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Wetlands and beautiful riding

 The ride south from Comacchio - a canal town that sits on the edge of a large, brackish lagoon - to Ravenna was relatively easy.  Cycling south around the edge of the lagoon and across cyclepaths built on dikes between the lagoons and canals was a great way to see the wildlife up close.  There were remnants of abondoned and flooded out brick buildings that the brackish water had reclaimed over the centuries standing partially submerged in the mud.  And it was full of birds - feeding on fish and water creatures and insects, - including a huge flock of resident flamingos.Sadly the flamingos did not cooperate to come close enough to pose, but here are some other photos of this gorgeous area.Comacchio, Italy canalsFishing shacks with large nets lined the lagoonRiding several miles across a narrow dike between a canal and the lagoon made for slow going and required dodging thistles and eating a few bugs but was incredibly beautiful

Photos: Ferrara Palio Ancient Flags Competition

Mamma Mia!This outburst came from the San Luca supporter sporting a green and red scarf standing beside me as he watch the team from San Giacomo throw their flags 20 feet in the air and flawless catch and move in a complex dance. He - and everyone in the San Luca section knew their contrade had just lost the ancient flag throwing competition of Ferrara's Palio.The San Giacomo team knew they had rocked it and jumped and did the equivalent of the superbowl football spike on the way out of the Piazza.  The judges frowned ... they had already chastised a contrada cheering section for being too contentious in cheering on their house. The Ferrara Palio Ancient Flag Competition brought hundreds of young people together in their colorful medieval costumes to play music and compete - like they done for hundreds of years. I ended up standing among the red and green clad San Luca Contrada.  They were gracious enough to tolerate the outsider, though I made sure to clap extra loud for their teams.  All eight contrada's organized themselves into sections surrounding the piazza and cheered on their neighborhood and hung colorful banners and wore the colors of their house.And the competition is fierce.  When a flag is dropped the whole crowd gasps.  When a team does well, or when they falter, everyone cheers to acknowledge their good job or to support them for trying.  And when a contrada's team enters the piazza to perform, their friends and neighbors cheer loudly and support their team.(The previous post "Serendipity" explains the Palio).  Here are some photos from that night ... I have a new appreciate for sports photographers after trying to get some good photos at night, with fast movement while dodging the big hair of the woman in front

Traditions

Unloading mesh bags of musselsThe fishermen looked tired.  Of course they had probably been up most of the night and were still unloading their catch mid-morning.I’m on a small boardwalk that lines the canal leading to the Adriatic in Porto Garibaldi - a town on the Adriatic coast.  I’m spending my day exploring the lido’s (beaches) and up the coast from Comacchio.  I’m pretty sure I've already happened upon the most interesting thing I’ll see all day and I’m only 5 km into my route.  One boat has mussels in large mesh bags.  They are being loaded onto a conveyor belt to get them off the boat and onto the dock and then unloaded - stacked neatly like cord wood – onto wooden pallets.  These mussels were most likely sold on the dock at auction just after dawn when the boat rolled in from a night of fishing.  They will go into a refrigerated truck to be shipped out to grace pastas around Italy.Another boat has fish where the catch is being packed down in ice onto pallets in Styrofoam containers.  Refrigerated trucks are waiting to haul the fish away.Another had what looks like sardines.Packing fishA woman on a small boat is direct selling to customers.  She uses a hand scale that looks like it could be from the last century to demonstrate the weight of the fish.  Then she guts each fish and weighs it again.  I think the couple agrees to pay for the price without guts along with other seafood they carry out.I saw exactly what went into last night's dinner being unloaded onto those docks.  Mostly bottom feeding sea life from the fertile salt marshes – heads, bones and all. But combined they made for a wonderful Zuppe de Pesche (Cioppino).It’s a market that’s been happening for centuries. 

