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The Acceptable Price for Something Special

"Tree! Tree!"  I looked up and wiped the sweat out of my eyes. A little man was gesturing towards a lovely fig tree hanging over the road where Julie and I are standing in the shade, hanging our head and panting, trying to breathe again. He has watched us push our bikes up a hill so steep that it's taken all my effort to slowly creep up the winding road to our missed turn. Calves burning, feet slipping backwards, face bent almost horizontal to the ground with all my weight leaning into the bike to keep it moving slowly forward and up. We must have looked like we needed sustenance. Or a brain transplant. I was wondering what the heck we were doing up that skinny mountain road, too, and cursing the lack of good through bike routes in Slovenia. So we caught our breath and thanked our benefactor and had a snack from his fig tree before climbing back on the bike and heading down a dirt road back down the other side of the mountain. We were learning that those promising little white roads on our navigation app ... while usually gorgeous and scenic and interesting ... were also risky routes for planning bike rides. This was not the first time we were off the bike pushing up unspeakably steep hills. Or looking at a sketchy dirt path wondering if we dared follow the trail further or should admit defeat and try another route. Unfortunately for us, we are both stubborn and found ourselves pressing on more often than turning back.  The temperatures were nearly 90 degrees in the afternoons, leading to grumpy hallucinations of Slovenian road builders driving a truck to the top of hills and letting the asphalt roll down where gravity took it. Some of the climbs of the

Fences

"There is no end. There are no jobs here for Italians, much less for immigrants." Our Goritzia hotel clerk is visibly agitated as she quizzed us about the United States and tells us how she wants to move to America but can't find a job even though she travels there twice a year. She speculated that the biggest influence on Italy's liberal immigration policy was the Pope - especially this Pope who is so inclusive of everyone. But she says the people are angry. Then she asks us about Donald Trump - whose anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim stance and promises to build a wall between the US and Mexico has gotten the world's attention. We tell her we hope he does not become our President. We don't believe he will win. But I am not so sure she sees Trump as the same extremist we do. She has been living under a government that she blames for the immigration policies that she believes threaten her - and her country. She believes Italy has operated with the completely opposite philosophy and immigration policies that Trump touts, though my limited research into the asylum rules seems to indicate that asylum is dictated by European Union rules rather than Italian policies ... Though I'm sure the reality is more complicated. But regardless of the policies that actually govern asylum and immigration, it's clear that this woman finds them threatening to her way of life and she fears the consequences of more migrant immigration as her country becomes the gateway. It is also clear is that all of Europe is struggling under the weight of the exodus from North Africa of war and economic refugees that now fill their cities with different cultures and religions and dress and economic dependents. Immigrants come from Libya, Syria and other beleaguered countries

Divided City

The menu tonight has pasta. And goulash. And even goulash on pasta.  A typical menu at a typical restaurant here. Gorizia Italy is a true border town. It also lies in the heart of one of the most contested areas of Europe over the last century. The result is a cultural blend of Italian meets Austrian meets Balkan meets Slavic. Gorizia was the front lines of some of the bloodiest trench warfare of World War I - still called the Great War here unlike other countries when the atrocities of WWI were overshadowed by the horrors of WWII. This is where Earnest Hemingway drove the ambulance for Italy and was wounded, and wrote A Farewell to Arms about that bloody experience. It was here in Gorizia that the Italians managed to push the Austrian-Hungarian Empire back after years of trench warfare and successful invasion that almost reached Venice. And the town of Gorizia was the tipping point on the Italian front for victory near the end of the war. The Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI rewarded Italy with this former Austrian town that had been part of the Hapsburg empire ... along with other chunks of territory that reduced Austria to a relatively small, landlocked country. Italy lost over one million in that war. Slovenia was a subject state of the Austria and part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and many of the men who lived in this area were sent to the Eastern Front to fight Russia for Austria. The turmoil continued when the new State of Yugoslavia - including the country now known as Slovenia - was created and eventually became Communist under Tito, establishing a tense cold war border. The new communist government built a new city on the Communist side of Gorica at the edge of town called Nova

