. Somewhere there was a stage and we could hear someone speaking and the crowd cheering. I decided to try to get to higher ground so that I would be able to see what was going on and maybe hear the speakers. I slowly made my way into the crowd but try as I might I couldn't even see the stage, much less hear what they were saying. Some kids had climbed into the trees to try to get a better view. We asked them if they could see the stage but they laughed and said no.

As I edged closer the crowd got denser and denser. Suddenly it just felt too crowded to me. I was apprehensive about getting into a situation where people could get crushed or trampled . I looked around and realized that if I walked toward Beacon street on the north side of The Commons I would be on much higher ground and would have a better perspective on things.

I made my way to Beacon street. From there I had a much better view of the park, but still couldn't see the stage, let alone hear anything. I recognized Marty Walsh's (Boston's mayor) accent when he spoke, but couldn't make out the words. And when I heard people chanting Warren! Warren! Warren! I knew that Elizabeth Warren must be speaking. Finally I decided to give up on hearing the speakers and just enjoy my surroundings.

People were fun to watch. There were all ages, all colors, all ethnic origins. I ended up behind some female electricians, holding up a pro-union sign. Periodically I would move around a little, watching little kids, reading signs, eaves-dropping on nearby conversations. Someone next to me said, "this looks like 1968". Well yes, it did.

I waited patiently, unsure when the actual march would start or if it had already started. I moved out of the park and up onto the actual street, which was closed to traffic. The police had blocked the streets with dump trucks and plows which seemed like a good idea. We stood around in the sunshine and eventually people seemed to be moving down Beacon street toward Charles Street and the Public Garden. It took me awhile to decide that the march itself had actually begun, but before I really knew what was happening I was slowly walking down Beacon Street too. We were marching!

It really turned into a march somewhere between Charles and Arlington. People were shouting slogans, some anti-Trump (hey hey ho ho Donald Trump has got to go), some pro-choice (my body my choice), some (Lets go science!) This one made me laugh although I knew they were talking about climate change. But it just sounded like something a bunch of Harvard and MIT grads would chant.

We continued marching down Arlington to Commonwealth, down Commonwealth a few blocks and then back. The Unitarian Universalist Church at the corner of Commonwealth and Boylston had their bells chiming songs of freedom, from We Shall Overcome, to Amazing Grace, to America the Beautiful. I loved that.

As I arrived at Boylston I decided I was finished with marching and would try to make it to the 3 pm bus back to Salem. I had barely enough time but it was worth a shot. Once I got away from The Commons and the march the crowd lessened and I could walk quickly. I made it back to South Station and onto the bus with minutes to spare.

I took a seat next to another fellow marcher and we fell into a conversation about what happens next. I told her I was trying to be more proactive politically by signing up for different action groups such as the, and that Lee and I were looking into joining the Salem Democratic organization and working locally for causes we believe in. And I belong to the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, but I haven't been very active lately, mainly because Concord is far away.

So all and all I'm glad I can say I was there. The pictures of the marches all over the world, big and small, are inspiring. The next part is harder, staying active, working for change, staying vigilant. I'm hopeful and despairing, frightened and defiant, sad and inspired. I stood up and was counted, and so did hundreds of thousands of other people. This is just the beginning.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Otranto and the Adriatic, Hills and Spectacular Views

Saturday Oct 28

After a nice breakfast we are off on our ride for the day. The rain has passed bringing cooler weather and brilliantly blue skies. We do most of our riding in the morning out in the countryside stopping at little churches, town squares. For the morning snack the clementines and plums are so so sweet! Old men are sitting on a nearby bench and Debora tells us they are making comments about us. I mispronounce the name of the next town - Cannole - I say cannoli like the dessert. Debra tells them we are Americans and they say to her (in Italian of course) "we know they are Americans!" Yeah we are very obvious.

At one point a flock of sheep blocked our way!

This ride is a bit hillier than previous days. At one place there is a short very steep hill, what cyclists call a "wall". There is no shame in walking it but of course I have to try to ride It. I make it, zigging and zagging and huffing and puffing mightily in my lowest gear. Lee walks and he's not very far behind me!

At the top is a small church. We stop for a moment to admire the interior and the minure, a stone obelisk outside that dates from ancient times. Then down a big hill and through an area of farms and olive trees. 

Soon we are in Otranto along the Adriatic Sea. It's cold, windy and brilliantly blue and sunny. We eat lunch in a seaside restaurant and then walk up the hill to see the castle. At three we go inside the cathedral and gawk at the amazing mosaics and the gruesome skulls of 800 martyrs that refused to convert to Islam behind the Virgin Mary. 