No Limits

Bike trail covered in white cotton fluffy seeds - by the Po River I’m settling into a groove now.   And have started reaping the benefits of traveling by bike and doing it self-supported and free. Free is the operative word.  And I value my freedom and independence above almost everything else. While I've ridden organized and supported bike trips across America, in Vietnam and through India, this is the first self-supported effort.  And something tells me it will be hard to go back. An organized bike trip means you have to be somewhere specific by the end of the day.  You ride with the benefit of an organization at your back– someone carries your stuff and you have a place to sleep and something to eat and a nice map and marked route that is planned and someone to call if something goes wrong.  They will look for you if you don’t show up at the end of the day.  They will get you to a doctor if you are hurt.  They are security. With a group cycle tour you ride with a group of strangers who you meet over dinner when everyone is tired and anxious and ready to do this trip planned for months.  You often have nothing in common with these people but a desire to bike the same route.   Which can be good – good company and a nice pace line and people with you if there is trouble.  Or bad – it’s hard to carve out personal time in a group, there is always at least one person who is difficult, and ultimately a group ride is only as strong as the collective abilities. I was thinking about the differences today as I road through the beautiful Po river delta from Ferrara to Comacchio.  From a city I’d never heard of

Serendipity

“Is this for the Palio?” The drums and trumpets blared a regimented urgent rhythm that was reminiscent of a military march.  Earnest young men in street clothes held large silk flags with bright colors for each contrade (family house) in the city of Ferrara. Young men - and a few women – were lunging and marching and throwing these flags in intricately choreographed routines.  This was practice night … tomorrow night the costumed competitions begin. They are putting their best in front of the crowd and dignitaries watching from the seats of honor – a little preliminary buzz and intimidation of the watching competition.   One young man juggles five flags at once – the silk flying up against the lights from the palace courtyard.  Tomorrow night these teams will be out of the sweat pants and shorts and into elaborate costumes for the real show … and I plan to be there early to get a good spot. The man next to me is excited and intent on the action.  He says yes, this is the Palio, and a conversation ensues that is a friendly mix of his Italian/little English meets my Spanish/bad Italian/English.  But it worked. I had stumbled upon the oldest Palio in the world and just happened to be here on one of the biggest weekends of the festival.  And I did not even know it existed – much less that these competitions were happening – until I followed my ears into the square. Ferrara’s Palio started in the 1200’s and has been held every year since (barring a few interruptions for war and natural disaster in the 1800s).  It’s an entire month of celebrations that pit the eight great houses and surrounding neighborhoods of Ferrara against each other in friendly competitions that end with a boy's foot race, a girls foot race, a

Titian Drank Here

She was at least eighty. She was dressed in a coat and scarf even though it was over seventy degrees and the sun was out and glorious.  And she was ringing her bike bell at me because I was clogging the bike lane.Old men bike to the main square of Ferrara for their nightly gatheringI was trying to figure out where I was – as usual.  I was squinting down at my I-phone which I have mounted to my handlebars at the GPS app.  I was looking for those blue dots or purple lines that show designated bike lanes … I was trying to get myself out of the city on onto a loop ride west of Ferrara along the Po River.But I got moving when she belled me, and headed across the intersection hoping it was the right direction.After a week of navigating in and out of cities and point to point rides, I've got a good system.  Bless whoever invented GPS – it (and this app I’m using) have made a huge difference getting me in and out of these cities safely.  I am a reluctant adopter of new technology.  My theory is that I don't need to learn a new techie toy until I need to use it.   My first attempt to navigate into a city using a paper map alone without using route-planning GPS had me doing an emergency U turn to avoid being sucked into a tunnel on the autostrada followed by multiple dead-ends trying to navigate around train lines.  That motivated me to sufficiently to upgrade my technological expertise and master modern navigation.Ferrara is one of the most bike friendly cities I’ve ever visited.  It’s one of the reasons I came – the more I read the more interested I became.  Everyone here bikes.  Young.  Old. 

Don’t ask for Spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna …

Won't be parking MY bike here ... graffiti near Bologna's UniversityBecause it's tagliatelle not spaghetti and it's ragu not Bolognese sauce, thank you very much.Luckily I didn't make that mistake.  But the people of Bologna are justifiably proud of their city and want to make sure that you, too, understand that their city is special.And it is special.  It feels special.  Perhaps it's because Bologna was the center of learning for Europe for most of the middle ages and drew thinkers and students and radicals from around the continent to study here.  They left this city a legacy of thinking big and gave it a grounding in art and science that has influenced the culture and food and buildings and outlook.And if being a university town impacted it for the last 700 years, the modern university still shapes it today.Bologna is the oldest university in Europe.  Students from all over Europe flocked to study art and medicine and law and science.  Thinkers came here to practice their arts with the best.  And virtuosos came here to learn their craft.  Mozart studied music here, and flunked his admissions exam - getting admitted with the help of a professor who corrected his paper.Bologna "the Learned" infiltrated every aspect of the city - even the most conservative traditions in the church.  The central church includes a sundial in its floor, and it's here they figured out leap year and adjusted the Gregorian calendar.  The medical school anatomical theater - where they would dissect corpses to teach anatomy and cutting edge medicine of the time - was monitored by the watchful eyes of an Inquisition priest.  The university museums still host volumes of the earliest science in its stacks that were radical and challenging to the church in their day.Today wandering near the modern