Party under the Loggio … And other tidbits from the last five days of cycling

We couldn't resist. The international bike trail known as the Alpe-Adria was just too tempting. A bike trail that stretched from Salzburg Austria to the Adriatic resort town of Grado, Italy. We had joined the trail after we left Bled, Slovenia as we worked our way around the high Julian Alps of North Western Slovenia. Gorgeous riding through a valley with granite mountains on either side of the trail ... a former railway that has been converted to a dreamy bike trail. Former rail stations now serve as bike trail cafes for snacks and coffee breaks as the trail rolled first west and then turned south. The trail was packed with bike pilgrims all making the journey to the sea. Familiar faces from the trail appeared again at restaurants and strolling the streets in the towns and cities along the way, with waves and conversations. And best of all, after the strenuous climbing through the mountains of Slovenia, the Alpe-Adria route offered a dreamy downhill profile ... Miles of coasting on smooth trail rarely turning a pedal. It was so tempting to continue on through Italy to the sea that we simply couldn't resist and caved to temptation. Italy has worked its magic once again. And so since posting from Valbruna, Italy on the border of Austria, we biked for five straight days working our way to the Adriatic with a few minor detours.  And after reaching our destination when we rolled into Grado yesterday afternoon as the thermometer topped 90 degrees,  we stayed over night and the next morning headed back north to the Italian/Slovenian border town of Gorizia. This trail - The Alpe Adria - would be a fabulous trail for a first time self-supported bicyclist learning how to bike tour. Just make sure you head from Salzburg to the sea not

Diverted to Italy

Oh Italy.  There always seems to be a reason to go back.   This time, as I write this from Gemona, Italy in the North Eastern province of Fruila, we find ourselves here because, simply, we could not find a good route via bike through Slovenia's Julian Alps with our heavy loaded touring bikes.  The leg-wrecking alpine passes with their multiple switchbacks and 15% grades seemed stupid to attempt at the beginning of a long ride, regardless of how tempting they might be on my super-light Orbea unburdened by panniers stuffed with gear.  And the mountain bike trails offered challenges for Julie's skinnier tires. So, after riding 70km northeast from Ljubliana to the Slovenian resort town of Bled in the Julian Alps and spending a day taking in the Bled Triathlon, we headed north again to the valley on the border of Slovenia and Austria and caught the gorgeous international bike trail through the Alps into Italy. The cycling has been gorgeous - though challenging.  The mountains are spectacular.  Wildflowers line green valleys and grey granite peaks pierce the blue sky.

Climbing Mountains

“Impossible!”I’ve told the two gentleman next to me at dinner about my plans to go to Brisighella and then from there to cross the Apennines on the old Roman road.  I’m seated next to two businessmen travelling to Ravenna for work, one from Florence and one from Genoa who both have good English.Mr. Florence sits back, and with a dramatic hand gesture says, “That’s impossible!”  Mr. Genoa says, “How do you know she doesn’t bike 300 Kilometers a day and that it’s not possible for her. “  He turns to me and says, “You send him a picture from the top.”I explain that there is a train that runs parallel to the route so if I need to catch the train I have a backup.  But as much as I appreciate Mr. Genoa sticking up for me, it’s Mr. Florence’s “Impossible!” that has just implanted itself in my head.I’d been looking for a good route back towards Rome over the Apennines.  I’d found other potential routes, but none I felt comfortable attempting.  I wanted a bail-out plan in case something went wrong – with the bike or with my stamina or with my leg strength as I hauled a fully-loaded touring bike through the mountains.  Or if I felt I might be at risk for a lymphedema flare-up and needed to stop.  I’d met a couple of Americans in Comacchio the day before who were taking a self-guided bike tour.  We swapped travel info – I told them about the Cinque Terra trails being closed and the offline GPS navigation apps.  They showed me this route over the mountains between Faenza and Florence.  The climb seemed doable but long – only getting steep near the pass, and there was a train that followed the route offering several opportunities to bail

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

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. 

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