The post lunch ride is very short, but hilly. Before long we are back at the masseria. There's a little time to rest and relax before a wine tasting. The wine is excellent and we're trying to figure out a way to get some sent to the US.

We could go into Otranto for dinner tonight but we are tired and decide to stay at the masseria instead. We have a quiet meal with antipasti and pasta and more wine. Now it's time for bed.

Sunday Oct 29.

It's our last day of biking. The sky is a brilliant blue and it's a bit warmer than yesterday, at least in the sun. We make our way south along the Adriatic coast, each turn revealing a view more spectacular than the last. Our morning snack stop is at a cafe in a little town. Sondro tells us to order a caffe lecceza- almond syrup in a glass of ice, espresso and milk. It's delicious, like drinking candy. We stop at churches where little boys play soccer in the square, medieval light houses, villas with mosaics and orange domes.

Lunch today is a picnic along the ocean in a small park. Sondro and Debora have made us salads, antipasti, pizza, drinks. Dessert is gelato from a cafe across the street.

After lunch a fairly steep and long climb (6% grade, 1.4 k) leads to jaw-dropping views of the coastline, with the mountains of Albania visible only 72 kilometers away. Then we can go downhill as well but a strong headwind prevents us from getting much rest. The wind is so strong that at times I’m a little afraid it will blow me off my bike but we make it through unscathed.

It's only a few more k until we're back at the masseria. I'm sad that the biking part of this vacation is over. We have a farewell dinner tonight, and then it's onward to Lecce, and Rome.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Italy Cycling - Olive Oil Tasting, Trulli Houses and Rainy Fun

Thursday October 27

We ride inland this day, about 32 miles total. There is another morning snack stop. Lunch is at a beautiful farm. We get a little tour of the farm and then do an olive oil tasting. Everything we eat is fresh and local, made from their garden. The afternoon ride is very nice, a few hills but nothing too bad.

Then we only have about an hour and a half before we have to get on a bus and drive to Alberobella, the home of the beautiful old unique trulli houses. The houses are cone-shaped. There are symbols on the roofs to ward off the evil spirits, and decorative stone blocks at the top. We have an amazing guide, Mino. He's a native Alberobellaian that knows the history of the houses, the science behind why the people that live in them are so long lived. He loves his home town, and it shows.

After the tour we wander down the street and find a small pizzeria. Pizza, salad, wine and beer, good conversation with fellow cyclists Taylor and Don. We aren't back at the mazzeria until after 10 and we have to pack because the next day we are moving to a new location.

Friday October 27

We are on the bus and on the way to our next starting place by 8:30 AM. It is raining hard, and of the 18 people on our trip only 7 are crazy enough to brave the weather. Of course we're riding, we wouldn't miss it! My new rain pants are great, but my running jacket is not really water proof, just resistant. Lee has a hood and I don't so I put his ball cap under my helmet and that helps. 

An old cemetery along the way

It is cold, and definitely wet, but we warm up, and it's fun. Because there are so few of us Debora the leader rides with us instead of sweeping in the rear and the van checks on us frequently. We find our lunch spot by the sea and dry off a little while eating snacks and chocolate. By the time we start again the rain has stopped. At first I'm freezing which seems par for the course for me every day after lunch but it's not very long before I have to stop and take off my rain pants.

We're wandering through beautiful remote countryside. At one point we are just following the van because there is some road construction and we have to go a different way. There are railroad tracks and we've been warned to walk across them because they are not perfectly perpendicular to the road and it's easy to get your tire caught. Lee is ahead of me and he rides over them without any trouble so I think I can do it too. Wrong! My tire catches and down I go, again! I'm not as badly cut up as before although I'm going to have another nice bruise, but my bike! The front tire is bent and I'm very upset. I'm walking the bike when I hear "Ding! Ding! Ding!" The gate for the train is closing and I am on the wrong side! I make a run for it and get across before it closes completely, and well before the train arrives. There is a man waiting to pass in his car, and he's laughing at me. What a crazy situation.

I get on my bike and try to ride but it's hopeless. Lee comes back to find me and soon Debora and the others show up too. I'm afraid that my riding is over, but no. Debora calls Sondro who shows up with the van and he brings me a new tire. Apparently we're touring with a van full of spare bike parts, which is a good thing when you have someone like me along.

Before too much longer we are at our new home for the next three days. Another masseria, this one is smaller, more remote, family owned. I'm going to rinse out some clothes in the sink and then we'll take a walk and explore this new place.

Dinner at other beautiful masseria in a nearby town. Long table, free wine and limoncello, good conversation and food.


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