Pick-pocket

"What did you steal!?"The woman with her hand in my bag immediately took two steps back and put her hands up to show they were empty.The begging and moaning were gone, replaced by a look of wary apprehension as I took another step toward her.  "What did you steal?" I asked again angrily looking her dead in the eye.The fake baby was dangling with its mouth still attached to her bare breast.  Her hands were up showing they were empty ... it was the left hand that was supposedly holding the baby that had been groping in my bag as she grabbed my arm with her right hand and pressed in close.I had been wandering the streets of Bologna in the university area - a great area for photos.  The bag was open because I kept grabbing my camera.This woman spotted me coming down the sidewalk and for whatever reason decided I was an easy mark.  I saw her and knew she was trouble ... but she came right for me begging.  I said "No" - "No" politely when she asked for money. Rather than walking away, she crowded in and grabbed my arm with her right hand. I backed away and said NO! NO!  loudly to attract attention.  They usually hate drawing broad attention and this is generally sufficient to back them off.  But not her. She stared me in the eye, her breast was bare with a realistic-looking baby attached to the nipple (quite effective at drawing your eye and attention as she intended).  The left hand that was presumably holding that baby was going for my bag, hidden by her shawl.I wrenched my arm out of hers, glanced down at my open bag and asked her loudly, "What did you steal?"  This got her attention and she

By the side of the Road

She looked so out of place on the side of the road. Olives and Vineyards and old towns ... but no Prostitutes hereon this tourist route in ChiantiBut then again, she had a padded chair and an umbrella for shade and she was sitting in an area that was safe from traffic.  At first I thought she must be selling something, but there were no items nearby.And then I learned what she was selling by the side of the road out in the country miles away from the city walls … she was a prostitute.Prostitution is legal in Italy.  Which surprised me since Italy is such a strong Catholic country.And due to a series of court rulings, prostitution is practiced not in the cities or homes or brothels but out on country roads.Country roads, of course, are where I have been spending a lot of time on my bike.There seem to be agreed-upon roads for prostitution – though the “red light” road designation is not showing up on my maps of course.  But clustering makes for easier shopping if you are taking advantage of these services.The first prostitutes I saw were outside the city walls of Lucca.  They were all African women – maybe Somali immigrants or possibly Nigerian women trafficked in with the sex trade.  They were all ages and sizes.  They were dressed in bright colors, but generally simply – a short skirt or leggings but generally without the revealing/blingy clothes one thinks of when you visualize a prostitute.  They sat under umbrellas to stay more comfortable from the sun.  Other times I saw African prostitutes gathering together to share lunch together.  These women always give a waive and friendly “Ciao” as I pass by and greet them.I have been told that most of these African women around Lucca

Fender Karma and other Cycling Truths

There are a few basic truths to cycling.One is that if you put fenders on your bike - which is a real time-consuming and frustrating pain - you can guarantee that it will not rain.This held true despite many threatening days in the first 2 weeks based out of Lucca.  But yesterday Fender Karma ran out and I barely made it through the drizzle to the hotel before the downpour set in.This morning I wasn't so lucky.  I woke up to sunny skies, and halfway to my destination was grumbling and grouching and considering turning around and going back to Parma as I stood in the mud under a tree by the side of the road as it poured. The weather has been very spring-like since I've been in Italy.  One day it's beautiful and warm and sunny and the next the temperature drops 20 degrees and it's rain.  But that's what happens when you travel in the shoulder season ... you get the benefit of fewer tourists and lower prices.  But you might also get wet.Despite today's rain I pressed on south towards the town of Langhirano - which is in the foothills of the Apennines mountains and the farming and culinary center of Parma's prosciutto.  Conveniently they have a Prosciutto museum there which meticulously takes you through numerous photos and videos of the history of Parma's ham starting from the Roman, with lots of dead pig visuals, and ending with modern production.  This is not a museum for the squeamish.Apparently this region is good for the ham (butt and hind leg of the pig) because of the natural attributions of the soil and water of the region.  North of Parma where the land is flat near San Segundo where I rode yesterday the terrior is favorable for the

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