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Pink Jersey

Massed at the starting line for Stage 9 with team cars lined up to followI held my prime ground as the crowd filled in around me.I had biked to Lugo - the start of the 9th stage of the Giro d'Italia.  I had a great view of the cyclists coming in and the mass for the start.  The team cars with bikes on the top.  And the endless entertainment of the crowd who had turned out to support their favorites.Pink - the color of the leading jersey - was the color of the day.  Kids were dressed head to toe in giro pink swag.  The dogs wore pink t-shirts.  The stores had pink balloons and decorations.  And thousands of people turned out to send off the cyclists on the biggest race of the  year in this cycling-mad country.Ivan Basso - famous pro cyclist from Italy is racing here and drew big cheers, as did other Italian favorites.  And Cadel Williams - the current leader wearing the coveted pink jersey drew cheers and applause as he rode through the crowds pressed on either side of narrow corridor cyclists passed through on the way to the start.Giro FanThey love their cyclists  in Italy.  I've seen bike trails with plaques dedicated to their racing champions.  Every weekend I see pelotons of cyclists on beautiful road bikes in bright kits blasting around in focused pacelines. Many cyclists give a hearty Ciou as they fly by like the hare passing the tortoise as I plod along on my touring bike loaded down with panniers and give them a friendly Ciou and a wave back.The country around Brisighella is made for the beautiful light carbon climbing machines that zip up the hills.  While I can get up them on my touring bike, it's a lot of

Off the Beaten Path

In front of the home of the first Ceramic's Artist Pirota"How did you hear about Brisighella"?Claudio has asked me this after taking me to his farm where he produces wines - we are tasting some of the wine under his label.I've been asked this several times since rolling into town yesterday.  I think being American surprises people - they don't get Americans here very often.  There are not very many visitors here ... period.And this is a beautiful town that would love to have the attention and publicity - and tourist income - of Tuscany.  It actually looks a lot like Tuscany and is only 20km east of the boundary, and has the rolling hills and vineyards and olive groves and medieval towns.  But they also have fields of peaches and apricots and kiwis.  It has castles and history.  It has national parks with hiking and mountain biking and rolling roads that are an athlete's dream. I'm in one of the true culinary centers of the world.  Incredible food, in a town with the slow pace of generations, still waiting to be discovered and wondering why the rest of the world doesn't know about them.Modern ceramic decorating the side of a buildingBut I'm selfishly glad to have this beautiful place without the herds.  In fact I like this town so much I changed all my plans and am staying put till I have to get to Rome to catch my flight.Today the very friendly hotel arranged for a local wine grape grower to pick me up and take me to his farm. Claudio drove me to a beautiful farm that was also the home of the first ceramics artist in the area - and the ceramics of nearby Faenza are world famous.  The remnants of the home of Pirota still


Biding Time in RavennaThe older man sitting next to me at dinner reached over and took my fork.  He speared ravioli off his plate and handed it to me with a big grin. I was seated at a long table next to a very sweet older couple who were here in Ravenna for dinner – they owned a pensione on the lido (beach) nearby.  We had managed some basic communication, and I was pondering the menu.   As usual I couldn’t make up my mind – I asked them what they were having and if they liked it.So he pointed to the menu what he had ordered and gave me a taste.  The wife took the fork and gave me a taste of her calamari with asparagus on pasta, too.  Both delicious.  And made more special than the taste was the kindness of these two people who embraced a stranger.It’s encounters like these that make travel special.  More than any art or sites or epic bike rides.  It’s connecting with people along the way that I remember the most.  And for whatever reason, the last few days in Ravenna – and now in the small medieval town of Brisighella - I’m finding these experiences are just coming one after another.  My second night in Ravenna the older man next to me at dinner was shocked I was cycling solo through Italy.  He was telling all the waiters and people around “She’s cycling alone through Italy” very loudly and trying to ask me questions in rapid-fire Italian I had no way of understanding.  It was a bit embarrassing, until he tried to feed me his potatoes because when saw what I ordered for dinner he decided I wasn’t eating enough. And when he saw my Brazino (bass cooked in salt – incredibly


I reluctantly listed the days left between now and when I fly out on a sheet of hotel stationary.  Time to figure out how to get back to Rome and make my flight. Suddenly there is more to do than I can possibly fit in.  I have to pick.  Of course there are no bad choices. The business of figuring out how to get myself back to Rome took the better part of the afternoon.  In between emails, I would head out and spend a couple of hours with my head craned back taking in Ravenna’s incredible 5thcentury mosaics that light up the churches in the city. Section of Mosaic in Basilica d'Sant Apollinare, Ravenna This early Christian art is all about light.  The faces on familiar saints and icons are somehow more compelling and human than the dark medieval paintings, even though they are made of stone.  This is the incredible time in history where the Greeks and the Romans and Byzantium collide … and they met here in Ravenna. Yet the city Ravenna wears this legacy very casually – the mosaics are hidden in churches that are plain brick on the outside tucked into a very business-like and calm city.  I confess I don't find the city itself very compelling, though I'm glad to be here to see what they offer to the world no other city can match. Near the end of a long trip my thoughts always drift to home.  Today I read the local news for the first time in a month.  I scanned facebook for news.  It occurred to me to check my bank account to make sure the bills were paid.  I look on all the lost pet sites for the first time in weeks just in case – by some miracle – my lost dog turned up somewhere

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

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

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. 

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

The Road to Parma

Parma is hopping.The young and beautiful and well-dressed lounge on the grass and stroll down the pedestrian streets lined with beautiful clothing stores and some familiar shops found in the nicer shopping centers in the US.This is see and be seen.  And no looking frumpy here.  Heels and little dresses and gorgeous boots and lots of accessories.   And everyone is out on a beautiful afternoon.  This is clearly a wealthy part of Italy.The bars and streets and cafes are packed.  There are long lines for gelato.  And these aren’t all tourists – they are locals enjoying their city and their day off for May Day.  I’m writing in a little bar before I find dinner with a glass of the local Parmesan white wine.  Despite the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the background, this is one of the quieter spots I found to write.I am here for the beginning of my solo traveling by bike.  I chose to start here in Parma because it’s the center of foodie Italy.  And its location is a great starting point to ease into a self-supported bike ride with a fully-loaded bicycle … manageable rides between cities and flat terrain in cycle-friendly territory.Everyone bikes here.  There are public bikes for rent.  Bikes are tied to every street corner and are lined up in rows outside buildings.  And bikes navigate the streets carrying the old and young and glamorous and business like and families with kids strapped on the back.  There are bike lanes and closed areas for only bikes and pedestrians.  And the city historical center is closed to cars … it makes an enormous tangible difference in the feel of the city.   This entire area has miles of bike trails and marked bike paths throughout the countryside.  I plan to go explore more