Riding bikes in Italy!

This week was one of those weeks when I realize how good my job is.

Liz and I went to Italy, with a group from work, and rode our bikes in Italy.  Tuscany, to be exact.  4 days of riding, staying in a great location (www.spaltenna.it), and being taken care of by Trek Travel (www.trektravel.com).

Cold in Sienna!

We arrived in Florence on Wednesday May 12.  It was raining, but who cares right?  I mean we were in Florence and had the day to knock around.  We dumped our bags in our rooms quickly after arrival and jumped the bus to the downtown area.  There we drank espresso, looked at old stuff and ate gelato.  It didn’t suck for an afternoon’s activity.  That evening, we found our way to what Liz and I would say is the best restaurant in the world.  Buca Mario it is called (www.???).  Buca Mario is a restaurant that we found about 5 years ago on a previous Florence visit.  Not sure how we found it that first time, but damn is it good.  BM serves pretty standard Italian fare.  Nothing really extravagant or fancy, but wow just out of this world flavors.  Our traveling partners did not really know what to expect, but after a few hours and all the great stuff that came to the table, I think they all pretty much agreed with our assessment – yep, BM definitely kicks ass.  Wow is all I can say.

Doesn't look like much from the outside, but wow!

We made it back to our rooms late that first night, downed some magic pills to help us sleep and then got up in the morning to a great looking day and a Trek Travel bus waiting to take us to the hills to do some riding.

The castel Spaltenna!

The view out of our window at the castel!

We arrived at Spaltenna in Gaiole in Chianti, and quickly got suited for a first ride.  We did a nice little 35k ride to get bikes sorted and learn others pace etc…  TT provides the bikes, we just had to bring our pedals.  Unless of course, you are the dork that I am.  I broke out my own pedals (understandable), saddle (still understandable, but not as logical as the pedals) and my own stem (super dork).  Yammer, no comments from the peanut gallery.  The ride had a medium level climb, of about 8km, fairly steady grade.  Of course, that equals a super fun descent at some point in the ride also.

Dinner that night was set up for our group of about 25 under a tent.  The food kept coming and coming.  Too much was consumed, and of course I felt like a stuffed pig afterward.  Funny how it all feels good while you are eating it, but like a lump in your gut afterward.

Next day we did a big ride of 105km.  Started off in the morning with an 11km climb just out of town.  I was struggling to climb, but came around and did not feel so bad, it has been a long time since I have gotten to do a climb like that and it shows in my cycling form.  Yow.

Which way should we go?

The next days were more of the same.  Ride your bike for a big chunk of the day, look at cool old stuff or do some sort of Italian culture thing and then eat until you feel like you might explode.  Italy is just such a kick butt place.  I know that it would not be like that if you lived there, I mean you would have to go to work and everything.  But, I think I could get used to the place.

We did make it to Sienna for a rainy day.  We toured around, had some coffee and pizza and generally acted like tourists.  But, along the way we saw a bunch of college kids who had decorated their cars to celebrate their graduation.  The cars were pretty sweetly decorated.

Yep, they are pretty much a bunch of inapropriate pictures.  It was weird

Departure Adventure.

Started off with a bang, or maybe better a lack there of.  Set my alarm for 4:30 the night before, anticipating a 5:15 taxi.  Never heard the alarm.  Yep, slept right through.  Never done that, but I guess there is a first for everything.  I should have known right there, that the day was not going to go well.  Woke up to the phone ringing, but was in such a stupor I did not even pick it up.  In my daze, I looked at the clock and my first reaction was – hmm, I do not recall asking for a wake up call – how sweet.  Of course then I realized that we had puffed the wake up time and the taxi was waiting downstairs.  Yikes!  Liz pulled out all the stops, and we actually made it into the cab at 5:29.

To top off the cab adventure, the cabbie saw the angst we all had in getting to the airport on time, and absolutely raped me of a double fare.  I swear that he charged us for the time he had to wait for us, plus some additional amount.  The taxi fare to the airport turned out to be 42Euro on the screen.  I knew that was high, but did not feel like arguing at the moment.  You will see later down in the story, that I lost that inhibition eventually.

