Artichokes and Pink Martini

If you like artichokes, Pink Martini, knitting, then read on. If you are interested in the woes of losing the last 20 lbs or working in education, then read on. If you want to know what it's like to be an empty nester or to share that nest with to two dogs, then read on. If you want to know what the theme is for Monday night dinner, when the kayaks are going out, or who was at the Y at 5am, then read on. If none of this interests you, just hit the button that says "next blog", & read on.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Last day on the bike

All good things must come to an end. After 5 days of riding I am happy to report that I didn't fall once. No crash and burn. No broken bones. No injured bike. Yeah!! This is a very familiar scene in our travels, everyone trying to figure out the map. Of course, we never really looked much at the map until after we were already lost. Better late than never.

After 5 days of riding we came upon our last hotel, Hotel Villa le Piazzole. Looks promising.

Oh my goodness, it was fabulous! This is the beautiful courtyard leading to the main house. If you want to take a look at my room. It was beautiful. Like arriving at a different place in time. Or walking into your very favorite movie ever and discovering it was better than you could have ever imagined.

And this would be the view out my window.

Time to head back into Florence. Time to say good by to the bikes and my sore muscles. And time to say good by to the big yellow van that had my back for my wonderful Tuscan adventure.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The hilltop villages

Besides the beautiful countryside, Euro bike does an excellent job breaking up the riding day with interesting stops along the way. The first day of riding took us through the Chianti region. Every place that you stop your bike, someone hands you a glass of Chianti Classico to sample. Well almost. They were very proud of their wines at all of the wineries that I visited, as well they should be. And the good news for all of you Monday nighters, they do ship to the states.

After a day of riding we arrived at another old world hotel in Siena, the Grand Hotel Villa Patrizia. We did a short ride in the morning and that left the afternoon and evening for Siena. What a wonderful place. The walls around the city are still intact with narrow winding streets and tall buildings and towers. It's easy& fun to get lost in the city, it's a huge labrynth.

Tuscany is dotted with these magical hilltop villages. We visited Chiusure one day for lunch. The major business in this village is a tiny convenience store. If you call ahead, the woman who owns this store will make a wonderful family style lunch for you in the room above her store. During lunch we listened to group of school children laughing and teasing each other on the cobbled street below. This is the real Italy, not some touristy guidebook version.

We also visited Monteriggioni and Colle Val d'Elsa. Colle Val d'Elsa was my favorite on the road since recent residents installed an elevator to get you from the lower town to the upper town. And my bike fit in the elevator, thus avoiding the very steep cobble stoned hill of death.

My favorite city on a hill was San Gimignano. Riding along the roads through Tuscany and you first see San Gimignano in the distance you know that what's ahead is a very special place. Winding streets, shops, cafes, and amazing views of the countryside in every direction

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Come ride through Tuscany

The absolutely best way to experience Tuscany is from the seat of a bike. I really felt like I was part of the countryside when I was riding. Especially going slow (even on the downhills) and taking in all of the view was magical.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Time to Saddle up & Ride!

Remember, I signed up for the Tuscan Fantasy Bike Tour through Euro bike & walking tours. By the way, this is my first bike tour ever. The first time I have riden a bike more than one day in a row. Luckily my personal bike trainer, Chris Sharp went above and beyond trying to get me ready for this adventure. Now we will find out if I am really ready for this.

Instead of bringing a bike, I rented one through Eurobike. I think this is the original bike invented by da Vinci.

This is a bike riding country. On every street in Florence there are bikes as far as the eye can see. I think that every bike ver made in Italy, is still in Italy and being ridden on a daily basis. Crazy.

I met my guide and co riders for drinks & dinner Saturday night. So we have from left to right Dan, Carol, Blue and Tom. Dan & Carol are from Seattle, Magnolia to be exact. Dan has done the STP (Seattle to Portland) 7 or 8 times & in one day. Carol thought the STP was too boring, too flat. BTW, they brought their own custom made bikes with them. Blue is from Manhattan. He works in a very high stress job & decided that he needed to get out of NYC for a break, so he booked this on Monday, last Monday. Though he claimed not to have worked out in a few years, he did grow up in Boulder. CO and used to race mountain bikes on a professional level. Yikes, I'm toast. Tom is our tour guide & my life saver.

Ok ... time to ride. Here I go powering up one of the bazillion hills on our tour. This was one of the long ones. Not as bad as the 1.3 km 13% grade hill that we had 2 mornings in a row (btw, I walked the bike up that one. I figured the company is called Euro bike and walking tours, so I did it all). The way I attacked the hills was ride until I thought I was about to have a coronary. Then I would jump off the bike, do a few chest compressions and then pulled out my camera & take pictures until I caught my breath & could ride again.

Was I the fastest, strongest rider in the group. Heck no. But having more time to gaze at vistas like this, not necessarily a bad thing.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Ciao Florence!

Finally Florence! I have wanted to visit Florence as long as I can remember. After a flight from Seattle to Heathrow (not Terminal 5, thank heaven), a bus to Gatwick, a flight from Gatwick to Pisa, an then a midnight bus ride to Florence.

I arrived in Florence at 1 am in the morning. I took a quick cab from the Florence train station to the Grand Hotel Minerva, on the Piazza Santa Maria Novella

It is a great old world hotel with a fabulous view. I looked out my hotel window early the next morning and saw this wonderful medieval church. It was the first of my WOW Italia moments. I first studied this church in an Art History class circa 1979 at Ucla. Up until this moment, I had only seen this church on a slide show during a lecture.

Now it's time to wander the streets of Florence on my own. A few turns through the winding streets and I catch a glimpse of the Duomo.

Standing in the piazza was truly breathtaking. This cathedral is soooooo huge that pictures can't capture its awesomeness. all of the great masters of painting & sculpture in Florence in the 13th, 14th & 15th centuries. I had to pinch myself that I was really standing there.