The Italian/European way of the world and how it would be to live there became a little more apparent.  When we arrived at the Florence airport (I think it has about 5 gates and they are prepared for about 5 people to go through security at just about any one time.)  Italians that live in Florence seem to be fine with that.  It any city in North America that gets as much tourist traffic as Florence would have had to build a new shiny efficient glass covered high ceiling Starbuck serving McDonalds catering extravaganza to make sure the tourists keep coming back.  Nope, this is Italy.

I did not have tickets on the 2nd flight, and had only less than an hour on my schedule to make it through the Amsterdam airport connection.  The counter person was not fazed by my plight at all though.  They did the European shrugged shoulder and Italian liaise faire attitude and shooed my on my way.

Once through security, we heard the announcement that the flight was being canceled because of the ???? volcano in Iceland.  What the hey?  That cannot even be a real place with a name like that.  I bet no one outside of geologists in Iceland can even say the name of that volcano.  And doesn’t a volcano existing in a place called Iceland just seem improbable in the first place?  Who knew?

This is where the fun really began.  We called the travel agent in the USA and they booked us on another flight that next day through  Paris (apparently the ash cloud had the good manners to stay far north).  But, the travel agent could not actually issue the ticket, they told us that the agent there would need to do that.  So, we waited in the more than 1.5 hour long line to see the Italian agent.  The agent took a cursory look at our passports, a brief look at the data on the screen, pronounced that she could not help us – handed us our passports, dismissed us and said “Next!”

What the????

In the end, the travel agent just had to buy us new tickets, we hope to get that all sorted out when we get home.

Most stories have a happy ending, or at least a happy middle.  Our happy middle would be that we were able to go once more to Buca Mario.  There, we had the 3rd best meal we have ever had (1st and 2nd also were at the hands of the chef at Buca Mario).  We also got a great photo of our favorite waiter  there.  Check it.

Next day started out with a bizarre scene.  Got  down to the front desk – on time, mind you.  And confirmed that they had a taxi coming at 5:15 for us.  The counter guy, confirmed that.  But, in our miscommunication, he must have thought that I needed a taxi and ordered a 2nd one.  Both taxis showed up on time, and we only needed one.  Chaos, lots of gesturing and raised voices ensued.  If I was not worried about getting to our flight that I suspected was not going to go smoothly – the whole thing would have been comical.

We loaded into taxi #1, taxi driver #2 hops out of his car and blocks our departure.  The guy behind the counter comes out and insists that we ordered 2 taxis.  The counter guy and the taxi driver are insisting that I now owe the 2nd taxi driver 15Euro for the trouble.  I insist that it is not my problem that the counter guy ordered 2 taxis.  Taxi driver #2 again blocks our departure and plans to intimidate me into paying him 15Euro.  At this point I have had enough.  He invites me out of the car to come and talk with him and the guy behind the counter.  I am pretty hot over this asshole and I think I was kinda hoping he would make a scene.  He was also a bald middle aged dude, and I think he figured that I was not backing down.  I ended up back in cab #1 where I urged the cabbie to get me out of there.  Didn’t know if I was going to see cabbie solidarity from cabbie #1 or if he was going to put more value in the fare that we represented, in the end he went with the fare we represented.  Capitalism at work.

Next, we bellied up to the airport check in counter, only to find out that I did not have a ticket.  Liz did, I did not.  Wow – things just keep getting better.  After dealing with the agent as far as we could (this time a very nice lady who tried as hard as she could but could not help us as the ticket did not show at all on her computer) for over an hour, I ended up on the phone with a Delta agent back in the US.  She put in the ticket for me, gave me an e-ticket number and the helpful agent was able to get us seats on the plane and book us through.  Wow.  I guess the lesson learned there is that you always want to have the e-ticket number.

Well, we are on the plane now and it looks like we will get back to the US after all.

Awesomely dorky in Florence!

Dig riding my bike in Italy or southern Europe, but I do not think I could deal with the pace.  Plus, there really isn’t any offroad motorcycle racing in most of Europe – couldn’t deal with that.  I do like the wine though.



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